I was getting my haircut and I have to tell you this is not a place I thought would change my life forever. I have always maintained that things never go the way you think. They may go better, they may go worse, but they never go exactly as you believe they will. With this dictum entrenched you would think I would be more open minded, but if you were in my position you would not have seen it coming either.
Like anyone else, I was looking into the mirror while my hair was being cut. Nothing new there, right? Since there is a complete wall of mirrors on each side of the room, and each bank of mirrors is visible to the other. you see the endless series of reflections going off into the distance when you look straight into any mirror on either side. Again, nothing groundbreaking. But this time there was something new. In the distance, and not in every reflection, but way off in the back of this reflection there was something…someone…not behind me, not in every iteration, but in that one reflection in the back. And they were waving to me. Well, they were waving and it looked like it was to me, but of course I couldn’t know for sure.
Blanca, that’s the woman who does my hair, said, “Alan, I need some more gel. I will get it from the back,” in that lilting Peruvian accent of hers. She left and I was mentally kicking myself for not asking her if she could see what was going on before she left and I was alone at that station. I looked all around me but no one seemed to notice anything. With the store buzzing behind me I leaned close to the mirror. The small reflection in the distance grew very excited at that. He started beckoning me. I leaned in close, put my face hard against the mirror to see more clearly and that is when things got even stranger. It all happened in a moment. As I pressed up against the glass I could tell that everything behind me froze. I felt like time slowed down and I knew that no one was moving behind me. I could hear sudden stillness as no one seemed to be talking and I should have turned around to see but I could not break my gaze from the mirror.
As I watched, the figure that had beckoned me was on the move and coming towards me. He came up to the glass, on the other side. “I knew you could see me! Thank goodness!” He said with a touch of a British accent.
“How did you get in there?”
“This is my home. I have lived here more years than you have been alive, though I started out just like you, but in Germany not Brooklyn.”
“What do you mean? I am 28 and you look no older than me.”
“I am well over 200.” The young looking man smiled triumphantly. “I have discovered the secret to immortality here in the mirror world. Switching between our two worlds I have been able to extend my life and I have discovered a great adventure in this land of reflections. Here I rule as king.”
I looked past him, all around, “You rule over emptiness?” I asked.
“No there is much more to this world, but from the outside I am the only thing visible because I am the only thing of the world you know.”
“Okay, I suppose that could make sense.” I considered.
“I need your help and in exchange for it I will share all the secrets here and share my rule of this land with you.”
“What help do you need?” I asked hesitantly.
“I wish to travel back to our world to take care of some business and if I leave here I will not be able to return. I need you to join me here before I leave to keep the portal balanced so that it will not permanently close.”
“If I help you I will have the secret of immortality and share ruling that world?”
“Indeed.” He promised.
“And are there thinking people to lead, or are they semi sentient troglodytes, or something even more grotesque?”
“Oh no! Many women, and men, countless souls very much like you and me, subjects to rule in whatever way we see fit.” He smiled again.
“And they were just waiting for you and now me, to come along and tell them what to do—just like that?”
“We lead because we are from the world outside. To them we were born to rule by divine right. It did not have to be me, or you, it just had to be someone from our world.”
“Then tell me one thing more before I decide.”
“Of course.” He agreed.
“How did you stop the world around me? If you are just another person like me how did you do this?” I asked convinced I had found an inconsistency. He could not be human and have such power.
“It is much more than the world around you that has stopped! As near as I can tell everything everywhere stops. But I cannot take credit for that. It happened when I discovered the entrance to this world as well. The complete cessation of continuance is merely a byproduct of these two worlds interacting.”
This was incredible. Perhaps I had finally found the adventure I had longed for, that every man longs for but so few ever even taste. As wild and crazy as it all seemed the proof was right there in front of me. I leaned forward putting both my hands on the mirror and said: “I want in.”
“Excellent!” He laughed as he put his hands up to mine. Suddenly the mirror felt warm under my hands and I felt movement as if the mirror was melting and beginning to swirl. I felt a force pulling at me and it lifted me right out of the chair. A moment later I was standing in a strange place next to the man who had promised me so much.
I looked around and it was if we were standing on a rocky terrain, Barren. I would’ve said it reminded me of the moon but because everything was tinged a little red I thought more of Mars. The sky was black but there were no stars visible. To the left and right of me was the barren landscape that went off into the distance as far as I could see. Directly in front of me was the hair salon visible through the back of the mirror, and across the room the never-ending series of reflections. I turned and behind me there were mirrors—no, they were windows perhaps because they were a series of large rectangles but there were no images reflected, or visible directly, just a lighted gray swirling mist.
“Where is everybody?” I asked.
“They’ll be along. They’re just being a little shy probably.” He shook my hand. “I am Benjamin Bathurst And you are?”
“Trente.” I replied. “Trente Allen.”
“Well Trente or do you prefer Mr. Allen?”
“Seeing as how we’re going to be co-rulers of this place, Trente will do.”
He looked at me and the smile was gone. “Yes, yes of course Trente. Now I must be off and I see your subjects are approaching to keep you occupied.” I turned to see a large group of, what appeared to be people, approaching. They seemed to cover a lot of age groups though there did not seem to be any children. They appeared to be dressed in typical human clothing though some of it appeared to be out of date. I turned to ask Benjamin how this could be but before I could speak he leaned against the mirror with a very sad expression on his face and said, “Goodbye.”
It was barely audible but his expression and his tone sent a shiver down my back. “Don’t go!” I screamed as I started running towards him. But it was too late of course. He slipped through the mirror like it was a wall of water. I arrived at the spot in time to see him turning around from the other side of the mirror. I pushed on the glass to follow him but knew already that it would be no use. The wall was quite solid to me. It did not give as it did for Benjamin nor as it did for me on my way in. Benjamin started talking towards the mirror but from the way he looked it was clear he could not see into it. His gaze was not anywhere near me but I knew his speech was directed at me.
“Enjoy your reign friend Trente. We were co-rulers, if only for seconds. I told you the truth, as much as I told; it was the only way for me to actuate the transfer.” Behind him I could see the salon come to life, the customers started talking, the staff milling about, Blanca coming back with the hair gel to see the stranger standing right near her station where I should’ve been sitting. I started to pound on the glass as hard as I could. It was just a mirror surely I could break it; surely someone would see or hear! But it did not give at all and there was not even a hint that anyone on the other side was aware. I turned towards the approaching people in a panic. As they grew close it was clear there were many more than I had thought. There were hundreds, maybe over 1000, and I was frightened as they began to close in around me. One man, a short, sleight bearded man, clearly Asian, slowly approached and spoke to me.
“You needn’t be afraid of us. We are your subjects. We will do whatever you want. ” He had a heavy Japanese accent but his English was quite good.
“Thank you. My name is Trente.”
“I am Ishii… Shiro Ishii.”
“Nice to meet you Mr. Ishii. Maybe you can explain to me why you are all so willing to serve me?”
“You rule this place. Without you we would be in darkness. This is a terrible place in the dark. You lose yourself. Very scary. When you are unhappy or dissatisfied the light fades. Should something happen to you the light might go out and never come back. This is too terrible to imagine. So we will serve you and make you happy.”
“Really?” I asked. “And what if I am evil? What if I hurt you or make you do bad things?”
A slight smile crossed Ishii’s lips. “I am quite sure you are not evil yet I am also quite sure you have done something wrong….” As he said this I felt icy fingers in my sides and poking in my head. What did they know about me? I wasn’t always the best person…but I wasn’t so bad….
“Do not worry Trente. It does not matter to us what you have done. It matters to you. You must be a good person to be here as you are and you must’ve done bad enough to fall from grace. Bad enough… but not very bad. Everyone here knows evil. Everyone here has tasted the darkness. You do not frighten us.”
“You all seem human. What is this place? Where are we?” As I asked this I realized the group had grown 10 or 20 fold and more were still walking over.
“You still do not know? This is our prison and you are the warden.”
“You’re prisoners? You don’t seem so bad. None of you do.” I said looking around me.”
“I have… done things. We are all bad here…bad enough. Our judge is never wrong.”
“Really. I’ve never heard a prisoner talk like you.” I said.
“You have never known a prison like this, Trente. You still don’t understand… this is Hell. We are the damned. And you… you Trente… are now the devil.” As soon as he finished saying this I started to laugh. At first I think it was a false laugh to mock what he had said, but I could not stop I was laughing so hard.”
“I don’t know if you’re evil but you are certainly crazy.” I managed to say as the laughing subsided.
“You do not have to believe me Trente…but you will in time.”
“Okay. So how is this really Hell? Where are the flames and the writhing in pain?”
“These are the preconceptions of those who have never seen Hell. As for pain, like pleasure, and love, those are, it appears, biological processes that do not continue once the soul is freed from the body. All we feel here, perhaps because they are purely intellectual, or because a higher power has deemed it so, is longing…that and eventually…remorse.”
“What do you long for?” I asked.
“The true nature of Hell is not the flames, but our burning in despair. On that side we see the real world that we have left behind,” Ishii pointed to the mirrors in the salon. “On that side,” he gestured to the glass displaying fog, “we see Heaven and that which we cannot possess. You see nothing, I know, because you are not dead and therefore Heaven is not open to you. But we see it. We are trapped between all we could want yet cannot have. We toil under the whims of a succession of Devils while seeking personal enlightenment and betterment. Sometimes one of us disappears and we do not know if they reach Heaven or simply are freed from this plane into oblivion…we know only that they leave Hell. We also know that those who leave have never been unrepentant, though there are many that seem repentant that do not disappear. Now you know all we know of this place.”
“But what about me?” I demanded. “How do I get out of here? Why am I here? I thought Satan was the devil and that was forever!?”
“I know, right!” Ishii said. “This place takes a lot of getting used to…but you have time. No one ever gets out of here fast. Eventually, when you are ready, and find a suitable replacement—one that can see you through the mirror—you may get out—if you choose to.”
“Well I do like the idea of being in charge, but what is the reason I am here? Is there some meaning to this?” At that moment I got distracted by some movement out of mirrors off to the side. “Where do these mirrors look out to?” I asked.
“Everywhere there is a mirror.” Ishii said.
“Cool. I’m gonna watch everyone!”
“A common thought.” Ishii said. Just then there was a horrible sound like thunder and a thin scratch appeared across the lower middle of the salon mirror and went off in both directions as far as we could see.
“What was that?”
“I don’t know but nothing like this has ever happened before.” The crowd behind us was agitated but did not leave this area.
“Well, we can still see out.” I said looking into the salon mirror.
“Yes…but I wonder if it will impact your ability to ever leave this place?” As soon as he said this I looked at Ishii and we looked back at the crowd. Everyone was standing still though murmuring to each other. I looked at them and then I surveyed my surroundings. Milton said that Satan believed it’s better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven. I hope he’s right.