Dual Roles

Written by James P. Beery


She awoke and immediately realized two things: the first was that a digital alarm clock was beeping very close to her ears, and the second was that she didn't have a digital alarm clock.

Micki lifted her head from the pillow and looked around for the source of the noise. She found it sitting innocently on an endtable and silenced it with a swipe of her hand. Shaking the fog from her mind, her first thought was that Johnny was playing some kind of practical joke like the ones he had pulled back when he started working at Curious Goods. If he's pulling another one, I swear I'll kill him, she thought as she swung her legs over the side of the bed. But as the fog lifted from her mind and her eyes adjusted to the dim light, all thoughts of practical jokes faded with one look at her surroundings.

Pre-dawn light filtered through curtains behind her, but there was enough to see that she wasn't anywhere familiar to her. The room was small and painted light blue or maybe gray, and had only a twin-size bed, endtable, and a small dresser for furnishings. Standing up, she discovered two doorways in a corner to her left; one led to a tiny bathroom and the other opened onto a small living room with only a couch and coffee table for furnishings, with a kitchenette shoved into a corner like an afterthought. She also noticed a suitcase and a smaller bag near the door. As she explored her unfamiliar surroundings, Micki switched on every light and ran her hands over various surfaces, trying to understand what was going on.

On an impulse, Micki had decided to treat Johnny and Jack to a night on the town. They had closed the store early and taken in a movie before heading to a nice bar and grill that Johnny had frequented back when he worked on cars for a living. As it turned out, they had all gotten quite drunk (which was certainly not normal), but they'd had a good time. After taking a taxi home with Jack she had gone right to sleep... in her own bed. And then she woke up here.

Getting a little drunk certainly doesn't explain all this, she thought. Turning on the living room light, she saw a set of casual clothes laid out on the couch. She looked down at the oversized T-shirt she had evidently worn to bed (Do I even own one of these?) and decided that, whatever was going on, she should at least be presentable. As she finished dressing her eyes caught sight of a telephone on the arm of the couch, and she quickly sat down and dialed the number for the store. Even if Jack was still sleeping, the basement phone would be loud enough to wake him up. She pressed the last number, waited -

"We're sorry. The number you have dialed is not in service. Please hang up and dial agian. We're sorry..." The recorded message repeated as Micki sank onto the couch, the receiver slipping from her hand. "What the hell is going on here?" she whispered to the empty room. She sat there, gently rocking back and forth, not even noticing that time was passing.

The knock that came from the door startled her out of confusion for a moment, just long enough for a cry of surprise to work its way into her throat. She barely managed to choke it back before saying, "Y - yes?"

"Time to get going. Plane leaves in ninety minutes, dear," came a strangely familiar voice from the hallway.

Plane? I'm not going anywhere until somebody tells me what's going on, she thought as she crossed over to the door. "Just a minute," she said as she looked through the peephole.

"Hurry up, will ya? Traffic is gonna be horrible if we hang around here much longer." The man turned his face to the door and, just for a moment, Micki wondered if she were dead and visiting the spirits of those she had loved in life. He was older (of course he was older; the last time they had met he was ten years old), and he had put a little weight on his slender frame as well. But his hair was the same wavy dark mass she had known so long ago, and his eyes still held that playful look despite a few lines around them. "Ryan?" she breathed.

An instant later Micki tore the door open and rushed into the hall, taking him in a bear hug as tears flooded from her eyes. "OhmyGodRyanIneverthoughtI'dseeyouagainthankGodyou'reback-" she babbled, gripping him tighter as her tears were tinged with laughter.

"Wha...?" Hands tightened around her forearms as the man tried to pull away from her embrace. "Lou, are you okay?"

"Ryan, it's me, Micki. Don't you remember?"

A look of concern passed over his face for a moment; then he pushed past her into the apartment. "Yeah, I remember that if we don't get moving soon traffic is gonna be a bitch."

"Ryan..."

"It's John, Lou. My name is John, remember? We used to work together." He sat down on the couch and absently flipped through a magazine on the coffee table.

"No... your name is Ryan Dallion. We're cousins, we used to run an antique store together-"

"Oh, God. Lou, don't do this. Not now." He stood up and gripped her shoulders. "Have you been taking your pills?"

"What pills?"

"Prozac, or Zoloft, or whatever antidepressant-of-the-month they've got you on now." He picked up the smaller bag by the door and rifled through it, finally pulling out a small prescription bottle. "Lidocil. I've never even heard of this one, Lou. How long have you been on it?"

"I'm not on any pills, and my name is not Lou. Ryan, why don't you remember me?"

"Stop calling me that. Your name is Louise Robey, and mine is John LeMay. We're actors. Micki and Ryan are just roles that we play." He gently sat her down on the couch, trying to read her expression.

"No, that's not true. I know who I am!" Micki shook her head, as if she could simply will away the events around her.

"Lou, we've got to call your doctor. You're not... you're not thinking straight."

"I'm fine, Ryan. I just... I just..." And then the tears of confusion came out, the tears of fear that had been building since her waking in this strange place. She felt his arms close around her, and in them she felt the safety she had yearned for these past few years. And she found it in the embrace of a man she both trusted with her life and had just met.

Shhh... it's okay, Lou. You'll be okay. I'm here now."


After what seemed like hours Micki realized that she had stopped crying. She gently lifted her head from the man's shoulder, unsure of wherther he was Ryan or John or someone else entirely. As their eyes met, she found that his were filled with concern. "Are you feeling better?" he asked.

"A little, I guess."

"That's good." He flashed one of the lopsided grins she had found so charming about Ryan. "I was afraid you weren't going to come out of it this time."

"Come out of it? Ryan - John - what's going on?"

The smile fled his face. "You... you really think you're Micki. You didn't come out of it at all."

"Come out of what? Dammit, if you know something, anything - "

He put a calming hand on her shoulder. "Don't get yourself all worked up again. It won't do any good; it only makes these spells last longer. Lou - I mean, Micki - lately you've been having some kind of fugue spells every now and then. When they happen, you... think that you're really Micki, and that everything we do on the show is real." He looked away before continuing. "From what Frank tells me, these spells started about a year ago. You got into therapy right away and, up until two weeks ago, they were manageable. But then you started going under for longer and longer periods and it got harder and harder to bring you out. In the letters you wrote to me you said that it happened mostly while you were on the set. Then Frank called me last week and said that you'd had some kind of minor breakdown on the street. He asked me to come up here and try to help you through this, like maybe a familiar face could be good for you... along with a vacation. I guess I got here a little too late, huh?"

"Show? What show? And who's Frank?" she asked.

"Frank Mancuso. He's the executive producer. You know, one of the Hollywood guys whose name you always see at the end of a TV show. He's also your boss. And the show is called Friday the 13th: The Series."

"It feels more like The Twilight Zone today."

"Yeah, I'll bet. Anyway, Frank said that I should take you on a trip somewhere, so you could take some time to recharge. I know I certainly needed it when I decided to leave."

"Leave?"

"Yeah, I quit the show a year ago, right after the second season. I think the pressure was getting to me; I had nightmares, hand tremors, even hallucinations. I thought I might go crazy if I stayed there. Now it seems like I was more correct than I had ever hoped." He looked back at her. "Do you remember anything about the show?"

"Not about working on any television series. I'm not an actress."

John picked up her bag again and pulled out her wallet. "I don't suppose you remember where the number for your therapist is?" Micki shook her head helplessly. "That's okay. It's gotta be one of these..." He picked up the phone and began dialing. "Hope you don't mind that we missed out flight."

Caught up in her own thoughts, she didn't reply. After a few short calls John turned back to her. "Your therapist - Dr. Miller - is out of town until next week. I think that you should talk to someone, though."

"I'm talking to you."

"I mean professional help, like a psychiatrist."

"It didn't seem to help much, did it?" Micki stood up and paced nervously around the room.

"Want a cigarette? Might help you relax."

"What? No, I don't smoke."

John shook his head and chuckled in spite of himself. "Then you certainly aren't the Lou I remember. She'd have gone through half a pack by now."

"I'm not her, am I? I'm a figment of her imagination. An illusion. I'm not real at all." She looked over at John, an idea forming in her mind. "Take me to where the show is filmed."

"You're supposed to be on vacation, remember? And I'm sure as hell not gonna take you there while you're still in a fugue state."

"Don't you see? If I can see the sets, see that what I think is real is just TV fakery, it might snap Lou out of it." And then I won't exist... but if I'm not real, then what does it matter? she thought with a touch of bitterness.

John sat in silence for a moment, then grabbed her jacket and handed it to her. "Okay. I'm out of ideas."

As they got in his rental car, Micki spoke up. "Where are we? I mean, what city are we in?"

"Toronto. Actually, most of the show is filmed just outside of Toronto. That's where Goody's is."

"Goody's?"

"Gooderham & Sons. They own the building we have most of the sets in, including the store."

"Oh." She looked out the window at the mass of traffic around them and thought about how much it reminded her of traffic in Chicago. Of course, her Chicago was really Toronto; they might have actually filmed scened on this freeway, she realized.

"You okay?"

"Just nervous. I don't know how I'm going to react. I mean, what if I don't come out of it this time?"

"Let's just try it first before we think about that. One thing at a time, okay?"

They drove the rest of the way in silence. Passing through an open gate manned by a single security guard, Micki recognized her surroundings immediately as the neighborhood where Curious Goods was located. John pulled in to a normally-empty lot that was now filled with cars and three small camper-type trailers, and he pulled to a stop by one near the middle of the lot. "First stop on the Reality Express: Lou's trailer."

"I hardly think that humor is appropriate in this situation."

"Sorry. That's just my way of coping."

"Yeah, you and Ryan both." John unlocked the door with her keys and gestured for her to enter. As they went inside the first thing Micki noticed was how cramped the space was. It was obvious that the trailer had been occupied for quite some time; pillows of various colors and styles adorned many surfaces, a large glass ashtray dominated the tiny table, a framed gold record was hung on one wall. Micki leaned in to examine it closer. "Louise and the Creeps? I was a singer?" she asked incredulously.

"For a while. A couple of your songs got some airplay but the group didn't last long. You've done some modelling, too."

"I remember... my modelling days, I mean. Not Lou's."

A moment of silence passed between them. "Listen, I'm gonna go and talk to Jon and Miles about letting you on the set. They're the supervising producers, and I think they might want to know what's going on. I'll be back in twenty minutes, tops. Okay?"

"Sure." Micki watched as he trotted across the lot and into one of the buildings, then sat down at the table and picked up a butt from the unemptied ashtray: Winston 100's were evidently her cigarette of choice. Stupid habit, she thought. But then, I don't smoke. The trailer was filled with knickknacks and reminders of the person she was in another life. An album of Lou's modelling career caught her eye, and she examined it for a while, wondering if her own career could have been so successful.

An idea crept into her mind: If I were her - and in a way, I am - I would have kept a journal. Focusing on this thought, Micki began going through every cabinet and drawer in the small trailer, but turned up no sign of her alter ego's diary.

A knock came from the door, followed by John's voice: "You still in there?"

"Yeah, come on in." The door swung open revealing John... and two guests. If it had been any other day, micki would have immediately recognized them as Jack Marshak and Johnny Ventura; todyy she wouldn't even try to guess at their names. By the looks on their faces she could thell that they were concerned about something, most likely about her.

John closed the door and leaned on a counter after they had all entered; there was no place to sit now. "Micki, I'd like you to meet Chris Wiggins - " he pointed to Jack " - and Steve Monarque. I'm assuming you know who they play."

"Of course. I just wish you guys really were who you look like."

Chris spoke first. "John told us what happened this morning. I knew you were having problems, but I had no idea it was this serious."

"How are you doing?" Steve piped up.

"Kind of scared... mostly confused. I'm glad you're here, though."

"We'll do whatever we can to help," Chris said. "John told us you want to look at the set, that it might jar you out of this fugue."

"Is it all right?" she asked, turning to John.

"Yeah, everyone's getting an early lunch today. We'll have a couple of hours without anybody around. We better stay here until they clear out. Jon and Miles don't want to broadcast the fact that your problems are so severe. That's how nasty rumors get started, and those can wreck your career in a hurry. It's easier if we don't have to answer any questions."

"Speaking of questions, I have one: does anybody know if I kept a journal?" she asked.

The three men exchanged looks. "Not that I know of," Chris volunteered. "I take it you've been looking in here."

"And having no luck.. Of course, it could be back at the apartment."

"Why do you want to find it?" asked Johnny.

"I think it might show some kind of pattern, like what brings these fugues on, and it might have some clues as to how to bring me out of it."

"It makes sense," John said as he opened her tiny refrigerator. "Do you mind if I - ?"

"Go ahead. I'm kind of hungry myself," Micki replied.

"Jeez. Lettuce, sprouts, cauliflower... what the hell is this, okra? Nothing but rabbit food," he uttered disgustedly. He soon returned with a bag of baby carrots that he offered to Micki.

"We eat the same things. I guess we're both trying to watch out weight."

"Isn't that the case with every young woman?" Steve asked, and received grunts of agreement from everyone else. Their conversation turned to the eating habits of their characters, and it wasn't too surprising that the habits were very similar. Chris even told them why he never had coffee on the show; an old ulcer had finally healed and he didn't want to aggravate it. He wouldn't even pretend to drink coffee.

"Jack never told us why he won't drink coffee. He just says he can't," Micki replied to this.

"I think it's clear, guys." John had been watching out one the small windows as the crew deserted the set. "Let's get going."

Micki was awestruck as they approached the building. It looked exactly like Curious Goods, which, she supposed, it was meant to. The sign was almost new, brown and white (not the ugly white lettering on green they had used for two years), and the green paint was chipped and peeling on every windowframe. There was even a deeply worn track in the concrete right in front of the door.

As John opened the door, Micki almost felt like she had returned to the palce she had called home for nearly three years now... except for the fact that a huge camera dominated the middle of the store. They ascended the steps up to the main floor of the store but the men stayed a discreet distance behind her, allowing her to get her bearings before they went any further. As far as she could tell, everything was the same. The bucktoothed marionette still hung over one of the the glass display cases, the little oriental bell that many customers had looked at but nobody wanted to but was still sitting inocently right underneath it... everything was the same.

Steve spoke first. "Where do we start?"

"In my room, I suppose." Micki climbed the stairs quickly and turned the corner, barely hearing John telling her to stop. She took, one, two, three steps up the next flight before realizing that the steps ended at a plywood barrier two steps in front of her. "Where's my room?" she asked as John came up behind her.

"It's a set for a TV show, remember? It would be a real pain lugging all the camera gear upstairs every time we had to shoot a scene in the kitchen or your bedroom." He led the way back downstairs and then to the back door, going through and headong off to the right. There was a plywood wall with a door set into it several steps away. He opened it, led them in, and suddenly Micki found herself standing in the kitchen, between the refrigerator and the bathroom door.

"We come in through the closet?" she asked.

"It's the only door we never use on the show," Steve said. "We only just got the bathroom built this year."

"Where do the stairs go?" Micki peered into the darkened stairwell, half expecting to be able to walk down into the store.

"Oh, down to the cellar. This building is huge, used to be some kind of factory warehouse, I think. There are about six stairways leading down there," Chris said. "All of the sets are on the main floor. The Vault is the next one over."

Micki opened the french doors that led to her room and opened her endtable drawer, which was where she kept her own journal back at the store. She was rewarded with an empty drawer.

"Is any of this helping?" John said as he opened her dresser drawers - all empty.

"It all looks the same, but I know it's not real. But I'm not remembering anything yet." Frustrated, Micki walked over to the balcony doors and opened them to let in some fresh air, and found that the only thing she could let in was a view of a large closed metal door, instead of the normal view of the alley and the next building over. Think, Micki. If you wanted to keep something private at the store, where would you put it?

"Hidden compartments."

"What?" John and Chris said in unison, and Micki realized that she had spoken aloud.

"Hidden compartments. The ones Uncle Lewis hid his files and the manifest in."

"They're back on the main set," John replied.

"It makes sense. We haven't used any of those compartments in two years or more. They'd make a great hiding place," Chris said.

Micki led the way back to the first-floor set and headed towards the couch. Looking up at the ceiling vent, she caught sight of a small book sitting just to the side of the vent. "Gotcha," she muttered, twisting the railing support that would open the vent grille.

Nothing happened.

Chris stepped up and reached into the grille. "This thing never worked right. The design guys tried for days, but the strings they rigged always got snagged and snapped." His fingers found a small latch and the grille popped open. Chris reached in and picked up the book. "I presume this is yours."

Micki took the book and sat at the desk, opening to the first page. Immediately she became aware of three pairs of eyes looking over her shoulders. "This is private, you know."

"Sorry. Just trying to help," said Steve.

Micki turned her attention back to the book. There were only a few pages' worth of entries, but she immediately recognized the elegant cursive writing as her own. As she read, understanding flowered in her mind in a way she had never experienced before. She read the words in silence, then closed the book when she finished and looked at the three men.

"Well?" asked John, who had been pacing nervously.

"I think I know what's going on, and I think we can fix it. I know I'm real, and I think she knew that as well... she just didn't know how to deal with it. This journal is a record she's been keeping since she started having fugue spells. She wrote down everything she could remember about the experiences she had. It all started right after you left the show, John... she began having dreams about life through my eyes. The dreams, even the pleasant ones, were startlingly real. You see, the dreams, and later the fugue spells, were when her mind somehow copied my own. No wonder she thought she was going crazy."

"Yeah... keep going, L - Micki," said Steve.

"I think that what happened last night was that we both went to sleep. She had another dream... but this time, whatever guard I had was down. I went out drinking with Jack and Johnny last night and I think the intoxication allowed her to cross over completely... and I crossed over here, into her body. We sor of exchanged roles, I guess."

"I'm sure she'll be reassured that she's not crazy," said Chris. "The question is, can we switch you back again?"

"I hope not by getting you drunk. You don't reat well to hangovers," John said, and they all shared a brief laugh.

"Hey, what about hypnosis?" Steve said. "That might bring on this fugue spell, but from the other way. It might bring Lou into you instead of you into her."

"It might work, if we had somebody who knew how to do it," Chris brought up.

"Wait, wait a minute. Just switching us back won't end this. It stopped for John when he left the show, but if we do this and Lou keeps on acting on the show it won't stop. I'll keep coming back,"

"So what can we do? Leave you here to learn all her lines?" John said.

"No.. but you can quit the series. Listen to me: what's to keep the same thing from happening to you, Chris, or to you, Steve? There's some kind of connection between our worlds, or planes, or whatever you want to call them. I think it's because of the powers we deal with at the store, and if your show keeps going... one day, this might happen and may not be reversible. I don't even know if it's reversible now."

"She's right," said Chris, and they all looked at him. "For quite some time I've been having dreams about living life through Jack's eyes. But the dreams have never been too intense, and I learned about lucid dreaming when I was a young man. That's where you control your dreams and interact with them. I've managed to keep things under control... but I've been having them more frequently lately."

"Why didn't you tell anybody?" Steve asked.

"I didn't think it was too important. They weren't interfering with my life or work, and Louise never told any of us she was having dreams as well, so I didn't make the connection." He looked at his companions. "I think she's right. If we keep going on, we might very well end up in a more serious situation than we can imagine."

"Then it's settled. I enjoy a steady paycheck just like the next guy, but I don't think it's worth these kinds of problems. As soon as Jon and Miles get back, we need to tell them. Besides, out contracts are up for renewal. We can just refuse to sign. They can't really recast the entire show, can they?" Steve said.

"Not likely. I mean, look at the outcry when I left and Steve came in. If they tried that again, they'd lose all of their viewers," John said.

"Now all we need to do is switch Lou and myself back."

John walked up beside her and removed something from his pocket. "I've always wanted to try this," he said. The item he held in his hand was a silver pocket watch on a chain. "This might help. Lou gave this to me when I decided to leave, kind of a going-away present." He opened it and showed her the inscription: To the best of friends, all my hopes. L.A.R. "I figure it's appropriate."

"Karmic, even," finished Chris.

Micki leaned back in the chair as John began to swing the watch back and forth slowly in front of her eyes. His voice was calm and even when he spoke. "Look only at the watch. Do not look at anything else. The room is fading away, and there is nothing but the watch and the sound of my voice."

His voice started becoming fuzzy as Micki's eyes closed involuntarily. "Think back to the place you call home... those people you call friends... how much you care for them... think of Jack... Johnny... Ryan... the way you used to talk with them, or how much time you spent fixing up the store...think of how much you want to be with them again -"

Then the blackness took her, and she heard no more.


"Micki!" she heard someone shout dimly. "C'mon, wake up! Jack! Get up here!"

She slowly became aware that she was on her back, lying on something hard and flat. Her strength was gone, though, and none of her muscles would respond. A short eternity passed before she heard footsteps thundering toward her. "Oh my God, what happened?" cane a voice that sounded very much like Chris' ... or Jack's.

"We were clearing the table and she just collapsed. I don't know what happened!"

There was silence for a few moments; then an acrid odor crept into her nostrils and assaulted her sense of smell. Instinctivele she recoiled, her eyes snapping open and a shudder running through her body. As the two figures came into focus her memory rushed back to her, and she grabbed Johnny's sleeve, looking around wildly at the familiar surroundings - at least, what she hoped were familiar surroundings.

"Micki, it's all right," came Jack's soothing voice as both men helped her up into a chair. "What happened?"

Micki's gaze fell on a certain object. "Open the closet."

"What?"

"Just do it. Please."

A mystified look passed between Jack and Johnny, but then the younger man walked over and swung the door open. As he stepped away, Micki could see the familiar jumble of boxes that had resided in the tiny space for years instead of the doorway between setpieces. "Micki, what happened?" Jack asked, more insistent this time.

"I think that you'd better both sit down. This might take a while."

Both men sat silently as she explained the events of that morning, about how she and an actress who played her character in some other reality has switched roles for a time. "... and then I heard Johnny calling my name. You both know the rest."

"My God," was all Jack managed to say; Johnny, to his credit, said nothing. "It seemed like you were acting odd today, but Johnny and I thought that it was because you were feeling ill from last night. Another world, where everything we do is only a show on television... it's almost impossible to conceive. And you're sure that it won't happen again?"

"Positive. Everyone agreed not to renew their contracts with the show's producers," Micki replied, sipping at a cup of hot tea.

"Do you think that we'll stop if they stop making the TV show?" Johnny asked.

"Oh, I don't think there's any need to worry about it. What they wrote was only a reflection of our reality, after all. They might have influenced us to an extent, but our existence is certainly capable of standing on its own." Jack pondered the contents of his own cup for a moment before he continued. "Still, one has to wonder about how things might have gone if their reality had not influenced ours in the first place. Would Ryan have been killed instead of transformed? Would Lewis have broken his deal in the first place? Would I ever have had the pleasure of knowing any of you?"

"We'll probably never know. All I can say is that if they helped save Ryan's life - any of our lives - I'm glad they exist. They were all very nice, the few people that I met." An involuntary yawn escaped from Micki's mouth. "Oh, my. Where did that come from?"

"You've had a long day. Why don't you take a nap; Johnny and I can watch over things," Jack said.

"Thanks, you guys. It's good to be back home." Micki shuffled into her room and shut the doors, but instead of climbing right into her bed she opened the balcony doors and stood there for a minute or so, taking in the view of the alley and buildings she knew so well. It really is good to be home, she mused. I'm glad you let me come back, Lou. I hope you've found some peace.

Leaving the doors open she curled up on her bed and fell into a richly-deserved slumber... one without dreams.


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This page was created on May 6, 1998.
Last modified on February 10, 2005.