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Reflections - A Story

Martin hadn’t meant to kill his brother, but sometimes these things just can’t be helped.

Martin was an energetic toddler just a few days shy of his third birthday. His nanny had just left for the evening, and he was thrilled with the gift she had given him - a necklace of shiny purple and gold beads. She said someone had thrown it at her during a parade, but Martin was pretty sure grown-ups just made things like that up.

As he ran the beads through his fingers, feeling the rhythmic rise and fall of each sphere, his mother called out to let him know it was time to eat dinner. Afraid that his baby brother Charlie might try to swallow the beads, Martin wrapped them tightly around the cast iron grate in the floor that covered the air intake for the furnace.

After dinner Martin was eager to reclaim his prized toy, and he tried to yank the beads out of the grating. To his horror, the entire grating lurched upward as he tugged on the necklace, creating a gap and opening the rectangular hole in the floor. Suddenly, the necklace snapped and the entire grating slipped from his grasp, falling down the hole with a muffled bang. Martin knew he would end up in time out for this, so he ran and hid in his bedroom, hoping no one would notice what he had done.

Of course, Martin didn’t consider Charlie. Poor Charlie had just learned to crawl. The police later said that Charlie had most likely crawled right into the hole while he was exploring the house. His neck snapped when he hit the metal grating as he tumbled into the basement. He was dead within seconds.

Twenty three years later, Martin stood on the balcony of a 19th century manor house staring discontentedly at the chaos below him. Dozens of people were flitting back and forth with fluorescent cocktails and skewered shrimp in their hands.

“Martin, stop brooding and get down here!” a blonde girl yelled from the crowd.

“In a minute Becky” he snapped back. “Don’t you have some corn dogs to scarf down?”

Her mouth tensed as she gave him an icy stare, and she extended her middle finger ever so briefly before disappearing back into the crowd. Martin knew that was no way to treat his cousin, especially on her wedding day. This was his second strike in as many hours; the first had come when he showed up to the ceremony in a full tuxedo with tails, outshining the groom. That, of course, had been deliberate.

As he descended the staircase, he caught a glimpse of his uncle Rick leaning a bit too heavily on the bar, scotch in hand.

“Mr. Lincoln!” Rick slurred, raising his glass as Martin approached. “Seen any good plays lately?”

Martin’s silk stovepipe top hat had been the pièce de résistance; the cherry on top of his opulent outfit.

“Four score and seven minutes ago, your daughter gave up your family and married an asshole” Martin proclaimed, making a sweeping gesture with his arms.

Rick was a drunk, and he had been in more than his fair share of bar brawls. With a sudden “Thwack!” Martin felt the air rush from his lungs as Rick’s fist slammed into his ribcage. He crumpled to the ground, hitting his head on the oak of the bar and knocking his hat loose as he fell.

The dancing points of light began to gradually recede as Rick grabbed him by the collar and roughly pulled him up onto his feet, without giving him a chance to catch his breath.

“Get the fuck out of here you murdering son of a bitch!” Rick roared, causing several guests to turn in their direction.

Martin hated being called a murderer. He gave Rick a venomous stare and without hesitating he swung his pointed leather shoe into Rick’s shin. There was a sickening cracking sound and Rick let out a terrible scream as he toppled to the floor. Family members rushed over to separate the brawling pair, shoving Martin frantically away from his uncle. Martin grabbed his hat and rushed out of the nearest door, feeling his hand shaking violently as he gripped the doorknob.

The warm and sunny June afternoon had given way to evening, and the lingering warmth was fast flowing out of the darkening landscape. The manor house was surrounded by a ring of light radiating from the windows and from antique lanterns. Beyond this ring were stands of trees that had been scenic in the daytime, but that now blurred into an ominous row of shadowy teeth.

Martin walked to the edge of the forest and collapsed against a gnarled tree. He began to sob and he frantically punched the ground until his knuckles began to bleed. Tears clouded his vision, causing the entire manor house to appear to be underwater.

“It wasn’t my fault” he muttered through his tears. “It was an accident! Damn you Rick, you know I would do anything to bring him back!”

As his eyes started to dry Martin took a deep breath and looked up to the sky. He was suddenly alarmed by how dark it had grown. How long had he been out here? The wedding was clearly still going on, but the forest had become completely enshrouded in darkness, and a cold fog was drifting up from the ground that hadn’t been there when he had fled from the reception.

A rustling to his right broke his train of thought, and adrenaline quickly cleared his mind and caused him to jump to his feet. His eyes darted back and forth, trying to identify the source of the disruption. He thought he could make out a black shape slowly moving towards him through the trees. He was sure it was a raccoon or maybe even a stray cat. He was also quite sure he didn’t want to stick around long enough to be proven wrong. He began to back away towards the manor, keeping an eye on the undulating animal as he retreated.

“MARTIN!”

A hoarse voice shattered the silence, and Martin spun around half expecting to see Rick there standing with his fists raised. There was no one behind him. In fact, he couldn’t see anyone anywhere outside of the mansion.

“MARTIN!” the voice croaked, insistently.

To his terror, Martin realized the voice was coming from behind him, in the woods. He wanted to run, but something compelled him to turn and face the voice. That was when he saw Charlie.

There was no mistaking Charlie; he wasn’t a day older than he had been when he died. His round face poked out from behind the last row of elms, as he continued to slowly crawl towards Martin.

“Ch-ch-charlie?”

The infant paused and looked up at his brother. A broad smile appeared on Charlie’s face as he gurgled happily. Martin was filled with a mixture of wonder and dread as he stared at this phantom in the form of his long-dead baby brother. Then another shape began to materialize from out of the mist. The dark form towered over the infant, and Martin saw that it was a man in a black suit much like his own. His face was completely obscured by shadows that were deeper than even the darkest patches of the forest, giving him a demonic appearance.

“Hello Martin” The man whispered, his voice cracking as though it hadn’t been used in centuries.

“Who… what… Charlie…” Martin stammered, unable to form a coherent sentence. He couldn’t turn his gaze away from the malevolent form. The air temperature felt like it was dropping rapidly, and each breath felt more difficult to draw than the last, as though the air itself were fleeing from this apparition.

“No, Martin. You killed Charlie. You are a murderer.” The man raised his arm and pointed at Martin accusingly.

In a sudden yet fluid movement, the man’s arm swept down and picked up Charlie, enwrapping him in the fabric of his suit. He swung around on his heels and began to swiftly walk into the dense woods while Martin watched, aghast. As the mysterious figure retreated, Martin felt warmth flood back into him and he realized that he had been holding his breath for what seemed to have been an eternity.

He couldn’t believe what he had just seen, but he felt certain that Charlie’s life, or possibly his soul, was truly in danger if he didn’t do something. He wasn’t exactly certain as to why he felt that this was so, but he knew it with frightening certainty. He glanced back at the wedding manor, but the mist had thickened and the entire building was little more than an indistinct glow.

Martin turned and began to run uncertainly into the woods after the demonic being that was holding Charlie. In the gloom, he could never see more than a few feet in front of him. Branches tore into his face and knocked his hat off. His suit suffered several rips and he twice nearly lost his footing when a sudden tree root broke his stride. The dark man was nowhere to be seen, but Martin kept rushing in the direction in which he had departed, hoping against reason that he was going the right way.

Suddenly, there was a tremendous “CRACK!” and Martin felt something grab his legs, causing him to tumble forward and land on his face. Pain coursed through his body, but Martin swung around ready to fend off his attacker, only to discover that he had tripped over a large tree branch that had gone unnoticed in the dark woods.

Shaking, Martin pulled himself to his feet. As he looked in the direction he had been running, he realized that there was a sudden break in the mist to his left. He limped towards the clearing, his ankle throbbing with pain as he did so. As the air cleared, he observed that he was standing on the shore of a small lake that he hadn’t known existed.

The surface of the water was completely still, with not so much as an insect or a wayward fish to break the sense of unearthly calm that held sway over the pond. The entire clearing seemed to glow far more brightly than should have been possible, considering the moon was only half full and the evening was overcast to begin with.

Martin looked frantically from side to side, hoping to catch a glimpse of Charlie’s abductor, but he was met only with shadows and reflections. As he was scanning the clearing, he noticed something on the surface of the lake that froze his eyes in place. The moon was full. In the sky the moon was barely visible behind clouds, and it was little more than a half moon. On the surface of the lake, the reflected moon was full and the sky was completely cloudless.

Martin approached the lake, drawn by the impossible reflection. As he neared the water’s edge he saw that the moon was not the only reflection that was distorted. There was no one else anywhere near the lake, and yet in the water a man stood next to Martin – the dark man. In his arms was the still form of a small infant.

Martin jumped when he saw this monstrous reflection, and the reflection jumped as well, as though it were mocking him. Then the shadows covering its face began to disperse like the mist had just moments before. The man holding Charlie was none other than Martin himself. The twisted doppelganger grinned even as Martin’s eyes widened and he began to feel weak. Then the form turned, and began to disappear as though it were walking away from the lake and back into the woods, forever out of Martin’s reach.

Without knowing what else to do, Martin fell to his knees and curled his hand into a fist. He swung at the surface of the water, trying to break its silent stillness. Instead of the sudden cold of lake water, his knuckles slammed into solid stone with a crunching sound that sent a lightning-like jolt up his arm and set off painful alarm bells within his head.

As the immediacy of the pain faded, Martin saw that the reflection of a star-filled sky in front of him had changed. There was now what appeared to be a stone staircase leading nowhere in particular reflected on the surface of the water, the first step of which had just now attempted to break his hand. Willing to believe anything at this point, Martin leapt onto the surface of the lake as quickly as he could manage with his bruised body.

Rather than feel the firmness of stone or even the wet splash of water he had expected, Martin felt that his body was instead being sucked through a straw with intense force. He muscles felt like he was being torn apart, and the woods around him faded to black as tremendous suctioned tried to separate his from the world.

Martin awoke an unknown amount of time later on the shore of the lake, lying on his back and looking up into the sky. The moon was full.

He sat up and looked around the clearing. On the edge of the trees, he saw the other Martin watching him with a malicious smile on his face.

“You shouldn’t be here, Martin.” The man’s voice echoed, filling the lake with seemingly unending reverberations of its harsh whisper. “You can’t save Charlie; you killed him!”

The other-Martin turned once more into the woods, retreating yet again in what Martin was sure was a bid to get him to follow. Unwilling to let Charlie come to hard again, Martin decided to play his part as the pursuer and began to trudge through the underbrush once again, without site of the apparition through the thickening mist.

As he broke through the edge of the trees, Martin found that he was back at the mansion he had left an eternity ago, and Becky’s wedding was somehow still going on. The suited Martin doppelgänger was just visible approaching the front door of the ancient house and walking into the busy party.

“Martin! I feel like I haven’t seen you all night.” Becky exclaimed as Martin stumbled in through the door. “Jesus, are you alright? Did you get drunk and fall down in the woods?”

Martin brushed Becky aside without a second glance and began to rush from room to room of the venue.

“So glad you could make it!” Becky shouted after him sarcastically as he went.

There was no sign of his quarry in the main reception hall, nor in the area where the ceremony had been.

“Damnit Martin, what did you say to Becky?” It was Rick, showing no sign of their earlier brawl. “She’s up in arms about something or other that you did.”

“Not now Rick.” Martin stated, distractedly.

“I know we haven’t always had the best relationship, but can you please just be civil for the night?” Rick pleaded.

“Fine. I just need to find someone.”

“Do whatever you need, just don’t bring us down with you.” Rick said, as he left Martin to return to his wife and her friends.

Martin wandered into a small side room that had once been the parlor of the house before it had been converted into a commercial venue. Now the room held the wedding cake, waiting to be sliced. Its glistening white buttercream seemed as out of place as the reflections on the lake, although this time Martin couldn’t find any explanation for his unease. Through a side door far side of the room, a dark figure in a suit quickly stepped into the room and out another door just to the right of the cake. Martin was sure it was Charlie’s abductor.

He rushed to the door, stopping just long enough to grab the large butcher’s knife that was sitting next to the cake waiting for the ceremonial cake cutting that was to happen in a few moments’ time. The steel handle of the blade felt strong in Martin’s hand, and he felt certain that he was finally going to be able to save Charlie.

The door led to the back parking lot of the mansion, and the man was nowhere to be seen. Rather than be discouraged, Martin believed that he knew exactly where he needed to go. He pushed through the trees once more, heading back to the lake from whence he had emerged into this reflected world.

As he approached the edge of the clearing, he slowed his pace to a crawl, doing his best to remain silent in the shadows. He saw the other Martin standing on the edge of the lake, holding what appeared to be Charlie in one arm and smoking a cigarette in the other. The man was looking out over the stagnant water, and didn’t hear Martin as he crept up from the woods, knife clutched behind his back.

At the last second, the man suddenly twitched his head at some sound, and caught a glimpse of his pursuer. His eyes grew wide as Martin revealed the long, curved knife that glimmered under the full moon.

“Martin?” The man said, shakily. “What are you… NO!”

Martin plunged the knife into the center of the man’s chest with such ferocity that there was no way that doppelgänger could avoid it. Warm blood spurted from his chest, and a gurgling sound escaped from his lips as he clawed aimlessly at the sky. Martin kicked the man to the ground, and the thud that he made was sickening as blood seeped into the earth and ran down into the lake itself.

Martin grabbed the infant from the dying man’s arm. Satisfied that he had finally saved Charlie and redeemed himself at last, he was ready to return to the other side of the lake. With a deep breath, Martin clutched Charlie to his chest and jumped back into the water. Blackness clouded his vision, and the baby began to scream.

Martin hadn’t meant to kill his brother, but sometimes these things just can’t be helped.

The police made the grisly discovery around 11AM the next morning. Charlie had been stabbed to death, apparently by his brother Martin, while on a smoke break at his cousin’s wedding. Martin had apparently then grabbed Charlie’s infant son and jumped into the nearby lake, drowning both himself and the baby. Their bodies were floating together in the center of the lake, with Martin’s face frozen in a ghoulish grin.

No one could explain the motive behind this bizarre murder-suicide. Family members insisted that the siblings had always been on good terms, even at the wedding that very evening. There had been that one incident when they were toddlers when Martin had “pushed” Charlie into a furnace air intake, but everyone knew that had been an accident. Besides, Charlie had been just fine after the firefighters rescued him, and the story was little more than a running joke.

The wedding mansion shut down the following year, unable to recover from its association with the horrific crime. The property was purchased by a developer in order to convert it into a housing project for wealthy suburbanites. To start building new homes the lake was drained of its contents. At the bottom of the pond, developers were perplexed by what they found: A set of stone stairs, with the skeleton of a grown man and a small infant sprawled across them, locked together in an eternal embrace.

Fiction


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