Fiction: Stuck in the Middle with Me (Part 2)

Here’s the ending, such as it is; if you missed the first part, you can find it right here. Enjoy!


The moment the word had been spoken, it seemed as if the room got darker. The cavorting shadows cast by the candle flame seemed to take on a thickness and menace that had not been there a moment ago; Caleb felt as though they were extending dripping tendrils towards him, poking and prodding at his insolent, still-living flesh. In his peripheral vision, he could see himself reflected to either side, but the reflections seemed twisted, somehow, too tall or too short, too wide or too thin, with features that no person should have. Despite being alone and motionless, despite having ensured that the air conditioning was off and that there were no electronics or other devices left on in the rest of the house, Caleb swore he could hear things, stomping and thumping and furtive little foot-slides.

As he stared forward, he was blinded for a brief moment as the door to the room banged open, then was cast back into darkness with a blue rectangle throbbing in the center of his vision as the door slammed shut again. He wanted to jump from the chair. Wanted to focus his eyes to either side, wanted to stare into the candle before him, wanted to blink and scrub at his eyes. He did none of those things. To move would be to break the spell, or so he’d been told, and such could have disastrous consequences for him. He must remain seated, must stare forward and merely listen until the time was right.

Time. Shit. He’d forgotten to check the time. He’d been so eager that he hadn’t first made sure the hour was right, let alone stopped to set an alarm for when this was supposed to be over.  One hour and one minute, everything he’d read had recommended. No less. Less would anger the spirits. Longer was not the best idea either, but if need be, he was to hold out until dawn when the rite would end itself.

How far away was dawn? Three hours? Five? How was he supposed to know how long he’d been here, trapped amongst his old things and surrounded by forces he wasn’t certain he understood. He knew it had been less than five minutes, and already the compulsion to bolt was strong. How could he hold out for hours, even assuming he knew how many had passed?

In his peripheral vision he could see the figures in the mirrors stirring. They were warped, infinite versions of himself, given momentary nightmarish life by the power of the ritual… Or so the instructions said. One was to have been the Fool, the other his Queen. They were supposed to answer his questions, grant him glimpses of the future, perhaps even ask him questions themselves. One would always lie, the other grant nothing but truth. The trick, of course, would be to determine which was which. But they did not seem to be in the mood for conversation. Caleb swore he could see talons at the ends of their too-bony fingers, see the reflections of his own jaw jutting forward and spreading wide to accommodate rows of teeth that would worry a shark.

The sounds in the room were changing. Gone were the whispers, and for a moment there was nothing but silence so heavy and complete that it felt as though a wet blanket had been draped over him, killing even the rapid wheeze of air escaping his own constricted lungs. A moment after that, something new was heard. The high, teeth-grinding squeal of nails on glass, followed by an insistent tapping.

Caleb had scrunched his eyes shut, wishing he could do the same with his ears, but was now afraid to open them. Opening them would mean he could once again see his reflections and whatever they were up to, something he could all too easily imagine: the warped versions of himself dragging those mutant fingers against the mirror-glass, knocking on it, as though trying to get his attention. Perhaps even testing if it was possible to break through it.

If he opened his eyes, he would be able to sense them. Sensing them, he would be helpless not to look at them. Knowing for certain would be worse than just imagining it. So he kept his eyes shut.

Again, the eye-watering screech, and again the tapping. This time only from his left. To his right, things seemed to have gone silent. He wondered if he could peek with just that eye, make sure the not-him in that mirror was still in place, or why it had gone quiet. Before he could put thought into action, the noises changed again.

Thump. Thump. Thump. This was no longer an experimentally polite knocking. That was the sound of a fist dropping against the glass. Apparently hard enough to rattle the mirror in its frame – or perhaps the frame on the chair – if the sound was any indication.

He couldn’t take it any longer. Caleb had to look. Knowing was better than not, and all the warnings against looking directly at them be damned.

He opened his eyes, head pulling like a magnet to the mirror on his left. When he saw it, processed it, the part of his mind that was capable of rationality winked out like a broken lightbulb. He neither noticed nor cared that his crotch was suddenly filled with a liquid warmth that went streaming down his leg and puddled beside one leg of the denim throne. He wasn’t even able to muster enough strength of will to scream. Everything inside merely let go.

What was staring at him from inside the mirror was clearly no longer human. Maybe it had been, once upon a time. It certainly had the basic shape of a person, and it was wearing the same red t-shirt and bluejeans that he had been when he’d sat down. But the face was a mass of tattered flesh, the only recognizable feature the protruding jaw and the tusks it apparently called teeth. Around what should have been the forehead, wispy cobwebs of something that might have been hair in some long-lost century drifted, almost but not quite obscuring a circlet of gold and onyx resting where the brow had once been.

That monstrous maw dropped open and a shriek that carried a definite note of triumph erupted from the thing in the mirror, as it raised taloned hands at the end of broomstick skinny arms, and began to flail wildly at the mirror. Caleb saw but did not process the tiny cracks forming in the reflective surface, noticed but did not care that the mirror frame was inching forward along the seat of the chair and would soon be unbalanced and fall to the floor.

There was apparently just enough of a survival instinct to attempt to react when he heard the shuffling footstep to his right, however. He tried to turn, tried to duck, but moved far too slowly; his head was trapped in a bony vice, caught between the deceptively strong hands of a creature identical to the first, that had somehow already escaped it’s prison.

Of course. That one didn’t have a frame on it, he thought, the words nothing more than an afterglow on a television screen that had already been turned off.

The thing that held his head stared at him, into him, and somehow Caleb knew it was doing so despite the apparent lack of eyes. Then with a thundering laugh, the fingers around his skull tightened, the arms and torso spun, and with a sickening cracking sound followed by a view of the world that appeared to be upside down and backwards, Caleb knew he was going to die here.

He should have paid attention to the most important warning, the one that had been repeated the most in the text…

“Don’t try this at home.”


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