I was walking my dog that Friday morning, trying and failing to whistle, because it was just that sort of day where if you were a character in a movie you would whistle, but I can’t whistle. My dog was trying to whistle too, but that wasn’t because she was a character in a movie, it was because she wanted to bark at the rabbits, and I didn’t want her to bark at the rabbits, and she knew that, so we compromised and she was whistling. I can’t help but think I lost out in that deal. Still, I suppose I can bark at the rabbits now, if I wanted to, and she can’t.
She stopped whistling and started barking, and turned from admiring the mountains on the clear Friday morning to yanking her leash–I would have to bring her violation of our sacrosanct agreement to international mediation–when I saw what she was barking at. It was her, or more precisely, a dog that looked exactly like her. I gaped at the dog before realizing she was connected to a leash, and followed that leash up to a hand, which was connected, naturally, to an arm, which was connected, my god, to a body, which was, save me now, exactly like me? I mean, there were my clothes, and while I hadn’t looked in the mirror in a bit, I felt the face was a fair replication of my own. He too had been staring at the mountains, but he lowered his eyes and his and mine met.
I’d like to say that we then proceeded to engage in a symmetrical ballet, miming each other’s movements in perfect sync, gliding alongside like butterflies, but that didn’t happen. Instead, a rabbit darted past my dog, and she jumped, and his dog strained at her leash, and we lost whatever sync we had had.
After we got our respective dogs under control, I hailed him with a nod, and we walked towards each other. He really was precisely like me, I thought.
“Hold up.” I held out my hand. “Where are you from?”
“Here, I suppose. I was just taking my dog out for a walk.”
“So that means you live where I live–”
“And yet we never met before?”
“Unless this is a one off–”
“They’d have to hire twins though–”
“And your name is–”
And we both said “Huh” simultaneously.
We tried to do a secret handshake, but it failed miserably.
What do you say to someone exactly like yourself? More to the point, what do you say to yourself? There’s a principle in communication theory that if both participants have the exact same knowledge, communication is impossible. There’s nothing to exchange, and communication is, under this theory, an exchange. Communication is predicated on differing levels of knowledge, and without that, you can’t make it work.
My doppleganger seemed to realize this too. He raised his hand in a salute.
“See you around.”
And we walked off, both admiring the mountains, with both our dogs barking at rabbits.
I stepped out of the sanctuary, and couldn’t help but to gasp. It has always been stuffy, every shul’s sanctuary has always been stuffy, it isn’t a value judgement. The temperature, too, had dropped ten degrees outside the sanctuary. The door closed behind me, and the pious drone was cut off abruptly. I set off, a jaunty spring in my step, towards an intersection in the corridors.
The air felt thinner, and I was looking around with a quiet–and entirely unearned–sense of satisfaction, when I accidentally ran into someone.
“Sorry,” we said simultaneously. I looked at the poor fellow I had just ran into.
“No, really, it was my fault,” we said, in unison.
“Not at all, it was mine,” we followed. We stopped. I had run into, for lack of better terminology, myself. He seemed, older, perhaps more tired. He had a more rigid posture than me, an almost military air.
“What’s your name?” I asked curiously.
“Jonas Rosenthal. You see, I haven’t been here for a while, ever since the war began in–” he suddenly stopped. He saw my face. “Hold up.” His eyes widened. “Nope, just wait here one minute–” and he took off running, pushing down an old man mumbling to himself and broke into the sunshine. I stared.
“Huh,” I said to myself, and walked off.
I awoke in a cold sweat. Hoping to change my odd feeling, and get thoughts of my mysterious doppelgängers out of my head, I set off on a run. The cold morning air breezed by me as I set out. Then out of the corner of my eyes I saw him.
Huh, I thought, That runner has the same lilting gait as me. And suddenly begin to speed up. I noticed then that the person had. I had an upsetting thought.
“Not today!” I shouted and sped off suddenly. I changed my normal pace, and pushed after him. Luckily to be some years older than me, and had–a peg leg? Even with the leg he was still definitely quick. I broke into a sprint as be rounded onto Cranmer Park, and I tracked right behind him.
I tackled him. As soon as my hands touched him, he collapsed to the ground. I stared into his face: it really was another doppelgänger, older still than the previous one. His hair was in crisp military cut and was graying.
“Alright–I want answers, and I want them now!”
He gasped. “You read a lot of Heinlein, right?”
“What happens when you meet a version of yourself from the past or the future?” I considered it.
“You either explode, create a paradox, or kiss.”
He nodded. “We haven’t exploded yet, by some miracle, but it’s only a matter of time. Clearly the author is doing some hackneyed Christmas Carol thing, with different versions of yourself, but we’re too smart for that. If we meet again, the world may not survive it.”
“Wait,” I said. “What if ’50s sci-fi troops are just that, tropes?”
He looked at me, pityingly. “Where science can’t help us, we must rely on sci-fi. I learned that- you’ll learn that once you join the war.”
And he leapt up and ran off, leaving me running behind him, shouting about “what war, and when?”
All day at school I was jumpy, looking around for aged versions myself. Aged is normally reserved for cheeses, not people, certainly not yourself. I broke out of English when I couldn’t stand it any longer.
I had just entered the bathroom, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I spun around to see a grizzled man, with an eye patch and a peg-leg staring back at me. I gasped. It couldn’t be.
“I thought we weren’t allowed to touch?” I asked.
He chuckled. “We figured out time-travel rules shortly after that guy left. You were going through your paranoid stage then–course, the fact that they really were out to get you then didn’t help.”
I nodded, mutely.
“Anyway, the author’s demanding I leave my moon base one last time, to wrap this ridiculous farce of a story up and give some advice.”
“Moon base?” I perked my ears up.
“It’s not voluntary, I promise you. Anyway, advice. Your life’ll be like, as Charles De Gaulle once said, ‘Successively banal, then glorious, then deplorable, but never mediocre.'” And with those words, future me started to fade away.
“Wait!” I called out. “Didn’t he say that about Philippe Pétain? The collaborator? And didn’t he die alone, insane, and imprisoned? And what was that about a moon base?” But he didn’t respond, and I was left shouting at a soap dispenser.
Sentence: Jonas Rosenthal will bet you 2:5 that he will not end up like Philippe Pétain.