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.”