Have you ever heard of urban spelunking, or maybe urban exploration? It’s really awesome, like modern day adventuring. You explore cool old buildings that no one has been in forever. It can be kinda like playing an online MMORPG in that you can run into all sorts of danger. Sometimes you have to dodge security guards, which is really bizarre. I mean, some of these buildings have been just sitting empty for years. Most of them are heavily tagged, and sometimes you risk running into those same taggers. And then there are squatters; some of whom look like actual orcs. It is awesome – total adrenaline rush.
You can call me Sheri; Professional Urban Explorer. I’m currently enrolled at Colorado State and working on my business degree. I was lucky enough to get an athletic scholarship for track and field, but I also play on the women’s soccer team. Go Rams! Because I don’t have to work like some students I have more than enough time to go exploring.
We, of course, have our own club. It’s shared with the geocaching crowd because we’re so similar. We share cool places to go and explore, and of course pass along tips over the areas we explore. That’s how I learned about the old Carnival Hotel in Bivouac, Colorado.
I guess back in the 1980’s Japanese corporations were grabbing up and starting companies in America. I don’t know the original company’s name. For some reason there isn’t much information on our group site. But this company decided they were going to create the Las Vegas of Colorado. I guess they were going to bribe a bunch of the state’s politicians in order to make gambling legal. They bought up land along the interstate and were going to create a city named Bivouac. They had even completed a carnival themed hotel when the whole project ran into financial difficulty and was eventually dissolved. Apparently the Carnival cruise ship company sued over the use of the name, amongst other problems. They apparently only completed the one hotel and a few other buildings, which are all now owned by the state and just lie there empty.
There were some photos posted by other explorers which excited me. Apparently the hotel had been completed and even housed a few guests before it closed. There were awesome pictures of actual carnival games run in the hotel lobby and of a roller coaster that had been under construction. It was supposed to have started on top of the hotel so that the ride began with a death plunge down the side of the building. How awesome would that have been!
Apparently there was also supposed to have been a house of mirrors. I saw one picture of the doors to that feature. The padlock on the door had been cut with bolt cutters and you could see a few mirrors inside. The person who had posted the picture left a caption saying, ‘Just don’t go in there. Really easy to get lost and I felt claustrophobic the entire time – like someone was following me. Couldn’t get out fast enough.’
According to the group site’s details on Bivouac, a security guard drives by at noon once a day. So long as you close the door and they can’t see a car they didn’t even bother to come in. I couldn’t resist, so I made plans to visit the hotel as soon as possible. In particular, I wanted to explore that house of mirrors so that I could boast online. I took the former explorer’s notes as a personal challenge that I was more than willing to accept. He only got halfway through before getting scared and retreating. I had developed a reputation of being a fearless explorer and I wanted the bragging rights to being the first one to finish the house of mirrors.
The drive was far enough that I put off my trip until Spring Break of that year. I planned to combine it with a camping trip just in case. Its always good to have a cover story in case something goes wrong. Having a reason to be in the area is always a plus. Urban exploration often runs up against the law, although it seems silly to be charging people with trespassing on a building that’s been abandoned for forty years.
I packed all of my usual stuff. I doubted I’d need the drone for this one, but I decided to pack it anyway. I might be able to catch some cool Colorado sunset shots. For the hardcore urban explorer you might be mistaken for a mountain climber with everything you take along. Except the bolt cutters. Not many locks and chains on a mountaintop. There is, of course, a first-aid kit with bandages and antiseptic. I keep a tightly wound length of nylon rope, a piton, and even a climbing harness. Sometimes you need to go down an elevator shaft to reach other floors. Of course you take everything you need to survive too, just like on a camping trip.
That includes bear spray. Good for both bears and the occasional insane squatter. I had a run-in before the pandemic with this one old man who scared me to death. I won’t go into the details, but after that I always made certain I had bear spray or a taser.
I also wear tear-resistant clothing and carry heavy duty gloves. Helps with scrapes, bruises, and avoiding tetanus shots. Those are the worst. I hate needles.
When I finally set out during Spring Break I felt confident that I was beyond prepared. I had researched my target thoroughly on the university computers because there’s less evidence directly linking you. Curiously, I still had been unable to find the name of the original company, which should have been public information. I’ve encountered that problem before when trying to find records from before the internet was really a thing. Since I didn’t want to go to a government office to make an official records request I would have to hope to find some paperwork at the hotel. But I did manage to get the building’s blueprints, which I of course put on my smart phone. Emphasis on smart, that’s me!
Or that’s what I thought at the time, because if I had known then what I knew now, the last place I would ever have gone to was the old Carnival hotel in Bivouac, Colorado.
Colorado is gloriously beautiful in the springtime so I took my time driving to the closest camping grounds to Bivouac. My plan was to camp for two days before slipping away to explore my real target. By then I would have established an alibi by telling the rangers I planned to hike further into the park to camp overnight. Smart alibis are a must for the dedicated urban exploring enthusiast. I enjoyed nature for a few days before breaking camp just past one in the morning on the third day and slipped out of the park. That morning I would have breakfast at a small town that amounted to little more than a gas station and a restaurant before driving to Bivouac nearby.
Nothing ever goes according to plan, but that’s half of the excitement when exploring old buildings, and in this case it was the weather. Shortly before I took the ramp off the interstate to Bivouac it began to storm. I knew it was coming because of the lightning flashes that began shortly after breakfast.
For me it really is as much about the adrenaline rush as the discovery, so for me the storm was actually a plus. My last girlfriend complained constantly that I was an adrenaline junkie. I got her to come along once with me, and all she did was complain the entire time. That’s when I realized we weren’t really a thing and broke up with her. If there wasn’t pot and alcohol involved, she really wasn’t interested in something, and I really don’t do either. I do like to party now and again, but pot just messes with me too much. The last thing I need is to be hallucinating while breaking and entering. Even though its legalized in Colorado, you really can’t trust something handed to you at a party; especially if its a guy giving it to you.
By the time I crept my beat up, third-hand old Subaru Justy Hatchback into the rear employee parking lot of the hotel the rain had begun to come down. My Trusty Justy, as I like to call it, was primer grey in color, which was the perfect camouflage for these conditions. Even if the security company showed up unexpectedly and actually drove around the facility I doubted they’d spot my car where I parked her.
As I sat in the grey light of the storm that was sending enough rain down to scrub my car cleaner than a car wash could ever get it, I had to admit that the abandoned hotel looked ominous. The sun was obscured by both the cloud cover and the building on this side, so it appeared to me as only a dark silhouette. When lightning flashed it gave the hotel a creepy aura, like how you would highlight a slasher’s profile in the movies. The partially constructed roller coaster death plunge even looked kind of like long tentacles reaching down from the top. My heart was beating fast as I took it all in while squirming into my gear in the back seat of my old Trusty Justy.
I guess for most other people they might have turned around at this point, but I was in my element. The uncertainty of it all and that edge of fear added by the storm just thrilled me. This was my drug of choice, and I could not imagine any better high. If I had arrived here on a bright, sunny morning with birds chirping in the background as if I were in some family movie I wouldn’t have been nearly as excited. Heck, I might have even turned around from disappointment.
I was curious about how neatly kept the building actually was after all of these years. Only a few windows appeared to be broken and there was none of the trash scattered around outside that you would have found if it had been located in an actual city. If I had just woken up there I might have thought I was at a normal hotel that was experiencing a power outage.
I had halfway feared that there might be a trailer beside the building that belonged to some maintenance person hired to keep the property from falling apart, but so far as I could tell I was the only one there. Holding my rain poncho overhead to shield myself from the downpour, I sprinted from my car to the closest entrance. According to the site’s notes, the previous explorers had found the lock already broken.
The wind almost sent me sailing like a kite but I made it to the door. I had to fight the storm to get the door open because the wind was like a huge man holding it closed, but I somehow got inside. I was, of course, soaked by then. In that type of weather there really is no adequate type of gear to keep the moisture out unless you’re going for the professional survivalist gear that they equip firefighters and search-and-rescue with for the field.
Inside, the building was cool in the way someplace gets when the heat has been set to fifty-five degrees for years. My breath steamed the air as I took everything in and waited for my eyes to adjust. Outside, the rain sounded like hammers striking the ground. There was a feeling in the air of being watched.
That feeling electrified me. No matter where you go, that feeling is always in the air. The suspense at the prospect of being caught doing something wrong slows time and makes the experience all that much more memorable. I live for that.
After a few minutes I moved down the utility corridor to the main lobby. I planned to make my base camp there. I didn’t need to carry everything with me at all times, so I usually set up a cache at a strategic central point that’s easy to fall back on. As a precaution, I also leave a sealed envelope there that explains who I am and what I was doing there. I keep it buried at the bottom of a small pack so that it won’t be easy to immediately find. As long as I keep it in there, I also won’t forget it when I leave.
The lobby was pitch black. The glass front doors had been covered over with wooden barricades to keep people out and to protect the glass from the environment. To my delight, the carnival games stalls all had their cages open. After finding a place behind the front desk to stash my stuff where it wouldn’t be immediately obvious in case security actually decided to came inside, I clipped my two most important pieces of gear to my tactical vest. The first was a battery operated light. I learned the hard way when I was fifteen not to use my phone as my primary light source. That shoots through the battery fast. The second was a sports camera. You know the ones, if you’ve ever watched a found footage horror film.
As I made ready to begin exploring my phone vibrated, alerting me to a post on my geocaching app. When I glanced at it I discovered that an alert on had been posted regarding a new stash. I had set the app to only alert me if a new post concerning my immediate area went online. Curious, as there were no trails near Bivouac that I was aware of, I opened up the app.
‘FIND MY STASH IN THE OLD CARNIVAL HOTEL, BIVOUAC, COLORADO,’ had been posted right about the time I had gotten up for the day. Apparently I had missed the other alerts while driving. That was eerie. I opened up the forum thread regarding the post and read. Whomever had created the post had decided to remain anonymous, which I hate. Never trust an anonymous poster. Too many trolls online to trust those. I primarily scanned the description of the geocache simply to see if the anonymous poster knew any details about the hotel in order to decide whether they were legitimate or not.
All I found was the same information that anyone could find online, as well as a claim that riches could be found in the Carnival’s house of mirrors. That told me that the cache was a fake. People don’t go geocaching for riches. Usually you find cheap nicknacks in the cache that are essentially trophies to commemorate you having successfully done the challenge. The average geocache enthusiast who sets up a challenge can be very imaginative and the finds are often cool, but they are also typically cheap trinkets. I think the most expensive thing I ever found the few times I went geocaching was a small, cheap wooden chest full of 3d-printed metal dice that are used in tabletop role-playing games. I took a cool copper colored eight sided die from that cache with the intention of mounting the die on a necklace to wear.
I pursed my lips as I closed the app. There had been no other vehicles in the parking lots, but there were a few buildings nearby that could have hidden a car from view as I drove in. Was I alone? More likely it was one of my friends pranking me. This wouldn’t be the first time one of them set up a little surprise for me, and I had told plenty of my urban spelunking friends my plans. One in particular, a guy named Danny, was well known for pranking people. I had shot down Danny several times in the past, so I was understandably suspicious. Most people like that are prickly and don’t take disappointment well.
I smiled. This was exactly the extra zest that made exploring so fulfilling. The anticipation of being caught had just gone up a level and made me only more determined to explore the hotel. I did not know what game the troll was playing, but if it was Danny and I could somehow make him out to be a fool on the group site, all the better.
The first hour was a complete blast. As I mentioned, all of the carnival stalls were open and you could even play some of the games. There was no electricity, of course, but that didn’t keep me from setting up the milk bottles or vaulting the counter to get the rings for the ring toss. I won myself a thoroughly lovable little white lion plushy that had somehow evaded being packed up. It was one of my better overall finds, as the pretty kitty showed no signs of mildew or mold. If anything, she looked like she had just been taken out of her packing material. I gleefully attached her to my pack and then made ready for the real adventure, which was exploring the other floors.
My first tip for those of you who want to go urban exploring is that you should bring a bag of those cheap rubber door stoppers with you. You do not want to have a security door close and lock behind you. Trust me, the last thing you ever want is the embarrassment of locking yourself into a building when you’re trespassing, and then having to call the cops to come rescue you. That’s happened to a few of my friends. Besides having to deal with the charges and the reality that you might become an interesting news story on a slow news day, in my club you also have to buy everyone drinks if your arrest gets published as an actual story and not just the crime blotter.
I’ll spare you much of the details from me exploring the hotel’s twelve upper floors. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I had a complete blast. But I know that much of what I found wouldn’t interest most people. Being a hotel, a lot of the doors were locked and closed. Of the few rooms I discovered that were open only the bed frames remained. Most places you might explore aren’t like the movies where you find a place that’s been abandoned for generations but bizarrely is fully furnished. Usually that stuff gets cleared out to help pay off debts. No one leaves a million dollars worth of brand new hotel furniture just sitting there for anyone to come collect.
In case you were wondering, the answer is yes; I did find signs of others having been there. One room had police tape across the open doorway and looked like it might have been used for awhile by someone to cook meth. From the look of the place, that had happened awhile ago. There were signs of squatting in the lower floors, as well as rooms that might have been used as base camps by others like me. However, I saw nothing to indicate anyone else was there.
Much to my disappointment, the roller coaster was a complete bust. Apparently someone had worried that someone like me might come poking around and would fall to their death, so they had taken the precaution of welding shut the metal doors to that area. I hate when people anticipate like that. I had hoped to get a cool selfie of myself standing at the edge from the angle of looking down the tracks.
All of that was made up for when I passed through the laundry room. Besides finding some washers that were jaw droppingly huge, I also discovered some old newspapers. One of the articles included the name of the company which had built the Carnival; Kiken Industries. A quick google on my phone told me that Kiken meant danger in Japanese, which I thought was interesting. That was a total score that I decided had to come back home with me. The paper was old, brittle and had turned light brown. I carefully relocated it to my stash while trying to mentally devise a way to protect it from the storm outside. I didn’t want to roll it up or fold it. I had encountered old newspapers before, and they can be really brittle.
So far I was making excellent time, so I decided to eat lunch. After lunch I decided that the time had come for me to explore the main attraction. The house of mirrors had never been fully explored, and I wanted the bragging rights of being the first.
For this challenge I had brought along something special. I had actually been in a house of mirrors once before as a small kid. Walking through a maze of mirrors that was fully lit had been disorientating enough. I did not plan to just skip into this one with only my light to guide me. I would just die of embarrassment if I got lost in there and had to call for search and rescue. That’s why I had purchased a spool of string. I would like to claim I thought of that myself, but I actually got the idea from a cartoon. It was the Adventure Time episode where Jake the dog used his shape shifting powers to elongate himself through a maze.
I found my way to the entrance to the house of mirrors easily enough. It looked almost identical to the photo posted online, which wasn’t that shocking. People didn’t come here often enough for the scene to have been disturbed. I must admit, though, that I found the entrance to be particularly creepy. There was an air about it that made me think of the lair of some predator. It was the first time I ever recalled hesitating and considering not going somewhere, and I don’t know why. It was not like there were ominous footprints in dust leading inside or splashes of blood on the walls. The scene was just another example of a derelict building sitting empty, but for some reason I found it disturbing.
Deciding that I might want to listen to that cautionary inner voice that I normally ignored, I paused at the entrance for five minutes while just listening. Sound carries in an empty building like this where the electricity isn’t running. Moving around and not being heard is really difficult.
Other than a few minor sounds that I attributed to rats or the building settling, I heard nothing. Oh, sure, you can mistake those noises for footsteps or a door closing if you have an overactive imagination. But this wasn’t my first rodeo, so to speak.
Satisfied that there was no one standing just around the corner with a meat cleaver ready to make short work of me, I tied my string off to the door handle. I also made certain that the door was not going to close on me by both using two of my doorstops and by dragging a heavy, old ceramic planter over to block it. If I tripped and fell, I did not want to pull the door shut. In case you were wondering, the door handle was the only thing I could find for securing my string.
I checked my camera and light, and decided to replace the batteries on the light. Trust me, the first time your light flickers and goes out while exploring you will pee yourself. That’s one of the moments that horror movies always get right.
Not to belabor the point, but if the Carnival had been located in an actual city I would have expected to find the mirrors all broken or tagged with graffiti. Even as remote and unknown as Bivouac was, I was still surprised at how little vandalism I had discovered. I try not to leave evidence of my visitations, but I know that some other urban explorers do that sort of thing. I won’t name names though (Danny).
If this had been an actual working carnival attraction then the only thing missing would have been the flickering strobe light. The ambiance was perfect. The cobwebs and instances of seeing a rat scurry around a corner while its reflections went every direction were particularly heart-stopping.
There was a peculiar stillness in the air as I explored the maze. I had already grown accustomed to the lack of background noise you get in the city, but in here the lows were so quiet that when I did hear a noise it was eerily clear. It felt like I could possibly have heard anything in the boundaries of the hotel. I swore that I could even hear the scurrying legs of the few spiders and insects I ran across.
The maze was complex. The hall of mirrors mazes I had read up on had been pretty simplistic because the mirrors were meant to disorient you. Anytime I took a turn it messed with my sense of direction and very quickly my orientation with the outside world was suspended. I could not have told you which direction the lobby lay, let alone the entrance. Time seemed to slow in a bad way as I was forced to backtrack repeatedly. Every time I glanced at my phone I would discover that only a minute had passed when it had felt like an hour. I was glad I had thought to bring my spool of string. If not for that I might have actually lost my way.
When I came across the first cracked mirror it startled me. The surface had been clearly broken by a fist. There were flecks of dried blood on the edges of the sharp glass. I would have expected to have found any vandalism nearer to the maze entrance. I wondered what would have made somebody punch the mirror with their bare hand. I suppose it could have been out of frustration if they had gotten lost.
After that I began to find more damaged mirrors. From where they had been fractured I began to get the sense that someone had been moving much too fast and had been bouncing their body off the mirrors. That made me a bit nervous. It would be a nightmare scenario to run into some meth-head in there. I had to repeatedly remind myself that if there was anyone in there with me that it would be impossible for me not to hear them.
That is, unless they had collapsed and were a quiet sleeper. When that thought occurred to me it gave me goose bumps. I am not the type to panic easily, but at that moment I almost turned around and began tracking my way back. It took all of my resolve to keep on going forward, and I focused my mind on my goal of being the first urban explorer to find their way to the maze’s exit.
Every turn I made no longer was filled with the anticipation that I was on the correct course and the dread of discovering another dead end grew. When I turned what I was desperately hoping to be the last corner the next minute and found myself blocked by nothing but broken glass and distorted images I had to choke back the urge to scream from frustration.
I gave myself a minute to get a hold of my emotions. I could not remember ever being so frustrated. As I pressed the palms of my hands over my eyes I found that I was trembling and that it was not just from anger. My skin was flush and I could feel my pulse hammering away underneath my skin. I was scared, and I did not know why. This was just a silly maze in the middle of nowhere. Compared to other derelict buildings I had explored, the Carnival just was not dangerous. I repeated that to myself silently as I began to control my breathing.
I had learned from sports and yoga that breath control was essential. Mastering the skill could give you unbelievable endurance, and more importantly, you could gain control over your emotions. Black belts in martial arts can slow their perception of time with breath control and remain calm when faced with pretty dismal odds. Between years of track and field, taking judo as a kid, and my passion for urban spelunking, regaining control should have been second nature to me. But, as I stood there taking in big gulps of air I found myself unable to rein in my emotions. An unknown dread was slowly overtaking me and I began to feel like you do in certain dreams when you know that there is something dangerous nearby.
“Screw this,” I decided out loud, although my voice sounded to me like a raspy whisper. All of the fun had evaporated and I had come to the decision that the time to cut and bail had arrived. For all I knew there could be some chemical stored there that was leaking into the area and affecting me. My social media fans would be harsh on me for not exploring the house of mirrors to the fullest, but sometimes things are just insurmountable.
I took my hands off my eyes in anticipation of beginning to wind up my spool of string as I backtracked. That was when I saw him.
I was, of course, looking directly at my own distorted reflection as shown by the spider webbed pattern of the cracked mirror in front of me. My light on my harness had been angled low to keep it from reflecting back and accidentally blinding me. I was standing pretty much in the center of the aisle, at about an arm’s length from any wall. At first I could not figure out why I could not see the infinite reflections of me that you get from standing between two mirrors. And then it occurred to me that someone large was standing directly behind me.
I spun around while choking on a scream of fright, but found that there was no large man standing directly behind me. Except, as my eyes focused on the new mirror, I could clearly see his distorted bulk once again directly behind me. My shaking became pronounced as I very slowly turned my head much like I had seen somebody do in a hundred horror movies. My breath caught in my throat as I found no presence in the hall with me, but I could once again see the man standing directly behind me in the reflection. It was impossible for him to have moved quick enough to rotate with me, and more importantly, I would have seen him moving in the surfaces of the mirrors.
A whimper died in my throat as my shaking hand grasped the light in order to raise it up so that I could get a better look at the phantom in the mirror. He was incredibly tall. My head barely reached his upper chest. He was also much broader than me, but not as much as you would have thought from his incredible height. His muscular body was wrapped in some manner of dark grey kimono with a pattern on the cloth so faded and dirty that I could not recognize it. As my eyes wandered up I saw that he wore a hood of the same material. In the dark cave of his hood I could only perceive what appeared to be a yellowed porcelain mask painted with an inward spiral of black, chipped paint. Some part of my mind supplied me with the information that it was a noh mask, although at that moment I couldn’t have told you anything else except that name.
None of my friends, or anyone that I had ever met could have possibly filled out that costume. Unless someone was sitting on the shoulders of someone else like out of some old Scooby Do cartoon, this was definitely not a prank. I could not have told you anything about the man inside the robes, although from his proportions I had to assign him that gender. While his garb was undoubtedly of Eastern origin, I had never heard of anyone from that region of the world being so massive. Even a sumo wrestler would have been dwarfed by him.
His chest was expanding and contracting slowly from breathing, and very dimly I began to become aware of this sound. A foul odor began to fill my nose. He stank of sweat and what I took to be burnt incense. I had become petrified and could only stand there, my skin becoming rank with the toxins of fear. I wanted to run; to curl into a ball and hide my face; anything except remain standing there. All I could do was watch in horrific fascination the figure standing behind me.
My mind finally grasped the fact that he was only reflected in the one mirror and I felt insanity begin to clutch at me.
The figure stirred and there were unnatural ripples underneath his robe. It was as if his body was comprised of nothing but writhing snakes, and where the light was swallowed within the deepest folds of cloth I swore that I could feel eyes looking back at me. His arms raised up and his sleeves slid back to reveal pallid grey hands that were shocking both for how supple they appeared and the gleaming black talons which had replaced where his fingernails should have been. My mouth opened in what was meant to be an ear piercing shriek, but only a hollow popping sound of trapped breath being released in gargling rasps came forth.
As I watched, his hands encircled the throat of my reflection. And then the fingers of his right hand curled and ripped out my throat.
I felt pain, but it was not the agony of having my throat torn out. It was the dim pain you might feel in a dream because your mind is convinced of what you should feel. As my hands sprang to my throat reflexively I watched as my reflection collapsed to the floor, except she was desperately attempting to keep from choking to death on her own blood.
As my image expired the spell holding me snapped. A scream that I barely recognized as my own split the silence. In an instant I was running and careening off of mirrors. In seconds my string caught on something and in my panic I let the spool be yanked from my grip. There was no thought to my flight. I possessed no plan other than to get away from that monster.
Muffled echoes of my pursuer following me became steadily louder. It was eerie, like listening to a movie with the volume turned way down. This confused my perception of how close he actually was and only made everything more frightening. What few glimpses I caught of the giant wearing the noh mask showed him transitioning from mirror to mirror with one long arm stretched out, reaching for me. If not for my myriad of equally panicked reflections I would have thought the mirrors to be a magician’s creative illusion.
In my confusion I mistook a reflection for a corner and hit it full force, causing the glass to crack audibly. As I reeled back, scrambling to change direction, he caught up with me in the reflection. His supple, almost beautiful hand caught the reflection of me by the back of her head, propelling it into the same mirror. Again, only my reflection took the full brunt of his attack as her head hit the surface with a sickening crack of bone shattering. My own head snapped back from the now stronger sensation of pain as he proceeded to batter my twin’s skull against the mirror.
While he was preoccupied with killing me again I stumbled away. The moment my reflection died it felt like I had been punched hard in my face. Somehow I managed to find the corner I had been aiming for and flee as he discarded the corpse. Oh, it hurt, and the pain gave me enough clarity to somehow navigate the maze more clearly. I managed to take advantage as I dodged down a different direction when given a choice, counting on my myriad of reflections to confuse him in his pursuit.
As I ran I became aware that not all of the mirrors I passed now showed my image. There seemed to be two of me missing, and that terrified me. What would happen to me if he killed all of my visible reflections?
I was just beginning to feel the hope that I had lost him when I tripped over something large and fell painfully to the floor. My gloves kept my hands from being sliced by broken glass, but my cheek hit the floor and came away with a sliver of glass stuck in my skin. I sobbed and gibbered wordlessly as I attempted to roll and kick at what I had hit, believing that he had been lying in wait for me.
What I saw was not the man in the noh mask, but instead the bulk of Danny lying there. He had collapsed over what I assumed was the loot crate for his geocache post. His face was a rictus of fear and his head lay at an unnatural angle with a bulge in the neck indicating how he had died.
As tears began to flood from my eyes and my head swiveled around I realized that I had not seen Danny in time because none of the mirrors surrounding us showed his reflection. Only the cheap wooden box he had died over was shown.
But it was not just his loot crate, I realized. His smart phone also lay on the floor. It looked like it had flown from his hand and slid up against one of the walls as Danny died.
Whether it was distantly or close by I could not tell, but the sound of my impending murderer approaching began to become louder. My fall had alerted the man in the noh mask to my position. I managed to wipe the tears from my eyes and dislodge the glass shard in the same swipe before grabbing Danny’s phone and continuing to flee.
I had to remove a glove to press the button to his phone. Danny was lazy and hadn’t taken anything like a lock screen seriously, so thankfully I was able to open up his phone. As I careened about the maze I tried to comprehend the app that showed on the screen. It was difficult to do since I was constantly looking around in the near darkness, trying to plot my next direction change.
I realized what I was looking at just when I caught a glimpse of the massive specter getting closer. It was a crude map. The screen looked like graph paper with black lines laid out in a maze pattern. Danny hadn’t thought to bring string with him like I had, but he had mapped out part of the maze. Taking advantage of yet another turn, I knelt with my back against one of the mirrors and shut off my light in a vain attempt to hide. The screen’s illumination was too bright, so I attempted to smother it with my other hand while I scrolled the image with my thumb haphazardly.
Of course Danny hadn’t had time to map out the entire maze before his gruesome death. His murderer must have ambushed him right after he posted his geocache challenge. But he did have the route back to the entrance laid out. On the tiny screen the maze didn’t look nearly as complex as what I had experienced, but I already knew that was due to the mirrors.
If I could only figure out where I was then I could escape. I flicked the map back and gave breathy thanks to Danny’s prankster nature. On the map I clearly saw a tag for where he had left his cache.
The muted footsteps on the killer slowed and I realized he was approaching the corner. His sounds vanished, making my skin prickle. Covering my mouth with both hands in an attempt to muffle my own breathing, I tried my best to will myself invisible.
That noxious odor of sweat and incense began to fill my nose again. It was stronger this time. I realized that every time he murdered one of my reflections that he became more real to me. Very slowly, as if moving my fingers too quickly would cause a loud noise, I wrapped my fingers around my light as I turned my head to look up at the corner.
It was nearly pitch black, so it was easy for my imagination to create figments that were not there. I wondered if he could see in the dark or if he was as blind as me. With no light there were no reflections. Would he be able to harm me?
The odor grew in severity until I felt like retching. When I heard a quiet exhalation of breath I lost my will to remain still. Shrieking like I was eight years old again and waking up from a nightmare, I stood up while turning on the light. The mirror opposite me on the hallway bizarrely showed him impossibly hunched over me from behind, hands reaching down to snatch me up. Fixing my eyes on his image, I turned the light back, aiming it at his face.
I barely caught the sight of him holding up one robed sleeve in reaction, but I did get a brief look at the eyes behind the mask. Like his hands, they were supple, hinting at an almost feminine beauty being hidden away. His pupils were of course black. They dilated like a film being played at enhanced speed and then narrowed in anger.
The pain of however he killed me this time as I ran away almost made me collapse in agony. He kept on aiming for my head and that seemed to compound whatever was happening. This time it felt distinct and almost real.
I ran. I hated that maze for not allowing me to open up into a full sprint. Out in the open, with my training, I could easily have outdistanced him. The distraction of having to use Danny’s phone in the screwed up lighting of my pitiful light bouncing haphazardly over the mirrors allowed him to stay far too close. By the time I felt one of my feet step on my string I had lost another image. This time he had broken my image’s right shoulder and painfully grazed my hip before my reflection died again. I knew that if this continued too much longer I wouldn’t be able to bear the pain and that it would be over.
With my trail of string rediscovered I managed to gain distance. He didn’t pause long when he killed one of my reflections, but he did pause for a crucial second that gave me time. Some part of me feared that this was all part of his cruel game and that he was holding back on purpose in order to savor his final kill. As I followed my string, I could not help but notice that there were far too few of me now in the mirrors.
If he caught me in a dead end now then there would be no more reflections. I knew that I would die here, horribly and alone. The only people who would know my fate would be his future victims.
As I approached the entrance I could tell he was close on my heels. I gave way to recklessness and poured on the speed, slamming into corners haphazardly and cracking more mirrors. One that must have been a factory defect just shattered outright, spraying glass. One caught my cheek and gave me a fresh cut. By then I could see his reflection in my peripheral vision. In that mirror’s reflection the shards of glass caught my killer. Even though his kimono and mask should have protected him, he flinched visibly.
He existed in the mirrors. Maybe the mirrors were his Achilles heel? As I took another corner I purposefully lashed out with my thick soled shoes at the glass pane at about knee height. The mirror didn’t explode like the previous one, but it did send a few slivers of glass flying. One caught him across the cheek of his noh mask. Rather than bouncing off like you would have expected, the shard glass took a slice out of the material. It was impossible to tell accurately between the lighting and my need to continue moving constantly, but I swore that a bead of blood gathered along the cut.
His response was violent. Moving faster than a man that size should have been able to, he charged forward and clipped me hard with his hip across my back. I cried out as both me and my reflection shot forward and bounced off another one of the mirrors. As I recoiled I let myself collapse while rolling to the side, causing a swing of his robed arm to miss me. My father made me take judo courses when I was a kid, so I knew how to fall without hurting myself. As he turned I lashed out with a foot at another mirror. It cracked and pieces fell out, but I didn’t cause anything to fly out towards him.
He towered over my image as I crab-walked backwards, my eyes locked on his looming visage. I was only two turns away from freedom, but I was caught at a corner. Everything I had learned about self-defense was nearly worthless against him. The specter was so massive that I doubted I could perform any shoulder rolls or tripping techniques, even if I could touch him. I knew how to break some grapples, but there’s a limit to those techniques being able to counter your opponent’s size advantage.
I lunged towards freedom, attempting to dodge his grab and slip away. His arms struck like serpents, sweeping up my image in a bear hug. I gagged from the almost completely real sensation of him smothering me as my reflection disappeared in the volume of his robes completely. His hug didn’t restrain me in actuality, but I realized that none of the mirrors I could see showed another me.
His grip tightened and I felt my chest constrict, squeezing my breath from my lungs while his masked face gazed down at me with what seemed like as serene calmness. He had me. I could stumble and flee for all I was worth, but in the end I would die just yards from escaping the hall of mirrors.
My poor, battered light caught the twinkle of a lightning bolt shaped shard of glass lying on the floor. Without thinking I snatched it up and rose, legs shuffling towards the corner. Rather than pursuing me, he hunched over. I heard something crack loudly in my chest and I bent forward, gasping from the pain. There was the sensation of his robes covering my mouth and his odor was overwhelming. I could feel his muscular arms across my chest, compressing my breasts as he forced the breath from my lungs like pressing a knee on a pair of old bagpipes. I was aware of darkness growing at the edges of my vision as my body was being starved for oxygen. It was like drowning on dry land and it was indescribably horrible.
‘He isn’t holding me,’ I thought, trying to convince myself. ‘He’s doing this to my reflection, not me. I’m free to move.’ The hand holding the dagger of glass at my side slowly rose a foot, extending slowly towards the way I wanted to run. By then the feeling that his body and robes were wrapped around me like some sickly cocoon felt completely real. I was seconds away from blacking out.
I snapped my arm back down, aiming the point of the glass towards where I imagined his kidney would be. It felt like I was stabbing a block of cheese as it suddenly met resistance.
His response was to hold me tighter still. A croaking sound escaped my throat and I stabbed backwards again and then a third time. The final plunge left me with the feeling of something warm and sticky oozing between the gap of glove and shirt sleeve.
A keening moan escaped from him as he flinched. As the pressure around my chest lessened I twisted and my reflection slipped out of his grip. In the mirror my reflection came out of his robes like a newborn sliding out of her mother. Both of us somehow mustered the strength to duck a hand reaching out to grab us by the neck and push forward. When another hand began to grasp us by the shoulder I sliced it viciously with the glass. The monster recoiled in pain and this time I saw the cut on its hand. I wasn’t sure if it was in fact me that was hurting it, or my reflection, but I damn well didn’t care. I wanted this evil thing to hurt, to feel the agony it had inflicted on me and my friend Danny.
I must have blacked out partially for a second. The next thing I knew I was stumbling towards the open steel doors to the house of mirrors. I felt exhausted in the way you become after depleting your body’s reserves of adrenaline. Those last handful of feet felt like I was climbing a mountain as I moved forward until my hand finally grasped the door handle.
Glancing back I saw the thing standing behind my reflection again in the mirror, although this time it was distant from me. Blood was dripping from its wounded hand and something about its posture radiated pure malice. Had I gone beyond the border to where it could affect the real world?
My chest heaving as I gulped in fresh, delicious oxygen. I managed to toe aside the two doorstops before pressing my hip against the planter to cause it to grind against the floor tiles aside. It stared at me throughout in a way that I imagined how a butcher looked at a hunk of meat hanging on a hook.
As the door began to squeal closed on hinges that needed oiling I purposefully raised a hand towards it and gave it the middle finger. I also told it what it could do with itself as the gap between door and door frame shrank.
Six inches from the door closing the thing blurred, lunging at me faster than any person could ever sprint. I screamed and fell to the floor as the door closed. There was not even the sound of it impacting with it, but my throat felt like his fingers had closed briefly over it. I rolled onto all fours, clutching at my esophagus as I forced air through it. Each breath was exquisite agony. His ghostly fingers had come close to collapsing my trachea forever.
But I was alive.
It took me an hour to get enough energy to stand after that. I spent most of that time crying while curled up in a fetal position on the floor. My body hurt. One of my ribs felt like it was broken. There was dried blood on my face and I knew without stripping that my upper chest was heavily bruised. I spent my time grieving over Danny’s death and debating how much time I would spend in an asylum if I called emergency services to report what had happened.
I’ll spare you the story of me stumbling out into the storm and driving away, other than to tell you that I did take long enough to get my pack from the fallback point. When I got into my Trusty Justy I stared at my rear view mirror hard for a second, and then slapped it down so that I couldn’t see anything in it. My reflection appeared transparent to me, as if I had in fact died and was now a ghost. I meant to call 9-11 on Danny’s phone and just leave it in the parking lot, but apparently I had lost it in that damned maze of mirrors.
I’m posting this on the group site so that someone can think up a way to get Danny’s body safely out of the Carnival Hotel in Bivouac, Colorado. His parents don’t deserve to go through all of that pain of him being a missing person. That, and to tell you to avoid that hotel at all costs. Just because I only encountered the apparition in the hall of mirrors did not mean he is constrained to that area.
I am not certain if that noh mask wearing creature is still in there. The mind is a funny thing. I’ve been in therapy now for three months because of what happened. Wherever I go I keep my eyes down if I see a shiny surface. I can’t even look someone else in the eye for fear I’ll see my reflection. Out here in the real world I just have the one reflection now, no matter how many windows or mirrors there might be. He haunts my dreams, forever in pursuit of killing me.
And every once in awhile, if its dark enough, I’ll catch a glimpse of him. I don’t know if he’s a product of PTSD or not, and I don’t want to find out. Trust me when I say, stay away from that mirrored maze in that old hotel. You don’t want to find out the hard way if I’m crazy or not.
Credit: N. Ravenel Bard
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