Asma A.J is back with a brand new short story! We hope you enjoy her story titled “ON THE ROTTEN SIDE”
“Good morning, miss!”
Cassandra flashed a smiled at the waitress. It was routine by now, even the next question. “Same table?”
“Yes, please.” She could have walked to the table herself, but for formality’s sake, she followed the waitress. She also enjoyed the looks she got from the other patrons at the special treatment. As a regular, Cassandra was pretty protective about the cafe. It had a nice view outside, with its own garden and lawn furniture, but she preferred her table indoors. The atmosphere was transformational— the chairs and tables were as if from an 1800s manor with its gold enamelled wood and the salmon coloured seat covers. But the one thing that really gave this cafe an old-fashioned air was the sizeable fireplace, and the giant mirror that hung above it.
“Your seat, miss,” the waitress gestured to the seat. Cassandra caught a glance at her reflection as she settled at the table. The mirror engulfed and reflected most of the tables and the customers. It’s almost like a window, she thought, and just as she did, an image flickered from within.
Cassandra narrowed her eyes. She must have imagined it, but she had to make sure.
“Miss,” the voice of the waitress brought her back. “Your menu…”
Mentally shrugging, Cassandra smiled as she thumbed through the pages.
If Cassandra looked closer again, she would have seen more than a flicker. Through the mirror, right on the other side of it, Female Horror slumped on the surface that overlooked the cafe— forehead pressed in stubbornly as if she could pass through any second, and a withered finger scratching on an existing dent.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
“You’ll wear yourself out if you keep doing that,” a voice exclaimed in the dark. Female Horror ignored it, and went on scratching. Her hollowed out eyes were fixed on the woman in front of them. “She’s here again.”
In this realm, it was all darkness— a purple and black haze of nothing but gloom and lifeless things. Male Horror, her companion, attempted to decorate the place with shrivelled twigs and dried, crisp flowers, almost withered into feathery dust. There were the occasional skulls.
“Yes, well, that’s nothing new, is it?” said Male Horror, his own facial expression conveyed both a sardonic and nonchalant look. His own hollowed out eyes appeared more relaxed— as relaxed as empty sockets could appear. He was examining his new cane made of two femurs melded together unnaturally. “I think this complements my new style, don’t you?”
He brought it close to his tattered suit, originally maroon, but is now the colour of dark rust and dirt.
The question made her look at him carefully. She shrugged. “It’s too dark to tell,” she said dully, then turned back to the other side.
Male Horror sighed impatiently. “I told you, it’s no use!”
“But I want it,” she whined, and to emphasis her need, she dug her index finger into the surface, the nail crackling and fraying under the pressure. Blood seeped from her finger, but she gave it no mind. “She’s so alive,” she said breathlessly, “and warm and colourful.”
She lifted her forehead and slammed it against the wall, her empty sockets directed intensely at Cassandra.
“Well, you can’t have her,” sniffed Male Horror. “For one, we’re here,” he gestured to their surroundings with an arm. “And two, it’s daylight. And you know what happens to us in daylight.”
Female Horror groaned at his condescending tone.
“You shrivel up until you go out with a ‘pop’,” he continued, half gleefully. It wasn’t that different an explanation when he explained it to her the first time.
As Female Horror fixed her hollow sockets on Cassandra, a foreign sensation overcame her. She brought her lips closer to the Edge of the Other Side. “See me,” she whispered, her breathless words hoarse.
Male Horror turned to her sharply. She pounded her forehead against the window. “Look at me.”
“Ah,” said Male Horror. “So that’s what’s going on with you.” She didn’t say anything, eyeless gaze still fixed on Cassandra.
“They don’t see us. You know that,” he chided.
It angers her, she realised. “I am trapped here,” she said, words minced and guttural. “And they enjoy the sun, not knowing, not seeing, what’s around them.”
She heaved a shuddering sigh, and with all the power of a Horror, she drove a decayed fist into the glass.
Ever since she came in, Cassandra couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being watched. It was silly, because people always watched people at coffee shops, and she was no different. But this felt different.
It wasn’t until she gathered her stuff to leave that she pick up an unusual sound. Knocking thumps. Cassandra surveyed the shop, and her eyes fell on the mirror on the wall.
Her mind immediately introduced a thought, and rejected it the next second. She almost laughed at her silliness, until she saw it. Clutching her handbag close, Cassandra walked up to the mirror, her reflection getting bigger and bigger as she did. She stood just in front of it. It was a magnificent piece of furniture, but she couldn’t deny that there was something unsettling about it.
“Snap out of it,” she whispered to herself. Just as she was about to turn and walk out, she heard the thumping noise again. Unmistakably, and with a sinking heart, Cassandra turned back to the mirror. Her reflection stared back at her, taking in her horrified expression as she saw it. The subtle flicker of— more than a thing— a distorted face, a glimmer of misshapen teeth, right where her face was on the mirror’s surface.
Author: Asma A.J