fiction, horror, old work, short stories, Uncategorized

Under Glass

Written 2010/edited Halloween 2011

I wrote this during a mini writers’ retreat with my friend Brittany Harrison back in 2010. We’d decided to do a Frankenstein-style writing challenge, since it was spooky season and our isolated rental cabin in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina was very conducive to imagining horrors. When I decided to put out a few short stories as an ebook a couple of years later, this was one of the ones I included. I think I’ve grown quite a lot as a writer, and I wouldn’t call this representative of my writing now, but people have enjoyed it and I think it has some good moments. Let me know what you think!

“But you said I could go!”

    “I said you could go if you kept your grades up, young lady, and I told you what would happen if you didn’t.”

    “But Aunt Laurie–”

    Adie’s mother folded the report card and set it down on the pristine kitchen counter. She clearly would rather have thrown it on the floor. “I will call Aunt Laurie myself and tell her why you’re not coming,” she said. “Or you can explain to her why shopping with your friends was so much more important to you than your visit next month.”

    “That’s not–”

    “Don’t you raise your voice to me, young lady, or you’ll regret it.” Her mother pointed out the door. “Now go upstairs and do your homework. Dinner’s in an hour.”

    Adie glared. “I’m not hungry.” Her stomach rumbled as she spoke. The air was heavy with the aromas of baking bread and homemade tomato sauce, and she hadn’t eaten anything since lunch. But some things were more important than her mother’s spaghetti, and New York was one of them.

    Adie’s mother looked heavenward, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “All right. Then go upstairs and go to bed. I don’t want to see you until morning.” With that she turned back to the cutting board and began dicing celery with harsh, uneven strokes. Adie knew that the conversation was over.
    She grabbed her backpack and stormed from the kitchen, down the hallway and up the towering stairs. She made sure to stomp hard on each beige-carpeted step. When her mother didn’t come out and yell at her, she stomped even harder. All right, she would go to bed– and then she’d get up early tomorrow, eat breakfast and leave the house before either of her parents woke up. Right now she wasn’t sure if she wanted to see them ever again.

    The trip to New York was a long-delayed birthday present from her Aunt Laurie, who had been one of Adie’s dearest companions until she’d moved away last fall. The thought of calling to tell her aunt that the trip was off was enough to make her gut clench. Tears blurred her vision as she opened her bedroom door. She threw her backpack on the floor, then went down the potpourri-scented hallway to the bathroom to brush her teeth. She would go to bed. Right now she’d rather be dead than face the knowledge that her own stupidity had lost her New York.

    In the bathroom, Adie squeezed a healthy glob of toothpaste onto her toothbrush and shoved it into her mouth. She winced as it rammed the backs of her gums and bruised the inside of her cheek. As she brushed (tops… bottoms… insides… outsides… twice all over…) she watched the reflection of her face in the mirror. 

The girl in the mirror was an unfashionable sixteen. She had frizzy hair and an awkward nose, and her shirt was stained from a spill at lunch.. Her cheeks were wet with tears; her eyes were red and swollen. This was the kind of face you had when you were hopeless. When you weren’t going anywhere. When you would spend Christmas break alone with your own stupid parents… and when, worst of all, you weren’t going to New York because you were stupid.

    She spat her toothpaste into the sink, then spat again to clear the remnants from her mouth. Now the girl in the mirror had little dribbles of toothpaste foam all over her lips and chin. Her nose had begun to run. She looked ridiculous. 

Adie wrapped her arms around herself and stood staring at the girl in abject misery. So stupid. Why had she ever even thought she would make it to New York? She was probably doomed to stay here and rot, like an unharvested pumpkin in the world’s worst field. 

    A little more toothpaste ran down the chin of the girl in the mirror. Despite her foolish appearance, there was a glint in her eyes that Adie didn’t much like. She looked mocking. Mean. She could understand why people wouldn’t want to be around a girl like that. She wouldn’t want to be around herself, either. She just made everyone angry. It was probably for the best that she wasn’t going– Aunt Laurie would probably have regretted inviting her even if she’d gone. 

Adie glared at the girl, and the girl glared back. “Fuck you,” Adie whispered. She wiped the toothpaste from her mouth with an angry fist.

    The girl in the mirror watched her dumbly, as if she hadn’t understood what she’d said.

    On a whim, Adie licked a fingertip and wrote– in big, neat block letters– on the surface of the mirror: FUCK YOU

Then, to make it even clearer, she wrote it backwards. 

    When she looked back at her reflection, her stomach dropped. The girl was not looking at her. She was looking at the message Adie had written, and her lips moved as she read the words. When she’d finished, her eyes widened. Slowly, she lowered her eyes to stare at Adie. 

It was not a nice look.

    More than an hour later, as Adie lay shivering in bed with the blankets over her head, her mother came into her room. She knew that it was probably her mother because she could smell her mother’s neat floral perfume over the faint tang of her own unwashed laundry. Well-pressed chinos swished efficiently to the center of the floor and stopped. 

The woman who was probably her mother stood quietly for a long time. Adie lay in the warm darkness under her blankets and wished that she could be sure. “Still mad?” her mother said finally. The sound of her voice was blessedly familiar.

    Adie shrugged. She hadn’t actually thought much about the argument since seeing what must have been a hallucination in the bathroom mirror. She still shuddered just to think of the malice in her reflection’s eyes.

    “Do you want to talk about it?” her mother continued in her calm, reasonable way.

    Adie snorted. Tell her mother she was hallucinating? Sure, that would smooth things over.

    Her mother sighed. It was a soft, gusty sigh, quite restrained: the sigh of someone who has too many troubles to welcome another one. There was also that extra trill of exasperation at the end that had always been reserved for Adie. That, more than anything, convinced her that it was safe to come out.

    Adie pulled the covers from her face and sat up. The air was a cool shock against her face after more than an hour between the blankets. Her mother, who had already started to leave, stopped in midstride, looking surprised. Adie didn’t usually get out of a sulk until at least a day after she’d started it.

    “Still mad,” she said quickly, lest her mother wrongly assume that all was forgiven. “But I’ll… I’ll come downstairs.” 

    “All right,” her mother said, looking bemused. “Go wash your hands and then come set the table.”

    Adie approached the door to the bathroom as if it were a dragon’s cave. Her heart was pounding. The light was out, and since the room had no windows it was as dark as a real dragon’s cave would have been. Adie snaked her arm around the doorframe and felt for the switch. For a harrowing second she was sure that something would bite her hand off, but then she found the switch and light flooded the bathroom.

    Her hair stood on end as she crept inside. There was something wrong with the mirror. At first Adie couldn’t make sense of what she saw. There was a strange crosshatching over the surface of the glass, so thick in places that it almost looked frosted. It covered the entire surface of the mirror, top to bottom and edge to edge. It took her a moment to realize that the marks were scratches, gouged into the surface of the glass as if with a screw or a nail. They grew larger and wilder the farther down they went, until at the bottom they were a nest of angry gouges that took up half the mirror.

    Adie reached out automatically to touch the glass. The scratches were quite deep, rough to the touch. It would have taken a lot of work– and a lot of anger– to produce them. Gradually her mind found patterns in the chaos– and then it all clicked into place. From top to bottom, side to side, the scratches spelled out the same two words, written over and over again until they culminated in a ragged scrawl across the bottom:


    Something moved behind the glass, and drew Adie’s eyes to her reflection. The girl behind the mirror was almost hidden behind the destruction she had wrought, but it was clear that she was pleased with herself. She smirked at Adie, and mouthed two words. Though Adie could not hear them, she understood them clearly.

“I just don’t see how you did it,” Adie’s mother said the next Saturday. “You were only up there for an hour– some of those scratches were a quarter of an inch deep!” She was leaning against the kitchen counter, overseeing Adie’s punishment breakfast of cold cereal and milk. For Adie’s parents there were pancakes and coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice. The smells in the kitchen were a glorious torture to Adie, who usually looked forward to Saturday breakfasts all week.

She watched wistfully as her mother sliced fresh cantaloupe and poured real maple syrup into a jug for the table. “I didn’t do it,” she muttered for the thousandth time.

“Then who did, Adie?” her mother snapped, clearly losing patience with Adie’s protestations of innocence. “Only you and I were in the house, and I promise you I didn’t carve ‘Fuck you’ all over your mirror. Are you suggesting that some criminal broke in and did it?” She looked as if she wanted to throw something. 

Adie rather wanted to throw something, too. She shrugged, looking down at her plate. What could she say?

The new mirror for her bathroom was delivered within a week of the old one’s demise. Under her mother’s direction, Adie had cleaned and polished the bathroom to a sparkling sheen, and the air was heavy with the remnants of chemical vapors. The mirror itself was larger and more elaborate than the other one had been. It had a beveled edge where the other had been plain, and a border of frosted-glass roses that Adie wanted to run her fingertips over. She stole glances at the glass as her father installed it, and as her mother polished it to a brilliant clarity. There was nothing unusual in their reflections. Adie began to hope.

After dinner that night, she crept toward the bathroom with butterflies in her stomach. Once again she reached through the doorway first to turn on the light. New mirror or not, there was no way she would ever set foot in that bathroom without the light on. Across the flawless counter, she laid out her things: toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, mouthwash. Then she looked up.

For a long, still moment, Adie stared at her reflection, and the reflection stared back at her. Neither of them moved. Around them, the house was quiet. Downstairs she could hear the news, and over it her parents’ quiet voices. Nothing was out of the ordinary.
    She slowly let out the breath she must have been holding for ages. In the mirror, the girl let out a breath, too. The two of them smiled at each other, then reached for their toothbrushes.

But as Adie squeezed toothpaste on her brush, her reflection continued to smile. The smile grew until it was a savage grin, full of sharp white teeth much larger than Adie’s own. 

Adie shrieked and leaped backwards. She hit the wall hard, and a towel rack jabbed into her back. The thing in the mirror shrieked, too, and then began to laugh. As Adie doubted her senses, the thunder of footsteps began coming up the stairs: her parents, coming to see what the matter was. Adie wanted to tell them to hurry, please, help her– but the thing in the mirror had wrapped its fist around the toothbrush in its hand, and was advancing towards the mirror. Adie covered her face just as the mirror shattered.

When her parents reached the bathroom doorway, they found Adie crouched amid a sea of broken glass, still covering her eyes and weeping hysterically. Of the thing in the mirror there was no sign– only a little flicker of motion in one of the shards of glass that littered the floor.

This time the mirror was not replaced. Instead, her parents began to talk about “special care” and “seeing a therapist” when Adie was around the corner. She barely heard them. She was too busy finding, to her horror, that reflections were everywhere. She caught glimpses of herself in windows, in pot lids, in the blades of table knives. Though she kept her eyes lowered, and tried to avoid anything reflective, it always came to her, anyway: a flicker of motion where nothing was moving; a flash of teeth in the corner of her eye.

One night, as she was going up to bed, she paused in her bedroom doorway. Across from the door, next to the closet, was a full-length mirror that her mother had bought for her at a flea market years before. It was very pretty, with a carved wooden frame the color of oxidized copper. She had always loved it, but since the night the first mirror was defaced she had kept it well-covered. Now the sheet she’d hung over it lay on a pool on the floor, and the mirror stared back at her unguarded. 

She was stopped by her reflection. It had grown pale and drawn from many nights without much sleep, and the skin under her eyes was so dark that it looked blue. Her hair was an  unkempt mass, and her clothes were out of place: she never checked her appearance anymore. It was no wonder her parents had taken to talking about her in hushed voices from around the corner. The changes in her appearance startled even her. 

Just as she remembered that she should probably look away, the girl behind the mirror stepped forward. 

Adie was out the door and halfway down the hallway before she’d registered what had happened. She had just enough presence of mind to sneak back and yank the door closed. Something seemed to tug against it when it was almost shut, and she gasped and held back a scream as she wrestled it into place. When it was closed, she grabbed a handful of blankets from the linen closet, minced back across her doorstep, and pounded down the stairs as fast as her legs could carry her. 

Her parents were in the kitchen, talking in low voices again. They stopped when they heard her go into the living room. “What are you doing, Adie?” her mother called, in that careful, sweet voice she’d taken to using when addressing Adie personally..

Adie spread the lightest blanket across the old tweed couch. “I’m sleeping down here tonight.” She’d given up explaining her actions; they never believed her explanations, anyway.

She heard a flurry of whispers. “Uh… all right, honey,” her father said. She heard him close his paper. “Good night.”

She stacked most of the throw pillows at one end of the couch, then spread the other blankets on top of them. As she curled beneath the covers in her makeshift bed, chairs scraped in the kitchen. A moment later, the kitchen light went out. Now the living room was black and infinitely vast, but Adie didn’t care: it was a familiar darkness, and felt safer than the compromised space that had been her room.

With her vision thus lost, Adie’s ears grew sharper. She listened as her parents climbed the stairs and continued down the hallway to their room. They were still whispering, as if they thought she didn’t know what they were talking about. Someone stepped on the creaking board outside her bathroom. She heard the hallway light click off, and the darkness around her deepened. A moment later, her parents’r door squeaked open and shut.

Now the living room was an alien wasteland, alive with black shadows that moved when she tried to see them. She pulled a blanket all the way over her head. It had the same vague odor of mothballs as everything else in the linen closet, although Adie’s family never used mothballs.

She tried to reassure herself that everything was safe. Her parents were probably still awake. They always sat up for a while after they’d changed into their pajamas, talking and reading and settling down to sleep. She could see the clean white light of their reading lamps in her mind’s eye, and could nearly hear the placid murmur of their voices. It made her feel a little better to remember that they’d hear anything out of the ordinary.

Then she remembered the menacing stare of the thing behind the mirror. It had come from the bathroom to her room so easily– had haunted the kitchen and the car and the corners of her mind. What was to stop it from traveling to her parents’ room, as well? Reassurance twisted into regret, and she wished that she could go and warn them. 

The house grew very quiet, and into the silence there came a dream. Adie was walking, holding in her arms a long wrapped parcel: the mirror from beside her bed, safely covered once again in a sheet with little hearts all over it. 

Something was thumping and thudding against the glass inside the parcel, struggling to get out. There was a sour, unhealthy smell coming from the sheet. Adie knew that if she didn’t lock the mirror away it would get her, and then maybe it would assume her face and go and kill her parents, too. She tried to shoulder open the sliding door of her closet, and as she did so fingers rose from beneath the sheet and began to pinch at her arms and shoulders through the cloth. She screamed, and shuddered, but at last the door slid open.

“You are nothing,” hissed a voice inside her ear, just as she was wrestling the mirror inside. “You are food.” Sharp teeth bit into her neck just as Adie hurled the mirror into the corner. She heard it crack, and saw the sheet start to fall. Heart pounding, she leaped backwards and dragged the door shut just as something began to emerge from the shower of broken glass.

For a moment, there was silence. Then something began to scrabble against the door.

Adie screamed herself awake– and then was not sure she’d woken up at all. She lay paralyzed in the darkness, soaked in sweat, listening desperately for some sign that what had happened wasn’t real. All around her there was breathing: sharp, harsh, desperate, as if the lungs of an animal had been ripped from its body and left to die on their own. Her heart pounded against the inside of her chest.

Gradually the breathing slowed, and Adie finally realized that it had been hers all along. The last black shreds of the nightmare soon lost substance and fell away. Adie realized that she was still curled up beneath a nubbly, scratchy blanket that smelled vaguely of old mothballs, on a couch that under usual circumstances she’d get in trouble for sleeping on. She was in the living room, not in her bedroom at all, and nowhere near the mirror or the closet into which she really should have put it earlier. 

Her mouth felt like it had been wiped out with cotton balls. She swallowed, but couldn’t get rid of the sour taste that lingered in the corners. Taking one last, deep breath, she pulled the blanket off her face. Cool air rushed over her skin, drying her sweat and giving her goosebumps. Adie peered into the darkness, trying to assure herself that nothing was amiss. 

The house was dark and still, and around it the neighborhood was silent. Even the crickets weren’t chirping. It had to be late– maybe three or four in the morning, she thought. She turned over uneasily, meaning to go back to sleep, but quickly realized that she quite desperately needed to pee.

For a split second she thought of waiting tilll morning. The house was vast and black and chilly, and in her nest of blankets she felt relatively safe. The pressure on her bladder, however, was too powerful to ignore, and at last Adie relinquished her safety and staggered wearily to her feet.

Clumsy with sleep, she toddled towards the bathroom. The hardwood floor was chilly under her feet. She wished she’d thought to bring sleep-socks. From the kitchen she heard the hum and groan of the refrigerator, the rattle of ice falling into the machine. Outside the kitchen window, a bright streetlight showed that no strange shadows were lurking in the street. Everything appeared normal.

It wasn’t until Adie had almost reached the bathroom that she remembered: Her bathroom might have no mirror anymore, but this one most definitely did.

Frost crept up her spine as she stared through the pitch-dark doorway. She almost retreated right then and there, but she knew that she’d never be able to wait until morning. A brief thought of going back upstairs was quashed by the memory of what she’d seen in her room. Downstairs it was. 

Anyway, if the thing was in her bedroom now, then maybe it hadn’t come downstairs yet.

Somewhat cheered by this thought, she reached through the doorway and turned on the bathroom light. Its cheerful yellow beams spilled into the hallway, shrinking and clarifying everything they touched. Now she could see that the bathroom was, after all, just a bathroom. There was the striped wallpaper that her parents had picked out together. There were the gleaming brass fixtures her mother had shined, and the white tile floor that her father had laid down one sweaty afternoon a few years before. There was an unlit purple candle among the bath towels on a shelf above the toilet, and it filled the room with the faint mixed scent of lavender and roses.

Just to be on the safe side, she kept her eyes lowered as she stepped quickly past the mirror. Nothing flickered in the corners of her eyes, and nothing hissed or muttered as she raised the toilet lid and sat down on the icy seat. She concluded her business without incident and got up to wash her hands.

A morbid curiosity compelled her to look up this time. She raised her eyes fearfully to her reflection– but there seemed to be nothing to fear. She saw only herself– the same old Adie, frizzy hair and awkward nose and all. She smiled, and her own shy smile came back. When she lifted her arms, the reflection’s arms went up, too. She did a little dance, and the mirror mirrored it without a trace of mockery.

The thing must have been somehow confined to the upstairs– or maybe she’d even defeated it when she’d trapped it in her dream. Tomorrow she would ask her dad to take the mirror out of her room. Maybe a priest could even come to bless the house– she’d ask her mother about it.

Adie grinned at her reflection, happy that the end was in sight.

Her reflection grinned back, and turned off the light.

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