Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Hall of Mirrors

Copyright © 2010

A small boy discovers something strange in grandma's basement.  When he has grown, he has to go exploring the basement to find missing family members only to find himself trapped and with no apparent way out...

Grandma always was a bit strange, and Mum went that way too as she grew older; but then, the house was strange and I think it got to them.

I remember a particular visit to Grandma's when I was about six.  Dad was still with us then, so we lived in our own place and went to Grandma's about once a month.  It was always an adventure because the house was huge, not like our tiny housing estate box, and I could quite happily spend time exploring while Mum and Dad tried to find some amusement in Grandma's ramblings.  I would disappear for hours and was always surprised to hear Mum's, 'Come on Adam, it's time to go!' shouted up the stairs or into whatever region of the house she thought I might be in.

Anyway, the visit when I was six.  The most intriguing place in the house was the basement, at that time in my life because the door to it was always locked, which made it darkly mysterious.  When asked about it, Grandma just said, 'Run along and play in the attic,' or, 'Why don't you get some fresh air in the garden?'  Well, on this particular visit, Mum and Dad found Grandma in the dining room eating nettle sandwiches, wearing a tea-cosy on her head, and dribbling down her blouse.  Mum pushed me out of the room lest I should be upset by what might have to happen.  No matter.  I would have wandered off almost as soon anyway.

Even though the basement door was always locked, I went as always to try the handle.  This time the door was not only unlocked but standing wide open.  The light was on, so I was quite bold as I went down the stairs, my heart nonetheless pounding in my chest.  At the foot of the stairs there was a long corridor with five doors down one side.  None of the doors was locked, and each led to a small, square room that was in every way identical to its neighbours.  Then, as now, the floors were dark-stained oak boards with cracks wide enough to lose pennies down, and some enough to let mice in, judging by the evidence deposited near them.  The ceilings were low and plain with a single, flush light-fitting at the centre.  The walls opposite the doors were blank, painted with buttermilk emulsion.  Each side wall was covered almost completely by a large mirror held in place by stout brass brackets at its corners.  The mirrors were positioned exactly opposite each other, and if you stood between them, you could see innumerable reflections of yourself and your surroundings dwindling away to a virtual infinity.  When you are six, that is shocking and exciting all at the same time. 

I had a tennis ball in my jacket pocket.  I took it out and tossed it at the mirror, just to see a million balls in perfectly synchronous flight.  The sound the mirror made when the ball hit it was strange, a sort of Bpaahh!, if you can imagine it.  I threw the ball again.  Bpaahh! went the mirror, but the sound seemed louder, as though all the balls I could see were actually hitting all the mirrors, and their noises were adding together.  Holding the ball with both hands, I listened to the sounds dying down to nothing.  Fascinating...

Throw ... Bpaahh! … catch.

Throw ... Bpaahh! … catch.

Throw ... Schloop!

The ball disappeared!  Quite why I did what I did next, I don't know; it just seemed obvious to my uneducated mind.  I ran out of the room and into the next one.  There was my ball.  I picked it up and threw it at the mirror it had just come through.

Throw ... Bpaahh! … catch.

Throw ... Bpaahh! … catch.

Throw ... Schloop!

Back I went to the first room, and there was the ball.  I spent what must have been the next half-hour doing the same thing, over and over again, until I heard Mum shouting, 'Adam!  We have to go now.  Grandma's not well and we have to take her to hospital.'  I put my ball in my pocket and made the dejected climb up the Everest of stairs.

There was an ambulance outside.  Two paramedics were loading Grandma, who was moaning and strapped to a gurney, into the back of it.  Dad was waiting in the car while Mum locked the house.  She took my hand and led me to the car.  'You go home with Dad,' she said, 'I'm going in the ambulance with Grandma.'  Her eyes were red, with black lines running down from them over her cheeks.

'Are you all right, Mum?' 

'I'm fine, dear, just a little upset because Grandma isn't very well.'

Going home with Dad was OK.  Being home with Dad wasn't.  He cooked tea and I tried my best to eat it.  I say 'cooked' but 'cremated' would be a better word.  Then I went to bed early – not by choice – and lay awake until Mum came home and the first argument ended ...

It was a long time until Grandma got out of hospital – the 'looney-bin', Dad called it – and, after that, we hardly ever went to the house together.  Mum went several times a week for ages but Dad never went (another reason to argue) and I always had to stay with Dad.  We saw a lot more of Dad's parents.  Nanna and Pop expected me to stay in the same room as them so they could pinch my cheeks and feed me stale doughnuts.  They often heard me ask, 'Can we go home yet?'  They would just smile and tousle my hair and give me another doughnut.  I hate doughnuts.  They remind me of interminable boredom.

Then Grandma disappeared.  Without trace.  Mum flipped.  Dad left.  Great.  In the space of a week, at the age of twelve, I lost all the important people in my life.  Well, I say 'important' but 'breathing' almost covers it.  Mum came back from her depression eventually but Dad never showed up again.  We had to sell our house because of the divorce, and Mum and I went to live at Grandma's.  The basement door was kept locked and the key hidden away.

Sometimes, when I came home from school, Mum was a bit spaced out and incapable.  At first, I thought she was drinking but one Friday, when there was a fire at the school and we were sent home early, I caught her coming out of the basement.  At least, she gave the impression of having been caught.  As it happened, I did have to catch her because she collapsed.

She slept for 12 hours solid that night; most unlike her, as she was lucky to get six as a rule.  When she woke, she was incoherent and just rambled on, '… basement … don't go there … mirrors are bad … haunted … forever …'  I suspected she was going the same way as Grandma.

Being 18 by this point, I was a bit more aware of the ways of the world and Mum's aberrations worried me.  Grandma went mad.  Mum is following suit.  What will happen to me?  Such concerns soon vanished as life for me took on a different direction.  I went off to university in a city far from home and immersed myself in my studies.  I also overcame my shyness with girls.  Oh my, the girls...

Each vacation began with the long train-ride home, and so with plenty of time to wonder what state Mum would be in.  For the whole of my undergraduate training, she always seemed normal and as happy as you could expect her to be.  There was always an abundance of empty wine bottles in the rubbish but she seemed sober and stable when I was home.  She also had a new man, which was nice because it meant I could forget worrying about her and get on with my own life.

Half-way through my Ph.D., I got a phone call from Dad, the first contact he had bothered to make since he left.  He sounded disinterested, which he was, and in a hurry to get off the phone, which, again, he was.  'The police called.  Your mother's gone missing.'

'How did you get my number?'

'They called me to the house.  I found your details there.'

'Why did they call you?'

'Dunno.  First number they found.  You OK?'

'I'm fine.  What do they think has–'

'Contact them.  She's not my problem.'  He hung up.

'Hello?  Dad?  You bastard!'

So I went to the house.  I spoke to the police.  Apparently, milk bottles, newspapers and post had built up at the house for a week and the milkman tipped off the police, who broke in and found nothing suspicious and no-one at home.  They thought Mum had just gone away without letting anyone know.  They had contacted Dad to be sure but, since he knew nothing – why would he? – they asked him to contact anyone else who may know Mum, and then put the case on the back burner. 

All Mum's things were there, suggesting that she had not gone anywhere, and the police told me that the only thing unusual on their arrival was that the basement door was open and the light on.  They had turned it off to save power.

I contacted Mum's man to see if she was there or if he knew anything.  His new girlfriend answered the phone, so I guessed not.  The neighbours knew nothing, and Mum's boss was as surprised by her disappearance as I was.

Everything – that is, the one and only clue – pointed to the basement.  What was Mum doing down there?  Grandma must have told her the secret of the mirrors: she must have rambled on about them when she was hospitalised. Why had Mum started messing about with them?  She hadn't mentioned the end of her relationship when we last spoke but, knowing Mum, it would have upset her profoundly.  Maybe that's what started it.

So down to the basement I went, and into the first room.  Of course, I knew only what I had learnt about the mirrors when I was six and had no idea what Grandma or Mum knew.  On the wall opposite the door, someone had written, 'You started here.'  The word, 'here', was heavily underlined, and the underlining became an arrow pointing to the mirror on the right.  I tapped on the mirror.  It's familiar ring stirred the excitement I had known when I was six.  I took a coin from my pocket.  I tapped the mirror four times and tossed the coin at it, then heard it spin to a standstill in the room two doors down.  I ran my hand over the solid surface of the mirror.  Like when I was six, I was going to walk round to the other room but then I had an impulse.  I tapped four times, then stepped through the mirror to pick up and pocket the coin.

To confirm my location, I left the room by the door.  I recalled my experience as a six-year-old.  Three tosses of the ball had sent it only one room away but tapping four times allowed me to send the coin two rooms away.  Of course!  Three tosses of the ball only resulted in two taps: the third throw was the transition.  I started to form a theory. 

One tap leaves you where you are in Room 1.

Two taps allow you to move one room to Room 2.

Three taps?  Well, I hadn't tried that yet.

Four took me to Room 3.

Five?  Or do only even numbers work?

I went back upstairs to get a pencil and then walked round to each room, writing its number on the blank wall.  Back I went to the first room, ready to start experimenting.

Tap, tap, tap.  I walked through the mirror.  The number on the wall was 2.  Three taps only allowed one transition, just as two did, so maybe odd numbers didn't work.  I walked back to the first room.

Four taps, I already knew, would take me two rooms away, so I moved on to five.  Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.  I walked through into Room 3.  Another odd number, and it took me no farther.  I tapped the mirror behind me four times and stepped through it back to Room 1.  Six taps gave the same outcome as five.

Seven taps, being an odd number, should have put me in the same room but was I surprised to find myself in Room 4.  This time, I walked back to Room 1, thinking about the data as I went.  I wrote on the blank wall:

1 transition requires 2 taps

2 transitions requires 4 taps

3 transitions requires 7 taps

The numbers that worked were looking like they had something to do with the sums of a simple arithmetic series: 1 + 2 is 3, plus one is 4; 1 + 2 + 3 is 6, plus 1 gives 7;...  Maybe the first tap set some sort of counter running and only the subsequent taps were counted.  That would make sense because it would provide a measure of protection against accidental contact with a mirror.  The mirrors must then transmit whatever follows as far as the tapping allows.  If that was so, then I could discount my first tap, and should be able to predict the number of the room I would end up in from the sum of the arithmetic series: n(n+1)/2, with n being the number of transitions I want to make.

I predicted that to reach Room 5 from Room 1, making four transitions, I would need to tap 4 multiplied by 5 divided by 2 + 1 times: 11; and that eight, nine or ten taps would only get me to Room 4.  I wrote on the wall

4 transitions requires 11 taps?

then approached the mirror.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.  Room 5.  Success.  There was a definite impulse as I stepped into the mirror, as if I was being dragged in and spat out at the end of my journey.

I messed about for a while, jumping between rooms.  Sometimes I couldn't make the jump if I approached the mirror too soon or too long after making the taps.  I concluded that the first tap turns a counter on, you then had a limited time in which to make the taps that determine how far you go, and the mirrors remain active only for a limited time before resetting.  I couldn't imagine Mum working all this out, much less Grandma.  What were they doing down here? Where did they go?

Standing in Room 5, I wondered if there was a Room 6?  I tapped the mirror twice and threw my coin through.  I tapped twice again and, with my heart trying to break out of my chest, stepped through the mirror.  I drew a 6 on the wall, tapped the mirror 16 times and stepped back through to Room 1.  Perfect.  I walked back to Room 5, then went to Room 6 again and this time noticed the room had no door.  Then, with my heart in my mouth, I went to Room 7.  There was a door in this one, so I went through it and found myself on a corridor like the one in Grandma's house but painted a different colour.  Also, just like at Grandma's, there were five rooms on the corridor.  I numbered them all from 7 to 11.  In Room 10, I tapped the mirror using the index fingers on both hands to achieve the necessary and furious 56 taps in the allotted timespan and stepped through.  Room 1, just as predicted.  I took myself back to Room 10 and walked round to Room 11, where I made an even more furious 67 taps.  Room 1.  I was satisfied with my theory but a little winded by the force that had thrown me through the conduit.

Well, there was the next question: conduit through or to what?  Why was it in Grandma's basement?  Who built it and what for?  And how did they get such huge mirrors through the doors?

I explored the other way from Room 1 and found another room without a door, and five more beyond that.  Backwards and forwards I went, stopping in each new place to number the rooms.  Just once as I stood in one of the rooms, I felt a chill draught as though through an open window but saw nothing.  Was it someone else passing through?  It gave me the creeps, whatever it was.

I needed a better way of tapping if I was to explore properly, so I spent a couple of weeks in the garage building a device.  I programmed it so I could tell it how many transitions to make and it calculated the number of taps and moved a solenoid.  All I had to do was dial in the number of rooms to jump, hold the end against the mirror and press the start button.  It worked a treat, and I managed to jump 20 rooms in one go; 211 taps, and the suction almost dragged me off my feet!

I moved back homewards five rooms at a time.  All the basements looked pretty much the same.  This time, I ventured up the stairs.  All the houses were empty, and three of the four were derelict, and very different from Grandma's.  The nearest one to home was almost identical.  There were minor differences: wall colours, the position of windows, the piano was a Yamaha rather than a Steinway.  A car drew up on the gravel outside, so I went to the door and peered through the window beside it.  An agile old lady climbed from the driver's seat and went to the boot to get her bags.  She locked the car and walked towards the house.  My heart leapt in my chest.  I threw the door open and shouted, 'Grandma!'

The old woman stopped and dropped her bags, shocked.  'Who are you?  What do you want?  Why are you in my house?'

'It's me, Grandma.  I've been looking for you and Mum.'

She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out her mobile phone.  'I'm calling the police,' she shouted, 'I'm not your grandma, I haven't any children!'  She retreated to the safety of her car, locked the door, dialled, and started talking into the phone.

It was Grandma or, if not her, her identical twin – except she never had one.  I slipped back inside then ran down the basement stairs and into the end room.  Four taps and I was home again. 

I wandered back and forth through the rooms.  The farther I went from base, the more different the houses were; some more elegant, others more humble, some occupied, more abandoned.  I concluded the conduit linked alternative realities.  Every sixth room had no door, and every reality had five rooms. 

I had assumed a while ago that Grandma had gone off in search of Grandpa, and Mum in search of Grandma.  My guess was that they were moving one room at a time or, at best, if they realised that they could miss out rooms by using the corridors, one reality at a time.  The one thing to my advantage was that I had the means to move around quickly.  The problem was, they could be anywhere along the conduit, and if they had left the basement in any reality, I may never find them...

I spent some time examining the mirrors, even taking one off a wall and checking out the back of it.  There was a small oval area at the centre that was raised above the surface, and the wall had an oval depression that corresponded with the centre of the mirror.  I guessed it was nothing more than an alignment device; certainly, it helped me reposition the mirror perfectly when I replaced it on the wall.  The brackets at each corner had adjustable pads, and the degree to which they had been adjusted seemed to account for unevenness in the walls.  When in place, the mirrors in each room were exactly aligned and perfectly parallel.  I deduced that accurate alignment was critical to their operation.  Apart from that, I found not one single clue to how they worked, or what they were made of.  Whoever, or whatever, had built them had access to technology far in advance of ours. 

I was getting nowhere, so I decided to go exploring farther afield.  I filled my rucksack with enough food and water for five days, and spare underwear and socks.  In case I needed to get out of a locked basement somewhere, or mend something, I packed a few basic tools – a screwdriver, pliers, a hammer, a knife and a roll of duct tape.  My plan was to make three maximum-length jumps away from Room 5 to start with.  That would take me 12 realities away to Room 73, if I made each jump from the last room in each set.   Then I would travel back one reality at a time, spending a day in each location.  I could always return home to restock my supplies, so I could stay anywhere longer if I found something interesting.

The first jump took me by surprise.  With about 25 kilogrammes on my back adding to my momentum, I found myself staggering to stay upright at the destination.  I numbered the rooms 25 to 29.  On the second jump, I just stepped up to the mirror and allowed it pull me in.  That made for a much easier landing.

After numbering the new set of rooms, I approached the mirror in the last room for the third jump.  I reset the tapper, placed it against the mirror, pressed the button, then let myself be sucked through.  Something hard like a truck hit me, and I collapsed dazed to the floor, my nerves buzzing.  Pain in the middle of my face.  Agony.  Dragging me back to full consciousness.  That's when the smell hit me.  Stench.  That would be a better word.  An awful stench gripped me that was so bad I wanted to vomit.  I sat up and opened my eyes.  What I saw made them open so wide they almost fell out of my head.  I screwed them tight shut.  I threw up.

My hand somehow found its way to the throbbing, sticky mess in the middle of my face.  I opened an eye and looked in disbelief at the blood that trickled from my fingers.  My nose was broken.  What the hell had happened?  I had to look around, had too.  I had to find out what was going on.  I put a hand down to push myself from the floor.  'Oh! Oh God!' I shouted, pulling my hand out of the sticky gloop on the floor and thoughtlessly wiping it on the front of my jacket.  Another wave of nausea hit me as the stench assaulted me once more and I saw I was sitting on a corpse whose entrails I had just probed.  I threw up again.

In the corner, a skeleton sat propped up and grinning at me, clothed in rags that hung as if from a wire hanger.  Two more lay strewn against the wall.  I turned around, taking in the gruesome view.  Another skeleton.  Another pile of rotting flesh.  Another skeleton, and... 'Oh God, no!'

I jumped to my feet and stepped to the body of a woman that sat slumped in the corner in familiar clothes.  On her left hand, there was a wedding band, a three-diamond engagement ring, the stones set distinctively on the diagonal across its wasted finger, and an eternity ring that used to belong to Grandma, and that she had given to Mum several years ago after Grandpa had disappeared.  Her face was falling off but I forced myself to look.  I threw up again.  I looked again at the skeleton in the other corner.  Grandma had a dress like that; a necklace Mum had given her for her sixtieth birthday hung from the fleshless phalanges of her right hand. 

Mum had gone looking for Grandma, and had found her.  Now I had found them both.

My mind raced and grappled with what it saw, trying to get hold of what was happening whilst at the same time pushing the facts away.  I threw up yet again, and my breath rasped in my throat.  I snatched a look around the room.  No door.  This was an intermediate reality.  What was happening?

Then realisation struck me like a sledgehammer.  There was only one mirror!  I should have gone on but the sequence of reflections was broken; and so was the other mirror.  The truck that had hit me was the wall, and there was a smear of fresh blood where my nose had been.  How far had I come?  I sank down the wall and sat beside Mum.  Death leered at me through her receding lips and cheeks.  I cast my eyes over the fragments of mirror that lay beneath the remains of ill-fated travellers.  Travellers such as myself...  I wept.

My food and water would last for five days.  With care, I could stretch that out for nine or ten.  Beyond that, I could survive perhaps another three days without water.  I had about twelve days to find a way out, as long as there was air.  Rationality pushed the clamouring panic away.  The corpses would be desiccated in the absence of air but they were not; they were rotting and putrid.  There was no door.  The only way into this space was through the mirror.  Perhaps the only air is what came through with me and the other travellers.  Would that be enough to allow all these corpses to rot?

There were eight bodies here. Either there were not many travellers or the mirror had been broken relatively recently: I knew when Grandma had disappeared, Mum had gone after her, and  the corpse I had sat on was more recent than both of them.  Was this the person I had felt pass through a couple of weeks ago?  The room was not huge so air must be getting in from somewhere.  If I could find its source, I may find a way out.

I looked around again.  The clawed marks on the walls showed me that previous captives had despaired of getting out.   A broken femur lay discarded on a pile of plaster scraped from the wall that was revealed to be solid rock.  Obviously, tunnelling out was not an option.  A floorboard had been prised loose, but the joists rested on solid rock.  No way out that way either.  There was no lamp on the ceiling.  The room seemed to be illuminated by a faint glow from the intact mirror.  Maybe that's how the air gets in!  Perhaps the mirror...?

I tapped twice and pressed myself against the mirror without expecting it to work.  The others would have tried it and it hadn't worked for them.  One way only: in...

The broken mirror lay in several large and many more small fragments on the floor.  The largest,  a metre or so across, was under the corpse I had sat on.  Using my feet, I pushed the body aside.  It left an arm and a trail of juice behind as it moved, and the renewed stench from its newly-disturbed innards had me retching again.

I retrieved the fragment and leant it against the bare wall.  Multiple reflections came into view as I brought it upright.  I picked up a metacarpal and tapped the mirror twice, waited, then threw the bone at the fragment.  It bounced off and clattered to the floor.  How many of them had tried that? 

The back of the fragment had an oval on it, so it came from the centre of the original mirror.  That reminded me of my earlier investigations: alignment.  I was ravenous and parched, so I leant the fragment back against the wall and reached for my rucksack.  Without thinking, I guzzled down a day's worth of water.  I lifted a sandwich to my mouth but the stink turned my stomach over and I couldn't face eating it.  The sandwich went back in the rucksack and I sat down next to Mum.  'Please, God, there has to be a way out,' I said as I stared at the wall.  No-one answered.

Then I saw the oval depression.  It was in the middle of the blood spattered from my broken nose.  Thinking about it made me realise how much it still hurt.  I picked up the mirror fragment and slid it around until its oval engaged in the hole.  Holding the fragment in place with one hand, I fumbled in my pocket for a coin, then I tapped the fragment twice and tried to pass the coin through.  It fell at my feet and rolled away under Grandma.  Alignment.  I put the fragment down again and went back to my rucksack to get my tools.

With the fragment relocated in its hole, I marked its outline on the wall with my pencil.  I used my screwdriver to prise the brackets from the wall then fitted them around the outline and put  the fragment back in place.  Blood-stained sweat dripped from my nose and I was panting.  The air in the room was none too rich in oxygen, and my frantic efforts were depleting what there was.  I sat down by Mum again, hungry and weak: I had to eat that sandwich, so I forced it down and held it in.  Exhausted,  I looked at my watch.  It was almost midnight.

About three hours later, I jerked awake.  The air felt more breathable.  My reduced exertions must have had given chance for whatever diffused through the mirror to replenish the room.  The constant bombardment by air molecules must cause micro-activations of the mirrors, allowing some diffusion of air. 

Feeling refreshed from my sleep, I stood up and examined the fragment.  The reflections were skewed so I could see that the alignment was wrong.  I adjusted the brackets until the reflections were as regular as I could make them.  Would it be aligned closely enough?  Would a fragment work?

I approached the intact mirror and tapped it twice with another metacarpal.  The sound from the mirrors was a feeble reminder of the noise I remembered from when I was six, but sufficiently close to give me hope.  But the bone would not make the transition.  I used my tapper to set up a longer jump – but still no transition.

Once more I sat next to Mum.  'How the hell do I get out of here?' I asked her.  She just grinned and said nothing.  I looked at the mirrors.  I had gone to great trouble to align the centres.  Perhaps transitions could only happen in the zone defined by the fragment...

Leaping up, I raced to the intact mirror and tapped it twice.  I tossed the bone at the centre of it.


It was the most wonderful sound I have ever heard.  Next, I used a femur to probe the mirror, keeping a firm grip on the end so that it could not pass through, hoping to discover the boundaries of the reflecting zone.  The mirror's active interval closed down all too quickly, slicing the end off the femur where it passed through the mirror.  I used a few ribs to confirm that the active zone corresponded exactly with the fragment's size.  There was a way out but how could I open a portal and get myself through it before it closed, slicing off however much of me remained on the wrong side of the mirror?

By now, it was five a.m., and I was fighting to stay awake and struggling to think clearly.  I needed to rest.  I sat down and slept for another few hours and, as I slept, I dreamt.  Dreams of falling headlong through space.  Dreams of being sucked into a pipe and spat out against a wall.  Dreams of laughing skulls, and rotting flesh.

A loud thud shocked me from my nightmare.  I opened my eyes to see a body topple slowly away from the wall beneath the mirror fragment.  It was intact from near the middle of the chest downwards.  Everything above that was missing, as though it had been sliced off.  The line of the slice matched the shape of the fragment.  As it fell, blood fountained from the severed aortic arch.  I lost some bile.

She had been a traveller, unaware of the danger that lay in wait for her.  She had stepped upright through a mirror.  Just how far her head and shoulders went, I will never know.  Hopefully, she was oblivious to the danger that now lay behind her...

Now I knew for sure the danger that confronted me.  I ate and drank, then slept a few more hours.

Speed and suction.  They were my best friends.  I would have to run and dive at the zone to get myself to the right level and as horizontal as possible.  If I set up the longest transition possible, I could count on a big pull from the conduit to help get me through the portal before it closed and took off my legs.  I fixed the tapper to the good mirror using plenty of tape to make sure it wouldn't fall off while tapping.

I was ready to go.  My choices were to stay here and die or risk death or dismemberment in an escape attempt.  Half a chance was better than none.  I took Mum's rings from her finger and Grandma's necklace from her hand, then lay their bodies side by side.  With the tapper primed and ready, I stood with my back to the fragment.  I reached across the room with a pole made from femurs and humeri taped together and pressed the start button on the tapper.  I began my run just before the tapper finished and threw myself headlong at the centre of the good mirror.  The conduit tugged on my fingers, then hands, forearms, head and shoulders and on down my body.  I wrapped my arms around my head and prepared myself for the collision that I knew awaited me at the end of my journey.

I came to on the floor.  A light glowed above me.  I opened my eyes to see it, then turned my head to each side.  A door stood ajar in one wall and the number 52 was written on the other; I had been trapped in Room 72, only one short of my intended endpoint, reality thirteen.  I was surrounded by broken mirror but, apart from bruising to my elbows, my broken nose, and a few new nicks, I was intact.

Somehow, I had to, I must, stop other travellers being trapped.  At least if anyone came to a halt in Room 52 they could return home from another.  I worked my way up to Room 71, one before the trap, tapped the mirror twice and, using all my might, threw my hammer hard through its centre.  There was no way to be sure I had hit the fragment and smashed it.  I hoped so.  Then, at least no-one coming the other way would be diced and trapped.  But I could make certain that no-one travelling from my direction would be caught.  I removed the mirror from its brackets, lay it on the floor, and jumped all over it until it was completely shattered and useless.  How many other traps were there?  How many hapless travellers had come to grief?  How many more would?  None from my reality!

Back in Grandma's basement, I smashed every mirror and removed all trace of them.  I scrubbed the writing from the walls.  Whoever bought the house would have no idea what had once been down here.  I addressed an envelope to an estate agent and put a key and my instructions inside.  On my way out, I locked the front door and then, without a backward glance, left the house for the last time.

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