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Mirror

by Haruki Murakami
Translated by Christopher Allison

Ok, so I've been listening to everybody's stories from the beginning, and it
seems to me that there are a couple of basic patterns for this kind of thing. The
first one is, here is the world of the living, over there is the world of the dead,
and it's a story about crossing between the two. Like ghosts, and that type of
thing. And then there's the type where phenomena or abilities exist that surpass
everyday three-dimensional experience. E.S.P., premonitions, and the like. If
you were to divide them broadly, I think you could separate them into those
two groups.
And if you take what I said even further, I think you'd find that everybody only
has experiences of one type or the other. What I mean is, someone who sees
ghosts may see ghosts again and again, but he never has premonitions, and
someone who has ESP may have premonitions all the time but will never see a
ghost. I have no idea why this is, but for whatever reason it seems to happen
this way. Or at least I think so.
And of course there are some people who don't fit into either group. Me, for
example. I've been alive for 30-some years, and I've never once seen a ghost.
Nor have I ever had a vision or a premonition or anything. There was even a
time when I was riding an elevator with two of my friends and they both saw a
ghost but I didn't see a thing. They saw this woman wearing a grey suit
standing next to me, but there wasn't actually any woman in the elevator. Just
the three of us. I'm totally serious. And these two friends weren't the type to put
one over on me. Sure, that was a totally creepy experience, but all the same it
doesn't change the fact that I've never seen a ghost.
But one time, just one time, I think I felt fear in the depths of my soul. It was
more than ten years ago now, but I've never told anyone about it. Even talking
about it scared me. I had this feeling like, if I talked about it, the same kind of
thing might happen again. So I have kept silent all these years. But tonight,
listening to everybody tell their scary stories one by one, as the host, I can't
very well close up the place without saying anything at the end. So I've decided
to talk.
No, please, you don't have to clap. It's really not that big a deal.
Like I said before, I've never seen a ghost and I don't have any special powers.
You may not think that my story is as scary as I do, and perhaps you'll think,
like, so what? And if that's the case, that's fine. But anyway, this is my story.
I left high school at the end of the sixties, during the period of civil turmoil
when it seemed like whole system was breaking down. For my part, I was
swept up in that wave as well, refusing to go on to college, and spending
several years wandering around Japan doing manual labor. I thought that was
the right way to lead a life. Yeah, I sure did a lot of different stuff. And some of
it was dangerous. I was young and foolish. But when I think about it now, it
was a fun lifestyle. If I had my life to live over again, I'd probably do the same
thing. I'm that kind of person.
In the fall of my second year of wandering, I spent about two months as a night
watchman at a middle school. This middle school in a small town in Niigata
Prefecture. I had spent the summer doing really tough work, so I wanted to
relax a little bit. And being a night watchman sounded kind of fun. I could
sleep all day in the janitor's room, and at night I only had to walk around and
check all of the buildings twice. Apart from that, I could listen to records in the
music room or read books in the library or shoot baskets alone in the gym or
whatever. Being all alone at night in a middle school wasn't too bad. No, it
wasn't bad at all. When you're 18 or 19, you don't know anything to be afraid
of.
Since none of you have probably ever spent any time as a night watchman at a
middle school, I'll give you a quick run down of the procedure. I had to make
rounds once at 9:00 and again at 3:00. That was fixed. The schoolhouse was a
relatively new three storey concrete structure, with 18 or 20 classrooms. It
wasn't that big a school. Then there was the music room, the laboratory, the
home-ec room, the art room, and also the staff room and the principal's office.
Apart from the main building, there was also the cafeteria and the pool and the
gym and the auditorium. That was pretty much the extent of what I had to
cover.
There were about twenty checkpoints that I had to mark off one by one on a
form with a ballpoint pen as I made my rounds. Staff Room--check,
Laboratory--check, like that. Of course I could have just kept sleeping in the
janitor's room and written check, check, check on the paper. But I'm not quite
that lazy. Which is to say that it didn't take much time, and anyway if someone
had broken in they could have attacked me in my sleep.
So at 9:00 and 3:00, I'd take up a large flashlight and a kendo sword and make
my rounds of the school. Flashlight in my left hand, kendo sword in my right.
When I was a high school student I had practiced kendo, so I felt pretty
confident in my ability to defend myself. If a novice had attacked me with a
samurai sword, I wouldn't have been particularly scared. But that was then. If it
happened to me now, I'd run away pronto.
It was a windy October night. It wasn't very cold. To tell you the truth, it felt
kind of humid. When night fell, the mosquitoes became unbearable, and I
remember lighting a couple of insect coils. The wind was howling all night. It
sounded like the gate to the pool was being destroyed as it banged around in the
wind. I thought to myself that I should fix it, but it was dark so I left it. It kept
banging all night long.
When I made the rounds at 9:00, nothing was happening. I marked all twenty
checkpoints 'OK.' The doors were firmly locked and everything was in its
proper place. There was nothing out of the ordinary. I went back to the janitor's
room, set the clock to wake me up at 3:00, and fell sound asleep.
When the alarm bell went off at 3:00, I awoke with the strangest feeling. I can't
really describe it, but it was a very strange sensation. To make it plain, I didn't
want to get up. I felt like my body was resisting my will to wake up. I usually
get up right away, so it was peculiar. But with difficulty I eventually got up to
make my rounds. The pool gate was still banging around the same as earlier.
But I had the feeling that the sound was somehow different than before. It was
probably just my imagination, but I felt uncomfortable in my skin. This sucks, I
thought to myself. I don't want to make the rounds. But of course I pulled
myself together and went out. If I faked it even once, I'd be doing it all the
time. I took up my flashlight and my kendo sword and left the janitor's room.
It was a miserable night. The wind was getting stronger and stronger, and the
air was growing increasingly damp. My skin crawled and I couldn't concentrate
on anything. First, I checked on the gym and the auditorium and the pool. All
three were OK. The pool gate kept banging open and shut like a lunatic
bobbing and shaking his head senselessly. It was totally irregular: yes, yes, no,
yes, no, no, no...like that. I know that's a really odd way to put it, but at the time
that's what it felt like.
Nothing seemed to be amiss in the main school building. Same as ever. I
hurriedly made my rounds and marked off all the checkpoints on the form 'OK.'
There didn't seem to be anything wrong, after all. It was with some relief that I
decided to return to the janitor's room. The last checkpoint was the boiler room,
next to the cafeteria, on the far east side of the school. Unfortunately, the
janitor's room was on the far west side of the school. As a result, I had to walk
the whole length of the first floor corridor on my way back to the janitor's
room. Naturally, it was pitch black. When the moon was out, a little light
penetrated into the hallway, but if not, you couldn't see a thing. I'd make my
way back shining the flashlight right in front of me. Since there was a typhoon
close by that night, naturally the moon wasn't out. Every once in a while there
would be a flash of lightning, and then darkness once again.
That night I walked more quickly than normal down the hallway. The rubber
soles of my basketball shoes made a slapping sound against the linoleum. The
hallway was covered in green linoleum. I can see it even now.
About halfway down the length of the hallway was the entranceway of the
school, and when I passed it I suddenly had this feeling like 'What the...?!?.' It
was like I could make out a figure in the darkness. Just out of the corner of my
eye. I fixed my grip on the sword, and turned in that direction. In a heartbeat, I
trained the beam of my flashlight there. It was a spot on the wall next to the
shoe rack.
And there I was. That is to say--it was a mirror. There was nothing there except
my own image reflecting back at me. The mirror must have just been installed,
and hadn't been there the day before. That's why it had caught me off guard. I
felt immensely relieved and totally stupid all at once. You dumbshit, I thought
to myself. Still standing in front of the mirror, I set the flashlight down, fished a
cigarette out of my pocket, and lit it. I had a smoke staring at myself in the
mirror. A tiny bit of light from a street lamp came in through the window, and
that light reached the mirror. The clanging sound of the pool gate could be
heard coming from behind me.
After I'd taken about three drags off my cigarette, I abruptly noticed something
strange. The image in the mirror wasn't me. The outward appearance was me.
There was no mistaking that. But it was absolutely not me. I knew it
instinctively. No, wait, that's not right. Of course it was me. But it was a me
outside of me. It was me in a form that shouldn't have been me.
I'm not saying this very well.
But at that time, the only thing I understood for certain was that the person
staring back at me hated me from the very depths of his soul. It was a hatred
like a dark iceberg, a hatred that no one could cure. That was the only thing I
could understand. I stood there for a moment dumbfounded, unable to move.
The cigarette dropped from between my fingers to the floor. We stared at each
other identically. My body wouldn't move, as if it had been bound there.
Eventually, the other guy moved his hand. The fingers of his left hand slowly
touched his cheek and then, little by little, wandered across his face. I realized I
was doing the same thing. It was as if I was the image in the mirror. What I
mean is, he seemed to be in control of me.
Then, summoning all my strength, I screamed as loud as I could. I yelled, like,
'Garhhh!' With that, the bonds loosened a little bit. I hurled the kendo sword
with all my might in the direction of the mirror. I heard the sound of the mirror
shattering. I took off running back to my room without looking back, locked
the door, and climbed into bed. The sound of the pool gate continued until
morning.
Yes, yes, no, yes, no, no, no...and on and on.

I guess you probably know how the story ends: of course, there was never any
mirror there. Nothing of the sort. No mirror had ever been installed in the
entranceway next to the shoe rack.
All of which is to say, it wasn't a ghost that I saw. All I saw was myself. I've
never been able to forget the fear that I felt that night.
Perhaps you've noticed that there's not a single mirror in this house. I don't even
use a mirror for shaving, although it takes a lot longer that way. It's a true story.
(Translated by Christopher Allison)