Marks in the Reflection
Story by Andrew Peregrine
Spending the winter holidays in grandma’s house was not Sarah’s idea of fun. It wasn’t that she didn’t like her grandmother; in fact she loved her very much. It was just that it was just so boring there. The house was an old cottage, in the middle of nowhere. It was an hour’s drive to the shops, and that was only a small supermarket. Incredibly, grandma didn’t have a television, let alone a games console. All she had was a radio, on which she listened to the news, and ‘The Archers’. Worse yet it was a very small cottage, which meant that she had to share a room with her brother Alex. The only consolation she got was that he hated it as much as she did. Especially as being the eldest, and the girl, grandma had insisted Sarah got the biggest and comfiest bed. Alex had not been pleased.
Sarah usually got on with her brother. As little brothers went he wasn’t that bad, and both knew enough to leave each other alone unless a game required two people to play. Like many brothers, Alex wasn’t very keen on skipping, but Sarah didn’t always want to play ‘action man war’ either. When she did, her Barbie often ended up a hostage of action man’s arch-enemy. Sarah felt this wasn’t very appropriate for the modern and forward thinking career woman that her Barbie was. However Alex insisted that is what would happen, and boys know the rules for this sort of thing better than girls. She reasoned that this was most likely the reason that men went to war, as women would get very bored always being hostages. So the brother and sister had been forced to find games that they both liked to do. They had several of these. There was the throwing stones in the river game, the hitting trees with bits of wood game, and the running around a lot until you fall over game. The especially clever thing about all these games was that they could all be played at the same time. The one good thing about grandma’s house was that there was a field and a forest all around, perfect for any of their games. However, it wasn’t very good in winter.
There wasn’t even any snow, it was just cold. Too cold to go out and play for very long. There was no mum and dad either. This was why they were staying with grandma. Both parents had been forced to go away on business to Belgium. They ran an advertising business together, and had a very important client over there, that needed them both to go and see him. It would only be a couple of days. So as it was half term, Sarah and Alex had to visit grandma. It had been two days so far, with no television, and no snow. So given the circumstances, there was little else to do but read. She claimed the bedroom and left Alex playing with his cars in the living room. This worked out well for both of them. Sarah needed the quiet and Alex had found that grandma, having her afternoon nap after lunch, made a very good car park.
Perhaps it was the boredom, but there was something about grandma’s house that made Sarah sleepy. That combined with reading in peace and quiet sent her to sleep quite quickly. It became dark while she slept although she woke before dinner time. Being daylight when she had fallen asleep, there was no light on in the room when she woke. She had also closed the door to shut out Alex’s ‘broom broom’ noises that somehow failed to wake grandma. It took her eyes a while to adjust to the gloom as she shook the sleepiness away. As the room became clearer she noticed the shape at the end of the bed. It was a large hunched mass lurking at the foot of her bed. As she stared, transfixed and not a little afraid, it became clearer, seeming to loom out of the shadows in front of her. Sarah was terrified, but then she realised it was her coat. She always left it on the end of her bed. At times like this the black folds of fabric could form into any manner of monstrous shape. She relaxed and sat up, yawning and stretching. Then she noticed her coat was hanging on the back of the door.
The shape at the end of the bed was moving, swaying a little as it lurked there. It was quite clear now, what she could see of it at least. It was covered in thick long hair and it seemed to rise and fall a little with the low rasp it made as it breathed. Then, very slowly it began to reach an arm towards her. It was a thick and powerful arm, covered in jet black shaggy fur, which ended in huge claws that shone, even in the dark. Sarah was too frightened to scream, or even move as the arm slowly came towards her feet. She was frozen, although her mind was screaming at her to run. She closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable. The creature’s claws touched her bare feet. They felt like steel, cold and sharp, she had no doubt they had an edge like a razor. It was only then the creature spoke, with a low voice that reminded her of snakes.
“Help me,” it said.
Sarah opened her eyes, and stared at the end of the bed. The creature had risen up a little. It seemed about the size of a small gorilla, but with no head. Instead it had a face of some kind on its chest. Although all she could see were two large slitted eyes peering at her from the end of her duvet. There was a desperate look in them, as well as a terrible sadness. She was just about to say something when a shadow passed across the room. It seemed to come from the wardrobe in the corner. As if it feared to be discovered out of place the creature pulled back its claw and ran to the wardrobe. It tapped an odd pattern with its claw on the mirror that covered the whole of the wardrobe door. Then it jumped through the mirror as if it was an open window and was gone. Sarah relaxed, and now that the danger was passed, fainted dead away.
She was woken up by her brother. Alex took great delight in loudly announcing that dinner was ready. To accentuate the news he jumped heavily on Sarah’s bed. Sarah considered the effect a well-placed kick would have on his bouncing form. Then she decided he would be more loud and annoying if he was crying and so she just growled at him.
“You’ve got to come and eat dinner now,” shouted Alex. He was obviously bored with his cars and wanted company. Sarah sat on him for a few moments and tickled him mercilessly. She was still big enough to win a fight, and needed to remind him so he’d shut up. Alex got the message and ran back to the dining room to annoy grandma. Sarah sleepily got up and went to brush her hair in the mirror. It was obvious that the monster had just been a rather vivid bad dream. She prodded the mirror just to prove her point, and noted the glass was still solid and intact. Serve her right for reading Harry Potter before sleeping. Monsters weren’t real; it was as simple as that. She managed to believe this for about a minute while she brushed her hair, before she noticed the claw marks in the mirror. There were three long scratches in the glass that hadn’t been there before. The oddest thing was that the marks were on the inside of the mirror. She ran her fingers over the glass, and there was no dent on her side, the mirror was perfectly smooth. She opened the wardrobe door to look at the back. The wooden backing to the mirror was solid and unscathed. Dinner suddenly seemed a very good idea, and she put down her brush and left the room as quickly as she could, making very sure she closed the door.
After dinner grandma was very impressed by Sarah’s willingness to do a variety of household chores before going to bed. She cleared the table and washed up. She then gave the kitchen floor a good sweep, but grandma stopped her when she got the vacuum cleaner out. With a great deal of resignation Sarah got Alex ready for bed and got into her nightdress. Grandma kissed her and Alex goodnight, and was a little surprised at how tightly Sarah hugged her back. Completely unaware of the plight of her granddaughter, she wished the children sweet dreams and closed the bedroom door behind her. Sarah dug herself under the duvet as far as she could, leaving only her eyes visible. She held tightly onto her furry toy elephant, Desmond, and waited. She couldn’t possibly sleep, or turn her back on the wardrobe door’s mirror. Desmond gave her little comfort as his soft fur kept reminding her on the long arms of the creature. For what seemed like hours she lay awake glaring at the mirror.
She was beginning to fall asleep, when there was a movement from the mirror. A clawed arm covered in the same black fur as before reached up to tap a steel finger on the glass. The glass vanished, and Sarah felt a hot furnace like wind come from the mirror and brush her face. Then the creature slowly reached through the hole and gripping the edges of the mirror, gently pulled itself through. It dropped to the floor on its stubby thick legs with the quiet of a cat and paused to survey the room. It the same one she had seen before. It was around three or four feet high at the shoulder, which was its highest point as it had no head. It squatted slightly on two short thick legs. Its arms reached right to the floor from its powerful shoulders, both ending in a huge hand that bore four shining claws. The whole body was covered in thick shaggy black fur. Its face was on its chest, but only seemed to contain two long angular eyes and a huge mouth that must surely be filled with teeth. It waved its hand across the mirror and then dived under Sarah’s bed. The glass seemed to return to the wardrobe door, and the acrid wind ceased blowing into Sarah’s face. The room was silent again, apart from the sound of the monster breathing under Sarah’s bed.
Sarah lay there, paralysed with fear. Her breathing was slow and heavy with terror. But then she realised the creatures breathing sounded the same, frightened and panicked. It was as if it knew it had to breathe, but that doing so would make noise and it had to stay absolutely quiet. Sarah glanced up at the mirror, and gasped. A dark man was looking out from inside the glass. His face was featureless except for two bright green eyes. He wore clothes made of shadow and carried a long whip in his right hand. With his left hand he pressed against the mirror as if to check it was secure. As he gazed around the room, Sarah was certain he had seen her, but after a moment he turned and walked away into the reflection.
The monster’s breathing calmed and it slid out from under the bed, and ended up staring Sarah directly in the eye.
“Help me please,” it said. “I have escaped them, but I can’t live for long in your world, I need another mirror.”
Its voice was raspy and snake like, but it sounded sincere and very frightened. Tentatively Sarah relaxed and nodded. Grandma had a mirror in the hall, which might do.
“You needn’t worry,” said the monster. “I won’t harm you. My name is Slide. I just want to escape the shadow men. They live in some mirrors and keep creatures like me as their slaves. I’m sorry if I frightened you. I had to get under your bed or in a cupboard, they can’t see very well in your world.”
Sarah took the creature by the hand and went to leave the room. Then she noticed Alex was awake and looking at her and the creature with terror and amazement. For once he was struck dumb at the sight.
“Stay there,” said Sarah. “I’m taking the monster somewhere safe and then I’m coming back to bed.”
Alex nodded as if it all made sense and watched her leave.
Together, Sarah and Slide went into the hall. There sat grandma’s hall mirror, but inside it was a shadow man. Slide jumped behind Sarah, leaving her staring straight into the shadow man’s gaze of green fire. However, instead of coming for her he just turned back into the reflection and was gone.
“They can’t see children,” said Slide, “that’s why I’m safe with you. But that mirror isn’t any good. Is there another?”
Quickly they went into the bathroom, which had a mirror above the sink. Slide jumped up there and put a hand on the mirror.
“I think its safe,” he said. Then he tapped the glass and the pane vanished. “Every mirror has a lock, the smaller ones are easier to break,” he told Sarah. Then he hopped inside and smiled back at her with a wicked but friendly grin. “You’ve freed me,” he whispered, “I won’t forget you.”
Then he waved a hand and the glass returned, as he ran away into the image.
Sarah went back to bed. Alex was still sitting up in amazement gaping at her. Sarah looked at the mirror wondering how many more monsters needed freeing from the terrible shadow men. It seemed children were their only hope on this side of the mirrors. She made Alex lie back down and tucked him in. Then she whispered, “The monsters are our friends, silly.” She smiled at him, and he realised she meant it; this seemed to settle him down.
However before she went to sleep Sarah could resist saying to him “And now they owe me a favour too.” Just in case he forgot who was the eldest and who was in charge.