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A Mirror Darkly

A Vocal.Media Horror Story

By AphoticPublished about a year ago 11 min read
Top Story - March 2023
A Mirror Darkly
Photo by Stefano Zocca on Unsplash


“The mirror showed a reflection that wasn't my own.” Anita recounts gravely to the class. “I will never forget the eyes of that monster staring back at me.” She proceeds to recall aloud the events that lead to the uncanny ordeal she got herself into years ago. The room falls silent as she tells her ugly story.


Anita scrolled through the list of winners, hopeful despite the fact she didn’t receive a notification from the Vocal staff to let her know she was among the few chosen ones.

As she glanced over name after name, her disappointment grew. She had lost again. The self-doubt started creeping in as it always did after the announcement of the challenge winners.

She knew she was among the majority who were taking an L, yet she could not shake the feelings of anger and dissatisfaction with the results.

Loser. Mediocre. Inferior. Subpar.

She checked the comments to feel less alone in her self-pity, but everyone else was congratulating the winners with floral words, smiling emojis, and exclamation points. Surely she wasn’t the only one who felt bitter and resentful.

She recognized some repeat winners from previous challenges and her ire multiplied. Not only was she a loser, she was a sore loser and she knew it. She didn’t want to be a sore loser, but her brain started listing off excuses as to why she lost rather than appreciating the work of those who won and making an effort to learn from them.

Rigged contest. Biased judges. Unfair advantages. Luck.

She had submitted several entries. Meanwhile, the winner had only entered one piece.

She had put her heart and soul into each one of her submissions and not a single one was picked. She resigned that the Vocal judges must hate her. She knew it was irrational, but she just couldn’t accept that her work was simply not as appealing to them as the winners’. The judges either didn’t read her entries or didn’t properly understand them. They misinterpreted them or only comprehended her words on surface level, unwilling to tread the deeper waters of her mind.

They didn’t give as much thought to my submissions as they did the winner, because if they had then surely I would have won, she thought. They didn’t peel back all the layers or examine the prose closely enough. If they interpreted it the way I meant it then I would have no doubt made the runners up list at the very least.

She was exhausted, ready to throw in the towel and stop entering the challenges altogether. She felt discouraged, slighted as if it were a personal attack that she didn’t place.

Over the course of two years, she had entered more than forty challenges(many with multiple submissions) and placed exactly zero times, while she witnessed several creators take home the W on their very first challenge entry. She had 345 stories on vocal and she was seeing people with less than 20 stories with several medals adorning their page. What was she doing wrong? What were they doing so right? Were the judges too lazy to find new talent so they continuously selected the same creators over and over? She tried to block the questions from her mind, realizing that she would never have these answers.

She knew it wasn’t healthy or productive to compare her work to that of the winners. It was like comparing assholes to airplanes, it just made no sense. Still, she did just that and let it color her with envy.

As she read through the winning submissions, her attitude ping ponged back and forth between thinking it preposterous that such garbage could be chosen over her gilded words and wondering why the hell she ever thought she had any business writing in the first place. She was hack.

Imposter. Dunce. Tryhard. Wannabe.

The words kept coming like bullets to her brain, quick and visceral. She felt a pressure building in her chest like a volcano about to blow. It was a hot, heavy pressure that made her want to scream. So she did.

Who the fuck are you? You’re nobody! You’re no better than me! It’s all luck! Your story was drawn out of a hat! Pure luck, no skill! My five year old could write better than you, what the hell do the Vocal judges see in this heaping pile of horse shit?!

By the time her infantile tirade was over and she was done screaming at her laptop, Anita’s lungs were so tired they could barely pull air. Her face was hot with rage. It made her feel better though, just okay enough to comment on the winning story; congrats, I sooo agree with the judges. Enjoy the reward! You totally earned it.

She sat back, proud of herself for commenting something that was one eye roll emoji away from being perceived as the snarky, sarcastic comment that it truly was.

Frustrated from the defeat, Anita was coming down with a headache something fierce. She went to the loo and opened the mirrored medicine cabinet over the sink. She retrieved a bottle of aspirin and chased two pills with a swig from the tap. When she shut the cabinet door, her reflection caught her eye and she shrieked. She recovered and shook her head at herself. She thought she had seen something there, but it was just her plain Jane face staring back. She moseyed back to her writing chair and slumped down with a heavy sigh.

Who needs a thousand dollars anyway, she thought as she looked down at her busted keyboard and outdated OS. Shit, she could use a new writing chair too. This one gave her back pain and the cushion was worn to the frame.

As she was looking down, she noticed a bug crawling up her arm and tried to smack it away before it had the chance to bite. She didn’t know if she could handle one more small inconvenience without spontaneously combusting.

When the thing didn’t budge, she inspected it closer and realized it wasn’t an insect at all. What the hell?

She raced back to the bathroom sink and began scouring at the spot with soapy water and an abrasive cloth. It wasn’t coming clean. As she scrubbed away, she caught another glimpse of her reflection in the medicine cabinet. Startled, she stopped fussing at her arm and pulled down her eyelid to further expose her peeper. There in the iris she noticed a change. Like the satellite view of a lake being invaded from the shore by a thick accumulation of algae, there was a deep green blob bleeding into the blue.

She quickly hit up Dr. Google and within minutes was self-diagnosed with Fuchs Heterochromic Iridocyclitis.

While she was attempting to diagnose herself with melanoma for the spot on her arm, a notification came through her phone from Vocal. You have a new reply to your comment on Prettyinpizza’s story.

She immediately tapped the notification, desperate to see what Pretty had to say. She had to scroll past several gushing praise comments to get to hers, reading each one in its entirety and feeling the fire of rage inside reignite.

Hands down best challenge I’ve read for this story - StonedMelon

Congrats, fellow winner! At first I thought the judges made an error in our places, but I’ll settle for 2nd place to this beauty any day. Also yours is the only other story I’ve read for this challenge that actually seems to have understood the prompt, bravo! - egotisticalcroissant

This is the best thing I’ve ever read on this platform! You truly know how to turn any prompt into an absolute masterpiece. Your page is a treasure trove of pure genius. I want to cut open your head and steal your beautiful brain. - Diabolicalpotato

Anita was bitter. Incredulous. These people knew nothing about true art! All they had to do was read her entries and they would realize that Pretty’s story was actually quite mediocre. It didn’t hold a candle to her own. She finally arrived at her comment and expanded the replies. What she saw tipped her over the edge. TY. That was all Pretty had to say. Anita checked her replies to all the other commenters and each one was thoughtful and filled with gratitude. Did she sense the sarcasm in Anita’s comment? Did she see through its spurious nature?

Anita felt slighted once again. How dare she leave such a short reply the equivalent of K? The disrespect.

She logged out of her account and clicked over to the sign-up screen. For what she was about to do, she needed to go incognito.

Once her fake was up and running, she went straight to Prettyinpizza’s winning story to leave a not so friendly comment encapsulating how she really felt. Being anonymous, she wouldn’t have to face any social repercussions to what she was about to type.

What a complete load of rubbish! I don’t see what the judges or anyone else sees in this. I feel like I’m surrounded by a bunch of toddlers who wouldn’t know true art if it gave them a wedgie, stole their lunch money, and beat them with a stick! I’ve read countless submissions that were loads better than this one and they didn’t even get honorable mention. What are the Vocal judges smoking? I’m sorry, but your story stinks.

She submitted the nasty comment without an ounce of remorse. While she awaited a response, hoping to strike a nerve with her words, she resumed her google escapade on signs and symptoms of skin cancer. When she went back to analyzing the ABC’s, her heart leapt into her throat. The spot had grown into an entire patch in the mere minutes since she last looked. It appeared to be festering. What the actual fuck?

She ran back to the bathroom mirror and her breath caught when she saw that both her irises had fully taken to the color of algae. It was now beginning to bleed into the sclera. She felt as if she was living in a dream, disoriented and foggy. She pinched and slapped herself to be sure. This was no dream. This was really happening.

Dr. Google could no longer help her. This condition was unheard of. She couldn’t find anything online anywhere that remotely resembled what she was experiencing. The patch had swallowed her entire forearm and was now creeping over her hand. She yelped when she saw its edges move right before her swampy eyes, growing.

She watched in horror as her reflection slowly morphed into something not from this world. The oozing, scab-like flesh crept up her neck from under the collar of her shirt. Horrified, she removed the top to find that her entire torso was covered in the blackened, festering flesh. Panic clawed beneath her malformed skin, a crawling feeling.

She screamed and saw that the inside of her mouth was decomposing as well. Her gums had gone black and her teeth appeared to be rotting out of her skull. She reached a hand into her mouth and grasped a tooth. One little wiggle was all it took for the small bone to dislodge from its socket. She hastily dropped it into the sink. The clattering sound it made sent shivers through her changing body.

Her hair began falling out in clumps. She slapped herself again, willing herself to wake up, but was only reminded that she wasn’t sleeping at all. Her hand, now fully enveloped in the black rot, stuck to her face. As she peeled it away, the flesh from her palm remained on her cheek.

Helplessly stunned, she stared at her reflection as the corrosion overtook what was left of her pale skin, the whites of her eyes now buried beneath waves of seaweed green. As the last patch of clear skin was consumed by the spread of decay, Anita realized that she was becoming a monster. A green-eyed, toothless monster.

Her mirror image smiled, scabbed lips peeled back over black gums. Phony. It said. The rot festered. Failure. It festered some more. Poser. Now the necrosis was bursting open, small black tendrils unfurling from the new openings. Pathetic. The tendrils snaked themselves up to Anita’s throat and began winding themselves around her neck, constricting harder with each new word.

Jealous. Envious. Covetous. The tendrils squeezed vehemently.

Spiteful! Prideful! Shameless! Insidious! Anita’s sight was beginning to blur. Fireflies danced around the edges of her deteriorating vision as she gasped desperately for air. This was it. This was the end. She let the blackness take her.


“So how did you reverse it?” One of the students asks, his hand hesitantly raised into the air. Because it didn’t really happen, idiot, I think to myself.

“The mirror didn’t change me.” Anita explains, removing her contact lenses. The class gasps. I roll my eyes. Parlor trick. “It only brought my rottenness to the surface. Revealed to me my true form.” She continues.

“I realized as the tendrils choked me to sleep that my negativity was the cause of all of my woes. I had been blaming my own issues on those around me instead of looking inward.” She paces in front of a sheet hanging on the wall.

“It’s true what they say about choosing how you react rather than letting your emotions control you. About not comparing your writing to others. We are all at different points on different paths and no two journeys are alike. We must accept that rejection is a part of the life we’ve chosen and nobody is perfect. There is always room for improvement no matter who you are. What’s important is that you all remember why you’re here to begin with. Not for money or notoriety, but for the love of writing, sharing a story that only you can tell.” Anita steps to the side of the sheet on the wall and grabs a fistful of it. What a load of bullshit, I muse silently.

“There will always be a small part of me that harbors that negativity. A small seed that is watered by anger and envy. Emotions I must work tirelessly to control. Now. Let’s see which of you have poured too much water on that seed.” Anita tugs at the sheet and it falls away to reveal a mirror. As I look into it, I see the faces of all of my classmates staring back, appearing equally as perplexed as I. I squint at the silver glass, unsure of what I’m looking for. Then I see it.

Worried expressions paint the faces of everyone in the room as they examine themselves frantically. Anita smiles at us and that’s when I notice her perfectly straight, white teeth are clearly dentures. Her hairline indicatates a wig. Maybe those are her real eyes after all…

I look down at my hands. Somebody screams. Pandemonium ensues. I stare at the spot on my palm as the rot begins to spread.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” - 1 Corinthians 13:12

Words: 2536


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Comments (22)

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  • Ranjan Baralabout a year ago

    Brilliantly written story.

  • Jealousy is like the worst thing ever. I'm curious to know what Pretty would have replied to Anita's nasty comment, lol. The ending was so creepy though. Congratulations on your Top Story!

  • Gina C.about a year ago

    Awesome story! I felt so much of this, you did a great job evoking emotions! I really enjoyed this unique take on the challenge! Congrats on Top Story!! 😍

  • Musa Salmanabout a year ago

    Brilliant story !! Read my story too if anyone is interested in horror type of stories : https://vocal.media/horror/the-old-mansion-on-the-hill-73b50glm

  • Dana Stewartabout a year ago

    Creative premise, well-written, one of those stories that sticks with you long after you've read it. Nice work! Congratulations on Top Story!

  • Erika Ravnsborgabout a year ago

    Wow! This story pulled a lot of emotions out of me.

  • Rick Henry Christopher about a year ago

    This is really very good. I enjoyed this tremendously

  • Claudia Neavesabout a year ago

    Definitely relatable! Pulling the tooth was probably the creepiest/most horrific part for me. Certainly gave me the chills

  • Jeff Newmanabout a year ago

    Nice job on this one! Love the bible quotes as well! Congrats on the TS. If you have a moment, would love your take on my submission - The Boy in the Mirror. Cheers!

  • Leslie Writesabout a year ago

    A cautionary tale for us writers. I love it! I also throughly enjoyed the funny pen names you gave the commenters 😂

  • I hadn't read very far before I had the soundtrack for this: "Killing Me Softly"! How is it that you know me so well when we've never before met, lol? Admittedly, I've since read some amazing stuff on hear, both recognized & not (& this piece among them). I find myself humbled, as an ant among giants. Congratulations on your well-deserved top story. Kudos!

  • Cathy holmesabout a year ago

    Fabulous storytelling with a great mesasge. Love StonedMelon. lol Conrats on the TS

  • Testabout a year ago

    Yes! Love this! Absolutely brilliant - the story and the message! 🖤

  • J. S. Wadeabout a year ago

    Love this story! Top story well deserved! Horrible, truthful, accurate, indicting. Wait! My hand! What is that… it’s spreading … arghhhh! Seriously, masterful writing Aphotic! Message needed and received. Congratulations! 🥇🥰

  • Testabout a year ago

    I loved this and felt every word. Beautiful balance between horror and funny.

  • ImperfectlyPerfectabout a year ago

    Love it 😀..Humor and Horror

  • CJ Millerabout a year ago

    "Hands down best challenge I’ve read for this story - StonedMelon" 🤣 Hands down the funniest Vocal I've read on sentence. I'd give you first place for that alone. Great job coming up with a unique and compelling plot!

  • Kristen Balyeatabout a year ago

    Loved your bits of humor throughout- the usernames made me laugh-and truly loved the visual of infesting bitterness and negativity! Brilliant! Congrats on top story! Very well written and deserved:) Subscribing! 💫

  • JBazabout a year ago

    Ok, so I laughed and was disturbed. Truth hurts. Or should I say ..gee that was a swell piece of fiction, you so deserved Top Story. Lol Honestly well done. Subscribed.

  • Mohamed Jakkathabout a year ago

    This is a brilliantly written horror story that not only delves into the horrors of the human mind but also highlights the destructive nature of jealousy and envy. The story takes the reader on a thrilling journey through the eyes of Anita, a struggling writer who is grappling with the frustration of losing out on a writing contest yet again. The way her emotions build up and explode is very well depicted, and the author has done a fantastic job of portraying the negative effects of comparing oneself to others. The climax of the story is masterfully executed and leaves the reader with a sense of dread that lingers long after the story is over. Overall, a well-crafted and captivating horror story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Kudos to the author for creating such an engaging piece of writing.

  • Dana Crandellabout a year ago

    I'm probably not the only one whose dark side is going to identify with this, but I wonder how many will admit it. Great story, and StonedMelon's comment was perfect. Subscribing now and I'll enjoy binging on your writing soon!

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