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'mirror, mirror'

brigits_flame Entry
Prompt:
Smoke and Mirrors
Word Count: 1,900

Smoke in the Mirror


It was an old story told in Neversedge, well worn and familiar like the smooth stones of the city streets. An old wives' tale handed down to generations of younglings, more often than not by candlelight on a bleak winter's night. There was little else to do in the depths of the cold season in the most remote part of the empire than gather together to trade tales. The grandmothers of the city revelled in their status as storytellers and wise women and were not adverse to embellishing the facts a little, if indeed they were ever fact at all. As such the stories grew and shifted as each woman added her own flair. Sometimes the stories become so legendary that they condensed down to an anecdote or a phrase. 'Never look at the smoke in the mirror'. It was a phrase ever child of Neversedge grew familiar with. The story itself was a simple cautionary tale of vanity and pride mixed in with the prerequisite amount of ghoulish hokey. The more sensitive children would refuse to look in mirrors again and sleep with the lamps burning for several days. Most would laugh it off outwardly with childish bravado but think twice before looking too hard at their reflections, or what lay behind them.

Each year more than one child would run crying to their parents claiming to have seen smoke in their bedroom mirror. Mostly they'd be met with sympathy, reassurance and probably a treat to lift their spirits whilst being told how they musn't let the stories of the wise women scare them. The world was safe and secure after all. There'd be time for them to learn the truth when they got older. The more superstitious parents would strip the house of all reflective objects, hang bunches of fresh herbs above the doorways and chase away the shadows with bright candlelight. Jesson was eight when she saw the smoke out of corner of her eye whilst she braided her hair. She neither cried nor ran to her parents. Instead she continued to steal glances at the twisting, writhing smoke until it faded from sight. Her parents were not the sort to react to her discovery with fear and superstition. Nor was she inclined to be patronised as one of the children who feared the night, the hand at the window and the figure in the dark. Jesson was not prone to bouts of childish paranoia. She had never made her father check for monsters under her bed or bogeymen in her wardrobe. She often kept her curtains open at night and the window cracked for air without worrying about what might steal into her room in the dark. So she kept quiet and went about her daily business of lessons, homework and chores without ever mentioning the smoke in the mirror. At quiet times though, when she was alone, she'd often find herself glancing at the wooden framed mirror above her desk hoping to see something more than her ever-changing adolescent face looking back.

As Jesson grew she made a name for herself as a troublemaker and a nuisance, much to her parents dismay. Neversedge was not a place that took kindly to lawbreakers and whilst as a child she was granted the benefit of the doubt on more than one occasion, as she matured the collective patience of the Elders and the Enforcers began to show signs of wear and tear. She was noticeably different in appearance to her peers; tall, lanky and with untidy dark hair falling over intense green eyes. Nobody in Neversedge had green eyes and it became another thing that marked her as someone to keep a careful eye on. Her attitude grew with her size and her years and she would be prone to fits of dark moods and solitude, spending her time either shut in her room or away from the house walking alone amongst the marshes and woodlands. The city folk, especially those of a superstitious nature began avoiding her as much as they avoided other dark places in Neversedge. It was not considered wise to peer into the shadows this close to the edge of the empire and Jesson's dark green eyes were felt to be just as dangerous.

It was a cold morning in early winter when Jesson decided to scale the walls of the Judiciary. Only Enforcers and the accused were allowed in and few of the accused made it out to tell about it. Crime and insubordination were dealt with seriously with punishments ranging from exile to death via some macabre corporal sentences carried out by as special team of Enforcers known colloquially as the Whiplashes. For Jesson, the dark stone building decorated liberally with gargoyles and grotesques was fascinating. Her desire to discover what lay inside led to her scaling the craggy building in the hops of finding a way inside. She was halfway up peering into the cold, dead eyes of a particularly ugly grotesque when she felt the torso-rope snap around her waist. Glancing down she could see the grey uniform of a junior Enforcer and sighed. Rumbled. The guard below gave a tug on the rope designed to seek out the midriff of whoever it was thrown at, and beckoned her down. Reluctantly, Jesson began to climb down taking her time. It was either that or wait for the guard to become impatient and reel in the torso-rope tearing her from the building by force. Climbing down of her own volition would go in her favour if he referred her to his superiors. As she hit the frosty grass with a soft crunch she turned to face the Enforcer, her face set into a scowl. The scowl melted slightly as she recognised her captor's face, before becoming etched deeper onto her features.
"What the hell did you do that for?" she spat
"Come off it Jess, you know that's a Grade 1 offence. I should have you up in front of the Judiciary for that. You're bloody lucky it was me on patrol."
"Yeah, whatever, Leif" Jesson shrugged, "and don't call me Jess."
Leif sighed. He and Jesson had been friends of a fashion growing up and he knew how much she resented his decision to join the Enforcers. He retracted the rope releasing her from her bonds and stepped back. "Look Jesson," he said emphasising the second syllable, "Quit pulling these kind of stunts. I can't, no, I won't keep covering for you forever." He ran his hand through his close-cropped blonde hair. "I don't want to see the Whiplashes get their grubby little paws on you, ok?"
Jesson snarled in response like some kind of feral dog and stalked off in the direction of her house. Leif shrugged his shoulders and deleted the electronic record of the torso-rope deployment from his log.

Jesson slammed the door to her room and slumped down at her desk in frustration. Bloody interfering do-gooder, she thought as she unwound her climbing wraps from her frozen fingers. To calm her anger she stared deeply into her own reflection in the wooden framed mirror she'd had since she was a child. As her rage began to dissipate she began to relax her vision. Slowly she began to see what she'd wanted to see since a bright summer's day when she was eight. Softly, wisps of smoke began to form in the looking glass above the reflection of her face. She kept her eyes on those of her reflection, wary to stare to closely at the smoke in case she chased it away. From the corner of her eye she could see the smoke begin to clarify, to almost solidify until she felt she could touch it. Involuntarily she reached for the glass and found that her fingers slid through like there was no hard barrier there at all. She focused her attention on the smoke, allowing the twisting and swirling to consume her, to possess her. Her eyes closed and when they opened again she was in the dark. Purple flames sparked into life around her and as her eyes adjusted to the sudden influx of light, Jesson took in her surroundings. She was in a cave made of what appeared to be serpentinite, judging by the greenish, mottled appearance of the rocks by her feet. The cave was warm but not uncomfortably so and clearly buried deep in the earth. The flames burned in torches attached to the cave walls leading into the darkness. She began to edge forward in the dark when a voice stopped her in her tracks. A voice which appeared to resonate inside her own head rather than in the cave itself.

"Stay where you are child," the voice said. A female voice, old as the cave itself and maybe even older than that. Old and wise enough to make even Jesson take heed. She sat back down on the cave floor. "Do you know where you are?"
"No," Jesson's voice echoed harshly in the silence of the cave.
"Think your responses, child, our minds are connected."
"Who are you?" thought Jesson
"That is of no consequence. Are you prepared for a task? Few are given access to this place by the smoke and fewer still return whole. You, though, are different, one of us, maybe the one we have waited for."
Jesson waited for more information but when no was forthcoming she thought her response.
"What task? What do you want me to do?"
"Simple. Change things. You are lied to and enslaved. The old ways are gone, the empire is gone. You are alone, trapped and enslaved by the so-called Elders and their puppets. They are poison. Destroy them and the old ways return. I know you feel it. The rage and the darkness, deep in your soul. Fight back, green-eyes."
"How?"
"The tools you need are at your feet. If you take them, use them and find us again in the smoke. If you leave them we will never call you again and you may live whatever life you choose. Your choice"
Jesson looked down at her feet. In the flickering light she could see a dagger with a serpentine handle, it's blade glinting invitingly in the torchlight. Beside that lay a coil of rope like none she'd even seen, a satchel filled will herbs, lock-picks and other unidentifiable implements and a bone flute decorated with raven feathers.
"Their uses will become apparent", the voice said growing quieter, "You will know what you must do."
Jesson felt as sudden rush of cold air and closed her eyes tightly against it. When she opened them again she was sat at the desk and the mirror was empty of all but her reflection. She laid out her 'tools' on the rough wooden desk in front of her. She fondled the flute and held the dagger up to the light twisting the blade and watching the patterns of shift as the candle flame played across green stone and steel. She inhaled the cent of the herbs and the leather satchel, breathing the myriad of smells deeply into her lungs. Eventually, she sat back and looked once again into the mirror. "I know what I must do."

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
lalalaleigha
Aug. 9th, 2009 03:12 am (UTC)
Wow! What a story!

Once your story got off the ground, I really enjoyed it. I love the concept of the smoke in the mirror and how a myth turned out to integrate elements of truth. You're setting yourself up well here for a long story. It'd be really interesting to see where you take this.

However, the paragraphs were a bit long. It did make the story a bit difficult to navigate in places.

Interestingly, my friend's brother's name is Jesson. I love the name!

Good luck this week. :)
lacruciverbiste
Aug. 9th, 2009 07:06 pm (UTC)
Awesome descriptions and a great use of this week's prompt. I actually didn't mind the longer paragraphs, as they were packed with detail that really drew me in.

Good luck this week!

~La Cruciverbiste
http://lacruciverbiste.livejournal.com/6199.html
(Anonymous)
Aug. 9th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
Oh crap! I don't have time to finish reading your story at the moment, but I know when I come back to it, I'm going to totally forget to tell you that I cracked up at the title of your journal. Oh my god. How friggin' perfect. I mean, not for you. Well, maybe for you. I don't know you, but shit, I mean for ME!

This is what happens when I try to communicate under pressure. I will be back!
innana88
Aug. 9th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
What the heck? That was me!
innana88
Aug. 10th, 2009 01:34 am (UTC)
You write storytelling very well, if that makes sense. There is an oral quality to your writing that works really well with this kind of story.

Great entry. Good luck to you!
mermaidbia
Aug. 10th, 2009 08:12 am (UTC)
Ooooh, what a rich, chilling, passionate piece! Definitely one of my favourites this week. You have a definite gift with prose - it flows easily through your fingers, rich and detailed without sounding as put-on and fillery as some I've seen. You paint this world - this exciting, intruiging world - with a few masterful strokes and then you let your characters live in it naturally. I love how you set up the first paragraph, following the dynamics of reality turning into myth and from that into anecdote.

I want to know more about this thrilling world. And hooray for green eyes.

A stunning piece. Great work!
cedarwolfsinger
Aug. 11th, 2009 02:18 am (UTC)
Great story. Of course, I want to know WHAT SHE IS SUPPOSED TO DO!!! Good luck with this!
katden
Aug. 11th, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)
Well, you have a way of spinning a tale!!! That was fantastic!!
toxic_apiaceae
Aug. 12th, 2009 10:58 am (UTC)
Oooo... neat!

One thing I've always loved are the faerie tales with darker undertones. I think you captured that sort of element brilliantly. The idea that this myth of smoke in the mirror is supposed to be this scary, horrible thing when in fact it's actually something of benefit to everyone is awesome.

Another element I really loved is the whole right v. wrong thing. You know there's something very, very wrong here, but it's still a mystery. On the one hand the reader, like the heroine, wants to believe that her home is VERY flawed, that they're being tricked and manipulated and can't see that. On the other hand... you can't help but wonder if maybe the smoke's lying, trying to trick HER into acting for their own purposes.

The only critique I have is on your structure. I don't know if you had the extra spaces between dialogue and paragraphs when you initially wrote it and they just didn't carry over during the c/p into LiveJournal, or if you never had them to begin with... but there needs to be a space between every paragraphs and every line of dialogue. It not only looks cleaner but it's a courtesy to your readers so they don't have a huuuuge block of text to go through.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )