The Truth Behind the Mirror

**This piece is a little longer than my usual posts, but it was so much fun and the characters were determined to tell their story. I hope you enjoy the mix of sweet interaction and creepy, unexpected events! As always, thank you for reading!**


South Mountain Amusement Park – The Place for Fun and Adventure!

The single bulb illuminating the sign welcomed those who dared into its depths. The once bright colors had faded, but the carved script was clear even as the chips and gouges in the wood became visible. A depiction of a Ferris wheel arched up and around the words only to sink behind a set of brightly colored balloons. I cringed, knowing the reactions I got from this sign were far different than most.

The others around me laughed. Their excitement was palpable, tingling on my skin and tasting of freedom, anticipation, and a hint of lust. The tight t-shirts the guys wore accentuated their athletic forms. The scent of their cologne wafted back to me with the wind and I had to hold my breath, the acrid scent overpowering. They tried to pretend that their dates exposed stomachs, or how their skirts rode up, didn’t affect them but they couldn’t.  The girls? They didn’t even try to hide. They openly gawked, shooting hot glances when they thought no one was watching. It didn’t matter, even if it weren’t so obvious, the teenage mating ritual always drew attention. It was a dance so unpracticed, that the experienced couldn’t resist the urge to sit back and partake in the show. Even I could see the humor in the scene before me and I was probably worse off than any one of them. 

That said, I couldn’t blame them for their excitement. They’d been looking forward to this for weeks.  Whereas I had not. Situations like this were completely out of my wheelhouse.

I straightened my fitted band tee, pulling it down so that it didn’t bunch over my breasts. I grabbed the braid that fell across my shoulder and played with the end. It was hard not to compare myself to them, to feel inadequate. With my frayed skinny jeans and red converse, I wasn’t even like the teenagers here with their families. I was different and not just in look. Maybe I should have dressed up. If I had, would it have brought me closer to their world? I didn’t think so. It wasn’t just the way I dressed that was different. It was something deeper, more intrinsic, and those I met always seemed to sense it.

“Where’s your man?” I asked my best friend, Wren. “I thought he was coming tonight.”

Her blond hair shimmered in the moonlight as she reached out to slip her arm in mine. I could feel her vibrating through the contact and had to smile. 

“How did you talk me into this again?” I asked. “Oh wait, I remember. I’m a sucker.”

Wren just laughed because we both knew why. She was my closest friend and after she’d confided that she was nervous about coming tonight, I’d volunteered. Stupid on my part really, but since Luke had to work late and she was riding with a bunch of Luke’s friends-whom she wasn’t comfortable with yet-I was here. Why she thought I would make it better, I have no idea. 

I was the weirdo in school, the one people stared at for being strange. Different. To be honest, they weren’t wrong. But I was happy to say that, up to that point, they’d pretty much brushed off my presence. It made me sad to think that the peace I felt being ‘normal’ wouldn’t last. Things would change, they always did.  

I pushed away those thoughts as Wren rested her head on my shoulder. Warmth filled my chest. It was nice to know that my being here allowed her to be as relaxed as the rest. That’s why it was all worth it. Regardless of my inability to feel the same, I couldn’t blame them for their joy. I definitely didn’t blame her.  

“He’s meeting us at the Merry-Go-Round. Which should be just up to the left,” Wren said. I shook my head amused as she tightened her shoulders and let out a high-pitched ‘eek.’ If she hadn’t been holding onto me, she would’ve shaken clenched fists in the air and maybe even bounced. 

God, she was adorable. 

It was lucky Luke was a good guy. If he hadn’t been we would have had serious problems. He never would’ve gotten close to Wren, but he’d quickly proven the type of man he was. I learned just how kind, funny, and good to her he was. That’s all I could ask for. Plus, he’d never blinked an eye at our friendship as so many others did.

We passed the sign and, from the corner of my eye, I saw the bulb flicker then go out.  A sense of foreboding ran up my spine like spiders running along my skin. I shivered. Wren noticed and leaned in to whisper in my ear.

“Everything will be fine, I promise. Just stay close. No rides are expected of you and whenever we’re on one, you stay close.” She said those words but picked up the pace. 

Damn, she was nervous too. We caught up to the rest of the group in just a few strides and instantly got sucked into Jackie and Andre’s debate about which carnival dessert was better-deep fried snickers or cotton candy. 

Before Wren had the chance to insert her opinion, and I knew she would, I pulled her in and kissed the crown of her head. “I know. Don’t worry about me. Just have fun tonight.”

“Hey!” Luke said, jumping out of the shadows. He wrapped an arm around Wren while pushing me away playfully. “What’re you doing hanging on my girl? I saw that kiss and in front of my friends no less. For shame!” 

Wren laughed, her eyes bright and happy.  I shook my head, a grin stretched my face making my cheeks ache. I really did like Luke. There was no fear of me, no hesitation to stand near me, to talk or joke with me. He also understood Wren was my sister.  He treated me like I was normal. I appreciated that more than he knew. We’d even hung out and I’d been shocked when nothing bad happened. Only Wren had ever kept the darkness away.

I shoved his shoulder. “I was making sure no one else tried to swoop in and steal our girl from us. And considering I kept her from the best dessert debate, you should be thanking me. You know how passionate Wren gets about churros.”

He slapped my back. “True that. These guys have no idea how close they were from getting an ear full.”

“Hey! I’m not that bad.”

“No honey, you’re not.”

I chuckled, Wren poking Luke in the side at his placating tone. 

“I have a surprise,” Luke said, the mischievous look in his eye making me wary. My muscles tightened and my stomach clenched in warning. With a grin, he continued, “Alec, I want you to meet someone.” 

A pretty girl with deep red hair and honey brown eyes stepped from the shadows. I recognized her heart-shaped face from school. She was a year younger and, from what I’d heard, ridiculously smart. Sweet too. Beautiful. Okay, so maybe I’d noticed her before, but I never would’ve approached her. It wasn’t worth the risk. I wouldn’t want someone as kind as she was getting the backlash of my presence. Let alone my attention.

“This is my sister, Heather. Heather, this is Alec. I think you two have seen each other at school.” He pulled Heather closer. 

She stood, hands clasped, her lip trapped between her teeth. The soft pink lipstick she wore matched her simple v-neck blouse. I could tell she was nervous, but there was an eagerness there too. I could smell it in the air, lemon and honey, which mixed with her own lavender scent. 

“Breathe Alec” became my new mantra. 

“Hey, um… I hope you don’t mind if I join you guys,” she said, her voice a melody. “I’ve wanted to talk to you for a while so when Luke…” 

She shrugged, a flush rising on her pale cheeks.

It took me a long moment to find my voice. Had she just admitted to wanting to get to know me?

“Hi, Heather. Um, yeah.” I turned to glare at Luke then leaned close. In a harsh whisper, I said, “You promised to leave it alone, Luke. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. Especially not her.”

Heather’s gaze dropped to the ground and a wave of guilt passed through me. I swallowed hard.

“Alec,” Wren said. I could feel the reproach in her gaze. “I promised nothing would happen tonight and it won’t. Come on, it’s been weeks since anything bad happened. You’re seventeen and you deserve to have a life. Luke invited her after he caught Heather checking you out at the football game. When he mentioned it, she admitted she’s had a crush on you for a while.”

Wren met my eye, leaning even closer. I could feel her breath on my cheek. 

“And I know for a fact like her too. Take the chance, Alec. You deserve it.” I opened my mouth, about to say something, but she stopped me. “I know all the arguments. You and I have had this out before. Luke trusts you and so do I. So just try, okay? You two will stay with us and if anything happens, I’ll be there. I promise.”

Fear roiled through me. It may have been months since the last incident, but that usually meant that when it happened again it was going to be bad. I met Luke’s eyes and he nodded. With a deep breath for courage, I turned and smiled at Heather.

“So, uh, would you like to go play some games? Wren is crap at ball toss and it’s always fun embarrassing her”

A smile spreads across her sweet face. “That sounds fun. Luke is terrible at darts so maybe we can take turns embarrassing them.”

Just like that, the night got significantly more interesting. Let’s hope the curse didn’t decide tonight was the night to flare.

Heather smiled, then slid her hand into the crease of my arm. Her fingers were warm and soft, tingled shooting from the contact. My mouth went dry and my heart pounded in my chest. I needed to calm down. Things got worse when I was nervous.

Luke’s amused gaze swept us. The rest of the group watched us with interest.

 “Alright then,” Luke said. “Y’all ready for this? Fun, games, and maybe a little trouble?”

With cheers, the girls grabbed their date’s hands and pulled them forward. Wren rested her head on Luke’s shoulder as they fell in behind. Shoving my hands into my pockets and with Heather’s hand still laced with my arm, we headed inside. 

The lights of the arcade and carnival games were welcoming as they glittered brightly, bouncing off the technicolor signs. Pictures of hot air balloons, creepy clowns, and exaggerated cartoon animals lined the stalls. We strolled from one to the other, taking turns at each of the games to see who could best whom. The next hour was amazing. We competed, we laughed, and we acted like normal teenagers. It was the first time I had done anything like it. Even Luke’s friends relaxed around me until it felt like I was one of the crew. For a moment I forgot about who I was – what I was.

I won Heather a giant panda. She’d laughed at the way Luke and I had bantered as we shot water into the mouth of some pretty creepy clowns. The insults had ramped up the closer to the finish. When the lights began to flicker and the tent to shake, I started to panic. Without asking, Wren rested a hand on my shoulder and it all went away. To everyone’s surprise, I won. As a thank you Heather kissed my cheek. I almost died.

“You’re blushing!” Wren teased. 

“Careful Alec, that’s my little sister. I’m watching.” Heather snorted, rolling her eyes.

“She kissed me!” I laughed. But I refused to back away instead, taking Heather’s hand. Her shy smile hit me hard. I lifted it to my lips and kissed the back. A burst of shock lit me from within. Had I just done that? 

Wren tried to hide her squeal and failed, but I couldn’t be mad. I knew what Wren had already figured out, I  liked Heather. We’d been talking so much since we started and we had a ton in common. She was fascinating, funny, and more at ease with herself than most girls our age. She made me feel interesting and not in a bad way. It was the best night I ever had.

“So what’s next?” Heather asked.

“Ferris wheel and then the house of mirrors!” One of Luke’s friends, Connie, screamed. 

“It is going to be awesome!” Simon, her date said.

With each step toward it, my breaths quickened. I swallowed the lump that had begun to form in my throat.  Luke placed a hand on my shoulder and I swear I felt his kindness seep into me. 

“There’s a bench at the base of the Ferris Wheel. I was going to ask if my jerk of a sister would ride with me while you and Wren waited.” He glanced at Heather.  “Wren doesn’t care for heights and I don’t want to leave her alone.”

Lie. I glanced away.

“Sure. Hey Wren, could you get me a soda? I figure you’re getting one for this bumble-head anyway.” Heather elbowed her brother.

“Absolutely! Coke?”

“That’d be great. Thanks.” Heather released my hand before stepping onto the platform.

For a moment, I got distracted by her golden ponytail. It shifted in the breeze like golden silk. The clank of their door shutting made me wince. My hands went clammy and I had to hold my back the urge to yank them from the Ferris Wheel. That wouldn’t be weird at all.

“They’ll be okay,” Wren said. “I’m right here and this park does daily checks of all their equipment.”

Like that mattered. I glared at my best friend. 

“You don’t understand. I really like her. What if something happens. No, I can feel that something’s going to happen. I can’t let her get hurt.”

 “You’re just being paranoid.”

Anger, so hot my fingers began to ache. She knew what I was. She’d seen what I’d done in the past. How could she say that?

There was a groan from one of the main supports. The engineer running the ride stiffened, eyebrows dropped low in concern. Somehow Wren missed it.

“Take a seat on the bench there. I’m gonna get sodas for Luke and Heather from the shop fifteen feet away. Take a minute and calm down. Also, be aware that, even up there and with her brother, Heather is looking at you.”

My cheeks heated. I glanced up and, Yup, she was right. I waved. She waved back. 

“Fine,” I said sitting where she indicated. 

I shut my eyes and leaned back against the fence that surrounded the ride. The bench was hard, cold against my skin. I took some breaths, but they did nothing to calm me. I felt it approaching, the darkness that followed me everywhere. For a long time, I’d thought it fed on my fear, but I’d learned the truth was far more unsettling. I hadn’t told anyone yet, not even Wren.

The energy I couldn’t seem to get a hold of leaked from me, calling the creatures living in shadow. I tried to lock it down, but the panic that sat at the base of my skull grew, screaming to the universe that I was out of control. It rose again and there was a snapping sound behind me. 

Shit, they were close. I should have looked, but I couldn’t. If I did, it would only get worse. So instead I focused on that flow of energy escaping me. I willed it to stop. 

“Wren!” I screamed. I couldn’t see her. She was gone, lost in the crowd and I was alone. 

I knew then the evening frivolity all these people craved was about to become a nightmare. I blocked out the sensations of anticipation and fear from those on the surrounding rides. Their emotions tried to seep into my veins, but the walls I’d erected held. There was a deep whine and then the sound of metal bending. Shocked screams echoed and the engineer cursed. A burst of terror swept over me and it forced its way through my control. I shook. Too much power.

I curved into myself when it rushed out of me to slam into the metal supports keeping the Ferris Wheel aloft. No one around noticed the wave of pure black, but I did. I knew it was mine. The structure tilted and screams filled the air. There’s one loud pop, and then another. I press my hands to my temples hoping to hold in another blast of power.

The worker in charge of the ride miraculously stayed calm. Mostly. He moved quickly to unload people as quickly as possible. One bucket, then the next bucket. He kept the buckets moving, yanking people from their perches. I scanned for Luke and Heather. Not the last bucket, but close. The panic threatens to push me over the edge, but before it has the chance to overflow I feel Wren. She’s dropped the sodas running toward me. I stumble as her arms wrap around me, her head pressed to my chest. 

Wren is light chasing away the darkness devouring me; love, laugher, joy.

Air rushed into my lungs and my mind cleared, every ounce of uncontrolled emotion gone. Pain, terror, distrust it cannot live where she is.

“It’s okay. I’ve got you,” she says into my chest. 

“You left.” 

“I’m sorry. I thought you could see me.  I wasn’t far. I’m sorry. You’re okay. Just keep breathing. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“But I did!” My voice cracked, tears stung my eyes. I pressed my face into her hair when I noticed Connie and Simon watching me. The distrust and accusation were clear in their expressions.

“No one was hurt. You’re okay. It doesn’t matter. This was an old ride.”

“I shouldn’t be here.”

“Yes, you should,” Luke said, startling me. 

I hadn’t seen him or Heather approach. My last memory was their worried faces over the side of the bucket. I gasped as kindness and understanding flowed through the hand he placed on my shoulder. I sucked it into myself needing every ounce they could give. I stood there a long moment, the sound of emergency personnel rushing around a hum in my ear.

Wren pulled back to meet my eyes. Like only a few times before, I couldn’t help but see something in that gaze that said there was more to her. There was an ancient quality to the soul who looked back. That’s when I knew, that she knew, what I was.

I swallowed hard. She wasn’t afraid of me. How was that possible? 

Heather joined Luke. 

“ Are you guys okay?” I asked.

“We’re fine, but I wonder what happened,” Heather said.

Luke’s sent me a sad smile- a knowing smile- filled with apology. 

Connie, still sending wary looks my way, touched Luke’s arm. “Why don’t we head over to the house of mirrors. I don’t think I can handle another ride.”

I dropped my head. “I don’t think I should go,” I whispered.

“What? No, it’s my favorite,” Heather said.” Please?”

Every single person in my small circle had the same thing in their eyes, a hope and determination to spend time with me. I understood and appreciated it, but the fear of losing control was still fresh in my mind. In there? I’d kill people. 

“We will not be more than 5 feet from you,” Wren prompted. Luke agreed, patting my shoulder

This was a bad idea. With a deep breath, we walk to the House of Mirrors. I run my hand down my braid as we step inside. Sweat beads along my spine. I’ve always hated places like this. Lost, was never a good idea for someone like me. And for some reason, the house of mirrors had always been the worst. Maybe it’s because I could see myself so clearly with all the different angles, my flaws, and doubts on display in each and every mirror. No matter the direction or angle for which I appeared. Then there were the mirrors that altered my reflection, twisted it into something dark. Was that the truth of me? I didn’t know.

The first few mirrors were fine. The second set, too. Then we went deeper, into a maze that I swear pulled the wrongness from me. I clenched my jaw at the image of wings arching back and up in black rivulets from my shoulders. Ten or more feet long they drug on the ground as the feather-like tips trace my path in the dirt. 

No one saw them. No one reacted. 

Just like the wings, the black lines that stained my skin, starting at my spine and working around my neck then down my arms, were invisible. The crimson marks that encircled my eyes and mouth, and tinted my fingernails were only apparent to me. Or so I thought. When they’d appeared first in a mirror I thought Wren flinched, but then she smiled only to disappear around the corner. I must have imagined it.

Heather and I were right behind them. We examined our reflections commenting on the strange changes each mirror caused. I tried to act normally, but the proof of what was on my skin was more than I could handle. My heart rate picked up, my eyes stinging with tears of frustration. But halfway through, nothing had happened. Yet. It was about then that I realized Wren and Luke are gone. They’d taken another turn too quick for me to track.

I told myself it didn’t matter- that they were right there, but then I glimpsed a change that terrified me to my very core. In a new mirror, a line of maroon vines extended from my left eye. It reached up, disappearing into my scalp while another skated down to wrap around my throat. These were new. As I swallowed, I saw it contract and, I swear, I felt its power. A malevolence that tasted of blood and the darkest shadows of the human soul. Bile rose in my throat. It was getting worse!

Unable to take it anymore, I screamed for Wren. I heard her somewhere far off. Heather comforted me, but the darkness came from within this time. It swirled, snaking around my stomach and then my throat. I resisted the urge to puke.

Wren’s voice called back. It was farther away this time. She couldn’t find her way.

I’m not happy to admit that I did not respond well to this. The panic peaked, the fear that I’d hurt someone sucked into the vines, and those taunting lines began to glow. The knowledge that no matter what I did, I would fail filled me and I held in another scream. I spun in a circle praying she’d appear.

An image stopped me in my tracks. It was the mirror that stretched your reflection. To me, it always felt like the one which revealed the most truth about the subject. I wish that was not the case because as I stared at my distorted form I was able to see everything.  Something lit my eyes from within and my wings solidified. They stretched and shifted. With every movement, the light grew brighter. My blood went cold, fingers and toes numbing. Here it came. 

 The world tilted. The ground opened and cracks appeared in every direction. Heather fell to her knees with the force of the tremor.  I called for the others to run – to get as far away from me as possible, but there was no time. A growling rumble had me covering my ears. Then Connie was sucked down into the ground and out of sight. Heather squeaked. Cracks at my feet extended, arching in a circle fifty feet wide and the floor disappeared. A sinkhole materialized and everything within its range slid into the darkness below.  

Heather lost her footing. My knees cracked as they hit the concrete, my hands latching onto Heather as she fell.  I held on with everything I was.

“Wren! Luke! Help us!” I screamed. I lowered my volume and spoke just to Heather. “I’m so sorry. This is all my fault.”

“No, Alec,” she said, between harsh breaths. It struck me how calm she was. “You are not to blame here. You are young, only beginning to become what you will. Do not blame yourself.”

“What?” I asked, still attempting to pull her up. She strained, but the suction below had a good grip.

“I think it is time for your training to start,” Heather said. “Wrenwitch has waited too long I fear. That is alright. We can fix it.”

She was nuts. Got it. Her hands slipped and I almost dropped her. Her feet suddenly found purchase which allowed my grip to steady. I put every ounce of effort I have behind my next pull. A bellow of determination ripped from my throat and with it, every mirror shattered. Glass exploded outward. Screams of those not yet out filled my ears. Heather grinned.

“So much power,” she whispered. 

 Her words didn’t register. I was too focused on holding her as my arms shook with the effort. This sweet girl, who decided to show interest in someone she shouldn’t, didn’t deserve to die. If I let her, I would never forgive myself.

Like a light switch turning on, something clicked in my head. I slammed my eyes shut at the pain behind my eyes. When I opened them again, the darkness that overtook me, the emotion that burst free to hurt everything around me, congealed into a mist of solid shadow.  It swayed as if waiting for instruction. I didn’t think, I acted.  I pulled with all of myself. The darkness slid down my arms, around my fingers, and along Heather’s arms. She gasped. With one final attempt, I and my shadows drug her up and over the side. It took forever. But there was no slipping, no pain, just relief as she fell into my arms. I clutched her to me, whispering apologies and requests for forgiveness. She snuggled in closer.

We stayed like that for a long moment until, with a pop, sound came back. I hadn’t realized it had gone. Thundering steps approached and then Luke and Wren were there. They encompassed us both in their embrace. Love, laughter, kindness, and loyalty poured into me with their touch. I calmed instantly. But there was something new there too. What was that? 

Placing my hand on Heather’s neck, I closed my eyes and focused. She tensed. Sitting up she stared at me warily.

“Madness and Lust?” I said, shocked. “I don’t understand. Those do not fit you at all.”

She smiled, brushing her hair behind her shoulder. “And why not? They are a part of each of us in varying quantities. They are my burden to bear just as fear and rage are yours, but they do not define me. Just as yours does not define you.”

Her fingers brushed my cheek and my eyes closed instinctively. I had no idea what to say to that.

“I know you believe that you are evil, but this is untrue. You are important to this world, a fallen now tasked to balance the emotions of this world. It is our penance.”

“Our penance? Fallen? As in angel?”

Luke nodded slowly. Wren placed a hand on my leg.

“Yes,” Wren said. “You will remember everything. Just give it time.”

 Published on OBW Blog April 9, 2021 © Tracey Canole  

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