I’ve mentioned before that when I started more seriously delving into the world of horror that I used every story prompt as a way to flex my creative muscles. Every prompt led to a horror story. And back in those early days, my version of “write what you know” only extended as far as family trauma and complicated family relationships.

It was from those circumstances, as well as ReedsyPrompts Contest #58, that “Control” was born. It is not my strongest work from that period of time, and not at all biographical, although it was good practice and there are nuggets of “what I know” peppered throughout. And with a prompt like “Write about a character who’s stuck in an elevator when the power goes out”, obviously there’s plenty of room for horror.

It was dark out. Sarah had stayed far too late at work again. When she finally looked up from her desk, she noticed that many of the lights in her office had already shut off for the night. Some of them were on timers, and some were on motion sensors. Either way, the fact that so many lights were off told her that it was well past the time for her to go home.

She didn’t mind staying late if it was by choice. Sometimes it was easier for her to get work done after everyone else had gone home. There were fewer distractions that way. She only resented having to stay late when it was because of someone else or because of something that was beyond her control. She couldn’t stand it when she didn’t have control of a situation.

Sarah wasn’t the bossy “controlling” type. That’s not the kind of control she wanted. She was forced to live with severe, debilitating anxiety and found it easier to get by in life when she had some form of control over whatever situation she was in. It helped her to know that everything was as it should be. Her medication and therapy helped too, but the sense of safety that came with a sense of control helped even more.

Triple checking that she had packed up everything that she needed to take home, Sarah headed out of the office and made her way to the elevators. It wasn’t long before one appeared, but when the doors opened there was a member of the after-hours cleaning crew cleaning the mirrored walls. With one whiff of the strong cleaning solution, Sarah decided to wait for the next one.

The next elevator to arrive was completely empty, and Sarah immediately stepped in and began absentmindedly checking her appearance in the mirrors after pressing the “G” button. It was just something that everyone in the building did, whether they were aware of it or not. As she looked at herself in the mirror, she watched as the surprise spread across her face when the elevator came to a stuttering halt. Only slightly concerned at this point, Sarah turned towards the doors, expecting them to open after the less than stellar decent. But instead, the doors remained shut, and the lights unceremoniously flickered off.

Sarah paused for a moment as her brain tried to comprehend what had just happened. She leaned forward and pressed “G” for ground again. And again. And then repeatedly without pause as the panic slowly started to creep in. Then she pressed the alarm bell. She pressed it again and again, hearing that far off ringing sound that would alert someone about her situation. When that seemed to do nothing, she held her finger down on the button and simply let the ringing noise drone on. She was suddenly terrified that everyone had gone home for the night and that there would be no one left to hear this call for help.

She only removed her finger from the button when she noticed a reflection in the mirrors that was not her own. In the mirror closest to the panel of buttons, she saw a stranger’s hand come dangerously close to her own. She gasped and felt her heart leap into her throat when she saw this other figure, and she stumbled back a little bit to move away from it. But the figure was there in the mirror behind her. It was in all of the mirrors. She moved until she had her back up against the elevator doors. It was the farthest she could get away from the other person. But even with her back against the doors, there was nowhere else for her to look. All she saw were mirrors that reflected herself, and the other figure.

Although there was no one physically standing beside her, she watched as the mirror figure came up to her and put its arms around her. Sarah could almost feel its touch and its hot breath. Then, in every single reflection, the other figure turned only its head, so that each and every reflection stared at the real Sarah while still holding on to mirror Sarah. The one directly in front of her had turned its head 180 degrees. She screamed, and the thing just laughed.

“Don’t worry, baby girl. It’s going to be all right,” the thing said in a metallic sounding voice that echoed throughout the reflections.

“D-daddy…? No…”

It had taken that phrase for Sarah to realize that the person in the mirror was her father. She hadn’t seen or spoken to him in over five years. But that wasn’t the reason why she hadn’t recognized him at first. His teeth were sharper, his eyes were redder, and he looked younger. He looked like he had when Sarah was a teenager, when things had been at their worst.

“This isn’t real!” shrieked Sarah, and yet she felt unable to move because the demonic version of her father was holding her mirrored self firmly in place.

“Baby girl, don’t talk to me like that. You don’t get to talk to your daddy like that.”

“You can’t tell me what to do anymore,” she said, but her voice was wavering. He had had control over her for so much of her life, that she was worried he would regain that control in this moment. This was the second time in her life that she had been truly terrified of him, and he wasn’t even really there. At least, that’s what Sarah kept telling herself. But she didn’t exactly believe it.

She hadn’t been afraid of him growing up, because she had never really realized that anything was wrong. And she wasn’t afraid when, as a teenager, she realized how emotionally abusive he had been towards her and her mother. It was when she began to enter into adulthood that the fear had really started to grow inside of her. Sarah was preparing to go off to school, to live her own life, to move away from home. But her father refused to relinquish control of a person that he considered to be an extension of himself. His abuse only became worse. He resorted from everything from emotional blackmail to gaslighting to bend Sarah to his will, and it had almost worked.

Standing here now, surrounded by demonic images of her father, helplessly pinned to the door of the elevator, Sarah found it hard to believe that she had been able to escape his control once before. All of her strength left her as fear took its place. She began to cry, and she could even feel her bladder loosening up.

“Bad girl!” said all of the demonic reflections in unison. “You’re a dirty, disgusting piece of filth, just like your mother. Look at you! You’re an embarrassment!”

Sarah began to wail as all of the voices in the mirror began to talk out of sync, each voice throwing a different kind of verbal abuse her way. And the grip on her reflection seemed to grow tighter. Everything hurt. Then, just as she felt like she wouldn’t be able to survive much more, the lights clicked on and the mirrors emptied. All Sarah saw was her own reflection. Next, the doors opened and she fell backwards into the building lobby. Without even thinking, she scrambled to her feet and ran for the doors as she dug through her purse for an Ativan.

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