“Regents, get your ass out of that chair and come to my office. Now.”
My boss’s eloquent speech wakes me from my thoughts, and I quickly follow him to his office. I sit in the polyester chair on the other side of his dull white-gray desk that blends perfectly with the sterile walls and fluorescent lights flickering above us. Mr. Scorzo sinks into his brown leather chair—the only thing at odds with the asylum aesthetic of the room.
“Do you have any idea why I’ve called you in here, Regents?” he asks.
“No sir, and you can just call me Tyler.” I hate it when he calls me by my last name.
“Tyler, I don’t really know how to say this gently. So. You’re fired.” There’s that eloquent speech again.
I sit there in a state of shock, immediately masquerading as a bizarre mix of outward tranquility and an overwhelming inward concern for my well-being. How does one get fired from a no benefits telemarketer position, in a run-down building on the impoverished south side of the city, when the only pay is miniscule and completely commission-based? I hadn’t known such a thing was possible. I had figured the job description provided built-in job security.
“Why?” the only word I’m able to muster.
“Had to make some cutbacks. Y’know. With the economy and all.”
“I’m aware of the economy,” I say, “that’s why I need a job.”
“Nothing I can do about it.”
“You can not fire me.”
I bit back the anger burning my tongue, pushing down my hate for the fat tyrant in front of me. I rise from the chair, forcing the frayed polyester cushioning to peel itself off the seat of my khakis, the sound amplified in the stillness. I clean out my desk and head out the door. A blast of cold afternoon air slaps me in the face, jolting me back to real time. The surrounding sounds of city noise and blowing wind crash into my ears and I gasp involuntarily.
Somehow I manage to make it to my car, a vehicle decrepit enough to be left unlocked. I place the box of belongings on the passenger side and get behind the wheel. As I stare out the windshield at Lampeth’s grey sky, I wonder where to go from here. Typically, an ex-girlfriend of less than 24 hours wouldn’t take too kindly to me walking back into the apartment we shared and taking a nap on the couch. Especially the way we had just left things. What even happened with that? Jennifer broke things off in the middle of dinner. No warning, only saying that I haven’t been there for her as much as I should be. I didn’t even know she felt that way. I sink deeper into the seat, deeper into the dark recesses of my mind, when a static vibration from my pocket pulls my attention to the phone notification. I enter my passcode, and the screen emanates a bright, blue light, so at odds with my current dark disposition that I physically wince. Bulky, red letters appear on the screen reading: WANT A DO OVER? A coincidence so ironic I can’t help but scoff. Out of mere numbness, I accept the invitation. Concern grows seeing the words on the screen give way to a map with directions leading somewhere on the other side of Lampeth. A weight in the pit of my stomach says to ignore the directions. It’s obviously a scam, I think, but my curiosity is piqued. I follow the navigation, arriving at a cargo dock a half-hour later. The sun has already set, and I look out at the few stars shining through the sea’s misty clouds. My phone buzzes again, the screen now shows a right arrow, below it reading: HEAD INSIDE TO CLAIM YOUR REWARD. I turn my head to face an abandoned warehouse building, its exterior bruised with rust. Most of its windows are shattered, and the door, though open, is shrouded in darkness. As I stare into the darkness, a desperate smile creeps along my lips, and I burst out in what probably sounds like a maniacal laugh. I get out of the car and walk towards the building.
How could I be so stupid? I think––I know––that a part of me really thought this could be real. Some kind of magical fate guiding me. Get a grip! Honestly, it’s no wonder I lost my job. I’m a total moron.
I don’t think you’re a moron.
My eyes widen, and my focus narrows.
“Hello?” I call out, “anyone there?”
I wait for a few moments and then start making my way back to the car.
Man, I must really be losing it.
No, you’re not.
I freeze. I definitely heard it this time. Someone’s voice, but I don’t hear it coming from somewhere else. Only from inside myself.
Come inside, it says, don’t be afraid.
I’m very afraid, because although I hear the voice in my head, I know that it’s not mine. Still, something draws me forward. I step through the doorway into the gaping darkness. I walk through the warehouse, my path only visible by the moonlight shifting through the rafters above. I look around, hoping to find the source of the voice.
“Hello?” I call out.
I jerk my head towards the voice and come face-to-face with a woman. At least, something shaped like a woman, causing me to not immediately run away. The moonlight falls on a head of long, flowing raven-black hair, and a featureless face of matching color. The figure walks toward me. Though it has no mouth, I sense a smile on its face. It draws so close, its presence blocking the moonlight from my gaze. My stomach clenches with the realization that I was wrong. This is not a woman. I suddenly know it’s not even human. Once again, its voice resonates inside my head.
“What’s the matter, Tyler? Don’t you recognize me?”
I stare in horror as the body before me shifts into a reflection of myself. No, not exactly myself. Its presence feels larger than my own, expanding into the darkness.
“What are you?” I ask.
“I’m you,” it says, “All of your doubt, anger, fear. I thought it was time we met face-to-face.”
“I don’t understand. What do you want from me?”
“It’s not what I want. It’s what you want. Aren’t you angry with Mr. Scorzo for firing you? With Jennifer? They betrayed you, Tyler. Betrayed us. They have to be taught a lesson.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
The thing turns away, staring at the moon creeping out from the warehouse ceiling. “For too long we’ve lived in service to this world, receiving nothing but disappointment and suffering in return.” It turns back to me. “It’s time we claim what’s rightfully ours.”
I turn these words over in my mind. The words of the monster standing before me. Not me, but something that feels like it’s invading me. The more I think, the angrier I get. All the hatred I forced down—toward Mr. Scorzo, my failed relationship—rises in my throat like bile. The dark reflection is right, the world is cruel. I waited so long for good to come of it, but to no avail. It’s time I take matters into my own hands.
I stare at my reflection, made of malice and mystery. “What do we do?” I ask.
A deranged grin spreads across its face. It says nothing, but puts a hand out toward me. I reach out for it. Hand in hand, I watch black veins spread up my arm, my neck, my face. My vision blurs as the darkness takes hold. The last true sight I have before slipping into unconsciousness: my demonic shadow laughing under the blazing moon…
Layth Handoush is a rising senior at Salesian College Preparatory. Layth loves skateboarding, playing guitar, and drinking boba. He hopes you enjoy his story!