Reflections, Both

A yawning gap in the trees spilled light onto the road ahead, a pool that turned into a flash of incandescent yellow as we passed. I was drifting in and out of sleep, the kind that only a child can have in the backseat of a car at night, so I could only make out the details of the low-slung diner from the afterimage in my eyes.

There was a woman inside looking out. Her face was glazed with red from the neon signs hung in the window. She followed me from between the dark pines and silvery birches, her form blossoming into fractal skeins of light as my eyes lost the image and adjusted to the darkness of the woods again. The last thing to fade was her face, just a smudge of dark eyes and lips.

Something inside me pulled taut before she disappeared, though. An awareness, like catching my reflection where I didn’t know there was a mirror. My own face looked back at me twofold— the one reflected in the car window, round, haloed with tangles of hair, and the one in the woods, following from a distance.

It was just a moment, one of many on that dark stretch of road. But it’s the one that surfaces more often than the one after. Just a quiet moment before— before the car collided with the body of a running deer. Before everything shattered.


I can just see the crescent of my face reflected in the window from the side of my eyes now. I’m trying not to focus too much on Adi in the driver’s seat. He turns to look at me, though, and hesitates long enough that I continue.

“You’ve never asked.” I say. “Don’t you want to know?”

I glance his way and see his eyebrows quirk together as he looks at me sidelong, but he turns back to the road before answering.

“I mean, I guess so. But...” he pauses, “you don’t have to talk about it. I just figured...” He drifts off as he drives gently around the turns of the road, slow. “I figured you’d tell me if you wanted to tell me. Do you want to talk about it? The accident?”

“You’re leaving tomorrow.” I say.

“I’ll call every night.”

“It’s not the same.”

He turns to me, but I turn to the window. “It’s not that far, the school—”

“I’ve never told you.” I say. “I’ve never—” my mouth is dry, “I’ve never told anyone what really happened.” And I think tonight is my last chance; it feels like the story will disappear if I don’t tell it to someone. It’s been fading since it formed.

“What do you mean? I thought... You said it was a car accident. Was it something else?”

“No, it was.” I say. “A car accident.”

We don’t have much time until we get back to my place. It took so long to get the words out, they’d sat heavy in my throat the whole drive. “It wasn’t just... Something else happened, I think.” It’s a struggle to find words.

Adi stays quiet, the engine rumbling between us. There are farmer’s fields outside instead of forest, now. Houses glow in the distance.

It’s closer to the surface here, though. My body moving with the rise and fall of the road, it comes loose from my throat.

“I think I died, too.” I say. “Died, and survived. Right now, with you, I’m the one that lived.” I hear Adi shifting in his seat and I want to swallow the words back down. “But this isn’t... all of me. You don’t know all of me.”

“Joey...” Adi starts, but I cut him off.

“I want you to know me, though.” I take a deep breath. “I think someone has to.”


I got lost in the woods once when I was a child. I was looking for help, for a place with bright windows even in the darkest part of the night. The road was straight and clear, but the streetlights were were like the headlights of a car bearing down on me and I felt like the deer, steaming and bleeding in the glare. So I went into the woods.

There are paths in the woods, I told myself. The moonlight slid through the canopy just enough to see my next step. This is fastest, I told myself. A secret way. A path only I could see.

Someone would be watching for me, lit in red and waiting.

The loam was soft under my feet, deep with pine needles and moss. Ferns tickled my hands and clung to me as I passed. The trees rustled and owls called in the distance.

This stays clear.

Leaving the woods— leaving the woods was never clear.

There was a trail until there wasn’t. There was a forest until there wasn’t. There was me until—

I’m home again. It’s just me and mom. I found the diner, through the forest; I found the woman who could call for help.

I’m home again. I’m home again, I have to tell myself. There are no night-birds in my house, calling from the shadows of the trees. But the carpet gives under my feet the same way the forest floor did. I’m lost and scrambling up stairs like a steep, slick hill.

I’m home again, but there’s a part of me still out there, still lost. I know this when I realize that I don’t know my way home on a route I’ve walked a thousand times, when my feet try to carry me somewhere else. I know this when I leave a dim building into sunshine and the moment I’m blinded I’m not. I see the canopy sketched against the sky. I see the path ahead of me, a game-trail made by prey animals through the undergrowth.


We pull into the small lot in front of the park, closed, sunset to sunrise. My words are heavy in the car between us. It’s crowded now, in the quiet.

“I think she’s out there, still.” I whisper. I can’t turn to Adi. Can’t see his face right now. “I see her, sometimes. She doesn’t change, not...” Not like me. “It’s okay, though... If you don’t believe me.” I say. “I know it’s not—”

“I do, Joey.” Adi says, quietly. “I do,” louder this time. He looks at me, catching my eyes when I try to steal a glance. He looks as surprised as I feel. “My Nani, she used to tell me this story,” he starts, slow and focused on his words. “That when her mother was born she was a twin. But only one survived. Nani always said that she saw her sister, though, talked to her. When she was growing up she’d see her, following. Her whole life she was there. No one else believes Nani, but... I don’t know. I think, maybe...”

“Maybe I’m mad. Maybe I made it up.”

“You’re not, Joey. You didn’t.”

His voice isn’t loud, neither of us were talking in much more than a whisper, but it is forceful. I was prepared for any other response. Confusion. Scorn. Not this.

Something settles.

“You believe me.” I say.

“Yeah,” he says after a pause.

“You love me.” I say.

“Yeah.” He says in the same, slow way.

The weight falls off of me, unbalancing me, and the air around us changes. We’re leaning towards each other, each unsure of the other, but pulled together.

“Yeah,” I whisper, maybe a question, maybe not.


It’s not always easy to recognize yourself. A different angle, a different age— and we’re strangers. So I looked at the photo I’d found in the back of the china hutch for a long moment before connecting the girl in the pink poly-something windbreaker to me. We were all together, mom and dad and I. It was right before, then. From the trip we’d taken that had meant a long drive home through the night.

It wasn’t just me, though. Seven years old and already surly, pouting into the camera. This was the girl in the woods, the one I saw from the school yard, darting between trees. The flash of pink from behind the bushes at Grandma’s house. The movement outside my window at night. This was who had been following me.

She appeared over the years, never changing and always moving. Fixed in time but never still. The first— the only— time she stopped was the day I started bleeding. I was fourteen, late to it, and my classmates noticed before I did from the stain on my pants. It was like the awareness of it was the thing to cause the pain, because it was only when I was in the toilet stall and seeing the mess that my abdomen gripped itself tight, wringing me out from the inside.

I had to wait until I was alone in the room to come out, toilet paper stuffed in my pants and a sweater tied around my waist. Beside the sink there was a window that looked out to a courtyard, an empty wind trap that caught garbage and leaves all the same in its vortex. It wasn’t empty that day, though. Before I’d even turned to look properly I knew it was her.

There was nothing for her to hide behind and she stood still, unchanged from that photo tucked in a shoe box in a hutch in a room we never used. She met my eyes and I watched her until I couldn’t anymore— the nausea growing unbearable in my belly— and the awareness of all the ways I’d never be like her again set me in motion. This time I ran away.


“You’re the only thing that feels real, right now.” I say. Adi’s hands are on my face, fingertips travelling into my hair. The heat of his body sinks into me.

“I am real. I’m here,” he says, his mouth next to my ear. “I love you.”

“I want this,” I say. “You.”

I feel him go still, and then nod. For a moment our breathing is the only sound in the car, matched, in and out. Then my fingers go to his face, his hair, low across his back. The rustling of our bodies together is loud against my ears so I close my eyes and focus on the feeling of him. There’s rising heat underneath cotton and jangling belt-buckles; skin, smooth in places and flecked with hair in others.

“Are you sure?” He asks, pulling away. “Here? We could—”

“Here, Adi.” I say. His eyes are prying into me, long-lashed and shining in the dark. “Now.” I pull him close, his cheek to mine, tickling me with stubble. He grips me tighter.

Over his shoulder I watch the winter-spare treeline of the park just outside the car, a horizon line to steady me in deep waters. There’s no movement but the leaves skittering around with the wind.

“Here,” I whisper again.


We lay entwined in the backseat of the car, covered haphazardly with unbuttoned flannels and raincoats. We curl together against the growing chill. He holds me like he’s holding me together; there’s only room for one of me in the circle of his arms.

The darkness outside isn’t complete. Moonlight hits the boughs of the evergreens as they sway. I know where I am, though.

Adi’s voice comes in a hoarse whisper. “Have you asked your mom about the woods? About what happened after?” His hand trails through my hair and his chest rises and falls beneath me.

“No.” I admit. “No, we don’t— she doesn’t talk about it.”


“Not really. It’s like she doesn’t want to think about, she doesn’t want it to be real.”

“It must be hard for her to think about.”

“It was hard for me. And it would have been easier if she’d just said something. Admit that it happened.” I was young, everyone called me resilient.

“Sorry.” Adi says, his fingers going still in my hair.

“It’s fine. I don’t need answers from her.” I’d always felt like if I asked about what really happened, I’d be closing a door— and I don’t know which side I’d be left on.


Maybe I’ve just told myself the story too many times; the version that I dreamed had happened. The one where I was brave and clever, a dream close enough to reality that it slipped through into memory. I went into the woods to look for help.

I remember the road, the long dark stretch and the diner that appeared in a flash of light. I remember the woman who followed me from between the trees, her face and mine blurring together. The smell of the night— oil and blood and pine— and the path through the woods... these I struggle to hold on to.

I still look for that other face in every window and reflection. I let my vision blur when I look into mirrors, dim the lights like a sleepover game, and hope to catch a glimpse of myself and find that taut-string plucked feeling of recognition.

But I only ever see one face, and it’s just mine.


It’s not recognition that I feel when I see the girl in the woods. It’s vertigo, pressure. Her eyes are cold when they meet mine through the foggy windshield.

She came.

I sit up slow so I don’t wake Adi from his light sleep. She’s in front of the car, lit as if from the headlights. Everything else is darker in contrast. It’s like before, the other time she stopped running, she’s looking into me.

It was the turning point— something to wrench me further away from who she is, into who I’m becoming— I knew it would call her. It had been so long since I’d seen her last, only a glimpse since the courtyard. But she’s here now, just like I hoped. One last meeting before she slips away.

I’m moving in slow motion, pulling myself upright between the front seats, my eyes locked with hers.

But I flinch as a hand touches my back, warm fingertips to the sliver of exposed skin, and one glance behind me is all it takes to break the connection with the girl in the woods, she’s running by the time I look away from Adi. I throw myself at the door and am running after her before Adi can ask what’s happening. I’m barefoot and tearing into the park, stumbling on sharp gravel but unwilling to look away again. I can see the figure in pink pushing through undergrowth ahead, weaving through trees like she’s run this way a thousand times.

I can’t call out, it’s all I can do to keep breathing with the winter air searing my lungs. It’s not long before I know we’re not in the park anymore. The snowberry bushes and snarls of ivy give way to mossy hillocks of deadfall and billowing ferns. I chase the girl up a hill, past stone outcroppings dripping with groundwater that numbs my feet to the prickling pine needles on the ground.

There’s a light beyond the hill though, yellow tinged with red. It casts the trees in silhouette, flattening the distance between the girl and I.

She nearly disappears into darkness when she slips and skids below the crest of the hill, back towards me. There’s an ache in my legs, between my legs— like the cold but heavier, slowing my every step, but I’m close. She scrambles up and I’m able to lunge forward to grab a fistful of her jacket, the material thin and slippery in my hand. She jerks to a stop and we tumble, me falling into the hill and her away. My wrist wrenches with the full weight of her, and I cry out, but she barely makes a sound as I halt her fall and pull her back towards me.

She’s heavier than I thought she’d be. Dreams are weightless, floating things.

“Stop!” I yell as she continues to flail. I slide onto my knees beside her and grab her arm with my free hand, pinning her to the ground. “You’re going to stop, now.” I say, my voice ragged. I release my grip on her jacket, wrist twinging, and roll her over to face me. She’s fighting before I can get a hold of her, though, and I grab what I can. My hand closes around her skinny arm. She almost pulls free but I clamp down on her wrist and we both stop, my hand covering hers, skin to skin.

She meets my eyes, glaring, and I’m rocked by a wave of vertigo. A tingling cold creeps through my hand and up my arm.

“You have to stop, now.” I say.

She bares her teeth at me.

“Do you think I wanted this?” I snap. “For you? For me?”

“Let go of me,” she spits out.

“You came to me.” I say, breathing hard and putting my weight into her to hold her down. “You followed me, this whole time.” My arm quickly goes leaden, and the cold is creeping into my chest and up my neck.

She throws her legs around in the dirt, catching me in the chin with her knee, but I don’t let go. I straddle her and hold her flat.

“But you’re not the one who’s lost. Are you.” I say, looking down at her. She goes still, but she’s stiff to the touch, muscles tense and ready to run. “I thought you were the one who didn’t make it out. That I had to help you.” She stares at me, unblinking. “But I’m the one who doesn’t remember. I don’t know how I got here. And you—” I can feel tears building in my eyes, but I can’t let go of the girl to wipe them away. I let them fall. “You’re keeping it from me.”

“Let me go.” She says, her voice a snarl.

“No.” I say. “You’re going to stay here.” I stay over her until she stills, her body going slack one muscle at a time.

I look to the top of the hill, where fingers of light reach down to us between the trees.

“You can stay here this time.”

I let go of her and stand, my vision darkening for a moment as the blood rushes from my head. The girl doesn’t move. Her hair is tangled with leaf litter and her clothing is rumpled, just a small figure in the dark woods. But her eyes are too old for her face, her gaze too steady as she watches me.

“Go home.” I say.

Neither of us moves.

An owl calls from the distance, and the pressure in my head eases, taking away a pain I hadn’t even realized was there. The night isn’t so cold anymore.

“You can go home,” I say again.

“But you don’t know the way.” She says, sounding less like a child than before. I turn to face the path leading up and over the hill. Light skims the roots criss-crossing the ground, making a pattern that seems to shift and whorl with shadow, glazed with red.

“Maybe not.” I say. I think of Adi, for a moment. He’d be left wondering.

But I need to find my own way. And if I make it out, I need to know.

Kara Gray lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and writes poetry in her head while hiking. She's been many things for a time: baker, farmer, timber framer, tour guide, military reenactor, funeral transporter— but she has always been a writer. You can find her at on instagram.