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Maledictus

Sometimes, I liked to close my eyes and dig my head into Chiam’s pillow. It smelled like some cologne that was too expensive for his taste; his mom probably bought it for him. I rolled over and watched as he pulled on his clothes. His hair was a mess of hazel curls that couldn’t be tamed by any hair products. That’s the first thing I noticed about him when we met. I needed tutoring for my contemporary math course and I was assigned to him. He was the first attractive, smart guy I met at school. We flirted throughout the session. I was hooked.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said and rummaged through a drawer, “close your eyes.”

I pulled on one of Chiam’s t-shirts and crawled to the end of the bed. I closed my eyes and grew excited.

A small, cold object fell into my palm. I opened my eyes to see beautiful gold rings. It was a delicate little thing with a symbol that resembled an arrow cut through an obtuse triangle. A mirror poked out from behind the design. My smile reflected back at me.

“This is beautiful!” I cheered and slipped it on my finger. A perfect fit.

“I know our one year isn’t for a month or so but I couldn’t wait to give it to you,” he explained as I admired it on my finger.

“It’s perfect. Thank you,” I said and hugged him tight.

“Apparently it was found in a cement block in some unknown place in Italy. The guy at the pawn shop called it an inner-reflection ring,” Chiam said.

“What’s that?”

“Well, it’s supposed to show you something about yourself or your life you’ve ignored or haven’t noticed. Something like that,” He smiled.

“I love it,” I said and planted kisses all over his cheeks.

Chiam angled the mirror towards my face, “And now you can look at the beautiful face I get to see everyday.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Tia.”

I glanced at my phone for the time and realized I was going to be late. I jumped to my feet and pulled on my jeans.

“Where are you going?” Chiam asked.

“I have a stupid group project meeting. I totally forgot. Sometimes I hate being a Politics major,” I said and quickly gathered my belongings. I moved Chiam’s dirty clothes out of the way to find my shoes and stubbed upon a pink, fuzzy pen. I held it up and showed it to Chiam, “Isn’t this Helena’s pen?”

“Oh, yeah,” he shakily said, “uh, she let me borrow it the other day.”

“Oh,” I responded and flipped it over in my hand, “I’ll bring it back to her.”

“You’re so sweet, babe,” Chiam said and got up for a kiss. I kissed him back and walked out of his apartment feeling a little off.

__

I hated scary movies. The guts and gore always grossed me out. Yet, here I was, sucked into watching one with Helena and Chiam. They both loved the thrill of it all. I invited Chiam over to join Helena and I’s movie night. He then convinced us to get takeout. We smoked a little weed and ordered the food which was delivered in record time.

“Next movie night, I pick,” I whined and dunked a piece of sushi into some soy sauce.

“Tia, I’m gonna make you love horror movies. Just give in,” Helena said as I kicked her. She sat on the ground while Chiam and I lounged on the couch.

“You know she won’t stop,” Chiam said and kissed my forehead. He pulled himself up and looked for the bathroom.

I sat on the floor next to Helena and extended my hand out with the ring, “What do you think?”

“Damn, cool ring,” she said.

“Chiam got it for me from a pawn shop.”

“A pawn shop? I mean, no offense, but he couldn’t have gotten you a new one?” Helena said while she inspected the ring.

“I don’t care about that,” I began and admired it’s golden shine, “I love it!”

“Whatever you say.”

“It’s about how thoughtful the gift is. Price shouldn’t matter,” I stated and scooted back up onto the couch.

“I just think…you deserve someone else,” Helena mumbled.

“Where’s this coming from? I thought you and Chiam were friends?” I snapped.

Helena shifted slightly and glanced in the direction of the bathroom before she turned to me, “We are. I just don’t think you two are romantically compatible.”

“I can’t believe you just said that,” I was livid.

“You know I want what’s best for you, T,” Helena began and turned her body to face me, “and if you two do break up, I’m here for you and I can try to set you up with a frat boy.”

“I like Chiam, I’m not gonna break up with him because you say so. And frat boys sucks,” I said with anger in my lungs.

I heard the toilet flush and we both snapped back to our positions. Chiam exited the bathroom and plopped down next to me. He rested an arm on my shoulders and pulled me into his chest. I snuggled into his side and tried to focus on the movie. My mind kept wandering. What was that all about? Helena used to be Chiam and I’s biggest fan but now she’s against us? It didn’t matter what she said. I had Chiam and I was happy. She couldn’t even ruin that.

__

It was Sunday afternoon and I had an english essay due tomorrow. I barely had a paragraph done. I needed to be productive today, so I popped adderall and decided to hide out in the library until I finished it. The layout of the library reminded me of a hedge maze. Rows and rows of bookshelves winded throughout the building. One wrong turn and you’d end up somewhere you didn’t belong. My iced coffee sweat in my hand as I maneuvered my way through the shelves. I was set on one of the back rooms nobody ever used. It would be quiet and a perfect place to write. Nobody would disturb me back there, it was the perfect hideaway. I took one last turn and strolled down the long aisle of books. I heard a familiar laugh echo from the back room. As I inched closer, I could see Helena next to Chiam. They laughed at a video on her computer and bumped each other’s shoulders playfully. Sometimes it made me feel weird that they were so close but I shouldn’t complain. Everyone wants their boyfriend and best friend to get along. I wonder why they didn’t invite me though.

I knocked on the door frame, “Hey, guys?”

“Oh, uh, hey babe,” he stuttered.

“I didn’t know you guys were here,” I said.

“Oh, Chiam’s helping me with some more Bio homework,” Helena explained and casually leaned away from him.

“I thought you said it was Chemistry?” I asked Chiam.

“Did I say Chem? I meant Bio,” he said and flashed a nervous smile.

“Mind if I work with you guys?” I said and placed my coffee on the table

“Not at all,” he answered and scooted closer to my chair.

I sat down and proceeded to take out my laptop. I felt a strange tension growing in the room that was hard to ignore. It distracted me as I typed out some sentences. My fingers glided across the keys as I tried to tune out Chiam and Helena’s conversation. My thoughts burned my mind. I gazed down at my hand and noticed a smudge of black goo on my ring. Any effort to clear it only spreads it around. I excused myself to find a bathroom. The ring was expensive and I didn’t want Chiam to think I neglected it.

A sigh escaped my lips as I pushed open the bathroom door. It was a small bathroom tucked in the back corner of the library. It sort of gave me the creeps. It consisted of two sinks and two tiny stales. The hum of the air conditioning echoed through the room. A mirror stretched across the wall above the sinks. I flicked on the faucet, slipped off the ring, and scrubbed it with a dollop of soap. I was delighted to see the gold shine once again. I dried it with a paper towel and put it back on my finger. It looked like it was glowing. I stepped away from the sink to exit the bathroom.

“Psst,” I heard a light whisper from behind me and a slight giggle. I turned around to an empty bathroom.

“Hello?” I called out and peered under the stales to see vacant slots.

“Turn around, Tia.”

The voice gave me goosebumps and I spun around to face the mirror. I gingerly stepped forward and peered at my reflection. I leaned forward and my nose almost touched the mirror. It was quiet. My reflection’s eyes steadily rolled back into its head. Red veins were prominent in the whites of her eyes. It lunged forward unforgivingly, “Listen!”

Fear struck me like lightning as I fell back onto the tiled floor. Sinister giggles bounced off the walls and surrounded me. My limbs grew heavy and my feet wouldn’t move. I watched my reflection clutch the frame of the mirror. Her hands were decrepit, the tips stained an eerie black. Her bones seemed to shift and rattle as she looked down at me. The edges of her mouth split and streams of black dripped down her chin, “WHO CAN YOU TRUST?”

My scream rattled the room as I scrambled for the door. I yanked it open and sprinted until I couldn’t hear her laughter anymore. I hyperventilated, my mouth hung open, and tears stung my eyes. I knocked into the book shelves as I sloppily made my escape.

“Holy shit, what’s wrong?” Chiam asked as I entered the room. He was immediately at my side.

“I-It was…the bathroom,” I sobbed and collapsed into his arms.

“Did someone come after you or something?” Helena chimed in

“No, it was me, in the mirror! But not just me, someone else, but she stole my face!”

“What?” Chiam said.

“T, you sound like a crack addict right now,” Helena said, “did you take anything?”

“No. I-I mean some adderall but…can that cause hallucinations?” I desperately asked.

“I don’t know,” Chiam said, unsure of himself.

Helena quickly googled it on her laptop, “Yeah, something called Adderall paranoia. It can cause someone to experience visual hallucinations as well as suspicions of someone or something being out to get them.”

“Oh god, I need this to wear off. I-I-I feel like I’m fucking crazy,” I stuttered and hid my head in Chiam’s shoulder.

“When did you take it?” he asked

“Like two hours ago.”

“Well, it only lasts like four to six hours,” Helena said.

“Please, don’t leave me alone, I can’t be alone right now,” I pleaded.

“We won’t,” he reassured and rubbed my shoulder, “what exactly did you see again?”

“I don’t want to talk about it…” I trailed off and pulled away from his embrace.

__

“How are you feeling, babe?” Chiam asked and pulled me closer.

“A little better, I guess,” Tia replied.

“I’m sure things will be normal tomorrow,” he reassured and kissed my forehead.

I tangled my legs with Chiam’s as we sat on the futon in Helena and I’s apartment. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something else was wrong. I couldn’t bring myself to look in a mirror since this morning. Chiam made me feel less afraid but the fear had only temporarily subsided. The incident was still in the back of my mind. Who can you trust? What did that even mean?

Chiam checked his phone, “It’s getting late. I better go, I have an eight AM.”

“Do you have to go?” I whined and latched onto his arm.

“Yeah, I’m already really tired,” he said with a frown and wiggled out of my grasp, “wanna grab breakfast tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” I said with a gloomy tone, “I wish you’d stay.”

“I’m sorry, babe, but we’re reviewing for the midterm coming up. I can’t miss it.”

“Okay, I love you.”

“I love you too, Tia.”

Chiam grabbed his keys and kissed me goodbye. I cautiously got ready for bed so I didn’t wake up Helena who was already past out. I avoided my reflection in the mirror as I brushed my teeth. I wanted to forget everything that happened today. I climbed into bed and noticed the ring Chiam gave me still on my finger. I slipped off the ring, eyed it for a second, and placed it on my nightstand. I closed my eyes and waited for the comfort of sleep to wash over me.

__

I woke up in a cold sweat. Fear had invaded my dreams and turned them into nightmares. My throat was dry and in need of some cold water. I pulled back the covers, tiptoed to the bathroom, and stared at myself in the mirror. My hair fell frizzy around my face, the dark bags under my eye added ten years to my complection, and my skin tone was dulled down to almost a translucent white. I decided to tie my hair back and splash cold water on my face but when I looked down, I found something odd. The gold band perched on my ring finger as if it belonged there.

What the fuck. I vividly remember taking it off last night. I pulled at the band that clung to my finger but it wouldn’t budge. I used soap to loosen it and tried again but still nothing. I held my hand out in front of me. The ring reflected my face back at me.

“Psst,”

Fear spread through every inch of my body as the familiar voice reached my ears. I slowly glanced up at the bathroom mirror. My reflection leaning against the sink with her hands clutching the counter top. I was frozen. I couldn’t breathe. My voice quivered at the sight.

“They’re making us look like idiots…”

I leaned forward towards my detached reflection. She stayed still with a straight face, her eyes following my every movement. Her lips twitched slightly before she slowly opened her mouth. A gaping black hole extended down her throat. I inched closer as a hissing noise rang out. A snake’s head maneuvered its way up her throat coated in a thick black substance. The snake trickled down her tongue and into the sink with a squish. My breathing became heavy as I shrunk back before I slammed against the wall. My reflection’s teeth were glazed with the black, sickly goo as she moaned out in pain. Her moans soon turned into laughter.

“Feel that?” Her whisper lingered. Her body abnormally twisted around with her head remaining in the same position. I heard the bones crack and splinter in her neck. It revealed a knife dug deep into my reflection’s upper back.

“STOP IT!” I screamed and raised my fist with the ring, delivering a swift punch into the mirror. Shards of glass dug into my knuckles and scattered across the bathroom floor like an unwelcome snow storm. I raced out of the bathroom, some glass pricking the pads of my exposed feet. I was officially going insane.

“What the fuck, T?” Helena abruptly sat up, flicked on the light, and spotted my hand, “holy shit, what’s going on?”

I couldn’t muster up a response. I felt my sanity being stripped away by the second. Helena stumbled out of bed and lightly grabbed my wrist. I couldn’t feel the pain yet. I wiggled out of her grip to call Chiam on my phone.

“Hello!” Helena yelled, “what the fuck did you do to your hand?”

“She’s back! She was talking to me through the mirror,” I said as I shakily dialed Chiam’s number.

“You’re freaking me out, T,” Helen said, taking a few steps backward.

My phone died mid-call, “Give me your phone, I need it, give it, please, Helena.”

Helena carefully crossed the room before she handed me her unlocked phone. I searched Chiam’s name and pressed the call button. I impatiently listened as the phone rang and went to voicemail. I felt powerless.

“He’s not answering!” I whimpered.

“It’s three o’clock at night. He’s probably sleeping,” Helena explained.

“I-I’m going crazy, Helena, I’m losing my fucking mind. My eyes are playing tricks on me or maybe I’m a skitzofrenic now!” I rambled.

“Calm down. Let’s start with your hand,” Helena asked.

“I punched the mirror but she was in it! She had a fucking knife in her back!” I started to sob.

“Okay, calm down and sit. I’ll get the first aid kit.” Helena said and disappeared into the darkness of the hall.

I slumped to the ground at the spot. Tears dripped down my cheeks and soaked into the carpet. I needed to tell Chiam what was going on even if he wouldn’t see it for a few hours. I clicked on Helena’s message conversation with him and started to type before my eyes landed on their last conversation.

“T left for class, she’ll be gone till 9”

“Oh really ;)”

“Bring condoms, all out from last time hehe”

I gasped and felt my heart pulse in pain. I violently scrolled down and read each intimate text they’ve sent to each other in the past month. It didn’t stop there. My emotions were a blend of fear, anger, and sadness. My vision blurred with tears as I clutched my chest.

“Who can you trust?” The reflection’s words rang through my mind like noisy wind chimes.

I managed to get to my feet and dragged myself over to Helena’s makeup mirror. I clutched it in my hands and raised it up to my face. My ghoulish reflection flashed a wicked smile at me and tilted her head, “Now what?”

The longer I stared into my reflection’s eyes, the angrier I became. It was like dark fragments of my soul had suddenly pieced themselves together. My emotions started to fester in my mind. I wanted to hurt them like they hurt me.

“You really fucked up the mirror. Your hand’s def broke.” Helena said as she entered the room, first aid kit in hand.

My reflection snapped back to normal. I stared back at myself and hated what I saw. I saw a girl that was lied to. I saw a girl that was cheated on by her best friend and boyfriend of two years. I clenched my eyes shut and tried to drown out the overwhelming wave of emotions gushing out of me. I hunched over and felt a sharp pain stab into my spin. I distorted my body upward as my limbs began to morph. My veins were prominent on my arms as I clasped my throbbing forehead. My voice trembled as I groaned. She was here.

__

“Are you alright?” Helena quietly asked, horrified at the sight of her friend.

Tia steadily raised Helena’s phone with the texts visible. Helena shook her head and snatched the phone out of Tia’s hand.

“T, I’m so sorry!”

“You lied,” her voice sounded like a slow, skin tingling lullaby.

“I know. I’m a fucking horrible friend. It was only a few times.”

“I hate liars,” she hissed and inched towards Helena’s quivering body.

“Chiam’s the one that kissed me first. I was drunk, it was may-feast, I didn’t want to ruin the weekend.” Helena explained with tears running down her slim cheeks.

“That doesn’t matter now…” Tia said and walked closer to Helena.

“I should’ve ended it from the start, I’m so sorry, T. Please, don’t hate me…what are you doing? Stay away from me!” Helena shouted and stumbled backwards.

Tia lunged at Helena’s neck and wrapped her fingers tightly around in an unforgiving grip. Her nails embedded into her neck as warm blood oozed down her chest. Helena viciously struggled and clawed at Tia’s arm, black ooze surfacing from the scratch marks. She sputtered out drops of blood and her voice rang out in short shrieks. Tia’s tongue licked her lips as a smile split across them. She was happy.

Tia latched on until she heard a booming crack like the splitting of a tree trunk. The ringing in her ears died down to a low hum before disappearing completely. She dropped to her knees in the puddle of blood pooling around Helena’s damaged corpse. The golden ring on her finger became loose. Tia held up her hand to see the gold band slip off and submerge into the dark liquid. The tan color of her skin returned as she blinked a few times back into reality. Tia’s eyes dropped down to Helena’s neck as blood squirted out of the small crescent shaped holes.

“Helena?” Tia said. She desperately wanted to hear a response, “Helena?”

Tia reached out and cupped Helena’s face, drained of life, in her hands. She stared into her dead eyes and looked for some spark of life. There was none. She shook Helena slightly which prompted blood to trickle from her mouth. Tia crawled back in horror after she let Helena’s head tumble to the ground. Tia frantically searched for the makeup mirror on the ground and looked at herself with hatred. Look what she did, Tia thought. She studied her reflection and didn’t recognize the person staring back at her.

“This is your fault! Your fault! Your fault!” Tia repeated over and over as she began to bash the tiny mirror against her forehead. Blood splattered and gushed from her gaping wound.

Eventually, the damage down to her head made her collapse against the stained carpet. Her breathing was slow.

She ignored the faint, worried knocks from an RA at the front door, “RA, noise complaint!”

Remorse latched onto Tia’s heart like a hook in the mouth of an unlucky fish. She breathed out cries of pain and sadness and misery. She heard the front door abruptly open, followed by footsteps. Soon, the RA’s scream rang out in the room that was now a crime scene. The woman raced to Tia’s side and kneeled down to inspect her wounds. Tia lightly tossed her head from side to side.

“What happened?!”

“It was her fault…” Tia whispered.

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