Genre: Sapphire & Steel
Word Count" 3038
What if the image in the mirror is yours, but someone has stolen your body? My thanks to alton_lust for posting the article I stole this title from and for sparky955 for her beta help
Stu sat up and looked around, slightly confused. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d fallen asleep here. Sleep had become a stranger, something that he now had to approach carefully and quietly. He took a deep breath and tried to clear his head. That didn’t help, so he brought his hands to his face and stopped.
It was as if he’d never seen them before and for a moment he wondered if he was still asleep and dreaming. He stared at them, then raised one to run through his hair and stopped again. What had happened to his hair? It felt very weird… and long.
He looked around again, but it was his living room, down to the plaid carpet and the tangerine couch he’d so excitedly picked out. Their living room was a show case in the neighborhood. He’d never worried when strangers suddenly appeared.
Somehow, he got to his feet and staggered to the window, pulling aside the goldenrod colored curtains. Outside, the back yard was as it always was. That was reassuring. For a moment he feared a black void… he paused… where had that thought come from? He didn’t fear a black void at all. No, his enemy was a rogue dandelion or perhaps a clump of crabgrass, not nothing. Who the hell would be afraid of nothing? His pool beckoned invitingly to him, just as it had to Thomas. How his little boy loved that pool. He could still see him splashing away in the shallow end.
He choked and fell back a step. They’d only left him for a moment. Neither of them had meant to, but Elly had heartburn from her pregnancy and he’d settled her on the couch, then went up upstairs to get her medicine. When he returned, Thomas had vanished, seemingly into thin air.
It had been the nightmare or all nightmares. Their son had just been snatched, but the police found nothing. They didn’t even have a body to sit Shiva for. Rubbing his forehead, he half staggered from the living room to the foot of the stairs.
“Elly?” He choked at the sound of his own voice. When had he developed a British accent?
“Stu?” Even Elly’s voice sound odd. His head pounded and he felt that he was on the verge of losing his… what was the last meal he’d had… he couldn’t even remember. Was it before the visit to the funeral home?
He fell to his knees then and began to sob, his misery renewed. For a brief moment, he’d forgotten they had just buried their son. How blessed that moment had been. Now the rage, sorrow, and frustration welled forward, threatening to drown him.
He felt arms around him and knew they were Elly’s. Her sobs joined his. For a long time, they just held each other, giving their angst its freedom.
Eventually Stu pulled back and stared at the woman he’d been embracing. A slender blonde with wise blue eyes regarded him with the same puzzled expression he must have had.
“Who are…? Elly?” With a trembling hand, he stroked her hair. It was so very soft, much different from the stiff coiffure that her hairspray always created.
“Uh, huh. Stu, what happened?” She touched his face. “You look so different. So hard.”
“I don’t know.” He thought hard for a moment. “I remember I was covering the hall mirror and I was wishing I could exchange places with someone, anyone. Then I woke up on the couch.”
“I’m so confused. I heard you cry out and came to see what had happened. You were pounding the mirror and screaming Thomas’s name.”
“Oh, God. I remember.” Stu moaned deep in his throat. “Thomas was having a core meltdown and screaming that he hated the baby. I told him if he hated the baby so much, maybe he should just leave.” He looked at the woman. “But I didn’t mean… what have I done? Someone must have heard me and snatched him.”
“Stu, it wasn’t your fault. I was lying there and hating myself, you, the baby. All I wanted was for everything to go away.” She hesitated. “I remember waking up in the guest room and thinking I was on the ocean because of the carpet. It reminded me of the sea on our honeymoon. Remember? That’s why we bought it, so we’d have the seashore with us.”
“I do. All my memories are intact, but this body… so very strange and small. I don’t understand. Maybe we should retrace our steps?” He looked towards the hall mirror. He got up and helped her to his feet. He was so strong now that he nearly yanked her off her feet.
“Stu! Be careful!” Instantly, her hand went to her stomach and she nearly swooned. “Oh no.” Her voice became small. “The baby… what happened to the baby?”
He choked on her words. “Elly, what’s going on?”
Together, they somehow made their way to the covered mirror. Stu caught his breath and gently pulled the fabric covering it away. Even so, he nearly tore it.
It fell to the floor unobserved as they stared at their reflections, the same images they saw every time they looked into the mirror. Stu touched his face and his image copied the movement.
Steel sat up, instantly aware that something seemed off. It took him a moment to realize that he had been asleep. Steel seldom slept, never needed to, in fact. While it was true that they said metal grew fatigued, he would argue the point. Yet, he had been asleep and now it was reluctant to release him, trying to pulling him back down.
He swung his legs over the edge of the platform he was sitting on and blinked several times to try and clear his head. It felt heavy and contrary, as if it had suddenly developed its own agenda.
Sapphire? Sapphire, can you hear me? He waited for a moment, then tried again. Sapphire?
Yes, Steel. Her voice sounded weary and he was instantly concerned.
Are you all right?
I was going to ask you the same thing. Your voice… well, your thoughts, they seem different.
I was asleep
You don’t sleep.
I know. It is a bit confusing. I don’t know how humans do it. Where are you? Steel paused to look around the room he was in. The platform proved to be a very hard couch of a mind-numbing orange. The floor was carpeted with a plaid fabric that made him just a bit dizzy when he studied it. I have no idea where I am.
I think it’s a bedroom. A very colorful bedroom. She sounded a bit more aware. The rug is turquoise.
Be thankful. Mine is plaid.
Steel, there’s something else. There’s a child here. He’s sleeping.
Let him sleep. No use confusing him until we know what we are dealing with. The last thing we need is a frightened child.
He stood up and took a few steps. Everything seemed just a bit odd as if he was wearing shoes too big for his feet. He stumbled to a window and drew back the curtains. He half expected to see a sea of black, devoid of everything including stars or perhaps an invasion of weeds. He stopped at that thought. He wasn’t even sure what a weed was, why would he fear them so? Instead it was a stretch of uniformly cut grass and trees so perfect that they looked carved out of plastic. They surrounded a kidney-shaped pool filled with brilliant blue water.
What do you see out your window?
Steel stared to worry when there was no answer immediately, but then he remembered how he had felt. Finally, her voice came back, weary.
I’m looking down upon a lawn and a swimming pool.
You must be right above me. He looked around and finally spotted a set of stairs. Sapphire, there is a flight of stairs. I will meet you at the bottom.
He felt more in control of the situation now, although he still felt awkward. He stepped through to the hallway and paused at the base of the stairs. A few moments later, a woman appeared and walked carefully down them, holding tightly to the railing. Her stomach was swollen and Steel stared, even though he knew it was rude. She stopped and stared at him, her face puzzled. “Who? What are you,” she managed.
“I was about to ask you the same thing.”
“I am here with my partner…” Then she gasped. “Steel?”
“Yes, of course.” It took him a moment longer. “Sapphire? You’ve… you’ve changed. Have I…?” He touched his face and frowned. It felt different.
He spotted a mirror on the wall and walked resolutely to it. “I remember we were drawn to that mirror for some reason.” There was a cloth draped over the front of it and, he hesitated at Sapphire’s voice.
“Some cultures believe that mirrors have special powers to trap souls. For example, in Serbia and Croatia, it was the custom to bury a mirror with the dearly departed to keep them from roaming the earth. In China, it was believed that the Emperor Huangdi put a spell on all mirrors to strip people of their powers, which is why there are no magical beings now.” The stranger who was Sapphire came down the stairs the rest of the way and paused by his side. “And then there is Bloody Mary.”
Steel frowned. “The drink or the Tudor queen?”
“The ghost story. She is said to hide in mirrors and come out when you call her name a number of times. Then she torments and eventually kills you.”
“I’m confused. Why would you bother? If you knew she would kill you, why pursue that course?”
“I suppose you have to be human to understand.”
“Well, that’s reassuring.” With a quick flick of his wrist, Steel tried tugging the cloth from the mirror. He sighed and gave it a firmer yank. It came free and he stared into it. His usual visage studied him, yet this was not his body.
“Sapphire? Aren’t these things supposed to reflect what is?” Likewise, in the mirror, the woman was the same one he knew as Sapphire. He reached up to touch his face and his image followed suit. “What is happening to us? I don’t understand. Is it Them?”
“I’m not sure. It’s as if we’ve traded places… no, not places, bodies with someone else, but we can still communicate telepathically. It makes no sense. It’s as if our essence is here, but our bodies are elsewhere.” She touched her hair, frowning at its brittleness. “What are They trying to tell us?”
“And why?” Steel looked at his hands. “This body is worthless to me. It is frail and human. I cannot fight with this.” He stopped abruptly. “Do you think the Transuranics…?”
“This would be a stretch even for them, Steel.” There was a cry from upstairs. “The child has woken up.”
“I’m afraid that’s not how it works.” Sapphire made a face and started walking slowly towards the staircase, her hand on the small of her back.
“Sapphire, are you ill?”
“No, Steel, this body is pregnant, very pregnant.” She stopped to catch her breath. “Would you mind?”
“Of course.” Steel took the stairs two at a time, a novelty for him. He took a wrong turn, but then a small boy toddled out of a room and ran to him.
“Daddy! I’m sorry!” He clutched his father’s legs and for a moment, Steel panicked.
Pick him up, Steel. He’s frightened.
But not of me.
Of course not, you must have his father’s image. Bring him to me.
For a moment, Steel hesitated, then offered the little boy his hand. “Let’s go find Mommy.”
“Mommy’s with da baby. She’s always with da baby.” He was quiet for a moment. “I hate da baby.”
Sibling rivalry. Sapphire answered the question before he asked it. “Some children never get over it.
“I want it to go way.” He held onto the rails on the bannister as they came down the stairs. Something niggled the back of Steel’s mind.
“Who’s the Big Boy?” Sapphire met them at the base of the stairs and bent to hug him.
“I am! Thomas is a big boy.” He wiggled out her grasp and ran to the mirror, staring up at it. He pointed up to it. “Looking Glass Land.”
“Who lives in Looking Glass Land,” Sapphire asked.
“Lots of people. The lady lives there.”
“The lady?” Steel looked back into the mirror, but only saw his former reflection. “What lady, Thomas?”
“I seed her.”
“You saw her,” Sapphire corrected.
“You seed her, too, Mommy?” He was quiet for a minute. “I asked her to take da baby away.”
“Why would you do that, Thomas?” Sapphire ran her fingers through his fine straight hair. Thomas’s bottom lip stuck out and Sapphire chucked his chin. “Why, Thomas?”
“Don’t like sharin’”
“I know you don’t, but you have to. Mommy and Daddy have enough love for both of you.”
It didn’t seem to win him over. Steel grunted as he lifted the child. “What lady, Thomas?”
Stu’s world tilted as he suddenly saw his child in the arms of strangers.
“Thomas!” he cried and reached for his son. A moment later, Elly saw him, too. “Thomas!”
“How? Stu, how?”
“I don’t know.”
Suddenly they heard voices.
“The lady lives there,” Thomas said.
“The lady?” The other Stu looked into the mirror. “What lady, Thomas?”
“I seed her.”
“You saw her,” the other Elly corrected.
“You seed her, too, Mommy?” He was quite for a minute. “I asked her to take da baby away.”
“Why would you do that, Thomas? Why, Thomas?”
“Don’t like sharin’”
“I know you don’t, but you have to. Mommy and Daddy have enough love for both of you.”
It didn’t seem to win him over. The other Stu grunted as he lifted the child. “What lady, Thomas?”
Thomas pointed to a corner of the mirror and both of them looked back over their shoulders when the other couple leaned forward.
“That corner, Thomas?”
“Uh huh, she’s sorta hiding.” To the mirror Thomas said, “I told ‘em. You said not to, but I did. I don’t wanna leave here and you can’t make me.”
“Reveal yourself to me,” the other Stu commanded. Stu jumped. “I don’t see anything,” he said unconsciously.
“She’s right over your shoulder.”
“The mirror talked to you. “ Elly murmured as Stu twisted around. Sure enough, there was something hovering just off the carpet. It looked more like a puff of smoke than anything else.
“Yes, we seem to be trapped in your bodies,” the other Elly said. “And you are trapped in ours. I’m not sure what happened, but we are trying to figure it out.”
“What did you do, Thomas?”
“I told her to take the baby away, not me, but then I gots stuck here. I heard Daddy crying and Mommy.” He looked so miserable. “I told her I wanted them, but you’re not my Mommy and Daddy. You just look like them.”
“Yes, we just look like them. Your parents are over there. The ghost tricked you. She trapped you and gave you shadows instead of reality.” The other Stu’s voice was so harsh that Thomas began to cry. “You are evil and bad and this is your punishment.” The other Stu grabbed Thomas and shook him roughly, “We will make your life hell because of what you did to us.”
“No!” Thomas tried to struggle from the man’s grip. “I want my Mommy and Daddy!”
“Well, you can’t have them! You’ve got us.”
“Please,” Elly sobbed, holding her arms out. He’s my little boy.”
“NO!” Stu slapped his hand against the mirror and it cracked slightly. “You can’t have him. He belongs to us. He’s our son.”
“Not anymore.” The other Elly wrapped her arms around him. “Now we have it all.”
“NO!!” Stu smashed his fist into the mirror and cried out in pain. He collapsed onto the floor, cradling his hand. Blood streamed through his fingers and he moaned. Elly was there, gathering him into her arms, wrapping the hand in a table runner.
“Stu, sweetheart,” she murmured kissing his brow.
“What did I do?”
“Well, for starters you broke the mirror and you must have cut yourself.”
“Your parents gave you that runner as a wedding gift and the mirror.”
“I’ve been looking for an excuse to get rid of then both for a long time…”
“Mommy? Daddy?” The voice was small and very scared. They turned and Thomas was standing there, his face flushed and tear-stained.
They looked at each other in shock and then both started to laugh. “Yes, Thomas, it’s Mommy and Daddy.”
Sobbing, the boy threw himself into their arms. “I’m sorry.”
“We’re sorry, too.” Elly kissed his hair. “Thomas, you have to realize that we will never love you less than the baby…”
“The baby?” Thomas looked confused as did Stu.
“What baby, El?”
Elly’s hand went down to her flat stomach. “I don’t know… wishful thinking, I suppose.”
Steel watched the figure cradle the wailing child. “What will she do with it, Steel?”
“I don’t know, Sapphire, nor do I very much care.” The mirror laid in great shards around them. Very pointedly, he stepped on a large one and ground it into the floor. “I do not like being manipulated like that.”
The figure smiled, it was rather ghastly. “Fairies have been stealing children for centuries. Who am I to go against all that history?” It started to walk from the room and Steel took a step to pursue her, but Sapphire touched his arm.
“Steel, They are calling us. They sound a bit frantic.”
“They always are.” He took Sapphire’s hand, kissed the fingers and smiled. “Let’s get out of here.”
The baby’s crying ceased and the air was filled with an eerie keening. Sapphire sighed. “At least everyone’s happy.”
“You never are.” She kissed his cheek and together, they slipped away.