Fortnightly Writing Competition: Mirrors (Results)

Started by Sinitrena, Tue 30/04/2024 06:14:59

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Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?

Mirrors - everyday object and yet a fascinating pathway into different worlds.
Do your characters walk through a mirror, or does a monster come out of one? Does it tell us how vain a character is or show us their deepest, darkest secret? Maybe you want to tell us about a mirror that gets lost, or how mirrors are built. Maybe your mirror is very modern, like a smartphone taking a selfie? Or it's used as a low-tech spy device?

The topic of this round is simply "Mirrors".

Deadline: 14th May.

Have fun!


I can definitely see myself entering this round.


Hat, meet ring.
I've tried to write something for several recent FWC's, but kept coming up short with my ideas. Let's see if this one is the one that gets the creative juices going again!
Wrongthinker and anticitizen one. Utterly untrustworthy. Pending removal to memory hole.



I got an idea yesterday and wrote a first draft (1400 words). Gonna let it sit a few days and then revise.
They/them. Here are some of my games:




Content advisory:
Self-harm and mild body horror. No blood or gore.

Can You See Into My Stomach?

The mirror in the bathroom hung fogged by the shower, and I drew an aimless line across it with the tip of my finger.

The cold wetness of the glass slid up to my first knuckle as my finger pushed right through the mirror.

I wrenched my hand back. The first segment of my finger had been erased. Not severed—it just wasn't there, the boundary between finger and not-finger a strange blankness. The finger was, and then it wasn't.

I stood there frozen, unsure whether to let out a terrified laugh or just scream. Instead I stood frozen, the steam condensing in cold rivulets on my skin. The fan sucked the moisture from the shower up out of the bathroom, until the mirror finally cleared.

My reflection was whole. Missing nothing.

My real hand still missing a fingertip.

Part of my brain switched off. Nothing computed. I couldn't think, couldn't feel.

Moving robotically, I put on my school clothes, combed the shower-knots from my hair, and came downstairs to grab breakfast on my way out the door. When I saw my mother in the cramped kitchen piled with dishes, the smell of mildewed water and sour garlic brought me back to my body. The absent part of my brain switched back on again.

I held up my finger to my mother. Heart pounding. Hoping. "Look at this."

She sighed and studied my hand. Where my finger should have been. "What, Priscilla, a papercut? I don't see anything. You're fine."

As if she'd turned a key, my thoughts and emotions locked up again. Heart slowing. Back to numbness.


She waved me away. "Take a muffin with you, you're late."

A twinge tightened my stomach. I left the kitchen.

"You have a good day," she called, as if in warning.

I dug through the mess of coats piled on the couch, found my backpack, nearly tripped on my brother's old shoes strewn across the living room floor, and left to catch the bus.

On the noisy ride, next to some other antisocial girl buried deep in her headphones, I stuck my hand inside my hoodie pocket and poked the missing finger outward. The fabric stretched—as long as a regular finger? I wasn't sure—but I couldn't feel the sweatshirt against my fingertip. Was my finger there, or wasn't it?

At school, I put my things in my locker, while several doors down a group of brainiacs congratulated each other over how easy the SATs had been for them. Musing over how dense you'd have to be to bomb it. Like I had.

I looked at myself in the mirror on the inside of my locker door. Baggy clothes, hair still wet from the shower, crooked teeth needing braces my parents couldn't pay for, moles in weird places.

Was it just the one mirror, or all mirrors?

I pushed my finger in as far as it would go.

The hand and its reflection merged as if I were reaching into water, up to my wrist. When I pulled it back out, no hand came with it. Only empty space, but a hand remained in the reflection.

I held up a pen in my good hand, and moved my non-existent one toward it, watching my reflection to see if I could still use what was missing.

The hand in the mirror grabbed the pen fine. The non-hand in the real world dropped the pen on the floor. Nothing to grab it with.

I looked up at my face in the mirror again. I looked scared.

Then I didn't.

I glanced at the laughing High Score Club a few doors down, and yelled "Hey!"

I pushed my wrist on the mirror and leaned in nearly up to my shoulder, and stayed half-swallowed by whatever mouth of hell lay beyond the glass. Me and my reflection joined at the shoulder, with no arm between us.

Let them call this a papercut.

One of the kids, a boy with a ponytail and wire-rim glasses way too small for his face, looked at me, decided I had been yelling at someone else, and turned away.

What had I looked like to him? My reflection's arm had now dropped down to her side. Like a whole person's. I had no arm anymore.

I went to class, remembered my reflection holding the pen, and placed a pencil on the desk. I moved my shoulder as if I were taking notes. None appeared, that I could see. But if everyone else saw only my whole reflection, maybe they'd also see the things it was able to do.

I handed in a blank quiz sheet at the end of class. The teacher nodded knowingly. At emptiness or at invisible answers my reflection had written? I'd have to wait and find out.

Out in the hall, I kept experimenting. I got out my phone and took a selfie with my good hand, holding my absent arm in front of me, hand waving at the screen. At least that's what the camera showed. I couldn't feel my missing appendage, so I couldn't pose it at all.

Mirror me was already having a better life.

I wondered what would happen if I lost my head. Would I die? Would my reflection keep on living? The sleeve of my hoodie swayed limp as I walked, hanging empty off my shoulder. I looked at passing faces, reactions one way or the other, but no one was looking back. I had never been the type of girl people wanted to look at.

Knowing something everyone else didn't felt like a high and a gut-punch and a mounting tidal wave. What I knew was terrible.

At after-school swim practice, I sat on the cold concrete by the edge of the pool, looking at my wobbly mirror image undulating on the water's surface, separating into globs and re-forming as the liquid bounced pieces of my reflection every which way.

Was water reflective enough to count as a mirror? Would I completely evaporate if I jumped in? Or would I just drown, because I couldn't swim with one arm? Or could I—the invisible arm pulling me along?

I stared at the chlorine-smelling expanse, wanting to know. Dreading the answer. Pulling toward it. Falling. Having lost my arm, I felt like I'd already jumped from a plane, and now I had to decide whether to open my parachute.

I didn't want to drown. I told the swim coach I was sick.

He looked me up and down and narrowed his eyes. "You look fine to me."

"Well can you see into my stomach?" I said.


I'd thought it a clever retort. Sickness lived on the inside. But he didn't see how miserable I looked. Maybe the opposite—maybe my reflection kept looking more whole as I looked more missing. Maybe she was getting smarter, fitter, more socially adept and well-adjusted. Maybe the version the swim coach saw was driven, ready to be team captain.

But my reflection didn't really need to get any better. I was shrinking. She wasn't. That was enough to put her a lap ahead of me.

When I got home, my brother sat playing some army sniper video game, muttering obscenities while his character did complex maneuvers and killed people.

When I passed him he didn't even glance up.

Once I got upstairs, I knocked on my parents' bedroom door. No answer. Mom was still at work.

I went in. Next to the closet hung my mother's full-length mirror. The one she tried on old dresses in front of and grimaced at herself. The one I tried on regular clothes in front of and did the same.

In the mirror stood whole me.

Here in front of it stood half me.

At least with a true mirror, I knew I wouldn't drown. All I'd have to do is lean forward.

Accept the falling.

Even if I didn't go now, I knew I'd keep pushing myself into nothing one piece at a time. Like unraveling a sweater. The curiosity only got worse the more I did it.

If I could just stop, I could still go through life with one arm. That wouldn't be easy but wouldn't be impossible. Lots of people did it, because they had to.

But it wasn't the missing arm that made me want to fall into the mirror.

It was the arm I still had. And the legs. The torso that could never be flat enough. The face. The brain that went into blank panic on multiple choice tests, knowing every answer could pin you on a technicality.

The person that everyone else said was fine. Really. There's nothing wrong with you.

Well, OK then.

Look. See? Over there is a version of me that is fine. The one in the mirror.

You can have her.

When I disappear, you won't miss half me. Whole me will walk around and talk to you and be totally OK. She'll swim and get braces and retake tests, and you'll love her.

You'll never realize there's no one inside.
They/them. Here are some of my games:


The Three Mirrors

Jan sat on the edge of his bed, bare feet hovering over the cool wood of the floor below, the soft fabric of his nightshirt still twisted about his tall but strong frame. He pulled his hands off the wooden edge of the bed and let the long sleeves of the shirt fall around his palms, which he then brought up to his face to rub sleep out of his eyes, before rubbing them down his smooth hairless cheeks and jaw adorned by a narrow patch of beard. As his hands fell back down and into his lap, his green eyes turned to the window. The sun had just cleared the horizon and the landscape of green hills and dull mossy treetops were still damp with dew, yet steadily brightening before his eyes. There was birdsong and the distant whispering of wind. The four small panes of imperfect glass that made up the window distorted the world as Jan moved his head.

With a final nod down at the floor he accepted his fate of meeting the new day, despite not feeling up to it. He set his feet down to the floor and squinted his eyes with discomfort as the cool wood drove off the last vestiges of the warm beds embrace.

"Mmmrh- Oh, right."  -he murmured as he pulled his feet back up into the air. "Slippers, please." A pair of soft white slippers crawled from under the bed, carried by slender spider legs. With soft chittering sounds they positioned themselves beneath his feet and then stopped. As Jan lowered his feet a second time they slipped perfectly into the comfortable slippers, while the spider legs retracted into the fuzzy fabric and vanished from sight.

With a few wiggles of his toes to ensure a pleasing fit, he nodded his head again.

"Better. But still room for improvement."

Jan stood up and walked off. The bed was left unmade. The window closed. The bundle of clothes discarded on the wooden chair before his studying desk littered in piles of notes, scrolls and leather bound tomes untouched. He put his hand to the wooden frame of the doorway as he exited the square bedroom and study, and entered the upstairs landing of the house he had come to call home. For a moment Jan felt tempted to head downstairs and fix himself some strong tea.

"A bright day, young master. " -came a shrill voice from above. A white bat hung upside down from the rafters, wings folded about its body for comfort and warmth, but its head had turned to face directly at Jan's own, blood red eyes fixated on his own green pair. "Tithe and tax, no time to relax!" -the creature screeched, seemingly pleased with its latest rhyme.

Jan rolled his eyes.

"I know, Vesper, I know. I haven't forgotten." -he replied with a hint of frustration in his voice as he turned to the second of three doors on the landing, the one leading into the windowless bathroom. The bat shrugged its shoulders, upside-down, then turned its head away again so it could keep napping now that it had delivered its reminder.

In a small silver cage beside the bathroom door a shimmering spirit stirred, swirled up off the bottom of the cage and spread its four insect-like wings. As they began to buzz rapidly, warm golden light spread out past the thin bars of the cage, illuminating the room. To the left of the door was a cabinet filled with soft towels and fabrics, to the right a large oval-shaped wooden bathtub that was currently empty. To the front was a much smaller basin carved out of stone, filled with clear, still water and above it, set in the concave curved wall, a set of three mirrors. They did not reflect the light in the room, their surfaces remaining a dull silvery colour surrounded by a brightly polished silver frame as Jan stepped up to the basin and dipped his hands into the cool water.

A cold splash over his face made sure he was fully awake. The water dripped back down into the basin. What clinged to his face and hands felt chilly and tingly.

"Did we sleep well?" -came Jan's voice from his right side. As he blinked and turned his head, he could see his reflection. Bright green eyes full of vigor, a smooth grin that bared pearly-white teeth, a healthy tan and a posture of confidence greeted him within the silver frame. "Are we headed out? We do remember the tavern recently hired a new maid, right? Could always go and say hello, hm?"

"No. Not today, buddy." -Jan replied to himself. The reflection in the mirror frowned and shook its head.

"We might be the Grand Old White Wizard and all that, but... you know, might be nice to meet someone before we get to that whole white beard and wispy hair thing." The Jan in the mirror clutched an invisible beard beneath its jaw and pantomimed tugging on it with a faux distressed look on its face.

"I know, buddy. Tax day, though." -Jan defended himself, flicking his hands to dislodge a few more beads of water back into the basin from his fingertips.

"We are headed to the Castellans Keep, then? Could meet some fair maiden there, you know. Make a fine first impression, conjure up some dazzling displays, just sayin'."

Jan rolled his eyes and his reflection did the same in perfect synchronization.

The reflection in the left mirror had returned as well. Its eyes were blank, milky white, surrounded by scar tissue that left it without eyebrows. Much of its hair had fallen out. Its jaw hung open, a pair of teeth missing while several others were cracked and chipped, the mouth beyond a black void, save for a distant glow of white light, ever-so-faint, but distinctly there. Just out of reach. This reflection did not move, save for the miniscule turning of its head as it tracked Jan's face in a way that made a chill run down his spine. A reminder of past mistakes, of one particularly close call during the final days of his training. Vesper had suggested he put a curtain over that mirror to hide it from sight, but as macabre and unpleasant as it was to see his reflection like that, Jan didn't want to forget.

"We will find a way to fix us." -came a stern voice from the central mirror. Jan flinched, not having realized he had frozen while staring at the practically dead reflection of himself. He turned and faced his third reflection. It stood with its back straight, jaw slightly raised, hands clasped behind its back. Its green eyes were narrowed, studying himself, always seeming to find some flaw or point of improvement. Even dressed in its pristine nightshirt it exuded a sense of authority. A figure one could trust.

"One day." -Jan affirmed, as he had done many times before, still unable to hide the hint of discomfort in his voice.

"I take it we will not be opening the shop today? It seems you've stayed up late once more." -the reflection queried, its comment delivered in a stern, fatherly tone of voice. It didn't judge, but made it clear Jan could be taking better care of himself than he currently was.

"Correct. I finished the study of The Light Magnificent by Terrence Practicum, but I fear it provided me with very little new. Conjuration of basic illumination, minor light spirit summoning..."

The figure in the right mirror yawned theatrically, waving its hand over its open mouth. The one in the middle mirror nodded its head very slightly. Jan raised his hands to shrug. He'd set himself a goal and completed it, even if it meant he'd barely slept and now felt like hell.

The figure in the central mirror shifted on its feet, moving its hands from behind its back to its front, pressing its downward-pointed fingertips together before its stomach. "We have time. Shall I present out taxes to the Lord Castellan?"

"Please do." Jan replied, stifling a yawn. "You'll make a better showing than I would." He dipped his right hand to the basin, coating his fingertips with the cool water once more, then reached the hand towards the central mirror.

His reflection reached out in unison, the real hand and the reflection lining up perfectly.

As Jan felt his fingertips touch the silvery surface of the mirror he inhaled first, then blinked his eyes. During that blink his very being seemed to shudder and shift. It felt like being plunged face-first into a pool of mercury, like drowning under a wave of something cold and heavy and bright, only to emerge immediately on the other side.

Jan opened his eyes and let the held breath escape through his nostrils. His reflection in the right mirror made a disappointed, dismissive gesture with its hand. The one in the left stood unmoving, still. The middle mirror's reflection now had its hair in a mess atop its head and appeared to have slept poorly, dark patches under its eyes, an inkstain on its cheek from when it had absent-mindedly rubbed its hand over its face in the night. Its wrinkled nightshirt sat untidily on its body and its posture could have done with improvement.

Jan brushed his hands over his pristine nightshirt to remove any semblance of wrinkles and gave an approving nod.

"I look forward to a productive day. Gentlemen, I shall see you on the morrow."

"Yeah. Later!" -replied the reflection in the central mirror, raising its hand to briefly wave at Jan.

"Don't forget to do that smiling -thing we talked about. We might be sixty years old, but as long as we don't look like it, we don't need to act like it!" -called out the figure in the right mirror while flashing a broad, bright grin.

Jan nodded to each of the three mirrors in turn, then stepped back. The reflections faded and vanished. It was time to get dressed, to conjure up some nice herbal tea and to take to the road. Already Jan's mind was busy going over his mental notes, the bookkeeping of the downstairs shop, the finer details of law when it comes to taxation of supernatural services in the realm of Light.

It was to be a very busy day. He'd have Vesper take notes for him.
Wrongthinker and anticitizen one. Utterly untrustworthy. Pending removal to memory hole.


Two early entries? I'm impressed. There's still a lot of time left (well, more or less, but knowing our regulars who only start writing a day before the deadline, it's probably acurate  ;) ), so keep them coming.


Mine is written, I just need to do another pass of editing before submitting.


Just Look at You

Aven nudged open the door of the dimly-lit laundrette and poked her head in. Empty. Good. She didn't like to come at night, but it was the only way to avoid other people. She pushed her Ikea bag full of laundry through the establishment's only entrance and, ensuring her scarf was properly fastened over the bottom half of her face, she made her way to the middle machine, equal distance between the large plate-glass window at the front of the shop and the horizontal mirror that ran partially along the back wall.

She lived in the apartment block across the street, which had its own laundry room for residents. But it was far too bright in there, and had three huge mirrors. At least here, it was dim enough that even if she caught an accidental glimpse of herself in the mirror, or the window, or a warped reflection in one of the machine doors, at least it wouldn't be so easy to see her own repulsive physiognomy glaring back at her.

"Hi there," a woman's voice called from near the back and scared the living shit out of Aven, to the extent that the woman also jumped.

"Sorry," said Aven, "I thought I was alone."

"Well, we are, aren't we? In this city. We're all alone."

"I suppose so..." Aven didn't feel much like talking and turned to open the washing machine door. She hated that she came across as rude, but the instinct to shield her face outweighed the need for pleasantries.

"What brought you to the city?" said the woman.

Aven continued piling her clothes and linen into the machine. "How do you know I wasn't born here?"

"Because everyone who's actually born here leaves."

"I came here for work," was all she said, still not facing her interlocuter.

"I came here to start a modelling career," the woman said. Aven's ears pricked up.

"Actually, so did I," Aven admitted, she straightened, finally turning cautiously to face the stranger, who, it seemed in the low light, had face coverings of her own.
It was true. Aven had moved from a small village in the Irish countryside. She was always such a pretty little thing, and was informed of this by well-meaning parents, teachers and friends on a daily basis since she could remember. Well, "obviously" she was going to "escape" the village and "make something" of herself. "Just look at you!"

And so, almost as soon as she'd turned 18, she moved to the city and got modelling jobs thrusted at her from all directions the minute she stepped off the train. She was spoilt for choice.

Less than a week later, on her way home from a photoshoot with a high-end make-up brand, she was mugged and stabbed in the face four times. The job offers dried up immediately. Nobody wanted those scars in any magazines or catalogues. She spent a few days in hospital, where only her parents visited, once, then returned to Ireland to recoup at the family home for a while. She'd only been away from the village for ten days, but suddenly it seemed everyone was too busy to meet her. One evening, she went to The Wheel, and when she walked in, a thick silence crumpled the air around her. To their credit, her friends Georgia and Nicki called her over and rescued her from total humiliation. But even then, there was a lot of "poor thing" and "did it hurt?" Of course, nobody called her pretty anymore. Those days were over.

The same night, she decided to remove the bandages, slightly earlier than the doctor had suggested. Facing the bathroom mirror, she slowly unwrapped the gauze, half expecting – hoping, even –  that she might be invisible beneath it. Instead, there were more plasters, which she peeled off, wincing as bolts of pain shot through her lower face. And then she opened her eyes, and screamed. A repugnant troll grinned back at her, its crusty mouth dripping from ear to ear.

Her parents found her curled up on the bathroom floor, still screaming.
She moved back to the city, where nobody knew her, and took whatever work she could get that didn't involve having to show her face to anyone, least of all herself. She avoided her reflection at all costs, lest that hideous ogre be there staring back at her.

In the dimness of the laundrette, and with the dark scarf covering the stranger's face, Aven could barely see, but she felt the woman eyeing her with curiosity to match her own. "What happened to you?" Aven asked her.

The woman didn't reply. Instead, she took a step closer to Aven, who reciprocated the gesture. "Your eyes glow," she told Aven. "Can I see your face?"

Aven's heart pounded as she moved her hand up to her face. She was nervous. Who was this person? Aven was overcome with an urge to see the stranger's face, and to show her own face to the stranger. She didn't have to wait long. The woman gripped her scarf and lowered it below her chin, revealing four lumpy, grisly scars around her lower mouth.

"You are so beautiful," Aven said to the woman. She didn't know why but her eyes were welling up.

"So are you," the woman responded. Aven hadn't even realised she'd also removed her own coverings. A great sense of relief washed over her, and she wept.

The two women stared at each other for the duration of their laundry cycle, laughing, crying and showing each other their scars. When their laundry was ready, they composed themselves and folded their clothes in contented silence. They turned to one another one last time before leaving the laundrette, faces uncovered, through different exits.


I'm working on something.  Should be in by the deadline, all things being equal.


Was going to finish mine tonight, but tired and not feeling it. Will finish it tomorrow morning but might go a few hours over the deadline. Please wait for my tired old ass to catch up if so?

EDIT: Almooooost there...


I don't think Mandle's ass can be much older or more tired than mine....  :=



Hannah—the same forwards as backwards—had always been a meticulous soul.  On her second birthday she had lined up everyone's cake plates according to size, and then had refused anyone permission to eat.  At the age of six she had organized her mother's food pantry alphabetically, and at the age of nine she transplanted half the front garden so that the flowering plants would bloom in order of the light spectrum.  She kept her hair always in pigtails, perfectly symmetrical like her name, and she abhorred anything out of balance.  Which was why tonight she was rocking herself gently to stop from screaming.

Sleepover camp had been her mother's idea.  It was, apparently, a rite of passage.  A dirty, smelly, itchy, and very much imbalanced rite of passage.  Hannah bit her lip as the girls next to her laughed uproariously about something that had fallen into the campfire.  She would return to the cabin if she dared sleep there alone, but the random outbursts of her fellow humans was preferable (if only just) to the unpredictable predations of bats and bugs.  Hannah shivered, despite the heat of the fire.

"Will you walk me to the bathroom?" a girl named Tayleigh asked.  She was a shy, quiet girl, and Hannah probably would have gotten along swimmingly with her if not for the fact that her nostrils were quite clearly two different sizes.  Hannah considered refusing, but as that would likely require a lengthy explanation that would be perceived as unkind she decided to suck it up.  At any rate, on the long walk with flashlights through the dark, Tayleigh's nasal imbalance would be quite hidden.

The bathroom building at the camp was a dingy affair.  It had electricity and running water, at least, but there the amenities ended.  Cleanliness, for example, was quite lacking, and the savage fluttering of insects around the lights was positively distressing.  Tayleigh was desperate, but Hannah could not bring herself to use the facilities.  Instead she waited near the grimy sinks, compulsively straightening the bottle of sunscreen abandoned on the counter and gingerly tucking the litter on the floor into the garbage receptacle.

"You're just going to have to go later," Tayleigh commented as she emerged to wash her hands. 

Hannah tried not to stare at the mismatched nostrils dancing in the mirror as the other girl washed her hands.  "My plan is to hold on until Monday."

"That's two days away!"

Hannah shrugged.  Tayleigh tittered.  Together they returned through the dark to the fire circle.  The camp leader now had her flashlight inverted beneath her jaw, casting her face in eerie shadows.

"Gather round and hear my tale of horrors," she began, despite a few suppressed giggles.  "You've heard of the Nether, of the Upside Down, and of the fiery realm of Hell itself.  But that's because these places are either made up or simply too careless to keep word of their existence spreading.  What I'm going to tell you about tonight is real, but once you know about it you can not unknow about it, and unfortunately this will put you in real danger."

Another suppressed peel of laughter, and then all was silent once more.

"There is a world, much like ours, on the other side.  Only it is different, opposite, perverse.  You have seen it many times, although you do not realise it, and that is the great secret of its existence.  You've been taught by people you trusted to believe that it is just a reflection of our own world, but that couldn't be further from the truth.  I'm talking about the realm you glimpse every time you look into the mirror.  I'm talking about The Backwards."

Someone in the group gasped.  Hannah fidgeted.  She liked the perfect symmetry she saw in the mirror.  Why would anyone fear it?

"The honest truth is that The Backwards is its own world with its own rules.  It looks like ours, except unnervingly flipped, but that is by design.  It is a disguise created by its inhabitants to lull us into a false sense of security.  But every once in a while they make a mistake, usually subtle, just to make sure that we on the other side haven't cottoned on to their secret.  And when we on this side do notice, it marks us out as prey.  From that point on our days are numbered, for there is no escaping the hunters.  They have windows into every house and vehicle.  They will watch you, sizing you up for your weaknesses, and then strike when you least suspect it."

Someone from the group gave a little shriek, which started a domino effect amongst the girls.  Hannah alone was silent, trying to find the logical flaw in the story.  She had never noticed anything amiss through the mirror, but had she really been looking for it?  Her of all people should be able to detect even the slightest flaw in symmetry, surely?

"And now we get to the worst part—the bloodthirsty inhabitants of The Backwards.  They look and walk like us, although they move like ghosts that make not the slightest sound.  They watch whenever you watch, and sometimes when you don't.  They even look like you, but not because of any disguise—this is the truly disturbing part.  What you thought was your reflection in the mirror is actually your master.  They have raised you up from nothing to live and breathe in their image, and what you think is your motion is merely their movement willed unto you.  But if you dare to try to break free of the spell, they will reach through the flimsy boundary between our worlds and haul you back into theirs where they will devour your soul."

The group around the campfire was dead silent, each girl shuddering at her own thoughts.  Hannah squirmed as well, but distressingly from a full bladder.  She couldn't quite swallow her pride to ask another girl to walk back to the bathroom with her, and so she set off alone through the dark.  Somewhere behind her shrieks of laughter erupted once more.

The lights of the bathroom building still attracted the unwanted attention of insects with skeletal legs and far too many sets of wings.  Hannah squeaked inside and then tried to work up the nerve to go into one of the scuzzy toilet stalls.  A bank of mirrors by the sinks distracted her, and once she was staring she could not look away, for she had to prove the absurdity of the camp leader's tale.

There she was, standing alone in the unsanitary bathroom building.  She was slender and weak and fragile, just like before.  But was there... was there something sinister in the eyes, now that she really looked closely.  Hannah leaned up to the mirror, searching the eyes of her reflection for any clue that she was her own depraved puppet master.

Hannah had to laugh at herself, and the girl on the other side of the mirror did likewise, except it was a silent, hollow laugh.  Empty.  Evil?  Hannah shook her head.  Stories like these were just made-up nonsense, mind-worms designed to gnaw at the confidence of those who should know better.  Hannah sniffed, and then tapped the glass of the mirror just to be sure it was solidly present.

Satisfied, she was about to turn away when something caught her eye.  The reflection of the bottle of sunblock was turned opposite to the way she had left it.  Someone had probably come to the bathroom in the meantime and played with it, Hannah decided.  And yet... she couldn't help but glance down at the bottle in reality, just to be sure.  Jarringly, it was exactly as she had left it.  Hannah looked back into the mirror to be sure it wasn't just a trick of the eye, and then glanced back in horror at the girl with the pigtails standing across from her.  The Backwards was real, and this doppelganger was now her enemy!

Hannah's lip curled in fearful realisation.  The girl in The Backwards gave her a viscous smile. 





The mirror came in the mail. I don't know from where. I mean, I know from whom, but not where they were when they sent it. Not precisely, in any case. And that, ultimately, might be the most important question of all. And I don't just mean for me. I mean for all time, for everyone. If there was one thing I could know, it would be where was Robert when he sent it. Now, at the end of my life, that's what I would know.

Oh, I'm not dying, or thinking of ending it, or anything like that. For all I know, I might live another thirty years, or more. But my life IS over in the sense that it has stopped moving forward; I can no longer change, or experience new things. The start of the halt was when I first looked into the mirror, and that journey of slowing continued every night for months until the process took on proper-noun status in my mind: The Halt.

That first night, when I took the brown wax-paper rectangle from the foam packing pellets in the white delivery box with my name and address scrawled on it in Robert's bold hand, I remember thinking it looked about the size of the Mona Lisa. That painting is much smaller than the average person presumes, but the concentrated weight per square inch is incalculable. But she has got nothing on my mirror. And I don't mean weight in the normal sense, no; something more, but words like "importance" or "meaning" seem so inadequate as to be trite. Within the orderly bounds of the ornate, stained-wood frame that I pulled corner-first from the wrapping paper, lies an anomaly that the universe surely is unaware of, for it would not suffer such a thing to exist.

Did mention that I am a priest? No, I see from your surprise that I did not. Well, I guess I still am, officially, but what I really am now is nothing. Of course, I did not know that it would come to that as I propped the mirror against the back of the votive candle rack in my church, behind the rows of little flames. I only wanted to admire the fine finish of the frame in their soft glow, but when I leaned forward to retrieve it, the candlelit face that rose into view from the bottom of the mirror was not my own, and yet, it also was.

It was the face of the first of what I came to think of as The Encapsulated. This one was sporting a tangled, unkempt beard, and wore thick, greasy-lensed glasses, a thin, silvery crack running diagonally through the corner of one. His, my, face was dirty. One patch of grime on his cheek had bloody scratch marks tracking around a wet-capped boil at its middle. He was not surprised to see me, and I could tell he could see me by the way his eyes locked with mine. This must not have been his first time and, looking back on the weary, jaded depths of those eyes, I'm guessing it wasn't even within his first hundred. But it was my first time and I jerked back away from the slanted mirror. I thought that should have put him out of view, but he must have leaned in closer on his side because his hideous face suddenly took up the whole frame. And, just to add a touch more surreal madness, I could see his breath fogging the far surface of the glass.

This first Encapsulated, who I assume to have been a homeless version of myself, given the graffiti-scrawled wall and pile of refuse that had been visible behind him, then reached up and tapped on his side of the mirror, leaving a fingerprint briefly in the expanding and contracting circle of condensation. I suppose I expected my own mirror to shake or bounce against the back of the candle rack when he did so, but it remained sitting solidly slanted and unmoving.

I cried out something like, "BEGONE, SATAN!" out of my ignorance at the time, but he just smiled a yellowed, gapped grin, wheezed out a chuckle, and replied, "If I am your Satan, then you are mine."

His voice was clear; it did not sound as if it came to me through a pane of glass, which made some strange kind of sense as his finger-tapping had not caused any vibration on my side, and yet, at the same time, made no sense at all. I have never uncovered a reasonable explanation for this, despite several of The Encapsulated having voiced their own wild theories on the matter since.

Before I could reply, this first one in a line of countless others said, "By the way, if you really want me gone, you have to say 'G'bye'," and then suddenly the mirror only reflected the shadowed, vaulted ceiling of my church. The connection had been cut.

I was too shaken to even approach the mirror again that night, still believing this all a trick of the devil, and left it sitting there surrounded by the votive candles that I would have extinguished on any other occasion. After an almost completely sleepless night, I returned from my rectory to find the mirror still there, the dead candles around it melted down to nubs within their sconces. When I hesitantly picked it up, nothing happened, and I assumed my terrifying experience had been a one-time haunting or possession. It was only later, by coincidence, that I realized the mirror only activated properly when touched after nightfall. I have experimented since, touching it at various stages during sundown, and have found that it sometimes tries to make a connection, but it is unstable and liable to—

Sorry, what? Ah, Robert? Actually I'm glad you brought me back to him. Because there's something important you have to know about Robert to fully understand my tale:

We looked exactly alike until the age of seven, even more so than your average "identical" twins. Even our parents had trouble telling us apart. Usually there is some quirk of body language or posture that gives it away for an observer with any kind of intimacy within or without the family. But we were truly identical, except for one factor: Robert's boundless compassion.

One hot summer's day in our seventh year, we were climbing the big oak on the knoll behind our farmhouse. It takes only the merest mention of that day to bring back to me the warm, dusty breeze on my skin and the drilling of cicadas in my ears, with an intensity that is unnerving. I had climbed higher than Robert by two branches, then three, and it was just when he was calling out to me to slow down that my overconfident hand slipped on the next-higher limb and, lacking a backup grip as I was, I fell.

Now, any other brother may have reached out to grab his falling sibling, and any other brother might have even held on tight to that fistful of shirt even though it pulled him away from safety as well. But few would have done what Robert did next: As we fell, he gripped my flailing legs vicelike between his own and used both upper and lower-body strength to twist us over together in the air, so that he was the one to strike the ground below first. His head must have been twisted to the side, perhaps to judge the impact he was about to cushion for me, and his left temple came down on a jutting rock. The term "split one's head open" certainly applies here. He was immediately knocked unconscious, blood gushed from his peeled-back scalp, but I only had the wind knocked out of me, having landed fully on top of him, and I honestly thought in that moment that my brother was dead.

Long story short, he wasn't; much parental screaming and car-bustling and doctor-stitches later, with a week of bed-rest thrown on top, and he was fine. But, I have never forgotten what he did for me that day. I aspired ever after to somehow repay that debt.

In fact, when he contracted polio some years later and I could only see him through a quarantine window and communicate with him via morse-code taps on the glass, I said to him that I wished I could take his place. Our father, who had taught us the code, overheard the raps and pauses and took me aside to severely admonish me for wishing such a thing. But, to be honest with you in a way I would be unable to be with any other person, his suffering terrified me and I did not REALLY wish that at all. Robert would have, though, had the situation been reversed, and that is what set him, and still sets him, apart from me... wherever he is.

So, now you understand why I must keep looking for—

All right... yes, I'm getting to that. Excuse my rambling. I know how preciously you value your time. My brother recovered from polio without any lasting handicaps, by the way. Thanks for asking... Yes, I know you didn't. I was being... oh, never mind; if The Halt is what you want to know about above all else, a point I wish you would make your mind up about, by the way, then you will not understand, but I will tell you, regardless:

The deceleration of my existence began a few weeks after I discovered the night-only rule the mirror goes by. I had given into temptation and touched it a few times since then, seeing versions of myself in different garb and locations flash into being behind its glass, only for me to exclaim, "G'bye!" and cut the connection immediately.

But, one fateful night, as they say, after one or several too many scotches, I talked to that evening's Encapsulated; he was one of the less remarkable of my... well I had to decide what to call these sessions. I went through several iterations: "Summonings"? No, that seemed not the correct term, and not just because of the witchcraft-ish connotation that I used to be so concerned about; it was also erroneous because, as I discovered over time, the Encapsulated were also touching their mirrors at the exact same time I was, although I suppose "same time" is a concept with little to no meaning in this case.

"Contacts"? No; too ordinary. It was not as if I were assembling a Filofax of people I could get back to. No, I have never had the same exact connection twice and, besides, you have probably noticed by now that I tend towards a grander vernacular, perhaps stemming from my theological bent.

I settled on "Communions", after consulting a thesaurus in this case, I'll admit. Rather embarrassing that I resorted to that, considering said theological background.

Anyway, that being neither here nor there, in the case of this first real Communion, The Encapsulated was a very ordinary version of myself; he had short, neatly parted hair, and a closely cropped beard. He also seemed a bit younger than my current self, which is one reason why I mentioned "same time" as being a rather moot concept. Not the only reason, but I'll get to that.

He seemed to be sitting in a household room of some sort, probably his study, given the framed diploma on the wall behind him. It was also night for him, as it always is during Communions for both sides. The room he sat in was dark, his face illuminated only by the silent silver-blue flickering of a muted television somewhere out of view on his right. I was mildly surprised at the time to see the same flicker on the balls of my thumbs where they gripped the frame of the mirror, but then remembered the candlelight on the 'homeless' Encapsulated's face. I guess it felt eerily closer-to-home, now that the light from another world was shining on my skin.

We talked for a while. I soon realized that he was much more used to this than I was. He seemed almost blasé about the whole thing, a feeling I now relate to, myself. He was not particularly interested in answering my questions about the mirror. He even brushed aside my inquiry about how he had come by his own, instead pushing on with his own interrogation about my life. I soon became uncomfortable with the manner he asked things with the kind of casual intimacy reserved for close friends and family, and said, "G'bye," My own pale and shaken face replaced his in the frame, and it was over a week before temptation led me back to the damned thing in what would become a more frequent indulgence of weakness, then habit, and then the obsession that instigates The Halt.

Oh, one thing that I did glean from the man, was that he was married and had children, and was talking quietly in his presumed study to avoid tipping them off to his own nightly Communions, or however he thought of them. This shook me. It made the prosaic nature of marriage and offspring feel unnatural, and somehow soiled, to celibate I. During my week or so away from the mirror, the thought that I was capable, under different circumstances, of siring children and of participating in presumably regular sexual intercourse with a woman, came to me at the most inconvenient of times, particularly during sermons, causing me to blush and try to cover it with a raising of religious fervor in my voice that caused equally raised eyebrows and side-whispers among my unaccustomed-to-such flock. To say the least, it was not a pleasant feeling.

All right... all right, I see you fidgeting; I will condense the rest of my story into three particular Communions that should outline the dangers of too much self-reflection:

One Encapsulated was a staunch atheist. We spoke for hours, often with raised voices. I tried to describe my faith to him, which he sneered at with an oft-horrified expression. In return, he brought up his own views, the one that impacted me the most being the following: He said that he firmly believed that humanity would be better served by a disbelief in the afterlife. This was one of the cases of a raised voice, this time on my side, but he continued to belabor the point until I was forced into submissively listening; his point was that people would have less fear of death if eternal life were not promised to them as children by the adults they instinctively trusted, only to be yanked away later by their own developing sense of scrutiny. He painted a picture of a world where people naturally accepted that life was a once-only journey which death was merely the natural completion of. Now, from anyone else, including the late John Lennon, this viewpoint would have been something my priestly shields would have deflected and turned back on the speaker with my own counterpoints. But, coming from my 'own' mouth, the thought once again that I was capable of being this person rocked me and made me listen and, much like with the married-with-children concept, except a hundredfold worse, this intrusive thought came back to me more and more often.

Eventually, my sermons became just rote readings from scripture with no injection of my own stance, as I was losing any stance to inject.

Now, you can see how The Halt begins, but it gets worse:

To put it bluntly, another Encapsulated was a pedophile. He was talking to me out of a sleazy hotel room. Out the window behind him I could see a neon sign flashing lime-green then pink, obscuring his features as if he were ashamed or wary to fully show them, and illuminating the horrified, fascinated expression I could feel on my own face. I recognized the language on the sign as Thai. I sensed by his voice and some things he said that he was maybe a decade or more older than myself at the time, putting him in his late fifties perhaps. I did not talk to him for long before just dropping the mirror to my bed and leaving my rectory to walk the streets deep into the following a.m. hours in a panicked daze. Of course, my horror came from the thought that such an abomination was something another me was capable of but, again, I'll be honest with you in a way I would be with no other; it shook me as a Catholic priest. Not only because of our reputation for such deviance, but because of twinges I had felt myself and denied to myself over the years. I could deny that side of myself, no matter how previously fleeting and dismissible, no longer.

This was when I stepped back from sermonizing completely and became a priest in title only, claiming the 'hiatus' was for deeper theological research but, in reality, cramming every nocturnal moment chock full of Communions.

Everything I had once thought about myself disintegrated little by little. Even though these two cases I have mentioned so far are the extremes, even seemingly trivial points from the blander of the Encapsulated chipped away at my sense of self-identity like the tiny pellets of rain that eventually must wear even the mightiest of mountains away to naught.

Okay... yes, moving on: the third case I promised you is a little different, as I see you are relieved to hear. He was a conspiracy nut. I suppose his beliefs, once concerned with moon landings and vaccines undoubtably, had also experienced The Halt, and had become wholly focused on the mirror. He told me that he was attuned to the "One-Man Grapevine" of our bizarre multi-existence, and that he had "heard stuff, man" that would "blow my mind". Now, I have no way of discerning if all, or any, of what he told me was truth or delusion, but I do have reason to believe at least the spirit of his claims, even if not the granular particulars. He told of hearing, from another of 'us', that they had been in touch with a scientist-Encapsulated (my term, of course, not his; I forget his) who had been determined to run some kind of complicated particle tests on the mirror and who had never been 'heard from again'. Yes, I asked what he meant by that, as each time the Communion is different, and he claimed that others on the "grapevine" had also known the man and that he had never been heard from by any one of us since the 'time' of his declaration to test the mirror. This is all on very shaky logical ground, obviously, but there's more: He also said he was in contact with an Encapsulated who was very close to himself in beliefs. In other words: another conspiracy goofball. This man was going to take the mirror to the government, to 'prove' his wild theories on the shadowy 'THEY' to be correct or some such nonsense. He also vanished from the one-man grapevine.

At this point, I was getting tired of the man's prattle, as well as a little disconcerted. My inadvertent glances over my shoulder only seemed to drive him to further heights of drivel. So, I interrupted him with the first thing that sprang to mind: I asked him to describe his own mirror. I realized that I had never even wondered if they were all the same. Unfortunately, this Encapsulated was very lacking in any decent descriptive skills. Eventually, I said to him, "Wait, I have an idea. Let me go get my Polaroid camera," He said for me to take him with me as, just like I'd found out when returning from my wanderings after the pedophile Communion, the mirror times out on its own once one side leaves it. This happens after some non-specific time; minutes, hours, or even days (but never weeks in anyone's experience), even without the signoff "G'bye" being spoken.

As I carried him from the feet of Jesus, where I still knelt for Communions for the increasingly empty comfort, through my church in the direction of my rectory, I could see him peering left and right out of the sides of the mirror, trying to see past me as best he could. He said, "Holy shit, man. Nice church!" then, seeing me wince probably, continued, "Oh, sorry, yeah. Um, would 'forgive me Father' be even appropriate here, or... naw, it'd just be weird. Forget it." or something like that.

I got the camera and told him to say cheese, which he did and even did a peace-sign like an idiot. The flash went off. The photo came out and yes, it showed the ornate frame of the mirror and his own white-lit face and stupid pose within it. I showed him the photo, and he confirmed that his mirror looked just like mine. Not extremely useful information, but at least it had stopped his ravings. I was leading up to signing off when he said, "Hey, dude. You might want to go burn that photo after we're done here. There's someone watching on a 'third monitor' or something, I know it! Might be bad for both of us, just sayin'. G'bye."

Now, the reason I recounted this particular Communion is not really because of what the man said, but of how his warning made me feel. I took the photo to the votive candle rack and burned it. And, yes, I prayed while it burned.

It was the last time I ever prayed, ever felt even remotely like I believed in anything to be completely transparent with you. Yup, now I am fully in The Halt: I am a neutral jumble of everyone and everywhere and everywhen from the ten-thousand-or-more Communions I have had. I am no version, and yet every version, of ourself.

Now, has anything I have told you convinced you to end this same cycle before it begins, oh-newbie-me, and just smash that atrocious anomaly and go on with your life, free in ignorance?

Ah, then my efforts have been met with failure. But I have ONE last trick up my cassock. No, don't be like that... One last story and then we say "G'bye" forever:

You remember me stating that there was more to my rejection of the term "same time" than I had addressed yet? Now, listen with all possible attention:

This was during a Communion with a soldier-Encapsulated. He was in a tent in a jungle. Rain was coming down outside in absolute torrents. Through the triangle of the tent flap I could see distant sometimes-orange, sometimes-white flashes through the silhouettes of the ferny foliage, and after some seconds had passed, I could hear the thuds and booms of what must have been incoming and outgoing artillery. He told me he was fighting in 'The Indonesian War', a conflict that never happened in my world, and his way of speaking sounded somewhat 'sixties-ish' to my ear, except also just slightly off. It was the 1980s in my world at that time.

That's why "same time" is a ridiculous concept, even more so than the occasionally obvious disparity in ages between us; it's more about he war that never happened. That chills me even now, but it is not why I am telling you any of this.

"I'm here with Robert in the same unit." then, back over his shoulder, "ROBERT!"

Those words made my hand jerk and he must have seen his view through the mirror do the same because he said, "Calm down. There's not much time to—" and, just then, the triangle opened wider from a hand out of the night and Robert stooped in through the tent flap. He crouched behind the Encapsulated soldier, Vietnam-era (in my world) helmet still on, looking over The Encapsulated's shoulder into the mirror. At ME!

He was not surprised. He knew about it all! The Encapsulated greeted him and 'introduced' me, I guess. It was awkward and I felt dizzy. Then, my Encapsulated just shut up and Robert started blinking at me. That other version of me just watched him blink, mouthing the morse-code slightly and silently, just as I was. I don't know if anything unfortunate is going to happen to me now, but to heck with it; this is roughly what Robert told me:

"Paul, there is something you must know about the mirror. It is dangerous beyond any limit you can imagine," and then he took off his helmet and brushed his long, sodden fringe of hair aside. And there was the hockey-stick-shaped scar on his temple from our childhood fall. The exact one! This was not an Encapsulated version of Robert. This was my brother!

He surely saw the recognition in my eyes and continued blinking out, "I don't know if this subterfuge will work. I think they only respond to written or out-loud communication. I have tested this on others who aren't my real brother like you are and nothing happened, even the few who understood morse."

If there really were a "they" then I had an image flash in my mind of them somehow watching us from the side, two identical faces, save the scar, looking at each other from across some insane void, but I get ahead of myself because Robert went on to say:

"I talked about the danger I sensed once before, you see, with another of The Framed Ones," even through my shock, I felt a sting of pleasure that my moniker was better. I'm such an ass sometimes. He continued, "I was in our world then, but not for long. Something came out of the mirror like a corona of foggy tentacles and encapsulated me," (yes, I jolted again at the word) "I felt a damp, warm pressure on my back, pushing me. The mirror got bigger and bigger in my vision and I couldn't look anywhere else until I was through it, and then I didn't want to."

Here, he paused his blinking, as if finding the next part too difficult to even say in morse:

"I was in some place. Like a void but not. And there were shapes there that moved and gibbered with intelligence. Paul, they made me send the mirror to you. I don't know why they wanted that, but I knew I would be cast into that void that wasn't a void if I didn't do it. And I couldn't take the hit from that fall this time, and I'm so, so sorry, little brother. They sent me here, to this world. With two mirrors. I sent yours at a post office they specified. The other Robert here was gone, just like that. I replaced him. This Paul believed me once I showed him the scar and gave him his mirror. We have been looking for you for years, every night. I hope we aren't too late. SMASH the mirror! Be done with it if you are at all able to by now. I hope you can. Say nothing. They are looking for me. I love you."

And then, out loud, my 'Framed One' said, "Time's up. G'Bye." although he didn't say "G'Bye" of course, just like everyone else in my story did not. He, as they did, said the full word, which obviously I cannot say or... you know.

Well, I'm still here it seems... interesting.

Anyway, personal safety concerns aside, now you know everything I know. You know why the 'where' of my brother is so important. It's something that must never be known, but I alone must know it and try to take the fall for him this time. It's the only thing left that I feel.

So, I plead with you, with all you now know, newbie-me, to break the mirror, even though I know you won't. But just think abou— UGH! SHIT! DAMN THAT'S BRIGHT!


Huh, so that's what it looks like when someone smashes one.

Well done, my man, well done.


Quote from: Baron on Wed 15/05/2024 03:10:16I don't think Mandle's ass can be much older or more tired than mine....  :=

Just look at my text size in my story.


We have an impressive five entries:

- RootBound: Can You See Into My Stomach?
- WHAM: The Three Mirrors
- Stupot: Just Look at You
- Baron: ¡RorɹoЯ!
- Madnle: The Halt

You have three points to distribute among these stories however you want. Please post your votes here and if you feel like it, give a comment or two to our participants.

Voting ends 20. May


- RootBound: Can You See Into My Stomach?
A kind of horror story that left me wondering just how broken this person's mind was to see, imagine or conjure up such things. While one could see a tale of the supernatural, I just see one of mundane sadness, depression and darkness. Solidly written and executed.

- Stupot: Just Look at You
Quite short and to the point. While the story focuses heavily on the experience of disfigurement and its effects after the fact, it feels like this tragic past event is swept aside a bit too swiftly to let its impact, the way it jolted Aven's world out of order, be properly felt. Her, and the stranger's, characterization also leaves some to be desired, but I do appreciate that bit of relief at the end. A bit of hope.

- Baron: ¡RorɹoЯ!
I feel like I've just read a campfire ghost story about a campfire ghost story and I'm not sure if that's just another layer of the theme or a funny coincidence. An entertaining read and a little more lighthearted than the two I read before this one, even if this one opts for a darker turn at the end.

Have a point!

- Mandle: The Halt
The longest read and, by far, the most engrossing one. Placing the reader so directly into the story felt odd at first but became clearer and more focused as I read on. The very end of the story with its descriptions of tentacles felt a bit too close to more common fantasy tropes for me, a slight step backwards in the original and unique nature of the story otherwise, but all in all I enjoyed this very much.

Two points!

And my points / scores tallied for Sinitrena's convenience:

- Baron: ¡RorɹoЯ! = 1 point

- Mandle: The Halt = 2 points
Wrongthinker and anticitizen one. Utterly untrustworthy. Pending removal to memory hole.


I've read all the entries, and there's definitely a lot to like about all of them. Clearly a lot of effort put into every one. I'll post some comments and make my decision soon.
They/them. Here are some of my games:

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