Dead of Winter ~ Second Place
Photo Credit: Allie_Caulfield
The snow came down in large, billowy flakes blanketing the streets of downtown Pittsburgh. Cars began clogging Liberty Avenue as rush hour quickly drew near. Jillian briskly walked along the street as people began pouring out of offices. Her thoughts were racing through the events of the past week as she pushed through the crowds of commuters. She couldn’t explain what was happening to her; the erratic behavior that she had exhibited was getting worse. Friends and family berated her to seek professional help and finally, she had given in to their pleas.
Her cell kept ringing. No doubt people were eager to hear how her appointment with the psychiatrist had gone. The calls continued to go unanswered as she walked on, consumed by her thoughts. The doctor that she spoke with didn’t offer a diagnosis, but was quick to list myriad possibilities of things it could be. Dissociative identity disorder, psychotic disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, and a few others she couldn’t even remember. Thank God she didn’t divulge everything that was going on, otherwise she might be involuntarily committed to a psych ward.
The doctor wanted her to meet with him again in a week. She agreed and set up a time with the receptionist, although she had no intention of keeping the appointment. Whatever was wrong with her was escalating quickly, becoming more severe with every passing day. The missing time had got longer and longer, the worst being a period of six hours that she couldn’t account for.
That was the scariest for Jillian. Waking up in strange places, not knowing why she was there or what had happened. Looking around to see strangers staring back at her as if she were insane. But I am insane, aren’t I? she thought. What was even worse than waking up in weird places was the face. The first time she’d seen it was two weeks ago while she was getting ready for work. She had got out of the shower and stood in front of the mirror. Her reflection had stared back at her as it had done every time before, but this time, something was different. Her visage looked darker, more menacing. And then it did something unexpected. It winked at her.
Jillian paused as commuters shuffled in front of her towards their waiting bus. She glanced at the shop window to her left and stared at her reflection. The cute, blond, bright-eyed girl stared back. Other pedestrians walked past, blocking her view. Her visage reappeared, causing her to gasp. The dark persona with jet black hair and dark eyes replaced the innocent version of herself. Just as quickly as she appeared, her “negative,” as she had come to call her, pulled her black lips into a cruel sneer.
Trying to shake the creepy feeling from her spine, Jillian continued towards her loft in the Strip District. Twenty minutes later, she was standing in the vestibule of her building, fumbling for her keys. The fluorescent light above her flickered as she focused on the lock and not at her reflection in the door window. The key slid into the lock and just as she turned the tumblers, her eyes met the gaze staring back at her from the window glass. Her negative glared at her with malice. In an instant, its arm raised and pounded against the window. Glass shattered all around her as the window gave way to the invisible force behind it.
She pushed open the door and ran up the four flights of stairs in front of her. She rushed over to the kitchen sink and vomited. Panic was setting in. Wiping her mouth, she quickly packed a bowl and lit it, inhaling the THC-laden smoke. Not the best solution by far, but one that allowed her to calm down somewhat. Her cell phone rang from within her purse. Recognizing the ringtone, she pulled her phone out and answered the call.
“Cooper?” she asked, already knowing that it was her boyfriend.
“Hey, sweets, how ya doing? You having a better day today?” he asked, genuine concern in his voice.
“Yeah, it’s been okay,” she replied, hoping that the shaking in her voice wasn’t too obvious.
“Hmm… that doesn’t sound very convincing. I’m coming over, are you at home?”
“Yes, I’m home,” she said softly. Perhaps being in his arms was just what she needed.
“Great, I’m just getting off work now. I’ll be there in just a few, baby,” Cooper replied, the cheer in his voice doing a better job at masking his concern than hers did.
And with that, the conversation ended. Cooper worked as a dockhand at Wholey’s Fish Market, the only seafood wholesaler in town. Located in the Strip District a mere four blocks away from her apartment, he’d be there in a matter of minutes.
Jillian walked through the dark loft and sat on the windowsill. Cracking the oversized window, she lit a cigarette and stared out into the city as the cold December air whisked away the smoke as it passed over her lips. The long tube of ash hung precariously from her cigarette as minutes passed. A knock at her door startled Jillian out of her thoughts, causing the ash to fall. Cursing, she stood up and brushed herself off as she made her way to the front door. Normally, Cooper would have just let himself in, but tonight she wasn’t taking any chances. She quickly unlocked the two dead bolts and chain that secured the heavy steel door.
Cooper’s glowing smile filled the doorway as she pulled the door open. “‘ello love” he said, in his best British cockney. His horrible foreign accents always made her laugh. His cheeky grin slowly faded as he observed none of the usual reactions to his attempts at humor.
“Right, ok, what happened?” he asked as he entered the loft, throwing his snow-covered jacket on the nearby coat hook. The smell of fish hung heavily on his body, one of the unpleasant side-effects of working at the fish market.
“I don’t know. Nothing. Well, something, but…” she started, but then managed to redirect Cooper. “Say, how about you hit the shower and get that funk off yourself and I’ll tell you all about it when you’re done, okay?” she managed to say with a brief, halfhearted smile.
“All right, deal,” he said, as he walked towards the bathroom. “Hey, what happened to the door downstairs? The window was all smashed out.”
“Go get clean,” she responded as she turned towards the coffeemaker.
Cooper stood there a moment longer, watching Jillian make an unnecessary fuss over the coffeemaker. Whatever happened today and whatever happened to the door downstairs had her pretty spooked, that much he knew. Knowing better than to push the issue, he turned and made his way to the bathroom.
She stood there staring at the coffeemaker, wondering what she should say to him. He deserved to know, but he would never believe her. How could he? How could anyone, for that matter? Yes honey, I think that my reflection is trying to kill me. She almost laughed at how ridiculous that sounded in her head and could only imagine how it would seem if she actually said it aloud. The shower turned off. Jillian turned and slowly walked towards the bathroom.
The air was hot and thick, fogging up the mirror. Cooper was at the sink brushing his teeth. Jillian moved up behind him, reaching out, touching his back. She slid her hand over his ribcage and let it stop once it reached his toned abs. Her other hand caressed up over his shoulder and across his muscular chest, until she had successfully enveloped him in her embrace. Feeling him stand a little straighter, she began to kiss the nape of his neck, slowly making her way to the side and up to his ear, which she gently, playfully, tugged on with her teeth.
Cooper tilted his head, basking in the affection that she showered upon him. He thought it was strange that Jillian was being so affectionate towards him, especially now. With all the difficulties that she’d been having recently, intimacy had been the last thing on her mind. He wasn’t going to complain though. If this was what she needed, then he would gladly oblige.
“I’m sorry that I’ve been so crazy lately,” Jillian whispered, pressing against his back.
“Aw baby, it’s ok. I just want to make sure you’re all right. I’m here for you for whatever you need,” he said with a smile.
Cooper reached in front of him and wiped his hand across the steam-fogged mirror. He smiled at her in their reflection. Jillian felt her heart leap into her throat, as her negative stood behind her boyfriend, one arm wrapped around him. A maniacal grin slowly spread across her pale face.
“You’re too good to me sweetheart,” the negative whispered, leaning into Cooper’s ear.
Jillian couldn’t move. She couldn’t talk. She thought she had heard her own voice whisper something, but all she could focus on were those black, empty eyes of her negative taunting her as it caressed her boyfriend’s naked chest. Suddenly, in a blink of an eye, the negative raised a large knife to Cooper’s throat.
Before Jillian could react, the negative pulled the blade across his neck. The flesh parted as blood showered the bathroom. She stared into Cooper’s eyes, which were wide with disbelief. She could see life quickly escaping as his eyes lost focus. The negative released him from its macabre embrace and he crumpled to the floor with one last gurgle of breath.
Jillian stared at her now-dead boyfriend as the blood beneath him creeped further out across the tile. Slowly, she allowed her eyes to move to the mirror. Gazing back at her, the negative raised the large knife to its mouth and ran its tongue along the edge, licking Cooper’s blood off the cold blade.
A chill ran down Jillian’s spine as she spun away from the mirror and darted out of the bathroom, slipping her way through the large pool of Cooper’s blood. She stopped when she got to her kitchen. Looking down, she saw the large knife clutched in her hand. Immediately, her stomach clenched and she doubled over and vomited. She had no recollection of picking up the knife. Tears streamed down her face, leaving clean paths across her blood-covered skin. Dropping the knife, Jillian ran out of her apartment as fast as her trembling legs could go.
She exploded from the building and out into the night, the icy air blasting her face. Pivoting on the snow-covered pavement, she began to sprint towards the heart of the city, the image of Cooper lying dead on her floor burned into her mind. The mirror-daemon licking the knife blade assaulted her psyche. She was that daemon, wasn’t she?
Jillian ran as fast as the snow would allow. Snow pelted her relentlessly as she continued to run away from the nightmare at her apartment. Safety and sanity were an illusion; there was no running from what had happened. Every window that she passed, glimpses of the negative could be seen blurring by.
Her thoughts were racing about as fast as she was running. She kept asking herself the same questions: What is it? What does it want? Am I going insane? Did I kill Cooper or was it the reflection?
“We killed him.”
The voice startled Jillian. She realized that she had stopped running and was now standing along Liberty Avenue, in the heart of the city. Turning her head to the right, her eyes saw the familiar visage of the mirror-daemon in the store window before her. It dawned on her that this thing had actually answered the question that she was thinking. It was trying to communicate.
Swallowing her fear, she took a step closer to the reflection and forced herself to look at it. It seemed like the entire reflection was different from its real counterpart. Before it was just the daemon-thing that was all twisted and unnatural, but now, the entire cityscape in the window looked like a twisted, dark, and sinister place.
“My God…” Jillian whispered as she continued to study the surreal images before her.
“God has nothing to do with us,” the daemon replied.
“What are you?” Jillian cried.
Bystanders slowly filtered by, giving the crazy woman who was yelling at the empty jewelry store a wide berth.
“What do you want from me?” she screamed again.
Suddenly, the window glass liquified as the daemon’s arm lurched forward towards Jillian. The surface of the window warped and morphed into the arm and hand of the daemonic reflection. Before she could move, the glassy hand palmed the top of her head like a basketball. Its grip was like a vise. If the thing squeezed any harder, her skull would surely pop like a grape.
“I am you and you are me… now it’s my turn to travel free…” hissed the thing. “A soul that’s split is what we’ll be… you’re the love and hate is me. Destined to suffer eternally…”
“Why are you here?” Jillian asked, squirming to free herself.
The daemon grinned the same maniacal smile that it did as it ingested her boyfriend’s blood in the bathroom. It leaned closer towards Jillian, bulging the glass out as if it were cloth.
“You had your chance to feel alive. Now it’s time for you to die.”
With a piercing scream the daemon lunged, distorting the strange liquid-glass. Jillian twisted her body and somehow managed to escape the creature’s grip. The shrill scream grew in intensity as the daemon’s rage flared. The storefront window exploded in a shower of tiny shards; black smoke puffed around the window frame as the dark image of the city shattered. Immediately, Jillian spun and continued sprinting down Liberty Avenue.
As she ran, window after window burst: storefronts, car windows, everything. Trying to think logically, she darted across the street, nearly getting hit by several cars. Ducking into several alleyways, her heart sank as every alley she entered had windows in the adjacent buildings. Frantically, Jillian continued on, struggling to find refuge from the malevolent force that was in hot pursuit.
There was no escape. She cursed herself for living in a city. Rounding a corner, she stopped dead in her tracks, sliding on the packed snow below her feet. Somehow she had made her way into PPG Plaza, a series of office buildings which connected to the main skyscraper that served as headquarters to Pittsburgh Plate Glass—which, of course, consisted entirely of mirrored glass.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Jillian gasped.
She was literally surrounded by mirrors. Buildings made of mirrors. As she scanned her surroundings, she could see it staring back at her—in every single pane of glass.
“I know what you want, you bitch!” she yelled. “You’re trying to switch places with me, aren’t you? You don’t want to kill me. You want to be me!”
Jillian headed towards the doors to the main tower. The guard at the security desk stood up and began to stop her from breaching the security check. In one fluid movement, she reached up with both hands and twisted. A loud crack echoed throughout the empty lobby as the dead guard hit the floor, his head facing the wrong way.
Realizing what had just happened, she looked around and saw the daemon glaring at her through a glass sculpture which hung on the wall behind the security desk. Not knowing what to do next, Jillian did the only thing she could think of. She ran to the elevators.
The elevator chimed and opened to the fortieth floor. The reflective doors slid open. She slowly stepped off into the hallway and headed for the stairwell. As she walked, she could hear muffled screams and frantic pounding as she passed by dark office windows. Entering the stairwell, she began to make her way up to the roof. The wind howled as it blew through the four glass spires that marked the corners of the building.
She walked towards the closest ledge. A grotesque, maniacal smile slowly twisted across her pale face. She stepped up on the ledge. Dark, jet-black eyes gazed out at the shimmering night skyline as she stopped. More pounding could be heard from the glass spire that stood just eight feet to her left.
Jillian watched in horror from inside the glass as the mirror-daemon stood precariously, yet unflinchingly, on the ledge. She pounded the glass in front of her, trying to break it, but to no avail.
As if on cue, it turned its head and glared at her through black, empty eyes. The terrifying grin was still plastered on its face.
“I am you and you are me…” it said, as it leaned forward, gracefully falling into the abyss.
Jillian desperately tried to break free from the reflection that she was now trapped in. Deep down, she knew what was going to happen. She released one last scream. The daemon slammed into the pavement below. At the precise moment of impact, every window in PPG Place erupted into a monstrous shower of glass. When the chaos had settled, the once majestic building was nothing more than a skeleton, which collapsed soon after.
First-responder Jamie Anderson closed the door to her emergency response vehicle, exhausted from the forty-eight-hour shift she just pulled at the disaster site. She adjusted her rearview mirror to see if she looked as bad as she felt, and gasped. Gazing back at her in the mirror were two jet-black eyes.
Steven has published two textbooks on 3D computer modeling and animation and is now attempting to break into fiction writing. “Inversion” is his first short story attempt. Currently, he is working on his first novel, titled Shuffle: Brains, Flesh, and Automatic Weapons, which is a zombie apocalypse story set in Pittsburgh, PA. Email: till.beast[at]gmail.com