A Case of Mistaken Identity, Part 3

You can read part 2 here.

For the next few weeks, my double visited me in my room at night. He was the identical twin brother I never had. We hung around in the dark until the small hours of the morning, talking about random things.

We often swapped stories of our families. I was fascinated to learn that he had an older brother. I too once had an older brother, three years my senior. Unfortunately, he’d died in a car crash along with my dad when I was five. I wondered if my brother had looked the same as his, if perhaps his own mirror double would have visited in the middle of the night as mine had.

In so many ways we were the same. His name was also Eugene.  We laughed at the same jokes. We shared an interest in sports (though he confided he was rarely allowed outside.)

But the reflection was distorted, imperfect.

My otherworldly counterpart had a dark side. For example, during our geneological stories, I learned that whereas I loved my mom with all my heart and trusted her completely, my twin loathed his own. He would dream up scenarios in which she burned to death in a fire or fell out of his family’s second story window. His eyes would burn with opalescent fire every time he talked about something tragic befalling her, and I would be struck with the inexplicable urge to draw the duvet tighter around my shoulders.

But despite this disturbing trait, we became fast friends. He was the brother I’d always wanted, the brother I thought I’d lost all those years ago. I should have known better than to trust him.

“What’s it like?” I asked him on the last night I would spend in my own bed. “Going from your world to mine. Is it hard?”

My double had been rolling a red ball back and forth between his hands, but as soon as I’d asked my question he’d stopped, had let it roll unattended to the opposite corner of my room.

He stared at me, eyes narrowed. Finally he replied, “No, it’s easy. You just have to know what you’re doing.”

“I wish I could see your world,” I continued, dreaming of a universe that was a warped reflection of my own. “That would be so cool.”

My double grew quiet and still. He cast his gaze briefly about the room, as if unsure of something, and later I would think that maybe he’d been conflicted, that perhaps he’d felt a pang of guilt over what he’d been about to do.

“You can,” he said, “If you want to.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” he whispered, suddenly grinning in the pale after-dark light. “I can show you how.”

Continued next week…


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A Case of Mistaken Identity, Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

The boy stared down at me, my mirror double, and once again I wondered if this was all a dream. I thought that if only I kept calm, if I could give myself time to wake up, the strange apparition would disappear. But that hideous alter ego of mine never wavered.

“Don’t scream,” he said, mouth set in a wicked rictus. “If you try, you’ll be sorry.”

I struggled against the hand on my mouth and it pressed down tighter. In that moment, I was certain monsters were real.

I kicked and thrashed to the point of exhaustion, flexing every muscle in my body. It was a losing battle, and it wasn’t long before I could feel the will to fight slip away like a wet fish.

Waves of despair were rising above my head when the boy’s features suddenly softened. “Look, I’m not going to hurt you, okay?”

The sudden change in the tone of his voice caught me off guard. I stared up into my double’s eyes, dumbfounded, too stunned and too exhausted to scream even had I been able.

The boy was silent for a while, and regarded me with a curious expression. Finally, the hand over my lips began to loosen, and a moment later came away completely.

“Please, don’t tell anyone about me.”

I didn’t reply. I was too busy trying to hold the pieces of what had once been a rational world together, afraid that if I let my attention wander it would all unravel like a loose ball of yarn.

“Hey, I’m talking to you. Say something.”

“What” I breathed, then stopped. I drilled deep into the inner layers of my mind, mining for the tiniest scrap of common everyday experience that would help me to explain the unexplainable. “Who” I cut off again. A pause. Then, “you’re me.”

My double’s eyes suddenly sparkled, glittering in the moonlight like stars. “Very good,” he said. “You’re quick.”

“But” Another pause. “I’m me. You can’t be me too.”

And just like that, the rational world I had known for so long shattered. You could have told me you held a mountain in an eyedropper and I would have believed you.

“Yes,” said the boy. “And no. You’re you. But I’m you too. Or at least another you.”

I fumbled with the fingers of one hand, lifted them before my eyes, and in a sleepy stupor I began to repeatedly count off the number two. “How can both of us be me at the same time?”

The boy took a seat on the side of my bed. He shrugged his shoulders and only answered, “I don’t know. That’s just the way it is, I guess.”

Silence from my end.

My double kept shooting furtive glances in my direction, as if waiting for me to make a very obvious connection. After a while, he cleared his throat and said, “I ran away from home because I’m tired of my parents. I wanted to see what else was out there, wanted to meet others like me.”

“But,” I argued, the rusty unoiled gears inside my head grinding and squealing from too much work, “I didn’t run away from home. I’m in bed. And you’re me. So you should be in bed too.”

The boy let out an exasperated sigh. “You dodo! I’m not actually you. Or at least not the same you. Look, I’m sorry I scared you. I could only sneak out at night, because it’s the only time my parents aren’t paying attention.”

“Why did you want to run away? Are your parents mean? My mom is nice. She tucks me in at night and sings me songs. Isn’t your mom nice too?”

The boys features became strained. “No, my mom isn’t nice. She locks me in my room as soon as I get home from school, and I’m not allowed out again until dinner. I only get to eat the leftovers, and when I’m done she sends me back to bed alone.”

“Why is she so mean?”

But the boy wouldn’t answer. Instead, he stared out the window, contemplating the darkness on the outside.

“Your mom doesn’t sound anything like mine. Does she look the same?”

“I dunno. Probably.”

I peered at him from where I lay, watched as he examined things that were very far away. Finally, I asked the most important question. “What do you want?”

He turned to me, and in the pale white light from outside he looked wicked and mischievous once more.

“Want to play?”

Read Part 3 here.


If you want to keep up with my work and to know when I publish my next book, join my mailing list by clicking here. In return, I’ll send you a free copy of my short story The Sign. I’ll only send you an email once a month and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.

A Case of Mistaken Identity, Part 1

My name is Eugene Peter Carver. I’m 27 years old. Despite unsanitary living conditions, I’m in pretty decent health, have been from an early age. Not that it matters any longer. By the time you read this, I’ll be dead.

I can hardly believe I’ve reached the end. You always think you’ll live forever, that no matter what happens, something will save you from your own personal end of days. But death catches us all by surprise, especially those of us who expect it the most.

Sometimes, I can hardly believe my life at all. It’s been so strange, so surreal, that I’ll often wake up on the cold stone floor after a restless slumber, whimpering in the dark, and in that eternally present moment suspended between sleep and consciousness, I’ll wonder which of those two universes I’m about to enter.

I don’t belong here. I’m not referring to the prison (though I don’t belong there either) but this place, this world.

My mom used to tell me when I was little that there was nothing in my room that could hurt me, that I would always be safe tucked into my bed at night. She would bend down to kiss my forehead and whisper that she loved me, that she would always protect me.

I believed her lie. I’m sure she believed it herself. But in the end, promises weren’t enough to save me.

He came when I was eight, or maybe it was nine. It’s so hard to remember. All the years preceding my abduction are a hazy blur, an unintelligible smear of colors, textures and sounds. My former life is so far removed from who I am today that it’s barely a shadow of a memory, like an old movie you might have watched years ago, only you weren’t paying attention, and you find when you try to recall the details that you may as well have never watched it at all.

But the abduction itself, that I recall in vivid detail, though I’ve tried very hard to forget. For years, I attempted to convince myself it was a delusion, that in the heat of boyhood fancies and dreams I’d imagined it. But in the end I can’t deny it, whatever I would prefer to believe, and when the eyes inside my head aren’t catching reruns, the eyes inside my dreams are preparing to watch it again in the private theater of the subconscious.

I have to tell my story, if only to come to terms with it myself. Perhaps if I possess a written account of what I experienced, indelibly marked in jet black ink, if I can at last pull it out of the ether inside my head, if I can make it tangible and concrete, then at last I’ll be able to embrace it wholly as the truth. Or not. Either way, tomorrow I’ll be dead.

Where should I begin? I’m not very good at this sort of thing. Writing was never my strong suit, and I never did have much of an imagination. My abduction. I’ll start with that, since it’s as far back as I can remember anyway.

I was laying in bed, burrowed beneath a billowing white duvet. My eyes were closed. I was hovering just above the periphery of sleep, ready to penetrate its somnolent shell, when there was a crash and a clatter from inside my closet.

Monster. There’s a monster in my closet.

My eyes popped open. My heart skipped. My chest compressed. I clutched the covers with white-knuckled hands, like a wild animal who’d been cornered in the dark by an unseen predator. I waited, a moment that could have either been a thousand years or a second.

When the sound didn’t repeat, when either hours or minutes had passed and I was forced to conclude that I was alone, I decided it must’ve been a dream. I relaxed. Closed my eyes. Drifted. Sleep returned.

Thud.

I jerked to life once more. It was true. There was a monster in my closet. Convinced by the logic of childhood that the covers represented an impenetrable boundary, I dove beneath the duvet, certain that if I only lay there long enough, whatever was in my room would eventually go away.

Thud.

Then the sound of something pounding on the floor.

Fear paralyzed me. I waited in the dark, rooted to the mattress like the trunk of an ancient tree. Through a crack in the covers, I bore witness to sinister shapes on the walls cast by moonbeams and shadows. That was when the knob on my closet door began to turn.

A swarm of wild locusts vibrated inside my chest. I wanted to scream, but my vocal cords refused to obey.

I lay in the dark, helpless as the knob rotated. As the crack between the door and the threshold began to widen. As a searing white light burst out from the inside. As a tiny little man poked his head through the door. Turned his head. Locked eyes with me from across the room. Padded silently across the floor, the light of the moon transfiguring his face, making it wicked and mischievous.

The paralysis that bound me evaporated. I opened my mouth to wail, to produce a tone so shrill and piercing that my mom would be there in seconds. But just as the sound began to bubble up from beneath my lips, a hand flashed in the moonlight and clamped down over my mouth so that I couldn’t breathe.

“Shh…” whispered the little man with a finger to his lips. He was smiling.

A cloud outside scudded across the sky. Shadow yielded to the light, and at last, hovering above me, I could see his face fully. I gasped. He wasn’t a man at all, but a boy.

A boy who looked like me.

Read Part 2 here.


If you want to keep up with my work and to know when I publish my next book, join my mailing list by clicking here. In return, I’ll send you a free copy of my short story The Sign. I’ll only send you an email once a month and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.

Times, They Are A Changin’

Nothing stays the same forever.

This is true of life, and it’s also true for my blog. As of next week, the format will change. You’ll be seeing a lot less of my thoughts about life and a lot more original fiction.

It was always my intention to post more stories, but the perfectionist in me always got in the way. I thought that if I wanted to share my writing, I would have to make it perfect. I’d have to go through the same kind of lengthy editorial process that’s required for books and magazines, because otherwise it wouldn’t be good enough. I became so trapped in this way of thinking that I only managed to post a single flash fiction story in all of the ten months that I’ve had this blog.

Then I realized that…this is a blog. It’s expected that my writing here will be a little rough around the edges, because blogs are like that. I decided that I had to let go, that I had to embrace imperfection. So I’m going to close my eyes, take a deep breath and jump.

What kinds of stories will I share in the coming weeks?

I’m going to start with a single modern fantasy serial that I’ll update once a week through the natural life of the story. When that tale comes to an end, I’ll start something new and continue the cycle. As I find more time in-between work and life obligations, I’ll try to launch more stories in parallel, with each serial continuing on a different day of the week.

I’ll also try to periodically post stand-alone flash fictions.

If you enjoy the current format, don’t worry.

While my focus will be on posting more fiction, I still plan to occasionally write the same kinds of essays about life, purpose and everyday magic that you’ve come to know for the past ten months.

My first modern fantasy serial begins next Monday. Stay tuned!


If you want to keep up with my work and to know when I publish my next book, join my mailing list by clicking here. In return, I’ll send you a free copy of my short story The Sign. I’ll only send you an email once a month and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.

My Critique Group is Awesome (or, “Why Critique Groups are Crucial for Success”)

I’ve been meeting with a critique group for a little over a year.

At first, I was petrified by the idea of making myself so vulnerable. What if they didn’t like me? What if they didn’t like my work? I knew I had to break out of my shell, that I had to start meeting other writers if I was ever going to improve my craft and get to a point where I could publish my work. But I was terrified of rejection, and a few months passed before I finally found the courage to join a group and put myself out there.

It was the best decision I ever made.

I met some amazing writers and I learned a lot, not just about my fiction but also about the industry. One of my projects, a middle grade fantasy whose first draft is now in the hands of an editor, suffered from serious flaws that would have rendered it unpublishable. In just a few months, my group identified most of these problems and was there for me when I needed help figuring out how to fix them.

We gather around a table once a week and share up to ten pages of our work.

A volunteer reads each story out loud so that the writer has an opportunity to experience his or her words in a different way. When the reading is done, we go around the circle to discuss what we thought the writer did well and what we thought the writer could improve.

They help me identify and eliminate inconsistencies and contradictions. They help me resolve difficult plot and character problems that I’m either too inexperienced or too frustrated to solve. They recognize what I do well, but are also blunt and honest, and are never afraid to (charitably) point out the numerous ways in which I fail.

Sometimes I agree with their assessments and sometimes I don’t; art is inherently subjective.

But I always take what they have to say seriously and value their feedback. Knowing how my group receives my work gives me a better idea of how my audience will receive my work when it’s published. If the majority have issues with what I’ve written, I know I need to go back and take a closer look.

They rein me in when I get carried away. They encourage me to be bold. We support each other, inspire each other, teach each other, help each other to grow.

As an author, I’ve learned more in the year I’ve been with them than in all the other years I’ve been writing on my own.

If you’re an artist of any stripe, I implore you to get together with others in your field. You’ll find support. You’ll find insight. Most importantly, you’ll make fantastic friends and you’ll become better, not just as an artist but as a human being.


If you want to keep up with my work and to know when I publish my next book, join my mailing list by clicking here. In return, I’ll send you a free copy of my short story The Sign. I’ll only send you an email once a month and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.

How to Create a World

You start with nothing.

You’re sitting alone in the dark, thinking. Then from out of nowhere, there’s a brilliant flash of blinding interior light, a searing white-hot fire that consumes thought and vision.

You have an idea.

Everything your world is and everything it will become is locked up inside of it, an infinitely hot, infinitely dense point of creative energy embedded in your soul. There’s a crack of mental thunder. A flash of lightning. For one brief instant, an entire universe that has yet to exist is laid bare before you, and you scramble to remember as much of the prophetic vision as you can before the flash winks out and the future goes dark. It’s a foretelling, a far-off plea from the denizens of your future world, crying out for you to grant them what only you can provide: existence.

You scratch your head. A little while later, you bang your head against a wall. What do you do with your idea? You’ve just seen an entire cosmos within the span of a heartbeat. Your chest begins to ache with creative agony, and you realize that you won’t be able to rest again until you’ve heeded its lofty call.

You have a mission.

You didn’t ask for it, and you have no idea how you’re going to fulfill it. But you ponder the people of your world and their desire for life. You reflect on your responsibility as a storyteller and you realize you have no choice but to buckle down and get to work.

You’re not really sure where to start. Your new world is a big place. You scramble to remember everything you saw in your initial vision. You obsess over every detail. You worry that even marginal deviations from your original idea will irreparably alter the fates of millions of fictional lives, or worse, that your world will end in destabilization and collapse, crushed by the combined weight of inconsistencies, ambiguities and indecision.

You learn that perfection is impossible.

You aim for it anyway, not because the ideal can actually be reached but because trying will propel you further than you ever thought you could go. You shoot for perfection; you embrace imperfection.

Wielding paper and pen, you lay the foundation of your world, one word at a time, a cosmic web spun from the fibers of your imagination. Sometimes, you look back and cringe at what you’ve constructed. But you know you can’t stop, that you have to press on, never resting until your world has at last crossed over the threshold from probability to reality.

You continue to put one word after the other.

You work feverishly for days, weeks, months or years. The process is often painful. An entire world is erupting, a volcanic blast of newly formed material, coalescing from the ether of your mind.

You catch glimpses of your initial vision in the fallout, but you realize that your world has assumed a life of its own, that it’s destiny is only partially determined by what was forseen so long ago. You discover the truth, that the prophecy you received was not a vision of what must be but what could be, that it was a glimpse into just one of an infinite number of possible worlds. You realize that your world and the people in it are substantially more complex, versatile and adaptable to change than you ever could have imagined.

When you least expect it, you look back and discover your world already exists.

One day, without ever having realized how close you were, you set the final word down in ink, the lifeblood of creation. You blink down at the final page with disbelief. Surely, you must have forgotten something. You go back to the beginning. You review your work. You go back to the beginning and review your work again. Eventually, you realize that yes, you’ve done it afterall, and just like that your world is alive.

You gaze at it with wonder, a product as much of divine mandate as it is of your imagination, and like an Old Testament god enamored with creation, you can finally look upon your newly minted world and proclaim, “it is good.”


If you want to keep up with my work and to know when I publish my next book, join my mailing list by clicking here. In return, I’ll send you a free copy of my short story The Sign. I’ll only send you an email once a month and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.

What’s My Mission?

Purpose. It defines our existence. We spend our whole lives searching for it, and we don’t stop until our ephemeral lives come to an abrupt and unpredictable end. We pay counselors, therapists and psychologists hundreds of dollars to help us find it. We spend innumerable solitary moments beneath the stars, hoping and praying that in the stillness of the night, the cosmos will whisper their designs into our ears, and we grow restless and anxious when the years pass without an answer.

Ultimately, what we’re looking for always boils down to the same question: “What’s my mission?”

Each of us has one.

We are a race composed of individuals, each with our own unique talents, each with our own unique ways of contributing to the world. We all take our place in the human family. Each of us assumes a role, some task that we’re called to fulfill until our Earthly lives are complete.

This is our mission, a biological imperative embedded in our DNA, an indelible mark upon our souls, a divine mandate that we’re powerless to resist if we wish to live happy and fulfilling lives.

Our purpose in life is to discover what this mission is and to complete it.

To uncover our reason for being is to locate our rightful place in this cosmic symphony, to harmonize with the celestial melodies of a divine purpose that far transcends our own.

Everything we do should further this goal in some way. Until we know what our mission is and until we can accept it, we’ll be doomed to wander the desert of internal anarchy and despair.

Some of us believe in purpose, but only on a larger scale. We often ask ourselves, “how can one ordinary individual have a measurable global effect?”

Whether great or small, our actions can and do transform the world.

In Does What You Do Matter, I argue that it’s precisely those “insignificant” activities which manifest the greatest changes. Life is a tapestry, a mosaic of apparently unrelated events which, when taken as a whole, form a clearly-discernible pattern.

It’s out of the humdrum and the ordinary that the miracle of civilization itself emerges. Without the standard occupations, there would be no food, no running water, no medicine, no roads, no waste management, no electricity. If everyone were to give up their jobs at the same time for as little as a day, the world would come undone, like a tattered cloth left too long to the elements.

In fact, the anonymous individual is the great unsung hero of the world. Those rare role models we know by name we know only because there were millions of unknowns working behind the scenes.

Yet, even if we understand this, we’re still going to ask ourselves, “how do I discover what my mission is?”

Personal revelation demands hard work.

Figuring out what we’re supposed to do is by no means a passive endeavor. Rather, it’s a lifelong quest. We must traverse steep psychological mountains, wander through barren spiritual deserts, never resting until we reach the understanding we seek. Our quest requires three things:

  1. Answers to basic questions. Every quest has a beginning. Ours should start with what we already know about ourselves. What are we passionate about? What are we good at? Can we align our career goals with our interests? If not, can we at least integrate our interests into our off hours?
  2. The ability to make the best of our current circumstances. Living a purpose-driven life requires us to accept and embrace what we’ve been given, and to use it to make the lives of those around us better. We always accomplish the most good simply by being who we are and by living in the moment.
  3. An open heart. Above all, we should think, pray and listen. We should ask for guidance, because our maker will always furnish the answers we seek in the fullness of time. His won’t be a voice of thunder but of circumstance, and we must pay close attention to the things that are going on around us so that we can discern what it might be trying to tell us.

Our mission is knowable, and we can fulfill it.

Each of us was fashioned with all that we need to be successful already inside us. We must only find the courage to chase after it, to search high and low for the key that opens the lock to our souls. Open that, and our hearts will unfurl like budding flowers, revealing its deepest mysteries.

Here, in the center of our hearts, where God and Man intersect, we will find the answer that we pursued all along.


If you want to keep up with my work and to know when I publish my next book, join my mailing list by clicking here. In return, I’ll send you a free copy of my short story The Sign. I’ll only send you an email once a month and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.