Suspense Contemporary

Emmie wished the butterfly feeling in the pit of her stomach didn’t exist. She was doing everything in her power to calm her nerves. Deep breathing, counting the floating leaves on the river and constantly reassuring herself. 

Standing in the middle of the park, she forced her feet to remain glued to the cobblestones. To her right, an old tire dangled from a massive oak tree, whose leaves had fallen, creating a blanket of gold and orange surrounding her. To her left, the river that ran through the middle of the park, still had a few stray ducks, but most had left for a warmer climate. 

They had agreed to meet here at the tire swing, so she would stay put. 

Maybe he was late? 

No, he wasn’t. Emmie was early. 

Was he at a different location? Was she in the wrong place? 

No, there was only one tire swing in the whole park, that’s why she had chosen this spot. 

Emmie pulled out her phone and checked their previous conversation one more time, just to be sure. Yep. Meet at the only tire swing in the whole park. 

Suddenly grateful for the cool autumn air, Emmie flushed with unnecessary embarrassment at her own anxiety. 

Stop it, you’re being stupid, she chided herself. 

Slowly spinning, Emmie surveyed the area not for the first time. There was no sign of the tall, handsome man. 

Flickering on the water caught her eye. 

Expecting to see a duck swimming between the fallen oak tree leaves, Emmie stifled a gasp when instead she saw her own reflection waving hysterically at her. 

She blinked and the reflection returned to normal. Was she hallucinating? Slowly she raised her hand. The reflection mirrored her movement. Great, she thought, I’m so nervous I'm seeing things. 


She spun, jumping in surprise. 

“Emmett! Hi, you scared me,” she said as the tall man approached her. Emmett wore a university jacket and a beanie which left his long hair peeking out the sides and back. She liked his long hair, but with the weather getting colder, she couldn’t blame him for choosing a hat…even if it wrecked his perfect hair.

He gave her a lopsided grin, a dimple appearing. “I noticed. I didn’t mean to startle you, but you seemed to be really focused on something.” He glanced towards the river. 

“Oh,” she waved a hand, suddenly sweating despite the cool air. “Sorry about that, just admiring the scenery. I like to draw, and was kinda inspired.” 

All of her drawings consisted of stick men. But there was no way she could admit that she might have possibly seen her own reflection move on its own. Emmie wasn’t sure if it had been real. 

His face lit up. “Thats cool. Do you only draw scenery stuff or people too?” 

“Um..” Crap. “I’m really not that good. I don’t show anybody my stuff.” That ought to work.

His smile never wavered. “Nah, you’re just being humble.” 

She let out a nervous laugh and gestured to the path. “Well, shall we?” 

He nodded and the two started walking along the path that ran alongside the river. 

“You know,” Emmett began, “I almost didn’t agree to this.” 

“Oh? How come?” He hates me.

He shrugged, sheepishly staring at his foot as he kicked a rock. “Nothing against you, I just normally don’t go on dates with girls recommended by friends.” 

Emmie tilted her head up at him. “Why am I different?” 

He smiled, his dimple appearing again. “Emmett. Emmie. Emmett and Emmie, I don’t know. It’s kinda dumb, but I couldn’t pass up on a girl named Emmie.” 

She laughed. “Yeah, I guess it is cool how that worked out.” After a pause she added, “So what do you like to do for fun?” 

Having fought off the urge for this long, Emmie’s gaze shifted past Emmett and to the river. The many leaves and reeds shifted under the current of the water and her reflection waved frantically at her. 

Her toe snagged and she teetered forward. She caught herself, and Emmett, who had been answering her question, saw she was alright and kept talking. 

“...so there's the kill streak and my buddy got to over two hundred.” 

She didn’t remember hearing which video game he was talking about so instead of asking, she smiled and nodded at him. 

“Aren’t you going to ask me how many I got?” Emmett prompted. 

“Huh? Oh, yeah, sorry! How many did you get?” 

“Five hundred and thirty-two,” he said proudly.

“Wow, thats…a lot.” Emmie heard herself respond but her eyes landed past him and on the water again. 

“Yeah,” he continued, “The trick is…” 

His words fell on deaf ears as she stared at her reflection that was waving hysterically at her. The scarf had half fallen and was her mouth moving? Emmie’s hands moved to her own scarf, and the reflection snapped back to normal. Her scarf remained snuggly tucked around her neck. 

“...then he strangled the grandma! It was too funny.” Emmett laughed as he finished whatever story he just told. Emmie laughed with him though she had no idea why. 

“Hey, are you hungry?” Emmett asked. “I know this place-”

“Yes!” Anything to get away from the river. 

“Sweet!” He grinned and both dimples appeared this time. Wow, he’s cute. Why can’t I just focus on his face and not the stupid river reflection thing?

“You’ll like it, it’s got a lot of paintings and stuff. Scenery stuff too,” Emmett said.

“Huh? Oh, right! Yeah, that sounds cool.” Right, he still thought she drew.

He led the way off the path and vaulted into another story of how he and his friends first found the place. Emmie tried her best to listen. Earnestly listen. But she couldn’t shake the image of her reflection nor the sudden hole in her gut. Maybe she just needed some food; she hadn’t eaten anything for breakfast. Yeah, that was it! Once she had some food in her belly she’d be able to enjoy this date and actually listen- oh crap, his story!

“...So there we were, ‘proving a point’ to the guy. Wow, he was basically pissing his pants! It wasn’t until later…” Emmett kept talking, and looking at his surroundings. Emmie had to take longer strides to match his pace.

The two entered the marketplace of the city park, and the trail turned to cobblestone. Cute shops and Cafes lined the small street with patios and chairs. Ice cream and souvenir shops. It was quiet, but that was expected this time of year. 

As they walked, Emmie caught sight of her reflection in the glass window. She was clearer now, and silently screaming. Emmie tried to make out the words. 

Mop, urine gray..swim? That made no sense! 

“Here we are!” Emmett announced, opening a door and stepping inside. 

Emmie stepped in after him and immediately stopped in her tracks as dread filled her to her toes. 

“Huh,” said Emmett. “I guess they switched it up. No more scenery paintings.” 

Mirrors littered the walls. Tall and thin, short and wide. Square, circle or triangle. Ones with gold, silver and wooden frames. Even a few with no frames. 

Emmie was bombarded with her reflection, all waving hysterically at her. 

The barista from behind the counter called, “Welcome to the Reflection Cafe! What can I get you?” 

Emmett placed a hand on Emmie’s shoulder, gently pulling her forward. Emmie had never wanted to run away so badly in her entire life. 

“I’ll have the…” Emmett began. 

As Emmett peered at the menu, Emmie tried desperately to not stare at one of her reeflections, and failed miserably. 

Her reflections had blue lips and her skin seemed to be turning gray. Was it always like that? Had she not noticed it on the river? Or was her reflection evolving into something worse? She kept waving towards the door and shouting at her, though her voice was muted to silence. 

“The tuna sandwich and a coffee,” Emmett finally ordered. “Emmie? What do you want?” 

She jerked. “Oh, I'll have herbal tea, please. If you have any.” Something calming.

“I’m sorry, we just ran out. But I've got earl gray or chai.” 

“Chai, please.” Why did I say chai? I hate chai.

Emmett reached into his pocket, paused then patted down all of his other pockets. “Um, this is awkward. I think I forgot my wallet.”

“It’s okay,” Emmie said and stepped forward. She didn’t have the energy to care who paid at this point. 

She pulled out her wallet, and went to tap. Her gaze landed on the mirror behind the barista and this time fully expecting to see her freakish reflection managed to keep a straight face. 

Emmett took a step towards her, his reflection falling into the mirror. 

Her reflection recoiled from his.. 

“Thanks, by the way,” he said. “I appreciate it.” 

Emmie watched his image in the mirror as he spoke and then whipped her head to look at him. Normal. He was normal. Smiling that cute, dimpled smile. She felt sick. 

“Bathroom,” she blurted out. “I’ll be right back.” 

Bile caught in her throat, she couldn’t move fast enough. She refused to be the person who vomited on a first date. In the bathroom, she splashed water on her face and gripped the sink with white knuckles. 

Eyes closed she muttered under her breath, “You’re seeing things, Emmie. You’re hungry and this is probably a side effect of the new meds you’re taking. No big deal. Emmett does not have a forked tongue. You are seeing things. You will open your eyes and see your normal, panicked self and you’ll be alright.” 

She snapped her eyes open only to immediately jerk away from the sink. She was back. Blue lips, sunken eyes, gray skin and scarf coiled around her neck. Only this time she wasn’t screaming, but her blue lips carefully mouthing words. 

“Stop…Run..away from….him?” Emmie whispered the words her reflection had been trying to say. 

A different feeling of sickness hit her and she felt cold. She shook her head. “No. No. No, he wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t hurt me.” 

Not wanting to argue with a reflection, Emmie stepped out of the bathroom and marched herself back to where Emmett sat.

“Hey,” he said as she approached. “Better?” 

Apparently she had taken so long their orders were on the table. 

“Yeah, I think..” Emmie paused as she noticed the lid on her cup wasn't fully sealed and a few drops of chai tea spotted the table. Emmetts spoon lay on his napkin, soaking the thin material. 

It could be his coffee, but the feeling in her gut told her otherwise. The reflection in the mirror gave her a knowing look, crossing her arms. 

“...I don’t think I feel well. I’m sorry but I should go,” she finally said. 

“Oh, that sucks. Um, here at least have your drink.” He stood up, handing it to her. The unsealed lid slipped off, clattering to the floor. 

“No thanks, I’ve lost my appetite.” Emmie inched toward the door. 

“If it’s that bad, at least let me drive you home-” 

“No, it’s okay, I don't want to leave my car here.” Almost there.

“Come one, Emmie. We barely got to know one another. At least stay for your drink.” She caught the look in his eye and the realization of the truth terrified her more than the reflection had. 

“I’m sure. Bye!” she leapt out the door before he could say another word. 

He did not follow.

Neither did her poisoned reflection.

November 23, 2023 01:22

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