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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-one THE OTHER MAN



’ve always been fascinated by cinematography. Shots, lenses, filters. The way you could tell a story through angles and light, control perception with nothing more than a camcorder. In my college days, I wanted to make a career out of it. Now, I use my old hobby as a weapon. I frame myself in the bathroom mirror so that I can see every corner of the room, spreading out behind my reflection like a stain. In the street, I pause and drop, suddenly, pretending to tie my shoelaces in front of shop windows. It does no good; he’s just as quick as I am, maybe quicker. I never catch more than a glimpse.

The other man is strongest when I’m at work, trapped in my cubicle. Live bait. I’ll look up from some long list of sums and figures and be blinded by a flash of light, a sudden bright click that dissipates into nothing, afterimages flaring inside my eyelids. When I go to fetch a drink, a blurred face watches me in the plastic of the water cooler. I turn, but as always I’m alone in the break room. He always looks so sad.

I try to fight. First I start taking less medication. Then I start taking more medication. It doesn’t make a difference, except now I have a pounding headache as well. I can’t bring myself to talk about it with my family – they already think there’s something wrong with me, and I don't want or need their false sympathy and sidelong glances. At one point, I look up a local therapist’s number and contemplate ringing it. When I pick up the phone, I hear a faint voice whispering to me through the static and slam it down again.

I find myself frequenting all sorts of strange websites, making conversation on backwater forums with people whose screen names unsettle me. Some of them spout nothing but gibberish; others seem genuinely concerned.

"So you think you’re being – what – haunted?" asks one.


"By who?"

I hesitate for a moment as I go to type my reply. The other man’s face is watching me, peering over in the black mirror of my laptop screen.

"I don’t know," I type, but I think I do. The face doesn’t look sad anymore. It scares me.

Somebody from the office calls. She asks where I’ve been, if I’m ill, when I’ll be back. I hear only the soft snap of a shutter echoing in the background, and hang up. One of my friends comes round to my apartment and asks if I fancy a drink; I don’t even bother to make up some feeble excuse as I push the door shut in his face. After a few minutes, when my friend has given up banging on the door, I slide to the floor and cradle my head in my hands. The headaches are getting worse. I peer out from between a gap in my fingers, and the other man is looking at me through the lens of a video camera.

I go online, to visit one of my latest fixations – a chat room full of people convinced they can see the future (or the past, or something else altogether) – and find that my password has been changed. Bewildered, I search for my username and find messages I have no memory of sending. Every site I visit is the same, my account deleted or locked or stolen. The other man watches me panic, hands rattling over the keyboard as I attempt to undo my sudden erasure. My reflection is grinning.

The headaches start to clear, as I notice my tablets running out. Somebody must have canceled the prescription. I’m sober enough to answer a call from the office, and the voice at the other end of the line says thanks again for coming back in, we were hopeless without you, and haven’t you been looking so much healthier lately? She’s friendly, flirtatious even; I can only listen numbly, murmuring dull non-replies. I hang up when the growing sense of dread in the pit of my stomach becomes too much to bear.

I follow the other man as he goes about his day. A quick coffee with a friend who tells him how much happier he seems now he’s off all those pills. Lunch with my parents, who don’t cast judging looks across the table anymore. An hour or two at the office, never working too hard, laughing with the secretary, telling bad jokes to my workmates. After what seems like an eternity, he arrives back home.

"You’ve got to admit," he says to me, through the bathroom mirror. "I’m a better you than you ever were." He pauses and steps out to the kitchen to open a parcel. Inside it is a camera, new and expensive. He holds it up to the mirror. "What do you think?"

I force a smile, but the corners of my mouth don't move an inch.




Alex Smith struggles to keep on top of things. His alarm doesn't wake him up, his toothbrush vanishes in mysterious circumstances, and his cupboards seem perpetually full of too much pasta and not enough sauce. Worst of all, though, are his stories; they clamber out of his laptop when he isn't looking, and take turns playing tricks on him. He lives in Lancaster, England.

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