The Curse of Time: Chapter 14
In Which Mirrors have Ratings
Back at the lab, Cameron took them into a dark room with a projector. Raven almost asked why he had a projector when he had enough money to buy all the widescreen TVs in the world, but she held her tongue. Instead she watched quietly as he put up an image of the riddle with certain passages highlighted that he had created on the ride over. Up next to it he put an enlarged image of himself in a mirror. Not an ordinary mirror either.
Slowly, he began to flip through hundreds of images of reality mirrors as he explained that there were different levels of alternate realities. Each level was given based on how close a match it was to our world and were arranged by numbers 1 through 10 (1 being the furthest from our reality). Apparently, no clues had ever been recorded or hinted at in any realities above a 2, so Cameron, Emilia, and Aaron had long since tracked down all the level 1 and 2 mirrors that they could find and record them for future reference.
They all began to scan the pictures intensely for any connection to the riddle. They found several close matches, such as the world in which everything moved about 10x faster than in our world, which they connected to the command to hurry. They also found several worlds that looked like they were at the end of the world, although they were probably just at the edge of a cliff or looking straight up or something. However, the ever elusive part of the riddle was the section about fire; or, to be more specific, the ground burning up beneath their feet.
They found a few realities in which the world they looked at was either burning in a forest fire or a volcano, or something along those lines. They wrote down the locations of these just in case, but they doubted that any of these were the world they were looking for seeing as a forest fire could hardly have been predicted thousands of years before and it couldn’t rage forever. The volcano made a bit more sense, seeing as it would be slightly more predictable and long lasting. Still, it wasn’t permanent and it certainly wasn’t explorable terrain.
They finally finished with sighs, having thought that they were really on to something, and went over their notes. The closest match to the riddle was the world with the volcano, but it didn’t match the end of the world aspect since one could clearly see a forest in the distance of that reality. Everyone was about ready to give up for the day and head back to sleep, when Raven suddenly remembered.
She was thinking about the drop out affect when she suddenly remembered a bit of her dream. All she really remembered was a glimpse of the man and his eyes. She knew she had seen them before that dream and she was lazily trying to trace it back to when she met him. Then she remembered the day at school, and how she had seen him there. Satisfied, she leaned her head against the table as everyone packed up. Then she was thinking about how weird that day was and how there was a catastrophe that wasn’t a catastrophe and stuff. This led her to remember…
“The burning street!”
“What?” Everyone turned to look at her.
“The burning street was the first time I went into an alternate reality. I didn’t know it at the time which was why I didn’t remember it at first.”
“That’s nice,” Aaron was uninterested, “I’m glad you got your memory back.”
“No, you don’t understand!” Raven was excited now, “This reality that I fell into- literally, by the way- was a world of fire. Everything was on fire, but only the ground was truly burning. Also, there was a store.”
“Always thinking about shopping.”
“The store was called The End of the World!”
“Okay,” Emilia was catching on, “There’s a reality out there in which everything is on fire, but fireproof, and there’s a store there called the End of the World. That matches everything but the part about hurrying!”
“I suppose,” Cameron was still skeptical, “The part about haste could have been meant literally.”
“Wait,” Cameron hesitated, “I’d love for this to be true, because it would be a big step, but we have every level 1 or 2 reality recorded stored in this computer. We would have seen it.”
“Well, you said the necklace would be able to get us into more realities than you could get on your own. Maybe that’s why you’ve never found it?”
“Whatever the reason,” Kaya pushed them towards the door, “let’s get going.”
Raven didn’t remember exactly where the mirror was, so she retraced her steps in hopes of stumbling upon it. They must have looked quite silly, walking in a muddled group up and down the street, staring intensely at the air in front of them, and all dressed in strange suits. Even Emilia had a suit on, although hers was slightly different from the others’. Instead of the full suit with the jacket over top, her outfit was in two pieces with black jeans and a purple shirt. Over top of the shirt she wore a black jacket that was similar to the others’ jackets, but formed more loosely and made out of leather.
Finally, Raven held up her hand to stop them all and they peered deeply in front of them, searching for the mirror but not seeing anything. Raven indicated that that she saw it, but the others only saw empty space despite their searching. Raven stuck her hand out and the others watched in wonder as it disappeared slowly into thin air.
Looking back at the others, Raven followed her hand and disappeared completely. Making sure they each had rose petals in their pockets, with extras for the trip back, Cameron, Aaron, Kaya, and Emilia followed her into the mirror realm, despite not being able to see where they were going. When the drop out was over, they all found themselves kneeling in a raging fire. Although they had been prepared for this, jumping blind into another world and landing, dazed and disoriented, in a pool of flames was not something you could just sit calmly and take- no matter how prepared.
Standing up, they all tried hard to pretend like they were calm and looked around; just as Raven had said, straight in front of them stood The End of the World. Shakily walking through flames, the group stepped through the doors and entered The End of the World. And… one more time for effect: they entered The End of the World.
Inside the store they found a collection of old typewriters and papers that lined the walls and shelves. Behind the counter stood a tall, thin, old man with a look of death on his face. It would have been completely startling to them, had he not been standing directly in the center of a pillar of flames. It actually kind of fit. They looked around, starting to give up hope of finding the clue, when they saw a stack of paper stamped with a symbol that resembled the necklace. It could have been a coincidence, or it could not.
Tucked away in the only flame-free corner of the room was the slightly yellowed stack of paper, which the man behind the counter immediately lunged to protect. Only, he thought he was protecting them.
“No!” His arms flailed as he placed himself between them and the paper, “You can’t take that paper! It’s not good, it burns!”
They looked at each other, and then explained to the man that they understood him, but they wanted to buy it anyways. When they asked how much it would cost for the whole stack, the man looked defeated and mumbled something incomprehensible beneath his breath. They eventually understood what he said, or thought they did. Pulling $30 out of his jacket pocket, Aaron pushed the money towards the man, but he looked at it in confusion before pushing it back. They asked him to repeat the price, and they again gave him the money, and he again pushed it back. Frustrated, Emilia asked what it would cost to buy one piece of paper. The man brightened a bit and named his price. Slightly flustered, Emilia dug $0.05 out of her pocket and slid it to the man. This time her grinned and passed them their purchase, quickly pocketing the coin.
“So,” Raven closely examined the paper, afraid to step into the flames with it, “what are we supposed to do with this?”
“Um…” Cameron rubbed his temple, “Maybe there’s a hidden message on it?”
No one knew, and everyone was a bit afraid to test it out in the middle of the flame-filled street. Carefully, they protected the paper and made their way back to the mirror. Stepping through, they went back to Raven’s house and sat down to figure the next part of the clue out. Mr. and Mrs. Fader weren’t there anymore, but they had left the evidence of their presence in the pristinely clean house.
Once again, the gang grouped around a table, throwing out ideas and suggestions, but never getting anywhere. Eventually, they decided to give up for the night and all went to their homes to get some rest. Aaron stayed at Raven’s house and settled in on her spare bed. He slept for 3 whole hours before his mind woke him up again.
Aaron had this vague tingling sensation that they had missed something important, and that the poem might still hold the key to this next clue. Going downstairs, he sat down at the table and reached blindly for a piece of scrap paper. Pulling out a pencil, he quickly wrote down the riddle, drawing on his photographic memory to help him. Then he just sat there, staring at the words, hoping something would jump out at him.
Suddenly, it struck him what they were missing. You couldn’t take the clue with you. That was simply the way everything worked, the clues could not leave their hiding place. So how was it that they had managed to take this paper home with them? Unless it wasn’t really the clue.
Aaron stood up and turned on the light so he could find his phone to call Cameron. When the light started bouncing off the walls it seemed to work in a terrible slow motion as it flickered on closer and closer to the table. And then it hit the paper with the poem on it. Aaron had grabbed the paper/clue in the dark and used it to write the poem on. This was probably not good. Or maybe it was fine. If Aaron was right, it would probably be okay. Still, he felt stupid for having used their clue as scrap paper. Sighing, he woke Cameron up and the plotted and planned until morning when they woke up the girls and headed out to finish their adventure.