He couldn't believe this, despite everything. At some point during his peaceful wander in the forest, the chaos had seemed to be over, only for it to come screaming back in the form of some sick hoax. He couldn't be fooled this time if he wanted to. It wasn't over, and he decided it never would be; just like The Void, and the forest, and the space he now inhabited, he was trapped in infinity.
He was surrounded by an endless gray, where the ground and sky were indistinguishable from each other on the horizon. The only true color he found was in his reflection, just a few yards away. He saw now that he looked about as wretched as he felt. The reflection's face was red and shining with fear sweat, reflecting some invisible light source, and its chest heaved as if there was not enough oxygen in the air.
He went to feel for the scrapes on his chest only for the pain in his shoulder to flare in response. Suddenly the idea of sending himself into the wall at full tilt seemed ill-advised, and in his head, he swore at himself.
The scrapes didn't seem immediately alarming, although when he lifted his fingers from the dark blotches on his shirt they were wet with blood. He tried to wipe it off on the ground, which was cold and smooth like the concrete floor in his old basement, but instead of leaving a red smear on the gray, there was nothing. The blood came off his fingertips but the floor eradicated it, as if it had never been touched. About par for the course, Neil supposed.
He stood, wincing, and the reflection followed. He rolled his shoulder in an attempt to restore his arm movement through the pain. He was thoroughly exhausted, not just physically but in every other way, too. There was no reason to believe that The Void would ever let him go, and he didn't believe that, but the only thing he knew to do was move forward.
He walked towards the reflection, and it mimed him until they were face to face. He examined himself, pulling down his bottom eyelid to see the full scope of the bloodshot in his eye. He wiped the thin layer of sweat from his forehead. Drew in a deep breath, and exhaled. He started when he got a blast of cool air from the mirror.
He took a step back, startled, slowly realizing what he was looking at. How had he missed this? He reached out a hand, palm forward, half expecting to feel the cool and smooth surface of a mirror, and half expecting what he actually felt: warm, clammy fingertips and soft skin. They pushed their hands together at perfectly equal force, and when they pulled away the suction from their palms gave a little pop. This was no mirror.
Something about the realization that this reflection was fully three-dimensional made Neil's skin crawl. That was him, and he wondered if it was thinking the same things he was, had the same experiences, the same brain. If it was conscious, he thought, it certainly didn't have free will, and then the problems that statement raised made him dismiss that line of thought entirely. Yet, despite the exhaustion and the hopelessness, he couldn't help deliberating over these kinds of questions.
"Hello?" Neil said, his voice amplified twice as loud from his double. There was no echo. The overlap was perfect. He waved his good arm up and down furiously, and he was mimicked exactly with no delay. In every meaningful way besides dimensional, as far as Neil could tell, the thing in front of him was nothing more than a reflection in a mirror, and yet… he felt as though it were watching him. Pondering.
He once again reached his hand out, this time pushing back as hard as he could. He drove with his legs, his feet slipping back and forward again like they were one a treadmill, but there was no movement. Like pushing against a brick wall.
He sat down in defeat. He thought briefly about running alongside it to maybe beat it in a foot race, or maybe there was some invisible wall that the reflection couldn't pass in that direction, but decided it would be no use. He already knew what would happen. He wasn't meant to get past this thing.
He laid on his back and looked up at the gray, featureless sky that seemed both an arm's length away and impossibly far. He wondered how he could see with no real light source anywhere that he could find, and then he remembered that the sun in the forest had disappeared too.
He sat up violently, looking into his reflection's eyes, terrified of what he would see in their place. Instead they were exactly as they should be: wide, and white with red veins. He couldn't bring himself to look away. Erin's eyes had changed in the blink of an eye, and so had his mother's, and he was sure the same was soon to happen here.
He stood up again, not breaking eye contact with himself. There was something more here, he could sense it, see it in his double, the same way you see a lie in someone's eyes. Some part of his brain told him that he had gone insane, that it was just a reflection, but he pushed it down. He took a step forward, so he was face-to-face with himself.
"I hate you," he said weakly, and it was repeated back at him. He paused to work confidence back into his voice.
"Move. Get out of my way. I know you're in there. I know you can hear me." The thing only continued to imitate him. Anger began to build.
"Move!" he yelled. "I don't want you here. Do you hear me? I want you gone." Nothing. Neil shook his head like he was disgusted. More than anything, though, he was scared and furious.
"Gone!" he screamed. "You understand me? Let me out of here! This is hell. It makes me sick." His voice started to break, and he felt his eyes well up. "I want to go home," he said. He looked into his own eyes, expecting to see bloodshot and tears balancing on the edge of eyelids. Instead, the red was clearing. There were no tears. Instinctively, he brought his own hand up to his own face as if it were changing with the reflection. The reflection's hand did not follow. A terrible, ugly, wicked smile spread over its face.
"You want me gone, Neil?" it asked.
There was silence for just a moment, Neil's mouth slightly open in shock, his own self staring back at him with a smile he didn't recognize. Neil brought his good arm back in a fist, but before he could even begin bringing it forward the reflection's hands were around his neck.
"You want out of here?" it gnarled as it pushed Neil to the ground, squeezing his throat with all its might. The voice was not Neil's, no, it was something else, something horrible. The smile did not fade.
He clawed at it's wrists and fingers, succeeding in only slightly loosening its grip for split seconds at a time. Its thumbs pushed into his throat. He kicked up at it, but it had pinned him to the ground between its legs so he was hardly able to move his body. He gasped for air, choking, his tongue pushed to the front of his mouth. It felt like his head was pushing his eyes out of their places. He pounded at its forearms with closed fists in pure desperation. It didn't let up. He'd forgotten about the pain in his shoulders and chest. Neil pleaded, screamed to no one in his thoughts.
He looked up and saw his father, looking on with muted concern. His hands were in his pockets. Neil had never seen him in that all black suit.
Neil reached out to him. It was no use. He wanted to call for him, but only managed a strangled, unintelligible sound. He pulled at its fingers once again, gasping, only for them to tighten a second later. He briefly caught the smile on its face and couldn't bring himself to look any longer. He looked up at his father. He didn't know how far he was from unconsciousness, but he was tired, and so weak. He gave another pull on its fingers with what felt like every last bit of strength and energy he had.
"Help…" he croaked. Another pull, expending himself. "Please…"
He prepared himself for another press from the fingers of the monster on top of him, but it did not come. They rested on his neck, but did not squeeze. He took a deep, painful breath, and the air did not come in smoothly. When he looked up at its face, the smile was gone, and its eyes were closed. He grabbed its wrist with one hand and its chest with the other and pushed it off of him. It crumpled to one side like a deactivated robot. He couldn't bring himself to move another muscle, so he stared up at the gray sky with his arms at his sides. His father was gone, now. He desperately needed to breathe, but it was then that the sobs came again, suffocating and ugly. His attempts to stop them failed, and trying to breathe through them was hopeless. It wasn't long before he was passed out there, in the middle of nowhere, his body slowly returning to functionality, chest rising and falling.
When he opened his eyes, he knew where he was. The empty table with no rug underneath, the window with the cheap blinds, he'd seen this room every day for years.
He sat up, eyes darting to the corner, and he saw it, although it wasn't the same. It was smaller now, much smaller, with a diameter probably less than twelve inches.
He stood up, looking for anything out of the ordinary. He found nothing, other than a thin smear of blood on the floor. He went to the kitchen, checked the basement and his bedroom (in which his bed had conveniently returned to its original position), and everything was how he'd left it. Except for The Void. His shirt was still stained, and the undersides of his fingernails were filled with dirt. The injuries were still there, but they were bearable.
He turned on the TV in the living room. A news story came on about the police putting on a show for children in the hospital for the holidays.
That was it, then, he thought. This was home. He was finally back home.
He found his tape measure and notebook and walked over to it. He took the measurement (he was right, under a foot), and wrote it down in his notebook. He held it in his hands, looking over everything he'd recorded. He'd been obsessed with the thing.
He crouched down next to the now tiny Void and dropped the notebook in, and it fell endlessly.
He knocked on that door for the first time in many years. He had lived here up until the moment adulthood hit, and he scarcely came back once he was gone, especially after the first year. He would talk to them on the phone every few weeks, but visits eventually became nonexistent, and then even the phone calls became more rare.
Neil was somewhat lost in his thoughts when his father opened the door.
"Son," he said, surprised. "You're here."
"Yeah," Neil said. "I thought I'd come visit for a while."
"Oh, well, by all means," he said, opening the door and leading him inside. "It's good to see you again."
In the living room, the TV was playing some old movie that Neil had never seen on low volume. It was a nice house, and hadn't changed at all since he'd last been there. He walked around the couch and started towards the kitchen.
"Come sit down," his father said. Neil stopped and turned.
"I was going to check out my old room."
His father nodded, in that firm yet understanding way. "I know."
Neil saw it, then, in his father's eyes. It had been there at the funeral just a few days prior and he'd mistaken it for sadness, but now it was so recognizable. In his father's face, Neil knew what was in the kitchen corner that he wouldn't be able to see. He recognized it from himself.
Neil sat next to his father on the couch, and they talked, and then cried.