The Mirrored Chamber
You will say that I am mad—for who but a madman could devise so remarkable a species of vengeance, marked by such intricate dissimulation, such exquisite cunning? But never have I been more possessed of my senses than I was at the moment when, provoked by the cruel jests of my most intimate companion, I resolved to commit murder.
But if indeed I am mad, it is a symptom of the poison which my dear companion had, through mild smiles and gentle suggestions, induced me to consume over the course of many months. Oh, he was a clever joker! Each afternoon, when I was alone within my sitting room, captivated by the study of a volume of poetry or absorbed in the composition of verses of my own devising, this was the moment—the most terrible moment!—that presaged his arrival.
Into my chamber he would stride, bearing in his hand the vile instrument of my undoing. Adorned with a sweetness mien like that of an angel—rather, like that of a demon!—he would speak words of encouragement and cordiality, and with a smile, he would offer me the poison that was steadily translating my thoughts into those of a madman.
How did this false friend administer the fatal dose? How did he fool me time and again into supping upon the nectar of my ruin, the nourishment of my nervous prostration? Long were the hours I meditated upon this question, and great was the horror that seized hold of my heart when reason bequeathed a ready solution.
Knowing my penchant for confectioneries, each day he would bring to me a slim parcel containing what he assured me—oh, how fervently he assured me!—was pure chocolate prepared in the most wholesome and natural manner. And each day, I forgot the deception of the morrow, and eagerly seized the sweetmeat from his hand. It was only after I had consumed the bonbon in its entirety that the evidence of his cheat made itself felt.
Laughter like that of an infernal fiend convulsed the man—the cruel jester, the enemy that haunted the dark recesses of my mind like a dreadful specter haunts the crypt that entombed it while yet living. Pleased beyond measure at the success of his joke, he showed me the wrapper that indicated, through its foreign markings and the strange figures which formed the likenesses of cherry blossoms and a bumper of pale liquor, that the chocolate was adulterated with Japanese wine. With mocking words, he congratulated himself on fooling me once again, and wondered at my inability to perceive the strong taste of the sake that flavored the candy.
But it was not sake that lent the chocolate a bitter savor, but poison! And it was not wine from the far Orient that afforded the chocolate a pale roseate tint, like that of a corpse newly buried in a damp vault!
What was it that compelled me, this day—the very day that I pen these words with a trembling hand—to murder my dearest, most beloved companion? Why, after meekly submitting to his jocular abuse and the toxifying effect of the contaminated candy for so long, did I resolve to put an end to him today? It can only be the glimpse I caught in the mirror—yes, the glimpse!—of my own face, white with horror and dismay, as before me his face contorted in brutal humor. In the juxtaposition of these two faces, I perceived a suggestion that stilled my soul and calmed my mind. I must destroy the face that mocked me. Only then would I know peace.
I spoke to my friend in a falsely hearty tone, assuring him that my amusement at his prank was no less than his, and begged him to return at midnight with more of his whimsical candy, for I had a witty jest of my own to share with him. Readily he agreed, and the moment he departed, I put my plan in motion.
In the cellar of my house was a long unused vault contrived by the previous owner of the property; a man wary of the intrigues of the Russian armies and their threats, offered with great frequency during that remote time, to bombard the land, putting an end to all who were not sheltered in sturdy bunkers underground. Never before had I put to any use that secret apartment, which was constructed with walls of thick iron joined together with such skill that neither seams nor rivets marred their smooth, cold surfaces.
There was but one door that offered admittance to the vault, and it, like the walls, was made of heavy iron half a foot thick. A single light recessed in a fixture bolted to the high ceiling gave light to this secure niche. After a careful inspection, I set to work readying the place for the night’s fatal enterprise.
I placed, directly beneath the light, a small table and chair, and equipped them with a bundle of writing paper and a pen. Neither food nor drink nor bed did I supply. But furnish the room I did—oh, how exquisitely I furnished it!
From every wall in my home, and from every shop in the town, I provisioned myself with mirrors—mirrors of every size and configuration. Great specimens of pier glass, oval vanities in frames of chased gilt, tall dressing mirrors, weighty models of cheval glass, hand mirrors with ivory hilts, tiny looking glasses for the reticules of ladies—all, all did I collect and carry home with me.
With hooks and strong glue, I fastened the whole assemblage upon the surfaces of the four walls of the vault, until the space was one of inescapable reflection. My heart grew light as I gazed upon the fruit of many hours’ work. Scarcely was there an inch that did not offer a reproduction of the inmate to his own scrutiny.
More like this: “H.P. Lovecraft tries Japanese candy”
Promptly, when the midnight hour tolled, my faithful companion appeared, his face grotesquely deformed by a smile of merciless humor. My smile was the same as his as I bade him enter and, through amicable banter, encouraged him to follow me down into cellar, where the door to the vault stood open.
I invited him to step into the vault, proposing that I should savor his latest confectionary offering, and he should enjoy a laugh at my expense, in more snug accommodations than was our wont. In he went most willingly, laying a single sake-flavored KitKat bar on the little table beside the unblemished pages and the ready pen.
“Here you can reflect upon your jests,” I said. “Reflect, and record! I have provided you with the tools to compose a lively confession of your deeds, and you, it would seem, have provisioned yourself with a last meal with which you can poison yourself!”
With these words, I turned the key in the lock, threw the key beneath the stairs that led out of the cellar, and slammed the door to the vault, imprisoning my former soulmate in the mirrored dungeon.
Within the vault, I could hear the sound of my companion laughing at my clever joke; then his laughter ebbed, giving way to increasingly forceful imprecations that I should bring about the conclusion of the prank and release him. After some minutes, his exhortations were transformed into desperate pleas, and then wild utterances of shrill dismay and terror that suggested nothing less than the mournful shrieks of a wounded beast caught in a steel-jawed trap.
I was unmoved, either by his entreaties or by his wails.
“I have composed a poem to commemorate this, the hour of your death, my friend,” I said. “Shall I recite it for you?”
Stepping close to the impervious door, I intoned a rhyme that was both elegy and funeral dirge:
In my chamber hung a mirror, shining brightly, shining clearer
Than the stars in heaven’s faultless vault on trails of silver ride.
Then one day a grave inception: this, my image, my conception
Twisted to a vague deception. Here, within my silver-eyed
Looking glass, my former double peering back with eyes that lied.
For it wasn’t me inside!
Vainly gazed I, sensing danger—yet my image grew yet stranger!
Days and days I passed in silence, staring, staring, and I tried
To conceive how it could be this man I saw could possibly
Share my soul and share my mind, but not my face—I could not hide
My raw dismay…yet share it, show it, never he! That face that lied,
It concealed its thoughts inside!
Gradually my mirror image started to deform and grimace;
Day by day and weekly, monthly, warped until at last I cried:
“Monster, demon tell me truly, beast, who are you? Why torment me?”
Back at me my doppelganger stared, and hope within me died.
With a smile like icy crystal, coldly, cruelly he replied:
“I am you. I’m you inside!”
My companion’s cries ceased as I spoke the final stanza, then the sound—the chilling, thrilling sound!—of shattering glass caused me to start and draw back from the door. Echoing off the iron walls, as the death-moans of the tortured captive echoed within the pitiless brazen bull of ancient Greece, the fists and forehead and breast of my friend crashed against the walls of his Bastille, breaking the multitudes of mirrors hanging upon the iron walls in a fit of fury or of madness.
Then he was still, and I could hear nothing; nothing but faint, dull sobbing and the steady drip of blood from the wounds begotten by battering his frame—mortal, quite mortal, after all—against the sharp shards that littered his prison.
Then all was silent. Dead! Surely he was no more, and I was free at last! Free!
I began to laugh. I laughed as my friend had laughed—with the wild, raving abandon of a deranged jester—and, at last, the fit of humor exhausted itself and me, and I fell to the ground in a swoon.
When I opened my eyes, the stupor of unconsciousness fading from my sight, I was astonished to find that I was lying upon a stinging carpet of broken mirrors. Slowly I arose and gazed about in wonder.
I was inside the iron vault, the walls of which were hung with the vacant sockets of mirror frames large and small, plain and ornate, and the floor of which was bestrewn with shining shards of silver and bright daubs of warm blood! My hands flew in perfect stupefaction to my visage, the fingers outspread, and I beheld a hundred rivulets of blood flowing from wellsprings gouged into the living flesh with ploughshares wrought of glass.
I started and my feet carried me, all against my will, to the center of the room where the table and the chair stood just as I had arranged them. Upon the table were arrayed the stack of foolscap and the pen, waiting to accept the confession of the infernal joker, and with them, the fatal candy bar, waiting to be consumed in a final consummation of madness.
It could not be! I dashed around the room—the inescapable dungeon I had conceived to confine my nemesis forever. Depending from its hook next to the locked door, I found a single mirror that hung, askew and unbroken, that would permit reflection. I gazed into it, and beheld the face of my tormentor—painted with blood and contorted with humor mingled with horror, such horror!
For it was my face, mine!