Edited by Jacqueline Dyre
There is another you. You can feel them. You are linked to their soul that lives on the other side. They are living another life and will die another death.
Most people do not know there is another them living another life on the other side. But on very rare occasion they will hear something that they won’t be able to explain—something nobody else will hear. Most will not even realize what they are hearing, and they will let it fade into the recesses of their mind. But not you.
In your life you will hear more. You will see more.
You live in a two-bedroom apartment with your roommate Jonah, who you describe to those close to you as an ‘asshole’. He never cleans up the messes that he makes and expects them to just disappear. Once, he came home from a party and projectile vomited blood all over the wall behind the couch. The next morning, he asked you where the blood came from. You wanted to slit his throat right there and then.
But you didn’t, of course. There is still a large stain there: a constant reminder of who he is, even if he pretends to be someone different. You’ve lived together for eight months. He is an asshole. It is seven o’clock in the morning, and you are eating your Cap’n Crunch, staring at the large stain, when you notice the three nearly empty bottles of beer that he’s left lying on the floor next to the couch. When he comes out of the bathroom, ready to head off to the electronics store where he works, you tell him to wait.
“You mind taking care of that before you go?” you ask, politely enough, pointing to the three beer bottles.
You almost pop a vein in your forehead while you’re waiting for him to do something. Anything at all. All of a sudden, you hear his voice, but altered. It has a static quality to it, as if it’s coming from an old radio broadcast. “Chill, dude, it’s too early for this,” you hear, though Jonah hasn’t moved his lips.
You know the voice is coming from the other side. From the other Jonah.
You almost want to lunge at Jonah for what the version of him on the other side has said. But you don’t because he doesn’t say the same thing. He stays quiet, rolls his eyes, and then picks up the bottles of beer, taking them with him on his way out the door. You think about how it has been a long eight months living with him, but how it must have been an even longer eight months for the other you that lives with what seems to be a Jonah who is a slightly bigger asshole.
After you finish your breakfast and get ready for the day, you head to the bookstore where you work, usually manning the register. The bookstore is in an old, rather dilapidated neighborhood where nobody seems to live, let alone visit. Because of this, you spend much of your time letting your mind drift, sometimes studying the books that fill the shelves that form narrow corridors inside the shop. Otherwise, you are mostly talking to customers, occasionally hearing their voices overlap, often conflicting with their static voices emanating from the other side. This also happens to be one of those special days when a customer lays down her book and you can see an apparition-like image of a different title by the same author the customer is purchasing on the other side. It makes you smile. Once, you hear one static voice mention to you that you look tired and ask if you are feeling well.
“Thanks for your purchase. Enjoy your book, and have a great rest of your day!” is how you conclude all of your interactions, and you’re fairly confident the other you does the same.
After a long shift, after which the sun is down, you head to the grocery store and pick up a couple bags worth of food. You take a bus home. When you get there, Jonah is playing some hack n’ slash game on his Xbox while taking sips from his beer. He places the bottle down next to the couch where the beer bottles from this morning had been. If they were still there, he would have knocked one of them over.
And that’s when you hear it. You hear the sound of grocery bags falling to the floor, the contents inside exploding, accompanied by the sound of labored breathing. You know it’s coming from the other you on the other side, but it’s not static. You hear it so clearly that it practically rings. You don’t like it.
“Jonah,” you hear your own voice rasp while you yourself say nothing.
As you watch Jonah continue playing his game, not giving a second thought to your entrance into the apartment, you hear the voice of the other him yell, “What’s your fucking deal, dude?” You hear the pounding of your feet racing toward the couch, the breaking of a glass bottle, then a repressed, quickly silenced gasp.
And that’s when you see it. Next to where Jonah sits, a ghostly image of your roommate is holding his neck, now punctured by the broken glass of a beer bottle. Blood sprays from the wound, onto the fading stain on the wall, making it come alive again. His hand does little to stop it. Then the other you appears, hunched over the bleeding out Jonah. An apparition of you, whose back is rising and falling with their ragged breath, turns to look at you.
At you. With wild, red eyes. They look tired. They look unwell. But eventually, the other you fades. Your Jonah is still on the couch absent-mindedly playing his game and drinking from his bottle. You set down your groceries and start to put them away.
As you lie in bed that night, you wonder how different the other you must be from yourself. The other you is a killer, although you two were living almost the same exact life up until this morning. Up until that moment. You turn over in bed and try to think about something else. Anything else. This is one night you actually hope for dreams about work.
You wake up early in the morning, just after the sun has risen, to the faded sound of police sirens. You realize that they are not actually there. They’re coming from the other side, and yet you feel compelled to stand up and head towards the roof. You make sure to grab and put on your black trench coat before you leave the apartment.
When you get to the roof of your building, you walk to the ledge, unsure as to why you are doing so. You look down to the street and wonder why you have brought yourself here. You hear the crash of a door being kicked open, and you see the apparition of a policeman approaching slowly. He points a gun at you.
At you. You hold your hands up as if he is in your world, as if you are the killer he is arresting. But he is not in your world. You hear his static voice yell, “Don’t move!”. You shut your eyes.
You hear the sound of a bullet firing. You don’t feel any impact, but you are now falling. You hear the wind whistle through your ears as the shadow you cast on the pavement grows larger, closer. Your heart pounds once for every floor you pass on the way down. And, just before you collide with your own shadow, you are back on the roof as if you had never left, because you had never really left.
It takes a moment for you to ground yourself back in your reality, your life, and you take shuddering breaths to help you do so. You look over the ledge to see nothing different about the same old sidewalk you walk onto each day. There is no body. There are no cracks. There are no stains.
You head back to your apartment and mull over skipping work while chewing on Cap’n Crunch. You decide not to call in sick and continue about your day as if nothing had happened, because you believe it shouldn’t matter. The other you is not you. The day is normal, except for the fact that you no longer hear or see even the faintest inkling from the other side. There are no static voices, no faint images of different books. You come to accept that the other you has been killed after murdering the other Jonah in a fit of rage, and now you will not see anything from the other side anymore.
The second day, when you come home from work, Jonah’s door is shut. As you pass by it on your way to your own room, you hear loud, ugly, heavy sobbing. Jonah is wailing so loudly that you have to assume someone close to him either broke his heart or died. You wonder if he’s feeling the loss of his other—as if a piece of his soul is now gone. You, however, do not feel the same even though the other you has died, so you assume that it has to be something else. But you’ve never heard Jonah like this, and the way he howls tells you that it can’t be anything other than a deep soul hurt. Nevertheless, his door is shut, so you carry on to your own room.
When you wake on the third day, everything feels different, like there is some invisible pressure gently collapsing in on everything. It’s subtle and, at first, you assume that you just had a rough night of sleep. While you eat your Cap’n Crunch, you stare at the stain at the wall. For a second, there are spatters of fresh blood upon it.
You flinch. You blink. The blood is gone.
You say to yourself that your eyes are playing tricks on you. When you walk outside, the color of the sky looks tinted differently, as if there has been a fire not too far away and it streaked the sky with a faded orange. You take out your phone and check the news. There are no reports of fire. You try not to worry about it. There is nothing to worry about.
Because you are usually signed up for the early shifts, you are the first one in the bookstore. The subtle pressure you’ve been feeling throughout the day that has been in the back of your mind feels somehow stronger here. After turning on the lights to the shop, you begin to walk through it, scanning every nook and corridor, as if you’re going to find some contraption that’s been causing the pressure. You reach the end of one hallway and now there is someone behind you. You don’t hear any footsteps, but you see them in the corner of your eye. When you turn around, you have just missed them. All you caught was a sliver of the back of someone dressed in red headed to the left. You hesitate before following.
You turn one more corner and there before you is a tall figure draped in a hooded red robe, floating several above the floor. The sunlight filtering in through the windows contorts itself in a less than natural way to make the figure appear almost radiant. You feel your blood run cold and you freeze. The shadow cast by its hood masks the figure’s face. It carries with it a pair of heavy black shackles.
You can tell it is from the other side, if only by the fact you can mostly make out the books behind its form. This figure, however, looks less like an apparition and more like an angel. As you stare at it, beholden, you get the uneasy sense that it is becoming less translucent, as if it is becoming into your world.
The other you is dead. You don’t have to remind yourself. You should no longer hear anything. You should no longer see anything. You should not feel this dread taking a hold of you. The red figure lifts the pair of black shackles and slowly drifts closer. Then you hear the voice of the other you—same as your voice—spit, “He deserved it.”
You can no longer see through the floating figure at all; it has become flesh. You turn and run. You bang your knee on the side of a shelf and catch a glimpse of the other you as they pass by you. Through you. They do not look exactly as you do. They are wearing the same black trench coat you’d put on that morning on the roof. It looks ragged and torn, as if many hands had been reaching for and ripping at it. Their face is dotted with fresh, bright blood. You watch as they run through the door as if it weren’t there, then you turn to run and follow them.
When you push past the door and into the street of the dilapidated neighborhood, the sky is no longer just strangely tinted. It’s almost completely bright orange, as if a sun’s ray whipped the earth. There are streaks of black clouds. You begin to cough the taste of smoke out of your lungs as you scan the area for the other you. There are other ghostly figures now crowding the street. Although their feet are all floating a few feet above the ground, they look more human. They are each dressed in ragged and torn clothing and wear shackles upon their wrists. Some of them squirm. Others weakly throw their limbs about, as if their arms and legs have become as heavy as cement. One has his arms wrapped around another’s neck from behind. Each of them is slowly drifting down the street, all at the same pace, as if suspended from the same track. As the people drift, they each have their neck bent back, their haunted gazes pointed to the sky.
You rip your eyes away from them and spot the other you further down the street. They are floating a few feet above the ground as well, although they are running in the direction opposite of where the others drift. You run as fast as you can after them, weaving your way through the drifters. The other you is much slower than you are. They are flailing their arms. They look exhausted and deeply unwell. After all, they should be dead.
You keep sprinting and notice the other you is not only slowing down, but fading as well. You are closing the gap, but with every other stride you take, they fade a little more. By the time you finally reach them, they have completely disappeared. You are left alone standing in their place. You look around, trying to see if they have reappeared among the other floating ghosts, but the other you is gone, as if they never were there.
You cannot ask them where they have taken you. Although now, you believe that you have your answer.
You feel your feet lift from off the ground and your body rise into the air, as if pulled by an invisible string. You continue to ascend until you are level with the ghostly figures in ragged clothes, and then you realize that what you are rising into is not air. The street has become a river of viscous black bile that you are struggling to keep your head above. You keep your arms above the murk and shield your face from the fat bubbles growing and bursting to either side of you. You shut your eyes. When you open them, you see, walking along the surface of the river, the dark angel in the red robes. It is walking towards you.
To you. It is slow, patient. It lifts the shackles, willing you to accept them. You cannot. You did not kill Jonah. You are different from the other you. You do not deserve to be punished for the sin from a life you did not live. But, against your own thoughts, you feel your arms reach toward the red figure, offering themselves up. With what might be your last breath before you go under, before the bile fills your lungs, you scream.
The figure in red is gone. The ghosts drowning in the river are gone. The river itself is gone. You are left standing on the street just outside the bookshop, sweating as if you have just awoken from a fever dream. It is over. It is done. The other you is in Hell, and you are not. You feel yourself shaking. Nonetheless, you begin to head back to the bookstore, as if going about your day per usual is going to convince you that everything is fine. Nothing in your life has changed, you want to believe. It does not matter where the other you is.
Just before you let yourself back into the bookstore, you look up at the sky and notice that it is still tinted orange. You notice that you still feel a pressure collapsing in on everything. You might also smell a trace of smoke. You hope that all these things will pass over in time, like a cough after a cold.
It has still yet to pass by the time you leave the bookstore that night. When you return home, Jonah is back to his usual self, playing on his Xbox, sipping from a bottle of beer. Behind him on the wall is the large stain that will always remain. You continue to ignore Jonah as he ignores you and head straight to your room to collapse onto your bed.
When you close your eyes, you feel the cold weight of shackles upon your wrists, you smell the smoke forcing its way into your lungs, and you hear your own voice screaming in agony.
You open your eyes, and you’re still in your room. After letting your breath slow, you roll off your bed, leave your room, and head to the bathroom.
There, you look into the mirror and see the other you.
JAMES CANNICE grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated from Pepperdine University. His work has appeared in Maudlin House and in Tell-Tale Press. He currently resides in the Bay Area.
FDBONES is a graphic designer based in Romania. His works are related to dark art, transposed as an engraving style. Through his work, he seeks to spread positive messages and relay commentary on social phenomenon; There is always beauty and grace in the macabre. His work can be found on Instagram @fdbones_