In strangers we meet, tales we read and words we heed, inspiration inhabits every corner of our lives if we know where to look. Sooner than later, melodious notes assemble familiar tunes and stories end up descending into unintended pastiche.
Everything that can be done, has been done. An author’s biggest enemy becomes monotony, and following that, the unforgiving chase of deadlines. After all, to those who had never seen more than ink in a pen, the importance of esteem over cash renders as meaningless white noise.
In my errant mind, another budding idea collapses into smithereens of drivel. Trains of thoughts collide, leaving only debris of impractical distraction. The paper falls victim to my mounting frustration, landing scrunched above a mound of long fallen ones.
Years ago, this is all I had wanted. To write. Yet that zest has gone, leaving behind recurring ire towards words. It is as though the tools, and not the one who wields them, are to blame. The blank page taunts me. It is dismal how we all end up hating what we once love.
Weariness takes over, calling it a night on my behalf. I shut the tinted windows, kill the lights, and trudge to bed. Humid air becomes still. Sleep comes easy and a muddled dream soon greets…
Crash! Thunder snarls in a loud splinter. I jolt awake, startled, and instinctively reach for the bedside lamp. Click. No light comes on. Blinking, my eyes adjust to the grim black of the night. For no good excuse I can conceive, I feel my heart race. My cheeks burn at the timidity that had seemed to come with age.
I close my eyes in resignation, knowing fair well there is just no going back to that meaningless albeit wonderful dream. Just as well. I sit up and stare blankly ahead. The thunder rumbles, disapproving of these distractions I keep finding myself. It joins my still pounding heart, loud even against the winds of a brewing tempest. Lightning strikes, relentless, invading the darkness at intervals.
Crash! The brightest bolt lights up the room. A woman! I barely stifle a shout at the disquieting sight in the mirror. She stands in the glass, staring right at me, if only for that second. Her gray skin and dark hair have left my sight, but not my mind. It can’t be, can it? Reflections frightened me as a child, but the mirrors had gone back on the walls as soon as the tales of monsters became myths of fears. Surely, I am over that.
Rationality shakes the thought off, as it did a sliver of fear that I will hardly admit to in the morning. It has to be a trick of the eye, I laugh. My exhaustion clearly has some energy left to lead my imagination on a run. If only my muse could run as wild as it does now at that writing desk.
Crash! Another bout of lightning lights the mirror up afresh. By now, my eyes are as competent as a nocturnal beast. And there she is, a shadow of the woman moving within the mirror. Seconds later, she – or it – is gone again. Even in that brief moment, I am certain my eyes did not lie.
Weak-kneed, I make my way towards the mirror like the archetypal victims of a Gothic novel. Attempting to ease their fears with a rational truth, only to find the irrational trepidation founded. In the reflection is a forty-year-old paranoid humanoid, whose tousled hair may have formed the wraith of his imagination. Yet denial has faded by now, as I verge on hopeless failure to conjure any cogent reasoning.
I stare into the mirror up close. At present, there is no woman. The reflection imitates only me, while the surface proves as level and dull as it has always been. Seconds ago, its inside had been cavernous and bottomless, as though I had seen another world beyond its face. My fingers stroke the reflecting plane and its intricate borders that twine into plastic vines, as though mere contact can give me answers.
When no clue surfaces, I jam my shivering hands back into shallow pocket, now wishing I could have someone to wake up to rather than my imagination. Some solace remain in my solitude, for no one could witness my fear that seems inappropriate for a man of my stature.
Wandering in search of a weapon, I walk towards my bedside table. From my drawer, I pull out an innocuous paper knife, then mockingly curse at my folly. Now, what good will that do? Still, I grasp it with frightful expectancy. Waiting for the next strike of lightning, my resolve is as sound as my intention. Back in front of the mirror, I wait.
Crash! It is no mistake. In that moment, the woman – no, the creature – has appeared again in the mirror. This time, it is more than just a shadow I see. Her haunting face is clear, even in the dimness. She stares right back, her glowing red eyes radiating resentment and clear intention to stay.
My knife slips to the floor. All courage is suddenly lost. I run back to the bed, reach for my sheets, and throw them over the mirror. My feet are only too willing to turn and sprint for the door.
I tug at the knob, clammy palms unhelpful. The uncooperative door refuses to budge, as though something outside is keeping it sealed. Looking back, I see the cotton sheets slip away like soft silk. The creature now lingers within the reflective surface. Her fingers curl around the borders, before she starts to claw her way out of the mirror.
I try the knob again. The lock is steadfast. Unwisely, I look back again. Instead of the mirror, I stare right into the woman’s face as she lifts me like a buoyant feather away from my escape. Pushing me against the wall, she digs into my throat with sharpened nails. My scream is hoarse, and my inquiring sight finds that she is no longer alone.
Shadows of a dozen others seep through behind the creature like pouring mist, following her lead. Clambering out of the mirror, they make their way towards us. All of them are screaming not words, but a haunting symphony of inhuman grief. They begin to surround, swelling my intense suffocation from the unyielding stranglehold. Their half-manifested bodies lean against us, holding tangible weight against my body.
As lightning strikes once more, I catch glimpses of their crusted blood. Their features crease with agony on parched skin. Mouths stretch and droop to the sides, as if crying for vengeance without tears. Behind my subjugator, I can now see each face in the crowd, mutilated yet recognizable.
My sudden realisation of who they might be pushes me to the brink, as I wish for death and not untreatable lunacy. Has my sanity gone? These, if I am right at all, are neither lost souls nor incarcerated demons of the underworld. They reek of unsettling familiarity, and I very well knew who they are.
The ghosts… belong to me. I recognize death of my creation. They have come from my pages, made and unmade by my ink. Those are faces of my victims, one beside another. Once extant only in paper and name, each face now gapes at me with livid eyes. Breathless, all I can do is widen mine in return at my new understanding.
As though satisfied, the creature let go of my swollen throat. Her horde calms.
I struggle between breaths and manage, “What do you want?”
The once prolific writer is reduced to clichéd predictability, and they speak nothing in return.
Reduced to a banal character, I spit the words out, “There is nothing I can do for you. Just… just leave me alone!”
At my last word, I dart through them in raving despair. They turn into cold, intangible mist, but just as quickly reappear as though they have never left. I reach for the door again, only to find it still locked, and desperation wrings tears.
The small room has me incarcerated and I find myself facing the ghosts again. I stray to find my weapon, lying right where I had let it fall. On the floor, I grip for the knife and as soon as I am on my feet again, stab into the air. The creatures howl, affronting my outnumbered self.
They leap on me as I open my fist to push them away from me. My defense becomes their weapon. The knife clanks against the marble tiles, leaving me unarmed. I can feel my heart sink like an anchor.
Then, my stomach starts to burn with a sharp pain. One grins at me with rotten teeth as she pulls her long dirt-ridden nails out of my wound. Red drenches through my shirt. I fall on the stained floor. My vision clouds and their voices begin to diminish. Their thirst satisfied, the creatures are receding back to where they came from.
My weapon lies out of reach, but I know that I cannot let them leave. After all, they always come back, don’t they? I push myself off the floor, standing unsteady albeit cautious not to slip in my own blood. Red soaks into the walls, as I drag my weakening body along.
When I finally stand in front of the mirror, all frailty seems to leave, at least for the moment. The creatures have stopped and turned around, staring at me from far within the depthless mirror. My blood-stained teeth bares like an animal as I smash through the glass with my bare fists bearing the cuts. There is nothing but desperation to end the nightmare once and for all.
To the scream of dissipating souls, I collapse to their sorrowful chorus. Deserting all but the sound of serene rainfall, the ghosts have left as if they were never there. Instead, I see slices of glass buried deep in the skin of my wrists. My eyelids start to flutter. Pain is gone. While my mind fades, I relinquish the role of the narrator behind this tale, leaving the telling to flesh and tendons amid broken shards.