The Ancient Modern

The Reflection /  Joshua Alan Sturgill

I hope this is a dream. My last hope. Not all dreams are lucid. Sometimes the dream and the real have no separation, and one reflects and becomes the other, and the unknown of one becomes the terror of the other. And without a third state to arbitrate between them, how can I break them apart? If this is a mixing of dream and day-life elements, I can’t remember. But think I was invited to house-sit. I must have agreed and arranged it. I must have driven hours out to this secluded vacation home. I am house-sitting. It’s a beautiful, open floor plan building, one great room with a loft bedroom above. I don’t remember. Did I just arrive? No. I am several days into a several-week commitment. The isolation is getting to me. It was refreshing for awhile. But I am restless now. Nervous. A weird frustration has been growing within me. Or around me. I suspect this restlessness may be coming from outsidefrom the weather and the forest and the silence. Tonight I can’t sleep, and I can’t concentrate enough to read or write. I was asleep. I am lost in thoughts that immediately blend with other thoughts. When did I wake up? Because I remember going to bed, but now I am pacing, pacing. I must have turned the on lights throughout the houseall of them, because the house is blazing with light. When did I turn them on? And I locked the doors when I went to bed. But all of them? The house is far out of the city; I am alone. I linger for a moment in the center of the room, among the tables and the leather chairs and the artwork. Why am I so uneasy? Am I thirsty? I decide I am thirsty, and I go into the kitchen area, which I vaguely remember must be along the north wall, but I don’t remember why this is important. North is important. Something I need is that way. Or something I need to avoid? The kitchen sink stands in front of a huge picture window by the back door. I search for a glass or a mug.The silence has become oppressive. So, I try to make noise by walking on the tiled floor, opening and shutting the cabinet, rattling the cupsbecause something isn’t right. Maybe it was a noise earlier that woke me, or a nagging sense that something is unfinished or out of place. Am I afraid? Anxious about something I can’t now recall? I stand idle and distracted in front of the sink, and as I look into the picture window, I can see my own face. The blazing light inside the house has made the window into a mirrorfurniture, lampsand then, my eyes adjust to see outside. Inches in front of me, perfectly still but smiling a huge, ghastly smile, a man gazes into the house from the other side of the window. This face has been watching me get a drink, and before I can move or speak or think, I am overcome with terror, with a panic like a forest fire. Is this real? Am I dreaming? A trick of the light?and then I see it: a second wave of horror: this face might not be outside at all. It might be here, in the house, right behind me, reflected in the bright window. The eyes gleeful; the smile utterly confident. A face delighting in my helplessness. It will kill me, not because it cares or wants to kill. It kills only to raise terror to an absolute height, so that terror is fixed in my soul forever. A dream. Never a dream. Where is the face? I have to know. For a wild fraction of a second, I am relieved that I locked the doors, because then it couldn’t be inside after all. I instinctively look down at the handle where I earlier checked to be sure it was locked. The latch is not set. The door is open. My last chance. And I sense the shock, like a cold blast of air. There is one, last, terrible decision to make and my life depends on it: where is the face? If this horrid presence, this adolescent, maliciously grinning face is outside, I have just enough time to reach down and lock the door. But if inside, I have just enough time to open the door and escape. But I have to choose now—to act, run. I will die if I don’t move. This is a dream. Because I can’t die in a dream. I can’t die in a dream. Dreams are made of what I know. I don’t know death; I don’t want to know death. This is the face of death, and I don’t know where I am…

All poetry and supplementary material: copyright 2020 by Joshua Alan Sturgill

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