Aylin was cheerful that morning.
“I thought you might like some pancakes,” she said without looking up from the stove. “I don’t get very many chances to cook, so I always like guests who enjoy food!”
Sylvia stacked pancakes onto her plate and drizzled them with maple syrup from a ceramic jug. Her conversation with Ingram the night before was still stuck in her mind. White and black, chess and go – where did it all fit?
Sylvia looked at Aylin, who was staring off into space. The angle of her chin, the shape of her eyes…
Aylin didn’t look over. “Yes?”
“I met with Ingram last night.”
“She didn’t hurt you.” Sylvia bit her lip. Aylin had stated it as a fact, rather than asking.
“No. We played chess.”
Aylin closed her eyes. “Ingram is very good at chess.”
“Have you ever played against her?” Sylvia thought she knew the answer, and she was pretty sure that Aylin knew that she knew.
“The pancakes are getting cold.”
Sylvia was undeterred. “Aylin? Are you Ingram?”
Black smoke surrounded Aylin as she lifted off her feet in the dark form transformation that Sylvia knew well. When it cleared, Ingram floated to the ground.
“Eat your pancakes.” The voice was Ingram’s, but something about it seemed distinctly like Aylin.
Sylvia stuffed a piece of pancake in her mouth as Ingram walked around the table and transformed back into Aylin. The pancake was thick and sweet, but it tasted like cardboard to her.
Sylvia finished her pancakes and got up from the table as Aylin put the rest of the stack away. She went down the back stairs and into her room without making eye contact.
In the bottom of the closet in her room, Sylvia found a small red backpack. She put her homework book in it, along with a few old books that she hadn’t finished reading. For a moment, she paused and looked into the fire. Why would Aylin have lied to her and hurt her like that?
“You can keep the books.”
Sylvia turned away from the voice. She hadn’t heard Aylin come into the room, but she had expected her to show up.
“Would you like an explanation?”
Sylvia didn’t say anything, but she nodded.
Aylin sat on the fainting couch along the wall. After a moment, she started speaking. “Ingram…”
“She’s you. Or you’re her.”
“Not exactly. Ingram and I are linked in much the same way as a day form and dark form, but we’re not the same person. We might once have been, but it was a very long time ago.” Aylin smiled. “I don’t remember it, to be honest. We are two minds who share one body.”
“So you don’t know what she’s planning?”
Aylin looked at Sylvia. “Ingram is not evil, Sylvia. She’s less afraid to use violence, but she’s not evil. To answer your question, while we can… ‘speak’ to one another, I know no more than what she chooses to reveal.” She sighed. “I could probably find out more if I chose, but that’s a two-way street. In general, we don’t conceal things from each other.”
“Then you knew she was going to hurt me?”
“I did not. I should have suspected.” Aylin stood up. “I wish you all the best.”
Sylvia didn’t hesitate for an instant. Before Aylin could leave, she wrapped her arms around the mysterious woman’s body. Aylin stiffened with shock for an instant, then relaxed and returned the hug.
“Aylin, I trust you.”
Aylin smiled. “Thank you for your faith, Sylvia. Here.” She pulled a gift box from behind her back. “Something for the road.”
As Sylvia walked through the gates of Aylin’s yard, she knew that Aylin hadn’t told her everything – but she also knew that the plot would unfold itself in time. Hefting her new sunproof umbrella, she took her first steps back towards the place she belonged: her home.