by Regan Kilkenny
It was always empty at this time of night. Everyone else had gone home to start their weekends – see their kids that they had visitation rights to see – although had no custody over. The addiction had made it that way.
I dragged the chairs out of the little circle we had set up and back into their proper formation. A chill had set in. The heating turned off at nine each evening and the old, poorly insulated walls did little to nothing in order to help keep it warm. The cold wind managed to trickle in through the cracks in the single-paned windows and, at the same time, created a high pitched howl that echoed around the room. The artificial light that had been shining down on me for the last few hours was beginning to give me a headache. The muscles behind my eyes had been working too hard and had started to become strained, forcing the unpleasant soreness that wrapped it’s way around my head to intensify.
I dreaded the drive home. Navigating the winding country roads that remained unlit at this time of night, the darkness that set in would always crowd her, the blanket of black creeping its way in, suffocating me. I hated it.
The isolated town hall, that was far too elegant to just be a town hall, was situated outside of town which unfortunately meant a grueling drive for me every other Friday. It had once been home to an eccentric, elderly man who had supposedly donated it once he had died. Whispered rumours informed us all that he had gone mad in his old age and when he died there had been no next of kin and so the council deemed it the new town hall.
Most of his belongings were still here since no one had bothered to clear it out. The antique furniture that had a permanent layer of dust settled on its surface, the unpolished marble floor. The grandfather clock that stood proud at the top of the carpeted staircase and yet always chimed at the wrong time. A forgotten plate was still placed on the dining room table. I passed it as I walked to the coat room to grab my gloves, coat and bag, glad to be done for the day.
I whipped my head round when I heard a noise from another room. A high-pitched squeak, like worn shoes dragging across a too-shiny floor.
“Hello,” I called out, my voice confident despite my shaking hands. I told myself it was just the cold.
Expecting the noise to be from some kids that had snuck in as a joke, I walked in the direction that it came from – behind a pair of large double doors that stretched all the way up to the high ceiling. The wood that the doorway was made of had cracked and discoloured in places. The corners had even rotted slightly. The gold handle had been well worn, rust settling into the delicately sculpted design. Grabbing the handle, the cool metal sent shivers up my arm. I turned and pushed.
The floor was made of mirrors. As I walked across the room, a deep pit eroded away my stomach. A weird tingly feeling spread over my arms and legs. Like fireworks, except I felt nauseous. My fingers were numb.
Looking down at the floor beneath me, the mirrors began to move. Ripples spread out from under my feet, the mirrors sliding over each other like a reflective pool of water. Yet I seemed to still be standing on solid ground.
I jumped back when a pair of hands reached towards me, through the pool of mirrors. More ripples spread over the surface. The skin on the hand was grey, almost translucent and rough; patches of dry flaky skin chafing against my own smooth skin. Long black talons pierced into my wrist along with a burning sensation – a handprint burning into my flesh. I screamed as the hand began to pull me down.
I was pulled through the river of mirrors, an icy chill settling over my skin as the unusual liquid splashed around my body. An indistinguishable pressure encompassed me – as if being squeezed through a tube that only just allowed enough space for me.
The claw was still wrapped tightly around my wrist, tugging me along; branding itself deeper and deeper into the flesh on my arm.
I struggled against it, pulled with the weight of my body. But with nothing else to pull myself towards, my efforts were futile. The hand pulling my body along as though i was a limp ragdoll.
The pressure around me began to grow tighter. Tightening around my chest, my ribs, my lungs. It became harder to breathe. The effort it took in order to get air into my lungs was unbearable and when I opened my mouth to attempt to breathe, a foul taste of iron entered my mouth and coated my taste buds.
I was drowning in metal. And then I wasn’t.
All of a sudden, the tightness around my chest released and my feet had found purchase. I was no longer falling through the river of mirrors. Instead I was in a room of mirrors, with multiple versions of myself staring back at me. My hair was now a wild nest on top on my head; completely windswept. My jumper had ripped, the stitches up my left side that held together the purple polyester had come apart completely.
In the dim light, the figure behind me was barely visible. It was all but a shadow that towered above me. It lifted a clawed finger and point towards one of the walls that was coated in mirrors. Though these mirrors had gone dark and cloudy. A dark inky mass spreading across the once crystal-clear wall and with it, the last of the light that lingered in the small room. It pulled all the light away and me along with it, I couldn’t seem to look away. When I dared to try and look at the creature behind me, I just couldn’t. My vision was fixed. I felt a cold hand rest on my shoulder.
In a rapid movement that lasted all of a second, the inkiness cleared and a brief spark of yellowing light flashed across the wall; a scene from a film, playing in front of me.
A younger version of myself stumbling down an alleyway, visibly intoxicated. It was nighttime; a full moon stood proudly in the pitch-black sky. No stars were out that night.
A man was following me, the glint of a knife reflected off what little light the moon provided. He walked with purpose, towards her, me, as I continued to stumble down the alley, wanting to be home. The me on the screen pulled out her phone. I remembered that I had tried to call a taxi, but the screen of my phone danced around, my eyes wouldn’t focus. The man had reached me now, grabbing my arm and roughly pulling me around to face him. I almost fell over with the force that he enacted onto me.
“Give me your money,” he said. My own mouth, the one in the room made of mirrors, mimed along to his words, like it was me saying them. The cold hand clutched my shoulder even tighter.
“I don’t have any,” My words were slurred as I tripped over my own feet. I pulled him with me as I fell. His body landing on top of me with a grunt. I struggled under him, trying to move his heavy body off me. I remember feeling as though he was suffocating me. I remember passing out. I remember the feeling of his dried blood clinging to my jeans that made it even more impossible to move. I remember his body crushing me.
I had still been drunk when I left him there. With a knife sticking out of his chest. It had somehow managed to lodge itself inside him when he had fallen on me. I was left limping away covered in a stranger’s blood.
The wall went black, like a television turning off. My cheeks were sticky with tears, but when the lights came on, I was back in the town hall, with nothing around me except the howling wind. And a burning handprint scarred into my wrist.
From the U.K., Regan Kilkenny is a young aspiring author currently studying for a Bachelors Degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Staffordshire University.