Joshua was squeezing his eyes shut, squeezing so hard that white lights popped behind his eyelids from the pressure. He squeezed mom’s hand too and felt her squeeze back, felt the reassuring smoothness of her skin, felt her breathe in little gasping breaths that sounded relieved instead of afraid.
But he kept his eyes closed still, hoping against hope that they somehow were back in Gremelda’s cavern where it was safe and cluttered and known.Or better yet, back at home and this was all just a dream.
‘When I open my eyes, I’ll wake up,’ he said to himself. Breathing deep he let his eyelids lift up.It wasn’t Gremelda’s cavern. Or home. But it wasn’t dark, at least, and the sound of the waterfall was blessedly gone. And the ferns, no more ferns grabbing for his toes.
Instead, they were bathed in the light of a thousand crystal chandeliers hanging from a low, smooth cavern ceiling. No wide opening stretching into the dark like Gremelda’s, no piles of junk, no stalactites dripping down. Chandeliers and brilliant light above; a throng of jostling people below.As one the crowd stopped moving and turned to stare at Josh, Carly and mom. Josh felt goose bumps race up his arms as Carly drew close to her mother’s side. The grip of mom’s hand grew tighter. For a long moment the crowd held its breath, stacks of men and women pressed together with glistening eyes fastened on the newcomers. All movement and sound suspended, it felt unnatural – almost as though the very air would shatter.
And then it did, shards raining down just in front of where they stood, like a mirror breaking loose from its frame. Josh took a terrified step backwards, clutching mom, his eyes darting to Carly as she watched the tinkling scene collapse. After a moment, the air settled back into stillness. The people were gone, and the chandeliers, and everything else with it.They were alone.
“What. Was. That?” Josh asked, looking around. Thousands of people had just vanished into thin air as if they never existed. The cavern room was now bare, lit only with the filtered light of a solitary hole in the low ceiling. It felt immense and ominous.Mom checked a sign, loosened her grip and sunk to the floor. Carly crawled in to her lap, eyes wide and afraid. She was sucking her thumb, something she hadn’t done since she was two.
“That was scary,” mom said, patting the ground next to her.“Uh, yeah, you could say that!” Josh sank down close to mom, crisscrossing his legs over each other. He could feel her ragged breathing. “But what was it, mom?”
Mom kissed the top of his head, slow to answer. Carly was tucked in close under her chin. Finally, after a long moment, she answered. “That was a Night Mirror. It reflects our fear, making us face it. If you turn and run, it will reappear again whichever direction you go. If you face it –““It breaks and goes away?”
“Yes.”“Those people – that’s what you’re afraid of?” Josh’s own mind was racing through a list of the things he feared. Spiders, tornados, bad grades, falling off his bike, the dark – but, just people? That seemed strange.
Mom nodded slowly but did not explain.“Why?” It was Carly that asked the question, thumb out of her mouth. She was looking around the room, curious but wary.
“I just am,” mom said, but there was something hidden in her voice.“Will there be more of those?” Josh said and shuddered.
“I don’t have any idea. There could be dozens in here, or just the one. Usually they are set in place to guard something – used to frighten people away. I’m not really sure where it is Frisco’s Yew Tern sent us.”She gently stroked the pink skin of his arm.
“I think I better tell you the story now,” she said, but softly. Josh had to lean in to catch all the words.“I like stories,” said Carly.
“That’s good, honey, because it’s about you.”