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Mansion of Mirrors Preview
Since September, I have had a new piece in the works. I have so far kept rather quiet about it, not sharing much. However, with Christmas on the way, I thought I’d treat you all to a sneak preview. Read below what happens when Arnost and Sophie arrive at the house where they’ll be spending the summer holidays…with their father whom they’ve not seen for ten years!
There are many words I could use to describe the entrance hall, but I think I best leave it at uninvitingly bizarre. The layout itself was just as I had expected—a wide velvet-carpeted staircase was straight ahead, and on the left was a corridor lined with entrances to more rooms than our entire house at home had. At the end of it was the grandest, largest door of all, but there’s no need to preoccupy ourselves with that.
In fact, the first thing to grab my attention was the walls. I imagine most people with an estate like this would have decorated them with ornate wallpaper, perhaps adding a few tasteful paintings to spice it up. But these walls—they were almost entirely covered with the most polished mirrors I’d ever seen. I shuddered at the sight, doubting I’d ever get used to my reflection following me everywhere. But what was worse was the small areas that were not covered with mirror. They were unpainted paperless patches of plaster, a different type of weapon attached to each. I could see at first glance a medieval musket, a modern rifle, a spear, a double-headed axe, and a crossbow. The collection seemed to continue upstairs, and needless to say, of all the things I expected my father to be, a weapon hoarder was not one of them.
I looked on in wide-eyed bewilderment, my hairs standing on end at the very sight. Sophie’s emotions, on the other hand, were unreadable. She stood as close to the door as she could while still inside the house as if trying to make herself discreet. I was just as clueless about what to say as she seemed to be and was once again relieved when Donovan spoke first.
‘I have to clean all these mirrors myself,’ he said, as if oblivious to the décor’s peculiarity. ‘Every day I do them, and there are more upstairs too…makes me proud. Anyway, let me show you to your rooms, then best introduce you to your dad.’
I felt my stomach tighten. Most people, I expect, would probably be quite keen to see their father. However, what I knew about him so far did not make me feel that way: something about him meant my mum hadn’t let him see us for ten years; he had enough money to buy himself a mansion, which he hadn’t used to support us; and his idea of tasteful décor consisted entirely of mirrors and deadly weapons. I just hoped his apparent eccentricity wasn’t dangerous because if it was, the number of guns, axes, spears, swords, and flails around suggested we wouldn’t make it to the end of summer.
‘Was the house already full of mirrors when my dad moved here?’ I asked Donovan hopefully.
A smile formed on Donovan’s face, and he let out a small laugh and shook his head. ‘Nah, this was his own work. He has his reasons, but I’ve never asked any questions. He doesn’t take it well when people doubt his methods.’
I winced involuntarily. I was becoming only less keen to meet my father at this point. He sounded far from approachable, which was precisely the opposite of what Sophie needed. I took some calming breaths once again, not wanting to lose it now, not in front of Sophie and not before I’d even given this more of a proper chance. We climbed two more flights of stairs; I could see that both the first and second floors continued the decorative theme of mirrors and weapons, making my insides contract even more.
‘I’m afraid your bedrooms might still be a wee bit dusty,’ Donovan said as we reached the third floor. ‘I haven’t had a chance to clean them properly. I was gonna do it yesterday, but then your dad insisted I do the mirrors again.’
‘That’s quite all right,’ I said, deciding it best not to ask questions. I saw Sophie was opening her mouth to pipe something up, but I doubted whatever she planned to say would be appropriate right now.
We reached the top floor, and its corridor was the only one in the house that wasn’t lined with mirrors and weapons. It was much gloomier than the others, most likely due to the absence of any windows, as well as the dark green wallpaper, which was peeling off the walls in a few places. It was also mustier than the rest of the house, and I could taste the place’s dankness on my tongue, forcing myself not to cough.
‘You’re in the two rooms at the end,’ Donovan said, and we followed him there.
Needless to say, my expectations were already low. Still, nothing could have prepared me for what was actually on the other side of my bedroom door. The room had a stronger resemblance to a warehouse than any kind of sleeping quarters. The walls were unpainted, the floor uncarpeted and unvarnished like someone’s old loft. What was worse was that around all the furniture, my father seemed to have treated this place as his junkyard. The place was teeming with used tyres, stringless guitars, electrical parts I couldn’t identify, and against one wall, there were even two pianos stacked precariously on top of each other. But before I’d even had a chance to take in the scene and build up my disgust, I heard Sophie’s reaction across the corridor. And it was nothing like mine would’ve been if I’d seen her room. But, on the bright side, she had squealed with delight, and it was clear why.
Her room was filled with what could’ve been hundreds of books stacked against the walls, and every single one seemed to be about Einstein, Newton, space, or time travel. Numerous astronomical maps covered the walls, along with diagrams of things I couldn’t recognise, but Sophie clearly could as she gestured to each one in turn.
‘It’s a DNA molecule…ooh a quark,’ she said excitedly.
This whole room looked like the long-unused office of a scientist with the thick dust that had gathered on all the items around the place. Of course, that suited Sophie perfectly, and as she gleefully explored her new quarters, it was as if I were invisible in the room. All my remarks of, ‘oh, I’m glad you like it,’ or anything of the kind went unnoticed. Donovan stood next to me, smiling wryly as the scene unfolded before us.
‘Your mum said your sister liked her science. I thought she’d like this room more than you,’ he chuckled.
‘I think I can safely say you were right,’ I muttered. Truth be told, neither room looked even remotely appealing to me, but I was somewhat glad that at least Sophie was happy for once.
‘I’ll go get your father to come and meet you while she does that,’ Donovan said, and he strode off down the hallway, leaving me alone to watch Sophie. She lapped the room again slowly, as if concerned she’d missed something. She had just as little interest in me as she did the first time, so, with a shrug, I decided to explore the rest of this floor.
The bathrooms looked just as neglected as the bedrooms did. Not only could I not find a single patch of white on the bath, shower, or sink, but the taps were so reddened with rust, I’d be astounded if I could get any water out of them. I winced and left the place behind, not wanting to stare at those facilities for long. I continued down the corridor towards the staircase, trying each door in turn. Behind each one was, rather unsurprisingly, more of a storage cupboard than a room, and all of them were filled with what looked like failed inventions. In one room, was what appeared to be the DVD discs of hundreds of different Christmas films, all glued to the blades of a blender as tall as me. In the next was what looked like an abandoned attempt to build a Dalek; several slanted metal plates interlocked on top of a frame of wheels. Only, whoever had made it seemed to have given up halfway through, as it had no top, a tangle of cables hanging over the edges. Weirdest of all was the space filled with giant kitchen utensils. As if pulled from a modern art installation, metal spatulas, ladles, tongs, and the like stood at an angle, for it was only thus that they could fit in the room. So, apparently, my dad was either a collector of bizarre art exhibits or an extremely experimental inventor. I tried to brush off the thought, hearing two sets of footsteps coming up the stairs as I checked the final door. I attempted to turn the stone-cold knob, but it wouldn’t budge. I rattled it hard in case it was stiff, but still, it wouldn’t give. Locked.
‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?’ thundered a voice from beside me.
I gave a start as I saw two people come up the stairs. Donovan was being trailed by the man who’d presumably shouted at me. I assumed he was my father, only he looked far too old. His thinning, grey mop of hair combined with his many wrinkles, highlighting his age. Wearing a linen jacket and bow tie, he had dressed with as much eccentricity as the house’s décor. His cheeks were dark crimson, and the speed at which he stormed towards me made me recoil, my whole body heating up.
‘WELL?’ he demanded when I didn’t answer him. He took another aggressive step towards me.
‘W-what d’you mean? I-I was exploring,’ I said quickly, clueless as to what I’d done wrong.
‘That door is locked for a reason, boy,’ my dad said in his deep, booming voice. ‘You do not go in there; it’s private.’
I shuddered. Even though his tone had steadied, the anger was still detectable. ‘I-I’m sorry, I didn’t know.’
‘Right,’ my dad huffed, ‘I assume that’s the other one?’ he asked Donovan, pointing down the corridor.
I looked at where my dad was gesturing and saw that Sophie had appeared. She was partially hiding behind the doorframe, apparently not daring to come all the way out.
‘It is indeed,’ Donovan said. ‘Her name’s Sophie.’
‘Well, there’s no chance of me remembering that,’ my dad grumbled. ‘Anyway, Shorty, I have work to do, so I need you to get 58 and 55 settled in.’ He turned on his heel and pushed past Donovan, traipsing downstairs with a heavy sigh.
’58 and 55,’ Donovan chortled, ‘I guess that’s you two.’
‘Sorry, what?’ I said.
‘He doesn’t like names, your dad,’ Donovan said, making his way down the hall. ‘Finds numbers easier to remember…I’m guessing you’re 58 since you’re taller than your sister.’
I scoffed. My father hadn’t even tried to make a warm first impression, and not remembering our names…really?
‘I don’t want to be called 58,’ I said.
‘I wouldn’t complain,’ Donovan mumbled. ‘I did, then he started calling me “Shorty”. Anyway, I’ll let the two of you unpack; I have some mirrors to polish.’ He smiled widely, and letting out a small laugh, descended the staircase, and he was soon out of sight.
‘I don’t think we want to spend much time around Dad by the sounds of things anyway,’ I said to my sister. She nodded nervously and started down the landing. I followed her, trying to shake off the way my dad had shouted.
‘You’re happy with your room then?’ I said, hoping to divert Sophie’s mind.
She nodded. ‘It’s amazing.’
I forced a smile. ‘Have you seen the rest of this floor?’
Sophie shook her head, and realising we were alone, I pushed open the nearest door. She looked as perplexed as I’d felt when I’d seen the blender that was behind it; it seemed somehow bigger now I had a chance to appreciate it properly. I did one final check that Donovan and my dad weren’t close, then took a couple of steps towards the contraption. It was beyond me why my dad thought a blender of this size would ever be needed in a home, let alone why he’d used DVDs to decorate the blades. Ambling around its perimeter, I took in its appearance from all angles. Despite the blades’ bizarre ornaments, they were sharp enough that I had no doubt they’d easily slice up a human if they had to. I shuddered at the very thought, but maybe that was what this was for? It seemed far-fetched, but the only interaction I’d had with my father didn’t exactly reassure me. I watched Sophie as she stared fascinatedly at the machine. Her eyes were wide, as if curious to see it in action. And I could hardly blame her—as uneasy as this machine made me, I couldn’t dismiss the curiosity that overcame me.
I cast a glance towards the blender’s cable. It was unplugged at the wall, and I was sure Donovan and my dad were both downstairs now. If I switched it on, they may never know. But I thought to myself, how much noise would it make? My body turned ice-cold at the idea, and I did my best to dismiss it. Then, apprehensively, I approached the plug socket and contemplated connecting it. The responsible part of me knew it was a bad idea as I fingered the plug’s prongs. But the curious urge I was feeling was too strong.
‘Wanna see what it does?’ I asked Sophie.
‘Are we allowed?’ she replied, an obvious worry in her tone. After the way my dad had talked to us, I couldn’t say I blamed her.
‘I don’t see why not,’ I said, lying to myself as much as to her. ‘Dad didn’t leave this door locked, did he?’
Sophie raised a dubious eyebrow. ‘You sure?’
‘Positive,’ I said.
Then, Sophie grinned as widely as she had when she’d seen her room. ‘Okay, but be careful.’
And then, before I could stop to reconsider, I rammed the plug into the wall. There was a moment’s pause, and for a second, I expected it all to be an anti-climax. Maybe, the machine just didn’t work. Perhaps that was why it was stored away up here. But then came a whirring sound from the contraption, like that of an overheating computer. It got louder and louder until it sounded like the revving of an old engine. And the blades started to spin, gathering speed until they were just one blur. And now, I could feel the floor shake beneath my feet from the noise. Sophie had her hands over her ears; she’d always had a phobia of loud noise, and I had no doubt this was way over her limit. I watched the colour drain from her face and started the plug socket. That was when things started to go wrong.
I had to look away and back again several times, but the socket was no longer there. Instead, the wire seemed to snake into an otherwise smooth wall. I had no idea how; it made no sense at all, but now, that was the least of our worries.
For as I scanned my surroundings, I noticed that the room was shrinking, the walls closing in on us like something out of a dream. For a second, I couldn’t move, rooted to the spot in shock, but then, I realised. The room was only shrinking faster now, and if we didn’t act soon, we’d be crushed.
I darted towards the door without further thought, grabbing Sophie tightly by the arm and pulling her out of the room with me. And then, we were on the landing. And the room itself was shrinking more and more until there was barely enough space for the blender’s blades. I couldn’t possibly fathom how this was happening, but it was. It was as if this machine was eating up the space around it. And if it swallowed the whole room, surely the landing would be next.
In a blind panic, I slammed the door shut, hoping, praying that it would stop it in its tracks. But now, the landing was starting to shrink, and if it continued, soon the whole house would be gone. I had no idea what to do—first day here, and already, we’d wrecked the place.
‘LET’S GO!’ I screamed to Sophie as loudly as I could.
I’d barely heard myself over the noise as I grabbed her forearm and pulled her through the landing, sprinting down the stairs. I had no idea what to do. The whole house would be gone by the time I could get Donovan or my dad to help. And there was no way of turning the blender off ourselves. We just had to run. This was the fastest I’d ever fled, hopping over every other step. Yet still, the blender’s space-destroying blades were catching up to us. Almost the entire landing was gone now.
‘Quickly!’ Sophie shouted. ‘The axe!’
I cast a puzzled look at her as we continued hurrying down the stairs. She was frantically gesturing towards a double-headed blade fixed to the wall above her head. I had no idea what good she thought it would do, but something in my instincts told me I should trust her. So, palms sweating, I attempted to prise the weapon from its holder. My heart seemed to stop for a few seconds as it wouldn’t come free. Then, when it finally did, it ripped off with so much force, it almost slid through my sweaty hands.
I looked back up to the landing. The blender was approaching our bedrooms now, and our stuff would be gone. Then, I realised, my throat closing up at the thought, it’d be swallowing the staircase next.
‘CUT THE WIRE!’ Sophie roared.
It took a moment for me to process what she’d said; my mind was racing so much. Then, as I clocked it, I momentarily grinned. It was one of the best ideas Sophie had ever had, and now I just hoped it worked. My legs starting to feel like trifle, I sprinted back upstairs. Standing by the blender, I glanced back down the stairs, seeing how close the emptiness was to eating the stairs. I’d only have one shot before I was consumed, then Sophie would be done for too.
I gave it no further thought and tried to clear my mind. Then, I swung the heavy blade at the blender’s cable. And it was sliced cleanly in two. The whirring quietened into silence, the blades slowing to a halt. It had worked. And thankfully, our bedrooms were just about intact.
‘That was brilliant, Sophie,’ I panted, patting her affectionately on the shoulder. She nodded, still also catching her breath.
‘What was that thing?’ she said weakly.
I shrugged. ‘No idea, but whoever made it and put it there is mad.’
Sophie didn’t respond, staring wide-eyed at the now non-functional machine.
‘I’ll tell you, though, now I really want to know what’s behind the locked door,’ I said.
‘Why?’ she asked.
‘Well,’ I replied, ‘if that blender is what Dad doesn’t lock away, imagine what must be dangerous enough to hide.’
Sophie looked unsure how to react. At first, her lips curled into a curious, inquisitive smile. Then, her expression changed as quickly as it had formed, her mouth slightly agape as if the thought scared her. I, for one, just wanted to know why my dad thought having such a machine would ever be a good idea. On the bright side, though, I had now, at least, found a use for all his weapons.
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