Allen Chambers' Mindways Chronicles - Book 1 - Reflection

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Chance discovery

Todd Chambers – Toddy as he was affectionately known to his friends – was one of those loveable rogues; a handsome young man, strong, sharp of mind, and a person you couldn’t help but love (well, perhaps only those who were not members of the authorities could love him). As unbelievable as it may seem, Toddy knew an amazing number of people in New York and even more knew of him; he was forever cheerful, full of life and had a cheeky sense of humour. His seemingly endless array of acquaintances ensured he was always able to get you what you wanted on the black market, though for a price of course. However, on rare occasions he did like to barter for favours, but only from the closest of his friends. He was legendary for his astonishing knowledge of people, who to go to for what, the subway and street networks, long-lost subterranean passages and shortcuts to anywhere you might wish to go, legally or not. He lived a 24/7 life, never seeming to get tired. He never formed patterns in his whereabouts, avoiding scrutiny and, wherever possible, he went out of his way to avoid unnecessary attention, ensuring him a degree of anonymity and personal safety.

Toddy grew up in the suburban streets of New Jersey, a relatively affluent area considering the difficult times there had been following the viral wars, and in a life protected from the ravages of poverty by wealthy parents and neighbours who, although mainly Mafiosi, looked out for their neighbourhood. As a youth, he managed to mix with those who mattered and became part of the ‘family’, yet was always able to avoid being drawn into the criminal activities – involved, perhaps, yet on the fringe and, more importantly, unnoticed.

Toddy was unusually nervous following the increased CIB activity on the streets and due to the fact that many of his friends and acquaintances had suddenly disappeared without trace. He knew that, despite his low profile, he was a prime target for the authorities with his chequered past and thought it best to keep low and avoid capture by spending a while in the highly dangerous streets of the Forbidden Zone(2), a no-go area, one-mile deep running parallel with the city’s defensive perimeter.

Passing through late at night, Toddy came across around twenty members of the Zone Crew(3) street gang, clearly high on Buzz, dancing, laughing and cavorting around a burning car that had strayed into the zone. There was a pair of corpses lying nearby in a sticky pool of slowly drying blood. They appeared posed in a grotesque fashion, probably due to the manner in which they had been killed by the drug-crazed morons celebrating their find. Toddy surveyed the scene and came to the conclusion the corpses were the former owners of the nicely blazing vehicle that had got lost and turned a wrong corner. The gang were obviously in raptures over their deed of the night, keeping the zone clear of ‘shittyzens’ as they called them. This was their turf; even the CIB and the militia rarely ventured far into the zone. Toddy studied them closely from a safe distance, being very careful not to draw attention to his vantage point. Although he could take care of himself, there were too many of them and he didn’t want to join the unfortunates lying in a heap by the burning car.

Around six of the gang were cavorting near a derelict shopfront, their shape-shifting shadows silhouetted against the dancing flames of the now-skeletal car remains reflected in the shop window. Toddy’s focus was inextricably and hypnotically drawn to these Hades-like(4) reflections in the shop window, when the mirrored surface appeared to distort and pulse. As it did so, an ultra-bright spark of light fell off the window to the floor beneath, unnoticed by everyone but Toddy. “I wonder what that is?” thought Toddy, making a mental note to investigate later. The distortion and pulses throbbed, slowly at first then faster, whereupon they began to ripple and a wisp-like swelling grew from the window and headed slowly, snaking its way across the still night air, towards the nearest gang member. It hovered closely at first, as if savouring his scent, almost kissing his skin. All of a sudden, the apparition-like projection latched onto this wretched leather-clad youth, who yelped at the steely cold and vice-like grip of the dark mass, as it ensnared him, arm first, then shoulder, torso and gradually his writhing head. His screams ripped through the still humid night, echoing amongst the dead remains of the once-thriving streets and rattling onwards towards the city. His mates, initially shocked and transfixed at the manifestation, ran to his aid as was the code of brotherhood amongst the gang. They grabbed his free arm and legs and pulled him away from the engorging mass. Slowly they extracted him from the dense, black, jelly-like substance as he screamed in obvious pain and fear. His torso was free. He writhed to assist his brothers who, by this time, were all involved in the tussle for their brother’s soul in this ultimate life-or-death tug of war.

All at once, the mass gave up and retreated back into the window from whence it had come, the window immediately resuming its innocent guise of shopfront glass with the reflective images of Dante’s inferno as first seen a few moments before but without the dancing effigies. The gang members, pulling their friend, immediately lost their footing and crumpled to the floor in a heap as soon as the apparition withdrew its unprovoked assault. They untangled themselves from each other, gathering their composure and street cred, brushing themselves down and scanning the streets for signs of an audience as if they were scared to show vulnerability.

There were, in this unforgiving zone, few around to witness such an incident, other than Toddy… The gang were so high on Buzz they hadn’t realized the significance of the attack; such was their intoxication, they assumed a collective trip had ensued and merely continued with their debauchery but without the poor gang member who’s experience had left visible scars – deep black bruising to all parts in contact with the black mass though he was oblivious to pain, that is until the Buzz wore off…

Toddy patiently waited and watched until the last of the gang staggered off to their lair close to the city boundaries of the forbidden zone, leaving the smouldering embers of the night’s spoils flicking eerie shadows across the street. Toddy was on his guard; on many an occasion he had been close to receiving a good beating, even perhaps death, at the hands of the Zone Crew during his many incursions into and through this forbidden world. He slowly and silently made his way towards the former butcher’s shop.

He hesitated nervously, constantly scanning the empty streets for signs of trouble and listening with cat-like ears for a hint of movement while at the same time keeping the shop window in his peripheral vision. “After all, that idiot of a gang member was high on Buzz,” thought Toddy. “He’d never have known what happened!” He approached from the side and cast a glance towards the unfortunate victims lying in their congealed pools of blood. Dog-sized rats scurried around them, sniffing at and sampling their next meal.

He turned away, disinterested in people stupid enough to stray into this dangerous, unforgiving, evil place, but his nerves tingled with trepidation and a degree of excitement at having observed something really odd and worthy of investigation. The fire had died down and there was just an eerie, orange glow reflecting on the dirty shop window. Toddy moved closer, tense and ready to run at the first sign of danger. The spit and stutter of the dying fire, the distant noise of city life and the rats were the only sounds vaguely echoing in these unearthly surroundings as he stepped closer to the window. It appeared lifeless, and as he surveyed the street around him, it seemed typical of many of the derelict buildings in the zone. Toddy concentrated on the window. He tensed and reached out to touch it. He hesitated and withdrew his hand quickly as nerves got the better of him.

“Come on, Toddy, it’s nothing but a silly trick of light; after all, it’s only glass,” he told himself.

Again he touched… and felt the cold, smooth but dirty surface of the glass.

“But I saw everything clearly! Something came out of this damn shop window. But how?”

He pushed harder against the glass – solid, no give whatsoever. He searched his memory of the event in detail, recounting every second. As he did so, he was inexplicably drawn to looking at the sidewalk beneath the shopfront and, as he looked closer, there he spotted it without much difficulty – a small glass bead, glinting in the reflection of the diminishing light of the nearby fire. He was strangely drawn to it; he must hold it; he needed to hold it, keep it. He picked it up. It felt warm and friendly in his hand; it felt as if it were a part of him – familiar but distant. He closed his fingers around it protectively then placed it in a leather pouch around his neck.

“There,” he said unwittingly. “Safe.”

He patted the leather pouch as he replaced it beneath his shirt.

For a reason beyond his comprehension, he returned and faced the shop window and reached out… nothing! But his hand and forearm disappeared into what appeared to be solid glass, which made him jump back in shock and disbelief.

“Christ! How?” he breathed through clenched teeth as he felt his arm to make sure it was still with him. “A minute ago I couldn’t; now I can? Wait! The glass bead; it must have a connection!”

Toddy’s hand was drawn to the pouch around his neck, savouring the warm comfort it brought to his mind, body and soul. Toddy composed himself and regrouped his nerve and resolve. He looked around and picked up a discarded brick, weighing it in his hand. He then threw it at the window. It flew through the air, momentarily appearing to slow down just before impact, then disappeared into the reflection, leaving a series of ripples in the seemingly solid glass window – not a sound as it passed through and beyond. The window settled back to its former unassuming state.

Toddy waited for the sound of the brick to hit something, anything. Nothing! He pondered his next move and decided he would have to go for it. Checking all was well around him, he stepped forward, his stomach churning with fear and anticipation, yet he couldn’t stop himself as he was somehow drawn towards the glass. His naturally inquisitive nature had taken over. He clasped his leather pouch, protecting his new-found treasure – a thing that seemed to give him greater confidence. He leant into the glass, left arm up in a defensive pose, then his head followed…

His hair was yanked backwards and a fist smashed into his unprotected face time and time again. His head rocked from side to side with each blow. Carter let out another muffled groan. He tried mentally to ward off the pain, but clearly these guys knew where the sensitive areas were. Carter was strapped down firmly in a ‘talker’s chair’(5), centrally positioned in a clinically white room, with a small table in front of him on which sat an angle poise lamp pointing directly at his face, the bright hot light causing significant discomfort.

Sat in a chair in the corner was a tall hefty guy, dark and sinister-looking, dressed in a black suit and smoking a fat cigar. His deep black eyes drilled into Carter’s as he spoke softly yet menacingly to him.

“You know who I am and what I’m about,” said Hatcher, the CIB’s notorious Operations Chief. “What have you done with Sophie Drinkwater, Mr Carter? We know of your relationship and also of your anti-State background. Your lies and propaganda have done the State a massive disservice and you’ve been a niggling thorn in my side for far too long. But now…” He paused, taking a deep draught from his cigar, savouring the acrid smoke. “I have an opportunity to put an end to your meddling. Miss Drinkwater was due at work at 09:00 hours on Saturday morning; she didn’t turn up. My surveillance team reports that, after leaving Mo’s Bar, you both returned home in the early hours of Saturday morning. Thereafter, my people were watching your flat. Neither Miss Drinkwater nor you left the apartment block at any time until you were picked up by my Agents Dock and Sallow. The Bureau has carried out an extensive and detailed search for Miss Drinkwater, including a search of your flat. Guess what, Carter? No Miss Drinkwater! No signs of anything other than broken glass in the bin and blood-soaked towels. How do you explain that, Carter? Please elaborate; I’m very interested indeed!”

“Get stuffed, Pig!” spat Carter, only to receive another blow to his midriff that made him gasp for air.

“I wouldn’t get too cocky, Carter,” said Hatcher coolly. “We have many ways to persuade you to talk and we have all the time in the world. You, for one, do not. You can be made to disappear, if we see fit. Now, unless you wish us to choose one of these options, tell me what has happened to Miss Drinkwater.”

He knew this guy was serious. Carter had been quite vitriolic in his quest to expose the CIB at every opportunity since their inception five years ago, following the seriously bloody Anarchy Uprisings(6). Despite being the focus of their attention since then, he had been quite lucky to avoid the backlash…until now, that is.

“OK, OK,” wheezed Carter, his mind was racing.

“I must play for time,” he thought. Carter asked for a drink of water. One was placed in front of him. He reached for it but, before he got there, it was swept off the table, whereupon it showered the floor.

“Just give us the story, Carter, then you can have a drink,” seethed Hatcher.

The steady trickle of salty blood in Carter’s mouth dried his parched throat even more. Every swallow felt like his throat was filled with a furry tennis ball. Carter coughed and retold the events of Friday evening’s meeting with his friends and Sophie, how they had had a confrontation with the ever-present CIB babysitters and of their uneventful journey home. Carter explained the sequence of events leading up to, during and beyond Sophie’s disappearance.

“I don’t know where she is. It’s so unlike Sophie. She’s such a creature of habit and always on time. I just don’t know where she is,” said Carter quietly, whilst looking at the floor, memories of Sophie flooding his conscious mind – her beautiful, smiling face, the spring in her step, her warm embrace. “God Sophie, I hope you’re all right.”

He was shaken from his dream by the rough handling of an agent as he was released from the chair. Hatcher stood up and walked towards Carter, his massive frame towering over him. Carter rubbed his bruised wrists. Hatcher grabbed Carter with a vice-like grip around his neck and lifted his face up to meet his cold, harsh gaze.

“Unfortunately for me, I believe you. We know every move you make; such is our interest in you and your subversive friends. We’ll meet again soon, Carter. I hope, for your sake, Sophie returns. Remember me, Carter; I’m your worst enemy, but I can also be your saviour. I’m very influential, and I use my influence at every opportunity. Nobody ever crosses me.”

Hatcher stooped, looked directly into Carter’s face, his dark, lifeless eyes probing Carter’s mind. He sucked hard three times on his cigar, inhaled deeply then blew the acrid smoke into Carter’s eyes. As Carter flinched, Hatcher stubbed out his cigar on Carter’s left cheek, grinding it hard into his flesh. Carter gasped and gritted his teeth, determined not to yield to the sudden pain. “I’ll pay you back, you bastard,” thought Carter.

Hatcher signalled to the agent to take Carter out and release him. The agent grabbed Carter’s collar and lifted him clean off the floor, throwing him towards the door.

“Move, asshole,” grunted the hulking brute.

Carter got up and, deliberately taking his time, regained his composure, tenderly rubbing his smarting cheek. He picked up his jacket and left, escorted through the door into the bleak corridors, where subdued light filtered through the smoky gloom of the CIB headquarters as they made their way to the exit.

Carter winced as the agent squeezed his injured cheek. The agent pushed him out into the reception and grinned, “Have a nice day. Come again soon!”

“You’ll suffer when you don’t have the security of this shithole,” muttered Carter as he left the building.

He blinked as he hit the street, which was void of any light. The still humid air, heavy as a blanket, brought him out in a sweat. The salt added additional pain to the dull ache of the cuts, grazes and burn.

“I’ll have my day with you bastards,” he cursed and spat a mouthful of blood into the gutter, then he limped off towards Mo’s Bar; he needed a very long, cold drink.

Toddy withdrew immediately from the shop window.

“Wow,” he breathed, “this is surreal!”

He scanned the streets meticulously. Apart from the usual distant hum of the city there was nothing – no movement, no sounds; the zone slept. He opened his belt pouch and took out a capsule of Buzz, popping it into his mouth, swallowing deeply and waited for the warm glow to surge through his veins.

“Ready,” he murmured to himself.

Making a note of the time on his wristwatch, he clambered through the window.

Time seemed to physically slow as Toddy stepped into this alternative world. It was chilly, misty and eerily quiet – no background hum of the city, no sound at all. It was a deathly silence. The only source of light was a background purple glow that appeared to have no origin yet was everywhere. He could make out shapes in the distance but nothing recognisable as the swirling mist distorted the available light. He turned round and realised he was looking back through the shop window at a place, though fraught with danger, was one he knew. To Toddy, it was his home, even though the surreal picture of the dying fire, the two corpses and the deserted streets turned his stomach. The Buzz he took earlier was now fully absorbed by his body and gave him added strength and mental agility to walk on into this unknown land, which, surprisingly, he felt at one with. It was a sense of belonging, yet he didn’t know where he was or why he had this feeling of kinship. His sharpened senses took in the detail of his location to enable him to recognise the only known route back to his world. He took one last look back at New York before turning around, looking into the distant mist and heading off towards the looming dark shapes in the distance.

It seemed like hours had passed yet the dark shadows ahead appeared not to be getting any closer. It was almost as if he was travelling on a conveyor belt that was moving in the opposite direction. Time passed. He was becoming dispirited, worried even; he seemed to be getting nowhere fast. He was disorientated and not sure if he could retrace his steps; there were no landmarks. He stopped, turned around and looked back to where he thought he had come from. The same purple-hued mist with silhouettes in the distance was everywhere but nowhere. He shivered as he became acutely conscious of a presence close by. He had felt something when he first started out but dismissed it as nerves; now, though, he was sure. It felt always near but never there, if that made sense. He looked deep into the mist from where he thought he had come.

“Christ, I hope I can get back,” he said faintly so as not to be heard, his voice lacking the confidence his mind seemed to have.

Toddy swallowed painfully and realised he was terribly thirsty. He pictured himself with a nice tall, cold beer to wash away the dryness. His thoughts took him to Mo’s Bar, meeting up with Carter, having a laugh and sinking a crisp cool draught of beer. Oddly, out of the corner of his eye to the right, he noticed the inside of a bar, clear as day in this otherwise murky world. “Hey,” he thought, “that’s Mo’s!” He knew the interior but it was from a different perspective; he was looking into the bar from behind the counter.

“The mirrors behind the bar!” gasped Toddy.

Mo’s was one of the few all-nighters and was open 24/7. He surveyed the room, so glad to be close to a place he knew. He saw old Mr Gayle sitting at the end of the bar with his everlasting pint of beer. He was reading his newspaper. How contented he appeared to be – not a care in the world and happy with his lot. “A really nice guy in a pretty abysmal city,” thought Toddy as he spotted the ever-present agent sat in the inglenook by the door, clocking everything that went on and scribbling notes on any new clientele. Toddy espied a few more regulars and was fascinated by the clarity of what he was seeing; it was as if it were right there in front of him and he even felt he could reach out and touch the bottles and optics laid out in front of him.

Toddy froze suddenly as Mo the landlord appeared from the left and stared right into the mirror at him. Toddy gulped and waited for a shout of shock or recognition from Mo. But Mo continued to look directly towards Toddy as he took a bottle of vintage rum from the shelf and poured a slug into a glass. Mo turned and went off to serve the customer without a backward glance or any sign that he had seen Toddy.

Toddy checked his watch; no more than a few minutes had elapsed since he had entered this weird world, but it seemed more like days. Toddy scanned the bar for signs of friends and his spirit leapt at the sight of Carter getting up from a table in the far corner and coming over to the bar to get another drink. “How can I get his attention?” thought Toddy. Carter provided him with the answer as soon as Toddy realised Carter was heading off to the john for a leak before ordering his next drink. “The wall mirrors in the corridor to the john!” thought Toddy, mentally taking himself there.

Before he could blink, he found himself immediately transferred, looking through a mirror into the hall.

“Christ, this is weird,” he gasped through his teeth as he saw Carter approaching. “How am I going to do this? I got here, but is it the same to get back?”

He closed his eyes briefly and stretched out his arm. He opened his eyes and saw his arm halfway through the unworldly barrier with his distorted lower limb on the other side causing Carter to halt in his tracks, mouth agape in horror. Before Toddy had realised it, he was through the glass and on the floor in a heap before Carter. At the same time he felt a nauseous wrench.

Carter jumped back in shock and let out a muffled curse.

“Toddy, you bastard! What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Scared the shit out of me! How did you manage that little trick?”

Toddy nervously looked towards the door to the bar and immediately raised a finger to his lips.

He gestured towards the disabled cubicle and whispered, “Quick, inside. I need to talk”.

He paused and checked the hall again before locking the door.

Toddy looked to the heavens then cursed, “Damn! Forgot something. Hang on, Carter.”

He opened the door and disappeared back outside, coming back a few seconds later with his clenched fist outstretched in front of him. He turned and relocked the door behind him, faced Carter and opened up his fist. A small glass bead in his palm glistened in the dim light of the WC. Toddy gestured to Carter to take it. Carter looked at Toddy then down at the glass bead. He hesitated, was at first quite unsure, but Toddy was a straight guy. He reached out and took the shiny bead. As he did so, Carter immediately felt a warmth of belonging and a strong bond with the bead as it lay in his open palm. He looked at Toddy, who gave him a knowing look.

Toddy said, “Keep it safe and let me explain.”

Carter looked longingly at the tiny gem and reluctantly but carefully put it in his trouser pocket.

Carter listened intently with a look of utter disbelief on his face as Toddy infectiously relived his last few hours, yet, despite how far-fetched the tale was, Carter believed every word. Toddy showed Carter his watch and explained how long he had been in this ‘other world’, yet only ten minutes had elapsed. Both Carter and Toddy were unsure of the magnitude of what he had stumbled on, but it was both fascinating and intriguing and needed further investigation. Toddy recounted the events; the attack on the Zone Crew gang member, his glass bead retrieved from outside the shop, and how he had entered this ‘other world’ and wandered aimlessly until he thought about needing a drink at Mo’s.

Carter reflected on when he had lost Sophie in the apartment.

“God, I hope nothing as sinister has got hold of Sophie!”

Then he remembered spotting the glass bead in the sink and placing it in the jewellery tray. Now he realised its importance and vulnerability.

“Toddy, I think there’s another bead at my apartment. I left it behind.”

Toddy was about to reply when they heard a door open in the hall. They both froze as the footfalls of many quickly passed the disabled WC and continued towards the gents, where the door was swung open violently and smashed against the wall.

Raised voices proclaimed their entrance, “CIB. Everyone stay where you are!”

Carter and Toddy heard the cubicle doors being systematically slammed open and the agents cursing as they found no-one.

The leader shouted, “Idiots! Search the rest of this area, NOW!”

Toddy looked at Carter, worry drawn across his face. “We have to go now, Carter.”

Looking at the mirror on the wall, he gestured for Carter to enter. Carter held back, scared and wary of the unknown.

The voices of the agents rose as they drew nearer. Suddenly the handle to the cubicle turned.

“Hey, Mr Hatcher, this one’s locked!” The agent began hammering on the door, shouting, “Open up! CIB.”

“Knock the door down, you imbecile!” shouted Hatcher and all the agents rushed towards the door.

“We’ve got to go, Carter,” urged Toddy. “Now!”

He pushed Carter into the mirror. Carter howled in surprise as he disappeared through the glass. Toddy bent down and collected the glass bead before it hit the ground and followed him immediately, just as the door to the cubicle caved in under the sheer weight of agents’ bodies.

They both recovered their composure and turned to see agents stumbling in with shocked looks on their faces as they found no-one inside. The agents scanned what little area there was within the disabled cubicle. The agents’ eyes finally rested on the mirror and looked upon their own reflections in the dulled glass.

Carter, on seeing the agents staring directly at the two of them, ducked whilst Toddy continued watching. Carter looked up and ushered Toddy to join him, then grabbed his arm and pulled him down as an agent wiped the dulled mirror with his sleeve. The agent gave a quizzical look as the mirror remained dull, but gave no hint of an indication he was aware that their lost adversaries were only inches away on the other side of the mirror.

The leading Agent Hatcher, a giant of a man, joined them.

“Well, where are they?”

The agents looked sheepishly at each other and shrugged their shoulders.

“We don’t know, Hatcher,” replied the agent who had tried to clean the mirror. “There was nobody here when we broke in. They must have got out by some other means.”

Hatcher lashed out at the nearest agent, catching him full in the face with the back of his clenched fist.

“Incompetent fools!” he cursed and stormed out of the room. “Call in to HQ; let them know we’ve lost the quarry. God help us when the new Deputy Commissioner Stoneman hears of our folly. Apparently, he’s unforgiving when it comes to failure! Search the whole neighbourhood. Call in reserves. They must be found!” barked Hatcher.

The agents left hurriedly and, hitting the street, scampered off in all directions to carry out their orders; they hoped to redeem themselves with the capture of the fugitives, fearful of the repercussions of failure.

Hatcher returned to the disabled cubicle and surveyed the scene, paying particular attention to the mirror and its dulled surface. Hatcher reached out and tapped the surface with his knuckle and peered deeply into the mirror.

“Nah,” he said to himself. “Impossible!”

He looked again deep into the mirror, rearranged his tie, turned and followed in the footsteps of his men.

Carter let out a huge sigh, in relief as well as utter disbelief that they had not been seen.

“Why? The mirror… it was solid!” gasped Carter.

Toddy turned to Carter and said, “Look, we can work all this detail out later. We need to move on. I think I know how we can go places without being spotted and quickly. Do you have any Buzz?”

Carter shook his head. Toddy opened his belt pouch and produced a phial and gave it to Carter who snapped off the neck of the phial and immediately downed the golden liquid. Toddy watched as Carter succumbed to the power of the drug and settled into a calmer state.

Toddy looked at Carter and said knowingly, “Carter, keep an eye on time; it appears to stand still in here. If ‘here’ is anywhere, that is.”

Carter looked around this new world, shrouded by mist, dully illuminated with a purple haze and harbouring ghostly shadows and silhouettes, always at the limits of vision.

He shivered and turned to Toddy and spoke quietly as if someone could hear, “I don’t know about you, but I sense someone or something’s very close. I don’t know how else to explain it but they, it, whatever… is right by us. But, as you can see, they aren’t there. It’s like they’re so close but not with us. Physically somewhere around, but mentally very, very close.”

“I agree,” replied Toddy. “I sensed it when I first entered. You’re always conscious of a presence. On the odd occasion the sensation was very strong, almost overwhelming, as if it was close enough to touch and it either came with good or bad vibes. The bad ones scared me shitless!”

He paused, clearly shaken when recalling those experiences.

“Now, Carter,” he resumed, “this is how I believe this place works… You think of something you really need or want, and this place will take you there. That’s how I came across you. I was so damn thirsty all I could think of was a long, cool drink at Mo’s; what else!” he chuckled in his usual cheery manner. “And, hey bingo! There I was looking in from behind the bar at Mo’s place. This ‘world’, for want of a better name, appears to exist behind mirrors or reflective surfaces, and you move about with thought. Time appears not to matter in here; it’s all about where you think you want to go. Does that make sense, Carter? Carter?”

Toddy, realising Carter wasn’t connecting with him, turned to find Carter staring back through the mirror into the disabled cubicle. He was watching old Mr Gayle through the broken doorway.

Old Mike Gayle was standing in front of one of the hallway mirrors, an aura of bright white luminance emanating from his body. Old Mr Gayle then turned his head and looked directly towards where Toddy and Carter stood behind their protective mirror. He gave a knowing nod and a friendly smile before turning back and disappearing through the mirror he stood by.

Toddy and Carter in unison looked at each other and stammered, “Did you see that?”

Then they looked at each other quizzically, mouths agape in wonder.

Toddy added, “I also sensed something extremely close and very powerful just then.”

Carter followed with, “It wasn’t evil, that’s for sure.”

They both turned to look back to where old Mr Gayle had been but a moment ago.

“Hey, Toddy,” said Carter, “we need to understand why we’re here and what the hell’s going on. To do that, we need somewhere safe to hole up and think about what we’re going to do. For one, I want to find Sophie; two, I need to retrieve one of these glass pebbles from my apartment; and three,” he stopped to rub his cheek, the raw wound from Hatcher’s glowing cigar stinging, “I’m wrecked after the beating I’ve had today from that bastard, Hatcher and need a bloody good rest. So, Toddy, you’re the man in the know. Where to, buddy?”

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