Issue 73 Jun 2019
In the very modern city of Puxhill, where science and rationality mostly hold sway, an ancient, secret bastion of magic and mystery rests, quietly waiting for its time to come around again. Forgotten, ignored, or simply disbelieved by most people, it’s both haven and temptation for those with the capacity to embrace the unknown. Here, in the Gaslight District, streets change direction, shops come and go, and the night lasts as long as it likes. For those who are truly bold, curious, or desperate, there’s the Midnight Market, which only exists for three nights a month when the moon is at its fullest. In between the vendors hawking charmed shoes and enchanted trinkets, fanciful foods and rare herbs and potions of all sorts, one stall holds nothing but a simple wooden chair in front of a small, ornate mirror mounted on the back wall.
Sometimes—but not always—if the right person sits in the chair and stares into the mirror, they see not their reflection, but something else, a wisp of a face floating in a cloudy void. Questions may be asked, and answers received. There is always a price for truth.
It was near the witching hour around the end of March when a young woman walked into the Midnight Market, every step a wary advance into unfamiliar territory. She huddled in a much-faded blue sweatshirt, features all but hidden by her hood, and she paid the wonders around her little heed, instead making a beeline for the chair and the mirror. Those who noticed her, who realized her destination, followed her with curious looks, conversations pausing momentarily. In a few cases, money exchanged hands as bets were placed on whether the mirror would respond to this one.
Tasha is sitting in a dimly lit green room with her headphones on, waiting for her guitarist Azam to call her to the stage. As always, the boys perform the first song alone before she kicks off the show. Normally, Tasha can barely contain herself during these backstage moments. Her nerves like jangling keys, in her stomach the fluttering, giddy anticipation of stepping in front of a crowd, then the terrifying thrill of performing. “An ecstasy unlike any other,” Azam once called it. But tonight there’s a sick feeling in her stomach. A low, aching pain that makes her wish she wasn’t performing at all. She knows what it is.
She can’t see the crowd yet, she’ll only know when she steps on stage, but she can already feel him in the audience. Fadhli, her boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend, she reminds herself. He’ll be waiting out there, his sad, pleading eyes ready to connect with hers during the show, never once looking away.
Bile builds up in the back of her mouth. She leans over her knees, nearly retching. I don’t want to see him tonight. God, I can’t see him tonight. She spits onto the floor and the acid taste lingers.
Through her headphones she hears the steady pounding of Rafe’s kick drum. The sound is thick, muted, like hearing it underwater. It mixes with all the other noises she's been hearing.