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I met my doppelganger and he stole my life. But this was only the beginning of my nightmare.

I met my doppelganger and he stole my life. But this was only the beginning of my nightmare.


Estimated reading time — 22 minutes

The day my life changed forever started like any other…that is until I was thrust into a situation beyond my understanding or wildest imagination…forced to commit unthinkable acts just to survive.

It was just a normal Tuesday, and when I got up that morning I had no idea of what lay ahead. My alarm clock woke me up at 7am on the dot. I dragged myself out of bed, brushed my teeth, showered and dressed, ate my breakfast and caught the bus to work.

My day in the office was equally uninteresting, consisting of hours of number crunching, support calls, frustrating meetings with middle management, and catching up with the gossip during my lunch break.

It was only after I left the office when I had a strange feeling that I couldn’t explain. As soon as I walked out of the front entrance I experienced a cold chill like someone had walked over my grave. I don’t know how, but a part of me knew that something very significant had changed. It was like some malevolent being had reached inside of me and ripped out a piece of my soul, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Two incidents took place on my way home from work which would later prove significant. The first was when I encountered a homeless man on the sidewalk on my way to the bus stop. The elderly man looked in a sorry state, wrapped up in heavy layers to protect him from the cold, his white beard matted and dishevelled as he looked up at me with bloodshot eyes.

He raised a jar hopefully and asked – “Spare some change sir?”

I felt a twinge of sympathy, stopping and reaching into my jacket pocket and withdrawing a handful of random coins which I clumsily tossed into the man’s jar.

“God bless you sir.” he said whilst smiling to reveal a set of yellow, stained teeth.

“No problem.” I muttered awkwardly before moving on.

I told myself that my small act of charity had helped, but deep down I realised it was insignificant.

The second incident was more unpleasant, occurring as I waited in the cold inside of the vandalised bus shelter and stared across the road at the taxi rank on the far side of the street. A trio of tough guys were hanging out on the sidewalk in front of the cab office – three young men with multiple tattoos and mean eyes – laughing, smoking and spitting as they made their presence known.

I saw these jerks every day on my way home. I never learnt their names and so had christened the trio as ‘Moe’, ‘Larry’ and ‘Shemp’ after the Three Stooges, although I would never have dared mocking them to their faces.

I knew what they ran out of that taxi office – drug dealing, prostitution and probably many other illegal activities. The stooges were street-level gangsters – small-time hoods who acted like they owned the whole neighbourhood. I hated these thugs but would usually just ignore them, trying to avoid their unwanted attentions. But on this occasion my emotions got the better of me and I glared towards the three with a look of disapproval.

Unfortunately, ‘Moe’ saw me looking and reacted aggressively, shouting across the street towards me.

“Hey asshole! You got a problem or something?”

I realised then how foolish I’d been to draw attention to myself. I’m a passive person by nature and I don’t deal well with confrontation. I decided to ignore Moe and so lowered my head, but he didn’t let up.

“I’m talking to you dickhead!” he swore whilst stepping forward.

I glanced up to see the other two stooges were also glaring menacingly in my direction, and suddenly I knew I was in trouble. Violence might well have ensued, but thankfully my bus arrived that very moment, pulling up to the shelter and conveniently separating me from my assailants.

I quickly jumped on board, paying the fare in cash before taking a seat. I sheepishly glanced out the window and saw the three thugs laughing at me in open mockery, as Moe shouted out a final insult.

“That’s right…run away you fucking loser!”

I lowered my head once again, feeling weak and humiliated following the unpleasant encounter.

By the time I reached my stop all I wanted to do was get inside of my apartment, put the heating on, crack open a cold beer and catch up on my latest boxset series. But – as you’ve probably already guessed – this was the point when my day took a bizarre turn.

My first indication that something was wrong came when I tried to open the front door of my building using my key fob. I attempted to buzz myself in five or six times without success, frowning as I stared down at my fob in confusion. Thankfully, one of my neighbours arrived within a few minutes, using their own fob to let me in.

I thanked my neighbour and wrote off the problem, thinking that the fob batteries must need replaced. But then I reached my own front door and things got really weird. Once again, my fob didn’t work and so I pulled out my key, attempting to insert it into the lock, only to discover that it didn’t fit.

I was dumbstruck, staring at the door number to confirm that this was indeed my apartment. My tired brain attempted to make sense of this bizarre situation. At first I wondered whether my landlord had evicted me and changed the locks. But I was up to date with my rent and had never had any problems with him before, so this explanation didn’t make any sense.

I was still considering my predicament when I heard movement from inside of my apartment as someone started to open the door. The intruder kept the door secured on the latch but opened it wide enough for me to see inside. And, when I cast my eyes upon the intruder’s face, my heart froze. Because suddenly I was face-to-face with…me.

The man on the far side of the door was my double…with my eyes, my hair, and my face. Virtually everything about him was identical to me. It was like looking into a mirror.
Instinctively I recoiled in shocked horror, retreating from the door but finding myself unable to divert my gaze. I was speechless and so it was left to my doppelganger to break the silence.

“Hello, can I help you?” he asked politely, speaking in a voice which was chillingly similar to my own.

I noticed how calmly he spoke and was astonished that he didn’t seem at all phased by this surreal encounter. Somehow, I managed to stutter my reply through my trembling lips.
“Who…who the hell are you?”

My double smiled faintly before responding. “My name is Paul Young and this is my apartment.”

My jaw dropped in sheer disbelief.

“I’m Paul Young!” I exclaimed, “And this is my apartment!”

“I’m afraid you’re mistaken.” my double answered calmly, “Now, I think you should leave.”

At this point I lost my temper, shaking my head vigorously before I spat out my next words.
“This is bullshit! I don’t know who you are or what game you’re playing, but I’m calling the cops if you don’t let me in!”

My doppelganger’s response surprised and angered me in equal measure as suddenly he burst into laughter.

“Sure pal. Go ahead and call the police if you want. Knock yourself out buddy!”

And with that he shut the apartment door, leaving me standing alone in the cold corridor.
I was seething with anger by this point, struggling to focus as I pulled out my phone and dialled 911 with a shaking hand.

The cops arrived about twenty minutes later. I met the two patrolmen at the front of the building and frantically told them my story. I saw the way both officers looked at me and noticed the knowing glances they gave one another as I spoke. I think they thought I was crazy. It’s true that my account made no logical sense but I needed them to believe me.
Eventually I persuaded the cops to go upstairs to my apartment and confront the imposter. I was made to stand out in the corridor with the junior officer while his partner spoke with the intruder who’d taken over my home. My anger only grew as I watched my double engaging amicably with the policeman at the door before inviting him inside.

The cop emerged a few minutes later and came over to talk with me.
“The man living at this address is Mr Paul Young. He’s provided the necessary documents to prove his identity.” he explained firmly.

“What?” I exclaimed in utter dismay, “You’ve got to be kidding me! I’m Paul Young. This asshole has stolen my identity!”

“Can you provide evidence to back up your claim?” the cop asked cynically.

“Of course.” I replied whilst reaching for my wallet.

But once I did so I got the shock of my life. I withdrew what should have been my driver’s licence only to find it was a blank piece of plastic – with my name, details and photograph all erased. I started to panic as I pulled my wallet apart – withdrawing bank cards, my work pass, and even my gym membership. But everything was wiped out…my entire identity erased as if by magic.

I looked up at the officers in astonishment, not knowing how to explain.
“I don’t understand…” I stuttered nervously, “This doesn’t make any sense.”

The senior officer suddenly adopted a more sympathetic tone as he placed a firm hand on my shoulder and spoke.

“Look buddy. You and that guy in there look exactly the same. I’m guessing you’re twin brothers or something? Maybe this is a family dispute? I don’t know. Either way, this isn’t a police matter. The man inside that apartment is Paul Young and he has the documentation to prove it. I don’t know who you are, but you don’t live at this address. So, here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to escort you from this building and that’s going to be end of it.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“You can’t be serious!” I cried out, “This is my home! He’s the criminal, and you’re asking me to leave? What the hell?”

“I need you to calm down sir.” the officer replied firmly, “I’ve been patient up to now, but we’ve reached the end of the line. You have two choices buddy. Either you leave voluntarily, or we arrest you for trespassing on private property. Now, what’s it going to be?”

I shook my head, trying to find the words to explain all this…to make the cop believe me. But there was nothing I could say or do, and so I accepted my fate, allowing the officers to escort me out of my building and lead me onto the street.

The cops left the scene in their patrol car but I remained on the sidewalk outside of my apartment building. Where the hell else was I going to go? I came up with a new plan, taking out my phone, thinking I could call someone who could help. My parents lived in a different state but surely they’d be able to confirm I was their son. In the meantime, I had friends in the city who I thought would let me stay with them until this was all sorted out.
But when I tried to unlock my device I found I couldn’t. Facial recognition no longer worked and it wouldn’t accept my pin number.

I’d reached the end of my teether as I looked up into the night’s sky and screamed my lungs out. I thought things couldn’t get any worse, but in that moment the heavens opened up and I was soon drenched with cold rain.

“Hey loser! Up here!”

I recognised the voice calling out to me – my voice. Looking upwards, I saw my double shouting down at me from my bedroom window. I hated this guy so much but was powerless against him.

“Why are you doing this to me?” I shouted back.

“I’ll tell you what Paul, why don’t you come up here and I’ll explain everything? How does that sound?”

I didn’t trust the bastard and knew he was likely dangerous. But the way I saw it, I had no better options. And besides, I had a final trump card which I hoped would turn the tables on the imposter.

Five minutes later and I was back at my front door, except this time my doppelganger let me inside. He was a cool customer – I’ll have to give him that. The other ‘Paul Young’ obviously didn’t see me as a threat, although I planned to prove him wrong.

“Nice place you’ve got here.” he said sarcastically whilst surveying my small one-bedroom apartment. “You haven’t given me much to work with Paul, but I’ll make do.”

I ignored the insult about my home and financial status, instead confronting him.
“You admit that I’m Paul and this is my home. So, you lied to the cops?”

He shrugged his shoulders dismissively before answering.
“In a manner of speaking, but the truth is rather more complicated.”

I looked my double in the eye, examining him carefully for the first time. True, he looked almost identical to me, but there were some subtle differences. He was clean shaven while I sported a day’s worth of stubble. His hair was different too, short and slicked back with gel whilst mine was long and untidy.

And, even though his eyes were the same colour as mine, they seemed to have more spark to them. His mannerisms weren’t the same as mine either. Somehow, he seemed more confident…more arrogant perhaps, swaggering around my apartment whilst looking down his nose at me.

I’d had enough of this as my pent-up rage built up and I formulated a plan.
“I need to get something from my bedroom.” I said while carefully controlling my voice, “Is that cool?”

My double’s grin widened before he answered.
“Oh, sure thing Paul. You’re not looking for this by any chance?

A second later he pulled a gun from his waistband and pointed it directly at my chest. I backed off fearfully, raising my hands in surrender.

“How…how did you know?” I spluttered.

My double laughed once again. “Come on Paul. The safe in the back of your closet, the code is our date of birth. Seriously? Now, stop screwing around and take a seat so we can talk.”
He motioned the gun towards my couch, and I obeyed his order, taking a seat as I looked down the barrel of my stolen revolver. I’m not a big gun guy but I live in a bad neighbourhood so I bought a .38 revolver for self-protection, but the weapon had remained untouched in my safe as I’d never had cause to use it. But now the gun was in the hands of my doppelganger who was holding me hostage inside of my own apartment.

“Relax buddy,” he said with a cruel smirk, “I don’t intend to kill you. I’m just taking precautions for my own safety.”

He lowered the gun, making me feel just a little more at ease.
“I still don’t understand.” I exclaimed, “Who are you?”

The other Paul rolled his eyes in frustration. “Don’t you get it? I’m you. An alternate version of Paul Young from another dimension. Real Twilight Zone shit my friend.”

I shook my head vigorously, refusing to believe what I was hearing.
“No, that’s not possible. This cannot be happening.” I muttered.

The other me shrugged his shoulders once again before answering.
“Believe me or don’t.” he said, “It makes no difference to me buddy.”

I took a deep breath, meeting my double’s gaze as I tried to make sense of this madness.
“Okay, let’s say I believe you.” I replied nervously, “Then, why are you here? And what do you want from me?”

“I don’t want anything from you Paul. I’m merely here to deliver a message. To keep the chain going, so to speak. Your time in this dimension is over. And – if you want to survive – you’ll want to follow my instructions.”

I was very much freaked out and had so many questions, and so I asked the most obvious one without thinking.

“What do you mean ‘my time is over’?”

My doppelganger sighed aloud and it seemed like he was losing patience with me. “Listen buddy, I was in the same boat as you not so long ago. There I was, minding my own business and living my best life. Then one day I came home to find somebody else living in my house…and guess what? He looked just like me.”

I raised an eyebrow in surprise before the other me responded.

“Yes, that’s right Paul. I’ve been in the exact same position as you, and I had to follow the rules to survive and make it here. Now it’s your turn buddy.”

“But this is my home!” I repeated angrily, “This is where I belong!”

“Not anymore.” he replied, “your keys don’t work, your IDs have been wiped, and you can’t access your phone. Isn’t that right?”

I nodded my head meekly to confirm.

“Well, that’s just the beginning, and things will move quickly from here on in. All evidence of your existence is being erased from this universe. There can’t be two Paul Youngs in the same dimension for long you see…” He paused briefly, the tone of his voice becoming more serious as he spoke his next words. “You have until midnight buddy, then it’s game over.”
An icy cold chill ran through my entire body as I tried to comprehend this terrifying threat to my very existence.

“What happens at midnight?” I muttered fearfully, “Do I just disappear?”

I saw a fear enter the other me’s eyes before he answered. “You’ll cease to exist in this universe. After that, you go to another place. I don’t know all the details, but I did get a glimpse of what awaits the versions of us who fail in their mission…and believe me buddy, it’s not good.”

My brain was running at a hundred miles per hour at this point. I struggled to breathe and felt like the walls were closing in on me. I still couldn’t believe that any of this was real.
“But there must be a way out?” I pleaded, “You survived, so I can too…right?”

“Sure.” he confirmed with a nod, “I’m going to help you with the ritual, just like the last guy helped me out. But you need to do your part Paul, and it’s not going to be easy.”

“Who’s doing this to us?” I demanded, “And what the hell do they want with us?”

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“I don’t know for certain.” my double answered, “And neither did the guy before me. I guess that knowledge got lost somewhere down the line. My guess is that one version of us made a deal with some unsavoury, inter-dimensional, demonic beings and now we’re all paying the price. As for why they’re doing this…I reckon they just like fucking with us little people. It’s just a game to them you see. They make the rules and we have to follow them. That’s just the way it is.”

I took a deep breath before I asked my next question. “Okay, so what do I have to do?”

My double’s eyes lowered before he answered in a grim tone of voice. “It’s a blood ritual Paul, and there’s only one way to win. You’ve got to take three lives by midnight. Three souls, that’s their price.”

I gasped in disbelief.

“You want me to murder three innocent people?” I exclaimed in disgust.

The other me looked irritated, clenching his teeth before replying. “I don’t want you to do anything. I’m merely communicating the rules of the game. It’s up to you what you decide to do with this information…As for innocent – well, that’s up to you too. The rules don’t specify who you kill. Can’t you think of three assholes who deserve to die?”

I could of course, thinking back to the incident earlier in the day. But I didn’t believe I was capable of doing…that.

“I’m not a killer.” I muttered whilst lowering my head.

“Neither was I.” he replied, “Not until I did the deed. You’d be surprised what we’re capable of when our back’s against the wall. Still, I can’t tell you what to do Paul. It’s your decision, but you need to make it quickly my friend. The clock is ticking…”

He carefully set the revolver down on the coffee table in front of me and I just stared at the weapon for a long time as it slowly dawned on me that my old life was gone forever.

Thirty minutes later and I was sitting on the bus, a baseball cap and scarf covering my face as I held the revolver in my jacket pocket, shaking almost uncontrollably as I considered the previously unthinkable action I needed to carry out. My double had explained it all before I left. I would go out onto the streets and commit a triple murder while he remained at my apartment and prepared for the ritual. What could possibly go wrong?

A million possibilities were racing through my head. I didn’t fully trust my doppelganger but also didn’t see that I had any other option. And somehow I knew he wasn’t lying about my situation. Deep down in the guts of my soul…I could feel it slipping away from me. I felt that I didn’t belong in this universe, not anymore. I’d become a non-person, an imposter who would soon be ripped from this world so that equilibrium could be restored.

But, even in my state of sheer desperation, I still questioned whether I could take a human life, never mind three lives. Was I capable of committing such a heinous act? I would find out soon enough.

The bus halted abruptly, the driver telling me that this was my stop. I sat there for a moment, unable to move or respond. It was only after the driver called me for a second time that I eventually managed to stand up on my shaking legs, slowly making my way down the aisle and not looking at the driver as I stepped off onto the sidewalk.

As the bus pulled away I turned to face the cab rank, taking a deep breath as I approached my targets. Moe, Larry and Shemp were all sitting at the front of the office, passing around a spliff as they cracked crude jokes and laughed. They didn’t notice me until I was almost right on top of them, standing on the curb directly in front of the small office.

Moe was the first to see me, looking surprised and irritated by my sudden appearance. I don’t know why, but in that moment I pulled my scarf down to reveal my face. I guess I wanted him to know it was me.

Moe’s look of puzzlement was soon replaced by one of recognition, and then by open mockery.

“Well well, look who’s back boys!” he said.

A chorus of cruel laughter followed as the three stooges all turned in my direction. Moe screwed up his face before continuing.

“So, what do you want asshole? Blow? A girl for the night? You better have money.”

I didn’t say anything, didn’t utter a word. But I met his gaze, the hatred building in my heart as I tried to work myself up for the awful task to come.

Moe quickly lost his patience, his tone becoming increasingly hostile. “Hey asshole, if you’re not buying you need to get the fuck off my block. I’m not playing here!”

Again, I didn’t respond or move from the spot. My hand was in my pocket, gripping a tight hold of my gun. But I didn’t withdraw it, not yet.

“I think this guy has a problem with his ears.” said Larry.

“Yeah.” Moe replied, “Well, let’s see if I can help him out.”

With that he reached behind the counter and withdrew a baseball bat. I responded in kind, pulling the revolver from my jacket and aiming it at his head.

Moe was shocked, recoiling as he looked down the barrel of my gun. But my hand was shaking and I couldn’t pull the trigger. Moe saw my hesitation, his fear turning to fury as he lifted the bat and snarled.

“You don’t have the balls!” Moe cried.

I don’t know what happened next, but something snapped inside of me. I steadied my hand and squeezed the trigger. BANG. The gun fired and Moe’s head exploded into bloody viscera, and I watched as his limp body fell heavily to the floor.

Seconds later and Larry jumped up from his chair, his eyes full of shock and adrenaline. I reacted on instinct, firing twice and hitting Larry in the chest. He fell backwards onto his chair, his jaw dropping as he slumped over.

Shemp was quicker to react however, pulling a shotgun before I could re-aim. I saw him cocking the gun and panicked, dashing out from the doorway as Shemp fired and the glass shattered behind me. I kept on running, ducking behind a parked car as Shemp fired again, shattering the windscreen.

The adrenaline was rushing through my veins as I fled from the scene, hearing Shemp scream after me with pure fury in his voice, crying – “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you motherfucker!”
I sprinted for four or five blocks, only stopping when I ran out of breath. The gun was still in my hand and my whole body was trembling. I couldn’t believe I’d just killed two men, but the worst thing was that I’d failed my mission. My double had been very clear with his instructions. I needed to take three lives or I was done. Two killings weren’t enough.

I didn’t know what to do, but suddenly an opportunity presented itself.
“Hello sir, are you okay? Can you spare some change?”

I turned around to see the homeless man I’d encountered earlier that day, his weathered face and matted beard visible under the streetlights. He stood there on the sidewalk directly in front of me, holding out his hand expectantly as he revealed a smile of cracked, yellow teeth.

Suddenly a plan formulated inside of my screwed-up brain – a plan so terrible that I could hardly believe I was even contemplating it. Killing criminals was one thing, but a harmless homeless person? My soul would be stained forever by the spilling of innocent blood.

But it was fear which drove me in that moment, the fear of what awaited me if I failed my mission. And so, I raised my gun, aiming at the man’s head and muttering – “I’m so sorry.”
And then I fired, ending his life with a single squeeze of the trigger.

I made my way back to the apartment on foot, trying to come to terms with the atrocity I’d just committed. I heard the blaring of police sirens on the streets as the cops responded to my killing spree. I also kept a close eye on my watch, realising that I was quickly running out of time.

Finally, I stormed back into my home, panting and sweating from the exertion. It was only ten minutes until midnight and my double was almost as frantic as I was.

“Where the hell have you been?” he exclaimed.

“I’m sorry.” I replied between breaths, “I ran into some problems.”

“Never mind that! Did you kill three?” he demanded.

“Yes.” I confirmed solemnly.

“Good. Now let’s get to work. There’s not a moment to spare.”

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We ran into the living room where I noted how my double had rearranged the furniture, drawing what looked like a pentagram on the wood floor using a sharpy pen and carefully surrounding the circle with tealight candles from my kitchen drawer. It looked so amateurish that I might have laughed, but the other me barked out his orders without hesitating.

“Stand in the centre of the circle and don’t move outside of it for any reason.”
I did as I was told, but not before my double placed a folded piece of paper in my top pocket.

“Your copy of the incantation.” he explained, “You’ll need to read it on the other side.”
I was confused for a moment but then quickly understood. He wanted me to continue the chain – to help the next version of me to complete the ritual. I hadn’t thought that far ahead as my sole focus had been on survival, and I wasn’t out of the woods yet.

I watched with bemusement as the other me carefully lit each one of the candles around me and started to read from his own copy of a Latin incantation, painstakingly reciting the words as I stood inside the circle and watched.

The whole ritual seemed farcical and I wondered whether the other me was full of shit, but suddenly I felt a surge of energy as a wall of fire rose from the candles, surrounding me on all sides. I feared the ring of flames would consume me but it soon stabilised, forming a barrier of light that separated me from the rest of the universe.

My double continued to read the words carefully in order to complete the ritual, but he was soon interrupted.

I heard the blaring of sirens from the street below and then the thumping of boots from the corridors directly outside of my apartment. My double stopped reading, his eyes widening in alarm as he screamed at me with an intense fury.

“You led the cops back here? You dumb son-of-a-bitch!”

In an instant, he picked up the revolver I’d left sitting on the coffee table, aiming directly at my chest before opening fire. BANG. BANG.

He fired two shots at point blank range. I stared down at my body but saw no wounds, and I felt no pain. I guessed that the circle surrounding me had somehow blocked the bullets. My double pulled the trigger for a third time, only for the gun to emit an empty click. No more bullets.

A moment later and the door was kicked in and a black-clad SWAT team member stormed into my living room. The other me swung around just as the first officer burst into the room. My double still had the revolver in his hand as he screamed – “No, wait!”

But the SWAT commander didn’t take any chances, firing a single round from his rifle which exploded through the other me’s chest, throwing his body backwards. My double was slumped against the far wall and he looked up at me in his final moment, shock and pain in his eyes as he tried to speak, but his life was extinguished before he could utter a word.
Soon a further two SWAT members charged into the room, and they all aimed their rifles directly at me.

“Freeze asshole!” their commander screamed, “Get down on your knees and place your hands over your head!”

I did as he instructed, submitting to the cop’s orders. The commander moved forward in an apparent attempt to arrest me, but when he hit the wall surrounding me his body was thrown backwards, and he collapsed in the doorway like a lifeless ragdoll.

“Officer down!” cried one of the other cops, “Take him out!”

They opened fire, pumping many rounds from their rifles…but once again the bullets were blocked by the circle and I was protected.

I was safe for now but had no idea how long this supernatural protection would last. Clearly the other me hadn’t finished the ritual before he died. I didn’t know what to do and nearly succumbed to blind panic, but then I remembered the sheet of paper which my double had passed to me.

Ignoring the shouting and reloading of the SWAT team, I reached into my pocket and withdrew the note, my hand shaking and mind racing as I scanned down the page and tried to work out where my recently deceased double had left off.

I had a Eureka moment once I realised there were only two words left to speak, which I read aloud through my trembling lips – “initium novum.”

Everything changed in a second as the circle burnt with a new intensity and suddenly the SWAT team, my apartment…it all melted away. When the flames receded I was consumed by darkness, and then I was falling, my helpless body plummeting through a black void.

I screamed in pure terror as I descended, seeing a fire far below me but growing ever closer. I screamed louder as I fell through the flames, my skin singed and eyes burning as I was temporarily blinded.

I landed heavily, finding myself upon a chair of cold, twisted metal. Before I could move, restraints snapped into place, securing my wrists and my ankles. I cried out, struggling in vain against the bonds as my eyes adjusted to my new environment.

I don’t know if I was in hell, but it was pretty close to it. I was restrained upon a hard chair made of steel located within a darkened room, only dimly lit by torches secured to the rocky walls. The place stank of rotting flesh and creeping death. But it got worse.

The sounds of screaming reverberated throughout the darkened chamber, and when I scanned the interior I bore witness to multiple torture victims – men hanging from the walls, half-naked and in chains – their emaciated bodies beaten black and blue, and their skin and flesh sliced up like cuts of beef.

These men were clinging to life, but their bloodshot eyes were filled with terror and madness due to the many tortures inflicted upon them. And when I looked into their pain-stricken faces I discovered the terrible truth.

Every one of those tortured souls was me, or more accurately another version of me – those who had failed to complete the ritual and were sent to this hellish place so they could be tormented for all eternity. Their screams and pleas for mercy assaulted my ears and I felt like my head was about to explode.

I didn’t understand. Was this to be my fate? Hadn’t I followed the instructions correctly? Or was this always going to happen? Perhaps I’d been doomed from the very start.

I closed my eyes, desperately struggling against my restraints but finding no means of escape. When I reopened my eyes, I shrieked in terror when I saw the two figures who’d suddenly materialised in front of me.

The two demonic entities had taken on human forms. One was male and the second female. Both wore red robes and hoods which covered their heads, but what gave them away was their eyes – dark and soulless, like those of a shark.

They surveyed me with a predatory zeal, not engaging me in conversation but speaking about me between themselves.

“Paul Young 217.” the woman began, “He didn’t look like much starting out, but I believe he’s exceeded all expectations.”

“Hmm…” the man replied thoughtfully, “He certainly made a bloody mess of things. Botched the job at the taxi rank. Got his predecessor killed.”

“And so what?” the woman asked, “These things are rarely neat and tidy, and in the end he delivered. Personally, I was impressed by him dispatching the homeless man. No moral qualms and only a second’s hesitation. This one’s a real ruthless son-of-a-bitch.”

The hooded man nodded in agreement. “Yes, he has shown himself worthy and delivered his tribute. We must fulfil our part of the deal and send him on his way.”

He clicked his fingers and a second later I was engulfed by a blinding light. The screaming faded and I was taken from that hellscape, my body and soul thrown into the void between the dimensions.

I woke up in a strange place, rising from a king-sized bed in a large and well-furnished bedroom. I sat up slowly, my head still spinning as I tried to come to terms with the madness I’d been through.

I purposefully walked through the bedroom and then the rest of the house, closely examining the fixtures and fittings. I found myself inside of a substantial suburban family home, much larger and grander than the small, one-bedroom city apartment I’d previously lived in.

I saw family photographs, noting a man who looked just like me smiling and posing beside a beautiful wife and two young children – a boy and a girl. So, the version of me in this universe is a well-to-do family man. It’s going to be difficult for me to adjust to this new life – to love another man’s wife and kids – but I’ll find a way to make it work. I’ve come too far and done too much to give up now.

As I write this account I can see a car pulling up into the driveway outside. A man has got out of the vehicle and he looks just like me. He’s struggling with his keys, trying to make them fit in the lock. I can see the confusion and frustration in his eyes and it’s all too familiar. Next, he’ll try his phone but will have no luck there either.

I’m preparing myself for the difficult encounter to follow. If this version of ‘Paul Young’ is anything like me then he won’t believe a word of my story, not at first anyway. But I have this job to do – this message to convey.

I’ll need to be smarter than my predecessor and protect myself from the blow back. But – when it comes down to it – I’ll be there to read the words and complete the ritual. The chain will continue and the demons will be satisfied. And when my final task is done, I’ll do my best to settle down into my new life.

There’s blood on my hands but my new family will never know who I really am or what I did to get here. I will carry this terrible secret with me to the grave and pray that I never return to that torture chamber in the pits of hell. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to answer the door.

Credit: Woundlicker

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