Author : Heather O’Connell

The stifling heat from the fireplace made the tiny kitchen unbearable. Gracie’s pile of laundry never got any smaller. She looked out the window at the ocean in the distance. How did she know it was the ocean? Her thoughts were not her own.

I could swim there.

Carry on. Lift the hot black iron. Press. The muscles on her right arm hardly felt the strain. It pushed a smooth, wide path over the fabric. Odd fabric. Gracie thought if she moved too slowly, the material would melt. How silly.

The iron hit something hard — a forgotten object. She slipped her hand into the warm material and pulled out a small object.


Upon closer inspection, she realized it to be two square pieces hinged together like a door. She pulled them apart and inside saw her face reflected as clear as if she were standing before her identical twin. Lights and noises blurred together in the background. Voices. Gracie recognized some words. English. She tried to focus, but only heard snippets of conversation.

“…finish it…”

“…get out of here…”

The people in the magic box spoke with strange accents, their voices nearly drowned out by tones and extraordinary melodies. The lights blended in a haze, similar to flames in the fireplace, only flashing and blinking more like stars. Was she mad? Were the voices actually inside her head? Gracie was not sure.

Suddenly, she had the irresistible desire to resume ironing. Plunging the heavy iron into the flames, she winced and pulled her finger to her mouth. Darn. That would blister. She had to be more careful.

Finish it.

Gracie imagined the hand of a great clock ticking the seconds, warning that time was running out. How absurd. She was locked in this prison forever. Yet, she could not ignore the impulse. A shirt. Gracie wiped the bottom of the iron so as not to get ash on the white fabric. She finished it in record time. Next, an apron. Easy. Another pair of pants. Gracie fell into a regular rhythm, hardly thinking. Sweat streaked her face, the neckline of her tunic soaked through. Gracie imagined she was wet from swimming. There were only two items left on the laundry shelf. She quickened her routine — what would it matter if it was not perfect?

She knew only that she had to finish it.

Finish it.

And get out of here. Now she knew the voices were in her head. I am mad, she thought. Letting out a cry, she cast the final piece of clothing onto the stone ledge.

Gracie finished.

Lights flickered in every color. The only section of the exhibit that was not true to the medieval times in which it was set was also its most popular exhibit.

“You kids. Don’t you get enough video games at home?”

A boy shrieked, “Mom! I finished it! That’s the first time I ever beat the whole game.”

“Good for you. Let’s go, this heat is killing me.”

Vibrating with pride, and hoping someone had witnessed his victory, he scanned the room. “Mom, wait. Someone’s there.”

A young girl dressed in period clothing sat in a dark corner, head tilted back.

“She’s filthy,” the mother said. “She must be on break from one of the exhibits.”

“Is she okay?” the boy asked.

The boy’s mother picked up a small compact mirror from the floor. Gently, she dropped it into the sleeping girl’s lap. “She’s fine. Let’s go swimming.”

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