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The Haunted Tiara

Gaia rummaged through the boxes under the tables in the local secondhand store. The sign out front said Finnigan’s Antiquities, but the entire town knew he sold the cast offs he collected each week. His cart was still horse drawn, even though it was considered a hindrance to traffic and dangerous for the horses.

The war was long since over, and he could use an open lorry to collect the discarded furniture and boxes of old nick-knacks. Clothing hung on musty racks across the store. Dusty sunbeams poked through dirty windowpanes, and Gaia was in heaven. There was nothing better than an hour at Finnigan’s. You never knew what treasure might be buried in a crate or box.

She knew she’d been through this one before.

“Hey, Finnigan, where’s the new stuff?”

Gaia was tall for her fourteen years. She towered over the round owner, looking down into his slate gray eyes.

“Through the door, girl. You can have first crack at it. You should come work for me. You’re wasted in the pub.” Finnigan made the offer out of habit.

Gaia’s heart jumped. Finally, she would get in ahead of Cousin Cardamon. The competition for treasure was strong between them. He usually helped the short round collector unload the cart. She wondered where he’d been and then remembered. Uncle Tommy and Aunt Ceili had a new baby. Aiden they’d named him. A big surprise and a welcome one as her older cousin was a healer and helped in the kitchen only when he had no other choice. Baby Aiden would be the one to continue the family business.

“I’d love to, Finnigan, but family first. Ceili won’t be back to work for a while yet,” Gaia sad.

“Too true. A new little one at her age? It will take her some time to recover.”

In the back room, Gaia discovered three crates and an old trunk. A leather bound trunk with scrapes and bruises which had traveled the world from the look of it. She patted the shillings in her pocket and prepared to bargain with Finnigan. She wanted it and whatever was inside. She knew she would travel, Ireland first, and then Europe. She wouldn’t stay in the village. The world called.

“Hey, Finnigan!” She shouted, knowing he could be deliberately deaf if he was busy rearranging his treasures.

“I’ve got ears girl,” he said.

“Oh, you’re here. I want the trunk.”

“Ten schillings.”

“It’s ancient. I’ll have to repair the hinge.” She point to the rusty cracked hasp as well and began to bargain. “Two and you’re the one taking advantage.”

“Five, I haven’t opened it yet.” Finnigan countered, rubbing his palms together.

“Three, it smells of dust and mold,” Gaia made her offer and crossed her fingers behind her back hoping he would agree. She didn’t want Cardamon to come in when he heard she’d lost out. He would rub it in her face.

“Aye, it’s filthy. I got it from the castle. They’re cleaning it out and making ready for the tourists. The village reeve and his crew think it will be a grand attraction.”

“I agree, it’s a grand place to explore. We have a deal? Three shillings?”

Gaia held her breath as she watched Finnigan consider her offer.

“Aye, three it is. I’ve a feeling about this trunk. I think it’s meant to be yours.” Finnigan held his hand out palm up.

Gaia pulled the coins out of her pocket and dropped them into his palm one at a time.

“Now I have to figure out how to get it home,” Gaia said ruefully.

“Take the hand cart.”

“I’m glad I don’t live too far away.”

“Or you can leave it here and get your Papa to help you take it home.”

“As long as you don’t let Cardamon talk you out of it for more,” Gaia teased him.

Finnigan slapped a sold sign on it, securing it with a piece of tape.

“I never go back on a sale. It’s yours girl.”

“What’s in this thing?” Liam Murphy exclaimed.

“I have no idea, but I’ll find out. The hasp is broken, so the lock is worthless.” Gaia told her father as they pushed and pulled the trunk up the stairs to her room.

“Make sure your mother is here as well. We’ll do it together. I think there must be a treasure in it.”

“I don’t care what is in it. It’s the trunk I want. It will travel well once I get the repairs done.” Gaia insisted.

“I know you will wander, your home is somewhere far from here, my darling girl.”

Her father’s words were a comfort. At least she wasn’t in for a fight.

“Aine!” Liam’s call for his wife brought her up the stairs.

Gaia reached out for the bucket of soapy water, and the bar of leather conditioner her mother carried.

“I’ll clean it up, Mama. You can go help Cardamon at the pub. He’s running it alone again.”

“We’ll leave you to yourself then,” Liam Murphy agreed. Murphy’s pub wouldn’t pass to his daughter. His newborn nephew would be the one to take it into the next generation.

“Promise me you won’t dig into it until morning?” Aine looked directly into her daughter’s deep blue eyes.

“Promise Mama. I need to clean it up first. The smell of it, comes from the castle where it’s been hidden for who knows how long.”

“There’s metal polish in the cupboard downstairs by the silver chest,” Aine told her.

“I know where it is. You won’t recognize this trunk by the time you see it again.” Gaia vowed she’d have it shining once more.

“Look, look, Mama. The tiara!” Gaia traced the filigree white gold lace of metal worked around sparkling gemstones.

“Set it aside, dear. Put it back in its case. The dress. Look at this dress. It’s a gown fit for a wedding or a princess.” Aine exclaimed.

Her mother held a silver white gown to her shoulders. The frothy train ran from the back of the knees to the floor, sweeping along behind her as she twirled.

“It looks like it would fit you. Try it on.” Gaia insisted as she fitted the tiara to her own bright titian head.

“I’ll do that. What a find. You’ve struck gold this time.” Aine went across the hall to the room she shared with her husband.

Gaia stroked the polished leather and whale bone frame of the trunk. Hinges and hasps gleamed golden where she’d replaced broken rusty iron with brass fittings. It had taken every farthing she’d saved to make it back into the magnificent piece of luggage that stood in the corner of her room.

She’d resisted opening it, until the repairs were finished. Her father and his talented hands had done the final work, fitting the brass back to the faintly marked spots where Gaia had removed the old to be copied. Today was All Hallows” Eve. A fitting day to dig into something old. She felt a strange fluttering chill run over her arms and sat down abruptly.

Samhain. They were to go up to the ruins tonight. The bonfires would be lit as the day slipped past midnight. Spirits roamed freely if you knew how to listen. And Gaia knew how to listen. She could feel her. Who had she set free?

“Aine, you are as I was,” Gaia whispered as her mother returned.

“Gaia, it’s freezing in here.” Aine moved over to check the window and found it tightly closed. She rubbed the gooses bumps on her bare arms and traced the pearls and rhinestones that lined the plunging vee of the dress she wore. Delicate silver lace frothed there, begging to be removed to reveal the swell of breasts it hid. It fit Aine as if it had been made for her.

“We’re not alone, Mama.”

“I’m sure you’ll tell me. Who is here?”

“She says she’s Aine. Look in the mirror Mama.”

They peered into the oval mirror behind Gaia where she sat at her dressing table. Silver brushes were displayed there, along with her daughter’s collection of decorated hair pins and combs. Two crystal perfume bottles stood in the corners of the lowered area in front of the antique reflective surface.

Aine saw herself, but not herself. Tiny differences, between her and the ghost. Their hair not quite the exact same shade of dark chocolate brown, their eyes almost the same blue, except Aine’s shimmered with a hint of gray. Another shiver skittered down her back as the fine a hair on her arms stood on end.

“You’ve set me free. I’ll play with glee. Until you light the celebration fire, and midnight brings my death so dire. Once a year, the day I died, I come back to haunt the one who dares, and wears the dress and the tiara of a princess who was never crowned. I’m lost between. I’ve always been. He pushed me you see.”

Gaia’s voice changed as the English accent of Aine in the mirror replaced her Irish burr.

“Take the tiara off, Gaia,” Aine said as she peeled the dress from her shoulders and stepped out of the pile of shining material. She stood in a silk slip and reached over to take the sparkling head piece of her daughter’s head. Setting it back into the open case they’d found it in, she stared into the mirror.

“Who killed you?” Aine locked gazes with her double.

“I don’t know. I search for him still, I always will. I’ll go to the castle, where I fell from the tower. You set me free, please come with me.”

The heard the front door open, and Gaia called out.

“Papa, in my room.” Gaia knew her voice trembled. She reached for a jersey and pulled it over her head, handing a robe to her mother from where it lay on her bed.

Aine the ghost had pulled herself from the mirror and floated an inch over the floor, wearing the dress and tiara they’d pulled from the trunk.

The three of them waited for Liam to enter.

“Good Christ it’s freezing in here,” he said. His mouth fell open as he took in the scene.

“Do you know who I am?” The ghost’s tremulous voice inquired as the scent of rose perfume whispered through the air.

Gaia watched as her father scratched his head. “I had no idea she looked so much like you, mo gra.”

“Well?” The ghost prompted, speaking for herself now.

“She called herself princess Aine, last descendant of the MacCarthy King. She was found dead at the bottom of the tower on Samhain over thirty years ago,” Liam told them. “Her trunk disappeared from the room at the inn where she was staying. The Garda could only say her killer must have taken it.”

“Did they ever find out how it happened?” Gaia asked her father.

“They think she was pushed over the turret wall at the top of the tower. The one that is starting to crumble now. They found one of her shoes up there.”

All of them scanned the ghost who looked down at her toes at the same moment. She had one shoe on, and bare toes stretched for the floor where her bare foot was exposed under the hem of her dress.

“Do you know who pushed you?” Liam bowed to the ghost.

“I’ll know him again, when I see him once more.” Her voice lilted sweetly with glee. “And I’ll take him to his death when I do.”

Dark clouds billowed around her as she disappeared, taking the chill with her.

The witches and wizards gathered at the castle. Twin bonfires arranged with great logs leaned against each other like a wooden pyramid. They looked toward the one armed man as he stood between the two.

“At midnight we light the fires tonight. And speak to the spirits who grace us with delight. Ancestor to child we respect their wishes and help them to move on as Samhain ends.” Ronan O’Connor looked up for a moment as if asking the moon to bless them.

The crowd followed his gaze, as two figures appeared at the unstable top of the turret tower. How they managed to get up there through the blocked off doors, was neither here nor there, as Finnigan screamed. His rotund body flailing in mid-air, his eyes popping large as he fell. The cackling laughter of mad insanity followed him down as the ghost floated beside him.

“He might be dead, but I take his son instead. I’ve had my revenge. I’ll never be back.” Sickly sweet rose perfume overwhelmed the scent of freshly cut logs as Harry O’Connor lit the fires as she fled in a flashing cloud of billowing black.

Screams wafted through the smoke, as Gaia joined her cousin at Finnigan’s side where he lay crumpled in the courtyard between tower and fire.

“Can you save him?” Gaia placed her hands on his shoulders.

“I need the power of all who can share,” Cardamon laid his hands on Finnigan’s chest.

Ronan and Harry hurried over to add their hands to hers funneling their abilities into the healer’s mind. Aine who’s only talent was growing her garden, came to give them her small token of care. Together they watched as Cardamon suffered, one injury after another flowed from poor Finnigan through him. When he finished, he slumped to the ground, dazed as he looked around.

“The Princess who was never Crowned.” Liam told the crowd, and the elders tittered with the remembered scandal.

“Gaia come lock the door on her spirit. Don’t let her know she missed her desire.” Ronan O’Connor beseeched the girl who knew how to speak to the dead.

“I don’t have to. She believes she did right. She’s gone as sure as night turns to dawn.” Gaia told him. “But I have to ask, who keeps her trunk? I have to apologize, I set her free.”

“You had no choice. I knew the trunk was familiar.” Finnigan’s voice was rough with emotion as he woke. “My father was the one, I never told. He went mad each Samhain, locked in his room. Now I know why. He chortled and cackled and said she could do nothing as long as trunk remained locked and hidden. When he passed away, he told me the curse was broken. I guess not quite. I came close to the price.”

“She’s gone into night, let’s dance till dawn,” Ronan declared. “It’s been a Samhain we’ll never forget.”

“We’ll keep the dress, but the Tiara goes to the town. She was never crowned, and it will not be worn. They can display it and tell the story of the castle and its ghost who might well be back to haunt us again.” Liam declared. “Let the legend bring the ghost seekers, and a modicum of fame to our small town.”

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