In July 1994, a 17-year-old Californian girl named Mercedes Phillips visited her English penpal Tanya Owens, in Cuddington, which lies just a couple of miles west of Northwich.
It was the first time Mercedes had actually met her friend, although the two girls - who were both the same age - had corresponded regularly via e-mail on the Internet on almost a daily basis. However, Tanya felt somewhat inferior to her trans-Atlantic friend. The slim-figured Mercedes was almost 6 feet tall, with long natural blonde hair and a genuine golden tan. She had sparkling sky-blue eyes, a little snub nose, and straight perfect pearly-white teeth. The petit Tanya had shoulder-length fuzzy red hair, a face dotted with freckles, and had to wear a brace on her teeth. Despite their obvious superficial differences, the two penpals got on very well together. A day after Mercedes arrived, Tanya took her jet-lagged friend to Delamere Forest and showed her many of the rural scenes and sights of local historic interest. During the tour of the countryside, a boy on a mountain bike almost ran into Tanya as he came careering down a lane. It was a 16-year-old from Weaversham named Dylan. Tanya's heart somersaulted when she saw him as she'd had her eyes on Dylan for almost a year, but he never seemed interested in her. However, Dylan was certainly interested in the ravishing Californian.
'Wow. Who are you?' Dylan asked the American girl with a look of awe.
'Mercedes.' she replied and smiled at the boy.
'Aren't you Dylan? I've seen you around.' Tanya said. She was scared to smile at the boy because of her brace.
Dylan was so besotted with the Californian he didn't reply to Tanya, he just gave a mock chuckle and said, 'Mercedes? That's a car.'
Mercedes giggled and told him, 'It's Spanish for mercy, but my Dad was a car freak.'
Tanya's heart was in turmoil. She couldn't endure the boy of her dreams being so spellbound by her friend, so she walked on and pulled Mercedes along by her elbow.
Dylan cycled after the girls until they reached Tanya's home. Before Mercedes went into Tanya's house Dylan summoned up enough guts to ask her out. Mercedes said she already had a boyfriend back home in San Diego.
'I'll be your new boyfriend then.' Dylan pertly suggested and seriously awaited a reply.
Mercedes just smiled and waved, then entered Tanya's house. Tanya glared back at Dylan then slammed the door behind her.
Over the next couple of days, wherever Tanya and Mercedes went, Dylan would follow like a demented stalker. Then one night in Tanya's home, Mercedes said she thought that Dylan was cute and handsome. She also confessed that she had split with her boyfriend back in San Diego three months ago. Tanya tried to dissuade her friend from getting involved with the boy, but it didn't work, and within a week, Mercedes and Dylan were walking about holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes. The more Mercedes got to know the boy from Weaversham, the more she realised how similar he was to her. He was a Libran like her, and he loved poetry. Mercedes was a closet poet. They were both into astronomy and they both believed in reincarnation; in fact, Dylan swore he felt as if he had met Mercedes in some previous life in Ancient Greece!
Tanya was naturally devastated, and in the end, she resigned herself to the fact that Dylan wasn't interested in her. The one hope she held onto dearly was the belief that he would fall in love with her one day; perhaps next summer, when her teeth would be brace-free.
Merecedes had to return to America in the middle of August, and she pleaded for Dylan to visit her soon in California. Dylan had five brothers and sisters, and his parents were barely able to make ends meet, never mind send their son off on holiday to the United States. Dylan was too proud to say that he didn't have the money for the flight, and promised he would visit her soon. Dylan didn't even have the money to travel to Manchester Airport to see his girlfriend off, and that day, he thought his world had ended when Mercedes left. He walked around all the places where he had strolled with her hand in hand, and inwardly cried. At least he had her home and e-mail address. When he searched his untidy bedroom, he discovered to his horror that he had lost the scrap of paper with the addresses on. He visited Tanya, but she said she'd lost Merecedes' e-mail address too. Tanya was lying of course; out of jealousy, she didn't want Dylan to have anything to do with the American.
Dylan panicked and searched his bedroom again, but couldn't find the piece of paper. He called at Tanya's house again, but the girl's mother answered and told him to stop calling for her. As Dylan walked away, he saw the envious Tanya peeping through the blinds from her bedroom window.
Coincidentally, Mercedes had accidently left Dylan's address on a piece of paper in Tanya's home in England, and when the American realised this, she e-mailed her friend and asked her to send back her boyfriend's address over the Internet. But Tanya lied and said that she didn't have Dylan's address, and she also claimed that Dylan was already dating another girl.
Mercedes cried when she read the e-mail rom Tanya. She wondered how Dylan could be so cold, and thought they'd had something so special.
The lovelorn Dylan, meanwhile, continued to roam about on his bike, reminiscing about the days he'd spent with Mercedes. She'd been the first proper girlfriend he'd ever had, and now it was all over. One Sunday afternoon at four o'clock, a fortnight after Mercedes' departure, Dylan was cycling along a country lane which was covered in dead autumn leaves. This lane, on the northern peripheries of Cuddington, ran through a a quiet wooded area, and it was one of his girlfriend's favourite spots where they had made so many promises to each other. As Dylan was lost in his emotive recollections of Merecedes, he suddenly noticed a figure walking towards him down the lane. His heart missed a beat. It was her - Mercedes.
Dylan braked his bike and in disbelief, he called out her name and dismounted his bike. Mercedes was only fifty feet away but she didn't react; it was as if she hadn't noticed him yet. As the girl walked with her head bowed, she seemed very pensive, and Dylan suddenly noticed that the girl was wearing a long white gown of some sort. The lane was covered with dry ochrous leaves which crumpled loudly under foot as Dylan strided eagerly towards Mercedes, yet the girl didn't make a sound as she walked along. Dylan was completely overjoyed and he sighed, 'You're back. I knew you'd come back to me.'
Suddenly, Mercedes wasn't there any more. She vanished, leaving Dylan rushing towards an empty cold space. He stood there, trying to fathom out what had just occurred. Was he going insane? Was it a ghost? With a mounting sense of dread he wondered if Mercedes had died and returned to him as a vision for one last time. He knew it hadn't been an hallucination or some desire image from his despairing mind. The girl had looked so real and solid, yet she had moved silently down the lane.
When Dylan went home, his mother had some good news for him. She said, 'Was this what you were looking for?' and held out a piece of paper. It was the paper with Merecedes' home and e-mail address. Dylan's mum had found it in the pocket of her son's jeans as she was putting them into the washing machine. The ecstatic Dylan grabbed the paper and kissed it. He hurried to a friend of his older brother who was on the Internet and used his PC to e-mail Mercedes.
Mercedes e-mailed him back shortly afterwards and asked him if he was still dating. Dylan was puzzled by the reply, but he and Mercedes soon realised that Tanya had fabricated the lie to put an end to their relationship. Dylan sent more messages to his American girlfriend, and he told her about the eerie incident in the wood on the outskirts of Cuddington. Mercedes told him a strange tale. At 8 am on the Sunday when Dylan had seen her wraith, Mercedes had been intensively imagining she was walking through the woods near Cuddington. On that morning, Mercedes had been so rueful and depressed at the thought of losing her English boyfriend. Dylan said he had encountered the phantom Mercedes around 4 pm, not 8 am, but his girlfriend explained that her home in California was eight hours behind the time in England. While it was 8 am in San Diego, it had been 4 pm in Cheshire. Dylan remembered the white gown the apparition had worn, so he asked Mercedes to recall what she had been wearing on that Sunday morning. She told him that she'd worn a white bathrobe because she had just showered.
What Dylan encountered in the woods that day is open to speculation, but I suspect that it was what is known in occult circles as a 'doppelganger' or phantasm of the living. These types of apparition are very common and are often mistaken for the ghost of a dead person. Some think that the doppelganger is an etheric counterpart of the physical body which is reserved for the purpose of carrying the soul after death. Occasionally, in times of illness or great distress, it would seem that this ethereal replica is somehow projected or detached from its physical counterpart through some mysterious process. Many famous people have reported this baffling phenomenon of 'bi-location' in which the doppelganger is projected over considerable distances to materialise in full view of witnesses. In his autobiography, the Irish poet and dramatist W. B. Yeats writes: 'One afternoon I was thinking very intently of a fellow student for whom I had a message. In a couple of days I got a letter from a place some hundreds of miles away where the student was. On the afternoon when I had been thinking so intently, I had suddenly appeared there amid a crowd of people in a hotel and seeming as solid as if in the flesh. My fellow student had seen me, but no one else, and had asked me to come again when the people had gone. I had vanished, but had come again in the middle of the night and had given him the message. I myself had no knowledge of either apparition.'
In the 1930s, a similar incident occurred when the Derbyshire-born novelist John Cowper Powys told the American writer Theodore Dreiser that he would project himself into the sitting-room of the latter's New York home. Powys caught his train back to a town on the Hudson where he was staying. Dreiser expected some sort of prank to take place, but two hours later, the writer happened to glance up from a book he was reading to see Powys standing in the doorway of the sitting-room with a smug smile.
The flabbergasted Dreiser dropped his book and stood up, saying: 'Well, you've kept your word - now tell me how you did it.'
As Dreiser moved towards Powys he vanished in an instant. Dreiser immediately rang Powys at his home to get to the bottom of the mystery. The novelist answered, but depsite his staggered friend's repeated requests asking how he had projected himself into the room, Powys remained tantalizingly tight-lipped up unto his death in 1964.
A rare - but chilling - experience is to come face to face with your doppelganger. The German poet Goethe once met 'himself' coming towards him in the early 19th century. According to European folklore, this should have been an omen of Goethe's imminent death, but the poet lived for many years after the disturbing experience. In Victorian times, the doppelganger was known as a 'fetch', and further back in time in ancient Greece and Egypt, the ghostly double was known as the 'ka', which was envisaged as a vaporous mirror-image of the body that was attached to the physical body by an invisible cord. This cord was said to snap when a person died.
A word of caution to those of you who intend to experiment in projecting themselves; according to the occultists, when the ka leaves the body vacated, it is prey to possession by all manner of evil spirits. You have been warned.
Copywright © Tom Slemen. All rights reserved.