Don't Look Back



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 discount special?

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 besides complain.

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 cake.

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 sunglasses.

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 a cookie.

"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 Shirley.

"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 clutch bag.

"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 Velcro straps.

"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. "Afternoon, Sheriff."

"Goodness, Woodrow," Myrtle frowned, "why aren't you at work?"

"Not many customers," Woodrow said shrugging. "Guess, they're all here."

"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 a hallway.

"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 the wall.

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.

The End


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