Jack bowed his head and clasped his hands together as he tried to block out the mass of mourners surrounding him. He was not bothered by the winter chill in the air. Nor did he notice the solemn drone from the pastor who stood at the head of the open grave.
Numb. He was numb. Void of emotion and entirely accepting that now his grandfather was gone, he was all alone.
Jack Smith was an only child, orphaned before he could walk and raised by his grandfather, Arthur Smith, who was a scholar and philosopher. Arthur was renowned by the whole of England for having published countless books and left behind a stately home which had an extensive library.
Jack had been homeschooled and hidden in the shadow of his grandfather’s achievements all of his life. For seventeen years he had lived on the earth and never achieved anything remarkable on his own. And until now, he was just fine with that.
Jack knew it was time to move forward and figure out who he was, and what type of man he wanted to become.
But none of that mattered right now. In that moment, all Jack thought about was getting through the next couple of hours.
He threw a red rose into the grave; it hit the walnut coffin with a thud, and his eyes prickled.
“Goodbye, Grandfather,” he whispered.
The people jostled beside him and took their turn to pay their respects. Jack shuffled back a little, stumbling on the uneven grass, and his ice-blue eyes shot up.
Standing in the distance, looking at another grave, stood a young woman no older than Jack. Her narrow shoulders trembled, and she wore a long ivory gown. Embroidered lace covered her arms, and she had a snowy white veil covering her blonde hair.
She stuck out in a sea of black. Like a single white rose among a bed of thorns.
Jack’s gaze lingered on the young woman, wondering why she was alone and whom she was mourning. Then she looked up, and a spark of recognition fired in his brain as their eyes met.
Even though they were standing at least twenty feet apart, it was as if an invisible cord connected them, and a jolt of electricity shot through Jack.
He gasped and stepped away, breaking eye contact. As if it had severed the cord, his body returned to a numb state.
He recovered himself and scanned the cemetery to look at the young woman again. But she was gone.
“Look. It’s snowing. Bob, how long have we lived here?” An old lady standing far off pointed to the thick, gray clouds. A sea of heads looked up.
“Good grief. You’re right,” an old man replied. “It hasn’t snowed in Tynhem for over sixty years.”
Tynhem was a little town just outside of Oxford, and in all of Jack’s life, he had never seen it snow.
A dusting of white fell like ash from the sky and settled on the ground. Jack watched the flecks of snow fall into the open grave and allowed a slight smile to break his grimace. He knew his grandfather would have something philosophical to say about the moment. But Jack appreciated that, for once, the weather reflected his mood.
He whipped his head back and forth, searching the faces for the young woman he had seen just moments earlier. But she had vanished.
Slowly, the mourners walked back to the waiting cars, and Jack followed. Many of these people had known Jack’s grandfather since before Jack was born, and yet no one so much as looked in his direction as they made their way to the manor for the wake.
Jack was grateful that Mr. Thomas had everything in hand. He took care of all the funeral arrangements, organized the caterers, and even booked a string quartet. It was above and beyond what any family lawyer should do. But he did it anyway. All Jack had to do was put on his suit and turn up.
The tires crunched over the gravel driveway as the stretch limousine pulled up outside the manor. A door opened and Jack stepped out gloomily. As he walked to the entrance, he stuffed his hands in his pockets and kept his head bowed low. Whispers flew around the courtyard and followed him into the home, but no one addressed him. He could have been invisible for all he knew.
A large stream of nosey people swarmed in and looked around the manor like they were visiting a museum. Arthur Smith was the grandson of a duke. The manor was the finest example of eighteenth-century architecture in Tynhem, and this was the first opportunity for members of the public to look inside.
According to the will, Arthur bestowed everything to Jack. But Jack did not like the idea of living in a twelve-bedroom manor and maintaining four acres of gardens alone. He instructed Mr. Thomas to sell it as soon as the funeral was over and let him know as soon as the funds were available.
What Jack would do next, or where he would go, remained a mystery. But he didn’t care. This was no longer his home, and an unknown future called out to him.
After several awkward minutes of standing in the entrance hall, picking at the seam of his jacket, he headed upstairs to the bathroom, certain he would not be missed. He glanced at the paintings of his ancestors as he ascended the steps and allowed his hand to drag along the oak rail, rubbed smooth over years of use.
The floors creaked as he crossed the hall, and a sudden flash of light stopped him in his tracks. It came from his grandfather’s office—a room Jack had been forbidden to ever step inside.
But unlike most days, the door was cracked open, and a light flashed again. Jack’s curiosity piqued. Just what was so special about Grandfather’s office that I could never go inside? he wondered. With a light shrug, he walked to the door and pushed it open.
No one was there to stop him this time.
The hinges squeaked as the door swung open and a flash of brilliant white light momentarily blinded him. Shielding his eyes, he cautiously stepped forward and blinked several times to take in the room. A wide mahogany desk stood proudly in the center with an open leather-bound book laying on top. Jack leaned in to find a quote encircled.
The best portion of a good man’s life: his little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.
Jack traced the words with his finger and let out a heavy sigh, but his breath caught in his throat. He tugged at his collar with a grimace and glanced at the small dusty window. He supposed it had never been opened.
The room was hot and stuffy, and Jack shrugged out of his jacket as he looked around. Many dusty shelves lined the walls, all sporting various antiques and artifacts. His grandfather’s coat hung on a coat stand by the door, and a cane leaned against the desk. In the corner of the room stood an ornate free-standing oval mirror. The brass frame had etchings of words written in a language he did not recognize. Which was a surprise to him, as his grandfather had him study twelve languages, including Greek and Latin.
He caught his reflection. His muddy brown hair sat wavy around his ears, and despite his moody disposition, his eyes twinkled. He had always been scrawny and small, but the young man looking back at him in the mirror was taller, with a healthy glow. He stood up straight and squared his shoulders, clenching his biceps and setting his jaw. Then a pair of sky-blue eyes blinked at him from behind his shoulder. As quick as a flash, he turned to see who was standing behind him. He recognized those eyes. But no one was there.
Jack looked back at the mirror and took a step closer, his heart thumping and ears ringing.
Next to his head, he saw a spray of blonde hair obscuring a woman’s eyes. He took another step and squinted. A delicate hand rose and brushed the strands of hair away from a porcelain face. His eyes lingered on a pretty pair of rosebud lips, and two glittering eyes met his gaze.
They held eye contact for a moment, then a blast of frosty air shot past Jack from the corner of the room. Startled, he stumbled forward, grasping the frame to find his balance.
He didn’t dare to break eye contact with the woman in the reflection for fear that she might disappear again if he did.
Then a stronger blast hit him from behind. It was as if an unseen energy willed him to fall. Jack clutched the frame as his body went hurtling forward.
He braced for impact with the glass, but to his utter surprise, he fell through as if it was not a mirror at all, but an archway.
Shards of glass surrounded him and hung in the air, sparkling like glitter. Jack marveled at the sight, then another gust of air scattered them as far as the eye could see.
He stood on the top of a snowy hilltop, and brilliant white light flooded the sky. To the right, a magnificent white castle sparkled in the distance and a little village of wooden houses with smoking chimneys sat nestled in a valley.
Jack whipped around on the spot. The brass frame of the mirror lay in pieces at his feet, and his grandfather’s office was nowhere to be seen.
“What the-?” he said in a breathy voice. Then he realized he was not alone. His brows shot up and his chest squeezed as he watched a young woman walking toward him. Her face looked the same as the woman he had seen in the mirror, but now her hair was brown.
Despite the winter frost, and the thin material of her cloak, she did not shiver. Nor were her cheeks rosy from the cold. She held out a gloved hand and smiled at Jack like she was an old friend. As if this was not the first time she had witnessed someone stumble through a mirror.
“Quickly,” she said in a hushed voice, her smile fading as she grabbed his hand. Jack stumbled forward, his legs like jelly as he struggled to keep up. The young woman broke into a run, her feet flying across the snow with ease, cloak billowing out behind her. Jack’s chest burned and the snow crunched under his feet.
“Wait. I can’t-” he gasped and came to a halt. The young woman’s eyes flashed as she stopped and looked at him with alarm.
“We can’t stay here, Jack. We have to go.”
Surprised at the sound of his name, Jack began moving again, and the two of them hurried down the hilltop towards the castle. All the while, the mystery woman kept her face forward, never so much as glancing back.
The ground leveled as they entered a woodland. Jack’s lungs burned, and his legs refused to walk any further. He doubled over, gasping for air.
“We can’t stop,” the young woman urged. Jack looked up and frowned. How was she not out of breath? They had been running at full pelt for several minutes and his heart was about to burst out of his ribcage. Yet she hadn’t broken a sweat.
“Who are you? How do you know my name?” he asked through gulping breaths. “And where am I?”
The young woman took a step closer, her warm breath tickling his forehead as she bent down to him. “You have a lot of questions. But for now I only have one answer.” Her voice was soft and musical and her words seemed to soothe his troubled soul. But then her eyes darkened.
“Trust no one.” She threw her arm back in a swift motion, and struck him on the back of the head. Then everything went black.