Smoke and Mirrors
++ Transcript / Witness: “A”, age 14 / File: “J”, age 14 (Missing) ++
++ Interviewer: Dr Riley (DrR) ++
++ Outcome: [Classified] ++
++ Recommendation: Delete ++
[names redacted, substitute “A” and “J” throughout]
DrR: It’s ok, A, just take me through what you remember. You said you were with J when you went into that house, and you know the police are looking for him, so all I want to know is what you remember before you came out.
[A does not answer]
DrR: It’s alright, A. You’re not in any trouble. We all just want to find J. That’s all.
A: Are you police?
DrR: I work with the police, A. I’m a psychologist.
A: I already told you where he is.
DrR: Yes you did. But I need you to help me understand what you meant.
A: There’s nothing to understand. He fell through the mirror like I said.
DrR: This is the mirror in the old house, in the bedroom?
A: Yes. Like I said.
DrR: Perhaps we should start at the beginning, A, ok?
A: Fine, whatever. And you can stop saying my name all the time. It’s really unsettling.
DrR: Of course. Let’s start with how long you’ve known J?
A: I’ve known him all my life.
DrR: And whose decision was it to break into the old Marsden house?
A: I don’t know. We kind of just decide to do stuff. Why are you writing that down? Why does it matter who – hey, stop writing. Stop writing!
DrR: I’m sorry, A, I’m only –
A: And stop saying my name!
DrR: Sorry I keep saying your name. It’s a force of habit. I’m only writing things down because it helps me remember.
A: But this is being recorded. You told me.
DrR: Yes, but I write down observations and thoughts I have. You’re not in any trouble.
A: Yeah you said.
DrR: Please, carry on. What made you decide to go to the Marsden house?
A: Everyone says it’s haunted, with all its boarded up windows and overgrown hedges. It looks like something out of a horror movie. Everyone at school knows the stories about old man Marsden. Disappearances, bones in the cellar, screams late at night–
DrR: So that’s why you went in?
A: It was just a stupid dare.
DrR: And did your parents know?
A: No. We snuck out when we knew they were asleep and met up in the backyard. The Marsden backyard I mean. The gate rotted off years ago.
DrR: Please carry on.
A: We both brought a flashlight, and figured we’d head round the back so no one saw us. But the place was way bigger than I’d thought. It’s like three or four houses all joined up, when you get close. And at the back it keeps going. Anyway, once we found it the back door opened easy enough so we went in.
DrR: Through the kitchen?
A: Yeah. The old doorframe creaked when we pulled it open, and almost fell off its hinges. It was so dark inside that the flashlights barely lit it up. Everything was covered in a dark sort of mould, old furniture had fallen over and looked rotten. I was so scared. But J was there, so…we didn’t turn back.
DrR: So you stayed with J the whole time?
A: Yeah. And then we…we thought we went upstairs.
DrR: You thought?
A: I…it’s hard to explain.
DrR: The stairs were rotten too, I expect. Did you not think that was dangerous?
[A says nothing]
DrR: So why go up there?
A: We heard – thought we heard – a noise.
DrR: What noise?
A: Like someone whispering. I figured maybe some other kids were there too. Plenty of kids had said they’d been in there before, though now I know they haven’t. Lying [expletive deleted]s.
A: It was hard to ignore the whispers, and it wasn’t only me. We both heard them. I remember seeing J’s face in the light of my torch. His eyes were really wide and his face looked weird, like he was terrified but trying not to show it. That made me feel, I dunno, braver I guess. So I went first. And you’re right, the stairs were soft but didn’t creak when you stepped on them. I remember thinking that was weird. But we got to the top, and looked down a long, black corridor. Our lights couldn’t reach the end. The wooden walls were all streaked with that black mould, and the carpet was squishy underfoot like it was wet, but also crunchy like…like stepping on bugs. There were doors on either side of the corridor, mostly closed but not quite, and I remember thinking that the darkness inside those rooms was…I dunno. Darker than dark should be. Like a deeper blackness than your eyes can see. It hurt to look at.
A: The room at the end of the corridor was a bedroom. I barely remember walking along that corridor; I was so scared it was like I was in a trance. But we found ourselves in the bedroom, looking at the disgusting sheets on the four poster bed and the gross curtains hanging heavily around it. I didn’t think it was weird at the time, but there was no smell. And no sound. I shone my flashlight around the room, looking for whoever it was who’d whispered at us, and there was a flash of light in the corner. When I shone the flashlight over there I realised it was a reflection in a mirror. But it was a weird mirror. The frame was right, heavy and gold coloured like my grandma’s mirror from like the ‘70s, but the reflection was wrong. The light reflected off it the way it should, but the actual reflection – wasn’t right. It was something else. A, you know –
DrR: An image?
A: Right, an image. It wasn’t me looking back at me; it was the downstairs corridor we’d walked along. Like it was showing a view of the stairs, the ones we’d walked up, from the kitchen. I almost couldn’t make it out, because the light from my torch didn’t seem to go very far.
DrR: In the mirror?
A: Yeah. It took me a moment to realise that the weirdest thing was that any light at all got through.
DrR: Hm. Then what happened?
A: Well, the mirror was sitting on the floor, propped up against the wall. I called J over to look, and…we fell.
DrR: You fell?
[A does not answer]
DrR: A, I need you to talk this through with me. Please. What happened?
A: We woke up on a wooden floor. My head hurt, and my knees, like I’d fallen. I figured we fell, through the bedroom floor maybe, but I had this sudden, I dunno. Certainty, I guess. That we’d fallen through the mirror. It felt so stupid, and I couldn’t really remember for sure, but there was this horrible, sinking feeling in my stomach like I knew what had happened even if I couldn’t really remember. J stared at me in the torchlight, and I realised that it wasn’t shining as far as it should. Just like when I’d shone it through the mirror, it was like the black around us was eating the light a few meters from us. And we were back in the corridor by the kitchen, looking at the stairs. Just like the mirror had shown.
DrR: [under his breath] Jesus.
A: Yeah. Well we panicked. J said it too; we were on the other side of the mirror. We figured we’d fallen through it, into that – image – that we’d seen, where the darkness was deeper. And the whispering we could hear was louder now, nearby. Somewhere behind us in the kitchen, which our flashlights couldn’t reach, where the image in the mirror had been looking out from. It was almost like a laughing, choking sound, like a crazy man in the street if he had a mouthful of slime. J screamed at me to run, said it was getting closer, and I did. I ran like crazy. My only thought was of getting back to the mirror in the bedroom, getting back through it and into the normal version of the house. It was like all other thoughts had been…sort of dimmed. And anyway, the only other way out was back through the kitchen, where that gurgling thing in the darkness was. As we ran I heard a skittering sound, like lots of legs scuttling along a wooden floor, and we kept running.
A: Sorry, I need a drink. Can I –
[sounds of glass being filled]
DrR: (mumbled) There you go.
A: I didn’t look back as we ran up the stairs, not until we reached the bedroom, and that horrible carpet squelched and creaked under our feet like it was going to give way, like a hundred bugs were bursting under every step. It was like running in a nightmare; where you can’t see anything in front of you and don’t dare turn around. I reached the room first and grabbed the door as J ran past me, and I slammed it shut. In that brief moment before the door closed I could only see blackness, but sometimes I imagine I did see a few points of light, like faint reflections of my flashlight on hundreds of glistening legs. But I don’t think I did. I think I was being…what is it when you – never mind. It doesn’t matter now.
DrR: What doesn’t matter?
[muffled sobbing sounds]
DrR: Are…are you alright?
A: I’m sorry.
DrR: It’s ok, please carry on.
A: I was sure something was scratching at the door as we backed away. The air felt thick, like it was wet, and the smell was like fruit that’s gone bad. It only occurred to me afterwards that there had been no smell the first time round. No creaking on the stairs the first time round. The signs were right there and I didn’t see them, probably because I could still see in my mind’s eye a black-legged thing scrambling at the door desperate to get in. I wasn’t thinking.
[pause, sound of water filling glass]
A: We went up to the mirror. It was on its side, this time showing a view of the street outside. Well-lit from the streetlamps, none of that insane darkness. It was like looking through a window to the real world. So reassuring. So inviting. Well. It was then that it hit me.
DrR: What hit you?
A: That it was all a trick. That we’d only been up here once; this time. The first time, with the dark that was too black, the stairs with no sound, and the air that had no smell, before we woke up on the floor? That hadn’t happened. It had been a…a dream –
DrR: A hallucination?
A: Right. Like the whispering. The frantic legs at the door. It was all an illusion, all in our heads. Projected through that mirror. But I figured it out too late.
DrR: Too late for what?
A: To save J. He was terrified. He stepped through the mirror before I could stop him. I saw him standing in the street, looking around for me. I can still see his face as he looks behind him and that…thing…crawls towards him from the shadows. I can see him screaming, desperately looking for the way back through as it gets closer – those legs reaching and those eyes glittering.
A: He went through the mirror and that thing was waiting for him. It was never on our side of the mirror at all. It catches you by making you think it’s already behind you; by making you think you’re on the wrong side of the...
A: Hey is that a two-way mirror –
++ interview terminated ++