Chapter I: Reflections in a Broken Mirror

I looked intently at the perfect replica of myself. The image I saw in my bathroom mirror was that of a male individual that had just started his first baby steps into the realm of adulthood and responsibility. My father had been filled with elation when I had come to be of age. I for one was not so optimistic in sharing my father’s delight. Being 21 years old was a good age to enjoy both love and life. The only problem was that I had neither to cherish.

My looks were the least of my problems. I was above average in terms of height with broad shoulders but a lean form. The thick black hair that covered my scalp was jet black yet brownish under the sun and florescent light. Steady, dark brown eyes occupied the space below my brow, giving me a gentle and kind-natured gaze when I was looking afar or daydreaming. A narrow but well-shaped nose was the centrepiece of my face, and beneath it laid a mouth that betrayed the warmest of smiles when I was in a jolly good mood. The only thing that spoiled my facial features was the frameless glasses I wore which also, ironically, proved to be a blessing in disguise as it helped shelter my sleep-deprived eye bags from public view.

‘Sleep is the greatest thief, for it steals half of one’s life’ had always been my unconscious motto followed by ‘there will be sleeping enough in the grave’. These thoughts that lay in the deepest and darkest corners of my head caused me to sleep late every night and wake early every morning. The other equally bizarre factor was that I was a scholar in every way except in formal profession. And while girls, games, movies, and parties normally stole time away from youths of my age, it was books that stole most of the remaining time that I had, minus sleep and other essential activities needed for the minimal sustenance of life. But I was content with such a life! Or so I wanted myself to think.

Moving reluctantly away from the mirror and my own image, I exited my room and entered into the common room through a long and narrow corridor in my flat. I stayed together with five other individuals. All of whom were girls that I thought were pleasant both in looks and behaviour. Given any other male humanoid, I should be the happiest man on earth. However, I considered all five women as mere acquaintances and I had never bothered to go beyond more than a greeting and some casual chat. I was lucky enough to occupy the master room of the flat and with it I gained the comfort of a queen-sized bed, more living space, a longer working table, and an additional bookshelf. Yet, even all these were incomparable to the comfy couches that lay outside of my room in wait of utility.

Thanking my lucky stars that not a single soul could be seen outside my room, I poured myself a glass of red wine before falling into a relaxed position on top of the longest couch in the common room. For company tonight, I had with me a book entitled Bulfinch’s Mythology[1] and an iphone that contained mostly classical music that I adored second only to books of knowledge and science.  Seated upright in anticipation of a long and lonely night, I sipped and savoured the wine that I had poured for myself.

“All I need now is some music,” I muttered as I fumbled for my iphone in my pocket. Reaching it, I simply played the first song on my playlist without regard to composer or composition.

Through white earphones, I was greeted gently by the opening piano movements of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata[2]. Beethoven had dedicated this sonata to Countess Giulietta Giucciardi, a pupil that the great German composer was very much in love with. Sadly, the Countess did not reciprocate Beethoven’s feelings for her. Breaking conventional rules of music at his time, the sonata was structured with a gradual quickening in tempo or speed. I listened calmly with great pleasure as the slow and dreamy opening called Adagio sostenuto soon gave way to the more playful and delightful Allegretto.

Wishing silently in my heart for my life to be more like Beethoven’s sonata, I pondered the likelihood of something extraordinary happening to myself.

“Not a chance with my lifestyle,” I chuckled as I sipped more wine down my dry throat.

After a few minutes, the combination of red wine and mythological creatures began to take their toll on my consciousness. Melting slowly into the comforts of the common room, I fell into deep sleep by the end of the sonata’s last and most fiery movement called Presto.

As all consciousness dissipated from me, my nightmares soon started.

I was certain that I was in some kind of bad dream. In fact, I was never so certain in my entire life. What else could be the reason of a gigantic three-headed dog standing just a dozen meters away from myself? Three-headed dogs do not exist in reality. Everything about the giant hound spelled the word: UNNATURAL. And unnatural wasn’t something you found in your everyday life. Adding to its fake disposition was that this enormous coal-black hound was about 6 feet in height with fire bursting from its open mouth and eye slits. Cruel eyes glared at me through the flames with latent hate and malice. It let out a hideous howl from its huge jaws before leaping towards me in a savage and vicious manner.

Dream or no dream, I took flight for dear life itself. I knew I couldn’t outrun it. Its long leaps and bounds ensured that it would catch me in a matter of minutes if not seconds. Losing my footing and falling face flat to the ground, I turned and watched in horror as the black form of its body filled my vision and its jaws opened to kill me in one vicious snap. I closed my eyes instinctively and waited for the end to come.

“Jakob, wake up!” cried an unknown voice of a young woman. Suddenly the delirious dream began to vanish. The dog was gone and all my senses faded into a blurry mixture of light and darkness. And then, it was all over.

I awoke at the sound of someone calling my own name. Opening my eyes, Joanna’s concerned face filled my cloudy vision. Joanna was one of the flatmates that I had a ‘slightly more than an acquaintance’ relationship with due to our rooms located side by side. Coming to my senses, I sat upright and cursed as my book fell to the floor.

“Are you alright, Jakob? You gave me quite a shock when I found you sleeping in such an awkward position,” commented Joanna whose face was still inches away from mine.

“No worries, I am alright. Red wine and Bulfinch got me a little too cosy last night,” I said while shifting my position away from Joanna. I notice that my face was covered with sticky sweat. A feeling of distaste and disgust filled my head.

Joanna seemed to take the hint of her invasion of my personal space and moved her slender form away from mine. I was very grateful for that. Glancing at my watch I immediately jumped up and hurried hastily into my room, leaving an open-mouth Joanna behind.

“Sorry Jo, I am late! And it’s Induction Day for Heaven’s sake!” I stammered as I entered my own room.

My bedroom was in the perfect and pristine condition that I had left it before I fell asleep in the common room yesterday night. The orange blanket on top of my bed lay unmolested due to my absence in the room while my laptop stood silently on the left hand corner of my table. Beaming with joy at the cleanliness of my room, I grabbed my towel and headed straight into the bathroom. After taking a quick shower for the sake of hygiene and some time to tidy myself up for the outside world, I put on a black t-shirt, a blue pair of denim jeans, and a blue Dockers jacket before exiting my flat carrying a small sling bag that contained a diary and a pen. My desired destination was the University that I would spend the next four months trying to garner a bachelor’s degree in Finance.

Exiting ‘Charlotte Court’, which was the name of the flat that I lived in, I walked North between two rows of houses, passing by a small Sainsbury convenience store until I reached Suffolk Road. This was a totally foreign environment for me. I came from the Far East and England was a totally new and hostile place to me. The place in Mother England that I landed myself in was Sheffield, a metropolitan city in South Yorkshire, named after the River Sheaf that runs through the city. It was nicknamed ‘The Steel City’ after its international reputation for metallurgy and steel-making (especially cutlery). The total population of the city was roughly 500,000 people making it one of the eight largest English cities outside London itself. Perhaps more impressively was the estimated total of over two million trees that provided cover for weary walkers in Sheffield. The city was said to have more trees per person than any other city in Europe!

Brushing aside any notions of trees and steel cutlery, I noticed that a long rectangular building had now come into view and I recognised it immediately to be Sheffield Station. It had been only four days since I had reached Sheffield’s train station on the 11th of June around 9 PM. Along with me came a huge and fat trolley bag, a travelling bag that I slung over my shoulders, and a black knapsack that contained my laptop and other effects. I remembered the horror of hauling 30 kilograms of personal items across Sheffield in a desperate attempt to find Charlotte Court in the middle of a dark and moonless night. That was definitely an experience that I didn’t want to repeat. But the chances were high of getting lost due to my exceptionally poor navigating skills and sense of direction.

Repressing any further thought of getting lost, I crossed the road and started my slow ascent up Howard Street with Sheffield Science Park lying to my left and Sheffield Station at my back. Grabbing a £3 sandwich from a store on the way uphill and cursing myself for not waking up earlier to prepare a cheaper breakfast. I reached Hallam Square that was located directly opposite the Millennium Galleries. The only thing separating the two was the main road called Arundel Gate. Turning right, I walked straight on until I reached the Adsetts Centre of the University.  I took a deep breath before plunging myself headfirst into the building.

[1] Edmund Fuller., 1959, Bulfinch’s Mythology: A Modern Abridgement by Edmund Fuller, Dell Publishing, New York.

[2] Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) – Sonata No.14 (Op. 27, No.2)

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