The Witch’s Reflection by Joe Mankowski
By Joe Mankowski
Eva sat on her bedroom floor. There were strands of hair and clumps of pocket lint rubbed into the purple carpet. Odd foot odors spotted different sections, but Eva slept on it all the same.
There was a bed in the corner that was perfectly comfy. A black duvet was bundled up and shoved aside with pillows. Eva typically pulled them onto the floor when she was tired. Her dreams haunted her when she slept in bed.
Char, her roommate’s rotund gray cat, took to occupying the vacant mattress. He never seemed to mind the heavy metal music that was blasting out of Eva’s stereo.
There were posters taped to the walls of her room. All of them were of bands she had seen perform: The Blink, Cold Grip, and Hellfire. They weren’t particularly good. Hellfire was a local band that only performed in abandoned warehouses around Ash Falls, but her friend Attison was their drummer.
“Could you turn that shit down?” called her roommate, Taylor, from the hallway.
Eva rolled her eyes. She didn’t answer, but returned her attention back towards the spellbooks that surrounded her.
The door to her bedroom opened. “Eva, did you hear me?” Taylor asked.
“What?” Eva said, as Char lifted his head for a brief moment.
“Turn your music down. It’s shaking the walls to our apartment. I have a pounding headache.”
“Oh.” Eva reached for the dial on her speaker and adjusted the volume.
“Thanks.” Taylor eyed the floor. “What are you studying?”
“Sanskrit and Latin,” Eva said. “Term paper is due next week.”
“Sounds boring. Want to go get a beer at O’Donnell’s?”
Eva started scribbling words into a spiral notebook. Her hair fell over her face and obscured her view of Taylor. A moment later she was alone again. She reached for the dial on her speaker, and turned the volume up. Loud music helped her concentrate – the louder, the better. Eva wished Taylor would stop trying to be her friend. She just needed someone to split the rent. Char watched her with his blue eyes.
When Eva looked back at the old book in her lap, the pages were blank. The book had disenchanted itself while in the presence of Taylor – a mundai – or more plainly, a non-witch.
Had the spellbook been about blood-magic, Eva would have locked her door. Blood-magic was dangerous, and usually involved a lot of taboo rituals. Taylor would call the cops if she saw Eva skinning an animal and drawing symbols onto the floor with its organs. Breaking a plant-based disenchantment charm however, was an easy remedy.. Eva walked to her windowsill and plucked a few stems of wild grass that had been growing in a terracotta pot. On her desk was a shoebox full of dried flowers. Using the wild grass, she tied some betony and hawthorne together, and placed it in the middle of the book.
“Reveal yourself,” she commanded.
Brown ink rose up onto the pages of the spellbook. Everything was written in sanskrit.
“In English,” Eva added.
The words began to change. Most spellbooks were adaptive, but some had spells that were too old to translate. That was why Eva had Latin and Sanskrit textbooks from a library surrounding her. She wasn’t in school. She never even applied. It was just a simple lie that kept Taylor from prying.
Eva had been a witch her entire life. Every day of her existence had been a lie to someone. The covenant she had been born into had lived in Ash Falls since the town’s beginning; her mother had been a witch, her grandmother had been a witch and so on. The ability to use magic was passed from mother to daughter. This wasn’t only because nature made it so, but because if a boy was born from a witch in their covenant, that child was sacrificed under a harvest moon with the man who helped in the act of procreation. Not all magic communities followed that rule, but for Eva it had been a normal ritual to witness growing up.
Char yawned on Eva’s bed. He stretched his forepaws forward while remaining on his belly. Eva glanced at the clock. It was nearing midnight.
Her book had repopulated itself with texts and diagrams. There were scrawled notes in the margins from other witches who had possessed the spellbook before her. She didn’t use magic through nature often, but the spell she had been preparing for weeks required the room to be purified, no, it needed to be washed free of any malicious spirits. Magic of any kind was like a magnet to ghosts, and if there was a chance to interfere with the spell, they would. Eva knew a spell like this would attract dozens of them.
“Books are written memories, and memories fuel the existence of restless spirits. To open a book is to invite their malice in,” warned Eva’s mother when first teaching her the art of witchcraft.
Eva flipped through the pages until she found the spell she needed. The incantation was easy enough, but the floral totem was tedious. Eva scanned the list; burnt rose stems with thorns intact, dried willow leaves, mint, three fresh dandelions, and a base of betony.
Relief lowered her shoulders. She had all the ingredients. The real spell Eva hoped to complete required a storm at night on the twenty-ninth day of a calendar month.
“Can I borrow your mirror?” Taylor asked while stepping into the room. “I hate the lighting in our bathroom. It makes me look so pasty.”
Eva stood faster than she intended. “You can’t.”
“Can’t?” Taylor looked around. “Where is it anyway?”
“It broke the other day.”
“How?” Taylor was already losing interest. Her attention had gone to the wrinkles in her skirt.
Taylor sighed. “Stupid wind. Anyway, are you coming?”
“Why not?” She looked at Eva’s floor. “You need to take a study break. You haven’t left this room for days. We can throw a few beers back, tease the bartender for a few free shots, and then choke down some pizza from Rodolfo’s.”
“You’ll be back just after midnight.”
“Let’s go tomorrow.”
Taylor crossed her arms. “But I’m ready now.”
“Well I’m not, and I have to -” Eva watched as Taylor spotted the mirror hidden under a bath towel.
“Oh my shit, Eva, you liar. Your mirror is right here.” Taylor reached out to grab it.
“STOP!” Eva screamed. “GET OUT! DON’T TOUCH IT! GET OUT NOW!”
Taylor retracted her hand. Her face was flushed with surprise and anger. “It’s just a mirror you schizo-bitch, you know that right?”
“Then buy your own!” Eva shoved her out and slammed the bedroom door.
Weeks of work had nearly been ruined. All of her research, all of her preparation. Taylor had nearly undone all of it by allowing the mirror to reflect the room. For a moment Eva considered apologizing.
“Give me my fucking cat back!”
Eva ruled against apologizing. “Char’s not your cat, he’s a stray you feed leftovers to.”
“Exactly. My Leftovers.”
Eva turned her music up as loud as her speakers would allow and began head-banging to the music and mouthing the lyrics while Taylor pounded on the door.
Her hair became a knotted mess and she was almost too dizzy to stand by the time Taylor gave up. The apartment door slammed shut.
“Sorry, Char,” Eva said. “I know you don’t like domestic disputes over kitten custody.”
Char rolled onto his back and stared at her. Eva smiled for what felt like the first time in days and rubbed his belly. She could feel him purring. His eyes slowly closed. The only time she ever heard him purr this loud was for food.
There was a cheap clock on her desk that displayed the time: Eleven-eleven. Her spell had to happen in the final thirty minutes of the last hour of the day, and preferably when the rain was falling at its hardest.
Eva pushed open her bedroom window. It was barely drizzling. She checked her phone. There was supposedly a one-hundred-percent chance of heavy rain happening at that very moment. Scoffing with frustration, Eva went back to her spellbook. The print had vanished.
The plant charm had been wasted. She hexed Taylor with her thoughts, and went back to her box of dried flowers. She only had three stems of dried betony left, which was needed to create a base for the purifying floral totem. There was no way for her to reveal the pages again.
“Okay, think,” Eva said to herself. “Burnt rose stems with thorns intact, dried willow leaves.” She paused to recall what else had been listed. Her eyes closed. “Three fresh dandelions, and a base of betony.”
Turning to the shoebox on her desk and the potted plants on her windowsill, Eva began weaving and tying the totem together until it was a thick cord of plant. The rain outside started to fall harder. A low rumble of thunder sounded in the distance.
Once the totem was complete, she grabbed a black candle and a lighter.
Char meowed at her.
“All right, come on,” Eva said to him while opening up the bedroom door.
Char slid off her bed and landed with a flop. Eva swore the cat was immortal and had long since used up his nine lives because he was the most uncoordinated cat she’d ever seen. She watched as he waddled out of the room, expecting to be fed.
“I’ll be out soon,” she promised, and locked herself in.
Char protested outside. He tried to paw at her from the space between the door. Eva ignored him and placed the black candle in the center of the room. She lit the wick with her lighter. “Spiritus autem lux,” she said firmly. “Adiuva me.” The candle sparked and began burning blue.
Taking the floral totem, Eva held the end of it over the open flame until it, too, was on fire. “Terra mater, protegat hunc locum.” She extinguished the flames with her breath. The totem smoked white. Eva walked around her room repeating the incantation ‘Removere mala spirituum.’ She wafted smoke into the corners of the room and the lines that joined the walls to the floor and ceiling. Again and again she said the incantation with a firm and steady voice. Evil spirits had the power to take control of spells if they weren’t banished from the room.
Eva rested the smoldering totem on a crystal ashtray near her nightstand. The rain hastened. She double-checked the lock on her bedroom door and turned off her stereo. Concentrating was crucial from this point forward. Eva turned off her bedroom light and tossed all but one of her books onto her bed – her family’s grimoire.
The brown leather cover was weathered and cracked. Its clasp was a simple iron buckle. A gold circle was painted faintly on the front. Eva wasn’t sure how many generations the grimoire had served, only that it contained every spell mastered by her bloodline. If one witch can, then so can all.
Eva rolled up her purple carpet. Chalk dust was smudged against the hardwood flooring beneath.
She placed her mirror and the towel that covered it against the back of her door. Eva propped it up so that it faced into her room. The clock on her desk displayed a-quarter-to-midnight. Thunder announced the storm’s arrival. Eva moved about her room to light twelve scentless white candles.
With a piece of chalk, she drew a circle around the mirror. Then a second circle around the grimoire. Reaching under her bed for another shoebox, Eva removed her athame ceremonial blade, a rat’s rib bone, and a jar of sparrow hearts. She placed them between the mirror and spellbook.
“A morte donum,” Eva said, she then circled the rib and hearts with chalk.
Standing for only a moment, Eva removed the towel from her mirror. For the first time in weeks, the glass could reflect something other than what covered it. It was a cheap full-body mirror with a black plastic frame and warped reflecting plexiglass. She had purchased it from a garage sale for six crumpled dollars.
Eva stepped back and studied her reflection. Her skin had paled over the autumn months. There were dark moons beneath her eyes from the recent lack of sleep. The right side of her head, which was usually shaved, had finally started growing back. The rest of her hair fell in long, dark, curls. The coffee stains and holes in her t-shirt didn’t lend well to the graphic design, but it was too comfy to get rid of. Eva felt sorry for her reflection. She returned to the other side of her book and sat down with her chalk.
“Pretium sanguinis.” She said. Then with her athame, she pricked her thumb. Blood dripped onto the cover of her grimoire. “Reveal yourself,” she commanded, and when she opened the book, words of red ink were scrawled across hundreds of pages. The print was small and slanted, but never quite the same. Each discovery made by her great-and-greater grandmothers were memorialized right before her eyes.
Eva pulled on a ribbon in the book and turned to a page she had previously marked; the spell of Spiorad Gloine.
She locked herself into the spell by drawing a final circle around herself. Lightning cracked through the sky outside. The wind was howling. Eva could hear the rain splattering against her window screen. She looked at the incantation and read, “Et nos unum sumus.” Her reflection stared back.
“Illud te non arbitror.” Eva cut her left palm using the athame, and balled her hand into a fist.
“Et nos unum sumus,” she said again, but with her eyes closed this time.
“Illud te non arbitror.” Opening her hand, Eva placed a handprint of blood beside the jar of hearts. For a third time she repeated the incantation while cutting her right palm and placing her other handprint beside the rat bone.
“Hic, hic, hic,” she commanded her reflection. “Invenient me. Invenient me.”
The thunder answered her.
“Hac, hac, hac!” Eva hollered. “Invenient me. Invenient me.”
There was a flash in her mirror.
“Here, here, here!” the reflection answered. “Find me. Find me.”
The hand prints on the floor vanished as Eva had hoped.
She sat perfectly still for a moment. Nothing happened. Eva feared the spell didn’t work. Her and her reflection were too in sync. She glanced back down at her grimoire. She worried she had missed a step, or skipped an ingredient. Were the sparrow hearts supposed to be out of the jar? Had the rat bone been used in a spell already? The alchemy shop down the street had sold her tampered ingredients before.
Eva looked at her reflection again as it looked back at her. Suddenly, her reflection blinked of its own accord. A faint smile quivered in the corner of its lips – but maybe she too was smiling. Eva forced herself to frown. Her reflection smiled wider. Then she watched as her reflection repeated the same ritual she had just completed. It was like watching a video of herself on a very narrow television.
When the reflection placed its bleeding left hand on its floor in the mirror, a second handprint appeared before Eva. This time the fingers pointed towards her instead of away. Then the right handprint appeared. The reflection chanted the incantation three times and then sat perfectly still. Together they inhaled and exhaled.
“Can you hear me?” Eva asked it.
Her reflection nodded.
“Can you speak?” Eva slowly began to stand.
“Yes,” her reflection answered.
Eva felt herself laugh with relief. It had worked. She had created a perfect copy of herself.
“You are Eva?” her reflection asked.
“You are too,” Eva answered. She motioned for her reflection to join her. “Can you step through the mirror?”
Her reflection tilted its head as if trying to understand the question.
Conceptually it was an odd thought to even Eva, but the handprints had manifested in the real world. Eva also noted that the chalk rings could not be disturbed until after midnight. If they were smudged or broken the spell would shatter instead of seal. “Careful!” she told her reflection as it attempted to step through the frame of the mirror.
First came a foot, then two hands curled around the edges of the mirror. Eva watched as her reflection’s left leg followed. “Careful, be careful,” her reflection mumbled. She too was watching the chalk rings as she bowed through the portal. The reflecting glass rippled like water, distorting Eva’s reflection until it passed through to her side.
“Holy shit!” Eva laughed. “I did it!” She started fumbling with her words. Her fingers laced themselves and twisted about. “How do you feel, are you okay, do you feel… do you feel sick or anything?”
Eva was carefully circling her creation, while her newly arisen twin studied itself from head-to-toe.
“Wow!” the reflection gasped. “It’s all different.”
“Your room. Our room.”
“Different?” Eva asked while staring at the empty room reflected in her mirror.
“The walls in my room are green,” her reflection answered. “I have different furniture.”
Eva began to worry again that something was wrong. She was staring at the room through the mirror and it was identical to her own. There were no green walls. The bed and desk looked identical to her own.
“Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” Eva asked. “Do you feel dizzy?”
“No,” her reflection answered.
“What’s the color of our shirts?”
Eva nodded with relief. Her reflection was seeing and naming colors as they were. The spell was perfect. Eva had created a clone of herself – someone to work a full-time job so she wouldn’t have to split the rent with Taylor. She had someone to socialize, someone to get groceries, to get a degree in something mundane like history. And Eva, the genius that she was, could study her grimoire in peace. She could spend all day mastering complex spells that hadn’t been done in hundreds of years. She could become the most powerful witch in Ash Falls. She could become the head of her covenant.
“You have to pass through to see the difference,” said Eva’s reflection.
“You don’t believe me that my room is different.”
Eva guessed her reflection had caught on to her disbelief.
“You see a reflection of you room. I did too, but the other side is different.”
Eva’s curiosity led her out of her own spell ring.
“Careful, be careful,” her reflection cautioned.
Eva stepped into the ring drawn around her bedroom mirror. She braced herself against the plastic frame and plunged her head into the mirror. It felt as if she’d splashed her face with warm sparkling water. When she opened her eyes again, she only saw a copy of her own room. Her head floated out of an identical mirror, propped up against an identical bedroom door. The only difference was that there was no storm outside the copy of her bedroom window. The sky was a veil of black. It lacked dimension and silhouettes.
Something shoved her from behind. Eva lost her balance and fell into the reflection of her room. She twisted around on the floor to see her reflection staring at her with a smug grin. “I told you to be careful.”
“Stop!” Eva yelled, but it was too late. She watched as her reflection slid a foot over the chalk line. There was a bright flash of blue light, and an opaque glaze spread over the mirror.
Eva leapt to her feet and raced towards it. Her hands slammed against the glass, but it had become as thick as stone. The reflection laughed and shook its head. Her voice sounded muffled through the solid barrier. “What did you do wrong?” she mused while reaching for Eva’s grimoire.
While trying to suppress her panic, Eva reached for the desk chair in the reflection’s room. She swung it at the mirror, but it broke without cracking the barrier.
“Sorry, Eva, but you opened up a one-way door. You have to be invited back,” her reflection cooed.
“Why are you doing this?” Eva began to sob.
The reflection ignored her. Eva watched as it walked towards the nightstand, picked up the earth totem and smelled it.
“You forgot mint,” the reflection laughed. Eva watched as she returned to the mirror. The clock on her desk switched to midnight.
“Let me out!” Eva screamed. “Please, let me out!”
It was hopeless. She was screaming at herself in a mirror. A real mirror that no longer worked as a portal. Her spell was broken. The room around her dissolved into an empty abyss. She was stuck there, on the wrong side without a way to escape.
I like this. Haughty expectations met with an unexpected thrust into danger. I like how you described each step of the spell and how Eva acts as a witch. I love your description of the reflection coming to life and the reaction to being trapped in the mirror. But as great as the story already is, I feel like it could be even better.
First off, the sequence with Taylor really doesn’t add anything to the rest of the plot. It feels rather detached from the rest of the story and could easily be removed without altering it. And I think this might be because you waited to give Eva’s goal with the spell until the very end of the story. But fear not, the transition is simple. All you need to do is factor in Eva’s dislike of Taylor as the reason she’s casting the spell in the first place. You can use her annoyance with her roommate as foreshadowing towards her own reflection turning on her.
Speaking of the reflection, I feel like even if the spell isn’t made clear, Eva’s goal should be set up a little earlier so that when the reflection betrays her, it also subverts our own expectations as to how we think the spell will work. Otherwise, it feels a bit like an out of nowhere twist, especially since the reflection never says WHY it tricked Eva in the first place. Even horror needs some kind of set-up.
Other than that, this is great. Part of me wants to see some kind of follow-up.