Horla Fiction (November 2020)



I TOOK the gifted pill as I entered the bus station. Forty minutes later, I became antsy to leave, as I saw myself in disguises, gender-changing and age-altering. I wore wigs, was bald, and had a skin disease, among other ailments. It was like that station was turning into one gigantic, distorting mirror in which I saw myself as others.

By the time the drug’s effects had peaked, the bus had stopped and the driver with his nervous tic told me to leave. He’d had enough of the shouting. So had the other passengers. Taking my backpack, I wandered outside and saw blinking lights, a semaphore in carnival tints. I entered a public space of small rides, booths, and signs, including one nestled in an isolated corner of the fairgrounds.


I walked up to a booth. A man sat reading. He was a large, bearded, with eyes spaced at a distance that seemed to alternately widen and narrow as the lights behind me flickered, as if to make subtle structural adjustments to his features.

“What’s the mirrored room?” I asked.

He looked up from his book. “It’s pretty self-explanatory,” he said.

I paid and entered. Mirrors occupied all four walls and the ceiling. Mirrors were on the counter where a barista waited in duplicate. Near me two other people sat, the mirror made four. I sat. My reflection in the mirror under me, cut to fit the table’s shape, showed a doubling but a subtraction too as if the reflected me drained something from the real one with his poached eyes and hair unkempt to the point of thorniness. I was twenty, looked forty.

The waitress—her eyes glassy, perhaps the result of drugs—silently brought me tea. I didn’t remember having ordered any, but its taste perked me up. From the nearby table, the man spoke.

“My idea,” the man was saying, “is that the idea of a glass surface is different in the work of the two authors. In Jorge Luis Borges, mirrors multiply the things of this world, the vitreous surface reflects but multiplies, too.  In Julio Cortazar, glass is a medium we slip through.”

“Cortazar?” the woman said. “No, I don’t see that scenario in his works.”

“Not necessarily a mirror you see, but one that acts as a portal.”

“That’s a stretch,” the woman said. She had glasses, short-cropped hair. The man, almost in rebuttal, reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a pair of mirrored sunglasses and put them on.

“Still your thesis,” the woman continued, “reminds me of a question I’ve asked myself. Do mirrors have memories?”

I looked around. The mirrors in the room had gotten closer. They seemed to be drawn in by the man’s sunglasses.

“Perhaps,” he said.

I yawned. The tea, which had woken me briefly, now had seemed to initiate a greater somnolence. When I stretched out my arm in a wider yawn it touched the mirrored wall…no, it went through the mirrored wall.  In fact, it only took a slight shifting of my seat and I was inside the mirror: inside looking out.

It was getting close to closing time in the cafe. The man stood, took off the mirrored sunglasses and put them back in his pocket, dropped coins on the table, and left the room. The woman followed. The barista put the chairs atop the tables, swept the room, and put my abandoned backpack under the counter. The lights went out.

I was inside a mirrored darkness. Eventually, things began to lighten. It was another day, and people alone, in pairs, or in small groups entered and left. Soon, I began to relax, to feel myself joining them, watching them, hearing their conversations. I might stay here, if I could, and remember.



Garrett Rowlan is a retired sub teacher who lives in Los Angeles. In our Covid era, he no longer plays basketball but walks, walks, walks. His website is garrettrowlan.com

Title photo credit – Jovis Aloor on Unsplash

Horla standard disclaimer – image has no direct connection with the fiction