Mirrors and Shadows

I have a dream. I dream that someday, someone will actually comment on something I post here.

Meanwhile, this is the opening of a story intended to be the first volume of a contemporary fantasy trilogy.

Alicia awoke coughing.

She was sitting up in bed, coughing uncontrollably, before she opened her eyes and saw the smoke. It was everywhere, surrounding her; her room beyond the bed was a vague blur. Her eyes widened, and she called, “Mom!”

She didn’t wait for an answer; she rolled out of bed and stooped down, trying to stay below the smoke, the way they had taught in safety class back in grade school. She pulled open a bureau drawer and grabbed a pair of panties, wriggled into them, then hesitated, trying to decide what else to grab. Those long-ago lectures had said that the first priority was to get out, get out of the house before the heat and smoke could overcome you. Don’t stop for anything – get outdoors!

But she really didn’t want to wind up standing on the lawn in nothing but black lace panties and an old Nirvana T-shirt.

She coughed again, and looked around, trying to see where the smoke was coming from, and where her best escape route might be. She didn’t see any flame, but the room was filled with smoke, rolling clouds of blue, gray, and black that seemed to be expanding downward, almost as if it was following her toward the floor. Even down on one knee as she was, she wasn’t below those billows. She couldn’t see the ceiling at all; the window was merely a paler patch of smoke.

But… Nirvana and black panties?

She didn’t see any flame, and she didn’t feel any heat. She knelt in front of the bureau and rummaged through the drawers, struggling not to cough as the smoke swirled around her.

If she was going to die of smoke inhalation, she told herself, she hoped it wouldn’t happen until after she got some clothes on.

Jeans! An old pair of jeans – those would do. She pulled them on, then groped for the door. At the last second she remembered the old instructions and put a hand to the wood. It felt cool.

Where was the smoke coming from, then? She looked around again, squinting; her eyes were starting to tear up, but the clouds didn’t seem quite as dense.
The smoke seemed thickest right above her bed – was the mattress on fire? But it hadn’t felt warm when she first woke up, or at least no warmer than normal.

It didn’t make any sense, but she was starting to feel dizzy, and knew she had already waited too long. She flung open the door and plunged out into the hallway.

Smoke billowed out behind her, filling the corridor around her.

Mom!” she yelled again.

“What?” came her mother’s voice, from somewhere in the direction of the stairs. She sounded annoyed.

“Fire!” Alicia called, before being overcome by a fresh bout of coughing.

“What?” The tone was very different this time, and the word was followed by the sound of rapid footsteps as Alicia’s mother ran up the stairs. “Oh, my God! Are you all right?”

“Call the fire…!” Alicia managed, before coughing cut her off again.

“Get out of there, Ali!”

Alicia was dazed and dizzy, but that penetrated her mental haze. She looked back over her shoulder at the smoke rolling out of her bedroom, then got to her feet and ran, stooped over, for the stairs.

She was already out on the lawn, straightening up and trying to get her coughing under control, when her mother finally managed to call 911. Smoke of various colors was pouring from the eaves and upstairs windows, blending into the surprisingly dense morning fog, but Alicia still saw no flame anywhere, and as she watched the smoke seemed to lessen.

2 thoughts on “Mirrors and Shadows

  1. Of the openings you’ve posted recently, this one seems the most leading-somewhere-especially-interesting. The runner-up is “The Innkeeper’s Daughter” (why, I don’t care to guess).

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