Tuesday, 30 October 2012


A J Humpage terrifies me - on a regular basis, or at least her incredible fiction does. Her Halloween Horror offering, Gabriel's Reflection captured all the TK'n'C editors' imaginations and made it to first runner-up position in this year's competition.

AJ has an uncanny way of touching our vulnerable spots, feeding our fears and making us face reality. Human horror or supernatural; Gabriel's Reflection will leave you asking questions.


The last ribbons of sunlight dipped behind the trees in the distance, winked with sensual allure between twisted, gnarled branches lining the roadside and reflected across Gabriel Henshaw’s worn face. 

He kept a steady hand on the steering wheel and speed dialled his wife.

The road ahead stretched far into the distance.  Wheat fields to his left wavered in the breeze and seemed to beckon the approaching darkness. To his right, a raft of bright yellow rape soaked up the remaining shards of sunlight.

The line rang out.

Gabe always rang to let Amy know if he was running late from work because she didn’t like to start dinner without him.

‘Hey,’ he said, when she answered. ‘Sorry love, the meeting overran.  I’m on my way home.

‘That’s okay.  I’m just starting dinner,’ she said.

‘I’ll be twenty minutes, max.’

‘Good, I’ll have a glass of red waiting for you.’   

He smiled, popped the phone back in his pocket.  A rusty hue crept across his face and coloured his eyes; the last of the sunlight inked the sky, which had darkened considerably in the few moments he’d been talking to his wife, and now a deep unearthly red tint pressed against the landscape.  Fresh air grazed his skin through the open window.

Up ahead, Gabe noticed a car parked near the verge, the hood up. Normally he would have stopped to help, but he was overly late and he just wanted to get home to Amy.   
He noticed the car was a Range Rover, like his own car. He peered at the figure hunched over the engine, caught a glimpse of a man dressed in a smart dark suit, although he couldn’t make out the driver’s features. 
Gabe didn’t stop and continued driving.        

He pondered the speed of the fading light, flicked the headlights on.

Coiled, eerie shapes of trees drifted in and out of view as the lights grazed across them, while the grey-tinted road slowly unravelled before him.

He’d never known the darkness to descend so quickly, especially when not more than ten minutes ago the sun had brightened the landscape.

He eased down on his speed. The road ahead curved.         
Gabe knew the roads well; he travelled along them every day to and from work. He knew each bend, each dip and incline, and yet the encroaching darkness seemed to make them appear quite different from daylight and he failed to recognise the road ahead.  It curved into a sharp bend before eventually straightening.  Large trees on either side of the road formed an enclosed, narrow space.    

He felt the fractious trickle of adrenaline in his guts, didn’t recognise this stretch of road.

The tree-lined avenue continued for some time until the car eventually emerged from the cover of the trees. The darkness seemed heavier now and pressed against the windows, the hint of light all but gone in the space of a few minutes. He must have made a wrong turn somewhere.

He pulled over, stopped the car and retrieved the phone from his shirt pocket. He flicked through the call log. He’d made the call to his wife at 8.05pm. He glanced at the time on the dashboard.

It was 8.10pm.   

An earthy, deciduous scent laced the air. Darkness pressed against him, eager and intrusive, and from somewhere he heard the hum of an approaching car.

He looked in the rear view mirror, saw lights in the distance. They grew brighter as they edged closer, at speed.  Gabe recognised the shape - a Range Rover like the one he’d seen moments earlier by the roadside.

His eyes twitched.  The lights grazed across the inside of the car, blurred his vision. Then passed.  He watched as the car raced ahead into the distance.

Curious, he tried following the Range Rover, but it easily accelerated away from him and vanished into the thickening maw.
A spot of rain spattered against the windscreen, distracted him. Then another. And another. 

The rain came fast then, grew heavier and blurred into one to warp the windscreen into a shimmering vision, like heat rising.

He switched on the windscreen wipers, raced through the gloom, until distorted, coloured reflections broke through the darkness ahead of him and he hit the brakes.

It was the Range Rover.

Adrenaline squirted into his stomach; apprehension raced up his throat, but he tried to push it back into the pit of his stomach.

The large 4 x 4 pulled away again, continued forward at a steady pace, as though teasing Gabe. 

He then noticed the license plate. He blinked as though caught in a momentary camera flash; eyes dilated as though soaking up the blackness around him. 

Skin drained to white.

He had not imagined it. Couldn’t believe it.

The car in front had the same license plate as Gabe’s car.

He stared in strained disbelief. He followed the car until it reached an intersection. After a momentary pause, the car moved forward and turned completely around so that it was facing Gabe.

Through his rain streaked windscreen he saw the contours of a face appearing through the dark, glaring back at him.

Gabe watched; skin pulsed. He reached for his phone.

The car approached.  The driver faced Gabe.  Smiled.  But it was humourless and black and forged with a demented sheen.

Gabe dropped the phone, felt his insides spasm. The man in the Range Rover had the same dark eyes, same expression, same square jaw line and same dark hair as Gabe.

Same car, same clothes. Same face.  Everything, the same. 
A reflection.

Gabe was staring at himself.

His heart stuttered. Stomach and guts contracted, almost pushing the fear through his anus. ‘Christ...’

The black car vanished into the burgeoning darkness, curtained by the rain.

He leaned forward, found the phone and dialled his wife. His mouth felt like the bottom of a sandpit.  ‘Amy, you won’t believe what just happened to me.  I just seen myself, I swear to God, it was me.’

‘Gabe, what are you talking about?’

‘I just saw myself driving my car, it was me, and he smiled right at me. I swear to God.’

‘Gabe, calm down. What exactly do you mean?’

‘I saw me. Driving my car, like a reflection, only it wasn’t a reflection, he was real, solid.’

Amy’s voice sounded rational in his ear.  ‘You sound tired, Gabe.’       

‘But it was me. I saw me.’

‘You think you did,’ she said. ‘The mind plays tricks when we’re tired. You probably saw someone who looks almost like you.’

‘But I know what I saw. The car had the exact same license plate. Explain that.’

‘It sounds like you’ve had a tiring day. Sometimes we see things that aren’t there.’ 

A pause.  Then, ‘He was a doppelganger. That’s supposed to be a bad omen isn’t it?  I mean really bad...’

‘You don’t believe that rubbish do you?  It was someone who looks a bit like you.  Now calm down, okay? Tell me all about it when you get home. Just relax and drive carefully.’

Her words drifted into the sullen silence.  ‘Okay...’ He hung up, sat quite still for a moment, contemplated what he’d seen, or thought he’d seen.  Maybe Amy was right, he was tired, perhaps his mind was mocking him with insolent concision.

He breathed deep, glanced at the road sign to his left, just visible through the murk. His expression drooped.  He saw that he was not lost at all, but merely two miles from home.

Frustrated, he accelerated away into the darkness.

* * *

Ochre streetlights highlighted the rain.

He slipped the key into the lock, opened the front door.  He stepped inside. Shadows instantly retreated.

Dinner smelled good.

He closed the door. Slow footsteps crept across the tiled floor. His shadow slithered into the kitchen.  
Amy turned from the counter. ‘There’s a glass of wine on the counter. You Okay? You sounded so anxious on the phone.  You must have seen someone who was the spitting image of you.’

‘I did.’  He lifted the wine glass, sniffed the aroma.

‘Dinner won’t be long, then you can tell me all about it,’ she said, turning back to the julienne carrots. ‘We all have someone that looks like us, so don’t worry about that urban myth about seeing your doppelganger.  Honestly, Gabe, don’t believe that mumbo jumbo.’

‘You don’t believe it’s true?’ he asked, voice strangely detached.

‘No, seeing your double doesn’t mean you die, Gabe.’

He moved across the kitchen towards her. Silent. Like a malignant shadow oozing from the fabric of the umbra. 

He stopped at the knife stand, lifted the fillet knife.  ‘No more working late for me...’

She chided away his words, didn’t look up. ‘You always say that.’

‘I mean it. It’s time for a change.’ He edged closer to her, sniffed her scent and touched her waist.  He dropped his voice to a barely audible rasp. ‘I’ve waited a long time for this. A very long time. And now I want enjoy my new life.’

She half turned.  ‘What new life?’

His eyes solidified.  ‘The one your husband gave to me.’ 

‘What, I-’

The blade found its way under her jaw and sliced through her skin and oesophagus in a clean, hard, powerful thrust.  A raspy gasp of air rattled from deep within her lungs, drowned in the velvety blood spilling from the gash like an overflowing cup.

Amy’s blood warmed his fingers as she dribbled.  Her pulse pumped hard beneath her skin, veins swelled and slithered with panic.

She struggled in his grip, but then wilted quickly against his strength.

He pushed down on the blade and sawed through muscle and tendon. Her eyes rolled in her sockets as pain scratched across her nerves; mouth contorted and rippled in a silent scream, arms dangled, limp.

The blade reached her spine, rubbed against the bone.  He pulled her partially severed head from her shoulders, tore the skin.

She twitched in his arms, mouth moved with invisible words.  Frightened eyes still moved.

He smiled at her, but it was an empty, emotionless gesture.  He let go and she dropped to the floor, her head flopping down across her chest by a thin sliver of muscle.

She watched her blood spill across the floor, then saw him admire his reflection in the window.

He removed his blood sodden coat, straightened his tie and then left the kitchen before the finality of her blackness descended.

* * *

Droplets splashed onto Gabe’s alabaster face and raced down his cheek, but he couldn’t feel it; he couldn’t feel the coolness against his skin. The rain drummed softly against his torso, muffled against his soaked shirt.

A flash of light brightened the scene momentarily. A wrecked car; mangled metal wrapped around a tree stump, windows shattered. Thunder rolled through churning clouds.

Another flash.

Gabe had no recollection of slewing the car across the road and colliding with the tree, nor the tremendous force that had punctured his head.

The only thing he knew right then was the raw, stricken fear clawing at him. He had reached up, felt the strange shape of his skull. He realised with frightening clarity that the force of impact had partially smashed his head and now he cradled the remains of his brain as the minutes of oblivion approached.

He felt a peculiar kind of warmth inch across his chest and shoulders, didn’t know what it was, he couldn’t see.

He wanted to scream, but couldn’t. He wanted to stop his blood spilling out across the road, but couldn’t. The rain smothered his last moments.

And despite his shattered head, his only thought was of the man he’d seen: Himself.

Another flash ripped across the landscape. The clouds rumbled.

Gabe realised then, just before the blackness came, what the terrible omen of seeing his double truly meant. His wife had been wrong.  Everyone had a doppelganger.  A true reflection.  Gabe had seen his.

And death always followed.


Bio: A J Humpage has short stories and poetry published in anthologies like 6 Sentences, Pill Hill Press, Static Movement and many e-zines. She dispenses writing advice at http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.com and is on Twitter: @AJHumpage

Her first novel, Blood of the Father, is available on Amazon Kindle.


  1. Gruesome and poetic. This had a very cinematic feel to it. It reminded me of "Reflection of Death" from the Amicus film Tales from the Crypt mixed with 'The Man Who Haunted Himself'.

    I love both those films and find Doppelgängers an unnerving menace in a horror. This story found that same level of tension. A great read and a nice set up for Halloween. Thanks.

  2. You got me looking over my shoulder as I'm reading. Great job of slowly building suspense through changes in the weather and Gabe's growing paranoia. The violence in the kitchen was shocking. You rattled my nerves. Nicely done, AJ.

  3. superb writing, superb horror, thanks, AJ!