The Man and Himself

It was New Year’s Eve in Germany, 1944. Celebrations were few and far, but the radio broadcast of the midnight advent was clear in Fritz’s basement home. He listened to the count down, poured himself a small glass of bourbon, and pulled a small sepia tone photo from his pocket. It was a portrait of Adalheida. He’d promised to marry her, but fate led him here instead.

            “Drei… Zwei…” The radio announcer said.

Fritz threw his glass across the room in a fit of rage; it shattered on the wall, leaving a stain of bourbon on the crackled paint. He couldn’t take it anymore. He had spent the last year and a half in this basement laboratory, expending all his energy on a project he didn’t really think would work.

Whisked away, Fritz thought to himself, to develop a means to help the ‘Father Land’… In that time he’d barely even seen another living human being, just the agents who would stop in periodically and ask for updates on his findings and leave him meager meals.

“This is worthless!” Fritz said loudly, rubbing his calloused hands through his hair. “All this time, and for what?!” He began to pace back and forth through the lab, deliberately knocking over various instruments around him as he went. Some sparked, others flared with spilled phosphorus.

Fritz’s purpose here was to find a form of duplicating soldiers. Something about folding time and snapping it back. Supposedly it would create two from one instantaneously. To him the idea was preposterous. The smell of burning copper components aroused his faculties to what was going on around him; the lab was ablaze from his carelessness. The odor of smoke replaced the stagnant basement air quickly. Fritz went quickly to the door of his prison basement, stumbling over overturned implements on the way. To no surprise its lock held tight against his attempts to open it. He looked back in panic at the room, the paint on the walls blistering from the blazing equipment. The room began to fill with strange light and penetrating vibrations as blue electricity arched from corner to corner, the lab riggings fusing together. The energy struck Fritz, hurtling him into the ceiling. Violent electricity burst from his hands and feet, every extremity sparking and pulsing with sensation; not pain, but discomfort. That was the last thing Fritz recalled before he went unconscious.

Fritz’s eyes opened. He lay flat on his back. Yellow morning sunlight spilled through the small barred window in the corner of the room. He sat up, feeling nauseated. Strangely, he saw his own reflection directly across from him. He stood, his reflection following suit. The two moved in near perfect unison, both dusting themselves off in a similar manner. They looked at each other, slowly realizing that there were in fact two people in the room, each in the image of the other. 

They starred at each other for a while, each speechless; each lost in the realization that in their fit of rage they’d accidentally accomplished what their malefactors had wanted.

“I don’t believe it…” Both Fritz’s said in tandem. Fritz noticed his copy had a wound on his head, caked with coagulated blood. He felt the side of his own head, finding it whole and undamaged. He reached for his handkerchief from his pocket to hand it to the other Fritz, but found it missing. The other retrieved a handkerchief from his own pocket and dabbed the wound with it.

“I should be happy I’ve succeeded in creating you,” Wounded Fritz said. “But now that I know I can…”

            Fritz cut him off. “You didn’t create me,” he said, “I created you!” Wounded Fritz laughed faintly, wincing as he tended to his head.

            “What’s the last thing you remember?” Wounded Fritz said, his hand extended in a questioning gesture.

            “The room filling with smoke.” Fritz replied.

            “And what’s the first thing you remember?” Wounded Fritz queried.

            “My father giving me a wooden horse,” Fritz replied. “The one he played with when he was a boy.” Wounded Fritz nodded.

            “I suppose a copy would remember the same as me,” he said.

            “I’m no copy!” Fritz shouted. “And I’d appreciate it if you stop calling me that!” 

            “Stop yelling!” Wounded Fritz shouted back. “Leave it to me to fly off the handle at the first offense.” The both of them stood quiet for a few seconds, and then smirked at each other, leaning against the walls behind them respectively.

            “Well,” Fritz said, “I can’t let anyone know I succeeded in these outlandish experiments.”

            “My sentiments exactly,” Wounded Fritz replied. “What to do with you…?”

            “What to do with me?” Fritz replied. “What to do with you? Since I’m the original I think I should come up with the plan.” Wounded Fritz leered at Fritz, but then his face seemed to fill with confidence.

            “Well,” Wounded Fritz said, “What is your idea, then?” Wounded Fritz’s expression seemed almost false to Fritz, but he knew the look well; one of desire to avoid conflict. He had that look many times himself, with his parents and even with Adalheida. She begged him not to go off to the science academy, but his future was calling him.

            “Well… Uh..” Fritz wasn’t sure what to do. He was no killer, and even if he was he couldn’t get rid of a body. Fritz felt sick at the thought. He cleared his throat. He closed his eyes, his mind racing over the scenario at hand. After some consideration he deduced that the only way was to get the door open and send one of himself far away from here.

            “Very well,” Wounded Fritz said. “Let’s crack this lock and I’ll be on my way.” The two nodded at each other in perfect unison and began to scuttle about looking for any surviving implement worthy to crack the doors lock. As they searched, they both thought over why they had never tried to break the lock and escape before. He’d had plenty of time to do so, but something kept him here; perhaps it was his lust for scientific development. Even though he never truly thought his mission here was possible, part of him wanted to try. He wanted to keep going, searching for the way to do it if it could be done.  

Evening light showed through the western window before they discovered a small length of copper wire in the remains of an electrical coil strong enough to undue the latchet.

            Wounded Fritz looked back for a brief moment as he started up the stairs. He smiled warmly at Fritz. Fritz waved him on impatiently for fear that at any moment the agents would come for an inspection.

            Nerves are shot from the fire, Fritz thought to himself as he closed the door, no ones been here in nearly six months. I’m just being paranoid.  

 After a while of trying to straighten up the mess he’d made as best he could Fritz reached to in his pocket for the photo of Adalheida. To his surprise it wasn’t there. He searched the room franticly for it, hoping that it had survived the fire. He remembered having put it into his pocket before he threw the bourbon, and found it strange that it was gone. Often in the coming months of trial he’d look back on this time and wonder why he didn’t just leave like the other Fritz had; it was like he had been in that room his whole life, like it was his whole world.

            Fritz awoke to a harsh kick. He squinted in the darkness to see two agents standing over him.

            “You’ve made a big mistake,” The taller agent said, “destroying this precious equipment.”

            “It was an accident,” Fritz tried to explain, but as he spoke again he was kicked.

            “We’ve a place for you, you scum,” The shorter agent said. “You’ll beg for this hole when you’ve been there for a day. Ha!”

            Fritz tried to stand and flee from the agents, but they were already upon him. They beat him mercilessly with their clubs, their faces stale and cold in the dark. Fritz tried to crawl away, but there was no where he could go. Once again, he was unconcious.

His awareness returned to him off and on for a while after that. Later, he would remember being in a small cold room, huddled with many other people as a monstrous roaring was heard beneath them, myriad pinpoints of light shining through the slat walls of the room; a box car.

            Fritz awoke in another strange room, filled with cots and emaciated people. He stood, trying to orient himself in this new cage. It was Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp just outside of Berlin. As he moved about, he felt sick; it was different somehow, as though he could feel the energy of others around him, their life force.

            Days felt like months in Sachsenhausen. Fritz was already malnourished from his stay in the lab, and being here was no help to his body. Food was in short supply for the prisoners. After a week, Fritz started to fume against his counterpart, his copy.  

            Smug missgeburt, he thought. He knew this would happen. He knew and he took my photo with him.

Months past, at least four. Fritz lost track of time after that point. The thought of one day reuniting with Adalheida kept him going.  She stood out in his mind; at every meager meal he thought he felt her presence near him, just out of view. When he would turn to look there was nothing. One night, he and a few other prisoners sat around talking of life before the camp. A few directed their questions to Fritz after a while, to his surprise. He hadn’t been much of a talker so far, and most had ignored him all together because of it.

“What did you do before all this?” One man asked Fritz. He didn’t respond immediately, feeling hesitant.

“I am a scientist.” Fritz said.

“Is there anyone you miss out there,” Another man asked Fritz, “beyond these fences?” Fritz sat silent for a while, his eyes oddly glazed. He could feel the feeling again, that tingling of energy from some external source.

“Yes,” He said faintly. “There is someone.”

“Well,” The man said, “Who is she?”

            “Who said it was a she?” Fritz asked, more for effect than for actual caring.

            “Your words did, friend,” The man replied. “Who is she?” Fritz smiled, the first time he’d done so since he’d arrived here. He looked down at the small coffee can filled with embers to give them light, and retrieved a piece of coal. He went to the wall near by.

            “I’ll show you,” Fritz said, quickly and deftly drawing a large portrait of Adalheida. The man laughed faintly as he watched, the others seeming to be in awe.

            “I thought you said you were a scientist,” The man said, amused.

            “Am,” Fritz said firmly. “And art is a science.” As Fritz finished his work, a guard came into the quarters. He shouted angrily at the small group gathered around Fritz’s drawing, battering a few with the butt of his rifle. He approached Fritz.

            “Take this down,” The guard demanded, gesturing to the drawing. Fritz stood defiant, unmoved. The feeling of energy was strong in his body at that moment. He recognized it now: it was the same feeling he had when he was in the lab, when he and himself were separated.

            The guard reached out and grabbed Fritz by the collar. Fritz reached up and took hold of the guard by the wrist out of instinct. Blue electricity bellowed out of Fritz as he touched the guard. Both began to scream in fear. Light filled the little shack, blinding all who were present. When the energy faded and sight returned, before the crowd laid the guard. He was in four pieces, each his left half; each clutching his rifle. Each lifeless.

No one dared touch Fritz after that day, or even speak to him. He grew lonely. Off and on he could feel that feeling, like every inch of him was tingling; longing for some kind of connection to a part of himself he’d lost.

At long last the war ended. The German super power was in shambles, and the Russians let everyone leave Sachsenhausen behind them; a scar on their pasts. Fritz longed for home. He traveled as fast as he could to see his family. So much had taken place from the war, Fritz soon realized though. Travel was slow, and arduous. It took nearly a year for him to make the relatively short journey, for his health of mind and body was in shambles too.

Fritz straightened his now thinning hair as he prepared to knock on the door of his mother and father’s home. He hadn’t seen them in nearly eight years now. He devoted himself to science back then, leaving little time for anything or anyone. The rap on the door resounded hollowly through the small familiar halls of his childhood home. The soft pattering of bare feet followed soon after as someone approached the door from within. The door swung open quickly, and there stood his mother. She smiled at him.

“Hello, my boy,” His mother Hilda said. She narrowed her eyes. “Are you ill? You look like you’ve lost fifteen pounds since yesterday.”

Fritz stood still and speechless for what felt like to him an eternity. His mind raced.

“Yesterday?” Fritz finally forced out.

“Yes,” Hilda said with concern apparent. “You were here, yesterday, with your wife.” Fritz’s eyes went blank. Hilda’s concern deepened.

“You remember Adalheida don’t you?” She said.

“Yes,” Fritz said, his expression suddenly changing to that of a composed man. He smiled warmly at his mother.

“Where do I live now?” Fritz said. His mother still looked at him with loving concern. After a moment of silent worry she told him where to find his home. He hugged her, and kissed her on the cheek as he had always done.

“Everything is going to be okay, mother,” Fritz said. He left quickly.

Soon Fritz found himself at the address. He lay in wait in an alley nearby. He wanted to confront his doppelganger. The sun began to set over the sleepy little town. Sleep would have soon overtaken him had not the other self come towards the door when he did. The other self looked pale, but that didn’t matter; Fritz rose from his hiding place and dashed at his other half.

“You dämonisch klönen!” Fritz reeled, taking hold of his other half’s collar and shaking him. Fritz broke free, and threw his assailant to the ground. Fritz, looking up from the dusty street where he now lay, felt very weak; he wept. 

“Who the hell are you?” Fritz demanded. Fritz looked up from his disparagement into the eyes of himself. Fritz then realized who had attacked him. He stood speechless, and lifted his hand to rub the scar on his head; where he had been wounded in the lab.

“How did you find me?” Scarred Fritz asked, kneeling down to his destitute self.

“You stole my life,” Fritz said harshly.

“I’ve stolen nothing,” Scarred Fritz replied. “I’ve claimed what is mine.”

“And what of me?” Fritz said, “What about my life? You have no right—”

“And neither do you!” Scarred Fritz said. He pulled his other self to his feet and looked sharply into his eyes.

“I’m dying,” He said. “Some kind of incurable disease brought on by what ever I—we—were exposed to in that dungeon. Leave me to die in peace. Leave me with my wife and never come back.”

Fritz looked at his other self. He could see the reality of his words in his pain filled eyes: this man spoke the truth. Scarred Fritz left himself standing on the cold street. He went into his home and closed the door loudly. It began to snow softly as Fritz stood there, thinking over all that had happened to him. He clinched his fists, and went to the street facing window of Scarred Fritz’s home. He parted the bushes, and saw within Fritz with Adalheida. She cradled him, tears in her eyes. Fritz thought of what she must be going through, her husband not long for this world.

As Fritz stood there watching himself and his wife in obscurity, he felt the surge of energy that had become so common to him since the accident in the lab. He looked at his hands, and fancied he saw thin arches of blue electricity shooting between his fingers. His mind grew clearer. He suddenly knew his purpose, what he had to do to fix everything.

            A week passed. Scarred Fritz walked home late one snowy night, along his usual path. His health had continued to deteriorate, now having to walk with a cane. Only Adalheida kept him going; her love gave him power to keep living. As he turned a corner, taking a familiar short cut beneath a bridge, he saw a faint shadow move before him.

            “Whose there?” Scarred Fritz said loudly. Out of the shadows stepped Fritz, his face filled with an unnatural determination.

            “I figured you would come like this,” Scarred Fritz said, wiping sweat from his pale forehead. His fingers traced the scar on the side of his head. “That’s why I’ve been carrying this.” Scarred Fritz pulled back his coat, revealing a small pistol on his hip.

            “You don’t need to be afraid of me, Fritz.” Fritz said calmly, approaching slowly toward his armed counterpart.

            “Don’t come any closer,” Scarred Fritz said, unsnapping the holstered weapon.

            “I can help us,” Fritz said, still approaching. Scarred Fritz began to sweat more freely, his pale face growing paler. He raised his hand to wipe the sweat from his eyes. Fritz leapt forward suddenly, laying hold of his self adjacent. The tunnel began to fill with strange light and penetrating vibrations as blue electricity arched from corner to corner, the two men fusing together. That was the last thing Fritz recalled before he went unconscious.

            Adalheida sat by the door. It was nearly midnight, and she feared something terrible had befallen her dear husband. She heard footsteps approaching the door, and thought it was constables come to tell her the worst. She hurled the door open, and in walked her husband.

            “Fritz,” She said, embracing him. “I thought…” They held each other tightly. She looked into his eyes; they seemed whole, fulfilled. He wasn’t pale. He walked without the cane. She kissed his forehead, when to her surprise she found his scar missing.

Published by acliftonmoore

My goal is to one day change the world in the same way Shakespeare did: by infusing the thoughts of the human race with such language and turn-of-phrase that they say them daily, and never even know it was I who wrote it.

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