Shattered Reflection

📅 Published on March 24, 2021

“Shattered Reflection”

Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.57/10. From 7 votes.
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Nathan walked out of the church and into the bright Sunday morning light. The pastor had ended his sermon early, noon still a half-hour away. Nathan fished his keys from his pocket and made his way to his car, one of the last remaining in the parking lot. He’d stayed behind as usual and helped the pastor tidy up a bit. Now the only cars left were his and Mrs. Johnson’s, the church organist. She probably wouldn’t leave for another thirty minutes or so, talking away as the pastor held up a smile, nodding politely. Lord, that woman loved to talk.

“Hey! Nathan, wait up!”

Nathan turned as Patrick wheeled over to him, his chrome chair shining.

“Hey, Pat!” Nathan said and shook the other man’s hand. “How’s it going? Still settling in at the new place?”

“Yeah, so far, so good,” Patrick said. “That’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Sure. What’s up?”

“Since we got out of there a little early, I was wondering if maybe you had a few minutes to spare? I need some boxes moved back at my apartment, and they’re a bit heavy and awkward for me to get by myself.”

“No problem. I’m happy to help.”

Patrick’s face lit up with a smile. “Thank you,” he said, relieved. “I’m not going to lie; I’ve been in this chair for six years and I still hate asking for help. But if it’s one thing I’ve learned since the accident it’s that I can’t be too proud to reach out.”

“You won’t ever have to worry about that here, Pat. Any member of this church would give you the shirts off their backs.”

“I believe it,” Patrick said. “I’d only been here a week when y’all had that bake sale to help out with the moving expenses. I can’t ever repay that sort of kindness.”

Nathan shook his head. “You never know. There may be a day when you can. It’s all in the Lord’s hands.”

“You’re probably right. But hey, I don’t want to keep you all day. Do you mind if I ride with you? It’ll save me from having to ask Mrs. Johnson for a lift.”

“Let me guess: she’s a little too talkative?”

“If I have to hear the same stories about her being the reigning women’s regional bowling champion from 1978 to 1984 again, I may lose my mind!”

Nathan laughed. “I totally understand. Do you need help getting in the car?”

“Nah, I’ll be fine with that part. Would you mind putting my chair in the trunk?”

“Of course not. Come on, let’s get going.”

They made their way to Nathan’s car. He unlocked the doors, then held Patrick’s chair still as the other man lifted himself into the passenger seat.

He wheeled the chair around to the back and popped the trunk, hesitating for a moment as he thought about what he’d need to move around back there to make the chair fit.

Pain exploded across his back, and his breath left his lungs as he stumbled face-first into the trunk. He hung there half in and half out, his feet sliding over the asphalt as he tried to stand. All he could manage was turning over, his view of the sky blocked by the trunk’s lid. A question formed behind his lips but before it could escape the lid slammed down across his face.

He barely felt the pain before drifting away.

* * * * * *

Nathan woke, his head swimming, vertigo making the world spin.

“I’m not crazy,” someone said. “I know it seems that way, but I’m not.”

Nathan pushed forward, struggling in his restraints and loosing a cry against the dirty rag that had been shoved in his mouth. At least a couple of his teeth felt loose, and his nose was broken.

The other man sighed and walked back over, then used two of his fingers to hook the spit-soaked rag from between Nathan’s teeth. He took a deep breath, relieved to be able to move his aching jaw again.

Muffled screams came from another table opposite him. The man looked over to the young woman tied there. He didn’t say anything, just raised his extended index finger up to his lips.

She stopped.

“See?” he said. “She saw me remove your gag, so she thinks she’s entitled to the same treatment!” He gave her a stony glare. “Women,” he said, then shrugged.

“P-Patrick,” Nathan said. His mouth was dry, his tongue gummy with old spit. “Where are we? What are you doing–”

“Stop, just stop right there,” he said. He shook his head briskly, annoyed. “First, my name isn’t Patrick. It’s Warren. That name was just a cover, along with the wheelchair. And our location is many miles from any city. Specifically, in the cellar of a long-forgotten cabin. And the ‘why’,” he sucked air through his teeth. “That’s a tough one. Little more complicated.”

“We trusted you!” Nathan yelled, his voice loud in the earth-walled cellar. “We took you in, made you part of our church, we…we had a damn bake sale for you!”

Warren nodded solemnly. “Yes, and that was very kind. I didn’t actually need help getting back on my feet, but it did help to get all these new toys.”

He waved his hand toward a short, cheap-looking card table. On it were pristine tools. A hacksaw, a hammer, and various blades of all sizes. Warren picked up a pair of needle-nose pliers and opened and closed them quickly.

Realization set in. “Why?” he pleaded, looking at the pliers. “Why all of this?”

Warren shrugged. “The short answer? I can, I want to, and no one is stopping me. That is the most important part though. No one is stopping me. No one. You want to know a secret?” He leaned in conspiratorially. “You and the girl here are nowhere near the first.”

He walked to the end of the long table and took hold of Nathan’s foot, keeping it still. His other hand held the pliers.

“I’ve traveled all over the country. Do you remember the hammer murders in Tennessee two years ago? Me. That whole family last summer that disappeared near the Alabama-Mississippi line? They ended up ruling it a murder-suicide by the father, but no, all me. And do you know why I did it?”

Warren clamped the tip of the pliers onto the nail of Nathan’s big toe. “I did it because those kids were some of the most beautiful children I had ever seen. And polite. That’s what sealed it. Their temperament.”

Warren twisted the toenail to one side and blood spilled out from underneath. Nathan screamed and bucked against the straps. One more hard pull and the nail was free. Warren held it up, a clump of flesh clinging to the underside, then popped it into his mouth and began to chew slowly. He tossed the pliers to the ground.

A wave of revulsion rolled over Nathan, and bile threatened to rise up his throat.

“You see,” Warren began, but then stopped to spit out the remains of the toenail. “I am a collector, of sorts. Take a look at the woman. A close look.”

Nathan looked at her. She stared back at him with wide, watery eyes. She was out of place in this hole of a cellar. Brown hair so dark it was almost black, her eyes the same. He couldn’t tell what ethnicity she was, but it didn’t matter. She was beautiful. The kind of beauty that hurt to look at, that would cause you to ache if you happened to stare for too long.

“Ah, now you’re getting it!” Warren said with a smile. “She is exquisite, symmetrical, timeless. I might’ve wanted her, lusted after her, if I felt that anymore. I got rid of those annoying parts of myself. You’d be amazed how painless it can be with some strong rubber bands and a little patience. In any case, I took her, and now I’m going to desecrate her, to ruin her in the eyes of her Creator. To mock Him, to spit in His celestial face. People who are as perfect as her are a reflection of Him. And I live to shatter His mirrors.”

Warren stepped over to the table and set the pliers down gently, swapping them for a knife, its blade long and thin. He turned to the girl.

“Wait, wait!” Nathan cried. He had to keep the man talking, buy some time, think of a plan, think of something. “Then why am I here? Why me? I’m not like her!”

“Exactly!” Warren said. “You’re average, at best. Nose a bit wide. One ear slightly lower than the other. No offense intended, but you’re nothing more than a little misdirection. Can you imagine what would happen if I collected nothing but His reflections? That would mean a pattern, and people notice patterns. Especially people with badges.” He frowned. “But if it’s any consolation, you’ll be my witness. You can watch as I reverse transubstantiation, as I turn beauty into meat.”

He began to cut.

Nathan cried out, struggling and weeping as Warren went about his work. The girl’s screams became louder and Nathan prayed for it to end. Not for her end, but for his own. He knew he couldn’t live with her screams echoing in his mind, couldn’t carry that forward, couldn’t bear that weight.

“Stop!” he cried. “You don’t have to do this!”

Warren stopped and turned to look at him. “Yeah, no shit. I want to do it. What ain’t you understanding about that?”

“J-just let her go, a-and kill me, okay?” Nathan pleaded. “It’ll break up the pattern, right? It’ll look like a botched job, like an amateur did it!”

Warren raised one eyebrow. “You want to die,” he said, then waved the knife back toward the woman. “For her?”

“Y-yes,” Nathan stammered.

Warren’s laughter filled the basement. “You are one stupid son of a bitch! You think for a second she would do the same for you?”

“I don’t know,” Nathan said, honestly. “But it doesn’t matter. I’d do it for her.”

“Would you do it for her if she wasn’t so pretty? So doe-eyed and sweet?”

Nathan didn’t need to consider it. He knew his own heart. “Of course.”

Warren tapped the tip of the knife against his chin. “Nah, I really don’t think you would.”

“You’re wrong!” Nathan cried. “I’m not like you, asshole. I don’t place value on somebody’s life because of how they look.”

“Huh. Well, you really should. Everyone else does. It’s the way of things.”

“Why are you really doing this?” Nathan said. He looked at the woman. She was struggling to stay conscious. “Wait, is that your problem? Women? What, you got turned down too many times in high school?”

“No, I’m afraid not. I assure you, I’ve killed men more beautiful than her,” Warren said and sighed, all of the air rushing from his nose. “I thought I’d already made myself clear. I do this because I want to, and because His Holy Highness up above won’t stop me,” he walked to Nathan and squatted down so they’d be eye-level with one another. “There is something inside me. I don’t know what it is exactly. An evil spirit, a demon? Hell, maybe the Devil himself! But whatever it is, it wants this, and so do I. So, you can try to psychoanalyze me all you want in what little time you’ve got left, it won’t make any difference. Because the thing that’s riding around in my skin has its own motivations which neither you nor I are gonna understand.”

“Okay, I got you,” Nathan said, laying his head back down on the table. “You’re just run-of-the-mill crazy. That’s great.”

He shrugged. “Maybe. But that’s still not an explanation, not really. When I look into a mirror, I can see its eyes staring back at me, gold and shiny. That’s why I don’t use mirrors anymore. I know it’s in there but that’s not going to convince you, is it? Nope, easier just to think I’m loony, right?”

The girl was still alive and awake but barely. She moaned against the gag like she was having a nightmare instead of living through one. Nathan couldn’t see past Warren, couldn’t see the extent of her wounds.

“Back to business,” he said and once more turned to the woman. He loosened the straps that held her down then picked her up with frightening ease, tossing her back to the table and situating her so that she lay face down. Her face was pointed towards him, an inverted cross slashed into one of her cheeks, blood leaking onto the table. Her eyelids fluttered open for an all too brief second, but Nathan believed she saw him.

“Now that I’ve marked her face, it’s time to write the message. The back really is the most convenient, all that supple skin laid out like a canvas.”

Nathan’s stomach turned, but he asked the question anyway.

“What message?”

“Just signing my work, really. Letting His Holiness know it was me. All it takes is a scalpel. And some ink after she stops bleeding.” He turned back to her.

“Wait!” Nathan cried. “Just wait, okay? Please…”

Warren stared at him, impatience stitched into the lines of his face.

“Please kill me first.”

Warren laughed. “And why would you want that?”

“Because,” Nathan began, but then waited for his mouth to catch up with his thoughts. “Because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to witness what you do to her. I’d…I’d rather just be gone.”

“What’s the fun in that?”

“There’s no fun in any of this. But I don’t want to go to Heaven with her screams following me.”

Warren’s lips rose into a lopsided sneer. “Heaven? There is no Heaven, you stupid son of a bitch! Least not the way you think of it. If the Man Upstairs lets me get away with all of this, what makes you think he gives one solitary ounce of stinky shit about what happens to you after?”

“Believe whatever you want,” Nathan said. “But when I close my eyes for the last time I know where I’m going to wake up.”

Warren walked over and stood before him. “You know what? I think I will do you first. Because I want to see the look in your eyes when you truly grasp what’s happening, when you know for a fact that you’re wrong.”

Nathan turned his head to the ceiling, praying, placing all of his hope on one final gamble.

“I know where I’m going to wake up,” he said.

Warren brought his fist down like a sledge, plowing into the soft skin of Nathan’s stomach. He cried out with his escaping breath.

“You sure about that?” Warren said. “Because I know some techniques with a hammer that’ll put doubt into even the most pious of souls.”

“I know,” Nathan gasped. “Where I’m going to wake up.”

Warren growled and began to pace between the tables. He slammed the knife into the opposite table, the handle quivering right in front of the woman’s face.

He quickly turned back to Nathan. “You think you’ve got it all figured out, huh? We will see about that. Oh, yes indeed, we will see.”

Warren strode to the card table and grabbed the hammer and within seconds was back in front of Nathan, his face looming large above him.

“What happens after you die?” Warren asked softly.

Nathan took a deep breath. “I know where I’m going to wake up,” he said.

Warren swung the hammer down in a whistling arc, shattering Nathan’s clavicle.

He screamed as Warren simply stared at him, waiting for an answer.

“I know where I’m going to wake up,” he said, tears running from the corners of his eyes.

Warren swung the hammer again and Nathan heard his ribs break before he felt any pain.

“I know!” he cried between labored breaths. “Where…wake up!”

The hammer came down again. Nathan didn’t even know where it landed.

“Wake up!”

Another blow. Warmth spread across his knee, a promise of the pain to come.

“Wake up!”

Warren grunted and snapped his teeth together. “You’re no martyr, Nathan. Just ignorant. But that’s okay, because I’m going to teach you. I’m going to–”

The rest of the sentence was lost as the blade of a knife suddenly appeared like the trick of some macabre magician, protruding from Warren’s throat.

Hot blood washed over Nathan’s face, stinging his eyes. He blinked, trying desperately to clear them to see what was happening.

Through the red haze he saw Warren slump to the ground. Behind him was the woman, blood running from her face and down her chest. She stepped closer, the inverted cross on her cheek as dark as a shadow.

Her figure grew hazy as his consciousness slipped away.

* * * * * *

Nathan woke.

He felt light, amorphous, like he was floating on a cloud. He looked down at his hands, saw an IV lodged in one of them and finally knew where he was.

The hospital room was quiet. As was his pain, at least for now. Whatever was in the IV was doing its work wonderfully.

Another hand reached over to touch his.

He turned his head slowly, or maybe it was normal speed and it just felt slow. He wasn’t sure. He’d never really tried drugs before, but this was nice.

“Hey,” a voice said.

Nathan squinted, trying to focus. It was the woman from the basement. Her brown hair was loose, falling over the shoulders of her hospital-issued robe. The inverted cross on her cheek was an angry red, with black stitches running its length and width.

“I’m so sorry,” Nathan said. “I wish I could’ve stopped him from cutting you. I tried–”

“You have nothing to be sorry about,” she said. “You saved my life.”

Nathan shook his head. “No, you saved both our lives.”

“I heard you calling,” she said. “Telling me to wake up.”

“I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to work, you know. I just knew he’d figure it out, that he’d realize he’d left your restraints off.”

“But it worked,” she said, smiling, tears forming in her eyes. “And how did you know he’d leave the knife there?”

“I didn’t,” Nathan said. “Dumb luck. I just prayed you’d find a way, that you’d figure something out.”

She nodded. “That was a big risk.”

“Not really,” Nathan said. “You can’t really risk anything if you’ve got nothing to lose in the first place. It was either die, or gamble and die. Seemed like a safe bet.”

Nathan’s eyelids felt heavy, his thoughts beginning to swim away from him.

“Get some rest,” she said. “I’ll go let the nurse know that you were up and talking. Everyone is going to be happy to hear it.”

Nathan nodded slowly, already drifting away.

“Hey, wait,” he said. “I don’t know your name.”

“Maria,” she said. “Hush now and rest, okay?”

He nodded once more as fatigue got the better of him, sleep taking him as his lips formed a silent prayer of thanks.

Rating: 9.57/10. From 7 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Ryan Harville

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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