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"Monster Through the Looking Glass"
By Neen Cohen
Stella walked into the past as she stepped over the threshold of her childhood home. The smell of freshly-bitten green apples, the sound of recorded guitars and a growling voice echoed through her memory. Hesitation stopped her feet on the scuffed, wooden floorboards. Her eyes adjusted to the relative darkness, the summer sun still warming her back through the dirty, stained-glass panels on the front door.
Walking down the hallway Stella let the fingers on her left hand run gently along the wall, moving them over photo frames of happier days. The one of her and her father shooting tin cans on the paddock fence was one of her favourites. A photo of the three of them; mother, father and daughter all smiling into the camera, created a lump in her throat and a burning in her eyes. She quickly blinked them away.
There was no smell or sound permeating from within the house now.
The hallway opened up to the right, then turned into the living room. Stella's fingers stopped at the soft, velvet cloth that covered the mirror that ended the row of photo frames.
"Mumma, I thought it was getting better?"
"Oh, Stellybear. I didn’t hear you come in."
Stella’s mother stood. It looked as though she had been sitting and staring at the space where the television had once been. Last week Stella had come over to find the meat pounder lodged in the screen. She had the television removed immediately, and made a note to get a new one as soon as possible.
She smiled at her mother, whose body was draped in a black dress that had once hugged her curves.
Didn’t I throw that dress out?
Closing her eyes as her mother's near-fleshless arms wrapped her in a hug, Stella felt the waif of a body beneath the resurrected dress.
"Oh, you must be hungry."
Her mother ignored Stella as she tried to stop her from opening the fridge, instead pulling out ingredients to start cooking with.
"Oh dear, I guess the milk is off." Her mother sniffed the milk carton, quickly jerking her head away.
Stella looked in the fridge and saw that the groceries she had bought her mother two weeks ago were all still there, rotten and in various degrees of decay.
"Mumma, you’ve got to eat."
"I know dear. I promise I will use the groceries you brought me today."
"Mumma," Stella closed her eyes, "that was two weeks ago."
Her mother’s smile froze for a heartbeat, and then everything cracked. Stella could almost hear it, like breaking glass. She saw it in her mother’s eyes before the dry, cracked lips began to tremble.
"He’s back, Stellybear. He keeps getting in. I never believed your daddy, but now he keeps…" her words dissolved as the tears flowed.
Stella rubbed her mother’s skeletal back, cringing as she felt bones beneath skin. They shifted, making Stella feel ill in the pit of her stomach. This was not Ellen Freeman, the powerful feminist, incredible artist, and kick arse mother.
"How about we start with a bath, Mumma, and get you out of that dress?"
That bloody dress. It was definitely the one Stella had thrown into her mother’s bathroom bin last time. This time she would take it home with her, and destroy it for good. Nothing like a good bonfire on these cooling nights.
Her mother’s naked, frail body shocked Stella. It was even more withered than two weeks ago, when Stella was certain it couldn’t become worse. Ellen looked like that of someone nearing 90 years old, not the 60 years young woman she had been just six months ago.
Stella shuddered. She just lost her father; she couldn’t lose her mother as well. Taking a deep breath she pushed away the memories she didn’t want to think about. Mother and daughter were both silent as Stella helped Ellen into a pair of lightweight pants and a shirt.
"I just need a few moments, Stellybear. I’ll be out shortly." Her mother smiled, almost as though she were once again the strong woman who had raised Stella.
Stella obliged, and began the ritual of opening up the house and letting some fresh air in. Taking deep breaths of the autumn breeze Stella looked out into the backyard, feeling the prickle of tears in her eyes. She blinked them back. Her mother didn’t need her to break down, she was struggling enough with her own mourning.
Stella looked at the heavy, velvet cover on the mirror. Every time Stella visited her mother had covered it again. She had asked why, but always got the same reply:
"If you can’t see them, they can’t see you."
Lifting the corner of the dark cloth Stella realised it wasn’t the same as the black material she had removed last week. This one was a deep, blood-red colour that she had mistaken for black in the gloom of the living room. It was far heavier than the other cloth as she tried to heave it from the mirror, and the spiderweb cracks peaked out from the bottom corner as Stella unsuccessfully tried to yank the cloth away.
The cracks transformed the ancient heirloom into another piece of broken memories; a fitting metaphor of their lives. It wasn’t like her mother to lose her temper and punch the glass. Perhaps she threw something at it, like the television.
It scared Stella more than she wanted to admit. Her mother had always been the calm one, while Stella and her father had the short-fused tempers.
A ripple of movement beyond the glass caught her eye, although she couldn’t quite figure out what was hiding there.
Stella leaned in, her fingers a hair's width away from brushing the surface.
Another jagged line split the glass as she looked at it.
Stella jumped back, her heart jackhammering inside of her chest as the heavy drape remained in place, falling back to cover the corner of the mirror again.
Stop working yourself up. The crack was already there, and the stupid drape can stay put.
"Mumma? You okay in there?"
Stella pushed open her mother’s bedroom door, like she used to as a child, getting over her fear as she smelled the lavender of her mother’s perfume.
On the bed her mother lay, naked once more, but the sight of her mother wasn’t the horror that caused the scream to escape her lips.
The scream was because of the creature that sat on Ellen's chest.
The gunmetal-grey coloured creature was heaving in and out, and it's bumpy back was reminiscent of the cane toads Stella had been terrified of as a child.
Slowly the lump stopped it’s rhythmic sucking, turning toward Stella. A proboscis was still jammed into her mother’s mouth, wrigging along the inside of her neck.
Stella harnessed her panic, morphing it into anger and frustration. Years of training to keep her temper in check sloughed off her like rotting skin. Fingernails dug into the soft flesh of her palms as her hands turned into fists.
A primal sound, a sound she had never heard coming from anyone or anything, ripped through the cloying air.
She ran toward the bed, her shoulder dropping and smashing against the beast. It felt like rock that crumbled after a millennium of being exposed to the elements.
Her mother gagged as the proboscis was ripped from her throat, the beast twisting as best it could before it slammed to the ground beside the bed.
It had only moments to roll away before Stella followed its trajectory onto the floor.
She fell with a whoomph on to the floor. The crouching, toad-like gargoyle hissed at her, a mere foot from where she had landed.
"Leave our people alone." Its voice was the sound of splintering wood crashing against rocks in a storm.
His words meant nothing.
She jumped up to fight the creature, but he took off, faster than expected.
Stella chased him from her mother’s bedroom, and the moment he disappeared from sight, out of the doorway and into the rest of the house, he vanished completely.
Stella turned in a tight circle, but the only movement was the heavy, blood-red curtain still covering the mirror.
"Mumma!" In a rush Stella's red filter of anger slipped as the danger became less imminent.
"Stellybear." Her mother’s words were a crackling whisper. "The mirrors, they come through the mirrors. They took your father, and now they have taken me."
"No." Tears pricked Stella’s eyes, a few breaking through to land unnoticed on her cheeks. "You’ll be okay Mumma, I’ll take you away from here. I’ll break the mirror."
"No." Ellen’s voice grew louder. "Never break the mirror! Once the mirror is broken there is no way to stop them. Your father didn’t understand."
"Come on, we’ll get you away from here. Now, before it returns."
Ellen’s hand was rough, like pulped paper.
"You’re a good girl Stella. I’ll get to see your daddy again."
Stella held her own hand over the frail fingers of her mother's. Their weight was increasing in her palm as Stella’s mother slipped from this world.
Screw being a good girl.
Stella stood up, letting the red film filter her thoughts once more. After covering her mother’s body with the blanket she left.
Two days later someone else returned, and they were wearing Stella’s body.
She had let the darkness take over her. The girl good was gone, and the daughter Hell-bent on revenge had taken her place.
Dressed in black pants with a plethora of pockets, a skin-tight, long-sleeved shirt and her father’s old jacket, Stella was almost ready. In her father’s office was the key, still stuck at the very back of the middle desk drawer.
The key opened his gun locker.
Deftly she filled the pockets with ammunition for his different weapons. The .45 pistol went into her boot, and the rifle felt like hugging an old friend as she cocked it before heading back to the living room.
With a determined yank the blood-red cover dropped to the ground.
The spiderweb cracks had grown, small shards of glass littering the floor beneath it. With one jab from the butt of the rifle the rest of the glass joined the shards on the ground.
Stella’s heart pounded in her chest, and her blood roared in her ears.
It was too late to change her mind.
She looked over and saw the photo of the three of them. The Three Musketeers, smiling into a future that was robbed from her.
With a deep breath she rolled her shoulders back and stepped into the mirror.
The world screamed inside her ears, a piercing scratch like nails on a chalkboard echoing inside of her head.
They appeared in front of her in all shapes and sizes, their heads cocked curiously.
She didn’t see all the people, so similar to her own reflection, standing behind the gargoyles.
The gun kicked in her hands as she began shooting.
Her blood continued to roar inside her ears, overtaking the screech and the sound of her guns shooting, reloading, shooting again.
She never heard the weeping sounds of the people that hid behind the falling sentries, and she never heard the words of the woman.
"Please, you don’t have to be like him! We are peaceful, we just want to live our lives." The woman continued to sob, her mouth moving silently in a plea.
"We should have closed the windows when we had the chance."
There were no reflective surfaces through the mirror, so Stella never saw the real monster.
Neen Cohen is an LGBTQI and speculative fiction author. Her short stories and drabbles can be found in anthologies through several different publishers. She has a Bachelor of Creative Industries and is a member of the Springfield Writers Group. Neen lives in Brisbane Australia with her partner, son, and fur babies. She loves to roam cemeteries, botanic gardens, and construction sites and can often be found writing while sitting against a tree or tombstone. Check out her latest adventures below Blog: : https://wordbubblessite.wordpress.com/ Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/Neen-Cohen-Author-424700821629629 Readers Group (Neen’s Fireflies): https://www.facebook.com/groups/neensfireflies
Amazon author Profile: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07VSYZF7K