An excerpt from the novella by Josh Lanyon
I didn't see him see until it was too late.
Even if I had seen him, I'm not sure it would have made a difference. My only thought was getting downstairs and out the front door as fast as possible. It turned out the fastest means was crashing headlong into someone bigger, and letting his momentum send us both hurtling down the staircase.
My... er... companion yelled and cursed all the way down the first flight. Well, in fairness it was one long yelp and a prolonged curse. "Yooouuu've gotta be fu-uh-uh-uh-uh-cking kid-ding me!"
We landed in a tangle of limbs on the dusty and none-too-plushy carpet. My elbow whanged one final time into the balusters and my head banged down on the floor. I saw stars. Or maybe that was just the dust, which had probably crystallized with age.
"What the hell was that?" moaned someone from the ether.
What the hell had that been? It sure wasn't a trick of the light. Though I'd done my best to tell myself that's exactly what it was -- and had kept telling myself that right up until the moment the figure in the mirror had tried to reach through the glass and touch me.
"Sorry about that," I mumbled. His bare foot was planted in my gut, and I couldn't blame him when he dug his toes in for leverage before lifting off me. "Oof!"
"What do you think you're doing running down the stairs in the dark, in the middle of the night?"
I groped for the railing and pulled myself painfully into a sitting position. "I... thought someone was in my room." Lying was second nature to me by now, but that was a stupid lie. I knew it, the instant the words left my mouth.
404-A -- What was his name? Something Murdoch -- got to his knees and gaped at me in the dingy light. "Why didn't you say so?"
"I am saying so."
We both turned to stare up at the wide open door leading into my rooms. My lamp-lit and noticeably silent rooms.
We looked at each other.
404-A was older than me, bigger than me, shaggier than me. He had a beard and shoulder length black hair. His eyes were dark and sort of hollow looking -- that was probably the lack of sleep. He looked like those old posters for Serpico, but he wasn't a cop. He was a writer of some kind.
And a lousy guitarist. Then again, I wasn't anyone's ideal neighbor either. As indicated by current events.
"You think someone's up there?" He asked me slowly, skeptically.
I weighed a possible visit from the local fuzz, and opted for resident whacko.
"I did. But... maybe I was wrong."
"Maybe? Maybe? Why don't we find out?" He was on his feet now, yanking his red plaid flannel bathrobe shut and retying it with a couple of hard, businesslike tugs that vaguely suggested a wish to throttle something. Without waiting to see if I was following or not, he stomped up the flight of stairs. Guiltily, I noticed he was limping.
It was actually amazing either of us hadn't been seriously injured or even killed in that fall.
"Coming?" he threw over his shoulder.
He muttered something, and not pausing for an answer, disappeared through the doorway.
I admit I waited.
He couldn't fail to see the mirror first thing. It was as tall as I was, cartouche-shaped, mounted on an ornate, ormolu frame. It stood propped against a Chinese black lacquer curio cabinet. The slight angle created the effect of walking up a slanted floor to peer into its silvered surface.
A draft whispered against the back of my neck. I shivered. This old Victorian monstrosity was full of drafts. Drafts and dust. And shadows and creaks. All of them harmless. I shivered again.
Footsteps squeaked overhead. "You can come in now. There's nobody up here," 404-A called at last.
I let out a long breath and jogged up the stairs. The elfin faces carved in the black walnut railing winked and smirked at me as I passed.
I reached the top landing and walked into the jumble sale of my living room. My gaze fell on the mirror first thing, but the surface showed only me, tall and skinny and pale in my Woody Woodpecker boxers. My hair looked like Woody's too, only blond, not red. Definitely standing on end, whatever the color.
"I guess I dreamed... it," I said by way of apology.
"First time living alone?" 404-A asked dryly. He was standing right beside the mirror, his own reflection off to the side.
"Ha," I said. "Hardly." But come to think of it, he was right. I'd lived at home until college and then after college, I'd lived with Alan. This was my first time completely on my own. "Anyway, sorry about dragging you out of bed and knocking you down the stairs. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine." He continued to eye me in a way that seemed a bit clinical.
Yeah. I got the message. Maybe I had dreamed it. What a relief to realize it was just a nightmare.
If only I slept.
"Come to think of it, you were already on your way up here," I remembered.
He said bluntly, "I was going to ask you to stop pacing up and down all night. The floorboards creak."
"Oh." My face warmed at this rude but effective reminder that I wasn't alone in the world. Not even this dusty and dimly lit corner of the world. "Sorry." To be honest, I forgot he was even in the building most of the time. He was pretty quiet, other than the occasional fit of guitar picking, and it was just the two of us here at 404 Pitch Pine Lane. It was a big, ramshackle house, and we were neither of us the sociable type.
I glanced at the mirror again. Just me and the edge of my neighbor's plaid bathrobe in its shining surface. The reflection of the ceiling chandelier blazed like a sunspot in the center, obliterating most of us and the room we stood in.
I looked more closely. Had something moved in the very back of the reverse room?
404-A glanced down at the mirror and then back at me. He said, "I have to work tomorrow."
"Sure. I didn't realize you could hear me."
He unbent enough to say, "I mostly can't. Only the floorboards. Mainly at night."
"I'll make sure to pace in the other room."
"Great." He pushed away from the cabinet and headed for the door. "I'll let you get back to it."
His reflection crossed the mirror's surface, large bare feet, ragged Levi's beneath the hem of the bathrobe.
"Night," I said absently. I remembered to ask, "What's your name again?"
"Murdoch. Kirk Murdoch."
"Right. Night, Kirk."
I watched the mirrored reflection of the door closing quietly behind him.
Copyright 2000-17 Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.