by Joshua Storrs
Margo’s cigarette swelled orange and a mist floated from her mouth, the smoke mixing with her breath in the cold night air. She leaned back on the railing of my balcony. Her elbow brushed my arm. The city lights shone through her hair, adding a glow to the red and purple dye I helped apply the night before.
“I can’t really say where it is,” said Margo. “I think it’s in a different spot for everyone.”
“And the double, it’ll be in there? Guaranteed?” I said.
“He’s not an ‘it’, Simon. He’s you. He’s got your experiences and your personality. He’s existed up until now and he’ll keep existing after you leave. Well, unless you, uh…”
“Nothing, don’t worry about it.”
“So he’s like a doppelgänger?”
Margo made her cigarette glow again and shook her head. “No, because a doppelgänger is an evil twin, and he’s not evil. He’s just another you. Identical and separate.” Smoke puffed from her mouth with each word, like an engine fighting the cold.
I had always been too scared to try, but I didn’t mind Margo’s smoking. I enjoyed the way it looked. The smoke and the sparks and the glow. It was like she carried the last burning moments of sundown with her into the night.
I swallowed. “So this place…”
“Right, Borden’s. It’s the only place you’ll find him?”
“If he exists now, and he keeps existing after I leave, what stops me from just running into him on the street? Now or after?”
“I think it’s like, he just lives somewhere else.”
“If he lives somewhere else, then he can’t have my exact experiences.”
Margo shrugged and tried to hide her smile behind her cigarette.
I bent over the railing, intentionally leaning into her arm, but not too much. My apartment was on the second floor and I could see all the way down the street. I lived a few blocks south of main street, just past the border between downtown and the area with a lot less working street lights. Margo and I spent many nights walking up and down these streets, sharing stories. I knew this area like it was a part of me.
“What do people do there?”
“That’s up to you,” said Margo. “That’s kind of the point. Not a lot of people talk about it. I know of one person who didn’t say anything. He didn’t think his double would have anything to offer him. Like, no information or stories that he didn’t already have. So they just kind of looked at each other. He got a drink and he left. There’s someone else I know who—well…”
She paused, her cigarette staying at her side. “Okay, a friend of mine told me about when she found it. She went in there, saw her double, and killed her.”
“Why did she do that?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think she should have gone in there in the first place. She’s not exactly the most ‘together’ person. Lots of insecurity issues. She always puts a lot of effort into making herself unique, and I guess she really didn’t like the idea that she wasn’t.”
“So she responded violently, like to a threat.”
“Yeah, I guess. Maybe she didn’t know exactly what to expect, like it hadn’t been explained to her properly, so what she saw scared her. I’m not sure. She kinda started crying on me before she got to the motivation part of her story.”
“I know.” Margo stuffed her cigarette in my flowerbed, lighting another before the first finished smoldering. “It’s actually kind of scary to think about. I mean, what if you go in there and your double decides to kill you?”
I thought about that. “I think, if your double is one hundred percent you, then that’s something you’d know to be worried about before you walked in.”
“Hmm, that’s a great point, dude.”
“Still, I wonder.” I hesitated.
“Do you know if there have been any suicides related to this?”
“Not that I know of, why?”
“Well, it’s like the other side of the coin, isn’t it? If you’re someone who puts a lot of pride into being unique, finding out you aren’t is like a punch to the gut. It knocks the wind out of you. You might even get violent. But depending on your view of things, that violence might be directed towards yourself instead of your double.”
“Sure, I guess.”
“Think about it, you come out of Borden’s and a thought occurs. Maybe it’s immediate, maybe it comes to you slowly, like a sickness. But it’s the thought that, if you died, it would have no impact on the world. That after all is said and done, you are not important.”
Margo looked at me, maintaining eye contact—a rare thing for her. “Simon, you’re scaring me.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, touched by her concern. “This isn’t something I’d do. I’m just trying to empathize. This is interesting to me.”
“I can see what you’re saying. But the problem with that is that you shouldn’t value yourself based on how useful you are, like it shouldn’t be your reason for living. That’s how people get used.”
“Right. No, I completely agree. I’m just speculating.”
She held my gaze for a moment, then gave a tentative nod. “Okay.”
“Still, which is worse?” I said.
“Suicide or murder?”
“I think they’re the same in a lot of ways.”
“What, because it’s your double?”
“No, just in general.”
We took a deep breath of silence.
“What about the guy who didn’t say anything?” I tried to keep my words level, to match Margo’s, but I knew at this point something else was seeping into my voice. It was apprehension—fear, mixed with the excitement of exploring uncharted lands—a potion both hot and cold.
“What about him?”
I turned towards Margo and shrugged.
She met my gaze, then returned it to the street. “I think it’s kind of selfish to be honest.”
“He didn’t talk to him because he didn’t think his double could offer him anything. As if every conversation has to get him something.”
“Hmm, well okay, what did you do?”
“What makes you think I’ve found it?”
“Because when I asked you where it is, you said you couldn’t say, not that you didn’t know.”
She smiled and took a long, slow drag, thinking about her answer. “I guess I took it as an opportunity,” she said. “I don’t think anyone can truthfully say they know themselves, y’know? So for one night I was able to talk to myself as an outsider. I mean, I think of becoming my ideal self as my life’s goal, so it really helped me get perspective on stuff. When I was in there, it was like a time-out from everything, where I could take a good hard look at myself before moving on.”
“So you’re glad you did it?”
She nodded. “Absolutely, dude.”
Past Margo, the street below us faded into the night. I let my eyes relax. The thoughts drifted through my mind and settled like a snowfall—my double out there, somewhere, living my life, me in every way that mattered. I noticed a light flicker on in the distance and it brought my vision back into focus. It was a neon sign, half purple, half red. “Borden’s.”
Margo turned to face me, her back to the sign. “You see it, don’t you?” she said. Her voice grew excited, her eyes widened and she smiled with her teeth—something she never did.
“What are you gonna do, Simon?” she said, watching my face. I didn’t answer.
Leaving Margo on the balcony, I walked through my apartment and out into the hall. I half expected it to disappear, but when I emerged from my building and turned toward the darkness, there it shone. It did not surprise me, not really. When the sign flickered on, it was like it had always been there.
I did not turn around, but I could feel her on the balcony, probably on her next cigarette by now, watching me pull open the door, and walk inside.
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Joshua Storrs is a writer living in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He writes for The Communicator and conducts interviews for a podcast called Worlds Longest Voicemail. He has previously had poetry published in the fall 2015 issue of Confluence. Joshua enjoys live music, mac ‘n cheese, and sleeping in strange places.
Tags: Joshua Storrs, Modern Fantasy