Myrtle Cox had not intended
parting with one red cent at the estate sale. She went because of piqued
curiosity and because the Caleb's Crossing Tattler had mentioned refreshments.
Myrtle had carefully torn the ad against a wooden ruler and plastered
the notice to an antique Frigidaire nested within a mélange of
clipped cartoons, recipe notes, and a yellowed postcard from the Sullivan
sisters. Best not to mention this to Woodrow. Myrtle clucked her tongue
and emptied coffee grounds into a paper-lined trash bin.
Woodrow, Myrtle's husband of the last forty-years-and-counting, was still
angry about the H.S.N. box delivered beside the geranium pots on the front
porch yesterday. Woodrow wouldn't know a bargain if it bit him in the
you-know-what. Did Woodrow appreciate how much Myrtle saved on the set
of kryptonite clad pots and pans? Did he care that the Alpine Yodeling
Doll with simulated leather lederhosen had been a seventy-five percent-daily
Thankfully, the sale was scheduled for Friday. Woodrow would be selling
shoes on the third floor of Hanson's Department Store. While the cat was
away, the mouse would play.
Friday arrived as a perfect, breeze-filled day. Myrtle dressed in a new
tangerine pants suit, an ensemble player in an orchestra composed of a
fruit patterned silk scarf, detachable collar, extra pants, a skirt, and
a white plastic belt-a complete wardrobe for that holiday cruise! Myrtle
thought of Woodrow's bulging veins while he had droned on and on about
it, pointed finger cocked, for hours the previous night.
She had heard little of it.
Oprah had been discussing Plastic Surgery Nightmares on Channel 4. Did
Woodrow really think she could concentrate on fiscal responsibility while
Oprah was comforting a disfigured woman with lizard stretched eyelids?
Well, she had heard some of it. Myrtle would not take the matching white
clutch handbag-the perfect accessory for that unforgettable night of dancing
under the stars-just to make Woodrow happy. She would not bring the checkbook
or the mad money stashed in the saltine cracker tin. She would just go
and peek inside the old Victorian mansion. What could she possibly want
to buy from the Grambargers, anyway? She would just go for the refreshments
and because she was a contributing member of the Caleb's Crossing community.
Poor Woodrow, he had always wanted to see inside the house. Why did the
Grambargers have to be so inhospitable? What could they have been hiding
behind the dark, shuttered windows?
Maybe Myrtle should pick up something sweet and bring it home to Woodrow,
despite his foul temper and stingy penny squeezing.
She would need the purse.
A couple of Lucy Spencer's peanut butter cookies loaded with chocolate
chunks and M&Ms would give Woodrow something to do with his mouth
A snake-line of parked cars meandered back and forth along the winding
hill that ended with the Grambarger mansion. Myrtle arrived, winded and
sweating, to the vast sloping lawns in front of a house that surveyed
Caleb's Crossing with the painted grandeur of a Kewpie Doll on a wedding
It seemed as if the whole of Caleb's Crossing had turned out for the sale.
Myrtle searched the crowd for familiar faces. Leda Pullman nodded from
a table set up on a terrace by the back door. Sheriff Jarvis stood in
front of the back door, arms crossed, reflecting the crowd from mirrored
Myrtle waved at Leda and made her way through a crowd gathered around
object-stacked tables. She stopped next to Shirley Watson and Mary Jean
Rogers at a food table furnished with a large plastic jug of water and
a few opened packages of sandwich cookies. Myrtle frowned, picking up
"They're stale." Shirley Watson shrugged and lit a cigarette.
Shirley had taken up smoking after her divorce from Hiram Watson, the
undertaker at Halls of Valhalla. "Is that new?" Shirley puffed
the cigarette and stared at the tangerine pants suit.
"It's from Tammy's Cruise Wear." Myrtle took a bite from the
cookie and poured a cup of water. "Woodrow and I might go to the
Bahamas or Key West or somewhere."
"Come on, Honey. Woodrow thinks you need a passport for Ohio,"
Shirley smiled. "Nice color, though."
"I will see the world," Myrtle insisted. If I have to drag Woodrow
along like an anchor, Myrtle added silently.
"Most of this stuff is junk," Mary Jean Rogers said, inspecting
the bottom of a coffee cup from a table next to the food. "Imitation
Dalton." She put the cup back on the table.
Myrtle looked at the assortment of grease-mired pots, cracked dishes,
broken lamps, curled books, odd hats, dingy bottles, and faded photographs.
Woodrow would be happy; nothing here was worth buying.
"Have you been inside the house?" Myrtle asked Mary Jean and
"Jarvis says it isn't open to the public." Shirley pointed her
cigarette at Sheriff Jarvis.
"Is that a fact?" Myrtle picked up another cookie and stuck
it in her handbag. "I think I'll wander up there, anyway."
She found Jarvis whittling a stick of wood under the shade of the back
porch. "Hot isn't it?" Myrtle fanned herself with the white
"Yup." Jarvis's mirrored glasses reflected Myrtle's tangerine
suit from his square, bulky body planted between Myrtle and the back door.
A pile of shavings gathered around a pair of black running shoes with
"Do you mind if I look inside?" she asked smiling.
"Can't let you do that, Myrtle," Jarvis pushed the glasses against
his nose with the whittling knife, "Might be a crime scene."
"What do you mean, it might be a crime scene?"
"The Grambargers just disappeared." Jarvis frowned, inspecting
the tip of the stick.
"Well, weren't they a bit odd, anyway? Maybe they just decided to
go." Myrtle took the extra cookie from her bag and nibbled a corner.
"I don't know
"Oh, good Lord!" She dropped the cookie and pushed herself up
next to Jarvis, pressing her back against the cool, brick. "Woodrow!"
"I thought you might be here," Woodrow stepped out of the crowd.
"Goodness, Woodrow," Myrtle frowned, "why aren't you at
"Not many customers," Woodrow said shrugging. "Guess, they're
"Tarnation, Woodrow," Jarvis took off the sunglasses and flicked
them into his breast pocket, "if these shoes you sold me, aren't
killing my corns."
"Is that so?" Woodrow assumed his business tone. "Let me
take a look."
"Come on inside, then." Jarvis took out a key ring. "Don't
like my feet being stared at."
Myrtle did not give Jarvis a chance to invite or uninvite her. "Ladies,
first." As soon as the door was opened, she barged her way inside.
A heavy emptiness infused the cool, silent house. Myrtle's shoes echoed
against the kitchen floor as she quickly spanned the room that ended in
"Don't be wondering all over the place, now, Myrtle." The Sheriff
plopped down on the floor and loosened one of the Velcro straps. "Danged,
if that don't feel better."
"I promise I won't touch a thing!" Myrtle called gaily from
the hallway ending in a door to an octagonal sitting room with a steepled
ceiling. Excitement tingling down her backbone, Myrtle entered a room
papered in delicate birds and vines. Something seemed odd about it.
The room appeared to breath.
Myrtle felt sweat gather around her collar despite the coolness of the
house. She felt as if she had entered one of those freak houses built
on a gravitational anomaly that made you shrink as you moved from one
side of the room to the other. Her heart pushed against her chest, her
breath shallowed, and she felt faint.
Then she saw the mirror almost hidden behind the door. The compact, convex
shape looked almost like a shiny hubcap.
Myrtle inspected the surface. Her nose, distorted and prominent, appeared
from the mirror as a ship's prow protruding from a shrunken body disappearing
into the curved room that surrounded her reflection.
Myrtle laughed nervously and wondered if the mirror might be for sale.
Then she remembered Woodrow in the next room and frowned.
Myrtle sighed. He would throw a conniption if she tried to buy it. Woodrow
had no decorating sense. They would live a pigsty if Woodrow had his say.
She sighed again, intending to explore the rest of the house.
Something was wrong. She attempted to turn her head away from the mirror.
Myrtle found that her nose was stuck fast to the surface. As impossible
as it was, her nose was being stretched and pulled into the mirror, along
with the rest of her body.
"Help!" Myrtle yelled and planted her hands and feet against
It was hopeless, the mirror grabbed Myrtle with the potent strength of
an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner.
When Jarvis and Woodrow finally arrived at the end of the hallway, all
that remained was a pair of feet that suddenly disappeared with a whoosh
and a pop.
"Well, don't that beat all!" Jarvis scratched his head with
one of the sneakers. "Did you see that?"
"Where's Myrtle!" Woodrow shouted.
"She's in that danged mirror!" Jarvis pointed to the wall.
"Well, get her out then!" Woodrow yelled, pulled the mirror
from the wall, and dropped it quickly to the floor. His hands were missing
a layer of skin. "It's burning hot!" he moaned.
The mirror hummed from the floor.
Lights flickered to life around the rim. It started to spin slowly, then
more rapidly, and finally it rose into the air, up to the ceiling and
disappeared through the roof.
An odd assortment of creatures checked gages, turned dials, and yelled
unintelligible commands to each other. A miniaturized Myrtle tried to
comprehend what had happened to her. Finally, one of the creatures motioned
Myrtle to sit down on a bench and buckled her in. "We're entering
warp speed." The creature did something that must have passed for
a smile on a planet far away.
She stared out the panoramic windows at a swirling blue marble surrounded
by a sea of stars. Myrtle, dressed appropriately in her cruise wear, was
finally going on a holiday to the Bahamas or Key West.
Or somewhere else.