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Shay Sheridan - Reality

Chapter 20 - Reflection

Beneath a wretched hovel slowly sinking in the muck, within a dank and fetid cavern, atop a crumbling bier of moldy stone, rotting, flesh bit by bit succumbing, dissolving into nothingness to dust the swamp that slowly swallowed her, alive but not alive, dead yet not dead, aware of everything yet oblivious to touch, sound, smell, taste, sight,

the swamp witch slept.

And dreamed.

A dream half-awake, half slumbering, first shreds and pieces, like the shreds and pieces of her flesh, slowly knitting together into the fabric of memory, to form a shroud of remembrance to cover and comfort her.

O, my mirrors!
she dreamt,

Young, fresh, lovely I was once!
Not a thing of rotted flesh where only the will survives.
But beautiful,
And rich in grace if not in wealth.
A poor relation to a young queen who ruled a great land,
a queen who married a handsome prince
but not for love,
at least not on her part.
And O! I was loyal to my queen, I, her lady in waiting, I, her companion, confidante, counsel,
I am, good cousin,
I would tell her,
she whose shoulder is always yours to cry upon, my will yours to command
And she would reply,
O, Merigard! You are closer to me than a sister, nearer than my husband, dearer than a mother or a lover, to you alone will I always tell my secrets, to you alone will I always unburden my heart.
Her mouth close to my ear
A slash of red,
like a wound, weeping secrets into my ear, my heart,
her secrets my secrets.

How I loved her! How I doted on her!
How I envied her.
But I banished envy from my heart
for love of her.

And then she took a lover.

Handsome, clever, dangerous, forbidden--
mystery hung about him like a cloak.
I understood --who can resist secrets?
And she, she who told me everything, who shared every secret, she who said I was dearer than a lover, told me everything there was to know about him. Everything,
save his deepest secret.
The only one that mattered.

I had my ways even then, to find things out.
And my heart near burst with pain that she would keep this from me.
And soon her secrets were no longer mine, but only his to keep.
I wept.
What a fool I was.

The secret of their escape,
THAT she told me.
I was afraid, devastated, she would leave, she would leave me,
she insisted,
Merigard, you must go, too! Come with us, with my lover and I, run away with us from the prince, find a new life, never leave me, never leave your queen, dear devoted friend, dear closer-than-a-sister.
And Yes, please come, dear Lady Merigard,
her lover echoed, though less fervently, much less so.
And yes!
I cried,
YES! YES! I will come with you!

But then I began to think:

It is clear he has enchanted her, she will never again tell me her secrets, she will never again pour out her heart to me, why should my own heart break to see them in their great happiness, when I cannot truly share in it?

And then I thought:
WHY should I go?
Why should I leave my home, the castle, the land I grew up in, to live abroad in a land unknown, perhaps in poverty, bereft of comforts,
and unloved?
By her.

And then I began to wonder:
When she is gone, who will be queen?

But I kept that in my heart and said nothing.

The means of their escape--
Magic rumored of but never proven.
A mirror.
Through which one might pass as if through water--
To surge upwards through crystal water-that-is-not-water, rising, breaking the surface to gasp for breath in another land, a farther shore than anyone had ever seen. Where there could be no following, no pursuit, if the truth of the mirror were not known.
A wonder!
She'd found it, and others, too, mirrors of all shapes and sizes, of all purposes; mirrors to travel, mirrors to tell the truth, mirrors to spy, mirrors to remember, mirrors to forget, to convince, to change, to control.
Powerful mirrors.
None of them interested her.

But they interested ME.

And when the night came for our departure, I came to the place where the mirror waited, and her lover turned a wheel, and I watched her lover's people pass through the frame, my mouth an O of disbelief and wonder,
and then her lover moved to pass through, holding her small hand
But then her husband, the prince! The prince had found out and followed them!

(far be it from me to say how he came by this knowledge)

and he saw them going, and hastened to send his guards to stop them,
and my queen cried out NO!
And NO! I echoed,
I will stay behind, and shatter the glass so the prince may not catch you!
And my queen, my friend, my heart, sobbed and called Farewell, Merigard! I shall never forget your sacrifice!
And she was gone.
Oh, please.

I stood watching, whispering, Goodbye, my queen, goodbye, my heart.
My traitorous heart.
The prince approached. After them! After them! he cried, and I could have broken the mirror then, as I promised, but instead I pushed him through it, and his men stopped short of the glass in uncertainly.
I could see him for a moment, blurry, as he hit grass, rolled and was dragged to his feet, surrounded by them,
surrounded by the wolves.

I turned the mirror off.

I turned to the prince's men.

The prince's men swore at me and raised their weapons.
You can kill me,
I said,
or you can let me go and I will be forever in your debt.
They grumbled at me.
Stay your hands,
I said, moving towards them,
and you will be rewarded.

They were silent.
Help me,
I said, my hand upon the leader's chest,
and I will never forget you,
you who made me queen.
And the leader smiled at me.

Within her dream, the swamp witch sighed, a sound at once both old and dry like the beating of bat's wings, yet wet and filthy, too, dank, a swamp sound, a sucking, hollow sound.

O, my mirrors!
Mine now. Mine alone,
As was the kingdom.
How they fascinated me!
Foolish Red, to have left them behind!
I stared at them for hours, for days, sometimes not sleeping nor eating, learning to use them, learning to control them,
caressing them like lovers,
receiving pleasure from them in return.
I walked before them
turning this way and that, and saw myself reflected over and over.
You are fair, the glass said.
Surely I am more beautiful than Red, I said,
and the mirrors agreed.
Surely I deserve a lover greater than hers.
But you have us! the mirrors protested.

I took lovers anyway.
But none was fine enough
or rich enough
or good enough
and by and by I tired of them.

Besides, my mirrors were jealous
and so I put my lovers to death,
I found I enjoyed that, rather.

But I grew pale and wan sitting before my mirrors,
And by and by bored as well
and impatient for happiness.
Mirror, I said, show me the world around me! Show me other kingdoms!

O, the world beyond my lands!
I beheld in the glass
Kingdoms of dwarves
Kingdoms of fairies, and of trolls
Of thrush-bearded kings and girls with too-long hair
and silly children who taunted bears, and frog princes and pipers and animal musicians and beasts and beauties,
And one dreamland beyond imagining, with square towers of glass that reached into the sky, and birds of metal above them, and other wonders, too, beyond the possibility of reason. But people seemed to live there, and strive there, and war against one another, and die there, as they did everywhere.
Frightening places. Fascinating places.
I did not look for Red.
I did not want to see her
I did not want to see her happy.

And one day, mirrors showed me a handsome prince and his young queen and they were so in love I felt the envy stir inside me anew, as if I were looking upon my beloved traitor.
But how happy they seemed, these two, how fortunate,
more fortunate than I

Show me, I cried, show me where this is!!
And the glass showed me a land of unbearable beauty
Where is this?
I demanded
It is nearby, O fair one,
the glass said.

And then I thought:
Why look for happiness?
Why want it,
You will never have it.
But perhaps you can take it.
Perhaps you can take it away.

And then I realized:
It was no longer enough to gaze.
No longer enough to look at life.
Time to take what I wanted--
To take away the happiness of others.

Perhaps then I would be happy ever after.

And so I put aside my crown and put on a disguise, my old sensible poor-relation gown, and took a wagon with nothing in it, only my mirrors for company, and rode for days and days until I came to where they lived.

I asked for shelter. They were kind. The happy have that luxury, kindness.
I became a lady in waiting, a role I had perfected, one who listened, one who cared,
companion, confidante, counsel, caring friend
in the castle where the prince lived happily with his happy wife
and their happy child.
A child with white skin and dark hair and red lips
they called Snow White, of all ridiculous things.
Why not Betty? Or Ermentrude? Or Millicent? Or Genevieve?
Or any other normal name?
But no, Snow White it was.
I sensed a lack of imagination.

As unimaginative as Red.

I came into their lives that way.

But left another way, a long while after,
after deceit and danger
and death
and learning the Power
and poisoned combs and poisoned apples,
after glass coffins
and who's the fairest
and witchcraft
and meddling princes
after red hot shoes
and feet burnt to shreds
and unimaginable devastation
and unendurable pain.

I left another way,
crawling on my hands and knees
to this hideous place
to rot away in ugliness and isolation
alone but for my memories

hidden here, among the old and warped mirrors I begged the odd traveler and tinker and gypsy to give me.
But my mirrors, MY mirrors, mine forever,
like my magic, like the Power I had learned.

Years passed. I planned my revenge.
Many revenges.
But I could not make them happen.
The happiness of my enemies endured.
And in my darkness, in my isolation
I began to think:

I cannot bear this
I must change this
They must be made to pay before I die.
And then I began to wonder:

CAN I change this?

And then I began to consider:

How may I change this?

I limped about my horrible abode, dragging useless stumps that had been white delicate feet. Thinking. Thinking.
I stared into a small, round mirror, secreted in my ruined clothes as they drove me from the palace where Snow White danced with her prince, her dwarf minions gathered about her like hideous children.

I took my mirror and held it in my hand and concentrated,
concentrated so hard that my eyes poured tears and my head throbbed worse than the pain in my feet but still I kept on, until my eyes wept blood and my ears echoed with my own screams
until I felt, slender as a strand of silk, lighter than a feather's shadow,
the stirring of another

another with the Power.
A dissatisfied farm wife A seamstress. Her dolt of a husband raised goats.
They had a child, I think.
And I called to her.
To give me my revenge.
Come to me, Kirsten, I said, come.
And, confused, frightened, provincial, red hair askew, hands wringing in terror, patches on her apron, no shoes,
she came.
Red hair--a sign, I thought, of success.
I taught her, I prepared her, I readied her, I transformed her, I set her loose upon them.

She failed.

She had no grasp of subtlety.
Even as they stoned her to death outside Castle White for trying to murder Snow White's heir, I sat considering my mirrors.

What if...
What if
Mirrors to remember
Mirrors to control
Mirrors to change
Could change what IS? What has been?

A pretty thought.
It obsessed me.
I tilted the mirror of change
to reflect into the other for remembrance.
The reflections arced away into infinity.
What if, I thought, what if reality is mutable? Can I not change what was by returning to the beginning?
And so I reflected one into the other, and placed myself between them.
Take me back! I cried. Change my remembrance! Change my story!
Infinity enveloped me.

Nothing happened.

I was still in my hovel. My feet still were shredded. I was still old.

But something had changed. I looked into the mirrors. Show me, I said, show me my kingdom. A queen sat on the throne --MY throne, traitorous Red's throne,
and I gasped Red! My Red! All is as it was!
But it was not.
Her name was Red, but she was the third of that name, and there had been no flight, no wolves, no Lady Merigard.

I still existed.

Show me Castle White! I demanded.
Time had shifted, subtly. Snow White was very old. But so much had not yet happened. Her grandson was a child.

Why? How?

It didn't matter. I had changed it once, but not enough. I would change it again. I was not daunted, mistakes had been made, I knew that now, I knew I could fix them, I knew I could not go back, but I could still destroy them.
I concentrated into my glass again.
And then. . . the thread, the scent again of Power from another.
But the seamstress was gone.
Something tickled in my glass. There --
in the western lands, by the shore, it was she! But now she was the wife of a minor nobleman. The same woman, but not the same.
Christiana. Lady Christiana.
Red hair neatly tucked in a bun, a look of serenity. A small child at her feet, a dark-haired girl --a flash of Snow White --no, not nearly as pretty, small, gamine.
I called the woman
Come to me, come, Lady, I need you, you need me.
She came, and I prepared to teach her, to ready her--

And she... refused.


She missed her family, her child, her house, her garden, the sea.
I could not believe it. I promised her wealth, power, fame.
No, she said, send me home. I have everything I need.
I am happy.

My blood froze, my hands clenched and my eyes rolled back. Happiness!
Denied to me, I would deny it her.
I sent her home.
To die.

I watched her bewildered husband by her failing body. I watched her sobbing child embrace her mother's corpse.
I had taken their happiness and it brought me pleasure.
But only for a moment.

Again! I will try again, until my will is served. I turned the mirrors toward each other. Change! I cried! Bring me peace! Infinity, infinite opportunities, infinite possibilities!

Again nothing here in my hiding place seemed to breathe or shift or move, but in the mirrors I saw yet another Red upon the throne, another Castle White; some faces changed, some ministers rose in power, some disappeared. And now there were wolves again, in the shadows at the edge of my reality, sniffing for who knew what, and when I sought my replacement, she was not on her farm, nor in the western lands, but in a different mirror, in my dreamland of tall towers of glass and flying metal, a sad and confused woman, another urchin child, but this woman, O this one, she had potential! The Power was strong in her, and she was willing and she came to me from far away, and I brought her to me, shaking, weeping, pulling at her hair, her red hair, nearly shattered by what she'd almost done to her urchin, and I remade her, I taught her, I created her anew. I sent her on her way. To Castle White, to continue my work.

If I could not change my past, I would destroy their future.

Ah, Christine, Christine, Christine
She was the best.
I lay upon my deathbed and watched her work.

O, but she was clever!
She had subtlety.
She nearly succeeded.
She came so close --O, so close!
She would have killed them all, House of White, Red, Black and Blue, all the kingdoms in between, fairies, trolls, dwarves--
It would have been glorious!

She would have done,
but for the interference of that damned urchin child, now grown,
and one of those wolves --would they never let me be?
As dangerous as my Red's lover, I should have put HIM down all those years ago, the heartache, the effort it would have saved me!

The swamp witch stirred, bits of desiccated tissue falling from her in her restlessness. She drifted toward wakefulness; her dream a waking dream.

And this time I could barely summon my will to try again.
But try I did.
an infinity of realities.
And only I, and this swamp, do not change.

This time I knew where to look. Find Christine again. She was the best. But make some changes, Christine, I will show you. I will instruct you.

I have sent her on her way. Again. She will succeed this time.
There have been changes. She has already captured Wendell, She has not involved the wolf. She drowned her daughter in the bathtub.

This Christine will not fail.
Not this time.

I would be content.


I fear a flaw in the mirrors, an unevenness of quicksilver, perchance. A bubble in the glass.
Things are beginning to splinter. People appear in several mirrors. Reality doubles on itself in places. Something is not right. I do not know what. Is there one reality now, or many?
And I begin to wonder:
in my dreamland, does Red still exist? Or have I erased her forever?

A sound, like footsteps.

Eyes, in bony sockets, open.

Someone at my door.

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