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The Florida night was heavy with the calm silence that always accompanied huge storms. Zoë walked down the lonely sidewalk, slumped with the pressure of another day. It had been a rough day at her boring office job, she missed the public bus home, and her feet ached from her uncomfortable heels. She was only 25, yet she felt like she was having a midlife crisis. The mosquitoes flitted annoyingly around her head, and even as she swatted some away, welts blossomed across her freckled skin and spread a pale blush from where the bites originated. Zoë gave a defeated sigh and sat down heavily against one of the lamp posts, splashing mud across her blouse and pants. But at that moment she didn’t care. She covered her face with her hands, absorbed in thoughts of a better life, somewhere where she wouldn’t feel so pressured by everyone, everything. She wanted to be a child again, free from the worries of adult life. And that was when Zoë felt the urge overtake her. She raised her head, looking out at the glistening puddles in the street, calling out to her. What better way regain a feeling of youth? She stood and took off her shoes, felt the hard concrete sidewalk underfoot. She wanted to be in control of something, anything other than trying to regain her life that was rapidly slipping away. She needed this, just this one splash in a puddle, one moment to feel alive again. And so she ran.

Zoë ran for the biggest, widest puddle, the one in the very middle of the street. The street lights became blurs on the side of the road, her shoes left lying abandoned on the sidewalk, her red hair whipping around her shoulders, displaced by pure momentum. And then, right before the puddle, she leaped and closed her eyes wanting to feel only the water rush around her ankles. But when her feet came into contact with the puddle, instead of stopping at the concrete below, she kept going. Before her mind registered what was happening, Zoë was completely submerged. Her eyes snapped open. Only a moment ago, she was in the middle of the street. Now she was underwater. It wasn’t possible. Couldn’t be. The nearest beach was at least 15 miles away. Am I dreaming? She thought to herself. If I just wake up, this will be over this strange, terrifying dream.

She opened her mouth and inhaled, feeling saltwater rush down her throat. Something was wrong. If this was a dream, her lungs shouldn’t sting like fire. She should be waking up, at home and in bed. Maybe she had fallen asleep on the bus, or at work even. She inhaled again, and the edges of her vision blurred. Something was very, very wrong. Zoë struck out blindly at the water, now in a blind panic to reach the top as instinct to survive took over. She pushed through the water, arms already exhausted from exertion. Finally she broke the surface of the water and dragged herself onto a warm beach. Zoë crouched on hands and knees, coughing up the brackish water. “Here” said a voice, and she saw a towel in the peripheral of her eye. Zoë felt a chill race down her back, and she slowly turned her head. A pale freckled woman with blazing red hair stood beside her, holding out the towel.

Zoë backed up slowly from the woman beside her. The mysterious woman was a perfect copy of her, the only difference being that the other Zoë was wearing a flowing dress and flip-flops, typical beach wear. “My typical beachwear” muttered Zoë. The other woman gave a small, understanding smile. “You’re probably confused, aren’t you? About how a puddle brought you…” She gestured around her “here? About where here even is?” Zoë could only stare at the freckled woman, eyes wide. The doppelganger smiled again, somewhat sheepishly, and offered her hand. Zoë hesitated for only a moment before taking it and pulling herself up, grasping her own soft hand. This was easily the strangest thing she had ever experienced, and she still wasn’t convinced this wasn’t a dream. But some nagging bit of her subconscious told her it was very, very real.

The other woman led her down the white-sanded beach, still gently grasping Zoë’s hand, like a mother guiding a small child. And once they got into a steady rhythm, the doppelganger began to explain. “This world is exactly like yours. Everyone in your world is here inours as well. If you went to work, the same people would be there, Your neighbors, family, friends.” She gestured down at herself “and even you. Everything exists just the same, with a few very key differences. For starters, no one here is born naturally.” When Zoë gave her a dumbfounded look, the copy held up her hands and gave that same crooked grin, and Zoë caught a glimpse of the same chipped tooth she had gotten in a soccer game when she was a child “I can explain. You see, when someone is born in your world, the children here kind of just…pop into existence. And when they die in your world, the alternate slowly fades away. That’s how our world works. We have individual personalities, lives, and loves. But we can never be our own person, if that makes sense. There’s always something missing, a sense of being, a sense of free will.”

Her face lost some of its happiness at this, and Zoë could see that it greatly bothered her. She couldn’t imagine what it felt like to be nothing more than a copy of someone else. She stopped and traced circles in the sand with her foot, and decided to diffuse the growing awkwardness with some questions of her own.

“So, what causes…here? Why does this place exist at all?” The other Zoë snapped out of her stupor, and the light returned to her pretty features. “We don’t really know for sure. Some think that this world houses a piece of the soul, and that piece is reunited with a person when they die. Some say we’re only masses of thoughts and feelings in a dreamed up, ideal world.” She laughed. “Personally, I don’t feel like a thought. But who knows? On the rare occasion we talk about the other world, we call you Originals. I guess to people like you, we’d be Alternates.”

Zoë plopped down in the sand, absorbing this new information and the Alternate sat beside her. They looked out over the ocean, watching the horizon turned pink by the rising sun. “So…” said Zoë quietly “No one dies here until their Original does? Ever?” The Alternate shook her head “That’s not the case. There is one other exceedingly rare way to pass on from this world.” She gave a smile. But this one didn’t reach her eyes, and resonated with a sorrow that Zoë had not noticed before. “When our Originals ever pass through one of the portals, we can feel it. That’s how I found you. And there’s a good reason. It’s so we can start preparing.”

Zoë gave her Alternate a questioning look, and the Alternate woman continued. “Have you ever heard the legend from your world that when you see your doppelganger, you will die soon afterwards? It originated here. Who knows how it spread, but it’s from here” Zoë felt realization dawn on her slowly, and drew in a sharp breath. “You don’t mean…” The Alternate nodded, that sad smile rearing its cruel yet beautiful head once again. “There is no possible way for two of the same person to exist within one reality. If one of your type comes through, very soon afterwards…your Alternate dies.”

Zoë let that sink in for only a moment before muttering “How can we save you?” The Alternates head snapped up. “What?” she said, bewildered “Zoë you can’t, there’s no way. The only way would be if we were to get you back to your reality, but…” Zoë jumped up as fast as she could, grabbing her doppelganger by the hand. “Come on! There’s still time! I’ll just go back to one of the puddles and jump through!” The Alternate shook her head, crying now. “You can’t Zoë! You can’t go back for a very long time. It won’t matter much, without an Alternate you could live forever, in this universe at least.” Zoë shouted and struggled to pull the Alternate to her feet, “Why not? Why can’t I just go back and save you?”. The other Zoë smiled, this time one full of sadness, but also peace. Her skin had already begun to grow even paler, and her red hair was losing its sheen. The Alternate looked almost…translucent. “You can’t go back for a very long time. To go back, you need a puddle created by the rain. And the other major difference between this reality and yours…is that it only rains here once every hundred years.”



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Stephie-Chan said...
Sep. 30 at 7:14 pm:
Dear, I like it.
You should write more.
Just 'cuz Stephie-Chan says so. <3 Awesome. I've read it twice now. :P
 
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