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Time of Reflection

Doug Lane's work has appeared in venues as far-flung as Abyss & Apex and The Saturday Evening Post, making multiple stops in between. He assembles spaceships of the mind in Houston, TX. Follow the sporadic adventure at douglasjlane.com or on Facebook at DougLaneWrites.

There's a dead man in the mirror, staring at me.
I don't know how I know he's dead. Maybe the cold cast of his eyes, how his obsidian pupils and irises of dark fog gaze through me from behind. Maybe it's the lack of animation, the razor line of his mouth, the sluggish movements that lead him nowhere.
He's no one to me. Too old to be my late father, wrong face for any of my friends, their dads, my instructors. He resembles no one famous or infamous. He's not even an echo of a dream.
Trying to catch his gaze, I wonder how he came to be in my mirror. Mom thinks it's stress. He first appeared around the time I began prep courses for the Stellar Service placement exams. When Dad died, university went with him. The Service guarantees money for deep space work, deposits with commas, the right coin to lift Ma and my sister from the poverty bloc to a sky-suite. Off world is a dragon country, like maps used to say, but the dead man isn't my stress. He's as real as I am.
Is his presence behind me a random error, a soul astray in the afterlife? Did he live in this firetrap before us? Or is he here with purpose? If so, he's made no overt attempt to communicate. He's a sullen expression, that stare, his maddening silence.
I've been unable to search the net for his face. I can't capture his reflection on digicam. He wears an illegible name badge. I managed a sketch of his jumpsuit logo. It's a real outfit, Apogee Hydro. They mine elements on Callisto and in Saturn's rings. I emailed their human resources director about recent worker deaths. I never heard back. But the logo offered chill enough: Apogee recruits hard from the Service's ranks.
Is the dead man me? Cut down in an indeterminate future and returned, warning against a bad choice, an untimely fate, a death so restless it's made me both apparition and premonition?
I try to see myself in him and fail. I can't imagine my eyes so cold and dead.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, June 14th, 2018

Author Comments

Since I was a kid, I've been almost pathological about not looking in a mirror in the dark. It started with an old In Search Of... episode wherein some medieval so-and-so saw a figure in a reflection that scared him to death. But nights having to pass the mirror in the dark at night led me to wonder: what if you saw someone that made you more curious, more trepidatious, than actually afraid? From there, the questions began to pile up and the story emerged.

- Doug Lane
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