In the Mirror, Darkly

In the Mirror, Darkly
by Milo James Fowler

The first time, he explained it away by saying he made faces while shaving because it was the only way to reach the stubble under his nose and around his jawline. Yet Maureen could have sworn he’d been horrified by his own reflection. Maybe he’d just discovered another gray hair.

“Hon?” She leaned against the bathroom door frame and watched him scrape his face with the razor, shoveling the foam like snow from the driveway of their western Michigan split-level.

“Yeah?” Dave paused, looking at her mirror image.

“You’d tell me if you were having a midlife crisis, wouldn’t you?”

“I wouldn’t have to.” He winked and resumed shaving.

The next time, Dave had shut the bathroom door like he usually did while making a lengthy deposit. Before he flushed, she could have sworn she heard him carrying on a conversation. If the laundry basket on her hip wasn’t so heavy, she might have put her ear to the door. But she knew one thing after ten years of marriage: good fences make good neighbors, and good boundaries make good spouses.

She didn’t linger to eavesdrop, but she did check the catch-all on the kitchen counter. His cellphone and dorky Bluetooth earpiece were right where he always left them after work.

Later, as she put away their clean clothes, she smiled and said, “Taking up talking to yourself?”

“You heard that?” He bit into one of the fresh apples she’d brought home from the market earlier that day. “I’ve got a presentation at the office tomorrow. I figured it might turn out better if I have most of it memorized. You’d think after fifteen years with the company, I’d have enough seniority to rest on my laurels. Nope. These snot-nosed young bucks rising through the ranks don’t even know a T-square when they see one.”

Maureen was almost sure she’d know one by sight.

He shrugged. “Anyhow, that’s what you heard—not me telling Number Two who it works for.”

“What a relief.” She kissed him on a cheek rough with five o’clock shadow.

She wasn’t entirely sure she believed him, and it gnawed at her like a cranial tapeworm. Deception had never reared its hideous head in their marriage; they’d always been open and honest with each other, even when it hurt.

So when Maureen heard Dave reciting his speech again—and what else could it be?—two nights after his presentation, she stopped outside the bathroom to listen, ashamed of herself, of course. With a load of sheets hot from the dryer in a basket on her hip, she pressed her ear lightly against the door. This is what she (thought she) heard:

Dave: “I don’t understand. Can you still hear me? You’re getting a little blurry around the edges, like the signal’s weakening. What can I do about it?”

A few seconds of silence.

Dave: “We’ve got to figure out some way to stay in contact. I’ve never seen anything like you.”

More silence. Maureen flattened her ear against the cold semigloss.

Dave: “Food? I’m not sure I can help you with that. It’s not like I’m able to send you anything, unless this is some kind of two-way wormhole—”

Maureen had heard enough. He was clearly writing a silly science fiction script in his spare time in the bathroom, where there were fewer distractions.

She knew better than to knock because Dave would just make up another excuse. It wasn’t an invasion of his privacy; she only hoped to catch him in the act so there’d be no more denial, so honesty would be victorious over the monster of deception that had crept in unannounced. If he was really writing an idiotic screenplay, then he would read it to her and she would encourage him to make it the best it could be.

She set down the laundry basket and reached for the doorknob, closing her hand over it and curling her fingers, applying gradual pressure until it rotated in her grip, just a millimeter at a time. It wasn’t locked; they’d decided on early in their marriage that locks would never separate them while they were home together. That’s how they did things.

They trusted each other, after all.

That’s why she allowed the knob to return to its original position. She released her grip and shook her head, chiding herself, then reached for the laundry basket.

Then Dave screamed.

Maureen was through the door in a split second, fast enough to see the tentacled creature in the mirror devouring her husband whole. His legs kicked out of the giant octopus-thing’s mouth while its slick appendages flailed about wildly, tugging Dave through the mirror into whatever bizarre reality lay beyond.

High on adrenaline, Maureen grabbed the plunger beside the toilet and swung it like a club, smacking the monster in its bulbous eyeball. It made a choked, gargling sound, and Dave came spewing out, collapsing onto the bathroom floor smothered in mucus.

Ignoring the creature’s howls, Maureen dug into the grey slime around Dave’s mouth, tearing it open with her fingernails until he could take deep, raspy breaths.

She looked back at the mirror. Only her own wide-eyed expression greeted her. The horror was gone.

Maureen fished under the sink for the pipe wrench they kept on hand for plumbing emergencies. Without a moment’s hesitation, she smashed the mirror repeatedly, breaking it into gleaming shards that scattered across the granite counter top. The frame now held nothing but the sky-blue wall behind it.

Scraping slime off his face to clear his eyes, Dave stared up at her in awestruck silence. Dozens of marks from the creature’s suckers covered his exposed flesh.

Maureen replaced the wrench and grabbed a bath towel off the rod. She knelt beside her husband. “I think we have a lot to talk about, Hon.”

He nodded, pulling her close and holding her tight.

 Copyright © 2014 Milo James Fowler