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When her aunt steps off a grain elevator into the emptiness of a prairie evening, Mira Piper loses her one protector. Chloe, her flighty mother, impulsively drags her daughter to Bramblewood, an isolated spiritualist retreat in northern Michigan, run by the enigmatic Dr. Virgil Simon.
Chloe plans to train as a medium but it's Mira who discovers she can communicate with the dead. When her mother abandons her, Mira discovers a darker aspect to Bramblewood: the seemingly kind doctor has a sinister side and a strange control over his students.
Then one winter's day Troy Farrington arrives, to fulfill his mother's dying wish and deliver her letter to the doctor. But calamity strikes and he finds himself a captive, tended by a sympathetic Mira. Haunted by her dead aunt and desperate to escape Bramblewood, Mira makes a devil's deal with Dr. Simon. But fulfillment comes with a steep cost...betrayal.
“You are absolutely stunning, Mira.”
I stole another glance in the mirror. The material was a rich, shimmery gold that fell from my shoulders in folds of liquid light. It looked like something a Greek goddess might wear. Oh, how I wished the girls from Amberville High School could see me in this dress!
“When you came here,” said Dr. Simon, “I had a vision of you like this. I looked at the girl before me, but I saw the woman you are now.”
“Thank you,” I murmured, gesturing toward the piles of clothes on my bed. “You’ve been so generous. I know you’ve spent a good deal of money on me—”
“Money means nothing,” he interrupted abruptly. “I have more than I could ever spend, more than I know what to do with. Don’t consider the cost.”
His tone was brusque, and I wondered if I had offended him.
But the next moment Dr. Simon smiled. “I think of you as my charity case. You were like a doll thrown out in the garbage. I simply rescued you from the trash, cleaned you up, and dressed you in something decent. But the beauty was present all along.” He touched my cheek. “Here.” Then he touched my forehead. “Here.” Then he touched my chest. “And here.”
I knew he was referring to my heart, but even so, his hand on my chest made my face warm with discomfort.
“You blush so easily,” he laughed. “You’ll never be able hide anything, Mira, with such a transparent face.”
“That’s all right,” I said, taking a small step back. “I don’t have anything to hide.”
Christy Effinger’s poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in various print and online publications. She lives near Indianapolis. Her website is www.christyeffinger.com.
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