Written in first person. Set in a fictitious town in the Muskoka area of northern Ontario, Canada. The main character is an introverted loner, with a broken and still-breaking family, who investigates the cult-like behaviour of his former friends to discover a surreal and magical truth that runs deeper than anything he suspected. After breaking a terrifyingly magical mirror and falling two-stories unharmed, he finds himself stalked by a shadowy spirit.
The hook caught, and my line pulled tautly. However, I remained blithe. It was many a moment before I realized the rod was jerking in my hands. Abruptly, I jumped, causing the boat to undulate beneath me. I had been inattentively thinking about other things.
Then it stopped. The bobber popped up, out of the water. Lake Cynosure had taken yet another worm from my dwindling supply. And at seventeen, I'd otherwise be ashamed to use the red and white bobber that floated on my line at the top of the water... were I not alone.
I hated the notion. It always pained me to think about it. But I could tell, from the way my legs were clenched, that that must have been what I had been thinking about.
There were cottages camouflaged into nearly every forested bank. Just a few lights could be seen, on the far shore, as early risers on a weekend visit were eating their cereal and toast.
Sorry, Mom, I thought. No morning fish fry today. I reeled in my line enough to grab the bobber, clicked it into submission and untied it from my line before reeling in my bare hook. Can't go trolling by my lonesome.
I could already taste the soggy Cheerios as I pulled at the motor's cord. In an instant, the black metal beast roared and trembled in my grasp, and off we went. The bow of the boat was weighted evenly by a brick, and by the anchor I hadn't cared to drop. The iron nose cut cleanly through the dissipating morning mist.
Every summer, before its coming, would seem so picaresque, here in cottage country, the middle of Muskoka. However, these past few years, it had become dull. Maybe it was because I wasn't a child anymore, carefree and ludic, or because my interest in the real world was steadily dwindling.
Boat docked, gear stored, boots off, feet up; I sighed.
She stared at me, marmoreally, from across the breakfast table. She was mute, as always. Her expression was nearly catatonic when I was around. It seemed as if she was one of those paintings that gave the impression that its eyes were always watching you from any and every angle. Waiting for me to slip up. So that she could cough, just once, to let me know that I'd done wrong. The rest was up to me.
When, I asked myself, had I stopped thinking of her as mom, as my dear mother?
But I didn't answer myself, not consciously. I let the thought sit, alone, as I ate, unthinking. It scared me, how easily I could do that. Just stop thinking. Just stop feeling. I must have got it from her, the way she'd stopped talking, almost two years ago.
Then, she moved. She slid her hand across the table with a piece of paper and a few dollar bills beneath it. I knew what it was, a shopping list, because this was routine.
I don't think I'd feel any different, any less alone, if she had remained her old self. This was a loneliness that remained separate from parental bonds of responsibility, ownership and that oh-so-unstable brand of love we dared to deem unconditional. That lie was believable and comforting when I had been a child. Now, though, I found it revolting.
Nevertheless, I gave her a genuine grin and a kiss on the forehead, before taking my empty dishes to the counter. I always kept the change, that was my unspoken allowance. And I never came straight home.
Shopping days were freedom. Freedom of a very different kind than I managed to find when I put a pencil to paper or my eyes to a book, my only means of escape in this place where I was deprived of modern technology.
I drove through the lifeless, nearby village. It was a pretty little place where where my task could have been quick and simple in its one rinky-dink little store and gas station. I continued on, down the road, towards home.
It took half an hour to reach Graustark, a town of almost six-thousand people. Sure enough, the sign read: 5,821 nice people and 1 old grouch.
And as always, the sign made me laugh, because I knew I could make quite a good guess as to which of the 5,822 people was being singled out.
Jason Crawford was the reason I was miserable. He was the reason I was lonely. And quite possibly, he was one of the reasons I prefered to withdraw into the peace and solitude I found in fictitious worlds.
Jason was my age. We grew up together, in what I'd mistook for friendship. Perhaps the more accurate term would be rivalry. But it wasn't until six months ago that things became this way. He was a social mastermind. He'd turned an open-minded group of teenagers, our high school social circle, into a venomous clique. I was the only person whose emotions he misread, perhaps because of how I unthink and unfeel when I want to. When I needed to. And so, I became ostracized when I tried to point out the changes I could see, clear as day.
Now, I was a loner. People considered me paranoid. And when unfeeling it all became too hard, sometimes I just had to cry, in private or in public... it didn't seem to matter at the time. I'm not proud of the way things turned out. Ask any of the students at Gaustark High what they know about me, and they'll tell you I'm crazy, that I'm on edge.
No, damn it, I'm in love! And she's with him. It makes me so angry. So frustrated. So hostile... so utterly out of character. That's not me at all. I've always been calm, because it's those negative emotions that I seek to control: pride, annoyance, rage. And so all that I let come out is sadness. I've got an emotional sieve, that drains out tears yet leaves angry debris in my mind.
Nora is the most gentle and beautiful person I know. There are no exceptions. And we've been friends, no -- we had been friends... for almost all the years of our young lives. Like most others, we grew up in this little town. Growing up was what threw the snag in my proverbial heart. When my feelings for her changed, when I began to wish we had an affectionate claim on each other, it wasn't something I was willing to confront.
I never felt quite optimistic enough. Our relationship seemed doomed to neither esculate nor osculate, except in my dark and lonely dreams. Always evancalous, temptingly so, but never enough to put anything at risk.
Now, it was too late. She was his. They were all his. Every close friend I'd ever had, gone, in such a way that made every distant friend keep their distance. It was like a cult. Secrecy and whispers. What were they up to?
I tried to clear my mind, as I pulled up in the silver Cavalier, parking purposefully on the opposite side of the street so as not to be suspected.
They gathered like this every morning, but I never saw a car pull up in the empty driveway of the Crawfords' old house. No car pool. They simply appeared, inconspicuously.
My suspicion was firm: drugs.
My evidence was... nonexistent.
Which was precisely why I had just crept into Jason's backyard, back to the wall, and begun to climb the tall oak. It would give me the opportunity to look inside the window, at the very least. But I had to be quiet, especially if they were in the back room of the top floor.
My muscles ached. My tendons felt strained. I stretched up for the next branch, and then pulled myself up. Edging my way along it, like a sloth in fast-forward, I tried to get a view through the window, desperate for insight.
The light was on, and the blinds were drawn.
Great. All this way for nothing. Well, I thought to myself, I might as well pay Daddy a visit. I looked down, and suddenly felt nauseous. It felt as if several undigested Cheerios were ready to leap from my stomach at that moment. I turned and looked up as soon as I could, hoping to put a stop to the sensation.
That's when I saw the open attic window, and the higher branches pressing against the wall of the house. It was perfect! This was a burglar's wet dream. But this wasn't breaking and entering, this was just... entering, right? Well, uninvitied... yeah, but how else was I going to get him to return my paperback copy of Dune, my DVDs of Firefly and God knows how mnay video games he'd borrowed and never returned. Asking politely certainly never worked, even before he'd formed their little cult. Hah!
Somehow, looking up was easier than looking down. Perhaps because there were more branches obscuring my view. And so, bringing my body to the point of exhaustion, I made it to the window's edge. The branch swung precariously. Luckily, I spotted a protruding brick in the architecture that gave me some half-decent footing as I looked in.
Dusty, dark and devoid of people. Splendid. The dust was so think in all places but one. A track through the dust, of repeated visits. All leading to one specific spot in the attic.
Curiosity got the best of me. If it was nothing, I'd be content to stare between the floorboards to see if any needles were being injected, if any powder was being snorted or if any joints were being rolled.
After pulling myself through the window, hoping the tree block any unnecessary attention, I made my way slowly across the creaky floor.
A dark gray cat meowed, almost scaring me enough to flinch, and padded its way across the barren, dusty floorboards. I noticed that it had a plain silver collar, with a key hanging from it.
Ignoring the cat, I continued to make my way around the trap door, which was closed, and along the path towards what was surely the most important thing hidden away up here.
It occured to me then that I was leaving my own trail, quite visible, from the window. Crap! Oh well. Carry on, I told myself. You're no James Bond.
It was a chest, much like I would have expected to see in a pirate movie. And it was locked, with a gleaming silver padlock. And unlike the rest of the box, it was agelessly untarnished. I grinned, "Here, kitty kitty. Here, kitty."
And sure enough, the cat came! Then it stopped, sitting a foot and a half away from me, eyeing me curiously. I knew it wasn't like a dog, I couldn't let it sniff my hand and suddenly have permission to stroke it behind the ears, fingers close to the key. Nope. Cats are different.
I felt so drawn to that box, for some reason I could not explain. It was uncanny, and I seemed unconcerned about my proximity to my old friends. Things would have turned out much differently if I had resisted the urge, and instead begun staring through cracks in the floorboard.
I dropped my hand limply at my side, where I knelt. And the cat took my invitation. It pawed its away forward and then walked around in circles underneath the gentle touch of my hand, using me as a scratching post of sorts. And then, it didn't seem to mind as I pet its back softly. It curled up in the dust, and yawned. Then, rolled over. She rolled over.
I knew that was my chance. I scratched her belly gently, moving my hand up towards her neck. I could see that it would slide off its hook at just the right angle. And sure enough, it did! I was trumphant as the cat hissed in anger and clawed at my hand.
"Shhh, it's all right, little kitty," I whispered, trying to calm her. "I'll give it back in a moment." And then I turned to the box, key in one hand, as my other hand patted the kitty gently.
I turned the key in the lock, and opened the box. My dozen lost friends were in the back of my mind, for some reason I couldn't explain.
It was lined with red sattin, and held thirteen slots, four inches in width each. Twelve were empty. In the seventh slot, in the middle, a silver handle protruded towards me. I lifted it cautiously, causing the whole object to slide out of the slot.
The cat meowed fearfully, and backed away from me.
A silver polished mirror? I was looking at the back, admiring the handiwork. There were tiny gargoyles, lions and griffins carved all around it, and a big flower shape encrusted against the back. I turned it around, then. Thing would have gone differently, if I had just slid it back into the box.
The dimly lit attic was reflected far more tenebrously in the mirror, as if it were tinted. I turned it to my face, then, and caught a shout of terror before it could escape my mouth. I was staring at my own face, sure enough, but the skin was pale and luminscent. My eyes, however -- or rather, my eye sockets -- were gaping holes. It was like staring down two dark wells, side by side. Then, as I forced myself to breathe, I saw my breath as a fading black gas escaping me. It was surreal. This mirror was horrific and terrifying. And suddenly, I knew, that I had to get it as far away from my friends as I could.
It was a crazy impulse. But I thought I'd just stared death in the face, and I feared what I held in my hands so much, though I couldn't let go.
I dropped the key, and it fell with a ping. Then, I ran for the window as fast as I could.
I fell to the grass below the window, three stories, landing flat on my stomach. Flat on the mirror, too. I went unconscious as its shards pierced my stomach.
And then I woke up, across the street, in the driver's seat of my mother's Cavalier. I blinked, confused. How did I get here? Or had it all been a dream? Yes, I actually asked myself that silly question, despite how rhetorical it had been. It was too vivid, I remembered it too clearly, it was all wrong to be a dream. But it ended, like a nightmare, where the vampire bites you and then you wake up.
Then I looked down. The mirror was in my lap, more or less intact, apart from one shard. It was embedded in my chest, stabbing my right through the heart. Why am I not bleeding? No, why am I not dead? I should not be alive! Am I still dreaming?
I took deep breaths, which were strangely quite painless, and then, when I was calm, I looked back down at it. Yes, I was without a doubt stabbed through the heart with a chunk of a strange and terrifying mirror. And there were holes in my shirt where I was sure I had been stabbed before. Yet no scars?
Fair enough. It seems that I could live with that.
Then, on impulse, I yanked it out of my chest, wondering why it felt as natural as spitting out food, or defecating. Painless.
It fell, absorbing the blood like a leech, and landed atop the rest of the mirror. Then, my hand began to tremble with an urge that was not my own. Reluctantly, my hand moved and slid the obtuse shard into place. It fell into place like a puzzle piece, and the mirror seemed altogether whole, unblemished, without a crack.
Furthermore, it reflected me now just like any other mirror. I frowned, and tossed it into the passenger seat. And as I did so, the hairs on the back of my neck, from collar to nape, stood erect. Something I couldn't put my finger on was giving me the fearful impression that I was being watched.
Yeah, well, every kid in town thinks I'm paranoid -- perhaps even schizophrenic in some way or another.
I looked towards the house, I saw nothing of concern, and turned away. And so, I idled the car for a moment, thoughtful. Was I now immune to pain? I punched at the dashboard, bruising my knuckles. Nope! Okay, things seem normal now. I mean, apart from the fact that I've just stolen some sort of bizarre Crawford family heirloom, or something like that. I can live with that.
I decided to go visit Dad, with the irrational hope of avoiding the topic of divorce. Surely, my father isn't that insensitive, I assured myself.
I drove off, away from the Crawford's. Unbeknownst to me, I was not alone. Behind me, in a back seat was the thing that would become my first real friend in a long time.
It was a quivering shadow of light-absorbing nothingness. It had lived an ethereal, androgynous existence, spellbound for as long as it remembered behind the seventh Mirror of the Thirteen. All it knew was to stick with me, as its saviour who'd broken its freedom.