Harmony wept bitterly as she hauled a rucksack out from under her bed and began stuffing some clothes into it. She slung it over her back and then switching off the light, stole out of her bedroom.
As she noiselessly padded down the steps, a loud noise broke the night’s eerie silence. It almost scared Harmony out of her skin and then she realized with relief that it was only the grandfather clock chiming twelve o’clock. Midnight. Harmony quietly slipped some water, three apples and a packet of biscuits into the rucksack, fiercely wiping the tears from her face at the same time. Then she moved like a shadow towards the back door.
Noiselessly sliding the out bolts and unlatching it, she took one last look at the house and ran out of the gate, tears streaming down her face once more.
She hurried past a few houses and soon reached a nearby forest. She looked at it, her mind playing with the idea of entering the dark, scary woods. Then with one bound she was over the little brook that ran around the forest, forming a proper little border.
She hadn’t brought a torch or any source of light with her but Harmony had no intention of turning back. So stumbling over bushes and shrubs, she scratched herself badly but did not care.
After a short while she got tired and decided she would allow herself a short rest but not a nap. Unfortunately her body would not obey her brain and she fell into a long deep sleep, with only memories to keep her company.
Suddenly she snapped to her senses. She blinked in the dazzling sunlight.
‘Gracious, its nine o’ clock!’ she cried, checking her watch. ‘I wonder what woke me.’
She looked around her. She was in a small clearing in the forest. In the middle of the dell, was a fair sized lake. It glimmered and sparkled in the morning sun, sending bright patches of light everywhere. At the side of it was a house. It was wooden and built on stilts.
‘Probably because this area floods when it rains heavily.’ thought Harmony, carefully noting the patches of crumbling wood that embraced the house like a patch-work quilt.
And then she heard it. The hum that had roused her from her slumber. It was a woman singing. A charming, sweet voice to match an exquisite melody. A voice that came from the depths of the house. As the honeyed tones softened, Harmony found herself drawn towards the house. She tried to fight the urge to enter the smelly, ready-to-collapse abode.
But the impulse was too intense. She gave in to it and tottered into the house. As she did, the song began again. This time it was clearer and she could hear what the words were…
‘Scale the stairs and look to thy left,
For thou shalt set eyes on a gloom-filled room.
Stride in, unbolt the windows, be deft,
But also wary for thou may well meet thy doom.
Spot thou, a pretty damsel but be it the more queerer,
For that damsel shalt be me, the Maiden in the Mirror…’
Harmony shuddered as she heard the words but the voice was so sugary and welcoming that she couldn’t resist trotting up the stairs. She found herself in a narrow, light deficient hallway. She looked to her left and saw a doorway that led straight into a room. It was dark there too, so Harmony walked straight to the window and flung it open, paying heed to the words of the song.
Then she gazed at the room around her. It was dusty but quite striking with paintings and tapestries that stretched from the ceiling to the floor. At one end of the room was a gargantuan mirror. Its wooden frame had carvings of musical instruments all over it.
Right at the top it had a carved opera house and at the bottom, a carved cemetery. But there were only three graves. This made Harmony think. She went up to the mirror and looked at her feet. Then she slowly lifted her head, bringing her gaze to meet her face. As she did, she gasped and a look of unadulterated dread spread across her face.
But the face in the mirror didn’t change. It stayed motionless and then, to Harmony’s further bewilderment, said something, ‘Why are you afraid my girl?’
Instead of answering the question Harmony said, ‘My reflection. You can talk…and you have…white hair!’
For this was what had scared Harmony so much.
‘I’m not your reflection Harmony. I’m your grandmother.’ The maiden replied.
‘Grandma?’ asked Harmony, reaching up to touch the mirror.
‘Yes. It’s been fifteen years since I last saw you dear. You’ve grown a lot since then. What happened and where do you live now?’ asked Grandmother tenderly.
‘I live with Aunt Jane and Uncle Johnson. I was five when they told me that mum and dad would never come back for me. What exactly happened Grandma?’
‘You should know that your parents were driving me to the Opera House for my last ever performance on stage. I was to retire. It was a sinister, turbulent night and we needed to drive across the Howling Cliffs. The wind whipped all around the cliffs, causing them to live up to their name.
‘Suddenly your father swerved. I saw why. We narrowly avoided being hit by a speeding lorry. And all I knew was that we were falling. Our lives flashed before us faster than the wink of a jewel in the sun. You were our only thought.’
There was an eerie silence as Harmony drank all this in.
‘They told me dad and mum didn’t want me,’ whispered Harmony, breaking the quiet. ‘But I always waited in hope that one day they would remember me and come back. Now all my hopes are shattered.’
‘Hush my dear,’ cooed her grandmother. Then spotting the food in Harmony’s bag she said ‘Eat something for you look hungry.’
It was only then that Harmony realized that she hadn’t eaten anything since last night. She reached for her bag that she had put down near the window and pulled out two apples offering one to her grandmother, not exactly knowing whether she would reach out of the mirror.
‘Thanks darling but I am but a spirit with no body. It is the mirror that is my bones now. Eat yourself.’ said her grandmother a soft voice that was hardly audible.
Harmony shrugged and bit into one apple, rubbing it viciously on her T-shirt before she did. Before long all three apples were reduced to mere fragments and Harmony had polished off half her water.
‘I’ll keep the biscuits for lunch and dinner.’ She said contently.
‘You do realize, my dear, that soon you shall have to go home don’t you? Either that or your aunt and uncle will come searching for you.’ said her grandmother.
‘Well, I’m not going back. And it will take weeks if not months to find this house,’ replied Harmony stubbornly. ‘And in any case, I stumbled here in the dark and don’t know the way back.’
‘Then how are you going to get food and water? You could die of thirst in just a day. It’s essential that a growing girl like you gets enough water you know.’
Harmony shrugged casually. ‘There’s always the lake outside.’
‘No, never!’ cried her grandmother sharply. ‘That is the Lake of the Lost Spirits. All those that aren’t permitted enter to heaven as well as hell go there.’
‘Are my…’ Harmony gulped hard. ‘Are my parents there? Can I meet them?’
‘No my lass, they have gone to heaven. I too would have been there. In fact, I did go there at first but I was appointed Guardian of the Lost Spirits as soon as I was seen. Goodness knows why I was though.
‘And even if your parents were there, I would never have allowed you to go meet them.’
‘And why is that Grandma?’ enquired Harmony curiously.
‘Well, the Spirits are full of resentment and bitterness because they were rejected from both Heaven and Hell. So anyone who goes and sits at the bank of it is pulled into the murky depths, never to see daylight again.’ answered her grandmother in a spooky voice.
‘Have you seen this happen before?’
‘Yes dear. It happened to my husband. When we first bought this house…’
‘You lived in this house?’ interrupted Harmony. ‘No wonder you’ve come to haunt it!’
‘Use it to guard the Spirits I hope you mean.’ replied her grandmother, looking hurt and cross. ‘Well, when we shifted in, Jacob went to the lake to connect some water pipe. And that was the last time I saw him. His body was never found.’
‘I’m sorry.’ whispered Harmony looking at her feet.
‘Never mind. Shall I sing you a song?’
Soon Harmony had forgotten everything but the fact that she was listening to her long lost grandmother singing. The melody was enchanting, like it could take you to a land away from troubles and worries…
‘Harmony, Harmony dear. Wake up. You fell asleep. It’s lunch time now.’
Harmony sat up and rubbed her eyes. That must be her aunt calling. Then she saw her Grandmother smiling down at her from the mirror. It took her a moment to remember everything.
‘Alright, I just have some biscuits and water remaining though. Not really my idea of a lunch.’
She lay down again and lazily rolled over to her bag. There she propped herself up against the wall and began devouring her biscuits. They were salty and soon her throat was begging for something to drink.
Harmony had no option but to drink the rest of her water. Then she went over to a book that she had packed beforehand. But unfortunately for her, it was so tedious that she fell asleep again. An hour later, she woke up with a headache so bad that it hurt her even to think.
‘What’s the matter darling?’ asked her Grandmother sensing that Harmony was in pain.
‘Headache.’ replied Harmony and immediately winced for the headache raged on behind her brow.
‘Come here and lie by the mirror. I’ll sing you a soothing song.’
Harmony painfully rolled over to where her Grandmother’s Spirit wavered. She lay still and listened to the words that fell like flowers and precious stones from the lips of her Grandmother.
Soon she found herself drifting off to sleep again. The headache ceased. She had reached a place with no worry, no pain, no suffering. A place where she could meet her parents…
The door of the house burst open and Uncle Johnson hurried in followed by a worried looking Aunt Jane.
‘Search the kitchen Jane. I’ll go upstairs.’
Johnson clomped up the creaky stairs, two at a time, all the rotting wood falling away behind him. He looked into the room of the mirror and immediately cried out, ‘Jane, she’s here!’
Jane shot up the stairs, ‘Where? Is she alright?’
She stopped dead as she watched her husband gently touch the lifeless body of Harmony. Her neck was shrivelled.
‘Alas, she died of thirs…’
He was interrupted by a voice. A voice that captivated everything when it sang:
‘Spot thou, a pretty damsel but be it the more queerer,
For that damsel shalt be me, the Maiden in the Mirror…’