SARA BROWN loved mysteries, and in particular those mystery boxes that one finds in auctions.
Somewhere, between the odd knives and forks and the faded tablecloths, the 'unknown item' would be offered.
As they worked their way through the lots she would experience all the emotions. Expectation, exhilaration and elation when she held the package in her hand.
If she thought that there might be something of interest in the box or trunk no-one, could outbid her. Few would bid for the mystery item, they were not like Sara Brown, willing to take a chance.
She had her disappointments. A small parcel wrapped in brown paper and sealed with wax, much to her mother's amusement yielded nothing but a bunch of old receipts.
That afternoon, as she journeyed home on the bus, her prize on her lap, she let her imagination run wild. She had shaken it a number of times, but no sound emitted from its tin interior. Sara made no effort to open it. That pleasure could wait until she got home.
This one, she thought, as she lay the trunk on the end of her bed, is different, I can feel it in my bones!
It was small, the size of a shoe box only deeper. It sat on Sara's bed looking the worst for wear.
The last flakes of gold hung on the pins of the hinges and the red paint was dull and scratched.
Having locked her bedroom door Sara sat on the edge of the bed and looked at her reflection in the mirror.
It was not exactly vanity...she liked to study the fine lines around her hazel eyes and the smile of expectation on her lips. Finally she turned her attention to the trunk
She pushed on the lock hoping it would spring open, but it remained firm.
Taking the screwdriver that she always kept in her bedside drawer, she carefully eased it under the clasp. With a ping! it sprang open.
Fine as a spiders' web, it had the colours of an early morning sunrise. Reds, blues, greens and splashed here and there silver, like late night stars.
She wondered at the delicacy of the shawl.
Gently, she put it around her shoulders, admiring herself in the mirror. Her feet moved to a tune in her mind. It was a waltz she knew, but could not name.
Before she realized it, Sara was on her feet twisting and turning to the music in her head. Round and round she twirled in her small bedroom, the ribbon that tied her long black hair came free, letting the silken tresses slide over the shawl.
Laughing, she fell back onto the bed, dizzy from her exertions. Carefully, she folded the shawl and placed it on her pillow and turned her attention back to the trunk.
Inside lay a pair of ladies' shoes, polished to a point where it was hard to say if they were black or blue. As she removed them something else caught her eye.
A small round box. The leather was soft and cool to the touch. It took her some moments to realize the lid did not lift, but slide to the side. The fragrance of roses filled the room. Inside, neatly held by three pins, lay a gold locket and chain.
The locket was incomplete.
The back half was missing. Small rubies in the shape of a heart decorated the front.
For once Sara's mother agreed she seemed to have got her money's worth and the locket still looked pretty without the back.
Sara decided to wear it.
Before going to bed that night, she opened the window to let the cool summer breeze into her room. She relaxed on her bed. Thoughts, unbidden thoughts entered her mind.
Rolling green fields and silent leafy woods.
As her eyelids dropped in sleep, the last thing she saw, was the shawl on the dressing table, rippling in the gentle breeze.
She woke with a start.
Pale green moonlight filled the room. Only the corners remained in darkness.
Something had touched her.
Without moving she looked around. Everything seemed in place, nothing had been moved, except - something was missing - what?
The shawl! It was gone from the dressing table.
Sara felt a tightness in her throat as her hand went to her neck.
She felt the fine spiders weave of the shawl draped around her shoulders. Startled, she sat up. A green fluorescent reflection stared back at her from the mirror.
The stars, sprinkled through the shawl, sprayed silver spots onto the ceiling, turning it into a night sky.
For some moments she studied her image in the mirror.
I've never walked in my sleep before. She carefully removed the shawl. No more Taco's for me if that's what they do to me!
The locket felt cool against her breast as she drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
The next night Sara wrapped the shawl in tissue paper and put it in the top drawer of the dressing table. As she lay down, a thought came to her. 'The locket - get the locket'. She had forgotten to put it on after she had her shower.
No matter how much she tried to get to sleep, the thought kept nagging her.
The locket - Put it on - Put it on.
Finally, she got up and went to the bathroom and retrieved it. As she passed the mirror she paused.
Something about her face was different. At that moment the moon filled the room with light. Then she realized what it was.
It was... fuller, darker, softer.
Mum must have bought a new shampoo.
The moment her head touched the pillow, she felt a rush of air on her face.
She was standing at the edge of a wood, the green fields behind her. The trees seemed to part and beyond, stood a house. A big white house.
Then, she was back in her bed, wide awake.
The hand was cold. That much she remembered. She kept her eyes closed tight not daring to move.
The hand caressed her cheek then moved slowly down her neck until it encountered the locket.
She felt it being lifted, then a slight tug on the chain. The fine gold links dug into the back of her neck. Still she did not move.
Cold air touched her skin as the locket came to rest on her left breast. It seemed heavier.
There was a slight movement in the room - a whisper - then nothing.
Eyes still closed, Sara searched for the chain and followed it to the locket.
It was smooth - complete, joined together - front and back.
Springs squeaked as something sat on the end of the bed.
Stifling a scream she threw the sheet back and jumped out of bed. She searched frantically for the switch near the door.
Orange light filled the room. Her back against the wall, she faced the room.
Her legs trembled as she stared at the end of the bed.
Side by side lay the shawl and shoes.
She sank to the floor, her mouth dry, unable to utter a word.
The locket throbbed in her right hand. Sara looked down. The back part held a photograph!
A young man smiled at her. His dark hair combed flat across his scalp. Black eyes under heavy eyebrows stared right through her.
Although his mouth smiled, his eyes held - a promise, a threat - or something evil.
Sara felt cold fingers touch her hand. She ripped the locket from her neck and threw it into one of the shoes. Bundling the shoes inside the shawl she dropped them into the back of the wardrobe.
Why she didn't tell her mother, Sara wasn't sure. Maybe she thought her mother would laugh at her. The next day she tried to work it all out, but there was no explanation.
How could she, who never remembered a dream, suddenly sleepwalk, get the shawl and shoes, put them on the end of the bed, get back in and not wake up?
Where had the other half of the locket come from? Who is the man in the picture?
Sara made up her mind. The following Saturday, she would take them to the market and sell them. In the meantime, they would stay in the bottom of the wardrobe.
She started to hum a tune. The Blue Danube! The music she danced around the room to!
Rain tapped on the window as Sara settled down to sleep. Now that the locket was complete it would be worth a lot more. For a change, she would make a profit from her mystery boxes.
As she drifted into sleep, she heard a question.
Where is the locket?
"In the wardrobe...you silly man."
She stood on a gravel path. The green rolling fields and the woods were behind her. Up ahead stood the house. Sun reflected from the second floor windows blinding her for a few moments.
Dressed in black, standing on the bottom step, was a man. He had his back to Sara.
'I'm dreaming this...it's only a dream!' she whispered. She put a hand to her throat trying to stop the panic. Her hand encountered something.
She opened her mouth to scream but no sound came.
Sara felt the shawl draped over her shoulders, the shoes on her feet.
It was a dream, she knew it was a dream, why couldn't she wake up?
"Sara." The voice was cold and menacing. "Come to me Sara."
Sara shook her head - No!
"Now Sara." Demanding.
The gravel crunched under her feet She took one step, then another. Her head said no, her feet had a mind of their own. Slowly, she moved toward the black figure standing on the bottom step.
His dark hair lay flat across his scalp, shining in the afternoon sun.
Without turning, he spoke.
"Ahh, Sara. So, you have returned to me. You thought you could be happy with him - did you? How were you to know he was going to die - and so young!"
It's only a nightmare I'll wake up in a minute.
He turned slightly.
"So you have come back to the only one that truly loves you."
Sara Browns last scream was cut off as a long nailed claw gripped her throat.
She stared in disbelief at the eyeless skull grinning at her. She could feel the blood throbbing in her neck, trying to reach her brain. Her heart pounded as she tried to draw breath through a closed throat.
Before her eyes lost sight of the world she saw the black hair slide off the shiny yellow scalp.
The last sound she heard was a laugh that came from the very bowels of hell
Detective Thompson looked uncomfortable.
"All we know, Mrs. Brown, is that your daughter was choked to death with something like a claw, similar to a human hand. How they got into the room, we don't know. Both the window and door were locked on the inside. I'm sorry, but at the moment it remains an open case. We will, of course follow any new leads."
Mrs. Brown nodded and wiped her eyes.
"Oh! by the way. We traced the locket and stuff. It seems they belonged to a Mrs. Sara Brownlow. Her husband went a bit crazy when he found out she was seeing another man and killed her."
"How did he kill her?"
"I don't know, it was a long time ago, early nineteen hundreds. Excuse me but I have to go."
Mrs. Brown sat on the end of her daughter's bed. Her hand touched the shawl lying beside her. A tune tripped through her head. As she draped the shawl around her shoulders, she had a sudden urge to dance. On the dressing table, the gold locket started to glow.
© John W. Kelly 2001