“It must be so easy to be a chef around here,” my reflection in the small mirror above the sink said, “there are no other restaurants in town.”

I stared, eyebrows raised just a little. I wasn’t sure I’d seen or heard that right. It wouldn’t have been the first time I imagined something, and I was having an abysmal week. I’d tried my hardest to make it in the restaurant business, but nobody was coming to eat. This week, I’d finally run out of the money I’d saved up to open my own little diner, and I’d broken down in the bathroom of my apartment upstairs from the kitchen. I assumed the mirror-me speaking was just the taste of stress and sadness mixed into a stew with just a little grief over my dream as seasoning. But no.

“Hey. Did you not hear me? Or are you trying to be rude here?” the reflection said.


“Hey, I’m talking to you.” He was glaring now. Pissed, even. Not a match for my tear-streaked, dejected expression. What’s the harm, I’ll play along. Nobody can hear me anyway, who cares if I talk to myself in the privacy of my own home.

“What’s going on, man,” I said.

“There you are. Thought I might’ve been talking to a vegetable,” he replied, his glare melting immediately into a casual, friendly grin, “Did you hear what I said?”

I thought for a moment. No, I’d been caught up in that my own reflection was talking and moving separately from me. “Must’ve missed it.”

“That’s all right,” the mirror-man said through his grin. I didn’t realize my teeth were that white, or that straight. “I can repeat it. We’ve both got the time. What I’d said was that it must be so easy to be a chef around here, seeing as how there are no other restaurants in town.”

That made my gut slither around, as I thought about how much I’d sacrificed to open a diner that nothing came of. “Well, it’s not. It’s hard. Maybe the reason I’m the only restaurant in town is that the stupid people in this town don’t go out to eat, ever, so everyone else who’s tried has closed down just like I’m going to.”

“Yeah, maybe, or maybe you suck.” My pearly whites and parted lips didn’t seem so welcoming anymore.

“Shut up, man.” It was weird to say that to my own reflection. Not in a bad way, though. After all, that guy was to blame for all of my failings, ever. Yeah. Come to think of it, this guy sucks. “YOU suck, you reflective piece of work. You’re a rat, a waste of oxygen. Your parents are disappointed in you- and for good reason. You have absolutely no skill to speak of, and yet you thought a dream could carry you to a successful business? You’re dumb as bricks for that one. Why on earth would-”

“Do you want to not suck?” he said, still grinning. That cut me off quick. I hadn’t expected him to have anything to say, because who’s ever been interrupted by themself? I wiped a tear from my cheek. I hadn’t even noticed I’d started crying again.

“What?” I said.

“Would you like to not suck?”

I didn’t even have to think about it. “Yes.”

“Yes what?” He wasn’t grinning so wide anymore.

“Yes, I would like to not suck, if what you mean is ‘be better at cooking’.”

“What would you give for it?” he asked, face back in its straight position now, factory settings.

My mouth stayed slightly ajar for a second, as I swept enough thought, out from the corners of my brain to the front, to push out, “Anything.”

He looked at me like a wax replica, face hard and cold as iron, with all of my features, but looking at him while he was still, I saw that some of his features were too perfect to be mine. Others were just wrong enough that anyone who’d seen me before would immediately think him to be me, but I had been looking at my reflection every day for my whole life, and now that the mirror-me was staying still, I realized that he was not my reflection. I slowly took my hands off the sink and backed up a step. I felt my body tense up, like a marionette whose strings are all being pulled in slightly different directions. He smiled a little, like he’d been waiting for me to catch up in a race he’d been on the finish line of the entire conversation.

“There we go. Now, how much is anything?” he said, still smiling just a little. I thought about it. I was either going crazy, in which case nothing I said to myself was of consequence, or I was actually talking to my reflection, in which case my understanding of reality was flawed and he might be able to do what he said. Not my reflection though, that wasn’t quite right. He was something else. Or he might do something else, like steal my soul. I’d seen Faust and Constantine, and those guys both promised their souls and regretted it later. I wasn’t that stupid.

“How much do you want?” I asked. I could always refuse him.

“How about this,” he said, “I let you cook better than anyone alive, and in return, I get anything you gain from your restaurant. All the money, any gifts from pleased customers, anything earned, received, found, or otherwise obtained, you give to me. You can keep enough money for your expenses, and to maintain your lifestyle, but anything else is mine.”

I was in it for the glory, and the satisfaction, not the money. Besides, I was ruined if my restaurant went down. I didn’t have that much to lose.

“Deal.” I declared. He grinned a shark grin, and I went to bed with excitement on my left and a deep unease on my right.


The next morning, when my alarm went off at around 4, I went down to the kitchen, put a pot of coffee on, and unlocked the front door. I didn’t really expect anyone to show up, and I didn’t really expect to suddenly have some great talent for cooking. I’d been hallucinating or something the night before, as some sort of weird coping mechanism. I heard the bell on the door chime, and turned around to see a man coming in through the glass door. He was wearing boots, jeans, a flannel shirt, and a ratty Red Sox cap that looked like it’d been disrespected by four generations before him. He planted himself on the stool at the end of the counter and waited as I walked over from the coffee machine.

“Good morning,” I said with a cautious sort of excitement. A customer right after opening was a good sign, maybe things really were about to turn up.


“Can I get you anything?”

He looked at my menu, on the board behind the counter, and said, “How about some coffee?”

I gestured at the machine, which was starting to dribble into the pot. “Just put some on. You want anything started while you wait?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Alright.” I stood behind the counter and watched the pot fill up. I grabbed the cream and sugar from the kitchen and slid them across the counter to him when the pot reached ¾ full. I got a mug from the cabinet, set it in front of him with a spoon on a napkin, filled it until it was just above halfway full, and backed up. I went into the kitchen and turned the stovetop on, then got the ingredients for eggs and home fries out. My customer might not have been hungry, but I was.

“Hey, man, could I get another cup?” I heard from out in the dining area. I walked out to see that the Red Sox fan had already downed the whole cup of freshly-brewed, hot coffee.

“Yeah, sure. Wasn’t that wicked hot, though?” I grabbed the pot and strolled over to him.

“No, I’m fine. Good stuff,” he replied as I poured him another cup, “is it anything special?” He lifted the mug to his lips, tilted it, and when he brought it back down it was empty.

I poured the rest of the pot into a mug for myself and said, “Just plain old Folger’s.” I took a sip of mine and flinched as it hit my tongue. It was scalding hot. I had to put some cream in it to cool it down, and even still the tip of my tongue hurt, every time I took a sip.

The Red Sox cap looked at me with a hunger in his eyes. “Best part of waking up, am I right? Could I get some more?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said. I put another pot on, then took another sip of my coffee. It was just coffee, nothing special. If anything, I should’ve put more grounds in, it was a little weak. This guy shouldn’t have liked it so much. I went back in the kitchen and started making my eggs and home fries in a frying pan. When I heard the drip stop, I went out to give the man his coffee. His hand grabbed my attention before I poured him his coffee. He had a burn, from the coffee that he’d spilled while he was chugging the last two cups. His throat and mouth must’ve been completely roasted.

“Do you want something for that? Some ice? Sorry it was so hot, do you want some ice cream on the house for your throat?” If the first customer who stayed for any amount of time had to go to the hospital because of me, I wouldn’t even close down. The people would drive me out of town.

He smiled at me. “No, don’t worry about it. That’s the best coffee I’ve ever had. Another cup and we’ll call it even?”

Something was wrong with this guy. “Sure.” I poured him another cup, but not before I filled the mug halfway with cream so it wouldn’t be so scalding. As I watched him down this one just like the others, I smelled smoke, and remembered I’d left food on the stovetop.

“Aw, crap.” I ran into the kitchen, grabbed the pan off the stove, and set it aside. I turned off the stove, and as I watched the propane blue flutter out of existence, I realized there was no way I’d ever be close to a good cook. No competent chef has ever managed to butcher eggs and potatoes like I had. They were coated to the bottom of the pan like paint to a canvas, but there was no mistaking this for art. Last night had been a fantasy. It was time to give up.

“What’s that smell?” Red Sox called from the counter.

I was starting to regret opening the diner. This guy was getting on my nerves. “It was eggs and home fries. Now, it’s burnt.” I said as I walked to the garbage can, frying pan in one hand, spatula in the other.
“Could I get some?” he asked tentatively, like a little boy asking his mother for candy when he knows he’s misbehaved and she’s still mad about it. “Smells good.”

“Yeah. Sure. Whatever.” Once I’d put a plate in front of him, I scraped off the panful of burnt food and tossed a fork onto the counter. He snatched it up, and started shoveling the black mess into his mouth. He didn’t slow down to shut his mouth, he didn’t slow down to breathe, he didn’t notice that I was still there, staring at him in shock, until he was done eating.

He licked his lips, then looked up and said, “Thanks for the coffee, and the food. That’s maybe the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time,” he stood up and stretched a little before putting a twenty down, smiling, saying, “keep the change.” and walking out of the diner.

I sat in silence in the dining room for a while, trying to process what had just happened, and then gravitated towards the kitchen to take my mind off it. I did the dishes, but that only took a couple minutes. I made myself some breakfast that a normal person would have eaten, but that only took a couple more. I ate it, and it was completely normal. Plain, scrambled eggs, just a touch of salt and pepper, cubed potatoes fried in butter and a pinch of italian seasoning. After I finished washing the dishes, I sat in the kitchen reading until I heard the chime of the door again.

As I walked into the dining room, there were two men just sitting down at the counter, both wearing similar clothes to the guy who’d been there earlier. One of them had a Yankees cap, and the other was bare-headed.

“What’s up, fellas?” I greeted them with a smile as I put a pot under the coffee machine.

The hatless one said, “Well, we just got off the night shift at the co-op. One of the guys relieving us, Darrell, said he was just in here and it was pretty good.”

I opened my mouth, thinking to express to them in some way the sort of experience I’d had with Darrell, but I settled on a smile. Wouldn’t want to scare off the second and third customers I’d ever had. “I’m grateful for the praise. What can I get you?” They looked at the board for a minute, and the Yankees guy said,

“How about pancakes?”

“Yeah, sure. How many?”

“We’ll start with 3?”

“Alright. And you?” I directed at the man who was likely a fan of a team even more scandalous than the Yankees, and left his hat at home because of it.

He pondered the board for longer than his buddy, which kind of bothered me, because he’d had the whole previous exchange to be thinking, but I wasn’t about to take any business for granted, so I refrained from having an attitude about it.

“I think I’ll have an omelet. Just cheese and onions.”

I almost walked into the kitchen before remembering a critical part of the diner experience. “You want coffee?”

“Yeah, thanks.” said the Yankees cap.

“Sure” affirmed his coworker.

I poured them each a cup, then went to make their food. I made the pancake batter, chopped the onion, cracked the eggs, and made each of their meals, one in one pan, the other in another. I plated them both, put a pat of butter on the pancakes, grabbed a jug of syrup, and walked out with hopefully the first genuine, normal meal I’d cook for customers.

“There you go, fellas.” They were still there (great sign!) and looked comfortable. I set their food down beside their coffee cups. Which, I noticed, were untouched. Damn. The cavity in my chest suddenly felt pretty heavy for something allegedly mostly empty. I gestured towards the undisturbed dark-roast and said, “Is something wrong? I am so, so, sorry, earlier when Darrell was in here- I messed it up then, too and I-”

“No, no, nothing’s wrong with the coffee,” the hatless guy chuckled, “we were just going to ask for some cream and sugar.”

The mass in my chest shot straight to my head, heating up and scrambling my brain until my thoughts were as burnt and useless as Darrell’s eggs, and my face was showing it.

“Oh, yeah, absolutely. Do you- Let me just- Of course you want coffee with your cream- I mean cream with your sugar-” By this time, both of the men were chuckling, and my gratitude had never been felt more heartfelt than when the Yankees fan said,

“It’s alright, pal, don’t worry about it.” to put me out of my misery.

While I was making a fool of myself, I was stumbling my way to the cream and sugar, bumbling back, and fumbling them onto the counter in front of my customers. I was lucky neither the cream nor sugar spilled. Then I stepped back to watch.

The hatless man cut a chunk of omelet off, and as he did, the inside shone like polished quartz, but stayed inside the golden shell. The egg in the center was perfectly runny, not too wet, not too dry. Goldilocks would’ve wept with joy at my omelet. With that, the anxious mass within me disappeared entirely. He might not love the omelet, but he would at least be satisfied with it. Then I looked at the Yankees fan’s pancakes, and as he cut into them, the mass reappeared stronger than ever, with the realization that only an idiot thinks it’s possible to cook three pancakes and one omelet in the same amount of time. All three pancakes were raw batter in the thinnest veneer of cake. The batter gushed out of the pancakes, and the Yankees fan was still raising the bite of butter, maple syrup, and “pancake” to his parted lips.

“No, come on, man, don’t eat that, it’s…” I trailed off as he did, in fact, chew, swallow, and lick his lips of, the pancakes.

He made eye contact with me and said, “Did you put cocaine in there or something? I’ve never tasted pancakes so delicious, I swear to God!”


As soon as I closed down, I sprinted upstairs and into the bathroom, planted my back against the wall across from the sink, and shouted,

“What did you do?”

Nothing. Silence. Eye contact with myself for an uncomfortably long time. Was he even there? The first customer had been questionable, but with the second experience, I had solidified the common denominator. No matter what garbage I put in front of them, every single customer I’d had that day raved about how I deserved a Michelin star, how I should write a cookbook, how they were bringing their grandchildren here after church this coming Sunday as a treat.


No response. I started doubting myself, but then I remembered Darrell and his burnt eggs, by far the most psychotic, insane behavior I’d seen in my life, and screamed,


Still nothing. I waved at my reflection, then snapped at it, and the wave was perfect, but the snap was one percent of a second behind mine, so it sounded like an echo.

“I saw that. I heard that, I know you heard that. Quit it.”

The reflection dropped the charade, like an actor coming out of character as he goes offstage. He slumped his shoulders, stepped off the wall, and leaned forward over the sink until his nose was almost touching the mirror. He took a deep breath, and exhaled. I flinched as a foggy patch appeared on my mirror. Or his mirror? Doesn’t matter, it looked like it was on my side too. He then took a finger and scrawled into the fog,


I squinted at it.

“Your C is backwards.”

He looked at it, tilted his head a little, then rolled his eyes and said,

“No, clown, all of the other letters are. You don’t know how hard it is to write backwards.”

“Yeah, I don’t care, either. Would you please tell me what’s going on with the diner?”

He leaned back from the sink and stood with all his weight on one foot, hands in the pockets of my favorite pair of jeans.

“Are you not satisfied?”

“No, I’m not satisfied,” I snapped, “My food is awful. The only thing that’s changed since last week is everyone’s standards for good food have lowered by miles.”

He glared at me. “Not true. Your food was good.”

“No, it wasn’t.” I glared at him.

“Yes, it was!” He stood up straighter.

“It was NOT!” I stepped off the wall.

“YES IT WAS!” He pounded a fist against the mirror sink. “What defines good food?” I had to think about that. He didn’t let me think for long, though. “It’s whether or not people like it, right?” he said to me in a patronizingly gentle voice, like he was explaining racism to a toddler who’d repeated a word he shouldn’t have, “So if the people liked your food, then your food is good.”

That was a weak defense. We both knew that what he’d made it sound like last night was that I would make food that tastes like people would want to eat it, and that skipping straight to the “people wanting to eat it” part without improving the taste was pretty dishonest.

“Listen here, you weasel, that’s nonsense. Even if people like the food, that still doesn’t make me a good cook.”

He grinned. “Really? You don’t think it’s important that a cook cater to the tastes of his customers over his own?”

I glowered at him. “Whatever.”

He smiled at me, a friendlier sort of smile than his borderline-predatory grin. “Try to make the best of it. It’ll make for good business, at least?”


He was right. Over the next few days, my diner steadily got more business until I had customers waiting outside the door before I opened, and there was always still a crowd at the counter at the end of the day. There was never a moment without a customer. I was working sixteen hours each day. I had to hire a waitstaff. Three college-age locals made a good enough team. I had to press them to accept pay, though, they only wanted food for it. Over the course of weeks, I fell into a routine. I woke up, got ready for the day, went downstairs, made coffee and breakfast for myself and my employees, who showed up before we opened the doors. We worked all day, and it was hard work, and constant, but it was rewarding. The people were always raving about the food, and how good it was. Beyond that, it made me feel important, in a way. I felt like I was providing for people. Food for the customers, and work for my employees.


“Well, it’s about time.” my reflection said as I walked into the bathroom.

“Time for what? And can it wait? People need bathrooms for other reasons than to chit-chat, you know.” I gestured for him to go away, so that I could use the bathroom for its god-given purpose.

“No, now. There were two parts to the deal, remember. Pay up,” he demanded.

Oh. Yeah. “Do you have a list of things? Because it’s been upwards of a full month, I might not remember everything.”

He shrugged. “If you can’t remember getting something, it’s not important. Just give me the important stuff.”

I went into my bedroom, and scrounged around for a while, gathering up “anything earned, received, found, or otherwise obtained.”

When I entered the bathroom with my arms full of stuff, I asked, “How do I, you know… get it in there?”

He pointed at my sink. “Just drop it in there.”

I did so with all the cash I hadn’t spent on paying my employees, ingredients, insurance, the lease on the building, personal hygiene, gas, or other necessities. It was less than I’d expected. I also dropped a cool rock I’d found on a walk, red, round, and shiny, with a band of quartz. Then all I had in my hands were notes people had left on napkins and letters I’d been sent. I started to mutter, “Do you really need-”

“All of it.”

I sighed and dropped them in the basin.

“All right, I think that’s all of it.”

The reflection smirked. This was neither the predatory grin, nor the friendly smile, but a deep, personal satisfaction, and it was a million times more unnerving. When I’d realized that the man in the mirror was something unnatural, something I’m still not sure of, something other than anything I’d wanted him to be, he’d grinned, and that felt like being a mouse in a trap. Now, he was smiling in a different way. It was worse. It told me, “You don’t know what I’m smiling about, and that’s what I’m smiling about.” It made me feel smaller than I liked.

“I appreciate it.” he said, as he started to pick up the things I’d put in the sink one by one. He picked up their reflections, one by one, and put them into his pocket, one by one. As he took the things out of his sink, they disappeared from mine. His pocket swallowed everything up, but after the sink was empty, it was no larger than it had been before.

“Anything else?” I asked tentatively.

“No. Come back next month.”

And so it went.


Time went on, and as it did, I started to feel at home. I couldn’t keep anything I got, but that wasn’t what it was about. It was a community. The people in the diner, the people outside of the diner, the small town started to feel like a home to me. The reactions of the customers petered out, too. They ate like normal people, and still told me how good the food was. It felt good. Felt like I’d earned it, instead of like I was a fraud. Eventually, I started to feel like I might actually have some talent. Months after I made my bargain, I started looking forward to eating the food I made. Before, it had just been food. Now, with the practice from cooking all day, every day, I was able to enjoy it, savor it, treat it like a meal instead of just food.

There’s a distinction, there. Month after month, I’d work, pay my expenses as they came, and give the excess to the mirror-man. He took it, smirked, and nothing more came of it.

“What do you need it for?” I asked after dumping a load of goods into the sink, my thirteenth payment.

He looked straight into my eyes as he shoveled my offerings into his pockets.

“I don’t.”

“Then why do you take it?”

He narrowed his eyes. “Because I asked for it, and you agreed. A deal is a deal.”

“Yes, but why did you ask for it? Do you take it and go to the reflection of the store as soon as I leave to buy a reflection of food?” There was no malice in the question. I really just wanted to know. I was content with our deal now.

He placed the last napkin note into his pocket and gazed at me for half a minute.

“Well. I guess I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t use any of it for anything. I have it, and that’s why I wanted it. It’s about possession. You get it?”

That was far, far away from anything I’d expected him to say.

“No. Whatever, though.” I started out of the bathroom.

“Good luck, and I appreciate the cash,” came a voice from the mirror as I shut the door.


By this point, I’d got into such a rhythm the days passed like cars at the racetrack. Fast, and overlapping so much it was hard to tell which was which. I lived the same day over and over, and I loved it. My favorite customers remained Darrell, and his two coworkers, who I’d long since learned were named Victor and Alec. They came in, first Darrell, and then shortly after, Victor and Alec, every weekday morning. On the weekends, they came in at the same time. I’d misjudged them, however. Darrell didn’t like the Red Sox, Alec didn’t like the Yankees. They had the hats because, in Darrell’s own words, “that’s what the store had.” Victor just didn’t wear a hat. I got to know them, and some of my other regulars, better than I thought I would. Darrell brought in a guitar one day and laid down the opening riff from “Layla” flawlessly. I hadn’t known manual laborers played music, but it shouldn’t have surprised me, he already had the callouses and dexterity. The days went by, and everything was alright.


As the water ran over my hands as I scrubbed them with soap one day, I finally made the jump I’d been backing up for (or from, maybe) for upwards of a year.

“What are you?” I hurried the words out of my mouth, in case they tried to crawl back down my throat and hide in my gut. I kept my head down and kept washing my hands.

“How do you expect me to explain that?” he said softly, but not gently. Then, with force, “How on EARTH do you expect me to be able to explain that? It’s not like it’s a simple question, is it?” His voice was rising, like the swelling of a wave before it breaks. “Could you imagine how you would answer that question if I asked you? If I said, ‘Could you sum up the nature of your existence real quick?’ what would you say?”

There was nothing I could say to that, so I just kept washing my hands. He continued. “You don’t really care what I am as long as I’m distinctly something, do you? You don’t want to understand, you just want to know I’m something other than you. Quit washing your hands, you ran out of soap a long time ago.” It was true. I was washing my hands with nothing but water and a deep desire to look anywhere but at him. I forced my eyes up and saw his face not two feet from mine, nearly pressed up against the mirror. He was focused on me like a magnifying glass focuses sunlight on an ant. I could feel the sunlight burning into my skin, more sunlight than any ant was ever meant to experience.

“Does it matter?” he asked. I wasn’t sure, but I needed to know anyway.



“It just doe-”

He cut me off before I finished saying it. “Not good enough.”

He stared me down across a millimeter of glass, and much, much farther at the same time. I stared him down across a millimeter of glass, and across a tingling over my whole body that was reaching towards the mirror like a frog reaching towards a pot of water it KNOWS is about to boil. Trying to think of something to say, I came up with,

“Why can you move?”

He kept up the focus for a moment too long, just long enough I thought he was going to keep up the stare until I either came up with a more intelligent question, or left, but he broke it off, stood up straight, and said,

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“Most people’s reflections can’t move.”

He smirked. “Did the reflections tell you that?”

I hated the implication behind that. “Can they?”

“I don’t know, maybe.” He still had a slight, slight smile on his face.

“Is the rest of the world on that side, too?” This was something I’d been thinking about off and on for a while.


That made sense. A mirror world only in one room would be a little silly. But it wasn’t what I’d wanted to know, and I wanted to get on track. I might not be able to work myself up to this kind of conversation again, so I asked,

“Are you human?”

He smiled even wider.


“Are you lying?”

He flung his hands up and put on an incredulous look.

“Obviously! No, idiot, I am not human. Is that all you came here for? That I was inhuman? Are you happy now? Can you go back to cooking, and me go back to lamenting my inhumanity and wishing I was just like you?” With increasing sarcasm, and the slightest pout, he said, “Will I ever be a real boy?”
I glared at him.

“Yeah, sure. I’d love to.” I strode out of the bathroom, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t starting to enjoy our conversations.


As the months passed like raindrops on the backseat window of a car, lit by nothing but streetlamps passing at 10 p.m. on the freeway, I turned from a new diner in town to a prominent member of the community. People recognized me on the street, they knew my name. I was more than “that guy from the diner” and it felt good. It was an aspect of the diner I hadn’t even considered. What brought me even more joy was that people started wanting to interact with me outside of the transactional setting of my diner. Darrell invited me to his barbecues, Victor and I went golfing whenever the weather was for it, Alec and I went fishing, and all four of us went bowling every Saturday. It was a good feeling. Not just that I had friends, for the first time since middle school, but to be able to say “the four of us.” To be a unit. To think of yourself as less than a name in the context of being more than an individual? It was beautiful. In my diner, and my deal to be a good cook, I’d done more than find business. I’d found friends. I’d found a community. I’d found myself.


I don’t know how long it was after I made the bargain. Years, maybe. But one day, I was paying up to the reflection.

“There it is,” I said. “That’s all of it.” I patted the stack of cash, notes, letters, and lastly, a golf ball Victor had given me after he’d gotten a hole in one with it. “For good luck,” he’d said it was. I’d have preferred to keep it, but giving up all I had each month was second nature at this point. Besides, Victor’s friendship was what was behind the gesture, and I knew I still had that.

The mirror-man took it all, piece by piece. He looked at me when he was done.

“I appreciate it.”

I shrugged. He said that every time, it was almost like a ritual between us at this point.

“Anyway,” I said, “There’s something else I’d like to talk about.”

He sharpened his gaze. “What is it?”

“Nothing bad. I actually wanted to express a little bit of thanks.” He chuckled a little when I said that.

“No, I’m serious.” I said.

He sighed, then smiled a friendly little smile. “Go ahead, then.”

So I did. “Well. Let’s see. When we, uh, bargained, way back when, I was in a bad frame of mind, and I thought then, and for a while after, that it was probably a huge mistake. I only made it because I was at the bottom, and it looked like a ladder up if I squinted at it enough.” He nodded, and kept listening. “In the time since, nothing but good has come of it. I’ve got friends, a community. I feel like, from practice, I can actually cook now, but I know not nearly as well as everyone else thinks I can, thanks to you.”

“You’re welco-”
“No, I’m not done. It’s more than that. I feel like, from all this, this life experience, success, social life, all of it, I’m better for it. I feel like I’ve improved myself as a person, and I feel like I’ve found myself as a person. Thank you.”

He smiled and said, “You’re welcome. You remember the deal, though?”

I furrowed my eyebrows. “Yeah, we just did that. Right?”

He smiled wider, to just a little past where I knew my lips could stretch. “We did some of it. ‘Anything earned, received, found, or otherwise obtained.’ Found.”

I finally got what he was getting at. “That I said I’ve found myself? You don’t really mean-”

But he did. As his smile widened further, splitting his face from ear to ear, and his eyelids peeled fully back until two hundred degrees of each glistening, now bloodshot, eye were exposed, and the color drained out of his lips, and his hair became as thick and coarse as wire, I started to flee out the bathroom door, but not quickly enough. I felt fingers that were longer and sharper than mine pluck me off the ground, and I turned my head just in time to hit the mirror. It felt like being strained through concrete.
On the other side, I got up. Everything was black except for the small rectangle I’d come from. I looked through it, and there I was, on the other side. Not the creature that had dragged me through, the terrible, hideous creature, but a true and perfect reflection of me once more.

I shouted, “Bring me back!” and so did my reflection. I moved from side to side, waved my hands through the air, and so did my reflection. I pounded on the glass, and so did my reflection. I put my hands on it and begged,

“Please, please, let me back!” He stopped mirroring me then. He laughed at the game he’d been having, waved me off, and walked out of my bathroom door.


And this is where I’ve been. It’s dark in here, and cold. He was lying, when he said the rest of the world was on this side, too. It isn’t. The only colors in the entire world are from this tiny bathroom mirror. The rest of the world is utterly black. It’s lonely, too. You’re the first person I’ve spoken to since I’ve been here. I don’t know how long that’s been. But anyway, back to the point. The reason I told you all that was so that you understand the gravity of this: Avoid mirrors. If your reflection moves when it shouldn’t, don’t interact with it. And if you see me, out in the real world, do NOT speak to me. Avoid me. Don’t think I got out of here somehow. I didn’t. It isn’t me.