Chapter 3


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I almost wished the restroom door would make a creepy screeching noise. If it did, then I wouldn’t feel like the only scared person in the whole world. I’d feel like a character in a horror movie. And that’s good. Because, you see, someone in a horror movie is never really alone. There’s always the idea of an audience in some other spacetime, who’ll feel as terrified. Therefore even when you’re a crazy lunatic who really did imagine his sister being swallowed by a closet and being spat back out, if you think of yourself as being in a horror movie, you’re never really alone…

But Doctor Campbell was an expert that my lawyer had recommended, and people who get recommended that way simply didn’t keep creepy screeching doors within their office. So the restroom door opened smoothly and easily when I pulled. I shut my eyes tight. Childish, I know, I know. But it does help. If something terrible is about to happen, you delay it for as long as possible. Then when it does happen, you don’t blame yourself for having added on an extra second to that terrible something.

After I stepped in and let go, the door closed gently and soundlessly. Involuntarily, I relaxed my closed eyes a bit. It was because of the smell that greeted me: the pleasantly fragrant but never-overpowering smell of a well-kept restroom. Truly, sometimes when people used the word “restroom,” you thought, Jeez, this isn’t the room where you’d get any sort of rest, so just call it the bathroom or something. But this right here could really aptly be called a restroom. My shoulders slumped again, but this time out of relaxation, not shame or fear.

I opened my eyes. I stood in a windowless, light-gray-tiled room with a single toilet and a single washbasin. One lamp illuminated the space with a warm glow. Doctor Campbell must have chosen it with great care. It neither blinded nor created unwanted shadows in the corners. I could clearly see that there was nothing scurrying around here. I also could see how spotlessly clean every surface gleamed.

And there was a mirror, which, to my great relief, showed nothing but my own skinny hoodless image. Several grab bars had been installed by the basin, by the toilet, by the door. All very considerate.

So, maybe I had imagined the mouse but not the closet? Or maybe this wasn’t a problem of my head but my eyes? For some reason, that idea soothed me. Eyes. One day they’ll figure out a way to replace those things. Pretty soon, we’ll hear sentences like these thrown around: Oh, I just got a new pair of eyes the other day. The old ones were getting blurry and these new ones come with a twenty-year warranty.

From outside, I could hear the murmur of several men. They sounded way too purposeful and polite to be one of the patients. I guessed these were the building guards. The receptionist must have called them. He’d allowed me to go to the restroom by myself (though I wasn’t sure if he had the right to prevent me from doing so) but had wanted backup in case I harmed myself or others. If I made a weird noise in here, they’d first knock. Then they’d take down the door. Then they’d take me to the police, where the whole living nightmare would begin anew. Maybe they’d claim that I was too violent to ever see Darla again.

In that case, wasn’t it better if I didn’t find out the truth about the mouse? If I just walked out, never knowing whether it was real or a figment of my imagination, no further harm could come. I’d simply do as planned. I am insane, I’d tell Doctor Campbell, and she, after a few more questions and sessions, would conclude that indeed, I was, though not violently and not dangerously.

But I had to find out. Because there’s nothing lonelier than not being sure if there is a “yourself” you can trust.

“Little mouse?” I said tentatively.

Promptly, its head popped out of the smooth mirror surface. My suppressed yelp turned into a mad cough. Wrong pipe.

“Mr. Warde?” the receptionist said from outside. “Everything all right in there?”

“Yes,” I croaked. My eyes were teary.

The mouse was doing something. It kept gazing at me intently while its nose busily sniffed. Then it flicked its head left. Then it looked at me. Flicked its head left. Looked. Flicked left…

I looked left. There was nothing there but a wall. I looked at the mouse. At the mirror. Now I understood. “Left” hadn’t been the important part. The key was that it was flicking its head in a “Come on over here” way.

“I’m not going in there.”

The mouse nodded eagerly, completely denying my denial. I’d understood its message, finally. So, without waiting for me to repeat my unwillingness to follow it, it simply vanished into the mirror.

“Damn it,” I whispered.

All this was supposed to have been over. All these secret passageways to the other world, these portals.

I glanced back. If they found out that I’d disappeared, what would they do?

Actually, that wasn’t my real problem. A disappearance was the problem of those who were left behind. For the disappeared, of course there were other problems, but the disappearance itself was never the problem. It was because you couldn’t disappear on yourself… unless you were truly crazy. Thus, barring that scenario of craziness, it was the return after the disappearance that began creating problems for the once-disappeared, as well as the loved ones of that person.

So, if I disappeared now and then returned in a manner that couldn’t be explained through science, what would they do? That, strangely, was my biggest worry: that I wouldn’t get back in time before they broke down the door, or that I wouldn’t find my way back to this world through this particular portal.

Would they take Darla from me, forever? Put me in a high-security hospital that might as well be a prison? Run a million tests on me, dissect my brain, cook me alive—because if they didn’t at least try to explain away my temporary disappearance, it might mean that all of them were crazy and I was the only one sane?

I approached the mirror. Put on the hood of my jacket. That gave me a sense of security. It was a warm, fluffy shield. I lifted my index finger. The thing that happened when I touched the surface would determine my fate.

If the mirror was solid, I would lose all faith in myself. I could be crazy. The closet could have been imagined. And God forbid, I could have indeed abused Darla.

But if it wasn’t solid? I’d find myself again. Really find myself; trust myself.

My finger slipped right into the mirror. That surface, which should’ve remained flat and resisted the pressure of my finger according to the authorities of this world, simply let go. It rippled like a lake that’d lain still until a water strider traveled across.

I pushed in my hand. Then my wrist. My arm. Something pulled from the inside: not roughly, but strongly enough. So I didn’t need to try hard. The entirety of me was sucked into the mirror.

© 2022 Ithaka O.

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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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