Doppelganger - By David Stahler Jr Page 0,1

she said.

“I don’t like crickets,” he whined. “They tickle in my mouth.”

“That’s because you don’t kill them first,” she said.

From the corner of his eye, he watched her pick one up and pinch its head precisely. Only when its legs stopped their frantic squirming did she pop the black-shelled creature into her mouth and crunch down on it.

“Just like that,” she said. “Now you try.”

He reached out for the remaining cricket, but it hopped out of reach. She retrieved it for him and held it out, dangling by one leg. Taking it from her, he held it tight until it stopped squirming. Then, looking away, he pinched, closing his eyes at the crush. His eyes still closed, he thrust it in his mouth, feeling it break apart as he chewed. She was right—they did go down better dead.

Opening his eyes, he looked back at his mother. She had the same look of disgust on her face as before.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said. “It’s ridiculous, a boy your age, can’t keep a fire going, can’t even kill a cricket without squirming. And how old are you?”

“Five,” he whispered.

“That’s right. Five years old. Shameful.”

CHAPTER ONE

I met Amber two days after I throttled her boyfriend, Chris Parker. A week later we were in love. Or rather, I was in love with her. It took a while on her part. After all, she thought I was him.

Let me explain—I am a doppelganger.

Not many people have heard of us before. We’re a pretty secretive race. So secretive, in fact, that I don’t even know that much about us myself. Most of what I know about my kind I learned from my mother, and she wasn’t all that informative. I can’t even tell people my name. I don’t have one. Not one I was born with, anyway. My mother always said names are worthless to a doppelganger. So the whole time I was growing up, she was she, and I was me, and that’s as far as it ever got.

The problem is that doppelgangers are loners. We don’t keep in touch. We don’t call each other or send postcards. We would never e-mail. There’s no annual doppelganger convention or home base or family reunion. When you’re a doppelganger, you’re on your own.

Maybe there just isn’t much to know about us. We’re pretty simple, actually—primitive, one might say—which is how we’ve managed to survive for so long.

But there are a few things to know. The most important is that we’re shape-shifters. We can change the way we look, the sound of our voice; we can even change our sex, though we usually prefer not to. We’re like chameleons, but taken to a higher level.

And it’s a good thing we are shape-shifters, because in our natural state we’re ugly as sin. Really hideous, to the point where we can barely stand to look at ourselves, let alone others of our kind. A doppelganger mother will even turn from her own child in disgust. I’m sure it’s hard to imagine such a thing—after all, a human mother will love even her ugliest child—but with us it’s true. It must be an evolutionary thing or something. If so, it works pretty well—a doppelganger can rarely be found in its natural form. I can count on one hand the number of times I saw my mother in her own skin. Who knows, maybe I’ve just blocked the other times out of my head. Between the mottled, almost transparent flesh, the bulging eyes, and a face with no nose or mouth other than a few slimy slits, you’ve got the makings of a real freak. Actually, all those drawings of aliens recreated from people’s so-called abductions—those things with the egg heads and spindly arms—they’re not aliens, they’re doppelgangers. And those people who think they were abducted didn’t go anywhere—they were just lucky enough to have survived. That’s my theory, anyway.

Which brings me to another important doppelganger fact: We’re killers. Of people, that is. We prey on your race—stalking you, watching your moves, the places you go, learning the patterns of your life. Then, when we think we’ve got it down, we find a nice quiet little corner to strangle you in and take over. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Sometimes things get a little messy.

But if we’re really good, no one can tell it’s not you. We look like you, sound like you, even act like you. We take your life and live it

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