Chapter 28: Mirror
He continued looking at himself in the mirror for a long time. It wasn’t himself and yet it was himself, not the self he had gotten used to in the smudged glass reflection of the framed diploma in the doctor’s office at the asylum, but a younger version of himself, a version he vaguely remembered from some photographs his wife had taken of him with one of their small children sitting on a piano bench beside him. He took stock of himself. The image leaning on the cabinet bureau looking at him from the other side of the glass blurred as he remembered running headlong into the night. He couldn’t have run like that even if his life depended on it. He was a shuffler, a shuffler of steps on a stained linoleum floor, and yet he ran. He did run. What was happening? He searched for and found the black and blue bruise where he bashed his head good and hard against the door of the cabin last night. What was happening?
He heard a faint knock on the door. He walked over to the window, moved the curtain to the side in an attempt to see who was knocking at the door, but it was futile. He opened the door and saw her standing there before his unbelieving eyes.
“Ellen!” he half-whispered, half-barked.
“Please,” she said in Standard. “I don’t understand the local tongue. Can you speak Standard?”
“Well, yes. I suppose I could,” he answered in Standard, “but why? Since when have we ever had trouble communicating?”
“Have we met before?” she asked.
“Ellen, it’s me!” he said.
Chapter 29: The Bridge
Exim slipped in between the two massive doors of the bridge-gate before they closed heavily. The curved walls seemed to throb and rings of light flashed at irregular intervals and moved away lighting up different sections of the bridge until the ring became a small point on some assumed distant horizon. He looked in the opposite direction and saw small points on another horizon become larger and larger rings until they throbbed past him toward the other horizon. He had no idea which direction to take, but decided to follow the movements of the rings of light, as good a plan as any available to him. He trudged through the foamy slush.
Suddenly a huge rock hurtled by over his head. Exim hit the floor just as three more rocks whizzed past him. Then hundreds were flying all around him. He shoved his head deeper into the slush. He covered his head with his hands and arms. Just as suddenly the rocks stopped and there was only the throbbing of the rings. He raised his head and looked around him. The rocks seemed to have shot past him like meteors in an uninterrupted trajectory. There were no rocky debris, damaged walls, or any other evidence that they had come his way and nearly killed him. He stood up on shaky knees and continued trudging along, but frequently looking backward.
Exim must have been walking for hours when he saw an open passageway branch off to his right. Some of the flashing rings veered off from the main passage to the right toward some distant point. He wished he had thought of it before, when he had started his journey just inside the massive doors he had entered. Now he was afraid of getting lost, even though he had no idea where he was or where he should be going. He reached out to the wall of the passage just beyond the open passageway to the right and made a phosphorescent mark. At least he would know if his path circled around.
He continued walking.
Exim did not know how much time had passed or whether time had passed at all. He definitely knew that space had passed, since he walked it with his legs, now heavy with tiredness, but how does one walk time?
He passed an open passageway to his left and made a mark on the wall just beyond it as he continued to move in the direction that he thought was more-or-less forward. The foam came up to his waist now so that he could no longer see the motion of his legs walking. He moved forward, trusting that his legs were moving under his torso, but he could not be certain of it.
Ahead of him was a ring of light that seemed to stand still in its throbbing. Exim walked towards it and it appeared to grow larger.
When he was only a few meters from it Exim could feel its vibrations in his body. The vibrations seemed to tighten into a buzzing line skewering every cell in his body. As he passed through the ring, Exim was not and suddenly a flashing ring throbbed down the passageway towards a distant point on the horizon.