“Cassie??! Where are you??!
Cassie! Seriously, come on out! This isn’t funny anymore!”
She trudged along on the newly fallen leaves, looking for any sign of her sister. Her dog, Maxine, close at her heels,
“Go find Cassie, Max! Please!” the dog ran on ahead in the direction of the woods.
“No, no. Anywhere but there…. Why, Cassie? You know better…”
Jenny marched forward, begrudgingly, as if on her death march. The clouds, too, as if sharing her mood, shifted colors before her very eyes, coming together in harsh, dark, ominous grey hues overhead.
As she approached the tree-line, an eerie silence befell her. The wind had stopped. All bugs and birds alike had already headed out for the winter, leaving nothing but a quiet emptiness in their absence.
Maxine’s hair stood up on her hackles, as her upper lip curled into a menacing snarl. “I know Max,” she whispered comfortingly, “you did good girl! No need to go any further.”
She patted the dog on the top of it’s head hoping to comfort it, but the dog never relaxed, and neither did she.
“Cass! Max found you already! We know you are in there! Please come on out now!”
A swift rustle was heard behind one of the tall pine trees, before breaking way to Cass’s voice—
“Oh c’mon, I wasn’t even deep into the woods! I’m only right here on the outskirts of the trees. No reason for everyone to panic,” she said jokingly.
Jenny looked back at her sister reproachfully, staring into a face that was identical to her own. Even though they were technically identical twins, their personalities could not be more different.
“You know we aren’t supposed to go anywhere near the woods, Cass…”
“Oh really? And why is that Jenn? Aren’t you the least bit curious? Haven’t you ever wondered why all these rules are in place? We’re young, our hearts were made for exploring and having fun!”
“The rules are meant to keep us safe. I’m sure there’s all manner of snakes and spiders and other poisonous plants in there. Even Max doesn’t like going in” she said, one hand still petting the pup’s head, although now she was unsure of whether or not she was actually trying to comfort the dog, or rather, herself at this point.
“So you really think it’s off limits because of bugs and flora? I swear Jenn you can be so naïve sometimes, so gullible… so easily fenced in…”
“Stop trying to scare me with conspiracy theories, Cass.”
“I’m not trying to do anything. And they’re not theories. They’re highly plausible realities. They’re hiding something in the woods, Jenn. Something more than arachnids.”
“Well, I’m sure whatever’s hidden, is hidden for a reason Cass, so let’s just get back to the house okay? Before the storm hits at least…” Jenn said, as thunder aptly rumbled a low foreboding sound in the distance.
“What are you so afraid of anyway? It’s just trees.”
“You literally just told me some ‘other mystery’ lies beyond them though, and now you’re trying to convince me it’s just your everyday average forest?”
“Well that’s just it, Jenn. We won’t ever know if it’s average or magical, unless we take that leap of faith will we?”
“More like a leap of insanity Cass, and magical isn’t exactly the word I’d use to describe the vibe I get from this place…”
“Well I am not content to just wait around for forever. Now’s a good a time as any, so you can stand there and wait for me, or you can join me.”
“Please tell me you’re not serious, Cass.”
Cassie took two steps back into the overgrown brush, and called out to Max to follow her. The dog let out a throaty growl.
“Fine,” Cass said sourly, “you two scaredy-cats can keep each other company, for all I care!” and she disappeared into the shadow of the thickets.
“Cass! I’m not playing with you anymore! Stop being ridiculous and come back to the house!” Jenn yelled after her sister.
Only silence answered her.
This is just like Cass…. For once though, just for once, why couldn’t she listen to me? Jenn sat down on the cold ground, close to the dog, “looks like we might be here for a little longer, Max, might as well get comfortable” if such a thing was possible, in such a place.
To be honest, Jenn didn’t really know why the woods were off limits. She had heard stories of missing children, and dead dogs but, the dogs were all thought to have died at the hands of natural woodland things like snakes or cougars. The missing children, well, I mean, who hasn’t thought of running away from home at one point or another and just pitching a tent at the end of the world? Whatever the real reason was though, Jenn herself just didn’t like the feeling of being lost, and in the middle of a forest so expanse, that possibility was all too plausible for her liking.
She looked up at the trees; at least 80 foot tall, and still growing. She suddenly felt smaller than she’d ever felt before. The trees seemed to bend and lean at strange angles, giving the sensation that they were almost craning their necks to look at her. The thought sent a shiver up her spine.
And that’s when she heard it. The blood-curdling scream. Max immediately jumped to her feet and started barking out of control,
“Cass!” Jen yelled, “was that you? Are you alright??!”
A deadly silence followed.
“Cass! I need you to say something! Do you need help?!”
No birds chirping. No bugs fluttering their wings. No sound of her sister returned.
Jenn took a deep breath, “I swear, if this is some kind of silly prank, you will pay for this Cass!” she said, as she took her first steps into the forest. Her heart racing as the light of day disappeared behind her. It was dark in the woods. Too dark, like night had already descended. With every step that she took, branches grabbed at her arms, thorns lodged themselves into her hands, and a layer of mud made her every step feel heavier.
“I don’t even know which direction she went in” Jenn said, tired already, and clearly frustrated. “Cass! I’m coming for you, but I need to know where you are!”
Jenn could hear Max barking in the distance, but the dog seemed a thousand miles away already, and Jenn had never felt more alone. It was a strange sensation for her, because from the very moment she even came into this world, she had technically, always had another person right beside her. She recalled learning her first words with Cass, and riding bikes in the park with her sister, and chasing after the ice-cream truck, why couldn’t they just have done something like that today? How was she even supposed to find her? Twin-telepathy? Hah, as if, that’s only an option in science fiction.
The trees seemed to buckle even tighter, mocking her in her efforts. They twisted in grotesque ways, and seemed to stretch on endlessly into nothing but darkness.
Except, in the distance, Jenn saw a small flicker of light.
“Cass! Cass is that you?” she called, not even expecting an answer at this point.
“Jenn! I’m over here! Come quick! Help me! I’m stuck!” Oh thank you, thank you! Jenn thought, Cass was here and had apparently just gotten stuck in something, maybe this ever-thickening mud, or an animal trap of some kind; this would all be over soon.
“Hang on Cass, I’m coming for you!” Jenn yelled as she raced toward the flicker of light.
As she got closer, the flicker turned into a more stable, and much larger, image of silver. The silver was reflecting the last bit of light through the trees, but appeared to be almost illuminated by some inexplicable internal light source itself.
As she got closer still, she noticed that the silver formed into a very specific shape. A large, six foot, standing oval mirror.
What was a mirror doing all the way out here? She wondered.
As she approached closer, she saw that there was no dust or dirt or anything on the mirror, it looked like it had been pristine clean, and there were ornate designs all around the edges depicting things that looked either like vines or archaic writing.
“Jenn! Help me!” She heard Cassie’s voice… coming from… the mirror?
Jenn looked into the reflection. For a moment, she thought she was seeing her own. The same brown hair. Those same brown eyes. Until her reflection spoke.
“Jenn! I’m stuck!”
It took Jenn a moment to process what Cassie was saying…. How was it even possible…
“In there?” Jenn asked… “you’re.. you’re stuck… in there?”
“Yes” Cass snapped, “what does it look like??! I’m sorry, I know I messed up, can you please help me out and I promise I’ll always listen to what you say from now on!”
“But… how?” Jenn asked, “How did you get stuck in there Cass??”
“I don’t know Jenn! One second I was walking around the forest, like you, and the next I was looking at the forest from the other side of this mirror! Does it matter? I just want out!”
“Can you just? Walk back through?” Jenn asked.
“Yea, sure, like I haven’t already tried that” Cass said rolling her eyes, before walking to the edge of the mirror and placing her hand on it. “It won’t go through” Cass said.
Jenn held her hand up to Cassie’s, and watched the mirror ripple like it was made of water,
“Cass! Something’s happening on my side! It’s… it’s moving! What do I do??”
“Can you try to pull me out?” she asked, “grab my wrist!”
“What if I get stuck too though?” Jenn stammered, “can I just go back and get help?”
“And leave me here all alone?!” Cass whimpered, “and how would you even find your way back to the mirror, Jenn! You won’t be able to find me again! Please just grab my wrist and pull me toward you! It won’t hurt! We have to try something!”
“I’m just… a little weirded out..” Jenn said quietly, pulling back her hand from the mirror with a wince like she had touched a hot stove “what if it’s some kind of curse or something? You literally don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into… and I don’t want to be a part of it… and I don’t know how to get you out of it…”
“You’re weirded out?!” Cass scoffed, “I’m the one trapped in a mirror for crying out loud! I know it doesn’t make sense, but I need you to help me! There’s nothing rippling or moving on my side, so you have to do it from your side!”
Jenn took a deep breath and looked at the face in the mirror, all the fear rising up to her throat, because for once, Cassie didn’t even look like the brave one, she looked terrified.
Jenn put her palm back to the surface of the mirror, the ripples swam from underneath her fingers. She applied pressure, and was shocked to see that her fingers went through the barrier easily like it was made of water and not glass. She wrapped her fingers around Cassie’s wrist, and was just about to yank them both back hard, when, instead, Cassie grabbed Jenn’s hand with her other arm and pulled. Jenn fell on top of the floor, next to Cassie, with a harsh thud,
“What the hell did you do that for??!” Jenn yelled, “Now we are both trapped in here!”
Cassie stood over Jenny, looking down with a cold stare,
“No, my dear, only you are” and with that, Cassie placed one foot, then one leg out of the mirror, and stepped effortlessly into the other side.
Her head still ringing from the fall, Jenn struggled to stand on unsteady legs. She ran to the mirror’s edge and placed both hands on it, pushing with all her might, but this time the pressure didn’t give, and the mirror wasn’t water, but solid glass. She banged on the edge between worlds with both fists, until her fingers turned purple with bruises. She screamed at her sister on the other side, bargained, pleaded,
“Cassie! Please! Whatever kind of sick joke you think this is, it’s not funny! Please help me out of here! I want to go home! Now!”
Tears started to fall down Jenn’s face, as she watched her sister shake her head “no” and turn her back toward her before walking off.
She thought she could hear a dog barking somewhere in the distance, but over the sound of her own desperate screaming she wasn’t sure.
She sat down at the table, smelling fresh-baked rolls hot from the oven, green beans steaming next to the ham.
“Can you pass the butter please, mom?” she asked.
“Sure thing, honey” Sandra said as she handed her daughter the tray, “and what all did you do today on your thanksgiving break from school? Hopefully enjoying the holiday?”
“Oh yes, very much so” she replied, “me and Max played all day, but it feels good to finally be home.”
“Yes, well I’m just glad you both made it in before the rain hit” her father said from across the table, “now let us say grace: Dear Lord, we thank You for this day You have made and this meal we have prepared. We pray that it nourishes our bodies, and gives us the strength to keep us safe from evil. We thank you for our family, for Max, Sandra, myself, and our dearly beloved daughter Jenn.”
Max growled from underneath the table. A low, defiant rumbling.
“Amen” they all said in unison.
The sound of forks scraping the plate and chewing ensued.
“Hey mom?” she asked,
“Yes Jenn?” Sandra replied,
“I was just wondering… if you and dad had given any more thought to ya know, maybe adding any more siblings to the family table?”
Sandra laughed, “Oh honey, you know that you have always been, and will always be an only child right??! But surely Max counts as family by now, too huh Jenny?! So cut your poor old mother some slack!”
She smiled. It was going to take some time getting used to that name—Jenny. But what’s in a name? They can be changed as easily as the leaves change colors.
Max started to bark. Louder and louder. Persistent. Aiming them all at the intruder before him.
“Silly girl, I don’t know what’s gotten into her today!” Sandra said, “Max! Stop! Shoo, that’s Jenn, shoo! You can’t have her food!”
The barking didn’t stop.
“Can you please put that dog out, Sandra!” Gerald said exasperated, “I’m trying to enjoy my meal!”
Sandra grabbed the dog by the collar, and let Maxine spend the rest of the night howling in the rain.