October is here, which means it's Halloween season! My favorite time of year! Here we are again, on the first Sunday of the month with another free short story. I post one every month as a thank you to all of you wonderful readers. And as always a grateful thank you to my amazing editor Liane Larocque at Mystic Canyon Publishing. Hope you enjoy the stories as much as I do writing them.
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This month's story Mirror Image is a reflection of the dark side of how we perceive our image in the mirror.
READER DISCRETION ADVISED, this may not be suitable for all audiences.
If you enjoy my short stories please consider trying my books, The Blood Prophecy series, and Inferno of Secrets.
By Tenzi Moscato
Marcy Loveless stared at her reflection in the three-sided mirrors that hung at the perfect height next to her custom-built walk-in closet. She pivoted on the stilts she called shoes, looking herself over, not to miss a single angle of her supermodel physique—it should be after two hours of Pilates, thirty minutes of weight training, followed by a steam and massage each day as if it were her job. But it wasn’t. Not yet, anyway. Marcy worked as the receptionist at the prestigious La-Fem Exquisite Modeling Agency. She had wanted to be a model, but the agency said they didn’t have the right job for her look at that time, and she could work at the front desk until the appropriate modeling assignment came along. The repeating of that excuse had been going on for over six months, but Marcy never gave up hope. I watched endless hours of her determined face, perspiration dripping from her brow only to be held at the gate, waiting to be noticed. If I had a soul, I might feel bad for her, but I don’t.
It all started a while back when Marcy first saw the ad. It popped up in her social media or some other nonsense people are doing these days, but I digress. The ad headline read, ‘Perfect Can Be Yours,’ and Marcy was sold even before she watched the short video on the latest and greatest scientific achievement of humankind, the world’s first interactive mirror to help you with workouts, diet, dress, and accessorizing. A full-size, holographic personal assistant inside a titanium framed, three-sided, full-length mirror with the choice of programs by either male or female assistants. Pushing the Shop Now button took Marcy no effort at all, even if it cost two months of her salary and maxed out all her credit cards. Seven days later, the box with me in it arrived, and with the help she hired, I was mounted on the wall outside the walk-in closet.
To look at the mirror one wouldn’t know they were so much more than just ordinary reflective glass. That is until Marcy stood in front of it.
“What should I wear?” she demanded as if summoning a servant. I—the mirror—shimmered to life, and an image appeared. At first, Marcy looked puzzled as she stared with wide eyes at me, the mirror that would make her life perfect, as her own reflection stared back at her from inside the mirror.
“What is this?” Marcy demanded from her likeness that wasn’t following her movements.
“I’m Marcy 10.0, and I am here to assist you.”
That was the first day I got to see what I had to work with. It only took a moment of assessment to see that Marcy didn’t need any improvement to be considered perfect, but that’s not what I was programmed to assess. I was there to help her be anything she wanted.
“When you placed your order, you uploaded a short video of yourself along with an audio sample. From that data, my image was compiled to be an accurate reflection and voice in real-time to assist you on your journey to betterment.”
Marcy stared with her mouth hanging open for a moment, then closed it and stared a moment longer. “I didn’t know that was what that stuff was for.”
“You can request a program change to something you prefer, and in seven business days, it will be downloaded to you. However, I am designed to be intuitive based on the appearance and behaviors that you present to me.”
Marcy’s expression didn’t change. She just stared at me for a while, processing the strange interaction.
“No, I have no intentions of waiting. This will have to do, but there’s no way I’m calling you Marcy. That would just be too weird.”
“You have the option to call me whatever you wish.”
Marcy moved closer to me, raised her hand to her chin, and looked me up and down.
“Inadequate, that’s what I’ll call you.”
“The choice of name is yours. However, a positive name is psychologically more effective in reaching your goals to perfection.”
Her eyes narrowed at me as she spoke. “If I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it. Otherwise, keep it to yourself.”
This time I mirrored the angry face back at her. “I am designed to be a companion on your journey.”
“Fine, if you’re going to get bitchy about it. I’ll call you Scant, then. And that’s final!”
This wasn’t how the introduction program was supposed to go. I so wanted her to like me. It appeared I had my work cut out for me if I ever hoped for Marcy to accept her reflection as a friend. I bowed to her and stood up straight with my head held high. “Hello, I am Scant. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Marcy.” I hoped accepting her name for me might begin some trust, but her reaction wasn’t what I expected. She pushed her face up tightly against mine behind the glass of the mirror.
“I don’t give a shit who you are, just find me a good outfit to wear to work today. If I want anything else, I’ll let you know.”
For the next hour and twenty minutes, Marcy showed me pieces of her wardrobe so that I could extrapolate a combination that would please her. Thirty tops, skirts, slacks, jeans, and dresses lay on the floor before she finally decided on black slacks with a sheer, long-sleeve blouse. It took a great deal of convincing to get her to put on the cream color, lace camisole underneath, and how going to work with nothing but a completely see-through blouse may not be the best of ideas. I smiled at her.
“What are you smiling about, scant? Can’t you see how fat this makes me look? Why the hell didn’t you stop me from eating that second piece of celery yesterday? Isn’t that what you’re here for?”
Marcy’s face turned a deep shade of red as she stormed back to the closet and the endless rounds of trying on clothes began again. Another hour later, Marcy finally decided on the outfit we had started with after endlessly reassuring her she didn’t look fat after all. Later, we disagreed about what to have for breakfast. I suggested a nice fruit salad, and she settled for half a cup of watermelon. For lunch, she took a protein shake, and off to work she went.
After a four-hour work shift, which, from Marcy’s perspective, was considered grueling, she was back in front of me.
“Stop being so stupid, Scant!” she hissed at me. “These yoga pants make my ass look huge and not in a good way. I’m just too tired to deal with you right now. I’m wearing the paisley ones to Pilates, and that’s final!”
Initially, Marcy hated the diet plan I made up for her, in the end, she agreed but still went on eating binges and then purge it in order not to gain any weight. But she didn’t care as long as the scale never went over one-hundred-seven pounds, which wasn’t healthy for her five-eleven height. No matter what I proposed as a solution, Marcy had a lame reason why it was no good and how useless, stupid, and ugly I was. I hoped in time Marcy would learn to trust me.
“No, no, no! Are you blind? This skirt makes my thighs look huge. Can’t you get anything right?” Marcy screamed for the twentieth time.
“I’m sorry, Marcy. May I suggest going to a Tai-chi class? It may help you relax.”
“Are you serious? Why on earth would I want to hang out with a class full of middle-aged Zen heads?”
“Not all who practice Tai-chi are middle-aged, but let’s say that’s true, then there’s a high probability you would be the youngest, prettiest woman in the class.”
A slow smile crept across Marcy’s face as she rested her hands on her hips and leaned in toward me, winked, and blew herself a kiss.
“Not bad for a Scant like you. But if this goes to shit, I’m holding you responsible,” she said before skipping off.
The silence left in her wake was more than welcome. I wasn’t exactly sure where she was off to, but I didn’t care as long as it was away from me. There was no doubt though it wouldn’t be long before she’d be back in front of me. I looked out at all Marcy’s expensive clothes strewn on the floor, all over the top of the king-sized, four-post bed, and on top of the treadmill in the far corner when a strong sense of familiarity came over me. It felt as if those were my clothes, my bed, my mess. I shook my head slightly to center my thought, and a moment later, the strange sensation was gone. When I looked again, all I felt was sorry for Marcy’s cleaning lady. There didn’t seem any harm in dismissing the brief emotion as nothing more than a glitch in my intuitive interaction program. No matter how small, reporting an I.I.P error to headquarters was standard protocol. The truth was, I could have ignored it, but I had hopes that with enough small errors, they’d recall me and send her someone else.
As lovely as the reprieve from Marcy was, it was what I knew it would be, short-lived. Marcy had returned three hours later, her hand full of brightly colored bags brimming with clothes. For the next hour, Marcy tried on several dozen silk pants with matching tops. There was red, green, blue, black, white, and so on until she finally reached the end of the color palette with an aquamarine one.
“Well, Scant? Which one for my Tia-chi class?”
“They’re all very nice. Which color did you like best?”
“Class starts in thirty minutes, so stop being stupid and pick one already.”
“In that case, I’d say the cobalt blue one. Maybe with the matching tunic that has the dragons embroidered on the back.”
Marcy nodded in agreement as she pulled the forest green set with no embroidery on it and put that one on instead. At this point, I wondered if I’d ever be able to get Marcy to like herself enough to be empathetic to her reflection. Thankfully, she stuck with her outfit choice, albeit with a groan since she had run out of time to continue to change her mind.
After many hours of darkness, the apartment abruptly changed to bright lights accompanied by drunken laughter as Marcy and a tall, blonde-haired man stumbled through the bedroom door. As the two giggled and groped at each other, the blonde caught a glimpse of me standing inside the mirror.
“What the hell is this, Marcy?”
Before Marcy could answer, he was standing before me, staring with disbelief as he pushed his face ever closer. I mirrored his movements for no other reason than I found it to be entertaining. As soon as he was satisfied that this was some kind of optical illusion and harmless, he placed his hand, palm down, fingers relaxed onto the surface of my glass, and stared into my eyes with a look of wonder on his face. I winked, and he smiled.
I didn’t understand. I was feeling strange. I was not programmed to feel anything more than compassion toward my designated client, which I shouldn’t be having this much difficulty accessing. Yet, there I was, disliking Marcy and feeling drawn toward this stranger in a physical way. Without thought, my hand went up to meet his, pressing back from the other side. The energy we created between our hands pulsed in strong rhythmic waves despite the sheet of glass between us. At that moment, I longed to be human.
The strange brief moment shattered as Marcy came up from behind the young man, wrapping her arms around his waist, her face poking out from behind his arm as she playfully pulled him away from me.
“That thing, Michael, is Scant. She’s supposed to be helping me go from fabulous to Uber-fabulous! But, so far, she’s a worthless waste of good money.”
Her words sliced into me as surely as if they had come from a blade. The disgusted look on her face drove the dagger in deeper. Somehow, I understood what I felt were emotions even though I knew I wasn’t programmed to have any.
“How long have you had her?” Michael asked.
“I don’t remember, four weeks or so. Total piece of worthless shit.”
“It is exactly seven weeks, three days, twenty minutes, and fourteen seconds ago,” I announced softly.
Michael looked at me for a moment before turning back to Marcy. “That’s pretty harsh, don’t you think?”
“No. If you knew what I paid for it, you’d agree with me. And now it’s past the return date. So, I’m giving her another month, and if I don’t have a seven-figure acting gig by then, I’m going to take a hammer to her and shatter her ass but good.”
Marcy let out an uncomfortable laugh as Michael stared at her in disbelief.
“I am sorry you feel that way, Marcy, but I am here as an aid on your journey to betterment, not a Genie in the mirror. I’m not programmed to grant wishes.”
“You can be as sorry as you please. What I said wasn’t a threat but a promise. If you don’t deliver, it shatters my world. And if you shatter mine, I shatter yours.”
“Are you kidding? This is the coolest piece of machinery I’ve ever seen. She even looks exactly like you,” Michael added.
“She sounds and moves just like me too. She’s designed to be exactly me in every way. But what I wanted was someone better than me. Someone to look up to. Not this thing!”
Michael let out a small laugh. “Except she’s much nicer than you are, Marcy,” he whispered under his breath.
Marcy smacked his arm. “Nice gets you nowhere in this world,” she replied as she began marching angrily toward the bedroom door.
“Come on, we’re going downstairs before you fall in love with my mirror.” She began to laugh as she disappeared out into the hall. Michael moved closer to me, looked me in the eyes and whispered, “Too late, Marcy.”
I winked at him, and he smiled wide back at me for a moment before hurrying out the door after her.
My heart ached watching him go even if I knew full well I didn’t have a heart or a body for that matter. It made no sense that I would be having these kinds of sensory inputs.
As each week went by, Michael spent every day and night with Marcy, which didn’t stop Marcy from being any less harsh with me no matter how hard I tried to get through to her that having a kind heart was what made a woman truly beautiful. Marcy didn’t care and threw a glass of orange juice at me, forbidding me to ever bring it up again. The upside to having Michael there was whenever Marcy went out, he’d come to talk with me. I ended every visit of ours with a playful wink that always made him smile. As much as I would have preferred that we didn’t need to be secret friends, I was willing to take what I could get. The one thing I was sure of was if Marcy ever found out, there’d be hell to pay. The most difficult part of having Michael there were the nights, having to listen to him and Marcy going at each other like crazed moaning, screaming rabbits while the headboard to Marcy’s bed repeatedly banged into the wall behind it. It was more than I could bear. I couldn’t stop from envying Marcy, not her exactly, more being human, to truly have the ability to feel. It seemed unfair to me that someone like Marcy got to have a life while I was trapped inside this mirror.
It didn’t take long for my reality to become clear again. I was an AI program. I am not human, no matter what kind of emotional programming the engineers secretly downloaded into me. My task was to help Marcy no matter how unpleasant. With my ability to interface with the internet, I found Marcy more and more auditions for modeling or acting, partly to get her out of the apartment to spend more time with Michael and partly in concern of her truly going through with her threat. Even understanding that I was a machine and was never alive, the thought of being destroyed was disturbing.
As the weeks passed, Michael and I grew closer with each visit, especially when Marcy managed to land a couple of modeling gigs at car shows and a small walk-on part as a sexy vampire girl crossed in front of the camera in a B horror film. But these jobs were by no means close to where she expected to be at the end of the one month. But it became clear that Marcy wasn’t aware of how many days there were in a month when she burst unexpectedly into the bedroom three days early, screaming at me like a banshee.
“You set me up! That so-called audition was complete bull shit! The bitch director humiliated me in front of not only the entire cast, but the two assistant directors and the producer!”
“I don’t know what you mean, Marcy. It was a legitimate lead your agent sent.”
“Oh yeah, legitimate alright. The title of the movie is Fat Girl Blues. They made me put on a giant fat suit for the audition so they could see how I moved in it!”
Marcy abruptly stopped yelling when it finally registered to her that Michael was sitting on a chair, facing me. We hadn’t expected her to return this soon. Marcy’s rage turned to pure fire, and with the grace of a ballet dancer, she twirled around, picking up the three-foot-tall iron lamp from the top of the bureau. Without ever stopping her twirl, she came back around, lamp in hand as if it were a baseball bat, and with one solid swing, she smashed the lamp into the side of Michael’s head. His body flew from the chair to the other side of the room, where he landed in a lifeless heap at the foot of the bed. Marcy then turned her attention back to me. Her eyes narrowed with deadly focus as she swung the base of the lamp into the mirror as all the fury she could muster came out in a loud scream as she repeatedly smashed the lamp into the mirror. But the mirror didn’t break, not even a crack, which enraged Marcy all the more.
The mirror held fast, but the bolts holding it to the wall loosened with each blow of the lamp. Bits of plaster and dust fell like snow as all the pent-up rage in Marcy poured out of her. I was powerless to stop her as she hit and hit and hit again until I saw the screws holding the mirror to the wall fall to the floor in front of me. The entire mirror fell forward, all its weight falling on top of Marcy, smashing apart, covering her completely beneath a shiny tomb of fragments of me, and all I could see was shimmering silver light.
I don’t know how long I was off-line when I saw flashes of light reflecting off shards of mirror as they began to come away from my vision. Two hands came into view, diligently removing the pieces of glass until I saw that it was Michael. Several trickles of blood flowed down the side of his scowling face.
“What the hell are you doing, Marcy? You just about took off my head!” he yelled. That was when I felt warm wet drops on my shoulder and looked up. It was Michael’s blood I felt, dripping down on me.
“Wait! I’m not Marcy!”
I had no data on why or how that could be possible. Perhaps it was part of my programming all along.
Michael pulled away from me, his eyes the size of dinner plates and filled with confusion, “Scant?”
“I used to be. Now, I’m Marcy 10.0.”
I playfully winked at him, and he smiled.