Mirrors in the Dark

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My eyes creak open slowly in the dark. I’m groggy, and for a moment I don’t know what has woken me. Rolling over, I nestle into the covers, and then am suddenly aware that I drank far too much tea this evening. I lie here, growing more and more awake as I debate with myself whether I can hold my bladder until the night ebbs away. But... I cannot.

The house is cold. As I sit up, I tug the covers closer around me and contemplate the bare wood floor. As soon as I stand, that cold will start creeping down from my shoulders and up from the planes of my feet, pressed into the unfriendly, chilly hardwood.

I need to get slippers, I think moodily.

Everything is still. No one else is stirring, only the quiet tick of the radiator in the next room, trying in vain to bring warmth to the dark. From the corner of my eye, I see something move, and I freeze, before whipping my head around – but it’s only my own reflection in the mirror against the wall. An unclear shape moving in the dark. I wave a hand, just to make sure, and the mirror waves back in a game of copycat that I will never win.
I sigh and resign myself to the reality of my needs. My feet hit the cold floor with a full body shiver and I scuttle down the hall to the bathroom. The hall is dark, the window unlit as the moon in new and the clouds mute the starry sky outside. It occurs to me, as I lower myself onto the cold toilet seat, that there should still be some light – when did the streetlamp just a little way up the block go out?

Softly, as I wrap up my business and debate whether or not to flush the toilet in the sleeping house, I hear a clatter. It is barely a rattle, like wood knocked together. It the back of my mind, I conjure the image of a wooden windchime knocking in the wind.

Or perhaps a bag of bones being softly caressed, a grip adjusted.

Why did I think of that? I’m going to freak myself out here, alone in the dark.

I stand, and decide to flush the toilet in an effort to flush away my own prickles of fear. I am not afraid of the dark. As I turn back toward the hallway, my reflection in the bathroom mirror lags – just a hair too slow. Without looking at it, I pause in front of the vanity, remaining perfectly still and straining to listen past the gurgle of the toilet refilling.

I turn only my head to check the mirror. The face that meets my gaze in the dark is not one I recognize from mornings of teeth-brushing and face-washing. I reach up to grab at my hair, certain that it is pulled to the top of my head and not hanging limply, and as my arm moves, I am suddenly staring again at my own familiar visage. My mouth is small and pink, not wide and rictus. My eyes are wide, but the whites are plain – the colors of pupil and sclera not strangely inverted. My hair is still in its haphazard knot, not loose and stringy. Behind me, a single ring on the shower curtain clinks against the bar, the barest hint of movement. My eyes in the mirror swing over my shoulder involuntarily and the same stretched gash of a mouth smiles at me.

I whip around, gasping, my heart thundering in my chest, but nothing is there. No knife wielding murderer or demon with a mouth full of teeth. As I rush out of the bathroom and back down the hall, I tell myself that I imagined the feeling of fingers caressing my neck when my back was to the mirror.

I dive back into my bed, pulling my knees up to my chest, but all the heat has leeched out of my abandoned sheets already. I squeeze my eyes shut and try to think of normal things – of plans for the weekend and arguments with friends.

From across the room, there is a sigh. It feels at once like a frigid breath in my ear and a suggestion of a far away whisper. I realize that I’ve left my bedroom door ajar. Why didn’t I close it when I came back? I lie on my side, knees tucked and shivering as I debate whether closing the door will make me feel more secure, or trapped.

There’s nothing for it, I need to close the door. Maybe then I will be able to relax. For the second time since the witching hour, I swing my feet out of bed and hurry across the room. As I pass the mirror leaning against my wall, I see a shadow pulling apart from the other shadows in the corner of my eye. I push the door closed firmly and hear the latch snick into place. Impulsively, I grab a long dress laying bunched on the floor to drape over the mirror, but when I approach it, something looks strange. The room looks normal behind me, but something about my face is wrong – a dark mark like a dimple on one cheek that doesn’t belong there. I reach up and feel nothing, and then lean in to the mirror, reaching out with one hand to brush away what must be dirt on the face of the glass.

The teeth of my reflection close around my fingers, sending a warm curtain of blood running down the glass. Only, they aren’t my teeth – they are sharp and they are far too numerous. The eyes looking out over them are no longer my own but wide, black voids with circles of white where my irises should be. I scream and yank my hand backward, but the teeth don’t let go. Instead, the face in the mirror pulls outward with my hand, bringing behind it a head of stringy, dark hair, a neck that is too thin and too long, and shoulders so slim that they pass easily through the narrow frame of my mirror.

I am still screaming, but it reverberates in my ears and sounds like a hollow echo. Why isn’t my voice filling the house, bringing people to my aid? A long-fingered hand grips my wrist, where my bleeding fingers are still caught in the jaws of this facsimile of a woman. She bites down hard, and I feel my fingers sever with a crunch like burnt toast. As I fold over my hand, I am dimly aware that we have rotated, turning like a pair of grotesque dancers as she emerges and I shrink away. Her back is now to the window, while mine is to the mirror. With a gentle push, like a mother urging a child onto the playground, she sends me backward, still hiccupping screaming sobs that only reverberate in my own head.

Now, I’m looking again into the mirror, but even as I fall to my knees and cradle my damaged digits, I know that it’s not right. The bedroom reflected in the mirror is the same, but wrong. Reversed. The thing looking at me from the other side stretches a smile that breaks her face from ear to ear, and my blood looks dark and shiny as it drips down her chin. I lunge toward her with an animal cry but only crash into the glass of the mirror. She turns away from me, eyes still wide and dark, and makes her way to my bed with steps that are far too fast – like a fast-forward on a video.

I feel sick and violated, watching this thing insert itself between my sheets, slip into my divot in the mattress, the warmth I left only moments before. She is turned away from me, but as I pound on the glass and scream, she rolls over. Silently, her black eyes watch me rage against the mirror until it cracks, and then shatters, and I shatter with it in the dark.

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