Lag

David Stark / Zarkonnen
2015-05-27 17:15

A quick story fragment based on this writing prompt. Trying out things with different character personalities and stuff.

I was told by my dentist that if I didn't start brushing my teeth properly, I would have none left by the time I was thirty. I'm pretty sure he was exaggerating wildly, putting on a show of concerned authority in his bright, clean office that nevertheless smelled of Dentist. But I let him get to me on purpose. Sometimes, fear is a much better motivator than reason.

So there I was, in the bathroom, brushing my teeth carefully, in the pattern he had explained to me I should use. I'd even set the alarm five minutes earlier, and now there was a timer running on my phone, five minutes. Two minutes left, and I'd already gone over everything three times. How was it possible to get so bored so quickly? To pass the time, I watched my arm go back and forth in the mirror, a steady slow rhythm.

Then I noticed that my arm was moving right when it should have been moving left. Was I so tired from five minutes less sleep that I was getting confused about mirrors? I looked more carefully, moved my arm more deliberately. No, the reflection was definitely not moving in sync with my arm. I experimented, moving it faster and slower, brushing the same spot in front of my teeth, the doctor's pattern quite forgotten. I found that if I moved my arm at the right speed, the mirror-arm would be doing the exact opposite movement.

I frowned, and half a second later, my face in the mirror frowned too. I had the sudden sensation that this was not my face, but a mocking, identical face belonging to someone else. I lost track and stabbed myself in the cheek with my toothbrush, cursed, dropped the thing into the sink. I spat the foam in my mouth at my laggard reflection and watched as half a second later, my mirror image closed her eyes and did the same.

Right. This was very weird.

A sudden wave of nausea made me sit down on the toilet, facing away from the mirror. I cradled my head in my hands and tried to go through the possible reasons: some kind of weird hallucination was the most likely one. A psychotic break? I'd always assumed psychosis would feel more... all-encompassing, rather than being one specific thing - like a mirror - going wrong in the world. But maybe that's just what it looked like from the outside. Or what it looked like in the movies.

Okay. The best hypothesis was that the world hadn't suddenly stopped working correctly, and that there was something wrong with me. Not comforting, but perhaps more comforting than... what? The speed of light dropping by many orders of magnitude? Rebellion of the mirror-people? An error in the matrix?

I closed my eyes and waited for the nausea to pass. Whatever this was, it could wait for three minutes while my stomach settled.

Carefully avoiding the bathroom mirror, I got up, walked down the hallway, into the bedroom. First question: was it just the bathroom mirror, or all mirrors? As I entered the doorway of the bedroom and the full-length dressing mirror came into view, I stumbled, and my nausea returned with a vengeance. It was all mirrors. The dressing mirror was showing my stride with a half-second delay. I sat down on the bed, again facing away from my stupid wrong reflection.

Why was I so nauseous anyway? I guess I had had a few drinks after work last night. It had been Michael's leaving do, and all of us, the tech writing team, went down to the pub. But it hadn't been a late night, I was sure of that. Come to think of it, I'd been feeling kind of queasy when I left the pub, right after going to the bathroom too. I'd put it down to a certain un-dislodgeable pub toilet background stench, but maybe the mirrors had been off even then?

It occurred to me to smash one of them. I liked this plan, both because I was getting pretty upset at the whole situation, and because, well, it was always possible that something interesting would happen. Maybe they were secretly computer screens? Or the evil spell would be broken by smashing them.

Then again, smashing mirrors sounded very much like something a psychotic person would do. In a movie.

Time for a controlled experiment. Avoiding the big mirror, I left the bed and knelt down in front of the dresser. There, at the back of the bottom drawer, was a cheap purple hand mirror that my mum had given me when I went away to uni. Something to do with hair, or nails, or whatever. I'd dutifully packed and unpacked it through half a dozen moves since, and always ended up shoving it in the back of the drawer. I took it out, careful to keep its back turned towards me.

Now for cleanup: I went to the kitchen and grabbed a big plastic bag from the box in the corner, and the wooden rolling pin from the drawer. I walked over to the sink and spread the plastic bag inside it. Then I held the mirror above the sink and turned it over. My face looked at me, worried. I made myself smile, and sure enough, the reflection was delayed. I put the mirror into the bottom of the sink, into the plastic bag, and brought the rolling pin down on it. Too gently at first, worried that I'd send shards flying, then with enough force to shatter it.

Nothing unusual happened, no greenish sparks of magic spells dissipating, no blue smoke of hidden gaslighting CIA electronics. I shook the mirror to let the shards fall into the bag, then carefully picked a large one and held it up. I grimaced, and the reflection grimaced back with a delay.

Well, at least the world had gone consistently crazy.

I took the plastic bag, tied a knot into the handle, and threw the whole thing into the bin.

"Sorry, mum", I said out of a sense of obligation.

It was time to make some tea, sit down somewhere comfortable, and think about this really hard.