I glided across the surface of the lake, not quite touching the still, dark water. Night had come and stars had stolen the lights of the sun. My body glowed, casting reflections in the mirror of the water. Still. So still.
I raised my hand. It felt heavy, a stone through oil. I had to remind myself that it was my hand. It didn’t feel like mine. The soft, pulsating light made the skin ethereal. No. It didn’t feel like me.
I didn’t feel like me.
My hair flowed gently behind me, some sort of tiara glistening around my head. I looked down, surprised to find I had a body. I couldn’t feel it. I couldn’t feel the gossamer-like black dress that hung from my form, slipping like silk down to my knees. The feet I could see reflected back at me in the water did not look like my feet.
The sky above me glittered with starlight. I raised my eyes to the black, silver-spattered canvas of the night.
I felt powerful. Like fire, the power licked at my skin, my senses tingling. Alight with energy. Alive.
Like I could achieve anything.
The feeling grew. I felt a smile grow on my face.
Gradually, though, I became aware of a tension in the stillness, a tension where there had only been calm before.
Suddenly the lake looked much darker, as if something large and dangerous waited just beneath the black water.
One by one, the stars above me flared and then died. The darkness grew. The glow from my body cast a sickly paleness on the surroundings.
At some point, I had left the lake behind. Below me there were trees. Their bare arms reached towards me and an unusual feeling rose up inside me.
It took me a moment to recognise it.
I was afraid.
I couldn’t move, my limbs heavy with resistance, unable to do anything but stare ahead as I drifted, ever-accelerating, forward.
There was something flying towards me. It hadn’t been there before. But it was there now.
A figure. My eyes strained in the dark to make out more. It, too, gave off a light of its own. But somehow, it was a shadowy light, darkened with the weight of responsibility that I had shrugged off.
As the figure and I continued to move closer, I braced myself for an impact. We were going fast. Too fast. My eyes wouldn’t close. Was this what dying felt like?
The heavens answered as I was brought to a gentle stop. I hardly noticed the lack of motion, transfixed on the person I was faced with.
“Hello, Talia.” The mouth moved, a thin red line of deceit, in a way so eerily similar, down to the slight curling of the left side of her face. “You didn’t expect to see me, did you?”
I didn’t – couldn’t – answer. Her hair lay in limp, dead waves across her shoulders, the thin black straps of her dress stained with some dark brown substance. The rest of the dress wasn’t any better off. Dirt collected at every crease, jagged holes collect debris like a sieve, rips and tears bled the viscous dark substance onto the pale skin visible beneath.
If it wasn’t for the sultry smirk playing on those red, oh so red, lips, I wouldn’t have given her a second glance.
I shivered, discovered I could move and opened my mouth.
The girl was suddenly right in front of me. The dirty finger, with a somehow perfectly manicured red nail, felt cold and heavy on my lips.
“Uh-uh. Shhh. Just listen. You are not in control.”
The finger traced the outline of my lips, the sensation ghost-like.
“Oh, I’m sure you have so many question, don’t you?” The laugh was dark, almost maniacal, and it made the hairs on my bare arms stand to attention. “Don’t you understand yet, Tay? Look at me.”
The tone went from sly to commanding in a second, and I felt myself obeying. My eyes lifted to stare into the whirlpools of sin opposite me. The face was right in front of mine; I could feel the rotten breath like death on my own face. She leant down and whispered in my ear, so close, so intimate.
“I am you. I am all your darkest urges, you deepest desires and fantasies, the ones you keep hidden from everyone, the ones you lie to yourself about, pretend they don’t exist. I am you, embracing your darkness, letting go of your stupid, foolish humanity. I am so much more powerful than you could ever me, Talia. You cannot imagine the power.”
I shuddered. That strange sense of almost knowing something, of having a thought slip away just as you try to grab on to it, came across me. This person, this girl, my doppelganger – she repulsed me, and yet she enticed me at the same time.
When she moved away, a part of me followed. It took a second to realise that the keening sound, almost a whimper, had come from me.
She laughed, tilting her head and surveying me. “You want this. I know you do. Remember, Talia – I am you. I know everything you feel, everything you think. There is a part of you that wants this. Wants to be powerful, wants to take control for once in your life. Stop other people from restricting you, from stopping you stepping into who you could be.”
What she was saying spoke to me. Well of course – she was me. And yes, a part of me did want to be in control. To be able to resist when mum, Hetty, the coven – anybody – attempted to tell me what to do, how to feel.
Something must have showed in my face, because she – me – it – leered. “That’s it, T. Give in.”
Her words struck a chord, and some part of me started to fight back. I strengthened my resolve – although what I was resolved to do was beyond my somewhat murky grasp of the situation.
Her expression went from delighted to disappointed. Somehow, this relieved me. “Do you need some more motivation?” An idea seemed to come to her, and she grinned. “Shall I show you who helped me let go?” She nodded, as if I had answered. “Yes. What a good idea.”
The air thickened and I became conscious of another presence. As with her, it was suddenly there, without anything changing.
I knew that voice. It left a foul taste in my mouth.
The second figure stepped up behind the first, its shadowy arms encircling her waist. His eyes seemed to be even more cruel and cold than I remembered, his face all sharp angles and shadows. She leant into his embrace, one hand coming up to stroke his cheek tenderly.
I felt sick.
“Did you really think it would be anyone else, T?” His lips were at her neck, but he spoke to me. “I would say it’s destiny, but I don’t believe that. Neither do you.”
I had a sudden urge to shout, scream, hurl insults and profanities at them both, but no sound would come.
He chuckled. It was a sound that spoke of promises, of death, of pain and loneliness. It was a sound that could shatter glass and freeze flames. To me, it felt like a dagger in my heart, leaving me reeling, unable to move or think.
“He’s like a magnet, mirror-me, human-me,” she spat the word as if it burned her to speak it, “and I – we – were always pulled towards him. You’ve felt it before, haven’t you? That attraction? That danger? That desire to let him possess you in every way, to delight in the darkness he brings out in you. You cannot escape him.”
She said it so manner-of-factly that I almost believed her. For those vicious eyes and that cold smile, I would do anything.
“Say my name, Talia.”
It wasn’t a request, and yet my tongue would not form the syllables. Some part of me still struggled to resist.
Letting go of my shadow-self, he advance towards me, seeming to grow with each step. He towered over me, obsidian shadows curling outwards from his skin. His touch burned. I wanted to get away from it and yet I craved more. The way he curled his fingers around my throat was more possessive than aggressive. He scared me, and left me breathless. A man of paradoxes, unknown and unknowable.
“Say me name,” he growled. He wasn’t hurting me, but I felt pain anyway.
I could last no longer. “Corbin,” I managed to breathe out.
He smiled, and that was infinitely more chilling than the snarl he had worn before. He didn’t let me go.
“See? You’re halfway there already.” I had almost forgotten she was there until she spoke again. “Corb, come here, babe.” She held her hand out, and he took it. He made sure I felt every touch as he slipped his fingers along my skin. Goosebumps sprung up as he finally let me go. The way her lips formed each word was disgusting, yet I could feel the phantom sensations of my own lips copying her.
I stared at their interlocking hands, as she ran her fingers through his hair. My stomach turned as he leant down and their lips met. I felt his lips, cold and foreign, against mine, the line between me and her blurring.
I took in the sight of them together, and something snapped.
They both jerked up, staring at me in surprise. My voice sounded off to my ears, far away.
“I will not let you turn me into that.” My eyes bore into Corbin’s, a sudden fire lit in my gaze.
After the initial shock at hearing me speak out, Corbin’s expression went back to its usual smirk. “Our little kitten has claws after all.” He turned back to her. “Shall we, darling?”
She nodded, a gleeful smile on her twisted features, making her look even more unhinged. They turned to me, palms raised in my direction, their arms touching. The connection made them seem like one, a humanoid monster of hideous proportions. Dark shapes formed from the writhing mass of their skin, alive with malice.
They spun and whirled towards me, spiralling into one ever-changing arrow, ready to take my life.
But I am not powerless, not even here, in this shadow realm where my own mind is a weapon to be used against me. The power I had felt above the lake surged within me, pushing the boundaries, eager to be free from the constraints of my body.
I let it flow through me, under my skin, in my veins. I had never felt so clear and true. When it finally burst from me, it was bright, a shapeless bullet of brightness, not even light, just bright. It hit the arrow of black head on, and obliterated it within seconds.
I could see Corbin and his consort, their mouths agape. My bright saviour continued towards them. They turned to flee, but their limbs wouldn’t move. I had turned their own tricks against them. And it was so satisfying. So satisfying to watch the brightness eat at them, dissolving that oh-so-familiar body, the same body I had inhabited for the last eighteen years, and was only now coming to terms with it. Her eyes were the last thing to go, staring straight at me. It was like looking into a carnival mirror, one of those ones that distorts your reflection into something unrecognisable. Corbin took longer to vanish. He always had been stubborn. But I kept pushing with my power; a power even his resolve was unable to compete against. It was his smirk that was left, after his body, that body that I had known since we were both children. The smirk that haunted my dreams. Not so much Cheshire Cat as Freddy Krueger.
But at last, they were both gone. The brightness didn’t vanish, as I’d expected. It continued to grow, expanding until everything in my vision was eye-blindingly bright.
“I am Power. I am Strength. I am Beauty.”
The voice was mine; I could feel my lips making the sounds. And yet it didn’t sound like me. It had steel in it which I didn’t. The magic in me grew, and the voice got louder.
“I am Danger. I am Queen. I am Invincible.”
I no longer felt like my body belonged to me. I was floating, higher than ever before. The Earth grew rapidly smaller as I rose. Powerful, huge, white wings pushed me ever upwards. They sprouted from my back like they had always grown there.
The brightness reached a crescendo. For a moment, a split-second, the breath before the storm, it was calm. Still.
Then it exploded in a flash of light. I was flung away, far away. Among the stars and the planets I flew. The loss of control was exhilarating.
My eyes closed.