November 2020’s short story of the month
In German it’s called a doppelganger, a look-alike. Literally, a “double-goer.” I stared at the boy in the newspaper article. Was it possible that he wasn’t aware that he had a double out there, just like I didn’t know until today when my cousin showed me the paper?
I was spending the summer with my cousins. We were doing our best to keep out of trouble, but we’d started taking day trips outside of town. We weren’t supposed to, and if their parents found out we were using magic to travel, we’d all be grounded until we were grown.
“He looks just like you,” Mary said. Her sisters nodded in agreement.
“I know. I can see,” I said exasperated. “Does it matter though? Don’t they say that everyone has a double?”
“That’s just something people say to be funny,” said Tilly the youngest of my cousins.
“What if it’s true though? It’s probably just coincidence,” I said.
Mary, Angela, and Tilly all glared at me for being flippant.
We were all casters, and one of the first lessons we learned as children was if it seems like a coincidence, it’s probably magic.
“Should we tell your parents?” I asked.
They all shook their heads in unison.
“How would we tell them we found a newspaper from out of town?” asked Mary. “They’ll know we left town, and worse, they’ll know we used magic.”
“We’ll be grounded for life,” whispered Angela.
“Okay. Okay. We won’t tell them. Why would a doppelganger of me be here? I don’t live here. I’m just here visiting.”
We were sitting on the patio of an ice cream store. We were splitting a banana split. While Tilly and I had been buying the sundae, Mary and Angela were claiming a table. That’s how they’d found the paper. Someone who’d been here earlier had left it on the table.
That seemed like a coincidence too. It probably wasn’t.
He really did look just like me. He was in the paper for helping save a little kid from drowning at the lake. The article was titled “Local Teen Saves Child.” The article was about how he was a hero, and he was standing there grinning in the picture shaking the hand of the mayor.
If it was a spell, I didn’t see the point.
If we weren’t going to tell my uncle and aunt, we needed to look into it ourselves. That meant more trips to town and more possibilities of being caught.
“What can we do?” I asked. I should have known better than to ask my cousins to help with something like this. Any opportunity to scheme or defy their parents, and they had a habit of taking things too far. I loved them. They were more than family; we’d grown up together and were truly friends. However, they were a handful, especially Mary.
“We’ll start by tracking him down,” said Mary. Her eye twinkled with mischief. She was plotting already.
“We could look him up at the library,” suggested Angela. “The article included his name. I’ll bet he’ll be easy to find.” She was spooning up the melted ice cream and whipped cream.
“It’s a good idea,” I said.
We let Angela finish the ice cream soup before we set out. We didn’t walk there; it was too hot for that. We went behind the shop and teleported to the library.
I loved this town’s library. The architecture was classic from the stone steps and façade to the columns holding up the roof. Stone lions sat on either side of the stairs guarding the knowledge of the collected books.
My cousins and I moved chairs and gathered around one computer. The article said the boy’s name was Cole Mathers. At the keyboard, Mary put his name into a search engine. The article we’d just read was the first hit.
After that all the results we tried took us to information about an adult named Cole Mathers who was well known for founding a town further north. He was also a philanthropist whose vast fortune was left to various charities.
We couldn’t find any other information about the local Cole Mathers. That wasn’t all that surprising; he was a teen after all, just like us. It was odd though that he didn’t have a single social media account. My cousins and I weren’t supposed to use that stuff because our families were backward—most magical families were that way. But non-magic teens were always online. Their whole lives could be found there.
“Try searching for any adults who are local with the last name Mathers,” I whispered to Mary.
We didn’t get any results.
“Why don’t we try an old-fashioned phone book?” suggested Angela. “I saw one on the front counter by a public phone.”
I shrugged. “Might as well try,” I said.
Tilly and Angela left to go search the phone book while Mary and I tried more of the links from our first search. We weren’t having any better luck. Everything we opened was still about the former Cole Mathers, not the teen.
Before long, the other two returned from the front. As they sat, they both shook their heads—no luck then.
“We could try to find him with magic,” said Tilly.
“Shhhhh…,” I said. Other library patrons weren’t paying attention to us, but I didn’t want anyone to over hear us. Most people would assume we were just kids being silly playing some game, but we still needed to be careful. We weren’t the only magical users in the whole world, and if this doppelganger was part of a spell, we might be on someone’s radar already.
“That’s a bad idea,” Angela said.
Mary cleared the computer screen and motioned with her head for us all to follow her.
Back outside in the sun on the library steps, my cousins escalated things. Mary cast a tracking spell on the paper. When I realized what she was doing, I broke it up.
“Don’t do that,” I said. “It might draw him here. We should just tell your mom and dad.”
“Malcom,” said Mary in her exasperated voice. “Don’t be such a baby.”