I woke up this morning thinking it would be a normal day. That the sun would rise, my cat would beg for breakfast, and my bus to work would be late. And sure enough, the sun rose at precisely 8:41am….wait… is that right? And my cat, Seven, was nowhere to be found. Never mind, the little fur ball takes more adventures than my D&D group… and it’s been so rainy the last few weeks that I’ve barely seen the sun. A quick look at my open Ninth story window confirmed these thoughts.
I took a shower and peeked in the mirror as I stepped out. I should really shave, but then the thought was lost. I ate my usual cup of plain yogurt with a Three-day past its prime banana. You eat whatever you can afford when you’re an intern for a non-profit in New York City. My briefcase leaned against the door to my studio apartment. I made it a habit of leaving it there after arriving to the office empty-handed Two too many times. I threw on a rain slicker and headed out the door to catch the number Six bus.
It was Five past the hour when I arrived at the stop. Expecting to wait like I always did, I pulled out my tablet and started reading the New York Times. More dirt on Trump… big surprise. I paused as I read the headline and looked up. The bus… it was there. Like it had always been there, though it never was. The door slid open and the bus driver greeted me, “Good morning, Jacobi. It’s time we got you out of here.”
I blinked…then I rubbed my eyes. “Seven?” I said, dumbfounded.
“No, Jac… this is the Six.” My cat said this from behind the wheel of the bus. His paws were hands, resting on the steering wheel… but his face was his. I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding as I looked around at all the other people at the bus stop. The man next to me… no, his shadow…gave a quick nod and boarded the bus. But the sun wasn’t out….was it? It was pouring down rain. I was dry, but there was rain.
“Well, Jac..? Are you coming? It’s time you got to work.”
I sat on the bench, unable to move. Unable to speak. My shadow peeled away from my feet and whispered something to my body. I was somewhere in between, as I felt the whisper’s airy coldness brush past my unbeating heart. Did I still have a heart? “Of course you do,” My shadow said as he pointed toward the bus, “She’s already aboard. Why don’t you join her?”
My shadow slithered up the stairs past Seven as I began my way to the bus. I looked back at my body, still holding the tablet. “Aren’t you coming too?” I wanted to say… but I didn’t have words. I didn’t need them anymore. At least not these words. That’s what my heart said as she beckoned me from the bus.
I watched my body fade into the distance as the bus, now a train, drove into a bright Silver Sun. I was now my shadow, my heart, and myself… and I knew somehow this is who I had always been. “Welcome home, dear vislae.” Seven purred. “We’ve much to discuss.”
Nine… it was nine. I couldn’t get it out of my head. They all said eight, but I knew there were nine. Nine is always nine, eight is only ever eight when there is nine.
“Jacobi…” The familiar voice brought me back to reality. And I knew this was in fact reality. Everything before was not… real. It was just a specter. “Listen, I know the transition from Shadow to the Actuality can be jarring… but you need to focus.”
“The Actuality? Shadow?” I murmured. “What are you talking about, Seven?”
I had named him that because I found him on the seventh floor of my apartment building. I was never too creative, so I went with Seven. My cat sat in front of me, human hands scratching a feline ear. We had gotten off the train… or bus… near a giant arched bridge reaching its metallic arms over a crystal clear river. No, it was a mirror. All I could see were reflections of things that weren’t there.
“Keep looking, Jac. Never stop looking.” Seven noticed my eyes chained to the mirror. “They lie… the mirrors do,” he said.
“Um… yeah.” I turned my head to look back at Seven and felt the chains break away from the river….mirror… “Listen, Seven. I know I’m not dreaming. But this all seems…”
Seven interrupted me. “Trust me Jac, this will all make sense soon. We need to get you to Indigo. This is Silver. It’s not safe to speak here.” I noticed that his eyes were now fixed upon the anchor which my eyes were once tethered to. “Keep looking…” he kept saying.
I looked back to the mirror and saw its reflection devouring the bridge ahead. The crunch of steel as it crumpled between glassy teeth sent a shower of terror flying through the now chilled air. Wispy fingers grabbed at my eyes and I felt them steal my vision. I was looking at myself look at myself. Next to me was Seven, human hands now paws, feline face now human. A twisted smile crept over his sinister face and I heard from beside me… or was it outside me…? “RUN!”
Seven’s human hand grabbed my eyes and pulled them back from the mirror. I could see again. But there was no time to see… we ran.
The mirror had swallowed everything in its path for miles. I stood on the other side of a sparkling river staring at the lies it reflected back to me. This river was a river. I knew it was because the mirror on the other side reflected the opposite. Seven placed a ragged feline paw on my tentacle arm… that’s what the mirror showed at least. When I looked away I saw a human hand on my forearm, skin the same color as Seven’s grey fur.
“The River Toor. It protects the city from creatures of the Legacy. We are safe now.” He gently turned my body so I could see behind us, though behind was now in front. My eyes were greeted with monolithic white stone towers, faces stretching toward the Silver Sun above. I felt the knowledge of eight… no, nine… suns radiate from the luminous edifices. Down below the sound of a bustling city finally grabbed my ears and began to tug. Once again, I found myself holding my breath and my heart beat wildly out of my chest.
Some part of me wanted to be there. My shadow’s shadow kept insisting I go back to New York City. But my heart, she planted her feet firmly on my shadow and stopped him from splitting. “This is where it will all start to make sense.” She murmured. My mother had always told me I had a heart murmur growing up, if only she knew how right she was. She also always taught me to listen to my heart. Did she mean it in this most literal of senses?
Before I realized it, we were walking. Seven was on my right, my heart on the left, and my shadow trailed close behind. Shadow’s shadow had faded back into the ground some time ago. By now the Silver Sun was low in the sky behind us, though it used to be in front of us. Its glistening rays now reflected off the towers ahead, and for the first time today I saw a true reflection. I saw a man, no older than 25, clean shaven and tired, walking down a path. Next to him walked a grey cat – four feline paws hurrying along as a bushy tail flicked back and forth. Their eyes told a story of requirement – of duty. I knew then my life was forever changed, and I’d never need to worry about forgetting my briefcase again.
I looked up and down the innumerable stacks of books, their pages teeth between tightly closed, leathery lips. Still each book, teeth being bared behind knowing smiles on the shelves. They were the teeth’s teeth, masticating all the knowledge of all the Suns. They didn’t want to be read. Not by me.
By now, Seven had begun to tell me about the Actuality and the eight different Suns… or was it nine? The stacks we navigated were under the Silver Sun. He told me of creation and its falsehood. Of how birth was only the beginning step on a path that always led north. I was almost starting to understand the cat’s cryptic words when my feet began to feel damp. As we made our way down the aisle I noticed the books had changed from a light cyan color to a deep indigo. Words poured from between the pages, creating puddles along the path.
They were salivating. And the further we walked the deeper the puddles became. “We’re here.” Seven whispered with a grin. He had been saying for a while now that if we wanted to get to Indigo without suffering through Green and Blue we “…had to be eaten by knowledge.” Whatever he meant surely didn’t sound pleasant. After all, it wasn’t long ago that we had just escaped from being eaten by the mirror. This Actuality, it seemed, was a harsh and unforgiving place. Why would Seven bring me here?
Again, I found myself lost in thought. I raced through a labyrinth of interconnected tunnels, dripping with a pale grey slime that caused me to slip every other step. At the end of every tunnel was a door. Every door was locked. Except one. This door seemed… alive. It pulsed in a rhythmic pattern… buhBuh buhBuh. With each step closer my heart beat faster, and so too did the door. I placed my hand on the door to push it open and I felt a warmth like I had never felt before. My hand sunk into the door, and expecting resistance that wasn’t there, my body flew forward and crashed into the door.
Crashed isn’t the right word, now that I think of it. Rather, it was more of an embrace. I was cocooned in that warmth, and as I fell, seemingly for eternity, my heart spoke to me from somewhere around me, yet from nowhere. “You’ve been looking for truth in all the wrong places, Jacobi. You’ve been living in the dark… no, a shadow, for as long as you can remember. I have been locked away in here… through no fault of your own… for far too long.”
Her voice was comforting. Her words bathed me in familiarity. She reminded me of my mother, the one from before the cancer had eaten away at her brain. The mother that always spoke of the heart… from the heart. “We are nearing Indigo, Jacobi. Listen to Seven, he knows you perhaps better than you know yourself. Open your eyes now… and don’t forget to hold your breath.”
I opened my eyes and saw the bookshelf in front of me open its gaping maw. Poetry and prose now drenched my clothes, and I wiped a word from my brow and turned to Seven who was already holding his breath. I sucked in one final lung full of verbose air just as the Indigo jaws clamped down on our necks. The shelf pulled back violently and ripped our heads from our bodies. I saw me standing knee deep in wordy puddles, waving a gleeful farewell was I was swallowed by truth.
I had been in Indigo for hours now. Time seemed different there, faster, yet, not moving at all. After being consumed by what I now know as the Truthing Beast, we ended up in a city made of thoughts called Satyrine. Still soaked in the beast’s loquaciousness, Seven and I lay unconscious on a street corner that didn’t yet exist.
My cat… I don’t know why I still thought of him that way, but I did… must have been the first to wake. He shook me to life and just purred. With a quick nod Seven reached into one of his pockets with one hand, then another. Once both his arms were about elbow deep in the pocket he dove his head in and folded himself entirely into his own pocket. I watched as the pocket, now just a small opening in the air ahead, rustle about. Every now and then an object would come flying out, or a familiar hiss would echo from inside.
Minutes later, or was it hours, Seven came flying out of his pocket in a grand backflip, landing as gracefully as any cat would. In one of his hands he held two paint brushes. He handed me one and tapped the center of my forehead with his finger. He took my other hand, extended my index finger, and motioned for me to do the same to him. As I pulled my finger away I noticed a small hole where my finger had touched. I ran a hand across my own forehead now and swallowed with an audible gulp as a finger sunk into my head. I quickly pulled away and looked at my fingertip. Expecting to see it soaked in blood, I instead saw a wisp of what I could only describe as ‘earlier today’ evaporate away.
“Don’t worry, just follow my lead.” With that, Seven took his paint brush and plunged it into his skull. He swirled it around a bit, removed the brush, and walked over to the street sign that stood a few feet away. It was strange. There were no words, no numbers, just blankness. Seven motioned for me to follow just before reaching his brush up to the sign. I watched as swirls of memories formed letters on the sign.
I cautiously brought the paint brush up to my forehead and slowly dipped the tip down into the well. “Don’t be afraid to reach deep, Jac. The more hidden the memory, the more effective our portal will be.” Seven had just filled his brush with another swath of memories, and he continued to write, “ENVY S…” were the letters. “I want you to write MEMORY LANE on this other sign.”
I pushed the brush further into the hole in my head and reached for a familiar but distant face. I felt the face of my mother, young and vibrant, soak into the horse hair. I pulled my hand back and placed the brush on the sign and began to write, “MEMO…” We continued in this fashion until the street signs read “ENVY STREET” and “MEMORY LANE”. The words swirled on the metallic surface, each letter reflecting back a memory we no longer held in our brains.
MEMO: The face of my mother before tumors changed her into a shell.
RY L: The face of my father, who I barely knew, as he kissed my mother when he walked out the door the last time.
ANE: The steps just before reaching the seventh floor of my apartment building, the day I found Seven.
ENVY S: A man, recognizable as Seven, but without the feline features. He was wielding an object of pure hate, slinging fury into the distance.
TREET: The door slamming shut, the pain of being kicked, and the vision of me stopping at the top of the stairs and kneeling down
“Very good. This will do. Yes, this will do nicely.” Seven spoke some indistinguishable words and the street sign melted into the ground. The puddle it formed began spreading in all directions. As it spread, the very place we stood morphed into a dimly lit room, the crackle of a fireplace the only sound tickling my ears, the smell of humanity devoid of hopelessness crawled into my nostrils. With a pop of a log on the fire, my memories came spilling back into my brain and I felt a small pinch on my forehead.
I looked around the room, unfamiliar in ways I could not describe, yet familiar like a home I had been away from for years. A man stood in a doorway. His face was obscured by shadows, or was it a shadow itself? As he stepped into the room the shadows lifted, and I saw a face I had just seen not moments ago.