Once upon a time, there lived a boy by the name of Tony who was always bored.
“Mom, I am bored. Can you tell me what to do?” he would often ask his mom.
“Why don’t you read or draw?” his mom suggested.
“Oh no, I don’t want to do that,” Tony would reply through a yawn.
“Maybe you want to help me sweep the driveway?”
“Nope, no fun either.”
“Do you want to go out and play?”
“Nope, none of my friends are out.”
Whatever his mother suggested, Tony wasn’t interested.
“What do you want to do then?” asked his mother one day.
“Can I look into the mirror?” he asked hesitantly.
“No,” said his mother firmly. “You should never ever look into that mirror.”
“Why not? You allow me to look into it sometimes – to brush my hair.”
But his mom remained unyielding.
“What is it about that mirror?” Tony wondered silently.
So, one day, when his mom was busy in the kitchen, cooking tons of food for his birthday party, he decided to peep in. The mirror stood in the corner of his parents’ bedroom, covered with a white cloth. Tony sneaked into the bedroom, pulled off one corner of the cloth, and started looking.
For a while, he saw nothing except his own face, but then it seemed to him that his features grew sturdier, more fearless, more manly.
“Wow,” he thought. “Do I really look so brave? I am a hero!”
He pulled off the rest of the cloth and peered in. The room behind him slowly transformed into a large hall with hunting trophies hanging on the walls. And then he saw himself as a brave huntsman dressed in a shining leather suit with a long bow over his shoulder.
“Is it me? I AM a hero!”
Tony squealed in delight and covered his mouth with his hand not to let his mom know he was there. But then he heard someone’s approaching steps. Picking up the cloth from the floor, he quickly threw it back on the mirror and rushed out of the room.
“Don’t forget to pick up your toys before your guests come,” his dad said as he entered the room. “Have you forgotten it’s your birthday?”
But the boy didn’t seem to hear. In fact, he had almost forgotten that it was his birthday and that his friends would come over.
All he could think of was: “If only I could take another look into that mirror. It would be the best birthday gift ever!”
“What’s going on with you?” asked his dad, looking at him intently.
“Nothing,” blurted Tony in a somewhat dreamy voice.
“Tony,” said his dad and looked him straight in the eye. “Have you been looking into the mirror?”
“No,” said Tony quickly and turned away.
Dad shook his head and kept looking at him intently. Tony bent down and started picking his toys.
The next moment, Mom called Dad from the kitchen and asked him to go and buy a dozen eggs while she was elbow-deep in dough. So, as soon as his dad was out, Tony sneaked into the bedroom and pulled off the cloth.
For a moment or two, nothing happened, but slowly the mirror started changing, and he saw himself riding a swift black horse through the woods. He was a hunter, and he was chasing a wild boar. A spear in his hand glistened in the pale moonlight. He was about to throw it as he closed in on his prey.
“Wow! Is it really me?”
Tony could not believe his eyes.
“Yes, it is you,” answered the mirror in a velvety voice. “Stay with me a little longer, and I will show you many things.”
“No, I should probably go,” said Tony hesitantly. “Mom and Dad never look into this mirror for too long.”
But before he had time to think, the mirror showed him a group of huntsmen in leather clothes. They were shouting and cheering as they saw him approaching with the wild boar slumped over his saddle.
“Hail, the greatest of all hunters!” shouted the great company. “Hail, the fastest of all riders! Come and lead us on a great adventure.”
Tony couldn’t resist anymore.
“I am coming,” he shouted back and leaned forward as if stepping inside the mirror. Suddenly, a mighty whirlwind swept him off his feet and sucked him into an impenetrable darkness.
“Where is our boy, George?” asked his mom when she saw her husband walking in through the front door with a paper bag full of groceries.
“Don’t know. Probably picking up his toys”, answered George calmly and called:
“Tony, where are you?”
There was no answer. He looked for him all over the house, but all in vain.
“I can’t find him, Mary,” George called out in a loud voice.
Mary joined him, and together they ransacked every room, looking for Tony in every nook and cranny, but they couldn’t find a trace of him. Upon entering their bedroom once again, Mary froze in the middle of it and cried in dismay:
George ran up to her and saw that the mirror stood uncovered. Suddenly, they both knew what had happened to their boy. Tony had become the prisoner of the magic mirror.
“How terrible! Can we save him?” asked Mary, bursting into tears. George took her hand and stood motionless for a while, deep in thought. Finally, he said:
“He is in a desolate wasteland now. I know. I have been there before.”
“Have you?” asked Mary, raising her eyebrows. “What is it?”
“It’s a vast desert stretching for miles and miles. It is strewn with trash, dead carcasses, and filth of every kind.”
“Why would he want to go there if it’s such a dismal place?” Mary asked.
“He can’t help it. He’s under the spell of the mirror. The mirror showed him many powerful visions, and phantoms appeared to him. He will always think he’s one step away from his dream. But the mirror will deceive him, leading him on and on, withering his mind with ever new delusions but never satisfying. In the end, he will be chained to a high wall and taught the language of the wasteland. After that, he will never be himself again because he will see things the way the mirror sees things.”
“Oh no!” exclaimed Mary. “We can’t let that happen! We must save him.”
“Yes, we must,” answered George slowly. “But to do that, we will need to go into the mirror-land ourselves, find him there, and hope we can bring him back. The longer he stays under the spell of the mirror, the more words of poison he will hear and the more he will forget his own language. If we are too late, I am afraid he won’t be able to understand us”, said George in a breaking voice.
“So, what are we waiting for?” exclaimed Mary impatiently. “How do you get inside this thing?”
She picked up a chair to crack the mirror open, but her husband stopped her.
“You can’t get in this way. All you need to do is look into the mirror long enough and pretend to follow its lead. We will go wherever it takes us, trying to resist the spell before it takes hold of us.”
So, they stood there, looking at their reflections in the mirror for quite a while. It seemed to them that the mirror knew their minds and wasn’t sure what to show. But then a queer change came over it. The picture quivered as if from bitter cold, showing them the same room except Mary and George were much, much older. They were grey-haired and sad.
And they were alone. Tony wasn’t there. The picture was so realistic that Mary couldn’t bear it a moment longer. “No!” she cried in desperation. “I won’t let that happen!”
She took a step forward and felt a mighty whirlwind sucking her in with irresistible force. She closed her eyes in utter dismay and fell into the gaping abyss.
When she opened her eyes, she was lying on a cold stone. George was sitting beside her, holding her hand.
“Where are we?” she asked, rubbing her eyes and shivering all over.
“It felt as if I was falling into my worst dream.”
“That’s where you would have ended up if I didn’t grab your hand at the last moment. I know the power of this spell, so I pretended to follow you, and then I resisted the will of the mirror by not letting it show me what it wished. Instead, I chose my own way,” he added after a pause.
“I have some memory of this place.” He looked around.
“What is this filth?” asked Mary, scanning the slimy landscape strewn with junk and dead bones.
“It’s a graveyard. The prisoners of the mirror, who have wandered in the wasteland too long, end up here after all their strength has been sucked out by phantoms. Their wills are enslaved, and their hearts are empty. That’s what remains of them.”
Mary shuddered at the sound of his voice, but he seemed to know her thoughts.
“If we don’t see Tony here, it means he is not here yet. And this is good news. I have looked around while you were dreaming. He’s not here.”
“Thank goodness! What shall we do now?” asked Mary.
“Wherever he is, he must be on his way to the Wall to which he will be chained. We must go there. I think I know the way,” answered George, and off they went down a slimy path with boulders and sharp rocks in their way.
After a while, Mary noticed a strange humming noise ringing in the air.
“What is it?” she asked. “I hear a noise, but I can’t make out any distinct sounds.”
“There aren’t any. It’s the chant of the wasteland. A monotonous mind-withering mockery of a song that plays at the back of your mind to weaken your spirit, blunt your perceptions, and make you forget your name. It’s poisonous – if you keep listening to it, weariness and boredom will settle over you, making you vulnerable to the whisperings of the phantoms. So, let’s speed up.”
They picked up their pace. After several hours – or so it seemed – they saw a huge Wall looming against the horizon and blocking the dim sunlight. As they got closer, they started hearing moans and whispers. Every now and then, Mary would stop to listen to the humming of the wind. She was trying to catch her son’s voice.
“Look,” she cried suddenly, pointing to a dark cavern some distance away.
George turned around and saw Tony leaning against a white Wall. He looked as if he had finally found the greatest treasure of his life. His hands were spread out, and four black chains were slowly growing out of the Wall, creeping around his wrists and ankles. He didn’t seem to notice, still hugging the Wall.
“Tony,” cried Mary. “Come here! Get away from that wall!”
Tony turned around and looked at her with dreamy eyes. Then, he opened his mouth and said something in a strange and fell tongue that sounded more like a sneer than human speech.
“Tony, do you understand what I am saying?” shouted George as he started running toward him. Tony opened his mouth, and another sneer or a low growl rumbled in the air.
“Are we too late?” asked Mary in despair.
“He doesn’t understand our language anymore,” sighed George.
Mary sank down on the cold rock and wept. Then, a strange thing happened. Suddenly, she rose to her feet, wiped her tears, and stood straight as if listening to the wind or seeing a vision. A phantom-like wind hummed around her, whispering something into her ears. Suddenly, she smiled and rose to her feet half in a dream. She started walking toward an abrupt precipice.
“Stop, honey!” shouted George. “Don’t listen to it! It’s a phantom!”
But it was too late. Mary fell into a dream of her own, muttering to herself,
“Yes, Tony, I will fly with you.”
George dashed forward but found he couldn’t move – two thick chains had grown out of the ground and bound his feet to the rock he was standing on.
“Tony!” he cried. “Tony, save your mother! I can’t move, and you are still free!”
Tony stood motionless, still hugging his treasure.
“Tony!” George pleaded again. “Stop her before it’s too late. Let go of this wall! Save your mother!”
But there was no answer.
George gave a sigh, shaking his head. And then, from the corner of his eye, he noticed a thick metal rod lying a couple of yards away. He bent down, stretching his hand out as far as possible so he could reach it. Finally, he succeeded. He picked up the rod and, holding it in his hands like a club, swung it as hard as he could against the Wall. After several mighty blows, the Wall cracked in several places.
“No!” growled Tony in distinctly human speech. Backing away from the crumbling Wall, he yelled,
“Don’t you dare touch my dream!”
But George didn’t listen, smashing the Wall as hard as he could.
Tony was enraged. He jumped at his father in fury and tried to bite him, but of course, being only a child, he couldn’t stop him.
“Stop it, stop it, Dad! You are destroying my dream!” he cried, wriggling like a worm.
After a few mighty blows, the Wall shook, leaned sideways, and collapsed with a deafening rumble.
“What have you done?” hissed Tony in a menacing but distinctly human voice as he picked up the chunks of the Wall. He held them close to his heart.
Suddenly, he heard his mom’s voice calling him from a distance,
“Tony, Tony, I will fly with you.”
He looked over and saw his mother slowly walking up to a terrible precipice. He froze in dismay because he understood what she was saying!
He trembled all over and wanted to dash forward and stop his mom from falling. But then he cast a glance at the remnants of his shattered dream that he was still clinging to and hesitated.
And then another strange and blood-curdling voice rang in the air. Someone was talking to his mom out of nowhere. He looked around but saw no one. But he recognized the voice – it was his own voice!
And then through a hazy mist, he saw an apparition hanging in the air and looking just like him. The apparition was calling out to his mother: “Come, mother, come with me. We have wings. We will fly together.”
“No!” cried Tony. Letting go of the precious rubble he was holding on to, he rushed forward to her rescue.
But before he had a chance to reach her, as soon as the last piece of the Wall dropped out of his arms, the scene shook and crumbled before his eyes, and a mighty whirlwind swirled him into an impenetrable darkness.
“Tony, Tony, wake up, sleepy.”
Tony recognized his mother’s voice and opened his eyes.
“Guests are coming in a few minutes, and you still have to clean up your room.”
Tony got up from the floor where he had apparently fallen asleep.
“Was it a dream?” he asked in a raspy voice, looking at his mom searchingly.
“Yes, dear, it was a dream,” answered Mary with a smile and went back to the kitchen to finish up with her pies.
Tony stood there for a moment, still not quite believing his eyes. Bending down, he started picking up his toys, and small crumbs of rock fell on the floor from his hair. Tony gasped and trembled all over. Casting a quick glance at the mirror through the open door of the bedroom, he saw a corner of it still uncovered.
He froze. It seemed to him for a moment or two that he heard voices, and he even caught a glimpse of a glorious trophy hall calling and beckoning him from another world. Tony straightened up. Suddenly, his face grew stern, bold, and manly. Coming up to the mirror, he resolutely pulled the cloth over the mirror and turned away.
The first thing he saw was his dad standing in the doorway. He was smiling. Tony looked at him and sighed. His eyes were full of tears.
“You are a hero,” said his dad, patting him on the shoulder.
Tony’s lips quivered.
“Why?” he asked in a trembling voice.
Dad gave him a big hug, saying,
“Because you are not a slave to the mirror.”
“I am not? But I fell into it. I wanted to be a hero. It showed me…”
“I know,” said his dad. “I know. I have been deceived by it, too. You see, the mirror can only deceive those who don’t know who they are. It lies to you, and you want to believe it. When you don’t know who you are, it sucks you in by its magic spells. But when you know who you are, it holds no power over you.”
“And who am I?” asked Tony, peering into his dad’s eyes.
“You are a hero!” said his dad slowly, handing him a package.
“Happy birthday, Tony!”
Tony slowly opened the package, and his eyes sparkled with joy – it was his own one-piece hunter’s leather suit and a bow with ten thin arrows!
“Never forget who you are, and no mirror will be able to deceive you,” said his dad. “There are many magic mirrors in this world, Tony. They will all try to tell you who you are and pull you in with some powerful illusion. If you don’t know who you are, you won’t be able to resist it. But don’t be afraid to look into the mirror now. You are free because you know the truth. Don’t you?”
Slowly, Tony pulled the cloth off the mirror and peeped inside.
“Yes, I do,” he said quietly but firmly.
And then they both laughed and went outside, where Dad had set up a small shooting range to try out Tony’s new bow.