Man in the Mirror
A cruise ship should be considered a protected place. I don’t think that is an unreasonable expectation from the Fortune 500 company you are trusting with your family’s safety.
It sure as hell was not cheap.
The vacation was a three-night celebration of my father’s eightieth birthday. All fourteen kids and grand-kids were convened. That prospect alone was a reminder in why some families should stay away outside the holidays.
But Dad insisted we all keep the peace.
“It’s only three days!“
He wheezed that line the entire time we were checking in. The old man did pay for the whole thing himself.
My brother’s perfect wives and brood of beautiful babies made the trip all the more complicated. Shuffling around the ship in the soul sucking heat was about as much a struggle as satisfying seven cousins under age seven. Three for Steve and Shayna, three for Sean and Cynthia, and finally my four-year-old son; Jack, and wife; Emily.
We were free to do as we please for the entirety of the journey. There was only one condition. Each night at six we were required to meet at the only formal restaurant on board.
The ship steamed off the port sometime around five the first night, and after drinks on deck we rushed down to the cabin to get ready for dinner. Em was washing Jack in the shower when I saw the man in the mirror for the first time.
Honestly, I was not paying much attention to my reflection. My eyes were down at my tie, struggling through the knot memorized since grade five. But when I looked up, there he was, staring back from the corner on the right side.
You know when, in movies or music videos, the shape of a man’s face appears in the corner of the screen and sings along to whatever background is showing? It was the same kind of thing. The only portion of the man that was visible was his head. He was my age, with a long caterpillar mustache and clean shaven sideburns hidden under a wide brim hat. The beginnings of an old fashioned three piece suit poked out from the bottom of his shadowy frame.
When I stepped back in shock, he looked just as surprised. When I shouted for my wife, his mouth opened side by side.
I darted out of the reflection of the mirror and jumped on the bed like a child just as Emily came stamping out of the shower, half naked and annoyed.
“What? What are you yelling about!” Emily asked.
“Why did you yell?” she repeated.
“There was a man in the mirror,” I replied quietly.
Emily took a hard look at it. Then another long look at me. In a few seconds, she threw up her still wet hands and let them fall at her side.
“What are you talking about? You saw a character?“
“No, there was a man in that mirror. I saw him.“
I hopped back up and walked towards them. But the only thing looking back through the glass was our collected confusion.
“Must have been one of those Smart-Mirror things…” I muttered.
“Can we go to dinner now?” Em asked after turning on the blow-drier.
The meal was uneventful. Steve and Sean argued about the most effective way to steer around storms. Their kids complained, and Emily’s sea sickness steadily got worse with the rocking waves. Jack was about the happiest camper in the whole crew with his broccoli stew.
Sleep came easily early that night. The steward forgot to give an extra bed, so all three of us were crammed into one. The lapping waves were reassuring at first, but I prepared myself for a sick wife and four-year-old the following morning.
I was right.
Emily and Jack spent most of the day throwing up in the shower. I went outside to get some fresh air for a half hour, and came back at five to find Jack ready to roll. Em had finally fallen asleep.
The first words out of his mouth when I opened the door were –
“Daddy! The man in the mirror was back. He talked to me this time!“
“He talked? What did he say, Jack?” I asked.
My son giggled.
“He didn’t actually talk, but his lips moved and I know what they said!“
“What did he say?” I repeated while walking over to the phone in our room.
“Get away,” he giggled, again.
“Get away,” he was more serious this time.
My son screamed the last part, so loud he woke Em up. Then he raised his arms over his head in a foreboding way. That made my fingers dart across the numbers much quicker.
“Hello, yes, operator. Do you have men in your mirrors?“
I realized how bizarre the question sounded as soon as it came out of my lips. My wife rolled over in bed and gave an exhausted look towards my panic tone.
“This again?” she asked.
The operator gave an awkward pause, then replied.
“No, sir, we do not have any men in our mirrors.“
“Could it be like, a character from the movies or something?” I asked hopefully.
“No sir… there are no men in our mirrors.“
I thanked her and hung up the phone, unsure what to do next. Then I checked my watch.
“Okay, we gotta go to dinner. Can you make it Em?“
She nodded and started to pull on her pants from earlier in the day. I shuffled through the motions of getting Jack ready, all the while keeping an eye on the strange mirror in the hallway. There was nothing plugged into it. The glass was set sturdily in wood without any cracks or blemishes.
There was absolutely nothing strange about the thing at all, so I decided to put it out of my mind.
At dinner, I tried to find a way to bring it up gracefully. I failed.
“Anyone having weird issues with the mirror in their cabin?“
Steve chuckled. “You would be the one to have a ‘mirror’ problem on vacation.“
Sean choked on his water. There was a lot of laughter around the table at that one. Even Emily joined in between chugs of her cold water.
My face turned red. “No, it’s not just me… Jack and I saw a man in the mirror the past two nights. I thought it was one of those Smart things but the receptionist says they don’t even have them.“
Sean got up and started to moonwalk. “I’m starting with the man in the mirror…“
Everyone was hysterical at that one. You would think they had never heard a Michael Jackson joke. My father was pounding the table while Steve’s wife was wiping tears. Even the little kids were giggling and pointing at me and my son.
“Whatever, forget it,” I added nonchalantly.
The second night’s sleep was a lot worse than the first. The idiotic captain assured over the loudspeaker that it would be another rough night at seas. Clothes hangers in the closet shifted back and forth recklessly while rain pounded at the sliding door to our deck. Emily had to get up several times to vomit, and Jack was physically shaking underneath our sheets.
When the dawn came we were relieved to see clear skies and calm seas.
Our final day at sea was a return trip to port. There was no real destination of our cruise. The only island visit had been cancelled due to bad weather. The cruise-line gave us $100 credit to ease the pain. I used most of it in the casinos while Jack and Emily enjoyed their only healthy time on deck soaking up the sun.
That night at the dinner table I kept my mouth shut. The families argued about politics and sports, or the best wine to pick, with my father presiding over the whole thing like a judge.
My mind was stuck on the paradox of the man in the mirror, and what the hell could actually be done about it.
Eventually, we called it quits and headed back to the cabins with a plan to pack and disembark early. When we got to the room, Jack darted into the bathroom to empty the remains of his horrible three-day diet.
That was good. He never saw what came next.
The lights were out. I struggled with the switch for a few minutes while Emily slipped out of her dress. She looked beautiful. Her slim features were illuminated by the wind pushing through the open blinds. I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around her waist, pulling her back as I kissed her neck softly.
I turned my head to the left to see our dazed reflection in the cool glass mirror. But it wasn’t us looking back.
The man took up the entire frame. His neck was redder than the shade of Emily’s underwear. There was a slit at the center of it, and I could see the bones and muscles that comprised his throat. His mouth was somehow still open and gaping like a trout. His lips suggested the same soundless song my son said he saw.
Em saw too.
We both screamed at the same time. Seemingly in response, the man’s face grew serious. His neck realigned in a sickening display. A black-gloved hand peaked rose from the corner and pointed to the right.
A shape rose out of our still-made bed-sheets.
Emily whimpered by my side. I reached for the door exiting our cabin and found it locked from the inside.
In a swift motion, the sheets fell from the shape, and a man sat up from the bed and placed his two feet to the side like we had disturbed his sleep.
Then he stood.
He was tall. That was evident when his head almost hit the ceiling. But he was old – with white whiskey hair and a faded crewman jacket.
“You’re not supposed to scream until you get in bed with me,” he offered in a raspy voice that made him cough afterwards.
Emily gasped out loud.
He took a few steps forward and his outline became more clear. The man had white paper skin that cracked and crackled at every corner. But he moved surprisingly well for his age.
He put his hands in his pockets and contemplated us. Then he started whistling softly as he tapped his tattered boots.
I shoved my arms in front of my wife and the bathroom door.
“Ooooh… is little Jacky taking a little shit?” the man asked, inching closer playfully.
“He’s had some real nasty shits this weekend. And I have smelled all the shits on this ship,” he chuckled. “Nasty little shitter, that one.*”
I heard my son whimper from the bathroom.
After taking another step forward, the man paused in front of the mirror contemplatively.
His confidence ran away in moments, and he dropped the fine rolled up line of rope held in his hand.
“You?” he asked his reflection.
The hesitation was enough for my wife to reach out with a startlingly quick kick to the groin.
In seconds the old asshole was on the ground and she was hovering over him. Still in her panties, my warrior wife landed another swift kick to his head that left him unconscious. I grabbed the key ring sitting on his waist.
We grabbed Jack and tumbled out into the open hallway.
Emily and I carried our screaming son up four floors to reception. Every door was opened as we passed. The crime was reported immediately and the perpetrator was arrested in our room in connection to our case and several others like it.
What I did not say was the man in the mirror that provided the warning.
I saw him smiling just before he faded away.