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I Used to Have Two Bodies

Danny Cockroft


Estimated reading time — 9 minutes

Have you ever had a dream where- hold on. Scratch that. That’s not what this is about… dreams. Dreams aren’t real. Memories are real.

I used to think that dreams were just memories we hadn’t made yet. I don’t think that anymore. The reason is because the particular dream I’d had that night – that night being the 28th of November – turned out to be a memory, albeit one I’d forgotten long ago.

By proclaiming my dreams to be things which were destined to happen to me someday, I was able to aloofly dismiss them. For this particular dream to be a long-buried memory come unstuck from the fabric of my repression shook me. It shook me heavily. As a child, I looked forward to telling my mother of the previous night’s dreams. Expecting innocently for her to dismiss them as the silly, stupid tales I, deep down, knew them to be. It allowed me to go on with my day. After all, if no one is around to dismiss your dreams, who is to say they were even dreams at all?

That’s what happened to me the following night: the 29th of November. My mother, upon whom I had relied my whole youth, pulled the rug on me in the most hurtful of ways. If the best thing you can do for a person, particularly a child, is to dismiss their fears as odd tales, the worst thing you can do for a person is to validate their nightmares. That evening, when I had finally plucked up the courage to ask her about the dream, my mother not only affirmed my nightmare… she transfigured it into a memory.

I was fifteen years old at that time. It was nearly Advent. While in my adolescence, I had soured modestly on the concept of Christmas, there was no killing the idea of the thing. It held within it too many happy memories. Myself opening presents. My sister, opening presents. My sister’s other body helping her by putting away the wrapping in the rubbish bag. My other body- what? What was I saying? What other body? I shivered. That was the thing about Christmas time. It was cold.

The dream had been little more than a spur-of-the-moment fantasy. A gingerbread house sitting atop a little table in the centre of the room. My sister had warned me not to touch it until the time was right. It needed to be photographed, she said – needed to be shown to the visitors before it could be devoured. I couldn’t wait – of course, in my waking life, I would never have shown such a lack of restraint. However, my dream-body was decidedly out of my control. The whole room fogging with the sweet, pink haze of candy frosting, I started picking devilishly at the little gumdrops adorning the cottage’s roof. My sister, in the dream, batted at my wrist. It didn’t hurt. I didn’t care about that. I combed over the scene in my mind. Had this happened? I think it had. It didn’t happen like this, of course. But something caught my attention nonetheless.

Standing next to my sister, just over her shoulder, was her other body. I don’t know how else to explain it. There was another of my sister – same height, I can only assume the same weight (although I’m not sure how this could ever remain exactly the case). Virtually identical in every way. She didn’t speak. She didn’t act for herself. She merely… shadowed. What wrenched my guts around in repeated circular patterns was the creeping, lurking realisation – no – remembrance that she had always been around. Yes, that’s right – I remember. My sister has always had two bodies. Or, had. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen the other one. It was a horrible, freezing, tipsy feeling, and I wanted to be free of it. That’s why I’d gone to mother. For reassurance.

“Mum… I had a dream,” I started pointedly.

“Hm… yes, son?” she replied. She was occupied with her chores. I couldn’t help but remember another sight. Once, she hadn’t had to do this. Once, she’d had help. We had help. I remembered a companion. An old friend who never smiled at me, but never frowned – who never played with me, but never abandoned me, either. He was my other me. He wasn’t his own thing at all. He was… just me.

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I was not ‘I’ at all. I… was we.

“It was a dream about the other bodies,” I blurted out. I hadn’t a notion about how to phrase it properly, and it couldn’t keep it inside my head any longer. The duelling realities of my proper memory and my lurking notions were too knot-inducing to keep to myself.

“Your… are you sure, darling?” Mother replied cautiously. She didn’t give a thing away. I felt tears start to well up. I’d never cry them. I was fifteen, of course. We didn’t do that. Sorry, I mean – I mean, I.

“Yes. I think so,” I covered myself so she wouldn’t see. “Mine, and my sister’s.”
Then came the words that would break my world.

“Oh, Nathan, I – I didn’t think you still remembered them.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. These memories… they were… reality? How could this be? How could this be true? Years and years of my earliest life – times spent followed around by my little shadow. Observance of my sister’s shadow. Now that I thought of it, I recalled Francie’s shadow far more clearly than my own. My own had come almost as an afterthought. That made sense – my own other body had never really been ‘someone’ to me – why should I have looked at him? He was me. He never had done anything that would make him not me. Anything to separate himself. Francie – the two of them – I saw them together often and always. It had been as natural as anything to see both Francies, whether it was at the breakfast table, or in the garden, or –

No. No. This couldn’t be true. Why couldn’t I remember? Why had I repressed this? Why couldn’t I remember such a big part of my earliest years? Why did no-one else know about this? I was sure that if I’d had two bodies, my friends, at least, would know about it. But even I hadn’t known. I didn’t know – but, still, I remembered.

“What- what, so you’re telling me they were real, Mum?” My voice broke a little more than the usual amount. “I- what?”

Mother finally stopped doing what she was doing. She slowly and eerily closed the washing machine door. Took several paces closer to me. I felt as if I were four years old again – the size of a dog. Helpless, insentient.

“Look, Nathan. There’s no use in thinking about that – okay?”

That didn’t help at all. In fact, it made things much worse.

“What did they – where did they go?” I asked hollowly. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to think about it. It didn’t make any sense- it didn’t…

I looked into my mother’s eyes. They were blank. Not frowning… nor, either, were they smiling. Suddenly I felt a tight force grip my sternum, and I exhaled raggedly.

“Go away, Mum!” I shouted childishly. I pushed her out of the way. Grabbed onto the door handle as if it was my life jacket amidst a dark, deep, swirling blue ocean. It was so cold. I yanked on it and threw the door open. I ran out into the garden, my eyes darting about in a frantic search for some end to my memory – the eventual end of a rope I’d long thrown away. But I couldn’t remember when – or why… where had they gone? When had they been there? Why didn’t anyone know? Why didn’t anyone tell me?

Where… I gasped. Where was I?

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I couldn’t breathe all of a sudden. What escaped my throat then was a guttural, gurning, tubular noise akin to what I imagine a dying cockerel might sound like. I felt… it. I felt it leaving me, or, rather, its absence – there was no other, there was only the two of me, and I had been taken away from me. For what reason, I didn’t know, and I couldn’t possibly care. No possible reason in the world would have been cause enough to inflict this pain on me. To make me forget my other half? To…

I caught sight of a shadow looming from the side of the garage. A chill ran down my spine. There had always been a thin gap behind the garage. I’d used to crawl in there sometimes – me and my sister. Often to retrieve lost balls, and toys, and things. But now – tears welled. I felt like I was about to throw up.

“Francie!” I howled. “Help me! Where are you?”

I looked back into the kitchen. Nothing was there. Even my mother was gone. The lights had gone out. Surely she wouldn’t – she would never have left me like this. Not now. I was sure there was a reason. A reason for everything. I just had to… find it.

I pulled back on the hedge branches, spat seeds, and waded through bin-stink. I started to hurl myself forward, round the gap, impatient to the extreme – it was as if I was being pulled in by some invisible force of gemination. I turned the corner and faced down the dark at the end of the tunnel. A thin strip of moss and dirt and black. And a couple of bags. Big, long bags. I felt bile rise in my throat and I vomited on the ground. Felt my vision greying slightly. All of a sudden, upon my intense physical reaction to the sight, one of the bags – the one closest to me – started to move. Whatever was inside tried to shake itself loose of its fabric bondage.

I started to panic and cry again; tried to turn around and run, but everything in the gap was so claustrophobic and tightening. To make matters worse, the light in the garage came on and someone stared at me. It was my father. He was neither smiling nor frowning, but his eyes were as if they’d just ridden a thousand rollercoasters. I screamed. Suddenly, the bag was unzipped and fell away. I felt a cold, decayed hand on my t-shirt.

“Blegh-” I managed, but he- I – pulled me towards him until we were almost hugging. I saw our other body’s face, and it was barely a face. My other complexion was tearing part – my other skin was rotted and moulding, withing a topping of bugs to boot. I could see my other body’s ribcage, marred by hanging flabs of my former flesh. I think I almost blacked out at the sight of my other body’s fate, but, if I cast my mind back to that unholy, unreal night, I think I recall myself carrying me over my shoulder. Out of the gap, round the garage and back onto the dewy garden grass. Just like we were children again. The next thing I knew, my father had gone inside to find my mother.

Someone was standing over me. Francie. Both of her. All was as it had ever been. Except… one of Francie was rotting and fleshy and bawling tissue and-

“Francie!” I wailed. I wrapped my arms around my chest in a desperate attempt to shake myself until I woke up – back in my bed, out of the cold, out of this horrid world which had tried to hide itself from me. Worst of all, after all these years, it had thrust itself upon me again. I wasn’t ready then.

“Nathan,” smiled Francie, and I wasn’t sure which one of her talked. The rotting one…? Or the real one – my Francie. It was only then that I looked to my side and saw my other body – rotted within an inch of my life, lying on the grass next to me in solidarity. I cried. I couldn’t believe I existed this way. And I couldn’t believe they – our parents – had done this to me.

“Francie… why…?” I moaned softly.

“They decided you were ready to live alone,” Francie explained.

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“Alone?” I screwed up my face in confusion and discontent. “What do you mean, alone? I was – we were one! You can’t just-”

“You need to move on, Nathan,” Francie said simply. “I’ve been fine without mine for years.”
“Look what they’ve let happen, Francie,” I wept. “Look how it hurts them. How could mother and father have done this?”

Francie kneeled down and turned my cheek over to look at her. I was faintly aware of my other body looking up at Francie, too. I suppose the connection was still there between us. Still alive enough to not be dead. Still too loyal to fade away completely.

“What do you want, Nathan? What would you have us do, after this long? You know no-one can know of this,” my sister said to me dismissively. My sister’s other body looked at me alienly. Why was that? Was it because I ate too many gumdrops?

“They were only supposed to be an external store for us, Nathan,” Francie droned. Already my hearing was tuning out. Her voice was an aural blur to me now. “Extra teeth, hair grafts – organ transplants, god forbid we need them. But you needed him too much, Nathan. They had to take him away – it wasn’t healthy.”

I couldn’t stop sobbing. The next moment, my eyes bugged out. I felt my neck’s flesh being torn out by my other mouth. Somewhere between those moments, I stopped feeling my neck fall to pieces in the molar mush, and started tasting the awful blood.

It has been fifteen years since that night. I haven’t seen Francie in at least seven. Whatever bond exists between us now is marred too much by dark memory. The only place I see her – or, indeed, my parents – is in dreams. So, perhaps I will see them again, if only I could once again come to understand my night visions as thoughts of what may be.

I know it never bothered Francie all that much. I doubt she thinks of me. She made a new family – has kids, a husband, a dog. None of them, I wager, know about what happened on the 29th of September, fifteen years ago. Well… neither do I, after all.

I am just a reanimation. A false person kept behind a garage for months on end while I rotted out my last organic similitude. I only tell you this now in the hope that when you are fully grown – once I release you from that tank – you will remember what it felt like to be we.

Credit: Danny Cockroft

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