Evelyn didn’t agree with having a gun in the apartment. She’d discovered my father’s revolver in the closet and become violently angry. This was the last argument, the one that truly severed our engagement.
“Michael, if you can’t get rid of it—if you can’t decide between me and a fucking gun,” she said, “then you’ve actually made your decision, haven’t you?”
I argued that my father and I had been very close. I obtained my PhD in Mathematics largely to make him proud (he was a professor of History). This was the revolver he used in Vietnam. It had been his father’s. It meant something to him, and although, yes, I do not agree with guns on principle, I had difficulty parting with something that had such sentimental value.
Evelyn responded by wrenching my ring off her finger.
I was twenty-six when we had this argument. Evelyn is long gone from my life, but the gun remains in its shoebox in the closet, with my father’s dog tags and photographs of his friends, most of whom were disemboweled in the jungle as he watched.
My father’s war stories, now that I think of it, instilled in me a fear of the unknown from an early age. I am, perhaps, his fault. I have spent my life unable to commit to a single decisive action. And I have spent a year now filling the pages of this journal with tortured hypotheticals, vivid nightmares, and one singular question: Why?
Why can I not be braver? More decisive? I loved Evelyn, why did I let her go? I know she loved me. But the thought of spending the rest of my life with one person? What if I’d chosen wrong? What if Evelyn grew to hate me? What if, what if, what if? Questions that still haunt me twenty years after the fact.
But for this last year, foremost on my mind, has been this: Why did they step inside that mirror, and I did not?
Today, I have decided that this will be the final why. I’m…tired. Tired of myself.
This will be my final entry here. The very last time I live inside that question, Why didn’t I?
Life really isn’t life at all, when you live it trapped inside your mind.
For the last year, at the fringes of my day, every single day, I’ve thought about that group that stepped inside that mirror. They burst inside my head when I’m falling asleep at night, and boom into my thoughts in the shower. They shove into my mind unbidden all the time, like the perpetual breaking of a dam, the sudden flooding of a valley. I even have trouble with mirrors now. Well, I did before, really, since gaining all this weight after Evelyn left (the weight I still haven’t lost because I can’t seem to stick to a single diet plan!). But it’s worse now. I can’t even look at a mirror without picturing that group venturing beyond the glass, without wondering what it’s like in there. They haunt my every waking moment. These days, when I zone out driving home from work, or I’m cooking breakfast, or anything at all—my mind always wanders back to that group who stepped inside the mirror.
I can see them so clearly. I don’t have the best imagination (I’m a calculus professor, for God’s sake), but this is the most vivid nightmare I’ve ever had:
One by one, I see them sliding through the glass of that mirror. I picture them walking through miles of cave on the other side, and maybe then they gaze around in awe as they step inside the chamberstar, the origin of which, I imagine, is older and colder than time itself. Chamberstar probably isn’t even its real name, just one nickname grown over time. I imagine its true moniker is ancient and unpronounceable.
It’s an odd and twisted place, the chamberstar. Well, according to Mr. Accabon, at least, or what I overheard him say. It’s a knot in the tethers between worlds, he said. Visible only through the Accabon mirror, held in the great hall of the Accabon estate, and accessible only through that mirror’s copy in the adjoining room. The Accabon have safeguarded these two mirrors for generations, apparently. They can’t remember who constructed the original or how its doppelgangër was attained, but the mirrors have sat in the Accabon estate for…pretty much forever, if I understand correctly. True, I’d been eavesdropping from the other side of the door when Accabon said all this, but I’m sure it’s what he said. The nature of the mirrors, he said, is beyond Accabon knowledge. The little they do know about the mirrors is protected with the utmost sacredness. But nobody knows why the original mirror acts as a window into the chamberstar, or how you can step through the other mirror in the adjoining room, right into the cave that leads to that chamber. If Accabon is to be believed, nobody even knows what lies beyond the chamberstar. No one ever returns from there. Ever. Except for Jeffries. The Accabon butler. Always been the butler, always is the butler. Older than the oldest Accabon, and maybe even the maker of the mirrors himself, though that’s probably just a story. Jeffries could correct it, could offer the truth—if he ever spoke.
Because he is the oldest and most capable guide, and because I saw Mr. Accabon send Jeffries first through the mirror, I imagine he was the first of the group to enter the chamberstar. That was when, perhaps, the second to last of his flares went out. I imagine Jeffries shook it like he could rattle more light from its end. He couldn’t, of course. The flare sputtered and spizzed and spat one last little flicker, then died. That’s how things go, really. You try to shake more life out of them, and you end up killing them faster.
In the wake of the dying flare, the sudden black was all-swallowing and ever-dark. The darkness of a deep cavern, deeper than any that have ever been named; a shadow that was almost gelatinous, it was so full and suffocating. Rendell, the middle-aged woman just behind Jeffries, practically choked on it, the dark, and relief needled through her because if she was choking, she was still alive. She’d been wondering if that were true, and wondered now how much longer that would technically last.
(This is something I wonder, too. Are they happy in there, inside the mirror? Or are they simply dead?)
I imagine the other woman, much younger than Rendell, spoke first:
“Is this it?” asked Aurora, in the back of the group. “End of the line?” She put a blind hand against the damp wall of the cave-tunnel.
“There better be a goddamn boat,” said Abernath, the older man in the group. He’s the only one in this party I’d been acquainted with before—an old colleague of mine at the college. He’s a risk-averse and curmudgeonly bastard, had no reason to be entering that mirror. But there he is.
I imagine he fumbled for his glasses, managed only to jam his thick fingers into his mouth. He gagged slightly (his fingers tasted like cave: old and earthy), and he swallowed a big scared lump. He muttered, “Better be a boat…”
“Well, why wouldn’t there be?” asked Rendell, speaking over her shoulder at him. “He wouldn’t have any reason to lie to us… Would he?”
A good question. The question, really. Mr. Accabon promised them “a journey” if they stepped inside the mirror. He’d said, smiling, that they’d see the chamberstar, but not what that was. Simply that it was “a place between places,” whatever that meant. He assured them there’d be a boat then, and that’d be journey’s end. What was there to lie about in all that, and why?
Nobody had an answer. Jeffries was busy stepping up onto something level, something dry, feeling around in the pockets of his long coat for their final flare. Abernath was cleaning his glasses against his shoulder, wiping them haphazardly against his tweed jacket. And Aurora ran a hand dreamily against the rough stone wall. Mostly to herself, to the cave, no more than a whisper, she said, “Curiosity killed the cats…”
So that’s the order I always imagine they walked inside the chamberstar: Jeffries in the lead, then Rendell, Abernath, and Aurora pulling up the rear, tasting the shadows of the cave upon her tongue.
Aurora stepped inside the chamber, just as Jeffries gestured for them all to stop, look up. Everyone craned their necks and blinked, giving their eyes a moment to adjust. Then, collectively, they drew in a breath, mouths opening in awe.
The place was filled with stars. Many, many stars. Glittering all throughout the air above their heads. More beautiful and clear and bountiful than any star-sky the group had ever seen.
“Chamberstar,” Rendell breathed. “Wow…”
“I thought it was supposed to be a chamber,” said Abernath, his voice not quite shifting from worry to wonder, despite how wondrous the sight was. “What, are we outside?”
“He said the whole thing was a cave,” said Aurora.
“Then he lied to us,” said Abernath, shaking his head. “I knew it.” In the dim starlight, he could see his hands, the outlines of his shoes, gleaming with the reflection of the stars. He took his glasses from his nose again, began to clean them more thoroughly on the hem of his shirt, which he’d untucked when Jeffries lit the first flare, a long time ago.
“Are we outside?” Rendell asked Jeffries. She could see him now standing a few feet away, hands poised with something. She saw the dark blob of his head, barely visible under the stars, shake no. Rendell squinted at his hands. Jeffries held the final flare ready.
End of the line.
“Does it matter if we’re outside?” Aurora gazed up at them all, the stars. So many twinkling, beautiful lights. Glittering in the darkvast of whatever space they were in. “I mean, maybe it doesn’t matter. Things must work differently here…” She twirled slow beneath the pure white gleam of thousands of pinpricks, a black velvet sheet shot through with holes. “…in the Accabon.”
“Christ,” said Abernath. He sniffed, shoved his glasses back on his face. “We don’t even know what the fucking Accabon is.” The uncertainty of what this place really was, now that they were in it, was bothering him in a way it wasn’t bothering the others.
“Ab,” said Rendell, gentle but chastising. “Don’t be mean. It’s a mirror.” Like that was obvious.
“No, I’m serious. We all stepped through blindly. Blindly! Didn’t even ask… For instance, who made it.”
“Jeffries, was it you?” Aurora cooed. “I heard somewhere you were the mirror-maker. You can tell us now, we won’t tell anyone.” She forced a laugh.
Jeffries waited patiently to light the flare.
“Hell, maybe it was nobody,” said Aurora, taking another spin beneath the stars. “What does it matter…”
“If it’s a goddamn mirror,” said Abernath, his voice so thick with fear and anger that the lights above seemed to shrink back, “somebody made it. Somebody built this place.”
Rendell crossed her arms, smiled a little. “Just because somebody built the door doesn’t mean they built the place, too. Truth is, we could be somewhere beyond…anywhere. Like Mr. Accabon said. The chamberstar could be a chamber in a cave and outside…space all at the same time.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“What, you never read Narnia? It’s a leap of faith, Ab.”
“Plus, isn’t that why you stepped through?” said Aurora. “Because it didn’t make sense?”
I imagine at some point someone must have said that, and I imagine it was her. Because it’s true:
The only reason to step inside the Accabon mirror is because it doesn’t make sense.
Aurora was a yoga instructor before she went inside the Accabon. I didn’t know her personally, but the night she entered the mirror, I overheard her talking to some other people at the party. She was beautiful, magnetic. I should have said hello. But I’m also twenty years her senior, so if I’d made a move on anyone, it should have been Rendell: equally beautiful, and whom I also did not know.
If I’d made a move on anyone.
God, I wish I had the courage to walk through that damn mirror a year ago, maybe find some place on the other side with some other Evelyn. A parallel universe where I am better. Or better yet, a world where I am simply fucking dead.
Abernath shook his head. “This is insane. We shouldn’t have come.”
“Look, if he was sending us to doom,” Aurora pointed out, “he wouldn’t send Jeffries along with. Right?”
“Ab,” said Rendell, stepping towards him. “You had all that cave-space to turn back. We’re almost at the end. Don’t spoil it all now. All that progress? Come on. Where’s your sense of adventure gone?” She smiled. He could see her teeth in the dim. Very pretty and straight.
“Fine,” he huffed. “Fine. Jeffries? Light the final flare.”
Jeffries’s wrists moved fast and deft, bursting the flare into life. The first thing they all saw was Jeffries himself, smiling coolly. The kind of knowing smile someone gives when they’ve just turned on a film they know is going to ruin you.
Jeffries flicked his eyes up. They all looked up. And gasped.
The stars weren’t stars anymore. People floated in the air. Upside-down, toes pointed to the ceiling. Some were high up, others very low to the ground. There were no ropes, no rig. They floated of their own accord. Unmoving. Unblinking. Unbreathing. Their arms were stiff at their sides, fingers splayed up and out at all angles. Their spines bent slightly back, muscles rigid, as if they were all mid-electrocution. Their eyes stared straight down, glowing a faint starry blue, now burning red in the light of the flare. They’d never been stars at all—they were eyes.
This part I know is true, because I saw it in the mirror.
Rendell, I imagine, gave everyone’s collective thought a voice: “What…the fuck.”
“Guess that answers one thing,” said Aurora. She pointed up. Far, far above, past many overlapping layers of people all floating there in the dim, was the ceiling of the cave, flickering red in the flare-glow. Bodies drifted among the stalactites, gaping down with wide, blind eyes.
“See, we’re inside,” said Aurora. “Anybody comforted by that?”
“Definitively not,” said Abernath, obviously. “What is this? Are they alive? How did they get there?”
“Stupid thing’s not even star-shaped,” mumbled Aurora, looking around. She’d sort of expected the chamberstar to be a chamber shaped like a star, but alas.
“Well,” said Abernath, reaching a panicky peak, “I’ve had my fill. I’ve satiated my curiosity. I’ve avoided being rude by following my host’s instructions, and now I’m heading back. I’m done with the Accabon, thank you very much, but I have class on Monday, so.”
But before he could march back into the tunnel from which they’d arrived, Jeffries turned from them all, putting his back between the stars and the red light. Shadows bloomed over the hundreds, thousands of blank faces drifting in the air overheard. And all three of them (Aurora, Rendell, Abernath) lurched toward Jeffries, suddenly afraid that in the dark, the people would come alive and descend. Would swarm like startled bats. Abernath scrambled to regain the foot or so of distance he’d just put between himself and the group, his polished shoes slipping in the dirt.
“You’d never make it back without the light anyway,” said Rendell. Abernath scowled at her. He kept his eyes on the back of Jeffries’s head.
Their guide led them to a low opening in the wall. It was not natural, had clearly been carved into the rock. Its ceiling curved perfectly, with a flat, smooth bottom edge. The opening was shaped, thought Aurora, like a sunrise. Abernath thought only that it was too small, that he’d have to crouch and crawl to get under that ceiling. Rendell hung back a bit, frowning up at the peoplestars.
Jeffries stood aside so everyone could see into the opening. Aurora looked first, Abernath hiding behind her and completely unashamed of doing so, despite Aurora being maybe twenty-four, him sixty-one and twice her size. He waited a beat for something to pop out of the hole, snatch Aurora into the dark. But nothing did.
“Huh,” said Aurora.
“What is it?” said Abernath, voice high. “What do you see?”
She turned to him with a deeply interested expression. “It’s the boat.”
“Impossible,” Abernath sputtered. “A boat wouldn’t fit in there.”
“It could if it was a shitty little row-thing. I mean, he didn’t say what kind it’d—”
Aurora stepped aside, letting Abernath get his fill of the opening.
Sure enough, there were three steps down, carved into the rock. At their bottom was a stretch of water, leading away through a dark, narrow tunnel. The water was perfectly still, soundless. As ethereal and unmoving as the bodies overhead. And on the water was a small wooden rowboat.
Jeffries stared down at the boat without expression. The flare sputtered in his hand.
I don’t have any idea what went through his mind in this moment, how many times he’d seen this boat before. But I imagine, for reasons I can’t quite name, that he was slightly afraid.
And I imagine that Rendell, who seemed sharper than the others at the Mirror Night party (Aurora laughing carelessly in the center of the room; Abernath circled round by his Economics Department friends, discussing Chinese trade; I alone in the corner nursing a drink), was the one who noticed it.
“There’s no oar,” said Abernath. He moved his head around, examining the tunnel and the boat. “No…no pole or anything.”
Rendell tugged on Aurora’s dress. Her eyes were very wide.
“I don’t want to alarm Ab,” she said softly. “But…it’s us.”
Aurora blinked. “What’s us?”
Rendell nodded once, her chin and eyes darting upward. Aurora followed her gaze, and stared up at the floating people for several seconds before she saw what it was, and clutched at Rendell’s arm.
She walked quickly to Jeffries. “Here,” she whispered. “Gimme the flare.”
“Uh, we have to get on the boat before that runs out,” warned Rendell, her eyes tracking the light through the handoff. “It’s the last.”
“I know,” said Aurora. “Just a sec.”
She took the flare back across the chamber and held it up to the face of one of the peoplestars. Sure enough, it was Abernath. Glassy and bright-eyed. Spine rigid. Fingers splayed up at his sides like they were clutching twin baseballs. Abernath had been so focused on following Jeffries across the room that he hadn’t even noticed when he’d had to duck under his own head, his copy so low to the ground that the hair on the top of its scalp must have brushed Abernath’s own.
The thought made Aurora shiver. She looked around for herself. There she was, several yards up and back. Floating in the same outfit she was wearing now. The sleek black dress, the heels, the earrings. All of it suspended perfectly, none of it falling or slipping to the ground.
She reached up, not to touch herself (fuck no), but to see if she could feel any difference in the air. Nothing. She took off an earring and tossed it up, thinking maybe it’d get caught in a gravity well and fly upward or something. It didn’t. It clinked to the dirt several feet away.
“There’s me,” murmured Rendell, pointing. “You s’pose Jeffries is here, too?”
“No,” said Aurora. She looked at Abernath. He had both hands on the wall, his head craning far into the hole with the boat, peering round. Jeffries glanced between the women and Abernath, clearly growing nervous against the dying of the flare.
“I mean, you know this is what we saw,” whispered Aurora. “When we looked into the ceiling mirror? I don’t have to say that. It was us. Floating there. Staring back. In a void.”
It’s true, she didn’t have to say it. Rendell knew it. I know it. It’s one of the few things I do know. I saw it for myself that night.
Rendell nodded slowly, gazing up at herself. At the many shimmering eyes of her, Aurora, Abernath, and many, many more. Somewhere up there, I know, I was floating, too. I am floating there. Maybe always will be. Suspended, motionless, in the air.
“You s’pose if…” Rendell licked her lips, trying to put some pieces together. “You s’pose if we let the flare run out and we get stuck here in the dark, we’ll just…” She let her hands drift up like stray flakes of ash, dead leaves on water. “…we just empty out and float away? Like this?”
Aurora chewed her lip, really not knowing what to say.
Abernath finally looked round at them and cried, “The hell you doin’? Let’s get on the boat! We only have so much light.” Like they were the ones wasting time, not him.
The women glanced at each other, shot one last look up at themselves, frozen in air, then followed Abernath to the boat.
The boat accepted them kindly, wobbling very little as they all stepped aboard. Aurora handed the flare back to Jeffries and he held it while they all climbed on. He even helped Aurora lower herself onto the bench of the boat, not that she needed it. But it was an awkward process, the ceiling low as it was. They all had to fold themselves, then balance precariously on the boat before falling into a sit. And Aurora liked the feel of his cool hand against hers. She smiled at Jeffries. He nodded politely. She sat next to Rendell, facing Abernath. And facing Jeffries, once he settled in, too.
“So how are we supposed to get anywhere?” Abernath asked. Jeffries handed him the flare, then pressed one hand against the ceiling, barely reaching up to do so, and one hand against the wall. He shoved them away from the chamberstar. They could see dim light glowing on the floor out there, beneath the eyes of the many-still.
Abernath shoved his glasses up his nose. “Certainly…eerie. In there. But it’s good to know what it’s all… Hell, I was intrigued. You’re right, I wouldn’t have stepped through otherwise.”
“And you wouldn’t have if you were too scared,” Rendell pointed out, trying to make him feel brave.
“Right,” said Aurora. “I mean, what else were you gonna do? Just go home?”
I imagine then they laugh, and it feels like they’re laughing at me.
It was quiet in the boat. Almost peaceful.
After a while, Rendell said, “To be honest, I look forward to Mirror Night every year. So I felt like I deserved to see myself in the mirror, you know? It’s really the…only party I go to.” She sucked a cheek between her teeth, began to chew at it. “I’m not a very social person.”
“Oh, I’m incredibly social,” said Aurora. “But I wouldn’t say I have…many friends. Mirror Night feels like a constant, um… I don’t know. Ab?”
“How about you? Why did you step inside? What were you…trying to accomplish. I guess.”
“Oh.” Abernath shook his head. He said something then, I’m sure, but I can’t imagine what it would be.
Everyone has their reasons. I wish I knew his. I wish I knew mine.
If you were offered a doorway somewhere—to some fantasy you couldn’t immediately identify, a total leap of faith—and you knew that you would never return…would you go? Do you feel done here? Ready to walk right out of Earth into what could be a beautiful Narnia, or Hell?
Sometimes I do, I feel ready to be gone.
And sometimes I don’t. Sometimes the thought makes me nauseous.
They sat in silence for a moment, chewing this over, realizing they should have said goodbye, maybe. But to whom? To what?
Gently, Jeffries shoved them along the tunnel. They stared at the flare in Abernath’s hand. And the flare, as if it felt them watching, gently sputtered, spat—and died.
In the grave-quiet dark, they could hear the gentle slosh of the river, the canal, whatever it is. The hollow wooden thunking of the water beneath them, the clap of it against the stone of the cave. They sat in these sounds for quite some time.
“Here,” said Ab. He dropped the dead flare into the water, where it sank to lie alongside billions of other spent flares. “Let me help.” He reached up and over, pressed his hands against the wall and ceiling, propelled them along. “You take a break, Jeffries.”
Jeffries awkwardly lowered his hands, folded them in his lap. No one had ever offered to help before.
This is the way it always plays out in my mind, projected there like a film I’m being shown by God. Abernath pressing them down the tunnel. Down, down. The graveyard of flares at the bottom of the water. And then, after several more minutes of silence, I always imagine the light.
Aurora pointed. “Look.”
Abernath turned and together, they all saw it. A bright white, emanating from the end of the tunnel. A pinpoint now, nothing more. But soon…?
“Well,” sighed Abernath. “You all thinking what I’m thinking?”
“I spose,” said Rendell, “we all knew it was a…possibility, yeah?”
“I guess,” said Aurora. “I mean…” And then didn’t say what she meant.
“So here we are,” said Abernath, letting out another heavy sigh as he continued shoving them closer to the light. “Difficult to ignore the facts, eh? The imagery. Bodies floating—lost souls, if you will. The boat. Our silent guide. A light at the end of the tunnel.”
Aurora took a deep breath. Cracked her knuckles. “I guess we’ll see.” She offered him a bent smile.
“I guess we will,” said Rendell, wondering if the others could hear how quickly her heart was beating (and thank God it’s still beating for now).
“Yes,” said Abernath. “We’ll see…”
Which is, of course, the point.
Abernath continued to shove them along, bit by bit through the dark, until at last, they reached the light. And then they did—they saw.
On every June 23rd for as long as anyone can remember, the Accabons have held a Mirror Night. On Mirror Night, everyone is invited to the Accabon mansion up in that nice neighborhood, the…whatever it’s called. Just up 55, past that Greek restaurant? Whatever that neighborhood is. The kinds of houses that have heated driveways, that offer full-size candy bars on Halloween. Up in this neighborhood, among the doctors and lawyers and business executives, live the Accabons. Have lived the Accabons, for several generations now. They have to. It’s where the mirrors are.
The Accabon mirror is bolted to the ceiling in the great hall, and is covered most of the year in a large white sheet. But on Mirror Night, at midnight, Jeffries pulls the cord in the corner, the velvet one, and the sheet billows away from the mirror, and you look up and see—
Well. Most people don’t see anything. Just dark. An endless, starless void.
But they continue to gather there every year. Pretty much everyone in town attends Mirror Night. They drink on the Accabon dime, they swim in the Accabon pool, and they hit on the Accabon daughters (who are always too young to hit on). They schmooze, and at midnight, everyone gathers beneath the mirror to see what they will see. They know they probably won’t see anything. But they love Mirror Night. And the anticipation that comes when the current Mrs. Accabon says grandly, “Jeffries, if you will?” and Jeffries pulls that velvet cord? Oh. That moment never gets old. It’s like leaning in for your first kiss with the love of your life. Once a year, every year. And everyone stands there, craning their necks up, up, to gaze into the shadow of that mirror. Their bodies are still and rigid, spines arched. Their eyes are alive with hope and wonder. And the massive, golden-framed mirror is filled—with nothing but ink.
That’s exactly what most people see. For years. Nothing but empty, black ink. Not even their own reflection gaping back.
After exactly a minute, the mirror is veiled again and the current Mr. Accabon steps forward, says, “Now. My apologies for those of you who saw nothing this evening. You are, of course, welcome back next year to try again. I knew a woman who gazed fifty times before she was seen. She wept, shook my hand, and told me she was sorry my father was no longer here to see her triumph.” He gives the crowd a sad smile, then spreads his hands. “So. For now, feel free to have another drink, try some of the canapes if you haven’t already. Those of you who did see yourselves in the Accabon mirror tonight, please come forward. Jeffries and I will instruct you on how to proceed. And,” he always adds with a smile, “congratulations.”
Last year, I stood in the corner during this announcement, a glass of champagne shuddering in my hand, heart thudding. Three other people stepped forward. Everyone else got another drink, went back to the pool, turned back to the Accabon daughters and said, “Anyway, so what grade are you in?”
But I did not step forward. I didn’t know what to do. What do you do, when your entire adult life, almost thirty years you’ve seen nothing and then suddenly—there you are? Staring back down from that mirror, floating lifeless and glassy-eyed in that void, neck craning back to gaze down upon yourself, here on the parquet Accabon floor.
You, against all odds, are being offered a magical door. But to where? Why? For what?
What would happen to the world without you in it?
The others must have considered these questions. They must have. They knew they’d never come back. No one ever comes back. So they must have.
They must have.
After the mirror was veiled, I slid awkwardly, self-consciously along the wall until I was close to the door to that other room. The group had just stepped inside. I could hear Mr. Accabon’s voice in there: “…you will all step through the mirror one at a time. On the other side, you will discover a cave. It—”
“How can the mirror be here and on the ceiling at the same time?” asked Abernath, whose voice I recognized immediately. “This isn’t the same mirror. Unless you moved it just now.”
“Mr. Abernath,” said Accabon. “I assure you, it is. Just a different copy from a different place.”
There was some grumbling at that.
I sipped my drink shakily, then nearly choked on it as footsteps approached down the hall. I tried to look nonchalant as Jeffries came around the corner. He saw me, and stopped. He was covered in flares. He looked like a bomber, the flares tied all around his waist like sticks of dynamite, dangling out of his pockets.
We stared at each other for a full beat.
“Jeffries?” Mr. Accabon called.
I opened my mouth. Jeffries waited. I said nothing.
Then the butler moved past me, pressed open the door, slid through into the room, gave me one final glance, and did not close the door behind himself. I’m in awe of this fact. He left the door open for me.
And I did nothing.
Just…stood there, and peered inside.
“Jeffries,” said Accabon, clapping the man on the shoulder, “will guide you. Don’t let him run out of flares, or you’ll be completely unable to find your way. Anything electric will fade in the crossing, so don’t try your cell phones. You won’t need them anyway, where you’re going.”
I listened, eagerly lapping up Accabon’s words as he described the cave, the chamberstar, the boat. Abernath asked persistent, increasingly whiny questions, until Accabon finally said: “You’ll see, Mr. Abernath. Look, this is meant to be enjoyable. A positive journey. A privilege. You’re lucky. Remember that. Now: Godspeed.”
With that, he stepped aside, revealing a mirror that was, indeed, an exact copy of the thing tacked to the great hall ceiling. I watched through the crack in the door as one by one, the three people who’d seen themselves up there stepped through, following Jeffries closely, giggling with anticipation. Except for Abernath, who slipped through the mirror without a sound.
When they were gone, Mr. Accabon threw a sheet over the mirror, then walked back to the door. I turned away, tried to look nonchalant. Just leaning against the wall having a drink.
He spotted me.
“Ah, Michael,” he said. I didn’t know he knew my name. We’d never crossed paths before. It made my heart beat even harder.
“Did you miss my talk?” he asked. “Did you…see yourself tonight?”
“Ah…no,” I said. “No. Just…looking for the bathroom.”
He frowned like he knew I was lying. But he said nothing. In fact, he seemed surprised. So much so that he stammered a little as he pointed me down the hall. “Ri… Yes. Right down here.”
“Thank you,” I said, feeling his eyes burn into my back as I walked, wobbling, away.
I sat on the toilet for quite some time, catching my breath, staring at the floor. Hating myself. Wishing someone would just shatter the fucking mirror once and for all, so I’d stop feeling like such a coward.
Sometimes I wonder if there are others. Other people who saw themselves in the mirror but said nothing. People who carry that with them. I have to assume that there are.
And yet, it’s always possible I am alone. I saw myself in that mirror, in that place, surrounded by people, all of us floating together in the dark. But then…here I am. Down here. Alone. What if I’m alone? What if I’m the lone loser in the entire world? And I squandered my one chance to change that? To…start fresh in some other world?
These are the thoughts that torture me.
But tonight, I have finally decided, at very long last, to rid myself of all that.
Tomorrow, as I knot my tie and slip my golden invitation to Mirror Night into my pocket, I will smile to myself. I’ll hum as I tie my black dress shoes, gazing down at my twin reflections in their inky backs.
I’ll drive up the winding Accabon driveway, wrapped around a golden fountain: a man pouring water out a large bucket. They say it is Jeffries’s grandfather, though I suspect it is the same man.
The valet takes my car, and I find myself in the corner of the great hall, sipping champagne with a thin, satisfied smile.
This will be the most decisive night of my life. I laugh into my glass because tonight, I will eliminate this unsolvable equation once and for all.
As Mrs. Accabon spreads her hands and everyone in the hall goes quiet with a sick, excited anticipation—as she says grandly, “Jeffries, if you will,” and he clutches the rope between his hands—I’ll smile. And as the sheet falls away from the mirror, I’ll pull my father’s gun from the waistband of my tux, and empty the cylinder at the ceiling. The mirror will shatter. Shards rain onto them all, slicing through cocktail dresses and dinner jackets, bowties and sequins. Everyone screams.
They scream even louder when I turn the gun into my mouth.
I am flooded with relief.
I can picture it so clearly. So absolutely, crystalline clear.
But as the moment approaches, and Jeffries reaches for that rope, I know my hand may begin to tremble. My fingers unable to grip the handle of the gun. And I hate myself, I fucking hate myself, because I know me all too well. I know, try as I might, that there is always a very good chance, at the very last second, that the mirror will shine down upon me—and I will be unable to pull the trigger.
But…we shall see.
Tomorrow is another day. And it may come to pass that the horrors I imagine so vividly are but a reflection of some shadow within myself. Visible only within the dark glass of an ancient mirror. If only I could see deeper than that reflection, beyond the light at the end of the tunnel within. Maybe then I could answer, once and for all, why.
And then perhaps my life here would be different.
Sam Rebelein holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College (with a focus on Horror and Memoir), a certificate of graduation from the Lubbock Area Square & Round Dance Federation, and that one trophy in The Last of Us Part II for when you beat the game on the hardest difficulty. Hard to say which of these is his greatest accomplishment. Sam’s work has appeared in Bourbon Penn, Coffin Bell Journal, The Dread Machine, Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and elsewhere. HarperCollins’ horror and crime imprint William Morrow is publishing Sam’s debut horror novel Edenville in Fall 2023, and his debut short story collection The Poorly Made and Other Things in 2024. For more about Sam (and pictures of his dogs), follow him on Twitter @HillaryScruff.