The sunlight shafted through a gap in his bedroom curtains; he was not pleased to see it. Darren pulled the duvet up and over his head and let out a groan. What a night! He lost count of the number of beers, shots and joints he had partaken of. The night had been winding down when that blonde arrived; she was stunning. Every schoolboy’s wet dream in one tidy package.
His hazy memory of the woman brought him closer to full consciousness. He felt gingerly across the bed under the duvet; he was alone which came as a bit of a relief. She was gorgeous, but he hated post coital conversations; so awkward, especially given that he couldn’t remember her name.
He swung his legs round and sat up; his head spun and a stab of pain hit him right between the eyes. Standing up would not be a good idea and lying down again wouldn’t help. Darren rested his elbows on his thighs and lowered his head into his hands. His mouth was dry and gummy, he ran his tongue over his teeth, they were furry. Must have been a really good night he thought, he just wished he could remember more of it.
He sat in the edge of the bed for a few more minutes waiting for the spinning to slow down and the pain to recede before daring to stand up. He still hadn’t fully opened his eyes, the lids seemed almost glued shut. He rubbed the crust from his eyelids and squinting, staggered through to the bathroom. He filled the basin with cold water and stuck his face in.
He snapped his head up and it cracked into the open door of the bathroom cabinet. “Fuck!” He slammed the cabinet door shut, the noise and the added pain shot through his hangover. He gingerly felt the lump the on the back of his head.
“I said hello there.” A voice came from behind him.
Darren spun around looking for the source of the words. His feet slid from under him and he thumped down onto the wet floor sending a shaft of pain from his coccyx to the back of his head where it joined the lump on his cranium in a crescendo of agony. It was just not his day. He was sat on the floor, naked with a monumental hangover and looking round he was sure he was alone.
I’m still asleep he thought, got to be.
“And no Darren, this is not a dream.”
Darren hauled himself back to his feet and turned to face the mirrored cabinet, it was blank. Maybe I’ve been spiked, he thought. “Come to think of it that last drink did taste a bit funny.” He said this time out loud.
“Again no, you’re not tripping.”
He’d had enough bad trips and he thought he could recognise one when it arrived. Darren filled a glass with cold water and drank it down and refilled it. The icy water hit his stomach which immediately cramped sending a shiver through his body. The spasm ran though the muscles in his arm and he dropped the heavy glass on his foot. Darren yelled in pain and grabbed at his foot. He slipped over again and landed on the glass, more pain cut through his back, but at least the glass didn’t break. He hauled it out from underneath his buttocks. Darren almost giggled, if it wasn’t for the aches throbbing throughout his body this could have been a scene from a Buster Keaton movie.
He lay there dazed, staring at the ceiling determined not to move. He watched a spider crawl effortlessly across the ceiling and disappear into the light fitting. He tried to relax and closed his eyes, maybe he will wake up still in bed and this nightmare will be over. It is a nightmare he told himself. It must be! Or a bad trip. Ignore the voice, it’ll soon get bored and leave.
“You still don’t get it Darren.”
A deluge of freezing water cascaded from the sink over the prone Darren, he must be awake now.
“You forgot to turn the tap off idiot!”
He struggled to his feet shivering with cold, turned the tap off and pulled the plug. The water gurgled away seemingly taking with it all comprehension from Darren. Leaning on the sink for support he stared at the empty mirror. He could feel the cold water numbing his feet and he was shivering uncontrollably, not just from the cold but deep in the pit of his stomach an icy knot of fear was forming. What if this is not a nightmare or a bad trip? What if this was really happening?
“Now you’re getting there.”
“Shut UP! Just shut the fuck UP.”
He wrapped himself in the bath towel and rubbed himself trying to get some warmth into his pain wracked body. He squeezed his eyes shut and sobbed.
“Remember the poet, Darren? The one from Scotland, the one you hated at school? ‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!’ Open your eyes Darren, see yourself properly for the first time.” The voice ordered from just behind him.
Darren didn’t have the will power to disobey, he opened his eyes. The blank mirror stared back at him, like a condemnation. The emptiness a witness to the desolation of his soul, the vacancy a reflection of his vacuous existence. He couldn’t bear to look into that void for long, he covered his face with his hands, tears were running down his face. Tears of pain or sadness, he couldn’t decide. He tried to turn and walk away, but his frozen feet wouldn’t obey him and he only saved himself from another fall by grabbing the sink. Another sob escaped from between his chattering teeth
The voice mocked at him, “Oh dear, poor Darren. Poor, poor little Darren even his feet don’t work anymore. Just like the rest of him.”
The voice seemed to be coming from his left this time. He gripped the sink like it was his only anchor on reality and slowly turned his head. He felt the bones in his neck grind against each other, he winced as another jolt of pain speared through his head.
“Painful, isn’t it?” said the face in the small shaving mirror a sardonic smile on its lips.
Darren stared at the image in disbelief, it was him but not him. The shape and structure of the face before him was similar, like an idealised version of himself, completely symmetrical left and right, the eyes blue but a brighter blue than in reality, cheek bones sharper and better defined and the ears at the same height and smaller, the nose straighter and the hair was properly blonde. Despite these differences, it was still essentially him.
The face in the mirror winked at him.
His pain momentarily forgotten, Darren jumped back, just managing to save himself from another meeting with the floor. He leaned forward trying to get a better look at the face in the mirror. He turned away and back again, but the image remained, the smile now rather more cruel than sardonic.
He began to wonder if this was a prank. Darren pulled the mirror towards him, and glanced behind it, he searched around the bathroom for any tell-tale signs of a projector or speakers. Nothing, the image remained and still smiled.
“Satisfied now?” it said, “No hidden camera’s or TV screens, no speakers in the walls. This is no joke. You are awake and this is real.”
“Who the hell are you?”
The apparition shook it’s head the fine golden hair swirled in the ether as if alive. “Don’t you recognise me fool? Can’t you see? I’m your Guardian Angel!”
“Now you’re taking the piss!” He was getting angry now. “What about all the falling and soaking and freezing? Eh? As far as I can see all the evidence suggests you’re a pretty crap Guardian”
“No Darren you don’t get it yet. I’m sick of you. I’ve helped you so often over the years but still you manage to end up a complete asshole. Remember the fall from the tree around year five that only resulted in a minor concussion? It should have killed you. What about you missing that bus to college, remember, the one that crashed? Oh, and the final exam paper that you found the answers to in the teacher’s trash bin two days before the test. How you managed to fuck that one up is beyond even me. And there are many more.”
A look of utter disdain passed over the Guardian’s face, “You’ve never finished anything, nothing. No job completed, no plan ever achieved that is assuming that you ever made one. I have dropped so many chances into your lap and you’ve ignored every one. You’re a waste of space so I’m done with you. I’m going to do the same thing as you when you come across something difficult, leave!”
The face in the mirror began to fade. “Darren Peter Finchley, from now on you are on your own. I am outta here.” The face disappeared.
Darren shivered and pulled the towel tighter. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes all the world seemed back to normal. He still had a hangover, his foot was painful as was his back and the bathroom floor was sodden. He risked a glance in the mirror and saw only his own bleary face looking back at him. He checked behind mirror and around the bathroom, nothing. He downed two Advil and staggered back to bed.
Darren awoke the following morning, the hangover had cleared, he put yesterday’s episode down to over indulgence. Not unusual for him. He got ready for his shift at the burger bar. And whistling a happy tune walked towards his workplace.
He didn’t see or hear the SUV that jumped the red light as he was crossing the street. He was DOA by the time the ambulance got through the morning traffic.