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Mystery Funny Thriller

This has been going on for years. The first time I saw him, I stood in one of those pharmacy cum general stores which every town had. When he first saw me, I don’t know. I became aware of him just as I planned to slip a magazine into my inner pocket and duck out.

They never expected magazines to get shoplifted so I felt pretty safe. No one bought anything there. The whole store was crammed with stuff no one wanted.

But then there’s this guy watching me, but not looking at me. He didn’t look like plain clothes, or what they call a ‘secret shopper’. I mean, were they going to make a federal crime out of a magazine? Our eyes didn’t make contact. I’d catch a furtive glance. I don’t know, I had this feeling.

So I flipped through the mag and put it back on the shelf with a dismissive murmur. It’s not like I’m a thief. They wouldn’t miss it. I thought of it as more of a momentary lapse. Not a habit. And anyway, I didn’t take it. Big deal.

I didn’t think much of it and had no reason to remember him after that.

Until sometime later I sat in a diner with my date. She excused herself and I noticed the waitress eyeing me. So I made a face and made her laugh. It wasn’t anything anyone would take to heart, except maybe my date. But then I see this guy again. What’s he watching me for? I didn’t do anything anyone should care about, stealing sugar packets or anything. But there he sat in a booth across the room and I know he’s got his eye on me. So I cut the crap and drank my iced tea. Let him look at the chalkboard specials.

Then another time I’m in the park playing dominoes with some friends. Chaz claimed I cheated. I told him I prefer to call my play ‘strategic’. I mean, can you really cheat at dominoes? What would that look like? So I like dominating a suit. Is that a crime?

But who do I see reading the paper on a bench? You guessed it. Same guy. He can’t see my bones. What’s his problem? But it’s driving me crazy so I play to Chaz’s draw. Happy?

 You won’t guess where I see him next. Right. While passing the plate in church. My fiancé brings me to this peaceful place and I’m feeling stalked. He’s the usher, in a church, no less.

I’m trying to be good. I put money in the tray when it floats by.  So this usher stands there holding the plate and kind of hefting it like he’s judging its weight. As if he thinks I should sweeten the pot a little more. I looked up at him and he gave me a wink. The nerve. Like he’s my old buddy. So I dropped another sawbuck into the plate to get him out of my face. He finally got the message and moved on. Who is this guy?

A few days later I see this homeless guy. He’s in his twenties and looks like he works out at a gym. He could get a job if he cleaned up and got a haircut. I walk by him and look down the street. Of course, my shadow is looking down his nose at me. He’s so superior, why doesn’t he help the guy with the bulging muscles and the sign? So I judged a homeless man with a cup. Okay, I shouldn’t judge. But who’s this mug, judging me? Am I his personal morality project? Every time I turned around I’d feel his eyes on me. I have nothing to feel guilty for. Why doesn’t he lighten up? 

It all came to a head one night. I took my wife to a favorite eatery of ours. Not too fancy, kind of crowded and bright but the food is fantastic. Waiters glided around effortlessly, while holding giant platters over their heads.

I’m trying to eat. I’m minding my business. No way, anyone could think I’m anything but an appreciative customer trying to have a night out with my beautiful wife.

But I felt eyes upon me again.

I scanned the room. It took a minute but through the crowd I saw his beady eyes staring at me. Fed up and tired of getting stalked, I threw my napkin onto the table and stood up. Startled, my wife reaches for my hand with wonder in her eyes. I nodded to her not to worry. “I’ll be right back.”

I navigated toward him through the tables jammed together.  There’s barely room to walk. Then I realized he was approaching me. I wondered, would this lead to a physical confrontation? What did he want from me?

A little over weight, he had as much trouble as me snaking through the narrow spaces between tables and chairs. But our distance had halved. How do the waiters do it?

Every time I looked, he had his eyes on me. We got closer. I saw a gap. I strode toward him. I wanted to know his game. We rushed at each other. I wanted to take him out.

Bam!

I stopped. I could go no further. As if an invisible barrier had descended between us, I walked directly into it. Like a bird flying into a window. My nemesis made the same mistake. I would have laughed at his pain. He put his hand up to his nose. But we both held our noses. We were eye to eye and smacked into this – mirror.

We exchanged hard looks and then it became obvious. The stranger, my nemesis was me. You should have seen the look he gave me.

I heard laughter behind me. I turned to see diners and waiters failing to stifle their mirth at my clumsiness. I could only laugh too. I turned and pointed at the mirror. Trying to salvage the situation a little, I gave my reflection a high five. The whole restaurant exploded into hysterical guffaws.

A waiter handed me a towel and clapped his hand on my shoulder. He took my elbow and gestured toward the back, to the restroom, where I could compose myself.

I stood in the loo looking into the mirror. I looked a mess but you should’ve seen the other guy. Only I was the other guy. I wanted to punch him out but no future in that. Right?

I rinsed my face and straightened my tie. Not too much damage except for my slightly dented self-esteem. I had to admit, my nemesis had decent taste in clothes.

By the time I got back to the table, everyone had forgotten the scene I’d made and had returned to their dinners. My wife asked if I were okay and I assured her I’d never been better.

As I sat down, I noticed the stranger across the room taking his seat too. We nodded and gave each other a respectful salute. No hard feelings.

April 15, 2020 16:46

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5 comments

Adrie Byman
15:42 Apr 23, 2020

I really enjoyed reading your story! It left me thinking though, just like Konstantine had said, how CAN you not run back wondering where a mirror was in all those places where he saw himself? Great job! :)

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John K Adams
21:51 Apr 23, 2020

I could get into complicated existential explanations. Or I could say only in the final encounter was there a mirror as the stranger was a figment of his imagination. Or I could say, "It's a story, man." Or any number of other responses to your excellent question. I admit I get a kick out of people's reactions to the mirror gag, though. Thanks for reading.

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Adrie Byman
22:47 Apr 23, 2020

that makes MUCH more sense. Thanks for clarifying.

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21:27 Apr 22, 2020

Nice read but, after the disclosure, how can you not run back through the story wondering where the mirror was at the grocery store, the church, the street with the homeless guy... A verisimilitude problem, I guess it's called.

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Yoomi Ari
11:48 Apr 20, 2020

Enjoyed this story! I loved the twist. Well done:)

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