Monday, November 17, 2014

Me2: Chapter 9

As part of a huge - and much needed - marketing push, I'm going to be serializing a few of my all-time favorite books ... starting with the (ahem) rather infamous novel that I may or may not have actually written: Me2

"Absolutely brilliant!" says Lisabet Sarai, author of Incognito and Fire, about Lambda finalist M.Christian's controversial manlove horror/thriller. 

He looks just like you. He acts exactly like you. He takes away your job. He steals your friends. He seduces your male lover. None of them can tell the difference. Every day he becomes more and more like you, pushing you out of your own life, taking away what was yours … until there’s nothing left. Where did he come from? Robot? Alien? Clone? Doppelganger? Evil twin? Long lost brother? Then you discover there are still more "yous." Can you be sure you are the real you? And how do you fight to take your own life back? 

An absorbing new approach to the question of identity, Me2 is a groundbreaking gay chiller you’ll remember for a long time – no matter who you are, or who you think you may be. 

(Despite rumors that this book was written by an impostor - but, rest assured, this is the real 'M.Christian.' Accept no substitutes!)

Chapter IX


"The guys used to watch this show, you know?  Guys I used to work with.  A tire shop down on Main.  Where it goes into the highway.  You know the place?  No?  Whatever.  Anyway, when I used to work there, there were these guys ... and they used to watch this show.  Thought it was kind of weird, you know?
"Well, they were regular.  Just average kinds of guys.  Not kids.  Maybe as old as I am.  Even older.  Who knows?  Anyway, they were kind of rough.  One of them ... named Pico, I think ... he'd even been in jail.  Boosting cars, something like that.  So they weren't like art types, you know.  Nothing wrong with that, but they just weren't like that.  Rough, like I said.
"Anyway, I'd been there about four or five months.  Getting to know how things were, what was cool and what wasn't – that kind of thing.  Anyway, one day the boss wasn't around.  He was this really big guy.  I mean really big.  Kind of wheezed when he walked, took him forever to get from his car to his office in the morning.  Even longer when it was quitting time.
"One day he wasn't there.  Think he had a doctor's appointment or something.  Yeah, that was it, 'cause the next day he had this big bandage around his arm.  I remember that.  But like I said, he wasn't around.  So naturally the guys and I slacked off.  Not stupid, right?  Why work when the boss isn't around, right?
"So Pico and I and the other guy we just sat around for a while.  Just shooting the shit, you know.  The game, pussy, the fuckheads in the government – that kind of thing – then I guess we started to get bored.  The other guy – what the fuck was his name?  – he started rolling washers into the storm drain, like it was this game he made up or something.  Guess it wasn't a great one, 'cause he only did it for a few minutes.
"Then Pico, he looks at his watch.  Then he looks at the other guy.  Dick?  Was that his name?  Shit.  Whatever.  So Pico looks at him – the other guy, I mean – like they have this secret or something, you know?  Then Pico says to me, 'You wanna watch the tube?'
"I think, like, they're going to sneak into the boss's office and watch a game or something, and they do that – kinda, I mean.  We go into the boss's office, this little room he has in the back.  The only thing really in there is his big desk with this huge-ass chair behind it – for his huge ass, I guess – and some filing cabinets, a couple of old calendars, shit like that.  And this little black and white TV.  Little thing, you know.  Like 'so' big.  Kind of looks like a toaster or something with an antenna on it.
"So we go in there, right?  Make ourselves comfortable, or as much as we could, considering what a dump it was.  Then Pico, he starts fiddling with the dials and all.  No cable – he's that fucking cheap.  But after a few minutes he gets a picture.  Not a great picture, you know?  But you can still see what's going on.
"Like I said, I thought it'd be a game – something like that.  Or maybe a good flick.  Well, that's what I thought it'd be.  But it wasn't what they watched.  Not at all.
"After a few minutes of stupid fucking commercials, the show comes on, and it's a fucking soap opera.  I mean I can't believe it.  These guys watch this shit all the time.  Mostly record it at home, watch it after work.  But that day 'cause the boss was out they could watch it and not have to wait.
"I couldn't believe my fucking eyes, you know?  At first I thought it was a joke, just fucking with the new guy.  See what I'd do when these two rough customers put on the Young and the fucking Restless or something.  I almost laughed, thinking that was the joke, but then I saw how they were watching it – and they were really watching it, you know.  Dead fucking silence in the room, or talking when the commercials came back on, and then it was nothing but talking about the show.  I was fucking blown away.
"I watched – just because there was shit else to do and I sure as hell wasn't going to suggest watching anything else.  It was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen, and I'd seen a lot of stupid shit in my day.  Lots of people just standing around and talking, lots of women crying, stupid fucking music.  Christ, it was a piece of shit.
"One thing, though, I did see.  There was this guy – a doctor, lawyer, something like that.  Shit, I can't remember.  But then there was another one.  Same actor, I mean, but he wasn't playing the same guy, he was supposed to be the doctor or the lawyer's twin brother or something.  Stupid, right?  I mean really stupid.  I remember I wanted to laugh at it when it was on, but Pico and the other guy were just too fucking serious about this shit, so no way in hell would I do that.
"After the show was over we went back to work like nothing had happened.  But I kept thinking about that other mguy, the twin guy.  Thought about it all day.  Fuck, the rest of the damned week.  I mean, I don't have a brother or anything, so I don't know what that's like, but I thought it might be really weird to have someone just show up who looked like you, but wasn't you, you know?
"But that's not what freaked me out.  What really fucked me over was thinking that maybe Pico and this other guy had twins like I was thinking of – and maybe they were the ones that didn't like fucking soap operas.  But was my twin with them, always wishing he was watching that kind of shit?
"Spooky, you know?"
* * * *
I had a car.  I didn't have to walk.  But I did anyway.  My logic was simple, direct: he had a car.  Driving was something we had in common.  He had a car.  He drove.  I had a car.  He drove.
I walked.  That was mine.  Mine alone.
The shy was bright and cloudless blue.  The sun seemed to fill up a good quarter of it: so big, so bright, so hot.  I wished I had sunglasses.  Instead, I kept my eyes half-closed, seeing only the fractured sidewalk, tumbling trash, dead dirt in municipal planters, my shoes, and the shoes on the feet of other pedestrians.
I didn't know where I was going.  I just walked.
That I didn't have a direction was something else I had that he didn't.  I knew it was probably a mistake, that I should have stopped, thought about what had happened, what I should do, but I didn't.  Instead, I walked – just walked.
Four feet, instead of two.  Bare, instead of wearing shoes.  The dog that approached and then passed was an Average Yellow Dog.  Someone with expertise could have said what breed it was, what characteristics it had, but for me it was yellow and average.  Envy at its gold fur, its wobbling tongue, its kind brown eyes: beautiful and simple, direct and unexceptional.
We had something in common, something we shared, the dog and I: it wasn't thinking where it was going, either.  It was just walking.  Its dog brain was full of basic dog-things: eat that food, piss on that hydrant, hump that leg, wag that tail, lick that hand, bark that bark, chase that cat – instead of wildly crackling thoughts.
I wished I was even more like the dog.  When cornered it would at least have a few hundred thousand years of survival instinct to fall back on.  Me?  I had a few dozen James Bond and kung fu flicks – and watching wasn't doing.
It could have been one or two or even three hours – hard to say – but eventually my stomach started to complain loud enough for my dog-imitating brain to hear.  Stopping at the next red light, I lifted my head, noticing that the so-hot sun had fallen down a good hunk of the sky.  Breakfast and lunch had both passed me by.
On the same corner was a little cafe.  I didn't recognize it, but I knew its type: precious and upscale, a new menu to go along with a fresh coat of pastel colors over what used to be POPS or MAINSTREET GRILL or even just EATS.  Now, though, it was called CAFE 307.  The number wasn't the address, so I had no idea what it meant.
"One?" a waiter said when I walked in.  He was younger than I was, dressed in jeans and a yellow shirt.  I could immediately see him flecked with paint, pondering the subject of his art as well as how he was going to spend the fortune he was going to make selling it.
"Yeah, thanks," I told Arty.  He led me from the front door to a bare wooden table in the back.  His hair was close and broadly dyed blond.  A few years ago it would have been dark, long, and restrained into a ponytail.  Fashion had changed, and so had he.
"The specials are–" and then I didn't hear anything he said.  Words came through, sometimes very clearly, sometimes broken, disconnected from any meaning: "Chicken" "Ham" "Salsa" "Pine nuts" "Sardines" "Truffles" "Glazed" "Cheese" "Olives" "Sea Bass" "Oysters" "Steak" "Fries" "Macaroni" "Brazed" "Garlic" "Shrimp" "Polenta" and others.
"Thanks," I repeated, bringing up the menu he'd brought, cutting his stare from my face.
I think he asked if I wanted water.  I must have said I did because some was brought a few minutes later.
Like with the specials, the words on the menu didn't make sense.  They floated off the page, mixed into combinations I didn't remember – or at least didn't sound appetizing: "Five Spice Ice Cream" "Tomato Roll" "Flattened Eggs" "Whipped Scallops" "Boiled Mint" "Saffron Figs." In a box to the side were three words: The Ever Popular.
"Need some more time?" Arty said, appearing again by the table.  It seemed like he'd just left.  I repeated those three words, not knowing what I'd ordered.  For a drink I looked down, saw a glass with ice and said what it was: "Just water."
A bell rang, the announcement of another diner.  Turning in reflex, I saw a mother pushing a stroller.  She was in sweatpants, a sweatshirt, a sweatband, and running shoes.  Her face was hard, muscled and toned into a brown leather mask.  In the stroller, the infant also had a headband.  Girl or boy, the kid was jogging before it could walk.
Running Mom took a table nearby.  The menu concerned her, and it took a long time for her to order.  When she did, Arty's otherwise up and happy brow collapsed and his professional grin soured.  Outdoor, Running World, Pilates Fitness World, Fitness Magazine, or Working Mother must have had something about gluten.  Some Web site, e-mail, chat room, or forum must have mentioned something about peanut oil.  A friend, coworker, fellow parent, must have said something about sugar.
The Ever Popular clattered down in front of me.  Eggs, pancakes (blueberry), hash browns, and cantaloupe – gluten, peanut oil, and sugar in one commonly agreeable package.  I didn't like eggs, didn't care for pancakes (blueberry), didn't prefer hash browns, and I didn't care for cantaloupe.
I almost asked Arty for something else.  But then I picked up my knife and fork and started cutting – not really caring what I sliced or what ended up grouped together on my fork.  If I didn't like eggs, if I didn't care for pancakes (blueberry), if I didn't prefer hash browns, and if I didn't care for cantaloupe, then he wouldn't either.
I wasn't him.  He wasn't me.
I ate.  He might be eating – wherever he was.  But he sure wasn't eating eggs, pancakes (blueberry), hash browns, or cantaloupe.
Thinking of him – actively putting my mind to him – pushed away the last of the dog brain I'd been trying to run on.  Eggs, pancakes (blueberry), hash browns, and cantaloupe almost tumbled from my fork.
It didn't matter what I ate, or if I drove or not.  I knew that, but it was hard to admit it to myself.  Easier to think all it would take would be to stop driving, start eating a different breakfast, wear a different designer, watch different TV shows, try to be a different person.
The eggs were slimy, the pancakes (blueberry) were too sweet, the hash browns too oily, and the cantaloupe gave me gas.  But I ate them anyway.
Like I said, easier than accepting what I knew: he didn't want my life.
He wanted me.
* * * *
Out: full belly, a growl pacified.  Out: leaving behind a paid bill, a tip, a squalling baby, a worn-down (but toned) mother.
I could have stayed there all day.  It was a nice enough place, but the longer I sat, the more my mind began to circle the drain.  The more my mind circled the drain, the more my hands shook.  The more my hands shook, the more my heart raced.  The more my mind raced, the more my breath came up short.  The more my breath came up short, the more my eyes darted.  Better to get up, get out, change the scenery.
At the door, though – one foot in, one foot out – my brain went 'round and 'round, my hands began to shake, my heart palpitated, my breath wheezed, my eyes buzzed, all because a voice from behind me, from the clatter and hiss of the kitchen: "Nice to see you again."
I had never been in the place before.  A quick turn, to see the source.  Not the one I'd just tipped, but another waiter.  Wearing a smile that said more-than-familiarity, he waved.
Out: slamming into the half-closed door with a wood and glass bang I knew made everyone turn to stare.  Out: on the sidewalk, my legs molten, threatening to bring me down – hard – onto the cement.  Out: a quick brace against the hot door of a parked car.  Out: too-long-a-moment while my hands stopped shaking (just a bit), my heart stopped hammering (just a bit), my breath stopped rasping (just a bit), my eyes stopped twitching (just a bit).
Out and then away, walking as fast as I could without running.  Putting the cafe behind me, putting the waiter behind me, putting his stalking behind me.
At the corner, the rush and bustle of traffic drowned out my thoughts.  But not all of them.  The dog was gone, my previously primitive brain-state tamed instead into a neurotic, quivering mess.
He wants me, was all I could think.  Over and over, 'round and 'round the black center of the sink.  He wants me, he wants me, he wants me–
A car came down the street, just one of many.  But it wasn't like the others doing their rushing and bustling.  The one in front of it was dark gray, the one behind it was bright red.  It wasn't either.  It was white.  A white Volkswagen.  Just like mine.
Just like his.
I ran.  Away from the car, I ran.  Far away from the car I ran.  The alley was wide, a chain-link fence on the right, dumpsters and trash cans on the right.  Again, as I ran: He wants me.  Over and over, 'round and 'round the black center of the sink.  He wants me, he wants me, he wants me–
Another street, but this time with less rushing, less bustling.  Quiet industrial office buildings, silent parking lots, hushed small manufacturing firms.  Panting, chest squeezed by a vice, I braced myself against a fake-looking tree, a failed municipal attempt to make the area look less cold and empty.  I was glad it failed.  I didn't want human warmth.  Or at least one certain someone's warmth.  Human or not.
Human or not ... he wanted me.  He did.  That much was clear.  Not my life.  Not my job, my friends, my family, my 'things.' He wanted me.  He wanted to have me.  To take me.
I looked up at the sun, a blinding ball of yellow in a painfully blue sky.  Church was nothing but weird-shaped buildings and The Ten Commandments at Easter.  I knew Jesus, of course.  Knew about Jesus, of course, I should say.  But that's all he was when I got old enough to actually read what he and some of his followers were saying.  Especially about guys like me, who happened to think Chuck Heston would be fun in bed and the Son of God had the most delicious bedroom eyes...
But now ... was he?  Could he be?  Was it possible?  If God moved in mysterious ways could the devil move in even more mysterious ways?  A copy, a Satanic double, let out from a sulfur and brimstone condo to chase me down, take me, make me into – what?  What the hell did he want?
I shook my head, trying to chase away the colors the too-harsh daylight had burned into my eyes.  Closed, all I saw with them were blue and red washes and flares.
Open, I saw the small industrial park.  Open, I saw distant traffic on a busier artery.  Cars passing this way and that.  Red and dark gray, blue and green, dull silver and yellow, and white.  Of course white.  There are lots of white cars out there.  Lots of them.  Lots of Volkswagens, too.  Very popular manufacturer, Volkswagen.
I didn't run, but I did walk very fast.  Away, very fast.  Away, very fast from that busier street.  Deeper into the park.
He'd come close.  Too damned close.  The thought of how close made me stop my very fast walking and stand still in order to shiver from toes to nose.  Shit.  Fuck.  Shit.  Fuck.  Shit.  In the dark, his hands.  In the dark, my hands.  In the dark, our lips.  In the dark, our skin.
But that wasn't all he wanted.  If it was, he wouldn't be out there, wouldn't be taking more and more of me away.  Wouldn't be watching me.  Wouldn't be following me.  Wouldn't be driving around the city.  Wouldn't be ... out there.
No heaven, no hell.  If he had horns and a tail then they were very small.  Besides, in the dark, his hands; in the dark, my hands; in the dark, our lips; in the dark, our skin.  Flesh and blood all around.  I was – so was he.
So what did his flesh and blood want with my flesh and blood?
The sun was falling, the air cooling, night coming.  In my safe maze of uniformity, shadows cast by small manufacturing buildings began to lengthen.  Hours still, before complete darkness.  Hours still, before the sun completely set.
Without direction, I walked.  Without permission, my eyes tracked feverishly back and forth, then forth and back, looking for anything that wasn't stunted trees, gray buildings, slate-dark streets, sagging lengths of heavy chain across the mouths of empty parking lots, glass doors, glass walls, and signs dull with simple information and not the artistic allure of actually trying to coax shoppers off the streets.
I didn't know what he wanted.  But I knew who he was trying to be – who he had copied, imitated, duplicated, reproduced, stolen, faked.
I knew him rather well.  The original.  Me.  A stop in my thinking, a stop in my walking.  A heavy brick wall, all cinderblock and inarguable mortar cut across my world.  I'd reached the end of the park.  Above and beyond were the poles and wire of power and/or phone lines.  It was too tall to climb.  Turning right for no reason, I went back to walking, back to thinking.
Both were a mistake.
* * * *
Step the way you step, and so it would be the way he steps.  Think the way you think, and so it'd be the way he thinks.
I put myself into his shoes, which were also my shoes.  I put myself into his mind, which was also my mind: he was what you wanted.  No one else would do.  You watched him.  You studied him.  You learned all there was to know about him.  Then you began – slowly at first – to do what he did, to look the way he did: wore clothes like his, you cut your hair like his, you talked like him, you moved like him, you tried to think like him, you wanted to become him – totally and absolutely.
Then, when you were ready, you began to inch your way into his life, becoming him: friends, coworkers, strangers, maybe even relatives.  You fooled them all: they never suspected, they never doubted that you were him.
A dumpster, crammed with crushed cardboard boxes, hid most of the corner where another wall of bricks met the one I'd been following.  I met this angle and turned right: the only direction to go without going back.
It was all you wanted, everything you wanted: to become what he was, to become him – in mind as well as body.  Wherever he went, you were there before him.  When he changed, you changed.
Then, you were ready.  You picked the time, you chose the place.
But he rejected you.
Another cardboard box, more than likely dropped before getting to the dumpster.  Two feet tall, three feet long.  Could have held anything: a computer, a TV, a microwave oven, a shelving unit, a piece of mysterious industrial equipment, maybe even food or the things that, when cooked together, made food.  It didn't matter.
It was in my hands, picked up and held without a thought.  It wasn't heavy.  I wouldn't have noticed if it was.
Fingers curling, my nails cut into the paper, puncturing the stiff brown outside.  Distantly, I felt the corrugated interior of the cardboard crush.  I kept curling, kept clawing: the tearing was loud in my space between industrial building and cinder block wall.  The box became anything but square, the material of it ripped and shredded in my hands.
He rejected you!
No box, no paper, no corrugated material, no cardboard: my mind went away from what I was seeing, instead projecting on the inside of my forehead: flesh and blood.  Too much flesh, too much blood.
Fingers curling, I imagined my nails cutting into his skin, puncturing the soft pale outside.  I kept curling, kept clawing: the tearing was loud in my space between my ears.  His body became anything but whole, the material of him ripping and shredding in my hands.
The dog mind came back, a roaring white of fury: rip flesh, break bones, tear off fingers, burst eyes, smash teeth, crush ribs, pulp the insides, tug and rip away the outsides.  Horror movies, nightmares, traffic accidents: blood slick and copper, bones twig and branch breaking, marrow popping, organs spilling, skull splitting, brains splashing–
In my hands: no box, no paper, no corrugated material, no cardboard.  Instead scraps and pieces, bits and fragments.  Breathing hard, I let the remnants fall to the pavement.  Around me were shreds of brown, flecks of brown, crumples of brown–
Fading, ghosting away...  In my hands: no box, no paper, no corrugated material, no cardboard.  Instead scraps and pieces, bits and fragments.  Breathing hard, I let the remnants fall to the pavement.  Around me were shreds of flesh, flecks of blood, crumples of tissue – but then the dog mind went away, and it was just an alley behind an industrial building, and at my feet was just litter.
He wanted to be me, he wanted to have me, and I rejected him.
If he'd become me – totally and completely become me then he'd be thinking what I was thinking.
Leaving behind a destroyed box, I began to run once again, thinking of blood once again – but this time my blood on his hands.
* * * *
Turning right had been a mistake.  I said that, didn't I?  Can't remember.  If I didn't, then I should have.  If I did, then saying it again was not enough.
I knew what he wanted: me.  I knew what he'd do to me if he found me: my blood on his hands, because I'd rejected him.
The industrial park had ended, the wall I'd been following stopped.  In front of me was a busy street, cars moving right to left and left to right.  All very fast.  Night was more than threatening: the cars that moved from right to left and left to right were led by blinding headlights and followed by crimson streaks from taillights.  Across the street, streetlights had begun to flicker on, piss-yellow sodium glows mixing with the white and the red going from right to left and left to right.
Not just across the street.  Without a sound, the one above me winked on, throwing a sour, piss-colored glow all around me.
There was no way to tell a white car from a yellow one.  Lots of cars, many of them could be yellow, many of them might be white.  Might not be him.  Might be him.
Having arrived where turning right had led me, there was no choice but to keep going in that direction.  To the left was the dark industrial park, what had been a safely quiet spread of uniform gray buildings was now a haunted maze where a loud voice – or a scream – wouldn’t be heard.
Right it was, then.  Quickly, but only a trot, not a run.  My legs were stone, iron, lead, heavy elements polluting my body with painful radiations.  My chest was rasping phosphorus, churning aid, spasms of fists speed-bagging my heart.
Don’t hurt me.  Please don’t hurt me.  I’m sorry.  So sorry.  Please ... ‘round and ‘round in my head.  But as they did, I knew that if they were being said, and I was hearing them, they wouldn’t mean anything at all.  I wouldn’t listen, so he wouldn’t listen.
The liquor store was an island of bulletproof glass, irritably buzzing fluorescents, crossly droning neon, and squalling Muzak.  A bell announced me.  Behind the counter, a Working Stiff – flannel shirt, jeans, skin tan from outdoor work and cheap motor oil, face rough from outdoor work and cheap beer, eyes hard from outdoor work and cheap entertainment – looked up at me, checking for trouble.
"Hiya," the Working Stiff said in a light tone, clearly not seeing trouble in me.
I wasn't hungry.  I didn't have a car.  I didn't need a pine tree air freshener.  I didn't want a copy of Hustler.  I didn't need a lottery ticket.  I didn't need directions.  But I still came in, nodding to the Working Stiff, and began to walk up and down the narrow aisles like I was hungry, did need gas, did need a pine tree air freshener, did want a copy of Hustler, did need a lottery ticket, did need directions.
He was out there.  I knew that.  He was looking for me.  I knew that.  He wanted me.  I knew that.  He wanted to hurt me.  I knew that.
Somehow a bag of potato chips ended up in my hands.  French Onion.  Ridges.  I didn't like potato chips, even ridged French Onion ones, but I kept it in my hands as I walked up and down the aisles while the Working Stiff watched.
After a time – how much of it I had no idea – I felt that I had walked from the aisle of 'slow customer' to 'what the fuck?', baiting his eyes from casual examination to hard suspicion.
The added peppery burn of his look made my heart more than race.  Slipping out of my fingers, the French Onion ridged chips fell to the tiled floor.  "Shit," I said, a moment after they landed, my voice shrill and far too loud.  I bent down and the bag was in my arms again in a split second.  Take it easy, I told myself.  Take it easy.
"Rough night?" he said when I put the bag down on the counter.  Voice cool and relaxed, he made my heart slow to a walk.  Just a guy.  Just a Working Stiff.  Just a guy who was a Working Stiff doing his job.
"Yeah," I answered in small tones, face tilted down in submission.  I wanted him to like me.  I needed him – okay, anyone – to care about me, so I wouldn't be alone.
"Been there, man," Working Stiff said with a slight smile.
I didn't know how to answer that, so I just kept grinning.  A pair of headlights swung by the windows, their stern glares washing away the garish colors inside the store.  It was hard to see what color the car was.  It could have been white.
"Something bothering you?" the Working Stiff asked as he punched buttons on his register, the chimes of money sharp and clear.  I couldn't tell by the way he asked whether his question was kind concern or wary distrust.
Even though I shook my head I said: "Yeah, kinda." Even though I reached out for my unwanted purchase I said: "Not a big deal, really." Even though I grabbed the bag I said: "It's just that–"
"It's just that ... there's this guy out there.  Drives a white Volkswagen.  Kind of ... a problem, you know?  I don't really want to run into him."
The grin on his face was wide and toothy.  It was not a pleasant sight: obviously his employment didn't include dental.  "Know that story," he said, though obviously he couldn't have.  "Don't have to tell me twice."
The grin?  Must have been the grin.  He didn't know me, but he seemed nice enough, even remotely concerned.  Putting my bag down on the counter, I began by saying something like "You think you have it all figured out–"
I didn't tell him everything.  I couldn't do that.  But I asked him enough to keep the grin on his face, to keep the remote concern coming from him.  Casually, sideways, from a different direction, I asked him what he might think if he saw someone who looked, acted, exactly like him.
That's when he told me about soap operas and long-lost twins.
* * * *
I'd pushed it.  The grin was there but it had begun to slip.  It was good while it lasted though.  The world – at least for the last few minutes – had become warmer, kinder, average, ordinary: just two guys in the middle of the night having a warm, kind, average, ordinary conversation.  But all through it, tickling the back of neck, was the thought of another pair of headlights harshly white through the big glass windows of the liquor store.  A pair belonging to a white Volkswagen.  A white Volkswagen belonging to someone who looked, acted, exactly like me.
It was time to go.  Where I didn't know.  To do what, I didn't know.  To run?  To hide?  To find a way to make him run?  To make him hide?
"See ya," I told him, taking up my bag of French Onion ridged potato chips and moving toward the door.
"Later," was his answer.  It would have been fine and good if that was all he said.  It would have been warmer, kinder, average, ordinary if that was all he said.  But it wasn't, because that wasn't all he said: "Best of luck with the Volkswagen – and that blond guy, with the blue eyes."
I hadn't told him about him.  I hadn't told him who the owner of the white Volkswagen looked like.  I hadn't mentioned someone who looked, acted, exactly like me.
Which meant one thing: that someone else had.  Someone who'd been in the store, maybe even that night.  Someone who'd looked, acted, exactly like me.
* * * *
I'd dropped the bag of French Onion ridged potato chips.  Where, I didn't know.  Somewhere it was laying on a sidewalk, probably still puffed up with air.  Or maybe someone had stepped on it, bursting it, spraying salty snacks over their feet.
Feet like mine?
The liquor store was behind me, maybe fifty feet or so.
The street I was moving down was dark, revealed only by the amorphous yellow glow of sodium streetlights.  Traffic was light, but more than enough to make me want to scream: every car was a Volkswagen, every Volkswagen was white, every white Volkswagen was driven by a young man with blond hair and blue eyes, every blond haired and blue eyed driver was me – looking for me.
I saw the cars, I saw the sidewalk, I saw the urine-glow of the sodium streetlights, but I also saw blood: mine sprayed through the air, mine slick on the ground, mine from the impact of a quick and heavy bullet, mine from a rearing and cutting saw, mine from a flashing knife edge, mine from the pounding impacts of a hammer, mine from the rushing blur of a car, mine from ... how I didn't know, couldn't be sure.  But I did know, could be sure, that it would be from him.
Don't hurt me.  Please don't hurt me.  I'm sorry.  So sorry.  Please ... 'round and 'round in my head.  I knew that if the words were being said, and I was hearing them, they wouldn't mean anything at all.  I wouldn't listen, so he wouldn't listen.
He was out there.  I knew that.  He was looking for me.  I knew that.  He wanted me.  I knew that.  He wanted to hurt me.  I knew that.
A form, appearing and disappearing as it crossed from night into the yellow cones of streetlight illuminations.  A form ahead of me.  Moving away?  No, it was approaching.
Two arms, swinging at its side.  Two legs, scissoring as it walked.  A head, immobile.  A he.  A person.  A man.
I suspected before I knew.  The 'no' that burst in my head, deep in my mind, was an echo: a statement of the visually obvious.
A mirror had been held up to the world.  A reflection of myself.

He was coming at me.

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