Me, Myself, and I
Submission to Iron Age Media's "The Harlequin" October prompt.
Awash with autumn detritus, which shook and freed from their skeletal wooden fetters, sat a cottage with a bright red door. The thatched roof sloped sloppily on top of it, almost as if it depressed on the yellow faded stone frame. Its chimney pumped out black tresses of smoke, liberating the smell of decaying vegetation with fresh cinnamon and baked apples. Behind the haze of candlelight, the windows hinted no swaying shadows or muffled, quaint discourse. All the brimming activity happened downward its cobblestone path, a fork turn away to the main road.
The merry, costumed children with lilted glee hustled past, ignoring the recently swept lane and enticing smells. Nothing good came from the red door, a parroted caution passed from child to child. Even the older ones, more susceptible to rebelling against all forces of authority and superstition, didn’t bother short-cutting through that wood. For it only breathed life, on a night like tonight.
It was many firsts for Henrietta that evening. She, a shy child with no friends and reared by free will, alone stood before the path. Never before she’d gone trick or treating, finding those things childish despite being the prime age for such ventures. Nor did she ever walk the streets at night or put on a costume masquerading to be anything other than herself. This all was a waste of her time, but her mother laid a firm hand at her back, pushing her out the door, the first instance of any reproach hidden beneath a veneer of motherly concern.
“Have fun!” she said, the last thing before shutting the door.
Henrietta glanced behind her. The small group that huddled at the fork looked like an overgrown bush, bristling with tittering warblers. The others avoided the place but kept a keen eye on it out of morbid curiosity. They were swift with gossip when she entered. For a crowd formed and began observing her every movement, which only irritated Henrietta. Believing, she stumbled over something her mother insisted on having. Fun. For this reason, a selfish desire rolled through her, wanting this special event to be all her own.
She glared at them behind, blowing a raspberry. Turning, she flicked her long, brown hair behind her as she faced the path once again. As quick as her tiny steps could take her, she marched, taking delight as the crowd clamored in their disbelief. The squeak of her shoes made her haughtiness less so defined and she blushed over the sound. For some reason or another, her mother thought this feature would complete her costume.
It was darkest this way, the only light peeking out from the cottage’s windows as if she entered a tunnel where all around was a claustrophobic blackness. The red door looked even more enticing. What wonders lay within? She clutched her empty pillowcase, meant for plastic-wrapped, gooey chocolates, but now her only thoughts were filling it with the plunder within. When the cool air kicked up, swathing the baked sweet aroma over Henrietta, she started to run towards it. Panting, she stopped right before the door, remembering her manners. With a small fist, she knocked.
Another knock, more hesitant.
Still, there was nothing.
She placed a hand on the doorknob, turning, testing to see if it was locked. It gave way easily, and the door swung open. Henrietta gasped, goosebumps snaking across her skin and her eyes went wide with awe and wonder. Hung from ceiling to floor were long wind chimes unlike any Henrietta had ever seen. From their threads, all were strung with geometric mirrors, clattering against one another instead of a hollow chime. It blanketed the whole of the place as if it were a reflective maze. Her entrance caused a ripple through them, and she saw many Henriettas. They all echoed her childlike amazement under a red nose, powdered white face, and vibrant, overly-sized jumpsuit.
Henrietta flushed again. It was the first time she saw her reflection since her mother dolled her up. Quickly, she searched for focus elsewhere. Beyond the curtain of mirrors, she glanced at a stone fireplace in its prickling glow and a little table off to the right near the kitchenette. Laid over it was a finely pressed lace tablecloth. There, piled neatly on a three-tiered stand, was the culprit of making her mouth water. The scones with their sugary casing twinkled, tempting for a bite. Looking around to see if anyone was home, it was clear there was nothing else besides what she observed.
She ran over, through the chimes that rattled the other threads, and started to load her pillowcase with the scones. Taking a few bites here and there, she paused during her pilfering, expelling a squeal of delightfulness for the taste burst with cinnamon, apple delight. Munching away, in the corner of her eye, she saw the other Henrietta enjoying it with her. The only one.
Jumping and hard swallowing, she bumped into the table and the dessert tray fell with what was left. Her heart was thumping fast, her big eyes now replacing awe with fear, for the mirror maze was nothing but a vast reflection of the scene behind her. The table and its window, the lone candlelight at its sill, and the wooden floor in disarray with pastries abound. But most prominent, the small, terrified jester, shaking in her red, squeaky shoes. Henrietta touched her cheek, slowly, as did the other one. She pinched herself. Her twin did the same. Giggling, Henrietta was beside herself with relief, approaching one another.
“You scared me!” they said. “Those dummies outside don’t know what they’re missing. Right, Henri?” Both winked at one another. “What’s there to be scared of? Mirrors?”
Only Henrietta giggled as she reached into her case for another scone.
“More for me!” They both exclaimed. Henrietta turned around, all alone as she started to walk away, towards the door. Ignorant of the hand clasping her shoulder, and the face of her twin smiling behind. As the red door started to turn, Henrietta stopped at the doorframe, turning to wave to herself goodbye. Yet the looking glass was gone, the mirror chimes jangling with a frosted pane overall, reflecting nothing.