David Stinson was a cautious young man. At twenty-four years, he had done little in his life without carefully weighing the pros and cons of each decision. Whatever led him into the dark backstreets of New York on a particularly cool October night remains a mystery but, in his haste to get home, he shrugged off the nagging threat to stay on the main streets.
On occasion, a cat would rummage through aluminum trash bins and startle him. He turned up his collar against the biting wind and carried on his way. Brittle leaves danced across his path, the scuttling sound they made reminded him eerily of rats in an attic. If it weren’t for the distant chaos of car horns and the loud ramblings of crazed homeless men, he’d be utterly alone in the world.
To calm his frazzled nerves, David escaped to the safe place in his mind that his high school counselor helped him create when he suffered from panic disorder. So in tune he was to his fabricated surroundings, he didn’t register the alien sound of footsteps swiftly closing the gap until they were upon him.
For a moment, he was walking in his own little world and, the next, he lay face-first on the ground with the metallic taste of blood flooding his mouth. He rolled onto his back to cast a reproachful glare at a group of four men, but quickly changed perspective. The absence of light in the dim street cast shadows over their features displaying deep, obscure eyes and malevolent sneers. David swore they were demons. As they punched and kicked, they shouted out to him; aggressive, angry, and oddly joyful voices rang out, but he hardly registered what they said. He did understand one word–a name–repeated several times. Mitch. Desperation set in as he tried to guard his face with his arms. His muffled protests went unheeded. Efforts to convince the men that they had the wrong guy fell on deaf ears as his universe turned black and he fell blissfully unconscious.
Although David lay in the street for hours, lifeless and vulnerable, before anyone found him, he did have a visitor soon after his attackers left. He didn’t sense the man’s hand rummaging through his pockets to locate his wallet, nor was he ever aware of what the stranger left in its place. In time, David was rescued, and he came to several days later in a brightly lit hospital room. His throat was raw and constricted from the tubes running from his mouth and nose and a contraption reminiscent of many psychological thrillers secured his head. He had no idea how the rest of his body looked. An intravenous liquid pumped a narcotic through his veins in a steady rhythm and he felt gratefully calm. It wasn’t long before darkness overtook him once more.
When he woke again, it appeared that he had only just fallen asleep, but it might have been days. The only thing he recognized for sure was the instinct which alerted him that he wasn’t alone. His eyes darted around his limited field of vision, and a face came into view. His face. Blinking a few times to refocus, David stared back at his own image smiling down at him. Many thoughts ran through his head; at the forefront sat the possibility that this was a messed up out-of-body experience. The question flared in his expression and the “other David” seemed to have understood.
“You’re not crazy,” he assessed. “I’m Mitch Bailey. Or … I used to be.” His eyes shifted to one side as he deeply considered the statement. “I’m actually David now, and you get to be Mitch.” He walked around the bed, temporarily removing himself from the prone man’s line of sight. “I know it’s confusing, but I’ll explain. It’s the least I can do.” Mitch–or David, as he now called himself–shared this new information. Born identical twin brothers, David’s adoption happened early on, but Mitch faltered in the system and ultimately turned to a life of crime, making powerful enemies. He was aware David existed only because he saw him one day from a distance. With skilled conniving and a little investigative work, he learned what he had to of David’s situation. His brother’s current demise wasn’t a result of any plan Mitch had made, but it worked in his favor. He witnessed the assault David took on his account. When the group of men finished and left, he ran over and switched their wallets, so David would be mistaken for Mitch when the hospital checked him for identification.
“I have to admit,” stated Mitch, “I wish they killed you right away. I need Mitch to be dead now, or they’ll never stop looking for me.” David’s eyes widened in horror as his brother’s plan became clear. “Don’t worry about your folks, though, as far as they know their darling son is alive and well.”
David tried screaming out, but no sounds came through the tubes in his throat. With all his might he tried to move even a single finger, but his paralysis was enduring. The familiar beat of his ventilator pumping life-sustaining oxygen into his battered body suddenly ceased and his lungs began to burn. His eyes bulged as he struggled to breath, his expression pleading with Mitch to reconsider. No alarms sounded alerting the nurses that he was in distress … nobody was coming to save him. David’s brain fired off the last few occurrences of activity it had left and everything went dark. Vacant orbs stared into nothingness and Mitch gently closed his eyelids, delivering him ultimately to the unknown. Before Mitch slipped from the room, he methodically plugged David’s monitoring equipment back in and enveloped the room in high-pitched alarms. The nurses would think he simply passed in his sleep and think no more of it.
After all, David Stinson was a cautious young man.
~March 16, 2017