He was stoned– baked out of his mind actually. He’d been smoking weed for near on four-hours straight from a two-foot water bong. It gurgled every few seconds with heady hits. The stink of skunk was as pungent as the smoke was visible. He’d chonged out the room long ago, was only keeping the rhythm going now so as not to dissipate the fish-bowl haze that had replaced the room’s O2 content.
Most would have said he was a burn-out; that living on a modest inheritance and legal settlement from a hit and run wasn’t living at all. He disagreed. He’d been run over by a car, had all of his ribs broken, both his legs, and one of his wrists. At the time he was nineteen. By twenty, he’d been in traction six weeks, spent another year learning to write, walk, and jerk-off again. The only thing that had gotten him through the boredom was the legal work and bowlfuls of grass. He’d had it hard, and defied anyone whom said otherwise.
He liked his life, enjoyed what he had, and never took more than he needed. He was grateful for all he was given, wanted only to get baked, play video games, and “keep on keepin’ on.”
He was at his latest boss-fight when the air around him began to stir. He didn’t notice it under the darkened lights that kept his aching eyes from throbbing; he’d beaten the game three times already– a seventy-hour epic saga of the life of a former bounty-hunter turned vigilante– but he’d also played his entire library two and three times over too. With a minute budget that only allowed for one game a month around necessities like rent, food, and an ounce of Hawaiian Green, he had to stretch each game as far as it would go, and did.
But he was content in the notion– even as the smoke swirled and a shadow began to encroach on his vision. His mind was focused, mouth-half open and droopy eyes centered ahead. The smoke snaked in front of him from the ingress of something through its presence. He swatted the thickest puffs away with a quick dismissal, unaware of the shadow that phased in and out beside him.
The faint flicker of a reflection caught his eye. Had his head not turned to see himself flicker in and out of form on the adjacent couch, he might not have believed it was real. Instead, his doppelganger solidified with a curious look at his hands. His mouth fell open as the “You Are Dead” screen appeared beside him.
His doppelganger relaxed back into the couch with a heavy sniff of the air, “Wow. Man, I haven’t smelled that in years.”
His eyes focused through the smoke at himself while he involuntarily swallowed, “Wh-what the fuck?” The continue screen appeared but he was too focused on himself, “Ar-are you… me?”
The doppelganger laughed, “You wish.” He took another deep whiff of the air, “Or maybe I do… Anyway, we’re not the same person, not really.”
“B-but, you’re… me, right?”
The doppelganger, “In blood and name– Curtis J–”
“Porter,” he said with a breathless finish.
He replied with a nod, “Right, but you should know better than anyone, a person’s more than their name and DNA.” The double sensed perplexity across the television’s beam of light. “That’s just where we start. We’re all born ninety-percent the same, but our experiences as we grow are what define us.”
The real Curtis’ eyes glazed over. He blinked hard, unstuck his tongue from his dry mouth. “S-sorry, I’m not… what’s this all about? Why am I– we, here?”
His doppelganger leaned toward him across the coffee table, “Because something went wrong in this place. Here and now. Something inside us changed. And with it, the world changed too. Now, I’m here to ensure things go as they’re supposed to.”
He shook off his dull ardor for complete disbelief, “You’re nuts. What could I possibly do, or not do, that would change the world?”
He watched himself from across the table as his left eye squinted with familiar skepticism, “There are people and places that rely on you to be present in order to nudge future events toward their destined path.”
Real Curtis’ eyes were flat-out wild now, “You’re nuts.” He stood to piss, followed by his phantom self toward the bathroom. It stood in the door jamb as he relieved himself, “Christ dude, invade privacy much?”
“You don’t understand,” he said with a shake of his head. “But how could you? You’re baked out of your fucking mind all the time and all you think about’s fucking video-games.”
He shook out the last few drops, flushed the toilet, “Hey man, fuck you. Don’t go blaming me for your nut-job fantasies.”
He made to walk past himself, was frozen by a cold hand that clasped his shoulder. His own eyes looked at him with a fury he wasn’t sure he’d ever possessed. “You have no fucking idea how important you are.”
Curtis’ vision suddenly went black. Images of rallies and protests outside corporate buildings and state houses appeared.
His doppelganger growled through his teeth, “You’re supposed to be there when it starts to crumble.” Crowds marched, pumped fists in the air rhythmically with distorted chants. “You’re meant to be on the front-fucking-line of a war for freedom– the final war.” Tanks began to roll forward from close, wide angles along city streets packed with protesters. “You’re supposed to be the voice of logic and reason in a new world.”
Curtis was ready to pass out. His head swam as names and dates, and countless vids and images flooded his brain from places and events that had yet to take place. He swayed on his feet.
His own voice was muddy through waters of confusion, “You are meant to be the General in a war that will end with one side eradicated or the other enslaved, forever.”
People rioted in the streets, attacked the tanks en-masse. Their guns smoked. Explosions shook the silent movie-reel. Some people managed to climb atop a tank, wrench its hatch open to drag out its crew. The vehicle turned on the others. More explosions, shaking scenery. Jets rocketed past over head.
“You’re meant to be there,” he said as his vision went black. “To lead the free against their oppressors and take the world back.”
He fell backward, head spinning. His head hit the floor as his vision narrowed to a black cone. His face loomed over him from his doppelganger. Its last words struggled to breach the static of his waning consciousness, “You cannot fail. A thousand men may never change a thing, while one may change everything. You are one.”
His vision went black. Silence engulfed him. In a blink he was once more awake, face hovering over the bong for another hit as the boss-battle began again. He swallowed hard, hit pause to slide the bong across the table. After a moment of aimless steps he found himself before the sliding glass doors of his twelfth floor apartment. They opened, gave passage to his balcony in the sun of a rising morning he once more saw from the wrong side.
He stepped to the balcony’s edge, breathless. Beneath him, the city sprawled outward like a patchwork quilt of humanity composed of all grays and whites. The bits of color were few, far between.
He wasn’t sure what the hell had happened. He’d been baked before, but somehow this was different, more than just a stoned daydream. He felt a tickle at the back of his skull, pulled his hand away to see blood.
“One may change everything,” echoed through his head like a whisper on wind.
But where to begin, and how?
He looked from the crimson on his finger-tips to the drab city. Color seemed as good a start as any. However he was meant to change the world it would start there. He swallowed hard, relaxed, and turned away to begin.