Life, family, business

Smoke and Mirrors (A short story)


It all started with the smoke detector.  The stupid thing kept buzzing.  I pressed the button and it shrieked at me.  The buzzing stopped, and I continued putting together the new recipe I was making for my dinner.  Within two minutes, the buzzing started again.

I took the battery out of the smoke detector.  I walked through my apartment; nothing was smoking, there was nothing.  I opened my door to the hallway, nothing out there either.  Apparently the battery was going dead.  I scouted through my drawer in the kitchen with all the odds and ends, I had every battery except the rectangular one I needed.  One more thing for the grocery list, I left the battery out of the detector.

I reread the recipe and opened the cupboard to grab the can of cream of mushroom soup I had bought for the recipe.  I searched through the cans and didn’t find it.  Puzzled, I went through the other cupboards and drawers.  I looked in the closet by my front door and even in the refrigerator.  It was nowhere to be found.  I thought I was going crazy.  I bought a can of soup for this recipe and it wasn’t here.  I live alone, there’s no one else to eat the soup, unless my cat somehow managed to figure out the can opener.  I opened the cupboard again and checked, the cans of tuna were all intact, so it couldn’t be the cat.

I decided to make a quick trip to the corner store to get a battery and another can of soup.  As soon as I buy another, it will turn up in a crazy spot, I just know it.  That’s how my life works.  I grabbed my jacket and my purse, and headed down to the parking lot to my car.  I pulled the keys out of my purse and hit the lock opener, and slid into the driver’s seat.  I drove the few blocks to the store and pulled into the parking lot.  I always lock my car, even if I’m going in for just a couple minutes.  In this neighborhood, you just don’t take chances.

I walked into the store to hear a woman yell, “I have a gun, give me the money!” My first instinct was to run, but the bells on the door gave me away and she whirled around and pointed the gun at me.  “Get down on the ground!”

I couldn’t move.  Our eyes met and locked.  Her eyes grew wide and her mouth opened.  Mine did the same.  It was me!

We were wearing the same black clothes, the same shoes, had the same haircut.  She was a mirror image of me.  I was frozen in my spot.  She turned and looked at the clerk, who also was frozen, eyes wide and mouth open.  She took off running out the door like a wild cat.

The clerk had already hit the panic button and we could hear the police sirens in the distance.  “Do you have a twin sister?” he asked in an accented voice.

“No, I don’t.  I don’t think.”  I muttered and kept watching the door to see if she, if I, reappeared.


The police took both our statements and took my contact information.  They were very casual about my twin saying that in times of great stress people make mistakes like that.  But I knew better.  She looked just like me; it was the freakiest thing I have ever experienced in my life.  I forgot all about the soup and the battery when I went home.

As it turned out, I really didn’t need the battery anyway, or the soup for that matter.

The sirens were going off as I drove back to my apartment building.  It was on fire.  Great.  I remembered the battery at that moment.  I had to sneak into the parking lot, as the police had started turning people away right after I got back. But I had come through the other side and parked a ways away from the fire trucks.  I sat and waited as the fire department put out the blaze.  The Salvation Army showed up and offered to help all the residents find places to stay for the night.  All I could think about was my cat, and how much I hoped she had made it.  I got out of my car after the fire had been extinguished and walked over to talk to the police officer that was blocking the path.  He said it looked like arson.  I bit my tongue.  Do I tell him about my detector going off?  Why? So I can tell him I took the battery out?  But I did go right to the store to buy a new battery, well, once I realized I didn’t have soup.  And then I foiled an armed robbery by my newfound twin sister.  Do I have an evil twin?  Ok, I just need to stop thinking.

Later that evening the cat did appear.  I had sat in my car waiting, with nowhere else to go.  I could afford my own hotel room, not that I had any clothes or anything else to bring with me.  But something told me to stay, and that premonition proved true.  Ms. Monster came trudging through the wet ashes, the sludge of gunk running in the parking lot sticking to her fur.  I practically leapt from my car and yelled for her, grinning ear to ear with joy.

“Is that your cat ma’am?” The officer asked as I picked her up and proceeded to wipe the stains from her fur.

“Yes, she is, I’m so glad she’s all right!”  Ms. Monster purred and nuzzled her face into my neck.  I held her up to examine her, and there were no burn marks, no burnt fur, and no injuries I could see.  I got back into my car with the cat and pulled out of the parking lot.  No one would be allowed into the building until the fire chief said so, so I decided to try to find a hotel that would take cats.

I googled “pet friendly hotels” on my phone in the Target parking lot.  Luckily there were several on this side of town.    I had to leave Monster in the car, but she was used to that.  I went in and bought a few essentials, a change of clothes, pajamas, toiletries, and some cat food, two bowls, a cat carrier, and a new kitty bed.  She’d never used it anyway since she slept on the bed with me, but I felt the need to buy it.  I grabbed a few snack items since my dinner was burned, not by me at least.  I giggled at this thought.  I don’t know why, but I couldn’t quit giggling.  I also picked a new copy of the book I had been reading, hoping I’d be able to figure out which page I was on.

Once checked into the hotel and showered and changed, I called my mom to let her know I was OK, just in case she watched the news for once in her life.  She didn’t answer when I called, so I left a message.  She was probably sound asleep I realized, after I looked at the clock and discovered it was almost midnight.

Ms. Monster was curled up on the bed, licking herself clean.  She hissed in my direction.

“Hey Missy,” I scowled at her, “Don’t forget who waited for you and paid for this nice hotel room.”

I laid down on the bed and fell asleep quickly.  I woke up in the morning feeling drowsy and unsettled.  Then I remembered everything that had happened, and realized I was in the hotel room.  Ms. Monster was on the foot of the bed, staring at the mirror on the wall.  She must be able to see herself, silly cat.  Sometimes she would hiss at the mirrors in my apartment too.  Maybe she’s not happy with her body, or her hair, or who knows what.

I got up, made some complimentary coffee in a tiny complimentary coffee pot and drank it out of a Styrofoam cup.  My cell phone rang shortly after.  It was the police department and they wanted me to come down to the station.

I got ready real fast and Ms. Monster and I drove to the station.  I didn’t check out of the hotel though, because I just wasn’t sure what was going on.  Once there, a polite lady ushered me into a small interrogation room and introduced me to Lieutenant Dan.  All I could think about was Forrest Gump.  Lieutenant Dan! You got new legs!  I sat down as asked, and then it got a little crazy.

Lieutenant Dan wanted to know why I set my apartment building on fire.  They had it on surveillance camera.  He played the footage.  It really looked like me, I won’t lie.  I would have thought it was me if I wasn’t me.  But I knew better, I was me and I knew what I had been doing, and I knew that really, it was her.  It had to be.  I explained the story of the robbery before the fire, and he listened to my story like I was the most boring person on the planet.

“So you’re telling me that you stopped yourself from robbing the store while you were setting the apartment building on fire?”

“No, it wasn’t me, but it was someone who looks just like me.  I was just as startled as anyone.”

He left the room and I sat there for about ten minutes. I tried the door, but it was locked from the outside.  No one had read me my rights, and I hadn’t been arrested.  But it was cool outside and I knew my cat would be fine in the car for a while.  I pulled my book out of my bag and started skimming to try to figure out where I left off.  It’s my trick for never having to wait.  As long as I have a book with me, I never have to wait for any appointment or anything.

The lieutenant came back in and sat down.  He looked at me with a long stare.  “I talked to the officer who responded to the robbery last night.  He has gone over the video footage from the store’s cameras, and it seems he was actually talking to you at the time that the fire was started according to the time stamps on both videos.  I don’t know what’s going on here, but I don’t want you to go too far away.  I may need to talk to you again.”

I thanked him, for what I don’t know, and left the station. Ms. Monster was sleeping on my seat when I opened the door.  She yawned and I picked her up so I could sit down.  She sat on my lap and I petted her, scratching behind the ears, just like she likes.

My phone rang, it was Mom.  She wanted me to come stay with her instead of the hotel and I thought about it.  But I like being independent, and staying with mom is just too, well, codependent.  But since I had her on the phone I asked her if there was any possibility that I had a twin sister.  She paused, and very seriously said, “No honey, you don’t.  I would know if you did, don’t you think?”  Then she laughed and asked about Ms. Monster.

We went through the drive in on the way back to the hotel and ordered some junk.  I always crave junk when I feel stressed, and I was getting more stressed as the day wore on.  I know I had every reason, but yet, I wasn’t really feeling the reality of the situation yet.  I half expected to wake up and realize it was all a dream.

We went back to the hotel room and I spread my feast on the little desk. The cat kept hissing at the mirror, so I picked her up and walked over to it.  I laughed and touched her nose to her mirror image’s nose.  “See silly cat?  It’s just you.”  I put her on the bed and I sat on the chair. I unwrapped a sandwich and pulled out some of the meat for the cat.  I just put it right on the bedspread; it’s the hotel’s anyway, right? It’s not like I have to wash it.

Ms. Monster ate the meat and then started hissing at the mirror again, this time with the loud growling noise.  “Good grief cat!” I picked her up again, and we walked back to the mirror.  I held her up to the mirror again, but this time she clawed my arm and jumped down, tearing across the room.  I watched her fly into the bathroom.   I heard a noise behind me.  I turned and looked, and there on the floor by the wall, right under the mirror, was a can of cream of mushroom soup.


Author: jeanneahlers

I am a happily married mother of two awesome kids, an organic gardener, and small business owner.

2 thoughts on “Smoke and Mirrors (A short story)

  1. Amazing!. Well written. Please do read mine too when u have the time.


    • Thank you! This is probably the first short story I have written since I graduated from school a long time ago.
      I did read your story, and I think its great! The emotions come through very well, and its a great story. It made me wonder what happened to grandma. 🙂

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