The time was just past midnight and the man was eating a late supper/early breakfast of poached eggs, bacon, and toast. That was the great thing about all-night hole-in-the-wall diners. They were always open and there were no breakfast, lunch, or dinner menus. There was only THE MENU so if you wanted eggs at midnight, you got eggs at midnight; no questions asked.
Eggs prepared just the way he liked them, the man chewed contentedly. He always got them boiled or poached, never scrambled. The texture of scrambled eggs made him gag.
“More orange juice?” the waitress asked, magically appearing beside him.
“Coming right up,” the waitress assured him with a friendly wink.
“He is coming,” the man said.
“What’s that, hon?” the waitress asked. She might have been pretty once, but now seemed strangely faded, as if spending shift after shift under the harsh florescent lights had leached the color right out of her.
The man pointed to the lapel button pinned to her uniform. “Your button. It says ‘HE IS COMING.”
Glancing down, the waitress nodded. “That’s right. He’s coming, and He can’t get here soon enough if you ask me.”
“Amen,” the man said.
“Are you a believer?” the waitress asked. Religion wasn’t the sort of topic one brought up casually, especially in a workplace, but the night was long, the diner was practically deserted, and she was in desperate need of a friendly voice.
“You could say that. I have certain convictions. To be honest, I usually only believe what I can see with my own two eyes.”
“A skeptic, huh?” The waitress patted his hand. “Well, that’s okay. It takes all kinds to make the world go round.”
“Inertia,” the man repeated, casually slipping on a pair of latex gloves beneath the table. “Newton’s first law. An object at rest or in motion will remain that way until acted upon by an external force. There’s no friction in space so the Earth will keep spinning until something comes along and stops it.”
“And it’s centripetal force that causes circular motion and makes the Earth rotate around the sun,” the man added.
“Ah. Well, okay then. I’ll be right back with your orange juice.”
Drawing his pocket knife, the man slid out of the booth and padded behind the waitress as she headed for the mini-fridge behind the counter. When the waitress paused and started to turn, he reached out and slid the knife across her carotid. Hand at her neck, the woman turned and looked at him in confusion. Then she looked down and, seeing the source of the wet warmth slowly spreading across her blouse, opened her mouth in a perfect ‘O’. Choking on her own scream, the waitress lost her balance and stumbled into a glass donation jar. Together, waitress and jar crashed to the floor. Liberated from the jar, coins skidded and rolled out across the floor.
“What the hell was that?” a gruff voice demanded from somewhere in the back.
The man crouched out of sight just as the cook, a squat, hairy, man armed with a cleaver, came charging through the doorway and froze at the sight of the carnage. Coming up behind him, the man and slid his knife across the cook’s carotid, just as he had with the waitress. The cook spun and slashed at the man, who dodged backward and dashed around the counter with the fry-cook in pursuit.
“Son of a bitch!” the fry-cook growled. Color draining from his face as blood leaked between his stubby fingers, he was only able to take a few more steps before sinking to his knees.
While the cook bled out, the man ran to the front of the diner, locked the door, and flipped the window-sign from a sun-faded ‘OPEN’ to the seldom-seen ‘CLOSED’. After a quick search, he located the light switches and flipped off the dining room lights. Darkness swallowed the interior of the diner but ambient light coming from outside provided sufficient illumination for what was to come. After fishing a key-ring out of the cook’s pocket, the man dragged his body behind the counter and laid him beside the waitress. From the kitchen he scrounged a sponge and bowl, which he used to collect blood from the puddle that had formed around the bodies.
Next stop was the bathroom. The man spent a half-minute studying his own bland reflection in the mirror then took a deep breath and, still wearing the latex gloves, dipped his right index finger into the bowl. Using his finger as a brush, he traced a curious symbol across the mirror’s dingy surface. Resembling a crude triskelion, the symbol consisted of three swirling lines of dissimilar length and curvature that met at a central hub. With the tracing of the third line, the mirror was consecrated.
The man contemplated the symbol for a moment, then retrieved a piece of paper from his back pocket, unfolded it, and began to read the scribbled lines. Within moments, the blood smeared on the mirror began to sizzle like butter on a hot pan, filling the bathroom with the smell of frying meat. As the man spoke the line in which his ultimate destination was mentioned by name, he felt a cool breeze waft across his face.
The way was open. Looking up, the man regarded himself in the mirror. Behind his reflection was a foreign landscape where the weathered ruins of an abandoned city sat beneath an iron grey sky. The architecture was vaguely medieval, with squat, closely arrayed buildings forming narrow lanes and interspaced with high towers, but an expert in such matters would have been hard pressed to assign them to a specific period or style. At the heart of the city loomed a massive, windowless tower into whose black surface had been chiseled a crude triskelion, the same symbol which the man had traced on the mirror. But unlike the one which had been traced in blood, the symbol on the tower was pus-yellow.
Having first learned of the city from an obscure and, to his knowledge, never performed play, the man knew something of its lore. He knew of the strange fate which befell Aldones, the city’s founder and would-be ruler, and what descended from Aldebaran in the Hyades to lay claim to the city itself. But the man didn’t take note of the city or even the tower. He was too fascinated with his own reflection. Dressed in spotless white robes, his reflection stared back from behind a featureless mask the color of bone. The reflections’ eyes were its only visible feature, and they were the same washed-out shade of green as his. Despite the obvious differences, the man was certain he stared at himself or at the very least some past or future incarnation. It was difficult to tell which. Time wasn’t absolute within a single reality much less across the cosmic gulfs.
It wasn’t the first time the man had seen into that other place, had felt goose-bumps as a cold wind born of another world caressed his cheek. It wasn’t even the first time he had seen his reflection transformed into the faceless herald of the doomed city’s true king. Though the rational part of his mind continued to protest, he was seeing it with his own two eyes. He could feel the breeze coming through the mirror and even smell the dusty fragrance of ancient death it carried. It had to be real.
The man spun at the sound of heavy cloth dragging across the bathroom floor. Seeing that he was still alone, he turned back to the mirror. The scene had changed again. Behind his masked reflection towered another figure, exceedingly gaunt and draped in a tattered yellow shroud. The shroud hung low over the tall figure’s face but was open at the torso, revealing a pale, bony chest covered in weeping sores. Slashed into the figure’s flesh was a raw wound in the familiar triskelion shape of the three spiral lines emanating from a central hub. The man watched wide-eyed as the figure in the yellow shroud raised a trembling, long-fingered hand and slowly laid it upon his reflection’s shoulder.
The man felt the pressure on his shoulder and the feverish heat of the grip. He knew without question that he was no longer alone in the bathroom. He had never gotten this close before. Up till now he had only seen glimpses but this…this was tactile. This was real. The Covenant of the Yellow Sign had finally been accepted. The threshold had opened and the King had come through. Soon the man would stand on the other side of the mirror, in a city only hinted at in nightmares and the lines of a play older than the world. Soon he would join the royal court and sit at the right hand of the King. The time of glimpses was over and the moment of transcendence had come.
The man thrust his hand forward only to watch in horror as the mirror-world splintered into a thousand fragments, taking consciousness with it. When he finally came to, the man discovered that time had reset just as it did after his previous failed attempts. Covered in clotted smears of blood, the mirror was restored and the hand he plunged through the glass uncut. Climbing to his feet, the man studied the mirror. Showing neither ruined city nor masked counterpart, the mirror merely reflected the bathroom’s grimy walls and the man’s own somber face.
He had failed again. But he had come close, closer than ever before. The next time he would get it just right, of that he had no doubt.
A quick search revealed a mop and bucket in the supply closet. After tidying up the dining area, depositing his dishes in a sink filled with soapy water, and verifying the absence of any security cameras, the man helped himself to the till, grabbed a bottle of water from the mini-fridge, and prepared to leave. Pausing at the kitchen doorway, he took one last glance at the waitress and cook. A moment later he was crouching over the waitress. After gently closing her eyes, he unpinned the HE IS COMING button from her uniform and put it in his pocket.
Slipping out the back, the man locked the door behind him, and was gone.
James Pratt lives in southern New Jersey and enjoys writing horror, fantasy, and weird fiction. James’s stories have appearing in a number of anthologies including Canopic Jars: Tales of Mummies and Mummification from Great Old Ones Press, Dark Hall Press Cosmic Horror Anthology, Alter Egos Vol. 2 from Source Point Press, and Barbarians of the Red Planet from Rogue Planet Press.