Cold air bit at Marcus’s exposed skin. His fingers were numb, and his face felt frost-bitten, as if he he’d been in the pit the whole time instead of back in the monastery. He no longer knew what was real and what wasn’t. The only clue that something had changed was the fact that now he held only three coins.
“What do you want?” he shouted at the four old men, all of them once again frozen in their icy tombs. He got no answer. No sign that anyone had heard him at all, even though he had a clear sense he was being watched by the four sets of eyes.
He turned over the next coin in his hand. The letters W-A-S were engraved on the front. Was, he thought, careful not to say the word out loud. He wanted to fling the coins to the ground—tell whoever was playing this game that he refused to take part.
But what if he did that, and the coins disappeared? How would he get out? The walls were far too steep to climb, even if he’d had two good legs and arms.
“Is this some kind of test?” he asked. “If it is, I don’t understand what it means.” His muscles ached, and his teeth chattered.
“F-fine,” he said, when it was clear he had no other choice. He closed his fingers around the coin along with the other two and said, “Was.”
Water roared behind him, and before he could turn, a hand was pulling him into the mist.
* * *
Marcus stood at one end of a hallway so long it appeared to go one forever. The floor was a bright red stone, the walls so yellow he couldn’t look at them for long without blinking. Every few yards, a door opened to the right or left. Between the doors were paintings set in elaborate gold frames. He started to crawl toward the first painting before realizing he was standing—without pain. Without even the aid of a staff.
Marcus flexed his right leg. It was strong and straight—no longer withered. His left arm was normal too. How could that be? He looked for the boy he’d seen before—the one who had called himself a guide—but there didn’t appear to be anyone else in the hallway.
“Hello?” His voice echoed in the long empty corridor.
What was he supposed to do? He walked to the nearest picture frame and stared. It was a painting of himself lying on his back in the middle of the icy pit. He was looking at the coins in his hand. The image was realistic enough that it could have been a photograph if not for the brush strokes, their textures clear against the canvas. How could there be a painting of something that had taken place only minutes before? Who could have painted it? And why?
The air had a faint musty smell to it, as though no one had been here for years. That couldn’t be true.
Was this another illusion? A trick? He slapped himself across the face with the hand that, in the past, he could hardly move. He felt a tingle in his cheek and palm, but no pain.
“It is a trick,” he said.
The first door down the hall swung open, and a boy no older than seven or eight skipped out. “There is no pain in the Was,” he sang. “No pain. No pain. No pain.”
The boy looked like the guide from Elder Ephraim’s room. He had the same shockingly blue eyes. Same blond hair. Only he was younger.
“Are you the other one’s brother?” Marcus asked.
The child only giggled and skipped around the hallway.
The door the boy had come through hung partway open. Marcus peeked in, expecting something amazing, or frightening, or dangerous. What he saw instead was so unexpected, he could only gape.
It was the exact same image as in the painting—himself, lying on the ground in the pit, studying his coins. He turned to the little boy who was watching him with a slight smile.
“You can go in if you like,” the boy said.
“No.” Marcus shook his head. He wasn’t going back to the pit. Instead he started the down hallway. There were plenty of other doors. He stopped at the next one and opened it. He saw himself again, this time sitting in his wheelchair. Father Shawn stood in front of him.
“He’s funny,” the boy said, peering through the doorway beside Marcus and pointing at the monk.
Marcus glanced at the little boy. “Father Shaun?”
The child clapped his hands over his mouth and nodded. “That’s not really who he is.”
Marcus stared at the monk. “Of course it is. Who else would he be?”
The blond boy only giggled and began skipping in a circle. “Ice worm, mud worm, piece of pie.”
Marcus had heard those words somewhere before. He spun around. “Where did you learn that?”
The boy ignored him, hopping across the hall on his hands and feet like a frog. “Ice worm, mud worm, piece of cake.”
Marcus looked back through the door again. Looking at himself and Father Shaun was like opening a window to a moment in the past. Everything was accurate, down to the smallest detail—Father Shaun, the book on the ground, the monk weeding in the flower bed—as if he could snap his fingers and everyone would start moving. He could nearly smell the flowers growing in the garden and the arid scent of the Arizona desert beyond.
What would the Marcus inside the door do if he turned around and saw his double watching him?
Marcus turned to look at the hopping boy. He wasn’t very old, but he seemed to understand what was happening, which was more than Marcus did. “Are you my guide?”
“I guess so,” the boy said.
Marcus pointed through the door. “Is that . . . are they . . . real?”
Maybe if Marcus went through the door, he could warn himself not to go into Elder Ephraim’s room—to go straight to the motorcycle. Then he’d never get sucked into the mirror and be in this . . . whatever it was he was in.
“Hey!” he shouted. Nothing happened.
“They can’t hear you,” the child said, making faces at himself in the shiny red floor.
“You said I can go in, right?” Marcus asked.
The boy nodded then went back to making faces.
Marcus swallowed. What would the monk do if he saw two Marcuses? “Can I get out if I go in?”
The boy nodded again.
Marcus tried to think it all through. If he went in and warned himself, he wouldn’t go through the mirror, which would mean that he wouldn’t be here to come out of the door again. Only if he wasn’t here, how could he warn himself? The whole thing was too confusing. He could spend all day worrying about the consequences, or he could just do it.
He took a deep breath, checked on the boy who didn’t appear to be paying any attention to him, and stepped through the door.
He was back in his wheelchair again.
“You dropped this?” Father Shaun picked up the book and handed it to Marcus with an uneasy frown.
“Um, thanks,” Marcus said, taking the volume and turning it over so the cover was facing down.
What was happening? He tried to turn and look behind him, but his body didn’t seem to be under his control.
“How are your studies progressing?” the monk asked.
He tried to say, “I’m not going back to the school.” Instead he said, “Good,” and patted his stack of papers. “Just working on my . . . Algebra.” The words forced themselves out of his mouth as though he had no control over his body, as if he had to repeat exactly what had happened the first time.
“I have some news that should make your studies go even better,” Father Shaun said.
Marcus wanted to scream, No, you don’t! You have terrible news. But his mouth wouldn’t move.
Their conversation continued exactly the way it had before, and Marcus began to fear that he’d walked into a trap. Would he be stuck here forever, looking through his own eyes, but unable to act?
The little boy walked around from behind Father Shawn, as though he’d been hiding there all along. “It’s more fun if you watch from outside yourself.”
The monk smiled sadly. “We will miss you. But we have no choice. The state says this is not the proper place for a young boy. The monastery is not an orphanage.”
“Not a monk. Not a monk. Not a monk.” The little boy stuck his fingers in his ears, made a face at Father Shaun, and laughed. “Come play,” he said to Marcus, reaching out a hand.
Suddenly, Marcus was standing beside Father Shaun, watching a copy of himself struggle with the news he’d just received. “How did you do that?” he asked at the same time the Marcus in the wheelchair asked, “How did they even find out I was here?”
“Being in the Was is boring,” the guide said. “But when you watch it, you can do anything you want.” He ran around the back of the chair and pretended to mess up the other Marcus’s hair.
Marcus watched himself slam his fist on his lap and wince in pain. “If Elder Ephraim were alive, he would never allow this. I won’t go,” his duplicate complained.
“Can’t they see us?” Marcus asked. “Or hear us?”
The little boy shook his head as Father Shaun spoke. “Can’t see, can’t hear,” the boy chanted.
The other Marcus dropped his book. “They’re coming today?”
The last time he’d been here, Marcus had seen Father Shaun look away from the magic diagram. He’d assumed the monk was either embarrassed or offended. But this time, watching more closely, he noticed a mischievous grin on the Father’s face. Why would the monk smile about a book of magic spells?
The monk’s smile disappeared as quickly as it had come. “Principal Teagarden said to expect him and a few of the boys from your school by lunchtime.”
Marcus watched himself beg and for the monk turn him down.
“You said Father Shaun isn’t really a monk,” he said to the guide, who was dancing among the flowers. “Who is he?”
“Another one. The one who took your things.” The child knelt to smell a blossom.
“Father Shaun took my things?” That didn’t make any sense. Why would the monk want Marcus’s belongings? “How could he do that?”
But the boy seemed to have lost interest in the conversation. He stood up and wriggled his toes in the dirt. “Are you ready to go?”
The Marcus in the wheelchair turned and rolled toward the monastery. At the same time, the courtyard and garden began to grow dark.
“What’s happening?” Marcus spun around. The color was fading out of everything as though the sun had disappeared from the sky. But he could still see it overhead, a sphere as gray as everything else.
“It’s time to go,” the boy said.
For the first time Marcus noticed the doorway—a rectangle of light in a world quickly turning black.
“I don’t understand,” Marcus said. Everything was disappearing. The flowers, the monastery, even the ground under his feet appeared to be losing substance. It was like he was floating in the middle of a black, empty space. A hand grabbed him and yanked him through the door.