Robert lives alone in a house with all the windows boarded up on both sides.
Windows are bad.
The lighting in the house is always dim and carefully positioned to avoid casting any shadows.
Shadows are bad.
And there are no mirrors.
Mirrors are bad.
No glass. No TV sets. No polished metal.
In fact, there are no reflective surfaces of any kind.
Reflective surfaces are bad.
Because within reflections and shadows lives the other Robert.
And the other Robert is bad.
Robert has to time his movements outside, very carefully, to avoid the sun. The sunlight would cast a shadow. He would wait until sundown to venture out. He even has to plan his routes in advance to avoid certain street lights.
And shops and supermarkets are out of the question. He does all his shopping online, with a very low light monitor. Delivered late at night, of course.
He dare not drive until it is absolutely necessary.
He wouldn’t bother going out at all, but there are some things he must do.
It is all a calculated risk.
Because if the other Robert gets the chance, he will start to exert his will, and that would be bad.
So many times before, before Robert altered his lifestyle, before he knew how to keep the other Robert at bay, the other Robert had spoiled so much, for so long.
But those days are over. No longer would Robert allow the other Robert to meddle.
As long as he sticks to the routine.
But if there is one thing that can disrupt a man’s routine, his order, aside from death; it’s a woman.
Once a month, no more, no less.
The life Robert leads is a solitary, lonely one. He has urges, like any man. A carnal craving. But meeting women has proven difficult over the years, what with the awkward conditions and necessary precautions he has to adhere to. How does one style one’s hair or gauge one’s appearance without mirrors, for example?
Today is a normal Friday. Late Friday night. It has been a month since…the last time. It’s time to hit the town. Time to quench a particular thirst.
Robert is dressed in his outfit for the evening. Black boots, black jeans and a black polo-neck jumper. To match his mop of black hair. He looks good in black and he reckons that the ladies love a man dressed in black. The dark mystery.
He stands in his bedroom, his hand clutching a sheet, which has been pulled over a free standing mirror. He is nervous, breathing heavily.
‘One glance,’ he tells himself.
And with one sudden and quick motion, he pulls the sheet away. He braces himself as he looks into his own terrified eyes, reflected in the mirror. But as his reflection stares back at him, he watches the fear fade from his expression, as he, himself, relaxes. He stares at his own face. A month since he last saw it. He looks himself up and down.
‘I scrub up well,’ he says, and his reflection even smiles back at him.
No sign of the other Robert.
Feeling confident and in control, Robert decides to not push his luck and to cover the mirror with the sheet again. He moves to bend down and pick up the sheet, but from the corner of his eye he notices that his reflection is no longer matching his own movements. In fact it does not move at all. Robert feels panic wash over him, hitting him hard, like a tsunami. He quickly glances up to see his reflection standing perfectly still, glaring at him with contemptible eyes.
‘No, no, no!’ Robert blurts, as he hurriedly snatches up the sheet and rushes towards the mirror. He tries not to make eye contact.
‘You can’t shut me out forever!’ the other Robert yells, furious, as Robert frantically covers the mirror.
Robert stumbles backwards, disturbed by the encounter.
‘Oh yeah!?’ Robert shouts at the mirror, trying to find his nerve. ‘We’ll see about that!’
He heads out of his bedroom and towards the front door. He pulls on his coat, a black blazer, and slips his hands into his driving gloves and leaves, locking the door behind him.
He pauses outside his door, gazing up into the starry night sky. He draws in a deep breath of cool crisp air and holds it. He still feels unsettled. But he is determined not to let the other Robert spoil his evening, before it has even begun. He exhales slowly, feeling calmer, but excited about the night ahead.
He makes his way to his modified van. The wing and rear view mirrors surfaces are covered in a non-reflective plastic sheeting, which makes the mirrors still look the part, to avoid the unwanted attention of passersby, or the police. He climbs in the van and starts the engine, not noticing the corner of the plastic on the rear view mirror, which has peeled away slightly. He slowly pulls out of his long dark driveway and takes the road leading him into town.
As he enters the town the traffic increases, as does the lighting intensity. Headlights, streetlights and lighting from businesses and bars cast moving, but fleeting, shadows of himself inside his van. He does what he always does on this monthly prowl and tries to ignore them, as they seem to threateningly flash by him, looming and reaching out for him. He can almost hear a faint voice from each shadow, whispering warnings and disdain.
The other Robert trying to manifest and meddle, as usual.
As another shadow flits towards Robert with an outstretched claw-like hand, he finds himself ducking away from it. As he does he loses control of the van and he swerves precariously over the road, almost hitting another parked car.
‘Fucking leave me alone!’ Robert cries, gripping the wheel and correcting his steering, regaining control of the vehicle.
He realises he is on edge, and decides to pull over, in a darker secluded street. He lowers his head and covers his face with his hands. He is regretting heading out tonight. It’s never easy, and tonight has been no exception.
‘Why can’t you leave me alone?’ he asks nobody, shaking his head. There is no sign of the other Robert. ‘Huh? Why can’t you leave me alone to live my life? Why can’t you just let me have one night?’
Of course, there is no answer. Only a frustrating silence.
Robert is disheartened. Afraid. He can feel that the other Robert’s presence is stronger tonight. Closer tonight. Just waiting for the opportunity to appear and do what he does best; spoil everything. Robert decides to call it quits. It’s not worth the risk after all. But then he hears a sound. A recurring, if somewhat erratic, sound approaching. A clicking, clacking sound. A sound Robert knows. The sound of high heels on concrete. He looks up to see a young woman, scantily dressed, stumbling up the pavement towards his van. She is obviously drunk.
‘Too drunk to walk,’ Robert whispers, and as if she heard him, she staggers and falls forward, hitting the pavement hard.
Robert watches her for a moment, shocked. She doesn’t seem to be moving. He slowly switches off his engine and unfastens his seat belt. As he reaches for the door handle, he glances in the rear-view mirror and notices that the plastic sheeting has peeled away, now revealing half of the mirror. The other Robert is peering back at him, his eyes glowering and intimidating.
‘What do you think you are doing!?’ the other Robert yells.
‘Shit!’ Robert cries, reaching up and fumbling with the sheeting, trying to re-stick it onto the mirror. He releases it and it flops back down, revealing the other Robert again.
‘You can’t hide from me, Robert. I’m always here, waiting and watching.’
‘Stay away from me!’ Robert cries into the mirror. ‘Stay out of my life…my decisions…you do nothing but hinder me. Hound me. You spoil everything.’
The other Robert is enraged.
‘No, you do that, you spoil everything! Don’t you see!?’
‘No!’ Robert shouts, as he pulls the sheeting over the mirror again. He holds it there with his hand. ‘I’m not listening to you.’
There is silence again, except for Robert’s heavy breathing. He looks up to find the woman beginning to stir. He opens the van door and swings it open. He releases the sheeting, and as he leaves the vehicle he can’t help but shoot a last glance at the mirror. The other Robert glares back at him, shaking his head. Robert tuts and flips a mid-digit at the mirror and climbs out of the van. He looks up and down the street. It is relatively deserted. He rushes towards the woman.
‘Jesus,’ he says, as he reaches her, ‘are you okay? I saw you fall.’
The woman tries to look up, but she is disorientated. She has a round bump and deep gash on her forehead. Blood is trickling from the wound.
‘…Not…feeling too good…’ she tries to say.
Robert carefully and slowly pulls the woman up and onto her feet again. Her legs buckle. Robert grips her tightly.
‘I can take you to a hospital?’ he suggests.
The woman seems to frown.
‘…Just…want to go home…’ she mumbles, her eyes rolling.
‘You have a nasty cut on your head, maybe I should take you to a hospital?’
The woman drunkenly shakes her head.
‘…Home…’ she says.
‘Well, if you tell me where you live I will take you home.’
The woman pauses, swaying slightly. She tries to focus on Robert’s face. But her eyes seem to have a mind of their own.
‘Yes, I’m a taxi,’ Robert lies, ‘I’ll take you home if you tell me where you live.’
The woman hesitates.
‘…Forty five…Ssshorehead Road…’ she slurs.
‘Shorehead Road, I know it well,’ Robert smiles, lying again.
Robert, with his arm around the woman and his hands gripping her upper arms firmly, begins to lead her towards his van. A car appears from nowhere, speeding along the road behind them. He panics, but then realises that they must look like a normal drunk couple walking home, or to the next pub. He relaxes, but as the car draws closer, the headlights cast a large shadow of them both. Robert watches his own shadow begin to move independently. It turns on him and reaches out a hand. It manages to snare his arm, halting him in his tracks. Robert struggles to free his arm from the other Robert’s steely grip.
‘Get off me!’ Robert cries, trying to hold the woman and fight off the other Robert too.
The woman seems to have a moment of clarity and realises the odd situation she is in. Now she tries to pull herself away from Robert, but his grip is just as steely as the other Robert’s.
‘…What are you…doing?’ she asks, now with serious concern in her eyes.
Robert looks into them and sees a faint reflection of himself. But not of himself, of course. The other Robert scowls back at him with antipathy and determination in his eyes.
‘Not again!’ the other Robert bellows.
The car passes by and the other Robert fades away again, to Robert’s relief.
‘Let go of me…’ the woman says, and tries to free herself again.
‘Please…’ Robert says, now almost wrestling with her, ‘if you just…get in the van…I’ll take you…home.’
But the woman is now distraught with fear and begins to yell.
‘Help!’ she cries, into the night.
‘Please…’ Robert says, looking up and down the street to see if she has drawn attention. Satisfied that she has not, he swiftly punches her in the solar plexus. She instantly doubles over, winded.
Robert brashly drags her to the rear of his van and opens the door. He swings it open and crudely crams the gasping woman inside. He climbs in and lifts a roll of duct tape from a hook. He bites off a piece of tape and quickly binds her hands together, behind her back. He binds her feet together. Then he places another piece of tape over her mouth. The woman cries and whimpers as Robert slowly crawls out of the back of the van. He watches her for a moment, jarred and vacant, before slamming the doors closed.
Robert climbs into the driver seat again and closes the door. He starts the engine. He glances up at the rear-view mirror. The other Robert is there, glaring back at him with a desperate and embittered look on his face. He looks ashamed. But Robert is not ashamed, clearly. A cunning devilish grin stretches across his face.
‘Try as you might to spoil everything, you failed again. You’ll never stop me.’
The other Robert just turns away, disgusted and saddened.
As the woman moans and squirms in the back of his van, Robert pulls away from the roadside and heads back the way he came. Back home to safety, and protection from reflections and shadows. Protection from his own conscience, the other Robert.