The Girl in the Mirror
The Book Shop
Rhonda is middle-aged frump. Well, not quite frump yet, but it was coming pretty soon, or least that was what her mirror had indicated this morning while she looked at her fading, now not so curvy figure. She was sitting at the café table with her head in her hands, idling stirring her coffee listening to her friend Julie. It seemed jobs, marriage, kids and you name it, had all added up over the years and her one time best friend, well at least in her school heydays, was now just her sometimes morning coffee companion. What had happened in all those years and where had it all the fun gone...? Well, life was life she guessed and this was it. She sighed staring at her coffee for a few more moments. She then looked up at Julie and said,
"You know I really need a guide..." not really sure if Julie her friend was listening and blinked suddenly when she answered her. " A what?" "You know 'a how to guide'." "On what?" "Hmm... Oh, on how to bake muffins." "Oh, I see... " which Julie didn't of course and then asked Rhonda, "Um, why muffins?" "Hmm... Oh, my daughter is coming home for the holidays," said Rhonda as if that explained everything. "I need something simple that even a klutz like me could bake." "So... you like cooking then?" "No, not really. It's my daughter you see, well, we don't talk much, never could really, never seem to have much to say... and well I thought I would try and do something special before... well before it was all too late.
You see the last time we had anything approaching a real conversation she told me she liked muffins." Rhonda shrugged, "I still have no idea why." "I see... " said Julie who was beginning to wonder if she shouldn't suddenly attend to a phone call, even though her phone had stayed quiet all morning with not even so much as a couple of seconds of buzz, but she saw the worried dreamy look in her friend's eyes and relented, " Well, there is 'World of Books' just around the corner, I'm sure they will have something of that sort." Rhonda's eyes had focused on something in the distance and Julie's eyes narrowed when she followed her friend's gaze. "Oh, look," said Rhonda, "There's a book shop just over there." Julie's eyes suddenly went wide and her voice went all trembly... "Ahh... no, I don't think so!" "What? What do you mean no, it looks perfectly fine and it's only... well, it's right there! Come on finish your coffee and let's go and have a look."
Rhonda thrust her hand across the table and grabbed Rhonda's arm, "Rhonda, trust me, you don't want to go in there..." "What! Why on earth not?" Rhonda removed her arm and leant over staring at Julie's coffee stretching her long nose to take a little sniff at the suspicious brown liquid," Julie didn't seem to notice or care and said, "Well, it's just that, well, I've heard things about that... book store..." Rhonda looked at her with a quizzical look in her eyes, "What! What kind of things?" "Well it's the people..." Rhonda was staring at her and eventually Julie answered her silence, "It's the people that go in there... well, you see, they don't come back out." Rhonda didn't hesitate this time and picked up Julie's coffee and gave it a little sip." "Hmm..." She said, looking carefully at her friend, clearly disappointed it wasn't what her friend's history told her it might have been. She put Julie's flat white back down and gave her a direct stare, and said, "What in the blue blazes are you talking about?" "That store, I've heard rumours about it. The people I work with... well they told me about it one day." Rhonda gave her a high eyebrow stare. " Well...I... Well, at first I thought they were joking. Anyway, I don't go in for books that much, so it didn't bother me. But one day well we had this new girl, she was a bit shy and well, turns out she was a real bookworm. Problem was she didn't say much to anyone and so no one told her about that place and well... One day I was at lunch and I saw her out in the street, she was looking in that book store's window." "You mean that book store?" "Yes, that book store! I didn't think anything of it at the time, it was a nice sunny day so I sat down in the square to eat my sandwich and then I glanced back and saw her walk inside. Anyway, I sat there for maybe a half-hour and I never saw her come out." Rhonda rolled her shoulders, "So maybe she found something she really liked, maybe she liked to browse a lot." "Yeah well, I might have thought so too, but she never turned up back at work." Rhonda gave her the eye, "You mean 'never' as in 'never' don't you?" "Yes, she never came back ever and yes, not on just that afternoon?" Julie nodded and Rhonda said, "Well maybe she decided the job wasn't for her." "Hmm, well after a couple of days of her not showing for work I was asked to follow up on her, you know maybe she'd gotten ill or something, I didn't mention what I had seen. I really still felt it was all just a joke. But well, no one answered the calls I made to her number and I thought well that's that. But the manager decided it wasn't enough and told me to leave early one day and go and check at her apartment. I guess he felt responsible because she seemed the vulnerable type or something."
Julie stared at her coffee cup not saying anything. "Sorry," said Rhonda, "I didn't mean... to sip..." "Oh... don't worry it's not that... and... well anyway I haven't added anything extra in my coffees for a while now..." There was silence for a while, until Rhonda said, "So... what happened to her... I mean did you find her then?" "No, not exactly" Juile looked at Rhonda, and said, "Well I just had to tell him, my manager, that is, about seeing her go into the bookstore that day and not coming out. So I went into his office, I knew he would laugh, the stupid ponce, and well after he got himself under control he then told me he was going to take me to the book store right then and there to show me it was all nothing. I think he had heard the rumours too and wanted to put it all to rest once and for all.
Well, we reached the shop door and I... well I couldn't go in I just freaked out. He rolled his eyes at me and then went in without me. I waited outside... and waited... until finally, I went back to work alone." Julie stared at Rhonda and Rhonda swallowed hard and said, "You mean... he never came back...either! Oh, come on!"
"I swear it's true, ask any of the staff, he and the girl never ever showed up back at our work." "Did you call the police?" "Well I didn't but after two days someone in the company did." Julie went silent... "And..." said Rhonda. After a moment's contemplation of her flat white Julie looked at her friend and said, "Well they came to our work and I told them about the book shop... I think I was lucky they didn't wrap me up in a white coat and lock me away." "So, did you actually go to the young girl's apartment?" "Yeah, Cynthia was her name. She had an apartment downtown, I knocked and knocked. No one came, I even called her number again while I stood at the front door, still no answer. Eventually, I got the building's super to open it up in case she was well, lying on the floor not able to get to the phone or something.
Julia took another large sip of her coffee, and said, "It was weird, real weird." "Weird?" "Yeah the walls were wet, humid, hot, they seemed to be dripping in water... and this was the middle of winter." There was silence for a while, until Rhonda said, "And that was it? Nothing else? Didn't you think that maybe a hot water pipe had burst or something?" "Well, I'm not technical, but yeah that's what the super said it might be too..." "And was she..." "What! No of course not! It was empty, there was no one there, nothing except her stuff... was all still there as far as I could tell. There was one other strange thing though. There was a receipt on her table... it was from that book shop and..." After a moment's more silence Rhonda prompted, "And...?" "Well there was one other thing I have never told anyone about." "What was that?" "Well I was looking in the mirror, in that apartment in the bathroom wondering what the humidity was doing to my hair, and... well... Oh, I must have imagined it!" "Imagined what?" "Well just for a second I thought I saw a funny little person standing reflected in it. But when I turned around, well, of course, there was no one. I think it must have been the heat... it must have been making me see things. Anyway, a few days later, after I was humiliated by the police, I went and checked back at her apartment again. The super... Trent, I think his name is, said she had never returned. He thinks she was lonely and maybe... well you know... did something to herself." "Oh... that's really sad." There was a long silence. Rhonda then asked, "Did he locate any leaks?" "No. He also said that apartment has never been rented again... they couldn't get rid of the humidity it seems. Last I heard he was thinking sauna, " and she gave Rhonda a little smile.
Rhonda returned the light-hearted grin, and then turned and looked over at the book store, she had noted several people had gone in and some had come out. She gestured at the book store. "Did you ever go in there and ask?" "No, no way! I mean if that place is run by some weirdo serial killer or is haunted or something, I'm not going near it." There was more silence, and Rhonda said, "Do you think the police checked," Julie looked suddenly sullen and said in a low gruff voice, "I don't know... I never checked." "Come on." "Come on what?" "Let's check it out." Julie gave her an open-mouthed stare like she had just told her she was from another planet, far, far away." "Are you nuts!" "Come on you can't tell me something like this and not want to find out what really happened." Julie looked down at her feet. "Come on there's no such thing as ghosts or any of that crap there's always an explanation, a rational one." "What if the owner turns out to be... well, you know... someone who does really bad things." "Then he must have the worst business model for a book store in existence... Now, are you coming!" Julia sat staring at the table napkin, Rhonda stared back at her with a cheeky grin that turned into a wide smile and said, "It might be fun... you know just like when we were kids. Besides, it sounds way more interesting than baking muffins and I will finally have something to tell my daughter about." "Oh... well … Alright, but you do all the talking I'm just... look'in..." "So, not browsing then?" "Ha, ha," said Julie and grabbed her bag and followed her friend across the street to the little book store.
A tall lady with long black hair wearing a pair of very bright red shoes and matching dress walked and dangling at her side was an astounding bright candy pink handbag. As she walked down the street, despite her rather serious business type bright red glasses poised on her nose, she was still getting leering looks from most of the men she was passing by. While most of her attention seemed to be on trying to do her best to not to wobble on her much too high red glossy high heels she had also spent some time looking about. it seemed she was searching for something...
'It had to be here somewhere, she could just feel it. There had to be a doorway... nearby, Yes! The doorway was very close, somewhere hereabouts. She saw the two women going across the street and she stopped dead in her tracks with her mouth open wide staring in wonder. She knew one of those ladies. That was Rhonda! 'What was she doing here!' She watched them both about to enter the book shop, but it seemed Rhonda's friend had stopped and wouldn't go any further. Rhonda was grabbing at her from her stuck position on the footpath but it seemed she wouldn't move despite her friend's obvious efforts at pulling on her arm. Rhonda then grabbed her with both hands almost toppling her over shoved her forward while at the same time tugging at the door and finally managed to thrust her inside the book shop.
All of sudden the lady in the red shoes felt a freezing cold blast of wind wrap around her, the draft was so strong it sent her with her arms waving tipping over backward down onto the footpath going totally off balance and ploughing into a man who just happened to be walking directly behind her carrying a pile books in his arms, books, purse, and red shoes went everywhere.
"Are you alright?" She said as she straightened her red-rimmed glasses back on her nose. After some long moments of trying to balance back on her high heels again, she heard him say, "Umm, yes... I think so..." "Sorry about that," she said, "It's just that, doors to... well other places can be a bit of a bother at times." "Doors?" said the man, as he kept on trying to pile the books back in his arms. She could see the young man was having considerable trouble trying to reach the last two that were still on the path. The lady bent down and grabbed them for him, and looking at the great pile in his arms decided she better keep holding them. He was looking down the street at the book store, "If you wouldn't mind, it's only a couple of doors away," said the man. "Oh, yes, sure of course." "I'm Larry by the way," he said. The lady looked at him for a moment, and greeted him with a shy smile, "Brumhilda" she said. The man nodded, "Well it's nice to meet you. You see that book shop, well it's my book shop actually, I'm the owner." "Really! You look a bit young to be a... umm, business owner." He smiled, "It was my parents' idea, they thought it would keep me... well... busy and sane." 'Hmm... she was sure they were right about the busy bit, not so sure about his sanity though." Brumhilda followed the young man and when they had reached the doorway to his book shop and he was about to open the door for her, he looked over to see Brumhilda was doing something rather strange. The fact was she was now clinging very tightly to a bicycle that was chained to the rack outside the door while still holding his books rather tightly against herself. "Ahh... I hope you're not thinking of absconding with those." "Oh, umm, no, no, no, it's the wind you see it can get rather strong when certain doors open to certain places. If you would please just open the door I will be fine and if you could hold it open till I can get inside that would be most kind too." He shrugged his shoulder's wondering just what the strange lady was thinking, as he turned back to the door waving his head, 'Customers! they were getting stranger and stranger every day, but well at least she was polite about it.
"As you wish," he said and promptly held the door open for her. He was then absolutely astounded to see her hair and dress suddenly get blown savagely about her as if a hurricane had suddenly appeared from nowhere, while he himself felt not a skerrick of wind at all. 'Well,' thought Brumhilda this was defiantly where the beginning seemed to be, or at least where it had started... and well wasn't that always a good place to start,' she mused to herself. Bent over nearly double with the freezing wind whipping around her she shoved herself through the doorway. The man closed the door, quietly and Brumhilda suddenly felt the strong cold wind disappear. She straightened herself up and handed the books back to him and said, "Thank you, umm... you don't mind if I browse a bit?" The man still being quite taken aback at what he had just seen and seeing her flowing hair and dress were all now at rest and still with his wide eyes staring at her for a long moment, stammered, "Umm, yes, of course, umm... please do." She gave him a quick little smile turned away and feeling the comfort of the wand she had curled in her fingers hidden up her sleeve she went off to the bookshelves.
As she browsed she was thinking about the events that had gotten her here. Had it all only happened a few days ago, when her best friends had well... gotten into trouble once more... and well this time, honestly it hadn't been her fault, not at all this time and that was a point she had argued most strenuously to the Witch Elders. But she wasn't sure if they had believed her or not, given her previous escapades and... well, anyway now here she was... at their request, although of course, she would have come anyway, after all, they were her very best friends. Still, there was plenty of time to contemplate that problem later. For now, she just had to find out what was going on... here at this moment and that she had not one jot of an idea or explanation for.
Brumhilda clumped around in her high heels on the bare wooden floorboards, wishing she could take them off. The shoes, not the floorboards. The red shoes weren't really her style at all. Dam coffee she harumphed to herself it often did very strange things to her magic, and this disguise was well completely outrageous especially for her demeanour, but well, sometimes there was the rare occasion when she needed the effects of that dark brown swill to get her through a task at hand and this was most defiantly one of those times. She wandered around the shelves of the bookshop in her high heels on the old floorboards and started looking. It was then she noticed the two ladies again. They were taking a book off the shelf here and there, but not even flicking a page, before putting them back as they made loud whispers to each other, pointing and looking about. Hmm, did they know? Brumhilda waved her head, she would have to tell them something eventually, or to Rhonda at least, but not just yet, not at this moment, she didn't want to make a scene, and then suddenly remembered how she was dressed and laughed quietly noting how she was losing pretty badly on that score already. She looked at the titles, some of them seemed to be calling at her as the titles on the spines swam before her eyes as if moving about behind an unfocused lens. Did the ladies see it as she did, did anyone here see it, no, everyone else looked perfectly normal, it seemed it was only her.
"See!" whispered Rhonda loudly, "There's noth'in go'in on in here, just look!" Julia had to admit there were quite a few people in between all the bookshelves, in fact, it could almost be called crowded, "Well..." she said, "It feels a little creepy to me..." Rhonda gave her another eye roll. "I mean don't you feel you're being watched?" "By whom?" "Well... that tall man over there for example." "You mean the one behind the counter?" "Yes, him..." "He's probably the owner, and we probably look a little suspicious..." "Well... oh alright I guess, but... well, what about her?" Julia whispered and nodded toward the tall young lady in the red dress, looking up high into the bookshelves next to them. "Don't you think she's a bit weird, I mean what is she thinking dressing like that to go shopping, I mean is she late for the ball or something?" And at that very moment, Brumhilda saw a book jut out a little from the shelf all by itself just above the two ladies heads, "Excuse me," Brumhilda said to them and reached up to grab it. "Naughty things gotta get them before they get out on the loose." Rhonda and Julie looked at her politely and Julia said, "Umm... Yes... I..." Rhonda looked at the lady in red for a moment, and felt there was something awfully familiar about her and said, with crossed eyebrows, "Umm, sorry, I don't know what you mean." "Oh, umm, you know, let loose, create mischief, that sort of... thing." Brumhilda suddenly realised what she had said probably sounded crazy. "Umm... wonderful stories though aren't they." Julia had an inkling about the lady in red, there was something very odd about her, and it wasn't just her red attire, there was something else something, she had to admit, despite her foreboding about being in here, that the lady was a little bit special in some way. 'Hang on are you famous or something," said Julia, "Yes, " said Rhonda, "I must admit you seem very familiar, haven't I seen you somewhere before?" Brumhilda stared back at Rhonda and then very quickly looked away. "Nup, I don't think so," she said looking up at the shelves in front of her. "I mean I don't usually get around that much." "So your not an actor or someone like that?" "I Don't mind watching an old movie or two with my boy... ahh, friend," she said, "But that's about as close as I get to the screen."
" 'Gosh! Boyfriend,' thought Brumhilda, would she ever get used to thinking about Ivan like that. Brumhilda kept a tight hold on the book she had grabbed under her arm and noticed the two ladies were still looking at her. "Not letting it get away I see," quipped Rhonda to her. "Ahh, no, and be careful won't you," she added, "Sometimes things are not what they seem." Brumhilda turned away feeling it was time to get away before things got out of hand and went to the counter to pay for the book. The truth was she would have preferred to grab it and run, but she didn't want to cause a ruckus. The two ladies watched her go to the counter. Rhonda shoved Julia's arm, "Go on ask her." "Ask her what?" "About this place, I think she knows something. Come on quick she's leaving!" Fortunately, someone had opened the door and Brumhilda managed to dive outside in the freezing blast before the door slammed shut behind her.
Julie went over to the door only too eager to get out of here. She grabbed the door handle and tried to turn it, but it wouldn't budge. 'Funny it must be stuck...' she thought. Rhonda who was behind her said, "Oh, let me have a go," But soon Rhonda's face was turning a bright shade of pink straining at the effort to get it open... Suddenly it let go and flew open in front of her.
They both looked out the door and saw something, but it was not the street. It was kind of blurry and swirly, an indistinct image that was most defiantly from somewhere else. Julie's eyes were wide with fright feeling she was looking at somewhere else that was certainly, and distinctly, otherworldly. She stood back, she didn't know whether to go forward or backward, neither direction seemed to be a good choice, at that moment.
In an instant the man from the counter was there at her elbow, "Are you going to buy that?" the man said, looking at the book in Julie's hand, "Oh sorry, no, I didn't realise it was still there, my friend thinks were in a bit of a hurry you see," The man took the book she proffered at him, and immediately, the street scene outside the door had now become a very plain and very ordinary street once more. Both women stared at the open door and the perfectly normal city street scene. Rhonda was still holding the door open in her hand while both of them stared not believing what they had just seen. She turned to the man to verify what they had just seen, but he had gone back to the counter and was now busy serving customers as if the shop was nothing special. "Come on Jullie, something very fishy is going on here and I'm going to find out what it is!" She dragged Jullie out onto the street, and just saw a wisp of red disappearing around the next street corner. "Come on run!" And she grabbed Julie's arm dragging her up the street.
It seemed despite their running to take much longer than it should have. Rhonda grabbed at the ornate iron street pole on the corner, trying to get her breath back. "Where are we?" Said Julie, also trying to catch her breath while looking up at the old fashioned signpost above their heads. Rhonda nodded, "Must be the old part of the city, I've heard about this place but I've never been here before." "She defiantly went this way though didn't she?" "Yes, I'm sure of it." Slowly together they entered and walked down the old dark lane, till they came to an old-style café with a shop window filled with lots of square glass panes. "Look!" said Rhonda, "She's in there." Taking a careful look at each other they went to the door and entered inside the old-time café.
Brumhilda had stood outside the old fashioned café some moments before, looking like it had suddenly appeared from out of another time and another age, maybe from some city in darkest Europe somewhere. She looked at her disguise reflected in the café window's glass panes for a moment and thought perhaps she better try and change back while no one was looking. She took out her wand and tapped her red shoes three times and felt a little whoosh in the air, but when she looked down, she was dismayed to see nothing about her had changed at all, "Dam! why do my powers just seem go on the blink when I'm in this part of the city." She harumphed loudly and reached for the café door and went inside.
Brumhilda sat down at a cafe table and greeted her old friend an elderly oriental gentleman who had been waiting for her here. His name was Mr Su and he was thumbing thru the book, she had just handed him.
"So this is it?" Brumhilda nodded.
Brumhilda was looking at Mr Su, with serious intent, something the aging wizard must admit he couldn't recall seeing in the eyes of the playful witch before. "My friends, do you think they are okay?" she said. He looked back at her with equal seriousness. "You know I cannot tell you anything but the truth." She nodded, "Yes I know, but are they?" "Simply put... Miss Brumhilda I don't know..." "Great just great," and realised things must be real bad if she was starting to use her friend's Ralph's favourite phrases. "You see..." said Mr Su, "The vortex of forces are complicated, I simply cannot see into them." He was silent for some moments, then she said. "But are they in danger?" Mr Su wished he was at home relaxing having tea and biscuits, trying to answer the wild young witches wishes were trying him very badly. "I... I really... don't have any reason to... Brumhilda, I just don't know. However, what I do know is you have to solve this... it's really up to you now." Brumhilda gave him a glum look and then dove her head down to the table an action he considered to be uncalled for, but after a moment he relented and said, "What about Ivan? Perhaps he can lend you a hand. " "I haven't told him the worst of it yet, he thinks they'll be back soon and everything will be okay" "Perhaps you should... how do you young ones say it... Ah yes, perhaps you should level with him." 'Hmm haven't heard that one in a while,' she thought, 'Still perhaps he was right, Ivan was her best friend and well also her 'boyfriend', he also had a slight tinge of the magic about him maybe he was all the help she really needed, at least for the moment.' Then Mr Su said, seeing Brumhilda still looking very glum, "Perhaps I do know of someone else who can help out, although I'm a little reluctant to suggest her. But she does, however, seem to know Lisa so maybe that is reason enough." Brumhilda looked at him with a furrowed brow, "A friend of Lisa! What help would they be...? Sorry, I didn't mean it the way it sounded." "Well, you might be surprised what Lisa knows and who she knows." "Okay... who then is this wonderous heroin?" "She is my niece, Shiree." "Oh... is she...?" "Yes, she is rather special just like you..." Brumhilda stared at her hot chocolate that had just arrived and after a while looked up with a somewhat sad face, "Mr Su is this kind of going to be my job from now on, you know like a career sort of thing? I mean I don't really ever recall putting my hand up for it. In fact, I'm not sure I'm even very good at it." Mr Su smiled back at her with a wide grin looking like he was about to laugh, "You know I've asked my self that very same question many a time, and do you know what the answer is..." She shrugged, "Exactly I'm still waiting to find out too." She grinned and they both joined together in a raucous chuckle. After a moment she sniffed and wiped her nose, and Mr Su thought, well, at least the little witch girl was now smiling.
"I'll have a chat with Shiree. Now, where would you like to meet...?" Brumhilda had a little think for a moment, "In the park, that's were Ivan likes to meet." "And yourself I suspect too?" "Well, maybe..." she said with a shy grin. "And at what time?" "Oh, Umm... midnight." Mr Su looked at her with quizzical eyebrows for a moment and said, "Midnight?"
"Yes, haven't you heard, that's when all the best stuff happens, or so a wise friend once told me," and she gave Mr Su a wily look. "I see, " he said, "Well I will inform her of your little get together at..." he cleared his throat, "At midnight, tonight." "Oh, um no... Not tonight... umm on Saturday I think would be best." He looked at Brumhilda with a doubtful stare for several more long moments, "Miss Brumhilda, you really are pushing your luck, I mean you do realise this Saturday is Halloween!"
Just then the café door opened and Mr Su noticed the two ladies who had just entered. Mr Su's eyebrows went up, and he turned to Brumhilda with a wizened stare. "What's wrong?" said Brumhilda, Mr Su nodded toward the two ladies seating themselves at a table at the far end of the café near the front window. "Guess who's just dropped in?" Brumhilda turned around and looked behind her... "Oh no! Surely not!" "Long time no see hmm..." he said. Brumhilda shrugged... "Yeah, well, I guess..." Mr Su rose from his chair, "Shall we..." She sighed heavily, "Yes, I guess somehow I always knew it would come to this one day. Well, no time like the present I guess." And together Mr Su and a somewhat reluctant Brumhilda went over to introduce themselves to the two ladies. Brumhilda sat down without asking and faced Rhonda. She cleared her throat and said,
Okay I rushed this first chapter a bit to meet the Halloween deadline, hope its still reads okay.
This story has the same characters that are featured in three other stories involving Brumhilda the little witch girl that purely by accident tend to happen during the Halloween season.
Although this story is meant to stand on its own, you can find out more about Brumhilda and her friends from the other stories listed below from the oldest to the last one.
The Thirteenth Hour
Brumhilda and the Ghost
The Dragons of Halloween
Also here's some suitably spooky music you can try searching for at your favourite music source.
Artist: Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra