the fetch - a short story
'The Fetch' was first published in Dark Edifice Literary Magazine, Issue # 2, July 2012. It is reproduced here now since the rights have since reverted back to me and the URL where the story was posted no longer exists. So please read on for your dark, dark pleasure...
Can’t shake off the feeling of being watched. The sensation even stays with me when I go to bed. Persistent, it lingers nearby refusing to go away. I turn for the hundredth time and face my husband, Tom. Just enough illumination from the moon to make out his features. He looks so peaceful. The baby monitor is silent. I guess I’m the only sleepless being here tonight.
We live in relative isolation, our house bordering the edge of the woods. Every day, Alice, my daughter plays in a little clearing just a short walk into the realm of the towering pine trees and oaks. Elsie, my teenage sister who’s been living with us since our parents died in a car crash keeps her company.
I hear a noise coming from outside. Probably our beagle or some night creature that wandered out of the forest. I’m annoyed at myself but I know I have to check it out. I slither out of bed and leave the room. For a moment, I consider extracting Tom’s shiny new Glock from the vault but quickly reject the idea. After all, I was the one advocating against its purchase. Unarmed, I proceed downstairs.
The living room appears serene, but my unease intensifies. Almost compelled, I make it all the way to the front door and swing it open, letting in a gasp of night air. I scan the area, find nothing suspicious. I start turning around when a heavy blow of something blunt lands on my head. I crumble to my knees, surprised that the attack came from inside the house. Everything turns blurry, then black.
A sensation of motion awakes me. When I open my eyes, I see the night skies at the crack of dawn. The moon hides behind the impenetrable wall of the nocturnal clouds. I attempt to move my hands but find them tied behind my back. I’m being pulled by my legs, away from the house. I squint, trying to make out my attacker in the pre-dusk darkness but all I see is her back. Yes, definitely a woman. Short and slender, like me. Her dark hair is pulled up into a messy pony tail. She’s wearing grey tights and a green hoodie. I have an ensemble just like this one tucked away somewhere in the closet.
Sensing my consciousness, the woman makes a sudden stop and drops my legs. Slowly she turns around. Exactly at that moment, as if orchestrated by some universal conductor with a wicked sense of humour, the moon peeks from behind the clouds. It sheds just enough light to reveal the woman’s face. I open my mouth to scream but the sound remains buried inside. My attacker is my lookalike.
I black out, and then wake up only to find myself in the dark again. My hands and legs are tightly bound. My mouth is sealed shut. Probably a duct tape. I’m seated in the corner, facing an assortment of rusty tools on the wall – grass shearers, shovels, axes – old and untouched for a long time. I recognise our old storage cellar. It used to hold a supply of vegetables back when my parents still owned a chunk of a farm land adjacent to the house. They sold the land years ago, shortly before their accident. Failing at farming, Tom and I had no usage for the storage. It starts to dawn on me that nobody ever comes by this place anymore. I am on my own.
The morning comes. I can tell it from the weak rays of light sneaking inside my earthy prison through the cracks in the storage trapdoor. I have another go at my binds. But the knots are too tight and thorough. I wonder if my doppelganger shares my perfectionist nature and strives to excel at everything she does, including the art of knot-making.
I eagerly welcome the day. Surely my absence has been noticed by now. I imagine Tom searching the house, noticing that my car is still in the garage. He starts to worry… Then a memory of my assailant’s moonlit face comes back to me. She is me. Silent tears run down my face as I contemplate my fate. She has taken my place, my house, my bed. No one is coming to save me because no one knows I’m missing. My last glimmer of hope that Tom, Elsie or Alice notice that something about the impostor is off fades as more time passes.
Day becomes night and then another day comes. On the evening of the third night of my ordeal my lookalike comes to visit me. Crouching by my side, she pulls the tape from my mouth in one rough motion. I lick my dry lips and look at her. She stares back at me. She’s got my face – high cheek bones, thin lips, barely visible crow’s feet around deep blue eyes. Like looking in the mirror.
Absently, I notice my body is shaking in fright as the other me comes nearer. Water’s being poured into my mouth. Most of it escapes down my neck but I still manage to catch some drops. I want to say something, ask her what she wants, beg her to let me go, but she places her smooth cold finger over my lips and shakes her head.
More days and nights come and go. Sometimes I’m lucid enough to keep track of time but mostly I just lose it, succumbing to a semi-drowse. It could be weeks or years, for all I know. Regularly, my double comes back with water and some food, just enough sustenance to keep me alive. I don’t understand why she bothers. In my haze, I notice that she wears my clothes and smells of my perfume.
Every time I open my eyes, I feel weaker. My joints ache. my vision deteriorates. I imagine my doppelganger holding my infant son with her icy hands. I feel bile rising in my throat. I need to get out of here.
One night, I try moving my hands again, pulling at my binds with all the strength I got left. I refuse to believe it at first, but the sensation of tape on my bruised wrists is slightly different. Do the knots really feel less constrictive or my deranged mind is playing a cruel tricks on me? I move and turn and pull at my hands in all directions, until the tape finally gives. It takes a stretched-out moment to completely free myself. I pull the piece of tape from my mouth and stand up shakily.
I have to slouch. The storage roof is not high enough to accommodate me. I push the trapdoor up and stand still in shock for a few seconds after realising it is unlocked. My impostor must have gotten sloppy, presuming I was too weak to try anything being in such a miserable state. I start climbing out but then think of something and come back to my prison. I land on the floor of packed soil with a thump and proceed to scan the row of farm tools. I pick up a large axe from the wall. Then I get out of the cellar and limp towards the house.
Through the living room’s window I see Tom and Elsie sitting at the table. Then I notice Alice. She stands by the fireplace. Next to her is my tormentor. They are talking.
laughs. My heart makes a painful stop when I discern that my doppelganger cradles
my son in her hands. She moves him lightly, lulling him to sleep. Alice
Holding the axe in front of me, I circle the house. I hear a suppressed growl. Tyce, our beagle watches me from the backyard. His tail is hidden between his rear legs. Tentatively, I take a step towards him. He whimpers and disappears inside his doghouse.
The back door is unlocked, so I enter. I navigate my way in the dark corridor leading to the living room. I have to act fast. I have to protect my family. The impostor cannot be allowed any time to react. I glance inside the living room, whilst remaining concealed by the half-opened door. I watch the impostor hand over my son to Tom. My husband disappears upstairs, taking the baby to the nursery. The doppelganger remains alone by the fireplace.
This is my chance. I run at her, swinging the axe in the air. I hear someone screaming and register a series of frantic movements in my peripheral vision. My double raises her hands protectively in front of her face... my face. Her eyes plead with me. I take a swing and land an axe on her head.
Someone is clawing at my back, pulling me down. Losing my balance, I crash to the floor, catching Elsie’s terrified face hovering over me. It dawns on me that her small fists are banging at my hands and my back. She must be in shock.
“Mommy!” I hear the sound of Alice approaching. I lift my head and reach for her with my hands. But she manoeuvres around me, falls on her knees by the limp body of my doppelganger. I watch Alice’s little chest shaking in the fits of hysterical sobs.
I watch my daughter like it’s a dream. She turns away from my double and her eyes, full of fear and tears, meet mine. In her dark irises I catch a glimpse of a figure moving behind me. I jump up and swing around in time to face Tom just as he fires a gun.
The pain in my stomach is searing. It only takes a breath for hot blood to soak my ragged pyjamas. I look at Tom as he lowers the Glock. Elsie swiftly moves to hide behind his back. He screams at
to move but she ignores him. I want to ask him why, but once again the words gurgle in my throat and refuse to
come out. I bend in half, coughing up blood. Alice
The last thing I remember is my reflection in the mirror above the fireplace. A thin woman with haggard skin and hollowed eyes stares back at me. Her chest and hands are red with blood. She is clutching a gory axe. Between the sobs,
whispers mommy, mommy, holding my dead
doppelganger’s hand. Alice