Post series: The Man in the Mirror

Serial Killers: The Man in the Mirror (Part 2) by Connor Long-Johnson

  1. Serial Killers: The Man in the Mirror (Part 1) by Connor Long-Johnson
  2. Serial Killers: The Man in the Mirror (Part 2) by Connor Long-Johnson

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

In the morning, the boy’s mother was startled to see her son slumped over the kitchen table. How odd, she thought, he’s never up before 11am

“Son, are you alright?” She inquired, trying to mask the uncertainty in her voice. 

The lethargic grunt that she heard was enough to confirm her suspicions, he had most likely spent the night browsing through nonsense on his phone, he would probably be in bed within an hour and wouldn’t be seen for the rest of the day. 

“Would you like some Chai tea, honey?”

Another grunt and with that she began preparing her own coffee and tea for the boy. The sweet aroma of sugar and coffee beans began to circulate the room and filled her with a renewed sense of optimism for the day ahead. 

Meanwhile, the boy lay with his head on the table, his head concealed by a black hood and his hands hidden inside the sleeves of a teal cotton sweatshirt. 

The high-pitched whistle of the kettle rose up to dance with the blissful smell of sugar that was still sauntering through the kitchen air. 

“Honey, your tea is ready.” 

As she turned to give the boy the beverage, she was slapped hard by the pangs of shock as she saw that his outstretched hand had a paper-white glow that was sickly and alien. Running across the hand also were great lumpy veins that had taken on the colour of a decaying grapefruit ready to burst. 

“Jeezus honey, your hand…It’s awful. What have you done? Have you been taking your meds?” 

Taking the cup and drinking long greedy gulps from under the hood, he exhaled with an eerie satisfaction. 

“I’m fine mum,” he said, licking his pale red lips, “Just fine.”   

Wary of her son’s state of mind, she turned for the stairs and went bounding two steps at a time up to his room. 

Clambering over mountains of clothes and dodging the piles of books and dirty plates she finally found what she needed. Clicking open the lid of the medication that her son had been given the week before her eyes widened with disbelief. 

Lonely in the bottle were just three tiny white pills. 

She raced down the stairs, this time taking three steps with each stride. 

“What have you done?” she pleaded, “You know what the doctor told you about changing the dose!” Her face was taut and her voice was buckling under the strain of her emotions. 

Fuelled by her anger and worry, she did not notice that she was speaking to an empty room. The cup of tea lay squat on the table. She turned, her head snapping from left, to right and then back again. 

He was gone. 

The slight, cold grasp of the morning breeze touched her left shoulder and she knew that he had gone through the front door.

She ran across the threshold and onto the front step. He was standing there, swaying and listless like an old photo in a breeze.

“Son, you’re sick. Please, come inside.”

“I’m not sick, mum.” Tears were streaming down the pale hills of his cheeks. He shuffled closer to the curb. “I’m just a little tired.” 

“You’re hallucinating! You look like you haven’t slept in days, and you’ve barely left the house lately!” 

“Yes I have!” He snapped back.

“What were you supposed to do yesterday? Go to Greenwich wasn’t it? Weren’t you supposed to see the counsellor over there?” 

“I did go! Didn’t I?” 

“No, honey you didn’t. You might think you did but you didn’t, you were in bed all day. You’re sick; and you need rest. Please, just come inside. It’s okay to say that you need help. We’ve been through this.” 

“I DON’T NEED HELP!” his voice was steadily growing louder as he became more agitated. 

“That’s it, I’m not asking anymore.” 

She strode forward quickly and caught him unsuspecting. Her hand was clasped firmly around his wrist. Her red, puffy hand looked like a flashing alarm against his pale hue. If she had to drag him kicking and screaming into the clinic as she used to do when he was a boy, then so be it.  

Instantly he began to resist, he planted his feet firm on the ground and stood rooted to the spot like a solid concrete sculpture. 

Grunting in anguish she pulled harder, desperately trying to get him to move from the road. 

“Come on!” She screamed; her voice was shrill with anxious fury. 

“FUCK you.” He screamed in reply and kicked her. She felt a hard thump in her abdomen as his leg pulled away. She winced and released his hand, dropping to the ground.

He looked up and saw past his mother crumpled on the floor; in the reflection of the kitchen window he saw him again. The same reflection that had terrified him the night before, but he wasn’t knocking anymore. One hand still lay flat on the glass, but the other was outstretched, the index finger pointing past him and into the road ahead. 

“I can’t do it!” He sobbed. 

“What can’t you do?” His mother asked through gritted teeth, still reeling from the kick to the stomach.

“He’s showing me the way!” He screeched, clutching at his temples with scrunched fists and ignoring her question.

“Who?” she said through erratic sobs. 

“The man in the mirror.” He replied with startling clarity, it seemed like such an obvious answer to him, like he was one side of a conversation that no one else could see him having. 

He closed his eyes and looked to the floor, smiling. 

“Goodbye, mum.” 

With that, he turned and took a tentative step into the road. Hearing the welcoming sound of an engine rumbling in the distance he bent down on his haunches behind the Toyota parked outside the house. He rose up and down in rhythm on his heels, he was on his own wavelength now, listening to a tune that only he could hear. 

As the rumble grew louder and louder and the car moved closer his whole body began to shake with anticipation. 

Freedom was closer now. The car was droning along, the sound of the engine getting nearer. He peered out from behind the Toyota and held his breath.

He pushed hard and sprung out into the road.

Timed perfectly, crunching against the car he suddenly had the surreal sensation of feeling his own body flying. The last thing he felt was the sharp stab of pain as his head careened off the lamppost on the other side of the road. 

As she crouched beside him, his mother saw the light slowly ebbing from his eyes as the tears began to stream from her own. Upsetting the most was the look of peace on his face, gone was the taut strain that had been there for so long before. Now his muscles were relaxed and his lips began the slow upturn into a smile.

When the sirens first announced the arrival of the ambulance and his breathing had stopped completely, she told the paramedic what had happened and sat, lost and staring into space on the side of the road. She felt a knowing sense of guilt growing inside her. She couldn’t explain it but she almost felt happy. Her son was a bloody corpse on the road and she felt happy. Her cheeks arched upwards as a surprising smile sprung across her face. 

For the past eighteen years she had watched her boy grow into a man and she realised the pain he was going through must have been unimaginable. He had always kept quiet, she only noticed something was wrong a year ago, when his behaviour suddenly became more apathetic and he began to grow distant. In the past year it had been like living with a ghost, some gothic memory of her son that still stalked the rooms of her house. She began to think that was why he had become so vain, so focused on his outer beauty, because it hid the deformity within.  

She sat alongside the body of her son; both were smiling.

Connor Long-Johnson

Connor Long-Johnson, currently writing his thesis on the fiction of Stephen King at the University of Greenwich in London, England. He enjoys writing short stories in the Gothic, fantasy and Science-Fiction genres inspired by the stories of Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson.  He can be found at

Serial Killers: The Man in the Mirror (Part 1) by Connor Long-Johnson

  1. Serial Killers: The Man in the Mirror (Part 1) by Connor Long-Johnson
  2. Serial Killers: The Man in the Mirror (Part 2) by Connor Long-Johnson

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

The street outside was being bombarded in a deluge of rain. The pitter patter of pregnant raindrops crashing down to the ground punctuated the stillness of the night; the faint sound of cars passing by in the street with low groans gave the raindrops company as they fell. 

These sounds gave the boy companionship too. 

He lay alone on his bed, his eyes heavy from the exertions of a day that was slowly dying. In a charcoal black ocean of darkness, he looked up at the ceiling. The only light to guide him was the artificial light on the screen of his mobile phone. In the darkness the bright beam seemed like a holy prophet, guiding him through the dark into a brave new world of knowledge and entertainment. 

He reached across to the bedside table and grasped for his phone. In the darkness he heard a loud rattle break the silence in the room as his medicine bottle hit the ground. Unable to find it, he shifted his body onto his side to look and finally clasped it in his hands. He returned to laying on his back and began to scroll, his thumbs being exercised with movement at regular intervals. 

As he gazed into the screen his eyes narrowed, focusing in on the latest stories being told by his peers. Soon after, he decided to check upon his own, earlier status with the autumnal theme. His pupils dilated with delight as he saw that his last post had now gained over two thousand likes.

Two thousand!

 The image, a photo of him standing amongst the crisp, brown leaves with chestnut-brown conkers shining in the morning light around him earlier that morning atop the hilly grounds of the Greenwich Maritime Museum, was a personal favourite of his. 

After the shoot he had spent the next hour in a local café sat in front of his computer; delicately he had edited the photo, altering his complexion to remove the ugly, red raw pimple that was growing in the middle of his forehead; after he had done so and changed the filter to alleviate the gun metal grey of the London sky, then he had posted the image to the internet. 

Now, when he looked at the photo, he felt honest, authentic, genuine even. It was a true representation of him, it was who we wanted to be. More importantly, every like provided a shot of dopamine, an orgasmic feeling exploded in his mind with every ping of his phone. It was glorious.

As the tranquillity of the room continued to be disturbed by the rain and sleep eluded him, the boy felt the sudden urge to urinate. Swinging his legs to the left and laying his feet gently on the floor, he slipped into his brown chequered slippers and walked to the bathroom. He brought his phone along with him; it was a constant friend to populate the emptiness of the night with him, like a child holding a stuffed bear. Taking care not to make too much noise – his parents sleeping soundly in the next room – the boy closed the door to the bathroom with great care, sure not to rouse anyone from their sleep. He flicked the light switch on and began his stream.

As he finished and was drying the last of the soap suds from his hands, he noticed himself in the mirror and turned to inspect his image. He had never liked the structure of his face. His cheekbones that lined his jaw were not like those of the people he saw everyday on the internet. His eyes were blue, but they were a dull, pallid blue. They looked like a fabric that had spent too long in the sun, or had its vibrancy worn away by the tide of time; they did not shine or shimmer like those of the people he so admired. 

Despite his own ill-will toward his image, he felt that a late-night selfie might brighten his mood. He turned back to face the bathroom mirror and ensure that his face – besmirched by the passing day – looked suitable enough to be exhibited to the internet. After agreeing with himself that it was – at least – passable, he flicked open the camera on his phone and held it high above his head, angling it downwards as he stared back up to meet the camera’s gaze. He puckered his lips slightly and smirked, turned his face to the left (what he believed to be his more photogenic side) and then tapped the screen of his phone ten times with the sound of clicking bounding around the empty room as he did so. 

Ten photos, one would be superior to the others. 

He scrolled through them, unhappy with the results: the first looked too forgettable, the second made his lips look as if they were about to burst, the fourth was terrible, the sixth one made him look gaunt and ghost-like. The ninth picture, however, he favoured above all the others, although all the photos were of himself, he felt that number nine was the one that reached out and spoke to him. It seemed to show a childlike cheekiness that he thought people would be attracted to. 

Satisfied, he locked his phone, snuck back into his bedroom with soft steps, took off his slippers and crawled back under the covers. He would edit and upload the photo now and by morning he would wake to a shower of likes, love and comments. 

He swiped up to unlock his phone, ready to edit the image and post it to the world. 

It was then that he noticed something had changed.

The photo that stared back at him was not the one that he had taken in the bathroom only moments ago, it was almost identical, but something was different about this picture. 

The face had shifted ever so slightly to the right, turning as if to face the camera directly, the veins that ran underneath the coffee brown tanned skin were more pronounced, looking like rivers flowing across a muddy plain and the eyes looked drawn in. 

The boy’s face scrunched in confusion; he did not understand it. He had not edited the photo yet and the image now facing him was not his own. 

It was impossible, he put down his phone and picked up the sleek silver tablet lying lazily on his bedside table. He needed to scrutinize the picture on a bigger screen, to see if he was finally going insane, or to see if the picture he took was that awful. 

He opened his tablet and began to scroll through the photos. There they were, all ten of then. The ones that had made him ghostly and forgettable were still their same undesirable selves, they were mirror images of what he had looked like in the bathroom. As he swiped intently through the photos, he became more and more sure that what he had seen on his phone was false; it was some side-effect of his meds, or of staying up this late into the night. Yes, that was it. It was his mind telling him that he should be asleep, instead of addictively abusing his phone. 

The next image proved himself wrong. 

The photo was different again this time. It was now incomparable to the one that he had chosen earlier, it was a twisted, demented painting, an artist’s impression of all the human suffering in the world. 

This time the image was staring directly into the camera and out back at him, the eyes now had charcoal black bags sagging under them and yet still seemed full of life. The veins, where before they were slightly elevated, were now raised above the skin and looked like purple tunnels of blood cavorting across his face. He no longer recognised the person who stared back through the screen. This was a stranger masquerading as him, his face turned to a cheap Halloween mask. 

He began to feel the tiniest droplets of sweat rolling down his back and his heart steadily beginning to pound against his chest, like a trapped animal desperate to escape captivity. If it was his tired state or something else, he did not know, but the world around him became a swirling mass of colourful confusion, with the room around him becoming a nightmarish vortex of panic so powerful that felt he could reach out and grab a handful, thick and smouldering.. 

He checked his phone again, hoping against hope that this was all some awful fever dream from which he would wake, or maybe some other side effect of the medication. He had read online that the side-effects could range in severity, but he never imagined anything like this. 

What he saw surprised him.

The photo was normal. 

He swiped through them all with the eagerness of a child opening a sought-after gift. All the ten images were now normal, the face in the phone was his; the eyes were blue and bagless, and skin was dark and without cracks or crevices and the hair was the colour of the night sky. He pinched his forearm gently, just to be sure he was awake; the sweet pinch of pain told him that he was. 

The tension drained slowly from his body, dissipating around him. He was like an overfilled cup; the emotions were now spilling down his sides until the relief surrounded him in a puddle of sweat. He needed a drink; with a deep, grateful breath we got up and walked back to the bathroom. 

Taking a cup and filling it with precision and holding it with a steady hand he swung it back and took long greedy gulps. He watched as the water disappeared, leaving nothing but the transparent bottom of the cup, through which he could see the mirror. 

With a jolt the cup flew from his hand and landed with a smash as it hit the cold, tiled floor. 

Staring at him from the mirror was now the image that he had so desperately thought was gone. He raised his hands to his eyes to shield himself from the horror when he noticed the purple lumps running across the palms of his own hands. They were veins. Veins like that of his reflection. They were rough and lumpy and gave his skin a look as if it were mottled. As he brought his hands back down, he noticed his forearms; gone was the pure, light-brown complexion filled with the deep colour of caramel coffee. His arms had taken on a lighter hue and now looked more like a lukewarm cup of tea that had been left for too long and was now undrinkable. Etched across both forearms were scratches and cuts, some red and raw, others faded and jagged.  

Anxiety began to return in tidal wave-like feelings that rolled up his throat from somewhere deep within him. Before he knew it, he was on his knees, retching and heaving. 

He could feel something forcing its way up. It was as if a balloon was expanding in his chest and was about to burst, releasing a combustible mixture of feelings. 

He staggered back to his feet, swaying violently as he did so. He lurched forward and reached for the door. Grabbing a hold of the metal handle, he yanked the door open and stumbled through into the hallway. 

He looked back into the bathroom and saw the mirror. Inside it he saw himself, now pure and unbesmirched. His old self had one hand lain flat on the pane, the other pounding hard like a heartbeat against the glass. The look of terror in the eyes of his reflection fired bullets of worry that hit him hard in his midriff. 

After he had staggered back into the dark retreat of his bedroom, all of a sudden, he felt the comforting embrace of sleep there to greet him. The trauma of the night’s events had sapped the energy from him and now he no longer cared for his image. He collapsed, exhausted, onto his bed and within moments his breathing was steady and he was at rest.

Connor Long-Johnson

Connor Long-Johnson, currently writing his thesis on the fiction of Stephen King at the University of Greenwich in London, England. He enjoys writing short stories in the Gothic, fantasy and Science-Fiction genres inspired by the stories of Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson.  He can be found at