You don’t know me yet but we’re very alike. Like two peas in a pod, your friends would say, if they knew me. They don’t exactly know me. Not yet.
You haven’t really noticed me hanging around. I’m not surprised. I know you’re caught up in your own baggage. You stalk about, eyes to the ground and shoulders hunched, smouldering over some injustice or another. You cut a lonely, furious figure. It’s not healthy, my friend. It’s not a good look.
Not that I spend all my time looking. I’m not creeping on you. You just catch my attention sometimes, as you pass by, and though I’m sure you’ve never noticed me, I can’t help but wonder about you. Just for a second, it occurs to me to think about what it must be like to be you.
I think we grow closer with each of these little encounters.
Not that I go out of my way, you understand. I told you, I’ve got my own business to take care of. I’m striking up friendships, getting to know people, making connections. This is a pretty little town. The people here are so friendly. I really think it’s growing on me. Do I flatter myself that I’m growing on the town as well? They’ve warmed to me, no doubt about it. I like to think I’ve made a good series of impressions.
I could have shown up anywhere, you know. It didn’t have to be here, but thanks to you it couldn’t have been anywhere else. You had that need, that emptiness. Your pleas drew me here, the ones you muffle with your pillow in the dark of night so nobody else will know about them.
I’m a curious type. In the end I couldn’t stay away. I had to know more.
Did it start with your parents? I know you miss them. They were everything to you, and now they’re gone you aren’t quite sure what to do with yourself. If we’re being entirely honest, I don’t think your mother ever really cut the apron strings, did she? Then she was gone, and you became unmoored. Adrift. All at sea.
The sea’s not a great place to get lost. Voices at sea fall on more wrong ears than right. You can call and call, and the only things who’ll hear you either can’t help or don’t plan to try.
This is true of metaphorical oceans as much as real ones.
Your friends are concerned about you. They’ve told me as much. I never prompt them, they just spilled it out. Every time I cross paths with one of them, they take me aside and explain just how awful you’ve been looking. A shadow of your former self. Once in a while one of them will add an encouraging note about how they think you might have turned the corner, how you’re showing a little colour in your cheeks again. But then a day or two later the next one will come along, and it’s the same conversation all over.
I don’t think there’s anything they can do for you now. It’s all on you.
I’ve just come from your parents’ room. Your mother’s pillow was still damp from your tears. You’re not holding it together since the accident, are you? I tidied up the scattered books and threw out the broken lamp, but I think you need a healthier outlet for your emotions. Tae kwon do, perhaps? If you don’t find something to relieve the stress, it’s going to eat you alive.
Don’t look like that. I didn’t mean to surprise you. You didn’t hear me coming, that’s all. If you’d kept walking to the kitchen instead of stopping for another cry, we wouldn’t have run into each other at all. But to be fair, we couldn’t put this encounter off forever. It was inevitable we’d come face to face sooner or later.
Listen, stop whimpering for a second, okay? This is a pretty important conversation we’re having. I’d like it to go well for both our sake.
I know we’ve only just met, but we can’t exactly say we’ve been formally introduced. We need to deal with another formality first. I have a favour to ask of you. It has to be you. Nobody else can do this for me.
I need a name. I need you to name me.
Quick! Don’t think about it. Just say the first name that comes into your head.
Yes, I see.
Do you really think I look like you? Exactly like you?
I’m flattered. No, really, I am. I know you’re not feeling at your best right now but you’re quite a striking person. Don’t think I haven’t noticed all the heads we’ve turned.
And we have the same name too. What a coincidence. What do you suppose the odds are of that happening?
It’s a funny old world. That’s a thing we always say, isn’t it? A thing you always used to say.
Your friends are right about you. You are looking pale right now. Practically transparent.
But don’t worry about them. When they see me again, they’ll be reassured everything’s going to be all right. I’m on the rise again. I’m back in the game. I’ve never looked better.
They’ll see how great I look and all their worries will fade away.
Like you did.
It doesn’t pay to let tulpas or dopplegängers spend too much time in your head. Better to get them out in the open where they can’t do any harm. Also if it isn’t obvious, the name is a riff on Call Me By Your Name, a romantic drama (novel and film) to which this story bares absolutely no other relation.
If you happened to read last week’s story and didn’t quite understand what was going on at the end, I’ve gone back and added a couple of lines of dialogue which should clear things up. I hope. No guarantees.
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I’ll be sending out a newsletter soon with a bit of background on my story in the upcoming A Hand of Knaves anthology, and a new piece of short fiction. You can sign up using the form below.
Oooh, I liked this story very much. Creepy! The photo fits it perfectly too.
BTW, I’ll be at Conflux. Hopefully see you there!
Thanks Georgina! The photo was a lucky find – I don’t usually go looking for those until after the story is written (though I keep meaning to go hunting for a good photo and write a story specifically for it. One of these weeks…)
I saw you were going to Conflux! See you there! I’m on a panel on the first morning, which I should probably start preparing for.