by Jeremy Essex

Michaels saw the dark shape down on the railway line while he was making the morning drinks.

He put down the tray of empty cups, whistling to himself as he dished out tea bags and measured spoonfuls of sugar. The common room was deserted, as it normally was at half past ten, his usual time for making the drinks. He yawned as he poured milk into the mugs then wandered over to the first floor window, hands in pockets, looking down at the dingy scene below him.

The car park was full to bursting, as usual. The twin railway lines emerged from the dark tunnel underneath the main road, snaking behind the car park and cutting like lines of black rot through the miles of green undergrowth along the outskirts of Ipswich. Watching the trains go by and identifying the different containers on the cargo carriers was one of the chief forms of entertainment within the office.

Michaels sighed heavily. He badly wanted a cigarette, but since Penny had left him, he had stopped smoking and he was determined not to let his will crumble now. At the edge of his vision, the large, dark shape of a train rushed swiftly towards him. As steam rose from the kettle’s spout, Michaels turned his head and saw both railway lines were deserted.

“Are you alright, Brian love?”

Theresa peered at him from behind her glasses as he walked back into the hum of the office, easily balancing the tray on his muscular arm. Michaels was 6ʹ2ʺ and very well built, and he liked for people, especially some of the girls in the office, to see how strong he was.

“I think I’m suffering from nicotine withdrawal,” he joked. “I’m hallucinating.”

It rained on and off all day. At half past five, Michaels walked home through Chantry Park, trying to make it to his house before the next shower began. After exiting the park, he cut along the main road just as spots of rain began to splat against the thick bushes that bristled on either side of the asphalt. To his right, just behind him, something seemed to struggle out of the bushes and ran towards him.

He turned quickly.

There was nothing on the empty road.

Michaels’ house was at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. His heart was beating fast as he unlocked his front door. Just as he started inside, a large black shape bolted towards the house from the trees bordering the road. He spun around, his heart pounding. There was nothing there. Nothing but the dripping trees.

His hands trembled as he changed his clothes. He looked out the bedroom window at the line of trees bordering the front garden, scanning them for any sign of movement. Ever since he began living on his own, the line of whispering trees seemed to remind him how alone he was.

Downstairs, he hopefully checked his messages, but there were none from Penny. Ian had phoned to tell him he couldn’t make it to the gym tonight. Michaels thought it over and decided he would go by himself. He didn’t want to start neglecting his body, and tonight he especially liked the idea of spending two hours in a room full of sweating people.

Dinner first, though. He was bloody starving. He opened the fridge and took out some tomatoes. Behind his right shoulder, something black stepped into the kitchen and leapt towards him. Michaels turned with a cry, a carving knife gripped fiercely in his hand. He staggered back against the worktop, knocking the tomatoes onto the floor as he pointed the shaking knife around the empty kitchen.

“How long has this been happening to you, Mr. Michaels?”

“A couple of weeks.”

“Describe it to me exactly.”

Michaels looked across the desk at the face of the neurological consultant. He hadn’t spoken to the man before; it had been someone different when he’d come for his first appointment last week. This man’s name badge said “Dr. Clack.” Michaels had seen so many doctors in the past few weeks he was losing track of them all.

“It’s just like a … a movement in the corner of my eye. I can see something big and black, and it seems to be moving … in this big leaping, jumping motion.”

“And how often does it happen?”

“Several times a day. Sometimes several times an hour.”

“Do you get headaches? Any head pain at all?”


Dr. Clack pursed his lips, then looked down at the open file on his desk. “The results of both your PET and MRI scans show nothing abnormal, Mr. Michaels. The inside of your head is perfectly healthy. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing physically wrong with you.”

Michaels heaved a heavy sigh of relief. “So it’s … psychological?”

“It has to be.”

The psychiatrist’s office was on the top floor of a three-story house on Berners Street. In the waiting area, five coffee-colored chairs with leather seats were arranged in a row along the bannisters at the top of the staircase. A young female receptionist sat at a desk beyond the waiting area.

The room was shadowy and windowless, lit only by a single fluorescent tube in the ceiling. The beige carpet and light brown paint on the walls combined to give the room a calming atmosphere, rather than a claustrophobic one. A deep, reassuring voice resonated from behind one of the closed doors.

Michaels waited in one of the brown chairs. He sat, hunched forward, his hands trembling as he clenched them together. The door of the consulting room finally opened, and the owner of the reassuring voice appeared.

“Please come in, Mr. Michaels,” the psychiatrist said as his previous patient hurried down the staircase.

“Dr. Martin.” Michaels rose from his chair and gratefully shook hands.

In contrast to the reception area, Dr. Martin’s office was full of daylight. It was a large, relaxing room with soft-colored landscapes on the walls, a faux-wood Venetian blind over the window, and a mantelpiece at the other end of the room with a genuine fireplace beneath it. Dr. Martin himself was a small, stout man with graying hair and eyes that were slightly wonky behind a pair of round spectacles.

“So,” he said, when the two of them were seated opposite each other in comfy chairs. “Tell me about your problem.”

Michaels explained while Dr. Martin listened, his chin resting on his fingers.

“When it happens,” Michaels said. “It’s just like … something appearing behind me and jumping towards me.”

“I see.” Martin held his gaze. “And this … impression, this dark thing, you always see it behind your right shoulder?”


“Always in exactly the same spot, the same part of your field of vision?”

“Yes. That’s why I thought there had to be some kind of physical reason for it. Something wrong in my right eye, or something in my brain.”

Martin nodded. “But the results of all your examinations show nothing physically wrong?”

“Nothing,” said Michaels. “Which means it’s in my mind.”

“Perhaps.” Martin looked down at the pad on his lap, scribbling something on the top sheet. “When did this start happening?”

Michaels pulled his hands down his face. “About three weeks ago, I think.”

“You think? You mean you aren’t sure?”

“I can’t think properly anymore. Wherever I go, whatever I’m doing, I keep seeing it all the time. I’m just waiting for it to come at me again.”

Martin frowned. “This thing can’t hurt you, Mr. Michaels. It is just an hallucination.”

Michaels slid his hands through his short hair, clasping them behind his neck. “Is it?”

Martin paused. “Well, if not, what do you think it is?”

“I don’t know,” Michaels said. “I just know that whenever I see it, I have this … absolute terror. I almost can’t describe it. It’s … it’s something about the movement, the way it seems to jump, or jerk. Something …” Michaels stared down at his clenched hands. “In that moment, in the moment when I see it, I … I know that the most horrible thing in the whole world is standing behind me. And I have to see. I have to see it …”

Dr. Martin spoke after a pause. “And what do you feel would happen if you didn’t turn around?”

Michaels shook his head.

“Mr. Michaels, can you try and define for me exactly what you think it is that you see?”

Michaels took a long time to respond. “It’s horror.”

Martin frowned deeply.

“It’s the most horrible, terrible thing that can exist. I … I can’t describe it. I can’t make you understand.” Michaels squeezed his head between his hands. “Why is this happening to me?”

Dr. Martin studied Michaels carefully. “You’re suffering from what we call an aberration. Something is occurring in your mind, something that deviates from normal mental function. What you’re experiencing is a form of hallucination.”

Michaels stared hard at the floor. “I don’t think it is,” he finally said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I don’t believe it is an hallucination. It’s something real.”

“I see,” said Martin. “And you are really convinced of this?”

Michaels squeezed his eyes shut. “Yes,” he whispered.

Martin gave a measured sigh. “You are convinced that when you see it in the corner of your eye, that it is really there?”


“And yet no one else can see it?”

Michaels pulled his hands over his face again. “No one can see it but me.”

Martin’s fingers tapped against his pad. “If that’s the case, then suppose you were looking into a mirror when this thing appeared behind you? If you can see this thing in the moment when it’s there, wouldn’t you also be able to see it reflected in the mirror?”

The psychiatrist blurred as Michaels stared at him. “See its … reflection?”

Martin nodded. “With your permission Mr. Michaels, I’d like to try an experiment.”

The receptionist’s keyboard clattered softly as Michaels followed Dr. Martin through the waiting area. The young woman looked up at them as they walked across the room. Dr. Martin opened the doorway opposite his consulting room, revealing a small, square, windowless space.

Martin flicked on the light, and the room elongated to twice its original size. Gleaming file cabinets lined the wall opposite the door. Against the right-hand wall was what appeared to be a floor-to-ceiling wardrobe. The entire front of the wardrobe was a gigantic mirror, showing an exact replica of the small room.

Dr. Martin brought in one of the chairs from the reception area, placing it between the filing cabinets and the wardrobe.

“Sit here,” he said, “so you can see yourself in the mirror.”

Michaels rubbed his arms. For some reason, the sight of the huge mirror made him feel immensely uncomfortable. He sat down in the chair, watching the phantom version of himself repeat his actions in the mirror, the figure with the gaunt face and the deep bags under its eyes, which bore a passing resemblance to the man Michaels used to be.

Dr. Martin had sat himself on another chair, just inside the doorway. “You seem extremely nervous, Mr. Michaels.”

“I don’t like this mirror.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know …” Michaels sighed. “God, I’m so tired.”

“You are under a lot of stress,” said Martin.


“Have there been any other stressful events in your life recently?”

Michaels stared at his hollow-eyed reflection. “My girlfriend left me a few weeks ago.”

“Ah,” said Martin. “Is it a permanent break-up?”

“I don’t know,” said Michaels. “We weren’t getting on very well. She thought I took her for granted.”

“Was it a long-term relationship?”

“Five years.”

“I imagine that was quite traumatic.”

Michaels nodded. With Dr. Martin’s encouragement, he began to talk about Penny.

“She said I never listened to her,” he said. “And …”

Suddenly there was a dark, leaping movement in the corner of his vision, right at the very spot where the psychiatrist was sitting. Michaels yelled. Punching his fists out on either side of him he leapt forward, overturning the chair as he flung himself onto the ground, forcing himself not to look back but to keep his gaze fixed on the mirror.

His eyes widened, fixed unblinkingly on what he saw inside the glass.

“Oh, God!” he screamed.

He collapsed onto the floor, his arms held like a shield in front of his face.

“Mr. Michaels!” Dr. Martin was kneeling beside him. “Calm down! For God’s sake, man, it’s alright!”

Michaels tried to bury his head, to crawl away from the horror, from the thing that had happened in his mind when he’d jumped in front of the glass.

“Penny!” he cried. “Pennyyy!”

The sight of his trembling reflection, horror burning in its eyes as the memory that had been locked and chained inside its mind was wrenched open again. The secret that had been sealed so tightly and so completely, he hadn’t even known it was there.


Her saw her lovely face, her mouth raised in that false smile, her eyes briefly touching his before dropping away.

“I’ll be late tonight.” The words drifting back to him as she dashed towards her car, her hand raising in a tiny, fluttering wave.

“I’ll be late tonight …” Her voice echoed in the darkness of his mind.

I know what you’re doing, he thought.

His hands clasped around his head as the memory tore completely open.

He waved at her, watching the car as she drove away.

She’s always late on Tuesdays, he thought. She says she goes out with her friends, but I know she’s lying. I know what she’s doing.

He waited outside the building where she worked. When she came out, he followed her. She drove to a house in a quiet, tree-lined street. She walked to the door of the house. A man answered it. They embraced. They kissed. They went inside.

He parked down the street and waited. After an hour, she came back out. She kissed the man, then drove off. He kept waiting.

Eventually, the man came out and climbed inside the car parked in the driveway. Michaels followed him as he drove out of Ipswich, over to Levington, to the marina. He left his car in the gravel parking lot—nearly deserted at that time of the evening—and walked out onto the pontoons.

The marina was only half full. The man walked to a boat moored all by itself. He took off the cover and climbed inside the cockpit.

Michaels waited outside the boat for a minute, then climbed on board. The man turned at the sound. They stared at each other.

“You’re Brian, aren’t you?” the man finally said. “Penny’s Brian.”

This man. This weedy, weak little man, saying Penny’s name … like he knew her.

“Weedy, weak little man,” Michaels said.

The man backed away.

“Cowardly, weak little man, who has taken away the only thing I ever had.”

Rage. Pounding blood. The desperate desire to strangle this man until he was dead. The man screaming, running into the kitchen cabin, picking up a carving knife.

Plucking the knife out of the man’s hand. Screaming as he plunged it into the man’s face, and back, and stomach. The man falling to the floor, begging for his life. Shrieking as he stabbed the man to death.

Just behind him was the open door to the front cabin, a long mirror on the wall at the back of the room. As he stabbed, and stabbed, and stabbed, and stabbed, the jerking, jumping movement of his reflection in the corner of his eye. The echo of himself as he killed.

Dropping the knife, his rage finally draining. There was blood everywhere, on the floor and the walls and the ceiling and the doors. The blood … and the horror of what he had done. For hours, he sat curled in a ball inside the cabin, holding himself and crying, until his mind began to cope with what he’d done in the only way it could.

It hadn’t happened. None of it had really happened. It wasn’t real. It had just been a dream. Just a nightmare.

He put the covers back on the boat and walked away into the darkness. The memory became the memory of a dream, of something unreal, a half-forgotten nightmare locked in the deepest part of his mind.

When he arrived home, he found a note from Penny. She had left him.

“I killed him.” Michaels gasped. “Oh my God. The body … the body. It’s still there!”

Still decomposing in its tomblike pool of blood and gore. Still undiscovered. The boat was moored in a space by itself and the marina was hardly used in the winter. It would remain undiscovered for months.

Dr. Martin backed away, his head moving from side to side in denial. Michaels watched the terrified man. He was going to call the police! Michaels was going to go to prison, the whole world would know that he had killed …

And he had killed.

No! No! He had not killed! He had not murdered another person. He couldn’t have!

With a scream, Michaels ran at the psychiatrist and grabbed him by the throat. The man fought uselessly, his body finally slumping in Michaels’ hands.

Michaels dropped the body on the floor, then he looked up and saw the receptionist standing outside the swinging door, staring at him with eyes that seemed about to burst. She screamed for just two seconds, and then she was a limp rag in Michaels’ ironlike hands.

He let the woman’s body fall. He looked around at the mess and the chaos, but it was already fading, already slipping away into the realm of nightmares. He walked unsteadily down the stairs and out onto the street, merging into the crowd. As he walked, his body began to relax, his mind becoming a blank.

Much later on, he decided that since he was out, he would do some late-night shopping. He thought about buying something for Penny and sending it to her at her mother’s house, to show that he still loved her.

Penny. Would she ever come back to him?

He shuddered at the pain he felt whenever he thought about her. It was tearing him apart. He was so messed up that he could barely remember what he’d been doing this afternoon.

He paused in front of the window of a furniture shop. Something appeared behind his right shoulder, a blurred shape that moved in a violent, leaping, stabbing motion. Michaels was gripped by a feeling of incomprehensible horror. He whirled around, his heart beating furiously. The street behind him was full of passing shoppers.

God. It had happened again. What was it? Why did he keep seeing it?

If it carried on, he would have to seek medical help.

Copyright © 2015 Jeremy Essex