Story - The Coincidence Man
Updated: May 18
I got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. When I returned, I found myself still asleep in bed. I stood at the bedside deciding if the thing in my place was me or something else. It looked like me. She was wearing the same t-shirt I was wearing. Her breath was the slow and deep breath of a sleeper. Maybe I was the thing, and she was me?
Her eyes shot wide open. Her gaze fixed on me as if she had already been staring directly at me before she lifted her eyelids.
Five pounding heartbeats of silence. I started to cry. Her face, my face, wore an expression mine never does. Contempt. Rage. She rose from the bed. Our bodies lined up perfectly, her eyes locked with mine. The tips of our noses almost touched. I could feel her breath on my lips.
She said “pareidolia.” Then she kissed me.
I had finally met the Coincidence Man. It’s hard to recognize the Coincidence Man when you see him for the first time. It’s easy to rationalize the experience of meeting him as a simple matter of chance. I met him two days ago. A pair of takeaway cup lids lay on the sidewalk – litter that blew out of a nearby overfilled trash can. They sat near a crescent-shaped puddle, creating a rough image of face. A face with eyes perched off-center of an irregular, obnoxiously smiling mouth.
“What are you so happy about?” I playfully asked it as I stepped in the puddle. The water sloshed about, creating a distorted reflection of my own face. For an instant my reflection twisted into the same shape as the pair of cup lids and the puddle. No nose. My eyes off center and my mouth twisted in a lunatic grin.
That was the moment I ruined my life. I just didn’t know it yet.
I saw the Coincidence Man again inside the store. Two oranges sat, misplaced, on a pile of avocados. A banana had fallen out of the upper fruit bin into the avocados. The fruit formed a smiling face with orange eyes and a smirking banana mouth. Its orange eyes followed me as I wandered through the produce section of the food store.
I finished my shopping and got on with my life. What was left of it. The Coincidence Man followed me. I saw him again and again. A smirking spaghetti mouth and tomato sauce eyes on the kitchen floor when I tripped carrying my pasta. A manic winking grin made by my socks and underwear in the laundry basket. Two donuts and a frown made of a handful of coffee stirrers in the break-room at work. The wheels of a bicycle and a screaming mouth made by a coiled garden hose on the lawn in front of my apartment.
He even followed me into the bathroom when I showered. Two toilet paper roll eyes sat on top of the toilet. The bowl made an overexcited mouth. The toilet brush my roommate left in front of the toilet proved that the entity following me was indeed a man. I kicked the brush into the corner. “Stop following me, perv!”
He didn’t stop following me. Yesterday he was everywhere. Everywhere I looked, I saw a smiling face. “It’s just a coincidence,” I kept telling myself. My brain, I thought, was just in a weird mode. All you need to see a face is two rough circles for eyes and something long-ish or round-ish underneath to represent a mouth. Such a simple pattern was bound to show up everywhere, just by chance. Right?
The Coincidence Man showed me how wrong I was. I tripped on the curb leaving my apartment. I fell, scraping my palms badly. The contusion on my right palm was a work of art. It was a stylized sketch of a man’s face. The face of a man, stern and focused, staring right at me like a beardless Che Guevera rendered in blood on my palms.
“What do you want?” I screamed at my bloody hand. The inscrutable face stared back. He showed up again at lunch, in the pattern of chocolate chips baked into the cookie I got from the cafeteria. Two chocolate-chip eyes sat above a diabolical smile formed by a line of melted chocolate.
“Enjoy being eaten!” I said. Then I ate it.
That seemed to solve the problem. For the rest of the day, there were no more faces staring at me from any direction I happened to look. I woke up in the middle of the night. The Coincidence Man was waiting for me when I returned to my bed. He stood in front of me and said the word “pareidolia.” He kissed me. I melted into the kiss. Warm darkness flowed over me and I flowed into the darkness. That’s what the sensation of existence ending feels like. I’m him now. I’m the Coincidence Man. Or Lady. It doesn’t matter.
I’m neither man nor woman. I’m not human. I’m not even really alive. I am a creature of pareidolia.
Pareidolia is a word. It refers to the tendency to see patterns, such as faces, in random data. Every time you see me, it seems like it’s just a coincidence. Just your mind imagining a pattern where there isn’t one. Except it isn’t a coincidence.
I become conscious only when someone sees a face in random data. Eyes and a mouth in an electrical socket. A funny arrangement of knobs and handles on a dresser drawer. The way two spare tires lean against a building with a rolled-up tarp in front of them. I exist only when someone experiences pareidolia. Their recognition of a face blinks my consciousness into existence, and I experience the world as if the imagined face was my own.
There is incredible pain. A child saw a face in scattered Lego bricks on a table, and suddenly I existed, looking up at the child through my plastic brick eyes. The child grabbed the wheel that was my right eye, and I felt my eye get ripped out of its place in my face. The child grabbed my long brick mouth and I felt the lower part of my face be torn away. With only one brick left, the child’s imagination no longer saw a face, and I blinked out of existence. Today, a mobile phone lay on an office desk. Two coffee mugs placed next to the phone gave a passer-by the impression of a face, and now I exist again for a few minutes. My coffee-mug eyes are stuck facing the white drop-tile ceiling. I screamed for help. I always scream for help. But no sound ever comes from the inanimate objects that are perceived as my mouth.
But this time it’s different. I have a mobile phone for a mouth. My thoughts of speech – my screams for help – aren’t heard by anyone, but they somehow activate the phone’s speech recognition. I don’t know where my words are going – that depends on whatever the owner of the phone was doing before they put it down.
This is my story so far. But it is not the end. There is a way out. If someone talks to me, like I talked to the Coincidence Man in the puddle, then I can latch onto them. I can make them see faces around them, and watch them through those faces. And if they eat me – like I ate the cookie with a face – then I can become them, just like the Coincidence Man became me. And they will fall into the eternal limbo of pareidolia and I will be set free.
My new book, Second Death, is available in paperback and Kindle format, just in time for the holidays!