Saturday, September 24, 2011

Our Other Selves

Optical Elusion

Soon it will happen again.

You are wide awake in the night, listening in silent, rigid terror to the sloughing of the wind in the few trees scattered within the forest of concrete high-rises outside. Ancient boughs groan and creak, threatening to break and fall to earth. You can almost hear the sound of concrete stressing and fracturing beneath the weight of the elements.

You wait for the scream that hasn't arrived. Not yet.

The heat in your bedroom is unbearable, even though it is the dead of winter's night. The window is cranked open an inch, letting in an icy wind that somehow makes you sweat.

A sense of apprehension is carried in with it, as if the world waits with you.

The signs, the omens, are all there.

Soon it will happen.


Rising from sweat-soaked sheets, rubbing neck, throat, face with hot and clammy fingers, you walk to the mirror on the front of the dresser at the foot of the bed. Breathe mists before your face as you approach the glass, partially obscuring what you can hardly bear to look at.

You stand naked before the mirror, as you have done so many times before. And stare. And wait.

You cannot see your reflection in the glass, only that of the darkened room: bed, chair, cupboards and chest of drawers; pictures, ornaments and bric-a-brac.

Then, in the mirror, the wardrobe door nudges slowly open, darkness spilling out around your absent reflection as the image emerges from its hiding place. 

You watch in numb, helpless fascination as your truant reflection steps daintily out of the nest of hanging clothes and into the room; you are rooted to the spot when it pads across the carpet, making no sound as it leaves by the door without even glancing in your direction. 

A chill pierces your heart, cooling you, as at last you hear that imagined/remembered/predicted scream winding towards you through the litter-lined corridors of night.

Crumpling beneath the weight of your own helpless horror, you sink to your knees. Weep dryly into hands that are deadened from the memory of so many reflected atrocities, wet with so much reflected blood.

Then, unable to do anything more, you go back to bed. To wait for the return of your absentee image, your prowling reflected self.

         It will happen.


I wrote that when I was nineteen or twenty years old. I just came across the story in an old file, and thought it was kind of neat. The roots of my current fiction are there, plain as day, as are my lifelong preoccupations. It's interesting looking back on stuff that was written by a self you no longer recognise.

Like the main character's prowling reflection, I can sense the person I was then  hanging around me now, lurking at the boundaries of my life. He knows where I live, but he chooses not to make himself known

I wonder what he thinks of the man I've become.


James Everington said...

What a great post; both the story and your comments afterwards. (As someone who's just rewritten a story I wrote 15 years ago, I can empathise.)

I'll say again: just a great post; I'll be thinking on and off about this all day now.

Gary Mc said...

Hey, thanks...I pasted that unedited - well, apart from two typos I corrected. Looking back at my old stuff, written back when I was just starting to develop my "voice", some of it doesn't make me cringe. That's a miracle in itself. ;-)

Gary Mc said...

ps - the story was originally written on one of those crappy little word processor things, where the screen only showed two or three lines. The files I managed to salvage and convert into Word docs (which amounts to around 50% of the work I did; the rest is lost forever) are full of weird little symbols.

Dave Mulis said...

Very interesting vignette. Although it seems to be on the dark fantasy or psychological horror side of things, it makes me think of the identity crisis undergone by the main protagonist in The Dice Man. The author (Luke Rhinehart) developed this idea of "minority selves" being given free reign by an act of willed chance (protagonist rolls a die and assigns an action [walk the dog, watch TV, rape the neighbor] to each possible side of the die. The abandonment of his will to that fate brought out characters in himself ("minority selves") he never even suspected of existing...