I always heard the words in my head when I woke up and fell out of bed. "Good morning." It was as if someone was mocking me inside my own mind. I sneered at the words, turned off the alarm clock and slipped on a pair of shorts before wandering into the kitchen to make a pot of hot coffee. Another day. Another dollar. It was all crap. I wanted a change. The problem was, I didn't have any idea what kind of change I wanted. I just wanted something different in life. My job was boring and redundant. My girlfriend had once been the pleasant cream topping dessert that came after a long day. Now she had become part of the long day, just another issue that needed to be dealt with. Bills piling up, friends calling to groan about their lives, family wondering what I had accomplished and neighbors complaining about this, that or the other thing. It had all become very tiresome.
My car was overdue for an oil change but there wasn't enough time for all the little chores that litter a life. It needed to be washed and probably could do for a tune-up. As long as there was gas in the tank I figured I could get where I needed to go. Eventually there would be an opportunity for taking care of these nagging "problems" that needed resolution. For now all I wanted was just to get through another work day on cruise control.
"Good morning. Welcome to work."
The security guard at the gate was unusually bland. Usually he would call me by my name, a practice security had gotten into to show they could read when you showed them your identification badge. Yeah, my name is on the badge, but you don't really know me so stop pretending we are best buddies. My wish sort of came true. This time he didn't try to show off. I didn't care.
"Weren't you just here ten minutes ago?"
He had not yet handed my badge back to me. He was staring at it and then at me with a bewildered look on his face. I looked back at him and shook my head with confused disgust. Of course I hadn't been there ten minutes ago. Ten minutes ago I had been driving down the highway in my car listening to very, very poor morning disc jockeys trying to be witty in response to bland current events.
"Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I've been here at the gate for the last hour and I'm sure I didn't see you leave."
"I have not been here already. Look, just give me my badge. I have a meeting in an hour I need to get ready for and I need to get to my office."
"I can't do that. You could be an imposter."
"According to your ID you work in Engineering Support. Let me make a quick call over there to verify that you are not already here."
"Jesus Christ, man. I am right here. How could I already be in my office if I am right here!"
"Well, I need to check, sir. If you are already here, then you will be superfluous personnel and I'll have to deny you entry."
There was no use arguing with him. I collected myself and waited while he made the call. Just because this security guard was an idiot with obvious emotional problems didn't mean I needed to completely ruin my day. Once I was in my office I would report his odd behavior to my superiors and arrange to have him fired and deported to whatever country his grandparents had emigrated from.
He made a call to my office, and I wasn't sure who he was talking to, but the conversation concerned him. The security guard nodded his head with great seriousness and repeatedly said "I understand." My frustration started to grow. He was going to deny me entrance to the compound and cause serious problems with my day and my job. I found myself wishing I had invested in a cell phone so that I could call the office myself. Instead I was stuck waiting on this security guard to decide my fate.
"Sir, I cannot let you through the gate. You are already here."
I glared at the guard, and rumbled a series of curse words when he insisted on keeping my security badge. I backed my car away from the gate and completed a very fast three-point turn in the road in front of him. There was a gas station with a pay phone just a block away. I intended to telephone my superiors at the company and report what had happened. This security guard would be on the unemployment line within the hour.
There was a great deal of commotion at the gas station. I paid it as little mind as possible. I was on a mission. There were two police cars parked in front of the door and a half dozen people were standing around talking to them. The pay phone was outside at the other end of the building from where the action was taking place, so I pulled up in front of it and parked. I fished some coins out of the ashtray and got out of the car scowling.
"That's him!" I heard someone shout
and then someone pointed in my direction. The police officers pulled the billy clubs
from their belts and walked towards me. I froze in my tracks
and dropped the coins I was gripping tightly in my left hand. Rational thought didn't play a part as I ran back to my car, glad that I had not killed the engine
, and pulled out of the gas station and drove down the road at a speed nearly double the local limit
I felt unwell. I reached for the pack of cigarettes I kept on the dashboard and lit one with the cigarette lighter from the dashboard. I continued to drive at extremely unsafe speeds towards the highway. I heard the sound of a telephone ringing and looked down at the console between the driver's and passenger's front seats. There was a cell phone ringing and although I didn't own one it was sitting there on the console as clear as a Saturday morning.
"I killed Doug O'Brien. The fucker was trying to tell me how to do my job. I need a place to hide. Help me, man."
I hung up the phone and threw it on the floor below the passenger seat. The voice on the telephone sounded exactly like my own voice. It was extremely unsettling, especially considering my present circumstances. Hearing your own voice on the other end of a telephone call is not something easily digested without an easy explanation.
There was a traffic light ahead of me and I had to hit the brakes hard. The light was red and there was an avalanche of traffic zipping across the intersection. There was no way for me to safely cross, so I sat and waited impatiently while staring in the rear view mirror for any sign of the police. I didn't see any squad cars, so I relaxed for a moment and then looked across the median at what looked exactly like my car. Sitting behind the wheel was a man who looked exactly like me. He had a cigarette in his mouth and was holding a cell phone and anxiously pointing at it. He wanted to resume our conversation. He was frustrated with my disinterest in picking up the cell phone I did not own so he could talk to me.
The light turned green and I slammed the accelerator to the floor. I ripped through the intersection before anyone else noticed the light had changed. In my rear view mirror I saw the man who looked like me drive across the median. Another car slammed into the right side of his car, but it didn't slow him down. While my eyes were on him a car that had run the hard yellow coming the other way across the intersection slammed into the right side of my car. He stopped and waited for me to stop as well, but I kept driving. The traffic slowed in the face of these two collisions, but I drove on with the man in the car just like mine driving right behind me.
The police finally appeared. They surrounded his car and forced him down a side street. They continued to follow him, leaving me to continue down the street unfettered by any measure of pursuit. I decided to drive to my girlfriend's apartment. She lived much closer to my workplace than I did. That fact had come up often in conversations where she tried to convince me to move in with her. Now it was essential in restoring my state of mind. I would go to her apartment and call the police from there. The authorities needed to know that someone was impersonating me and committing crimes against my character. With any luck they would catch him during their pursuit of his car down that side street and everything would be resolved.
Angela's car was parked in the lot outside her building. This was good news. She worked nights most of the time but often went out on errands during the day. The place was quiet and most of the building's residents were at work. When I got to her apartment door, I rang the bell and waited. No one answered, so I used my key to let myself in. The walls were covered in blood, still fresh enough to be dripping onto the carpet in places. I walked slowly through the apartment, my hands shaking and my knees weak. I felt like I was going to throw up, and when I got to her bedroom I did. Her head had been separated from her body and was mounted on one of the iron bed posts. A sign was hanging around her neck with words written in blood. "I LOVE YOU, NICK," was all they said. Her headless body was arranged naked on the bed on all fours. More bloody words decorated the wall behind her. "My favorite position. Fuck me, Nick."
The telephone on the bedside nightstand began ringing. I stood motionless and listened to each ring. The first startled me. The second sounded like an echo. The third did not even seem real. The fourth caused me to close my eyes. Then the answering machine clicked on. I waited while Angela's voice greeting was played, sounding all too pleasant and happy. It had been the same message she kept on her machine ever since I first met her, but the sound of her cheerful voice telling the caller "I'm sorry I missed your call. I'll call you back as soon as I am able..." was especially disturbing given her present circumstances. I listened to the incoming message. My eyes were still closed.
"I am that half-empty bottle of whiskey in the playpen. Only one of us gets out of this. Which one will it be?"
Hearing my own voice speaking live on the answering machine, I picked up the phone and cut him off. It was all too incriminating. The way my voice was cackling on the message made me sound like I had completely lost my mind. Perhaps I had. There was no way this could be happening. I had to be able to talk sense to this impersonator.
"Who are you?"
"Only one of us gets out of this alive. Which one of us do you think can run faster and farther? I'm having a Big Mac and fries right now. You start running and I'll finish eating and we'll see who makes it. Remember, Nick, they'll be satisfied after they catch one of us. If they catch you, I'll go retire on a little island somewhere. If they catch me, I'll make sure you make all the headlines. Wanna play ball, scarecrow?"
The phone line went dead. There was no dial tone, just dead silence. I dropped the telephone received on the carpet and backed slowly out of the room, my eyes now open and unable to stop fixating on what remained of Angela. The acrid smell of burning wires was beginning to tickle my nostrils and I stepped away a little bit quicker. I turned around after escaping from Angela's bedroom and ran from the apartment and down the stairs. I didn't know what to do but I knew I had to run.
You've got to run for your life if you can little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Lighting another cigarette and pulling out of the apartment complex parking lot in silence, I began to think about what the imposter had said. He had apparently killed my boss, Doug O'Brien, caused a major disturbance at the gas station, and brutally murdered my girlfriend. Although I was shaking and barely able to breathe, not to mention maintain my sanity, I knew if the authorities found me before they found him that I would be going to prison for a very long time. He would escape clean and easy and any attempts I made to explain would be greeted with laughter and derision.
None of this made sense, of course, and I tried to reason with myself that this was either a dream or the result of something peculiar being put into my morning coffee. The scene at Angela's apartment replayed over and over in my mind. Then the cell phone on the floor began ringing. I reached down and grabbed it and was about to throw it out the window when a part of me decided it was in my best interests to maintain communication with the imposter.
"Look in the back seat. You might need to take care of that. It will feel real good, don't you think, when you take your first life? Even if you are doing it for kindness purposes. Later, Ace."
I looked over my shoulder into the back seat of my car. There was a young girl lying across the seat. She was tied up with black electrical tape. There was a sock in her mouth and it was held in place with the same electrical tape that was used to bind her wrists, knees and ankles. I slammed on the brakes. Then I started to drive again, looking around for any sign that I was being watched. I drove awkwardly, my arms shaking on the wheel, towards the edge of a small thicket and stopped the car where it would not be easily seen from the road. I got out of the car and opened the back door. I intended to cut the girl free from her restraints and let her go, but the back seat was filled with blood. As I pulled her slowly from the car, sliding her across her own blood, I could not help but notice that a number of prominent parts of her anatomy had been removed from her body. She was bleeding to death but still alive. To save her now meant that she would live a truly horrible life as a horrible disfigured monster. I dropped her on the ground in the thicket and dropped to my knees. I crawled away from her and towards my car. There was no strength left in me. I held onto the car door and vomited profusely. I couldn't help but cry. These tears were unlike anything I had ever experienced. They were the tears of destruction as I knew I could not control or even predict the horrors that were unfolding around me. I could not even fight. I was not ready for this kind of madness.
"Crying like a baby. Hey, I guess that makes it 45-Love in my favor, eh? Remember when you used to play tennis with yourself against the garage door? See you on the other side, pansy."
I had never disconnected the call from the imposter. He had been listening to and enjoying my plight since I discovered the girl. She was now dying in slow and painful agony only five feet away from me. There was nothing I could do. I got back into my car and opened the glove compartment. There were maps in there. In order to run I would have to figure out a destination. My maps were there, as expected, but there was also a rather menacing looking pistol. I was jolted back for a moment, but then reached for it. This was something I would need and it gave me another option. I could hunt down the imposter and show the world that I was not the one responsible for what he had done. Indeed, that would be my plan. I looked back again at the young girl suffering on the ground. In a flash of judgment I pointed the gun at her head and fired at close range. I sank the bullet between her eyes, just like I had learned in band camp, and her misery was brought to an end. As the imposter had said, "For kindness purposes."
I looked at the cell phone and checked the last number that had called. I used the return call feature to call the imposter back. He answered on the first ring and I could feel his smile and laughter greet me.
"Look, asshole, I want to arrange a meeting. Let's settle this like men."
"Did you like killing that little girl? Did you know her wounds were only superficial? Felt good, though. I know."
"Fuck you. Meet me by the old lumber yard down at the river."
"You want to pitch pennies into the river like we used to do when we were a whiney ass little boy? Those were fine days, weren't they Nick?"
"Who the fuck are you?"
"Catch you down at the river, Nick. Then maybe we can catch a baseball game together. Remember when we were seven and we caught a foul ball hit by our favorite player and he wouldn't autograph it? That was when we started to get really angry. Remember, Nick? Then it all started to come apart. Remember?"
I hung up the phone again and drove towards the river. This could now only end one way.
Original story from yours truly.
Thanks to CloudStrife for the line:
"I am that half-empty bottle of whiskey in the playpen."