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Salvatore woke to the sound of his cell phone vibrating on his nightstand. He gave a groan as he rolled over to check the caller ID. The blue LED screen read “Work”, and he swore as he caught the time of the clock. Salvatore glanced out his window as he sat up, and saw what appeared to be dusk outside, a marked difference from what late morning should be.
Salvatore, or Sal as his few friends knew him, reached over for his phone to silent to stop the vibrating. As he flipped through the ring choices, his eyes flickered to the back of his hand. The tone choice came to rest back on Vibrate, as he stared at his hand. Most of the skin of his right hand was hidden by layers of dried blood, except for patches where it had flaked off and flesh showed through. Sal slowly extended both of his arms out in front of him, and saw that the desiccated blood flowed up his arms into the sleeves of his t-shirt. He tilted his head downward, and blinked furiously. The t-shirt was stained with blotches of dark red, and was crusty with blood that had dried within the cotton weave.
Sal felt himself begin to sway, and the roar of his heart beat in his ears seemed amplified a thousand times. Each heartbeat seemed to linger in the air, and Sal couldn’t shake the feeling that the temperature in the room had just dropped 15 degrees. He reached down and grabbed the edge of his bed to steady himself, causing the dried blood on his knuckles to crack and flake off. Sal focused on his breathing, from one breath to the next, extending each inhalation as long as he could. When he felt the blurrings of unconsciousness recede, he began his trek to the bathroom
During his journey to the bathroom, he began to strip himself out his clothes to rid himself of the sensation of the blood against his skin. As Sal pulled off his shirt, his vision came to rest on his chest. His heartbeat became audible again, and a terrible pressure began to build behind his eyes. His chest was covered in fresh cuts, which had formed scabs overnight. His eyes roved over his arms, and saw the faint outlines of cuts there as well.
Sal walked, shakily, the last few steps to his bathroom. As he crossed the threshold in to his bathroom, he gently closed the door behind him and turned around. The door held a full-length mirror, allowing him to see his entire body. Clad only in boxers, Sal stared at his reflection. Through the layers of blood that had not cracked off on his trek to the bathroom, he could see the beginnings of a Cross, the Star of David, and the Om symbol. There were more markings, but Sal had not seen them before and was unsure of their meaning. Judging by the rest, he figured them to be more holy symbols.
Sal stood there for a period of time that might very well have been 10 seconds, or 10 minutes. His view was singularly focused on the cuts on his chest, which together formed religious symbols from every major and minor religion. Sense of self, time, and space were all absorbed in to that reflection. His right hand slowly moved up to caress the mirror, with no rational motive behind it. He felt as if he was touching real skin when his fingertips met his reflection’s own. The opposite fingertips felt slightly callused, and the nails were ragged and bitten. The skin around the other’s cuticles was cracked and dry, and you could clearly see the bones in each finger, with the skin drawn tight from dehydration.
When he looked up from the reflection’s fingers, he saw the cuts had faded from fresh scabs in to faint scars. His hair was tangled and long, and was caked with dirt. He could see the outline of his ribs through the skin, and he guessed that his reflection had lost 30 to 40 pounds. His arms had lost all their muscle, and Sal thought that he might be able to fit his hand around the bicep. The skin was tanned, and looked more like leather than skin. A beard had sprouted from his chin and cheeks, a shock of matted brown with the beginnings of gray. The eyes were the most disconcerting of all, constantly shifting and wild-looking. A cataract had begun to form in the right eye as well, making the pupil appear cloudy. His toenails had grown centimeters longer, and hard calluses covered his bare feet.
When Sal looked down at his own body, to see if the changes had consumed his body as well, he saw only pale and pink flesh, untroubled by the ravages of sun or dirt. When he looked back up at the mirror, the same greeted him in his reflection. Sal exhaled heavily, staring at his reflection. He closed his eyes, inhaling and exhaling in patterns to calm himself. When Sal felt his heart rate drop to safer levels, he opened his eyes, and was greeted with the sight of the changed reflection again. The tight lips were drawn back in to a grimacing smile, and the reflection brought up both of his hands to press against the mirror. This was a violation of all Sal knew about mirrors and reflection, free will didn’t occur for reflections, they were merely imitators. Sal watched the reflection, his own hands hanging at his side. The reflection began to exert pressure on the mirror from inside, pushing with what remained of the muscles in his arms.
Sal watched with a feeling of disbelief, a scream building in the recesses of his throat. He watched as the mirror began to bulge outwards, as his reflection took a step forward and continued his struggle with the mirror. The surface of the mirror seemed to shift, and murkiness began to replace the shine and luster of the mirror. His reflection began to become distorted, the dimensions becoming wrong to Sal. The smile became elongated, and seemed to be expanding to cover the entire mirror. Rotten teeth and blackened gums took over Sal’s vision as the center of the mirror reached ever closer for Sal. A hallucination, it must be a hallucination…
Sal was entranced by that smile. It had covered the entire mirror now, leaving nothing of the body or face of the reflection. Just the smile was visible now, as the mirror continued its march towards Sal. Much of the mirror was at least 6 inches off the frame of the door, with the mirror stretching and twisting itself. Only the corners were still attached to the doorframe. An invisible force began to pull at Sal, urging him to touch the mirror. The force whispered in his ears, touch me please touch me please please touch me touch me please please touch me please touch me i need you need need you to touch meee.
The force was irresistible, tugging at his arms to bring them closer to that surface. Sal tried to clench his fists and bring them back to his sides, but the force was telling him no no no touch me please, and the whisper was becoming more seductive. The murmuring voice wormed its way through his ears and ever closer to his brain. It snaked and slithered through the inner ear canals, pulsing and writhing with the sensation of life. The voice was the sexual cry of every lover he’d ever taken, the voice was the stern commands of his father, and the sweet soothings of his mother, and the voice was his own, velvety soft as it purred to him to touch the mirror.
Sal found that the voice was sapping his resistance, each word adding to the momentum of madness. Inside, the voice whispered that it was okay, to touch me caress me stroke me. Sal’s fingers uncurled from their fists, each finger unraveling one at a time. He watched from a detached point on the ceiling as both his arms reached out to embrace the silvery surface. When Sal felt his fingers brush the plane of the mirror, he experienced a blurring of sensation as he rushed back to inhabit his body. As his perspective re-oriented itself to his own eyes, he watched as the mirror shattered in to shining pieces as the murkiness of before dissipated.
The scream was building in his throat, in his mind, and in his eyes. The madness ate at him, and he imagined the smile in the mirror was stained red as the teeth sunk in to the soft flesh of his throat. He imagined the teeth as they bit through his trachea, letting out a rush of air. He imagined that his reflection was feasting on him, crouched over him like predator over prey, and that the reflection was devouring him. He imagined a tongue flicking in to brush against the tendons and muscles of his neck, and then a swell of pain roared through his nerves and Sal imagined no more.
Sal awoke hours later, with a few shards of the mirror lodged in his right forearm. Another shard had buried itself his left earlobe, jutting out like a masochist’s earring. Probing fingers found the pieces of the mirror in his arm, pulling them out and dropping them in the sink. The glass in his ear came out smoothly, leaving a bisecting line through the earlobe. He turned the faucet on, to wash away the blood from the glass. Sal watched, mesmerized, as the solution of bloody water swirled down the sink drain.
Sal looked up from the sink, focusing on the small mirror that was attached to the miniature cabinet that held all his bathroom necessities. He swiveled his head around, checking for any cuts on his face. Finding none, he stepped back so that he could check the rest of his body for yet unseen damage. Using the mirror and a combination of uncomfortable twisting motions, Sal was able to see that his back was laced with wounds as well, though different from those elsewhere. To his untrained eye, they looked like lash marks.
Sal stripped out of his remaining article of clothing, his boxers, and stepped in to his bathtub-shower hybrid. He twisted the shower on, and to the hottest setting. A benefit of living alone, there was always enough hot water to go around. The scalding water felt good to Sal, as it loosened and removed the remaining vestiges of blood. Slowly, the cuts began to show through as more and more skin was revealed to Sal’s eye. Many of the cuts seemed to have healed already, becoming prominent scars overnight. When the last remnant of blood disappeared in to the drain, he cut off the water supply and toweled himself off.
Sal wavered as a wave of exhaustion swept through his body, and felt his knees start to buckle. The stress of the day had taken its toll on him, and he trudged back to his bed for relief. He was careful to avoid the glass from the broken mirror on his way to the bed.
He stripped the sheets from his bed, still covered in blood as they were. Sal collapsed on to the bare mattress, still slightly damp from the shower. Sal was asleep quickly, with no thought for the happenings of the day. Nearby, his cell phone vibrated on the nightstand as his office called to tell him of his recent unemployment.
While he slept, Sal dreamt of a preacher. Through oddly proportioned sight, he watched as the man stood on a crowded street-corner and hailed the passerby’s. Sal strained to hear the sermon, as a crowd started to form around the man, enraptured by his words. Few of the words seemed to carry to Sal, as if he were watching from a great height. As Sal watched, the preacher on the corner became more animated, his entire body shaking with the emotion of his speech. The crowd swayed with him, their eyes glassy as the preaching burrowed its way in to the more primal levels of their brain, to the parts of the mind that still remembered the fear of the dark.
Sal stared as the preacher fell to his knees in front of his congregation, as the man lifted his head towards the skies and laughed. His eyes locked with Sal’s, and the triumph in his eyes proclaimed that he’d been aware of his secret audience since the beginning. The preacher lifted his arms towards the sky, and a thundering voice came from between his thin lips.
“For He has not forsaken his flock just yet, my brothers. He has heard your prayers, and He has sent another to guide you to Him.”
The preacher laughed again, his thin frame rippling with the joyous laughter. His arms still outstretched towards the heavens, the preacher spoke again, though this time the words were a whisper only meant for Sal.
“Oh my Brother, what times we shall have. The Beginning is over, now we herald the End.”
Sal woke with a start, his skin covered with a finer layer of sweat. His dream was clear to him, through vision not tainted by sleep. He could still hear the whisper of the preacher, and still see the madness that lurked beneath his pupils. And he could still taste the certainty of the preacher’s words.
He looked out his bedside window, and saw that the sun had not yet set on the day. The digital clock on his nightstand showed it was late afternoon, soon to be evening. Sal winced as he rolled out of bed, having forgotten his injuries. His closet held a severely limited amount of options for him to make an outfit, but he managed to put something together that hid his new scars and made him look presentable. His black hoodie, jeans, and thin gloves gave him the appearance of a man unused to the bitter cold of a city on a lakefront, or a criminal. Sal was hoping for the former, unwanted attention was the last thing he needed tonight.