Cedars Upper Odyssey: episode three
When Snow finds the mirror it is face up under a covering of undergrowth. It looks like it’s been there for years and years. In her dream, the frame was glossy black, and now it is rotted almost completely away. The glass which was shining brightly is now blackened, and peeling.
Snow clears off the worst of the undergrowth and looks into the mirror. Her reflection looks back at her. The ancient mirror makes her look pock-marked and strange, but basically just her normal same-old reflection, that she looks at every day in the bathroom mirror. Nothing special. Nothing magical. Why had she expected any different?
When Snow lifts out the mirror, it’s almost as tall as she is, and very heavy indeed. But she manages to prop it up a bit, on a rock. She stands back, and looks into the mirror again.
Again, the same old reflection. But then she catches the slightest of movements behind her. She whirls around. There’s nothing behind her, nothing actually behind her when she turns around. But in the mirror, in the reflected world, there is … something. What sort of thing? She’s not sure. Just a fleeting flash of colour that she glimpses here and there. Something different. Different from what’s here, that’s for sure.
Snow walks up to the mirror and taps on it, with her fingernail. Tap. Tap. Tap.
On the third tap, the mirror goes dark, completely black. And then, to Snow’s astonishment, in the mirror world, the stars come out. While in the real forest behind her, the daylight is as bright as ever.
* * * * * *
Nathan is lost in the darkness. He wouldn’t usually be wandering Tenebris at night. Usually, he would have camped up somewhere, made himself a fire, and dozed with his axe close at hand, safe from the night’s terrors.
But now, Nathan has given himself over to the night’s terrors. They surround him, stalk him, walk with him. Sometimes, he thinks he can see the beast, off in the trees. Or he smells it - the rusty, red tang of blood - just around the corner on the pathway ahead. But he cannot seem to catch up with it.
Now, he can see a light up ahead. Someone’s here. They’ve lit a fire. He must be careful. Careful that the beast isn’t with him, doesn’t follow after him, and find them too. If that happens there will be yet more blood.
But as Nathan gets closer and closer to the light, he sees at last that it isn’t a fire. It’s daylight. He is standing in the deep dark night in the blackness of Tenebris Forest, but just across the clearing it looks like it’s the middle of a sunny afternoon.
Nathan hefts his axe in his hand, and its weight is a comfort to him. He has never been so afraid.
* * * * * *
Serié closes the book again and holds it close to her chest. In a daze, she stands up and opens the door of her room. She doesn’t stop to get her coat, she just walks out of her room and down the corridor, out of the front door and into the street below. Cars screech to a halt as she steps into the road without looking. People call out to her, first angry, and then sounding concerned. “You alright, love?”
Serié doesn’t stop, or even look back. She is walking briskly with her head tilted slightly to one side, as if she is listening intently to instructions from somewhere else. Somewhere quite, quite different.
Without hesitating for even a moment, she heads up towards the forest.
- * * * * *
The girl with the tree necklace opens her eyes.
Stretched out in front of her is a long pathway weaving through a sun-dappled forest. Just a little ahead, the pathway swings inward towards a small, ramshackle building. Birds are singing loudly, and the air smells warm, and vibrant.
Looking back over her shoulder, she sees a huge tree, straddling the pathway. There’s no hole in the trunk, but she is sure that must be where she’s just come from. Funny, there wasn’t a pathway like this on the other side of the tree.
It takes her just a few moments to walk to the hut. There’s an old, grey wooden door, and a metal handle that’s green with age. The door is padlocked on the outside. She rattles the door a little, although she can see from the padlock that it’s no good. When she presses her ear to the door she can hear something, inside. It sounds like the sound of someone trying not to make any noise. A breath-holding, keeping-still kind of noise. She rattles the door again. The windows are painted out with some kind of limewash or white paint, and she can’t see inside.
Strange, and a bit scary. But it’s a warm, pleasant forest and she might as well walk on and see what’s around the corner.
Around the corner, she stops still, shocked. The air in front of her has water droplets clinging to it, as if it’s a sheet of very clear, very clean glass. She reaches her hand out cautiously. Yes, it’s glass, or something very like glass. She can touch it, it’s cold. And she can tap it. Tap, tap, tap.
On the third tap, the whole of the forest beyond the glass is plunged into darkness, until she can see the stars twinkling through. While in the forest immediately around her, it’s still bright, beautiful day.
* * * * * *
He knows what they call him, he’s heard them many a time, whispering it behind his back, the nicer ones, and the others just say it out loud when they know he can hear. The Creeper. It’s as good a name as any, he supposes. And it’s true, anyways. He does creep. He always has done, always will do. And creeping comes in handy, sometimes.
His room - Sunshine Closet he calls it, just my little joke, Ronald - is right down near the main entrance to the drains, right down where no-one would think of looking for anyone. And from the drains he can creep about all over town, can pop up right where he’s least expected.
Like now, for instance. He’s crept right up behind this little girl and she hasn’t the faintest idea that he’s here, right next to her. And there’s no-one else in sight not for ever such a long way round abouts and so there’s nothing to get in his way, this time, is there?
It will be nothing at all - she’s such a little thing and it’s such a little way - to carry her back to Sunshine Closet. Nothing to stop him this time, is there?
But it’s not such a little thing, is it? From animals to children is a great big leap and it’s not such a little thing at all, really, not when you think on it: to stop this child’s breath, to stop her life and then cut her up like a little squirrel and even when he’s fixed her back together again she’ll still be lifeless and there’ll be nothing at all he can do to change it. That’s not such a little thing after all, is it?
The Creeper hesitates, just for a moment, and listens to these thoughts as if he’s waiting for an answer to come to him out of the blue.
* * * * * *
When Kylie comes to, it takes her a few moments to remember where she is. It’s like that time at the airport, when it was far too hot and she was feeling pukey, and Mum told her to put her head down between her knees, and after a few minutes the departures lounge stopped spinning and she was all right again.
But not anymore. Mum’s dead and so is Dad and she’ll never be alright again, not as long as she lives. She’ll be all wrong, all wrong forever and ever.
The forest slowly comes into focus around her. She remembers seeing him, then. The man with the axe. The man with the axe, and she saw him just before she fainted. The man with the axe is the only thing that’s made sense to her for a long, long time. She doesn’t know why, exactly, but she knows she needs to find him. Even if he kills her, she’s got to find him.
So where’s he gone, then? There’s no sign of him. She’s on a pathway and there’s deep undergrowth, either side of her. Doesn’t look like anyone could make it far through here if they weren’t on the pathway. So, she’s got two choices, hasn’t she? She can carry on forwards, or she can go back, back the way she came.
There’s nothing to go back for, is there? More counselling sessions, more pity, more dragging herself through her life. Nothing at all to go back for. So she has to go forward. It’s the only thing left to do, isn’t it? Only forward.