[This is a continuation of the first installment, published on Friday, October 25, 2013]
Margritte followed Jean-Baptiste and the older guide further down the hallway. It seemed to stretch into infinity in either direction. She shivered at the thought of getting lost down here, as she could not see to the end of either hallway, just a gaping greyness that adsorbed their footsteps. As they walked, the stone floor gave way to dirt and there seemed to be an increasingly cavernous quality to the hallway as it slowly widened, as if they were journeying further into the earth and far away from La Belle Hotél and everything she had grown to know. Upon recalling her life up to this strange moment, she felt once again forlorn of her mother’s absence and the pit in her stomach grew.
She began to notice the faint smell of fish and underneath that, stale beer. There were low murmurings coming from somewhere beyond her sight. It was reminiscent of the basement bar, but she didn’t sense that they were in the hotel any longer. Even the walls had begun to change. First, cracks gave way to larger openings and then to archways with nothing but more grey behind them. The hallway rounded more and more so that it seemed as if they were heading down a tunnel or chute of some kind.
“Brother!” She said finally after gaining enough strength to speak. “Where are you taking me?”
“You’ll find out soon enough, dear sister.”
Jean-Baptiste twisted his head to face her and flashed an unnaturally brilliant smile, his green eyes twinkling devilishly. Was Margritte imagining things or did it seem like this young man, her usually mischievous brother, was actually a beloved ghost or something else entirely?
Now that she thought of it, he seemed like a better version of her brother in every way: taller, more handsome, and even quicker on his feet. Jean-Baptiste was certainly a delightful troublemaker when he was alive, but he was also languid and withdrawn most times, usually scheming quietly with a silent but curling mouth. This new Jean-Baptiste was brisk and business-like, even if he hadn’t yet explained the business to which they were attending. Even the warmth of calling her “sister” seemed somewhat forced.
Finally, after what seemed like half an hour, the hallway bent into another corner. Abruptly, there was a heavy, black iron door at the end of it. Margritte’s heart leapt hopefully at the thought of rediscovering the stone steps leading up to her turret, but her hopes fell to her feet when she and her brother and guide worked to drag the door open and she saw what lay beyond it.
Behind the door laid the hull of a great ship, or so it seemed to Magritte’s untrained eye. She had only taken one type of boat in her life, from the mainland of Texas onto Matagorda Island; a ferry that transported her father, mother, and all of the belongings they brought with them to their new life, but never in one this large. Deep in the belly that Margritte imagined could house something as grand as a whale there were men everywhere; men in different uniforms or barely wearing anything at all. There were men of different skin colors ranging from an almost greenish, sickly sallow and men darker than their clay-colored companion. The din of their shouts quieted as they turned to look at the new arrivals. The men exchanged nods with Jean-Baptiste and turned back to their work.
Margritte reached to grasp her brother’s arm firmly.
“Please tell me what this is about, dear brother.”
“We have made an exchange,” he said simply.
“An exchange? An exchange for what?”
“For you, dear sister.”
Margritte’s stomach contracted and tightened at this thought, although she didn’t know what this meant. After a few moments, breaths, and heartbeats, she said, “What does that mean?”
“Oh. You’ll see.”
Their guide nodded with his gaze just ahead of them. As they approached another iron door, he said, “Here we are.”
They stepped into another dark hallway lined with black velvet curtains. At the end of the hallway, there was a twinkling; light bouncing off of something metallic and shining. Margritte discovered that this room was filled with mirrors. It seemed to go on forever, yet made her feel claustrophobic as if they were all closing in her because she saw her own image repeating itself into infinity.
She spun around and found herself alone.
“Don’t worry, dear sister,” her brother said with a laugh. “You’ll see. You’ll see.”
She began to see movement in the mirror. Or was it glass? There before her, appeared an image of a great ship sailing on the sea.
“You see, dear sister. The hotel our father purchased was on the crash site of a ship called La Belle. Some of the floorboards and furniture like your armoire and the seats of your precious turret were built from pieces of this ship. This ship contains many many souls that were lost in battle. And since then, they’ve been restlessly working and building.
The girl you saw pass us on the stairs, dear sister, is your twin. She died when mother was giving birth to her, but you survived. Although, she didn’t really die. I met her last year in what you might call ‘the other side’. It’s really more like being separated by glass from those you love and the familiar world. You can visit and watch whenever you like, but you must always sacrifice something to move beyond the glass. Only special circumstances allow to you pass through the glass, but it can only be impermanent.”
The images in front of Margritte changed to the scene of her bedroom and there she was sleeping under her canopy.
“Your twin, Margritte, never got an identity. She never got to know what it was like to be a living, breathing girl. She grew and aged, which was a mystery to us all. That made her special and because of this, she was granted a wish.”
“A wish?” Margritte whispered quietly.
“Yes. A wish to live your life and to trade places with you on the other side of the glass.”
“But I never got to make a wish!” Margritte screamed so loudly that the mirrors/glass buckled slightly. She could feel warmth running through her fingers again and crawling up her neck to her head.
“Well, instead of a wish, you have a choice.”
Jean-Baptiste paused while Margritte pink face became more pale.
“You can get the life you had or you can join our mother and I on this side of the glass.”
“Mother?” Margritte whimpered.
“Yes. Mother wants to kiss you and stroke your hair and hold you in her arms.”
“Where is she?”
“She will be joining us soon. Very soon.”
“What if I want to keep the life I had?”
“Well, that means you must sacrifice something.”
“You must kill her. You must kill your twin.”
Margritte gasped and covered her mouth with her hands, eyebrows raising and eyes blurring. The mirrors only reflected this image back to her.
Her brother continued, “Then you may go back to your life, but it will be changed. You must take knowledge about us and about this place with you to your grave. And you must never tell anyone what you’ve done.”
“And what if I don’t?”
“You will be one of those trapped between two panes of glass forever. You will never be able to be a part of our world or of yours. You will never age, but you will continue to go insane.”
So many questions swirled around Margritte’s head like live fish in a small bucket. Some popped above the water, but before she could make making sense of them, they bobbed back down into the depths of her mind.
“You must make your decision before the sun shines on your twin.”
Another image showed her bedroom windows, still uncovered, and the increasingly pale sky.
Margritte felt her heart in her ears and her stomach at her feet. Her hands started to shake and then her head.
“What’s it like with you and mother?”
“Oh, it’s so wonderful. We will be able to spend eternity together. We can do whatever we like. We take this ship to new lands and different worlds. We will try new foods and meet new people. But most importantly, we will all be together. Father may join us one day, when his time comes, but it may be for a much long time coming.
Have you made your decision?”
Margritte nodded her assent.
“Good. Let’s see what you’ve decided.”
Everything went black and the mirrors and the room and the ship and the floors and walls disappeared. Margritte felt as if she were floating through space and being wrenched from head to toe at the same time. Her stomach felt as if it were in her mouth and she lost her breath several.
She came to a full stop and thudded against some cold, hard, but wooden. She sputtered and choked and gulped the air like a fish dying on the shore. The smell around her was familiar to her. She smelled lavender and dry fur and dust.
There she was waking up in her new home, on the inside of her armoire, and soon to be covered in blood.