Transcript – Through the Mirror

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Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Twenty Eight: Through the Mirror

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This is the memory of Zara Hewin. Human, aged thirty-four, identified as non-binary. Memory regards an event that may or may not have been a dream and was donated on the thirty-first of Bloomingtine, in the year 693. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the thirtieth of Chillintine, 730.

We Begin.

Is this place real? Am I real? I’m not… I don’t know how I got here. I remember leaving my house. At least, I think it was my house. I certainly woke up there. I think that was this morning. Or, maybe it was yesterday? Last week? Tomorrow? I can’t remember when.

But I think it was definitely my home. It’s certainly the only one I can ever remember having.

I woke up, I believe, during the night. I think… I think looking back this was strange at the time. I don’t think I usually woke up that early. If it was me, I… or they? Anyway, whoever I was, they usually woke up in the mid-morning. So when I woke up and it was still dark outside, I was pretty confused.

I got out of bed and started looking around to see if there was anything that might have woken me up. Maybe there’d been a loud noise from outside or from next door? But no, everything was as it normally was. At least, it was as normal as I think I remembered it normally being.

I decided to do a quick search of my house anyway, just to be on the safe side, so I put on my slippers and my nightgown and began looking through the house.

It occurs to me now that I didn’t have a light as I walked through my house. I never lit a candle and I could never afford one of those fancy green glass candles. And it was still the dead of night when I began searching the house. So, I really shouldn’t have been able to see much. But I remember being able to see everything clearly.

I remember walking through the house without hesitation, as if it were as bright as daytime.

My house isn’t large so I was quickly able to check the two bedrooms before heading downstairs.

I remember, as I descended, I began moving more slowly. I don’t know why. It was as though someone else were moving my body. I was merely watching from behind their eyes as they went down step, after step, after step.

I felt like I didn’t want to be in the hallway, but I had no choice but to be down there. And soon, I was there. The door into the living room was to my right, but to reach it I had to pass a mirror. It was quite big, this mirror. I think it had been given as a gift to the person whose home I was in. By their mother? Yes, that seems right.

I didn’t want to walk past the mirror. I’m not sure why, it was just a mirror. There was nothing odd about it. But the sight of it filled me with a strange dread, like I knew something about it but couldn’t remember what it was.

Perhaps I should have turned around and gone back upstairs. That would surely have been the sensible thing to do. I believe I decided to do just that. So I was surprised when I stepped forward towards the door, straight past the mirror.

What should have alarmed me was that I couldn’t see my reflection in the mirror. The hallway was dark, but so was the rest of the house and I’d been able to see everything just fine up until then. But there was only a dark outline. Staring back at me. And it didn’t seem familiar so I don’t think it matched my shape.

I know I’m not exactly a big person. At least I’m not now and I don’t think I was then. But the figure I saw in that mirror was thin. Very thin. So thin, in fact, that I’m sure it would be impossible for someone to be that thin and still be alive.

I think that’s why, at first, the person looking at the mirror thought it was a trick of the light. Half asleep as I was, I raised a hand to wave at the… whatever it was. The stick-thin shape in the mirror moved. As I raised a hand, it had raised the same one and waved back.

That made us jump but then we laughed.

It was just my reflection, obviously. I just wasn’t able to see it properly. It was still dark in the hallway. So I told myself that, despite the fact I was able to make everything else out clear as day, it made sense that the dark was the reason I wasn’t able to make out my reflection properly in the mirror.

The person looking in the mirror must certainly still have been half asleep because I have no other way of explaining what happened next. I suppose they thought they were being funny.

They began moving different parts of their body to watch the reflection copy them. Waving with the left hand this time, tilting the head left and then right and then left again, that sort of thing.

I think they, or I, or whoever it was, then decided that there was no reason to stay up any longer. Whatever had woken us up, it didn’t seem to be in the house or making any noise so I felt fine going back to bed.

I turned to go back upstairs but glanced back at the mirror as I placed my foot on the first step. The reflection hadn’t moved. It was still there, exactly as it had been when I had last looked at it. I didn’t move a muscle.

The figure in the mirror moved. Its head turned, to look at me. It reached out of the mirror, its painfully thin arm only visible because it was somehow darker than the darkness of the hallway.

The arm was long, far longer than a normal arm should be and it ended at a skeletally thin hand with unnaturally long fingers that I somehow knew would be more than strong enough to grab me and not let go, despite how brittle they looked.

The long, dark arm waved at me.

In my head, I was screaming to run, to flee back up the stairs to the safety of my bedroom, lock it and barricade it until morning came. But the person who stood in that hallway, at the bottom of the stairs, didn’t run.

They stepped forward, towards the mirror, towards that arm. It had stopped waving and was now reaching towards them. Not like it was trying to grab me. It was more inviting. The hand was outstretched as if to say, “come with me, if you want to.”

I didn’t want to. I was still trying to pull back, get away from this… whatever it was. But whoever I was kept moving forward, reaching their hand out towards this dark hand that beckoned me closer.

In the second before my fingers – their fingers – touched the emaciated hand that reached towards me, my mind raced and I suddenly remembered the song my mother used to sing to me when I was little. About the Nottman. I’m sure you know the one, I think every naughty child in the Federation has heard it.

“He comes in the night, when you should be asleep. So wrap yourself up, and don’t make a peep. For be you not in bed, or be you astray, then the Nottman will come and take you away.”

And I thought; what if this was him? What if he had come to take me away? But then my fingers touched the long, dark spindly ones that had emerged from the mirror.

It was as if the world around me shattered. The hall, the house, the street it had been on, everything, it all broke apart and then fell away leaving me standing in a boundless void.

I was nowhere… and everywhere. And I was alone. Standing on nothing, floating in emptiness. I don’t know how long I was there. Could have been anything from a second to an eternity. There was no time in that place, every moment was eternal and never happened.

But then I wasn’t alone anymore. It was there with me. I knew that without needing to see it. That dark shape, the Nottman. It was there with me, behind me, around me.

I was terrified. Of course I was. I had no idea what was happening, where I was, whether I’d get home. Now I think of it, there was one thing that I wasn’t afraid of. I wasn’t afraid for my life. I somehow knew that the Nottman, for I had decided that that was what this thing was… Anyway, I knew that it didn’t want to kill me.

But that wasn’t much of a comfort. After all, there are many things worse than death. And any and all of them seemed possible in that moment.

I turned to the Nottman, which was easy since it was everywhere. I tried to ask where I was, what it wanted. But I couldn’t. And I realised I had no mouth to speak with. And even if I could have asked the question, I had no ears to hear the answer.

It was then that I realised, much to my confusion, that I did not even have eyes. Yet, I was still somehow able to see the nothingness around me.

The Nottman seemed to understand my thoughts. I never gave voice to any of them, since I couldn’t, but it knew all the same.

And when I felt amusement, I knew it was not mine but rather the thing that had brought me here. The Nottman was amused by me. It found my fear, my confusion, funny.

Then the world came back. Or rather, it tried to. It came back wrong. Everything was sharp and shiny, like a world cut out of glass, but it rippled and undulated, moving in waves like the sea.

It took an eternity of a second to recognise where I was. It was the house, my house. But magnified a hundred times so that the floor stretched out around me like a vast continent, the furniture towering above me like mountains and trees that reached up to touch the sky that shimmered and shifted a thousand miles above me.

I felt smaller than small, more overwhelmed than by anything I’d ever experienced before in my life.

I looked around, trying to catch sight of the Nottman. Maybe if I could see it, ask it why it was doing this I could figure out what I should do. Surely there was a reason this was happening to me. There had to be a reason it appeared to me, chose to do this to me.

But it wasn’t there… I couldn’t see it anyway.

I took a step forward. The ground cracked beneath my foot. I froze. What would happen if the world broke again? Would I go back to that nothingness? Or would I fall through the ground? Falling forever through that empty void? Down into the very Depths themselves.

I did the only thing I could think of.

I took another step, but not forward this time. Or backwards or to the side. I walked upwards. I know how that might sound to you but it made total sense at the time. The ground was dangerous. Unstable. So, I had to walk somewhere that I could be sure wouldn’t break. The air was open, empty, safe. So, I lifted my foot, placed it on the air and began walking up towards the shimmering sky.

I walked, and walked, and walked. I don’t know for how long. It could have been a day, a week, a minute. I didn’t get hungry, I know that much. And there was no light there… At least, no sunlight. There was another kind of light, shining and reflecting and refracting from the glittering surface that now made up the world around me, but it was a constant. There was no morning, no evening, no night.

All I know is that, eventually, I reached a place and stopped. I had to stop. The air would no longer support my weight.

I fell.

I fell for a long time. For a long way. Far longer than I had climbed. Down and down and down I went. The world spreading out and shining indifferently all around me.

I fell past fragments of the air that were larger than the others, as large as my hallway mirror. In them I could see glimpses of people and places, some that I knew, others looked completely alien to me. I’m afraid I can’t remember much, it all happened so fast. I only remember seeing one place; a vast, barren and dark landscape with a blinding sun rising on the horizon.

And then I stopped falling. I hit a floor. I should have died then. I’d fallen for so long. But it was like I’d just fallen over. I got to my feet and looked around. I knew immediately where I was.

I’d fallen to the floor of the Golden Rooster, my local pub. For one wonderful second, I thought I might have fallen asleep at the bar, had a weird dream and then fallen out of my chair.

But I knew that couldn’t be right. I hadn’t been to the Golden Rooster in days and I clearly remembered going to bed.

Then I took another look around. It was the Rooster, no doubt about it. And yet, it was wrong.

I couldn’t place immediately what it was. Everything looked like normal, right down to the people I recognised as regulars in the pub, though they all seemed strangely out of focus. Like I was looking at them through frosted glass. But then I realised what it was that was bothering me about the pub. There were things in the wrong place.

I wouldn’t call myself a regular of the Golden Rooster, but I’ve been there enough to know its layout. Like most pubs, the tables and chairs aren’t really moved around much so after a few visits, you basically know where everything is.

But now they were wrong. It looked like someone had moved them around but I don’t mean they were a mess. It was as if someone had moved them until everything was in the exact opposite place to where it had been before. And there were other things too, like the grandfather clock. It stood against the back wall, its gentle ticking echoing around the room but when I looked over at it, I saw that the second hand was ticking backwards. I knew this wasn’t the real Golden Rooster. The Nottman must have put me here. But why? What was the point in showing me this?

A sound from the bar made me jump. I looked over and saw one of the barkeepers with his back to me, pouring a pint. I went to approach him but then I saw something else and I stopped.

The beer was flowing the wrong way. With each pull on the pump, the amber liquid was flowing up out of the glass and into nozzle. This continued until the glass was empty. The barman then handed it to someone out of sight and then turned around.

I almost screamed. The barman had no face. His eyes, mouth, nose, everything was gone. It was just featureless skin stretched over the front of his skull.

I backed away, terrified by what I saw, and bumped into someone I hadn’t seen. No, it was someone who hadn’t been there before.

They didn’t turn around. I don’t think they even noticed my existence. They just kept standing there, talking. But, that couldn’t be possible, I thought. They all had the same blank, empty faces as the barman. They had no mouths. So, how could they be talking? But they were, I could hear their voices, though now I realised they sounded muffled.

I think I knew what must be going on. I didn’t want to look. The idea was terrifying. But I had to see. There was a woman, a human, with long dark hair sitting at a table close by, deep in conversation with a man sat opposite her.

I approached carefully; fearful they would try to grab me if I got too close. But, just like the one I’d bumped into, they didn’t seem to realise I was there. I slowly reached out and moved her hair to the side so I could see the back of her head. And there it was. A mouth. At the base of her skull, opening and shutting in conversation like that was where it was supposed to be. I lifted the woman’s hair further up. And there, looking at me, were a pair of eyes.

I’d thought that the people in the bar were unaware of me. But I was wrong. The eyes in the back of that woman’s head were staring straight at me. I’ll never forget those eyes until the day I die; they were wide, terrified, pleading.

I didn’t even realise I was backing away until I hit the wall. I was so horrified by what I had seen. I didn’t even realise at first when the wall started to give around me, drawing me in like quicksand. By the time I realised, it was too late and I was sucked through the wall. I watched as it folded over me, the pictures that had been hanging on it drawing together like teeth of some great mouth.

And then I was somewhere else. I was back in my living room. It was night time and the room was dark. I was in my pyjamas. I was back! The Nottman had finished whatever game it had been playing with me and had put me back in my house. I didn’t know what the reason for it all had been and, at that moment, I didn’t much care. I was too relieved to care.

I sank down onto the dark shape that I knew to be my sofa. And then my sofa screamed.

I leapt to my feet and turned around. I could suddenly see everything. Not because my eyes had adjusted. The room had just become lighter, light enough to see what I had actually just sat down upon.

It was shaped like my sofa. But it was… it looked like… meat. Like a huge pile of meat that had been pushed together into the rough shape of a sofa. And all over that mass, mouths opened, gaping mouths lined with small sharp teeth, to scream in pain.

And it wasn’t just the sofa. The clock on the mantlepiece blinked and stared at me, the carpet dragged itself across the floor with a thousand tiny fingers. The door to the kitchen opened like a mouth and began screaming like the sofa while books flapped through the air, screeching harshly and the lamp broke itself in two trying to take a step. The windows shone with unearthly light and, in the top corner of the room, something red began to ooze down through the ceiling.

I turned and ran. I don’t even remember which direction I ran in, all I knew was that I had to get away from the nightmare I was in. I saw what I thought was an open doorway and ran towards it. I only realised it was a full length mirror the second before I ran into it.

The sound of the shattering glass was like the world ending.

I sprawled onto a bright red carpet. While simultaneously falling onto carpets that were blue, yellow, white and green.

The five of us pushed myself up. I felt the coarse red carpet beneath my hands. I wasn’t scared anymore…well, no, I was. But I was angry as well. I was sick of being thrown into these weird places with no reason or explanation. I got to my feet and saw I was at one end of a long corridor. Fuelled by a maelstrom of emotions in my head, I began running.

Meanwhile, I was pulling at the green carpet, checking to see if there was some hidden exit or clue concealed beneath it. I couldn’t take it anymore; it was all too much! I was curled up in a ball, my eyes seeing nothing but the yellow carpet beneath me.

As I walked down the corridor, my footsteps muffled by the blue carpet, I slowly and meticulously checked the walls and ceiling for any sign or clue as to what was going on. And while I did that, I was also striding down the corridor with the white carpet, demanding that I be let out. It wasn’t right, I shouted, that I was being kept here, shown all this messed up stuff. Whatever it was that had brought me here, Nottman or whatever, it had to know that this was wrong and it had to let me go.

I’d stopped tearing up the green carpet by then, it hadn’t yielded any results. I was looking around. There had to be an answer to this puzzle. A way out. I felt something wet on my hand. I looked down. There was a spot of blood on my wrist.

I looked up. The ceiling was a dull black. It was black in all five corridors, the whole way down. There was no sign of anything dripping through the ceiling.

I uncurled myself and finally stood up. My hand went to my face. Just as I’d feared, it was my nose that was bleeding.

It was coming faster now, flowing more freely, dripping down onto floor. You’d think, given the carpet was the same colour, that I wouldn’t be able to see the drops, but I could see each one clearly. The sight of it made me, if possible, even angrier.

I felt something then. Every one of the… Mes felt it. A kind of loosening. It felt like I was a doll, being held in the hand of a child and the child had loosened its grip, allowing me to fall to the ground.

I saw another mirror, shining like an open door. It made sense, I suppose. It wasn’t like I had any other options. The me who’d been searching for a secret answer hadn’t found anything, but they were still looking.

And, just like that, I was back. Back in my hallway, back in the dark.

I had been aware of five different me’s in that hallway, five different versions of myself. And I don’t know if all five came back. I don’t remember if they all – or we all – went to the mirror, or if I left some of myself behind. Or maybe I’m still in that corridor and this is just a me that thinks it’s me.

Am I me? Or was that just a memory? Was it all a dream? Is this the world I remember, or is it another trick?

The morning came soon after. And then I came here.

Final Notes: Well, this was an interesting one and no mistake. The Nottman has been a figure in folklore and children’s tales since before anyone can remember. Some scholars believe it originated long before even the Dark Age, as there are artefacts that have been uncovered that date back more than a thousand years, carvings, murals and the like, that depict a tall, featureless and spindly figure, usually enacting some cruel joke or torturous experience on people, always shown as being small and defenceless against it.

The stories about the Nottman would support this idea, as the general theme of such tales typically involve a person being inflicted with terrible visions, or else taken somewhere they don’t know or recognise, though this never ends fatally. The victim tends to end the tale as more confused than harmed.

In some tales, the torment is in response to some slight or wrong the person has done, thus portraying the Nottman as a supernatural dispenser of justice. More often though, there is no reason for what is done to the person and it seems to be done purely for the amusement of the Nottman.

This is all that can be said for this donation. No one witnessed these events apart from Mx Hewin themself and the events do not appear to have even happened in the real world.

We did follow up with Mx Hewin, and they had no recollection of even coming to make this donation. They might be lying, trying to pretend it never happened. Or they never did come, which presents some disquieting possibilities.

I have not yet heard back from the Librarians regarding the memory Szelia was instructed to find. Not surprising, I suppose, but certainly frustrating. I know Szelia is very eager to find out what was so important about that memory. She’s been living here at the Tower at the advice of the Lawkeepers while they search for Alayne SinDreda. As far as I know, she has not been seen since last week.

Inscription Complete.

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