“Daddy, tell me about Mommy.”
“Son, it’s late” Bernt said, trying to sound firm.
“Please?” Ben persisted.
“She liked Tuna Fish sandwiches. And old Star Trek episodes. When she laughed, she had dimples under both sides of her mouth….just like you.”
“She would scream herself silly when the 49er’s played.” Bernt said.
Ben’s face asked for more without saying the words.
“And….she loved you very much. And….its time to go to sleep.”
“Son, I mean it.” He ruffled Ben’s black curls and kissed his forehead. “Time for prayers and then, sleep.”
“Where did Mommy go?”
Hours later, Bernt sat, empty beer cans beside him. He’d chugged them, not enjoyed them. He wasn’t the type to drink alone, but tonight, he had. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d spent time with his friends.
Everything was different.
His son was asleep now, cuddling a ragged bear he’d had since a baby. He looked so peaceful. Bernt envied his son that peace. He thought of his son’s last question. How could he answer it if he didn’t know himself?
Bernt checked all the locks, but his worry was not for outside intruders. He was a big, husky man, well over 6 feet, strong, and could protect himself, knew marital arts. They lived in an upscale neighborhood that rarely heard a police siren.
The fear definitely wasn’t from outside.
Bernt pulled out the couch-bed, lay down, and tried to sleep. As usual, he could not. The bed was comfortable, but he missed Kerry. Finally, he got up, and walked through the house.
He ended up where he always did, at the door of the master bedroom.
Would he see her tonight?
The door was kept closed. Always. The room was off limits to Ben. His curiosity had been met with such a firm discouragement from Bernt, that he knew not to push it. He didn’t ask why the room was forbidden. Not anymore.
Bernt opened, the door.
The room was always cold. Nothing helped. Even in mid-summer.
“Bernt?” The voice was Kerry’s. It was panicked, upset. He went to where he knew she would be.
The round, white, wooded mirror was tall. Nearly six feet tall. It was an oval shape and had been custom made three centuries before in Salem. By a settler known for his furniture making–Abraham Shelton. However, that was all that Bernt knew about him. Shelton and his family had lived near Salem during the witch trials of 1692.
Bernt and Kerry had bought the mirror, on a whim, when they were visiting Salem. They had stopped at a little curio shop next to a museum. Kerry had loved the mirror. Bernt had thought it was ridiculously over-priced. Kerry’s whim had won out. They’d lugged the mirror home in the back of their Range Rover.
Two years later, he still blamed himself. But how could he have known? How could anyone have known what would happen next?
Kerry was there.
In the mirror, Bernt could not see his reflection. Instead he saw the other place. It was a garden. Nearby, he heard children playing.
Always, Kerry was dressed in ancient clothes, pilgrim-like attire. Her black hair was severely restrained, but a few curls managed to get loose. She was so beautiful, the most beautiful woman he’d ever known. The only one that he ever wanted to marry.
How he longed to touch her…….
“Bernt, you must tell Ben.” The voice made him shiver. How could he tell their child what happened?
She stood there, sadness on her face. Waiting.
“What can I say, Kerry? That you walked through a looking glass? Not even a five year old would buy that.”
“He might surprise you.”
“Why can’t you come back?” His voice was a hoarse croak. “do you want to be there? Away from him? Away from me?”
A sound of whistling came from nearby. Kerry looked alarmed. “Tell him! Tell him to stay away from this room! Even if he hears someone call him, even if it is me!”
Then, Bernt was looking at his own reflection. Kerry was gone.
Morning greeted Bernt with a nasty hangover. He spoke sharply to Ben as he got him ready for kindergarten. However, Ben was a good-natured little boy who held no grudges.
I’ll tell him tonight, Bernt thought, watching his son get on the school bus. Their house-keeper, Valerie, would be there to greet Ben when he got out of school. She knew the rule about the master bedroom door, and knew that it had to be strictly enforced. In the time since Kerry had vanished, Valerie had been crucial to Bernt, a busy senior partner at a Boston law firm, being able to continue to work and take care of his son.
He thought of how quickly Ben son had gotten on the school bus. He had no worries, no fears. He’d just gone. Disappeared among his friends.
No, no….Bernt told himself. Not disappear. Bad choice of words. Not disappear. Never disappear.
Work helped. He had a challenging case that was dragging on. He was kept late, and didn’t get home until 6 p.m.
Ben had had dinner and was playing with toys in the den. Bernt went in, played with him, and then got him ready for bed. Again he could not sleep. Again, he was irresistibly drawn to the master bedroom. He went in.
The room had a salty smell, like the ocean. He sat there, and waited for Kerry to appear. She didn’t. Hours passed. Shedding angry tears, Bernt lay down in front of the mirror. Finally, he slept, curled into a fetal position.
The place of the salty smell was all around him. It was a river, with a brackish look to it. One of the many inlets, Bernt thought, close enough to the Atlantic to have a mix of salt and fresh water. He walked along its shore, feeling out of of place. Nearby was a crude cabin, smoke coming out of a chimney. Bernt was cold, and looked down at his clothing. They were the same ones he’d fallen asleep in. But not appropriate for this weather…wherever he was.
He saw two blond children chasing each other, unaware of him, running near a thriving garden. Nearby, a healthy-looking work-horse was tethered to a post next to a barn.
He heard steps behind him. He saw a tall, imposing man, pale, with gray-blonde hair. He was possibly in his sixties. He was strong though, able. He had a long beard and the same type of ancient-looking clothing that he’d seen Kerry wearing. He had clear green eyes, and pock marks on his cheeks. He was carrying a rifle.
“You’ve come a long way, Stranger.” The man’s voice was neither aggressive or friendly. Factual. “Who are you looking for?”
“My wife.” Bernt said.
And then, suddenly, Bernt was waking up in front of the mirror, staring hopelessly at himself within the looking glass.
The next day was Friday. As Bernt got out of his vehicle, he felt empty and sad. Ben would not be there. Valerie had taken him to spend the weekend with his best friend, Aaron Jones. Aaron was having his birthday on Friday night, and then the boys planned a sleepover on Saturday evening. Bernt dreaded going into a home that was only bearable when Ben was there.
Then, Ben came running out of the house, Valerie quickly on his heels. Bernt frowned as Ben rushed into his arms. “What’s going on, Valerie?” He asked their housekeeper. “Why isn’t Ben with Aaron?”
“Ben left his bear, Mr. Myerson. He insisted on coming back….I went up to get it, and…”
“Daddy! I saw Mommy! I saw her!!!”
Bernt’s heart stopped cold. Valerie flinched under his hard look. “I’m sorry, Sir. I thought he was right behind me, I swear.”
“It’s okay, Daddy!” Ben said, happily. “Valerie didn’t know. Mommy was calling me. So, I went in there!”
“Sir, I’m so sorry…” Valerie was saying.
Bernt waved her away. “Valerie, I’ll take care of it. You go on home. See you on Monday after his playgroup. I’ll take him to the sleepover, and then get a lock for the door. It won’t happen again.” Valerie nodded, and quickly left.
As she drove away, Bernt felt a tug on his hand. Ben’s eyes were huge. “Are you going to lock Mommy up in there?”
Bernt knelt down on the driveway, and his son went into his arms.
“Daddy, did I do something bad?” Ben asked.
Bernt shook his head. “Not bad, son. Dangerous.”
“But she was calling me….I saw her!” Ben said.
“I know what you think you saw her, Son…but…”
“I DID see her!” Ben insisted stubbornly.
“No, you didn’t…that’s a funny mirror.”
“Mommy said you say that. She said the man she lives with wants me to come live with them. That he wants a little boy just like me. He walked up and told me how easy it would be to get to them. But then, Mommy looked scared and started crying.”
“Did she?” Bernt closed his eyes and tried to think. But how could he explain what he himself didn’t understand?
“I touched her, Daddy. I touched the mirror and my hand went through the glass. But then I got scared and pulled back.” Ben said.
“I’m glad you did. I wouldn’t want to lose you.” Bernt said.
“Why does she live in the mirror?”
Bernt knew that it was time.
“Mommy always loved that mirror. She kept it in that room since before you were born. Then, when you were about two, she started acting very sad. She started spending a lot of time in the bedroom, looking in the mirror. Then, one day, I came home, and I saw her walking into it. And then, she was gone.”
“How?” Ben asked, fearfully.
Bernt shook his head. “I don’t know. Things don’t usually work like that. Never, actually. Just in stories. She walked into that mirror and I can’t get her back. But I do know she doesn’t really want you to go where she is. If she called you, the man with her is making her do that. That’s why you can’t go near that mirror again. No matter what you hear coming from that room. Understand?”
“If you put a lock on, I can’t.” Ben said, earnestly.
“Right. But you know how to use a key. Don’t go looking for the key. Don’t go back in there.”
“Can’t we bring her back?”
“I don’t know son. But I can try.”
Ben went to his sleepover, and Bernt went to Lowes, and got the toughest dead-bolt he could find. He spent most of the early evening putting it on. His promise to his son haunted him. He’d only said he would try. But how to start?
Bernt called Aaron’s mother, Norma, and said he was going to Salem, on business, and might be late picking Ben up. Norma told him that Ben and Aaron were having a wonderful time, not to worry. Bernt hung up, grateful for good friends that didn’t ask questions, even if they still had them. The case had been filed away as cold. The police were stumped. And Bernt, holding the only clue that would have helped them, didn’t dare say. Most folks didn’t believe in mirrors that swallowed up people.
The traffic was light, and Bernt got to Salem within the hour. He checked in a local hotel, and tried to sleep. He managed a few hours. The next day, he woke, downed several cups of coffee and headed for the shop where he and Kerry had purchased the mirror. Once there, he found the shop had a new owner and didn’t have records from the past owner. He had just moved to Salem and wasn’t sure of the local folklore, other than the witch trials. Everyone knew about that. He was sorry he couldn’t be more helpful. Maybe the lady next door at the museum?
The museum was deserted except for Bernt and the curator. She was a lean, elderly woman with a white page-boy and bright blue eyes. She was dressed in a tasteful suit, complemented by pearls. She reminded him of his mother, Anna, who had been a geneaology researcher as a hobby. Suddenly, Bernt knew what to say.
“I’m doing some genealogy research, Ma’m…” He looked at her name-badge, “Mrs. Shelton. On a 5th great grandfather. Stoughton was the surname. He would have been alive in the Salem trial days. My mother started the research, but never found anything about him before she passed away.”
The curator looked a bit less friendly. “Call me Jean…..I am very familiar with that name. Could his first name have been William?”
“His name was in fact, William” Bernt said. “He was a judge during the witch trials. But we didn’t find out anything else before Mom died.”
The curator’s smile faded. “William Stoughton condemned several innocent people to death in 1692. It was mass hysteria. Nothing was ever proven. Children were left without parents. Lives were ruined. Worst of all, he never recanted. He went to his grave claiming he’d done the right thing.”
“Wow, that’s too bad,” Bernt said, marveling at the passion in the petite woman’s voice. “I’m interested in where he might have lived. Where he worked. Where the trials were held. Who the families were….There was a courtroom or church in the mirror…”
“Mirror?” Jean asked sharply. “Sir, I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”
“Oh nothing….we bought a mirror next door a few years ago. My wife and I. It was supposed have been crafted here by a Abraham Shelton. Do you know anything about his history?”
The look on Jean’s face struck him as profoundly cold. “Abraham Shelton was my 4th great-grandfather. His wife, Elizabeth was hung as a witch by your grandfather.”
Moments later, Bernt left the museum. Mrs. Shelton had given him instructions to the old courthouse where the trials had been held. He went there and walked around. As he got closer to the main chambers, the smell of flowers grew stronger. He went into the room, and looked around.
He saw a wall plaque and read it. ““Here, in 1692, were the trials presided over by William Stougton, Esq. and others which led to the subsequent deaths of 20 people.”
His head seemed to spin for a moment, the smell of the flowers unbearably stronger. Then he heard it…Kerry’s voice. “Bernt…help me….please!” As he stood there, colors, textures, time swirled around him. He saw a room of stern-faced people. A judge presiding over them. The man that Jean Shelton had showed him in a book at the museum a half hour before. William Stoughton, his 5th great grandfather.
A young woman stood before the judge. She was perhaps in her early thirties. Her two children were clutching to her skirts. The children were the ones he saw playing near the garden where he saw Kerry.
“No!” The young woman cried out, when the sentence was read.
She was to be hung. For witchcraft. “No! I am innocent!” But William Stoughton’s face was stone. “Take her to the jail, now. This sentence will be carried out tomorrow–at sunrise.”
“I’m innocent!” Elizabeth Shelton pleaded. Her children were openly wailing now, being pulled away by court officials, being thrust at a tall, powerfully built man in the courtroom….. The man in the dream.
“Stranger, you’ve come a long way.” He had said. to Bernt.
A long way, indeed.
The scene continued to unfold in front of Bernt. Elizabeth looked directly at Bernt as if able to see him. “Would you deprive a child of his mother?”
Before he could respond, the vision or whatever it was was gone, and a person was shaking him. “Are you well, Mr. Stoughton?” It was Jean, of the museum, looking concerned.
“Not Stoughton….that was my mother’s family..” Then, he blacked out.
Bernt awoke in the Emergency Room. It was early afternoon, Saturday when he was released. The doctors had found nothing, suggested that he was exhausted, and needed to take better care of himself.
He thought again of Jean Shelton. Bernt had, improbably, found a direct descendant of the woman his ancestor had condemned to death. Out of anyone in this town, maybe she would listen. Bernt returned to the museum, hoping she would hear him out.
The museum was open, but Jean was gathering her things to go. “I’m glad to see you’re well.” She said simply. “Can I help you? I was just closing up.”
“I wasn’t exactly honest with you, Jean. Earlier today. William Stoughton is my maternal grandfather, way back, but that’s not why I came to Salem. My wife….she’s missing. I wonder if you might know…why.”
Jean lifted a well-tweezed eyebrow. “Sir, I don’t know your wife.”
“No, but you do know about witchcraft…specifically here, in Salem. Or purported witchcraft.” He said, wondering if his words would land him back in the ER again, this time in an observation room.
“Kerry, my wife, went missing…two years ago. Missing…but we still hear from her. I saw her…walk into a mirror. Since that time, I’ve seen her image in the mirror. She talks to me. She was in that courtroom one time. Another time, on some type of farm. Some older man’s farm.”
Jean’s listened placidly, seeming unsurprised by anything Bernt was saying. It gave him hope. He continued on.
“Was there any history of the trial victims putting curses on the judge after he condemned them? I know this sounds crazy. It sounds crazy to me! I’m a lawyer, and I was trained in strict logic. Even so, I know there are things that happen that no one can explain. I never believed in anything like this…until it started happening….I, my boy, we need her back. When I passed out, I thought I heard Kerry calling me….”
Jean’s face was as calm as if Bernt had asked her where to find a good pumpkin patch locally.
“Wait” She said, and turned and walked out of the room. She was gone for a few minutes. She returned with a weathered book. It was a history of the trial. In it, as Bernt turned pages, were pictures of people involved. Of Judge Stoughton, of others….of…
It couldn’t be.
“What is it, Mr. Myerson?”
“That woman in the drawing. It is impossible.”
Jean peered at the drawing, making no comment. “That is the wife of my 4th great grandfather, Abraham. He married her after Elizabeth Shelton, his wife, and the mother of his children was hanged.”
“No,” Bernt said firmly, shutting the book clothed. “It isn’t. That’s my wife. That’s Kerry.”
Moments later, they were in Bernt’s Range Rover, just out of Salem’s city limits. They turned on an old, poorly maintained dirt road. Finally, Jean told him to stop. “We have to walk from here.”
“This is the place?” He asked. Jean nodded. “The family’s farm. They lost it after your, ah, his second wife died, in childbirth. My great grandfather, Abraham Shelton couldn’t maintain his work as a carpenter and as a farmer without a wife. He was shunned by his neighbors because of the trials. The children had to go to her sister. One of them died soon after. The other one…was my ancestor, named Elizabeth after her mother. Abraham died of grief.”
They found the remains of the old cabin within a minute. Jean went to a small, rotting gate, and Bernt saw a neatly maintained cemetery. “This is where both wives are buried” Jean said simply. “On either side of Abraham.”
Bernt again felt that other-worldly quality seeming to envelop. The graveyard swam around him. He saw a room around him, chilly, a man, the man from his dream completing work on an object. Bernt looked closer. It was the mirror.
As Abraham Shelton put his tools away, he returned to the mirror. He pulled out a tattered book, carefully opening it to a section mid way through. Abraham Shelton began an incantation. The words seemed foul, angry, bitter. Before, Bernt couldn’t touch anything. This time, however, he could and did. He rushed at Abraham, and knocked the book out of his hands.
“You have got to stop!” He shouted.
Abraham looked at him, his eyes full of bottomless bitterness.
Bernt felt like shaking him. “Must we both lose our wives?”
“It’s a bitter consequence….” Abraham said, his voice hard…”however…”
“However, nothing! We knew nothing about you! It was just a mirror my wife loved! I loved her, so I bought it! We had no idea of your grudge! Kerry is innocent! She isn’t even related to the judge! Your children need a mother, but damn it, so does my son! All I can tell you is we’re sorry. I know saying that doesn’t change anything, but I can’t unring the bell. I’m not my grandfather!”
“Talk to your grandfather.” Abraham said shortly. “Elizabeth is to be hanged tomorrow.” Bernt considered it only a moment, then nodded.
It was insane, Bernt thought, as the burly farmer and he took the work horse, attached to the cart into a town that had long since vanished. To the door of a finely made home. Past a servant who tried to stop them. And then, they were looking at the judge who was sitting at his fireplace, reading his bible.
Judge Stoughton got to his feet, indignant. “Abraham, what is this about?” Then, he looked at Bernt. “You look familiar to me. Who are you?”
Bernt looked at his ancestor, and let out a harsh laugh. “You wouldn’t believe me.”
“Tell me, anyway.”
“I’m your grandson. From a long time from now. My mother was your 5th great-granddaughter. Abraham cursed a mirror that my wife, Kerry and I bought. It took her into your world after Elizabeth Shelton was..hanged. My wife will be brought here to replace Abraham’s lost wife…and she will die here if you hang Elizabeth tomorrow! You not only kill Abraham’s wife, but you will kill my wife…the mother of my son..your grandson! These things you are so frightened of, magic, spells…they are real. But there is also mercy. Can you show mercy on his family? For my sake?”
“Listen to how the lad speaks” Abraham pleaded, “Look at how he is clothed! He is not from anywhere near here….He’s right…I put a curse on the mirror….to avenge myself on you, your family, William Stoughton! This is how it came out.”
The judge never took his eyes off Bernt. “I see the likeness of my wife in you, Lad. You have her eyes. Her mouth. I believe you.” He turned to Abraham, peremptorily, “Take the curse off my grandson. Give him back his wife.”
“Will you give me back my wife?” Abraham asked cooly. “A grace for a grace? Mercy for mercy?”
A long minute passed. “Done.” Judge Stoughton said, sternly. “But then, you get out of this community. You and your spells! That is why these trials are happening! To rid the community of wicked black magic!”
“Release her now! We will go tonight. Me, Elizabeth and the children. I’ll burn the mirror. You’ll never see us again. You can do that. Give the order!”
Judge Stoughton inclined his head once, and then, reached for his cloak.
Bernt woke, his head pounding, the room at first unfamiliar. He turned on the light.
He was in the motel room. However, he was not alone. There was someone in the king-sized bed with him, covers over their head.
His heart pounding, Bernt pulled the cover back. Hair…blacker than black, almost blue. Even in sleep, you could see the dimples under her lips. She was asleep. Kerry was home.
“Kerry?” He asked.
She opened sleepy eyes to him. “I was sleeping so good. Now, you wake me up. What’s going on?”
He wrapped his arms around her. “You get dressed. We’re going home. Ben will want to see you!”
“Oh, can’t we finish the weekend, Bernt? Ben is safe as houses at the sleepover. We’ve got to let him go sometime.”
“It’s not that….” Bernt said, confused. Kerry acted as if she’d never been away from Ben. Had she not missed him?
Kerry sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes. “Are you still disappointed about not finding that mirror? Darling, it was just a drawing in a book about Salem history. It probably never existed.”
Bernt looked at her with fresh amazement. She really didn’t know or remember.
Kerry smiled, lay back down. “I had this dream,” She said, “It was so detailed! You know, I almost believe that I could churn butter and tend garden. That was what that dream was about. I was working so hard, taking care of two children that I didn’t even know. There was a man there….”
She sat up, shocked. “How could you know? It was my dream, not yours. His name was Abraham.”
“Just a dream, darling. Go back to sleep…..”
He waited until her breathing became the slow, regular breaths of a sleeper. He leaned over her face, and kissed her cheek tenderly. “Welcome home,” He said softly, long restrained tears beginning to run down his cheeks.
Kerry loved the rest of their time in Salem. At her insistence, they stopped back at the antique shop and looked around, seeing nothing they liked. Then, Kerry went to the museum next door. “We didn’t have time, yesterday,” Kerry said, smiling in the pouting way she had when she wanted to do something that Bernt wasn’t likely to want to do. But this day, this time, Bernt was willing to indulge her anything. Anything. She was home.
Bernt wasn’t surprised at all when Jean greeted them, even though it was a Sunday. “I saw you two looking around…I’m just here for a quick errand, but I have a few minutes.” Jean said.
Bernt hesitated, but Kerry enthusiastically agreed. She seemed to want to look at everything. The kitchen utensils, the farm implements, the clothing, all of it. She had always been a fan of history, but never this much. “What is it?” Bernt asked finally, not wanting to take his eyes off her in case she would be another dream, another vision, another…whatever.
“It looks so familiar to me,” Kerry said. “I need to stop drinking wine before bed. That crazy dream.”
Jean came up to them, smiling, wearing the same outfit that she’d worn the day before. She did not seem to recognize Bernt. “Any questions I can help you with? If they’re quick, of course…I have church in a half hour.”
“No, we should be going,” Bernt said, heading towards the door. “Our son is probably wondering what happened to us.”
“He’s at his first sleepover,” Kerry said. “He was so excited about it. He just chattered like a little squirrel when he told me…”
Bernt could be forgiven for feeling a bit of a chill.
“Oh, this book!” Kerry exclaimed. Bernt saw that it was book he’d seen the day before. The history of the witch trials. Kerry was looking through it excitedly. “It looks fascinating! Is it for sale? Could I buy it?” She asked with the exuberance of a child.
Jean looked at it, then back at her carefully. ‘For you, my dear, its free. Call it a souvenir of your trip.” She looked over Kerry’s shoulder at Bernt, and very briefly smiled.
On the trip home, Kerry was absorbed in the old book, treating it as carefully as if it were holy. The pages were stuck together in some places, but she managed to get them apart.
“Bernt!” She said, suddenly, a mile from their house. Her voice was so urgent that Bernt slammed on the brakes. He was still not used to having her back. He still thought he’d look over and see the seat empty.
“This is a story about the Stoughton family! Your family!” Kerry exclaimed, “Remember your Mother’s research that she never finished?”
“I remember.” Bernt said, simply.
“Look at this!” Kerry exclaimed, “Judge William Stoughton! He was the main judge. He was the only one who wouldn’t admit that the Salem trials were a mistake. But, here….its says that he pardoned a woman, Elizabeth Shelton, the night before she was to be hung for witchcraft. Instead, he made the family leave town, permanently. He pardoned her because she had two young children. Here’s a drawing of her at her trial. You can’t tell much about her in this picture, but it must have been an incredible story. Maybe your ancestor wasn’t such a bad guy. He spared her at the very last minute. Isn’t that amazing?”
“Amazing, darling.” Bernt said, meaning it with his whole heart