A promotion doesn’t necessarily mean “easier.”

James O’Rourke reported for duty at the Bureau’s Nyx Division. Whatever this “Nyx Division” was, O’Rourke did not know, because his instructions were on an explicit “need-to-know” basis. Nevertheless, he’d been assigned this duty as a promotion, so here he was.

He was dressed in his good black suit, white dress shirt, black tie, and black dress shoes, his official “men-in-black” style, though this was only normal for special occasions in the Bureau. He needed to make a good impression on the first day of his new position, and this was indeed a special occasion for him, if only for him.

“It’s simple,” said Acting Director Bays. “You go into Room 58, and you watch the subject for the entire time you’re in there. The walls, floor, and ceiling are lined with mirrors for security reasons, and there are cameras all over the edges of the ceiling.”

O’Rourke had played guard duty for some of the other high-risk prisoners in this building, but he’d never been in this part of the Bureau before.

They walked down a long white hallway until they reached a secure double doorway that was locked with a high-tech laser scanner. Acting Director Bays swiped his identification through the scanner and waited for O’Rourke to do the same.

“This door has state-of-the-art facial-recognition technology,” said Bays. “The real protection, however, is beyond it.”

The doors slid open to reveal a large elevator lined with mirrors. O’Rourke entered along with the acting director, and the first thing he noticed was the distinct lack of car-call buttons on the car-operating panel, or rather, there was only one button, a small dark-red button marked with a white “B13.”

Bays pushed the button, the elevator doors slid shut, and O’Rourke could immediately tell they were headed down.

“As you can see, this elevator is large enough to hold an entire squad if necessary,” said Bays in a grim tone. “This shaft goes down thirteen floors. At the bottom of this shaft are three rooms: Room 56, Room 57, and Room 58.”

“Three rooms, Sir?” asked O’Rourke.

“Three rooms,” repeated Bays. “Room 56 is the checkpoint, Room 57 is Monitoring, and Room 58 holds the subject. You’ve overseen some of the world’s worst criminals, men and women who are so dangerous, they have no public identity, and that’s why you’re here. You’ve got enough hours logged in now that you’re ready to oversee Subject 13.”

“Understood, Sir,” said O’Rourke.

The elevator stopped after their descent, the doors slid open, and they stepped out into a small mirrored room, Room 56.

Two soldiers dressed in black-ops gear awaited their arrival, each one armed with APC9K submachine guns. The soldiers let them pass, and O’Rourke and the acting director once again swiped their identification through another high-tech laser scanner.

They entered the next room, Room 57, this one quite a bit larger than the checkpoint room. This room was also lined with mirrors, but it was the monitoring station that caught O’Rourke’s eye. There were a dozen active monitors to watch the next room, a single agent at a metal desk assigned to the task of overseeing them.

O’Rourke peered at the surveillance monitors for the room in question, Room 58. Another agent was watching the subject, but the “subject” within Room 58 looked to be nothing more than a thirteen-year-old girl.

“Subject 13” was a young, skinny, Caucasian girl with long, straight, brown hair, a wafer of a girl with slender arms and legs. She was dressed in a private-school uniform, that uniform complete with a white dress shirt, a dark-blue vest jacket, and a dark-blue skirt. She wore white ankle socks with small black dress shoes, and she was sitting in a simple wooden chair in the middle of the room, another agent staring down at her in solemn silence.

This had to be a joke, some kind of initiation thing for O’Rourke to pass before he was taken to his real assignment.

“The subject is that girl?” snorted O’Rourke. “Seriously?”

“Don’t ever underestimate that thing,” said Bays.

He did not sound like he was joking.

“You don’t talk to that thing, you don’t even say a word while you’re in there, and you don’t interact with it at all,” said Bays in a deadly serious tone. “Taylor’s shift is up, so you get in there and take his place, and do not…do not…take your eyes off that thing.”

Ooookay,” nodded O’Rourke uncertainly. “Is there something I need to know, sir?”

“The less you know, the better,” said Bays. “Frank, Agent Zimmermann, that is, has been here the longest, so we had to move him to monitoring only. The longer you spend time with it, the more chances it has to get inside your head. The best way to combat that is to know as little as possible about it, so you just do as instructed.”

“Yes, Sir,” replied O’Rourke.

“You go in, Taylor will back up slowly, and you’ll slide into his place,” said Bays. “You don’t take your eyes off it. That’s how this works…You’ll only be in for an hour at a time, and then Jackson will replace you. The shifts rotate in threes, and then Crew 2 comes in to replace Crew 1. We’ve got three crews and Crew 4 for call-ins. Understood?”

“Yes, Sir,” said O’Rourke.

“Good,” nodded Bays. “This is the top tier, James. Don’t screw this up.”

He still did not look or sound like he was joking.

O’Rourke did not like the sound of any of this, because if it wasn’t a joke, it seemed highly unethical, but he was not one to question orders.

“Agent Zimmermann is on monitor duty,” said Bays. “He will unseal the door for you and then seal the door once you and Agent Taylor have switched places. If there’s an emergency, he’ll instruct you in what to do…The main thing to remember is the core of your training: don’t panic. If something goes wrong, whatever you do…don’t panic. Good luck, James, and may God watch over you.”

“Yes, Sir,” replied O’Rourke.

Acting Director Bays took his leave, but his ominous briefing left O’Rourke somewhat shaken. O’Rourke had no idea what was going on, but he was not going to shirk his duty, so he collected his wits and waited at the mirrored sliding door that led into Room 58.

O’Rourke walked into the mirrored room as soon as Agent Zimmermann unsealed the door, but this room was tiny in retrospect, a square of mirrors no larger than twenty-by-twenty feet. All of this was really unsettling, and just entering this well-lit little room filled with mirrors set O’Rourke’s teeth on edge.

The door was on the south wall, to the left of the subject, her right from her point of view, the girl directly in the center of the small room. The open door behind O’Rourke was the only exit in and out of this room, and that, in itself, was a red flag for him.

He kept his eyes on Subject 13 as Agent Taylor slowly backed up toward the south wall, and then they switched places, O’Rourke sliding in to take his place. O’Rourke heard the door behind him slide shut, and the little mirrored room was sealed once more, he and the subject the only two people left within the small room.

O’Rourke stared down at this little slip of a girl, and he estimated she couldn’t be taller than five feet, and he was six-two. A part of him still believed this was some kind of prank pulled on him by the Bureau, because this young teen girl couldn’t possibly weigh more than a hundred pounds at that, not much of a threat at all.

He stared down at her as the minutes ticked by, but she did nothing but sit there and stare straight ahead, right at his black belt buckle. He took that time to study her in detail, but there was nothing particularly threatening about her. She had very dark eyes to match her stringy brown hair, and her wrists and ankles were so slender, they looked like twigs compared to any of the agents assigned to watch her.

She was not bound, and the chair she was in was a simple wooden chair, something someone might find in a kitchen, though strangely enough, the wooden seat was bolted to the floor.

Thinking about it, about all of it, this whole assignment was insane as far as O’Rourke was concerned, but he was not about to disobey orders, not without good reason.

There was no sound in the room except the soft hum of the ventilation system pumping in cool air. O’Rourke had allergies, and air conditioning caused them to flare up, but he resisted the urge to sneeze. Even so, he felt that familiar itch strike him, but he fought it as best he could in order to keep his eyes on the subject.

The girl in front of him, this slender, frail reed of a human female, jerked her head up in a clockwork motion and stared him directly in the eyes, her eyes raised wide in the whites, a wicked smile on her thin lips.

This startled O’Rourke for a second, breaking his concentration, and he sneezed without wanting to. He sniffed and quickly wiped his eyes and nose, and though his eyes were only closed for a couple of seconds at the most, when he opened them again…she was gone.

Her chair was empty, and her small and frail frame was nowhere in the reflections around him, either.

O’Rourke temporarily panicked, took two steps forward, and swiveled around to look in the reflections on every wall, but she was gone. She had simply vanished within the breadth of a second, no trace of her at all.

“What the…!” he breathed out.

“Don’t move!” came Agent Zimmermann’s voice from a speaker on the south wall.

O’Rourke froze as ordered and shut his mouth tightly, gritting his teeth, the empty chair directly behind him.

He wasn’t stupid, because something was very, very wrong with all of this, and this got his blood up. His heart raced as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, because nobody could just up and disappear like that, especially in a room full of mirrors.

“It’s behind you,” said Agent Zimmermann in a calming voice. “Slowly turn your head to your right and look in the west-wall mirrors.”

O’Rourke turned his head slightly to the right, and the image of his side profile revealed her, the girl standing directly behind him, back-to-back, imitating his every move, an inch from him, never touching him at the same time.

She had been there the entire time, slipping behind him in that fateful breadth of a second while his eyes were closed, and she had mimicked all of his motions in perfect synchronicity, no matter where he had turned, no matter how he had moved. His own body had worked against him on this one; she was so small and thin that he’d had no idea she was even there, nor had that possibility ever crossed his mind.

His heartrate picked up as he felt a strange fear hit him squarely in the chest, because this was something he had never dealt with or experienced before. Normally, O’Rourke was not one to disobey orders, but it angered him that some frail, slender girl could cause him to panic, and he let Zimmerman know it.

“What in the hell is this!” he demanded.

“Calm down,” said Agent Zimmerman. “Don’t say anything.”

“Like hell!” said O’Rourke in angry reply. “You’re going—Let—to explain—Me—what in—Out—the hell is—Frank—going on, Zimmermann!”

“Stop talking!” ordered Zimmerman.

“This is—I—insane!” choked out O’Rourke. “What is—Will—going on! I need—Bathe—answers now, or—In—I’ll smash down this door—Your—and beat them—Blood—out of you!”

“STOP TALKING!” shouted Zimmerman. “It’s adding in words!”

“Adding—Open—in—The—words?” asked O’Rourke in confusion. “What—Door—in the hell—Frank—are you talking about!”

“I’m not opening this door, Subject 13,” said Agent Zimmerman in a calmer voice. “Now, you need to listen to me very, very closely, Agent O’Rourke. You need to stop talking right now. It’s adding in words, and you don’t even realize it.”

“That—I’ll—doesn’t even—Torture—make sense!” yelled O’Rourke. “Now—Anita—you tell me what—And—in the—Make—hell I’m—Her—supposed to—Beg—do, or I’m—For—out of—Death—here! Now, give—Frank—me a straight answer, Zimmerman!”

“I’m going to get you out of there, O’Rourke,” replied Zimmermann, “but you need to stay quiet and follow my instructions to the letter.”

“This prank—Open—has gone—The—on long—Door—enough!” yelled O’Rourke. “Get this—Frank—little girl off my back!”

You know what?…He’d had enough.

O’Rourke turned to grab her, but she mimicked his motion with such precision and timing that he could only grasp air no matter how many times he attempted it. He could not grab her behind his back in time before she stepped a hair out of his reach and then stepped back into place before he could react again.

This, of course, only infuriated him more.

“This isn’t—Open—funny—The—anymore!” yelled O’Rourke. “Get—Door—me out—Frank—of here, Zimmerman!”

Frustrated to the point of breaking, he rushed backwards to force her toward the south-wall mirrors. His intent was to force her around to his front, or she’d be squished between his back and the mirrors.

“STOP!” shouted Zimmerman. “DON’T TOUCH IT!”

O’Rourke ignored him and slammed back first into the south-wall mirror. This small, willowy, teenage girl avoided his trap and whipped around to face him, but he used that opportunity to grab her frail left wrist with his right hand.

“Got you, you little…” he began, but his voice trailed off as he struggled against her.

She gave him a wicked grin, eyes wide in the whites, and she swiveled her slender left wrist in his right hand to where her left hand was over his right wrist.

O’Rourke knew this game, so he reached out with his left hand to grab her by her right shoulder, but her right hand snaked up over his left arm to bend down and over the pit of his elbow. She stepped onto his black dress shoes, her shoes on his, and try as he might to shake her off, he could not do it. She moved with him, arms and legs adjoined, regardless of where he circled his arms or moved his feet.

He kicked up with his left leg, but she stepped her right shoe onto his left knee, then back down onto his left shoe once his leg had dropped. He tried to grab her around her skinny waist, but she leaned backwards and circled her arms with his so that he could gain no grip upon her anywhere. She was like a squid or an octopus upon its prey, and he simply could not shake her.

“What the—!” he choked out.

“Stop moving!” ordered Agent Zimmerman. “We’ll find a way to detach it, but you have to remain—”

Now O’Rourke was really mad. This little game of the Bureau’s had gone way too far, and he’d had enough before, but it had not been official, and now he’d officially had enough.

“ENOUGH!” he yelled.

He rushed forward toward the chair at the center of the room. He was enraged now, but his conscience screamed at him to stop, because he was going to break this small girl in half without meaning to.

It didn’t matter, however. This slender twig of a teenage girl whipped around him and latched on from behind, her skinny legs around his to where her shoes were still on his shoes, her willowy arms still wrapped around his from behind, her left cheek pressed into the black cloth on the back of his good suit.

O’Rourke tried to move, but her grip was like a steel vice, and he could not, not for the life of him, struggle against it. She suddenly had impossible strength, something unbelievable, and yet it was real and happening and he could do nothing about it.

He felt her twig-like limbs move his, forcing him to turn around and face the south wall. His left arm moved up along with hers, her left hand atop his, and then he gripped his own short black hair with his left hand, pulling his head back so that he was staring up at one of the cameras.

O’Rourke felt real fear now. This did not feel like a joke or a prank anymore.

He opened his mouth to cry out for help, but the words that spewed forth from his lips were not his own, and this time he knew it.

“Open the door, Frank,” said O’Rourke without wanting to.

“Hang on, O’Rourke,” replied Agent Zimmerman. “I’ve sounded the alarm.”

“It won’t help you,” said O’Rourke. “I am the night, Frank. I was born of Chaos. You can’t stop me from leaving. You cannot hold me prisoner.”

“Stop talking, O’Rourke,” ordered Zimmerman.

“I will get out, Frank,” continued O’Rourke. “I will get out, and when I do, I will spray your blood all over that room. I will feed what’s left of you to Anita, and then I will tear your pretty little wife apart one piece at a time…and feed those pieces to her, as well.”

“Stop talking, O’Rourke,” said Zimmerman again, but this time he sounded angry.

O’Rourke tried to say his own words, but something in his mind held him back, something so dark, so fearfully terrifying, it was indescribable.

“Open the door, Frank,” said O’Rourke. “Open the door and bow down to me, and I’ll spare you. Prostrate yourself before me, and I’ll let you live as my new priest. I won’t have to skin Anita alive and listen to her screams for mercy. I won’t have to make a bedsheet out of her skin and use her bones—”

“Stop…talking!” hissed Zimmerman.

Rage consumed O’Rourke over this. His mind was his own, and this thing could not, would not control him. He pushed against that overwhelming, dark force in his mind, railing against it with nothing more than pure rage and sheer willpower.

“I’ll pay a visit to your lovely, lovely wife—Get—Frank,” said O’Rourke. “She—Off—has pretty blue eyes that I’ll—Get—wear as a necklace—Off—Frank. I’m going to—Get—rip off your parts—Off—and present—Get—them in a box—Off—to lovely, lovely—Me—Anita, and then I’ll—GET OFF ME!”

O’Rourke ripped his own left hand from his hair, spun to face the chair in the center of the small, mirrored room, and bent over to fling her off. She flipped over his back, but she landed on her feet in front of the chair, spinning to face him, only to fall back into the chair, back into her sitting position once more. He took that opportunity to backpedal while keeping his eyes locked on her, his gaze unwavering this time.

“That was incredible, O’Rourke!” cried Zimmermann in vocal amazement. “Just stay there and wait for Bays to come down. I’ll shut off the alarm as soon as he arrives.”

O’Rourke took a moment to compose himself, adjust his hair and tie, and take in a few deep breaths, never letting his gaze wander from his charge, this “Subject 13,” some unidentifiable thing that somehow looked like a frail, willowy, teenage girl. He knew enough not to talk this time, but he was not going anywhere, not leaving, because now he knew better. There was no way the Bureau could allow this thing to escape.

In retrospect, this position was a lot more difficult than he had been led to believe.


Wendy was the eternal optimist, or at the very least, that is what she thought of herself.

Sure, she had been laid out in the hospital for a few weeks because she had been savagely mauled in a vicious animal attack while hiking, and sure, her boss at the office had nearly fired her because she had missed so much work, but she had always looked on the bright side of things, and she was not going to change now. She was still alive after that vicious mauling in the woods, and she had not been fired for missing so much work, so life was good.

Now her optimism was being put to the ultimate test, because the wracking pain in her body, the kind of pain that overrode anyone else’s sensibilities, was trying to bring her down. She clutched her kitchen counter as the full moon outside her kitchen window bathed her in its light, and she figured out what was happening almost immediately, so she steeled herself and made the best of it.

“I can do the dishes later,” she choked out as her finger bones cracked and shortened. “I’ll just take a little time off from houseworllllgk…”

Her voice garbled out as her teeth sharpened into ravenous points and her jaw bones began to lengthen. Thick grey fur sprouted from her skin all over her body.

“Oh, well,” she thought in firm resignation, “I’ve always had a little trouble chewing steak before, so these new fangs will come in handy…and with all of this fur, my heating bill will go down during winter.”

The pain in her limbs as they shortened into a canine shape caused her to knock the dishes off of the countertop before her, but she was not upset over this little inconvenience. It was a little thing, really, and nothing to be upset about.

“Oh, good,” she thought. “I’ve needed new dishes anyway. Now I can get that set I saw at Home Renovations…the pretty ones with the blue flowers.”

She reflexively ripped open her dress and tore off her clothes as she sank to the kitchen tiles, her back arching as her spine crackled and warped.

“That was such an ugly dress,” she thought in a mental smile. “Now I don’t have to wear it anymore. Red makes me look like a hussy anyway.”

A plethora of superlative smells washed over her new hypersensitive nose, but the range of colors she could see dulled out due to her new eyes.

“I don’t need color when I can smell so well,” she thought. “This will be fun!”

She gave a jerking growl as a thirst for human blood and flesh dug deep into her very soul.

“The Earth’s too small for so many people anyway,” she mentally shrugged. “Besides, hunting people will be interesting. I’ve heard they taste like pork.”

The Girl Copyright © 2020 100 More Tall Tales Matthew L. Marlott

The Girl Copyright © 2023 Matthew L. Marlott

The Optimist Copyright © 2017, 2018, 2020 100 Tall Tales Matthew L. Marlott

The Optimist Copyright © 2023 Matthew L. Marlott

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