by Barry William Metcalf
Again he took up a waiting position on the roof. He was directly across the street from the TAB office, and he could see that the building was open for business. That made the time somewhere after nine o'clock. Mentally he tallied up his score for the morning. Three men and a woman--four so far. What was the magic number that the fighter pilots had to accumulate in order to become an ace? Was it five or was it ten? He could not remember exactly. He decided to be on the safe side and make it ten.
Six more to kill and he would be an ace!
An elderly lady, well dressed and wearing a pink flowerpot full of daisies on her head, walked slowly from the betting shop with a small bundle of notes in her hands--yesterday's winnings, no doubt.
Alex barely bothered to take aim as he squeezed the trigger. The heavy rifle bucked in his hands and he saw the woman pitch backwards, her head hitting the TAB door, swinging it half open. There she lay, half in and half out of the shop doorway.
When no one else ventured onto the street following the demise of the elderly woman, Alex again abandoned his hideout. He quickly left the building from which he had made his last shot, raced directly across the street and entered the TAB agency. In order to enter the shop he had to step over the dead body of the old woman, her forehead shattered by his bullet; but death held no fears for him now.
Inside the shop there was only one attendant. Alex did not know what had happened to the others who should have been there, nor did he particularly care. Their absence made his next task a whole lot simpler.
He stepped up to the counter, pushed the rifle through the bars of the pay-out window and snarled: "Hand over all your cash or you're a dead man!"
The cashier did not demure. He had faced death several times at the hands of bandits, but this man looked maniac enough to pull the trigger. He did not wish to court death, not with the rifle barrel almost pushed up his nose.
"S... u... re," he agreed, thinking of the poor old dear who lay dead just outside the door. "Any... thin...
g you say."
Rapidly, not once taking his eyes from those of the man on the other side of the cage, the cashier began to empty all of the drawers beside him.
"Fill this with the dough," instructed Alex. This time he had thought to bring a sack.
The clerk did not answer, but did as he was ordered.
When he had completed the assigned task, the cashier passed the bag full of money over to Alex. It was almost too big to fit through the bars of the cage, but the man managed to squeeze it through. Alex grabbed the bag in his left hand and began to back towards the door. A furtive glance over his shoulder confirmed the fact that the street outside was empty. The cashier had begun to breathe easier: so far he had managed to maintain his life, and the bandit had got what he wanted. Although the aim of the rifle had not wavered an inch from his face, the clerk felt sure that he was going to live another day.
Alex shot him full in the face, between the eyes, as he stepped from the door of the agency and onto the footpath. He grinned as he ran towards his flat, totaling his score: six so far, in less than three hours!
The journey back to his flat was again uneventful: the police were still centering their investigations in the area of the shootings. It would take them days to get anywhere; by that time his trail would be quite cold.
This time his haul was well over $2,000. He smiled gleefully as he stood before the mirror, notes protruding from the sides of his fists. The steel-gray eyes sparkled back at him and the slit of a mouth was upturned in a grin of triumph.
"You're a smart cookie," said his image. "Stick with me and we'll really go places."
Alex was dreaming.
He had entered a large house where the familiar accoutrements of living--chairs, tables, cupboards, beds--were arranged in weird and unfamiliar ways. He had lost his sense of balance, was disorientated as to direction and had a feeling of weightlessness. He drifted through this bizarre house, time having no meaning, as if his body were being controlled by some external force. The further he progressed into the house, the more jumbled and confused things became, until he eventually reached a stage where nothing remained that was even the slightest bit familiar.
He was floating in space, a white vaporous space that knew no boundaries, no horizons, no distinguishing features at all. He was cartwheeling, turning head-over-heels at an ever-increasing pace; and his mind passed through a stage of total confusion to one of nebulous fragmentation.
Something was stealing his personality. As sure as he could be of anything in this time and this place, he could feel his very life-force being drawn out of his body. His ego resisted, but he knew that it stood little chance of winning against such an all-powerful foe. Little by little he could feel his astral self become separated from his physical self like a handkerchief being drawn inexorably through a keyhole.
Alex stirred, then began writhing on his unkempt bed as if fighting off an invisible foe. His mouth opened and closed spasmodically as if he were shouting epithets and commands, yet no sound issued forth. Eventually the actions of struggling gradually diminished until Alex laid quite still, his body almost fully relaxed.
He laid that way until the sun climbed in his bedroom window and woke him with its gentle warmth and soothing touch.
Alex struggled from sleep like a victim from quicksand. It was obvious that he had not fully rested during the night, for his mind almost rebelled against starting a new day. He sat up, the strain of last night's struggle still plainly visible on his lined, troubled face: his color was pallid, his eyes were bloodshot and the skin on his cheeks seemed to sag, almost as if it was too tired to retain its usual tautness.
Alex staggered into the bathroom, almost falling into the toilet bowl, so weak did his lower limbs seem. He urinated feebly, without even the muscle control necessary to properly perform this simple bodily function. Exhausted, he dragged himself the several steps to the basin, where he clumsily splashed a little cold water on his face.
Blinking away the film of liquid that covered his eyes, Alex glanced into the cracked mirror above the hand basin.
"Oh, my God!" he muttered in a barely-audible, husky whisper. His throat and vocal chords seemed constricted and filled with glue.
The face that stared back at him was not his own, of that he was sure. And yet, it was essentially his. It had all the correct parts in all the correct proportions, yet he could not recall a morning when he had awakened looking so distraught and lifeless. Of course, the cracked mirror, which split his image into two halves that did not quite seem to match, detracted nothing from his feeling of depression.
Somehow he managed to stagger from the bathroom, back to his bed where he searched for his clothes. As usual they were strewn about the flat as if by an errant whirlwind.
It was as he was collecting his dirty jeans from the grubby and threadbare carpet that his eyes rested on the skew mirror and his bending image therein.
"Good morning" he greeted the looking-glass, straightening up with his jeans in his hand as he did so
The reflection returned his greeting and salute simultaneously with his own.
"Feeling a bit crook, eh?"
The mirror nodded assent.
Alex stepped into his jeans, drew them up and raised the zip. He belched loudly; so did his image.
"Did you get drunk last night, or something?"
There was no answer. Alex stared dumbly at the mirror, his other self-returning the look.
"No," continued Alex; "I didn't think you'd part with that information. What good's a twin brother if he doesn't answer questions!"
Alex reached down, picked up a grubby, off-white t-shirt and slipped it over his head.
"What have you got planned for today, eh?"
As he asked this last question, Alex realized suddenly that he felt much better now that he was dressed. "Clothes maketh the man," he muttered to himself as he quoted one of his invalid mother's ("Silly, dumb bitch!") many philosophies.
Maybe this is what she had meant.
Standing before the glass, Alex realized that he no longer looked nearly as seedy as he had done previously. His eyes were clear again, his skin appeared tighter; even his beard did not look as dark as it had done, and his hair was almost tidy. Alex ran his fingers through his greasy, tousled mop in bewilderment. Not only did he look better, he discovered, he definitely felt much better. Nor did he waste time pondering the logic of such a sudden change. Instead he again addressed the mirror.
"What say we try something a little different today? What say we... ?" He thought intently for a few moments, his eyes shut tightly. Then, as the images filled his mind, his eyes snapped open, became distended, and the color raced to his cheeks. "...we pay a visit to Jean! It's about time she paid us what she owes!"
Jean Sommers could not exactly be described as beautiful.
She had pleasant features, a soft skin and long
silky hair; yet, somehow, the combination did not quite work. Perhaps her mouth was too large, perhaps her nose was not quite straight; perhaps she wore her hair in the wrong style. Whatever it was, Jean always somehow managed to miss out on all the better things in life.
Even her marriage had ended disastrously.
Although she had always done her best to be a faithful wife and a good mother, who kept her house neat and tidy, catered to the needs of her business-man husband, entertained whenever called upon, and kept the children out of their father's thinning hair, that had not been enough to save her marriage. Jim had sought solicitations elsewhere and, when Jean found out about his indiscretions and complained, he had run off with a sixteen-year-old usherette from the local cinema.
Since her divorce three years ago, Jean and the two children had lived above a book shop which she ran, and from which she earned the means to support the three of them.
It was not the sort of employment that Jean would generally have chosen, or that she would normally have taken; but she was desperate for money and the wage was excellent. The shop stocked books of all kinds: its specialty, however; was books of pleasure and love--soft porn, Jean always made sure that the children did not frequent the shop, not solely because of the books displayed there, but also because of the strange types that are always attracted, like moths to a flame, to such displays of sexual stimulation, The majority of the customers were quite respectable, of course, but it was the presence of the few freaks who frequented the store that really worried Jean.
In fact, Jean had decided that, money or no money, this was going to be her last week at the bookstore. She had already given her notice to the owner, Fred Graham.
It was because of this decision that she now approached her work with a different frame of mind. She was happy, even whistling as she dusted the shelves and racks. Even the bad manners and quick tempers of several customers failed to irritate her as they usually did. She knew that she would not be compelled to tolerate this place much longer; therefore she remained calm and courteous throughout the morning.
It was about eleven-thirty when Alex arrived outside the
He efficiently cased the shop from outside, looking through the tinted plate-glass windows, pretending to study the books on display. There were three other people, all males, in the shop as well as Jean Sommers.
Casually, Alex sauntered into the store, once or twice letting his gaze rest on the figure of the young woman. She looked very appealing today in her tight red skirt and open-necked blouse. Both garments showed off her figure to advantage. Immediately one of the browsers departed; but the other two men looked as if they were not in the least bit of a hurry. Alex cursed but he did not panic. After all, he had all the time in the world.
From the cover of a rack of inoffensive mystery novels (which he flicked through without reading) Alex ogled Jean's bouncing buttocks as she went about her dusting, completely oblivious to his stares. He had lusted after her ever since she had first taken over the running of this shop, and, because he had learned that she was a divorcee, he had believed that she would be easy pickings for his masculine charm. But she had not even as much as given him a second glance in all the months in which he had visited the store. Why, even when he had attempted to strike up a conversation, she had brushed him off. Oh, she had been polite about it, mind you, but brush him off she had.
Today, however, Alex was about to change all of that. He let his mind wander to the land of his dreams. The one good thing about his nights was Jean's presence--nothing else really mattered. In his fantasies, Jean never repulsed him, never mocked him, never brushed him aside. It was true that he had never made love to her even in his sleep, but that was not her fault. She was always willing; let him kiss her mouth, her breasts, her stomach. She would encourage him, but there were always other influences that prevented them from performing the ultimate sexual act. No, the Jean of his dreams would not refuse him, and neither would this one
Just thinking about the possibilities gave him a hard-on!
Eventually the remaining customers departed without purchasing anything, and Alex was at last alone with the proprietress. He approached her location casually, feigning a search for a nonexistent book. At last he was close to where the young woman was busily dusting and re-aligning crooked books. With infinite care he pretended to stumble backwards, nudging Jean as he did so.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, grabbing for a dislodged pile of magazines.
"'Oops! Sorry!" he apologized, thus creating an opening for conversation.
"That's all right," she responded, beginning to move away.
"I didn't damage anything, then?"
She smiled and shook her head. "No"
"Sure I can't help you tidy it? After all,"
and he laughed; "It was my fault."
"No! No harm done." She took two steps towards the counter
"Ah... you're not hurt, are you?"
"I'm fine." She reached the counter, but he had followed. There was still only a pace or two between them.
"I'll buy you a drink if you like."
"No thanks." She began to search under the counter, looking for an order book.
Alex leaned forward, elbows on the counter top, eyes bright, his face a-grin
"Lost something?" he asked.
"I'll help you look," he suggested and made as if to move around beside her.
"No, thank you!" A new note had crept into her voice. He was becoming a nuisance and she wished for him to leave her alone.
"Sorry," he said, not really apologizing.
"That's all right. Can I help you with something?"
"Nope. Just browsing I guess."
"Good! Then I'll get on about my work."
He watched her turn and leave the counter, her hips swaying seductively. The smile had not left his face, but his eyes had become cold and hard, burning with an inner desire. She disappeared through a doorway at the back of the store, vanishing into the gloom of a darkened passageway.
Alex glanced quickly over his shoulder. There were no other customers entering the shop, nor was there anyone on the pavement outside. Stepping quickly to the door, he bolted it from the inside. With a few quick strides he reached the doorway through which Jean had disappeared and, with the boldness of a lion, he entered the passageway.
It was dark and cool inside this part of the building, yet Alex moved with the surety of a feline, his eyes quickly adjusting to the poor light. He skillfully avoided pieces of furniture and packing cases as he silently searched the rooms debouching from the passage.
He quickly eliminated the first three rooms: they were store-houses and contained nothing more than boxes of books as yet unpacked, discarded cardboard cartons and tangled lengths of baling twine. However, as he was about to leave the last of these storage places, he heard soft footfalls in the passage.
Without making a sound, he edged towards the emanations, knowing that Jean must pass this room to reach the shop. As a precaution, he extracted a sheath knife from where it had lain hidden beneath his long pullover. He knew not why, but he had snatched up the blade almost as an afterthought as he had left his flat. He knew the sight of that weapon would prevent her from screaming.
So it was that, as Jean stepped past the doorway to the storeroom, she was unceremoniously grabbed from behind. One hand was clasped over her mouth and another was forced against her chest to pull her backwards into the room.
"One scream and I'll kill you!" ordered a voice in her right ear. In her panic she did not recognize it.
She stifled the involuntary vocal reaction that had almost half-formed, fear licking at the edges of her raw nerves so that control of her actions was extremely difficult. She allowed herself to be dragged into the storeroom, her knees trembling.
The hand was removed from her mouth and the voice said: "Smart move, Mrs. Sommers."
"What... what do you want?" Her voice trembled but she sounded calmer than she felt.
She sucked in her breath, striving desperately not to let the thoughts form in her mind. What could she do? She knew what the voice hinted at and the thought revolted her. Could this really be happening?
"Who are you?" she asked, her voice far from calm.
He laughed, the sound high like a schoolgirl's giggle.
"Don't act the wide-eyed innocent with me honey: you know perfectly well who I am."
"I do?" She thought for a moment--there was something vaguely familiar about his voice. Perhaps if she could keep him talking she would recognize it and talk him out of this foolishness. If only he would remove his left hand from where it fondled her breast, kneading, making her nipple harden against her will. She thought about struggling again, but decided against it.
"Why are you behaving like this?'" she eventually asked. "Why are you man-handling me in this way?"
"Because you want me to. You've wanted me to for almost three years." His hand left her breast, tugged her blouse free of the skirt and began to caress her naked flesh.
She willed herself not to over-react.
"Three years? I've wanted you to... to make love to me for three years?"
"Yes. Ever since you took over this store. I come here every week, and you provoke me with everything you do and say."
There was something definitely familiar about the voice now. In fact, the name of its owner was on the tip of her tongue. She tried to sneak a look at his face, but the room was too dark. Besides he was still standing behind her, his right arm over her shoulder, his hand against her breast. She began mentally to list her customers.
"Will you release me, please?" she queried, still stalling for time.
"No!" His arm clutched tighter, pulling her to him. His exploring hand had insinuated itself under the top of her panties, and was slowly probing downwards. The warmth from Jean's close body stirred Alex's ardor; he felt his penis begin to harden against her buttocks.
Jean sensed his reaction and continued speaking.
"But I won't run away. Let go of me so that we can talk this thing out."
"I don't want to talk. I want you."
"Don't you realize that this is not the way to make me cooperate? I could be much more amenable without this physical abuse."
"You'll cooperate, honey!" he sneered.
"Why do you think that?"
"Because I have this!" And he moved his right hand away from her breast.
Jean felt something sharp and cold press against her throat; and then a prick such as a needle would make. Cautiously she raised her hand to where the object touched her. Her blood ran cold.
Her attacker was armed with a knife!
For the first time, Jean fully realized the very real danger of her situation. Many thoughts flashed through her panic-filled mind, none of them fully coherent.
"Wha... what… what... are... you...?" she stammered, then the remainder of her question came out with a rush like a burst dam releasing water; "...going to do with that?"
"Nothing... if you're a good girl. Cooperate with me and no harm will come to you." And he slipped his left hand deftly onto the mound between her legs, fingers searching for an opening.
This last act was too much for the over-wrought nerves of the woman. Without a further thought for her safety, Jean threw back her head and screamed; at the same time, she thrust herself away from Alex.
"Quiet!" he yelled, lunging for her; but the woman's shattered senses did not respond--panic had taken control of her.
Alex lunged again for the fleeing female as she made a mad dash for freedom. He, too, was on the edge of panic; he hoped that her piercing, hysterical cries had not been heard out in the street.
Somehow he managed to grasp her hair and, pulling her desperately back by this part of her body, Alex threw his right arm around her in an attempt to forestall further resistance: but he had reckoned without the sheath knife.
In his mad scramble to restrain his captor, Alex had forgotten that he still held the sharp blade; and now it sank into the woman's side as he clutched at her and pulled her back towards him. Jean grimaced at the sudden pain. She groaned as the wicked point drank deeply of her blood, then she slumped in the man's arms, all the strength draining from her legs. Even as she collapsed, the combined pain and loss of blood caused her, thankfully, to lose consciousness.
Alex could barely believe his bad luck.
He had not really set out with the deliberate intention of harming the woman; he had only wanted her to notice him, to be nice to him, to do what he wanted. The knife, a last minute addition to his person, had been his insurance, his surety that she would cooperate; now it had robbed him of the chance to impress his victim, of his chance to make love to her.
"No!" he screamed, the frustration building within him like a volcano. "No! No! No!"
He flung his fists, clenched and tight, into the air, and, as the steam gathered a head inside his brain, he flailed the unconscious form before him again and again. Because he still clasped the long sheath knife, his actions had the effect of delivering wound after wound to the prostrate form until Jean's body was literally covered in gashes, cuts and blood. It was not until his anger had run its race did he desist. And it was many more minutes before he fully regained his senses
Reality returned gradually, as if from a distant planet: his eyes lost their vacant, haunted look and he was able to stop the pounding of his fists; his muscles relaxed, allowing him to slump across the body. He dropped the knife and remained there sobbing with passion, his face in his hands.
Long minutes later, when strength had returned to his body, Alex dropped his hands and rose to his feet. Like a sleepwalker with sightless eyes, he stepped over Jean's still form and retraced his steps to the store. Without looking to right or left, the dazed killer strode between the display shelves, unlocked the shop door and entered the street. In no time at all he had disappeared.
Alex was dreaming.
As soon as he had arrived home he had thrown himself onto his unkempt, unmade bed and had fallen into a sleep that was both troubled and disjointed. His fitful slumber was punctuated by haunting corpses that dripped blood; Alex was a butcher who, no matter where he turned, discovered that all of his meat was human flesh.
It was not until the early hours of the morning that he awakened and groggily wended his way into the bathroom. He seemed to have a raging thirst, so he stuck his mouth under the cold-water tap over the hand-basin and turned on the water.
God, but he felt terrible! He could not recall having felt so tired and apathetic in his entire life.
He turned off the faucet, his thirst somewhat slaked; but he realized suddenly that he had a pounding headache. Hell! Where were the Panadol? It was still dark in the bathroom, for the sun's rays had not yet penetrated to this part of the house, and his fumbling hands could not locate the headache tablets. Sighing, he retreated to the doorway and flicked the light switch. The sudden burst of brightness stung his reddened eyes so that he clenched them shut, and turned back towards the medicine cabinet. Now where were those damned Panadol? He opened his eyes and reeled back from the reflection that gazed out at him from the bathroom mirror.
"My God!" he muttered, his fingers gingerly touching his face. "How did I get so covered in blood?"
He dropped his eyes from the mirror in sudden panic, his hands plucking at his garments. They, too, were soaked in gore.
"My God!" he repeated.
His hands and feet were also streaked; and his hair was absolutely matted with caked blood. And then the events of yesterday came flooding back in all their stark detail.
He staggered from the bathroom, aghast at the enormity of his actions. Stumbling into the bedroom, he tripped over and, sprawling, came to rest staring at the fly-speckled mirror
Standing, grinning back at his awkward situation, with its arms folded, was his image.
"What is this? Am I going nuts?" he asked, stunned beyond belief. "I must be seeing things!"
His image laughed, the sound filled with evil.
Alex regained his feet, but the attitude of his reflection did not change. Alex blinked, shook his head and pinched himself; but the figure in the mirror did not go away. It was a perfect replica of himself, but younger, stronger-looking, and it was not covered in blood--it was Alex as he had been ten years ago!
The image laughed again, the same evil sound filling the room.
"Who are you?" asked Alex.
"I am you."
"That doesn't make sense. How can you be me when I am here?"
"Not for long!"
Alex shook his head. "I don't understand."
"Of course not," replied the image, unfolding its arms. "Let me
"I am a spirit, a soul if you wish," began the image; "And I was trapped in this dimension eons ago by one of the strongest magicians in the world. Mirrors such as yours are the portals to this world; but the spell that held me here was too powerful for me to use the doorway, nor did I have the physical form necessary to enter your world."
"My world?" Alex could not believe that he was standing in his flat, discussing spirits, spells, magicians and the like with his image? Perhaps he was still dreaming?
"Yes, your world," answered the spirit. "And you are not dreaming. What you are experiencing is really happening!"
"Can you read my thoughts?"
"But that's imposs…! How do you do that?"
"I told you," laughed the image. "I am you!"
"I don't understand " Alex shook his head.
"Then let me continue.
"Your world is a material world, a physical world. The world I inhabit at present is the exact opposite of that--spirits do not possess a physical state, nor do physical things exist in this world.
"Many humans make the transfer from your dimension to mine--I believe the term for it is astral travel--and back again. It is, however, impossible to make the transference in the opposite direction without recourse to a physical form, or body. Until a spirit can control a physical being from your world, it cannot leave its own.
"Time is meaningless in this dimension--I may have been here for a minute or for a thousand years--but I have been a close observer of human behavior for quite some time. At first I was too weak, and the spell which bound me too strong, for me to make my presence felt in your world. I am an evil spirit, thriving on evil thoughts and deeds--I thrive on such behavior--and your wicked thoughts gave me the opening for which I had been awaiting.
"You added strength to my powers each time you contemplated a mortal sin--your nightmares were full of evil--until I was finally strong enough to influence your thoughts. In fact, without the evil streak that lingers within you, my power would never have grown, and my escape impossible."
Alex opened his mouth and made as if to speak.
"Don't interrupt!" ordered the image, a dark scowl clouding its face.
Alex acquiesced meekly.
"I was able to tune into and feed upon your morbid emanations. Little by little I influenced your dreams, making you contemplate more negative thoughts, encouraging the evil streak within you to plot shameful deeds the like of which you would never have planned. Each night my strength grew, each night you became more and more negative. This process continued, month after month.
"Eventually I was able not only to control your visions, but also to influence your waking actions. First the robbery, then the shootings, and, finally, yesterday's slaying. Each deed was more despicable than the last, and each horrid act caused my powers to grow.
"Right now I am stronger than you are!"
"No," muttered Alex, but his voice sounded weak, even to his ears. "No! I won't let you do this to me."
"Too late, my friend! It's much too late!"
Alex raised a hand, clenched his fist and went to punch the glass.
The image laughed. "You can't stop me. I am stronger than you!"
Alex swung his fist at the mirror, intending to smash it, but the punch did not land. Instead his own hand turned back upon him and struck him in the jaw. He staggered from the impact of the blow.
"You see," laughed the image. "I am more you than you are yourself."
"What do you want of me?" Alex was shaking in fright.
"Of you--nothing! You are too weak to give reign to your real emotions, to act as you would really like. I have need of a host body to serve me in your world; and I have chosen yours."
"My body? But what will become of me?"
"It will be a fair trade." Again the haunting laughter. "I will take your body: you will inhabit the dimension behind this mirror."
"But I don't..."
"You have no say in the matter. Prepare yourself for the transference!"
"No..." but Alex was too weak to resist. He felt a sensation in his brain, like fingers leafing through a book; and he felt strangely giddy. This can't be happening, he thought.
Abruptly he felt different, light and free, and he looked down at himself to see why this was so; but there was nothing to see. He raised his eyes and there, standing in the room, was his image, laughing.
The transference had been made!
Suddenly there was a loud pounding on the door of Alex's flat.
"Coming!" he heard his image answer, and then it turned towards the mirror. "Maybe I'd better make sure that you couldn't ever escape the way I did."
In horror Alex watched as his image raised a chair from the bedroom floor and flung it at the mirror, shattering its total length, and sending a shower of glass cascading to the carpet. Alex felt himself losing contact with his flat; then he was drifting, aimlessly, in a world of nothingness.
Inside the flat, the knocking came again, louder this time, more demanding, and with it the sound of a gruff voice.
"Open up in there!" it ordered.
Alex's image complied, smiling.
"We're with the police! We'd like to have a word with you."
"About what, officer?"
"Those bloodstains on your clothing for one thing. Where were you yesterday afternoon?"