I thought I saw my future self as a time traveler. Less than a week ago, I was on my way to school when I locked eyes with a very peculiar person. She looked almost exactly like me. Her brown hair, the exact same length as my own, framed a visage I was very well acquainted with.
I was walking down the crowded street that I always take on my way to school. It’s walled in on both sides by tall terraced houses and skyscrapers, a four-lane road absolutely stuffed with traffic caught in between. There’s a pedestrian overpass going across the road just before I take a left and arrive at school.
My pace was slow, earbuds in, drowning out the noise of the engines, honking and footsteps, coming from all directions. It was a drag, and the cold air of the late autumn caused me to shrivel up even more than usual, distancing myself from the surrounding world, caught in my own bubble.
Imagining myself walking down the street as an alternative music video to Gary Jules’ Mad World, I never expected to see a face quite as familiar as this one. We locked eyes for a split second. I remember it because the feeling that ran over me just then was deeply disturbing. I felt like I was looking at something I shouldn’t be seeing and quickly looked away.
I blinked and the feeling was gone, replaced by wonder and disbelief. On the one hand, I knew this was either a silly coincidence, like how you embarrassingly mistake someone for your friend at a supermarket, or that I was just seeing things. On the other, my mind was buzzing with excitement.
What sort of phenomenon was that? Did I accidentally discover my twin self? Like how people on the internet often find others, whose resemblance is uncannily close to their own. She wore clothes I’d recognized. I owned a hoodie and pants exactly like the ones she wore. Not just alike in style, or similar in appearance, mind you. They were the exact same random hoodie and black pants that were in my closet back at home.
Deep inside of me, though, there was the little kid, screaming what I really wanted it to be. I truly wished that what I’d just witnessed was myself, as a time traveler. I am, in general, very much in love with science fiction. Thoughts in my mind were immediately sparked and blown out of proportion.
Me, inventing a time machine in my freshman year of college, then demonstrating its function and getting a Ph.D. at 19 years old. Not just a Ph.D., a Nobel Prize as well! A job at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, which was my lifelong dream, was practically guaranteed. I could almost feel the miner’s hat on my head, walking along the tunnels of the LHC.
With my head in the clouds, I walked into class and beamed at my best friend. We sat down and got out our books as class began. She cocked an eyebrow at me, as if to ask about my silly grin. I shook my head, to show that it was nothing.
The gray light crawling through the thick fog outside filtered through the windows, reinforced by the surgical white neon lights bolted to the ceiling. It was going to be another day of soul-crushing stagnation, though this time my light mood would allow me to strike right through it.
“Like a photon through a Higgs field!” I thought to myself happily.
“Chadwick?” barked the Maths professor, trying to get an answer, staring intently down at the list of students in the grade book, determined not to memorize any of our names. She was young, very short and wore her hair similarly to mine. Chadwick was absent, as the class president pointed out, and the professor’s face crinkled up with irritation. I’d gotten used to that face enough to find it cute. I found it was of great help to think that way, since she was vexed practically all the time. Even though it was rare, I had thought of pulling a stunt, saying that she looked cute when she was angry, in front of the whole class, but I wasn’t brave enough. There’d be repercussions, and it’s not like I’d wanted to offend her. It just seemed like a fun thing to do, to perhaps get her to lighten up. But school didn’t work that way.
I’d once told my friend, Beth, who was sitting by my side, about this fantasy. In response, she kindly offered me aspirin, which I refused. Speaking of Beth, she leaned over and, without taking her eyes off the blackboard, whispered in my ear.
“Know what’s up with Matt?”
Matt Chadwick, the absent youth whom the teacher had called out a minute ago, lived just down the street from me, in an old, worn-down house. I just assumed he lived with a single parent, who was likely unemployed, or not bringing in enough money to have the place patched up. I couldn’t confirm or deny my guesses, however, because he never really spoke much. Kept to himself and his messy black hair. He was pretty polite, to me at least, once even kindly asked me for my eraser, seeing as he liked to draw at school. When I went to get it back, I saw that he was drawing the class from his point of view. At a short glance, it was pretty good, didn’t get much more since he covered it up with his hand, though.
“No idea,” I, therefore, answered truthfully. Sure I’d walked past the guy’s house this very morning, but the only thing I could say for certain is that it wasn’t burnt to ash or anything like that. I wasn’t paying much attention at the time anyway.
After class, I weighed the chances of Beth believing my story from this morning, if I told her. I ultimately decided against it, as she would just recite the “rational explanations” that I’d been mulling over all morning, taking away what little excitement life had to offer on that particular day.
School seemed to drag on and on. When it was finally out, I headed straight home. Went to bed early that evening, too, hoping I might dream up some genius equation out of nowhere or something. I woke up the following day, and it was one of those nights that just sort of disappears. You lay down in bed and next thing you know you’ve woken up and it’s morning.
I hurried up and left home a bit earlier than usual, taking my time with the walk to school. I watched my surroundings very intently, doing my best to look at each individual person that passed me. I was looking for “myself”, the one I’d seen yesterday. It even took me twice as long to get to school, that’s how hard I tried, but to no avail. Didn’t catch so much as a glimpse of the ‘other me’.
I spent the school day disappointed, dragging myself home after finishing class and bidding Beth goodbye. I was on the way home from school when I saw “me” again. Surprise came over me, quickly replaced by curiosity. We hadn’t lock gazes this time, and I was able to stay out of her sight and follow her a while.
I started to closely inspect her, as much as I could from a distance. Did I really look like that from afar? I wasn’t sure, but she seemed a bit broad at the shoulders. I was far beyond worrying about student life making me put on some weight, it was just interesting to see.
What surprised me the most is that she took the exact same route I usually take from school, only stopping every so often to stare through the front windows of stores and coffee shops along the street. Or rather, as I noticed after observing her further, it looked as though she was looking at herself in the reflection. How peculiar, I thought to myself, I never thought I had that habit, and if I did, I had never noticed.
We got to our street and a touch of fear overcame me. What if she’s going to go to my house, ring the doorbell and try to get to me? What would mom and dad think?
To my utmost surprise, she stopped at the first house on the block, opened the rusty fence gates, walked up to the front door, took out a key from her bag and let herself inside. My jaw hung wide open. The rumor was that the old place was haunted, creepers clinging to the walls tighter than most of the paint did. It was the place where Matt Chadwick, my classmate, otherwise resided.
My mind was boggled, gears grinding in my head for an explanation. I returned home and sat at my desk for two hours, looking out the window, lost in thought. How utterly confusing. I reckoned that my future self must have rented or bought the place from the Chadwicks, to keep a close eye on me, or to live in a familiar neighborhood or something. That’s why Matt was missing school – he moved out because “future me” now lived in his old place.
All the while, the puzzlement I felt at the whole situation was slowly growing into a mix of frustration and anxiety. What was the point of sticking around and blatantly showing yourself to everyone? Doesn’t that screw with the space-time continuum? I wonder how many people thought they’d had déjà vu today while we were strolling down the street earlier. Quite the stunt my silly self pulled there, definitely grants me the right to some answers.
With this feeling growing inside of me, I decided that I would take action into my own hands and go ask myself a few questions. And not just the “do I get to date Garry from B class?” kind.
I got out of the house and marched down the street, getting myself nice and wound up with contempt. I opened the fence gate at the aging place, the wire fence cleverly painted brown in an attempt to hide the rust. I noticed that the knob was rusted, too, and it took a little shove to get it to open.
I strutted up to the front gate and slammed down on the buzzer. No sound came from the inside, and after fifteen seconds – I counted – no one had answered. I rolled my eyes and knocked, not too gently, on the dark wooden door, whose black paint was webbed with cracks, ready to peel off.
Another fifteen seconds passed, yet not a single sound from the inside. I decided to look around to see if someone’s in the back yard. I got around the corner and looked up at the window. It was dirty, and the angle at which the evening sun shone made it almost impossible to see inside. As far as I could tell, there were no lights on anywhere in the house.
“No one at home?” I thought to myself, wondering where “I” could be at this time of day.
Thinking about my next step carefully, I decided that, if I were a time-traveler, I wouldn’t really mind a visit from my past self. So I walked around to the back yard and tried the door there. Bingo, unlocked. I let myself into the kitchen, and this is the point at which I remember things taking a turn for the weird. For one, there were a lot of dishes, and it was a mess.
I’m not exactly a clean freak like Beth, but I do like things tidy. Would I really grow into a true pig in such a short time? Walking into the living room raised even more questions. Where the hell did I get all of this furniture? A couch and two recliners opposite a TV. An antique wooden cupboard with glass in the doors, filled with drinking glasses. There were cupboards next to the couch, too, and on them were ashtrays filled with cigarettes. I vowed I’d never smoke…
Then I saw the pictures in the smaller frames, and they confused me even more. It took me a minute, but I recognized Matt Chadwick and his mother in all of them.
“Why are these still here?” I thought. This was so unusual. Did the future me just leave everything as the previous residents have left it? But it made no sense to leave it like that. Were Matt and his mother on vacation while my time-traveling self just broke into their house? Every conceivable option was running through my mind at a million miles an hour, but none made quite enough sense to satisfy me.
I walked through the doorway on the other side of the room, finding the front door, the bathroom, which was opened and in dire need of cleaning, as well as a staircase going up. I started up the wooden steps, trying to minimize the creaking, despite still being sure that I was alone in the house.
There were four doors in the hallway and I decided to take the one closest to me, immediately to my right. The room was a mess – some sort of storage for books and papers, probably handed down from previous generations. Stuff lay all over the floor, covering it almost everywhere, the smell of paper mixed with thick dust entering my nostrils as soon as I poked my head in. No one could have sat on the red-cushioned reading chair for ages and the window was so dirty it was yellowed out, having lost its transparency. The evening sun shone in weakly, gently stroking the old books, almost apologetically.
The next room I walked into was the one opposite the book storage, which would be on my left coming up from the stairs. It was quite dark, seeing as it was on the side of the house facing away from the sun. I flicked the light switch, allowing the golden glow to pour all over the stuffy, dank-smelling room.
At first, all I saw was a complete mess, even worse than the rest of the house. Clothes hid the carpet well enough for me to only be able to see it where the door had cleared the way. Papers were stuck to the walls, trash piled up on and around a desk with a closed laptop computer. Ancient Venetian blinds made out of decaying wood covered the window.
Then, a chill ran down my spine as my eyes caught on something. A rubber mask, closely resembling a human face, hanging on a little wooden stand. Next to it, another stand, this one supporting a wig. Brown hair, shoulder-length. Then, I noticed the papers all over the walls. Some were photos, most were drawings, but they all had one unsettling thing in common – they all depicted me.
My face stared back everywhere I looked, sometimes roughly sketched, other times much more rendered, shaded and detailed. Then there were the photos. Some taken at school, some on the way home. A few were taken through the window of my room at home, one I noticed was at the supermarket. Some were magnified versions of our school photos.
“What the-” slipped my mouth, as I looked back at the mask again. Its mouth hung open in a mute scream, while its empty eyes stared blankly into space. Realization engulfed me like the foul odor of the room. Horror and disgust followed. It was me. The mask was of my face. My mind raced again, this time searching for solutions to this situation. Calling the police? Telling my parents? Confronting Matt Chadwick? First things first. Getting out of there. That’s when I heard the back door open in the kitchen below.
I quietly stepped out of the room, closing it behind me, like it had been when I came there. I then walked to the room with the books. Quietly as possible, I closed the door, hoping with all my might that it wouldn’t creak. It didn’t.
I heard footsteps walking up the stairs. I leaned my ear against the white wood and held my breath, listening carefully. Chances are no one’s been in this room for days, months even. Then again, I could never know. The footsteps reached the top of the stairs and stopped. I heard the room across the hallway, Matt’s room, opening and closing. I quickly got out of the room and made for the stairs. Then the doors slammed shut behind me with a loud “thud.”
“Mom?” came Matt’s rather confused voice from the room. I started walking quickly down the stairs when the door to his room opened.
“Mom, what were you do-?” His question was cut off mid-sentence as our eyes met.
He looked at me and I stared back at him, my eyes wide with fear.
“What are you doing in my house?” he asked darkly.
I turned tail and ran like hell, gripping the wall at the bottom of the stairs to sling myself around the corner into the living room. Matt was down the stairs in a flash, eyes red with rage, chasing me down. I held back a squeal when I saw him, and sprinted for the kitchen door, then out into the back yard. I took a right, running for the driveway, jumping across the flowerbed and onto the small path leading to the fence door. I looked behind me, seeing no one.
Panic consuming me, blood coursing through my veins like fire, my breathing fast and loud, sweat pouring down my face. The front door of the house unlocked with an audible click and jumped open and I shrieked in terror. Out came Matt, now holding a large kitchen knife in his hand. I tried the fence door again, but the fucking thing was stuck. I shook the knob while Matt rapidly neared me, raising his arm menacingly. Finally, the door opened and I was able to get out just in time, slamming it backwards towards him, running up the street and to my house. I was about a hundred yards away when I had the courage to look behind me, only to see no one in pursuit.
I still ran to my house, got in and locked the door behind me, immediately looking for my mother. I told her everything I’d seen and we immediately called the police. The next day, when they arrived, Matt was already gone. Most of his clothes and a suitcase were missing from the home and they weren’t able to find any solid evidence for what I’d told them about, only a note to his mother, saying he’d left to find a better place for himself.
Nothing has happened since, though I’ve hardly been able to get any sleep. Whenever I walk into the street, I’m scared he might be watching. Afraid he might be there, wearing that mask, afraid he might be hiding a silver kitchen knife behind his back. Afraid to see what I thought was my future self.
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