Janet Barch sneered at the boy who ran past, sniveling as he shot like a cannon out of the Mirror, Mirror House. Weakling, she thought to herself. She'd been making her way down the midway to the now infamous attraction, to finally see what all the fuss was about. Handing her money to the ancient carny (narrowing her eyes because she wasn't sure it wasn't another man scamming her out of what she had earned), she marched into the tent.
The sudden cessation of sound momentarily shocked her, but as she made her way through the dim interior, she relaxed. It was quite nice after the raucousness of the carnival. Spotting the heavy, rectangular mirror, she stood squarely in front of it in a silent dare, sure there was no truth it could show her she didn't already know and embrace.
Her image stood as she did, nothing reflecting aside from the beige canvas behind her. Feeling annoyed, Janet was about to turn back and demand a refund when the background behind her shimmered and changed.
She stood in a beautiful garden. A tall, slatted fence could barely be seen for the lush vines covering it. Flowers of all kinds bloomed in profusion everywhere she looked: roses, coneflowers, liatris and daises, sweet jasmine twined along the fence and tiny buttercups dotted the thick green carpet of lawn. Juicy, ripe berries glistened in the sun, enticing birds to join in the beauty all around her. There was a faint buzzing now, a chirp of crickets, and the far-off tweet of a songbird.
Then suddenly, she felt a sharp, painful sting. Looking down at her arm, there was nothing, but her mirror image showed an angry red welt rising. Her face clouding, her image pulled a large canister from behind a bush and pumped the handle, holding the long, flexible nozzle with the other hand. The insect that had stung her was long gone, but she was determined not to let it, or any of its kind, have another opportunity to do so again.
Slowly, methodically, she went from plant to plant, flower to flower, coating everything in a fine mist. She caught a few glimpses of bees and ants writhing for a few seconds before curling into still little balls, feeling satisfied. A movement caught her eye and she blasted it with a sharp stream from the nozzle. Too late she realized it was nothing more than a harmless butterfly, and felt a twinge of sadness as its once beautiful wings curled and withered.
Satisfied with her work, she gazed over her garden. The faint buzzing was gone, as was the chirp of crickets. The bird tweeted further away in the distance, sounding as if it were flying far from the bountiful berries now coated in poison. She shrugged, not caring her garden was solely plants now. She could enjoy its beauty in quiet solitude.
Janet Barch watched the scene and smiled. Alone and surrounded by lush greenery. Who would run from such an image? Yet, as she watched, the flowers began to droop and lose their petals, the grass began to brown and wither. Berries rotted off the vine. The garden was dying. Her image stepped closer to a peony bush that was still green and budding and she spotted tiny black ants on the still-tightly bound blooms. Wielding her spray, she coated the plant in an arc of liquid death. A bee attempted to alight on a rose, only to meet swift and painful death. No matter how she tried to keep the insects out, the garden died around her until noting was left but barren desolate wasteland.
Through the fence she could now see other gardens beyond her own, lush and healthy. Jealousy bloomed, and she became ever more diligent, determined to return her own to its glory. No insect, crawling, biting or flying, would ruin her garden. The slightest movement garnered a wave of poison, even when said movement was a brave blade of grass poking through the dust-covered earth. After the first few plants she accidentally eradicated, she decided it was for the best. The garden's lush beauty was what had lured in the things that bit and stung and hurt. Occasionally she glanced at the world beyond her own, sensing she had lost something precious, but only the desire to keep out the pain remained.
She stood alone in her garden. Joyless, lifeless, and empty.
Janet stared at her reflection unbelievingly. Blinking, she turned without a sound and exited the tent.