My fourth ghost story which will eventually be part of an anthology
By Mike Rickett
It is half hidden behind a chest of drawers when I first spot it. It is the ornate carved mahogany surround to the mirror that catches my eye. I can only see a corner but there is something about it that impels me to try and drag it out but it is completely jammed by the heavy Victorian drawers which I simply cannot move. I look for the shop owner and at first there does not appear to be any sign of him or her.
I wander around the shop calling out, but there is no reply. Eventually, I come a across a Chesterfield high-backed armchair in the style of Queen Anne. I almost walk past it until I spot an elbow resting on one of the arms.
I walk around it to see an elderly man with an untidy mop of grey hair and extensive side whiskers staring at me through a pair of old -fashioned wire spectacles.
‘Are you the shop owner?’ I ask. He just nods. ‘I have seen something I would like to take a closer look at,’ I say. ‘But it is jammed behind a chest of drawers. Could you give me a hand to move it please?’
He hoists himself up and I see, with some amusement, that he looks like an antique himself with his black waistcoat and Prince Albert chain and grubby-looking shirt with wing collars and a spotted bow tie. He is also quite short, just coming up to my shoulder. He looks at me grimly and wanders off in the direction of the chest of drawers. For some reason he reminds me of Mr Pickwick. How does he know what I was looking at, I think to myself and slowly follow him?
I have always had a fascination for junk shops. I was brought up on a farm in mid-Wales and there was a shop in the village a quarter of a mile away where I spent many hours talking to the owner. To me it was an Old Curiosity Shop with all its treasures. At the time I thought the owner was quite old but that was from the perspective of a small boy who thought that anybody grown up was old. Looking back, he was probably only in his early forties. He would regale me with tales connected to the items in his shop. He somehow managed to make a Welsh Dresser sound exciting by telling me how it was made and all the people who may have owned it and what their lives would have been like.
Ever since then I have never been able to resist the temptation to browse antique and junk shops. I now live in Liverpool and I know where most of them are. Strangely perhaps, I was quite unaware that the shop I am now in, on Renshaw Street in the city centre, even existed despite travelling down the road regularly.
I follow the shop owner and we arrive at the chest of drawers. I point to the mirror and he looks at me, grimaces and shakes his head. ‘Are ye sure lad?’ he mutters reaching for the back of the drawers and wrenching it away from the wall with apparent ease. He is evidently stronger than he looks. He bends down and pulls the mirror out. It is covered in cobwebs and grime. He places it on top of the drawers and wipes his hand on a cloth.
The mirror is oval, almost two feet long and the surround has figures carved into it which I can’t make out because of all the grime.
‘How much do you want for it?’ I ask.
‘There be a better un over yonder,’ he replies pointing to the opposite wall.
‘No, I like this one. I’ll give you a fiver for it.’ I offer him a note. He stares at it as though he has never seen one before.
‘Some mirrs are better not lookd at,’ he says fixing me with a piercing stare. He takes the note and shuffles off.
I wipe the worst of the grime off and am about to thank him for his help but he has vanished. I shrug and make my way to the door. I hail a taxi and give the driver my address on the outskirts of the city.
I have not long moved into the three-bed terrace house with my wife Amy. My name, by the way, is Dominic Burridge and I am a reporter with the Press Association. My brief is to cover the Northwest of England so I do a great deal of travelling but my ‘office’ is our front room, something many people have had to get accustomed to during the Covid pandemic.
Amy and I have been slowly buying furniture and fittings as and when we have any spare cash. I found a nice dining room table in an Oxfam shop and a set of six chairs at a local Barnardo’s. I am sure Amy will like the mirror which will look good in the hall once I have cleaned it up.
I get home and immediately take it to the sink. Amy joins me. ‘Where did you get that?’ she says staring at it. ‘It’s filthy. What’s the betting it is riddled with woodworm too. You should just dump it in the nearest skip.’
‘It’s mahogany,’ I call after her. ‘It will be really nice when I’ve cleaned it up. You wait and see. It will look good in the hall.’ There is no answer. I press on, first wiping all the grime off the glass. The mirror is perfect and cleans up well. Next, I use soapy water to clean all the dirt off the surround. The wood responds and gleams and for the first time I notice there are figures carved into it. I decide to let it dry and polish it up later. I rest it on the kitchen divider with a cloth covering it.
I return to the kitchen a few hours later and the cloth is on the floor. I assume Amy must have had a look and the cloth must have slipped off. I examine the surround which is now quite dry and decide to rub in wax to preserve the wood.
While I am doing it, I study the figures which at first glance look like dancing people but then, on closer inspection, I realise they are not people at all but are more like the grotesque gargoyles you see on medieval churches. That is rather odd and it probably points to the mirror being a great older than I at first thought. I know that commercial mirrors have been around since the 17th century so I speculate that perhaps that is when our mirror dates from. If that is so it is a good find for £5! I feel rather pleased with myself
I lean it up against the wall and look at my own reflection. Suddenly, I see Amy’s reflection behind me wearing an odd white cap. She is staring at me unsmiling. I turn around but there is nobody there. I look at the mirror again but it is just my face that stares back at me. I must have imagined it. I finish waxing the wood and hang it in the hall. I feel oddly unsettled.
I don’t see Amy until later in the day when she has finished work at the Central Library on William Brown Street opposite the iconic St Georges Hall.
‘I see you have hung that wretched mirror in the hall,’ she says. ‘I’m not sure I like it. There is something about it that makes me feel uneasy.’
I decide that it would not be a good time to mention the strange reflection I think I saw. Instead, I laugh it off and tell her that I have good reason for thinking it may be 17th century. ‘It’s a genuine antique,’ I tell her enthusiastically. She looks at me doubtfully and swiftly changes the subject suggesting we have a takeaway for our evening meal.
It is about 2:00 am when I am woken by the sound of footsteps on the stairs. They are measured, heavy footsteps like those made by boots and they gradually get louder as they ascend the stairs. I can feel the hair rising at the back of my neck. I look at Amy who is snoring softly and quite oblivious to it. I know I must investigate despite a desire to hide somewhere. I swing my legs out of bed and listen as the steps continue along the landing and then abruptly stop outside our bedroom door.
I am scared. Who could it possibly be? What could he want? A burglar would hardly announce himself like this. And why have the footsteps just stopped. There is an old walking stick with a silver knob that belonged to my grandfather in the corner. I grab it and reach for my dressing gown, slip it on and silently walk to the door and listen. I can hear nothing. I slowly turn the handle.
I yank the door open with all the force I can muster, raising the stick threateningly with my other hand. There is nobody there. I reach for the light switch and turn the landing lights on. I stare down the blackness of the stair well. Do I see something moving or am I imagining it?
I can’t turn on the hall light from the landing. There is a switch but for some reason it doesn’t work. I am going to have to go down the stairs in the dark. ‘Who’s there,’ I shout stepping carefully and staring into the void.
I am about halfway down and there is a dim light from the window above the front door. The streetlight outside is casting a yellow beam on the front half of the hall.
I have reached the bottom of the stairs. There is a sepulchral stillness as though I am being watched by somebody or something. I quickly walk from room to room but everything is as it should be. I return to the hall and glance at the mirror. I am about to walk past it but I stop. Something is wrong. I stand in front of it but there is no image of me. There is just the hall with the door to the sitting room behind me. I move around but I am still not reflected.
How can a mirror not reflect your image? I look at it again and I realise that while I can see the hall, it not the hall as it is now. It is a much older hall with heavy Victorian wallpaper and the doors are painted a horrible brown so loved by the Victorians. I must be going mad. First, footsteps on the stairs and now this.
I climb the stairs and return to bed. The hall has become an alien place. Amy is still asleep and was obviously not disturbed by my shouting. That is also strange because she is normally a light sleeper and the slightest noise will waken her.
I must have dozed off because Amy is shaking me. ‘Dom, Dom, wake up. What’s the matter with you?’ she is saying. I blink as consciousness gradually returns. I sit and stare at her.
‘Didn’t you say you had to go to Birkenhead for 9.30 this morning?’ she says. ‘It’s 8.30 now. You had better get moving.’
She is right. I head for the shower. I debate whether to tell her about last night as the hot water revives my senses. I decide not to. It would only scare her but I think I will get rid of the mirror which appears to be the cause of all the weird events.
Over breakfast I tell her that I will return it to the shop when I get back from Birkenhead. ‘Oh no, don’t do that,’ she says. ‘I like it. I get a good feeling when I look at it and you have done such an excellent job of cleaning it up.’
‘Are you serious. You hated it when I brought it home.’
‘Well, I don’t anymore. You leave it alone. I’ll clean it and polish it.’ I am lost for words. What could have brought about such a change of heart. I wait until she has left for work and take the mirror down and put it under the stairs. With any luck she won’t notice and tomorrow I will take it back to the shop and just return it to the weird old man whether he wants it or not!
I have a particularly gruesome murder to cover in Birkenhead’s Hamilton Square where a man went berserk with an axe and hacked his wife and two children to death. I am going to do some doorstepping and get some background on him. The killer is in police custody and they will also be making a statement later in the morning.
I arrive home a little later than expected. I have a story to write which I then must file and so I go immediately to the front room with my laptop and get to work. Amy is already in and I call out saying I could murder a coffee. There is no answer. At first, I think nothing of it and carry on working.
Fifteen minutes later I pause because there is an unnatural silence. Amy usually has music playing when she is busy at home making a meal or anything else really. She is not a person who likes a stillness. I work for a little while longer until I have completed the killings story and file it, then I go and investigate with the primary intention of making a much-needed coffee.
I walk into the sitting room and Amy is sprawled on the sofa. At first, I think she is simply asleep but then I stop in my tracks when I glimpse her face. It is one of the grotesque gargoyles from the mirror surround. It is the face of a harpy, half woman, half bird, the mouth wide open exposing a tongue which lolls through jagged teeth.
I gasp and step back in terror until I reach the door. I turn and glance at the hallway. The mirror is back on the wall. Amy must have found it.
‘You must need a coffee,’ says Amy’s voice. I turn and look at the sofa and she is standing up, yawning. ‘I must have dozed off for a while,’ she says, walking over and giving me a hug. I must stop myself shrinking back. What is happening. Am I going mad?
‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ she asks as I continue to stare at her. How can I tell her that she briefly had the face of a gargoyle and, while I am at it, the footsteps I heard in the middle of the night and the mirror that did not reflect me?
I slump on the sofa and bury my head in my hands. ‘What’s the matter?’ she says, sitting next to me and putting a comforting arm around my shoulders.
‘It’s the mirror,’ I mutter. ‘Did you find it and replace it?’
‘What do mean?’
‘I took it off the wall and put it under the stairs,’
She stares at me, puzzled, concerned. ‘You must have been dreaming,’ she says. ‘It was on the wall when I came home from work.
What am I to do? She is not going to believe me whatever I say. There is only one solution and that is to get rid of it once and for all.
‘I am going to take it back to the shop,’ I say standing up. She shrugs, shakes her head and smiles demurely.
‘If you must, you must,’ she says disappearing into the kitchen. I walk to the hall and look in the mirror. My face is reflected but as I look it changes and my image begins to laugh tauntingly, sneeringly, gradually fading, leaving just a view of the hall behind me. I rub my eyes. Am I really seeing this or is it all in my mind?
How did the mirror find its way back to the hall? Amy must have found it under the stairs. How else could it have got back?
We eat our meal in a strained silence until I ask her if she is feeling all right. She looks surprised. ‘Never better, why do you ask?’
‘Well, you don’t normally fall into such a deep sleep this early in the evening,’ I say and then, half-jokingly: ‘I think you’ve been looking in that mirror too much. You know that old fairy-tale line: Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all.’ I say it wearing a big grin. ‘If you aren’t careful the seven dwarfs will come after you.’ I chuckle disarmingly.
She glares at me and slams her knife down on the table. ‘You are talking nonsense Dom as usual. ‘Yes, I admit looking in the mirror. I feel at peace with myself when I do. I don’t know why. There is just something about it.’
She stalks out into the kitchen taking the dirty plates with her. Twenty minutes later she is still there. I decide to go to the pub and call out saying I will be a couple of hours. There is no reply.
Three pints later I return to an empty house. I look in the mirror but all I see is myself. I go to all three rooms but there is no sign of Amy. Has she gone out as well? I sit in an armchair and stare at the blank TV. There is an odd atmosphere I can’t quite put my finger on, almost as though something is about to happen. I hear a slight sound in the hall and glance to see the door slowly open of its own accord to reveal the mirror. There is a silvery light emanating from it.
My first reaction is to stay away from it; I have had quite enough of the horrors that emanate from it but then I know I must look because whatever is happening is obviously intended for me.
I walk slowly to the sitting room door and shield my eyes from the bright light which slowly dims to reveal Amy’s face but not the face I know and love. The face that stares back at me malevolently is more gargoyle than Amy. Her mouth opens to reveal jagged teeth with blood dripping from them.
‘Fancy giving me a kiss,’ says the apparition in a low guttural voice. I back away and slam the door and lean on it to prevent it opening. Behind it is raucous, harsh laughing.
I decide to spend the night in the spare room. I place a chair under the door handle. I doubt I will be able to sleep and I decide to keep the light on. I lie on the bed with all my clothes on and settle into a fitful doze.
I wake with a start. I can hear voices downstairs. Coarse, guttural voices; the sound of movement and then, interspersed, the sound of Amy’s tinkling laugh. At one point I can see my bedroom door handle turning but I press the chair even more firmly against it. There is a mocking, scornful snigger and then there is a heavy silence.
I return to the bed and come to a decision. I know what I must do.
It is morning and I am on my way to a DIY store on the outskirts of Liverpool. Before I attempted to go to sleep last night, I went online on my phone. I wanted to find out what the melting point of glass is. Modern glass melts at around 2,500C and can mostly only be done in a kiln but older glass will often melt at around 900C.
I quite quickly find what I am looking for: a blowtorch and a mask, together with a canister of gas. I put it all in the car boot and hurry on to my first assignment of the day which is to Southport to cover a story of a man who says he has figured out a way to make his car work on water. Probably a crackpot unless he has found a way of making hydrolysis work to split hydrogen from water. Crackpot or not, people are going to take notice.
I return home a little earlier than expected. Amy is also home which is a complication I hadn’t expected but I am determined to press on with my plan come what may. I say hello to her and bend over to kiss her on the cheek. She looks at me with a strange, unnatural stare as though I am stranger. Hopefully, what I am about to do will release her from whatever or whoever has possessed her.
I tell her that I have work to do in the back yard and I hurry through with my bag. I have a larger bag as well. I wait until Amy goes upstairs to the toilet before going to the hall and taking down the mirror and covering it with the bag. I am careful not to look at it. I close the kitchen door firmly behind me and place the mirror face down on a slab of concrete at the end of the yard.
The back of the mirror is covered with a thin sheet of wood. The first job is to reduce all the wood to ash, especially the surround with all their grotesque carvings so I light the torch and cover my face with the mask. I get to work on the backing.
At first, the backing smoulders and then bursts into flame, so then I direct the torch to the surround moving it a few inches at a time. It is then that I notice the smell. It is the stench of rotting flesh. I hold a hand to the mask, pressing it to my face and continue playing the flame as the wood begins to blacken.
I keep my eyes fixed on it despite the smell which is making me gag. I am determined it must be reduced to ashes. As I look, I see dark shapes writhing in the flames. They are grotesque, horrible, and I can hear screams of agony as the flames gradually devour them. I continue remorselessly until all that is left is smouldering ashes.
Now, it is time to deal with the mirror itself. The backing has been scorched by the flames so I brush the ashes aside. I suspect that the reflective surface has a film of mercury which would have been used in the Middle Ages. I also know that when I begin work with the torch it will very likely give off toxic fumes, so I make sure the mask is securely fastened covering my nose and mouth.
After a few minutes, the glass begins to become slightly translucent and I notice that a black cloud has formed around me and that in it is a darker outline of what looks like the head of some sort of horned beast. I ignore it and concentrate on the glass which is now beginning to glow a dull red.
Suddenly, there is an ear-piercing screech. I glance up and standing a few feet away is Amy, her face contorted into a snarl, her teeth bared and her eyes glowing a bright red. She is clutching a large kitchen knife and pointing it at me.
A guttural growl comes from her and a deep male voice commands me to stop. I ignore it and keep my eyes fixed on the mirror which is now beginning to glow a deep red. I expect the knife to be plunged into my throat imminently but nothing happens. I glance up and Amy is still there. Suddenly, her head tilts back and she screams, dropping the knife and she collapses in a heap. I want to go and help her but I know I must continue.
The mirror begins to melt, forming little glowing puddles on the concrete. I break it up into even smaller globules with a stick. Finally, I can switch off the torch and remove my mask. I go over to Amy and carry her into the sitting room, laying on the sofa. I pour a small brandy and cradle her head with my right arm and rub a little brandy on her lips. She coughs and her eyes open, staring at me.
‘I have been having really bad dreams,’ she whispers. ‘It’s the mirror Dom. It’s evil.’
‘I know,’ I say. ‘I have destroyed it and it will trouble us no more.’ She bursts into tears and we sit there, side by side, for what feels like eternity, safe at last.
It is a week later when I find myself in Renshaw Street once more. The trauma of that day when I melted the mirror is still with me. I can still smell the rotting flesh and see the terrifying image in the black cloud. When the bubbles of glass cooled, I swept them up and poured them in the wheelie bin which was emptied the following day.
The house is at peace now and Amy is once more the carefree girl I married, although just occasionally I catch her glancing nervously in the direction of the hall.
I find a parking space on Renshaw Street and walk up the road in the direction of the junk shop where I bought the mirror. I want to find out where it came from.
I can’t find the shop. I remember which block it was on but there is no junk shop. This is impossible. The shop was here just a week or two ago. I cannot be mistaken. Instead, there is a small gallery and curio shop with pictures of old Liverpool in the window. I glance at them.
I am about to turn away and walk down the road just in case I am mistaken about where the shop was when one of the pictures in the window catches my eye.
It is a faded black and white photo of the junk shop with, standing outside, his arms folded over his chest, the elderly man with grey hair and side whiskers staring at the camera through wire spectacles. I look at the photo more closely. He has a sneering smile on his face.
The caption says Hob’s Curios, Renshaw Street, 1895.