Reflections on Reflection
by John Kiste
I awoke in the cracked leather high-backed chair where I had apparently spent most of the night. The room was washed in daylight, albeit dull daylight. My eyes were taking their good old time focusing. The prickling in the front of my head alternated with the throbbing in the back of it. My temples were playing a discordant symphony of their own, and yet I heard no external sound of any kind. No one was in the room; there was no talking and no movement. Moreover, no noise struggled through the window I assumed broke up the wall to my left.
I figured I was safe enough, and could take my time determining my location. Something about the very idea of safety made my pulse quicken, and I blinked my heavy lids and concentrated. Only a blank wall in front of me. Blank like an eggshell, and sporting a scallop-edged mirror and nothing else. There were curtains to my left in my peripheral vision, so I had pegged the light source. This was what I saw, and I momentarily realized it was all I could see for now. My arms and legs were not bound or encumbered in any way; nor did I feel injured; nonetheless, through drugs or lethargy I was utterly incapable of movement. I could barely turn my head an inch without intense pain, and a numbness I had never before experienced held me in thrall.
What had I done, or what had been done to me? I knew who I was—a not very nice fellow who tended to favor booze and women and other stimulants above gentlemanly pursuits. So I was hardly surprised to awaken in odd surroundings. But I rarely blanked on the entirety of the previous evening’s goings-on. This rather ornate mirror sans frame might help. I could see the reflection of the window curtains. They matched the color of the wall save a spread pattern of a type of dull pink impressionism. Very ugly and cheap. A darker repeating pattern next to the window was impossible to nail down from where I sat—it might have been a shutter, a door, a bookshelf, or simply a section of paneling or wallpaper. I said, “Hello,” waited, and repeated my tentative greeting. I was clearly alone, and still not able to rise, or even move much.
It was clear to me that the numbness of the extremities was dissipating very slowly, so for the moment I stared again at the mirror. The only other item to be seen within it was a table lamp proudly hoisting a single naked bulb. The mirror was too high on the wall to reflect the table itself, and the lampshade, if there had ever been one, was not in the image. Maybe I had been to a party in this apartment, if apartment it was. A wild party. It was the sort of event I gravitated to—card games and debaucheries. That would account for my pounding head, my lost memories, and maybe even the missing lampshade. Probably someone’s drunken uncle had worn it home as a trophy and a trope.
I thought about this theory as I wiggled my toes. Although the pieces fit well enough, something nagging in my fevered brain assured me I was wrong. I had definitely come here for a reason, and I could not shake the conviction, bred far back in my subconscious, that a woman had been involved. Yes, that was a part of it. I had come upon an old associate late last night at a club, and we had at some point wandered back to her place—this place. Our reasons for the junket had been base enough, but they had not been carnal. Yes, it was Madge I had come upon. In the dismal past we had dealt in marketing sensory heightening experiences together. She still had some good stuff while I myself was sorely lacking. That’s why I was here.
But why was I still here? My right leg could now move but when I stretched it forward it was blocked by an ottoman or something. Now that the sensation had returned I plainly felt a sharp pinpoint stabbing in my hip. Of course, that’s why I had been immobilized. Madge had paralyzed me with a shot of something from a hypodermic. I remembered her jabbing me. That bitch. What had that been about? My head moved a bit to the right and I cast my eyes down and discovered why the lamp had no shade. It was beside me on the floor, dented and twisted. There had been a bit of a dust-up. That cheating Madge had had the guts to try and palm off cut and inferior goods at full price. Yeah, she had been drunk, but to think she would take me. Or even to think she could. I remembered yelling and slapping her. Things did get knocked about.
I was drawn to the curtains again. Something about the pattern was wrong. It did not repeat at the right intervals. Not all of those pink smudges seemed to be woven into the fabric. Why had Madge given me the needle? Now I recalled her posture at the time; her head had been near my waist, and my hands had been somewhere near her neck. Yeah, she had been trying to knock me unconscious after I got wise to her con. I had realized this, as well. That was why I had dug in my pocket for my blade. I really did not like the look of those curtains.
As I gazed at them, terrified, two things happened in quick succession. I suddenly sat far forward in the leather chair and hit the obstruction on the floor. It was not an ottoman. A second later, someone started beating wildly on the door.
I am a horror writer who was previously the president of the Stark County Convention & Visitors’ Bureau and a Massillon Museum board member. I am a double-lung transplantee and organ donation ambassador, a McKinley Museum planetarian and an Edgar Allan Poe impersonator who has been published in Third Flatiron, A Shadow of Autumn, Modern Grimoire, Dark Fire Fiction, Theme of Absence, NonBinary Review’s H. G. Wells and The Odyssey anthologies, and whose work was included in Unnerving Press’s Haunted Are These Houses, and Camden Press’s winner of the 2019 Preditors and Editors readers’ poll for best anthology, Quoth the Raven.
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