The Castle of Mirrors
by Melanie Bell
A man and a woman each lived alone on opposite sides of a lake. They lived alone, but each had their reflection to speak to.
“A beautiful day,” said the woman. “I got the garden all planted and the roof fixed. I’m going to make some chicken casserole for supper. I wish you could have some. I make a great chicken casserole. I must say your necklace is lovely.” She smiled, and her reflection smiled back.
On the other side of the lake, the man adjusted his straw hat. “Hey there again. Did you see the drake is back around, the one with the purple spot? And the tadpoles are hatching. I get tired chopping wood every day, the same motions over and over, but at least I have this lake, eh? By the way, that hat suits you.”
These solitary people would converse like this so often that they came to love their reflections, and they liked to imagine their reflections felt the same.
Their country was not known for magic, but magic, like all the best and worst things, has a way of getting around. And one day, whirr-whizz-shazam!, two bridges appeared on either side of the lake and a castle in between them.
“What is this thing?” the woman asked her double. “Should we go check it out?”
“Looks like an adventure,” said the man into the water, adjusting his straw hat.
They stepped onto the bridges at the same time.
The walking was tiresome, the journey long, but they found drinking fountains along the way, magical spits on which fish were roasting whole, and when night fell, pillowed gazebos to sleep in. And their watery companions journeyed with them. When the woman came upon the fire over which a fragrant salmon roasted, she looked to her image in the water and pointed with wonder. “Fancy that!” When the man reached the gazebo with a bench of the softest blankets and a floor of the downiest pillows he’d ever seen and a magnificent view of the sky, he leaned over the side of the bridge and exclaimed, “We’ll sleep like kings tonight, buddy!”
Day after day they trekked in relative comfort, and they reached the center on the seventh. Neither had ever been in a castle, but even with their legs worn out from days of steady walking, they had to admit that the castle was everything they’d imagined a castle to be. It had turreted castley towers and huge wooden castley doors and gold-paneled castley walls and glimmering castley chandeliers. Their constant companions had followed them inside, gaping at them from the myriad mirrors strewn about every room.
Suddenly a voice thundered above them: “Welcome to my castle!” At opposite ends, the man and the woman started. “Explore as you like,” the voice continued. “Inside, I have arranged for each of you to meet your heart’s desire, but it may be difficult to know and you will have one chance only to reach it. Choose wisely.”
“Oh, nifty,” said the man to his reflection, “we can go anywhere in here!”
“My heart’s desire,” scoffed the woman to hers. “Well, we’ll see if that one happens! But cool castle, anyway.”
And they were off. The rooms did not disappoint. They rolled through treasuries of gold, goggled at libraries of illuminated manuscripts, and splashed through indoor fountains. After a few days of exploring here, there, and sundry, they both arrived at the central courtyard at the exact same time.
Oh, how it sparkled! Lemon and orange trees lined the perimeter, a well-manicured garden graced the middle, and the walls were covered in the tallest, most splendid mirrors of all. The man and the woman stood facing each other, his hazel eyes locked to her blue ones.
Did the two wanderers wonder at the creature in front of them? Were they awed by the difference in the contours and garments of the body? Were they afraid of the alien sentience in the opposite pair of eyes?
No one could know which turned aside first. Perhaps they did so at the exact same moment.
The regard of the creature in the mirror was warmer than the other’s, its motions beloved from years of familiarity. The man and woman moved in opposite directions to caress the glass.
He looked back for the whisker of a second, catching a sliver of the stranger’s face. It was round and far too bright, and had begun to swivel. Quickly, he looked back and into the glass. By the time her gaze cut across his profile (so worn and strong with its broad forehead), his own had retreated, and she too returned to the mirror.
He reached a finger to the glass and met a parallel finger. She caressed her twin’s forehead with her palm. He pressed his weight progressively against the glass, and she did likewise, both bodies huddling closer to their images than they had ever been before. Further and further they leaned, until—
From each side came a terrific sound of falling, and then no sound at all. Like water the mirrors gave way, and each fell through.
On the other side they married their doubles, their bodies tangled, and all the mirrors in the castle splintered with their screams. Ecstasy or anguish, the castle’s neutral walls absorbed their smallest motes of sound.
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Melanie Bell teaches writing at Academy of Art University in San Francisco and Enneagram personality workshops through Berghoef & Bell Innovations. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Concordia University and has written for various publications including Every Day Fiction, Autostraddle, xoJane, The Fiddlehead, Grain, and CV2. Connect with Melanie at melaniebellwrites.com.