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It was cold. The storm raged endlessly, a torrent of water and wind that was a blinding force of power. I don’t even remember what I was doing outside or how I had managed to get in the middle of this forest. I just knew I had to get out of the storm. I knew the subtle dangers that rain could bring to woman of my age. If I were to fall victim to this downpour, no medicine would be brought to me. It was a hard time for women, but even harder for women like me.
I ran forward, blindly stumbling past trees and thorns that scraped at my arms like the clawed hands of some horrendous beasts. I pushed aside the low-hanging branch of an old decaying tree and stumbled further and for the first time my eyes rested on a forbidden sight.
It was an old ancient mansion, half hidden behind the towering trees that seemed to feed on the death of the earth. I couldn’t see the walls, partly because of the blinding rain and partly by the ivy growing up the sides. Most of the windows looked broken, but the house itself held the shelter that I needed. I looked past the graveyard in the back with unnamed tombstones; looked past the fountain filled with brown muck and angelic statues that were now grotesque with crumbling age. I saw a safety from the rain and the cold, and ran towards it; a gazelle fleeing from the hunt and charging blindly toward the den of the lions.
The weeds and grass clung to my wet skin, as if trying to pull me back, warn me from going farther in. Of course, I would only notice these things later, after it would be too late.
Finally reaching the front steps, I knocked twice. I knew already that no one nor nothing lived here but mice and bugs, but I still rapped on the door more so out of respect than of general concern for those inside.
I opened the door, darting inside and slamming it shut behind me. Instantaneously to the door closing, I knew something was wrong. The darkness of this place was felt, not seen, as if the former memories of this once grand hall were trapped in eternal slumber. A once magnificent chandelier that would have lit up like a glorious sun now hung limp like it was dangling from a hangman’s noose; dead and rotting. The smell of dust and musty things bombarded my nostrils, and the wooden floorboards that once must have held the thronging music of a thousand ballroom dancers now held mold and the sense of unsteadiness.
And the silence, oh the silence! It was as though this house defied the echoes of rain, forbidding them to enter. If it not for my view of the pouring rain through the windows, I would have assumed that the storm had passed.
Alas, it had not, and so here I stayed. I shivered, be it from the rain or cold or fear I do not know. I was suddenly beginning to question if perhaps the storm was safer than this place…this place that seemed to linger on the boundaries of this world and the next. Tentatively stepping forward, I tested the rusty doorknob of an ancient door, but in protest, it remained locked tight, tighter than would seem logical for the amount of rust and rotting wood. Taking a step back, I realized with a start that I could hear something over the pounding silence. A twinkling noise, like a child’s music box, seemed to emanate from deep within the hold of the house. An eerie sound, one that should not be possible. I wondered if perhaps I had merely imagined the noise; and that it was nothing more than the impending memories of the house’s former residents reflecting upon the old walls.
“Who goes there?!” boomed a voice that emitted from the walls itself. It was dark and deep, and I fell downwards, crawling for the concealment of shadows as what must have been a demon’s voice echoed further.
“You cannot hide from me fool, show yourself!”
I had reached the dark shadows given off by the velvety curtains. They seemed even more sad than the windows; they were ripped and moth eaten and looked sad, flapping about weakly in the soundless wind. I hunkered down beneath them, making myself as small as possible, and for once I was grateful for my small, petite figure that most people in my time thought as scrawny. It was the perfect stature for hiding.
Who would live in such a place other than a demon? Who would take this ruined place for their own?
Abruptly, the curtains shielding me were torn down completely, revealing my pursuer. At this point, I had not the energy to scream or run. I just hugged my legs, covered in grass, and shivered, still damp from the cold and rain. I hid my eyes, refusing to look up. I felt like a frightened child, closing one’s eyes in an effort to block out the harsh horrifying truth of reality.
Something cold rested on my shoulder, and whether it be courage or fear that drove me to look up, I finally did, and met the eyes of my demon.
Dressed in an ancient formal suit, as if still awaiting his final dance, a towering man loomed down at me. His pale demeanor and slicked back black hair gave him the look of some unearthly creature, but he was in no way unattractive. He was instead horrifyingly frightening is his elegance and grace. His mouth was curved in a frown, not angry, just seeming to have taken a permanent residence there.
“What,” he said softly this time, “Are you doing in my home?”
“P-p-please,” I said, my voice stuttering and sounding even more childish than it already was, despite my age of eighteen, a woman already. “I….I was caught out in the rain…I know not how I got there or why, I do not recall….it’s just so cold…”
His blue eyes, so dark they were almost black, gazed into me, as if peering into my soul. What he would see there would be a girl trapped in a woman’s body. A girl forced to do horrendous things over and over again in a time where woman were no better than the dirt swept from the ground, items to be bought. He would see the ghastly things that girl had done and had to do to simply grasp for a scrap of food. He would see a broken girl, who shivered not from the rain or the cold or her fear, but from the things that she has had to do to survive. The things that have hollowed her and broken her in ways that no one, man or God, in her mind, could piece her back together. He would see a girl who trusted no man or woman, including herself, and whose only comfort was the single thought that she was alive.
“Come,” he said, and held his hand out for her. “Let’s find something to warm you up.”
I took his hand, his icily cold hand, and tried to look past those haunting eyes that had dumped all of my pieces on the ground like a discarded puzzle, looking over the missing pieces, and worse, the unwanted pieces that didn’t belong at all.
He led me deeper into the house, weaving me around scattered holes and bumps in the ground, like a spider who decided to space the frightened moth, not butterfly, which had so foolishly strayed into his web. He opened the door that I assumed was locked without key, and led me further and further in. The music from before seemed to dwell forward again, but then stopped, awaiting someone to wind the key. He took me to a room, and I saw a bed and a broken mirror.
“There are garments in the wardrobe that are dry and should fit your figure. I will allow you some time to compose yourself. Then we will try to remember how you got here. I apologize for the broken mirror, I can get another-”
“No,” I interrupted. “The mirror is fine.”
He nodded in unusual understanding, and exited the room. I walked over to the mirror; the mirror that looked like someone had smashed their hand through it, and picked up one of the ragged pieces. Ragged and broken, uneven and empty, never to be fixed or whole again after one shattering event. I saw myself in the broken reflection, and the man’s words echoed. “I can get another…”
Were people like mirrors, so easily replaced if broken? The answer is yes; at least it has been in my life. Except I was never whole, never complete. I was always the broken mirror, the rugged imperfect thing that was never wanted. People looked at me and scowled as if I were some horrible thing, a sin in human form. I pulled her arms around myself. Who was I to judge such demons when I was so often judged myself as one? No self-respecting member of any church would speak to me or look at me for they knew of what I did, of the evil that I supported. They assumed that I did what I did for pleasure, but I hated it. But I had no choice. Every scrap was a mouthful I wouldn’t have had, and the money that I received to get the food had to be accepted by any means possible.
Who were they to judge me if I had to sell myself? It was all that I could do.
So I came with a thought.
Why had the man not gotten rid of the mirror, and this place, as clearly all others would have? Why had he not tossed away this house and its floorboards and empty promises like most do people in this cruel world?
The broken glittering pieces lay silent on the floor, reflecting light from some unknown source and tossing it playfully around the room. Shadows ducked and deepened, pushing as far away from the accursed light as possible, intent to keep their darkest secrets hidden. A flash of light from outside caught the broken windows, and for as ingle instant the room was illuminated in perfect clarity; every crack, every crevice, every flaw visible and exposed.
And then the darkness swarmed forward, embracing the chamber and hiding away the secrets and faults that were briefly visible to the wandering eye.
But nobody would notice. No one strayed near this place of curses and fear. Nobody lingered in the place that bordered on this realm and the next.
Except for that man. What had happened here?
Before I knew what I was doing, my hands gripped at the shards. Their sharp edges dug into my skin, but I didn’t care, I didn’t care! Hot pain stung, my body’s attempt to stop me, but I couldn’t stop. I slammed my fist into the shards, again and again and again until they were nothing but a bloody mess. Tears poured down my cheeks as I screamed. My body shuddered in pain, and I saw my reflection in the mirror again. Who was this girl that had done these things to herself? Why couldn’t she have lived a better life?
Suddenly, a warm hand gripped my own.
“That’s enough,” he said gently, as if trying not to spook a wild animal, for what more was I than a broken, cornered beast? “Come now; let’s get you cleaned up…”
I wretched my hand away from him, but he grabbed me again. I screamed and fought, hating what he did, what men always did! He was just like all the rest!
“Such pain you have endured…” he said sadly, and I stopped. “Such a broken thing. Can’t you see the beauty in these shards? Each one is a masterpiece all its own, but life is hard, life is cruel, and they see this light as imperfection. You’re spirit is so strong for one whose life is so weak…”
I swallowed, and he pulled me against him.
“I know of your pain, of your fears. But it’s over now. There are no more broken pieces; we’ll put them all together again. We’ll get scratched and scrapped and bloodied, but we’ll fix it,” he said softly, like I was a lost child.
“Who are you?” I said trembling. “Who are you to say these things to me?”
He smiled. “I am the one who broke the mirror, and thus I am the only one who can put it together again. The same for you. You have made mistakes, broken yourself, and thus only you can fix it. But we can.”
“You’re a phantom…” I said with a shiver. “A ghost of this place…”
“Aye,” he answered. “I am the one who must fix this place.”
Tears poured down my cheeks. “Am I a ghost too?”
He did not answer me. Instead, he grabbed my hand gently and pulled me to my feet. Before I even knew what was happening, I was dancing around the room, in elegant clothes, dancing to the melody of the music box. The rusted and ancient ballroom shimmered and then melted away to reveal a swirl of dancing feet and laughter.
And yet I did not look. My eyes stayed still on the man, the one who had done this.
“You are here…who sent you here? And why?” I asked, allowing my feet to carry me away into the dance.
“I came here of my own will,” he answered, spinning me around.
“Why?” I asked dumbfounded. “Why would you come to this place of such despair?”
He smiled down at me, and then leaned in close to my ear. “Because you needed someone to pick up the pieces.”
And then I smiled, and the weight was lifted, and we danced and laughed and lived.
And died. But I had never felt more alive.