Monday, August 6, 2012

"The Lake"

His name was Edmund Twitch. He claimed it was indeed his real name, but no one believed him, for he had a terrible tick: whenever he was peeved, his nose twitched constantly from relaxed to scrunched up, in quick succession.

Edmund was more commonly known to them as "Mr. Mirror," for he was the one who supervised the set-up of the funhouse in every town, and collected the tickets for patrons who entered therein.

Mr. Twitch (which was, after all, his true name) worked for a carnival--Mother Goose's Twisted Mirror Maze. As the title suggested, there were plenty of nursery rhyme-themed decorations and costumed performers ambling about. However, Mr. Mirror's funhouse was the star attraction of the whole affair. Ordinarily a simple funhouse wouldn't have a special appeal, being a common exhibition of carnivals, but this particular one was said to be truly amazing. A stand-out presentation. A real treat.

For this particular funhouse full of mirrors had a secret: many, oh so many, screams were heard at intermittent intervals. And sometimes a few who went in never came back out.

Those who did never said a word. They were too shocked to describe the experience. Naturally, people being people, they assumed it must be something good, something exciting. And so more victims.

This mirror maze is not, however, the centerpiece of this story. In fact, the carnival workers themselves were never even aware of what went on inside. They were as perplexed as everyone else. Whenever they investigated, it seemed a normal attraction to them. No bodies, no blood, no signs of anything amiss. (It was a curiosity the police never got involved.) The great mystery of it was the only reason for their success, their only draw for customers as rumors swiftly swept across the landscape, arriving at each town before the troupe. Otherwise, they'd be a rather generic (and in all likelihood, bankrupt) group of entertainers.

Mr. Mirror went about his daily work: taking tickets, smiling at those entering the Maze, listening to the occasional screech, taking breaks, et al. Finally, at sundown, the place was closing for the night and he sat relaxing in his private tent drinking a cool beer.

After a moment he was interrupted by another exhibit that drew customers (though less so than his own). She entered without warning or introduction, feigning patience.

Edmund sighed. "What is it?" he asked as he swatted at a bee buzzing near his face.

"Katz wants you. Some kid's gone missing, parents think the Maze might have something to do with it," said the Snake Lady, so called on account of the texture of her skin, which was like unto reptilian scales.

"Yeah, so?"

"He wants you to head the search in there posthaste," she hissed.

Grumbling audibly, Edmund followed her outside, then went his own way. Once at the attraction, Mother Katz, as they facetiously referred to him, handed Edmund a flashlight and gave a short description of the young girl. A few others followed him inside.

Being the caretaker of the Maze, he knew it inside and out. But not tonight.

Tonight it was different--every way he turned, he found a dead end. Nothing if persistent, they all continued to call the child's name. No answer. One of them growled impatiently.

"OK," said Edmund, his tick acting up, "is this some kind of joke?" He turned on the others. "Who's been messing with the layout?" The others just shrugged. "No wonder people get lost in here. The hell is going on?"

Edmund perused the corridors of reflective glass, shining the light to find any corners and crossways they might be coming upon. As he stared into the infinite copies of himself unto oblivion, he realized he was suddenly alone. There was a faint whispering in the air.

He sprinted back a few feet the way he'd come, calling for them, but there was no sign. In fact, the corridor was blocked by a mirror wall, as though it had always been that way. The whispering gradually grew louder.

His nervous tick was becoming unbearable and he began rubbing his face in distress. "What is going on!?"

The murmurs followed a decrescendo into silence, and from around a corner that didn’t exist just seconds before stepped the Snake Lady. "Mr. Mirror," she called from the other end of the hall, her voice echoing in an otherworldly manner, "I am here to congratulate you. You’ve been chosen."

"What?" Sweat began to bead on his brow. "What are you talking about?"

"The Mother has chosen you for her purposes. As once, as a child, she chose me."

"Mother? You mean Katz?" He glanced around nervously and almost thought he saw a serpentine tail flick past him in the mirrors.

She smiled. "No. He knows nothing of us." At his look of confusion, she provided, "The Lilim. We serve her."

"Who're 'we'?"

"Well, you and I, for starters."

"What is going on!? I want answers! Where's the little girl?"

The Snake Lady grinned. "You don't like who you are. The twitch. The temperament. The boring, dead-end work you've been doing for decades. You're afraid that one of these days" --here she began to emphasize each word-- " you might just lose your mind."

Edmund remained frozen.

"She can help you, my friend. As she has helped us all." And with a step into a nearby mirror, she was gone.

He looked after her, even though she could no longer be seen. An image of a lake shimmered into view, as though on a television, only in color instead of black-and-white. Recalling the trek to this location, he knew this was the lake they’d passed only a couple of miles north of the town.

He knew he was supposed to go there.

The full moon shone down on him and the surrounding landscape, casting an eerie glow onto the trees. Being a bit out-of-shape, he decided to rest on the grass near the edge of the water, next to a thicket of reeds.

But he could not relax. The whispering had returned. The Snake Lady? It seemed to be coming from the woods. The incessant voices would’ve driven him mad if the sound of a few flies near his ears hadn’t sufficiently distracted him.

Then another, clearer voice called out from somewhere on the water, "Mr. Mirror! Mr. Mirror!"

He crept to the edge of the lake and saw her--the Mother. She was frightening, yet beautiful. It was as if a human had a serpentine tail rather than legs. But she wasn't on the water, no she was in the water. More precisely, she was talking to him from where his reflection should be.

"Mr. Mirror, you may consider me a sort of jinn, if you wish. I can give you a better life. All you have to do is accept."

Whirling in confusion, Edmund's head was aching. All of this was just too fast--a shifting maze, the existence of supernatural beings, an offer granted for nothing in return.

"I...I'm not sure what to say."

"Just accept."

He paused. "All right, then. I accept."

She smiled and Edmund felt another presence behind him. He turned around and, to his horror, saw a terrible beast. It was like a wild animal, with very long claws, yet an unnervingly human-like face.

Before he could even think of screaming, it brought its bladed fingers close to him and struck.

He knew not how many hours had passed while he was unconscious. At least he was alive. Dragging his sore body to the water so he could calm himself and clean his wounds, he realized it was worse than he'd thought: thick, unhealed scars and deep, bloody gashes covered him.

He was disfigured, but alive.

But it was worse still. As he peered into his reflection, he could see bugs of all types, many with stingers, pincers, and poison, crawling in and out and between his wounds. Bugs, living inside him.

He tried to come to terms with this while he tried to stand. Yet he could not.

He had no legs, but a serpent's tail.

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