This story is by Erik Porter and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jarrett stared at his reflection trying to keep from going crazy. Every day he noticed the same discrepancies. The tuft of his right eyebrow, nearest the bridge of his nose, curled the opposite way than he remembered. The unfamiliar crinkle over the bone of his nose showed signs of an expertly repaired break that he couldn’t recollect.
The annoying bug bite on his neck had returned. He tried to lift his left hand to scratch, but attempting to move his numbing arms shot a burning sensation through his wrists. Jarrett couldn’t remember how long he’d had the bite, but it felt like weeks and still it hadn’t healed.
His routine seemed overly repetitive lately, at least from what he could recall. Each day he gazed deep into his own reflection. Eventually it would speak to him with an unfamiliar voice emanating from somewhere other than his own throat. Wishing for silence to return, he would look through his reflection’s thinner than expected lips and ignore the words.
Today’s reflection sent chills up his spine. Jarrett shifted in his chair, but the pain in his wrists and now in his ankles made it impossible to reach a comfortable position. He racked his brain to remember when he had dyed the tips of his hair an unnatural yellow leaving dark, brown roots. Surely one of his friends would have told him he couldn’t pull off an eighties surfer look.
Come to think of it, Jarrett hadn’t seen friends or family since . . . Memories wouldn’t come. They never did. Weeks, maybe months, were a blur.
He focused on his once brilliant blue eyes, now tarnished and dingy brown, until the sparkle of a diamond stud drew his attention. He hadn’t worn an earring since high school. His face had aged since then, but this new look seemed to be from fifteen years ago.
The sudden change in appearance—he began to doubt whether it had been sudden at all—signaled something important. Today, he wanted, no, he needed to know what his reflection would say.
“How are you today?” His reflection always began with some inane pleasantries.
Jarrett shut his eyes to focus on the voice.
“You’re not going to look at me today? No matter, time has come for a change, my friend.”
Jarrett squirmed whenever his reflection referred to himself as “my friend”.
“There’s been a bit of a development, an incident, that has put a wrinkle in my plan.”
He squeezed his eyes tighter, fearing what the voice would say.
“Pay attention,” the reflection said. “This is important!”
Jarrett arched his back, struggling to move away.
“Open your eyes, Jarrett.”
His eyelids fluttered. His hands twitched, desperate to rub the fog from his eyes, but he couldn’t lift a finger. He tired of listening to himself, wishing away his own reflection.
“Look at me!” The force of words halted Jarrett’s wriggling like his father’s booming voice had as a child. He gritted his teeth and lifted his eyelids. The reflection rose more alive than before.
“Your little acting exercises can’t protect you.”
Jarrett slammed his eyes shut. He couldn’t stand when his reflection mocked him.
The sudden slap propelled Jarrett to his right. His chair rocked lifting two legs an inch off the floor. Jarrett moved to confront the attacker but his legs and arms wouldn’t budge. Struggling in his seat, the bonds about his wrist and ankles grew tighter.
“I’ve enjoyed the opportunity you’ve given me, Jarrett. Hard to imagine I was a loser, a nobody, before our little friendship.”
Jarrett’s eyes took in his surroundings. The dank cinder block walls shimmered to life. A messy camping cot with food trays scattered about emerged from the darkness. The reality of his predicament coalesced before him.
His reflection, now a real man standing before him, waved a syringe in Jarrett’s face. “I wanted you to enjoy our last time together, so you only got half a dose today.” The bite on Jarrett’s neck itched again.
The man pulled a cart with an old television and VCR into Jarrett’s view. He pressed play on a remote. A tinny voice spoke.
“Blake Owens was found dead last night from a severe beating and possible knife wounds to his neck. The police released video surveillance of his co-star Jarrett Matz leaving Mr. Owens’ condominium shortly after neighbors reported the altercation.”
Jarrett’s chest clenched.
The television voice continued, “Donna Corvales is at the scene.”
A new voice echoed about the room. “Witnesses tell me police have yet to release additional footage of the entire incident. If anyone has information on the whereabouts of Jarrett…”
The distinct pop of a tube television turning off cut through the reporters final words.
Jarrett sucked in all the air his lungs could manage, screaming, “What have you done, Wesley?”
“Me? You’ve done it to yourself.” Wesley threw his head back with laughter.
“I didn’t…You…I haven’t been out of here for weeks.”
Wesley’s weak lips formed a smug smile. “Months, actually. I’ve had a good run being you, but there’s only so much instant fame and fortune a newbie can handle.”
“Why?” Jarrett didn’t expect an answer. He knew Blake would have eventually seen through his doppelgänger’s disguise.
Wesley rose, turning his back on his prisoner.
“I didn’t realize what a perfect crime it had been,” he paused, nodding at Jarrett, “with the video of you killing Blake.”
Still bound to the chair Jarrett lurched forward landing with a crack.
“Fear not, my friend, I’ll let you go. Your life isn’t worth anything, especially to me. I’ve taken it all. Even your future.”
“But you’ll be running from me. Remember that.” Jarrett lurched again but only skidded with a creak.
“You? A wanted man?” Wesley bent over, squeezing Jarrett’s forearms against the arms of the chair. He hissed through clenched teeth, “Now, why should I be scared of you?”
Jarrett tried to rock sideways but Wesley held firm. “I’ll kill you!”
Wesley released his grip. “Double murder, perfect. Not the strategy I’d choose.” He strolled away. “Your face is all over the security footage. Coming. Going. You even gave the camera a smile after sticking your knife into Blake’s neck.” Wesley mimicked a cocky smile.
He pulled the switchblade from his pocket and waved it under Jarrett’s nose. The salty, metallic odor forced the air from Jarrett’s lungs while he held back the meager contents of his stomach. The effects of whatever Wesley had in the syringe had mostly worn off.
“You have no alibi.”
“I’ve got the perfect alibi, my friend. I’m not you. We no longer look alike and I have another life, a better life thanks to your generosity.” Wesley rubbed the tips of his fingers against his thumb.
“I’ll go to the police.”
“Be my guest.” Wesley gestured toward the door, as if gallantly allowing the still bound Jarrett to pass. “After delivering yourself to their doorstep, I doubt you’d see freedom again.”
Jarrett dropped his head and swayed in his chair.
“On a positive note, I’m letting you walk out of here. I won’t even call the police, at least not until they offer up some juicy reward!”
Jarrett’s shaking intensified.
“There, there, little buddy.” Wesley patted Jarrett’s head and mussed his hair. “Now you can know what it’s like to be a nobody, too.”
The chair legs lifted from the floor with Jarrett’s violent rocking.
“Dude, settle! I’m letting you go.”
The right legs splintered sending Jarrett crashing to the floor. His ankles sprung free from their bindings.
Wesley backed toward the metal door, pointing his knife in Jarrett’s direction.
Rising from the rubble, Jarrett’s wrists still bound to the wooden arms had become more weapons than restraints. He charged Wesley before he could slip through the exit.
Wesley lunged, but Jarrett knocked the knife away with the wooden arm. With his other hand, he landed a combination of fist and armrest against Wesley’s skull, knocking him to the ground. Jarrett raised his hand to strike again.
“Wait!” Jarrett jumped back, not expecting Wesley’s high pitched squeal. “It’s yours. Take it all!”
“All of what? You stole my life then framed me. What’s left?”
Rising to one knee, Wesley started inching toward the door.
Jarrett rushed Wesley before he could escape, throwing him against the wall. “It’s your DNA at the crime scene.”
Wesley’s cocky attitude returned. “My DNA doesn’t matter! It’s your face on the video. Why would the police bother with DNA.”
Turning toward the exit, Jarrett kicked something that clanked off the door. He picked up Wesley’s knife and sliced the rope from his wrists.
“With a little prompting the police will link the DNA from the crime scene to samples from my house and everywhere else you’ve pretended to be me.”
“Once I’m in the wind they’ll never catch me,” Wesley screamed. “And you’ll never get your life back.”
Jarrett glared at Wesley, took two strides and plunged the knife into his neck.
“Neither will you.”