St. Francisville, Lousianna
I think about the doppelgangers a lot.
I suppose that’s not entirely true; I think about how things could be different, how my life would look if I had taken other paths, instead of the ones I did. What would have happened if I never picked up that ‘Worlds of Wonder’ painting, gone back to college and finished my degree? What if I had said ‘yes’ to that initial road trip, but Creepy America had never happened? Is there some possible combination of events where Creepy America is still going to this day?
Where Zoey and I are still together?
And naturally, those thoughts drift back to the doppelgangers. And naturally, they drift back to the same frustrating truths. Their existence seems to suggest that yes, there are some timelines where things went differently, where things worked out for the best, or at least, better than they worked out here. And there are some where things went worse. In the end, my placement here, now, in a shitty studio apartment, barely getting by, has less to do with any amount of choice or free will on my part, and instead on just a roll of the dice, placing me in this universe where things were destined to be this way, like some great cosmic joke: ‘go directly to jail, do not pass go, better luck next time Liam, ha ha.’
Or perhaps not. After all, some things I’ve learned seem to disagree with that theory, and some reinforce it. In the end, I have no more illumination into things than when I first started, and in a way, I’ve learned nothing since those early days before Creepy America. More data, less conclusions: the universe continues to shroud its secrets to me.
But then again, perhaps that’s not entirely true. Because the doppelgangers did teach me one thing:
They taught me how dangerous I could be.
We were incredibly excited when we rolled back into Louisanna. Despite all our setbacks we had encountered in the recent month: our run-ins with Archangel, the looming threat of Sam, our personal losses, even our money troubles, all of that took a backseat in our minds to the one thing we were dying to get to:
The Myrtles Plantation.
In every list of supernatural and paranormal phenomena, every writer agreed that this place was one of the most haunted locations in all of America, many even in all the world. It was constantly listed amongst the ‘must-sees’ in ghost-hunting, alongside others like Waverly Hills Sanitarium or the Skinwalker Ranch (causing Zoey to remark, “man, we really are joining the nutsoes if we’re recognizing those kinds of names”). Disembodied noises, lost objects, orbs of lights and specific, recognizable ghosts: all of the usual suspects were there, waiting for us to film them.
Of course, the owners of the property had capitalized on the reputation by turning it into a bed and breakfast, ‘spooky’ tourism being a much bigger market than I had ever realized, but that was a good thing: it made the process of exploring the property as easy as renting a room for the night. By sheer luck, or perhaps Archangel (even now I have trouble distinguishing the two), we arrived on an incredibly slow night, meaning that we had the entire run of the place all to ourselves to explore. As an extra bonus, the management there was especially accommodating once they learned we were ‘ghost hunters’ trying to produce an episode on the place, and consented to leaving us alone at night to explore the property.
Nowadays, I would have been suspicious of such a prominently ‘haunted’ place, worrying about it being a planted front by Archangel in order to keep people looking in the wrong places. Waverly Hills would turn out to be just that, as would many other stops on our list. Somewhere famous, with a dark past (plantation slave owning, in this case), transformed into a highly profitable commercial location based on a reputation of being ‘creepy’: it reeked of a phony.
Fortunately, it wasn’t.
All kinds of stuff happened during our stay at the Plantation. Chances are, you remember most of these from the episode. Doors slammed. Footsteps kept walking back and forth in the hall. Small things I put down, like keys and cables, would disappear, only to reappear in strange places, like in Zoey’s bag or on top of the wardrobe. Things that, had I a different mindset on the world, I might have dismissed as strange coincidences.
Needless to say, I didn’t.
But it was far more interesting to just watch Zoey. We’d be sitting around, doing our own thing, and all of the sudden she would stand up and spin around the room. Or we’d be walking down a hallway and she’d jump, almost three feet in the air. Everytime I asked her what it was, she’d reply with “you didn’t see that?” or “there’s no way you didn’t hear that!” Each time I’d have to confirm that, no, I didn’t, and she would tell me that there was a shadow moving about in the corner of the room, or that someone had just screamed something at the top of their lungs. Whatever would happen, it would be so obvious to her that she really couldn’t believe that I didn’t experience it as well.
Of course, with these observations came Zoey’s complaints about how cold it was, all over the house, no matter where we were or what the temperature actually was. And while Zoey wasn’t necessarily the most tolerant when it came to cold (I once caught her wearing a hoodie in mid-July), the fact that she was outright shivering, teeth-chattering sometimes, even, was proof enough that this was no mundane chill that she was feeling.
“Well that confirms it,” I said once we had walked the entire length of the plantation’s main house. “If I wasn’t sure you had a spooky sense before, I definitely believe you have it now.”
“Why d-d-do…” I watched as Zoey paused, grimaced, and tried to willpower her teeth-chattering away. “Why do you think that I can feel things here and not back-k-k at the rest-st-top?”
I scratched my head. “Dunno. Maybe there’s different flavors of weird out there, and your spooky sense can only pick up on a specific one.”
Zoey nodded. “Th-then what-t-t-t…”
“Geez, Zoe,” I interrupted. “You okay? You want me to go get you a blanket or something from our room?”
“N-n-n-n-n…” she started. “N-n-n-n-n-n…” Then she sighed and nodded.
“Be right back,” I said, climbing up the stairway up to our room and entering inside. I grabbed her hoodie lying across her bed, turned to leave, then stopped for a moment and stared at the gigantic comforter, debating about whether or not to take it as well. On the one hand, it would most definitely cure Zoey’s shivering. On the other, it was large, and bulky, and someone would most definitely get guilted into dragging it back up as well. Three guess as to who that would be, and the first two…
Zoey’s voice snapped me out of my mini-rant, replacing them with images of Archangel Agents, Red Eyes, Sam, cornering Zoey alone in the dark. I rushed back down the stairs two at a time only to almost collide right into her as she met me on the landing.
“Woah there,” she said, giving me a slight half-smile as she took the hoodie out of my hands and pulled it over her head. “Where’s th-the fire?”
I felt my face start to go red. “I heard you call my name and thought you might have needed help, or ran into something, or... something.”
“Sorry for scaring you,” she said in a sincere tone. “My bad.” Then her face lit up. “But I did find something you need to see! Here, over here!”
I followed, curious, as Zoey led me down the main hallway and over to one side, where a gigantic silver surface surrounded by a wood frame hung on the wall, reflecting the darkened room.
I frowned. “The mirror?” The mirror of the Myrtle Plantation had been mentioned quite a bit in our research, the focal point of many accounts of ghostly images and the like. However, we’d already checked it out, and I’d mostly written it off as a dud when we hadn’t been able to get it to do anything.
“Here,” Zoey grabbed my shoulders and moved me directly in front of it. “Just stand there and stare at your reflection.”
I raised an eyebrow at her, then turned to the glass. “For how long?”
“Until you see it.”
I waited, watching my double stand there, copying my movements as his own mirror Zoey stood behind him eagerly waiting. After a few minutes, I sighed and said “Zoey, whatever it is that I’m supposed to be…”
And my reflection blinked.
My heart stopped as I staggered back. My reflection in the mirror stayed still, blinking several times, surprise written all over his face. Mirror Zoey smiled and pointed at us, mouthing words I couldn’t hear as real-world Zoey gently pushed me forward, back in front of the mirror.
“Crazy, right?” she exclaimed. “I think you have to wait a couple seconds, and it seems to reset if you walk away, but the longer you stand there…”
Our reflections broke off and stepped closer, looking up and down its surface and running their fingers along the wood frame.
I stepped closer as well, studying the two. “They look just as confused as we do.”
“What do you think it is?” Zoey asked, stepping up and putting her face near the glass, trying to see the hallway beyond the frame’s confines.
“A window into a parallel universe, or an alternate timeline maybe?” I guessed. “Or something more akin to magic? After all, mirrors were often believed to contain people’s souls and…” I trailed off as the reflection Zoey began to wave her arms, then make a series of motions. “What’s she doing?”
“She’s… she’s signing!” Zoey said with surprise.
“You mean sign language?”
“Yeah!” She took a step back, watching her double perform the movements. “She says hello, and she wants to know who we are.”
“Well, tell her!” I replied, watching in fascination as the mirror Zoey studied her counterpart, watching the message and relaying it silently to her Liam, then vice versa as she signed something back.
“She says that they’re also Liam and Zoey, and they also do a webshow called Creepy America,” Zoey reported.
“Ask them which ‘Worlds of Wonder’ painting they found,” I said.
Zoey did, and the mirror versions stopped and looked at each other, confused, before mirror Zoey signed back.
“They say they don’t know what that is,” Zoey said.
“Well what was their first episode?” I asked.
Another round of sign language occurred before Zoey said “they said that they went exploring an old ghost town called ‘Hollowfast’ just for fun and found…” she stopped, squinted, and exchanged more hand gestures before saying “‘a broken mister’, whatever that is.”
“This is insane,” I mumbled. “Even for us, this is nuts.”
“Hey, they want to know if we found Archangel yet, and Red Eyes, and…” Zoey paused to squint again, “‘a little book that says ‘love’ but not ‘life’.’”
“Well, tell them what we know.” I paused. “Ask them about Sam,” I added, walking around to inspect where the mirror hung on the wall.
“No on Sam,” Zoey yelled to me. “Now they’re asking about what we know about Wonderland.”
“Swings free,” I muttered to myself, moving the mirror a tiny bit away from the wall to make sure that it wasn’t just a window pane being used for a very elaborate prank. A brief flash of color caught my eye from the wooden back base and I paused, then began to move the mirror more, trying to get a good look at whatever was scrawled on the reverse side.
“Liam…” Zoey said. “Liam, wait!”
A soft twang sounded and the mirror dropped. I leapt over to catch it, trying to put it back upright, but it was too fast. The frame just slid past my fingertips and dropped to the ground. All I could do was wince in pain as it hit the hardwood floor glass-down, causing a SMASH as loud as a siren to break the night air.
Zoey and I looked at each other, then back down to the shattered mirror.
“Well...” Zoey said. “That’s… um…”
“Dammit,” I swore. “Dammit dammit dammit.”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Zoey agreed.
“That was…” I grabbed my hair. “Dammit!”
“C’mon,” she replied, picking up the wooden board and lifting it. “Least we can do is clean this up before…” Then she stopped.
“What?” I asked.
Zoey stared at me, face drained of color, before moving the board back to reveal the unconscious forms of an olive skinned man with curly brown hair and a young woman with neon-colored hair and silver piercings across her face.
The unconscious bodies… of ourselves.
After a few minutes of panicked discussion, we decided that the best course of action was to hide the evidence while we thought of a better course of action. So as quickly as we could, Zoey and I gathered up all the broken glass shards and threw them away in our room trash can, stowed the wooden frame away in our bathroom, then dragged our duplicate selves upstairs. Fortunately, some miracle made sure that they stayed unconscious while we laid them on the mattresses in our room.
“So much for finally having individual beds,” Zoey muttered as she watched the pair splayed out on top of the sheets.
I bit my lip. “They’re not… dead, are they?”
She shook her head. “They’re breathing. Just… out like a light.”
I sighed and turned around, staring at the wooden mirror frame we had dragged up with us. Splayed across it was a large, colorful, and incredibly detailed drawing of a crooked white castle tower, enormous silver moon hanging over it.
I reached out and touched it, and some of the picture’s hue rubbed off onto my fingers, feeling sticky and clay-like. Pastels. And completely ordinary.
Zoey followed my gaze and stared at the drawing as well. “Is that the back of the mirror?”
“Yeah. It’s what I was trying to get a better look at when I knocked it over.” I grabbed a few tissues from the bathroom and wiped my fingers clean. “No idea what it means, though.”
YES YOU DO, something whispered in the back of my head. AND YOU’VE SEEN IT BEFORE. I WOULD BE HAPPY TO TELL YOU ALL ABOUT IT, DISCIPLE...
I ignored it.
“So what do we do about…?” She motioned her head over to our doppelgangers.
I ran my fingers through my hair. “I don’t know.”
“And explaining the mirror?” she asked.
“Also don’t know.”
“Fantastic,” Zoey said with a sigh. “This is a whole new level of screwed, you know that?”
I paused. Zoey, the doppelganger Zoey lying on the bed, had on the same hoodie as the original Zoey, the one I had brought down for her. But it was backwards. The logo on it was reversed, and the letters went the wrong way, reflected the way they would have looked in the mirror. Curious, I reached down to my double, trying to flip the tag out from the back of his shirt.
A cry of surprise and a flurry of movement forced me to stumble back. My doppelganger was staring at me, eyes wide, scrambling backwards on the mattress to get away from me.
“Hey, hey, hey, hey!” Zoey exclaimed, putting her hands up. “It’s alright! It’s fine. You're safe here.”
His eyes darted from Zoey to me, then he said something.
I frowned. “What?”
He repeated it.
I looked at Zoey. She shrugged. “Sounds like gibberish to me.”
Behind her, the other Zoey stirred. Other Liam shouted something I couldn’t understand, and other Zoey responded with something similar sounding, the two exchanging things back and forth for a bit.
I think... it’s a language, I thought to myself. There’s repeating sounds and what seems to be a structure to it. Maybe it is a window into an alternate timeline, and this is some alternate version of English?
Other Zoey and Liam stopped, then turned to look back to the two of us.
Well, thank goodness sign language ended up the same, I concluded, turning to see Zoey already signing out a set of motions for other Zoey to faithfully interpret.
Other Zoey signed something back and Zoey pointed to the bathroom. Despite the situation, I couldn’t help but be slightly amused as other Liam got up and ran his fingers across the mirror drawing, got pastel on them, and wiped them off with a tissue.
“Well, I caught them up to speed,” Zoey said. “Now what?”
“Ask them to stay here, in the room.” I said. “Tell them we’re figuring out what to do next.”
Zoey signed, and Other Zoey nodded. Other Liam began to walk around the room, picking things up and inspecting them.
“Y’know, I always wanted a duplicate of myself when I was a kid,” Zoey said. “I figured that way, she could go to school and do homework, and I could stay at home and watch cartoons all day.”
“Well now’s your chance,” I mumbled. “I sure as hell can’t think of anything better to do with them.”
“Can’t we send them back?” she asked.
“How? The mirror only let us see into whatever their world was, remember?”
“Until you broke it. Maybe if we put it back together, then let it fall on them and break again?”
I considered it. “I suppose we could try it. It’s a longshot, but I have no idea what else to do.”
“We’ll have to come up with an explanation for the owners,” Zoey pointed out. “They’re going to notice that the mirror's gone as soon as they get back in the morning, and they’re not likely to just ignore it.”
“Mm.” I glanced over to our doubles, involved in their own conversation.
“What do you think they’re talking about?” she asked.
“Probably the exact same thing as us,” I replied.
“It’s freaky,” Zoey said. “They’re just like us, down to the freckles on the back of your hand, Liam.”
“I know,” I said, then stopped and pulled out the laptop from the bag next to me.
Zoey raised an eyebrow. “Idea?”
“More of a connection,” I replied. I pulled up Wikipedia and navigated to the article I wanted.
“Doppelganger?” Zoey read. “Like a look-alike?”
“That’s what we use the word for now,” I admitted, “but it came from German folklore. People used to claim to see twin versions of themselves, and it was usually taken as a sign of bad luck or… impending… death…” I trailed off, looking up to see our twins hovering over my shoulder, trying to read the screen.
Other Zoey blushed and signed something to real Zoey.
“Ah, right. They don’t have any of their things,” Zoey explained.
“Oh.” I looked down to the laptop, then offered it up above me to the others. Other Liam took it, grumbled something, then passed it back down as Other Zoey signed again.
“They can’t read it,” Zoey translated.
I set it on my lap again. “Huh. Guess English really is different in their timeline.”
“Timeline?” Zoey asked.
“Working theory. With all the other dimensional weirdness we know about, it seems likely that they came from a parallel universe where things were almost, but not exactly, the same.”
“Like Rick and Morty?”
“If that’s the example you want to use,” I said with a sigh. “I think that maybe you and the other Zoey should talk. Try to find out what’s different between our timelines. It might help us come up with something.”
“And at the very least, it’ll be interesting,” she agreed. “What are you going to do?”
“Head into town, buy glue. See if fixing this mirror will do anything.”
I stood up to leave, then stopped as a message rippled through the chain of command from Zoey to Other Zoey to Other Liam. Other Liam nodded, sent his own message through the chain, then laid the large mirror frame on the bed.
“What’s he doing?” I asked.
“He’s going to get started on figuring out where the mirror pieces go,” Zoey replied. “That way, we can get a headstart on gluing it back together when you get back.”
I blinked. “Oh. That… yeah, I guess that’s what I would do as well.”
Zoey smiled. “Well, guess this could’ve been worse. After all, we did make clones of ourselves. How bad can we be?”
By the time I got back to the hotel, the darkness of the night sky was giving way to the deep blue of pre-dawn twilight. I grumbled and tried to rub some sleep out of my traitorous eyelids, then scanned the parking lot.
Only one here, so the owners haven’t got back yet, I thought to myself. That’s one strain of good luck in a sea of bad.
I stopped by the RV and grabbed some things, then headed inside and up the staircase to our room and knocked on the door. “Zoey?”
“Come in,” she yelled back. I opened the door and found her, seated on the bed with her duplicate sitting on the bed opposite, my double having moved the mirror to the floor and lying next to it on hands and knees, attempting to fit a small glass piece into the few spaces left in his puzzle project.
“I was beginning to worry about you,” Zoey said. “What took you so long?”
“Glue,” I grumbled, throwing the plastic shopping bag onto the bed. “Apparently, there’s different kinds for different projects, and different ones for different combinations of materials. Way too many, I might add.”
Zoey took out the bottle of Gorilla Clear Glue, flashbacks forming in my head of the frustrating amount of details about a craft project I had been forced to fabricate at the 24 hour hardware store before the employee had finally given me a suggestion for “glass on wood.” Figures I would find the one retail employee that actually wanted to be helpful.
“Also,” I said, flopping a bundle of clothes next to the Zoey double, “those are for them. Got ‘em from the RV. Figured they could use them.”
Zoey passed my message along as the two doubles split the clothes, Liam almost instantly going back to the mirror puzzle.
“How’s things been here?” I asked, kneeling down next to myself and double checking my work.
“Quiet,” Zoey said. “Talked to… well, talked to myself all day. Translated and recorded it all on camera, if you want to see.”
I picked up a sliver of glass and slotted it into place. “Anything interesting?”
“Lots. It’s like you said: their lives are almost exactly the same, except for a few minor details that changed. Nothing major. Who got elected prom queen, where you went to college, a couple of episode details, that sort of thing. But otherwise, they’re us, down to a t.”
“Bizarre,” I muttered. I looked up to study my doppelganger, only to see that he was already doing the same thing. Both of us started, blushed, shook our heads and chuckled.
Both Zoeys smirked. I clapped my hands, and Zoey tossed down the bottle of glue. I began spreading it on the back of the bigger pieces that were already fitted into place, then flipping them back over and placing them snugly inside. “It’s almost morning.”
“I know,” Zoey groaned. “The owner’s weren’t back yet, were they?”
I shook my head. “But they’ll probably be here soon.”
“Right.” Zoey stood, frowning. “I’m gonna go downstairs and wait for them. Maybe they’ll be a bit more lenient if I catch them before they notice something’s wrong and they decide to go looking for us.”
“What are you going to tell them?”
“The truth, sort of. Something spooky was happening while we were recording the mirror, then it fell over and broke. And we didn’t want them to come back to a mess, so we figured the least we could do was clean it up.”
I noticed that my doppelganger had taken his phone out and was fiddling around with something. “They’re probably still going to be pissed.”
“Yeah,” Zoey sighed. “And something tells me they’re going to want us to pay for damages.”
“We can’t afford to do that.”
“Well, it’s not exactly like we’re in a position to argue, are we?” Zoey snapped back, bite to her voice. She stopped and rubbed her eyes. “Sorry. I’ll do my best to placate them, or at least knock down the dollar amount. But Liam, we can’t really say no if they decide to push it.”
For a brief moment I paused, fantasies of calling Archangel in my head. It would be so easy; all I would have to do is tell them there that there were some people getting dangerously close to uncovering something from behind the Veneer. Thorn would show up, bully them, get them to keep their mouths closed as someone replaced the mirror with a replica, and we would drive away, the owners too afraid to ask for money, or to follow up with legal action, leaving us debt free…
I shook my head. “You’re right, you’re right. Try your best, though.”
“Always do,” she replied with a smile. “You good to stay with the kids?”
I scoffed. “They’re us, Zoey. I don’t think you would appreciate that being said about yourself.”
“Please. I’m willing to bet money other me already made that joke to her Liam.” She opened the door and stepped out. “Text me if you need me.”
“Mhmm,” I mumbled.
The room fell eerily quiet as I continued glueing mirror pieces into place. Other Liam, having fitted all the shards back into proper order, simply stared as I continued the work, and I silently wished that I had bought two bottles of glue; that way, he’d at least have something to do besides watch me.
Fortunately, Other Zoey broke the silence, saying something in their strange parallel language. Liam responded, and I simply allowed them to talk, fitting in piece by piece by piece by piece until it was all ready.
“Alright,” I said, standing. The glue’s instructions said that it had to wait for two hours clamped (putting pressure on it, I guess), then another twenty four hours for it to properly cure, but I figured that, in this instance, that wasn’t necessary; after all, the whole point was to break the mirror again, not actually fix it. Even so, I tested it, leaning it upright and gently shaking it back and forth, ensuring that the glue had enough sticking power to resist gravity, at the very least.
I stood and waited, staring at the multiple fractured ‘me’s, waiting for one of them to break from my actions and start doing their own thing.
I frowned. That wasn’t a good sign. It implied that, whatever weird mojo had caused the mirror to start doing that kind of stuff in the first place was no longer there. If that was true, then the admittedly large long shot of sending our alternate selves back to their home through the mirror had gotten even longer.
But what else was there to do? We’d already spent the night fixing the stupid thing, the least we could do was test it.
I turned around. Other Liam and Zoey watched me, waiting expectantly.
I opened my mouth to speak, and then stopped.
Zoey was still downstairs, and without her, I had no way to talk to these two.
“Dammit,” I swore. “Five more minutes and this wouldn’t have been an issue.”
Other Liam looked to me, then to Other Zoey, then down to the mirror, then back at me again.
I raised an eyebrow. “What?”
He started to say something, then looked at the door and scowled. It looked like he had come to the same conclusion that I just came to.
Other Zoey asked something, and the two exchanged some words. She seemed to think for a moment, then waved her arms at me.
I watched as she pointed to me, then to the mirror, then raised her arms up like she was shielding herself from something, then pointed to her and Other Liam. She repeated the motions again, then pointed to themselves, the mirror, and finished it off by clasping her hands like a bird and flapping them away.
You… mirror… attack? Fall?... us…. You drop the mirror on us, so we can… mirror… fly, away? Are you going to drop the mirror on us so that we can go back? It dawned on me that what I had just seen was Other Liam guessing, correctly, what our plan was, wanting to ask about it but realizing he was unable to, then seeing Other Zoey fixing that problem with impromptu charades.
They really were us.
“Yes!” I exclaimed, then realized that meant nothing to them and instead vigorously nodded.
Other Liam gestured to the mirror with an impatient look on his face.
“What, now?” I frowned, then pointed to Other Zoey, then to the door.
Other Zoey didn’t seem to get it, so I switched tactics, holding up four fingers on one hand and pointing to the last one. Realization dawned on her face and she pointed past me, to the bathroom mirror containing her reflection.
Other Zoey looked pleased with herself and relayed a message to her Liam. Other Liam grumbled back and the two of them shared another exchange before Other Zoey sighed and pointed at her wrist.
“Time? What time will she be back?” I gave an exaggerated shrug.
Other Zoey shook her head. She drew a large ‘Y’ in the air with her finger, shook her head, then pointed to her wrist again.
Y… no… time…. Why not now? I paused, thinking. They had a point. Zoey wouldn’t be back for a while, and it wasn’t necessarily like this was a complicated procedure. Besides, what else was there to do? Worse case scenario, we’d still be here at square one, and nothing would change before Zoey came back.
“Alright,” I stood up on a chair, tilting the mirror upright. The Others instantly brightened and trotted over to me, standing underneath the reconstructed glass pane and looking up.
“Okay then.” I counted down from three from my fingers, then pushed the mirror over, It landed on top of them with a soft but loud CRACK, then bunches of little thumpthumpthumpthumps as the mirror pieces broke the weak bonds they had with the glue and rained onto the carpet.
The frame stayed, angled a good five to six feet above the ground, before it lifted up and Other Zoey emerged, rubbing her head.
“Yeah, that’s about what I figured would happen,” I sighed.
Angry voices began shouting from the floor beneath us. A moment later, Zoey returned, looking unhappy.
“No good?” I asked.
“What was that sound?” she barked at me.
I took a step back. “The… mirror. We tried it out.”
She looked at the array of reflective shards scattered about the floor and gave a long exhale. “Why the hell didn’t you wait for me?”
“Because…” I felt my face get red, “because I figured that... well since it wasn’t that complicated... and…”
“That was the worst time to have done that!” she spat at me. “I had just gotten them calmed down when that thing rang out and they thought that you broke something else! I might have actually had a chance if you hadn’t screwed it up!”
A sinking feeling hit my stomach. I sat on the bed as Other Zoey began picking up the pieces of glass and Other Liam began messing around on his phone again.
“How much?” I asked.
Zoey’s eyes sank to the floor. “Six thousand,” she replied in a soft voice.
“Six thousand?” My heart stopped for a second. “Zoey, that’s all the money we have left. We can’t…”
“What? Pay them? We also can’t not!” she snapped. “But if you’ve got some grand chess move that lets you travel back in time or something, please, I’m all ears!”
Again, I considered calling Archangel.
“No, no, you’re right, I’m just…” I put my head in my hands. “This is how it ends, huh? All because of a stupid mirror?”
Zoey seemed to soften. “We have a little more money stored away…”
“Just enough to get back home, if we stretch it. Not enough to continue the show.”
Zoey looked past me, and I followed her gaze to see our doppelgangers staring at us, wide eyed.
“What are we going to do about them?” Zoey whispered.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can do,” I said. “I think they’re stuck here.”
“Well, we can help them, right? Get them on their feet at least?”
“How?” I asked. “We can’t even get ourselves back on our own feet, much less anyone else. The only people we could even ask for help would be from Archangel, and something tells me they’d be better off without their help.”
A deep silence filled the room.
“Check out’s at eight,” Zoey said. “I’m going to try and talk to them again in a couple hours, see if I can’t get them to budge a little on the price. After that… I guess we’re going home.”
I managed to get a few hour’s sleep in while Zoey packed. Once it was check out time, though, she shook me awake and asked for me to settle our account with the owners.
“Did you talk them down at all?” I asked blearily. It looked like our doppelgangers had already snuck themselves out.
She shook her head.
“Get some rest in the RV,” I said. “I’ll do the check and whatnot.”
She nodded, shuffling out the door as I made my way to the front counter.
“Ah, Liam, is it?” the elderly woman asked as I made my way up.
“Yeah.” I pulled my checkbook out. “Sorry about the mirror, I…”
“Oh that won’t be necessary,” the old man next to her interrupted. “We’ve decided to forgive that.”
I stopped, slowly glancing from one to the other. “The six thousand? All of it?”
The woman nodded enthusiastically. “We were talking, and accidents happen all the time, especially in a place like this.” She chuckled, but it felt off. Forced. “And after thinking about things, Reggie and I remembered the mirror was insured! So that’ll cover the cost of repairs quite nicely.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. Part of my mind was yelling at me to shut up, just run before they changed their minds. But it was becoming drowned out by a larger section that was feeling very uneasy about all of this.
“Yes, yes,” the man said. “It’s fine, accidents happen, tempers flare. Live and learn, and all that.”
“Well, if you insist,” I said, putting the checkbook back away. I turned to leave, but the man caught my arm.
“Please,” he begged, and this time, there was no denying it. There was terror in his eyes. “We’re sorry. We were just upset, don’t hold it against us.”
“It’s fine!” I backed away, disturbed, palms up. “It’s fine! All forgotten!”
They nodded, quiet, watching me, fear in their eyes as they tracked me down the hall, to the stairs. I broke and ran back to the room, hyperventilating, confused.
What the hell just happened?
I started to pace, thinking things over. Their expressions… it was if they were watching a tiger that was pacing in front of them, hoping and praying it wouldn’t pounce. They weren’t just scared, they were scared… of me.
Had Zoey thought of the Archangel solution? Called them to fix our little problem? No, Zoey wouldn’t do that. She had no love for their scare tactics, and there was no way she would be okay with scaring innocent people like that. And I certainly hadn’t…
Or had I? After all, there was more than one me running around.
I shook my head. No, that couldn’t be it. He’d have to talk to them on the phone, explain what the situation was, and he couldn’t do that with his weird version of English. If he wanted to do something like that…
A flash of red caught my eye from the bathroom garbage can. I looked inside and withdrew a jagged piece of mirror, blood on the end just beginning to dry.
Scared… of me. And there were ways to scare people without words.
Another object in the trashcan caught my attention: a bundle of purple, shoved inside. Pulling it out, I found Other Zoey’s hoodie, logo flipped as it had been in the mirror. Made sense. Something like that stood out like a sore thumb, so if they wanted to blend in here, they’d have to ditch it.
A thought came to my mind. I fished out the back tag, pulling out the various instructions for washing and care and whatnot. They were written, somewhat predictably, in gibberish, letters familiar, but not quite right. I could almost make out the words…
Wait… I thought, examining them again. Not gibberish. Backwards!
Like in a mirror. And if something that hadn’t even been visible had been reversed by the transition, then maybe…
I opened the bag I was carrying and took out the laptop. Zoey had transferred all the footage from the camera to the computer yesterday, as was part of our normal routine before we went to sleep. Clicking through, I found the video of Zoey talking to her doppelganger, signing back and forth as Liam worked on the mirror on the floor.
I skipped towards the middle and hit ‘play’.
“Like us, they, too, went to college,” the computerized Zoey said. “I went to Ivy Tech Community College, like I did here, but Liam went to the University of Wisconsin, instead of Indiana University. Still had a full ride scholarship, though.”
Other Zoey said something, and Liam said something back in their garbled language.
I paused, then opened up the clip in our video editing software. Then, I highlighted the section I had just been watching and played the audio backwards.
“Minor variations on our lives. Wonder what that means in the scale of things.” Other Liam said.
I almost fell off of the bed.
“Yeah, same as before.” Other Zoey said. “She went to Ivy Tech too, but you went to Indiana University instead of Wisconsin with your scholarship.”
And then regular Zoey said something in the same gibberish language our doubles had been using before.
Backwards! Of course, why hadn’t I seen it sooner? The conversation order was a little muddled, as apparently their backwards talk didn’t extend to the order of who said what when, but even so…
I randomly fast forwarded through the footage until I found one where both Zoey and I were asleep, the doppelgangers talking alone together in a corner. I reversed to the beginning of that section, then hit play.
“Just a couple hours of sleep,” regular Zoey moaned, lying down on the bed opposite me.
I opened the editing software, highlighted each audio snippet on the wave form, reversed the clips individually, then played the video again.
Other Zoey looked to Other Liam. Other Liam pulled out his phone and played something.
“Six thousand? Zoey, that’s all the money we have left. We can’t…”
He tapped his phone again, and the audio stopped.
He figured it out before I did, I thought to myself. All those times I saw him pull out his phone, he was recording us so that he could reverse the audio and understand what we were saying.
“What are we going to do?” Other Zoey asked.
“Plan hasn’t changed,” Other Liam said.
“But you heard them! They have no money!” She sounded almost… hopeful. “If there’s nothing to be gained, then can’t we just…” she trailed off as Liam picked up a large, wicked looking shard of mirror out of the trash can and left the room.
Nothing happened for a while. I began skipping forward, then stopped as Other Liam reentered the room, blood dripping off the mirror shard.
Other Zoey looked pale. “What did you do?”
“What I had to,” he replied, throwing the shard back in the trash can. “The owners are going to forgive the little incident about the mirror.”
“Liam, please,” Other Zoey pleaded. “There has to be another way…”
“How? We have nothing.Our faces don’t even belong to us. What are you going to do with no bank accounts, no friends or family, no employment, no ability to even talk to people?” He began to pace. “How about three years down the road, when you’ve managed to talk like them, and you fill out an employment form, hm? What are you going to say when they tell you that your name, your address, your social security number all belong to someone else, and that you’re being arrested for identity theft, huh?”
“There’s other ways to live…” She didn’t sound very confident.
He stopped. “Zoey, Archangel is already watching our counterparts’ every move. It isn’t going to take them long to realize that there’s two of us moving around, and it’s also not going to take them long to figure out which ones belong in this universe. They’ll hunt us down, Zoey. Kill us.
“There’s only one way out of this mess.”
My stomach sank as I came to the realization my other self had already come to long ago.
Other Zoey sighed. “Fine. How do we…y’know?”
“Wait until they’re alone,” he said. “When Other Liam goes to check out, we’ll corner the Zoey in the RV. We’ll have to be fast, finish her off before…”
I slammed the laptop and bolted. I didn’t so much go down the stairs as throw myself down them, feet barely touching the ground as I descended. I slammed into the other wall, spun off, and sprinted into the parking lot, ripping open the door to the RV. “ZOEY!...”
What I saw still haunts me to this day.
Zoey was lying on the couch, squirming, trying to push away my doppelganger, straddled on her chest with a pillow pressed over her. A mad look of determination was in his eye, face devoid of emotion as she struggled under him. In the corner, Other Zoey had backed away, too horrified to move.
I didn’t think, I just reacted. I threw myself at my double, tackling him to the ground. I managed to pin him, keep him immobile, until a hearty shove knocked me down to the floor. I scrambled to my feet to see Other Zoey helping her Liam up.
“Zoey, are you okay?” I yelled.
“Yeah, I’m…” she dissolved into a fit of coughing. “I’m okay. Liam, what…”
My other charged me. I swung out of the way of his fist and tried to follow up with a blow of my own, but he dodged me. We grabbed each other, spinning in opposite directions. He slammed me into the wall. I slammed him into the opposite wall. Both Zoeys yelled something as two simultaneous attempts to throw the other caused us to fall into the kitchen area.
I slammed into the counter with my side. Pain flared. A loud clattering filled the air as the small basket we used to hold our silverware toppled to the ground, falling onto the floor in gleaming slivers of light, scattering across the ground.
I saw a sharp steak knife, grabbed it and stood. My double had done the same, knife glinting as he held it out in front of himself defensively. He tensed, and I readied myself to charge, poised to…
Something grabbed me. I turned to see Zoey, my Zoey, desperately clinging to me. Eyes wide, she shook her head and mouthed ‘no’ again.
I looked back. The exact same scene was reflected in front of me, Other Liam ready to charge, but stopped by his Zoey, gripping his arm and holding him back.
We stared at each other.
Other Liam narrowed his eyes, said something, and slinked out of the open RV door, Other Zoey staying behind him the whole way. Once they were outside, they ran, and I watched them go until they entered the forest beyond and vanished into the trees.
I turned to look at Zoey. We were parked in a rest stop we had gotten to that night. I was currently seated in front of the RV, back to the grill, staring out into the dark beyond where the headlights pierced.
“I talked to the owners again,” Zoey said, sitting next to me. “They’re sticking by the decision to forgive our debt. We have enough money to continue the show.”
“Mmm.” I turned back to the dark.
She frowned. “I thought you would have been happy there had been one silver lining out of all of this mess.”
“No, I am, I am.”
She paused, then looked out to the night. “Thinking about the doppelgangers?”
I thought for a while. “You know, doppelgangers were never a good thing in the original lore. They always predicted a sudden catastrophe or accident. They were death omens.”
“So I’m wondering if this was really the first time something like this has happened, and if attempting to kill your double is inevitable.”
“As opposed to?”
I didn’t respond.
She sighed. “What you’re really wondering is how much you double is like you, aren’t you?”
I still didn’t respond.
“Liam, that wasn’t you. You wouldn’t have done those things.”
“How do you know?” I asked. “He thought just the same as I did. He acted the same way I would have. I’ve listened to his reasoning over and over again. In that position, with nothing to my name, I don’t know if I could have convinced myself there was another option.”
Zoey stayed quiet for a bit. Then, she asked “When we were staying at the hotel, did you think of a way to force the owners to ‘forget’ about the mirror?”
“Yes,” I said immediately, thinking back on the various fantasies I had about contacting Archangel.
“But you didn’t,” she continued. “You agreed with me that we shouldn’t. Even when we were in danger of losing everything, you didn’t. You still did the right thing. That’s what makes you who you are, Liam; it’s not your history or your strengths or your weaknesses, it’s your actions.”
I thought for a second, then nodded. “I suppose you’re right.”
“Of course I am.” Zoey yawned and stood up. “I’m off to bed. You planning on getting any sleep this century, Socrates?”
“I’ll be there in a bit,” I replied. Zoey patted my shoulder and headed inside. I waited, then pulled out my phone and played the thing that was really troubling me: my other self’s last message before he left, having reversed it so I could understand it.
“This isn’t over,” the voice said to me, “and I think you know this won’t be over until one of us is dead.”