Dictionaries define ‘amusement’ as ‘a thing that amuses’. ‘Amuse comes from the Latin root ‘muse’, meaning ‘to think’, and the prefix ‘a’, negating the concept and making ‘amusement’ mean, ‘ a thing that prevents one from thinking’. However, the Mirror Maze at this amusement park had the effect of making Mark Cameron think harder than her ever had in his life, and also worry more.
Mark and his fiancée Alyssa had gone on a break from thinking about work, and decided that an outing to the Black Corsage Park was a great way to get it. On the way through the gates, Mark had to gently reprove Alyssa, a graduate scholar of linguistics, for wondering why the park was called Black Corsage. In the queue for a ride, Alyssa had to gently reprove Mark, who was working towards a doctorate in Physics, for explaining why the roller coaster could go upside down without all the passengers dropping out. Meandering aimlessly through the grounds, enjoying the blazing sunlight, the overheard fragments of conversation, each other’s company, and the occasional package of popcorn, the pair eventually came to the Mirror Maze. Alyssa clutched at Mark’s arm.
“Oh, do let’s go in there! I’ve always loved the Mirror Maze, ever since I was absolutely tiny.”
Mark willingly acquiesced, thinking that he knew the reason for this fascination. Alyssa was one of those girls who ought never to be allowed to inhabit the groves of Academe in preference to a modelling studio. Her long, thick, slightly curly red hair fell around a delicately-boned face, with high cheekbones and devastating brown eyes. The sun had evidently had its effect on her, leaving her smooth skin a warm golden brown, set off to advantage today by an airy sleeveless white sundress.
“Sure,” repeated Mark. “The Mirror Maze it is.”
After the crowded furnace without, the dim, narrow entrance seemed blissfully cool, and silent as a catacomb. Alyssa paused to examine a graffito high on one white-washed wall, before hurrying after Mark.
“I really don’t think we should, after all, do you know?” she said nervously. “Chalk it up to superstition if you will, but that writing on the wall was in Greek, and it said -”
“Oh, writing on the wall!” scoffed Mark. “Why Greek, anyway? Why not Aramaic, like the original ‘writing on the wall’? Darling, it’s probably been there for weeks.”
Stubbornly agitated, Alyssa persevered. “I really think we should get outdoors, where there are more people. This place is deserted; there must be a reason.”
“The reason is that humanity in general is mad. You’re talking nonsense.” Taking her gently by the hand, Mark wandered into the first turn of the maze. He raptured for a moment on the beauty of her warm, soft, slender hands, but said only, “See? Nothing to worry about.” He continued on into the maze, and waited around a few corners for her to join him.
After a second’s pause, or perhaps two, Mark heard a queer rustling, shimmery noise behind him, and then a muffled shriek, but when he went back to investigate, he found nothing more or less horrible than his own reflection, laughing back at him and looking relieved. Alyssa’s reflection appeared beside his, the dark eyes concerned, and her cool firm hand slipped into his.
“Are you all right, Mark? Only somebody screamed, and –“
“I thought it was you! Shall we get out of here now? I somehow want cotton candy.”
Subsequent to a lively discussion as to whether pink or blue cotton candy had the really superior flavor, the couple moved toward a cheerful-looking red-and-gold merry-go-round, drawn by the jovial music of that uncategorized instrument, a cassette player. Joining a line of excited six-year-olds, Mark fumbled in his pocket for the correct change, commenting when only one fare was forthcoming that these things always made him sick, anyway. Finally, all the six-year-olds had had their turns and gone off, sunnily demanding ice-cream of their respective parents. Alyssa reached eagerly for the bridle of a purple horse with a silver mane, seating herself daintily side-saddle. The music started, and the purple horse whirled in and out of Mark’s sight, its rider carolling happily but wordlessly along to the music of these bizarrely musical horse’s hooves.
As a wise man once said, women never trip except when they fall on their faces. Regrettably, he is incorrect. Alyssa tripped, as she alighted from the purple horse, over the outstretched feet of a small boy whose disappointment in the curtailment of his horseback ride led him to violently vocal, and indeed riotously horizontal, protest. However, Alyssa, with great presence of mind, did not fall on her face. She fell firmly against the crowd-control barriers and caught herself on one hand, unfortunately scraping it on the rough hot cement.
Mark assisted her to her feet and inquired after the hand, which she was examining mournfully.
“Oh, it’s only a scratch,” said Alyssa, and hid the injured part in a fold of her skirt.
“Better let me see, all the same. This pavement’s awfully dirty.”
“No,” cried the lady petulantly, “it’s fine, fine, I tell you.” By main force Mark extracted the hand from its white muslin draperies. What he saw was surprising, to say the least. No ugly scrape, welling with live crimson, met his eyes. The torn tanned skin might have been a glove, showing through what lay beneath. And what lay beneath was silver, gleaming in the relentless sunlight. Gripped by fear, Mark suddenly tore with his fingernails at Alyssa’s bare brown arm. A second later, the smooth skin hung in ragged shreds from his hand, and he found himself looking at nothing more or less horrible than his own reflection, but now it was neither laughing nor relieved.
“Why, Mark,” reproached the figure in the white dress, “Whatever are you doing? Have you gone quite demented?”
The brown eyes were no longer warm and chocolatey, but reflected his like icily impersonal mirrors. Mirrors!
Warily, trying to sound like himself, Mark assayed, “I say, I find I’ve left my – that is, my – ah – fountain-pen in that beastly mirror maze. Won’t you come and help me look for it?”
Again he had to drag her through the white entry, but this time he did not release her hand, grown cold and hard since the last time he had pulled her by it into the Maze. By now the casual calm physicist who believed only in explanations had melted away like an ice-cream cone in Arizona, and all that remained was a Man trying desperately to remember the frightening fairy tales he had been told by an alarming old aunt in his far-off youth. The memory returned like a conquering emperor riding in and making one wonder how it had ever been forgotten, and Mark’s penknife was out in a flash. One, two, three mirrors shattered into glittering fragments before the solid hilt of that infant sword, and with the third, Alyssa was kneeling on the wooden floor amid a confusion of smashed silver glass. Not one fragment seemed to reflect what a well-behaved mirror ought to. Here a shard with a copper curl nearly touching it showed nothing but elegant leather sandals. There a splinter surrounded on all sides by fine white muslin showed full rosy lips. Everywhere was the impression of a fragile picture broken, and a fragile girl fallen in the middle of it.
Finally she spoke. “Gosh, Mark, you have made a mess. What’s going on?”
“You’re all right? You’re all right! Alyssa, what has been happening?”
She sounded like a small child waking up from a troubling dream. “I don’t know – it was all smoky and horrid. Let’s get out of here right away. And darling, won’t you buy me a Pepsi?”
At that moment Mark felt he would have bought her the entire Pepsi-Cola Company, for the sheer satisfaction of knowing that here, at last, was Alyssa, not the frightful double, now fled back to the mists of legend.
“I’ll buy you all the Pepsi in the world, if you want it. And all the creaming soda and fizzy lemonade, too. ‘Lys, have you ever heard the legend of the doppelganger?”
She gazed at him fondly. “That old thing? Quite, quite demented. What self-respecting student of trivials can afford not to know that?”
“This student of consequentials almost went mad by being ignorant of it. Here, let me tell you a story. You’re in it. So am I.”
They were married a week later.