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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
This one took me ages to write, and not just because it's the longest one I've written. There are definitely parts of it that I really like but I would like some comments on it as a whole. It's strange, perhaps philosophical, perhaps indulgent. Read and hopefully enjoy.

Sorry about the formatting of the text, there's supposed to be a few spaces at the start of each paragraph but it seems they disappeared. And the title is "Images", but for I wasn't allowed to post it with that title.

Submitted: April 04, 2008

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Submitted: April 04, 2008

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Expressionless void wrought in the form of a face, its surface smooth, eyes staring with hollow indifference. That so much could be contained within such a simple creation: giddying heights, abysmal lows, dreary flats. It was all there, rushing to meet the senses with the slightest touch, a stampede of emotional pandemonium almost too much to bear. Yet it was her duty; a task lifelong and all consuming.
Who she was had never mattered, neither could she say when it had begun, when she had first donned the mask and stepped onto the stage. All that mattered was the performance; curtains drawn aside to reveal her audience. Sometimes they were many, sometimes the crowd held a new face, but she was always there, Alice.
The show had always been for Alice, the others were extras, a retinue of props to make her stand out all the more. It had never been in any other way, her focus on Alice was complete, every move registered, every breath savoured.
It was a strangely symbiotic relationship they had. Without Alice she would not be, of that she was certain. At the same time Alice often seemed to take comfort in her performance, speaking as though to herself and yet the words would echo silently on the stage, mimicked by the mask's rigid façade to add to the solitary act she played behind it.
Solitary, yet never lonely, not as long as Alice was there to watch, even though she often seemed to be in a different world, oblivious to the enactment of her life. In many ways they were one, Alice her and she Alice, something she thought about from time to time, considering what it would be like to be someone, to have a true existence, a name. What would her name be? Would hers too be Alice? Or maybe something else entirely: Linda, Marie, Emma, Anna, Carol? She had always liked Eve, there was something about the drawn out sound of it, an almost sighing sensation of longing that appealed to her.
Eve it would be then. There was tangible excitement present as the curtains billowed to the sides like great big crimson waves the first night after she had adopted her new name, her stage name; “Eve, starring as Alice”, the headlines would read, “The performance of a lifetime”, “An unprecedented show of the highest order”, the reviews would say. Oh, Alice would be so proud of her.
A silent crescendo rising, vibrating through air filled with anticipation, thick and palpable; eyes meeting over the void separating stage and expectant onlookers; Alice and Eve. Total devotion, to relinquish one's self so completely that there is nothing but the faintest glimmer left to remind you of who you were. It came so easily to Eve.
Her passion was stronger than it had ever been, her whole being poured into every move executed, every emotion displayed, the mask like glowing embers on her face, searing tender skin unbearably. Yet something lacked, something elusive, just out of reach, something that should have been there. Acknowledgement, that quiet understanding taken for granted, the foundation of their relationship—weaker? No, it couldn't be, not tonight, not with the full force of the spotlights illuminating her début performance.
A fleeting glance, once an exclamation of affection—what was that? Irritation? Annoyance? Eyes looking in the distance, at her—through her? A strange feeling, unfamiliar, frightening: lonely.
Eve felt herself fumbling in the dark, terror gripping her heart, squeezing until it was impossible to breathe. How? Why now, when she had taken a name solely for her, had wanted her to notice, to see her sacrifice and love.
Blurred by the wet haze of unshed tears, the audience dispersed from her vision, dreamlike and ghostly in their unordered mingling with each other. One by one; as befit the occasion there had been more than usual but they were all taking their leave. Oh please, not Alice too, not like this, if only there was something, a sign, hope.
No, her back turned, leaving like she always did, but why did it feel so wrong this time? Lights snuffed out, curtains drawn, a relentless barricade. Drifting in the silent oblivion, Eve removed the mask, so heavy, turning it over, a felled tear tracing its contours. The mask her only friend, she put forth to it a question she had never considered before: who am I?
Silver strings cut sharply through nothingness, an endless myriad of connections between beginnings and ends, dreams and realities, pasts and futures, some parallel, most seemingly random as they raced toward their destination (destiny?), a rare few crossing paths, touching, glowing. One thing they all had in common: they had always been there, watched over by the Guardian since Time could remember (and Time has a very long memory). The Guardian knew them all, every possibility that sprang from them, every ripple created in history by them. Caring for them, nurturing them; he gave gladly from himself to see them grow and thrive—how could he not? It was his duty, the only thing known to him. What he saw now, however, troubled him.
“This cannot be right”, he said, not so much speaking as forming the idea of words being heard, “How can this be? This one has no name, is not supposed to have a name, yet now...no, it cannot be so, can it?” His puzzlement was strange to see, or rather perceive, but Time gave no answer to his question, it never did, just continued to be.
“I must look into this more closely, yes, very closely”, he said with a voice embodying age and the patience that comes with it. His senses touched the delicate, shimmering strand that had caused such a stir, and softly he whispered: “Eve”
Time moved on.
A shiver ran through Alice and she realized she was still holding the book, a dog-eared old thing picked at random from one of the many dusty shelves. She looked at the title, Dream interpretation: A modern approach, well, that was kind of fitting, seeing how this might turn out to be a dream and any moment now she would wake up, late for work as usual. There always was a dreamy quality about old book stores; their thick, aged smell, used books littering every vacant spot, stacked onto each other in a peculiar system only legible to the wiry caretaker of them, his small glasses always on the verge of falling from their precarious place at the tip of a sharp nose. The nose pointing up at Alice (for it belonged to a small man) would have been a fair representative for similar noses.
“So what happened then?”, asked Alice, regaining her senses enough to pose the question.
“Happened when?”, the man blinked at her, small bird's eyes behind the old spectacles, and absently took the book from her hands in order to return it to its place, obviously deciding that she wasn't going to buy it.
“With Eve, after she asked the mask who she was? You just told me about it”, she couldn't quite contain the irritation she felt. Why had he told her that odd story, it didn't even make any sense, wasn't even a proper story. Probably just a bit eccentric from reading too many books and inhaling all this old dust every day, she thought.
“Ah, you'll have to ask her about that, now won't you?”, he chuckled, a creaky sort of sound coming from his dry throat. “And a fine story it must be, a fine story indeed.” He turned away from the shelve and gave her a sidelong glance that seemed to suggest they now shared a deep secret, something intimate they could smile about behind others' backs.
“It's your story, you should know how it ends. You can't just leave it like that, you just have the beginning of a story, the basis for a plot. Well, a plot of sorts, can't really say I see much point to it.”, why was she even arguing this? She knew why, she'd been feeling annoyed for the past few days without any reason (other than the obvious), and this was her chance to vent some steam.
“My story?”, he said as he turned to face her fully, honest surprise displayed on his wrinkled exterior. “Why would you think it's my story, it doesn't mention me, does it? Oh, I think you've misunderstood entirely.”, he started drifting off toward his counter, his little safe haven in this cave of mouldy knowledge—a fort, Alice felt, from which he issued forth his minions to plant seeds of bafflement in weary travellers such as herself.
“Are you implying that this 'Eve', this character, is real in some sense? No, don't answer that, silly question.”, she was starting to feel that this discussion could prove a bit too philosophical for a Tuesday afternoon. However, you don't grow up among scholars and spend much of your childhood fighting your way through heavy tomes in pursuit of that elusive tidbit of information your father lured you in with, the treasure promised at the end of political struggles, long names and the analysis of social structure, without developing a taste for this kind of challenge. “What I meant to say was this: the story is Eve's in the sense that it is, in fact, the story of her, a story about her. But it ends there. A story is something created, a recounting of made up events, told by someone or written down by someone.”, she met his keen eyes and for a second thought she saw amusement in them.
“What of a true story? A person being the object of a true story, wouldn't that story be hers, without reservation?”, a bony finger reached up between his eyes to give the glasses a push, resulting in them sliding farther down, something that hadn't seemed possible.
“Well, obviously, though I wouldn't agree completely with you; a true story told about someone can still be said to belong to the narrator since the person in question is still just an object in the story, true as it may be. But aren't we drifting into semantics here? I think it's safe to say that in the case of 'Eve', the story isn't a true one.”, she tried to blow a teasing strand of hair away from her face, failing as it stubbornly drifted back again. The strange little man regarded her and when he spoke it seemed almost as though he was speaking more to that strand of hair, hoping that it would see reason where she would not.
“You have strong believes, that is good, but in one thing you failed to believe in yourself.”, he sounded serious, almost reverent when he spoke. “Your first question wasn't a silly one,” his thin lips pressed together in a smile (for lack of a better word), “In fact it's the essential question; 'Is Eve real?', and a big question it is, perhaps impossible to answer.”, he began chuckling again, a rasping sound. Obviously he was having fun with her, a story to tell the old Mrs. in the evening; How was the day? Fooled another one. Really? Sure did, thought I was crazy she did. You're such a mischievous one. Got to keep 'em on their toes...and so on. Alice felt she really should be going, there were things she'd been putting off to do for too long and the oddness of this encounter wasn't helping her mood either. She tried a smile to show her new acquaintance there were no hard feelings—a white lie; a king smiling benignly at a jester's poor attempt at humerus antics. Looking for an excuse to leave, she picked up the first book she could get her hands on, paid for it and left.
The street outside was one of those quiet, forgotten ones that always littered the big cities' dark corners, hidden behind back alleys, opening up into parks and squares where someone would play the saxophone with a ragged hat in front of them, blue music giving these lost Edens a sombre air of past, simpler times where you could sleepwalk into unexpected adventures if you didn't pay attention. In a way the magic must still be alive, Alice concluded as she thought back on her own little adventure. Echoes of her footsteps bounced from building to building, joined by the distant barking of a dog, as she picked up the pace. As she passed the windows of quirky shops, absently noting the eclectic nature their owners must posses, she couldn't shake a nagging feeling in the back of her mind that she was being watched—a feeling different than the paranoia you get when imagining a stranger following you, more familiar, a friend's scolding look perhaps.
No time for silly superstition, she told herself sternly. There were errands that needed to be run, things to tend to, decisions to make, much to do. She looked at the book she'd bought: 23 soups: Like your grandma' used to make them. Great, she hated cooking.
Eve, formerly known as—nothing, a silent voice, a mere spectator of her own hollow charades; happy, she had been happy with that, or at least content, hadn't she? Her tears had dried and she felt empty. There had been tears before but those had been Alice's, never her own, there had been no reason for any. So strange, to finally find...what had she found? Nothing she'd been looking for, nothing she'd ever missed or felt without. Then what? Whatever it was it couldn't be worth this loss.
Her steps carried her swiftly along the cobbled path; Alice, confident but thoughtful, eyes drifting over her, not really registering her presence, just like so many times before and yet a world of difference. Watching, Eve noticed everything that was familiar: short, brown hair—sensible, perhaps a bit unkempt; boots a bit clumsy, but practical for long walks in rough weather; a blue coat, starting to fray along the hem (she knew Alice had been looking for a new one, unable to find one to her liking); eyes attentive but absent, a trait she'd never been able to make much sense of—intimate though her knowledge was, some things she suspected would always remain a mystery. And then there were that new, subtle shift, a slight suggestion of something: something gained, something lost—it had always been there, or never, impossible to see if you looked at it or for it, yet plain as day.
What power does a name hold? It had seemed something unobtainable, a thing for others to possess, a Rosetta stone to decipher all of life's secrets into a comprehensible hierarchy of emotions instead of the torrent, the brutal onslaught, it must otherwise be. Eve was certain she could never have coped alone with the feelings she'd shared with Alice; she was certain, Eve, a name, hers now, making her think of things that had never mattered before, making her conscious of herself as something detached from everything else, an entity in her own right.
Names were important, she'd glimpsed them from time to time in the books Alice read, the names of people who were remembered for the things they did (good or bad). Would those people have been remembered without their names? Would history have cared about a nameless man who lost an empire, or an equally anonymous man who sailed the Atlantic, would it have cared about the nameless mother giving birth to a child destined for greatness, it too without a name. Would the monks, scholars and historians still have written down accounts of their exploits, despite the fact that they would become mere listings of events, one after another, no real links between them? Eve could not imagine anyone taking interest in something like that—people had names, or they could as well be puppets, strings guiding their actions—like she had been guided. She had never had any design on being something other than what her nature made her into, but what was done was done.
A thin veil separated her stage from Alice's world, a filter muting the colours, much welcomed. Eve wanted to get away, remove the mask, throw it away; could she? Things were different now, unfamiliar, but there were still some aspects of who she was that couldn't be defied. Drawn out moments, seconds, agony, a corner, Alice turning, freedom, mask falling, air, breathing.
Normally Eve would have no desire for anything but to wait for her next performance, but just existing wasn't normal any more. Was this how people felt, all the time, this tug, this gravitation toward something else, something more? Was life (for this was her life, wasn't it?) a constant search for the meaning of life, a self-contained puzzle where the answer lay hidden in the question; turbulent, a tumbling through actions and their outcomes—did it ever stop? I'm sorry, she thought, I'm so sorry Alice, I didn't know; how could she have known? She knew now, and she would understand, she would see, she was determined to make it so.
Daunting, heavy, scarlet, ever present; a tentative touch with the tip of her fingers sent shivers through Eve's entire being—to think the curtain had always been so close and yet she had never experienced its soft texture. Break its seal or remain enclosed within forever; a deciding moment, or a fateful moment, or a destined moment, whatever it was it deserved a big word to illuminate the sheer scale of what Eve could feel in the air around her, palpable but tenuous, ready to flee if faced with her hesitation. She pushed through, in her mind entitling it: 'Her Birth'.
The two halves of the broken mask rocked gently back and forth before they stopped and were still.
The little bell jingled enthusiastically as the door swung shut behind the woman. With joints creaking and complaining, the curator of a nondescript book shop sat down behind his old and much worn desk, bony fingers pulling the string to switch on the green lamp inhabiting one of its corners. Those same fingers then proceeded to haul a pocket watch (of age greatly surpassing both the man and his desk) from a breast pocket; he sat a while, as though hypnotized, following the movements of delicately crafted hands.
“She doesn't know”, he said, seemingly addressing the pocket watch in his hand. “Interesting, though she must at least suspect. I can't see how something like this could go unnoticed, even if it's unknown.” He thought about that for a moment, “Does that make sense, noticing something that's unknown to you?”
The watch gave no answer, it never did.
“Something should probably be done about this unknown, unnoticed thing.”
From a drawer he produced a leather bound volume which he flicked open, aptly locating the desired page, which he then contemplated for some time, eyes vacant as though they were watching a great distance (they were). He then, as a magician would pull a rabbit from a hat, reached into the page and came back with a deathly thin silver blade. “I could cut the string,” he said to nothing in particular, “it would probably be prudent.” he paused and then smiled broadly, “Though prudence has never been one of my more prominent characteristics. Let us see where this takes us first, don't you agree, old friend?”
Time passed.
With much grinding of gears and sputtering of engine, the car jerked to a halt, a great old monolith on wheels—never beautiful or elegant, it had still stood by its owner loyally during its long years of servitude (if you disregarded the times it hadn't started at all or the times it had decided to break down in the middle of nowhere, or in the middle of a thunder storm for that matter). Alice felt a bit detached as she sat looking out over the steering wheel (almost nautical with its grandiose circumference); this place held so much of her life, even though it had never been a place visited particularly often; strange that the small things, the short memories, were often the sweetest and deepest, the ones cherished in the ailing years. Was that how her father had felt?
Galileo brought her out of her daydreaming, he could be very persuasive, was very persuasive, in everything he did. She labouringly made her way out of the car, fighting the seat which seemed bent on swallowing her, luring her with the smell of old leather and a promise of comfort.
Expectant eyes met hers as she opened the back door; Galileo, or Gal for short, wagged his tail happily and smiled with his eyes as dogs do. A nod was all he needed to bound from the car and race his way to the house, where he made a brief stop to mark his territory before he was off again. Many people mistook him for a girl because of the short version of his name that Alice used, something she couldn't quite understand; Gal was the most oafish brute of a springer spaniel ever to have lived, how anyone could think him to be a lady was beyond her.
The air smelled of earth and damp soil, a pleasantly pungent aroma that seemed draped around her father's former home; hers now, surreal, like owning your childhood, to have it cupped in your hand to safe keep or discard with a casual toss. She had considered to sell (of course), but it didn't feel right—it would be an invasion, she felt, of her father's wishes for the place, too much resembling a mockery for her to go through with it.
Every man needs a place to call his own, be it a castle or a shed, a favourite place on the bus he takes to work or the top of a mountain; her father's words, his explanation to why her mother wouldn't enter his study, spoken with the calm voice he always used—he'd been the only adult to treat her like an equal, listening carefully to her ideas instead of dismissing them as a child's fancy—he'd been old even then, but that was just an illusion attributed to the early greying of his hair.
No, she wouldn't sell, but she didn't think she could live here either. For one thing it would mean moving away from the life she had, but more than that she was afraid she would forget about reality if integrating for too long with this lost place, senses assimilated by an almost imposing tranquillity. It was picturesque, in every sense of the word, in the sense that you would be likely to find it printed on a postcard, in the sense that it might not be really real, but in fact an actual picture with your mind depicted inside its static, boxed in world. It was, also, quite striking; autumn was taking over, tendrils of cooler air snuffing out life, almost reluctantly, or eagerly, or just as a matter of fact. The sky was ablaze with colour, a spectrum between the green left in summer's wake and the jubilant red in celebration of autumn, shades of yellow filling the missing links between the two—a lake mirroring the tree's festive shrouds to complete the grand spectacle.
She was doing it already, losing her thoughts to the memories trapped in these woods; reminiscing, when had she become so sentimental? Galileo was her link to the present, her anchor to keep her from drifting, his enthusiastic voice as he engaged in lively conversation with a squirrel—perhaps more of a monologue—a reminder of what was, or would be.
Alice sighed and regarded the house in the midst of it all, the hub around which everything now revolved. It was a rather small two-story building where the architect must have been influenced by some old log cabin found secluded on a hilltop or the base of a mountain—still, he hadn't been able to completely forego his university education, evident by one corner room where the walls were chiefly made of glass—Alice was sure there was some technical way to term such a design, there always was. Not a pretty house, but what it lacked in appearance it compensated with location: fairy woods on all sides and back against the lake, a recluse, a hermit among dwellings—it was about to be disturbed.
A stone-set path snaked its way from the seemingly arbitrary point where it started to the front door, irregular stones, no square or cut ones, her father had been particular. There had always been something about her father and irregularities, a magnetism where the one would ardently seek out the other. The light of candles and oil lamps would flicker as her father poured over his books (why not use a proper lamp? many had asked, his answer without fail: it wouldn't be right to the stories), looking for the revealing details sprinkled throughout history, the details that didn't match, the ones recorded incorrectly or incorrectly recorded—the latter always more interesting. Alice remembered the revelations of such secrets, the triumph, the giddiness that would only elicit an indifferent 'That's nice, my dear' from her mother, while earning her father the undivided attention of his adventure-starved child.
Those were the moments she had missed the most—though she had only come to realize that later—when they would sit with heads close together, not as father and daughter, but as fellow archaeologists, explorers, making up exciting stories to fit where the old ones had proved false. There hadn't been much of that after the breakup.
Sometimes she had thought that her father hadn't even noticed or cared, but she knew it had affected him the most. Gradually there had been a sense of decline in him, a regression where he would be more prone to flee into the past he surrounded himself with for every day. Any form of contact with him became scarce, until he seemingly lived in a perpetual state of refuge from the present; the affairs of Egyptian gods, medieval warlords and mythical creatures were, had always been, of much greater interest than the insipid repetition he would otherwise have had to face like everyone else.
The room Alice found herself in contained the friends her father had relied on in his final years. Most were neatly filed on shelves about to give in from their weight, ordered in some archaic way (or perhaps the system had been a device solely used by her father), while others lay helter-skelter in a jumble of Greek heroes, baroque aristocrats, Asian conquerors, stacked in piles or tossed casually on the heavy desk, the heart. These books were alive, so much more than just printed text. It wasn't just books: parchments yellow and ready to crumble under your touch, scrolls, painstakingly copied in an impeccable hand, alive, despite age so high their breath had turned to dust; if read aloud these texts would summon the characters of which they spoke, bring to life the scenes of which they told—not a conjurer's trick, real magic.
A wet nose pressed into the palm of Alice's hand: “Hey boy,” tail wagging, “nice stick you've got there.” Low growling. “Mind if I borrow it?” Gal backed up, expectant. “No? Guess I'll just read a book instead.” He cocked his head and looked questioningly at her, losing interest when he realized she wouldn't make a move, trotting off to find other games.
The thin film of dust rose in a little cloud as Alice blew it from the cover of a crackling leather bound volume: it appeared to be an account of the Arthurian legend, written in a way that suggested the author had actually taken part in the events first hand. Alice opened it at a random page and began to read.
Bedivere rode true, surely seated atop his warhorse, the landscapes a blur as he flew past them. At his side hung a most valued artefact, entrusted in his care by no other than king Arthur himself: Excalibur, sword of legends, from the lake given and to the lake it would return, a task put to brave Bedivere.
There, he could see it, sunlight dancing in the calm water. In a dramatic gesture he reined in his horse and dismounted, unsheathing Excalibur as his feet touched the ground...
“Alice! Alice where are you? Have you seen my cane?”
Bedivere faltered, hesitated, looked behind him, turned around to the lake once more, resolute in his quest.
“There you are. What are you doing with my cane?”
Excalibur held, poised to throw, his hand stayed. Arthur loomed before him, looking down, an intimidating presence. He studied Bedivere with sharp eyes, noticed Excalibur, his eyebrows creased as he seemed to mull this over, and then it dawned on him and he asked: “Bedivere?” To which he got in answer a nod. The king smiled.
“Well, my brave knight, I see you have taken your mission seriously, as you should. But it turns out your king needs his sword for one final task before putting it to rest.”
Bedivere cast a longing glance in the direction of the lake before he reluctantly knelt before Arthur. It was his master's wish, a true knight were forever loyal to his master, his sovereign.
“Ah, I thank you, lord Bedivere.” said Arthur and leaned on Excalibur. “I have on more task for you, brave knight. Will you be so kind as to escort fair Guinevere to my chariot? We are going for a trip, I'll be with her in a minute.” He indicated with Excalibur their old car.
A trip? Alice was excited, her father had a knack for trips, interesting ones; just in time she remembered to walk in a stately manner, as befit a queen, patiently waiting by the chariot for her king.
Lady of the Lake, a role Eve had played more than once, one she had always enjoyed. Looking up at Alice through the ripples of the clear water, she had felt as though partaking instead of merely watching; perhaps attributed to the imagination of her audience, there was the perception of being seen, not as a mechanical automaton, stuck in a pendulum's trapped motion, but truly seen, as her, as Lady of the Lake.
As she now watched the memory unfold from her outside plateau, Eve embraced the scene in a way previously not possible. When confined to the limited view—once all she had known—there had been so much overlooked, so many nuances never noticed. Now, with the act of remembrance feeding off a newly discovered vista, Eve found herself backstage: here you could find strange relationships not displayed in public, stage hands working diligently despite negligent treatment from the self-absorbed (self-proclaimed) stars of the show; webs of safety wires cleverly concealed; courtships leading to affairs or tragedies, a dangerous balance keeping the calm and holding off the inevitable storm; wishful moments of quiet times alone, away from the rush. Eve drank it all in.
The child Alice had now struck a regal pose by her chariot, a perky nose held high; a face known intimately, familiarity causing the mind to wander, noticing the shrinking figure of a man often concealed, glimpses of him granted only on rare occasions.
Dad, at the moment Arthur, his name Charles, a name not used by Alice, always dad when not included in her dramas; a central presence, ignored because of the impossibility of acknowledging it. Eve followed, intrigued, elated by the freedom, the control she had found over memory—not just hers, all memory, infinitely vast—a look over the shoulder before stepping over the threshold, the wooden frames of the door strangely terrifying, the only thing other than the curtain ever to have separated her from Alice. Was it a betrayal? No, but the pain was real, but tolerable, perhaps answers could be found.
In his den the man's appearance altered, his posture slumped, shoulders became heavy, the high-backed chair behind the desk welcomed with a sigh. Here you could notice the grey in the ruffled hair—hair as though just arisen from slumber—yet sleep seemed to be something he had lacked for some time. In here he was Charles.
What was this feeling? Understanding, empathy, connection, Eve marvelled; this feeling was new, to meet (even without his knowing) someone whom you had always known about and discover he was the same as you: an actor for Alice, playing his role for her; together they had created for her a world sheltered from reality, a world in which she, unasked and unknowingly, had been the epicentre, the focal point of their illusion. I'm not alone—the single thought running through Eve's mind—though this man's sacrifice weighed heavier than hers. What she did had always been in her nature, who she was, a simple mask to put on. His mask had to be moulded, fought with to make it conform, fierce wills competing for their right to reign: the evidence was plain in his eyes.
Charles examined the open page before him with those weary eyes, persuading the arcane lore hidden within spidery characters to reveal ancient secrets lost or abandoned, watching them reincarnate as pieces clicked into place, the cipher slowly making sense. A fountain pen scribbled down notes in his own flowing handwriting, pausing, eyebrows rising in surprise at what he had just written. 'It doesn't make any sense', she could hear him mumble under his breath as he turned and looked at her—no, not at her, at the mirror behind her, perhaps doubting his own sanity, needing to see himself in the eye for reassurance. Eve felt wraith-like under his scrutiny, unnoticed though she was, afraid she'd blow away; she turned and looked herself into the mirror, only seeing Charles getting up behind the desk to grab Excalibur, donning his mask with grim determination.
Eve considered following through the doorway to where she knew Alice waited: a memory, it could be found again. Instead she found herself compelled by her absence in the mirror, an insistent urge to fill the empty air where she stood, didn't stand, turn the world inside out, return home. It wasn't possible though, not before she could see; she stepped through memories and dreams, not leaving her spot, the air observed through the mirror seemingly solidifying, the haze of a human outline visible when the light fell just so. Charles appeared again, greyer, a scraggy thorn bush of a man, glanced at her in the mirror (or did he see her, suspect her?), and with joints protesting, sat down behind the desk where history had accumulated in great drifts of paper and leather.
“Eve”, her heart hiccuped, froze in the middle of a beat, Charles took no notice, just shook his head confoundedly and stared at an empty sheet of paper before him. Slowly, with methodical care, he steered his pen over the sheet, the scratching sound echoing hollowly in Eve's distraught mind without a place to settle; an infinity passed as she watched and waited, paralysed by the impossibility of her name being spoken—a coincidence, a mirage, her mind playing tricks or tricks played on her mind, certainly not real? A letter finished, sealed with red wax, stamped with the image of an hourglass (fate wasn't without a sense for dramatic symbolism), everything dissolving, the room, the man, the seal, she read.
Eve (for I believe that must be your name),
if you're reading this it means the divide has happened; it also means that my Alice needs you. She will most likely not be aware of this (nor will you, I may guess), but I feel it's imperative that I tell you this. Ask not how I've come to know this, for indeed I would be hard pressed to find a satisfactory answer. I've consumed more knowledge than I thought possible, sacrificing much to get where I am. Ironically, I set out with no goal other than an indulgent study of self pity. However, as I read deeper in search of enlightenment, a quest which frankly shames me today, I found myself farther outside; a paradox perhaps, but one that rings true (a paradox in itself, indeed I keep finding webs inside yet other webs as my mind struggles to traverse, in a coherent manner, the ideas I've stumbled upon).
What I saw from my newly found vantage point is difficult to comprehend, and almost impossible to explain. I write to you and not to Alice because I believe you will find it easier to understand without the whole picture, for in a way you are closer to the outside than Alice, even though she will perceive you as within. You may not know your true relationship with Alice, nor do I, but perhaps 'relationship' is too inaccurate as a concept; you are Alice, both of you, as much as you are Eve, and because of this the divide could very well have dire consequences. I cannot tell you why it happened, nor why it happened to you specifically—perhaps chance, perhaps fate, though I know Alice does not believe is such nonsense—what I know is that I will not stand idly by and let you be separated, be it by some higher power or a mutation of the fundamental laws of cosmos.
I wish I could end this letter with an advise, a guidance for how you should proceed, but as you can see I'm fumbling in the dark. Had my knowledge not been flawed by conventional science I might have had an answer, but as it stands I cannot grasp the powers at work here. Just know this: you belong with Alice, for you are her, find a way back to her.
With all my love
Dr. Charles Baxter
A worn feather sailed languorously through the air, swinging this way and that before settling peacefully, a stark contrast against newly fallen snow. On top of a sundial the weathered crow ruffled its feathers again, following the man with a sideways glance.
“Too see him again, and to do it like this”, the crow crowed to himself. “The angle seems all wrong, and it's much clearer than I remember it. Over there, by the car, from the rear view mirror, that's how it was. I almost feel as though I should move over there, as though that's the true way to watch this scene, isn't that odd?”
The sundial didn't respond, it never did.
“It's a bit like a story inside a story: you follow the protagonist's quest and then all of a sudden he or she meets someone, someone up until that point unknown by both the hero and reader alike; yet this someone is essential to the progression of the story, his or her actions while hidden in the background all playing a vital role to the plot's structure. Just imagine, a single decision made differently and the tale would be one character short, perhaps never to be completed because of it. This time I know the story though, am even a part of it.” If a crow could chuckle it did so now, lifted a wing and pecked carefully at slender silver strings hidden in the infinite blackness of its shroud.
“What could be written in the letter? I regret that I never got to see it—regret, a strange sentiment really, never knew myself to be prone to it. I guess I could read it now, but no, it's too personal, and since he died I'm not a part of him any more. A shame to lose him, he was perhaps one of only a handful of the true wizards left in the world, on par with the warlocks of old.”
The crow knocked absently with its beak on the sundial, cocking its head and looking farther than its, or any, eyes could see, winter turning to autumn.
“Will his daughter follow in his steps?”
Time went by.
With memories stirring, rattling uncomfortably through her mind, Alice emerged on the other side of the house, just passing through on her way somewhere else, always on the move. This time the road was blocked though, cut off by the sprawling lake looking for ways into the surrounding forest, a lake fuelled by the past as much as the numerous little brooks joining forces in its depth.
Trapped, go back or continue? Galileo made the choice for her, racing gleefully into the lake, jumping when it became difficult to keep his head surfaced. Ripples fled from his onslaught over the clear water, easily traced as they grew larger and larger, spreading wide only to have their life ebb back into the lake once more. Alice smiled faintly, wishing she could share his simple pleasures with such abandon, that she could shed this strange resentment she seemed to harbour toward herself; there was a feeling of loss, a childhood fled, something everyone experiences at one time or another, but this was more. The child Alice had never questioned herself like this, to her she had been well defined, an entity with clear boundaries, never doubted, never confusing.
“Stop over thinking things.” She told herself sternly, saying it aloud to give it weight.
Old boards creaked pleasantly as she stepped out onto the pier (perhaps an ambitious word for the structure of greying wood which supported her across the water); squeak, creak, alive underneath her. At the world's end she gazed out with wonder, looking down, down, seeing the sky above her, or what should have been above her. She felt her pulse respond to her surprise; just sky, she looked up: the same sky, she looked down again: still just sky, reflected perfectly in the water, a huge mirror pretending to be a lake. There was no Alice. Where she should have seen her reflection looking back at her there was noting, just sky. Surprise was replaced by terror—short lived—which was replaced by a strange giddiness, the sort experienced when an adolescence stumbles upon the parents' hidden adult films: forbidden, exciting, the risk of being caught causing the heart to echo through the entire body. Tentatively Alice put up her hand in front of her and waved at the nothingness, feeling it respond inside her, an absence that shouldn't be there.
Outside the stage, with memories swirling around her, Eve watched the now, the broken mask held gently in her hands.
Sadness settled over the turmoil of other emotions filling Alice to the brim, inexplicable sadness, no logic to its tight grip. She sat down, an arm supporting her weight as she stared into the cool abyss, willing a rendering of herself to form within the murky depths: failing, the only thing to disturb the tranquillity—no, not tranquillity, this was chaos where order was life—the only thing to calm the chaos was a tear, a brittle little thing quivering briefly in the water before perishing.
Eve stepped closer, staying herself before touching the curtain, a hand suspended in the air, locked in stasis between choices, strings tugging her this way and that; the puppet master found his creation unruly, his control severed, limbs unresponsive. Eve reached into a memory where she let her hand close when she found what she needed.
The heavy head of Galileo came to rest on Alice's shoulder, solid and warm, a comfort she needed. With her head against his she felt safe, the chaos content to skulk about just outside her field of view, held at bay. The image of his head floated in solitude though, unnatural. But there was a crack in the otherworldliness, a faint trace of sanity growing stronger, rising, taking the form of a face.
Curtain brushed aside, heavy but yielding, stage before her, broken mask discarded, not needed, useless. She turned, faced her audience.
Not her face, a girl about her age with similar features but decidedly someone else; Alice watched in wonder as it became clearer, a tinge of recognition despite the impossible strangeness and the fact that she was certain it was a face she had never seen before.
Act commencing, accompanied by a sense of it being the final one, Eve for the first time starring in a new Role: the role of Eve.
Lady of the Lake, that's where she knew this face from. Alice held her breath at the realization, so caught up in herself that she hardly noticed Galileo's barking as a hand emerged—not from below, but from within—a hand carrying Excalibur. For it truly was her father's old cane; she knew it was impossible, she had seen him buried with it, but there was no mistaking it, she had stolen it enough times to know it like her own hand.
Eve felt exhilarated, she felt real, she felt home. Alice's eyes met hers, just like they had always done in what seemed an eternity ago—perhaps it had been an eternity, maybe it had just gone by faster than it should have. She spoke: “I'm Eve.”
“I know.” And to Alice's surprise she realized that it was true, that she must know, that she had always known this part of herself. It was so easy to reach out and take the cane, feeling the warmth of the other woman as she did so, fingers wrapped around each other; they were whole.
One woman floating in the water, a presence not supposed to be. One woman sitting on the pier, knowing something supposed to be unknown. Yet the Guardian felt no obligation to make it not be and unknown. The strings he held in his hand were tightly entwined, spun around each other, almost indistinguishable from a single life; amidst all the possibilities and opportunities, beginnings and ends, who would notice this one abnormality?
“This won't be the end.” He looked at a third string he held in his hand: old, more grey than silver, torn in the middle. “Beginnings and ends. This is a beginning, isn't it? This is where the true story starts.” Time didn't answer, it never did.
“So be it. I will follow this story and see it through to the end.” He paused and thought for a while. “They say Time is a circle. That's not true, is it? There will always be new places to start, times and places we have never seen.”
Time never stopped.


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