You set the enormous antique mirror down; you know you did, because the cat told you to, and she is the questgiver. You don’t remember why, but you had to do this little side quest before you continued on with the main quest. What is the main quest?
You can’t remember.
You can’t remember, because I’m writing this, and I haven’t told you yet.
“How does that feel?” The voice is coming from behind you. How can that be? You’re facing into the room; you see the patch of sunlight on the apartment floor, but no cat. Oh. She must have slipped behind you, when you were busy trying to figure out your point of view.
you turn around
…and that’s when you realize that you were standing inside the frame of the mirror. How could you have been standing right inside it, and not have noticed? Last thing you remember is accepting the quest, and setting down the damned mirror.
But as you turn, you see the edges of the frame. As you turn, you hear and feel a strange grating crunch, that sounds like pieces of glass shifting against each other.
It sounds like that, because that’s exactly what it is.
You look down at your arms, (and no: we haven’t looked into the room yet, because it’s dark, and before you go forward, you’ve got to figure out what the hell is going on in the liminal space.)
and if you could feel horror, this would probably (maybe) be the moment for it. But you don’t. Because somewhere inside, where you didn’t want to think about it, you already knew.
You didn’t really set the mirror down, because it is embedded in your skin.
Pieces of it have cut you, so you’re bleeding in trickles and stripes, but it doesn’t hurt – much.
Or at least, you’re used to how it feels. You feel the same. You’ve always been aware of a pain you carry around; it’s so familiar, it’s just what comes with you when you wake up in the morning, and weaves itself into your dreams at night. You wouldn’t even call it pain, if you weren’t looking at the blood – you would just call it: yourself.
But it isn’t. you can see that, now. It is shards of glass. Some are buried so deep, you can see the scars where your skin has healed over, but there’s an angular bit pressing against it, so it forms a small lump. Some are sticking out- those are new, you suppose – some of them are halfway in, and grating against the ones buried deep.
Here’s where the horror comes: GET THEM OUT! how do you get them out? how many are there? You want to run, screaming, get them out, get them off me, but the moment your blood surges like rocket fuel and you feel your bladder decide in a panic that it needs to pee or something, your brain laughs and tells you that’s NOT how we’re going to solve this, and a calm flows through you.
That’s exactly what you always do when there’s an emergency, isn’t it? It’s your superpower. “There’s an unidentified, mangled object in the engine of this plane. We must ask you to stay calm and evacuate.” Your brain switches into calm, doesn’t it, so cool that you spread a pool around you, and the people near you are touched by it. You say something calm, usually something funny, and people laugh. You see their shoulders relax. Good.
You did it when you had tried to commit suicide, and you were on the emergency room table; the last thing you remember is them chuckling at what you said, and someone saying “she’s so sweet. I hope she lives.”
They hoped you lived
Tears spring into your eyes, and you’ve accepted that there are various-shaped (Narrator doesn’t even know how many) shards of glass under your skin. You’ve accepted that you’ve accepted it, and now it’s time for us to be able to see the room inside the mirror frame.
This hurts. Writing this hurts, so I hope reading it is a little bit more pleasant.
The room is foggy. Sorry, I know that seems like a copout, but it is. You can tell it’s a room, but you can’t see very far in front of yourself. It’s shifting with fog. You can see that there are people in here – and you can see a large shape in the center of the room, and you make out a glint of gold here and there in the center of the room, but that’s it. There isn’t enough light to even see colors. Where there’s a “glint of gold,” there must be light shining off it from some source somewhere, or maybe I’m just making up the glint of gold part.
IN any case – just trust me when I tell you that right now, it’s a weird, foggy landscape. You could be in Sherlock Holmes’ London, if it were contained in a room, but surely if you were, you would hear horses’ hooves and cab wheels on cobblestones, because that’s how you’ve always pictured it.
What do you hear and smell?
Your ears feel oddly muffled, like when you duck your head underwater. You move your arm experimentally, and you can hear, sort of inside-your-ears, the grating of the glass, and your own breathing. You should be quite proud, really, that your breathing is so even and relaxed.
It smells damp. It smells, in fact, like a smell you really love- the damp of the water and the rocks on the Pirates ride in Disneyland. It smells like you’d imagine the spooky hallway smells in the Haunted Mansion, if the Mansion were real (and yes, you’ve really always just called it the Haunted ‘House,’ let’s just admit that, since I’m speaking for you at the moment, and you haven’t got a choice in the matter) as you’ve always wished. Wished it were real.
It is real.
You’re standing in it right now.
The ghostly forms begin to make a bit more sense to your mind- the large thing in the middle of the room isn’t Madame Leota’s table, as you wish it were; it is, in fact, a dais, a raised platform. There are stairs, so it’s really like a series of circles, one on top of the other. On the platform, in the center, is –
but wait. Surrounding the platform seems to be a sort of glass wall or forcefield or something, because the fog is behaving oddly. It isn’t the same inside the platform as it is on the outside. How can you see this now, when you couldn’t before? Have you stepped into the room without me narrating it? You naughty thing.
You look down at your arms to see if you’ve moved, or whether it was just that the fog was moving so you felt like you moved, and one of the shards of glass flashes (there’s that mysterious glint, again! Where is the light source?) and right when it flashes in your eye, it hurts a bit, because it’s a new kind of pain, and you look up to find-
You don’t have glass in your arms at all. What kind of crazy idea was that? You look down at your arms, and they’re small. They’re smooth. They’re tiny. Someone grabs you roughly by the shoulders, and you look – oh no- there’s a tightness in your chest, and you really don’t want to look, any more than I want to write this –
You see your brother, as he was. Oh shit, not this. Not this time, it is over, must we really revisit this?
There’s a scratchy sensation like splinters in your skin when the rope goes around your neck. What is he saying? Can you remember?
Oh yes. “Cowboys and Indians.” That was it. You always want to be the Indian, don’t you? Always. You hate cowboys. You grew up believing and knowing that the Indians were yours, their brown skin should have been your brown skin, and you hate your brother’s blond, fluffy hair -HATE it.
You’d see it from the back when he was in the camper, in front of you, lounging in the entire window so you couldn’t talk to your parents at all, the butt pockets of his “Tuff Skins” jeans and his stupid blonde hair right in your face so in your mind you wanted to just spank his stupid butt. Instead, you gave in. You let him have your parents, and you turned around to play with the cat. Your real brother, Pooh bear, the cat. He was blocked out, too, so you and Pooh played together. Give up, you don’t want what your brother takes away- you learn to release it all…
Now your brother the blonde cowboy has a rope around your neck, and seems to have decided that the end of the game was that he gets to hang you from the swing set, because you’re the Indian. It’s how it’s always been; the cowboys always win, don’t they, that’s what he’s saying, but you still don’t want to be one. You never, never do. You love your brown hair. You love your brown skin, just like your Dad’s. Just like your Mom’s. Brown in the sun, brown from running toward the ocean waves and rolling in the sand. To hell with him.
Fog swirls in front of your eyes, and you move your hand up to feel for the rope burn. It’s not there. The glass clinks and grates under your skin again, but there’s a clink, and you look down to see that one shard has worked its way out of your skin and fallen to the ground.
How did you escape death that time? You don’t remember what happened after your brother threw the rope over the swing set. You know someone rescued you, because your parents told you. But you don’t remember it at all. You step forward and hear the satisfying crunch as you grind the shard of glass under your trusty adventuring boots.
This is how you’ll get free of the damned mirror. One piece at a time. No matter how long it takes. all right.
I could do this all day.
You hear a squeak behind you, that sounds like a cross between an amused, startled laugh and a cough. You turn again, disoriented, How many times have you turned? Is this some kind of sick game of Blind Woman’s Bluff?
“You’ve turned a few times,” says the new cat, and you’ll turn more before you’re done with this quest.
“I didn’t know what this involved before I agreed to it,” you say, your mind already furiously working on an exit strategy. But the shards of glass under your skin throb the truth before the cat can speak it:
“That’s life. We come in the door, but we don’t necessarily agree to all that is involved. The only thing we can do, really, is let go and be brave – or not – I suppose we could just sit down, give up and whine, but you don’t want to do that, do you. You’ve always been a fighter.”
The new cat is smaller, just a kitten, really. She’s got the same grey ears as the first cat. You look around for the first cat, and you see a glimmer of her as the fog shifts. She’s still got an exclamation point over her head, but this time it is drained of all color. it’s as grey as the fog, and you can only see it because the fog parts around it, and it stands out against the darkness.
“How many of you cats are there?”
“Two,” the little kitten smiles, “Well, three, really, but you won’t see the third one. You may not meet him at all, if your quest doesn’t go that direction. That would be the best of all outcomes, but it’s up to you, really.”
She cocks her head, the wisps standing out wildly around her ears, “the only way out, of course, is through.”