Upright Keywords: beginnings, adventure, innocence, possibility
The night sky was brighter tonight than it had been for the previous while. Foggy weather had plagued the area, and the stars had felt smothered, their light flickering and waning – but tonight, tonight was a full moon, and the skies had cleared up just in time for tonight’s show. The moon was at its brightest. Even the stars had come out to celebrate this mysterious, this spontaneous gathering, this… Moon Market. Despite the name there was only one tent in the clearing, though quite large, not unlike a pop-up circus. Rows of velvet rope were arranged for the purposes of a line. There was a wooden sign at the front, one advertising the Market, a sign by the door that said ‘Come In’, and…nothing else. No attractions, no food stalls, no visible staff, and most notably, no people at all.
“Hello?” The voice of a meek young woman cut through the silence in the air. Ah, the star of the show tonight, though she hadn’t yet realized it herself.
“Helloooo…?” Carrie sang tentatively as she walked closer towards the ‘Moon Market’ sign. She checked her phone – no signal, but at least she still had the event page pulled up. This was definitely the address listed. She looked upwards towards the massive tent that towered over her. It definitely was the same tent pictured on the website. But more importantly…
She looked around.
There…definitely were like, hundreds of people listed as ‘Going’ to this event, right? It was on the page. And obviously RSVPs were always an unreliable gauge of attendance, but…
She checked her watch. She was right on time according to the listed start time. Four or five minutes later now, as she had approached slowly out of confusion, taking her time running up and down the zigzag of the velvet line.
The curtains near the entrance fluttered, then were still once more.
“Hello?” She called out louder, walking faster towards the front of the line. She peered at the sign.
“'Come…in'? Uh, can I?” Carrie batted at the curtains. “Hello?”
She was met with no response. She glanced at the sign again. ‘Come In’, it had beckoned. This was…
Carrie took a step back. “Thanks, but maybe, no, thanks…?” This was reasonably suspicious, right? She could already hear disapproving voices of loved ones telling her how skeptical and untrusting she was, how she just needed to get out and relax and try new things, and this Moon Market had been part of her trying to do that, but…this was too suspicious. She frowned. She had really looked forward to it, though.
“Oh, take a chance!” A strange voice called out. “Try something new!”
She jumped back. “Hello?? Is- This is the Moon Market, right? Where is everyone?” However startled she was by the sudden interruption, at least there was some company in this empty lot.
“The stage has already been set! The players have all assembled. Come, won’t you join us?” A hand emerged from the curtains.
Carrie held her breath and reached her hand out carefully. This was still suspicious, right? She’d never have agreed to anything like this before, but…but she was trying new things, and despite the unsettling feeling of being alone yet watched, excitement and adventure bubbled within her chest.
To trying new things, right?
She gingerly placed her hand on top, and barely had time to exhale before she was yanked through the curtains.
It was dark, almost pitch-black – far darker than it had been outside. She looked around to her immediate surroundings, waved her arms blindly in the dark, but there was no one there. There was no hand, no voice, nothing but the sound of overhead lights turning on one by one, slowly illuminating the tent until a shadow caught the corner of her eye. She spun her head towards the figure only to come face to face with her own reflection. In front of her. To her side. Behind her even, as she turned in circles until it dawned on her that mirrors now surrounded her on all sides. Even the entrance that she had just come through was…gone.
“Welcome, welcome to the beginnings of our humble adventure! To your left, you’ll see, well, you. To your right, you’ll also see, well…you!” The voice from earlier returned, bursting into laughter at its own joke.
Unease began to lump in her throat. “Where- Where’s the entrance?”
“Don’t you mean exit? I’m afraid you’ll have to find your own way out!”
“No, I mean the entrance! Where I just came from? Where I’m about to exit, out of your dumb mirror maze!” Carrie’s voice got louder. She felt a twinge of guilt for yelling at what was probably a staff member that couldn’t control the attraction, but she didn’t want to be here, and she inwardly cursed at her inability to keep the rising fear out of her voice.
“Uh-uh! This is an adventure, your adventure! You’ll have to make it out yourself without any help to continue!” The disembodied voice replied in a sing-song manner.
Carrie’s guilt faded, replaced with annoyance.
“Which isn’t to say that I can’t keep you company, you know! Why, an adventurer setting out on her new journey, a companion by her side, it’s shaping up to be a proper fairy tale story!” It continued. “Aren’t you excited?”
Carrie ignored the voice, instead carefully making her way through the maze with her arms tentatively in front of her, the curses under her breath steadily growing louder with each mirror that stood in her way, and with each bump against the cool reflective surfaces.
“You know,” it droned on, oblivious to Carrie’s frustration, “speaking of stories, this one quite feels like Alice in Wonderland, don’t you think? Ever read that?”
She bit her lip and silently seethed, unwilling to encourage the annoyance.
“Well,” it continued without a pause, “I suppose you could call me a guide of sorts! The Cheshire Cat to your Alice!”
Carrie growled under her breath, her impatience resulting in her butting heads with the reflections more and more with each passing minute.
“Now now, don’t be reckless! Patience! Take it easy! You’re only going to stress yourself out at this rate. Isn’t that right, Alice?”
“My name’s not Alice!” The frustrated woman exploded. “It’s Carrie!”
“I always like to say that it’s not about the destination, but the adventure! Enjoy your time, take a look around!” The voice laughed. “Though, I suppose you’ll just see the same thing looking back. Or, will you?”
Her footsteps faltered as she looked around, tens and what felt like hundreds of reflections staring back at her. So many reflections. The more she looked around the more the reflections felt different, the more some looked more like her and some looked a little less so, the more she grew unnerved. The voice laughed, as did her reflections. She was starting to go crazy in here. Carrie resumed stomping forward with a renewed passion to get out.
“Are you familiar with tarot, Alice?”
“That’s not my name!” Carrie groaned. Then, silence, only broken by the sound of her footsteps. For a minute, for two, for longer than felt comfortable. Had the staffer finally gotten tired of her?
“You know,” the voice suddenly returned, “I do hope that you are, familiar that is, but you’re being quite short with me. You wouldn’t do that if you knew who I was.” For once, the voice didn’t sound like it was smiling or laughing at her.
“Fine,” she played along, rolling her eyes. “Who are you then?”
“The Cheshire Cat of course!” The now-returned laugh was grating on Carrie’s ears.
“I kid, I kid. No, the real answer is… If I were, say, one of the Major Arcana in tarot, I’d be, well, I do believe I’d be The Devil.” The voice had started out its usual cheery self, growing increasingly somber and lower until the word Devil sent an involuntary shiver down Carrie’s spine. “Maybe even The World.”
Her blood ran cold. Even if it was just some jerk staff member, she was trapped in here – this was like, entrapment or something, right? – and the unfamiliarity and insecurity of her surroundings were starting to terrify her. She forced a laugh.
“Ha! More like, The Fool!” If this was some weird banter part of the attraction, maybe they’d let her out early if she cooperated.
“Oh!” The Fool’s usual lightheartedness returned. “Do you know the meaning of The Fool in tarot? I do say, if only you knew, if only you knew…I think you’d have a better time making your way out.”
It was brighter inside, now. Carrie hadn’t noticed it until it was overwhelming, but it was getting brighter and brighter the further she went. She couldn’t help but feel uneasy now dropping into a full-on sprint towards the light, but she’d do anything to escape the building feeling of being caged and trapped. Finally, for the first time in what felt like forever, she saw a non-mirrored wall. Running to it while shielding her eyes with a hand, she finally turned and found her escape out the hopeful exit.
As her eyes finally adjusted to the light, she dropped her arm. Surrounded on all possible surfaces were shattered mirrors, reflective crystals, orbs and beads of what looked like pure light just…hanging in the air, no wire or string, but floating on their own. There were beautiful rainbow reflections on the sides of some crystals, light being refracted in all different ways, all over the room, and for one small moment Carrie forgot where she was. Her mounting fear and concern dissipated, replaced by wonder, caught by the stunning view of it all.
She shook herself out of her reverie and looked around her. The room was closed. There were no exits. She swiveled around to where she had just come from, only to find a mirror where the entrance was supposed to have been. Her reflection smiled at her.
“You made it!” It cheered.
Carrie stumbled backwards as the reflection stepped out of the mirror, the edges clinging to her figure like viscous metallic liquid, until it had emerged fully from the mirror, striding towards her with a confident smile.
“Don’t, don’t co- Don’t come any c-closer!!” Carrie’s voice quivered as she took unsteady steps backwards, away from the thing that had her face but not her voice. She closed her eyes and willed herself to wake up from what had to be a waking nightmare.
“Oh, sweet one.” It placed its hands on her shoulders, cool to the touch. “It’s going to be okay! Isn’t it beautiful here? Aren’t you glad that you made it?” It pushed her down forcefully, and Carrie found herself falling into a chair that hadn’t been there earlier.
It brought its hands to her cheeks, wiping away a tear. “Isn’t it just magical here? Marvelous? Doesn’t it inspire you with awe? Look up, Alice. Bask in the momentary beauty of it all.”
Carrie looked upwards, if only to escape the piercing stare of her own familiar yet inhuman eyes. The lights danced in the air, their movement swaying as if blown by a wind that didn’t exist, spreading and pulsing in beautiful patterns and circles, reflecting rainbows and white light in the most perfect balance.
“Look up at the stars. What do you see, Alice?”
She had a nagging feeling, my name isn’t Alice, but instead words tumbled out of her mouth. “I see…lights. I see it sparkling, I see the stars…dancing.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.
“And? Go on.”
“They’re…celebrating. They’re watching me. Us. They’re watching…us,” she murmured. Her eyes darted as they focused from light to light, the patterns drawing her gaze from one side of the room to the other, the room beginning to feel vast and limitless.
“And they’re…they’re in patterns, they’re beautiful, they’re…magic,” she breathed. “And the sky is inside, inside us, everywhere…” She sat, captivated for a while longer, until her eyes burned and she blinked, once at first, then rapidly until she shook the dizzying lights out from her vision, from her head. She looked around slowly, her eyes from side to side, but she felt too sluggish to move the rest of her body. The other person, her reflection, it was…gone.
Cool hands placed themselves once more on her shoulders from behind, Carrie idly acknowledged, unable to muster the energy to move or care. “Don’t you want to go on an adventure, Alice? Don’t you want to see what’s out there? Don’t you want to hold the sky in the palm of your hand?”
Shadows descended from the corner of her eyes as she looked down and saw hands holding a floating crystal, light pulsing from it. How were they doing that?
“Give me your hands, Alice.” Her hands moved from her sides, trembling, until she held the ball of light in her own hands, floating inches away from her palms. She sighed and let out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. Her jaw unclenched, her shoulders sagged, her body loosened and relaxed into the chair, though her hands and arms remained still around the crystal.
“Won’t you do this for me, Alice? Won’t you go on this journey with me, keep me company?”
“…Yes,” she felt herself respond.
“Won’t you follow me in, deeper?”
“Yes,” she sighed, breathing her soul out.
“Don’t you trust me?”
“Yes…” Her eyes fluttered closed.
“I knew you’d come around.” A cool touch smoothed her hair from behind. “You’re a very smart girl, Alice. Oh, that’s right, good – smile for me.”
A vapid smile grew across Alice’s dazed face, and half-lidded eyes looked downward towards the shimmering light in her lap. The room was bright, littered with crystals and reflective shards, but none so bright as the source she now nestled in between her fingers. She moaned softly with each pulse of light that spread through her fingertips, drool catching at the corner of her lips still twitched into an empty smile.
From the corner of a room, a shattered mirror reflected, a shattered mirror watched – a dazed girl, stumbled into a trap of her doing, though she looked happy – a sleepy gaze with glassy eyes, a content smile, and a reflection behind her, albeit just slightly different. One with a mysterious smile, a knowing look, and a twinkle in its sharp, calculating eyes.
Inverted Keywords: recklessness, naivety, taken advantage of