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Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Death · #2303530
TW: Suicide. A young woman faces off her Doppelganger.
The line between good and evil is drawn through the heart of every human being.
- Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I called my mom at 7pm on October 31st, pleading for help.

"Can you at least put up part of my rent? I'm getting kicked out of here on the 3rd."

"Jane, I'm so ashamed of you. Quitting your job and now you want me to pay your bills for you."

"But Mom, I couldn't work there anymore. The boss is a filthy pervert. What did you expect me to do?"

"I don't believe you. It couldn't have been that bad. You must have done something to provoke his behavior."

"How could you say that?"

"Need I remind you of all the times you've lied to me over the years?"

"This is not a lie! I'm facing homelessness!"

"Don't expect me to let you move in with me, you troublemaker. Get a new job."

That was the end. I lost all hope of ever having a normal life. I had no job, car, or education. I was about to be evicted from my apartment. My own mother refused to help me out. No friends or meaningful ties to anyone or anything. Nobody could care less if I died in the street.

At that point there appeared to be only one solution to the mess I was in. I sat down with a pen and notebook and wrote, shakily but with grim determination:

Don't waste time looking for me. You never cared about me when I was alive, what good is it to feign concern now?

I tore the sheet out, folded it and laid it on the table, but paused. I didn't want anyone poking through all the personal stuff on my devices, psychoanalyzing me posthumously. What would they find but evidence of a soul looking for love and failing miserably?

It took about an hour to get everything deleted off my laptop. I figured I'd bring the phone along to my watery grave and take care of that problem. It's not like anyone would be calling me.

At 8:30 I was mentally exhausted, but still determined to go through with it. But it was too early to head to the bridge yet. So I tumbled into bed and tried to sleep. With little success. Or so I thought.

Funny, I didn't remember setting a phone alarm for 11:30 pm. Good idea. Best not to oversleep.

I left the apartment building and walked quickly down the empty sidewalk to the outskirts of town. It would take a bit of a trek after the sidewalk ended, past a heavily wooded state park, to get to the bridge I had in mind.

A lone car flashed past me on the two lane road, and I cringed away reflexively, hoping it wasn't someone who knew me. For a moment I considered waiting for another car and stepping out in front of it, but I didn't want to burden some stranger with the task of killing me. Too much for everyone to deal with afterwards. And besides, getting run over would be an awful way to go. And then my phone would be recovered. I had my plan.

I could hear crickets and katydids making a racket as I trudged past the seemingly endless stretch of forest. The full moon shone as bright as a streetlight, making wavy crooked shadows of tree branches in my way like withered arms trying to hold me back. It was difficult walking along the road's ragged shoulder, picking through the weeds and trying not to trip over anything.

I jumped out of my skin when a rat scurried out across the road in front of me. Man, this was a long walk. Should I use my phone flashlight to keep creatures at bay? I didn't want anyone seeing the light and thinking I was signalling for help. Help was the last thing I wanted. Just leave me alone.

I approached a cleared spot on the fringe of the woods, what seemed like the beginning of a trail. Then: loud, clear strains of music drifted out from within. Whoa. I knew hearing music in the woods at night was a bad sign, but it was such a pretty tune. Not just anything, mind you. It was a string melody, deeper and more resonant than a violin, so likely a cello. I recognized it instantly: Coldplay's Viva La Vida. I loved that song; its epic drama, enigmatic poetry, sweeping sound. The aching liquid notes pierced my soul and drew me irresistibly. What unbelievable talent could be playing a cello cover at midnight in a state forest?

I had to find out. I was not one to shy away from live music; though the thought of ever attending a concert overwhelmed my solitary spirit, whenever a rare transient busker would appear in our small town, I was usually their sole audience. I plunged into the woods down the narrow scraggly trail and headed towards the source of the haunting music.

Prickly burrs clung to my clothes. There was so much rustling, it sounded like I was awakening a whole underworld of creepy creatures, but maybe it was just me crashing through the untamed brush.

Finally the barely-there trail widened out into a clearing, and I came face to face with an unexpected musician: myself.

She was sitting in the center of the clearing, wearing my exact sloppy black pants and worn-out fleece coat. Even the sneakers were identical, basic black with white soles, the cheapest pair I could find at the discount store. Her messy dark brown hair landed at the length mine did.

I noticed her pale, slender hands working the cello each had a large red pentagram tattooed on their backs. That was the only difference between us; I glanced down at my own trembling hands to make sure.

If this was a vision of the potential future me, I couldn't imagine myself being foolish enough to make a deal with the devil, even to gain that much musical prowess. At least that's what I assumed of the tableau in front of me.

I stood fascinated, wrapped up in the melody, staring at her down-turned face with that enraptured glow cello players get when they're fully absorbed in their work.

She played the song down to the last note and looked up at me. Our eyes met as though I were looking in the mirror. She jumped up, throwing aside the cello and bow with such sudden brutish carelessness that I tried to go pick them up. But my feet were locked to the ground.

"I knew that would get you in here," she said, in a voice so similar to mine that I felt like I was talking in my head.

"Who are you?"

"Call me Jane." She laughed my laugh, only something about it was creepier. Maybe because I hardly felt like laughing.

"I'm Jane. You can't possibly be Jane too."

"I'm you and you're me, actually. I brought you here to kill you." She pulled a black dagger out of her coat.

"What?!" I reached for my phone. But no amount of tapping the screen or pressing the power button would make it come to life.

"Oh, those don't work here. You're pretty well trapped, Jane."

I tried to scream, but no sound came out. I stood there, stomach churning.

"Can we talk about this?" I whispered. "I don't understand what's happening."

"Might as well. It's not like you're going anywhere from here. I'm in no hurry."

I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself.

"Okay, explain yourself. If you're me, why do you want to kill me? Wouldn't you be killing yourself?"

"Ah, but you're the one who planned on jumping off the Oak Creek bridge."

"Well I sure as hell didn't expect this!" I felt anger rising like a high tide. "Just because I wanted to die quietly in the river doesn't mean I intended to be brutally murdered in the woods by some demonic maniac claiming to be me!"

"We're one and the same."

"I don't believe it. If I met myself in the woods the last thing I'd do is…" I began to realize the illogical nature of my statement, given my original reason for walking down the road at midnight.

"That's a lie," she laughed again. "Like an energy shot. Keep it up and I'll be lifting weights soon."

Huh? An inkling arose.

"So, are you like my dark side or something?"

"I'm the sum total of all the bad choices you've made in your life."

"Wow. I didn't think I'd made that many of them."

"Oh yeah you have. Remember all the times you've lied to everyone? And what about that time you cashed someone else's check? And the time you yelled at the little kid who was trying to help you out, and all the times you've disrespected your mother. You have a real nasty streak that's been quite satisfying over the years."

"Okay then…" I thought this over. "If I'm really so awful, and that's what you thrive on, then why am I about to die? Wouldn't that be the end of you?"

"I would be reassigned to a new person. My dream is to be assigned to someone who'll become a serial killer. Imagine how big and strong I'd be then!"

I grimaced.

"So if you just go from one person to another, then you're not really "me" at all, you're more like a demon. And," I added, "are you killing me off because I wouldn't have been bad enough for you anymore? Is that what this is?"

"Exactly! If I hadn't helped nudge things along to make you suicidal, you would have embarked on a journey of self improvement. Every positive choice you made would be starving me to death. I'm not standing for that!"

"So there might be hope ahead, then…" I murmured. "Hey, are you a cello player because that's what I could be in the future?"

"Yeah, I took the liberty of stealing your talent. Actually, I was granted it because you blew it all in high school. Remember you were taking music lessons until you cheated on the science exam? What fun! I'm the only cello player in my legion, thanks to your bad decisions."

Good grief. That explained a lot. With every evil deed, I had sealed my own fate, right down to getting kicked out of college because I was selling weed on campus. If I had only known… but I guess it was common sense, really.

"Why didn't you let me go quietly to the bridge and do it myself? I didn't have to know all this."

"I thought it'd be more fun this way," she sneered. "Let you know what happened to your dreams of being a famous cello artist."

I clenched my fists and glared at her.

"You're not stronger than me. How about I turn the tables and kill you? What'll happen then?"

"If you kill me we both die. Your life is inextricably entwined with mine."

"I don't believe that." I lunged towards her, grabbed the hand that held the dagger and tried to twist it away. She held her ground and brought it within an inch of my chest.

"You can't stop me!"

"What if I swear I'll make things right?"

"It's too late for that—the road to hell is paved with good intentions!"

We kept struggling for control of the weapon. It was the most unnerving thing I'd ever had to do. I fought in a blind fury, beginning to relish the idea of killing someone this evil. But she only seemed to be getting stronger.

"Look, the more you try to fight, the more it strengthens me! So go ahead, keep trying!"

Wait a minute. If attempting to kill my wicked alter ego or whatever she was wouldn't work, what the hell would? Last thing I wanted to do now was die. Shoot, if I died like this I might even turn into one of those horrid creatures in the afterlife. Fitting punishment for one who didn't take life seriously enough to do the next right thing. Heavens, if I ever did get out alive I'd have a lot of rebuilding ahead of me.

But what if I tried…killing her with kindness? It was hard to remember what kindness looked like; I was never exposed to much of it. I guess we all have a sort of instinct. At imminent risk of being stabbed to death, I released my hold on her arm and enveloped her in a smothering bear hug.

"Hey, it's okay. With those pentagram tattoos on your hands, you're probably totally irredeemable, but you know what? I kinda love you anyway." I patted her shoulder like she was a little baby having a tantrum, trying to resist the urge to strangle her.

"Wait, what are you doing?" She fumbled and tried to pull away, but I held her tighter and began to feel her weaken.

"Let's put the dagger away, okay? We're not going to self harm. We're going to love ourselves for who we are, warts and all. I don't deserve to die for the mistakes I've made…" Such corny positivity was making me queasy, but I could feel my opponent getting weaker as I babbled on, half starting to realize the value of what I was telling myself.

"Shut up! That's not what you're supposed to say!" She gasped. I took her hand again, wrenched the dagger away and flung it deep into the woods.

"Don't you want to try to be good, Jane?" I asked her. "Maybe there's some hope for you. Maybe you can learn to love yourself and not bring harm to yourself and others. I'm willing to try it myself."

"No, no, you don't understand! I'm fading away!" She wriggled frantically in my hug, and I saw she was right: her body was becoming transparent like a ghostly holographic image. I started feeling sorry for her.

"Gee, I think I'm almost sad to see you go." I tried to muster up as much kindness as I possibly could, hoping I was going about it the right way. "And you know what? I forgive you for all this. It's part of your nature. I'm forgiving myself, too. There's always a second chance… each new day is an opportunity to make things right and do better." Tears started running down my face as I realized how much mental pain I had been in lately. Speaking soothing words to myself, or to her, was cathartic.

Suddenly the other Jane disappeared entirely, and my tight hug collapsed on itself. I tumbled to the ground in a daze…


My phone's ringtone blasted through the heavy silence inside my head, and I opened my eyes to find it was broad daylight. I was still lying in the wooded clearing. My ringtone, ironically, was the opening notes of Viva La Vida; it was the only thing that could make me look forward to a phone call.

I reached over and grabbed it. It was my mom. Bleh. I sat up and considered what I had learned in the woods that night. I smiled faintly and pulled up the green circle.

"Jane? Jane, are you alright? I've been trying to call for hours!"

"I… I… " If ever there was a time I wanted to lie to my mother, this was it. I took a deep breath. "Actually, I was contemplating suicide. But I've changed my mind now. I'm sorry for everything. I'll try to do better."

"What? That's ridiculous, you can't go around killing yourself. There's ways you can get help."

I got to my feet slowly and tiredly and started walking back to the road, still talking to Mom. It was going to be a really long conversation, I could see that.

I smiled again as the closing words of Viva La Vida echoed somewhere out of the woods…

Never an honest word, but that was when I ruled the world.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the 24/7 US Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988.

Word count: 2683
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2023 Quill Finalist
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