My six month old son, Ben, has developed a phobia towards mirrors, and it’s really starting to freak me out.
The behavior in question began one late night a week or so ago. Nothing about that day seemed different than any other. We were just getting ready for bed. My wife, Emily, made an amazing dinner. But the majority of it ended up on Ben’s face. And so I took the baby upstairs to get cleaned up. He gurgled happily in my arms as we dramatically bounded up the creaking wood steps. Ben looked content as could be, with a belly full of broccoli and a diaper full of the remnants. But the second we waltzed into the bathroom, and passed in front of my wife’s antique mirror, the kid took one look at his reflection… And then screamed like the Devil himself was on the other side.
Now, you might think this is somewhat normal.
Babies do strange stuff. I’ll admit to that fact. I’m a new dad, but I can still attest, there is no shortage of parents out there claiming that their child can ‘see’ things. Some of my stranger family members are included in that category. It’s a natural reaction. Maybe it’s the way they stare off into space. Maybe it’s the way they giggle at nothing in particular. Babies can be spooky at times, and it’s hard to know what they are thinking sometimes.
But babies do not exhibit the exact same exorcistic behavior towards mirrors for five nights in a row. There’s nothing normal about that.
Eventually the problem became so bad that we couldn’t sleep. Every mirror in the house terrified my son. We couldn’t bathe him. We couldn’t sleep in our room. We couldn’t do any of the things that babies needed to do. The problem became more than we could manage. And so we took him to the Emergency Room one stress induced night that weekend.
We waited four hours for the staff. The baby didn’t complain, cry, or utter a peep the entire time. Sometime around ten, we were finally seen, and Ben looked happy as could be. The pediatrician on call made me test out my theory in person. So, just like at home, I carried the kid in front of their mirror, let him have his wicked little scream, and pulled him back. Once free of his reflection… the baby smiled happily. He looked at me and the doctor curiously. Like he couldn’t understand the ruckus. Like nothing had happened at all.
“I can’t explain it,” I muttered sleepily to the staff. “Outside the mirror, he’s fine. I could do this a thousand times and he’ll only scream the moment he sees his reflection. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s exhausting. We were hoping you might know what to do next.”
A nurse in the room tutted and eyed Ben suspiciously.
“Any other health issues?” she asked.
“No,” my wife replied. “Nothing. He doesn’t cry when I leave the room… he doesn’t wake us up at night… he doesn’t fight when I feed him. Just a good baby.”
The doctor nodded. The nurse nodded. My wife nodded. Everybody nodded but me.
“I think your son is fine.”
An albeit small wave of relief washed over me.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “Based on previous checkups, based on what you’re telling me here… this could be a behavioral thing. Some babies are fearless, some are scared of their own shadow. It does not mean anything is immediately wrong with any of them. I would expect Ben to grow out of this by the time of our next check up. If not, come see us again.”
“See,” my wife scolded me. “You have to stop worrying,“
I nodded. I told them that sounded fine.
But I didn’t stop worrying.
I tested out my mirror theory every night since.
On Monday, Ben screamed the moment we brought him in for a bath. Not much change there.
On Tuesday, I cover his eyes, and he yelped on the way out. Some progress. The kid was finally clean.
On Wednesday, Emily wanted him to face the phobia, so we let him scream in front of the mirror for an hour.
On Thursday, we put a sheet over the all the mirrors.
And miraculously… that worked. It wasn’t a solution. More like a bandaid. Ben still screamed whenever the sheet slipped. He still found new mirrors and tiny little reflective surfaces that upset him. But we both welcomed the small piece of duct tape on the problem that had taken over our day to day lives.
Friday passed by as normally as any other.
We both worked from home. Emily played with Ben in the morning. I took over for the afternoon. My son loved to bounce around in a little jumper, which we recently bought at Target, and I loved how long it kept him occupied. It was the type of contraption that kept him ‘standing’ with a bunch of different toys suspended over his head. Ben would swat at the tiny little monkey or pull on the cartoonish bird for hours. Sometimes he would just jump in place. He squeaked and giggled along with the songs they played. The kid loved it.
The jumper freed me up to finish up my last report of the week. My boss was all over me that day. My production had slipped along with my lack of sleep. I needed to finish the report in question on time, or there would be serious questions about my job, and none of us needed that. Nonetheless, sometime around three, a hideous shriek broke me free from the last few remaining cells on my spreadsheet.
“Jesus, what’s wrong buddy?”
Ben wailed horribly. Worse than before. He swatted at his eyes as if they were the source of his pain. I rushed over and tried to pull him out. But the baby’s tiny little feet kicked ferociously and fought me and the straps of the jumper equally.
“Easy, Big Ben, easy.” I whispered, trying not to alert my equally busy wife.
Finally, I got him loose. Fresh lines of tears stained Ben’s reddened face. A thin red cut branded his chubby cheek. I looked down and noticed a small mirror tied to the far right of the toy lineup on the jumper. It looked like something that might mimic a car’s rear view.
“I’m sorry, buddy. I didn’t notice. Did that bad mirror scare you again?”
The jumper went through it’s usual rotation of songs. I looked down for the power button, all the while trying to balance my son, and in the process of doing both… the mirror must have caught Ben’s point of view for a second time. The poor kid started howling uncontrollably again. I kicked the jumper and rushed to quiet Ben as a familiar song from Sesame Street played over the radio.
“Who’s that baby looking in the mirror? That baby looks just like you!”
The baby’s tiny little body shrieked so harshly that I felt his chest convulsing in my hands. I ripped the mirror off the jumper and pulled the batteries from the bottom. But the damn song kept playing.
“Who’s that baby looking in the mirror? That baby looks just like you!”
My wife rushed into the room. She pulled Ben out of my arms and immediately calmed him down. I sprinted the still singing jumper out into my driveway and spiked it onto the street curb. I stomped the tiny little glass mirror into a thousand little pieces and collapsed next to it; defeated, deflated, and exhausted from the stress of the moment.
I returned inside to a happy baby and confused wife.
Friday night and Saturday morning passed by without incident.
We kept the sheet over our bathroom and bedroom mirrors. We covered the shiny countertops, and refrigerators, and glass doors. We even took to moving curtains over the windows. We tried to close off any reflective surface we could find. But Ben kept finding the mirrors.
“We can’t live like this,” I insisted to my wife.
But she swore she didn’t mind.
Emily thought the best approach would be to make him forget about the fear. Once it wasn’t so present in his mind, maybe, he would move onto other things. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t believe in it. Not really. But the strategy seemed better than all our other options. All the doctors and online sites claimed the only thing to fix this could be time. And so we decided to give it to him. Emily went out with her mother, Saturday night, and I agreed to stay behind.
The ladies left sometime around seven.
Ben stayed up with me to watch the Knicks game. He ate his food. He drank his bottle. He pooped on schedule. He fell asleep sometime around eight, and I nearly joined him, but my work from earlier in the week beckoned like a bad habit. I carried my son into his room, put him in the crib, and moved our baby camera into position. I returned to the living room to get an early start on my spreadsheets.
It was monotonous work. My concentration quickly shifted from mirrors and doctors to formulas and cell formats. Eight thirty turned into nine, and nine thirty into ten.
The kid started screaming at eight thirty on the dot.
This time, something screamed with him.
I nearly jumped out of my skin. The scream sounded foreign, almost, animalistic. I darted into the nursery like a bat out of hell. I ignored the shadows. I ignored the mirrors. I focused on my son and my son alone. I scooped Ben up in my arms like a rescue worker and sprinted from the room like a headless chicken. We exited the room, through the kitchen, and towards the basement. We sprinted down the steps. There was a spare bedroom, down there, separate from the main room. There were no windows.
I rushed inside, locked the door behind us, and settled Ben safely into the sheets of our unused twin bed. I joined him a moment later and looked down under the covers to make sure he was okay.
And then we waited.
I felt a little foolish. Maybe I imagined the second scream, I told myself, maybe it just caught me off guard. But I knew that couldn’t be true. I heard it. As clear as day, I know I heard something. I looked under the covers. A pair of frightened bright blue eyes met mine. Ben gurgled and whimpered a bit. He didn’t seem all that phased. I did notice a second red scratch, just above his brow, and my heart dropped into my stomach. This one looked deeper than the first.
We sat there for a full fifteen minutes; waiting. I had no idea what to do next. I rationalized that if a real animal were in the house, maybe, it would not be safe to go upstairs. But part of me knew that was a lie. Every noise made me jump. We have baseboard heating, a furnace, and actual ducts for air conditioning. The expanding and contracting of the ducts combined with the kicks of the baseboards make for a dramatic soundtrack. Everytime I wanted to get up, a pipe would crack, and I would jump right back under the sheets with my son.
Sometime around ten thirty, however, I heard a sound that most certainly had nothing to do with gas and electric.An object made of glass crashed above our heads.
The shattered reverberated down from what to be the second floor all the way to the basement.
A sound of suction followed. It was like somebody had turned on a massive vacuum cleaner. The droning vibration of some unseen device whirred and spinned for several heart clenching seconds. And then it stopped. Just as suddenly as it started.
The suction was quickly replaced by heavy footsteps.
I placed my hand over my son’s mouth, carefully, so as to not alert whatever the fuck was upstairs of our position. But he cried anyway. I couldn’t blame him. Part of me wanted to cry too. Ben let out one terrible, petrified wail that started in the bottom of his belly and worked it’s way up through his already aching lungs. His shout pierced through my fingertips like they weren’t even there.
The footsteps upstairs grew faster.
It was like like they were unsure before but now had found what they were looking for. In seconds the feet descended from the second floor into the kitchen. A moment later the owner opened the first basement door.
I stood up out of bed, foolishly, as if to protect my son one final time. I grabbed a bat left behind in the room. The footsteps descended down the basement stairs. They paused at the bottom, as if listening. I waited for the intruder to approach the spare room. I leveled the bat against my shoulders and prepared myself to swing. My son cried, from under the sheets, and I knew it had to be time.
And then something very close by began to scream.
The sound felt guttural. It emerged in a deep, earthy tone that quickly escalated in volume and pitch. The scream filled my ears like a bell and produced a pounding throb in my head that made me unsteady on my feet. I could smell it’s stinking breath. I still can, to this day.
I grabbed my son’s head and held him close to me. He wailed horribly. I wanted to cry too. I wanted to open the door and started swinging the bat at whatever I could find. Parental instincts flooded my vein like a drug.
But just before anything further could happen, the garage door opened, and all Hell broke loose in an instant.
The heavy feet retreated rapidly up the stairs. The suction sound came, and went, in an instant. The aches and groans of the house returned to normal.
A few moments later, my wife came inside and asked if we were alright.
I tried to compose myself. I tried to calm down. I told Emily a burglar got inside. I disguised the real truth from her, even now, because I’m not sure how she’ll react.
I’m not sure how anyone will react.
I investigated the house that night. Everything looked the same in the living room. A couple chairs were pushed aside in the kitchen. My son’s room was untouched, and so was our master room, and all of the valuables were in their place. Only one object in the entire house appeared amiss. Sitting on the bathroom floor, covering the plain white tile, sat the ruins of my wife’s antique mirror.
Someone ripped it right off the wall.
“Welcome to the Discount Inn.”
It was late. Too late to be doing this kind of thing. It was ten o’clock, to be exact, on a weeknight, and the checkout kid at the desk looked no older than sixteen. He read through his mantra about the rates and rules. He told told me about the security deposit. I handed over my license and credit card and said –
“One room. Please.”
My wife still didn’t understand the reason for our little journey.
I rushed her out the door the moment she got home from the store. Call that reaction sheer panic. I didn’t tell her about the broken mirror. I didn’t tell her about the screaming, or the animal, if it could be called that. She barely managed to pack a bag before I ushered her into the side door of my Jeep and peeled down the driveway. At that counter of that Discount Inn, I tried my best to explain.
“Something got into the house, Em, I heard it. I took Ben and ran downstairs. But it followed us.”
Emily balanced our son on one hip and a pillowcase full of clothes in the other.
“What followed you?”
“I don’t know.”
“How can you not know?”
“I didn’t see it.”
My wife eyed me suspiciously. Ten years of marriage built up a certain level of trust. I got her out of the house on that basis alone. But she wasn’t stupid. Getting her any further would require some real answers.
“I heard it scream,” I added.
The hotel clerk gasped. Emily just looked confused.
“Shouldn’t we wait for the police?”
“I didn’t hear it leave. I think you scared it away. But I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t take the chance.”
I looked towards Ben. Emily nodded. I think some part of her finally understood.
And so we paid the kid, we took the key, and we hustled our giggling baby toward the second row of rooms. It was raining that night. I nearly slipped and fell on my face on the wet stairs. Enormous avalanches of white water leaked from cracked gutters to pound the pavement in rhythmic claps. Lightning danced across the trees dramatically and thunder bellowed so angrily that even Ben looked a little bit worried. The wind blew so strong that I had to slam the door behind us just to get it shut. When we arrived inside our room, I collapsed on the bed, and stared blankly at the fractured white paint on the ceiling.
“Where did you get those mirrors?” I asked.
My wife looked at me like I had six heads.
“They were my grandmother’s. You know that. I inherited them when she passed away.”
“Where did she get them?” I repeated..
“Stop fucking around, Emily, this is important.” I shouted.
I never yelled at my wife. I regretted it the moment the words left my lips. The confused look on her face was quickly exchanged for tears. She covered her face carefully and quickly exited to the bathroom. I followed in a mess of self pity and stupidity.
“Shit, I’m sorry, bug. I didn’t mean to yell,” I complained to the closed door. “Really. I didn’t. I’m just stressed. I think those mirrors are connected to this.”
She didn’t answer.
“Your Navajo grandma gave you the mirrors, right?” I asked carefully. “Before she died. Before we met. I remember you told me that. But the Navajo didn’t make glass, Em, none of the Native Americans did.”
“You think I want a fucking history lesson right now?” she sobbed.
“No,” I replied.
“We’re here, now, you got what you wanted. Just leave me alone.”
I listened to her. Better that than pushing my luck in an argument. I let Emily be and retreated to the safety of our assuredly bug infested bed. I fed Ben the last few remaining drops of his bottle. I held him in my arms for a bit and flicked through the remnants of the syndicated comedy shows on the shitty television. We almost fell asleep.
Fifteen minutes later, my wife still hadn’t emerged from the bathroom.
“Em, are you okay in there?”
“This is a stupid fight. I shouldn’t have yelled. I’m sorry. I love you. Can I please come in?”
“Okay, no answer means I’m coming in.”
I opened the door slowly. Emily was standing in front of the mirror.
She didn’t even answer me. She didn’t even move an inch. She just stared blankly at the picturesque mirror in front of the shower. I called for her again. I asked her if she was okay. When she didn’t respond, I noticed her face in the reflection.
Emily’s mouth was wide open. Her eyes looked like she wanted to scream. But her mouth just couldn’t get the sound out. I wanted to grab her. I wanted to get her the hell away away from that mirror. But the shock of the moment deadened my reflexes. Before I could react, the door slammed in my face.
I grabbed the handle and tried my best to pull it back open. It was jammed. I can’t explain it. One moment the handle worked perfectly and the next it froze up like it was locked. I pounded on the frame. I even kicked it a couple times. I begged my wife to open up. But the door stayed shut.
My son started to cry from the safety of his car seat.
Something started to shake in the bathroom. I could hear the sounds of clashing bodies and a struggle somewhere by the toilet. A bright white light poured underneath the frame. I stood back and watched in despair as the all too familiar sound of crashing of glass filled our small hotel room.
A woman screamed. An animal screamed along with her.
There was nothing I could do.
I collapsed in a helpless cowardly mess on the stained carpet of that crappy motel. A hell of a place to die, I thought. A hell of a place to lose your wife.
But there was nothing I could do.
The animalistic growls and the ripping and tearing of flesh from the other side of the door painted an all to vivid picture of what might be happening inside. I kicked the frame. I begged a few more times. I pulled out my phone and tried to call 911. But just before my fingers tapped the final ‘one’ in the emergency number, the bathroom door opened, and my wife walked out in a clean white towel.
“I’m hungry. We should order a pizza tonight, honey.“
“A bad man visited me in the bathroom, just then.”
The woman standing in front of me certainly looked like my wife. She matched all the physical characteristics to a tee. Over the years, Emily’s body became more familiar to me than my own. Bullet sized birthmarks painted her pale arms, just like all the familiar imaginary constellations we made up in bed. Dark, tangled hair dripped over her bright blue eyes, just like it always did when wet. She had just come out of the shower. Her slim (she would never call it that) body fit neatly into the confines of a pristine white bath towel. She looked… normal. She looked exactly the same. She looked like it could have been any other night at home. Only it wasn’t. Both of us knew it could never be. Not after what just happened. Not ever again.
“He walked right through that mirror.”
Emily pointed and spoke slowly. She used that soft, reassuring tone usually reserved for life’s most serious moments. That voice made me feel comfortable. That voice relaxed me. That voice made the stress drift from the roof of my chest and settle somewhere towards the back of my mind. I remembered it as my rock, in a river, in a storm, of life’s worst head and heartaches. You get the idea. Emily always had that way with me.
“The tribes called him that, you know. The Bad Man. For years and years. In dozens of different languages. Bad, bad, bad. All he wanted was a little trade. I don’t think that’s bad at all. No. I think he’s a good man.”
God, help me, she even smiled just like she used to smile. My wife’s thin red lips drew back graciously to reveal a row of perfectly white and rounded teeth. She dipped her head a bit, shyly, pushed her hair back, and eyed me coyly. I knew that look. My wife perfected that look. I fell in love with that look.
“He made me feel better, Matt, please believe me. I feel so much better. My soul is in a much better place.”
But I didn’t believe her. I didn’t believe a word of it.
“He could make you feel better, too, you know. He saw you. That night in the house.”
Because the woman standing in front of me could not be my wife.
“Well, aren’t you going to say anything?”
I backed up towards the carrier in the corner of the room that held my six month old son. Emily seemed annoyed as her long nails pierced deep ringlets into her hips.
I picked him up my son and gave him a tickle. Ben giggled right back at me happily. He looked at peace. He looked like he had no concern for the chaos that would soon form around him.
“I don’t understand.”
“What the Bad Man does is, he takes part of you, and he sends it away. To a safer place. To a happier place. Forever. You never ever have to leave that place, Matt. You can be with whomever, whenever, forever. Don’t you want that? Who doesn’t want that?”
I looked back at her stupendously. I knew that was a lie. My wife would never leave her son willingly.
“Then the other part of you, of course, the physical part, your manifestation… that part is left behind. For us. ‘For something wicked to play’. You don’t want to be around for that anyway.”
Emily giggled as she air quoted that last line. Her voice sounded foreign. Deeper, maybe, and more animated than usual. She never laughed like that. She never even air quoted, let alone air quoting something as strange as that line. The shape of my wife walked forward elegentantly and let the towel fall dramatically around her ankles. Her hot breath raked along my shoulder. The stench of rot and bacteria filled the air in nauseating waves. My stomach turned as Ben fussed from my arms. The woman reached out to touch him. But I didn’t let her. I dodged her hand and darted towards the door.
“He only wants the baby, baby. Part of the bargain. It’s not a bad deal, you know. One little shit’s soul for the price of eternal happiness.”
Should I laugh? Should I cry? Laugh, cry, RUN, or die. Those were my options my sleep and oxygen deprived brain returned back. I followed none of them and stood there like a stupid statue.
She hissed. The beautiful but horrid fucking creature in front of me actually hissed. Bits of spit flew through the edges of those beautiful teeth and dry lips that I kissed so many fucking times before. Her tongue forked at the end in a way I never recognized. When she slapped me, I felt the sting of blood forming from the sharp edges of those damned ruby red nails.
“Now, why would you call me that?”
Ben started to cry. I backed away. I knew we were running out of time.
“Silly boy, stop playing games.”
Emily’s eyes faded from their familiar blue to an unsettling red. Her wet, beautiful hair clumped together in bizarre tendrils that dangled in front of her eyes as she approached me. She looked like she wanted to hurt me again. She looked like she wanted blood.
But my fingers curled around the handle as I turned it evenly to the left.
“Why would you call me by the name of that slut when you know full well I just cut her insides up in the sink?”
I pulled open the door and hustled my son through the narrow opening. I slammed it shut behind me. The creature that called itself my wife howled from the other side. It abandoned the youthful, happy tone and resumed the demonic bellowing of an animal chained in a cage that it would soon escape. Long nails dug deep holes in the frame of the pitiful little Discount Inn door. The creature screamed something, the same something, over and over again, as her fist and feet wailed uncontrollably against the door that held her back.
But I didn’t wait to hear what it had to say.
The path into Hawthorne Woods begins at the top of a very steep slope. The walkway is littered with weeds and surrounded by sky high evergreens on either side. A single dilapidated sign marks the entry point. The descent downward is treacherous, if you’re not careful. There’s little room to your left or to your right. There are no railings, or tree branches, or other forms of support to hold onto. A local boy scout troop built some steps, back in the nineties, but the wood chipped and eroded over the years. The slick pine leaves scattered on top rendered them useless along with inactivity. You really needed to know where to place your feet.
The rain doesn’t help this situation much either.
The storm never broke for a second that night. The steady rhythm of tiny drops pattering away on my windbreaker had a soothing effect. It kept my mind on the task at hand. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. My baby boy, Benjamin, sniffled a bit from the comfort of a pouch-like pack that kept him close my chest. In my hands, I held the disheveled remains of a tent, a Remington rifle, and a loose plan in mind for the next few hours.
“Are you ready, bud? Adventure time with Daddy!“
Ben smiled at me slyly.
“Do you trust Daddy?“
“Of course you do. Not much of a choice, right?”
The last step down into Hartshorne felt like salvation to my overextended knees. I sat on the soaked wood and surveyed the overgrown marsh that was once my childhood stomping grounds. The path was overgrown. Mosquitos and gnats hung in the thick air in excess of what I ever remembered. Remnants of skunk cabbage and discarded beers clung to the thorn bushes like ornaments. The trees had taken back most of the small lake on the other side of the marsh. The rain flooded the creeks over their capacity. But even with the dismal weather, spinning bugs, the moon and my prior knowledge had some advantages in this particular corner of the forest. I knew where to go next.
“Daddy’s got a plan, bud. Daddy’s always got a plan.”
I immediately recognized the old gnarled tree that jutted out like a seat. I could still see the tiny bridge over the stream. My mom’s old house still loomed behind our backs like a dimly lit mansion. The woods dipped up and down through the foothills of the Appalachian Trail. But the path only extended one direction; west.
“Looks like home, Big Ben.”
Twenty yards or so ahead the route opened up to a wide clearing about fifteen feet wide. I pitched the corners of our tent around some nearby trees and laid of the wrinkled base with my son still attached to my chest. Once the overhead was set up, I laid him down, and nailed the remaining stakes into place.
“Bed time for you, buddy.”
I kept replaying conversations, trying to find something, anything to help my fracturing family out of this situation. The heart wrenching drive away from the Discount Inn gave me plenty of time to think. I dissected nearly every single encounter pertaining to the broken glass sitting on my bathroom floor. I focused on one morning, in particular, the one in which I first met my future mother-in-law.
I was nervous, that day. So nervous that Emily had to hold my hand just to keep it from shaking. The meeting was the first of only a few occurrences. But in my memory, this woman stood clear as day, larger than life, in the center of her living room; marveling at the vast collection of antiques in her living room.
“Do you see those two mirrors?” she pointed. “Navajo glass. They don’t make it anymore. Ugly, heavy things in the end. My own mother used to say, even if it shatters, you’re supposed to wear it as jewelry. They’re amulets. Windows, I believe, she called them.”
The poor woman passed away from heart complications later that year. The grief from her death overtook our small family. My wife always claimed she would never be the same. I never did hear much more about the mirrors after that. They sort of became a sore topic at the house soon after that. But it was the last part of Melanie’s comment stuck out to me now like a sore thumb. I only wished it hadn’t take me so long to see it.
I looked down at the two large pieces of Navajo glass now tied around Ben and my neck.
“Let’s hope so.”
The next few hours fell into a quiet monotony. I watched my son sleep. I watched the rain drip and pool into even little puddles outside the tent’s foundation. I listened to the thunder crack and harass the swaying trees around me. I waited, mostly, for what I assumed must happen next. The woods have a unique way of amplifying and isolating the most unusual sounds. I counted on that fact more than any other. Sometime, just after three in the morning, I was not disappointed.
The creature sounded like a large animal beaching itself from the water.
The suction alone seemed massive. A waterfall of dripping liquid followed soon after as the animal dragged its first step forward somewhere by the lake. Adrenaline coursed through my veins like a drug. My plan fell into place. I knew what I had to do next. I turned my back to the general area, held up the glass, and waited for something to appear in the reflection.
But nothing did.
The cracked little piece of Navajo glass did not give much in the way of line of sight. My surroundings appeared normal. The tent sat in the same position. That same jutted tree stood out in the distance. The wind bellowed into the branches like drunks. But other than that, nothing appeared to be amiss. The night looked the same as any other.
That is until Ben started to cry.
It was like a bad omen. The moment he cried, the blood in my pounding veins turned to ice. I could feel the air around me getting colder. I could feel something unnatural near me. I… I panicked. I brandished the rifle, vaguely threatening anyone or thing that hoped to approach. I fidgeted frantically with the glass and backed away towards the entrance of the tent. Finally, the mirror found paydirt, and my breath caught in my chest.
The shadow of a man stood approximately twenty feet to my left. He paused. He looked at me curiously. He hesitated a moment. Then he started walking towards us slowly, and confidently, with one foot placed lazily in front of the other; over the sinking marshlands and up towards the campsite. Like it were any other day in the park.
“That’s right. Come on, you son of a bitch,” I muttered under my breath. “I’m right here.*”
I pushed the mirror back and forth to try and get a better vantage point. The man closed the distance between the clearing quickly. He stood tall. Well over six feet tall, to be exact, which dwarfed my significantly smaller frame. The blurriness made the shadow look almost familiar. The moon dipped through the trees and reflected just right. Dark, tanned skin met long, matted hair hair that fell in waves to the shoulders. I couldn’t see all of the features on his face, but I could see one thing, and that is the fact that he was smiling. Rows of sharp, white teeth stuck out like daggers in his mouth. They were hard to miss.
In the middle of the woods, all alone, the Bad Man must have thought he finally got his prize. He must have thought he would get everything he wanted. I must have looked like a juicy steak, to him, starting there like a sheep in the middle of the forest. But the son of a bitch was missing one key detail. Bait is best served cold, and bullets hurt a lot of a lot more than spears.
I waited just a little bit longer, with my back turned to the threat. I waited until I could hear the creature’s footsteps just a few yards away from our campsite. I waited until my son, Ben, started screaming so loud that his tantrum could have woken the neighbors. I waited, until my shot could be perfect, because I knew there would not be many more if the first one missed.
Then I turned and spent every bullet I brought.
I didn’t know if my shots landed. I don’t know if I actually hit anything more than a tree. It was chaos. Without the advantage of the glass in my hand, the shadow disappeared in front of me as suddenly as it arrived. I sprayed the general area over and over again, stopping stupidly to reload each time, check my surroundings, and fire again. I thought I heard something fall. I thought I heard something scream. But I couldn’t be sure. The storm and my son’s crying made everything other sound seem soft and subtle. After one full minute of extended gunfire, I paused, and surveyed the damage around me.
I scooted into the tent and quickly tied Ben back to the pouch on my chest. The tears were drying on his face. He smiled at me. A weird, creepy smile, like he knew a secret he wouldn’t share.
Could it really be that easy?
I picked up the glass and tried to find the shadow in its reflection once again. I checked the places I fired. I checked the lake. I even checked the path that took us into the woods in the first place. Not a single trace of the shadow in the mirror remained.
I could hear voices in the neighborhood behind us. Human voices, this time, thank God. Somebody heard the gunshots. I sprinted up and out the stairs of Hartshorne to my parked car on the street. I plopped Ben into his seat and wrapped the straps around him quickly. The next part of my plan would be guesswork. If the Bad Man could die, and if he did die, maybe my wife would be okay.
The road to the Discount Inn only sat a short five minutes from the woods. I sped through every hairpin turn and gambled every yellow light. I pulled into the parking lot, sweaty and exhausted, at just past three thirty. I took a breath, caught myself, and stared into the wide eyes of my son in the rearview mirror.
“You ready, bud? Moment of truth.”
I carried Ben up the rain soaked steps of the motel to room thirteen. Those few moments felt like walking the plank. I waited for him to cry. I waited for the inevitable wailing of the demonic creature currently occupying my wife’s room and body to fill the quiet motel hallway.
But the chaos never came.
Rain drizzled evenly on the railings. That same steady pattern regained its soothing effect. I knocked slowly on the door. Two quick knocks, at first, then one slow one. Just like we always did at home. There was a stirring in the bed. I could hear that much. Somebody got up and walked slowly over to the door. When the voice called out, I listened carefully, and bit my tongue to keep from shouting in relief.
I paused. I needed to be sure.
“*Matt? Are you okay? I was so worried.”
Emily opened up the door in a bright white nightgown. She looked beautiful but exhausted. The wrinkles on her forehead and the lines on her eyes played out more prominently than ever. When she spoke, she sounded sick, or like she had just been woken up from a long sleep.
“Where did you guys go? I just woke up and no one was home.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t believe it. Not yet. I turned around and carefully held up the Navajo glass. I angled it just right, with the edges in both hands, so it’s reflection gazed back like a camera directed at my tiny little family.
Ben and my wife smiled peacefully by my side.