The Girl in the Glass by Newton Webb
A Paranormal Horror Short Story: Toby is haunted his entire life by the spectral appearance of a woman in his reflection, who inches closer with time, threatening his sanity and his soul.
The Girl in the Glass by Newton Webb
Toby sat flicking through a cartoon pirate picture book, the four-year-old’s pudgy little legs swaying under his chair. Jane, his mother, gripped his tiny hand as they waited in the optician's clinic on blue plastic seats.
Putting down his book, Toby noticed a large mirror hanging on the wall next to a rack of glasses frames. “Look Mummy, it’s there as well.”
Jane looked at the mirror and squeezed Toby’s hand. “There is nothing there, sweetheart, just you and me.”
Before Toby could protest, a door beside the reception opened, and a voice called out, "Toby? Dr. Edwards will see you now."
Jane stood up, hoisting her bag strap onto her shoulder. "Come on, dear. Let's go get your eyes checked."
Toby hesitated, but finally relinquished his gaze from the elusive shadow in the mirror. He allowed his mother to lead him into the examination room.
Dr. Edwards was a gentle man with kind eyes, wearing a white lab coat and stylish glasses. He shook Jane's hand and gave Toby a welcoming smile. "Hello there, young man. Ready to have super eyes like a superhero?"
Toby grinned, momentarily forgetting the shadowy image. Dr. Edwards guided him through the standard tests—reading letters off a chart, looking through various lenses, and answering questions about his vision.
"All seems quite standard for his age," Dr. Edwards told Jane as he jotted down some notes. “Any history of glaucoma in the family?”
“Nothing on my side. I don’t know about his father. We didn’t stay together long. He was quite odd.”
“Well, we’ll test little Toby, anyway. It’s no bother.”
“I am more worried about the shadows he says he sees in mirrors. The doctors have given him an MRI and a CAT scan, but can’t see anything to explain it.” Jane wrung her hands.
Dr. Edwards gave her a patronising look. “It is perfectly normal for parents to worry about their kids, but you must remember that children have a wonderful capacity for imagination.” He chuckled. “At his age, I’d named all my teddies and established a strict hierarchy between them. It was called Ted Stop Land, if you can believe it.”
“I’m not making it up,” Toby sullenly protested.
“Oh, I’m sure it feels very real to you, little one.” Dr. Edwards pulled some stickers from his drawer. “Here, why don’t you stick these in your bedroom to make it more fun?”
Jane thanked the doctor and tugged on Toby’s hand, leading him out of the room. She swiftly buried the stickers in her purse before they could be lost. “Thank you, doctor.” Then to Toby, she said in a quieter voice, “Come on, let’s get some ice cream.”
“I think it is a person.” Toby confided.
“The shadow is?” Jane stopped and looked at her son.
“Yeah, I think it is a person.”
Jane smiled, a sense of relief crossing her face. “I’m sure it is.”
Danny passed Toby another beaker of lurid orange tango. The taboo thrill of staying up past midnight made the simple pleasure of the flavoured soda drink the epitome of pre-teen freedom.
Danny had stolen his older sister's Hellraiser VHS tape, and they watched it together. The volume was at an almost inaudible level to avoid alerting Danny’s Nan, a fearsome individual, who would crouch at the top of the stairs and hiss at them if she was woken.
With a bladder full of orange tango, Toby headed to the bathroom. As always the mirror showed him and his secret special friend. Toby had stopped confiding in others about the shadow. As he’d grown older, the shape had grown clearer.
When he had decided that the shadow was a girl, his psychologist had told his mother that it was a clear sign of Toby’s emerging sexuality through puberty. After that, he pretended that he couldn’t see anything in the mirror anymore. It was just easier. He couldn’t make out many of the details. The clothes seemed old, very old, rags even. Her face was a blur still, but he was sure that she had a woman’s shape. Toby had tried to talk to her, but the shadow was always quiet. She was always hiding, peeking around corners or hiding behind furniture. Her wrists and legs where they emerged from the clothing were almost alien. They were unnaturally thin.
When he was alone in the house, he tried talking to her, and she always stood there impassively watching him.
“Do you have any friends?” He asked her, not expecting her to respond.
As always, she just stood watching him.
“Well, you have me.” Toby washed his hands and smiled at his special secret friend. “I’m going to call you Susan.” Flicking off the lights as he went, he re-joined Danny in the living room to watch the rest of Hellraiser. As he saw the myriad forms of the cenobites, he wondered what his friend looked like and what it was exactly that she wanted.
Why does she live in mirrors? Is she trapped?
As he sat down with crossed legs, Danny reached over and pinched him, causing him to yelp.
“Bustard,” Toby swore, giving his best Sean Bean impression.
They both erupted into giggles until the light upstairs flicked on. They looked at each other in horror.
Nan had woken up.
The sounds of warfare filled the cramped bedroom as Toby sat hunched in front of his computer. The flashing visuals of Command and Conquer set to a soundtrack from Virgin Radio. Toby clicked through the control groups as he co-ordinated a combined arms assault on the Brotherhood of Nod headquarters. He pumped the air, as the victory screen appeared, giving a wolfish grin to the small mirror by his monitor. Susan watched his triumph without reaction. She had become his constant companion, a small makeup mirror allowing him to see her as he used his computer.
Susan used to be a mere flicker in the corner of his eye, a shadow lurking in darkened corners whenever he looked into a reflective surface.
He glanced again suspiciously at the mirror. Lately, she had been inching closer to the mirror, becoming more visible.
Toby stood in front of the mirror, performing his morning ritual. He already brushed his teeth, combed his hair, and was now examining his latest attempts at shaving. Behind him, the ghost seemed more tangible, more defined. The murky shadow of her form had sharpened, and her features became clearer. She was bald. What he’d previously thought was hair was a hood. Her lips were cracked and thin, but with a vibrant, glossy, burgundy hue to them, like chopped liver. Her hands were now visible, elongated and skeletal, with twitching fingers.
It unsettled Toby. He had known she was a girl for a long time now, but this demonic creature was not what he’d expected. He’d always imagined the shadow he had coexisted with for so long to be beautiful, not this monster. They had a strange sort of relationship, a routine. He'd catch her haunting reflection in mirrors, windows, even the glossy screens of his computer monitor when he turned it off. He'd acknowledge her with a fleeting glance, maybe even a wave or a nod. But never had she been this close, this visible.
He decided to test her, as he was getting ready for school one morning. Looking into the bathroom mirror, as she stood behind him, still as ever. He suddenly leapt at the mirror and yelled out, “Rawr!”, his arms outstretched.
The shadowy girl did not react. She remained as impassive as ever, her cracked lips unchanging, pressed together in quiet contemplation. But Toby could swear that her eyes, still shadowed and indistinct, empty spaces on her shadowy face, were fixed on him more intently than before.
Is she getting clearer?
He rinsed his mouth, turned off the faucet, and left the bathroom troubled.
2001, Durham University Halls
The TV played through a haze of marijuana smoke. In the background, his friends from Durham University had Clerks playing on DVD. Together, they watched the tv through red-rimmed eyes.
Toby passed the spliff. A massive bag of crisps rested on his ample paunch. Absentmindedly, he reached up with his fingers to shake clear any crumbs from his rapidly growing beard.
Toby's first year at Durham University had been a whirlwind of change, a new city, new friends, and new hobbies that took him further away from his old life. From the late-night LAN parties to the movie club's weekly screenings and the Dungeons & Dragons sessions that sometimes stretched into the wee hours, he was continually preoccupied. Yet, despite all the distractions, one thing remained consistent: the girl in the glass.
Where the girl in the glass, he refused to call her Susan anymore, had previously lingered in dim corners. She now stood directly behind him, peering over his shoulder, closer than she'd ever been before. There were times when he felt he could feel her cold breath on his neck.
Getting up, the taste of Newcastle Brown ale on his breath, he lumbered towards the toilet. Swearing under his breath, he focused on the toilet bowl to avoid looking into the large bathroom mirror. He caught a glimpse of the girl in the glass, her bald head clear, with dry, thin skin stretched tightly over her face. Her cheekbones were sharply indented, giving her an almost skeletal appearance. Everything about her was now grotesquely clear, except for her eyes. They remained hidden, shrouded in some unfathomable darkness that not even her newfound proximity could illuminate.
The shadow that had once been a curiosity, even a friend, now due in part to her closeness, her "realness," felt invasive, almost threatening.
At home, he preferred to brush his teeth in the shower, where the steam and lack of reflective surfaces offered a brief respite. He even set up his computer screen to be as non-reflective as possible, tweaking settings and installing matte screen protectors. But it was more than just an avoidance of her appearance; it was the unsettling thought that this entity, this constant in his life, was somehow getting closer in a way that he couldn't understand or control.
The doorbell rang. Shaking off the remaining urine, flushing and washing his hands, he went to the front door to let in Barry.
“Mate! Wait, is your t-shirt on back to front?” Barry was hefting a case of Budvar in his arms.
“Probably.” Toby shrugged, moving to one side to let Barry pass. He dressed without checking how the clothes looked on him. Small sacrifices, he thought, if it meant less interaction with the apparition that crept closer every day.
But avoiding her wasn't always possible.
"Hey, man, we're setting up a new game downstairs. You in?" Jake, his roommate, popped his head into Toby's room one evening.
"Yeah, sure. Give me a second." Toby quickly put on a hoodie and grabbed his laptop. Just as he was about to step out, he caught a glimpse of himself in the small mirror on the back of their door.
And there she was. The spectral woman stood closer than ever, her ghostly figure almost touching him. Her eyes remained hidden in the shadows, but the rest of her face was disturbingly clear.
Feeling a shiver crawl up his spine, Toby turned away, forcefully pushing the image out of his mind. He jogged down the stairs, eager to lose himself in the game, in the strategy and the banter, the trivial things that occupied so much of his time.
Yet as he rolled the dice, getting more ‘1’s than he deemed normal, and strategised with his friends, a part of him remained alert, uneasy. No amount of laughter or camaraderie could fully dislodge the image of the spectral woman's increasingly clear visage, or the unsettling feeling that she was getting closer, becoming more real with each passing day. The only thing that took his mind off her was marijuana.
His grades were already beginning to slip. He had become irritable, finding it difficult to focus during lectures or while studying. His friends noticed the change, but attributed it to the stress of university life.
If only they knew,
If only he could explain without sounding insane.
But he kept his silence.
"Do we really need a mirror that big?" Toby complained, eyeing it with evident discomfort.
“You clearly don’t you scruffy devil,” his girlfriend Ivy stepped close to him and planted a kiss on his nose, almost the only patch of skin not covered by his enormous, bushy beard. "You are like a big fluffy dog, but I need it to put on my makeup in the mornings."
He didn’t explain the real reason he hated the mirror, the dread he felt every time he looked at his own reflection. For all his closeness to Ivy, there were still some parts of himself he kept hidden from her, scared of how she would react.
Whenever he had to use the bathroom, Toby found himself in an uneasy dance with his own reflection and the spectral woman who haunted it. She was closer now, so close that had she been real, he would've felt the cloth of her ghostly garments brush against his arms. She still didn't have eyes. Instead, where her eyes should have been, chilling red lights glowed like twin embers in a dying fire.
Toby did what he could to minimise his mirror time. He avoided barbers, kept his grooming and tooth-brushing sessions brief to avoid eye contact with the ghostly figure looming behind him.
"Cheer up. It's like you're allergic to your own reflection," Ivy teased.
Toby gave an awkward chuckle. It was a miracle that he had found Ivy. His dishevelled appearance put off most people.
Perhaps she sees me as a project?
Either way, he was determined to make her happy. She was too good for him to squander.
He passed her his credit card. “I’ll pay half if you want.”
She squeed and kissed his bearded cheek. “Thank you Hagrid!”
Another compilation error.
Toby stared at the screen, poking at the keys, trying new permutations of the code in a vain attempt to get it to compile. He was due to present a working demo to his clients. His phone chirped. It was Ivy.
[Don’t be late home. Battersea has found us a suitable dog for adoption!]
Ivy had wanted kids, but a deep-seated fear of the girl in the glass and whether she might follow them as well had led to him denying his now wife. They had, in the end, decided to compromise and get a dog. They were still young and had plenty of time to have children. He needed to see the dog first though. Dogs often barked at Toby, because of his beard, he assumed. As for cats, he didn’t like them and they always stayed well away from him.
He looked at the code. It came back again with a backdrop of red compilation errors. Slapping the desk, he surrendered. “Dave, I need you to work on getting the build working before you leave. I think the latest check-in screwed up the metadata, so that is a good place to start.”
Toby grabbed his jacket.
What is the point of owning your own company if you can’t delegate?
He got the tube home to his house in Cricklewood. Ivy was waiting impatiently. He barely had time to drop off his bag and go to the loo before she bundled him into the car and they drove across the river to Battersea. Hopefully, to bring home a new dog.
They waited in the reception for the dog, Duke, to be collected. Toby smiled as a massive German Shepherd came round the corner.
Ivy next to him leapt up and gasped. “Just look, he is so big and furry. Oh god, he is adorable.”
But Duke yelped, put his paws on the floor and retreated away from them both.
“Oh, he is shy,” Ivy said, her heart breaking.
A cold sweat ran down Toby’s back. Duke wasn’t looking at Ivy, he wasn’t looking at him. He was looking at something behind Toby’s shoulder.
He’s looking at the girl in the glass.
He looked around in a panic. There were no reflective surfaces.
She is here all the time. I just can’t see her unless it’s in a mirror.
He shook in panic.
Ivy and the dog handler were trying to coax Duke forward, but he was desperately trying to escape, trying to get out of his harness to run, his eyes wide and wild with fear.
Toby could understand. He slapped at his shoulder and scratched at it as if he could touch his stalker.
But there was nothing.
What should I do? Do I have to find a priest?
“Come on, Ivy,” he said nervously. “Please, we should go.”
As he walked to the glass doors at the front of the shelter, he saw the girl in the glass. For the first time, she wasn’t looking at him. She was looking behind them to where Duke was being comforted by the handler.
When Duke was allowed to leave reception, the spectral woman's gaze returned from the dog, sweeping back towards Toby, and for the first time, her expression changed. A wide, grotesque grin spread across her bloodless, cracked lips, as if the dog's reaction had brought her some kind of grim satisfaction.
Toby felt a whirlwind of emotions. On one hand, he was relieved. Duke's reaction validated years of what he had convinced himself might be hallucinations or mere figments of his overactive imagination. On the other hand, the ghost's unsettling reaction—her smile—filled him with an apprehension he had never felt before.
By this point, Toby could see every grotesque detail of the spectral woman. Her ashen-grey wrappings seemed to bind her like a mummy, the blue veins on her bald head resembling a network of tiny rivers. Her body swayed more frequently now, and her fingers twitched almost incessantly. On occasion, her lips seemed to quiver, as if she were attempting to communicate something ineffable.
When he got home, he drank a large slug of whisky and went to go to the loo. He avoided looking in the mirror as per usual, but from the side of his vision he saw something that startled him.
He turned to look in the mirror.
It was just him. He forced himself to look everywhere in his reflection, but she was gone.
Perhaps the encounter in the dog shelter had scared her off.
He laughed, the release from tension leading to a form of delirium.
She is gone. I am free.
He washed his hands, for the first time revelling in his empty mirror as he did so. Flicking his hands dry, he rubbed the rest of the moisture off on the back of his slacks and turned with a big grin on his face.
She was standing right behind him.
He scrambled backwards to the corner of the room, eyes wide in fear.
She followed him, a wicked grin spreading across her ghoulish features.
If you enjoyed this free short story, then please consider Tales of the Macabre, Vol. 1. My first collected works on Amazon containing sixteen short stories and novellas by Newton Webb.