It had been almost three days, by my estimate, since I had fallen into the labyrinth of my own mind. It was hard to be sure; time did not move with any degree of consistency here. In leaps and lulls, it was governed solely by thought, as was everything else in this prison.
I walked through a grassy area, I thought it might have been a park I once knew. The trees seemed to ripple at the edge of my vision, switching places, growing taller or disappearing entirely only to pop up somewhere else. Despite its inconsistencies, I liked the park, it was nicer than many of the other areas I’d visited.
Trees meant life, or so the Guide had told me. My life, my strength. There were many trees here, did that mean I was full of life, full of virility? It seemed right to me that even my subconscious mind should want to remind me of my own potential.
I took another step and the ground crunched under my shoe. I looked down to see shards of mirror that had broken underfoot. The grass was gone, the trees now grew out of a mirrored plane, their forms reflected back beneath them so that each conifer, oak and elm was now paired with its upside down self.
I looked down again and saw my own self, broken and fractured.
“Mirrors mean pride,” the Guide appeared at my side, silent as always, his cloaked form gliding over the glass. He turned to look at me. “And vanity.”
The shrouded figure had made himself known to me not long after I had stumbled into this place. Whether he was a part of my mind or something else entirely, I still wasn’t sure. Each time I asked, his answers became more and more vague.
“Does everything here have a double meaning?” I asked, backing carefully off the cracked mirror and onto a more solid surface.
“Only that which you give it.”
“Do I have to learn them all?” I asked. “Is that how I get out of here?”
“This isn’t a test.”
“Then what is it, huh?” I held my arms out. “Why am I here? What for? If this isn’t some test, what is it?”
“It is an opportunity.” The Guide’s voice was even, as always.
I groaned and turned around, trying not to lose my balance on the distorted landscape.
“Opportunity for what?”
“To learn how to see.” He drifted to my side again.
“See? I already know how to see, that’s what these are for, right?” I pointed to my eyes then waved a hand at the Guide and began walking. The mirror ground cracked and crunched under every step.
He kept pace with me easily, gliding above the surface and leaving not so much as a scratch.
“You have been given the chance to see what many spend their whole lives searching for,” the Guide said.
The Guide floated around in front of me, forcing me to stop.
“I have a mirror at home,” I ground a little bit of the glass under my shoe. “Get to see myself every morning. Speaking of, can we get rid of this? I can hardly tell where I’m walking.”
As I spoke, the ground shimmered and the grass returned.
“Much better,” I said, stepping around the Guide and continuing.
“This place will not show you a reflection,” the Guide continued, following me still. “It will show you your most truest self, that which even your conscious mind does not make known to you.”
“That’s great, how do I leave?”
“When you see yourself, and like what you see.”
I stopped and turned to face the Guide. “I like myself just fine.”
He continued past me, glancing back over his shoulder. “Do you?”
The Guide moved behind a broad oak and disappeared from view. I waited a moment to see if he would come back. When he didn’t show, I followed him.
The moment I rounded the tree, the park disappeared. Rows of pines became rows of lamp posts lining a dark street. I could hear distant music from the clubs and bars along the stretch of road and voices coming from far off, but their owners were out of sight. I looked around for the Guide, but the street was empty. I began walking along the deserted road — there weren’t even any cars about — when I suddenly realized I knew where I was.
I was standing outside of Jackdaws, one of my favorite clubs. Without its line of high-heeled girls and suited up guys, all waiting to pass the inspection of the bouncer, I almost hadn’t recognized it.
The door to the club swung open and two guys stumbled out, supporting each other as much as themselves. John’s drunken laughter echoed down the street as they fell through the door. As the second man attempted to straighten himself, I realized that he was me.
There was a girl, head down with her hair falling across her face, her coat pulled up around her ears and arms folded tight across her chest. Her eyes jerked up to John and the other me briefly and she skittered off the sidewalk as they approached her. John shoved her anyway and she tripped and fell, sprawling onto the damp road. I didn’t even remember this; either I was too drunk, or she was too inconsequential. But clearly some part of me had remembered. I didn’t know why. Why show me that John was an asshole? I already knew that.
I watched her fall. We both did, that other me and I. I waited for him — for me — to say something or do something. Anything that would make this memory worth keeping.
He laughed, along with John, and kept walking.
I stared after my own back as it disappeared down the road. When my eyes again found the girl she was trying to gather up her few belongings and stash them back into her purse. She pulled her coat tighter and scrabbled at the pavement, her breath made little puffs of steam.
“You could have helped her,” the Guide spoke softly.
I jumped at his sudden reappearance.
I bristled. “They can’t see me, remember?” This wasn’t the first time I’d seen myself or others here. I tried talking to them. Only the Guide ever responded.
“I meant, you could have helped her the first time.”
He nodded his head in the direction of my other self, still laughing at John’s antics.
I gave a half-hearted shrug and turned away, not willing to admit I was thinking much the same thing.
The girl stood then, slinging her bag over her shoulder and readjusting her coat. As she turned I saw her face for the first time. I gasped and recoiled, almost tripping on the curb. The girl’s face was blank and featureless, no eyes, nose or mouth.
“Why hasn’t she got a face?” I demanded of the Guide.
He turned to me slowly. “Because you never acknowledged she had one.”
I looked back to the girl and saw that the entire street had turned into mirror. Vanity. Shards crunched under my feet, giving me a fractured, many-faceted view of my own face, staring back up at me. It was at that point I realised I was going to be here for a long time.