Nick gulped in a breath at last, relieved at the sensation of his lungs filling and emptying at will. The air tasted fresh and sweet – as if just after a storm. Slowly, he began to take in his new surroundings. He was lying on the ground somewhere cold. Very cold. His limbs shook as he tried to stand up. Instead, he settled for sitting as normal feeling began to return to his arms and legs.
The room, if that’s even what it was, was black and featureless and endless. He couldn’t make out any walls around him or ceiling above him. There were no windows or doors. There was no sky. And no discernible light source.
Nick took his phone out of his pocket and turned on the torch. Slowly he stood up, his legs still shaking. Behind him, was the mirror he had fallen through. Only it didn’t show his reflection, as if it was fitted with plain glass. But everything else about the mirror was the same; the detail on the frame, the infinity symbol at the top and the number underneath. Nick held his light up to the glass and ran his hand over the surface. It was cold and solid, but rippled as it had done before he had ended up… wherever this was.
He held his phone up higher and looked around. The light glinted off objects around him – all the same height as his mirror, all in long endless, twisting and interlinking rows. It didn’t take him long to realise they were all mirrors, exactly the same as the one he was standing by.
No, not exactly the same. He stepped closer to the mirror opposite him. The number at the top was different. This one read 2165287 omega. Other than that, the mirrors were identical.
“Where the hell am I?” he muttered to himself, turning in a circle on the spot, unsure of what to do or where to go.
“Hello?!” he shouted. His voice seemed to carry far away from himself, but didn’t echo back. A flutter of panic began in his chest, shortening his breaths and quickening his heart beat. He shivered in the cold surrounding him.
“Are you here?!” he called, remembering the girl who had dived through the mirror before him. “I saw you go through the mirror! Are you…” He trailed off. It was clear he was talking to himself. Wherever the girl had gone, she was not here now.
Nick was about to set off in search of her when he felt the ground beneath him begin to rumble.
It was not quite an earthquake. He didn’t feel that the ground would pull apart, but it was definitely shifting. He looked down the line of mirrors ahead of him and saw them move, changing places and rolling passed each other, like a great labyrinth re-arranging itself. The movement gradually made its way up the line towards him, the crashing sound of the shifting mirrors growing louder around him. He looked just as his mirror began to move with the others. It slid backwards and then to the right and kept moving away from where Nick was still standing, clutching his phone for light.
After a moment of paralysed confusion, Nick took off at a run, keeping his eyes fixed on the mirror he had come through as the others changed around him. By now, it was several rows away from him and just beginning to disappear into the darkness beyond the reach of the light in his hand. Every time he thought he was getting close to catching up with it, another mirror slid across to block his path.
Finally, the movement around him began to slow down. He was able to catch up with his mirror. Without hesitation, Nick plunged his hands through the mirror’s surface and pushed against the resistance he met. The mirror cracked and rippled as it had before as he took a step forward, forcing his way back through.
Once again, the world seemed to tilt around him, but this time warmth came rushing back to him as he felt his fingers break through the other side. He stumbled out into the sunlight and landed on his knees. He felt the morning sun warm through him in an instant. He was back in the fairground, back amongst the broken-down rides and boarded-up attractions. A sigh of relief escaped him as he took in the familiar sights. He looked back at the mirror as the last crack disappeared and it was still once more. He stared at it for some time, part of him expecting it do something else. But it was lifeless. Only his own reflection moved over the glass.
After a few minutes, he pulled himself up off the ground and made his way back through the fairground to the gap in the fence.
So many questions rolled around his mind and he couldn’t find answers to fit any of them. Where had he been? Where had she gone? Why was she running? Why was she so afraid? What was the mirror? Why had there been so many there?
Nick barely noticed his feet carrying him home, until he was stood outside of his own front door. He fumbled for his keys and once inside, he locked the door hoping to shut out the confusion of the morning.
But the questions seemed to follow him all weekend. He couldn’t shake them from his head. That night, he dreamed of the mirrors, of the cold, dark nothing-space he had been in as they moved and shifted around him. In his dream, he imagined dark shadowy hands moving the mirrors; pushing them and pulling them into place.
On Sunday, he woke up exhausted, but he was determined to carry on as normal. He set off for his run, but this time he turned in the opposite direction, running away from the fairground and the arcade.
He had not gone far when he spotted the strange man in the trench coat again, goggles still covering most of his face. He was still holding the strange device, but this time the man was looking right at Nick. His gaze seemed to follow him as he went passed. For a moment, Nick thought the man was going to follow him, but he hesitated and hung back. Nick ran on putting distance between himself and the stranger.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, but again at night his dreams refused to let go of the previous morning.
He was back in the fairground, running near the old waltzer. He stopped as he came to the mirror, distracted again by his reflection. Then something crossed his path. Something that hadn’t been there before. A tall, dark figure. It disappeared from sight almost before Nick could register its presence. Then the girl ran into him again.
“It’s seen me,” she said. This time when he turned around to follow her gaze, he saw the figure watching them. The girl ran. The figure followed and as she dived for the mirror, it caught hold of her heel and vanished through with her.
Nick woke with a start.
Caffeine was the only thing keeping him going by Monday morning. The strange encounters of the weekend still played on his mind but, even so, Nick was hopeful he could put the whole thing behind him by focusing on work. He took a moment to look at his reflection in the bathroom mirror as he brushed his teeth. His green eyes seemed to droop towards closed no matter how hard he tried to keep them open. His skin, usually healthy and tanned, looked pale, and worry creased his forehead. The running he had been doing recently had slimmed down his features and almost given him the appearance of high cheekbones. Almost. Maybe a few weeks more for that. The thought made him laugh a little, even in the exhaustion he was feeling.
Nick rinsed the last of the toothpaste from around his mouth and dried his hands before running them through the mess of brown curls he called hair. He took one last look in the mirror.
“Suppose it’ll have to do,” he said to himself.
Mustering a little more determination than he was actually feeling, Nick left the flat and locked the door behind him.
As he turned around, he froze to the spot at the sight he was greeted with. All Sunday night, he had dreamed about tall, dark, shadowy figures chasing the girl in the fairground. And now he was staring at one right in front of his waking eyes.
Panic kept him absolutely still as his mind tried desperately to comprehend what he was seeing. The figure was completely featureless. Nick wasn’t even sure if it was entirely solid. It was shaped like a man, but its edges seemed to shift and blur with the surroundings. Whatever it was, Nick was terrified of it.
The figure slowly, silently stretched a hand towards him and took a step forward. Nick instinctively went to take a step back and stumbles against his own doorstep. Its outstretched fingers were inches from Nick’s face.
Then the crackling sound of static came from behind the figure and it was engulfed in a burst of electric energy. Within seconds, it disappeared.
Nick stared around in confusion and came face-to-face with the stranger in the trench coat and goggles. He was hastily shoving something into a pocket inside the coat as he beckoned to Nick with the other hand.
“Move!” he said, snapping Nick back to his senses.
“What was that thing?” Nick asked getting back to his feet.
“A shadow,” he replied. “That won’t keep it at bay for long. We should hurry.”
“No way,” Nick said as anger and frustration took over. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me who you are and what the hell is going on. I’ve had a crappy weekend and –”
“There’s no time!” the stranger insisted.
Nick didn’t move. He folded her arms across his chest.
“Fine,” the man gave in. “My name is Jacob. That thing was a shadow. It wants to kill you. Yes, there is more to it than that, but as I said. We. Have. No. Time. I will explain more later. But right now, we need to –”
Jacob’s words cut short as he looked over Nick’s shoulder to the front door.
“Hold still,” he insisted.
Nick rolled his eyes. “A minute ago you wanted me to move.”
Jacob’s look was equal parts serious and annoyed. With his eyes, he told Nick in no uncertain terms, Don’t move.
Jacob himself, positioned directly in front of Nick, moved very slowly and carefully, taking what looked like a very old-fashioned, single-shot pistol from inside his trench coat. The pistol was ornately covered in engraved metal plating and clockwork cogs that clicked and ratcheted around as he pulled back the hammer. He aimed it over Nick’s right shoulder and fired.
Another crackle of static and a burst of electricity shot past Nick’s head, making his hair bristle and stand on end.
“OK,” Jacob said calmly. “Now we can move. We need to get back to the mirror.”
Nick’s stomach plummeted. He was fairly certain the mirror in the old fairground was the last place he wanted to be right now. But he didn’t feel he had a choice at this point. He followed Jacob, keeping a few paces between them at all times, unsure whether he wanted to trust him yet.
As they approached the mirror, they were met by two others, a man and a woman, each carrying similar weapons to the one Jacob had used against the shadow.
“Where’s Megan?” the man demanded as they came within earshot.
Jacob held up his hands and shrugged.
“She’s not here, Chris,” Jacob replied. He took two items out of a pocket in his coat. One was another pistol, the other a leather wrist cuff covered with wires, a watch dial and several small brass buttons.
“I found these in an empty office up the bank,” Jacob continued, handing the items to Chris.
Chris was tall with a shock of spikey, ginger hair. As Jacob handed the pistol and cuff over, Chris’ freckled face scrunched up as if he was suppressing the urge to cry or scream.
The woman, much shorter than Chris, with delicate, oriental features, placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“Maybe she got out,” she said tying to sooth the anxiety in Chris.
The three of them didn’t look too convinced by this, but seemed to draw hope nonetheless. Chris’ shoulders relaxed as he looked up and acknowledged Nick for the first time.
“Who’s this?” he asked Jacob.
“Oh, err…” Jacob stammered.
“I’m Nick,” he said stepping forward.
“Right,” Jacob said with a smile. “Nice to meet you Nick.” He turned back to Chris. “A shadow was after him.”
Chris sighed. “He’s outside?”
“Looks like it,” Jacob confirmed.
Nick had no idea what they were talking about. Before he could ask, the woman cut in.
“We need to go,” she said. She was looking past everyone to the far end of the fairground where five shadows were drifting towards them.
“Damnit,” Chris cursed. “Right. Everyone through, now.” He gestured towards the mirror.
Nick shook his head and backed away a few paces.
“No,” he said. “No way. I’m not going in there again.”
“You’ve been through before?” the woman asked plainly.
“Then, yes you are,” she insisted. “That’s why they’re after you.”
“I’m sorry, Nick,” Jacob said with sympathy. “But you’re an Outsider now. You don’t belong in this world anymore.”