Originally published in Spellbound Spring 2013.
It was all my reflection’s fault that I got grounded for two weeks.
I had woken up early on Saturday morning, and I was eager to having the whole apartment to myself while Mama and Papa were still asleep. I tiptoed past the hall mirror, thinking I could make myself some cocoa and maybe even watch cartoons before my parents started stirring.
Then a sound like tinkling glass made me spin around, heart pounding.
Lying sprawled on the ground in front of me, looking like she’d just rolled through the mirror, was . . . me.
I stared at her, mouth open.
“Who are you?!” I squeaked.
“Airam,” she said, shaking her hair. It was long in the front and ragged in the back, just like mine. It had been an accidental haircut, and it was hideous. Surely nobody else in the whole world had a haircut like me.
“Maria,” I said shakily. “Where — where did you come from?”
“There,” she said, pointing.
I swallowed, looking in the mirror. I could see the carpet, threadbare and stained, and the wall behind me, and . . .
The wall behind me?
“Where’s my reflection?!” I shrieked.
“Shhhhhh!” Airam looked alarmed. “If you wake up your parents, mine are going to wake up too. And I’ll get in humongous trouble. It’s, well, it’s sort of forbidden.”
“What is?” I hissed, barely believing I was doing what she said.
“Crossing through to reality.” She bit her lip and looked innocent. “I’ve heard rumors that it’s deadly . . . only it’s not, is it? Look! I’m here! I made it safely!”
She raised her arms in a cheering position.
“You mean . . . you’re my reflection?” I asked stupidly.
“Uh huh,” she nodded. Then she squealed. “Oh, wow! I’ve never seen that section of the hallway! Nothing’s ever reflecting it, so on my side it’s totally empty!”
She ran down the hallway to the kitchen. I ran after her, not sure what else to do. She stopped abruptly, and I stumbled and fell right through her.
“The kitchen,” she breathed. “All we ever get are pieces that are warped and blurry. You know, from pots and spoons and things. This is amazing.”
I didn’t even spare a glance at the kitchen. It was cramped and tiny and boring. What I couldn’t believe was that I had just run through somebody.
“Oh,” she gasped, pointing at the cereal boxes on top of the fridge. “Can I have some? Please, please, please? In my world, we have no sense of taste.”
With some misgivings, I fetched the stool from under the sink. Then I reached the corn flakes box, opened the top, and held it out to her.
She reached in and pulled out a translucent corn flake. She popped it in her mouth and closed her eyes, savoring it.
“Mmmm,” she said. “I can’t believe I have a real sense of taste.”
“What did you do?” I blurted out. “I’ve never seen a corn flake go see-through like that!”
“I can’t touch solid things,” she said, like it was obvious. “Here, look. See?”
She ran her hand through the refrigerator. My flesh crawled as it came out unscathed.
“What I ate was the image,” she said happily. “Somewhere in that box, there’s now an invisible corn flake.”
I looked at the box, shivering. I didn’t think I’d be eating cereal today.
“What’s next?” she asked eagerly. “Can we go outside? I’ve never seen the outside, never. I’ve heard, in this world, you guys play all sorts of games . . .”
I opened up the window to the kitchen so that she could look out. We were up by seven stories.
“I’m not allowed to go outside without permission,” I explained.
“Oh.” In the bright sunlight, she looked disappointed. That and dingy. “Then what can we play?”
I frowned, squinting. Maybe it was just my imagination, but it seemed like she was starting to fade a little bit.
“Umm . . .” I said. “Are you supposed to be looking see-through?”
She looked down at her arm, puzzled. Then she yelped.
“That’s what they mean when they say it’s deadly! I — I think I’m disappearing!”
“Then how do we get you back?” I asked urgently. “Will you just go back if you disappear here entirely?”
She gulped. “I . . . I don’t know,” she said in a small voice. “I don’t think so, though. I think I’d die for good if I disappeared here.”
Oh, great. I pounded my forehead with my fist. That was the last thing I wanted. I got teased enough at school as it was — I didn’t need to add “Ooh, she’s got no reflection, she must be a vampire” on top of it.
Airam ran back to the hallway mirror.
“It got me here, so it might get me back,” she called, stepping through it.
For a moment, there was silence. Then she returned through the wall, looking ashen.
“There was no image to step through,” she said, quavering. “Because we’re both here. I’m going to be stuck forever!”
My throat seized with panic. “What about a picture of me? Do you think that would work?”
She brightened up. “A picture,” she breathed. “An image of you, just like me . . . yes, it may!”
I ran back to my bedroom and found my old school picture buried under a pile of homework from last year. “Will this do?” I panted, holding it out to her.
She reached for it, her fingers trembling.
For a moment, things seemed hopeful. She flickered, kind of like a candle flame. Then she dropped it and started wailing.
“It’s too similar!” she bawled. “I won’t fit! I’m never going to get back home again! I’m going to die here!”
I bit my lower lip. We had to think of something.
“We need something that’s completely different,” Airam said. “But what’s the opposite of a reflection?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
“Take me back to the kitchen,” she said in despair. “At least I can eat one last thing before I disappear forever.”
I spilled half of the cereal boxes as I got them down for her, but we didn’t have time to worry about that. In the sunlight streaming from the window, she seemed more see-through then ever.
Airam gulped down handfuls of images, leaving invisible cereal strewn all over the kitchen. I sat on the stool, head in my hands, staring at the window.
What was the opposite of a reflection? Images were just light bouncing away, I knew that from science class. The opposite would absorb it.
What absorbed light? Darkness.
Where would I find a dark version of me?
I stared at the floor, which looked nearly clear, Airam was eating images so quickly. A dark shape stretched out behind me.
Wait a minute.
“Airam!” I cried. “Jump into my shadow!”
She stared at me for a moment, her mouth open. Then she dropped a handful of Cheerios and dove for the shape behind me.
I held my breath, waiting. There was a sound like slurping.
“WHY IS THERE CEREAL ALL OVER THE FLOOR?!”
I spun around, eyes wide. Mama stood there in her bathrobe, looking furious.
I gulped. “It was my reflection,” I tried to explain. “You see —”
* * *
My explanation didn’t go over too well. Even after I swept the floor, Mama kept stepping on cereal, and she didn’t believe me when I tried to explain half of them were invisible. In the end, because she was “sick of me lying,” I ended up getting grounded for two weeks.
But it was okay. Because I had a mirror in my bedroom, and that gave me time to practice backwards writing.
Are you real? I wrote, holding the sign up clearly so that my reflection could see it. It wasn’t just a dream, was it?
For a moment, there was nothing. Just my own face staring at me.
Then slowly, deliberately, Airam winked.
I smiled and wrote another sign backwards. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.
There were worse ways to spend a grounding.