So, I have decided on a summer project focused on revitalizing and old “Dusty Tome.” By way of introduction, I want to give you history on this piece. The story was originally titled 11:59 and began mostly as a single image inspired by my frequent sleep difficulties: the import of the minute switch between 11:59 and 12:00 in those sleepless hours. I started with a single chapter in July 2003 (when I was 13) and no clear picture of where it was going, but it developed into my first full-fledged story, with chapters, a beginning, middle, and end. In April 2004, I declared it complete.
When I review it today, I see my own immaturity in it, but it still is a story near and dear to my heart. After reflecting on it, I think I would like to revisit some of the concepts and characters, but provide a richer mythos behind the events, as well as a more mature voice to what happens. Currently, I am considering a similar plot, but with a lot more depth and complications. I actually have a plan for it this time! I will likely mimic the chapter splits from the original, but not precisely as my pacing will likely be slower and more deliberate with some things removed altogether, which would result in ridiculously long sections and incredibly brief ones. For example, my revised first chapter will begin well before the original first, and it will take me a couple of scenes to get to the original Prologue ending. So, instead of including the original text here, as I generally do with Dusty Tome rewrites, I will instead provide a link to the full story on Fictionpress. Just, please don’t judge me for the other stuff on there. I was pretty young. Additionally, as always, this is Draft 1, so do consider it all a work in progress.
Cassie learned at a very young age not to tell others about her Mirror Monster. It is surprising how quickly even children realize what is taboo and what will be ignored. She could clearly remember being just past her fourth birthday when she yet again screamed in response to the monster in her room. Her father came in, bleary-eyed and trying to hide his annoyance while she cowered under the covers.
“Cas, what is it? Why’d you scream?” His voice was mumbled, as if his lips and tongue had not yet awoken well enough to speak. It was a fitting complement to the child-speak response.
“The Mirror Monster was here! He was in my room again!”
Like all the nights before, her father walked over and tapped on the glass. He waved his hands around, mocking his reflection. He even did the due diligence of checking behind the frame. Finally, he lifted a white sheet from the floor and covered the mirror. “No one there, sweetie. Just a mirror. Now go to sleep. You’re old enough now to be a big girl and stop all this monster nonsense.” There was no anger in voice, just frustrated resignation. “I’m going back to sleep. No one is here, and no one can come through your mirror. Sleep.” With those final words of comfort, he drifted out of the room, a sleepy specter stumbling down the hall.
Cassie kept the blankets pulled to her chin, just peeking over at the tall mirror standing sentinel in the corner. For a while, there was nothing. It was just an oval of white painted in sharp contrast to the darkness. And then Cassie saw it move, as she knew she would. The sheet drifted to the floor again, pooling there with its protective power abandoned. A pale, clawed hand groped out of the undulating surface. Moments behind the hand was a grotesque face. It was bone pale, with skin that sagged and dropped as if it was melting off the very frame beneath it. The mouth was an ugly scar ripped across the wrinkled face, ringed by row after row of terrifyingly sharp teeth. The thing hissed, stepping fully out of the mirror as if sliding from a pool. Its long legs bent to high as it tried to stand in the room, twisted shoulder slicing along the white ceiling. It smiled, displaying all those many teeth. With its smile, Cassie caught the whiff of rotting food and decay. She covered her nose with her blankets, her large eyes swimming in fear. She somehow felt that it grew more and more fearsome with every visit.
Cassie knew that screaming again would do no good. She had tried before, but eventually all she would get was a yell from down the hallway to go to sleep. While it took her years, she eventually understood that it wasn’t that her parents did not care, but that they did not realize monsters existed. They had forgotten, and saw her cries as a child unwilling to accept reality, even after ample logic and proof had been provided. Continuing to rush to the rescue would only provide attention to fuel the aberrant behavior; they were locked in a pained but resigned contract to ignore her cries. After all, they always stopped after a while.
As she had every night for as long as she could remember, Cassie cowered under the covers, lifting them finally over her head as the creatures inhuman weight pushed down the corner of her bed. She held the sheets tight as ragged claws scraped around her. She hummed to herself, doing all she could to drown out its hissing laugh. She tried to sleep, and finally drifted away as the heavy presence disappeared just as the birds began to chirp outside.
The next day in her preschool class, she learned yet again that no one was allowed to talk about their Monster. She was in the playground, playing in the dirt with an assortment of other children. The night before left her shaken and afraid, wondering how anyone was expected to cope with such a literal monster waiting at the foot of her bed. So, Cassie turned to the only resource she knew, and asked her peers.
“Katie, do you have a monster in your mirror?” The question was innocent, but laced with implicit terror.
Katie’s eyes were wide, reflecting a fear Cassie knew all too well, but was too young to fully recognize. “No,” stated the other emphatically. “My daddy says monsters aren’t real.”
“That’s what mine says, but he’s still there.”
“You’re a liar. I’m going to tell Mrs. Davis,” sung Steven, hopping up from the dirt. AT this age, every infraction was a terrible misstep, and the balance between tattling and concern was blurred by a desperate desire to win the praise from a teacher. When he returned, it was with a stern looking Mrs. Davis in tow. Cassie felt her confidence shrinking under those watchful grey eyes. Maybe everyone was right and there were no monsters; then how could she explain her sleepless night?
“Cassie, can you come with me?”
The tall, skinny woman held out a bony hand, beckoning Cassie forward. Unsure now of the greater feel, Cassie obediently rose and followed her teacher back into the classroom. Mrs. Davis waved to one of the aides, shuffling her outside, and then pulled a chair over to sit across from Cassie at the desk.
“Steven says you were talking about monsters, Cassie?” Cassie nodded, beginning to fear the certain punishment. “Sounds like something must really be scaring you. Do you want to tell me about it?”
Her shock dissipating, Cassie began to hurry through the words, spilling her secret terror. It felt good just to put the words out there, to limit her monster to those words she used to describe it. Her teacher followed along, nodding, a cloud of confusion drifting across her face as she pursed her lips. Mrs. Davis was silent a moment after Cassie finished. Then she gave her an understanding nod.
“That is pretty scary. Just as I thought. Listen, I’ve had lots of students with monster troubles, so I’ve got some advice. I’m going to send a note home with you to your parents, and then I’d like you to draw a picture for your monster. A lot of times, monsters are just friends who aren’t very good at saying hello. So, if you draw a picture, maybe we can get him to play nicer. I can even help you write him a note!”
Mrs. Davis smiled, and collected crayons and paper for the little girl. Kids were always bringing in some new boogeyman, and she had learned years ago that strict denial did nothing but fuel the flames. Instead, she borrowed from her own experience with nightmares and helped them reframe the situations. Even children were capable of writing different endings to their nightmares, and those nasty monster dreams faded away.
Cassie drew a simple picture: two stick figures, one small with brown pigtails and the other larger, hulking, and grey. They stood beside a little house and tree, a bright sun smiling on them with assorted flowers at their feet. She made sure to put smiles on both their faces. Cassie even managed the courage to draw the two of them holding hands. It was terrifying, but suddenly her monster seemed so much smaller. He was just a friend who didn’t know how to say hello.
“Dear Mirror Monster,” she began, Mrs. Davis carefully transcribing her words above the drawing, “You are not being a very good friend. Please stop scaring me. If you stop, we can play with my toys together. Hissing is not nice. We say hello to be nice. Love, Cassie.” The final letters written, Mrs. Davis carefully tucked the note into her backpack, after clipping one of her telltale apple pages to the front with swirly writing for her parents.
Recess ended. Class went on, and Steven kept making mean faces at Cassie during the lesson, but she was beaming. She was going to get rid of her monster and make a new friend.
As soon as school ended, Cassie rushed to her place on the sidewalk and waited for her mom’s big silver car to drive up. She was bursting to give her the note and explain her day. She was barely in the car and buckled in before she was digging through her bag and waving around her drawing with the apple note. While she had always been scared when she brought home a note from the teacher, today she was bursting.
Her mother shushed her, trying to focus on the drive home. After arriving, getting Cassie unloaded and working on a project at the table, her mother glanced over the note. She sighed. This monster thing was incredibly out of hand, something which Mrs. Davis seemed to at least understand. The note also mentioned that such a thing was normal, and the teacher had experience in righting such problems. Jenny sighed, and picked up the phone to her husband. Anything to stop the nightmares. She woke up at least once a month, creaming her head off, and it meant at least one mostly sleepless night for both her and Mark as they tried to calm her down. Despite what parenting books suggested, ignoring it was not working.
That night, as they tucked Cassie into bed, they presented her with a new stuffed toy. It was a simple brown bear (the cheapest he could find, said John), with a toy sword taped to one paw. Jenny had even taken the time to cut out a little chestplate and tie it around the bear’s neck, turning him into a determined little soldier. If the Mirror Monster would not stop being mean, then Chester, the courageous bear as named by Cassie, would keep her safe. The set the note and the bear beside the mirror, and prayed for a sleep filled night.
For a couple of weeks, everything was silent. Of course, Cassie was not surprised. It was always quite for a short time after his visit. Always just long enough that she thought maybe he was gone. But then, one night when the moon was full and bright outside, spilling silver light into her room, the mirror moved. From the shadows stepped her Mirror Monster, looking even scarier than before. His teeth seemed sharper, his eyes deeper and darker. But, this time, he paused at the little bear and stick figure drawing. He lifted the paper delicately in clawed hands, taking a moment for his large eyes to sweep across Mrs. Davis’ clear script. He picked the bear up, cradling it in his too long arms, and walked toward the bed. The Mirror Monster walked straight towards Cassie, though this time without his hissing laugh. His eyes, almost sad, thought Cassie, looked at her, and studied her. Then, with great effort, his mangled lips opened, spilling out its foul odor and astounding Cassie with an endless picture of teeth. She was terrified, certain that those massive jaws would soon swipe down and crush her, but instead, it placed the bear snuggly beside her pillow and spoke.
PS: This week has been relatively productive, so I also have a new Zeru portion in progress. And some other ideas rolling around, so hopefully some of those come to completion this next as well. 🙂
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.