by Paul Weidknecht
These weird double-people Melody observed from time to time around the house never hurt her, but the moment she realized they were imitations and not real people, a chill would run through her that made her scalp tingle. They were always silent, and seemed sad, or at least like something bothered them. The first one—a copy of Uncle Trey—appeared last year just before she started second grade. Melody had come in from playing outside to get a snack in the kitchen, and as she passed him sitting in his recliner watching the NASCAR race, asked if his driver was winning. The fake Uncle Trey said nothing, its dull eyes straight ahead, its hands gripping the armrests like a man strapped into an electric chair. She thought he hadn’t heard her, when a second later the real Uncle Trey came trudging up from the cellar, wiping his hands on a rag, saying her dad would be happy now that the water heater was finally fixed. When she snapped a look back into the living room, all she saw was an empty chair facing a black television.
Since then she had seen doubles of her dad, and the nice old lady next door, Mrs. Wilson. Thankfully, she’d never seen a double of her step-mother; one of her was one too many. Melody couldn’t imagine dodging two Helens, each trying to wash out her mouth with hot sauce or locking her in the attic for hours at a time, a true torture in summer or winter, with threats of worse if she ever told her father.
But now she woke with a start, strands of hair pasted to her face with sweat, her pillow damp. The night air was thick and charged around her, like something was prowling the house. Melody glanced at the glowing red numbers of her digital clock, 2:08 AM. Slipping from bed, she padded down the hallway toward the bathroom, passing her father and Helen’s open bedroom door. They lay side by side, two mounds covered in white sheets, the moonlight stenciling them with the shadow of the window’s framework. She reached the bathroom and filled a glass with water. In the corner of her eye something moved and she turned toward the steps leading downstairs. Melody gasped and flinched, the glass shattering on the floor.
A fake Helen ascended the stairs, wild-eyed and breathing heavily, its hands balled into fists.
“Girl, what did I tell you about wandering around at night? Well, you’re gonna learn now.”
Melody shuddered, understanding immediately: this was the real Helen. “No. Please.”
Then she peered into the dark bottom of the stairwell behind Helen. The black-hooded figure showed no face, but she could see it glided quickly upward with purpose. And as it reached out with its pale bony hands toward Helen, Melody knew she’d never have to stare out that attic window wishing she were somewhere else.