“Yesterday, upon the stair,
A little man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish he’d go away!”
–William Hughes Mearns, “Antigonish”
“Are you who you are, Mr. Stohler?” Mrs. Vance asked when we reached the head of the stairs.
“So I’ve always assumed.”
An explosive volley of feminine laughter caught me off guard. It originated in the last room down the hall. I’ve been investigating the paranormal for years and know the difference between a hoax and an event. The laughter, which ceased as suddenly as it had begun, was genuine and by far the most powerful manifestation of an event that I had ever experienced. Othersiders create sounds and images that neither the living nor modern technology can duplicate; input understood only by the mind. Although I knew this, it didn’t save me from reacting like goddam “Shaggy” from Scooby Doo.
Mrs. Vance casually glanced down the hall and then back at me. She smiled, and I clearly saw that the shuffling, befuddled old woman who’d answered my knock downstairs, just moments before, had changed. It was as though a new mind had come online behind the same face.
“Good news, Mr. Stohler, Milady finds you amusing. She approves of persons who are impressed by her charms.”
“She caught me out, all right,” I said. “But this isn’t the first time I’ve been had by a…”
“‘Had’? ‘Had by’ a what, Mr. Stohler? A poltergeist? Nothing to brag about there; those fools are as plentiful as mice and not half as clever. No, there’ll be no guesswork when and if you are had by the MirrorGlimmer. Milady is the one and only. And she will graciously welcome you if you have faith in your convictions.”
“Tell me, Mrs. Vance, was that a performance downstairs or does Milady have an effect on you whenever you get close to her?”
I’d fully expected my inquiry to offend Mrs. Vance. And I would never have posed it if I had believed that the presentation of the person I had met at the door had been an act on her part. I’d watched the light slowly go out in my mother’s eyes as she’d drifted deeper into the Alzheimer’s shadowland. Downstairs, that same insensate diminishment was well underway in Mrs. Vance’s face. She was still lucid enough to function, but all the tells of the gathering mind fog were plainly visible. Yet the upstairs Mrs. Vance was exquisitely sharp witted to a degree I had seldom experienced. No, although impossible, both faces were true, and the only explanation, albeit fantastic, lay behind that door.
“Milady is offended by disease,” Mrs. Vance said cheerfully. “My mind is slipping and I know senility when I see it, even in myself. Downstairs, despite the confusion, I’m still able to perform such tasks as answering the door. Up here,” she continued, “Milady is, for a short time, able to resurrect my senses and companionship.”
“Have you been Milady’s, um, friend, long?” I asked, although familiar was probably closer to the truth.
“Happily, since the Johnson Administration,” she said.
A second volley of Othersider laughter greeted that. Mrs Vance laughed along with it.
“Why yes, Mr. Stohler, I suppose it is.”
Mrs. Vance took a step toward me and looped my arm in hers. It took all my will not to draw away from her. She spoke into my eyes:
“There’s still time for you to back out and never return, Mr. Stohler. But if you do, you’ll leave whatever integrity you once had with Milady. Legions of shamans, magicians, shills, mediums, sceptics, and persons, like you, who’d sought to reconcile the occult with science, have come as far as you have, yet none have proceeded further. They and their crystals and wolfsbane and crosses and items such as the useless spy-camera you have secreted on your person, usually turn tail and run when it comes time to meet the legendary MirrorGlimmer. What have you, Mr. Stohler, yay or nay?”
In retrospect, I must admit that the MirrorGlimmer had correctly gauged my personality. Mrs. Vance had read me too, but the real work had been accomplished by “Milady.” She located the center of my belief system, which most likely had amused her more than my reaction to her laughter.
Oh, the things I knew.
I knew that a proactive application of the Scientific Method was the only way to proceed in studies of the paranormal. I knew that there were super entities such as the MirrorGlimmer, but I also knew that no matter how impressive these beings were, they were merely preternatural creatures not yet understood by science–which, like everything else, made them subjects of the only kind of Universe they can exist in. Oh, the things I knew.
“Nice call on the spy-cam,” I said. “I hope Milady doesn’t hold it against me. As far as my integrity goes, I aim to keep it. Lead on, madam. Tell her I’m all in.”
“We know,” she said. And a complicated expression fell across her face. Part loss, part gain, mostly release, it was an expression one might convey upon the satisfactory conclusion of a great labor.
Mrs. Vance guided me to the room and unlocked the door. She politely stepped aside and allowed me to enter first. I hadn’t expected the spacious and delightful sun splashed living chamber that lay before me. The creaky cliches about the inherent spookiness of haunted houses are relentlessly substantiated by “traditional” decorating choices made by the living. Yet in this room there were no creepy portraits of dead ancestors on the walls–whose eyes seemingly follow you; nor were any of the expensive furnishings stern antiques ready to scold any peasant who’d dare cast a shadow on them; nor stood a suit of armor in the corner (you see that more than you might expect). The arcane usage of gay, as in cheerfully light hearted, best described the room. Although none were present, the clean scent of fresh flowers was all around. Such is common in inhabited places; some Othersiders must have flowers to the fulsome level of stink, but that wasn’t the case this time, for like everything else, in there, the odor was just right. I was so charmed by the surroundings that I gave the gold vanity to which I steadily proceeded scant acknowledgement. Just moments before my knowledge of the MirrorGlimmer legend would have made that action as advisable as relocating to Chernobyl. Alas, Milady’s greatest power lies in the arrogance of persons who consider themselves her equal. With all that stated, maybe there’s less shame in admitting that I’d fallen for The Oldest Trick in the Book.
Why, no, Mrs. Vance hadn’t followed me inside. After making certain that I had been sufficiently had, she shut and locked the door and called out what were most likely her last words: “When I said, I’d been Milady’s companion since the Johnson Administration, I had referred to Andrew, not Lyndon. But that is of no matter, as you will soon find out, Mr. Stohler. A long life in Milady Miranda’s magic awaits you. If you come to love her even a small fraction as much as I have, you will know great happiness.”
“Yes, darling, please come closer,” said the vanity. “We are who we are.
I woke in bed with a stranger…
And what a stranger she was. We lay close beneath the covers, I, on my back and she on her side facing me. Somewhere in the Universe there may be an equation or a melody or a dream or an ideal as beautiful as the face of that stranger, but nothing more so. In our reality we must overlook (or even invent and then overlook) defects in order to first forgive then ascribe perfection. But this wasn’t our reality. In my reality hers was a beauty you cannot tell. I could waste pages describing her eyes or the effect that the combined triangles of her face had on my imagination; but those words would no more accurately approach her beauty than if I use those necessary to convey an aardvark.
She gazed questioningly into my mind. “Are you who you are?”
I awoke dying on a battlefield…
A lovely angel descended through the smoke and fire.
“Are you who you are?”
“I don’t know.”
I awoke in a coffin….
Neither a beautiful stranger nor a lovely angel came to me. Extreme claustrophobia caused me to wail like a trapped animal; and I begged and cried and clawed at the lid. I imagined that the entire earth lay above me and that I could never die, never be released from the worst possible fate that had lain festering in my subconscious since I had first conceived it in childhood. And I thought about the eyeless, mindless, chewing creatures slowly squirming toward me in the soil.
“Are you who you are?”
“No!” I screamed through my panic and tears. “I am not who I am! I am yours and yours alone! Please please please please let me out let me out…”
I awoke seated at the vanity. The mirror facing me did not yield my reflection, only that of the chair and the wall behind it, because that glass was hers. The side mirrors, however, contained my profiles. Both side glasses reflected my reflection in the other glass. Who hasn’t seen a man being filmed from behind as he watches himself being filmed from behind on television? Who doesn’t understand that such an arrangement will keep repeating itself forever if not for the screen’s vanishing point? I laughed. Milady doesn’t have a vanishing point. Mrs. Vance was right, I’d know it if I’d been had by the MirrorGlimmer. And I understood why she could only hint at the wonder of Milady. I’d already experienced that beauty beyond the poor descriptive power of words. Oh, I was and always shall be had. I was and continue to be like a Christian intoxicated by the rebirth of his Faith. Yet unlike that sinner I have an actual Supreme Being to fear and praise.
“Are we who we are, darling?”
“Yes, Lady Miranda,” I said. “We are who we are.”
After listening to Milady, I wasn’t surprised when one of my replicas passed me at the head of the stair. He was whistling his way down the hall with a toilet brush in hand. Another “me” had been assigned the lousy job of cutting Mrs. Vance’s body down from where she’d hanged herself. He and one–no, two, other me’s were tasked with her burial in the garden.
A thick, leather-bound diary lay open on the table from which Mrs. Vance had stepped off with a velvet drape tied around her neck. Mrs. Vance’s final entry was addressed to me.
Dear Mr. Stohler,
Although one should never be sorry for taking actions that greatly improve another person’s existence, I sincerely apologize for the little ruse I pulled on you upstairs, but nothing else.
As I’m certain you have already noticed, Mr. Stohler, there’s a lot more of you to love, nowadays. Yet rest assured, these individuals are merely temporary laborers who’ll dissipate once their work is completed. I call them “extras”–in the movie sense. You, the real you, can see them, they don’t see you unless they have been directed to serve you. They don’t respond when you speak to them, and if you attempt to, say, throw one off the landing, he will simply wink out and be replaced by another copy that Milady has made of you. I’ve lost my temper and have “gone to town” numerous times on my replicas in the past. You get used to them, by and by.
I was a nineteen-year-old Civil War widow when Lady Miranda saved me. Employed as a maid at a seedy Baltimore hotel, Milady rescued me from a terrible existence when one day, while on an errand, a box in the basement called me by name. Beguiled, I opened the box and a small hand mirror lay in it. To make a long story short, Milady did to me something similar to what I’m certain she has just done to you. She won my everlasting devotion when my mind was trapped in a house fire; in my era, burning to death was commonplace and my worst fear.
The chroniclers of the MirrorGlimmer legend have two things wrong. First, Milady isn’t tethered to a single looking glass, she may “hop” mirrors to any other reflecting object at will–this includes water and fog. Naturally, she prefers grander vessels than she does thrift shop junk, and she often changes homes simply out of boredom (you’d better prepare for her “little moodswings”; she adores entertainment and hates it if you keep her waiting). I purchased the vanity upstairs online a few years back. She tends to favor vanities and full length dressing mirrors.
Second, whatever she might be, Milady isn’t a ghost. Her mind awakened untold ages ago on the surface of a European bog from which she hopped into “the glistening eyes of a passing maiden.” That’s almost all I know about her deep history. I don’t even know how she arrived in Baltimore because she found it unimportant. Milady isn’t concerned with the past; she lives entirely for the now.
Still, I believe that you and I stand at the current end of an extremely long line of companions. Although she doesn’t look back as a rule, she’ll sometimes wax sentimental about the competence of a previous “lover” if you do something to disappoint her. I’d warn you to prepare for that as well, but there are some things (like my burning house) you can never be ready for.
But don’t let that bother you. Her occasional punishments will only heighten your appreciation of her endless sensual joys–of which I’m certain that she has already given you a small taste. Please forgive an old woman for what might be interpreted as a crudity, Mr. Stohler, but being with Milady is an everlasting orgasm. Furthermore, there is no matter of gender as far as she is concerned. Go ahead and think of her as a succubus, if you wish. Call Milady anything you wish, but never forget that you belong to her.
This is where I must depart from conjecture and explain the plainer matters of business. Although I was born in 1847, I have aged only sixty years or so since I found that hand mirror ateat nineteen. I’m currently pushing eighty even though that should have happened during Prohibition. Companions, despite our long lives, remain heirs to the corruptions of age; senility or dementia, hell by any name, has befallen me. Though I cannot explain the why of it, I do know that you, counterintuitively, will only age when you are with Milady in your sleep–You will always sleep with her, Mr. Stohler, never doubt that. You won’t, however, age a second while you are awake. I think it would make more sense if it were the other way around, but it’s really for the best to remember that neither you nor I are paid to think.
The extras, of course, are slaves who believe that they are real and that they are doing whatever they have been assigned to do out of their own free wills. They wink out at the completion of their work. These were harvested by Milady at the consecration of your devotion to her; they are endless and capable of learning and doing anything that you know how to do for as long as you live. Like anything else, you get used to them by and by.
You were not selected by chance, Mr. Stohler. About a year ago when it became evident that I would eventually degrade to the point of not remembering to go to Milady when she wanted me, we undertook a search for my replacement. You should be infinitely honored, sir, for in another rare divulgence of her past, Milady told me that she had never pre-selected a lover before. In the past she merely hopped from glass to glass until she found, like me, the right kind of person.
This increasingly impersonal modern world has changed the way Milady goes about her business, for the better. It allows her to stay in whatever home she desires, attended by whatever slow ageing person she lives with without the worry of prying eyes. Milady is adamant about her privacy. Although the world’s population continues to grow exponentially, people are so involved with their own virtual realities that they no longer take much notice of an old woman who lives on her own out in the country. Especially when that old woman always pays her debts on time and never does anything interesting. It hasn’t always been that way, Mr. Stohler, in the past she has been discovered often enough to give birth to then propel the Legend of the MirrorGlimmer. Fortunately, anyone smart enough to do something about Milady (which I do not believe possible, but sometimes she’s a wee paranoid–Something else for you to remember) isn’t likely to believe in her. This is where you came in, Mr. Stohler…
I finished reading Mrs. Vance’s last entry, and I was greatly amused and impressed by it.
I also came away with respect for Mrs. Vance, for it must have been difficult for her to pull her mind together one last time and write coherently, all the while with that velvet noose swaying above her head.
It amused me to find out that Lady Miranda and her faithful lover had gone online to find the next companion. Specifically, they wanted to “hire” a person who had developed a plausible theory on the MirrorGlimmer Legend; a testable theory in which she could be both proved, captured and studied. The online multiverse, which is surpassed in limitlessness only by the cosmos, actually yielded a person who’d fit the profile: Yours Truly, Dr. Kurt Stohler, Phd.–a self-described Supernaturalist, who has been unfairly labeled a “crackpot” by his colleagues.
“I should have offered my services on Craigslist,” I said with a laugh. I was the perfect MirrorGlimmer candidate. Unemployed, unmarried, friendless and someone who had lived with his mother until she passed away, and had only her insurance money for support. Hell, he didn’t even have a goldfish. And yet this little man whose strange ideas had made him persona non grata in academia, had developed a theory in which charged particles…Oh, never mind. Never mind. Those old vengeful dreams of redemption paled in comparison to the wonders I’d sampled of Lady Miranda. At fort-two, I had never experienced sensual passion until she had chosen me from all humankind.
It was still a couple of hours until sundown. And after a replica silently served me a sumptuous dinner and wine, I felt compelled to begin my own diary in the empty pages left behind by Mrs. Vance.
Just think, this morning I had awakened with less than a hundred dollars in the bank and now I am a multi-millionaire–legally, so according to the documents which lay in the safe. Just how Milady and her companion arranged this would be understandable to me if I cared to look into it. But I don’t care to look into it. I had also awakened with a hopeful giddiness regarding an appointment I had with a woman at a country estate who had emailed me about “a” MirrorGlimmer that had been in her family for centuries. I had been operating under the false impression that “MirrorGlimmers” represented a sect of specialized poltergeists. Even minus empirical proof to support or refute, I knew that Mrs. Vance had told the truth about Milady.
I must go now, dearest diary, a replica has just announced that Milady wants me. “Whatever you do, never make Milady send for you twice” were the final words in Mrs. Vance’s last entry. I’m going to her now. We are who we are.
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