The mirror showed a reflection that wasn’t my own…
“…was the last thing he thought before she drove the ice pick into his neck! Muahahahaha.” He leapt to his feet, flashlight jammed tightly under his chin, eyes blazing as he yelped and howled. The group of friends recoiled in fright, goosebumps rising, terror in their eyes.
“Ewwww…Terry,” Emma squealed. Kimmy pulled the blanket tighter under her chin. Mike’s eyes were glazed saucers. Leo had practically shit himself.
And Terry was rolling. His eyes were squeezed tightly shut as he belly laughed, twisting and writhing on the floor, gasping for breath, legs bicycling in the air.
“Oooh, I got you good!” He finally managed, wiping tears from sallow cheeks as his pride rampaged through the candlelit cabin. Angry faces soon softened. Emma got up and punched Terry in the arm. Mike threw out a painfully bad high five. It was more like a high two. Even Leo came back to the fireplace, both palms outstretched as he warmed the chill from his veins.
“Damn, Terry,” Mike started, “You know how to tell em.”
“Like teenage Edgar Allan Poe,” Kimmy whispered, her gaze shifting from fearful to lustful with a side of possessiveness.
“Awww guys. Just saved that one for the right night.” Terry offered bashfully. And he had. It was cold out and pitch black. The fire inside was bright, but slowly dimming. They were out of logs, and no one wanted to venture out to scavenge more. They were drunk on travel and half a handle of Jack. And everyone was amped up by the news about the missing tourists down by Jay’s Point.
“What do you think happened?” Leo asked, staring off into the distance as the flames dashed his shadow off the thick log walls of the cabin.
“To the ice pick?” Terry asked, his voice all smile and a hint of mockery. “Just kidding. I know what you mean. To those people? The ones at the Point?”
“Yeah, it’s like they just disappeared. Left their whole camp set-up and walked off into the water or something.”
“Or the woods,” Kimmy suggested, her eyes peering out into the dark boughs of the evergreens. The wind shifted and they dragged heavily against bay window. Scrape, scrape, scrape.
“They probably went for a hike and got turned around.” Mike hypothesized, tipping the bottle of Jack back for a deep swig. He walked over and jammed a thin piece of kindling into the fire, stirring the embers and sending flares of orange dust and charcoal dancing up the flue and out the brick chimney.
“Hey, let it simmer.” Terry cautioned, smacking the stick out of Mike’s hand. “That’s all we got for tonight.” The flaming skewer bounced spectacularly on the stone floor and spun, end over end across the room. As though magnetized by some unseen force, it dove, fiery point downward into Kimmy’s blanket, a cheap blend of polyester, cotton, and cellulose. The fabric flared, a tiny ball of orange suddenly erupting from between the patterned folds.
“Oh shit.” Mike managed, his eyes frozen, as though hypnotized by the rapidly expanding fireball.
“Dammit, Mike.” Terry blamed, rushing across the room with the skill and experience of a small-town firefighter. Kimmy blanched and tumbled back over the couch, banging her knee and elbow against the oaken furniture as she fell. With the bundle in his arms, Terry flew to the back door, twisting the fabric into a thick, suffocating knot, and tossed the smoldering princess prints onto the decking. He stomped on it over and over until the flames were extinguished and left it smoking in the icy chill of the full moon.
“Got it.” He called back into the cabin, his glare directed at Mike who was suddenly focused on his phone and the shadow puppets he could make with the flashlight app. The deck was blanketed in snow and ice, thick clear spires hung from the railings. The blanket smoldered at his feet, heat rising into the darkness like weak smoke signals to the heavens. Terry started to head back in, but as he turned, he noticed a couple bigger logs leaning against the railing. Those would be enough to get them through the night.
“Hey guys…” Terry called out.
“Huh?” Kimmy called back.
“Terry?” Leo turned and looked through the open back door. Empty.
“Dude? Terry?” Mike questioned, crossing the room in three giant strides before pausing just over the threshold. He stared out into the deep pools of inky blackness that rimmed the snow-covered edges of the deck and the yard beyond. He stared hard, his eyes adjusting to the dark, the bottle sloshing in his hand as he leaned heavily against the jamb. In the distance, about 200 yards away, maybe a little further, he thought that he saw something move. Just for a moment.
“Terry?” Kimmy demanded, coming up behind Mike who was waving the bottle back and forth over the deck like a white flag or signal fire. “Where the hell is he?” She asked.
“He’s fucking with us.” Mike gestured, his arm casting an arc over the empty, snow dusted deck. He was waving his phone flash back and forth, carving long black shadows up into the overhanging trees. The branches shuddered in the wind. Was that...what just moved? With two hands on the railing, Mike stared hard, his eyes glazed over as he peered into the abyss. Something...two pale lights seemed to bob between the boughs. His breath caught in his chest. He felt a sudden chill wash over him. He turned and saw two logs just to the left of the door. There were two size 10 footprints in the snow, a telltale Nike swoosh embedded in the center.
“Is that…?” Kimmy started, following his gaze.
“It’s just Terry. He’s trying to keep this scary shit going.” Mike suggested bravely. Then he took a step onto the deck and yelled out into the black “Hey, asshole, get back up here. It’s not funny anymore. You win. Best story.”
Kimmy shivered. Mike was still sweeping his phone back and forth, the flare of the artificial white light careening off of railings and stairs and thick evergreens and those two enticing logs. He stooped to grab them, stumbling forward as his body suddenly lost equilibrium.
And then the pounding started. A drumroll of heavy hands and stomping feet echoed through the cabin, icing the blood in the veins of all four partiers as they froze and turned to stare at the front door. Again, pounding, kicking, stomping.
And then silence.
In the dark, there was chuffing noise like a beast, maybe a bear or wolf breathing heavily amidst the firs. Then there was a shudder of chains, a grating sound of metal on metal, and somewhere in the distance, the crinkle of glass breaking. Mike and Kimmy pushed and elbowed their way back through the deck door and slammed it shut. Leo was pacing in front of the fire, a cornered prey desperate to escape. Emma had gotten up from her spot near the fire and ran to Kimmy’s side, the two girls holding tightly to the back of Mike’s shirt as they forced him towards the front door like a human shield.
“Let go of me.” He demanded. “It’s just Terry messing around. Jeeesssusss. Stop pushing me.”
“Open it. If it’s just Terry, open the door, Mike.” Kimmy commanded. He tried to plant his feet, tried to twist away from their push, tried to feebly break their collective grip. In the end, he was nose to door and his quivering hand was on the knob.
“Dammit girls. Stop pushing. I can’t go any further.” There was a noticeable tremor in his voice. The amber Jack sloshed back and forth in the bottle he was dangerously close to dropping. He started to turn the doorknob, twisting his body sideways into a runner’s stance, as though prepared to let man, beast, or spirit into the room like a slingshot while he hurried off to safety. The sound of the latch grating along the strike plate drowned out their fearful rasps, and as the lower edge of the heavy oaken door etched its weight across the uneven stone floor, the three friends held their collective breath.
In the darkness, the wind menaced, the branches of an evergreen scraped along the roof of their Subaru Outback, an owl hooted. Mike leaned forward, his vision hazy as he peered out into the inky depths. There was…something there…something moving? He took a tentative step onto the front porch, his hands noticeably shaking.
“Hello?” He called out.
“Mike…be careful.” Leo cautioned. He stood next to the fireplace, an iron poker in his hands. His knuckles were white as he twisted the metal around and around between sweaty palms.
“Shit, shit, shit…” Emma muttered. “What if it’s the Jay Point killer? What if he’s out there right now gutting our boy?”
Like a spring buck, Kimmy bounded across the room, appearing suddenly at Mike’s shoulder as she screeched “Terry, Terry, Terry!!” into the darkness. He jumped, dropping the heavy bottle of Jack. The thick glass skittered sideways down the stone stairs and careened into the tall grasses at the base of the landing.
“Dammit, Kimmy!” He exclaimed, starting forward to retrieve the bottle. In the distance, as though sluicing between dream and sleep, something large and dark moved. It was huge, menacing, and getting closer.
“Run!” Kimmy shouted. Emma appeared at the door, her eyes wide. Mike turned back from the lost bottle and hammer-stepped up the stone stairs and into the house. He slammed the door and deadbolted the lock. A heavy form crashed into the thick, sturdy oak, shaking the frame and sending Leo racing around with the poker thrust out like a fencing sword.
“Stay the hell back!” He screamed bravely as the doorframe quivered. His arms were shaking, and he held the poker in both hands, a desperate lance waiting to impale an unseen villain.
Behind them, there was a creak.
There was a clink, a scrape, and a sound like metal on glass. The parted curtains revealed an awful, gnarled face beyond. Two yellow eyes glared at them ferociously. Tight, lined lips split open in a bloody grimace. Emma shrieked. Kimmy started crying. Mike rushed forward, pulling bravery from somewhere deep in his gut as he screeched like a banshee at the looming specter. As he ran, he grabbed one of the remaining logs of firewood from their dwindling pile and raised it above his head like a heavy club. He neared the window, swinging the kindling in a downward arc, prepared to maim or murder.
And then he stopped. As though frozen in space, he arrested his charge, pulled up quickly, and stood before the iced over pane of glass. For a moment, everything was fuzzy, like whisps of fog split by a driving gale or a thick murmuration of sparrows. Then the haze parted. He stepped closer, pressing his face against the glass. In the distance he saw two bright white wings retreating into the darkness, thick fury talons, and the limp body of an unlucky chipmunk.
“Oh my God! An owl!!” He huffed, turning and sinking into one of the plush armchairs at the far end of the room. The other three were cowering near the fire. The front door was silent. The back door was…wide open.
“The door…” Mike started, but couldn’t even finish his sentence before a hooded figure launched itself into the room. The girls were screaming. Leo was running again, the fire poker stretched out like a marathoner’s baton. The bulky figure raced around the room, careening off of furniture, nearly crashing into the fire. It was practically blind. Almost like…
Mike jumped up and ripped the black hood off of the howling figure of Terry who spun like a whirling dervish before seeking his prey. He tackled Kimmy, collapsing on top of her as they fell onto the couch. Muffled under his blanketed figure, she screamed, and he laughed maniacally. She slapped his shoulder twice and then buried her head into his chest, the tears audible as she sobbed.
“Dude, asshole move!” Leo managed from his safe space in the corner.
“You’re a dick!” Mike agreed, heading to the back door and carefully closing it and turning the deabolt.
“Oh, my jeeezuss…” Terry huffed. “You shoulda seen your faces…Mike, you look like a fucking ghost. Like grandma’s porcelain at a Klan rally!”
“Not cool, Terry.” Emma sighed, but then smiling she crossed the room and playfully slapped his back. “But I knew it was you the whole time.”
Leo stood up from his hiding place next to the fireplace and dropped the poker into the storage rack. “You did not! Liar.”
“I did so. Whatever. You were more scared than anyone.”
“No, I was trying save your ass.”
“Whatever. Little Leo the Wimpy Lion.”
Leo jumped up rushing towards Emma, his voice rising as he grew closer. “Who’s the one…”
Mike tuned them out and crossed to the front door. He turned the lock and pulled it open, welcoming the scrape of wood on stone over the sound of their bickering. He stepped out into the frigid air and shivered. Shadows danced along the horizon. He could see trees moving, hear bushes quiver, the trill of crickets and gnats, a bullfrog in the distance. He stepped down to the tall grass and retrieved the bottle. He brushed his hand along the glass. Unbroken. Score.
As he stood, he looked at the light from the cabin reflecting off the windshield of the Subaru. He walked closer, stooping to look into the side mirror, quaffing his hair and checking his face for color. If he was going to make a move on Emma, it had to be tonight. This was it, winter break was over and they’d be going back to school in a week.
He stood and took a deep swig of the Jack. Good ol’ Jack: steeling his nerves, calming his quivering pulse. He took one last glance at the reflection in the mirror and froze. Ice rushed through his veins; his feet grew leaden. He was looking into the light, back into the cabin. There was someone standing there, a reflection in the mirror that wasn’t his own!
Mike spun, started to cry out, and watched the door slam shut.
Beyond the warm glow of the door, it was pitch black. Mike started forward and was suddenly plunged into total darkness. He ran to the front door, pounding on the heavy oak. Inside he could hear their laughter, their chattering, the sounds of a raucous party. Was that Twister?
“Hey, guys? I’m out here. Let me in.” He cried out. “Not funny Leo! Terry? Come on Emma!”
Like a vortex of silence, he was alone in the darkness. He rushed around the side of the house, spied a tall glass window and pressed his face against it. There was Terry and Leo on one side of the mat and Kimmy and Emma on the other.
“Right foot Red.” A figure called out. Who the hell was that? As he stared in utter shock, the caller turned and stared back at him through the glass, eyes blazing yellow and bright. Mike nearly collapsed. It was…him. But not him. It was like a sick clone or some kind of shadowy doppelganger.
“Left hand Green.” The other Mike called out, not breaking his stare. As the four players giggled and twisted their bodies to reach the green circle, the figure opened his mouth in a wicked grin exposing sharp, razor teeth that spanned thick, crimson lips. He raised a pale finger slowly, pointing at Mike before placing it against his lips.
In the darkness, all he heard was “shhhhhhhhhh…”
And then the rustle of wings.