Otherwise known as “The Forehead Chronicles” (oy), this story has taken on a life of its own. So I’ve decided to publish the entire story as it continues, updating this each day. In addition to the daily updates on Facebook (in bold), there are other aspects to the story, never seen before now. I will continue the story until I feel I am done with it. Enjoy!
Word of caution: It’s rough. I’ve written as the story has progressed and I haven’t really gone back to edit much. Once the story is done, I will polish it up and republish on Amazon.
Tales from the MirrorVerse
It started fairly innocent. I wanted to be humorous. I just wanted an innocent post on Facebook that would make people laugh. Accomplishment achieved.
That was the first day. The second day, I kept it up. It was funny one day, let’s try two. Even more response. Whatever it is I was doing was working.
That’s when it took on a life of its own. Or, an alternate life as it were.
“My forehead was dry, so I put lotion on it.” – Jan. 11 at 8:19 a.m.
This was the truth. I was looking in the mirror and saw dried, white flakes all over my forehead, from where my hair began to the tops of my eyebrows. I had never before in the 35 years of my life put lotion on my forehead. It was a foreign concept to me. My hands? Sure. My feet? Maybe. But, who puts lotion on their forehead.
Apparently a lot of people, according to Facebook.
Regardless, I applied the lotion and forgot about it. Until the next morning, that is.
“Forehead update. DAY 2: still dry. Applying more lotion.” – Jan. 12 at 7:04 a.m.
Getting ready for school the next day, I couldn’t help looking in the mirror. I wasn’t vain, of course, but I needed to style my hair. If you had hair that stood up and shot out like a straw from a scarecrow, you would need to do the same each day. My typical formula involved A LOT of hair spray. Some people would swear by mousse or hair gel, but I don’t like to get my hands messy.
Anyway, I glanced below my hairline and saw my forehead. Flaky. Again. One day of lotion appeared to have had no effect whatsoever. I groaned, updated by Facebook status again with the hope of a few laughs, and applied the moisturizer to my head.
The post worked.
People commented. People liked it. I decided to keep it going. But then, something strange began to happen.
“Forehead update. DAY 3: Initially was pleased when I looked in the mirror above the sink in the kids’ bathroom. Dryness appeared to have abated, but on further reflection in my own mirror in the master bathroom, forehead is still dry. Lotion forthcoming.” – Jan. 13 at 6:23 a.m.
Yeah. It doesn’t sound too odd yet, but that was the first day I really noticed something off. I’m not a supermodel – I don’t usually analyze myself in the mirror much. Check my hair, scrub a little dirt, shave that stubble off my jaw – you know, standard stuff.
But…when I looked in that first mirror on that Tuesday morning, I didn’t see any dry skin. It would have been a relief (one less thing to worry about), but then when I went to my own bathroom to fix my hair and brush my teeth, I noticed the flakiness of my forehead had returned. Just 15 minutes at the most had passed, yet it appeared as though the area above my eyes was peeling right before my eyes.
That day, I just shrugged, but the truth was staring me the face.
“Forehead update. DAY 4: I’m not sure what to say. This has really become about more than my forehead at this point. Let me back up a little.
Yesterday, I’d mentioned seeing something different in one mirror than the other. Well, when I went back this morning to look, I noticed the same thing again. My forehead was not dry in the kids’ bathroom mirror, but in my own – dry as a bone. I went about the rest of my routine, brushing my teeth, flossing, applying deodorant, and combing through my hair. But when I went to put on the now-daily lotion, I thought I saw something, so I looked an extra few seconds at the mirror. That’s when it happened. When everything changed.
I saw myself blink.” – Jan. 14 at 6:07 a.m.
Holy cow. I didn’t know what to think. As soon as I saw it, I walked out of my bathroom in a haze. I got to the kitchen, where my wife, was scrambling some eggs for the kids’ breakfasts. I must’ve had a strange look on my face, because the next thing I knew, she was shaking my shoulder.
“Will…Will! Are you Okay? You don’t look right,” Penny said. She was clutching the pan in one hand and my arm in her other. I blinked a few times before I could bring myself to reply.
“Wha…yeah. I’m fine,” I said. I slid around the counter and grabbed two small plates so Penny could get the eggs on a plate before they were overdone.
“Are you sure? You look pale. You have plenty of sick days, you know.”
I was well aware. As a teacher, I got ten sick days each school year, but they rolled over as they were unused. At that point, I had in the neighborhood of eighty unused sick days — about enough to take the entire semester off if need be. But, given what I just saw, I was in no rush to be in front of that mirror again, let alone spend the whole day alone in the house with it.
“Yeah, I know. I’ll be fine. I think I just need to eat something. Don’t worry about me — I’ll grab some ham out of the fridge for a small sandwich. Easy peasy!” I said with a smile that betrayed my inner confusion.
The rest of the day was a blur. I went to school and taught, but it was one of those days where everything went on autopilot. Teaching can be easy when you’ve taught the same subjects year after year after year. That split second image was burned into my retina and I couldn’t erase it.
I had blinked and seen it. Well, at least the mirror-me had blinked and I had seen it.
Mirror-me. What does that even mean?
I didn’t go back in my own bathroom the rest of the day. Frankly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back the next morning. I thought about what had happened continuously. I barely slept at all that night, pacing in the living room. I was going to be a wreck at school the next day if I even made it at all.
Who…or what had been staring back at me in that mirror? Was I dreaming? Was it just my imagination? Or…was there more to it? I remember seeing my fair share of sci-fi B-movies and horror classics. Movie logic told me to get out, take my family and go. Thirty-five years of life experience said I was being stupid.
I’m still not sure which was better advice.
“Forehead update. DAY 5. First off, let’s get this out of the way. The forehead is fine.
Everything else? I don’t know. I could barely sleep last night. Eventually I realized I needed to look again. I snuck out of bed and confronted myself in the mirror. I stood there for a long time, but every action I took, the mirror-me duplicated. I didn’t see myself blink, I didn’t see anything strange about myself.
But then, I took a look around the room. It’s an interesting thing. We don’t usually look around the room…at least I didn’t. When I looked in my bathroom mirror, it was to make sure my hair was straight, to check on the proper length of my tie, or to see if I had any herbs in my teeth. But, after a while, I couldn’t look at mirror-me any more. I averted my eyes and found myself looking at things around the bathroom. Of course, there is a shower and a towel rack and various shampoos and whatnot inside the shower. Everything matched. I swiveled my head back and forth repeatedly looking at the room and the mirror until my heart skipped a beat. On the towel rack hung a dark blue towel ready for the first shower of the morning.
In the mirror, I saw an unmistakable forest green towel.” – Jan. 14 at 6:14 a.m.
Oh crap. Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap.
Okay, call me a sissy, but once again, I hightailed it out of the bathroom.
Then, I found the other bathroom and puked. I hoped the Kira and Sisco wouldn’t hear it. I didn’t want to deal the kids right now.
What was going on? How…what…why…I was at a loss. For words–for everything.
The kids didn’t hear me, but Penny did and came in to check on me. I wasn’t really ready for it.
“Will, are you okay?” she called out through the shut bathroom door. That was my Penny — always there for me, even when my head was in the toilet.
It took me a few seconds to answer, but I when I did, I must’ve sounded like I was dying. The next thing I knew, Penny had called the school to arrange a substitute teacher for me.
“I’m not going to let you go to school and infect all those kids with whatever you’ve got,” Penny said as she tucked me back into bed.
I severely doubted the students would “catch” what was plaguing me.
“You looked terrible yesterday and today,” Penny continued. “And, well, you don’t need to go to school after throwing up this morning. If it doesn’t get better, why don’t you call the doctor this afternoon?”
“Thanks, Penny. I think I’ll be okay, but thanks for taking care of me.”
I let her go to work, but I made sure she shut the bathroom door on her way out.
Just in case.
I didn’t rest much better after Penny and the kids left than the night before, but I did manage to sleep some. It was fitful, as I dreamt of Star Trek and the Mirror Universe. In my dream, I envisioned an alternate reality where everyone had goatees. Ultimately though, as soon as I woke and remembered the strands of the half-forgotten dream, I realized that I was currently sporting a goatee of my own. It was a simple plot device for Star Trek, but this was real. This was different.
I also laid in bed and thought about it all considerably before I got up. On one hand, the mirror universe (I was convinced at this point it was some alternate universe, minus the evil goatees) seemed very similar. I figured the other side was just barely off from our world, differing in only a few ways, like a split second moment when I blinked earlier than mirror-me, or the color of a towel hanging in the bathroom.
Obviously, I could only see a tiny portion of that world, but what I did see was comfortable and familiar. I mean, it was my bathroom after all.
Or…his bathroom. I’m not wild about calling the man over there Mirror-me. The more and more I thought about it, I realized I already had the perfect name.
I was Will. The other me was my Dopp-Will-Ganger.
Yeah. It’s cheesy, but somewhere deep inside of me, I knew I needed that silly name to calm myself. The mirror universe was not a threat, and until I saw something that would somehow or someway change that, I needed to be a lot more open to what was happening in my house. I realized Dopp-Will-anger hadn’t popped through the mirror with a machete or anything. This phenomena deserved my curiosity instead of my fear.
I determined I would go back in…after lunch.
“Forehead Update. DAY 6. My forehead is moisturized, but the Dopp-Will-Ganger is still having some issues with the climate.
Dopp-Will-Ganger you may be asking? Yeah…I couldn’t keep calling the man opposite me in the bathroom “Mirror-me,” so Dopp-Will-Ganger” it is. In fact, let’s shorten it down to just DWG. That’s better.
I may sound like I’m doing better because I am. I wasn’t sure what to think yesterday after the revelation of the different towel in the bathroom, but after a while, I came to the realization that this is something to be studied and learned from, not an object to be feared. So, I set up a chair in the master bathroom yesterday afternoon and only left to eat and charge my phone.
I watched him watching me. It got tedious after a while, but again, my eyes drifted to other aspects of the room and the longer I sat, the more I noticed differences. You know — like those old side-by-side pictures in the Highlights magazines from when we were kids? Oops — missing towel bar here, extra deodorant stick there. By the time it was mid-afternoon, I had come across a half-dozen differences.
I had given up on the mirror universe as some kind of evil place. It was benign and watching myself…watching my Dopp-Will-Ganger…was simply like watching an obscure and strange cable channel.
I went about the rest of my day, trying to put it out of my mind and go on with my life. It wasn’t going to help anyone to be obsessed about a mirror.
But then this morning, I walk into the bathroom and found him staring back at me. He had been waiting for me. He knew. I might have just shrugged it off, except for one thing: he was holding a hand-made sign that read “HELP ME.”
At this point, it became ridiculously clear that whatever was hanging on the wall was no mirror, but was rather some sort of viewer to another universe.
I was flummoxed at first. I stood there, not holding anything except my cell phone, while DWG held up a plea. A plea I had no idea how to answer or do anything about. If this was a glimpse at another universe, how would one go about making actual contact with someone else from there? Did the mirror act as a portal of sorts where I would just push my way through? Would that even be advisable? I’ve seen enough science fiction flicks to know meeting yourself in an alternate timeline or universe wasn’t always an advisable action. You know…the whole ripping apart of the universe sort of thing.
I couldn’t help myself. I reached up and laid my hands on the face of the mirror. The DWG did the same thing, just a split second after myself. It seemed perhaps we were still tied together somehow, but the timing was off. The face of the mirror was cold and smooth. I only felt the seemingly perfect glass and not DWG’s hand pushing back on mine.
At least I didn’t need to worry about loosing some alternate reality unwittingly on my own. The boundary seemed firm enough…for now at least.
I took a step back and tried to motion to my other self. I shrugged and he shrugged back. I waved, and he did so. All the while, he held his sign. He held the very thing that was so markedly different between us. We wore the same clothes — the flannel pajamas I had worn to bed the night before, but somehow he knew what was going on. In the previous times I had been looking at the mirror — or window, or whatever it was, I hadn’t noticed unusual behavior from DWG, but then again, there were times I wasn’t keeping eye contact and certainly times I wasn’t even in the bathroom.
I tried to talk to him, but sound wasn’t going through. I decided whatever it was could wait until after school. I had already missed one day of school this week because of this stupid mirror, I wasn’t going to let it take over my life.
Later that afternoon, I resumed my vigil in the bathroom, but not all was well. I’ll just let my next status update fill you in.
“Forehead update. DAY 7: HELP ME, the sign read, but how was I going to do that?
I tried to talk to him…me…the Dopp-Will-Hanger, but all it sounded like was me talking to myself. And with my wife sleeping in the next room, I couldn’t be too loud. Besides, I had to get ready for work.
Who’s to say that he…me…whatever…wasn’t just asking for help with a dry forehead anyway?
I tried to ignore him and used my wife’s mirror as I got ready for school. But all day yesterday, thoughts of DWG plagued me. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I wanted to help, but wouldn’t have had the first clue of what to do.
I checked the bathroom when I got home from school. The sign was affixed to the shower door (in the mirror, not here) but DWG was nowhere to be seen. I kept checking so often last night that my wife was concerned about my stomach.
I was fine, I told her. I wasn’t though. My stomach was in knots. I could have helped, but instead I was just worried about myself. I thought my own world was more important, but what if there was more at stake?
Again, I tossed and turned all night. When I woke up this morning, I went to the bathroom. Just like the afternoon before, no one was there. The note was still stuck on the shower door, but the tape had slipped a little making the paper a tad askew.
I thought I was done being shocked at what I saw in my bathroom, but when I looked closer, I noticed something off. In the bottom left corner of the mirror, a small crack had begun and had already spread upwards. As my eye followed the crack, I saw an almost identical crack forming in the top right.
Something was happening. In my bathroom. And I had no idea what to do.”
I examined the cracks a little more closely, careful not to touch them with my bare hands. I didn’t know what exactly was going on, but I was going to insulate myself as much as I could from its effects.
I put on a rubber glove that I sometimes used when cleaning the grimy parts of the bathroom and felt the corners of the mirror. The crack wasn’t noticeable by touch. As I ran my fingers along the edges of the pane, I found it to be as smooth as the marble countertops below. There was no crack…and yet there was.
Was the crack on the inside of the mirror? How was that possible?
It must be that the crack was only on DWG’s side of the mirror. Somehow his mirror had developed a crack while mine was perfectly fine over here. As I felt the edges again, my vision drifted to the “HELP ME” sign on the shower. As my eye caught it, the last of the tape refused to hold any longer and the sign fluttered to the bathroom floor.
I wondered about DWG. Where had he gone? Why wasn’t he there? Up until yesterday he had shown up all the time when I had. Shoot, up until a few days ago, I thought my mirror was an actual mirror. Now, I thought I knew the truth…that it was really a window into an alternate reality.
A reality where I was in danger.
I decided I need to try to do something. I didn’t know if it would work, but if I just sat and watched through this mirror, I would question myself the rest of my life. After I got Penny and the kids up, I told them I wanted to go to the city and do some shopping.
It was time to upgrade the bathroom. The mirrors specifically.
“Forehead update. DAY 8. After not seeing my mirror double, or my Dopp-Will-Ganger (DWG) yesterday morning, I was concerned. After seeing the cracks in the mirror, I questioned myself. Why would I ignore a plea of help from a man who was me in almost every possible way? I was ashamed and was determined to do something to help — if I could.
I discovered the cracks were on the inside of the mirror — or rather on DWG’s side. My mirror’s surface was smooth and unadulterated. Meanwhile, the cracks were spreading and in danger of shattering the mirror completely. If that happened, I was sure any window I had to help DWG would be gone.
Yesterday was spent bouncing from one home improvement store to another. I told my wife I wanted to upgrade the bathroom and I wanted to start with the mirrors. They were outdated and too big for the wall, anyway. She was more than happy with me volunteering to do some housework, so off we went. We must’ve looked at nearly one hundred mirrors before she found some she was happy with. We wrapped them up and took them home.
Once back at the house, I quickly went to work on the old mirrors. I told my wife I would get it all done while she visited her mother the next day, but I figured I had a good excuse to be in the bathroom. I was there most of the night. DWG was not.
Someone had mentioned the idea of Slow Glass the other day — where the mirror was simply a reflection of events that happened longer ago than present day, but the glass simply operated on a slower time scale. I did think of that initially, but once I saw the green towel instead of the blue one, and myself holding the “HELP ME” sign, I knew that was out the window.
What was I to do? How could I help myself? I was scared of shattering the mirror and having nothing left, so the first thing I did was take electrical tape and wrap the entire mirror making stripes of tape all over the front, obscuring the vision of the mirror in most parts, but if it cracked on my end, it would stay together.
Once that was done, the mirror looked like a giant checker board. But for me, this was no game.
I took a deep breath, held up a large rubber mallet, and landed a blow right in the middle of the mirror. I heard a big crack and could barely look. My heart was beating so fast I didn’t know if I could bear to see what I’d done. I hadn’t fully broken the mirror, but I heard the unmistakable sound of a tornado siren coming from the mirror before me. ”
I had crossed some kind of boundary. While i had intended to do something, I was suddenly afraid. I was scared that perhaps this could be a really terrible idea. Tornado sirens? What if I let a tornado through and it trashed the house? Penny might be okay with a little dust from a bathroom remodel, but I don’t think she would be expecting the aftermath of a tornado.
I leaned in closer and put my ear to the mirror. It was definitely some kind of siren, wailing in the distance. I knew the closest siren in my town was at the school, about six blocks away, so I presumed the same would be true for DWG in his universe. When the siren rounded again and blared close to the house, I slipped and bumped my head on the now-cracked mirror. I pulled my head back and looked in my wife’s mirror (which was actually a mirror), and saw that I had a slight cut on the edge of my ear. I stuck a bandage on it and tried to figure out what to do.
Penny was expecting construction. I would give her construction.
I dug out an old bedsheet from my closet and hooked it up in the bathroom, masking the wall and the mirrors behind it. By the time I was finished, the mirrors (one real, the other an inexplicable portal to another world) had been hidden and the bathroom truly looked like a construction site. The tornado siren had also dissipated. I took a peek behind the curtain and saw that the “other” bathroom had been untouched by any natural disasters.
I was still dumbfounded by what to do. I would have to do something, but I decided to wait until after Penny and the kids took off the next day for her mother’s.
Mirror update (formerly Forehead update). DAY 9. I decided to dispense with the ridiculous heading to focus on the mirror and the alternate universe beyond the glass.
If I slept at all last night, it was only with the slight hope that I could fix everything after the wife and kids left this morning to go to the in-law’s for the holiday. After I woke up, I realized that I should have been more worried. I may not get to see them ever again.
When I woke up, I found the bed empty. I checked the house and came to the conclusion they must’ve gotten up and left before I was even awake.
Good, I thought. I was glad they wouldn’t be here for this. I couldn’t bear something happening to my family if I screwed this up. After a quick breakfast and shower (in the kids’ bathroom. I didn’t do anything in my own bathroom anymore), I decided I might as well get this over with. I had the day off school — thanks MLK! — so if I was going to figure this out, today was going to be the day.
Except…it wasn’t that simple. When I went into the master bathroom, the curtain I’d made across the mirrors had been torn. Not just moved, but ripped right down the middle. I pushed it aside and looked at the mirror over my sink. Still covered in a checkerboard pattern of tape, I could see parts of my — his — DWG’s bathroom. There was a sign up on the shower stall, replacing the “HELP ME” sign which had been up there before.
“I HAVE WHAT I NEED” is what the sign read. My heart paused. I raced out of the house and looked in the driveway. My wife’s car was still there. She hadn’t gone to her mom’s house after all. Somehow she and the kids had been taken. Taken to the other side.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, right at that point, four black SUV’s pulled up in stereotypical movie fashion. A man got out of the first one and stood by his door, almost as if he was afraid to get closer to the house.
“Will Paulson? We need you to come with us.”
“What? Who are you?”
“You can call me…Mr. Smith. As for everyone else, who we are doesn’t matter. In fact, there are only a handful of people in the entire country that know what our agency does for this nation, so don’t worry about that. What you need to worry about is what you have done.”
“And what is that?”
“You’ve unleashed a creature with untold power and ferocity on the entire world,” Smith said. “I know about your family, but there are bigger things at stake now.”
I blinked. Who was this man, coming onto my lawn and telling me he knew what happened to my family when I barely knew what was going on?
“Mr. Smith? Is that it?” I asked. The man nodded. “Okay, I’m willing to talk, but what I am not willing to do is leave my property. You tell me what you know right now.”
Smith chuckled. “Mr. Paulson, I don’t think you’re really in a position to argue. You need to get into the back of the vehicle with me right now. I’d be glad to have a conversation with you, but this is not the place.”
He gestured at the surrounding neighborhood. “I wouldn’t want to…alert your friends as to what is really going on here. But, I will if I have to.”
I started backing up. I couldn’t leave. Not yet. This mirror was too valuable to me with my entire family trapped on the other side. I reached my door and grabbed the knob with my left hand.
“There is a man positioned just above the two-story house across the street, Mr. Paulson. Can you see him?” Mr. Smith said.
I looked over and I didn’t really see a man so much as I saw a barrel of a long-range sniper rifle. I thought it a bit overkill considering the distance, but it made the point. Problem was, I had nothing to lose.
“I see you man, Mr. Smith, but I think if you really had any intention of killing me, you would have done so without showing your face at all. You claim to be from some secret government agency, and that many be true, but why talk to me at all?” I asked. I see him hesitate. “I think you need me. Obviously the laws don’t mean anything to you, or else how would you know about me and my family? But, the missing link must be me. I am the key, right?”
Without even waiting for an answer, I swiftly opened the front door and side-stepped into the house. I dove in, hoping I was right when I called his bluff. No shots rang out, so I assumed I was safe. For the moment at least.
I stepped into the kitchen and grabbed my phone off the charger. I was about to head to the bedroom when I saw my bluetooth earpiece and slipped it into my pocket.
I finished getting dressed in the bedroom — quickly, because I didn’t know how much time, if at all, I’d earned with my front porch speech.
Next stop: the bathroom.
I walked into the room and found myself immediately feel a sense of hopelessness. I inspected the mirror. There were cracks on my side and on DWG’s side. Something had gotten through and had managed to take Penny and the kids with it. How?
I leaned over the pane of formerly-reflective glass and studied the edges of the cracks. Somehow, between the tape and the intentional cracks I had made with the rubber mallet the night before, I had made a door or sorts. There was a small hole right in the middle. I stuck a hairbrush in the void, turned it, and pulled. I felt the air around me rush towards the wall, but after a few seconds, I was able to pull half of the mirror away, just like half of a saloon door.
I stepped back and saw half of the space still a taped mess, but the other a clear view of another bathroom, nearly identical to this one, somewhere in another universe.
I took a deep breath, and decided to update my progress one more time before I crossed over.
“Mirror update. DAY 10. Well, this is it. Not really the next day…stuff is progressing too fast for that. Since I last updated, it’s been just minutes — less than an hour. My family was gone and Mr. Smith and other secret government agents were swarming my lawn, itching to get their paws on me or this mirror — probably both.
I left them out there, practically daring them to kill me, but I wasn’t going to leave without my family. So that’s where I was. Standing in front of the mirror, a clear path to the other side, and I hesitated. I felt inadequate for the task at hand.
Then my phone rang. I stuck the bluetooth earpiece over my ear and answered.
It was Mr. Smith. He didn’t even have to introduce himself. I could tell just from the blandness of his voice. It said “anonymous government employee,” if anything did.
“Yeah, but you know that already?”
“Don’t do it. Let us help.”
I turned my head and looked around the room. I didn’t see anything, but that certainly didn’t mean there wasn’t anything there. Not with these guys.
“Are you watching me? Have you bugged my house?” I asked, suddenly furious about my civil rights.
“Look, Will, you can get mad about the privacy violations later, but for now, we are the best chance you’ve got. We came as soon as we realized what had happened. We didn’t expect you to really make contact with the other dimension,” Smith said, his voice showing hints of desperation. “This has happened before — is happening elsewhere around the nation and world in fact — but no one has actually breached the barrier before…at least not for a long time.”
“So what changed? How did I let them through? Was it the hammer? Did I hit it and allow them through that way?” I was suddenly horrified that I did this. That whatever it was come through and my family was gone…all because of me.
“Actually, we don’t think so. In most cases, the victims assume they are going crazy and the mirror breaks. There was something else in this case. Something else was a factor,” Smith said.
I reached up to my ear. The night before I had held my head against the glass to catch the sound of the tornado siren from the other side and had nicked my ear. I had bandaged it up, but not before some blood crept through the crack. Oh no…this was my fault.
I put my foot up on the counter. I was going to head over. I needed to get my family back, whether Mr. Smith approved or not.
I forgot I was still on the phone with him, but he spoke up again.
“Will, I again urge you to stop. There is another force at work here. Something came and took your family, yes, but there is a being you can’t even possibly imagine that is operating.”
I paused, ready to listen, when my bathroom door practically exploded. Smith was yelling in my ear and agents in black armor were storming through the doorway into the bathroom. Before I could learn more about the mysterious figure Smith was talking about, before the agents swirling around could even touch me, I leapt up on the counter and sprang through the mirror. My last thought as I crossed dimensions was: “They better pay for that door. Penny’s going to be mad when she gets back.”
I woke up and instantly knew I wasn’t in my home universe. I was a stranger in a strange land, but how strange it was I didn’t really know yet.
The first thing I really noticed was the smell. I wasn’t an expert on odors, but there was just something different. A combination of smells I hadn’t ever encountered before and I was still in my own bathroom. Well…his bathroom. My Dopp-Will-Ganger.
In spite of the fact he looked just like me and genetically (I’m assuming) was me, I didn’t really like him much at all. He had my family and had spurred a potential inter-universal incident with us and Mr. Smith of the governmental agency I knew nothing about.
Shoot. I had no idea how long I’d been out, but I suddenly remembered when I was leaping across the barrier, Smith’s agents were right on my heels. Did they come over with me? Are they now in a different universe? I looked up at the mirror hanging above the sink. It was in rough shape — between the various cracks and tape (which was all on the opposite side — weird), but the mirror still had a sheen to it on the half where I had just jumped through. I stood up and found myself face-to-face with four men wearing head-to-toe black armor back in my own bathroom.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket and found that it still was powered up. I decided there would never be a better time to record a trip to an alternate universe, so I turned on a recorder and described my initial thoughts.
“Mirror update. DAY 1 on the OTHER SIDE.
That’s right. As I stood there, I found myself staring back at men from Smith’s mysterious governmental agency. If it weren’t for the mirror (and portal between universes) between us, one might say we were within spitting distance. as it were, the portal had closed. I assumed since my blood “opened” the door, when I went through, the door “closed” behind me.
I waved and turned around, ready to find my family. I can deal with the thugs on my own side of the glass later. For now, I had to find myself. I’m not being philosophical — I literally have to find this universe’s version of me. I bent down and picked up the piece of paper that had his scrawled message, “I HAVE WHAT I NEED.”
I looked closer and discovered more to the message. In smaller print that I would have only seen had I come across the barrier, DWG had also written another line.
“SORRY. I HAD TO.”
Okay…sounds a little more like me. Makes me think DWG was forced to kidnap my family. But why? What was the purpose behind it? Why take them at all?
As I pondered this, I folded the paper and stuck it in my back pocket.
Well, there was only one way to find what I was looking for, and it wasn’t by staying in the bathroom. I went to the door and opened it. In my world it would have led to the master bedroom. A queen bed on the right hand side of the door with a dresser for me and a chest of drawers for my wife. A second-hand TV in one corner that was better at broadcasting snow than an actual signal. I knew the room like the back of my hand.
But none of that was there.
In fact, there wasn’t anything there. When I left the bathroom, I left the structure completely. I opened the door to bright sunlight and a fallow corn field. I immediately stepped in a hole filled with mud.
Walking around the outside, I found that the bathroom had somehow become detached from the rest of the house. Maybe those tornado sirens had signaled this outcome the other day? The house was nowhere to be seen, yet the bathroom survived the ordeal remarkably well. I was about at my wit’s end when I realized there was a message on the one remaining outside wall of the bathroom. Spray-painted with a blaze orange tint was the message:
“MEET ME IN 1932.”
No, I wasn’t going to do any time traveling. DWG and I may not share an identical life, apparently, but we must share one thing. Our jobs. At my school, 1932 was my room number. He wanted to meet up on familiar ground.”
I paused for a moment to reflect on my day. It seemed like forever ago that I had gotten out of bed, wary, but ready to take on the mystery of the mirror, only to find my family gone and the government on my lawn. In reality, it’d been probably a couple hours, max.
I was certainly glad for the mild January weather. It was in the high 20’s back in my own universe, but here it was probably in the 50’s with a slight breeze. Definitely a different place. Not a different location, though. I looked around and at first, I only saw the remnants of a corn field planted during the summer and harvested in the fall. About a half-mile on the side of the bathroom where the mirrors would be was a road. I saw a couple pick-up trucks cruising down the gravel path every now and then, kicking up rock and dust. I decided that was my first destination.
The closer I got to the road, the more I recognized where I was. I was close to town, but not close enough to walk and get there in a reasonable amount of time.
Mirror update. Still DAY 1 on the OTHER SIDE.
I estimated I was about three miles outside of town — outside of where my house should have stood, whole and intact. That wasn’t my problem though. DWG would have to take it up with the Alternate State Farm.
I was just a few feet from the road when I noticed a truck barreling down the rough gravel road. The rocks churned and spat in its wake, but it slowed when it neared my position. A window rolled down.
“Mr. Paulson? Is that you?”
The face was a little fuzzy in my mind, but I eventually recognized the driver as Sean McClogh, a student I’d had in class about five years ago. If my memory was correct, it took poor Sean the full three tries to pass his U.S. Constitution Exam, but boy did we celebrate when he finally pulled that 67 percent on the final attempt.
“Sean?” I asked, frankly still a little unsure, in case people went by different names over here.
“Yeah, Mr. Paulson. What are you doing all the way out here? Still picking up after the twister the other day?”
So there had been a tornado. Best to play along.
“Yep. Part of the house blew out into the field behind me, and I was just getting a few things I needed.”
“So…where’s your car?”
“Well, that’s the thing. I told Mrs. Paulson I would just walk back to town if she would drop me off, so I was getting ready to walk back that way now.”
“I can’t let you do that, Mr. Paulson. Hop in. I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
I happily took him up on his offer. I walked to the passenger door and lifted myself up into the cab of the pick-up. We exchanged a few bits of chit-chat — nothing I couldn’t handle, even though I wasn’t from this universe. I was fine…he was working for a local contractor. My family was doing well…his mom was fine; dad was in prison. I was still teaching social studies and government…he would always remember my classes.
“Thanks Sean. That really means a lot. Glad to know I made such an impact on you as a student,” I said, glad to know my doppelganger over here was a decent teacher as well.
“You did. I will always remember Thomas Jefferson was the first President of the United States and the eight articles of the Constitution.”
I chuckled. This kid was messing with me. Everyone knows Jefferson was the third President, behind Washington and Adams and the Constitution has just seven articles.
“Okay, Sean. That’s pretty funny,” I said.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “You made us memorize all those things before we took the test. I even came up with a way of remembering it at the time that has stuck with me to this day. Jeff’s son was first, followed by Adams, Franklin, and Madison.”
Sean looked over at me strangely. “Are you okay, Mr. Paulson? Of course not — it was Sam Adams. Followed by Benjamin Franklin, before he died in office and James Madison took over for him.”
My eyes glazed over just a bit as the buildings in town grew bigger. I directed him to the high school, a place he surely still knew even after graduating a few years back.
I tried to laugh it all off, but I decided one more question was due before I left his company.
“Okay, Sean, one last government question: who’s the President now?”
“Easy. He just gave the State of the Union and was all over the TV last night. It’s Dwayne Johnson.”
I thanked Sean for the ride and as I got out of the truck and walked up to the school doors, I could only think one thing:
Great. The Rock is the President of the United States of America.
I waved as Sean drove away. Crazy. In my universe, I attended the kid’s funeral less than a year after he’d graduated high school. He’d been out partying with his stupid buddies and hit a culvert a half-mile away from his parent’s home. His dad found his overturned truck the next morning.
If the universe here had to be different at all, I was glad it allowed for Sean to be alive here. I swallowed the lump in the back of my throat and wiped my eyes.
Mirror update. DAY 1 in MV (MirrorUniverse — or just MirrorVerse) continued.
Turning to face the school, I was struck at how…normal it looked. I arrived to the bathroom of my house in a corn field three miles from home. The rest of my house was no where to be seen — I assume it is still on the rest of the property. I was picked up by a former student who I hadn’t seen in years and told about some of the differences between their history and mine.
I was still wondering if the President taunts foreign dignitaries like he did other wrestlers on TV. “Can you smell what POTUS is cooking?” he might yell out from across the Oval Office to Vladimir Putin, or whoever is in charge of Russia these days.
I laughed to myself at that, walking up the steps to the school. In my universe, our high school — Iroquois Valley High School — was constructed in 1913. There had been additions over the years, but the main structure still went back that far. It appeared as though that was the case over here as well. And luckily the tornado that had swept through the other day seemed to have missed the 100-year-old structure.
I absent-mindedly took my school keys out of my pocket and tried them in the door. To my surprise, they worked. The Rock is Commander in Chief here, but the locks are the same? Strange, indeed.
I knew what was waiting for me — or rather who — in Room 1932. It wasn’t right at the front of school, so I had a few hallways to navigate before I got there anyway. School in my universe was off today for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I imagined the same was true here, although who knows? Maybe they celebrated Malcolm X Day or something else entirely?
Along the way, I noticed more than a few differences. The floor was carpeted here. In my school, it was still the old asbestos tiles. I noticed teacher’s rooms were different as well. Where there should have been a Mrs. Yount, there was a Mr. Molitor. In the place of Mr. Stanberry, it was now Ms. Robins’ room. It was surreal. To be in a place I knew so well, I could probably navigate the hallways with my eyes shut, yet to know this was NOT my school.
Eventually, I came to the 1900 hallway and located my room. Sure enough, Mr. Paulson was listed as teacher and I could see a dim light on inside.
Nervous doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. With few exceptions, people usually don’t get to meet themselves. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, I suppose. Maybe Lindsey Lohan and her twin from that Parent Trap movie. I can’t imagine, but in this case he wasn’t even my twin. He was me. I was him. Our lives were different, but we were still the same person on the inside.
I mustered up my courage and knocked. The sound echoed through the old, barren hallways, muffled only by the thin coating of carpet on the floors.
A sound emanated from within the room, so I cautiously opened the door and poked my head inside.
“Hello?” I called out.
There was only one person inside the room. My family was nowhere to be seen. Just HIM.
He stood up. My Dopp-Will-Ganger. DWG. I wasn’t looking at him through a mirror, or a portal to another reality anymore. We were less than 20 feet apart. We looked almost identical, save for the dark green flannel shirt he wore, while my black hoodie was zipped nearly up to my chin. His face bore a mark on confusion that I know I felt as well.
“Hello?” I repeated.
“Bonjour?” the other Will replied.
Wait. What? Did Mirror-me speak only French?
“Mirror update #14. (I decided to keep numbering these, even though they stop going by the day.)
I stood in a strange, almost-identical, yet extremely different duplicate of my own classroom. Except this was his classroom. He’d been sitting at his desk when I walked into the room, but had stood and walked around until he was less than 10 feet away.
I was still wondering what kind of world I’d walked into when I heard my doppelganger greet me by saying, “Bonjour,” when he spoke up again. This time in English.
“Sorry,” he said with a slight grin. “Just trying to break the ice. You know me.”
Well, I thought I did. He was me. I was him. But I’d already discovered our lives were not as similar as I once would have thought.
I couldn’t help but smile. When I was a kid, I’d always dreamed of having a twin, or cloning myself and here I was — standing 10 feet away from myself.
“I guess I do, I think,” I said.
He took a step closer and sat on top of one of the many student desks in the room. “We’ve got a lot to discuss, but let’s get to know one another, first. I mean, I look like you, but am I really you?”
“I was wondering the same thing,” I said, nodding. I, too, sat on the top of one of the nearby desks and got comfortable. I tried to put thoughts of my missing family out of my mind. If I was going to get them back, I was going to have to earn the “other” me’s trust.
“First thing’s first — name?” he asked.
“Will Jerald Paulson,” I said.
“Same. If we’re going to go around together here, we’re going to have to figure out what to call you.”
“Yeah. This is my world. You can have a different name for a little while.”
“Fair enough. Favorite food?”
“Spicy Chicken Tacos,” he said.
“Okay. Those are good, but I would go for a good meat-lovers pizza over anything,” I noted.
“Okay, okay,” he said, nodding his head. “Good stuff. How about your favorite movie?”
“Hmm…I really would have to go with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy,” I said.
“Never heard of it,” he said. “I will always hold a special place in my heart for Star Wars 8: The Midiclorians Invade. It was George Lucas’ best work to date.”
I could feel my eyes popping out of my skull. No Lord of the Rings, yet George Lucas had kept making Star Wars movies…what an insane land I’d found myself in.
I shook my head. “This is ridiculous. I don’t have time for this,” I said, standing up and taking a couple of steps closer. “Where is my family? Where is Penny, Kira and Sisco? Tell me so I can just go and get out of here.”
He squirmed a little. The confident visage I’d seen when I first walked in was gone, replaced by doubt and fear.
“What? What have you done?”
“Me? I didn’t do anything! I asked you for help and you didn’t come. When the tornado came, I left the house. I’ve been camped out here the past few days,” he said, stepping off the desk and showing me a sleeping bag in the back of the room.
“I found my bathroom in the corn field after the storm, but the damage had been done. Whatever, or whoever took your family was already there and gone. I think whoever took your family planted the tornado to get me out of the house and then used the portal when I was gone.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t have your family.”
I was stunned. Had I just come to this universe for nothing? My family had been taken from me — I assumed by the other me — and now I have nowhere to look. How do I go on? Where is Penny? I felt lost without her.
Mirror update #15
I snapped. I didn’t care if the universe would collapse or there would be holes ripped in the space-time continuum, I needed my family back and DWG had the only clues to their whereabouts.
I grabbed his stupid flannel shirt and shoved him up against his desk. A stapler and a stack of binders went clattering to the floor as he lost his footing. He ended up half on his desk and half in the air as I lifted him in the process.
“Where are they? I didn’t come all the way here just so you could tell me you didn’t have them,” I growled. The universe hadn’t exploded, so apparently there wasn’t any rules about being in the same space or even touching your opposite in another reality. But again, my mind wasn’t really thinking about that right then.
“I don’t know,” DWG said, trying to wriggle out of my grasp.
I released one hand and reached into my back pocket.
“What’s this then?” I asked, unfolding the note which read “I HAVE WHAT I NEED” and then the short apology underneath. It was in my own hand-writing, which means mirror-me wrote it. “Why would you put this on a note, only for me to come over here and find out there is no hope?”
He pushed my hand off him and straightened up.
“Because while I don’t know for sure what happened to your family, I can guess. There’s a lot I don’t know about the portal, but I do know some, which is what was getting me into trouble, hence why I asked for help in the first place,” he said.
“Wait, portal?” I asked. “I have only called it a mirror. What’s going on?”
“Okay, have a seat.”
“I’d rather not,” I stated.
“I figured you would say that,” he said.
“Well, in my world, we have a bit more experience with dimensional technology and it’s uses and dangers. It’s fairly new, but most people know it exists. Most people, though, don’t get one in their master bathroom,” DWG said.
“So how did you?”
“To be frank, I’m not quite sure. I’d done some fixes to the house over the last few years and had picked up the mirrors in an estate sale. I put one up in the bathroom. For a long time, nothing happened. It was just a mirror, but then I noticed a small black button on the side. Barely bigger than a ladybug, but there it was. I pushed it and bam, I started seeing things. Like you, checking your forehead. How is it by the way?” he asked.
“Fine,” I said, absentmindedly rubbing my scalp.
“Good,” he said, smirking just a bit. “I think the process of transitioning from a mirror to a portal took a little time, because sometimes you were still a mirror image, and sometimes…well, you know what happened.”
“Yeah. Freaked me out the first time I saw something different.”
“Apparently it not only becomes a portal to an alternate universe, but does a hard reset on the mirror on the other side, making it a portal as well. Congrats.”
“Thanks,” I muttered.
“So, anyway, I was going to just leave it alone, or try to flip the switch back, when I got a visitor. He threatened me if I didn’t hand him all the mirrors I’d gotten at that estate sale. I hadn’t hung two of them up, so I gave him those, but I didn’t tell him about the bathroom. He took my wife, anyway. That next day is when I asked you for help.”
I thought about all he’d said, and tried to piece it together.
“So, you’re saying that this man took two of your portals, and took your wife. Then, somehow he caused a tornado that tore apart your house and then snuck through the portal to take my family as well?” I asked. If I sounded dubious, it was because I was.
“That’s about what I’m saying. If anyone has your family, I’m convinced it’s him.”
“Okay then, who is it?” I asked.
“He wouldn’t tell me what agency he was from in the government, but he said his name was Smith.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. The more I considered it, perhaps I could. It seemed there were less and less coincidences. Maybe everything is connected. Agent Smith was the deciding factor when I leapt from my universe to this one. Was that just a couple of hours ago? It seemed as though I’d been here for days, but yet I hadn’t even eaten a meal in this universe, a fact my stomach was reminding me of. I wasn’t sure I could have kept anything down anyway.
Mirror update #16.
“You know, on second thought, I think I will take a seat,” I said, finding the closest student desk and planting myself.
“You okay, man? I’ve seen that look before — right before I had the flu last month,” DWG said. He brushed back a few other papers on his own desk and sat on top.
“Yeah, I mean, I know who you’re talking about,” I said.
“You do? Smith?”
I tilted my head to look up at my own face on another person. It was still startling, but was becoming more and more normal the longer I was here. Was I going to get stuck here? Was this my new normal? I didn’t want to think about that possibility yet. I couldn’t — not with my family still out there. Now that I had another target for my frustration, beyond my mirror-me, I had a sliver of hope again.
“I do. I just met him this morning — just minutes before I came through the portal, in fact,” I said. I proceeded to tell myself about my family disappearing, about Smith and his goons showing up on my lawn, and how I was still talking to him on my phone when I ran through the mirror on my side and ended up over here.
“You’re kidding,” he said.
“No. So…as you can imagine, this hasn’t been my best day. I mean, I got to go on an unexpected trip, but when my family is taken from me and my life is threatened all in a matter of hours, it’s safe to say I would like a mulligan,” I said.
He jumped off the teacher desk and sat down opposite me. If you had put a pane of glass between us, you might’ve sworn there was a mirror in the room, except for the clothing choices.
“Okay. I can put myself in your shoes,” he said.
I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit at that. “Literally,” I said.
After each of us laughed off the tension in the room, a silence fell between us. It was thick and palpable. Awkward.
How do you really talk to yourself? I mean, we all do it, but we do it inside of our head. We might mumble under our breath, but unless we want to be committed, we keep it to ourselves. Now, I had a chance to ask myself anything and all I could think of was how weird my hair looked.
Thankfully, he broke the silence.
“Will…man, feels weird calling you that. Yeah, I know it’s your name, but it’s my name, too. What should we call you?”
“Why should I change my name?”
“Because this is my world! You’re the invader here,” he said.
“Not by choice!” I complained.
“True, but the truth is what it is. If we are seen together, I’m going to be Will. What should I call you? What’s the game plan?”
I’d actually done a little bit of thought on this, so I proposed my idea.
“I’m your twin brother that you never told anyone about. My name is Wes. I’ll have no problem because half of the people I meet call me that anyway,” I said.
“Me too,” he said.
“Besides, I’m still going to call you DWG in my head,” I retorted.
“Yeah. You’re my Dopp-Will-Ganger.”
“Ugh. I guess you’re mine too, then.”
I stood up. I hated just sitting there when my family was still out there without me. And DWG’s wife as well. “What do we do next?” I asked.
“Give me your phone,” DWG demanded.
My phone? What did he want that for? Normally, I was lost without my phone, but seeing as though I was in a different reality with slightly different technology, I had found that my phone didn’t work. I’d long ago, abandoned the bluetooth earpiece and stuck them both in my hoodie pocket. Soon after finding myself trapped in that corn field, I’d absent-mindedly checked my phone for a map, but all I got was messages informing me I had no service and errors flashed up whenever I tried to do anything.
Mirror update #17.
I was dumbfounded. We need to find our families, and all the other me wants to do is look at my phone. I guess we had better technology in my reality.
I slowly pulled it out of my pocket with a strange look on my face. Handing it over, I asked, “Why?”
“I don’t know. I just had a thought, hold on,” Mirror-me said, examining the phone intently. I tried to explain, but he just held up his hand once in silent protest. I willed myself to wait.
“Okay,” he said, handing the phone back to me.
“What were you doing?” I asked, still confused.
“I was checking the last phone number that called you to see if it might have matched up with phone numbers of this world. Maybe Your Smith could lead us to My Smith,” he said, standing up. He walked around his desk and picked up a jacket that he put on over his flannel jacket. Then, he picked up a double-barreled shotgun that was stashed under the desk.
“Okay, two questions,” I asked quickly.
“Shoot,” he said, checking the barrel of the gun.
I didn’t know if he was trying to make a pun, so I continued. “So, did it? Did the number match?”
“Nope. The last number was listed as ‘UNKNOWN CALLER.’ No number listed. But, then I checked and the phone numbers aren’t the same as here anyway. Our country code goes first. For the U.S, that’s 99 since we are near the bottom of the alphabet. That’s one of the first things we learn in school. With the number 1 before all your numbers, I have to assume the U.S. thinks it’s pretty hot stuff, huh?”
“Um. Yeah, I guess so,” I said, disappointed a lead, no matter how small, just vaporized.
“I don’t know,” I confessed.
“No…what was your second question? You said you had two questions,” the other me said.
I shook my head. “Oh…yeah. A shotgun? They let you keep a shotgun under your desk?”
DWG looked at me strangely for a moment. It was beginning to be a familiar sight.
“Of course. Well, most teachers have a smaller weapon, say a 22 caliber pistol or maybe a .44 if they are more experienced,” he said. Then, as if he suddenly remembered something, he bent down again, and unlatched a bottom drawer in his desk and pulled out a handgun. “Speaking of, maybe you’d like this one. It was my school-issued piece until I brought in this bad boy. Just a .22, but big enough to put a hole through a man if need be.”
He held it out to me, but I was still reeling.
“But why? How?”
“Oh, you mean you can’t? Well, I guess it goes back to the Canadian Incursion of 1912. After we soundly defeated the Brits in the War of 1812, we gained a portion of Lower Canada, but they weren’t content to let it go. It took about a century, but those crazy loons finally staged a full-scale invasion and took a few primary schools in New York state hostage. Since then, it’s really just been tradition to keep them on school grounds. No one really questions it, I guess,” he said matter-of-factly.
Okay. Guns in school. Totally cool. Thanks to Canadians. I had a lot to learn about this world.
“I don’t think we have many choices left,” I said. He nodded, as if reading my thoughts.
“We have to go to the bathroom,” we both said at the same time.
Referring to the bathroom, separated from the house in this reality, now parked in the middle of a corn field.
Mirror update #18. We walked out of the school building and found DWG’s vehicle. A Ford Escape. Remarkably similar to the same model in my universe. Although I’d been on this side for just a short amount of time, I came to the conclusion that no matter how strange things became or how different past events were from my timeline, there were certain “course corrections,” that were implemented. In reality, since there were such huge differences in the history of the country, I was surprised we were as similar as we were to each other. Looking at the Ford logo on the dash in front of me, DWG caught me.
“What, they don’t have Ford over there?”
“Actually, we do. That’s what I was thinking about. Our first President was George Washington, not Thomas Jefferson. Ben Franklin was never one in our time, and we certainly haven’t had an antagonistic relationship with Canada. With all those things — and I imagine so many more — it’s fascinating that so many things are the same,” I noted.
“I guess you’re right. I’ve always really liked the Ford story. You know, how when he died after implementing the assembly line, his wife Clara took over until their son was ready to take on the reins. Really an inspirational story for lots of women,” DWG said. “She wouldn’t drive a Model T, but boy could she run a company.”
I could only stare ahead, still fixated on the logo. “Uh…yeah. Right.”
Soon we were back at the corn field I’d left just about an hour earlier. We drove the vehicle as close as we dared, but the mud was thick and neither of us were confident in being able to get it back out of the muck easily should we be coming back soon.
But we weren’t planning on coming back soon. Now that we thought we knew how the portal operated, Mirror-me and I hoped to break back through. Why?
Our only lead was Smith. My Smith.
From everything DWG said, his was a real piece of work and was probably responsible for multiple kidnappings, if not more. In my timeline, Smith had only talked to me. True, he tried to stop me from going through the mirror, but we didn’t know what he knew. We needed to talk to Smith, and if that meant putting ourselves into his hands, then so be it.
We entered into the room, finding it just as I’d left it.
“So, what did you do?” my alternate self asked me.
“I heard the tornado sirens and put my ear up to the glass. That was when I nicked my ear,” I said, touching my earlobe.
“Okay. Since this is my world, maybe it would be better if I did it this time,” DWG said.
He walked towards the portal, which I still sometimes called a mirror in my mind. Across the way, my own bathroom was empty. Nothing there, except the sights I saw every morning before I took a shower. I refocused my eyes on the pane itself, and saw that there were still cracks stemming from the corners. DWG touched one and broke his skin, dropping some blood onto the portal.
I felt a shift in the room. It was as if someone opened a door from across a large building. You could feel the pressure change, but couldn’t automatically see why.
“I think that did it,” I said.
“Yep,” DWG said. He reached up with the but of his shotgun and pushed on the portal. Expecting a solid front, I was surprised with the gun proceeded to pass through some event horizon. Presumably, if someone had been watching, they would have witnessed a shotgun slowly emerging from the mirror on my end.
“I should go first, in case you coming through closes the window, like it did when I came here,” I mentioned.
DWG simply nodded as I hopped up on the counter and pushed through. Immediately I found myself back in my own land. I looked behind me and within seconds, DWG came through, a little bit more dramatically than I.
Last time I was in the room, a squad of Smith’s soldiers was trying to keep me on this side of the glass. No one was here, but something did catch my eye. As I approached the back corner of the room, my phone rang, startling both of us.
I took it out of my pocket and looked at it. “UNKNOWN CALLER.”
“Should I answer it?” I asked.
“Yeah. He’s the one we’re looking for. Let’s get started,” my doppelganger said.
I answered the phone, “Hello?”
“Hello again, Mr. Smith,” I said. “Fancy you calling so soon after I returned.”
I inched closer to a black box in the corner of the bathroom. There was a digital read-out on the screen, counting down…38…37…36…
“Will? Mr. Paulson, you need to get out of your house right now. Sorry, I don’t have time to explain — get out!”
I grabbed my mirror-me by the shirt collar and jetted out of the bathroom, hoping we could clear the house before the entire house exploded around us.
Action Report: January 19
Primary Subject Will Paulson is unconscious. Both of him/them. I’ve called in the medical unit to check them out.
Both subjects barely evaded an “accident.” By “accident,” I mean totally planned explosion that destroyed his house. It was necessary.
I can see some explanation is necessary. Let’s go back to the beginning – at least my beginning.
You can call me Mr. Smith. It’s not my real name, but it is a useful name. I work for the Agency, a top-secret organization that works well below the surface on cases of the strange, weird, and especially threatening. Most people in the CIA, FBI, or NSA wouldn’t know we exist, but as they have their roles in protecting society, so do we.
The trouble all started when our analysts began to notice some strange correlations between some recent radiation spikes in random locations across the U.S. and some disappearances of people, sometimes entire families. When our analysts caught on, five different incidents had occurred in five different states, from Arizona to North Dakota to Michigan, Virginia and Tennessee. The local authorities didn’t have a good explanation for any of the disappearances. Two were now missing person cases, another one was being blamed on a local serial murder spree while another two would remain a mystery due to the giant holes in the ground where the homes of those families used to be.
The occurrences appeared to be happening on a precise sequence of every 12 days going back to the incident in Arizona. The Tennessee incident was five days old when the analysts came up with the correlation, which gave us seven days to figure out as much as we could before the next possible occurrence.
I was assigned as lead agent on the case within an hour of our realization that something was happening. As soon as possible, I organized an action team and we met, live or via videoconference in the ready room.
“Now that we know what to look for we believe we can track the radiation spike signature whenever it shows up on our monitors,” Miss Anna, our lead analyst was saying. “The specific cocktail of radiation is unique to these events and we should know nearly immediately when it happens again.”
One of the other agents piped up, “What does ‘nearly immediate’ mean?”
Mr. Liszt, the secondary analyst at my station replied, “Well, it does depend on the scan of the satellite and the processing power of our computers, but…”
“A few seconds later,” Miss Anna interrupted. “Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of warning the next time.”
“Sounds good,” I said. “Thank you.” I looked back at the crowd in front of me. “Anybody have anything to add?”
“Alright, I don’t want to lose any more people. I want to send a team to every site. Look for every possible clue.”
“Agent Jones, take Liszt and your team to the first event site in Arizona. Look for any indications of how this started.”
“Nora,” I nodded to my assistant, “Activate our sleeper unit inside the FBI to coordinate with the ongoing serial murder investigation in Michigan. The manhunt is going to complicate our own investigation there.”
I want forensics teams to scrub the blast sites in North Dakota and Virginia. Officially those are both natural gas explosions, but if anyone asks any deeper questions send them away thinking you’re hunting ghosts or meth labs or undetonated mines from 1943.”
“Miss Anna will go with me and my team to Tennessee. Let’s get some answers.”
Action Report: January 19 (cont.)
After the plane’s wheels hit the ground, we found ourselves driving to a remote area of Tennessee in two non-descript, completely normal, compact rental cars.
We don’t have black SUV’s waiting for our agency at every airport. It’s not a budget priority.
Agent Black drove our car and I rode in shotgun position with Dr. Anna in the back. The other car held Tinker, Barney and my number two, Wesson.
I called over to the other car, “Wesson, you take your group into town. Check in with the locals. See if you can get any word on what happened here the other day.”
I could practically hear his wink and nod, “Right-o boss. Keep in touch.”
The lead car turned left while the other car kept going on the main road. The side road we had turned onto became a gravel road, and we slowed down.
I turned around to look at my scientist in the back seat. “Anna, what do you want to do when we get there?” I asked.
She looked up from her efforts to brace herself from the rattling and shaking of the car, “I believe I can find the source of our radiation by tracking concentration levels. It will be a few minutes, but I believe I can take you straight there.”
I nodded. “Ok, you start with that.” We pulled into a driveway. Ahead of us was a basic farmstead. The two-story farmhouse likely built in stages starting 80-90 years ago was on the right as we pulled in. The barnyard and animal pens were ahead of us and a group of grain silos were to our left as we drove down the driveway.
I gestured towards Agent Black, “I want you to check out the yard, starting with the grain silos. I’ll start with the barn and work my way toward you. If we don’t find anything, we’ll head to the house and start checking it out with Anna.”
Black nodded as he pulled the car up across from the front of the house next to what looked like an animal pen. There were no animals in sight. The report I saw stated that they were taken into county custody due to the unknown whereabouts of the family.
Anna got out and headed toward the back of the car while Black and I separated and went opposite ways.
I passed the empty hen house and walked up to what looked like the back entrance of the dilapidated old barn. The wood was weathered under multiple coats of red paint from various days of the past. I rounded the corner and found an old tractor parked inside the door. A thick layer of grime and grain dust lay on all the surfaces. It looked as if it hadn’t moved in years.
I stepped inside. Although the old wooden floor was loosely covered with stray pieces of old brown straw and dust of all kinds, it creaked with every step.
There were old, obviously out of use, animal pens on both sides. I checked each side as I progressed towards the front entrance of the barn. I didn’t find anything unusual. Just to my right as I looked at the entrance, a wide ladder-stair led up toward the hay loft. I started up and at that moment a loud shuffling sound happened from the floor above me.
I looked around quick as I drew my gun. Still nothing in the barn, but a rope swaying outside the front entrance caught my attention. I froze, knowing what that meant.
Something or someone was upstairs.
Action Report: January 19 (cont.)
Acutely aware of everything around me, I crept up the vertical stairs as quietly as possible. At the entrance, Black whistled before rounding the corner holding his own weapon in both hands, held low. I motioned for him to stay there below me and crept the rest of the way up.
At the top of the stair, a large pile of hay bales sat in a pyramid to my left, blocking my view of over half of the area. To my right the loft door was open, with a wooden crane arm used to raise and lower the hay bales jutting out from the truss into the air beyond. What looked like a pulley system on an overhead track – presumably to move the hay bales around the loft – was drifting slightly towards the back of the loft.
I approached the corner of the bale pyramid and poked my head around it to glance toward the back of the loft. I didn’t see anything back there but more piles of hay here and there and an owl perched on one of the trusses off to the right. I looked down the hole I had just exited and gestured for Black to come up and stop where I was. Then I crept toward the back of the loft, looking around the piles each time I came to one. I reached the back of the loft without finding anything and stopped just short of standing under my owl friend.
Just then, there was a sound off to the side of the loft on the other side of the pyramids closest to the stair. I saw a green hoodie going over the last pile before the stair and then a thump and a surprised squeak of a sound.
I jogged back up to the front of the loft and found Black holding one pre-adolescent boy awkwardly aloft by the arm and had another boy stopped with a hand grabbing the boy’s hood. Both were squirming, trying to get away.
“Stop!” I called, and they both paused briefly in their struggles. The boys couldn’t have been much older than ten or eleven years old. They were both a bit dirty and looked scared out of their wits.
I tried to remember that as I talked to them, “Hey now, we’re all okay. We just want to ask some questions.”
The boy in the green hoodie looked up, at me. “You’ll let us go?”
“Sure.” I gestured for Black to let go. “Why were you trying to hide from us?” I asked.
The boys tried to smooth out their clothes a bit and hoodie replied, “Cause I seen you last week. Last one anybody seen with Jody’s dad, far as I know.”
What? That can’t be right.
“What are you talking about?”
“Last week – day before they all scooted. I seen you in town with Mr. Hall. He didn’t look like he liked you much, but ya’ll went to the store together anyway. Next day they’re gone; nobody knows wheres the Halls are at’all.”
Kid was either lying, or someone was fooling him. I shook my head. “I don’t know what you saw kid, but I was hundreds of miles away at that point.”
He looked straight in my eyes, then looked away and down. “Whatever you say Mister.” He sounded far from convinced.
I had to wonder what was going on. Time travel? Secret twin brother I never knew about? Imposter with a really good mask? In my line of work, you never know.
I’ve…seen some things, you might say.
I waved the boys off. “Alright. Get out of here. We’re here looking into the disappearance. I’ve got agents talking to the sheriff’s deputy right now.” And maybe me letting them go so easily convinced them I’m not evil? I doubt it.
Once released, they took off like a shot down the stairs. Black shrugged at me. “Kids.” I chuckled back.
My phone chirped, and I pulled it out and looked at it. It was a text from Anna. “Found it. Master bedroom. Upstairs.”
I replied that I was on my way and started down the stairs.
As I was walking up to the porch of the house, the phone rang. Agent Johnson was checking in from Michigan. I answered before I went in the house.
“Boss, they think they know who the killer is, but it doesn’t make any sense. You’ll never believe what they found.”
“Welcome to the club. I just came across something here that doesn’t make any sense either.”
“Really? This one’s a doozy. Can you get up here?”
“I’ll look into it once I’m done here. I’ll call you back.”
I hung up the phone, walked inside and headed up the stairs right inside the front door. Agent Black followed behind. Upstairs, I walked by two bedrooms. At least, I assumed they were bedrooms. It looked as if a tornado had hit. In fact, as I looked around, everything looked out of sorts, as if … I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I glanced at Black and nodded towards one of the rooms and he stepped in to check it out.
I got to the master bedroom and stopped. The chaos was rampant everywhere inside. For a moment, I did step over the threshold. Anna was right there, next to a closet door inside the room. “I think they packed up in a hurry. I don’t see any suitcases anywhere.”
I nodded. “The source is in this room?”
“Yes…, or at least it was. The signature is very faint now.”
I continued forward, looking around me as I did. The mirrored dresser was across from the bed, with windows on the far side of the room from the hallway door. A bathroom door was on the far side. Drawers were pulled out from every piece of furniture and items from the closet looked as if they were removed in a hurry. Random things were out of place everywhere. As I walked around the bed, I stepped on small bits of glass next to the dresser. I thought it must be the mirror. It must have shattered in all the chaos.
But, if the mirror was down here, what was on the dresser?
I looked up in time to see my image draw his weapon.
Action Report: January 19 (cont.)
I saw myself aiming a gun at me. I didn’t have time to think about the strangeness of it.
My reflexes took over. I dove to the right and scampered for the doorway. Shots rang out behind me as I grabbed Anna and leapt back into the hallway. Somehow I simultaneously pushed her out of the way, rolled, and drew my service weapon, all while ending up facing the door, crouched on the floor.
I waited a few beats, then slowly approached the door again. I heard Agent Black’s breath behind me.
I gestured for him to go left in the room while I went over the bed. He shook his head in response and pulled a small helicopter-like device with several propeller blades out of his coat pocket. He pointed at the camera mounted on the device. I gave a short no.
Agent Black pulled out his agency phone and opened the app to remotely control the device.
I stood at the door, holding my gun at the ready and Anna retreated around the corner while the camera-copter lifted off.
Black crept up to me and whispered, “Am I looking in the bathroom?”
“No. Dresser mirror,” I replied.
I could sense him pause next to me.
“Just do it,” I said with a sigh.
The little device buzzed into the room and turned to point it’s camera at the mirror. “Uh, Boss, all I see is a broken up mirror and the wall behind.”
I edged around the threshold and slowly backed towards the wall opposite the mirror. It soon became obvious that Black was right. I dropped my stance in disgust and walked up to the mirror. I looked at the frame filled with shards of broken glass of all sizes, then looked around and through the mirror. There was no sign of my previous image or anything else that didn’t belong.
Black was at the back wall above the headboard, pulling out two slugs with a pocket knife. “These came from the direction of the mirror. What was that?”
I shrugged. “I could swear it looked like my mirror image. It drew and I ducked.” I called out to the hallway, “We’re clear. Come back in.”
Dr. Anna walked in, shaking some cobwebs from her head – literally and figuratively. I told her what I saw. “I can give you a bunch of theories,” she said, “Nothing definitive.”
“Go ahead,” I said. That’s what I liked about my team. They didn’t doubt me. Anna, Black, the rest of them all accepted what happened and we went from there. Saved time and instilled trust. Good qualities in people you put your trust in day in and day out.
“Well, there’s always the time travel option, but I can’t think of a reason why the future you would shoot at the past you. It could be someone who just looks like you, but the circumstances here lead me to believe its not that simple.”
“So, what then?”
“I think what is most likely is some sort of portal to another reality — a parallel Earth as it were. There are several competing theories about such things, and any and all may have some validity.”
“Ok, I’ve heard some of that before. So, best guess is that’s not me shooting at me?”
She brushed her hair aside and said nervously, “No certainty sir, but I don’t think so.”
“Alright. I’ve got a feeling that has had a hand in what’s going on in Michigan. They might actually have a live one there, so I’d like to check it out personally. Black, you wait here for Wesson and fill him in. I want you guys to tear this place apart and see if you can find anything. I doubt it, because it looks like it all left through that,” I pointed at the broken mirror, “But any hints at this point will help.”
“Anna, you’re with me. We’ve got a plane to catch.”
Action Report: January 19 (cont.)
The next morning, Dr. Anna and I drove up to a house in a suburban neighborhood in the Grand Rapids area. It looked as if all the houses had originally been constructed sometime in the 70’s or early 80’s. The house we drove up to looked like any other perfectly normal house in a 35 or 40 year old neighborhood. It was a light brown two-story with a dogwood in the front yard.
There were service vehicles of various kinds all over the street. A local officer removed a barrier to let us through. There just happened to be an open parking spot in the driveway of the house so that’s where I parked.
We were met in the driveway by Johnson – the woman. I don’t know whose idea it was to pair Johnson with Johnson. Probably whoever thought to pair Smith with Wesson. They aren’t are real names anyway.
We opened the car doors and got out. “It’s good to see you Johnson. It’s been a while.”
“Yes sir. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you around.” The small but solid agent turned and went in the direction of the house.
We walked up to the front door where the stain of some sort of exploded device lay on the front steps. “This is where we caught him, before he got in.”
She turned and looked at me. “It’s not the first time we tried to get him, but it was the first time we were successful.” She pointed toward a disheveled bush next to the nearby window. “That was where they threw the gas in when SWAT stormed the place. They were sure he went in, but they couldn’t find anything once they went in.”
I bent over to look. “There’s no sign of entry here.”
“That was my call. I had just come on at the time. We knew he kept coming here. There were at least three different sightings to confirm that. However, nobody had ever seen him come out. My best guess was that if the place looked as normal as we could make it, he might come back to this place just one more time. So we put it all back together as best as we could. It worked. We disabled the lock and gassed him before he could get inside. It turned out to be pretty easy.”
She opened the door and went in. We followed, taking in the view as we did. A living room was on the immediate right of the door, a stair going up to the left, and I could see a man handcuffed to a table through an archway into the kitchen dinette area.
She pointed at the man at the table, “That’s him, but he’s useless. All he does is mutter the same four phrases over and over. What we can’t figure out is where he went after coming in here.”
I glanced over at a large wall mirror in the living room and walked over to it. It certainly looked like a reflection. I did a check of my surroundings and looked again. There. A flashlight on a table in this room was missing in the reflection. I went over, picked it up and walked back to the mirror. Johnson watched me with a strange expression on her face. Anna just watched.
I tipped the flashlight toward the mirror while my reflection simply reached out his empty hand. When the flashlight touched the mirror, it didn’t stop. There was a little resistance, and then the flashlight was being pulled. It was my reflection pulling. In reflex, I pulled back and ended up with half the flashlight in my hand. I looked down at it and back at the reflection and I could see him mouth the words, “One way.”
Dang! I wondered at that moment why I had never thought to question my own reflection the past few minutes. The last time I saw him, he took shots at me. Admittedly, bad ones. I knew I was a better shot than that. Perhaps he missed on purpose?
My reflection was already walking toward the kitchen on his side. I supposed I could shoot him in the back, but I wasn’t in the mood for self-annihilation – at least not yet.
I turned to Anna. “Did you catch that last part?”
“One way? Yes. That means he came in another way. I should be able to track that as well. Can I look at the flashlight?”
I handed it to her,careful to avoid some leaking battery acid. “Here you go. See what you can find.” She turned to go to the car to get her equipment. I turned back to Johnson, “Anything else?”
“Yes, in the back yard. I’ll show you.”
We detoured through a dark dining room and into the kitchen. We were about to walk through the dinette area when the guy at the table saw me.
I’m not sure freak out is a strong enough word. As soon as he saw me he started screaming incoherently, frantically backing into the corner and pulling at his handcuffs hard enough to cause bleeding. Two agents rushed over and grabbed him to keep him from crawling up the wall.
Johnson and I stopped, of course. I leaned down on the table and looked him in the eye. He was gaunt – as if he hadn’t eaten a good meal in quite some time. His bright red hair (Orange, actually) was completely disheveled. A good week or two of scruff covered his face and neck.
“You know me?” I asked him.
He pulled his body as far back into the corner as he could and everything he said sounded like babble, “Y y y you Agent! you y y y you stop! Stop! Will you stop! The the the things the way the first the NO! The same samesamesame SAME!”
I shook my head. “I am not the same. Are you?”
He hugged his arms as close in as he could and shook his head. “SAME! samesamesame no no no No! Janie sister sister friend. In the mirror mirror end. Janie sister…”
He had turned away from me and now was just repeating himself. I stood up and told the closest agent to find an audio recorder and record everything he said. Then I asked Johnson to lead on.
Action Report: January 19(cont.)
We walked through the family room and out the back door. Outside, two large canopies had been set up on either side of the yard with three shallow graves in the process of being excavated.
Johnson stopped at the edge of the patio. “We believe this is likely the family who lived in this house. It was 3-person family so this matches what we know. We also believe the last time they were seen alive was 28 or 29 days ago. We’ll have to use dental records or DNA for identification.”
I agreed. The condition of the corpse in front of me was not exactly ideal for a visual identification.
I turned to Johnson. “What specifically did you want me to see out here?”
“It’s in the yard of the house behind us. Follow me.” She walked up to an old fence with some loose boards and squeezed through an opening someone had already made.
She walked up to an outdoor garage/workshop in the back yard. A driveway led to the street. Opening the door, she indicated for me to go inside.
Inside, I could see two more technicians and the other Johnson, a tall lanky guy who didn’t for a second look like he belonged in a top government agency. The female Johnson tapped him on the shoulder as he was peering intently into a hole in the floor. He glanced up and smiled a slow smile towards me. “Good to see you, Smith. You’ve gotta see this,” he said eagerly, “This one’s pretty cool.” He gestured to the other two, “Why don’t you guys take a break for a few minutes. I gotta show my boss what’s going on.”
They left and I came in closer. He was standing on the edge of a large square hole in the floor of the garage. Down below there were four bodies in the process of being excavated.
“I’m pretty sure this is the beginning of everything here and I’ll tell you why in a moment. First, an observation: It looks like he was quite organized and efficient in the beginning. He is completely incapable of this kind of sophistication now, so what happened in the last 28 days to change that?”
Johnson stepped into the hole and peeled the cover off the largest body. Instantly, I could tell he could be a twin of the man chained to a table next door. It also begged a question. “I can see he’s not very decomposed, but you think he started here about a month ago. Tell me more about why you think that.”
In reply, Johnson simply asked, “What do you smell?”
I sniffed. “Nothing.”
“Exactly. No matter if it’s hours or days or several weeks as we think it is, there should be some decomp and the smell to go with it. I believe the bodies have been prepared in a way to not bring attention to this house in a malodorous way. As yet, we don’t have any ideas on that front.”
So the bodies were prepared in a way to prevent decomp, wrapped and buried where nobody should find them. Johnson was right. There was no way the guy we had in custody could be this organized.
“So this guy, tell me about him,” I said pointing at the guy in the hole. He looked remarkably similar to the guy at the table, except the hair was shorter, there was no scruffy beard, and the dead part.
Female Johnson took over. I’ll call her Ms. Johnson from now on. “He’s Frank Caplan, carpenter and amateur inventor.” I glanced up around the old garage, filled with gadgets and power tools. It seemed to fit. “He was married to Janie Caplan and had two kids, 13 and 10.”
I stopped her. “Janie. The guy back there mentioned her name.”
“Yeah. That’s one reason we thought that was weird, other than the obvious.”
“I assume you’ve searched the house. Anything strange with any mirrors?” I asked.
“Yes,” She answered, “But not in the house. There’s a small bathroom in the back of this building, and the mirror is shattered in there.”
“Alright, and you think this is the site of origination because…”
“Well, our guy in the house back there likely wanted to take the place of the guy in the hole. It appears as if the Frank in the chair was posing as Frank in the hole in public until about four days ago, when the trail of bodies out there started being connected to him. From there, it was a matter of catching the slippery guy. Thanks to you, now I know why that was so hard.”
Mr. Johnson perked up, “What?”
I looked at the message on my buzzing phone and answered Mr. Johnson, “We’ll have to tell you later. Keep at this. Let us know if anything else comes up.”
I turned to Ms. Johnson, “You’re with me. We’ve got to take a drive downtown.”
Action Report: January 19 (cont.)
I had Ms. Johnson drive as she was more familiar with the local geography. She loaded us into one of those black SUV’s that the more well funded agencies seem to get. Anna wanted to update me on several things as we drove.
“131 and Pearl,” she directed to Ms. Johnson as she buckled in.
“Oooh, yeah,” Johnson replied from the front seat.
“Do you mind filling me in?” I asked.
The two women shared a glance and then she gave a slight shake of her head. “I think the surprise will be worth it.”
Ms. Johnson pulled out and headed down the road.
I turned to Dr. Anna, “Okay then, tell me what else you know.”
“When I started scanning, I immediately found the signal from the mirror in the living room and the residual from next door. Then I noticed something else coming from a bit of a distance away. I had to use some other equipment and ended up tapping into a satellite, but narrowed it down to a five block radius downtown.”
“The address you gave…”
“I think you’ll see it when we get there.”
I told her to go on.
“Well, while you were with Johnson and Johnson. I received a report from the forensics teams in North Dakota and Virginia. Short story, they were both implosions. In both cases, everything was sucked into a single point inside the house. They did some 3D mapping in both cases and discovered the point of origin in both houses.”
I gave a low wry chuckle, “Let me guess, a mirror.”
She nodded vigorously. “Nailed it. Something hinky is going on. Look at this.”
She pulled out the half-flashlight from earlier. “Notice the jagged edges where you pulled it apart. I looked at it in a microscope and it looks like the basic structure has been torn apart. It wouldn’t surprise me to know that the molecules themselves were torn apart.”
“And the mirror did that?”
“Yes. Or portal, or whatever we’re calling those things. My guess is that it was the change in direction that caused the tear. It probably wouldn’t be all that bad for one trip because as long as there’s forward momentum it’s not all bad. However, I wouldn’t want to do that to myself repeatedly. Any slight changes of direction as you’re going through and…”
I thought of insane Frank at the table. “It would probably mess a guy up pretty good.”
“Uh, yeah. Who knows why he was going back and forth but the repeated trips were certainly bad for his health. You should get him checked out medically. There are probably other things misaligned in his body by this point.”
I agreed and got on the phone to Mr. Johnson to make it happen.
As I was finishing that conversation and hanging up, we rounded a corner and I saw it – a large building covered with mirrored windows. On the side of the building the words Gerald R. Ford Museum were emblazoned. Suddenly this little trip made more sense. When looking for a mirror, why not a whole building full of them?
We parked and Dr. Anna took the lead. “I’m not 100 percent sure about this but it seemed like a good place to start.” She watched the readout on a handheld device and led on.
I reached inside my jacket and put my hand close to my weapon. Ms. Johnson did the same. We walked up to the main entrance and took a right along the side of the building just before going inside.
The mirrors on the building were in panels. The bottom panel goes to about waist high and a second panel goes from there to just above my height. As we searched I watched my own reflection in every panel we passed. With the experiences of the past few days, it was a bit nerve wracking.
Just in front of the main entrance, the mirrors took on a different tone. The shading was darker, yet they were in the same amount of light as all the others. It was clear, the image projected in these panels was not a reflection — it was a projection from the other side. Whatever or wherever that was. I felt my grip tighten on my service weapon as my eyes met the reflection in the mirror.
I kept my gaze for about ten seconds, unmoving, until something happened.
I saw myself blink.
Action Report: January 19 (cont.)
Even though I’d already watched myself aim a gun through the mirror, and attempt to talk to me, it was still a little jarring to see your mirror image repeat your actions and reflect what you do…until it doesn’t. He blinked. I hadn’t. I stared for a few more seconds, until I blinked in return. I wasn’t sure where this was going. I was fully prepared to jump out of the way in case my alter-Smith pulled a gun on me again.
Then, alter-Smith reached down for something hidden on the ground. I tensed, but when he picked it up, I noticed it was just a computer tablet.
He typed a few words, then turned it my way to show me.
“You need to crack the mirror on your end for us to talk.”
I glanced over at Johnson and gave her a slight nod. She pulled out a small blackjack. I didn’t necessarily need to know what she used it for, but it was handy now. She stayed out of view, but tapped the corner of the mirror a few times until a small fissure began to form. Immediately, I began to hear sounds that had not been there before. Traffic noise that was not present in the moments before Johnson cracked the mirror.
I gestured with an open hand towards alter-Smith, giving him the floor.
“Hey you,” he said.
“Hello,” I replied warily.
“Who else you got over there? Is that Wesson? Or one of the Johnsons?”
I glanced over at Johnson, apparently just out of frame for our mirror guest. “It’s Johnson. Ms. Johnson.” I returned my attention back to my reflection, but I could see my fellow agent check her weapon. She was even more itchy than I was for this encounter.
When my gaze returned to the mirror, I thought I saw a tear in the corner of alter-Smith’s eye. But as soon as I saw that faint glimmer, it was gone, replaced by a hardened look, with a hint of mischievousness.
“I’m glad you’ve got your team. We’ll probably need them.”
“We will? Why’s that? What’s going on? Did you have something to do with Frank Caplan?” He had my face, but already I was suspicious. Perhaps I knew myself too well.
“Frank? Yeah, I know Frank. What happened to him?
“Depends on which Frank you’re talking about. Our Frank has been dead for a while. Your Frank is responsible and is certifiably crazy. Can hardly get more than a few words out. Couldn’t put him in a courtroom for the mass murders…not that we would,” I said. I watched his eyes as I told him about Caplan. He softened for a bit, but the tough visage returned quickly.
“Well, shoot. That’s a shame, but not everyone is cut out for this life.”
I couldn’t see below his knees, but I could tell he was shifting on the balls of his feet. I didn’t know if he was uncomfortable with this or if his feet just hurt. Either way, I pressed on.
“What are you talking about? Tell me about Caplan. Tell me about what this,” I motioned to the mirror we were using, “is.”
“This mirror is more than that. We’ve had use of them for a few years now over here. The science is…complicated. If we can ever had a nice chat over a cup of coffee, I can draw you a fancy diagram or two,” he said with a laugh.
After the sights I’d seen that morning, I wasn’t feeling too jovial.
“Fine. Tell me about Caplan,” I said.
Alter-Smith rubbed his chin and paused. For a moment, it was almost as if the video was buffering before regaining the lost signal and he was running his hand through his hair. I blinked, unsure of what I’d just seen. Before I could say anything, he was answering my question.
“Caplan is…was…one of us. You didn’t know him on your side, but over here, Caplan was known as Agent. We called him Agent Young, of course, but once we had instructions to explore your side of the portals, he joined the ranks of volunteers. Him, me, and a few others.”
“So…he came over here willingly?”
“Yeah, but he wasn’t supposed to stay. He was supposed to come back within 24 hours and stay on our side. It was supposed to be a trial, but the pull of the portal was too strong. Anytime he got near a portal, he went through. Eventually we had to cut him off. We couldn’t control him anymore,” he said.
I was livid. “You did this! A family…others..who knows how many are dead because of you! Johnson and Johnson are still digging up the bodies,” I said through gritted teeth. I was seething. “This is on you.”
He ran his tongue along his teeth as I talked, as if he was simply waiting for me to finish.
“Yeah. I know. But we’ve got bigger problems than Caplan right now.”
Action Report: January 19 (cont.)
I shook my head. Bigger problems than a serial killer?
Then I remembered something he’d said a minute earlier. “Wait, what did you mean you were glad I had my team? What about you? What about your team?”
He grinned without showing his teeth and nodded. “Yep. You’re me. You’re figuring it out. You might not know that you are, but it’s coming to you, slowly.”
“Quit stalling,” I said. I never hated looking at myself more than that moment. “What about your team?”
“I’m the only one left. There were a few we sent over, but the portal wasn’t calibrated correctly. We didn’t hear back and the portal collapsed in a contained singularity. A black hole, if you will. I believe you know which events I am referring to.”
North Dakota. Virginia. Everything gone. The house, property — wiped out as if it had never existed.
The look on my face must’ve confirmed his thoughts.
“Yep. We learned pretty quick, but it wasn’t quick enough for those two agents.”
“So, it was you, Agent Young, the two in North Dakota and Virginia,” I said, not daring to name any of my own agents who may have had their duplicates obliterated in those events. “Is that it?”
“Almost. There was one more,” Alter-Smith said. “He quit after seeing what happened to the others, but we suspect there is more to it. We suspect he didn’t really quit, but instead is manipulating the portals to his own end, whatever that may be. We call him Agent Green.”
We didn’t have an Agent Green. Another difference between his reality and mine. I was curious about so many things, but hopefully once all the craziness, I could talk to Alter-Smith more and learn about the other side. For now, though, we needed to capture Agent Green.
“Okay, so where is he?” I asked.
“Southern Indiana. I am heading there right after we finish up. I’ll try to meet up with you in two days. Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” he said, and then stepped out of frame.
“Hey!” I yelled. Nothing happened. The only thing I noticed as the strange looks I got from a few passers-by on the street. Alter-Smith was gone. He didn’t tell me where to go, who to look for, or what mirror to find. I figured he must’ve had some sort of system for finding and communicating with us.
“Smith,” Johnson said. I pulled myself out of my subconscious and turned my eyes towards her. She nodded behind me and I snapped my head back, only to see the cracks she had started in the corner expanding around the mirror until the entire pane was webbed with countless tiny fissures. “Let’s get out of here.”
“I agree,” I said, but before I could take too many steps, the glass shattered with a deafening shriek, followed by a loud pop. I managed to turn my head, but the explosion covered me in shards of the mirror. I put my hand on my neck and felt a few of the slivers of the mirror embedded in my skin. I pulled a couple out of their wounds and immediately had trickles of blood streaming down my neck, under the collar of my shirt, and down my back. It was a pain, but not one that would keep me sidelined.
Johnson gripped my arm and I looked her in the eye. “Stop. You’ll only make it worse. We need to get you to a hospital.”
She was scratch-free, but she wasn’t lead on this case. I was.
I took a glance back at where the mirror used to be and found a void in its place. No mirror, just a hole into the museum where it should be. Maintenance crews were already rushing to our position; it was time to get lost.
“Fine. Let’s go.”
I winced as I ducked my head getting into the SUV. I knew it would have been worse if we’d and a sedan instead and made a mental note to get one of these wherever we went from here on out. As soon as I buckled my seatbelt, I heard a chirp from my phone at the same time Anna’s phone buzzed in the backseat.
It was a message from headquarters. A new signature had been detected. They weren’t sure of the exact location yet, but something was beginning to develop in Southern Indiana.
Johnson, Anna, and I exchanged looks. We all knew this was no mere coincidence. Agent Green was in Southern Indiana and then this mysterious signature popped up there? We had our next location.
I called my assistant, “Nora, recall as many agents as possible from Arizona and Tennessee. Also, we need the emergency response team activated and ready for action in two days. Finally, make sure we have a fleet of black SUVs waiting for us in Indy. That’s right. No matter the cost.”
Action Report: January 19 (cont.)
It was two days before we were able to get on-site. Not that Southern Indiana was too far from Grand Rapids, of course, but certain things needed to happen. One of which was me checking into a hospital.
The glass shards were a little more invasive than I had originally thought. Of course, in the moment, with the adrenalin flowing, I hardly felt much. Then. After the shock of the mirror exploding wore off, I had a huge pain in my neck. Thankfully, the E.R. staff knew what to do and I was out fairly quickly, all things considered.
Next was the phone call to my boss. He had a name, but we called him Agent Wall. The conversation was short, but necessary.
“What’s your status?”
I rubbed my neck gingerly, trying to piece together the past few days.
“Sore. Patched up now, but sore.”
A pause. “Glad to hear it. Status of the case?”
“That one is a bit trickier. We’ll know more tomorrow, I think, but suffice it to say there are larger things at play than just a missing family in Tennessee or a serial killer in Michigan. You’ve read my status reports so far?”
“I have,” Wall said.
“Okay. I could come in and brief you in person, but you and I both know I need to keep moving and figure this out now so I can stop their Agent Green.”
“Agreed. The flight is already booked for you and your team. A few other associate team members will meet you at the airport in Indianapolis,” Wall said. “And Smith?”
“Yes, sir?” I’d known Wall for a long time. We’d worked together on a more than a few cases before he’d been promoted. Even after a few years behind a desk, he still remembered what it was like to be in the field.
“I know you talked to him. Your opposite. I know he’s leading you to Indiana. It might be a wild goose chase, so be careful. I trust you, but I don’t trust what is on the other side of that mirror, even if it looks exactly like you.”
I considered what he said. He was right, of course. Just because he shared a face, didn’t mean we shared anything else, let alone a moral or ethical code. Between myself and Alter-Smith, we’d only had a small conversation. That and a trail of bread crumbs was leading me to Southern Indiana. I needed some perspective, and I was glad Wall was there to give it to me. That’s why he had the desk.
“Thanks Wall. I appreciate your faith in me. I will admit to being a little bit swayed by my opposite, so thanks for what you said. I’ll be careful. I won’t let myself get caught up in his words. I’ll sever the link between our worlds, if need be,” I said.
“Okay then, get to it. I trust you to do the right thing.”
Action Report: January 19 (cont.)
The next morning, I was on hour number three of a road trip after leaving the Indianapolis Airport. I arrived with Wesson, Tinker, Barney, and of course, my now constant companion on this mission, Dr. Anna. She’d been with me since we’d discovered these anomalies, and I wasn’t going to send her packing now.
We were picked up at the airport by a secondary team — Ford, Plymouth, Dodge, and Schwinn. Whoever said the government didn’t have a sense of humor? I assigned each of my team members to ride with one of the other to become acquainted on the trip, while Dr. Anna and I rode with Ford, the team leader.
Unfortunately for me, Agent Ford was one of those types who preferred to “lead by example.” For most of the trip, Dr. Anna and I sat in the backseat of a black SUV, subjected to the sounds of Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood, and Toby Keith. Rarely did we hear Ford’s voice, which I suppose was okay — I didn’t need to hear him talk. I just needed him to follow my directions.
While I’d been at the hospital the day before, Anna had been tasked with pinpointing the next event — which she had, down to the house in a rural Southern Indiana county. The house was in a town, but the town itself numbered less than 2,000 residents, so collateral damage was probably a moot point. Agent Wall would be glad for that.
“What do we know, Anna?” I asked.
“Home owner is a man by the name of Will Paulson. He is a history teacher at the local community high school. Wife is Penny. The two were married 11 years ago and they have two kids — Kira and Sisco.”
I chuckled a little, knowing Will must be a Star Trek nerd. That or his wife.
“We trained a satellite on the house last night once we realized what house it actually was. Since then, we haven’t noticed anything, but there have been some gaps in coverage. One thing is interesting, however…” Dr. Anna trailed off.
“Yes?” I asked, knowing she needed some prompting.
“Well sir, when I checked the infrared satellite images, I noticed there was only one person in the house. According to our information, he’d married with two kids. If that’s the case, where are the other heat signatures?”
“Oh glory,” I muttered.
“I’m afraid we may have another Caplan on our hands. We’ll need to do a thorough forensic search of the property. Mr. Paulson may be another serial killer and we need to be prepared,” Dr. Anna said.
I slowly nodded my head, gazing out the window, taking in the flat farmland all around us. I knew Ford and his team were not just a secondary team. They were a fully-equipped SWAT team if we needed them, and that might be exactly what kind of situation we were walking into.
“Okay,” I said evenly. “Thanks for the heads up. We’ve got our work cut out for us here. Ford — looks like we’re going to need to speed things up a bit. Tell your team we’re going in ready for anything.”
Action Report: January 19 (cont.)
And so, the four SUV’s that I had requested were pulling into one of the smallest counties in Indiana. I didn’t know what to expect from Mr. Paulson, so we dropped Wesson off a couple blocks away for a possible long-range situation, in case Will Paulson had more deadly weapons than we could even imagine.
A few minutes later, we pulled into his driveway, right as a man was walking out the front door. I checked the file Dr. Anna had on her lap and the photo appeared to be a match. I did a quick double check, and pulled the door handle, getting out of the SUV and standing by the door. I wouldn’t have said I was afraid of Will Paulson, but the fear of the unknown is a healthy thing. It had kept me alive more times than I cared to admit.
“Will Paulson?” I yelled out. He tilted his head in the affirmative. Good enough for me. “We need you to come with us.”
“What? Who are you?” He asked.
“You can call me…Mr. Smith,” I knew after what the Johnson’s had dealt with in Michigan, getting Will Paulson out here talking was huge. He didn’t look like a mass murderer, but then again, they rarely did. I decided to go for a little honesty, but not too much.
“As for everyone else, who we are doesn’t matter. In fact, there are only a handful of people in the entire country that know what our agency does for this nation, so don’t worry about that. What you need to worry about is what you have done.”
“And what is that?”
“You’ve unleashed a creature with untold power and ferocity on the entire world,” I said, talking about his dark side. Maybe that was the case, maybe it wasn’t, but until we had him in custody, we weren’t going to be able to find out. “I know about your family, but there are bigger things at stake now.”
Will Paulson blinked.
It wasn’t much, but in my line of work, we trust our instincts. Mine told me right then that he wasn’t a murderer — at least not that he was aware of. We weren’t communicating — I was talking and he wasn’t hearing it.
“Mr. Smith? Is that it?” he asked. I gave a slight nod. He continued, “Okay, I’m willing to talk, but what I am not willing to do is leave my property. You tell me what you know right now.”
What I knew? Well, I knew a lot of facts — there were events all over the country, leading to massive holes in the ground in North Dakota and Virginia. The event seemed to have its beginnings in Arizona, but the most action was in Tennessee where the entire Hall family was missing and in Michigan where Frank Caplan butchered multiple people. I knew a lot.
On the other hand, I had no idea what was really happening. Why where the holes opening between our world and another one? What was Alter-Smith’s agenda? Who was Agent Green and did Paulson know him?
I felt what I knew fit in a cup, but what I didn’t could span an ocean.
I decided to play my cards close to the vest.
“Mr. Paulson, I don’t think you’re really in a position to argue,” I said with a small laugh, hoping to put him a little more at ease. “You need to get into the back of the vehicle with me right now. I’d be glad to have a conversation with you, but this is not the place.”
I held out my arms, motioning to the other houses in the small town. “I wouldn’t want to…alert your friends as to what is really going on here. But, I will if I have to.”
Crap. He wasn’t buying it. Immediately he started backing towards his door. I grabbed my walkie, hitting the send button twice, to put Wesson on alert.
I yelled out to Paulson. “There is a man positioned just above the two-story house across the street, Mr. Paulson. Can you see him?”
Paulson looked over me and must’ve seen Wesson. He twitched a little when he finally realized what Wesson was holding, but apparently it didn’t make a difference. That’s when he made his play.
“I see your man, Mr. Smith, but I think if you really had any intention of killing me, you would have done so without showing your face at all. You claim to be from some secret government agency, and that many be true, but why talk to me at all?” Will Paulson asked. I stayed silent, waiting for him to make his move. I could call Wesson and make the call now, but I paused.
“I think you need me,” Will said. “Obviously the laws don’t mean anything to you, or else how would you know about me and my family? But, the missing link must be me. I am the key, right?”
With that, he dove inside his house.
I wanted to slam something on the ground, but I needed to keep it together. I immediately decided to keep Wesson positioned across the street. We still didn’t know what Paulson knew, or what he had planned, so having Wesson there with eyes on all of us was our best bet.
But, after seeing all the freshly excavated graves just a few days ago — the aftermath of Frank Caplan’s time with one of those mirrors — I wasn’t about to let Will Paulson get away that easily.
I poked my head back in the SUV, where Anna was still huddled over her tablet. “Doc, you still got that satellite running over Paulson’s house?”
She looked over her shoulder at me, then flipped her tablet over and showed me the image on the screen. It was still the infrared she’d showed me before, but now the lone figure inside was moving around.
“It’s live, in case you were curious,” Dr. Anna said. “As you can see, there is still just one person inside the home. He’s pacing around the kitchen right now, but we need to be ready to move if he goes to the bathroom. That’s where I suspect the portal is.”
“Got it. Let me know when his situation changes,” I said, turning to the other team members. Ford, Plymouth, Dodge, and Schwinn were all waiting, alongside Barney and Tinker. None of us had our weapons out, but that time needed to change. Perhaps Paulson would respond better to the end of a gun.
“Ford, I want you to suit up, along with Plymouth, Dodge and Barney. I’ll keep Schwinn here with me and Tinker can go around to the back of the house. We need to go in, but you guys need to get dressed,” I told the assembled men.
“Smith, I know my men. I’d prefer to have Schwinn instead of Barney,” he said, then looked at Barney, “No offense.”
“None taken,” my man said.
“Yeah, I understand, but I need someone in there who has seen first hand what is going on. He’s been at two scenes already that are precursors to this and he knows what to look for. I’d go in myself, but I think Wall would frown on that. Besides, if I can get him on the phone, perhaps I can talk him back out here,” I said. “Now get your jackets on and get ready. I’m afraid you’ll probably be going in there.”
Ford was a good agent. He protested once, but once I explained, he took it well and got his team into position. Schwinn understood he was to shadow me and did so, but at a safe distance.
“Smith,” Dr. Anna called from the back seat of our SUV. I jogged back over.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“Paulson. He’s in the bathroom. He isn’t moving, but he’s standing in front of the mirror. I think he might be thinking about an exit strategy.”
I swore under my breath. “Okay, can you get me his phone number?”
“I thought you might want it, so I went ahead and dialed it on your phone,” she said, handing me my government-issued phone. It wasn’t the most advanced model, but had served me well. I stared at the phone for a second, then back at my men. They were still half-way through their preparations.
“I’m calling Paulson. Everyone, stay on high alert. Ford — as soon as you and your team is ready, get into the house, ready to go into the master bathroom,” I directed. “Oh, and don’t break any mirrors, okay?”
Ford simply nodded while pulling on a pair of gloves.
I swiped to unlock my phone and pressed the big green button.
“Hello?” Paulson answered.
“Yeah, but you know that already,” Paulson said. He was agitated and desperate. Not that I would blame him if a squad of government officials arrived on my lawn just minutes before.
“Don’t do it. Let us help.”
“Are you watching me? Have you bugged my house?”
He wouldn’t have known about the satellite and the infrared, so it must’ve seemed as though we had some secret knowledge of his activities. Paranoia is very real when it comes to secret government agencies, as I knew too well.
“Look, Will, you can get mad about the privacy violations later, but for now, we are the best chance you’ve got. We came as soon as we realized what had happened. We didn’t expect you to really make contact with the other dimension,” I pleaded. “This has happened before — is happening elsewhere around the nation and world in fact — but no one has actually breached the barrier before…at least not for a long time.”
Yeah. I was mixing truth with fiction. Sue me.
“So what changed? How did I let them through? Was it the hammer? Did I hit it and allow them through that way?”
What was he talking about? Let who through? Was Paulson innocent? Maybe…but we could sort that out later. I kept up his charade, hoping he would come out.
“Actually, we don’t think so. In most cases, the victims assume they are going crazy and the mirror breaks. There was something else in this case. Something else was a factor,” I said.
He was silent for a few moments, only the sound of him breathing coming through my earpiece. From the corner of my eye, I saw Dr. Anna point to her tablet. He was moving closer to the mirror.
“Will, I again urge you to stop. There is another force at work here. Something came and took your family, yes, but there is a being you can’t even possibly imagine that is operating.”
At that moment, I covered the mouthpiece and double-clicked the walkie-talkie. Ford knew what to do and I heard a violent commotion on the other end of the line. Shouting and doors splintering, footsteps and loud noises.
“Will! Stay with us Will! You need to talk to me,” I was practically yelling into the phone when suddenly the line squawked and went dead.
I knew what had happened.
Will Paulson had left this world.
Action Report: January 19 (cont.)
Four hours ago.
That’s how long it had been from when Ford had led his SWAT team through the master bathroom door to try to take Will Paulson into custody to when Will Paulson came back through the portal to this world. In that time, he had managed to meet his duplicate and bring him back to this side with him. They were both still unconscious, but that was going to change. And soon.
In those four hours between trips for Davidson, I spent the first three mostly waiting.
He had jumped through the mirror, and Ford had immediately attempted to follow him, but a barrier had been placed between our worlds.
“Smith?” Ford’s voice crackled over the walkie.
“Yeah. What’s your situation?” I asked, knowing full well what the situation was.
“We had him sir — at least I thought we did,” Ford said. “As soon as we came through the door, he went through the mirror. Damnedest thing I’d ever seen. He just jumped through, and…poof. I tried to follow, but the mirror is solid on this end, at least. I’m looking through it right now. Davidson is on the other side, looking back at us.”
Literally the most words I’d heard the man say since I’d met him. I wasn’t in the mood to hear them, though.
“Fine. Get out of there. If Davidson’s going to come back, he won’t come through if you guys are standing there. Tell Barney to set up a surveillance camera in there though. If he does come back though, I want to know as soon as it happens.”
“You got it, Smith.”
I clicked off the walkie, and paced by the SUV with Dr. Anna still sitting in the backseat. How had we let Paulson out of our grasp? We had him dead to rights We should have been more aggressive. Check that. I should have been more aggressive.
When I was on my way back past the SUV, the back door popped open.
“Smith, get in,” Dr. Anna said.
She must’ve had a break. I slid in, ready for a bit of good news.
“Stop it,” she said.
I squinted. “Stop what?”
“Stop torturing yourself. It could’ve happened to anyone. Davidson knew what he was going to do before you did. You couldn’t have stopped him.”
“I could’ve had Wesson take him out before he got away,” I started. “He…”
She interrupted, “and what if we found out later that Paulson was innocent? That this is all a giant misunderstanding. You don’t know what’s going on here, and neither do I. All this,” she said, gesturing to her tablet, “is just data. A person needs to be on the other side of that data, to figure out what it all means. That’s your job now. Figure out what’s really going on.”
Anna was right. I needed to get over myself. If Paulson came back, I needed to be at my best, and I wasn’t there right now.
I thought back to what Paulson was saying as he was preparing to jump to the other side.
“How did I let them through? Was it the hammer? Did I hit it and allow them through that way?” he had asked. I didn’t know the answers then, and I still don’t, but why would someone be asking those questions if they had just spent the night before butchering his family? We came for Paulson, yes, but there were eight of us, who still had jobs to do.
I leaned over and pecked Dr. Anna on the cheek. “Thanks. I needed that,” I said, jumping out of the SUV.
Right then, Ford and his team was leaving the house. Tinker was coming around — the only one missing was Wesson, still stationed across the street.
“Okay guys. Time to work. Whether or not Paulson comes back, we still need to piece together what happened here. Ford, take your team and do a perimeter search for any fresh dirt on the property. Barney, take Tinker and see if Davidson owns any other property nearby — farmland, buildings, rental lots, whatever,” I said. I then clicked my walkie and talked directly to Wesson. “And Wesson, get your butt over here. We’ve got some wiring to do.”
Action Report: January 19 (cont.)
“Okay boss, we’ve got ten minutes,” Wesson said. “We should move the vehicles. I’d hate to damage them.”
Just like me, Wesson was ultra-conscious of our rides to and from these incidents. These were by far the nicest vehicles we’d ridden in for some time. It wouldn’t look good for us if we happened to return them with scratches and dents.
“You got it. Ford and his team have already warned the surrounding houses in the neighborhood. They put together a cover story about a gas leak in one of the incoming lines. Once they got word out that one of their homes may be exploding, everyone decided it was a good time to eat lunch out,” I reported back.
I was sitting in the driver’s seat of the lead SUV. Dr. Anna had moved up to the shotgun position, while Barney, Tinker, and Schwinn moved the other SUV’s. We took them in front of the house Wesson had been camped out on earlier; I sent Tinker and Schwinn to Wesson’s former spot to observe from the high ground.
We were going to blow up Will Paulson’s house.
While we strung the explosives and the wiring around Paulson’s house, I made another call to Wall — the second one in two days.
“Wall here,” the voice on the other end answered.
“This is Smith.”
“Go ahead,” Wall said.
“Sir, we were unable to capture Will Paulson. We suspect it may be a similar situation to that of Frank Caplan in Michigan, but we have turned up no evidence to support that. His property is clean, and Davidson does not own any other land nearby. We checked the neighborhood, but the locals insist Paulson doesn’t go out much, other than to go to school.”
A beat of silence. “So Will Paulson may not be Caplan.”
“But, then again, if he is adept at using the portal, perhaps he is more clever than Caplan and hid the evidence on the other side.”
I rubbed my hand over my chin. “Also possible, sir.”
“What do you suggest, Smith?”
“The collateral damage would be fairly minimal if we just eliminated the portal on this end. Quick and easy and all that’s lost is Will Paulson, his wife and two kids. If they are all still alive, that is,” I added.
“I assume you are already putting your plan into motion,” Wall said. He knew me too well.
“Yes sir. I figured I better get moving. If you said no, it would be easy to take it all down. If you said yes, I wanted to get it done and over with as soon as possible.”
I heard a few clicks on Wall’s computer at the other end of the phone.
“Your plan is a go, Smith. Get it done, and then get your ass to Arizona. We’ve got to get to the bottom of this, and it appears to be the epicenter,” Wall said.
“Yes sir,” I said, but Wall had already hung up before I uttered “sir.”
Wesson certainly knew his way around a pile of C4 and some detonators, so he was the one tasked with the job. From there, we simply waited. The clock continued to count down, from ten minutes all the way to zero.
I was fully prepared for an explosion in less than a minute, and decided to get out of the SUV to stretch my legs. Just as soon as I’d stepped out, Dr. Anna jacked her door open and called out to me.
“Smith, you need to see this,” she said.
“Something wrong with the bomb?” I asked.
“No…something wrong with the mirror. PAulsonis back…and he’s got someone with him,” Dr. Anna said. She swiveled her tablet around, keyed into the closed circuit camera in the bathroom, and sure enough, two men, virtually identical, were standing in the middle of the kitchen, seemingly getting their bearings.
Immediately, grabbed my phone and called the number I had four hours before.
“Hello?” the one on the other end of the line asked.
“Hello again, Mr. Smith,” Davidson said. “Fancy you calling so soon after I returned.”
I looked back at the screen, and saw him leaning over one of the bombs. I couldn’t see the readout from my angle, but I knew they had less than a minute.
“Will? Mr. Paulson, you need to get out of your house right now. Sorry, I don’t have time to explain — get out!”
I held my breath until the two men burst out of the front door seconds later, diving to the ground. In a Hollywood movie, the house would have exploded right in that very moment. In real life, the timer seemed to wait until everyone had virtually given up on it, and then reached zero. Will and…Will had been on the ground, but looked up at the house behind them in time for a piece of siding fly by, clocking them both in the head.
They were unconscious. The house was gone, and I had no idea what to do next.
Agent Jones stood outside the target house and looked around. The surrounding desert off in the distance was filled with red rocks and various desert shrubs. A large red rock – not quite the size of a mountain, but very large nonetheless – dominated the landscape just beyond the next hill. In the immediate foreground was a golf-course community with very expansive homes and their grounds dotting the edges of the greens.
Jones pulled out his no-longer mint-flavored toothpick and tossed it aside. That’s the downside of a lifer quitting smoking – you never feel comfortable without the stick and you sure miss the flavor. He pulled out another one and stuck it between his teeth.
“Liszt,” he growled, “Are you ready for this?” The analyst was busy poking at some equipment, carrying three bags of various items and taking his sweet old time getting himself together.
The analyst hesitated. “I, I, uh, Agent Jones, I can’t pinpoint the source of the signal inside the house. Its as if its coming from several locations all at the same time. I’m trying to narrow it down, but…” He began mumbling something and checking his equipment again.
“Has that improved at all since we got here twenty minutes ago?” Jones asked, checking visually to see where his supporting agents were. Quincy was just returning from a perimeter search, a bit of sweat on his brow even though the weather was a bit cool and blustery on this January day in Arizona. James was closing the lid on the outdoor electrical box on the corner and nodded toward Jones.
“Um, ah,…” Liszt banged on the side of his gadget, He sighed in frustration and looked up. “No, sir. No change at all. I can’t clear it up no matter what I do.”
Jones pulled out his newly mashed toothpick and tossed it aside again. This was a time for the gum. Just one piece on the tongue and, breathe… breathe… “James, Quincy,” his gravelly voice called out, “Ready.”
There was an obvious change in the demeanor of the other agents. James seemed to appear on the right of the doorway as if by magic, weapon held at the ready while Quincy sidled up to a ready position on the other side. Jones pulled out his own piece and checked the action.
Jones looked pointedly at the tech. “You. In the car. Now.” Liszt opened his eyes wide and scrambled for the relative safety of the car.
Jones nodded to James, “Go.”
The house had been empty for a month. After a few days, the locals had investigated and finding nothing, locked up the house with an electronic lock box. Since then, nobody had been in or out of the house. Agent James keyed in the code and opened the door.
James drifted through the doorway and went right, followed by Quincy moving purposefully to the left.
Jones went in last, going straight. Quincy was already on the other side of a large living area, well lit by the natural light pouring in the floor to ceiling windows and glass doors stretched across the entire back wall. James was stationed just beyond a stair, waiting for Quincy to come round the large living room so they could begin clearing the kitchen and beyond.
Jones waved them forward. “I’ll wait here by the stairs. You go ahead. The junior agents started through the kitchen and disappeared around a corner.
Jones looked around while they were out of sight. The place appeared to be a monument to the vanity of the missing homeowner, a slender and admittedly attractive woman with jet-black hair. There were pictures of her in various settings on the grand piano, in frames atop two cabinets and large pictures above the mantle and next to the entryway. But that wasn’t all. In addition to all the pictures there were mirrors everywhere.
As Jones surveyed the contents of the room he stood in, his phone chirped. It was Dow, one of the two agents checking things out in town. He was picking up to answer as Quincy and James came back through. Jones waved them toward the stairs as he answered.
“What’s up, Dow?”
“Jones, this town is weird,” Dow answered. “And, not because of the artists or hippies. It’s something else.”
Sedona, Arizona was well known as a place for the New-Age crowd to really stretch their new-age boundaries. Something about red rocks and the water and Indian legends. Whatever it was, a certain kind of people were attracted to the area – aside from the rich nuts who wanted to own a home in a scenic location. It didn’t take much of a drive through the town to see there was an interesting culture in the area.
Jones chomped on his Nicorette and let his nerves calm down. “Tell me more, Dow. What’s going on?” He gazed at a picture of the Raven-haired beauty over the mantle. It looked like it was taken on one of the large rock formations over the next hill.
“Well, the people here, some of them act like they know us, Edwards and me. They’ll try to talk to us about something 3 weeks ago, or some seem to avoid us. Go out of their way to not talk to us or see us.”
“Weird. Have you confronted anyone about it?”
“No. We’ve been busy trying to connect with the sheriff and we’re getting the runaround.”
Jones noticed Quincy beckoning from the top of the stairwell. “Alright, check in with the Postal delivery guy who comes here, try the sheriff again later and,” he noticed a gold imprint of a photographer in the bottom corner. “See if you can find Steve Hall Photography. I think he knew this homeowner really well.”
He hung up and started up the stairs. The narcissistic theme continued with pictures of the black haired woman climbing mountains, skiing, out on the town in Vegas and more. There were also three more mirrors in various frames on the way up.
He reached the top of the stairs and Quincy pointed down the hall. “This, you’ve got to see.”
Agent Jones entered the master bedroom, the quintessential homage to the black-haired woman with two large portraits on either side of the picture window and mirrors next to the door, behind the bed and on the ceiling.
“You’ve got to see the closet, Jones,” he heard the voice of Quincy say.
Jones nodded, and walked in, wondering what they might find in a closet that would be the source of the signal that Anna and Liszt detected. Jones squinted in the dim light. It looked like Agent James up ahead. He went in, marveling at the surroundings once again. The woman’s clothes closet was the size of another entire room, with corridors for every kind of garment. He rethought that – it probably was another bedroom before some a recent remodel. There was a window off to the right.
Agent Jones reached the end of a corridor of shoes and turned and saw it. An entire corridor of mirrors leading to a small room with ceiling to floor mirrors on every side. It was a room that took the concept of the dressing room mirror to the Nth degree.
Jones looked around, wondering where Agent James went to. Was it the room down there? He certainly didn’t see anything.
Jones glanced quickly back at Quincy. He was scratching a red mark on his face. Was that there earlier? Quincy gestured towards the room, “Down there, sir. We thought you should see it.”
Jones walked down the corridor of mirrors into the room, a room in the shape of an octagon. Stepping in, he could see his reflection from seven different angles.
Jones turned back to Quincy, a question on his lips, “What did you want me to…” A door closed between Jones and Quincy, mirrored as all the other surfaces were in this room.
The door had no handle and was latched from the outside. Jones pounded on the door. “Quincy! This isn’t funny!”
The image across from him in the mirror began to shimmer. Jones blinked at what he saw. It looked like he was looking at his own back. He whipped around to see his own partially turned body looking the other direction.
“What the…” he said.
Agent Jones turned back, aimed for the place the door handle should have been and fired. Nearly immediately there was an unbelievable pain in his left thigh and he dropped to the floor. He saw in the mirror that he had just caused a large gaping hole to appear in the back of his leg.
Fighting to stay conscious, he called out. “Quincy! Can you hear me?” he called, “James!” There was nothing from the other side of the mirror.
Another voice, oddly familiar spoke in the silence. “They can’t hear you. Not anymore.”
Jones whipped his head around to the left and saw, unbelievably his own image staring down at him from the mirror in that direction.
“Who… What… are you?” his voice cracked.
“I’m you. Kind of. Not of your world. Mine is in trouble and unfortunately for you, I have a job to do.”
That’s when Jones noticed it. The unmistakable image of Agent James laying on the floor a few feet behind his own doppelganger. Another pair of legs were twitching off to the right. He started to reach for his phone.
“Its too late for that. The transmission won’t reach Smith from here. You’re between worlds.” The other Jones reached up towards something on the side of the mirror. “I must tell you this is the strangest sensation. I’m very sorry about this.” The other Jones pushed on something and the mirrors began to fade. There were only a few moments and then all images, including his own, were gone. Jones looked down toward his leg and saw the size of the blood pool. Either way it didn’t matter. All sight faded to nothing, faded to black.
Liszt waited in the vehicle, but he wasn’t bored. There was too much going on for that.
Blaring through his earbuds was a virtual Top 20 chart — if you had traveled back to the 1950’s or 1960’s and you enjoyed sitting in dark, dank jazz halls. Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Count Basie. The big band jazz was great, but it was really the next decade or two beyond that where Liszt found the most enjoyment. In many ways, he felt as if he had been born a half-century too late.
His mother must’ve felt he was born a half-millennia too late with the name she saddled him with — Franz. He shook his head even now thinking about it. He wasn’t even from Hungary, Austria, or Germany. He couldn’t even trace his roots back to Europe until the early 1800’s and even then, it was to places like Ireland or Belgium. He usually went by Frank, but when he signed up to be an analyst for the Agency, the boss, Agent Wall, saw his real name and gave him the pseudonym of Liszt to go by.
“You know, like the famous composer,” Wall had said in front of a squad of his future co-workers. The team chuckled. Liszt knew it was going to be hard enough to get along with Jones and his team as the “resident nerd,” but now that Wall had tossed a Hungarian composer from 200 years ago into the mix, he was going to have to work even harder.
It was right in the middle of Miles Davis’ epic song “Freddie Freeloader” from the Kind of Blue album when Liszt’s thoughts were interrupted by the car door opening. He’d been totally engrossed in the song, and the strange data surrounding the house across the street, that he’d completely shut himself out from the world. It wasn’t the first time, and it surely wouldn’t be the last.
Agent Jones had hopped into the driver’s seat, and Quincy was right alongside him. It was almost as if they hadn’t even noticed his presence. He almost hated to even mention anything, but with the lead agent back, Liszt knew part of his duty was to inform his superior officer to changes in the readings. Readings that had spiked off the charts just minutes earlier.
“Ahem,” Liszt said, trying to simultaneously clear his throat and get Agent Jones’ attention.
Introverted throughout school, this was a bit awkward for Liszt. He wanted for his coworkers to like him, but all the bullying in school came back almost everytime he suited up for a mission. His team had been great to him, but it had always been the “cool” kids and the jocks who dismissed and tortured him throughout junior high school. Just like Pavlov’s dog was conditioned to salivate, Liszt was conditioned to cower when anyone nearby showed any dominance.
Being an analyst was right up his alley. He was able to use skills unique to only a few people, and was counted on by Jones and the rest of his team.
Not sure if he should say anything more, Liszt hesitated. It was in that brief moment when Agent Quincy turned and looked in the back seat, finding Liszt there.
“Uh, Jones, we’ve got someone in the backseat,” Quincy said to his seat-mate. Liszt noticed a red mark on Quincy’s cheek. He didn’t think it had been there before, but then again, he really only noticed if something was out of order when someone messed with his iTunes playlists — which had been known to happen.
Jones suddenly turned and glared at Liszt. He quickly drew his sidearm and aimed it right at Liszt. “Who the hell are you?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Agent Jones, it’s me! Liszt…you know, the guy who tells you what the heck is going on on all our missions? You know, the jazz junkie? Liszt?”
To say that Liszt was concerned would be putting it mildly. Liszt had never had a gun held up to his head before, and certainly never expected Agent Jones to do so. Maybe Agent James, but Jones had always been super-professional around Liszt, even quelling small bouts of harassment from his team towards the analyst on a few occassions. As soon as that gun went up, the verbal vomit began, and Liszt said anything and everything he could to get Jones to put it down.
Liszt stared at Jones, who digested what Liszt said and then slowly blinked. A big smile crossed the agent’s face and he slowly lowered his weapon.
“Yeah. Sorry Liszt, I’m just messing around. You know me,” Jones said with a laugh.
Liszt gave a half-grin and nodded, but knew Jones well enough he wouldn’t joke about that. But, maybe this whole mission had everyone on edge. He certainly couldn’t tell them anything definitive.
“Yeah boss,” Liszt said. “You want to know how the scans are going?”
Jones looked over to Quincy and then back at Liszt. “Yep. What’d ya got?”
“When you guys went in, I started scanning the residence. No change, up until a few minutes ago and then the instruments all went haywire. It was nuts,” Liszt said. “I’m still trying to piece it all together though. Maybe after a good meal and a night at the motel, I’ll have some answers. Did you guys see anything unusual in there?”
Quincy answered this time. “Nope. Just your standard run-down mid-century home on the verge of collapsing on itself.”
Liszt thinks to himself, What? That home can’t be more than 10 years old.
“There was something peculiar about the mirrors,” Jones said.
“Oh yeah?” Liszt asked.
“Yeah. I didn’t have a hot babe in my arms when I was looking in them,” Jones said, exploding with laughter. Next to him, Quincy shook with laughter, as if they were exchanging some strange inside joke.
Liszt offered up a small chuckle, but was quiet otherwise. While Liszt and the rest of Jones’ team weren’t exactly bosom buddies, he had gotten to know Jones a little over the past year. He knew Jones was still madly in love with his college sweetheart, Lucy. For years they had stayed together, even when he wasn’t always able to tell Lucy the truth of his career choice. The two celebrated their 12 year anniversary just last month; there was no way Jones would have joked like that.
Was something in the house messing with their heads? Quincy was acting odd as well. Quincy was usually a lot more reserved, but his behavior since getting in the vehicle was…different.
“Are you two okay?”
“Yeah, man, why wouldn’t we be?” Jones said, starting up the car and pulling out of the driveway.
“I don’t know. Wall told me to observe and pay attention to deviant behavior, and while I might not call it ‘deviant,’ there is something different about you,” Liszt said, trying to stay politically neutral. He wasn’t the one in the vehicle armed, after all.
“Jones said we’re okay, so we’re okay,” Quincy retorted. “Okay?”
“Yeah. Oh, hey, where’s the other guys? James, Edwards, and Dow? They stay at the house?”
Jones seemed to pause for a moment, as if he had forgotten about the three other members of the team.
“Yes and no. I told them to finish up at the house and to meet us back at the hotel. I figured they would also chat up with some of the locals before they got back. I don’t expect them for hours,” he said, then reached into his jacket pocket. He pulled out a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. Without hesitating, Jones lit one up.
Liszt couldn’t believe it. Jones had been trying desperately to quit for a few months now—it was something Lucy had wanted him to do as an anniversary gift. To just pull out a cigarette and so casually light it…
His head spinning, Liszt calmly opened his laptop, typed out a small message and hit send. Then, he undid his seatbelt.
“Whatcha doing?” Quincy asked from the front seat.
“Oh, I’m just getting comfortable,” Liszt said. Then he opened the door and leapt out of the car, tucking his head as he rolled. Normally he would have ended up with a few scrapes and bruises – Jones wasn’t going that fast yet. But the thing about the terrain of Arizona was such that he side Liszt jumped out on was overlooking the edge of a mountain. Liszt tumbled over the edge, hoping he would survive, and praying that Dr. Anna would get his message intact.
He didn’t know who or what had come back from that house, but he knew it wasn’t the Jones and Quincy he had worked with for the past year.
Penny went to bed worried about her husband. Will was always the stable one–the rock in their marriage–yet for the past couple days he seemed distracted. Like there was something he wasn’t telling her.
Oh well. She needed to get some sleep. With a vacation day looming and a couple hours in the car with the kids, sleep was a requirement. Thankfully the kids were both at an age where she could stick a tablet or DVD player in front of their faces and they were content for most of the three-hour car trip. Kira was nine going on thirty-two and Sisco was seven. Close enough that they would have each other’s backs in school, but far apart enough that they could develop a healthy rivalry.
For Penny, life was close to perfect. Will’s job as a teacher afforded him a great opportunity to see the kids every day during the summer, so she took a few days off here and there so she could have some personal time with them as well. She was close to partner at the local law firm. Normally that might mean she would work extra long hours, but the firm was in a small town in the middle of nowhere, Indiana, so Penny’s position was stable and secure. She had earned the extra time and took it when the kids had days off. Like tomorrow.
As she laid down to sleep, she knew she should probably check with Will again. He was acting very peculiar, but time was precious. Perhaps a day or two away with the kids, giving him some alone time, would be the right prescription.
Without many cares at all in the world, Penny seamlessly fell asleep.
When she woke up, she knew it wasn’t daytime. The windows were still dark and the house was quiet. Too quiet. She wordlessly got out of bed to check on the kids.
She opened to door to Kira’s room first. The bed was lumpy; Kira still had an unhealthy obsession with stuffed animals. For a nine-year-old, Kira was at the age when she was transitioning from “kid’s” TV shows to “tween” programs. Kira still latched onto her favorite stuffed animals, even gravitating towards those stores in the mall. As Penny looked into Kira’s room, she realized it was all of those stuffed animals in the bed, not Kira.
Quickly, she checked Sisco’s bed. The sheets were turned down. Also empty.
Her heartbeat doubled its rate in a flash as Penny tried to solve this problem. For a moment, she even doubted whether she was even awake. Was this all some cruel trick her mind was playing on her? Was she still in bed dreaming?
If she was, it was the worst dream she’d ever had.
Penny immediately marched to the master bathroom. Her clothes from that day were in there. Will was still sleeping. She figured she’d wake him up after she got dressed. She found her bra, her t-shirt, and jeans. Slipping on her tennis shoes, Penny noticed something strange. In the bathroom, there were two mirrors. Will had been working on them over the weekend, suddenly overcome with an urge to “renovate.” Penny had to stifle a laugh there. Neither she nor Will were the “handy” type, so it seemed more than a little appropriate when he covered his progress (or lack thereof) with a bedsheet before he went to bed the night before.
The strange part was, Penny swore she could hear noises coming from behind the bedsheets.
She slowly stood up from the bathtub rim, and pulled back the sheet over Will’s mirror.
Instead of her own reflection staring back at her, Penny saw Kira and Sisco playing in a bathroom nearly identical to their own.
Penny was confused. What was she looking at? On her side, there was only her in the bathroom, but on the other, her kids were there, oblivious to her presence on the other side of the glass.
She suddenly knew that Will already knew about the mirror. This was why he was being so secretive and had been acting so strange for the past week. He knew about this “other” bathroom and was keeping that information to himself. Did it frighten him? Was he emboldened by this information and was using it for some unknown purpose? Was he dumbfounded?
She had no idea, because he hadn’t mentioned it to her at all.
She was still trying to wrap her head around the fact there was a mirror in her house that she did not see her reflection in when Sisco looked up and saw her standing there. Will had covered the mirror in tape, but there were more than a few blank spots and Sisco managed to notice his mother was standing on the other side.
“Mom?” he called out, apparently also unsure of what was going on.
“Are you okay, Sisco?” she called back.
Sisco cocked his head and put his hands up to his head. He tapped Kira on the shoulder and pointed at the mirror. Kira turned around and her whole face lit up.
“Mom! They said you would come!” Kira said, hopping up and running towards the countertop. She stood there, seemingly just feet away from her mother, yet Penny could not talk to her, let alone reach a few feet over to touch her own flesh and blood.
She shook her head, hoping Kira would get the hint. She waved her arms to see if Kira and Sisco knew how to return, and if they did, then to do so.
Kira didn’t move.
Penny started feeling all around the mirror. If her kids went through, then there was some way for her to do the same. And if her kids couldn’t come back, then it was up to her to go to them.
Finally, as she reached the halfway point, a hole seemed to present itself as if the mirror was ready and waiting for her to open it there, like a swinging door on a saloon. She pushed against the right side of the large mirror while pulling on the left side. The pressure difference between realities took a bit to overcome, but eventually Penny got the door open and was ready to cross over.
Thinking back about Will, Penny thought perhaps she ought to wake him up to tell him what she was going, but the sudden realization that he might’ve crossed back and forth dozens of times kept her planted in the bathroom.
He can follow me later. Time to get my kids back, she thought.
Without another moment of hesitation, Penny jumped through. She tripped a little on the countertop coming out on the other side, but managed to not bust her nose on the tile floor in this new world. Still lying prone on the ground, she felt Kira and Sisco pile onto her.
“Yes, yes. I’m glad to see you guys, too. But, you guys have a lot of explaining to do,” she said. “How did you get here? You know not to go someplace without one of us, right?”
“We know Mom,” SIsco said. “But when Dad woke us up from our beds, what are we supposed to do?”
“Dad?” Penny asked, thinking about Will still asleep in the bed. At least…she thought so.
“Hello, Penny,” a voice called out from the next room. The door was open and it appeared as though there was no master bathroom on the other side — just darkness. She quinted and tried to make out the form before her, but was totally surprised when she saw just who it was.