“I walked out of the box into this guy’s basement. He freaked out. He had a gun, tied me up. Probably would have killed me except he took one of the ampoules and decided to have a look at the corridor for himself.”
“So he went in and never came out.”
His eyes go distant for a moment.
He takes another long pull from his beer.
“Then I saw some bad ones. Really bad. Dark worlds. Evil places. What about you?”
I share my story, and though it feels good to unload, it’s undeniably strange to unload on him.
This man and I were the same person up until a month ago. Which means ninety-nine-point-nine percent of our history is shared.
We’ve said the same things. Made identical choices. Experienced the same fears.
The same love.
As he buys our second round of beers, I can’t take my eyes off him.
I’m sitting next to me.
There’s something about him that doesn’t seem quite real.
Perhaps because I’m watching from an impossible vantage point—looking at myself from outside of myself.
He looks strong, but also tired, damaged, and afraid.
It’s like talking to a friend who knows everything about you, but there’s an added layer of excruciating familiarity. Aside from the last month, there are no secrets between us. He knows every bad thing I’ve done. Every thought I’ve entertained. My weaknesses. My secret fears.
“We call him Jason2,” I say, “which implies that we think of ourselves as Jason1. As the original. But we can’t both be Jason1. And there are others out there who think they’re the original.”
“None of us are.”
“No. We’re pieces of a composite.”
“Facets,” he says. “Some very close to being the same man, like I assume you and I are. Some worlds apart.”
I say, “It makes you think about yourself in a different light, doesn’t it?”
“Makes me wonder, who is the ideal Jason? Does he even exist?”
“All you can do is live the best version of yourself, right?”
“Took the words.”
The bartender announces last call.
I say, “Not many people can say they’ve done this.”
“What? Share a beer with themselves?”
He finishes his beer.
I finish mine.
Sliding off his stool, he says, “I’ll leave first.”
“Which way are you heading?”
He hesitates. “North.”
“I’m not going to follow you. Can I expect the same?”
“We can’t both have them.”
He says, “Who deserves them is the question, and there may be no answer. But if it comes down to you and me, I won’t let you stop me from being with Daniela and Charlie. I won’t like it, but I’ll kill you if it comes to that.”
“Thanks for the beer, Jason.”
I watch him go.
Wait five minutes.
I’m the last one to leave.
It’s still snowing.
There’s a half foot of fresh powder on the streets, and the snowplows are out.
Stepping down onto the sidewalk, I take a moment to absorb my surroundings.
Several customers from the bar are staggering away, but I see no one else out on the streets.
I don’t know where to go.
I have nowhere to go.
Two valid hotel keycards in my pocket, but it wouldn’t be safe to use either of them. Other Jasons could have easily obtained copies. They could be inside my room at this moment, waiting for me to return.
It dawns on me—my last ampoule is back at that second hotel.
I start walking down the sidewalk.
It’s two in the morning, and I’m running on fumes.
How many other Jasons are wandering these streets at this very moment, facing the same fears, the same questions?
How many have been killed?
How many are out hunting?
I can’t escape the feeling that I’m not safe in Logan Square, even in the middle of the night. Every alley I pass, every shadowy doorway, I’m looking for movement, for someone coming after me.
A half mile brings me to Humboldt Park.
I track through the snow.
Out into a silent field.
I’m beyond tired.
My legs aching.
My stomach rumbling with hunger.
I can’t keep going.
A large evergreen towers in the distance, its branches sagging with snow.
The lowest limbs are four feet off the ground, but they offer some semblance of shelter from the storm.
Close to the trunk, there’s only a dusting of snow, and I brush it away and sit in the dirt against the tree on the leeward side.
It’s so quiet.
I can hear the distant mumble of snowplows moving through the city.
The sky is neon pink from all the lights reflecting off the low clouds.
I draw my coat in close and ball my hands into fists to preserve some core heat.
From where I sit, my view is of an open field, interspersed with trees.
The snow falls through the streetlamps along a distant walking path, making coronas of brilliant flakes near the light.
Nothing moves out there.
It’s cold, but not as bad as it might be if the skies were calm and clear.
I don’t think I’m going to freeze to death.
But I don’t think I’m going to sleep either.
As I shut my eyes, an idea strikes me.
How do you beat an opponent who is inherently wired to predict any and all moves you might make?
You do something completely random.
You make a move you haven’t considered, to which you’ve given little or no prior thought.
Maybe it’s a bad move that blows up in your face and costs you the game.
But perhaps it’s a play the other you never saw coming, which gives you an unanticipated strategic advantage.
So how do I apply that line of thinking to my situation?
How do I do something utterly random that defies anticipation?
Somehow I sleep.
Wake up shivering to a world of gray and white.
The snow and the wind have stopped, and through the leafless trees I can see pieces of the skyline in the distance, the highest buildings just touching the cloud deck that overhangs the city.