The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.
I hear the generator come to life with its callous hum outside the cabin door.
“I got it working.”
Greg flicks on the work light and a yellow beam cuts through the dust. The light overpowers the candle I lit in vain and placed on the sill. Dusk is quickly setting in beyond the trees and brewing darkness like black coffee in the ether.
“Now we’ll be able to work late. Time is of the essence.”
Greg swings at the rotten planks below with a pickaxe. I flinch as the wood splinters into pieces like fractured bones.
“C’mon Jen, we’re a team, remember?”
He nods towards the toolbox.
I feel him watch me as I pick up a hammer and move to the other side of the single room. My shoulders stiffen and I clench my jaw as I struggle to pull the floorboards up with the claw end. Converting the dilapidated cabin into something beautiful was not as easy as I had hoped.
But Greg was trying. He is doing this for me. He must still love me.
When our bid was accepted for the ten-acre property in the Okanagan, I thought this was the fresh start we needed. I remember the pull I felt when I found it online. It was out of our budget, but if we fixed up the separate cabin that hid abandoned in the trees beyond the main house, we could rent it out as a holiday spot for the wine-tasting tourists. In my mind, it was the perfect plan. It was an escape from our old life.
My fingers ache as I pry another board from the floor to reveal the dirt below. I pause, stretching my sore fingers against each other.
Greg doesn’t stop. His arms gleam from the sweat and sharp shadows in the dense light. He is strong. I used to like that about him.
Despite the distance they had for months, Jen and Greg stood close together, inspecting a bone dug up from the dirt.
“Is it an animal bone?” I ask. I breathe in for five. Hold for five. Out for five. Just like my therapist taught me to. Greg hates when I overreact.
Greg picks up the work light and shines it harshly near the dirt I unearthed.
I gasp. Denim. Is that denim?
“Oh my God, Greg!” Staying calm is out of my control now. I feel the spindly wires of my nerves take over.
Greg peers at me. His face is flat and emotionless. He pinches the bridge of his nose.
“Jen. Don’t start this now.”
I hold my arms and will myself to stop shaking. Is it human? I clamp my teeth shut and look at him. Am I seeing this right? Maybe I’m overreacting again.
“But what is that?”
I peer back at the disturbed soil, but Greg is already throwing dirt back over top. His back stiffens.
“You picked this place, remember?” Greg pats the soil flat with his hand. “We can’t afford any setbacks, Jen. Just drop it.” He runs his hands through his hair and frowns.
Greg softens, “Please just trust me, we need to get this done or we won’t be able to make our mortgage payments. You know everything hinges on the success of this rental.”
I nod. He’s right. If this doesn’t work we’ll lose this place.
“Yeah, I mean, we’re in the country. It’s probably just an animal.” I think about the possibility of losing Greg and this chance at a new life. It feels like needles in my chest, and I convulse involuntarily. Don’t cry. He won’t like that.
Entire cabin hosted by Jen and Greg | 2 guests | Studio | 1 bed 1 bath | $188/Night
One-room cabin located in beautiful Okanagan, B.C. Stay off the beaten path and in the hills of wine country. Enjoy the cozy kitchenette and spectacular views in a private treed residence. Strictly no pets.
Fresh paint and modern fixtures transformed the cabin into a trendy and desirable retreat. With neo-modern furniture tinned with rose gold accents, the place had a designer’s touch, making it neither quaint nor antiquated, but voguish and elegant.
“Did you get it?”
“Yep!” the woman with an artsy layered bob lowers the polaroid camera and hands it off to her friend with long blonde hair and blue eyes, “Here, take one of me too.”
She blows a kiss towards the camera while playfully winking with a sultry pose. The women laugh with the enhancement of wine loosening their spirits.
“Wait what is that?” the blonde squints at her photo, still developing. Shades of white wisps cover her face.
“You’re supposed to leave it in the dark!” the artsy one grabs the photo from her and flips it upside down. “Now c’mon, let's open that wine we got today.”
“Way ahead of you,” the woman with blonde hair calls over her shoulder as she ducks inside to fetch the bottle.
While she waited, the artsy one flipped the polaroid photo of her friend back over to see if it was able to develop after its early exposure to light.
This doesn’t look right.
Another person with shoulder length dark hair, thin lips and brown eyes appears superimposed over her friend's golden tanned skin and blonde hair. Weird. I wonder how this got double exposed. She turns to enter the cabin, “Hey did you take a photo before-"
“-You ladies have everything you need here?” Greg appears from the trail leading from the main driveway to the cabin.
“Jesus!” the artsy woman turns on her heel, holding her chest and dropping the photo, “You scared me!” She laughs and happily accepts a well-poured glass of wine from her friend emerging from the cabin.
“Yeah I think we got everything we need here,” the blonde half smiles, arching a single brow, “unless you want to stay for a glass or two.”
Greg flashes a charming and mischievous grin, his blue eyes crinkling, “Well I can’t say no to having wine with two pretty ladies.”
Jen and Greg once lived in the suburbs across the country, far away from the cabin in the woods.
Green grass shone through the kitchen window from our backyard. It could have been a lazy, careless summer day. But my back faced Greg as I looked for evidence. I knew he knew what I was doing. At least I didn’t do it in secret.
“You’re really losing it, Jen,” Greg scoffed. “Whatever you’re looking for – you’re not going to find it.”
What had been so fruitful before in deception now lay baren like a pasture in drought. Yet it didn’t feel like the reassurance I needed. I didn’t feel relieved.
I whipped around, “Why? Is it because you deleted it all?”
He’s just gotten better at hiding it.
I remembered the day we got married so vividly. Specifically, the vows I had written to Greg. Some brides fixate on having the fairy-tale dress, or the venue and décor that can outdo them all, but I wanted to have perfectly written vows.
My desire was to have my promise to Greg be so moving, so sincere, so romantic, that it pushed even the hardest guest to tears. Marriage to a person is for life. I vowed to only get married one time and only to him. There’s no such thing as divorce for me. I’m a modern woman, but this is a tradition I hold onto. There’s no such thing as do-overs.
“At some point, you’re going to have to trust me again if we're goign to stay married,” Greg inched closer to me and grabbed the phone out of my hands and leaned in. His breath hot and his cologne fresh, “You know,” he squints his eyes, “if you don’t have trust, you don’t have anything.”
I vowed never to touch his phone again because he was right.
Jen smiles hearing her guests laughing beyond the trees until she hears Greg’s low laugh chime in.
“Where were you?” I’m frantic. I hold my breath. I feel threatened. Familiar guttural fear had my heart pounding violently. Don’t overreact again. Hearing Greg’s laughter with other women rubbed me the wrong way.
“What, am I on trial?” Greg is aghast with his hands up. “Did we not move here so you could stop this paranoid ranting and get over it?”
I’m doing it again. I’m making him mad.
I take a deep breath and try to erase any morsel of accusation, “No, no, of course not. Sorry. I was just wondering.”
I look out the window. I can see the two guests in sundresses prancing barefoot to get to their car in the driveway. They pull a bottle of wine from within a cardboard box in the trunk.
“I’m just being friendly Jen. We need to get good reviews and be exceptional hosts to make this work.” He squints at me, “You do want this to work, don’t you?”
I nod, biting the quivering of my lower lip. If there’s one thing Greg hates, it’s women crying. He calls it the highest form of manipulation.
All I want is for him to hug me and tell me everything is alright. I crave his reassurance. I feel so unstable.
I need to stop doing this. He only cheated once. He’s changed.
It feels good to walk outside with the heat of the sun warming my dark hair and the fresh country air evaporating the stress of my nerves. Carrying the red cleaning bucket, I make my way down the path to the cabin. Cleaning can be cathartic.
Aggressive dandelions popped up along the path near the entrance to the cabin. I bend my knees down to the grass to pull them out. A white square catches my eye a couple of feet from me in the long grass. Picking it up I notice it’s a polaroid photo.
I squint at the tiny frame and see a blurry image of two faces overlapping one another. It’s hard to make out.
This face looks like mine mixed with the blonde girl that was here. I don’t remember them taking a photo of me.
I take one more hard look at the photo and shrug, tossing it in the bin with the rest of the garbage from the rental without another thought.
The cabin in the woods makes the mortgage payments and life is looking good for the married couple, at least on the outside.
I’m at my vanity table struggling with eyelash glue. Mac DeMarco, My Kind of Woman, plays in the background as I rest my elbow on the surface and attempt to stick the strip of faux lashes to my eye. I want to look beautiful today.
“You’re making me crazy, really driving me mad,” the singer's sleepy voice creates a dreamy feeling paired with the strings of the melodic tinny guitar. My face nearly touches my reflection. “Time for a magnifying mirror,” I whisper under my breath.
Greg and I have some extra money for the first time since we moved to the acreage. He told me to be ready for dinner this evening. Things are starting to feel normal again. I am starting to trust him. I feel happy.
I pull my face back from the mirror to see if the lashes are on straight.
“That's alright with me, it's really no fuss,” the song's desperate tune sinks inside me and I sing softly along. My fingers jostle around my makeup bag for lipstick. Louder, freer, I allow myself to find confidence in my voice, “As long as you're next to me, just the two of us.”
I look back in the mirror to dab lipstick on, but sense a presence behind me. Gasping, I see the form of a woman in the mirror leaning by the bedroom door. I’m too shocked to be disturbed. I grasp for reasonable explanations before I react. I need to get better at that.
This is probably just a lost guest.
Swivelling around in my chair, I stammer, “Sorry, are you lost?” My eyes settle on her. I notice something strange.
She looks just like me.
The hair is dark just like mine, shoulder length too. There’s a similarity between our brown eyes, the slight bump on the bridge of the nose, and the thin smirk on her lips. My eyes scan feature to feature, as I try to form some sort of understanding of what I am looking at. Or better yet, who.
Before I can commit the woman to memory with any type of certainty, she leaves the bedroom, her brown hair flipping behind her.
Startled, I turn back to the vanity mirror and make eye contact with myself in bewilderment. I touch my cheek with the vision of the look-a-like in my mind's eye already dissolving.
That woman looked just like me.
Host duties steady my nerves and give me the courage to go check if the woman found the cabin. But curiosity if the woman really looks like me pushes me to knock on the door.
A woman with dark red hair frayed at the ends answers. “Hi, I’m Jen. I just wanted to make sure you guys found the place and see if you have everything you need here.”
“Yes, I love it here!” she motions excitedly with her hands. I push myself to smile. Where is the other woman? This isn’t the look-a-like. I cock my head in the door slightly to see if the other woman is inside. But no one is there.
“Sorry, isn’t there someone here with you?” I ask, panic rising in the tendrils of my body.
“I hope not!” the lady chuckles, “Nope, this is my special little retreat. Left the kids and husband at home so I could get some peace and quiet.”
I force a friendly smile, despite my stomach dropping. “Oh, sorry. I must be mixing you up with another booking. Enjoy your time here and let me know if you need anything.”
The walk back to the house feels long and ominous.
I check the rental schedule and only one person is booked.
You imagined her. Maybe the lonely country life is getting to you.
Confusion grows like black mould in my mind.
Jen kept the vision of the look-a-like from Greg. He already thinks she’s neurotic.
I crank the shower temperature to the left, enjoying the scalding hot water like a warm embrace. I like to feel safe. I like to focus on my senses. It grounds me. It takes me out of the fears in my head. And now that I don’t trust my own eyes, I need to feel safe in my own body more than ever.
Wrapping a towel around me, I hear Greg’s low voice humming from outside the bedroom walls in conversation. He’s always been a much more exuberant person than me, preferring speaking on the phone rather than texting. I was happy to hide in the shadows and arise for social occasions sparingly.
I get dressed and leave the bedroom to meet Greg in the living room.
“Yeah, and I miss you too,” Greg says.
I slow my steps in the hallway, listening. Wait. Who does he miss?
“Yes, we’ll see each other soon. I promise.”
I feel my heartbeat punching my ribs as I enter the living room. Don’t assume. Don’t accuse him. Stay calm.
I appear around the corner. “Who was that?” I ask, “Your mom?”
Greg flips around on the couch startled. His eyes look wild for a moment and he grips his phone tightly in his hand.
“I thought you went to the cabin to clean it?” Greg looks at the wet beads of water curling the ends of my hair, “When did you sneak in?”
“I never snuck in,” I say annoyed, “I’ve been in the room all morning. I was just coming out.”
The phrases ‘I miss you’ and ‘we’ll see each other soon’ echo in my head. “I’m sorry, who did you say you were on the phone with?” I’m losing it. My tone is accusatory. Careful.
“Yes, it was my mom, Jen. If you’re going to start up with that nonsense again then you can forget this whole thing.”
Too late. I set him off. “I’m getting real sick and tired of you treating me like a criminal,” he pauses, “And what’s with you lying to me? I saw you walk out to the cabin.”
Panic rises in me. I hate conflict. It makes me feel like I am losing everything from under my feet. My brain jumps to the worst-case scenario. Greg divorces me. Greg finds someone new. I end up like my mom. Divorced. Alone.
But confusion competes with my fears.
“I’m not lying!” I don’t know where he is getting this.
Greg makes deliberate eye contact with me. “Jen, I’m asking this in all seriousness,” his tone is unkind, “is your mental health okay?” He pauses for me to respond, but I get the sense the question was rhetorical. “Because for you to blatantly lie to my face like this, this is just, beyond-"
My nerves fray and I feel the threads become static. Am I losing grip with reality? What else could this be? He seems so sure, and I’m not. What is happening to me?
I look to Greg, searching his eyes for truth. His eyes are hard and steely. Maybe I did walk to the cabin. Maybe I went to clean it before my shower. That makes sense.
I’m quiet. My mind feels weak and scrambled as I try to understand.
Jen thought that maybe if she ignores this, it will go away. A week passes without incident until…
I hear shouting coming from the cabin. Oh god. One of the voices sounds like Greg and I want to burrow myself in a hole and hide. I'm overcome with a renewed sense of dread.
I quickly maneuver myself to the desk in the kitchen to refer to the schedule book. Who is Greg out there with? I run my finger down to the date. The book is empty. Maybe I forgot to add them in. I’ve been forgetting a lot lately…
With my phone in my hand, I cautiously saunter to the cabin, moving behind the trees to stay out of view.
“Jen, hang up the phone!” Greg growls beyond the thicket.
What? I furrow my brows. How does he know I have my phone? How does he even know I’m here? I’m still concealed by the thick shrubs and trees.
Crouching low, I inch my way further down the path until I can see Greg. What is going on here? Greg is focused on someone who is hidden past the needles of the pines and thick glossy leaves.
“You don’t want to do this, trust me,” Greg’s focus is unwavering. He looks so furious, the veins on his neck are hot and pulsating. Do what? What are they doing?
I unlock the screen on my phone and type in ‘9 -1-1’, ready to hit send at a moment's notice. But I fear calling when I don’t understand the situation.
Suddenly, another voice breaks out, “Yes, the address is 434, Range Road 272. I’m telling you, there’s a body hidden here!” The woman’s voice and accusation startle me. I lose balance, stumbling onto my hands in the dirt.
She sounds like me. It sounds like my voice. It’s her again...
I keep crouching low and shuffle a few feet forwards. I need to see her. I need to know if it’s the woman I’ve seen before. But I don’t want her to see me.
“Jen, what have you done!” Greg screams at her.
I peek around the corner to see her. To see me. As though it were a different woman, she stands there, and I stand here. But it is unquestionably me.
And now Greg is seeing her too. Does this mean she’s real?
I waver in view longer than I intended, in disbelief. She looks past Greg and for a moment her eyes lock into mine. Her lips curl into a thin smile.
Greg lunges toward her and I scream, covering my mouth. Stumbling backwards, I pull myself out of view and run back to the house, locking the doors.
> Can you disassociate from your body and have an out-of-body experience?
> Psychiatrists near me
> Are doppelgangers real?
> Glitch in the matrix, parallel universes real?
I’m looking for answers. I’m looking for anything that can explain what happened.
Am I suffering from an extreme case of disassociation? Was I observing life from a bird’s eye view? Maybe I couldn’t cope with a body being buried under the cabin. Maybe it was really me who pinned the cover-up of the bones on Greg.
Or maybe the woman was me from another reality? A reality where things went differently, and she felt things had to be corrected?
Or what about doppelgangers? They’ve been in folklore for centuries. Perhaps some truth lay in the tales of the past? Or maybe she was there to protect me. She knew that Greg was not a good man. She showed me he is not to be trusted.
I try to imagine what a therapist would say and save myself the bill. But I know deep inside that I’m going to need a lot of help sorting this mystery out in my head.
A knock at the door breaks my concentration from the laptop screen.
I open the door to Constable Richards.
“Ma’am, I’d like to thank you for calling this in.”
I stand in the doorway keeping quiet.
Richards motions for the door, “May I come in?”
I push the door open and lead him to the living room where I sit across from him. Richards takes a loud breath through his nose and leans forward, “Now we take failure to report a crime and hiding evidence very seriously here Jen. Greg faces charges.”
He reaches into his vest and pulls out a photo, holding it up for me to see. “This is Sherry Anderson. Her case sat in a box on the cold case shelf for thirty-four years. And because of you calling in, we are finally able to tell her family where she is and bring her home to them. You did the right thing.”
I sit silently. I feel I didn’t do anything at all.
I don’t move from the spot on the couch for hours after Constable Richards leaves. I absorb strange thoughts. I absorb the possibility of strange truths. Staring ahead in a daze, deep in my own inner reflection. A cold hard wall builds itself in me and I feel an unfamiliar inner strength. A bizarre inner knowing.
I calmly walk towards the bedroom and sit down at my vanity mirror. I run a brush through my long dark hair, and I connect my brown eyes to my reflection. I see her. I see the woman looking back. I see her smile at me. And I smile back.