It was a windswept autumn day when I first spotted it. Amongst the various clutter of the car boot sale stalls, a tall mirror was propped up at the end of one of the tables. A number of people gathered around it, admiring its blemished but charming finish. I dodged my way through the small crowd, the small collection of copper pots I had recently purchased clanking against each other in the scuffle.
A greying man stood beside it, his badly combed over hair now driven wild by the gusts which blew through the field. ‘It’s a genuine Elizabethan-era mirror, I can promise you that,’ he said to the crowd, running his hand over the varnished oak finish.
The moment I clapped my eyes on it, I felt drawn to it. It was body-length, and in near perfect condition. The mirror itself was tarnished in places, but considering its age it was to be expected. The intricate carving which surrounded it consisted of all manner of mythical beasts. A grand dragon curled around the top of the frame, while tussling beasts fell down the sides.
The man raised a hand for silence from the murmuring crowd. ‘There’s a lot of interest, I can see that. We’ll bid, shall we? Fifty pounds starting price.’
A couple of hands shot skywards, and the price quickly gathered pace. I joined the fray at the one hundred and seventy mark. Most of the others had dropped out by now, and it came down to myself and an older lady. Each time she bid higher, something in me pressed me to go again.
‘Two hundred and forty!’ the greying man declared, hardly hiding his excitement. If he had not been in public I would suspect he would be rubbing his wrinkled hands with glee.
The woman stared at me, her eyes cold pinpricks. She chewed her bottom lip pensively, then shook her head. I couldn’t believe it, I had won it.
The old gent strode towards me and offered a shaking hand. ‘Congratulations,’ he said. ‘It’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?’
I could not tear my eyes from it. ‘It is,’ I said, absent-mindedly shaking the man’s hand. ‘I’m surprised you’re parting with it.’
The man turned his gaze back to it and sighed. ‘It’s necessary I’m afraid. A reluctant sale if ever there was one.’ He turned back towards me. ‘Not enough room, you see. It’s been sat in storage for the past eight years. I think it’s about time it saw the sun again.’
I walked towards the mirror and stared into it. There was an electric atmosphere which emanated from it, something bringing me to look deeper into it. I found myself smiling at it, and, in turn, smiling at myself.
The old man stood beside me, gazing into it with the same loving eyes. He shook his head, snapping his eyes from it. ‘Do you need a hand taking it to your car?’
I kept my eyes fixed on the mirror. ‘Yes, please.’
The mirror barely fit in the back of my car. I flattened the back seats and pushed the front passenger seat forward. The old man had kindly given me the dust sheet he had transported it with, and it provided some slight protection for it. I stuffed the copper pots behind my seat, their dull finishes seeming uninteresting compared to my new find. There was a fitted cover which the old man said he still had somewhere, he just had to find it, so he gave me his number and asked me to call him in a week.
I drove the slowest I had in years, as carefully as I did after I first passed my driving test. Every pothole made me wince, and every junction stop had me peering into my rear-view mirror to check on it. Thankfully, we both made it back in one piece.
It did not take long for me to unload the mirror, although the struggle through my front door and up the staircase to the second floor was time-consuming. My house wasn’t anything special, a detached three bedroom property on the outskirts of town. The master bedroom was at the end of the corridor, with the two other bedrooms branching off along the length of it.
I positioned the mirror at the end of the corridor, opposite the door to my bedroom. To say it looked out of place was an understatement; my relatively modern house with its magnolia walls now hosted a grand and baroque full-length mirror.
It was hard to drag myself away from it. I couldn’t help but reach out and touch the superb craftsmanship and gaze into the tarnished mirror itself. Still, my son was staying the night, as he always did on Saturdays, so I regrettably pulled myself away to take the hour long drive to get him.
Since I had separated from his mother, I had moved away to allow myself to take on better work. I hated myself for it, I only got to see him on the weekends, but it was the only way I could afford a house by myself.
I returned home with an excitable Jay in the back. We spent the rest of the day playing in the garden, and generally doing things to make myself feel less shit about only seeing him two days a week. He was only eight, and he always seemed more grown up each time I saw him. All was well and normal, until I took him to his room to unpack.
‘What’s that?’ he asked, freezing at the top of the stairs.
‘What do you mean? It’s a mirror. Don’t tell me Mum doesn’t have mirrors any more?’
Jay shook he head. ‘Mum’s got mirrors. I’ve got one in my room.’ He stood himself in front of the mirror and gazed into his reflection. ‘But this one’s weird.’
‘By weird, you mean old, right?’ I laughed. ‘It’s pretty fancy, isn’t it?’
‘I don’t like it,’ Jay replied. He turned to me. ‘Can I shut my door tonight?’
‘Well, sure, I suppose,’ I said. I frowned. ‘All because of the mirror?’
Jay shrugged, in a way that suggested he didn’t want to confirm he was afraid out loud. ‘I just don’t like it.’
There wasn’t anything I could say to it. ‘Shut your door if you want. I’ve got no problem with it.’
The evening flew by, as it always did with Jay. The week at work at exhausted me, so I quickly found myself falling asleep. I took one last look at the mirror at the end of the hall and let sleep take me.
Whispering. At first I wasn’t sure if it was part of a dream, but I soon led there awake with the noise still there. I glanced at my clock, the digital display informing me that it was just gone two in the morning. I sat up to see where the whispers were coming from.
Jay was stood at the end of the hall, with his nose almost pressed against the mirror. From where I was, his voice was too quiet to make any sense of what he was saying. I climbed out of bed and walked down the hall. ‘Jay?’
He looked at me in the mirror. ‘You could hear her too?’
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The lady. The one in the mirror,’ he replied, as if it were as normal a sentence as telling me the colour of the sky. ‘My door was shut, but I could still hear her.’
I shouldn’t have entertained his nonsense, but I was curious myself. ‘What is she saying?’
‘Oh, nothing nasty,’ Jay said. ‘She tells me that I look like a nice young man. She says I’ve got a long life ahead of me. Then she smiles oddly at me, and then she just stares.’
I looked up into the mirror and saw nothing but myself and Jay. I paused for a moment, taking in the silence of the night; there was no voice which I could tell of. ‘Are you getting the nightmares again, Jay?’
Jay pulled his eyelids back with his fingers. ‘Do I look like I’m sleeping, Dad?’
‘Alright,’ I laughed. ‘I think it’s time to go back to bed. We’ve got a lot planned tomorrow before I take you back to Mum’s.’
‘But what if she doesn’t stop talking?’ Jay protested. ‘What if I can’t go to sleep?’
‘I think you’ll be fine,’ I said, in an attempt to reassure the both of us. ‘Go back to bed and relax. It will be morning before you know it.’
Jay begrudgingly returned to his bedroom and shut his door. ‘Goodnight, Dad.’
I waited a moment, listening and looking. Whatever Jay had supposedly seen or heard, I could not experience it. Still, even though I hadn’t experienced it myself, the fact that it had spooked Jay kept me awake the rest of the night. I shut my door for the remainder of the night.
Jay returned home on the Sunday, not uttering another word about the mirror in the hallway. There was part of me that convinced myself that he was just sleepwalking; after all, it was something I had done as a child, and I had certainly said some strange things as I wandered my childhood home.
When I returned home from dropping Jay back to his mother, things felt different. As soon as I unlocked the door and stepped over the threshold, the atmosphere could only be described as unwelcoming. I suddenly felt like I had walked into someone else’s home rather than my own.
The feeling did not leave for the entirety of the evening. There was an oppressive feeling of being watched, and every time I moved from one room to another I almost expected to see someone to be stood there waiting for me. I wasn’t exactly sure who I was expecting to see, but I put such thoughts to the back of my head in an attempt to enjoy my evening before I returned to work the next day.
It was around midnight when I was awoken again. I lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling, letting out a frustrated sigh at the fact that I was awake again. I closed my eyes and settled back in, hoping to find sleep again quickly. It was not to happen.
At first I thought someone was talking outside. It was a muffled voice, a lot like the sound of listening to a neighbour’s overly loud television through a brick wall. I listened to it for a moment, attempting to make some kind of sense out of it. It was intermittent, but always seemed to come back.
I looked out of my bedroom window and into the street below, expecting to see a drunk stumbling past; one of my neighbours was prone to hitting the bottle, so it wouldn’t have been the first time I’d seen her struggling home. The street was empty. I closed the curtains and climbed back into bed.
Another sound made itself known. It was a faint tap, like the sound of a finger tapping against a window. I leapt out of bed at the sound and quickly skulked from room to room. My initial thought was that someone was trying to break in.
I looked out of the upstairs windows, straining my eyes against the darkness. There was nothing out there, yet I could still hear the faint tapping. I was currently in Jay’s room, looking out into the hallway. I stopped and listened. It was close.
I crept forward and glanced out into the hallway. To the right of the door was the length of corridor which led to my bedroom and to my left was the wall on which the mirror was mounted. It took a moment of listening, but it sounded as if the tapping was coming from the mirror.
I watched it with fear-widened eyes. A wave of cold air washed over me, sending goosebumps over my bare skin. As I gazed at the tarnished mirror, I thought I could see someone. It was only for a fraction of a second, but a vague shape was present on the other side of the glass. There was no distinction to it, just a shadowy shape with a hand pressed up against the other side of the mirror.
I swallowed my fear and moved towards it. As I stood in front of the mirror the image vanished, the tapping disappearing along with it. The cold seeped away, warmth coming to my skin once more. I moved side to side, checking every inch of the mirror for the shadow, but it was gone. There was no way my mind would let me sleep for the rest of that night, so I sat up and formulated a plan. I decided to contact the seller the next morning.
Morning light came slower than I had wished. As soon as nine rolled around I called the old man, wondering how I could explain what had happened in the sanest way possible. In my mind, Jay and I couldn’t have both been hallucinating; surely the previous owner must have experienced something similar?
It was a short phone call. The old man was pleased to hear from me, and asked me how it was settling into its new home before asking if I wanted to come collect the dust sheet for it. I was sketchy with the details, but it quickly became apparent that the old man had kept that mirror under wraps for almost as long as he had owned it. Any memory of anything strange had long been lost in his misted mind.
Instead, he gave me a contact of his who specialised in historical objects. He wasn’t sure if his contact could help me, but he knew the history of the mirror was a long one, and perhaps they could shed some light on what I had experienced. I made the call as soon as I finished speaking to the old man.
The contact in question was a Professor Charles Polland, an expert in English heritage at Oxford University. He was a quietly spoken man on the phone, but his voice gave away his deep interest in what I had to say regarding the mirror. Of course, I omitted the more fantastical details, but said that my son felt uneasy around it. He requested I bring it to his offices, and two days later I did.
His office was sizeable, with wood-paneling covering the walls, and framed diplomas and photos covering that. It was hard not to let my eyes wander around the walls as he inspected the mirror.
‘My, my,’ he said, squinting through his rounded glasses. ‘This is an incredible find. Incredible.’ He stood back and pushed his glasses up the bridge of the nose, looking at me through them and doing what appeared to be his best impression of a mole. ‘It’s Elizabethan, that is for sure. And you say you found this at a car boot sale?’ He laughed to himself. ‘I don’t think the man who sold this to you really knew what he had here.’
I looked towards the mirror, my own reflection staring back at me as I sat in the leather armchair. ‘What can you tell me about it?’ I asked.
Charles’ mouth wrinkled into a smile. ‘What can I tell you? What can’t I tell you, is possibly the better question.’ He took a step towards the mirror and pointed to the oak carved edge of it. ‘You see the way these beasts are carved, the way the wood is worked in between them? It’s a very distinctive design made only by the renowned wood-worker Alexander Speare, who was employed by the Countess of Darlbridge. Something of a rarity in this day and age.’
‘A rarity?’ I said, seeing my chance to offload the thing. ‘Something you might be interested in? I’d be happy to donate it.’
‘Interested? Yes.’ Charles replied. ‘But possibly not for the reasons you are hoping for. You see, Alexander Speare was a man who was admired as much as he was feared. He wrought beauty from any object, a man of incredible skill. The problem was with where the skill came from. Whenever he was asked about how he created his designs, how he brought them to the world, he always replied with the same words – ‘The devil whispers them to me in my slumber’.
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. ‘And how does that link in to the Countess?’
‘The Countess of Darlbridge was a beautiful woman, but vain. One day, Alexander Speare sent a mirror to her property, a gift to her as the Devil himself had commanded. Naturally, she was overcome with such a wonderful object, and quickly developed an unhealthy fascination with it.’
‘And she paid the price,’ Charles replied, looking at me with a deathly serious gaze. ‘The rumour was that the Countess and Alexander sparked up an affair, and her husband soon caught wind of these rumours. One day, when she was lost in one of her long gazes within the mirror, he crept behind and plunged a sword straight through her chest for her infidelity. The folklore around it says that if one dies whilst staring into the mirror, then their soul it trapped behind it forever.’
The shadowy figure I witnessed behind the mirror played in the back of my mind. ‘And what happened to Alexander?’
‘Her husband sent his soldiers to arrest Alexander, but when they arrived he had simply vanished.’ Charles sat down in his chair and rubbed his temples. ‘Tell me, and be truthful, have you noticed anything odd about the mirror?’
I shook my head. ‘It’s going to sound crazy-’
Charles’ expression dropped at my words. ‘Believe me, I’ve seen things you wouldn’t dream of. Tell me.’
I relayed everything that had happened. I told him about Jay’s encounter with the mirror, about the tapping and shadow I had seen on the other side of the mirror. At any moment I had expected him to burst into laughter, but instead the solemn expression on his face stayed put as if carved in stone.
‘We need to get rid of it,’ Charles said after a moment of silence.
I nodded. ‘Can we burn it? Smash it, maybe?’
‘No,’ Charles snapped. ‘Out of all the things we must not do, we must not smash it.’
‘Then what can be done?’
‘A ritual,’ Charles replied, quite seriously. ‘I have a counterpart in the United States who has a shared interest in such artifacts. We’ve been hunting down the final works of Alexander Speare for over thirty years now and ensuring they all destroyed in a safe manner.’
I wasn’t sure what to say. Before any of this, before I had bought that mirror, I had no real belief in the supernatural; the closest I had come to anything like this was telling ghost stories to Jay at Halloween. ‘Shall I leave it with you?’
‘No, you must be here too,’ Charles replied. ‘The owner of the artifact must be present during the ritual.’
I tried to think of every reason not to be there. ‘Can’t I gift it to you?’
Charles shook his head once more, sending his glasses slipping down his nose. ‘It needs to be given as a gift and received genuinely as a gift, otherwise the transfer of the artifact to a new owner won’t work, and that means the ritual won’t work.’
My heart sank at his words. ‘So, do we wait for your friend then?’
‘Ms. Adams will not be able get here in time, I’m afraid. I’ll inform her as she’ll be most interested, but the longer this mirror exists, the longer its evil can bleed into our world.’
‘So when do you need me?’
A sense of dread crept through my body, but there was little I could do about the situation. If what Charles had said about the mirror was true, and there was little of his words which I doubted now, then he would need me to help end this. I resigned myself to helping out, and reassured Charles that I would return later.
The evening came too quick for my liking. The university was empty and the lights dark, apart from a soft glow coming from the window of Charles’ office. An assistant of his who he trusted met me at the doorway and guided me back to his office. The assistant knocked the door and entered.
I almost didn’t recognise the office. Charles was sat at his desk, his face etched with grave concern. Around the room were hundreds of candles, each of them flickering away in the darkness, giving the soft glow which I had seen at the window. Charles had cleared his desk, and on it were several thick and aged tomes, their pages filled with inscriptions and diagrams far beyond my comprehension.
Charles looked up at me and gestured me to take a seat opposite him. He turned towards his assistant. ‘Helen, what I am about to say is very important. Whatever you hear, no matter what it is, do not interrupt us. Do you understand?’
‘I do,’ the young lady replied, before retreating back through the door.
‘I’m glad you came back,’ Charles said as the door closed. He flicked through the pages of one of the tomes. ‘I wasn’t quite sure if you’d come back.’
‘I thought you said I was needed?’ I replied.
‘You are,’ Charles said, looking back up over the rim of his glasses. ‘But that doesn’t mean you were going to come back. There are other people out there who would lack your bravery, who would simply abandon the mirror here. I’m glad you are made of sterner stuff.’
I nodded in reply to his compliment. The truth was I didn’t know I had a choice in the matter. I glanced at the mirror for the first time since I entered the room. It was positioned at the side of the desk with a long sheet currently covering it. I shivered at the thought of what was lurking on the other side.
Charles clicked his fingers, snapping me out of my macabre thoughts. ‘Are you ready to begin?’
I nodded, somewhat hesitantly. ‘Yes.’
‘Good,’ Charles replied. ‘I need you to follow my instructions exactly. Do not waiver from them in the slightest, and whatever happens you must not touch the mirror. Do you understand?’ He waited for my nod then continued. ‘Ms Adams will be able to arrive in three days at the soonest, and would very much like to meet you to recount events. You’ll need a few days rest after tonight, but hopefully you should have recovered by then.’
Charles opened two of the books onto specific pages, running his wrinkled fingers over the scratched ink which covered the pages. He moved his mouth, silently wording the text he ran over, but I could not make any of it out. He looked up at me. ‘This is your last chance to leave.’
I glanced at the mirror and swallowed the lump in my throat. I had come this far; I had to go further. ‘I’m staying.’
‘Place your hands on mine,’ he said, reaching his arms across the table. ‘Close your eyes and empty your mind. You need to be a clear conduit for the power which will course through us, as do I.’
I placed my hands as he asked, taking his cold hands in mine. I shut my eyes and attempted to ward all fear away from me. It did not last for long.
Charles muttered words under his breath which I could not describe or understand. His once cold hands now warmed against mine; turning from a mild heat to an almost painful temperature. I opened an eye to see what was happening.
The candles around the room flickered wildly, as if touched by some breeze which circled the room. I followed the breeze around, passing from my side, past Charles, beyond him, and towards the mirror. The sheet which covered the mirror fluttered in the breeze, growing stronger each pass. I followed the breeze several times in its circle around us, until eventually the sheet fell from the mirror.
A shock of dread ran down my spine as I saw it once more. It was no different to when I last laid my eyes on it, and yet it gave off a permeating aura of dread. I quickly shut my eye and concentrated on the ritual.
In between Charles’ words, the tapping returned. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut as fear rose through me, but the tapping on grew stronger. It rose from the sound of a single fingernail to that of a fist pounding against the glass. I knew I could not dare look at it, for seeing whatever it was on the other side of that mirror would drive me to lunacy.
Charles’ grip tightened around my hands. His harsh whisper now increased in volume along with the knocks, the wind whipping around us and sending the gathered papers on the desk flying around the room.
Charles stopped. In the deathly silence, all that could be heard was his ragged breathing, his lungs clamouring for any air they could find. I opened my eyes to find us in darkness.
All of the candles had been blown out, and I now sat in complete darkness with the smell of the recently dampened wicks fresh in my nose. My heart raced in my chest. Charles was still gasping for breath. The aura of dread had now increased to an almost crippling level. I couldn’t stand to be here any more. ‘Charles-’
A hellish bellow sounded from somewhere in the room. It was a sound which I still fear when I go to sleep, and I wish to never hear anything like it as long as I live. It was male and female, and also something else; a dark and powerful voice which rendered me paralysed with fear.
In that moment, wild with panic and dread, flashes of impossible light burst out of thin air. They were quick, but fast, creating a strobe effect across the scene. Charles still clutched my hands tightly, although his eyes were rolled back in his head and his mouth was stuck in a constant and silent scream. The smoke which emanated from the candles seemed to congeal in the air and form wild shapes of creatures I could never have imagined. Tears of fear rolled down my cheeks as I turned towards the mirror.
It was her. I saw her in those flashes of unnatural light, pressing herself against the thin sliver of glass which separated her eternal prison from the realm of life. A gaping wound in her chest was still wet with fresh blood, her bloodied hands clawing and pounding at the mirror itself.
Out of everything I saw, it was her eyes that would forever haunt me. They were wild with hunger; the life she so desperately wanted to take was sat less than an arm’s reach away from her, yet she was powerless to take it. Her mouth moaned and screamed in want as she tried to destroy the barrier and reach towards me, her body writhing in torment as being so close to her goal.
Charles’ grip loosened suddenly, panicking me at the thought of the ritual breaking. The flashes of light increased, the loud bellow of eternal pain now reaching deafening levels. I covered my ears and attempted to stand, only to find myself being thrown backwards by some invisible force. I clambered to my feet and saw only chaos as the desk, Charles, and countless books were thrown around the room. An invisible force wrapped itself around me and hoisted back into the air, and towards the mirror.
Whatever happened in the next few moments was a blur. The last thing I remembered was yelling for help at the top of my lungs, in the hope that someone would hear. My next memory was of myself flat on the floor, pain seeping through my body, looking up at Helen, her face creased with worry. The room looked as if it had been picked up and shaken by some monstrous being, with everything scattered around the place. I looked over to see the mirror knocked to the floor, with Charles led on top of it.
I scrambled to my feet. ‘Get him off there!’ I cried out.
Helen and I quickly shifted Charles from the mirror, and I was relieved to see both him breathing and the mirror still intact. He took some rousing but eventually came round.
After taking a moment to come to his senses, he looked up at me in a dazed state. ‘Is it done?’ he asked.
‘It’s done,’ I replied, looking back at the mirror. Exhaustion washed over me and I slumped to the floor beside him. ‘At least I think it is.’
He nodded to himself. ‘Forgive me,’ he said. ‘But I think we’ll call it a night here. Perhaps you could drop by tomorrow?’
‘Are you going to be okay?’
He looked up at me with an odd little smile. ‘Yes, I think I’ll be fine.’ He glanced at Helen. ‘Would you cancel Ms Adams coming here? I don’t think I’ll be recovered by the time she arrives.’ He looked back at me. ‘You’ll come tomorrow, yes?’
I nodded, too tired to even form words. I left him with Helen and stumbled out into the cool night air. When I returned home, it was not long before sleep found my exhausted mind and body.
The next day I returned to see Charles, just as he had asked. I made my way through the old corridors and gave his door a swift knock.
‘Come in,’ a voice said.
I pushed open the door to find Helen on her knees sweeping up fragments of broken glass. I glanced at the mirror to find only fragments of it still clung to the edges, the rest of it now collected into a neat pile on the floor. ‘Where’s Charles?’ I asked.
Helen shrugged. ‘I was hoping you could tell me,’ she said. ‘He asked me to leave him after you left, then I came in this morning to this. Oh, and he left a letter for you.’ She pulled an envelope from her pocket and passed it to me, before continuing her sweeping.
I opened the letter, and my eyes widened at what I read.
I really must thank you for all you’ve done. In the end, I did not get quite what I wanted, but to have some years of life left to live in this old frame is better than nothing. I will not lie to you and say that I did not want more; your son was such a tease, coming to see me at the mirror with his whole life ahead of him – so many years left to live and indulge with. Even you would have been better, but the old man is all I could get in the end.
He had lived his life, so do not feel overly sad for him. There is little you can do for him now. He is somewhere beyond that smashed mirror, trapped in my place. Perhaps I will see him again when this body fails me, I shall have to thank him too.
Countess Maria of Darlbridge
Helen looked up at me as I read the letter open-mouthed. ‘Do you think Charles will be back soon?’
‘No,’ I replied, holding the letter in my trembling hands. ‘At least, I hope not.’