Lens Macabre

glasses

The odors hit her square in the nose the moment she opened the door—a heady mixture of dust, mold, and interrupted dreams.

Jane Killibreu lived for this experience.  So many of her friends considered antique stores a waste of time, and because of the sneezing involved, a waste of tissues as well.  Their idea of antique hunting involved clean, well-lit stores that also sold stationery and imported ceramic gee-gaws.

Not Jane.  No spoon-fed, over-priced trinkets for her.  She knew that the  inventory in those places had already been picked over at least three-fold, so that the only things left were the discards that not even the most desperate of true antique hunters would consider purchasing.

The place she’d entered could never, in a million lifetimes, be regarded as such.  Dimly lit by single yellow light bulbs dangling from a high ceiling, the shop was stacked higher than her best reach with cobwebbed, precariously-perched artifacts of every kind.  There were no commercial shelves to speak of; indeed, there was no order to the layout at all.  Just a small path that wended its way between tall, dusty stacks of mildewing books, lampstands, ancient taxidermy projects, and all other kinds of time-weathered bric-a-brac.

Jane followed the maze, knowing that somewhere towards the back of the room would be the requisite little old shopkeeper, his sparse hair fluttering around his ears in the breeze from an ancient, dust-ensnared fan.  But first, she simply had to explore all of these treasures that surrounded her.

It rather surprised her that she hadn’t seen this shop before.  True, it had been several weeks since she’d been to the city, but she still found it odd to have been unaware of this place.  Usually, her friends let her know if there were antiques nearby, in the form of a new shop, a street fair, or some sort of club exposition.  At the very least, she thought, there should have been signs.

Jane studied the walls and ceiling of the place with the appreciation of one who truly knew the fine art of antique sales.  From what she could tell, the owners had not done a thing to clear out the dust and grime from…

What had been here before this place?  She could not remember.

With a shrug, she put it out of her mind as not important.  The adventure before her—now, that ranked as her one and only priority for the time being.

The only bad spot was the fact that she had promised to meet her best friend, Nell, for coffee later.  This put a time limit on her foray into the deep, shadowy mysteries that crouched between curio cabinets and inside rickety bureaus.

She looked at her watch and frowned.  Only ten minutes, and then she would have to leave.  Sighing, she resigned herself to a quick tour rather than an extended stay.  Such a privilege, such a wonderful afternoon of discovery, would have to wait for another time.

Taking pains not to disturb the precarious balance of items teetering upon or beside each other, Jane walked quickly around the alleys and deer-run-type paths, taking in as many of the views as possible.  It hurt her emotionally to have to be so abrupt with all of these beautiful items, but there was no help for it.  Nell would be at the coffee shop soon, and it wouldn’t do to keep her waiting.

Jane took one last look around.  Ceramic-faced dolls and cooking utensils, an old washing machine, and an atlas globe from the 1890s stared back at her as she reluctantly turned away.  Heavy-hearted at having to leave this tryst so abruptly, she moved slowly toward the front door.

Just as she put her hand on the wooden door, something shiny and gold winked at her from below a stack of musty, torn quilts.  It seemed to call out to her, begging her to pull it out from its multi-colored prison and set it free.  Oh, not in so many words, but Jane could feel its entreaty as she opened the shop door, blinking in the bright glare of noonday.

Overcome by curiosity, and hoping to redeem her brief time spent among her new friends, Jane let the shop door close out the light.  She bent down and tugged at the item.  It felt like fine chain mail to her blind, groping fingers.  Keen to find out what she had connected with, Jane gingerly lifted a corner of the pile of crumbling blankets to get a better look.

As she pulled the quilts up with both hands, she heard and felt a soft “plop”, as something small landed on her foot.  She dropped the quilts, and immediately chided herself for being so rude.  Frowning at her mistake, she smoothed the faded wedding-ring pattern of the top blanket in silent apology.  Then she retrieved the item that had stolen her attention.

It was an evening bag, rather small, with a tiny golden clasp.  The handle was braided gold, and matched the metallic chain that cloaked the fabric of the purse within it.  Inside, it was all white satin loveliness.

Jane was instantly enamored of it, and decided right there and then that it was coming home with her.

Of course, if only I can talk the owner down from whatever price he has put on it.  Antique buying was no fun without the haggling.

She searched all over the bag, inside and out, for a price tag.  None could be found.

She shook her head.  Why wasn’t the price marked?  Surely it was good custom for a merchant to mark his wares, wasn’t it?

She gave a frustrated sigh, and headed into the deep darkness of the antique store’s heart to search for a shopkeeper, an employee, or someone to authorize and bless her acquisition.

As she had thought would happen, she found the expected little old shopkeeper, sitting on a stool behind an ancient, well-worn counter.  Thick glass below the wooden countertop exposed shelves full of jewelry and other items that Jane knew from experience were the most expensive merchandise in the shop.

“Sir?’ she asked, not too loudly.  She was afraid of startling him, so absorbed was he in his handiwork.  It appeared as if he was trying to re-cobble an old boot.  Jane marveled at his attempts, and thought wistfully of those bygone days when such craftsmanship was appreciated by a great deal of the public.

“Yes, may I help you?”  The old man squinted up at her through thick lenses, his wispy hair fluttering.  Jane had to smile; the scene was so like she had imagined.

She held up the purse.  “I’d like to buy this, but there’s no price on it.”

He peered at the item, bobbing his head up and down as he tried to get a good look at it through his bifocals.  “Mmm-hmmm, mmm-hmmm, he mumbled appraisingly, then turned his kindly gaze to Jane again.

“What would you pay to have your dream fulfilled?” he asked, smiling broadly.  His teeth were as ancient as his surroundings, brown and yellow pegs that more than matched the antiques that clustered around him.

Jane was taken aback by his question.  Puzzled, she asked, “I’m sorry, what did you say?”  Perhaps she’d merely heard wrong…

He blinked slowly at her, then replied, “I said, how much would you pay for it?”

“No, no.  That part about ‘a dream fulfilled’?”

“Oh, that,” he laughed, a curious-sounding cross between a bark and a wheeze.  “I know that these old things are not for just anyone.  Folks come in and buy them for the memories they evoke, and often for the dreams they provide.”  He smiled wryly.

Jane nodded in understanding, and looked the bag over very closely for tears and stains.  Again, she unfastened the clasp and gave the interior an expert examination as well.

Finally, she gave her verdict.  “From its quality, and the fact that it’s in very good shape, I would give you no more than twenty-five dollars for it.”  She gazed evenly at the shopkeeper, hoping against hope that he would agree to her price.  As much as she loved haggling, finances had been tight for her, and it was all she could afford.  As it was, this purchase would mean that there would be no subsequent rides into the city until the next meager paycheck was deposited into her account.

But she needn’t have worried.  The offer had barely left her lips when the shopkeeper slammed the flat of his hand on the counter and cried, “Done!”

He pulled his ancient bones off his stool and hobbled over to an enormous and extremely old cash register.  With an arthritic, palsied finger, he pressed one of the keys down on the front of the ancient machine, and a drawer popped open like an eager jack-in-the-box.

Jane handed over the bills, and he carefully planted them in their respective slots in the drawer.  “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you a receipt.  Ol’ Betty Lou here is too old, and I just ran out of receipt books.”  He patted his pockets and shook his head apologetically.  “Nope.  Not even a sticky note.  Wouldn’t do me any good anyway.  Can’t find a pencil around here either…”

His voice faded off as he searched through the debris on his workspace.

Jane looked at the front entrance impatiently.  Nell was waiting…

“Never mind, sir, I don’t expect to be bringing it back.”

He continued to rummage, muttering to himself.

Jane tried once more to get his attention.  “Sir?  Thank you.  I…I’m leaving now.”

He didn’t raise his head.  Jane sighed and returned to the entry.  She hoped she didn’t appear rude, but she simply had to keep her coffee date.

As the door swung closed on Jane’s retreating back, the shopkeeper raised his head and watched her leave.  His eyes glittered.  Softly, he laughed, and it seemed that titters and chuckles accompanied him, possessing the very air around the dusty, decaying merchandise.

x x x

Carefully eyeing the traffic, Jane crossed the street, being sure to stay within the confines of the crosswalk.  She clutched her new possession to herself, smiling inwardly at the thought of how nicely all the things in her pockets would look inside the bag.  How smart she would look!  No more lumps in her coat pockets.

A blaring horn made her dash the rest of the way to the curb.  Her heart racing, Jane glared at the little sports car that had almost run her over, as it roared off.

“Teenagers,” she huffed.  “No manners at all.”

Her mood now soured, Jane marched further down the street, turning in at her favorite coffee shop.  The smell of freshly-baked cinnamon scones, her favorite, wafted over to her and wrapped itself around her in a welcoming hug.

She nodded to Della, one of her favorite waitresses, and sat at her usual table.

Della shuffled over, the order pad ready in her gnarled old hands.  Jane had a fleeting vision of the ancient lady as part of the very woodwork, and she almost laughed out loud.  Della had been here longer than anyone she had known, and had seemed old twenty years ago.

“The usual today, dearie?” Della wheezed.

“Yes, thanks, Della.  And bring two scones.  I’m waiting for someone to join me.”

“You betcha.”  Della put the pencil back behind her ear and moved away.  Jane wondered why the poor dear didn’t retire.  But it wouldn’t be proper to ask such a thing.

Her mind turned to her prize, and she smiled broadly as she placed the new purse on the table.  She hoped it wouldn’t be wrong of her to transfer her things into it while sitting in a public place.

Shrugging the concern away, Jane eagerly undid the clasp and opened the bag.  As she was feeling in her coat pocket for her wallet, her eye was caught by a glint from within the depths of the purse.

Puzzled, Jane could only stare for a moment.  Hadn’t this been completely empty when she left the store?  She knew it had been, because she had practically turned it inside out, looking for a price tag.

Carefully, she reached her hand in and brought out the object.

She could only stare at what she’d found.  It was a pair of old-fashioned spectacles.  Round lenses nested in an amber-colored frame, as luminescent as the agates she used to collect as a child.

“Oh dear.”  She turned them over, inspecting them.  “I suppose I’d better take them back.  But…”  She looked at her watch.  Nell wasn’t expected for a couple more minutes, and she was sure to be late anyway.  She always was.  If I could just hurry…

Della came with her order just then.  Jane stood up as she approached, and said, “I’ll be right back, Della.  I have a very fast errand.  If someone by the name of Nell should come in and ask for me, have her sit here.”

“Okie-dokie, hon.”

As she turned to leave, Jane looked over her shoulder at the old lady, and hoped the woman would remember her instructions.

Crossing the street again, Jane kept an eye out for unruly teens in fast sports cars.  She wouldn’t be startled like that again, if she could at all help it.

She spotted the massive wooden door of the antique store, and hurried toward it.  Pulling it open, she anticipated the welcome odors she had already experienced.

But, to her surprise, what lay on the other side of the door was a stationery store.  Bright lights, soft music playing overhead, and racks of paper goods and figurine displays greeted her eyes.

“Oops, wrong door,” she mumbled, and stepped back out.  Puzzled, she looked up and down the street, searching for another door that looked like this one.

But there weren’t any.

She turned back towards the coffee shop, a frown creasing her forehead.  It has to be here, it just has to!  I’d been inside no more than ten minutes ago!

Can I help you, miss?”

Jane jumped at the sudden voice, and turned to see who had spoken.  With a sigh of relief, she recognized the wizened old man in the derby; he ran the newspaper stand on the corner.

Jane gave him a crooked smile.  “Um, no thanks.  I’m fine.”

He nodded.  “Okay.  Have a good day.”  He resumed the trek toward his newsstand, but Jane suddenly stopped him with a hand on his sleeve.

“Wait.  Please.”

He stopped and turned to her, his face benevolently questioning.  Jane wasn’t sure how to ask, it seemed so silly.  She pointed at the stationery store—and its bright window displays, which she only now noticed—and asked, “Wasn’t this an antique store?”

The old man screwed up his face in thought.  “Hmmm, was it here?”  He pointed to the next shop.  “I know Alphonse’s barber shop was there back in ’63, but…”

“No, I mean, just today.  An antique store with…with a stuffed parrot in the corner of the window, and…”

“Oh, I know what you’re talking about.”  The newspaper man’s eyes lit up with the memory.  “That was Old Man Jiggs’ place.”  Then he scratched his head, perplexed.  “But that place went out of business in the late ‘30s.  Right after Jiggsy hung himself.”

“Hung himself?”  Jane was horrified, her own current problems replaced by this terrible revelation.

“Yep.  Some lady was bludgeoned to death in his shop.  Poor old guy was almost deaf—didn’t hear a thing.  The police questioned him over and over, making it seem like he was the number one suspect.  One night, he’d had enough.  Hung himself right over his cash register.”

“Oh.  Oh my…” Jane was speechless.

After a moment, the man peered at her curiously.  “That help, miss?  You okay?”

“Oh…um…yes.  Thank…thank  you.”  Her voice trailed off as she stared at the storefront.

She turned to ask the newspaperman some more questions, but he’d already disappeared among the pedestrian traffic that surged along the pavement.

x x x

Jane got back to her table in the coffee shop with a minute or two to spare.  She fingered the spectacles, not knowing what to do with them.  Should she take them in to the police?  Leave them at the stationery store?  Oh, what to do…

Just then, Nell rushed into the shop, swirling leaves and errant napkins in her usual wake.  The woman didn’t know the meaning of “slow down”.

Jane glanced at her watch.

Or the meaning of the word “punctual”.

Nell swooped down into the opposite seat, flushed and excited.  Jane couldn’t help but think of a Jack Russell terrier.

“Oh-I’m-sorry-I’m-late-oh-is-that-scone-for-me-thanks!” Nell said, all on one rushed breath.

“For goodness’ sake, Nell, do calm down.  You weren’t that late.”  Jane smiled indulgently.  “Honestly, dear,…”

Della, the pole-opposite of Nell’s flushed enthusiasm and joie-de-vivre, came shuffling along at that point.  Jane got her attention.

“Della, please bring another coffee.  With cream this time.”  She knew that what would have been Nell’s choice, but the woman was too busy extracting herself from her coat and many scarves to put in the order herself.  Della had her timeworn route in the shop, and heaven help the person who missed her on her go-round.  It was highly likely that the customer wouldn’t see the old waitress again for some time.

“You bet, dearie,” the old gal wheezed, and set forth for the kitchen doors.

“So what have you been doing that’s gotten you in such a dither?” Jane asked.

Nell’s hand flew out and grasped Jane’s.

“Jane, I did it!  I sold that wreck of a hotel over on Army Street!”  Nell giggled and clapped her hands.  “I’m finally free of that monstrosity!”

Jane was happy for her friend.  Nell needed the money.  “Good for you, dear.”  She picked up her cup and took a sip, regarding Nell over the rim.  “Hopefully, the buyers won’t back out.  They’ve seen the inside?”

“Yes, they have.  They’re looking forward to the challenge—their very words.”  Nell took a bite of her scone, swallowed, and added.  “ ‘Resurrecting the past’, they said.” She smiled broadly at Jane.

Then her eyes were distracted by the purse that lay in Jane’s lap, its clasp barely visible above the table top.

“Oooh, a new toy!  Where’d you get it?”

Jane put down her cup and brought the purse up so that Nell could see the whole thing.  “Well, there’s a tale, for sure.  I found it in an antique store…”

“Well, where else?” Nell quipped.

Jane stared meaningfully at Nell and cleared her throat.  Her raised eyebrows spoke volumes.

Nell flushed.  “Sorry.  Didn’t mean to interrupt.”

Jane continued, “But even stranger was this pair of glasses I found inside the purse.”

She told Nell about going into the store, and her adventure from there.  Nell’s smile went to a frown as she heard her friend’s story.

“Hmm, that’s odd.  I don’t even remember an antique store there—not ever.”

Then she brightened.  “Have you tried them on yet?” she asked, indicating the glasses.

Jane looked surprised.  “Why, no, I hadn’t considered doing such a thing.”

Nell squirmed with excitement.  “Try them on!  I want to see how they look on you!”

Jane sighed.  Nell was so…impetuous!

“Okay, I’ll try them on, but I don’t need glasses.  Therefore, I don’t see the point.”

“Oh, just for fun.  Come on!”

Just then, Della hove into sight with Nell’s coffee.  She put it on the table and said, “There ya go, dearie.  I’m off shift, so don’t look for me.”

The two friends watched the old gal shuffle out the front doors.  Jane shook her head, a fond smile on her face.

“Well, come on then!”  Nell patted Jane’s free hand, then reached for her coffee.

“Oh, all right.  If I must.”

Jane unfolded the amber-gold earpieces, admiring how they gleamed in the sunlight coming in through the window.  As she put them on, she had to suppress a gasp of surprise.

They fit perfectly!  And, to her amazement, they also improved what she’d thought was perfect vision.

“Oooh, they’re lovely!” Nell breathed.

Jane was looking around at the interior of the coffee shop.  “Yes, they’re wonderful.  As if they were made for me.”

A noise outside in the street startled her, and she quickly glanced through the window.

Now it was her turn to get excited.  “Oh, Nell, have you ever?  Look at that Model T!  A purple one!  Why would anyone paint a Model T in such a color?”

She continued to stare out the window, and it took her a couple of seconds to realize Nell hadn’t responded.

“Nell, didn’t you see…” She turned back to her friend, and her eyes widened in surprise and pleasure.

“Nell!  It’s lovely!”

“What?”  Nell was still trying to see the car Jane had referred to.

“Why, that darling hat.  It looks gorgeous on those auburn curls of yours.”

Nell shook her head, amused, but also a little worried.  “Jane, are you…joking with me?”

“What do you mean?” Jane huffed.  “I don’t ‘joke’.”

“I know.  That’s what’s weird.”  Nell carefully picked up her coffee and finished it in two gulps, never taking her eyes off her companion.

“Because,” she continued, nodding out the window,” that car over there is a brand-new Fiat.”

Jane’s eyebrows shot up, and she peered through the window again.

“Oh, Nell, dear, the sun might be making it a little hard to see, but there is no Fiat out there.  Just that grand old Model T.  Parked just there.”  She pointed across the street.

Nell sighed.  The whole car thing was already getting old.  Jane wasn’t a jokester, and this attempt, although a decent try, was dying with every poke Jane gave it.

Jane could see that Nell was getting upset.  “Well, never mind.  I’d rather talk about that hat.”

Nell felt her head, just to be sure.  Nothing there but her hair.  Her straight, slate-grey hair.

“Jane, I’m…not wearing a hat…”

“Of course you are.  It’s a darling emerald-green cloche with pheasant feathers and an onyx hat pin.” Jane was staring with admiring eyes at the space above Nell’s head.  The frame of the spectacles glittered in the sunlight.  “And your hair—when did you get it done?  In all the rush when you got here, I missed it entirely.”

Nell was really getting worried.  Jane’s eyes, usually a bit cold and distant, even in her best mood, had grown shiny and excited, as if she’d stumbled upon the greatest treasure in all antiquedom.

But then, as Nell was about to answer her, Jane’s merry face turned to abject horror.  Jumping out of her chair, she screeched and pointed behind Nell.

“Look out!  He’s got an ax!”

Without thought, Nell plunged under the table.  Neighboring diners screamed and jumped up as well, ready to run.

Then a pall of silence came over the room as reality set in.  People started muttering to each other, sounding mystified.  After a moment of hearing nothing but confused voices, Nell peeped out from under the table.

There was no one behind her, except a young man in a waiter’s uniform.  And he was holding only a tray, fortunately empty, up against his chest.  He stared wildly at Jane, who was glaring daggers into him.

“Ma’am?” He stepped towards her slowly.

Jane screeched again, and grabbed a knife from the table.  “Don’t you come at me!  Don’t you dare hurt me or my friend!” she cried.

The waiter put the tray down, very slowly, on a nearby table.  He put his hands up.  “Lady,” he said, his voice quivering, “what the…what’s wrong with you?”

Nell could see several people on their cell phones, as someone in the kitchen set off an alarm.

“What’s that?”  Jane’s crazed eyes glared all around.  “Why is that noise going off?”  Then she focused her attention on the waiter again.

“You!  They’re after you!”  She lunged toward the horrified man, plunging the knife into his shoulder.  “You killed her with that ax!  I saw you!”

The poor man fell, shrieking in pain, while the customers fled.  Just as Jane was about to attack him again, a couple of police officers rushed through the door and grabbed her.

“No, no, not me!  He did it!  He killed her!” Jane gasped, pointing the bloodied knife at the wounded waiter.  She struggled, but was soon subdued, and the knife removed from her clenched fist.

x x x

Jane fought through the drugged blurriness to find herself tied down to a gurney inside an ambulance.  She could feel that the vehicle was in motion, but thankfully there was no siren.

She pulled a little at the bindings, but did not have the energy or the will to try a full-on attempt at escape.  At least I’m safe from that ax-wielding monster, she thought to herself.  I certainly hope that he was apprehended.  Still, I don’t understand why I am in this ambulance.  I wasn’t hurt.

Lost in her thoughts, Jane didn’t realize right away that she had company.  But a quick flurry of movement brought her to awareness.  A young man in a blue uniform sat at the far end of the ambulance, near the doors.  He paid Jane no mind, as he wrote notes in a folder.

But that was not what had caught Jane’s attention.

A young woman sat on the empty gurney opposite her own.  She stared at Jane with a sad look on her face.

Jane peered at the stranger.  There was something odd about her.

“Who are you?” Jane whispered.  “And why are you here?”

Silence from her strange companion.

The EMT had heard Jane, and he closed the folder.  He looked over to his patient, surprised that she was awake.  As he got up, the young woman turned to look at him.

Jane let out a startled scream.

The woman’s head was caved in, as if she had been hit with something heavy.

Like the back of an ax.

The EMT rushed over, grabbing a vial of medication.  He emptied it into Jane’s IV as she screamed in terror, her eyes fixed on the opposite side of the ambulance.

Jane pointed.  “It’s her!  The girl who was killed.  She’s right here!”  She tried to pull out of the bands around her body, but the sleep meds kicked in rapidly.  Jane fought the drug, but eventually she lost.

As she slipped back into oblivion, she heard a woman’s voice whisper, “Help me…butler…”

Nell had followed the ambulance to the hospital, and caught up with Jane’s gurney as they were wheeling her into an observation room.

A nurse caught her sleeve.  “Are you family?” she asked.

“About as close as you’ll find, I’m afraid,” Nell replied, glancing worriedly at the struggling, moaning figure in the bed.

“We need to locate family members.  Can you help?”

Nell shook her head sadly.  “She’s alone in the world.  I’ve known her a long time, and not once has she mentioned any relations at all.”

The nurse jotted this information down.  Then she said apologetically, “I’m afraid you won’t be able to stay in the room.  Family only.”  She raised her hand to Nell’s expected retort.  “Yes, I know you just said she had no family.  But I can’t allow you to stay.”

She indicated a row of chairs in the hallway.  “You can wait for the doctor here.  I’m sure you’ll be able to be a lot of help to him.”  She gave Nell a kindly smile and walked back to her station.

Nell sat in the hallway, impatiently watching the bustle of a normal day shift in ER.  She held Jane’s purse and coat, and wondered again what had come over her friend.

A young doctor approached the room, accompanied by a man in somewhat rumpled business attire.  She stood and watched them hopefully.

“Nell?  Are you Nell Symons?”  The doctor held out his hand, and Nell took it, nodding and smiling in relief.  “Yes, I am.”

“I am Dr. Eduards.  I understand you were with Ms…”

“  ‘Miss’,” Nell interrupted.  “She’d have a bird if you referred to her as ‘Ms.’ ‘Not a proper title for a lady’, is what she’d say.”  Nell blinked back the hot tears that threatened to burst through and melt her carefully-built façade of calm.

Dr. Eduards put a comforting hand on her shoulder.  “Don’t worry, Ms. Symons.  We’ll do everything we can to help her.”

Nell nodded, a bit shakily.  “Thank you,” she whispered hoarsely.

The other man cleared his throat.  “Sorry to interrupt, but I need to ask some questions.”  He flipped a badge.  “Detective Gunnerson, ma’am.  I need to hear from you what happened this afternoon.”  He gestured to the chairs Nell had just vacated.  “Mind if we sit?”

Nell looked to the doctor, who said, “I’ll go have a look, and be right out.” He nodded to her and to the detective, and walked away.

The detective pulled out a notepad, and Nell related all that had happened.  He nodded and wrote it all down, clarifying some points and asking questions until he was satisfied.  Then he stood up and said, “That’s all for now, Ms. Symons.  Thank you for your cooperation.”  He held out a business card.  “In case you come up with anything else…”

With a nod, he strode toward the exit, leaving Nell to her own thoughts.

Her mind turned towards what Jane had told her about finding the spectacles in her purse.  It was so strange that the antique store in question had somehow disappeared.  Perhaps Jane had been mistaken, and had come by it on another street.  Nell had to know.

She pulled out her mini-computer and used the hospital’s free wi-fi to do a little research while she waited.  What she learned was both fascinating and horrifying.

She was so engrossed in the article she was reading that she jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder.  The doctor had come out, a perplexed look on his face.

“Ms. Symons, there is something…odd…going on with your friend.”

“Oh?”  Well, wasn’t that an understatement.

“Yes, I…don’t know what to make of this.”  He scratched his head and looked up and down the hall.  Then he said in a low voice, “Is there some reason Miss Killibreu would have glued her glasses onto her face?”

Nell reared back, astonished.  “Why, she did no such thing!  What are you talking about?”

Dr. Eduards put his hands up.  “Shhh.  We want to keep this between just the two of us.  I don’t want someone to put your friend in the looney bin if I can at all help it.”

He went back into the room, motioning for Nell to follow him.

“Take a look for yourself,” he said aloud.  He put a finger between the earpiece and
Jane’s face and pulled, but the glasses wouldn’t budge.

“Oh, my,” Nell breathed.  “It’s almost as if…”

“…her skin is growing around them,” the doctor finished.

“But how…?”

“I don’t know.  But we need to get those off of her somehow.”

He pulled Nell to the other side of the room, and went back to whispering.  “You’re sure she has no family?”

“Positive.  Just six or seven cats.”

Eduards glanced over at his patient and sighed.  “We’re going to have to wake her up and get her to sign a release form.”  He squeezed Nell’s arm.  “You stay here and I’ll be right back.”

Nell watched as he strode into the corridor and whispered urgently to a passing nurse.  She glanced quickly into the room, nodded, and hurried off.

Nell was staring out the window when the doctor returned.  The nurse had already been in to administer the meds into Jane’s IV.

“Has she shown any signs of waking up?” he asked Nell, as he pulled some papers out of a folder he was carrying.

Nell shook her head silently, and returned to Jane’s side.

Jane shifted a little and murmured something.  A moment later, her eyes fluttered open.

“Where…where am I?” she mumbled.

“In the hospital, dear.”  Nell patted Jane’s hand.  “You had a bit of a turn this afternoon.”  Nell didn’t consider it so much a lie as a huge understatement.

Jane nodded sleepily.  “I remember someone with…with an axe.”

The heart rate monitor charged, as Jane grabbed Nell’s arm and sat bolt upright, her eyes wild.  “Did they get him?  Is he in jail?  Oh, that poor woman!”

“Yes, yes, Jane dear, all is well.  Just relax.”  Nell helped Jane to lie back down, and pulled her covers up.

Several nurses ran to the doorway, but Dr. Eduards shooed them away with an “I’ve got this, thanks.”

Wary and worried, the crew went back to their duties.

He turned to Jane.  “Ms…er, Miss Killibreu, I’m Dr. Eduards.  I’ll be taking good care of you.”

Jane nodded, staring at the man blearily.

“We’ve discovered a problem with your glasses.”  He approached closer while Jane felt at her face.

“My glasses?  What’s wrong with them?”

As the doctor and Nell both leaned over her to have another look, they had to stifle gasps of disbelief.

Jane’s skin had grown completely over the earpieces!

“What?  What’s wrong?”  Jane couldn’t help but see their expressions, and now fought rising panic.  She pulled at the glasses, and cried out when they didn’t come off.

“What’s happened?”  Hysteria threatened to take her over for the third time that day.

“We won’t know until we can get the glasses off,” Dr. Eduards explained.  “But we need to have you sign a release form.”

“Of course!  The sooner the better.”  Jane tentatively explored the strange growth along her face.

The doctor pulled the bed’s table up and handed her the paperwork.  Jane quickly scrawled across the document and handed it back.

“Thank you, Miss Killibreu.  That’s all we…”

The doctor’s voice stopped, his eyes registering complete bewilderment as he scanned the signature.

“What?”  Jane tried to take the paper back, but the doctor held it out of her reach.

“What’s the problem, Doctor?” Nell asked, peering at the paper also.  Her eyes popped wide in surprise, and she turned her gaze to Jane.

“Please inform me as to what the problem is.”  Jane folded her arms, impatient with this delay.

“Jane, darling, you…you signed someone else’s name,” Nell said softly.  Chills ran down her spine as she recognized the name Jane had signed:

MARY KENNEDY

The name of the woman, Nell had discovered, who had been bludgeoned to death in a local antique store so many years ago.

“Jane, you wrote ‘Mary Kennedy’…”

“Oh, please don’t be absurd, Nell.  Why would I write that?  I don’t even know a Mary Kennedy.”

“Take a look for yourself.”  Nell pulled the paper from the doctor’s hand and showed it to her.

Jane examined her own writing, and pursed her lips.  “Now, why would I do that?  It must be this hospital air.”  She sighed and held out her hand.  “Get me another form, if you please.”

This time, she wrote it correctly.

The doctor examined it, and sighed in relief.  “Thank you.  Now, let’s get you prepped.”  He put the paper back into the folder and started out the door.

“One moment, please,” Jane said imperiously.

“Yes?”  He turned to face her.

“What happened to the young woman who shared my ambulance ride?  She didn’t look at all well.”

Dr. Eduard frowned as he thought.  Then he shook his head.  “There was no one with you, Miss Killibreu.”

“But I saw her.  Poor thing’s head was bashed in.  She wanted me to help her…said something about a butler…”

Nell fell into a chair, hard.  She was having trouble getting her breath.

Dr. Eduards rushed over to her.  “Are you alright, Ms. Symons?”

‘Goodness, dear, whatever has you upset?”  Jane asked in alarm.

“N…nothing.  It’s just been a very stressful day.”  How could she tell them about what she’d found out on the internet this afternoon?  About Mary Kennedy, and the love of her life.

One Clint Butler.

Who drove a purple Model T…

Hours later, Jane woke up.  The surgery had been a success, as witnessed by the fact that those wicked spectacles were off her face.  She felt the bandages over the incisions, and smiled to herself.

“Oh, you’re awake.”

Dr. Eduards was standing at the foot of her bed.  “How do you feel?”

She rubbed her eyes groggily.  “I think I could do with more sleep, but other than that, I feel fine.”  She gave him a drowsy smile.

“Very good.”  He patted the blanket over her feet.  “Just ring if you need anything.”

She nodded and closed her eyes, and Dr. Eduards left the room, closing the door behind him.

A moment later, a dark shadow detached itself from a corner of the room and slipped silently under the door.

x x x

Tabby Reilly was getting ready to go on shift.  It had been a late night, and she felt certain that she’d be spending a lot of this day in the employee restroom.

She came out of the stall and went to the sink to wash her hands.

And stopped mid-stride, startled at what she saw.

There on the shelf above the sink was a pair of the most beautiful eyeglasses she’d ever seen.  Ruby-red and sparkly—perfect for her next party.

But no, they must belong to someone.  Better take them to lost and found, she reasoned.

She washed her hands, then picked up the glasses to take with her.

And hesitated.

What the hell, let’s just see what they look like.

She put them on, and they fit perfectly.

Jane turned in her sleep, only vaguely aware of a distant scream, and the mad rush of feet outside her door.

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