I tried to close my eyes against the sunlight glaring through my bedroom window, but it was no use. It cut through my eyelids like a laser beam, making me pull the blankets further over my head. Normally, I don't have a problem with mornings. But then again, normally, I don't go out and get plastered the night before either. A once every few months thing, I did it to blow off all the stress I managed to pick up. There were two small, tiny items going for that morning though.
One, I could remember everything that happened the night before, and I didn't go home with anyone. For that, I thanked whatever cruel gods who came up with vodka in the first place. Two, it was a Saturday morning, which meant I could nurse my hangover in private. Contrary to popular belief, my misery does not like company. Running my tongue over my teeth felt like I was licking mossy bark. Added to that was the taste as if someone had poured an entire bucket of cigarette butts in my mouth. Wet cigarette butts. To say that I was not in my best shape that morning truly would have the epitome of understatement. However horrible I might have felt, I still need to crawl out of bed and into the shower, among other details. Details such as my bladder having a 12 round boxing match with my kidneys.
Peeking my head above the covers, I pried one eye open and peered blurrily at the small bedside clock. Squinting, I let out a small sigh. It was definitely too early to be dealing with this, but my bladder, somehow sensing I was about to get up, began pounding. Slowly pulling the blankets off, I got myself first to a sitting position on the edge of the bed. Then, through sheer willpower, stood on two very wobbly legs. Stumbling to the bathroom in my little one bedroom apartment, I braced myself for the moment I turned on the light. I knew full well it was necessary, but I also knew I would want to claw my own eyes out for a few seconds. Flipping on the switch, bright, white light slammed through the tiny room and straight into my head. Barely biting back a screech, I found the toilet through mostly closed eyes and half-stumbled, half-fell towards it.
Once my bladder was satisfied, I turned to the shower. Getting the water going, I adjusted the temperature. As I stood there with the water running over my body, I briefly considered dropping a toaster in the tub with me. Nah, not a good idea. My ex would have been too grateful. Finishing up, I stepped out of the shower and grabbed for my towel. That's when I noticed it for the first time. Lipstick. A perfectly printed note on my mirror in lipstick. Deep red, almost maroon, it stood out starkly against the clear surface of the mirror. My mind quickly ran over the details of the night before. I had gone to a local bar, gotten drunk, and had taken a taxi home. By myself. No one lived with me, so where did this from? My head swiveled back and forth, trying to see if anything was out of place. Nothing. Everything was right where is should be. Except for the lipstick. Letting out a short breath, I studied the message written on my mirror, growing more confused as I did so.
"From the corner of your eye,
You see me dark and fair,"
That was it, nothing else. Written in a female hand, the letters were precise. My face showed through the spaces of the letters and I could see the puzzlement in my eyes. Who had done this, and why? Wrapping the towel around my waist, I made for the front door, only to find it locked, just as I had left it the night before. This was entirely too strange for me, especially today. Heading back to the bathroom, I grabbed glass cleaner and some paper towel, intending to make short work of the message. When I came into the bathroom however, a new surprise greeted me. The lipstick was gone. Not a trace remained on the mirror. It had simply disappeared. Fully confused now, I decided I must have imagined it. That was the only explanation that fit. A hangover hallucination. I didn't know if such things existed, but it sounded good to me.
The rest of the day drug by as I tried to get over my suffering. At odd times though, the memory of that lipstick message played through my mind. Toward mid-afternoon, I couldn't take it any longer. I grabbed my keys and coat and walked out the door. I decided to hit the mall, do a little window shopping, maybe take in a movie. Anything to put the lipstick out of my mind. Pulling into the parking lot, I caught a flash of deep red hair from the corner of my eye. The same shade red as was on my mirror that morning. I whipped my head around to look, almost causing an accident. The owner of the hair had moved out of my sight however. I decided the incident earlier had me all wound up over nothing.
Throughout the next week, life returned to some semblance of normal. No new messages appeared on my mirror. Every so often though, I thought I caught a glimpse of red hair. When I turned, it was gone. Several times it happened that way. Otherwise, life was firmly back in reality.
I slept in that next Saturday. Not for fear of waking, but rather because I had nothing better to do. Rolling over, I came face to face with my alarm clock. Groaning, I pushed myself up and sat on the edge of the bed. Looking around my room, I thought maybe, just maybe, my friends and what little family had were right. I hadn't had a girlfriend in way too long. Girlfriend, hell, I hadn't even had a woman in way too long. Not that I had been looking. I couldn't find anyone who attracted me. Sighing at the futility of my thoughts, I levered my self off the bed and made my way to the bathroom for my morning ritual.
Getting there, my hand hesitated for some reason on the light switch, a rare sense of premonition flooding through me. I peered into the darkened bathroom, trying to see the mirror. From where I stood, everything was dark. Damn, my imagination was working overtime and dragging my common sense along for the ride. I had to quit this. I flipped on the light and to my relief, no message was waiting for me. So it was my imagination. Turning the shower on as hot as I could stand it, I stepped under the spray. The stinging water helped to wake me up and by the time I was finished, I felt really good about the day. When I pulled the shower curtain back, it was there to greet me. Deep red as before, in a precise female hand. Lipstick on the mirror.
"But when you turn to look,
I am no longer there."
What the bloody blue blazes? Staring wildly, I knew I had checked the damn thing before my shower. Moving close to the sink, I carefully reached out one hand out to the touch the writing. Lipstick smeared on my fingertips and I gazed in wonder at it. My sight traveled back up to the mirror and before my disbelieving eyes, the message began to fade until there was nothing left. Not a trace. Nothing but my own face looking back at me. Slowly, I dropped my gaze and looked back at me fingers. Red still stained them, giving me proof, at least in my own mind, it really had happened. Grabbing my towel, I stumbled out of the bathroom and into the living room, searching for something to write with.
Finding a pen and a scrap of paper, I jotted down the first message. Under that I wrote the one from that morning. Just as I thought. It was a poem. One that I had never seen before. Settling back on my couch, my towel draped across my lap, I stared at my fingers and let my mind wander. Who was doing this and why? I thought of all the females in my life. None of them would, or even could, do this. The more I thought about it, the more confused I became. After gazing at the ceiling and getting a headache from attempting to get a grasp on this, I gave up and got up. Back in the bedroom, I dressed and headed out the door. Maybe I should look into buying myself a watchdog? Doberman pinscher perhaps? Something that could rip a person arm, or head, off? Immediately after that thought came another, it wouldn't do any good. Whoever had it managed to do it while I was in the shower less than 5 feet away. Between that and the rather neat trick of making it all disappear as I watched. Almost casually, I glanced down at my hand, not really surprised to see the deep red staining my fingers.
My stomach growling, I figured the best thing I could do was find a restaurant and get something to eat. I knew just the place to go. On the way there, I stopped by a convenience store and picked up a pack of cigarettes. I hadn't smoked in over 5 years, but right then, I didn't care. I needed the nicotine rush.
The waitress showed me to a table towards the back of the smoking section. As I sat and split my attention between studying the menu and studying the Saturday crowd, I busted the cigarette pack open and pull one paper coffin nail free. Placing it on my lips, I lit a match from the book I snagged at the convenience store and inhaled a deep lungful of smoke. The buzz was tempered by a short coughing fit. It had been too damn long. I made up my mind on what I wanted to order and sat back to enjoy the cigarette, checking out the crowd through the smoke as it curled upward toward the ceiling. Typical for a Saturday.
The older crowd in to get the early bird special. Families in here so mom and dad wouldn't have to cook. From the look on their faces, though, the aggravation wasn't quite worth the time out of the kitchen. I chuckled to myself and took another drag, feeling the heat spread itself out from my lungs. From somewhere off to my side, I heard a woman laugh. A deep throated laugh that brought to mind images of bedrooms and naked bodies pressed together. A sensuous laugh guaranteed to excite and tease a man just so. I looked around for the source of the laugh and saw a flash of red hair and part of one creamy smooth cheek. Then it was gone. Abandoning my table for few moments, I pushed through everyone else trying to spot the woman. It was no use, she was gone again.
That night, the dreams started. At first, I couldn't remember too much of them. Only bits and pieces. A flash of red hair in a moonlit background. The delicate curve of a woman's smiling lips, coated in deep red lipstick. Slightly upturned nipples as she dropped her blouse. The heat of our bodies pressed together. Myself inside of her, pouring out everything I kept hidden. A feeling of ecstasy, but also a feeling of pain and having something drained from me. The pleasure was worth it though. I woke, sweating under my sheets and shivering at the same time. For some reason, I had a difficult time getting back to sleep. The dreams continued on this way for the next week. Every night I would wake under sweat-soaked sheets.
By the next Saturday, I had almost convinced myself I was going insane. No way this could be actually be happening. Mysterious messages appearing and disappearing as if by magic on my mirror. The night before, I went to bed, but tossed and turned the entire time. My mind refused to let me sleep, knowing what I would find there. And I was still catching glimpses of that dark red hair. The Saturday sun had risen hours ago and was shining brightly through my closed window shades. Fear coiled tightly in my lower stomach as I thought about what might be waiting for me in the bathroom. The more I considered it, the more I came to see if I just avoided the bathroom for this one day, I would be fine.
Even if some kind of message was waiting for me, I couldn't read it if I couldn't see it. Finally, I screwed up my courage and rolled from my bed to start the day. Not even glancing in the general direction of the bathroom, I padded into my kitchen in just my boxers. Fixing myself a cup of coffee, I watched the day begin to unfold out my back window. The sky was a deep blue with a few small clouds floating in the distance. Sipping at the hot liquid in my mug, I could see kids playing in the sparse woods which populated the area behind my apartment building.
Walking into the living room with my cup still over half full, I punched the button on my stereo, filling the room with the sounds country music. Guitars, fiddles, and harmonicas blended into one melody. I stood there for a few seconds before realizing I was getting chilled standing there in just my underwear. I set my cup down on the coffee table and started back to my bedroom. Passing the bathroom, I noticed the light shining brightly under the door. The light was off when I went to bed, I was sure of this, and I had not set in there all day today. With a curious sense of detachment, I watched my hand come up to push the door open. Part of mind shrieked at me to stop, but my body wouldn't respond. Instead, it stepped into the bathroom. Try as I might to look away, my eyes were guided to the mirror. There it was, dark red and glistening in the stark light, contrasting against the clearness of the mirror. I trembled slightly as I read the words written in a deep shade of lipstick.
"When you come to believe I'm not real
And your imagination thinks as such,"
My head spun and the room tilted around me. My legs turned to rubber and I sank to tile floor, not noticing the cold in my shock. As I stared slack-jawed at the mirror, the words again faded until they were just a memory. The same way they did the week before. All I could think was, why me? What was this all about? I sat there on the bathroom floor for an untold time before the cold finally seeped through my shock. I climbed unsteadily to my feet and barely made it to the bedroom before collapsing on the bed. All I see before in front of me were those deep red words and flashes of deep red hair. My dreams came slamming back into my mind with an uncontrollable force and my physical reaction was obvious. Obvious to the point of being painful. Reality was slipping through my fingers and the only thing I could do stand there and watch it go.
Taking a breath, I tried to regain some self-control. My legs still somewhat rubbery, I managed to pull on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. Hazily remembering my jacket and keys, I stumbled out of my apartment and almost fell down the stairs before catching my self. One of my neighbors saw me and asked if I was feeling alright. I mumbled something about working too many hours and started down the stairs. Emerging into the sunlight, I breathed deep of the fresh air. The world around me seemed to be it's normal everyday self, but underneath I could sense something else. Something different. What it was I couldn't tell, but it was there. Almost touchable. The taste of it was on my tongue like the tang of metal. The fog lifted from my mind slowly and I walked from my building at a brisk pace. Out of every place I knew, there was one I could go which was close and offered peace and quiet. So it was with that idea in mind I climbed the library steps three blocks later.
The air inside was cool and smelled faintly of old books and knowledge. This was one place I felt at home in. I wandered the stacks, not really looking for anything in particular, just looking. Every once in a while, I stopped to read the back of a book that caught my eye, but invariably I would put it back and move on. What I was really trying to do was get mind off the lipstick, the mirror, the woman with red hair, the dreams, all of it. A few times I was able to forget for a couple of moments, but it always came back, sneaking back in when I wasn't looking. After over an hour there, I had wandered the aisles two times over and was about leave when I felt someone brush by behind me. I heard a deep, sultry female voice say, "Excuse me." That voice. It was the same one from the restaurant, from half a dozen chance encounters where I never saw her face. I spun on my heel and caught the site of the back of her hair as she rounded the corner, her bottom swaying beneath a pair of tan slacks. I hurried to follow her, but as I was about to round the corner, I ran into the librarian. She was a woman who had been at this library since god was in pre-school. She fixed me with a baleful stare and proceeded to lecture me about running in the library. All the while she was talking, I nodded and edged around her until I had a clear shot at the door. I walked as fast as I could and burst out into the sunlight. I looked everywhere, but like all the other times, she was gone. I swore softly to myself and wondered how long this would go on.
That night, the dream was more erotic than ever. When I tried to wake from it though, it held me in a grip of iron. Her breasts pressed against me. Her lips, that color of dark red desire, ran over my chest. Her buttocks glowed softly pale in the subtle light. Her hair caressed every part of me, teasing me to a hurtful excitement. I felt as if my skin were on fire and my entire body would explode. Just when I thought I couldn't take it anymore, she edged me up another notch. I had never felt anything as sensual or erotic as this and I knew if I didn't wake soon, it would kill me. I felt a scream of ecstasy and agony welling in my throat when she leaned over me, her hair brushing my face, and whispered she would see me soon. I came to with the scream still inside of me, sitting straight up in my bed.
I couldn't concentrate all the next week following, the dream intruding on my daily life. If it wasn't the dream, it was the woman herself appearing, then disappearing. Every time I looked for her, she seemed to fade into thin air. As the week wore on, I began to dread what Saturday would bring.
Friday was always a good day for work, even with the black cloud that was hanging over my head. Spirits were lighter on Fridays than any other day. I managed to make it through the day without thinking too much about Saturday. Each time I did though, the fear which had become so familiar to me clenched in the pit of my stomach. Reality itself was a tissue I could almost see through were I to look hard enough. By the time the work day was through, I had decided to stop by at my apartment just long enough to change then spend the night at a hotel. I couldn't face the idea of seeing that red lipstick the next day. I wanted to believe I was still as sane as the next person. But with all that had happened, I couldn't be sure of my own sanity. Pulling up to my apartment, I glanced without meaning to at the small window in my bathroom. The glass was dark and no light shimmered from within. I repressed a small shudder and breathed a sigh of relief.
Once inside the apartment, I hurried to change and leave. Stopping briefly on my way to the bedroom to check my messages, a grand total of one from my mother, I made the bedroom in almost record time. I quickly stripped and headed to the bathroom, knowing my visitor wouldn't be here until the morning and I would be long gone by that point. The shower felt wonderful, anchoring me to what little sense of reality I still had. I turned the water off and reached past the shower curtain to rescue my towel when my hand brushed someone else's. Someone soft and feminine.
I whipped the shower curtain aside and caught a glimpse of red hair flying around the corner of my bathroom door. I jumped out of the shower and lost my balance as my wet feet slipped on the tile floor, driving my knee into the floor with enough force to make me wince. I half-crawled out of the door and pulled myself up along the frame. Standing there dripping wet and still nude, I knew I had missed her yet again. Banging my hand against the wall in frustration, I hobbled back into the bathroom searching my towel. I felt the stubble along my cheek with one hand and glanced in the mirror to see if I needed to shave when my legs went numb. I fell against the wall as my eyes registered the fact she had been here early, as if she knew what I had planned. Glistening darkly on the mirror was the same dark red as before. The shock flooded through my system as I read the words before me.