I have several mannequins in my room. It's not that I collect them or anything, I got them from my mother. When the store she worked in closed down, all of the mannequins were supposed to be sent to a warehouse owned by the business. Considering how many they had in the store she figured a few wouldn't be missed, so she decided to take some of them home to try and give our house more character. A few turned out to be almost a dozen and, since our house isn't exactly big, several ended up being stored in my bedroom. Because of this, waking up in the middle of the night to see the silhouettes of large figures towering over my bed doesn't faze me. Well, it didn't.
I remember one night waking up to the sound of something falling off of my desk, at first I was frozen in fear, but after a few moments I looked over and saw nothing, so I figured it was just one of the cats. That's when it happened. One of the mannequins, or at least what I had thought was a mannequin, moved. I wanted to scream but found that I couldn't even move, it was walking closer to me and I felt as though my heart was going to jump out of my throat. Eventually, and without warning, I screamed as loud as I possibly could. The silhouette jumped and my mum burst into the room, immediately flicking on the light. It was gone.
My mum later told me that what I'd experienced is known as sleep-paralysis, a kind of sleep disorder – but I don't believe her. Sleep-paralysis involves a person being completely, or nearly completely, paralysed while experiencing vivid hallucinations. I may have been too shocked to move at the time, but I know I was capable of it. I haven't experienced anything like this since, but I still find myself constantly looking over my shoulder. I feel like I'm being watched, there's no other way to put it.
Since this experience I've been trying to find another place to put the mannequins, but it seems futile – we just don't have the space. I've got them all piled together in one corner now, in a part of the room that doesn't make shadows in the night, hoping that it will help quench my paranoia. It doesn't work though; I now worry that an intruder will be seen to easily. If someone does break in, I want them to just take what they want and go. It'd be way less traumatising that way.
It's Monday morning and I'm really tired. For obvious reasons I have a hard time falling asleep at night, and if I wake up before dawn I can't doze off again, instead I find myself sitting up and standing guard over my room.
I catch the bus to school and since my stop is one of the last I don't usually get a seat, but today turns out to be an exception. At first I view this as a plus, that is until I start dozing off in my seat and nearly don't get off. By the time I get to school I'm even more tired than when I was getting ready.
When I walk onto the grounds a group of girls from my year level, ones I don't talk to, look up at me and start whispering to each other. I try to ignore them, but the way their eyes follow me is unnerving. When I get to my locker a similar thing happens with a gang of boys, only they're less discreet.
'Oi Mia, heard you been gettin' hooked in!' One of them shouts. I give him an odd look. What the fuck does that mean?
'Heard he was really gettin' in there!' Another shouts. I try to ignore them, but they've really got me confused. Who's "he"?
'Leave her alone,' I hear a painfully high voice say, 'you're just jealous because you can't any.'
'Ah fuck off Sheila, you're the one that no-one wants.'
While they bicker I manage to sneak away. As much as I can't stand Sheila, I'll have to thank her later for the diversion.
I track down my best and only real friend Wolfie. Yes, that's his real name. I find him in his usual spot behind the school gymnasium, cigarette in hand. 'Hey.' He says, not looking up from his thermie.
Wolfie's your stereotypical Goth kid. He's a cynical, tobacco and caffeine addicted nercomaniac. He even got me suspended once after he talked me into modelling for him as a corpse in a photoshoot, we did the whole Ginger Snaps shebang and tried to re-enact as many different deaths as possible. He didn't tell me he was going to show his media class. He was suspended too, of course, so we spent the whole day together at the cemetery and in laneways taking more gruesome photos.
'Yo. Do you know why everyone's looking at me?' I ask, taking a seat on the concrete next to him.
He shrugs. 'I haven't spoken to anyone else yet. If I hear anything I'll let you know.'
I nod, 'thanks.' He nods back and passes me the smoke.
Since I already have my things I end up getting to class before the second bell, something that almost never happens. When I enter the classroom the students are all gathered together in their little groups, gossiping and talking away about their weekends. I, not having a group, sit down by myself in the abandoned front row, pulling a book out of my laptop bag. I know there isn't enough time to read, but being alone looks less sad if I'm busy.
Not long after I open the book, though, I see a shadow on my desk. 'Hey Mia.'
I look up to see one of the girls from earlier, the one that was pointing at me. 'Um, hi?'
'So, like, is it true?' She asks, making no effort to supress her grin.
Confusion etches itself across my face. 'What?'
'You know, the guy. Are you two dating?'
She appears to be getting irritated. 'Don't play dumb, my boyfriend saw you in town yesterday. You were with some old guy, and he was hanging all over you.'
'Must be a case of mistaken identity, because I was sleeping all day.'
'I know it was you.' She says, putting her hands on her hips. 'So spill it. Do you even know who he was? Are you a prostitute?'
This pisses me off. 'No, is your boyfriend a pimp? You dress like he is. Now, would you be so kind as to stop spreading this bullshit, or else I'm going to go to the principle and having you both fucking suspended.' I say, looking back down at my book. I can't believe some people.
'Whatever you say, bitch.' She says, stomping off. I have to stifle my laughter.
What she said ends up sticking with me for the rest of the day. I'm sure they (or she) just made it up, but it's such a bizarre lie that I find myself more paranoid than angry. If it really is a case of mistaken identity, what else could my look-a-like do? Who else has seen her? I try to talk to Wolfie about it, but all he can really do in this situation is agree with me, there's no other way to comfort. Now after school, I'm sitting on Wolfie's bedroom floor smothering myself with his cats.
'Sheila's such a little cunt.' He says, out of the blue.
'What'd she do this time?' I ask, stuffing a kitten down the front of my jumper.
'She's fucking sending me pictures of tissues she drew on with textures and claiming to be cutting. I've been there, she really thinks I'm going to fall for her bullshit?' He says, throwing his arms up in exasperation.
I lift my shirt up and wait for the Vader to fall out. 'She's Sheila, just ignore her.'
'I'm trying, but she won't leave me alone. Come outside with me, I need a smoke.'
We sit down on the lawn chairs in his backyard, passing a cigarette between us, the same way we did in the morning. 'Are you going to reply to her?' I ask, curious as to what he'd send. Wolfie complete, positively hates Sheila, but is polite enough to her face that she's under the impression they're good friend. In fact, when Wolfie and I first started hanging out, she accused me of "replacing her", something he found absolutely hilarious.
'I'm so sick of this, I'm on the verge of telling her to just go kill herself.'
'Don't go that fair, you know she'll tell everyone and she isn't worth the drama.' I say.
'I'm going to do it. I don't care what other people think, if they believe that bitch than I don't want their fucking approval.' He announces in a finalistic tone, unlocking his phone and typing.
'Wolfie.' I whine in a half-arsed attempt to stop him, but end up deciding that I just don't care enough. He's going to have to deal with the repercussions, not me.
After a few minutes my phone vibrates, I get it out and find a long and incomprehensible text from Sheila. 'I think she's trying to tell me about it.' I tell him.
'Give me a look.' He says, holding his hand out. I hand him the phone. 'I'm just going to type back that you know, is that cool?'
My mum picks me up at around seven. By then neither of us have heard back from Sheila, and we aren't expecting to either. I feel bad for what he said, but I also feel like she had it coming. She has a great life, her "depression" is so obviously fake that it makes her painful to talk to, and yet she chooses Wolfie of all people to rant to. Wolfie's not the most stable guy, that's pretty plain to see, and he's got problems only his therapist knows about. We've been near inseparable for years, and he doesn't even trust me with more than the bare minimum. All I know for sure is that he doesn't talk to his father, and it's apparently for a bloody good reason.
I try to get an early night but find myself overwhelmed by anxiety. This isn't exactly a new sensation, I don't get along with many people I my classes and my best friend's a magnet for odd looks, but it's worse than usual. It's probably just because I've become the subject of gossip, but I'd always thought that a situation like this would make me more angry than scared. I guess I was wrong.
Deciding that sleep isn't going to be an option for a while, I set up camp in the lounge room in front of the TV. Around three a.m. I start to doze off, but am quickly, and very rudely, ripped from the sandman's grasp by the feel of my phone vibrating in my lap. I pick it up and am both startled and pissed off to see the name Sheila pop up on the screen. I groan and answer it.
'What?' I demand, sounding as tired as I feel.
'Hey, sorry to bother you but I need you and Wolfie to meet me at my locker after school tomorrow. It's important.'
'W–what?' I stutter out, starting to suspect I'm dreaming. Why else would Sheila be calling me at three in the fucking morning about such random bullshit?
'I've already sent him a message. See you tomorrow.' She said, hanging up. That's it, I decide, I'm going to bed.
As it turns out I wasn't dreaming, and so Wolfie and I meet Sheila after school as requested. The locker area is always crowded, so she ushers us into a small sheltered at the bottom of the emergency stair.
'This is going to sound really weird, but I saw you yesterday.' She says, looking at me.
'Of course you did, our lockers are close.' I say, acting as if I don't hear the implications.
'No, I mean I saw you in town. I thought it was weird that you were out with a guy, then I remembered that Wolfie said you were at his house. The guy looked just like the girls said, the ones who saw you two on the weekend.'
'But I thought it was just what's-her-face's boyfriend who saw her?' I ask, every word making me more scared and perplexed.
Sheila shakes her head. 'There were a bunch of girls in town over the weekend. They nearly all saw her, and they all thought she was you. It's freaky.'
'Well, what'd the guy look like?' Wolfie asks, having apparently grown tired of just standing at the side and listening.
'He was pretty tall, really skinny, pale, h–'
'So, a druggo?' He says, raising an eyebrow.
'I saw them I the same spot the other's kept spotting them, want to go see?' Sheila says, ignoring the question and, for once, getting straight to the point.
Wolfie gives her a dirty look. 'Why the fuck would we want to do that?'
'I would.' I say, giving Wolfie a pleading look. I really want to see these people for myself, and I'd prefer it if my best friend was there with me.
'I don't want to get attacked.' He says.
'Please. I don't want to get attacked either, so don't leave me alone.'
After a long pause, he concedes. 'Fine.'
Oh my fucking God. It's like looking into a slutty mirror. She has the same long hair, same dark eyes, even the same freckles as me! The way she smiles even shows off the same croaked left canine. She is me. I am me. I've never seen the man before, but Sheila described him pretty accurately, and Wolfie was right in saying he sounds like drug addict. He's pale and skinny with bags under his eyes and tracks down his arms. He looks so frail, like the wind could knock him down, but gives off a vibe that says he could kill me, one blow, without getting a scratch on himself. It's like he's done it before. The thought makes me shiver.
I glance over at Wolfie to see his reaction. He's staring, awestruck, at the man next to her. They make eye contact and I feel like my stomach is going to eject itself, but the man just smiles. Wolfie starts to shake, an unreadable expression on his face. He turns to run away but Sheila grabs his arm.
'What the fuck do you want?!' He yells, trying to pull his arm away.
'Why're you panicking?' I ask, but he ignores me. I look over to see the man and myself staring at us, giggling. What the hell is going on?
'My house is near here and my mum's not home tonight.' Sheila says. Wolfie relaxes slightly— just slightly— and we go with her. As we go I can feel their eyes on us, mocking me. Daring me to turn back and confront them. They know who I am and they're here for a reason, I can feel it, but I can't even make myself look them in the eye. I'm acting pathetic, but I can't help it… I'm scared.
Sheila lives in a two-story flat with her mum and step-dad, both of which work until six every night. When we get inside she leads us upstairs to the kitchen and sits us down at a round wooden table.
'What happened?' I immediately ask, looking at Wolfie. He doesn't say anything, instead just puts his head down. His shoulders are shaking and I can hear his breathing becoming erratic. 'Wolfie,' I try again, a lot softer this time, 'what happened to you?'
'My dad.' He sobs out, burying his face in his hands. 'He was my dad.'
Sheila and I stare at him; neither of us moves a muscle as we watch him cry. We watch him fall to pieces in front of us and neither of us even tries to pick them back up. There's no use. This isn't a situation we can fix. After a while he calms down enough to lay his head on the table, his face is still slightly moist from old tears, but no longer being dampened with any new ones. 'I'm okay now.' He says in a barely audible voice. 'He's not worth it.' The last part is said to himself.
We hear a knock at the door and Sheila stands up. 'That's probably my mum, go wait in my bedroom for me.'
We do as she says and quickly rush through the hallway and to her bedroom. Wolfie flops down on her bed. 'God I hate her.' He says, voice breaking from exhaustion.
'What'd she do now?' I ask in slight frustration. Sheila had been surprisingly tolerable and understanding this afternoon.
'She brought us here!' He yells, slamming his hands down on the mattress to emphasize.
His outburst makes me flinch. 'She didn't know who he was, and she only brought us to her house because it was close.'
'Bullshit! That bitch is always up to something.'
'No. No she's not.'
'Yes, she is. She doesn't give a shit about us, she only wants someone to listen to her crap.'
'But she hasn't said anything! All she's done this afternoon is try to help us and your being a dick! You're right, Sheila is a bitch sometimes, but she hasn't done anything recently to warrant you being such a jerkoff!'
Just as he's about to reply someone knocks on the bedroom door. We freeze. There's no way she didn't hear us. After a moment of agonising stillness, Sheila opens the door. She pokes her head in, looks between us and smiles. 'Sorry to interrupt, but my mum want to talk to you two.'
'Uh, sure.' I reply. She definitely heard us.
'They're in the computer room, follow me.'
We follow her, stiff and awkward, down the stairs and to a closed door. 'You two should go in first.' She says.
I raise an eyebrow but comply; I've never met her mum before so this must just be the norm. Before I can even comprehend what I'm seeing Wolfie is shoved into my back and we both go tumbling into the small office. The next thing I know I'm being kicked in the stomach. Hard. And through blurry eyes I can see the man, his father, grab Wolfie by the hair and pull him to his feet. I try to get up and help him but another kick, this one to my chest, leaves me flat on my back. I break into a coughing fit, strips of saliva running down the side of my mouth. I can hardly breathe and it feels like my ribs have been broken. The coughing turns into hysterical crying as I listen to Wolfie scream and yell, while being too scared and sore to even look up and see what's happening. I'm so fucking useless I can't even pretend to try and help him.
'You fucking bitch!' Wolfie yells, I just barely catch it over my own miserable sputtering.
'What? You think I was really going to help you after everything you two did to me? You think you're the only ones with problems? You did this to yourselves. Besides, I told you my mum was out tonight. You retards walked right into it.'
No. No! I wasn't on board with this! She's annoying, but this time I was defending her! I try to get up but someone steps on my arm. It's useless. These people were probably after us long before they met her, and her hate for us has probably been building up for a while. Wolfie's screaming gets louder and so does my crying, but after enough time both come to a stop. I black out.
When I wake up I'm sitting on a chair somewhere, judging by the breeze it's likely outside. I feel something cold against my forehead that makes jolt, causing pain to shoot through the whole front of my abdomen, I grab my chest and gasp.
'You're awake.' A raspy voice says. I tense.
'Tell me your address.' It demands.
'Wha–what?' I stutter out, unable to think. The events of the day have left my brain feeling fried.
'Where do you live?' It, he, says again, sounding even more assertive. I give him my address and he pulls me to my feet by my arm. 'Walk.'
We walk for an undetermined amount of time. My heart pounds in ears so loudly I think I'm going deaf, and I'm genuinely surprised I'm remembering to breath. 'Speed up.' The man behind me says, in the same controlling tone as before, I oblige. If I do as he says there's a slim chance that I'll survive, or so I tell myself. I try not to think about where Wolfie could be. Considering I'm still alive I hope that he wants me for a specific purpose, or in the very least catching me took enough effort, that he's going to keep me alive for a bit longer.
Suddenly he grabs me and spins me to the side, I hear a gate open and he shoves me into my front yard. He grasps my hand and leads me to the front door. 'Give me your keys.' He demands and I fish them out of my pocket for him. The door clicks and we go inside.
He leads me into the lounge-room and pushes me down to sit on the couch. I feel the couch dip as he takes the seat next to me. 'I've been admiring you for so long.' He says. I 'hmm' in response. 'Don't give me that face.' I sit quietly and wait for him to do something indecent. He just keeps talking.
'You don't remember me do you?' He asks.
'I may need your face to know for sure.' I say. I hear him relax into the couch and feel his hand graze my arm, it makes me nauseas.
'No you don't, when we met you told me I had a memorable voice.'
'You must be mistaking me for someone else, I'd never heard your voice before today.' I don't know how I'm managing to stay so calm. I want two things: to live, and to get answers. He seems like he wants to talk, but too many questions, or too much talking back, might make him angry.
He stays quiet for a minute, and I can practically hear his brain ticking along. 'Have you heard of the doppelgänger theory?' He asks.
'It's the theory that there's someone out there who looks exactly like you.' I reply. I he puts his hand on my leg.
'Close, according to folklore it's a spiritual being, the presents of one is usually viewed as the harbinger of bad luck, or a warning of impending death. In Ancient Egyptian mythology, they believe in a thing called ka, ka is a vital essence of a living being and a component of their soul, when a person dies it leaves their body, sometimes still lingering on the earth in the form of a ghost. If the ka were to leave their body prior to death it would create a doppelgänger, and like folklore says, the person who the ka belonged to would soon die.' I struggle to soak in his words as his hand moves further up my leg and caresses my inner thigh.
'In Breton, Cornish and Norman French folklore the doppelgänger is also viewed as a personification of death.' He removes his hand from my leg and I hear the rustling of a bag.
'None of that matters now though, because I already know what needs to be done. We will be together.' Something cold touches the side of my head. Presumably the same thing from earlier.
'But–but what about Wolfie? He's your son!' I say, trying in vain to distract him from what I now know if coming.
'Don't worry, we'll both be seeing him again very soon.'