This story is by Coleen Holley and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
The old mirror stood in the corner, the same place it had always been. As a child, when his parents visited his grandfather, that creepy mirror was there, in the room he stayed in. Duncan hated it then, he hated it now. It was a huge thing, with a wooden frame that looked like twisted driftwood surrounding an oval looking glass. The stand had two ‘feet’ where the edge of the driftwood came to a knotted end curving around the bottom of the aged, decrepit mirror.
Grandfather had passed away several years ago, a miser. He’d had a lot of money but never spent it on what was important. People. Family. Friends. The estate was falling apart. It had been in probate and his mother had finally gotten it settled. Now began the process of clearing out all of grandfather’s belongings. The mirror, of course, was among those things that could be auctioned off to pay all the taxes.
He reached out with an old rag to clear the cobwebs away from the mirror. The frame was worn with years of grease from fingers touching it. The stains on its dark wooden frame were almost sinister in their shapes. Like twisted remnants of the souls that had gazed into that mirror and seen the echo of themselves reflected back and seeping into its frame.
The glass itself was dark, with flecks of green, gray and black. The scientific reason for the spots was moisture that had seeped between the frame and the glass, where the aluminum coating was too thinly applied.
But he knew the real reason.
He remembered the day he had told his mother he would not stay in that room if the mirror was there. He’d been gazing into its depths, trying to ignore the imperfections in the glass. He’d seen his own face, he was sixteen then, dark hair hanging in his green eyes. He didn’t know if the defects he saw were part of the glass, or part of him. Every time he looked in that mirror, he thought he saw images in the background, but when he turned around, they weren’t there. Once when he reached out to try to clean a black splotch from the glass, it had flexed under his fingers. Like it was hungry and his hand was lunch.
He’d told his parents he wouldn’t sleep in that room with the mirror, but instead of moving it, they’d moved him. They put his little sister in that room, with that monstrous mirror. Now she was gone. His grandfather had blamed it on a pedophile. A man the police had said was preying on children in the neighborhood. They’d caught him, an old homeless man. Dirty, disheveled, a vet who had no place to go, they’d pinned his sister’s disappearance on him. The poor old man had only been asking for a meal. Duncan knew it wasn’t the old man who had taken his sister.
He’d told himself it was ridiculous. It was his imagination. Years of staying in that room when they visited with that grim mirror and its twisted wooden frame had finally caught up with him. He’d pressed his fingers against the glass, and they’d gone right through it. In the ripples of the surface, he’d seen a dark forest and glowing green eyes peering at him. He’d sworn he smelled the dank, fetid scent of decay. He’d run from the room. His parents didn’t believe him.
His mother said it was his imagination. His father said he needed to lay off the drugs, that smoking marijuana could make you hallucinate. He didn’t do drugs. Oh, sure, like any teenager he’d tried it, but all it did was make him sleepy or have the munchies.
Ten years later, and this mirror still made his skin crawl. He ran the rag across the surface of the glass with care. He didn’t want to touch the thing with his bare hands.
Nothing happened — this time.
Duncan wiped more filaments of dust and old spider webs from the mirror. He thought once again how the gray spots looked like a mouth, the black ones like fingers, and the green spots were the eyes. The surface of the glass seemed to rebound in a wave. The ripples showed the dark shapes of forest and…were those gray shapes people?
This time he called his mother over, “Mom, hurry or you’ll miss it, again.”
His mother, now in her mid-fifties but still slender and graceful, came over, “Not this old thing again. I know your grandfather told you stories about that mirror, but they were just stories. You know what happened to Mel had nothing to do with this mirror.”
He remembered the day that Melanie had gone missing. She was six. He shook his head. He never should have let them put her in that room. He should have stuck it out. Maybe she’d still be here. Maybe the mirror wouldn’t have taken her.
He could still smell that putrid stink.
“Watch mom. Just watch,” he said as he brushed the glass with the cloth. Nothing happened. His breath escaped his clenched lips with a hiss. Of course. As soon as someone was watching, the mirror stopped its strange behavior. He wrapped the rag around his knuckles and punched the mirror as hard as he could.
It did not shatter. It gave way as his fist connected with the glass. Like a pond rippling around a pebble skimmed across the top. The glass parted and his arm disappeared into it up to his shoulder. He braced his feet and grabbed the edge of the frame with his free hand.
His mother gasped and grabbed him around the waist, pulling him back out of the mirror. They collapsed in a heap on the floor. “Duncan, I…” She started shaking, “I never believed you. Your father, he said you were smoking pot and that you had a bad trip.”
“I didn’t do drugs mom. Dad did. He thought I did because some of his stash was missing once. He thought I took it. I didn’t, my friend Pete did.” He extricated himself from the tangle of limbs he and his mother had become when they’d landed on the floor, “This mirror…it’s evil, Mom. It took Mel. Not that old man, this mirror.” He looked at his arm, it had scratches on it, like something had clawed him, trying to pull him into the glass.
She sat stunned, but looked away from the mirror. “Your grandmother used to tell me stories of how my nana would chant to this mirror, how she had to keep the worlds separate. I never paid attention to her stories. It’s been in the family for generations. Dad couldn’t part with it. Even after mother’s death, he refused to get rid of it. In all the years I’ve been in this house, seen this mirror, listened to my mother and Nana’s stories, I have never seen it do that.” She smoothed her clothing as she stood. The mundane motion couldn’t hide the tremor in her hands.
“Mom, we need to destroy this mirror. It…it ate Mel. I know you don’t believe it. You never believed me. But you saw what it just did. I don’t care how many generations it’s been in the family, it’s malicious. How many kids did you say Grandmother lost? Three? How? They were all abducted? They ran away?” He stood and took his mother by the shoulders, turning her to face the mirror. “Look at it, Mom. It took Mel. It tried to take me. Did Grandmother ever tell you why she chanted to the mirror?”
His mother’s eyes went wide, “She said Nana was calming the spirit of the mirror. To keep the other world from entering our world. It was all a bunch of nonsense. You know how old gypsy tales go. There’s always fairy folk and other realms in gypsy legends. Your great-grandmother was Romanian and had stories for everything. I never paid any heed to her ramblings that the mirror had to be appeased. Now I am sorry I didn’t.”
“Didn’t you ever wonder? I mean, you never once saw this mirror do anything…weird?” Duncan asked.
“No, Nana kept it cleaned and polished, and my mother did as well. When your grandmother died, dad kept this mirror, and I never knew why.” She took the cloth that had fallen from my hand when she pulled me free of the mirror, and wiped a spot from the glass that hadn’t been there before.
The new splotch was red, like blood. Duncan’s blood. Melanie’s blood. The blood of all those it had swallowed before taking Melanie.
Duncan’s mother hummed as she wiped at the spot on the mirror. She turned to face Duncan. “You’d best leave now. You know this mirror can be dangerous.” Her humming took on the soft overtures of a chant.