1972’s Ghost Story is a complicated show.
For the first thirteen episodes, it’s what I like to think of as “relaxedly paranormal” – there’s not a lot of blood or trauma, and the endings are usually more depressing than ironic. And there are framing segments featuring Sebastian Cabot as your host Winston Essex, a mysterious author who lives in a great big mansion full of weirdos who come to be his guests and tell him spooky stories.
Then, all of a sudden, Sebastian Cabot is gone. The show’s title is changed to Circle of Fear, and the promotional materials insist that there’s less emphasis on the supernatural. Just things like cursed wooden horses, a satanic office cult, more ghosts than ever before, and some elemental demons trapped in glasswork. Straightforward, scary situations anybody could find themselves in.
Producer William Castle – responsible for some of the most fun you can have with Vincent Price – had decided that a change was needed. While he’d patterned the host segments on his idol Alfred Hitchcock, he quickly had second thoughts. The radical changes to the genre brought about by Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 were trickling into television, and nobody could make up their mind what that would look like.
The problem wasn’t that Ghost Story was bad, it was that it was directly competing with other horror programs of the time, including the slightly more inventive The Sixth Sense and Rod Serling’s experimental Night Gallery. Ghost Story was the first casualty of this over-saturation, and all the changes in the world couldn’t save it from the chopping block. (70’s audiences kind of baffle me sometimes, because this was a way more consistent show than Night Gallery.)
Okay! Today’s episode is called “Alter-Ego” and features the legendary Helen Hayes as the best fifth grade teacher ever, Miss Gilden. It’s based on a story by Stanley Ellin, with a teleplay by D.C. Fontana. D.C. Fontana is probably best known for working on Star Trek and being a pioneering woman in some male dominated genres, while Ellin is already a familiar name around here because he wrote “HelpWanted.”
The introduction begins with Winston Essex telling us a little bit about the game of chess.
Chess was having a pop culture moment thanks to Bobby Fischer’s record breaking year in 1971. It was amplified by the Cold War match between Fischer and Boris Spassky in the summer of ’72, and soon after, every weird introverted kid in America was a chess nut.
“It’s based on war,” Essex reminds us, moving the pieces on an outdoor board for emphasis. “Attack. Defend. Capture.”
But chess isn’t as quiet a game as it looks, he warns. Sometimes, it can get pretty bananas…
The cheerful, loveable Miss Gilden makes her way to the Cameron house to drop off some homework for Bobby, a boy in her class who’s been out of school with a broken leg. She rings the bell and says hello to Molly, Bobby’s mom.
Upstairs, Bobby is hanging out in his wheelchair, practicing his chess game with the help of a book on opening manoeuvers. He looks a little bored but otherwise fine as he wheels himself around the table to play the next move. Poor kid. Nobody to play his ominously symbolic game with.
Things liven up for Bobby when a hand that looks just like his picks up the white queen and places it on an adjoining square. (I should probably let everyone know that I know zilch about the rules and terminology of chess. My game is Clue, because I always win at Clue. So please excuse any chess related errors on my part.)
Bobby looks up, startled but intrigued, to see his exact double standing on the other side of the board.
Important to note: Bobby is an only child.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Miss Gilden has gone on her merry way.
Jack, Bobby’s dad, saunters out of the kitchen with a can of beer in one hand and the daily paper in the other, and gets comfy in his sittin’ chair. Jack is being played by Charles Aidman, an extraordinarily skilled character actor that I’m biased against because he took over for Ross Martin on The Wild Wild West after Martin suffered a massive heart attack. Through no fault of his own, the character of Jeremy Pike was a watery imitation of Artemus Gordon that I resent. A lot. So every time I see him I think: “Oh. It’s Jeremy,” instead of: “Yay! It’s Charles Aidman!” (I’m working on it.)
Molly asks Jack if he could take up Bobby’s homework; she’s noticed that Bobby’s been kind of lonely with nobody to hang out with or play with, and she can only do so much from the mom position. She’d like Jack to make a bit of an effort today.
Jack’s tired from work, but we get only the minimal grumblings of somebody who isn’t opposed to doing the chore, they just don’t want to get out of their chair. (“Oh come on, that’s so reasonable and I just sat down…”) He also mentions that he thinks Bobby’s been kind of distant lately, and it’s been hard to connect with him. Molly subtly hints that this is why making an effort is important, and unlike most TV dads, Jack grasps this right away. Up the stairs he goes.
When Jack pops into Bobby’s room with a warm smile and a bunch of homework assignments, the kid’s mysterious double is nowhere to be seen, and Bobby is acting all normal and junk. Like he didn’t just see a supernatural copy of himself.
Jack and Bobby tell each other that their days were fine, even though we know Jack is exhausted from work and Bobby’s been so bored his little mind might be hallucinating a twin for him. Jack hints that if Bobby keeps up with his schoolwork and doesn’t fall behind because of his leg, as a reward he’ll get some super-fancy chess set he really wants.
There’s a good chance Bobby is a nerd.
His dad gives him a pat on the arm and tells him to keep fighting the good fight, and leaves the door slightly ajar when he goes. This is something that I’ve noticed in real life. Once they have kids, people permanently lose their ability to shut doors all the way.
Bobby quickly looks around his room and whispers: “Where’d you go?”
Behind him, the double appears at the bedroom door, peeking out from inside the room at the hallway. Bobby seems excited that his double is back, and he asks if he made a ghost clone up out of his head. The double gives a non-comital yes.
“So then you’re not real?”
“Oh, I’m real alright.” The double replies with a cold, un-childlike smile as he plays the next move in their game.
Bobby is stoked to have a chess buddy, and cheerfully wheels up to the board to plan his strategy.
The double takes in the room, strolling up to the window and glancing at the street, then examining the toy soldiers Bobby has lined up on his bureau, and finally having a good long look at his own reflection. The way you might take in a new haircut.
Evening falls, and downstairs Molly feeds the cat while Jack makes lame jokes, totally unaware that Jewish folk horror is playing out in the room above them.
After the cat polishes off its Meow Mix, it scampers up to check on Bobby and sneaks in through the parentally ajar door. Bobby and his double have been playing chess all afternoon by the looks of things. The cat reacts very negatively towards the double, hissing at him and darting back out of the room.
Cats are the early warning system for sinister supernatural forces, like smoke alarms set off by evil.
“You can’t beat me.” The double tells Bobby, as their chess game carries on.
Bobby, keeping things casual in only the way a fifth grader could in this situation, says that Miss Gilden thinks he’s very good at chess. She’s been encouraging him, and she was the one who taught him to play.
The double says he doesn’t care for Miss Gilden.
This upsets Bobby, probably because it’s the first serious indication that the double is profoundly different from him. He loves his teacher, and his double dislikes her.
“Are you going to stay?” Bobby wonders.
“Do I bother you?” The double tilts his head slowly.
“Of course not!” Bobby scoffs, “I made you up, so I can unmake you!”
Michael-James Wixstead is the actor playing Bobby, and he’s head and shoulders above a lot of creepy kids as the double. There’s no looking up eerily from under the brows, or staring, or any of that really cliché stuff that can be quite unsettling (especially if the kid is blond). Impressively, what he does is play the double with the body language of an adult, and he plays Bobby very naturally with more fidgeting and expressiveness. Neither character is too exaggerated, so it comes off as super unsettling to see them together.
This double is trouble, and it is clear as crystal.
He checkmates Bobby, then heads to the closet to pick out something to wear for his first day at school.
The next morning, Miss Gilden is teaching her class all about the history of Texas when she notices that Bobby is back, and scribbling something rather ferociously at his desk during her lecture. She gently asks him to try to pay attention, and continues on about Mexican law in the 1820’s.
The double glances up at her disdainfully, then goes back to his scribbling.
After finding a place in the lesson where she can pause, she asks him to bring her his drawing, but he ignores her. She sticks her lucky golden pencil in her bun and walks to his desk to take his notebook. As she reaches for it, very gently, the double flinches like she was about to hit him.
“Don’t!” He screams, and pulls the notebook to his chest like a shield.
Miss Gilden is taken aback. She tells Bobby that she just wants to look at his book, and sighs that he’s being “excessively difficult today.” When she gets the notebook away from him, she’s surprised to discover a drawing of a stick figure being hanged. The stick figure has something that looks like a golden pencil in its hair.
The double gets detention.
Back at home, Bobby isn’t doing so great, poor kid. He asks his hamster, Wordsworth, what he thinks the double might be. Wordsworth doesn’t answer because he’s a hamster.
Bobby hopes the double is gone for good.
But, of course, the double isn’t gone at all. He’s busily stealing Bobby’s school hours life and creeping out Miss Gilden. She’s been grading papers during his detention, and at five to four, she decides to have a little chat with the thing she thinks is Bobby. So she sticks her golden pencil in her bun, and sits down across from him, and confesses that she doesn’t know what to make of him.
“I know that unfortunate accident kept you out for a long time, but that’s no excuse for daydreaming. And that morbid drawing… what were you thinking of?”
The double calmly replies that he doesn’t want to tell her the answer. He flips the page in his textbook and pretends to ignore her. She tries to persuade him to let her know what’s going on, and when he snubs her again, she puts a bit more edge on the request.
“You won’t like it,” he warns.
She says she wants the answer.
“I was thinking I’d like to kill you, Miss Gilden. I was thinking I’d like to see you dead.”
Well, he was right about one thing: Miss Gilden doesn’t like that. In fact, she dislikes it enough to march his demonic clone keister straight to the principal’s office.
The principal is so 70’s, you’ll crave Tab and hear disco music as soon as you look upon him. But he seems alright enough, not lordly or neurotic; and when he finds out Bobby’s been kept after school, he notes that it’s unusual for Bobby to have discipline problems. (It’s an unspoken fact that Bobby is a bit of an apple polisher.)
He asks Bobby what the deal is, and the double explains that he wasn’t paying attention in class and got detention for it. The principal nods with kindly understanding. But then the double claims that Miss Gilden started acting paranoid and weird, and she said to him that she knew he wanted to kill her. She said that she thought he might like to see her die.
As she starts to dispute all of this, Miss Gilden notices that her golden pencil has gone from her hair. It was a gift from her mother, and very important to her. The principal suggests that she go and look for it in her classroom, and she hurries off with the unmistakable urgency of a woman who’s lost something expensive. You know that twisting gut panic when one of your good earrings falls out? Or when you realize you might have thrown away something really important? Or – the worst one – when months after you move into a new place, you suddenly realize that you left a family heirloom in a cupboard at the old apartment?
Luckily for Miss Gilden, her pencil is on the floor of the classroom right next to Bobby’s desk.
Golden pencils were considered appropriate gifts for a woman who had just graduated into teaching or secretarial work, or anything else that needed a lot of writing. The pencil ones looked a lot like knitting needles, and were super fancy versions of the mechanical pencils we have today. Eventually they fell out of style as it dawned on people that solid gold writing implements that needed costly refills made weird presents. Though golden pens experienced a recent comeback thanks to Christina Hendricks wearing one on Mad Men.
Back at the Cameron house, Molly is doing the sweeping when she discovers something odd.
There’s a whole bunch of dead flies in the house. A whole bunch. And they all look dried out, like somebody’s suffocated them or something.
Up in his room, little Bobby is looking quite pale. He’s got a model airplane he’s been working on with his dad, and he spins the propeller thoughtfully as his double appears behind him. When he realizes he’s not alone anymore, he demands to know where the double has been.
When the double explains that he’s been at school, Bobby is confused. He thought the double was supposed to be for chess and keeping him company. The double ignores the complaint and reports that he hasn’t been getting along with Miss Gilden.
“I don’t think she’ll like what’s going to happen to her…” The double predicts.
Meanwhile, Miss Gilden is spraying the ever-loving crap out of a rose bush with an aerosol can brimming with the finest 1970’s pesticide. She’s not even wearing gloves. Her rose garden is her treasure, and the flowers look happy and big and colourful, so whatever’s in that can is probably fine? I wouldn’t put money on that, though.
A neighbour lady calls out to Miss Gilden and offers her a jar of apricot preserves. Because of this, we manage to learn some things about Miss Gilden. Turns out she’d been living with and taking care of her elderly mother who recently passed away, and the transition has been rough on her. The roses had originally been her mother’s, and that’s also probably why she’s been so nervous about losing that golden pencil. Also, this coming school term is going to be her last as a teacher. She’s retiring, and though her pension’s not going to be much, it’ll be enough to keep her comfortable and retirement will give her plenty of time to work on the garden.
The neighbour lady asks if Miss Gilden is going to miss the kids once she’s done teaching.
“Yes!” Miss Gilden smiles fondly, then thinks suddenly of Bobby’s double and his unsettlingly hollow gaze, “Most of them.”
Back at the Cameron house, Jack is checking on Bobby before bed and asks if he’s noticed a lot of flies in his room. Molly’s mentioned the creepy dead insects, and Jack’s doing a half-assed investigation of it. He notices that Bobby is reading his new book on chess and asks if it’s got anything useful in it.
Bobby wonders why Jack doesn’t take up chess. Jack smiles kind of ruefully and admits that he doesn’t think he’d be smart enough. (I find that being smart is second to being patient in chess, and that’s why I personally stink at it. You know what’s a great game? Mario Kart. I’ve never seen a dybbuk play Mario Kart.)
Jack jokes that Bobby can be the genius in the family, and he’ll chauffer him around when he’s a Grandmaster. The kid is surprised that his father is familiar with the term Grandmaster – despite this being the height of the 20th century chess craze.
“I’ve been reading up,” Jack says with a mixture of pride and embarrassment.
“You don’t normally read.” (Wow, Bobby. Rude.)
Jack just smiles and says it never hurts to improve yourself. Attaboy Jack, sorry your kid is being awful, but maybe it’s because a dybbuk is attacking his life.
Speaking of, Bobby choses this moment of bonding to ask the old man if he’s ever read about people having supernatural doubles. A conversation all boys and their fathers inevitably have. Jack dodges it by saying it’s too spooky, and look at the time! Go to bed, bookworm – and don’t stay up all night playing one person chess games against yourself by the glow of the eerie moon.
Good old dad takes his leave, and the double appears sitting in the chair by the door.
He taunts Bobby for wanting a new chess partner, and accuses him of trying to replace him. Then he strolls over to their game, and puts Bobby in checkmate.
Bobby tells him that he doesn’t want him to go to school for him anymore.
The double shrugs off the request and says that if he comes home and tells Bobby all about what happened that day, it’s practically the same as Bobby being there himself.
The next morning, as the school bell rings, the double heads into the classroom with a pitcher of water. His mind games with Miss Gilden escalate as he drops off the water, and promises her that he hasn’t poisoned it. She looks at him, aghast, and as the other children start to file in, the double starts sobbing and cowering like she’d been hitting him.
Miss Gilden backs away and demands an apology for his “outrageous behaviour.” The rest of the children watch, unsettled and now fearful of their once beloved teacher.
Later, in the teacher’s lounge, Miss Gilden is nervously pacing, clearly not at ease, when Jenny – a fellow teacher – brings her a cup of coffee, and says it’s almost as good as chicken soup at fixing ailments. True facts, Jenny. True facts.
According to Jenny, there’s been some gossip about problems in Miss Gliden’s class, she offers to listen if Miss Gilden wants to talk. But Miss Gilden shrugs off “Bobby’s” bad behaviour as a good student going through a bad phase, and she tells herself more than Jenny that she’s sure he’ll snap out of it.
Jenny cheerfully says that even if the kid stays rotten, all Miss Gilden has to do is make it to the end of the term and she’s home free.
Out on the playground, the double is telling all the boys that their teacher has been accusing him of trying to murder her. He reminds them that they all saw what happened, even though all they saw was the double cowering in fear at the desk.
Walking alongside the windows, Miss Gilden overhears and looks at the group with disappointment. The other boys nervously disperse, and she’s left watching the double as the double watches her.
Back at Bobby’s house that evening, there’s a big bowl of cat food that hasn’t been eaten. Molly finds it and is puzzled. The cat loves food, it’s the only reason he tolerates the rest of the family. She calls for him a few times, shaking the box of Meow Mix, and opens the back door to have a look in the yard.
A large butcher knife has been stabbed into the kitchen counter, it gleams prophetically as Molly searches for the cat.
She decides that the cat’s just getting finicky about his food and goes to put the Meow Mix back in the cupboard. That when she screams.
Jack, in the living room with the paper, is on his feet as quick as a bolt of lightning. He finds his wife in the kitchen, and the cat in the kitchen cupboard.
The cat has been drained of all life. In a rather unimpressive special effect, he looks kind of like a deflated cat balloon. But that’s fine by me, I’m not exactly yearning to see an ultra-realistic dead cat. And I’m glad that it’s not a particularly gruesome death – that butcher knife was making me nervous.
Bobby cries when Molly and Jack tell him what’s happened. Jack says that they don’t know any details, they just found the poor cat dead. Bobby right away says that “somebody killed him.” Molly asks if Bobby heard anybody downstairs while she was at the grocery store, and Bobby says maybe it happened while he was taking a nap.
Jack announces that he’s going to bury the cat in the yard, and he leaves.
Molly brushes Bobby’s hair from his forehead and tells him that from now on, when he’s home by himself, he has to lock his bedroom door. And he should go to bed earlier. He looks so pale.
As soon as she’s gone, Bobby calls for his double.
“My cat’s dead!” He says to the double accusingly.
“I know,” the double glances at the chessboard. “Did you want to play?”
The penny is dropping for Bobby, as he puts together the mummified flies and the murdered cat and the appearance of a supernatural being that has taken on his appearance. But he’s still got this notion that the double is something that he’s in control of, something that he’s made up. This is probably because he’s just a kid, and also because he reads too many chess manuals and not enough Ray Bradbury.
Kids should read horror stories, otherwise they won’t know what to do if a vampire attacks and there are no adults around. Safety first, everybody.
The double admits to killing the cat, saying that he can kill anything he needs to.
“And the blame is all on you,” he smirks, “because I don’t exist.”
He disappears, leaving a confused and horrified little boy trapped in his wheelchair.
It’s late in the next morning when Molly comes to check on her son. He’s tucked up in his blankets, still in bed, and doesn’t stir until she opens the blinds. He’s not looking too rosy as Molly asks him if he’s been having trouble sleeping.
Bobby glumly tells her that his cast is itchy and uncomfortable. She says she’ll make him some breakfast, and is just on her way out when he stops her and asks if she’s ever heard of people having doubles.
She says when she was in school there was a girl who everyone said looked exactly like her, but Molly herself never thought so.
In a fit of terror, Bobby tries to explain his own double and how he killed the cat and all the flies. He breaks down and says over and over how scared he is, while Molly rushes to his side and rocks him back and forth. She looks pretty scared, too. Albeit for totally different reasons.
Over at the school, Miss Gilden’s class is taking a test. The children are hushed, pencils scratching on paper, as Miss Gilden patrols the desks. A whispering voice breaks the silence. It’s the double, of course, leaning over to the boy who sits next to him and telling him that they’ll have a new teacher for sure next term.
Miss Gilden snaps at the class that there is to be no talking, anyone caught talking will receive an automatic zero.
As she sits at her desk, the double watches her.
There’s something triumphant about him, like he’s seen all the coming moves and he knows exactly how to trap his opponents.
In the teacher’s lounge at lunch, Miss Gilden is having the most boring meal of all time. It’s some kind of crustless sandwich with, like, just meat on it and no cheese or lettuce, and she’s having a glass of milk. It’s all beige and off-white and bland and sad. Jenny has noticed this as well, it seems, and as she takes the other seat at the table with her magic cup of coffee, she teases Miss Gilden that she needs to eat more.
It’s clear that something is bothering Miss Gilden. Jenny says that the rumour mill is working overtime about the friction in Miss Gilden’s class. The students are talking. The teachers are talking. What’s the deal?
There’s no deal, Miss Gilden assures her. She doesn’t want to talk to the principal about it, and she thinks everything will be fine given time. Jenny tries to get her to open up more, but the conversation is interrupted when Miss Gilden adjusts her hair and notices that her gold pencil isn’t there.
After the bell rings, her students are filing in from lunch and she’s still searching for her treasured possession. It’s nowhere to be found.
She makes an announcement to the class that they’re going to do that thing where all the students cover their eyes and Miss Gilden turns her back, and whoever took it has five minutes to return it. In my experience, this has never worked. In my school growing up, if it wasn’t nailed down and it went missing, it pretty much belonged to the yakuza.
Miss Gilden’s attempts usually work, though.
The time goes by, she turns around…
As she begins lecturing the children on thievery, she notices the double has something shiny in his hand. He’s twirling it idly. As she gets a better look, it’s a gold mechanical pencil.
Furious, she storms over and rips it from the double’s hand.
But it’s a trick. The rest of the pencil is wood. Only the top is gold-coloured.
Miss Gilden apologizes to the double as the freaky non-child smiles at her indulgently.
Back to Bobby, now grey and sunken. He weakly tells Wordsworth that the double is stronger than he is now. Molly told him he’d just been reading too much science fiction, but he knows what’s happening now.
But even if he could prove the double existed, there wouldn’t be anything he could do about it. He doesn’t know how to stop his sinister counterpart, not when the double seems to know every though in the poor kid’s head.
Wordsworth runs around in his hamster wheel.
Later in the afternoon, Miss Gilden is chatting with her neighbour about the missing gold pencil. She’s certain she’ll never see it again, and her neighbour suggests reporting it to the school office. They’re filling some pots with soil, and when they finish they carry them out to the garden where they find a shocking sight.
All of Miss Gilden’s roses have shrivelled.
(No, it wasn’t that weird hairspray pesticide, it was definitely the double.)
On closer examination, she finds the plants completely dried out, despite being fine and healthy only the day before. A petal crunches into dust as she touches it, and from the shadows, we see the bright eyes of the double as he watches.
Man, this thing is getting malevolent. Isn’t it enough to suck out things lives and switch places with Bobby? What’s with all the psychological torture?
And it’s not just psychological torture this monster is interested in, we find out, as the next time we see the double, he’s trying to stab Wordsworth with Miss Gilden’s gold pencil. Bobby, sleeping in his wheelchair and looking like death warmed over, wakes up and shouts at the double to leave his hamster alone. Yeah, double! Cats are cats, but the brave and tiny hamster is a noble soul!
Bobby recognizes the pencil and begs the double to give it to him. He asks what, exactly, the double has planned for his beloved teacher. But the double won’t tell him.
Instead, the demon or dybbuk or whatever it is picks up the model airplane and taunts Bobby. The doctor says that Bobby is getting better, but he’s only getting weaker. And neither he nor Miss Gilden will like how all of this is going to end.
“Look, she’s a nice lady,” Bobby pleads exhaustedly, “You have to give her this pencil back.”
The double snatches up the gold pencil and decides to make a point about who’s in charge around here. He snaps the model plane in half while Bobby cries helplessly.
The next morning, Bobby’s alarm goes off, but he’s exhausted. He wearily shuts it off and looks over at Wordsworth’s cage.
Wordsworth is dead, all the life sucked out of him, just like the cat and the flies.
R.I.P. Wordsworth. You were one of the good ones.
That little hamster’s hardships are over, but Miss Gilden’s aren’t.
As her class leaves at the final bell, Bobby’s double lingers with a surprise. A big pink box full of candies and wrapped up with a ribbon. He brings it to her and shows her all the candies inside, it’s overflowing, and somehow the chocolate looks sickly sweet. Miss Gilden flinches when he opens it.
“I spent a whole week’s allowance.” The double says, innocent as anything, “Don’t you want it?”
“Did you think I would, after everything that’s happened?”
The double says that he’ll just have to stand there and eat some of the candies in front of her, if that’s what she wants. So she can see he hasn’t put any poison in them.
He slowly, challengingly, bites one of the chocolates.
This is the last straw for Miss Gilden. She just snaps. She flips the box out of his hands and shouts at him that he’s “a little beast” and starts smacking him on the side of the head. The commotion calls the principal, Jenny, and a handful of looky-loo kids to the classroom. The principal pulls Miss Gilden away from the double, but he doesn’t know how it is. Even if that was a real kid and not some demonic construct, he really had it coming.
(Only in the world of television, of course. Teachers shouldn’t hit students even if they’re engaged in a psychological tug-of-war full of death-threats. Miss Gilden should have involved the principal and had “Bobby” transferred to another class or something.)
The principal tells Jenny to take the double to the nurse’s office, and shoos out the children. He closes the door as Miss Gilden sort of collapses in one of the desk chairs. She’s overwhelmed and disturbed, and it’s obvious her mind is scattered as the principal begins to tell her she’s fired.
Oh, the 70’s. Back when you could actually fire teachers. What times those were.
But, in this case, it’s ridiculously cruel. Miss Gilden has suffered an enormous personal loss, and she’s five seconds away from her retirement and her pension. If she’s fired, she loses that pension and has no money to live on. So, dick move, Principal Jerkface. All you have to do is put her on a leave of absence for the last six months of term – she could probably use sick days, she’s been with the school for thirty-five years, she’s probably got some brownie points racked up.
Miss Gilden is fired.
Enjoy freezing to death as you sell off your mother’s prized possessions one by one. Thanks for playing The Game of Life.
What a horrible creature this double is. Killing hamsters and making Helen Hayes cry.
While Miss Gilden is dealing with the implosion of her life, Molly Cameron is trying to wrap her head around what’s going on with her kid. Current theory: schizophrenia.
That evening, she sits her husband down and lays it all out for him. Split-personalities. Somehow, Bobby is getting tired and weak, is it because he’s overtaxing himself when his “double” takes over? Did he kill the cat and the hamster?
Jack points out that a kid in a wheelchair who can’t do the stairs by himself and needs help getting into the bathtub isn’t going to be able to murder a fast-moving cat and shove it in an upper cabinet. That’s just basic logic, Molly. He physically cannot have killed the cat.
Molly doesn’t look convinced.
Jack continues to argue, but stops himself.
The model plane. Bobby broke the model plane. When Jack asked him about it, he said it was an accident.
Well, that’s hardly evidence of schizophrenia. You can totally see how a kid might drop a model and then accidentally crush it under his wheelchair by mistake. But somehow, it sells Jack on the whole idea.
Molly wants Bobby to see a shrink, and Jack agrees.
The next day, Miss Gilden is pruning the hedge in her garden when a familiar voice calls out to her. It’s Bobby’s double, leaning nonchalantly on a tree. His presence terrifies her instantly, and she hold the shears out for protection as she asks what he wants.
He says he’s just come to visit her. And to see how her roses are doing.
She turns to run from him, but the double appears in front of her no matter which way she turns.
There’s no escaping him and his grin.
Frantic, she trips over her own feet and lands on the shears. They plunge deeply into her chest, and she gropes at the grass with a bloodied hand.
The double watches with glee until her fingers stop twitching.
He strolls away, leaving Miss Gilden and her roses dead in the garden.
We’re moving quickly now, and it’s my only complaint about this episode. Some of the middle scenes feel a little long, while the very strong ending zips by.
Bobby, now a thin, ghostly version of the boy we saw at the start of the story, sits by the chessboard as his vivid double appears in the room. The double says it’s too bad about Wordsworth, and Bobby vows to get rid of him once and for all.
The double doesn’t seem too concerned. Bobby is weak, physically and mentally. He’ll be much easier to handle than Miss Gilden was.
Bobby catches the past tense.
“You killed her. You kill everything. You’re killing me.”
The double says that nobody will even know Bobby has died. The double will simply take his place and that will be that. He calls himself the “other side of the coin” but I’m pretty sure he’s a vindictive spirit of some kind, and not really any part of Bobby’s mind.
It’s time now to finish the chess game.
Their last chess game.
Bobby, being a child, hasn’t put together that the losses at chess directly coincide with the double’s increasing strength.
The double says that if Bobby wins this game, he’ll go back where he came from. He neglects to mention that if he wins, Bobby will die. But this ain’t our first rodeo. You and I know that supernatural chess games have their own set of rules.
Bobby says he doesn’t want to play. There’s no way to beat someone who cheats.
The double promises to be fair.
Bobby looks at the board and plans for a moment, then moves a pawn.
Easily, the double manages to capture three of Bobby’s pawns, his bishop, and his knight, while Bobby manages to take one of the double’s pawns. It’s a pretty uneven game.
Bobby is just about to pick up his queen when a voice tells him to grab the knight instead.
It’s Miss Gilden.
The double whirls around, astonished, and demands to know how she’s appeared here. She ignores him, and tells Bobby to play his knight to (I think I’m getting this right) rook’s six.
Turns out, the double has been cheating by reading Bobby’s mind and anticipating his strategy. But he can’t read Miss Gilden’s mind, because he’s not stealing her form and also probably because she’s a ghost. The plan is for Bobby to not think of anything but following Miss Gilden’s otherworldly instructions.
Unsurprisingly, the double objects, insisting that this isn’t fair.
Miss Gilden gives him a withering sidelong glance and tells him that nothing is ever fair.
Pretty rich that this double was trying to play that card.
Bobby does as he’s told, and easily wins the game, not in the least because his doppelgänger is now a nervous wreck. It only takes two moves to beat him, which probably has more to do with the fact that we have three minutes to wrap all of this up than it does with how chess works.
The double must keep his word and return to the place he came from.
Miss Gilden takes the double by the shoulders and sternly tells him that they have an awful lot to talk about. The double says he doesn’t know what she means.
“Think of a classroom in a dark corner of space,” she tells him, “where you and I will talk about dead rose bushes, and candies, and golden pencils. Forever.”
Miss Gilden grabs the double by the ear and marches him into oblivion with her.
Bobby watches them fade away, and after they’re gone, the gold pencil appears on his chessboard. He takes it, and looks at it thoughtfully.
Jack, having just missed a very interesting sight, taps on the door and he and Molly come to sit with Bobby for a minute. They tell him that new doctor is going to come by and talk to him this afternoon. Bobby shrugs and says okay, that’s fine by him.
Molly notices the gold pencil and asks what it is.
“It’s a present. A present from Miss Gilden.”
And that’s it!
Winston Essex comes back, for a very brief moment, to let us know that Bobby doesn’t play much chess anymore. And when he does, it’s always with a real opponent.
No word on how that schizophrenia diagnosis worked out.