“Alpha Squad, move into position,” Sable whispered in a commanding voice, shifting four of her tiny green Army men figures along her wooden bedroom floor. Reaching out with her other hand, she brought her plush bear closer to the figures. “Oh no, the Aurora Bear-ealis is approaching! Quick, meet up with Delta Squad!”
She moved her Alpha Squad figures away from the toy bear, merging them with four other green Army men. Beyond her bedroom, she heard her mother and father moving more of their holiday decoration boxes through the main hallway. The telltale squeak of the attic door being lowered from the ceiling tickled Sable’s ears, and she cringed.
“Hey, Sable,” her mom called from the attic entrance. “You’re a part of this move, too. Please come help us carry these boxes.”
“Just a second!” Sable yelled back, turning to her toys. “Okay, Bazooka Jim. You’re up.”
She aimed a bazooka-wielding figure at the bear, making whooshing sounds with her mouth. As she knocked over the stuffed animal, the whoosh became a crackling explosion, followed by defeated growls.
“Good job, Bazooka Jim,” she whispered. “You saved us once again.”
Standing up from the imaginary carnage, Sable wandered into the hallway, almost colliding with her dad, whose arms were filled with boxes.
“Hey, Sable!” he laughed. “Watch out; I can hardly see.”
Her mother appeared nearby, gesturing at the ladder to the attic. “Grab a box and get up there, little missy.”
Sable twirled her fingers nervously. “Do I . . . have to go up there?”
Her mother followed her gaze up to the rectangular hole in the ceiling. “Look, I know moving to a new place can be scary. But this house will be a good thing. I promise.”
“It’s not that,” Sable murmured. “I didn’t like our old attic either. They’re scary and dangerous.”
Up in the attic, she heard her father laugh. “Honey, just let her unpack her own stuff. I got this.”
Sable looked at her mother, nodding eagerly.
Her mother sighed. “Fine. Take your–”
“Hold up,” her father interrupted. “I thought you didn’t like it up here?”
“I don’t want to find out,” Sable replied.
“Well, then how did Bazooka Jim end up here?” he pressed.
He appeared in the attic entrance, waving the little green Army man figure in his hand.
“I . . . I didn’t put him there!” Sable stuttered. “I was just playing with him in my room.”
She turned and walked back into her bedroom, hunting for her favorite toy, but he was nowhere to be found.
“No, it’s definitely Jim,” her father called. “It’s still got your name written on the bottom.”
“I don’t understand,” Sable insisted. “I’ve never been up there.”
She poked her head into the hallway, eyeing her father anxiously. “Something else put him up there.”
“So, what, there’s some kind of creature in the attic now? And it wants your toys?” her mother chuckled.
Her father joined in. “Well, there’s no Bigfoot up here now.”
Sable hesitantly took Bazooka Jim from her father’s hand, slipping the figure into her pocket. Sighing, she grabbed one of her clothes boxes, carrying it into her room.
A few hours later, as the sun began to set outside, Sable found herself running out of boxes to unpack, and her attention strayed back to her green Army figures. At first, her gaze swept across the entire group, but when it reached Bazooka Jim, it stopped.
“How did you get up there, Jim?” she whispered.
A quick, rough sound, like crumpling paper, whispered across the wooden floor on the other side of her bed. She jerked her head in its direction, then at her bedroom doorway, through which she heard the faint chatter of the living room television.
“Hello?” she said, creeping around the bed. At the last second, she pounced to the other side, trying to catch the culprit of the faint noise. Instead of a bug or mouse, like she expected, she only saw a tiny, triangular piece of glass. Sable moved closer to the object, examining it more closely.
No, not just glass. A bit of mirror.
Sable crouched and retrieved the broken piece of mirror, slipping it in her pocket.
“A mystery,” she announced, turning to her Army figures. “Whose mirror does this belong to?”
She grabbed two of the little green figures: Lookout Louie, who stood pointing forward with binoculars in hand, and Sniper Steve, who lay prone, peering through a long, tripod-mounted rifle.
“You two will watch my back while we explore,” she said in her most commanding voice.
Together, Sable, Louie and Steve tip-toed out of the bedroom, the former sliding her back along the wall to avoid the imaginary security cameras. Sprinting down the hall, she turned at the last moment, tumbling into the hallway bathroom. Still on the floor, she used her foot to slowly swing the bathroom door closed.
Sable jumped to her feet, flicking on the light switch, and placed Lookout Louie and Sniper Steve on the sink counter. “Keep an eye out, would ya?”
She turned to the bathroom mirror, running her eyes along the surface. No cracks, no chips.
Something scratched at the inside of the bathtub, drawing her attention to the closed shower curtain. Her heart skipped a beat, but she quickly recovered, aiming Sniper Steve at the curtains.
“If something comes at me, you take it out, okay?” she whispered to the little green Army figure.
Creeping across the bathroom, she reached up, ripping the shower curtain to the side. Something retreated into the drain, but it moved too quickly for Sable to make out anything other than the color purple. The rest of the bathtub seemed otherwise untouched.
“Something purple,” Sable said to herself. “Okay.”
She retrieved Louie and Steve, edging out of the bathroom. Slipping further away from the living room where her parents rested, she reached their bedroom. Crouching, she set Lookout Louie on the floor, aiming him at the living room. Satisfied, Sable pocketed Sniper Steve, creaking open her parents’ bedroom door and sneaking inside.
The room was an absolute mess, with cattycornered furniture and half-unpacked boxes strewn across the floor. Sable carefully stepped around the chaos, imagining them to be deadly landmines. Ahead, the boxes shuffled around, as if a shark lurked beneath the cardboard, its fin disturbing the debris.
“I see you,” Sable whispered to the thing beneath the boxes, placing Sniper Steve on the nearby dresser. “Steve, I’m trusting you. Keep one in the chamber.”
With that, she ran and jumped on her parents’ mattress, swaying up and down on the squishy springs. Crouching, she leapt above the sea of boxes, planting her feet on top the nearby nightstand. Sable turned toward her mother’s vanity, soaring through the air a third time. This time, she barely stuck the landing, teetering back and forth on the lip of the vanity’s stool. After a moment, she steadied herself, only turning to stick her tongue out at the creature beneath the boxes.
Returning her attention to the vanity’s mounted mirror, Sable pulled the glass clue from her pocket, holding it up. The vanity mirror didn’t seem to be missing any cracks, but moreover, it was also clean and polished. The piece of mirror that Sable had discovered was old, dusty and a little yellowed.
Dismayed, Sable carefully made her way back out of her parents’ bedroom, collecting Sniper Steve and Lookout Louie along the way. She trotted back to her room, sighing dejectedly, and rounded the corner to flop onto her bed.
Instead, she walked in on a complete mess, her tiny green Army figures strewn haphazardly across the floor. Nothing seemed broken, but she knew that she’d left them all in their proper containers before she went on her mirror mission.
But why would the purple creature be rummaging through her stuff?
Her face went white. “Bazooka Jim?”
She dropped to her knees, searching through the plastic carnage, but Bazooka Jim was nowhere to be found.
Sable clenched her jaw. The attic.
She rushed to the living room. “Dad! I need your help!”
As she reached the couch, she saw her mother and father fast asleep, cuddle together. She tugged at her father’s sleeve. “Dad. Dad. Wake up. I need you to go to the attic.”
He murmured something unintelligible before returning to his slumber.
Sable sighed. It was up to her now.
She marched back into her bedroom, collecting her Alpha Squad figures. Pocketing them, she moved into the hallway, jumping up and grabbing the rope to pull the attic door down. As the ladder unfolded, she shivered, heart pounding in her chest. She was terrified, almost to tears, but Bazooka Jim needed her help.
Slowly, methodically, Sable ascended the attic ladder, hands shaking as they grasped each step. The dark rectangle loomed ahead, threatening to swallow her whole. Her head reached the top of the ladder, and she peeked into the blackness, looking around.
The hallway light filtered up through the attic entrance, partially illuminating the cramped space. Sable saw some of her family’s holiday decorations, along with other miscellaneous tools and furniture. Further back, though, against the walls, stood sheet-covered objects, remnants of the house’s previous owners.
Sable lifted herself into the attic, crawling to her feet. Retrieving her Alpha Squad figures, she aligned them around the attic entrance, their various weapons the four corners of the attic space.
“Keep me safe until I get out,” she whispered, turning to the collage of family history that stood before her.
A quick, rough sound, like crumpling paper, caught her attention, drawing her to a particularly dusty corner. She tip-toed toward the sound, taking desperate gulps to soothe her dry mouth. Turning sideways, she squeezed past her family’s boxes of holiday decorations, entering a tiny space with three sheet-covered pieces of furniture.
Reaching to the left with a trembling hand, Sable ripped away the first sheet, revealing an old grandfather clock. The grime-covered glass face partially obscured the hour and minute hand, frozen at 11:11.
Turning to the object on the right, she removed the second sheet, exposing a wooden rocking horse. The attic floor creaked beneath the weight of the toy as it leaned back and forth, kicking up dust. Coughing, Sable threw the sheet back on top of the horse, covering up the cloud.
Another rustle, this time near the base of the middle, still-covered object. This object stood a few feet taller than Sable, and stretched twice her width. Pulse pounding, she clutched at the final sheet, ripping it away. Beneath the covering stood an ornate, full-length mirror, its reflective glass filled with chips and cracks that revealed splintered wood beneath. One triangular gap caught Sable’s eyes, and she removed the piece of mirror from her pocket, matching it.
Something touched her foot, and she yelped, jumping back. Looking down, Sable saw Bazooka Jim standing on the attic floor, aiming the little plastic weapon of his namesake at the mirror.
“Jim!” she exclaimed, crouching to the floor. “How did you–”
The mirror rattled, interrupting her.
From between the cracks in the glass flickered a dim green light, illuminating the dark attic corner. The old wood frame creaked, and Sable heard more rustling, though now it came with a faint echo. The mirror bulged a little, as if something on the other side were trying to push its way to freedom.
Then the glowing cracks stretched apart, and a dozen slimy, purple tentacles wriggled from within, stretching toward Sable’s face. Sable screamed, her voice muffled by the surrounding boxes and furniture. Stumbling away, she accidentally kicked Bazooka Jim, and one of the tentacles snatched him out of the air, pulling him back behind the mirror to . . . somewhere else.
“Get away!” Sable yelled, but the tentacles were relentless, slithering in wide arcs to ensnare the girl. The mirror groaned again, as if whatever the tentacles were attached to was threatening to rip it apart from the other side.
Sable turned to run, shoving the holiday decoration boxes to the side, but one of the tentacles wrapped around her ankle, pulling her to the floor. From this angle, she could barely make out her Alpha Squad figures, all lifeless and still by the attic’s entrance. Then, the tentacle pulled at her, dragging her across the wood.
They can’t help me this time, Sable thought. I’m on my own.
The mirror shuddered hungrily as Sable drew closer to it, the other tentacles wriggling in anticipation. Sable felt a sharp pain, and glanced at her hand, where the piece of mirror bit into her skin. As blood ran from her palm, she gripped the shard between her thumb and forefinger, raising her arm. Her foot was only inches from the mirror now.
With as much force as she could muster, Sable brought the sharp edge of the broken glass down onto the tentacle.
The creature, whatever it was, screeched from behind the flickering green light, its tone so shrill and so piercing that Sable questioned whether she heard anything at all. The tentacle around her ankle released her, retreating with the others back beneath the glass. As they disappeared, the green light faded.
This is it, Sable realized. She didn’t know how she knew, but she knew. The door’s closed. I have to move fast.
Without a second thought, she picked up the sheet-covered rocking horse and swung it into the mirror, shattering it. Shards of reflective glass sprayed everywhere, prickling her skin and ricocheting off the boxes and furniture that filled the attic space. The old wooden frame cracked like a falling tree branch, falling back against the attic wall and crumbling to pieces.
Sable released the rocking horse, chest heaving. “Bazooka Jim?”
She rushed to the mirror’s remain, sorting through the glass shards and wooden splinters. No green plastic emerged, however.
She sat back, distraught.
A good soldier died today, she thought. But he kept me safe.
Her eyes shifted to the Alpha Squad, still perched by the attic entrance. And he won’t die for nothing.
The next night, Sable’s parents tucked her into bed.
“Sable, are you sure you don’t want to tell us what happened to your hand?” her father asked, gesturing to her bandaged palm.
She shook her head. “It’s really okay. Bazooka Jim and I took care of it.”
Her father sighed, and her mother looked around the bedroom. “Where are your Army toys, anyway?”
Sable smiled. “They’re on a secret mission. I’ll play with them again someday.”
She closed her eyes, allowing her mind to drift to the attic above her head. In the corner, surrounding the remains of the still-dormant mirror, stood a battalion of tiny green men, forever poised to keep Sable safe.