Once, when I was a lad in my youth, a girl of fancy asked me “why does the cage bird sing?” I told her something poetic and romantic that could only have come off as pretentious with ignorance. I now know the answer. They do not sing, they scream. It was only after gazing upon that mirror that I understand the horror of imprisonment; of only being able to stare at the world, of having all your screams and pleas come off as singing.
The mirror was a gift from my late Grandfather. It was a surprise as I was sure he hated me. I thought him a fool, and he the same of me. At the time I assumed this was for appearances sake, a gift to every child and grandchild of some kind. The mirror was this massive obelisk the height of an entire wall. Atop, perched and staring down were three mold dragons. Beneath the mirror, a dozen gold men carrying the thing with their bones breaking beneath the weight. It was truly a sight of craftsmanship! I placed the thing in my study, thinking the intricate carvings would offer the occasional inspiration for my writings.
At first, nothing happened. The mirror sat there and besides the passing paranoia of something in its reflection, a feeling common in mirrors, there was nothing to care about. Then I started to have the dreams.
In an ethereal body, I stared down at myself sleeping, and I was stuck there with only an occasional roll in my bed. But, as the dreams reoccurred they seemed to get longer. After awhile, I noticed something else besides my sleeping frame. From the sides of my bed, perhaps stretching from the darkness beneath, many long black, spindly arms made of smoke and brume crept to my sides. First I thought it was some strange kind of tunnel vision, but each night they seemed to get closer and closer till they reached my flesh. Than I started to see them dig into my arms and side until some blood was drawn and I would wake screaming.
These dreams become nightly curses. Every night they got a little more vivid. I noticed the things dipping and stabbing into me looked like branches, each covered in thousands of hairs like spider’s legs. Each time they dug a little deeper inside before I’d wake up. After awhile I started to wake with a horrible chilling feeling in my arms as those black spindles tickled the bone. Several would try and burrow into my ears at once, slowly jamming in till it ripped at the sides. They would slip into my closed moth, pushing aside my lips, and curl down my throat, till they would grabbed my tonsil and I jolted awake in a vomit.
There was also a chaotic sound would emanate from behind my floating dream body. I could never turn to see it, but I could feel a breath on my neck. My brain could only ever half process the sound. It was loud though; loud and terrible. I needed longer and longer each morning to adjust back to normality.
I was prone to night terrors and hoped that these would fade like the others. It took awhile for me to suspect the mirror until I noticed marks on the floor, scratches as if the thing had been moving on it’s own, trying to sneak back to it’s spot across my bed. My paranoia grew as imagined that chaotic dream sound behind me as I worked. During the times I felt bold enough to turn, there was always nothing there, just the mirror reflecting my mad face.
My last night with the mirror was truly terrible. It was late, and the constant paranoia furthered into frustration. I went to the mirror; to confront it like the cruel assailant I thought it was. It was a foolish idea and I regret it.
I looked the mirror top to bottom, the molds staring back with disinterest. With a hyper eye for detail, I stared at my own being looking for the tiniest inconsistency. I looked to see if my hazel eyes darted somewhere else, if the two buttons undone on my night shirt were the same buttons, if the heavy black bruises beneath my eyes would grow darker like shadows in the night. I was staring so intensely into the mirror that I jumped as my reflected body dropped to the floor like a doll let go from the hand.
And then I could not move.
I tried to leave my spot in the air, to shift my gaze away from my corpse but I could not. I had entered another dream. This was the same, yet it was different. My mind was not cloudy, instead it was too sharp. The details of everything around me became hyper and overwhelming. My eyes could barely move to the fringes, screaming as they dried and begging for a single blink, which had become an exhausting effort. The chaotic sound came behind me again, and this time knew it would let me turn and see it if I chose. Yet my subconscious, out of an animalistic fear, froze me like the chaotic force did. The chaotic sound continued to boom from behind without a care. Soon I started to see something from the corners of my vision, a blackness nipping at my sight. I wanted to see, I wanted to better look at the thousands of little things tickling my periphery, but my subconscious would not let me. I was forced to stare at my sleeping body, as the world became a little blurrier, as my eyes screamed in pain, as a fear at the things I could not see well scratched at more and more of my vision. All the while the booming sound that I recognized but could not name was moistly shouted at my neck. I stayed like this for what felt like centuries. Trapped like a picture in slow decay.
Then I woke again. I was at my desk, drool stained pages my pillow, early morning sun my savior. My groggy mind was unsure of what was real, but then the dream became clear in memory and I could feel the imagined lapse of time flay my body and soul all at once.
After that night, I gave the mirror away to my niece. She has a love for gouty things, and loves to cage exotic birds for show, the wretch. You may think I a terrible coward or fool for not destroying the mirror. There was a brief moment, after that last night, that I acted as you would have liked. When I awoke, I dragged my chair towards it with the intention of bashing the wood against its glass body. But as I approached, the dragons seemed darker in shadows, there eyes suddenly red. The men carrying, though silent, seemed to be giving terrified groans, and I could hear a low rumble from behind the reflection. So I put my chair back. I’ve never bothered to ask how my niece is doing.
Still, I am plagued by the dreams. It’s always of my sleeping body, as I hover over it like a ghost, forced to watch as creatures I can not understand have their way with it’s flesh, that chaotic noise behind me. Every night, I pray to God, I pray that I might sleep without these horrible dreams, yet my God is always silent. The only God I hear is theirs, always laughing from behind.
Bio: Josh Flowers was born in California and is currently living in Bangor, Maine. He's has never seen a moose, mostly because moose are jerks. He's been published in the Short-story.me horror section, The Cricket Online Review, Inwood Indiana, and is scheduled for the forthcoming issue of The Fictioneer.