The Identical Boy

The Identical Boy

By

Matthew Stott

 

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Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Stott. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, businesses, events, or locales is purely coincidental. Reproduction in whole or part of this publication without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

Cover by: Phil Poole

First published by
Fenric Books

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Things live between Awake and Asleep.

In the moment after your eyes grow too heavy to stay open, but before the dreams take you.

Some of the creatures that live Between are nice.

A great many are not.

~Part One~

Sam and the voice

 

~Chapter One~

 

 

Thi
s
sort of thing happens to children all the time.

More often than you'd think, really.

Wherever the dark night falls and tired eyes falter.

Sam didn't know that, of course, as he lay curled within the thick blanket upon his single bed and listened to the wind howling outside, rattling the wooden sash windows. The only people who do know are those whom it's already happened to, and just who are they in a position to tell?

Sam could hear a voice.

He thought he could.

He was sure he could.

Had? Would? Was right now?

Sunlight crept through a parting between the frayed, drab curtains of his bedroom. Sam’s forehead creased at the intrusion, eyes wrinkle-tight.

There was a voice.

A boys voice, wasn't it? Yeah. Or? Was it actually a boy? Maybe it was something else. Something
other
. He was sure that sometimes the voice seemed to change. Perhaps it was really a—

Sam needed the toilet. He turned over in bed, legs curling up to meet his stomach.

Where was he? In bed, asleep? No, he was in the forest again, yeah.

‘Sam! Over here, Sam!’

The voice!

Sam stopped wondering about whether he was or wasn’t asleep, whether he was dreaming or really sprinting through a forest with trees the size of skyscrapers, and instead focussed in on that voice. That
voice
. That intoxicating sound that was…. Wait.

What had he been thinking about?

Was there a voice? Perhaps it was just in his head. Had he been alone all along?

The trees knew, but they wouldn’t let on.

‘Did you hear a voice, too? I think I might be waking up, and I can’t quite remember what’s happening. It’s all going away again. Dreams do that, don’t they? They can just go away and hide when we wake up. Tell me, did you hear a voice, or not?’

The trees rustled their leaves and whispered at each other in the sleeping place, but they refused to answer in any way that Sam could understand.

‘Over here, Sam; you have to remember!’

Remember what? Remember wh— Brown hair. A conversation. Running and running and laughter and secret signs and
not alone!
At last, at last—

Sam blinked. Once. Twice. Again. He could see his bedroom ceiling. The other place, the dream place, was fading. The trees had gone; his bedroom pushed them out of the way.

What had he been thinking about again? Had he been dreaming? He tried to grasp it and pull it close as he awoke, but it was like trying to hold onto smoke. It fuzzed and warped and fell apart as he became more and more awake. Sam sat up in bed and rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he yawned, expelling the night and inhaling the day.

It was gone again. Whatever it was, whatever he’d been dreaming, it was gone—just like the day before, the day before, the day before.

But wait—

No. No, not quite like the day before. Something was different this time. Sam balled his blankets tightly in his fists as he concentrated. This time something had clung on. Ever so slightly, but it was there. A hook had lodged. At last, at last. An idea remained.

Itching.

Persistent.

There had been a voice.

 

~Chapter Two~

 

 

Sa
m
Ward lived in an ordinary house on an ordinary street in an ordinary English town.

The brick was either grey or red, and it often rained as though the heavens were attempting to scrub the land free of a nasty case of civilisation.

'What voice?' asked Sam's Mum, with her thin-frizz hair and red-infused face.

'I don't know,' said Sam, prodding with suspicion at the sickly-grey mash on the plate before him. Sam wasn't much more than a small boy, eleven years old, though he'd swear blind he was touching twelve to anyone who didn't know better.

The ordinary town that holds this ordinary house was northern and hard. People’s faces didn't develop and grow as much as they were etched into the flesh by creative cold winds. Eyes, noses, and mouths were chiselled upon heads. Even the dogs looked like they were weathered from ancient stone. Sam often thought he'd been born in the wrong town. His own face was soft and plump and pleasant.

'Well there either is a voice or there isn't,' said Sam's Dad. 'And there isn't. Obviously. But if there was and you'd heard it, you'd know what sort of voice it was. Seeing as there wasn't one, you don't. QED.' His coal-shovel hands straightened his newspaper by way of punctuation.

Sam attempted to push a small amount of the mash to the back of his throat, but failed to completely bypass his taste buds. 'No. There absolutely was a voice. I think.'

'Now, just stop it,' said Mum. 'You're too old for monsters under the bed. Act your age.'

Dad peered over the top of his newspaper at Sam, eyes narrowed like he was examining a specimen in a lab. 'You know I never believed in all that nonsense growing up. I had a straight head on my shoulders. Things that go bump in the night is for soft-brains.' He snorted and straightened his paper again, eyes darting away from a squirming Sam.

Sam often got the feeling that his Dad didn't really like him. Which was okay by him. You can't like everyone. In fact, the feeling was pretty mutual. His Dad was too fierce and distant. Always talking about all the different medals he’d won as a child, from playing football, and rugby, and tennis, and swimming, and on, and on. He could've been the country’s next sporting hero, the way he told it. As opposed to what he actually was. Which was … something to do with numbers. Money. In a bank, maybe. Something like that.

Not so much the sporty type now. He had three chins and a stomach that sat over his belt, hanging down to obscure the buckle. Sam had once seen his Dad roaming the house in just his boxer shorts. His upper body had been like a bulbous, pink fungus bursting from a pair of twigs. He was a heart attack in the making, Sam was sure of that. He'd thought about designing a health and fitness regime for him, had even looked up a few routines and recipes, then realised he'd probably be much happier with just his Mum.

Sam successfully negotiated a mouthful past his taste buds, swallowing the cold, lumpy mass un-chewed and accompanied by a shiver as it went down.

'A voice,' said Mum, shaking her head. 'You know Val never gets any nonsense like this from her Todd.'

The blessed Todd. Sent by our Lord and Saviour to make Sam look like crap.

'Fine boy, Todd,' said Dad. 'Won the under-tens rugby tournament almost singlehandedly last month, you know. Four trys and seven conversions. Seven! Fine boy, yes. Fine boy.' Sam felt the narrowed eyes briefly slither over him before they returned to the tabloid news of the day.

'Make anyone proud, a child like that,' said Mum, smiling wistfully. Her eyes turned vacant as she looked into an unrealised reality.

Sam was under no illusions as to what his Mum thought of him. If his Dad seemed to resent him and his disinterest (and plain lack of ability) in sport, then his Mum had chosen a different path. She’d settled into a comfortable disappointment. Sam could deal with being disappointing. You knew where you were with disappointing. Resentment was uneasy, threatening, violent—but disappointment was like a cosy blanket.

'Maybe there wasn't a voice. I was probably just dreaming stuff,' said Sam.

'You don't say, genius,' said Dad, this time not bothering to drag his eyes away from the paper. Sam finished the rest of his tea in silence as his Mum regaled them with a story about how Todd had arrived home the previous Friday with a bunch of flowers for his Mum. 'No reason, he'd just thought she'd like them!'

Sam wished an early death upon Todd. Nothing too painful. He wasn't a monster.

 

***

 

Later that night, Sam slipped on his Batman pyjamas and checked again that the door was firmly shut. He didn't like it being open when he was in bed; who knew what could silently slither in as he slept, unguarded?

'Things that go bump in the night is for soft-brains.'

Sam gave his Dad a mental middle-finger and checked again in the wardrobe. A rack of ironed shirts and trousers greeted him. No monsters.

Next he knelt by the bed, breathing in once or twice to settle his nerves before he ducked down sharply to see what lurked beneath. Nothing but an abandoned sock, a broken water pistol, and a few books.

Sam stood and shook his head. Soft-Brain. He clambered under the cool covers, springs squeaking their complaint, and turned off the bedside lamp. Within minutes, sleep took him….

 

…That night Sam heard a voice,

and for as long as his eyes were closed,

he remembered.

 

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