It started simple enough.
Alex was running late for a meeting with Strand. These days, it felt like she was running late for everything. After two solid nights of barely being able to lie still for more than ten minutes at a time, she'd tried some medication she'd still had stored at the back of the medicine cabinet. It had … worked? She'd slept, but she'd had weird dreams. For the first few moments after waking up, she'd been sure that someone had actually just cut through her neck, and if she moved, her head would go tumbling off the side of the bed.
So the first stop after getting up had definitely been coffee.
Now she had a mocha in one hand and was frantically pressing the crosswalk button with the other. It didn't appear to be doing anything, but she couldn't help it. She was already almost fifteen minutes late and was still four blocks away. When the lights finally did go red she walked straight out into the intersection - trying to book it across both streets before the timer ran out.
Then someone caught the corner of her eye, going the opposite direction, and she turned on her heel.
That was his coat, that was him, but he didn't turn his head. Alex cursed under her breath and darted after him. Some of her coffee sloshed out of the cup and onto her hand. The light turned green when she was only halfway across the street and she waved off the people honking at her.
"Dr. Strand!" she called again, raising her voice a little. He turned around the corner and she picked up her pace. She had to hold her coffee with both hands to keep it steady. She was only fifteen minutes late, damn it! How could he already give up on her, how…
She turned the corner and stopped.
The side street was industrial - no coffee shops this way, just nearly-windowless buildings with no apparent purpose. There was no street parking here, either. The next side alley was all the way at the other end of the street.
And she didn't see Strand anywhere. She didn't see anyone.
Frowning, eyes still scanning the road, she fumbled her phone out of her pocket. "Call Strand," she said, and waited. He picked up on the second ring. "Hey, sorry, I'm running late," she started. "Are you-"
"Nic let me into your office," Strand said. "I'm in the middle of editing an article. I'll be here when you get here."
"Uh… yeah. Thanks. See you soon."
Only a couple weeks left until Daylight Saving ended and it went back to being pitch black by 5 o'clock. Alex was on her way to get groceries after wrapping up some narration for Nic when her phone rang. She hesitated before answering - she hated being the person chatting in the store - but it could have been something important. She clicked the button on her earbud cord as she walked through the automatic doors. "Hello?"
"Alex," Strand said, sounding surprised.
She raised her eyes to the ceiling as she swiped a basket. The produce section was packed with people, so she swung a hard left towards dairy. If she started at the opposite end of the store, it wouldn't be such a nightmare by the time she was picking out apples.
"Did you call me by accident?" (She couldn't manage to make herself say butt-dial.)
"I thought was dialing someone else's number, yes," Strand admitted.
Alex stopped in front of the milk and frowned. "You dial numbers instead of going through your contacts?"
"I'm in the house."
It took her half a second to realize he meant he was on a landline. In her reflection on the refrigerated case's door, she caught herself biting her lip to keep from laughing.
Then she glanced up to check the price of the store brand and… Behind her, Strand's reflection, looking mildly puzzled and completely out of place.
"But since I have you on the phone anyway… I did read something earlier today that I thought might interest you," Strand said. His reflection in the glass didn't move. It just stared - at her? At her reflection? She could see the bright blue of his eyes behind his glasses, and her heart was thudding. "Let me find it again. It was about the effect sound can have on visual hallucinations."
"Like what?" She was going to have to move at some point - there were reflections of other shoppers moving around on the glass. Some of them passed right where Strand was standing and he didn't move. He just kept staring. Alex was too afraid to turn around.
"Repetitive vibrations, such as those from malfunctioning equipment…"
"Excuse me." Alex jumped and looked directly at a teenager with a carefully printed shopping list clutched in one hand. The girl looked bored and irritated. "Can I get to the milk?"
"Sorry," Alex said, taking a couple of steps back.
The girl pulled the case open. As the glass door moved, Strand's reflection disappeared.
"Am I interrupting?" he asked, over the phone. "I can call back if this is a bad time."
Alex swallowed. "Give me twenty minutes to get my groceries and I'll - I'll call you."
It shouldn't have surprised her, the third time.
But she was actually expecting to see Strand here. She was supposed to see Strand here. He was coming to pick her up so they could go across town and visit somebody who'd done academic research on tarot readings. And this time, Strand had been the one running late. So Alex had left her office to grab coffee from the break room.
She'd just stepped into the hallway when Strand stepped into it, from the lobby at the other end. He waved to her and turned back into the lobby.
Alex darted back into her office to grab her purse and jogged down the hallway. She passed Nic on the phone, and the lobby was empty at this time of day. It was too early for lunch.
Strand was waiting next to the elevator.
She hit the call button and fished in her purse for an elastic to hold back her hair. "So, I've already recorded a few exposition-y bits to explain why we're going to see Dr. Bernard. But when we're in the car I want to go back over some of the quotes from the tape with you."
The elevator doors opened. Alex stepped inside, Strand at her heels.
"Mostly I want some lines about the history of the experiment that don't come directly from me. I mean, if we can get the old tape digitized, we can maybe use some of the sound from that, but nobody wants to damage the tape." This was one of the uncommon black tapes that was an actual tape: hours of footage from the experiments, which included several instances of predicting terrible things that actually ended up happening to people.
They only had to go down two floors. The elevator was there in a few seconds.
Alex stepped out first, still talking. "I know we're running a little late, too, but I'm hoping to get some pictures of the outside of the facility before we get in."
Even before she got to the front door, she recognized Strand's car just pulling into the parking lot.
When she turned around, the doors were shutting on an empty elevator.
The next day Alex Googled 'seeing people who aren't really there,' scanned the first page of results, and switched to 'seeing people's doubles.' From there she fell down a rabbit hole of articles that frequently had the same wording as Wikipedia. Frowning, she leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest.
It wasn't sonar-induced hallucinations, though as soon as Alex had finished learning about that in great detail from Strand, she'd put in an email to her landlord about the vents and radiators in her apartment. Dreams weren't hallucinations, but maybe a rattling vent cover or heating pipe could be keeping her awake at night. (She was willing to try anything at this point.)
Dreams also weren't things she saw while wake, walking around the city. Dreams weren't oddly placed images in the middle of entirely normal situations.
She saw Nic walking down the hall and waved him over.
"Have you heard of doppelgängers?" she asked.
"Like Mary Todd Lincoln? Sure."
"Do you think they're real?"
Nic laughed. "Are you recording?" he asked, pulling up a chair to sit next to her. "I don't know. Maybe. Aren't they usually reported after big events? It could be people convincing themselves they should've known better. Or, I mean, people run into their doubles all the time."
"I think Strand might have a double in the city," Alex said, slowly, which made Nic's eyebrows go up. "I … thought I saw him. A few times."
"A few times?" Nic frowned. "Alex…"
"It could have been someone else. I could be wrong."
"But it worried you enough for you to look it up."
"Do you think you might be getting…" Nic sighed. But what he said wasn't nearly as bad as what she'd been bracing herself for. "Getting a little over-anxious? Sometimes it … seems like you might be looking for things that aren't there."
She made herself laugh. "Literally?"
"Look. You know I'm not going to judge you. I just worry."
"I'm okay, Nic. Maybe Strand just has a long-lost evil twin who's come back now that the show is getting popular."
For a split second Nic looked like he wasn't sure if she was joking, and Alex decided she needed to work on her delivery.
After a few minutes more of chatting, and reassuring, Nic finally left.
Alex turned back to her computer and toggled open her recording program. She stared at it in silence for a few minutes. Then she switched her microphone on. "I've discussed my sleeping problems and my nightmares on this show before. Now, I'm… having more unusual experiences, too. While I'm awake."
The fourth time was impossible: Even more impossible than the rest had been.
Alex got up at three a.m. with the overly familiar feeling of buzzing energy in the back of her skull. Not enough so that she didn't feel groggy, but enough to know that she wouldn't be falling asleep again until five-thirty if she fell asleep again at all.
Lying in bed was too frustrating. Besides, her throat was dry. She slowly drew herself out from underneath her blankets and made her way to the kitchen, balancing herself with her hand on door frames and walls. Since the insomnia had started she'd gotten prone to bumping into things. People worried more when they saw bruises.
She grabbed the water pitcher, poured herself a full glass, and returned the pitcher to the refrigerator. She'd brought her phone with her and it sat dark on the corner of the counter. She settled onto a stool and stared at it. There was music on there, there were podcasts, there were articles in her queue…
There was already a hand wrapped around her glass, when she went to pick it up.
Alex stared at it for a long minute. She could turn around and go to bed. That would be easy.
She could shut the bedroom door behind her and turn her lamp on, her overhead light, and play a movie on her laptop.
She could drown out the rest of the apartment with sound.
Instead. Instead, she reached out to pick up her glass, her fingers shaking.
Her pulse throbbed in her wrist, her fingers were about to brush the other hand and - and he pulled back, and by the time she raised her head to look at him, Strand was gone.
So the latest episode of the podcast had been released, with Alex recounting the first three sightings she'd had.
The fourth… She hadn't gone back in to record anything about the fourth.
She'd tried to keep it as lighthearted as she could be. She'd mentioned that all the literature she'd read had called the sightings omens, but also mentioned the repetitiveness of the articles and the general lack of evidence - or of anything bad happening to Strand, even after three incidents.
And she'd edited. Making it sound like she'd caught a glimpse of someone from the corner of her eye in the grocery store, instead of a reflection of nobody. Saying that she thought she saw Strand coming to pick her up before he'd even parked. It wasn't a lie, exactly. It kept the shape of things. But the full stories sounded worse, and she she didn't want … well.
One thing she hadn't done was call Strand before publishing the episode. She'd meant to that morning, and then gotten distracted. And now it was early evening - and full, overwhelming dark, punched with light from streetlamps and windows every so often - and she was feeling restless.
Her doctor had recommended exercise. So Alex was in the park closest to her house. It didn't actually close until nine but it was already almost completely empty. She'd seen three other people and was sticking to the outside walking path, closest to the street. The interior of the park had its own lamps but she didn't like the idea of being obscured by trees and bushes that, in the dark, looked black and featureless at a distance.
She intended to call Strand when she had burned off some of this energy. Or, apparently, to keep walking until her phone buzzed in her armband. She answered it without looking at the screen.
A habit she really needed to break.
"I listened to the show."
Alex stopped, thought better of it, and sped up instead. Her eyes swept the park around her. There were cars driving by, but no people. The trees were still. "Simon. I'm flattered."
She took her apartment keys out of the little pocket in the waistband of her leggings. Only the two keys fit, for the exterior entrance and her door. It was harder to slot them between her fingers than when they were on a chain. "You know, we have an email address for feedback and everything."
"I've already left a review in the app," Simon said, which made her miss a step. He'd what? But he went on: "It's not good for you to be having visions. It's too soon."
"Too soon for what?"
"The pieces aren't in place yet. You don't know enough." Simon's voice was rapidly climbing to frustrated. "It's not supposed to be happening now. Has it only been the three, or have you seen more?"
Alex sputtered. "Excuse me? You call me on my personal phone and start grilling me? We don't work together, Simon. And you know, the state is still looking for you."
There was a long pause. "There's been more, haven't there?" he asked. "That… changes things. It's not an omen."
"I don't think it changes anything. I think you need to stop calling me." Alex stepped out onto the sidewalk outside the park. It was the opposite corner from where she needed to walk to get home, but she felt better about taking the main road than continuing to walk where nobody was going to see her.
"You know what we used to call a doppelgänger, Alex? A fetch. If you saw one, the person was going to die."
"You know what? Shut up, Simon."
"Some people think fetch came from fæcce, though." Simon sounded distant and slightly dreamy, like he tended to whenever he went off on a tangent - something interesting, but that didn't actually impact what Alex was doing at the moment. Except then he added, "Of course, fæcce just means mære . You know. The old spirits that haunted people as they slept. Nightmares. "
Alex stopped in her tracks.
"Is your skeptic about to die?" Simon asked, laughing. "Or are you just haunted, Alex Reagan?"
She hung up and called Strand. It went to voicemail.
"You took another call from Simon?"
"Strand - Richard, that isn't the point." Alex took a deep breath. He hadn't answered his phone, but he had answered the door, after she'd pounded on it for a solid minute. The side of her fist still smarted. "Look. I don't know what's happening. But I think you need to be careful. There's-"
"There's someone in town who looks like me, yes," Strand drawled, setting down a cup of tea in front of her. "I do listen to the show, you know."
It was cold out but she was still flushed from running all the way home, even though it had ended up taking a while to drive out to Strand's house. She didn't want the tea, but she curled her hand around the cup because he'd taken the time to make it, and it meant that he was comfortable enough to sit down across from her instead of pacing or just leaning against his kitchen counter and staring.
She didn't want to do this. It tasted sour in the back of her throat. But that phone call. "I didn't tell the whole truth on the show."
Strand looked like he had a response to that, and clearly bit it back. He took a deep breath before he spoke. "Yes?"
She explained. About the grocery store. About the elevator. She even threw in the - the thing that had been in her apartment, that she'd nearly touched. Across the table Strand's face got blanker and blanker. Her heart sunk. She added that her landlord hadn't found anything weird in her apartment, but it didn't seem to penetrate. Strand was staring at her in the exact way that she hadn't wanted anyone to look at her, when she'd - when she'd lied, damn it, on the show.
When she was done, Strand exhaled. He adjusted his glasses. He put his arms down on the kitchen table. "Tell me again about the call from Simon."
"He acted like he was unpleasantly surprised by all of this, until the end. Like he had some kind of stake in it. In the show, in u… In whatever. Then he acted like he was trying to, to throw me off my game, or freak me out, and yes, Richard, it worked, of course it worked, don't look at me like that. He asked if you were going to die!"
"Simon is all talk. He obviously gets great pleasure out of scaring people. He admitted that he listened to the show." Strand met her eyes. "I think the next time he calls, you should hang up."
Heat flared in Alex's chest. She clenched her hands around her cup. "He's connected to the show. Talking to him is part of my job. "
"I would contest that."
"Why are you - I came here because you're the one who needs to be careful."
"Alex, I'm not the one who's seeing things." Strand stood up when she jumped out of her chair. He reached out and caught her elbow before she could get past him. "Alex, please wait. I'm concerned, and it's late. You shouldn't be driving."
"I am perfectly capable of driving! I'm not crazy!" She tried to pull out of his grip, but his hand tightened, and she just managed to take a step with him across the kitchen floor. The lights in here suddenly seemed too bright - when she looked up at him, she had to blink spots out of her eyes.
Strand took a careful step toward her, maintaining his hold. "I didn't say you were. I'm simply… the phone call, and the… sightings. I'm simply concerned."
Alex stared at him in the too-bright glare of the kitchen. His eyes were creased at the corners, his mouth set in a hard and unhappy line. She put a hand over his, on her elbow, and he relaxed slightly.
Enough for her to pull away. "I'm going to find out what's going on. You - you stay here," she blurted. She turned on her heel and bolted out of the house, not bothering to shut the door behind her.
There was no parking at the house and her car was at the other end of the block. She could hear Strand calling for her from his front steps. But he didn't chase her down.
Alex woke up with her face pressed up against her steering wheel. Her neck ached. No, her neck hurt. It was dark. The steering wheel was cold and rough against her skin. It vibrated slightly - her engine was still running. She was in her car. She blinked, and blinked again, and it was still dark.
She flexed her fingers, and they moved. She flexed her toes, and they moved. But her right leg was wedged painfully underneath her steering wheel. It hurt. Her neck hurt. Her head … her head was full.
She wanted to close her eyes, just for a minute.
Her engine was still running, but the wheels weren't turning.
"Dr. Strand?" Nic yawned, though it was early for that. Strand was calling him from the landline: he had his cell phone in his other hand, and kept turning it over, waiting for it to ring. It wasn't. "It's ten-thirty. Why are you calling? Did something happen?"
"Alex and I had a disagreement and she isn't responding to my calls." He didn't want to say this, but he had braced himself for it. There was no reason to obfuscate the point. Not now. "It's been two hours since I saw her and I'm beginning to get concerned. Could you try calling her?"
"Um. No offense, but I don't really want to get in the middle if you guys are fighting…"
"This isn't a personal matter. Alex came to see me after receiving a call from Simon Reese. She also informed me that she had another 'sighting' she left out of her recording for the last show," Strand said, increasingly irritated. "When I said I was worried, she accused me of calling her crazy and left. I don't know whether she was in a state to be driving."
Nic was silent for a minute. "Give me a minute," he said, and hung up.
Strand put the phone down and watched the second hand move around the clock twice before it rang again. Had that been enough time?
"She didn't answer. I left her a voicemail and sent her a text. Dr. Strand, what do you mean, she had another - she saw … What did Alex tell you?"
He turned around. The landline wasn't so ancient as to be tethered to the wall with a corkscrew cord, and he'd paced his way into the living room after he'd picked it up. From here he could see the empty street outside. "She said that she saw me in her apartment," he said, voice inflectionless.
Nic took a breath. "Well, shit."
The engine was faintly warm to the touch when Alex balanced against it - she must have turned it off. From this angle she could see the crest of the hill she'd come down. She blinked a few times, trying to get her eyes to focus in the gloom. There was a dented guard rail at the top, but it only went partway around the curve. Her car had gone down on the far side.
Her neck still hurt, but as long as she turned her whole body to face where she wanted to look, it was mostly fine. Her purse was too heavy on her shoulder, though. She stuck her wallet into her back pocket and fumbled with her phone until she managed to turn the flashlight on. 28% battery, 1 bar.
Her fingers fumbled when she tried to pull up her contacts. Pressing the button for voice control and mumbling "Call Strand" worked better. It rang twice before a robotic voice announced that the call could not be connected. "Please try again later."
Alex looked up the hill. Her neck hurt. Her right knee hurt. Her head felt foggy and her fingers were clumsy.
The ground ahead was mostly flat and seemed to drop off in the distance. If she started now, she would probably get to a road before her phone died.
The rational thing to do was to call Alex again in the morning if she didn't come into work. They had fought. Alex had been hurt. She wasn't answering his calls because she didn't want to talk to him, and she hadn't answered Nic's call because she was probably in bed trying to sleep.
Strand had no explanation planned for when she opened her door.
He drove toward her apartment, regardless. He would get there and ring the bell. Even trying to sleep, Alex wouldn't be able to resist answering. Once she heard it was him at the door she would likely just return to bed. But he'd have confirmation that … he could stop worrying, and prove that he'd been willing to try to apologize.
He didn't think that she was crazy. A person experiencing a severe psychological break would have been displaying more symptoms. And the apparition Alex thought she saw had never spoken. No, he didn't think she was crazy. He thought she was exhausted and going through… a lapse. This called for more aggressive treatment of her insomnia. A larger separation from her work. That was all.
Maybe, at any minute, she'd finally return his call. Or Nic would message to let him know he'd heard from her.
Any minute, Strand would stop regretting not chasing after her earlier.
15% battery. 0 bars.
Alex was limping now. It made it hard to keep her balance. At least, she was hoping that was the reason she kept wobbling. She didn't remember hitting her head. Her whole body had jerked when she'd gone over the edge of the hill, but she didn't remember hitting her head. She hoped to God she hadn't hit her head. Nobody knew where she was, her phone wasn't working, and she had the sinking feeling that following the sloping ground underneath her feet wasn't taking her closer to civilization.
All she wanted was a road. She did remember the road. Her brakes suddenly giving out and an awful crunching metallic noise. She remembered her body jerking in her seat, and her tires squealing, and feeling weightless for a long moment.
She remembered seeing Strand in the passenger seat, reaching out toward her.
She remembered the feel of his hand on her shoulder.
Now she was limping, and lost, and if she turned around she wasn't sure she could make it back to the car. At some point she had turned. At some point she had started feeling nauseous.
Her ears were ringing.
14%. 0 bars.
Halfway to Alex's apartment Strand hit his breaks. Then he reconsidered and drove forward a couple hundred feet until there was an actual shoulder to pull onto. Once his car was parked underneath a streetlamp it was safe for him to get out, turn around, and walk back to the dented guardrail.
The sight of a car at the bottom of the slope made the world go still. It was too dark to make out the color, but aside from the semi-crushed front end, it looked like it could be Alex's car. Strand cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, "Alex? Alex!"
No answer. The car was clearly off. Strand leaned over the guardrail and squinted. He could make out that the driver's side door was open. Promising. There was still a chance this wasn't Alex's car, but with the door open it was unlikely someone was trapped inside. He spent several valuable minutes returning to his car and finding his emergency flashlight in the trunk. Time he didn't want to spend waiting, but it was better than falling over his own feet trying to get to the car.
It was tough going even with gouges in the dirt dug by the car. "Alex?" Strand shouted, several more times, without getting an answer of any kind.
The world went slow again as he approached the open door. Strand swept his flashlight over the interior, feeling his perception come back to full speed as soon as it was obvious that not only was no one inside, but there was no sign of traumatic injury. It was also definitely Alex's car.
Except now it was time to phone in the accident, and his phone wouldn't connect to the network long enough to place a call.
He was able to send a terse message to Nic about the location of his discovery. Someone else would need to phone the police. He wasn't walking back up the hill until he was satisfied that Alex had walked further than he could.
3% battery. 0 bars.
Alex knew she had used over half the battery she had started out with, but her walking had been getting her nowhere. The trees just grew closer together and older, and her phone was useless underneath them. Her knee hurt so bad now she'd had to snap a branch apart until she'd been able to use it as a cane.
Getting back to the car wasn't going to happen. It was beyond slow going to hobble like this. Her goal wasn't to get back to her car, it was to get as far as she could in that direction before her phone died. She'd stuck it under her bra strap so the light sort of lit up the ground in front of her.
The nausea was still lodged in her throat. She still didn't remember hitting her head, but it was getting harder to convince herself that meant she hadn't. At least she wasn't seeing… things…
"No," she blurted, dropping her branch and backpedaling. She had to catch herself on a tree. "No, no. Go away!"
"Alex," Strand said. He was unpleasantly startled by the sharp pang of hurt at her telling him to leave. She was still that angry at him?
But Alex stumbled when she tried to back up, and when he raised his flashlight slightly he could see a sizable bruise forming on one half of her face. She flinched when he walked toward her. But she didn't make to move again. She was favoring one leg strongly over the other, and she sagged against the tree the closer he got.
"I'm seeing things. I'm probably dying," Alex babbled. Now that he was within arm's reach, he could see a slice across her cheek. Probably her head hit the steering wheel in the accident.
"You're not dying," Strand said. She wouldn't be on her feet if she was dying.
Her eyes squeezed shut. She was trembling. "That's what it's been all along. My brain is finally falling apart."
"Your brain is not falling apart." Strand paused and lifted his hand. "I was coming to… I was driving, and saw the guard rail. I walked until I found you. Nic texted that he was alerting emergency services to the location. Alex," he said, when she still hadn't opened her eyes. "I can help you walk back. An ambulance will be here soon."
Alex reluctantly opened one eye. "But you're not real. "
"I assure you," Strand said, dryly, doing his best to keep his outstretched hand steady, "I am. I'm real enough to be dreading the climb back to the top of the hill."
Alex still hesitated. What could he say to convince her?
He sighed, and took another step forward, gently settling his hand on her shoulder. She must have hurt it in the wreck, because she flinched at his touch. He drew his hand back and simply looked down at her. "Alex. I was driving this road because I was coming to your place to make sure you were okay." He inhaled. "I was coming to apologize."
Her eyes widened. "Um."
"I didn't handle your visit earlier well. I'm sorry for any negative implication I made."
"So … you don't think I was hallucinating?"
Strand pressed his lips together and cast his eyes up when Alex laughed, then clamped her hand over her mouth. "I can't explain the things you saw. I can explain the visible injuries you have, though. I saw your car. We need to return so emergency services will be able to find us."
"I still think my brain is falling apart," Alex admitted. But she allowed him to put an arm around her shoulders to help steady her as they set off toward help.
The bruise and the cut on her face worried him. Still. She was walking. With help, she was walking. "I'm sure the paramedics will be able to explain why that isn't happening," he told her.
Three days later the purple bruise on Alex's face was beginning to look paler, greener around the edges. It was a good sign. Strand still jumped when she barreled up to him and slapped a dog-eared notebook on his desk. "Ha!"
"Hello, Alex," he said, putting down the book he'd been reading.
The notebook was covered in scribbles and what looked like the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article on doppelgängers, which trailed off into something about omens that got scratched out. Strand frowned at the rest of it and looked up at Alex. She was beaming at him. He just stared. He wasn't about to try to make any more sense out of the mess of her handwriting when she was standing right there.
"I figured it out," she said, after the moment had stretched on too long. "Come on, aren't you excited? I figured out something paranormal without you giving me background."
"There's no evidence that it was paranormal. You told the doctors you had been averaging three hours of sleep a night for over a week leading up to your… the incidents," Strand said. "Exhaustion and stress could easily have caused what you saw."
Alex put her hands on her hips. "Simon called the doppelgänger a fetch when he called," she said, and then paused.
If she was waiting for him to rise to the bait, she was disappointed. Strand refused to get into - again - why talking with Simon Reese was a poor decision.
"Fetch comes from fæcce, which old glossaries sync with mære, which is an evil nightmare spirit," Alex finally said. She sat down in the chair across from him and put her elbows on his desk, sighing. "But fetch is also associated with fylgja, which is a Norse spirit that people said-"
"Were omens of impending death, and appeared in dreams. Not while people were awake."
Alex rolled her eyes. "Yes, but people also said they were signals of a person's character. Or guardian spirits. Which led me to…" She leaned over and flipped a page forward in her notebook. "Guardian spirits. Lots and lots of people have stories of guardian spirits in history."
"I … don't follow."
"I can't get the pronunciation right for half of them. But there's the vardyger, which people considered a kind of fetch - and it would appear as a person, before the person actually arrived at a location."
Strand shut his eyes. "There's no such thing as premonition."
"But the last time I saw y - him - it, " Alex corrected, seeing the look on his face, "was in the car, after my breaks, uh, broke. It was trying to stop me from being afraid. And then you found me even though it was dark and you had no reason to be out there-"
"Concussions disrupt short-term memory."
"I saw what I saw."
"Concussions also require rest," Strand said. He stood and closed Alex's notebook, handing it back to her. "You aren't supposed to be working. I would consider that to be work. Wouldn't you?"
She scowled. "I'm not sitting on the couch for a week doing nothing."
"I did agree to tell Nic if I thought you were putting your health at risk."
Alex looked irritated for a moment, but then her face softened. He relaxed just slightly. She was putting her notebook away and that wasn't a conversation he had particularly wanted to continue. "We had to put the show on a break. I'm not supposed to be using a computer screen until after I get cleared, so I can't finish the script for the next show."
Both of his eyebrows went up. "That was very specific language."
"I asked Siri to read the articles to me," she said, waving him off. "If you don't want to talk about my work, can we talk about one of the-"
"My work is your work."
"Have you eaten?" he asked, getting up before she could answer. Antagonizing the concussion victim was not on his list of tasks for the day. He picked his coat up and turned back to her. "I'm going to go regardless. I'm also going to lock the office door behind me."
Grumbling, Alex followed him all the way to the corner table at the sandwich shop down the street.
If she had been planning on asking him why he'd shut down her research review so quickly, she forgot about it. Strand was grateful. He had interrupted because, of course, he was familiar with the folklore she had mentioned. It had been a bit of a surface reading but Alex hadn't been wildly off of the generally accepted interpretations of the old stories and terms. But she'd related it all back to doppelgängers.
All of the spirits she had mentioned were doubles of a person. Which could be interpreted as a doppelgänger. But if she had taken one more step backward, she would have seen what he had stopped himself from saying when she'd initially discussed the … sightings … with him.
Alex had run forward with her research. If she'd turned and zoomed out instead, she would have ended up where Strand had.
Folklore said there were spirits that visited people as they were unconscious, and doubles that witnesses said preceded people unaware of their existence. You could call that a doppelganger.
Or you could call it bilocation.
He sat across the table from Alex, ate his lunch, and let himself smile even when her jokes were terrible. He sat, and ate, and listened - and hoped that the next time Simon Reese called her, Alex wouldn't answer.