The Ultimate Purpose
His day was going great—until he discovered he was dead. Not only had he looked forward for weeks to the opening of the new book and music store near his estate in Aiken, South Carolina, but the day also boasted the debut of his band’s seventh and most popular CD, Shirtless. Other than a song he was finishing for an upcoming tour, this one rare day was all his. Or so he thought.
As he strolled across the parking lot, an ominous tingle crawled along his spine. The wind picked up suddenly and thrashed at his hair as he wrestled to pull it into a ponytail. Lightning screamed across the sky, a blast of thunder shook the steel as he palmed the door handle and labored it shut against the drawing wind.
Once inside, he swiped his hands along the rough material of his jeans. The thunderous din outside held back, the inner din that waited became far too clear. The music all too familiar. The voice, his own.
“Damn technology,” Dane Bainbridge muttered.
He knew what waited as he turned. Directly before him was situated a lofty display case of new CDs, and if the cardboard cut-out of himself and the rest of the band at its peak wasn’t enough, beside that stood a larger-than-life digital signage display that spilled out video images of his face—sweat soaked and contorted in concentration as he sang toward the camera.
Dane brought a hand up to scratch a feigned itch at his temple, in reality hiding his visage from the patronage of the store. Why did he leave his ball cap and colored contact lenses at home? Two features that almost always gave him away in public: his hair and his eyes. Most particularly his eyes.
At a fast walk, he navigated the safest route to the back of the store. The wondrous aroma of paper and leather, which he had no time to appreciate, unmistakable. Like a bat to a mosquito, he found the History Department without looking up. He plucked unthinking a leather-bound tome from the shelf and opened it to a random page.
All he had wanted was a quiet day of anonymity, hidden from the public behind tales of knights, kings and presidents. War, peace and poverty.
Though he kept his back to the exposed aisle, face lowered, it didn’t take long. Dane’s shoulders slumped in a sigh as a shiver clawed at his spine and the mental energy shifted around him. So much for obscurity. He was being watched.
Just a slight head tilt, a shift of his eyes. He saw only what his peripheral vision allowed, yet in his mind her face was unmistakable in its clarity—the silver-coifed hair, well-preserved face, sunken grey eyes. She appeared perhaps mid to late eighties and stood about ten feet away, gaping.
As a passing patron rushed the air in his direction, the scent of perfume swam by him; Chanel No. 5. How he recognized the name of the scent escaped him. His memory flipped quickly through the women’s perfumes for which he knew the name. Less than a handful. To his knowledge, he’d never smelled the fragrance before.
And the woman—once again his mind scanned its files of people. Millions, maybe more, but his memory for faces was good. Nothing. No recollection of having met her in all his 29 years. People her age rarely were seen around the rock music scene. Yet somewhere, somehow he knew her—recognition not limited to the physical. Random information pumped so quickly through his memory he couldn’t sift through, nor make sense, of it all. In an attempt to shake it off, he turned away and pulled the book closer to his face in an effort to remain hidden within the unassuming task of studying the pages.
But his mind refused to let the old woman go, and before he could dismiss the incident, the shuffle of footsteps came up behind him.
Chanel No. 5.
He sighed exaggeratedly. Attention from strangers was not unfamiliar, but generally within a younger demographic.
Habitually, he plastered a congenial yet fabricated smile on his lips before turning to face this anachronistic fan.
The old woman gasped.
Dane’s phony grin dissolved.
The step she took backward brought her to a halt against a table of well-stacked best sellers. Trade paperbacks and hardbacks alike swayed with the impact. Dane stiffened, as if even a whisper of movement would aid in sending the books crashing to the tiles. But the old woman’s frail form couldn’t do the job. Her stare remained fixed intently on his face as she shuffled a step or two forward. Dane opened his mouth, ready to converse, to ask what she wanted, when she spoke first.
“You’re dead!” The old lady wagged a bony finger in his face.
Dumbfounded, no words came. Dane Bainbridge simply stood there, book in hand, mouth open, as unformed thoughts never reached his voice.
What do you say to such an accusation?
A crease above the woman’s cockled brow furrowed as she repeated her accusation—loudly. “You can’t be here! You died!”
Heat torched Dane’s face and his forehead grew damp. Should he dismiss this woman as a crazy old broad and ignore her, call the police, run home? It wasn’t like unconventional situations were unique to him. Beyond the norm of stardom, his was a life wrought with the bizarre. Even his conception and birth warranted an entry into Ripley’s Believe it or Not. When finally another human body came into sight Dane was not sure whether to be frightened or relieved. He tore his curious stare from the old woman to greet this newcomer to the Freakish World of Dane’s Life. Female. Brown hair streaked with grey. Brown eyes. Fifties maybe—no matter.
Her arm wrapped protectively around the old woman’s shoulders.
“Martha!” she blurted. “Martha, it’s okay. What’s wrong?” Her eyes lifted to meet Dane’s and her mouth dropped open, russet eyes widening, in a repeat performance of Martha's own gaping appearance.
“Oh my God,” she whispered.
This incident was not improving. Definitely not the day to venture from the estate. Not the day to divulge in time to himself. He no longer wanted to find the perfect book to bide his off hours. All he wanted now was to scream for help. But who would come? Although everyone within hearing range stood frozen with books, electronic readers and cell phones in hand, no one moved a muscle.
But then the old woman’s raspy voice shattered the silence, drawing his attention from the customers.
“You see, Barbara?” she squeaked. “It's him. The eyes…his eyes. It's him. He came back. He came back!” The pitch in her voice rose and fell and she sounded more like a five-year old child than a woman of age.
“No, Martha,” Barbara's stare remained locked to Dane’s face, her words lacking the conviction they claimed. “It's not him. He just—well, he looks like him. That’s all.”
Her expression finally softened apologetically as she drew the old woman close. “C'mon,” she cooed. “We’ll go home. We’ll visit New York. Would you like that? It’s been a long time. You miss New York, don’t you?”
“New York. Yes,” Martha piped, but her distraction was short-lived. “It's him,” Martha pushed weakly once more. “I know it is. I can feel it. He came back.” Tears welled on slender lashes and one fell, zigzagging like the path of a brook along the light creases of her face.
“Martha,” Barbara drawled. “That was sixty-two years ago. This man's not that old. He resembles him, that’s all.” Her words were convincing, but within the depths of her middle-aged eyes doubt sparked.
The crowd slowly lumbered back to whatever it was they had been doing—just a crazy old lady. Nothing news-worthy. And lucky for Dane, no paparazzi had decided to patronize this small South Carolina store.
Not even the rock star accused of being dead would make the news tonight.
Martha slumped against Barbara's shoulder and wept. Muffled words spilled out against the younger woman’s floral blouse and made Dane realize that the rest of this day would be anything but ordinary. Typical.
The leather bound book he still gripped tightly had begun to ache in his hands. He forced himself to breathe and relax. He would definitely need a massage after this!
“I’m sorry,” Barbara stated, finally. “But you do look remarkably like him, judging from the pictures I've seen—and a painting Martha has over her fireplace.”
“Wh-who do I look like?” Besides myself? A shiver ran up his arms and raised the hairs there.
Barbara glanced down at Martha, the older woman’s pallid face still buried in her shoulder, before meeting Dane’s gaze again. “Lance Keagan…” she paused as if waiting for a response.
Dane raised a brow but said nothing.
“He was a Broadway star in the 1940’s,” Barbara continued. She rubbed Martha's shoulders as she spoke. “But he, well, he disappeared.”
Dane hugged the book closer to his body. That name. He was a fan of old movies, and he had visited many Broadway shows anytime a tour took them through New York. Lance Keagan. 1940’s? Long before his time. And yet—he must have heard something. How else would the name seem as familiar to him as his own?
“What, um,” Dane hesitated, almost afraid to ask. “What happened to him?”
Barbara’s shoulders rose and fell. “No one ever knew, but—” she stared into Dane’s eyes. He lowered his lids in automated response.
Barbara cleared her throat. “His face.” She shook her head. “Identical to yours. The dark lashes—the eyes so blue, with the same silver specks. I’ve never seen eyes that color on anyone before. The painting is true-to-life. They got the eyes exact.” Once again Dane regretted forgetting the brown contact lenses he generally wore when out in public. His eyes tended to disclose his identity, even if his face didn’t. Only this time it was the identity of someone else being revealed. A dead someone. Barbara continued her observation. She scanned the length of his slender six-foot frame, his pony-tailed hair, the black t-shirt boasting a Dark Myst logo, blue jeans, boots, then back up again.
“His hair,” she said, “was styled differently—black like yours. But the eyes...” She stopped again, as if suddenly realizing she’d already gone there. “He was extremely handsome.” Dane cleared his throat, shifted his stance. “He had everything going for him,” Barbara continued, “looks, talent, versatility; could do it all, from comedy, drama, to serious romance. They said he could rival Clark Gable, but in the early 1950’s he disappeared—on his thirtieth birthday.” “I’ll be thirty in another month,” said Dane, not really sure why he revealed that information.
Barbara’s mouth dropped open again, and Martha, who had finally ceased her incessant weeping, turned once again toward him.
“Um,” Barbara stammered. “Lance’s birthday would have been in a month—well, if he was still…” her voice trailed off. A glance down again at Martha struck that same chord of familiarity. Dane blinked and forced his gaze back to Barbara. “She knew him?” He nodded in Martha's direction, but didn’t look at her.
Barbara sighed. “He was her brother.” Her voice lowered to a whisper then, as though she were trying to keep Martha from hearing what she had to say next. “Martha’s mother died shortly after Lance disappeared. Never recovered from the grief, some said.” She offered an uncomfortable but sincere grin, then straightened and released a small cough. “I'm sorry Martha bothered you. Please forgive an old woman’s fantasies.” And with no further ado, Barbara guided the old woman at her side gently away. For a moment after they were out of sight, Dane didn’t move. He was sure he might faint if he tried. This woman knew him, yet they had never met. And somehow he felt he knew her, yet he didn't. He blinked quickly, attempting to clear the haze that bogged his brain and decided to get the hell out of there.
Forcing his hands to relax their death grip on the book, he strode to the cashier to make his purchase, hoping no one would make any inquiries as to the nature of what just happened.
Back to anonymity.
That would be good.
Home. Surrounded at last by the metallic comfort of his 2013 Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, Dane drew in a deep breath and allowed the tension that had choked him in the store to release as he exhaled. Once sufficiently calm enough to handle working machinery, he shoved the key in the ignition with his right hand, twisted and prepared to press the red start button with his left. Before the explosive roar of the 730 HP motor could catch, he stopped, his peripheral vision catching movement in the rearview mirror.
Mirrors. Nothing good can come of an image in a mirror.
Dane froze. The keys jingled out a rhythm in tune to his trembling hand. Slowly, he lifted his gaze to the glass, whispering, “Please, not now, not today.”
No one was there. All the tension drained out in one sudden rush of relief and he was sure he would melt to the floor like Jell-O in July. Yet, deep down inside disappointment stirred. It had been a week since he had seen her last.
Excerpted from "Beyond Every Mirror" by Christine Church. Copyright © 2016 by Christine Church. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.