Mirror, Mirror...

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 2 (v.1) - none

Submitted: March 14, 2019

Reads: 10

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Submitted: March 14, 2019

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Despite of his words, Benjamin knew perfectly well that he wasn’t welcome back home. Or, to be precise, there was no home for him there. Not anymore. Same as there was no place he could call ‘his village’. And there were reasons for it. Or rather, he himself was the reason.

His father had sold a big chunk of his farm to pay for his son’s education and his living in the town. Benjamin had wasted a big part of this money during his first year at university, partying with his “new friends”, paying for dinners, buying fancy clothes to keep up with his peers. Good thing he had paid all of the education fees upfront. By the end of the first year, he had found himself penniless and had no choice but to beg his father for help.

However, instead of plain, honest begging, Benjamin had approached the task in a professional way. He practiced his writer’s talent on his father, by composing a heartbreaking and convincing letter. This letter deeply touched his father. His son’s “misfortunes” nearly broke his heart, and he readily provided the needed help, and more, for his beloved, only child.   

That was the first letter of its kind. There were more, later.

When, three years later, Benjamin arrived to his father’s funeral, to his shock he had discovered that no one in the village would talk to him. People he had known all his life turned their backs on him with only one exception, his use-to-be best friend. And he didn’t linger long either. His “friend” confided to Benjamin details of his father’s death and left. These were last words Benjamin ever heard from him.

Benjamin’s father was a well-respected man in the village. Though he had never been rich, he was an honest and hardworking man. Benjamin’s mother had died when he was little and his father had brought him up alone. Unlike many other farmers, his father had never pushed Benjamin to be a farmer; instead, he supported every line of interest Benjamin acquired, helping his beloved son to find himself. And when Benjamin eventually became sure of what he wanted to do with his life, his father, without hesitation, had provided Benjamin with all he needed for pursuing his dream, never minding the cost. It seemed that in the end he had paid the ultimate price for his son’s happiness. ‘What happiness?’

His father was a proud man. Through his life, he had always followed the policy of “care for yourself and help those in need.” He never asked anyone for help, but never refused help to others. Over the course of four years, during the time of Benjamin’s education, his father had sold all he had to support his beloved son “who one day will become a famous writer”. He believed in Benjamin and thought of him until the end, whereas Benjamin remembered his father only when his purse ran dry. 

Benjamin’s father starved to death, living his last days in a rotten little shack. He didn’t even saw his beloved son before he died.

Benjamin ran from his village straight after the funeral, burning with shame, as even the priest despised him there. No. He had no home village anymore.

And now, another rejection. Another failure, to make atonement with his father. Although Benjamin never confessed it even to himself, but that, probably, was the reason he took the rejections so badly. For years he had worked hard to prove that he was worthy of his father’s sacrifice and for years he had failed repeatedly. No matter how much he tried, acceptance avoided him. His writing became more desperate, and rejections more prompt over the years and now he was on the brink of giving up, again.

 

Once again, Benjamin looked into the mirror. He stared at his own reflection for a long time. Looking deep into his own eyes, trying to find a sparkle in there. A sparkle that meant, that he still had inspiration, a heavenly spark inside, which will help him to believe that he was a writer in the first place. He almost despaired to find it in his bloodshot eyes, which just a minute ago had burned with hatred. Finally, he saw it: a faint, tiny spark. Enormous sense of relief engulfed Benjamin and he felt warmth spreading inside his chest.

‘No, we aren’t done yet, my friend.’ He said to his reflection with a faint hope in his voice.

Benjamin turned around, taking in the room, searching for some inspiration as to what to do next. His eyes rested on a thick manila envelope with his freshly-rejected manuscript. He went to the table, took the manuscript out, and with special care put the envelope back on the table, sat down on the chair and began to read.

Fifteen minutes later, he stopped reading, put the manuscript onto the table and hid his face in his hands.

‘Worthless hack.’ He moaned. ‘This carp is unreadable. What is wrong with me? Where did I get the idea that it could be published? Oh, God! Sanderson is right.  I hope I didn’t offend him too badly.’

 

Benjamin took his manuscript and walked to another important feature of his room: a fireplace. It wasn’t huge, but it was rather big for this tiny flat. Benjamin was glad of its size, though. It kept the room very warm. That was when he had still been able to afford firewood. A while ago. Typically, the colder it got, the less often Benjamin had been able to buy any firewood. And this year, 1987, October was cold indeed, and the fireplace had stood cold for nearly a week now.

Benjamin knelt down by the fireplace and began, without regret, to crumple the pages of the manuscript and pile them up inside the fireplace. It took him as long as another fifteen minutes to finish with his manuscript. Then he looked at the pile of paper in the fireplace and smiled a bitter smile.

“After all it will bring a little warmth to a lonely soul.” He said with sadness.

Benjamin returned to his desk. He sat down in front of the typewriter and asked himself out loud: ‘What next?’ and after a second’s hesitation answered ‘I need an idea. Something worth writing about.’ He sat in front of his typewriter for a long time, occasionally touching a key but not hitting them. Then he got up and went into the hall, grabbed his coat from the nail, which served as a peg, and left the flat, heading to the town in search of inspiration.

2

***

Later that day, Benjamin returned to his flat with a bright, happy face and a pile of scrap wood in his arms. He had found an idea for a new book, and he had found enough firewood for a couple of days. ‘Two warm nights! That’s a treat.’  Benjamin chose to see such luck as a sign that now things might improve.

Once inside the apartment, he went straight to the fireplace and piled up half of the wood over his manuscript. The timber he had found was dry and in a few minutes it roared with flames. Benjamin sat for a little while warming his hands over the flames, making a mental note to watch after oversized pieces of wood, which stuck out a little. ‘You don’t want to burn this house down, mate.’ Soon his hands were warm enough so he could work comfortably on his typewriter, however, Benjamin sat in front of the fire for a while longer. He always loved fire. It had a warming effect not only on his body, but on his soul, too. It helped him to clear his mind like a meditation. It helped him to stop the torrent of thoughts and prepare for a narrow line, directed only to the work at hand. For that purpose he also kept a box of candles, so that he still might have flames even when there was no firewood.

A few minutes later, warmed up and mentally prepared, Benjamin moved to his desk. A while ago, whilst still believing in his own brilliance, Benjamin had developed a habit of always keeping fresh sheets of paper in the typewriter, so that there would be no delays whenever he might want to type something. Now he came to his typewriter and even before he had sat down, he had already typed the title for his new story: “Moon walk.” Then he sat down, reread the title, took a deep breath and began typing the outline of his story as he had dreamt it while walking through the town. Within a few seconds, the storyline completely swallowed him. This time it promised to be good: Romantic and comical, sad and even scary, and above all – mystical.

 

Benjamin had always been a committed worker. Once he started, he could hardly ever stop for anything. He took pride in this part of his character. He always despised those “writers” who would work lazily. He believed that a writer must dedicate himself to his work like a boxer in the ring, and that was his type of commitment.

 

He worked long into the night until his eyes couldn’t stay open anymore. He allowed himself only two short breaks: one for attending his fireplace, and another when he managed to give himself a scare.

Sometime in the middle of the night, Benjamin paused to stretch his aching shoulders and had a peculiar feeling that someone watched him from behind. He turned his head a little and caught movement in his peripheral vision. With his heart beating hard in his chest, he turned around and realized that he was scared senseless by the shadows from the flames reflected in the mirror on the wall behind him.

‘You’ll go far mate, jumping at shadows like that.’ Benjamin chided himself with a silent laugh, and returned to work.

The rest of the time he worked as if possessed, without even taking breaks for the toilet.

He worked this way up to the point when he had no choice but to stop, due to his total exhaustion. He stretched, yawned, got up from his chair, took two steps from the desk and dropped onto his mattress, falling asleep almost immediately.

 

***

He woke up in the early afternoon the next day, chilled to the bones. ‘Why it is so bloody cold?’ he wondered. It was so cold he could see his breath, coming out in shaky spasms. Then it came to him. ‘Bloody chimney! I forgot to shut it! Bloody idiot!’ That was one stupid mistake, and it wasn’t the only one. He hadn’t even bothered to put a blanket over himself. Taking everything into account, he was lucky to wake up at all. ‘Shit! I have to use my brains sometimes, or I may make an unplanned departure.’

Now Benjamin took his blanket and threw it over his shoulders. That didn’t change the situation much - his teeth continued to chatter. He walked to his improvised kitchen, a little alcove in the lobby, with the little window facing a dirty backyard, an old rusty sink and a small, high table, with shelves below. On this table stood a kerosene stove, a kettle, a mug and a small saucepan, which hadn’t been used for a while. Benjamin shook the kerosene stove to check if there was any fuel. To his relief, there was. Maybe even enough to boil a mug full of water. On the shelf, under the table, where he usually kept the edibles, Benjamin found a tea box with a few tea leaves in it. ‘Better than nothing’ he said to himself, surprised by his own optimism. When the water had boiled, he poured it into his mug, shook the last of the tealeaves into it, and watched with satisfaction as the water changed its colour.

‘No tealeaf readings in this house.’ he smiled. 

Tea in hands he shuffled back to the mattress and sat down, pulling the blanket tighter around himself and carefully passing the mug with the precious liquid from one hand to another. He covered himself well and now sat with the mug of tea between his body and a blanket working as a miniature heater. When the tea had cooled down enough to drink it without scorching his mouth, Benjamin extracted it from under the blanket and took a tentative sip. Straight away, warmth spread through his body. ‘That’s better.’

Benjamin felt warmer. However, another issue worried him now: light-headedness. For a few moments, he sat musing about the reason for it. Then he figured it out. He tried to remember when he had eaten last and could not. This lowered his mood a bit, as there wasn’t any real prospect of getting any food in the proximate future. However, with only a bit of an effort, he brushed away these unhappy thoughts and instead occupied his head with another question. He wondered how he managed to dismiss these unhappy thoughts so easily. It was unusual for him. Usually he loved to brood on his misery. Not this time though.  He found himself unable to think up any satisfying answers to it, so he changed the direction of his thoughts once more and mused on what to do next.

Benjamin contemplated his possible options. He didn’t have many. Do more writing - This Benjamin dismissed for the time being. ‘Better to keep writing about the moon’s influence under the moon light.’ He suggested to himself. Another, natural choice, which appeared under these circumstances, was to go to sleep until the moon came up, but Benjamin was well-rested and doubted if he could sleep now. So, he decided to go for a walk into town instead. Besides, a walk was always the best tool for him to keep hunger at bay.

‘With any luck I’ll find more firewood, to keep myself cosy.’ He encouraged himself.

 

Luck favoured him even better this time. He found an old, broken chair for firewood, and he found a few coins. As a result, he returned home with a wood for warmth and a small loaf of bread and a bit of butter and seriously bewildered by the change in him. Only last night, it seemed to him unacceptable to pick coins off the pavement. However, today he accepted these coins as a heavenly bounty. He was changed, though not sure how. Maybe his meeting with publisher did it? Or was it inspiration for the new story? Or maybe someone up there felt pity for him and helped to sort out priorities.

‘No point. I doubt if I will ever understand it. Just be grateful and enjoy the help while it lasts.’ He instructed himself.

 

Benjamin walked through the filthy backyard and up the stairs, which were built outside the main part of the building and were leading to his small upstairs apartment. The chair he left by the stairs break it later. Once in his flat, he turned to the kitchen, to place his food on his “table” there. From the little window in the “kitchen” he observed the yard, paying real attention to it for the first time.

When Benjamin had rented this place, it had depressed him. A pitiful little flat, cold and damp, with an entrance through the filthy backyard, which stank of rot and excrements. However, now his attitude had changed a little. He was counting his blessings. His isolation, for once, became very welcomed, as he was safe from meetings with other residents, safe from their disapproving glances, and from his own jealousy towards their luxuries and comfort.

Benjamin’s apartment was the only one without a bathtub, and without a kitchen. He used to moan about it a lot. Not today. Today he was grateful that he had water, an indoor toilet, and a good, big, working fireplace. ‘A perfect place for creating a masterpiece.’ He half-joked with himself.

For obvious reasons, Benjamin paid little attention to his smelly backyard, before now. Normally he passed through it as fast as he could, often holding his breath, taking particular care on rainy days when the yard turned to a bog. But today he observed it with new interest. He spotted a few items of broken furniture by the fence. A couple of abandoned car batteries and an old shed, which appeared to have long been abandoned. Benjamin took a small candle and matches, and went into the yard to investigate if he can salvage something useful.

First he stopped to break the chair that he had found earlier. This took only a minute, and it brought some unfamiliar joy to Benjamin. Or rather, a forgotten joy of destruction, which is well known to almost every boy aged between 9 and 15. He mused about these feelings while piling pieces of the chair on the stairs. This new emotional discovery amused him, but he didn’t muse long. He still had things to do. He went to see what in the shed.

The shed’s door wasn’t locked, its bottom edge was buried in dirt accumulated over the years. ‘I wonder if it is worth the effort.’ He thought. After all, what were the chances that he would find anything useful inside? ‘But on the other hand, you aren’t exactly too busy right now, nor too tired.’ Benjamin said to himself. He found a grip on the door and pulled it hard. It opened easily, the bottom of the door all rotten. Benjamin squeezed inside and lit the candle.

At first glance, the shed appeared to be empty. It was quite spacious, and smelled of damp. However, besides the smell of damp and rotten wood there was some other smell, which Benjamin couldn’t quite place at once, but which pushed him to investigate the place more thoroughly. In one corner, he saw a significant raise to the floor. He went closer and in the candlelight saw that this was the damp remains of a coal pile. He dug a little into it, to check if any coal pieces remained, and to his joy he found plenty under just a few inches of cinder.

‘Bloody hell.’ Benjamin exclaimed laughing ‘What a lucky day. What else will I find here, I wonder. A pile of gold?’ 

He didn’t find gold, but he had found something of no lesser value to him.  A canister with kerosene. It wasn’t full, but there was gallon or two in it. Now he could have tea. Or at least some hot water until he found something to buy tea with.

Another treasure he found in the shed was an old, rusty, bent bucket. Benjamin filled the bucket with several big pieces of coal, took the canister, and, all black, covered in cinder and rust, but happy with his find, climbed up to his apartment.  

That evening Benjamin felt better than he ever had during the last few years, since his father’s death. He was warm and had some food in his belly, which definitely improved his mood. He even thought about sufferings he endured in all those years, differently. He saw them from a different angle. He did suffer a lot, first tortured by the consciousness, and later from poverty, hunger and the hurt pride. However, now it all suddenly appeared to him so pathetic.  

“What an asshole! No wonder I wasn’t able to produce anything anyone wants to read. How can you write when you are full of self-pity? Bloody ‘Boo-hoo baby of twenty-five.  I bet in all of my stories, every single page has been begging: ‘Please! I need food! I need clothes! I need fire!’ Pathetic!  ‘Worthy’ son to his father. A man who never showed his need to anyone, even on the brink of death. That’s how I repaid my old man for all he has done for me?”

‘Enough. No more begging. From now on I’ll take care for myself by the means provided by God, or my guardian angel. After all, I’m alone. And there is a great advantage in being abandoned by everyone. No one cares how I survive. No one is interested. And that’s just fine with me. I don’t even know why it ever bothered me. Why should I’d cared what people think? Yes, I’m a peculiar writer, who lives in a rat hole, and draws inspiration from it.’ Benjamin laughed aloud, but then checked himself. His own laughter scared him. It sounded rather insane. Deprived of mirth, it made him freeze with fright.

‘That must be that bread and butter. I shouldn’t have eaten a second piece.  It made me delirious. I must be careful with food after such a long fast.’ He comforted himself but without a confidence in his voice.

Nevertheless, moments later Benjamin settled at his desk ready to work. In spite of this moment of fright he had just experienced, he felt great. With a heavy lump of bread in his stomach and a crackling fire in the hearth, luxuries he had been deprived of for ages, he was a happy man.

He gave himself a few more moments to enjoy his blessings and then leaned over the typewriter and continued to work on the story he had begun the night before. 


© Copyright 2019 Serge Sober. All rights reserved.

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