"You were saying?" The creature grinned at the three of us still remaining, and held up the bloody limb that had torn through James' chest. The sleeves of the jacket, and the sweater underneath were pushed back to the elbow, slowly creeping up with the weight of James' body no longer holding them back. The blood soaked the arm to the point where it looked naturally red. Not an inch of flesh remained uncovered, and the sleeves were soaked through as well, colours blending and darkening into a macabre rainbow.
As it had done before, the doppleganger licked its fingers, pausing to slowly suck the blood off some of them, smiling around the digits as it did so. "Mmmm. Another upside of killing the next rung on the ladder to my own piece of reality? It doesn't just replenish me, but also makes me stronger. As I become more in tune with the true plane, my powers grow. So while your plan is nice in theory, with every body that hits the ground, I am recharged, and made stronger. It will take even longer for me to become weak now, even longer until I need to kill one of you. I could keep us here for days, even if you forced me to use up my reserves now."
Finished licking its hand for now, the doppleganger flicked its arm down, shaking off some more of the excess and splattering it in an arc along the floor and the lower half of the entry hallway.
"So, what's your next plan?"
Ok, I admit it, that did actually throw me for a loop. With James' body laying on the floor, the smell of his blood hanging thick in the air, it was even harder to think. A plan did not seem to be forthcoming, and with my parents' lives at stake, I had to come up with something.
They were both watching me, eyes falling upon their only daughter. The girl they had brought into this world, and raised, and now their sole hope for survival. Before James was killed in front of them, they were likely unclear on just how high the stakes were here, but as soon as his shirt darkened to red, and the front bulged out with this monster's fist, this monster that wore my face, they knew just how dire the situation was for them. The doppleganger meant every threat it uttered, and they were merely pawns in the way to its ascension into my life.
My father had been my best friend when I was young. He was always there for me, and taught me so much. He was the one who taught me how to fight back, defend myself. He also had taught me about whiskey, and gods, I was wishing for a whole bottle at that moment. All that knowledge, all that training, was for nothing. The one thing I needed to stop the most, and there was nothing I could do. The look in his eyes, such sorrow crossed that gulf between us, and yet there was no hate in it. He didn't blame me for any of this. Da had always told me that there would always be a better fighter, someone more skilled, and when they knocked me down, not to be ashamed. But how could I just let this thing take my parents? Hadn't it taken enough?
And my mum, there was such sadness in her eyes. She had taught me much, as well. Less fighty things, obviously. Cooking, sewing, the usual girl stuff. The other half of the essential survival skills, really. Thanks to them, I could take care of myself, in all situations, no matter what I faced. Until now. Fighting doppleganger shades weren't exactly on the survival curriculum, or maybe I'd just missed that class growing up.
"You don't have a plan, do you? You're just going to stand there and watch while your parents are taken from you, aren't you?" The creature smiled a little, pleased with itself. "Not that there's anything you can do. It's so tiresome to try and take a life with things being thrown through you, so I thank you for the courtesy of laying back and being a complete coward while I finish up."
"Oh, that is quite enough, young lady!" Oh, dad, no. Sit down, da. He had pushed himself up from the recliner he practically live in now that he was retired, and was shaking an angry, fat finger at the twin of his daughter. "I have sat here quite long enough listening to you bad mouth this family, its friends, and my own flesh and blood, but no one, and I mean no one, calls my Siobhan a coward!"
I couldn't watch, but I couldn't look away, either. Watching my dad march forward, facing this monster that meant nothing more than a certain demise, I felt a swelling pride I hadn't felt for him in a number of years now, The sedentary creature he'd become since retirement was all but gone, only visible in the increased girth he had picked up, as the da of old came out. That fiery temper, that depth of spirit shone through in those moments as he came forward, defending my honour.
Honestly, it was a good way for him to go. A good, last memory to carry with me of the man he was.
The doppleganger regarded him for a moment, amused at anyone in this assemblage still having a spine, most likely, and then rushed forward, grabbing him by the throat and hefting his small, yet wide frame high off the ground.
Da grabbed at the creature's wrist, fighting to pull free of that frozen touch, as so many before him had tried to do. I cried out, trying to draw that creature's attention away from him, to do anything I could to save him.
The creature turned to me and glared. "Your time will come soon enough," and with that, it through my father to its left, sailing past my mother like yet another rag doll, and he crashed into the far wall. A shelf of books above him collapsed and fell on top of him, partly burying him in reams of paper.
I had heard loud cracking as he hit the wall, and thought it had been his spine, or any number of bones, but he somehow survived mostly unscatched, pushing the books aside. The wall above him was cracked, indented where he had hit, and was likely the source of the sound I had heard.
He wearily and unsteadily got back onto his feet, his age showing, and the dazed feeling from being flung across the room very likely not helping.
Wiping at his nose, and staining his hand with the slight trickle of blood that was coming from one of his nostrils, he stared down the doppleganger. It really wasn't surprising to me that my father was the one to give this thing the biggest fight it had seen so far. Everyone else had been taken by surprise, and James wasn't exactly the most standup member of the male community. My da was not about to go out willingly.
Foolishly, he charged at the creature, not giving it any quarter for bearing the face of his only child, and treating it like any other threat to his family. Like everyone before him, it had done no good, and the creature disappeared from where it had been standing like it had never existed at all. Dad was almost unable to catch himself and stop before he tripped over his own footstool.
Still in a frenzy, he whirled around, searching the room for any trace of the doppleganger. His breathing was heavy, and he looked like a crazed man looking for...well, something that wasn't really there, which was just about right.
He calmed a little as the creature appeared to be gone, and his breathing slowed. He brushed his hair back, fixing it from his frenzied running, and being tossed around the room. Taking a step forward, he started to reach out for me, to take me into a fatherly embrace, just as hands matching my own reached out from behind him and grabbed his head, twisting it sharply. This time, the snapping I heard was not the sound of any walls succumbing to weight being thrown at them, but his neck breaking.
The doppleganger released his head, and the momentun he had from beginning to come towards me carried his limp body forward, and his outstretched arms landed at my feet. And even though he fell and landed on his chest, his head was twisted around so much that he looked up at me one last time as the light faded from his dark brown eyes.
Dusting of its hands for a job well done, the doppleganger spoke, "There, now it's just us girls. So much better, don't you think?"
My mother wasn't listening. She was screaming, drowning out any other voices she would hear. She shot up out of her chair and pushed past the creature that had killed her husband of nearly 40 years. She took his limp, lifeless form in her arms, and cradled him awkwardly in her arms, his head lolling about grotesquely over her shoulder.
The creature actually somehow showed some remorse, some pity on its face. "I do apologize. Part of me does feel sorry. In a way, you are my own parents. Another reason why many do not take the route towards this plane. The parents are the strongest connection, the strongest blood. And often the easiest to catch. Not many can do what is necessary, and easy, to acheive their goal."
It tried to place a hand on my mum's shoulder, in some twisted way trying to comfort her, after murdering her love, and within moments of killing my mother as well. She was having none of that though, and through her haze of grief, cried out loudly and smacked the hand away, and returned to holding my father's dead body in her arms.
"I, however? Do not have such a problem." And just like that, it grabbed my mother's head with one hand, giving just a simple twist, as if it was trying to open a jar, and snapped her neck as well.
My mother's body went limp, but remained sitting up, supported as it leaned forward, by my father's own body, the two of them holding on to each other in a sick mockery of their life together.
"Well, I suppose that finishes up the five." My twin turned towards me, and regarded me for a moment. A light reflection of its darker self. "All that remains is to take you out, and your life is mine. Do you still wish to lay down and die like the coward you are? Or would you care to foolishly rush me again, and fail like everyone else? Stop now, and it shall be quick."
The most important thing my father had taught me was to know your enemy. Everything had a weak spot, and nothing was unbeatable.. If you watched long enough, and waited, you could find your opportunity. A boxer that overextends his arm everytime he makes a right uppercut. A slight twitch every time someone goes to try and slash you with a knife. A wraithlike creature that is suddenly quite touchable.
I didn't give it an answer, at least not in words. I screamed loudly and lunged forward, grabbing the creature and tackling it to the ground.
At least, that was the plan. But as I knocked the murdering beast down, I felt a lurching, gut wrenching sensation as the world around me went black and cold, feeling like I'd fallen through the creature again, and I had been wrong when I saw my dad grabbing it, and my mother smacking away its hand.
After a few seconds of that arctic-like darkness, light dawned on my world yet again, and there was my eyeless face staring back up at me, as I sat on top of the doppleganger, and could feel it beneath me, very solid under my hands and legs.
The gut-wrenching feeling in my stomach continued, and I could tell my stomach wanted to upend its contents right out my mouth, but I fought back that urge. Not now, not while I had the barest of advantages.
This time, it was my turn to grin. I doubt I could quite give it the same toothy grin it liked to use, but I gave it my best. And that grin brought out a look on this thing's face I had not seen yet, but only made me smile all the more.
I could feel the cold, dead thing underneath me, chilling me, but the effect was less than it had been earlier, as this thing was so close to life now, so close to being real.
"That's the thing, isn't it? That's why there's so much theatrics. It's not just because of my life, but you need your prey to be distracted, in case you slip. The deaths may pave the way, as you said, but they also serve to break the subject, don't they? Killing friends, family, parents for Gods' sake! It's all to crush the true self. So they'll do exactly what you wanted. Lay down, and just willingly take their deaths. Because with each death, you gain more power, but you also become more real. And that's when we actually have a chance, isn't it?"
I grabbed the monster's jacket, shaking it underneath me, all my anger finally pouring out. All the rage over what it had done today, finally able to be directed at the source.
Unfortunately, the thing still had a good deal of strength, but I could tell it was weaker, more human. Its magic was strong, and energy, but it was almost human now. Almost me.
I landed on my back, and blinked up at the ceiling. It was familiar, but not the ceiling of my parents' cabin in the woods. I sat up, disoriented for a moment, but as I looked around, I saw my own apartment. The thing had tried to teleport before I could grab it, and it must have accidentally dragged me along for the ride, bringing me someplace familiar to the both of us.
Quickly, I flipped up onto my side, and found my feet, getting back up and resumed my boxing stance from earlier. As I rose, I watched the doppleganger do the same, in almost the exact same movements, and even assume the same stance.
We circled each other like a twisted mirror hung between us, the only difference being the eyes. I through the first punch, going wide, testing the waters, and the doppleganger easily blocked it, as I expected it to do.
"How's this for a challenge, you murdering freak? Is this still fun? Unexpected? Huh??" I threw another punch, less wild this time, but still lightly testing this thing, and again was blocked.
The doppleganger did exactly what I would have done in its shoes, and threw several punches at me in rapid succession, and I blocked each one easily. It was more than seeing them coming. It was what I would have done. This thing had my skills, and my knowledge. I wasn't going to win with a simple fist fight. This was beyond being evenly matched. And with its slightly higher strength, it still had the edge. We could sit here blocking each other's punches all day, but it could just punch right through and crack an arm, or worse, easily.
I threw a few more punches, all blocked, and could see the creature gritting its teeth in frustration. This was not what it wanted, not what it planned. It could still be surprised, and had underestimated me so far, so I still had a chance. I just had to bide my time, and catch it off guard.
The doppleganger threw another punch, and I moved to block it, but I timed it, letting myself be hit in the side, and did my best to roll with the punch. I felt my shoulder crunch, and sharp pain shot up my right arm as it dislocated from the socket. Not exactly what I had in mind, but it would give me an opening, I hoped.
I crawled across the floor, wincing in pain with every movement, and managed to shove my shoulder back in with barely a noise as it slipped rather easily back in. I had rolled enough with the punch that it had only been a minor dislocation.
Moving towards the kitchen, I continued to make noises of pain, some genuine as my shoulder still throbbed, but most of them were little more than acting, using theatrics against the doppleganger.
Behind me and growing closer, I could hear my twin stomping across the floor, edging towards me, hoping to finish the job.
I reached the kitchen and hauled myself to my feet using the counter, still hopefully putting on a good show. The doppleganger was right behind me as I turned, and it grabbed me. I could feel that cold touch, accompanied by the same gut-wrenching feeling I had felt before when it shifted us here.
My hands fell upon the first thing they found, and I grabbed it, not caring what as my world went black once more.
When my vision cleared, I could feel my stomach churning once more. The doppleganger must have hoped to keep me disoriented as we fought, leaping from place to place, and making me too nauseous to do much but die.
I hefted the object I had grabbed from my kitchen, and held it's cool surface tightly in my hand, and swung, fighting the nausea, not willing to let this thing win, and knowing this was likely my one and only chance to end this. I couldn't take too many more jaunts like that, and we would just block punches until sunrise if it didn't resort to that trick anymore.
My hand arced through the air, swinging unexpectedly from my side, and I could feel a hard, cold lump connect with the doppleganger's head and it cried out in pain as my favourite coffee mug shattered into glittering ceramic shards. I could feel some pinch into my own palm, and the handle remained around my fingers, like a clay variation of brass knuckles.
The doppleganger staggered, holding its head, its own blood this time pouring down and staining its hands. I fought the urge to shout at the creature some more, instead pressing the advantage, drawing my fist up and bashing the back of the doppleganger's head with the clay knuckles, shattering the remains of the mug even further.
The creature fell down to the floor of what I now recognized as my parents' cabin, having brought us back here. It clutched at its head, still refusing to go down. I raised my fist again, and once again drove it into the back of my twin's head, and her head flew forward, connecting with the floor.
It lay there motionless for several moments. I didn't want to pause, and my rage wanted me to keep going before this thing could get a second wind, but it seemed motionless for the time being.
I took the chance and took a few tentative steps closer, and then stood with one booted foot clamping down on its neck. Still it didn't move. I couldn't leave it like this though. I had to be sure. This had to end here, now. I had caught the creature off guard by grabbing something randomly, and swinging wildly. It was a lucky shot, but it did the trick. But this creature was never getting up again, I had to make sure of that.
And just like that, I found myself leaning over its prone form, still wary that it didn't start moving again, and grabbed its head, giving it the same end it had used on everyone else. With a sharp twist, I felt and heard the neck crack under my foot.
It was over. I had survived.