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Fiction Horror

“Happy Birthday, Mommy!” Startled out of a deep sleep, Julia woke to the twins jumping on the bed like two little monkeys.

“Get over here.”  She smiled, reaching out for the children.

As they tumbled on top of her with their hugs and kisses, she had to laugh. It was a good way to start her birthday.

“Are we going to the carnival, Mommy?”

“Did you think about it? Can we go?”

“Can we, Mommy, can we?”

The questions came at her in rapid fire succession. She felt the exhaustion and slight headache lingering from her long week at the office, but seeing those little faces looking at her so earnestly she couldn’t say no.

***

Showing the stamps on the backs of their hands the family of three entered the house of mirrors together. 

“You know the rules, right?” She questioned them for the umpteenth time.

“Yes,” Gabby answered, jumping up and down impatiently.  “Stay where you can see us.”

“No talking to strangers,” added Michael.

“And when it’s time to leave what do we do?”

“We leave,” both children said in unison. She hoped they would obey, remembering last year when they threw themselves down on the ground in complete meltdown mode begging to stay just five more minutes. 

“And who is Uncle Robert?”

“We know who he is, Mommy.”

“Promise?”

“Yes.”

Fighting the slight uneasiness, she stepped into the semi dark room still holding the hands of her children, her precious little ones, only to have them both simultaneously wriggle away to explore.

***

“This isn’t so bad,” Julia thought as she started walking around. The room was on the smaller side, easy to keep an eye on the kids, and although the lights were dim, it was not too dark to see.

She glanced into the mirror on her right side, her distorted reflection staring back, her face larger than life atop a shrunken down version of her body. 

“Whoa now,” she jumped, a bit startled and uncomfortable. Her skin pale, dark circles under her eyes, lines deeply etched between her eyebrows, hair wild and frizzy. “What the hell?”

Leaning closer, she stared intently at the face, wondering who was looking back at her. Bloodshot eyes unblinking dared her to look away.

“What’s the matter, Julia? Don’t like what you see?”

She jumped back, disturbed at being called out, shocked to hear her name. She knew about the recordings being played in the background, the actors walking around lurking in the background to scare people. But being called out by name? 

She looked back into the mirror from her new distance, this time her head a little bit of a head seemingly disconnected from her body. 

“Is that better, Julia?” The voice taunted her. “You’re far away now, removed, distant. Unavailable.” 

Unavailable? A strange word for a mirror to call her. Her ex-husband’s voice taunted her “You’re unavailable, Julia. Cold as ice.” She felt chills suddenly, actually felt cold as ice. Heart beating madly, she looked around.  Was he there? That wasn’t possible. 

Where are the children? She looked around cursing her preoccupation with her own demons, taking the attention off her little ones. Panicked she started running, in and out, pushing through the packed room. Why were there so many people? Wasn’t there any crowd control? That kid at the door checking their stamped hands, couldn’t he see it was overcrowded, overheating, overbearing?

Where are my children? She ran, the scattered reflections running alongside herself, cheeks red, eyebrows drawn together. “What’s the matter, Julia? Something wrong? Did you lose something?”  The mirror’s voice taunted her.

Did she lose her children? No, impossible. They had to be there somewhere. Slow down, Julia, slow down. Take a breath.

Was that Gabby? She saw a reflection in the corner of the room, a twisted version of her child, long and lean like a super model. That was not her little girl, she gasped, watching the reflection put a hand on a hip in a provocative manner. Who was she emulating? She carefully monitored her online accounts, setting strict parental controls, but apparently it wasn’t enough. Her daughter had been influenced somewhere. She continued to stare, unable to look away, as her daughter spun around looking back at her reflection over her shoulder, lifting her hair letting it fall in cascades slowly down her back. Was this a glimpse into the future seeing the teasing she would perfect over the years? She would mess with the wrong man, not understanding the repercussions of her actions. Gabby, her Gabby, winking and flirting. She had to stop her but was frozen.

“Julia, she’s a mini you, isn’t she? A real charmer,” her ex-husband’s voice rang out clear as a bell. Did the children hear their father? Would they recognize that nasty voice, or had it been too many years since he had left them without any notice? A blessing and a curse when she woke up alone in the house with two screaming babies to care for and protect into eternity.

Where was Michael? Putting Gabby on hold for a moment she struggled to think, to concentrate despite the tormenting voice from her past. Where was her son?

Spinning around searching for her son the room took on a tilt. Was it actually spinning along with her, some kind of mechanical floor installed to increase her level of disorientation? 

She wanted to scream, tried desperately to call out for help but was unable to open her mouth. As if in an episode of sleep paralysis, her grunting and gurgling was all she could force out. 

“Careful there, babe, you’re becoming unhinged. Sure you’re fit for custody? Hmm???” Custody!  A word from years ago thrown around loosely with nothing to back itself up from the man who took off at the first sign of responsibility. Custody? Was that a threat now after all these years? “Have you lost your children?” He laughed, a maniacal laugh rising in volume louder and louder interspersed with the fun house laughter of the children around her. What could possibly be that funny? She turned to find that laughter, to make it stop.

There he was! Michael, her son, innocently looking at his reflection, short and stout making him laugh as bigger boys came from out of nowhere pushing him aside to see their own reflection. She saw her son’s look of surprise then his scowl, his face turning red like it did before a tantrum. Would he cry now, out in public? Would he push back like he did with his sister? Would he walk away like she had instructed him over the years? Pick your battles, she had scolded him time and again, worried about his temper. She saw him pushing back with all his might, expressing the temper that was engrained in his little body through his DNA. The bigger boys striking back, leaving her son on the ground where they gave him a kick for good measure. “Michael,” she cried silently again, unable to move, frozen. She blinked seeing the scene differently, her son once again laughing at his wavy reflection at the new mirror a few feet away from the imagined scene.

“Uncle Robert!”  She wanted to scream their code. “Uncle Robert!” Stop everything and follow me. Do not question me. Do not answer me. Just do what I say. We are in a dangerous situation. “Uncle Robert!” She would bring her children out of this nightmare, back to the safety of their home, rewind the day to her little monkeys jumping on the bed with their birthday wishes. Before her daughter turned into a young woman, the temptress, discovering the lure and power her body would possess. Before her son grew taller than she herself was, strong in physicality and emotion, fighting the battle between good and evil. Before her ex-husband came out from whatever rock he had crawled under to knock her down, take away her joy, her self-confidence. “Fuck you!” she whispered to his face reflected in the mirror instead of her own. “Fuck you!” she repeated, horrified to see the young mother next to her quickly guide her children away in shock.

She stood for a moment. What had become of her? She closed her eyes, willing the voices, the maniacal laughter to stop. Counting backward from ten she did her breathing exercises. Getting down to zero she hesitated. What would greet her when she opened her eyes? 

Her reflection. The face she saw every day in her mirror at home. The slightly tired, thirty something young woman with the dark eyes and naturally curly hair looked back. She smiled, testing her reality. Her reflection smiled back. 

“Come on, little ones, let’s go,” she found the twins together laughing, poking each other good naturedly, making goofy faces at each other. 

Grateful for a little hand in each of her own they exited into the sunlight. 

***

“That was fun, Mommy!”

“Can we get ice cream?”

“Please?”

“Please, Mommy? And cotton candy?”

“Cotton candy, yeah, cotton candy! Can we, Mommy, can we?”

She looked down at her children, her innocent little ones. “We have ice cream at home.”

They grumbled as expected.

“And birthday cake,” she added to sweeten the deal.

Their faces lit up. She exhaled as they got in the car and fastened their seatbelts.

November 18, 2023 21:29

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8 comments

Hazel Ide
21:26 Nov 29, 2023

I love how it ended, the innocence of the children having no clue the tribulations of their mother and what she’s gone through. Great tension build! Thanks for sharing!

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Hannah Lynn
03:19 Nov 30, 2023

Thank you so much, Hazel! Thankfully the children remained innocent! The world can be a scary place. Thanks for reading and commenting. 😊

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Joan Of Arc
15:39 Nov 28, 2023

Amazing story, great job!!

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Hannah Lynn
16:34 Nov 28, 2023

Thank you so much! I’m excited that you enjoyed the story! 😊

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Emily Manion
14:07 Nov 26, 2023

w o a h

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Hannah Lynn
14:42 Nov 26, 2023

Emily, thanks for reading! :)

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AnneMarie Miles
21:55 Nov 18, 2023

This is a wonderful and realistic depiction of the hard truths of motherhood. In the first scene I already felt my chest tightening and head spinning at her children's immediate, insistent, and rapid questioning. To be a mother: it is system overload; it is highest stimulation; it is glass empty and knocked over. The chaotic scenes in the mirror rooms are a great symbol of all of the ways mothers see themselves and can get caught up in all the doubts and insecurities that come with being a parent. Thanks for sharing, Hannah!

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Hannah Lynn
01:25 Nov 19, 2023

Thanks so much AnneMarie! Motherhood is both terrifying and the most rewarding experience. I appreciate you taking the time to read the story and I love your feedback! :)

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