Don't Turn Around - a short story WINNER OF THE 2018 HALLOWEEN SHORT STORY CONTECT

2018-11-04 11:53 pm Updated 5 years and 6 months ago


Carmine woke, or at least tried to, after a hard night of partying. It was the morning after All Hallows’ Eve. Carmine and a group of friends spent the long night drinking and carousing at Jennifer’s house, trying to scare the hell out of each other. There were costumes a plenty, from fairies and witches to the more grotesque, blood-dripping creatures from popular horror movies. There were finger foods, shaped like actual fingers, a cake in the form of a severed head, a dish of “eyeballs” and a variety of drinks made to look like blood. These were served by a hired maid that had a strange resemblance to the bride of Frankenstein. The host installed several smoke machines to add to the ambiance. To top off the evening, Jen hired a Gypsy and her crystal ball to tell everyone’s future. It was a blast.

Unfortunately, the next morning was a week day and Carmine had to go to work. It was a little after 5:30 when the alarm went off, sending a resounding bolt of lightning through Carmine’s head. Reaching out blindly to stop the incessant blaring of the alarm, Carmine knocked it off the table and sent it crashing to the floor.

Lying as still as possible in bed for a moment, trying to keep the room from spinning, Carmine tried to recall the words of the Gypsy fortune teller. He remembered sitting down at the table with a goblet of “blood” in his hand, as the Gypsy gazed into the crystal ball. Gazing intently, she whorled her hands around the globe - for show he assumed - when suddenly she stopped and sat back, her eyes dilated as if in shock. She looked at Carmine, and in an ominous whisper said, “Don’t turn around.”

Looking back, Carmine remembered laughing and saying, “Okay, I won’t.” He finished his drink and left the table, so the next victim could sit down.

For the rest of the evening Carmine had this niggling feeling that there was something behind him. He blamed the drink, and a little pot, as the cause but he couldn’t shake the sensation. In fact, he swore that he caught something just out of the corner of his eye that was there, then wasn’t. It started to bring him down and, since the next day was a work day, he called it quits around midnight and headed home. Now he had to pay the piper.

Carmine slowly tossed back the covers and turned over to get out of bed when the room suddenly and vigorously started to spin again. As he fell back down onto his pillow, Carmine caught a glimpse of something in the room as it spun around. It was just a shadow, or a shadow of a shadow. Undefined, yet unmistakably there. Carmine chalked it up to his hangover. Suddenly the ominous voice of the Gypsy came into his head, “Don’t turn around.”

Making a second attempt to leave the bed, Carmine was able to get his feet firmly onto the floor. He buried his toes in the deep piled carpet and felt its soothing softness. Ever so slowly, he rose into a standing position, trying not to move quickly so as not to lose his balance. Succes! He was standing, a little wobbly, but erect.

Shuffling his feet in the carpet, Carmine slowly made his way toward the bathroom. Choosing not to turn on the lights for fear of awakening the hangover demon, Carmine negotiated his way toward the shower using the morning light coming from the small bathroom window. He glanced around the well-appointed bathroom and caught sight of his reflection in the mirror over the sink.

He looked like hell. His hair was disheveled, his pallor was drained, and his eyes were large and seemed out of proportion to his head. “Coffee, I need coffee and a shower,” he thought as he reached into the shower stall and turned on the cold-water full blast.

He dropped his boxers and prepared to step into the shower, when out of the corner of his eye he caught movement in the bathroom mirror. Stopping in mid step, he looked into the mirror at his own reflection. Shaking his head at the mess that was him, he stepped into the shower and reeled back from the blast of cold water.

“This is going to be one hell of a bad day,” he thought as he stepped into the cold-water stream. The water cascaded down over his entire body, causing him to shake from head to toe. He stayed there, under the cold blast, for a full five minutes as his body continued to shake. Once he was fully awake, he turned on the hot water and continued his morning ablation.

Now fully awake, and somewhat revived by the shower, Carmine stepped out and drew the extra soft terry towel off the hook and began to dry himself. Heading toward the sink to shave, he reached out to wipe the mirror with his hand, which had steamed up from the hot shower. There, staring back at him, was a face familiar but different.

His eyes were larger, his face a little rounder, and his color…his color was… off. Carmine couldn’t put his finger on it. The reflection was wrong somehow as if someone else was staring back at him.

“I must be really messed up,” he thought as he lathered his face to shave. He reached for the razor sitting on the sink and drew it down his right cheek. The reflection followed suit, but it was delayed. It was as if the reflection was mimicking his moves, not reflecting them. It seemed the reflection was a microsecond behind his actions. It was weird.

Shaking his head in confusion, Carmine finished shaving and looked again into the mirror. His reflection stared back at him, just as it always did, but there was this inescapable dread that he was not looking at his reflection at all. It was something, or some one else. “Impossible,” he thought to himself. “The hangover and the damn Gypsy last night are to blame.”

Continuing his morning ritual, Carmine brushed his teeth, then combed his hair when he thought he saw his reflection smile back at him. “What the hell,” he said out loud. Knowing he didn’t smile, how could his reflection smile? “Impossible”, he thought and once again blamed it on the fog in his head playing tricks on him.

Staring at his reflection, he caught some movement in the mirror behind him and to his right. He stood there frozen in place. He was afraid to move, let alone turn around. Once again, the Gypsy’s warning resonated in his head: “Don’t turn around.” He didn’t.

Carmine leaned forward and put both hands on the sink as if to steady himself. Looking directly at his reflection he said out loud, “Okay, big guy, get your shit together. There’s nothing there. You are alone in your bathroom. You have a hangover and the Gypsy was fake, entertainment for the party. Now, buck up and move on.”

Carmine, however, did not move. He stood there, hands on the sink, staring at himself when it happened again! His reflection smiled! Knowing that there was no way he smiled, he became frightened. Okay, downright scared shitless was a better description. His knees buckled; the only thing that kept him from falling was his firm grip on the bathroom sink.

Shaking, his grip tightening on the sides of the sink, Carmine closed his eyes refusing to look at the “reflection” in the mirror. He stood there a moment, then two, breathing heavily, shaking a little from fear. Fear? Confusion? What?

Slowly, Carmine raised his head, his eyes still closed, afraid to confront whatever was in the mirror. Standing fully erect, his breathing slowed to normal, he opened first one eye then the other. The mirror was completely fogged; there was no reflection to be seen.

Exhaling a slight sign of relief, Carmine reached out with his right hand to wipe away the fog. As he made contact with the mirror, his hand suddenly went through the glass and the rest of his body followed as if he had turned to smoke and the smoke was pulled by a vacuum into the mirror.

At the exact instant Carmine disappeared into the mirror, there was a flash from above the sink and, out of the ether, materialized a reflection of Carmine. It looked like him, but different. His eyes were a little bigger, his face a little rounder and his color… well, it was …off.

Carmine’s reflection looked at his own reflection and smiled a sardonic smile, “This is going to be fun.” He turned and left the room.