This is my most recent collection of weird little short stories. As might be expected the collection begins with a little tale called The Man Who Became Ray Davies.
The genesis of this new collection came about through imbibing the odd beer at my local pub. I was thinking that people change as they get older; and how a certain tennis player, as he had got older, had begun to resemble Ray Davies, the lead singer of the Kinks. That idea was enough for me to think of the first tale – which would be set in a pub. I scribbled down a few notes, there and then.
I could not really release just one story, though, when I finally got around to writing it. A story needs at least a few others to go with it. It was then that I began trying to think of more short stories. All of the short tales, I decided, would start The Man Who, or The Man With, or something along those lines. a couple of them would be tales told in the same pub as the title tale, to keep a bit of a thematic element running through the book.
Then it was just a matter of writing the stories.
Here, from that collection, is the story The Man Who Murdered Himself.
The Man Who Murdered Himself
I was in the kitchen making myself a sandwich of rye bread, red onion, and Monterey Jack cheese when I had the sudden premonition that I was not alone in the apartment.
Except that I knew that I was alone. I had to be alone as my last girlfriend had walked out on me six months ago, saying words to the effect that I was a talentless wastrel – except that she had not couched her insult in such polite terms.
Two months ago the cat gave up on me, as well. I think that it had got fed up with the fact that I kept forgetting to feed it.
It’s probably not gone far. It was the sort of cat which everybody likes because it is so damn cute. People always used to remark on that fact, as they were bending down to stroke it. I was sure that, wherever it had wandered off to, it was still getting fed. If it wasn’t then it would have strolled back to see if I had remembered to buy the cat biscuits.
I cut the sandwich in two diagonally. I got a plate out of the cupboards. It was one of the last clean plates which I had. I had taken to only doing the washing up when I had run out of implements, since my girlfriend had left me.
I would have to do the washing up after I finished eating my sandwich. Well, maybe not. I could just brush the crumbs off this plate and use it again.
I walked into the living room, intending to eat the sandwich while watching television. But I almost dropped the sandwich because, when I walked into the room, I saw a shadow in the chair – in my chair, where I had been going to sit. It is a shadow of somebody sitting in the chair, exactly the way that the shadow should fall if somebody was sitting down. Except that you would never get to see that shadow, because the body would be in the way, normally. There was no body there. Only the shadow.
I stared at the darkness on the chair. But, even as I stared at the darkness, it melted away, just as though it had never been there.
I walked over and turned on the television. I glanced backwards at the chair, wondering if the darkness would reappear. But the chair stayed the same. It looked perfectly normal now.
Still, though, I didn’t want to sit down there. I decided to sit down on the floor and eat my sandwich there.
I switched the television to a news channel. There had been some terrible plane crash in Asia. It seemed like there were a lot of plane crashes at the moment. They were just dropping out of the sky, like stones plummeting back to earth.
I watched the news report as I munched on my sandwich. The news presenter, in his grey suit, was speculating with some expert on air travel what might have caused the plane to crash. They were still in the speculation stage. Nobody had gathered the black box in yet.
Why do they call it a black box? That’s one thing which I don’t understand. It’s orange, not black. They should call it the orange box. It was things like that which annoyed me.
When I finished my sandwich I stood up and looked at the chair again. The chair looked perfectly normal. The news report had changed, though. It seemed that the people at the news company now felt that we needed to know about the weather in Africa. Were they planning their holidays there?
I turned the television off and took the plate into the kitchen. I slid it into the sink, among all of the other washing up which I hadn’t done. Then I went back into the other room. I don’t know why I walked back in there. I now wish that I hadn’t.
There was a figure sitting in the chair. This time I could recognise who it was.
It was me sitting in the chair. I stared, unable to believe what I was seeing. This was impossible. It had to be some sort of a trick.
The other me wasn’t entirely solid, though, not yet. He flickered in and out of existence. He reminded me, for some reason, of an old silent film, one with those black spots on where the silver nitrate had failed.
The other me opened his mouth to speak. But no sound came forth.
It had to be some sort of a hologram. Somebody was projecting this. Although, for what reason, I could not possibly begin to imagine.
If it was a hologram then there had to be some sort of a device in the room projecting the hologram. So I began searching the room for the device. Somebody must have broken into my house and planted the device.
I checked the shelves of the room, but there was nothing new there. I looked behind the furniture. I checked the light fitting. Then I looked at the television.
I’d only had the television for a year, after the old one had gone kaput. It was not a flat screen television, but one of the old-fashioned ones, which was deep. There was certainly enough space inside the television to hide some sort of machine to project a hologram. But why would somebody want to do that? And how did they know that I was going to purchase that particular television?
Unless, of course, this was some sort of test device. Perhaps it simply analysed whoever was in the room and then projected an image of that person into the chair. Why, I still did not know, though.
The television was turned off. But it was still turned on at the wall. That was where it was getting the power for the hologram.
I turned the power off at the wall. I turned back to look at the figure in the chair. It was gone. I breathed a big sigh of relief. Now all that I would have to do is to save up for a new television.
The next day I came into the room and I saw a flickering in the chair. This was despite the fact that the television was turned off at the wall.
I checked that it was switched off, and that it had not somehow managed to turn itself on. But it was still switched off. I took the plug out of the wall, anyway.
The flickering was still there, in the chair. There had to be some sort of battery back-up in the television. I knew that it was trying to turn into me. Well, I wasn’t going to let it.
I went and got a sheet out of the airing cupboard and draped it over the television. That should have done the trick. I turned to look at the chair. But, if anything, the flickering was stabilising. The image could clearly be seen to be me.
I had to face the possibility that the television was not causing the image of me to appear, and that something really weird was going on here. I stared at the image, wondering what I should do; and what would happen if the image should suddenly become solid.
I knew that there could not be two of us. There was only one me. So it was clear that this ghostly image intended to replace me. That was the only remaining possibility. When it became solid it intended to replace me, and take over my life. Well, I was not about to let it do that. I was going to fight for my life with all of the power at my disposal.
I tried disrupting the image by waving my hand around inside it. But nothing happened. It was not yet solid enough for me to destroy it in such a manner. I would have to wait for it to become a little bit solider.
But it didn’t become solider. It started flickering again, becoming a failing image, as the image opened its mouth to say something which I couldn’t here. Then it was gone.
I kept checking that room, the rest of the day, to see when the image would reappear in the chair. But it did not reappear that day, or the next. For a while I thought – I hoped – that it had gone for good.
It disappeared for five days. During those days I began to relax, although I did not use that room again, as I felt creeped out by what I had seen – I took my meals either in the kitchen, or in my bedroom.
The cat even put in a brief appearance during those days. It came around miaowing, telling me that it wanted attention. I stroked it, but it carried on miaowing, still not happy with the world. So I put down some cat biscuits and a saucer of milk. It ate half the cat biscuits, and drank all of the milk, and then disappeared out of the cat flap once more. It had got what it had wanted.
On the fifth day after last seeing the image I felt that something was wrong. It was while I was doing some shopping. Even though I wasn’t home I knew that the doppelganger image had returned. I don’t know how I knew. I just knew.
I hurried home with my shopping. When I got home I didn’t bother putting the shopping away. I just dumped it on the kitchen table and hurried into the other room.
The false image of me was there, in the chair, looking solider than ever before. I could only just see the back of the chair through the body.
The sneaky thing had waited until I was out of the house to try to reappear. If I had not hurried back with the shopping then it might have been solid by the time that I got back. Then it would have been waiting for me, intent on killing me, and replacing me, stealing my life. I would have been gone.
I wasn’t going to be replaced, not by this monster, whatever it was. I reached out, into the almost-solid image, and I could feel the phantom now. It was like I was sticking my hands into some cold gloop.
I ripped apart at the semi-ethereal stuff, tearing the unholy creature apart; and I was rewarded by the site of the thing being in obvious pain. It screamed, but I could still not hear anything. It was still not solid enough.
Then, suddenly, as I was tearing at its ectoplasmic flesh, there was a flash of bright white light and it exploded. The flesh disappeared as the light went outwards, and I was left staring at an empty chair. I had managed to utterly disintegrate it, whatever it was.
I felt exhausted, as though I had just run a marathon. My head spun, and I really did not feel all that well. I almost fainted. I managed to fall not onto the floor, but down into the now empty chair. But I was not bothered about sitting in the chair, now that the phantom was dead.
I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know what the matter with me was. I felt weaker than a kitten. I couldn’t climb out of the chair.
Then, as I sat there, I saw the light returning, the light which had exploded outwards of the image in the chair. It came back in a reverse of the explosion which had occurred when I had slain the would-be doppelganger. There was nothing that I could do. There was no time. The light struck me, and then there was nothing but darkness.
I think that I must have become unconscious. When I came around I could not see anything but darkness. I could not hear anything. I could feel the chair in which I was sitting. But that was all. That was the only sensation which I had.
I tried getting up out of the chair. But I couldn’t move. I felt too weak.
Then the darkness became only a deep greyness, and I though that I could see shapes in it, although I could not make out what the details of the shapes were. I thought that I saw a tall shape moving around. Then the greyness was gone, fading back into the utter blackness of before.
I don’t know how long it was before I saw anything again. There was just the featureless black around me, and I found it very hard to judge the passage of time. Perhaps I was alone in the dark for just a few seconds. Perhaps it was years.
Then I saw something flicker in and out, flashes of a room in between the darkness. The room was my living room, if course; and I was sitting in the chair.
I tried standing up, but I still could not move, although I did not understand why. I did not understand what had happened to me, other than it being some side effect of when I had destroyed my phantom doppelganger.
The image of the room kept flickering in and out, like it was being played out on a wonky television. Then, as I was looking at the living room, I saw myself walk into the room. It was the doppelganger. That was what I thought, even though I had destroyed it.
“What are you doing?” I asked. But the other me did not appear to hear me. He just carried on staring at me, as the image of the living room kept flickering.
I carried on watching the flickering image of the room, as there was nothing else which I could do. I saw the other me began looking at the shelves of the room, although I did not know what for, as there was nothing of interest there.
Then, in between the darkness, I saw the other me bend down to look at the television. I felt fear in my heart. But I tried to push it away.
I saw the other me reach down to the plug to the TV and flick the mains power to Off. Then I didn’t see anything else for a long time. It was just the darkness of the void.
The next few times that I was aware of anything the room was always empty. The room kept flickering, and I could not get out of the chair. Perhaps when the room stopped flickering in and out of existence I would be able to get up and walk around.
Eventually my doppelganger made another appearance. The room was flickering so much that he was little more than a shadow. But I knew that it was him.
He went over to the television and did something there. I couldn’t make out just what it was that he did.
He left the room. He came back holding something in his hands. I think that it was a blanket. He covered the television with it.
He tried waving his hand around inside me. I saw his phantom hand disappear into my chest. I felt a slight coldness, but nothing more than that.
“Don’t. Don’t do that.” he said. But he wasn’t listening to me. He wanted to kill me.
The image of the room suddenly became less clear, the whole front room flickering again.
“No!” I shouted out. I don’t want to go back into the darkness!”
But my words had no effect. The image of the room dissolved, and I was exiled into the darkness once more.
I was in that dark, featureless void for a thousand years. I could still feel the chair I was sitting in. But that was all.
Then, suddenly, after I had been lost for so long that I thought I would never see my house again, the image of the room flickered into life. I could see it in detail. The television, the shelves, they were all there. But my doppelganger was nowhere to be seen.
I tried getting out of my chair. But I still could not rise. I was not yet fully in synch with the room. I was still a ghost…
I was only then that I realised the truth. There was no doppelganger. There never had been. It had always been me.
I had to try to warn me that I was not under threat. I tried concentrating on making myself more solid. I didn’t know if it had any effect or not, though. But I still could not get out of the chair.
I tried to work out what day it was. How many times had I seen my phantom in the chair before destroying it? I did some mental calculations and I came up with the horrible result that I was nearing the end. This was the day when I had destroyed my phantom form. When I had killed myself – and when I had somehow created the bizarre event which had doomed me to become a phantom in the chair.
Too soon I saw myself enter the room. I had just put my shopping down on the table in the kitchen. I realised that the shopping would now never be put away. The ice cream would melt, and the tomatoes would go rotten. It’s funny the things which you think about when you are about to die.
“No, don’t do this.” I said. “It’s me. I’m you. There is no double.”
The thing was that I knew that the other me couldn’t hear me, because I hadn’t heard those words when I had said them before. But I had to say them. I could not just sit here and do nothing.
He – me – didn’t hear the words. He plunged his hands into my chest.