26. Dying Light: Doppelganger

In the windowless shadows of a dim room where a small lamp casts a meagre orange light against the undecorated walls, twin cots, resting side by side, supported off of the dirt floor by wicker-weave frames, hold the dozing patients. As the last drops of the oil are spent, the pathetic flame apologetically flickers between the two beds, its glow waning to a sleepy ember. On the far wall from the cots, the only other thing of note, a door, stands closed, fastened tightly on the other side.

One patient, less drowsy than the other, rolls to her side, staring into the soft light beside her. The effervescent fog of sleep, lifting from her in slowly dawning consciousness, in gradual waves unveils to her the unsettling hints of a great, swelling pain. Then a horrible awakening hits her like a wall, a tsunami flooding her mind in panic. She would scream, but can barely draw breath, like her chest is bound in iron fetters, or the air itself has grown too heavy and thick for her tired lungs to do little more than painfully wheeze in a shallow, desperate struggle.

Looking beyond the dying light, she sees in the cot next to hers another body. It’s so still, not a movement or sound. For an eternity, she stares at her neighbor, searching for any sign, any twitch, to assure her that some life is there. She watches its chest, hoping for some movement. She listens, but cannot hear the slightest breath from the other body. Leaning over the edge of the wicker frame she rests on, its crackling bending center unfaithfully bows beneath, suddenly letting her to support herself in the air.

She flies headlong into the ground, awake enough to watch the earth flying upward toward her, but her listless limbs, grown so week, and her perforated lung, barely hanging on, haven’t the strength to save her. Laying as if dead upon the floor, she stays a moment, her mind in feverish agony. Trying to call for help, nothing but a slight wheeze escapes her. Tears streaming over her cheeks, she feels the light around her fading, the darkness creeping in from every corner.

Grabbing the post of the other cot, her desperate grip turning her knuckles white, she claws her way up to the foot of the bed. Leaning against this rampart, she slowly eases her feet under her. A thin and rough sheet covers the form lying there. It doesn’t move, undisturbed. The waning light offers little recourse to see anything beyond the mere shape of things, every color fades away as the light all but burns out.

Quickly, before everything falls into shadows, she pulls away the covering. Lying there, a pale body drained of blood, the stains of her spilt life soaking the mattress beneath, Tachi sees her self, her dead self, limp and lifeless. And just as the darkness overwhelms her, that corpse-ish doppelganger sits up, a wicked smile spreading across her face.

“You’re dead,” she hears her own voice whisper as she descends into darkness.

In the windowless shadows of a dimly lit room, the old priest sighs. What happened to you, he wonders, pulling the sheet over her face. The light of his song fades around her, the little white sparks flashing no more, unable to bring life to the dead. Looking over towards his other patient, the old priest watches the shepherd roll over, still sleeping.

Rising, he looks to the door. A curtain hangs over it that it may be opened without letting the moonlight in. His whole body convulsing in shivers, the priest marches behind the dark fabric, and throws open the portal. His aged frame, electric with rage, goes forth into the reddened streets of the rising moon.

“I’ll have the truth,” he swears to himself, “of how this priestess became a slave, and that weasel, that pig, will give it to me.”

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