Buried Secrets

Dream Like watercolor of trees in the woods

by Robert David Strawn

© 2022 Robert David Strawn All rights reserved

I heard a thump as my shovel hit the top of my great-grandfather’s coffin.

Kim asked, “Seriously, Burgess?”

I started scraping soil off the top of the wood planks.

Kim turned on her flashlight. The battery must’ve be dying; the light was pretty dim. The clouds had covered the moon, so it helped a little.

Kim asked, “Was your grandfather too lazy to dig? This isn’t even six inches of dirt.”

I switched to the flat-bottomed shovel, scooped the loose dirt up, and tossed it to the middle of the tarp. “I barely knew my grandfather, but I know he was in a hurry to get my great-grandfather buried.”

I dug around the sides of the coffin. I didn’t want dirt falling in. I heard something.

Kim asked, “What’s that?”

I backed up. Bad enough being up here at the top of Bald Hill during the full moon. After reading my grandfather’s diary and some of my great-grandfather’s notes, I had enough to be scared of. Something moving in his coffin was a bit more than I wanted to handle.

Kim said, “Brack. Bauk, bauk, bauk.”

“Yes, I’m chicken.”

“You don’t actually believe any of this?”

I didn’t reply. I wouldn’t be digging up my great-grandfather in the middle of the night if I didn’t think we might find the amulet.

Kim picked up the other shovel.

I asked, “Have you decided to help me dig?”

Kim’s hair fluffed out as she shook her head. “If snakes have taken residence in the coffin, I want something to fend them off with.”

In the moonlight, Kim looked pretty. I looked up. The moon peeked out from the clouds, but as I watched, the clouds covered the moon again.

I pointed. “Ifn’ it’s a varmint, I’m running this way down the hill to the trail.”

Kim asked, “What’re you doing if it’s your great-grandfather?”

I said, “If the stories are true, running won’t help.”

I continued digging and scraping dirt. I traded shovels with Kim and dug around the lip of the coffin. The planks were dry and rotted. The moon came out again.

I said, “My grandfather’s stories have to be fiction. If they were true, he’d have buried my great-grandfather deeper.”

I realized I was just putting off removing the coffin lid. I looked over at Kim as the sky got dark again. She liked scary stories, so this was the time to make it all come home and real.

I gestured to the rough planks. “Great-Gramps had an amulet that he claimed was a druid’s egg. The books all say that a druid’s egg protected you in court, but my grandfather’s diary says that his father used it to make the entire town of Bald Hill disappear.”

“I think your grandfather had issues.”

“I think everyone on Bald Hill has issues.”

“Probably. You Marvels have always been a bit off. My family isn’t much better. I think leaving this county would heal half of my personal issues.”

“Take me with you, Kim. I don’t want to lose my best friend.”

Kim shook her head. “Your only friend. Sooner or later, you’re going to get a girlfriend, and you won’t have time for me anymore.”

I continued the scary buildup. When Kim started getting depressed, the only thing that worked was distraction. “Great-Gramp’s amulet could only be seen in full moonlight. When he died, no one could find his amulet.”

“We’ve been over this. You think the amulet may show up during the full moon. I think you’re delusional. Everyone in school does.”

I pried the coffin lid with the edge of the shovel. I didn’t want to get spider bit, snake bit, or rabies from whatever had made a nest in my great-grandfather’s grave. Kim shined her flashlight on the coffin as I pried up one of the boards. Kim pointed the light through the slit, but we couldn’t see much. The moon was behind clouds again. I pried up a second board. One of the little crosswise boards came with it.

Kim aimed her flashlight at the coffin interior. “Looks like a rat’s nest.”

I looked where she shined the light. “Microtus pinetorum.”

Kim asked, “And in English?”

“Pine or woodland vole.”

“You don’t have to do that. Everyone here thinks you’re smart. Damaged, but smart.”

“Damaged? How am I damaged?”

Kim said, “The only time your nose isn’t stuck in a book is when you’re out in the woods with me. Your mom visits you on weekends, and no one else ever visits.”

I pried another board up. “Like you don’t read. We get up at the crack of dawn for the school bus and ride a half hour before any other kids get on the bus. Same thing in reverse when we go home. You read at least an hour a day. When was the last time we still had any homework to do after we got off the bus? Anyway, no one wants to visit way out here.”

Kim shined the light around. Bones and a rodent’s nest, that was all. Still a bit nervous, I tried to remove the nesting material without disturbing the bones. Not much there. A rusted belt buckle and some nails that were probably for the soles of his shoes. No shoes, no leather, no book held in bony hands. Nothing of value. Not much to show for a man who was feared in two valleys.

I looked up at Kim. The clouds behind her were thinning. I decided to put the planks back. Not much point in continuing. I looked down and thought about arranging the bones. I memorized all the human bones while reading an anatomy book, but now I wasn’t sure I could tell which were which. I didn’t really want to disturb my great-grandfather’s bones anyway.

A beam of moonlight escaped through a gap in the clouds and bathed the bottom of the coffin in light. In the middle of the widest part of the coffin, gleaming in the moonlight, was a large opalescent white stone set in gold filigree. The moonbeam continued on its path down the hill, and the stone disappeared.

I abandoned the shovel and got on my knees to reach down and try to feel for the invisible stone. Nothing there except a dry bone. I thought it would feel weird or creepy, but it was just a dry bone. I sat back on my feet. The moonlight came back, and the stone reappeared. I reached down, but as the shadow of my hand covered it, it disappeared again.

Kim whispered, “Burgess, put the planks back. If the amulet’s real, the rest of the stories might be.”

The shadows covered the moon again and I looked up.

“I’m leaving if you aren’t covering the coffin.”

The moon came out again, and I could see the amulet. I reached down with my hand to the side so I didn’t shade the amulet. I picked it up, lifting it out and keeping it in the moonlight.

A bony hand grabbed my wrist.

“What are you trying to take, grave robber?”

I jerked away, and the amulet disappeared. The bones fell to the bottom of the coffin. I looked around for Kim. She was running down the hill. Great. I’d have to walk home without a flashlight. I put the planks back together as best I could and lifted the edge of the tarp to pour the dirt back on the coffin. My heart was beating too fast. I was probably better off without the amulet.

I smoothed the dirt in the moonlight while wondering if I’d ever have the courage to come back and dig again. My fear kept me at the grave instead of screaming and running down the hill. I didn’t want to offend whatever spirits remained here. I finished patting down the soil with the back of the flat shovel. I didn’t want to step on the grave. I wasn’t sure it’d hold me if I did.


In the moonlight, I carried the shovels back down to the barn and put them to the side of the barn door. I was too creeped out to go into the barn in the dark. Too many odd tools with blades and points in there, and the couple of bare bulbs only made shadows. I went to my house, glad I’d left the lights on. I locked the door, shed my clothing, and showered. I was scared to leave the shower. I thought I’d gotten over being scared of being alone in the house back when I was twelve. Having felt my great-grandfather’s bony hand around my wrist, it’d probably a few more years before I’d be over being scared. I looked in the mirror at the frightened fifteen-year-old reflected there. Behind me was a man who looked a lot like my dad. I screamed and turned. No one was there.

I turned to the mirror and my great-grandfather said, “Brack. Bauk, bauk, bauk.”


I got down to the road early, but Kim was already there waiting for the bus.

Kim tilted her head as she looked at me. “You get the amulet?”

I tilted my head to match her. “No, the thing disappeared again.”

“Your hair’s a mess, and you had the light on when I went out to the chicken coop.”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

I didn’t tell her I was scared to look in the mirror. I tried to straighten my hair. She put her backpack down, took out her water bottle, poured some water in her hand, and tried to flatten my hair.

Kim looked at her efforts and gave up. “I shouldn’t bother, Burge. Some girl’s going to decide you’re cute despite being as weird as they come.”

She slapped my hand as I reached for my hair. “Burgess, let it dry.”

The bus came and we got on it.

In the reflection of the metal bar at the front of the bus, I glimpsed my great-grandfather behind me. In another day, the full moon should pass. Hopefully, he’d go away.

We sat in seats across from each other and just a few seats back from the driver. Close enough to the front to keep from being harassed by the bigger kids and far enough to stay out of a conversation with the driver who was also my history teacher and a bit strange.

I asked Kim, “Do you think the Catholic Church still has exorcists?”

“That’s more like a question I’d ask you. Wait, did anything happen after I left?”

I looked up at the bus driver. He glanced at me in the mirror. Unless I looked at my own reflection, I didn’t see my great-grandfather.

“Nothing I should talk about.”

Kim took out the book she’d been reading for the last few days. I leaned against my backpack and went to sleep.


School was the same old, same old. They had brownies with the lunch in the cafeteria, so not a total loss. I sat with Kim and Linda at lunch, like always.

Linda leaned in, glancing around to see who could be listening. “We were talking about you in study hall.”

I rolled my eyes.

Linda brandished her fork at me. “If you didn’t talk, and you didn’t smirk, girls would go for you.”

Kim leaned towards me. “Keep smirking and talking, Burgess, it keeps the riffraff away.”

I looked down at the over-cooked lima beans and pushed my tray back. “There’s no logic in that. I’m not old enough to drive, and I live out past the boonies. It’d be a waste if a girl decided to like me.”

Linda asked, “When did logic have anything to do with a girl liking a boy?”

Kim said, “That’s true.”

Linda leaned in again. “Burgess, you ever hear the story of lost Bald Hill?”

I picked up my fork and mashed my lima beans. “Quite a few times. Who brought it up?”

Linda shook her head. “Don’t do stupid things, Burge.” She took my fork from me. “In social studies, we have to write three pages on a local story.”

Kim said, “We both live on Bald Hill. We know where it is.”

Linda frowned for a moment. “No, the lost village. My theory is that it’s under the lake.”

Kim stabbed a lima bean with her fork and looked at it. “The lake’s pretty deep. Why would they put a village at the bottom of a hole that was just going to fill up?”

Linda grimaced.

Kim brought the lima bean up to her mouth like she was going to eat it.

Linda winced. “A landslide could have caused the valley to flood.”

I scooted my chair back. “I’m going to the library, care to join me?”

Kim said, “Wait for me to finish eating.” She put the lima bean in her mouth.

Linda made a disgusted face at Kim then smiled at me. “Don’t worry, Burgess. I don’t believe any of the stories about Magnus Marvel.”

Kim covered her mouth. “I didn’t either until—”

Linda glared at her. “Don’t try to creep me out, Kimberly.”


After we got off the bus, Kim asked, “Do you think any of the stories about my family are true?”

I didn’t say anything. That was a land mine I didn’t want to step on. When we were little, Kim told me a story about her ancestress, a witch who possessed the most beautiful daughter in the family as the poor girl came of age. Kim was probably safe from any such curse. She was probably not the most beautiful daughter in her family.

I muttered, “Hope not.”

Kim said, “See you at supper.”

I nodded and went to the house to put up my bag. Mother had an arrangement with Kim’s mother. Mother brought groceries in from the city, and Mrs. Thompson made supper for me.

I walked into the bathroom and glanced at the mirror.

Great-Gramps said, “We need to talk, boy.”

I didn’t know what he could do. I was a bit scared of what he might do, so I stood and listened.

Great-Gramps said, “Don’t let that little trollop seduce you.”

I wasn’t sure how to react to that.

Great-Gramps said, “She can feel your power and just wants to sap you for it. Now that you have the orb, lots of things will sense your power.”

I said, “Great-Gramps, you still have the orb. I didn’t take it.”

“You’re my great-grandson, and you have the orb.”

I said, “The moon’s up. We can settle this.”

I borrowed my mother’s hand mirror from her dresser so I could take Great-Gramps outside.

I forgotten to put up the tarp and shovels, so I headed for the barn, stopping partway and looking in the mirror. Great-Gramps was really close to me in the reflection. I tried to angle the mirror so the moon was in the reflection with Great-Gramps. That put the moon behind me so it was behind him. I really didn’t want to go through life with him standing behind me in every reflection. I angled around and tried to have the moonlight on my great-grandfather. Apparently, it didn’t take much. The orb was visible on his chest.

Great-Gramps said, “Then I don’t need you, boy. If you can’t take the orb, then you are useless and no grandson of mine.”

He stepped back in the mirror and faded away. Nice guy to the last. I hoped it was the last. I opened my empty hand and gestured to the moon in thanks. In my once empty hand was the orb. I closed my hand and nothing was there. I opened it, and I was holding the orb. I tucked Mother’s mirror under my arm and with two fingers picked up the orb. I didn’t want to lose it, and I didn’t know how to hold it. I put the chain around my neck and stretched my shirt so the moon shined on my bare chest. I dropped the orb and released my shirt. The orb was gone. I pulled my shirt down and it reappeared.

I didn’t want to break Mother’s hand mirror, so I took it back and put it on her dresser.

I wondered out loud, “How can the orb be on Great-Gramps and me at the same time?”

Reflected in the mirror and standing behind me was my father.

Dad said, “Give me the orb, and we can figure it out.”

Thinking to myself, No way in hell, I asked, “How do I hand it to you in a mirror?”

“If you turn your back to the mirror, and look at it over your shoulder, I may be able to come back.”

Confused memories flooded back. I was going to have to get rid of the mirror in the bathroom and everything else that reflected. I didn’t say anything to him.

Dad said, “Still angry about the stupid dog?”

“Not just the dog. You were going to use me next.”

Dad shook his head. “I thought about it, but I never did.”

Grandfather appeared behind him. “He was going to. Burgess, don’t trust him.”

Dad turned to Grandfather. “Dad, if you were corporeal, I would bust you one.”

Grandfather said, “Burgess, there’s a cave behind the old explosives shed. I hid my research in a couple of boxes that’re up on a ledge back in the cave. You may be able to dispel your father.”

Dad turned to Grandfather. “You old goat, I knew you were holding out on me. Well, you’re pretty damned stupid. If he dispels me, he’s likely to dispel you.”

Grandfather shrugged. “Son, as long as I don’t end up in the same place as you, I’ll be fine with that.”

I walked out of Mother’s bedroom. Looked like I had some more digging to do. The explosives shed blew up when I was eight, a year after my father died.


At supper, Kim was acting strange. She didn’t say anything, but she laughed at everything I said. Not a mean laugh, more like I was brilliant and entertaining. I had no idea what she’s doing. I wanted to compliment her, but I didn’t think she’d take it as a compliment. Telling a girl that most of her acne had cleared up wasn’t really that much of a compliment. Last time I told her she was pretty, she hit me and left a bruise.

After supper, I headed to the barn to get the shovels and the tarp. I grabbed a pickaxe while I was at it. Kim followed quietly.

I say, “I think I know where my grandfather hid his research. I have more digging to do.”

Kim looked down. “I know a girl like me won’t be much help, but if you show me how to dig, I’ll try my best.”

I asked, “Kim, how long are you going to act like this?”

Kim’s lip quivered. “Sorry. I just—how would you like me to act?”

I stopped to reorganize my grip on all of the shovels and the pickaxe. Kim took the flat shovel and the tarp from me. I smiled and nodded to her. It was a lot easier just carrying two of the tools.

We hiked down the hill. The explosive shed was against the face of a small outcropping of stone. Several large rocks that used to be farther up the hill had fallen and covered the area.

I said, “We were warned not to play here.”

Kim said, “It seems stable.”

“Be sure to wash up when we go back. I was told there were mercury compounds in the shed.”

I wasn’t sure where to dig. It was dark and the area wasn’t lit by the moon. I put the tools on a rock and covered them with the tarp. I put a few rocks on the tarp to hold it down, and we headed back up the hill. I was going to have to do this in the daylight.


I beat Kim to the road where the bus picked us up. I waited and I was getting nervous. She hadn’t really touched anything so she shouldn’t be sick from going near the shed. I left my pack and ran up the hill. The chickens were still locked in the coop, so Kim hadn’t gotten up.

I let the chickens out for her. She could check for eggs later. I ran back down the hill and sat to recover my breath.

The bus pulled up, and the driver asked, “Is Kimberly sick?”

“Yes, sir. I think so, sir.”

“You look a bit flushed, maybe you should take the day off, too. It isn’t like you aren’t on top of your classes.”

I said, “But I’ve got a stack of books to return to the library.”

“Most kids check out books for a week or two. They don’t need them back the next day. The library will get by over the weekend without the books.”

“It looks bad taking Friday off sick.”

The bus driver nodded to me. “Stay home, Marvel. Get some rest.” He closed the bus doors and drove off.

I waved, walked back up to the house, and put up my backpack. I had digging to do.


I’ve managed to make a hole, but I needed to dig down to make it larger. I was going back up the hill to make myself some lunch and refill my water bottle when Kim ran down the hill to me.

She asked, “How was school?”

“I stayed home, too. Mr. Jenkins thought I looked sick. Probably lack of sleep.”

She smiled. “You’re probably having a growth spurt.”

I tried not to look. She was my best friend, but from my glances, I could see that she was the one having a growth spurt and not just getting taller.

I looked at her face. Her nose seemed different.

We went up to her house, and Kim asked her mom if she could make us something to eat.

Mrs. Thompson acted like she was scared of Kim. Mrs. Thompson didn’t talk much, and Kim had always seemed to be in charge, but today, Kim’s tone was a bit different.

The pickled egg salad sandwiches Kim’s mother made were still the best thing ever.


I glanced over at Kim while resting from using the pick. She was picking a seam out of a dress that she never wore.

I asked, “I thought you hated sewing?”

She smiled at me. “Can you measure my waist?”

I took the tape measure and reached around her waist. I was quite aware that I was close to a girl. This was my best friend, but my heart was beating heavy.

Kimberly met and held my eyes. She took my hands and moved them up.

“Now, measure my chest for me.”

I measured, trying not to touch anything.

Kimberly put her hand on my forehead. “You should probably rest for a while. You seem flushed.”

As we sat, I said, “Kim, my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father all talk to me in mirrors.”

“I prefer Kimberly. Of course they do. You come from an ancient line.” She adjusted her position. “Put your head in my lap and rest.” She pulled me over.

Looking up at her wasn’t helping. I closed my eyes.

Kimberly sang a gentle song that warned young maidens to not give away their love easily. I went to sleep.

I woke up, and she was still stroking my hair. I realized that I had a crush on her. Great, I’m smitten with Kim, my best friend, not someone I’d ever think of as a girlfriend. She’d probably laugh for days if she ever found out. Looking up at her with my head in her lap, her bra looked too small for her.

Kimberly asked, “When you see them, do they talk to you?”

For a moment, I thought she’d noticed where I was looking. I had to think a moment to figure out what to say. “Yes, Grandfather thinks his research may help me to dispel them.”

Kimberly smiled down at me. “That would be wonderful. I need to do a few things first, but I want to look in the mirror with you.”


I waited outside for Kim to go home and come back to my house. When she showed up, she was wearing a dress, and I couldn’t stop looking at her. I think everyone at school would be noticing her. Instead of Kimberly losing her best friend to a girl, I was going to lose mine to a boy.

I tried not to stare.

Kimberly asked, “Where’s the best mirror?”

I led her to the bathroom. I didn’t want to take her to my mother’s bedroom. I glanced at her. I kind of did want to take her to my mother’s bedroom. I definitely had some issues that I needed to think through. She was going to hate—with a capital H—hate me when she found out I’d been sneaking looks at her.

I looked in the mirror, and my grandfather and father were there behind me. Kimberly stepped around me and behind her reflection in the mirror was a half-visible copy of her with tape over her mouth. I couldn’t see, but it looked like the ghost behind her had her hands tied.

My grandfather looked over and ripped the tape off of the ghost’s mouth.

The ghost in the mirror behind the reflection of Kimberly gestured with her head at Kimberly. “I’m Kim. That’s my ancestor.”

Kimberly put her arm around me. “Well, this is embarrassing. Still, I think Burgess likes me better.”

Grandfather said, “Like her or not, she only wants you for your power. Don’t go to bed with her. That’s how she’ll drain you.”

Kimberly looked at me and fluttered her eyes. “Your power’s in your bloodline. I’ll have to keep draining your power at least once a week, if not more. I don’t think you’ll mind.”

I said, “I don’t either, but Kim’s my best friend.”

Kimberly said, “This is getting a bit complicated, but I’m sure you’ll come over to my way of thinking.” She adjusted her bra. “This is so tight. Should we go to your bedroom so you can help me adjust it?”

I said, “Grandfather, can you untie Kim?”

Kimberly stepped away from the mirror. “We can’t have that now, can we?”

Grandfather said, “Sorry, I can’t find her.”

Dad said, “I know the spell to find her. What’s it worth to you?”

Kimberly dragged me away from the mirror and kissed me. I felt dazed and weak for a moment.

Kimberly looked me in the eyes. “Nice, but I only got the tiniest sip of power. Should we go to your bedroom or your mother’s?”

I turned for us to go to my bedroom and stopped. “Kim’s my best friend and that’s her body. I can’t. Not without her permission.”

“After all the improvements I have been making, I consider it at least half mine. All that work takes power. You, sweet child, are a wonderful source of power.”

She pushed me against the wall and kissed me. I was weak. When I finally pushed her away, I was almost too weak to do it.

She smiled. “With a few kisses from you, I can probably get by. We’ll just have to wait for you to give in. I’m used to waiting, and the chase is always fun.”

I had my strength back, so I pushed her away again. “It isn’t right kissing you. This is my best friend’s body.”

Kimberly said, “Don’t worry, Kim loves it.”

I looked at Kimberly and her left eyelid twitched. Kim did that when she got angry. Maybe I had a way to talk to Kim. I didn’t know how to tell her we had a way to communicate. I knew Morse code, but I didn’t think Kimberly did.

I twitched my left eye. “No, without her permission, it’s wrong.” I twitched once. “Yes, I like it.” I twitched twice. “But, no, it’s wrong.”

Kimberly asked, “Do you have a problem with your eye?”

I looked down. “Lack of sleep, I think. Apart from the time in your lap, I haven’t gotten much.”

Kimberly moved closer. “My lap’s always available. Let’s go to your bedroom.”

I escorted her out of the house and locked the door.

I went back to the mirror in the bathroom.

Dad faded into view. “Turn around and look at me over your shoulder, and I’ll help you free Kim.”

Grandfather appeared behind Dad. “He’s a liar and that won’t get us out of the mirror. Burgess, you can come in and leave if you don’t stay too long. As far as your dad and I are concerned, without the orb and our bones, we can’t materialize in the world of substance.”

Dads said, “Damn. Your mother had me cremated and cast my ashes out at sea.”

I nodded. “I remember the boat.”

Grandfather rolled his eyes at Dad. “He’s an idiot. Your dad was good at books like you are. Unlike you, he never understood a word of them. Born shallow.”

Dad said, “Hurry up and find the way to dispel us. I have nothing left to live for.”

Grandfather replied, “You’re dead, idiot.”


Mother woke me. “Bur, you locked the door.”

I sat up. “Kim got possessed by her ancestress and is trying to drain my power.”

Mother said, “You should probably shower and get dressed. I’ll get breakfast ready.


Mother had made an omelet. “Bur, if you want to save Kim, we need to do it this weekend.”

I finished the bite I took. “No joke.”

Mother pointed to the cards she’d laid out on the table. “Even without you, her ancestress could still find someone at school to drain power from. If her ancestress gets too much power, Kim could be hard to save.”

“Kim was pretty nice to look at last night. The way this is progressing, she may be stunning this morning.”

“Making Kim beautiful will have weakened her ancestress. As long as she has no source of power, that’s to our advantage.”

I didn’t tell Mother that I spent a while kissing Kim. I looked at the cards and with the look that Mother gave me, she probably already knew.

Mother said, “The only weakness we know about Kim’s ancestress is her vanity. Bur, we need to learn more. You stay near me. That’s the only way either of us will be safe.”

We walked halfway to Kim’s house, and Mother stopped and looked me over. “You have quite a bit more presence. Did anything else happen this week?”

I didn’t really want to confess to digging up my great-grandfather. “Dad, Grandfather, and Great-Gramps have all been showing up in mirrors.”

Mother asked, “Can you talk with them?”

I nodded.

Mother said, “Let’s go ask your grandfather. He may know how to deal with Kim’s ancestress.”

I said, “There’s a cave behind the blown-up explosives shed. He hid his papers there. He wanted me to get them.”

Mother said, “Let’s go now.”


As we approached, we could hear Kimberly talking. “Great, this light’s dead. Can you make it work again?”

Mrs. Thompson said, “Those were the last batteries.”

Kimberly said, “Don’t mouth off to me. Make us some torches.”

Mrs. Thompson said, “I have a box of emergency candles. I also have a few for the dining table.”

Kimberly said, “We need torches. The candles will help, but we need more light.”

Mother stopped me and we hid behind some rocks with scrubby bushes growing around them.

Kimberly said, “So, you don’t even know how to make a torch. Figures. Go get tallow, cloth strips, and some solid sticks. And some wire. I’ll stay here and make sure that Burgess doesn’t beat me to his grandfather’s research.”

We watched as Mrs. Thompson went up the hill.

Mother whispered to me, “Stay here.”

She ran up the hill after Mrs. Thompson.

I sat behind the rock for a bit until I saw Kimberly climbing the hill. She got up out of the hollow where the explosives shack used to be and walked toward me.

She said, “There’s no point in hiding, my little Marvel.”

She got closer and she was devastating. The thin dress she wore was like a second skin, and she wasn’t wearing a bra. I had no choice. I ran up the hill to hide behind my mother.

I caught up with Mother and Mrs. Thompson before Kimberly got to us.

Mother yelled to Mrs. Thompson, “Go!”

Mrs. Thompson asked, “You’ll try to save my daughter?”

I yelled, “As best we can.”

Mrs. Thompson ran to her house.

I stood behind my mother. Kimberly stopped and laughed. She was even prettier when she laughed.

Kimberly said, “I’m not going to hurt my little mama’s boy. I just want to play with him.”

Mother opened her purse, took out her compact, and handed it to me. She took out her silver letter opener.

I asked, “Why makeup?”

She said, “It’s a mirror.”

I opened it and looked in the reflection. Dad and Grandfather were both behind me.

Mother asked, “Are they here?” She looked in the mirror.

Dad said, “Not that it means anything. You cremated me.”

Mother said, “You messed up a spell and killed yourself. That was the only way to keep the curse from spreading.”

Dad said, “Like I care.”

Mother said, “You’re even worse now that you’re dead.”

Grandfather said to Mother, “I tried to warn you.”

Kimberly was laughing. She laughed exquisitely.

Mother asked me, “Is your great-grandfather there?”

I said, “No.”

Mother asked, “How do we get him? He may know how to solve this.”

Kimberly said, “My big strong boy shouldn’t be so scared. He can probably hold me down, and all I’ll be able to do is struggle in his big strong arms.”

Mother said, “Stay behind me, Burgess.”

I wasn’t about to do anything else. I wanted to, but I wouldn’t.

Mother said to Kimberly, “It’s not happening.”

Kimberly pouted. “Disappointing. I was really looking forward to squirming.”

I wanted to kiss that pout. I looked back in the mirror. I looked up at the moon. It still looked full, but the sun was shining bright. I wasn’t sure how full a moon needed to be for the magic to work. I opened my shirt and the orb appeared. Kimberly looked at it with greed.

Great-Gramps looked out of the mirror. “Boy, I see you got the pendant. And now you want help with an evil witch. Son, that’s the whole point of magic. Why the hell are you struggling? I just wish we had witches that looked like that back in the old days. Hell, stop struggling and have some fun. She has to keep you alive and happy to keep using you. What’s your issue?”

Great-Gramps faded from view and was replaced by Grandfather.

Grandfather says, “Good. Your dad decided to follow his grandfather and try to beg him for help. So it’s just us, at least for a while. Burgess, get us to a big mirror.”

I led the way to our house. Mother stayed between Kimberly and me and kept her letter opener handy. Kimberly followed and seemed amused by it all. As we got close, Kimberly sped up and circled around us. Mother stayed between Kimberly and me. Kimberly laughed, ran to the door, and went into the house.

Mother yelled, “No one invited you in.”

Kimberly left the door open.

Quietly, I said, “Dance hall.”

Mother nodded. Our house is rundown, but it was a huge mansion built back when huge mansions were a thing. They called it the big house, but we just lived in one of the servants’ areas. The rest would be too hard to keep clean, modernize, or heat in winter.

We entered and went through the door on the other side of the kitchen. I could hear Kimberly laughing in the bathroom. We were leaving her behind. We went into the dance hall where all the furniture was covered with sheets. I took us up to the large mirror at the end of the dance hall.

Grandfather said, “Take your mother’s hand and enter the mirror.”

I took Mother’s hand and tried to step into the mirror.

I said, “It’s solid. I can’t enter the mirror.”

Grandfather said, “Turn invisible first, otherwise your mirror image will block you.”

I asked, “How do I turn invisible?”

Grandfather said, “Use one of the verses I taught you back when you were a toddler. It was the invisibility one, use that.”

I recited a verse. “This one?”

Grandfather said, “Yes, but make the gestures. Oh, right, you were too young to let run around invisible. Say it again and do what I do.”

I copied Grandfather’s gestures while saying the verse. The room got darker.

I said, “It’s dark.”

Grandfather said, “Yes, now hug your mother and go through the mirror.”

I hugged Mother, and we entered the mirror.

Grandfather asked, “Where are you?”

I said, “Over here.”

Mother said, “Shhhh.”

Kimberly walked into the room and posed in front of the mirror. She pushed her breasts up with her hands. “They’re probably big enough.”

She got close to the mirror and pushed on her nose. She smiled, examined her teeth, picked a small speck from her teeth, and smiled again.

Kimberly asked, “Where’s my little darling hiding? I can feel you near.”

She approached a sheet-draped chair by the mirror and pulled away the dusty sheet.

“Nice furniture. Probably worth something.”

Mother asked, “Can you hear me?”

Kimberly didn’t react.

Grandfather said to me, “Make this gesture and turn visible.”

I copied him and could see more clearly.

Mother got closer to the mirror.

Grandfather said, “If you touch the mirror, your mirror image will push you out, so stay back.”

Someone took my hand. I turned and saw Kimberly. She was inside the mirror and outside.

I jumped.

Kim said, “Relax, you lech, I’m Kim. That’s my ancestor out there with my body.”

I looked at her. I looked her up and down. The new Kim was devastating, but she doesn’t pose the way Kimberly does.

I looked at her lips.

Kim asked, “You want to kiss me don’t you?”

I nodded my head involuntarily.

Kim kissed me. I felt weak. I felt dizzy. I felt wonderful. I put my arms around Kim and she disappeared.

I looked and the Kimberly on the other side of the mirror had her eyes closed. “Clever little boy found a way to give my descendant power. We can’t have that, can we?”

Kimberly felt around blindly and sat in the chair. She sneezed. Even her sneeze was cute.

Kimberly said, “Well, this is a puzzle. I can’t look for you, but I can feel you nearby. Don’t worry, my little love muffin, I love a nice puzzle. I hope you’re somewhere able to watch me. It’s okay to hide, just as long as you’re stoking your desire.”

I looked away. Grandfather was enjoying looking at Kimberly a bit too much.

I said, “Grandfather, if we can save Kim, I’ll try to talk her into posing in front of a mirror regularly. Right now we need to focus.”

Grandfather said, “I am focused, but I get your point. I have a box of equipment stored in the cave with my papers. There’s a mirror in the box. If you turn invisible again, you should be able to grab my research without entirely leaving the mirror.”

Kimberly said, “I get it. As long as I don’t look in the mirror, you can’t find her.”

Kimberly put her back to the mirror and started searching the room.

In the world behind the mirror, Grandfather led Mother and me down the hallway and out of the house.


We walked down a new and oddly distorted copy of Bald Hill. On this side of the mirror, down where the lake was in the real world, there was a town.

Grandfather said, “My father claimed this area before anyone else did. When we became a state, there was an argument over ownership and squatters set up a town. Because of his age, they decided he couldn’t prove he was the man he said he was. They argued that he couldn’t be because that would make him a hundred and fifty years old. Father decided to settle the issue by moving the town and its citizens into the mirror world.”

I asked, “So there’s a town here?”

Grandfather said, “Not a living one. We didn’t know at the time, but there isn’t light for crops, and most people can’t stay alive on this side of the mirror for much more than a month. Don’t go down there. Your family resemblance is too strong, and the spirits don’t like strangers.”

We went into the cave, and Grandfather opened a panel at the back of the cave. Torches hanging on the walls flared up when we entered. There was a large open wooden box filled with more torches.

I asked, “If there are torches here on the mirror side, does that mean there are torches in the material world?”

Grandfather nodded. “Unless they have rotted. These will light the place up on this side, but they won’t send light to the real side of the mirror.”

I said, “They aren’t as bright as the ones in movies.”

Grandfather said, “We aren’t as beautiful as the people who would be playing us in the movies.”

I said, “Kim is.”

Mother said, “You don’t have to be rude. I was a knockout twenty years ago.”

Grandfather said, “Over there should be a mirror inside the box.”

I said, “Why did you have a mirror down here?”

Grandfather said, “Magical paraphernalia. There’s a silver bowl, too, but you don’t want to come out distorted.”

Mother looked horrified. “That can happen?”

Grandfather said, “I couldn’t come up with a safe way to test it, so I’m not sure.”

I said, “I think we need light for the mirror to work. Where’s the next nearest mirror so we can get here quickly?”

Mother said, “Rearview mirror on my car. But that’s up the hill. Kimberly would see you for sure.”

Grandfather said, “It would be easier for me to teach you a spell for light.”

After casting the light spell, I looked out of the mirror sitting in a box in the cave. All I could see was a corner of the box and part of a tarnished silver bowl.

“Mother, can I borrow your compact?”

She handed it to me, and I reached through the mirror and set the open compact where I could see my reflection. I used the compact’s mirror to reach out and adjust the first mirror. Mother handed me her letter opener, and I used it to open the box. After stacking things and moving mirrors, I could see into the cave.

Grandfather pointed. “That box has my research in it.”

Putting the mirror on the shelf and propping it up, I managed to pull both of the boxes and Mother’s compact into the mirror world. The mirror was too small to fit the boxes through. We had to move the mirror to the far end of the shelf so the boxes looked smaller and could fit through the mirror.

In the world on the other side of the mirror, we headed up the hill and heard music. In the dance hall, Kimberly was playing the badly out of tune piano. Kim ran to me and embraced me. I turned my head as she started to kiss me.

Kim said, “Please, I think I’m fading.”

I kissed her and swooned. She faded away.

I looked out through the mirror and saw Kimberly sitting in front of the mirror with her eyes closed.

Kimberly smiled. “It’s good to have you back with us. I’ve solved our little dilemma. I’m going to meld with your darling Kim. I’ll be dominant, of course, but when you kiss me, you’ll be kissing her. The best part is that I’ll learn all about this modern world without having to study. Everyone wins in the end!”

I said, “Kim said she was fading.”

Mother said, “Kimberly can’t hear you. Even if she could, she wouldn’t listen.”

Grandfather said, “We need to go over all of my notes.”

I said, “We may not have time.”

Grandfather said, “Let’s get away from the mirrors and speed time up. In this world, we can make time.”


We didn’t find a good answer. In the stories, you have to kill the witch to end it. In this case, I couldn’t the whole point was to save Kim. I put a mirror in front of a picture of Kim in the real world so that she could appear with us.

Kim said, “You don’t want to kiss me like this. I don’t want you to kiss me while I look like this.”

I said, “Your acne is not that bad anymore, and she doesn’t want you to have power. You’re melding with her. Your ancestor’s the expert on this. Since she doesn’t want you to have power, this may be the only way to save you.”

Kim said, “Imagine that I’m the way my ancestor has made me now and not how I am in the picture.”

I said, “I’ll imagine that I’m kissing my best friend.”

Grandfather said, “Wait, she’ll notice the second you give her power. Let me speed the time here so she can’t react too quickly.” The view on the other side of the mirror turned dark.

Grandfather said, “Now, boy.”

I kissed her until I was too weak to move. Kim kept kissing me, slowly shifted, and became the new Kim. Part of her was her ancestor, but I think she was mostly her. Her ancestor kissed better. She kept kissing me until I passed out.

I woke up, and Kim or Kimberly was beside me. I was lying in my bed.

She said, “You should sleep some more.” She kissed me until I faded back out.

I woke up. “That kiss was too good. Is Kim gone?”

She said, “No, I’m Kim, for the most part, but I know all of Kimberly’s tricks now.”

“How will I ever be sure?”

Kim said, “Because you love me. A kiss from Kimberly would not be able to drain you so completely.”

I said, “I guess that works for me.”

I tried to use a spell and make light, but I was too weak to do it. Kim copied me and created a nice glowing ball of light.

Kim said, “Grandfather says that if I don’t drain your power, you should be able to do magic in a month or so.”

I said, “I guess you’ll have to do all the magic.”

Kim asked, “Are you sure about that?”

I thought about going a month without Kim kissing me. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

If you liked this story, consider trying “The Snowball Effect.”

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