Mirror of Fire
Andrea's feet alternated rapidly, conveying her farther into the gray dusk of the moors. Her lower extremities were, in consequence to the frigid ambiance of the night, stiff as she propelled herself forth, forever running away from her abusive father and stoical mother. Seeking the refuge of seclusion, she threw herself down onto the ground near a lake caked thickly with browning lily pads and fortified by a mass of gray, sickly looking trees. Her crimson cheeks were stained with salty tears brought forth by her bruised heart. She wept silently while gingerly caressing her upper arms and wrists, marked prominently by her father’s drunken rage. “Oh, help me.” She whispered desperately into the air. The stagnant water offered no reply, but the wind whistled consolingly. Andrea unhurriedly lifted her head to gaze upon her surroundings. It was winter in the moors, and consequently everything reproduced the eerie, depressing gray tint of the moon. The trees that encircled the small, dormant tarn were tall and listless. Growing from them were ancient branches bearing no foliage, presenting for the eye a fissure in which one can gaze through onto the deadened and dismal clouds that served as a gauze-like curtain to the stars. The young girl found the area hauntingly beautiful and decided to make it her own, claiming it as such in no words, only a loving touch of her hand to one of the roots of the mightiest tree. She settled herself comfortably against this tree, avoiding the numerous bruises of her back, and closed her eyes. For once in her life she forgot her dread of returning home.
Andrea awoke the next morning, sore from the previous night’s supplemental beatings for returning home from the moors later than her bedtime. Light flooded the teddy bear-themed room and Andrea forced herself out of bed and put her raven-black hair up on her head. She made her way to the door, automatically poking her head out of the doorframe to ensure that her father was at work before emerging. She stepped over the threshold of the kitchen to find her mother breastfeeding her baby sister Ophelia. “Good morning, Andi,” Her mother greeted her, avoiding at all costs looking upon her eldest daughter’s beaten face. “Are you hungry? I’ll make you some eggs…”
“No, thank you Mom. I couldn’t eat. My jaw is sore.”
Her mother winced. After a moment of uncomfortable silence she tried to explain. “I’m sorry, Baby, I couldn’t stop your father, he – he was drunk, you know? And I’ve got Ophelia to worry about too. Maybe if you just try and be a better little girl…”
Andrea sighed, knowing better than to argue. She wouldn’t win. She never does. She didn’t know how she was a naughty child; her seven-year-old mind knew of no better compliance to her father’s rules than what she practiced. If he summoned her to fulfill a wish of his such as fetching a beer or sandwich, she would do so without any form of complaint. In fact, she was the most acquiescent and obedient girl in her whole school. That is, her former school. When abuse marks began to appear, incredulous teachers began asking questions. Her parents, fearing someone would take appropriate action and call child services, began to home school Andrea. She cast her eyes down at the tiled floor. “Yes, mother,” She said inaudibly and proceeded toward the refrigerator to pour for herself a glass of chocolate milk.
For weeks Andrea’s life played out routinely, and she would always shrink in trepidation back into the comfort of the moors after a flogging. She soon named the lake surrounded by the trees the “Ring of Relief” with regards to the sentiment of liberation she received just by being there. Assuming a position of royalty and presiding over the rest of the pack was the tallest and mightiest of the trees, the one against which Andrea always nestled. It was different from the others, but agreeably so. Its bark took on a paler color, revealing its age. This tree, she found, offered her the greatest amount of consolation and it became to her the equivalent of a best friend. Every time Andrea visited this mighty tree, she would open her heart to it and unveil the secrets of her life. In a beseeching bellow, she would both cry and pray for help.
On one particular day, Andrea visited the moors, as she habitually did, and sat by the lake directly in front of the large tree with a fallen twig from one of the branches in her hand. She had never before touched the lake, or any of the lily pads covering it. The action of disturbing the stillness of the ancient water seemed so foreboding, but on this very day it occurred to the little girl that she had never before seen an ounce of the liquid due to the fact that it was blanketed by the opaqueness of the tightly collected lily pads. Andrea sat quiet and immobile for the better part of an hour, debating with herself whether or not she should break the connection of two lily pads to catch a glimpse into the ever-concealed water. Finally, after deciding that one look wouldn’t hurt, she stretched out her small hand towards one of the lily pads and, with the twig, coerced it cautiously out of the way, breaching the union of the foliage and creating a wave throughout the entire lake. Awestruck, the child leaned forward over the water and stared in. Ironically, she saw no reflection of her own beaten and bruised face, but only that of the mighty tree behind her. She cocked her head in wonder. Suddenly and without warning the reflection in the water seemed to erupt in a blow of fire, and in the water she saw the high branches of the tree combust and become swallowed by the potent mouth of orange and red flames. Andrea gawked in dismay, her black eyes highlighted in terror, and a guise of dread layered her face. Her eyes were locked onto the image of her beloved tree and she screamed, petrified. The brilliant colors of the inferno so harshly interrupted the usual dreary gray of the world in the moors that she tried with all her vigor to shut her eyes and make the horrible image before her non-existent. As this image played out before her, she heard an outlandish noise being exerted from the great tree in the wind behind her. She felt the heat furnished by the reflection in the water in a startling abundance and sweat began to roll down her forehead. All the while the lily pads drifted gradually and eagerly together again and consumed the gap, reforming their accustomed bond. Andrea stumbled backwards and stood up in fright, whipping her gaze in the direction of the mighty tree. As abruptly as it commenced, the moors became still and the gloomy tranquility of the area was again corroborated by the customary gray color absorbed by every tree and cloud, as well as the backdrop of the mountains. Andrea’s body suddenly became aware of the icy temperature and she shivered, still looking in disbelief at her tree that she would swear was just a moment ago engulfed in flames.
Andrea walked distractedly back to her home, thinking only of the previous occurrence. She felt something strange contained within her, as if a new awareness was implanted in her mind or soul without her knowledge. She pondered this thought intently but as she neared the door of the middleclass abode, she noticed a broken bottle out on the well-kept porch and recoiled in fear. She heard her father’s angry voice inside as she timidly stepped through the front door and attempted to slip into her room.
“There you are!” he bellowed when he saw her. “Do you have any idea what time it is, Andrea Jane? Any? Answer me!”
Her voice trembled as she faced her father, red with anger. “Yes, father,” she started, glancing at the clock. “It isn’t but 8:30,” she began to weep in fright, “my bedtime is at nine. I am home in time.”
“What did you say?” he roared, backing her into a corner, yelling obscenities at the child. He took a large gulp of his beer before raising his hand high into the air and slapping her solidly across the face. The blow knocked Andrea onto the carpeted floor and out of the corner of her eye she witnessed her mother retreat into the bathroom with little Ophelia and shut the door for protection.
“Daddy,” she tried to apologize, and he hit her again.
“Shut up!” he screamed in rage, “Shut up!” he kicked her on the ground, listening to her scream in anguish. “Get in your room, you hear? Get!” he hollered, and walked away, bottle in hand.
For a week Andrea did not return to the Ring of Relief, solely due to the fact that she was too sore to walk the necessary twenty minutes to get there. During all of this time, though, she had been burning with curiosity about what she witnessed and waited impatiently for the time when she would go back. The day that she was so anxiously awaiting came about on the very date of her eighth birthday. She skipped enthusiastically to greet her dear tree again and wrap her little arms around its colossal trunk.
Andrea found the moors and the Ring of Relief exactly how it was when she was last there. “It is,” she whispered merrily, “as if it is stuck in one moment in time.” Even the powerful wind that swept like a wildfire through the area was incapable of swaying the trees or shifting the inert position of the lily pads on the lake. For once happy and calmed, Andrea situated herself comfortably against her tree. She stayed there joyfully for about an hour unceasingly and incredulously gaping at the water. “I wonder,” she thought to herself. Using the root of the tree to hoist herself up, she crawled once again towards the immobile body of water. Recovering another twig from the ground, Andrea decided to find out if the same thing that took place the last time would happen subsequently. With caution and a primed position, Andrea moved the same lily pad away from its adjacent partner. The surface of the water rippled lightly and she looked intently into the gap that she had produced. Sure enough, the reflection of the old, mighty tree was the only one in attendance in the water. Andrea waited, gripping the small twig apprehensively. In the very moment after she exposed the mirror image of the tree, she witnessed the combustion of flames, and the tree became crowned with fire. Andrea felt the extreme heat and began to sweat once more. The tree groaned wildly in the background. She was compelled into a mesmerized stare and felt an overwhelming sense of urgency growing inside of her like a fire being fed with dry wood. In an unexpected surge of bravery, the little girl reached forward and immersed the tip of her finger in the water.
“Ouch!” she shrieked in pain and cast herself backwards away from the water, nursing her sweltering finger in her mouth. The water was hot. Her heart was beating rapidly as she looked fearfully between the water and the tree. What was going on? Then from behind her she heard a twig crack under the weight of someone’s foot and she whipped around in alarm to confront whoever was in the hind of her.
Andrea became utterly silent and immobile. She was clutching a low, open cavity of the mighty tree, pressing herself against its cold bark.
“Hello,” the voice said again, “Who are you?”
Andrea said nothing, but stood voiceless, examining the person in involuntary fear. He was older than her, she observed, a teenager perhaps with startlingly red hair, gas-blue eyes, and a skin tone almost ashen in color.
“Well,” he said, “you’re not very sociable, are you? My name’s Willard. Willard Grey.”
Andrea nodded, noticing his strong British accent.
“Come now, don’t be shy. How old are you?”
“I’m eight today,” Andrea replied almost inaudibly, still refusing to separate herself from the tree.
“Eight? That’s a good age. It seems like centuries ago that I was eight,” Willard told the girl. He paused for a moment to sit down. He settled himself on the grass comfortably. “I just moved here,” he rekindled. “To this town, I mean. It’s a nice place. Do you like it?”
Andrea nodded slightly.
“You look like you got in a little fight somewhere. Are you okay?” Willard eyed her skeptically.
Andrea hurriedly covered her black eye with her free hand. “Yes. My brother and I…” she started to explain.
“Ahhh, say no more. I know how it is with siblings,” he said with a chuckle. “I have too many to keep track of. Don’t know how my mother does it. I’m the oldest of all of them, too.”
“How old are you?” Andrea asked inquisitively, slightly loosening her grip of the tree.
“Seventeen,” he told her.
Her eyes widened. “Wow,” she said in dismay, “you’re old.”
Willard laughed wholeheartedly. “Yeah, I guess I’m getting there, aren’t I?” He waited before continuing. “I just got a job down at the arcade. You know it? It’s fun, actually. I get to play with games all day!” He smiled. Andrea smiled back. “It’s cold here, isn’t it?” he said after a moment.
“It’s always cold in the moors; the wind is always blowing” Andrea informed him. “Especially here. Unless…” she stopped herself in mid-sentence.
“Unless what?” Willard inquired.
Andrea shook her head gripping the tree tightly once again.
“It’s getting pretty late,” he observed. “I need to be getting back. Shouldn’t you be going home?”
Andrea jerked her head up towards the sky, which had changed in appearance from a light gray to a black velvet. She cringed at the thought of returning home at such a late hour. “Yes,” she told him.
“Alright then,” he said standing up. His hair danced in a sudden gust of wind. “I’ll see you around then,” he turned and began to walk away. “Oh! Happy birthday!” he shouted facing her again.
Andrea grinned in thanks. As soon as he was out of sight, she ran for home, greeted by her outraged father at the door.
Despite the usual beating she received from her father, her birthday was one of a satisfying nature. The corner of her room became heaped with new toys and games that she had previously expressed an immense interest in. Her mother presented her with a stunningly healthy red rose, declaring it a gift from her father. Andrea hugged him gratefully but the widely practiced ritual of returning such a loving action did not concern the man who squirmed awkwardly in the clutch of his daughter’s arms.
The very next morning Andrea skipped to the arcade equipped with a crisp ten-dollar bill. Stepping inside, she spotted Willard Grey surrounded by a menagerie of young children, all under the age of ten, with startling blonde hair. Willard waved when he saw her.
Andrea approached him cautiously.
“Guys,” Willard addressed the group of children, “Go play outside, I’ve got a costumer.”
The children whimpered dramatically, “But King!”
“Ah, Go on!”
“Hmph!” They said, stomping out the door in emphasis to their reluctance to leave.
“Sorry about that,” Willard apologized, “Little siblings can get pretty annoying at times.”
Andrea agreed silently. “King?” she inquired about the nickname.
“Yeah, they started calling me that a long time ago. Before they even knew what a king was. They heard the name Martin Luther King and thought it sounded pretty cool.” Willard leaned against the glass counter staring doubtfully at the girl. “You get in another fight with your brother?” he asked dubiously.
“Brother?” Andrea exclaimed while in the absence of thought, “What bro-” she stopped in quick realization of her actions. She looked up at him guiltily. “I mean,” she began again. Willard stared in waiting of a relevant excuse. Andrea tried desperately to ascend out of the hole that she had so thoughtlessly dug herself into and clung to the first justification she could think of. “He’s my half brother.”
That day Andrea walked home without visiting the tree.
Sitting on the floor of the living room, Andrea worked slowly through a math problem placed on the carpet in front of her.
“Haven’t you figured that out yet, Baby?” she heard her mother inquire, “It’s already almost 6:30! It’s been in front of you for ages!”
“I’m trying Mom,” she retorted calmly, “I’ll figure it out, just wait and see.”
Her mother beamed, “Yeah, okay. I’m going to start on dinner.”
Andrea nodded, not looking up from her work; she was very close to getting the answer. She suddenly heard her father arrive home from work and stomp peevishly up the porch stairs. He came in and slammed the door and without acknowledging his daughter, headed for the cabinet, seizing a bottle of alcohol. Andrea’s mother appeared in the door with Ophelia balanced on her hip.
“What’s the matter?” she directed the question towards her husband.
He took a hefty swig. “I was fired!” he roared with emphasis and cursed the company loudly, draining the bottle in-between every swear word and angry utterance. Frightened, Andrea’s mother retreated back into the kitchen and disappeared out the back door. His anger sparked as the alcohol settled and for the reason of his deficiency of a target, his raged averted to Andrea. She shrieked in unreserved agony as he mercilessly beat her.
There was a knock at the door.
“Go away!” her father screamed, enraged. Andrea hollered pleadingly for help.
After a pause, the door opened and three armed policemen hastily barged into the home, weapons drawn. At the head of the pack was a pale man with hair of a brilliant red. Andrea’s father was tackled to the ground.
“Theodore Grey,” he introduced himself, “Crimson County Police Department. You’re going to have to come with me, Sir.”
Andrea stumbled to the corner and sat down, looking at the man with wide, confused eyes. After the police officers struggled with her father out of the door, another person arrived in the room. It was Willard.
“Your brother, huh?” he said, gazing sadly at the weeping child. “It’s alright now…” he comforted her, pulling her into a consoling embrace. She nestled herself against him, choking on her words in an attempt to confide in the boy before finally thanking him.
Willard escorted her outside where Officer Grey was standing. “Why don’t you take her for a walk, Will. Just to calm down a bit,” he suggested.
Willard obeyed and taking Andrea by the hand, led her away into the moors. Inevitably, they came upon the Ring of Relief, which was perfectly centered in the walkway. Andrea began to breathe easier, as if home. She looked up lovingly at the tree before averting her attention to the portion of the lake in front of the tree where she had seen the image twice before. Willard stood watching her when she twirled around to face him and said, “I want to show you something.”
Willard situated himself next to her in front of the lake. “Move that one out of the way,” she instructed, pointing to the lily pad. He leaned forward and with a finger, forced it out of the way, revealing a portion of the water. “Now look in,” Andrea commanded. Willard gazed expectantly into the water and waited.
“What about it?” he said after a moment.
“Don’t you see it?”
Andrea’s face contorted in confusion. She tilted toward the water and glanced in, where she found the reflection of Willard Grey staring back at her.