when shadows began to stretch across the desolate gravel road, the guy tore his sign in half and kicked the wooden box, cracking it more. he threw the sign onto the ground and turned toward the forest trail, hoping to find the berry thicket before dark.
just as the guy reached the trail, headlights flooded the road. a two-door car approached, its peeling red paint and large rusted patch on the hood were visible through the cloud of dust its tires kicked up. light fell on the guy’s duffle and the box beside the road; the painted eighty-three shone in the headlights’ glare.
the car skidded to a stop and the driver’s door flung open. a woman with long red-brown hair flecked with grey and vivid blue eyes strode toward the guy, stopped in the shadows, and glanced at the box and the destroyed sign.
“do you want a ride?” she asked.
“sure,” he said hesitantly. “yeah, that'd be great.”
the woman plopped the box onto the backseat, hastily threw a blanket over it, then got in the driver’s seat and slammed the door; rusty specks floated to the ground. the guy snatched up his duffle and followed.
“is that yours?” she asked, swerving the car onto the dusty road.
surrounded by dense forest, shadows engulfed them; the only light came from the car's headlights.
“no,” the guy answered, growing nervous. “I found it.”
“do you know what’s inside?"
keeping her left hand on the steering wheel, the woman rummaged in the backseat and dropped something onto the guy's lap. "here, you look hungry."
the woman had given him a lunch tin; inside he found a sandwich, a grapefruit, and an unopened juice box.
"thanks," he said.
the guy ate as they drove through the night in silence.
long after he had placed the empty lunch tin at his feet, the car slowed and turned onto a grassy lane. the woman slammed on the brakes in front of a faded grey A-frame house with a broken-down porch; she took the box inside before the guy had even unbuckled.
when the guy went into the house, he found the box sitting on the kitchen table. the woman appeared from the hall with a brick and smashed open one corner; the sides of the box fell away revealing bundles wrapped in thick wool.
“you wanna see?” she asked, slicing the wool open with a knife.
the guy leaned over and glimpsed individually-wrapped mirrors; the woman ripped a handful of mirrors from their cocoons and turned toward the stove.
she filled a pot with silvery liquid, then lit the stove. with tongs she placed one mirror in the pot.
“what’re you doing?” asked the guy.
“can’t we just smash them?” he asked, cautiously peering in the pot at the mirror dissolving slowly into liquid. “I just thought, my neighbour said he just smashed his, and -”
she turned toward him, pearlescent lines glimmering on her light beige skin; they wrapped her face, ears, and neck. “a skilled Crafter can repair smashed mirrors,” she said. “only melting them down will neutralize the parts.”
“oh,” said the guy. “you seem to know a lot about this.”
“my sister and I invented them.”
“won’t she be angry?”
“I'm sorry, I -”
“don't be; she tried to kill me,” said the woman. “hand me that sheet pan.”
the guy handed the woman the sheet pan and she poured the silvery substance from the pot onto it, spreading it out with her knife. she poured more liquid into the pot on the stove and placed another mirror inside.
“you wanna try?” she asked, stepping away from the pot. the guy stepped up and followed her instructions. when they poured it out onto another sheet pan, he noticed her studying him. “you know, some people like being able to disappear; why are you helping me destroy these?”
the guy finished spreading the silvery substance, handed her back the knife, and placed more liquid in the pot.
“my neighbour,” said the guy. “well, they said his lines would fade, they say everyone's faded over time, but even seven months later, his still hadn't faded.” he put another mirror in the pot and watched it begin to liquify. “if I had known what was in the box before you arrived, I would've smashed them all.” he turned to the woman. “my neighbour, he was only twelve; there's no age limit, you know.” he poured out the liquid onto a tray and began to smooth it. “they won't stop until it happens to someone they know; until it hurts someone they love.”
“and maybe not even then.”