There was something alive in there. On the other side of that warped, foggy glass, a cruel and hungry sentience watched. And to Malcolm’s horror, it was talking to Calliope.
John Malcolm Howard had brought this on himself. He’d known the mirror was something more when he bought it. He’d wanted more. More for himself. More to impress Calliope.
Calliope. A woman who herself was so much more than anyone he’d ever known. He’d done this for her, and now she was…. It was all his fault.
The facts were these: there was a will and a mind and a blood soaked provenance that went hand in hand with that mirror. He’d downplayed the number of deaths for Cal – he’d wanted to thrill her, not scare her – but now he knew he’d done the wrong thing. The mirror was something to be feared, and instead Cal had been entirely thrilled with it.
They’d brought it home from the dealer with help. Hired men had maneuvered the awkward piece of furniture upstairs, all the way to the top of the house. There was a smaller bedroom next to the alter room on the third floor. Malcolm had used it for storage mostly – paperwork and antiquities that weren’t relevant or important enough to keep in his primary office. But he’d cleaned it up and given it to Calliope when she moved in. He’d wanted her to feel welcome, to have a space of her own. Naturally, her mirror should go with her things.
She had seemed so grateful, Malcolm hadn’t thought anything of it when she spent more and more time ‘meditating’ in front of her present. Calliope had an enviable gift with the other side, and Malcolm only wanted to help her hone it. The more she could do, the more they could do. Together.
Soon, she’d started spending every evening before the mirror. That turned into hours. Then days. Now, she rarely left the third floor, and when she did, it was to wander the house wraith-like, scaring the servants and agitating his artifacts.
The house in Union Square was full of the fruits of Malcolm’s labors. Paintings with eyes that watched him cross the room, or went walking when no one was there to miss them. The chandelier that murmured as though a terse dinner party were still politely arguing under its’ defuse light, still building towards a violent climax. An assortment of totems and exotic fetishes that left an unpleasant hum in his teeth when he got too close. Malcolm was used to this.
Since the mirror had come, everything had changed. Before, the feeling of all these items had been merely disquieting. The sensation of mostly latent magics swirled through the air like so much dust, tickling the senses like a sneeze that never manifests. Now, it was like the house was under siege.
Menace filled the air with the shifting of light. The knowledge that he was being hunted woke him from sleep he didn’t remember succumbing to. The groans of a house settling became the cry of vanquished prey, the violent thumping from the third floor the chilling roar of a triumphant predator.
And it was his fault. His pride, his hubris. Malcolm had thought he could handle the mirror, whatever its curse may be. And why shouldn’t he be capable? He’d been researching the arcane for years. While most of his contemporaries were happy to play at séances and table tipping, he’d gone further. Studied more. Spent more.
And there was the catch. He’d assumed that his paltry devotion had meant something. He’d measured himself against hobbyists and thought himself a master.
He was wrong.
And now, he was frightened.
Malcolm had been frightened for weeks. Months. It had become his master, directing him to ignore this, accept that, leave Cal alone up there. Well, he wouldn’t succumb anymore. He summoned his courage, even as the fear reached a fever pitch inside him. It made every step forward a struggle. Fear stole through him with every shuddering beat of his heart as he ascended to the third floor. Still, he climbed. If he did nothing else right, he would at least save Calliope.
It was so dark up there. The sun was still up; some bit of sunshine should’ve shone through the curtains or around door jams. And yet, the third floor landing and all that lay beyond it was stygian. The electric lights wouldn’t turn on at the landing or in the hall. He carried a hurricane lamp in one hand, the other clutched the railing. The lamp’s flame writhed fretfully in the windless passage.
Whose house was this? Malcolm didn’t know anymore. Once it had been his. It had been his with every chill down the spine and every sensation you had been dreaming while awake. His house had been tricky and unsettling and more his than his own body. This dark, violent thing he climbed into wasn’t his house. It wasn’t him.
And he refused to leave Calliope to this stranger.
The door to the altar room was clearly visible. Malcolm didn’t understand how. He didn’t know how he’d passed Calliope’s study. He didn’t remember when he reached the top of the stairs. But there he was, before a door illuminated by no light. The hurricane lamp shook in his hand, but its’ paltry flame lit himself and little else.
His mind went blank. Should he go back and try find Calliope’s door? Should he knock? Should he try the handle? What was he here for?
The door opened.
“There you are, Malcolm. We’ve been waiting for you.”
Calliope was radiant. Calliope was dismal. Malcolm didn’t know what he was looking at.
When he looked at her, he saw the woman he loved in the peak of health. Rosy-cheeked, hair coiffed and shining gold, her silk blouse and trousers pressed to perfection. She was sallow and greasy and rumpled. She smiled that same sweet smile he loved but her eyes- her eyes looked at him with a purposeful blankness. She was looking at him but seeing something else. Malcolm shuddered. His hands went numb and he dropped the lamp.
“Are you coming in or not?” Her tone was casual, unbothered. As though it hadn’t been a month since he’d last laid eyes on her. “If you are, scoot along in. I’ve got so much going on, and while I’d just love to share it with you, I’m not prepared to do so in the doorway.”
“Cal, wha- what’s going on?” Malcolm asked, his ears ringing and his muscles trembling. He was afraid. Why, though? Why was he afraid of Calliope?
She pulled him in by his shirt collar. The door shut snugly behind them. “This mirror is what’s going on, sweetie-pie! It’s the very bees knees. Did you know there’s a whole world in there? It’s itty bitty, of course, but still! Lots of people to talk to. I’m learning so much all the time.” She looked at him again. Her eyes were bright and her smile hungry. “Have you come to learn with me? I’ve been waiting, you know.”
“Cal, I –“The words were swimming in his stuffy head, sticking to his clumsy tongue. He swallowed and began again. “Calliope, I think you should come with me. I think we should leave this room. The house. You, you need some sun- we BOTH need some sun, yes? The summer is almost over and we, we haven’t gone holidaying at all.” Why did she look at him like that? Why was she so cold?
“That’s silly, love. Why would I leave when I have your wonderful gift here?” She gestured to the wall behind her and he could suddenly see the rest of the room.
The altar had been dismantled. The carpet rolled aside and new, unfamiliar runes and circles were chalked into the wood. And the mirror. Where his altar had once stood, the mirror loomed tall and silent as tomb. The glass- there was, there was someone in the glass?
“There are oceans in there no living human has swum in before. And I can go no matter the weather. I don’t even need a bathing suit,” she said coyly.
Even now, Malcolm might’ve risen to the bait. Even with her strange expression and his vision doubling and everything about this situation so, so wrong.
His face had gone numb, though. And his tongue swollen. Cal, he wanted to say. Cal, help me. I love you. Help me.
“Oh, my poor Mal,” she cooed. “My poor white knight.” She held him up with unnatural strength as his legs failed him, and walked him to the mirror. “Coming to save me from the wicked witch like a good boy. Oh!” She gasped in a mimicry of surprise. “But didn’t you know? I thought I’d been very clear, daddio!”
Malcolm’s senses began shutting down, one by one, as blood filled his mouth and ears and eyes, and his palms and feet began to bleed from the pores. But he was still unlucky enough to understand what was coming. To see Calliope’s reflection in the mirror as she brought him ever closer to the place of sacrifice. To know suddenly and surely that this was her house.
She kissed his forehead. One sweet benediction before the end.
“I am the witch.”
He faded to black before the rest.
The Halloween party was a smashing success, even before the ceremony. Everyone was so gay and bright in their costumes. The bubbly was flowing and the food was going down well. Calliope hadn’t hired a band, but the guests were happy enough to amuse themselves with a pedal organ (Malcolm had salvaged it from desecrated church some years back), and a Victrola phonograph he had been sentimental over.
The crowd had reached the part of the night where everyone was making up ghastly new lyrics to the old tunes. They weren’t very good lyrics, but they were funny. Everything was funny with enough wine and good food. And besides, if anyone had reason to wonder whether they should laugh or not, they only had to look to Cal for guidance. Smooth, sophisticated Cal would never laugh at anything tacky. Why, she’d thrown this party and it was the height of good taste. Malcolm certainly had one hell of a doll running his house for him, the lucky schmo.
That was what they all thought, Cal could tell.
Of course, they did ask after Malcolm. That was to be expected – it was his house, his friends, his little woman running the show. Where oh where was the man himself?
“Oh, the poor sugar bear is resting up top. Bad luck, you know, though really, it does give me my chance to repay the kindness. Hadn’t I told you before? Oh, well, you remember how sweet he was, taking care of me this past summer when I got so sick. Whisked me right off to Europe as soon as the doc said I was well enough to travel. Wanted me to recuperate somewhere special. Never been treated so well in all my life. Yes! You remember, the house was all shut up. And he was so devoted to me, he clean forgot to mention where we’d gone to anyone else, the dear! Well no sooner did we get back, with me right as rain, then he fell sick himself! The doctors say it’s nothing to worry about – just a tenacious cold – but it gives him such a head, he says he’s not fit for company. You’d better believe I tried to get him to cancel, but he refused. Said everyone was expecting it, couldn’t let folks down. Yes, ‘good old Malcolm,’ you said it. Anyway, I’m sure he’ll come out when the crowd thins a little. And he promised he’ll join us later, when we go upstairs for the final part of the night, you know he’d never miss a summoning on Halloween. And he has missed all of you. We both have. It was so nice to be together over the summer, but surely you all know how dearly Malcolm holds his friends. I’m sure it’ll do him a world of good to see everyone tonight. I know I feel revived seeing everyone again and I don’t have half the history that you all share with Mal.”
This was said with an abundance of sincerity, her eyes wide and expressive, her lips turned up in the sweetest of smiles. This woman whom they’d met nearly a year ago, summoning demons at a party she’d crashed uninvited, was as much a saint to their eyes as Peter who’d someday judge their shallow souls at the pearly gates. The women clasped her hands with feeling. The men agreed with her, with meaningful nods and exclamations of Malcolm’s dependability.
Questions answered and their purpose restated, Malcolm’s inner circle of lackeys and lackwits got to work. The uninitiated (the useless) were gently hurried out as the witching hour approached. The music was silenced, the last of the bubbly guzzled, the catering service shown the backdoor. One by one and two by two, they followed Calliope up to the third floor.
Tonight was to be like any other night they gathered. Tonight was to be unlike anything they’d seen before. Such was the risk with Cal and Mal.
They followed Calliope up. The witching hour was upon them.
“Was that really necessary, girl?” The Alchemist looked on in revulsion.
Calliope frowned. She didn’t like his tone. Plus, she’d just noticed that there was blood splatter on the hem of her favorite party dress. She’d changed into it from her Halloween costume just for the occasion, too. Getting it out of the beading would be hell. Tch.
“It was if you wanted all of them,” she replied in the same tone. Cal dropped the knife by the bodies at her feet. Most everyone had succumbed as soon as the summoning started in earnest , but a few of Malcolm’s old friends had been strong enough and smart enough to try make a run for it. Cal had just been stronger and smarter. And faster. “Besides, since when have you been squeamish? You were happy enough to tell me all your gruesome deeds before.”
The Alchemist fidgeted in the mirror.
“Or,” she said thoughtfully, “have you just never had to hold the knife yourself?”
Bingo. Well, Calliope couldn’t say she hadn’t anticipated as much. The Alchemist talked too much and not well, and Calliope had known enough men of his ilk to expect nothing more from him than what she planned to take.
She stepped daintily over the pooling blood and the sprawl of bodies to return to the mirror. “How’s it going in there? Is everyone settling in alright?”
“More or less,” the Alchemist said, harrumphing. “A few have gathered their wits enough to try hide in the dark, but I’ve got the scent of them.”
“I should come, then,” she said, and pressed her hands to the glass. “Two hunters make shorter work of the prey, after all.”
“I – yes, yes there’s nothing left for you to do here, is there,” he muttered. He looked distracted. Good. Calliope pressed closer to the glass. The power within it leapt to her palms like an eager puppy begging for a pet.
Let the Alchemist distract himself with her sacrifices. It was clear as the nose on his face that he had no idea what he was doing. The mirror overflowed with power. It was waiting – crying out – to be used, and he did nothing with it. Instead he fed on half-awake people. Idiot.
Calliope felt indulgent and let him waffle for a moment longer. Would he try to stall her long enough to account for her sacrifices and face her freshly fed? Or would he bring her into the mirror first to subdue and use to his own ends? It didn’t really matter what he did. Cal was prepared either way.
She pressed her mortal body as close to the mirror as she could get. Arms, head, torso – her heart thundered in her chest, the feeling made more acute by the press of cold, still glass. She wouldn’t feel it again.
She was going to live forever. Not as a ghost, and not shunted back into the reincarnation cycle like some powerless nobody. She would be herself, Calliope Jones, straight through to the rapture and beyond. And not even God himself could do jack shit about it.
It was More. At last. At last the power. At last the dominion. At last a place of her own where she could rip off the faces of all these useless cocks who think they know better. She was going to start with this one right here.
wait, said the small strangled inner voice she hated. wait, it begged.
Calliope threw her soul against the glass and killed that voice, along with every other aspect of her earthly vessel.
She swam into the dark, rich waters of the mirror-well-ocean like she was born to. And then she began to hunt.
<<First <Previous | Next> Last>>
What’s this? An update? It’s more likely than you think!
Buy me a tea or support me on Patreon!