Check out some books and authors discussed in this episode:
Plato: The Republic / The Trial and Death of Socrates / The Symposium
Jorge Luis Borges: The Book of Imaginary Beings / Collected Fictions / Labyrinths
Albert Camus: The Stranger / The Plague / The Fall
William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet / Hamlet / Macbeth
Bret Easton Ellis: American Psycho / Less Than Zero / The Rules of Attraction
Gene Wolfe: Shadow & Claw / Sword & Citadel / The Urth of the New Sun
Herman Melville: Moby-Dick / Billy Budd / Bartleby the Scrivener
In the Sun
The bikes kicked up two clouds of dust as they came to a stop. Two pairs of feet came off the pedals, two legs swung over two rough rubber seats. Two pairs of hands were rubbed to break the soreness of a long time gripping handlebars, and four eyes scanned the huge expanse of awesome rock formations that stretched out all red and sandy all before them.
“God,” said a young man. “Who knew all this was in shitty Utah?”
“Uh, I did,” said another young man. “So would you, if you had actually just checked the Wikipedia page.”
“I mean, yeah, I knew it was here,” said the first young man. “But actually seeing it…”
“I get you,” said the second young man. They walked along the sandy ground to reach the shallow gorge. It wasn’t very deep—indeed, they might have both climbed down with ease. It was mid-morning and the sun shone brightly down. However, being morning, the heat was not oppressive, not yet anyway. “I want to check out one of those rock towers,” said the second, pointing far beyond him.
“First we get to the top of this cliff,” said the first. “We made a promise, right?”
“Yeah, yeah,” said the second. He glanced down at the relatively close bottom of the valley. “Huh.”
“Our shadows look a lot alike.”
The first young man looked downward like his friend to find his observation proved astute. Their shadows, cast along the ruddy earth, did possess a striking similarity. They were the same height, almost exactly. Their builds were similar, strong and sturdy frames born of intramural sports. The first young man’s hair was long, but today he had tied it behind him, so their heads were exactly the same shape. Neither of them wore a beard, so their jaws were identically smooth. So said the first young man, “You’re right.” He turned toward the second young man. “Cool.”
“Yeah,” he said, then turned. “Come on, let’s keep at it.”
The first young man lingered at the edge of the small gorge. Only haltingly did he turn round and move back toward his bicycle. His comrade, being fit to move already, took the lead, pedaling with mighty pumps to overcome the incline of the trail.
Within an hour and a half they’d moved a great ways up the mountain. The sun had also moved, and now the heat was rising viciously out of the scorched red rock. The second young man sharply stopped his pedaling. “Hold on,” he said, “let’s rest a little.”
The first young man complied, stopping and dismounting from his bike. He surveyed all before him. At this height the rock formations that had once seemed massive were now smaller, more removed. He might have reached out with his hand and plucked one of them from the ground. The air was still. If he closed his eyes—he did so—he could seem to be completely by himself, or at least he could until the footsteps of his friend came crunching up behind him. The first young man regarded those footsteps. He noted how they sounded, how much weight they pressed into the sandy dirt. He shifted his own feet, and noted those sounds also.
The first young man’s eyes opened, and he looked into the second young man’s face. Those eyes studied in silence, taking in the features his companion’s face displayed. “Nothing,” he at last replied. He turned back towards the valley. Something dark and swift appeared, an eagle or a hawk that flew above the monuments far off. The second young man noticed it as well, and turned to watch. The bird soared easily upon the hot still air. For some time it seemed motionless, hovering in place. It was unearthly still. To their surprise though it abruptly bent and fell, diving very fast until it was a darkened blur. They lost it down amid the reddish rock formations.
“Come on,” said the first young man, a strange expression on his face. “Let’s go. I want to reach the top.” He climbed onto his bike again. His friend went following, and so once more they pedaled and were off.
Within an hour and a half they’d reached the summit of their journey. As the two bikes once more skidded to stop, the first young man looked out across the monument-strewn landscape. They were very high up now, resting, sweating on a rocky, mighty ridge. Now the sun was raging; even in this early spring it shone angrily at him. It burned his cheeks, and beat down on his bare head when he took off his helmet. The two of them took alike steps to reach the ridge’s edge. The quietude was punctured by the ripple of two zippers going down, and double streams of urine trickled into open air, briny yellow arcs that glittered from the shining sun.
“Remember what you said about our shadows?” said the first young man.
“Yeah?” said the second young man.
“Well, all this time I’ve been thinking, and… shit, it’s dumb,” he said.
“Well… what if you’re my shadow?” asked the first.
“I don’t get it,” said the second.
“Come on, our shadows look identical,” the first said. “And we’re a lot alike. We went to the same elementary school, and the same middle school, and the same high school, and the same college. We’ve been friends all that time. We like the same movies, shows, games. We had the same major in college, and we took nearly the same classes. We even both got into the same internship program at MS. Fuck, we’re even going to be working at the same hedge fund. We’ve even dated some of the same girls.”
“So?” said the second. “We’re friends. We’ve always been friends.”
“Yeah, but, like, I think this is some cosmic shit, man.” The first young man zipped up his fly. He stared into the second young man’s eyes, which were the same brown shade as his. “There are originals, and there are shadows that they cast. Copies, you know? Imitations. We’re so alike, we might as well be twins. But we’re not really twins, because I’m a few months older than you. I come first, and you’re like me because you’re my shadow.”
“Is this some God shit?” said the second young man.
“Nah, man,” said the first. “It’s just how things are.”
“Uh, okay,” said the second, zipping up his fly. “The thing is, though, if we’re gonna be like that: who’s really the copy?”
The sun shone hot and hurtful down.
“You mentioned all those things that make us alike,” said the second young man. “But I’ve always been a little ahead. I’ve gotten better grades than you from elementary school onward. The girls we’ve both dated have usually dated me first. I got into the internship before you—your dad had to write a letter to the dean, remember? And I got my job first.” He glanced upon the vast expanse of rocky wonders. “If anyone’s the shadow, it’s you.”
The first young man moved faster than the second young man could react, throwing all his strength into one tremendous shove. The second young man was entirely off guard, and so went flying out into the open air. He screamed at first, but somewhere on the way down he collided with the cliff face. That might have killed him instantly. At any rate, he made no further sound, until a quiet spurt came forth when he impacted the bottom of the gorge. He was a chunky pile after such a lengthy fall, a dark stain spreading quickly from his broken body.
The first young man glanced up into the sky. It was high noon.
C. A. Shoultz is writer, poet, philosopher, critic, and lay theologian, currently residing in Austin, Texas. He graduated from Baylor University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in Great Texts of the Western Tradition. He has been published in Pinecone Magazine.
Image / Flickr: Krushna Ranaware