Reflections by Hugh McStay
It is often said that the eyes are the window to the soul. Offering a fleeting glance into the truth of a man, regardless of how pristine the façade of his life may seem. It’s why so often we find ourselves beguiled by our reflection; through mirrors, we are forced to confront the truth of ourselves, to catch a glimpse of who we really are underneath. When the world fell into the darkness, when they came for us with such ferocity and abandon, it was through the mirrors that the nightmares came.
It seems like a lifetime ago now, as I sit here in the draughty remains of our apartment. But I suppose in reality it has only been a matter of months; less than six if I were to hazard a guess. Time has taken on a bitter and fractured abstract; it certainly moves, but the clocks refuse to tick and dawn does not always follow the night. I have seen the sun banish the night in a matter of seconds, appearing in the sky like an observer transported from another galaxy, day arriving not in increments but with a startling bang. The world is not ours anymore; why should we expect the natural laws to apply?
Colin had kept me tethered. In the face of such lunacy, I would have happily floated away into the dark. But he had insisted I remain present, with him. We would be each other’s witness in this world of madness and fear.
“I have lost everything in this world; my family, my beliefs and my purpose. I cannot lose you too,” he had said. And I had promised him my soul so long ago, it felt silly to allow it to drift away now.
In the chaos of the first few days, when the world was still on the backfoot, disbelieving of the nightmare it was trapped in, we did our best to keep each other safe. We lived on the third story of a tenement building, and thankfully so. We peeked out of the windows and watched as living nightmares stalked anything that fled. Things (for that is what they were) wandered the street as commonly as a stray cat or dog. No two looked alike; their uniformity came only in that they were each almost impossible to look at directly. Pulsating, ravenous bags of meat and filth, their limbs pulling them along as they searched hungrily for our flesh.
We watched in silent horror as neighbors who we had nodded uncomfortably to in passing were torn asunder as they made a break for their cars. Their howling screams filled the air with a thick, pungent, palpable energy.
We barricaded ourselves indoors, Colin breaking apart the bed in our spare room for wood to hammer into the fixtures. I watched as he used the slats to nail across the door frame, reassuring me that this would be enough to keep the monsters from getting in. I think that his chatter was to reassure himself as much as me, but I was grateful for the effort.
The television was now one channel, funneling in news reports from all around the globe. The local news presenter (her usually chirpy, make-up adorned face was now dry and puffy with sleep deprivation and tears) solemnly delivering a relentless stream of bad news. But it was thanks to her that we learned the crucial advice that would keep us alive.
“They come through the mirrors. We have had reports coming in across the world, different accounts that vary from region to region. But they can get access to our world, this plane, through our mirrors. You have to destroy the mirrors.”
Colin and I split the rooms in the apartment up and went to work; mirrors, full length and compact alike, were ejected from the windows in our back room, shattering far below. As we did so, other neighbors in adjacent buildings did the same, the shattering on the pavement deafening and continuous. Colin wondered how many years bad luck the world would have to suffer for this act of mass vandalism.
But still the things came.
The rest of that first week passed in the blink of an eye as we watched more news reports come in; videos of armed forces across the world fighting back against the black tide, artillery and bullets no match for the sheer weight of numbers. Soldiers overrun, torn apart and feasted upon live on television. I turned away, the screams of those men ringing in my ears still now, while Colin watched unwaveringly. iPhone videos of birthday celebrations and parties capturing some of the creature arrivals in our universe; mirrors on walls exploding from some deep place within, birthing hungry mutants thrashing and scratching on the floor. These found-footage videos would cut suddenly and ominously to black as the things leaped at the holder of the phone.
Colin had always been the brave one.
We had met on holiday in Spain almost ten years ago. I had been dragged along by some of my more adventurous friends, but soon found myself avoiding the drunken idiocy that would accompany two weeks in the sun. We met by the bar at the pool, our matching Glasgow accents providing a much-needed ice-breaker. Not to sound like a teenager in love, but as I sit here now in the ruins of civilization, I can say with some certainty that I loved him from the moment I first set eyes on him. He was funny and handsome, charming and confident without being arrogant. And Christ alive, the man could convince an Eskimo to buy ice with that silver tongue of his.
And so, by the end of that first day together I found myself, a noted acrophobe, standing at the top of a bungee jumping platform, tethered to the man I would spend the rest of my life with. I remember the smile that crept across his face as I tried to chicken out, standing inches away from the precipice. He leaned in and kissed me, his lips draining the fear from my soul like poison from a wound and simply said, “Ready?”
We stepped off that platform and fell, his arms around me feeling like they had been there forever.
I don’t think I ever stopped falling: from that first kiss; the day we moved in together; the day he asked me to marry him; the perfect wedding back in Spain where it all began.
Yes, he was definitely the brave one. The look of horror on his face as the news reports cut out mid-sentence, vanishing forever in an instant, almost broke my heart. He sat there, staring at that useless black mirror in a solemn silence, trying his best to keep his despair at bay. But I could see it spread across his handsome face like a sickness, darkening and eating at his features like a cancer.
If it hadn’t been for Colin’s quick reactions, I think we would both have died there and then. The television had become a perfectly reflective surface, a newly born mirror that we had not thought to contend with. And from its boundless depths, something began to shift and stir. Shaking himself from his slide into misery, Colin shattered the screen with a well-placed boot.
“What are we going to do?” I asked him. That wonderful man who always had the answers.
“We remain. We stay together and we survive this.”
Even as he spoke, I could feel his conviction waver. And I worried for the first time if our love would be enough to keep us both afloat.
An old transistor radio replaced the television as our lifeline to the world outside. We no longer went near our windows to see what fresh hell each day would bring. We listened to first-hand accounts of survivors who had had near misses—unfamiliar, terrified sources sharing stories of the beasts bursting from blank screens, from windows, from shiny, reflective tiles in bathroom walls. The rule seemed to be that if you could see yourself in a surface, then they could see you. It was a rule that Colin and I dared not break.
We boarded up the windows with the remaining wood from broken beds and tables. We would not miss the parade of nightmares below us, nor the unnatural changing seasons and astronomy: scorching sunshine followed by snow in a matter of hours, the moon and the sun changing places at the drop of a hat.
But with the sunlight, Colin’s spirit also seemed to depart. He always had the most wonderful light behind his eyes: my beacon calling me home when times were dark. But as we nailed the boards over that final window, something went out inside him that I could never reignite.
After the third week in solitude, our food reserves had begun to deplete. Colin had insisted that we search the other flats in the building for supplies; better to be torn asunder than slowly starve to death in the dark. We armed ourselves as best we could; he with the hammer he had used to put up the ever so slightly askew shelves in our bedroom last summer, and I with a hockey stick that had seen a hockey field as often as I had seen a Michael Bay movie.
“If this was America, you realize we would both have shotguns just lying around the flat, right?” I asked him.
Colin didn’t even look up from the rucksack he was emptying for our adventure, he merely retreated further into the dark.
We systematically worked our way through the seven other flats in our building, starting next door and descending the close stairs to each landing, raiding our former neighbors of whatever canned goods they had. Each flat was mercifully empty, and Colin and I raced passed any windows to the kitchen, emptying cupboards as swiftly as we could, the broken glass from the many mirrors crunching below our feet.
Whilst we found no life, we did find some of our former neighbors; mostly suicide, with pills lying discarded by their slowly rotting corpses. Annie, the nice nurse from two floors down had killed herself in the bath, a crimson pool spilling onto the tiles below. Colin guided me away, his heart calcifying with each nightmare, with each fresh horror.
We continued on, taking any medication or batteries we could find to join our food reserves. It was only when we broke into the final apartment on the ground floor that we found anything to be wary of. A venomous and hateful creature that had been formed that way long before the fall of man.
“How did a couple of poofs like you manage all this time?” Malcolm spat.
Malcolm was a stick figure of a human being before the end of the world, but his seclusion in the dark had robbed him of at least twenty pounds. He looked like a Halloween prop come to life: a bug-eyed skeleton with a shock of unkempt, white hair protruding from his head like the stuffing of a burst couch.
“I suppose I should’ve guessed that you two cockroaches would have been all right,” he continued, his hate and bigotry holding him together like cement in a decaying wall.
“Come with us, Malcolm. The upstairs flat is as secure a place as any right now, and we have more than enough food,” Colin said. I saw a spark flicker in him for the first time in days, his humanity fighting back against Malcolm’s hate.
“Aw aye, I know your game pal. As soon as you two get me up there you’ll be up to all sorts with me!”
I began to laugh. I couldn’t help it, it was the only natural reaction to the lunacy of our situation, an insanity matched only by Malcolm clinging on to his rampant, misguided homophobia.
“Well, you know where we are,” Colin replied, a long-missed smile creeping across his tired, thinning face.
Malcolm’s hand fidgeted with a garish gold crucifix around his neck, caressing Jesus as though he were a lucky charm. His horrible eyes, grey and bulging, looked as though they were about to pop from his skull and roll on the ground like marbles.
“You know this is all your fault? These demons that hold dominion over our world. Heathens like you, flaunting around with everything out, living your filthy lives together in front of the Lord,” Malcolm yelled.
“Next time you speak to the big man upstairs Malcolm, ask him to stop watching us in bed, eh? That’s just creepy as fuck,” Colin replied, that smile now fully alive on his face.
I followed Colin out of the apartment, leaving Malcolm to his madness.
Three days later, the radio spat out its final broadcast.
We listened as unfamiliar voices told us of the fall of London; giant beasts, many stories tall, smashing through the city with ease, artillery shells as useless as a bee sting on an elephant. There were not enough bullets in the world to contend with the black swarm of demons that had overrun our world.
The planet had fallen silent; the United Kingdom had received no contact from any other nation in almost a week, the end of all things not being particular to any nation, color or creed. Colin laughed at the idea of some monocle-wearing toff being held up in a bunker somewhere, delighted that “The British Empire” would be the last to fall; the Brexiteers would be happy at last.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we have had reports of the creatures finding a new way into our world… You have to hide your eyes. They can find us through our eyes…” the announcer wept into the mic. “They found bodies, their heads completely–”
And with that, the broadcast crackled and fizzled into oblivion.
I don’t think I had ever seen Colin cry before that moment. He sunk his head between his legs, covering his face with his hands as he silently sobbed. I held him close as we came to the realization that this nightmare was only going to worsen; even the bottom of the barrel would break when it was scraped often enough.
We faced each other one last time. That beautiful man who had won my heart immediately, whose rich, beautiful brown eyes had reassured me that life was beautiful and that together we could accomplish anything. Those eyes, once so full of warmth and hope. Those eyes that I would never see again.
We took turns in fastening blindfolds firmly around our heads. We had torn thick bedding apart to fashion them, completely blotting out the world around us. The blackness rolling over the world like a fog had finally found its way into our sanctuary, robbing us of the sight of our love.
The three weeks we spent blind were not as bad as you might imagine. Colin and I knew the basic outlay of our apartment like the back of our hands, so the cursory blundering into things and toe-stubbing was kept to a minimum. We would spend our days quietly talking about the lives we had left behind; of what wonders we had found in each other, of the amazing life we had built together. And while it was sad to tally the cost of what we had lost, it only fastened us closer together.
We ate simply (cold spaghetti from the can is exactly as awful as it sounds) and slept often. We were alone on a lifeboat in a sea of chaos and danger, but we had each other.
But in the dark, we had no choice but to better hear the fallen world outside: howling moans of terrors birthed suddenly and violently into our world; the skittering of terrible, impossible things with proportions that defied the imagination; of impossible, wonderful people who had survived as we had, finally succumbing to the inevitability of evil. Neither of us dared voice it, but we both wondered how long it would be until we were found, dragged kicking and screaming into violent, unimaginable ends.
As it turned out, our worry was for naught.
It was the noise of commotion that stole me from a dreamless sleep. I could hear the struggle before I even realized that Colin was no longer in bed with me. I reached across to where he should be and felt nothing but the warmth of his presence, still raw with the very smell of him. From my dark cage, I could hear voices, a clattering din coming from down the hall. I reached for the hockey stick beside the bed and leaped into action.
I called to Colin as I made my way through our home, love pushing me on in spite of my blind terror. I tore the blindfold from my head as I rounded the last corner and threw it to the ground, ready to attack the beast that had finally found us.
Shock stopped me where I stood; the diorama in front of me had been seemingly built using images from my worst nightmares. Colin lay slumped against the wall, his body leaking like a faulty pipe and spraying his life across to the opposite wall. His dirty-white shirt was now sodden with blood, the blindfold still firmly around his face like a misplaced bandage. He had died violently and suddenly in the dark. A better end than most of us would be afforded.
The creature that had butchered my love, that had pissed on the dying embers of my life-light, stood over Colin panting heavily. Its long, wizened limbs hung by its sides limply, its silhouette a terrifying scarecrow come to life. The gold crucifix around its neck glinted in the dark.
“You think you two homos can just hoard all the food? That the Lord would allow you to thrive while I starve?” Malcolm rasped.
I charged at him, Colin’s body at his feet finally running out of fluids to expel. I swung the hockey stick at his midriff and felt him fold like an accordion as several of his ribs shattered like glass. The knife with which he had killed my love dropped and clattered on the hardwood floor, settling in a pool of blood.
The second swing sent him into an unconsciousness from which I did not know if he would return.
I knelt beside the broken body of my love and removed his blindfold. His eyes were open, frozen in a silent scream: the light that had led my way finally extinguished. The fluids that sustained him had drained, his skin ashen and pulpy; the final mechanical functions of an extraordinary but now irreparable machine. A numbness spread across me, mercifully beginning with the now-useless organ in the middle of my chest; a blanket had been wrapped around my aching heart. As I looked at my tether to this world, I decided to float away.
Even as I write this, what remains of my soulmate lies still in the hallway, cold, hollow and vacant. I don’t know if anyone will ever get to read this, but it feels important to leave some trace that something beautiful once lived here. A footnote maybe, but that would be enough. To be remembered and to hope that there would be a world happy to remember us.
Before I began my testimony, I removed the wooden boards from the broken windows. The world outside was alien to me, as though the entire building had been transported to another world while we hid, a world of pain and monsters. The tenement building across the street remained in place, a guardian of brick and mortar that had stood watch on the streets of Glasgow for over a hundred years. But its front had been torn off, exposing its rooms like the innards of a concrete giant. A huge, fat crystalline spider had set up its home in the faceless building, its wire thick webbing looking more like a glass cage than a spider web; in its perfectly clear body I could see almost a dozen humans crammed together, naked, writhing and screaming as the spider slowly drained their bodies of use. The midday sky was almost entirely blackened with huge, flying atrocities: nightmares utterly ambivalent to the screaming below.
This is their world now. I have no more place in it than a dormouse does in a nest of vipers.
And nor does Malcolm.
As it turned out, the second blow merely knocked him out. I dragged him to the backroom (Colin’s study; the air of the room still smelled of him, still felt alive with his presence) and tied him to the sturdy office chair by the desk. He babbled and rambled about my sexual preferences, that I was a deviant who would be going to Hell just as soon as I died. The poor bastard doesn’t even realize that we are both already there.
I think it’s time for me to join Colin, wherever he might be. And I think this time, I am going to insist that Malcolm joins us.
I am going to look deep into those hateful eyes; I am going to lock those miserable orbs onto mine even if I have to staple his eyelids to his forehead. He was convinced that Colin and I had the Devil inside of us, that our souls had been taken hostage by demons. I am going to stare into that miserable bigot’s soul and see from where the Devil is drawn first.
And I know who my money is on.
Hugh McStay is a native of Glasgow, Scotland, where his love for all things horror blossomed in the city’s plethora of urban myths and stories. Influenced by the works of Stephen King and Clive Barker, Hugh has been writing short horror fiction in his spare time for a number of years. Most recently published by Madness Heart Press in their Body Horror anthology and Thuggish Itch; Theme Park anthology, Hugh is busily working on his first novel. A doting Dad of two beautiful girls, Hugh is a firm believer that his two children are far more formidable than any monster his imagination could ever conjure. You can find Hugh on Twitter.