The Wonderland Run

Part I : The Mirror

"Shay, could you possibly move a little faster? School's gonna be finished at the rate we're going . . ."

"Shut up and let me do the driving," Shay answered tersely. "If you hadn't been playing Final Fantasy VII when you should've been eating breakfast like Mom told you to do, we wouldn't be this late."

"Don't rub it in," Laren grumbled.

Shay merely threw her brother a look via the rearview mirror before concentrating on the road again. Siblings, she thought sourly.

The day hadn't started well at all. No, she hadn't slept through the buzz of her alarm clock; the problems had begun when their father had appeared in the kitchen with a hangover the size of Manhattan, and a mood so sour that even the dog had retreated at the sight of him.

Hopefully school life turns out to be a lot better than the life I've got at home. Shay parked their 1995 Volkswagen Jetta in the student parking lot of Danaan High School. Laren was out of the car in an instant, yelling a "Wait for me after school!" (or something along that line) before disappearing through the open wrought-iron gates.

"As if you ever wait for me when you have the car," Shay murmured, retrieving her book bag from the backseat and slinging it over her shoulder. Heaving a sigh, she straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. If she was going to get through the day, she might as well try with a smile pasted on her face.

"Hi there, Poe," her best friend Garry greeted her cheerfully in the cafeteria during lunch.

"It's Poet," she corrected him automatically. "Poe was a depressed, suicidal jackass who could make even your mother cry."

Garry raised an eyebrow and hid a smirk. "What, you and him aren't really the same person?" He ducked under her swing and came up in time to grab her hand before she could try to punch him again. "What happened, dad get on yer case again?"

"It's two times worse when he gets drunk the night before."

He winced in sympathy and nodded. "Are you available after school?"

"It depends," Shana answered cautiously.

"I just want to take a quick trip to Seriss Park. You could use a few whiffs of fresh air, anyway, since I haven't seen you for the past few days."

"You ferget we're in the middle of finals," she reminded him.

"Which is exactly why a romp in the park will do you good." Shay wasn't sure she liked the mock leer on his face, even if it was fake. She and Garry had been best friends since elementary school, and they had never tried to date. There was no point in starting now - or at least that's what she kept telling herself.

"Wellllll . . ."

"We can drive to Baskin Robbin's first and get some cones," he added with his most winning smile.

She laughed for the first time that day and punched his arm. "Okay, okay, you've convinced me! Lemme find that no-good brother of mine first and give him the car keys."

"What?" Garry exclaimed. "You're making me drive?"

"You're a heartless woman," he grumbled on their way to the park. "Do you know how many hours I've put in already for this week? Hours of driving, that is?"

"You know, I wouldn't mind if you stopped the car and dropped me off right here," Shay told him calmly, licking away a stray drop of chocolate ice cream before it could splatter on to her white shirt. "I've got a Calculus final to study for."

"Did I also mention that you're manipulative?"

"You keep sayin' I'm bossy. Is that close enough?"

"Bossy's fine, only 'cause you are. Here we are!" Garry added briskly, heading off any retort Shay might've been ready to fire at him. He turned off his '92 Honda Civic and popped the trunk to retrieve the spare army poncho that he kept for this sort of occasion. Not that they went to this particular park often just to relax, but he hoped it was a start.

Yes, he had considered Shay to be his only best friend since kindergarten, but lately his view of her had changed. Garry now saw a beautiful girl who seemed to have stepped off a page of Seventeen, a slender girl with corn-colored hair and green eyes that he would not like to have staring him down on the other side of a shotgun. He had always considered her to be his long-lost twin sister and confidante, his friend. But now . . .

The only problem was Shay herself; what if she didn't feel the same way about him?

Shay sighed and rolled her eyes when he also pulled out a medium-sized cooler. "Is this s'posed to be a picnic or a study jaunt in the park?"

"Both," Garry replied with a cheeky grin. "I didn't get any ice cream, 'member?"

She swallowed the last bits of cone and chocolate and licked her fingers. "Got anything else in that magic trunk of yours?"

"Sorry, my dear! A magician never reveals his secrets."

"Since most of 'em are in your stomach, I wouldn't want you to reveal 'em, anyway."

Garry staggered and clutched at his heart. "She mocks me."

"Did I also ever tell ya that you never were good at drama?"

He snorted and hefted the heavy cooler up as they hiked to the lone oak tree in the middle of the empty park. "That's why I'm gonna major in engineering when we go to college, silly. How 'bout you? Still going to stick with art?"

"Photography, you mean. Yep. That's my one and only love."

One and only love. Shay wondered why her friend had a strange look on his face just then, but didn't ask.

The June bugs were out in full force as they spread out the poncho together beneath the shade of the great oak tree. "You went the whole way with this picnic thing, didn't you?" she asked dryly, as she watched him produce soda cans, Saran-wrapped turkey sandwiches, small variety bags of potato chips, chocolate chip cookies and brownies. "You managed to keep all ofthis cold in the trunk of your car for the entire day?"

"Sorry, sweethaht," Garry drawled, "I'd be disowned if I let you in on an old family secret."

"'Old family secret' my eye," she scoffed. "Cooper packed all this up in his usual efficient way." A gleam appeared in her eye. "I don't think any of this would be edible anymore if you did."

Garry sighed. "And you call yerself my best friend, heaping insults on me like that!"

"Only 'cause I love you and you let me," she replied equably, opening a can of Coke.

"Do you mean that?"

The can froze a few centimeters from her mouth. "Do I mean what?"

"That you love me."

Shay slowly set her soda down and turned to give Garry her full appraisal. The utterly serious look on his face was nearly comical, but she had no doubt that her longtime friend would be insulted if she laughed at him just then.

"Of course I mean it, Gare. Why wouldn't I?"

"I mean . . . really love me, Shay." He struggled to find the right words. "Not like - a friend."

Shay could feel her face growing hot now. "Like a boyfriend, ya mean?"

"Well . . . yeah."

Did you have to ask me that now?

The expression on her face must've said everything. "Ferget I asked," he said quietly, unwrapping a sandwich and biting into it.

"Gare - "

He waved her off and changed the subject. "I wanted to ask you a few questions about the History final."

But the damage had already been done. Gradually, though, as they quizzed each other on the various school subjects each of them were currently taking, they forgot about that one uncomfortable subject and lost it amidst their usual banter. But the unsettled feeling in the pit of Shay's stomach remained.

Two and a half hours seemed to fly by. "I think my folks are expectin' me home," Garry said, reluctantly getting to his feet and glancing at his watch. "One of the City Council members is coming over for dinner."

"And you just finished having an early dinner," she pointed out dryly.

"Yeah, well, just be glad you don't live with the owner of the largest steel maker in the county."

"Since when did your dad get so interested in politics?"

"Since he found out that yes, he actually does have a lot of money."

"You mean he didn't know that before?"

"Well, the nice-looking house and the expensive cars finally gave him a clue."

"I wish my dad was - " Shay didn't bother to finish the sentence. She knew it would never come true. To wish that her father had money, or even the least inclination to pay attention to his own children was probably the same as wishing she was Bill Gate's illegitimate daughter.

Garry saw the bitterness that lingered in her eyes and pulled her to her feet. She resisted him at first, knowing she was just feeling sorry for herself, but finally gave in and let him hug her.

That's when she peeked over his shoulder and saw the strange iridescent glitter no more than a foot away, on the other side of the tree.

Garry, in the meantime, was thinking that she fit perfectly in his arms, and he wished they could stay this way for a long time. He was disappointed when she abruptly pulled away. Then he saw it, too. "What the -?"

"This puddle wasn't here before, was it?" Frowning, Shay knelt by the small patch of water and realized that it was growing with each second that passed. The strange glitter settled over the puddle's surface and glowed an unearthly blue before fading.

The puddle had turned into a mirror.

Shay and Garry exchanged puzzled glances before she slowly, cautiously reached out to touch it. "I wouldn't do that if I were you, Shay," Garry warned her uneasily.

"It's just a mirror," she replied.

"Yeah, it's a mirror that just happened to appear from out of nowhere. What was I thinking?"

Shay ignored him as the cold, smooth surface of the mirror finally made contact with her fingertips. A tingle went up her arm and down her spine, and she shivered despite herself. This was no ordinary mirror.

Her eyes widened when the mirror suddenly rippled, as if a drop of liquid had struck the surface. The rest of her hand disappeared through the strange puddle, but her fingers did not feel wet when she pulled her hand out a second later.

"This is getting too strange for me," Garry told her, shaking his head. "We'd better get out of here."

"Aw, c'mon, Gare, where's yer sense of adventure?"

"As of now, I don't have one. This isn't funny, Shay. This is giving me the creeps. Can we please leave?"

"Hey, you can go on back home if you want." Shay waved him off with her other hand while she bent over the puddle again, this time reaching further down beneath the mirror to see how far her arm could go. "I have all the time in the world to figure out what's in here."

"Won't your mom start worrying if you're not home pretty soon?"

She shot him a look. "Since when did that matter? As if she ever cares enough about me to worry where I am."

"Is that why you're kicking it at my place all the time?"

"If I had my way, I'd see if I could convince your parents that I am your long-lost twin sister."

Garry couldn't help but grin at this. "What about Laren?"

"What about him?"

"You wouldn't mind if he moved in too, would ya? You know that Jared looks up to him a lot."

"And not to you?" she teased.

"Shay, we're the same flesh and blood. It ain't the same when your little brother is a mamma's boy and acts like a jackass when you're home."

"How do you think I feel when I'm around Lare?"

He laughed and raised both hands. "Okay, okay."

"I rest my - Whoa!"

Shay nearly toppled forward as something on the other side of the mirror suddenly grabbed her wrist and pulled.

"Gare, help!"

He grabbed her around the waist and tried to yank her back, but whatever was below the mirror was three times stronger.

"Shay, I can't - hang on . . . "

"Don't let go," she cried out, wrapping her free arm around his waist and holding on for dear life.

Neither of them noticed that the mirror had begun to grow larger once again, until the ground suddenly disappeared beneath their feet.

Garry felt something quite solid connect in an unpleasant way with the back of his skull, and the last thing he heard before blackness took him was the sound of Shana screaming.



(c) S.M.N.