The following story by Jonathan Payne is the 4th place winner of the Beyond Writer Story Contest. Jonathan is a British writer based in Washington DC. He writes psychological thrillers and magical realism. His short fiction is published at QuarterReads, Down In The Dirt, Fiction On The Web and Beyond Imagination. Follow him at jonpayne.org and @jon7payne.
I’m at the farmers’ market when I see myself.
It’s early morning, sunny day, but a chill in the air. I’m hanging around in fruit and vegetables. Clementines, to be precise. He’s nearby, in grapefruit.
The first thing I notice is his hands. I always do this thing with grapefruit: pick one out, throw it in the air, squeeze it, throw it up again. I have no idea what I’m doing, it’s just a habit.
I notice this guy’s hands, and he’s doing the exact same thing: throw, squeeze, throw.
So, I’m just about to make small talk, like, funny, I always do that exact same thing with grapefruit, when I look up at the side of his face. It’s me.
I’m not saying that this guy looks a little like me. I’m not saying that he’s my long lost twin brother. What I’m saying is that, unequivocally, I’m looking at myself. A real, whole person, not an illusion, who is, without question, me.
Instinctively I take a step back so that I’m concealed by a mountain of clementines.
I take a deep breath and try to decide what to do. The decision is made for me when he puts down the grapefruit, spins around and walks briskly away from me in the direction of fresh fish.
I march out of the market, away from fresh fish, towards Main Street.
For the rest of the day, I have crazy options going around in my mind. Each of them less plausible than the last. A long lost identical twin is top of the list, but I’m an only child. An alien who looks exactly like me is a little further down the list.
At dinner, I raise it with Julia, tentatively. Not an easy conversation to start. Did she ever hear of people seeing themselves, out in public? Once she realizes that I’m serious and that it’s been troubling me all day, she suggests I go see Dr. E.
Julia knows that raising Dr. Etcheverria, my erstwhile doctor of the mind, is a bit risky, in that I might see it as a backward step. But I don’t care. It’s not every day you meet yourself in fruit and vegetables.
It’s the next afternoon by the time I get in to see Dr. E. His office is on Main Street, a short walk from mine. I’m marching along there briskly when I hear a commotion behind me. I spin around to see an older guy toppling to the sidewalk. A couple of people are going to his aid.
Then I see why he was toppling. It’s me again – the other me – marching past him ferociously. Apparently he’s knocked the old guy over. But the worst part is his eyes. They’re staring straight at me. He’s heading directly towards me.
I run as quickly as I can. I turn into Dr. E.’s building and make urgently for the elevator. Just before getting in, I look back to the main doors. No sign of me. Him.
Dr. E. is, as always, calm and patient. I’m sweating and close to a panic attack. I tell him about the market, and the incident in the street just now. He listens carefully and, towards the end of the story, he strolls nonchalantly over to the window and looks down into the street.
When I’ve finished, Dr. E. tells me he has good news and bad news. The good news is that I’m not crazy; the guy is real, not an illusion, he says. The bad news is that it’s a serious situation that must be dealt with immediately.
Dr. E. reaches into his desk and hands me a business card. It reads 2Us, plus a street address, nothing else. Dr. E. says the only hope is to go there, now. No appointment. Just walk in.
I thank him and leave. I use the reception phone to call Julia’s office: going to an appointment, need moral support, will pick her up on the way.
Back outside, I look around carefully, then run to get my car. I drive over to Julia’s office, feeling nervous.
The place is only ten minutes away, in a run down part of town. On the way over, Julia asks what they do at this place. I admit I have no idea. But Dr. E. insists it’s what I need.
I park outside. No quarters for the meter. Julia offers to wait with the car.
There’s nothing at street level, just a community hall that’s closed. I spot some stairs going down to the basement. I follow them down and through a humble door, no sign.
Inside there’s a tired waiting room, no one waiting, just a few chairs. Before I can sit down, a young guy comes out – beard, sweater – introduces himself as Terry. He whisks me into an interview room and asks me to tell the story. I explain everything.
Terry listens carefully and nods gravely. I’m not the first, he says. I’m not crazy. The other me is a real person. The situation can be remedied, but it must be immediate.
But if he’s a real person, where does he come from? Terry sighs. He’s been created by your mind, he explains. Not in your mind, by your mind.
I try to ask more questions, but Terry stops me. We need to start work now, he says, before it’s too late. Before our lives become entangled. He emphasizes the final word ominously: entangled.
Terry brings our meeting to an abrupt end. Can I stay all night? Sure, I say.
Then I remember Julia. Terry suggests I ask her to come back in the morning, around seven.
I jog up the steps. I reach street level just in time to see the car, top down, pulling away.
Julia is looking over at him and laughing.
He spots me in the mirror, and waves.