Friday, October 11, 2019
BELOW THE SURFACE
By Randy Romero (Randy Benivegna)
Monday, October 7th.
Redfield, New York.
Frank Burke was enjoying his first beer of the evening when in walked Darby Wilkinson, or Wilks as the guys called him down at the plant. He offered to buy Frank a beer, and Frank was never one to turn down a free drink. He was surprised his liver was still going after all these years.
Ridgewood Tavern was virtually empty, but Frank knew the place would be packed by eight o’clock for Monday night football. Ridgewood was Frank’s favorite spot in town. He stopped in every night for a few drinks after his shift.
Frank and Darby worked together at the Redfield Chemical Plant. It wasn’t a dream job for either man, but it paid the bills. But there were always rumors surrounding the plant, and questions that Frank and Darby never dared to ask their superiors.
“How you been, Frank?”
“I can’t complain. How’s the family?”
“Great. Nadine and I are doing well. And we just celebrated Devin’s tenth birthday.”
“They grow up so fast. Well, wish the kid a happy birthday for me, will ya?”
“Sure thing. Hey, did you hear about Crackerjack?” Darby said. Jack Halsey, disparagingly referred to by the guys at the plant as Crackerjack, had worked with Frank and Darby for a period of time. Then he quit to work for the county.
Frank couldn’t remember who started it, but one of their co-workers referred to Halsey as Crackerjack, and the nickname stuck due to his questionable mental state. Halsey was a nice enough guy, but anybody who talked to him could tell he had a few loose screws.
“No, what about Halsey?”
“Kicked the bucket. Heart attack.”
“I wonder if it had anything to do with his little breakdown,” Darby said.
“What do you know about that?” Frank asked.
“Not much. I heard he wigged out at work a month before he died. Why, you know something about it?”
“Only what Halsey told me.”
“And what did he tell you?”
Frank took a big sip of his beer and shook his head. “You wouldn’t even believe me if I told you. I sure as shit didn’t believe him.”
“Tell me anyway. This I’ve got to hear.”
“Well, keep in mind this is Crackerjack Halsey we’re talking about here. But apparently the county was having him repair a busted sewage pipe. The sewers underground here are just a bunch of interconnected tunnels. Very easy to get lost down there if you don’t know the way. Well, according to him, he saw something at the end of one of those tunnels.
Came out looking white as a ghost. That’s when he quit. He wouldn’t talk about it at first. Then one day he told me. I was sitting right here and he came in for a drink, sat down next to me, and he whispered it to me. Said he saw a giant spider, as big as a Great Dane, he claimed. He said it was sitting in a tarp-sized web with raccoons and possums and other tiny animals all wrapped up tightly in silk thread. Said it looked up at him with eight giant eyes and hissed before he ran like the wind.”
“Sounds like something Crackerjack would say.”
“The story itself didn’t scare me. What scared me is how much Halsey seemed to believe it. I mean, who knows what’s really down there, below the surface. And I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors regarding the plant?”
“I try to keep my eyes and ears to myself at work.”
“The Redfield Plant has been accused of dumping chemicals in the past. I know it sounds crazy, but what if they’ve been dumping chemicals into the sewer? And what would happen if something was exposed to that toxic waste?”
“So you’re starting to believe Halsey’s giant spider story?”
“I know one thing, they haven’t sent anybody down into the sewer since Halsey. I’ve got a buddy who works for the county. He says nobody will go down there. And I’m telling you, they’re hiding something from us at the plant. What if they’ve really been dumping chemicals down there like some people say?”
“Giant mutated spiders,” Darby laughed and polished off his beer. Then a hideous thought began to dawn on him.
“Oh, God no…”
“What? What is it?”
“My son wanted a baby alligator. He had it for a few weeks. I told him it died when he was at school one day. But it didn’t really die. My wife was pissed at me for buying it. She didn’t want it in the house. She made me flush it down the toilet…”
By Randy Romero
Carol Abrams took a deep, arduous breath as the elevator doors shimmied open. She stepped in slowly, warily, and exhaled another deep sigh as the elevator doors closed with a light thud.
Carol suffered from an extreme case of claustrophobia. But when you live on the thirty-third floor of a forty floor apartment building, you learn to combat that fear.
It sure beats taking the stairs.
She continued taking deep, laborious breaths as the elevator descended. Its mechanical hum sounded like a power drill in Carol’s skull.
Trapped. That’s how she felt. Confined inside a steel box that had haunted her since she was a little girl. The intense anxiety was enough to make her heart race. She could feel her throat starting to tighten up. She needed to get out of this steel contraption ASAP.
She took soft, weak breaths as it became more and more difficult to breathe. She started silently counting all the floors she had left. Seventeen, sixteen, fifteen, fourteen, thirteen…
The elevator finally reached the ground floor, stopped. But the doors refused to open.
She jabbed the first floor button several times with her index finger.
The doors didn’t open and the elevator resumed moving, traveling down to the basement level. But it didn’t stop there.
She pounded against the doors, frantically mashed all the buttons with her palms. Screamed for help until her throat was coarse. The air felt thin all around her. She pressed the emergency stop button which was unresponsive.
“This isn’t possible,” she cried. “This can’t be happening.”
But the elevator seemed to disagree as it continued its subterranean descent.
After what felt like an eternity to Carol, the elevator came to a sudden stop. The doors slid open and she peered out into the darkness.
A thick raspy voice, like the sound of glass on a chalkboard, greeted her.
“Who are you?” she said, trembling.
“Oh, I have many names…Lucifer, Satan…But I’ve always loved the Prince of Darkness.”
“This isn’t happening…it’s not real…I’m just having a really bad dream.”
“I’m afraid you’re not dreaming. You died Carol. Car accident just a few days ago. And now, you’re here. This is your reward for your sins. Everyone’s hell is different and you are now trapped in your own private hell. Forced to take that terrifying descent over and over. You will spend eternity trapped inside that box.”
“I don’t belong here,” Carol said. “This is a mistake. It’s all a big mistake. If I’m really dead, then I belong in Heaven.”
“There’s no mistake. Have you forgotten about your mother, Carol? Your ailing mother who depended on you for every little thing. You grew sick and tired of waiting on her hand and foot. A little untraceable poison in her soup was all it took. What did you call it to make yourself feel better? A mercy killing? I think that’s the phrase you used to justify it to yourself. I think your mother would have disagreed.”
The elevator doors started to close.
“Wait!” Carol cried out.
“Going up,” the Prince of Darkness said and waved goodbye with one red, clawed hand.
The doors banged shut and the elevator began to ascend.
Thursday, September 26, 2019
By Randy Romero
Billy Kincaid was huffing and puffing the entire hike. He stopped periodically to rest against a tree while he hacked up a lung. Smokers cough. That’s what his doctor called it. The same doctor who’d been urging him to quit for months. But Billy was stubborn and refused to give up the habit.
Kristen Kincaid was ahead of him every step of their hike. Billy’s body wasn’t cut out for this. Worse than the struggle to breathe was the throbbing, aching sensation in both of his knees. He was practically falling apart.
“Come on smoky,” Kristen said. “Try and keep up.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call me that,” he groaned.
They came to an incline in the trail which led to the top of a tall hill.
“Let’s take a break,” he said, breathing laboriously.
He found a log at the bottom of a hill and sat to catch his breath. Kristen rested her backpack against the log, opened it up, and dug out her Nikon digital camera.
“I’m going to run up the hill and get a few photos.”
“Have fun with that,” he said and waved her away.
He stretched his sore legs, accidentally kicking Kristen’s backpack. The bag tipped over, its contents spilling out.
Among the items in her backpack, Billy spotted a strange looking doll. He reached over and picked it up. It eerily resembled him. The likeness was uncanny. Two pins had been jammed into its knees. And two identical pins had been hammered into the torso, right about where his lungs would be.
He examined it and accidentally put too much pressure on the back with his thumbs, causing him to wince as a bolt of pain shot down his spine. He dropped it into the dirt, and another shock wave of pain surged through his body.
The pain was so intense, he failed to notice Kristen’s return. She picked up the doll and dusted it off. “Neat, huh? This was worth every penny.” She drove two fingers into the abdomen, splintering his ribs. He fell to the ground, thrashing in pain.
“I know you’ve been sleeping with his secretary. Did you think I wouldn’t find out? A wife always knows. As soon as I found out, I started thinking of all these different revenge fantasies. I thought about getting a gun and shooting you in your sleep. I thought about smothering you with a pillow or poisoning you. But in the end I settled for old fashioned voodoo.”
He tried to pick himself up and lunge at her, but she bent one of the legs and he felt his own leg snap. He crashed to the dirt, his screams echoing through the vast trails. She took the other leg and snapped it, and Billy felt his bones shatter.
She ended his suffering by ramming a final pin into the doll, right about where Billy’s heart would be. He died instantly. Kristen tucked the doll in her backpack and started walking the same way they had come. She would dispose of the doll eventually, right after she reported her husband as missing…
By Randy Romero
…Reports of a grisly murder, as a woman’s body was discovered just outside of Ravensville, Pennsylvania earlier this morning. We have learned that the victim is a young female between the ages of 25 and 30, though the police are refusing to release her name until they notify her next of kin. This comes just after the bodies of several other young women were discovered in an abandoned steel mill–
Jane clicked the radio off in a hurry. She couldn’t stand to listen to another word. It was nauseating. The papers and the news channels were calling the killer the Ravensville Slasher. The killer sliced and diced his victims, carved their bodies up like Thanksgiving turkeys.
Ravensville used to be a save place. Used to be.
The phone rang in the kitchen. Jane was one of the few people who still had a landline. She put her coffee mug down on the kitchen counter and walked over to the phone, picked it up from its cradle and twirled the cord around one finger.
“Hello?” Jane answered.
A familiar voice was on the other end of the phone, panicked and breathless.
“Listen very carefully, Jane. We don’t have much time. There’s a man after you. He’s already killed four people. And he’ll kill you too if you don’t stop him.”
“Who are you? What is going on? How do you know my name?”
“Because, Jane…I am you. The future version of you. But if you don’t stop this lunatic, both versions of us will cease to exist. Your present and future self will be erased.”
There was a sudden knock at the door that made Jane’s blood run cold.
“That’s him, isn’t it?” she whispered.
“Yes,” Jane’s twin said. “Hang up and call the police. Then go to the kitchen drawer and get yourself a knife. The one with the white handle.”
The knocking at Jane’s door turned to pounding.
She hung up and frantically phoned the police. Then Jane did as she was advised and retrieved a large kitchen knife from the top drawer, the one with the white handle.
The pounding continued as the crazed Ravensville Slasher rammed the door repeatedly with his shoulder. The lock could no longer endure the stress and the door splintered around the knob and swung open.
He was a tall, husky man, dressed all in black. His face was shrouded by a black ski mask with no mouth hole, only two holes for his piercing gray eyes. He clutched a sickle in his left hand. Jane was terrified, but she managed to stand her ground. She gripped the white handle of the knife tightly and dared him to make a move.
“Come and get me you son of a bitch.”
He charged across the living room, swinging wildly with the curved blade of the sickle. She moved out of the way just in time and ran circles around the couch, the killer giving chase. She ran around the whole living room, attempting to tire him out, but the man showed no signs of relenting. So she bolted for the front door, but he sprang towards her, the sickle slicing down her back, cutting deep.
She spun around as he raised the sickle again. She grabbed his hand as he tried to drive the sickle down, the blade mere inches from her face. She struggled to force the curved blade away, and managed to get one knee up, striking him between the legs. The sickle dropped from his hand as he crumbled to his knees.
She summoned all her strength to ram the kitchen knife into his chest, retracted it, then stabbed him again. And again. And again. She didn’t stop until his body was riddled with stab wounds and the beige living room carpet was drenched in blood.
She dropped the knife with a heavy sigh of relief. Jane heard the sirens in the distance. The police were close. The phone rang in the kitchen and she ran to answer it.
“Is it over?” a familiar voice asked.
“It’s over,” Jane sighed. She winced in pain from the deep gash running down her back. She let the phone slip from her and dangle from its cord.
The police were at her front door, staring inside at the body of the Ravensville Slasher. His reign of terror over. Ravensville was safe once again.
The police radioed for an ambulance and tended to a wounded Jane. The police had questions, but those would have to wait. And Jane had questions of her own, like the phone call that had warned her of the attack. Was she really speaking to her future self? How was it even possible? But those questions would have to wait, too…
By Randy Romero
Thirteen years of marriage was more than enough for Rachel Ellis. It wasn’t just Michael’s arrogance or his competitive nature. Everything about him sickened her; from the way he chewed his food, to the tacky ties he wore with his suits. Or how he expected Rachel to do all the cleaning, wash all the dishes, and fold all the laundry.
She might have been able to look past his imperfections and his vexing behavior, if it were not for his infidelity. That was the final strike. Rachel had hired a private detective, who discovered Michael had been having an affair with his co-worker, Cindy. And Patricia in human resources. And Linda, his boss’s secretary. And Annie, his supervisor. And Jackie from the mail room. Michael had been sleeping with half of the office he worked in. And this maddening discovery was all the motivation Rachel needed.
Two drops of poison was all it took.
Rachel had prepared a sumptuous feast that evening, comprised of braised short ribs, roasted red potatoes and baby carrots, sautéed mushrooms and broccoli rabe.
Michael devoured nearly the entire meal before he even touched his Merlot. Just as he was almost finished with his dinner, he reached for his glass.
Rachel watched in sheer ecstasy as her husband took a fatal sip of red wine.
He retched at the bitter taste, and his eyes turned red and teared up. His glass plunged to the floor and exploded into shards. His face turned red, then purple as he clawed at his own throat, struggling to breathe.
“I poisoned your glass when you weren’t looking,” she said, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “If it’s any consolation, it’s not just for the insurance money. This is for every woman you’ve ever fucked behind my back.”
She raised her glass in twisted celebration, drained it in one gulp, and soon she was on the floor with Michael, gasping for air as her face turned as purple as her husbands.
Sprawled out on the floor about five or six feet apart, they locked eyes.
“I guess it’s true what they say,” Michael said through ragged, laborious breaths. “Great minds think alike. You poisoned my glass, and I poisoned yours.”
“Why?” she cried.
“Insurance money. We were going broke. I needed the money and I knew you were sick of me and you’d try to leave me eventually.”
“I’ll see you in hell,” as she took her last breaths.
“Not if I get there first,” he said as his eyes fluttered, then closed forever.
Saturday, August 31, 2019
THE RAJANI CHRONICLES 3: WAR
BY BRIAN S. CONVERSE
Full disclosure: I have not read the first two books in this trilogy…yet. Having said that, it still didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying this expertly written work of science fiction.
A little backstory: Rajani aliens are at war with intergalactic space pirates known as the Krahn. Forced to flee their home planet, the Rajini recruit five humans to aid them in their battle. There’s James Dempsey, a former Detroit police lieutenant, and the leader of the humans. Gianni, the nephew of a crime boss, who tries to hide his shady past from the others. Kieren, Gianni’s love interest. Yvette, who is hiding a secret of her own from James. And David, who may not be all that he seems.
The humans have been implanted with Johar Stones, which bless them with powers beyond their wildest imaginations. The stones are not truly stones. They are symbiotic organisms that give the humans their newfound powers and abilities. Along with their human recruits, the Rajani are also joined by Sekani and Jirina resistance fighters, all united in their fight against the Krahn. Let the war begin!
The book begins with a short recap, to catch the reader up on all that they might have missed in the two previous novels. To put it mildly, there’s quite a bit going on in this book. But I mean that in the best way possible. It’s jam packed with action, adventure, intriguing characters, and unique subplots with unexpected twists and turns. This story is as wildly unpredictable is it is immensely entertaining.
There’s not much more I can say without giving vital parts of this story away. The only question is will the Rajani emerge victorious, or will the evil Krahn conquer their adversaries? Well, there’s only one way to find out: Pick yourself up a copy of this action-packed, Sci-Fi extravaganza and see for yourself! Now I’m going to have to backtrack a bit and acquire the first two parts of this epic Sci-Fi trilogy so I can truly appreciate this exceptional saga.
So pull up a seat, pour yourself a nice big glass of fernta (alien liquor featured in the book), kick back, and enjoy the final part of this brilliant series. This book is a true gift for science fiction fans.
You can find the paperback, hardcover, and Kindle versions of this novel on Amazon, along with the first two parts of the trilogy:
Thursday, August 22, 2019
By Randy Romero
The mirror never lies. It can be your best friend or your worst enemy. But no matter what angle you look from, the mirror always reflects the truth.
And that morning, the mirror was Dalton Pierce’s enemy as it reflected an unsightly blackhead forming on the tip of his nose. He couldn’t afford to look ridiculous on his big date with Cynthia Lambert.
Luckily, he had a tube of Proactiv blackhead dissolving gel in his medicine cabinet, and about thirty other creams, lotions, and ointments at his disposal. Dalton squeezed a few drops of gel from the tube and smeared it over the protruding blackhead.
Dalton is the kind of individual that certain shrink would classify as a narcissist. He’s so vain, he actually thinks that Carly Simon song is about him, and he wasn’t even alive when that song came out. His morning skin cleansing routine is so thorough and efficient, even Patrick Bateman from American Psycho would consider it overkill.
After applying the dissolving gel, Dalton covered the rest of his face with a cleansing lotion used to unclog pores and disinfect the skin. After the lotion set in, he used an exfoliating gel scrub to clear any dead cells from the surface of his skin. He let it dry for ten minutes while he brushed and flossed his teeth and gargled with mint flavored mouthwash.
Then he scrubbed the exfoliating gel off, and applied dry skin cream to his face, to keep his skin from drying out. Then a little Rogaine for his hair. He wasn’t even going bald. But he still wasn’t taking any risks when it came to his hair. And he followed up the Rogaine with a few drops of styling gel to slick his hair back.
When he finished up, he went from the bathroom to the bedroom and admired himself in the full-length cheval mirror. He lifted his shirt to get a better look at his abs.
“Getting a little flabby there, buddy,” Dalton said to himself. “Better do a few stomach crunches after breakfast.”
The cheval mirror was long and wide, rectangular, with a white frame. Peculiar, ancient-looking symbols were carved into the wood. He didn’t have the first clue what they meant. He had acquired it from a friend of a friend. He was going to order one off of Amazon or eBay, but when his friend mentioned he could save him a bundle on shipping, the choice was obvious.
The doorbell rang. Dalton wasn’t expecting company, but he assumed it was Travis Bolt. Travis was the one who had told him about the mirror. He was the Kramer to Dalton’s Jerry, always dropping in uninvited to raid the contents of Dalton’s refrigerator.
Dalton opened the door to Travis, who was scratching at the little red bumps on his neck. It looked like a rash, but Dalton being the expert, knew better. It was clearly razor burn. Razor burn that Travis shaves over every day, exacerbating the burn.
Dalton and Travis were polar opposites, but he appreciated a friend who was funny. And Travis never failed to make him laugh.
With his dark wraparound sunglasses, greasy, stringy hair, and trademark black leather jacket, Travis almost passed as a rock star. But Dalton had known him since high school, back when Travis was playing in garage bands. And not much had changed over the years. Travis was friends with lots of successful musicians, but he was still playing small gigs in bars, hoping for that big break that would probably never come.
Dalton never had the heart to tell him that. Travis was always passionate about music. He was the kid who would listen to his headphones during class and play the drums on his chest, or play air guitar during the guitar solos. It constantly gave Dalton a chuckle to look over at Travis’s desk and see him rocking away in his own little world. And Dalton didn’t think he was that bad of a guitar player. But Travis had never ascended to that next level in his music career.
“You got something on your nose,” Travis pointed out, letting himself in.
“Thanks for noticing.”
“You better hope Cynthia doesn’t notice. Tonight’s the night, right?”
“Yes it is.”
“Nice. Don’t forget, I want details.”
“You always want details. Why don’t you go out for once and get laid and then you could give me some details.”
“Please, with this face, I consider it a blessing when I get laid. The last girl I approached sprayed me with mace.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. You could get a nice looking girl. Maybe not a ten. But at least a five.”
“Gee, thanks for the support, dude.”
“Just try it. What’s the worst that could happen besides getting maced? You really need to get out of the house more.”
“But I like sitting in front of the TV in my underwear, eating Twizzlers and drinking Mountain Dew Voltage.”
“Then find a girl who’s into that. Look, I have to get ready. Just help yourself to something in the fridge and let yourself out.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Travis said, walking to the kitchen. He came back with a plate of food and said, “You’re out of chocolate milk again.”
“Just add chocolate syrup to milk.”
“It’s not the same.”
Travis didn’t even take a seat. Just stood up and chowed down in Dalton’s living room. Then he was gone as fast as he came. All Dalton had to prove that he was there was the dirty plate left on his coffee table.
After he finished up in the bathroom, Dalton did his morning exercise routine–pushups, sit ups, squats, jumping jacks, stomach crunches.
Then he went back to the mirror and noticed the unsightly blackhead had already dissolved. In fact, his skin was looking clearer and more vibrant than it had in years.
* * *
The sun never shines on Keith Cooper’s grave. The headstone rests in the shadow of a towering, majestic weeping willow tree. Travis likened it to the far corner of a room where the light could never quite reach.
“It’s good to see you, old friend,” Travis said, placing a six-pack at Keith’s grave. Keith always said, “When I’m dead, don’t bring me flowers. The fuck am I going to do with flowers? Bring me beer instead.” And Travis, respecting his friend’s wishes, was more than happy to oblige.
“I can’t thank you enough for the mirror,” he added. “I didn’t have much use for it myself. But I gave to a friend who can definitely appreciate it. He reminds me a lot of you.” Travis chuckled at the thought.
Travis had been in a garage band with Keith in high school. Of course, Keith went on to have much more success as a musician, until his untimely demise.
The wind whistled through the leaves and brittle branches of the weeping willow. Travis sighed. “I’ll never understand why you did what you did, Keith. You had the whole world in your hands. You had the money, the fame, the women. What made you do it? What made you pull that trigger?”
The wind picked up. It was no longer whistling. It wasn’t even howling. The wind was screeching, actually screeching like a banshee. It caused a sudden chill to rush down his spine.
“I should probably get going. Take care, old friend. Enjoy the beer. I’ll be back to see you soon.”
* * *
When it came to deciding on a place to eat, Cynthia gave Dalton the usual, “I don’t know. Wherever you want to eat.”
So Dalton chose the most expensive restaurant in town. A French joint. He found everything from the ambience to the decor to the menu to be pretentious, but Cynthia seemed impressed by his generosity. It showed her that he wasn’t afraid to indulge.
After dinner, Dalton played it cool. He offered to drop Cynthia off at home. But it was Cynthia who suggested they go back to his place for another drink.
Dalton turned on some music and got a bottle of imported wine from the kitchen. Cynthia was used to the simple life and would’ve been satisfied with a bottle of that cheapo wine that 7-11 sells. She didn’t even recognize the name on the label.
“Nice place you’ve got,” she remarked. “What’s the bedroom look like?”
This girl moved fast. Faster than Dalton had anticipated. Maybe it was the expensive dinner or the fancy wine that had her all worked up, but she was looking to sink her claws right into him.
Dalton was always on his game and ready for houseguests. “Upstairs. First door on the right. Make yourself at home. I’ll be right up.” He grinned.
Cynthia went upstairs to make herself more comfortable, and Dalton ran to the bathroom to freshen up and fetch a condom from the medicine cabinet.
He looked into the mirror, admonished his sparking clear skin. “It’s show time,” he said with a wink.
Dalton went upstairs. His bedroom door was ajar, the lights were on, but he didn’t hear a sound. “Cynthia?”
He walked in and recoiled at the shocking sight.
He watched helplessly as Cynthia was being sucked into the mirror. Only the lower half of her body remained. Her legs kicked and thrashed in the open air, her body sinking into the mirror like quick sand. The glass had taken on a liquid quality, like an open portal to another dimension.
He grabbed her by the ankles and tried to pull her out, but the harder he tried, the faster the mirror consumed her. His sweaty, shaky hands slipped from her ankles, pulling off one of her black heels in the process. It was all that remained of Cynthia Lambert once the mirror swallowed her whole.
“Cynthia!” he cried, pounding his fists against the now solid mirror. “Cynthia! Cynthia!”
“Calm down,” a voice said. Dalton turned around, facing the door. “Psst, over here, bud.”
He turned back to the mirror and stared at his own reflection in horror. “Yeah, that’s right. You’re not seeing things. Nobody spiked your drink. I’m really talking to you.”
“What did you do to Cynthia?”
“I didn’t do anything to her. It was the mirror.”
“This can’t be right. I must be going insane. I’m hallucinating. I have to be. Cynthia is still here. She has to be. Cynthia! Where are you?! Can you hear me?!”
“I’m afraid she can’t. Not where she’s gone.”
“Where is she?”
“The mirror has claimed her. Think of it as a sacrifice.”
“This is fucking crazy. I’m calling the police.”
“And what are you going to tell them? Please, run it by me. I want to hear how it sounds. You’re going to tell that your mirror ate your date? Give me a break.”
“This isn’t happening,” Dalton whispered to himself over and over. He was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
I’m going crazy, was his first thought. Then he reconsidered, had a moment of clarity amongst the chaos. People don’t just go crazy. Insanity is not instantaneous. It’s something that occurs slowly, gradually over time.
“Relax. You want to give yourself some gray hairs? Look at yourself. Look at your skin. You look better than you did yesterday, or the day before that, or the day before that. It’s not luck, pal. It’s the mirror. Take care of the mirror and the mirror will take care of you.”
“Don’t worry about Cynthia. Her body will never be found. As for you, my advice is to find yourself a new girlfriend. But don’t get too attached. The mirror can be quite demanding.”
Dalton spun around the room. There wasn’t a trace of Cynthia to be found, minus the heeled shoe he was holding in his hand.
“You may want to get rid of that,” his doppelganger said. “Toss it in.”
The mirror opened itself up and Dalton tossed the shoe in and watched the mirror swallow it. “Good boy. Remember what I said, take care of the mirror and the mirror will take care of you.”
There was no evidence that Cynthia had ever been there. He breathed a sigh of relief, calmed himself down. But his initial ease was briskly overshadowed by subsequent dread. He was too overwrought to think clearly. Fear had consumed him as the mirror had consumed Cynthia. What was he going to do?
The next day his skin looked even clearer than before, practically glowing. His hair was thicker, fuller. He looked almost five years younger. He couldn’t help but admire himself in the mirror. He didn’t even bother to do his morning skin cleanse. He didn’t need it. He was looking better than ever.
He ate breakfast and went straight to his morning workout routine. He felt different. He had barely even thought about the events of the previous night. If he could use the mirror to his full benefit, why not? Cynthia had no immediate family. Nobody was going to miss her, or any of the other girls that Dalton might happen to bring home. He couldn’t believe he was actually considering this. Was it the mirror corrupting him? Or had he always been this malevolent under the surface?
Noon came around, and so did Travis Bolt.
“I know this sounds awkward coming from another man, but you look good, dude,” Travis said. “What have you been using on your skin?”
“Proactiv,” he blurted out.
“So how’d it go with Cynthia? Tell me all about it. Details.”
“I don’t think it’s going to work out between us.”
“Really? That’s a bummer, man.”
“Hey, this might seem like a strange question, but where did you get that old mirror?”
“An old friend of mine. He used to be the lead singer for the Greasy Bandits.”
“Right, Keith Cooper. Didn’t he pass away? He died choking on his own vomit or something like that.”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“I’ll never understand these rock stars. They date supermodels. They should learn a thing or two about throwing up from these chicks.”
Travis chuckled nervously, but it was obvious he didn’t appreciate the joke. “Well, I really should be going,” he said, checking the time on his phone. He left without even raiding Dalton’s fridge.
Two nights later, Dalton went out on another date with Susie Quinn. Her name reminded him of the old Creedence song, Suzie Q. And though he found her intensely attractive, he refused to get too attached. He remembered what his doppelganger said about not getting too attached.
Of course he had to lead her on a bit. But that was only to get Susie back to his place. Then the mirror would take care of the rest.
They went back to his place and started getting undressed. He stopped and gestured to his lip and told Susie she had something there.
“Check it out in the mirror,” he told her.
She walked to the mirror. “I don’t see anything,” she said. She got closer and saw the glass distort and open into a vast portal.
She shrieked as the mirror pulled her in, her body being dragged by some invisible force, like a series of unseen hands reaching out through the mirror and dragging her in.
He plugged his ears with his fingers so he wouldn’t have to listen to her screams, and turned away as the mirror consumed her.
“I’m not a murderer,” Dalton kept telling himself. “It’s not me. It’s the mirror. I’m just providing a service.”
“That’s it, Dalton,” his doppelganger said. “Tell yourself whatever you need to make it easier. You’re absolutely right, you’re not a murderer. You’re not a bad guy. You’re just providing a service. Take care of the mirror and the mirror will take care of you. But I must warn you, this mirror has a voracious appetite. Its hunger is not easily satiated. You must be tough. Don’t disappoint the mirror.”
* * *
Tormented with guilt, he turned to Travis for vindication. He was right on time the next day, ready to take advantage of Dalton’s amenities and raid his fridge.
“Do you ever think about death?” Dalton asked. “I don’t mean in a psycho, serial killer kind of way. I mean, do you ever just ponder your own mortality?”
“Ah, I’ve been where you are before. The frailty of one’s existence is a terrifying concept. My advice is try not to think about it too much. Live in the moment, as cliché as that sounds.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right. Alright, another question. What about the mortality of others? Do you ever take that into consideration? Like, if someone was dying and you could help them, would you do everything in your power to prevent their death?”
“That’s kind of an odd, specific question. Are we talking about donating a kidney or something? I hope you’re not asking me to donate one of my kidneys. I need those to drink myself stupid.”
“Never mind,” he sighed. “I can’t explain it.”
“Something on your mind? I can tell something’s bothering you. Something happen with that new girl, Susie?”
“I really don’t want to talk about her.”
“Damn, man. Strike two. First Cynthia. Now Susie. Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll meet a new girl soon. I’ve known you since high school. You never stay single for too long.”
“What can I say, I’m a lucky guy.”
“You’ve got to throw some of that luck my way sometime,” Travis quipped. “Mind if I watch some TV here?”
“Never change, Travis,” Dalton laughed.
* * *
Dalton’s datebook was full. He couldn’t even remember the girls’ names half the time. That evening, he was at an Italian restaurant with Joan. He couldn’t recall her last name. Not like it mattered. He could read it in the newspaper when somebody inevitably reported her missing. But even if they were reported missing, they could never be found. And it never made its way back to Dalton. Nobody ever questioned him or came knocking on his door.
Dalton wined and dined Joan, gifted her a beautiful bouquet of flowers, and was as charming as ever. He knew how to put it on thick. It used to be an act to get girls to jump into bed with him. Now it was just a trick to lure them into his home and sacrifice them to that cursed mirror.
He got Joan upstairs and started unbuttoning his silk shirt. Joan slid her dress down to her ankles and kicked off her heels. She got a little too close to the mirror and felt something tugging at her arms. The invisible force drew her in towards the warped mirror. She fought back with all her strength and wriggled free from its tight grip.
Dalton tried to grab her but she raised one knee and struck him in the groin. He dropped to his knees, clutching between his legs.
“After her, you fool!” his doppelganger screamed. “Don’t let her get away! She’ll ruin everything!”
Dalton hoisted himself back up and gave chase. He caught her on the bottom step, hooked both of his arms around her waist. Her legs kicked in the open air, arms flailed wildly, voice raised to a hysterical pitch.
“Stop struggling, you stupid bitch!”
She clawed at one his arms and tried to sink her teeth into him. She was desperate. She’d do anything to escape his grip. But a strong blow to the back of the head quieted her down immediately. She went limp in Dalton’s arms and he dragged her to the mirror, watched as it slowly devoured her.
“What have I become?” Dalton asked himself, slowly realizing the error of his ways. That narcissistic fog that clouded his brain was starting to clear. He was finally coming to his senses.
“What have you become?” his doppelganger repeated. “You’ve become what the mirror has allowed you to become. Look at yourself. You’re an Adonis. You’re in the best shape of your life. You’ve never looked better. And it’s all thanks to this mirror. Take care of the mirror and mirror takes care of you.”
“I’m done taking care of this mirror.”
“Then you’ll rot.”
“I’m putting an end to this once and for all.”
He marched out to the shed and rifled through all the scattered tools. Dalton wasn’t a handyman, and he rarely did manual labor. He wasn’t one to get his hands dirty. But the tools were all hand-me-downs from his father. He picked up a ballpeen hammer, dropped it. Picked up a shovel, then tossed it aside. He went to a pile of tools stacked up in the far corner of his shed and dug around until he grasped the long handle of a sledgehammer.
“Perfect,” he said, holding up the sledgehammer, practically admiring it.
He returned to his bedroom and swung the sledgehammer with all his might. He was expecting the mirror to explode, shatter into a million jagged shards. He was anticipating a rain shower of glass. But the sledgehammer didn’t even put a crack in the mirror.
“What are you doing?” his reflection asked. “Can’t you recognize a good thing when you see it?”
“I want this mirror out of my life!” He swung the sledgehammer again and again, breaking the head off in the process.
“This mirror is your life,” his reflection informed him. “You live to serve it. You can either obey, or you can suffer the consequences of your actions.”
“So be it,” Dalton shrugged, dropping the handle of the broken sledgehammer.
* * *
Dalton woke the next morning to an intense pain in his lower back. He groaned as he sat up and slid gingerly out of bed. He hobbled to the bathroom. His whole body felt weak. He gasped at the hideous sight in the bathroom mirror. His skin was covered in bleeding sore and pus-filled blisters. They were all over his arms, his chest, his face. He looked about ten years older. He felt like it too.
His examined his yellowed teeth in horror. He ran one hand through his hair and a chunk came falling out. He returned to his bedroom and stared furiously at the cheval mirror.
“What have you done to me?” he shouted at the mirror.
“What have you done to yourself?” his reflection asked him back. “You betrayed the mirror. You thought this would go unpunished? You really are a fool. But it’s not too late to fix this.”
“I won’t do it,” he said emphatically.
“Then this is your fate.”
“Who are you talking to?” Travis called from the kitchen.
“Nobody,” he yelled back. “Be right down.”
He put on a long sleeve shirt and tried his best to conceal his decaying appearance when he came downstairs.
“You didn’t clear the timer on the microwave. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves. I swiped a Hot Pocket. Hope you don’t–holy Jesus! What the hell happened to you?”
“I’m sick,” was Dalton’s excuse.
“Sick? You look like a different person. I don’t even recognize you.”
“What can I say? I guess I’m really sick.”
“Sick? Nah brah. You look like you’re dying. I mean, no offense. But you look terrible.”
Dalton’s teeth were gritted. “Travis, do me a favor. Get the fuck out.”
“Alright, I know when I’m not wanted. See you around,” Travis said, taking his Hot Pocket with him.
* * *
By the end of the week, Dalton’s skin was all dried up. His hair was falling out in chunks. His teeth were black with decay. “Travis, I’m sorry about what I said. I need you to come over. I’ll tell you what’s really going on.” He hung up his cell phone and hoped Travis listened to the message.
He swung by an hour later.
“What’s going on, man? I really need to know?
“It’s the mirror. That mirror you gave me, it did this to me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Take care of the mirror and the mirror takes care of you.”
“What?” Travis asked, bemused.
“That mirror–and I know how crazy this sounds–has powers. It can do things I never thought were possible. It can make you look like a million buck. Or it can make you rot like what’s happening to me.”
“I’m so sorry, Dalton. I should have told you the truth about Keith Cooper. He didn’t die choking on his own vomit like the story goes. It wasn’t a drug overdose or an accidental death. Keith shot himself in the head. Before he died, he was rambling. He was making no sense. He insisted that mirror was cursed or something. I didn’t believe him. I thought he was crazy. I still do. But I should have told you. Look, whatever you think that mirror is, it’s all in your head. Just like it was with Keith. Don’t end up like him, man.”
“If you don’t believe me, come see for yourself.”
He stared into the mirror and saw Dalton’s perfect reflection. He looked young and vibrant as ever. Not the crumbling shell of Dalton that stood by his side.
“Dalton, I’m sorry, man. This is all my fault. I should’ve listened to Keith. I just didn’t believe him. I didn’t think it was possible.”
“Hello, Travis,” the reflection said. “Come to eat all of Dalton’s food? Or is it you who’s on today’s menu? This mirror has a demanding appetite. What do you say, Dalton? It’s your call.”
“Take him,” Dalton said.
“What?” Travis said as the mirror snatched him with its invisible claws and reeled him in.
“You made the right choice,” his doppelganger said.
“I have a deal,” Dalton said.
* * *
Did I unplug the coffee pot? Arnold Green wondered as he drove down the road from his house. Most kids his age drank soda or chugged energy drinks, but Arnie was addicted to coffee. And drinking it made him feel more mature.
Arnie had it rough. Seventeen years old and has face was acne scarred and covered in blackheads. He had dandruff and wore corrective lenses, drove a crummy car. None of the girls at school would date him. He worked the fryer at a local fast food joint, the oil clogging his pores and adding to the scattering of acne across his cheeks.
Arnie sipped his coffee and drove slowly through the neighborhood. He never went above the speed limit.
He slowed down in front of the Anderson’s house and pulled up to the curb. They were having a garage sale.
The mirror instantly caught his eye. The intricate, ancient looking symbols carved into the wooden frame were very unusual and intriguing.
“How much?” Arnie asked.
“For you, kid, thirty bucks,” Mr. Anderson said.
“I’ll take it,” he said, gleaming.
* * *
Dale Hendricks was Arnold’s only friend. He shared Arnie’s acne affliction and never had any luck with girls his age. Arnold had him over that day to play the latest installment of Call of Duty.
“I still don’t know what possessed you to buy that mirror,” Dale said.
“Yeah, I don’t know what came over me. It’s like I was hypnotized by it. But I’m not going to try and take it back. I don’t mind having it. It’s cool.”
“A mirror? Cool?”
“Yeah, you don’t see too many of the old mirror stands like that nowadays. And I’m fascinated by all the symbols carved into the frame. I wonder what they mean.”
“It’s probably gibberish,” Dale laughed.
Arnold paused the game. “I’m going to get some coffee. You want some?”
“Ew, no. I still don’t understand how you drink that. Got any Coke?”
“I’ll check,” Arnold said, excusing himself.
He returned when his coffee was ready. “Sorry, we don’t have any Coke, but we’ve got–” Arnie gasped and dropped his mug to the floor. The hot coffee seeped into the carpet, but that was the furthest thing from his mind.
He watched in utter disbelief as the mirror finished consuming his friend.
“Hello, Arnie,” his doppelganger spoke to him. “You probably think you’re seeing things, going crazy. Trust me, you’re not. This mirror has powers beyond your wildest imaginations. It can help you, Arnie. It can change your whole life.”
“What are you talking about? Where is Dale? What did you do to him?”
“Dale can’t be helped. But you can. When Dale’s parents call and ask about him, tell them he left hours ago. They’ll file a missing person’s report. The police may ask you a few questions. But they won’t suspect a thing. And no body means no evidence.”
“This isn’t happening,” he whispered to himself.
“But it is happening,” his doppelganger said. “Take care of the mirror and the mirror takes care of you. Sleep on it. I have a feeling you’ll change your mind in the morning.”
Arnold didn’t get much sleep that night. But he was amazed when he saw himself in the mirror. His skin was clear, his blackheads had vanished, his acne scars had disappeared. He was practically glowing. His hair looked thick and lustrous, no dandruff flakes in sight. It was only after a minute of admiring himself in the mirror that he realized he wasn’t wearing his glasses. For the first time since he was twelve, he could see clearly without his glasses.
“Looking good, Arnie,” his reflection spoke. “I hope you’re feeling spry. We’ve got some work to do.”