Regene walked along the cobbled street of Sitges, enjoying the quiet and the warmth of the sun. The air smelled of the nearby ocean and food smells of nearby restaurants. She had no place to be and nowhere to go. Her flight left early the next morning, so she had the whole day to do whatever she wanted. For once. She was cobbling together a brief moment of vacation and recreation amid the myriad work obligations that forced her to travel so much. That she had seen the hotels of the world, but little outside them, was a sad joke she’d often said to explain how she could be so well traveled and yet, not be.
But today she would change that, she’d gotten her work done and put her away messages on her email. The sky was a pristine sheet of blue, the sun warm but not too warm, it was a perfect day. Soon she’d be back on a plane, heading home to empty her suitcase only to turn around and fill it again. The only thing waiting for her a dead plant and old milk in the fridge. When she took the international manager position she thought she’d really made it: more money, making her own schedule, no direct boss. But after a year she could admit she was lonely traveling so much, and burnt out.
But she had the day and she would savor it. Regene finally wore the white linen pants she’d aspirationally bought the summer prior, for beach wear, she’d told herself way back then.
It was off season, and a weekday, so she had the old pale stone neighborhood around the hotel to herself. If she was being honest, the little village was unnervingly empty. She navigated the sand-gritty sidewalks enjoying the sound of the sea and the distant caw of birds. She carried a beach tote made of wicker she’d bought at the hotel, with a towel and book tucked inside. She wore a glamorous large brimmed black sun hat. She’d bought it as well in hotel lobby that morning.
Regene planned to relax and spend the day pondering if she should quit her job and settle down someplace. Try to date, maybe find a husband, crank out a kid before it was too late, something like that.
While the day should have offered no worries, she couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy. After she spent the morning wandering the narrow streets, the cobbles sun bleached, the stucco buildings worn and graffiti’d, she noticed she was alone everywhere she went. While it was all beautiful and quiet, it was also a little unnerving to be the only person around. She wanted to buy fruit from a cart, in part just to talk to someone. But the vendor she’d seen the day before was gone. She’d smell food on the air, but the restaurants were all shuttered up. It was eerie.
Breathing deep, she let the sun warm her face and shoulders, and tried to calm her imagination, which was becoming jumpy at every breeze and shadow. No doubt because it was all so still. She couldn’t recall a car passing her the whole morning. Where was everyone?
Regene tried to reassure herself it must that it was siesta-time, or something and made her way down toward the beach, her feet itchy to feel the cool lap of sea and shore.
At the top of the stone steps overlooking the beach, she took a moment to stare out at an endless glinting waves and sky, meeting in a perfect blue line. Lazy sea birds circled. But the beach, like the town, was eerily silent and totally deserted. She taken a few steps down the flights and flights of rough stone stairs to the shore, when movement far below caught her eye. Movement that caused her heart to flutter. People. Finally.
There were people on the beach. Although Regene had been lonely and unnerved alone all morning. It was a couple. They ran together, laughing and touching each other. But the longer she watched them, the more uncomfortable she felt.
Because the woman on the beach below looked exactly like her.
She had long brown hair, in a low ponytail, and it slapped against her back like a horse’s tail as she ran. Her bathing suit was a black one piece. Her sunglasses were large--bulbous insectoid frames-- that obscured most of her face. Movie star shades. But Regene saw enough of the faraway woman, of what made her familiar, to suddenly feel a chill.
Under Regene’s top and linen pants, she was wearing the same exact black bathing suit. Beneath her wide brimmed hat, her ponytail was a mirror of the woman below. The sunglasses the woman wore were identical to the pair that perched on Regene’s own nose. For all intents and purposes she was looking down at herself.
Although the weather was warm and balmy Regene was suddenly coated in goosebumps. The impossibility of the situation, of looking down upon a woman who looked exactly like her, who wore her exact clothes, was positively surreal.
She debated calling out to them, even going down to talk to her, because surely this woman just bore an uncanny resemblance. She was pretty far away, and it was very bright. Plenty of women had brown hair and black bathing suits.
The man who ran and flirted alongside the woman was a total stranger. He had the easy toned physique of someone active, but not obsessively so. His hair was black and slicked back, like someone out of the ‘50s. His swim trunks were dark and loose. He had a tan. Regene couldn’t help but appraise him: he was handsome but in a generic way. And totally unfamiliar.
The couple seemed to like each other’s company, though. They laughed and flirted, and were constantly touching one another.
The woman, her twin, frolicked girlishly below, in a manner Regene could not imagine herself doing. So perhaps it wasn’t her. Obviously, it’s not you, that would be impossible, she had to remind herself as she stared at them enthralled. Was she really so thin? The woman below was barely a slip of a thing, all slim limbs and knobby knees. Regene absently ran her hand along her own arm, her own clavicle, her own chin. Her hand stayed on the smoothness of the neckline of the lycra bathing suit.
The woman on the beach laughed, a loud braying laugh. It chilled Regene down to the marrow in her bones. Because it was her laugh. Exactly. She’d know it anywhere, she’d hated it her entire life.
Regene had never been good at relationships. She’d always been a loner and had a hard time letting down her guard. Besides that, she worked all the time. Her last relationship ended because she was distant and hard to know. She watched the couple below and chewed a hangnail as the word her old boyfriend used to describe her clattered in her head: impenetrable. That’s what he’d called her.
She ground the nub of skin between her teeth and it parted from her thumb with a brilliant zing of pain, a trickle of blood followed. She sucked her finger as she watched the couple below.
The lovers embraced. They had the beach to themselves, save Regene, watching above, and they looked like an advertisement for a travel poster. They were the couple you wanted to be part of. Look like her, sleep with him! Get a tan and revel in being young and happy and carefree!
She sucked at her finger and realized that she envied her double.
The couple rolled in the sand, hands all over each other’s bodies. Brazenly on display for any to see. She watched her twin wrap long legs around his torso and kiss him deeply. Regene touched her fingertips to her own lips, imagining the salt of the sea, the sweetness of his mouth, the glassy grit of sand on her back.
She closed her eyes and imagined him above her, she could feel the heat of the sun on her skin, the beat of his heart chest to chest. The drips of briny water from his hair falling into her mouth. Regene was so consumed with her own fantasy that she nearly missed the important moment. The moment his hands migrated from her arms to her shoulders to her neck.
And then the stranger began to squeeze her throat.
Her twin went rigid for a moment, the shock paralyzing her before she started to thrash and fight. Regene held her hand to her heart, frozen before the gruesome tableau. She could see the flex of his corded muscles as he squeezed. Her twin fought, she punched and slapped, clawed with her nails, her legs swung wildly, kicking up clouds of sand with every flail. But it was no use. He was so much bigger and so much stronger than her.
Regene broke from her reverie and called out, loudly, screaming for help. A lone seagull, startled,
exploded away from a nearby trashcan. But no one came. There was no one to come to their aid.
She was all alone. She reached in her bag for her phone, wanting to call the police, but with dawning horror, realized she had left it in the hotel room. On purpose. She could even picture where it was plugged in, charging on the bedside table. With no one around, and no one to call, she knew the only person that could stop this was her. She ran down the sandy, slipper stairs each step more perilous than the last. She gripped the splintery bannister and hollered as she made her way down, adrenaline prickling her skin, numbing her fingertips.
The man was far enough away on the beach that he could not hear her; the shore swallowed her calls. She finally made it to the sand and began to run but the soft sand ruined her best efforts at speed. She felt like she was running in slow motion, or how astronauts must feel on another planet. A few hundred feet in front of her, her twin was terribly still, and still he choked.
Regene screamed, letting her bag fall, arms flailing for him to stop.
A part of her wondered what would happen when she reached him, when he saw her. A twin, a double of the woman he killed, was killing. Could she fight him? Would she? She had to try. She searched for a weapon as she made her way, but there was not a bottle or stick to be found on the beach. The sand just unfolded, smooth and unblemished, in all directions for miles.
She made her way up a dune, breathless from running and screaming, and looked back once, up to where she had been standing in hope someone would be up there. The beach was so much longer and larger from down on the sand. The slight dunes enough to disorient where exactly her twin was, where she was.
She shielded her hand from the sun and saw a person standing where she had been. Yes! A dark figure stood almost exactly where she had been up on the street. Regene called out to them, waving her arms wildly. But the person above did not see her.
She also realized as her blood froze, that this woman wore a large sun hat and dark round glasses, she carried a wicker purse. Another twin.
Frightened, Regene turned and bolted toward the shore, as fast as she could. She could not reflect on anotherdouble watching silently from above. She could not reflect on the sand around her, swallowing her footprints as soon as she moved. The footprints gone as soon as she stepped out of them. Erasing her as if she’d never been.
Regene ran as fast as she could. The beach unfurled longer and wider with every step, the sun blinding, the crashing waves deafening.
Teary-eyed and breathless she crested a small final rise and there was the sea, leaving drying foam and seaweed as the tide pulled out. Where are you? She screamed over and over.
But there was no one there.
Not a trace of evidence or struggle in the sand. She ran the beaches length, calling out, over and over. But her twin was gone.
Like she never existed.
And between one blink and the next, Regene was back up on the boardwalk looking down. She was alone, save the sea birds cawing and the roar of the shore.
“Looks like you’ve got the beach to yourself.” A man’s voice said at her side, startling her. She turned and squinted at him. Handsome, dark slicked back hair, and a towel on his shoulder.
“Care to join me?” He asked, gesturing for the stairs. His teeth were white and straight.
“I’d love to.” She said, because it was her day, and he was handsome, and she was lonely. They headed down the stairs, and reached the beach.
And Regene could not ignore the feeling of Deja vu as her feet sunk into the hot sand.
Victoria Dalpe is an artist and writer based out of Providence, RI.
Her dark short fiction has appeared in over thirty anthologies and her first novel, Parasite Life will be re-released in 2023 through Nightscape Press. She is a member of the HWA and the New England Horror Writers. Her first short story collection, Les Femmes Grotesques, was released in November 2022 with CLASH Books. Victoria also co-edited the Necronomicon 2019 Memento Book with Justin Steele.