There’s no reason to be scared of mirrors – By Garona
I’ve always been creeped out by mirrors. I know it’s not exactly an uncommon phobia, but unlike a lot of people, I can pinpoint the exact moment when it started for me. Once when I was around 6 or 7, my mom, in her infinite wisdom, decided that it would make Halloween extra fun if she read me some ghost stories before bed. She really hyped it up the whole time we were out trick-or-treating, talking about how she ‘wasn’t sure I could handle it’ and ‘maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, it might give you nightmares.’ She probably should have listened to her own advice.
Sadly, I don’t remember anything about the book she had. I know I never saw it again; maybe it was from the library. I also remember that I thought most of the stories were pretty lame. I was already a connoisseur of Goosebumps by that time in my life, after all. One story, though, I remember to this day.
It was about a young girl, not so different from me, except that sometimes when she looked into the mirror she would see something… wrong. Somehow, sometimes, her face didn’t look quite like her own; her hair would be just a shade too dark, or her nose would be a slightly different shape than she thought it was. And sometimes, if the lighting was low, she thought she saw something else there, just out of the corner of her eye, just in the corner of the mirror.
It turned out that the spirit haunting her was actually a benevolent one; it was reaching out to her to try to save her from dying in the same gruesome way it had. But it was that imagery from the beginning of the story that really stuck with me. There didn’t seem to be anything benevolent to me about seeing the wrong face when you looked in the mirror, and in spite of its good intentions, the ghost did cause bad things to happen to her. For example, at one point she was so startled by her own reflection in a store window that she almost stumbled into traffic. Perhaps, in spite of the fact that the spirit’s warning ultimately saved her, it was still jealous of her, just for being alive?
That night, I remember lying in bed for what felt like a lifetime, paralyzed with fear. I knew if I looked into my bedroom mirror, I would see my own face begin to distort… and twist, and warp… until the transformation was complete, and then I would see the headless ghost from the story, trying in vain to warn me of some terrible fate with a mouth that could no longer speak, brandishing her putrid severed head at me. I swore I could smell the stench of it. As long as I lay perfectly still, though, perhaps I could avoid catching her attention. Sometime before dawn, I finally managed to get some sleep.
After that night, I developed a routine. I would try to avoid drinking much before bed, and I would make sure to pee the very last thing before I lay down. If the worst should happen, and I still wound up needing to pee in the middle of the night, well, it became a bit of an obstacle course. The mirror in my bedroom was hung on the back of my door, so I would have to walk up to it and open it with my eyes closed. It was pretty terrifying to be blind while walking right up to an object of perceived menace, but it was better than running the risk of accidentally looking at it. Then, before I could get to the bathroom, I also had to make it through my dad’s home office, where a large mirror hung on one of the walls. I could make it through there just by keeping my eyes on the floor. Finally, I would make it to the bathroom, where I just had to keep my eyes closed until I sat down, and then I would be facing away from the mirror in there. Then all that was left was to rinse and repeat to make it back to safety, concluding with a panicked dash for the bed to get away from the mirror that would be lurking behind me as I shut the door.
I want to take a moment here to clarify that mirrors during the daytime never bothered me. It was only at night, in the dark, when the low light might play tricks on your eyes and make your face seem… wrong. Looking back, I recognize that my behavior seemed a little off. A little OCD, maybe, and not the “omg I alphabetize my books” kind of OCD. More like the “I engage in nonsensical ritualistic behavior, and I must do it exactly right or I will die” kind of OCD. And maybe it was just that, because I do have a history of ‘mental illness’… but I’m getting ahead of myself. Anyway, I don’t think that’s what it was; I think I was just a kid with an overactive imagination who really was terrified at the time.
I kept up this behavior all the way until we moved to a new house when I was 10. There was still a mirror in the bathroom, but I put my bedroom mirror in my closet so I could shut the closet door at night and not have to worry about it, and the new bathroom was just down the hall. In the absence of any other mirrors to contend with, my mirror-avoiding strategy was much less complex; I just sort of casually didn’t look at the mirror in the bathroom and I was fine. It all felt like way less of a big deal.
It took me a while after the move, but I started to make new friends. Three friends in particular, let’s call them S, B, and C, were my best friends for most of my teenage years. Like many teenagers, we loved trying to scare each other with ghost stories. We had ourselves convinced that the woods behind my house were haunted (even though nothing spooky ever actually happened there), and we used to dare each other to go out there alone after dark. We never did get around to trying an Ouija board, mainly because B insisted that her aunt had to have her house exorcised after using one and was too scared. We did, however, get it into our heads one night to try summoning Bloody Mary.
I was probably almost 15 by then, and my mirror phobia had somewhat abated… but it was by no stretch of the imagination ‘gone’. Really I was pretty much shitting myself. Alone, locked in a dark room with only a little candle, forced to stare into a mirror and purposefully try to summon an evil spirit? Fuck. But peer pressure is never stronger than it is in your teens, and there was no way I could be the one to chicken out.
S, the oldest in the group, was the first to try it. With all the solemnness of a religious rite, we passed her the single lit candle, and she crossed the hall between her bedroom and the bathroom alone. We waited in silence for what felt to me like an eternity, but it was probably only about 30 seconds. Suddenly she came bursting back out of the bathroom, causing us all to jump. With wide eyes and wild hair, she lunged back across the hall and slammed the bedroom door behind her.
“Jesus Christ, what happened?” C gasped.
“I saw her… it worked, I really did see her, holy crap.” S sunk to the ground, shaking and covering her face with her hands.
“W… what did she look like?” I asked, my voice suddenly horse.
“She looked… like… THIS!” S shrieked, suddenly throwing her hands from her face, mouth open comically wide and fingers curling like claws. We all screamed and jumped back, and she collapsed onto her side in laughter. “Oh my god, I got you guys. Awesome! Seriously, nothing happened, it was kind of a let-down.”
“Well, for one thing, screw you,” B said. “And for another thing, you know, you probably didn’t stay in there long enough. You can’t just say her name three times and run out, you’ve got to wait a little bit and see what happens.”
“Oh, so, what,” S said sarcastically, “summoning Bloody Mary is like making a stew? You’ve got to let it marinate a little while?”
“Shut up, freak,” B said good-naturedly. And then, I swear to god it felt like time slowed down as her eyes turned to me, and I got that stomach-dropping feeling like you get on a rollercoaster. “Why don’t you try it?”
I tried so hard to put on a face of casual indifference, but I know my voice betrayed me. “I don’t know, you seem to have a good idea about how to do this, maybe it should be your turn?”
“Ooooo, is somebody scared? Don’t worry, the toilet will be right there if you think you’re gonna pee your pants!” C and S both joined B in giggling over this lovely image.
“Ugh, shut it.” I ran my fingers through my hair to hide how they shook. “I’m not scared. Give me the damn candle.”
“Oh, I think I left it in there.”
“Fine, whatever.” I hauled myself off of S’s bed and marched across the hall, fueled by equal parts adrenaline and irritation at my bitchy friends. Teenage girls are vicious predators, they’ll attack at the slightest scent of fear. I saw the candle and lighter still on counter by the sink, and was just about to grab them when—
BAM. The door slammed shut behind me. Over my scream, I could make out the chorus of female giggles.
“Don’t forget!” C said in singsong. “You’ve got to stay in there after you say it, at least for a few minutes!”
“Fuck! Fuck you guys!” I shouted. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to just flip the light switch, and put a stop to this whole stupid thing right then—although I suppose that would have made me seem incredibly lame. But it never crossed my mind; in my panic, I just groped blindly for the candle and lighter. I found the candle first, then the lighter, which I flicked desperately. It lit on the third try.
Suddenly out of the pitch-black darkness, I was met with my own reflection. The flickering candlelight cast crazy shadows across the room, and lit from beneath, my face looked… wrong. My eyes looked hollow, my cheekbones, impossibly high.
“Come on! You’ve got to say it!” It was hard to hear my friends over the sound of blood rushing in my ears, but I knew they were right. It had nothing to do anymore with how they would laugh at me if I didn’t do this. It felt inevitable. I don’t even remember making the conscious decision to start speaking; suddenly, I just was.
“Bloody Mary.” I caught a glimpse of my teeth as I spoke, and the light made them look yellowed, rotten; and my lips were grey and chapped. “Bloody Mary.” My eyes were just black pinpricks, glinting somewhere above the hollows of my cheeks. “Bloody Mary.” My hair seemed longer, it was so long now, and so dark, and it was twisting like snakes—and yet I still couldn’t look away. There was one moment of perfect silence, in which I watched in dumbstruck fascination as my face shifted like a mirage, seeming to age and decay before my very eyes. Then the candle went out.
I screamed, and my friends screamed, but when I threw myself against the bathroom door, those bastards still held it shut. I suppose I can’t blame them; I suppose they still thought we were just having some fun. But I wasn’t just screaming out of panic. In the blind darkness, there were hands all over me, clawing at me, ripping at my clothes and hair. It wasn’t until my screams took on a peculiar gurgling quality that they must’ve realized something wasn’t quite right, and finally decided to have mercy. When they opened the door, all the shrieking and giggling abruptly stopped.
“Oh… oh my god,” B said. “What the fuck did you do?”
. . .
In the end, after the hospital, I wound up spending some quality time in psych ward. Because no one really believes in ghosts, not even my teenage friends. No one would ever believe that something had actually attacked me in that room. No one really had a good explanation for how I could have wound up with so many bite marks and deep lacerations all over my body, even on my back, or how I could have very nearly sawed my own throat open… but the mirror had been broken, there was bloody glass all over the floor, so to them it was clear that I must have done it to myself. Except that I don’t remember it breaking, and anyway why the fuck would I do that? But still, it was the only logical explanation, because there’s no such thing as ghosts.
My therapists were honestly very helpful, very kind, but ultimately everything they were saying all boiled down to that. There’s no such thing as ghosts. There’s no reason to be scared of mirrors. There’s especially no reason to be scared of the mirror on your bedroom wall at night. No reason to be scared of the face you might see, even if it doesn’t look quite like your own. Even if, just for a moment, your face shimmers like a mirage, revealing something else underneath. Even if you think she might be trying to speak to you, even if you can smell the stench, it’s just a trick of the light. There’s no reason to be scared.