23 May Joe Made a Choice
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"Joe Made a Choice"Written by Lucretia Vastea
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Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
All Joe Jenkins wanted was to go to bed.
Work had been tough on him and lunch, hardly edible. Not to mention, his car’s CD player (yes, CD player) was broken, and no radio station was playing Alice in Chains on a loop like he would have liked.
All Joe Jenkins wished for at that moment in time, was to lay down and cuddle to his sleeping wife, right after tucking Josephine in.
Professional let-downs aside, it went as fairy-tale-perfect as it did every evening: Joe would enter his daughter’s room, would chat a little about how her day went, then kiss her on the forehead and wish her pleasant dreams. Those almond-shaped green eyes were his entire world and neither a stressful day at work nor a speeding ticket would stop Joe from giving his baby girl her goodnight kiss.
“Daddy, I think there’s something under my bed.”
It was the same as every night. Joe was getting a little tired of it, but even so, he was her hero, so he did what every hero would have done and got on his knees.
“There’s nothing for you to worry, honey, there’s nothing under–”
And there she was. From under the bed, his frightened little girl whispered with teary green eyes.
“Daddy… I think there’s something on my bed.”
All Joe Jenkins asked for… was for a quiet, peaceful, good night’s sleep.
He knew that website well – the website where all the world’s shortest horror stories were posted. Being the bored security guard he was, he would always indulge in those stories during work. What else was he to do, except scanning IDs and taking good looks at the 20 or so individuals going in and out of the office building for the entirety of his 10-hour shift? Reading short horror stories was a good way to pass the time and, funny enough, this scenario was exactly one of them.
The thing is, the author of that particular story never wrote what was to happen after the parent gets up. Joe Jenkins felt all the liquid in his body boil. He had no choice, however. Joe was a skeptic to the bone, but not even the mind of a skeptic is immune to a hypothesis. Joe felt like he was risking being eaten alive as he lifted his upper body to look on the bed again. All of his 180 pounds of muscle shook in the process, but, no. No monster in sight. Just his beautiful little Josie waiting for him to tell her that everything’s fine, that nobody’s there.
Joe was still shaking. What the hell was going on? Was his mind playing tricks on him?! He ducked down and looked under the bed anew.
“Can I come out now, daddy? It’s cold down here.”
His heart was breaking seeing her that way, but what was he to do?
“When’s your birthday?”
Both girls answered simultaneously.
“18th of May.”
“18th of May.”
Joe cursed under his breath. If this was a dream, it was time to wake up, but this couldn’t have been a dream… he could remember everything that happened prior that day and the picture before him was not milky at the edges as dreams usually are.
This was real. A real nightmare.
“Come out of there, baby.”
The ‘baby’-part slipped out involuntarily. How could he tell which one was his real baby? They were absolutely identical!
Josie let out a high-pitched yelp when she saw another Josie rise from underneath her bed.
“It’s alright, honey, Joe assured her. Daddy’s here. There’s no need for you to be scared. Sit up, please.”
She did as she was told, never taking her gaze off her Doppelgänger. Josie from under the bed hid behind her father with the self-composure of a deer in the middle of a wolf gathering.
“It’s alright… it’s okay. This is just a misunderstanding.”
Joe’s mind was wheeling.
“Go take a seat next to her, please.”
Both Josies began to protest lively as tears swelled up their irises. Neither of them wanted to approach the other.
“Quiet! Go sit over there. I need to think!”
The girls went silent, even though quiet sobs would escape from between their lips as the distance between them got smaller.
The Josie on the bed grabbed the headboard as if her life depended on it. The other Josie approached the bed very wearily and sat down so far from the other that she would have fallen off the bed if her feet weren’t supporting her from the floor. Both girls were staring daggers into the other, the amount of fear in their eyes undeniable and identically genuine.
Joe Jenkins looked at the one on the right and the one on the left.
He got closer and looked at the one on the left and then, at the one on the right.
He was a security guard, for Pete’s sake! Weird noises coming from the office building when everybody else was gone, never scared him, but this… this was on a whole different level. There was no denying it. One of them was the real Josephine, and the other one an otherworldly impostor. Which was which, however, he couldn’t tell, and it was shattering him into millions of pieces.
What kind of father couldn’t tell his beloved child from a fake?
Not him. He’ll be able to tell which is which in no time.
Both Josies looked his way expectantly.
“One of you is telling the truth, the other one is lying…”
Joe saw this in a cartoon once. He thought the trick was brilliant, even though he never imagined he’d need it in real life.
“If you were the other, which one would you say is the real Josie?”
The two girls exchanged a glance, then looked at their father dead-determined to prove to him that the other one is the liar.
“She would say that she is the real Josie!”
“So would she, daddy! She would say, she’s the real Josie!”
Joe bit the inside of his cheek. Of course it didn’t work… and it was stupid of him to believe that it would.
“Please scooch closer to each other.”
The hurricane of cried-out ‘No’s’ would have been enough to wake Jane up, but his wife was the last thing on his mind at the moment.
“Girls, I’m losing my nerve here! Either you get closer to each other, or I’m leaving the room and turning the light off on my way out!”
The two girls went silent and scooched next to each other so fast, the bed sheet almost caught fire.
Joe crouched in front of them.
Everything about the two girls was identical. Even the thin streak of blonde hair in the long, straight, light brown mane. Even the two small yellow dots in their left eyes.
“Please show me your knees.”
Both girls lifted their nighties above their knees.
Good lord, it was there, on both of them. A deep purple spot in the shape of a whale on their right knees. It was from last week, when Josie practiced riding her new bike without the helping wheels and went straight into the mailbox.
“I need to see your left shoulders.”
The girls complied, and there it was again.
Two identical scars from the vaccination right after birth.
“Open your mouths and stick out your tongues.”
And so they did and, funny enough, Joe was deeply disappointed to see no pool of never-ending darkness in either cavity. The insides of their mouths were perfectly identical. Tongue, throat, straight milk-white teeth. Jesus, even their left canines were slightly bent in the same direction.
He grabbed his daughter on the left and glued his ear to her chest.
A scared little heart, beating rapidly.
He grabbed the one on the right and repeated the process.
A little heart beating just as fast and just as frightened as the other one.
Joe was desperate and frustrated and so scared, he debated with himself if he should ask Jane if she hid the existence of Josie’s twin from him or something.
It was crazy, but so was the picture before him.
“That’s it. I’m getting your mother.”
And just as he got up and took two steps towards the door…
“I can prove I’m the real Josie, daddy.”
His daughter on the right got to her feet, shivering. The one on the left seemed less scared and more curious.
Joe looked straight in the eyes of the one who spoke.
“Last week, I asked you to keep a secret for me. A secret only you and me know.”
Josie on the left went googly-eyed.
It was true. Josie told Joe a week before that she will never go to college. Ever. She told him, that, when she grows up, she’ll be perfectly happy with working at the 7/11 at the end of their street and that, now that he knows this, he and mommy can stop fighting about money.
What Josie didn’t know, is that Joe had already told this secret to Jane. It had been a long conversation. They laughed about it, cried about it, and apologized to each other for always arguing about finances.
Best sex Joe ever had.
And just as he was about to grab his daughter on the right and drag her away from the abomination on the left, left Josie blurted out the entirety of the secret Josie on the right had in mind.
Great. Back to square 1.
“Don’t trust her, daddy! I’m the real Josie!”
“This better be good” Joe heard himself whisper, sounding like a gang leader who had to listen to excuses from new recruits.
“When I was four, I got really sick after you let me eat a whole carton of ice cream! You threw the box away before mom got home and told her, you didn’t know what happened.”
Joe froze. He had no idea that she still remembered that. She was half her current age and out cold for the better part of two days.
“That’s nothing!” the other Josie yelled, standing up to prove a point.
“How about the time when we went to the park, and you started chatting to a friend, and that man almost took me away?!”
Joe’s jaw almost fell to the ground. How the hell could she remember that? She could barely walk when that happened!
Both Josies were on the verge of crying.
“That one doesn’t matter! You once carried me on one arm and talked on the phone with the other! I saw an orange butterfly, went to grab it, and you dropped me on the kitchen floor!”
Joe clasped his hands over his ears. No, no, no, she did not remember that! How was that even possible? She was just a baby! Not even five months old.
It was the very first time Joe had to take care of baby Josephine all by himself while Jane ran her errands. He was on the phone with his wife, to remind her that they were out of rice. He had even forgotten that the butterfly was orange, but he remembered it now, clear as day. It was bright and pretty, and the baby squealed in delight as she reached out to grab it.
“Yeah, honey, everything’s fi –”
The baby fell head-first on the cold tiles from a five-foot height.
“Joe? What the hell was that?!”
Jane’s mechanical voice was nothing compared to his beating heart. The world was suddenly so loud and yet so still as he looked into the blank, empty eyes of his baby laying on the kitchen floor.
It felt like looking into plasticized cardboard: shiny – and dead.
But then, she blinked once. Then twice. Then opened her mouth and wailed louder than a police siren.
It was the first and last time he was happy to hear her cry.
“Stop! No more! I don’t want to hear more, alright?!”
He was breathing heavily. The girls exchanged looks again. They weren’t afraid of each other anymore. It was worse: they were angry with each other. The look on their faces said murder, and it terrified Joe to no end.
“It’s okay, loves… I believe you. You don’t have to fight. You’re both daddy’s little girls. You’re both my darlings, little Josie, and we’ll be a very happy family! I’ll talk to your mother and…”
The Josie on the left trampled with her feet on the floor – something she always did when she didn’t agree with her parents on something.
“I’m the real one, daddy!” said Josie on the right from between quivering lips. That always happened when she was upset – she had it from her mother.
Both of them were approaching him with tight fists and sunken eyebrows.
“How about the time you hit the homeless old man and kept driving like nothing ever happened?!”
Joe started weeping. The other Josie pushed the one that just spoke to the side with her shoulder.
“How about the time when you pushed Stefanie down the stairs and made her lose my older brother?”
Both occurrences happened before Josie was even born. He hit the homeless man on the way to the hospital. Jane was in labor with his princess; he had no other choice! Stefanie, though… he was desperate! He had been married to Jane for a few months, and she was becoming dull and dry, and Joe wasn’t used to the married life, and, for God’s sake, he slipped! It happens to every man! If wasn’t out of love, it wasn’t even out of need; it was just for the exhilaration of change – even if for five minutes.
It wasn’t his fault that the dumb bitch lied about taking the pill anyway.
“No, no, no, no Josie, you are not allowed to tell your mother that!“
Something sparkled in both Josies’ eyes. They threw each other a cautious glance and then looked at daddy in slow motion.
“If you don’t choose me, I’ll tell mommy about Stefanie.”
Josie’s room seemed to darken and close in on Joe in a promise of eternal suffocation.
Joe fell to his knees. The other Josie spoke.
“If you don’t choose me, I’ll tell mommy, grandma, grandpa and everybody from the office about ‘spicy studies.’”
The room was choking Joe. He couldn’t breathe. How in the world could Josie know about ‘spicy studies?’ That was supposed to be an even better-sealed secret than him killing his unborn child and crippling his former mistress for life.
Back in college, Joe’s brilliant idea for easy money had been a porn site. As its name suggested, the protagonists had all been kids in his year or younger, who, both with and without consent, needed spiked drinks before participating.
Jane thought Joe finished college with flying colors, but Joe got expelled after just three semesters for ruining 43 young and promising lives – that number not including the members of the actors’ families.
Joe’s head was in his hands. He was struggling to breathe. He wanted to turn deaf then and there, to stop hearing all the dreadful truths his doubled little girl spilled out on him, like destructive fires of reckoning.
He wanted her to stop. Involuntary images of him choosing one of them and chocking the other to death popped into his head, and he knew… he knew that if he wanted to go through with it, he would have to hurry.
His little Josephines had already opened Pandora’s box. Hell, they did more than that. They were swimming in it and throwing its contents all over the place! But Joe’s Pandora’s box had a false base, and if Joe wanted to proceed with the murderous plot, he would need to hustle before one of them found it and-
“If you don’t choose me, I’ll tell everybody that it wasn’t Sudden Unexpected Infant Death when baby auntie died.”
They discovered the fake bottom. It was over.
Joe’s biggest, darkest secret was not only one he kept from the world, but one he kept from himself.
He looked up at the girls, his face wet with salty eye-water, feeling infinitely inferior to the two all-knowing eight-year-olds.
Joe wasn’t a 39-year-old anymore. He was a seven-year-old-boy watching the slow rise and fall of his sleeping baby sister’s chest, wondering what would happen if he’d just put his teddy bear on her face for a couple of seconds.
His mother called for him and the seconds turned to minutes. He didn’t check the rise and fall of her chest again when he went back for the teddy, so, when the doctor diagnosed her passing as a case of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death, who was he to argue?
Little Joe, pathetic little Joe, sorry little murderous Joe looked up at the two girls and was back to his guilty, bloody-handed seven-year-old self again.
“J-Julie…? Is that… you?”
Not one, but both Josies answered him by smiling and holding hands.
Joe was less than human then.
“Girls… ” he wept. “Julie… Josie, I don’t understand what you want from me…”
Their voices were even and unrelenting.
The hope of his future and the dread of his past were mirroring each other before him. He had to make a decision. But how could he? Ignorance only postpones doom and regret is not enough to be forgiven.
He couldn’t choose.
So, Joe did the only thing he could do. He got up, turned around and entered his nuptial bedroom.
Jane was sleeping soundly, oblivious to the worlds colliding in her daughter’s bedroom. Joe didn’t even shoot her a final glance. He went straight for his ties drawer and picked one. It wasn’t his favorite, but it didn’t matter.
The girls looked his way and followed him with their eyes as he entered the bathroom, always holding hands, never letting go of each other.
Joe tied the tie neatly around his neck and knotted the other end around his toothbrush. He didn’t know if it would hold, but he was dying to try – literally.
Joe grabbed Josie’s plastic ladder for brushing teeth, placed it next to the open door, threw his tie on the other side, closed the door and yanked the ladder from underneath his feet.
The toothbrush held.
Ironically enough, it held just enough for Joe to let out his dying breath – it snapped not even ten seconds afterward, and Joe’s lifeless body fell to the bathroom tiles.
The girls knew he was gone even before the toothbrush gave in. Still holding hands, they turned to Josie’s bedroom and hid under the bed, where they both belonged.
Neither of them was the real Josie.
The real Josie was sleeping in her parents’ bed, hidden in the covers and her mother’s arms – the place she always turned to when the monsters under her bed were upsetting her… but that wasn’t Joe’s concern anymore.
Joe already made his choice.
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