She counted her scars. It required the use of a hand mirror in addition to the full-length mirror behind her bedroom door, but she was meticulous and had all their locations memorized. Finding them was never a problem, but counting took some time.
She counted them again, slower.
She counted them a third time, more carefully than she had in many years.
One was definitely missing.
She sat on the edge of her bed, dropping the hand mirror into the graveyard of dirty laundry and old receipts waiting for the day she had enough energy to clean them up. She stared at a crooked photo on the wall, at a loss for what to do.
An old nightmare slithered over her shoulder and rested its cheek against hers. She closed her eyes and leaned into it.
“What is happening to me?”
It looked at her through one eye, its tongue darting out thoughtfully.
“You are losing yourself.” Its voice crept like the footsteps of a stranger on the front stoop, but its breath smelled like old attics and the sweet song of dying flowers.
“It’s just one scar.”
“How else have you defined yourself?”
She ran a finger down one of the remaining scars, feeling its bumpy ridge running from her left eyebrow down to the bottom of her ear. No one had ever commented on it, as though they couldn’t see it at all.
“I don’t know.”
It flicked its tongue across its teeth. “You have suffered,” it whispered, wrapping its tail around her gut. “More than most, but that is what makes you special. Stronger, braver than those who have never had to overcome what you have. That’s why you wear them, yes?”
“They made me who I am.”
“And if you lose them, you lose that too. If you don’t remember them, pick them to keep them fresh… if you let them vanish from your sight, you’ll be just as naive and empty as the rest. An idiot who looks at the world with a grin, expecting to find happiness.” The embrace of its tail tightened around her.
“What do I do?”
It nuzzled her cheek. “Replace it, before you forget entirely. Make the same mistake, cut the flesh open afresh, remember that hurt and know that you are stronger for it.”
She started, jerking away from it, but its tail held her fast.
“Why? What if I don’t want it anymore?”
“Of course you want it,” it purred like distant thunder. “Why else do you count them every day? Why else do you spend so much time picking at their scabs? You want them.”
“I don’t count them every day.”
“No?” A wariness entered its eye.
“No. I forgot for a few weeks.”
She looked up at it sharply. Was that fear? “I don’t know. I tried some new things. I got busy. Had better things to do. I felt… happy.”
“Happy?” it snarled. “To be happy in a world with so many teeth and claws is the mark of a blind fool. You are not the Girl Who Is Happy. That’s not you. Who are you if you’re happy?” Its tail tightened further with each word.
“I enjoyed it… I didn’t feel lost…”
It laughed with the sharpness of a knife. “But look what happened! A part of yourself is gone forever.”
She was certain there was panic in its voice, and that gave her strength. “It’s not the only part of me. There’s more than the scars.”
“You define yourself by them. How will you define yourself without them? The person you are will die, you’ll never get her back.” Its tail was crushing her now.
“Let… her.” She gasped for air, only able to take shallow breaths. “I don’t… like her that much… anyway.”
It tried to grip tighter, but it was losing its strength. “Who will you be, then?”
“You will regret this.” It was fading now, and she could breathe easier.
“I’d rather regret doing something than regret doing nothing at all.”
“I will come back.”
“I will always come back. You’ll never be rid of me, even if you ignore your scars.”
“I won’t stop fighting you.”
“That’s okay. Now I am ready to fight you. I’ve listened to your whispers for years and always landed in the same place.”
“Safe, comfortable, familiar.” Its voice was a whisper in an empty building, echoing from a distance.
“Not fulfilling. I will see you soon, old friend, but next time I will be stronger.”
The room was empty now. She bent down to grab the mirror and put it back where it belonged. As she did, she caught her reflection. The scars were still there, but less overpowering. She could see the rest of her face. She practiced a smile, for the novelty of it, and put the mirror in its drawer to rest until tomorrow.
Storytime Sunday is a weekly installment of short fiction or personal anecdotes. Some will be complete stories, others will be snippets of projects that have gone to the Graveyard of Tales Not Going Anywhere, and a few will be previews of upcoming publications. Basically it’s a sketchbook for writing. Feel free to send me prompts in the comments or on Facebook!