12 Sep Spectrophobia
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Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
You have been this way since you were five years old. It started with a family trip to the carnival. Your dad and older brothers wanted to try out the Funhouse, the one with the mirror maze. You were winding your way through glass and mirrors when you were separated from them. A small child alone in the maze, you were frightened. You called for your dad, but he was nowhere to be found. You panicked, scrambling through the maze, bumping into glass panels and jumping at the sight of yourself in the many distorted reflections surrounding you.
Suddenly, you saw sunlight ahead. Sprinting as fast as a five year old could go, you headed towards it. Turning a corner, you slammed face first into yourself – another mirror. You fell to the ground, pain vibrating through your head as the distorted mirrors swam before your eyes. Something warm and wet cascaded down your face. That’s when you saw it: A shadowy figure reflected in the mirror about twenty feet behind you.
“Dad?” Your voice echoed meekly. No response. The figure moved closer to you, winding back and forth, a slithering pendulum. You spun around to find nothing but an empty corridor. Your head throbbed as you stumbled to your feet, and you leaned back against the cool glass. Turning to examine your head in the mirror, you were met by a gruesome sight. At your shoulder was a horrible face, long, grey, and wrinkled, with a dark mouth and sockets were eyes should be. The black lips parted and, as it slowly raised a spindly hand, it screamed.
You don’t remember how you made it out. All you know is that to this day, the sight of a mirror – and anything reflected in it – sends terrible tremors rattling through your bones like the rattle of that creature’s breath.
Some people say, “I’m not afraid of the dark; I’m afraid of what is in it.” This is an analogous situation. You are petrified of what lies in the mirror – or beyond it. What if something comes through the mirror? What if you see something you do not want to see? And of course, what if the creature from your past reappears?
You’ve attended therapy for sixteen years, not that it does any good. The doctor believes when you hit your head in the funhouse, you sustained an injury that caused hallucinations and paranoia. He calls it “Psychotic Disorder Due to Traumatic Brain Injury.” He gives you pills and mental exercises, but to no avail.
Living with your parents is torture. Every room seems to hold a reflective surface of some sort. Despite your pleas to discard the mirrors, your parents don’t seem to understand or care. Your brothers have long since moved out, and you decide it’s time you do too. You want a place of your own – a place with no mirrors.
You’ve been searching for a house for nearly three months, when you strike gold. For $500 rent a month, the two-story house in the next town over is yours. You call the landlord and schedule a walk through. You wait in eagerness.
The day arrives to check out the house. You jump into your car (one that would not pass inspection for its lack of mirrors) and excitedly drive the fifteen miles to town. Carefully making every turn as if your future hinges on it, you finally reach your destination: a brick house at the end of the street. Ivy grows up the walls, reaching for the windows that gleam in the front. It’s beautiful. The landlord is an elderly man named Frank, who is so short you almost worry about stepping on him. He pulls a set of tarnished keys from the pocket of his painter’s overalls, and unlocks the front door.
Frank walks you through the downstairs first. The kitchen is small but comes with a fridge, the living room is comfortable, and the bathroom is recently renovated. You are pleased at what you see, and are eager to see the second floor. Frank clicks on the light, and you start up the narrow carpeted stairs. There are three rooms in the upper level. You first come to an office-like den, furnished with a desk and cabinet, and a tiny window that looks out onto the backyard. You smile; it already feels like home. Frank directs you down the hall towards the bedroom and upstairs bath.
You turn the corner. The hallway continues for another ten feet or so. On the left side of the hallway is the bathroom, and on the right, at the end of the hall, the bedroom. However, something stops you in your tracks; at the very end of the hallway, bolted to the back wall, is a floor length mirror that reaches all the way to the ceiling. You freeze, as the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention. You can’t breathe. You just stare into your own frightened eyes. All you hear is your heartbeat punching your eardrums.
“Everything alright?” Franks voice penetrates into your conscience. Snapping your eyes away from the mirror, you face him. Should you tell him about your phobia? You falter. His concerned face stares back at yours.
“Y-yes sir. Everything’s fine. Can I see the bedroom?”
As you pass the bathroom, you are relieved to see it has no mirror; perhaps that’s why the dreadful object is in the hallway. Following Frank into the bedroom, you pass the mirror, and a shiver runs through your entire being. You don’t remember touring the bedroom at all. It’s as if the mirror has grabbed your mind and will not let go.
Before you realize it, you are back outside and Frank has the lease. Now is the time to bring up the issue with the mirror. It’s no sweat… You’re sure it will be no problem.
“Um, Frank, I was wondering… the mirror upstairs… could it be removed?”
Frank frowns. “What’s wrong with the mirror?”
You hesitate. Well, it’s not going to get fixed if I don’t say something, you think. You take a deep breath and explain everything. There is a pause. Frank scratches his head.
“Well, the mirror’s been there a long time. Almost since the house been standing. I’d be nervous about takin’ it out. Might damage the wall. I mean… can’t ya just ignore it or somethin’?”
“You don’t understand. The whole reason I need to move is to get away from this. Is there anything you can do?”
He looks at you questioningly. He wipes his nose. “Well I can have someone come over and assess the situation sometime later this week…”
You know that means no. You are devastated, but there’s no way you can go through with this. You thank Frank for his time, but tell him that you cannot rent the house. Frank seems crestfallen, but you shake his hand and head home.
You don’t sleep that night. You are conflicted. Such a perfect, beautiful home spoiled by one mirror. You tell yourself that something else will pop up. But you can’t get the opportunity off your mind. For two weeks, you get very little sleep, obsessing over it. You toss and turn until sunlight peeks through your blinds. You wake up one day, knowing you have to go back.
The fifteen miles seem so much longer. You knock on Frank’s door, and he answers before you can think of what to say. He smiles and says, “Changed your mind, eh? Come on in and let’s look at the lease again.”
It doesn’t make sense. The whole reason you wanted to move was to avoid the mirrors in your parents’ house. And the one mirror in this house made you drive away in frustration two weeks ago. Yet something pulls you back. Maybe it’s the taste of freedom, maybe you’re ready to face your fear, or maybe you’re just desperate for a change. Whatever it is, you sign the lease, and add the new key to your key ring. Now your car key won’t be so lonely.
Moving in takes no time at all. After all, you only own one bedroom’s worth of belongings. After two trips between houses, you have everything you need. With Frank’s help, it only takes you three hours to unpack, but by the end of it all, you’re exhausted. You check your watch; it’s 10:30. The house is silent. You smile, knowing you can stay up and drink beer all night if you want, but a yawn interrupts your thoughts, and you know it’s time for bed.
Suddenly, paranoia sets in. In order for sleep, you need to get to the bedroom. In order to get to the bedroom, you have to pass the mirror. You look around for your mattress amidst boxes and crates. With a shudder, you realize Frank brought the mattress upstairs. You have no choice. You try to calm yourself with a deep breath; you’re an adult now, and there is nothing in the mirror that can hurt you. You turn, and slowly make your way up the stairs.
You pass the den and think of how sunny it was when you walked the house. How bright it was before you noticed the severe flaw of this near-perfect house. You creep down the hall, towards the corner where you saw it. You stop and ready yourself; this is the first time since therapy that you’ve willingly faced a mirror. You peek around the corner.
The mirror emits an eerie glow from the moonlight pouring in the bedroom window. Momentarily, you are rooted to the spot. You can barely see your head in the mirror, so you make yourself inch forward. When you can see your entire body in the reflection, you start forward, directly toward the mirror, which stands in your way. You move closer and closer to the end of the hallway, until you are mere feet in front of your biggest fear. Again, you hear your pulse in your head. Shaking, you scurry into the bedroom, never turning your back on the mirror.
You almost trip over the mattress. You turn to find that Frank has done you the favor of making the bed for you. Body trembling with adrenaline, you do what your therapist always suggested: deep breaths in through the nose, out through the mouth. You crawl into bed without brushing your teeth… there is no way you are walking past that mirror again tonight. Clutching your pillow tightly, you squeeze your eyes shut and pray for a solid sleep.
You wake up before you even realize you fell asleep. But it’s still dark. You press the light on your watch: 2:15 AM. You stare up at the unfamiliar ceiling, and come to the unfortunate conclusion that you have to go to the bathroom. Badly.
You fight it for a solid half hour. You try rolling over, squeezing your legs together, and counting sheep, but to no avail. You finally accept that you have to get up and go to the restroom – and that means walking past the mirror. You sit up and prepare yourself for another go round with your fight-or-flight system. You stand slowly and step into the hallway.
The hallway is distorted by the moonlight. The mirror glows directly to your right, but you refuse to look at it. Frank suggested that you ignore it anyway. You step past the mirror – and stop. No. It’s time you come face to face with your fear. What better time than now? You decide to not put it off any longer. You turn and step into the full reflection of the mirror.
You anxiously gape at yourself. You look thin, sickly, pale, and of course, terrified. You cautiously reach out, and touch the glass with your fingertips. The mirror is cool and smooth, and your hot fingers leave wet, foggy prints on it. You pause – nothing happens. Relief washes over you, and you feel like you’re making progress. Your reflection smiles slightly. You stare at every part of yourself in the mirror, from bare feet to elbows to sleep-mussed hair.
You finally stare into your own eyes. They are bloodshot, but beautifully glassy in the moonlight. You smile again, and count your teeth. You have never been so frightened and so pleased in a long time. Part of you wants to run as fast as you can away from the mirror, but another part of you is fascinated; you haven’t looked at yourself this closely since the day at the carnival so many years ago. You frown. You smile. You make faces at yourself, tempting the fear to creep back in. You make a particularly grotesque face, lips drooping and eyes wide, and you are proud of the ugliness of it. You hold the face for as long as you can stand, and then, laughing at your self, release it.
But your reflection holds the face you just made.
Startled, you stumble backwards. It must be your imagination. But even as you blink frantically, the face remains unchanged in the mirror. Your legs become lead as you watch the frozen image of your face in the mirror begin to undulate. The mirror ripples like a pool receiving stone, and your face begins to melt. The wide eyes turn solid black, and the sagging lips widen and darken. The nose sinks back into what was your face as the skin turns wrinkly and grey. A wave of nausea makes you double over. Before you stares the creature from your past.
You run into the bathroom and vomit in the sink. You wretch until there is nothing left to throw up. You spit and wipe your mouth. You must be dreaming. You squeeze your eyes shut, hoping to wake up from this nightmare. Straightening up, eyes meet your own eyes. You are staring straight into a mirror, one that wasn’t there before tonight. And in the reflection, you see the creature staring out at you from the hallway mirror. With a bony hand, it grips the frame and pulls itself out of the rippling surface, slithering through onto the carpet.
Adrenaline races through you. You wheel around, but nothing is there. You pause. Maybe it was all a dream. Then you feel something warm dripping down your face. You touch your hand to your forehead; it is covered in blood. Blood is pouring from every pore of your face. Panicking, you spin to face the bathroom mirror.
The creature is at your shoulder again, just as it was so long ago. It raises its hand once more. You turn your back on the bathroom mirror, but this time, the monster does not vanish. It stands before you, inches away. It grabs your bloody face, and with a scream, presses your face against the icy mirror, which ripples and dissolves.
The last thing you see is an endless black abyss.