I’ve written about the phenomenon of doppelgangers in my books many times before, writes Tom Slemen.
Doppelgangers are sinister doubles of people, and are often mistaken as the person they look exactly like.
When they are seen in the vicinity of the person they strongly resemble, people assume they are looking at twins, because the doppelganger is literally a flesh-and-blood replica who may even wear the very same clothes as his or her real counterpart.
An associated phenomenon of the doppelganger is the vardøger – a Norwegian word that translates as ‘forerunner’.
In the Occult sphere, vardøger is a term meaning ‘a premonitory sound or sight of a person before he or she arrives.’ The following case is an intriguing but eerie instance of the vardøger phenomenon in action, and it took place in Wirral.
The rectangular Wirral is about ten miles long and seven miles wide, and many inhabitants of this peninsula have travelled the country and the world, unaware of the beautiful places that exist on their doorstep.
In the long-gone summer of 1970, two young women from Birkenhead, Terri Inskip and Ruth Wescombe, along with the latter’s 17-year-old cousin, Simon Wescombe (from Wallasey) decided to take a train-ride to Port Sunlight.
Terri and Ruth – who were both 19 – had decided, rather romantically, to try and find a boy they’d gone to secondary school with named Paul Peake. Upon arriving at Port Sunlight, the trio were impressed by the picturesque beauty of the garden village, and after buying sweets at a shop, they went to the Lady Lever Art Gallery, and here something rather peculiar took place.
A smartly-dressed elderly man nodded to Terri and smiled. Terri smiled back out of courtesy, but as she looked at the exhibition of paintings, the old man tapped her on the shoulder and said: "I never knew you were interested in art?"
Ruth and Simon smirked, because it was obvious from the confused expression on Terri’s face that she hadn’t a clue who the old man was, but again, out of manners, she simply smiled back at the stranger, then walked away to join her sniggering friends.
As Terri walked off, the old man made a puzzling remark. He said: "Terri, where’s Paul? You haven’t had a row have you?"
Terri froze in her tracks, and Ruth shot a sombre look at her. Terri turned, and looked back at the old grey-haired man.
"Pardon?" she said, mindful of the fact that she’d had Paul Peake on the brain for weeks, and here was a complete stranger mentioning a Paul.
"Sorry to pry," said the old man. "but I’ve never seen you out and about without him."
"Without Paul?" Terri replied, feeling a little perplexed yet intrigued.
"I apologise, for poking my nose in," said the old man sheepishly, and he shuffled out of the room.
On three further occasions that day, Terri met someone who appeared to know her, but she didn’t know who they were.
A man of around 30, with a slight Irish accent, was walking down Bolton Road, when he stopped and asked Terri how her mother was, as he’d heard she’d gone into hospital.
Terri’s mother was in the best of health, and so she told the man she didn’t know him and didn’t know what he was talking about.
The man returned a baffled look. "You’re Terri, Terri Inskip," he told her, half-turned his head, and then smiled as if he thought she was pulling his leg.
When Terri insisted she had never set eyes on the man before, he became annoyed, shook his head, and walked into a cottage on the road.
By now, Terri was somewhat unnerved by these two cases of mistaken identity.
"Let’s go home," suggested Simon. He’d had enough of the spooky occurrences, but the curiosity of the girls overruled his proposition.
They were strolling aimlessly down Corniche Road, when a middle-aged woman passed by, halted, and did a double-take at Terri.
"I thought you’d gone to Birkenhead?" said this woman.
Terri had a feeling of déjà vu – the sensation of somehow knowing what would happen next. She didn’t know what to say, and shook her head meekly.
"Here we go again," said Simon, rather cheekily.
"What’s wrong?" said the woman. She seemed very concerned.
"I think you’re mistaking me for someone," Terri told her.
"Look, I really think we should go," said Simon, nervously, and he asked his cousin Ruth to take him to the train station.
Terri hurried around a corner with Ruth and Simon in close pursuit, and headed for the train station on Greendale Road.
When they reached the station, a young man of about 20 years of age stood smoking on the platform, when he suddenly eyed up Terri.
He came over and asked if she was ‘the bird’ who was getting married to Paul Peake.
Terri was speechless.
"What’s up love? Are you dumb or something?" asked the cocky youth. A woodbine cigarette protruded from the gap of an absent tooth.
"Did he get you preggers or something?"
Luckily, the train arrived and Terri, Ruth and Simon got on it and sat as far away from the sleazy, greasy-haired nosey parker as possible. He sat down the other end of the carriage, blowing rings of smoke, and at one point was about to come and join Terri, but she told a ticket inspector he was bothering her, and the railway official had a word with the seedy-looking pest.
The train stopped at Bebington, and as it did, something took place which would haunt Terri for the rest of her life.
On the other, parallel railway track, a train was passing slowly enough for Terri to see an exact image of herself, seated next to Paul Peake.
She drew Ruth and Simon’s attention to her double, but they didn’t see her.
This sighting of her doppelganger chilled Terri to the marrow, and she never went anywhere near Port Sunlight again.
Around 1972 she heard that Paul Peake had broken his engagement with the ‘other Terri’ – a girl the Birkenhead Terri regarded as some sinister impostor.
Paul Peake later went to work in the Middle East for a few years, before emigrating to Australia. In 1981, Ruth Wescombe bumped into Paul in Alice Springs, and she told him about the weird case of an apparent doppelganger, but Paul insisted that that girl he had been engaged to at that time, was, without a shadow of a doubt, Terri Inskip.
The mystery will probably never be solved, and for all we know, perhaps Terri’s doppelganger is still at large in the world – and, well, for that matter, for all you know, perhaps your doppelganger is out there somewhere as well…