It’s been several months since I posted a previously published short story, so I figured now was as good a time as any to add one. This one was published twice, originally by The Nocturnal Lyric (2005), which I’m sad to say folded in 2011, and it was included in the Silverthought Press anthology Ignition (2005). Tomorrow I’ll provide a little “behind-the-scenes” for this one, in the same way I did for “The Dance”.
By Scott Lyerly
Jim Shippee awoke one morning to find he was missing a finger. Not like the finger had been chopped off, but rather like it had never been there. As he yawned and stretched his fingers to the sky, he realized that one of them was gone.
He looked at his hand in bewilderment. The coffee had not yet started, and his eyes refused to focus without his glasses. Lifting them off the bed table and placing them on his face, he stared and counted his fingers. The left pinky was gone. He counted again. One, two three, four. No five. No pinky. He assured himself that he was overlooking something, something a shower and some breakfast would clear up. He would prepare for the day, and the strange math mistake he had just made would be rectified.
But his morning routine did not return his finger. He counted once more. Four fingers on the left hand, five fingers on the right. Had he always only had four fingers on his left hand? Could he have been born with only nine fingers? He did not believe that was something to be easily forgotten, but perhaps…? As he walked out the door, he tried not to think about it, which was like trying not to think of getting sick when you’re already feeling nauseous.
When Jim awoke the next morning, he checked his fingers. Still nine. He had hoped that his missing pinky would regenerate overnight or possibly appear magically. Neither happened, and despite his misgivings, Jim chalked it up to a strange memory lapse. He would simply learn how to live with nine fingers. Not too difficult, since it was the pinky. Losing a thumb would have been much worse.
He rose from his bed and ambled awkwardly into the bathroom, still sleepy. He stepped on the scale, fairly unhappy with the results. The mirror revealed his coarse face. His hand rubbed lazily over his cheek and then stopped. Something was wrong. Something in his reflection was not right. It took him a moment, and then he realized that one of his brown eyes had become blue. He moved closer to the mirror in slow motion, unable to believe the reflection. One eye was no longer the deep soft brown that women found compassionate. It was now a hard icy crystal blue that stood out from his face like a red dress at a funeral.
Jim was scared. He didn’t know what to think, though he was one hundred percent certain that his eyes had both been brown until today. His mind suddenly clicked. His bathrobe fluttered around his ankles as he ran downstairs and lifted his wallet from the foyer table. He pulled out his driver’s license and there, in full color, stood one eye blue, one eye brown. His breathing became shallow. Desperately, he scurried around the living room, picking up pictures from various spots. He with his parents, he with his sister, he with his girlfriend. Every picture showed eyes of two different colors.
Back in the bathroom, his reflection stared back at him. It seemed foreign, amused, almost demonic. It did not remind Jim of himself.
He went to work because he had to, but he could not concentrate. The oddest part for Jim that day was that no one noticed. Not one person who knew him said a word. It was as if he had always had the strange separate colors in his eyes. The only person unnerved was Jim.
Jim spent an uncomfortable night on the couch. Trying to explain it to another person would make little sense, but his concern was that his bedroom—more specifically, his bed—was causing bits and pieces of his body to transform or disappear altogether. He did not even use his own pillow, lest it be contaminated by some unknown, flesh-eating, body-changing virus. He pulled the blanket to his chin and closed his eyes. He dreamt his reflection came alive and attacked him.
Waking with the sun on his face, he slowly opened his eyes. He woke with a certain understandable nervousness, since, for the last two days, waking meant finding something had changed. Rising from the couch, he went to the foyer mirror. He stood in front of it with his eyes closed, screwing up the nerve to open them. When he did, he let out the breath he had been holding. Nothing different, at least not since yesterday.
He scanned his arms and legs and fingers and toes. He pressed every inch of his face and head and found nothing out of the ordinary. No change in his features, no new colors in his eyes, no odd lumps on his head. He shook his head to clear it. Maybe he had slight amnesia. Maybe his features had always been as they currently were.
The day was Friday, and after one last day of work, the weekend would be here. His girl, away for the week on business, was coming home. They could go to a movie or out to dinner, something to take his mind off the changes. Should he confide his strange experience to her? Perhaps, together, they would find the answer. This was assuming that she, unlike his co-workers, noticed the changes. How could she not?
He threw off his clothing and stepped into the shower. Outside the bathroom window, sparrows startled from their perches when Jim shrieked. He trembled in the shower. Something had changed overnight. And this one he was absolutely certain of, unless a phantom rabbi had sneaked into his house last night and performed a midnight bris.
Saturday dawned a gray pallor in the overcast sky. Jim awoke in his bed, having decided that the couch was a far more dangerous place to sleep. He prepared for the worst, slid out of bed into his slippers, and tried to make his way to the bathroom. He ran into the wall.
Stepping back, he looked at the wall. The soft sage green color caused the crisp white trim to pop out. But it was still just a wall. Jim stared, wondering what was wrong, until he realized that there used to be a door there. Now fully awake, he looked around the room and found that the door was now at the other end of the wall, by his bed.
Jim opened the door slowly and peered out. The hallway was exactly the same as it had always been, except that now Jim’s door opened at the end of the hallway instead of in the middle. He stepped through the door, not really knowing what to expect. This was the kind of thing that happened in horror movies. But the hallway was silent, and Jim, more unsure of himself than ever, entered the bathroom to shower.
After a careful examination, he called his girlfriend.
He met up with Julie to see a movie. Waiting to see her was agonizing. The nervousness he felt reminded him of the first time he met her. Butterflies fluttered in his stomach, and he suddenly felt the urge to go to the bathroom when he saw her car pull into the theater parking lot.
Closing the car door, she walked towards him, her blonde locks falling in loose waves to her shoulders. She ran the last few steps, and the two caught each other in a hug that felt like it lasted forever. If she’d noticed anything odd about Jim, she had said nothing. Nothing about his eyes as she looked into them, his hand as she held it. He felt a small bit of relief. But when he looked at her again, he noticed that the radiant green that colored her eyes had vanished. It had been replaced by a brown so deep it was almost black. He stared for a bit too long, and when she asked what was wrong, he simply shook his head and smiled. He was quickly becoming terrified.
When it had ended, Jim could not even remember the name of the movie. He spent the entire time trying to find the best way to ask Julie if her eyes had always been that color. He ducked into the bathroom to relieve himself of the gigantic soda the theater called “small.” He zipped up, washed his hands, grabbed some paper towels, and looked into the mirror. The other eye had now joined the first, and they both shone out of his face in the same icy blue. The sharp pointed nose he had always used to balance his glasses on was now a small round bulb. He felt his face gape in horror, but the reflection smiled back wickedly.
Jim felt his breath grow short. The changes were no longer nightly occurrences. Like some strange lycanthropic manbeast, he was changing almost before his maniacal icy blue eyes.
Yet Julie noticed nothing. She had said nothing about the changes. In fact, she seemed to be changing, herself.
Jim walked out of the bathroom and stopped dead in his tracks. Across from the entrance waiting for him was Julie. She stood looking off into the distance at some movie poster, but her hair was brown, though it fell in the same loose waves as it had before. Jim stared at her for a moment, then forced himself to walk forward. Sidling up to her, he said in a rather glib manner, “Nice hair.” The comment escaped Julie. She thanked him for the compliment, looped her arm through his, and led the way out of the theater.
Later in the evening, Jim stalked out of the bedroom in an absolute huff. Julie hurried after him, both of them draped in sheets. Jim thundered down the stairs, trying to rid himself of the previous moment. Julie followed him downstairs, asking what the problem was.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but when my girlfriend says another man’s name during sex, I find it more than a tad disturbing.”
She gave him a puzzled look. Jim repeated himself, and Julie called him the same name again, asking him what he was talking about. Jim wanted to believe that she had simply blanked on his name, but that was absurd. He picked up his wallet off the table in the front hallway. He opened it and yanked out his license and brandished it under Julie’s nose, proving his name. She took it, looked at it, smiled weakly, and turned it around for Jim to see. Staring back at him was his face as it currently was. The name on the license read Peter Naragett. Even as he looked at the picture, it changed. Jim rushed to the mirror and found that his face had changed to match the picture on the license, or perhaps the license had changed to match his face. He wasn’t sure anymore.
Peter dropped the license on the floor as the room around him swirled with change. He was caught in a haze of memories, losing old ones, gaining new ones. He looked back at Julie, who he now had difficulty thinking of as Julie. For some reason, he desperately wanted to call her Heather, because that was her name, not Julie. Why had he been calling her Julie? Who was Julie? And why was he so upset? His head began to throb. He needed some aspirin or maybe something to eat.
“Heather,” Peter asked, “are you hungry?”