Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Mirror in the Looking Glass (2007)

This story idea just came to me out of the blue in one quick burst when I was living with my friend Hannah in Waunarlwydd, a village near Swansea, just before I left to travel through Spain for a year. It is a product of pure inspiration and that inspiration needed no prompting from me. This is an unusual thing.
Mad inventors are plentiful in this world of ours but only one sits on a genuine throne and rules his own city like an ancient king. Frabjal Troose of Moonville has many dubious talents, including the ability to flap his ears. They squeak. But his cybernetics expertise is considerable and his contributions to the design and manufacture of artificial nervous systems are almost unparalleled. Only his perversity prevents him from becoming the saviour of the human race.
Perhaps I am overstating the case, but his monumental achievements are singularly unhelpful to his own subjects and the citizens of every other realm. What amuses Frabjal Troose is to install human intelligence in inanimate objects. With the aid of extremely small but excessively clever devices, part electronic and part mechanical, he can bestow the gift of consciousness with all its attendant emotions on chairs, crockery, table lamps, shoes, clocks, flutes.
He can and he does. Frequently.
His other hobby is to worship the moon…
One morning Frabjal Troose awoke with the urge to give thoughts and feelings to a mirror. He foresaw all manner of comic and tragic potential in the reality of a self-aware looking glass. To make the joke even more piquant he decided to equip his victim with prosthetic legs and allow it to roam freely around the city. He left his enormous bed and went to the bathroom and there he saw an appropriate mirror hanging on the wall above the moon shaped sink.
The operation took several days. Frabjal Troose is a perfectionist and he wanted the circuits and cogs to be tastefully integrated into the frame of the mirror. In the end the workings ran over the surface of the wooden frame like complex ornamentation. By this time, the mirror could already think for itself and was slowly coming to terms with its sudden awareness and the need to develop an identity. It was no longer a mere object but a precious sentient being.
It even had a name. Guildo Glimmer.
Guildo learned to walk within his first hour. Wandering the palace of Frabjal Troose, little more than a large house stuffed with components for new gadgets, he came into contact with the occasional servant. At each encounter the same thing happened: the servant bent down and made a face at Guildo. Sometimes the servant picked him up and held him at arm’s length while plucking a nose hair or squeezing a pimple. What did this mean? Guildo was bewildered.
He continued his explorations and discovered that the front door of the palace was open and unguarded. Through it he hurried, into the lunar themed spaces of the city. Moon buggies rolled past on the roads and the public squares were craters filled with people dressed in silver and yellow clothes. I know that Frabjal Troose once issued an edict forbidding any grins that were not perfect crescents. He also forbade any cakes that were not perfect croissants.
Guildo proceeded down the street. He desperately needed time for reflection, but citizens just would not leave him in peace and they treated him in precisely the same way as the palace servants had, making blatant faces at him, grimacing and yawning and even frowning in disgust. Guildo began to experience the state of mind known as ‘paranoia’. What was wrong with his appearance? What was it about him that provoked such reactions in strangers?
He must be ugly, a horrible freak, a grotesque mutant: there was no other explanation. He was overwhelmed with a desire to view his own face, to confront his visage, to learn the foul truth for himself. But he could think of no way to accomplish this. Are you stupid, Guildo Glimmer? he asked himself. There must be a method of seeing one’s own face, but what? Because he was so new to the conventions of society, he always spoke his thoughts aloud.
“I know a reliable way,” declared a passerby.
This passerby was a droll fellow, a practical joker. He told Guildo that when men and women wanted to look at their own faces they made use of a ‘reflection’. What was one of those? Well, reflections existed in a variety of natural settings, in quiet lakes and slow rivers and the lids of clean saucepans, but only in the depths of mirrors did they realise their full potential. That is where the highest quality reflections dwelled, untroubled by ripples or cooking stains.
“You must look into a mirror!” he announced.
Guildo was astonished but grateful and he decided to follow this advice. The passerby chuckled and passed on. He was later arrested for not chuckling in the shape of a crescent, but that is another story. No, it is this story! No matter, I will ignore it in favour of what happened to poor Guildo. His little metallic legs carried him to the market, a bustling place where anything one desired might be bought, provided one’s desires were modest or at least plausible.
Guildo’s were. He approached a stall selling mirrors.
The man who owned the stall was talking to another customer and so Guildo was free to hop onto a table and examine the mirrors on display. He chose a circular mirror that was nearly the same circumference as his own head and he stepped in front of it. What he saw was totally unexpected and utterly profound. He saw an immensely long tunnel, a tunnel that stretched perhaps as far as the moon or infinity.
It must be pointed out once again that Guildo Glimmer was a living mirror. A mirror is simply unable to view its own reflection. The moment a mirror gazes into another mirror, its image will be endlessly bounced back and forth between the two reflecting surfaces. Hence the illusion of a tunnel. This is a law of geometry and a rule of physics, but Guildo knew nothing of such disciplines. His education had not covered the sciences.
As far as he was concerned, the illusory tunnel was an accurate representation of his form. This meant that he really was a tunnel! Now he understood why people kept frowning at him and why he was so dissatisfied. It was because he was not fulfilling his correct role. He was a tunnel and ought to do what tunnels do, act like tunnels act, think what tunnels think. He rushed out of the market to embrace his true destiny.
Later that afternoon, the splinters of a smashed mirror were picked up from the tracks of the main railway line leading into Moonville. When pieced together they could be identified as the remains of Guildo Glimmer. There was no way of resurrecting him. Frabjal Troose came to pay his hypocritical respects but he quickly lost interest and returned to his palace in a land-boat powered by moonbeams. By this time the sun had gone down and the moon was up.
People said that Guildo committed suicide, that he was too full of despair to continue his existence. Why else would he stand in the path of a moving train? But as I watched the billowing sails of the receding land-boat, I realised that I knew better. Guildo was simply serving a mistaken function. Tunnels are there for trains to pass through, after all. I was the driver of that train: in fact I am the train itself, an earlier example of the unnatural quest to give intelligence to inanimate objects.