"The Mirrorverse," I repeated.
"Well, that's what we call it."
"Oh. Okay. I'll bite. What does everyone else call it?"
"The Realm of The Bird," said Wuju darkly.
Casting the spell to bring Janet out of the Mirrorverse had done something to screw up my sense of time. We had gotten to Art's shop sometime after midnight, but by the time I had gone after Janet and my double -- or actually, Janet's double and my double -- it was past six in the morning. I had no time to waste.
The sun was coming up in the Mirrorverse and I immediately knew I was no longer in Kansas. The place was pleasant enough. The tree-lined street had that feeling of a suburb or medium-sized town trying very hard to maintain a small-town atmosphere. The streets were clean and pretty much deserted since it was early. There was a shopkeeper up the block from me sweeping off the sidewalk, and I saw a couple of people moving around in a bakery across the street. There was a nice cool breeze blowing that smelled of a not-so distant ocean, and I could hear the muted hum of cars and trucks a few blocks away from the obviously pedestrian-oriented downtown area where I was. A nice place to visit; a lovely place to settle down and raise a family, perhaps. Anytown, U.S.A. Except....
Except there were a few discrepancies in the Anytown illusion. For instance, all the lettering on the shops and street signs was backwards. And then there were the birds. They weren't real birds, in fact, I couldn't hear any birds at all. The birds I'm talking about were statues of great cruel-looking birds of prey. They were everywhere: Small ones with wings spread atop old-fashioned hitching posts, medium-sized ones adorning benches, signposts and mailboxes, and big ones carved into the very architecture of the buildings themselves. In the shop windows, all manner of different bird items were on display: Coffee cups, place mats, bath towels, bedposts; everything. There was something oppressive about them; something sinister. They made my skin crawl.
A single huge mountain topped with high towers overlooking the town dominated part of the horizon. That was sinister too, but the sight of it made my heart skip a beat for a different reason. It was where Janet was. I knew it instantly.
I started walking briskly toward the mountain, hoping I'd figure out what to do along the way. As I passed by the shopkeeper I'd seen earlier, he stopped his sweeping and briefly covered his face with both hands. I slowed a half pace and then decided to keep going, reasoning that I ought to try to look as if I belonged and knew what I was doing.
About a half a block further, I encountered a pair of men in black uniforms. They too covered their faces with both hands. This time I did the same, concluding that the little peek-a-boo gesture was the standard local greeting. I could cope with that.
Chalking my incorrect assumption up as a little victory for the home team, I went on. Nothing that had happened in the previous six hours prepared me for what I saw next.
I came to a sidewalk cafe that served breakfast and was doing some pretty good business for early on a Saturday morning. The sight stopped me cold. It was, in most respects, an ordinary cafe except that the chairs, tables and so forth all had those threatening-looking birds carved into their designs. There was a waitress serving hotcakes and sausages to a family of four, there was a young couple sitting at another table, and a party of senior citizens waiting for a busboy to ready their table. Perfectly normal. Except....
|"'We're all mad here.
I'm mad. You're mad.'
'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.
|'You must be,' said the Cat,
'or else you wouldn't have come here.'"
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Except the Mirrorverse turned out to be a little more like Toontown than Anytown. You see, not everyone in that cafe was human. Humanoid, yes; human, no. The waitress, for instance, was a goat. The people at her table were human, but the couple at the table next to them were rabbits, one brown and one gray-and-white. The busboy was a frog and the party of old folks was mostly human, except for a couple in the back who looked like they'd stepped out of the cantina scene in Star Wars.
That alone would have been plenty strange enough for me, but it was their reaction to me that really rocked my world. As soon as they saw me, all conversation and activity in the cafe ceased. Even the little kids shut up, and everyone covered his, her or its face.
As I walked by, I heard voices gradually start up again, but eyes were on me. Something was very wrong. I was still trying to figure the cafe out when I walked into someone who had seen me coming and covered his eyes. With his paws. Even though he was about as tall as me, stood on his hind legs and wore a handsomely tailored suit, the guy was a cocker spaniel.
"Excuse me," I began.
He looked at me with big pitiful doggy eyes. "Please don't hurt me, Sir!" he begged. "I meant no offense, Sir!"
I was taken aback. I also remembered that this dimension's Janet had said almost exactly the same thing the first time she laid eyes on me. "Ah... No problem," I told doggy. "Forget it."
"Oh yes, Sir!" he panted. "Thank you, Sir!" He was wagging his tail about a mile a minute. He quickly covered his face with his paws several times and hurried away.
This got me thinking. Once she realized who I really was, the Mirrorverse's Janet had been plenty glad to see me, but she had also been glad to be out of the Mirrorverse. I remember how worried she had looked when Art told her that the mirror was the doorway back. There was something here that she had been glad to escape. I wondered if it was me; or more aptly, my counterpart. I was already of the opinion that he -- my reflection -- was not a likeable sort of fellow, but the people -- and creatures -- here seemed terrified of me. I mean, him. I wondered exactly what it was my reflection did in his spare time in the Mirrorverse. I was about to find out.
I had been spending more time pondering than paying attention to where I was going and wound up on a side street, more of an alley actually. The alley was not exactly clean and nice like the street had been. In fact, it was filthy the way you'd expect an alley to be; but still the birds of prey were present in the architecture of the buildings on either side of me. Except....
Except some of them had been vandalized. Some had been defaced with spray paint, others had been out-and-out demolished. On the wall nearest me, the letters K.O.H. were spray painted, backwards, in red surrounded by the crude and dripping outline of a heart.
I was about to turn and backtrack my way out of the alley when I heard a soft musical voice purr my name.
I turned in the direction of the voice and somebody clobbered me from behind. The last thing I remember thinking was what an odd place the Mirrorverse must be for the ground to be coming at my face like that.
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