A couple of days after the incident, Thomas was straightening up some of the display cases that were standing in the middle of the room after a busy day working. As he bent to adjust on the little paper slips that had the prices written on them, he felt something wet touch his hand. Drawing it back, he saw that it had some sort of red liquid on it. His first inclination was to conclude that it was blood. But as he felt and massaged his palm with his other hand, he couldn’t feel any wound or pain. So it was either some other liquid like ink or paint… or it was someone else’s blood.
His heart jumping a little, Thomas reached over with trembling fingers and turned the sheet over. On it, in scrawled but legible red letters, was the message, ‘PLAY WITH ME’.
Thomas’ skin crawled. He turned around to tell his boss, but he realised too late that Antonio had already left, the roar of his car something that his brain had heard but not yet registered. He turned back, and saw, in the transparent shop window, the same message, childishly scribbled in what seemed, in the fading light, to be definitely blood. ‘PLAY WITH ME’ it demanded, stark against the setting sun. This time it covered the entire window, and drips of the liquid were sliding down the glass and settling onto the floor.
If Thomas was thinking clearly, if it had been earlier in the day, perhaps, he might have taken the time to inspect the message, and analyse the time period at which it had been delivered, judging by the distance travelled by the liquid drips. And he would have found it had been written in the 5 minute interval between the departure of Antonio, and Thomas discovering it. A period of time in which no-one but Thomas was in the store.
But all Thomas’ terrified brain could latch onto was the fact that because of the liquid slowly settling on the floor, it was all too obvious that the message had been written from inside the store. So, the question was… who had written it?
Thomas rushed over towards the door, neglecting to even pick up his bag. He had his keys in his pocket, and that was all he needed to get the hell out of this place as quickly as possible. He would clean up the mess when he came back the next day. Not even the thought of his boss’ wrath could persuade him to stay another minute more than he had to.
But as he wrestled with the lock of the shop door, which stubbornly remained closed, a cold shiver down his spine made him look to the right, to the wall. And there, staring him in the face, disturbingly close, was his own panicked face, literally nose-to-nose with him. He almost screamed but years of practice of not screaming (for anything) for fear of ridicule from his male classmates managed to stop him. He knew, without a doubt, that the creepy Door with a mirror wasn’t supposed to be there. It was supposed to be on the other side of the room!
As he wrenched helplessly at the doorknob, his eyes fixed steadily on his reflection, he nearly jumped out of his skin when it leaned forward, something he certainly didn’t do, and mouthed three words at him. Play… with… me…
At that moment, the lock gave, and Thomas exploded out of the shop like the hounds of hell were after him, only pausing to slam the door shut, and not bothering to lock it. He then charged to where his car was, afraid to look back.
Antonio glanced at the door anxiously. It was already 11 o’clock, and Thomas still hadn’t shown up. The boy was usually pretty punctual, but today he was nowhere to be found. He bent over to squint even closer at the young girl whose eyes he was examining. He turned to the girl’s mother.
“Actually, ma’am, your daughter’s eyesight is fine. She isn’t short-sighted, there is probably just some dust in her eye. Maybe you should take her to the doctor?”
“Oh, thank goodness for that. Thank you so much!”
Antonio blinked, ignoring the silly woman’s exclamations of joy. Because he was seeing something that just couldn’t be right. Behind the woman, on the wall, was a Door. An awfully familiar Door. A Door that should have rightfully been located on the opposite side of the room. He squinted and adjusted his glasses, as if making it clearer would prove it was just a fake. But his gut feeling told him that it was altogether very real, and something very eerie was afoot.
He turned back to the woman, snatched the proffered plastic card, and began to punch in numbers into his keyboard.
“Sir,” murmured a soft voice, coupled with a persistent tug on his arm.
Antonio looked down. It was the young girl.
“Yes, dear?” he asked kindly.
“Why won’t you play with him? Why won’t you play with that boy?” she asked plaintively.
“What boy?” asked the confused Antonio.
“He says you’re too old. Too old. Too old… not like that other boy… Tommy, Tommy, Tommy,” she trailed off, no longer really talking to Antonio anymore, “Why won’t you play with him, Tom? Why won’t you play with the boy in the mirror? Play, play, play with him… he’s so lonely. If you don’t wanna play with him, Tommy… he’ll cover you in blood…”
Antonio felt cold fingers pressing deep into his spine. Something was wrong. Very wrong. Not because of the obviously insane girl with the strange gleam in her eyes, but because he could clearly hear the strange creaking of the Door that never opened, and it was, unmistakeably, coming from right behind him.
Thomas shuffled through the doorway of the little shop, rubbing blearily at his eyes, which now bore dark bags that contrasted sharply with his pale skin. He blinked as he saw a dark shape lurching towards him, and recoiled instinctively. As well as deteriorating rapidly, his eyesight was now having extreme trouble focussing on things, and most things now just seemed like a blur of colour.
“Thomas!” greeted the familiar voice of Bianca, “What happened to you these past few days? You look like crap!”
Thomas ignored her and staggered over to a chair and slumped into it. He reached almost drunkenly into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. Peering at it short-sightedly, he stared at it for a while before tentatively touching it. Feeling damp liquid on his fingers, he discarded it carelessly before reaching back in. He repeated this procedure several times, before finally pulling out a page that was dry. He wobbled over to where Antonio was watching in mute shock.
“Boss,” slurred Thomas in a hushed whisper, “Sorry about this, but I wanna quit. Need to quit. Don’t wanna play no more. Leave me alone… ”
The old man reached over to gently prise the piece of paper out of his employee’s hand, ignoring the man’s soft ramblings that pierced the tense atmosphere.
In an extremely shaky hand, the note succinctly summed up the gist of what Thomas was saying: ‘I resign.’ But under it, curiously was a single word, scrawled even less intelligibly than the rest. After tilting his head, Antonio finally deciphered it to originally have read ‘Please.’ The entire note was smudged with red smears and fingerprints, as if Thomas had tried to write with his hands covered in crimson paint.
Shrugging, Antonio placed his hand on Thomas’ shoulder. The young man span around as if he had been stung, leapt back, stumbled, fell over, and scrambled back on all fours like some sort of strange crab.
Blinking in surprise, Antonio stepped forward slowly, his hands raised in the air to show he didn’t hold any sort of weapon. He dimly noticed his wife watching silently in his peripheral vision. He didn’t know what caused Thomas to become like this, but maybe it was better if he did stop working, even for a few days. Heck, even he was considering retiring now. He was starting to hallucinate or something… maybe it was dementia or one of those fancy mental diseases that were being discovered all the time, he thought idly. Strange, he thought, all these hallucinations all seem to revolve around the Door at the back.
“Thomas, ah… I understand. I …um…accept your resignation, but I just want you to know that if you ever want to come back and work, you’re welcome to. Just one thing… if you don’t mind, can you come back at 7 o’clock tonight? I need to give you your final pay-check, and I’ve also got a surprise for you,” he said finally.
Thomas looked blankly at him, before shuffling back to the chair and collapsing into it. From that defeated looking posture, he stared unblinkingly at nothing, seeing something that just wasn’t there.
Antonio glanced nervously at the youth, before turning around and shaking his head swiftly. “Okay… I guess you can stay there until 7, if it suits you… You want something to eat?”
The body in the chair ignored him, and Antonio idly noticed that the fingers lying limply on the mahogany armrest were stained a fresh, wet, red. He turned around once more to man the counter and nearly let out a girly shriek. The hallucination of the mirror on the Door, which now seemed to take it upon itself to move itself around the shop, was staring him straight in the face. But what startled him was that behind his reflection, the soulless gaze of Thomas’ reflection bore into his soul, a menacing grimace that completely changed the normally cheerful boy’s entire demeanour. Antonio whirled around, and saw that the real Thomas was just where he had left him, sitting in the chair and facing the doorway in a 90˚ angle from where he had been shown in the mirror.
Antonio abruptly changed direction and headed towards the workstations, steadfastly refusing to look at either the boy, or his reflection.
Thomas slowly slid one blood-slicked finger back and forth along the wood grain on the armrest of the chair. His eyes slowly tracked across the room, seeing countless copies of the same mysterious Door. One Door close to his left creaked threateningly, and his eyes darted nervously towards the doorframe. It inched open for a second, before creaking back shut. He redirected his gaze in front of him as a Door tilted slightly to allow his reflection to look directly at him. It opened its mouth; an action mirrored by all its fellows throughout the room, and licked its lips slowly.
Thomas shuddered, but apart from that, displayed no visible reaction. During the past few days, he had been starting to see the weird Door from the shop everywhere, even at home in his apartment, at first only occasionally, but later with alarming frequency. His roommates didn’t seem to notice, and Thomas had begun to find endless notes identical to the one he had found from that one day when it all started. He could no longer sleep at all, as the invasive creaking in addition to the thought of the empty stares observing him while he slept defencelessly was unnerving enough to keep him awake even though he was so tired that he couldn’t even muster up the strength to fix up a meal.
Now they had seemingly multiplied, and the reflections have started to move independently of each other, each behaving more and more sinisterly. Only a single theme seemed to tie their actions together- the desire for him to ‘play’ with them.
He half-heartedly glanced at the Door to his left again. It was incidentally where the Door had originally been standing when he had begun to work here. This time it creaked open a little more. Enough for Thomas to catch a glimpse of what lay beyond. And instead of the expected red wall of bricks that should have been there, Thomas saw only darkness, and the reflected light off a gleaming white skull.
Antonio rubbed at his eyes blearily. Glancing at his watch, he dimly registered that it was 6 o’clock and he needed to go and get Thomas’ ‘surprise’. The ‘surprise’ in question was actually a pair of glasses. Antonio had realised that the youth’s eyesight was starting to worsen, and had secretly constructed a pair of spectacles specially tailored for Thomas’ eyes. With a sinking feeling, though, Antonio remembered that he had left the gift at home.
“Bianca dear,” he called, “Would you mind the shop for a while? I need to pop down back home to pick up Thomas’ present.”
Bianca smiled warmly.
“Sure, dear,” she replied.
Antonio strode over and gave his wife a large hug. As he snuggled deeper into her comforting embrace, he noticed, with a growing sense of horror, that he was staring straight into the eyes of one of his ‘hallucinations’. And this one was smiling in a distinctly unfriendly manner.
Bianca wiped her brow tiredly, glancing back at Thomas to see if he had moved from where he had sat for most of the day. He hadn’t. She picked up a broom and began to sweep the room out. She glanced anxiously out the window, and noticed that it was beginning to go dark rather quickly for an autumn afternoon. She soon forgot about the idle thought and occupied herself by sweeping the floor. She moved behind the counter, but abruptly stopped as she heard the distinctive rustle of papers being disturbed by the stiff bristles of the broom. She looked down in curiosity, and realised that the sound was being made by the numerous scraps of paper that Thomas had dropped in the store earlier. She had hurriedly swept them behind the counter in order to prevent potential customers from seeing it and leaving because of the mess. It had left a wet red stain on the ground, but Bianca had quickly wiped it up with a wet rag.
Bianca looked quizzically at the papers littering the ground. She could have sworn there was a lot more papers now then there had been earlier. She glanced at the borderline mountainous heap of paper, and after a moment of deliberation, bent down to inspect it. Reaching down, Biance slowly peeled away a single sheet from where it lay stuck to its neighbour. Turning it over, she read the message smeared on it, face impassive.
Finally, she stood up and started walking briskly to where Thomas sat, resolve clear on her face. She knew he was in danger. Horrible danger.
Brother… she thought nostalgically.
Thomas watched the Door in front of him with a sort of passive interest. His eyelids felt like they weighed ten tonnes each, but he didn’t dare close them. He knew if he closed them for longer than a few beats, then the nightmares would start up again. At least, he thought they were nightmares. He wasn’t quite sure anymore. Horrific images, violent murders, scenes from someone else’s perspective.
He watched, patiently, uncaringly, as the Door opened in front of him. It creaked threateningly at him, as the hinges groaned under years of disuse and neglect. Thomas idly wondered how the Door even worked. Right now it seemed to open from thin air- a mysterious doorway in the middle of the room. But even as Thomas shifted his gaze aimlessly, he counted at least 6 other Doors, identical to the one around him, scattered around the room. Some were affixed to surfaces while others, like the first one, simply stood straight up from the ground, without any support whatsoever. Strange, Thomas thought. He was staring into the mirror of one of the Doors where stood at a 45˚ angle from him. The reflection showed him staring at himself, like always, tinted yellow and looking vaguely sinister, but for once not moving independent of himself. But the strange thing was that the reflection did not show the back of the Door that stood in front of him now. He could see the counter that he knew was behind him, but there was nothing out of the ordinary in that reflection. No extra creepy Doors, nothing else. Nothing except an emaciated, weary boy staring at himself, jumping at things that didn’t exist.
Slowly, Thomas once again directed his line of sight back at the Door in front of him. It had now opened fully, and a dark gaping maw stared him in the face. So this was what lay behind the Door, he thought with finality.
Then, out of that terrible void, a single finger stretched out and beckoned. It was a hideous finger, full of dark promises and premonitions. In terms of appearance, the finger bore a great resemblance to a human index finger heavily into the process of decaying. In many places, dull white bone could be seen, and mere scraps of worn flesh and muscle held the individual segments of the finger together.
In a daze, Thomas stood slowly, his bloodstained fingers pushing away the chair. Hesitatingly, he stepped forward, his feet crunching on more blood soaked notes that he couldn’t remember ever getting there. He moved forward until he stood, precariously, a few centimetres from the threshold of the darkness, which loomed there, a terrible presence that lurked at the edge of his conscience.
He glanced at the horrific remains of the human arm to his right, before he stepped inside. The mangled caricature of an arm slowly withdrew, bending around to clasp the boy in what seemed to be a welcoming embrace.
Meanwhile, the Door slammed shut with a somehow sinister decisiveness, before slowly fading from view.
Bianca rushed over towards where she had last seen Thomas, her heart beating rapid-fire as she ran. She turned around the counter, and then slipped on some of the blood-streaked paper. She fell heavily onto her side and let out a violent curse as the wind was driven forcefully out of her lungs.
Wincing, the aging woman gingerly picked herself up, taking note of the crimson carpet of paper littering the ground and the many Doors that stood around the shop, creating countless identical reflections that stared at her in sinister tandem.
She gave a rueful chuckle.
“Will you never grow up, Marco? The Bloodstained Pages, the Door that Moves, all of these are just stunts you pulled when we were still living in Italy. You… Marco, talk to me, face to face. Brother to sister. Like we did… before the ‘incident’. You can’t keep hiding behind these parlour tricks, fratellino,” she said in a conversational tone.
She then, lightly kicked one of the Doors that stood near her. It abruptly swung around and faced her, the mirror on its face gleaming strangely. Suddenly the image of a boy, around the age of 10, faced her, with an odd smile on his face. He was short, with light brown hair and hazel eyes that sparkled with enigmatic light. He had the same slightly elongated nose as Bianca, and sported a birthmark on his left cheek, something Bianca also shared, albeit on the other side.
“Bianca. How nice to see you again! It’s such a coincidence that we meet again. It’s been what? Forty, no fifty years or so since I died, or something? No, really, it’s so amazing that you came to work in the same shop I was haunting!” the boy cheerfully remarked.
Bianca growled in exasperation.
“Don’t give me that! You know that it was no coincidence! That Door- it has followed me ever since I left Italy. I always suspected it was you- I saw flashes of shadow in the corner of my eye, illusions and glimpses of nothing concrete. That Door. It has been everywhere. Dodging my steps, watching my every move. This has to stop now! Leave my shop alone! What did you do to Thomas?”
The boy’s smile only grew wider.
“Tommy… Tommy, Tommy, Tommy. Tommy is my new friend. He plays with me. Why are you so interested, anyway? You want to see him? Go ahead,” he murmured maliciously.
He reached back, in the reflection, to one of the Doors that stood- a reflection in a reflection, and opened it. Thomas, emaciated to looking like a mere sack of bones, collapsed out of the dark Door-shaped void. Marco, on the other hand, ignored the obviously unhealthy (to say the least) state of the boy, and reached out, grabbing him by the scruff of his neck.
Despite being much shorter than Thomas, Marco then dragged him over to the edge of the reflection, until he was basically face-to-face with his former employer.
The soulless gaze of what used to be a perfectly normal boy stared at Bianca beseechingly, before mouthing two words, perfectly distinguishable even to Bianca’s deteriorated sight. ‘Help me’.
“You… monster…” she grated through clenched teeth, “the ‘haunted’ door inside the laundry… the door with the painting with the strange people…it was you… the noises, the ‘accidents’, the ‘disappearances’… Nana… Benedict, Angela… oh my god, even Bruno! Our dog, Marco, our dog! He loved you!”
Marco shook with laughter.
“Yes! It was all me! Everyone wanted to play with me! It was their duty to play with me! I just… hah! Helped them along,” he admitted with a deranged grin.
Bianca had started pacing in horror, her hands clawing at her hair as she started to connect the dots.
“But if you were inside the Door, the Door inside the laundry, where did you put them? Nana and the rest? Where? Oh… no. No, no, NO! Not… the painting!” she cried in denial.
Marca cackled in maniacal glee, exclaiming, “Got it in one, sorella! This Door, the Door which has followed you all throughout your life, once stood in the laundry in our house in Italy! And this mirror… guess what the reverse side is?”
Slowly, horrifically, the door began to creak, a slow grinding sound, like a whetstone being driven slowly over a chalkboard. Abruptly, a resounding crack was heard as the mirror swung from one side of the Door like a demented cupboard door, before breaking off and dropping to the ground.
Bianca stared at it in horrified confusion, silently debating whether or not to turn it over. Finally, curiosity got the better of her and she bent down and, with a heave, flipped the large mirror over.
As Bianca stared at the painting that once stood on the wall at her house, she felt her dread mount for each passing second. What used to be a lovely panoramic watercolour depicting the house and the surrounding landscape had been heinously changed. The inherent brightly coloured brushstrokes had been smeared with grime and soot, ruined after years of neglect. It also looked like someone had crudely redefined some of the features, outlining some and smothering others, with what seemed to be a stick of wood or other rudimentary tool.
But what was most disturbing was the number of small figures dotting the landscape, standing stationary like silent sentinels. These, unlike the rest of the art piece, were in full colour and were constructed with minute detail and precision.
Bianca sucked in a silent breath and let out a quiet sob. She half expected this, but to see it outlined in vivid detail and undoubtable evidence was quite a blow to her. She slowly tracked her eyes over the painting, slowly remembering every single face, all known to her, all gone. Tears slid down aged cheeks as she stared at the youthful smiles and pained grimaces that lay side-by-side, entombed in paint and canvas.
“They played with me for ages,” remarked Marco, without a hint of remorse, “But they were all mean. At first, they didn’t want to play with me at all. ‘Let me out,’ they said. ‘Why am I stuck in this painting?’ they said. But I made them play. They didn’t want to play, so I had to make them play. They were my toys, my playthings. But they were so boring. Always crying, always wanting to leave, wanting to go back. But you can’t go back. Never… ever… ever. But I got tired of them, because they were so boring. So boring. So boring. I stopped playing with them. But they kept yelling at me. Pleading with me. Talking to me. ‘Why are you doing this, Marco?’, ‘I cried at your funeral, Marco, honest!’, ‘I was always nice to you and your sister Marco,’ ‘Marcus! As your teacher, I order you to let me out!’… blah, blah, blah. So I kept getting new toys, and they were all mean. So I broke them, to shut them up. But I was lonely, and wanted someone to play with me again. Then I thought of you, sorella! I followed you all throughout your life, but you were always suspicious of my Door, the Door that looked like the one from our house in Italy, and you never gave me any chances. So I waited, biding my time, gathering my strength, and watched. Play with me, Bianca! Like we used to when we were young. PLAY WITH ME!”
Bianca stared at the painting, only half-listening to her brother’s monologue. She stared at the two figures that stood, with the warm smiles she knew so well, next to the dog, Bruno. She stared at the representation of the two people who had meant the world to her when she was young, the two people who had symbolised safety and love. Tears fell without resistance or any inclination of slowing.
“Mama! Papa! …Fratello… no… you don’t deserve that title- …Marcus… you are out of control. You need to be stopped,” murmured Bianca, through her tears.
She twisted and whipped out Antonio’s Beretta Cheetah from the pocket of her dress and placed it squarely on the forehead of the half-rotted corpse that had lunged out of opening of the Door where the mirror had been. The decaying fingers stretched out, only inches from her neck.
Bianca quickly gripped the top of the gun and pushed harder against the skull. The maniacally grinning mouth chattered restlessly, repeating a raspy machinegun chorus consisting of repeated ‘play with me’s.
She racked the gun, yanking the slide down, and fired.
Antonio walked through the open door of the dark shop, absentmindedly wondering why Bianca had left it open. He blinked in surprise as he saw his wife watching him in surprise, a smoking gun (his smoking gun, he realised in some small corner of his mind) in her hand.
He stepped forward to embrace the teary-eyed woman in his arms when he crashed into something very solid. He glanced at it in surprise and with an eerie feeling of unease, squinted at it short-sightedly.
His reflection, seemingly next to his wife, stared back.
-Kevin Tang 10F
(Feedback would be nice!)