Thriller Urban Fantasy Horror

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Doppel by Sean Glenn Douglas Packard

              Why is it that when we stare into terror, we often stare into our own eyes? I think it’s the way we’re wired. It’s our thoughts. We have access to them but nobody else; and just as it is impossible for foreign hands to unscrew our craniums and peer inside, so too do the minds of others remain unknowable to us. We’re alarmed at minds different from our own. We fear those that could be similar. Because we don’t have to imagine – we know the demons that surge even through normal brains. Bat wings and saber fangs next to the little voice that says we should give grandma a call and then rake the leaves.

              There’s a man in the upper right-hand corner of the mirror. His eyes are my own.

              Doom. It shudders through me, but how could that be? Russet leaves swirl down from above. They dance in the copper mid-autumn light. It’s Saturday at the farmer’s market. Children dashing gleefully through cool grass, fathers in pursuit. Toddlers clamoring at their mothers for another bite of sugary muffin, cream cheese frosting from the last one dolloped on the tip of their nose. Peruvian coffee and cheddar frittatas in the air. Fall bounty everywhere: squash and sweet potatoes and kale. Carrots, beets and pumpkins.

So why does it feel like eternity on the chopping block? And where did my doppel go?

He was just there with me in the mirror but now he’s gone like a shadow that’s changed in the sun, like a memory I’m not sure is real. I put the sunglasses back on the rack, knick-knacky things to pick up and try on but never to buy. The woman behind the booth sighs. More DNA on her merchandise, no money in her pocket.

              He’s stopped to order a London fog. He tips big, rolls a ten-dollar bill into a thin pipe before sliding it into the glass jar while the barista works. There are brownie sample bites next to the register and he tries one. A young mom clips the heel of his boot accidentally with her stroller and apologizes profusely. Silver smile. It’s no problem at all he assures her and what’s her name? he asks, pointing to the interior of the carriage. “Katie”, she says and blushes a little too red for her husband’s liking. They hurry off but she glances back and that will certainly become an argument in the car.

              “Thank you darling.” He collects the drink from the countertop and sips. He stuffs a folded-up napkin in his back pocket and heads for the parking lot, a leather bag the color of tobacco in his left hand. He’s got on a tanned wax-canvas jacket and denim trousers. Black boots buffed, something nice to preen in. And a hat, beaver pelt or rabbit fur, I’m not sure. A modern cowboy.

              A modern cowboy that is the doppel of me.

              Then something surprising happens: my feet begin to move. Towards the parking lot, after my doppel. For what? No reason I can grasp, nothing logical that would not fall outside the purview of lunacy. Who can justify following anyone without their knowing? That’s stalking and stalking by its nature belongs to the realm of the unwell. Or the paranoid. Or psychotic. But who could possibly come across their twin and let them go as easily as a penny on the pavement? Nobody. I know because my doppel is in front of me and my feet are moving and there is nothing I can do to stop them. My conscious is shrieking. Stop. Right now. Stop. Before it’s too late.

              It’s already too late. I can’t stop.

              He pops the door of a black Chrysler wagon. He tosses the leather bag into the back seat and gets in. The engine roars to life and he peels out of the lot. The sun glints in his driver-side mirror as he goes.

              I jog to my Forester and jam the key in the door. I jump in and fumble with the stick shift, spilling the stale coffee parked in the middle console cupholder. It joins the existing sludge – coffee and tea and melted candies oozed from the wrappers that have fused the loose change into a single chunk. I roll the window down and turn the engine on. I rip out of the lot and discard the coffee that remains.

              He’s a slick maneuver; in-and-out of traffic he weaves. Controlled, measured. Me after him, choppy and jagged, nearly clipping a sedan, barreling back into the same lane to avoid an F-150 blaring its horn. Possessed. A haunting tune on the radio, one I’ve never heard:

              Early this morning

              When you knocked on my door

              And I said hello Satan, ah

              I believe it is time to go

              The Chrysler whips through the intersection. He flies under the traffic light and it ticks yellow. My hands tighten on the wheel, knuckles whitened to chalk. My foot lead, pulverizing the accelerator. VWOOOOOOOOOM!

              Me and the Devil, walking side-by-side

              Me and the Devil, walking side-by-side

              Who am I chasing? Him. Who is he? Me. Not me. He looks like me but he is not me and I am me and I’m chasing him. My thoughts are whipping. Why can’t I let him go?

              The sun has dipped below the hill, a chill creeps across the windshield. Darkness thickens. I give the man more distance in these residential blocks so he remains unaware of me. His speed slows and he crawls along a few more yards before halting entirely. The interior lights extinguish. I kill my engine at the stop sign a block away, scared to venture too close. A few minutes pass. Then the driver-side door opens and he emerges. He gathers the leather bag and heads into the house, a bungalow with a converted attic that peeks out from a window above the entrance.

              When I was seven years old I saw a boy beaten so bad he had to be induced into a coma. My mother let me walk home from school as long as I called her at work exactly at 3:30 to let her know I was home; walking a few blocks in your own neighborhood wasn’t considered negligence back then. There was an alleyway hidden from the road that abutted an abandoned property and an empty lot overgrown with weeds. My mother told me to avoid it, but I was a kid and it was faster so what was the harm?

              Four boys encircled him, shoving him back-and-forth like a rag doll. They were older than me, maybe thirteen or fourteen. The boy being terrorized was half their size and already roughed up quite a bit. He had a gash in his lip, and a dark spot on his cheek that would certainly be a bruise tomorrow. A rip in his arm sleeve. They pushed and taunted, slapped and cackled. I hid behind the dumpster and cowered, unable to help, scared to retreat since they might see me. What happened next is seared into the unforgettable part of my brain.

              The chief neanderthal raised a rock over his head. A rock, not a stone. Something the size of a softball. He laughed as he brought it down on the back of the boy’s skull. A sickening thud. The boy crumpled in a cloud of dirt. He didn’t move.

              “What the fuck was that you idiot?” The neanderthal’s friend raved and hit him in the chest. “You killed him!”

              The ogre reduced to a minnow. “I didn’t mean to! No! No! He’s not dead! I didn’t hit him that hard! Brett check if he’s breathing.” His eyes wide as if peering into the future of his own conviction, his own juvenile sentence, family shame and pariah label. The end of his life in front of him.

              Brett hovered over and listened. “He’s breathing…barely.” The boy’s chest was rising and falling a quarter of an inch. There was a small pool of blood in the dirt.

              “Let’s get out of here.” The boy who hit the neanderthal gathered his bicycle. “Go home. All of you. Don’t tell anyone anything.” The boys fled, one after the other. When I was sure they’d gone, I slunk from the dumpster and tiptoed to the boy on the ground. He was breathing, barely. The back of his head was a bloody pulp.

              He was wearing a dress.

              That memory floods over me when I am frightened. And I am frightened, because after a minute of hemming-and-hawing and asking for Christ sakes what the hell am I doing here and putting the key in the ignition and taking it out and putting it back in again, a van has pulled around the corner and parked. Two men emerge; one in a loden raincoat, the other in a black wool sweater. They open the sliding door of the van and rifle through a black duffle bag. They close the bag up, slide the door shut and head for the house. Before the man with the raincoat can conceal, I see it. I’m sure it’s a pistol.

              Two taps on the front door. They ring the doorbell. No answer. The man in the raincoat cracks it open. He slips his foot in and draws his weapon from his hip, slick so as to be concealed from the street. Then the two disappear.

              I am by myself stunned. My brain is racing. What do I do? Who do I call? Should I just start laying on the horn? My nerves are boiling inside of me, my mind clouding over. Call the police? Tell them what? That I stalked a stranger I thought was my doppel to a place I’ve never been and there are two armed men after him in whose house I don’t know? Five minutes zoom by. I have to do something, I…

              “Don’t move.”

              A gun barrel on my temple. Cold, freezing. My toes tingle beneath me, weight and feeling gone away. One click and I’m gone.

              “I’m gonna get in. Shut the engine off. Slide over. Don’t make a sound.”

              I do as I’m told. I kill the engine and climb over the stick shift. He sits down and closes the door.

              My doppel stares into my eyes. “You with them?”

              There’s no saliva in my mouth, it’s all evaporated. It comes out hoarse, quiet. “I don’t know who they are. I don’t know who you are.”

              His face stern. “But you did follow me here.”

              I nod. “Yes.”


              My fingertips are itchy. The barrel is pointed at my heart.

              “Because you look just like me.” It sounds preposterous. Whatever I’ve stumbled upon, this is fate. A moth to a flame and me to my doppel. Caught up in something I don’t know, don’t understand and couldn’t have foreseen. Paying the price for a bill that is not my own.

              I can see myself crushed into the dirt. Now I’m wearing the dress and they’ve scribbled epithets on my forehead and forearms, the usual offenders. P**** and b**** and f***** . And a crude penis on my cheek angled downwards towards my busted lip. I touch my fingertips to the back of my skull. Cherry red.

              “I believe you.”

              My lips trembling. “What?” I ask. I don’t know what else to say.

              “I believe you that you’re not with them.” He’s silent for a moment and then lowers the weapon. “We do look exactly alike.”

              A leaf helicopters on to the windshield.

              “Who are they?”

              Tsk. He sucks his teeth. “You seen that leather bag I’m totin’?”

              I nod. “Yeah.”

              He looks me back in the eye. “Well son, what if I was to tell you that bag contained a lot of money, would that start to fill the picture in a bit?” A furrowed brow and fire in his gaze.

              I nod again.

              “Needless to say, people don’t normally tote bags of cash for any good reason. There’s usually extracurriculars that go on to acquire such a thing ain’t there? Well, I don’t wish to tell you much about how I came to be in possession of that bag but I will say that nobody got hurt and the people we took it from got enough bags to fill up a rail car. You understand what I’m sayin’?”

              Nodding is my new language. I have no idea what this doppel is saying. No idea why there is a cowboy version of myself explaining the morality of thievery.

              “Mm”, he grunts and lights a cigarette. “Well, there is a mistruth in there. Someone did get hurt. Used to be four of us that did this work, but Maggie, she caught a bullet we just couldn’t calk. Gushed and gushed and gushed and then finally her face just went white. Gone. Like that.” He snaps his fingers like catching a bullet is a period at the end of the sentence.

              “Maggie had herself a daughter. Paralyzed from the waist down in an accident when she was a youngin’. Needed a lot of care, that girl. That’s why Maggie did what she did. And she was good at it. That’s why she deserved her share. That’s why, now she’s gone, her daughter deserves what her momma earned.”

              The dopple drags on the cigarette. The car is an ozone of tar. He rolls down the window and ashes the butt. “My partners, they disagreed.” He nods to the house.

              “They’re your partners?”

              “Were. Things didn’t end well between us. As you can see.”

              The lights in the house have been turned down. They’re waiting.

              “I need something from you kid.”

              This time I don’t nod.

              “I need you to sneak through the back, peek in, and let me know where they are. There’s a path through the neighbor’s backyard that will conceal you. Leads all the way to the cellar doors hidden by the brush. It’s unlocked. They’d have no reason to be in the basement; they’re waiting to ambush me upstairs. Slide in, text me where they are. Then get outta there.” He rips the cigarette that is now a fleck in his fingers. “I’ll do the rest.”

              “No. Fuck no. No way.” I say these things and then I lunge for the door. Fuck the car. Escape. Run. Figure it out later. Get to safety. Flee from this dopple.

              Now the boy that was attacked is in a new dress but this dress is a hospital gown and there’s gauze over his face and head leftover from surgery. The green line of the heart monitor blips meekly.

              I can’t say no. This man has my face and I trust him. He’s magnetic. I nod. I reach for the handle and the dopple brushes my shoulder.

              “Take this, just in case.” It’s a revolver with a walnut grip.

              My feet move me. Around the block and then through the neighbor’s yard. Hugging the fence line and then dashing to the cellar doors. I duck in and pull the lever closed quiet, so quiet. Breaths now could be catastrophic. My heart pulses in my esophagus. Palms with lakes pooling in them. I tiptoe to the stairs and then inch my way up, one-by-one. No creaks. No breaths.

              I edge the cellar door open. My eye in the narrow slit, hidden by the darkness. One at the kitchen table. The other in a living room chair, facing the entrance.

              There’s something wrong. Both of their heads are jerked upwards, twisted grotesquely to the ceiling. If I’m wrong then I’m a dead man, but I’m not wrong. They are the dead men. I push the door open and there is no rush to kill me. No commotion at all.

              I’m too afraid to flip the lights. I sneak over and immediately collapse to my knees, dry heaving. I force myself to keep the bile down, eyes watering like faucets. Twin crescents carved from ear-to-ear, the both of them. Exposed vertebrae, horror-filled eyes, like they’d seen the devil. Nothing less. The devil.

              The front door explodes open and officers pour in. There are red and blue flashing lights in my periphery, melted candles of color blurring my vision from the smoke bombs.


              The boy that was attacked avoided brain death but he lived with disability all his life. I never told my parents what I saw. I didn’t tell anyone. I was too scared.

              On a lonely highway in the moonlight, the dopple turns the radio knob.

See, don't see why

People dog me around

It must be that old evil spirit

So deep down in your ground

He turns the volume up, all the way up. In to the night he shouts:

“I’m a dark mirror hound!”

November 25, 2023 04:34

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Mary Bendickson
07:22 Dec 01, 2023

Really good story telling. Unexpected twist.


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Kelly Harris
16:04 Nov 25, 2023

Definitely a twist I didn’t see coming! Great work


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Hope Linter
02:55 Nov 30, 2023

Good descriptions and tackling some sensitive material. I felt confused at the beginning with the guy looking at a mirror and then being at a fairground


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Lisa Pack
16:33 Nov 27, 2023

Fast paced Fate/Karma Lots of details in a short story Captivating Whoa!


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