A Dark Reflection
I pressed the button on the chamber door and it slid up with a hiss. I stepped through and the motion lights embedded to either side of me brightened, then dimmed back to energy-saving mode as I made my way down the pristine, white corridor. The corridor led to a chamber known as the Galaxry, which was usually crowded during the Avalon’s day cycle, but after most people retired to their pods for a nutrient-rich, dream-induced sleep, the cramped corridors of the cruiser became somewhat bearable for someone like me. I had been more of a night-owl on Earth anyway, avoiding the hustle and bustle of crowds at every opportunity. It was a habit too hard to break at this point, even after the months of living on the Avalon space cruiser, which seemed like such a blur, each day blending into the next.
The door hissed closed as I found my seat and eased into it ritualistically, one arm propped up on the open-air, oxygen planter housing a tree from Earth. I liked to sit under the tree and pretend I was home in my backyard looking up at the stars with my parents. They weren’t with me. Not that they weren’t chosen to board the Avalon, but they had passed before the opportunity had been presented to them. Honestly, they had received the better deal, escaping the worst of the end of the world.
“The Dark”, the scientists had called it. They had a bunch of names for it, but it was all bull-crap. They didn’t know what it was, despite there being loads of evidence written about it in books from thousands of years ago. Maybe. I guess I’m not certain either. All we learned was that the Dark could spread like a virus if an unafflicted person witnessed its existence. So those first few weeks where the mainstream media circulated those initial images really took its toll on the world, in every nation. I chalked up the fall of civilization to negligent ignorance, and the media, of course, because why not?
The Galaxry was entirely glass–ceiling, walls and floor–and it extended out from the main hull of the cruiser like an antenna of sorts. Artificial gravity kept me in my seat, which was employed throughout the cruiser to maximize passenger comfort and psychological well-being. My semi-warped visage stared back at me in the reflection. The white jumper that I was wearing–that every passenger wore–wasn’t very translucent in the glass, but I managed to focus on the frozen, swirling purples and pinks of distant galaxies on the other side. For the briefest of moments I could imagine I wasn’t trapped in space, but a master over it. Maybe that’s what they had intended to prevent the passengers from going completely insane during the years-long venture to our next home world.
After several calm minutes, a pair of lights swelled to full brightness in the corridor that I had come through. The lights cast a harsh glare. I desperately wanted to look but I resisted at first because, well, I try to mind my own business most of the time. Then I noticed that I hadn’t heard the door open, or any footsteps, and so I took a quick glance.
No one was there, yet the lights remained on. My mind jumped to several logical conclusions such as the person had seen me sitting in here and decided to leave, or the go-to explanation: a mechanical malfunction. But the light didn’t fade after the normal second or so, nor after the following ten seconds. Even stranger, the next pair of lights in the corridor’s adjacent fixtures sprung to life just as the previous pair faded away. It was as if they had been triggered by something moving. But nothing was there. Not that I could see anyway. The realization soon dawned on me and my heart nearly stopped. I didn’t want to believe it, however, all the signs pointed to one singular possibility.
I stood and backed away, my elbow slamming into the corner of the planter, causing me to grit my teeth, and although I could feel a thin stream of blood slide down the back of my forearm, I couldn’t look away from the invisible force triggering each pair of lights in slow succession as it approached. I continued stepping back until the curved glass along the wall prevented me from going any further.
The last pair of lights flared to a flickering crescendo and burst from their sockets, the sound amplified by the enclosed space. The Galaxry plunged into relative darkness once again. But I knew it hadn’t left. It was in here with me. I remembered something I’d seen in headlines about the way they’d tried to combat the Dark via reflective mirrors, or was it the other way around? Had they used mirrors against us?
I heard a sharp crack, then another. I found the source near where I’d been gazing out of the Galaxry not long before. Splinters in the thick glass began to ripple outward. That’s when I saw it, sitting where I’d been sitting. It was jarring more than anything. It was me in the cracked glass, resting my arm on the planter under the tree. Although my reflection was disfigured, the resemblance remained except now with crooked, devilish characteristics.
My Dark reflection looked at me and smiled. It stood up from the seat and walked around the planter, swiping a finger through the droplet of blood that I’d left behind and licking it from its finger. All this took place in the mirrored world of the glass, while before me, no sign of life was present in the Galaxry whatsoever.
“Strange,” the Dark reflection said, its voice in my mind. “Doesn’t taste like you. What is this place?”
I didn’t know what it was talking about, but I felt compelled to plead my case. “Please, I didn’t want to see you. They showed everyone. I didn’t- don’t want to die.”
“I know,” the Dark reflection hissed. “But you’re a liar. Yes? Yes. You know what you’ve done and why you’re here. Wherever this place is. You think you’re special, special, special.”
I wondered if it meant here out in space, but I wasn’t certain. “I had no choice. I did what I had to do.”
“You had every choice, but you’re a liar. A selfish coward. Selfish, selfish, selfish. I’ll figure this out eventually. I don’t feel the oppressive weight of time, not like you. No matter how far your kind runs, I’ll be there waiting for when you stop to catch your breath, or when your frail bodies collapse. Makes no difference to me.”
I knew it was speaking the truth. I had seen the Dark about a week before receiving my invitation for a clearance screening to board the Avalon. The primary criterion had been absolutely no sensory contact with the Dark, whatsoever, followed by the normal expected criteria for an ark-like voyage, for which a molecular biologist like me had a clear advantage in the weighted lottery system. Of course I had lied. I wasn’t going to be trapped on that rock to meet some horrible fate. But I hadn’t known it could follow me out here. Not aboard the Avalon. Not into space.
“There is no escape. Not from me, not from yourself.”
I blinked, and the reflection changed. I stood there alone in the Galaxry, pressed up against the glass, staring at myself. The cracks in the glass continued to spread. I knew I had to choose either to escape the chamber now, or die when the pressure became too great and the entire thing shattered into the vacuum of space. At first, I didn’t move. I couldn’t. I knew what I had to do. But then I couldn’t follow through with the whole sacrificial redemption thing, so I ran. The lights in the corridor sprang back to life as I charged the chamber door. Only, it was too late. The Galaxry exploded outward with a rush of air and I was ripped from the cruiser, gliding into the silent void against a spiral backdrop of time immemorial.
To my surprise, I woke up. It hurt immensely to move and I soon realized why. I’d been thrown to the curb outside the clinic that had been testing viable applicants for access to board the Avalon. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was back on Earth, but how? I had been chosen. Months of my life had been spent on that cruiser. There’s no way it hadn’t been real. I had died….
The clinic had long since closed for the night, the metal doors barring entrance to the facility. There was a long line of people sleeping nearby, likely waiting their turn for admission into the clinic when it opened the following morning. These were the few remaining people who still had hope.
I managed to stand up, my back and head aching from lying on the concrete for hours. I felt my pockets and realized that my wallet and keys were missing. Great, probably stolen. I saw the likely perpetrators smashing some store windows nearby. There was a fire on the third floor of the same commercial building, smoke billowing out. The flames gave everything an ominous aesthetic, especially since no one seemed to care. The only police in sight were the sentry bots posted on the rooftop of the clinic and they weren’t programmed to assist anyone, but they’d gladly share some lead if you got too close.
“Sir, I think you dropped something,” a weak voice said.
I turned to find an old woman bundled in some sheets. She appeared to be next in line for the clinic. Her face was smeared with soot and her hand shook as she pointed at my feet. I doubted she’d be admitted to board the Avalon, but who was I to tell her that. Everyone deserved a shot, even liars, cowards, and old ladies.
Looking down to where she pointed, I found a piece of paper. It was crumpled but still legible. I bent over and picked up the paper, and read:
You did not pass our preliminary audition for passage aboard the Avalon II - Space Cruiser. The VAS (Virtual Augmentation Scenario) deemed that you had lied on your application. The below discrepancy marks you ineligible for entry:
High Risk - Candidate proven to have had prior sensory contact with adversarial threat.
We’re sorry for the inconvenience. Have a nice day.
I let the paper fall to the ground. VAS. Really? I’d been tricked into some virtual reality program where they could see how my future would play out. Companies had managed the ability to alter the passage of time in the field of virtual reality for years now, but that had felt so real. Too real.
My legs grew weak. I needed to sit down. I found a nearby tree in a concrete planter on the street corner and sat with my back against it. I watched as the young men broke the rest of the windows of the commercial building’s ground floor. It didn’t dawn on me that what they were doing was destroying any and all reflections until one of the boys dropped dead, a self-inflicted wound to his neck with one of the glass shards.
I looked away, disgusted at the state of the world. Disgusted at myself for not trying to help the boy. Disgusted that I tried to sneak my way to safety by hiding among the unafflicted on a cruiser meant to preserve humanity from extinction. My time was running out, like the last bits of sand in an hourglass. I looked over at a puddle of water that had settled in a divot in the concrete. The Dark reflection was there. It stared back at me, those glossy eyes unblinking. I knew what it was thinking without having to hear its gravelly voice say the words. And I knew they were true.
Selfish. Selfish. Selfish.
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So I’m enjoying this format so far, delivering content directly to people who have expressed interest in reading by signing up to the storyletter. It’s definitely more intimate, more personal. I like that. Other sites that I’ve used makes posting feel like your story gets thrown into a slush pile where everything gets merged together and only the lucky few emerge on top. Substack feels different, unique.
Substack is still new for me though, so I’ll be posting things for free in a very experimental way for a while. I don’t know what will work best for paid posts moving forward in the future, but I guess the readers can help me decide that. I was thinking about having the short stories and flash fiction remain free and put more personal posts behind the pay wall where I can provide future insights into my projects and maybe annotations of previous works. Let me know what you’d like to see! I’m open to new ideas.
Well, that’s all I really have for now. I hope you enjoyed this post. Please like and comment. I’d be happy to read what you think, as I’m always open to feedback. I’ll leave off with two extra tidbits from my other favorite hobbies: collectibles and stock market investing!
Collectible Highlight: The Dragon Ball Holochrome/Chromium Promo Card featuring a young Goku and Shenron rising up from the seven Dragon Balls in the background. This card is from 1995-1996 timeframe. Not too expensive, if you can find one. I got mine for roughly $45 on eBay. Seen below:
Stock Pick: Bitcoin - At the time of this writing, it is trending at around 32-33k. I’m hoping it goes to 100k by the end of the year. That’s a 300% return on whatever you put in, even if you can’t buy a whole Bitcoin. Daily cost averaging works, too, that’s what I’ve been doing to at least purchase what I can. Obviously, only invest what you’re willing (and able) to lose. Invest responsibly. (I’m not a financial advisor)
Until next time! - WM