I thought since we’re getting close to the season of spooks and ghosts that I would publish this short horror story I wrote. It goes into some detail about my experiences with mental illness and there is some gore so keep that in mind before you decide to read it.
Let me know if you like it and I can post some more creative fiction I’ve been writing.
A faceless man is in your mirror. Question everything you read in the blank expression.
If you step out of your bathroom into your kitchen where there are no mirrors, he will follow you on the surface of your coffee and the darkened screen of your phone. Your eyes–still watery from sleep–flick to the sink faucet and the distorted smudge of him. You think if you leave the fingerprints he will go away. The oily residue twists him into something new.
This morning you decide to go for a run.
You are not a runner.
You are feeling each footfall vibrate through your joints, through your skull. Focus on the fog of panting breath, the loud repetition of electronic noise in your headphones, the puddles of day-old rain that mimic the burning sky as you try to convince yourself you avoid them to spare your shoes. You think of the heaviness of wet socks and the cold leak of water through your toes. A car drives past and you look over at it. He looks back. The car wheels crunch and roll into the distance and you feel the nudge of turbulent air. You step around a trampled coffee cup, at the name scribbled in Sharpie, and wonder if Becca thinks of its fate after she threw it out her car window.
You say it in a whisper and feel the compression of your lips as you form the b and the cough of the double c. This is not your name but it feels less foreign than your own. It feels like the person who would corner you at the shop. Can I help you find anything? A light tone with too sharp a jump in pitch to be genuine. Artificial smile glossed to brilliant perfection in phosphorescent light. You read her name machine-stitched on an obnoxious coloured uniform and you wonder about her coffee-stained teeth. You wonder if she knows he is reaching through the bits of artificial metal hanging from her earlobes.
Your breath, your headphones, your skull.
You are five years old and your mother is crying. Someone is dead.
You remember once sitting next to a bed as your mother fills the silence with mindless chatter and you avoid the empty eyes of a man you have been told to call ‘Papa’. You never met him. You were too young to understand that this empty person used to love dancing, used to paint, used to remember their name. Too young to understand in your present-tense world that the older you get the more past-tense your world becomes. You swing your legs into the plastic chair and scrape dusty sneakers on linoleum floors and try to ignore the smell of death.
You looked into ‘Papa’s’ milky eyes and you saw the faceless man there. As your mother sat crying, you held out your hand and asked him to stay. He nodded and the skin on your knuckles cracked.
You step in a puddle and his cold fingers brush your leg.
You are peeling off your soaked socks and stepping into the shower. He is in the corner of your eye. A small cut is on the inside of your thumb that you don’t notice until the shampoo is foaming in your hands. It catches as you slide your fingers on your scalp.
The warm water runs over your shoulders, down arms and fingers. It pools at your toes. You keep your head bowed because he is in the shower head. The bathroom is suffocated by the steam and as you reach to turn off the tap his fingernails pick at the cut on your thumb.
The second time you see him you are the one with tear-stained cheeks. Someone is still dead. These tears are for the living. For biting words and clawing hands. A different man who follows you in echoes. A face you will never forget.
You will see it on your birthday.
He was in the night-backed window of your bedroom. Tree branches cracked in the wind behind him and you told him what happened. He is the only one you ever told. He promised to hold it for you so you wouldn’t have to. He promised you would never have to see it again.
He is a liar.
The radio plays as you drive to work in your car and tells you that the world is still fighting itself, that someone is still dead, that the sun will shine even as clouds gather overhead. You wait for there to be music, for sound to cover up your breathing and the annoying thrum of your veins squeezing blood through your head.
According to the radio, you need a new car, a new mattress, a new lifestyle. The same songs as yesterday start to play. A sharp pain settles on the bridge of your nose and he is in the backseat.
It is your eleventh birthday and you are in the backseat stuck in traffic on your way to the party. The only time you were able to convince your mother to have it away from the house. There are flashing lights on police cars and horns of impatience. Later you will find out someone else is dead. That so many someones who are dead.
You don’t get to have any cake because your mother told the party guests to start without you. You wonder why someone has to be hit by a car on that day and not some other. He reaches through a camera lens and scrapes a smile onto your lips. This is one of the masks he will give you as part of your trade. It fuses to the bottom half of your face and your chest tightens. You reteach yourself how to breathe.
You are careful to smile at work. How are you? Good, yourself? The words hang on the tip of your tongue waiting to make eye-contact. You are full of catch-all phrases and masks for any situation. Master of pleasantries as you keep your distance. They don’t see him as you do. They don’t know he is in the clips of their pens. He takes their words and rubs the ink. Not even that part of you is safe.
There’s no point in trying to avoid him in the bathrooms at work. Look at him and wait to see if the person at the sink next to you notices. The cut on your thumb has reopened and you press a paper towel to it to stop the bleeding only to notice the crescents of your fingernails are stained red. His cold fingers slide down your neck leaving pink marks on the skin and you wonder if you’ll ever escape that touch.
You are not a runner.
Each day you give him a piece of you to keep until the weight has disappeared. You think you understand what you’re doing. After all, you reason, no one wants to feel sad. Why not give him all the sadness? All the regret and anger too?
When you find your glasses broken on the floor, a part of you is relieved. You will no longer have to look through him to read the books that once offered an escape. They used to make you laugh but you can’t remember how to make that sound anymore. You don’t cry now as you look around the quiet, watchful classroom and wonder at the broken glass at your feet.
Your world smudges around the edges and you decide you like it better that way.
When you get back to your apartment, you realize that you left the curtains open in the living room. The diminishing light splashes across the wood floors and pain pulses behind your eyes. You toss your keys into the table and ignore his offered hand.
You feel a line of heat on your upper lip before you taste the blood. Pretend it’s because it’s cold outside. Pretend you can’t feel his grip on your lungs.
You are sixteen years old when he takes the last piece. You know it has happened because of you blackout and wakes up with a nurse standing over you. Given a juice box and asked if this has happened before. Go ahead, lie like he taught you to. You are asked if anything is worrying about you at home. The nurse doesn’t understand that home is the four walls of your bedroom. You’re sure there was more once but he took it… how many years has it been? You reach back through time but it is the emptiness he has left for you. It was what you asked for after all.
You’re in your apartment and you can’t sleep. You try laying in bed at any hour of the day hoping that it will come but you are not tired. It is only the escape you need. Try to tire yourself out.
He paces in the windows of your living room, a wolf in human skin as if he can smell blood. You notice the band-aid on your thumb has soaked through. Peeling soaked socks. Peeling off the mask. Nails dig into your cheeks and pull at the skin.
Ponder how you got here.
He pushes at the glass, rattles the discarded coffee mugs, and you feel the cold of outside seep through.
Give him another piece. He’ll go away.
He is a liar.
He is the holder of death and fear and pain. Of anger and sadness and all those little disappointments you thought you were prepared for. Of the laugh that used to make your chest hurt and the excitement that used to make you question your reality. He has left you with nothing. At least that’s what you tell yourself.
Hold your hands to the glass. Maybe it won’t break.
It’s been years since you were this close to him–a plate of glass all that keeps him away. Blood drips from your nose until all you can taste is copper. It drips from the corner of your eyes. You gasp for breath. He pulls on you.
Because you’ve been greedy. You kept one little piece to yourself.
The blank face fills your vision and you realize the cold on your cheek isn’t from the glass. A slender hand has reached through to smudge the blood away. The pressure in your head builds until darkness frames your vision and a sharp tone plays in your ears.
It is all you have left. A remnant of who you are and of whom those before you were. It is the blueprint that is you.
It is all you have left to give.
He cups your face. Breath deeply.
The glass shatters.
There is no longer a faceless man in your mirror. Faceless men do not exist. And neither do you, anymore. Look in your mirror if you don’t believe me.