The face in the mirror was that of a corpse, he could see that. Healthy enough at first glance, drawn perhaps, aged to every one of its fifty years with with the slow proliferation of wrinkles spreading from a heavy brow and grey hairs dominating a jaw which had once radiated auburn. But no more indebted to death than anyone should be after five decades. He could see more though, he could see the dessication beneath the skin. There was something gone, something passed hiding beneath the living mask.
He could see it because he had caused it. Not intentionally, or at least not through any instant of action but slowly, over time. He’d committed an idle murder with idle thoughts. Stealing years away, gradually clogging vessels and raking across fresh lungs. If anyone else had seen it as he did then he may have plead manslaughter. That was true enough, in its way. To others he could claim innocence and be no more a liar than anyone. But with just his eyes to see and this reflection to judge there was no room for the technical absolution of human understanding. There was just a corpse and his long role as the attacker, the parasite stealing life from the now indifferent dead.
They’d never catch him of course. They could never find him. He’d hid as he killed. Hid in the same coffin sized trap as his victim, breathing the same air, sharing the same mask and watching the same unwitting world blindly observe the crime. And as long as he kept himself pressed up against the deceased, hidden behind the same blank face, no one would ever find out. So the only judge, the only jury he would ever stand before lay in that reflection. In those shared eyes half watching from beneath the cold dirt, half at the graveside. Worse by far than any sentence the outside world could have imposed.
Bars would have been easy, a due paid to the great abstract of Justice. But here, on the inside, there was only the call for reformation, for proof. A demand from a cadaver, echoed by his own claustrophobic morality, to prove that he had outgrown the crime of murder. Made up for the life he had taken with a well lived one of his own.
His victim stared back at him, uncaring, released from any obliged interest. He hadn’t done enough. He hadn’t done anything in fact. In his guilt he had simply tortured himself, self indulgence which when he could he tried to claim as worthy punishment. The murderer hadn’t changed, had made no grasp for redemption. He could never have redemption, that was the declaration and judgement he had passed. That was all he knew now, all he needed to. Only revenge was left open to him. A new murder, fresh blood to wash away what had previously been spilt. Another slow suffocation to kill the killer.
Eyes fixed on the face in the mirror he could see more that the rest of the world would be blind to. Hands, tightening around his throat. Fifty years and another murder under way. He knew it this time, he intended it. No absolution, but more company for the dessicated remains of his last victim. An ever more crowded coffin – an ever more peaceful one.