Monster in the Mirror
Casper lay in bed staring at the mirror, and the creature in the mirror stared back at him.
Maybe it looked like him, behind the shadows that slurped up its features into an impenetrable veil, but right now, it was a thing of the dark. All he could see of its face was a long grey tongue and teeth that made black hooks in its vacuous jaw.
All caught, glistening, in the thin slice of moonlight.
Shadows obscured it, swallowing detail into the frightening mystery of the dark, but its shape scooped blackness out of the night. Its limbs flailed. Mad, twitching spasms that jerked through the air, the wings of a fly half-crushed by the swatter. Buzzing, it swarmed in circles on the floor. Its shape rippled with each movement as if it jerked around the shattered mush inside it.
Each time it moved, Casper flinched, his body a quivering, shackled mess hiding with the covers up to his chin, but he couldn’t take his eyes off it. That thing.
Wasted, its skin clung to bone the way chicken skin does when you’ve scraped out all the meat and left it out to rot. Each glimpse illuminated by the moonlight oozed putrid yellow pus across bloated, green-black skin that at once swelled with the gases of decay and crumpled against its rickety bones.
Broken bones. What kind of creature twisted like that? It hunkered there amongst a nest of sheets with its arms twisted behind its back and its ribs knives jutting from its skin. Its spine twisted to a serpentine contortion and it slithered through the length of it each time the creature coughed. A horrid, retching sound that splattered grey bile across the sheets.
When it didn’t cough, it hooted, low and chilling beneath its breath.
Casper couldn’t move. Fear lay a weight on his chest that crushed his ribs into his lungs and forced the blood of their haemorrhaging choking up his throat. He couldn’t breathe, but he still fucking breathed too loud, wheezing sobs pushing past his lips, too loud, too loud. That thing could hear him. His toes kept twitching and he couldn’t keep them still.
Could it get through the mirror?
It can’t. You know it can’t. It’s stuck there. It’s just a dream.
The creature shrieked and lurched forward in the bed. Casper scrambled up the bed, hands pressed to his mouth. All the dark corners of the room hung so close, physical things slurping at him, and the gurgling beasts within tugged open the portal for the creature in the mirror.
The tongue slathered over its lips and its chin and its hollow, rotten throat while its spastic limbs flailed.
I will consume you. Its voice was the grate of metal against bone, wet with the oozing badness of rot. This is all you are.
The headboard pressed like ice against the back of his neck and Casper shook. Was it watching him behind the gluttonous shadows? Or did a burnt slather of uninterrupted scar lay across the space where all its features should be? Blind and still as the room around him. Comatose darkness but for the squirming of things hidden behind the veil.
Thin, white worms underneath its skin.
Go away. Why can’t it just go away?
Back when he was a little kid, he’d squeeze his eyes closed and pray the monsters left. If I can’t see it, it can’t hurt me. It can’t hurt me. Don’t let it hurt me. But he knew better now. It was when you faltered in your vigilance, let your eyes flutter closed to the relief of darkness. In that moment of weakness, the monsters struck.
Sometimes they struck even when you did everything right anyway, but if you watched so long your eyes ached, the sleeplessness suffocated you, and every good thing faded to ash, then at least you tried. At least you fucking tried, and it wasn’t all your useless, shitty fault.
It was his fault he was here. Every second he’d spent with Cain before this, he’d closed his eyes and pressed his face into Cain’s chest so he couldn’t see the monster behind that smiling—
The creature surged forward, and this time it didn’t stop. A maddening frenzy of thrashing limbs and pulsating flesh. Casper’s chest lurched. Heart squeezed in rotten fists. He scrambled up the headboard, the covers tangled ropes around his legs. Hands fucking slipped off the wood drenched in this sick sweat.
It didn’t stop. The shriek from its ragged throat smacked him so hard it drove rust inside his brain and in a cacophonous shattering, it broke the mirror.
Screaming, Casper grabbed Mackie and sprinted from the room. The staircase passed in a blur and he pounded down the hallway and burst through Cain’s door.
The slam of the door off the wall jerked Cain awake. Cold swept through the room even as he fumbled himself upright. Moonlight streamed through his unshielded windows, and it gleamed in his dark eyes as they found Casper, a spectre in the dark trailing a toy lion from his hand. His arms were already open and the chill already fading when Casper threw himself into the bed and into Cain’s arms.
No warmth to take the ice out of this sweat pouring down his body or the shuddering, aching fear worming into his bones, but there was strength in his arms and safety in the covers Cain swept around them. Sweetness in the murmurs from his lips as he stroked his fingers through Casper’s hair.
Casper just couldn’t stop shaking. It was deep in him now, like his bones all threatened to shatter and twist like that monster.
A dream, Roach. Just a nightmare out of that fucked-up thing you call a brain.
Like nightmares fucking lunged out the mirror at you.
It was still dark. In the dark, that creature lurked out there behind the veil. It and others, their chittering breaths wheezing out of the night, waiting, waiting, waiting for that moment when you closed your eyes.
There was only so long you could stare into the darkness before it drove you mad.
Casper swallowed hard and forced his croaking rasp up his throat. “Put on the light.”
Cain did, twisting back to grope for the switch and struggling a little under the clinging weight Casper kept on his chest. The lamplight chased out the dark, an angel's lantern burning away devils and demons and the horrors of night on its holy spill of salvation. It lit the low-hanging silks framing Cain’s bed, the soft weave of the Persian rug, and the stack of books on the nightstand. Across the room, their tangled reflection whispered in the vast, dark window and for once, Casper didn’t wonder about what lay beyond. Cain’s echo stood a ward there against the beasts that scratched at the glass.
The rotting stink of the nightmare vanished as the creamy light splashed across the room, and in its place, that sweet vanilla scent tinkled through the dusty pine.
Cain’s smell. A sob choked up Casper’s throat and he pressed his face into Cain’s chest, squirming up into his lap so they were only separated only by Mackie’s threadbare bulk trapped between their stomachs. A soft gasp left Cain’s lips as he did, and gentle hands held him there, splayed across his back and twined in the greasy tangle of his hair.
It should be hideous. Pathetic little roach curling up on Nutjob’s lap like this was anything but a fever dream, like the last few days hadn’t happened and Casper wasn’t a curse, worse even than Cain’s fantasy psychosis of all these other Casper’s that had ever come before. Casper should scream and spit and twist away, dig in his nails and tear off that skin and do all the things this simmering in his gut begged him to do.
Casper pressed Mackie lower, the lion standing chaperone where Casper’s legs straddled Cain’s hips, and sunk deeper into the presence of him.
Comfort and care and sweet vanilla bliss.
“Cassie, love…” Cain nuzzled against Casper’s throat, his breath cool puffs against Casper’s clammy skin. It wasn’t nice, but he’d warm up. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
All sweet and soft like he hadn’t been that hateful devil just earlier today, dark and cold and cruel. And you say that like you aren’t one too, Roach. Everyone had it, and even if Cain’s was buried shallow, Casper had drawn it out on purpose. Maybe at the end of it, that made Cain all the more real.
Difference was Cain had something other than the devil, even if it was just a skin pulled over burnt, black flesh and twisting horns. Casper was nothing but a ghoul and his veil had long worn so thin it tore.
Casper shook his head against Cain’s chest, the sweat off his face still slick between them. “It’s nothing.”
A long sigh slipped from Cain’s lips, arctic against Casper’s throat. “You don’t want to talk about it?”
“Alright. Come here then—” With a grunt, Cain shifted, freeing his legs from underneath himself and easing them both down into the silken sheets. They rose about him like pools of night – not the night that was full of demons, but that insubstantial space between the stars that cradled the moonlight of his skin.
Cain laid them down so Casper huddled on top of him, splayed out across his chest and bundled up in the circle of his arms – although first, he swept the covers up, cocooning them both up to Casper’s head in soft silk and goose feathers, a little nest of heaven against the chill dark of night.
Cain freed Mackie. A soft smile wavered over his lips as he looked at the lion, held face to face as if some secret passed between them, and then Cain nestled him into Casper’s pillow just beside them.
Funny how it was Casper’s pillow already.
The creamy light brushed the high points of Cain’s face the same way a painter dusts stars in the eyes of their muse.  It was a soft thing, a rumour of illumination hazy across his cheeks and his lips and the straight slope of his nose, but it had Casper’s breath catching anyway. A glimpse of perfection in the dark hours of the night when things became at once raw and unreal.
“How come you’re so perfect?”
Cain sighed and tipped his head back. Reverent, his fingers traced across the gnarled skin of Casper’s scars, leaving a comet’s trail of ice and electric in their wake. “Because the only bits that are real are the bits that aren’t.”
The whispered words felt as if Cain plucked stars down out of the night and offered them to Casper in a basket woven of moonlight, but in the blind, groping darkness where Casper shut his eyes against the monster, the gift went unheeded and the sweetness didn’t reach his tongue.
No matter, because he still couldn’t breathe.
A question stirred in his throat, but while he still searched for its shape, Cain’s eyes lowered to him and their tender light in the darkness stole the last of his mind.
“And before you ask,” Cain murmured, “I can love you because the real parts of me are more like you than you can dream.”
Casper couldn’t make himself say anything else that night. With the soft light still spilling across their skin, sleep gathered that slow, heavy part of his mind. Warmth smothered the spaces trapped between them and seeped like sunlight into Cain’s skin. No matter the size of his room, the world hazed to darkness and inconsequence at the edges of the bed – their paradise, a grove tucked away from the world and bathed in moonlight and dreams.
There was singing in that drowsy darkness, and if Casper could, he might’ve cried.