Mirror Image
by Barry William Metcalf

     He dreamed!

     As had happened almost every night for the past five months, his sleep was filled with strange adventures that left him listless in the mornings, and made him dubious about closing his eyes at night.
     Jean was present. She filled most of his dreams just as she occupied so much of his daytime thoughts. He lusted after her, often kissed her, but not once had he possessed her. In that sense, his dreams closely mirrored the reality of his life. Yet there were many odd themes to most of his dreams: he knew they were odd because he felt totally alienated by them even whilst he dreamed them, although he recalled no details upon awakening. All he was left with each morning was the feeling of vague unrest that grew within him every day.
     That feeling and the slowly growing tiredness.
     It was peculiar because he had not noticed this listlessness at first. It had crept over him slowly a little more each day. In the last two weeks he had come to dread the arrival of the morning because he would feel too jaded to stir.
     He often wondered how much longer this situation could persist? How much longer could his sanity last?
     At length he awoke.
     Another day to endure.
     He sighed!

     Alexander Graeme Bell slipped wearily from between the patched, dirty, once-white sheets on his bed and stretched lazily. Once an eager and early riser, lately Alex faced each new day with a certain amount of reluctance and distrust.
     He stood up beside the untidy bed and stretched a second time, his mouth widening into an enormous yawn. A slight tremor ran through his body as the kinks accumulated over the long night fled from his awakening form. He frowned at the prospects of the day: there was one unpleasant task that he had been putting off indefinitely for the last three months; and he had spent his last five dollars last night on booze. He did not really regret the expense of the drink, but he did rue the fact that the alcohol had not made him drunk. He had had another bad night last night, filled with dreams of the most unimaginable kind. He had not slept well, and the idea of searching for a new job did not exactly fill him with joy.
     Still, he had promised himself that today was going to be THE day; and for once in his life he had decided not to opt out of his responsibilities. Today he would do that task he had set himself quite some time ago; and he would set about doing it as soon as he had dressed.
     He walked stiff-legged to the mirror crudely mounted on the far wall of his one-room flat. It was one of those cheap mirrors with self-adhesive tabs that he had purchased from Coles. Alex had attempted to stick the mirror to the wall, but he had not measured it correctly, or something, and now his reflection stared back at him with a slight tilt to the left-hand side. Still, it did the job he had purchased it for: the bad angle of its incline did not bother him at all.
     In fact, if the truth were told, very few things really bothered Alexander Bell.
     It had been different at school. While studying, especially, for his Higher School Certificate, he had been a bundle of nerves, worrying, often needlessly, about every situation he would face. Consequently, he had been affected by everything that had happened to or around him. Even the passing of his examinations in each of the six subjects that he had attempted had not exalted him, for that meant he was now supposedly ready for the outside world, and work. Neither prospect had given him much joy: he could not eat, could not sleep, and, sometimes, found that he could think.
     However, find a job he did, much to his amazement. That success should have aided him, should have given him confidence. It did neither. Now he was forced to meet new people, learn new rules, accept new experiences. His health continued to suffer.
     Eventually, his nerve failed him at a crucial time during a confrontation with his employer: Alex disgraced himself on his bosses' carpet, raised the latter's ire and lost his job.
     The five or six other occupations that he had undertaken in order to provide himself with some spending money had not solved Alex's problems enough to make him stick to them. He usually lasted somewhere between three and seven days and then simply quit the jobs. If asked the reasons for leaving, he would simply shrug his shoulders and utter a curt: "Dunno!"
     An educated and handsome young man of twenty, Alex had not attempted to accept society. He had made no effort to control his emotions, to accept a style of life that was both a compromise between that which he feared and that which he had to fulfill.
     His reflection stared back at him from the smeared glass of the mirror. He had meant to wipe off the spots and smudges made by fingers, blobs of shaving cream, hair oil, water and exploring flies; but there had not seemed to be the time, nor did he seem to have the energy. Once he had kept the glass--as well as the remainder of the flat--spotless. For several months now the surface of the mirror, like the flat, had remained uncleaned.
     His image's eyes, gray and remote, eyed him casually, noting the rumpled pajama top that he invariably wore to bed. He vaguely wondered when it had been since he had last washed this garment, but gave the puzzle up when he had counted past at least three months. He noted that it was still almost clean and decided that he need not discard it in favor of a new one just yet.
     His long, blonde hair was uncombed and unkempt. He ran his slim, piano-player fingers through it in lieu of a comb. He reminded himself to obtain one of those the next time he was in Coles or Target, whichever one was the easiest from which to shoplift it.
     A hand run over the short stubble on his chin confirmed the fact that he needed a shave. He had not done so for at least five days, but then why did he need to shave every day? Not long ago he would have had a ready answer for that question; but that was the old Alex. He much preferred the new. After all, he was only young. Time enough for shaving regularly when he was old--thirty, perhaps.
     A smile curled itself around the corners of his full, rather sensuous mouth as he surveyed the image before him. Yes, he admitted to himself, he was rather good looking. It was no wonder he attracted the girls the way he did. Boy, was he dynamite when he let himself go with a nubile chick once they were between his sheets. His mind recalled Linda, the one with the long, black hair, and the lips as red as tulips. What a time they had had as he had played a symphony on her long, slender, supple, extraordinary young body. Boy, was that chick built!
     Thoughts of Linda made him instantly randy. He picked up his favorite copy of Penthouse, the one with Linda in it, and gazed lustfully at the center-fold. He fingered his erection, pondering the possibilities if he ever really got a chance to screw someone like Linda--or any girl, for that matter.
     His right hand quickly brought him to a climax, his semen spurting in short, quick bursts onto the surface of the mirror. His thoughts, however, were of Jean, not of the girl in the magazine photograph.
     Immediately he was ashamed of himself. Throwing the magazine aside, he stepped away from his watching image, swearing never to engage in such activities again.
     As he passed the kitchen bench on the way to the bathroom, Alex flicked the switch on the Philips cassette player that he had bought with his second paycheck after leaving school, and the voice of Elton John filled the small, one-room flat. Like most young people, Alex liked his music only if it was loud. On principle he would rather turn his machine off than have the volume turned down.
     He urinated quickly, taking a small delight in squirting the yellow stream of liquid against the wall of the toilet, rather than into the bowl. That would pay back the landlord for providing such a dump in which Alex was compelled to live.
     He decided against taking a shower this morning. Showers were one thing that he had learned that he could live without. He had read recently about the way water could rot the skin and cause such diseases as tinea, dermatitis and ringworm. Alex had come to believe that one shower or bath every three weeks was more than enough for the cleanliness of any man, woman or child.
     Picking up the underpants that he had worn for only a week--Alex liked to think that he was very particular about his undergarments--he stepped into them and returned once more to face the mirror.
     He definitely liked what he saw. He was the perfect image of the he-man. Even the floral underpants that he was wearing did not detract from this image.
     It was as he was surveying his own reflection that the idea first sprang clearly into Alex's mind. Where it had come and for how long he had nursed it within the confines of his brain, he did not know, nor did he attempt to probe these things. He was simply aware that the idea had struck him, illuminating his dull life with limitless avenues for entertainment and the attainment of money. He felt sure that today he would be successful. He would carry out this scheme at once before someone else beat him to it, and thus robbed him both of the pleasure and the cash he anticipated earning.
     The only pair of jean that he possessed were lying in a crumpled heap on the floor of the flat: he quickly retrieved these, pulled them on, drew up the zip, tightened his belt, and then stepped into his tattered moccasins.
     Alex took one last look at his image in the tilted mirror and left the flat. He had been satisfied with what he had seen. He knew that he was ideally dressed for that which lay ahead of him.
     As he left the room, pulling the door shut behind him, Alex realized that he was hungry. Remembering that he had not eaten the night before, he headed for the nearest milk bar. It would have done no good for him to have returned to the flat, for the fridge was empty, except for the pornographic magazines that he stored there in which he believed was a safe hiding place in the eventuality of a vice-squad raid.
     The milk bar, only a hundred meters down the road from where his flat was located, was not crowded. It was still only early and the school kids had not yet had time to abscond from lessons to cue up at the counter for their cigarettes and Mars Bars.
     The girl behind the counter, probably only sixteen, but with enormous breasts and lovely skin, sidled casually up to him as if he had the plague and asked without opening her mouth: "What cha 'ave?"
     He hesitated for a moment, watching the rising swell of her breasts beneath the tight sweater that she wore. He felt a stirring deep within his loins.
     "C'mon mate," she muttered in a tired voice. "We've got uver customers waitin', ya know."
     "Choc'lit malted," he said quickly, deliberately omitting the 'please' because of her surly manner. "N' make it snappy. I ain't got all day." The stirring had abruptly subsided.
     Her lifeless eyes flickered over him once, but she obviously did not like what she saw. As she turned to make the drink, he noticed that her nose wrinkled in distaste. She was not an especially pretty girl, after all he decided. Aside from her hair being pale and lack-luster, her eyes drooped and were too big for her face, and her pale face was pudgy. She wore no make-up.
     "Bitch!" he snarled, just loudly enough so that she, and she alone, could hear. She did not respond. She had been insulted before and by experts. Alex hardly belonged in that class.
     Once the drink was made she plonked it down on the counter top, sloshing the contents over the green, laminex top. She did not offer him a straw or a glass, nor did she make any move to clean up the mess she had made.
     "Dollar!" she announced, again without opening her lips.
     Alex dived expectantly into the pockets of his jeans as if he were searching for some loose change. He knew that he was stony broke, but the girl did not.
     She stood there, a statue in pale blue and white. Her eyes looked at him but they did not see.
     After much futile searching, Alex looked up at the girl. Neither her look nor her stance had altered. He tried to appear embarrassed.
     "Ah...," he began. "It seems as though I've left me dough in me other pants."
     "So?" queried the girl, still without altering her pose or her facial expression. "What ya 'spec' me ta do 'bout it?"
     "Look!" he suggested, as if the thought had suddenly occurred to him. "Leave the malted here while I dash back to me flat and grab a few bits of coin. It won't take a minute. Me place is jist up the road."
     She hesitated a moment, considering.
     "Oh, orl right. 'But make it snappy will ya."
     "Thanks," said Alex as he stepped towards the doorway. He opened the glass door and, turning, gave her a winning smile. "I'll only be a minute." He pretended to step into the street.
     As he knew she would, the girl completely dismissed him from her mind. It was exactly what he had expected. She only worked there, didn't she? She didn't own the place. What did it matter to her whether he came back or not? As soon as Alex appeared to be on his way, the girl went to the far end of the counter where several other customers were waiting to be served.
     Unnoticed, Alex slipped quietly back into the small shop. He walked casually towards the counter as if he had just entered the milk bar for the first time. No one paid him the slightest bit of attention. He reached for the milk shake container and took it in his left hand. Still no one looked in his direction. The salesgirl was busy arguing with one of the other customers who had asserted he was being robbed--probably he was. Seizing the opportunity, Alex turned and walked nonchalantly from the counter. In twenty seconds he was outside the shop door, sauntering down the street.
     When he was sure that there was no pursuit, he stopped and quickly drank the liquid. He spilled quite a good deal down the sides of his face, neck and clothing. This, he had learned from the many television advertisements selling drinks of all types, was real tough. He always liked to set a fine example of real Australian manhood.
     He dropped the empty milk shake container to the footpath, taking pleasure in the loud noise it made and the dent that appeared in one side of the aluminum tumbler. With a studied deliberateness, he wandered down the street kicking the container before him.
     It was an hour after opening time when he reached the store where he was headed.
     There was one particular article that he required in order to carry his plan through to fruition; and the biggest sports store in town was just the place to get what he needed.
     There were perhaps fifteen or twenty people in the shop when Alex entered. A few looked up from their browsing to evince obvious distaste at Alex's clothing; but by and large he was not noticed by the shoppers or the shop assistants. He wandered casually to where the rifles were stored, neatly racked one above the other so that they could be readily viewed and compared. But there was no way in which they were protected.
     Nonchalantly, as if he were indeed intent on buying, Alex selected one of the shining weapons and took it down from its rack. He inspected the barrel, the stock and the lever action of the bolt. He pointed the rifle out of the shop window, aimed along the barrel and through the sights, and mentally shot five passers-by.
     No one in the shop came up to him. No assistant offered to help him. None of the other shoppers showed any desire to enquire as to his likes or dislikes. It was exactly as he knew it would be.
     Alex had observed many times in different stores that, when obviously intent on buying, one never gets served rapidly. It was as if shop assistants, knowing the shopper has already made up his mind and thus is completely hooked, took the time to try to tempt other, more reluctant shoppers into buying something they did not want.
     Alex tucked the rifle under his arm, selected a box of shells from the counter beneath, and sauntered out of the shop. No one saw him go. No one questioned him. No one raised an alarm of any kind.
     It was only two blocks further to the bank.
     Alex covered the distance quickly, yet without undue haste. The last thing he wanted was to be seen moving impatiently towards the bank with the gun, which he carried simply, openly, under his right arm.
     There were only two customers in the bank when he stepped through the open doorway. A teller looked up at him as he entered, and, failing to notice the casually carried rifle, immediately went back to handing out ten-dollar notes to an elderly lady in an old overcoat and a pot-plant hat.
     Alex moved slowly to the teller's window, taking a place behind the old woman. She collected her large pile of blue notes, and, carefully stuffing them into an ancient handbag with torn sides and a short handle, she turned and left the building, her shoulders hunched forward, her feet dragging across the tiled bank floor. She looked as if she did not possess a cent to her name.
     Alex watched her leave, noting the direction she had taken. If he had the time, and if she did not disappear too quickly, he had decided that he would acquire her money as well as that from the bank.
     The teller, a young man with a fresh face and a quiet smile, looked up enquiringly at Alex.
     "Can I help you, sir," he asked, even as his eyes went wide at the sight of the rifle barrel, which was pointing directly at his mouth.
     "Yeah!" sneered Alex, committed to his act of crime. "You can fill my pockets with money. Empty out that drawer there beside you. Start with the big stuff, and if there's room I'll take the little stuff, too, but no coins."
     "Ah... are... you sure... that you... wish to make this... withdrawal... sir?" stammered the teller, obviously striving to maintain his calm and perhaps dissuade Alex from this foolish act.
     "Empty that drawer and shut your mouth," directed Alex. He was in no mood to put up with this young smart-aleck's delaying tactics. "Empty the drawer now or I'll let you have it right in the face."
     Quivering with fear, the young teller complied with Alex's instructions. He had no desire to die just to save the bank a little cash. He had made an effort to do the right thing by his employer; that was all that could be asked of him. Certainly he was not expected to die in a vain attempt to prevent an armed robbery. It was always possible that, even yet, someone else would enter the bank, see what was happening and notify the police.
     Starting with the fifties, followed by the smaller denominations, the young teller stacked the money he had in his cage onto the counter top and watched as Alex stuffed the wads of notes into the various pockets of his clothing. The teller wondered why the robber had not brought along a bag for the occasion. At this very moment, Alex was wondering exactly the same thing. Not for one moment had he fully thought out this daring attack on the bank, and a bag for the loot had not even entered his mind.
     With his pockets bulging from the fruits of his madcap scheme, Alex backed carefully from the bank. He continued to train the rifle on the nervous teller's face. The latter was white and trembling behind the glass of his cage. At the same time Alex kept an eye on the other teller and the single customer who was in the bank. Neither of these appeared to have noticed anything out of the ordinary within the building: both continued to ignore Alex and his movements.
     As he reached the street, Alex turned and ran quickly along the pavement. He knew that the young blonde teller would soon raise the alarm and that bank officials and more probably, police, would be after him almost immediately.
     He did not run hard, but maintained an easy lope that quickly ate up the footpath beneath his pounding feet.
     The streets were filled with shoppers strolling along almost aimlessly, stopping in front of this store, halting to speak to friends and acquaintances; walking in crooked paths; and Alex had to dodge in and out of this milling mass as he made his dash for freedom.
     No one seemed to pay any attention to his firearm or to the manner in which he hurried along the street
     From far behind him, back towards the bank, there came a sudden shout, a cry for him to stop, and then a loud voice shouting: "Help! Police! Stop that man! The bank's been robbed! Help! Police!"
     Alex decided that now was the time to shift into high gear, so he began to run as fast as he could. Heedless of the shoppers that he bumped or bustled sharply aside, he put his total concentration into outdistancing anyone brave enough to be chasing him up the street.
     Just ahead he could see the little old lady, still shuffling, shoulders still hunched, hands still clutching the tatty old bag. He smiled as he bore down on her at about five times her speed.
     As he drew abreast of the elderly woman, Alex lunged out with his left hand, grabbed her bag and snatched it from her grasp.
     The crone looked up suddenly, saw the perpetrator of this outrageous deed, and made a futile grab for her handbag. Alex was far too quick for her, however, for he had already dashed out of reach of her frail old hands, and was soon disappearing down the street. Too frightened even to cry out, the old woman collapsed in a heap of rags onto the cold, hard pavement. She had just lost her entire life savings and there was now nothing left for her to live for.
     A policeman, stepping from a large department store where he had been watching for shoplifters, saw the sudden, dashing figure of the robber. He heard the cries for assistance from further along the street, and he noted the old lady sprawled in a heap on the concrete. Switching the walkie-talkie that he carried on his beat from his right to his left hand, the constable reached for the pistol that he wore on his hip. He drew and leveled the revolver in one easy motion as he had been taught in the police academy. He called to Alex, only ten meters away, further up the street.
     "Halt! Halt, or I'll fire."
     Alex turned. He saw the policeman, and a cruel smile curled the corners of his mouth.
     "Pig!" he shouted at the top of his voice. He swung the barrel of the rifle around and brought it to bear on the constable.
     "Halt!" called the policeman, unwilling to shoot unless he was forced to. His superiors frowned upon too hasty gunplay, and there were many innocent bystanders who might get in the way of a stray bullet.
     A sudden burst of fire and smoke spurted from the end of the rifle as Alex fired from the hip at the policeman. He had not had much experience with guns, but the weapon seemed to fit naturally into his hands. Instinctively he knew exactly how to use it.
     The first shot, one of three that he fired, hit the constable in the throat, severing the jugular and killing him almost instantly. The second shot caught him in the chest and threw his dying body backwards through the plate-glass window of a butcher's shop. The last lead missile missed the falling figure at which it was aimed, and struck a seven-year-old girl in the shoulder. With a high, shrill scream of pain and fright the girl spun, unconscious to the pavement.
     Alex turned and ran.
     Within minutes he had reached the safety of his flat. He went inside, breathing deeply, and closed the door. He was safe. They would not catch him now.
     Alex emptied the contents of his pockets onto his bed, which was still rumpled, the way he had left it a few hours earlier. A quick count of the money revealed that his few minutes' work had netted him $734, and the rifle. He felt more than satisfied with the day's wages; and he still had the balance of the day with which to enjoy the fruits of his labors.
     He walked towards the mirror, its crazy angle apparent. His reflection grinned back at him, the hands full of notes, the eyes wide with the excitement of the morning's activities. What he saw in the mirror confirmed that which he felt. He saw a different person looking back at him now than when he had first looked into the mirror this morning. This person was surer of himself, more alive, more of a personality. He was no longer a nothing: this new image was that of a person who had done something with his life, who had grasped the whole world by the tail, and who had won his freedom.
     The smiling face looked him squarely in the eyes and said: "I knew you could do it and you did. There's nothing in the world that you can't do if only you'd set your mind to it."
     Alexander Graeme Ball simply smiled and clutched the bundles of money.

     It did not take Alex long to squander the few hundred dollars that his daring daylight robbery had deposited into his pockets. Most of the money he spent on drinks, some on himself, but even more on the cronies with whom he drank at the local hotel. He purchased a second pair of jeans and another t-shirt. He discarded his old moccasins and bought a new pair of desert boots. And he just had to have a dozen or so new cassettes for the player in his room. By the time that he had paid the outstanding amount of his rent and had a couple of square meals, Alex found himself in much the same situation that he had been in prior to the bank hold-up.
     Soon he was broke once more.
     He continued to dream.
     Each night his imaginings were filled with thoughts of Jean; but there were many darker, deeper thoughts. There was the rifle, so phallic-like that it caused his penis to grow hard at the appearance of it in his dream; there was the money, the root of all evil (so he had been told from early childhood); and there was the weird place so often visited, a place so alien and cold as to cause his blood to chill.
     Again he struggled each morning from the arms of sleep and his bed, his brain befuddled and filled with cobwebs. He gazed at his disheveled face and scrawny figure in the badly mounted mirror. Day by day there past through his mind the determination to do something with himself, to go out and do that which he was constantly relegating to the yesterdays of his life. The idea grew in his head, fed upon itself and festered.
     Eventually he came up with a new and daring plan.
     Armed with the loaded rifle, Alex left the flat and walked briskly down the main street. It was a little before nine o'clock and the majority of the shops had yet to open for the day's trading. That did not bother Alex. He had decided to rob a TAB agency; but first he had decided that he would have some fun.
     When he reached the building that housed the local cinema (as well as several other civic offices) he entered the square, flat-roofed structure by a side entrance that was left unlocked for employees to use early in the morning. He slipped in quietly, not seeing anyone, not seen by a soul, and ascended the stairs that led to the roof.
     Around the four sides of the flat roof was a one-meter parapet, obviously designed so that visitors to this part of the building would not accidentally fall over the edge and thus form disgusting red and brown smudges on the pavement below,
     The parapet exactly served Alex's needs.
     He took up a station on the side at the roof overlooking the main street. Resting the barrel of his weapon along the top of the parapet, Alex squatted down so that his body was hidden by the meter-high concrete structure. He sighted along the rifle and down into the street, almost deserted at this hour of the day.
     The first person to come along the pavement below him was a tall, young man wearing a dark suit and carrying a satchel in his left hand. The man was walking briskly, and every few seconds he glanced at the watch that he wore on his right wrist.
     Alex smiled a grim smile of satisfaction as he took a bead on the unsuspecting passer-by. Today he was going to have a lot of fun.
     He squeezed the trigger gently, just the way they always did in the best war books he had read, and had the pleasure of seeing the tall man slammed back against the plate-glass window of a shop he had been passing, his hand clutching futilely at his chest. There was the sound of splintering glass as the impact of the bullet slammed the victim through the heavy glass to lie like a broken doll amid the pies, cakes and other pastries that were on display there.
     Alex's smiled widened as he jerked back the lever of the rifle and fed another messenger of death into its chamber.
     Score: one!
     A short, heavy-set man in a pin-stripe suit emerged from a shop beside the bakery, and the movements of his head indicated that he was searching for the author of the disturbance. Suddenly his eyes noted the dead man's legs protruding from the other shop window, and he dashed to the prostrate figure's side.
     Alex sighted a second time that morning and the leaden messenger of death sped on its way. The short man had not the slightest idea that he was under attack, yet, seconds later, he lay sprawled at the feet of the first man, his head oozing its life-blood onto the dirty gray concrete on which he lay.
     Alex ejected the spent cartridge and injected another.
     A man and a woman came running down the street, their eyes glued to the two sprawled victims. They neither looked to right nor to left. They simply ran to see if they could be of assistance to the dead and the dying.
     Alex smiled with his mouth as he squinted down the barrel, his sights directed at the woman. Without a moment's hesitation he shot her through the leg.
     He did not hear her shriek of pain and terror as she slumped to the ground, badly scraping her face on the rough surface as she did so. His whole attention now directed at the running man, who glanced furtively about him to see from where the shots had originated. No longer was he attempting to offer succor to the dead and wounded; instead he sought simply to save his own life.
     Alex shot him cleanly through the heart.
     After the man had pitched headlong to the concrete, skidding several feet before coming to a halt, a mass of twisted arms and legs, Alex turned his gaze back to the wounded woman.
     He knew she was not dead: even as he returned to her he could see that she was crawling over the road, attempting to put a lamp post and a parked car between herself and the sniper.
     Alex grinned with sadistic glee as he shot her through the left arm.
     Still she continued to crawl, one leg useless, one arm trailing by her side. She had yet to cover a little over a meter of open ground in order to reach the safety of the car.
     Alex shot her through the top of the head.
     A police car had pulled up at the far end of the street. Alex looked at it contemptuously, saw the four policemen, all armed with high-powered rifles, emerge from it carefully, looking about them, noting the locations of the victims, calculating the probable trajectory of the shots and the likely hiding place of the sniper. Just before their eyes were raised to the spot where Alex squatted, waiting, he directed several quick shots at them, and then scampered from his place of concealment. The bullets ricocheted harmlessly from the pavement and the parked police car, but the policemen ducked nonetheless, their eyes wide and staring.
     It took them quite a number of minutes to safely maneuver themselves to the base of the building from which the shots had originated; but by that time Alex had reached the ground floor, emerged onto the side street, and had disappeared into another building in the street beyond.

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