“Hey. Wake up–you slept through your alarm again.”
Jo bolted awake, flinging the comforter off her body. The lumpy body pillow that she had somehow managed to twist around her legs proved to remarkably efficient at preventing her from getting out of her bed. Nevertheless, she somehow managed to stumble out of bed, wobbling a bit as her toes hit the cold floor and curled involuntarily. She had left the window open–just a crack–but the temperature had decided to plummet overnight, as it was wont to do in the fall season.
She looked longingly back towards her bed, the hand-me-down comforter rumpled in a way that only came from years of love. Also, plenty of naps.
“Nap later, after your shift and before dinner. It will feel nice, promise.”
Jo nodded in agreement, stripping out of the faded t-shirt and her ex’s boxers. She tossed it aside, noticing with a yawn that she actually managed to get it in the hamper this time–previous efforts lay littered around the base of it. She raced through getting dressed, hoping that her brain was on autopilot enough that she grabbed the clean clothes, and not the dirty ones. Really, the floordrobe was getting out of control.
Rushing to the bathroom, she used her foot to brush aside the still-damp towels from last night’s shower that had slid off the rack. Viciously scrubbing her face with the washcloth, she willed herself more awake, and reached for the mascara.
“Good choice. Maybe that charcoal eyeliner, too.”
It wasn’t until she had lifted her hand up to her eye that she finally saw the other…person?…in the mirror.
“Whoa, whoa, calm down. Let’s not wake the rest of the house, Joanna.”
“Jo,” she automatically answered.
“Ah, yes, Jo, sorry. Getting names correct is so very important,” the figure said, sounding chastened. They had a voice that flowed across her senses, soft velvet with a luxurious timbre.
I should be freaking out more, Jo thought to herself. There is a goddamned ghost in my mirror.
“Common mistake–not a ghost. Ghosts are trapped between the living and the dead. I don’t fit into either of those categories.”
Jo blinked twice. “I didn’t say anything…”
“Didn’t have to. I can hear your conscious thoughts. Subconscious ones too, if they’re strong enough.”
Calmed into the banal normality of the conversation, Jo studied the figure in the mirror better. Not herself, she knew that one pretty well. The other one.
For one thing, they were entirely translucent, but the edges of their figure were composed of slow-moving smoke, like incense coiling through the air. The more she concentrated, the clearer the figure became. Its eyes grabbed her attention, flickering pin points of intense red among all the sooty smoke. All at once, its form became clear, as if an invisible wind brushed away the blur. They–he–smiled back at her in the mirror–a slow, sensual curve of lips. Thick and glossy curls of deep black flowed down across one shoulder, and she couldn’t help but follow the line of his collarbone to the hollow of his neck.
He was also very, very nude, and Jo felt the heat in her cheeks. The red in his eyes danced merrily, and Jo suddenly felt that standing naked in church would probably feel less exposing than this…being’s gaze did.
“Weren’t you getting ready for something?” The being looked like it was leaning over the sink, but of course it wasn’t because it wasn’t real. It tilted its head from side to side, as if admiring their cheekbones. (They were pretty nice, she thought idly as she attempted to pull herself back together.) The figure lifted a hand to their chin–long, elegant, with well-manicured nails–and ran their fingers across the slight stubble along their jaw.
“Right! Yes. Getting ready. Work, yes, working, gonna do the work thing,” Jo muttered, resuming the application of her makeup. “So…you’re not a ghost…what are you, then? And what do I call you?”
The being’s eyes narrowed, the red burning bright for a moment. “Names are a dangerous thing, and I’ll spare you from that knowledge.”
Jo once again blinked as a response. “Okay, but if you leave it up to me, you’re not going to like what I call you.”
Fuckface, she thought.
The being barked out a laugh, a joyous sound that made her feel like she was wrapped in warm honey. “You can call me Tal then, Jo. What is your work, now? You have the stance of someone about to be hanged–and I should know, I’ve seen it done.”
Jo continued getting ready, hurrying through brushing her teeth and hair. Twisting her hair into a ponytail, she grabbed the ballcap off its hook and flipped the end of her hair through its back. “We’re going to hell.”
Tal blinked much like she did. “Oh I sincerely doubt that,” he replied in a deadpan voice.
“It’s Black Friday, and I’ve got a mandatory overtime shift down at the store,” Jo responded, walking out of the bathroom. Tal followed, though he vanished out of her sight once she couldn’t see the mirror anymore.
“I take it that from the lack of black attire, this is not a masquerade dance?” Tal said with a mild tone of interest.
“Nope.” She went into the kitchen and snagged the last of her protein drinks from the fridge. She had forgotten to set up the coffee pot the night before, but it still had yesterday’s in it.
“The last time you did that, you felt awful. There’s time to grab something on the way, at…Shot in the Dark? Odd name for a drinking establishment,” Tal said, puzzled.
“Wow, you really can read my thoughts,” Jo responded. She popped the lid of her drink and downed it all without taking a breath.
“Mostly,” Tal mused. Jo felt something, a pressure building in her temples. Tal’s voice was tense when he continued. “I’d prefer not to go to Hell.”
It was weird, she could hear the capitalization of the name, and with it, her body seized up. “Oh.” She took a deep, calming breath, and she wanted to tell herself that the sulfurous smell was just the eggs going off in the fridge and that had somehow gotten into the protein drink. She was usually pretty good at lying to herself, but not this time.
“You’re a demon, aren’t you?”