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maze of mirrors

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            The entrance is all wonky, lopsided and abnormally large. It towers at least five feet over him, which is a rarity all on its own, much different to the top of doorways usually being a few inches away from his head, his hair often brushing against the frames when he walks through them. This is different, however, as this is not a regular doorway, and it is not leading into a regular house. Everything about this building just feels intimidating, making him feel oddly dwarfed in comparison. He doesn’t like it, doesn’t like feeling so minuscule, so tiny.

            “Come on,” Eddie says, reappearing by Richie’s side and grabbing his hand in a vice grip. For a moment, Richie thinks that maybe Eddie also feels uneasy by the building in front of them, but when he looks over at him, Eddie is bouncing excitedly from foot to foot, gazing through the entrance with sparkling grey eyes and a wide, toothy grin. “Bill said not to wait for them ‘cause Mike and Ben still need to use the bathroom, so we can go in now. Everyone else will only be, like, five minutes behind us.”

            “Are you sure?” Richie asks, partially because he doesn’t like the idea of leaving his friends behind, whether or not he has permission to. Mostly, however, he just isn’t sure he wants to go in at all. He begs with his eyes for Eddie to see his inner turmoil, his overwhelming desire to not do this, but Eddie is still looking through the doorway and remains blissfully unaware of Richie’s growing discomfort. He almost just says it, says that he doesn’t want to, because he knows Eddie won’t make him, but he doesn’t want to prevent Eddie from doing something he so clearly wants to do.

            Nodding, Eddie steps forward, tugging lightly on Richie’s arm to pull him along and telling him, “Yeah, I’m sure. I asked him if he wanted us to just wait, but he said not to worry about it.”

            With a rough swallow to try and rid himself of the lump in his throat, Richie murmurs a quiet little, “Okay,” and allows Eddie to drag him inside.

            The walls are colorful, painted bright reds and yellows and greens and blues, but the lighting is so low that it’s hard to look at without getting a headache. Every few feet is a turn – first left, then right, another right, left again, and so on – which really solidifies the fact that this is supposed to be similar to a maze. Not an actual maze, no, but it has the same feeling of being lost. That thought sits heavily in the pit of Richie’s stomach, making it churn uncomfortably. Eddie still seems ecstatic, though, looking at the patters and the paintings on the walls that they walk past with obvious intrigue.

            Richie understands why Eddie loves this so much, knows that it’s a child-like fascination caused by an entire childhood where he was deprived of the opportunity to go to carnivals like this one. Usually, Richie is right there with him, just as giddy and energetic to go on rides and play games, often dragging Eddie behind him like Eddie is doing with Richie right now, but he can’t find that excitement within him right now. Something about these particular attractions have always made him uncomfortable and afraid, for reasons he’s never been able to understand, but he thinks it has something to do with the darkness and the muted colors and the tall walls and the freakishly long corridors that never seem to end.

            And then they reach the mirror room, and Richie goes from mildly uneasy to absolutely terrified.

            Fun houses, as Richie quickly decides, at the exact opposite of fun. They’re disorienting and confusing and far too big. They make him feel small and meek and afraid and everything he hates to be. As his chest begins to tighten with sudden twinges of panic, he breathes out, “Eds—”

            “I bet I can find the way out of here faster than you can,” Eddie says, not hearing the beginning of Richie’s fearful plea over the sound of the rest of the carnival outside the building, echoing down the halls in a way that sounds far more eerie than it does cheerful. Sucking in a harsh breath, Richie tries to shake his head, protest forming on the back of his tongue, but Eddie adds, “It shouldn’t be too hard, since this was built for kids,” before he gets the chance to get them out.

            “Eds,” Richie tries again, but his voice just isn’t cooperating with him right now, coming out far too quiet and airy barely audible to even his own ears. It’s no wonder that Eddie can’t hear him, really, and if Richie were capable of it, he’d simply let out a shout just to alert Eddie of the blooming fear in his chest, but he simply cannot choke it out, not even when Eddie suddenly releases his hand and walks forward, fingertips dancing along the mirrors he walks past. Richie watches, feeling glued to the spot, as a minimum of thirty other Eddie’s become visible in the mirrors surrounding them, making it nearly impossible to pinpoint which one is really him. Then, turning a corner that Richie cannot see, Eddie vanishes entirely.

            Voice bouncing around to the point that he can’t tell where it’s coming from, Eddie calls back, “Last one out has to pay for dinner!”

            And then Richie is left completely, horribly, terrifyingly alone.

            Compared to this, the muted colors of the walls before seem like a fucking paradise. Every way he looks, he sees reflections of reflections of reflections, an endless spiral of misdirection and distress that leaves his head spinning and his breath stuttering in his chest. It hurts his eyes to look at, trying to comprehend what’s real and what’s the effect of the mirrors, and he briefly considers closing his eyes and using his hands to feels his way through the room, but the only thing that would be worse than seeing this would be to not see anything at all.

            Somewhere far ahead, though it’s hard to pin point the exact direction, Richie hears a slight thud followed by the echo of what he can quickly identify as Eddie’s laughter, but it sounds distorted by the room. “Eds?” he calls out, swallowing roughly when his voice echoes back to him. Everything is reverberating off the mirrors in a way that is hard to listen to, his own cautious footsteps sounding far too loud against his eardrums as he finally moves forward, trying to get a hold over his own terror.

            There’s nothing to be scared of. This is a place meant for kids. He knows this.

            That does nothing to help ease his panic, though. Quite the contrary, actually – the more he tries to force himself to relax, the more tense he seems to get. Every fraction of a movement is stiff and afraid, and his eyes are locked on the mirrors around him, trying to figure out the right way out of here. When his shoulder collides with a mirror that he didn’t realize he was walking so close to, he lets out a hoarse little shout, his heart thundering angrily in his chest. He wonders where his volume had been before, when he was trying to tell Eddie he wanted to leave, but that’s the least of his concerns at this very moment.

            He just wants to get the fuck out of here.

            “Eddie?” he tries again, voice wobbly but louder than before. He rests a hand against the wall of mirrors on his right side and pointedly avoids looking into it, irrationally afraid that he’ll see something other than himself staring back at him. Again, his voice echoes back to him, amplified and overwhelming, making him physically flinch away as he slowly advances further, turning the same corner that he assumes Eddie had turned before vanishing into this labyrinth. He can see various small fractions of himself reflected in the mirrors around him, his legs in a few, the top of his head in others, but not a single mirror in this area seems to be showing his full body. Something about that makes a chill run down his spine and, feeling even more desperate than before, he calls out for Eddie again, words shaky and unsteady as they rumble from the back of his closing throat.

            A few feet in front of him, around another corner that he can’t see quite yet, there’s another thud. Richie can feel his blood run cold as he jumps slightly, leaning further into the wall his hand is still trailing over, and he feels ridiculous, being so blatantly terrified like this, but then he realizes that this thus was a lot closer than the first one. Plus, after the first thud, he could hear Eddie’s laugh, telling him that it had been Eddie running into a wall or something. This time, there was no laugh.

            Trying to push past the uneasy queasiness churning in the pit of his stomach, Richie steps forward, his throat now the size of a pin needle, and asks, “Eds? Was that you?” He gets nothing in response, and he’s so afraid that he thinks he might be sick, but he just keeps moving forward and says, “Eddie, I’m… I’m kind of scared. I don’t like being split up and alone like this.”

            Again, he’s greeted with nothing but silence. Breathing in slowly, he forces himself to move faster, taking longer strides and quicker steps, his right hand still brushing against the mirrors on his right for the sole purpose of feeling grounded to something through touch. As he’s walking, he comes up to the next corner so suddenly that his hand falls through the air in the absence of the mirrors that had been there and he lets out a strangles yelp as he stumbles. He keeps his arms out in front of him just in case he falls, but his palms find another mirror a few feet away that helps to stabilize him.

            “Fuck,” he wheezes out, squeezing his eyes shut for a long moment as he tries to catch his breath. It feels like his heart is lodged in his throat, beating in time with the sudden throbbing headache within his skull. A little breathless, he lets out a strained, humorless laugh, once again exasperated with his bone-chilling fear towards this place. Opening his eyes, he meets his own gaze in the mirror he’s leaning against and shakes his head once, murmuring, “Get your shit together, Tozier. You’re fine.”

            And then his reflection winks at him.

            For a solid thirty seconds, Richie doesn’t react, staring blankly into the mirror and trying to rationalize his thoughts, but then his reflection grins, too. Shakily, Richie withdraws a hand and brings it up to his own mouth, brushing against his lips just to make sure that he isn’t somehow grinning without meaning to, but he isn’t. His own mouth is slack-jawed. His reflection is not mirroring him.

            With what can only be described as a shrill scream, Richie scrambles back from the mirror, watching in horror as his reflection stays put, still grinning at him in a strange, sinister manner. He own scream bounces around him, much like every other noise he’s made, but now it feels even more amplified than before, vibrating the ground and making his head spin.

            “What the fuck,” he murmurs, his eyes wide as he backs up, only for his back to collide with yet another mirror. Breathing shaky and uneven, he realizes that his actual reflection has vanished from all the mirrors other than the one directly in front of him – the inaccurate one, still standing there with its hands pressed against the inside of the glass. Tears burn the back of his eyes, confused and afraid, and in a much more choked off voice, he repeats, “What the fuck?!”

            His reflection grins wider, its eyes alight with something akin to amusement, as if its finding pleasure and joy in this situation. Richie can’t look away, as if he’s watching a car crash – something horrific, something his mind can’t comprehend, but his gaze is glued. His trembling knees threaten to give out on him, making his slump against the mirror behind him, and he wants to run but his body just won’t cooperate with him. No matter how loud his mind screams at him to move, to get away, he stays still. Terrifyingly enough, his reflection seems to be aware that he’s stuck, frozen in terror, and it licks its lower lip hungrily.

            Richie swallows back bile. The tears that had been behind his eyes now spill carelessly down his cheeks. He doesn’t bother to wipe them away.

            In the mirror, his reflection pulls back a hand and taps the pad of its finger against the glass. It looks like a gentle touch, but Richie can hear the thud like he can hear his own heartbeat, loud and insistent in his chest. Without removing its gaze from Richie, it does it again, its finger tapping against the inside of the mirror two, three, then four times. On the fifth tap, a crack forms in the glass.

            Whatever this is, it’s about to break out of the mirror.

            “Oh, god,” Richie groans, his head lulling back and thumping it against the mirror behind him, only to let out a low hiss as the sound of more glass breaking sounds through the air and a sudden, sharp pain forms in the back of his head. Shakily, he brings up a hand and carefully brushes it against the origin of the pain, crying out with the touch causes it to hurt even more, and he’s only mildly surprised to find blood coating his fingertips when he pulls them back. Stepping forward, his arms held out in front of him to help keep his balance, he glances over his shoulder and finds that the mirror somehow shattered on impact despite him not using any force in the movement.

            The tapping gets more insistent. Breaths shallow, Richie looks back at his reflection and finds the crack has expanded, getting bigger with each passing moment. From the smaller cracks branching out from the pain point, blood seeps through, rolling down the mirror in odd little droplets. His reflection looks distorted now, different, with black eyes and a thinner face, skin unnaturally pale, and it’s mouth is filled with razor sharp teeth, breaking the skin of its lips as it continues to grin excitedly.

            Only a few more taps, that’s all it will take before the entire wall of glass shatters.

            He needs to get out of here. Now.

            With stumbled steps, head spinning and breathing choppy, Richie pivots around and surges forward, no longer trailing a hand against the mirror wall in fear. He no longer sees his reflection as he goes, but he doesn’t care about that, because he can see the thing in the mirror whenever he looks over his shoulder, making him run faster. His legs ache and complain with every step, lungs burning and the wound on the back of his head getting more and more painful with each passing moment. All of that is pushed away, though, as he turns corners, pushes off the mirrors he runs into, and forces himself to keep going, keep running, get away, escape, for the love of fucking god please get the fuck out of here—

            And then he reaches a dead end so suddenly that he almost runs right into it, barely stopping himself by slamming his hands into the glass, and in the mirror in front of him is the same thing from before, only now it looks nothing like Richie, limbs far too long, hairless and spindly. Richie breath fogs up the glass from the close proximity, and he can see all the little details, each and every pore. He thinks he’s going to be sick as he shakily backs away, waiting for the creature to make its move, to leap through the mirror and tear him limb from limb, but all it does is raise a finger and place it over its still-grinning lips, a silent signal for Richie to stay quiet, before it backs away and disappears.

            Just before his legs can give out, he feels arms around his waist, and he shouts, eyes squeezing shut as he starts to wriggle uncontrollably, trying to free himself. In his ear, he hears a familiar voice say, “Richie, calm- calm down! It’s me, Richie! It’s Mike, it’s okay!”

            “No,” he moans, shaking his head back and forth wildly, but he’s too tired to keep fighting back, instead just weakly kicking his legs out in a half-assed protest. “No, no, no, no—”

            “Jesus Christ, he’s bleeding,” another voice says, one that Richie can quickly identify as Stan, but he still doesn’t open his eyes. He’s afraid that, if he tries to, he’ll see that creature staring at him again, finger against the glass, ready to shatter it and break through.

            There’s shuffling around him before he feels gentle hands on his cheeks, angling his head down. “That must be what happened to the mirror back there,” Beverly murmurs, her tone laced with confusion and worry. After another moment, she adds, “Fuck, I think there’s glass in it. We need to get him out of here. What the hell happened?”

            The arms around his waist hoist him up higher, not necessarily carrying him but making it easier to support his weight. A few feet away, he hears Ben offer, “Here, I’ll help,” before he feels another set of arms around him. After a moment of adjusting, he says, “Okay, we’re good to go.”

            “Didn’t he come in with Eddie?” Beverly asks as they start to move. Richie doesn’t want to look around him, has no idea if anyone is even looking at him, but he still nods slightly in answer. It seems that she saw it, however, as she quickly asks him, “Where is he? Is he still in here?”

            “I don’t know,” Richie answers honestly, his voice hoarse and choppy, and suddenly he’s crying again, his features scrunching together. He hadn’t even considered the fact that Eddie was in there, too, assuming that Eddie had already found his way out and Richie was the only one there. Hell, he’d even forgotten that the rest of their friends were only a few minutes behind them.

            No one talks again after that, save for a few instruction from Bill, telling them where they’re turning. Richie isn’t sure how big this place is supposed to be, but it feels like hours have passed by the time Bill says, “There’s the exit.”

            He can feel the breeze outside, cold and biting – the sun had been setting when they first got to the carnival, and the stars were already out when Eddie and Richie went into the fun house – but he still can’t bring himself to look. The idea of seeing something that shouldn’t be there is too terrifying, too stifling. Instead, he lulls his head to the side to rest it against Mike’s shoulder, brows drawn together. Softly, Mike tells him, “We’re almost out, Rich. You’re fine. We got you.”

            “I can see Eddie,” Bev breathes, the relief evident in her voice.

            “There’s a little ramp to get down on the side,” Ben says, assumedly talking to Mike. “That’ll be easier than the steps.” Mike hums, confirming Richie’s theory, as they take a sudden right. He can hear everyone else’s footsteps continue on ahead, apparently taking whatever stairs Ben had mentioned. He can feel when the floor shifts to a slope, sucking in a harsh breath, which he quickly releases when he can feel Mike rub a soothing circle into his hip with his thumb. The touch is gentle and comforting.

            Faintly, he can hear Eddie’s voice, asking the others a question he can’t hear. Immediately, he flexes his hands and wriggles his body, murmuring, “Eds.” The word comes out weak, and he realizes, suddenly, that he’s much more light headed and dizzy than he had been before, likely caused from the injury on the back of his head. He doesn’t know how much it’s bled, but he can feel a damp warmth on his neck, which can’t be a good sign. Sniffling slightly, lower lip trembling, he slurs out, “I wan’ Eds.”

            Softly, Ben assures him, “He’s right here, okay? He’s right here, Richie. It’s okay.”

            Sure enough, before Ben has even finished talking, Richie can head Eddie exclaim, “What the fuck happened?” His voice only sounds a few feet away, but then Richie feels hands on his cheeks, cupping his face gently. With a content sigh, he leans into the familiar touch.

            “We found him in there like this,” Mike explains. “Can someone get a chair or something? I think he needs a minute to just sit down before we take him to the hospital.”

            “The hospital?!” Eddie repeats, sounding delirious, voice choked off and watery. Richie frowns slightly at the clear distress in his tone, but he feels too weak to try and talk, so all he does is turn his head and press a kiss to Eddie’s palm in what he hopes to be a reassuring manner. Before he can turn his head back, Eddie grips his chin just tight enough to keep him in place, his breath audibly hitching. “Oh, fuck. That doesn’t look good.”

            “Here,” Beverly says, and then Richie’s being lowered into a seat. It’s a relief on his legs, but when Ben and Mike pull away from him, he feels his heart stop for a moment.

            Reaching his hands out, he murmurs, “No, no, no, don’ go, please, don’—”

            Again, Eddie cups his face, effectively cutting off his pleas. “We’re not going anywhere,” he promises softly, but there’s a whole new layer of fear in his voice now, a concoction of concern and panic. “Can you… Richie, can you open your eyes? Can you look at me, please?” Richie shakes his head instantly, his breathing picking up speed. He doesn’t want to look, doesn’t want to risk seeing that thing, with its unnatural body and razor teeth and black eyes. In a shaky voice, Eddie asks, “Is there something wrong with them? Did you get hurt there, too?”

            “No,” Richie whispers, the word feeling heavy and thick when it rolls off his tongue.

            “Then why won’t you open your eyes?” Eddie asks brokenly.

            Features screwing up in a mixture of pain and fear, he answers, “I… I don’t want to see it again. I don’t- I don’t want to see it, Eds, please don’t make me see it again, I don’t- I can’t—”

            “Hey, hey, it’s alright,” Eddie coos, rubbing his thumbs over Richie’s cheeks in gentle little swipes. The gesture is comforting, making Richie relax slightly as Eddie assures, “You won’t see anything but me, okay? I’m right here, you’ll only see me, I promise. It’s just making me nervous, not seeing your eyes, Rich. I want to make sure there’s nothing wrong with them. And you have a head injury, so I need to look at them to make sure they’re still reacting right.”

            Richie falters, equal parts for and against the idea. On one hand, he wants to see Eddie, wants to seek comfort in his gaze, but on the other hand, he feels like it won’t be Eddie that he sees. The longer he goes with his eyes closed, however, the more the darkness behind his eyelids feels intimidating, like something is lurking in it, waiting to jump out. He knows it’s merely a result of paranoia, but it still makes him feel uneasy, so he nods shakily and murmurs a simple, “Okay.”

            Thumbs stilling on Richie’s cheeks, Eddie waits patiently as Richie slowly blinks his eyes open, squinting through the lights of the carnival around them before focusing on Eddie’s face, a mere few inches in front of them. Eddie looks relieved for a moment, but then he must see something in Richie’s gaze – the fear, the redness, or maybe even both – that causes his features to crumple slightly. “Rich,” he murmurs sadly, his brows creased together and his gaze desperate to understand the situation. “What happened in there? I thought you were right behind me, but I turned around and I couldn’t find you anywhere and I just thought you beat me out but… fuck. I just- what happened? How’d you get hurt?”

            “The mirror,” Richie tells him, but his voice is so weak, and he feels so dizzy, and he knows that his head must be much more fucked up than he thought because the world is going fuzzy and everything sounds far away. Pushing through it, he manages to ghost out, “There was something in the mirror.”

            And then everything goes black.





            The doctor assures them that Richie will be fine, saying that the injury is minor and shouldn’t cause any lasting effects. When prompted about what Richie had said before blacking out, she tells them that it was likely a hallucination caused by a mixture of the impact and the blood loss. When Richie wakes up a few hours later, groggy from pain medicine and bandages wrapped around his head, he insists that he hadn’t made it up. He’s damn near hysterical, tears in his eyes as he begs Eddie to believe him, to know that he hadn’t imagined anything, that something really had been in the mirror and had chased after him. It takes a few minutes to calm him down, but Eddie promises that he believes him and carefully lulls him back to sleep with gentle, comforting words.

            He goes in the bathroom to splash water on his face, concern and confusion causing his heart to thud loudly. With a sigh, he looks at his reflection, shakes his head, and murmurs, “He’ll be fine. That’s what matters. He’s going to be fine.”

            As he goes to leave, he catches a glimpse of something off. In the mirror, he swears he sees his reflection wink, but everything seems normal when he looks again. Ultimately, he decides to shrug it off and returns to his seat next to Richie’s hospital bed.