A short story
I think I had the dream again. That’s the only way I can explain it. Like a reverse of a dream where you know you’re dreaming but aware, this was being fully awake but aware it’s a dream. Hoping it’s a dream. I think. I don’t know, I can’t explain it.
The reflection in the corner of the room was smiling back, lips pulled wide and teeth bared. The ringing in my ear growing slowly louder and my heart pumping so fast. Bu-bum. Bu-bum. Not breathing, couldn’t breathe, eyes frozen on the reflection’s smiling face. My face. I wasn’t smiling.
I first had the dream when I was little. Seven or eight, I don’t remember, I just remember the dream. I remember how it was at night and I was walking into a bathroom that was either painted blue or the lighting was blue. The bathroom was small, a small sink with a cabinet on the left when you walk in, shag mat, plain toilet, and a tub. Not even ten feet at most. I remember going to the sink and looking into the mirror above it. I was a little kid, but I could still see perfectly into the mirror. Dreams always have weird inconsistencies.
The mirror was large and ornate. Just my reflection staring back at me. I stared longer, time ticking past. I don’t know why, but it felt like I was anticipating something. Playing chicken with my reflection. And then it wasn’t me. It was my face but it wasn’t me, wasn’t moving in time with my blinks or the rise of my chest as I breathed. And there was a feeling of wrong, wrong, something’s wrong. The lips began to pull back, skin stretched tight, and it started to grin; normal at first and then it wasn’t. Not smiling, but baring its teeth as its eyes went wide and it stared into me. That ringing filled my ears like a sharp vibration growing louder and louder and there was laughter and I couldn’t breathe and could feel my heart stop. Could feel the energy leaving me and my tiny body slowly crumbling to the ground, hands gripping the sink as that grinning face laughed and stared at my dying body. I was dying, knew I was dying, as I sunk to the bathroom floor.
Then I woke up.
I’ve remembered that dream ever since, clear as day. I don’t like mirrors, can’t stare at them for too long because what if my reflection thinks I’m playing chicken. Years and years have gone by but here we are. The reflection is my own but it is not me. I must have zoned out and imagined the grinning face in the corner of the room, staring at me from the corner mirror. I’m tired. Haven’t been sleeping. Just a waking dream.
The image must be burned in the back of my retinas.
I’m seeing it more often now. Like when you notice a pattern and then start to see it everywhere. I try not to look so I can forget about the stupid nightmare, let the burned image fade away, but it’s hard sometimes. It’s not just mirrors anymore. I’d walk past a wall of glass and catch white teeth and tight lips out the corner of my eye. When I turn off my phone and the black screen stares up at me, the grinning reflection is there with its wide unblinking eyes. The dark of a TV screen, the distorted side of my toaster, this reflection that isn’t me looks back and smiles.
There’s been a ringing in my ears. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep, the mental hum like a hazy fog. It’s been getting louder.
I should see a doctor. Get my eyes or ears checked. The nightmares are just getting to me. I haven’t slept in days.
A distant, faint laugh echoes through the house but it’s hard to hear past the ringing and ba-bum ba-bum of my heart getting louder. Fingers rub my temple in a desperate attempt to ease the pain there, my eyes are burning from exhaustion. I need sleep. I can take some medicine maybe, have it knock me out so I don’t have any dreams. That could work and then once I get some good rest then I’ll be able to think straight.
My legs feel heavy as I drag myself through the dark house to my bathroom, every step feeling like a mile. I try to get my hands to stop shaking as they rifle through the medicine bottles, settling on an allergy medicine that I know always knocks me out. Rest. I need rest. I don’t bother leaving the small bathroom to grab a cup and throw the pills back, turning the small faucet on and cupping my hands to fill them with water before bringing it up to my lips. They’ll kick in in about an hour, maybe less, and things will be good. They’ll be better. I’m letting my imagination run wild and it’s feeding my paranoia.
Sighing, I stand there for a second, hands braced on the small sink and toes sinking into the shag mat. I’m being ridiculous and overreacting over nothing. It was a silly kid’s nightmare. I need to get over it.
Taking a deep breath, I stand up a little straighter and look in the mirror above the sink. I hadn’t bothered turning on the light and could still see mostly, the blue tinted face staring back with tired haggard eyes. I looked at my reflection clearly for the first time in days, weeks, months? I look worn down and so exhausted. I’d let myself go. My fingers touched the bags under my eyes, the skin dark. Turning this way and that, I examined myself.
This won’t do. I look like a sad wretch.
I sighed and lifted the corner of my lips up with my fingers, forcing a smile on my face. Forcing myself to look better. I didn’t look any better. I tried harder, forcing the muscles to tighten and my lips to stretch. Teeth white in the dim light, I tried harder and harder to force the smile to brighten up my face and diminish the worn down sorry excuse of a person in front of me. It wasn’t working. I was getting desperate. Just look better. Look happy. What a sad excuse of a human. I could feel the skin of my lips split, my eyes wide and manic as I stared at my grinning reflection.
The blood was rushing through my head, a sharp hum growing louder as I stood there grinning with blood dripping down my lip.
I was still standing there smiling as the drugs kicked in, dragging me down to the floor. I fought against the sleep, not willing to give up my attempt to make myself look human, fingers tight on the sink and heart beat drowning out everything. I was still grinning when my head smacked on the bathroom floor.
My reflection stared down at me, still smiling.
An idea that’s been bouncing around as I plan a horror comic zine. The nightmare is actually a real nightmare I had when I was little that’s stuck with me. I don’t like mirrors much and can’t look at them for long, especially at night, and I always check the layout of every bathroom when I move into a new house.
Can’t be too careful.