UNPARALLELED - Chapter Three
Ted, just Ted, is about as normal as you get. Until one day he's not. After a traumatic near-death experience, he wakes up the next morning without—of all things—his reflection. Little does he know, that's not even the weirdest thing that will happen to him that day. (No, he's not a vampire, calm down.)
When I wake up, I enjoy almost ten whole seconds of ignorant bliss, still caught in that gray space between awareness and sleep. But then my memory jumpstarts to life, reminding me of yesterday's tragedy.
Still, though the pain and anxiety remain, their sharpness has been dulled by a full night's retrospection, and also by the thought of my night with Ella.
I play with my phone for a bit, toying with the idea of messaging her. Three times I write out a full text, and then completely delete it, each time growing more and more exasperated at the fact that I can’t pull together a comprehensible greeting.
Finally, I settle on a simple Hey, hope you’re doing okay. I wouldn’t mind grabbing breakfast together if you’re free.
I knock myself on the head with my phone a couple times, then toss it on my pillow a little more violently than necessary, as if it’s somehow the source of my perpetual awkwardness.
After gathering a fresh set of clothes and my toiletries bag, I make my way to the communal showers and find the farthest stall from the door. There’s no one else in the bathroom besides myself; I'm sure the news from yesterday has everyone headed home for the day, or sleeping in, staying somewhere they know is safe.
With no one else around, I take my time, basking in the hot water that is normally diluted among twenty other taps. Once my fingers are sufficiently shriveled, I shut off the water and wrap myself in my towel, then migrate to the sinks so I can shave off the little hair that has accumulated on my face these past few days.
I've just brought the blade to my cheek when I'm struck again by that same inexplicable apprehension. I immediately drop the razor and freeze, searching for the source of it.
Something is off. Something in my surroundings has me on my back foot, and I can't put my finger on it. I look out the window, at the stalls behind me, at the tile beneath the sinks. I even sift through the contents of my toiletries bag, checking for anything missing, or anything out of the ordinary.
And then I look up.
What I see nearly stops my heart. Or, rather, it’s what I don't see.
I'm not there.
I can see the stalls behind me, the sinks, the hand driers, even my toiletries bag. But no shaggy black-brown hair, no painfully pale chest, no scar on my chin from where I slipped and hit it on the fireplace when I was eleven. No Ted.
My breathing spikes, and I begin to feel my pulse in my temples. How can I not be there? I hold a hand up in front of my face; I can still see myself in person, along with the rest of my body. I’m still actually physically here, right?
I think back to yesterday, to last night. Nothing was out of the ordinary during my conversation with Ella, was there? I recall the other times I felt displaced. The first time was at the dining hall, the next was while Ella and I were talking.
I was looking at the mirror.
How did I not notice before? That's what had me so off-center. The mirror in the foyer. Some subconscious part of me must have noticed my reflection, or lack of it.
And the first time I was unsettled? I was checking my phone, about to call my parents. There must have been something about the reflection in the phone’s screen that caught my inner eye.
I take a step backwards and stare absently at the mirror before me. This has to be a dream. I tap my face a few times, embracing the faint sting that follows. This certainly doesn't feel like any dream I've ever had in my life.
But there must be some kind of explanation. I frantically inspect every aspect of the mirror, moving myself from side to side as if, somehow, it’s a mere trick of the light. But it is not. No matter how I move, I’m just not there.
I scoop up my belongings and hurry out the door in nothing but my towel, completely abandoning my rational self. Moving past my dormitory door, I end up back in the foyer, in front of the mirror hanging on the wall.
I don’t know what I’m expecting, honestly. That logical reality will somehow suddenly be back in its proper place? That the bathroom mirror was just some random fluke that I’ll be able to reason out as the day goes on?
What I see instead is nothing but the image of the elevators reflected back at me, as if I didn’t exist at all.
I pat my chest, again hoping to confirm that I do in fact still exist. Though, this act alone doesn’t seem to entirely convince me.
With palms sweaty and a light chill electrifying my insides, I walk mindlessly back towards my dorm room, blatantly ignorant of the stares thrown my way by another girl who lives on this floor. Just more confirmation that I actually exist and can be seen in person. So that’s comforting?
Once inside my room, I flop backwards onto my bed and stare at the flickering fluorescent light overhead.
I mean, it’s strange. Don’t get me wrong. But I don’t feel any different. I don’t seem any different. So I don’t have a reflection. So what? As bizarre as that thought seems passing through my mind, it’s not like there are any…adverse effects, are there? Like, physically?
Look at me talk about it, like it’s some kind of infection or condition. Though, maybe it is. I don’t know. Maybe it’s got something to do with my mind. Now that I think about it, that’s probably what it is. Something about yesterday afternoon probably shook my brain in some weird way. Some kind of PTSD has knocked my brain into giving me hallucinations.
That has to be it.
I can’t say I’ve ever heard of anything like this before, but who knows. They say everyone’s brain is different, and that scientists are just starting to scratch the surface of what we know about the mind.
How can I be sure? And how long will it last, if it really is just a mind condition? If I could get someone to check, to see if they can see the same thing that I do…
But how would I ask for something like that without sounding crazy? Hey, can you look in this mirror for a hot second? Am I, you know, there?
I grab the stress ball resting on the nightstand beside me and toss it against the wall. Now that the initial shock has worn off, I begin to question if I really saw anything in the first place. Out of curiosity, I grab my phone and look into the darkened glass. And of course, nothing is there, except the pillow and sheets.
I suddenly remember the text I sent to Ella. I put the stress ball down and turn on my phone. There’s a text from her. I look at the time stamp. She couldn’t have sent her response more than a couple minutes after the message that I sent her.
Butterflies fill my chest. That’s a good sign, isn’t it? People usually wait to reply if they’re not interested in the sender.
I open the text.
Yeah, totally! Let me just wash up real quick and I’ll meet you downstairs. Anywhere in mind?
I grin involuntarily, despite the whole reflection ordeal. It’s like a fantasy coming to life in the midst of some surreal nightmare. A blend of euphoria and dread, packed into one anxious, introverted package called Ted.
Maybe I’m overreacting. There’s probably some rational explanation for everything that’s been happening, and I’m going to look back on all of this someday, thinking about how ridiculous I look worrying about nothing.
In any case, this breakfast—besides being a lifelong dream come true—might be the perfect opportunity to test my theories, to see if I truly am crazy, or if there’s something even more mystifying going on.