a related short fiction piece which provided roots for the serial boxes world.
may contain volume one spoilers
rows of benches full of people spread out before him on either side of a long aisle. each of the people sitting on the benches held a mirror in front of them. there were no attendants anywhere in sight. he gazed over the blurry shoulder of the person nearest him and saw swirling fog reflecting back from their mirror.
newcomers were easy to pick out; he noticed a smiling young girl off to his right, her outline strong, her features clearly reflected in her mirror. he slid to the left toward the front of the queue as the last of the group that had entered with him slipped in the door, which groaned shut. the queue nudged forward as an older man at the front of the queue entered the aisle and moved toward the front of the room to take up the mirror a cloud of mist had just released.
after five more clouds of mist had claimed other people, he found himself at the front of the queue. he glanced over to the young girl and saw she was no longer smiling; her outline had grown hazy and her mirror was heavily clouded. apparently, at least for some people, the transition didn’t take very long.
he blinked and almost looked away from the young girl, but a mist evaporated her dim outline and soon the mirror was held by no one; a resounding clatter filled the air as the mirror fell to the bench.
he moved toward her vacated spot and took up the abandoned mirror.
his ears immediately filled with whispers. the whispers were in his own voice but his mouth was silent, the room around him was silent, the voices were only his to hear.
the mutterings grew stronger when he gave them his undivided attention. his brother, why hadn’t he visited him since the accident? he felt deeply selfish, he hadn't considered how hard all they had been through this past year had been on their little sister. he was angry with his father for taking his sister’s side about the house, angry at himself for not visiting his mother sooner and sad at how it was all over so fast. guilt soaked into him and the mirror grew blurry at the edges.
his mind was growing tired and the edges of his mirror were rapidly becoming blurrier. he barely heard the clang of the mirror to the left of him as it fell onto the bench. his mind briefly flickered from its reverie to acknowledge a young woman had sat down beside him to claim the mirror.
regret rolled over him at the fight with his brother, the one that caused him to storm off and had prompted his brother to drive away just as it had started to rain. his brother, driving blind with rage, had been no match for the newly slickened roads; the crash had landed him in a coma.
before long he was a mist, weighed down and filled to bursting, his mirror entirely fogged. but just then he caught a glimpse of the young woman beside him, her outline was almost as blurry as his own. he became slightly off-balance and felt himself falling. her hazy outline turned toward him. her eyes widened. he was falling toward her.
he heard a clatter on the wood floor, followed by another. he blinked and became aware of soreness in his left arm; he had fallen onto it, onto her.
blushing, he scrambled to a sitting position. to avoid having to meet her eyes he retrieved his mirror from beneath the bench and realized it had shattered. he left it there and sat up again. his outline was growing clearer.
beside him, he heard a creak and saw the young woman struggling to sit up. blushing more deeply from his lack of manners, he helped her up. she bent to retrieve her mirror and he looked around the room. everywhere people were reflected in various levels of distortion, the sight made him queasy.
the young woman straightened up clutching her unbroken mirror.
“don’t,” he said to her.
she hesitated slightly, turning her mirror in her hands as she looked from him to it. he moved past her into the aisle and motioned for her to follow. she glanced down at her mirror again and then back up at him.
he took a couple of steps forward and motioned again but she kept turning her mirror in her hands. he scanned the space and saw black arrows leading into a hall off the front of the room. he turned to her again and motioned to the arrows and saw her gaze follow the arrows, before she looked down to her mirror. moments later she was blurring at the edges once more.
behind him on the left side of the aisle he heard a clatter and turned just in time to see its holder dissolve into mist, followed by the mist of another person a few rows ahead of him. he dared not look back at the young woman, whose outline he knew was growing dimmer, and instead he walked quickly toward the front, toward the arrows.
he sped up as he neared the arrows and followed them when they disappeared into the hallway. a few metres on, the hall and arrows turned left, then after a few paces right, then eventually left again. at the end of the hall he came to a windowless door. he grasped the handle, turned, and pulled.
blinded by the sudden brightness, he stumbled forward, fell to his knees and heard the door shut quietly, surprising despite its weight, behind him.
he blinked and brought the scene into focus. he was in an empty, sunlit field behind the building. in the distance, a road edged the grass.
he looked down at his arms, which were shaking, and used them to push himself upwards to stand on equally wobbly legs. as he slowly walked forward he continued to absorb his surroundings.
at the edge of the field he stopped in the shade of a large tree just starting to shed its amber leaves. he studied his feet and hands; his outline was no longer blurry but was crisp and vivid. then he felt his pockets, his square wallet, cluster of keys and rectangular cell phone were all there.
he walked on, past fences and lawns, driveways and stop signs, to find where he had parked. when he saw the empty Quonset hut with its faded toy store sign, he knew he was getting close. nearby, up the adjacent side street, sat his car.
the car engine roared to life with the blare of the radio, which showered him in static. he spun the knob to find relief for his ear drums.
when pleasant music once again filled the car, a sharp pain stabbed in his arms.
he looked down and saw thin white lines lacing his sinewy arm all the way from beneath his t-shirt sleeve down to his hand. with a glance at his other arm, he found the same lines weaving across his skin. terrified but curious, he stretched his neck to look in the rearview mirror. there, crisscrossed over his face and neck, were more white lines.
a buzz on his hip drew his attention away from the lines and he retrieved his phone from his pocket. on the screen a familiar number flashed at him. he set the phone in the console between the two front seats. the car continued to idle, the radio still blared, though now with music not noise, and the phone continued to throb against its confines of molded plastic.
exhaling a sigh, he turned the radio down, swiped up his phone and flipped it open.
“h-hey,” his sister’s voice began timidly, “it’s me.”
“you, you answered.”
“I just thought, I’d see if you wanted…I mean, if. well, you don’t have-”
“I was just on my way now, actually.”
“yeah. almost at the store. did you want sparkling grape, or apple?”
“answer me first.”
a light tap on the passenger-side window made him look up. the young woman he had been sitting next to was standing on the other side of the glass, a hesitant smile on her face. he smiled back and gave a small wave as relief washed over him.
“yes, I’m coming,” he said. then, catching sight of the lines again, added, “I love you, sis.”
“I love you too.”
he hung up and unlocked the passenger-side door. the young woman sat down and opened her hand, showing him the flat piece of wood he realized was the broken frame of her mirror.
“after you left,” she began, looking down at the broken frame, “I saw a boy in front of me, young, maybe ten. well…” she looked up at him and he noticed her eyes misting, then she looked away. he knew what had happened without her finishing the sentence.
he reached into the backseat and rummaged through abandoned pop bottles, take-out boxes, and a discarded newspaper until he found it, a half-full, slightly squashed, tissue box. he sat up and handed her a couple of tissues.
shimmering lines of tears were running down her face splattering her arms. she dried her eyes and when she was finished she dabbed her wet arms, then gasped.
“no…no, no, no,” she said, studying her arms; thin lines reflected in the light.
she yanked the door open and, still clutching the mirror handle, sprang from the car. he opened his door and hurried after her, clutching his chest when his left side began cramping.
“wait!” he yelled after her.
she continued running down the road past houses until she reached an intersection. she turned left and disappeared briefly before he turned left and followed after her. she slowed when she reached a grassy park so he tried to speed up.
“wait!” he called again.
he gained speed as she slowed down. when she stopped, he came to stop next to her. both of them were panting. he took the mirror handle from her grasp and tossed it into the nearest trash can.
when he strode back over to her, she was looking at him in mild shock. she turned and began to walk away.
he put his arm out in front of her, not touching, just to stop her. to show her.
she slowly turned to him with eyes no longer misty with tears.
“you too?” she asked.
“yeah,” he said. “I guess it’s all part of what happens, you know, if it ends…too soon.”
“do you think they’ll fade one day?”
“maybe,” he said. “guess we’ll have to see.”
he extended his hand and, with a weak smile, she took it.
“did you bring a car?” he asked.
“no.” she blushed. “I had heard people don’t typically come back.” as they rounded the corner, his car came into view. “I see you brought one.”
“yeah. I didn’t know about the part about maybe not coming out of it.”
“why’d you go then?”
“I wanted to forget.”
“but-” she paused and her gaze flickered to the lines on their arms. “what if…they don’t let you.”
“then I guess I’ll have to learn better ways to remember.”
at the car he opened the passenger-side door and offered her a ride, which she accepted. the car was silent as he pulled away from the curb and drove through lanes lined with gold-leafed trees.
“where are you going?” she asked after a few blocks.
“to visit my sister; I offered to help her paint. would you like to join me?”
“paint what? are you sure she’d want me to come? it’s so, unexpected.”
“she’ll understand.” he smiled and glanced over at her. “what d’you say?”
after he parked in the driveway, he retrieved the shopping bag with the juice from the backseat then got out of the car. the young woman stood waiting and they exchanged a smile. together they walked up the narrow path that wound its way toward the house. the sound of a door creaking open made them look up; his sister’s head peeked out. when they reached the front door, she smiled and greeted them each with a hug.
“I hope it’s okay,” the young woman began.
his sister simply smiled and motioned to the front hall. “of course,” she said, “come in.”
when his sister turned to let them pass he saw the silhouette of her swollen belly for the first time in weeks. he stopped in front of her and gently touched her belly, almost immediately feeling a kick.
“whoa,” he said, releasing his hands.
she smiled and raised a hand to his cheek, her eyes studying the lines illuminated by the hall lights.
“they do fade,” she said, meeting his gaze. “most will, anyway,” and she released her hand. she closed the front door and turned back toward them. “see,” she said after studying the young woman's face for a moment, “yours are already starting to fade.” he handed his sister the shopping bag and she turned and began to walk toward the kitchen. “come, I made tea.”
he watched his sister and the young woman begin down the hallway.
“sis,” he said. she turned to face him. “I’m glad you kept the house.”
she smiled but kept silent, then turned toward the kitchen again. he turned toward the living room and retrieved his cell phone from his pocket.
“who ya callin’?” asked a deep voice.
he looked up and saw, standing just inside the living room, his father.
“uh, I was just-” he let the rest of his sentence tumble away unfinished.
his father walked over to him and he heard more footsteps approaching. when he looked up again, his brother was entering the living room and met his gaze as he walked over to them.
“you here to paint?” his brother asked, giving him no time to reply. “well, c’mon then, let’s get to work.”
his brother turned away and strode back out the door toward the stairs.
when his father turned to go, he reached out his hand and touched his father’s arm.
“I just wanted to say, Mom would be glad, and I’m glad, that you didn’t sell the house.”
his father nodded, his back turned.
“your friends’ lines, yours too, they will fade.” he took a couple steps toward the hall, then stopped, his back still turned. “what made you break your mirror anyway?”
his father started walking again and he followed slowly behind. when he reached the stairs, his father cleared his throat.
“then take care of her,” his father said, turning to him and meeting his eyes.
his father went down the hall into the kitchen. he went up the stairs following the paint fumes and drafty air which he was certain would lead to his brother.
at the end of the hall on the right, in an empty room with plastic taped to the floor and around the windows, amidst an array of paint brushes scattered about, he found his brother starting to roll light yellow paint across a primer-white wall. he grabbed the second roller and started on the wall opposite his brother.
they painted for awhile in silence until he realized the sound of his brother’s roller had stopped. he paused and turned to see his brother watching him.
“do you think sis can do it on her own?” his brother asked.
“she’s pretty capable, yeah,” he answered. “but, she won’t be alone, will she? she’s got us.”
his brother studied his face, his paint-flecked arms and the lines almost as white as when they were new.
“the woman in the kitchen, her lines are fading faster than yours,” his brother observed. “I think it’s because she’s more willing to let go.”
he felt his body growing uncomfortably warm so he looked away from his brother. dunking his roller in the paint pan he rolled it back and forth.
“I nearly killed you,” he said, studying the layer of paint accumulating on his roller.
“it was an accident.”
“it was because I fought with you,” he said, forgetting his roller and standing to meet his brother’s gaze. “I made you too angry to drive.”
“it was raining.”
“I know,” said his brother, crossing the small space toward him. “I see it on your face. but even without that, I’d know.”
“yeah,” his brother said. “Mom told me you visited after the accident when I was in a coma. but then you stopped coming after I’d woken up.”
“I couldn’t bear to,” he said, looking away briefly. “she told you that?” he asked, looking back to his brother.
“yeah,” his brother said, meeting his gaze, “and she forgave you, just like I have.”
then his brother walked back to the other side of the room, dipped his roller in the paint, and rolled light yellow swaths across the wall.