Outside the darkened windows of Doreene Gray’s second-floor bedroom, a squall buffeted the house and whistled across the gingerbread trimming. A mile away, it sang through the rigging of ships in the harbor of Port Townsend, Washington, whipping the black water into whitecaps, then speckling the foam with rain.
Doreene slid out of bed, grimacing slightly at a twinge in her lower back. At fifty-eight, she could avoid many of the signs of age, but not all.
The young man beneath the sheets stretched one tanned arm across the bed. “Princessa.” His drowsy voice was further thickened by a Brazilian accent. “You can’t sleep?”
“Don’t have a panic attack, Reynaldo. I’m just going to the can.”
He muttered something and subsided.
Doreene felt her way across the darkened room, but instead of going to the bathroom, she found the door to a small adjoining bedroom that had been turned into a closet. Under her fingers, the old-fashioned lock plate slid aside to reveal a computerized keypad. Doreene silently tapped a code onto the faintly glowing keys.
Once inside, she shut the door and locked it from the other side. The sound of the storm disappeared, muffled by the surrounding racks of clothes. Still in the dark, Doreene pulled what felt like a coat off a hanger and arranged it at the foot of the door before switching on the light.
A cluttered oak dressing table sat in the middle of the room, its mirror supported by two upright posts. Doreene sat in the matching chair and leaned close to the mirror. She might be nearing sixty, but she didn’t look a day over thirty. Blond hair curled gently over her shoulders, and her wide hazel eyes looked out from unlined skin.
“Eyebrows might be getting a little thin,” she murmured, running a finger against the fine hairs and then smoothing them back down.
Doreene grasped the top edge of the oak mirror frame and rotated it downward. The back side swung into view, revealing a stretched and mounted canvas.
She winced a little at the sight of the hideous portrait. The original oil painting was almost hidden beneath pasted-on bits of paper. Tiny lines of writing served as the furrows that ran from nose to chin. Blotches of red and brown paper, torn from magazine pages, marred the cheeks with an impressionist collage of age.
Doreene pulled open the drawer of the table and removed a newspaper clipping.
Famous Portrait for Sale
Maureene Pinter’s painting of identical
twin sister to be sold at auction.
The photo below the subtitle showed Doreene’s sister, Maureene, one hand raised too late to hide her haggard face. She looked every bit of her age, and more.
Doreene gathered cosmetic-smeared tissues from the table and threw them in a nearby trash can until she uncovered a pair of nail scissors. Trimming carefully, she cut the picture of her sister’s face from the article, then looked from it to the artwork in front of her. “Neck, I think.”
She lay the trimmed photo down and found a bottle of foundation. After rubbing some of the makeup between finger and thumb, she carefully shaded the scrap of paper, holding it up to the portrait occasionally to check the color.
Next she uncapped a bottle of clear nail polish and brushed a few strokes on the back of the photo. After positioning it at the base of the portrait’s throat, she carefully pressed it into place.
Doreene studied her sister’s expression on the drying newsprint. “Didn’t expect me to put the painting up for sale, did you? And you have one more shock coming.”
As she leaned back, the newly applied photo merged into the impression of wattled skin. Doreene stroked the smooth column of her own throat and smiled. “If I do say so myself, I’ve become quite the artist.”
Two weeks later
In the Boulder, Colorado, offices of Tripping magazine (Your Guide to Paranormal Destinations), two thirds of the staff were having a fight.
Michael Abernathy, Tripping’s main writer, had the sardonic look of a Greek faun, with the addition of gold-rimmed glasses and blue jeans. He was arguing with Angus MacGregor, editor and cofounder of Tripping. A tall, rangy Scot in his early fifties, Angus had the warm smile and twinkling eyes of a kindly uncle, which was only slightly misleading.
Michael raised his voice another notch. “Leaving aside the question of intrinsic value, astrology columns are everywhere. What’s going to set ours apart?”
Angus thought for a moment. “We’ll couch all the advice in terms of how it affects travel.”
Michael looked over the top of his glasses. “So next to the article on Best Haunted B&Bs, you’re going to say October is a good month for Virgo to stay home?”
Angus ran a hand through his iron-gray hair. “Maybe we can focus on the paranormal aspect somehow.”
“How?” Michael adopted a girlish tone. “March is not the time to change your hairstyle, Sasquatch. If you need a pick-me-up, focus on those big feet and get a pedicure.”
Angus burst out laughing. “Perfect! Come up with eleven more and we’ll have the first batch done.”
Michael groaned but made a note on his laptop. “All right, but I’m using a pseudonym.”
Suki Oota, Tripping’s photographer, wandered into the office carrying an iPad and a file folder. In a city where yoga-toned college students inflated the standard of looks, Suki still turned heads. Tall and half-Japanese, she wore her black hair in a short, spiky cut and favored red lipstick. Today she wore torn jeans over black leather boots with an array of buckles. A faux-snake skin tank top in red and black revealed her perfectly toned arms.
Michael looked up. “What’s up with all the eyeliner? That’s not very steampunk.”
“I dropped the steam,” Suki drawled in her Los Angeles accent. She tossed the folder on Angus’s desk and slouched in the other chair. “Can we work on what features to do next?”
“Certainly.” Angus pulled the folder toward him and smiled benignly. “What are these?”
“Suggestions I got through email.” Suki hooked one leg over the arm of her chair. “I don’t know what you guys already have.”
Michael opened a document on his computer. “Somebody caught a giant squid with a tennis shoe on one of its tentacles. Oh, and there’s a new twist on those goats that faint when they hear a loud noise.”
“What kind of twist?” Angus asked.
“Apparently some of them crap themselves, too.”
Suki rolled her eyes. “Can’t wait to take those pictures.”
Angus looked skeptical. “I’m not sure there’s anything paranormal about crapping goats.”
“Depends on what they crap,” Michael pointed out.
Angus raised his eyebrows questioningly.
Michael shrugged. “Sorry. It’s just regular crap.”
Angus shuffled through the printed emails. “Let’s see what we have here. Ghost, turtle with an image of an alien on its shell, talking tree…” He read for a moment. “Looks like only one person can hear it. That’s a shame. Oh, here’s something. Mystery painting. Portrait of Doreene Gray to be sold.”
“It should be picture,” Michael said.
Angus looked up. “What?”
“Oscar Wilde’s original title was The Picture of Dorian Gray. People are always getting it wrong.”
Angus stared at him. “It must comfort your friends, knowing you’re always there to correct them.” He tapped the paper. “Considering this is an auction and not a book, and the portrait is of Doreene Gray, I think Mr. Wilde is not under discussion.”
“I bet Doreene Gray isn’t her real name,” Michael said.
Angus scanned the email. “It has been ever since she married Mr. Gray. When the portrait was painted, she was Doreene Pinter. Bit of a lucky break there.”
Suki heaved a sigh. “What’s the deal with the picture?”
“It ages but she doesn’t, or at least not much.” Angus swiveled his chair and began to type on his laptop’s keyboard.
“Who painted the picture?” Michael asked.
“Doreene’s sister – twin sister, Maureene, who ages normally.” Angus turned his computer so they could see the screen. “Here’s a photo of the two of them, taken eight years ago.”
Suki and Michael leaned forward and studied the photo. There was a strong resemblance between the two women, but they looked more like mother and daughter than twins.
“She’s probably had work done, but it’s really good,” Suki said.
Michael rolled his eyes. “Of course she’s had work done. Do you think she owns an actual magic picture?”
“Michael…” Angus waved a hand around the office, gesturing to the framed covers of Tripping magazine that decorated the walls. “May I remind you of our audience? Our mission is to present the uncanny for the public’s entertainment.” He picked up the email and waved it. “We have a picture that changes over time, a woman who doesn’t, and best of all, we have twins. Twins are interesting.”
“That’s true.” Suki gave a languid smile.
“What about the location?” Michael asked. “Do the sisters live in the same city? Is it a place people will want to go?”
“Absolutely.” Angus turned the laptop so he could type in a search string, then hit enter and turned it back to show them a harbor full of masted boats and a Victorian-era downtown. “Port Townsend, Washington. The land that time forgot. At least, it forgot for about seventy years.”
“Does that mean they don’t have an airport?” Suki asked.
Angus shrugged. “I understand the drive from Seattle is beautiful.”