strange counterpart

Apr 08 2013

walking home that late at night, John was always reminded of Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. it wasnt snowing, but it was always cold, and the woods were lovely, dark and deep.

this time he wondered not for the first time whether Frost was really a great poet. people were always saying he was a great poet, but John could not apprehend his greatness, and why the particular poem that had come to mind might be one of his most famous. was it about suicide?

another man had entered the road and was walking on ahead of him. John thought he recognised the man, although it seemed unlikely that this was really the case, as many people looked the same from behind, especially when we have been thinking of someone we know. but then John realised that it was because the man was wearing a coat remarkably similar to that he was wearing himself, if not identical. John was spooked, because the man seemed to possess a similar height and stature to his own; but there must be many such coats.

these beautiful forest roads were all so alike, both to one another, and along their own lengths, that a walker on one of them might be walking on any other of them, and might be walking nowhere at all. for a little while they both walked onward in this way, John forgetting for one moment or another that he was going anywhere, and watching their breaths misting in the frozen atmosphere. John saw that the regularity and timing of the other mans breathing was measured in time with his own, and that the movements of the other man too were like his own. he felt the swinging of his own arms to be ridiculous, as though the other man were mocking him through imitation. the situation was becoming very uncomfortable for John, and he decided to call out to the man. as they were traveling in the same direction, they could walk together, and perhaps make new acquaintance.

“hello” he called, “hello sir! excuse me please”. the other man turned and began walking back towards him. John waved, and kept calling hello, but the other man did not say anything. as they came closer to one another, John felt the increase of his discomfort, rather than its dissipation, as the man looked more and more similar to John, and finally appeared to be identical to him. John had heard of twins, separated at birth, who had grown up in different environments but had still turned out to have developed similarly in other strange ways, taking up residence in similar places and buying the same clothes. but Johns parents had not been poor, and they had loved John himself so much, that he could think of nothing that might have induced them to have given up a twin of his.

John felt more and more foolish as his waving and yelling remained unacknowledged by his strange counterpart, and annoyed by his failure to establish eye contact. the uncommunicative stranger came onward faster and faster, until John felt that they would collide, and it was too late to step out of the way. the other man ran into his shoulder, hard, hurting him and knocking him out of the way, and continued walking. “hey!” yelled John, turning back around. the other man was walking into the woods and ignored him.

by a strange compulsion, John found himself following. he was possessed by the irrational conviction that the other man was not a twin, but was rather his own self, somehow separated into another part, and he was drawn towards it as though to the rediscovery of a precious piece of forgotten property. he plunged into the forest in pursuit of glimpses of the coat and the sounds of snapping twigs underfoot. the man was close, and John was gaining on him, so that it would not be long before he caught him.

but the man anticipated John by turning back and walking towards him. again, it seemed impossible to make eye contact, but John felt a disconcerting rapport in the sensation that he was walking towards a mirror in this dense woodland. it was true; it was the case that the man was reflecting his movements. as they came closer to one another and he anticipated another collision John attempted to move aside, but the other man too moved in the same direction. John thought that the man wanted to pass him to move back to the road, and it occurred to him that he might pretend to allow him to do so, and then follow him again to find out where he was going.

but the man would not walk by. “excuse me” said John, attempting to move around him, but at exactly the same time the other man also said “excuse me” and moved in the same direction as John. “excuse me” said John again “sorry sorry” but with the man so exactly reflecting all of his words and movements he felt as though he were performing to a mirror. in frustration he dared a little rush at the man, hoping that they might softly knock one another out of the way, but their foreheads and chests met and pushed against each other with identical force. “oh sorry!” said John, but the other man just said the same thing, and it really felt as though he were pushing against a mirror. John stepped back and cleared his throat in embarrassment. the other man did the same, and they both brushed their coats. “excuse me” they both repeated, and turned and walked in opposite directions.

John intended to walk directly towards the road, but could not resist turning once more to look after the other man. the man too was looking back, again as though reflecting John, but now there was another man with him. this man was imitating the original man in his posture, as though playing the part of another reflection at a right angle to him. John turned completely towards them, and as they too turned towards him, he felt a growing sense of horror. without real knowledge of his movements, this feeling drew him towards them, while they too walked towards him. they stared at him with horror. John understood that he had unwittingly wandered into some sort of evil circus, mistakenly believing that he was discovering his self, and these were wicked clowns. this made no sense to him, but he was scrabbling for explanation.

in a state of terror he turned again and this time began to run headlong towards the road, but running towards him were two more terrified men, reflecting his movements with the most minute precision. he turned and ran again another way, but there were others of his selves approaching from apparently every direction, and at bizarre angles, as though in a house of mirrors. John stopped abruptly, but this time the other selves did not stop, and they ran towards him and knocked him down. from every direction all of the countless selves ran back and forth over his body, again and again, until they trampled the life out of him.

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