In this week's story, Mirror Image, Ana's imaginary friend is always watching
Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Today's prompt was randomly chosen through some free association that began with reflection and wandered into ideas about mirrors.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 31 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Mirror Image
As a reminder, here’s how this podcast works: I use a word or phrase as a prompt to write a story—with no planning and very little editing—and then I share that story with you.
The prompt for today’s story was chosen randomly… by me, though I’m not entirely sure how I came up with it. There was some free association that led my brain on a merry journey, and I don’t remember every stop on the way. It began with knowing I needed a writing prompt, skated around thoughts of reflection, nearly landed on the phrase mirror mirror, wandered by broken mirror, and then abruptly pivoted to mirror image.
Here’s where that free association led:
Ana spent a lot of time looking in the mirror, but she wasn’t looking at herself. When she was very young, Ana had found a friend in her bedroom mirror. Her name wan Nan and she lived in the world of mirrors. As Ana grew up, she discovered that Nan was not confined to her bedroom mirror. The world of mirrors was connected to our world in a way that let Nan appear whenever Ana looked into a mirror, wherever she happened to be.
There were many mirrors around Ana’s childhood house, and she added more everywhere she went. At school, she had a mirror on the inside of her locker door, and she carried a compact mirror in her pocket. Whenever she was nervous about a test or presentation, she’d pull out her mirror for a quick boost of confidence from her closest friend.
Other kids at school noticed and teased her about her mirror habit, but Ana didn’t mind if they thought she was vain. She knew that she was really checking in with her best friend and felt sorry that no one else had discovered the world of mirrors.
When she was very young, Ana had tried to tell people about Nan and the world of mirrors, but no one really believed. Her parents and teachers smiled and said she had a vivid imagination. Her friends played along, thinking it was a joke or game.
As they got older, Ana quickly learned that it wasn’t charming to have a mirror friend after a certain age. Her parents said she was getting too old for make-believe. Her teachers showed mild concern, and her friends laughed at her.
Ana stopped telling anyone about Nan, except for stories where she laughed about the imaginary friend from her childhood. But she never stopped visiting with Nan.
Nan understood and wasn’t offended. She said there were very few people from the land of the living who could communicate with her people in the world of mirrors. She’d wink at Ana when others weren’t looking or make faces so Ana would laugh.
There was one person who did latch on to Ana’s lighthearted story about her childhood friend in the mirror: Her boyfriend Greg.
They’d been out at dinner with friends one weekend when the subject of imaginary friends had come up. A few people told their own stories of favorite stuffed animals they’d imagined were alive or invisible friends they’d blame for their mistakes. One of Ana’s oldest friends was there, and she’d prompted Ana to tell them about Nan.
Ana smiled through the story, describing Nan as the best friend who had gotten her through childhood. The one who was always there for her because she lived in the world of mirrors. Their friends had said it was a sweet story and the conversation moved on.
Greg, however, had stared at Ana with a puzzled expression and brought the subject of Nan up again while driving Ana home.
“You would talk to her in the mirror?” he asked pointedly. “And you thought she talked back?”
“Well, yeah,” Ana laughed uncomfortably, trying to keep the topic light. “She was my friend.”
“But you actually thought she was talking to you?” Greg insisted. “You saw her talking to you and thought she was another person? A person who lived in your mirror?”
Greg sounded disturbed by the idea. Ana felt her cheeks flush and her stomach clench.
“I was a kid,” she said flippantly. “Kids are silly like that.”
“I guess.” Greg was quiet for the next two blocks, before saying, “You do look in the mirror a lot.”
“Do I?” Ana asked, feeling fluttery inside.
“You don’t still talk to Nan, do you?” Greg sounded worried.
“Oh, please!” Ana waved the question away without answering. She didn’t like to lie outright if she could help it.
“It’s a simple question,” Greg pushed, and Ana could see that his jaw was tight.
“It’s an odd question,” Ana countered. “Do I still talk to my childhood imaginary friend whenever I look in a mirror? Of course not.”
She had reframed the question, telling herself it wasn’t a lie because she didn’t talk to Nan whenever she looked in a mirror. Only sometimes.
Over the next few weeks, Ana noticed Greg watching her whenever she looked in a mirror. She would stop fixing her hair and make a face at him, trying to joke her way out of his strange concern. She consciously looked in the mirror less when he was around. She still carried a compact mirror in her purse or pocket, but when she was nervous, she would simply touch the smooth case without opening the mirror.
When they were alone, Nan warned Ana that she didn’t like Greg.
“There’s something about him…” she would say with concern. “I don’t trust him.”
“He’s a nice guy,” Ana would tell her, though Nan’s worry bothered her.
One day, Greg came over to fix a leaky faucet in Ana’s apartment. The problem was more complicated than he’d expected, and he got angry when Ana suggested calling a plumber.
“I can fix a damn faucet!” He snapped at her. “I just need to get some more parts.”
Ana bit her tongue. He’d been working on the sink all day and had already made two trips to the hardware store. She offered to go with him, but he said he’d be faster on his own.
“Don’t even think about calling a plumber!” he threatened darkly, then slammed the door as he walked out.
Turning to the hall mirror, Ana met Nan’s worried eyes.
“I know,” she admitted to her friend. “He has a temper… but he’s frustrated with the faucet.”
“Don’t make excuses for him,” Nan said firmly. “He’s always losing his temper with you, and I don’t like it. You deserve better.”
“I don’t know, Nan. We’ve been together a long time and…”
The door suddenly opened, and Greg stared at Ana with his head cocked to one side.
“Are you talking to the mirror?” he asked harshly. “Seriously?”
“No, I…” Ana flushed, backing away from Greg as he stepped back into the apartment.
“I knew it!” he accused. “I know all women are kind of crazy, but you’re actually nuts!”
Ana’s embarrassment turned to white-hot anger.
“That’s it!” She stamped her foot. “Get out!”
Greg sneered at her.
“Because your friend in the mirror wants me to leave?”
“Because I want you to leave.” Ana crossed her arms over her chest and took a deep breath. “I don’t want to see you anymore.”
“You have got to be kidding me!” Greg raged, looking between Ana and the mirror angrily.
“I’m serious,” Ana told him as calmly as she could.
“You don’t mean that!” Stepping forward, he grabbed Ana’s arm and towered over her. He was staring down at her angrily when a voice broke in.
Startled, Greg released Ana and spun to see Ana’s reflection in the mirror. Except it wasn’t Ana’s reflection. The woman in the mirror looked like Ana, but she glared at him with her hands on her hips, while Ana cowered beside him, rubbing her arm.
Greg shifted his gaze between Ana and her mismatched reflection. His mind went blank as he struggled to make sense of what he was seeing. He tried to back away, but Nan had reached out and grabbed his reflection. She held him in place with a single hand, and he saw the terror that touch brought to his reflected self.
“Nan,” Ana pleaded softly. “It’s okay, let him go.”
“He hurt you,” Nan said decisively. “He shouldn’t have done that.”
“What are you doing to me?” Greg gasped, still trying to move from Nan’s mirror grasp. He turned toward Ana with wild eyes. “How are you doing this?”
Ana looked down with a sad shake of her head. She’d rarely seen Nan’s anger but knew the power she wielded in the world of mirrors.
“She has your soul,” Ana told Greg sullenly. “You shouldn’t have upset her.”
“My soul?” Greg bellowed, then shook his head rapidly. “This isn’t happening.”
“Are you going to leave peacefully?” Nan demanded, gripping his reflection’s arm. “And never come back?”
“Yeah, yeah, sure. Whatever.” Greg was shaking and sweating.
“Fine,” Nan relented, releasing his reflection. “Don’t come back. And think about how you treat people in the future.”
Greg moved his arms tentatively, still shaken by the sight of Nan and Ana standing in completely different positions on either side of the mirror. He stepped forward as if to leave, then grabbed the wrench he’d left on the hall table.
“Greg, no!” Ana yelled, but it was too late.
In a swift movement, Greg had slammed the wrench into the mirror, shattering it into a hundred pieces. Ana turned toward the mirror, reaching for the many Nans reflected in its fractured shapes, but Nan was faster.
Every Nan in the broken glass grabbed every one of Greg’s reflected selves. She pressed her hands into him, appearing to draw away his essence as he faded away.
On their side of the mirror, Ana watched helplessly as Greg dropped the wrench on the carpeted floor. He was frozen in place, watching his reflections disappear. When they were gone, he turned toward Ana and clutched both hands over his chest in agony.
A moment later, he dropped to the ground.
Ana sobbed, looking to Nan for help.
The hundred Nans in the mirror all stepped close, speaking urgently but gently.
“Clean up the mirror before you call 911,” they said in unison. “It will be okay, and he won’t bother you anymore.”
Thanks for joining me for today’s story break. Remember, you can learn more about me and my books on my website, SusanQuilty.com. You can also find me on social media or support me through my Patreon page.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]