“Nothing seems to fit. I don’t seem to fit.” His words resonated across the hall, vibrations bouncing off the walls and out of the open windows as if they had wings. They ricocheted off passing cars and pedestrians until a crowd formed beneath the peeling, once-white paint of the eaves. They peered inside curiously, in plain view of the speaker. But he seemed not to notice their presence; continued talking to the empty hall whilst pacing the cold, wooden floor.
His eyes were downcast, surveying every crack and crevice as if his life depended on it. He shuffled his feet as if his legs were too heavy for them to hold. They shook slightly with every scuff of the sole, betraying to his captive audience how fearful he was.
But he held the microphone steady in his hand and his voice was deep and booming; would have been able to carry without the device clasped between his fingers.
He pauses; casts a crooked smile to the floor.
“I tried everything but none of the puzzle pieces fit. Finally succumbing to a life of misery and failure, I decided that I would become someone else. Hell, if I didn’t want to live my own life, why should I? So I transformed into an average man with an average profession; average car; average house; destined for an average, two-point-five family. I’d fish every weekend; attend dinner parties often. Perhaps I was subconsciously soughting out that one person who could save me…” His shoulder visibly drooped with fatigue as he revisited the memory.
“Instead, that terrible man in the sky had other plans. One Sunday morning, I was – as I did on every day of rest – reading the newspaper as my teeth crunched against softly buttered toast. I still recall that warm, sweet mixture of coffee, milk and sugar rushing down my throat like a tidal wave as my eyes hunted for information on that thin wrinkled paper before me. Until, of course, I choked, spraying my beverage across page sixteen of “Current” newspaper.
I leaned forward, peering from behind my thick reading glasses, as déjà vu struck my heart like lightning. It was unbelievable that a mere three or four inches of prose had caught me so quickly between its talons; changed my life dramatically with its smudged black, uninspiring ink.”
He paused for breath, shoes silent for the first time as he stood still. The thickening crowd surrounding his window shuffled as if to make up for his lifelessness. “So what was it?!” A short lady called from amongst the sea. “What caught your attention?!” An echo of agreement spread across the crowd as they all tried to peer in through the window at the male speaker. Turning, he seemed to notice them for the first time, eyes unfocused but alive – sparkling, even – in the gloomy room he paced. It was the only acknowledgement he gave the voyeurs before diving back into his story.
“What caught my attention? Two weeks prior to this, I had read the exact same article in another large scale newspaper. The exact same; to the letter. Puzzled, I thought perhaps it was an accident made by a very clumsy freelance writer. Maybe he had sent the article to two papers on the same day, expecting no interest. But when both editors called him, he merely accepted both, too gratified about the recognition he had finally been granted – “after all this time!” He might have sighed with relief. But a simple search in the archives of the first paper yielded mind-strangling results. Both were under different names. This could be no ridiculous mistake by a hungry writer.
“It tore me inside-out for a few hours, wrecking my plans for a lazy Sunday impromptu barbecue. I finally realised a number of traditional news media archives were at my fingertips so I began to search for lines found in one newspaper in another’s archive. The results were astonishing…”
He raised his hands – as if in defeat – to the crowd, sitting heavily upon a plastic chair. He drank from a plastic bottle, eyes closed as he raised his head skyward. A handful of onlookers wondered if he merely did this to avoid their curious eyes as they waited for him to cease his respite. Several sat down upon the damp grass, chins perched upon knees and knuckles as they deliberated his words. But most simply stood, waiting. And none said a word as the Sun slowly drooped towards the horizon, seeming glad another day’s hard work had almost passed.
Once he had practically drained the bottle, he stood again, clasping the microphone to his chest as he cradled it with both hands. He cleared his throat and sniffed, readying himself for another stretch of time passing through which he emptied his soul. He blinked a few times as he stared out through the windows at his captive audience. It was as if he was unsure of their existence and had to squeeze his eyes closed several times before realising that he was not, in fact, dreaming.
“I printed out a number of the same articles from varying papers. It seemed that, even when the newspapers were of varying political stances, they still published the exact same articles. I found at least forty doppelgängers (sometimes even trippelgängers, if such a word existed) in only a matter of hours. That night, I stayed awake until five in the morning, attempting to find a pattern amongst the random articles I had salvaged.
“But it was no use. So I decided to contact a journalist friend I knew. This, I believe was my first mistake. Four days after I wrote him a letter explaining my situation, a suited man came knocking at my door in the late evening. My instinct was to ignore such a strangely timed request for entry. But his persistent fist slamming against the solid wood of my front door caused a cacophony of dogs to howl in anguish and neighbours’ lights began to click on one by one. I asked what he wanted, standing as straight as I did during my army service when I was a lad. He flashed a business card in my direction, too quickly for my eyes to see, before barging past me into the hallway. He began spouting a ton of tough-guy remarks as he wandered around my house, occasionally fingering some of my treasured possessions. I knew not to reprimand him.
“My heart was pounding so quickly within my chest that his words barely registered as I watched his every move, expecting him to trash the place before I could stop him. Until I caught two words which made me raise my head to meet his eyes for the very first time: newspaper articles.
“It was then that I realised what a harmful revelation I had stumbled upon. My heart crashed to my stomach and I began to feel nauseous with regret.”