Playing Cat and Mouse in the House of Mirrors
They sang these words most musically, and as I longed to hear them further
The mirror showed a reflection that wasn’t my own. I was so caught up in that moment that I did not quite recognise this at first, and by the time I did it was far too late.
That bitch. That fucking bitch.
Now I am lost, in a place where I am disembodied; caught up in the folds between space and time. Consciousness, alone. I do not know how long I have been here but in the face of infinity that question becomes irrelevant.
All I can do now is linger in remorse and bitterness. I guess this is hell. Many would say I had it coming, but a guy has to get his kicks one way or another.
My thoughts wander for the thousandth time, to the night I was caught here; to her.
The entryway is the face of a clown and to enter the revellers queue in a bid to pass through its gaping mouth. Its eyes glare down at me with a mad wink and I stifle the impulse to wink back. A flurry of anticipation fizzes in my stomach and dissolves down to my groin. By nature, the transience and anonymity of these things always make them prime scouting locations and I have a feeling that it’s going to be a good night for it.
Dark already, the whole place is illuminated with strings of bulbous lights; red and golden; in every direction. Reverberations in the air are chaos; laughter, chatter; the ding of a bell over there from the smash of a hammer; discordant notes from a multitude of organs clanging together and bouncing off and around the various amusements; the occasional shriek, or cackle, from the belly of the ghost train; tiny kernels of corn exploding in a pop, pop, pop; gleeful screams from the bump-bump-bumper cars; the hiss of sausage fat over a hot grill. The fair strikes with a sensual assault. It is almost too much to bear as I meander without direction through the crowd, familiarising myself meticulously with the layout. Perusing the goods. I’ve been at it for so long now that I am confident that I am undetectable; another smiling face lit up by buzzing electric lights.
Past the boundary on the far side, dark and oblique, a row of caravans some with little lines of laundry strung beside them; some with wisps of smoke rising from their small chimneys. These are the homes of those scattered around collecting tokens, brewing coffee, twirling candyfloss, stacking coconuts, giving out burlap sacks at the bottom of the helter-skelter. I am always fascinated by them, by their dusty skin and hardened eyes, existing predominantly as observers of the ordinary folks, dumbly wiling away their Saturday evenings. I look at them fondly as I continue to navigate through the perpetual gaiety.
My reverie is interrupted as I feel something attach itself steadfastly around the lower section of my left arm. I jolt, and find that a dirt-marked hand has gripped me there, reaching down from a spindle-thin arm, attached to a frail body: the owner of a perished face whose stony eyes are stuck to me sharply like a shard of glass.
It takes me a moment to realise that she has emerged from a small gypsy caravan adorned with words – fortune telling – tarot readings – palm readings – and I feel an unwitting, sardonic smile form across my face. She stares at me still and I feel somewhat unnerved because she seems angrier than someone trying to attract custom.
I stare back and whisper, ‘I already know my fortune tonight, bitch.’
‘You are a rogue.’ She rasps, almost inaudibly and her eyes seem to roll back into her head, just slightly, just enough for me to notice.
‘They sang these words most musically, and as I longed to hear them further I made by frowning to my men that they should set me free; but they quickened their stroke, and bound me with still stronger bonds till we had got out of hearing of the Sirens' voices.’
Her voice is deep and thick as she hisses and spits these strange words, again and again. Her eyes are white and unfocused. Momentarily I am caught off-guard by her.
Then, irritated, I remove her hand more forcibly than is necessary and plunge back toward the crowd without a backward glance. ‘Stupid bitch.’ But she has interrupted my plight and I feel deeply perturbed by the encounter.
The air hangs heavy with sweet, fragrant candy floss mingled with a bitter, burning stench of roasting chestnuts that clings to my tongue and the inside of my nostrils, repugnant but somehow also delectable. Faintly beneath, floats the stink of petrol on metal from the mechanised attractions, which seems to pervade everything with a light sense of nausea – manipulating the senses just enough to take you one kilter from reality and pushed a single notch into dreamscape; into the not quite there. I can slip in and out like a nightmare – brief, intense, elusive. I am there again now, recovered from my bizarre meeting with the strange witchy woman.
In what seems like a moment of kismet the crowd before me parts and I catch a glimpse of someone, several meters away. Her skin is made of porcelain, light and pristine. She wears an off-white frock that cinches, just right, at the waist. Around her face and shoulders hang perfect, onyx-black curls. A real doll, living doll with giant eyes emanating the strangest mix of innocence, serenity and glimmers of mischief. She catches mine – or maybe she’s just looking out to the world - and smiles right through those eyes as her red lips part and her perfect white teeth crack through the outer layer of a toffee apple she is holding. She drops her gaze and I observe her relishing the taste and watching her I can almost feel the sticky sweet caramel bonding with my own teeth and taste the crunchy trickle of apple juice dribbling down my throat or possibly onto my chin.
This is her. I have found what I was seeking.
Now is the time to be careful. One misstep and I’ve blown it.
I am built for this, a natural talent; but all-of-a-sudden the stakes have shifted.
I can’t lose this one.
She seems to be alone, but no-one goes to the fair alone so her companions must be somewhere in the vicinity. She starts to move away from the confectioners. I make a mental note of the direction she’s taking before averting my gaze. She does not appear to have noticed me.
I need to camouflage now and so casually turn to the nearby coconut shy and engage the stallholder in light conversation. I toss him a couple of coins and have a go at knocking them off their plinths, to no avail. I smile at the man good-humouredly and give him a brief shrug of ah well before slipping carefully back among the merrymakers, ensuring that I veer into the flow that moves in the correct direction. Slowly though, I mustn’t expose myself to being noticed.
Subtly I scan the faces moving between the confectionary stand and the direction I know she took but I can’t see her. Wary about upping my pace, I saunter on but inside worry starts to mount that I have lost track of her.
Another face. Another face. Another face, and another. But no pristine porcelain, no red lips and black curls.
Has she gone onto the Ferris Wheel? I scan the couples aligned on their wooden benches but she is not among them.
Where else could she have gone?
Where is she?
My panic builds to almost mania, then -
Ah, I see her.
A flood of relief courses through me as I spot her silhouette in a doorway. I can’t see her face but I know she is smiling. She slips through it.
House of Mirrors.
I feel in my pocket for one of the tokens I picked up in case a circumstance like this were to arise and move slowly toward it. I still need to be cautious, but it feels like a victory already. She’s cornered.
‘Going in alone?’ asks the woman in the booth as I hand her a token. I smile.
‘My girl’s just gone in ahead of me,’
I walk toward the entrance.
This night could not be going any better, but don’t blow it now.
I chuckle as two children race past me in the opposite direction, stepping into the first corridor.
As I walk along the narrow passage I am surrounded by strange misrepresentations of myself – bulbous, gangly, round, straight, twisted. The lines of being perpetually shift. I turn a corner and the bizarre maze continues. Another corridor lined with mirrors. Dim red lighting here. My face is round. Now long. Now twisted.
At the end of this one, the corridor splits in two. A real maze. Which way did she turn?
Anticipation builds. I move left.
Another strip. Distortion. Distortion. Distortion. Green here.
Strangely, I notice, nobody else appears to be in here.
Left again. Blue light this time. How big is this place?
The thought occurs that I may lose her and a swell of panic rises in me. Should I turn back? Retrace my steps? Bear right?
The passages seem to be narrowing. I have been walking for several minutes. The endlessness of the mirrors, of the distortions, start to make me feel a little dizzy.
The floor is uneven in this one. The ceiling slanted.
My head is spinning now.
Where is she?
But what is that? The corridor is cold and silent but something penetrates it softly; emerges through the atoms in the air; reverberates through the distortions.
Humming. A sweet, gentle, distant melody on repeat. Delicate and delicious.
I know it is her.
I had a feeling about going left.
The humming sounds closer. The sweet melody sung over and over and over.
At the end of this corridor the space opens out into a large circular room, all mirrors. Around the walls. The ceiling. The floor. Everything.
She is here, humming still, observing her own distortions, turning slightly for each one.
She sees me enter in the reflection behind her and stops humming.
Everything stops: no sound. No movement.
I take a step into the room and she turns around.
Her eyes are still smiling at me. She feels no sense of danger.
I go to take another step but she giggles softly then raises a slender finger to her red lips, signalling me to be quiet.
God, those eyes.
Unexpectedly, she moves toward me.
She smells like a meadow of daisies. Fresh, organic. How can a person even smell like that?
Our eyes are locked together.
There is something vaguely manic about her now, but it is just barely apparent beneath all the sweetness.
My brain ceases to function. My plan is lost. Whatever is happening here, it is my deepest, most carnal instinct to accept it.
Her movements play out slowly, like a film reel.
She is kissing me on the cheek now.
‘I knew you would come.’
What smiling eyes. She takes my hand.
I allow her to guide me further into the room.
Another kiss on my cheek.
We are walking slowly still. She seems excited. So happy. Those smiling eyes. That soft voice.
Presently, we are face to face with a mirror, but this one bears no distortion.
I observe her next to me, still holding onto my hand.
It is me, is it not? It is her?
She giggles quietly.
‘It’s time, are you ready?’
She turns and kisses my lips.
That smell. Those soft, red delicious lips.
I knew it was going to be a good night. I knew it.
She steps forward and into the mirror.
Into the mirror.
I know it’s crazy.
I don’t care.
Her arm is still out, still holding so softly onto my hand.
Without question or any semblance of rational thought, I follow her into the mirror.
It is dark inside. A blackness so hollow it is not like anything I have encountered before.
Her hand has gone from mine so I call out to her but no noise emerges from my throat. I stumble forward but there is no sense in moving here. There is nowhere to move to. No up, no down, no direction.
I try to go back but all that surrounds me is darkness: oblivion.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Then again, in British parlance, I see that "custom" is appropriate in this context. I stand corrected, lol!
Atmospheric, excitement with a hint of danger, allowing us to hear, see, taste, smell &... be touched. Even knowing where this heading, feeling the lascivious urge toward violence of the predator, we follow right along, unable to turn away. BTW, I've never heard of a "coconut shy" before. Had to look it up. Great touch. Fantastic storytelling! Just a couple of editorial notes: In the paragraph beginning, "Past the boundary on the far side...," you have an extraneous "a" in the phrase, "some with a wisps of smoke...." In the paragraph beginning, "It takes me a moment...," I believe the last word should be "customers".
Whoa this is fantastic…. I was swept along!! ❤️
Why does this not have more views?! The pacing in this was predatory but so damn good. I couldn't wait for the jump. Loved and subscribed!
Damn, this is good. I keep seeing mediocre writers get flooded with likes and comments on this site, while writers as good as yourself are washed aside. Good luck with this one. It deserves to place in the challenge.
Woah, Beth, this was suspenseful! I hung on to every word. Incredible, vivid imagery! Chilling! The ending was PERFECT! Amazing work!