The parasite first got my attention when it tried to suck my soul on Edinburgh’s High Street. I watched with a certain clinical detachment as the grey, ragged substance of it began to swell outwards, misshapen teeth sunk into the exposed flesh in my hand. Not physically you understand because at this stage in the little bastards evolution it didn’t have a body. What it did have however, was a will hell bent on finding a way. It was a doppelganger: a vicious predator that survived by duplicating what it fed on, human or non, it didn’t matter.
I watched it chow on down, lip curling as it began the transformation. What had been a plume of dirty smoke began to balloon out in a parody of humanity, the skull taking shape, gaping maw still barnacled onto my hand. I shook the offending appendage from side to side and the beast swung with it, at this stage at least weightless, like a jellyfish in tune with the ebb and flow of the ocean. What it was really doing was getting in tune with me: the way I walked, to quote an old Cramps song, would soon be the way we walked.
Although it was a primitive spirit, without much in the way of intelligence its ability to replicate whatever it latched onto was an architectural achievement of Gaudi-esque proportions. Although I suppose strictly speaking it was a master forger good enough to fool the victims family and friends, at least for a little while. The thing was that the original always died while the copy piloted by the doppelganger, painted the town blood red.
I watched my own skull gaining flesh as the mouth worked ever more feverishly on my arm, siphoning my essence and growing stronger by the second. Within seconds it had grown to five feet eleven and sported a short crop of hair dyed an alarming shade of scarlet. I gazed critically at it, vowing I’d kill Mariella for talking me into letting her loose on my hair while we were both too drunk to remember anything about it. My second self was on its knees, jaw working, gaining mass, solidity and an exact copy of my leopard print fake fur in a matter of seconds.
I began to feel a little faint, although that might have had something to do with the vat of whisky I’d had last night. It was two in the afternoon in the heart of a frozen November and people shouldered past me with grim purpose and if they noticed anything it would just be a tall young woman standing stock still in the middle of the street. But through the milling throng, I realised that I was wrong, someone had noticed the freak show and was staring at me with an expression of concern on her plump face. I knew she could see my new best friend because her eyes were flicking between us and she was evidently deciding what to do. She took a purposeful step in my direction which for some reason aroused me from my torpor. The last thing I needed was some idiot who fancied herself as a bit of a psychic trying to help me out. That particular little parlour game always ended in tears and sometimes in other less disposable body fluids.
I was beside the creepy Museum of Childhood and quickly ducked into on of the innumerable closes that infest the High Street, although I’d no idea which one I’d picked which could be very bad news. I waited a few seconds scanning the street from the safety of the close and the plump woman had disappeared. I looked down at the thing that was killing me softly and the increased heft of it wasn’t exactly a good sign.
“What am I going to do with you?” I asked it softly, running my hand along its brow complete with dark eyebrows and strange, silver-grey eyes upturned and fixed on mine while it sucked on me like a monstrous baby. The disturbing thing was that I could touch it. It had gone from nothing to something in under ten minutes. I had noticed that the spirit world had become much more active lately; reports of the demonic had shot through the roof, but relatively unusual spirits like this doppelganger never had this much juice.
And yet here we were.
My speciality was communicating with spirits, but that was a euphemism for so much more. I saw what they saw, felt what they felt in glorious Technicolor and surround sound. Most of them were just re-runs, sad little shades who’d become stuck doing a particular, usually random thing with not much mind remaining. But some of them had deliberately chosen not to pass on, usually the deranged, the ones who’d felt cheated by an uncaring universe and were out for blood as long as it was someone else’s. But this ‘communication’ meant that some of the spirit’s essence stayed with me permanently and in my own way I wasn’t so dissimilar to the parasite I was trying to dislodge.
With every encounter, I was stronger, changed, carrying with me another alien piece in the vast jig-saw puzzle that was my life. And if I didn’t stop this transference process in time I would consume the spirit totally, just as the parasite was trying to consume me. That meant that I could kill pure spirit, whether it was the soul of a dead person, or my newest little friend that had become so attached to me. But I could only kill if I was stronger than the spirit I was siphoning and so far I had been lucky: if you could call the Frankenstein patchwork that I’d become lucky. Because make no mistake: you are what you eat and the bad shit I’d consumed lately was going to do more than harden my arteries.
“While I’m loving this whole weird twin thing,” I crooned to the thing stroking its/my hair, “the thing is, this town definitely ain’t big enough for the both of us and it’s not me who’s going to leave.” The doppelganger began to purr, a wet, rasping sound and I staggered against the wall of the close. A chill wind fresh from whipping up mischief in the North Sea nipped at my face reviving me slightly and I realised I was close to passing out. My lack of adrenalin was literally going to be the death of me one day soon.
But the seduction of the hunt was as ever too strong and I knew I’d risk everything for it. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what I liked best: the hunt; or the kill. That was the other prong of this wonderful talent I enjoyed so much: I could kill spirit so that it did not exist anywhere on any plane at any time. It was the reason the psychic community shunned me because they felt, rather wetly I thought, that all forms of existence were sacred. I shunned them because a) I had to keep my end up on the shunning front and b) I thought they were lily livered liberals and would personally liked to have inserted their own little doppelganger passenger in an intimate part of their anatomy for a few months to see if that changed their minds. Whatever they liked to believe, there were beings in this world that deserved the kiss of death that only I could give them. But I didn’t do it for the victims; no, I did it because I liked it. Without wanting to sound like a high school cheerleader with a profound punning disability, the thrill of the chase was to die for. As long as the thrill was mine and someone or something else did the dying.
Now I was about to find out what little doppelgangers were made of and if I survived I’d wear its skin next to mine.
Until the next hunt that is.