“Oh, is that how you justify what you did?”
“I know how your mind works. The horror you face every day walking to the train to go teach, thinking, Is this really it? Maybe you’re brave enough to admit it. Maybe you’re not.”
I say, “You don’t get to—”
“Actually, I do get to judge you, Jason, because I am you. Maybe we branched into different worlds fifteen years ago, but we’re wired the same. You weren’t born to teach undergrad physics. To watch people like Ryan Holder win the acclaim that should’ve been yours. There is nothing you can’t do. I know, because I’ve done it all. Look at what I built. I could wake up in your brownstone every morning and look myself in the mirror because I achieved everything I ever wanted. Can you say the same? What have you done?”
“I made a life with them.”
“I handed you, handed both of us, what everyone secretly wants. The chance to live two lives. Our best two lives.”
“I don’t want two lives. I want them.”
I look at Daniela. I look at my son.
Daniela says to Jason2, “And I want him. Please. Let us have our life. You don’t have to do this.”
His face hardens.
His eyes narrow.
He moves toward me.
Charlie screams, “No!”
The gun is inches from my face.
I stare up into my doppelgänger’s eyes, ask, “So you kill me and then what? What does it get you? It won’t make her want you.”
His hand is trembling.
Charlie starts toward Jason2.
“Don’t you touch him.”
“Stay put, son.” I stare down the barrel of the gun. “You’ve lost, Jason.”
Charlie is still coming, Daniela trying to hold him back, but he rips his arm away.
As Charlie closes in, Jason2’s eyes cut away from me for a split second.
I slap the gun out of his hand, grab the knife off the floor, and bury it in his stomach, the blade sliding in with almost no resistance.
Standing, I jerk the knife out, and as Jason2 falls into me, grasping my shoulders, I stick him again with the blade.
Over and over and over.
So much blood pouring through his shirt and onto my hands, and the rusted smell of it filling the room.
He’s clutching me, the knife still embedded in his gut.
I think about him with Daniela as I twist the blade and rip it out and shove him away from me.
Holding his stomach.
Blood leaking through his fingers.
His legs fail him.
He sits, and then, with a groan, stretches out on his side and lets his head rest against the floor.
I lock eyes with Daniela and Charlie. Then I go to Jason2 and search his pockets as he moans, finally emerging with my set of car keys.
“Where’s the Suburban?” I ask.
When he answers, I have to lean in close to hear his voice: “A quarter mile past the turnoff. On the shoulder.”
I rush over to the clothes I stripped out of just moments ago, dressing quickly.
When I finish buttoning my shirt, I bend down to tie my boots, glancing over at Jason2, bleeding out on the floorboards of this old cabin.
I lift the gun from the floor and wipe the grip off on my jeans.
We need to leave.
Who knows how many more are coming.
My doppelgänger says my name.
I look over—he’s holding my wedding band in his blood-soaked fingers.
I walk to him, and as I take the ring and slide it onto my finger over the ring of thread, Jason2 grabs my arm and pulls me down toward his face.
He’s trying to say something.
I say, “I can’t hear you.”
“Look…in…the glove box.”
Charlie comes over, wrapping his arms fiercely around me, trying to hold back tears, but his shoulders jerk and the sobs break loose. As he cries in my arms like a little boy, I think of the horror he’s just witnessed, and it brings tears to my eyes.
I hold his face between my hands.
I say, “You saved my life. If you hadn’t tried to stop him, I never would’ve had a chance.”
“Really. Also I’m going to stomp your fucking phone into pieces. Now we have to leave. Back door.”
We rush through the living room, sidestepping pools of blood.
I unlock the French doors, and as Charlie and Daniela move out onto the screened-in porch, I glance back at the man who caused all this.
His eyes are still open, blinking slowly, watching us go.
Stepping outside, I pull the doors closed after me.
I have to track through the blood of one more Jason to reach the screen door.
I’m not sure which way to go.
We head down to the shoreline, follow it north through the trees.
The lake as smooth and black as obsidian.
I keep scanning the woods for other Jasons—one could step out from behind a tree and take my life at any second.
After a hundred yards, we turn from the shoreline and move in the general direction of the road.
Four gunshots ring out at the cabin.
We’re running now, struggling through the snow, all of us gasping for breath.
The adrenaline tide is keeping the pain of my bruised face at bay, but I wonder for how much longer.
We break out of the forest onto the road.
I stand on the double-yellow line, and for a moment, the woods are silent.
“Which way?” Daniela asks.
We jog down the middle of the road.
Charlie says, “I see it.”
Straight ahead, off the right-side shoulder, I clock the back of our Suburban pulled halfway into the trees.
We pile inside, and as I push the key into the ignition, I catch movement in the side mirror—a shadow sprinting toward us on the road.
I crank the engine, release the emergency brake, and shift into gear.
Whipping the Suburban around, I pin the gas pedal to the floor.
I say, “Get down.”
“Why?” Daniela asks.
“Just do it!”
We accelerate into darkness.
I punch on the lights.
They fire straight onto Jason, standing in the middle of the road, aiming a gun at the car.
There’s a burst of fire.
A bullet punctures the windshield and rips through the headrest an inch away from my right ear.
Another muzzle flash, another gunshot.