Judith was known as ‘Icy Gaze’ at Little Hopes’ Catholic school. She had no friends, and those who approached her only did so for selfish reasons. The other girls shunned her: They said she was cold and unpleasant. She rarely spoke and endured all those mean remarks as if she did not care. But the truth was different: a fierce and raging fire was burning within her, a fire nobody would ever expect to find in a diligent and well-behaved child who always looked down and never said no. Judith was barely aware of it, but she felt that the precarious balance within her was slowly crumbling.
Judith’s family was very rich, one of the wealthiest in the county. According to certain rumors, her grandfather had made a fortune at the turn of the century by exploiting the survivors of the native tribes and promising them a better future that would never come. Roger Wendell II was a revered and feared man, whose legacy included a half-dozen sawmills across the state and many valuable estate properties. Judith had everything, and yet she felt as if the privileges granted by her lineage were a heavy burden, binding her to a life she didn’t belong to, a golden cage she had learned to resent.
Of course, there were also a few good moment. The holidays in her family’s cottage in the Rocky Mountains were her fondest memory; back in those days, her parents used to notice her, without considering her as someone to be taken for granted. Along with her family, she had spent a week full of laughter, fun and games. Then the holiday was over and once they were all back in Little Hope, those days quickly became vague and remote as a dream. Cross-country skiing, her long walks among the white and silent mountains, reading an old fairytale book with her parents by fireplace... all those images soon faded into a gray sea of sadness.
Sometimes she dreamed of being an ordinary child, with a normal family. What if she could have a boring life, but a much more real one? A life made of warmth, care and small pleasures to savor every day. When she woke up from those dreams, she felt even more miserable, as if something was slowly consuming here from inside, draining the very essence of her youth.
In the gloomy afternoons of early winter, Judith used to wander through the large manor of Marple Street for hours. She mused at its endless corridors, its many dark alcoves, its rooms with the high ceilings, its framed portraits hanging from the walls, whose aloof faces, as pale as a ghost, told the origins of the Wendell dynasty. One particular portrait stood out from the others: From a golden frame carved with flowers, a portrait of her grandfather Roger stared at Judith with stern, accusing eyes, as if his gaze could follow you everywhere and judge everything you did. Judith found the huge mansion scary and intriguing at the same time. Her parents let her wander, too with their greedy, frivolous lives to care.
There was only one room in the house she did not dare to enter: The attic. Each time she stood at the bottom of the staircase which led to the attic, Judith stopped, turned and went downstairs. She had heard many stories about that attic, mostly told by the servants and the butler, a talkative man called Mr. Ribadeau. His creepy stories could send a chill down your spine even in the hottest summer day.
One day, she summoned every inch of her courage and climbed the stairs. After all, what could ever be waiting for her in that attic? A pair of bored ghosts shackled to an iron ball? Once she opened the door, she stepped into a dusty and mesmerizing world. It was a realm of wonder where her imagination could soar to many remote and wondrous worlds. It was as if time had stopped up there: Exotic items her grandfather had brought back from his journeys, oddly-shaped furniture, ancient scrolls filled with mysterious writings in Latin: Every item told a story from a long forgotten age. There was magic in the attic.
The child was mesmerized by an old wall mirror, a legacy from her grandfather. Mr. Ribadeau kept saying it was bewitched. If you looked at your face in the mirror, the shadow of death could look back at you. And if it did, you were doomed.
Judith didn’t believe any of this. Indeed, she found out she enjoyed looking at her own image in that worn mirror. She removed the cloth which used to cover the golden oval frame carved with flowers, and she stared at her own image for a long time. And the Judith she saw in that mirror was different from her. In that mirror, she saw the child she had always wanted to be, the one with a normal life. The one she desperately wanted to be, but could never be. Sometimes, in front of that bright image, shining brightly even beneath a veil of dust, she dreamed of another place through the mirror, a place where the other Judith lived. In that place, life was wonderful. In that place there was no pain, nor sorrow.
The last time Judith climbed to the attic, it was a cold evening in late January. The afternoon was almost over when she left her homework room to visit her dusty shelter. Those who saw her before she went missing said that Judith looked much more vital than usual; her nice face was still pale, but she looked lively and she was smiling, and a new, trembling light shone in her blue eyes, as if she was waiting for something. As soon as she was up, in front of the enchanted mirror, Judith looked at her own image. And she liked very much what she saw.
When the parents and the servants realized she was missing, everybody panicked. Frantically, they looked for her in every room, then, holding a flashlight, they climbed to the attic. The door was open and everything was eerily silent. Then they came upon a chilling sight: Wendell II’s huge wall mirror was shattered and its many glass shards were now lying on the floor. It was as if it had imploded.
In front of the mirror’s frame, two small footprints were barely visible on the floor: All that was left of Judith. She was gone forever, turned into a shadow of the girl she had once been, a bittersweet memory in the hearts of those who had known her and perhaps, loved her.
Soon it was as if she had never been born.
11 years old
Missing from Little Hope
since January 24 1967