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Wednesday 30 November 2022


Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine. - William Shakespeare

    Hazel eyes wandered out over the water. Stars glittered and danced across the boundless surface, like diamonds unobtainable. It was a night preserved, a night in glass; a timelost thing of silence.
     Alone beneath that smothering magnitude, there was nothing at all to ground her.
     Unbidden, her heavy gaze returned to her reflection. And again it stared back, not haloed or graced by the mirror of stars, but threatened instead by crystalline shards of ice hanging suspended at its back. And though she recognised herself, the face was unfamiliar. There was something in it she hadn't seen before: lines, a wild darkness in the eyes, a rounding of the shoulders that still somehow stood as tight as her own.
     Rogue wind lashed hair across her face. The reflection, too, was whipped by its own. But it didn't blink. It stared back at her. It saw. It watched.
     It was unreasonable. Irrational. Impossible. But the twist of something in her mind under that debilitating glare closed her throat, and the smell of saltless water became almost toxic.
     As the freezing touch of panic skittered up her spine, she tried desperately to turn and run back to solid, opaque ground. But all she could manage to do was avert her gaze. And when it inevitably pulled back just a heartbeat later, the naive hope that the face that Should Be would be there instead was crushed. And her heartbeat went with it.
     The broken, haunted, silent girl stared on.
     No reflection belonged to the water. Only to those who viewed it. What she saw was no trick of the night, and that fact throbbed painfully beneath shuddering ribs. And now, she couldn't even turn her eyes away.
     The reflection rose, growing closer, coming for her, the water itself rising behind it.
     Still, she couldn't move. Only her eyelids obeyed, and even that came too late.
     They shut tight as the water crashed over her shoulders, enveloping her in a deathly cold, shocking her mind empty until the roaring surge plunged suddenly into a dull, thrumming silence pounding numb against her eardrums. And when she dared at last to open them again, heart thundering in her throat, hair drifting around her head like kelp, she found the stars still hanging beneath her feet upon the water surface. But now, she discovered in horror, she stood on the other side. The world had inverted.
     Her head snapped back up, but rather than stare on through the water, she found herself just inches from the face of her reflection. It flickered with darkness, as if the whole being was suddenly enrobed in shadow, and this time, she stood in front of her, the same way up, feet fixed to the underside of the water just as her own were.
     The two stood alone in the same dark, suffocating realm.
     Panic's claws gripped her throat, but the overwhelming need to run, to close her eyes, to refuse what stood in front of her was denied. Something inside her made her stare on.
     No. No, not inside her. The reflection itself. The shadow. Those tormented eyes had seized her with the grip of the grave.
     Paralysed, she stared back and fell victim to silent declarations, deafened already by the muffled gurgle of water in her ears, simultaneously aware and unaware of everything spoken inside the lock of those eyes. Destruction. Accusation. Fury. Those hurting eyes screamed the desire to rip her to shreds.
     But this time, she didn't look away. She didn't even think to. Watching the figure, she suddenly felt her own pain, her own alarm, the darkness that came to her in the night, in moments of isolation, in certainties that the world itself had betrayed her... And all of this, she could see on the reflection's shoulders too. It carried those same burdens, cast the same shadow - it wore that shadow. It felt the same, identical, all but for one crucial, crushing difference: it had also been betrayed by her.
     She had been betrayed by her.

     No reflection belonged to the water. Only to those who viewed it.
     But while a reflection could be avoided, the shadow would always follow.

     A deep, cold, shuddering breath filled her lungs. Water moved alive around her. Her eyes closed calmly.
     She felt the motion before it reached her. But even as the shadow threw itself violently against her, she opened her arms and embraced it.
     Those stiff, rounded shoulders immediately began to shudder. And she hushed it. She stroked her shadow's hair as it sobbed, rubbed its back as it trembled, and felt her own darkness rise to the surface. And there, that immense and neglected darkness settled.
     But it didn't overwhelm her. Not this time. It didn't try to crush her. It didn't try to rip her apart. It just sat quietly beside everything else, intertwining, existing as a fact rather than a burden.

     Time passed, seconds or minutes. Her eyes opened. Her arms were empty. The shadow was gone.
     Then a gasp leapt from her throat.
     The stars hung all around her, glittering throughout the water; diamonds, ice, all mingling together, as dangerous and as beautiful as each other.
     She breathed, barely aware that she hadn't yet drowned, but though that breath still came ragged, the weight on her chest was less. And she looked around, marvelling at the drowned realm. Her realm. Her gaze didn't drop to discover what surface she stood upon, nor did she try to walk; she didn't fret falling, or drowning, or sinking, even as her mind slowly began to work again. Instead, it all drifted away, and she sat herself silently down on the underside of the water, staring up and around at the stars.
     Her shadow was beside her, somewhere. Where it had always been; unnoticed, but ever there. And though she knew it would continue to weave its trials and present her with hurdles by its very nature, she also knew it was better to have a co-operative weight than a resistant one. And the co-operation would come.
     Lying back, she would leave this place when she was ready. And she would cross the next hurdle as close to whole as she could be.

In myths, the hero is the one who conquers the dragon, not the one who is devoured by it. And yet both must deal with the same dragon. And he is no hero who never met the dragon, or who, if once he saw it, declared afterwards that he saw nothing.
- Carl Jung

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock


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