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Bro by Matt Hoffman

November 27, 2011 Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Mainstream 2 Comments
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By Matt Hoffman

Will knew she was getting tired of him, as they usually did—tired of the repetitive, unimaginative movement of his jeans against hers, barely keeping in time with the rap beat bouncing off of the basement’s brick walls; tired of the way his hands hung limply on the front of her hips. She had accepted his invitation to dance with a shrug, and as far as he could tell, her interest hadn’t increased. He wasn’t surprised when, as the beat faded away to a second of interstitial crowd noise, she released herself from his grasp, turned, and said that she was going to go use the bathroom.

“Okay,” Will said.

The relative silence was broken by a new beat, distorted bass and snare over barely audible synths. She squeezed her way through the crowd of dancing couples, heading in the direction of the stairs, away from him. Will watched her go for a second, looked around at nothing in particular, and started making his way over to the bar, apologizing as he pushed dancers up against their partners in an attempt to clear a path.

Will waited behind a cluster of people until the bartender, a muscled guy in a frat T-shirt, handed him a half-empty red cup and turned away to the next customers. Some of Will’s beer sloshed onto his sleeves as he made his way to the wall, where he had a little space to stand.

Will sipped his beer and looked around. A few colored lights flashed intermittently over the makeshift dance floor, turning the dancers’ skin and clothes red, blue, yellow. A few strobe lights were blinking, indistinguishable from the occasional flash of a digital camera. At the far side of the room, it looked like some stragglers were still being let in, two or three at a time. Were Will’s floormates around? He scanned the crowd and spotted Ed from the quad, who was standing on the calmer side of the room talking with a short
girl in a red blouse. Will decided not to bother him.

Will sighed, leaned back against the rough brick, and decided he might as well wait around for—had she told him her name? Whoever. Bathroom girl. There was a chance she might actually return. Will glanced over at the dance floor to see if she had found a new partner yet.

That was when Will saw him: The guy was moderately tall, dressed in crisp off-white khakis and a neon orange polo, the collar popped to his jaw, aviator glasses gleaming beneath his brow. He was grinding authoritatively with a pretty girl who had a tight pink T-shirt, a denim skirt, and long, dark hair. Her eyes remained shut as she danced, her face set serenely into an expression of entranced satisfaction. The guy held a red cup in one hand and bore the hint of an apathetic half-smile.

But he was Will.

His hair was a little longer than Will’s was. He had some beard stubble, more evenly spaced than Will had ever been able to manage. He had some muscle. But he was still, definitely, Will. He had Will’s round face, Will’s lumpy nose—even a mole identical to the one on Will’s left cheek, corresponding to the exact same facial coordinates.

Will stood by the wall, waiting for a change in the light or shift in perspective to break the illusion. But no matter how the dancers turned or how the strobes flashed, the face that looked out from over the dark-haired girl’s shoulder remained basically the same as Will’s own.

Will hesitated a moment, unable to look away, then stepped quickly over to Ed, who was still engaged in conversation.

“Ed.” Will tugged on Ed’s shoulder.

Ed turned away from the short girl to look at Will, controlled annoyance barely visible in the dim light. “Will? What?”

Will pointed at the dance floor. “Doesn’t that guy look like me?”

Ed stared at Will for a second, then flicked his gaze to the dancers.

“What guy?”

“The one dancing with that girl.”

“That’s helpful, Will, thanks.”

“The one in the polo shirt. He’s got, uh…” Will turned and tried to locate the guy.

“The Indian kid? I guess he looks kind of like you.”

“No, not the Indian kid. The guy…” Will’s eyes swept back and forth across the room,
searching unsuccessfully. “I don’t know. He’s gone.”

Ed turned back to Will. “Uh, okay…”

“Sorry.” Will looked around the room once more, then headed off towards the space where the guy had been standing. Behind him he heard Ed say to the girl, “Uh, sorry about that. Anyway—”

Will pushed his way back into the mass of dancers, skipping apologies. Eventually he found himself standing right where the guy had been, right between a man with a shaved head, who was dancing with a girl with curly hair, and a short frat brother entangled with a blonde sorority girl. Will shouted over the music: “Do you know the guy who was dancing here?”

The man with the shaved head looked at Will. “What?”

“I said, do you know the guy who was just dancing right here?”

He shook his head. “I can’t hear you.”

Will turned to the brother: “You know the guy who was dancing here?”

The brother gave Will a glazed smile and turned away.

Will frowned and headed toward the exit. On his way he passed by the girl he had been dancing with before. She saw him, then flicked her eyes away; he brushed past her and climbed the few steps leading up to the basement door.

An ice-water November breeze hit Will as he opened the door and stepped outside. Streetlights reflected off the pavement and cast the run-down suburban neighborhood in an orange murk. Will turned to his right and saw a heavy-set frat bouncer looking at him skeptically, arms crossed.

“Hey,” Will said.

“You want to shut the door, man? You’re letting all the heat out.”

“Oh yeah, sorry.” Will stepped all the way out into the driveway and let the door swing shut behind him, muffling the sound of the stereo. He turned back to the bouncer. “There’s a guy at this party in an orange polo shirt. Kind of looks like me. I think he’s with, uh, a girl in a pink shirt. Do you know him?”

“They just left.”

“Really? Who is the guy, what’s his name?”

The bouncer shrugged. “Search me.”

“Well, where’d they go?”

The bouncer glared. “Why you want to know?”

“He, uh, I…” Will looked down at the wet cement for a second, then made eye contact again. “He left his wallet.” Will grabbed his own wallet out of his pocket and held it up, smiling.

“They took a right on the sidewalk,” the bouncer said, briefly uncrossing his arms to point the direction.

“Thank you!” Will turned and jogged across the driveway.

Once he hit the sidewalk, the neighboring houses no longer cut off his view, and he could see down the street for a few blocks. The night was mostly deserted, but a few houses down, Will spotted the outline of a couple walking hand in hand. The guy was tall, dressed in a dark jacket and khakis; the girl had long, dark hair, and wore a coat and

Will set off jogging after the couple, his sneakers kicking up drops of old rainwater as he ran. A few partygoers on a porch across the street shouted something at him and laughed, but Will couldn’t hear what was said. As he got within earshot of the couple, the guy stopped and turned around.

It was the same guy, the one with Will’s face.

At first, the guy looked back with the same satisfied disinterest he had shown earlier. As Will drew nearer, though, the guy’s eyes widened, and his lips unsealed themselves and hung slackly open. The girl stood waiting, glancing back and forth from the guy to Will.

Will started slowing to a walk. “Hey, excuse me—”

The guy bolted, taking off down the sidewalk.

“Hey!” Will shouted, breaking back into a dash, then stopping abruptly where the girl was standing.

“Who was that guy?” Will asked, gasping for breath.

The girl turned to look at Will and suddenly stepped back, taking a quick breath.

“What was his name?” Will insisted, glancing up the street.

“He said his name was Will,” she said softly.

Will stared at her for a second—had he met this girl before?—then turned and started running.

Up ahead, the guy took a sharp right and disappeared behind the house on the corner. He had been moving faster than Will, who could already feel a cramp growing in his gut. He ignored it and pumped his legs as hard as he could, until his bangs were swept back off of his forehead and each breath burned his lungs.

Will nearly slipped as he turned the corner, then kept moving forward as he stared ahead, searching. The street stayed suburban for about a block, then opened up as it intersected with a larger road, one lined with restaurants, businesses, apartments. Subway tracks ran up the center of the larger road, and there was a small crowd of people gathered around a stop that lay ahead to Will’s left. The guy was running toward that crowd, his arms jerking up and down in unison with his legs.

Will swerved into the street without looking and heard the sound of tires skidding behind him, followed by the blast of a horn. He tried yelling, “Hey! Come on, stop!”

The guy didn’t stop running, but he did look over his shoulder for a second. For a short moment, he and Will made eye contact. To Will, it felt less like looking into a mirror than like watching himself in a film. The face he saw onscreen, his own face, was stretched into an expression of wide-eyed, gasping fear.

Then the guy faced forward again and kept running. Will grimaced and tried to push his legs to move faster.

The rumble of an engine was getting louder, and a bright, hard light was spreading over the group gathered at the subway stop. Some people standing there turned and stared as the guy dashed along the right side of the crowd, over the platform. The ground around the tracks must have been slippery, though, because the guy’s feet suddenly flew out from under him, and he fell.

The wailing horn and screeching brakes began in unison. The guy tried to get to his feet.

In the next instant the guy was gone, replaced by a blur of metal and glass. Will thought he heard sounds, but couldn’t be sure.

Will came to a stop at the edge of the crowd. People were yelling, holding each other, pulling out cell phones. The train was still screeching along the tracks.

“He looked just like me,” Will whispered, breathing heavily, his eyes vaguely focused on the tracks.

Will blinked a few times, then looked to the left and spoke to a gray-haired, middle-aged man standing on the platform. “Didn’t he look like me?”

The man stared at Will.

The train finally pulled past the edge of the platform. The body lay splayed out on the tracks, blood spreading over the orange polo and khakis.

The guy’s face was beyond recognition.

* * *

Matt Hoffman is a recent graduate of Boston University, where he studied Film and International Relations. He grew up in Connecticut and attended the Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven. His fiction has been published in The Battered Suitcase, his film commentary appears frequently on the genre entertainment website Mania.com, and he performs standup at various New York City comedy clubs. He currently lives in Brooklyn.

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

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    Narbonne says:

    Very good. Kept me guessing right up to the finish. I would have liked more of an explanation at the end as in, what then happened to the original Will? Be that as it may, I liked it quite a lot.

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    class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-526">

    I could write a missive on the parallels between “Bro” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson”—the theme of the double, a hint of the plot and the several allusions (including the main character’s name, “Will”)—but what I most love is the scene at the end, which not only suggests an entirely different idea about the double but also recalls the last scene in the film Drag Me to Hell, which, quite frankly, terrified me. I got chills reading this. If you want to read Poe’s “William Wilson,” you can do that here: http://www.eapoe.org/works/tales/wilwila.htm. To entice you? Here’s a quote from Poe’s story: In me didst thou exist — and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself. Says it all, doesn’t it?

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