The line flows on for miles like some sort of an absurd snake trying to fight its way into the heart of the city. The hundreds, thousands, millions of people that make up every scale and bone of the reptile all are here for self-discovery, for something greater than religion, for something to help them finally understand where they came from. At the head of the viper sits a mirror, not unlike in shape and size as one you may find in an old castle’s attic propped up under a red curtain, still glinting with the desire to be looked into.
But this isn’t an ordinary, benign mirror. This mirror holds nothing but pasts in its depths, not the fresh-faced present you would see in any other mirror. For every person who pays this mirror a visit, it repays them with their past. It repays them with an answer to our most fundamental question: where did we come from?
This mirror shows you everything about your past lives, a journey through space and time requiring nothing more than a willing watcher. But at the end of the journey, something amazing happens. Something that we don’t understand, something that has left every person who has looked into the mirror permanently convulsing on the wooden floor of the mirror’s temporary housing. These people are put down, then, exterminated like so many snake hatchlings after society has no use for them anymore.
We know this. Each person in front of and behind me understands the nauseating responsibility we have to our futures. But the argument we propose to the reporters who ask us why we are heading to almost certain death is the same: don’t we have a responsibility to our past as well?
This mirror is our only hope to finally understand ourselves, to reach within us and be able to free that yearning that nags us late at night, asking what we were. The mirror is our savior and our destroyer, showing us the answers but taking away the life in which we could use them.
And I’ve come here to destroy it.
In front of me, inside an alleyway that will bring me just a little closer to my final destination, there’s some sort of commotion. I hear a young couple’s anger exploding into fireworks and then hot red embers that blanket our segment of the line.
“You’re just here to show off to your ex that you’re actually not too scared to take a risk!”
“Really! And whose idea was it to come here in the first place?”
“I’m here to see my past family I know I had since I can’t stand the one I have now! You should know that!”
The bickering goes on for a while, with the rest of the segment giving wary glances to each other, a subtle disapproving head shake once in a while. We all want different things from our past, but nobody knows whether they’ll get it or not. I estimate the rowdy couple will be gone from the line in the next hour, and I’m proven right when one of them walks off and the other balefully follows. Everyone behind them slowly shuffles forward two steps in an intricate dance which makes sure every dancer is replaceable. The world may have been thrown into disarray by the discovery of this mirror at the bottom of the Meditteranean, but at the center of the chaos there shuffles an orderly, organized line which moves thousands of people forward every time someone’s determination breaks.
When it was found at the bottom of the sea by unwitting Greek fishermen, I would bet they thought they had found the most wondrous and beautiful object to hold man’s eye since fire. They hauled it into their boat from the deep azure water with the slick mud still covering its striking face, thinking they had made their fortune with this unscratched, pristine artifact. But when one of the men started to clean it on their way back home, he collapsed into the hull of the tiny black skiff as soon as he got a glimpse of his reflection, gasping and clawing into the air like the fish he had just been catching.
I can see the other men jumping up and trying to see what was wrong with their friend just like I can see all of them eventually finding themselves in the mirror and then on the ground. The police found the skiff a few days later with everyone on board dead. Their official cause of death was listed as “starvation,” but soon rumors were being whispered about the large mirror on board that had been ripping apart people’s sanity. Every person who saw it had maybe two or three seconds before they fell to the ground and never got up, shaking and in the throes of something much bigger than themselves.
Hundreds and then thousands and then millions of people flocked to see it, like moths to a flame. With their last words, “stars,” “beauty,” “love,” “past,” the rest of the world started to understand what these people had given their lives for. In the beginning, there was only scorn and contempt for these people who had dared to understand their pasts. But as years went on, people softened up to the idea of the mirror. Who wouldn’t want to experience their own past life without putting in any of the work? The past is worth the future, they say, still shuffling along in lines that slither through the alleyways and streets of the mirror’s resting place.
Facing pressure from all sides regarding the problem of where to put these newly incapacitated people, world governments decided that euthanasia was a better fate than letting these people starve on their backs, convulsing on the ground until their bodies finally ran out of energy and pushed them violently and permanently into the past. At the front of the line, they have a system put in place: the hopeless devotee walks into the room, probably trembling in anticipation or fear, and sees the mirror. They gape for a second, eyes flashing with hundreds of colors and what must be all the beauty in this world and the previous one and perhaps the next one as well. And then, after their moment of euphoria, they always fall, like a pebble sinking firmly down to it’s resting spot in the river of time. But unlike the pebble, they don’t stay still until the white-gloved attendants rush forward and pump their arms full of the deadly cocktail they say causes only a pinch of pain. With their heat-detecting glasses never allowing them to see the mirror, the only thing that they must see in that room is the red outline of the person resigning to eternity in front of them.
Is it worth it? I hope I never know.
I’ve almost reached the front of the line now. It’s been timeless hours since I stepped into the line, masquerading as just another devotee willing to prove their worth. As we got closer and closer to the mirror, closer and closer to the ninth circle of Hell, people started leaving our somber line. Whether it was from weakness of the heart or mind or a waver in their belief that their past should be worth more than their future, all these people slipped from the line like pit vipers slinking away, eyes downcast and keenly sensing the dangerous atmosphere around them.
As I reach the front gate of the building in which the mirror is kept, four people in front of me duck out of the line. As I reach the front door, the last person from my segment decides she doesn’t want to risk it. I smile inwardly. I would call them cowards if I really were going inside to die.
While I’m waiting for the door to slide open with its clinical efficiency, I take a look behind me. Miles and miles of people, waiting to be saved from their future by a past they’ve already lived through. I look up and wonder which angry God created this mirror to make sure we all are repaid for our sins. Have we done that badly?
As if in reply, a crow shrieks above me. I look up and squint. I had forgotten the sun had existed during my time in the line, under the awnings and in the alleyways of this dark city. For a second, I want to run away from this dreadful black building with its colorful mirror, I want to run upwards towards what seems to be the only color in this space and time. Then the second passes, and I know why I am here again.
We must save them by taking their pasts from them, permanently. Is that fair?
Too late. The door is sliding open behind me. Enter, please.
As I walk through the sliding door, it feels like a gust of cold air has hit me. I shiver involuntarily. In front of me is a long corridor lined with grey metal doors which seems to stretch on forever. So I walk. This is not the time to give up. Even as I walk, the corridor doesn’t seem to get any shorter, as if even the ground itself were changing itself to ensure that I could live a second, a minute, an hour longer. After walking through years of grey walls, I finally see what seems like the only color in the world at the end of the corridor.
I’m running. I can’t tell if the yellow is rushing at me or if I’m rushing at it, but suddenly in a large room, staring straight ahead.
On my left, I can feel a presence. It feels… alive. I close my eyes as I whirl to my left with all the decisiveness of a snake ready to attack, pulling a pebble out of my hands as I do. I can hear a surprised yell from a white-gloved guard, who was probably waiting for me behind what must be a false wall to capitulate to this evil mirror.
We hear the pebble strike the center of the glass with a resounding CRACK and I know my job is done. With my eyes still closed, the sound of the glass developing hairline fractures up and down its frame are magnified tenfold.
The guards in white are shrieking over the wonderous shattering, creating a cacophony of noises that even the Devil would shudder at. But I laugh.
After the shattering and the shrieking stops, I open my eyes slowly, wanting to see the world from a new perspective, a perspective not tainted by the past.
There are mirror fragments all over the floor.
Before the realization of what I did hits me, I admire the beauty of this mirror’s shape. Sharper than fangs on the edges where it separated from the full mirror, this shard has its own unique and terrible beauty to it.
And then it starts.
I have all the colors in my eyes.
I see the stardust that collided to make my ancestors and me, breaking apart in brilliant displays of every color on this universe’s palette.
I see the people who came before me, who loved and were loved.
I see myself, as a child, playing with the snakes in the garden.
I see a pebble being hurtled at my reflection in a large, grey mirror.
I have all the colors in my eyes.
I see all of the universe in a neverending sequence.
And then I fall.
And nothing more.