THE LOOKING GLASS

The Looking Glass Series, Book 1

Month9Books

Fifteen-year-old Alice Montgomery wakes up in the lobby of the B&B where she has been vacationing with her family to a startling discovery: no one can see or hear her. The cheap desk lights have been replaced with gas lamps and the linoleum floor with hardwood and rich Oriental carpeting. Someone has replaced the artwork with eerie paintings of Elizabeth Blackwell, the insane actress and rumored witch who killed herself at the hotel in the 1880s. Alice watches from behind the looking glass where she is haunted by Elizabeth Blackwell. Trapped in the 19th-century version of the hotel, Alice must figure out a way to break Elizabeth’s curse—with the help of Elizabeth's old diary and Tony, the son of a ghost hunter who is investigating the haunted B&B—before she becomes the inn's next victim.


EXCERPT

CHAPTER 1

She could taste the blue, the water on her lips. Something solid loomed before her and she knew it was too late to turn around. There was a sound as she barreled into it, a sound that seemed too gentle for the impact. It should have been loud—earsplitting, skull-shattering—but in fact it was almost silent, dulled by the water. A whisper of a noise followed by a soundless darkness.

She blinked and the water slipped away from her like a dream.

Alice was lying on the couch in the hotel foyer. She lay there for a moment, opening and closing her eyes, alarmed by how her heart was pounding. Her throat was tight and she realized that she was choking back a scream. Was it a nightmare? Had she fallen asleep? She moved and every inch of her ached. As she tried to stand, her legs started shaking and she nearly fell over.

Moaning, she sank back into the soft leather, pressing a hand to her throbbing head.

She stared at the ceiling, trying to remember exactly how she had gotten there, but her memories were fuzzy. The more she sifted through them, the more tangled and sticky they became, as if she were digging through mounds of cotton candy. The hotel, of course, she recognized. How long had she been here? A week? Yes, they’d come to Maine on Saturday for a last-minute vacation before school started up again. Her twelve-year-old brother, Jeremy, had chosen the destination.

A haunted hotel.

She had to admit, the location had intrigued even her. True, she wasn’t obsessed with ghost stories the way Jeremy was, but Maine was pretty and quiet and a completely different world for someone who had spent her entire life on the West Coast.

A yell broke the silence. “Somebody call an ambulance!”

Alice jumped to her feet, ignoring the piercing pain in her head. Years of practice had taught her to discern the many subtle levels of her mother’s panic, but she had never heard this much raw fear in her voice.

“Mom?” she said, hurrying into the library just off the foyer. “Mom!”

“Is she all right?”

Alice recognized the hotel manager’s voice. He, too, sounded worried. She ran back into the other room and stopped, looking around in confusion. There was no one in sight. The hotel was completely booked; it shouldn’t be this empty.

“Alice!”

Her mom again.

“Alice, can you hear me? Come on, Alice. Come on!”

Even for her mother, whose overreactions were the stuff of family legend, this seemed to be going a bit far. Alice had just fallen asleep in the lobby. It wasn’t as if she’d died or something.

She walked back into the dining room, frustrated. If she didn’t find her mom soon, she’d be hearing about this for months.

“Where is she?” she heard the hotel manager ask. It sounded like he was in the foyer now.

“Outside, by the pool.”

“Oh my God!”

“What happened?”

There were more voices now, but every room was still empty. The foyer, the library, the dining room. It was as if the whole place had suddenly been deserted. Had the man said her mom was by the pool? She realized she was clutching her cheeks, her nails digging into her skin.

“Does anyone know CPR?”

“Has someone called an ambulance?”

She froze; her hands went icy. Had something happened to her dad? Her brother? Her heart skipped a beat, then pounded faster than ever—a drumroll.

“They’re by the pool!”

By the pool. There it was again. The voices grew louder as she sprinted toward the back door. Kids were crying now and people were gasping and yelling to friends. But Alice still could not find them. Everywhere she stood she heard noises; she felt sure that the voices must be coming from right beside her. She ran from room to room, sure the aching pain in her head—her entire body—had somehow affected her hearing.

They must be ahead of me, Alice thought to herself as she ran. They’re just a little bit ahead of me now.

She reached the back of the game room and grabbed the door handle and pulled hard, frantic now, but it would not open. She flipped the lock with trembling fingers and tried again, but the door was jammed.

“Come on,” she muttered. “Come on. Come on … ”

Somewhere outside, her mom screamed, her voice strained with growing desperation. Moving to the window next to the door, Alice yanked the curtains open and stumbled back.

“What the … ?” she whispered. The window was there, but the glass—what had happened to the glass? It was opaque, blurry, almost as if it were covered with condensation. Alice couldn’t even see the trees outside or the green of the lawn. Hesitantly, she reached out and touched the window, expecting to wipe away the water. Instead, the surface was dry.

She pulled her hand back, clutching it to her chest.

It’s okay. This is all normal. Just some condensation and an old, jammed door, she thought, trying to breathe deeply. Her stomach was doing cartwheels. Her head pounded to the wild rhythm of her heart.

“She’s non-responsive. Low BP.”

Alice looked up, eyes darting around the room. She thought she heard sounds coming from the foyer—a distant squealing like the wheels of an old grocery cart—and she sprinted back. Still empty. Outside. They had to be outside. She ran to the front door, unlocked it, and pushed hard—no luck. Cursing under her breath, she looked around for something, anything, but there wasn’t time … she couldn’t wait. Alice took a step back, then threw herself against the door with all the force she could manage. She slammed against it and the door did not budge, but she was sent reeling back.

As she stumbled and nearly fell, a flash of color caught her eye. She caught herself— managed to stay standing—found herself staring at a mirror next to the front door.

It was an optical illusion; it had to be. Trapped in a nightmare, she walked slowly forward until her face drew level with the small, square mirror. This was not possible.

She wasn’t there.

There was no trace of her in the glass, no flash of red hair or brown eyes. But there were other people—people she recognized. People she knew. The hotel manager, standing in the corner of the foyer, hand over his mouth. Alice whipped around, half expecting to see him standing behind her, next to the old floor lamp. But the lamp stood alone, shedding greenish light on the wall.

Head spinning, Alice turned back to the mirror. The annoying six-year-old girl from room fourteen clung to her mother’s legs, blonde pigtails dripping pool water all over the polished wood floor. Alice’s mom ran through the middle of the room beside two paramedics pushing a gurney, yelling hysterical instructions to everyone in sight, mascara running. The wheels on the gurney screeched as they turned, and it was hard to tell their screaming from her mother’s. Jeremy and her dad trailed behind; her dad’s crisp new shirt was dirty and Jeremy was wearing swim trunks.

They’re okay. Relief washed down her neck and back like cool water. Then she saw the person on the gurney, and the water hardened to ice.

She lay on the stretcher in the purple, flower-patterned bikini that her mom had forced on her just the week before. Alice Montgomery. Fifteen. Waist-length, red hair. Pale, freckled skin. It was unmistakably, unequivocally her.

Alice lost it. She grabbed an umbrella from the stand by the door and charged at the mirror. Maybe it was a sort of window, and if she broke it, she’d be able to step through and replace that girl on the stretcher. She held the pointed end of the long umbrella and swung the thing forward, dashing the handle against the mirror as hard as she could. It cracked, sending lines through her parents’ faces. She struck again and the mirror fell to the floor and shattered.

Alice sank to her knees, shaking. “This is a dream,” she said aloud. This was all a bad dream and she just had to wake up. She closed her eyes, opened them, and stood back up. The mirror … the mirror was back on the wall, hanging unperturbed exactly where it had been before.

“You damn, freaking … ”

Alice grabbed the umbrella from the floor and shattered the mirror for the second time. She stared at the shards as they bounced on the ground and settled into a pool of shimmering glass.

Before she could take a single deep breath, the glass disappeared and the mirror appeared again on the wall. Alice gaped at it. She could see the hotel manager, still standing in the corner so stiffly that he might have been frozen solid. The little girl’s mother knelt on the floor, hugging her daughter. The old couple from room nine looked as though they were praying. There was a girl she hadn’t seen before standing alone in the corner, wearing a black dress and black tights. She looked to be the same age as Alice and, unlike everyone else, she seemed entirely calm.

Alice collapsed on the floor in defeat. The pain, worsened by her attack on the door, was almost unbearable; her mind kept replaying the image of the girl in the purple bikini, lying on the stretcher with her hair still wet, as though she’d just been dragged out of the pool.

The pool.

Do you want to go to the pool with me, Alice?

Her brother had said that, not two hours ago. She remembered now. She remembered taking the tags off her new bathing suit and grabbing a towel from the bathroom. Her mom had made her come back and had tried to rub some extra sunscreen on her back, but Alice had grabbed the bottle away from her, irritated. I already put some on, Mom.

You know you burn easily, her mom’s voice rang strangely in her ears.

But if she had been swimming, how did she end up on the couch in the foyer? Alice walked back to the couch and examined it, looking for wet spots. There were none. She looked down at herself and saw with a start that she was still wearing her bikini, though the fabric was dry. Her hair was also dry, with a little frizz. She was barefoot. Everything would have been perfectly normal if it all hadn’t been so completely and entirely wrong.

“She’ll be fine,” the manager said, though his voice was shaky. “She just hit her head on the bottom of the pool. Honestly, people, there are ‘no diving’ signs for a reason. Honestly.”

Alice, no diving. Her mother’s voice hit her again, along with a slew of new memories. Only they weren’t memories so much—more like three-second movie clips with bad sound.

Alice, it says no diving.

Everyone dives, Mom.

And then Alice remembered jumping into the water, executing the somersault dive she’d perfected the previous summer. Her legs were powerful and she jumped higher than she had in the past hour. It was a perfect flip, and then the water came rushing over her head and shoulders and legs. The impact threw her arms back to her sides and she was going fast, too fast toward the bottom of the pool. There was a sound—she remembered it now. That was where the memories stopped.

Alice began to wonder if she was dead.

But she wasn’t. She pressed her hand to her wrist and felt her pulse; it was steady. Her head pounded. The lining of her swimsuit scratched her skin. Her hair was heavy on her back and when she ran her hand through it, it was soft. If she were dead, she would know it, right? She would have opened her eyes to see some beautiful, bright place and some nice, glowing person would have said she was dead now and … she wasn’t exactly sure what happened after that, but still. … She had woken up in a hotel foyer, equidistant from both heaven and hell.

But if she wasn’t dead, what was going on?

Dreaming, unfortunately, was out of the question too. Everything felt too real to be a dream. The colors were too vivid and Alice’s mind was too awake, too alive. She was sure she was thinking clearly. She flexed her hands and then balled them up into fists. Everything seemed to be in working order.

“But if I’m not dreaming, I must be dead,” she said to herself. Her voice echoed in the tall, empty room. She stood up and yelled at the ceiling. “I can’t be dead! Do you hear me? I’m not dead!” She was too young to die, wasn’t she? It just … it wasn’t fair.

“Not dead … not dead.” Her voice echoed back and forth in agreement, drowning out the sounds from the mirror. As the last echo died away, she heard a scream from upstairs and took off running.

“Hello?” she called. “Anyone?”

She reached the top of the staircase and stopped for a fraction of a second to figure out which room the sound was coming from. Now that she was closer, it sounded like a baby crying. She dashed toward a room at the end of the hall. The door was closed and Alice knocked.

“Is anyone there? Please—I need your help.”

She waited, but no one answered. She tried the doorknob. For the first time since the beginning of this nightmare, a door swung open when she pulled.

“Excuse me,” she said, poking her head inside. The baby’s cries grew even louder and she took a tentative step into the room, which was empty. A little boy in a playpen and a blue onesie was screaming his lungs out in the next room, visible through a door-less doorframe.

The very ordinariness of a crying baby calmed her, and it was all too easy to dismiss the strange things that she had seen. Mental breakdowns were medical fact, weren’t they? She’d just lost it for a minute there.

She wasn’t entirely sure she’d pulled herself back together, though. If whoever was staying in this room found her in here, they’d assume she was either a burglar or a total creep—probably both. But she wanted to pick that baby up. If she could only feel its soft skin, its small head … that newborn smell … she would know, then, that everything was all right.

“Where are your parents?” Alice said, wondering how they could leave their kid all alone in the room like that. Alice hesitated, then started toward the doorway, already reaching out to grab the baby.

Her hands hit glass.

“Ouch!” She straightened, rubbed her fingers, and took a step back. Not a doorframe at all—just a frame. A mirror.

“No. No—not again. Not again.”

As Alice pressed her hands against the glass, she saw in the mirror a woman hurrying around the side of the bed. Instinctively, Alice whipped around. Then back. The room where she stood was a perfect reflection of the room in the mirror, except empty—no playpen, no baby, no mother. The moment of normality shattered around her and Alice shattered with it. Her knees shook. She wrapped her arms around her stomach, as if she could hold herself together. Squeezing tightly, she felt her ribs—bone hard—and was glad for the reminder that she was still solid.

In the mirror, the woman picked up her baby and held him to her chest, rocking back and forth.

“Can you see me?” Alice screamed, truly frantic now. “Can you hear me? I’m right here! Right here!”

For a second, the woman glanced at the mirror and Alice thought she looked a little confused, but then she just wiped some smudged eyeliner off of her eyelid and walked away, bouncing the baby on her hip. As she opened the door to leave, the girl dressed all in black slipped through it and walked by the woman holding the baby. Was this her mother? Neither of them acknowledged the other—not a nod, not a glance—but Alice, who had spent whole days ignoring her mom, didn’t think this was particularly strange. The girl came to stand right in front of the mirror. She stared at it intensely; for a moment Alice was sure she could see her.

“Hey!” She pressed her hands against the glass, leaned so close that her breath left a perfect circle of fog. The girl blinked and Alice banged her fist on the mirror so hard that her hand stung. “HEY!

But though the mirror shook from the blows, the girl didn’t react. She turned to the side and gave her reflection a coy smile, pushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Heavily, Alice stepped back, rubbing her hand. Her eyes burned, but not from the pain. Alice bit back tears of frustration as the girl grinned and adjusted her dress. She wore a strange necklace—black like her clothes and twined like rope—and on each wrist she wore two silver bracelets, not circles but perfect triangles. She was Alice’s age—Alice’s height. She reminded Alice of some of the goth kids at school, though her clothes were more understated than theirs and her bobbed, straight hair was too unremarkable. The girl wasn’t particularly pretty (her face was somewhere between plain and forgettable), but her eyes were extraordinary—an almost golden brown that sparkled underneath long, black lashes.

Alice reached out to touch the mirror, hoping against hope that the girl would react somehow—that she would see her. But as she did, the girl suddenly turned and ran from the room without a word.

Alice stumbled toward the door on unsteady knees, surprised that she could walk at all. Somehow she managed to make her way out of the room, and closed the door carefully—the way she closed her own door when it was late at night and the house was too quiet. It hardly mattered; no matter how much noise she made, the woman in the real hotel would never notice. And, if she really was dead, then breaking into other people’s rooms was the least of her worries. Once outside, she sank down to the floor and leaned her head against the wall, trying very hard not to think.

But thoughts descended on her like a legion of angry bees—the buzzing onslaught was almost more than she could stand.

It’s real.

I’m not dreaming.

I’m not crazy.

It’s real.

Real. Real.

Real.

Crying out in frustration, she tried to focus instead on the sounds around her. It was strange that a deserted hotel should be so loud. Alice could hear the distant noise of people talking and doors slamming. These noises—the ordinary sounds of life—were louder than Alice remembered, or maybe she had simply never thought about it before. So much noise, and all of it so fast. Did anyone ever sit still? She covered her ears to block out the sounds, but the confusion inside her head was little better than the tumult outside. She gave up, letting her hands fall to her sides.

Alice didn’t cry; she wouldn’t let herself. Her mom had always encouraged tears, saying that it was healthy to get it all out, that Alice was too quiet, that keeping things inside was her “coping mechanism.” But stepping back and controlling came as naturally to her as breathing.

She looked around the hallway, searching for some sign of a trapdoor—an escape. Looking up, she saw an enormous painted face staring down at her. Alice stood up and reached out to touch it, wondering if this was yet another mirror. She didn’t remember seeing this picture before. But her fingers brushed real canvas and real paint. Alice scratched the surface and a bit of green chipped off and landed on the edge of a rug.

Looking down at the green fleck, she realized that this rug was not familiar either. It was red and thick, with a gold, braided pattern around the edges. Gaudy. She was positive it was not in the real hotel.

Her eyes snapped up and she turned around in a long, slow circle. Her mouth fell open as she realized what she had been too distracted to notice before. This was not the hotel she remembered. The walls were covered with dark green paper. The molding where the floor met the ceiling was elaborately carved with fleur-de-lis.

Turning back to the painting, she ran her finger across the thick, gold frame. In the real hotel, the walls were dotted with colored-pencil sketches of the ocean and the coastline. They were cheap and badly done—framed prints by local artists. But down the hallway as far as she could see were paintings just like this one with matching gold frames. They were all large, at least three feet tall, and it was obvious that they had been painted by a master. The same blue eyes glared at her from each one.

They were all paintings of the same woman.