Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Story: The Woman in the Mirror

Before you read this, a quick word of introduction. This is a story I wrote for a class on my MA course. We were told to write a brief story in the style of another writer and I chose Edgar Allan Poe. Although, hopefully you would have guessed that fairly quickly.



Murderer! Yes – I will not deny it. The woman lying dead in the attic died with my hands around her throat. But I swear to God! The woman lying dead in the attic is not my sister. Not anymore. If you allow me to tell you the whole story, perhaps things will become clearer.

I was called home from my studies two weeks ago to attend to my sister Virginia. I had received a letter from her fiancé, Verden Collins, requesting my presence most urgently. He wrote that he worried my sister was losing her grip on her senses, and that she had confined herself to the attic. Virginia had always been prone to bouts of nerves as a child, but this latest development was unfamiliar and clearly a cause for alarm. My carriage arrived late last night, just as the storm was building to its height. Collins stood waiting, shaking with cold. He appeared to be in a state of barely restrained terror, for he would glance, wide-eyed, up at the ceiling after the end of every hurried sentence of his greeting.

After Collins had made familiar with the recent developments I made my way up the stairs of our old house towards the attic. I noted with some displeasure the condition of our home. My sister and I were the last surviving members of our family, and my work meant that I was often out of the country. Under Virginia’s care the house had been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. The grand windows were filthy, and dust and grime coated the carpets and staircases. As we reached the final flight of stairs which led to the attic Collins tugged on my shirtsleeve. “I cannot go in with you” he told me. “I fear your sister is not herself”. When I asked him to explain himself more fully Collins merely babbled, making little sense. I reassured him that I would discern the affliction my sister suffered from. It is my profession, you see, to help those men and women who believe themselves to be suffering at the hands of some unseen spirit or malevolent force. I hoped that a familiar face would bring her some comfort.

I went into the attic, carrying a lamp in my right hand. As I entered the room, Collins pulled the door shut hastily behind me. A little shaken, I raised the lamp and cast my eyes around for Virginia. The attic had been used as a space to store some of the more unpleasant gifts and objects the family had accumulated over the years. It had not been built for comfort. My eyes grew accustomed to the gloom and I slowly discerned the shape of my sister.

She was sitting at the end of a bed, filthy with dust, and was wearing a long white dress. In the gloom it took me a moment to realise that she was wearing our mother’s wedding dress. Our mother had been a large woman, and the garment hung off my sister and most of it tumbled to the floor where it collected dirt. My sister did not seem to have registered my arrival, and instead was staring fixedly at a large mirror that stood in a grotesquely elaborate frame opposite the bed. I moved closer and cleared my throat, hoping that the sound would rouse her. She continued to sit, gazing at her own reflection. Even saying her name did not prompt her to turn around. As I moved next to her I saw that her lips were moving at a tremendous speed. Virginia appeared to be in avid conversation with her own reflection. Shaken at this sight, I shook her vigorously by the shoulder. She turned slowly to face me. Her face was deathly pale. “Simon?” she asked. I smiled and nodded. “I have come a long way to see you, Virginia” I told her. “Would you care to join me downstairs? We have much to talk about.” A terrible sorrow appeared on my sister’s face. “I am not permitted to leave this attic,” she said. “I must stay here.” I made every effort to convince her to come down, but she refused. After a minute or two, she turned back to the mirror and no longer acknowledged my presence, and resumed mouthing the words I could not interpret at the mirror.

I left the attic, troubled but hopeful. She had recognised me, at least, and I expected greater success in the morning. It is always easier to confront the disturbed with the impossibility of their delusions in the cold light of day. I went downstairs, and Collins followed close at my heels. He was perhaps even more anxious than before, eager to know what had happened. I told him that my sister was plainly exhausted; perhaps suffering from malnutrition, but that I had high hopes for her spirits in the morning. Collins did not appear relieved. Instead, he drew closer. “And the mirror?” he asked. “Is she still talking into the mirror?” Before I could answer, he grasped my arm. “Did you not see her reflection? Did you not see what was in the mirror? For God’s sake, man, you grew up here; do you not know what hides in the shadows of this house?” Of course I was familiar with the tales, the stories of ghosts and ghouls, evil spirits. But I had never been frightened as a boy. Why should I have been, when the blood that drips down the walls runs through my veins?

As he studied my face, we were both startled by a terrible crash. Collins howled and ran back up the stairs. “It must not escape!” he cried. I hurried after him, terrified that a man in such a state might do more harm than good. In my haste I tripped on the stairs and fell. I heard Collins open the attic door and scream once. I stood up and ran up the remaining stairs. As I entered the attic I saw the mirror was smashed, with pieces of broken glass strewn on the floor. She stood in our mother’s wedding dress, now more red than white. In her right hand she held a shard of glass. On the floor lay Collins, his throat cut. She looked up and stared into my eyes. As I stared back, a cold terror gripped me. She smiled, and a small laugh escaped her lips. I fell upon her, staring into the eyes of the thing that struggled briefly, then subsided as my hands closed around its throat.

Murderer! I have killed, that is certain. Perhaps the irons on my wrists are justified. But my sister is free. And whatever had hold of her did not escape.



Hope you enjoyed it, it's just a bit of fun really. It had to be short, but I'm not sure I would have wanted to stretch it out any longer. It's cribbed from The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher, mostly. I call it a Poe-stiche. Boom boom. I did fully intend to write a new story this week, but I've been a bit busy this week with Raindance preview screenings for Fohnhouse (www.fohnhouse.blogspot.com) and the project with Benjamin Sheppard (www.wittystairs.blogspot.com) which apparently we're not talking about yet. Hopefully Ben's forceful optimism will mesh with my general misanthropic gloom and we'll actually make something happen. I will let you know if so. But that is why I've not written a new story. Not to mention the ongoing search for a job. But that's not very interesting.

I'm currently reading Dracula Cha Cha Cha by Kim Newman, which is the third in his strange, incredibly entertaining horror mashups (although more similar to Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) which feature an alternate history in which Dracula defeated the forces of light and married Queen Victoria, and vampirism became popular. The first, Anno Dracula, is mostly filled with Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and late 19th Century literary references. The second, which I've not read, is called The Bloody Red Baron and set during World War 1. Dracula Cha Cha Cha is set in 1950s Rome, riffing on La Dolce Vita, James Bond, and Dario Argento movies. Everyone from Michael Corleone to Orson Welles to Nico pops up. Great fun.

So, next week I will try to put up a proper story. Failing that, I will ramble, you can skip it and wait for the next post. Hope you enjoyed the story.


  1. Hey Jonny,

    Being the pulp spec-fiction buff that I am, I really enjoyed this story (although if I wanted to be pedantic [which I always do :P], I'd say that it reminded me more of Machen than Poe; see "Novel of the White Powder", part of "The Three Impostors", and perhaps also "The Inmost Light"). Keep writing the unpleasantness!


  2. Hey David!
    Glad you liked it! I'm unfamiliar with Machen but I will definitely check out those ones you mentioned. Went to the sci-fi exhibition at the British Library today, good to see Cthulu got a look-in!
    Oh, and I will keep writing the unpleasantess, have no doubt.