A Mirror of the Soul: 1.1

Steven Bergom

I knew I shouldn't have woken up this morning!

"You are such a handsome man, Michael," the sultry redhead said as she trailed a finger down her lover's chest. The silk sheets rustled when she moved in to kiss his chin.

Mike, a lean, muscular man, smiled at his companion. A long day of fighting off the Golgoths of Murotovia was a hard and hot work but he had proved time and again that he was up to it. Though he considered the task a duty performed for the privilege of residing in the empire, the attentions of Melera, daughter of the Emperor he so faithfully served, was not unenjoyed. "The gods have blessed me with many things, o rapturous one," he said between kisses. "It is likely that you may learn of a few of my abundant talents."

"I must admit, great warrior, that when my father first commanded me to serve you, I wasn't at all enthusiastic. Now, here with you, I find that the performance of that duty won't be as onerous as I once believed."

Marveling how his companion's skin matched her satin gown so completely that he did not know where flesh ended and cloth began, Mike pulled the future Empress into his embrace and locked his lips to hers. "I will strive to my utmost," he said at the conclusion of the kiss, "to ensure that you have as delightful a time as possible." Gazing deeply into her eyes he stroked her hair and continued their passion.

The regal woman shifted her attention to the man's ears, nibbling on the lobes to his delicious distraction. "So, glorious knight; what task do you wish for me to perform first?" she said and placed another kiss on the point where his jaw hinged with his skull. Running her hands across his chest she moved downward. Because she was so involved with placing a kiss on each of the scars on his shoulders, the woman did not notice that her companion was having trouble answering her question. It was when she noticed that he had ceased reciprocating her attentions that she became disturbed.

"Michael?" she queried, levering herself up on her arms to better look into her lovers face. "Michael, are you… Michael!"

Michael, gasping and clutching at the sheets, could not respond for he could not take breath to voice his discomfort. "What is wrong, Michael? Is it the poison of the Drakkar monster you fought last harvest only now becoming active in your blood?" she asked, straddling his chest and leaning heavily on his shoulders. "Or is it an attack from an evil sorcerer? What is it? I want to help you!

"Wait, I know what to do! My father's wizard has given me instruction for times such as these!" Reaching across to a table beside the bed the intelligent and beautiful woman retrieved something from a drawer. "Hold still," she commanded and spat on his forehead. Folding the sandpaper in her hand, she exposed the rough surface and began scrubbing the bridge of his nose.

"It will be okay," she opined. "You just need to feed me and it will stop hurting!"

Michael flailed about, trying to dislodge the creature on his chest, but to no avail. She scrubbed and spat and scrubbed, occasionally meowing at him.

With a start Michael's dreamed faded into reality and he was finally able to recognize that the beautiful woman who was so assiduously scrubbing his forehead was, in fact, his cat, waking him up by licking his forehead from a position on his chest. "Ah, Larry. So good to see you've saved me from the evils of over-sleeping," Mike greeted the anxious animal, "but I seriously doubt that was your reason for interrupting a rather pleasant dream. Therefore, I assume you want something, and would that something be food?" Larry perked up with a delighted chirrup. "Are you hungry?"

With those three magic words Larry leapt from her place atop Mike's chest and onto the floor where she waited impatiently for him to get out of bed. "Okay, okay. I'm coming. Just hold your horses,or fleas… or whatever." With a sigh that sounded more like a groan Mike hauled himself from between the warm bed sheets and followed the feline out of the room. Tripping over a piece of detritus that he didn't remember leaving on the floor he made his way down the hallway to the kitchen where Larry sat in front of the refrigerator.

Shrugging his shoulders at a dangerous thought comparing imperious cats to girlfriends Mike opened the refrigerator door and pulled out the can of cat food, flinching when the smell reached his nostrils. "Why can't they make something that doesn't reek so much?" he mumbled. Larry didn't care about the apparent odor; to her it was a fanciful feast that she would use to break her fast. As Mike spooned out the brown processed meat, the phone rang.

"It's too early. What ya' want?" he spoke into the receiver after he set the bowl down in front of Larry. "Oh, hi Scott.

"Uh huh…

"Uh huh…

"You're kiddin' me…

"What happened with chemistry?

"Uh huh…

"You want me… and Larry…

"Sure, why not! I don't have to be in at work until four…

"Okay,see ya' in a few. Bye!"

Mike hung up the phone. "Well, Larry," he spoke to a cat interested only in consuming her breakfast. "It looks like we're going to be movie stars!"

Scott, Mike's aspiring movie director friend, lived in one of the newer subdivisions of Bettendorf, Iowa. As the snow-covered houses drifted past his window Mike couldn't help but remember when the entire area was nothing more than corn fields as far as the eye could see. Now the land was being used as housing for upper middle-class families; man always seemed to find a way to violate the beauty of the natural world.

Still, Scott lived out in these "suburbs" and Mike was morbidly curious how his friend's newest hobby was going to turn out. In the past he tried bike racing, speaker building, race car tuning, hologram making, magazine selling, insect studying and magic doing. He even at one point had an intense interest in quantum mechanics, an interest which, at three months, lasted much longer than all the others. Unfortunately he was twenty-two years old, had not yet chosen a college major and still lived with his parents who put up with his fancies with a smile and a, "That's nice, Dear."

Mike, on the other hand, rolled his eyes whenever Scott got excited about a new project. Usually these projects were benign, but Scott sometimes dragged him into performing convoluted — and sometimes downright dangerous — acts, like using home-built scuba gear to plumb the Mississippi River. Turning into the driveway he gave a sigh of relief that he had taken up something as unperilous as film-making.

For the dozenth time Mike checked to make sure Larry's purple collar was firmly in place. Tucking her under his arm he left the car and went to knock on his friend's front door.

"Mike! Glad you could make it," Scott said ushering them in from the cold. "And Larry, so good to see you!" Larry, of course, answered with a hiss and a growl.

"So what's this big film thing you want us doing? And where are your parents and sister to prevent you from this diabolical deed."

"They're at church," Scott said by way of explanation while he led the duo to the basement. "And then afterwards they're taking the pastor to lunch. They shouldn't be back until one so we have four quiet hours to complete filming."

"The operative word being 'quiet'!" Mike mumbled.

Scott ignored the comment  — or just didn't hear it  — and flipped the light switch to illuminate the basement. Like many basements this one had yet to be renovated and the cinder-block walls were accompanied by an ever-present damp aroma. Because of its uninviting appearance Scott had made it his haven and didn't so much as decorate it as tossed the junk of failed attempts at keeping his attention willy-nilly. Mike noted that one corner was somewhat cleared of the usual detritus and ordered to look like… something.

"What is it?"

"It's a mad scientist's laboratory!" Scott explained. "See here's the Wimshurst engine we made two summers ago, and that's the Jacob's ladder I fried my eyebrows off with!"

Mike picked up up a beaker of green liquid and sniffed it. "Where'd you get all the test tubes?"

"From an old science kit I had when I was younger. Uhm, you might not want to drink that; I'm not sure I was able to rinse all the chemicals out." Grimacing Mike gently set the beaker back in its stand and sat Larry on a bench containing a rather esoteric and scary-looking contraption. "So, this is how it goes.

"Mike, you're an evil genius bent on taking over the world by turning normal housepets into blood-thirsty monsters. Larry, here, will be your first transformation." Scott paused and considered her multicolored fur for a moment. "You know, he might be a bit more scary if he were black." Larry, appropriately, laid back her ears and growled at the amateur director. "On second thought, you're scary enough.

"Anyway, you, Mike, will speak of your diabolical plan, drool and gnash your teeth a bit, walk over to this switch and throw it."

"And where will Larry be?"

"Just put him next to the inverse modulation amplifier."

Ignoring the fact that Scott misrepresented Larry's gender yet again Mike stared blankly at him and said, "The what?"

"The inverse modulation amplifier. The thing he's already sitting next to!"

Mike looked intently at the contraption; it was large, about as big as his torso, and had wires, rods and various paraphanelia sticking out from it. "You know, this looks vaguely familiar…"

"Remember when I was in my physicist phase? I made this in an attempt to punch a hole into an alternate universe. Unfortunately all that it did was make blinking lights, popping noises and spit sparks all over the place! Anyway I pulled it out of the closet the other day, polished it up, added a laser and couple more lights and voila! Here we are: instant monster maker!"

Mike stared at the pile of widgets, gears, and exposed wires that Scott indicated. "Are you sure that thing is safe? I don't want to be putting Larry in front of that thing and end up taking home a bag full of fur."

"Don't panic, man! It's harmless!" Scott said confidently while placing his hand on the unwieldy contraption. Unfortunately he had placed his hand across a pair of contact points and the machine argued Scott's assertion by discharging a short burst of electricity into his hand. "Okay, mostly harmless!" he amended while sucking on his burned knuckles. "This thing has forty-two separate safety features which make it more likely to create a sperm whale out of nothing than to harm your cat!"

"Well, if it's not too much bother, please make sure that that doesn't happen! I'm almost certain that a twenty ton caetacean violates the ten pound pet clause on my lease."

Scott continued to reassure his friend. After more discussion Mike reluctantly conceded that Larry would probably be okay and walked to his position behind the table. There he donned a lab coat and practiced looking fiendish. Scott, too, got in the spirit, stood behind the camera and tried to look pompously directorial.

With a call of, "Action!" the scene began pretty much as Scott had planned. Mike played the scientist suitably law{non compos mentis} and Larry performed her part of 'Incredibly Bored Cat No. 1' with a finesse that would have won an Oscar if there was an award for Animals in a Supporting Role. Everything played out splendidly! Just because a few things started to go wrong didn't mean that the scene had to end early.

When Mike threw the switch to power up the inverse modulation amplifier, the house lights dimmed. Of course, this was no cause for alarm and Scott continued filming thinking that it was a great effect. The machine popped as several fuses blew but continued to grind hidden gears and spit sparks like a Roman candle. Larry, at that point, realized that she didn't much like the laser scanning her as it was and let out a caterwaul that spoke of the unleashing of the furies of hell.

Which was pretty good timing since Scott's inverse modulation amplifier chose that moment to explode.

Mike was unsure of whether it was seconds or hours when he regained consciousness. What he did know was that he had a painful headache and bringing his hand back from checking for cuts only told him that the lights in the basement were out. "Scott?" he called out. "Scott, are you okay?"

From off to one side he heard a crash and some swearing before a the beam of a flashlight caught him directly in the eyes. "Will you please point that somewhere else?" Mike asked rather ascerbicly. "I'm gonna' need my pupils when I go into work later today."

"Sorry," Scott apologized. "Damn but that was cool! I hope I got it all on tape…"

"Wait a minute; you just destroyed your parents' basement and you're worried about whether or not you caught it all on film? You are unbelievable!" Heaving a section of table off his legs Mike got shakily to his feet. "I guess we should clean up… Wait… where's Larry?"

"Oh, probably just ran off some—"

"Where is Larry?!"

"Don't worry—"

"Scott, I will repeat this only one more time: Where is my cat?!"

Finally giving in to his friend's worry Scott threw up his hands. "Okay, okay. I'll help you look for your dumb cat. Here; I think there's a flashlight under… Well, hello? What's this?"

Scott had moved a toppled cabinet and was staring at what lay underneath. Curious, Mike moved to his friend's side to see a young woman with honey-blonde hair lying unconscious on the floor. "Who is she, Scott?"

"I don't know. I've never seen her in my life. Of course, if I wasn't distracted by the fact that—"

"She's choking!" Mike exclaimed dropping to the floor and clearing an area where he could work.

"Actually I was going to say because she's naked… She's what? Omigosh! Omigosh! I don't know CPR!"

While Scott danced anxiously in place Mike cleared the remaining trash from the girl's body and was working on trying to get a strap off from around her neck. "Scott, give me your knife!" he commanded. When Scott hesitated Mike slapped his leg to break him of his reverie. "Knife, now! I need to cut off whatever's digging into her throat!"

With Scott's knife in his hand Mike cut the purple mesh strap and threw it behind him, sighing when she coughed and took a deep breath. "Good, good!" he whispered as her face regained a healthy shade of pink from the deep red before. Raising his voice he said, "As soon as we can I think we should get her upstairs and get something on her. Then we can come back down and look for Larry."

Scott, meanwhile, was haphazardly kicking pieces of metal and wood, trying to look like he was making a dent in cleaning. "I still don't see what's so important about a cat…"

"It's the principle of the thing, Scott. A cat — any pet, for that matter — is like having a child; you have someone to depend on you, look up to you, love you, even. It's a responsibility that you have yet to learn—"

"Uh, Mike?" Scott interrupted in a stricken voice. "I think I found your cat."

Mike didn't turn around to answer, focusing his attention instead on trying to revive the girl in front of him. "That's great. Just hold onto her until—"

"No, Mike. You don't understand: I found Larry. Look!"

Agitated, Mike turned around and was about to snap at his friend when he recognized the the object in Scott's hand. In the darkened room he could just make out a woven piece of purple nylon; on one end was a metal tag glinting in the beam of the flashlight and the other end looked as if it had recently been sliced by a very sharp knife.

Mike turned to look at the girl. Then he looked back at Scott, the color draining from his face. "No! No, it's not possible!" he tried to deny but had his attention drawn back to the girl when she let out a groan.

With their breathing paralyzed the two young men stared at the girl. She didn't disappoint: she took a deep breath and opened her eyes just wide enough to show a brilliant green iris surrounding a noticeably slitted pupil that flashed all available light back at them. Sighing she fell back into unconsciousness.

"Okay," Scott announced when he could breathe again. "Panic!"