“Terrible Fish” – Fiction by Dora Badger

Halloween-card-mirror-2

From our Summer 2015 issue, Dora Badger‘s “Terrible Fish” is a dark yet empowering tale of vengeance, as well as a handy guide to scrying and other kinds of mirror magic.

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In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

 -Sylvia Plath, “Mirror”

NATALIE KNOWS DOZENS OF THE LEGENDS, hundreds of the tales.

If you say “Bloody Mary” into the mirror three times, or five, or thirteen, or maybe spin around when you do it, she’ll appear behind you wielding a knife. She’ll show you your death. She will kill a member of your family.

She isn’t obsessed or anything. They’re just fun to think about, even if most of them are utter horseshit.

Paint one side of a clear circle of glass with black paint. You’ll want four or five coats, until you can’t see through the glass. When it’s dry, write your words of power in white paint around the outer circumference of your black mirror. Now you can use it to see the future. Now the mirror has to answer your questions truthfully. Now you can see the face of your one true love.

Many of the stories and superstitions conflict with one another. Natalie loves how they stretch down the centuries and scatter across cultures. She collects and sorts the contradictory stories, thrilling to each sharp edge, sifting the shit to find the silver. 

You’ll need good reflexes for this one: face a mirror in a darkened room. Say “Blue Baby Blue” three times. The baby’s weight will fill your arms. He’ll scratch you once, he’ll scratch you twice, growing heavier each time. Chuck him in the toilet and flush — fast! — or his mother will appear on the third scratch. You’ll try to run, but by then Blue Baby Blue’s weight will pin you to the floor. Oh! I forgot to say, you’d better do this one in the bathroom.

The crowds are larger with each dead child. The parking for this one is a real pain in the ass. Natalie knows it’s selfish and hateful to think that way, but she just can’t help it. That’s okay. She’s been working very hard to accept unpleasant truths about herself.

If she had fought him from the start, maybe none of this would have happened. At the very least, she wouldn’t have felt responsible for so much of it, felt the weight of that responsibility crushing her even as fresh terrors stalked innocents in the dark.

Cover mirrors after a death so no one has to worry about Ugly Mourning Face. Cover mirrors after a death, or the deceased’s soul will be distracted from Heaven by its own reflection. Cover mirrors after a death so the spirits living within won’t turn your misery to their advantage.

Grief makes everyone hard to look at; any dead who are so easily diverted from the afterlife deserve to be trapped in mirrors; and Natalie’s been through so much horror in her life, she’d almost welcome mirror demons.

Natalie stares into her rearview and thinks: Come on, then. I dare you.

Nothing happens, of course.

Break a mirror, and bad luck will follow you for seven years. Lift the curse by grinding the shards into a fine powder. Touch pieces of the broken mirror to a tombstone on hallowed ground. Burn or blacken the shards, set them in an honored place in your home for one year, then bury them deep. Confuse the foul luck spirits by turning widdershins thrice before the broken mirror, and they’ll seek simpler prey.

When the murderer threw Natalie out of his house, he took a hammer to every one of her mirrors except the one she’d already hidden in the garden. He shoved her out of the door hard enough for her to skitter across the porch and slam into one of the supports. When she turned around, he flung a box of the broken shards in her face. The cuts weren’t deep, but three days later at the halfway house she was still picking shining slivers from her hair.

Natalie didn’t bother doing a single thing to cancel out any bad fortune from the broken mirrors. She figured the luck she’d invited into her life by getting into his car that first time was big and bad enough to scare any pale little mirror ghost silly.

That was thirteen months ago. Every month since then, Natalie’s run the same wretched errand.

The wooden frames of scrying mirrors will crack if death is approaching. Silver mirror frames tarnish when your true love lies. Copper frames will burn your enemies’ faces when they look into your mirror. Listen: mirror magic won’t work if the mirror is framed.

Natalie grabs the plush rabbit from the seat beside her and gets out of the car. She weaves through the gathering and their burning votives. Natalie kneels at the edge of the impromptu shrine on the corner where Destiny Shaw’s body was found. She’s squeezed between an old man folded over his cane and a youngish woman with her arm around a crying teen. Natalie swaps the rabbit for a school photograph someone had propped against a bouquet of plastic flowers. The picture is in her jacket’s oversized pocket – frame and all – and Natalie is walking away before anyone even notices she was there.

There’s a rhythm to stealing photos from a dead kid’s roadside shrine, a nick and a twist in the pulse of the world. For each of the thirteen murdered children, Natalie has danced to that same sharp beat.

Demons don’t like to see their reflections, so hang mirrors opposite any place they could enter your home. Guard those mirrors well: if they break, you’ll lose their protection.

Most people don’t really notice mirrors, or murderers. That’s how they get you.

Turn mirrors to the floor during storms, or they’ll sing the lightning right into your house.

Natalie found it easy to catch lightning in a mirror. The hard part was taming it. Like any wild creature, the trick was figuring out what it liked to eat.

No, not the children.

Natalie’s monstrous, she can admit that, but she isn’t a monster.

Seeking your visions by candlelight works best. This only works if you put a flashlight under your chin. Black mirrors are no good; use a round, silver-backed mirror by the light of the moon. The shape of the mirror doesn’t matter. Square mirrors lie, but sometimes they don’t.

People lie, but sometimes they don’t. Natalie’s always had a knack for picking out the one true thing in a pile of falsehoods. The problem is, she doesn’t recognize the lie until she hears the truth.

Back when the murderer was just a child abductor and rapist, he told Natalie hundreds of times that he loved her. It was a long time before she learned that his love was simply fascination with her youth, and her fear, and her willingness to pretend to go along. With the sex, sure; but mostly with the isolation, and the surgeries, and his horrible toys.

Two years ago the murderer told Natalie he loved, he adored, he was in rapturous awe of her ability to leave her body as he did his terrible things to her. It’s when you play dead that I love you most, he said. It was the one true thing he’d told her; as soon as he did, she felt part of herself shatter under the force of all his lies. He kissed the jagged scars where her breasts had been and ran his hands along the still-raw flesh between her legs where he’d had her hair lasered away while Natalie held the one thing he truly loved about her in her mind and looked at it from every side.

Turn a favorite mirror counterclockwise three times a day, at the same time each day, and you will never age. Be careful! Once you start, you can never stop or you’ll age a full score days for every day you miss.

That was the first day Natalie didn’t turn her mirror. She began keeping herself in her body every time he pushed her down or tied her up. No matter what he did to her, she looked him in the eyes and forced him to see her pain and anger. As he became more and more vicious she became increasingly aware of the truth of his diseased spirit, and the lie of the rare gentle moments he’d shown her.

It took almost a year for him to throw her away. He rented whores, he chained her to the wall in that long-empty basement room, he manhandled her back to his bedroom, he left her in the box behind the closet’s false wall for three days after getting drunk and punching her for a solid two minutes right in her missing breasts. He complained that she was aging before his eyes. He blindfolded her and attacked her every night for two whole weeks, but she let him know she was still there with her voice and later, when he gagged her, her body.

You’re going to need an old mirror for this one. Look into the mirror every day for at least a few years before you cut the glass. If the mirror hasn’t tired of tasting you before you make the soulcatcher, it’ll eat you right up.

Removing the silver from the back of a mirror is harder than it sounds. Taming the lightning was far simpler: it wasn’t nearly as messy, and it didn’t stink at all.

Mirrors that are set in such a way as to reflect one another, when lit by candlelight, reveal any supernatural entities in the household. Know that, once seen, the entities can see you as well. Once they see you they will never forget you. They will come for you from any reflective surface. They can only attack you from the mirrors in which you first saw them. They will kill you. They will suck out your soul and replace you. They will drag you into the mirror realms, where you will slowly become one of them.

Muriatic acid reeks. It can burn like crazy if you get it on your skin, and it makes those little straightedge razorblades slippery.

The acid’s seeped into dozens of narrow cuts, and Natalie’s fingers are a scarred ruin. She doesn’t mind; now they match the rest of her.

To prevent demon possession, tape a photograph of yourself to a mirror so it faces away from the glass and bury the mirror and photo in a holy place. Tape a photograph of a wandering ghost to a mirror with the image facing the glass; when the photo has faded, you’ll know the ghost has entered the mirror.

Each photograph takes a little less time. This final image fades in only a matter of hours. It takes her all night to finish, but by the next morning Natalie is tapping the last tiny nail into place. She sets the box gently into the trunk of her car, next to her laden purse, and drives across town. She has a nice lunch in the city, at a diner next to his favorite prostitute’s apartment building. She spends the afternoon reading in the park across from the building, so she can keep an eye on the door. She’s been watching him for several weeks now and takes her position with plenty of time to spare before he arrives for his regular Thursday night appointment.

Natalie’s aged twenty days for every day since she stopped turning her mirror.  She’s nearly sixty now. The murderer doesn’t recognize her when the elevator doors open. He barely glances at the object in her arms and ignores the large bag at her feet; instead, he smiles at his own reflections in the elevator’s floor-to-ceiling mirrors. He steps inside the giant mirrored box and pushes the button for his whore’s floor.

If you paint the name of a loved one on a mirror and submerge the mirror in holy water for forty days and forty nights, that person will never get sick. Write a sacred symbol on the back of a mirror so it can no longer be used as a portal to our world. Words written at the edges of black mirrors have power. Mirrors which have tasted willing blood have power.

The soulcatcher is heavy in Natalie’s fifty-something arms. It took her a year to create: a hand-carved shadowbox with one half of her favorite mirror embedded in the top and one in the bottom, facing the top. She’s removed the silver backing from a small part of the top mirror. The bottom mirror was entirely stripped of its silver and coated with thick black paint. Other, smaller mirrors are set within at complicated angles. Natalie etched the names of the murdered children around the edges of the second mirror and filled the careful lines with her own blood. The names glimmer and spark in the depths of the box, lit by the fitful pulses of the lightning.

Natalie’s first thought was to just kill the murderer. Or coax a demon — one of the really awful ones — from a mirror and have it devour him. That was before the first little girl was killed, before she found the shattered body he’d left at the edge of her lot in the Sunny Valley Trailer Community.

The truth is, the kids came up with this plan on their own. It was all their idea. Natalie’s just happy she can help.

If you eat an apple while gazing into a mirror, an image of your soulmate will appear over your shoulder.

Natalie says: Excuse me, sir, in a timid voice she knows will catch his attention. When he looks up, she holds the soulcatcher in front of his face and turns away. She watches in the mirror at the back of the elevator as thirteen pairs of small hands rush from the ornate box. It only takes a moment: a breath, a heartbeat, a bright hot flash. The murderer’s flesh fades just as the photos did, and something curdled and dark is pulled from his body and struggles against the children’s grasping fingers. Natalie sets the suddenly heavier, suddenly screaming soulcatcher on the floor and takes the hammer from her purse. She starts with his face.

The murderer’s body fragments with only a few blows. Smashing the mirrors that line the elevator is harder: the glass is nearly half an inch thick, and the dark clot of his soul is reflected on every side. It’s infected the panels, and the heavy glass bruises and bleeds before it will break. Natalie’s arms are shaking with the strain by the time she’s shattered the first two panels. She slumps against the wall but jumps to her feet when she notices the murderer’s reflected body beginning to piece itself together in the remaining panels.

Although the body at her feet is unmoving, Natalie attacks the third mirror as hard as she can. The murderer’s reflected face turns toward her and its mouth cracks wide in a seeping grin. On the floor, the soulcatcher twists and thuds as the children struggle to hold him. Natalie slams the hammer into the murderer’s teeth in the mirror, and feels them bite when the glass falls around her hand.

The final panels she has to break are the ones on the doors. When Natalie turns, she sees the murderer’s mirror body in both doors rising to its hands and knees. Pieces of its face are sliding together to form a vicious grimace. Natalie bares her own teeth. She uses both hands to raise the hammer over her head and only then notices the elevator has stopped. Her momentum carries her forward a half step, and her hammer stops just a few inches from the face of the scrawny teen revealed by the opening doors. The boy drops his basketball and runs like hell. Natalie pushes the button for the lobby and raises the hammer again just as the doors close.

The murderer’s mirror self is standing in both doors; Natalie scoots so she can only see one of them and cracks its head open. When it reels she hustles to the other door and hits that one, too. All the way down, Natalie hits first one panel and then the other until they’re both crumbling and wet red glass is falling all around her.

Natalie drops the hammer among the glistening crimson shards. She picks up the heavy soulcatcher. Something is moaning and sobbing within. Thirteen other somethings are laughing. Natalie chuckles and cries all the way to her car.

If a man and woman see one another’s reflections before meeting, they’ll have a long and loving life together.

Natalie released the children from the soulcatcher weeks ago. When she opened the box, the lightning arced around the murderer’s spirit, binding him as surely as any of the chains he’d ever used on her. The children were out and away with a twist and a pulse, a brief and lilting beat.

After they left, Natalie sealed the top mirror with a sacred word and a coat of black paint. The lightning that still curls within the box creates just enough illumination to continually bounce the reflected pain and terror of all thirteen children’s last hours deep into the open wound of the murderer’s soul.

Natalie sleeps a lot these days. She dreams of the children laughing as they left the box; of the lightning, happily feeding upon the murderer’s screams; and of the soulcatcher, sunk deep into the shit of the Sunny Valley Trailer Community’s massive septic tank. Twice a week, one of the hospice workers wakes Natalie and fixes her hair while Natalie gazes at her own pale reflection and whispers tales of magic mirrors. She knows them all.

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71ewPYAStuL._UX250_DORA BADGER is a writer and web designer living in Detroit. She has had short stories published in A cappella Zoo and The Daily Nightmare Anthology, and has recently had her first work translated into French for Dreampress’ Ténèbres 2015. She is currently at work on “Uncurled”, an immediately pre-apocalyptic novel set in the heart of Detroit. She blogs at menaceandwhimsy.com.

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