The young woman’s sister pulled up her hood and drove in silence until turning off at a gas station. While her sister pumped gas, the young woman went inside to pay. A tall man was talking at the counter with the store owner. The young woman overheard their conversation as she selected snacks.
“Yeah, you're right, Culley,” said the customer. “I ran into a hitchhiker who had one of those boxes. I didn’t want to take any part in that. I drove off as soon as I saw the box. I’m not gonna be their delivery driver.”
“There was a Melting Raid not too far north of here the other night, so she probably knows what’s going on.”
“True. It’s just, when kids in the neighbourhood start showing up with lines, I get concerned. If adults want to do it, fine, but don’t involve the kids.” The customer looked up as the young woman approached. “You can go ahead,” he said, stepping aside.
“Thanks,” she said, placing her items on the counter. “Pump three.”
“Good time of year for canoeing,” said Culley, as he rang up her things. His grey eyes emanated warmth when he smiled.
“Yeah,” she agreed.
“Well, be careful,” said Culley.
“Do you think that hitchhiker was dangerous?” she asked.
“Maybe, but they’re not too common around here.”
“Still, you can’t trust any of those from the old factory,” said the customer. “But, if their recruits are this lackadaisical, she may have hope yet,” he added, with a knowing glance at Culley.
The young woman arrived in the truck with the snacks and her sister thanked her.
“You’re welcome,” she replied.
They turned onto the road and the young woman thought over what the men were talking about in the store.
“Did you hear about the hitchhiker around here recently who had a box just like this one?” she asked her sister.
“There were guys in the store who were worried the hitchhiker was a recruit for a group from some old factory. they thought he might be dangerous.”
Her sister glanced back to the bed of the truck. “I don’t think that hitchhiker was dangerous, but hopefully he was found by the right people, or he’ll be the one in danger.”
“Since this box isn’t the only one, people probably know something is up, especially with the raids.”
“Yeah, one of the guys said there’s this lady raiding the factory people’s places. he seemed to know her.”
The young woman's sister looked back at the tarp.
“Did they notice the box?”
“No, just the canoe, and they hoped we had a good trip.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” said the young woman. “You’re looking really pale. You okay?”
“They said there was a raid recently?”
“The other night, somewhere north of here.”
“They saw the box. I bet they saw it! If they know her, know what she’s-” her sister broke off and looked backward, then focused on the road ahead and drove faster.
“Are you okay? I don’t think they saw it, they would’ve said something.”
“No, not necessarily,” said her sister, anxiously. “There’s somewhere I need to go. I can drop you off at a hotel first, or you can come with me - it’s up to you.”
“Are you in danger?”
“I…do you want to come? We’re almost out of town.” The buildings were farther apart and they had just driven by the last streetlight.
“Okay,” said the young woman. “I’ll come with you.”
The sisters drove wide awake through the night. The young woman had started looking back as often as her sister to check that the tarp was fully covering the box.
As the sun was beginning to rise, the young woman's sister turned the truck onto a narrow gravel lane. After a short drive into the forest they reached a gate. The young woman was surprised how her sister unlocked it with expert swiftness. They continued farther down the road and a fieldstone hut nestled in a small clearing came into view.
The young woman's sister parked in front of the hut. “C’mon. follow me,” she said.
As the young woman followed her sister to the hut, she caught sight of a narrow bubbling stream at the edge of the clearing. Upon entering the hut, the sisters had to duck beneath rows of dried flowers and grasses hanging from every inch of the ceiling.
“Here,” said the young woman's sister, thrusting a large canvas bag into her hands. “Fill it with herbs.” She motioned to the ceiling. “Take everything,” she added, before dumping a box of silvery stones into her bag.
The young woman carefully unclipped one bunch of herbs, then the next.
“Take the whole strand - stuff them in,” said her sister. “Hurry!”
The young woman tried to be less gentle. Within a few minutes the small room and its shelves were almost bare.
“Grab that tin,” said her sister, motioning to the only remaining item on a nearby shelf.
The young woman glimpsed a collection of scraggly papers inside the tin before handing it to her sister.
“Thanks, now bring these to the truck.” Her sister looked around at the empty room and sighed. “I won’t be long.”
After the young woman had put the two bags behind the front seats and covered them with a tattered blanket, she saw her sister running toward the truck. When they were driving through the gate, the young woman noticed smoke billowing through the trees.
“Did you burn that hut down?” asked the young woman, wide-eyed, as they sped toward the main road.
“You said there’d been another Melting Raid, I had to act fast!”
“I said a raid! I don’t know what a Melting Raid is!”
The young woman's sister put up her hood and pushed the bag of snacks toward the young woman. “You should eat, it’s nearly time for breakfast.”
The young woman wasn’t hungry, but she drank some water and studied her sister’s face in the dim light. “How’d you get those lines?” she asked.
Her sister burrowed farther into her hood and shook her head.
“What’s going on?” she asked more gently.
Her sister sighed. “The box in the back has mirrors in it. You use them if you want to disappear.”
“Yeah. At first, I thought they were harmless. I joined up as a Gatherer and collected the raw materials the Crafters use to make them.”
“Are you going to make more? Is that why you saved the ingredients?”
“No,” said the young woman’s sister, meeting her gaze. “I want the mirrors destroyed.”
“What changed your mind?”
“I tried to make one - well, I did make one - and I used it, but it made me relive that whole fight when Mom and Dad stopped talking to me.”
“They’ve forgiven you, we all have.”
“It was still a horrible memory. I couldn’t take it and ended up smashing my mirror and got these lines.” She pulled her hood up tighter around her face.
“But it was supposed to make you disappear?”
“Yeah. That’s what they say happens if you hold on long enough.”
“Oh. So, what are Melting Raids?”
“The woman who those guys at the store were talking about, the woman who invented the mirrors, she raids mirror trade places to melt the mirrors.”
“Even though she invented them?”
“Yeah. She invented them and started a factory with her sister. As time went on, she wanted to stop making them and they had a big fight. The woman’s sister died in the fight and the woman never returned to the factory. Eventually, the factory shut down after a big explosion that killed lots of the workers. Some of the surviving workers kept making mirrors, but I’ve heard a few remained loyal to the surviving sister. When you said there’d been a raid, I got nervous because last week the Crafting Shop I deliver supplies to was raided.”
“So that’s why you burned down that hut?”
“Yeah,” said the young woman's sister, looking around nervously as they drove through a village. “The group has ways of finding people.”
“So, you’re in danger?” asked the young woman, in a shaking voice.
“Yes, but I’m trying to get out of danger,” said her sister, as she turned into the dooryard of a circular stone cottage on a hill. A tower was set behind it. “That’s why we’re here.” She took a deep breath and turned off the truck. The door at the base of the tower opened and two figures strode toward them. “Wait here,” she said, pulling the canvas bags onto the seat.
“No,” said the young woman, taking one of the bags. “I’ll come too.”
“You don’t need to, you’re not involved.”
“I just witnessed you burn a place down!”
“You didn’t ask for this,” said the young woman’s sister, nervously.
The two figures were getting closer to the truck.
“Look, I might not know about this mirror thing more than you’ve told me, but you want out, right?” asked the young woman. Her sister nodded. “Then I’m going to help you get out. Okay?” Her sister nodded. “I’ll bring these and you bring that box.”
The young woman took the canvas bags and hopped from the truck, closing the door before her sister could object.
As the young woman approached, the man was removing a silver-splattered hat from his head and tucking it into a pocket of his overalls. There were speckles of silver in his short dark brown curly hair and on his dark brown skin. Beside him, the woman's overalls and shoes also had metallic flecks on them.
“I recognize you from the raid,” said the woman, to the young woman’s sister. With a leather-gloved hand, she pushed tendrils escaping her long blonde braid away from her beige face. “A Gatherer, correct?” she asked, kindness in her hazel eyes, as the sisters set down the box and bags.
The young woman's sister nodded and blushed.
“A Crafter, too, from the look of this,” said the man, pulling a shattered mirror from one of the bags.
“My first, and only,” said the young woman’s sister.
The couple exchanged a glance, then the man smacked the corner of the box with a brick and it fell open.
“These all look new,” said the man. his actions were efficient, but his tone and brown eyes radiated warmth when he asked: “Are you a Seller, too?”
“No,” said the young woman’s sister. The man looked doubtful.
“I found that box yesterday when I was out canoeing,” said the young woman.
The man looked up and studied the young woman’s face. “I don’t recognize you from the raids, you must be a pretty new recruit.”
“I’m not a recruit,” said the young woman. “I’m her sister.”
The man didn’t look convinced, but accepted the tin the woman passed him.
“There are at least four new names here,” said the woman. “And she won’t be happy about this one,” she added, holding up a piece of paper.
“No,” he said sadly. “But I’ll let her know.” He walked toward the tower.
After the woman finished looking through the bags, she eyed the truck. “Is that all?”
“Yes,” said the young woman’s sister. “Can we go?”
“No,” said the man, as he returned from the tower. “She’s coming to talk to you.”
“Come inside,” said the woman. “You two can have some breakfast while we wait.”
“I don’t want to talk to her,” said the young woman's sister, anxiously. “I gave everything to you. I’m done.”
“You can pass this up,” said the man, “but she knows about the fire at that Gathering Hut. Your mirror trade friends do, too.”
The young woman’s sister shivered and pulled her hood up around her face.
“And they’re restless. Recruitment numbers are low,” he added, with a glance toward the young woman. “But I suppose you two already knew about that.”
Avoiding the young woman’s gaze, her sister went into the cottage after the woman.