by Emily McGuff
A spider web crack spread across the vintage mirror in my room. Tiny tendrils reached toward the barred window like weeds searching for the sun. Even in its diminished state, the reflective glass still called to me, beckoned me into its web of deceit. I couldn’t bear to stand before it. Its power over me had always been so complete.
A tattered green and blue quilt was spread below me, worn by love and use: the one item they let me bring into this place. My feet dangled off the tiny twin bed, hovering about an inch from the anguished stains of previous tenants melted to the floor.
“What were their demons?” I wondered aloud, interrogating the tarnished tiles. It wasn’t without cause that one entered the realm of Moonlight Mental Sanatorium. Although I had once kept a running tally of my days here on the cement wall behind my dresser, I had long ago run out of space and patience for such a task. What did it matter? They would never let me leave. This was my sanctuary. My future. My hell.
With aching feet, I traced the worn path leading to the wilting window. Why the hell my feet hurt, I couldn’t tell you as I was barely permitted to pace the 8×8 confines of my cell… I mean room.
Beneath the paint-peeling pane, the pitter-patter of scurrying animal feet could be seen, but not heard, in the shallow gray-white snow. It seemed not one of them pointed toward my precious haven.
“If I had a choice, I would run far in the other direction as well,” I murmured, my fingers brushing the cool surface of the glass.
The hair on my neck began bristling, and I shook my head to dislodge the whispers wiggling in through my crooked ears.
“Leave me alone,” I grunted. A rumbling filled my chest and from my mouth reverberated a guttural growl.
Listen. Listen. Listen.
You are not.
“Hush!” My neck jerked to the side as I bellowed the word.
You are not alone.
My stomach twisted with the same threatening thrusts of a meal about to be jettisoned.
Closer. You will see.
“I said hush,” I commanded again, rubbing my neck in an attempt to paste the hairs back to my skin.
With a cry of anguish, I hurled myself onto my bed. With my face fiercely pressed to the mattress, I blindly reached for the pillow. Alas, even when clutched against my skull, the soft feathers did nothing to drown out the insistent whispers.
I knew what it wanted. Where it wanted me to go. That damn mirror.
“I can’t,” I whined, knitting my eyebrows together.
A haggard breath shuttered from my supine form.
My limbs quaked and I feared my legs would splay like those of a newborn deer as I rolled slowly from the bed. I knew the voices wouldn’t stop. Wouldn’t stop until I obeyed.
The hissing sound filled my cranium, rolling around to fill every nook and cranny of my throbbing skull.
“Shut up, you fucker. I’m going.”
With a thrust of the arms, I vaulted from the mattress and hastily took the five strides to the glinting mirror. But, with dismay, I realized I couldn’t bring myself to raise my eyes to meet it.
The voice was no longer just insistent. It was pissed.
With great care, I drew a deep breath into my chest. Like blowing up a balloon, the oxygen filled my lungs and continued up my neck to raise my chin.
At first, I saw nothing. Well, nothing of significance. My face remained, little having changed. The same mousy brown hair that I cut with the rusty scissors in my mother’s kitchen drawer, now hanging in uneven, greasy groups about my shoulders. The same thin, muted pink lips that not one boy had found appealing enough to press his own against. The same freckled nose affixed just a touch to the left due to the time my mother broke it when I was in the second grade and called her a bitch for never having time for me.
When I reached the eyes, though, they seemed to shift beneath my gaze, jump even.
I leaned closer, trying to pin the pupils to one spot, examining them with unease flowering in my chest. The unease quickly morphed into dread, and then matured into horror.
The thing was in my right eye. The voice. The man. The iris seemed to vacillate, like curtains being drawn and closed, keeping out unwanted prying eyes.
Bile churned in my gut, slowly crawling up my esophagus with burning intent.
He peeked around my iris again; he seemed to reside within my pupil. A delicate smile played on his lips as he dove again behind the melding blues and grays spiraling my eyeball.
“Get out!” I yelled at the man. How had it gotten within me?
Applying as much pressure as I could bear, I pushed against my eyelid, imagining I was suffocating him.
Opening my eye once more, I saw him. He didn’t bother to hide as he had wanted me to see him. Wanted me to know. With growing terror, I knew this was not just a malevolent spirit.
“Demon, I command you. Remove yourself from me.”
Within my mind, a cackling laughter exploded, echoing in never-decreasing waves.
My breath came in gasps as panic began to take over. This demon would never leave me. It was part of me, dwelling within me.
In a moment of clarity, I knew what I had to do.
“You have not won, Devil Spawn,” I spit.
Slowly and deliberately, I rotated my hand until the bitterly sharp nail of my pointer finger was thrust toward me. Gritting my teeth, I let out a war cry as I tore into my own flesh. I had to remove the eye, pry it from the socket before the Demon was able to fester within my soul.
The nail pierced the outer corner, tugging and torqueing the squishy sphere. With a wet rip, the ocular orbit forfeited its claim to the organ of sight.
I laughed at first.
“I won,” I whispered, disbelief twitching my cheeks.
The Demon had naught the need to say anything else.
With the eyeball still stuck tight to the end of my pointer, the scream clawed its way up my throat with talons dipped in poison.
The screams and laughs expanded, and the cackles crashed against the yells as the ocean waves attack the shore.