Louise slid the envelope into the mailbox outside the town hall, surging with triumph before walking inside. Her appearance was no accident, the smart, glamorous appearance offering a great deal but promising nothing. Her makeup was war paint and she thought of herself as someone determined to advance her position by any means necessary.
The paperwork was the last feint in the duel. A hasty gathering of signatures to support her candidacy and even that was not without its difficulties. David had taken his time in deciding, putting up a litany of excuses but Louise had circumvented that by studying the gestalt of his signature and signing his name. She trusted in the ambition that had taken her from intern to candidate and used that velocity to power her upwards.
It was better to ask forgiveness than permission.
She caught her reflection, pleased with her appearance. Pretty but not soft, which meant that the right people wanted her but were afraid to cross that boundary by virtue of a single hard stare. She could take or leave sex, but power or the chance to grasp it, made her shudder with a deep and profound want.
She walked up the stairs to the town hall, hoping to catch Nigel or Paul around to share her good news. The clip of her heels on the stairs was pleasing to her, a warning that real power was entering the premises. The future held the warmth of sunlight on bare skin, and she was pleased to accept its burdens.
‘You’ve done it already, haven’t you?’
The voice was a broken, mechanical wheeze, too many cigarettes and screams for too long. Louise blinked in shock as the woman came towards her. Her hair was a fallen angel’s halo of white roots and poorly applied dye. Her face was disfigured with a thick, gelid scar along her jawline and a left eyelid that drooped like it had fallen asleep on duty. She carried the thick, condensed odour of unwashed flesh and sour milk. She wore a faded grey t-shirt and jeans that hung too low, revealing a fringe of wrinkled, off white stomach.
Louise grimaced and looked around for assistance.
‘Please Lou, have you sent it in?’
Louise looked at the other woman and realised she was not another at all.
Older yes, but beaten with the club of hard years and missed opportunities until what stood in front of her was an insult made tangible.
‘Oh fuck off, you can’t be me.’ Louise said.
Louise held no truck with weakness and here, was its avatar wearing some of her features like hunter’s trophies.
The elder version cackled with bitterness and put her hands in front of her. Louise noted the yellowed nails, packed with dirt.
‘No, it’s me. I mean you. Just tell me you’ve not sent the paperwork in. Or at least that you didn’t forge the signatures. Please?’
Louise’s skin rose in gooseflesh, she darted her expression around to make sure no one was in earshot. Voices travelled in the town hall, and someone was always listening. She sneered and swallowed the knob of nausea that was stuck at the back of her throat.
This could not possibly be her. She would never have let herself look that bad.
The older woman smiled and revealed an abandoned graveyard of teeth.
‘You stupid bitch. You have, haven’t you?.’
Louise started to back away, holding onto the polished oak banister for support as her world collapsed in on itself.
‘David had no idea. They won’t check.’ she said.
Louise heard the pleading in her voice and hated herself for it. She wanted to ask who this version of her was, where she had come from, what she could pass back to her.
‘They will when David and the others tell them you faked their signatures, you stupid cunt.’
The girl from the Barracks was never that far from the surface and she pushed forward, steeling herself against the barrage of foul, bacteria-strewn breath that peeled a layer of skin from her face.
‘No, this is bollocks. I don’t know you are but -‘
The woman’s arms shot up, clamped onto Louise’s shoulders and she smiled in a way that suggested pity and beneath that, a terrible and complete madness.
‘No, and unless I fix it, you will know me. Every time you look in the mirror.’
She shoved Louise hard and she toppled backwards. The back of her head hit the lip of the stairs with a wet crack that was loud in the solemn air of the town hall. A final riot of her broken brain revealed the woman standing over her, already beginning to fade into translucence.
‘It’s better this way, love. We can always try again.’
The world went away and Louise, thwarted and confused, went along with it.