1. My Impostor Syndrome escaped again so now I'm dealing with a shitfaced doppelganger of yours truly singing Nick Cave's Thirsty Dog off key into the barrel of a loaded gun: "I’m sorry about all your friends/I hope they’ll speak to me again/I said before I’d pay for all the damage..."
We're at the Admiral's Grave, because of course that's where my spitting image would hole up. It's a rained out school night here in Vampire Country so the crowd's minimal. Down the bar a few regulars gargoyle lurch over drinks and phones as the bartender catches the play of the day. All the booths are empty save one where a young couple make out ignoring their basket of tots and cheap pitcher.
No one notices either one of us staring each other down the narrow passage between bar and booths connecting the Grave's shitter to Euclid Avenue behind me. That's because the body my impostor syndrome weaved itself doesn't fully exist on our frequency of reality yet and I'm glamoured incognito.
Don't want to be seen. Not here and not now. I'm haunted and hunted at the Grave which sucks because my glamour's not strong enough to work on anyone who can match a face to my name. The magick is ebbing, I'm exhausted from care-giving and therapy and yard work and work-work and working out. I haven't slept deep since Sunday night with the Wolf Angel. I can't afford to risk a fight in this shape, psychic or physical.
"I’m sorry it’s just rotten luck," the doppelganger slurs into the barrel with exaggerated facial expressions conveying sorrow and ecstasy, "I’m sorry I’ve forgotten how to fuck/ It’s just that I think my heart and soul are kind of famished."
Look at him. He's basically me eight years ago. Snow blind on blow. Fear aping Anger. Face ravaged from weeks straight of chemical insomnia cut up with black out power naps. He walks towards me, stops behind a barfly, points the pistol at his head, holds it there, and then reaches over to glug back a drink unseen before withdrawing the pistol.
I scan the bar again to ensure no one not working it knows me and de-cloak just long enough to order a Jameson.
My doppelganger, at the other end of the bar, nods towards one of the empty booths before taking a seat with a drink he's invisibly swiped off the tray of the passing wait staff. I stare at him for a second before trudging over to sit across from my impostor syndrome.
Got the mother-fucker's text after class. Told me to meet him at the Admiral's Grave. Told me if I wasn't there before midnight he'd pay a visit to my friends, then the Moms, then the Wolf Angel. Let them all see, what is by his reckoning, the real me.
So here we are.
A shadow and a ghost trying to convince the other that they
Ever hear yourself speak on an answering machine? It's familiar but wrong, a fun house mirror twist of your own voice. You can't help but cringe. That's what it's like listening to him speak - filtered through caffeine jitters and drunk bravado - a recording played at the wrong speed.
"Let me just start by saying I know exactly what you're thinking," he lays the gun down between us on the table and gives it a spin.
"Not yet you don't," I pretend to ignore the barrel spinning counter-clockwise. "Give it eight years and you will."
"See," he opens up a flask that's not his to down a shot, "you're doing it already."
"Talking down to me and you know why?," the pistol's spin is slowing down with the barrel arcing inevitably towards me.
"Because you're thinking I'm the 'evil' twin and you're the 'good' version of yourself."
"That right?," I sip my drink and scroll through some banishment spells in my head.
"C'mon, Not-Jack. we're both writers. I mean at least one of us is and the other was. So you tell me, which of these two sounds more plausible to the passing ear? Some schmuck struggling with booze and blow escapes into his imagination after his pop's died," at this he lights a cigarette from who knows where, "or this martial artist slash guerilla journalist dating some hot actress..."
"... actor, thank you."
"What-the-fuck-ever dude," my Impostor Syndrome rolls his eyes, "point is this isn't you. This is some fantasy a scared little boy in an old man's body thinks is processing. This is a mid-life crisis in secret origin drag. But I'll tell you what it isn't. Not real."
"Hmmm," I watch the last dregs of momentum on the pistol's spin point the barrel at me, "guess you got me there, but just to be certain you're real and I'm not how 'bout a quick test? How 'bout you ask someone here which of us is real? Just wave the server over and I'll buy you a drink. Can't get no fairer than that."
My Impostor Syndrome twists up a sneer: "Why don't you then? Oh that's right... you're invisible with your magic hoodie and shit. This who I 'grow' up to be then? A fat, old man hiding in plain sight? Well I dunno about that. Sounds pretty weak if y'aks me."
"Oh yeah, right, almost forgot," I hold up and spread my hands in mock surrender, "you're the real me and I'm the imaginary you who's stolen away your life of whiskey, weed, and blow? But funny thing is... where was the 'Real Me' the morning after dad's funeral? Nowhere to be found. Where was the 'Real Me' then when it was time to go cold turkey, learn to drive, get a job, grow-up? A-Fucking-Wol that's where. How about when it was time to swallow some pride to go to therapy or getting their ass kicked a couple times a week in Krav? Survey says -
No Show. Okay, then surely this Real Me was around when they found out Mom was dying right?"
"You locked me away," my Impostor Syndrome gives wounded eyes to me, "you were only supposed to be an emergency auto-pilot. A set of routines while I processed the shock. Instead you took over the whole show."
"You didn't 'process' shit," I wave any notion contrary away with my hand, "what did you ever do besides get wasted and hold grudges?"
My Impostor Syndrome takes a thoughtful drag off his oh so enviable smoke and replies - "I wrote and published a book. What have you written since?"
I look down at the gun, it's stopped spinning with barrel aimed directly beneath the heart. I look over to the drink my hands are folded around, I look anywhere but at him because if I do I swear to Christ I'll punch his fucking face in.
"Think Dad's happy with that?," he picks up the drink between my hands and takes a healthy swallow before slipping it back between my fingers. "You having some bullshit yellow belt instead of an agent, a publisher, another book? That the plan now? You gonna learn martial arts and fight crime in the streets or some shit? I'll say it again 'it's a buncha scared lil boy bullshit'."
"Okay," I say before pausing to glug not sip my drink down to a glass of half melted ice, "you. Me. Outside. Let's see how good we are at kicking our own asses literally instead of figuratively for a change."
My Impostor Syndrome is finally at a loss for words, confused, watching me rise out of the booth, and then casually splash him in the face with a glass of ice.
"Parking lot, you fucking piece of shit. Kick my ass now or go back to whatever bad memory you crawled out of. I'll be waiting one way or another."
No one at the Admiral's Grave sees me exit nor my duplicate who tosses a soggy cigarette into the couple's pitcher of beer before following me out.
Parking lot behind the Admiral's Grave. Storm downpour crackling across the pavement, dumpsters, parked cars, Vampire Country rooftops, our twin silhouettes facing each other. Lightning illuminates my Impostor Syndrome who's suddenly not smiling any more. Thunder.
"Pretty dramatic," I shout and step closer with palms up feeling the rain , "this you?"
"Was about to ask you the same thing?" My Impostor Syndrome shrugs. He's nervous. Good. He should be.
"Could be maybe neither one of us is the 'author' here," I pause no more than a right hook away, "could be we're both the characters and our insistence that the other is an illusion is just some sort of cruel Philip K Dick trick for fuck knows who's entertainment."
"You mean neither one of us are free to do no more than speak the lines we're given?"
Without further word we work the proposition until we both speak our conclusion at the same time - "Fuck it."
I throw the first punch and miss the jaw that might've knocked him out to land directly to the temple instead. First punch in a long time I've thrown without gloves and my Impostor Syndrome is as thick in the skull as I recall. Pain explodes behind the knuckles. Still I had some weight and momentum behind the shot which was enough to send him reeling. He comes back up and I'm expecting a punch but instead get the barrel of the gun in my face.
"I got something you don't," my Impostor Syndrome's smiling again.
"Me too," I smile back with raised arms of surrender nodding behind him, "friends."
My Impostor Syndrome turns around, he can't help but wish it true, but he sees no one there, scoffs with bitter pride, turns around, and realizes it's too late.
My hands are wrapped around the pistol. I step, pivot, and twist the gun out of his hands while landing an elbow to the jaw I missed last time.
"Fuck," my Impostor Syndrome spits a tooth out, "okay, okay, okay. I give up."
Yeah... I'm not chancing it and you know, Chekov rules and all that, we can't be having a gun that doesn't go off. They'll revoke my poetic license. So carefully I level the pistol, aim, and unload the clip damn near point blank.
Ten butterflies flutter around my Impostor Syndrome where ten bullets should have dropped a riddled corpse to the earth.
My Impostor Syndrome winds back a punch.
200 pounds of self-loathing clocks me straight in the left eye.
Another catches me direct to the ear and the pain grows with the ringing drowning me in vertigo.
Fuck this. Time to take control. Put a little of this training to good use...
... is what I tell myself right before the white rubber tip of a
Converse burrows into my nuts.
Despite what you see in movies you have a few precious seconds to operate before the pain takes over and cripples your ass. I fire a volley of blows to this prick masked in my old face. He manages to get his arms up but not before a few pepper the side of his face.
I can feel nausea rising up from my balls along with the damage and before I can shut this shit down permanent feel him land a kick straight to my gut. It sends me sprawling back. knocks the air out of me even as it knocks me down on my ass.
Struggling to get up on my feet I instead vomit into a puddle. When I look up I'm looking back down at myself and then I eat the bottom of his Chucks.
Three second black out and when I come to my Impostor Syndrome's got me straddled while pummeling away as he primal screams against the thunder.
Teetering on the precipice of consciousness I spit blood into the rain and listen to my Impostor Syndrome stand above me gloating away like some comic book supervillain.
"Everyone thinks they're better than me," he leans down to shout into my ear, "but not you. You were supposed to be on my side. That's what I made you for. But you ended up just like everyone else in my life - you abandoned me when I needed you most."
"I didn't abandon you," I cough wondering if I'll ever fuck again, "I grew out of you."
"I'm not a fucking seed, damn it!" My Impostor Syndrome leans up and lights a cigarette that doesn't appear in his lips until the flame is lit.
"No," I stagger up to my feet doing my steady best not to collapse, "you're not a... not a seed... you're... you're a... fuck-up artist, right? That's what your next book's called. That's what dad called me, or you, or both of us I guess. Only one problem though."
My Impostor Syndrome turns and now I know the look in my eye when I'm debating whether to smack a fool in the mouth or see how much more of their foot they can squeeze into it first.
"You just kicked my ass... which means... technically speaking... that you kicked the future's ass, even if it was only your own. Still helluva 'complishment by any measure. So tell me. That sound like a fuck-up artist to you?"
I watch the mental arithmetic get worked out in my Impostor Syndrome's head.
"I mean look at you... I didn't even hurt you. Not a bruise on your face and those shots landed solid. Yet not a mark. Shit, not even a cut on your knuckles..."
My Impostor Syndrome studies his hands and looks up at me confused.
"Can't help but notice your tooth isn't missing no more, neither..."
My Impostor Syndrome can't help but spit out the cigarette and probe with tongue at the suddenly not missing tooth.
"What're you doing...?"
"Hell... look at you, you're not even wet are you?"
"Stop it," I watch my eight year old reflection realize that the rain is beginning to pass through him like a ghost. "You can't do this. I won, mother-fucker. I kicked your ass."
"And in doing so you upended the underlying narrative of your existence - that you never win."
"No, no, no, no... don't send me back in there." My Impostor Syndrome panics as their body becomes transparent with the rain now passing through skin without interruption. "Please. You can't remember all the bad things you buried along with me. The monsters and skeletons that live down in the dark you haven't reached yet. You can't send me back there... you can't... please..."
And then the voice is no more and the last translucent vestige of myself shimmers then fades...
And just like that my Impostor Syndrome is gone.
I make my way back to the Admiral's Grave. Grab a seat. Debate my next step.
Then, with a deep breath, I cast off the incognito glamour, and order a drink.
My phone buzzes. Three IM's from the Wolf Angel. She wants me to know it's okay that I had to cancel on her last minute this evening. Second message is that tomorrow night's fine for a rain check. Third message is that it's nothing to beat myself up over.
The drink arrives.
Outside the rain comes down.