Looking Back from the Looking Glass

Tim Clukey
Assistant Professor
Communications Department
Plattsburgh State University

E-mail: clukeytj@plattsburgh.edu

Tales told around the campfire always seemed a little too far fetched to be true. But one hot summer night Uncle Frank made us all wonder if maybe strange things can happen--when the conditions are just right.
      Uncle Frank was born a little after the turn of the century in a quiet part of the Adirondacks near Jay, New York. He grew up on a farm where the long, cold winters brought people together out of a necessity to survive. Frank looked forward to the few summer months--even if it meant hard days of working in the field. The evenings provided a welcomed break in the action and gave him time to go over to his friend Walt's house, who lived just down the road. Many times they would go hiking in the woods, often staying out well past dark. But most often they would just hang out at Walt's to trade stories and tease Walt's younger sister, Jeannie.
      The summer of 1918 proved to be an unusually hot one. Violent storms often swept through the mountainous area, bringing rain, lightening, and very loud cracks of thunder that shook everything as they passed through. Frank and Walt talked a lot about the storms and couldn't figure out why the rest of their families paid so little attention to them. At the time, both Frank and Walt were a bit too young to realize that older family members had other things on their minds--like the war, and the mysterious sickness that had begun to take its toll on families living in the area.
      Frank's mom had called him in from the field early that particularly hot summer day in August. She asked him to get cleaned up and said little as their family headed over to his friend Walt's. They were all wearing their best clothes and were bringing enough dinner for three households. Frank hadn't seen this much food since the 4th of July celebration a few weeks back.
      They arrived just before dusk. Walt was sitting on the steps wearing his best clothes, too. Frank jumped from the wagon and wanted to know just who was having the special birthday party that night. He quickly found out that the gathering was a bit more somber than he had anticipated. Walt's little sister, Jeannie, had gotten sick a few days earlier. Like so many other people in the nearby towns, there was little they could do to protect her as influenza took the life from her frail body in such a short time.
      Frank stayed outside with Walt in the front yard to try to cheer him up. The last rays of daylight began coloring the clouds that had started rolling in across the valley. Walt was glad to be out of the house. The scent of flowers had gotten to be too much for him, especially in the living room, where his sister's body was laid out. Frank kept Walt busy, talking about anything he could think of. He was doing a pretty good job, too, until both boys noticed a storm had formed on the horizon. As the storm clouds approached, they decided to head up to Walt's room to continue their talk.
      The storm that was moving through the mountains that night was a rare event that only forms on a few special, hot summer evenings. When the conditions are just right, large, swollen clouds roll slowly through the still night air as light brightens up different parts of the sky. And as if out of respect to the quiet calmness that hangs in the air, no rain accompanies these flashes. What makes these storms so unique is that they seem to defy the laws of nature. For although the lightening brightens up the sky--the hot, humid air does not bring with it thunder. Only a deathly quiet stillness accompanies this summer light show in the sky.
      Walt moved quickly into the house and darted up the stairs. Frank followed, but paused a moment in the living room after catching a glance of his friend's sister. Jeannie looked very peaceful, almost happy, as if she was simply resting for the night. Frank thought about the times he had teased her in the past. He wished he would have had a chance to say goodbye.
      When Frank got to Walt's room he found him sitting on the bottom of his bed in front of his old dresser. On his left was a window that overlooked the road and the meadow that rolled out beyond it. On his right was a full-length mirror that sat unassumingly in the corner. And although a small wall lamp barely lit the room, the encroaching storm began to force brilliant flashes of light into the space where the boys sat. Strangely, though, no sounds accompanied this deathly quiet storm as the flashes occasionally lit up the entire room.
      Both boys were focused on the days' events and ignored the light show that was moving through the area. Walt started telling Frank how angry he felt towards his sister. She had made his mother so sad, and he didn't think it fair that she should do that. Frank knew that Walt was just upset over losing Jeannie and figured that letting him talk about it would help to get it out of his system.
      At one point Walt's conversation was cut short by a series of extremely bright flashes that lit up the room. Although the storm was still a few miles away, for brief moments it seemed like daytime in the small room. Walt's abrupt silence had startled Frank, who wanted to know why he had stopped talking. A few more flashes lit up the room. Walt replied how strange it seemed that there was no thunder--just lightening flashes. Frank wasn't listening, though. His ever-widening eyes were fixed ahead of him. When Walt asked him what was wrong, Frank could only point forward to the mirror.
      The full-length oval mirror was encased in a dark wood frame that held it in the corner of the room. Walt didn't see anything but the mirror in the corner and couldn't understand why Frank was still quiet.
      "Wait," Frank said. "The lightening... in the mirror," he blurted out.
      Without warning, another flash lit up the room. Only this time both boys had their gaze fixed on the same place--their images in the mirror. Their heartbeats quickened. Walt and Frank were unsure of what they were seeing. It couldn't be. Besides their own reflections, both boys now saw Walt's sister, Jeannie. As they stared into the mirror, she appeared to be standing between them--but she was only visible when the lightening flashed. Several more flashes lit up the room. Both boys could clearly see Jeannie--no longer lying in her casket in the living room--she was trying to talk to them. The room fell dark for a few moments.
      Another barrage of flashes now lit up the room. Walt and Frank stopped looking in the mirror and were now staring at the spot between them where Jeannie appeared to be. But inside the room, no one stood between them.
      Both boys ran down the stairs, hysterically trying to describe the event to the solemn gathering of adults in the living room below. After being scolded severely for some time for their juvenile outburst, the boys convinced a few of the adults to come upstairs to see for themselves. But when they made their way back into Walt's room there was nothing unusual to see. Walt's sister did not appear to be in the room, or in the mirror. They did fail to notice, however, that the storm had since moved on. And although the event shook them up a bit that night, Frank later felt that they had their chance to say goodbye to Jeannie.


      Years passed. Frank was now a young man living in the small town of Beekmantown. He drove a truck for a local business and lived in a house he rented from the Monctons, a prominent family that lived in the area. His house was small, but furnished. It had been a while since he had thought about that night in Jay, but he was about to have a reason to remember it.
      It was mid-July, and Frank was exhausted after putting in another long, hard day. It was just before dusk when he made it home, and he desperately needed to relax. He was sitting on the couch in the living room, facing the fireplace that was adorned with iron trim, and a large mirror that hung above it. It was stuffy in the old house. The still, summer air seemed heavy as the hot night wore on. Frank was too tired to turn on the light--or even to move off the couch to go to bed. It wasn't surprising, then, that he hadn't noticed the storm approaching as he nodded off.
      Although summer storms are common, most announce their presence with high winds, heavy downpours, and loud claps of thunder. The storm that moved into the area this night was strangely missing most of these elements. The hot, still air; large, swollen clouds; the silent flashes of light--Frank had seen these before. In fact, he had experienced many like this, but, as tonight, he was usually too preoccupied to take note.
      When the storm was unusually close, a series of very quick, bright flashes startled him awake. And although the flashes had roused him, it was what he saw as the flashes interrupted the darkness that sent a chill through his body. In the mirror in front of him, he could see four people. A man, a woman, and two young children were standing behind the couch, staring into the mirror. All were dressed in old clothes, and only the woman seemed to move. The sporadic flashes made it difficult to discern, but Frank could see that the woman was looking at the man and then had turned her head to look forward into the mirror.
      The flashes stopped, leaving Frank sitting in the dark, hot room with beads of sweat running down the sides of his face. At this point, he was too scared to move--unsure of what was standing directly behind him. The air was deathly still. And though no sounds came from the room--or the storm--he could sense that something was only inches from the back of his head.
      Just then, another series of particularly long flashes lit up the room. The woman who stood behind him moved her arm up and began pointing her finger directly at his reflection in the mirror. When her mouth began to move, Frank couldn't take it anymore. He jumped up from the couch and raced across the room to the light switch on the wall. As he pushed the button, he turned his head to confront his unexpected visitors.
      He looked around the room, his heart pounding forcefully in his chest. Beads of sweat continued to drip from the sides of his head. Just a few moments ago four people stood inches behind him. The light now fully illuminated the room he was standing in. There was no one else there. Only the hot, still night air filled the room. The sound of his own, heavy breathing broke the silence.
      Frank left the light on as he bolted upstairs. He jumped into bed, quickly locking the bedroom door behind him. In spite of the heat, he buried himself in his blankets and made sure to face away from the mirror that hung on the wall in his room. As he slowly nodded off to sleep, he paid little attention to the storm as it moved out of the area.
      On the next day, still shaken by his experience, Frank went to talk to the owner, Ike, to get some answers. He inquired about the previous tenants, not telling him about the visitors he had the night before. Ike told him that he had rented it to a nice family from Vermont. They had only lived there a few years when tragedy struck. On the way home from visiting relatives, the entire family was killed in a car accident--the husband, wife, and two children; no one had survived. Ike wanted to know why he seemed interested in the past. Frank dismissed the question as mere curiosity. He decided not to tell the owner what he had experienced in the house the previous evening.
      Frank moved cautiously around the house for quite a while after the incident. Several months had passed before he remembered that similar night in Jay. Frank realized that both events had two things in common--a storm, and a mirror. At first, it didn't make much sense. He'd seen plenty of storms before and since, but nothing quite as unusual as that ever happened. And mirrors--well you find them just about anywhere.
      Late one night, when he was driving home from work, Frank pieced it together. The storms were the key. And not just any storms. A storm without the trappings of a storm. No wind. No rain. No thunder. Who ever heard of a thunder and lightening storm without thunder? No, these special storms only happen on certain still, summer nights. The paranormal flashes of light electrify the air, making conditions right for us to briefly visit those earthly inhabitants who are no longer with us. That would explain how he and Walt were able to see Jeannie--and why he saw the family in Beekmantown. Frank was sure he had figured it out. Unfortunately, to this day, no one believes him.


      Uncle Frank is well passed 80 now. And though he has lived through many storms since, none have possessed the signature of the silent storms he experienced as a young man. Yet, he stands by his theory, and still preaches caution at the onset of warm weather.
      On hot summer nights, when the air is still, and large white clouds slowly move through the countryside, flashes may light up the night sky without wind or sound. And if you stare into the looking glass during the peak of the storm, you may find more than yourself looking in; you may find that others might be looking back.

Academic Exchange Extra invites reader response to any writings in this issue--especially articles advancing the scholarly debate of issues raised.

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------------------------------  Page Citation Reference:
Clukey, Tim. (2005).  AE-Extra. March. Available Online.
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Created: 2 March 2005. Updated: 7 March 2005. Accessed: ]