The Gilded Mirror: A Short Story

Below is another short story titled, THE GILDED MIRROR. This one was inspired by my fear of mirrors doing things that mirrors ought not be doing. Enjoy.


 

THE GILDED MIRROR

By N. M. Carrara

She stared at the enormous mirror opposite her bridal bed, terrified. A wedding present from one of her new cousins-in-law, it took up most of the wall, was gilded and ornamented in the corners with actual rubies. Any modern-day socialite would kill to have a piece like this in her house. In fact, a replica of this particular mirror had recently graced the cover of one of the more prestigious home and garden magazines. But instead of dancing with delight at having such an enviable object in her new home, the no-longer-blushing bride stood frozen in silent horror in front of what she considered to be a monstrosity.

Any minute now her new husband would enter the bedroom, eager to consummate their marriage on their new king-size bed in their new master suite in their new house. The house was also a gift, given to them by her father and his third wife. Her husband had carried her over the threshold barely an hour ago. They had toured the Victorian-style mansion from the ground up. It was fully furnished with even more gifts from their relatives. Each room could have been on the cover of a magazine. 

They’d saved the master suite for the end of their tour. Her husband gave her a sly smile as he opened the mahogany double doors. His eyes danced hungrily around her before he peeled them away to survey the final stop on their tour.

He hadn’t even fully entered the room when he turned to her and said, “You go in and get ready, love. I have to call Roger to confirm our departure tomorrow morning. We don’t want to get to the airfield to find that the jet’s not ready.”

He kissed her lightly on the lips and hurried back down the hallway towards the stairs.

“Don’t take too long,” she called after him playfully.

The first thing she noticed in the room was the bed, perhaps because she imagined herself lying naked amongst its tousled sheets with her husband’s firm body on hers as the oak headboard beat rhythmically against the wall. Or perhaps it was because it rested right in front of the door and took up a good portion of the room.

On the bed was the overnight bag she’d packed that morning and given to her maid of honor to deliver to the house. In it were the few pieces of lingerie she planned on briefly wearing tonight, and clothes for the trip to Monaco the next morning. She pulled the bits of delicate silk and lace from the bag, placed the bag under the bed and turned to search for the bathroom. That was when she spotted the mirror. It hung harmlessly on the wall and captured the entire room in its reflection.

She centered herself in front of it and froze. Her heart, which had been fluttering with excitement from the day’s events, beat hard against her ribs. The color drained from her face and she became as white as her satin wedding gown.

She had known her husband for four years. She’d been dating him for the last two. In all the time they’d been together, she’d been daring and fearless. They’d climbed mountains together, jumped out of planes, swam with sharks, explored caverns infested with bats, snakes and spiders the size of rats, eaten insects she couldn’t even name that were considered delicacies in various countries. They’d done all of the things that most people would consider crazy and terrifying and she had not been afraid to do any of it.

But this mirror frightened her.

She had a fear of mirrors in general, a fear that stemmed from a childhood of being forced to watch scary movies produced by her father and staring her mother, and then later, her stepmothers. Her father tended to back films that featured mirrors doing things that mirrors should not be doing.

She had become used to facing mirrors in certain situations that required their assistance, like applying makeup or styling her hair. She could handle having a small one in her bathroom, or a decorative one in the living room. But she could not tolerate having any mirrors in her bedroom.

She turned her attention back to gilded frame before her. As she stared at her reflection in the smooth glass, the corners of the room began to fade. The room disappeared and the mirror reflected a scared woman in a white satin gown standing alone in a black void. She felt her skin prickle at the vast emptiness around her.

“No!” she said. She closed her eyes and shook her head.

When she opened them, the mirror showed the room behind her once again. She could even see her overnight bag under the bed. She turned her head to scan the room. Everything was in order.

Her husband called to her from somewhere on the first floor. “I’ll only be a few more minutes, love.”

She looked at the door, longing for him. She needed his strong arms to protect her from her fears. But then she turned from the door, ashamed. Her husband thought her to be fearless. All of those exhilarating things they’d done together. She remembered the time when they had been trekking through the Amazon and a red-tailed boa constrictor slithered up next to her when she wasn’t paying attention. Rather than running away shrieking (like the other woman on tour had done the night before), she coolly picked up her bag and without any fear walked slowly to the jeep. Her husband often retold that story whenever he wanted to one-up his buddies. “My girl is fearless,” he would say. “Did I ever tell you about the time she took on a boa constrictor in the Amazon?”

She had never told her husband about her problem with mirrors. Sweat began to form at her brow and her hands became clammy as she thought of what her husband would say if she told him. Mirrors were such a ridiculous thing to be afraid of. All they did was reflect what they saw. Except when they didn’t, and that was what scared her.

She looked back at the gilded monstrosity that seemed to have devoured the entire west wall. She had to overcome this irrational fear. She couldn’t think of a way to explain to her husband why this highly acclaimed piece of furniture couldn’t stay in their bedroom. And she didn’t want him to see her like this.

The silvery glass put the room behind her on display. She took a step towards it. The curtains ruffled as if blown by a soft breeze, but the windows were locked shut and she felt no breeze on her skin. Her breath caught. She wanted to turn and look at the window properly, but couldn’t. She continued to watch wide-eyed as the thin fabric swayed back and forth. With a great gust, the curtain in the mirror blew high up towards the ceiling and leaning against the windowsill was a man. He had a face like a jackal. The sleeves of his tattered, leather overcoat were rolled up, revealing fur-covered arms that were scarred and matted with a hundred years’ worth of filth.

“I know you’re not really there.” Her small voice quivered with every word.

The man in the mirror cocked a wicked grin. Then he rose and lurched towards her. He made no noise as his heavy black boots tracked soot and bits of tar across the newly coated hardwood floors. The dead silence bolstered her belief that this apparition existed only in the mirror—a figment of her imagination. But the hair began to rise on her arms as he came closer, and tears swelled in her eyes.

“You’re not real,” she whispered.

The man’s eyes narrowed, boring in to hers through the reflection of the glass. He raised a gnarled hand and slowly lowered it as if to grab her shoulder. She screeched, flung her own hand around to swat the rogue’s arm away, and turned to face him. Nothing was there. Only an empty bedroom. The curtains that had been swaying in the mirror hung limply in front of windows that were locked shut.

“Are you all right, love?” her husband called from the bottom of the stairs.

She ran to the door, wanting to flee the room and the mirror forever. She flung it open and hurried down the narrow hallway towards the stairs. She stopped at the top step and looked down at her husband. His eyes looked worried.

“Are you okay?” he repeated. “I thought I heard you scream.”

“No, I’m fine. It was … the television.”

“Are you sure? You look flustered, like something frightened you.”

She forced a smile. “Me? Frightened? It was the TV you heard, love, not me.”

He smiled back. “That’s why I love you. Nothing ever scares you. You’re fearless.”

She nodded. “Will you be coming up soon?”

“Just a few more minutes. What’s that in your hand?”

She looked at the lingerie she’d been clutching onto. “A little surprise for you.”

“Can’t wait to see it. Just give me five more minutes.” He moved towards the parlor.

“Wait, love,” she called out. He stopped and turned. She continued, “Did you see that large mirror in the bedroom?”

“Yes. I believe it was a gift from my cousin Trina.”

“So, you like it?”

His brow furrowed. “Of course. It’s beautiful. Trina said it once belonged to Princess Grace. She won it at auction for us. Outbid a handful of celebrities for it. Bronson told me that Maddie was crazy jealous when she heard we were getting it as a gift. Why? Do you not like it?”

She shook her head. “No. It’s perfect.”

“I thought you’d say that. I’m glad you like it.” He then disappeared into the parlor.

She headed back to the bedroom. He loved her because she was fearless, she thought, and he loved the mirror.

“I can do this.” She squared her shoulders and walked purposefully into the room. It was the same as she had left it. She stepped back in front of the gilded mirror.

“You won’t get the better of me,” she said.

She strode right up to it, her face only inches from the smooth glass. “You will not get the better of me.”

The edges of the room began to fade away again. As darkness crept in from the far corners, the jackal-faced man appeared under the bed and slithered his way across the hardwood floor.

“You will not get the better of me. I’m fearless.” She repeated the mantra aloud and heard them with her ears, but the bride inside the mirror kept her mouth shut and slowly shook her head from side to side.

“I am fearless.”

The woman in the mirror began to tremble, her face distorted in despair. She raised her hands up as if searching for a way out of the looking glass. The darkness had taken over most of the room and the jackal-faced man was little more than a jackal head as he continued to slither towards the bride.

Her heart raced and her breath came short and fast as her imagination ran wild. In the distance she heard footsteps on the stairs.

“You’re only in my mind,” she said to the trembling woman, the darkness and the jackal.

The mirror woman shook her head again as the jackal-faced man returned to human form and rose just behind her. The two of them were all that could be seen in the void that was once a bedroom.

Sweat ran down the bride’s temples and neck. She clenched her fists tightly around the lingerie in her hands. Then she dropped the pieces of silk and placed her palms on the hard glass of the mirror, over the hearts of people inside of it.

“I am fearless!

Streams of light broke through the blackness inside the mirror. The jackal-faced man stumbled and fell backwards to the hardwood floor as the bedroom reappeared. He tried to regain his stance, but his clunky boots caught on his long leather coat and he tumbled forward onto his face. The bride in the mirror started laughing. The real bride was delighted to find herself laughing as well. The man kept trying to stand up, but his coat continued to get in his way. He looked like a clown and she wondered why she’d ever been frightened of him in the first place.

“I am fearless,” she laughed. The jackal-faced man was swallowed up by his coat and then disappeared.

Her cheeks were flushed and her chest rose and fell dramatically with the rush of what she had just done. She looked back at the bride in the mirror, who smiled, winked, placed her palms flush against the looking glass and became nothing more than a true reflection. The real bride stood touching her reflection for a long moment, surveying the scene in the mirror. Everything was as it should be.

She stepped back and continued to gaze into the silvery glass. Everything remained as it should be.

She sat down on the bed. It really was a lovely mirror, now that she was no longer afraid of it. And it had once belonged to Princess Grace. Her friends would be jealous of her for years to come.

“Is everything okay?” Her husband burst into the room and ran to her.

She smiled serenely. “Yes. Everything’s fine.” She swept hair away from his face with her fingers. “You look worried.”

“I heard you yell and thought you’d gotten hurt or something.”

She laughed. “I’m perfectly fine, love. I was just admiring the mirror.”

“You really like it, don’t you?”

“I love it.” She took his hand. It felt clammy. “Are you all right, love?”

His shoulders slumped and he sighed. “I have a confession to make.”

“What?”

“I was hoping you’d hate the mirror.”

“Why?”

“Well, I never told you this before but … I kind of have a fear of mirrors.”

She couldn’t stop herself from laughing.

“Don’t laugh. I know it’s a stupid thing to be afraid of, but you don’t have to laugh at me.”

“Oh, I’m not laughing at you, love. And it’s not a stupid thing to be afraid of. I used to have an aversion to them myself. But you have nothing to worry about.” She kissed him on the forehead. “I’m fearless, remember? I’ll protect you from the mirror.”

She kissed her husband again and pulled him into a tight embrace, both of them forgetting about the mirror completely.

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