DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. mobile 07982 032974
text and images throughout copyright
Through a Glass, Darkly
The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have become members of the Brotherhood, as have their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. There is also Adrian the seagull and Sniffer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood, Sister Teresa a dedicated nun with strange powers, and Pat, an Irish academic. A new member is Morag, half-policewoman, half-faery. Together they fight a war against their arch-enemy, Doctor Wrist, and his associates The scene is the seaside city of Brighton.
The old mirror fastened to the wall next to the hairdresser’s shop, had been there for more years than anyone could remember. In contrast to the neat and appropriately named “TOP CUTS”, which nevertheless still sported a red and white spiral pole above its façade, the mirror was cracked, faded and worn, its tarnished surface barely able to reflect a likeness. Yet it had had many friends in the past: those who critically inspected their new-shorn heads, the young women quickly adjusting their lipstick, the old men hastily adjusting their ties.
Young and old, the mirror, over generations, had faithfully captured and reflected the likeness of many, depicting the fashions and vanity of those who took the trouble to peer into it. Very few people did now, because it was so discoloured with age, and simply because no-one even noticed it any more. But it still remained in place, forgotten, ignored, a long, framed rectangle of dirty glass, a silent witness to the passing world.
Ignored that is, by all except by Simon and Annie, who stood looking at it thoughtfully. Their reflections were barely visible in the blackened and mottled surface, but its very existence had prompted them to consider an idea that had not occurred to them before.
‘I wonder if it’s true?’ wondered Simon.
‘That mirrors are really a reflection of the soul. That you can sometimes see who you really are. Not how you want to see yourself’.
‘Ugh. Annie shivered. ‘I’m not sure I like that idea. Are you trying to put me off a little bit of judicious makeup?’
Simon smiled slyly to himself. His voice dropped to a sepulchral whisper. ‘Just imagine the old idea of ‘Vanitas” – that’s the Latin name – where a pretty young woman is sitting in front of her dressing-table mirror, admiring her lovely looks. She thinks her maid is busy combing her long flaxen hair, when she looks up and sees the reflection, not of her maid, but of…..
‘Of what?’ asked Annie nervously.
‘A horrible, leering skeleton! It’s long bony fingers stretch out and….! He suddenly clamped his hand hard on Annie’s shoulder.
Annie shrieked and jumped away from him. She glared furiously.
‘You absolute pig! That wasn’t funny!’
‘ I suppose not. But I was just thinking’. He looked again at the old barber’s mirror. His reflection was just a dim shape, barely discernible in it’s dim surface. ‘I wonder what stories this mirror could tell. About all the people it’s seen over the years’.
‘Annie stared at the mirror. ‘It reminds me of the mirror in that old house we went to, and the trapped young girl that I saw in it. Which reminds me. I know I should have asked before, but I suppose I rather wanted to forget it. Have you found out any more about her? And why did you arrange to meet me here?’
Simon sighed and put his hands in his pockets. They began to walk on. ‘I went through all the old newspaper records I could, and anything else around that period. The case just seemed to have been dropped, for some unknown reason. Just another unsolved, suspicious death. I think someone decided to cover it up or ignore it at the time. The police didn’t seem to be bothered, from what I’ve read. But I did get an idea. If you wanted to find out a name of somebody who’s died, what would you do?’
‘I suppose I’d look for her grave….of course!’ She turned to face him. ‘But if she died without a name, that’s not going to tell us anything!’
‘But she does have a name! I rang up the parish records office yesterday, and they did find out her name, or what they thought was her name. They also thought they knew where she’s buried. There weren’t any other details, because they think she must have come from an orphanage. So there was no next of kin. Poor thing. She must have come to Brighton with such hopes’. His voice trailed off.
Annie squeezed his arm. ‘So we’re going up to the cemetery this afternoon, to try to find her grave, aren’t we? That’s what you had planned. All right’. She glanced up at the grey overcast sky. It was beginning to drizzle again slightly. ‘It’s a good day for a cemetery visit’.
Simon was still looking thoughtful. ‘Come on, Simon’, she urged gently. ‘I know how much this means to you’.
He allowed her to lead him away by the arm.
‘Look, Annie, I don’t know whether we’ll find it or not. I’ve got some vague directions, but we’re going to have to do a lot of searching. I don’t even know what it looks like, or whether it’s even marked properly’.
‘We’ll find out when we get there. Look, Simon’. They had stopped outside a florist’s shop. ‘Why don’t get her some flowers? If we find her, that is’.
Simon stared at her, and grinned. ‘You know for a sister, you really do have some good ideas. Sometimes’. He added.
The teenage girl was a bit flustered. ‘For a grave, you say? I don’t really know. Carnations, perhaps?’
‘No’. said Annie firmly. ‘Something more cheerful and bright. like those over there’. She pointed to a steel bucket filled with small bouquets of summer flowers, red, pink and orange, wrapped in glistening fern leaves’.
‘Great! said the girl, slightly relieved. ‘They’re really pretty, aren’t they?’
‘Wait a moment. Can you give us two?’
They came out of the shop, bearing the bunches of sweet-smelling flowers.
‘Why two, Annie?’
‘Because I want to give one to mum. For being so angry towards her in the past, when she didn’t deserve it’.
The Woodvale cemetery in Brighton was an enormous landscaped area of gravel paths and well-tended trees and shrubbery. It lay on the right-hand side of Bear Road, one of the steepest roads in the city. In the centre was the crematorium. Simon vaguely remembered it from attending an aunt’s funeral there, when they were small children. They followed various paths, between rows of stone tablets, heavy grey shrines and mausoleums, and ornate effigies of angels, weeping and mourning over the dead who lay buried beneath. There were inscriptions on every tomb, lamenting the dead, and recording their births, their deaths, their remembrances from fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and grieving children.
Yet it was not an unhappy place. An atmosphere of desolation and memory was tinged with a kind of optimism, that despite a sense of loss, had hopes for a better world after death. The song of birds echoed around the branches above the ornate and complex graves. There was both peace and tranquillity, a sense of life and nature that existed in harmony with those who had returned to the earth below. It was a place of death, but also a place of life, where the secret mechanisms of nature continued, undisturbed, the passing on from living existence no more than a sequence in the process of growth and decay.
Annie followed her brother as he tried to find the area of small headstones that the parish clerk had told him about. Then he stopped. They had come to a distant part of the cemetery where rows of small headstones stood above the mown grass. Some headstones were overgrown, however, with talk stalks of couch-grass: some had small vases or urns placed on the ground in front, filled with dead or wilted flowers.
‘Simon’. Annie said quietly. ‘You didn’t tell me her name’.
‘Trust me. I’ll know when I see it’.
They walked along the headstones, trying to pick out and decipher the names and dates on each one. Annie saw, with sadness, that they all seemed to be very young, many of them young mothers and children.
‘Mary Anne Stuart, aged nineteen, died in childbirth, December the fourth, 1907’.
‘Wilfred John Venables, infant, died this year of our Lord, November the eighteenth, 1912, of diptheria, at the age of five’. What is it, Simon?’
Her brother was looking down on a small overgrown headstone.
‘I’ve found her’.
Annie ran over and stared down at the small grey stone.
The inscription, though partly covered by moss and lichen, was still clear.
Annie read it slowly. ‘“Annabelle Louise Waterman, born May the thirteenth, 1897, died, November the nineteenth, 1910. May her soul rest in peace”’.
Annie’s eyes began to blur with tears. ‘She had the same name as me! Is that why you didn’t want to tell me who she was?’
‘Yes’, Simon replied sadly. He looked down again at the little grave.
‘It’s not much for a young girl’s life, is it? Just a tiny bit of ground, and a headstone. No-one to mourn her, or even remember her. Just a little drop of life, and then gone’.
Annie realised that he was silently crying. She touched his arm.
‘That’s not true. A hundred years later, and we remember her. Both of us. The flowers, Simon’.
Simon knelt down and placed the bunch of summer flowers on the grass in front of the headstone. They both stood and looked at the grave.
‘Perhaps, when we released her from that mirror, she was able to find peace’.
‘I’m not sure I can’.
Annie squeezed her brother’s hand. ‘You can’t bring her back, Simon. She’s gone. We just have to do what we can. At least we found her’.
Simon wiped his eyes. ‘You’re right. Let’s go back home. But I still have an idea about mirrors’.
They turned and walked silently away.
It was half-past eight on a Friday evening. They were sitting as usual around the kitchen table after supper. Annie was reading a magazine. Simon was doodling on sheets of A4 paper torn off a drawing pad, filling them with strange diagrams and small written comments. Annie looked across at him.
‘What are you doing, Leonardo? Designing another flying machine? I hope it works better than the last one’.
‘I’ll have you know that I am, at this very moment. deciphering the secrets of the universe. I am unravelling the mysteries of the great mechanisms of life. I am making the invisible become visible. I am taking a line for a walk, and studying the forms of its meandering wanderings’.
‘You mean you’re just doodling again’.
‘But for a purpose. You see, I have a theory about Doctor Wrist and his whereabouts’.
‘Sounds interesting. Anyway, you can share it with the others. I just heard them coming up the front steps’.
She got up to let them in. They all trooped into the kitchen – Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko, and greeted Simon enthusiastically. The five of them had taken to meeting every Friday night for what Annie rather grandly called the “Friday Night Forum”, in reality, a small discussion group, where grand matters of the day were debated, usually boys, girls, music, clothes and any salacious gossip about friends, family and irritating teachers that had recently come to light. In this they were not unlike the coffee-house meetings and salons of the eighteenth century, except that occasionally they touched on more serious issues, concerning the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Hand. Tonight was to be no exception.
Even though he was in a male minority, Simon enjoyed these meetings, not just for their humour, but also because he had a genuine respect for feminine intellect, despite his often disparaging remarks, and because he felt that their discussions were often more positive, and intriguing, than those of the Hand. The girls respected him too, because he had proved his worth and bravery too often for them to think otherwise, and because his ideas, apparently illogical at first, often contained a great deal of common sense and logic. There was always some truth in them.
So when Simon announced ‘I’ve got a hypothesis for you, that I want you to consider’, they were prepared to listen.
‘I was trying to work out why we have never seen Doctor Wrist properly. I believe the reason why is because he’s in another dimension from us, and therefore hidden from our world. But we’ve all entered other dimensions, in battle or otherwise, and what I thought we should do is to try to visualise how these dimensions work. I decided to start with the concepts of doors or entrances into other dimensions, or whatever they are.. Like this’:
‘A sequence of doors, that might lead from one to the other’. suggested Indira.
‘Yes, but that’s too simple. Because behind each door, there is a different dimension, or universe if you like. So the doors don’t necessarily lead from one dimension to another. The next door might exist on the other side of each dimension. So unless you know how to navigate from one to the other, it’s really difficult’.
‘How do you visualise those other dimensions?’ asked Pei-Ying, practically.
‘I’m not sure’. replied Simon helplessly. I see them as self-contained worlds, but that might not be right in mathematical terms’.
‘Wait, cried Mariko. ‘Let us be more dynamic. Try to see our world as an endless running stream, that is in constant motion. Perhaps these other worlds might be the same. So behind each door or entrance is another world, running in the same way, from one point in time to another!’
‘Wait!’ cried Annie excitedly. ‘If that is right, who can say whether they are running at the same time-scale as us? They might be slower or faster! They may be centuries behind or ahead!’
‘It would be like showing different films at slower or higher speeds, all together!’
‘Hold on!’ shouted Indira. ‘We’re assuming that all these worlds, or dimensions run parallel to each other! What if some of them don’t? Some of them might run diagonally, or even at right angles to our own!. It would be like rivers meeting each other at certain points’.
‘A kind of confluence!’ cried Simon, and that’s where these entrances or doors are! A kind of exchange point between different worlds! Look’. He drew a pentangle. ‘Where these lines cross over each other, are portals to another dimension, where we can move from one world into another! If we find these entrances, or exits, we can locate Doctor Wrist, in whatever dimension he is!’
‘We’ve never thought how the faeries, or the dragons, or even the daemons, could enter and leave our world when they like! They might not even come through doors, but through other things, like caves, or, or…’
‘Mirrors’. Simon added quietly. He looked sadly down at his notes. ‘It’s good that we’ve established a possible idea of how our theories might work. But it’s only a model of what it might be. We don’t know for certain’.
‘But we now have a hypothesis, and an idea of how it might operate!’ suggested Mariko. ‘But how do we proceed from here?’
Simon looked down again at his drawings. ‘It might be an idea to see if we can locate any of these entrances or exits between our world and other dimensions, to see if we can make use of them. It has occurred to me that Doctor Wrist, or his minions have the knowledge to use them. That means, up to now, that we’ve had to wait for him to come to us, to attack us. All we have done so far is to defend! What if we can carry the fight to him?’
Annie giggled. ‘You mean, to beard him in his lair?’
Simon looked at her seriously. ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I do mean, Annie. I’m fed up waiting for him to attack us. Why not do something that he doesn’t expect’.
‘Aren’t you forgetting something?’ Mariko asked quietly. They stared at her.
‘It is not just Doctor Wrist that we are fighting. We are also fighting whatever family he has. That, in the past has included his daughter, who tried to kill both of you, and his nephew, Leonard, who was killed. There is also Venoma’s sister, about who we know nothing, or even if she still exists. How many more of his family are there?’
They were all silent. Mariko was right. It was going to be a daunting task.
‘I suggest that we begin to construct a family tree of Doctor Wrist and his family’. said Pei-Ying, as practical as ever. ‘Then we might know better what we are up against’.
‘ I hate to admit it, but we are going to have to consult with the rest of the Brotherhood’. added Simon gloomily. ‘They might have more details’.
‘Agreed’, replied Annie. The others nodded.
‘Simon, why mirrors?’ asked Indira, unexpectedly.
He sat back, and looked down at his hands. ‘Because if they can be used to imprison an innocent young girl a hundred years ago, they can also be used for other purposes. I don’t trust all mirrors. Perhaps that’s why, on certain days, people used to turn their mirrors around, so that the devil couldn’t enter the household by coming through them’.
‘There was that wonderful film’, Mariko said reflectively. “Orpheus” by Jean Cocteau. It was based on the legend of a poet, whose wife had died and gone into the underworld. He loved her so much that he entered the underworld through a mirror to find her and bring her back. Which he did’.
Simon grinned. ‘I think it’s time for some late supper, Annie, don’t you? I declare this meeting closed’. No-one argued, and the forum ended on a note of good cheer and food.
‘What exactly are we looking for, Simon?’
‘I don’t know. Anything that could be an entrance into something else. Look, why is everything that we have encountered so far, in Brighton? Why is it an important location point? Is it because there are secret interchange points here? Why?’
‘Because we’re here. because the Brotherhood, and Sisterhood, is here. That makes us a target for whatever Doctor Wrist is planning to do. How else do you explain it?’
‘I don’t know. We just have to keep looking, for anything that might be a way in. It could be anything!’
They had already discussed this with the rest of the Brotherhood, earlier that morning. The Four Fingers had simply shook their heads.
‘We do not know of any of these entrances, or portals, as you might put it’. said Little Finger, wearily. ‘We would have found them before now’.
Pat had said, ‘It’s possible, but where would you look? Antique shops, perhaps?’
Adrian had just simply squawked and said, ‘Waste of time! I’ll keep an eye open, but what for?’
Sniffer just sniffed and grunted. ‘Its just the eye of a camel in a haystack, if you ask me’.
Morag had been puzzled, but said quietly, ‘I’ll let you know if I see anything’. But she was obviously still bewildered.
Only Sister Teresa had said nothing. She had looked at them gently. ‘May the Lord go with you’. she simply added.
Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko had promised to look around and see. But that was the total of anything that the Brotherhood could give them. With that they had to be content.
They wandered around the North and South Lanes, until they were weary.
‘I need to buy some new socks. Mum gave me the money’.
‘About time, too. You’re a disgrace’.
They walked across the road from the shopping precinct of Churchill Square towards the large Marks and Spencer department store on the other side, dodging the looming buses that filled the road. Annie pointed Simon towards the escalator up to the first floor, away from the women’s section where she knew he felt uncomfortable. ‘We’ll have to come down here again. I’ve got to buy some new knickers’. She sniggered, mischievously. ‘Don’t you like coming shopping with me, Simon dear?’ Simon groaned.
As they went into the mens’ section, Annie stopped. ‘They always worry me, these dummies they use. They’re so life-like but they’re not real’.
She was staring at a pair of dummies next to a column, to which was fastened a large floor-length mirror for customers. The two dummies stood, wearing clothes that customers might want to buy. The one nearest the mirror stood with its arms folded, festooned with a brightly coloured shirt and a pair of bermuda shorts. It stared sightlessly out across the store. It was plastic, its hair moulded onto it’s frowning face.
‘They always frighten me a bit’ Annie said. ‘They look as if they might come alive at any moment’. Here’s a mirror for you’, and she put out a hand to touch it. She disappeared in an instant, the mirror dissolving around her.
‘Annie!’ Simon yelled. He put out a hand to find her, and then he too, disappeared into the liquid mirror. The dummy, it’s arms still folded, remained immobile. Then it turned its head. A second later, it slipped off its plinth, and with a single sinuous movement, slid into the mirror after them. Nobody had noticed anything at all.
Both Simon and Annie stumbled as they came out on the other side of the mirror they had fallen through. They blinked hard as they both realised they were in bright sunlight. There was a terrible noise around them, which they couldn’t recognise. It sounded shrill and indistinct. They couldn’t understand it. They could recognise some of it as talk, as music, of sorts, but it was as if they had descended into a foreign country. Except it wasn’t.
Annie looked around her and gave a cry. ‘Simon we’re on the Brighton Pier!’ She looked up, and saw a hoarding overhead. It read:
She saw a flag close by. It read:
Simon was staring out at the sea. ‘This is where Morag and I were standing when we had our talk last week! We were looking at the groyne where we fought, and all the way down to Shoreham! But we’re looking the opposite way! That’s the Marina, and Roedean school after that! But that’s east, not west!’
Annie slid down the promenade rail in despair. ‘Don’t you realise, Simon, that everything here is back to front? Everything, east or west, north or south is the wrong way round? Look!’
She pointed to the opposite side of the pier they were standing on. There was the groyne, upon which they had fought a great battle against the daemons, on the other side. Beyond that was the café, where they met the Brotherhood. But it was different. Everything was wrong.
‘Everything’s in reverse! I don’t even know what people are saying!’
Simon listened. A group of girls walked past them, talking in loud voices. He could tell what they were talking about, but he couldn’t understand it. Then he began to make some sense of how they were discussing some boyfriend, who had jilted another girlfriend, and what they thought about it.
“si eh gip a tohW”
‘They’re saying what a pig he is’.
‘That doesn’t help us! Why can’t I understand!’ Annie was close to tears. Fighting a battle and fighting in her own territory was one thing, but being in another world where everything had changed around was something that she could not cope with. Even the talisman, on her hand, remained dim and silent.
‘Annie, we have to find that mirror again, to get back to our own reality! We must look around for it!’
But they had no idea of what they were searching for, in a familiar world that had lost its meaning. Annie was now close to tears. Everything that she knew so well had been torn away from her. Even the boards and the railings behind her now seemed like strangers, alien and unknown. She remembered her first visit abroad, when she was small, and her utter amazement that the grass in the French fields was the same colour as back in England.
Then something else happened. The people, passing by them, suddenly speeded up. They became invisible whirls, leaving white spirals behind. It was only for a second or two, then they slowed, but this time, further on, they moved quickly and jerkily, as if a film was running too fast. A second later, it stopped, and people began walking and strolling again normally, as if nothing had happened.
Simon shook his head, feeling dizzy. He turned and pulled Annie onto her feet. Her eyes were wide with shock and fear. ‘I know, Annie! It’s like a film speeding up and then slowing down! We must find another mirror to get back!’
He pulled her along by the hand, Annie still too dazed to resist. Simon looked frantically around. But there was no mirror to be seen. They walked slowly down towards the southern, or rather northern end of the pier, searching in every direction for a glimpse of a mirror. The deck was filled with a strange hubbub of talk and laughter, but to them it was an unknown foreign language. Even the music from the tannoy speakers above their heads, sounded wild and discordant, since it too, was also being played backwards. They had never felt so lonely before, strangers in a familiar, but strange land. The music and talk sounded even louder than usual. They were drowning in a sea of unnatural, incoherent noise!
Annie suddenly tugged Simon’s elbow, shouting. ‘Over there!’ She pointed to a tall, narrow mirror mounted on the wall of the kiosk labelled “nemeltmeG”. There was another notice on the right, (or was it the left hand side?) of the mirror.
‘What does that say?’ asked Annie
I can’t be bothered to work it out, but my educated guess is “Kindly adjust your dress before leaving” You know, whenever I see that, I always have this image of large, hairy, bearded men in party frocks making sure their hemlines are straight’. He chuckled, but his attempt to cheer Annie up failed. She was staring intently into the mirror’s surface.
‘Look! Everything’s back to normal! All the signs are the right way round!’
They were. They could clearly see “Brighton Pier” and “Doughnuts and Pretzels”. For a few moments, they could see the image of their own world, as they knew it, reflected in the mirror’s surface. For some reason , they felt a surge of hope, certain that they had found a way back. They both reached out a hand simultaneously. Their fingers felt hard glass. Annie choked back a sob, her excitement dashed to the ground. The mirror dissolved like treacle, and they were sucked forward, inexorably, into the darkness.
They lay tumbled in a heap together, on what felt like grass. Both were winded and bruised, and for a few moments they lay still, eyes closed. Then Annie turned over and raised herself to her knees. Her scream jerked Simon awake. He opened his eyes, and gasped. Annie was on her feet, desperately rubbing her hands on her tee-shirt as if to get rid of some contamination. Looking around, Simon could see why.
They were in a landscape. It was a landscape that neither of them had ever seen before. The ground that they were standing on had the texture and the feel of rough grass, but it was a light blue-green in colour as if an artist had stippled in darker and lighter patches. It stretched towards a white dense line of bushes and gorse, that formed a sharp line in contrast to the colour of the grass and the sky itself It was a wave of white surf, but transfixed in the moment of its formation. Just before it, was a tree, also petrified. It’s white branches were silhouetted sharply, crisply, against the dark grey-blue sky, it’s crystalline branches highlighted against the brooding presence of the cloud above. There was no sound, not even the call of a bird. They were standing in a frozen arctic landscape, where colour had lost its’ meaning, and all was frozen in an ominous winter background.
Annie began to sob, quietly, her hands covering her face, the talisman cold and glimmering on her finger. There would be no help from that. Simon looked around. He felt a wave of nausea coming over him, and he felt unsteady, as if he could no longer trust his feet in this cruel place. They put their arms around each other, to try to give each other some comfort in the cold, still atmosphere.
Simon understood Annie’s distress. She was as brave as a lion on her own territory, but when she was dislocated and lost in an alien land, her courage had deserted her. Simon hugged her hard. He saw a movement out of the corner of his eye.
‘I can see two horsemen! They’re riding along in front of the bushes! Just past the tree! See them? Look!’
Annie looked up and saw them. Two ghostly white figures, on horses were riding along past the line of ghostly bushes. She could barely make out their figures against the background.
Simon yelled and waved his arms. ‘Over here! Over here!’
His voice echoed in the stillness. But the two horsemen did not notice, or show any recognition. They disappeared beyond their line of sight. Simon gave up with a sigh, and then looked more carefully around him.
‘Annie, I recognise this place! It’s the hill-fort, above Brighton! I know that tree!’ This where Gloriana fought her sister! Remember, Annie! Look around! Do you see?’
Annie slowly looked around, trying hard not to panic. ‘You’re right!’ she cried. ‘I know this place too! But why has it changed so much? Why is it so frightening?’ As she said this, she began to feel her confidence returning. That one small spark of recognition made her feel better.
‘I know what it is! It’s colour reversal! What we’re in at the moment is a negative of our own world! I should have known! I’ve done it enough times on my computer, flipping an image so that it appears in opposite colours! Light become dark, and dark becomes light. So now we know where we are!’
‘But’, said Annie dismally, ‘we’re still in another dimension. We can’t live in this world. We don’t belong here. Imagine eating negative food! Ugh!’
‘And we’re still the same’. suggested Simon, looking at Annie critically. ‘You’re still wearing that tatty old black tee-shirt, and blue jeans, and yellow trainers. It’s the place that has changed, not us’.
‘I like this tee-shirt. Anyway, how are we ever going to find another mirror out here?
Simon looked slowly around again. ‘There!’ he said triumphantly.
‘Over there. See where that little glint is? I think that could be a mirror’.
‘Oh, yes, I’m sure your faery-lover, Ragimund has left it there, so she can comb her long raven tresses while she waits for her boy paramour to turn up!’ Annie snapped, rather spitefully.
‘Don’t be so rude about Ragimund! At least I’ve got a lover, which is more than you have!’
‘How do you know? You haven’t known me all my life!’
‘Yes, I have!’
Annie muttered something extremely rude under her breath, and followed her brother, still nervous about walking on the strange surface. She found him gazing down at something lying flat on the ground.
‘What is it?’ she called.
He didn’t reply. As she joined him, she saw what it was. A large oval mirror, in a dirty wooden frame, and tarnished with age, stared back at them. It was lying there as if it had been cast aside by someone, who no longer wanted it.
‘It looks as if it’s just fallen out of a skip’. remarked Annie sceptically. She was no longer sure whether she trusted mirrors any more.
‘It looks like an old mirror from the nineteen-thirties. The kind people used to hang above the mantel-piece’.
They looked down at their reflections, pale and white against the heavy dark sky.
‘How do you propose we go through that?’
‘Headfirst, of course’. He dived at the mirror, Annie clinging onto his belt behind. The glassy surface dissolved, and they disappeared into its depths.
They careered wildly down a long, snaking black tunnel, elbows and legs crashing from side to side against the unseen walls. Then they spilt out, and fell two or three feet onto something soft and squelchy.
‘Urrgh!’ groaned Annie. ‘What are we sitting in?’ She held up her hand. It was covered in something cold and slimy. She gazed at it in horror, and then shook her hand viciously to get rid of it.
‘Yuuuk! Rancid old potato peelings! Well done, you’ve just dropped us into a rubbish heap! And I’m bruised all over! What are you looking at, Simon?’
Simon was staring around him in a mixture of horror and amazement.
‘Annie, I think we’ve just fallen into a painting’.
‘What….?’ She suddenly stopped and gazed around. ‘Oh no’.
It was dark, but not normal darkness. Nothing was what it seemed. If Annie could describe it, it would be as if an artist had painted it, in great sweeping washes of black watercolour, descending in swathes from above, barely outlining the jagged and broken roofs and walls below. They stood on a broken and uneven cobbled floor, in what looked like a courtyard. On one side, they saw the ochre-brown and faded grey of wooden fences that seemed to enclose a builder’s yard. Broken planks and scraps of timber lay in heaps outside. Two tiny terraced houses, their front yards filled with rubbish were enclosed next to it and against them was a large open gateway, where black silent heaps lay. The acrid smell of coal came from it. Behind them was a dirty cobbled wall, glistening and slimy with damp. The whole court seemed to be littered with things either thrown away, or simply piled up: an old bath here, a broken bicycle there.
But all this had been painted by a giant hand, in charcoal, ink, gouache and watercolour, details picked out by a sharp stab of a pencil. It all had the texture of stippling, slightly out of focus, details suggested rather than drawn, highlighted by the angry smears of acidic yellow that were the streetlamps. Looking to their left, they could just see the pale frames of small sash windows, dark but with broken panes, that floated against the brown black walls. Somewhere, a dog began to bark furiously, followed by an angry voice, and the slamming of a door.
‘Where do we go?’ asked Annie in a whisper. ‘Where are we?’ She was still recoiling at the smell of the place – urine, faeces and boiled cabbage. She was trying to breathe as little as possible, but it wasn’t easy. Her heart was pounding and she was trying to fight off being sick.
‘I heard voices down here’. Simon muttered. ‘Let’s have a look’.
They moved slowly down to their right. There was very little light but, keeping close to the cement wall, they came across a little alleyway, flanked on each side by tiny terraced houses. They peered, cautiously, around the corner. The front of the houses were crudely whitewashed, but only rendered by the painter as a dull light grey, with sharp, black, rectangular patches where windows and doors were. A small group of women stood at the far end, but only crudely depicted by the artist as rough outlines, that moved as they talked. Annie could see the dim white of a woman’s apron, that almost shifted independently within the outline of the figure it belonged to. There was a sudden sharp shriek of laughter from one of the figures, and Annie and Simon retreated sharply. They found themselves close to the rubbish heap where they had landed, but there was no mirror.
Annie coughed. She clapped her hand over her mouth quickly, but no-one seemed to have heard. ‘What’s that terrible smell?’ she moaned. ‘It’s like rotting meat’.
‘What! Right next to those houses! It can’t be!’ She felt herself begin to gag, and then controlled herself.
‘Why don’t we just move away from here? Look, there’s a lighted window over there. Why don’t we see what it is?’
This time they ran quickly and quietly across the wider courtyard to their left, though a tin can clattered and rolled across the pebbled ground. They looked across at the small bay window opposite from which the grubby, yellow light shone.
As they drew nearer, they could see that it was a small corner pub. A sign hung above the door on the corner of the street, a grey rectangle that was too dim to see at first. As they came close to the rather shabby little bow window at the front, it shone feebly in the dab of yellow light from the street-light further down. The small pub, hardly more than a house, was grandly entitled “The Oxford Arms”.
They looked around fearfully, in case anybody was watching. The street was deserted. Somewhere in the distance, they could hear angry voices having an argument, but it seemed far away. There was a low rumble of voices from inside, and cautiously they raised themselves, each side of the window, and looked past the grimy curtains on each side, and the discoloured china ashtray, filled with grey ash, that stood on the window-sill inside.
The interior of the little pub was small and rather dimly lit. There was one naked light-bulb above the curved bar on the left, that illuminated the heavy shape of a barman, in shirt-sleeves and braces, who was idly wiping the top of the mahogany counter, a bored and sullen expression on his large, rather florid face. The room was very small, with barely enough room for more than two small marble-topped tables, and a few rather rickety wooden chairs. On the other side, towards the back wall, was another larger table, with four figures seated around it. Above them hung a dirty oval mirror, like the one they had come through, to arrive in this place.
The interior was clear, a sharp moving film scene in contrast to the vague outlines and painterly details of the outside. But it was barely lit, and it was difficult to make out faces clearly. Another light-bulb hung from a wire in the ceiling, but it only served to cast a shadow over the persons sitting around the rectangular wooden table. There was a woman, an old woman, who sat with her back against the far wall. She wore a small hood, that hid her features, though a small beak of a nose, appeared every now and then. She was muttering something to the three men with her, one seated on her right, the other on her left. They were in profile, but it was too dark to see who they were. The fourth man sat with his back towards them. He was large and bulky, and they could hear his chair squeak as he moved restlessly.
He began to speak. Neither Simon or Annie could hear what he was saying, but the others were listening intently. Then the man on the right turned slightly. In that moment, they caught a glimpse of a red beard, and the sharp evil gleam of his right eye. Simon gave a stifled gasp. Annie clapped her hand over his mouth hard. The other man laughed, and the old woman nodded slowly. The man with his back to them raised his face. Both of them saw it reflected in the mirror on the wall. They stopped breathing. In the same instant, in the same reflection, he saw them.
He stood up abruptly, his face contorted with rage. He shouted something at the barman, and jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the window where they were crouching. The barman shrugged, and picked up a long, ugly-looking wooden stick. Then he slid from behind the bar, and moved towards the door.
Without thinking, they sprang up and ran back into the court where they had come from, past more rubbish-filled gardens, and behind a low brick wall, the cement covering it partly fallen off. Simon raised his head and peered back. The barman was standing outside the doorway, looking right and left. Then he brandished his stick above his head and shouted furiously. They saw him turn and go back inside. The door slammed shut behind him. The dog, somewhere, started barking again, and then stopped with a yelp.
They crouched against the low wall, panting for breath.
‘He saw us, Simon! He saw us!’
‘No, I don’t think he did. What he did see was a pair of scruffy children staring in through the window. If he’d recognised us, he’d have been out here himself by now’.
‘Where exactly are we? Do you know?’
Simon thought for a moment. ‘I’m trying to remember something. Of course!’
‘I think’, he said slowly, ‘that we’re still in Brighton, but we’ve slipped back in time. This is an old slum. A lot of them got demolished before the war’.
‘The second one’.
‘Great. So we’re back in the nineteenth-thirties. First, we go backwards, then we get inverted, or whatever it is, and now we’re in a different time zone. Simon, we’ve got to get back, somehow! We must tell the others!’
He looked around at the dark, painted neighbourhood.
‘Where and how?’
‘Over there’. She pointed.
They moved carefully along towards a small gap, darker than the rest. They stopped. It was a small black passageway, but at the end of it, something glowed brightly.
‘It looks more like a door!’ Simon whispered.
They slowly crept along the passageway, feeling their way with hands and feet, closer to the strangely glowing door.
‘Annie, it’s getting really hot down here!’
Annie didn’t reply. She was already beginning to feel stifled from the heat that radiated from that door. She cried out and stood still, eyes staring.
‘There are things moving behind it! Twisting, writhing things!’
Something hard and strong wrapped itself around her neck and gripped tightly. She heard Simon gasp and choke. She beat at it with her fist. It was hard and unyielding. It was not human.
They were slowly dragged backwards down the passage, away from the writhing door. They struggled desperately, but the vicelike grip around their necks tightened even more. Annie’s eyes began to swim with tears. Then they were released. Instead, they were gripped around an arm, and physically turned round so that they were forced to look up at the tall figure that held them.
Simon moved his neck painfully. ‘It’s the shop dummy! It was standing next to the mirror when we fell through!’ Annie gazed up at the mannequin. The face was impassive, without expression. The hair, swept back, was sculpted to its head. It had no eyes, only blank corneas, like a Greek statue. That, more than anything, chilled Annie. It’s mouth moved.
‘You are trespassing’. it said in a low monotone voice. The mannequin turned and strode towards the entrance to the court, dragging them with him. He walked past the pub and onto a deserted main street, hesitated for a moment, his head looking right and left. Then it marched straight on towards a large shop window, that reached down to the ground. Without stopping, the three of them walked straight through it, the window parting as they passed. There was a little shriek of glass behind them, as it closed.
Annie squealed, as she realised they were back in the hideously coloured hill-fort again. The mannequin walked steadily on, towards a large full-length gilded mirror, propped upright on the blue-white grass.
‘Where has that come from?’ groaned Simon. ‘It looks like a surrealist picture!’
‘Who are you?’ Annie cried, gasping in pain from the grip on her arm.
The mannequin stopped in front of the mirror. He turned his head slowly to each of them.
‘I am a glass-keeper. You are trespassing’.
He released his grip on their arms. Instead he seized the back of their necks with his abnormally large hands so that they cried out with pain, and thrust them before him through the mirror. They found themselves in the same reverse world as before, on the pier. The strange backwards language hit their ears once again. He marched them before him, towards a large mirror set against one side of the rotunda at the end of the pier, the clash and scream of game machines echoing from within. No-one around took any notice.
‘Where are you taking us?’ demanded Simon, still struggling against the grip around his neck.
The mannequin paused once again, before the mirror.
‘Back to where you belong. You stood before a portal. That is a gateway to Hell. Did you want to see Hell?’ There was no tone or inflexion in his voice.
He literally threw them at the mirror. There was a flash, and they fell on their knees in a small alleyway. They could hear voices, many voices of people not far away. Human voices. Voices they could understand. They had returned to their own time and place.
‘Where are we?’ Annie asked, faintly.
‘Back in our own time and place’.
They crawled to the brick wall behind them, and lay painfully, with their backs against it. Annie laid her head on her brother’s shoulder, and began to weep silently. Her left arm was numb, and she could hardly move it. Simon said nothing but simply put his good left arm around her shoulders. Their legs felt as if they hardly belonged to them any more. They lay there for several minutes.
Simon stirred. ‘Annie?’
Annie raised her head. ‘So do you’.
‘Your face is dirty’.
‘So is yours’.
‘Our clothes are torn’.
‘I can hardly move my right arm’.
‘I can hardly move my left arm’.
‘My legs are totally dead’.
‘So are mine’.
‘Well, that’s all right then. We’re equal’.
‘We need to call for assistance’. He painfully dragged out his mobile with his left hand, and began to dial.
‘Who are you calling? The cavalry?’
‘More like a motorised armoured division, really’.
‘Tell them we must see them at once. It’s urgent. The first aid can wait’.
Simon spoke briefly into the phone, then put it down. Annie had snuggled her head back against his shoulder. She felt desperately tired. Her voice was muffled and indistinct.
‘Simon, I’m really sorry’.
‘For breaking down into a panic out there. I’m fine on solid ground, and in a place I know. But when the whole world becomes alien around you…..I let you down’.
‘Don’t be stupid, Annie. You didn’t let me down. You never have, and you never will’.
A sudden mechanical roar reverberated down the little street they lay in. From round the corner, a huge snarling car erupted, and roared down towards them, coming to an abrupt halt with a screech of brakes. It cast a huge shadow over them, still shuddering and rumbling.
Annie raised her head. ‘It’s Caliban!’ she cried in delight.
A moment later, the grey shape of Sister Teresa loomed over her.
‘How badly are you hurt, child?’ she asked quietly
‘Pat and Index Finger were bending over Simon. ‘You really do smell, old chap’, remarked Pat, with a forced cheerfulness.
‘We must get them into the car, and take them to Brotherhood headquarters’. said Sister Teresa, decisively. ‘They have urgent news for us’.
She slipped her large robed arms underneath Annie and lifted her up effortlessly, carrying her as if she was a child. They got into the back of the snorting Caliban, followed by Simon, carefully supported by Pat. Index Finger climbed into the driver’s seat, and they shot off down the street, making for their destination.
Sister Teresa carried Annie down the long narrow passageway, through the small black garden door, through the over grown garden and up the steps, through the front door, and up the stairs towards the meeting-room. Simon followed, hobbling slowly and painfully, leaning on Pat, who despite his age and slender stature, was surprisingly strong.
‘I think you used to take on body-builders in wrestling matches once, Sister Teresa’, Annie said rather feebly.
Sister Teresa stopped on the stairs. ‘How did you know that?’ she asked in surprise.
‘I just guessed’.
They walked in to the large high-beamed room. Sister Teresa put Annie gently down onto a chair facing the long table, around which the others were seated The other three Fingers of the Hand sat behind the table, elderly men in grey suits. On the floor at one side lay Sniffer, the tracker dog, looking like a filthy grey hearthrug as usual. Adrian the seagull, had stopped waddling about on the end of the table, and stared at them.
‘Blimey, you pair ‘ave been through the wars! Again!’ He flapped his wings energetically. ‘You look like you’ve been mud-wrestling in a cesspit’.
‘You don’t smell that bad. Nothing compared to me’. added Sniffer proudly.
The other person still half-risen from her seat, was Morag the half-faery policewoman. Young, pretty and slim, her long dark hair was swept back behind her ears. Her face, filled with shock and horror, she reached out her hand, and very gently, moved Annie’s head to one side, to reveal the deep bruises and dark red welts on her neck. She glanced at Simon and saw the same brutal marks.
She suddenly stood up and screamed, furiously. ‘Who’s done this to you! I’ll get them for this! I’ll….’
‘Peace, Morag!’ It was Sister Teresa. ‘I think this matter is outside your jurisdiction, and that of the police’.
Morag still stood her hands clenched by her sides, shaking in almost berserk rage.
‘ It’s all right, Morag. Thank you, but we’ve got more important things to say. Please, Morag. Never mind us, please sit and listen’.
Simon’s word’s were soothing. The thin-lipped mask of fury that was Morag’s face, slowly softened, and she sat down again.
(We’ve seen Morag’s faery side at last. Heaven help those that arouse her!) thought Annie to herself. She raised her voice.
‘We’ve seen Doctor Wrist’.
It was as if she had dropped a large stone into a still pool of water. The silence spread out like ripples throughout the room.
‘Where?’ asked Middle Finger, quietly.
‘In another dimension. Another world. But here, in Brighton, not in our time’.
‘There’s more’. added Simon. He nodded at Annie. She continued.
‘When we looked through the window, we saw four people around a table. There was an old woman facing us…’
‘What did she look like’ interrupted Little Finger.
‘We couldn’t see, but she had quite a long, beaked nose. But her face was in shadow. She was very old’.
Third Finger stifled an exclamation.
‘The one on the right, we didn’t see at all. I think he had some sort of moustache’.
Index Finger nodded.
‘The one on the left, we couldn’t see at first. Then he turned, and, and, we both recognised him’.
‘I knew him immediately. It was his red beard, but that gleaming right eye. That horrible, gleaming little eye. I’ve seen it before. It was Doctor Wrist’s grandfather, the one who took people’s souls away with his photographs and destroyed them. People I could never know, but still cared about!’ Simon’s voice was cold and vicious.
‘The fourth figure we only recognised when he looked up and we saw his reflection in the mirror. We knew him! We saw him once, in the battle under the pier, but we knew him! It was Doctor Wrist!’
‘Is he the one who murdered my mother?’ Morag spoke quietly, her voice tight with emotion.
‘And others, Morag’. Sister Teresa said, softly, but emphatically.
The room was silent for a long time. Even Adrian had stopped shuffling, and stood, with his head cocked to one side, frowning, as only a seagull could. The Four Fingers sat, with their arms clasped on the table. Index Finger leant, his finger pointed in a triangle in front of his face. Simon and Annie were lost in their own thoughts. Morag sat, clasping and unclasping her fingers. Pat and Sister Teresa had folded their arms, their eyes closed. Sniffer simply lay flat on the floor, his eyes bright and dark under the matted fur.
At last, Index Finger lowered his hands, and placed them flat on the table. ‘There are several issues here’, he announced, looking around at all of them. ‘Firstly, Annie, was your talisman of any help when you were in these..other worlds>’
Annie blinked herself awake. She didn’t dare shake her head. It hurt too much. ‘No. It didn’t seem to have any powers. At least, not in those places. I wish it had!’
Little Finger leaned forward. ‘Annie, we know you and your brother are injured. Have you been able to use the talisman to heal you?’
‘I tried’. said Annie wearily. ‘When we were waiting for you. But it doesn’t seem to work on bruises. I think’, she hesitated, ‘that if our wounds were life-threatening, or really serious, then it would. It always has before’.
‘So you were hurt in these other dimensions, but you had no means of help or aid?’
‘No, I suppose not’.
Index Finger sighed. ‘You have been lucky indeed’. He smiled at them both. ‘We are very happy to have you back, all of us’.
‘Who was it that hurt you?’ asked Morag, sharply. She had seen the painful way they moved, and the cuts and grazes on their knees and elbows. ‘I want to know’.
‘He said he was, something like, a glass-keeper’. muttered Simon now feeling very tired.
Sister Teresa sat bolt upright. ‘You mean mirrors? Glasses?’
‘I think so. Anyway, he didn’t like us being there, so he took us away. He was a bit like a nasty park-keeper, throwing naughty children out of the playground after closing time’. He laughed, a bit painfully. ‘Let’s we were forcibly ejected from the premises’.
‘Did he say anything else, Simon? This is important!’
‘Well, just before he finally chucked us out, he said, “That is a portal. Do you want to see Hell?”’.
Sister Teresa gasped, closed her eyes, and crossed herself. ‘Praise be to the good Lord!’ She opened her eyes. ‘Oh, Annie, Simon! That glass-keeper saved you! He might have hurt you badly, but it would not be deliberate. He hurt you only because you resisted, is that not right?’
‘Yes, I suppose so’. admitted Simon reluctantly.
‘Please!’ Index Finger banged his palm on the table. ‘We must get on, so that Annie and Simon can receive some attention! What is it that we know now?’
‘We know that we are now dealing with not just one member of the Wrist family, but a whole nest of them. Combined together, they are an enormous threat’. Little Finger spoke slowly, as a member who said little at meetings. But they all nodded.
‘There is another terrible thing’. Index Finger added in a low voice. ‘We are discussing three, possibly four generations of the Wrist family. Why are they still alive? The great-grandmother, the grandfather, the father, perhaps the one that Annie and Simon could not identify, and Doctor Wrist himself’.
‘They’ve achieved some sort of immortality’. Pat spoke distinctly for the first time. ‘It may not be true immortality, as we think of it, but some way of preserving life. If that is so, what can we do?’
‘They also can exist in other dimensions, which is where they hide. We have some experience of those, but’, Third Finger hesitated. ‘no real knowledge’.
‘Can I say summat?’ Everybody looked down at Sniffer. ‘Annie, Simon, wake up you two! Didn’t you say once that your mum and dad knew this Nicolas Flamoose, or whoever?’
‘Flamel’. said Annie.
‘Exactly. He’s a famous alky…..’
‘Alchemist, right. He’s found the secret of, of, eternal life, that’s right isn’t it? Why don’t we get in touch with him? See if he can advise us, or something? Stands to reason that we need some expertise on this’.
‘Yeah, and why don’t you get this pair ‘ome?’ squawked Adrian, flapping his wings again. ‘They’re nearly out cold! Mind you,keeps them quiet’.
‘I heard that, Adrian!’
‘I shall do both of those things’. Sister Teresa rose majestically to her feet. ‘No, not you, Morag! This is a part you need to keep out of’.
Morag glared furiously at Sister Teresa, but said nothing.
‘What will you tell their parents, Sister?’ whispered Pat, leaning over to her.
‘The truth. What else? They are Watchers. They will understand’.
Morag watched miserably as Annie and Simon were carefully lifted into the waiting Caliban, grumbling and hissing. She felt again that she had been pushed aside, by things that she didn’t know about. Why was she always the last to be told? Just because I’m a copper!
She leaned into the open window.
‘Will you and Simon be all right, Annie?’
Annie looked up at her and smiled. ‘Yes we will’.
Morag didn’t know why, but she suddenly blurted out ‘I wish my mum could have given me a brother and sister like you!’
Annie reached out and gently stroked her face. Her dirty face smiled even more radiantly.
‘Don’t you think she already has, Morag?’
Caliban roared menacingly, and slid away from the pavement. It disappeared around the corner. Morag stood for a moment, watching. Then she turned away, still confused, but happy.
Frank Jackson (19/08/10) Word count – 9758.