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In the hall of mirrors

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

The old house creaked and cracked as the storm intensified on the third and final day of what she considered a well-overpriced, dreadfully dull stay. It was a long shot, thinking this would amount to anything. The reviews online, while frustratingly lacking specificity, assured readers, this house would provide answers.

It was unbelievable. 100% worth it. Never felt more at ease. I was so riddled with anger before this house, anger at the world, anger at my girlfriend and my family. The rage just wouldn’t stop. I think what happened in this house permanently fixed me. In spirit with the community – I won’t tell you what happened, just know it’s worth it. - @jhensonfan1

I emptied my savings for this experience, and I would do it again. Shit really hit the fan and rocked the boat before this house. This experience revealed so much more than I could have imagined. It unlocked something. I hope I’m not saying too much or giving anything away. I don’t want to guide the experience for anyone else. Just keep an open mind. [email protected]

Honestly, I bought into this bc of the hype. I thought if anything I was gonna prove this a big hoax. Had money to burn and a pretty unshakeable ego. I was a conceited asshole, surprise, surprise. Either way – it’s all real and worth it. I wish they allowed repeat bookings, but at the same time, it’s pretty slick to just experience it once. Cherish it. - @sk8esl8e

It was out of character for her to take this leap. Kat considered herself a skeptic – hard evidence, no fun at parties, sort of lady. Growing up, this personality trait was isolating in an orthodox religious community. But her uncle, not subscribing to these beliefs, embraced her inquisitive nature fully but carefully, as to not risk banishment from the family. With him, no questions were off limits. She could ask why and spout sarcasm. She could explore without being seen as a naysayer or non-believer. And even though she left the “cult” as soon as she turned 18, her uncle’s death sent her into regression. She was more insecure than ever. Death wasn’t a concept she faced before, at least not with anyone close. It threw her pragmatism on its head. She realized her ‘life plan’ had more or less come to an end. Graduate high school and college and get a job. Then what? Apparently, slowly make your way to death.

She was irritated with herself. All this privilege and still depressed. Good job, great husband, a couple of cute cockatoos for some god-forsaken reason, but she remained miserable. She wanted to be content with what she had, but on the other side of that coin, needed more. To do it all. Thanks, social media.

Whenever she griped about feeling stuck in her path, her uncle would say, “It’s not about the money, Kat.”

She’d roll her eyes in response, “Easy to say when you already got it.”

It took him dying for her to see his point - though she didn’t know what it would be about if it wasn’t money. So she searched. Therapy, drugs, mystics . . . all the typical bullshit. She even tried religion again. Well, if you count snoring through the church service “trying.” Nothing helped. Nothing mattered.

In his will, she was left a keepsake box with little knick knacks she gifted him as a child as well as a $20,000 inheritance. Very generous considering he left behind a husband and 3 sons. It was, however, caveated with the request to “Take this and explore beyond your bounds.” Incredibly frustrating as it would have helped pad her retirement. When she finally went through the box, she spotted a little black book - definitely not hers - nuzzled beneath a couple of toy race cars. It took her over a year to read through it. It made her miss him more, but one entry catalyzed this chilling weekend:

I felt so lost since the birth of our third child, falling short as a father, as a husband. But this experience, this sobering mansion of mystery - gave me a path forward. It’s as though the notes were laid and I just had to play them. I can’t put it to words, and if I did, I would get locked away for losing my mind. Though I’ve indeed found it.

It went on in some capacity saying a lot, while saying nothing at all. What the hell was the point of writing something so vague? He was always so thickly metaphorical. God, she hated that.

God, she missed that. She missed asking him what he meant, and how after his explanation, the metaphor would stick in her head like a song.

She found the mansion of mystery. The price tag was absurd, but she had the inheritance. Her uncle would certainly approve the splurge.

The tumultuous storm outside enhanced the dilapidated features of the house, increasing its eeriness. But nothing remarkable had happened beyond her feeling more alone and unseen. She spent hours crying and grieving. She wandered miserably through the vast halls of the house, her grief turning to rage.

“Day 3!” She yelled into the corridor. “NOTHING AGAIN?! I should have at least brought more than weed to fill the fucking time!”

Maybe her own skepticism stopped the house from “working.” How obnoxious is that? You have to believe for this to work?

No internet, no tv, no entertainment. She read a couple of dusty books. Even attempted writing in her own little black book, but found she whined too much for her own taste. Better to voice it into the void rather than cement it in writing.

“You’re an idiot, Kat!” she yelled, “Why don’t you just go home?! A house can’t solve you!!!”

“Because I’m an idiot!!” she yelled back at herself in a bellowing voice. Maybe the magic of this house was allowing her to lean into full blown insanity.

Then, a plain wooden door with an elaborate handle caught her eye.

Odd. Surely she would have noticed this before. While the door itself was plain and unassuming its intricate gold handle was unlike any she had ever seen. Would it be wrong to take it? Might as well get something from this weekend.

Instead, she cracked the door open as the lightning flashed, giving her pause. Explore beyond your bounds. She inhaled deeply and pressed forward. Behind the door was a vast hallway, no end in sight, filled with ornate floor length mirrors, each more stunning than the last. The door closed slowly behind her. Rather than pay attention to the signs of every horror film she had ever seen, her quick rationale said it was a heavy door with loose hinges - no big deal. She paused in front of a beautiful emerald-green framed mirror. She looked into her own eyes, and saw her sadness, her pain, her lifelessness.

She sighed, and with that the reflection shifted. Kat’s eyes widened. “What the fuck?” She looked behind her, for a camera or projector or something that might explain this cinematic trick. Nothing.

She must be high. She’d read about breathing in old mold or fungus - maybe that’s what was “magic” about this house.

Having dealt with her fair share of mushroom trips, Kat’s returned her gaze to the reflection now stepping into a kitchen, with two little girls squealing around her. The Kat-reflection was tired but filled with love for those girls. Kat pressed her face against the glass hoping for a better view. She recognized that part of herself. The part that could have children; the part of her own biology and instinct she pushed aside. She just didn’t want them. But she always wondered if she would be happier embracing this “natural” order of life.

She peeled her face off the mirror and moved on to the next, thinking the scene would extend beyond the kitchen, offering clarity in the potential for herself. But she was looking back into her own eyes again, with the wall of mirrors again in the backdrop. The kitchen, gone.

Her reflection married her movement for a split-second before stepping back again, this time into a dark, empty park. Track marks visible on her arms, clearly high, clearly a mess, but a grin as wide as a semi-truck. A version of herself that had given into vice. The reflection elated, but tragically alone. Amazing what good drugs can do. Was numbing pain such a bad thing? Was it so wrong to embrace solitude to avoid disappointing people?

The next mirror revealed her in a big city wearing a power suit and smoking a cigarette. Kat always thought she could pull off smoking, though never tried it. The reflection confirmed her hunch. If only she could muster a semblance of ambition and disregard for her lungs to match this woman. She shook her head and walked on to the next.

The reflections went on and on - offering glimpses of happiness and horror. Each of her traits, regardless of their weight, took center stage. Some seemed so impossible while others all too probable. The reflections of joy were unattainable; the horrific reflections inevitable; and the realistic were slightly different angles on her persistent boredom. While she related to each reflection, she wanted none of them.

She moves on and sees a catatonic reflection, staring out a window in a psychiatric hospital - definitely inevitable.

Laundering money. Too risky.

Betraying her family. Highly likely.

A bloodied knife over a lifeless body.

She screamed and recoiled at the face of her victim. Curled in the fetal position she howled and sputtered as another boisterous crash of thunder shook the hall. The next blast set off an explosion from mirrors she had yet to see, setting off the rest, one by one. The explosions quickened and the glass shattered around her. Her reflected selves screamed with her, anguished. Rejected.

Kat cried louder and harder, unsure if her cries were emboldened by the glass cutting her skin or the fear of the trauma this obscurity would offer.

When the explosions stopped, she wiped her nose and pushed back her tears. There, ahead of her, the door handle, even more beautiful than she recalled, offering an escape. She stepped forward and shook the glass off her body, wincing at the fresh cuts. The glass crunched beneath her feet as she stumbled forward. She paused when the crunching stopped. Beneath her torn up shoe, was her rejected little black book. She must have dropped it.

Reaching to pick it up, she sees in the broken remains of mirrors around her reflections scribbling away in the notebook. Different versions of herself presented in the mirrors, each exploring the paths she saw ahead. Focusing in on one shard, a scene in a big city appears, floating above the pages as she writes, of a shrewd business woman with a take-all attitude. She constructs the woman’s issues, pains, successes like she’s solving a complex mathematical equation. The reflections shift. She’s now writing in a coffee shop, and above the pages a woman filled with love and exhaustion raising her children, unable to disentangle the urges to smother them in love or with a pillow. The drug addict comes alive on the pages presenting a sympathetic narrative for embracing whatever relief you can find in this world.

She just sees herself writing. Not publishing, or achieving notoriety. There’s no evidence these stories go anywhere or make an impact. But she sees her sense of self return as she explores her possibilities, even if imaginary.

She picks up a final shard of glass as the reflection writes horrific details of a murder committed. It looks up at her and smiles, knowingly. Kat tilts her head to the side, “Well,” she thinks, “I guess I can do it all.” She laughs at herself, places the glass in between the pages and leaves the hallway.

Tera Brown
Tera Brown
Read next: I See You
Tera Brown

I'm exploring writing as a creative outlet - I like to punch things up with humor and satire, while exploring the components of what make us human. I write a weekly newsletter at theuneditedword.substack.com

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