What is She Doing in Your Mirror?
“Driving, page-turning force” Publishers Weekly
“It wasn’t my reflection and I wasn’t seeing things. It was an old woman with a dagger plunged in each eye. She appeared to be laughing, as though lost in the throes of some nameless debauchery. Blood dripped down her forearms, filling chalices beneath her elbows. She said I was the reflection, not her.” Delores L
Petronius Jablonski grew up in Cudahy, Wisconsin, where he began chronicling versions of the Mary Weatherworth meme. This suburban folklore about a blind, mirror-infesting apparition endures and mutates like some Campbellian myth. Bizarre and horrifying legends uncoil across Schrodinger’s Dachshund, winding toward their historic origin. Jablonski went undercover with the Sentinels of the Chandelier to study the connections between their Gnostic teachings and Mary Weatherworth. His expose was released as a “novel” to avoid punitive legal measures, and worse.
“This is breaking and entering,” said Delores.
“Not,” said one of her friends. “The older kids party here all the time.”
“So it’s only breaking and entering for the first person to do it?”
“If you’re too scared go home.”
Delores opened the door, its brass handle gleaming like some sole survivor of decay. Diseased breath seeped out. Flowers carved above the fireplace bloomed in the moonlight. The beam of their flashlight conjured bottles and cans strewn about the floor, ghosts from parties past. They walked down a corridor past tall doors and peeling wallpaper. A clock kept time to the secret pulse of all things, ticking slower than it had the week before. As they were told, there was a mattress in one of the rooms. And a mirror.
“What are those things in the corner?”
“That’s the skin from little snakes. Go pick one up.”
“Let’s not do this,” said Delores. “What if it’s true? Why do we even want to know?”
“I knew she’d chicken out.”
“Why can’t we do this at one of our houses?” said Delores.
“Because your mom would walk in with PBJs.”
The cruel derision of her friends silenced all protests. Death before displeasing your peers. Their reflection in an oval mirror vanished when they shut off the flashlight. “Mary Weatherworth come forth,” they said, quietly the first time, louder the next. The third time it fled their mouths and took on a life of its own like some blank check tossed into the abyss. A pinprick of light appeared and expanded. Delores’ friends fled.
What looked back. Three of them. White leather skin. Saucer eyes black and glossy. Featureless faces like the pupa stage of some malevolent becoming. Each clasped two daggers with stone handles, holding them with the blades pointed up.
Delores tried to scream but the muscles in her throat must have conspired against her, unless they were no longer under her control. She said the name again. About extra incantations the legend was silent.
The frame of the mirror glimmered from a sepia strobe within. The smell of pavement after a summer rain filled the room. The reflections’ hair blew from a breeze Delores could not feel. One of them cried. One laughed. Another extended a hand to the glass like an ape at the zoo, as though puzzled by its whereabouts, outraged by the ex nihilo curse of its existence in the way most humans are not.
Slowly they looked less blank, more like animate outlines. More like Delores.
A cacophony of voices told her she was the reflection, not them. Told her they would prove it, that the proof would make it so. They raised the daggers to shoulder level and pointed them at their eyes. With muscles suddenly freed Delores turned to run.
Calibrated to the dying clock, her frantic pounding on the door slowed down to primal beats. Her friends wouldn’t have locked it. She crouched and covered her face and the voices commanded her to observe the proof.
Years later, Delores keeps a blog:
The meme researcher is a paleontologist, digging through the soil of history and literature and art for common fossils, looking for connections between the earliest forms and their living descendants. Just because most people do this poorly and in pursuit of frivolous artifacts doesn’t call the whole enterprise into disrepute.
This is also a way of keeping my feet wet in Philosophy. I’m NOT interested in Mary Weatherworth as a supernatural phenomena but as a meme, a compact chunk of information. I’m studying how it gets passed on, how it competes in the meme pool (the pool of ideas or units of culture) and how it mutates and evolves. Please send me occult lore involving mirror-inhabiting entities who are blind.
I discovered the following on an Ana blog, a site devoted to unhealthy tips for losing weight. The meme was the least creepy thing I found there. Ana, as best I can tell, is the animistic force of anorexia. According to the hostess of this site it’s a positive lifestyle choice rather than an illness. I’ve emailed Zelda for more details about the following story (posted without permission).
there was a aynshent rituel 2 defeet evil beings. a princess named Nica had her eyes gowjed out by hi preests. 1 wore a cote of black fethers. 1 wore a giant fish head. they chanted Ave de Pico Ancho, Ave de Pico Ancho, Ave de Pico Ancho. BY REEDING THIS SPELL U JUST OPENED THE WINDOW TO THE OTHER SIDE! ITS UR MIRROR!! the only way 2 close it is by sending this email to 97 people. if U dont Nica will appeer in ur mirror all covred with rotting skin and glowng eyes and PULL U THRU 2 B with her 4 EVER!!
Notice how the summons “ave de pico ancho” has to be repeated three times just like “Mary Weatherworth come forth.” This meme spreads itself virus-like by using the same mechanism as mainstream religions and cults. 1) You are cursed. 2) To break the curse you have to spread the meme. My evidence that this story evolved from the Weatherworth meme as opposed to sharing a common ancestor is based on three considerations. The first involves the transformation of Nica’s eyes. Similar to the legend of Mary Weatherworth, the mutilation of her eyes had supernatural consequences. Hopefully Zelda will respond to my email and clarify the scope of Nica’s powers.
“Reads like a surreal, existentialist crisis” PW
The name “Mary Weatherworth” wasn’t contained in the earliest versions of the story. It comes from a traveler persecuted in Oaxaca for powers of divination and unnatural acts with the local girls. Before a trial could proceed, an angry mob abducted her, blinded her, and threw her down a well. Then the town suffered a series of droughts until it was abandoned. The legend, spread by recipients of Mary Weatherworth’s affection, was that she appeared in the mirrors of her persecutors, haunting them, eventually driving them to suicide. The inhabitants of neighboring villages began fending off the apparition with strange rituals and even human sacrifices. (In case of emergency, kill a virgin.)
So what’s the deal with mirrors? In the ancient world it was widely believed they were passageways to other realms. The most famous example is Detritus, a Gnostic philosopher, self-styled “prophet of the reflections,” possible author of the Gospel of Detritus, which was condemned by the early church fathers. A secret society known as the Sentinels of the Chandelier are modern practitioners of his cryptic teachings. He allegedly summoned an evil priestess in a mirror who told him the first one to blind him/herself would force the other to become the reflection. Perhaps it was a trick, but on which side should you err? He taught that owning a mirror was like opening a window during a pestilence. There is only one way to see the real you and that’s not it. He wrote a tragedy about a kingdom invaded and vanquished by mirror warriors, its citizens too vain to dispense with them.
The simplest explanation for these tales is that scary stories conjoined with mirror stories. As they became more intriguing and outrageous they were repeated more often, making them the fittest in the meme pool, ensuring their survival. Let’s stick with that until something better comes along. Why are people so resistant to explanations in terms of chance mutation and layers of happenstance?
My favorite version, if I had to pick only one, is the blank entity who absorbs the appearance of the summoner and enslaves her in a parallel dimension in the mirror. Then it takes her place and spreads the lie that Mary Weatherworth is just a story, thereby enticing more to call her. I’ve cataloged over sixty versions on this blog. The meme researcher’s work is never done.
Obliged to survey the premises six times per shift, I began with the warehouse. From a distance the entrance looked like a mousehole but grew to a drawbridge as I approached. Opening it strained every muscle in my back, as though the occupants resisted until finally ceding territory to lay in wait. The air inside, dank and foul, was it not the necrotic tissue of a once mighty creature? Sparsely distributed over the center aisle, dangling bulbs cast little light on the dusty concrete. A few feet to either side, darkness reigned. Less valorous sentries lamented their gloomy plight. Two had ignominiously abandoned their posts. Their piteous supplications did not tempt the insolvent gods, whose impotent hands could not procure any items not “absolutely necessary.”
One terrible night, so that I might gratify a swelling curiosity, I brought a flashlight to inspect the dark recesses, hoping something lay hidden, something not meant for my eyes, something forbidden. I could scarcely have foreseen how this innocuous inspection would uncover a fiendish plot, one that would rend the very texture of my being.
That night I walked slowly down the center aisle, uncertain where to begin my excursion. When I finally set off, abandoning the token security of the firefly bulbs, I flashed my light across a desert of dust and piles of rotting lumber. Like toys scattered by the offspring of a monstrous alien or the exoskeletons of insects destined to rule the earth, huge casting molds littered the area. Similar to a spelunker exploring an abominable chasm, a balance of powers guided my steps: apprehension and prudence stalemated curiosity.
As I prepared to head to the opposite side, my light conjured something from the darkness. I jumped back and bested the urge to flee. Almost hidden between a haphazardly stacked pile of boards and an enormous polyhedral mold sat a wooden crate wrapped in a dense veil of cobwebs. Its carvings, too elaborate for a piano box, bespoke a treasure chest from the orient. After slashing through the silken wrap, I pushed the top an eighth of the way off. It had the warmth, the unmistakable tactility of a living being. I brandished my light, prepared for whatever secrets it contained.
Before I could investigate, a remembrance struck my head like an arrow. In the bottom drawer of the guards’ desk was a book titled The Year’s Best Horror Stories. One featured a watchman in an analogous predicament. Per the traditional disparagement, he spent his working hours in a schnapps-induced stupor. After becoming lost on one of his rounds he found a mysterious box and opened it. Human heads with “kiwi-green skin” opened their eyes when he screamed. In a breathtaking twist, he dropped his flashlight. Their eyes, however, “glowed like creatures from the deep.” The heads floated out of the box “wailing and snarling.” Per another wicked stereotype vilifying his brave calling, the watchman “waddled” down a long corridor with dozens of little lights in fast pursuit. “They cast a shadow of his head on the door while he sought the right key.” The story ended with “blunt bites from cold mouths.”
An original thesis of mine is that the storage space of the mind is finite. A man should always be on guard not to clutter his head with nonsense, or, if he cannot abstain, he should force himself to forget it soon afterwards. The theoretical framework of this wretched story offended me on so many levels I tried to banish it before an entire floor of my brain became cluttered with objections and criticisms. As it clung to my mental dumpster like a mound of dog excrement, a tremendous urge swelled up within me to return to the office and lash off a letter to the author posthaste, as though this could purge my fury and nullify the malign spell of the book. Perhaps all critiques are thus. Glaring at the dark opening, I composed a draft in seconds.
If you were banking on your readers being too horrified by “Rent-a-Cop and the Mystery Box” to notice its incoherencies and defamation, your judgment was grievously flawed. I noticed. The following objections were written in the order in which they provoked a rational mind. They could perhaps be written in a different order. Re-arrange them if you like.
Your story ended with the implication that the floating heads devoured the watchman. Question: How on earth does a disembodied head digest its food? The secondary disadvantage to being a disembodied head (the primary being death) is the lack of a body and the deprivations this absence entails. Before you commit any further scribbling I suggest you observe an autopsy. Ask the coroner for a quick tour of the digestive system and make a note of its proximity to the head. In the same key, your story had the heads making all sorts of noises — in the absence of a respiratory system. Again, have the coroner explain the relationship between lungs and wailing.
Your rebuttal fails — miserably. You maintain that these disembodied heads can transgress the laws of biology (apparently physics too, given that they were floating). They are obviously endowed with evil supernatural powers. Very well, how could “supernaturally endowed” heads be constrained by a mere box? Could they not have conspired to hover together and lift the lid? Your story says nothing about any locks. Could they not have gnawed their way out? What were they doing for food prior to the watchman? Did they come out at night to hunt for insects? Was someone feeding them? Was someone keeping them as pets? Who would want such pets?
Your portrayal of the watchman as a bumbling, overweight dipsomaniac is unforgivable. As a practitioner of this noble calling I take personal offense. (Should you ever suffer from the suicidal melancholy so common to writers of fiction, I recommend you attempt to trespass on the property I defend.) In case you were not aware, this portrayal is known as a cliché: writers are supposed to avoid them. Likewise, having the watchman fumble with his keys was simply masterful. I suggest, for a future story, a nubile girl whose car will not start.
In conclusion, “Rent-a-Cop and the Mystery Box” is, beyond certainty, the most incongruous and preposterous horror story since Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stylistically it is atrocious. Do not listen to the inbred parrots in your creative writing program. If I want “gritty realism” I will defecate or watch my brother feed goldfish to his Piranha. Readers turn to books for Beauty. In the tragic event that you paid $250,000 for a degree that taught you otherwise you should retain the services of an attorney who specializes in fraud.
This summed things up rather well, but in an instant I conceived of two new and even more damning objections. I decided against returning to the office. A proper refutation and healthful disposal would require nothing short of a Kantian critique and would have to wait. With a vow to abstain from all horror fiction, I returned to the edge of the cobweb-veiled crate, prepared to plunge my light into the darkness of the baroque chest like a saber.
The light flickered and died. It was second shift’s responsibility to check the batteries. Judging from the lascivious periodicals polluting the desk, he had become enslaved by the merciless tyrant of onanism. (Does the suicide of our culture not vindicate Plato? Sanctifying freedom of speech is akin to extolling small pox: “I do not approve of the pestilence you spread, but I shall defend to the death your right to spread it.”)
Upon my return to the warehouse I must have chosen a different spot to digress from the center aisle. My light revealed a staircase against the wall. Amber with rust like some remnant of the Titanic, it wound its way into the darkness above. Without making any conscious decision, I found myself on the steps, the metal groaning beneath my feet. I climbed and climbed but progress eluded me as though I were pulling some great chain out of a void. When I made the dubious choice of assessing my progress by shining the light at the ground, I found myself above an abyss whose evil gravity clawed at me, in the middle of outer space with no constellations for guidance or comfort. I clutched the railings and the flashlight hurtled away like a comet, making a crunching sound as it disappeared.
Excerpted from The Annals of Petronius Jablonski