VEILED ENCOUNTER

by Lynn

Alice’s weekend had been a long and boring stay at home. One of those self-reflection periods that was really just her personal justification to ignore the endless work messages as she lounged in bed for two entire days. Although she thought of it as a reset, nothing much changed after anyways. It was still the same routine as always on this blazing hot Monday morning as well. She checked her phone without actually reading any of the messages. Thirteen missed calls. She made a mental note to follow-up on those once she reached the office – no extra work before she clocked in. She brushed her teeth briefly, probably less than the required two minutes. She rinsed herself. Got dressed. Breakfast.


As she locked the door of her humble semi-detached bungalow, she began the countdown to the next weekend. “Just five more days,” she sighed, mocked by her neighbor’s yapping dog whose only concern was the line of unbothered birds, tweeting on the telephone lines.


Her car was parked right outside the fence. She never really figured out how her neighbors got their cars through the narrow gates, but there haven’t been any incidences in the few months since she moved into the neighborhood, so she continued parking outside. Every once in a while, the dogs would mark their territory on her tires; no one else seemed to protest her car’s presence.


As she approached the driver’s seat, she noticed a strangely shaped smudge along the windshield that spread to the driver’s window. Although she sighed loudly for nobody in particular to hear, her excuse for showing up at work late was starting to form in her mind. She had to clean her neighbor’s kids’ dirty prank off her car which would supposedly take her all morning to do. She wasn’t too mad of course.


Once closer to her car, she came to a sharp realization that the smudge hadn’t been a smudge at all. For a fleeting moment, she thought that perhaps it had been her reflection. A short-lived thought that ended with a shrill shriek of horror and realization from Alice’s trembling lips as she flailed backwards onto the sidewalk. Her neighbor’s dog had finally gone silent. Her entire street seemed to stretch infinitely, abandoned by the birds startled away by her shock.


Alice was left alone with the stranger sitting in the driver’s seat of her car.


She scuttled backwards away from the car door without taking her eyes off the figure. From where she determined to be a safer distance, Alice clenched her car keys which had already been between her fingers. She felt for the button without looking at her keys, scared that the stranger would make a move if she had looked away for even the shortest of seconds.


Click.


She heard the locks unlatch. Her car had been locked with the stranger inside.


She clicked the button on top this time to lock the car; if it had unlocked again, she hoped she would hear it on time. In the meantime, the stranger hadn’t moved. Not even a millimeter. She squinted her eyes to focus through the reflection of the sun rising higher, but she couldn’t quite get a clear view of the stranger’s face. Their head was tilted, resting on the driver’s window. It seemed like they had the seatbelt on.


How did they get in? Where had they planned to go next? What stopped them?


Running the sequence through her mind, Alice calculated the time it would take to remove the seatbelt, unlock the car door from the inside, step out onto the sidewalk, then cover the distance between the car and herself. She looked towards the front door of her bungalow. Then almost instantly back at the driver’s seat where the stranger remained perfectly still.


With a deep breath, she mustered up some courage and strength in her legs. Walking right up to the driver’s window to get a proper look, her breath got caught immediately. Her eyes must’ve been playing tricks on her, teasing her as if her reflection wasn’t truly hers. It wasn’t. It wasn’t her reflection at all.


The stranger in the car wore familiar features on her face. She wasn’t a stranger, yet that made the situation all the more strange. Alice saw herself sat unconscious in the driver’s seat of her own car.


She adjusted her eyes like a camera lens to look instead at her reflection in the window. She hadn’t known what to expect, yet to her disbelief, there she was as well.


Two Alices.


Alice had believed her doppelganger existed somewhere in the world. She hadn’t imagined the world imploding or anything if she were to meet the other Alice, so she hadn’t been worried before. But now that this girl wearing her face was sat in her car, in front of her house, she truly wondered if this was the beginning of stranger times to come.



The thought of explaining her situation to her boss had crossed her mind, but she didn’t think Jeff to be the superstitious kind. Not to mention the absurdity of unanswered questions that filled her mind as she thought of her next moves. The car break-in that left her car seemingly undamaged; her doppelganger’s intentions of breaking-in without stealing. Why hadn’t she left, and most importantly, why was she unconscious? Alice had settled on the most logical solution her Monday morning mind could think of.


She dialed the three-digit phone number and waited.


She didn’t wait long though. In fact, it seemed as if she had just hung up the phone a minute ago when she heard the sirens turning into her neighborhood street. There must’ve been an incident nearby; the highway wasn’t too far off, and the weekend had just ended so the roads were full of dreamy drivers changing gears to work. The two officers that greeted her were plenty alert, nonetheless. Almost alarmingly so.


As if waking up with the presence of authority, her neighbor’s dog began its yapping once again. More incessantly, as if asserting its false sense of dominance.


“Now then, is this the one?” They walked to the driver’s seat ahead of her. She didn’t remember telling the phone operator the details, just that her car had been broken into and the perpetrator was still there. The phone operator didn’t seem to understand, but she assured Alice she’d send some officers to assess the situation; the officers she had sent had assessed the situation in half an instant.


She assumed they had seen the woman through the windshield now that the sun had lowered and the glare had weakened. She could now clearly see her figure from the short distance she had stood at before, though she wondered if it was because she knew what she was looking for. The officers must’ve had their eyes attuned to their profession.


“Seems to be.” The other officer answered in a matter-of-fact tone that made Alice wonder if this was supposed to be a common occurrence.


“Excellent.”


“Um, excuse me-” Alice positioned herself between the two officers stood at the car door by the driver’s seat. “Is she-?”


“Wanted. A wanted criminal,” the first officer cut her off. She was about to ask if her doppelganger was okay, considering how still she had been in the car without ventilation. She had supposed they wouldn’t be able to confirm anything without opening the door first, but she thought she may have needed the officers’ permission to unlock the door.


Hearing the words criminal was a revelation she hadn’t expected. She had been going around town with the face of the criminal, it came as a surprise that she had never been stopped before.


The second officer seemed to register Alice’s distress creeping onto her face, shifting greatly from the identical features of her unconscious doppelganger. “We think she may be a con woman on the run; we must assume that she would have had her face completely redone. You are not listed as a person of interest, Miss Alice. Please do not be alarmed.”


She had introduced herself before, but her name rolled strangely off the officer’s tongue, as if he had spoken a different language.


“Miss Alice?” She had been staring. “Please unlock the car.”


She fumbled with the keys which she had been clenching closely. “Y-yes, of course!”


Click.


The officer did not hesitate. He leaned into the car to unbuckle her belt and in a second, the woman leaning on the door had fallen into the nook of his arm. It still seemed so surreal to Alice as she took in the woman’s face – her face – so serene as if she was in a deep sleep. She hadn’t even flinched as the door opened. Her facial muscles were completely relaxed; Alice pictured the face on herself in her bed. Now that the window barrier was no longer there, the uncanniness of her doppelganger’s face left a chill running through her. It was her face, but perfect. Too perfect.


“Please do not be alarmed,” the first officer reassured her with his partner’s words as she watched him pull her doppelganger, bent over by the waist, towards their police vehicle. They had parked by the house next door despite the space behind her own car. “We’ll check her fingerprints immediately to identify the criminal and inform the local police departments.”


In a confused daze, Alice’s eyes fell instinctively to the woman’s fingers. She thought maybe those would mirror hers as well.


Bare pink flesh.


The woman’s fingertips had been more than smooth. It seemed as if her skin had been polished off with complete perfection. A gasp escaped Alice’s lips before she could catch it with both hands over her mouth. She had never seen anything so inconspicuously unnatural on a human body in her life.


Both officers stopped, the second officer’s leg lowered down mid-step. They turned their heads towards her, their body kept still as stone. Had she overreacted?


“But-” She removed her hand from her face to point at the woman’s fingers.


“Thank you for your co-operation, Miss Alice.” The first officer stepped forward as his partner continued to the car as if he hadn’t stopped at all. “We will get back to you as soon as the results are in.”


The resolution to her startling morning had been laid out with no knots. Seemingly. She had expected more from the woman wearing her face, yet received an explanation that seemed far too convenient, simply brushing over the fact that her car had been broken into yet she still did not know the identity of her doppelganger beyond a ‘wanted criminal.’


Perhaps it was the way neither officer seemed emotionally invested in her case, simply going through the processes as swiftly as possible. Attuned to their professions. She found herself unable to push forward with her demands for answers, as if their impassivity had snuffed out any chance for her curiosity to bud. For a moment, she felt a sense of understanding; counting the days to the end of the week. Suppose that work was the same, no matter what profession they were in.


Starting the engine, their sirens sounded once. Alice wondered if all police vehicles did so, as if being woken up to work as well. Maybe it had been a faulty siren that shrieked briefly in rebellion. She looked at her own car which took her to and from work each day.


The officers had left the door open. The driver’s seat was undoubtedly empty this time.

Alice snapped to attention, realizing that she had been pulled along by the officers’ authoritative brevity the entire time. That she was obliged an answer. She whipped her head back to catch the eye of the second officer entering the police vehicle after laying her unconscious doppelganger in the backseat. He had not taken his place at the passenger seat yet.


“Will you take my car to forensics? I think they’d be able to find-”


Although he continued to watch Alice from a distance, the officer slid into the passenger seat in perfect posture. He had a procedure to follow, and apparently, Alice’s concerns were not a part of it.


Left standing on the spot as she watched the police vehicle drive away quietly, Alice felt ridiculed. She had been snatched out of her routine by an unexplainable situation which had been quickly explained by officers whose names she couldn’t even get. Everything had happened so quickly; she wasn’t even sure if she would hear back from them.


Shutting her car door gently, Alice thought about how she’d continue her day feeling like a storm had passed leaving nothing to prove it had even happened. Only her neighbor’s dog would know.


As she peeked over at her neighbor’s gate, she was stricken with a sudden recollection that her neighbor hadn’t been home for an entire month.


Their dog had given Alice several sleepless nights when she had first moved in, so it had been a large relief when the yapping had stopped. Alice hardly ever saw her neighbor, but she had known immediately when they left home, taking the dog with them. She sighed again with the thought of more sleepless nights to come.


She took a quick glance at the window that must’ve been the master bedroom as it was in her own home’s layout. The curtains were drawn with a slight opening.


Alice thought she saw a woman watching. She must’ve heard the police sirens earlier.


With the hope that neighbor may have witnessed the entire situation as it happened, Alice decided to pay her a visit. As if her neighbor had sensed Alice’s intentions, the gap between the curtains disappeared with a violent tug. Alice thought she heard the dog whimper.


Taken aback by the unprompted display of antipathy, Alice’s determination to get answers was ignited. Her neighbor may not have the answers Alice wanted, but surely, from a further perspective, they would have seen something worth pursuing. Alice was resolved not to lag behind their pace anymore – not the officer duo, nor her elusive neighbor.


As she began crossing the street, she heard sirens approaching.


As the flashing lights and shrieking sirens swerved quickly behind her car, Alice took a confused step back onto the sidewalk. She watched as the two police officers from before stepped out of their vehicle. They seemed more rugged, tired, almost annoyed, no longer carrying themselves with the perfect posture of alert authority.


“Now then, what seems to be the problem, uh, Miss Alice?”


Feeling lightheaded, Alice had never looked more forward to restarting her routine the next day.

 
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LYNN

Lynn is an emerging writer, having completed her undergraduate in Professional Writing and Film at Bangor University, UK.
She can be found on Instagram @_lemonin, exploring jungles and chasing waterfalls around Borneo Island.