It was just a trick of the light. It had to be.

Eric couldn’t really have seen himself, wearing fine clothes and fancy jewellery, in the crowd coming out of the subway station. He hadn’t worn his good suit and months, and he didn’t even have that much jewellery, couldn’t possibly afford it.

It must have just been a reflection of his face happening to match with someone better-dressed. Right?

He tried to put out of his mind the question of just what he could have seen his reflection in over that way. And the way his reflection seemed to be watching him.

And yet the nagging feeling that he was being watched by himself kept following him. While he was in line at the diner, he thought he saw himself at one of the tables; when he took his own food to go, someone followed him out. It was just nerves, he told himself – too long hours, not enough rest; he just needed to get home, relax, and enjoy the weekend. There was no need to be paranoid.

Telling himself that didn’t keep him from being very anxious by the time he made it to his apartment. He slid the chain lock in place without even thinking, and only afterwards mused that he normally just locked the bolt and called it good. With those lingering worries nagging at him, he didn’t get nearly as much enjoyment from his soup, salad, and sandwich as he ought to have done.

But his meal was uneventful. Of course. Why would it be anything but? He cleaned up and proceeded to the washroom. A nice, hot shower – that was what he needed to relax.

It worked, too. He was actually feeling somewhat like himself by the time he towelled dry, pulled some clean clothes on, and stepped out to see himself lounging in his armchair.

Still slaving away at the plant?” his double drawled. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself.”

Eric swallowed. His look-alike was between him and the phone, damn it. “Who – who are you? What are you doing in here?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” the other Eric snorted. “I’m you. You’re me. And you’d know the second part if you’d just bought that book two years ago.”

Two years ago… a book… a memory jumped to the fore; a strange old man who had seemed disconnected from the world, saying he saw some potential in Eric, offering to sell him a book that he promised would show him how to do amazing things, magical things. Of course, Eric had gone on his way. “That book?” he repeated. “What kind of junk…”

“Yes, that book,” his double cut in. The words weren’t what cut Eric short, so much as the way he reached into a hole that appeared in thin air, and pulled out of it a hefty, leather-bound tome, several bookmarks stuck into it here and there. “This one right here. Three chapters in and I was turning blocks of wood into figurines just by looking at them and picturing what I wanted, and never got locked out of my place again. By chapter five I could go gambling and come out at least a little bit ahead over the week. Sometimes I could score big. Chapter six and I could put stage magicians to shame, and without needing all the fancy props and trickery. I’m not even half done yet, and I got here, didn’t I?”

Eric blinked. All he could think to say was, “What the hell is going on?”

“Oh, I’ve been learning.” The well-dressed Eric tapped a page. “See, every time we make a choice, it’s like taking one fork on a road. You go one way, but the other way still exists. I’m the you that bought the book. I just had to see if there was actually an Eric Haggert so dull that he wouldn’t take it.”

“Dull?” Eric protested. “There’s people claiming magic and miracles all over the place and it’s all fakery or coincidence! Why should I have thought any different? Why would I be so credulous – ”

“For twenty bucks? Come on!” The book snapped shut. “We’ve never been that badly off. Never mind credulous, weren’t you at least curious? It’s not like the guy wanted you to trade him your firstborn! I took him up because I wanted to see what he thought was so special, and then I thought ‘why not?’ and gave it a try, and it worked. I’ve already met one of me who just bought it for a keepsake, but at least he had some actual curiosity about it!”

“What the hell do you want?” Eric blurted. This was all just too weird.

“Want?” His other self laughed. “Well, I could say that some of this later stuff calls for blood – my blood – and I’d rather not bleed myself for it…”

Oh, hell. Eric pressed flat against the wall, but that wasn’t much help; he’d have to go past his double to get anywhere useful…

“But the truth is, that wouldn’t work. Can’t take anything back with me but the experience, see.” His other self grabbed the pen and paper by the phone, scrawling on it. “I was just curious, like I was when I first talked to the guy. And I figured I might do myself a favour by pointing out just how much that book can actually do. And, hey, since I had my own copy, tracking it down in this reality wasn’t all that hard.” There was a click as he pushed the cap back onto the pen. “I wouldn’t wait too long, if I was you and I’m starting to wonder. I get the sense that its next owner won’t be quite so willing to part with it as the pawn shop.”

He laid down the pen and paper and stood. “Take care of myself, yeah?” Turning, he reached out as though to grab a doorknob. Eric’s vision twisted as the image before it actually parted like a door being opened, showing a much more nicely-furnished space beyond. His other self stepped through, and then reality swung shut behind him, leaving no trace of him.

Except, as it turned out, for the title and address written on the pad by the phone.