"It was a me outside of me... it was me in a form that shouldn't have been me!"

The Mirror

The Mirror ( a short story by Haruki Murakami)

Ok, so I’ve been listening to everybody’s stories from the beginning, and it seems to me that there are a couple of basic patterns for this kind of thing. The first one is, here is the world of the living, over there is the world of the dead, and it’s a story about crossing between the two. Like ghosts, and that type of thing. And then there’s the type where phenomena or abilities exist that surpass everyday three-dimensional experience. E.S.P., premonitions, and the like. If you were to divide them broadly, I think you could separate them into those two groups.
And if you take what I said even further, I think you’d find that everybody only has experiences of one type or the other. What I mean is, someone who sees ghosts may see ghosts again and again, but he never has premonitions, and someone who has ESP may have premonitions all the time but will never see a ghost. I have no idea why this is, but for whatever reason it seems to happen this way. Or at least I think so.
And of course there are some people who don’t fit into either group. Me, for example. I’ve been alive for 30-some years, and I’ve never once seen a ghost. Nor have I ever had a vision or a premonition or anything. There was even a time when I was riding an elevator with two of my friends and they both saw a ghost but I didn’t see a thing. They saw this woman wearing a grey suit standing next to me, but there wasn’t actually any woman in the elevator. Just the three of us. I’m totally serious. And these two friends weren’t the type to put one over on me. Sure, that was a totally creepy experience, but all the same it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve never seen a ghost.
But one time, just one time, I think I felt fear in the depths of my soul. It was more than ten years ago now, but I’ve never told anyone about it. Even talking about it scared me. I had this feeling like, if I talked about it, the same kind of thing might happen again. So I have kept silent all these years. But tonight, listening to everybody tell their scary stories one by one, as the host, I can’t very well close up the place without saying anything at the end. So I’ve decided to talk.
No, please, you don’t have to clap. It’s really not that big a deal.
Like I said before, I’ve never seen a ghost and I don’t have any special powers. You may not think that my story is as scary as I do, and perhaps you’ll think, like, so what? And if that’s the case, that’s fine. But anyway, this is my story.

I left high school at the end of the sixties, during the period of civil turmoil when it seemed like whole system was breaking down. For my part, I was swept up in that wave as well, refusing to go on to college, and spending several years wandering around Japan doing manual labor. I thought that was the right way to lead a life. Yeah, I sure did a lot of different stuff. And some of it was dangerous. I was young and foolish. But when I think about it now, it was a fun lifestyle. If I had my life to live over again, I’d probably do the same thing. I’m that kind of person.
In the fall of my second year of wandering, I spent about two months as a night watchman at a middle school. This middle school in a small town in Niigata Prefecture. I had spent the summer doing really tough work, so I wanted to relax a little bit. And being a night watchman sounded kind of fun. I could sleep all day in the janitor’s room, and at night I only had to walk around and check all of the buildings twice. Apart from that, I could listen to records in the music room or read books in the library or shoot baskets alone in the gym or whatever. Being all alone at night in a middle school wasn’t too bad. No, it wasn’t bad at all. When you’re 18 or 19, you don’t know anything to be afraid of.
Since none of you have probably ever spent any time as a night watchman at a middle school, I’ll give you a quick run down of the procedure. I had to make rounds once at 9:00 and again at 3:00. That was fixed. The schoolhouse was a relatively new three storey concrete structure, with 18 or 20 classrooms. It wasn’t that big a school. Then there was the music room, the laboratory, the home-ec room, the art room, and also the staff room and the principal’s office. Apart from the main building, there was also the cafeteria and the pool and the gym and the auditorium. That was pretty much the extent of what I had to cover.
There were about twenty checkpoints that I had to mark off one by one on a form with a ballpoint pen as I made my rounds. Staff Room–check, Laboratory–check, like that. Of course I could have just kept sleeping in the janitor’s room and written check, check, check on the paper. But I’m not quite that lazy. Which is to say that it didn’t take much time, and anyway if someone had broken in they could have attacked me in my sleep.
So at 9:00 and 3:00, I’d take up a large flashlight and a kendo sword and make my rounds of the school. Flashlight in my left hand, kendo sword in my right. When I was a high school student I had practiced kendo, so I felt pretty confident in my ability to defend myself. If a novice had attacked me with a samurai sword, I wouldn’t have been particularly scared. But that was then. If it happened to me now, I’d run away pronto.
It was a windy October night. It wasn’t very cold. To tell you the truth, it felt kind of humid. When night fell, the mosquitoes became unbearable, and I remember lighting a couple of insect coils. The wind was howling all night. It sounded like the gate to the pool was being destroyed as it banged around in the wind. I thought to myself that I should fix it, but it was dark so I left it. It kept banging all night long.
When I made the rounds at 9:00, nothing was happening. I marked all twenty checkpoints ‘OK.’ The doors were firmly locked and everything was in its proper place. There was nothing out of the ordinary. I went back to the janitor’s room, set the clock to wake me up at 3:00, and fell sound asleep.
When the alarm bell went off at 3:00, I awoke with the strangest feeling. I can’t really describe it, but it was a very strange sensation. To make it plain, I didn’t want to get up. I felt like my body was resisting my will to wake up. I usually get up right away, so it was peculiar. But with difficulty I eventually got up to make my rounds. The pool gate was still banging around the same as earlier. But I had the feeling that the sound was somehow different than before. It was probably just my imagination, but I felt uncomfortable in my skin. This sucks, I thought to myself. I don’t want to make the rounds. But of course I pulled myself together and went out. If I faked it even once, I’d be doing it all the time. I took up my flashlight and my kendo sword and left the janitor’s room.
It was a miserable night. The wind was getting stronger and stronger, and the air was growing increasingly damp. My skin crawled and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. First, I checked on the gym and the auditorium and the pool. All three were OK. The pool gate kept banging open and shut like a lunatic bobbing and shaking his head senselessly. It was totally irregular: yes, yes, no, yes, no, no, no…like that. I know that’s a really odd way to put it, but at the time that’s what it felt like.
Nothing seemed to be amiss in the main school building. Same as ever. I hurriedly made my rounds and marked off all the checkpoints on the form ‘OK.’ There didn’t seem to be anything wrong, after all. It was with some relief that I decided to return to the janitor’s room. The last checkpoint was the boiler room, next to the cafeteria, on the far east side of the school. Unfortunately, the janitor’s room was on the far west side of the school. As a result, I had to walk the whole length of the first floor corridor on my way back to the janitor’s room. Naturally, it was pitch black. When the moon was out, a little light penetrated into the hallway, but if not, you couldn’t see a thing. I’d make my way back shining the flashlight right in front of me. Since there was a typhoon close by that night, naturally the moon wasn’t out. Every once in a while there would be a flash of lightning, and then darkness once again.
That night I walked more quickly than normal down the hallway. The rubber soles of my basketball shoes made a slapping sound against the linoleum. The hallway was covered in green linoleum. I can see it even now.
About halfway down the length of the hallway was the entranceway of the school, and when I passed it I suddenly had this feeling like ‘What the…?!?.’ It was like I could make out a figure in the darkness. Just out of the corner of my eye. I fixed my grip on the sword, and turned in that direction. In a heartbeat, I trained the beam of my flashlight there. It was a spot on the wall next to the shoe rack.
And there I was. That is to say–it was a mirror. There was nothing there except my own image reflecting back at me. The mirror must have just been installed, and hadn’t been there the day before. That’s why it had caught me off guard. I felt immensely relieved and totally stupid all at once. You dumbshit, I thought to myself. Still standing in front of the mirror, I set the flashlight down, fished a cigarette out of my pocket, and lit it. I had a smoke staring at myself in the mirror. A tiny bit of light from a street lamp came in through the window, and that light reached the mirror. The clanging sound of the pool gate could be heard coming from behind me.
After I’d taken about three drags off my cigarette, I abruptly noticed something strange. The image in the mirror wasn’t me. The outward appearance was me. There was no mistaking that. But it was absolutely not me. I knew it instinctively. No, wait, that’s not right. Of course it was me. But it was a me outside of me. It was me in a form that shouldn’t have been me.
I’m not saying this very well.
But at that time, the only thing I understood for certain was that the person staring back at me hated me from the very depths of his soul. It was a hatred like a dark iceberg, a hatred that no one could cure. That was the only thing I could understand. I stood there for a moment dumbfounded, unable to move. The cigarette dropped from between my fingers to the floor. We stared at each other identically. My body wouldn’t move, as if it had been bound there.
Eventually, the other guy moved his hand. The fingers of his left hand slowly touched his cheek and then, little by little, wandered across his face. I realized I was doing the same thing. It was as if I was the image in the mirror. What I mean is, he seemed to be in control of me.
Then, summoning all my strength, I screamed as loud as I could. I yelled, like, ‘Garhhh!’ With that, the bonds loosened a little bit. I hurled the kendo sword with all my might in the direction of the mirror. I heard the sound of the mirror shattering. I took off running back to my room without looking back, locked the door, and climbed into bed. The sound of the pool gate continued until morning.
Yes, yes, no, yes, no, no, no…and on and on.

I guess you probably know how the story ends: of course, there was never any mirror there. Nothing of the sort. No mirror had ever been installed in the entranceway next to the shoe rack.
All of which is to say, it wasn’t a ghost that I saw. All I saw was myself. I’ve never been able to forget the fear that I felt that night.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that there’s not a single mirror in this house. I don’t even use a mirror for shaving, although it takes a lot longer that way. It’s a true story.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: