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Other Kelly


Other Kelly

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Original Fiction Dark Fantasy

Other Kelly

Kelly's friends were all getting a little sick of Kelly, even before the doppelganger showed up. And sure, it probably wants to kill her; they're just trying to decide if…

Illustrated by Mary Pelc

Edited by


Published on May 22, 2024

An illustration of a woman removing a charred mask to reveal a flaming face.

Kelly was twenty minutes late, which was usual for her by now.

“Sorry!” she said, with a smile that was mostly teeth. “It was hilarious—turns out that the leak from my kitchen they said they fixed had just moved across the ceiling to my closet and I didn’t know for two months, so my stuff all molded. I had to buy a new coat on my way. Isn’t that like the most Me thing you’ve ever heard?”

It was pouring. Marshall had bailed at eleven minutes and Kyle had gone with him, so Diana was inside pleading to change the reservation. Kelly, carefully staying out of Diana’s sight, nudged under the awning with Erin and me.

“It’s cute, though, right?” Kelly said. “I mean like, I got a cute coat and a story out of it, at least. It’s kind of funny, right? Like, it will be fine.”

“It’s already wet,” I said. “Why didn’t you buy an umbrella?”

“It’ll get rained on at home anyway,” Kelly said.

She looked over her shoulder; in the middle of the sidewalk, standing in the rain that dissolved right before it touched her, Other Kelly watched the traffic.

“—and then Carver said he couldn’t come because he was at an intensive dog-training course Thursday and Friday, but he volunteered me because ‘he believes in team responsibility,’ so I spent two fucking days in a sexual harassment seminar taking notes like Carver can even read, and now I’m behind on my actual work, so I have to go to the office after this.” Kelly stabbed her waffle.

“When are you going to leave?” Diana said. “Like, he’s a dick, we get it. You know the deal.”

“But it took me a year to even find it,” Kelly said. “I have prescriptions. What am I supposed to do?”

“Date doctors,” Erin said.

“Hey,” said Kyle, who had been doing that for the last four years as he tried to get his music career going.

Other Kelly was staring at a couple outside who were well into a breakup. (She would stare at anything. She should be staring at Kelly—why else was she here?—but she hardly ever did.) Her place setting was empty. She didn’t eat, or sleep, or talk. She just showed up anywhere we had invited Kelly.

“I just can’t keep going like this,” Kelly said, wobbly, pushing a piece of bacon around her plate, the fork shrieking a little when she pressed too hard.

Other Kelly looked over, almost, at the sound of the fork—Kelly looked up, like she was waiting, like she knew Other Kelly was about to say something—but then the woman outside was shouting “You’re fucking kidding me,” so loud it echoed off the glass condos on either side of the street, and then burst into tears, and we ended up watching that for so long that I was at home and sorting through twenty emails I’d missed before I wondered what the hell Kelly had been hoping to hear.

By the time Kelly told us, her downward slide didn’t feel like a dramatic change in direction anymore, just a slowly permanent state; I’d waited a while for her to hit bottom, but even before Other Kelly showed up I realized it was all just falling. When she sat down and told us with a straight face that she’d seen herself passing her in the street, we all looked at each other, hoping this was the floor.

“Does your carbon monoxide detector have batteries in it?” asked Erin.

“Don’t fucking talk down to me. I’ve seen her. I saw her every day this week.”

“I’m not talking down to you,” said Erin, who absolutely was. She was a counselor at one of the high schools where rich people sent their kids to do drugs in peace. She didn’t know any other way to talk.

“Is she following you?” I asked.

“Not quite. She’s always where I am, but not like she’s waiting for me. Like somebody dropped her out of a plane right there and she’s heading back to where she came from. We just keep…passing.”

Kyle sat up—he’d suggested leaving Kelly out of this dinner, but he was clearly repenting now—but Diana beat him to it. “How did you notice her?”

“Because she’s my fucking double, Diana. You notice stuff.”          

Diana made half a face before Erin kicked her under the table to stop Diana saying whatever she thought about Kelly’s powers of observation. (Diana had come into the group by way of Marshall and Erin. Kelly was a lot unless you had decided to be her friend beforehand. Diana had not.)

Marshall frowned, looking halfway to actually concerned. “So this woman is, like, copying you and stalking you?”

God, why would she bother, I thought before I could stop it, and hoped it hadn’t showed on my face.

“She is me,” Kelly snapped. “She’s not copying. She is me.

Yes,” Kyle said under his breath, already typing into his phone. He kept his keyboard noises on; everything he typed always sounded eighty letters long.

“Kelly,” Erin started, and I shook my head at her, because the way Erin said Kelly’s name before she asked how therapy was going was enough to piss off a much more patient person than Kelly was.

“There are a lot of people in this city,” I said instead. “This can’t be the first time somebody’s seen someone who looks exactly like them.”

“Correct,” said Kyle, turning so that everyone could see the website in his hand. “I knew I’d seen this—look, it happens all the time! God, imagine meeting your double and he’s also in coach. Like you have a cosmic twin that you actually managed to cross paths with, out of eight billion people in the whole world, and neither of you can get your shit together enough for business class.” He started typing again. “Oh my god they were both going to Disney. Oh, this is sad.”

“Yeah,” said Kelly. “It’s them we’re sad about.”

“Next time stop her. See what the deal is,” Erin said. “She’s got to be curious, too.”

Other Kelly wasn’t curious about much of anything, as it turned out, but even there, she and Kelly were alike.

Not exactly, though. That was the thing.

I mean, you knew who she looked like—she was Kelly, nobody doubted it, the first time she’d ever showed up Marshall had said “Oh shit” under his breath and Erin had edged halfway off her bar stool. She was wearing something I recognized of Kelly’s, before Kelly had started forgetting her clothes in the laundry room and putting them in the dryer on high to kill whatever happens to wet clothes in a washer overnight. Now everything Kelly wore pulled a little, everywhere. (Other Kelly’s clothes fit her. Other Kelly’s clothes were always clean.)

When you looked right at Other Kelly, of course, something was missing. The lights were off, somehow; an empty house. But it didn’t matter. No waitress or security guard or taxi driver ever glanced at Other Kelly with concern.

I avoided looking at Other Kelly for very long, but I didn’t look at Kelly for very long anymore, either. What was the point? You knew somebody or you didn’t. You could do something or you couldn’t. Other Kelly wasn’t Kelly, and I could always tell; anything else was Other Kelly’s business.

Kyle was the one who got really obsessed, at first—not even when Other Kelly was there, just random moments where Marshall and I would be getting McDonald’s with Kyle at four a.m. and he’d look up from his fries like a meerkat and say “Fuck, I bet it’s killed Kelly already” and start typing so loud nobody could even talk until he was finished. He had a phone full of photos of people posing with their doubles.        

Those doubles are people, asshole,” said Marshall once, a warning to shut up about it, but if Kyle was smart enough to take a warning he’d have stopped being a musician already, and he said, “How would you know—they show up on camera, doesn’t mean they’re a person,” and kept typing until Kelly texted back.

Marshall rolled his eyes, but it was true. In the group photo at New Year’s, Other Kelly was there, in the same thing Kelly was wearing (it fit her better), looking right into the lens. She wasn’t smiling, but still she seemed perfectly normal until you saw Kelly with her arm outstretched to take the picture, dress pulling at her shoulders, grinning like her skull was about to make a run for it, and realized that one of them was very wrong.

(Eventually Kyle stopped texting Kelly. She was never dead. It was fine.)

I couldn’t remember how long Kelly and I had been friends, which made me feel sort of responsible for her whenever she was going off the rails in front of everyone, even though I was not responsible for her, which I reminded myself about a lot. I’d still tried—“When she first started at that stupid company she had some real talent,” I’d told Diana once, when Diana wasn’t sucked in yet and I was trying to make a case for us as people worth spending time with, and Erin had said “Jesus Christ” and stared like I’d spat on a grave and said, “Kelly’s a drag but she’s the friend who shows up when you’re in the hospital,” and Marshall added quietly “And at no other time,” and that wasn’t true, obviously, we’d all had dinner two weeks before, but for a long strange second it really had felt like I hadn’t seen Kelly in years.

But if Kelly had gone off the rails enough to accidentally summon Other Kelly, there was nothing I could have done about it. I asked her to museums with me for a year and a half before I gave up (she didn’t even say no, just wouldn’t answer when I asked, until I’d end up going anyway and sending a picture of some miserable painting from whatever room I was in; she’d write back lol same sorry i couldn’t make it!! instantly), and Kelly never asked anyone to meet her anymore, so I’d given up even waiting for that.

She hadn’t been surprised when Other Kelly showed up. She’d treated Other Kelly the way she treated tax season.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Other Kelly, though. It wasn’t the kind of thing you told your friend who already hated her job whose clothes kept getting jacked up in the dryer, but Kelly already looked like half the girls in the new condos—every time one of them was walking a dog I had a half second of wanting to call after her, horrified Kelly thought she could handle a puppy. Other Kelly looked exactly like Kelly, but so did all those girls. It wasn’t bone structure we were all scared of. Whatever you saw when you recognized Kelly was something deeper, some essential quality that only Kelly had, and I couldn’t stop trying to guess what it was.

Had been, I guess. She shared it with Other Kelly now.

“They are literally the same person,” Marshall said when I brought it up, not quite like he’d sounded with Kyle, but close. He was hanging around after we were finished, and some not-Kelly had come out the door with a French bulldog while I smoked out my kitchen window, and I knew better—we weren’t supposed to talk about Other Kelly—but it had slipped out before I could stop myself.

“But you know what I’m saying. Remember that time you started making fun of that girl’s purse on the train because you thought Kelly had finally given in to pink and it wasn’t Kelly?”

He flinched, and after a second he flinched again, different. “That’s a regular mistake, though. I wouldn’t do that with—I mean, I’d never just start talking to—if I. If I saw.” He gnawed on his tongue a second, like he could massage the right word out, but it never came. Nobody had ever invoked Other Kelly out loud. We knew better.

“But,” I said. I stopped—I couldn’t talk about her, either—but I wanted to say, The eyes are different, even though they shouldn’t be. Something about the mouth is so different. Why does Kelly look older than Other Kelly? What’s wrong with whichever one of them is more wrong?

“I keep thinking about it,” I said. “All Kyle’s photos. Somebody just like you, and you never knowing.”

“Not you,” he said. “You look like somebody about to get shot to death in a Renaissance painting.”

He was trying to insult me; it was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard.

Other Kelly had an ASMR channel. None of the others had seen it, but I couldn’t sleep nights. She sat at a table close to the camera, so you only saw her to the neck, her long brown hair swinging a little as she moved; she held silver rings at the very tips of her fingers—fingers that were slightly longer than Kelly’s, no one could say those hands were the same—and tapped the covers of hardback books. It was doing pretty well.

Kelly called an emergency meeting the day Carver made her fax some legal thing without looking at it. It was already after nine when she got out of work (lol fucking kill me she wrote, underneath the last three lol fucking kill mes). By the time she made it to my place we’d eaten the takeout, and all I had was cereal. She ate three bowls without stopping, her gaze shaken loose from anything actually happening. Probably still back in the office; she told me once that she kept a Swingline on her desk for whenever she finally snapped, and imagining his skull busting open was the only way she could keep coming to work.

She started talking during bowl four. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, he said, it’s that this is really important, and we don’t want anyone to be able to complain about your performance. It was his divorce papers. He turned out the light in the room so I couldn’t see it. He took my phone back to his desk, too. He took my fucking phone!”

She dropped onto my futon, which I’d bought as small and uncomfortable as possible so nobody would sleep over at my place, which everyone respected but Kelly.

Diana was perched on the other side, at the very edge where none of the metal bars could dig into your back. I was in my wobbly desk chair, and Erin was sitting on my desk so she wouldn’t have to sit on my futon. Marshall and Kyle had been omitted, because when Kelly was going to cry she didn’t like men to look at her. Other Kelly stood by my bookcase, where she might have been looking over my books, if she could read.

(She couldn’t—Kyle had checked. She just liked to look at them. She’d stare at anything, except Kelly.)

Kelly dragged her skin outward under the heels of her hands, like she could pull it tight enough to hold back tears. “Honestly, fuck my job. The insurance won’t help when the ulcers eat me, I might as well bail. Everest would be less demanding. At least up there if you collapse everybody just leaves you to die in private like normal people.”

Diana set down her drink, a little sound that always marked something shitty about to come out of her mouth, and said, “You’re right. Go.”

“We’d miss you,” said Erin, almost like she meant it.

Kelly looked around like she’d actually been expecting a better response. Then she looked at Other Kelly.

Erin and Diana pretended not to notice, but I couldn’t help it and I looked over, too. Other Kelly had given up on my books and had wandered to my window. Two pigeons were fighting over something on the sidewalk outside.

Kelly watched Other Kelly, waiting, picking absently at her cuticles. The silence held a long time. Eventually Kelly shoved her bowl of cereal across the table, toward Other Kelly, slow and deliberate enough that nothing spilled.

“Come on,” she said. “You must be hungry.”

Other Kelly never moved. At some point Kelly started crying. Erin pulled up the car service she used that was so exclusive I’d never heard of it, face lit up bright green for a second as it loaded. Outside, the pigeons were still fighting, a battery of wings.

I had seen myself, once. I’d gone to the Met on a free Friday because I was trying to meet people who weren’t the people I already knew. I didn’t—I was bad at meeting people, it’s how I’d ended up with the people I already knew, Kelly had pulled people toward us until we were all locked in orbit and I had absolutely no idea how you started that all over again from scratch—and it was so embarrassing to be there alone that after a while I’d just kept turning into whatever gallery was empty. In a small room of lesser works nobody was interested in, there was a big painting of some peasant-y kitchen full of light and people. I was sitting on a stool off to one side, peeling potatoes.

It was an old enough painting that the other me had probably died of something disgusting and preventable right after posing for this, so I tried not to get romantic about it, but in the painting I seemed like I knew what I was doing; I had something in my hands, and I understood what was being asked of me.

I wondered if the woman next to me, who was pulling feathers off a duck, had ever met herself here. If someday I would meet that woman—if she was still alive, if she was somehow here. If she’d even recognize me when she saw me, when this potato peeler was all she had to go on; for someone who had my face, she didn’t look like me at all.

“It’s supposed to show up ahead of me.”

Everybody shows up before you do, I thought, before I realized what Kelly was talking about.

Diana had gotten dumped eight months ago—Jason, who broke up with her when her mom was sick, saying she’d gotten really selfish. I don’t know how long they’d have stayed together if she hadn’t been in Connecticut and unable to give up whatever she was doing all the time to go deal with Jason. Diana never spoke about him again, except once when we were walking past some bubble tea place and she’d said “God, this was a deli when Jason—” before she could stop herself, and we’d all frozen up so bad that the people behind us crashed into us. We didn’t say anything else for a full minute, like we were waiting for him to show up. It had torn up the sidewalk under us, to hear the name.

There was no reason to be surprised that Kelly was talking about Other Kelly, but it startled me the same way; I banged my knee against the coffee table and looked around to see if Other Kelly was close enough to hear. She wasn’t—when I got eyes on her she was out on the street staring into a sewer grate—but it was a fucking stroke of luck. She should have been close enough to hear us.

If Kelly had noticed, she didn’t mention it. She was thinking hard. Her bed was too tall, and with her legs tucked up she looked like a kid afraid of what was under there. (The overflowing boxes of musty sweaters and shrunk skirts she had instead of a dresser, the folding chair she kept for guests and never needed.) All her framed art had magazine pages taped over it; she had a succulent in the window, alive, the tag still on.

“The whole point is that they want to replace you. That’s the only thing they want.” She ran her necklace back and forth under one fingernail, her mouth pulled into a single line. When she saw my expression the line got thinner. “What? You think I’m not paying attention? I can read, okay? I can like, prepare.”

She sounded more upset at me than at Other Kelly who had showed up to kill her.

“Okay,” I said. “I believe you. What happens when—when you’re…not with us? What does it feel like?”

Kelly glanced at the window. (I thought, At least Kelly isn’t alone all the time, and then stopped myself. It didn’t count, probably.)

“When my coat molded over the winter,” she said, “I bought that other one. I hung it up in the same place. It’s molded. But the landlord didn’t fix the first leak and he won’t fix this one either, and it’s not like I can move out, and it’s not like another closet will appear, and it’s…I don’t have any other place. If I buy another coat, it will be the same thing. But eventually it doesn’t matter about the leak or the mold, because where else am I supposed to put my coat? At some point you just run out of places. It feels like that.”

After a long time, I said, “What happens to—the person?”

“Consumed,” Kelly said. “Like, the person disappears, not like, cannibals.”

I tried to imagine Other Kelly consuming anything. When she chewed on Kelly’s bones it would sound just like silver rings against a hardback book.

“So what do we do?”

Kelly shrugged; she’d gotten lipstick on her teeth, and I thought vaguely that Other Kelly wouldn’t do that. Eventually the necklace gave way, but she kept her hand where it was, pressed to her sternum, the chain spilling down over her fingers.

“Ask nicely,” she said.

Game night was at Marshall’s, and when I got there Diana and Kyle were setting up some new game Kyle had brought from the game night he had with his other set of friends, who he’d never introduced us to because he said we wouldn’t like them—they were too serious, apparently, and he wanted our game nights to be more fun (“This one’s really fun,” he said every fucking month, like he’d ever been right). Other Kelly was in the kitchen toasting something while Marshall finished his cheese plate.

“I brought wine,” I announced, toeing off my shoes. We’d dropped most of the actual greetings a while ago. No plural seemed to work anymore since Other Kelly.

“Kyle is setting up Round Table,” Marshall said, one tick too pleasantly. “It’s an Arthurian board game with cards. You go on quests.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“I reminded him that Erin hates card games and you hate quests, but Kyle was not to be deterred,” Marshall informed me as he slammed the last handful of cucumber slices on the board and scooped the whole thing up to bring it into the living room. Other Kelly moved an inch forward to let him pass by, though she never looked up from the toaster; when the toast popped up, she pushed the lever again.

This one’s really fun!” Kyle called.

“Erin doesn’t have fun, Erin wins or she quits,” Diana said, putting the last little pewter knight into the cluster at the center of the board. “Remember when she lost that game of KeyCypher last year?”

“Well, Erin has issues,” Kyle said, after visibly discarding his first reaction, which was that if anyone lost a puzzle game to me they should be ashamed of themselves. Everybody had pointedly joked about it for three weeks after that game night, any time any of us met up, that Erin the salutatorian had lost a puzzle game to me. Eventually Erin pulled me aside and said, “I’m not going to come back unless they can shut up about it,” which was at least half for my sake, and that was about as considerate as Erin could be about anything. By the time she finally showed up again it was autumn, and everyone was so worried she’d ditched us all forever that nobody brought it up anymore.

Somebody buzzed the apartment. It was probably Erin. Kelly was going to be late (sorry!! should i bring coffee? definitely start without me); she hated game night as much as any of us, but she didn’t want to risk getting cut out, so she showed up too late to play and got weirdly supportive off to one side of the couch.

I didn’t want to be in the living room with Erin, in case Kyle tried to be funny again and also a little bit just because of Erin, so I moved out of sight into the kitchen. The thing that had been a slice of bread about seven toasts ago popped back up. It was nearly charcoal. Other Kelly pushed it back down.

“I brought doughnuts,” said Erin as she beelined down the hall. Everybody in the living room immediately began parceling out who was going to get the fun flavors.

“I won KeyCypher because I figured out one of the symbols was for a space between words,” I said. “Everybody else forgot about separation.”

Other Kelly looked up from the toaster. I wasn’t really looking at her (how could you), but I was talking to her. There was nobody else to talk to.

“That’s hazelnut, put it down,” said Marshall, “we roll for it. Diana, the dice.”

“You can buy doughnuts yourself with money whenever you’d like,” said Erin.

The toast came back up. It was fully a cinder.

“Four, fuck,” said Marshall, “okay wait, stop—Kyle, stop it—we’re doing best two out of three.”

Other Kelly’s finger hovered over the lever for a second before pushing. The two of us watched the cinder fall apart.

I was supposed to meet Kelly for coffee, and even though I was twenty minutes late Kelly was still texting left the house I promise and hang on my laces broke be there asap. Eventually I made a slow loop of the park to let Other Kelly stare at stuff. She liked water a lot. Trees. Shadows.

“Hey, Kelly,” called Carver.

Kelly had made me be her date to her office holiday party, the first time; she’d still thought there was a future for her, and she introduced me to people as if she’d be talking about them a lot as soon as she got promoted. That was so long ago that she’d still looked like Other Kelly, no eye bags and all her cuticles still in one piece. Carver looked exactly the same, except now he was in an outfit where everything he was wearing was a slightly different shade of black with a different logo on it, walking a dog.

“Kelly, wow,” said Carver, mostly to his phone, and partly to the dog that was struggling to get at a cigarette butt. “Small town, huh? You know, our deadline hasn’t changed just because it’s the weekend. Are you on your way in?”

Other Kelly stared. I thought about a mouth full of metal teeth ripping Carver right off the bone. What was all this for, if not to make everybody who knew Kelly fear for their lives?

He said, “I mean, you don’t have to, but it’s really not fair to the team when you get overwhelmed. Nobody wants to make you work on a weekend, but, you know?”

She blinked at him. He gave her a tight smile, waved with the dog-leash hand (the puppy choked), said, “Okay great, thanks,” and left.

Other Kelly and I looked at each other. It was too long, immediately, but then I was stuck staring, waiting for Other Kelly to ask the question I knew, all at once, she wanted to ask.

Then the wind shook the trees, and whatever I had been staring at was gone; she was already in the little grove, shadows dappling her hair as she stared down where her body blocked out the light.

I ended up meeting Kelly at the coffee place alone; Other Kelly hadn’t followed me, and I didn’t know how to call out for her.

I explained what had happened. She took too long to realize Other Kelly hadn’t done anything to Carver, and hadn’t gone wherever Kelly was supposed to go now, and hadn’t even come here to get stared at. Then her head dropped forward. Her hands, short-fingered, pulled the skin taut over her face. Her whole body was fraying at the edges.

“It’s not fair,” she said. “I’m so ready. How fucking long do I have to hold on?”

“She’ll be here soon,” I said.  

I believed it, too. I believed it for a long time. I sat there even after Kelly had given up and left for work; for nearly an hour I sat in a stool at the window of the coffee shop, waiting for Other Kelly to find one of us or the other, wishing for something to do with my hands.

Game night was KeyCypher (“I’m sorry, I forgot,” snapped Kyle from the living room, as Erin said “Don’t use that tone with me, I’m not the one who made it an issue” and Diana cut in with “I would honestly rather play Go Fish than get into this again”), and Marshall had invented some missing thing from the cheese board just so he’d have a reason to walk half a mile to the new fancy grocery store in the lobby of the new block of glass condos and avoid all of us for forty minutes.

Kelly was late (no texts), and honestly it was just as well. Other Kelly hadn’t come. There was nothing for her here.

I was in the kitchen. With the lights off it was dark and quiet. I pushed the toast back down. It wasn’t a cinder yet, but it would be soon.

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Other Kelly
Other Kelly

Other Kelly

Genevieve Valentine

About the Author

Genevieve Valentine


Genevieve Valentine is the author of Two Graves, alongside artists Ming Doyle and Annie Wu. Her novels include Mechanique, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Persona, and Icon; she is the recipient of the Crawford Award for best first novel, and has been shortlisted for Nebula, Locus, Shirley Jackson, and World Fantasy awards. Her comics work includes Catwoman and Ghost in the Shell. Her short stories have appeared in over a dozen Best of the Year anthologies, including Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Her nonfiction has appeared at, The AV Club, and The New York Times, among others.
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