I was the god of synthetic lightening. A smile, the quirk of a brow, the raise of my arms and flashbulbs ignited around me like the wildest storm. It was my own private joke, no one knew, but it was why I smiled when they hunted me, found me and stole my image as though it was theirs, as though I was theirs.
I had been photographed millions of times. It started before I was even old enough to understand what a camera was, let alone what it did. Thunder was the only way I knew a storm was happening, because the flashbulbs that constantly exploded around me made me blind to lightening.
At first it had bothered me, but over time I grew to care less and less not only about the constant paparazzi that surrounded me, but about everything else as well. The more my face was on magazines and screens small and large the less I cared about anything at all.
“You’ve changed!” my long term girlfriend accused me one day.
“You don’t feel anything anymore, it’s like you are a ghost in your own life!” It was with those words that she left me. I expected to be devastated, we had been together for nearly ten years. I replaced her three days later with another beautiful face to adorn my arm when the synthetic lightening exploded.
She looked good beside me, which in turn made me look good. She enhanced my image, and I pretended not to notice that there was nothing in her eyes but emptiness. In fact, I felt some small brief connection to her, as if she too knew the truth of needing the thunder to recognize the storm.
What I wanted no longer mattered, if it ever had, I was that they wanted. The faceless crowds who coveted my image. I worked out for hours, pushing my body to its limits. I watched what I ate carefully remembering a time when I had loved the sensuality of food almost as much as I had once loved the sensuality of sex.
Now, indulging in either meant nothing, unless there was a camera or flashbulb exploding near me. I started filming my meals and my sexual encounters with my new arm candy. I hooked the camera into the large televisions that were littered through my home, watching as I took a bite of some sumptuous desert or as I as fucked to see what I looked like when I did it. I wanted to see if the image of me captured the feeling that I was not able to attain inside me.
I was amazed to see that on the screen my image seemed to enjoy all the things that I did, while I, the man, felt nothing. It all tasted the same and felt the same, it was all nothing.
At first she would watch them with me, as entranced with her image as I was my own, but soon the intrigue wore off for her when I didn’t compliment her fake tits or her performance. I was looking for me in those videos, and could have cared less about her. The man on the screen seemed to be completely in love with her, and she with him, but the man and the woman who watched them interact were not in love. We could barely stand each other. Eventually, she left as well.
I started taping myself then. Long conversations where I asked myself why I looked so good on the screen, so much like I enjoyed myself when out here I could feel nothing. My image stared back at me, smiling, seeming to enjoy the conversations very much.
I did not.
The constant wondering started to impact my sleep patterns. My dreams a jumble of images that were me and not me. I was waking up several times a night, covered in a cold sweat feeling as though someone was watching me. Someone had been watching me for most of my life, it had never bothered me before, but this was different. This felt like someone was stalking me, waiting, and planning some big move that would forever change the life that I had known. The stress was so much that I almost welcomed this change, whatever it might be.
I could no longer ride the synthetic lightening, it made my soul itch and crawl inside me, like it was trying to escape this constant barrage of thievery around me. I stayed in now, hardly even answering my phone. My agent left messages of increasing urgency about appointments missed and jobs I am had blown by not showing up for lunches and fittings.
I knew I should care. My career was more important to me anything else. I wanted to act. I wanted to be in movies and in magazines. I wanted those things, but not enough to leave the house and risk the paparazzi finding me. It was safer in here, where there was only me.
My living room walls were smothered with magazine covers I had shot and posters from movies I had done. Wherever I walked my eyes seemed to follow me, wanting. After hiding in my bedroom for two days to avoid them I had an epiphany and covered them with sheets so I could get something to eat from the kitchen. I was so hungry I sat on the floor in front of the fridge and grabbed the first thing I could find. I had barely taken two bites when I heard myself call out from the living room.
“You can’t hide from me, I am you. I see through your eyes.” I slammed the fridge shut and ran back to my room, slamming the door. I moved the dresser in front of it and jumped on the bed, pulling the covers over my head and curling up into as small a shape as I could manage. I didn’t want my feet or hands to be near the edge. Something might grab me.
I must have dozed off because I startled awake by someone knocking. My first terrified thought was that it was the pictures from the living room demanding entrance. A moment later the knock came again and I whimpered to realize it was inside the room with me. It was coming from the corner, where my full length mirror stood.
That mirror had been a signing gift from my agent. “Always look your best,” he had said with a smile and I had laughed it off at the time, never considering how often I had admired myself in it over the years. I never left without checking to make sure that everything was perfect, that my image was perfect.
When the knock sounded a third time I took a deep breath and lowered the covers, peeking at the mirror. All I could see was part of my room reflected back in the light coming in from the street. It was dark out now and when I glanced at the clock I saw that it was 11:23. I had been asleep for several hours. Slowly, I pushed the covers back, and set my feet on the floor, ready to jump back if the knock came again or if I sensed anything amiss in the room. Nothing happened.
I stood and moved slowly to the mirror. I peeked around the edge and saw my reflection do the same. My hair was in a disarray from sleeping and not showering for several days. I looked like hell. Slowly, I stepped in front of the mirror and watched as my reflection did the same.
My pajamas were stained from my earlier foray to the fridge. I took a deep breath and started to calm myself, there was nothing here but me. I exhaled, laughing at the state I had worked myself into, and saw my reflection do the same. The laugh did not reach my eyes.
There was something wrong with my eyes.
I took a step closer to mirror and watched my reflection do the same. I leaned in closer, looking deep into my own eyes and I saw nothing but blackness. Trick of the light, my mind offered immediately. I leaned closer and lost my balance, tipping forward, to catch myself I reached out and placed my hand on the mirror.
My reflection smiled at me and I saw the razor sharp teeth as more slowly his hand came up and placed his palm against my own. I was overcome by a wave of dizziness that threatened to buckle my knees and I closed my eyes for a moment.
When I opened them again, I was looking into my bedroom from the other side of the mirror. My image smiled again and took a step back from me. “Thank you,” he said and winked at me.
“F-for what?” I whispered, still not sure what had just happened. He flashed his razor sharp teeth at me again and then walked away. A few moments later I heard my shower come on, and then I heard my voice singing.
I pounded my fist against the mirror and screamed. I screamed for me to come back and set me free. I screamed for my agent whose calls I had never returned and whose knocks I had never answered when he came by to see me. I screamed for my girlfriend who had accused me of changing and the one who had abandoned me shortly after I started filming myself. I screamed for someone to see me, to hear me, but it was too late.
My image had stolen my soul, and now it was stealing what was left of my life.
By the time I came back into the room, showered and in a freshly pressed suit, to check my image I had stopped screaming. I watched me turn and check to make sure that everything looked perfect.
“Always look your best,” he said to his reflection before smiling his wicked sharp smile and walking out of the room.