subliminal message!

The Mirror

Written by Murakami Haruki

Translated by Gabriel Rasa

 

Mm hmm, so Iíve been listening to all of you share your experiences, and Iíve noticed a few patterns starting to emerge. One such trend is stories that involve crossing over; that is, between the land of the living and the land of the dead. Ghosts, and that sort of thing. Another trend is the existence of abilities or phenomena that transcend the natural world. In other words, premonitions, or a Ďsixth sense.í Broadly speaking, I think you can construct these two categories.

So having created these categories, you can assign pretty much everyoneís experiences to either one or the other. In other words, people who see ghosts see ghosts all the time, but they donít get premonitions; alternately, people who can predict the future usually donít see ghosts. Why this is, I donít know, but for some reason or another these categories would appear to be mutually exclusive. Thatís my theory anyway.

And then of course you have a few people who donít fit into either category. Me, for example. Iíve been alive for some thirty years now and Iíve never once seen a ghost, never had a premonition or a dream that predicted the future. My experience was, I was riding in an elevator with a couple of friends and they were seeing a ghost but I didnít notice a thing. They insisted there was a woman in a gray suit standing beside me, but there wasnít any woman on the elevator. It was just the three of us. Dead serious. Moreover, those two friends arenít the type who would try to pull my leg. Well, all that asideóit was creepy, but it doesnít change the fact that I donít see ghosts.

So thatís how it is, in any case. I donít see ghosts, I donít have ESP. Why not? Because to be perfectly truthful, I am a dull, unimaginative human being.

But once, just once, something happened that terrified me down to the very marrow of my bones. This story is over ten years old, but Iíd never shared it with anyone until now. I was terrified for it to even leave my mouth. I felt like the same thing might happen again if I were to speak of it. Thatís why I remained silent for so long. But tonight, Iíve been listening to all of you share your scary experiences and I feel that as the host it would not be right for me to close the session without contributing. So now I too will tell my story.

No, no, hold your applauseóitís really not that big a deal.

As I said earlier, there are no ghosts in it and nobody has ESP. Itís probably not as scary as Iím thinking it is. Youíll probably just go ďhuh?Ē when Iím done. Well, be that as it may, Iíll tell it now.

 

I graduated from high school in the late 1960s, a turbulent era marked by civil unrest and the disintegration of authoritarian establishments. And I admit that I was one of the people swept up in that movement; I refused to go on to the university and instead spent several years flitting between various menial jobs throughout Japan. I believed that this was a noble way to live. Oh yes, I did lots of different jobs, many of them quite dangerous too. I suppose thatís what comes of being young. But even looking back on it now, it was a fun way of life. If I had the chance to live my life over again, I have no doubt that I would choose to do the same thing.

In the fall of my second year on the road, I spent two months working as a night watchman at a middle school for a small town up in Niigata. The previous summer had been rough, so I wanted a chance to relax a bit. Besides, being a night watchman was easy. In the daytime I got to bunk down in the janitorís office, and when evening rolled around my only duty was patrol the grounds twice. When I wasnít doing that, I listened to records in the music room, went the library and read books, or played basketball by myself in the gym. It wasnít bad having the school to myself all night. Nope, there was nothing scary about it. But then again, when youíre an eighteen year old kid you donít think anythingís scary.

Since you folks have probably never been a night watchman at a middle school before, allow me to briefly explain the procedure: I made one patrol at nine and one patrol at three, that was what had been set. The school building itself was fairly new and not that large, a pleasant three-story concrete structure with some eighteen or twenty classrooms. It also had a music room, science lab, sewing room, fine arts room, plus a teachersí lounge and the principalís office. Outside of the building proper was a cafeteria, a gym, an auditorium, and a pool. That was the extent of my patrol.

There were about twenty patrol checkpoints and I would walk around and scope out each one, then fill in an OK on the form with my ballpoint pen. Teachersí loungeóOK, science labóOK, and so on. Of course, I could also just write OK, OK without getting up from my bed in the janitorís office, but at that point I had yet to shirk my duty. Because really, doing the patrol didnít take that much effort and more importantly, if strange people did come creeping around I would be the one to get attacked in my sleep.

So, at nine and at three Iíd take my jumbo flashlight and a wooden sword and make my rounds of the school. Flashlight in my left hand, sword in my right. I used to do fencing in high school, so I trusted my ability to defend myself. I wouldnít have been particularly afraid even if Iíd run into someone with a real sword, as long as they were a novice. Those were the days, eh? Nowadays Iíd take one look and run like hell.

It was a windy night in October, but with the hot, muggy atmosphere you get before a storm. Since there were always a lot of mosquitoes in the evenings, I remembered to light two mosquito coils. The wind was wailing nonstop and it had broken one of the doors that partitioned off the pool, which was banging about making a racket. I contemplated whether I ought to fix it, but I didnít even want to try doing it in the dark. So it kept clanking all night long.

My nine oíclock round was uneventful; all twenty checkpoints, OK. I hung up my key, put everything in its proper place. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. I went back to the janitorís office, set my alarm clock to wake me up at three, and dropped soundly off to sleep.

When my alarm went off at three, I woke with a really strange feeling. I couldnít put my finger on it, but something felt off. What was also odd was that I didnít want to wake up. I felt as though I were trying to wake, but my body was being held down against my will. Iím always very good about getting up right away, and this sort of thing just doesnít happen.

So I hauled myself up and prepared for my rounds. As earlier, I could still hear the pool door slammingÖ but the noise sounded somehow different than it had before. If Iíd been able to blame it on my mood then I would have just ignored it, but I couldnít convince myself of that. I didnít like it and I didnít want to do my patrol. But of course, I steeled myself and got to it. With these kind of things, slacking off once makes it easier to slack off in the future, so I took my flashlight and my sword and set out from the janitorís office.

It was an unpleasant night. The wind kept getting stronger and stronger, and the air had grown even more humid. My skin prickled and I couldnít stay focused. First I got the gym, the auditorium, and the pool out of the way. All three were OK. Meanwhile the pool door kept banging and banging, open and closed, like some lunatic nodding and shaking and nodding and shaking his head, extremely erratic. It seemed to be going, yup, yup, nope, yup, nope, nopeÖ This may seem like a weird comparison, but thatís really what I was thinking at the time.

Nothing was wrong with the inside of the school building either, it was the same as always. I finished filling out the formóOK for all checkpoints. All done, and nothing had happened. I breathed a sigh of relief and started heading back to the janitorís office. Now the last checkpoint was the boiler room attached to the cafeteria, at the eastern end of the school. The janitorís office, mind you, is on the western end of the school. So I always had to walk down the long hallway to get back to the janitorís office. And of course it was pitch black. If the moon came out then a little bit of light would filter in, but without that you couldnít see a thing. I would walk with the flashlight just barely picking out the path ahead of me. That night the moon wasnít visible because of a typhoon nearby, so even if the clouds broke for a moment it would go right back to being pitch black.

That night I was walking down the corridor at a faster pace than usual. The rubber soles of my basketball shoes squeaked on the linoleum. Green linoleum. I still remember that, even now.

Around the middle of the corridor was the schoolís entrance hall, and when I walked past it something caught my attentionóI thought Iíd seen a figure in the darkness. A chill ran down my sides, but I tightened my grip on the sword and turned around to face it. The beam of my flashlight winked back at me from the wall beside the shoe rack.

It was me.

That isóit was a mirror. Oh, for the love ofÖ it was just my reflection. There hadnít been a mirror there yesterday, but obviously there was one here now.

Well, that had given me quite a surprise. I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling stupid. What rubbish, I thought. As I stood there before the mirror, I set my flashlight down, took a cigarette from my pocket and lit it, gazing at my reflection while I smoked. Light from a streetlamp trickled in through the window, and that light reached the mirror too. From behind me I could still hear the pool doors clanging.

Iíd taken about three drags off the cigarette when suddenly I noticed something very strange. The figure in the mirror wasnít me. Well, noóthe outside appearance was completely me. There was no mistaking that. But that definitely wasnít me. I could sense it instinctively. No, that wasnít right eitheróstrictly speaking, it had to be me. But it was a me separate from me. It was me, but there was something subtly wrong with it.

I canít explain it.

But at that moment there was one thing I knew for certain, and it was that my doppelganger loathed me with all of his soul. A dark glacier of hate. A hate that could never be assuaged. That was all I could understand.

I stood there dumbstruck. The cigarette had fallen from my fingers to the floor. The cigarette in the mirror had fallen too. We gave each other the same stare. I couldnít move, as though my body had been turned into stone.

After a while, his hand started to move. Slowly, he ran his index finger along the edge of his jaw, sliding it inch by inch like an insect crawling up his face. When it occurred to me that I ought to be doing the same thing, I touched my face too. As if I were the reflection in the mirror. In other words, as if he were trying to control me.

I mustered the last of my strength and let out a scream. ďWOOOAHĒ or ďGAAAAHĒ or something like that. The stone around me loosened. Then I turned on the mirror and hurled the sword at it with all my might. I could hear the mirror shattering. I ran without glancing back, fleeing to my room. I locked the door and pulled the futon over my head. The sound of the pool doors kept going until morning.

Yep, yep, nope, yep, nope, nopeÖ like that.

 

Youíve probably guessed the conclusion I came toóthat there had never been a mirror to start with. Nothing like one. Never once was there a mirror in the hallway beside the shoe rack. Thatís how it was.

In any case, I didnít see a ghost. What I saw wasÖ nothing more than my own reflection. Yet even now I canít forget the terror that I felt that night.

By the way, you may have noticed that there isnít a single mirror in this house. Learning to shave without looking in a mirror took some time. True story.