The attic mirror shows a reflection that isn’t my own. Ugly and torn, my face, if it is my face, stares back at me with malice. A hatred, deep and boundless emanates from this vile thing. The air feels heavy and thick with its malevolence.
My hand, shaking, moves to touch the image as if touching it can imbue some understanding of the reflection’s origin. Its tattered bony finger rises to meet mine.
Overcome by dread, I lose my courage and stop before I connect with the mirror’s cold hardness. My horrific twin draws its broken mouth into a grotesque smile. My mind reels at its movement, independent from my own. Small pieces of torn flesh hang from its jaw and sway along with its soundless laughter, as it glares at me with hating eyes.
An odd mix of terror and irritation rises within me; first realizing its movement is free from mine, and then that I’m its plaything. Retracting my hand, it too retracts its own, laughing as it continues its macabre mimicry.
Scary! And rude, I think in that order. My rational mind tells me this must be a gruesome hologram, a haunted mirror leftover from a past Halloween school event. I hope they got an A, whoever made this thing. It's terrifying.
I turn away, stumbling over dusty boxes full of books, still feeling uneasy from the interaction. I look over the boxes strewn about the school attic waiting for me to order and stack them, and hunt for a sheet to cover this monstrous thing.
As I search, I chuckle over my unease towards the object. You’re a 25-year-old librarian in a high school attic full of boxes on a Saturday afternoon, there is nothing scary here. You are an adult. Get ahold of yourself Janet, and stop freaking yourself out. I look back over my shoulder to confirm my childishness but find the fiend tracking my movement with its eyes, like a cat watching a mouse. Another small pang of fear cuts me and feeds my growing annoyance.
Continuing to look for a cover, I avoid further eye contact with the mirror. My annoyance blossoms into full exasperation. Why is there no sheet to cover this thing? I guess I’ll use my blouse, ready to do anything to block its view of me. Pulling off my top, I wonder briefly, is it pulling off its top too? That would be funny to see, a ghoulish creature doing mundane things. This silly thought makes me smile as I turn and walk towards the mirror, my shirt held out in front of me blocking its face from my view. Drawing near my brain registers something odd in my eye’s periphery. There’s no movement in the glass.
I look directly into the hell-mirror where my terrible doppelganger should be, but no one is there. I see only the attic around me, full of boxes of books. No one is in its reflection – not even me.
Confused and cold wearing only my bra, I don my blouse again and move to the center of the room planting myself on a couple of boxes in front of the mirror. Not as worried as I probably should be, my hyper-analytical mind takes over – as it does when presented with any great riddle. I stare and contemplate the empty mirror.
Full of puzzlement I wonder, what is this thing? Is it a mirror? If it’s not, then what could it be and what was that thing inside it, why did it look like me? I feel like I’m a character in a horror movie.
A sense of foreboding creeps into my soul as I slowly realize that I know this story, this trope. It’s one deeply entrenched in the horror film genre, “the girl who dies first in a horror movie”. The female’s pursuit of independence and pleasure will send her to an early death. Don’t go anywhere alone, don’t drink, don’t do drugs, and don’t have sex - break any one of these cultural mores and you will be the first to die.
Oh man, I definitely qualify as that character. Is this real? Am I in a horror movie, or is my life turning into a horror? I’m sitting here alone staring at an empty hell-mirror, on a Saturday, in the attic of the school library, like I’m in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not to mention, I drank alcohol and had sex with my boyfriend last night. Damn. It’s then that it dawns on me. The thing in the mirror might be real and it’s loose.
I shake off my irrational thoughts, fully creeped out by my silly ideas. But, the feeling of being watched slinks in. I can’t tell if the feeling is real or my imagination. That’s it, I’m ready to bequeath the mystery of the mirror to someone else and give up my “the girl who dies first” role. I move to leave, only to find the attic door locked.
“Mother Biscuit!” I say to no one, and take several deep breaths trying to quell my rising panic. I guess this is happening. Thankfully my pragmatic side takes over and shoves my overwhelming fear into a box, pushing it deep down in my soul where it can be ignored.
I should have expected it, the locked door. I’ve seen this part a hundred times on TV and in the movies. I’m about to die. Augh! Why couldn’t I be more than a B-list actor in my own life story?!
I press my forehead to the door in defeat and contemplate the very real possibility of a very gruesome death in my very near future. I assess my life and how I’ve lived it. Disappointment and sadness wash over me as I realize I didn’t do a very good job of keeping “me” safe, of protecting “me”. There were so many times I didn’t stick up for myself or argue for myself because good girls are supposed to smile and accept it, only bitches push back. Good girls don’t fight, good girls are quiet, and good girls don’t have contrary ideas.
I think of every time I was taken advantage of, taken for granted, and ignored. How bullies thought of me as an easy mark because I'm small. How some men thought I should worship them because I'm plain. How I was dismissed as stupid because I'm shy.
Something inside me breaks, like a tiny twig snapping in two. It’s a strange sensation to have a piece of you break free. First, there’s a pause in my soul as if it’s taking a breath. Then a noticeable shift, as if my soul is taking a step forward moving me into a different space. Finally, I get angry, really angry. The kind of anger that someone who’s been shit on all their whole life feels when they just can’t take anymore - that kind of anger. Wave after wave of rage washes over me as my mind clicks into place realizing that I’m about to be food for some ghoulish fiend because someone thought I was an easy mark.
I’m not taking it anymore. I took it. I played my part and did it make me happy? Did I win the game of life? No! Here I am –about to face my doom. The end of a very mundane and boring life. I made no mark on the world, no extraordinary accomplishments, nothing remarkable at all. A total B-lister. Well, it’s time to get A-listed.
As a woman with only moderate defensive skills, learned during a fling with a Judo instructor, I don’t feel ready for this fight. But I do feel waves of blinding rage, and I’m smart. I know how this is going to play out. I’ve been here a million times in a million ways. It’s time to change the game.
I pound half-heartedly on the door a couple of times, knowing, of course, that no one will hear, anticipating that while I’m focused on getting out, something will be circling in.
I keep my head turned behind me and call out in a weak whimpering way, “Help, somebody, help!”
If that’s not a call to dinner I don’t know what is.
As sure as pigs are made of bacon, it's crawling towards me on the ceiling.
Of course, it is.
Fueled by my boundless fury I don’t feel the fear or terror. I want revenge. This thing is going to pay for every wrong that was ever done to me. Every one.
It sees me watching and drops down to the floor, smiling its crooked smile, I can tell that it thinks I’m easy. This fuels my ferocity.
I feign paralyzing fear and wait for it to get close.
Its face comes near to me, strange because it’s my face – or it looks like mine. It sniffs me, like a dog.
My hand darts out punching its windpipe, but there’s no effect. I sweep my feet under its legs to topple it with success. Jumping over its form I turn and kick it while it’s down. I think of all the injustices I’ve endured, three, four, five kicks to its gut, chest, and face.
Stunned, it rolls over in a prone position and moves to get up. Nope, not going to happen – because this isn’t a fair fight. I jump and land with all my weight and might on its head. My foot slams its skull, and I hear a sickening crack. I stomp again and again until my foot passes through to the green goo inside. It lays there motionless. My boot is covered in green gunk. Gross.
The door clicks to unlock, a sure sign that it’s dead. Extricating my foot from its face hole I shake off the excess goop from my boot and make my way to the door, trailing one footprint of guck on the floor as I go.
Closing the door to the attic, I look back at the dead creature on the floor and wonder, who will clean up the mess? Not me, that’s for sure. But I wonder who will come to check on me, or rather – the creature.
I have no taste for vengeance against someone insane enough to make a deal with that thing. I’ll let Karma work those issues out with them. I’m tired, emotionally drained, and ready to take a bath. I enter the stairwell and head down the stairs toward the parking lot.
As I reach the landing on the second floor I bump into Mr. Brandy, our school janitor carrying a mop and a bucket. A tall fit man in his early forties, with short-cropped brown hair and a beard. He wears the navy blue uniform of his trade.
"Hello, Mr. Brandy," I say firmly, looking directly into his eyes. This is unusual for me. My shyness often gets in the way. Not today.
Looking stunned and maybe perplexed Mr. Brandy responds in his faded Scottish accent. "Hello, Janet. What brings you to the library on a Saturday?"
Smiling up at him, I speak, "Oh, I came to clear out some books to make room for our new shipment that arrives next week. I'm the newest librarian, so that job gets put on me. You know how it is." Unsure if he's friend or foe I tell him only half-truths. Puzzled by the mop and bucket, I ask, "Why are you here Mr. Brandy, and why do you have a mop and bucket?"
"I got a call about a water leak, I'm here to investigate it. Figured I would need it," he says, looking down at his mop and bucket. He notices the green goop on my boot. "What happened here?" He says, pointing to my shoe.
"Oh, I stepped in something," I say, poorly dodging his question. Ready to make my exit, I start to feel anxious about being alone with him in the stairwell, so I add, "I have to get going. It was nice chatting with you. Try not to work too hard," Then move forward and down to the next few steps, putting some distance between us.
Nodding his head, as if he understood all that was unspoken, he starts moving up the stairs.
Almost to the door of the third floor, he calls down to me through the well of the stairs. "Janet!"
"Yes Mr. Brandy," I call back from the ground floor. My hand is on the exit door to the parking lot.
"You should use baking soda and hot water to get the green ghoul blood off your shoe, or it'll stain. Those look like nice boots, that would be a shame."
Shocked by what I think is a clear admission of his guilt and crime, I responded by asking the big question, "Thank you, Mr. Brandy, for the advice. But I'm curious, why did you keep that thing in the attic?"
"What thing?" He calls down. "Have a good weekend, Janet," reaching for the door he leaves the stairwell, presumably in search of a water leak.
Later at home, soaking in my bubble bath and relaxing, I contemplate how I didn't die in the attic, and that feels good. I'm no longer the "girl who dies first in a horror movie." I'm an A-lister. I can handle anything. But I'll keep my distance from Mr. Brandy. I don’t want to think about what he’s up to. I just want him to stay away from me. I think he will. I’m not the easy mark I used to be. I smile at the thought.