I can’t begin to explain how, but we had done it. Bob and I stepped into the mirror.
We found ourselves standing in a strange space. The air was chilly. It was strange that the air had the color of a deep blue, as if we were under water, but we were breathing air.
It was impossible to judge distance. We could have been standing in a vast space or a closet. We looked at each other. Neither of us had any idea what to do.
We looked all around us. All we could see was the strange blue air. We turned and looked behind us. We could see our bedroom. Each of us reached out and touched the hard, cold glass. Apparently, we couldn’t go back the way we had come.
I turned away from the view of our bedroom and looked back at Bob. My heart stopped and my jaw dropped. It was Bob, but he looked like he had aged fifty years in a second. He stood there gaping at me. His hair was gray, and whiskers covered some of the many wrinkles on his face.
“Karen?” He whispered, as if he were in shock. “My God, you look eight years old.” His rasping, aged voice travelled through the blue air. I looked down to see my straight, shapeless figure and smaller hands.
“As you have gathered, time ripples here.”
I turned to see who had spoken. It was a very tall and very old man. He had long hair and a long beard. Through the blue air, I guessed they both were white. He had a long wooden cane, which helped him approach us.
“Where is here?” I was pleased to hear my normal voice. I had come back to my normal age.
“You are in the mirror’s glass, a place to be called Innerout. I am Isaac, the gatekeeper.”
He stood before us, nearly seven feet tall. “There is much I must explain to you that your limited vocabulary hasn’t words to describe. But I will do my best.”
I turned to see Bob’s reaction to Isaac. At first, it startled me that Bob wasn’t there. Then, I noticed the infant laying at my feet.
“Ok, what is going on?” I can’t say if I was more amazed or becoming angry.
“I have already said that time ripples here. Your husband is unharmed and will return to normal when time is ready.” Isaac’s voice was calm and soft. His demeanor seemed kind. “Your daughter has been taken by a Noorb. You must free her.”
“I don’t have a daughter. I’m not even pregnant.” I sighed.
“That, my dear, is just a matter of time.” He smiled. His face appeared to enjoy smiling and appeared that it rarely had the chance.
“What is a Noorb?” Bob asked. I was pleased he was back to his normal age.
“All babies pass through Innerout on their way to be born. This cleanses their memory of where they were before and prepares them for the new world they will be born into. On rare occasion, I look away, and a Noorb slips past me. They endeavor to capture the baby and drain its pure energy, or spirit, if you prefer.”
Capturing a baby and draining its spirit was too much for me. I yelled, “Why in the world would you let that happen?”
“I love the babies and do all that I can to protect them!” His yell was far more than mine, sounding like a roar. Then, much more calmly, softly, he said, "Try staring at a gate every second for centuries.”
He leaned on his cane, appearing weary. “Alas, my task is mine alone. It is not your concern. You must rescue your daughter. A big part of saving your daughter will be finding her. That’s why you are here. The love of a friend or a lover can be strong, but no love is stronger than that of a parent. Thus, you will be able to find her.”
“How will we do that? All I can see is this strange blue air.”
“You mustn’t look with your eyes; you must follow your heart. It will lead you to Serenity.”
Bob spoke up, “This Noorb, is it dangerous? How will we fight it? We have no weapons.”
“Every Noorb is different, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. If I gave you any weapon, it would likely be the wrong one.”
“How will we know the Noorb when we see it?” I was growing skeptical of Isaac. “Seems you are sending us into a no-win situation against an unknown adversary to free a child that doesn’t yet exist.”
“That is precisely what I am doing. But it is what must be done.” Isaac sighed. He looked exhausted and sad. “I must return to my post. One Noorb in Innerout is more than enough.”
With that, he turned and slowly walked away into the blue light.
“Is he kidding?” I asked, watching him fade into the distance.
“I don’t think so.” Bob spoke with the voice of a preteen boy.
I frowned, “This time thing is going to get very aggravating, very quickly.”
Bob and I stood there for a few moments. Neither of us had any idea what to do.
Preteen Bob spoke first. “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I think we should walk straight in the distance from the mirror.”
I became utterly fascinated with my thumb. Bob told me later that it had come to my time to be an infant. He carried me as he walked through the blue air. He said he had walked a long time but couldn’t gage how far he had gone. There were no landmarks of any kind.
When I came back to my normal age, it must have been suddenly. Preteen Bob was not prepared for the quick change in weight. He dropped me right on my rump.
“Ouch!” I was sure that would bruise.
“I’m sorry, honey.”
It felt so weird for a boy of maybe twelve to be calling me honey. I had to remind myself that this was Bob.
I stood up, and we looked back at the mirror. We could see our bedroom in the opening. It was indeed pretty far away. The large opening appeared to be only a few inches tall in the distance.
“Well, I guess we should keep going. Doesn’t seem we have any other choice.”
We walked a bit, then I reached and took Bob’s hand in mine. It pleased me to feel the strong, manly hand. Bob had returned to his normal self.
“Hey, do you see that?” Bob stopped walking and pointed ahead.
It was far ahead of us, if it was there at all. It appeared to be a body of water, perhaps a lake. We could make out what looked like trees around it. We quickened our pace.
As we approached the lake, we noticed that all the trees were black. Trunk, branches, leaves, all a deep black. As if the blue air wasn’t enough, these black trees were very eerie. They were like tall shadows. The water of the lake was still. There were no waves. Not a single ripple on the smooth surface. The color of the water was right, though didn’t have sunlight or moonlight to give it life. Here, in this blue air surrounded by the tall black trees, the water looked dead.
The lake wasn’t huge, but it was large enough that it had a small island in it. Bob and I stood in a small clearing on the bank of the lake. We looked out at the small island. There were more of the tall black trees there. I gasped as I saw one of the black trees run across a sandy beach on the island. Trees don’t run.
“Bob, what was that?” I turned to him to see if he had seen what I had. He had. His eyes were wide. The sight had startled him as much as me.
Bob smiled at me. “Innerout is apparently the interior of a mirror that is full of this funky blue air. We’ve come to a lake surrounded by black trees. My guess is that’s a Noorb.”
“If that’s a Noorb, then Serenity is on that island.” I looked left and right along the edge of the water. There were some rocks and branches scattered along the shoreline. But nothing that could be made into a boat or a raft. “How do we get out there?”
It took a few moments, but Bob said what we had both surmised, “We’ll have to swim for it.”
Neither of us could guess how deep it was, how cold it was. Were there creatures in the water?
There didn’t seem to be any other choice. We walked to the edge of the water. As the blue air was so cold, we were sure we would risk hypothermia in the water. To our surprise, the water was warm. I guess I’ll call it bath water warm. It actually felt good.
As the water was so still and we didn’t know what may be in the water, we swam with arms underwater. Splashing about would likely draw unwanted attention. Bob and I were both strong swimmers, and we moved through the water quietly. This almost felt too easy. Well, until the next time ripple, and I found myself somewhere around eighty years old. Who would guess that I’d have arthritis in my golden years? Every movement caused pain. I gasped for air each time I got my head back above water. Bob was moving farther ahead. I called out to him. Thankfully, Bob stayed his correct age. He was more than strong enough to swim to the island’s shore with me in tow.
Coming out of the warm water into the cold blue air, Bob and I stood on the beach with steam rising from our bodies. It made each of us look more like a ghost than a person. Especially me, unable to stand up straight in my old arthritic body. I ached all over.
“I hate this place.”
Bob smiled. “Not my idea of a vacation spot, either.”
He put his arm around me and helped me walk up the beach. Normally, when one walks up a beach, you come to a grassy area eventually. Not here. When we stepped from the sand, we found our feet back on a cold, smooth surface that was covered with a few inches of what I can only call fog. That had been the floor since we stepped through the mirror.
Many tall black trees surrounded us. Thankfully, none of them were running about. Other than the deep black color, they looked like ordinary trees. Bob spotted a grouping of large stones through the trees. We didn’t see anything else, so we walked toward them.
Having come out of warm water into this chilly air, and being so old, I was shivering violently. It was difficult to walk, as all of my limbs felt like thousands of tiny needles were piercing my skin. Bob was cold too, but he was much younger and stronger. He held me in his arms and rubbed my arms and back. It helped.
As we approached the stones, we saw they were huge. Some of them were better than ten feet tall. Most of them had more stones stacked on top of them, forming a fortress wall. We walked along the wall for some time before finding a small opening. We walked through it.
I sighed with relief as we entered the area inside the wall. I was back to my normal age, my normal, healthy self.
Bob and I found that something shaped the fortress wall of stones into a circle. On the far side of the circle, a young woman, maybe twenty years old, stood completely still. She was wrapped in a shadow. The black tree we had seen run across the beach. But it wasn’t a tree. The shadow appeared to be a strange blend of a man and a tree. It had two legs. I couldn’t say precisely how many arms, but it was more than two. All of which were wrapped around the young lady.
The shadowy arms held her arms and legs. One arm had what sort of looked like a hand. The hand covered the young woman’s mouth. Above that hand, I saw Bob’s blue eyes looking back at me. Serenity. We had found her.
“Now what?” I whispered.