Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
Tap. Tap. Tap.
It must be raining.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Blaire rolled over.
Damn tree branch.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
She pushed the blanket off her head and surveyed the darkness from where she lay in bed. Beyond the crack in the window curtains on the other side of the bedroom, a sliver of the weird white winter night sky fell across the floor in a thin line of defused light. The alarm clock on the nightstand beside the bed displayed 11:59 P.M. for a moment, then it blinked a faint red flicker, and it was midnight. Instead of getting up right away and turning on the light, Blaire lay in the darkness and waited for her sight to adjust to the low light. The details of the bedroom came slowly into a sort of shadowy focus . . .
The doors to the hallway and closet door were closed. The door to the bathroom connected to the bedroom hung slightly ajar. Clothes lay scattered about the floor; clean on one side, dirty on the other (although they overlapped several places). A perfectly good half-empty dresser stood in a corner.
Blaire got up, went to the window, and peered through the crack in the curtains. She expected it to be rain, but the entire visible area of the apartment complex below was dry, and even from where she was standing at a height of three stories above it all, it was apparent that not a single drop of rain had fallen while she had been asleep. She glanced back at the alarm clock. It displayed 12:15 A.M.
Still standing in front of the window in the over-sized T-shirt she had gone to bed in, Blaire considered the tapping sound she had heard upon awakening. It could’ve been a leftover sound from a dream, one she’d mostly forgotten upon awakening. That seemed like a reasonable explanation.
Before the guilt and depression could rise to the surface of her mind, she broke away from the window, crossed the bedroom, opened the door to the short hallway, and stepped into the darkness. She emerged in the living room a moment later, twisted a dimmer switch, and crossed into the connected kitchenette. Then, with enough to find her way in the cupboards, she set about brewing a pot of coffee in the dimly lit ambience. She preferred it this way in odd hours of the night, when she found herself awake and unable to return to sleep, when that one loathsome rain-swept night
(when the headlights washed over him)
swam too close to the surface of her thoughts.
(and she slammed on the brakes)
Tap. Tap. Tap.
She paused, holding a bottle of powdered creamer in one hand, unsure if she had heard anything or if she had only imagined that she had heard something. It had been too faint to tell. She could not be certain.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
She set the creamer on the counter, raised one cupped hand to her ear, turned in a slow semi-circle, stopped facing the short hallway, and stood there listening for a moment. She didn’t realize that both her arms and legs had broken out in gooseflesh. But she was aware of the icy shiver that passed down her spine.
Certain she had heard something the second time, which by extension assured her that she’d also heard something the first time, she approached the hallway threshold, moving quietly for reasons she had not yet contemplated.
Unable to confirm the source of the sound, she glanced at the front door of the apartment, which lay only half a dozen paces away to from her to the right. Her purse was on the counter beside the door. Her keys were hooked to her purse. But she didn’t more toward those things, for she did not feel threatened. Besides, her feet were bare and she had no trouble keeping the silence of the night. If the need to escape should arise, although she didn’t think it would, she would be able to flee from her apartment to her silver Honda in the parking lot the short order. The longer she stood at the mouth of the hallway the less likely she thought there was anything dangerous lurking in the dark hall from which she had come. And to be perfectly logical about it, if somebody else was in the apartment, and if that somebody else intended to do her harm, then they would’ve already done so by now. They could have attacked her while she was sleeping . . . or, they could have snuck up behind her while she was standing in front of the window.
There was nothing to fear.
Well, nothing except for the damn rats. The wretched little thing could have crawled up through the plumping and become trapped in the bathroom connected to the bedroom. It made sense . . . in a way.
Blaire returned to the kitchen, opened one of the lower cupboards, and grabbed hold of a formidable iron skillet with a decent amount of weight to it. Although it was over a foot in diameter, she knew she would still have to move in close to slay the varmint, but the thought of just going back to sleep and calling the handyman in the morning without knowing whether or not the noise had been made by a rat was far more intolerable than smashing the disease-carrying invader into a blood spattered mess of dead rat paste. She could deal with this on her own. There was no reason to wait on the handyman.
There was really nothing to fear.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Moving in a slow and deliberate manner, she went down the hall back to the bedroom and switched on a lamp. Soft yellow light flooded the bedroom. It lent the white walls a creamy sort of skin color and made her bare legs look much tanner than they actually were in reality.
The bathroom door still hung slightly ajar. The light beyond it was switched off. She flattered a few steps before she reached the door, considered turning around, grabbing her phone from the nightstand, calling one of her guy friends to come deal with it (or the police), and then she went on. She stopped again directly in front of the door. Beyond the door, she again heard the faint tapping sound.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Blaire took a deep breath, raised the iron skillet in a murderous rat-killing arc with both hands over her head, lifted on foot off the ground, and gave the door a swift, dainty kick with the flat part of her foot, and stepped back, prepared for a possible rush-attack from the rat. The door swung inward on its hinges, revealing a bare bathroom floor bathed in a slant of murky light cast by the lamp in the bedroom behind her. No rat.
Reaching around the doorway, she flipped the light switch on, and glanced about the corners. She still didn’t see a rat. She pulled the shower curtain back. It was empty. Then her eyes fell to the cabinet under the sink and certainty rose in her mind like a bloated corpse
(the car loses traction on the slick road)
forcing its way free from a shallow grave.
(the bearded old man—the whino—tumbles over the hood)
She opened the cabinet and stepped back, again expecting to be rushed. But nothing rushed out of the cabinet. There were a few rolls of toilet paper and some feminine hygiene products underneath but that was it. She crouched down to have a better look and poked around the cupboard with the iron skillet, not really expecting to find anything at this point, considering that everything inside the cupboard was intact and nothing had been chewed up. There was nowhere else for a rat to hide. She didn’t understand where the strange noise had come from.
Had it been like that before?
Tap. Tap. Tap.
No. Surely it hadn’t.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Then she understood and her skin broke out in gooseflesh.
It was coming from the wall behind the mirror.
Standing up, Blaire regarded her reflection in the bathroom mirror with an air of suspicion and her reflection regarded her in the same way with the same cool eyes. Blaire had never quite learned to trust in her mirrored image. Her reflection looked tired and worn out, as though Blaire had been tossing and turning all night, grappling with some nightmarish phantasmagoria in her sleep, and damn was her hair a mess.
Then, from the wall behind the mirror, there was another thumping sound. Blaire was sure what had just happened.
Things were starting to get mixed up in her head.
(then she has an idea)
There was a crash of splintered wood.
(and she shifts from drive to reverse)
It sounded a lot like a door being kicked in.
(or a skull being crushed)
Under a car tire.
(popping like a pumpkin full of red Kool-Aid)
Blaire spun around, completely disheveled now, unknowingly issuing a tiny shriek of fright, and listened to the silence. But surveying the bedroom and the hallway beyond, she could detect no change in the apartment or sign of intrusion. But before she could take comfort in those observations, another thump came from directly behind her.
She turned slowly back to the mirror, looked back at her reflection, and for a moment, they were the same, then her reflection broke character, Even though both of Blaire’s hands remained clamped firmly at her sides, her reflection raised one hand on its side of the mirror and thumped on the glass. It was as though her reflection wanted to get Blaire’s attention. There was nothing menacing about it—
She might just be having a really crazy hallucination or something.
Blaire had no doubt that even a creepazoid like Sigmund Feud would find something like this perplexing. But then she caught sight of a secondary movement in the mirror, this time behind her reflection, which was still thumping on the glass, like a semi-catatonic victim of some unspeakable horror. Behind her reflection, Blaire caught a brief glimpse of a shadowy figure in the living room. It ducked out of sight before she could grasp its form in greater detail.
Her reflection stopped thumping on the mirror, glanced back, and looked Blaire directly in the eyes. For a fleeting moment, Blaire thought they were almost the same again. Then her reflection opened its mouth.
Run, her reflection said, mouthing the word without sound.
Instead of running, Blaire lifted her hands and held them before her with her palms face-up. They were shaking. Then, still holding her hands before her, she looked at her reflection in the mirror. Her reflection seemed to have completely abandoned the physics in which it was supposed to operate, for it was now half-turned away from Blaire, watching the hallway. Looking past her reflection in the mirror, Blaire saw the figure making its way down the hallway, walking with a drunken canter to its step. However, when Blaire turned away from the mirror, she saw nothing in the real-world hall hallway behind her. She wasn’t sure what was going on here, if she was really awake, or how exactly it was possible for this to be happening. It was insane.
But it was happening.
As the figure
(the whino come back from the dead)
stepped into the bedroom on the other side of the mirror, it didn’t enter the bedroom the real-world side of the mirror. Her reflection took a step back, bumped back into the counter, and then the figure
(she hadn’t meant to hit him that night)
seized her reflection by the hair, twisting the half-rotten fingers of his purple-blue hand around in her hair so that her reflection would not be able to yank free. The whino made her reflection turn around to face Blaire. Her reflection squirmed and tried to break free, but the monstrous supernatural whino of the mirror-world had no trouble forcing her reflection to stay right where he wanted it to.
“No!” Blaire shouted. “No! No! No!”
Her reflection struggled harder, as though it didn’t want to face Blaire, as though it didn’t want to face the young woman who had once been a younger woman who had accidentally murdered the man holding it against its will.
“Don’t hurt her!” Blaire shouted. “Don’t you even think about it?”
The whino bared its few remaining teeth, yellow and decayed.
“Y-You . . . You better not even think about hurting her.” Me . . .
The whino lifted her reflection off the ground, one hand grabbing it by the back of its hair, the other grabbing it under the arm. Blaire screamed. But it didn’t stop the whino. He lifted her reflection into the air and bludgeoned its face against into the porcelain counter top. There was no sound. But blood flew everywhere. Blaire began to scream. The whino bludgeoned her reflection a second time. And now Blaire was screaming and screaming and screaming. After the third time, her reflection stopped struggling, and after the fourth bludgeoning, her reflection went limp. The whino held the corpse up for Blaire to inspect after the fifth time. He was grinning.
Paralyzed with fear and still unable to head her reflections previous advice to run, Blaire stood suddenly very silent and very still at the threshold of the bathroom in the real-world, uncertain how exactly her reflection could be dead and she could still be alive. Then the whino bit into her reflection’s neck and proceeded to rip its head out. Blood covered everything. The floor, the walls, the sink, the mirror, the ceiling, all got drenched in red within a minute. Blaire’s lip trembled. Her legs were shaking. By the time the whino had finished decapitating her reflection, a dark chasm had opened in solid ground of Blaire’s mind and there was no longer anything too illogically or too impossible to be believed.
The whino tossed her reflection’s headless corpse to one side and her reflections corpses head to the other. Her reflection’s head lodged in the corner of the corner against the cabinet beneath the sink and the wall. One of its eyes was still visible and to Blaire’s horror it appeared to still be very much aware of what had just happened.
The whino climbed on the sink, looked at Blaire from the other side of the mirror. Then it raised a blood-streaked hand to the glass, pressed against it, and smeared the glass.
“Go away!” Blaire shouted. “You got what you wanted now just go away! It was an accident! And yeah I screwed up! You should know better than to expect a nineteen-year-old girl to always do the right thing! And you got your revenge! And I’m sorry!”
But the whino only shook his head. Its thoughts however resounded through Blaire’s mind: No, Blaire. No, I didn’t, not yet. And I’m just getting started with you.
“Please . . .”
The whino pressed against the glass. After a moment, Blaire realized it was trying to figure out how to reach her on this side of the mirror. Then the mirror rippled and pulsated, like the way the surface of a pond might rise when disturbed from below by some enormous monster a second before it rose from the depths. Blaire felt something warm run down her leg, and she was only vaguely aware in the most faraway sense that she had just urinated on herself.
The whino pressed harder against the mirror. The mirror stretched like a membrane against its figures. Blaire needed to move. The curvature of the mirror was thinning, and Blaire suddenly realized that the whino would soon birth itself from the mirror-world into the real world, and she had no doubt that he had very hostile intentions toward her. Finally taking her reflection’s advice to heart, Blaire turned and ran screaming bloody murder out of the bathroom.
Leaving the bathroom, bedroom, and hallway behind, she grabbed her purse and car keys off the counter in the kitchenette, seized the doorknob of the front door, yanked it around, and pulled. It rattled against the frame. It didn’t open. The mirror shattered in the bathroom, and although she only heard it, she knew he was coming, and just that was enough to send her into a greater panic. She yanked on the door, again. But it still held fast. Then she remembered the deadbolt (she had forgotten to unlock it in her state of panic). Once she flipped it back, she was able to open the door with no problem, and then she was running down the outside corridor of the apartment complex toward the stairs. She descended all four flights of stairs somehow without losing her footing. Then she was dashing across the parking lot, her bare feet pounding against the cold asphalt.
When she reached her car, she glanced back over her shoulder at the apartment complex. The figure leapt from the fourth floor staircase, landed on the concrete sidewalk. Then it stood up and headed in her direction at a dead run. She fumbled with the keys hooked on the strap of her purse, without bothering to detach them, trying to get the driver-side door unlocked.
It seemed like an eternity, but in reality it didn’t take long until the door clicked, opened, and she was swinging it open. She keyed the ignition first try, and the engine roared to life. Then, as she reached for the door, a bloodstained hand grabbed her by the front of her shirt and the nightmarish face howled into face. As the nightmarish figure tried to pull her out of her car, she yanked the door shut with the full extent of her strength. The door connected with its head and crunching sound of breaking bone was extremely satisfying. Its hold on her loosened. She put the car in reverse, and floored the accelerator. Her car literally exploded out of her parking spot, hooking out to the right. She reversed until the figure was about fifty feet in front of the car. Then she braked, which slammed the driver-side door shut, and shifted into drive. The figure was limping toward her. She switched on her high-beams and floored the accelerator pedal. The figure raised a hand to the light, there was a satisfying thump, and then it was rolling around screaming in pain on the pavement in her rearview mirror. But even as she hooked a hard rubber-screeching turned out of the parking lot, she was pretty sure she saw getting up, and she sped down the road beyond the apartment complex the reckless abandon, turning down streets at random and ignoring traffic lights. When she saw the sign for the highway, she took it and brought the car up to 90 mph.
She kept a vigilant watch on her rearview mirror, terrified that her murderous pursuer would suddenly be sitting in the backseat, and each glance she cast upon the rear mirror haunted her, for her reflection was absent and she was alone. This was of course because her reflection was dead. It had been murdered. Yes, of course, of course, that made tons of sense. No, nothing made sense now. Her left arm lay useless in her lap, bent and twisted at a hideous angle; she had apparently left her phone on her nightstand, unless it had fallen out of her purse during the first stage of her escape; and her car smelled like piss. The car only had a quarter tank of gas, a quick check of her purse revealed that she had no money, and she was barefoot. She was also not wearing any pants. She didn’t know what to do. She was afraid to stop. But she knew that she would eventually have to stop. Therefore, it made more sense to stop on her terms rather than wait until she had run the gas tank dry.
Fifteen minutes later, at one o’clock in the morning, she pulled off the highway. Terrified that if she stopped too long, the murderous figure would run out of the darkness, she pulled into deserted rest area, parked near a phone booth, opened the door, got out of the car, and headed for the phone booth.
She picked up the receiver and dialed 911.
“Hello,” a pleasant female voice said, “police, fire, or medical.”
“Police,” Blaire said. “I need the police.”
“Hang on sweetie. Can you tell me where you—”
“Somebody’s trying to kill me!” Blaire shouted.
Static erupted on the line.
“Hello,” Blaire said. “Are you still there?”
“Bitch,” a guttural male voice said.
It had to be her pursuer.
“You fucking bitch.”
“You didn’t give me a phone call—”
“It w-was an a-a-accident.”
“—and I damn sure ain’t gonna let you have one.
“I d-d-d-didn’t m-m-m-mean too.”
”I’m gonna make you suffer.”
A cold hand fell on her shoulder. She didn’t need to turn around. She knew who stood behind her now, boxing her into the phone booth and blocking her escape. It was him. His fetid breath fell on the back of her neck, cold and rotten, like something that had been buried in the smell of its own decay for some length of time best kept unknown and left disremembered in the bowels of memory. He had her trapped. There would be no escape. The tears were rolling down her cheeks now.
“It’s time for you to die,” he whispered.
He yanked her hair, seizing her by the back of her head, and slammed her face into the telephone unit.
Pain exploded in her face.
The telephone unit filled her vision a second time.
And everything went black.
* * *
Detectives Darrel Flannigan and Clint Saunders arrived at the scene of the homicide at seven forty-five the following morning. They got out of their unmarked police sedan, ducked under the yellow tape that read POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS, and approached the body lying in the grass beside the telephone booth. There was a cluster of little yellow placards surrounding the telephone booth. There was more tape and another cluster of cones surrounding a silver Honda fifty feet away. A couple of beat cops were standing around, and a forensic technician was taking pictures, but the rest area was otherwise deserted. Flannigan was eating a bagel. Saunders was smoking a cigarette.
Flannigan and Saunders crouched down beside the body. The victim was dressed in an oversized T-shirt and a pair of piss-stained panties. There was a large gash above one of the victim’s eyebrows and part of the skull near the temple was misshapen.
“Cranial fracture,” Saunders said.
“Probably,” Flannigan said.
“You remember that big shot lawyer’s daughter?”
Flannigan nodded. “He’s a judge now.”
“I heard his daughter was being investigated for a hit-and-run last year.”
“Senior year of high school, was it that kind of deal?”
“Yeah,” Saunders said. “But she was never arrested.”
“Case file just sort of disappeared?”
Saunders nodded. “I think she was the majorette in the marching band.”
“I remember now, sort of.”
“Do you remember her name?” Saunders asked, looking at the victim.
“No,” Flannigan said. “But we can just run the plates and figure it out.”
“Did you know they had a body?”
“Flannigan shook his head. “Don’t tell me that also disappeared?”
Saunders raised an eyebrow. “You know what I think?”
“You think her daddy bribed the DA.”
“Or he bribed the chief of police.”
“And that’s just to start with.”
“Well,” Saunders said. “You know how the old saying goes.”
“Rich girls don’t go to jail.”
CREDIT : Scott Landon