thecox - Black Mirror Another smudge, another dark stain taints the surface of my looking glass. With a clean white rag I kneel and wipe it down again. Sherry stands behind me, her reflection’s eyebrows raised. Her sharp eyes bore into me but I continue to scrub. “What is it with that thing, Mike?” I look up to see her standing close. Her hand seems to hover uncertainly above my right shoulder as if some force field keeps it from moving closer. “I just don’t like dust,” I whisper and turn back. The man in the mirror looks weary and unkempt. My short black hair is matted and wild. Dark circles have cropped up beneath my blue-grey eyes. “Well – I’m going out with Alicia,” she says, retracting her hand. She turns to walk away. Her reflection pauses at the bedroom door and she turns her head slightly. “Please, Mike, will you get rid of that thing?” I hear in her voice that tears are welling up in her eyes. “Please, Mike, I have enough mirrors. It’s you I’m worried about.” I sigh but don’t answer. She continues through the door and I hear her soft steps wend a path through the house and out. She doesn’t understand. She couldn’t understand. I’ve never felt so alive. The disheveled man before me is only a shell, a vessel to fill with power and to discard if needed. And again I find myself daydreaming about that day in the attic. I owned my own business as a repo man, collecting the garbage and discarded treasures of a generation of consumers. Each house contained the same thing: a life’s worth of things, mounds of trinkets and symbols of wealth that added up to nothing. In each house, the flat screen TVs, industrial blenders, mahogany armoires, Whirlpool appliances remained as a testament to forgotten riches. But the walls shared an intriguing phenomenon: they were always barren except for the rectangular outline of dust that once surrounded pictures of families, vacations, lovers and life. It seems memories are the one thing worth saving when you’ve lost everything. I can still remember the crisp snap of the dusty white sheet as I unveiled the mirror. As the dust settled, the thick oaken mirror stood full-length before me, with odd symbols etched along its borders. I knew immediately that I needed to bring this home to my wife, who had been asking for a full-length mirror for months. And so I did. The first night after bringing it home, I could tell there was something unique about it, something altogether intriguing. I spent hours staring at myself in its surface. Or was I staring into myself? And there it was, at the bottom right corner, that glaring black stain. Very small at first, no larger than the tip of my thumb. Then slowly it grew into a black rose and larger and larger the more I scrubbed. It might as well have been under the surface, like a slow-motion drop of black dye moving through water. Weeks later, I handed over my share of the repo business to my partner with the excuse that I needed to work out a family emergency. But there was no emergency, only that cursed spot growing larger still and replacing my clear reflection with its soot-black filth. I scrubbed it with Windex, all-purpose cleaner, turpentine, everything and anything. Then one night, I pushed all the furniture in our living room against the walls and laid the mirror flat in the center. As I watched the black stain spread to every corner of its crystal surface, I became infuriated. I raised my heavy boot and with all my might brought it down on the mirrored surface. Instead of hearing the satisfying crash of broken glass, I heard a sudden rush of wind. Instead of feeling the crunch of that despicable mirror, I felt myself plummet suddenly through the floor and into a limbo of utter darkness that seemed to last for an eternity. Then with another rush of wind I found myself tossed down onto an unfamiliar dirt floor. I lifted myself from the dust and turned to find my mirror standing upright in the middle of a small shed. The first thing I noticed was the oppressive heat. It emanated through my entire body and my clothes quickly became drenched with sweat. The low beat of a drum and chanting echoed across the night, pulsing with the rhythm of some lost and forgotten time. I placed my hands on the mirror, hoping to find my living room waiting at the other end again. But it was as solid as ever, without enchantment or even its familiar black stain. The single door at the front of the shed creaked open. “We’ve been expecting you,” an elderly black man said in a deep bass voice. He smiled a toothless grin that forced years of wrinkled skin to migrate over his face. As he stepped into a patch of light, I could see his grey eyes staring blankly in my direction. He wore a dusty black suit that seemed too short and too wide for his frame. “And where am I?” “I’ll show you all that. My name is Jonah.” He stepped forward and hooked my arm. For an old man, he sure had an iron grip. “Ah, you don’t understand. I need to get back-.” “All things in their time, Michael.” “Now you know my name?” “I said we’ve been waiting, didn’t I?” “No, this isn’t going to happen. I just need to-“ I pulled against his arm but his grip tightened. I could hear the drumbeat drawing closer and hear the otherworldly chants rising in frantic bursts. As we approached the camp, I could see a ring of fire encircling a group of revelers. Their glistening forms heaved as if in the agony of some ancient ritual. With yips and howls, they jumped and tumbled through fiery embers that seemed to orchestrate their odd movements. “You’ve got the wrong guy,” I whispered frantically to Jonah. “We know you better than you think. You’ve been cleaning our mirror for months.” “That mirror?” My frustration came back. “Yes. You’ve been summoned.” My head was spinning. The mirror was some sort of portal to this voodoo ritual? “Why me then?” “Why not?” “I’m nothing.” Saying it out loud made it sink in for once and I said it again to myself. “I’m nothing.” Jonah became suddenly still and spoke in a powerful voice that hummed in my chest. “Tonight you will feel true power, you will feel the power of the ancients and the spirits of the departed will lift you up.” With that he tossed a handful of brick-red powder over my head and walked me through the ring of fire. The revelers danced around me as they laid me across an ancient stone slab. Their dark faces floated eerily through the darkness, illuminated by the intense flames. Jonah stood over me and began to chant. Indeed, I felt a sudden energy, a power even, coursing through my veins. I closed my eyes and listened to the guttural commands that Jonah called out. I felt imbued with a power that I had never felt before. Before drifting to sleep, I saw the unmistakable flash of metal. I woke up on the floor of my living room that night, drenched in sweat. Red dust still clung to my clothes. And the mirror was standing upright again. Tonight, I will venture into the mirror for the third time. My life is no longer consumed with that black stain, though it has returned. I live to feel the power that attends me at Jonah’s stone altar. The black stain spreads and the mirror calls out. My reflection looks faded and impoverished, my hair and beard disheveled like a prisoner of war might look. There is no hint of blue left in my eyes, only grey. I don’t recognize the man staring back at me but I wonder if that was ever me at all or whether there is even such a thing as myself. I live to feel. My soul is full of discarded treasures and trinkets that have all but disappeared. Even my memories have abandoned me. I close my eyes and walk through the portal. Jonah is waiting. “Michael.” He nods. I would speak but there’s nothing to say. I’ve forgotten why I even came. Jonah leads me arm in arm to that stone slab. I notice how cold the night feels. No revelers greet us with their furious dancing. No fiery embers wink and pop to the beat of ancient rhythms. We walk slowly. “Jonah?” He tosses the red powder over me and I become suddenly sedated. As he helps me lie across the altar, I know that something has changed. I see the flash of metal once more and watch as Jonah steps over my body. The curious knife seems to weave its own dance of supplication as Jonah chants. “Now you will know true power. Your sacrifice will call forth the pardon of our great ancestors. Michael, you have been chosen!” I let myself sink into blackness as the knife flashes and then lifts one last time above me. Then I’m nothing.