talkative fishy


blackle is a shark

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cw: horror, death
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I know nobody will believe this post. But I have to make it.

I've been living out of my van for the better part of a decade, and for the last two months I've been parked offroad in Coconino. I woke up this morning and found myself staring out one of the side windows of my van. One of the small ones, taller than it is wide. And I realized just how much those mountains looked like the mirror. The window framed it almost exactly right. And I realized that I'm the only one left who remembers what happened.

My brother Henry and I had the same birthday. We weren't fraternal twins or anything, it just sorta happened that way. I remember dad telling us that mom had the doctors induce labor so this would happen, so she would only ever need to plan one birthday party. It was on one of these birthdays—when I turned ten and Henry turned eight—that we learned our grandfather had passed away, and that we'd be moving into his house.

My grandfather lived way out in the sticks in a huge, old house. And when I say old I mean really, really old, but it didn't look it. My dad bragged about how it was older than America itself. I remember when he pitched the move, I imagined one those fancy haunted mansions you see in Halloween TV specials. You would think that would be scary for a kid, but it actually got me excited. When we finally arrived at that then-emptied house I remember complaining about how normal and boring it looked.

Maybe it was right after my complaint when my dad showed Henry and I the room with the mirror. One of those perfect Hollywood you-aint-seen-nothing-yet moments on my dad's part. He took us to one of the many guest bedrooms, and told us about how he grew up in this house. He talked for a long time, but I was a bored and distractable newly-minted ten-year-old, so I only started paying attention after he walked over to the closet and kicked through the inside wall. The shattered wooden panel clattered into the darkness, revealing a perfectly square entrance just wide enough for Henry and I to crawl through.

"This was something I discovered when I was your age, Mallory," He had told me.

The room on the other side reeked like a musty, dying animal. It was small, maybe five feet on all sides, but it was the smell made it really claustrophobic. My brother gagged and tried to clamber out, but my dad was in the way, just his head and his arm wedged through. The hole was too small for an adult, and this was as far as he could go.

The mirror was mounted in the middle of the back wall, its bottom edge flush with the floor. It was really the only thing in the room, and the only thing in the house that really betrayed its age. Its glass was tarnished and hazy, the frame pitted and flaking from century's old carpenter ant infestations. It was gross and creepy and I started to feel the novelty of exploring the hidden room wear off. I tried to shove my way out, but my dad continued to block the exit. I yelled at him to move. It was like he forgot we were there, he was only focused on the mirror. Pointing at it, he said.

"Do you kids see it? The reflection?"

I looked back at the mirror. It looked the same as it did the first time I looked at it. Just a crappy old mirror in a crappy old room.

"Do you see the reflection? I'm too old now, I can't see it anymore."

I was about to yell again, but then I noticed his eyes. He was on the verge of tears. Henry piped up.

"I see it! There's mountains!"

My brother was standing directly before the mirror, peering into it. In that moment I caught a glimpse of something, past the dirty surface of the glass just above his head. It was a bird. A crow, soaring against a blue sky. I moved my head to keep it in view. As I did more things jumped into focus. A great valley, trees in a forest, a meadow on a mountainside. The more I looked at it the easier it was to see, like my two eyes could finally line it all up right, that I could focus on it. I looked at the base of the mirror to find a trail of white sand among tall, lush grass.

"I see it too," I found myself saying.

"You can walk through," my dad choked through tears, "You should be able to now. Now that you can see what's on the other side."

And we did.

I want you to imagine the best day you can possibly think of. Imagine running through a field with someone you love. Really imagine it, the smells and the sounds and the feeling of your muscles as you take their arms and swing with them in a circle. How does the soft ground feel on your feet? How does it feel as a perfectly sized cloud passes over the sun, cooling you down just the right amount? The smell of a million different flowers are on the breeze. The songs of all birds harmonize as one. The stars shine during the day, glowing lines drawing out the constellations. Now imagine this is the first day of summer vacation. Now imagine it's summer vacation forever. Imagine that every time you notice something about your world, it's as perfect as it can possibly be.

The world beyond the mirror defies description. All the words we use to describe things positively, "excellent," "beautiful," "amazing," they've all been tainted by their use in the real world. No, your fucking coffee this morning wasn't "perfect." A movie can't be "awesome." You don't even know what awe is. You've never felt things like the mirror has provided it. And I can't give you that experience. Nothing can.

We were only in the mirror for twenty minutes, but those twenty minutes felt both longer and shorter at the same time. So much happened in such a short amount of time. Dad knew we'd want to tell him all about it, and he was eager to hear. He took us to get take-out and we talked all the way to the restaurant and all the way back, pausing only when someone else was in earshot. The three of us knew we'd have to keep this a secret.

While we ate dad told stories of his childhood with the mirror. He shared directions to a tree that grew its own treehouse, a hundred-foot-tall freestanding ladder, a crystal clear river that loops in on itself, and a giant friendly lizard with long shaggy hair. He explained that food and sleep doesn't work inside the mirror, that you'd have to take breaks in the real world to replenish your energy. He gave tips for discovering new things. How to build. How to ask the world for something you need. The way he spoke about it made it feel like we were talking to another kid.

Given how incredible I make it sound you'd think that we spent all our time inside, to the exclusion of everything else. But the truth is we only spent a couple hours inside at a time. Even a brilliant perfect bliss wears off, leaving you tired, hungry, but somehow better than you were before. We quickly noticed that the longer we spent in the real world, the more fun the mirror world would become. But the thing that really brought us rushing back to the real world was the joy of telling dad about our exploits. We knew he wanted to relive it again. It was the least we could do.

The mirror world was perfect. Totally. Completely. You think it would leave us spoiled, but no. That's the beauty of it. Every day in the mirror was like a fable. Cathartic and joyful. The shape of the world tempered our emotions, taught us lessons. We got better in there, every time. This was true childhood: growing and learning and becoming smarter and braver in a world that protected us from real harm but still taught us how to live.

And then I fucked it all up.

I was 13 when it really became a challenge to get through the hole. I could still do it, but I had to approach it like a contortionist, arching my body through the hole in just the right way. I talked to dad about making it larger, or installing a new entrance. The mirror's room could be accessible from the neighboring hallway if a door was made. We brainstormed about ways to keep it hidden, since we wouldn't want a burglar to find it, or a guest to wander in and break it. We decided that a bookshelf that opened like a door was the best idea, complete with a hidden lock. But truthfully, the size of the hole was just a symptom of a bigger problem.

I was starting to get too old for the mirror's world. Occasionally I would notice things were... off. Tall grass would pass through my fingers without feeling like anything at all. I became invisible to the reflections in water. Smells became duller and duller, replaced by the true, disgusting smell of the room I'd learned to tolerate. And worst of all, the "lessons" of each trip became increasingly on-the-nose and one-dimensional.

I knew it was only my problem, because Henry didn't notice it at all. I had tried pointing out our reflections in a puddle, one that excluded me. But he still saw me in it. The mirror still worked perfectly for him.

It was a Saturday in late October. Henry came into my room and tossed a baseball and a glove at me. "Race me to the floaty terraces?" he said, rolling a baseball bat between his palms, his voice brimming with excitement. I wasn't excited. In fact, I felt resentful. I had made plans with friends later, and I dreaded the post-mirror fatigue. Especially now that the mirror felt more like a series of fake experiences and trite stories. But I smiled anyway, and agreed.

Getting through the hole that day was particularly difficult. I felt like a cave spelunker, lying on my stomach and pushing my legs through first. On the way a stray nail cut through my jeans and pricked my thigh. I could tell it was bleeding without even looking. By the time I got in the room, Henry had already gone through. I watched him skipping down that white trail, not a care in the world. I went to follow him through.

I fell over, in shock. I thought I had tripped, until I noticed I hadn't landed on the white sand of the trail. Instead, I was lying on the mottled floorboards of the room. I had bounced off the surface. I looked back up to see Henry turning around. He must've heard me hit the ground.

I got back to my feet and looked over the mirror. It suddenly seemed exactly like it did the first time I saw it. A grody old antique in a putrid room. I could still see Henry inside, but it all looked fake. Like a cheap hall of mirrors illusion. An illusion that I desperately wanted to enjoy again, the way Henry still could. But it was over.

Then I noticed Henry doing something with his hands. He didn't realize what had happened. He was waving me in, with this huge, stupid smile on his face.

The anger hit me like a lightning bolt. I picked up a stray baseball on the floor.

"Henry!" I yelled, sneering. "Catch!"

The ball left my hand, and in slow motion I realized what I had done. But it was too late. The ball collided with the mirror.

Dad took to the hallway wall with an axe, chopping through the place where the secret bookshelf door was supposed to go. He crammed himself into that tiny room, collapsing in front of the broken mirror. He was grabbing shards of glass, trying to piece them together, screaming. Screaming more than I thought a person was able. I had never seen an adult cry like he did in that moment. Act so hopelessly. Not then, and not since.

Henry was gone.

We didn't speak much after that. What was left of the mirror was gone the next day. I thought the police would arrive at any moment. But they never did. Henry's school never called. His friends never came by to see where he'd gone. Visiting family joked about the hole in the hallway, prodding dad about his renovating skills. Eventually he replaced the drywall. Eventually I moved out.

I try to forget the mirror without also forgetting Henry, but it's difficult. When I see him in my dreams it's always in the mirror world, always an unconvincing illusion. I wake up thinking about my time in the mirror, the times where it tried to teach us how to control our anger. I find myself unable to sleep again, stuck with the idea that even that perfect world couldn't save me. Couldn't save Henry.

Henry is gone from this world. The world doesn't even remember him. Sometimes I wonder if mom even remembers him, since she passed when he was born. But then I have to tell myself they're all together somewhere. Dad and mom and Henry, somewhere even better than the mirror world. It's the only way I can live.

The last time I visited the house was eight years ago. Right after dad died and I had to sell it to pay off his reverse mortgage. I asked the realtor for some time alone in that guest bedroom. After he left I opened the closet. I peeled back the replacement panel dad haphazardly nailed on so many years ago, and I looked inside. It brought back all those memories that I wanted to forget. I remembered the seconds after the baseball hit the glass. The world behind the mirror flattening in an instant, pushing Henry up against the boundary between worlds. His face just before it all went opaque. The rivulets of blood that poured out from the spiderweb of cracks. The thick puddle it made on the floor. The moan the mirror made, like a dying animal.

But it was gone. It was all gone.

It wasn't just the mountains of Coconino that made me want to write this. I'm forty three now. I've had a cough since I started smoking in high school, and lately it's been getting much worse. But it's not from the cigarettes. Three days ago I had an especially bad fit. Coughed for an hour into a tissue. When I crumpled it up to throw it away I noticed something hard inside. Something no larger than a pill. I pulled back the tissue and found it, sitting among the spots of blood. A shard of glass.

in reply to @blackle's post:

extremely good. the sort of short story i would see in a cult classic anthology one-off that would make it to the local bookstore's 'recommendations' shelf a few months later

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