Two Heads Are Better Than One
by Faye Sizemore
forum: Two Heads Are Better Than One
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Two Heads Are Better Than One


       The little shop was in an old turn of the century building... 'Balzac', it said across the top, below the winged griffins of stone perched on the roof. Old red brick walls, in need of cleaning, surrounded the dusty show windows.

       It was the red blazer that had caught her eye. More a burgundy than a scarlet, the headless mannequin wore it over a white blouse with a froth of lace at her throat.

       Annie had been looking for a red one like that for months. She had never noticed this little shop before. What luck that her courier delivery had been right across the street from it. She would return here tomorrow, on her day off, and see if it came in her size and inquire about the price. She hoped it would be in the range of what she could afford.

       Looking back before she drove away, Annie marked the number mentally down. It was number 17 Trinity Avenue, in the heart of the old part of the city. These older buildings, she remembered someone telling her, were what had been the original main street of the city.
There had been talk, recently, of tearing them down. They were pretty much in disrepair, their alleyways jammed with junk. Some of the places had been renovated, like the small pawn shop she had just delivered to, but most were looking sadly in need of repair.

       Later, on the freeway heading home, Annie daydreamed of the red blazer. If all was in her favor, it would be the right size and a fair price. Her exit came up and she took it, happily on her way home now. She gave her Mustang a little more gas.

       Seeing a movement to her right, Annie turned, and when she did, she slammed the brakes on in a screech of tires and screamed in fright.

       There, floating above the passenger seat, was a head, a head with no body.. just a female head.

       As Annie stared, disbelieving, it turned slowly to face her.

       The red Mustang swerved to the right and came to a screeching halt as the driver fainted dead away. The other traffic braked slightly and continued on.

       As Sally opened her eyes and raised her head, the memory of what she had seen came flooding back. Looking quickly around the inside of her car, she saw nothing. She was alone, but alone with what?

       Opening the driver's door, she hurriedly got out and walked slowly around her car. Peering inside, Annie saw nothing. Standing outside, she was afraid to get back into her car, but she knew she would have to. She couldn't stand on the shoulder of the road all night. It was beginning to get dark, and it might be better to just grit her teeth and drive on home.

       Why in the world had she thought she had seen a face-- no, a whole head-- in her car? She hadn't been thinking of anything spooky, and she hadn't read any P.S.Gifford or Stephen King in months. She wasn't sick. She didn't drink.. Maybe she had seen nothing.. just a glimpse of a reflection that looked like a head and for a moment she had thought it really was... Things like that happened, and for a moment, one thought it was real. 'Yeah, right', Annie thought, 'so real that I fainted dead away. I could have wrecked my car'.

       Feeling calmer, she got in and started the engine and headed once more for home. The eeriness was gone. It was just one of those things she would laugh about later in life.

       Her supper in the microwave, Annie headed for the shower. She selected her clothes for tomorrow and decided on some PJs for tonight. It was then that she remembered the red blazer in the little shop in the old Balzac building. Tomorrow, she would go and check on it.

       The hot water felt good, and Annie was really beginning to unwind from her scare of seeing the head. Funny, she could remember it vividly. The woman's face had been framed by wavy brown hair and the eyes were a shade of green. It all seemed as though it had been just a bad dream.

       Stepping out of the shower and wrapping up in a large blue towel, Annie picked up her hairbrush and made ready to untangled her hair. Just as she brought herself around to face the mirror, she realized there was a face in the steamy mirror, just over her left shoulder.. a face with the greenest eyes Annie had ever seen...

       Staring into those green eyes, Annie had no intention of fainting this time, but she also could not find her voice. The head wasn't floating as she had supposed before. It was just 'there', right in front of her face now.

       The shrill ringing of the phone shook her out of her frozen state, and just as quickly as it had appeared, the head was suddenly gone.

       Putting down her hairbrush, Annie ran for the phone. Looking back over her shoulder into the bathroom, she saw that was empty.

       "Hello?.." she said shakily into the receiver. "Mac?.. Mac, I'm so glad you called. Please, can you come over here right now?.. Please?"

       Mac and Annie had been friends for years. He was a few years her senior and was an investigator with the town police department. She knew she could count on him for help without him thinking she was out of her mind.

       Annie hurriedly dressed and drew her wet hair back in a holder. There was no way she was going back in there and look into the mirror..

       Mac knocked on the door a few minutes later. Letting him in, Annie thought about how to start this day's story of her strange apparitions.

       "What do you need, Annie? You sounded as if something was urgent..." Mac said as he stepped inside Annie's living room. He was looking around as if he expected to see someone there to defend her against.

       "If only it was that simple," Annie thought as she closed the door. Showing him to a seat, she proceeded as simply as she could to tell him about seeing the body-less woman twice in the past few hours.

       He had listened intently and sitting now on the edge of her sofa, he asked her to repeat it all again slowly.

       He knew Annie was given to flights of this nature and that she was straightforward and honest.

       Mac had heard stories like this before but they were usually from some drunk experiencing DTS or some drugged up junkie's dream. He fought down a desire to laugh and ask what the punchline was as he was deterred by the serious and frightened look on her face.

       "Look, Annie, there is an explanation somewhere. Did you eat something that you are allergic to or have you taken any medications today?"

       "No, Mac, nothing different at all today except that I am seeing green-eyed heads floating around talking to me!" Annie was starting to have second thoughts about whether Mac would be any help or not.

       "Don't you believe that I really saw what I saw?" standing now, Annie was starting to become upset. 'Calm down ', she told herself, 'you will look like more of a fool.'

       "OK, OK, let's take a different aapproach here. Can you remember your frame of mind or what you were thinking about just before these sightings occurred?" Mac had decided to take a more careful approach to this situation now.

       "I can't remember," Annie told him. "My day went as usual, and I only had one delivery that was not on my normal route. It was up in the old section of town. I was going to return there tomorrow. I saw the perfect blazer for me. A bright red one, my favorite co..." Her words trailed off and the color drained from her face, causing Mac to turn and look where her gaze was directed.

       "Jumping catfish! What the hell is that?" Mac leaped to his feet. Beyond the bookcase, framed in the window, was a brown haired woman's face.. and she was smiling at them.

       Mac quickly collected himself. In his business, he was more used to surprises and shocks than Annie was. Stepping forward quickly, he asked "Who are you? What do you want from us?"

       Still smiling, the face with the green eyed mouthed, "The Balzac building.." and slowly disappeared. Annie had fallen back on the sofa with her eyes widely staring. "I told you! You saw it too, didn't you, Mac? Say you did!"

       "Yes, Ma'am. You're not losing your mind. I couldn't believe my eyes, but I know what I saw. Did you understand what she said? Where is the Balzac building?"

       Shakily, Annie explained to him that that was where she had seen the red blazer in the little ladies clothing shop window. In fact, it was where she had wanted to return to tomorrow.

       "No time like the present," Mac told her. "How quick can you be ready? Let's go see where this leads. I need to see what's going on at the Balzac building."

       Dressed and in the car, Annie remembered the address. It was 17 Trinity Avenue in the oldest part of the city. She explained to Mac that she knew exactly where they were going.

       The traffic had thinned to almost nothing at this late hour. There wasn't much call for people to be out and about in this part of town because all the little shops were closed.

       Annie turned the little Mustang into Trinity and told Mac to watch for the show window with the red jacket in it on the left. He peered into the dark at the passing buildings.

       Suddenly they were at the end of the street. Mac turned to her and asked, "Are you sure we are in the right place? These buildings on the left are all abandoned and boarded up."

       "I'm sure we're in the right place. Look-- there's the Pawn Shop where I delivered," Annie told him. "He's still open, too. The Balzac building is right across the street from his shop."

       Turning around, Annie pulled into a parking spot in from of the Action Pawn and looked directly across the street at the boarded up show windows and double doors of the little ladies shop.

       'This is unreal',she thought. 'I was just here this afternoon, but these buildings look like no one's been here in twenty years.'

       Looking over at Mac, she saw he was gazing skyward. Following his glance, she saw 'Balzac' in stone lettering across the top of the building between crumbling stone griffins.

       "Look," she heard him say. There, in an upstairs window with its shutters flapping floated the green-eyed woman's face...

       Just below the roof where the stone griffins perched, in the second story glassless window, the face hovered, eerie and almost glowing, turning slightly to look behind itself and then back down at Annie and Matt.

       Something in the slight turnings was suggestive of wanting them to look in that direction. The green eyes appeared to be pleading.

       Mac whispered, "Annie,she wants us to go up there. She's trying to get us to come and look at something."

       Annie couldn't speak, but she weakly nodded in agreement. It was not a place she wanted to be. It was getting darker and it would be totally black inside in a few minutes. Some of the streetlights were unlit and would be of no help.

       With a sigh of relief, she realized there was no way they could go into this old crumbly building in the dark. It would even be dangerous in the daylight. Why, they might even fall through the floor!

       Mac was no longer looking at the upstairs window. His gaze was directed across the street. In front of the pawnshop was a old man in a wheelchair, staring up with a look of terror on his face at the window in which the green-eyed head floated.

       Grabbing Annie's hand, Mac pulled her along with him across to where the man sat in front of the lighted window to the pawn shop. "I know you can see her, too," Mac quietly said to the man. "Who is she?"

       Tears were now rolling down the old face. "Yes," he answered in a low voice, "yes, I can see her, as I have seen her every day for the last thirty years.. It is Anne Balzac, dead and gone now.. Once the very light of my life."

       The elderly man's voice was full of despair. He could not tear his gaze from the upper window in the derelict building across the street.

       Mac gently laid his hand on the old gentleman's shoulder. "Sir,who is she? Will you tell me about her?" Being a police detective, he was used to urging information from all sorts of people, and he knew he'd have to be gentle with this old fellow.

       As Annie watched, the face at the window faded slowly away. The longer she looked at the building, the stranger she felt. It was not a scary feeling, but rather, sort of comforting. How strange it was to feel that way.

       The old man wasn't looking across the street anymore. Instead, he had his head lowered and was sobbing. Mac stood silently with his hand on the other's shoulder, looking impatient.

       Annie knelt before the wheelchair, and looking up at him, she asked. "Will you tell us about Ann Balzac and what this all means? I feel that you are the one to explain it all. Am I right? Please talk to us."

       The pawnbroker looked at her with his tear-stained face. "Why, Miss, you have green eyes, too, just like she did."

       Annie felt she had his attention now and decided to keep it if she could. "And my name is Anne, too, Mr...? I didn't get your name, sir."

       "Balzac," the man said in a soft but proud voice. "Anne Balzac was my wife."

       Darkness was now settling in this old section and the tall buildings seemed to be growing taller and more ominous. The long shadows they cast seemed to be reaching.. Anne shivered and looked up at Mac, who was looking down at the man in the wheelchair in surprise.

       "Mr. Balzac," he asked, "may we go inside and finish our conversation? I am most interested in learning more of your wife and this strange apparition that you say is her." With a nod of the head, Karl Balzac wheeled his chair around and motioned for them to follow .

       Once inside the little pawnshop, Annie sensed such a feeling of familiarity that she almost reeled in her steps. Leaning against a counter, she tried to recover. Mac stepped to her side and reached out to steady her.

       Over his shoulder, Annie could see Karl Balzac staring at her in the glow of the hanging ceiling lights. He had a questioning look on his face, almost one of recognition.

       The room was filled with all sorts of things, glass counters with watches and jewelry, walls and shelves full of tools and electronics, locked cases displaying rifles and pistols and more.

       It looked like the old gentleman was doing well, but then, on closer inspection, Annie noticed some of the things were dusty and probably had been there for awhile. Cobwebs waved here and there, giving the things more of an appearance of an antique storage room.

       As her eyes moved around the shop, they came to rest on a full-length painting on the wall in a little sitting area off to the side. She pulled from Mac's grip to move closer to see it better.

       It was a painting of a woman.. the green-eyed woman whose floating head was haunting them. She was beautiful and elegant standing next to a young handsome man Annie recognized as Karl Balzac in his much younger days.

       Moving closer, she unwittingly drew her hands to her long hair and swept it up in the style of the lady in the painting.

       Karl Balzac gave a sharp intake of breath behind her, and Annie slowly turned and faced him. She heard him say "Young lady, if your hair were brown, you would look just like her!"

       Mac was also staring strangely at her, his head tipped to one side in wonder.

       "Mr. Balzac," Annie whispered back, "I have to tell you. My hair is dyed.. It is really brown under this blonde color."

       The wheelchair creaked around to face Annie and the painting. The man occupying it flicked a switch, and light flooded the room.

       "It is amazing!," he said to no one in particular. He actually seemed unaware of anyone else in the room. His attention was riveted on the slim girl standing gazing at the beautiful woman in the painting.

       "Annie," Mac whispered from behind Mr.Balzac, "she's wearing a red blazer.." It was true. The clothes on the green-eyed lady consisted of a long black skirt topped with a scarlet blazer worn over a scarlet blouse with a lace jabot at the throat. At her feet was a small cherub-like child seemingly asleep in a spindle cradle.

       Annie glanced at Mac for a moment and then back to the painting, as though she was hypnotized by it. "I know," she said.

       "Mr. Balzac, what happened to your wife? Who is the child in the painting? We need your help. You are the only one who can explain these happenings." Mac told him of the appearance of the head in Annie's car and the other sightings. "She said 'Balzac building' to me, sir.."

       The old man wearily spoke, "I knew it would one day come back to haunt me." His eyes were still held by those in the painting. He seemed unable to look away.

       "I loved her more than life itself, and our little girl was a dream from heaven. We were happy until he came... He wooed her away from me and she went with him and took the child with her. I never saw either again.. alive, but her pleading face appears before me as you two saw it do tonight and has for years."

       "What do you think she wants?" Mac spoke softly, in compassion, for this sad old man.

       Turning, he sought Annie and was surprised to find no one there. "Annie? Annie!" he called, really puzzled. The pawnshop room was quite empty except for himself and the owner, Mr.Balzac.

       Annie could not have gotten past where he had been standing without being seen."Annie! Where are you?" Mac called.

       "I think Anne now has what it was that she wanted," Karl Balzac said, pointing at the painting.

       "Oh, no. Annie..." Mac wailed.

       In the painting, the green-eyed lady was now smiling, and the baby in the cradle at her feet was now awake and looking upward, with eyes as green and as beautiful as her happy mother's were.



copyright 2006 Faye Sizemore.

Faye Sizemore:

I am an imaginative grandmother, loose with pen in hand, who just loves a mystery from the unknown.