I tried my hardest, I really did, but life was tough. My classes didn’t matter. I mean, really, when will I need to know about the Qing Dynasty in real life, or use any of the vocabulary learned in English class? The only thing kind of useful is my algebra class, because at least that relates to computers and programming and making video games. It’s the only class I could pay attention to and actually get a decent grade in. That’s what my report card said.
When my dad got my grades, he looked at me with his signature disappointed face. It wasn’t just the grades though, it was everything. He was wondering how things would have turned out if mom were here, or if I didn’t exist at all. Sometimes I wondered the same thing. He gave me his usual lecture about working hard and doing good in school and blah, blah, blah, before I could slink into my room and work on my homework.
Well, first I played video games. It’s more important than the homework, if I plan to become a game designer. My dad popped his head in to tell me he was getting dinner ready, and to glare at my game–do your homework. I put the game down and acted like a dutiful student. I breezed through my geometry work and tried to read my book for English, but I couldn’t focus on it. My mind drifted to Diana. English was the only class we shared, and there, we got seated next to each other. My eyes would drift to her during class, and I would rack my brain trying to come up with something to say to her. That was the only reason I actually went to English class.
When my dad popped his head into my room again, he came to tell me dinner was ready. He looked over me and the homework I had strewn across my bed. I thought he’d let me know I was doing good work, or at least nod in approval. His expression was just as disappointed as it had been when he saw my grades.
Before taking my seat at the table, I went to the bathroom. I did my business, splashed some water on my face, then looked in the mirror. My face wasn’t greasy anymore. I looked really good in this light, unlike the rest of the day. The acne on my cheek was gone. My face looked sharper and more handsome. I turned my head, and watched my reflection turn with it. I had moments when I’d look really nice, but this was on a whole new level. I looked mature and confident, like the person I was supposed to be this entire time.
The reflection flashed a grin that I hadn’t smiled.
I recoiled, and my reflection did the same. It was still smiling.
My heart climbed up my throat. Blood pounded through my ears.
The reflection raised its hand, and beaconed.
This had to be a prank. My dad did something with the mirror before I came home, or maybe when I was in my room. He never pulled a prank on me before, but that had to be what was going on.
The reflection waved again.
I ran my hand across my forehead. The reflection didn’t. I stepped to the mirror, and the reflection did the same. Good. I needed to get close and see how all this worked.
I put my hand on the mirror. It was soft under my hands. The reflection copied my movement so our hands were pressed together. It was still smiling, even though I wasn’t. Maybe someone slipped shrooms into the school meatloaf. That sounded like a good explanation, didn’t it?
The reflection curled its fingers, lacing them in my hands. It yanked my hands to the other side of the mirror. The glass rippled, and my reflection distorted.
I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out.
My arms slid into the glass. I tried to pull away, but the reflection was stronger. My face approached the glass. I leaned back as far as I could, delaying the inevitable as long as possible.
My cheek touched the glass, then the rest of my head followed.
I tumbled into the other side of the bathroom. I scrambled to my feet, and stared at the mirror. My reflection stared back, and this time, it looked like me. I was chubby and my face was oily and a strand of hair was out of place. I looked like a mouse about to run away. I looked down at myself, but I wasn’t in my body. I was taller and slimmer. I rubbed the unfamiliar angles of my face, then checked my palm. It wasn’t greasy. I had become that handsome reflection in the mirror.
My breaths came shallow. I leaned against the counter and tried to steady myself.
Oh god oh god oh god.
This was nice, but it wasn’t me. I didn’t belong wherever I was; I needed to climb back into the mirror and get home before–
A knock came from behind.
“Tyler, you done in there?” That was Diana’s musical voice.
Every muscle tensed.
Diana was here, in my apartment. I didn’t think she even knew my name.
“One moment.” My voice was deeper and richer than I’d expected.
I forced myself to the door, gripped the handle, and opened it.
Diana stood in front of the bathroom door with that devious smirk of hers. Her hair fell to her shoulders in curls that caught the golden light. Her shirt was my favorite shade of blue, like a clear sky. And she was in my apartment.
No, that was wrong; this was our apartment. Dad moved to a house, so the apartment fell into my hands. I’d asked Diana, my girlfriend of over a year, to live with me, and she accepted. I knew that without being told, as if someone unlocked memories that had been lurking in my mind.
“Are you doing okay?” Diana pulled me in for a hug.
“Of course.” I held Diana tight. Her hair smelled like cinnamon.
After a few seconds, Diana pulled back. Her hands slipped off my shoulders, down my arms, and landed in my hands. She pulled me out of the bathroom.
Dad was in the living room, along with all my friends. They were here to celebrate my promotion to lead game designer at my job. I’d proven myself at every stage during my career, and landed my dream job. Thing is, I’ve never had a job, not even some crappy part-time thing at McDonald’s. But these memories of working on video games were in my mind, like this new history with Diana.
I sat down with everyone, and we ate cake, drank coffee, and told jokes. Dad stood up, came to my side, and patted me on the shoulder. He said nothing, but he gave me what I called his Proud Dad smile, where his crow’s feet crinkled deep. It was a smile I’d seen a lot, because Dad was always proud of me. At least in this world, in these memories. I liked this version of him.
A knock interrupted the party. Dad started for the door, but I told him that I’d open it. Diana kissed me on the cheek, then I stood up and answered.
On the other side stood me–the real world me with his greasy face and putty body. I made the mistake of meeting the reflection’s eyes.
It was in the eyes that I saw thousands of people locked away in the mirror, living their greatest fantasies, yet clawing at the walls. They’d been visited by their own reflections, then trapped within this mirror world where the demon would slowly consume their essence until only a husk remained. This demon had been doings its work for as long as humans looked at their reflections in ponds. I was the next victim.
The reflection raised its arms for an embrace.
I slammed the door in its face, but it wouldn’t stop the creature. Nothing could stop it, not in this world.
I ran through the living room. Everyone stared, but it didn’t matter. Nothing here was real.
I darted into the bathroom, and slammed the door behind me. The mirror showed my wild-eyed reflection. I was back in my actual body, the one the doppelgänger was using. Maybe that was a good sign?
I placed my hands on the mirror, and the surface rippled. I pushed, and my hands sank into the other side. I threw the rest of myself inside, and back to my world.
* * *
I stopped looking into mirrors. I tried to forget what I saw, forget what happened, but it stuck to my brain like mold. I asked questions about the mirror world, starting with my dad. I couldn’t go up and ask if he’d ever been dragged into the mirror before, but I asked if he’d seen anything strange in the glass. He gave me a wary look. At school I asked my friends the same question, and they passed it off as a joke.
I carried on through the week, replaying what happened in the mirror world. So much good was going on in that world, so much so that I was tempted to go back. But I knew what creature lived there and what it would do to me. No thanks. Still, I wanted the beautiful parts of the world, so I worked to make them reality.
I started studying video games–actually studying them instead of sitting around playing them. It was hard, slow work that ended in a little a game. I showed it to my dad, expecting him to crack a smile or tell me I should keep it up. The longer he stared at the screen, the further his face drooped, and the worse I felt. What I made was crap; I didn’t have talent for this sort of stuff. My dad told me I did good work, but I heard his true thoughts–I was wasting my time.
I worked up the courage to talk to Diana, a little at first, then I started having conversations with her. I always imagined her as soft-spoken and kind, but reality showed me a harsher side. Even so, she was so beautiful that I couldn’t help but fall in love. I asked her out on Friday, after school. She looked me over with a frown, examining every little flaw of mine before saying,
“Sorry, I’ve got a boyfriend.”
We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. That wasn’t supposed to happen. We were supposed to get together, then live together. I was supposed to be a prodigy in game design; that’s what the mirror world showed me. I had to be more than the loser I was in reality.
When I got home, I marched into the bathroom. I kept my head down, seeing my reflection in the edges of my vision. I took a deep breath, then faced myself. The reflection was of the more handsome, more successful version of myself. He curled his lips into a hungry smile. From this side I couldn’t feel the malice emanating from him, but I knew it was there. I knew that the thing in the mirror wanted to trap and slowly kill me.
In a world where you have everything.
It was the wrong thing to do. The hero is supposed to kill the demon or persevere through life. That’s what happened in games and movies.
The reflection raised its hand, and beaconed. It beaconed to a perfect world.
My mouth dried. A pressure gripped my head. I knew what I was going to do, and I knew it was a mistake, but it was the best option I had.
I moved closer to the mirror, and my reflection did the same. I held my hands up, palms facing the glass. I moved them forward until I touched the rippling surface. The reflection’s grin spread too far across its face, like and invisible string pulled at the cheeks. I pressed against the glass, and my hands slipped inside. I followed with the rest of my arms, then stuck my head into the glass.
The bathroom in the mirror world was empty when I came through. I looked down at myself to find my mirror world body with its ropy, healthy muscle. More details of my mirror life came to me. I made enough money to support myself and Diana, but she held a part-time job to get herself out of the house. I’d gone to my first choice college, and graduated at the top of my class. Dad and I had a great relationship.
A knock interrupted my thoughts.
I stared at the white door only a few steps away. I listened, waiting to hear Diana’s voice or Dad’s voice on the other side.
The knock came again with the same lazy rapping as before. It didn’t fool me.
I took a deep breath, then approached the door. I gripped the handle with a clenched hand, then turned it.
My real world self raised its head, and focused on my eyes. The horrors from before battered me, showing me what was to come in the future, after I had my fun in this world.
The monster raised its arms for a hug.
My body coiled up, ready to turn around and leap back through the mirror. I forced myself to be still. What happened next was meant to happen.
The creature stepped toward me. Its breath was cold on my neck. The stench of dirt wafted off the monster. It held its arms wide, then curled them around me.