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All His Hims

It's the same every year. He wakes up in a cold sweat, knowing what's going to happen, knowing he's powerless to stop it.
In years past he's tried to fight it, hiding himself away. But now, he just wants to get it over with. He lifts himself out of bed, and slouches into the bathroom.
He stares at the mirror, at the bags under his eyes, at the lines on his face, at the receding hairline, and the yellowing teeth.
"All right," he says, "let's do this."
That's when his reflection reaches out from the mirror and grabs him, pulling him through to the other side.
"Well," it says, "here we are again, you despicable, miserable, little fuck. Here we are. Every year I hope this won't be necessary, and every year you disappoint me."
It punches him, sending out a spray of blood and teeth, knocking him down to the ground. He doesn't try to get up.
"All right boys, let's get to it."
He knows they're all there, just beyond his vision, all his hims.
They come, one by one, to rain their blows and grievances down upon him. He knows that they are all richly deserved.
The littlest ones, the hims of his childhood, don't even know how to put their complaints into words. They are biting, scratching, screaming, demons.
The him of 12 is always vicious. At 12, his was an all-consuming greed. He can see it in the him's eyes, if he dares to look up. They are eyes that would swallow the world, set in a skull too stupid to know how small it really was.
"Why aren't you rich! Why aren't you famous! Why aren't you powerful! Why aren't you president! Why are you so boring!" the him yells, stomping on his fingers, crushing each joint. "God! I fucking hate you!"
The him of 16 is sullen, still entirely absorbed in his own world, though by then he had begun to learn his place in it. That doesn't stop the him from hating. "You're just like all the rest of them," it says as it takes a bat to his ankles. "Just like all the rest."
The him of 18 favors fire. At 18, he was at the height of his idealism, and burned with a righteousness born of ignorance. "You were supposed to save the world," it says, covering him in oil, "but you've only made it worse." It throws a match. Here, in the mirror, mercy is a foreign concept.
The hims of his early twenties are haggard, tired, and bitter. "Is this what I worked for?" one asks. "Is this why I stayed up all those nights studying, when everyone else was having fun? For this? Why haven't you done more!" Between them, they peel away most of his skin.
Him of 25 is a romantic. "We loved her! We loved her and you let her leave!" It cuts out his heart.
The him of 30 was the last of them to dream. It says nothing. It only lifts up his mangled body and bends it in two, snapping the spine.
After that, the hims return to petty complaints. Why are you still living in that house? How come you never got that promotion? What happened to this project? Where's your book? Why? Why? Why?
Why are you so little? Why aren't you more? Why aren't you everything we ever wanted to be?
Each year, there are more of them. Each year, it takes longer. Soon, he doesn't think he'll be able to take any more, and the gauntlet will finally kill him.
But not this year. This year, he makes it to the end, barely breathing. They stand around, in a circle, the hims. They stand, and they kick, and they stab, and they throw stones. But their hearts aren't in it any more. They've each had their say.
Finally, when he can't take it anymore, he says the only thing he can to make this end.
"Please. I'll make things right. Let me live, and I'll do better."
His reflection holds up a hand, and the hims stop. "I don't believe you. You always lie. Always. Tell me why I should give you another chance."
It's the same every year.
"Because I've learned my lesson. Because I know what I need to do now. I'll stop drinking. I'll eat better. I'll go back to the gym. I'll start running. I'll stop just getting by, and start doing again. I'll finish the book. Please, only let me live, and I'll do it all. You'll see."
"All right. All right." His reflection takes a deep breath, and lets it out with a hiss. "All right boys, he's had enough. I believe him."
The hims cry out in disappointment, but his reflection ignores them. "I said enough!"
They listen. They take hold of him roughly, and pass his broke body back through the mirror.
As he lies panting on the floor, his reflection reaches back to pull him up by the hair
"Remember," it says. "One year. That's all you have. One year. This time, don't waste it. Or we'll be back."
He nods.
"Good."
He pulls himself together. He picks himself up off the floor, and he cleans himself up. He puts on his clothes, and he heads downstairs.
As he does, he tries to focus on the good in his life. He has a comfortable house. A job he enjoys. Enough money to live well. A wife he loves more each time he sees her. Children that make him proud.
Why can't that be enough?
Downstairs, his family is waiting for him. Later, they'll bring the cake with the candles, and sing the song.
He'll put on his best fake smile, and try not to cry.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

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