Smiling Back

After a night of revelry, a young man soon finds himself the victim of a terrifying curse, from which, there is no escape.

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1. Smiling Back

If was the second hour of a new day and I, having filled my night with good friends, good wine and morally questionable women it was safe to say I was well and truly intoxicated both with drink and good humour. I had savoured twelve sweet hours of drinking, feaster and revelry but a few of my companions who could not hold their liquor had fallen ill well before I had planned to stop and so I was regrettably forced to take my leave. Had my dear friends been able to withstand the vast amount of drink, I knew in my heart we would have undoubtedly made merry for two days further, as we always did this time of year. We were young me, in our prime and the night beckoned us to the lusty side of sin and debauchery.

As I stumbled up the damp stone steps to my home I found my legs to be most disagreeable for they refused to follow the course I untended but with much persuasion and a few choices words, which I hoped the good Lord didn’t hear, I convinced them to obey. After a few staggered steps mingled with the odd stumble and trip my legs carried me forthwith to the big black door. 

With an unsteady hand, I proceeded to insert the key, with a few failed attempts and with a twist of my wrist and a thump from my shoulder I tumbled, in a very dignified fashion, head first through the threshold of my home. All as once I howled with laughter at my own folly having fallen over thin air and being ripe with drink even the most mundane of things brought me to my knees with laughter. I rolled onto my back and roared with laughter. My gaiety echoing through the house. Yet after a few minutes the echoes were swallowed by darkness. I lay there. In the stillness. Admiring the crystal chandelier, the marble floors, the finery that my name and fortune had blessed me with. After the ache from much laughter had died down I rolled over once more and rose to my knee and whilst kneeling on the floor, like a man at prayer, gazed around the rest of my home. All around loomed winter darkness and as the moon shone through the open door I noticed the long silver mirror that hung a few feet into the hallway, it gleamed with grace and mystery. I then fancied that my reflection would be somewhat amusing. As the faces of my comrades’ flash through my mind, their cheeks red with drink, their once smart attire either discarded or dishevelled. They were quite a sight to see. With the thought of a good laugh in mind I struggled to my feet, swaying drunkenly back and forth like the pendulum of a clock until finally I found my footing. Taking a few uncertain steps, as if a babe again I made my way to the mirror and what a sight I saw! The reflection was that of a true fool and for a moment I forgot the reflection to be my own and I was forced to gaze upon it deeply just to affirm that the man gazing back was indeed my good self. I did look a sight! My hair once combed and pristine was unkempt: my cheeks flushes a deep shade of scarlet red from drink and my red tie was missing. I paused a moment at this startling revelation. The tie was a gift and very dear to me so its absence caused me some discomfort. I pondered but found no answers. I then began to strain my brain, forcing it to think through the haze of alcohol fuelled gaiety, over the night’s evens trying to locate my missing tie and then I remembered.

Being a resident of New Orleans there were many unsavoury characters roaming the streets. Those of the coloured variety which often disgusted me for they had the nerve to consider themselves my equal. They sent their filthy savage prays up to my most beloved God. Some even had the gall to look me directly in the eye. I remember that one such vermin that had

caused me such insult. An elderly creature that winter had forgotten, he clutched a cane in order to stand and on his back, he wore a rather shabby coat. He was a rather pathetic creature that offended my eyes and so for my amusement I kicked the bottom of the cane and watched the old fool fall to the ground with a thud. The air left his lungs as he hit the floor. I and my companions found much laughter in my jest. As I bent over and began verbally berating him the old fool had the nerve to seize my tie in order to rise from the cold, wet ground and nearly chocked me to death. I was forced to abandon the garment for fear of suffocation. At this I saw red and swiftly planted my foot into the old man’s back and grinned when he groaned in protest. My friends offered to lynch the decrepit piece of trash but I offered a few more insults before returning to my party who found my actions to be more than entertaining. All of them accept one. My dearest friend Mr, Illion, James Illion, a man of superstitious nature and had often voices his fears of New Orleans and its local witchcraft and so called voodoo. Devil born nonsense to me. I often mocked him for his childish fears but on this night when I thought he would have a lot to say about my careless treatment of the old man, instead dear Illion said not a word. In fact, he remained silent the whole evening.

Bringing my attention back to my reflection there was one feature I noticed to be quite bizarre, almost grotesque and even a little frightening. It was my smile. I was smiling from ear to ear. At first this would be an amusing and happy sight to see but this smile was different. The skin stretched back and all gums exposed. It was somewhat disturbing but I took it to be because of the drink and with a few blinks the smile had be replaced by bewilderment. I ignored it and headed to my chambers for a good long rest.

A few hours later, while the sun was yet to rise, I found myself being woken by the peculiar sound of tapping. A strange tapping from out the darkness of my room. So that I might see what was the cause of the sound was I lit the lamp on my bedside table and began to search my room extensively. Every nook and cranny I explored, from my closet to under my bed but the room was no different to when I had gone to sleep. Nothing but the tapping. I peered outside my window but there was no early bird or tree branch. I stood in the glow of the lamp light and listened. I barely breathed. I barely moved. I stood. I listened. Then it began again. Tap, tap, tap, pause, tap, tap, tap, pause and then silence. 

Suddenly I slowly turned my head to the large golden mirror in my room and there in the glass was not me but the old man I had scorned. He was grinning and in his hand he held my tie. I noticed that upon the tie was a crude drawing of what appeared to be myself with a mad expression on my face and a smile too wide to be physically possible. The man began tapping on the mirror again and again. As he did so he began to laugh and the laugh grew louder and louder. Soon the echoing of his laugh filled my very sound and I had to cover my ears to drown it out but it grew louder and louder. Then came an almighty smash! Like the sound of breaking glass and I shot up. I was awake. It had been a dream. A strange and haunting dream.

Two days passed and I was extremely irritable. I was jumpy and easily startled by loud noises and when tapping came from my chamber door I near fainted. The tap, which had so greatly frightened me, was that of James Illion who marked my appearance with an expression, no, not an expression, more a knowledge of something. In his eyes I saw a deep longing for answers, much like an artist on the brink of an inspirational climax. Illion seemed to have a deep suspicion about my discomfort. 

Could he tell how afraid I saw? Could he see that I hadn’t slept in two days? It was the nightmares. Those God damn nightmares. Every time I closed my eyes I saw the old man standing in the mirror holding the tie, laughing at me. Mocking me. I could not let Illion know. I stood tall and smiled, I greeted him and shook his hand heartily.

“James, my boy! What brings you here?” 

“I came to see how you were faring and from the looks of things sleep has evaded you”

I laughed but it was a dull hollow sound that held no truth. I could tell by the grim look on Illion’s face that lying was not a talent that I possessed. Never in all my years had I seen my friend so shaken, so fearful, so…disturbed. I noticed that in his hand he held a small package, loosely wrapped in brown paper and that he held in close to his heart. He loved to fuss over me, regardless of age, wealth or social standing. He never accepted that I was capable of taking care of myself. We sat in front of the fire in order to fend off the bleak December cold and as James stared blankly into the flames I watched the orange glow of the light illuminate his pale completion 

“James, you look unwell, perhaps you should take your leave. Save your visit for another day. My home is awfully cold and I fear you may catch your death. I would hate to be the cause should your health decline”

“No, thank you, I am perfectly fine. It is you I fear for” He said raising his tea cup to his lips. I laughed again but the sullen expression of my friend’s face brought me to silence. I watched him, with all the innocent ignorance of a child as he reached for the parcel that he had placed upon the table. He set down his tea cup and began to pull back the paper.

In that moment, when the contents were revealed I felt alarm fill my very bones. It was my missing tie. The very tie that I had abandoned the night of my revelry. What’s more there, crudely drawn upon the crimson fabric, was the disturbing portrait of myself, grinning madly. I simple smiled, took the tie and handed it to Harold, my butler and ordered him to have it washed and pressed.

“My friend, for years you have mocked their skin, their faith and worst of all you mock their witchcraft and now I fear that they have finally taken their revenge”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Their witchcraft is superstitious nonsense that can harm you or me as easily as the wind. James, you are a man of sense, do not let your heart be fearful of such gibberish drivel. I assure you, I am in good health, my businesses are thriving and no one substance bares me any ill-will. I am perfectly safe, I am sooner to hurt myself than this so-called voodoo”

“If you insist. I will take my leave now” Illion sighed rising from his chair. I guided him to the front door where he retrieved his coat, scarf, hat and gloves and he was just about to step out of the house when he suddenly turned to look back at me. Then without much warning he pulled me into an embrace, much to my alarm and whispered something most distressing in my ear.

‘Get rid of the mirrors!”

His voice was icy, venomous, less like a warning and more like a command. Before I could respond he vanished beyond the door, closing it with a boom that echoed through my home.

I found myself frozen in place. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the silver mirror and my reflection. I turned and there I was, a face painted with fear. Angered by my own folly I continued the rest of the day as usual regardless of my friend’s warning. Get rid of my mirrors, unthinkable! They were priceless family heirlooms and they would follow me to my grave. That night and the two nights that followed were hell on earth. Each night I suffered from the nightmares forged by the devil himself and each night the terror reached new heights and gripped my heart with a grasp so icy cold that the frost beyond my home felt like the warm embrace of summer. 

The dream would begin in my chambers. I’m lying in my bed and in the dim light of the candle, from out the darkness would come the faint sound of tapping. The first night, within my dream, I searched my room but my mind was agile enough to remember the visit of my good friend and theorised that the knocking was in fact James seeking entrance at my chamber door. Yet when I went to the door and pulled it wide I sought naught but night and then an almighty smash of shattering glass. I awoke. The second night, once again I sat in my bed, the candle flickering and sputtering, holding back the shadows that clawed at the edge of the amber glow. The tapping was louder and more frequent and like before I searched my room. However, this time the tapping echoed through my home and so I was forced to venture beyond the sanctuary of my room. Seizing the candle like a bold knight seizes his sword I sliced through the darkness, down the barren halls, down the staircase to the belly of my home where the silver mirror stood. Perhaps it was some late-night visitor. A servant having enjoyed a night off who had forgotten their key, locked out and unable to wake the others. Once again, I flung open the door but there was no one there and like the night before I awoke to the sound of breaking glass. The third night’s dream was the most horrific of all. 

I lay in my bed. Tormented by the tapping I sat up and as if controlled by some unseen force that compelled me to seek out its source or until the sound of breaking glass would wake me from my slumber. I searched my closet, under my bed, beyond my window and then came the tapping. Tap, tap, tap, pause, tap, tap, tap, pause and then I discovered the sounds location. I turned and I saw it. The cause of the tapping. From across the room in the dull glow of the candle was my reflection gazing back at me. It wore my clothes, my robe and held a candle of its own but beyond that this thing, man or devil, was not me. Its eyes held wide for the sockets were void of their lids. The skin of its face was blotched with red dotted as if it had be spattered with blood. Its fingers were extended and its nails were more like claws. It was smiling. A wide smile with the skin stretched back revealing jagged teeth and gum. A deranged smile that was too wide to be physically possible. I gazed at the creature for what seemed like an eternity. The thing, with eyes of a demon, stared back. It watched me. It waited. Then, if possible, I saw its smile grow and I watched the creature raise its hand, extend its index finger and tap upon the glass. Despite my distance from the mirror the thing stood right up to the glass, it was less like a window and more like a mirror. It tapped in a slow rhythmic manner. A sort of ‘let me in gesture that chilled me to my bones. Then all at once I watched the thing slam its fist into the glass, again and again until finally it yielded with a crash!

I woke that morning screaming. My butler had rushed in with several servants, all armed to defend me from what they presumed was an attempt on my life.

It was the fourth day that I chose to fight back. In my fury, I ordered every mirror in the house to be smashed and every shard condemned to the fire. The only mirrors that greed forced me to keep were the gold and silver mirrors that upon my grandmother’s deathbed I had sworn to treasure. For fear of the creature I locked the villains in my closet and kept the key around my neck at all times. Though my questioned my wellbeing I brushed their worries aside for what now did I have to fear! I was beyond the demon’s grasp. I would sleep soundly. The thing, dare it invade my mind, could tap from within my closet all it liked for I would never let it out. That night I went to bed adamant to have a good night’s rest having conquered the demons which had plagued me to near madness.

I awoke. Turning to my window I saw it was still night out. Pinching my cheek to affirm my consciousness and feeling the sting I was satisfied. I lit the candle and stood triumphantly before the stop on the wall were the mirror had once stood. I patted the key that hung around my neck. When the sun rose, I would dress and visit my dear friend James and tell him of my ordeal and how I defeated Hell. I was about to return to bed when out of the corner of my eye I saw something. Turning to look at it I found my heart seize in my chest. The door to the closet, the door that I had locked, the door to which there was only one key, the door whose key only I possessed…that door was stand open. Wide open. Its contents black as night. With my entire frame shaking I made my way tentatively across the room to the closet. I held the candle high and then the light illuminate. The silver mirror gazed at me and my reflection gazed back. A look of fear upon my face. Turning angrily away from the closet and shutting the door behind me I stood amazed. It must have been some breeze or perhaps I opened it while in sleep.  Yet why had I woken early? What had roused me from my sleep? Taking a step towards my bed I yelped and jumped back having felt pain in my bare foot. Shining the light down upon the floor I saw the cause of my injury. It was a shard of glass. Glass breaking, shattering glass that is what woke me! Turning to the closet I watched in horror as the door slowly creaked open. I cried out and dropped the lamp. My demonic double grinned from within the darkness. His own key hanging from his neck.

The beast that was in my image had let himself out and this time…I was awake.

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