Today the gray clouds seem to hang a little lower over Mona’s head than usual, their looming shapes shadowing her in the darkness. They follow every puddle her frequently scrubbed boots step in and blur her vision, but fail miserably at blocking out the echoing voices around her.
Can you believe her outfit? They repeatedly whisper. No wonder her dad left her.
She wraps her yellow coat tighter around her waist and crosses her arms, regretting her outfit choice. She would have looked better in her second choice of clothing this morning, but she chose to go with something more suitable for the sour weather. Stupid mistake.
It takes her ten more dreadfully long minutes to finally end up on the porch of her broken home. Despite the ache to run down the hall and curl into the perfectly folded sheets, she takes her time to carefully peel her feet out of the saturated boots and hang her coat up on her designated hook. It only takes her a couple minutes to wash her shoes and set them on a towel to air dry, the steps now rhythmed into her daily pattern.
She spends the rest of the evening completing the homework due weeks from today and eating a very light salad. Abdomens are meant to be flat. All of her actions are the same as yesterday and the day before that, a monotonous repetition, but she falters when she sees a note on her closet door. It’s 8:30 PM, the time Mona is supposed to be picking out her three clothing options for tomorrow. The bright orange post-it note reads:
I cleaned some things up.
Took your old clothes up to the attic
until we can take them to Goodwill.
‘Old clothes’ meant her mom stuffed the box full of clothes she hadn’t seen Mona wear in the past week; anything her mother can do to keep the house from being cluttered.
Mona sighs, frustrated that it’s already two minutes past the time she should be browsing the dressing options in front of her. She throws the note away in the trash can beside the organized desk on her way out of her room.
The attic is fixated in the hallway next to Mona’s mother’s bedroom, which would make it impossible for Mona to retrieve her kidnapped clothing if her mom didn’t work the night shift at the hospital. She pulls the sting for the door downwards, holding her other hand to catch the ladder. Dust floats to the floor from her actions. She’ll have to schedule a vacuuming before going to bed. Mona swats the air around her and brushes the lint off the rungs of the ladder.
After double-checking its security, she climbs into the poorly lit attic. She has to feel her way through the dark to find the string light switch, regretting leaving her phone downstairs. She half-expected a bat to fly out of the corner when the dull light shined over the perfectly arranged boxes. Her brown eyes squint as they skim the lined boxes along one of the walls, hunting for the one not already covered in cobwebs. Mona finds it situated on the bottom of a shelf, filling the last empty spot there was.
Cautiously walking on the blue scotch tape left over from her mom’s last project taped to thin floorboards. She smiles as she slides the box off the shelf, eager to return the items to their rightful place.
Moving the box to the side, Mona tilts closer to the shelf, inspecting it for the source of the bang. The overhead light dimly reflects off of a long, black object hanging slanted along the wall. Her mental clock is flashing in her mind, reminding her that her time up here should be done, but she can’t stop herself from reaching for the object. It takes some wiggling until she finally releases the telescope from its imprisonment. She runs her slim fingers across the tube to slowly brush the dust off, halting at the initials carved into the base.
The realization hits her at full force as if someone knocked the wind out of her. Mona was told her mom removed everything that belonged to her father from the house, trashed all of his possessions and sold every piece of his clothing, and burned every picture with his face, except the one Mona hid in her room underneath her pillow. The same one that captured her father gazing through the telescope in her hands at the moon above them that night.
Mona’s eyes land on the miniature moon mirrored in the glossy layer of the object, making her look up at the bright orb through the circular window behind her. She isn’t sure if it is because of the sudden moonlight or the sentimental item she is holding, but the lonely feeling starts to dissolve.
She cautiously tiptoes to the window and sets up the telescope so it aims directly at the moon. Without a second of hesitation, she bends her eye to the lens, the moon enlarging in front of her. The glowing moon suddenly morphs into the image of her father with all of the shadows of the moon highlighting his dark features, forcing a tear to cascade down Mona’s cheek. She closes her eyes and tries to straighten to wipe the tear away, but her body is rooted in its position, some outside force keeping her as still as possible. Before she has time to react, she is sucked into the telescope.
Within an instant of the initial pull, her feet are back on solid ground, as though she never moved an inch. Mona warrily opens her eyes to try and blink away the pain, her sudden depression becoming the least of her problems. The unsturdy attic frame is no longer surrounding her. Instead, a cold breeze brushes against her limbs as she stands on unfamiliar ground. Conversation gradually fills her ears, the volume increasing as forms appear around her. No, spirits or ghosts dance around her in formal attire as though they are all attending a ball in the early 1900s. She expects them to mock her green elephant pajamas that she originally thought were the cutest and comfiest outfit to wear in the evening, but not one person turns up their nose in disgust.
In fact, one couple stops in their tracks to compliment her. “Why that is the most beautiful gown I have ever seen!” the middle-aged woman draped in an ocean blue mermaid dress exclaims as she scans Mona’s figure from top to bottom.
Mona instinctively lowers her head to scan her clothing, but she is still clad in the pajamas, a little disappointed that no bippity-boppity-boo moment occurred. This must be a joke. This woman is mocking her clothing decisions and anytime now there will be a chorus of laughter enveloping her.
But moments pass and no choir is setting up to sing their song of ridicule.
“I’m sorry, I’m not wearing a dress.” Mona’s eyebrows furrowed at the top, in hopes of conveying her rattling confusion to the person in front of her.
The woman laughs, but not at Mona. “Neither am I, dear.” She clasps Mona’s hand between her own, patting Mona’s wrist.
“Edna, we must be going now.” A man who seemed to have faded into the background is now pulling at the woman’s elbow, encouraging her to walk with him.
“Howard, isn’t her dress just marvelous?” Edna asks the man who is repeatedly beckoning her leave. “Oh, Howard, I will leave when I am good and ready. What has got you-” Howard whispers something in her ear that is too low for Mona to pick up on, but has turned Edna’s face as red as if she committed a sin by the holy God above. Without another second of hesitation, the couple steps back onto the glowing path followed by thousands of other transparent people.
Mona glances downwards once more, but her attire hasn’t changed in the past couple of minutes, she is still clad in the same ugly outfit compared to all of the wonderful gowns and suits passing her.
“Excuse me,” she tries to stop the soul walking past her, hoping someone can explain to her what is going on, but they all pass her, their attempts to not make eye contact hauntingly evident.
“Why are you still standing there?” an irritated, high-pitch voice screeched at her. Mona spins around to find the source, but no one catches her eye. “Down here.” Mona looks downwards to her right, meeting the beaty eyes of the creature in front of her. He had a bright purple fur coat with puke green hair spiked along his spine and two yellowing tusks, reminding Mona of an ugly version of the warthog from The Lion King. Mona stared at him, too incredulous to utter any words. “What? Never seen an ugly before? Of course you haven’t. Those Earth schools don’t teach you anything useful these days. It’s all ‘what’s how do find the size of a shape?’ and ‘this paragraph of way too descriptive lines means something.’” his voice raises in pitch as he contorts his face to mock the public schools on Earth.
Mona forces herself out of her daze, “An Ugly?”
“You really are dumber than I thought you would be,” he runs a hoof over his face as if he is a human stuck in a warthog’s body, already frustrated with the conversation.
“Otis!” a peculiar rabbit rushes towards us, his pointed look aimed directly at the animal in front of me. He had white leather instead of fur, with daringly red ears to match his black suit and bowtie. “We were supposed to approach the alien together.” He lowers his voice for this next part “not run up to them and insult them.”
“I’m sorry, but who are you two?” Mona interjected, feeling the pound of a headache starting.
The rabbit straightens at Mona’s question, transitioning from his lecture to the unphased Otis beside him. “I apologize for the rude greeting,” he turns a pointed gaze back to his acquaintance, before focusing on me with a smile. “My name is Luis and the overbearing ugly behind me is Otis.”
“Hey,” Otis greets without looking up from his hooves.
“We are your assistants.” Louis smiles up at me, and after nudging from his partner, Otis smiles a dutiful grin.
“Assistants?” Mona questioned, leaning down to meet their gazes a little better. “I’m sorry, but what do I need assistants for?”
“You didn’t tell her?” Louis mumbles from the corner of his mouth to Otis.
“I got blown away by her stupidity before I had a chance.” Otis mumbles back
“Well,” Louis clasps his hands together, “this is awkward.” A loud bell chimes, breaking the tension between them. Louis checks his watch, before grabbing Mona’s hand and rushing her in the opposite direction the glowing paths flowed.
“Where exactly are we going?” Mona asks, wondering how she went from being in the attic to being on the same field with weird creatures, ghosts, and glowing sidewalks. “Why aren’t we heading in the same direction as everyone else?”
Louis chuckles at her confusion while Otis shakes his head. “Because you aren’t like everyone else, Mona.”
How could she possibly be like everyone else?
He drags her further and further away from the group, making sure everyone else is out of sight. They finally stop when they reach a red brick house with a wrap-around garden and small front porch decorated with plastic lawn furniture. The mirage in front of them is the perfect image of her mother’s house.
“Are you taking me back?” Why would they want her here in this place too glorious for her?
Louis chuckles at her confusion, “Quite the opposite actually.”
“Speak for yourself,” Otis chimed in as he walked past them to the house, plopping down on one of the chairs.
“Ignore him. We are here to get you ready for the main event.”
“I’m sorry, what main event?” Mona asks as her and Louis slowly walk up to the house.
“I guess this is as good a time as ever. You are the daughter of our ruler and the key to his success!” he states in such a profound way that Otis scoffs from his stretched position in the lounge chair. “He is holding a ball to announce your arrival.”
Mona’s mind works at a thousand miles per second, matching the new information with her recent encounters. “So, when I looked through my father’s telescope it brought me to…where exactly is here?”
“The moon, silly! This is where your father has created his own world for the two of you. We are all figments of his imagination”
“He was expecting me to find his telescope?”
“It was the only way.”
Mona hesitates for a moment, thinking through the situation. “But what about the couple who turned away from me? Edna and Howard? If I’m so special, why were they all acting like I was poisonous?”
“Edna has always stepped out of line,” Louis notingly whispered. “It is the decree of our King for no one to disturb you. You are a mighty figure that the souls aren’t allowed to touch.”
“But what about you two? I’m sorry, earlier you said you two are my assistants?”
“God, she’s slow,” Ottis exclaimed.
Louis mumbled an order to Otis before refacing Mona with a smile. “Yes, we are your assistants in a way. I am your cutie and Ottis is your ugly.” After noticing Mona’s confused expression has only let up a little, he continues. “We are your split personality. Essentially. Well, maybe it’s more that we are each half of your soul. Yes, that sounds better! I am all of your cute and better qualities, while Ottis is all of the bad.”
“But how is it possible for me to interact with my soul?” Mona questions as she and Louis take a seat on the steps of the porch.
“Anything is possible here. It was created out of your father’s imagination, so everything he wants to appear will appear, and everything he doesn’t will be as if it never existed.” His tone drops at the last bit of his sentence, hinting at something Mona doesn’t have the energy to decipher.
“So what do you do as my assistants?”
“We are here to nudge you in the right direction.”
“In the right direction of what?”
“I think that’s enough questions for now,” Louis checks his watch. “We have to get you ready. Come with me.” Louis entered the house with Mona behind him, and Ottis still curled lazily on the chair. “Otis!” Otis mumbled silent curses as he sauntered his way into the house, dreading the task he is meant to do.
When Mona steps foot in the hallway, the room is fitted with a hundred mirrors, but no reflection was inside them. No doorway was evident for her to walk through. Louis is no longer with her, leaving her alone in the room full of mirrors.
“What is this place?” Mona whispers to herself.
“Look, I know you didn’t have a proper education, but please try to use at least a little common sense.” Ottis appeared out of thin air behind her, standing on the red carpet below them. He scurries to the corner and hops up on a stool as he pulls down the rope above him with his teeth.
The carpet lifts from underneath Mona, tripping her. She tries to maintain her balance with a wobbling effort, but ultimately ends up falling and smashing the glass beneath. She adjusts her position, looking down at the broken reflection of herself. Her hair is thrown into a comfortable, messy bun, instead of the stylish messy bun. Her face is rid of the makeup she usually clads herself in, all of her freckles and the mole on her left cheek more evident than usual. Her green pajamas against her pale complexion make her want to puke at the terrible image.
A tear trails down her textured face as Ottis sighs in the corner. It isn’t a mocking sigh, but one full of the same sadness she feels. Mona closes her eyes as she buries her face in her hands. Her sobs fill the echoed hallway.
“Open your eyes, Mona,” Louis softly ordered. Mona slowly lifted her face, wiping the tears from underneath her eyes. Louis is standing in front of her with an encouraging smile on his lips, Ottis no longer in her line of vision. The room is empty of all of the mirrors; decorated with portraits instead.
Mona stands, spinning her attention around the room at the paintings. They are each of a beautiful woman, with a tanner complexion and silky brown hair perfectly curled. Her face is clear of any freckles, pimples, moles, or any other ugly mark. She is clad in a majestic royal red gown with a matching tiara perched upon her head.
“You really do look quite beautiful,” Louis sidles up next to her.
“What?” he nods his head in the direction of the current painting her eyes are locked on. “That’s me?” Mona scanned the unfamiliar woman again.
“Yes! With a few upgrades of course.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. Why are you showing me a broken mirror and paintings?”
“It’s all part of the process. We have spent a lot of time observing you, Mona. Finding what you desire the most: to be loved. This,” he points to the paintings, “is the way to do it. We can make you beautiful Mona.” He spins Mona around to face the mirror behind her. One that’s not broken. One that shows her as the woman in the paintings. “We can give you everything you’ve ever wanted.”
Mona looks down and scans the new white gloves on her arms and the matching red gown fitted to her now thin form. They can give her everything she ever wanted. She wants her dad. “You said my father is the ruler or something?” she asks, earning a nod from Louis. “I want to talk to him.”
“I’m afraid that can’t happen just yet.”
“You have to make a choice first. If you choose right your father will send for you, but if you choose wrong…” the room suddenly dissolves back into the attic of her mother’s house. Louis curls his lip in disgust at the cobwebs, the first time Mona has seen him without a smile on his face.
Mona scans the room full of packed boxes from her mother’s annual cleaning ventures. Her eyes land on the telescope still fixated in front of the circular window, perfectly aimed at the Earth, except Ottis is now a stool in front of the lens. Mona stands in the middle between her cutie Louis and her ugly Ottis. She stands at an intersection between her imagination and her reality.
She gives one last determined look at Ottis’ sorrowful eyes, before asking Louis, “What do I have to do?”