28,072 / 50,000
After a whole lot of fast forwarding, Heather finally came into the room, and ducked into a stall. I held the remote in my hand tightly, feeling the curves of the plastic pressing into my flesh. I had a moment of wanting to fast forward the tape some more until Heather came back into view, but couldn't bring myself to give in to that urge.
The wait wasn't that long, and she was soon back on screen, and starting to wash her hands, but every second felt like an eternirt, since we each knew that each second ticking away in the little embedded white numbering in the image was one less second she had to live.
How could something like this have gone so horribly wrong? At what point does such a mundane, everyday event such as ducking into the restroom at your local Dunkin' Donuts - even if your friends are discussing a supernatural horror in the next room - turn from just that, something we all have to do, to becoming someone's fight for life, and the last thing they'll ever do? Where is that line drawn? How does it happen?
Apparently, it happens when the wrong person steps through the door. I think a strong argument could be made that every instance of things going completely pear-shaped in any given situation could be traced back to the wrong person, at the wrong time, walking through the wrong door.
And there it was.
In the corner of the screen, I could see the top of the door swing into view, then slide back off-camera. I nudged Jay in the leg with the remote, and pointed it at the tv, as if he wasn't able to see for himself. His eyes were wide open, and part of me suspected he hadn't blinked since Heather came onto the tape. I know I hadn't.
Jay nodded without taking his eyes off the screen still, but I paused the tape. He kept staring for a few seconds before realizing that no one was moving anymore, then turned with a soft, "Hey!"
I wiped at my eyes, and shrugged. "Sorry," was all I could squeak out, and I picked up my mug of tea in shaky, unsteady hands. After a sip of that, and a deep breath, I continued. "I needed to take a break before moving on. It's just... It's Heather, you know? And what we're about to see, well, the closer we come to it, I'm a little scared. I really don't want to see this, but I have to."
Jay nodded, and placed a warm hand on my shoulder, giving it a squeeze. "Don't worry, I'm not exactly anxious to see this myself, but yeah, we have to, eventually. Take your time."
I placed a hand on his, and squeezed back, greatful that I wasn't sitting here all alone to try and watch this tape, and glad that I had waited for him to get here, or killed time so the waiting was less, more appropriately. Never would I have been able to sit there on my own and watch the tape, especially not once things actually started happening.
It was easy to dismiss the tape, and go through it thinking it's just any other surveillance tape, with just ordinary people on it passing in and out of the small space the camera was capturing forever, but once your friend stepped into it, then all bets were off. You knew this tape was different, a shocking reminder slapping you in the face, and bringing you back to just why you were sitting there watching the tape.
And the show, as they say, must go on, so my thumb fell down on play once more, and the tape continued to whirr onwards towards the inevitable conclusion.
The door to the restroom finished swinging closed, and Jay leaned forward on the couch, his arms resting on his legs. He couldn't help his fascination, even against his fear, and anger over what happened. While I didn't do quite the same as Jay, I did lean forward more, and inched ahead on the couch cushions, the horrible act which we knew was coming inched ever closer to view, as well as hopefully capturing a glimpse of what had only been in my head up until then.
And there it was, walking into screen. At first, all we saw was just what I had seen most of the time since waking up, a shadow. But as the thing moved more into frame, it looked like that was more like just a trick of the light. The back of its head came into view, and we could see it's curly hair, covering up it's neck, and flowing down to the middle of its back, down the black trenchcoat it wore.
What we were seeing was, in short, me. At least, from behind. It had taken human form, my form, and had presented itself to my best friend.
Heather jumped on the recording, and turned, probably because the doppleganger had spoken. Heather spoke back, we could barely tell in the grainy image. Without sound, we had no idea what they were talking about, but aside from the initial surprise, Heather seemed to be behaving normally, and likely suspected it was me, either coming to tell her Jay and I were done discussing the creature, or to see how she was doing.
Jay's eyes remained glued to the screen as he shifted in his seat, and reached over to me, groping in the air and finally grabbing my shoulder. He shook me a little and pointed at the screen.
Pausing the video once more, I turned, nervous to even take my eyes off just a recorded image of my visitor. "That's you," he said, and to say he sounded as if he was disbelieving his eyes, would be an understatement. He knew where I was at the time it happened, he was my alibi. But right there, in black and white, was contradictory evidence.
He removed his hand from my shoulder, and wiped at his mouth, staring at the paused image, still trying to come to terms with what he saw, and what he knew, struggling to reconcile the two. Several times, his eyes darted towards me, then back to the image, looking for flaws and differences, even in a grainy image.
"My god," he muttered, looking back and forth. I wasn't entirely sure he could take much more, but he made a gesture with his free hand, twirling his fingers in the air, urging me to continue. I had doubts that even he thought he could handle much more, but that need to know drove him on.
The tape continued on, and the two just stood there and talked for awhile, and I could only find myself wishing desperately for sound. To hear Heather's voice one last time, and have that as a permanent record.
After a little bit, Heather turned, and ran her hands under the faucet again, and splashed some water on her face. After grabbing some paper towels from the dispenser and drying off in the mirror, I saw something in her eyes. There was a flash there, something that caught her eye, and in that moment, I saw it too, and wanted to kick myself for not noticing it any sooner.
"Did you see that," I asked Jay, and paused the tape. I wasn't going any further until he saw it.
"What? All she did was wash her hands." It was something so obvious, and yet so easy to miss.
I pointed at the screen, gesturing at nothing, literally. "Look, damnit. She saw it. Or didn't see it, as the case may be here. I missed it too, until I saw her eyes."
"What are you -" And Jay stopped dead. He leaned forward even more on the couch, almost just crouching on the ground, and nearly no longer on the cushion at all. His eyes dawned with recognition as they stared at the screen, finally seeing what Heather had, and what I'd finally caught.
"There's no reflection for your doppleganger."
"Bingo. It's an easy thing to miss from this perspective, I guess. We can see Heather and it talking, and not really paying attention to the mirrors. And Heather was caught off guard and was facing the creature all this time. Once she looked at the mirror again, she saw it instantly."
Jay nodded, amazed that we'd both missed it. "And she knew it wasn't you, and exactly what was in the room with her. The book, you said it said something about dopplegangers not being visible in mirrors, or casting shadows, right?"
"Yeah, and she read that too. Oh god..."
I started the tape back up, and watched Heather in the mirror. She knew all right. Her look hardened, and I could see her take a deep breath. Did she know she wasn't going to leave that room alive? The moment she realized what was in the room with her, did she know what it meant? Part of me, most of me, dearly hoped she did know. I hated the thought of her thinking it had been me that had killed her, even if at the last second she realized what it was. Some preperation, knowing for some time that it wasn't me, that would bring me some comfort.
She turned back towards the camera, and continued the conversation, as casually as she could, I wagered. I could tell by her body language that she was more standoffish, leaning away a little. Did the doppleganger know? Was it distracted enough by the conversation to think everything was still ok, and it hadn't been found out? Did Heather's realization just hasten her demise?
It was fascinating to watch as the scene played out towards what we both knew was coming, at least in broad strokes. Knowing Heather had gone out strong lightened the weight on my shoulders, and even Jay seemed more at ease from it. She wasn't a dupe.
Heather made a gesture with a hand, and I wasn't sure what it was at first, and I almost rewound the tape, wondering if I had missed something, but it became a but clearer instantly.
My double gestured as well, pointing at her head, or so it looked at first. I actually saw the thing's hand shake. Heather had somehow managed to catch this thing off guard, and it was ever so slightly rattled, or at least surprised. Heather was up to something, and the monster hadn't picked up on her awareness until then. I smiled.
Soon, it became apparent what they were talking about, as the doppleganger's hand, which I could see looked perfectly normal, and not the whithered, gnarled thing that had groped for me in my room earlier. It wouldn't do it any good to look like a rotting skeleton if it was trying to trick people into looking like me. It's hand grabbed something, and I saw it remove the sunglasses I had been wearing, or rather a facsimile of them, and hold them up in the air.
Whatever it was that Heather saw, it was what caused her to scream back in the restroom, as we watched her mouth open wide, and she stumbled back against the sinks.
What happened next, happened so fast. I don't know if it was a glitch of the tape, or if what we saw was actual events as they happened, but it was like everything had slipped into fast forward. I thought I had accidentally hit the button myself, but was too nervous to look away and check, it all flashed by so quickly. Later viewings of the tape showed that I hadn't and it was the tape itself, and very likely was the way things actually went, since the creature did not have a lot of time once that scream let out, that Jay and I pushed through the door.
For one second, the creature stood where it was, and the next it was standing directly in front of Heather, and was clutching her head in its hands, and we could see her digging her thumbs into Heather's eyes, and dark spots appeared flowing down Heather's cheeks, black blotches in the greyscale images of the tape.