Duessa, Part 4 of 12

This is the fourth installment of Duessa, a 12,000-word allegory (of sorts). I’m posting a new installment on each of the twelve days of Christmas, wrapping up on January 5th. See the previous three here.

When she opened her eyes she was facing the same way, looking at the same reflections of reflections, backs and fronts, of her head and the candles. She was not sure whether anything had happened, whether she was only imagining that she had entered her reflection, and that the directions she was calling “right” and “left” now were not what they had been moments before.

After a moment’s thought — what did she need to do to progress down this corridor? — she turned around and walked to the opposite mirror, met her other strange reflection, closed her eyes and crossed again. The sensations were the same. She kept pacing for some time, half suspecting she was doing nothing but pacing, until she realized that the candlelight around her was dimmer, outlines somehow less clear. She wasn’t imagining the effect; her own candle, though just as low as it had been, no longer offered a feebler light than the other, taller flames did.

She paused to plan: she would go as far into the reflections as the final piece and then retrieve the pieces on the way back.
The feeling that she was getting nowhere persisted, though, even though she now knew it was untrue. Or perhaps it was not that so much as a general sense that there might be no escaping this deathly, silent corridor, that it contained everything. She didn’t have to walk far from one mirror to the next, but she discovered that with each crossing the previous room within seconds would seem long ago, with the result that _he_ started to seem like nothing more than a dream and her old life nothing more than a story she’d told herself, like a child, whiling away the monotony of the mirror room by imagining miseries she’d never experienced.

Each crossing was harder than the last, both because she was afraid of losing the outside world entirely and because somehow the crossings themselves became weightier, more dangerous, as if she were squeezing her soul through something dense that blurred and scattered it and might–if she were not attentive enough– rub it out altogether.

The scent of the lilies and their water was small, fresh and sweet, but something was in it of madness. It was like ringing in her ears. At the edge of the heavy silence, under it, was–she imagined–the flickering of the candles like voices. She reached the point where she would strain her ears for the whispers or round on a candle to squint at it, hoping to catch it in a shape, and find nothing but a white flame, blue at the core.

Finally, about halfway across, she sank to the floor. She ran her hand down a stone vase as solid as the one in the first room and rubbed her eyes. She realized something else that was bothering her: From some subliminal fear, she had started looking stiffly straight ahead, letting her hair close off her peripheral vision, and as a result she had no idea what was beyond the area reflected by the mirrors. Another House, with another copy of him? An entire world? Nothing at all? A nothing that could devour her? Of course, normally, the moment the question had occurred to her consciously, she would have glanced at side wall without a thought, but she now found that each new worry became an excuse to put off looking — not just out of fear. There was some real difficulty about it. Finally, with a phenomenal concentration of will she forced herself to turn her head to the side, not downward or forward or inward as she wanted to —

And saw nothing because she was suddenly standing outdoors. The landscape stretched cool and gray. Over it blew a cold, wet wind with no hint of wax or lilies on it. She stood sideways to a steep slope of gravel or ash, the blank black walls of a fortress above, to her left, and a rocky valley to her right, under a light but sunless sky. For a moment she was simply grateful to escape the mirror room. But there was no obvious way back — the landscape was the same in every direction. She tried shutting her eyes and imagining herself back in the mirror room, and when had no effect, she set off around the hill for lack of any better ideas. She stepped carefully, not trusting the scree not to slip away under her and afraid of the rocks below.

She quickly lost track of how far around the walls she had walked. The fortress was huge, and there were no landmarks. Before long she was cold and aching again, the jeans she couldn’t remember donning dirty halfway to the knee. Infinity was a quality of these landscapes; she began to be afraid that this walk was just as endless as the mirror rooms had seemed.

She had no idea how much time had passed when she caught a whistled tune mixed with the wind’s roar. It was a keen, sunny, happy tune, and after it came a crunching of footsteps and then a tall man grinning. He wore a red tee shirt blazoned with a golden sun. Sunlight from an unseen sun glinted off it, off his hair, off the naked sword he carried in his right hand.

“Hey,” she called hopefully — weakly in her mind, but the sound emerged as a rich, ringing call. He looked up, dirt-stained face friendly and astonished, but before he could respond, a hard, spiky beast roared past her toward him. Instantly his knees bent, he snapped forward. As the thing shot at him he leapt aside and vaulted onto its back. It let out a hoarse cry like grinding boulders and reared on its hind legs. He swung at its face, perhaps to cut off its head, but the dragon — for a dragon it appeared to be; small flames were licking continually up its face –with a rapid twist of the neck crushed the sword with its teeth and threw the warrior off. The warrior, undaunted, produced a dagger. Just as the dragon engulfed him in smoke he shoved the dagger down its throat. For an endless instant their twined dark forms stood out against the crimson flame. The warrior did not scream — nor the dragon — but she did. _He’s dead — he’s dead_, she thought.

From there, the events were really like a dream, and she became almost sure whatever was happening was unreal. It came to her that she wanted to do something, that she had to, and that, for once, she _could_. All she could do it with was herself. So she hurled herself at their static shapes. Weightless, she cannoned into the flames, bracing herself for burning, but when she should have hit, she found herself flat and paralyzed, a seam of unearthly green light — the glow of a digital clock — shining through the gap between her eyelids.

Then, with a feeling as if she were being dragged through broken glass, her dream-eyes came open and her dream body slumped shaken and dirt-stained on the floor of the mirror room. _He’s dead._ She was looking into a second copy of the small painting of the knight and the dragon. In it the armored knight was clearly victorious; the lady stood gently aside.

She shook her head. The flame struck the young warrior again and again in her mind’s eye as the dragon’s final blast could have, would have devoured him. She wondered if the last instant, or any of it, had been real, and if she’d spared him the least pain. He’d seemed so strong and happy, just looking at him, and she was almost certain it was _he_, really. Just because of that, she couldn’t believe he had died. Besides, she hadn’t died in the real world; perhaps he’d come back to reality, if this was reality, the same way.

On the whole, she thought it had been more like an image than an event. As she pulled herself upright on the table, her weakness — her fear for him — her rekindled, jarring awareness of that other life — melted with curious speed into the flickering almost-voices of candles on lilies.

All the same, she did not look around for the next few crossings. She had no desire whatsoever to deal with the dragon fight again, especially since she did not think she could find her way out of the image without something like death or waking.

She spotted the next fragment after a few more crossings, reminded herself to pick it up on the way back, and went on, shutting out her surroundings as she shivered through mirror after mirror, watching the two pieces alternate.

Mirror room/s are a representation of ordinary life, perhaps, or something just one step outside or above it, whereas the main character was somewhere more central with the light being. The reflections may be alternate universes, Platonic derivations from a central Idea–or reflections of reality in the consciousnesses of those who inhabit it. Dragon fight, and painting thereof, is loosely from the FQ, and is I think a different and more dramatic image of what our main character is going through.

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