I’ve never been the type to pick up hitchhikers, and I’ve come across quite a few. I went to Burke College, which is virtually indistinguishable from the Oregon pines surrounding it. Whenever I went back to campus after a break or a weekend road trip, I’d see plenty of hitchhikers just standing out from the bushes. Maybe that’s a little callous, but if I don’t know for sure that I can trust someone, they’re not getting into my car.
That’s what made this particular night so unusual. I had just been camping with a few friends, and I was heading back to Burke. My last Spring semester would start in a few days, and I wanted to give myself some time to relax at home before starting one last set of courses that I would half-pay attention to until I fell backward into mostly B’s. After that, I lifetime of—I don’t know—answering phones for some insurance company?
Regardless, I was driving down a State Road 61, a stretch of road that looked just similar enough to all the others for me to completely forget where I was. And this was before everyone could just look up where they were, so things were looking the slightest bit hopeless. It was only 9 PM or so, but you could easily mistake it for being 1 in the morning. I had just passed one of the countless no-name towns that lined the road, and I don’t think I’d seen a single light. Now I was in for another twenty-minute stretch of nothing but trees. And through the vomit-colored bugs shooting like stars onto my windshield, I was just able to make out a pink jacket and an outstretched thumb by the edge of the forest.
I was pushing seventy miles an hour, and the premature darkness offered the perfect cover for this stranger to dump my body in the woods, but after a couple minutes, I got to thinking:
"What if I was stranded out here?"
So, probably against my better judgement, I made a U-turn the first chance I got and drove until I could make out the form that I’d seen before. No one had stopped to pick them up, and—I don’t know—it was a new year. I guess I wanted to try and think of others more. I made another U-turn when the next turn lane emerged, and finally, I pulled to a stop next to the hitchhiker.
The passenger door opened, and I was greeted with a familiar voice which said: “Thank you so much for stopping. You have no idea how long I've been standing out there."
“Oh, it’s no problem,” I said. “I know I’d—” Before I could finish my thought, I looked at the passenger seat and was greeted with the unmistakable sight of my own face.
ALERT: Subject TC-34, previously understood to be in
evening stasis, is unaccounted for as of 1900 hours.
All personnel be advised.
Petrified, we stared at each other’s identical eyes. I tried to say something but only managed a few vague sounds which suggested the beginnings of words.
Finally, he (I?) smiled and said:
“Well, I don’t know what the fuck’s going on here, but I think we’ll both hate ourselves if we don’t try and figure it out.” And with that, he (I?) got in, and before I could form any sort of coherent response, we were speeding through nowhere again.
After a few minutes of silence ensembled with the rumble of my tires against the cracking road, I finally heard myself say a full sentence:
TC-34 has only been approved through Scenario 48. It is
recommended that a disposal team be deployed to
avoid the reveal of the Mitosis Project.
"So... what's your name?"
“Eric,” said the other Eric. “I take it that’s your name, as well?”
“Lucky guess,” I said, And we both chuckled. “I probably should have asked
before: where are you headed?”
“Burke College,” said Eric. “I just went camping, and—well—this is kind
of embarrassing, but I managed to get my fucking car stolen in the last town.”
“Burke College, huh?” I said, not exactly surprised. “You don’t say. And your car was stolen?”
Buzzard, this is Termite. We’re on State Road 61. An attendant
at a gas station in Wilisburg said she’d seen someone matching
your description of Tango Charlie 34, so we’re searching the road
“Yeah! I stopped to get some gas, and while I’m inside paying, some asshole gets in and peels out. Guess I left the keys in the ignition or something. I don’t make a habit of hitchhiking, but the attendant said the only cop in town was the sheriff, and that he was probably asleep. Can you fucking believe that?”
I chuckled. “Seriously? What is this, the fucking Andy Griffith Show?”
“Seems like it.”
“I know what you mean, though. I don’t make a habit of picking up hitchhikers.”
“I guess we’re cut from the same cloth,” said Eric. “I appreciate you picking me up, though.”
Roger that, Termite. Be advised: subject has been implanted
with donor memories and likely doesn’t recall that it’s a subject.
Resistance should be expected. Over.
“Oh, for sure,” I said. “I’m not just going to leave myself stranded in the middle of nowhere.” We both laughed, but I could tell from its shared shakiness that he was just as flabbergasted by this whole things as I was. “The real question is what we’re going to do when we get back to Burke.”
Copy that. Buzzard, do we know if we have a rat in the house?
Was it someone on the inside that released Tango Charlie 34? Over.
“If we ever get back to Burke,” said Eric in a tone which was just a mite too serious. “God knows where we are now."
“Oh, don’t worry,” I said, doing my best to mask the fact that I had no clue what was to become of either of us. “I’m positive I’ve been in weirder places than this before.”
In all likelihood, yes. It’s a slim chance that it got out
on its own. Over.
“Now, we both know that’s not true,” said Eric. He was right. I’d taken a lot of road trips during my time at Burke, and never had I gotten this lost on the back roads of Oregon. And never had I come across a perfect clone of myself. It was all I could do to avoid the snowballing sickness in my stomach, but I stared ahead at the unlit road, muttering anything that might reassure myself.
Roger that, Buzzard. Find the son of a bitch and give him
one in the head for us, will you? Over.
“It’s alright,” I said. “We’ll get back to Burke, and then we’ll figure out what the fuck we’re going to about—” I gave a vague gesture with my right hand—“all of this.” As I finished saying this, I noticed that I was down to a quarter tank of gas, and who knew when we’d actually get back to the college? Just when these thoughts passed through my head, I saw something that I never thought I’d be so relieved to see: the dim streetlights of another town whose population was probably smaller than my graduating class. “But first,” I said, “I need to get some gas.”
You boys do the same thing when you locate Tango Charlie 34.
Over and out.
I pulled into a Shell which appeared to be the only place in town that was open. I told Eric I’d only be gone a second, went into the little shop, and asked the middle aged woman behind the counter for $20 worth of gas on pump three. And just as I laid the bill on the counter, I heard tires screech and looked out the window to find that my car was gone.
“Oh, no, no, no! Fuck!” I yelled.
“Hey, watch your mouth, kid,” said the attendant. “Now what in the world is the matter.”
“Jeez, I’m sorry,” I said, pressing my palm into my forehead. “My car was just… stolen…”
“Oh. Well I’m sorry,” she said, sounding utterly uninterested. “I’d offer to call the police for you, but all we’ve got in the way of law enforcement around here is Sheriff Barnes, and he’s—”
“Yes. I’m afraid that’s just how it is in towns like this.”
“Got it,” I sighed. “I’ll… I’ll figure something out…” The attendant gave a small grunt in response and went back to her magazine.
I walked out of the Shell and proceeded down the road, my mind racing. My car was gone, I didn’t have the slightest idea where I was, and this town, which appeared to consist of about three streets, didn’t seem to have any place I could stay. By the time I’d half-processed all of this, I became aware that I had walked for so long that the town had disappeared.
I was never one to hitchhike, but it seemed that I was out of options. I was surrounded by trees, staring down a state road which was barely distinguishable from the wilderness it cut through. Standing in a spot where I thought I’d be visible despite the lack of lights, I held out my thumb. And just as I thought I would fall asleep standing up, two big headlights grew from the darkness and slowed before me. Getting a closer look at the jeep to which they were attached, I could just barely make out a camo paint job.