August 7th, 1956
Oh, have I a tale to tell!
Something magical has happened. Something so wondrous and divine that I wonder if I will have the words to describe it.
I found the mirror. To a degree, I feel I must say that finding it was simple and precisely as James Rudolph described it. However, reaching it was another matter altogether.
You see, the Sister did indeed read my journal. I wondered, there in her office, with the journal in her hands, whether or not she had. As I hid in the attic, awaiting the cover and secrecy of night in order to seek the passage to the cellar, it seemed unlikely she had read through entirely, otherwise she would have surely hunted me through the passages I described. But time ticked away, and though I can say with no level of certainty how long I waited, I know morning was closer than midnight when finally I began the slow, quiet, crawl to the panel above the Sister’s closet. The portion of the attic I sought sits atop her chamber, which made an unforgiving journey for my elbows and knees, but I wanted to ensure that no sound reached her. My notebooks, maps, writings and James Rudolph’s Bible were stowed away in a sack I had draped across my back. When the sun rose, Cook would find no pleasure in the pile of potatoes strewn about the pantry floor, but there was no other way. I wouldn’t leave the Home without what was mine.
The panel opens directly above the small, squared off closet, with no more than three inches of planking separating the floor of the attic from the roof beneath. I recalled, from my previous visit to the Sister’s closet, that shelves lined the interior, stacked to the ceiling, loaded nearly to capacity with items once belonging to my fellow orphans. At that time, afternoon light sliced through the loose boards of the Home, illuminating much of the space for me to review. At night, however, the closet door closed, a dim glow, granted by the Sister’s bedside light, was all afforded me. James Rudolph’s note claimed I would find the door to the cellar in the closet, but finding it would be no easy task, even in such a small space.
Delaying the descent no further, my heart hammering so hard in my chest I felt certain the entire Home vibrated with it, I strapped the sack to my foot, and lowered myself gingerly, feet first, through the panel. Beforehand, I had but reached for the top shelf, where the convenience of my belongings left me with little need to go further. This time, I attempted to brace myself on a shelf, in order to lessen the weight of my dangling body. My grip on the opening to the attic was slight, and when I found footing on a shelf, I relaxed. Unfortunately, what I took to be shelving must have been an item, something lengthy and solid, protruding from the shelf. With my weight shifted, the item gave, sending me crashing to the floor in a thunderous clap. Several shelves emptied their contents atop me, leaving throbbing pains in my shoulder, arms, and forehead. I felt a warm trickle across my nose and knew as I wiped it free and reached for a shelf to pull myself up that I had left more than a trail of debris. I didn’t have time to consider how injured I was, nor had I a concern. Surely, the Sister heard my arrival and would be upon me in a flash.
Only then did it occur to me that further reconnaissance would have aided me considerably. The note mentioned a door, true, but there, in the confined space, with a mound of shadowy belongings around me, I saw nothing of the sort. All caution lost, I dug through shelves, touching every portion of the covered walls with a rising sense of panic all but closing off my throat. I saw nothing resembling a door! Neither, however, had the door to the closet opened. After a frantic minute of desperate searching, my curiosity bested me. Surely, the Sister heard the commotion. Surely she would haul the door open any second and call upon the Hand of God to smite me.
Breathing heavier than I could carry, I took a moment to compose myself. My mind whirred, my heart raced, blood continued to trail the length of my nose. Still, the Sister didn’t show. Carefully, with more caution than I had thus far demonstrated, I turned the knob to the door, and opened it the tiniest crack in order to peer into her chamber. The simple light beside her bed illuminated a sight as baffling as anything thus far. The Sister was not only not in her chamber, her bed was pristine, sheets tucked tightly to the corners in the same manner she decreed our beds to be made. I would like to say this calmed my edgy nerves. The opposite would be true. Dread, pure absolute dread, filled me. Where was she?
I decided that spending any further time in reflection over the Sister’s absence only enhanced the dangers–after all, wherever she was, she could return at any moment–so, I took advantage of the greater lay of light in the closet to begin a more methodical search. Small does not truly describe the closet. If I much more than turned a circle, I clipped a shelf. I waded through the items on the floor–shoes, board games, and books amassed the majority of what I saw–and made my way to the lower shelves.
I can’t say what triggered the thought, but it occurred to me then I might be thinking of Rudolph’s message in a flawed light. He referred to a door in the cellar, which I took literally. But hadn’t he also mentioned a passage leading below? Inspired by the revelation, I scoured the floor, my nails gripping at any possible seam in the boards. I found it toward the rear of the closet. A panel, covered by a lower shelf! I hastily emptied the contents, making more noise than prudently called for, pulled away the shelf to reveal the full panel beneath. Had the Sister known of it? Had she covered it intentionally?
I pushed aside the questions, opened the passageway, sought out my sack of affects and lowered myself without care or concern below. This time the drop was significant. Adding to my aching knees, elbows, arms, shoulder and forehead, I twisted my ankle as I landed badly on the concrete surface.
The pain was enough to make me cry out, but what I saw beyond my misty vision, tucked it away into a nice ball of fear.
The cellar spanned the entire base of the Home. Most of it, I couldn’t see for the enveloping darkness. What it held, beyond the sight just before me, I have no clue. Much was covered in dusty, moldy, sheets. The sandy floor offered a gritty welcome as I drew myself to an upright position. A fireplace flared as charred logs shifted above red-hot embers, casting an orange glow across the immediate area. The Sister smiled sickly at me, her forehead bandaged from her earlier fall, a paddle in one hand patting an open palm. Behind her, the light reflected off a glass surface, making the intricate wooden carvings of the oval frame dance in shadow. The mirror!
“I knew you would come. Very impolite to leave your elder waiting so long,” she said, far too pleasantly for my liking. I didn’t respond. Despite her presence, the mirror stole my attention. From my vantage, the reflection captured only the Sister’s backside. It stood as tall as she, her closeness to it all but blocking my view.
“I can’t allow you to come any closer, child. Nor can I allow you to leave, either, not that you have much say in the matter.” The Sister glanced up at the opening above me. “This time, you will pay for your sins. This time, Salvation is not within reach.”
I moved a step to the side, making no secret of my desire to gain a better view of the mirror. The faintest touch of blue and green appeared alongside the Sister’s reflection. “You knew about this?”
“Of course I knew! This mirror has been here since long before you were born, locked away in the cellar, where it belongs! However, I didn’t know until yesterday that you were aware of it.”
“You did read my journal then?”
The Sister laughed. “A portion. Enough to know that you were, as suspected, up to no good, roaming about the Orphanage through the walls. Oh yes, I know about those. How could I not? James wrote all about them. Filthy little urchin that he was. Your little statement about imagination told me you knew of the mirror. James said that as well, before he left.”
Her grip on the paddle tightened and she surprised me with a sharp slap of her leg. Amazingly, she didn’t flinch. For a moment, she seemed primed to strike me next, but the muscles of her jaw relaxed. She forced a smile. “If I had known that you were aware of him, I would have put an end to your escapades earlier. But, as you were nearing sixteen and a likely candidate to be released, I let it be, despite your fiendish thievery and continued need to dwell in worlds of fantasy that bear no mark of Divine Law. After all, what good would that be to you when you were on the streets, fending for yourself, relying not upon imagination, but upon the mercy of God?”
I inched further to the side. The Sister still filled most of the reflection, but the green and blue I had glimpsed was more pronounced. I wanted to believe what it meant, but it seemed so improbable. I needed to see the entire view. I needed to know. The Sister, however, wouldn’t allow it. I had to make her move.
“And still, you all but ignore what I say in order to meet your own selfish desire. I cannot comprehend what goes through your mind, child. This is why it must end now. This is why I will not attempt to punish you myself. This time the punishment comes from God. When the sun rises, I will send for the authorities. They will know what to do with a young man who prides himself upon striking his elders.”
“Striking? What are you talking about? I haven’t struck you. Sure, I accidentally knocked you into the bureau, but you were going to burn my journal!”
Without a word, the Sister raised the paddle to deftly bring it down upon her arm. I still cannot say whether the crack was from wood to skin, or if the impact shattered bone. Her strained wail against a heavy bite of lip that brought blood, however, left me to believe the latter.
What I knew, more than anything at that moment, was I would never know the answer. In the aftermath of her swat, her reaction that caused her to drop the paddle and lower ever so slightly, I saw the mirror. It wasn’t a reflection, exactly. Instead I saw rolling green hills, a magnificent blue sky, mountains rising in the distance, and my reflection, standing mere feet away–precisely my distance from the mirror!
The Sister noticed my stare, and backed into the glass, arm braced in a soft grip. “Stay away! Whatever it is you see is the Devil’s work!”
My foot touched the sack on the floor as I shifted once again. I knew what I had to do. “You can’t see anything in it, can you?”
“I see all that I need to. It is the essence of evil, tempting children with lies.”
I somehow managed a laugh, albeit brief. “Lies. You keep this mirror hidden in the cellar, and preach to me about lies.” I rummaged through the sack until I found what I needed. I flipped through the Bible of James Christopher Rudolph, emptying the pages of his notes. “This, ironically, is the reason I found this mirror. It belonged to James. He left a note in it and hid it in the attic. So, much though I hate to say it, you were right. All this time, you were right. The Bible has shown me the truth. Now it will show me the way.” I tossed the Bible into the fire. The lightweight pages immediately caught aflame as the binding spread over the logs.
The Sister leaned toward the fireplace, the horror on her face replaced with rage. She didn’t attempt to fish the book from the fire as I had hoped. However, she moved enough for me to see the mirror in its entirety. I didn’t need to question the grand landscape the mirror showed me. It was the same as in my dream. It was Elysium! In that moment, all matter of doubt or uncertainty melted away. I approached the mirror, my reflection matching my steps. We stared at one another, only a few feet apart, separated by the mystical glass of the mirror, when the Sister attempted to block my way, the paddle once more in her grip, poised to strike.
Then a strange and unexpected thing happened. The paddle, over her shoulder and inches from the mirror, disappeared from her grip. She wheeled to face the mirror and gasped.
My reflection held the paddle, patting it the same as she had when I first arrived. He–or I suppose I should say I?–winked at me, said, “Now I’ve struck you,” and leveled the flat edge against the Sister’s cheek in a quick swipe. The force sent her into a spin and she collapsed to the floor with a hollow thump.
I stared at her limp form, beyond bewildered, unable to suppress a smile. When I found my reflection, it smiled back.
“You knocked her out!”
My reflection peered around the mirror’s frame. “Did I? You sure about that?”
I realized, at that moment, the paddle lay in my hand. I dropped it as quick.
“Grand. Now that’s out of the way, what say you grab that sack of yours and join me?”
“You mean, there will be two of me?”
The reflected me laughed. “Well, yeah, I guess so, but, no, I mean really, join me.”
He beckoned me with a finger. I could have thought about it. I could have stared at the wonder of what I saw. I could have even tested what the mirror would offer me in resistance. Instead, I jumped to action as if there were no other option. My affects in hand, I nosed the mirror, staring into my reflection as if it were no more than any I had ever seen. I took one final look at the Sister, stepped forward, passing through the mirror as if it were no more than the morning mist.
I stood on the plush grass of a perfectly sculpted hill, alone. The mirror was gone.
I’m here now. Writing my first entry in a new world on the slope of a hill, beneath a vast blue sky. I don’t know if the mirror is gone forever, or if I would even return had I the choice. I have no idea where I will go, or what I will find here, but I know, for the first time in my life, I am home.