Short story time! A friend on Facebook asked for people to submit short story beginnings as inspiration, and I think this is a marvelous impetus to do some writing. I’ll be working my way through a list that is over 30 long, trying to write something for each one. I’ll post the story hint at the end of the story I write so you can see what I had to work with. Comments eagerly welcomed!
Smooth as glass, I can see the plane in front of me, reflecting blue sky and clouds, a vast infinity, bright and limitless. Tentatively I reach out and my trembling fingers trace the flawless surface. It vibrates lightly at my touch, a thrilling sensation that shoots down my arm. Inspired, energized, I push against the plane and it stretches, a mirror-reflective membrane. My fingers reach and reach. Beyond the reflection I can dimly see an outline, a man, it’s arm outstretched to the plane, stretching out to me, mirroring my movements.
Morning. Light filters in through the dirty blinds. I groan and clutch at the fragments of my receding dream. No use; it is gone in a flutter. I hear the dull roar of cars outside and wish for five more minutes of sleep, and five more, and five more. I know I can’t. I have to, have to, have to go to work.
Sitting up, I put my feet on the ground and hang my head loosely, the curve of my spine an arc of exhaustion. It seems to be worse every day. I used to dread the mornings. I would lay in bed and go over the list of things I would have to deal with, turning each one over in my mind, a flawed object to be worried over. My brain and body both campaigned against facing the day. I didn’t think it could be worse. But the exhaustion settled into a new level, then lower still over time. Now I can’t even muster a list of things to dread, I just feel the weight of my body, the dullness of my mind. The energy it takes to push past the inertia of being still is monumental.
Looking out my bedroom door, the bathroom looks impossibly far. My bladder pulses and throbs, but that pain is distant compared to the concrete casing that is my waking body. The act of standing seems both impossible and pointless.
I had learned to deal with this over time. The trick was disconnecting my mind, banishing thought, standing aside from my own body and letting it carry out its physical machinations without a brain to interfere. Mechanically I notice my body rise. Detachedly I watch as my feet plod to the door, then the hallway, then the bathroom. At the sink I lean against the chipped tile of the counter and wait for the weariness to subside. It comes in cycles, pulsing dully through my body like sound waves. The toilet lid is up, and I hear the watery churn, smell the sharp sting of urine as I watch a thick yellow stream fall into the bowl.
Back at the sink, I raise my head to look into the mirror, my neck muscles creaking silently. My reflection stares back. Dark, stringy hair falls over a weathered and deeply lined forehead, and dark, deep-set eyes blink tiredly back at me. The deep scar that runs from just below my right eye down my cheek bone and nearly to my jaw is brighter than the rest of my skin, standing out like a sinewy thread. I raise one hand to absentmindedly brush a stray lock of hair back to see the scar clearer, tucking it behind my ear, and turn to head back to the bedroom.
I stop, puzzled. Something is wrong, but I don’t know what. It’s a vague sense of wrongness, unspecific and empty. Have I forgotten something? Something about work? I felt nothing but the exhaustion until now, the same I have felt every morning. This is new. Something with my hair? My hand? My eye? I ponder turning around to check it again in the mirror, but that would take energy, effort. I stand immobile for what seems like a long time, but my weary brain is unable to judge how long. Eventually I trudge back to the bedroom.
I dress slowly, grudgingly. I stop to breathe between every article. Pants, breathe. Shirt, breathe. Left sock, breathe. Right sock, breathe. I stare at my shoes, unsure if I have the energy to not only put them on, but tie them. I wish, as I do every morning, that they were just slip-on shoes. What did I see wrong in the mirror?
This distracting thought disturbs my thoughts long enough that I find I put my shoes on without noticing. Then I find myself back in front of the mirror, hands on the chipped tile counter, peering at my own darkened eyes. I look tired. No, I look exhausted. Weary. Drained. A brief memory of what I was like before flickers behind those bleak eyes. Vaguely I sense the feeling Sarah brought to me: tingling life in my veins, a million thoughts a minute in my lively mind, the breathlessness and anticipation of the next thrilling moment. The sense is gone as quickly as it came.
I see the scar, the only remnant of the knife she held in defense, white and rigid on my dark and mottled skin. I absentmindedly reach to brush the dark lock of hair back and behind my ear, and notice that in the mirror, the other hand has moved. The hair I already brushed back to behind my ear is still there, but it is opposite the scar. I frown, and stare. I lift my right hand and see the mirror’s right hand rise, the opposite side in the mirror. My thoughts jumble like a traffic jam; I can’t make sense of what I’m seeing.
Locking my apartment door behind me, I feel like I am moving in slow motion, like I’m pushing through water in the deep end of a pool. I feel this every morning now. The walk to work is twenty minutes. I used to go over a mental list of everything I needed to get done when I arrived. Now I can barely think of anything past logging into my computer.
Thoughts of Sarah flicker up again: her laugh tinkling like bells, her red dress with frilled edges dancing, like fire in the sunlight. Why am I thinking of Sarah now? Her face twisted with hatred, anger, an ugly sneer of contempt twisting her beauty into a weapon. Her admission that night, she denied nothing. Of course she wasn’t sorry. How could I blame her, I had all but driver her and Max together by ignoring her, snubbing her. My rage, blinding. Her hot anger, then cold fear. My fingers white, her throat red.
The windows on the buildings reflect the morning light; gray and cold. People pass me on fast-forward, they stream around me like I’m a log in a river. Their reflections are dark streaks flowing around me. I notice my reflection again, and it looks wrong, detached, separate. I step with my right foot and the reflection’s opposite foot moves. I raise an arm and the opposite raises along with it.
I am more awake, more alert now than in the bathroom. I know this is wrong, and I’m dimly aware that I must look crazy staring into the window of a US Bank office as the morning commute surges around me. I am transfixed though. I reach out with my hand, and the reflection reaches back toward me, the opposite hand stretching out. My finger tips brush the glass, and a thrilling shiver shoots up my arm.
I remember what better days felt like. I remember what I have lost. My fingers push harder on the glass, their tips turning white with the pressure. The reflection pushes as well, our fingers touching, but our arms crossing over our bodies to do so. Ever since the Sarah Incident, the weariness has plagued me. Worse every day. I feel dim, thinned out, barely here.
My fingers press harder, and I notice the glass is bending slightly, pushing inward near my finger tips. I am too exhausted to marvel at this, too tired to gasp as my fingers plunge deep into the glass, the plane swallowing my hand, then my wrist, then my forearm. The reflection grins expectantly, eagerly, hungrily. I watch passively as my arm is swallowed into the glass surface, and can feel the other side; cold and vast, a chill air that speaks of emptiness.
The reflection’s arm has pushed through at the same rate as mine, and its shoulder now pushes fully past the glass plane, and our chests scrape at each other. I should panic, I should scream, but I am too exhausted, too weary.
With one lurching, tearing push I am heaved completely through the glass, and the reflection is spat out the other side, my side. I catch my balance as the chilling emptiness engulfs me, wrapping my skin tightly, making my hair prickle, my breath hitch with the shock. I turn around to see my reflection turn toward me. I rush to the glass, but my hand meets with a solid barrier, it does not give at all. My right hand is up on the surface, and my reflection’s hand matches it. I raise my left hand, and the mirror image follows it. The reflection is restored; everything matches again. Except the smile on my reflection’s face: it looks eager and hungry, ready, ecstatic and triumphant. My own expression feels lifeless and tired.
My reflection turns and straightens his shirt and I find myself compelled to match his movement. He strides off with energy and purpose, and I am dragged along, matching each step.
Original story prompt:
The morning started
like any other, until I realized that my reflection exactly matched my motions
instead of mirroring them.