Just Passing Through
The man stood outside the front window of the little house; he had come here almost without thought, guided instead by the whispered voice of the dagger he carried in a satchel over his shoulder. He had left behind his work and his home, hopping a train for a different town at the silent request of something he had never seen before yesterday.
What was it the little girl had said after giving him the satchel? She had called it the Calahuolca. He had never heard the word before, and he had no idea what it meant, but he knew that it was in fact the name of the dagger … or perhaps the name of whatever resided inside the dagger, whatever controlled the dagger.
Don’t I control it? he asked himself, then shook his head. No, he decided. It controls me. He didn’t know how he felt about that.
He stood as close to the window as he could, hiding between the pane of glass and the bushes that surrounded the house. He could see a family inside, a mother and father, and a boy and girl. The children looked frightened – the little girl was crying – and the mother and father were consoling them. The boy was gesturing to the other room and shouting.
* * *
“What are you talking about, Tom?” Selena asked her son. “What happened?” She glanced at Madeline, who was clearly scared out of her wits. “What did you do to your sister?”
“Nothing!” Tom cried. He was pale, and trying not to cry himself. “We pulled Grandma’s mirror out of the box in the closet, because it’s supposed to be magic, and we wanted to see …” He paused, the irony of his situation striking him. “We wanted to see the magic,” he finished. “And we did!”
“What magic?” Don asked. His wife had told him about the mirror, and about the letter his mother-in-law had left with the mirror – that it was connected to something vaguely referred to as its “mate”. “I’m sure Grandma – Great-Grandma, I mean – was just being … creative … when she wrote that letter.”
“Mom said it’s been in her family forever!” Tom protested. “And that it needed to be protected.” He looked like he was starting to panic. “And now I know why!”
“Somebody’s in it, Mommy!” Madeline finally managed to croak out between sobs. “I can see her in the mirror! She was talking!”
“What are you talking about?” Selena said again. She went into the playroom, where the kids had been a moment before; she peered with a mix of trepidation and skepticism into the mirror that the kids had laid on the daybed.
It wasn’t reflecting anything.
What’s going on? she wondered, squinting at the grey surface of the large mirror. It wasn’t showing her anything of her own face or of the room behind her. It was filled with a dusky cloud, as though it were a window obscured by a thick fog on the other side. “What?” she murmured, her fingers reaching out tentatively to touch the glass.
Then she saw the woman.
Deep within the swirling grey fog was a woman’s face – not her own looking back at her, but the face of a stranger. The woman’s eyes were wide and staring, her mouth open in a silent shout; her arms were waving.
“Help!” Selena thought she heard the woman calling, but the voice was so small and distant that she wasn’t quite sure. Clearly, though, the woman’s lips were saying “help me”, over and over.
Selena struggled to process what she was seeing. Terror welled up in her chest and took her breath away, and she could do nothing for a few seconds except goggle at the image of the woman in the mirror. A scream was building in her throat, but before she had gasped in enough air to let it out, she was violently startled by the sound of shattering glass in the living room, and the noises and shouts of a scuffle between her husband and another man.
Selena spun around to face the door, only to be shoved aside by a man in a business suit. Don was behind him and trying to drag him back out to the living room, but the man in the suit was determined to come into the playroom, and to get to the mirror. He held a dagger in one hand, and Selena was finally able to scream, long and shrill, with every ounce of her strength and her fear.
“Mom!” Tom yelled, trying to get into the playroom behind his father. “Don’t hurt my mom!”
Madeline, despite her dread, was close on her brother’s heels. “No-o-o-o!” she kept shrieking, her hands gripping frantically at her brother’s shoulders. “Get away from us!”
Don was stuck trying to pull on the intruder while simultaneously keeping the children out of the room. “Selena!” he barked. “Call the police!”
Selena was already digging into her pocket for her phone. “Tom!” she shouted. “Get your sister out of here!” She punched 9-1-1 into the phone and backed away from the intruder, her free arm pushing the children out into the hall.
Suddenly the man in the suit stopped in his tracks, and the hand that held the dagger began to shake. Don, too, let go of the man, and stared open-mouthed at the mirror. “What the hell?” he said, frowning in absolute confusion. Selena followed his gaze to the mirror, and what she saw caused her to drop the phone on the floor.
Fingers had appeared at the edges of the mirror – fingers that emanated from the cloudy-grey glass and latched onto the sturdy gilt frame with a white-knuckled death grip.
Tom and Madeline saw the fingers too, and both stood now gaping at the mirror. A head emerged from the mirror, followed by an arm that struggled out and then propped itself on the edge. “Help me!” the head pleaded, but didn’t wait for help or response before pushing a second arm out of the mirror.
Against all sensible possibility, the woman that had hovered deep in the mirror-fog slid herself up through the glass and braced her arms on the frame. “Help me!” she said again, and one of her hands reached out and grabbed the man in the suit.
He struggled against her, but she hung on in desperation; her fingernails dug into the skin of his hand. She pulled herself toward the man, until finally her hips cleared the mirror-frame and she was able to climb free of it. Because her fingers still clutched the man’s wrist, she yanked him off-balance when she collapsed forward onto the daybed. He tumbled over the top of the mirror, and the dagger he held fell onto the glass.
The glass didn’t break, but instead rippled like water. The dagger fell into these ripples and disappeared into whatever strange pit the woman had just escaped; after it vanished, the glass became rigid again, and the grey fog dissipated.
“No!” the man cried, and banged his fist on the glass. It broke, cutting his hand and shattering into more pieces than seemed likely from such a minor impact. “No,” he repeated more quietly. He lay then hunched over the broken mirror. He said nothing, and offered no explanation for his presence there, for the dagger, or for his sudden sadness. “The Calahuolca,” he murmured. “I was supposed to protect it.”
Selena recognized the word from her grandmother’s note about the mirror – that this Calahuolca was bonded to the mirror, and that the mirror was supposed to get rid of the Calahuolca. “Good God,” she breathed, not sure how to get her head around what had just occurred. “Good God.”
“The lady,” Madeline whispered. She was watching the woman who had clambered out of the mirror and now lay sobbing on the daybed. The woman must have heard her, because she raised her head and spoke to Madeline.
“Tanya,” she said, trying to smile. “I’m Tanya.” She began crying again. “Thank you so much,” she said. “Thank you so much.” She looked at the man, and the mirror, and the other people in the playroom. “Where am I?” she asked, then went on quickly, “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. As long as I’m here and not there.” She laughed then, and went on laughing in joy and relief. “As long as I’m here and not there.”