[Editor's Note: This is the latest installment of 'Notes From the 422nd Annual Wraiths for Writing Conference,' a biweekly series of story and art that artist Amelia Garretson-Persans has created for Country Life. Trace its roots by reading the previous entries.]
The words of Professor Algernon Dogwood broke the deepest silence I had ever known. “Wake up! For God’s sake, wake up!” My inner eyelids opened, but it seemed my outer eyelids remained closed. I took in the orange and shifting patterns behind my closed lids. I couldn’t move my arms. The Professor’s words ran on: “Oh God, her pulse is slowing down. Someone get help. Where to get help for the living in a place like this?”
My eyes went black with the pain of trying to twitch my fingers. If it were not for the fear of death I know I shouldn’t have succeeded. In an explosion of agony I opened my outer lids. The Professor breathed deeply.
“You were drowning. I thought you were lost.”
“I saw a woman in a coffee mug. She was eating potato skins.”
“You saw Hilda. Thank goodness I found you.”
I sat up. The lounge windows revealed a high and clear moon, though it was late afternoon when I first entered the lounge.
“Who’s Hilda?” I asked.
“She’s a kind of modern day Keres, a female death-spirit. Never good news.”
The Professor passed me a flask from his coat. “Very odd to be visited by a Keres sister this time of year. Tell me about the something that’s after you.”
I took a swig of something hot and calming and told the Professor about the strange prediction of Maeve Widdershins, the appearance of the mystery personage at the well, the smiling reflection, and my fading fingers.
The Professor tapped his nose and bent his head. After some moments he looked up. “Sounds like you’ve got a pernicious and premature double on your hands. Very rare, but heard of. In the natural order of things a double turns up, makes a couple of innocuous appearances to family and friends, and then you die. Nothing about your double’s surfacing is typical. The fact that it’s playing these malicious tricks means it’s trying to augment its power through fear. Very troubling.”
I took another sip of the Professor’s flask. It was as restorative as Christmas tree sap. Nevertheless my fingers trembled.
The Professor continued:
“All is not lost. A double is not without its weaknesses. There are certain things you can do to protect yourself, but it does involve some scavenging, and time is of the essence. We’d better head for the woods.”