The following fiction was originally released in Manifest Reality, an anthology from Hair Brained Press. (Now out of print)
Manifest Reality Edited by Jessica West
Cover Copy: Everyone is looking at you funny, right? RIGHT?! They are, they’re looking at you out of the corner of their eyes, plotting against you. The whole world, they’re out for you. Aren’t they?
He wanted this. You know he did. He said forever, didn’t he? Well, maybe he didn’t say it, but you could tell he thought it by the way he smiled at you while you checked out with your newest batch of steamy romance novels. The way the light shined off the spikes of his hair while he tried to sell you a discount card, you could tell he wanted to spend eternity with you. That struggle? That wasn’t a struggle, he was just playing hard to get. All the other boys did that before your special potion too, but this time will be different because his smile said forever.
Manifest Reality is a collection of sanity-bending short stories with one single, tenuous thread connecting them:
It’s all in your head.
Standing in the hallway outside her apartment, she heard the stillness of a world asleep. Faint sounds of a television echoed through the air. Someone had fallen asleep with it on again, perhaps for the company the chatter brought in sleep.
A creak sounded from another floor, then the sound of a key turning in the lock. Perhaps above, perhaps below. In the quiet, the sound felt as if it had come from her own door. She rubbed her arms as the fine hairs stood on end.
A muffled ding sounded down the hall. The elevator opened and her late night delivery arrived. Since it was past the witching hour, the delivery man didn’t bother with small talk, just handed her the pizza after she dropped a twenty in his open hand. He was back in the elevator before she had turned around to face her door.
The knob turned in her hand, but the door did not open. She stared at the door in confusion. She hadn’t locked it when she came out, hadn’t even brought her keys out with her. No one else was in the apartment, and no one could have gotten in without going past her.
She put her ear against the door and listened. Could someone have come in through the window? That was insane. It’s twelve floors up, she thought, and I’m sure they were all closed. She heard muffled sounds inside. Running water that quickly stopped, a faint shout, a soft thud like when she threw her suitcase on the bed after a trip, and then talking. She couldn’t make out any of the words but the tone struck her as one of anger. On impulse, she knocked gently. The talking stopped. Footsteps. The sound of a deadbolt drawing back. The door creeped open an inch.
Palms streaked with sweat, she reached out and poked the door open a bit more. Blood pounded in her ears, muffling the sound. There was no one in front of the door. There was no one in view at all. She stepped in as quietly as she could, setting the pizza on the entryway table, and started to search, leaving the door open in case she needed to make a run for it.
Nothing. There was no one. No signs of anyone being there at all. She closed and locked the front door, then leaned up against it and slid to the floor.
“What the hell?” she said aloud, jumping at the sound of her own voice. She reached up for the pizza box and just pulled it down into her lap. She bit into the first piece, tearing off the end.
“Home at last,” she said. She locked the door behind her and dropped her bag on the table, next to the empty pizza box she had forgotten to toss out before she left that morning. She frowned at the box, remembering the odd feeling from last night. She shook her head, chalking it up to being far too overworked. Friday night, time to meet some friends and start the weekend right.
A quick rummage through the closet found the dress she was looking for. It was a burgundy piece that she knew hung well on her. Knowing her ex would likely be at the club, thanks to mutual friends, she wanted to make sure she looked better than ever. She’d show him that she’d moved on to much better things. After tossing her chosen clothes in the bed, she headed into the bathroom for a shower.
The sight in her bathroom mirror drew a scream from her lips. The person in it looked remarkably like her, but she hadn’t even gotten dressed yet after her shower, and her reflection looked ready for a night on the town. She quickly glanced back at the clothes she had set out for tonight. The woman in the mirror looked just as surprised to see her, dropping her mascara in the sink at her scream.
They stared at each other over the space of a few heartbeats, neither moving. She saw a shadow coming up behind her “reflection”, a flash of silver. “Look out!”
Her doppelgänger turned, just in time to throw up a hand to grab the arm holding the knife. The shadowy figure pushed the woman, and they both fell out of the view of the mirror. She blinked, and her familiar reflection was right where she remembered leaving it.