You can read all the previous episodes HERE, from the menu above, or select ‘Identical’ from the categories widget. (they’re in chronological order so you’ll have to start at the bottom of the page)
Previously, on ‘Identical’
Riding her bicycle through the Nicola Valley in British Columbia, Ciska takes shelter from a nasty storm with Meg, whose car’s been stolen, then found with a dead woman at the wheel. Tamsin Lightsmith, of the RCMP, tells Meg that the dead woman is her exact twin. Ciska needs to see the car but before she can explain to Tamsin and Meg what’s going on, a sudden thunderstorm sends her back to her motel room in a panic. Tamsin calls her mother in England and gives her all the information she has.
The clues are in. Mystery abounds. Just exactly what’s going on?
Screams bounced around Ciska as though they’d escaped from some demented nightmare. She tried to block the sound but her arms, bound to her sides so tight she could hardly breathe, refused to move. In that moment she realized the screams were hers.
She sat up and banged her head on something hard. Her eyes flew open but a darkness ignored her feeble attempts to peer through it. She flopped back onto the thin padding inside her storm chamber.
Damn nightmares. She’d fallen asleep waiting for the storm to pass. Again. I must be getting used to this. Which was about as depressing a thought as it was exciting.
She ignored her shaking hand and fumbled for the latch. Erie light from a cloud smothered dawn flooded the coffin sized chamber. The cover clattered to the scuffed slate floor. Who uses slate in a motel? She winced at the sound. Not that she overly cared if she woke her neighbors, if there were any, but the metal lid and indeed the whole chamber was impossible to replace.
Ciska checked her instruments as she reassembled the chamber into her bike trailer. Most of her possessions were multi-functional, which made it easy, and sometimes complicated, to travel as light as she did.
The readouts confirmed much of what her senses already told her. Thunder from the storm registered a few points under 100 Hz, and the storm itself certainly came close enough to affect her, but the third reading from the dial attached to the inhibitor sheets on the side of the chamber, now her trailer, took her breath away. It showed zero. Nothing. The world around her remained the same as it had been before the storm.
Her chest hurt until she started breathing again.
She sat on the single thinly padded chair in her drab little motel room and gazed right through the faded green walls.
From a corner of her minds eye fragments of what her life might now become flickered into the realm of possibility. She could live and not be afraid of dying. She could die and not be afraid that the first peal of thunder to crash above her final resting place, would resurrect her, reset her biological clock, and abandon her in a world that held no proof of her existence.
Once upon a time, she spent an entire summer creating a detailed system of logic based on her own experiences and stories she’d heard from others like herself, that explained what happened to her. During that time thunderstorms came and went but none close enough to switch her. She shied away from counting the years since that idyll. Some things were best left to fade into the background noise of her memories. She recalled details when she needed them.
She remembered that it was a time of laughter and love. Drinking local champagne out of red wine glasses, dining on provincial cuisine, writing in her journal until the sun came up and her lover drew her away to pursue other passions. What was her name?
Her lover had been the town silversmith’s wife. She convinced him to refine the strange metal nodules she found in the area, and craft them into thin sheets that she rolled up and safely tucked away. Many summers later she used one of the metal sheets to shield her from yet another storm, and realized their true worth.
She scrubbed her hands across her eyes and leaned back in the chair. Gods of the Mother, she’d grown so tired of outliving her memories, of the constant travel and not daring to put down roots.
What would’ve been the point? A cold front clashing with a warm air current would switch her into another layer, another pentiment, where almost everything that had gone before remained the same. Not quite the same, but not different, until she passed through enough layers and nothing remained the same. The sides of her chamber were proof enough of that. They were made from a metal that didn’t exist in this pentiment, and never had.
This lifetime could be different. Within this lifetime she could … no, within this lifetime two Megs existed: One who switched and lived, and one who didn’t switch, and died. Then there was Tamsin, whose casual arrogance and jealousy prompted her to reveal too much of herself.
A plague on both their houses. She deserved a life of her own. She owed them nothing. She did however, owe herself a decent breakfast.
As she stepped into the hazy morning sunshine, she realized she did owe someone else something. Dead Meg ought to have someone to speak for her, And, Ciska grudgingly acknowledged, Tamisn and live Meg, she really had to think of another way to differentiate the two, deserved an explanation as well.
But would they believe her? She dodged around a cluster of young women, all with babies in strollers. Breeding season in full swing! She chided herself for the Politically-un-Correct lapse. Her centuries must be showing. But as she walked along the street with a smile on her face and spring in her step she didn’t feel a single one of them.
It didn’t matter in the long run if Meg and Tamsin believed her or not. This was the right time, place, and pentiment. Beyond all else, dead Meg proved that.
She called the two women from SilvanJoes, then calmly partook of her scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, maple-cured bacon, fresh-baked sourdough toast, and a pot of tea, feeling lighter in her spirit than she had for many long years.
Tamsin thumped her phone down on top of the box on her desk, refocused on her computer screen, and cussed as her log-in timed out. Damn Ciska. Damn Meg. And dead Meg as well.
And damn her mother and her imperious commands. If Tamsin didn’t feel so mad at Jane she’d be even more awed at the clout her mother wielded to officially bury this whole investigation.
She could almost see the files disappearing before her eyes. In a few hours ‘dead Meg’ would be reduced to, ‘stoned chick steals car–chick runs car off the road–chick hits head and dies of injuries–chick is buried–case closed’.
The box underneath her cellphone contained the last physical evidence of ‘dead Meg’s’ existence. If this ever got out she could kiss her career goodbye, but her mother would probably offer her suitable employment within the family business as compensation. She shuddered at the thought, picked up the box and walked out of her office, wondering if she’d ever be back.
Meg hung up the phone. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear what Ciska had to say. The events of the last two days overwhelmed her and not even her half-hearted housecleaning efforts helped. She gave up on both, and called in sick for the rest of the week. There was no way she was going back down the Coke, and she doubted if Philby’s old jalopy would make it to Vancouver and back, through the Fraser Canyon.
She walked into her study and stared at the huge whiteboard hung on one wall. Its blank spaces invited her to fill it with her thoughts, a habit she’d started as a child and still used when she needed to work through complex issues. She chose different colored markers to represent herself, Ciska, and Tamsin, and began.
After an hour all she had were more questions. Maybe she did need to hear Ciska’s explanations. Working with the whiteboard soothed her frayed edges, and on an impulse she decided to haul her painting gear out of the garage.
She blew away an impressive coat of dust from the paint smeared old wooden case she’d built when she first decided to be a ‘painter’, and realized ‘painters’ needed elegant wooden boxes to hold their paints and brushes and other arcane equipment. She must’ve been all of nine years old. She never became the ‘painter’ of her childhood dreams, but she sure knew how to use a screwdriver. The old box was as solid as … she ran her fingers across the dried paint stains and felt a cold sweat chill her skin.
This can’t be happening. She dropped the case onto a bench as though it had stung her, and tore the plastic coverings from the few paintings she kept as mementos of her failed ambitions. She looked at each one and threw it behind her. They banged and cracked on the harsh concrete, but she couldn’t hear through the wails that forced themselves through her terror-locked throat.
Acrylics! All of them. She backed away and ran from the garage. Inside her house she dared not look at anything too closely because she was either going mad or she didn’t belong in her life.
Horridly bright sunshine failed to warm her as she sat on her front stoop and waited for Ciska and Tamsin. She hoped they’d tell her she was mad.
Stay tuned for Episode 5 of …
GLOSSARY AND LINKS
The Coke/ Coquihalla Highway
The Fraser Canyon