Mirrors are NOT safe

When I was younger, I had what you could call an ‘irrational fear’ of mirrors. I hated them. I don’t know when it started, but it has always stuck with me. Perhaps when I was young, I made a face into the mirror, and my reflection didn’t make the face back, or perhaps that was just a bad dream. But I can’t look into a mirror without, to this day, without thinking like the other side of it may be alive. That there might just be more happening there than just what my eyes could see. That’s why I don’t have mirrors in my apartment. I look into the phone camera to fix my hair, and even that- I do rarely. 

Now, I know how stupid that is. Mirrors aren’t a portal to some uncanny world, and nor do they contain something dreadful or terrifying. They contain us, reflect our image, and help us be beautiful for the world to see. I’m a man of science, and as much as I struggled in maths in high school, I know and trust science. Science says that smooth surfaces reflect light while rough surfaces scatter light. If a smooth surface reflects all the light that strikes it, we see our image on that surface. That smooth surface is a mirror. 

However, sometimes having irrational fears may save your life as it saved mine. By the end of this, I promise you- you’ll never look at mirrors or me the same way again, and if it helps someone out there, my job here is done. 

Last week, I received a call on my phone from a number that I instantly recognized. It’s not always that I got to do that. In fact, it was one of the few numbers from highschool that was still etched into my memory. 

It was Ashley’s number. 

“Ashley?” I said as I picked up the call. 

“James, this is Ashley’s father.”

His voice sounded heavy, like it carried a lot more weight than it should. I waited for him to say something, but a momentary silence filled the space between my response. 

“Yes?” I said, after a few seconds. 

“Ashley has…” his voice trailed off as if he was forcing the words out of him. “Ashley has passed away.”

“What?”

“Yes. It happened a month ago. In her note, she wanted me to send over a CD that she had marked for you. It came back to me yesterday and the courier service said that you had moved away from your apartment in San Francisco,” he said, almost choking on his words. After a brief pause, he continued, “Can you tell me your new address so that I can send it over?”

Ashley was dead. His words crashed into me like a sudden tidal wave, bringing with it all the memories I had with her. I didn’t know for how long I was silent, reeling in shock, but her father shouting my name brought me back to my senses. 

“James?” he said louder than the last time I heard him. “James, do you want this or not?”

“I do. Sorry, here’s my address,” I said and told him my address slowly, knowing that he was writing it down. I could feel the pain through his voice, and I didn’t want to burden him with giving me more details. But I didn’t just want to hang up and let it go. An intuitive part of me guessed already how Ashley might have died. The rational part of me was busy fighting that irrational part, urging me to ask him how she died. 

It couldn’t happen. It wasn’t possible. She didn’t kill herself, right?

“Very well, James. I’ll send this over.”

“How did she die?” I asked, and the momentary silence returned. 

“Suicide. She hanged herself,” her father said. I didn’t remember what he said after this or if he hung up the call himself. I was lost in the reverie of my 20s, thinking about our time. And I couldn’t help but blame myself for it. 

It was my fault that Ashley was dead. It should’ve been me, instead. 

Me and Ashley were good friends, but I fell in love with her after our first night together. We were young and filled with copious amounts of alcohol when she leaned in to kiss me. We made love for hours, and the hours of the night flew by. She woke me up in the morning and gave me the ‘talk’ that shattered my innocent romantic heart in pieces. 

“Last night was just a one-time thing. We are good friends and we shouldn’t ruin that.”

“Yeah,” I nodded, feeling my heart sink deeper in a hole that I didn’t know existed. “Don’t catch feelings,” I said and smirked at her. 

She looked at me, still smiling as she raised her eyebrow, and I wondered how it was even humanly possible to not catch feelings when eyes as perfect as hers looked at me like that. 

“I didn’t know you had a laptop,” she said, looking over to the corner of the room. In those days, laptops were rare and only starting to gain relevance as something which could be a substitute for the all-efficient and bulky personal computer. They weren’t cheap either. 

“That’s not mine,” I said. I should’ve stopped her from touching it, and I should’ve told her not to open it, but as she did those exact things, my primate mind was still coming to terms with what had just happened and what it meant for my friendship with her. 

“Whose is it?” she asked as we watched the static Windows logo fade in and out on its screen. 

“My uncle sent it over today.”

“Is this the state detective uncle or the uncle that looks like Al Pacino?”

“The state detective uncle.”

“I always thought Al Pacino was the rich one,” Ashley said as the laptop screen lit up. “What’s the password?”

“Exactly,” I said, because I had no idea what the password was. That’s the whole reason the laptop was there in the first place. 

She typed the word ‘EXACTLY’ on the screen and the ‘Incorrect password. Try again’ dialog box popped up. 

“Is it not in all caps?”

“I don’t know the password. This isn’t a gift. Look closely at the lid,” I said pointing towards the grey outer body of the laptop. It had the initials “P.Y” on them. 

“P.Y.?”

“It belonged to Peter Yolundire,” I said. 

“The Peter Yolundire? The writer of the Higher Fate series?”

“Yep. My uncle’s investigating his suicide. His IT guys couldn’t get this to open and he sent this over to me to see if I can,” I said. 

“He should’ve sent it to me instead of his writer nephew. You should tell him I’m in Comp Sci.” 

“For that, he has to know you, which he doesn’t,” I said. She smiled and went back to typing his name on the password box, only to get an error again. 

We spent the morning trying different combinations. We tried the names of Peter’s books, we tried the name of his wife, and we went on to try dates of his birthday, his marriage anniversary, but nothing worked. 

Finally, I had the brilliant idea of entering 12345678, and it opened up. 

“I guess only a genius writer knows how a genius writer thinks,” I had said, which made her laugh. I think many of the things I did when I was in college were an attempt in trying to impress her or make her laugh in some way or form. I was in accounts, and I took up a writing minor when she had told me that she loved reading. 

Readers are impressed by writers, in the same way that plants are impressed by the sun. Without the latter, the former would wither. I didn’t think I’d have the skill or talent in writing, but when a few short stories of mine, stories that I wrote without knowing about sentence structures, exposition or cadence, were published in the college magazine, even I had started to believe that I may just have the talent after all. 

Ashley was different. She couldn’t write fiction in the way most aspiring writers would want to write fiction, but she was a voracious reader. I sometimes wondered how she even found the time to balance doing her computer stuff and read two to three books a week. She was obsessed with reading, a trait that I found quite attractive among other traits like her brilliant mind, her obsessive desire to outperform her peers and her innate curiosity for all things she didn’t understand. 

I dreamed that I would be a bestselling author one day, write books that would be made into sub-par movies and spend my life married to her and writing- a cardinal sin that I later knew not to ponder about. 

The laptop screen opened to the desktop, and it was filled with folders named “Writing1”, “Writing2”, etc. and a few shortcuts to softwares like PowerDVD and WinAMP, among others. Naturally, Ashley ignored the software shortcuts and went and double-clicked on the “Writing1” folder. It opened up to reveal dozens of .doc files. They were each titled with chapter headings like “Chapter 1”, “Chapter 2” and so on. 

“Jackpot!” Ashley shouted as she clicked on the file titled “Chapter 1”. 

“I’m going to go take a shower,” I said as she started reading through them. She didn’t answer, which I found quite endearing. It only took two minutes of reading for her to get hooked on the first manuscript. She nodded, still staring at the screen, as if to let me know that she heard me. 

“Are you planning on missing college today?” I asked while fixing up my hair with my fingers.

“I’ll catch up with you at lunch. These are amazing!” she said. I didn’t know what she had found in those text files on Peter Yolundire’s laptop, but she seemed to be immersed in them. Needless to say, I didn’t see her in college. I didn’t expect her to be there in my room when I returned home at seven, but there she was. The dark room lit only by the white screen of Peter’s laptop, illuminating just her face and shoulders as she hunched over endlessly scrolling through pages and pages of text. 

I turned on the lights. She turned around covering her eyes by holding her palm near her forehead as if she had just seen the sun. 

“God, turn that off,” she said. 

“Have you had anything to eat?”

“Food is for the lesser divine,” she said and smiled. 

“What?”

“These books are filled with all these amazing lines. The plot is amazing. The characters aren’t so great, and most of them feel like they are based on the same people, but the writing is solid. It’s a shame he didn’t publish these. But that’s not the best part! There’s something hidden in all his stories. I can feel it! It’s there in every one, and yet I haven’t found it yet. I know that I can-”

“Why aren’t you picking up your phone?”

“My phone?”

“Your phone. I called you several times. Your dad called. He asked me where you were and why you weren’t answering your calls.”

“What!” Ashley mouthed as she jumped towards the bed. She reached for the phone and called her father, and judging by her conversation, her parents weren’t pleased to know why their whiz kid daughter wasn't returning their calls. 

“When is your uncle coming back to take the laptop?” she asked when she disconnected the call. 

“Tomorrow morning,” I said. It was true.

She appeared to be disappointed for a moment, but then her eyes lit up as if she just remembered something important. She went over to her backpack and pulled out a CD case. 

“I should have a blank one here, somewhere,” she said, shuffling through the case. “Found it!” she said, pulling out a CD and holding it in the air like she had just found the solution to all her problems.

She ran over to the laptop. 

“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked as the CD tray popped out of Peter Yolundire’s laptop. 

“I’m copying the files to this CD,” she said with a casual excitement in her voice. “I think I’m starting to figure it out. There are patterns in every story, in every novel. I can feel it, and I think the beautiful writing and tight prose is hiding something spectacular!”

“Yeah, but do you need a CD to copy 19 files?” 

“19? I found more than 5300 text files on his drive. All of them contain parts and portions of books he never finished. And trust me, James, these have some of the best lines and descriptions I’ve ever read. It might help you hone your own craft. Want me to make a copy of this CD?”

I sighed. “Let it be.”

“But don’t you want to read his work? He was a genius at this, trust me. I know,” she shouted. 

“I’ll spend my time reading things which are finished, thank you very much,” I said and smiled at her. She eyed me as if to say something else but she didn’t. The CD made whirring sounds inside Peter Yolundire’s laptop till it got burned with all the text files inside Peter Yolundire’s laptop. She went home happily, as I opened my own computer to write. 

I never considered myself a “writer” in the strict sense of the word. Sure, anyone can write. Ask anyone. They’ll tell you how they’ve always wanted to write a book, and they just have the perfect idea for it. But to actually sit down, think of the world, of the characters, of the story and its numerous plot threads, to think of the theme, of the conflict and the rising and receding ebbs and flows of tension and emotions that glues a reader to the pages, and finally to tie it all down neatly with a perfect ending- that’s something very few people can do. Even the few that manage to do it, ask them after a drink or two, and even they’ll tell you they have no idea how they did it. 

It’s like that with me. I outline, yes, but never stick to it. I write and write till I cannot write anymore and wake up in worlds of my own imagination, interacting with characters I’ve killed holding me hostage and asking me reasons. 

“Why did you kill me?” 

Because it made sense. You served your purpose in the story. 

“But I had a life of my own. I had people who loved me. I had my own desires and goals. I had my own responsibilities.”

Doesn’t matter anymore. 

Three sharp knocks on my bedroom woke me up. Three sharp knocks always meant that it was my uncle. 

“Did you figure it out?” he asked. 

“It’s 12345678.” 

“What? Really?”

“Yes,” I said, and we both shared a hearty laugh. 

“The guys at the station tried everything from his mother’s birthday to the name of his childhood school!” he said while chuckling. 

I asked him how Peter Yolundire had committed suicide, to which he said that he had broken his mirror and stabbed himself in the chest with it. Then he bled to death. I didn’t know what to do with that morbid information. 

I went to school hoping to tell Ashley this information, but she was absent. I called her and she didn’t pick up. I asked her friends where she was, and they didn’t have any ideas either.

I drove to her house in the evening and saw that she was still glued to her laptop, typing away something. A new laptop, that she hadn’t had before. 

“My dad bought me a laptop today,” she said when she caught me looking at the laptop. Her hair was still all over the place and she didn’t look like she hadn’t slept, probably since the previous night. 

“I guess my rich uncle has new competition now,” I said. She laughed, and in that laugh, I could feel the tiredness in her voice. 

She went back to typing. I asked her what she was typing. 

“I’m trying to write in his style. I copied and typed a few stories, trying to understand what’s underneath them, but I think I’ll only be able to go there if I write something myself.”

“This is why you skipped college? You know we have semesters this fall, right?”

She didn’t answer that question. 

“I think it’s the characters, but I’m not sure. In each and all of his stories, one of the characters gets drunk and high and sits in front of a mirror or looks into a lake, or the reflective surface of anything, and then smokes a cigar. That’s what always happens, but there is more after that. One character ends up there somehow, and every time the story reaches near the ending, he stops writing them. At the peak of all conflict. You know, you’re a writer. You can’t just leave a scene with exciting tension unresolved. But he does exactly that. I need to find out why, and what the pattern means,” she said and looked out the window for a moment. “I’ll be taking this week off, James. I won’t be coming to college. I need to figure this out.”

“A week? You’re going to skip a week of college for this?”

“Yes. You’ve always known how obsessive I am. I won’t be able to focus on anything else if I leave this unresolved,” she said and gave me a sheepish smile. 

“Are you sure you’re not reading too much into this, searching for patterns? This is not real. It is fiction.”

“Every fiction contains some truth to it,” she said and started shuffling through her desk, “You should know that well, mister writer.”

Then she took out a CD and handed it over to me. “Here. I made a copy. Read these. It’ll change the way you think about writing. I know you don’t read much, but try. I’ll call you this weekend.”

She didn’t call that weekend. She texted. “Come over. Imp. Bring beer,” that’s all her text message said and I took a beer with me. 

“What do Sylvia Plath, Hunter S Thompson, Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemmingway have in common?”

Ashley asked this with a smile on her face. She had large dark circles on her eyes and looked as thin as a twig. Something was terribly wrong, and although she was excited, her attire said something else entirely. Her room was a mess. Empty bottles of beer everywhere, scraps of paper all over the place, spiderwebs on the corner of the rooms where small black spiders busily continued their web-building tasks confident that the woman they lived with won’t lay a hand on them. 

“I don’t know. They’re all great writers, I guess,” I said, trying to understand what went wrong in one week that led her to looking like that, and living like that. 

“They all killed themselves,” she said with an odd excitement in her voice. 

“Ashley, what has happened? Why are you living like… this?” I asked. 

“I’ve figured it out, John! I'm finally on it!” she said and yanked my hand towards her messy desk where she had her laptop screen open. 

“Read,” she said, opening a text file. 

“Ashley, I really think we should talk about how you’re living. What is wrong?”

“Read just the highlighted parts. Please read!” she said, placing a hand on my shoulder. I started reading the highlighted text on the screen. 

“We avoid death but we need to chase it. 

Run after it. 

Love it and seek it out with all our heart. 

Drink. Drink and drink and drink some more.

Then turn off the lights and stare into yourself.

Look into the reflection and contemplate death.

Great writers knew this. Now I know.”

“Do you see it?” she asked as I finished reading the highlighted portions. 

“Yes,” I said. 

“These are-”

“Instructions!” I said and looked at her.

“Exactly!” she shouted.

“But instructions to what?” I asked. 

“To death and creativity from the looks of it. Like all great writers it seems he had managed to tap into something involving death. Look. There are more here in all these files and I’ll figure it out. These lines occur as dialogues or statements, some characters say it and sometimes it is hidden in metaphors. The three files on his desktop were like a map to the 19 files on his drive. And look at this-” she said and clicked away to one of the drive files. 

“This shows the dates on which the document was created,” she said and opened it. “All of these files were created in the last two weeks before he died.”

“How is that even possible?” I asked, trying to calculate how much he would have to write in a day to write that much. 

“I don’t know but I did the math. Each of these files contain around 50,000 words, so he wrote around 950 thousand words. That’s almost 60 thousand words each day. That shouldn’t be humanly possible!”

“I can’t even write a thousand words a day,” I shouted. 

“That’s why i told you to read these! Did you check the CD out?”

“No, and you should stop digging so much into this!”

She didn’t listen. Whenever I called her, she picked up and told me she was busy. She didn’t come to college. A few weeks later, she stopped receiving my calls. A month later, she was gone. I heard from her neighbours that her parents had shifted to Switzerland and they took her with them. I tried calling her number, but she never picked up. 

I never got around to opening the CD and reading Peter Yolundire’s unfinished works. I didn’t have the patience or time to read through someone’s work-in-progress. Perhaps I should have. Perhaps that would’ve changed my career and I wouldn’t have ended up slaving away as a corporate accountant. But I discovered soon enough, after countless rejections, that writing won’t pay for my next meal. 

No matter how much it emotionally made sense, it was financially unviable. I wasn’t miserable at my job, but it never gave me the fulfillment that writing gave me. Even when I was alone, I spent my time writing stories and novels which I knew would never see a bookshelf in a real world. I did it for myself. It was fun. It was a faint line of color in my otherwise routine, gray world. 

Then, came the package from Ashley’s father. It was a CD shaped box. A second CD- when I hadn’t even dared to read the first. There was a letter attached to it from Ashley. I placed the CD in, and opened the letter. 

It read, 

James, 

I’m sorry for disappearing like that all those years ago. But circumstances were out of my control. I did what I had to do. If you’re reading this, it means I’ve successfully stepped across to the other realm of life. I’m not dead, but living humans can’t grasp the concept of death. Like them, I used to think that once you close your eyes, it’s over. But thanks to Peter Yolundire’s work and the instructions hidden beneath, I’ve discovered that it's not like that. 

I will kill myself soon and that is the only way to experience the true life on earth. A life that is real and true, and better than the illusion of a life that we’re all chained to. A life that waits for those who seek it. 

It would be a tragic end if I didn’t share this process and secret with the one person who led me to this. The instructions were simple, and I had figured it out years ago. You just have to get high or drunk and then look into the mirror. Do this in a dark room. Keep looking. You’ll see what I saw.

I hope it will help you transcend this boring plane of life as it helped me. 

Don’t kill yourself if you can resist it, but if you can’t, I will be waiting for my best friend on the other side. 

Love, 

Ashley. 

I promised myself I would never do that. Remember when I told you about my irrational fear of mirrors? That came back almost instantly, and I knew that I’d never do anything like that. For the next two days, I couldn’t stop crying thinking about Ashley. It was my fault, in a way. 

I had to know what happened to her, but I didn’t want to look into a mirror either. Then, a strange thing happened one day, which explained everything. 

When I went to sleep, I thought about the lines. 

“We avoid death but we need to chase it. 

Run after it. 

Love it and seek it out with all our heart. 

Drink. Drink and drink and drink some more.

Then turn off the lights and stare into yourself.

Look into the reflection and contemplate death.

Great writers knew this. Now I know.”

Instead of looking into the mirror, I closed my eyes and looked into myself. I thought about my own death and who would care if I was gone. Nobody. But as I did, I noticed that I was standing in front of a mirror. In a dream that almost felt too life-like to be true. 

My reflection had larger eyes. My reflection had his mouth open. 

He was screaming. I tried to wake up, but I couldn’t. I saw things worse than any person should be able to see. True suffering. Despair. Each person’s sadness experienced quickly and swiftly, vicariously through swiftly flowing dreams. I saw the darkness as it screamed and I couldn’t leave. It was as if I had discovered a deep dark hole and I couldn’t look away. I know things now that I wish I hadn’t known. 

The dreams didn’t stop. Each day I tried to look away from the mirror in the dreams but I couldn’t. My head ached too much during the day. I quit my job. I screamed into the pillows to make the whispers stop. They wouldn’t. 

Then, I started drinking. And I started writing. That helps. Everyday I write and I can see myself writing about characters, feeling their sadness in a whole new visceral way. I project my suffering into them and they project it back. The headache stops when I write. Stories help me escape. I get paid when people buy my books. They leave good reviews sometimes. 

I know things that will happen in the future and things that happened in the past that I have no way of knowing. It’s the whispers. They scream into me everything. Perhaps this was a small price to pay for total knowledge across dimensions that our minds are too small to understand. 

I soon realized where Peter and Ashley had gone wrong. Both looked at mirrors when the answer was to look into yourself and search for your own death. I looked into me and the mirror followed. I don’t want to die, and I don’t know why they died. I’ve never tried getting drunk, thinking about death and looking into the mirror. I don’t think I’ll ever do that. Nor should you. 

If you expected a ghost story, sorry there isn’t any. But if you’re still reading, I should tell you a few things that might help you. 

  1. Don’t go out of your house on November 23rd if you can. Wherever you live, just don’t. Trust me. 

  2. If you find a black cat near your house in the month of March, 2023, PLEASE FEED IT. Don’t ignore it and send it away. 

  3. If someone ever says your name in a crowded place in the year 2022 and you see the person and don’t recognize them, pretend you didn’t hear them and keep doing whatever you were doing. Under no circumstances should you talk with them. If you’re someone relatively famous, try avoiding crowded places in 2022.

That’s all. Feel free to call me crazy and ignore the above. 

The headache’s not returning, so I’ll stop here. I miss Ashley and think about Peter Yolundire often. Of course, those aren’t their real names.  I’d like to think that the monster I see in my dreams is the same one they saw in the mirror- the one that drove them to kill themselves. I don’t know. I’m not getting drunk, switching off the lights, lighting a cigar and looking into a mirror. I don’t need to find out. 

You don’t need to find out either, okay?

——————————

Thanks for reading!

Forward this to a friend who might like it, and if you were forwarded this story, click on the button below to subscribe!

Link to my books-
Before Apocalypse: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08245Y25N

SCARE SCARE Trilogy: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07YNMF9CD

Share