Dreams and Mirrors

Spread the evil

(A short story by Sidharth Vardhan
Dedicated to my friend Virgin Mary who be afraid of mirrors
First published on September 19, 2020)

Part 1

1.

Some histories are in order, so I will begin by saying that the titular mirror was the most ordinary kind of mirror you can imagine. You could easily find similar mirrors anywhere or, at least anywhere in India. It wasn’t one of those fancy gothic things that had an ancient story about a colonial house in which a princess that loved it had been killed in front of it. I know that it would be more dramatic if the mirror was something gothic with a curse behind it, but the real world is just too banal for all that.

Rather it was a small rectangular thing composed of three components – the glass (with typical silver screen), the brown board for back and a blue plastic stripe that held them togather. None of those three components had any interesting histories ever. 

2.

Vishal Menon, our protagonist, is an equally ordinary man. He is a 34 year old single man who works as a programmer in an outsourcing company. No family. No friends except in so far as a couple of colleagues can be considered as friends. No relationships in the past 17 years. Slightly fat.

A mamma’s boy raised on Indian superhero comics and Discovery channel, he still somehow retained a very good imagination – not that it was of use in his  life but it was all that was really interesting about him. His values were prudish – sex was a sin when performed outside marriage. That didn’t mean that he wouldn’t have sex if he got a free ticket to it, just that he would feel guilty about it after doing it. Those prudish values meant though that he didn’t have any close friends.

He was perfectly ordinary in terms of looks and abilities too. Not bad, not excellent. Just enough to be an ordinary programmer who is about to get promoted because of his hard work, rather than genius.

After his last raise, he decided to get his own apartment – mostly because his roommate, seven years younger was getting married.

This was why he bought the mirror. It was for his new apartment. In fact, it was his first time buying mirrors. Till now it was first his parents and later his roommates who did it.

3.

Okay, okay, I hear you – a 34 year old single man with a secure income and with prudish values must be married, the whole Jane Austen thing. I know.  He did have a thing for Priyanka. A girl who works in the same office – ordinary too but slightly better looking. She has been in the same branch as him for five years. It took two years for him to fall in love and realise it. For the last three years, he has been thinking of asking her out.

Three years? Isn’t that too much? And why was he single for all those seventeen years? Isn’t that much? The thing is he had a secret that he won’t tell anyone. A fantasy that he had ever since he was fifteen – one that he had gotten from a picture he saw in superhero books he had loved all his school life. In this fantasy he was a king of a tribe or something – they all thought of him as a god, all the women of the tribe were his and they were all built like models – though they didn’t necessarily have faces that could be recognised from any real life woman he knew.

They were forced as well as willing to do as he orders – cooking for him, feeding him, massaging his legs, dancing for him. Sometimes he would order them to fight against each other. Such were fantasies he would masterbate to. The fantasies may be ordinary in themselves but they were coupled with Vishal’s prudish values, unhealthy conscience and paranoia that someone might find about them … But perhaps I repeat myself, after all what is conscience but a ridiculous idea that someone is watching and what else is paranoia except the fear that someone is watching.

At seventeen he had his only girlfriend, Megha, a girl with equally prudish values. The only girl he ever kissed  – a bold step for someone like him, for he was from a conservative family and himself held values so prudish that made even holding extra-marital conversations with opposite sex sinful.  Trouble is soon after kissing her, he ended up telling her about his fantasy – and in very juicy and elaborate detail at that. Or started to tell her about it … Half way through, she was offended and declared he was a pervert jerk and that she wants to have nothing to do with him. Had she stormed off after saying this only, our protagonist still would have stood a chance at a better life. But instead, being scared that he might create a scene or tell people about the kiss, she added the warning “And if you so much as hinted at the kiss you stole from me, I will tell everyone what a pervert you are.” before storming off. This was the sentence that determined the rest of his life. 

4.

Vishal did obviously leave Megha alone after that. But the warning she had given him still hung on his neck. What if his parents came to know about his perversions? In fact, anyone who found about it was sure to judge him the way Megha had. He spent the next few weeks in the fear of that event happening – always imagining how it may transpire, playing and replaying the versions of his parents’ reactions on finding it out, unable to ever fully rest. Those few weeks were the only times until he bought the mirror when he had any trouble in sleeping. He would stay up all nights imagining people learning about his fantasies and judging him for it.

He spent the next few weeks in utter fear that she would tell someone about it. The prospect of his parents finding out what a nasty pervert he was scared him into a denial of having any sexual instincts at all even when he was among other men.

He still sometimes masterbated to his fantasies, too habitual of them to be able to get rid of them but he was determined to make sure that no one else will ever find out. He would make sure he won’t ever tell anyone about his fantasies. Thus he tried to stay away from people except when necessary. He claimed and pretended he needed no relationships. He had no friends except for form’s sake and no relationships whatsoever – and yet for all his college, and job years, he was a perfectly ordinary person to all appearances. He just didn’t give you much of a reason to care for him.

Fast-forwarding to the day he brought mirror, we can pass through the landmark events of his life were – completion first his school and then University graduation, his selection and taking up of the job in this outsourcing company, parents dying over the next few years – first one, then the other leaving him the sole surviving member of the family; without leaving any remarks. He responded to those events the way normal people do.

And even during the days when our story began  he still masterbated to very fantasies when he was alone in his room because his roommate was out with friends. He still was determined not to let anyone know about them and afraid of being found out – though by now he understood having sexual fantasies wasn’t a crime, everyone had them and so on – still the ridiculous fear had persisted. One thing though had weakened over years – his resolve that he didn’t need an actual human contact.

While he was sexually attracted toward a lot of women in all those years, he wasn’t particularly attracted to any of them … That is, before Priyanka. Priyanka was his colleague at the office in which they were both programmers. After nearly two years of working together, he realised that he was in love with her. He wrestled between fear that letting her too close might reveal his secret to her on one hand and thr desire to ask her out and this struggle had been going on for the past three years. And moreover, there was a good chance she would say no; he was hardly a woman’s man. How was he going to handle the humiliation of that?

Part 2

5.

The shop had several mirrors just like this one. The design was neither best, nor the worst. Our mirror was third in a row of 8 similar mirrors. Yet, later he would look back at those times, he would swear that selection wasn’t or couldn’t necessarily be random. There was something odd about it though he couldn’t say exactly what. It was what Priyanka, he would tell you reminiscing fondly if he could talk to you, would have called ‘creepy’ – a word he had only heard from women, never from another man. Not being a woman he had decided to ignore the creeps the thing was giving him and, in fact, chose to buy it exactly because of it.

Still he was sure that if it had anything creepy about it, he didn’t pay too much attention to it over the next few days. He put it in his room on a wall such that when he would wake up, it would be right there in front of him – he didn’t make a conscious choice in making the selection, rather it was the only place he could place the mirror.

It was when he masterbated next time that he noticed anything peculiar about it. When he happened to look up while jerking off, he saw a face – and got a momental terror at the idea that that he was not alone in the room. It was only a momental reaction; he never expected to see another face while masterbating and thus was shocked to see any face at all. His brain just needed a moment to realise that it was merely his own reflection. This however killed the mood. He groaned in frustration.

However it needed only a few moments before he was telling himself that perhaps it was for the best, he thought, he needed to get rid of this habit since he was making his mind up about asking Priyanka out. It was time to go clean …

6.

He had plans to ask Priyanka out the next day. In the morning he spent about half an hour talking to his reflection in the mirror – telling himself that he was a confident, well-settled man and that he had no reasons not to ask her out. He had read in one of those trashy self-help books he so loved that it was a good exercise and helped in building new confidence. He could try it now freely without fear of being embarrassed by his roommate. Yet even as he did so, he kept feeling that it was a ridiculous thing to do and that if someone saw him, they would laugh at him.

When it was finally time to ask Priyanka for a date, he chickened out at the last moment because while he was talking to her he saw his own reflection in an office mirror and this reminded him of the time he was scared by his own reflection in the mirror back home last evening and he got that odd freak out that he had always associated with when he would learn that someone was judging him. It suddenly felt hypocritical to ask Priyanka out when she didn’t know he was a pervert. And now he couldn’t shake away that stupid idea that someone was judging him for it. He couldn’t say exactly who it was whose judgement he feared, not God exactly, something closer and more likely to harm him … it was probably a silly thing but it made it impossible to ask her out that day. ‘Maybe tomorow’ he told himself. 

7.

He was a sound sleeper most nights – at least ever since he had come out of the initial shock that Megha’s warning had given him. That night however, some crazy kid from the neighborhood seemed to have discovered the beauty of a car horn at one past midnight and celebrated it by blowing it for two minutes. The sound had woken him, making him sit up in a knee-jerk reaction and although he realised in next few seconds that it was just sound of a car horn, and the sound itself too stopped in a minute, the dumb child was probably finished with his celebration of his discovery; but now he couldn’t go back to sleep anymore.

The reason why he couldn’t go to sleep again was this strange idea that had occurred to him – an idea he might have dismissed him in the day, but it had gained power from dark mysteries of night. And the alarm given by it was all he could think of.

When he was getting up in a sitting position, the mirror was right in front of him and he had noticed that his reflection in the mirror was already in a sitting position a moment before he did it. It was as if …. As if … no, that was a crazy thought, of course, such absurdity, such nonsense … but now he couldn’t help thinking about it…. It was as if his reflection had been watching him while he slept. And then he remembered, hadn’t he been feeling that he was being observed all the time, even when he was alone at night? That even when alone in his room, there were times when he felt he wasn’t exactly alone?

He got up, put lights on and, although he was scared, he looked into the mirror trying to see if there was anything peculiar in it … But no, it was working alright.

Despite his prudish values, he wasn’t a very superstitious person and although the night could make him just a little bit more open-minded in this regard, he still decided that it was just a ridiculous illusion he had seen. The night puts the strangest thoughts in your mind. ‘What you need’, he told himself, ‘is to put them out of your mind by using some coffee and some good old television’. It was of this determination not to give into his crazy notions that he avoided the ideas of taking a mirror off the wall, changing its position or covering it with a sheet.

8.

He managed to sleep for a few hours before his office time the next day. While checking his face in the mirror, he didn’t give himself the motivational speech – telling himself it was a silly thing to believe, though the truth was he just couldn’t shake off the idea of being. He was late to office, this was in itself enough of the reason for himself to excuse himself from asking Priyanka out that day as well.

Next day when he was shaving the mirror did it, what he would later take took to think of as ‘glitch’, again. He was pretty sure his reflection’s hand movement was too slow this one movement. He spent rest of his shaving time consciously looking carefully to see if mirror would glitch again. Though it didn’t do it again that day, the one glitch was still enough to upset him.

He spent all the day seeing if other mirrors would ‘glitch’ too – a mirror would ‘glitch’ he would tell you if someone’s reflection in it fail to mirror their actions perfectly – mostly the reflection may be just a moment too slow or just a moment too fast. He got so engrossed in it that he didn’t ask Priyanka out that day either.

The mirror in his room though glitched again. The glitches scared him a little but he couldn’t be sure if he was only imagining things. Instead of trying to spend his time with Priyanka – whom he avoided afraid that she would see his weird obsession which, he so told himself, was only temporary. And that idea that he was somehow being seen too was only growing stronger over these days. No matter what he did, he couldn’t shake it off. So he was determined to wait till he felt his best again.

Instead he read all about mirrors on internet – and related subjects like shadows, reflections, look-alikes and so on. 

And he started finding that the mirror in his room ‘glitched’ often enough. ‘It did it again’ he would yell to nobody in his empty room, ‘there you see! ” But the truth was that he himself could never be sure if there was anything to see. The fault in imitation would be so minute that he could not tell  afterward for sure if he hadn’t just been a piece of his imagination. It would just be enough to tease him.

He started making conscious efforts to find them. Only mirror never did it when he was consciously waiting for it to happen. Always catching him off guard – when he would be combing his hair, checking his clothes or shaving.

He would try to make the mirrors in public places glitch too but they just didn’t – even though they sometimes showed reflections of multiple people. It was only the mirror at his home that did so.

9.

His obsession increased over the next few days. So far he had learned that other mirrors didn’t glitch at all – whether while reflecting him or others. As for whether this particular mirror would glitch when others were around, he couldn’t be sure. He had no friends, literally no one visited him in the room. Yet one thing was sure that it had something strange about it. This one day he took the mirror off the wall, inspected it – first front, touching it with two fingers to feel if it still felt ordinary and then behind. There was nothing strange he could find in this inspection. He placed it back on the wall.

In a few more days, he had started making strange moments in front of the mirror in order to ‘shock’ the reflection into making an error. Initially those attempts were limited to the  times when he actually had to look at the mirror – to check his clothes, to make his hair right etc but then he started making more elaborate plans for it. He would jump right in front of the mirror from out of the room or sometimes he could pretend to sleep for hours and then suddenly sit up straight to catch him off-guard.

Yes, the reflection was no more a ‘it’ for him but a ‘him’. Since it or he (the reflection in mirror) seemed to be capable of making movements of his own, of its own ‘free well’, this agency must prove that it must also havea sort of personality. He won’t have been able to put it in those exact words, but those were his subconscious reasons why he considered his reflection to be having its own personality … and he started talking to him to show his frustration.

Vishal had conditioned himself to talk to his reflection consciously – only now the conversations had now changed their nature. He no longer talked to himself when he talked to his reflection in the mirror but some other entity. Sometimes he expressed his anger, sometimes his praise at his reflection’s cleverness and sometimes he wondered why he was acting that way. Whatever it was in the mirror never showed any intention to reply. And this only frustrated him further.

It was though somehow exhausting to be forever living under the observation of someone else. He spent more and more hours out walking by himself on the road and yet he was no longer the sound sleeper he once was. Whatever it was that looked back when he saw into the mirror was too sinister – had very wicked designs. One couldn’t exactly sleep in the presence of such a company. He would go without much of the sleep most nights. Most of times there was nothing interesting on television and now that he was increasingly growing sure that he was being seen, he couldn’t masterbate either. Making the mirror ‘glitch’ somehow was all that was left to do.

10.

Once it had become a ‘he’ in Vishal’s mind, the next quirky thing wasn’t so far off in coming. Vishal noticed that his reflection was no longer exactly like him. There was something different about him (the reflection), something out of place – something that proved that it wasn’t an ordinary reflection anymore. Vishal could spend hours at time looking at the reflection trying to find that detail out. Yet although he always felt that it, the thing that marked the difference, seemed to be screaming of its presence, he couldn’t see it. 

And this ‘he’ in the mirror was smart too. He was never fooled by Vishal’s elaborate plans, and was never caught off-guard. This wasn’t to say that he  didn’t glitch but, to Vishal’s frustration, he only did it when Vishal wasn’t paying attention – just enough always, it seemed, to tease Vishal.

Anyhow it was the natural conclusion that it was he who was watching Vishal. And now that he was sure that he was being seen he couldn’t masterbate any longer either – mostly because he was afraid of being watched doing that, although he tried to rationalise that it was because he was trying to be clean for Priyanka’s sake.

Although he no longer even tried to ask Priyanka out. If anything, she was drifting further apart. His insomia was making him grumpy – he would be annoyed at very little things and had even snapped at Priyanka a couple of times. He blamed his reflection for that. Now Priyanka was paying attentions to their co-worker Tarun – laughing at his jokes, touching his arm. Vishal thought they were being disgusting.

11.

Should he tell anyone? No, that would win him a ticket to asylum. Yet he was also determined that he couldn’t just get rid of the mirror, it would be like admitting his defeat to his double in the mirror (he had decided that ‘reflection’ was no longer the right word for him). Moreover if he did sell it, it would remain an unsolved mystery that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Still, something had to be done. The mirror-double was fast becoming the only thing Vishal could think about even in daytime. His work seemed irrelevant to him, he even stopped shaving. He still loved Priyanka but it was no longer something he wanted to do anything about. Some sort of defence-mechanism kicked up and Vishal decided that he had to get at least some pieces of his life … or it was simply letting him win.

And so he first experimented by covering the mirror with a piece of cloth. This somehow made it worse. It seemed to Vishal that now his double was free to carry out whatever nefarious plans he might have more freely; being out of Vishal’s sight. Then, even though he tried not to look, he could swear something was moving behind the mirror. Vishal could imagine his double coming out of the mirror to remove the piece of cloth. No he couldn’t allow that. He jumped and took the cloth off the mirror. His reflection was innocently imitating his movements but he won’t be fooled. He won’t sleep all night. He spent a whole night trying to shock his reflection into a glitch. This wasn’t helping at all.

The next day he went to a doctor, told him he had sleeping problems. The doctor since he was too busy to ask the routine follow-up questions prescribed sleeping pills to him. Vishal took them in order to somehow sleep over the next couple of nights. Only it wasn’t easy to sleep. They needed some minutes to make him drowsy and those few minutes felt like hours to Vishal … which he spent staring at the mirror.

12.

The next Wednesday it was Priyanka’s birthday who looked quite pretty that day. Unfortunately the pills hadn’t helped Vishal’s moods. If anything, he was extra snappy that day he made a biting remark implying a pervert relation between Priyanka and Tarun. Tarun said something in return and it came down to fist fights – a scene which Priyanka disapproved of and she showed her disapproval by walking out.

Vishal and Tarun were sent back home by their manager – their fates would be decided tommorow. On his way back to his room, Vishal was thinking back to how he had spoiled all his life. Leave alone date him, Priyanka was going to judge him to be a pervert – and the worst part was he deserved it. His job would be at stakes now. He may as well kiss his chance of getting the promotion goodbye. And everyone at the office was probably laughing at him at this very moment. And it was all because of him.

He was furious still even when he reached home “enough of your games” he told his double in the mirror as he took it off and threw it to the ground, shattering it to pieces.

“Now” he announced to his empty room, “I will sleep.” and, after taking four sleeping pills (four since he didn’t want to wait before falling asleep) threw himself to his bed sure, in that confidence which anger gives you, that he had got rid of his double … And thus should be able to sleep freely.

Part 3

13.

He woke up to find that mirror was no longer broken. Instead it was back on its place on the wall. In fact, the whole room seemed empty. All the furniture was gone except the bed he was in and the mirror. He rose from bed, moved by the desire to see what it was the mirror was reflecting – for he himself wasn’t reflected in it. Instead there was … Where did that come from? A second mirror. Yes there was a second mirror just like the first one on the opposite wall, right where his bed’s headrest should be – his bed was no longer there. Only those two mirrors were left. And together they seemed to be creating Labyrinths of reflections of each-other that he could see inside each of them. The sight of them and desire to understand how exactly these labyrinths were created made Vishal feel dizzy. It seemed to him very important to count the number of reflected images of mirrors on each mirror. How many concentric rectangles assuming he could call them that were formed by such positioning of mirrors? Why should that number be so constant ? And not be more or less than it actually was?

It was in all such confusions that Vishal had apparently lived for what seemed like an eternity in a room that apparently had no door.  The Labyrinths of mirrors were his prison. He didn’t want to die here. He had to break the mirrors. Yes it seemed the only right …. But where was it that he was now? There were blue walls on either side of him and it seemed like a small street. He ran around trying to find some sort of clue about where he could be. And then it all came to him with terrifying clarity. He was now trapped inside the Labyrinths of mirrors. But where must he go to find his escape? But he realised that the concentric rectangles surrounding him were the blue stripes of his own mirror that had taken the shape of sides of rectangles. There was no escaping this hell hole. Maybe it was because he broke the mirror in his room. He should never have done it. He was doomed here. Doomed. Doomed … It was at this moment he started wondering how the broken mirror might have gotten fixed again. And this made him realise that it was all a bad dream. Apparently his brain wasn’t fullly relaxed and was still processing the destruction of the mirror and it’s possible effects. It was while still lying awake though with eyes still closed that he wondered how much time he had wasted in that nightmare of his. No it seems he has managed to sleep till too late. He must wake up, must wake up…

14.

He woke up and was now lying in his bed, the mirror was broken still which seemed to prove that what he just had was just a nightmare. He had slept till late it seemed and someone had taken advantage of this opportunity. Someone who looked exactly like him except clean-shaven. In fact, he could see it happening right in front of his eyes. A man who looked exactly like himself but was not quite himself was at this moment impersonating him and talking to Priyanka, flirting with her – the daring! Had just playfully touched her on the cheek.

… And Priyanka seemed to be encouraging him! She can’t tell that this man is not Vishal but his … His double. He remembered it all now. It seemed to be the only possible conclusion – this was his double was now out of the mirror and stealing Vishal’s life. No, he must be stopped. Something must be done. But what? Where, Vishal wondered, am I? It was very hard to remember. Then he remembered recently fighting with Tarun which had upset Priyanka, yes and after that he had come home and broken the mirror and gone to sleep …But if he was still asleep, how could he know what his double was doing? … yes he might still be dreaming, that was only justification. He should never have taken those pills. How foolish of him! This double that he was seeing was nothing but his brain considering the idea that the breaking of the mirror might actually have freed his nemesis instead of shutting him up.

But it was enough of these nightmares, he would deal with whatever waits for him in the real world but he must get up now – must break away from this spell … Then he heard that voice …

15.

“Wakeup sleepyhead!”

He heard the voice and remembered that this was what mother used to say when she would wake him up. This time though it was said in a cold male voice.

He opened his eyes and saw himself …. No, not himself, it was his double sitting on the foot of bed. 

His double smiled and waved his hand, “so you are finally up, sleepyhead!”

The last word was uttered with an emphasis which showed that the double knew that Vishal’s mother used to call him that when he was a child.

“I have been watching you over the past few days. And this astounds me. You have had more than thirty four years and yet you haven’t achieved anything incredible in your life.”

Vishal wanted to protest but it suddenly seemed that his double had a point and it would be dishonest to protest. And it seemed plain that the double knew everything about his life. Maybe that is why the idea of double was scary, you just know that the double knows everything about you.

“Yes I know every detail of your existence” the double said as if reading his thoughts, “including from times when we were in our mother’s womb, the dreams you have forgotten but will remember if I was to remind you of them, the dreams that you have forgotten and will never remember, the dreams you will remember but refuse to admit to ever having them, the darkest regions of your unconscious, thoughts you have thought in past, are thinking now and will think in any given situation.”

The double stopped to let it all sink in but he had a voice so cold that it was somehow physical – you could feel it like you could feel cold winter winds. It gave Vishal chills, he could swear that the voice had somehow brought the room temperature down and it somehow made it impossible for him to resist or argue against what his double was saying. But he had to focus on the conversation… His double knew everything about it, knew everything about him.. why am I being slow? … Why was he unable to wrap his mind around the idea..

 “So listen Menon; listen, understand and remember you have been seen. Seen. Seen in your entirety. Your fears, your secrets, your fantasies, your perversions.” The double had continued smirking as he said that last word.

Oh my God! Vishal finally realised, that meant his masterbation fantasies too. The double may choose to tell everyone about it to humiliate Vishal or may simply choose to blackmail him.

“Yes Menon. I know of not only your perversions and things you feel guilty about but also those things that you feel so guilty about that you won’t even admit them to yourself.”

The double was silent again now. Vishal was feeling dumber than he ever did in his life. He was scared and sweating but it wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it was that he seemed to have grown retarted because otherwise he would have something to say. Some questions to ask.. but what questions? Yes! he must ask his double where had he come from.

“It is useless to ask where I am from. This conversation is about you. All your life you have been scared of letting your dark side being seen. You haven’t entered a meaningful relationship in the last seventeen years because of that very fear. In fact … Well, I have changed my mind, I will tell you where I am from after all. You see I was a mere reflection like any other before you started getting scared of me. You created me, your monster, through your fear of me. What was I before you got scared of me that day? A mere collection of protons, a mere shadow created on a glass. It was you with your fear, your talking to me that brought me to life. You were afraid so you ended up the very thing you were afraid of. Do you see the paradox?”

Vishal thought he did but it was still too much to possess for him especially on a day he was being dumb. Why had he to take those sleeping pills?

“All the time you spent making me glitch, every time you talked to me – to your reflection in the mirror, every time you looked at me and thought of me as a being separated from you, every time you tried to fool me into revealing myself … You fed me. Meanwhile I was becoming you, devouring the whole idea of you, memory by memory, to be more than a mere reflection – to be the you that would be better than you. You created me from your fear, raised me with your obsession and emotional investment; and fed me with your memories. In a way, I am your child – you literally taught me how to speak. And then after all that, you broke the mirror and thus set me free.”

Was any of it true? Could any of this be true? He remembered that strange English saying he had heard the other day ‘think of devil and devil is there’. Was that what was happening to him?

“Even now when you stress your mind thinking about me, you are making me stronger. All things said and done, you do have a great imagination.  It needs a great deal of force to make a mirror glitch – otherwise the mirror-world is super protective of any diversions from the laws of reflection. Most humans can’t even create the smallest of glitches all their life. But enough of this small talk. Let me get to the point. I know every detail of your life , saw you waste half your life and then spent a single day living it myself. In the past few hours, not only have I saved Vishal Menon’s image in the office from damage you have done in the past few days by being snappy and going to fist fights but I have also asked Priyanka out and guess what! She said yes.”

This couldn’t be allowed, Vishal thought, Priyanka can’t be safe with this man who …. But Vishal couldn’t exactly say what it was that he had against him. Why was he being so slow?

“I am you only without your cowardice and guilt. It is a natural conclusion that I am the best one there is who should be Vishal, being not limited by fears and luggage of the past like you. And it is, of course, obvious that this world can have only one of us.”

Vishal felt that his head was spinning now, his eyes were heavy – he was being sleepy again, now of all times. It was just like him to take so many sleeping pills just when he had dug a grave for himself by breaking the mirror.

“Now since this world can only have one of us, and you are responsible for me because you created me and since I can obviously live Vishal’s life better than you, you must leave now. All you have to do is to look into the mirror or rather any broken piece of it and it will take you in. You won’t see your reflection in it, obviously, since I am no longer there, so it will take you in.”

It was all so surreal, the stuff of science fiction. Yet, Vishal somehow knew that everything that the double said was somehow true.

“Since I know you are going to take your decision more quickly if I tell you what to expect there, I will. You don’t have to worry about what you will find there. For someone so afraid of life as you are, it could be a heaven in fact – you won’t feel hungry or have those desires that make you do thjngs that in turn make you feel guilty. You won’t be there for long either, like I said, the mirror-world has a fail-safe mechanism, it shall slowly reduce your free will and turn you to a mere reflection.”

Barely able to keep himself awake Vishal saw his double stand now and move away, uttering his last words

“I will give you a few hours to come to terms with your fate. I know that you are slow enough to need that time. Needless to say I don’t expect to see you again except on the other side of the mirror.”

16.

Vishal woke up but even before he could open his eyes he felt uncomfortable by something around him – conditions suggesting he couldn’t be waking up in his room. There was a chilling coldness which one didn’t see even in the coldest of winters where he lived. There was a silence that could never be expected in his room – it was so extreme a silence; it felt vertiginous. It was far more uncomfortable than any noises he had heard in all his life. And there was also a lightness he felt – so light that he may as well be floating.

Vishal must have been feeling all these things for a long way. But it was only one by one they made their way back to his consciousness in the first few seconds after his waking up. And even the very first of them was enough to remind him that he was on the other side of the mirror. Of course that was the only conclusion. The lightness was here, he now remembered having concluded some time before,because there was no atmosphere here that put a lot of pressure on you (he had seen it on Discovery channel) in real world. Atmosphere being invisible is not captured in the mirror. Similarly sound being invisible couldn’t be captured too so it was so soundless here (it didn’t occur to him that sound needs an Atmosphere to move in). Vishal himself couldn’t create a sound whether by speaking or any other way. He still didn’t have a theory about why it was cold here but he remembered thinking how it was connected to the coldness of his double’s voice.

As he opened his eyes to see that he was indeed on the other side of the mirror, he tried to remember further the time he must have entered the mirror or how much time had gone by since or when exactly had drawn those conclusions about the lightness and silence here. But here his memory failed him. He could remember drawing those conclusions about lightness, silence and coldness but not when 

The last thing he could remember with any clarity was the conversation he had with his double. Upon stressing his memory more, he remembered having fallen asleep in the middle or toward the end of that conversation. But everything ever since seemed to have been in some kind of memory of fog.

He looked at where the mirror should have been. It was there – unbroken and all. He looked into it and saw the other side, the real world. There was no reflection of his own in the mirror of course – it worked only one way. It was he who was his double’s reflection now. He also vaguely remembered having tried to remove the mirror – or what was mirror-world’s version of it;  from the wall and make attempts to break it by bringing down his hands on it. But it was useless. You couldn’t move the mirror on this side of it, you couldn’t break it.

In fact, though he could use the furniture in the room to sit or sleep on – he couldn’t damage or move them either. The only thing that put the mirror apart from the rest of things here was the fact that it didn’t feel cold and light like the rest of the world, even the furniture and wall felt light and cold just as he himself was. Everything felt the same to touch – you can’t tell the difference whether you sleep on a bed, on the floor. The mirror though simply felt unreal to touch. Not cold or hot, not fluid or solid, just unreal.

The only thing that set Vishal himself apart from the rest of the world was that he was, or rather was as yet, something more than a mere reflection. He could still move on his own (provided that double was not in the vicinity of the mirror) – because everything else was immovable (except when they mirrored movement in the real world). His independence in times when he was needed to serve as a reflection was the last fragment of life left to him.

And, also, he had learned you couldn’t hurt yourself. You won’t bleed or die except to imitate it when your real world double did so. You didn’t feel anything even then. He didn’t get hungry either. On that front, the double was right. Even though it was cold here, he didn’t feel the need of a blanket somehow. In its limited way, the mirror-world was his heaven.

The only thing Vishal could feel that could be described as a need for something was loneliness. It was so lovely here that he wished to scream just to feel his own presence … and that, by itself, made the place a hell. There was no one here he could talk to. So much loneliness made him wait eagerly for that time when the mirror-world would completely annihilate his self. Already he seemed to have been losing a number of memories.

One instance would be how did he know all these things? Once again he had no idea. Although as he tried to stress his memory, he remembered that his double was living his life on the other side of the mirror. He remembered how the double used the mirror to shave, to check his clothes etc – the same way as Vishal himself once did. When the double was anywhere within range of the mirror, which he was when he was not out of room, Vishal would lose control over his own body – his body would then act as the reflection of his double. 

If the double had changed clothes etc, Vishal’s own body’s appearance changed accordingly. If a new thing entered the room in real world, the mirror world created its copy. It was somewhat fantastic how the mirror world ensured that the laws of mirror were protected.

His double never talked to him or acknowledged his existence (the way Vishal had been doing) – except occasionally there would be a smirk which Vishal just knew was meant to tease him. As soon as the double was out of the mirror’s sight, Vishal’s body would be freed too.

Vishal couldn’t leave the space around the mirror. The further he tried to move away from this mirror – which he only could when his double had left a door open, the more the world grew into colourless nothingness which Vishal couldn’t enter. And even from the furthest point to which the mirror world extended, Vishal would be pulled back within less than a second to serve his purpose as the reflection of his double.

Had he tried those things or did the mirror world come with a manual? He couldn’t be sure but he just knew those things. Yet, he thought, at least nothing worse could happen. He didn’t feel hungry or anything – the only bad thing he felt on this side was loneliness but he was somehow learning to live with … or rather exist with it.

Then Vishal felt his body move of its accord… which meant that his double had now walked into the scope of where the mirror needed his reflection and Vishal’s body served the purpose. But what was this in Vishal’s hand – he didn’t have to wonder for long, because his double turned his head to that thing in real life … but it wasn’t a thing, it was a person. It was Priyanka … but what was she doing in the mirror world? Then it occurred to him, it wasn’t Priyanka – it was her reflection in the mirror world which meant that … oh no! It can’t be. But it was true – he could feel it. Priyanka’s reflection’s hand in his hand wasn’t like a human hand at all – it was cold and light like everything else here. The real Priyanka was out there with his double.

By now real Priyanka and Vishal’s double were standing right in front of the mirror (and thus Vishal and Priyanka’s reflection too were forced to move in front of it. And yes it was true. His double was with real Priyanka, his Priyanka. And she was happy even as Vishal’s double now kissed her neck – Vishal’s own body kissed the neck of Priyanka’s reflection but that prompted no feelings in him (Priyanka’s reflection was made of same material as reflection of the bed). The only thing Vishal felt was terror – because Priyanka was alone in the room with his double. He had to warn her somehow.

But he didn’t have any control over his own body. He felt his own body move toward the bathroom to reflect his double’s actions. As soon as the double had closed the door of the bathroom, Vishal’s body was freed as it was no longer needed to act as his double’s reflection. This was his chance. He had to warn Priyanka somehow who was using the opportunity to put up her lipstick. He went in front of the mirror and tried to speak to her – only realising he couldn’t speak. So he tried to mouth some words but Priyanka didn’t seem to have noticed him at all. She was too busy with her makeup. Then Vishal realised with terror that she couldn’t see him. He won’t be there as a reflection in the mirror except when his double was there – and then only to imitate double’s actions. This helplessness was too terrifying – he tried to slap the arm of Priyanka’s reflection, hoping to make it glitch somehow but his hand went right through her. It needs a great deal of force to make a mirror glitch – otherwise the mirror-world is super protective of any diversions from the laws of reflection. Even the remembrance of his double’s voice gave him chills. There was no way for him to break out of this world if only to warn Priyanka. It was hopeless. Soon he would be like Priyanka’s reflection. Even amidst all the anguish he was in, this made him wonder whether there was a self who could think in Priyanka’s reflection.

Next movement, Vishal’s body was mirroring his double’s actions again as he came out of the bathroom and … now they were kissing – the double and Priyanka in the real world, and Vishal and Priyanka’s reflection in the mirror world. Vishal started imagining what was in the store next as they now stripped each other. He could see Priyanka’s reflection smile – and it scared him, because it was the reflection of smile Priyanka was giving this very moment to his double. Vishal felt his body move – they were about to have sex. No he must do something. He must break through the law of reflection somehow. It was so hard to resist mirroring his double’s movements. Yet he must do it, must do it, must do it….

17.

Vishal woke up in his bed with a knee jerk action. And realised that it was suddenly hot, heavy and the vertiginous silence too was gone …. That meant he had escaped the mirror-world somehow. Or perhaps he was never there, for he realised that his experience of mirror world may just have been a nightmare. Maybe it was all those sleeping pills. Whatever they put in those things? He opened his eyes feeling a massive headache and tried to get up from his bed. The mirror was still broken … or broken again, he couldn’t tell. He remembered breaking it that day …  What day was that? What day was this? It seemed to have happened a long time ago. A lot had happened ever since. He had been to the mirror-world for instance. Or had he? Maybe that was just a nightmare. But his double had escaped the mirror and he had seen him flirt with Priyanka. But wasn’t that a nightmare too? Perhaps. But there was that conversation he had with his double. It was definitely real. He was pretty sure of it. He won’t even have ever thought of questioning its reality if it hadn’t been so absurd and been surrounded by very realistic dreams or very dreams like realities. But now that he thought about it, he couldn’t be sure of anything. Had he really spent nights staring at a night? Even that seemed unreal. The whole idea of glitching mirrors was absurd. But he definately had fist fights, right?

I must think straight, he thought, I must figure out what parts of what I have experience d are nightmares and what parts are real. If any of those parts were real, if his double is still out here and living his life, then he might be losing his life this very moment … and a chance to be able to tell Priyanka he loved her or to warn her.

But should I really warn her? She would probably think me crazy and not believe a word of it. And what will I going to warn her against? If anything, his double seemed only the better version of himself … if there indeed was a double. And he hafnty dream it all. Oh God! No wonder, I have headaches. Let me try to focus again.

If all this was a nightmare, he thought, then he had nothing to fear. If the double indeed had entered the real world, the only thing to do was to accept his fate. Maybe he had already done that before and had been to mirror-world and escaped, if that was the case, he could do it again.  But even if he knew nothing about the mirror-world, it was his best option. How could you fight against anyone who knew all about you, whose mere voice could give you chills, had all your strengths and none of your weaknesses and could guess what you were going to say or do next? No, his best option in that case too was to look into the broken mirror. If the mirror took him in, at least he would know that he wasn’t going crazy. If it didn’t take him in, he would know that he had a nightmare or, even if it was all real, it was over now.

So whatever the truth, he knew what he had to do next – he had to brace himself and just look into the mirror.

Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan


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