Fade To Black
The Woman in the Mirror
The mirror showed a reflection that wasn’t my own. The reflection that jarred me from my nightly semi-conscious task of removing the makeup and city grime from my face, was oddly familiar, but wasn’t my own.
The woman in the mirror looked older, much older, and her eyes were a light shade of hazel whereas mine were a medium brown. Her hair was short and curly, mine was long and straight as a horse’s tail.
The longer I stared into that reflection the more familiar she looked, like I knew her but didn’t know her at the same time. She looked nothing like me but did bear a slight resemblance to my oldest brother Clement. They had the same small-mouthed, thin-upper-lipped smile.
It was that smile which gave me a hint of recognition. Could this face staring at me from my bathroom mirror be that of my great-grandmother, Sadie? I thought I recognized her from my grandmother’s pictures and had heard many times from my Nan that Clement had her mother’s smile. Yes, I was sure. It was Sadie.
I had never met Sadie in person. Our great-grandmother passed away three weeks before I was born. Still, there she was, staring back at me from my bathroom mirror, her eyes following my every move, her smile an odd sort of comfort to me, yet I didn’t know why. I stood, staring into that mirror for more time than I remember, partially terrified and partially awestruck, until the reflection suddenly disappeared and was replaced by my own.
I turned off the light, then quickly switched it back on to see if my great-grandmother’s reflection would reappear. When it didn’t, I convinced myself it was probably a momentary hallucination brought on by exhaustion. I tucked myself into my queen-sized bed, pulled the flower-printed duvet around my neck, and closed my eyes.
As I sat at my desk staring into the void of the note-pinned walls of my grey cubicle, I could hear the chatter of my workmates around me. Their conversations in that moment made as much sense to me as the sound of squirrels chirping. All I could think of was that face in the mirror, my great-grandmother’s face.
It had been three days since she appeared, and I was no longer sure it even happened. I told myself it was just a dream. Considering all the stress I’d been under at work, it wasn’t difficult to convince myself it wasn’t real. Except it was just so clear. I felt I could almost touch her. As frightening as the original sighting had been, I wanted her to come back. I needed to make sense of it.
My musing of long-past relatives and mirrors were suddenly interrupted by a ping from my phone - a reminder that my parents’ anniversary was the next day. I needed to buy flowers for my mom, as I had done for the past five years.
My Dad passed away six years before at the age of sixty-six. The following Valentine’s Day, their anniversary, Mom bought herself flowers. It broke my heart. My father had been gone for months, but she was still celebrating their anniversary without him. When I asked her about it, she reminded me that there was always a bouquet of roses in their home on their anniversary, and there always would be, even if she had to buy them herself.
I made a mental note to order Mom’s flowers, along with a card “from heaven,” and tried to concentrate on my work. I knew it was a losing battle, but somehow, I managed to make it through to the end of the day.
On the way home from work, I stopped to pick up a bottle of wine for myself, intending on having a relaxing evening on the couch. I figured a little liquid courage could be useful if my mirror visitor decided to make a return call. I was oddly disappointed when I finally crawled into bed without having seen my great-grandmother’s reflection.
“Be careful. He’s watching you.”
The words shook me from my sleep. A female voice, as clear as day and as loud as a scream, sounded the warning. I jumped from my bed and raced toward the window. Below, just under the streetlamp, stood the figure of a man.
He was wearing dark clothing, with a hooded jacket pulled over his head. His face was no more than a silhouette as he turned to look at me through the open window. I turned briefly to find my phone, but when I looked back, he was gone. I glanced up and down the street, but he was nowhere to be seen.
I considered calling the police, but what would I tell them? A man was watching me from the street, but he disappeared. It didn’t even make sense. I decided it was best to let it go for the time being.
It was four a.m. Knowing I was far too agitated to go back to sleep, I walked into the bathroom to splash water on my face. When I switched on the light, my great-grandmother, Sadie, was in the mirror once again. Unlike the first time I saw her, when she merely smiled and stared, this time she spoke.
” Be careful. He’s watching you.” It was the same voice and the same warning that woke me moments earlier.
Her words froze me in place, as I stood, staring into the glass, shaking and momentarily speechless. I had no idea, but I needed to know what she knew.
“How did you know?” I replied to the reflection.
There was no response, so I repeated the question, along with a panicked barrage of other queries. Where was he watching me? How long has it been? Is he following me?
“Who is he, Sadie?” I screamed at the mirror as I watched my great-grandmother’s reflection fade from the glass, once again replaced by my own.
I couldn’t help but feel nervous on the drive to my mom’s anniversary dinner. When I stopped at the flower shop, and the bakery, I was sure to check and double check that no one was watching me. I peered into the back seat of my car before reentering and dropped the keys on the ground when I heard voices behind me, voices that came from a couple exiting a nearby car - shoppers, just like me.
I tried laughing it off. I tried convincing myself that I was paranoid, but I couldn’t shake the near paralyzing fear that overcame me every time I stopped at a red light and jerked my head in every possible direction to be sure no one would try to jump in the car.
My brothers could tell how stressed I was when I arrived at our mom’s house and almost dropped the cake on the ground. What could I tell them? That I’d been having chats with our great-grandmother in my bathroom mirror? They’d tell me to see a shrink.
Nothing was wrong, I told them. It’s just stress from a busy work week. They didn’t believe me.
Eventually, I did tell my family about the man I saw outside the window. Neither my brothers nor my mother took it seriously. I couldn’t blame them. I wouldn’t have either without the added context of the warning from the woman in the mirror.
“It was probably just a neighbour,” my brother Patrick guessed. I agreed that he was right before sitting to join my family for the meal of Mom’s homemade lasagna. Our mother’s cooking, especially her lasagna, always seemed to make everything better.
During our after-dinner conversation, I casually mentioned the topic of Great-grandmother Sadie, asking Mom what she remembered about her. She told me she remembered Sadie as being a proud woman, and a strict disciplinarian. Then she laughed.
“She was a loving grandmother, don’t get me wrong,” Mom said. “It’s just that she was a very proud woman who thought things should be a certain way, and she wouldn’t bend.”
I asked Mom what she meant by that. She giggled nervously and told me Sadie never liked her.
“I was from the wrong side of the tracks,” She continued.
I didn’t understand why she would say that. Dad’s family was by no means rich, so it wasn’t like they were from the “right side of the tracks.”
Mom explained that Sadie felt Dad could have found himself a better life-mate and made a better career choice for himself. His older sister Bernadette married a lawyer. His brother, Robert, was a doctor who carried an air of sophistication about him. Dad was a landscaper with the mouth of a sailor who married a woman who worked in a fish plant.
To make matters worse, my mother got pregnant before she and my father married. Sadie blamed Mom, said she was a sinner and that she never forgave her or her bastard child.
That last sentence landed like a punch in the gut for my brothers and me, especially Clement. I could see it on his face. The idea that his great-grandmother hated him for merely existing is a piece of knowledge no child wants to hear, no matter how old they are.
Mom could see the look on Clement’s face as well, and I could see the regret in her eyes. She was always a little loose lipped after a glass or two of wine. She quickly added that Sadie never hated him, and assured Clement that his great-grandmother was quite fond of him, in fact. She just hated our mother.
I couldn’t get Mom’s words out of my head on the drive home that night. I wondered why Sadie was visiting me if she hated my mother so much, and why she called my brother a bastard. I was so focused on the conversation at Mom’s house that I nearly missed the hooded man standing on the street corner.
He was watching me as I stepped out of my car. I rushed into my house and locked the doors then tried peeping through the window, but he was gone. Just like the first time I saw him, he disappeared as quickly as he came into view.
When I went upstairs to prepare for bed, after double and triple-checking the locks and peering through the window countless times, my great-mother was once again looking at me from my bathroom mirror. She didn’t speak, but I got an uneasy feeling as I felt her eyes follow me around the room, watching my every move. Her eyes looked different this time. There was emotion in there. Was it fear?
Once again, I had trouble sleeping, jumping out of bed every few minutes to look through the window for the mysterious hooded man. I didn’t see him before I finally dozed off, but couldn’t shake the feeling that he was close, watching me.
The words jolt me from my sleep at 3 am.
I hear a creak on the stairs.
I jump out of bed, trip over the covers, and crash my hip into the corner of the wooden night table before falling to the floor beside the bed. The pain is unbearable to the point I fear I may pass out from nausea.
I see a shadow. Somebody is in my home, in the hallway creeping toward my bedroom. My arms are shaking as I reach for the bat I hid under the bed. I pull myself off the floor, all the while keeping my eyes on the shadowy figure in the hallway and trying not to scream from the pain in my hip.
When I gain my footing, I limp into the bathroom through the bedroom entrance and lock both doors. I sit on the edge of the bath to catch my breath and when I turn toward the mirror, I notice that once again the reflection is of Sadie.
She has a look of terror in her eyes. Her mouth is moving, but no words are coming out. I stand and stare in the mirror to decipher the message she’s sending. I try lip-reading, but the only words I can understand are “hurt” and “kill.”
Is she telling me he wants to kill me? I am both freezing in terror and sweating from adrenalin as I listen to the footsteps creeping closer to the bathroom.
There is a sudden thud as he throws his body against the bathroom door, attempting to break through.
I scream as he keeps trying to break the door. I reached for my phone to call for help but I left it in the bedroom.
Slivers of wood fly across the bathroom as the door violently breaks open and my attacker comes crashing through. I swing the bat with all the strength in my body and strike him on the head. He staggers and begins to fall to the floor. I swing the bat again, striking a second blow to my attacker’s head.
As he lays motionless, I escape to the bedroom to retrieve my phone and call for help. My hands are shaking, and my breathing heavy as I dial the emergency number. My phone falls from my hands when I am startled by a sound from the bathroom.
I grab the bat and rush back into the room to find my attacker still motionless on the floor. Whether he is unconscious or dead I don’t know and I am far too terrified to check. I just stand there, trancelike staring at the hooded man lying on the tiled floor.
There is laughter behind me. I turn toward the mirror and see Sadie, laughing hysterically and pointing at the hooded man. Her expression has changed again, no longer terrified but terrifying. And her face. It’s no longer the face I recognized from my grandmother’s photos; it’s a face of pure evil. Her hazel eyes have blackened, her cheeks are sunken, and her smile is rotted and festering.
She just keeps laughing and pointing at the man on the floor.
It gives me a sense of fear even stronger than that I felt when the stranger crashed through my bathroom. I’m having difficulty breathing. I don’t know what is happening or why, but a sense of doom hangs in the air as the reflection in mirror continues its hideous cackle and points its bony fingers at the man on the floor.
I find myself drawn to him. I can’t see his face. He fell on his stomach with his hood still up. Try as I may, I can’t fight the feeling that I must see his face. Despite my fear, I flip the man onto his back and am shocked by what I see.
I know this man. I can’t immediately remember how or from where, but I know I’ve seen him before - a long, long time ago. I soon realize that the hooded man on my bathroom floor is my father’s childhood friend, Kevin. He was the best man at my parent’s wedding, but I haven’t seen him since I was a child. Shockingly, he looks the same, like he hasn’t aged a day. He’s even wearing the same suit he had on in mom and dad’s wedding photos.
I can’t believe what I’m looking at. My mind is racing. I feel my heart pounding through my chest. How is this possible?
I throw myself on the man and attempt to perform CPR. Sadie howls with laughter.
“It’s too late. The lout is gone,” she squeals.
“It’s Kevin,” I scream back at the mirror, knowing that Sadie also knows this man. She just keeps laughing.
I close my eyes and inhale deeply to clear my mind. This can’t be real. I try to convince myself it’s just a nightmare, but I know it isn’t.
“I must be dreaming.” I repeat the words over and over, willing them to be true.
I place my hand on my chest in a vain attempt to calm my ever-increasing heart rate. I feel my heart in my palm, and it jolts me. I feel my fingers wrap around my heart, under the skin, beneath the ribs and sternum.
My eyes jar open, and I see what I feel; my hand is inside my chest. I am holding my own heart in my fingers. My skin is translucent, my bones as thin and fragile as tissue paper. I don’t know what’s happening, but it horrifies me.
My sight travels back to Kevin, but he’s no longer there. His body has vanished from the floor. I’m no longer sure he ever was there. Only the terrifying, increasingly louder cackle from Sadie forces me to believe that he was.
Sadie is mumbling an incoherent diatribe about how she told my mother she would stop her.
“Stop her from what?” I scream back at the mirror.
I try to stand but can’t feel my legs. I can’t see my legs. I can see only vapor where my lower limbs should be.
I hear a noise from the bedroom and turn my head to see a film playing in the mirror of my clothes dresser. It’s an old reel to reel tape from years ago showing stills and videos of my parents when they were much younger. It shows my mother and father on their wedding day, and members of the wedding party. Kevin is standing by my father’s side.
There are pictures of my parents with Clement on the day of his birth and family photos after Patrick was born. They show picnics and holidays, Christmas, and Easter celebrations and even a funeral.
It’s Kevin’s funeral!
The room is filled with grieving people, most of whom I don’t know, but assume are Kevin’s family members. My grandmother is there, and Sadie as well. Mom and Dad are there. Mom has Clement standing by her side, hugging her legs, and Patrick in her arms. But where am I?
The film focuses on Patrick in Mom’s arms and I realize he’s just a baby, not yet a year old.
I’m getting lightheaded and can’t think clearly. I know what I’m seeing is impossible. Patrick is two-and-a-half years older than me. I’m watching a film about Kevin’s funeral when my closest brother was less than one. But how? How could I have ever known Kevin if he died a year-and-a-half before I was born?
My vision is fuzzy. I can barely see the film in the mirror, the film that’s now showing more recent pictures of Mom and Dad before he passed away. They’re with my brothers and their wives and children. They’re living their lives, happy normal lives. There are no pictures of me anywhere.
I struggle to keep my eyes open and to make sense of what is happening to me. I turn to the bathroom mirror to question Sadie. She screams at me in return.
“I knew what your cheating mother was doing,” she bellows with a look of pure hatred in her lifeless eyes.
I don’t know what she means. It doesn’t sink in until she howls “You’re a bastard and you’ll meet your father in hell.”
Kevin? Is she saying that my mother cheated on my dad, and that Kevin is my father?
I turn back to the mirror for an answer, but there will be none coming. I can feel myself grow weaker and lighter as I hear the hideous cackle gradually lower in volume and watch Sadie’s face fade from the mirror for the final time.
I turn back to the film in the bedroom and see picture frames on the mantle in Mom’s living room, pictures of the boys as teenagers and at their college graduations. There are photos of my brothers’ wedding days and their children’s school pictures. My fading eyes scan the room looking for mementos of me. There are none to be seen, no indication anywhere that I had ever been born.
Everything fades to black.
About the Creator
Canadian family girl with a recently discovered love for writing. Other loves include animals and sports.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Easy to read and follow
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Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes
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Writing reflected the title & theme
The vicious mobius time-loop strikes! This is taut and exciting with marvelous descriptive details. Well done, Cathy. A small editorial suggestion: 'The words jolt from my sleep at 3 am.' Should there be a 'me' between 'jolt' and 'from'? Hope you don't mind. I actually really appreciate it when readers help me with these little gaffs as we are our own worst editors thanks to how well our own brains fool us. Tell me to stick it if you want to, I deserve it anyway! 😂
Congratulations on Top story too!
Excellent storytelling! Engaged throughout! Sadie was creeping me out!
You sent me for a ride with this one. At first I was all, “oh cool, the character in the mirror is a helpful ancestor,” and then I was all, “Sadie no!!”, and then I was like, “Damn, Sadie. Ruthless.” A very climactic tale!
The descriptions were great and really showcased the psychological side of this horror story. Thank you for sharing!
Damn! That was a sinister and unsettling tale. The fact that hate knows no temporal boundaries and can still inflict pain long after death is chilling. Wonderfully done!
I shouldn't have read this at night. Love it so much!
Congratulations on a great piece - love this "Back to the Future" interpretation!
What a twist! The suspense was killing me, but it set up the ending perfectly. Very well written. Great work, Cathy!
just loved it!
Crikey! Sadie is a complete ****!! Congratulations Cathy!
Fantastic! This had me gripped. Congratulations on the well deserved Top Story, Cathy 💕🙂
Horrific!!! Super storytelling!!! CongonTop Story!!!💖💖💕
This is a really nice interpretation of the prompt. I like that you took us somewhere unique.
Great story. Congratulations for the top story.
The process of storing the individual self in a vacuum without knowledge of its truth is terrifying. Congratulations on top story!
Congrats on top story!
Great stuff! Well deserved top story!
This story is a psychological thriller. This could easily be made into a novel, too. I think you’ve got a contender for the challenge.
Congrats to you.👏🏿👏🏿👏🏿