Steps into the Mirror
- People say goodbye in their own special ways
The same day that Teal dies he wants to know where he came from, why he has no one but Gale to keep company.
In response, Gale silently turns to take him to the lake. It doesn’t take long—when they arrive the winds are tugging at the long strips of leaves that they had carelessly wound around their bodies and the surface of the lake gleams gray and blue.
“I pulled you out of here,” Gale tells Teal, and receives a long, lost gaze in return.
“I don’t think I could have breathed in there.”
Smiling thinly, Gale reaches down to run his fingers through the cold liquid. He straightens up and glances at the sky. The wind gets colder in the split second, sinking into his bones and infecting his being. So he fumbles beside him until his fingertips brush across Teal’s, then holds on like someone that has drowned before.
“I was alone,” he tells Teal slowly as if afraid. “Then I happened across this lake. I saw my reflection and I reached in to pull you out.”
Teal nods and clutches back at Gale’s hand. Beaming slightly in return, Gale turns to Teal only to see him gazing at the lake with darkening eyes. Then he lowers himself stiffly, and holds his breath as he dips a hand into the water.
Closing his eyes and inhaling, Gale slowly lets go of Teal’s hand. There is a strange burning inside his chest, someone is squeezing a fist inside his ribs, and it’s only beginning to spread.
“You can’t,” he whispers, and Teal turns to stare. Gale doesn’t manage to hold the gaze for more than a short moment and, his limbs heavy, he drops onto his knees beside Teal.
“It’ll be okay.”
In Teal’s eyes, the breaks mend as quickly as they had formed and the promise is worth it.
Gale stands to wade knee-deep into the water and for hours on end he reaches in, grabs the shimmering reflections of his world and yanks them out.
At the end Teal is giddily facing a dozen men and women of various coloring, and Gale collapses against the muddy ground to watch them all flit away.
Some time later Gale finds Teal’s body impaled on a stick, turning black and brittle over something orange and white and red —fire— that he knows he created somewhen but never bothered to look upon.
He pounces into the inferno in cold silence, his own skin bubbling and melting then becoming whole again. The colorful men he pulled from the same lake that Teal came out of shout in incoherent bites and snarls, naked skin reddening against the wailing flames.
Gale ignores them all, snapping the stick that Teal’s skin is smudged upon in half when it refuses to budge. Gasping pure heat into his lungs, he sprints into the trees, crashing through the underbrush and screaming at the winds to put the branches out of his way. It is the first time he has ever raised his voice above the faint rustling of the leaves in the air, and his raw throat bursts into blood and sour liquid.
With the world parting in front of him as he runs, Gale tucks Teal tightly against his chest even as he feels the skin and muscle crunch in his arms. Parts fall down behind him, marking a trail of ashes.
He splashes into the lake and sinks down like a rock with Teal, closing his eyes.
It is four nights and three days until Gale claws his way out of the water, lets out a wailing gust of wind from his being and collapses into Teal’s dissolving body.
When he opens his eyes a second later to meet Teal’s that are seeing a stranger, Gale chuckles with twisted lips. He gently brings Teal to his feet and whispers for the earth to take them to his mountains and never show the way back.
2. So take a picture of the one you love and put it in a locket
Snow is beginning to settle onto the ground in winter.
It was a long time ago when Gale looked into the sky and wished into the wind for there to be a time of white and crystal coldness, a while for all thoughts to lose color and the world to become simple and quiet.
Now, in the numb silence, he is crouched upon a rock, all ten fingers carefully framing a winter flower that has fallen to the ground. The silvery petals are wrinkling slowly under the thin layer of crystal snow, and with each touch of his hand they regain some of their pale color.
Ever since the moment when Gale told Teal with the faintest touch of bitterness that he wasn’t to know where he came from and who Gale was, Teal wandered as far away from Gale as possible each evening only to come back with a scrape or bruise.
And sitting on the same rock as he had the days before, Gale stares hard at the trees that shield him from most of the piercing wind and presses the flower into the snow with a firm hand.
Something cracks, heavy and sharp.
The noise shoots through his skull and rings dull through every fibre that binds him. Doubling onto his feet, he takes off into the trees without a second thought, squishing the flower further as he does. He parts his lips to call out, yet he hasn’t spoken in a time too long and all that comes forth is a pained croak.
With the branches shifting to guide him and the winds hissing towards someplace where they are gathering, Gale never halts once in his run.
Soon he skids into a stop under a cliff, drowning in the smell of blood.
There are bits and pieces of Teal splattered across the snow, staining the frozen ground crimson. Slowly squeezing his eyes shut, Gale manages to stumble to where Teal fell from the cliff above and shattered his head on a rock. He sinks down onto the ground and swings out a hand sharply. The cliff shatters and crunches and grinds together into a pile of fine ashen powder.
This time it takes Gale two days less to piece Teal together, yet the snow still remains red. Gale goes back only once to raze the ground and turn it downside-up, then hides from Teal’s sight for a day.
Only when Teal’s fingers begin to turn blue does Gale step into his life anew, and he howls into his heart as Teal’s eyes find him, blank and wary.
3. Oh so don’t pay no mind to my watering eyes, must be something in the air I’m breathing
Once again, Gale tells Teal nothing.
They manage to last through the long winter while everyday Gale begs for the snow to stay, and at some point the flowers begin to freeze and wilt black under his fingertips. And in the small cave that Gale had led them into, Teal shivers and coughs through the night, and Gale has to urge a boar forth and take the light from her eyes. As he watches Teal’s body heat, cool, then settle into a comfortable temperature, the blood outside on the melting snow haunts him through his ever-sleepless days.
Spring arrives with a rush of chirping birds, muddy ground and a hint of warmth. With Teal wandering in the trees, constantly fascinated by the growing of green and the little winged animals that dart through the maze of branches, Gale finds a new rock near the cave and slumps down on it. As he squints at the white sun, he remembers lying crumpled in the snow, a day of the first winter, and burying his face into the cold powder to murmur a wish for warmth, an apology and a prayer of regrets.
He never knew that a season built from remorse and longing could be warm.
When spring has nearly passed them by, Gale stumbles across Teal laughing like something even warmer than the sun from atop a tree branch. With a strangled yelp, Gale’s legs tangle and he slams into the ground haphazardly. Above him, Teal’s laughter comes to an abrupt pause and he yells down at Gale if he’s hurt.
Shaking, Gale rubs his face into the mud and trembles with painfully muffled sobs. His nose and eyes are alight with the same flames that took Teal’s life the first time.
And when Teal descends onto the ground to place a hand on Gale’s shoulder, Gale laughs only for the man made from his own reflection and feels the teardrops sink into the ground to bloom and shape the world into summer.
4. No matter how my heart tries, when I’m free from the grip of this life, you won’t be there by my side
They come to the mountain when summer is nearing to an end.
It happens somewhat too fast for Gale to comprehend. He is showing Teal a family of foxes that is too wary to come close to where they are standing. The redness of their fur delights Teal, and when they finally scurry away he glances around him and frowns at the bright green leaves. The sunlight that is dyeing the land and trees gold makes him blink rapidly.
“I think that everything will look better with the leaves red,” he announces, glancing sideways at Gale.
Gale beams gently and follows Teal’s gaze, and everywhere his eyes fall upon the trees explode into bright shades of red and orange. Some of the leaves sway easily in the wind and begin to fall onto the forest floor, and in only a split second the whole mountain has lighted itself on eternal fire. Above them, the sky melts into a darker shade of blue and clears.
Teal’s eyes widen and he laughs loudly, clasping his hands together.
“This is the season of autumn,” Gale’s voice is soft as he tells Teal. “Will you remember that I created this time only for you?”
When Teal nods at him he seems to glow, and for a moment Gale allows himself to imagine that the light that sinks into him will last longer than it had before.
Sinking low onto the ground, Teal gathers up an armful of fiery leaves and flings them at Gale, who lets out a bark of choked laughter. Shaking his head with a grin, Gale kneels down himself and sweeps the forest floor for the most crimson leaves.
When he jumps back onto his feet, Teal is staring at him with a wooden stick through his throat.
Gale stares, then he lets go of the leaves to catch Teal as he pitches forward bonelessly. Over Teal’s shoulder, he can see two men covered in the rough skin of animals. One of them holds a long, curved branch with a string connecting each end. They exchange a series of syllables, then one jabs a finger at Teal and shakes his head.
Feeling the hot wetness of blood spill down his shoulder and back, Gale clutches helplessly at Teal as he slowly settles him down onto the ground into a red and orange grave. When the wooden stick refuses to budge from Teal’s neck, Gale turns his head sideways and lays it back down gently.
(He rips the two men to pieces and slams them into the ground so deeply that the glow of Teal’s season will never reach their eyes again.)
After easing the stick as gently as possible from Teal’s neck and watching him shudder awake with violent coughs, Gale refuses to cry when Teal doesn’t know what he means at all by a thing called autumn.
5. You’re getting sadder, getting sadder, and I don’t understand, and I don’t understand
Around the time when Teal stops his attempts to hide from Gale and run down the mountain, the trees are dancing in their brightest shades of gold and red, the ground layered with fallen leaves. It is when Gale is sitting under a tree with a tattered yellow leaf that Teal finds him, breathing harshly with a flushed face.
Without saying a word, Teal tears the leaf out of Gale’s fingers and crushes it under a foot. Slowly, Gale lowers his hands onto the ground and gazes at Teal with a quiet smile.
“I hate these colors,” Teal seethes, and stomps on the leaf one last time with a soft crunch. “They’re too loud. They burn my eyes.”
Gale’s smile falters for only the smallest fraction of a moment, then brightens once again. “It’ll be okay.”
As soon as the world brightens the next day, Gale walks deep into the surrounding trees. He scoops up an armful of leaves and buries his nose in their warm scent, sliding his eyes shut.
The wind whispers through his hair and he feels the leaves crumbling into fractured ice at his feet. Around him, his world heaves a cold sigh and the crimson ground drowns in a flurry of snow crystals. In a second the sky has melted gray and the air is biting and accusing against his face. Slumping onto the softened ground, Gale digs his fingers into the snow and allows winter to tear into his throbbing veins.
Later he sees that the world has shifted too quickly for anything else but himself when he finds the furry bodies within a grave of ice. For days, the sky never stops pouring frozen tears until he smashes his hand into a bloody smear with a stone, managing to focus instead on the red spreading through the ground.
Gale finds Teal frozen to death an hour after and the world explodes into its first blizzard. As Teal’s body is beginning to lose its pale blue coloring, Gale silently screams at the wind to seep into everything there is and infect the mountain with the iciest winter that no living thing has ever seen before.
It is the last time Gale tells Teal that it’ll be okay.
6. Don’t resent me, and when you’re feeling empty, keep me in your memory, leave out all the rest
Teal opens his eyes with a rattling cough only when the storm of ice dies down outside, his back cracking as he pulls himself up partway. He cringes in the cold air, each one of his gasps a faint plume of white.
He glances at Gale, who had been sitting like a part of the cave ever since Teal’s fingers began twitching. Nonrecognition glitters like shattered ice shards in Teal’s eyes, and the sharp ends pierce Gale’s chest with hardly any resistance.
Before Teal can utter a word, Gale reaches forward and snaps his neck.
The setting sun finds Gale gently turning Teal onto his side from where he was sprawled lifelessly, eyes lingering blankly on the other’s. Then, with the snow melting outside, Gale hugs his knees to his chest and spends the days leading up to summer ripping his eyes out again and again.
Days after the trees flourish green, men climb the mountain in search of animals and roots. It isn’t long until they stumble across the slumbering man in a cave that is queerly devoid of all other life.
And, hushing even the wind itself, Gale crouches behind a tree and lets them take Teal away.
(Later, digging his fingertips into the rough tree bark, he hangs his head to weep through the silence.)