The Monster Inside You Looks a Lot Like Me

"The Recognitions," a short story by Justin Joseph

The Monster Inside You Looks a Lot Like Me

The Recognitions

A man stormed into the lobby, straight to the front desk. Mohan was used to the disgruntled; they would come in with authority and demand that they speak to someone. Of course, they ignored that in talking to him, they were, in fact, speaking to someone.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m not sure, and I don’t really have any control over that. I can have someone contact you, though. What did you say your name was?”

The man slammed his palm on the desk, and Mohan offered a robotic nod.

“If you don’t mind waiting, I can go back and check if someone can see you without an appointment.” Mohan stood. It was well after midday, and he had yet to have lunch. A headache began to coil somewhere between his eyes and the back of his skull.

“No. You look at me.”

His voice was grating. As Mohan looked up to the man’s face, he thought of a lawn mower ripping grass.

“I’m not waiting for anything. You better believe that every last one of you will be hearing from my lawyers.” The man turned and, on his way out, swept the contents off a coffee table and toppled the large rubber tree Mohan was tasked with watering. 

“Hey!” Mohan shouted. But the door swung shut. Magazines and mints littered the carpet in the man’s wake. Mohan’s headache worsened.

Mohan’s boss told him he could leave early after tidying up the mess.

When he finally stepped outside, he felt like he might vomit. The air felt muggy and tropical, heavy with the smell of rotting fruit. Yet reports said it was a typical, chilly November afternoon.

He drove with the windows down, but humidity seemed to collect in the car. At a traffic light, his heart began to thump along with the rapid beat of the radio. A truck revved in the next lane. Mohan glanced at the driver—a man with large, obstructing sunglasses. Red turned to green, and the truck sped ahead. Mohan stared at the license plate as it shrunk in size. Someone honked from behind, and Mohan raised a palm in apology before stepping on the gas. He swallowed a ball of mucus. Was a fever next? He felt his forehead: damp. His shirt clung to the hairs on his stomach. 

At home, Mohan collapsed on the sofa. Nikita, his girlfriend, had also just arrived. They lived together there—the same house he grew up in.

“You finished early?” Nikita joined him on the couch, head to toe. 

“I think I’m getting sick,” he said.

“I haven’t been feeling great either. I don’t think we slept enough this past weekend.”

“Should we go pick up some things?” he asked.

They parked outside a supermarket, with a written list in hand: cough syrup, expectorant, vitamin C.

Inside the store, Nikita inspected the backs of over-the-counter products, appraising generic against brand name. Mohan watched her absentmindedly toy with a particularly distinct curl; he studied this with the awe and affection that her habits inspired. But then, the thought devolved. He remembered the shower drain, how it had sluggishly gulped water that morning.

“I’ll be right back,” he said.

He tried to decipher the difference between various drain snakes—metal, liquid, plastic. A figure approached.

“Man, I have to buy one almost every month. Three daughters will do that to you.”

Mohan let out a sympathetic chuckle and turned. It was the man from that morning. He thought back to the office. Before Mohan had been allowed to leave, his boss had disclosed some details, the heinous amount the man had lost in an ill-advised sale. Mohan recalled his name.

“Simon, right? This is, uh, a coincidence.”

“Pardon?” 

Mohan recognized his grating tone.

“If this is about earlier, I am sorry,” he said.

They stared at one another, then Simon grabbed a snake and left.

Mohan didn’t buy anything. He waited in the car and saw Simon pushing his cart toward a parked sedan. Minutes later, Nikita opened the passenger-side door.

“There you are. Did you not see any of my texts?”

“I had to get out of there.”

She frowned and placed the bags at her feet. “Well, if you were wondering, I bought liquid and pills.” 

Normally, the drive back required little to none of his attention. It was just six minutes, a blink-and-you-miss-it sort of trek that allowed him to escape thoughts or conversation and then find himself home.

“Mohan!” Nikita shouted. He had just run a stop sign. The driver of a minivan thrust a middle finger at them. There they were, stalled in the center of a four-way intersection. Mohan looked closer. It was Simon, now shaking his head in disgust as he drove off.

“What the hell? What is he doing?”

“Him? You almost got us killed!”

The car was warm, and Mohan rolled the window down.

Nikita shook her head. “It’s too cold.” When he didn’t respond, she turned up the air and touched his arm. “Oh Jesus, you’re really sweating. Should I drive?” She wiped her hand on the upholstery and offered him a pill.

Mohan swallowed it dry and ignored the lurch in his esophagus that threatened to turn to a retch.

They rode in silence.

He parked the car in front of their home and removed the keys from the ignition. Across the way, Simon exited the neighbors’ two-story and skipped to the mailbox. Mohan jumped out of the car and started to scream at him.

Simon froze.

Nikita ran around to Mohan and covered his mouth. “I apologize! He’s not feeling well!”

“What’s going on, y’all?” Simon asked.

“I’m not playing, you need to—” Just as Mohan stepped to cross the street, Nikita grabbed him by the arm and led him inside.

“You need to chill the fuck out!”

“He’s stalking us!” Mohan pulled out his phone and struggled to enter his passcode.

Nikita grabbed it from his hands. “Just breathe. I’m going to get the things from the car and then smooth things out.” She reached for the doorknob.

Mohan rushed to block her path. “Don’t go back out there! I think he’s dangerous.”

“Who is dangerous?”

“Simon—that guy.”

“You mean Mr. Phillips?” She nudged him aside. “Just go lie down for a bit.”

Mohan kicked off his shoes and went to a window. He pulled up a single blind and peered through. As Nikita emptied the car, Simon approached. Mohan tensed, but Nikita just smiled and shrugged as they exchanged words. Simon patted her on the shoulder.

Mohan ran to the next room where they kept a neglected landline. A voice answered.

“A man from work is harassing us.” He took the receiver and went back to the window.

“Sir, are you at your workplace right now? Do you know who this man is?” Her voice was calm.

“No. We don’t even work together. He’s outside my house right now, bothering my girlfriend.” He gave their address.

“Okay, sir, we’ll send—”

“They’re talking right now.” He saw Nikita laugh, and then they parted. “He’s walking away,” Mohan said. He leaned as far as he could against the glass until Simon disappeared from view.

“I’m sorry. Could you repeat that?”

Mohan beat the phone twice into his palm; the battery was old and weak. “I can’t see him anymore. But he keeps leaving and coming back. Earlier at the store—”

The woman said something, but static flooded his ears. He heard Nikita enter and head towards the kitchen.

The voice was audible again, scratchier than before. “Someone is on the way.”

The phone slipped from Mohan’s grasp, and he left it on the floor. The house was suddenly too warm and his body amphibian with sweat. He hurried to the kitchen.

Nikita stood with her back toward him, placing oranges in a bowl. A lineup of remedies stood on the island, the fridge door hung open. 

“I really think you should take something else. DayQuil, maybe? You’re not doing well. Luckily, Mr. Phililips was nice about it.”

“What did he say?” Phlegm had pooled in his mouth, his voice was hoarse.

“That you need to rest.” Nikita spun and snapped her fingers to some diddy stuck in her head. Simon had mastered this, the precision with which she bounced on the ball of one foot as she kicked the other—a quirk Mohan loved. He stood before Mohan in Nikita’s jeans and red sweater. With a smile, he placed a hand on Mohan’s chest; the familiar touch now sent a jitter across his skin. Simon popped a Ricola into his mouth, put away a bottle of juice, and shut the refrigerator. “I’ll be right back,” he said. And he left the room.

Mohan’s insides heaved. He turned to the appliance’s gray steel and, seeing the reflection that stood in its cold face, opened his mouth to catch his breath. And out escaped a scream, one that echoed through the kitchen until its sound grew strange and unfamiliar with grit.

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