Duncan slumped down on the park bench, and dropped his head into his hands. He sighed deeply and stared down at the puddle between his scuffed shoes. His reflection was clear in the dark water, showing each of the worry lines on his forehead, making him look older than his thirty eight years. He felt as though he was drifting further and further out to sea, and the sharks were beginning to circle.
Suddenly his breath caught in his throat and he began to struggle for breath. Terrified and alone, the last thing he remembered was dropping to the ground and landing in the puddle he had just been staring at.
When he came to he was surrounded by people.
“Take your time before getting up.” An elderly lady told him. She had a kind face, and Duncan was happy to take her advice. “Do you know where you are Lovey?”
“Yes, I come through the park most days.”
She looked at him sympathetically. “When you fell Lovey, you didn’t just fall on the ground.” she said, giving his hand a gentle pat. “You fell through the puddle.”
Duncan looked up at the sky directly above them. There was a small break in the low clouds, bright light was beaming through.
“Do you see the bench you were sitting on, just through that gap.”
Just as he was about to write the old lady off as crazy, he caught sight of something through the gap in the clouds. Sure enough, it was the bench, and the trunk of the tree beside it was just visible.
“OK, you’ve had your fun. I need to go home now.”
“Oh Lovey, it’s not that straightforward - not for any of us.” the lady told him.
“What do you mean?”
“This is the world under the puddle. When you fell you swapped places with your reflection, so now he’s up there and you’re down here.”
“But that’s ridiculous.”
“I thought the same when I first got here, but it’s true Look around, everyone here is waiting… hoping to get back.”
Duncan looked around the park. Small groups of people were gathered together, nervously looking up at patches of bright light directly above them - the puddles from which they had all fallen.
“So are we underground…underwater? How long will we be here?”
“Depends how long it takes the reflections to do their work.”
“We’re all here because we’ve made a mess of things up there. I’ve had a big fall out with my daughter - it was something so silly - Barry, over there, was about to lose his job, and Sonja, well - I’d rather not say.” she said, raising her eyebrows. “Whenever we mess up a bit, our reflections help us out. They watch it all you see, puddles are the windows to our world. They watch us going about our business, know our thoughts, concerns, and whenever we seem like we’re heading for danger they step in and go and sort things out for us - get us back on track. Does that make sense to your situation?”
Duncan thought for a moment, his life was a mess but it was utterly preposterous. He didn’t have the energy to question anything, just sat staring up at the puddle - or was it a window?
“Let’s hope yours comes back soon,” she said, helping him to his feet.
“What if he doesn’t?”
The lady shrugged her shoulders, “best not think about that for now.”
“Will we be trapped here forever?”
“Not forever exactly… just until the puddle evaporates.”
“Then what?” he asked, nervously.
“Then we just fade away, cease to exist. The reflection will stay up there and live our lives. They don’t like that any more than we do so they try and work quickly. If it rains again then we’ll last longer, but if it stays sunny then…” she shrugged her shoulders.
Walking away from the group, Duncan sat alone and tried to take it all in. To discover that there was a world beneath the ground was mind bending, to discover that he was potentially trapped in it forever was terrifying. He longed to see his family, to tell them how much he loved them - something he rarely did these days. Slumping to the ground, he put his head in his hands and let the tears fall.
“Duncan, are you OK?” A voice said.
He looked up and realised that he was back on the ground next to the bench - his head just inches away from the puddle.
“Look down - into the puddle.” the voice said.
He sat up and scrambled away.
“I need to talk to you.” the voice said.
“I’m not coming any closer.” he said, pulling himself up onto the bench.
“I’ve fixed everything, all the problems with Paula - James will need more time but he’ll be fine. And work - you got your promotion after all. I gave your boss a speech he’ll never forget - he was mighty impressed I can tell you.”
“But… I don’t understand…”
“It’s hard to take in. I only have your thoughts, knowledge and wisdom, so everything I’ve done today is what you are capable of. You’ve just lost your way recently, your confidence has taken a bash and you began to question your capabilities. But it’s all sorted now, you can carry on.”
“I don’t know what to say.” he said, still somewhat bewildered.
“No need to say anything, just keep your chin up my friend.”
“Thank you, goodbye.”
Duncan inched his way forward, clinging on to the bench, daring himself to take a closer look at the puddle. He could see the corner of the bench, the trees and even himself, just like any puddle would reflect. But as he looked closer, he noticed something else. Surely, it couldn’t be? It was the old lady, way down below, he could just make out a tiny figure waving.