Back in October 2019, I joined the What Are You Afraid Of? Jam hosted by Philly Game Mechanics. My team and I made Twisted Mirror, an interactive story about Kai, who gets lost in a mirror maze of a different world trying to escape. I worked with Celeste and Heidi to develop the story and did all of the illustrations.
The game can be played online on Celeste’s itch page. Here are the descriptions that I wrote for the game—they would make a bit more sense in context, but I wanted to show off “The Escape” and the art I made for the two possible endings in a slightly more accessible format.
CW: self-harm, gore
The First Mirror
I go up to it, a little suspicious, keeping my hands buried in my pockets. It’s weird enough I fell through that first mirror—I don’t need to fall through another. I can see the hallway behind me, or an identical one, rather, since I can’t see myself at all. My shadow doesn’t even touch the glass.
I lean in closer, and blink in disbelief. I can’t believe I thought that was the hallway—I can clearly see Rema at the funnel cake stall back at the fair. I cringe a little at how stupid she’s being, trying to nibble at her snack in a sexy way. And no wonder, too; that stupid fuckboi she’s been obsessed with for the past two months is there.
Dan’s there too. Ha, he’s so stoned. He’s sitting on the pavement tucking into what looks like his fifth funnel cake (judging from the paper plates scattered around him), completely oblivious to the world.
Do they even know I’m not there? Do they care that I suddenly disappeared? Did they look around at all wondering where I got off to? I wonder if they even glanced around before they ordered to see if I wanted anything, or did they forget that I came with them? That guy isn’t even paying attention to Rema. He doesn’t care about her. He’s never held her hair when she got puke-drunk at a party and I bet if he had the opportunity he wouldn’t think to do so. I did that for her. I let her crash on my couch when she was sick of school. I’m the one who paid every time we got take-out because she always forgot to keep cash on her and I never once asked her to pay me back. And there she is, forgetting me, laughing way too hard at something that probably wasn’t that funny.
If I was there, would the scene play out the same way? Would I be an actor at all? They’re not even missing me.
The First Attack
I turn away from the mirror, a little breathless. What else is in here? Is this like some sort of teleporting hub? Could I spy on anyone I wanted from here? The president? My ex? Could I travel to the Taj Mahal if I found the right mirror?
The possibilities make my head spin—I realize I’m panting and try to take a deep breath, but it’s like the air is, I don’t know, hot somehow. I feel like I’m breathing in pepper spray. I start coughing, but it just makes the burning in my throat worse. I can’t help but cough, though, until my neck and face are swollen.
I try thumping my chest but it’s not doing any good. I feel like I’m about to dry heave. My skin is burning. It’s freezing. It’s crawling with goosebumps. God I’m so hot. I’m dying. I’m gonna puke. I’m on fire. I can’t breathe. Oh god I just puked. It’s like it clawed its way up my throat and filled the gashes with acid. There’s so much, I can’t stop. I can’t believe I’m gonna die this way. My eyes are bulging out of my head from the force of puking. I cough again. Puke comes out my nose. My legs give out and I land in the puddle. I don’t even care.
I lay shivering in the pile of my own sick, feeling waves of freezing and burning wash down my skin. I cough, but the air is softer now and I almost feel like I can breathe again. I wipe my nose and spit out whatever bile is left in my mouth. Ugh, it’s so bitter-sour. The nasty taste fades, and I realize my cough has let up.
I sit up and take a slow, deep breath. God, is the air sweet.
The Second Mirror
I make my way over to the mirror. I can see a hall—this one? another?—but I’m nowhere to be seen. It freaks me out, that I don’t have a reflection. I probably look awful. And I’ve got puke on my pants. Yeah, I don’t wanna see that.
I get closer, trying to see if I can find myself, but as I near the glass I realize it never showed the hall it all. There must be something wrong with my eyes if I actually managed to confuse it with my mother’s kitchen.
I rub my face, and look closer. It really is the kitchen. There’s the linoleum and the flowery wallpaper. Ma’s sitting there, having a cigarette and some kind of sandwich. She’s smiling at something on her phone. Suddenly she looks up at the back door—I guess there’s someone there, because she goes to answer it. It’s some woman I’ve never seen before, but clearly they must know each other very well if they’re kissing like that in the doorway. I want to look away, but I’m transfixed at the same time. I know I shouldn’t be disgusted with my mother—obviously she had, has, a sexuality that is separate from her role as my caretaker, obviously she’s a multi-faceted being with needs and desires of her own—but that’s my mother. And that’s a stranger. And they’re giggling, and holding hands, and this is clearly something that has been going on for a while, and this is something I never even knew about. I never even suspected.
Was she ever going to tell me? Didn’t she think she could trust me with this? Wait—the picture of us in Arizona when we fried an egg on the sidewalk, and the picture of us at New Years in ‘08… I can’t find them on the fridge anymore. When did she get rid of them?
Am I the secret here? Is my mother ashamed of me? I know I never made it to med school but I never thought that made me such an embarrassment. Is she keeping this woman from me because she doesn’t think I can handle her being in a relationship, or is she keeping me from her because she wants to pretend like she doesn’t have a daughter?
They lean in again to make out and I tear my eyes away.
The Second Attack
As I move on, I start to hear this high-pitched whining noise, like a mosquito buzzing. Only it sound like it’s flying in the middle of my head. I step back and wave my hands, looking around for a bug, but I don’t see anything. The whining gets louder, as if someone cranked up the volume, and it reverberates in my skull. It’s like there’s a railroad spike being driven into the back of my head. I slap my hands over my ears, clutch the base of my neck, and start screaming.
Making the sound is a relief, but it echoes and gets louder until it’s just as deep in my head as this stupid mosquito spike. My eyes are shaking like jello in my head and my teeth feel like they’re grinding on metal shavings. I keep screaming.
My throat blisters from the effort and my ears bleed from the sound. I bury my fingers in my hair, trying to dig the spike out myself, but all I scoop out is brains. Jelly dribbles down my elbows as I scratch up my face, trying to get some relief. Ribbons of scalp and skin peel over as I widen the hole in my head, trying to get that damn bug out. The sun hits my exposed nerves like a kid with a magnifying glass hits an ant. My blood evaporates like a puddle in the summer and I…
…I wake up face down. Time must’ve passed; I know I fainted, but the sun’s still over head like it’s been noon all along. The mosquito spike is gone, though. That’s good. I look at my hands. They’re a mess, and the fingernails are cracked and broken. I rub them on my pants, trying to get the dried blood off of them.
The Third Attack
I walk away and immediately feel the full force of an oncoming train smash into me. I crumple to the ground, wind knocked out completely. I can’t help but wail pathetically, clutching at my chest, but hugging myself only makes the pain worse. My bones are splintering, piercing through my muscles and cutting up my hands. I take short, shallow breaths trying to settle my nerves, but a second wave takes me.
My bones are exploding outside of me—my ribs, my shoulders, my pelvis, my elbows and knees—and I can’t even scream, it hurts so bad. I’m being stabbed inside-out from every direction, and I don’t know which is worse: the constant, dull throbbing with every pound of my racing heart, or the white-hot pain from the shards.
I rock back and forth, weeping. My fingers curl into twitching claws, become tangled in my shirt. My favorite old hand-me-down from my aunt that she used to wear when she was my age. I suck in the air, but all it does is push my lungs into the bone-splinters. Why is this happening to me? I just wanted to check out the flea market. I just wanted to have a nice time with Rema and Dan.
I weakly beat my palms against my head. My split-open jelly head. I’m wailing so hard I’m not even make a sound.
I can finally see the mirror I came through. I must’ve gotten turned around wandering around, but I’m here, finally. I can see the fair—and there’s Rema, on her phone. Not texting, calling. Dan looks like he’s shouting for someone. I smile weakly. They must be looking for me.
I start to cry. I know I’ve been crying this entire time but the relief that someone noticed I was gone and looked for me is overwhelming. I run lopsidedly to the mirror. I can’t wait to hug my friends so close to me. Maybe after the hospital. Thank God Rema drove us here; I can’t afford an ambulance.
I drag myself along the hall towards the mirror, barely feeling the pain anymore as I see the exit get closer. But as it does, the glass fogs up and my friends are gone.
I suck in a breath. What does that mean? I can’t see anything at all.
Suddenly this shadowy figure appears, the one from before that pulled me here in the first place. It whispers to me again.
“Kai… come here…”
I don’t know whether to be angry or relieved. I don’t want to be this shadow’s plaything, but none of the mirrors have let me pass through without its help. It’s stretching its hand out, waiting for me to take it. I don’t know if I should.
“I’m sorry…” I can hear it faintly. “You have to go home now.”
I take a shaky step towards the mirror, stumbling a little against a rock.
“There is a price…”
The mirror-fog clears up briefly to show Rema and Dan again. They’re still looking for me! Then the shadow’s hand waves over their foreheads and the fog returns.
“I can return you, safe and whole… but I will need to take their memories of you…”
I stare at it. “Rema and Dan’s memories?”
“Everyone’s… You will be whole again… but no one will know you…”
My chest starts throbbing again. Whatever adrenaline rush I was feeling before has started to wear off, and each breath reminds me of my splintered chest.
Tears slip down my cheeks as I consider the offer. I take a small step towards the shadow’s outstretched hand, accidentally kicking the rock again.
Bonus: The Third Mirror
Maybe it’s a mirror, maybe it’s a window, I don’t care at this point. I know I saw a hallway, I know it’s the one behind me, and that means I’ve gotta have a reflection. I’ve got to have a reflection.
As I get closer I can almost catch the flicker as it changes from the hall to a bar. There’s a guy nursing a drink, and it’s clearly not his first. Wait a minute, I know those bony shoulders. It’s been months and I’m over it but the sight of him makes me so mad I slap my hand against the glass. All it does is send shooting pains up my arm.
What about your AA meetings, huh? Oh but you’re sober. You just like to go to bars for the ambiance. You don’t actually order any drinks—oh but you did but it was just the one and it doesn’t really count. Well I can count and it looks like I’m about to count to seven.
I know that he lied to me the whole time we were dating but seeing it makes me angry all over again. And now he’s talking to some random stranger and he’s being so awkward (I know that face and I know how hard he’s trying to be cool) and I can tell that girl doesn’t wanna get play therapist for free but sorry lady, it looks like you just got stuck with it.
She’s pretty. I can’t fault him for trying to hit her up. What’s that he’s pulling out of his—is that the ring?? I start hitting the mirror again, and it’s so embarrassing but I’m now crying too. The stupid ring he knew I would hate and spent all that money on anyway. The ring he refused to return when I said I couldn’t wear it. I knew it was just a status symbol for him, but to see him use it to trash-talk me with it?
I rest my head against the glass, trying to breathe. I mean, it’s not that it’s an ugly ring, it’s actually kind of beautiful. I just… it’s just not for me. It’s not something I can wear. I mean, I could’ve tried. I could’ve ignored that it wasn’t to my taste—I could’ve just bought another wardrobe, or let his mother buy me another wardrobe, and worn it anyway. I could’ve become the kind of person that wears that kind of ring. Does that make me a bad person, that I didn’t even try to become the kind of person that can wear that ring?
I’m staring at him, trying to see what his face is showing. He’s just drunk. And I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but that girl’s making such a cute, sympathetic face and he’s so encouraged by it, talking more trash about the controlling little gold digger that ruined his life and this sob escapes me. I don’t even know where it came from. It’s not like it’s my fault he’s killing himself. I didn’t send him to the bar, even if he blames me.
I close my eyes and try to ground myself. Whatever these mirrors are showing me… who’s to say they’re even real? This whole thing could be a fever dream. Maybe it’s from the secondhand smoke from Dan’s stupid blunt.
The Final Attack
My eyes dart around as I walk and I keep a hand on the wall to steady myself. My fingers skim across the surface until they get caught in something, but when I look, there’s nothing there. I pull my hand away, but my fingertips are glued to the wall.
I grab my wrist with my other hand and start to yank. No good. I can feel my joints straining out of their sockets. I take a deep breath. I can’t lose my head in here. I’ve survived everything else this place has thrown at me, and I can survive this one too.
I try to wiggle my fingers lose. I spit on them to ease the friction. I gently slide them up and down the wall, but they just won’t come off.
The wall bucks beneath my hand, throwing itself into my palm and elbow. I try to pull away but there’s no way I can without getting another body part stuck to it. Then the other wall slams into me, grabbing my knee, and jumps back across the hall, pulling me spread-eagle.
I take a deep breath. As long as I stay calm, I can get myself out of this. This isn’t even as bad as the stuff before. Maybe all I need to do is wait this out.
The walls start moving again. Not as quickly as before, but I can definitely feel them creeping apart. My joints start to strain. For a second, it doesn’t feel too bad, almost like a good stretch, but then there’s a sharp pain in my elbow as the wall drags it too far from my shoulder. The feeling makes me think of when you’re eating a chicken wing and you pop the bones out of the cartilage—you know, that popping smack! sound that’s so satisfying? I’m flooded with terror as I feel my arm being slowly sucked out of my shoulder.
The pain is blinding. For a second, I pass out. Then I feel my knee being ripped apart like a ragdoll by a bulldog. I look down and my jeans, my skin has been split open by the force, exposing the layers of muscles and tendons underneath. My bones are poking through. Oh god. Oh god that’s not right.
I think I feel blood streaming down from my armpit as the same thing starts happening to my shoulder. I can’t really feel anything anymore—just the searing pain everywhere. There’s a suctioning sound. I hear dripping.
I fall to the floor. Lying on my back, I see my arm and leg dangling on the walls. My body is throbbing, but at least the pain isn’t so sharp anymore. A warmth pools around me, and I feel like I’m sinking into my bed at home.
The pain isn’t so bad anymore. My eyelids flutter and I feel myself drifting to sleep. Tomorrow’s a Sunday, right? I don’t need to set an alarm, do I? I’m too tired to pull my phone out of my pocket… oh wait, it’s out of battery anyway. Not that it really worked in this place anyway. I wonder if I’ll find any missed calls when I wa…