I know I’ve missed Halloween but I thought I would share this true life story from my youth. It’s one of those events that helped shaped me. So sit back and enjoy…
I was seven when I met my other sister.
As a child, it wasn’t uncommon for me to wake up during the night craving something to drink. I usually slept with a glass of water or juice on the nightstand next to my bed. On this particular night, I’d drained my glass and found I still hadn’t quenched my thirst. I hopped out of bed and, glass in hand, left the bedroom I shared with my sister, three years my younger. I switched on the landing light so I wouldn’t disturb anyone and trotted downstairs to the kitchen. I made myself a drink and took it back up the stairs.
As I reached the top of the stairs and turned to face my bedroom, a full-length mirror next to my sister’s bed reflected my image. I wasn’t alone in my reflection and I froze. Behind me was my sister wearing her black polka dotted nightdress. She was lying on the top stair, her face stricken in pain, reaching out to grab my bare ankle. She fixed me with her totally black eyes. There were no whites in her eyes at all, just solid black. Her mouth opened and closed as if trying to say something, but no words made it out.
My mind whirled. How had my sister followed me down the stairs and sneaked behind me without me noticing? What had caused her eyes to turn black? My mind snagged on the falseness in the reflected image, preventing me from answering the questions. For to the left of the mirror, my sister slept soundly in her bed, her face turned away from me. The fact she was wearing a flowered nightdress and not the polka dotted one only confirmed the impossibility of the distressed girl in the reflection being my sister.
My other sister’s hand continued to reach out for me and was within inches of grasping me. I couldn’t tell if she existed only in the reflection or whether she was right behind me. I didn’t dare turn my head to find out. In the reflection, my view of her was at least twenty feet away, but if I turned to face her, then those black eyes would be right on top of me.
Whether my other sister really meant me harm or just needed my help, I didn’t have the courage to find out. I bolted for my room, throwing my drink into the air and screaming all the way. This meant running directly at the mirror and if my other sister existed there, then I was running straight towards the creature and not away from it. In the mirror’s reflection, my other sister made a desperate lunge, missed me and collapsed on the landing, but she lacked the strength to give chase. I hurled myself on the bed and buried my face in the pillow and bedclothes.
My screams woke my sister and my parents. My mother had to pry me from the mattress that I clung to in the fear that it wasn’t my mother who had me, but a false mother like the false sister I’d seen in the mirror. Even when she managed to unpeel my fingers from the mattress, I refused to open my eyes in fear that I was in the arms of a phantom. But when my mother shushed me and rocked me, I knew no false mother would treat me with such tenderness and I opened my eyes.
“What’s wrong?” my mother asked. “Why all the screaming?”
Through my sobs, I choked out the event I’d witnessed. My mother showed me that my sister, although crying herself from being rudely awakened, was okay, and more importantly, that her eyes were okay.
"You were dreaming,” my mother insisted.
How could it be a dream? I’d made myself a drink. I told my mother this.
“Well, whatever you saw, it isn’t there now,” she said.
“How do you know?” I demanded.
“Because we would have seen it when we came into the room. Come on, come look.”
My mother tried to show me, but I clung to my bed. She wrenched me free and I went with her, even though I dug my toes into the carpet. She showed me that nothing lurked on the landing, other than my father cleaning up my spilled drink.
At some point when I’d calmed down, my parents put me to bed, but I failed to fall asleep straight away, fearing my other sister would return to get me. Finally, exhaustion claimed me and I slept through until morning.
After that night, I developed a fear of mirrors after dark. Once the sun had set, I averted my gaze or closed my eyes when passing a mirror. I wanted to hang something over the mirrors, but I didn’t want to expose my fear. If I woke during the night needing a drink, I let my thirst go unquenched. Nothing would get me out of bed after dark. I never wanted to meet my other sister again. I feared my escape might not be guaranteed.
Two weeks after the incident my sister was struck down by a nasty bout of flu, which kept her, confined to her bed for several days. The nightdress she wore when the flu hit was her black polka dotted one.
I don’t know if the phantom sister I saw was a premonition of some kind, but I never saw my sister in that stricken pose on the stairs during her influenza bout or at any other time and she never possessed those black eyes. I wonder if the phantom was some form of guardian spirit trying to warn my family of a threat to my sister’s welfare? Regardless, I didn’t look into a mirror at night for another seven years fearing a repeat encounter with my other sister or some other phantom that lurked in mirrors.
Eventually, when I summoned up the courage in my teens to stare into a mirror at night, I saw nothing, although I broke out in gooseflesh fearing that I would. Now, I’m in my thirties, and if I’m honest, I still fear what I’ll see in a mirror. If I have to get up at night, I don’t turn on the lights and I keep my eyes averted. My other sister has never shown herself again, but I can never be sure it will stay that way.
PS: I’m off to LA for a signing at the Mystery Bookstore with Tim Maleeny and Mark Coggins, then we’re off to Men of Mystery.
PPS: Artist, Deena Warner commissioned a story to go with her 2007 Halloween Card and I came up with something called, Thursday.