Reality Shift

Written in response to: Set your story during the night shift.... view prompt


Fantasy Fiction Romance

It happened on the day that I was going to break up with Talia, my girlfriend.


I, Alexander Cupido, was the only one on my team to work late in the customer service sector at the Alberton SARS office. Filing season was ending in just two days and I was handling customers who decided to submit their tax returns at the last minute. My headphones nestled comfortably upon my ears as I quickly typed in the description of the last call with a customer named Whitney.


Whitney's compliance was horrible, which was why I’d not been impressed by her refund enquiry. Yet another ignorant citizen looking to dig herself out of some financial pit. Little did she know that she had tens of thousands of rands due worth of penalties, and that her refund of a few hundred rands only served to offset the aggregate penalty amount. I made sure to mention that a dozen of notices had been e-mailed to her.


Upon hearing the news, Whitney had burst into tears at the other end of the line. It'd roused my compassion, but not enough to make me forget my own problems. I'd kept the call professional and my voice cool, and as duty dictated, exerted as much help as I legally could, which ended up not being much at all. Whitney had shakily taken my name down and promised to visit our office at crack of dawn. She had not sounded happy at all, and I was glad I would be home by then.




My stomach churned. Talia was there, waiting for me at our apartment. We'd had yet another fight before I left for work.


Talia and I have been dating for two years now, and for the past three months, she had been airing her grievances about my working late, and had made passionate appeals for me to request a schedule alteration.


I’d then repeatedly tried to reason with her, telling her that it was not that simple to alter my schedule. That’d been a lie, however, and I'd realized it as I'd said it. The truth was that I loved the solitude the night brought in this otherwise bustling office. Not many people were willing to work the late shift, and considering the extra stipend which resulted from my sacrifice, I would have thought that Talia would understand my position.


My attempts to make her see my point had failed, and her assiduous efforts to coax me into forsaking my resolve had been met with unmoving opposition. For the past three months, living with Talia had felt like nothing more than a time bomb waiting to explode.


This’d brought me to the decision to let go of Talia for a little while in order to blow off some steam. Her presence in my life was beginning to challenge me. I was no longer comfortable. I needed space.


As I mulled over this tired, dragged-out thought, the fluorescent lights overhead flickered and burnt out. For long, silent seconds, I was in pure darkness. Then, the lights came back on.


I’ll never forget the sight I was met with when those lights turned back on.


In front of me floated a phantom. It was a giant, hairless face with two, gaunt black holes for eyes. Within those eyes, I thought that I could see falling rain and occasional hews of blue flashing in and out of sight. It had no nose and had a black, thin mouth with ridges against the surface of its viridescent complexion.


Talia always told me how she admired me for my boldness. I didn’t scream or run. The rate of my heartbeat rose, but that was more out of intrigue than it was out of fear. Here floated a beast of the unknown, right in front of me, staring at me with everlasting eyes.


“H-hello,” I stuttered nervously, the ghost fanatic in me pleased to be distracted from my depressing job and home life.


The phantom - floating ominously thirty centimeters above the grey, carpeted floor in between mine and Randall's empty cubicle opposite from mine - stared at me. Its potato-shaped form was as big as a compact automobile.

When I was thirteen years old, I woke up to an image of an old man in a hat staring down at me. Straight, transparent teeth had flashed unashamedly at me, and I'd stared back with inquisitive curiosity. Besides that one impactful experience, which'd catapulted my passion for the paranormal world, this was the most bizarre spectacle I had ever encountered.


As I speechlessly sat and beheld, the hovering apparition spoke. Its voice was booming and caused mild oscillations to rip through the building. The floor buzzed beneath my feet, and my cubicle vibrated beneath my clenched fists.


“I am the deity of the heart chakra and the ruler of parallel realities. You have summoned me with your perpetual thoughts. You are at a major crossroads in your life and must decide what you want. Luck is on your side this day, for upon you I will bestow a second chance.”


I swung my chair so that my body completely faced the ghostly figure. “Hi, I’m Alexander,” my voice boomed back with relatively de-amplified resonance. "I'm not really sure what you mean by all of-“


I stopped short.


The welling waters within the phantom’s eyes gushed out and encapsulated my form. In a matter of seconds, I was suspended within a colorless gurgle of gooey substance which looked and felt like water, but did not get me wet.


Can I just tell you what a peculiar experience it was to observe myself levitating off a chair, within a bubble that was shot out of a bodiless ghoul’s sunken eyes?


“Now we’re both floating,” I murmured, observing the substance holding me in buoyancy and ignoring my racing heart. “Just one question, if I may. What do you mean when you say that I have summoned you with my thoug-”


The translucent bubble flashed a dazzling white. So bright I had to shut my eyes. A sensation akin to the form of a stout, writhing worm filled my ears, and a nauseating wave of dizziness overwhelmed me. Brilliant red filled the backs of my eyelids in probing concentration for what felt like three or four seconds, and then it was gone, along with the outrageously uncomfortable physical sensations.


I cannot stress to you just how befuddling it was, then, to further open my eyes to a sight not of my cubicle and working gear, but of a strangely familiar one of my snoozing girlfriend's face nestled in between two pillows, long, wavy hair sprawled wildly across white linen. I lay in bed with her, wearing nothing but my boxers. The clock next to her read 06:07. It would go off in three minutes.


This picture was all too familiar.


Checking the date on my phone confirmed that my memory was legitimate and that this morning was indeed repeating itself. I gathered myself and looked around for the phantom. A more elaborate warning of what he would do would have been nice.


What did he do, anyway?


I lay there, staring at Talia's face, knowing that just as the clock would strike ten minutes past six, it would go off, and she would stir. She would get ready for her work, and she would talk to me about mine throughout the entire process.


I conjured the image of the ghostly apparatus as dread overtook me. I didn't want to live through this day again. You said that I summoned you with my thoughts, phantom. I summon you now and demand that you reverse whatever kind of sorcery-


The alarm went off before I could finish my thoughts. Talia stretched her limbs out in the exact fashion that my memory recalled. She yawned, and I braced myself, my defenses fully erect. I was ready to stick to my resolve, and, just as I had for the past ninety-something days, I would make it clear that her convictions would never change my mind. This job paid the bills, and I was not willing to cut back on my salary just because she was uncomfortable with the arrangement.


She rose slowly, pushing her mane back with her hands, exposing a face stamped with bushy eyebrows, a small nose and mouth, and tawny skin which complimented the warmth of her honey-hued eyes. Her dazed eyes focused upon my face for a few

seconds. “Good morning,” she croaked. “What thoughts have got you scowling like



Scowling. That was the first thing she decided to say to me. That I had a scowl on my face. Not, how are you? Not, did you sleep well? In which case, what would my response have been?


She sighed when I didn’t respond, sitting upright and stretching her arms further. “Must be all of those heavy vibes you absorb at work during the witching hours. Did you know that it is the energetic signals you send to the Universe during that time that make up most of your manifested reality from the moment you wake up? God, my baby. I don’t mean to moan, but this impacts me, too.”


“What? The fact that I’m bone tired from an entire night of work so that we can both live comfortably?” The words spooled out of my mouth like a tape recorder, in the exact same order as I’d said them before.


The light in her eyes faded like I knew it would. “You know that’s an excuse. And if it came down to it, I could afford to take care of myself, albeit in a humble fashion.”


“If it came down to what, Talia?” I watched myself repeat the words again, unable to control or alter the unfolding. “Is that supposed to be a threat?”


What is the point of this again, Phantom? Frantically, I tried to mentally reach for the enigmatic specter, to no avail.


“Not a threat,” her husky voice receded to a fractured whisper. She got out of bed and started ambling away, then stopped. When she turned to face me, tears that I knew would be there greeted me, and I winced internally as though seeing them for the first time. This roused my compassion, but not enough to change my course.


“I’m lonely, Alex,” she burst.


My heart throbbed, but I didn’t let that sway me off my course. I didn’t want to say them again, but the words slid out of my mouth like sinuous slime, clear as day. “Please don’t make this about you. It’s not about you, Talia.”


The hour that followed after that comprised many verbal exchanges, of spatters and bites and slurs, of competitive references and undiplomatic standings. I felt victimized, but so did she. I need not say how this approach worked to both of our detriment. By the end of it, I’d retreated back to bed and pressed a pillow on top of my throbbing head in a pointless attempt to block out her voice.


She would leave for work shortly, and I would go right back to sleep, into the void that I love so much, because in there, I can lucid dream my way into all kinds of paranormal encounters. Is that what this was? This whole encounter? Was it just a dream? Perhaps I had gotten bored at work and fell asleep in my workstation.


“Alex!” Talia’s voice penetrated the pillow atop my head. Just as before, I refused to respond and held my position. She called my name two more times before retreating in both voice and body, leaving me to my pent up emotions and racing mind. Her voice reverberated through every corner of it, her words, her opinions, her critiques. Her goddamn truths.


The reality here was this: I was not ready to change anything about my job as a Call Centre Consultant, no matter how tedious I found it, and she was not ready to accept or respect my decision.


Perhaps some time apart was what both of us needed.


Just for a short while.


For what seemed like seconds right after that thought, there was a sensation of freezing time, of all motion around me coming to a standstill.


Suddenly, a flash. Blinding light materialized seemingly from out of nowhere, and I was held suspended within it once again. The uncomfortable physical sensations returned in doubled intensity that I was ninety-nine percent sure I would retch. There was nothing but brightness around me. Three or four seconds passed, and the brightness did not dissipate.


I decided to open my eyes, slowly, one after another. The space around me was white and infinite. It stretched out into untethered horizons, expanding exponentially. The light was brilliant, but it did not blind.


“Phantom!” My voice echoed back to me from all directions. “Show yourself!”


The phantom’s familiar voice boomed back at me, ripping through the limitless void in short, vibrating bursts as two separate images materialized like blots of ink before me. “For every cause, there is an effect.”


Within one blemish was a screenplay of Talia driving her car. Tears ran down her eyes in interminable rivulets. I could tell by the way she was dressed that this was an image of just after she’d left for work.


Within the second splotch was a woman whose face I’d never seen before, but who I intuitively knew was Whitney, the last customer I had dealt with.


I watched as the motion pictures simultaneously played themselves out. Watched as Talia looked down distractedly and produced her cell, as she dialed. I would, of course, ignore the call, because what would have been the point? I watched as she banged her steering wheel with an open palm when it went to voicemail, watched as she redialed, a line that would remain unanswered.


Within the neighboring blot, Whitney placed the wired telephone down which she had used to give SARS a midnight call. From her background, she seemed to be in her bedroom, sitting on a desk with a lamplight on. She was crying, too, gin bottle in her hand.


The phantom’s voice boomed as both scenarios fast forwarded, and as they did, my mind began to decipher the importance of this encounter.


“Every decision you make to overlook the bellow of compassion in your heart has calamitous consequences both on yourself and others.”


I watched as Talia’s smooth ride became a shuddering tumult, as she span and rolled within the car. No sound came from the playbacks, but I may as well have heard the guttural scream shooting out of her gaping mouth. That mouth, along with her honey eyes, remained agape when the commotion finally ended.


The scene ended with my girlfriend’s neck hanging askew over a well-polished steering wheel, her neck broken, her skin lacerated.


Thoughtlessly, before I could truly process what I’d just witnessed, I flicked my attention to the visual of Whitney, who had walked into what appeared to be a high hanging balcony of a tall block of flats. She wore a long night dress and had the bottle of gin in one hand, expression solemn, form slightly hunched.


Whitney stepped towards the balustrade, gazed down at the world below, took four good gulps of her remaining gin, and jumped.


Both visuals disappeared and I was once again standing within the white expanse, unblemished by scenes of the worst kind of dread.


“You make your decisions out of fear despite my call of love and compassion. The feelings of love and compassion in your heart mean little if you do not actively act on them.”


A bright flash materialized around me again, and I felt though I was retching. No. I was actually retching. My eyes stood agape as I watched black stuff project out of my mouth in four powerful spurts.


The phantom’s voice boomed. “Fear cannot exist where love must dwell. Not even within your mortal body.”


The light that did not blind shone brighter and brighter as the black goo which left through my mouth got transmuted by the domineering vibration of this place. It shone until it became so consummate that I became a part of it…




I woke up to a strangely familiar sight of my snoozing girlfriend's face nestled in between two pillows - long, wavy hair sprawled wildly across white linen. I lay in bed with her, wearing nothing but my boxers. The clock next to her read 06:07. It would go off in three minutes.


Hardly believing my luck, I wasted no time. I reached for Talia and gently, albeit urgently, shook her awake.


She rose slowly, pushing her mane back with her hands. Her dazed eyes focused upon my face for a few seconds. “Good morning,” she croaked. “What thoughts have got you scowling like that?”


My chest throbbed with what I could only call unadulterated love as gathered Talia in my arms and kissed her, ultimately changing the course of the cataclysmic reality that could have been.



Eight months later and I am deeply honored to say that we are happily engaged.


I never did go back to work, never did speak to Whitney. Word is that no one worked the shift when I bailed. In this reality, I did not get to speak to the suicidal customer. I did, however, get to start up my ghost hunting business. Sometimes I swear that I see glimpses of her flowing nightgown at the periphery of my sight when I’m setting up gear. Although her reality path shifted slightly as a result of my decision to ditch work, it did not shift enough to save her from herself.


I never did see the love deity again, but he speaks to me in obvious surges of compassion when the need arises. This time, I always make sure to respond wisely. Each of our decisions do, after all, shape our realities and that of others. Many a times, in ways that we don't even realize.

September 03, 2021 19:57

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Alex Sultan
19:15 Sep 11, 2021

This is a great concept! I always enjoy stories that have something to do with changing time. I also like how fluid it reads from start to finish - your sentence structure is spot on here, and clearly a strength of yours. Nice work :) For feedback, I'd say try and watch out for adverbs. They're fine to use every now and then, but when you rely on them, it weighs the story. It's the classic show and don't tell advice everyone hears. Sometimes you can cut them entirely for emphasis. For example, the line: 'The translucent bubble (suddenly)...


Elle S
03:26 Sep 12, 2021

Honestly, you've made my day with this critique. It is exactly what I'm looking for. And then you went and shared the tools which you use to improve your own writing. Thank you for your time and feedback. I will definitely incorporate what you suggest into my subsequent stories. Thank you for your compliment in reference to my sentence structure. I am a relatively new writer and my earlier work reflects this fact. I've been improving as I go. This is a tool which I use to boost my creativity. I do not know how open you are to tools such as...


Elle S
11:22 Sep 12, 2021

I've implemented the changes in the story. A part of me feels dissatisfied, like I could have told the story better, relayed my message better... Ah well. Thanks again ( :


Tommie Michele
03:55 Nov 08, 2021

I get that all the time, but I’ve learned that the truly good work is the work that I’m never satisfied with—when we have a great story to tell, we never feel like words can do it justice, and you have an incredible story here :)


Elle S
19:14 Nov 19, 2021

Thank you so much for your kind words, Tommie. <3


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Alex Sultan
21:08 Sep 15, 2021

Don't worry, I feel the same about my older stories. It is the process of getting better.


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