Paisley screamed Alder’s name but it was drowned out by the whine of the ambulance as it rushed her down the mountainside. The EMT was trying to calm her but she was desperate to know what was happening to her husband. The last time she had seen him conscious was only a reflection behind a thick pane of glass. They should never have come here. She wished they had never taken this job.
“No way!” Paisley exclaimed as she pulled the blanket off her legs where she was snuggled on the couch. The couch creaked with age as she stood in the darkening room. Her feet hit the cold ground and she gasped with the temperature change. Her toes curled into the cold floor. “Alder. Alder. Where are you?”
She was amazed she couldn’t find him in their very tiny apartment or closet with a throw rug as they liked to call it.
Alder was tucked into the corner of their bedroom at their second-hand desk behind the frameless mattresses on the floor. His eyebrows were screwed into a scowl of consternation. He must be checking their bank account balance again or lack of a balance, and it was the 23rd of the month which meant that rent was looming. That was the only thing which put out his light that quickly.
She said his name again and he looked up at her for the first time. “I have good news!”
“I’m loving good news, Bro! Tell me!” He jumped up and grabbed her hand pulling them both on top of the mattresses. “Did we win a million dollars?”
She laughed and showed him the e-mail on her phone. “We got the job. The housesitting job in Copper Ridge. This guy needs someone to look after his two Spaniels: Willie and Mays. Look at this place!” She flipped through the pics that were on the app. It was the largest house that they had been offered in weeks. It was over eight thousand square feet of decadence. When they had dropped their profile for the job, they didn’t believe that had a chance against all the older couples who had been covering properties for decades. “We gotta be there in two days. Should we pack?”
Alder reached for the phone in my hand. “Hold up. I mean. I think we are awesome. But why did we get picked for this one?” He laughed. “Is this legit? It’s totally a mansion for three weeks!”
Paisley started clicking on her phone. “It’s a new listing. The dude doesn’t have any reviews yet because he’s a first timer.”
“I don’t know Pais. Can we trust this?”
“Look. We’ve done six of these since the wedding. This is dope – we have never gotten one this nice. We’ll be there together. Whatever happens, we will be together. Let’s take the job and if we get there and the place is sketch, we will just stand the dude up and explain on the site that it wasn’t what he advertised.”
Alder rolled his eyes and smiled. “How is it that I can never say no to my wife?” he laughed. “Hit the go button. Let’s give it a shot.”
Alder and Paisley locked the door on their apartment but there wasn’t much reason because they had most of their meager belongings packed into their hand-me-down Civic. It was a three-hour drive to the property. It wasn’t long before they were out of the city and headed up the mountain. The instructions took them to a large, swinging metal gate. Paisley entered the code on the lockbox hanging from the metal fence and it opened to reveal the heavy gold key. She unlocked the gate with a thunk as the lock dropped open and swung the metal arm open for Alder to drive inside. She pulled it closed again behind them and replaced the lock on the gate and the key in the lockbox.
The road wound through the trees for another forty minutes. They passed three other private driveways before they found a metal sign that read: Glass Mountain Retreat. The sun was setting, and they hoped they were getting close to the property. Two right hand turns and a left and it appeared before them like it was a ghost house that appeared in the mist.
The owner said he was off-property and Alder jumped out of the car to put the code in the keypad on the garage and it rolled up silently ahead of them. He jumped back in and pulled the car into the oddly empty alcove. Their noisy engine after climbing the mountain was rattling and echoing with intensity in the enclosed space.
A stairwell led up a flight to a door that opened without any effort. They rushed into the house and started flipping on lights in every room. They always spent the first thirty minutes in a place exploring their temporary home. This place took them twice as long. Their entire apartment would fit in the sitting room off of the kitchen and Paisley told Alder this fact. They counted rooms as they made their way from floor to floor. By the third floor, they had counted seven bedrooms, nine bathrooms, two gyms, an indoor pool and pickle ball court; Willie and Mays, the friendly spaniels, had an entire half floor for their room.
“What is this?” Alder asked when they got down to the final floor, the basement. At the bottom of the stairs, there was a hanging barn door. They slid it on the metal tracks to the left-hand side and behind it was a metal door with no handle. A keypad was embedded in the wall. The didn’t have instructions on how to enter this space. Alder pressed his hand against the metal door. “Fascinating.” He whispered. He was intrigued. He loved a good mystery and he was not going to leave here without a resolution to this closed door. Paisley was behind Alder and as followed him to the base of the stairs, she noticed a bevel in the wall across from the metal door. But it wasn’t a bevel. It was an indent in the wall. Was it a camera?
Alder had stopped halfway up the staircase waiting for her. “Pais, what is it? Are you coming?”
“Nothing. I’m just starving! Let’s get some sustenance before I pass out! I’ve gotten twenty thousand steps just checking out this place.”
They had brought a few groceries with them but when they returned to the kitchen, they realized it was an unnecessary effort. The refrigerator and pantry were stocked full of options. They made themselves a plate and returned to the media room which was equipped with television the size of one wall. This place was just too good to be true! Two movies later, they decided on a room on the third floor with a king-sized bed to crash in.
When Paisley woke, Alder was already missing. She called his name around the house thinking she would find him in the kitchen or in the gym. She tried the pool too. The dogs had been fed and she was checking the windows to see if he was out in the yard. As she wandered the house in her pajamas, she thought about what she had seen last night. So she started to look more intently. There were more indents in the wall. She was becoming more and more convinced they were cameras, and she was getting worried. The house was full of them.
She was calling Alder’s name.
She decided to try the basement. Had he gone back down there to try and work out the metal door?
She found him there with that same look of concentration. She leaned up behind him and whispered, “maybe we don’t want to know what is behind that door.”
“Mmmm.” He said, distracted.
“C’mon. I’ll make us some breakfast and we’ll go for a swim. Okay?”
“I’ll be up in a second.” He dismissed.
“Don’t stay long. I’ll start some eggs.” She said and trudged up the stairs alone.
By the fourth day, Paisley was worried about Alder’s distraction of the door. He had attempted several codes in the keypad. He had gone looking for clues in the office and the library to see if he could find a way in. Paisley decided to tell him about what she thought were cameras in most of the rooms. She had catalogued most of them and so when she felt like she had Alder’s attention, she led him around the house to show him what she had discovered.
Alder listened intently. He followed Paisley throughout the house, and he realized she was right. “Did you see one in the basement?”
She nodded. And she followed him as he rushed for the basement.
At the bottom of the stairs, she pointed out the indent in the wall just like the others.
He stood under the camera, looked directly at it and said out loud, “will you let us in the metal door?” into the camera.
There was no response or sound. Both of them stood stock still for several minutes.
He sighed and made for the stairs.
With a low grating moan, the metal door began to lift. Alder turned in surprise but with a shout of joy.
Alder and Paisley stood transfixed as the door rose to the top. It opened to a hallway full of light banked by mirrors on either side and mirrors that divided the path into two pathways. Alder immediately stepped inside, but Paisley was slow to follow. She hesitated. She was scared of crossing the threshold into the room. Alder looked back at her. He reached his hand back for her. She couldn’t let him do this alone. She stepped into the room.
As soon as she was beside him, a pane of glass rose from the floor between them breaking their grip and dividing them into the two halves of the hallway. Paisley screamed but the glass was already to the top of the ceiling entrapping each of them in their own half of the hallway. The metal door rose up from the floor and sealed at the top.
Paisley could no longer hear anything but her own breathing. She could see Alder reaching out for her, but the wall was thick. He began to pound on it, but she could not hear the pounding. She put both hands against the glass. She couldn’t help the tears that ran down her face. He was screaming in frustration. Paisley slid to her knees.
Alder’s chest was rising and falling. But it began to slow. He looked at Paisley. There was no going back. He pointed forward. There was no going back. They had to go forward. She put her hand on the glass and her forehead. He matched her movement and they held there for a few moments. They both looked ahead and started forward. With one look back.
Paisley kept her hand against the wall of glass to her right. She was letting the tears fall down her face. She had to keep moving to get back to him. The path was made up of glass and mirrors. If she didn’t keep her hands in front of her face, sometimes the glass would corner but with a mirror behind it and she would nearly run face first into the glass. She would reach out for Alder and realize she was only seeing his reflection in a mirror or the back of him through the silent glass. Several times they were parallel to each other but unable to reach one another.
And there was a heat beginning to radiate in the room. The temperature was rising and she was beginning to sweat into the neck of her shirt. It motivated her to keep moving. She kept her hands in front of her face and was trying not to be distracted by the panicked red-faced version of herself that was her reflection in every mirror.
She often dead-ended at the end of one arm of the path and had to return to the last junction of glass and take another spoke of the wheel.
After what felt like an hour of tracking and retracing her path, she came to a black door that read Exit. She did not trust it, but the heat was so intense that she had no choice but to push on the door. Paisley swung it open before she stepped. There was a hole in the floor. She could not see the bottom. She shouted Alder’s name but heard no response. She yelled it again and again. She circled the tiny lip of the hole to get across the expanse. On the other side was a ladder lying flat like she was top side on a set of monkey bars. They were too wide for her to safely step from rung to rung so she had to kneel on one rung and reach for the other. They were freezing cold and she kept sliding off the ice. After the heat of the mirror room, her hands were melting the ice and aiding in her minimal grip. There were spikes underneath her and so she had to be deliberate about not losing her balance.
At the end of the ladder was another full-size mirror. To her right was a table with three cups full of liquid. One was red, one was clear and one was black. Without thinking, she grabbed the black liquid and threw it at the mirror. The front of the mirror seemed to melt before her showing another door. She started to cry again. When would it end? She turned the handle and stepped inside. A light came on and she could see Alder. There he was. There was still a pane of glass between them. She wasn’t going to let this stop her. She began to pound on the glass. This pane was thinner than the first and started to crack. It gave way beneath her fists, but it started to fall toward Alder and the shards were falling toward him. She screamed and tried to step nearer to him but the floor beneath her gave way. She found herself in a tunnel she crawled toward the cool air she could feel at the other end. She found herself in the woods. She started crawling and when she thought her feet could hold her, she ran back toward the house. Whatever crazy man had let them into the mirror room could be inside but she had to help Alder. He was under the shattered glass. She put the code on the garage door and ran inside.
Running for her cell phone that was in the room they had slept in. She couldn't trust the house phone. She grabbed a shirt from the bed and took it with her.
She was dialing 911 as she retraced her steps to the tunnel she had come out of. She crawled back inside and found Alder surrounded by blood and covered in wounds. She was talking to the operator and giving her directions to the home and entrance through the gate. Screaming at them to hurry because he was dying.
She was shredding the shirt as bandages and wrapping them around Alder.
It felt like hours before the sound of the ambulances arrived for them.
As Paisley stood at his bedside listening to the monitors tracking the beats of his heart and counting his breaths, she realized that the only life she needed with Alder was the simple reflection of herself in his eyes in a tiny apartment in the city.