Atropos' Mistake: Pt. 2
To say that his story was odd would be an understatement. ‘Damned weird’ still doesn’t quite do it justice. My mind kept trying to rationalize things; there had to be some explanation for the things he was telling me. I tried to make some sort of argument against his case. I started to accuse him of pulling my leg, then remembered how withdrawn he had been on the trip up to the lake. Tim was just not that great of an actor.
“Maybe you’re just getting your dates mixed up,” I said hopefully.
Tim shook his head and smiled with exasperation. “Why do you always have to be so damned stubborn? Can’t ya get it through your thick skull that there are things in this world that defy explanation?”
“Yeah, sure,” I agreed, “but, surely, this isn’t one of them.”
“You’re right, Kev. It’s a perfectly normal, everyday occurrence. Jesus Christ! Do you think I’m lying to you?” I shook my head. “Okay then. Now, you said you saw me that Thursday, right?” I nodded. “But I showed you my pay stubs; I was at the bakery.” He was spelling it out for me like I was a dimwitted schoolboy.
“But nothing. I was there. The guy you saw at work was a doppelganger.”
“A dop . . . a doppel . . . a what?”
“A doppelganger. I’ve done a little research on it. Basically, what it is, is a spirit that inhabits a body that looks exactly like its intended victim.”
I gulped. “Victim?”
“Yeah, victim.” He looked scared, and hell, why wouldn’t he, if what he was saying was true. “According to legend, the doppelganger kills its intended victim and then takes over that person’s life. My problem is that it’s my life we’re talking about.”
My mind was trying hard to grasp the unbelievable. Timmy was my best friend and in all the years I’d known him, he had always been level-headed. He still seemed in complete control of his faculties, even as he was telling me that crazy story. I decided that I would hear him out, and do my best to put my belief in him.
“So what else have you learned in your research?” I hoped I wasn’t just feeding into his lunacy.
“Well, the stories say that lots of people have doppelgangers, that they are mostly inconsequential spirits that live in a realm unnoticed by the average human being. But there is one thing they say about them that . . . well . . . it scares me, Kevin. It scares the living hell outta me.”
“What’s that?” I knew it took a lot to scare Tim. I’d seen him stand up to guys twice his size without so much as flinching.
“They say that doppelgangers are harmless unless you see your own, the one that looks just like you.”
“Well, what are you worried about?” I asked, and then with dawning horror, I said, “Oh God, you have haven’t you. You’ve seen it.”
“Yeah, Kev. I saw him last week. I was curious about being paid for not going to work.” He paused for a moment, then went on. “There were other things too. Guys at work would come up to me and start talking about things that I supposedly told them. And I wouldn’t remember saying anything to them. And then the incident two weeks ago . . .” He trailed off, and I thought he was finished, but then he continued. “I caught hell for that. The boss nearly chewed a new hole in my ass. And when I denied it . . . well . . . he just looked at me like I was crazy. A lot like you looked at me a few minutes ago, I might add. ‘What do you mean you didn’t do it’ he said. He told me that he had sat right in his office and watched me. I thought he was nuts, Kevin, but now . . .” He trailed off again. This time he was done.
I laughed nervously. “That must have been weird,” was all I could think of to say.
“Sure. Anyway, last Thursday I decided to try finding out what the hell was going on. So I didn’t go to the bakery either. Instead, I drove around for a few hours. Then, around ten o’clock, I snuck down to the plant. I even borrowed one of Linda’s wigs to wear under my hat so I wouldn’t be recognized.”
I giggled. I couldn’t help it, but the vision I conjured of Timmy, sneaking around wearing his wife’s wig was too much for me.
“What’s so funny?” he asked with a hint of disgust.
“Nothing,” I said. “I’m sorry. Go on.”
“I parked across the street from the loading dock. I had my binoculars, so I watched through the open bay doors. It wasn’t long until I spotted it. Kevin, I nearly shit myself. It was so goddamned creepy. There I was, sitting in my car watching myself driving forklift back and forth across the dock. It was like I was watching a movie of myself or something.”
“Wow.” Now I was the one reduced to monosyllables.
“Kevin,” he grabbed my hand. “I’m scared. I don’t know what the hell to do.” I looked into his eyes. I could see tears brimming in the corners.
“What led you to the conclusion that it was a doppelganger? I mean I’ve never heard of the word. It can’t be that common.”
“I remember reading a book or short story—Shatterday by Harlan Ellison, I think it was—but it pretty much described my situation.”
“What happened in the book?”
“I can’t remember. I went to the library to check it out, but either they didn’t have it, or I’m wrong on the title. Anyhow, it doesn’t matter. That was fiction, this isn’t.”
The boat swayed a little from the wash of a large yacht heading toward the harbor. The sun was lowering behind the hills that surrounded the lake. The returning boat traffic started to pick up. I suddenly became self-conscious as the other boaters made their ways by us. What a sight we must have been, two old fogies, sitting in the shade in a boat, holding hands. “Look,” I said, “why don’t we head in. The wives are probably starting to wonder if we’ve drowned. Besides, I need to sleep on this a while.”
Tim agreed. He rubbed his eyes and stared out over the water. He looked like a little boy whose mother had stepped out of his sight in a crowded department store. We reeled in our lines. Either the fish had robbed our hooks, or we had indeed forgotten to bait them, for they were bare.
When we got back to the cabin, Helen and Linda had a large picnic laid out for us. We made a show of it, but to tell the truth, neither one of us felt much like eating.
* * *
I woke Saturday morning after a fitful sleep. My body tossed and turned while my mind chewed on the concept of the doppelganger. As I stepped out to the bedroom, I was greeted with the aroma of frying bacon and Helen and Linda’s hearty “good morning”. They were both cheerful; it was evident that our little vacation was doing them worlds of good. I wished I could have said the same for myself.
A moment later, Tim came plodding out of his and Linda’s bedroom. He looked as bad as I felt. I supposed he had gotten as little sleep as I. Not to mention the many sleepless nights of the previous weeks. We had agreed to keep our suspicions about the doppelganger from our wives. We didn’t want them to worry about us. Our machismo forced us to be protective. In retrospect, I am sorry for not including Helen in on our secret. Her insight in the matter may have led us to a totally different—and a far less agonizing—outcome. Be that as it may, we put on our masks and played the role of two worn out husbands who had overindulged the day before.
The girls had gone to great pains to prepare a huge outdoorsman’s breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes, sausages, toast and marmalade. Tim and I ate heartily, but I’m sure neither of us enjoyed the meal half as much as we let on. I make no disparagement of my wife’s cooking; she is a chef beyond compare, and although I’m sure everything was delicious, I felt like I was eating packing material. Apparently, Tim was as anxious as I to get back out on the boat where we could put our heads together privately.
He tucked the last link of sausage in his mouth and pushed his chair back from the table. “How ‘bout it, Kev,” he said, “you ready to get back out on the lake?”
“Sure,” I answered, “I bet today we hook Jaws.” I was really hamming it up.
“Well, Tim, I’m glad to see you in such good spirits today,” his wife told him. “It’s sure a pleasant change from the past couple of weeks.” She smiled and winked at my Helen. “I told you this was all they needed,” she added.
“I guess you were right,” Helen said.
Yeah, we had them fooled. I still feel like a heel, even for this small deception.
After breakfast, we loaded up the boat to head back out on the lake. We didn’t pack any beer this time. We wanted our heads clear for our discussion that day.
The wives waved at us as we pulled away from the dock. As soon as we were out of earshot, Tim returned the conversation to his dilemma. “I think I’ve got a plan,” he said. I had begun to form one of my own as well, but I decided to hear what he had to say first.
“Let’s hear it,” I told him.
“I’m going to need your help, Kevin.” I gave him a look that said ‘you can count on me’. “Okay. Well, so far every Thursday for the last month this guy, this thing, has been showing up at work and taking my place. It would actually be pretty funny if I weren’t so damned scared. But anyway, I figure as long as it doesn’t know I’m onto it, it’s gonna keep right on insinuating itself right into my life in little ways until finally, when it has my routine down pat, WHAM-O! It takes me out of the picture and steps into my place.” He punctuated the WHAM-O with a clap of his hands, making me jump. “What I’ve got to do is take it out first.”
“Exactly what I’ve been thinking, too. But how the hell do we do that?” I had come to the same conclusion, but as for a way to accomplish the deed, I was at a loss. I was amazed at how quickly I had come to accept the incredible, when just the day before I’d held the notion that poor old Tim’s train had jumped the tracks. Then another thought struck—maybe craziness is contagious—but I quickly dismissed this as wishful thinking.
“I’ve got it figured this way. The only place either of us has seen it is at work on Thursdays. So that’s where we’ll have to do it. That’s where you come in. Somehow you’ve got to convince it to go to lunch with you. I like the idea of Kelley’s Bar and Grill. It sits back in, and there’s never a lot of people around.” He stopped talking and raised his eyebrows at me.
I couldn’t figure out where he was going with his plan, but I decided to hear it all before I raised any objections. “Go on,” I said.
“Okay, so when you get to Kelley’s, park at the far end of the rear parking lot. I’ve already scoped it out. From the roof of the downtown parking garage there’s a clear line of sight. Instead of at the bakery, I’ll be up there with my deer rifle. You get the bastard out in the open, my friend, and me and Mr. Springfield will do the rest. I’ll send that son of a bitch back to whatever hell it crawled out of.”
I could have poked a dozen holes in his plan. What if I couldn’t get the doppelganger to come with me? What if it got suspicious? The one I voiced was: “What if bullets can’t kill it, Tim? I thought you said it was a spirit or something.”
“I’ve considered that, and maybe it’s true. But it must be getting more and more human everyday. I don’t know for sure, but it can’t be too long before it becomes as real as you or me. It can drive a forklift. It eats in the lunchroom, for Christ’s sake. Hopefully it’s already alive enough that we can kill it.”
“So why don’t I just go up to it at work and pump a couple rounds into its face?”
“Sure, Kevin. And what if, by then, it’s already stepped in and taken over my life. You kill it in front of everybody and they’ll think you murdered me. Do you want to spend the rest of your life in prison?”
I hadn’t thought of that. “I guess that’s why you like Kelley’s so well. Nobody sees it die, all that’s left is for us to get rid of the body.”
“Then why not let me kill it there. I could do that and save you the risk of a long shot from the parking garage.”
“No, Kevin. I’ve already asked you to do enough. This is my problem, it’s my life it’s trying to steal, I’m the one who’s got to eliminate it. Besides, you just don’t have the killer instinct like I do, Kev.”
I started to deny this, but it was true.
“And another thing,” he added, “what if it’s got friends?”
I hadn’t thought of that either.
* * *
The rest of the weekend went well, all things considered. Now that we had worked out a plan of action, the going was somehow easier. I knew that there were a million things wrong with our scheme. But, it was a plan born of desperation, so mistakes were to be expected. All we could hope was that we wouldn’t be too late. With more time, we could probably have devised a better plot. But time was something we didn’t have. So we spent the rest of that weekend blissfully ignorant of the strange force that confronted us.
We even caught a few bass on Sunday afternoon. While they were by no means the largest ever netted, they were not the smallest either. I do believe that they were unequivocally the most delicious. When we returned to the cabin that day, the women were waiting with another fine picnic prepared for us. That time we ate like lumberjacks.
The mood on the trip back to Cloviston was more subdued. We were all worn out from the weekend. But even the weariness itself seemed refreshing. It was an exhaustion caused by exercise in fresh air and sunshine, rather than the lethargy produced by the day-to-day drudgery in the steel mill. I know I slept more soundly and woke up Monday feeling more regenerated and raring to go than any morning in the six months since the navy contract. The only ill effect I suffered was a painful sunburn. My bald spot was tender for a week afterward.
As soon as I finished my breakfast, I scooted out the kitchen door to the back yard. Tim was already waiting by the fence.
“Blue,” I said as I walked toward him.
“Moon,” he replied.
It was a code we had worked out so that I could be assured that Tim was still . . . well . . . Tim. Having heard the countersign, I continued. “Harlan,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Ellison.” He smiled as he gave me the countersign to the second half of our simple code. It may sound ridiculous, but it made us both feel better, maybe even closer, like co-conspirators in a secret plot.
“All right! I’m glad you’re still with me, buddy.”
“Me, too. It seems silly, doesn’t it?”
“Kinda,” I answered. “But I can’t be with you every second. There’s going to be times when you’re alone. Just watch your back.”
“Kevin, I watch my back so much, I think I’m developing a permanent crick in my neck.”
And that’s pretty much the way it went all that week. Every time we’d run into each other at work, after work, no matter where we happened to meet, I’d give the sign, he’d give the countersign. And every time, Tim was still Tim.
Finally, or maybe all too quickly, Thursday arrived.
End of Part 2
So there is part two. I hope you guys like it so far. As always, I welcome all comments and criticisms. They can only make me a better writer.