She could have just left it alone, all of it. Of course, there was the pang in her stomach, a pang that perhaps had always existed inside of her. Go on, the animated stomach seemed to have been saying.
First, she had stumbled upon the shard of glass underneath the trampling of a bush. It seemed an organic sort of shattering, as if someone had smashed a mirror, but the puzzle of it still remained. She was unsure how a shard of glass could possibly end up in isolation out in the woods, but something about the fractured piece seemed to mesmorise her. She would glance upon it and see herself, for a split second, and then she would see something else entirely. A jagged corpse, or worse, a braying donkey. Magicked to be like that, magicked to be stinky and foul of breath.
She shuddered at her reflection, wrapping the glass in torn-off fabric. She had destroyed an outfit she no longer had use for, and it felt freeing, but the rags could now keep to some use. She had a satchel, just wide enough to squeeze her new possession inside. Though she had no intentions of keeping it for long.
A few days seemed to pass, without the woman paying much attention. When she was younger, she had learnt how to tell time from the sun, but the knowledge of that either had slipped on a pair of riding boots and vacated her head, or simply, she couldn’t care less. She spent an entire day forgetting about the satchel slung over her shoulder and its contents, and instead paid close attention to the ramblings of a wild boar. It spoke of what it had witnessed three towns over, while she couldn’t name the town they had just passed. It became a sort of travelling guide, this wild boar, until she bored of hearing it make another soil-related joke and she bid the chubby pig goodbye. The timing was perfect – she had glanced a pillow of smoke coming from a cottage nestled between gargantuan boulders the size of, well, she could not have even began to describe what. She’d known a tower just as tall.
‘Silly pig,’ she murmured to herself, readying a faux sort of speech for when she rapped on the logroll door and asked whoever answered if they…needed their mirror repaired. The true business plan of it all seemed entirely on the verge of unspooling, but she had nary a moment all day to ponder the right method of things. She couldn’t simply tuck the shard underneath another bush – and now she wondered why at all she needed to rid herself of it. Imagine the raucous noise of opening a quaint little stall in the marketplace, advertising a mirror that could reflect…well, something entirely nasty and cruel. She had considered shoving the boar’s face in front of it – perhaps he would have seen himself, roasting over a flame, being served as a side dish on the king’s banquet table.
The walk towards the cabin was an eroded dirt path. Something you would find in the winds of the forest, old and wrinkled, worn-down. The woman neared the cabin and noticed she wouldn’t need to greet someone at the door after all – a tall, unassuming, brown-haired man stood turned away from her. He was bent down, reaching for a plank of wood, a deep cherry-red colour. She swooped in like magpie.
‘Good day, sir,’ she said, hesitating. She waited for him to straighten his back and glance her way. His eyes were dullish green, like malnourished moss. ‘My name is Calla,’ she added, hoping it would make him feel as if she was to be a respectable woman, one not about to peddle him for such a strange object.
The handsome stranger grinned at her. ‘How may I help?’
Calla contemplated everything – but mainly focused on the mirror shard, of course. It seemed to ache inside the satchel, make the bottom of it sag downward. She chose her words carefully.
‘Do you need a new mirror?’ She very quickly realised she had no idea how to repair a damaged mirror, let alone scrape together a mirror from the janky piece she had stumbled upon. The man stared at her in confusion, with a slight tilt of his head. Then, she thought, oh shit, this man doesn’t even know what a mirror is.
‘You don’t seem to be selling anything, unless your wares are stored in the pockets of your coat?’ He took overdramatic glances to either side of her, as if expecting something to be flung out with a sharp flick of her wrist. She offered a cackle, which he found hilarious.
‘The mirror I offer you is inside my satchel,’ Calla replied, fiddling with the latches. She took her eyes off of the stranger for a moment, glancing at an angular triangle of the shard that had come unclothed. She saw herself mothering a child – this man’s newborn, and the child would not quit screaming. Calla wasted no breaths covering that tormenting vision up. ‘I had to protect the glass, of course, so that it would not shatter on my travel and somehow slice ribbons of blood down the side of my legs.’ The handsome fellow only laughed then, too, leaning forward as Calla unraveled the makeshift sheath.
‘I know it looks like nothing extraordinary,’ Calla began, watching the expression piece by piece change upon his face. They say, trolls or demons or goblin babes cried out a tongue of grimace upon the mirror, in its original form, and now anyone who glances upon it is destined to have some twisted cruelty gleamed upon them. For most of them, truthfully, it was a scam artist mirror. Told you to be fearful of whatever you likely would’ve been afraid of. Being hideous was a common one, and death, obviously death. The man saw something entirely different. He was very much alive; he was very much the vision of a princely fellow, except he lived in the woods, and had dirt underneath every finger- and toenail. The mirror loved to entertain.
Cast out for his eyes, the mirror reflected a simple scene. The man – Bernard – was sat outside this very cabin, stark naked. His hairy bottom was scratching against the stump of a tree. Bernard was tied to the stump, ropes wrapping round his ankles, his wrists, the throb of his third leg. An anthropomorphic cloud was floating around his head, pelting grapefruit-sized hail at his bare flesh. His moans were high-pitched and sharp, on-impact screams, as the hail seemingly melted him down to bone. Bernard inched forward, pinching the mirror out of Calla’s hand. A bush-berry-red scar cut through his palm, but he barely noticed, aiming the mirror entirely away from the two of them.
‘You are a demoness,’ he whispered, a scalding pain passing over.
She thought to herself, he must not have loved the way he looked as an ass then. She didn’t know then how certain of things she indeed was, but she lunged forward with the cloth in hand, retrieving the shard from him. ‘I have never been so offended in my life,’ she said, although it was entirely untrue. She didn’t care at all what he thought of her.
She flashed the mirror one last time in his face.
He saw himself bent into the shape of a wooden bench. A wild boar wearing a tiny gold-plated crown was nailing him together, testing out the soon-to-be throne outside a shabby cabin in the haunches of the woods. Bernard howled. He screamed like a hungover baby. His legs could not carry him faster out onto the path, then out of sight entirely, another swatch of repatched fabric in the quilt of the forest. Calla didn’t really understand that metaphor, but she knew she didn’t have to. He was gone, and strangely it was nicer than having to continue trying to peddle a stupid mirror that fails time and time again to show someone the sad reality of everything.
She figured she might as well rob him blind while he was off consoling himself on a rock near a stream somewhere or scrounging up a torch-and-pitchfork mob for her head. The stranger had left the door to the cottage unlocked and Calla tried to quieten the sound of squeaking by asking if anyone else was home. She heard a hushed hum coming from one of the rooms. She figured that perhaps this strange man had a sick child that was just waking up, or he had someone tied to a chair with thick rope wedged between their teeth. Of course it was the latter.
Calla realised she should have been mortified, but after carrying a tormenter-mirror around for a while, she was just grateful the kid was still breathing.
‘Oh gosh, I’m here to help you, sweetheart.’ Calla began to untie the skilled knots, thinking of the mirror jammed back into the satchel again. There were lacerations on the young boy’s throat and hands, and he was missing a few of his teeth. She just hoped he had lost them from biting into incredibly crunchy apples. She wrapped her arms around the poor child when she had untangled him free. ‘You are free now,’ she whispered, although she wasn’t certain who she believed was free. Herself, the boy, or the jagged shard of a mirror?
Author: Keeley Young is a fourth-year creative writing student with his head constantly in the clouds. He is interested in writing everything from fantasy fiction to queer literature to hopefully-engaging pieces about human emotion.
Artist: Yongzheng Wang is a visual arts student from China, currently studying at QUT and living in Brisbane, specialising in traditional painting such as classical oil painting and academic sketching. While studying art in China, he won a first prize in landscape drawing in institute. He is fluent in Chinese, French, English and Italian and has a good knowledge of Western art theory.
Editors: Jasmine Tait and Eliana Fritz