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|The Looking-Glass (standard:fantasy, 895 words)|
|Author: Ian Hobson||Added: May 14 2004||Views/Reads: 2358/0||Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)|
|The dapper-looking grandfather clock in the hallway struck nine, and with a wink, lifted its top hat and bowed stiffly towards Astana, before resuming its regular pose and its steady tick… tock.|
The Looking-Glass ©2004 Ian Hobson The light was fading rapidly, as was the summer, but the evening was still warm. He took her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze, but then suddenly, he was gone, leaving Astana sitting alone beneath the willow tree. But Astana was used to Valdo's sudden departures; his habit of melting away, or sometimes, when he was feeling theatrical, vanishing with a loud ‘pop' or in a cloud of green or orange smoke. Astana sat for a while and then, rising from the bench, she stepped lightly along the stone pathway and up the steps towards her cottage. There was a light breeze, and the full moon, now visible as it almost crested the tops of nearby trees, conspired with them to cast dancing shadows across the garden. Astana stopped beside the small circular pond and, using a spell the old warlock had taught her, she raised and tilted its mirror-like surface, to look at her own reflection. She was beautiful. Her features were fine, as though chiselled from granite, yet her skin was as smooth as porcelain. In the moonlight her long golden hair shone, her emerald-green eyes sparkled, and her full-length gown of ivory coloured silk seemed to flow over her feminine form like melt-water running over a frozen waterfall. ‘I have much to thank you for, Valdo.' Astana's voice was as soft as falling snow. She stood for a moment then, as she turned away towards the cottage, she let the pond fall gently back into place; causing circular ripples to run from its circumference to its center, where they took the form of tiny fish, leaping above the surface and returning with a splash. From the shadows beneath a bush, a black kitten raced to the edge of the pond, stopping just in time to avoid falling headlong into the water. ‘There you are, Caldra.' Astana had turned full circle and was looking down at the kitten, as it playfully reached with its right paw towards the center of the pond. ‘You're not still falling for that trick, are you? You should know better at your age.' Caldra meowed as she looked up at her mistress, enquiringly. ‘Yes, Valdo has gone. Though I don't know why you are so afraid of him.' Astana reached down to stroke the kitten; and as she ran her long fingernails through the sleek black fur along her flank she purred loudly, arching her back and lifting her tail. ‘Look at all he has done for us. You had almost used up the last of your nine lives, but he's given you nine more.' Once more Astana turned and continued along the pathway towards the cottage, now with Caldra skipping along behind her. The scent from the last of the summer's climbing roses filled the air as they passed through the pergola, and a fresh fall of petals carpeted their way. The cottage stood in darkness, but as Astana approached, welcoming lights appeared in the windows as candles were lit inside. This time the magic was Astana's own, for though her craft could not quite match Valdo's, she was more accomplished than most witches. Before Astana reached the threshold, the timber and iron-studded door swung open, and as she stepped inside, it silently closed, almost trapping Caldra's tail as she leaped through the narrowing gap. Astana laughed. The newly refurbished cottage had a mind of its own and seemed to enjoy a little childlike mischief now and again. The dapper-looking grandfather clock in the hallway struck nine, and with a wink, lifted its top hat and bowed stiffly towards Astana, before resuming its regular pose and its steady tick... tock. Astana stroked its polished mahogany frame as she past, before entering the parlour, where the log fire beneath the Adam-stile fireplace began to blaze and long velvet curtains drew themselves across the single leaded window. She looked even more beautiful in the firelight as she crossed the room towards the alcove beyond the fireplace; yet the long shadow she cast seemed distorted. In the alcove was another velvet curtain, but not until Astana stood in front of it and held up her left hand, did the curtain glide silently open, revealing a full-length mirror. This part of Valdo's miraculous spell was less than a pleasure, but served as a reminder of the gift he had bestowed on Astana. His words of warning echoed in her mind. ‘Remember, for the spell to remain unbroken you must return to the looking glass, daily, at the appointed hour, and gaze upon yourself as you really are.' The hag who gazed back at her was old and wrinkled; her nose long and crooked; her hair, straggly and grey; her eyes dull and lifeless. And her tattered gown, stained with the grime of years, couldn't hide the stooping and withered shape of her aged form. ‘You were almost late,' the old witch admonished, in a hideous croaking voice. ‘One day you will be late, and then I will be freed from this accursed looking-glass...' Astana sighed and raised her hand, closing the curtain before her other self could say any more. Then suddenly, the youthful and handsome love of her life was beside her again. And, as she turned towards him and returned his smile, he took her hand and gave it a squeeze. Tweet
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