They say that if you stand in front of a wall of glass at exactly four minutes past midnight and tap your fingers on it three times, you can open a door to the void beyond this world. It has to be somewhere you can see your reflection, and see through it, hovering like a ghost over the darkness beyond, somewhere dim enough that you can't quite tell the difference between light and shade. And unless you hit the glass where you touched it, shatter the half-formed image before the fifth minute strikes, that door will never close.
Celia Gray has never been one for urban legends. So much so, that she would never turn down a chance to prove one wrong.
The girls are in the middle of their third round of Truth Or Dare when it's brought up for the first time.
"Come on, Angie, it's almost midnight!"
"What's wrong, scared?"
"No, I—I just ...it's my house! I'm not smashing my balcony door."
"Jeez, guys." The five faces turn at the third voice. "We're fourteen now, not six. You don't really think it would work, do you?"
"You wanna do it instead then, Ciel?"
Celia rolls her eyes at the chorus of ooh's and ahh's. She doesn't even take a moment before standing up and walking the three steps to the door, staring through depths of her own floating form.
The night is still and warm. Twelve o'clock strikes as the haphazard circle of floppy sleeping bags and bright pyjamas whispers and giggles among themselves. A light breeze seems to kick up as the first minute passes, though the hanging branches of the limp trees outside remain still. At two past midnight, Tracey reaches over to dim the lamp, casting the room into a grey-orange glow. By the third minute, the ticking of the mantel clock is ringing out like a heartbeat as every other sound hushes to silence.
As the fourth minute comes, Celia reaches forward with a single hand and raps her knuckles on the cool glass an inch above her mirrored face.
Once. Twice. Three times.
No one moves. Then, Angie screams.
Celia bursts into laughter halfway through her leap, shaking as she tackles her friend.
"Aww, did you think I was possessed?"
Angie scowls for several seconds before giving up and joining the others in snickering.
No one sees the flicker in the glass the split-second before Celia turns away. No one sees the wry twist on the mouth of her reflection that doesn't quite match up with reality.
A few days later, Celia is pacing with a phone pressed between her ear and her shoulder. The girl on the other end is yapping on about some party she "absolutely must go to," one with older boys, in the warehouse, all night. Celia is considering her options when she catches sight of herself in the mirror and stops in her tracks..
In the pale light, she could have sworn that there was something behind her. A shadow with her face, and with a body bleeding and bruised, wearing a dress torn with red.
"You know what, no thanks. I think I'm going to sleep about now," she says into the receiver, and hangs up.
When the same girl calls again the next morning from the hospital, babbling about a fight, a riot, Celia tries to tell herself that she was just more tired than she'd thought.
She's still not superstitious. She grows up, graduates. She pretends she didn't pick her job because of a flash in her kitchen window of a car and a house she hadn't thought she'd be able to afford.
It works out well, very well, and she gets a place of her own. It's a nice suite, with glass all down one wall, looking out over the city and the inky sky. She covers the other walls with mirrors.
Celia checks herself every morning, and every time before she walks out the door. Checks her hair, her make-up, her clothes, and the dark shade that hangs at the corner of her vision.
It's years after that night when the dreams start coming. Not nightmares, not quite. But when she slips off into the emptiness of sleep, all she sees are shadows, and darkness that extends out through every corner. She dreams of lines, threads of fate branching, spreading out into millions upon millions of times. It's beautiful, in its sharp, terrifying way. Beautiful like she is, or at least what she seems.
A person never sees themselves in the mirror, not really. They see who they think they see, expect to see, want to see.
Reflections aren't just pictures, they're doorways. Into possibility, into things that aren't, into the shadowspaces.
Celia Gray is just a woman. But what looks back from the glass, she isn't so sure.
She's in her office, chatting to one of her friends when she breaks off without even a gasp.
It's worse than that first time, because it's not herself. It's him in the window, half his face scraped off, limbs twisted. But it's all just an impression, a trick of the light, because it's nothing compare to the sudden phantom cold that pierces her.
As they leave that afternoon, he's one step behind her as they cross the road. She whips around as a car skids through the lights, barely in time to push him out of the way.
But just in time to see the shock on his face as he stumbles back into the path of a truck speeding in the opposite direction.
It's no surprise to Celia that she looks beautiful in black too. She pushes back through her front door after the funeral, and after the hours she's spent walking aimlessly after it. Through winding streets, across town, but not near the river—nothing that reflects.
The foyer mirror is a gaping hole before her. It's late, she doesn't know how late, and she doesn't care. There's barely any light, but she still sees. She always sees.
In the shadow, she's wasting away. Hair limp, skin waxy, bags that hang like weights under her eyes. And it's those eyes that catch her, blank, empty.
Did she help him? Did she kill him? Does it matter?
Anger, bright, hot anger races through her in a violent pulse. In an instant she's stepping forward, smashing her hand into the glass.
The shards slice into her fist, blood pouring onto the creamy linoleum. She keeps pounding, again, and again, until the silver screen falls away from the wooden back, until there's nothing left to see.
There's a strange feeling in her, and within the walls. It's a little like a fog has been lifted, like something slipping away.
Celia looks down at her ravaged hand, blinking once as the watch on her wrist flips to 12:05.
The dreams stop.
The world, as such, continues to turn.
Celia quits her job, gets another one without too much difficulty. She makes some good decisions, some bad, her own. She moves out and buys another place where she doesn't bring in a single mirror, and installs blinds over every window.
But the balcony door, she leaves.
She looks in it, through it, sometimes, late at night when she's making her way to bed. She lets her eyes fall on the figure gazing back, half transparent against the night, pale, shuttered, normal.
And sometimes there's almost a flicker of something else, some more. Something waiting to be let in again.
Tap. Tap. Tap.