The Replacement

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By Jeff Kazmierski, Copy Editor

I break two teeth falling out of the mirror. Hit my face on a sink, fall to the floor, swallow blood.

It hurts. I welcome the pain. It reminds me I’m real again.

Dim orange light reveals a row of toilet stalls. Behind me I hear voices echoing from the mirror, low, guttural whisperings.

“You’ve lost him.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“He was our best.”

“We’ll replace him.”

I shrink back against the wall, become one with the shadows under the sink. Whatever their words, they’ll come for me. They always do. The room is full of shadows. Good hiding places.

Hiding is what I do best. It saves me this time. Gray mist fills the room, blots out the light. I make myself small, flat, dark. Like a shadow.

A minute later the fog lifts, light returns. They don’t hunt well in the real. I’m safe, for now.

In the morning a cleaning lady finds me. She’s a strong woman, black hair pulled back in a bun. She has a haunted look in her eyes and she yells at me in a mix of Spanish and broken English before hauling me out of the room. White lines of scars inside her wrists. I’ve seen her before. I say nothing.

I see my reflection as she drags me out. My face is scratched in a hundred places, my mouth is covered with blood and my lips are swollen. My clothes are tattered. I had a jacket but must have lost it on the other side.

I look like hell, but at least I’m alive again.

She takes me to a priest, a white-haired man with a Mexican accent.

The mirror let me out in the ladies’ room of a church.

Father helps me clean up, gives me some water and asks me some questions.

I’ve forgotten my name so I make one up, something between what They called me and what I want to be.

He asks where I’m from. He won’t believe me if I tell him I fell through a mirror. I remember a place, Chicago. It sounds good. Lots of people are from Chicago.

I tell him I’m looking for work. I know he doesn’t believe me.

He offers me crash space in the rectory. It’s not much, just a spare room with a sofa and a closet. I take it. There’s a mirror on the door. I try not to look at it but I can’t stop myself.

I bare my teeth. I can feel the bone knitting already; shadow repairs itself. In the mirror I see a shape that disappears when I look again. I hide the mirror in the closet, silver side down. The sofa beckons and I stretch out on it for a few minutes of rest.

Their words echo in my mind.

They’ll replace me.

I stay for a week, doing odd jobs by night, sleeping by day. The priest leaves a tray by the door with a sandwich and some juice every day. One day he tells me the cleaning lady didn’t come in. Would I mind? I take the job.

He leaves and I feel a presence in the room, hiding in the shadows.

I know who it is. I watched her grow up. For years I tormented her, hiding in shadows, lurking around corners. I was the monster under the bed, the fleeting face in the mirror. The thing in her nightmares.

They made me do it. Now They’ve given her my old job.

In a little while I’ll start work, but for now I’ll just enjoy the irony.

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