Without a moment's hesitation, and without any thought at all, I found myself climbing up and leaping over the desk, swining my feet over and landing soundly and squarely on the floor on the other side. In retrospect, if the carpet had not been put down there, I very well could have skidded across the marble floor, but fortunately for me, someone had wanted to keep that floor clean as winter drew near and thrown it down.
I felt myself moving, barely even concious of what I was doing at this point. Everyone talks about how time seems to slow down when caught in moments of high action, and adrenaline, and it does happen. You can feel thoughts racing through your head you would never think could be squeezed into a span of what was only a few seconds. The mind races, and there is a certain clarity in those moments, for some people. Every detail was in my head, and I felt myself dive, more than actually directing myself to do so, at the doppleganger, unfortunately doing nothing more than passing right through it.
Everything went black for a split second. Then light, and the world, came crashing back into focus as I passed through the shadowy form of my other self. It was as if my entire range of senses had been shut off, except for touch. And all I could feel there was cold. A deep, biting cold, harsher than anything I'd felt in all my New England winters. It was like when it grabbed me earlier, but so much worse, so much deeper to the bone.
I stumbled once I'd come through the darkness and cold on the other side, and only barely managed to not fall over. My hands were shaking, and I balled my hands into fists. I took several deep, shaky breaths and concentrated, finding my calm, peaceful center that still wanted to kick shadow ass, and turned to face the creature.
And of course, it was gone.
Leaving Heather, and the man who was having the worst time ever of reading his paper in peace, staring at me. I knew immediately, that like all the times before, no one had seen anything. Odds are, it couldn't have done anything to Heather yet.
"Ok, um, Red? A bit too enthusiastic on the greeting there. And this is a library, in case you forgot..."
I blinked, and looked around nervously, working up a good story, or at least something that would do the trick for now.
"Sorry, Heather. I...Wow, I don't know what that was. I could've sworn there was someone behind you, must have been a...a trick of the light, right? The sun glinted off something outside, or something, and it looked like they had a knife. Whoa, that was weird..."
Heather looked at me curiously, and I could tell she wasn't quite ready to believe me, but I had some hope that whatever in a person's brain was keeping them from seeing this thing, might also help a person gloss over an explanation to weird behaviour.
"Uh huh. Too much coffee, I think." She kept looking at me strangely, and even if she wasn't quite believing me, she wasn't about to question it. "No harm, no foul. This time."
She grinned, with just a hint of nervousness, and she was very leery of her friend going a little crazy. We both looked over into the alcove with the tables, and the poor man who was trying to read his paper.
The paper had fallen from his hands, and had fallen onto the table, slipped from his hands. He still held them up ahead of him, as if he still held the paper, and he was staring at the two of us, dumbfounded by what he'd just seen. His jaw hung open and I don't think he blinked the entire time we looked at him.
Simultaneously, Heather and I both raised our hands, without any prompting from either of us, smiled brightly and waved at him, then went back into the employee area, and sat behind the desk. I could see Heather was fighting back a laugh, and it fell away as she looked at me.
"Ok, what really happened there," she asked.
I floundered for an answer, and finally spit out, "I told you, I just thought I saw something..."
She glared at me, with a look I hadn't seen in anyone else besides my mom, and a few teachers. "Uh huh. Pull the other one. What was that?"
Caffeine was needed. I grabbed my cup and chugged down the last of it, shivering as the dregs in the cup had gone more bitter than they were, as coffee was wont to do. My own little nip of courage.
"Do you trust me?"
She looked from me, back out to the lobby, and back. I could see her answer in her eyes, before she even opened her mouth to speak. "If you had asked me that just twenty minutes ago, the answer would have been absolutely yes. But now? With you pulling a Batman over the counter? Now I'm not so sure. You're kinda scaring me, Siobhan."
I nodded. Believe me, I understood where she was coming from. I was scaring myself, and being scared by someone not quite myself. "I know how it must look, how insane I must be seeming today. And I've been questioning my own sanity since even before I woke up this morning. There's some weird shit going down around me, and I don't think it's going to get any better any time soon."
Grabbing my wrists, I rubbed them gently, and fidgeted for a few minutes, thinking how to begin, and if I shouldn't wait until after the man with the paper left. Fortunately, he made that decision for me, by heading out the door as I was considering my options. He glanced back at us nervously, ever so briefly as he ducked into the foyer and shoved the door open, escaping into the late afternoon sun.
And with that, I began my tale.
"How much do you know about German folklore?"
I spent the next hour telling her about dopplegangers, getting the reference book for help, and she read over it while I talked, matching up the same things I had, as I told her about the visions, the drive to work, the dream. Everything. She didn't ask any questions. Heather just sat there and listened. Aside from connecting the dots on her own, the only voice that spoke for the next hour was mine.
I continued on, telling that the wraith had threatened my friends several times, and the dire proclamation that it had made when Heather had returned from lunch, prompting my leap over the desk.
"And the rest you know."
Heather sat there in silence for a long while. She idly played with the jewlery on her hands, both of them sitting on the opened black-bound book in her lap. I could see the gears moving behind her eyes. It was a lot to process in such a short amount of time. I hadn't even managed it yet myself, and I'd just dropped the last eight hours of experiences onto this poor girl who'd never had any stranger experience than a really bad hangover.
Finally, after what seemed like forever - it wasn't just in the heat of the moment when time seemed to stretch, I suppose - Heather opened her mouth. She didn't speak at first, as she stopped to consider her words for another second, but after that, "You do realize how insane this all sounds, yes?"
"Yeah," I said. "I'm fully aware of how insane this all is. How it sounds. I think I'm crazy, and I'm the one seeing these things."
"But I told you the things that have me leaning towards reality, and you read the book. I'm not that familiar with dopplegangers, I never knew they were some creature from folklore. Too many coincidences there that I wouldn't have known about."
It was Heather's turn to nod. "I know, yeah, but...still. Shadow people? I can't...I just can't get my head around that. I believe you, or believe that you think it's real, but I just...can't. it's too much for me, Red."
"I understand. But I knew you'd just press me until I told you the truth, so there it is. Just promise me you'll be careful?"
With a smirk, I could see a bit of my old friend, that trust back in her eyes. "Why? You're the only one that can see this thing. And even you can't seem to touch it. Doesn't really sound all that threatening to me, just really freaky scary."
I sighed. "You're forgetting something. It - she...whatever, can touch me. She has touched me. I don't know how far that goes. She could do anything to me, maybe. She might be able to just touch me for a few moments. I don't know. And if she can touch me, she might even be able to touch other people, or things as well. She also said something about it not being time yet. She may just be a wraith now, but as time goes on, who knows what could happen? By the end of the week, or the end of the day, she could be as real as myself.
"We just don't know. So please, please," I stressed the second please, placing my hands over hers. Heather started to draw away from me, still freaked out by my actions, and now my words. "Be careful."
"All right." Her voice cracked. She spoke softly, and nervously. This was a lot to take in, and she wasn't taking it well. I was on the verge of losing it myself, and because I had to face it, and had to keep going, was the only reason I wasn't curling into a ball in the corner and gibbering like a madwoman.
She hadn't seen what I had, but it was still calling into question quite a few things for her, and I know it couldn't have been easy.
"The worst of it is," she started. "The absolute worst, is the possibility that you are completely sane."
"Oh gee thanks." I sulked a little, hoping to lighten the mood.
"No, I mean, yay. Sanity good. But if you're right? And this is real? Then you're in danger, possibly real danger. And let's say your doppleganger's threats are not empty. Then I'm in danger. In fact she deliberately appeared, pointed me out, and said I would be first! I'm not exactly wanting to die here, Red."
"You're not going to die."
Heather barked out a laugh that echoed through the empty library. "Yeah, because your attempt at saving my life earlier was so very effective. Next time it shows up, what are you going to do, jump through it to death?"
"Well, I was hoping that it may become more vulnerable as time goes on. It becomes more corporeal, more able to do things on this side of whatever planes of existence we've found ourselves working with, but also more real, and more likely to be hurt. Seen. Touched.
"Because honestly," I paused. "If it's not, then we are so very, very screwed. And I refuse to accept that, and go down quietly. These things aren't unstoppable. You read the text. I have to hope that there's a way to stop this, and protect my friends." I reached out and squeezed Heather's hands.
"Just because she said you're the first, doesn't mean she'll succeed. She might not kill anyone. Like you said, maybe she can't even do anything in this world, right?"