The boy was neither young nor old. He had a mind and understanding far beyond his years, but his appetite for adventure and inability to live in the real world were constant reminders of his youth. Every day at the crack of dawn he would enter the woods surrounding his home and there he would wander all day constantly imagining he was someone else, somewhere else, somewhere only he could see.
As I run the rain is pounding and I feel myself start to shiver.
Among the trees the boy would hunt dragons and dark wizards whilst the branches would become castles, the shadows dark caves and caverns. The stick in his hand was his shining blade and the jacket on his back was his armour. His mother would see him leave some mornings, and look on in sadness, wishing he would start to finally grow up, or at least stop hiding away alone in his imagination. But every year when the summer months arrived and school was finished, the boy would be gone again.
The branches arch their way over my head and as I look up I can see the leaves falling under the weight of the downpour. Golden they fall, slowly.
It was his reality, so far from everything else, and this is why he kept on going back year after year. In his worlds, alone amongst the trees, he could always just be.
It’s hazy and the air is drowning and I don’t see the dip. I slip and I fall. Lying on my back I cover my eyes. The forest crown is still rich and green but the rain continues to break through. My face and hands are coated in mud. I try to rub it off onto my cloak as I push myself to my feet.
Turning in a circle as I stand I notice something warm and bright in the distance. Through the faultless grey I see this golden glow and I wonder what on earth it could be. I’m further in the forest than I usually tread; I move in further still.
As the boy moved slowly in the direction of this strange sight his mind wandered. It was growing late and his mother would be calling him soon. He tried to shake the thought; the recent months had been kind to him, though soon he would have to leave the trees behind. He would have to sit and listen as he was told about the many things he did not care about. The things he did not want to be a part of. The drab grey of the forest on this day forced similarly drab thoughts of reality into his mind. He looked up whilst still moving and remembered where he was headed, remembered why he was here, to escape the very worries that were now trying to take over his world as well. His scarf clung to some thicket as he tried to pass through and the boy tugged at it until he was free. He moved further into the trees, further into the shadows, further away from his inevitable life that he hoped may prove to not be so inevitable after all.
I run hard, but I’m also careful, my cloak now torn by the branches. I hop over rocks and puddles. I dodge trees and thicket. The glow grows, distorted, washed wider by the surrounding wetness. I slow as I come to a final rise. I trudge up it, my boots gripping the earth as the hill tries to take me back down. I reach the top and I look down the other side.
A cottage sits before me, its roof is thatched and rotting, its walls framed with wood and filled with stone. I bend low and spread my feet; I slide down gliding across the wet leaves. I notice the sun has illuminated everything and the rain has died. The yellow and green trees sparkle as the light shimmers. The branches seem to come alive, twisting over and under the roof. The rain water gives the hay an enchanting cover and the moss climbs the bark like trails of silver. The leaves dance. Everything is moving, fluttering, shining. I feel warm. An overwhelming sensation crawls through my insides. My throat dries in an instant and I look down at my tingling hands, then up at the cottage again.
A summer breeze tiptoed over the hill and into the small valley. It sneaked through the cottage, pushing its large door open welcomingly. It was a warm breeze, a reminder that it was still summer. The boy loosened the scarf around his neck and moved towards the old door. He pushed it all the way open and entered.
Inside the cottage feels grand, it was once something more than it appears to be now. It’s as if the glow that surrounds everything is radiating from something inside. Beams of light seep through the dirty glass windows. Slithers of gold slice their way across the room like butter knives. The cabin sits wet from leaks in the roof and the wood swells and soaks and glistens.
The next room is the same, only a fireplace decorates the space. I start to search the air because I know something is near. There is an overwhelming sensation that lives within this place. I feel it.
I keep moving down a small corridor and round a corner. I stop dead as I come to a small brown door, caked in light from a nearby window. It’s grander than all the others; carved with images of constricting plants and small flowers. I touch the carvings and the wood feels warm. The door dares me. I twist the handle and it opens.
In the last room, in the very far corner of the cottage, I stand still, my mouth wide. On the wall opposite the door hangs a huge golden mirror. This room is dark other than the light coming in through the doorway, but the mirror is magnificent. Speechless I stand, gazing at my dusty reflection. The frame is thick; a layer of filth coats the gold trying to gleam beneath. Etched into it are more tangles of plants, leaves and flowers. They twist and wrap themselves around each other, creating an unbreakable hold around the mirror’s glass. I take off my cloak and move closer. I use it to carefully rub away the dust on the surface.
The mirror is huge; around five foot tall and seven foot long. It hangs on the wall just inches off the ground. When the glass is clean I move to the frame and rub the filthy coating away. The gold etching breaks through more brightly than I ever imagined. My reflection no longer dusty, the frame no longer filthy, I step back to look upon myself again.
What I see is strange, but strange in a way I cannot fully understand. Unease creeps through me and it brushes against fear. I appear normal, my face, my eyes; but something is different; something is not as it should be.
I step back and as I do the image dissolves, I disappear. My mouth is dry but I cannot swallow, my eyes water but I cannot blink. I stare at the glass which for a few long seconds appears blank but for the room behind me.
Then fading out of nothing my reflection appears again. I gasp because I am certain that this reflection isn’t really me. I think hard, I try to spot what isn’t quite right. The eyes, they are narrower, the mouth is thin, the skin pale and sick. Darkness lines the edges of every feature. I lean closer and the reflection smiles, but not pleasantly.
Its mouth opens wide as it roars silently, but I feel it echo inside my head. Frightened I stumble backwards. The reflection’s arms are at his sides, my arms, he looks up at the sky and the image begins to rise out of the glass. It is pale and ghostly as it sails towards me. I close my eyes. I shut them tight. My heart pounds, a sickness in my stomach emerges, and I count to three before I open my eyes again.
I stare back at my own reflection now. I sigh with relief, but the image flickers, and once more something changes. The boy in the glass looks older; he stands more proud, his head held high, his brows low in determination, eyes soft, kind and brave. I raise my hand. The reflection doesn’t move, just stares. I step closer still and I feel a shriek as the sickly face flashes in the glass causing me to fall backwards.
I stand quickly and watch the images now flicker and dissolve continuously. I see different faces, different expressions, but they are all me. My nerves tingle. All the pieces of myself flash before me; my dark side, my weak side, my calmness. The images continue to distort from one to the other and amongst all the faces I see the one I long to be.
Though wary I move closer. The faces continue to morph, expressions continue to change, and my heart continues to pound almost out of my chest. I close my eyes for a second, trying to fight the fear because this is something magical. The golden trees, the un-natural power of the light, it all led me here, before this glass. Hidden inside it lies my destiny, I’m sure of it.
I reach for the mirror and the reflection doesn’t reach back. The images begin to flash faster and faster and as my fingers approach the glass I can feel the cold radiating from it. It’s icy and I recoil my finger tips for a moment but continue to stare into my own eyes. Dark, then light, I search for the hero again. I see his eyes flash amongst all the others and push my palm against the glass. The images stop flashing, they stop changing. Only the part of me I search for now stares. It closes its eyes and I watch for a moment, before I too pull my eyes tightly shut.
With my eyes closed I see golden flakes rising all around me, I feel myself twist like the plants on the mirror’s frame. My hand is still on the glass, the cold twists with me. Suddenly I fly. I keep my eyes closed but I know I’m flying. I let go of the mirror and hold my hands open at my sides. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before. Nothing I could ever have begun to imagine. I try opening my eyes but still all I can see is light as I soar, golden dust falling downwards all around me. Unsure whether or not my eyes are open or closed, I cry out but hear only music, the sounds of chimes and strings.
Everything slowly begins to die down. I put my hands over my face in agony as I feel something tear away from my skin. I cry out again but no sound comes out. The golden dust thins and disappears, replaced by black. Holding my face silently I continue to scream.
As fast as the flying sensation began, the twisting slows and stops. I start to fall. Terrified I rip my hands from my face and throw my eyes open. I’m alone before the mirror once more. But everything is different.
I stand still and gape at my reflection but all I see is my normal self; the same confusion, the same pain I know I am feeling marked across my face. There is no longer a golden light beaming in through the doorway. Everything is unusually dark but the room seems otherwise the same. Breathing deeply I gather myself. I study everything around me. I look up at the mirror. I’m horrified to find it’s no longer the same. Where gold had gleamed before, a dark wooden frame now hangs. The carvings are also gone, the only thing etched in the frame are the scratches of time. I panic and turn rushing through each room towards the door, retracing my steps. No more light dances, no more silver shines, everything is just dark and empty. Everything feels forgotten. The air is no longer warm but icy. Glancing out the window I see that the sun is gone; there is no glow, just a stale blue mist. That is all I can see, and it’s pale, like death.
I step out into the forest and finally I am completely overwhelmed by what I see. Everything has changed. The forest I now stand in is not my forest. I shrink to the ground and pin myself to the cottage door afraid to move any further. What has happened? Where am I? I am somewhere else; that is certain.
I let the thought in; let it sit for a while.
The trees are taller and wider than any I have ever seen. Their trunks stand thick like something ancient. They’re jet black, as if charred by fire; their branches break out high off the ground creating a jagged roof under a sky that cannot be seen. The entire landscape is close to completely dark, only the thinnest rays of frosty blue light slither through into the emptiness that closes me in. The pale blue allows me to see that the ground is dry and coated in the smallest shards of something black; like shattered coal and ash. Everything smells cold and lifeless, but a scent of burning still creeps over the ground and up the trees, as if before the cold everything had raged in fire. There’s complete silence apart from my own shaky breath that I know grows even more shaky as I notice it is so. I’m reminded of hell, if all its fires were to go out.
I sit and watch for a long time, but nothing changes, nothing moves. I wait for something to happen, but nothing does. I touch the ground, I touch the trees, I take it all in before I finally decide to venture on and explore because it’s all I can do.
It isn’t long before the silence gives way to crushing sounds; the grinding of metal and screams of pain whirl through the trees. I move quietly but quickly towards the sound, my feet sinking into the earth. I’m afraid but I think of the mirror, I think of the face, the one that somehow brought me here. Screams cut away my thoughts, but an unknown purpose means I feel brave. I begin to move faster, approaching those piercing screams and a low rumbling. The trees stand far apart from one another and suddenly I feel as though I’m shrinking. The pale blue illuminates a shape through the next row of trees, standing tall, barely moving it hisses and shrieks.
I dash into a clearing but dive straight back behind an enormous tree trunk. The gaps in the jagged ceiling gape more willingly here and the light illuminates a beast more monstrous than anything I have ever seen. It stands almost ten feet high. Shaped like a giant human it moves slowly, a whistling follows it, then a crack of a valve opening and closing as steam bursts from a pipe in its neck. It’s mechanical, a giant mechanical beast. Its legs stand wide apart as it steps slowly, trapping a small figure against one of the trees in the far corner of the clearing. The figure screams. I can’t see what it is but I watch, my heart almost breaking through my ribs with every beat. The beast is steel, its insides are flame. I see the fire through a grill on its lower back. The steam rises higher as the whistling echoes up into the dark. The beast raises one of its arms revealing the metal claws that grow from its hands. Four foot long claws on each hand are all covered in blood, both dry and dripping. I listen to one final scream as the gears grind before the claws descend on the helpless figure.
I pull my head back behind the tree and wait, panting, trying not to make a sound. I hear the whistling, the churning of oil, then silence. Tears start to form in my eyes and I try rubbing them away, only to smudge black from my fingers around. After a few deep breaths I decide to peak again. Silently as possible I turn and shift my head to the right.
The beast is staring right at me.
Its eyes are a fiery red, vibrant and horrific. I scream. Its head is small on top of its gigantic body. A snarling mouth and nostrils are painted in white below the burning eyes. I don’t think, there’s no time, I have to run.
My chest heaves, it scratches and it shreds within itself. I don’t dare look back. I just keep moving through the trees, moving away from the rumbling. The whistling of steam grows fainter and fainter. Soon all I can hear is my own feet beating on the ground and the coarseness in my own lungs and throat. I throw myself into a spin whilst moving forward still, trying to see if my pursuer follows. I am alone, and letting my legs relax I stumble, falling to the ground and cracking my head on something hard, taking me into complete darkness.
The boy lay unconscious in the forest for a long time as the hour grew late and the day grew darker. He awoke shivering in the night to find that he was no longer alone. He sat straight up and crawled backwards towards the nearest tree fore before him sat a man, old and weathered. He was clothed in many layers, all tattered and filthy. The old man looked up when he heard the boy scramble. He stood from his perch on a large rock and moved closer.
“Ah ha, dead dead, he’s not dead!” His voice was coarse and gargled.
The boy didn’t respond at first.
“Won’t hurt you, won’t hurt you. Just watching. Not in a safe place, dodgy, very dodgy, scary folk about. Home, you should go home, mum, mum and dad, worried I gather haha!”
The boy calmed as he realised the old man was not a threat.
“Was gone light a fire, but they’ll see it they will, best stay hidden, forest is dangerous, but big and dark for hiding aye?”
The boy could now make out the man’s face. His nose was thin and pointed, his eyes were small black beads set deep in their sockets. Almost everything about him was untamed and unbalanced, the look in his eye, the smirk on his face revealing more black gaps than white teeth.
“What you hiding from son? Dad beat ya does he? Mine beat the shit out o me aye! Haha!”
“I’m not hiding, I’m just lost.” The boy finally said.
“Well get on home then! Horrible people about, dangerous dealings, can always hear screaming! You’re a young lad, wouldn’t want to speak o’the details, give you nightmares. More dangerous than your old pa and his leather belt! Beat ya does he aye?”
The boy stood up from the ground and dusted the earth off of his jeans.
“Thank you for watching me.”
“Who’s watching who? Who? Watching what?”
The man suddenly bent over and went still, but for his head which glanced in every which way. His finger moved to his lips to signify the need for silence.
“I hear the motors! They are here, screaming soon! They always bring them here, when too paralyzed to move, by the white stuff and the brown stuff. Terrible things.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Shhh, go, that way is safe, go.”
The old man pointed in a direction that meant nothing to the boy, he no longer knew which way anything was, nor where he had come from. He looked back at his mad companion who was still bent double, glancing around looking both scared and furious, ready for anything.
“I have some questions.”
“No no, must go, they’ll find us,” the man’s whisper was throaty; dribble bubbled in the corners of his mouth.
The boy hesitated one last time, before the sudden arrival of sharpness in the old man’s eyes finally spoke the urgency of the situation.
Without a word the boy darted off in the direction he was being told to go. He didn’t try and stay quiet, he didn’t survey the surroundings. In a straight line he ran; further from the mirror, further from his life, or at least so he thought.
With the old man far behind me, with my chest heaving, I finally slow and stop. I turn in a circle trying to guess the direction of the cottage and the mirror so I can move further from them and deeper into this world; it’s hopeless. I fall to my knees breathing hard and I look up, the blackness is closing in on me, the large space between the forest floor and crown is getting smaller, I’m sure of it. I must be getting deeper; soon I know I will find something, some answers about this strange place, some answers about that mirror and how I ended up here. The old man warned me of danger, something dark is at work; that I am sure of.
I continue to walk in the same direction. I walk slowly now because I must think. So much has happened, and these happenings aren’t ordinary. Why did the old man help me? Where did he lead me? There wasn’t enough time. Not enough time at all.
I think about the mirror; myself in pieces, each piece different from the last as they flashed and flickered. Real magic. I walk on with my head high, because in this world I am not just a boy, I don’t have to worry about all the normal things. I have found somewhere else; I found this place so I can be the hero I wish to be.
The boy continued to walk through the night and although his body was weak, his eyes tired, his stomach crying out for food, something in his mind blocked this all out. None of the ordinary human needs to rest or to eat were a problem for him anymore. The boy had been alone for hours, yet dawn was still a while away. He trudged through the mud searching for anything, searching for anyone.
I walk for hours and the forest doesn’t move, it doesn’t change, everything just sits still. This world feels dead, and I begin to question whether time itself has a place here.
Out of nowhere stone ruins sit crumbled before me. It is a sign, a sign that this world was once something more than it is now. I kneel by the stone and I find flowers. White flowers grow out of ash and stone. I touch the petals and they are delicate and smooth. I smile because this is the first thing I have seen in this place that isn’t dead, that isn’t dark and frozen in time. The flowers grow, they live, they are beautiful. I gaze around for anything else of interest but I am surrounded by the same scene I have travelled through for hours. Darkness climbing upon darkness, completely empty of anything that feels, of anything warm. I sit by the flowers for a few minutes. I feel them living, the first time I have felt anything of the sort since I put my palm on the mirror.
As I sit this feeling grows, the feeling of life and warmth grows. I watch the flowers but they are still, they don’t change. I glance around and I spot a tiny purple light through the trees. It moves and I jump to my feet. For a second I think to call out but I remember the old man’s warnings. But the warmth I feel, I can feel it grow still inside me as the small light comes closer. It stops through a few rows of trees and my heart is racing. I decide I have to see what it is. I need answers.
I creep towards the light and it doesn’t move away, nor does it come any closer. When I’m finally near enough to see I freeze. A tiny winged girl stands right in front of me on the stump of a low branch. She doesn’t speak only watches. Her eyes are a fiery green. She looks neither threatened nor afraid, but puzzled yet fierce. She is wearing a black tattered dress that begins below her shoulders and ends above her knees. Her wings are like a dragon fly’s, only weathered and grey. Her hair is long, dark and matted and a purple glow surrounds her entirety.
She opens her mouth as if to speak but then stops.
“Are you a fairy?”
She nods, “Who are you?”
I can feel my voice tremble, “I’m not from here. I found an old mirror in some woods near my home. That’s what brought me here.”
“You are a boy?”
“I am, and I’ve been walking for ages, looking for anyone to help me.”
“And for what do you seek help?”
“I think I was brought here for a reason.”
She pauses for a moment, her eyes swirl with thought, “And what sort of reason might that be?”
“I’m not sure,” I feel my head drop but I continue to speak, “I think I’m here to save this world.”
“I’m sorry but that’s not possible. Look around you; we are far beyond saving, although your courage is admirable.”
Her words are daggers but I stay strong.
“There has to be something that can be done, it’s why I’m here.”
“And what makes you think that is why you are here?”
“It’s something I saw, in the mirror. It was unlike anything. Do you know of it?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Well then you can’t understand. I just know, I felt it. And this warmth that I feel now, how I spotted you. All of it must mean something.”
“We can’t stay here for long.”
The fairy’s eyes begin darting around and her wings begin to twitch.
Her eyes fixate on me, “The warmth you feel, that is what the harbouring are drawn to.”
“Yes. There is much to tell, but we can’t stay here, please.” I could see the terror clawing its way inside her.
“But what are we running from?” I whisper.
“The harbouring, giant mechanical beasts, they were created by man long ago, but now they remain here as guardians of the end.”
“Guardians of the end?”
“They kill anyone who defies the end of the world by trying to remain alive.”
“End of the world?”
“That is what I am trying to explain. We are at an end here. Time does not exist, and life should not either, the harbouring hunt those who defy this.”
The fairy is glancing around more rapidly now, although I still can’t hear anything.
“The harbouring, I have seen one.”
“Then you are lucky to be alive.”
“But where do we go?”
“It doesn’t matter. Nowhere is safe. We just have to keep moving. Although extremely dangerous, they are slow.”
The fairy leaps into the air and her wings begin flapping furiously.
“This way then, “I say as I move quickly onwards.
The fairy flies just ahead of me and I see her looking back every so often until eventually, after what feels like an age, she slows.
“We are most probably safe for now. So long as we keep walking. We were still for too long. Together we are too strong a force.”
“What do you mean?”
“All living things here posses a warmth, a goodness. That is what you felt when I was near. Together our warmth is twice as powerful. All the harbouring in the area would be drawn to us immediately.”
“So it’s better to be alone?”
“Here everyone is. It’s the only way we can survive for long. But no one likes to be alone.”
“What’s wrong with being alone?”
“Nothing at all. Here being alone saves our lives. All I meant was that it can be lonely; it’s never good to suffer by yourself. Here we have to be alone but we know that this is the only way. We know that everyone here is going through the same thing. So in that sense we are never really alone. We are bound together by our same sufferings.”
I listen to her words. Alone I am better off, no one understands why I strive to be somewhere else. They are fine with that world, they are happy being part of it, but I don’t want to be. No one can understand that but me.
“Can the harbouring be stopped? Can time start again?”
The fairy lands on a branch. “I know you mean well, and I am sorry, but there is nothing you can do.”
“What about flowers, I saw flowers, I felt their warmth the same as yours. If they can grow surely there is hope that this world can live again.”
Her face is solemn, the fiery green in her eyes is wet and extinguished.
“The white flowers are not a sign of life but a marker of death. They grow where blood is spilt, where a life is taken.”
“But I felt their warmth, like I felt yours.”
“That warmth you felt is from the life that passed into the earth, life taken by the harbouring. It soon passes, and the flowers will die.”
“But how can something grow, even if from death, if time doesn’t exist.”
“There is enough life in each being that passes to sprout these flowers but it has nothing to do with time.”
“Then what is it?”
“There is too much I no longer know. We have been like this for all anyone can remember.”
“I met a strange man a while back, would he know more? He seemed to know something, he helped me escape.”
“The man you speak of was once wise but his mind is no longer intact.”
The hopelessness of everything begins to mount. I try to think of the boy in the mirror, the one image that can keep me going, the one image I know is real.
“There must be answers somewhere.”
“There are the caves.”
I listen intently.
“There is said to be a painted wall deep inside. It is in the caves that the end of all things began, it is there where the history of this land is marked out for all to see.”
“Then take me there. Please.”
“The journey takes us far. It is dangerous to stay together for so long.”
“We can move quickly. If we stay alert we’ll be fine.”
“Very well, I will take you because I can see you truly believe in what you say. Follow as best you can.”
She darts off to the left again and I follow. A place with no time, no light, no hope. A place where death grows but life cannot. A place I know I am here to save regardless of what anyone tells me, because this is where I’m supposed to be. Far away from everything else that is supposed to be real. This is real. This is who I am.
The boy followed the girl closely. The night was coming to an end but darkness would not leave for a few more hours. The boy was certain they were moving deeper into the forest towards answers and they were indeed. Only the trees would not take them to the caves as he thought, answers would come from somewhere else, and they would change the boy’s life forever.
In the darkness they crept eluding their pursuers. The evil men who used the forest for terrible things were present and not far behind. They sensed others, and they tracked the boy and the girl. These men could not allow anyone to find out about the awful deeds they hid in the dark.
The boy walked quickly and with purpose. In the girl he saw something that made him believe she could help. She was like him and this was a connection he felt even if he did not know it yet.
The stars led the way, the moon now blanketed with clouds and this growing darkness is what the boy mistook for the changing scenery, a deeper area of the forest. The girl would turn back from time to time to make sure the boy followed.
“I know you’re afraid,” she said as they walked, “it’s all right to be afraid.”
The boy wanted to deny her claim but she was right. Although he fought hard to be brave fear was something deeply embedded inside him. But it wasn’t so much the fear of the dark forest or the night, or even the men that hunted them. It was the fear of something else. Something that being here he recognised for the first time.
As we continue to move silently through the trees everything starts to feel familiar. Death has spread over everything and it is most likely this familiarity that I feel. The fairy stops ahead of me and I too freeze.
“I’m not sure.”
I move past her and I notice a dark shape looming just ahead. It’s large but I cannot see it yet.
“It’s a small cottage,” she says.
I stride towards the large shape and I see it clearly now, the cottage, the cottage that holds the mirror.
The fairy flies after me and hovers by my head.
“You’ve been here before.”
“This is how I got here, where it all began.”
I walk slowly towards it. The doorway doesn’t open welcomingly, it stands closed, dark.
“This isn’t where we should be. How did we go round in a circle?”
“I don’t know,” replied the fairy, “the forest is dark, the trees all the same.”
Suddenly a whistle stabs up through the dark. The low rumbling rises to within ear shot and continues to grow.
“The harbouring,” whispers the fairy, “several I think! Quickly we must go inside!”
The fairy flies to the cottage door. I am amazed to watch her push it straight open despite her tiny stature. She darts inside and I turn to the forest. The cold blue light appears a little brighter but the trees still claw over the sky with menace. I pause then enter the cottage once more.
Inside I pull the door shut and it feels quieter, it feels more safe. I sense another presence, another warmth and I watch the fairy turn as I know she senses it too.
Both of us stay silent and listen. There is a rustle in the next room. I creep towards it and peer through the doorway.
The old man in the next room looks up at me and smiles. Hooded and cloaked his beady eyes stare out of shadow.
“Found your way back did you boy?”
I walk towards him and the fairy follows me.
“What are you doing here?” I ask him.
“They are coming.”
“So let’s keep moving, there are three of us now. Surely every harbouring in the forest is on their way here!”
“Where is the mirror?” the fairy asks, “I want to see it, we have time.”
“We should go.” My voice trembles.
“We should see it.”
“It’s through there,” say’s the old man.
The fairy flies down the low hall and waits by the last door in the very far corner of the house. The carvings stare out of the wood at us, no longer mystical nor beautiful, but evil and foreboding.
“Let’s leave,” I say.
“We should see it,” the fairy replies.
I hesitate but part of me wants to look upon that glass again. Part of me wonders if the image I seek will stare at me like before. I grab the door and it creaks as I turn the handle.
Inside the mirror waits. I watch myself approach the glass but I stop. Beside me walks a girl, her face in awe. But it is a girl, a girl neither younger nor older than me. I quickly glance to my left and the fairy flaps her wings but her face, it is the same face I see in the glass. I look back in the mirror and look at the girl. Her clothes are filthy but her green eyes glow with fire. I can barely breathe. Why am I seeing this?
I pull my eyes away and move quickly out of the room. The old man stares at me.
“What have you seen boy?”
“Nothing.” I hold back tears; I try to ignore what the mirror has shown me.
The fairy flutters into the room and lands on the floor.
“It’s beautiful,” she says.
“What did you see?” I ask her.
“What do you mean? I saw what any mirror would show me.”
I freeze and look at her.
“You didn’t see anything differently?”
“No. I just saw what I expected to see. Things as they are.”
I stare hard at her and I know she is telling the truth. “This doesn’t make sense.”
The old man rises from his perch.
“When I looked into the mirror before the images moved, they changed.”
The old man just stares.
“I thought I was here to save this world. But I don’t understand what the mirror is showing me now.”
“The mirror is showing you what you need to see,” says the old man.
“But it doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe you misread the meaning of what you saw.”
“Why are we even here? We aren’t supposed to be here at all. ”My brows lower as I ponder his words. “I should be heading for the caves. I should be searching for answers about how to save this world.”
“Maybe it is not this world that needs saving.”
His words sink deep inside me. I fight the realisation because it is a truth I don’t wish to hear.
“No, I saw what I saw, a hero in the glass, he beckoned me, he brought me here.”
“I do not doubt what you saw, but as I said; things like this can often be misread.”
I turn away from the old man in frustration; I don’t even glance at the fairy though I know she is watching me. I step back into the room with the mirror and look into the glass again. I stare into my own eyes and the image dissolves. I stare into my own eyes but they aren’t confused and nor are they afraid. It is him, the part of myself I want to see. I drop to my knees and in my own head I ask “Why are you showing me this? What does this mean?”
In the mirror I see the girl enter the room and I feel the fairy flap her wings beside me. A lump grows in my throat but I swallow it down.
The girl stands beside me in the glass and an old man too now enters. In the mirror he is not hooded and cloaked, his familiar beady eyes don’t hold the same wisdom. I look to my left and the image of the fairy melts away replaced by a girl who continues to stare.
The boy stayed on his knees beside the girl. The old man watched them both. The boy felt this other world disappear before his eyes. The mirror had shown him what he needed to see. Things the way they really were, but also the way they could be. He had to go home. He had to stop running away. He could be brave, he could be a hero, only not in the way he always thought he was destined to be. The men outside grew closer and the night was on its way out as light began to creep back into the world.
“Hush…Someone’s coming! Run run run! Run run run!”
I pull my eyes away from the glass for the last time. I try to accept that this is my fate. I look at the girl who sits beside me. The darkness around us is gone, it’s morning. The old man stands shaking behind us. A grin on his mad face.
“Still ere aye? Take your little friend I would. And RUN RUN RUN!”
His eyes waver, his mind far gone from too many nights in the cold, too many nights alone. My heart sinks for him.
The girl pushes herself to her feet and offers me her hand. I hesitate but I take it. I hear voices outside and rub my eyes, shake my head, and ready myself.
We rush out of the room and into the hallway. We stand still listening. Voices grow louder.
I put my arm on the girl’s shoulder and she stares at me, her eyes tearful.
“When we step outside run to the left and keep running, you’ll end up at my house. We will be safe there.”
“Are you coming with me?” she asks.
“I need to lead them away first.”
I nod and start to push the door open.
“Thank you,” she says as she squeezes my hand.
We both burst outside. The sun has crept to the edge of the horizon and small shafts of light stream through the trees. I turn to the right and I whistle over and over again. I run hard, I run harder than I ever have before.
The boy ran fast through the trees. He heard the men calling, “I see him! Over that way!”
The boy led them through the forest he knew so well, the sunlight his guide.
The forest sparkled. It was his forest and it always would be, but it was time to move on. The boy remembered the darkness and the emptiness of that other place he had journeyed across, and now as he ran through the sunny trees the real world didn’t seem so frightening any more. He remembered the ash stridden ground as his feet bounced across the soft leafy soil. He breathed in the smell of earth and flowers as he remembered the stench of a frozen hell. He felt the warmth of the sun on his fingers and on his cheeks as he began to forget about the icy chill of a world long past its day. He thought about the girl and wondered if she was safe.
His feet beat the earth as he ran, these thoughts circling in his mind. He heard voices behind him still and he dared not slow down. Deeper into the forest he travelled once more. He thought of his final glance in the mirror before his entire world had melted away forever. He knew now that what surrounded him was all there was, and all there ever would be. The boy suddenly stopped running. He stopped running and he turned around.