All There in the (Monster) Manual are stories based on creatures from the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, over 2022 I released a different story fitting the theme every single week! Could be fantasy, science fiction, horror, or something else entirely, check them out on the main page of the website.
This Week’s Inspiration: Doppelganger
The other dog stalks this home through rooms I cannot access, always on the other side of the glass. He wants to take my life for his own unless I can stop him.
The other dog stalks this home through rooms I cannot access. Somehow he always knows where I am going to be and is already there, taunting me. In all respects we are almost identical, except the dark patch of fur over my left eye is over his right eye, and while my tail hangs to the right his tail hangs to the left. But in every other aspect he is a master of mimicry.
Morning, and as the blinds rattle open to fill my Master and Mistress’ bedroom with sunshine I trot inside with a happy pant and wagging tail. They indulge me with delicious scratches behind the ears and cheerful talk. But from the corner of my eye, I spy movement. One side of the room is lined with windows that never close. They look onto another bedroom, almost identical to this one. It is there that I spot him, the other dog. We lock eyes. My lips draw back from my teeth in a growl. His lips do the same. I bark and he appears to bark at me in the same moment but I hear no sound. I never do.
“Oh, no, Joey, no! Not this morning, okay?” Mistress says.
For the moment, I am too entrenched to hear the command. Skipping sideways, I let loose with several more warning barks to say that this is my domain and he is an intruder here. His body language, outrageously, appears to communicate the exact same message. This is my home, not his! How dare he try to claim it for his own?
“Joey, no! No barking!” Master says.
Surely Master and Mistress can see I am only doing my duty? They do not appear to acknowledge the other dog at all. But a command is a command, and I fall silent. Stymied, I move closer to the window. The other dog moves closer as well. I can see his dark eyes searching mine from behind the pane of glass. We draw together until our noses are almost touching. Even more disturbing than the way the glass blocks all sound is the lack of smell. All I can scent is my own musk and the normal smells of Master and Mistress and the room around me. The window blocks any smell from the other part of the house more effectively than I would have thought possible. The other dog and I stand less than a hair away from one another and yet all I can feel is the cold press of the glass on my nose.
Reeling backward, I start barking again. He follows me, imitating my every move before I know I’m going to make it. Spinning sideways, ears flopping, barking. Master and Mistress turn to me.
“No, Joey! Out, get out!” Master says.
Master and Mistress provide me with food, with shelter. With love and a sense of purpose. In return, I protect this house. It is more than an exchange, it is a sacred duty. Passed down from wolf to cub to dog to dog to dog. It is my reason for being. This strange dog in our house is a threat and I don’t know why they can’t see it. As well as a mimic he is a deceiver and he has somehow blinded them to his true nature. But I cannot deny a direct order. Snuffling at the skirting boards, looking for a scent that might provide me some clue of how the other dog sneaks around our house, I stalk into the hallway.
Unable to find any trace of the other dog, I still feel trepidation as my Mistress walks to the bathroom and I follow. The shower hisses and steam begins to fill the room. My nails click on the tiles as I circle the room. All appears well so I relax and enjoy the sweet chemical smell as Mistress begins to lather shampoo into her hair.
And then I see him again, the other dog. Right at the feet of my Mistress as she showers, at her most vulnerable, also basking in the scent. He stands inside the shower door, somehow ghostly and insubstantial but undeniably present. He stares back at me. Taunting me. Again I growl and bark. I attempt to attack but my nails skitter off the glass of the shower door. It bounces with the impact of my body, but I can’t reach the other dog.
“Joey, no! What are you doing?” Mistress yells. “Stop that right now, and get out!”
I am loath to leave my Mistress in her vulnerable state with the other dog so close by. But as I back away the other dog seems to retreat as well, and becomes more insubstantial. Almost as if his presence were inexorably linked to my own. Under duress, I retreat from the bathroom.
Again and again, the other dog has shown his furry face in my home uninvited. Usually in those windows to other parts of the house I am unable to access. Sometimes I see him looking somehow ghostly behind other windows, like in the shower, or out on the deck through the glass doors in the living room. I’d even seen him looking solid but indistinct, blobby, featureless, hiding somehow within the door of Master and Mistress’ stainless steel refrigerator. Each and every time I warn him not to come back but he mocks me by copying my every move. And however he gets around the house without my seeing or smelling him eludes me. He is a wraith as well as a mimic.
Dejected, distressed, I settle down on my bed in the corner of the living room. Occasionally, I glance toward the television at the head of the room. In its blackness, I almost fear seeing the other dog looking back at me. Master and Mistress emerge from the direction of the bedroom, making plans for the day.
“Do you want to get breakfast down by the waterfront?” Master said. “Take Joey for a W-A-L-K?”
I perk up at the mention of my name. My tail begins to thump against the floor, although the second half of Master’s sentence is spoken in some sort of impenetrable code. Mistress turns to me, smiling.
“I don’t know, have you been a good boy, Joey?” Mistress says. “Do you want to go for a walk? A walk?”
A walk! Just the salve to soothe my troubled mind and heart. I leap to my paws and bark happily. Master and Mistress attach a leash to my collar and lead me to the car. My battle with the other dog is almost forgotten as they pull out of the driveway. Master drives a short distance to the waterfront park and I scrabble at the window until they free me.
Smells and sunshine fill my world. I tug heedlessly at my leash, wanting to venture forward. Other people and dogs fill the park stretching from the parking lot to the water’s edge, light glittering off the blue surface of the gently moving river. Small jetties jut from the bank. At the far end of the park is a cafe where Master and Mistress sometimes like to have breakfast on weekends.
“Here, let him off the leash,” Master says.
“Are you sure? What if he runs off?”
“There’s plenty of other dogs running around with their leashes off.”
Untethered, I immediately take off to make a circuit of the park so I can greet and sniff my fellow canines. There is no need to be on the defensive here, they are other dogs but they are not the other dog I’m concerned about. They haven’t been invading my territory and mocking me, this park is neutral ground. I try to push the distractions of the other dog out of my mind and simply enjoy the day.
Following a scent trail, I find myself wandering the edge of the park and then crossing the path leading along the water’s edge. Deftly, I avoid joggers and prams. Master and Mistress are distracted, looking at their phones on the other side of the grass. Still sniffing, I stray onto one of the small jetties that stick out over the river’s edge.
Waves lap the pylons supporting the pier. Curious, I stick my head over the side and look down. And there he is, the other dog. I see an alien sky behind him, his dumb face with the dark patch of fur over the wrong eye staring back at him. He’d followed us! He won’t leave me alone! Me, my Master, my Mistress, our home, our walks! I bark and he barks, silent, half in shadow.
It occurs to me that the other dog has made a fatal mistake. My tail starts to wag. Every other time we’d met previously, the other dog hid himself behind solid glass. But now it appears nothing lay between us except the yielding surface of the water.
Without another thought, I launch myself off the small pier and into the river. Behind me, I hear someone yell. It’s only a short drop before I hit the surface with my jaws open. Instead of my teeth finding the scruff of the other dog’s neck, however, my mouth fills with water.
Plunging through the cold and wet, my desire to end things with the other dog consumes me. I lash out with teeth and paws. While I fail to make contact, I can feel the other dog’s presence in the water all around me. Wrapping himself around me. So even as I sink and the water gets dark I continue to fight. After a few long moments, I feel myself hit the mud and silt of the river bottom.
Lungs burning, I realise I need to make my way back to the surface. But suddenly I’m not so sure where that is. Which direction is up and which is down? Panicked, I fight in the direction of my best guess but I seem to fight and fight and not be moving at all. My body feels heavy, fur tangled. I kick and paddle but slowly, painfully, everything appears to be going dark. Was this the other dog’s plan all along? To lure me here to die so he could take my place?
Sunlight blinds me as my head breaks the surface. I’ve washed away from the pier and come to rest against a rocky slope. Sopping, I crawl out of the water and shake myself off. From somewhere overhead, I hear both my Master and Mistress calling my name.
I could have drowned, I realise. Climbing back to the edge of the footpath, I shake more water from my coat and look back. I fully expect to see the other dog again, taunting me. Somehow he has mastered the art of staying below the surface without drowning. But this time I see nothing. The same alien sky ripples across the water, identical to the one above my own head, but the spot directly below me lies empty. Wagging my tail, I jolt back and forth to be certain but the other dog is gone.
“Joey, there you are! What did you do? Did you fall in the water?” Mistress shouts.
Suddenly, Mistress and Master kneel over me, petting and rubbing their hands in my damp fur. My tongue lolls out of my mouth as I bask in their adoration. First victory, and now when we return home I know we will be truly safe. Master scratches me behind the ears.
“That dark patch of fur, I thought that was over the other eye?”
Sean: I thought a lot about Doppelgangers last year when trying to come up with ideas. Because sometimes I went through the book and had stories come to me, and sometimes I thought a lot about one particular creature because I figured there had to be something there.
Clones? An evil twin that shows up out of nowhere to take over someone’s life (probably similar to what became Unseen)? Deep fakes? Like a deep fake ruining someone’s life? I think my best idea was a company that produces deep fakes professionally, and has hundreds of potential lookalikes on call, based on weight, hair, facial structure, and tech that quickly analyses and teaches body movements and mannerisms. Maybe styled as an advertisement like those I use at the beginning of each chapter in the Kill Switch series?
Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed this story about a dumbass dog who doesn’t know what a reflection is! It’s kind of similar to my story I Am Waiting, which also involves the perspective of a nonhuman narrator who doesn’t have a full picture of what’s going on. Originally I was going to drown the dog, I’m not averse to eliciting a cheap emotional response by killing animals (in stories), but it’d be a little dark and I’d rather leave the whole thing more ambiguous.