The Artifact (Book 2, Time Trilogy)

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Chapter Eight: Mirror, Mirror

July 2023
University of Richmond
Richmond City, Virginia

}}}-----> WAHYA <-----{{{

“This Spirit-Man called James seems like he might be okay, but if he tries anything...”

Wahya isn’t sure what he would do, but he’s tired, hungry, and his body aches all over. Now his head is beginning to hurt. With his mind so overwhelmed, he can’t make heads nor tails of anything, though his initial shock of the situation has greatly subsided. He has since reasoned that going with the flow will probably serve him better than making a scene, especially since no one here has right out threatened him. Still, all he knows is that he’s far from home and that this world is full of magic beyond his wildest dreams or possible nightmares - he hasn’t completely decided which just yet.

“I am starting to think that this is not The Afterlife at all. At least not the Happy Hunting Grounds that the stories talk about. If it were, they would know my tongue and my appearance would not cause so much distress. The ancestors of my people would have been here, and these people act like they have never seen a Tsalagi man before. This must be another type of Spirit World altogether. I have to figure this out.”

A part of his exhausted mind wants to hide away from it all and go back to the hole in the tree roots he’d slept in last night and rest for a while. Maybe this is all a bad dream and he would wake up in that hole momentarily, after all. But the warrior in him knows that this is all too real to be a dream and that allowing the stress to take over will not serve him well at this point.

Whether or not these strange people are spirits is yet to be determined, but either way, they still possess magic. But their magic doesn’t seem to include a knowledge about how he had arrived in their world, nor a means of communicating with him beyond the few words Morgan and James have been able to exchange with him so far - which simply constituted their names, a handful of animals, and a few words in their Spirit-Tongue.

Wahya had figured out that the strange symbols Morgan had been copying down when they were learning each other’s animal names upstairs must represent the words for those animals. They didn’t look like drawings of the animals, not even their footprints, yet James was able to produce the same sounds and words by simply looking at the symbols, without having heard the words or sounds before. Much to Wahya’s surprise, James was able to do this not only with words in his own tongue, but in Tsalagi as well. This concept intrigued the brave, but he was so overwhelmed by everything at this point, the matter didn’t rest in his mind for long.

Following James down the hall from the staff lounge where they’d left Morgan, the two make their way towards the men’s room to sort through James’ gym clothes for something Wahya can wear. A small group of students, not much younger than Wahya’s twenty-seven years, meander in from the main entrance, halting their relatively loud conversation to stare at Wahya’s open lab coat, showcasing his bare chest and legs in passing.

Before recognizing Dr. Warner, the tallest of the group whistles, then obnoxiously catcalls, his friends laughing hysterically in return. The Cherokee glares back at them menacingly, fully grasping the concept that he’s being made fun of, and not liking or accepting it for one second. He could easily take them all out single-handedly if he wanted to, and he wonders if James would aid him or join them if push came to shove.

“Mind your own business, guys! Get outta here!” James glares at the group who now recognize him for the professor that he is. “And be quiet, classes are going on!” His voice booms and the stern stare he sends towards the young adults could freeze rain puddles.

“Whatever he said shut up those fools,” Wahya smirks inwardly, glad he didn’t have to fight off the group. He understands that James is a bit older, but he also senses a controlled authority in the man who Morgan and these others obviously respect. “He is definitely a leader in this world,” Wahya determines, thinking that the equally tall and seemingly muscular man would make for a good ally in hunting or battle.

At this moment, he decides that he, too, can trust James, hoping he’ll be able to provide him with more information about what’s really going on here. Plus, it’s not like he has much of a choice otherwise. Where would he go if he decided to make a break for it?

Entering the men’s room, James sets his blue duffel bag on the counter, pulling out a white tank top, black shorts, a pair of white socks, and his worn-out running shoes. But Wahya isn’t paying attention to James. Instead, he feels a chill run down his spine at the sight just beyond the professor.

At first glance, he thinks there are two other men in the room. But these are no men, Wahya reasons quickly. There, opposite of James, is a completely identical man with a matching duffel bag, pulling out clothes at exactly the same time as James. And to Wahya’s horror, an equally horrified man, stands directly in front of him, dressed in the same ridiculous white robe and staring back at him, mocking his movements. His chest rises at the same time as his own and his fists clench the same as Wahya’s.

Alternately glaring at himself and watching James in the giant wall-to-wall mirror above the sinks, Wahya doesn’t know whether to be afraid or not. James doesn’t even seem to notice their twins through the window in front of him. But how could he not, Wahya wonders. Finally, he asks aloud, “What is this magic?”

James glances up surprised, not expecting Wahya to speak, his voice echoing in the tiled restroom. Looking at Wahya through the mirror, he sees the brave angrily eyeing himself in the glass. He’s still not necessarily convinced Wahya is a time traveler, despite the language barrier. Shrugging his shoulders, trying to discern the brave’s problem, he asks, “What’s wrong?”

Wahya doesn’t understand James’ question, but answers it nonetheless. “Why are there two of me and two of you?” Pointing to the mirror, Wahya says his name, then points to himself, repeating his own name again.

“Really?” James asks incredulously, getting the idea that the younger man is confused by his reflection. Rapping his knuckles on the glass in front of him, he states more than asks, “Surely you know what a mirror is?”

Never had Wahya seen anything more than the reflection of his face in an extra still lake or pond, and that was completely different. He isn’t convinced of the mirror-peoples’ safety, even by James’ actions and bravely asserts, “This is bad magic. I do not like it!”

James takes a deep breath, sensing the younger man’s frustration and seeing just a glint of fear in his eyes. “Okay, I’ll go with it.”

Pointing to himself he says his name, then to his reflection, “Glass. Mirror.” He taps on the glass again, then waves and sticks out his tongue, feeling extremely ridiculous. When James begins to smile, trying to explain in words and sign language that the people in the mirror are their own reflections, Wahya realizes that James has no fear or wonderment over the presence or actions of these two imposter spirits who somehow know when to move at exactly the same time as they do.

At this point, he understands the word ‘glass’ as associated with windows, and he now knows this word in English from Morgan. Testing his assumption that there is a window with the doubles on the other side, he asks for verification. “Window?”

James sighs and shakes his head. Suddenly an idea occurs to him and he pulls out his smartphone, moving closer so Wahya can see. From his Internet app, he produces a photo of a perfectly still lake in which the trees on the other side are reflected on the surface of the water. Pointing out the real trees from the reflected ones, James points to both of them and their doubles in the mirror. “Reflection.”

As he studies the image on the magic box, Wahya nods as a partial understanding washes over him, and he repeats the English word, ‘reflection,’ before saying the same concept in Cherokee. How James uses his magic box to see the non-moving landscape, he isn’t sure, perhaps it is the same magic that produces such clear reflections in glass. Magic or not, he’s coming to realize that things are not necessarily as they seem.

Taking a breath and determined that he has to simply trust James, he tells the Spirit-Man in his own tongue, “‘Reflection,’ that is how it is said in Tsalagi. This is a damn good reflection compared to any I have seen before! It is incredible...”

He takes a good look at himself in the glass, examining his own features and says aloud, not necessarily to anyone in particular, “Is this what I really look like? I look terrible!”

Moving closer, he leans over the sink and touches his reflection, feeling the cold smooth surface of the mirror. He’s amazed at the details of his face and skin, never having seen himself so clearly. But he’s also ashamed of how dirty and disheveled his face and body are, regardless of the fact that he has every right to look beat up after two days in the woods chased by the Haudenosaunee, then leaping into the trees and down a rocky slope, only to pop up in some other world altogether.

Remembering the group of students who’d laughed at him earlier, he understands their assessment, though not their rudeness. “But Morgan does not seem to mind my appearance. Well, except for when she first saw me and she tried not to look directly at me. The way she blushes though makes me think that it was not because she was frightened or thinks I look bad!”

Smiling to himself, he leans in further to study the clear image of his own face, but his shadow inadvertently activates the sensor on the automatic faucet, and water suddenly streams out of the spout. He jumps back, uttering in surprised Tsalagi, “What the...!”

Soon the water shuts off and James, seeing Wahya’s genuinely surprised shock, murmurs under his breath, “Maybe I underestimated the time travel thing a bit. Okay... a lot!”

Knowing he’s going to be a bit late for class, James gives Wahya a very quick lesson on the use and operation of the sink and the toilet, much to Wahya’s relief. The brave had been wondering if people here even had bladders, for there seemed to be nowhere to relieve oneself.

When the two men finally emerge from the restroom, Wahya has a washed face, modern clothes, and combed hair, the long black locks tied back with a rubber band. The two now share a new understanding and respect for one another, and Wahya feels that James would make not only a good ally, but a good friend, should he end up staying in this Spirit-World long.

Returning to the lounge to find Morgan patiently waiting, James announces from the doorway, “First, I want to apologize for doubting your theory! This guy didn’t know anything about mirrors, sinks, toilets, and sneakers! But we’re good now!”

Morgan laughs, a sense of relief coming over her as her fears that James wouldn’t really believe her are dampened. “I was wondering what was taking so long! Jeez, I’m glad I asked you for some clothes so you could teach him about the bathroom! I hadn’t even thought about that!”

James let’s Wahya into the room, clapping him on the shoulder as he backs out and heads down the hall to his classroom. “I’ll meet you guys in the atrium at twelve-forty-five, okay?!”

Wahya awkwardly walks into the small room, feeling slightly self-conscious in the odd-looking fabrics and snug fitting socks and shoes. But he smiles shyly at Morgan, nonetheless, feeling a little more refreshed and he hopes, presentable, before the beautiful woman. Though he’s far from embarrassed about how he was dressed originally, he now understands that the people of this world are embarrassed about showing their bodies. And he doesn’t want to cause undue problems over cultural differences, be them mortal or spiritual. But as soon as he’s able, he plans to rid himself of these ugly things.

“Oh wow!” Morgan exclaims “You look good!”

He notes her smile and reddening cheeks, and by the tone of her voice, knows she must approve, in more than one way, no matter how ridiculous he feels the clothes look. Especially since she can’t seem to take her colorful eyes off him. Not that he wanted to stop looking at her either; she was an anomaly, and he feels like he would never tire of studying her beautiful strangeness.

His confidence boosted, Wahya strides into the room all the way, opening his arms slightly to show off his new threads, a slight smile creasing his face.

“You totally pull off the sporty look!” Morgan brags, then asks, “Are you hungry?” She pretends to eat with imaginary silverware, using her other hand for a bowl.

It doesn’t take Wahya long to catch her meaning. “Yes!” He replies in her language instead of his own, having learned the affirmation from the interactions he’s had now with both Morgan and James, and hoping to impress her with his learning. To be sure she understands, he shakes his head emphatically, rubbing his toned stomach, and smiles broadly. It’s been a couple days since he’d eaten real food and he’s starved.

Morgan crows, “Yes! You said ‘Yes!’” Her eyes twinkle at his intentional use of her language in conversation, however limited it is, making him feel even better. Again, he thinks that he could spend all day watching her reactions to things he says - her energy and joy so contagious. Somehow her presence makes him forget about all his troubles and the anxiety that being in this Spirit World brings.

Morgan motions for him to come with her, her words most likely matching the same command, then surprises him as she loops her arm through his, escorting him out of the staff lounge and down the hall to find the university cafeteria.

He’s curious about what kinds of foods these Spirit-People eat, though at this point it wouldn’t matter; he could eat a ‘horse,’ whatever type of animal that is!

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