Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

"Mirror Writing"

Greater Washington D. C. area, July 2008

Children. Maybe start with children?

Because they're safest; they're full of imaginary friends and imaginary happenings, and nobody believes half of what they say. Grab the Snickers bars, stuff your backpack--crinkle of wrappers under your fingers like mylar or something. Where's the closest safest playground? Will there be any kids out on a gray misty day?

--No. Not such a good idea after all. Not because you might get mistaken for a pedophile. You don't need to talk to any of them. Just get close enough to see them, meet their eyes. Catch their reflections.

No, children are a bad idea because you could learn things. You will learn things. Things you have no excuse for knowing. That you would have to do something about.

That last Snickers bar stares at you from on top of the pile, and you pull it back out of the bag and peel the wrapper down. While you eat it--methodically, slowly, trying not to taste it so it won't make you gag--you try to come up with a better solution. Not kids. Okay.


The metro's dangerous. That many people, and what if you flip? Cold sweat prickles across your neck when you think of all those heaving strangers. The tight, hot, rocking box of the train. How out of control you'll be. If you lose it there--

--you'll be one more crazy on a train. And trains are full of crazies. Anonymous crazies. Worst that could happen is a transit cop shoots you.

Okay then.

(The authorized strength of the Metro Transit Police Department--the only tri-jurisdictional police agency in the United States--comprises 420 sworn, 106 security special police, and 24 civilian personnel. Thank you, memory.)

Choose a ratty clay-stained hoodie sweatshirt, and be glad you picked a drizzly overcast evening for this experiment. Sunglasses. Lick chocolate off your fingers, cloying-sick sweetness nauseating, just like everything else you try to swallow. Maybe you shouldn't bother with the food. Maybe you should just let the poison strength inside eat you up and be finished with it. There's still time. Maybe. Not too much more time. You're stronger, you'll keep getting stronger. You're recovering faster than anything human could.

Off duty weapon in the fanny pack holster under the hem of the hoodie--that's a way out, too, if you need it. And better to do it yourself if that's what needs to be done. Save somebody else the terrible decision. If Eddie could manage... if Melinda...

Don't think about that now, cowboy. Think about getting this thing under control so you don't flicker in and out like a dying CRT whenever something scares you. So you don't bring up the mirror by reflex every time you're startled. Vanishing, you can practice that at home, in the john, clinging with both hands to the sink in front of the mirror.

Just thinking of the mirror starts up the nausea drool again. So don't think about it.

The thing you can't practice at home is reflecting other people. Other people's worst secrets. That part, you have to get hold of. Because you're going back to work, sooner or later. And when you go back, if you start talking like Daphne's dead mother, her dead partners, the first time she pushes your buttons, the jig is going to be up pretty damned fast, boy.

Door, then. Lock it behind you. Check the dead bolt. Your arms are working better, so you can reach back to rattle the handle while already turning away. The stairs aren't as bad, either. Not great, and you take them clinging to the banister, but better. If better is what you can get, you'll take it. Today.

Because Daphne is right, and you're going to get well.

So down the stairs, out the door. Flip the hood up against a light rain. Walk--trudge to the Metro station, and catch a train, any train. Transfer at random, then again, until you're going where you never go. It's not too crowded. Crunch yourself into the corner beside the door, hide the part of your face the sunglasses and hood don't cover behind a book. Thank god for the digital era--if anybody notices you muttering to yourself, they'll just assume you're on the phone.

You feel like a predator, lurking, watching, selecting prey. No. Predators cull the herd. Pick one that isn't weak. If something goes wrong, if someone gets hurt, it won't be one of them.

There: a big man, darker than Reyes, about your age. Square, heavy, acne-scarred face, narrowed eyes cutting holes in the glass of the car windows. Shaved head, navy blue knit watch cap, nylon Chicago Bulls jacket. His arms are folded across his chest. He looks as if he could stop an oncoming truck if he planted his feet.

Watch him, and wait. Riders leave the car at each stop, but he never moves, except to let the motion of the train rock him in his seat. At last it's just you and him at the end of the car.

So you raise the mirror.

Nissa, he whispers with your mouth. Honey. Hang on. Hang on, baby. You'll be okay. Just stay with Daddy, okay? Baby girl, please, baby girl, please...

His tears burn down your face from under the sunglasses. Or are they yours?

Don't die. Please, just don't--

Stop it, stop it. Cut it off. But mirrors reflect. It's their nature. They don't turn off. They break...

No. Fold it closed, like the book warping under your clenching fingers. Crumple it up like a candy wrapper. Make it small and pack it away. The bright, hard, shining thing in your head reflects itself, then goes dark.

He stares across the car at you. Whatever he saw, he won't believe in half an hour. But he does now. When the train stops, he staggers up from his seat and out the doors. His nylon jacket hisses against itself as he lurches past. You slump against the window, cold with sweat. So nauseated you don't care that you're hungry.

To the predator, they're all weak. It's just a question of degree.

It's all right. You'll learn. You'll bounce their pain and fear off the bright unbreakable glass inside you and never feel a bit of it. That's how it should work. How it will work.

The doors knife across your view of Nissa's daddy, shutting him behind reflections. The train jumps forward as if something giant kicked it into motion. Nissa's daddy doesn't see you; he's stomping toward the exit, fists shoved into pockets, the kind of guy you don't stop to ask the time. But before the station rolls out of sight, you lift your left hand, point your finger, and write your name perfectly, backwards on the glass: Charles Travis Villette.

You draw your feet up onto the empty bench, hug your bony knees, let the backpack dangle from its strap.

It won't always be this hard.