Although this was the 4th story I had published it was the first story I ever had accepted, and as such certainly holds a special place with me. I'd like to think that even if it weren't the first accepted one, it'd still be one of my favorite stories just from a quality standpoint.
I read the call for submission from this upstart company asking for horror stories revolving around a found item, hence the title of the anthology "Look What I Found". The writing prompt intrigued me and I wanted to write something for it but I couldn't think of a fitting story that didn't seem like a rehash of a dozen other books/stories I've read. Resigned to let this antho pass by I began writing something else, but more importantly, at the time I was reading Stephen King "The Reaper's Image" and while I truthfully can't remember much about that story the description of the mirror sparked an idea for "Look What I Found". From there I was just in the zone, the way a basketball player can get on a hot streak, the story just flew out of me.
This is also probably a reason why I like this piece so much, that it was inspired by a Stephen King story, who is one of my inspirations. From the haunted mirror sparked the idea for "The Anonymous Portrait" a twisty tale of the past coming back to haunt you, although it may not always be your own past.
Without further delay, the intro to "The Anonymous Portrait"...
"Sir Riley, what a pleasant surprise. Thank you for gracing my humble establishment." Luis Feldman, proprietor of Feldman's Antiques is unaware that Sir Malcolm Riley is there by chance. His automobile broke down just outside and Sir Riley entered in an attempt to escape the heat.
"Stop your cobbling man. Money and a title doesn't make me a better person, nor is this a humble shop if it provides for you and yours." Sir Riley stands at an impressive 6'2" with a good 300 pounds of supporting girth. "Now, why don't you show me around your fine establishment, while I wait for my automobile to be repaired."
Luis didn't need any more of an invitation; he takes Sir Riley directly to his backroom of fine antiques that the average customer couldn't afford. Hoping to make his first sale in a fortnight, he begins rattling off the history of each item Sir Riley even momentarily pauses on. "Ah, that chest migrated to Baltimore by way of Rio Jaina, originally brought across the ocean during Columbus' fourth and final voyage.
Sir Riley replies more flippantly than Luis would have preferred, "hmm, interesting."
"If that doesn't suit your tastes, perhaps this credenza salvaged from the original White House when most of the interior was burnt beyond repair in 1814."
As it appears that Sir Riley's interest is piqued by the credenza, his attention is pulled through a doorway into what appears to be a closet. "What's in there? I'd very much like to explore that room if you don't mind."
Not wanting to outright refuse a man of stature like Sir Riley, Luis explains, "Ah, that is just a storage room for items labeled 'undesirables'. Nothing that would be of interest to a man of your wealth."
"Tsk, tsk. I didn't become a rich man by passing up a good deal. Consider this, if I don't find something of interest in there, I'll purchase the chest."
Unable to reject such an offer, Luis leads the gentleman through the clutter of coverless books, broken mirrors, scratched furniture, and....
"Who is that in this portrait?"
"Apologies sir, this is an unidentified portrait, by an unrecognizable artist. That is the reason it is among the undesirables. However, in this portfolio, there's a rare sketch by author H.P. Lovecraft."
Unable to pry his eyes from the painting, "No, you must tell me about this painting. I know this man, I cannot place his face but I undoubtedly know this man."
"I'm sorry sir, but I've done all the research I can, but the subject and artist remain a mystery. If you know this man, I dare say you may be the only person who does."
"Nonsense, why would you purchase a painting you knowingly couldn't sell?"
"Again sir, I must apologize, the painting was amidst a crate of paintings from a private collection. The bank auctioned off the entirety of the collection when Lord and Lady Williamson were found dead with no heirs."
"How did they die?"
"It appears each of your inquiries lead to another mystery I do not know the answer of."
Before Sir Riley can ask another unanswerable question, they are interrupted by his driver. "Sir, the automobile is operational. It needs extensive repairs, however it will return you to your home."
"Very good. Load this painting as well." Shaking Luis' hand, "Thank you for indulging my elderly curiosity Mr. Feldman. Please send me a voucher for three times your asking price, and not a penny less."
Well that seems innocent enough, right? If you want to know how this becomes a horror story published in an anthology with such a creepy cover, you can purchase it at the usual spots; amazon.com, Joker's Child (located in Fair Lawn), and the AzarRising Mobile Bookstore (trunk of my car).
While this story was going through the editing process an interesting issue came up. The editors didn't like that "Sir Riley" was referred to as 'sir'. They read this as meaning he was a British royal 'sir' and as such must have been a UK citizen at the time the story takes places since the only person at the time to have dual citizenship was Winston Churchill. I kindly pointed out that he was called sir only as a sign of respect, not as a title. The editors weren't satisfied with this explanation and changed the title from Sir to Mr.
So that was my first clash with editorial, and honestly I didn't put up a fight. The title wasn't a big deal to me, and again it was the first story I had accepted to be published, I didn't want to jinx it and/or ruin my standing with the editors for future publications, and it's a good thing too, I was published twice more with them.