Thursday Sampler: Notes in a Mirror by Helen Macie Osterman
June 16, 2016
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Thursday’s Sampler features an excerpt from Notes in a Mirror by Helen Macie Osterman, a compelling novel filled with ghosts and suffocating paranormal horror.
As one reviewer said: Helen Osterman’s Notes in a Mirror is a riveting story that takes you into the past with ease. Her descriptive style (from first page to last) has you eagerly anticipating the outcome. This story of a student nurse on rotation at a home for the mentally ill is captivating.
he year is 1950. The place is Hillside Mental Hospital.In this atmosphere of hopelessness and despair, come student nurses from the nearby hospitals for their three month psychiatric rotation.
Mary Lou Hammond and Kate Stephens are two of these young girls.
The treatments are archaic but, at that time, were considered state of the art.
Mary Lou begins receiving messages in mirror image writing from a woman who suposedly died in the previous century.She becomes obsessed with finding proof that this woman did actually exist. The story escalates to its life-threatening climax.
The students spent the next two weeks in the classroom, their evenings completely taken up with studying. The food was much better quality than they were used to. They stuffed themselves with tasty entrees, homemade bread and bakery goods. Waistlines began to bulge.
“Kate, this is disgraceful. I can’t button my skirt. This gorging has got to stop,” Mary Lou moaned.
“But it’s all so good,” Kate said. She thought for a minute then screwed up her face. “Maybe we can compromise: no second help-ings and regular outdoor exercise. All we’ve been doing is sitting these last two weeks. If we’re not in class, we’re in this room, hitting the books.”
“That’s a good idea,” Mary Lou said. “In fact, let’s go out right now and measure out a course where we can run, or, at least, walk fast.”
The mid-December day was unseasonably mild. A harsh late afternoon light lay over the complex of buildings. The snow had packed hard after a freeze the previous week making walking easy. A soft breeze blew from the southeast.
“Boy, it’s nice out here,” Kate said.
“Don’t let it fool you,” Mary Lou said. “This is Chicago. You can’t trust the weather. You know that. You’ve lived here all your life. Tomorrow it could be in the teens or even lower. We’d better bundle up.”
The girls began a slow jog around the buildings. They passed the chapel, a small building that held nondenominational Sun- day services. The bakery lay to their right. The smell of fresh bread wafted on the air doubling their determination to exercise. Ahead the cottage wards looked almost like a run down suburban area. The original plan was to provide a home-like setting where patients could live in a family atmosphere instead of a large impersonal institution, but buildings were sadly overcrowded. They saw faces staring at them from the curtained windows. Most of them just stared, but a few disembodied hands appeared and waved slowly back and forth. They turned left at the pharmacy to a large open space behind the power plant.
“I wonder what’s down that way?” Mary Lou said. “It looks like a fence. See, way down at the end.” She pointed to wooden posts poking out of the snow. “Let’s find out.”
They ran the distance, but were breathing hard when they reached the fence.
“Boy,” Kate said blowing hard, “am I out of shape.” She leaned against the old rotting wood standing out at odd angles; in some places new posts replaced the old ones.
“Wow, it looks like a cemetery,” Mary Lou said. “See there where the snow’s melted? It’s a grave marker.”
“Are you sure? Let’s climb over.” Kate already had one leg over the low railing.
“No, we’ll get in trouble. Here I can reach my hand through. There, see where I’ve wiped the snow away?” She squinted at the faded markings. “It says Robert Gil—something. I can’t make it out, but the date is pretty clear. My God! It says 1848 to 1913. I wonder who all these people were.”
“I don’t know, but it’s kind of spooky.” Kate looked around. “Do you think there really is a ghost around here?”
Mary Lou shivered. “If there is, this is the place it would be lurking after dark. Let’s go back. I don’t want to be anywhere near here when the sun sets.”
At that moment an animal ran behind the cemetery fence. It turned and glared at them with yellow eyes.
“What was that?” Mary Lou said gripping a post.
“I don’t know,” Kate answered. “It looked like some kind of strange cat, but it’s awfully big.”
As Mary Lou looked around, the cat had disappeared, but she thought she saw someone slip behind a large oak tree. She froze. “I think someone’s behind that tree.”
Kate turned. “No, you’re imagination’s playing tricks on you, but let’s get out of here, right now.”
The girls ran without looking back, but Mary Lou could feel unfriendly eyes watching them. She tripped and fell over a mound of snow. When she tried to get up, her limbs refused to move. She saw that the light was just beginning to fade. Would someone or something grab her at any minute? She turned and thought she saw a figure blending in with the shadows of the trees. Was it the ghost or someone human? Scrambling to her feet, she hurried to catch up with Kate as they reached the shelter of the buildings. In the distance they heard a peculiar howl. It wasn’t the wind. Was it the animal they had seen? Or was it something else?
They were both breathing hard. “Someone was out there,” Mary Lou gasped. “I could feel it. Someone who didn’t want us at that cemetery and that strange howling.”
“It was probably that animal,” Kate said with little conviction in her voice. “Come on, forget about it. Let’s go to the dining room. It must be time for supper. I’m starved.”