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1.4 Grag Medusa

“He’s my… brother,” he said from behind the chain because I still wouldn’t let him in, his rotten shoe jamming open the door. “Yup, I got a… brother now. Identical. Twins, let’s call it. I didn’t know. I found out. We look the same, almost, outside. Inside we’re different. But there’s two of us and I’m the real one,” gabbling over the chain, running fingers through messy hair, grabbing his roots, his right index fingertip gone now, the top joint missing, running this stump down his nose again, a stump topped by a bobble of flesh. “I just turned up, this is the first time I’ve seen you in eleven years, I wasn’t here before, haven’t seen you since New York. The one before’s my double, pretending to be me, fake.”


Stone-cold effrontery. Off-the-scale gaslighting and contempt. I couldn’t speak. The stump seemed new. I hadn’t noticed it up in my flat before and I’d have noticed. His face looked the same, kind of: dirtier, more stubble, but it was Chris Kipp’s face. But the Chris in my flat, in my hall twenty minutes before had been finger-perfect, I was pretty certain.


“I’m Chris Kipp,” this stump one was saying from behind the chain. He was my old love from Scritchwood who I’d grown up with, the one who’d behaved poorly in New York and elsewhere. “That other one,” the first one, who’d just left: clean and shaven Mr Finger-Perfect who I’d let through the door and upstairs to my flat? “He’s someone else,” this stump Chris was saying: someone called Sean, someone bad and dangerous who’d pretended to be Chris, to gain access to me and entrance to my flat under false pretences—for what reason? Chris and Sean. What had Sean been up to? “We’re kind of twins, it’s a long story, what did he want? What was all that about books and sheep?”


I shouted at him for a bit and he didn’t blame me—“It is crazy,” he said, nodding away. “Just undo the chain and let me in so I can explain properly, five minutes. In fact, undo the chain and leave with me right now, we’re in terrible danger. You got to know: if Sean’s been here we’re fucked, you and me, like you can’t believe. You’re fucked, your flat’s fucked—did he touch you, your walls, your machines, your computers and phones? Did he go into your fridge, your cupboards and jars? They’ve planted stuff, that’s what they do: smear things, listen in, leave messages for each other. They’re listening in right now, leaving messages, coming for us, me and you right now, they’ll know I’m here now, they’re after me, maybe they’re here already, maybe you’re one of them. Are you? Oh god are you, Nim? Are you Nim at all or something else?” staring deep into my eyes from different angles. “I’m so paranoid, I can’t trust anything, even you, that’s what they’ve done to me. Where’s your phone? I got to have your phone, I can’t have phones. The world’s so fucked up, do you realise? It’s all a front. Nothing’s what it seems.”


Pure nutty Tal, or a pure Tal impersonation. I stared at him, rattling the chain, babbling on for me to open up right now, get out right now, with him, into the street, into his car parked not far away, so he could explain properly about the fucked world. A psycho in full punishment melt-down, because I’d dared to show he could no longer control me?


Or was it all to get his hands on the book?


“Why was Sean here, what did he want, why was he pretending to be me, what book, what sheep, what event, where’s the Brechfa Forest, what did he want to know, what did you tell him, where’s Sean now? I got to know.”


That stump. White now, gripping the doorframe along with the rest of his fingers, stopping me from closing the door on him, the force of his hand plus his forehead and the jammed-in foot. Bad old trainers now, battered things, not the box-fresh luxe-casual of his first visit. Him and all his clothes, the charcoal: dirty and frayed. His face seemed more gaunt. Now he had stubble and blackheads, no clean pores. He had sprouting nostril hair. His nails were longer: less bitten, more filthy. But you could change clothes and filth your face and fingers and glue-on stubble and nose hair and nails, and contour cheekbones: a quick session behind bushes up Holmesdale Road, no probs. It meant a planned operation though, the opposite of crazy, nothing Tal could come up with: make-up kit, costume-changes, this whole loony twin yarn in reserve as an encore if I wouldn’t play ball, wouldn’t give him back his precious book—all for the book, what was it with the sodding book? 


But. Possible. You could change clothes. You could put on foundation, stubble, nose hair, put dirt under nails, bloody eyes, spray on stink. The voice and gestures were the same. The aura felt different: caffeinated, desperate. When I’d known him he’d never been a good actor, too self-conscious, but maybe acting yourself was easier, specially if you really wanted something.


He seemed thinner, though it was hard to tell from the sliver of him I could see. Something about the eyes felt different.


A bad actor but a good liar.


Not crazy at all.


But could you change fingers, remove tips?


The bobbled stump was smooth, aged, healed, nothing recent. Nothing bloody, nothing hacked off behind trees five minutes ago.


“What happened to your finger?”


“Docked. Punishment. Undo the chain.”


Unless the stump had been disguised the first time, always there but topped off with a bit of sculpted silicon or—who knew?—real flesh, stuck on with art so the finger looked whole. Weird bother for no clear purpose but not impossible. Who knew how much he wanted the book, for what event or purpose. Who knew what they were up to in their robot labs.


Not for the first time I wanted that machine we’d all get shortly that would record everything, the lifelog with playback. So I could get a good look at that whole index finger up in my flat before. Freeze-frame, zoom, search for seams, scan face and clothes.


My dead phone.


But it was crazy to think my phone dying was part of this. It was Tal-like: massive connections, nonsense, everything I hated. Solid foundations, to build a new life on. I drew my line. Keep it simple, Alan used to say. And the simplest explanation seemed to be that my dead phone was a coincidence and there were no twins and this Chris was both my visitors and either mad or in meltdown because I wouldn’t play or else desperate for the book for unknown reasons, or just bored and back to prank or check. And then I remembered something else from Alan: that every warrior needed six things and one of them was a frightener: something scary to throw the enemy, distract them, stop them dead in their tracks so you could trip them up while they were caught up in being scared or distracted. Like snake-haired Grag Medusa in Alan’s stories: the ultimate frightener who turned you to stone when you looked at her like this stump Chris’s disgusting stump forcing open my door that I couldn’t stop looking at. That bobble.


I stopped looking at it. I couldn’t close the door but I didn’t have to. I stepped back, didn’t say anything, left him yabbering over the chain, turned round and walked away from him down the hall, back up the stairs. He babbled things after me, names from Scritch, Alan’s secret agent game we used to play as kids, desperate measures: “How’s Corpse Dog?” Then he was shouting after me, begging me, telling me I had no clue and was I Nim or something else, was I Nim but part of it?


Then another voice came from behind me.


“I’m recording this,” it said.


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