“You can see me!” the teenager in the mirror exclaimed. “You can see me, can’t you?”
Sharon stared at the girl’s outstretched arms, and at the viscous substance dripping off of them onto the washroom floor. Whatever the hell this was, it was disgusting. It stank of sulfur and made little hissing sounds whenever it splattered against the concrete. The girl’s eyes brimmed with imploration.
She really did look so young, Sharon thought. Almost as young as she had been, all those years ago, when this began.
Twisting her lips into what she hoped was a reassuring smile, she grasped the girl’s hand with her own. There was a sound like a glass bottle smashing, and the sulfur smell was momentarily replaced with a woody, incense-like odor. Sharon scrunched up her nose and cringed her eyes shut, but the sensations were gone almost as soon as they manifested. She opened her eyes, and the girl was standing right in front of her, now, dripping the gross black shit all over the floor. There were tendrils of red streaked through it, Sharon noticed, and it was writhing all over her like noxious worms. She must have let some revulsion show, for the girl seemed to finally become aware of what was happening. Her mouth dropped open, and Sharon watched her brow furrow in disgust. It was like watching someone look at where they’d cut themselves accidentally and realize how badly they were actually bleeding.
“Hey-” she began, but that was all she managed before the girl started to cry. Noisily. The tears that spilled out of her eyes weren’t regular tears, however, they were a slightly redder version of the substance that enshrouded her body. When she noticed this, she let out a pitiful little wail and sobbed even harder.
“Hey, kid, it’s okay,” Sharon said, uselessly. “Come on, I think I saw a tub upstairs.”
She grabbed the crying teenager’s hand and led her through the bar and up the staircase. There was indeed a full-sized bathroom next to the room she’d woken up in. She stopped the drain on the clawfoot tub and ran the tap, splashing the pooling water with random squirts of liquid bodywash and shampoo. The girl sniveled and hiccupped the last of her tears as the bath filled, and once it was ready, she toddled across the linoleum and got into it without taking her clothes off.
“Aren’t you going to-”
“It doesn’t matter,” the girl interrupted, but without spirit or admonition. “I think I figured it out. I’m dead. I must be dead.”
Sharon barked a note of sardonic laughter. Oh, this was fucking absurd.
The girl was fiddling with the faucet knobs, clearly not sure which direction to twist them in order to stop the water from coming out. She figured it out after a few tries, but not before some of the now-filthy water sloshed out of the tub and onto the floor. Sharon stepped away from it as it spread towards her boots. She fumbled out a smoke and lit it up.
“What’s your name, hon?” she asked. Names were as good a place to start as any. “Sharon” didn’t mean anything to her anymore and hadn’t for awhile, but maybe her guest still had some shred of identity left to her. The girl didn’t answer her question, but a soft squelching sound alerted Sharon’s attention towards the bathroom mirror. A moment ago it had been silvery and sheathed with steam, but now, it was inexplicably black and opaque with more of that oily slime dripping out of it. Directly at the bottom of the mirror, it was thin and runny, but as it traveled along the sink and down the wall, it gained more and more girth. Tree root-sized tendrils of it crept purposefully up the sides of the tub, over the edges, across the now bloodred water, and into the backs of the girl’s shoulders. It made her look like a bug who had partially escaped from a sooty spiderweb.
It was talking.
Well, no. Not exactly talking…but Sharon heard whispered, unintelligible voices, and those voices were definitely coming from the slime.
Frowning, Sharon tentatively edged closer, cocking her head to one side in order to hear better, but the girl made no reaction to it at all whatsoever. She hummed softly in the tub, trailing a dirty finger along its edge.
“Ari,” she said, unexpectedly.
Sharon jumped a little and wrenched her eyes away from the ooze.
“Nice to meet you, Ari,” she said. “I’m Sharon.”
The water made gentle noises as Ari shifted around in the tub. She folded her knees up, and Sharon saw that she was wearing bluejeans with lots of holes in them. A cacophony of multicolored marker graffiti screamed out from the denim’s surface. Sharon smiled when she noticed it, but it also made her sad. Writing on your jeans was something that teenagers did. Other details served as affirmations-the brightly-colored rubber bracelets, the gas station uniform polo.
“How old are you, Ari?”
“Eighteen,” she answered.
The cigarette was a small pillar of ash between Sharon’s fingers. She had barely smoked any of it since the conversation began.. When she noticed, she let the stub fall to the ground. It hissed softly as it struck the puddle.
“What’d Francis do to you?” she asked her.
The girl’s brow furrowed.
“Never mind. How did you get here, then?”
The lines in Ari’s forehead smoothed.
“I was working,” she recalled. “The power went out. There was this woman.”
Her eyes wandered towards the blackened mirror for the briefest of seconds, then back to Sharon’s face.
“She said that I had to go along with her. There was this awful sort of incensey smell, and there was…she made this…it was a hole. A hole in the wall.”
She started to tremble, and bowed her head into her knees. In the pause that followed, Sharon became aware of the whispering voices again.
“She made me walk into it. She dragged me in behind her and once I did, I…I saw what she…what she really l-l-looked like.”
Sharon did not ask her to elaborate. She had an idea of what she meant.
“Once she left me, it was like…I don’t know, man, it was like I was walking through the woods in the dark. I don’t know how long for. Sometimes there would be these…well, I thought of them as windows? I guess they must have been mirrors. I could see through them instead of just black all around me. I kept seeing this one guy through them, for some reason. Reminded me of this nice plow driver who used to come in and buy smokes and hang out with me during my graveyard shifts. Same kinda skinny, blonde, blue eyes. I tried to get his attention a couple of times. He could never hear me no matter how loud I screamed. Sometimes he would kind of cock his head like he could sort of hear what I was saying-but he never saw me or heard me. Anyways, I kept fumbling around, then I saw you. And you could hear me. Now I’m here.”
Sharon lit herself another cigarette and dragged deeply on it, contemplating the horrible implications of what Ari had just told her. Things were very different, this time.
“That’s really something, sugar.”
Now it was Sharon’s turn to furrow her brow. “‘Bet’?” she echoed.
“It means like, yeah, I agree,” Ari clarified.
A comfortable silence spread between them.
“I should have just called out. Who voluntarily works during a blizzard?”
Sharon chuckled. “I used to do shit like that too, kiddo. If I wanted to call out sick I had to walk all the way to one of those rotary payphones–imagine having to deal with that hassle.”
“What’s a rotary phone?”
“There were these little booths with phones in them you could pay quarters to to call someone,” Sharon explained, dragging on her cigarette. “They had these stupid wheels you had to turn to get to each number and if you fucked it up you had to start all over. I was too poor for a phone, I always had to go to a pay phone to call somebody. And of course, in this town you gotta walk through a mile of woods before you get anywhere you need to be… So I always figured, what’s the point and just went to work instead.”
She pitched her butt.
“But I’m rambling at you. Tell me more about this guy you saw.”
“There isn’t much to tell, though.”
“There probably isn’t,” Sharon agreed. “But gals like us, we don’t usually get an explanation.”
Ari blinked. “What do you mean, ‘gals like us’?”
Sharon tsked, and shook her head.
“You want a cigarette?” she asked. “I’ll tell you what I know, but this is gonna take awhile.”Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in