MIRROR MAN

MIRROR MAN

Mirror Man

© 2020 by Leigh Grissom

May 1, 2021

I think I’m losing my mind.

I must be. Diaries are stupid and I don’t have time for this. I’d love to talk it out with someone, but they’ll just eyeball me like I’m a loony and I don’t have time for that, either.

I’m going to be dead soon. I’m sure of it. Please, whoever finds this – I need you to understand that I didn’t do this of my own free will. I’m a loser, but I’m not suicidal. I just don’t think I have a choice anymore.

I can’t keep going.

**

Friday nights were the worst.

Eddie told himself every Friday morning that this one would be different, but it wasn’t. He’d clock out from work, go home, and have his first beer while he changed into his jeans. Less than two hours later, he’d be in a cab heading downtown for a night of binge drinking and picking up someone who would drive him home if his best friend didn’t show up to rescue him. After last call, he was usually too broke to take a cab.

“But at least I don’t drink and drive.” Eddie muttered to himself, hoping it would make him feel better.

It never did.

**

The bartender at Sweeney’s cut Eddie off after only four beers.

“Enough is enough, Eddie. You’re done for the night.”

“Oh, come on, Denny, I’ve had a hell of a week.” Eddie protested. He thought about making a scene, but he didn’t. He never made waves. Ever.

“Dude, I’ve been doing this forever.” Denny told him. “And I know people who come here to be social, and people who come here to drown something. You’re trying to drown something, and I won’t be a part of it.” He slid Eddie a basket of fries. “On the house. Eat, drink some water, and go home, Eddie.”

Eddie snorted in half-drunk disdain. “A bartender with a conscience. You’re so … damn … right. Thanks, Denny.”

“You need cab money to get home?”

“Nah. Some jackass bartender cut me off early, so I have enough.” Eddie grinned.

“Bite me, Eddie.” Denny walked off to help another customer.

Eddie shook his head and laughed. “Goodnight, Denny!” He slid the fries to the couple next to him, dropped a twenty on the bar, and headed out into the night.

**

The evening air was a cool relief from the stuffy, smoke-filled club. Eddie took a deep breath and his head cleared a little. He decided to take a short walk and sober up for a few, then he’d hail a cab.

For the first time in months of Friday-night carousing, he looked at the other store fronts in the club district. Sandwich shops, a couple of full-scale restaurants, one sex toy shop, dive bars by the block, and

PSYCHIC READINGS BY MADAME AGNESSA.

Eddie stopped and stared at the purple neon flickering in the window. He’d never noticed the sign before; how long had a psychic been so close to his favorite place to drink?

“Ah, what the hell.” It was early, he still had cash on him, and he’d never been to a psychic. Maybe she could help him get the lottery numbers so he could start a life somewhere else.

He straightened his T-shirt, smoothed his hair, and stumbled into the shop.

“Hello?” he called.

The room was cozy, lit only by one small touch-lamp on a stand near the door and several pillar candles on an old wooden table in front of a bay window.

“Hello?” Eddie called again.

A woman’s voice called from a darkened doorway opposite from where he stood.

“Hello! Sign the guest book by the door and I’ll be right there.”

“Uh, sure.” He scrawled his name and waited, not sure why he didn’t just turn around and leave. He noticed a list next to the guest book and read the services she offered.

“Huh. Past life readings.” Maybe he’d ask for one and figure out if he’d always been a loser, or was it just this lifetime.

“Here I come!”

She was older, but Eddie couldn’t determine her age. Silver hair stretched down past her shoulders in thick waves. She was dressed in a blue and white sarafan that left everything to the imagination. She moved like a dancer, and Eddie found it strangely charming when he realized she was barefoot.

“Hello, traveler! Have you come to find answers?”

“Uh, well, yeah, I guess so.” One answer he wanted was where she was born. Her accent was soft and almost lyrical. The longer Eddie looked at her, the more he wondered if she was really as old as he’d originally thought.

“Good, good, come and sit.” She indicated a small table in the middle of the room. “My readings are done here.” She pulled out a chair for him. “I am Madame Agnessa. Welcome.” She sat down on the opposite side of the table and regarded him with wide, gray eyes. Eddie felt like she was looking straight into his soul.

“What is your first name, traveler?”

“Eddie.”

“Hello, Eddie.” She took a deck of cards from a pocket of her dress and laid them on the table. “I can show you the answers you seek. Present, the past, and even the future. Tell me your desire.”

“How about a past life reading?”

“Ah yes, past lives, past lives.” Agnessa shuffled the cards and laid five face-down on the table. “Who were you, Eddie? Close your eyes, breathe deep, and clear your mind.”

This was ludicrous and he knew it, but he was still a little drunk, and he had no reason to go home. He closed his eyes.

“Mind clear, heart clear, soul clear, let me hear. Clear the clouds so I may see who my friend Eddie used to be.” A short pause. “I see a man.”

Well, that’s good. At least I wasn’t a duck or something. Eddie almost laughed, but thought better of it. He shivered, but didn’t open his eyes.

“You are good-looking, well-dressed, dark hair, darker eyes. You are adored throughout the country. I see voting booths. A politician? No, wait … higher than that… don’t open your eyes, Eddie, and reach your hands toward my voice.”

He leaned forward and reached out. Her cool hands took his, and he felt a sudden shockwave up both his arms. He tried to pull back, but her grip was firm.

“I see … no … this isn’t before. This is coming. This is who you will be. I see…” Her hands shook. “It’s you. You’re the one…”

He was sobering up quickly. Eddie opened his eyes. Agnessa’s eyes were squeezed shut, and tears slipped through her thick eyelashes. Still, he couldn’t break her grip.

“Diavolul … the end of everything…”

Fear chased the rest of the alcohol from his system. “What does that mean? Madame? Agnessa? Let go of me!”

The psychic’s eyes flew open and she let go of his hands. A sudden blast of cold air shot through the room, blowing out the candles and plunging them into near-darkness.

Eddie was very, very afraid. “What the hell was that?”

Agnessa pushed away from the table and scrambled to her feet. “Get out.” When he didn’t move, she pointed to the door. “I said get out!”

Eddie stood up. “What did you see?”

“You will return, Eddie … and you will bring death to millions! Monster! Diavolul! The end of everything! Get out!”

“What are you talking about?” He backed toward the door. “What do you mean?

“Get out!” Agnessa flashed the sign of the evil eye at him. “Go! I cast you out!”

Eddie reached for his wallet. “At least let me –”

“No! Keep your money and get out! Never come here again! Diavolul!”

Eddie left quickly, her shouts of “Diavolul!” following him into the night. His whole body felt chilled, and he couldn’t make sense of what she’d said.

The end of everything?

It was bullshit. It had to be! He quickly walked several blocks away from the shop, and hailed a cab to go home.

“She’s crazy.” He shivered, remembering that cold blast of air. The terror in her eyes. “She has to be crazy.”

**

May 2, 2021

I looked up every possible way to spell what that crazy witch said to me. The closest I can get isDIAVOLUL. It’s Romanian for “devil.” I’m not a devil! But the things I’ve seen since then – it makes no sense! Did she do something to me? Was there something in the air that I breathed in? Did she hypnotize me?

One thing’s for sure. Her shop is gone. Completely. I went back and looked for it, and it’s like that shop front has always been empty. Where did she go?

What the hell is happening to me?

**

Eddie hid in his apartment all day Saturday, and only left to do his laundry on Sunday. Every time he remembered the terrified woman screaming at him, he would turn up the TV and try to distract himself. He craved a drink, but wouldn’t give in to the desire. He knew, deep down, she was full of it. All psychics were. But God, she was so adamant, so convinced he was going to come back as this “diavo-whatsit” that he couldn’t just write off her fear.

Reincarnation. He’d seen movies. He’d read dumb stories in the tabloids about kids who knew too much about the past. But it wasn’t real. It couldn’t be!

He jumped when his phone rang. Eddie laughed out loud; Madame Agnessa didn’t have his phone number. He didn’t write it down in her guest book.

Still, he had to swallow and gather his nerve before he could answer.

“Yeah?”

“Eddie! Dude! I’ve been calling for two days! Why weren’t you at Sweeney’s Friday night?”

Eddie exhaled. “Jim. Hey man.”

His best friend laughed. “Um, yeah, that’s my name on your caller i.d. Where were you?”

“Denny cut me off. I left early.”

“He’s never done that before, has he?”

“Nah. But now he seems to think I have a problem.” He might be right, but not the problem he thinks I have.

“How noble. So, we pick a new place to drink next time.”

“Yeah, sure, okay.” Eddie pulled himself off the couch and wandered into the bathroom. “You bringing Savannah?”

If she wants to come. She’s kinda pissed at me, though, so it might be just us.”

Eddie hoped it was. Jim had been his best friend since elementary school, and Eddie loved him like the brother he never had. But Jim had a habit of picking chicks Eddie couldn’t stand for more than five minutes. Savannah took clingy and annoying to a whole new level.

“Dude. Where’d you go? Your crap phone drop the call?”

Eddie chuckled. “Nah, you just got boring. Call me later this week.” He ended the call and stared at himself in the bathroom mirror.

“The hell?”

Someone else looked back at him.

“No. This isn’t happening.” Eddie wanted to look away, deny it, but he couldn’t.

He was older than Eddie, but not by much. His hair was black, cut close, styled to a perfection even Eddie’s barber couldn’t muster. His eyes were dark, almost black, and he stared back at Eddie with curiosity and … something else.

It looked like hunger.

“No.” Eddie told the mirror. “No. This is bull. I’m making this up. That psychic did something. This is so not real!”

The man in the mirror gave him a nod, then pointed to his watch. Even through his confusion and terror, he noticed it was a Rolex. Nice.

“What … what does that mean? Who are you?”

The man pointed at Eddie.

Eddie backed away from the mirror. “No. No. She’s done something to me. She hypnotized me!”

The man shook his head in a solemn “no.”

“Nobody asked you!” Eddie barked. His laughter echoed in the tiny bathroom. “I’m losing it. This is bullshit!”

The man tapped on the mirror.

Eddie refused to turn around. “No. I am not hearing that.”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Eddie looked back. The man breathed across the mirror, casting a cloud of condensation. With his fingertip, he wrote backward, so Eddie could read it perfectly.

I SEE YOU.

“No!” Eddie reached for the light switch. The bulbs over the mirror flickered and blazed, illuminating the hair he hadn’t bothered to clean up when he shaved that morning.

The man in the mirror was gone.

“No no no no no…” Eddie staggered back to the kitchen. The bottle of rum on the counter beckoned to him, and he answered.

**

Monday morning showed up unannounced.
“Dammit.” Eddie slapped at his alarm until it stopped beeping its way into his skull. Hungover, and he had to be at work in an hour. Dynamite.

He never drank on Sunday nights. It was his one valiant attempt at acting like an adult. He started out every week sober and ready to act like he gave a damn about his job.

Until today.

Eddie stumbled to the shower, careful to avoid even glancing at the mirror over the sink. Part of him didn’t believe what he’d seen last night was real. The other part of him believed it, and had knocked down half a bottle of rum to try to forget.

It didn’t work.

By the time he finished his shower, Eddie felt a little better, but he stared at the sink while he brushed his teeth. He didn’t want to see that good-looking bastard staring back at him. Eddie couldn’t shake the memory of whoever he was –

Was? Didn’t he mean “will be?” Eddie laughed as he did his best to brush his hair without looking in the mirror. He dressed for casual Friday a week early; jeans, T-shirt, and the pink Crocs he wore just to irritate the bitch in the payroll department. It made him feel a little better.

But he still avoided the mirror.

It had to be hypnosis or something. Maybe it would wear off.

There was one thing Eddie knew for certain.

He would never go to a damn psychic again.

**

“Eddie? Eddie!”

Eddie jumped, and quickly put down his cell phone. He’d been googling anything he could find on reincarnation, and other Romanian words just so he could say he knew more than diavolul.

His boss hated it when the office grunts were on their phones during work hours. And he hated Eddie more than anyone else in the company.

“Really, Eddie?”

“Sorry. I was on hold and got distracted.” Eddie was glad he used a headset; unless Chuck pulled the phone log, he’d never know he hadn’t made a single collection call in the last hour.

“Insurance?”

Eddie nodded. “Yessir. You know how slow Aetna is.”

“Sure, sure, don’t pick up your phone while you’re on the clock. You should be trying to verify their insurance online while you wait for them to pick up. Focus on denied charges; the more we appeal, the better our books look.”

It was a speech Eddie had heard a thousand times in the five years he’d worked at MedCall, but he nodded enthusiastically and slipped his phone out of Chuck’s sight. “You got it, boss.”

“Suck-ups don’t impress me.” Chuck snapped, and bumbled off to hassle another collector on his aisle.

Eddie glanced down at the scratch pad he used instead of a fidget spinner.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE?

“What in the hell?”

The handwriting wasn’t his.

“Oh my God oh my God…”

A tinny voice in his headset interrupted his mini-freakout.

“Thank you for calling Aetna. Account number?”

“Oh! Sorry, let me get that number…” When did I dial the phone?

Eddie tore the page off his scratch pad and threw it away. Suddenly, he was doing everything he could to avoid seeing his reflection in the monitor of his computer. And for the first time in months, he made his call quota.

**

May 3, 2021

My handwriting changes now. It’s weird. I normally write like a serial killer, but these messages I keep finding are tight, legible, and in all caps. I’ve started throwing pages from my scratch pad in the shredder because I don’t want anyone glancing into my trash and seeing shit like –

HOW CAN YOU LIVE LIKE THIS?

DESTROY THE ONE WHO BERATES YOU.

YOU POOR BASTARD. DO YOU HAVE A WOMAN?ß That one pisses me off.

I’m not making this up. This isn’t a joke. I’m gettingscared. What if he’s real? What if that crazy psychic got it right? What if I come back as someone who’ll kill millions?

Can I stop this? Stop him? Or am I just losing my mind?

I still won’t look in the mirror.

**

Tuesday came with another hangover. But he shaved, put on one of his better suits, and went to work, determined to stay off Chuck’s radar.

He should have known better.

“Well now, look at who we have here.” Chuck said after Eddie clocked in. The human potato made sure to say it loud enough to catch the attention of two collectors on his row.

Eddie sighed. Corey and Delayna both hated him for reasons he couldn’t figure out, and he honestly didn’t care. Plastic people got on his nerves, and those two were a special level of fake.

Someday, he’d get up the nerve, trace their home phone numbers, and tell their respective spouses Corey and Delayna were sleeping together.

But now they watched, and snickered, and no doubt planned their lunchtime gossip session to amuse the rest of the collectors. His whole team would know what happened.

“What do you want, Chuck?” Eddie stared at his boss. “You usually don’t bust my balls this early.

Chuck bristled. “Excuse me?”

Eddie couldn’t believe he’d said it, but he kept going. “You should really try pleasuring yourself more often. You might be less of a jackass. Now say what you’re going to say and waddle on, because I have a goal to hit.”

Corey and Delayna stared at him with wide eyes; when Chuck glared at them both, they turned away and put on their headsets.

Chuck stared at Eddie in shock. “I should write you up for that. But … just sit down and work, Eddie. And save the suit for someone who thinks you’re special.”

Eddie smiled. “Did you find release from such a weak insult? Have a fine day, Chuck.”

Chuck backed away from Eddie, and hunkered with Corey and Delayna to no doubt discuss new and unusual ways to fire him. Though it felt fantastic to finally call that miserable jackass out on his verbal abuse, Eddie was still in shock over what he’d said to his supervisor. That wasn’t like him.

Eddie never made waves. Ever.

Eddie fired up his computer and pulled up his call list for the morning. Maybe he was just overly tired. Maybe he needed to stop drinking on work nights.

Maybe some crazed sociopath who wasn’t even born yet was speaking through him.

“I’m going insane.” Eddie muttered, and called GEICO on a motor vehicle accident claim.

**

Eddie soundly beat every collector on his team, bringing in over half a million dollars in the space of five days. Chuck, still smarting over being embarrassed, avoided complimenting him, but the Director emailed him with heartfelt congratulations, and even gave him an extra day of paid time off.

Great. I’ll take it when I figure out what the hell is happening to me, Eddie thought, but thanked the Director, and used the bonus in his paycheck to buy a new suit. The suit, a better haircut, and his new assertive attitude carried him through to Friday and another planned night of drinking with his best friend Jim.

He didn’t feel like debuting his new look to Denny at Sweeney’s, so he asked Jim to meet him at CrimeScene. It was one of the dumbest-themed clubs in the city, but it was crowded and loud. If he could get drunk enough to unlock his tongue, he’d tell Jim about the psychic. About the man in the mirror. About suggesting Chuck should play with himself more often.

He chuckled. He’d tell Jim about that last part, anyway.

Eddie took a cab to CrimeScene and let the hostess frisk him as he stood inside a chalk outline of a body, then graciously tipped her a twenty he didn’t know he had in his suit jacket to find a table in the back. The perky, vacant blonde showed him to his table, and he jumped when she pinched his butt before she sashayed back to her station. He thought about asking for her number, but he thought he might wait until he and Jim left the club. It would impress his best friend to see Eddie flirt with a woman.

“Ed!”

Eddie saw Jim and waved him over. His smile faded when he saw Savannah tagging along with him. So much for talking out the Mirror Man with Jim. This mouthy bitch wouldn’t let him get a word in edgewise.

Still, he stood when she approached. “Hey, Savannah.”

She stopped and stared at him. “Eddie? Is that you?” She gave him that haughty sneer he hated almost as much as her laugh. “You never dress up like this. Who died?”

Eddie ignored her and fist-bumped Jim. “Beers are on the way. What’ll you have, Savannah?”

“Just seltzer water. I’m driving.”

Damn. He had hoped she would drink. She didn’t talk as much when she drank.

Jim was sizing him up. “Seriously, dude, you get a raise or something? That suit isn’t cheap.”

“Nah. Just got tired of dressing like a scrub. I’ve had enough of Sucky Chucky the Potato Man, dude. I think it’s time to look for something else.

“You know, you really shouldn’t talk about your management like that.” Savannah said. “If someone around here knows who he is and hears you, you could get fired or something. Then how would you buy your knockoff suits?”

“Savannah!” Jim barked. “Give it a rest, would ya?”

“Why? He’s a loser, Jimmy! We were supposed to go to dinner and talk about saving our relationship, but I have to watch your drink with him?”

“No, you pathetic shrew, you don’t.”

Savannah bristled, and her face turned a very unattractive red. “What did you call me?”

Eddie leaned forward. “Shrew. Vulture. Harridan. Look up that word if you need to. I’ll wait.

Savannah was apoplectic. “Jimmy? Are you going to let him speak to me that way?”

“Yes. Yes, he is.” Eddie said. He held up his hand when Jim tried to protest. “He is going to let me talk to you this way. But don’t worry your bleached-blonde head off your little neck. He’ll choose you over his best friend even though he knows you’ve screwed around on him multiple times since you’ve been together. He’ll choose you, put the ring on that bony finger, and I’ll wander off into the sunset knowing that, while I miss my best friend, I never have to look at your mis-matched nipples showing through your too-sheer T-shirt. You paid your doctor way too much for those fakies, Savannah. Eddie stood and threw a fifty down on the table. “Call me later or don’t, Jimbo. I’m going to go find out what time the hostess gets off work.”

**

May 4, 2021

Whoever finds this, go by CrimeScene and tell Gina the hostess I’m sorry. I really did like her. Fantastic body, fun to talk to, intelligent – everything I wanted in a girlfriend. But I couldn’t keep in contact. Not knowing what I know. And after everything else that happened; I didn’t want to risk her life, too. Tell her Eddie said he’s sorry. That she deserved a better shot at a long life.

I did all of this. I mean, it was my body, my hands, my fingerprints – I did it, but I didn’t do it of my own free will. Please. Someone go look in the mirror and see if he’s there, because I can’t.

**

There was a voicemail waiting for Eddie when he came back upstairs after walking Gina to her taxi.

“Eddie, you jerk, I had to spend all night listening to Savvy trash you about being so mean. Dude, that’s my girlfriend! Man, I don’t want to lose you, but she’s gonna lean on me until I tell you to go to—”

Eddie hit the delete button. Jim was his best friend. He’d put up with his long history of dating annoying women, but Savannah went above and beyond. She hated Eddie and he knew it, but if she made Jim happy, well, that was fine with him.

But he didn’t have to hang around the preciouscouple anymore.

He showered, shaved, dressed in his new suit, tied his own tie instead of resorting to a clip on, pulled on his freshly-shined shoes, and left for work.

He landed a decent parking spot for once, paid the meter for the day, and headed for the elevator. He hated them, but he didn’t have time to run the stairs.

The elevator doors slid shut.

“No. Oh, come on, what the hell?”

It wasn’t his reflection staring back at him. Eddie backed up, hitting the opposite wall of the elevator. He wondered, crazily, what building security would think if they saw him lose his shit, and forced himself to stand still.

The Mirror Man waved at him

“No way, dude. You’re not real.” Eddie hissed under his breath. “Go away.”

The Mirror Man shrugged, and shook his head “no.”

“You got a name, asshole?”

The Mirror Man threw his head back, and Eddie could tell he was laughing. Eddie was just about to flip him off when the doors slid open. Eddie quickly clocked in and hustled to his cubicle. He hoped Chuck was already ass-deep in doughnuts and would leave him alone.

He wasn’t.

“Well, hello, Eddie. And congratulations.”

Eddie fought the urge to roll his eyes and focused on logging in to his system. “Congratulations for what, Chuck?”

“Not only have you been dressing like an adult, but you haven’t been late in over a week!”

Eddie put on his headset and pulled up his call list. “You done?”

“Oh, I haven’t started yet, you freak.” Chuck snarled. “I’m going to write you up for what you said to me. Corey and Delayna will sign as witnesses.”

“After they finish beefing each other?”

“Excuse me?”

Eddie spun his chair around to face Chuck. “I’m busy. Someone has to make calls since they’re too busy trying to break the baby-changing table in the downstairs restroom. So, if you’re through waggling your pecker around, please go away so I can work.”

“Uh, fine. But we’re not done.”

“Sure, okay.” Eddie turned back to his call list with a smile stretching from ear to ear. It was the second time in less than two weeks he’d made Chuck back away from him.

His email dinged. He pulled it up as he punched in his first phone number.

Eddie,

I’d always suspected Corey was cheating on me. Thank you for the proof I needed. I’m calling my lawyer now.

You’re a good guy, Eddie. Thank you for this.

​​Melissa

“Oh my God.” Eddie disconnected his call before it could ring. He opened the email attachment and stared in horror at video of Corey and Delayna going at it hard and heavy in the downstairs restroom. There were even photos of Corey taping an “out of order” sign on the restroom door to ward off interlopers.

Who took the pictures? Had he done it? If he had, when? And how did he know Melissa’s email address? He’d only met her at the company Christmas party, and they’d never spoken.

At least, he thought they hadn’t.

Eddie wanted to leave, clock out and go home, but he couldn’t. He called on his first claim, and tried to pretend he didn’t feel good about what he didn’t remember doing.

He made goal again that day. And Chuck avoided him like the plague.

**

That night, Eddie crawled into his favorite sleep pants and well-worn U2 concert shirt and threw himself down on the couch, determined to avoid any social contact that didn’t involve pizza delivery.

And any reflective surface.

“Not tonight, creepy corporate mirror man.” he told the empty apartment, and laughed out loud. Guess that’s what I’ll call you. Mirror Man. Sure wish you were already born so I’d know your damn name.”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Eddie froze, a sloppy slice of pizza dripping sauce onto his shirt.

“Oh, come on!” He turned up the TV in response, trying to drown out the tapping. But he couldn’t resist the curiosity. He had to know if his apartment had mice, or if some not-born-yet weirdo was trying to get his attention through the mirror. Again

Eddie went to his refrigerator for another bottle of beer. “I’m going to need AA because of you, asshole!” he called down the hall to his bathroom.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“I’m coming!” He flipped on the bathroom light.

“Dude. Really?”

Another message had been written in condensation.

TWO DOWN, TWO TO GO. YOU SHOULD THANK ME.

“You did this? You sent those pics? How? What the hell is going on?”

Nothing. No Mirror Man, no new message. Eddie laughed despite his fear.

“Fine. Thanks. I hated them both. Melissa and Tommy? They’re both nice people. They don’t deserve this. Now, let me eat my pizza in peace.”

He headed back to his couch and collapsed. He heard the tapping again, but this time he ignored it.

**

Corey’s bellow of rage interrupted Eddie at the time clock the next morning.

“Bastard! You ruined my marriage!”

Corey lunged. Eddie didn’t think. He sidestepped the attack and let Corey crash face-first into the opposite wall. Eddie clocked in quickly so he wouldn’t be counted as late, and ducked when Corey flew at him again.

“Really, Corey? You banging that hag Delayna didn’t affect your marriage at all?”

Corey lashed out, and Eddie leaned into the punch, taking it across his jaw. It hurt, but—

Eddie laughed at him.

Corey stopped. “Seriously? You’re laughing?”

Eddie nodded, and pointed at the security camera. “Smile, jerk.”

Corey groaned. “This isn’t over, you son of a bitch.”

Eddie laughed again. “Yes. it is. You assaulted me. I hope you have time to pack your desk before the cops get here.” He turned his back on Corey and walked to his desk. Delayna glared at him with pure hatred, and Eddie blew her a kiss.

**

Eddie bought a six-pack of beer to celebrate Corey losing his job (and being arrested) and wondered how hard it would be for that jackhandle to post bail.

“I’ll get killed if he gets out of jail.” Eddie told his empty apartment.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Oh jeez, how are you getting louder?” Eddie pulled himself off the couch and stumbled to the bathroom. “What do you want now?”

He was there. Well-dressed, perfectly-coiffed – the epitome of a well-dressed King Cobra. Or the Antichrist.

“Gee, if I’d known you were going to dress up, I would have shaved.”

Mirror Man shook his head. More condensation, and a message:

DESTROY THE ONES WHO BERATE YOU.

“Yeah, I know. You wrote that on my scratch pad at work. You had something to do with getting him arrested? No one knows who called the cops.”

Mirror Man shook his head again and pointed at Eddie.

“Look … I don’t know what’s wrong with me, and I don’t know why I’m even talking to you. I’m not going to admit you’re real. But … can’t that psychic be wrong? Do you really plan on killing millions?”

The man in the mirror’s expression darkened. He breathed across the mirror and wrote:

YES.

“Jesus. Why? You have free will! Why would you do this?”

Mirror Man tapped his Rolex.

“What? You got a time limit? You can only drive me psycho for ten minutes at a time?”

SOONER THAN LATER.

Understanding broke through Eddie’s beer-haze. “You … want me to end it, so you can be born earlier?”

A nod.

Eddie backed away from the mirror. “No. No way. I won’t do it. I’m not going to bring you here!”

NO CHOICE. EVERYONE DIES.

“Yeah, but not today. Go away, Mirror Man.” He found his way back to the couch. “I won’t. I’ll find a way to stop you.”

**

May 5, 2021

I got a raise at work. Chuck was pissed to announce it at the staff meeting, but it could have been worse. I could have accepted the promotion they offered me.

Jim still isn’t talking to me, but Savannah is sending hateful texts from Jim’s phone. I guess I’m supposed to believe it’s from him or something. Problem is, Jim can spell. She speaks in that weird Gen Z abbreviation-speak that makes no sense without a decoder ring. I won’t answer them; I thought about playing with her, but there’s no point. I still want my best friend to be happy.

Hey, Mirror Man? If Savannah Giles-Bernard is still alive when you show up? Get her first.

**

Ten days flew past, with Chuck ignoring him, Delayna glaring at him and trying to sabotage his call list (she couldn’t), and no contact whatsoever from the Mirror Man.

Eddie felt better than he had in weeks. No alcohol, no hangover; he even went to the gym to run on the treadmill for the first time in the four years he’d been paying for a membership.

Maybe it was over. Maybe he’d been right about the whole hypnosis thing, and it finally wore off.

“Just say no to psychics.” he muttered as he shaped his goatee. He thought about reaching out to Jim and decided against it. Tonight, he’d go back to Sweeney’s, limit himself to iced tea, and prove to that douchebag Denny that he didn’t have a problem.

At least, not anymore.

He got the reaction he wanted when Denny saw him.

Wow! Eddie! Is that you?”

“Hey Denny. Burger medium, hold the onions.” He ambled toward one of the tables.

“Hey, whoa, what is this? You’re not sitting at the bar?”

“I think I’ll try a different view of the place, Denny.”

“Your usual to drink?”

“Iced tea. Sweet.”

Denny smiled. “My pleasure, Eddie.”

I did it, Eddie thought. Maybe now I can live longer, keep him away longer. Figure out what the hell to do. There’s got to be a way to stop this.

When he got home that night, still stone cold sober, he went straight to bed. A good night’s sleep felt like the best way to celebrate “the new Eddie.” He thought he’d go for a run in the morning. A real one. Outside.

He’d been asleep four hours when his cell-phone rang. Bleary, he grabbed for it.

“Huh? Hullo?”

“Eddie?”

“Jim?” Eddie sat up. “Dude, it’s 2:00 a.m. What’s wrong?”

“She’s dead, Eddie…”

“She? Who?”

“Savvy. Savvy’s dead. Somebody killed her…”

Eddie grabbed for his jeans. “I’m coming, dude, where are you?”

“We’re outside Sweeney’s. I was clearing our tab and she went to the car. I came out and she was … oh God, Eddie…”

“Hold on, buddy, I’m coming.”

**

Eddie brought Jim back to his apartment after they’d spent all night at the police station.

“They always look at the boyfriend.” Jim stammered when Eddie handed him one of his last beers. “But I couldn’t. She was a pain in the ass, but … you know I didn’t do it, right, Eddie? Denny, other witnesses inside and outside, they knew it wasn’t me.

“Dude, there’s no way you would have done that. I know it.”

“Who would do that? I saw it, man. There was so much blood … her throat…”

Eddie sat down next to his best friend. “Jim, listen to me. You did not do this. They’ll catch the bastard who did.” He indicated the beer Jim held. “Knock that back and I’ll bring you another one.”

Jim eyed him with concern. “Eddie? It’s Friday. You’re sober.”

Eddie nodded. “Yeah. Trying something new. So those last four in the fridge are yours.”

He talked to Jim until he stretched out on the couch and fell asleep. Without thinking, Eddie ambled to the bathroom to brush his teeth before trying to get some sleep himself.

Mirror Man was there.

Eddie groaned softly, careful not to wake Jim.

“What do you want?”

Mirror Man shrugged.

“It’s been days. What have you been up to?”

Mirror Man breathed across the glass.

YOU SHOULD THANK ME.

“For what?” Eddie hissed.

THE BITCH IS DEAD.

Eddie had to grab the sink to keep from falling. “You … you did this? How? You’re not even born yet?”

Mirror Man pointed at him.

“No. No. I came home, went to bed. I’m sober. I didn’t black out. I didn’t do this. For God’s sake, go away. You’re not real!”

Mirror Man shook his head sadly.

I’M ALMOST DONE.

“No. No more, dammit. No more…”

He tapped his Rolex again.

I’M WAITING.

Eddie turned off the bathroom light and stumbled to bed, thankful Jim didn’t hear any of the exchange.

Who is it? Who’s next?

Eddie wanted to sleep. He didn’t.

**

Eddie stayed close to Jim the entire weekend. Savannah’s family had flown in to claim her body; they were taking her back to Kansas to bury. Jim wanted to fly with them for the service, but her family said no, blaming him for “keeping her in such an awful place like Dallas.” Her mother had screamed and beat her fists against Jim’s chest, telling him he was the reason she had been murdered. Jim tried to reason with them, but it was no use. Eddie kept him talking, grieving, and quite drunk the rest of the weekend. Eddie stuck to water.

He drove Jim back to his apartment Sunday evening.

“Dude, you sure you need to be alone?”

Jim nodded. “Yeah. I need to get her stuff together and get it out of there. I know her family won’t want it, maybe I can take her clothes to a shelter or something.”

Eddie knew that self-righteous bitch would hate helping others, so he smiled and agreed. “That’s a good idea, man. You need some help?”

“Nah. I’ll do this on my own. Thanks for everything, dude. See you Friday?”

“Sure.”

Eddie watched Jim until he closed his apartment door before driving away. He knew he shouldn’t glance in his rearview mirror, but he did.

“I should’ve known.”

Mirror Man waved happily.

“Dammit. If I look back and you’re sitting there, I’m wrecking this car.”

Mirror Man smiled.

“Don’t bother breathing on my mirror, dude. It’s too dark for me to read it.” Eddie slammed his fist on his steering wheel. “Why her? I mean, she was a bitch, but Jim loved her…”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Explain it later. I’m driving.”

No answer. When Eddie looked again, Mirror Man was gone.

“I can’t keep this up.” Eddie turned up the radio to drown out his thoughts. “I just can’t.”

**

“Sign this.”

Eddie looked down at the piece of paper Chuck had slammed on his desk. “And what is this?”

“I told you I’d write you up for what you said to me. In addition, you sent a personal email to Corey’s wife, and instigated the assault that forced the company to fire my best collector.”

“Seriously? He was your best collector?”

“Just sign it.”

“Get HR up here and I will.”

Chuck puffed up like an angry blowfish. “There’s no need for that. I’m your manager.”

Eddie stood up. He kept his voice low and measured, and made sure everyone on Collector’s Row heard him.

“As a manager, you should know that no personnel matters will be addressed unless we are in the Human Resources office, or a member of Human Resources joins us here.” He folded his arms and stared at Chuck. “So,either you and I can take a walk to HR, or they can come here. You’re the manager, so you choose.”

“You’re fired.”

“Am I?”

Chuck turned on his heel and walked away. Eddie sat down and pulled up his call list. While he spoke to Blue Cross Blue Shield about a surgery claim, he typed an email outlining Chuck’s constant harassment and sent it to Human Resources.

**

May 6, 2021

I found the bloody clothes in the dumpster behind my apartment. I should have pulled them out, burned them, but I didn’t. Old sweats and one of my old Ratt concert shirts. I put those on before I went to bed that night, before Jim called me to say Savvy was dead.

I went to bed early. I don’t remember getting back up, driving across town … and I don’t remember taking a knife to Savannah. But those clothes, all the blood – it had to have been me. Been him. Been him working through me. Something.

Somebody, please save me.

**

Chuck was in HR the next morning when Eddie clocked in. Eddie pulled up his call list and logged into his email. Bill, the head of Human Resources, had sent him a note to thank him for reporting Chuck’s harassment, and to let him know it would be addressed with disciplinary action.

It’s about time.” Eddie muttered. His morning got even better when he found out Delayna had put in her two-week notice. She flipped him off every time she walked to the break room; he just kept calling on claims and raking in the payments.

When Chuck returned from his meeting with HR, he ignored Eddie completely. Eddie guessed he must have gotten a warning, which wasn’t near enough punishment, but it was a start. Corey was in jail, Delayna was quitting, Savannah was dead, if Chuck would just –

“Oh, shit.”

Almost done. The Mirror Man said he was almost done. Was it Chuck?

And, as much as he hated himself for admitting it, would he care if it was?

**

The next morning, Bill from HR called Eddie to his office.

“Have a seat, Eddie. I have something I need to talk over.”

Eddie sat down, uneasy. “What’s up, Bill?”

Bill sat down across from him. “I’ll just get right to it. We want to offer you a management position.” He held up a hand before Eddie could protest. “I know you turned down the last one, but this is over your current department. I know you are more than qualified to run the business office.”

Eddie’s stomach knotted. “Sir? I don’t follow. Where is Chuck?”

Bill paled. “Oh. Oh Eddie, I thought you’d heard. Chuck was killed last night.”

“Oh my God.” Eddie ran his hand through his hair. “What, I mean, how … what happened?”

Bill shook his head sadly. “He was walking home from the convenience store about a block from his house. He was hit by a drunk driver.”

“Oh man…”

“Yeah. This is where it gets weird. Some people say he stumbled off the curb and was hit. Some say he was pushed, but they didn’t see who did it. Eddie, you okay?”

Eddie couldn’t breathe. “I’m sorry. It just came as such a shock.”

Bill nodded. “I know. It’s been a blow to all of us. I know Chuck was a bastard, but he did have a family. I’ve asked for Employee Assistance to meet with your team to help process any grief and to assist with the transition to you as their new manager. That is … if you’ll take the position?”

Eddie said yes. He didn’t know what else to do.

**

May 7, 2021

This is it. It’s over. I have to run. If I run, start over somewhere, he won’t be able to destroy the people around me. I’ll still die, but maybe no one else around me will.

He’s real, he’s coming, and you’re all screwed.

I won’t be. I’ll be dead.

I’m sorry.

**

That night, Eddie went to the bathroom mirror and called for the Mirror Man.

“Come on, you son of a bitch! Show yourself!”

The Mirror Man appeared moments later. He shrugged, asking “what do you want” without saying a word.

“You killed Chuck.”

Mirror Man shook his head and pointed at Eddie.

“Cut the crap, asshole. You know you did it. I hated him, but that was no reason to kill him!”

Words in condensation.

YOU WANTED HIM GONE.

JUST LIKE THE WOMAN.

WHY DO YOU FIGHT WHAT YOU REALLY ARE?

“I am not a monster! You are!”

STOP DENYING IT.

“Who else? Who else is on your list?”

Mirror Man shook his head.

LAST ONE.

Eddie pushed back the urge to rip down the mirror and throw it out the window. “Dammit! Who? Who is it?

Mirror Man smiled and tapped his Rolex.

YOU.

“No. I’m not going to end it. I already told you!”

IT’S DEATH OR THEM.

“Them? Who?”

A knock on his apartment door.

“Police! Eddie Martin, open the door!”

Eddie turned back to the mirror. “You bastard!

TEXAS = DEATH PENALTY.

More knocking.

“Eddie Martin! Open up now! We have a warrant!”

Eddie stepped back. “No. I won’t go out like that.”

He had owned a gun for years. He’d only shot it once. He grabbed it from the safe in his closet.

“Eddie Martin! We won’t ask you again!”

Eddie stuck the gun under his chin.

“Good luck, assholes.”

Eddie fired. Down the hall, the mirror shattered.

**

The worst thunderstorm to rip through Dallas drowned out her cries of pain.

But he was here now. The labor had been hard, but it was worth every second of agony. She cuddled her son against her chest and smiled through her tears.

“He’s so beautiful.” She traced a fingertip along his porcelain cheek. “He’s going to do great things in life. I just know it.”

1 Comment
  • Stefin Bradbury (@StefinBradbury)
    Posted at 04:16h, 18 May Reply

    What a treat! I really enjoyed this. Leigh truly understands her craft and shows off how a slow-burn opening can rage into a real fire in a shirt story. Very well paced.

Leave a Reply to Stefin Bradbury (@StefinBradbury) Cancel reply