Oh, this terrible second me, always seated whilst the other is on foot, acting, living, suffering, bestirring itself. This second me that I have never been able to intoxicate, to make shed tears, or put to sleep. And how it sees into things, and how it mocks!
- Aphonse Duadet
The pale light of the winter moon sliced through the windows of the centuries-old farmhouse. Its cold, cutting light fell across the gnarled window sill and onto the blue down comforter where it illuminated the vaporized breath of the two bodies huddled beneath. Henry and his wife Melanie lay perfectly asleep and noiseless. Isolated as there were in the broad expanse of rural farmland, it made no difference whether they screamed violently into the night or snored softly into their pillows. The only two people for miles, clinging together in the solid old home which Henry’s ancestors had built for a much larger family.
All at once Henry ripped himself from the covers and sat up in a panic. He looked out into the room for some unseen attacker. Panting heavily, he took in his surroundings. The same shapes and shadows he’d known since childhood. The same winter chill. The same wind. But now, carried along in the wind, a strange and unknown sound. An infant's cry.
Without sitting up, Melanie snaked her hand up to touch Henry’s arm, pulling him lazily back to bed and making faint sounds of protest at whatever he was doing. Playing music? Watching TV? When she touched him she could feel his body heaving. She partially opened her bleary eyes and saw him looking with an unseeing stare out into the darkness of the room. She then registered the sound herself. A sustained, resonant child’s wail coming from somewhere in the house.
Henry timidly placed his feet on the floor. The jarring cold of the wooden planks barely registering against this strange sensation drawing him to the door. Stepping out of the bedroom, he turned to look down the hall. The crying echoed from downstairs up to the second stair landing. It took on a bizarre harmony and seemed to be coming from multiple directions. At the end of the hall, framed by the darkness of the guest bedroom doorway, was a small boy. He had the same messy dark hair and deep eyes as Henry. The boy murmured in a hesitant voice.
The sound of a slamming door drew Henry’s attention down the opposite end of the hallway. Standing there, back to the door, was a tall lanky teen boy with the same dark hair and deep eyes. His glance darted around in a trapped panic. Melanie, having gotten up from bed and thrown on a pair of sweats, peeked out from behind Henry’s shoulder. She let out a startled scream at seeing the teen and another at seeing the younger boy. Her cries triggered Henry. He summoned as much imposing anger as he could muster and began to shout in angry terror at the two young intruders.
“What the fuck are you doing in my house?”
The teen quickly retreated into the room he came from and slammed the door behind him. Henry pounded furiously against the door, tore at the handle and threw his body weight against the solid wood. The young boy began to cry. Melanie felt the instinct to soothe him mixed with a fear of his presence. The infant cries continued to ring now mingled with muddled voices and bodies banging against walls.
A rush of footsteps came up the stairs. Melanie turned to see a man ascending towards her. A man with Henry’s face. A man with Henry’s voice.
“What’s going on Mel?”
But there was Henry at the end of the hall still screaming threats to the other side of the door. Shrieking in terror, she retreated to the bedroom and locked the door behind her.
Turning at the sound of her screams, Henry was suddenly confronted by his own image. The two identical men stood frozen staring back at one another. Before Henry could register what he thought he was seeing, a loud crash echoed from downstairs. The sound of broken glass and scuttling furniture. A chorus of chaotic voices.
The identical man turned and ran down the stairs. Henry followed after him. The downstairs living room was packed with men and boys of various ages. All with an eerily similar visage. At first it seemed as if they could be related. Fathers, sons, brothers. But no, they weren’t quite brothers.
Two teenagers were wrestling over the shattered glass of a broken coffee table. One was slightly larger, slightly more filled out, slightly quicker, He pounded his fists into the face of the other boy. Blood spilled from the broken nose of the familiar face.
Upstairs Melanie paced through her bedroom. Hurling her fists against her face and commanding herself to wake up. Her voice rose to drown out the voices, the shouting, the cries. Gradually the sound of overturning furniture stopped. The shouting stopped. It was quiet again. She turned and walked out to the stair landing. Looking over the ledge, she saw her living room filled with more than two dozen people. Men and boys. Perched haphazardly on couch ends, tables, the floor. Looking sweaty, terrified and half dressed. A few were attempting to set right furniture and sweeping broken glass. One man tended the mangled nose of one of the fighting teens. And then there was her husband. And three or four versions of her husband, all looking up at her. All with the same dark knowing face. All calling out at once
She stared silently back. The tinkling of glass being swept up filled the cold air and was accompanied by the ever-present infant cry. She could place it now. It was coming from the guest room where that first little boy had been. She turned and stepped softly down the hallway and entered the room. Sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed were two young boys, two toddlers and a newborn. The older children were trying vainly to soothe the baby and control the violently sobbing toddlers. The oldest one looked expectantly at Melanie.
“Are you his mom?”
Melanie shook her head ‘no’.
“Well….do you know anything about babies?”
She shook her head again. But seeing their distress, she reached out and took the baby anyway.
“What are your names?” she asked finally.
“Yeah, me too. I’m Henry.”
“How old are you?”
The other dutifully counted and held up four fingers.
With the infant in tow, Melanie slowly wandered back to the stair landing. She could hear voices rising up from the living room.
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