I heard them laugh at me. I saw the teachers laugh and then pretend to care. My bruises from last week have not healed. My bruises and cuts from this week will not heal quickly either.
I made my way home without incident. If I am wrong and someone saw my injuries, they didn’t ask. They never ask.
People with “uncomfortable” problems are always invisible.
I jumped the last fence and scurried along the grass to the casement window. Once unlocked, I fit through with ease. My mother is only concerned about where I am, not how I am.
“Justin is that you?” She asks the same question every night.
“It’s me, mom,” I reply in kind.
“How was school today?” She yells from the stairs, never venturing forth to verify my reply.
“Fine. I’m fine.” And our discussion concludes with both parties getting what they want. She doesn’t want to know and I don’t want to discuss.
At least, here, no one hits me.
I look in the bathroom mirror and wash up. I use the vodka I swiped from her to clean the wounds. I have blood on my knuckles and from my nose. I have a loose molar that needs a dentist. I have a cut that requires stitches. I have no money so I live with what I have.
When I look again in the mirror, I see myself, differently. The reflection is my reflection, but not my current reflection. I look good, in a healthy sort of way.
When I smile, he, I mean me, smiles. His lip is not split and he has all of his teeth. I raise my right hand to touch the mirror. He should raise his left hand, but he doesn’t. My reflection raises his right hand to form that single finger in front of puckered lips “be quiet” sign we all learn as children.
I am stunned at what I am seeing. He is in an identical basement as mine, just so much better. His clothes are clean. The lights on his side work. He has the same carpet and furniture, but they aren’t patched with duct tape and dirty. He looks like the me I should have been.
When I lower my hand, he lowers his hand. I raise my other hand to wave. He raises his left hand holding a small revolver. He motions for me to reach for it. I do and he actually gives it to me. Then he speaks.
“You have watched enough movies to know how to use this. Take care of business before it takes care of you. I am the only person who cares about you and your future. You know what to do.”
I have a 38 special revolver in my hand. Its steel frame is cool to the touch, almost soothing when I press it against my lip. I blink once, then twice before I look up to ask him a question. When I do, he is gone. The mirror shows me my room in my world, namely a bleak existence.
I have no proof of what just happened other than the instrument of my salvation given to me, by a more successful me. I weigh my intentions against the consequences.
I have 5 shots at my disposal and I have already made up my mind.
It is now five minutes past seven. Mom should be passed out from her drinking. They should be at the park shooting hoops. The sun sets in roughly twenty minutes.
So do their lives.
It seems as if a dream. I watch myself walk to the court right up to the two. No one else is present. This fuels their contempt for me. How dare I interrupt their game? What gives me the right . . .
They never finish the sentence or the game.
The first one, a senior, much taller and heavier than me, I shoot directly in the chest. He falls backward, mid-sentence, with the basketball no longer in his grip. The second one wets his pants as he is frozen where he stands.
What I do is evil. It is reprehensible. I will find no atonement for my actions when caught.
He begs for mercy. I raise the revolver and place my second shot in his chest. He falls where he stood, face down in his own urine. I hear him say, “I’m sorry”.
He gets the next shot in his head. Yesterday is full of sorrys. I now have the future I was to always have.
These two, not so much.
One quick run back into the woods and a few covert fence jumps is all that remains between the end of my last yesterday and the beginning of my first tomorrow.
When I return, there is no moon and it is overcast, with a faint chill in the air. Passing through the casement window was just as easy as I always found it to be. Usually, I fall into the darkness onto a few pillows before I turn on the lights.
Tonight is different.
I fall onto a large bean bag chair and the lights turn on without my effort.
When I say turn on, I mean the lights come on from a dimmer to have just enough light to see the people waiting for me. I should scream, but I don’t. I have a gun with two shots remaining. If these shadow people want trouble, then bring it.
Another blood stain won’t matter. I can’t be executed twice.
I want to clean up, but I want to listen more.
I am rewarded for my patience.
A figure stands and begins speaking. He sounds like me. When he makes the lights brighter, he is me, but not me. He is not my twin from the mirror. That me was trusting. He helped me. I will have no more problems at school tomorrow.
This me is rougher. He dressed in his t-shirt showing off his tattoos. His hair is a shorter and he is more muscular.
“Welcome doppelgangers and simulacrums. Welcome to the rest of your life.”
His words resonate with me. When he speaks, he speaks of duty and privilege. From this moment on, I can no longer live, I must excel. We are doppelgangers, people who look alike but are not related. Our numbers relate to our power. I look to the others. Muscular me informs me they are the simulacrums or sims (for short). The simulacrums have limited intelligence, heal slowly, and move awkwardly. In essence, they are me in my current life.
Muscular me explains the sims follow orders and provide an alibi when necessary. They looked enough like me to fool a witness so I could perform the deeds I must perform.
I had to ask. “This is all a joke, some type of a dream, right?”
Out of the darkness came my healthy twin (so to speak). “Am I a dream? Do I look like a myth? I am, we are, real flesh and blood. Only the three of us know of the three of us. We live in slightly similar worlds with common intersection points. Ours is a mirror. Muscular you and you share the casement window. I and muscular me share the door at the top of the stairs. I keep the sims hidden with me for now. However, soon, they will have to go with you. No one should ever be told of their existence. They might look and act like us, but they are not us. Never forget this.”
I sat back down and took stock of my life. As of tonight, I have two twins, two less school age thugs, and access to four sims. I have a revolver. Muscular me showed me a briefcase with ammo, money, and fake identification (passports, driver’s licenses, and birth certificates) for future use. Healthy me made me memorize the name of a book of ancient rituals and incantations to purchase at a local bookstore later in the week. He explained I should read the contents and then begin the rituals necessary for the next steps (he did not explain further).
One more piece of advice on remaining quiet so as to displace suspicion from those with a perceptive sense of observation and logic.
It was now nearly 10pm. Healthy me told me to clean up and change clothes. He then asked about details of my savagery earlier. I provided few. He didn’t press. I returned the revolver when asked.
I did notice a spare chair without a person. When I asked, muscular me told me they had to burn a sim to give me an alibi for tonight. My sim went to the library and became visibly disorderly and then ran away before the police arrived. The cameras have him there at the time I was using the revolver. I cannot be in two places at one time, thus I now have my alibi if pressed.
I would be blamed for the incident at the library, but not the basketball court. A few days suspension and some yelling from Mom and everything will be back to normal.
My new normal; a future where I am in control, where I have power.
I intend to make the most of what I learned tonight.
I never make it to school. The police come to my house to pick me up for the library incident. Ironically, another two detectives arrive soon after to arrest me for murder. Healthy me was right. I gave the police a song and dance story about how much school sucks for me and I took out my academic frustrations on a stack of library books for all to see.
The time index and the twenty or so witnesses solidified my alibi from the video. That sim looks just like me down to the bloodied lip and bruises.
A judge signed the search warrant for Mom’s house.
Nothing to find and nothing found.
The public defender had me out by noon. The Principal decided I could return to school on Monday. The librarian banned me for life. That meant I had to visit the bookstore, just as Healthy me indicated.
I am smug enough to smile but not so much to gloat. At 6pm, the local news interviewed a few students. Their reactions went from scared to “it is about time someone killed those two thugs”. By 7pm, the news only showed the first students, not the second.
I wait until 10pm to wash my face and tend to my wounds. Healthy me passes ratty first aid kit containing better medical supplies and some cash. He gives me a thumbs up and then instructs me to find a book about field dressings and basic first aid. If I am going to start looking better, I had better have a reason for having this knowledge.
I listened to what he said, but all I heard was tomorrow, go to the bookstore.
Today, I am a man on a mission. I know I am being followed by a detective somewhere. I could run or double back to turn the tables, but why divulge my newly found understanding of my purpose? The police can do their own work.
My backpack has paper, pencils, and a few sandwiches. Mom’s affinity with Smirnoff takes most of her parenting quality time with me. Today is no exception.
First book I purchase is a used Army field guide to dressings and wound closures for 50 cents. I take it to the bathroom in the store and make some badly needed corrections to my previous injuries. It is only 10am and I still have much to do.
For appearances, I begin a series of homework assignments. The store has a few tables near the front window where everyone can see me doing what I should be doing. My plan is to bore my detractors to death. I spend nearly three hours accomplishing such. By 1pm, the detectives are gone and only a single uniformed officer remains to babysit me.
By 2pm, even he leaves. The shop keeper has cameras everywhere and I make the most of them. I politely ask about the locations of various reference books. I want to know about astronomy and astrology, history and economics, and finally religion and the occult. I will spend another three hours taking notes and whittling my pile of possible purchases to three. For this stack of used paperbacks, the shop owner separates $9.50 from my wallet and bids me goodbye.
I politely thank him and make my way home.
If I were the police, I would have Mom agree to leave a camera and microphone hidden in the basement to help make a case against me. On this problem, all I have to do is remain calm. For now, I want to work later so I take a well-deserved nap. Whoever is eavesdropping will see nothing in the dark and hear nothing in the darkness.
By 1am, I arise and walk to the bathroom to cleanup and tend to my bandages. The other side of the mirror has Healthy me running a shower steaming his side of the mirror. A single finger permits him to write a series of yes or no questions about my adventures for the day. I so want to laugh. Only last week, I could have been killed outright. This week, I am the one killing. Healthy me told me to sleep in tomorrow. He wanted the book of rituals and incantations for his side, giving me a similar book, written in a foreign language (perhaps Latin) to take its place. The police would come to arrest me for another horrific crime. Past that, the less I knew, the better.
Not a word passed between us. By morning, all he foretold would come to pass.
The police entered Mom’s house and arrested the both of us. By noon, my Public Defender made public that indeed the police bugged Mom’s house. They went as far as to use an infrared camera. It showed I remained in the basement for the entire night. They took all of my books before I learned what actually occurred.
Apparently, I have been accused of murder three states away, all caught on CCTV. I watched the tape and could only laugh at my accusers. Mom decided to stop drinking long enough to make a statement to the press. “How could my son be nearly 1000 miles away when he didn’t even leave home last night?” Nearly dozens of attorneys gave Mom their business card and promises of millions in a lawsuit.
In all of this, no one asked who died or why. It seems no one cared. I was the eye of the storm. The police looked ridiculous. The press began feeding the flames. Mom and the lawyers had dollar signs in their eyes. It took another four hours before the TV stations released the video of me killing an old couple just for their money. The me in the video laughed when stabbing both people. I (that me) reached in her purse to find less than $10. I felt remorse in seeing this carnage. I felt even more remorse when I saw this sim (it had to be the sim from the library incident) spit in the faces of both of the bodies.
For the first time in a week, I no longer felt powerful. I no longer in control. I felt sick at what I saw.
I should have told my mother, but I couldn’t. All I could do was wait until everyone departed and then go to bed.
That doesn’t mean I remained in bed.
By 2am, I arose and went to the bathroom. The mirror reflected my world, not his this time. While brushing my teeth, I found the ritual book on the floor by the tub. Healthy me must have passed it earlier. I picked it up and found it bookmarked in places I was to read tonight. The first bookmark said “I’m Sorry. That sim got away and did this on his own account. Remember, do not treat them as people.”
As much as I felt guilty about the sim murdering those people, I turned on a small light and began reading.
By 3am, I began chanting.
By 4am, I reopened the cut on my lip to squeeze out some blood on a bookmark that instructed me to do so. I placed the bookmark in a small circle I drew in chalk on the floor. The bookmark began to glow. The next step indicated I should continue to draw additional circles of larger diameters concentric with the original circle. With each repeat of the chant, the blood-stained bookmark glowed more. I kept repeating the chant and drawing more circles around the original twenty I already drew.
This exercise now consumed my energies. Something was going to happen soon. The clock kept ticking toward sunrise. The circles became larger and larger, the soft glow turned deep purple, then crimson, then yellow, then pure white. I became obsessed with finishing.
By the time I drew the last circle, I felt a rumble within the circles. The floor shook violently only inside the circumferences and not a bit externally where I stood. A small vortex opened encompassing the first circle sucking air from the basement into the hole. I opened the casement window to prevent my suffocation. The vortex only grew with the additional airflow, slowly at first, then with an ever increasing speed. I could not understand why only within the chalked circles did the disturbance take place. By the time the vortex engulfed the entire area of all the circles, the vortex closed.
What took its place was another me.
Saturday (after sunrise)
I am tired. What I figure is a sim is still asleep. I went to the mirror and Healthy me is not to be found. I want to leave a message, but as soon as I leave, someone will find it, then the sim, then those chalk circles.
I can erase the circles at least.
The sim looks a lot like me except he does not have any injuries. Maybe he isn’t supposed to. He is my size and nothing but dead weight. If it weren’t for his breathing, I’d believe he was DOA. I move him to the closet and close the door.
Now, I look for that ritual book. I can’t find it anywhere. The basement is a mess because of the vortex, but somehow I can find an algebra book and my English composition, but not the only book I need.
I hope it went into the vortex. No one will find it there.
I go to the bathroom to cleanup and still no Healthy me.
Only now do I realize just how hungry I am.
Walking up the stairs to the kitchen seems a bit eerie this morning. Everything is clean, too clean. It is as if I was entering someone else’s kitchen. The refrigerator is well-stocked (a first in my lifetime) and I am starving.
Within an hour, I have eaten more in one meal than I have ever before. I look fat and I feel fat. I find Mom’s note to fend for myself for breakfast, but start on the lawn after.
I should have seen the signs.
Saturday (just before noon)
The lawn mower looks in better shape than I remember it. So does the grass. Either way, I need to get started before it gets too hot.
I only get a single pass in the front yard before I see two police cars come toward me. Too fast for anything informal. I instinctively turn and see my casement window. Lickety-split I am through before the police even leave their cars.
But I am not home.
The bean bag chair tells me where I am. Muscular me is waiting as if he knows I am on schedule.
“Take a seat. I left a soda for you. Hope it is to your liking.” He continued his exercising with at least 40 more pushups before he found the time to focus his attention on me.
“Do you know why you are here?” Of course I didn’t. “You are here because of the book, the vortex, and the sim you created.”
“How did you know about the sim?” I might have seen shocked, but he didn’t.
“How did I know? I am your doppelganger. I know what you know. In time, the reverse will be true also.” I must have still looked somewhat perplexed. Muscular me began to show me some attitude.
“Didn’t you wonder why your other twin was always in the mirror right when you needed him to be there? Do you think that was coincidence?” I shook my head without thinking. “Perhaps he is well in tune with you or maybe (he held that maybe as a song note, not as a word) you are now more in tune with him.”
This made me think for a while. Was this the secret all doppelgangers share? There are tales of identical twins being “in-sync” with each other, so why not doppelgangers?
Muscular me reached for a small weight as he sat down and began curling it with one hand. He also smiled the smile of one who knows too much.
Such was my smile from a few days ago in the police station.
“I am going to spell it all out for you. You are now in my house. Outside, is your house.” That is where I stopped him. “Outside is too nice to be my house. I mean, even the kitchen is too nice to be my house.”
Muscular me stopped curling the weight to think. “You came in through the casement window. That is your portal from your world to mine. Since you are here, you must have been outside of your own house.”
I am not much for puzzles and riddles, but I know a setup when I see one.
“Where is Healthy me?” It was all I could think of. I must have said it under my breath.
That is when he threw the weight at me, narrowly missing my head. I rolled away from him and ran up the stairs to the kitchen, closing the door behind me. I reached for the knife and nearly slipped on the slippery kitchen floor in the process.
The floor was covered in blood. The knife was covered with blood.
I took a look around. This kitchen was a mess and now, so was I.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to run. I chose the latter until I could discover exactly what happened here. As I walked to the living room, I didn’t have to wait for long.
I found my mother, cut up on the couch. She still had a hold of an empty vodka bottle. Her neck had been slit, as well as both her wrists. She didn’t look as if she put up a fight.
I sat in the rocking chair in shock.
I never heard the police sirens approach.
The two detectives who watched me earlier in the week, entered the house with pistols drawn. I dropped the bloody knife and offered no resistance.
By nightfall, I was booked, charged, and jailed for murder. My previous public defender could not be reached either for employment or for comment.
I was to be arraigned on Monday morning.
The detectives personally escorted me to my cell and left my shoelaces on should I want to save the taxpayers some money. Their laugh mimicked mine, although I doubt I would ever laugh that way again.
All I can do is sit and wait with thousands of possibilities running through my mind. Where is Healthy me? Who really killed my mother? And why? What happened to the sim?
Then I had an idea. Healthy me said that eventually the sims would be housed with me. That could not happen if my mother lived in the house. Maybe the sim I created, from some of my blood killed her. If the police found the sim, they would have their killer, but I would still not be free. I would have to remain hidden for the rest of my life avoiding medical tests (not easy in today’s world) and leaving fingerprints and DNA. I would eventually pop up on some camera and the police would come running. If the police didn’t find the sim, they would find me and either way, I get a needle in my arm.
So, it was Healthy me that gave me the book. It was Healthy me that wanted me to create a sim. It must have been both doppelgangers making my house to look like one of their houses. In essence, I am the weakest link and thus their alibi. They are most likely using the remaining sims to loot and plunder their way to millions.
And there is nothing I can do to stop them.
Or is there?
Sunday (very early in the morning)
I have one possibility remaining. What if Muscular me was telling the truth? What if I am more in-sync with Healthy me than he is with me? I have a mirror in my cell. All I have to do is look at it at the right time. This may just work.
A cell for one so despised as myself has a wide array of bothersome gadgets at the jailer’s disposal to make the occupant unnerved, maybe even suicidal. In my cell, it was the proximity to a nearby church with bells that rang every hour on the hour, prohibiting a restful sleep.
I placed my cards on the table with the wager of my life that 3am is the magic number. When the bells begin tolling, I have my shoelaces doubled and knotted. I need Healthy me to be there. I quickly look in my mirror, feeling he must also. He is there also washing his face. I reach through and wrap the laces around Healthy me’s neck and pull with all of my strength. He will fight but has no experience with survival. I will prevail for that is the full extent of my resume I will never write.
I can only hope that he is still as slight in frame as I am.
By sunrise, both of the case detectives of the 14th Precinct will receive a call of the suicide by hanging of their prisoner locked in the cell the previous night. The records will indicate neither detective took any action until later that day.
The body, a very healthy looking body, void of the previous bruises and cuts from photographs during booking, hung using a pair of shoelaces from an overhead metal truss eight feet off the floor. The crime scene photos do not show any furnishings in the cell except the standard toilet, sink, and mirror. The bed was removed previously, replaced with a single pillow. Nothing was missing and only the mirror was smashed to pieces.
Within a day of the suicide, on Monday morning, the remains of six badly burned bodies were found by sanitation workers in the woods exterior to a local park. No identification is possible from the remains other than all six were wearing t-shirts and blue jeans. Coincidently, the coroner indicated in the autopsy report that the remains of all six weighed the exact same amount.
By Monday at noon, a rather muscular young man was shot to death with two bullets from a 38 special revolver. Police found both the victim and the revolver. Preliminary reports indicate the victim’s fingerprints were the only prints on the gun. Details not released to the public include the victim was shot once in the chest and once in the back of the head with the final distance between victim and firearm being 27 feet apart. The autopsy did not reveal any bruises or cuts. However, the victim did have a wide array of tattoos on his arms and chest.
The inventory of his basement did not indicate a missing brief case or contents.
All investigations will remain open for the foreseeable future.
Andy Betz has tutored and taught in excess of 30 years. He lives in 1974, and has been married for 27 years. His works are found everywhere a search engine operates.