By Paul O’Neill
Birute Vijeikiene/ Shutterstock
Rain drums the roof of my car as I try to unscramble my thoughts, get my game face on. I’m sitting in my car outside my house. Vodka oozes out my pores so much I can taste it. I should never have driven home like this.
Michelle’s inside. I can’t bear the thought of her glaring at me with her green eyes. She says all the right words, but those eyes know I’m no good. It drives a silence between us that I don’t know how to climb out of.
The rain pummels, bounces off the pavement. It’s so heavy it sounds like the encroaching sea crashing over everything.
“We can’t stay out here forever, Peter,” I say to myself, setting a hand on the doorhandle. “Time to face the music.”
Maybe that’s what I need. Maybe it all needs to come out. My secret has been hovering at the back of my throat for months now. I’ve held onto it for far too long.
By the time I walk to the front door, my shoulders are sodden with summer rain. I swear as my arm scrapes the doorframe on the way in, taking some skin off.
It’s only a matter of time before my bosses realise I’ve been drinking at work, sneaking a bottle of Glen’s vodka into my desk. It started as a way to perk myself up, drown my guilt away. I couldn’t remember the last time I went a full day without gulping at my vodka. Sometimes the bottle felt like my only friend.
If only everyone would stop staring at me, surveying my soul. It was like they could smell the badness in me from a few feet away. Like it seeped out of my skin, offending them.
The homely fare of tomato pasta drifts through to me. My Michelle always cooks up a storm. Always doing her best, no matter how much I hide.
“You deserve better than me,” I say, sneaking into the downstairs’ bathroom.
Rainwater warms its way off my back as I lean on the sink, close my eyes, block out the mess in the mirror that stares back at me.
I expect to hear Michelle calling, but she continues singing a tune in the kitchen. Something about something being beyond the sea, watching for me. The image of her dancing about, being a big silly, makes the tears start to rise.
Whenever I try to speak with my future wife, I end up being nippy, snapping the conversation off. I’m no good. And I can’t tell her why. I won’t risk chasing her away.
I sigh, run my hands through my hair that hovers just above my shoulders.
“You need a haircut, bub,” I say. “Haircut. Shave. Fully functioning brain. That too much to—”
Something glimmers at the edge of the mirror.
I trace my finger along it. It leaves a wet, liquorice blackness on my fingertip. It smells rancid, like salt mixed with rotten, squishy mushrooms.
Why can’t everything just be normal for a while? Why does it feel like my brain is going to go pop, bye-bye, see you later, terminator?
The roaring barrage of crashing waves drives its static way into my head. I cover my ears, try to kill the yell that marches its way up my throat.
Something shifts in the mirror.
The sallow image of me morphs into a scene of an empty beach at night. Choppy waves explode over the sand, stretch their way to me.
I lift the mirror, bring it down on the tiled floor. It breaks apart, shards making their brittle snapping sounds as pieces of the mirror explode everywhere.
Michelle is standing behind me, oven gloves on her hands.
“It… It fell off,” I say. “What? Can’t an accident happen in this house? Stop looking at me like I’m a stranger.”
She leans close, takes a dreaded sniff. “You’ve just smashed up my mirror and you reek of the booze, and you’re gonna stand and tell me don’t look at you? What’s going on with you lately, Peter?”
“I don’t need this right now.”
“I’ve had enough of you, you know that? Help me out here. I’d really like to know what’s going on inside that head of yours. You’re not right.”
“You notice that, did you?”
“No need to be a complete dick about it.”
I stare into those green eyes, melting at the sight of the tears I’ve drawn from her.
“You cheating on me?” she says, crossing her arms, hands still inside oven gloves.
The laugh that trickles out of me escapes before I can stop it. Michelle flinches like I’ve pinched her.
“Be easier if I had,” I say.
“I hate this. Something’s killing you inside and it’s taking our relationship with it.”
The roaring of waves lights up my skull like white static. I can feel Michelle’s heated, disappointed glare as I stare at the floor. There’s murky water about me. Too much to be from me dragging in the rain from outside. The water seems to be seeping out from individual pieces of mirror.
“Well?” she says.
A confession is clambering up my gullet, ready to spew forth, sparkle ruin over our relationship. How could she know the real me, what I’ve done, and stand by my side?
“I think the time for you sharing whatever’s eating you has past,” she says. “If you’re gonna be this way with me, maybe we call it off. I can’t deal with you like this. Whatever is killing you, I don’t want to know anymore.”
I take a breath in, hold it. The confession jerks back down to the pit of my stomach in a struggle. I simply nod, slide past her. My heart breaks a little when I reach to touch her shoulder and she leaps away, out of reach.
“I-I need to go.”
“Don’t you dare get back in that car. You’re still pissed. Peter?”
“I love you.”
It’s nighttime, and I’m perched at the end of the hotel bed, elbows on knees, head in hands. How did I get to this point in my life? I have everything. I should be happy.
The hotel is only a mile away from our house. I can’t see the ocean from the window, but I can hear the waves crashing.
The remains of the July day mix with the tumble drier scent of the duvet. I stand, pace around the small room. Two mirrors stand on opposite walls. From here, I can see the beginnings of that forever reflection thing mirrors do when you turn them on one another.
Why do hotel rooms have to have so many mirrors? Last thing I want to do is look at myself.
The roar and cannon of the waves increases. Should I be able to hear it as loud? I’m not close enough to the sea, but it sounds like it’s creeping nearer, about to splatter my window with forgotten sea things.
I throw myself onto the bed, head sinking into the hard pillow.
Tears blur my vision as I stare at the dark ceiling. “I left you there. I left you.”
You ever felt a love strike like lightning? A love that erases every sensible part of your brain, floods you with pleasure until you can’t breathe without her? That was my Rebecca. She used to say I was her forever thing. We were going to go the whole distance.
It had been a night just like this one when it happened, except the rain. All the time we walked hand in hand along the beach, my heart clip-clopped in my chest, weakening my words.
We took off our socks and shoes, messed about in the salty foam. I laughed so hard my abs ached for days after, a reminder that it hadn’t been a nightmare.
Rebecca always had her superstitions and beliefs. It was one of the things that drew me to her. On that night, she’d stared at the moon-sparkled sea, said the reflection in the water was the biggest mirror there was.
Mirrors are more than you know, is what she’d say when passing any mirror, leaping past it as if she couldn’t stand to be touched by its reflection.
The icy water shocked my bones that night. We made out, smiling all the while, getting deeper into the water.
What happened next happened because I got too cold, waded out of the water, shivering.
I got to the shore, hugging myself. Her voice reached me like splinters of ice. I turned, started to make some joke about the waves breaking and the smooth mirror not being so smooth anymore.
The joke died on my lips. Her white, white hand was all I saw. She battled against the tide, being sucked under by some unseen hand.
I got back into the water, called her name until my voice grew hoarse, but I couldn’t find the point she’d been dragged under.
It was too dark.
I was too late.
I knew with everything inside me that I needed to dive deeper, go in after her. This was the girl who made me snort-laugh like a pig, but I froze. Just stood at the top of the beach, watching the waves. Watched the moon play its night colours upon the water. And I walked away, shook the cold off, headed back up the beach in a daze.
No one knew we were at the beach that night and I kept it that way.
Her parents didn’t know about me. They thought she was out with friends. The short-lived media hunt called for people to look out for sex villains in vans, people who’d slip things into the drinks of young girls and carry their plasticine forms away forever.
No one knew I’d left her to the sea. Watched her be washed away, down into the green midnight deeps.
I shoot up so fast my neck clicks. Streetlight dances through a gap in the grey, starchy curtains.
The voice drifts to me again, coming from the corner of the room.
I move slowly over to the mirrors that face each other. At the bottom corner of one of them, a bead of water falls down the frame, into the dense carpet. The mirror looks like it’s sweating. It stinks as if I’ve stepped in a scum of black seaweed.
“I’m going mad,” I say to myself. “It’s catching up to me after all these years and I’m going off my head. You’re not really here.”
The blood seems to fall out my face, making me cold all over.
From this angle, I see the edges of a vision in the mirror’s silver surface. More water sweats down the frame.
“I left you there.” My hand trembles as I lift it to my face. “I left you there. You’re in my head.”
Mirrors are more than you know.
My sock splodges on the sodden carpet, licking my sole with a sick warmth. The waves sound very close now. Ready to burst through the mirror. Ready to take me under.
I suck in a breath that puffs out my chest, step in front of the mirror, brace myself. For a brief moment, I see endless versions of me front and back, stretching on forever. Then the night beach returns.
It’s as beautiful as it was the night I lost my Rebecca. When the stars sparkled and the moon laid its still hands on the water. Before the waves came from nowhere, sucked her down into its green forever. A waft of sea salty air paws at my face.
Something moves in the vision.
She’s coming out of the water.
Her hair clings to her face, covers her eyes. The dress she was wearing that night is so wet it makes her look half naked. Her legs gleam through the gaps in her fishnet tights.
Shame laces my gut at the automatic arousal that’s flooding my groin. I miss her so fiercely. I just want to reach out, hold her, tell her how sorry I am.
Her snappy, off-kilter walk is what kills off any desire. She drags one foot behind her, drawing a line in the wet sand. The stench she brings is of slimy things best left in the deeps.
She stops a few paces from the edge of the mirror, lifts her head like it’s too heavy for her shoulders. Black water oozes down her face, over her smiling, cracked lips.
Her smile widens, becomes unhuman. The sight tugs at my inner alarms. I take a step back, almost fall onto the bed.
Her lips move. Her voice sighs its way into my head.
You left me here. I thought you were different, Peter. I thought you were my forever thing.
“I didn’t mean to. I… I’m sorry.”
She stands closer now, right at the edge of mirror space. If I reach out, I could touch her. Trace my fingers over her pale, pale skin. That skin dangles loose from her bones, weighed down by dark water like shifting bruises.
My forever thing.
The voice is a hiss. I can feel my guts churn, flooding cold, liquid promise into my bowels. Everything in me screams go, go, go. Run. Back to Michelle. Confess.
I’m rooted to the spot, held by her silver gaze.
“This can’t be real,” I say. “It can’t. You—”
Water froths out the bottom of the mirror, hits the carpet, covers my feet. Slick lumps of seaweed move across the room in the rising water.
She’s reaching for me. Will she pull me through? Or will this pale version of Rebecca come through to my world?
I punch the mirror. Cracks turn the image into many Rebeccas smiling. I lean back, aim my foot at its centre, then pick it up, hurl the heavy thing at the wall. Water and laughter still seep out the cracked, splintered images.
I need something to break it with. An old-fashioned telephone sits at the end of the desk. When I pick it up, Rebecca’s awful cackle blares out its speaker.
Be my forever thing.
I haul the phone out its socket, bring the black plastic down on the mirror that lies flat on the wet floor. Brittle slithers of mirror fall away as I pummel it, ignore the pain in my hand and the tears down my face.
My lungs fill with the salt and rot of the sea. The water flows over my knees.
I can still hear water cascading. Rebecca laughs behind me. For a flash, the taste of her cinnamon-laced perfume she always used to wear has me tilting my neck, praying for heaven.
Her image is in the mirror behind me. Her moonish grin splits her face. She’s real close now. One more shuffling step and she’ll be into the real world.
I throw the telephone with all the might left in me. It hits home, spidering the mirror into a thousand cracks before the stand crumples in on itself like two playing cards giving up.
I give that mirror the same treatment. Soon, it’s just a collection of silver cubes glinting.
The water starts to recede into the carpet and I wonder how much of it has leaked down into the pub below.
From next door, an elderly sounding lady is shouting, telling me she’s calling the manager.
I stare down at the mirror, willing my heart to steady its march. What’s just happened here? Was my Rebecca really about to break through into the real world? Or was I utterly insane with guilt?
You never forgot me, did you?
My heart lubs its panic in my ears as I look about me for the source of the sound.
You never left my thoughts, even on the way down. Down, down into the green silence where unseen things touch you, slither about. You should be with me. My forever thing.
“Leave me alone.”
It’s been such a long time waiting. Waiting where you left me. Waiting for you.
I imagine her white fingers slipping around my wrists, gathering me into an embrace I can’t break, taking me down into the swirling dark.
“You’re not my Rebecca. I watched you go.”
I’m Rebecca and more.
Next door, the old bag pounds on her side of the wall, tells me I’m no good.
I need to get out of here. Need to go home to Michelle, break all the mirrors we own.
The water moves a brittle square of mirror against my knee. In its surface, Rebecca smiles a wormy smile.
Mirrors are more than you know. I mean to have you and to hold you my forever thing.
“I shouldn’t have left you there,” I say, feeling my eyes sting hot.
The mirror changes, showing me a house. My house. In the vision, Rebecca slides and slumps up to my front door, a trail of oozing water left in her wake.
I barge my way past the frightened manager of the hotel, register the crinkle of his nose at the stink.
The rain bleeds its way through my T-shirt as I make my way to my car, start it up.
How could I have lived my life so blind? I’m racing home in the car, willing the old Peugeot to have some giddy up it just doesn’t have.
The rain falls like it’s never fallen before. It lashes in streaks, bounces off the roof of the car, steams the road with its ferocity.
I’ve turned the rear-view mirror around, covered it with a cloth, and yet it drips seawater onto the dashboard. There’s a puddle forming under the windshield. In it, Rebecca smiles at me.
I slap the water, which covers my hand in black grit.
If I’d told Michelle the truth of what I did, would she have forgiven me? Shared my burden?
Stones from our driveway drift as I bring the car to a halt, throw the door open, head for our home.
I rush inside. The smell of a homely dinner is still on the air.
My voice bounces back at me like no one has lived here for a long time.
I flinch when I walk through the living room, past the huge circular mirror in the centre of the wall.
The reflection is just me. A drowned rat in the darkness, skunking about like a night creep.
I move my hand slowly in an arc, wave at my reflection. It mirrors the movement back at me. There is no Rebecca.
“I made it all up.”
Silverware clattering against sink draws me to the kitchen and the woman I don’t deserve. It’s time to let it all out. Tell her about my secret shame.
“Michelle?” I open the door, talk to her back. “I… I know I’m a prick. It’s about time I told you everything. All of it. Whether you leave me, hand me in to the cops, whatever, you need to know. You deserve to know.”
With a trembling hand she lifts a fork, places it on the tray, puts her hands back in the murky, bubbleless water.
When I step forward, my boot splashes a small puddle. I stare down. There’s an inch of water rising from somewhere I can’t see. The smell grabs me by the nostrils with its salt fingers, makes me gag.
With a liquid movement, she turns to face me. It’s my Michelle, but her eyes are empty as a lunatic’s.
“Talk to me,” I say.
A streamlet of black scum slimes down her chin, drips on her chest.
“My forever thing,” she says.
“No.” I step back, arse hitting the counter, ignoring the jab of pain. “No.”
“We can be together now.” Her voice clicks with gunk and mucus. “Like you promised me.”
“Leave Michelle alone.”
“I’ve been waiting so, so long, Peter. I drowned every day. I made it back to you.”
The hot stench of her knots my stomach. I turn my head, throw up thick green bile into the rising water.
“Look at me,” says the thing that used to be Michelle.
My mind can’t put together what’s in front of me. It’s like I’m looking at two things at once.
I try to blink the feeling away as she steps closer, disturbing the black water.
“Come with me and we can be forever,” she purrs over the slime in her throat.
Michelle reaches for me with her smooth hands. Those hands that held me in the worst of times. Soothed me when I needed soothed. This woman had been everything I ever needed, and I didn’t let her in.
When I glance at the water, my soul nearly vanishes out the top of my skull.
After the point where Michelle’s feet touch the water, the reflection is all Rebecca. Her head is facing down at me, her eyes ablaze.
Outside, the rain continues to pummel the window. The roar of the ocean builds between my ears, calls to me.
When she speaks again, her voice is double. Michelle’s hearty way of talking mingles with Rebecca’s playfulness, creating a snake-hiss that licks the corners of my skull.
“Say you’ll be my forever thing.”
About the author: Paul O’Neill is an award-winning short story writer from Fife, Scotland. As an Internal Communications professional, he fights the demon of corporate-speak on a daily basis. His works have been published in Crystal Lake’s Shallow Waters, Eerie River’s It Calls From The Doors anthology, the NoSleep podcast, Scare Street’s Night Terrors series, The Horror Tree, and many other publications. You can find him sharing his love of short stories on twitter @PaulOn1984.
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