“Why do we cover mirrors, mother?” Cecil, six years old, asks.
“To protect us from whatever lurks on the other side,” his mother says, draping a white sheet over the mirror in the living room. “To prevent whatever entity that has been trapped there from escaping; to help the Sheriff’s Secret Police corner anyone who has been hiding inside a mirror.” She pauses, and then, “To prevent people’s souls from getting trapped in them. Sometimes, when people die, their souls wander – when mirrors are present near where they died, they get trapped.”
Cecil nods. A neighbor has been found dead this morning, inside his house, ribcage broken open, skin turned inside out.
His mother beckons for him to follow as they move to the other rooms. He hops off of the hovering throw pillow he’s sitting on, petting it twice so that it floats over back to the couch, and then grabs the sheets folded beside him, waddling after his mother.
One early morning, still clutching a pillow to his chest as he goes down to the kitchen, he stops by the doorway as he finds his mother leaning against a counter. She is crying.
Cecil steps forward, and then stops. There is a feeling in his gut, something that feels like it has claws, that tells him this is not a good time to talk to his mother.
He stays by the doorway instead, and then goes back up his room and pretends to sleep. Pretense falls to reality, and he wakes up when he feels his mother running her hands through his hair, gently.
He turns over to face her, and he sees that her eyes are red, and there are tear tracks on her cheek, but her gaze is glassy and far away.
“Someone is going to kill you one day, Cecil,” she says. She is not looking at her son, instead staring somewhere…far off. “And it will involve mirrors.”
She falls silent, before slowly turning to him. Her eyes meet his, but they don’t focus. “Mark my words, child.”
Cecil does not understand. He doesn’t understand a lot of things, and so he does what he usually does when faced with another ineffable thing. He giggles.
That day, he finds his mother covering mirrors all over their house.
Cecil listens to Leonard Burton whenever his radio show is on. He takes notes, he tries to mouth along the words to the outro, he hums to the familiar music. He listens intently to whenever Leonard reports of any deaths, and he stops taking notes then, instead lowering his head and staying silent.
While deaths are not uncommon in Night Vale, nor are they uncommon in the world, they are not exactly something trivial.
Whenever Leonard reports of deaths, Cecil covers the mirrors of their house.
One morning, he finds his mother crying again. When he tries to go and comfort her, he feels that thing in his stomach – that thing with claws, that dark little monster telling him no. He looks away.
The next day he finds his brother staring at nothing, eyes reddened. He hugs Cecil, and that is the last time Cecil ever hears his brother tell him he loves him.
The next day, the mirrors in their house are covered again.
His brother tells him he is not fit for radio when he gets his internship. His mother starts avoiding him. The mirrors in their house stay covered. Cecil stays at the radio station more, losing himself in work and daydreams of being in Leonard Burton’s place.
The radio station has mirrors, and plenty of the interns die on a daily basis. Cecil, out of habit, tries to cover up the mirrors of the station, but someone waves him off, because they need the things. Cecil nods and doesn’t cover up the mirrors in the station. With the mirrors at his house permanently covered now, there’s nothing for him to cover, and he just hopes that the souls of the dead interns aren’t trapped in a mirror or anything.
He lowers his head and avoids mirrors around the station when someone has newly died. He continues to intern there. He goes home. One day, his mother and brother are gone.
Cecil uncovers a mirror just to cover it again. His own mourning. He cries himself to sleep that night.
Cecil Gershwin Palmer, age fifteen, dies in front of a mirror.
They find him on the floor, lying in a pool of his own blood, a tape recorder lying right beside him. When they play it, they hear the exact moment he chokes on the blood rising up his throat.
His brother arrives at the station, looking like he’d run straight from wherever it was he’d come from, hair wild and sweat dripping down his face, clothes uncomfortably clinging to his frame. He screams and screams and holds Cecil, not minding the blood that is staining his pants.
Their mother arrives hours later, confirming that her living son did in fact jump off a moving bus to run all the way back to Night Vale. She joins him in mourning, and in between hiccups, he murmurs, “I-I told you we shouldn’t have left him. I told you. I told him h-he shouldn’t have been in the station, and he didn’t listen and I tried to – god, I shouldn’t have done that, I don’t hate you, Cecil – I’m so sorry – ”
It takes several people to pry Cecil’s body from his hysterical brother’s arms. Leonard Burton announces his death, faltering as he says, “…to the family of…”. Cecil’s brother screams louder, and for a moment, everyone in Night Vale can hear him.
The mirror in the radio station bathroom is left uncovered.
Almost the entire town attends Cecil’s funeral. The Sheriff’s Secret Police stand guard around the visitors, and even City Council makes an appearance, although no one stands too close to them.
There is a…massive blob of…something that is also present. A few interns from the NVCR whisper that this is Station Management. Nobody also stands close to them.
The sun is hot that desert day, and everyone stands under umbrellas, putting up with the heat, just to attend the funeral of the once-prophesied Voice of Night Vale.
Nobody objects when angels gather around and raise their heads towards the sky, chanting in words nobody can understand.
Leonard Burton reports about this in the next broadcast.
The bathroom mirror of the radio station is cleaned of whatever flecks of blood it has gotten. When the intern that cleaned it comes back to the break room, they scratch their head and mention a flickering light in the reflection of the mirror.
Leonard Burton continues to be the host of NVCR. Interns come and go. Most of them die. People move on. The plaque of Cecil’s prophecy is covered with a white sheet. Cecil’s mother and brother move out of town.
Some of the interns who survive their term come home with wild stories. Of when they were sent to the public library, or to check out the latest murderous statue that suddenly popped up in the middle of town, or of the new dog park.
Sometimes they tell stories about the bathroom mirror, about how sometimes, when you’re so tired, you look up and see someone else in the place of your reflection. But you’re not scared. You never feel scared. Because the reflection is looking at you a little confusedly, like they’re not sure why they’re seeing you, and then that confusion melts to pity over your fatigue, and they mouth something and you can just hear this beautiful voice whisper, “Go rest.”
And you do. And you go home thinking that yes, rest sounds good, and the world will be alright tomorrow.
Years pass. Leonard Burton retires. Cecil’s prophecy plaque is just another landmark covered with a white sheet nobody talks about.
Interns of NVCR swap stories about the bathroom mirror.
The radio station undergoes a renovation. Station Management doesn’t like it, but well, the new company that owns the radio station says so. So renovations happen. Equipment is replaced. Uniforms are changed. A few hallways are redecorated.
The bathroom mirror is sold to Cecil’s brother (who had returned to Night Vale a few years ago) just out of respect for the intern who died in front of it. Cecil’s brother reckons it’s about the stories of the ‘flickering light’ or the ‘strange reflection’ that the interns have been passing around – probably creeps the new guys out.
Cecil’s brother looks at the mirror in his hands and then goes to pack his bags. He drives out of Night Vale until he almost runs out of gas, then figures the city he’s stopped in is a good place to stay as any, at least until the mess with the new megacorporation in Night Vale passes. There’s a university there too. He enrolls himself in.
He brings the mirror with him to his dorm room. His roommate thinks the black frame with engravings of people sleeping and screaming are rather nice.
Three months later, Cecil’s brother’s roommate, Carlos, sees a flickering light in the mirror.