You know the phrase “like a deer in headlights”? First of all, I’ve never actually seen a deer in headlights that seemed unable to move. I’ve seen them on the side of the road, but sometimes they stare, and sometimes they run away. They don’t seem particularly transfixed. So I think it might be an old wives’ tale.
Whether it is or not, though, I’m definitely the proverbial deer in headlights. The only reason I don’t drop my glass of soda on the floor is that every one of my muscles completely locks up in surprise. I freeze in the doorway to my own den, while Vince smiles viciously from my couch, completely in control of the situation.
He’s not exactly alone, which is part of why I’m having trouble processing the situation. Sitting next to Vince, between him and me, is another Vince, one of his copies. This one appears to be asleep, though. The Vince who spoke has his left hand resting gently on the sleeping Vince’s forehead. Also, the sleeping one is totally naked.
So I think, on the whole, I can be excused for being a bit off of my game. It’s a pretty weird situation to walk into.
“You’re home a few minutes earlier than I expected, Dan,” Vince continues. He grits his teeth, and I can hear them grind against each other from across the room. “I was hoping to have a buffer in play by the time you got here, just in case.”
“In case?” I ask, finally having gotten my mouth functioning.
“In case I can’t stop myself from killing you, you worthless cretin,” he snarls.
The intensity of his hate is almost a palpable force, and I take a step backwards. “I — what?”
“You’re disgusting, Dan. Like an infected boil. You physically revolt me.” His right hand is gripping the arm of the couch, and I can see his fingers sinking deep into the cushioning. “I want to know how to do what you do, but even being this close to you is like standing knee-deep in a sewer. You’re human filth.”
I’m about to say something witty, like “Feel free to leave at any time,” when the sleeping Vince stirs and opens his eyes. He’s clearly not simply waking up, though. There’s none of that muzzy-headedness that comes with shaking off sleep. He doesn’t look around or take in his surroundings at all. Instead, as soon as his eyes open, they focus directly on me. It’s unnerving.
“Ah, this is so much better,” says the naked Vince.
“Easy for you to say,” says the clothed one, removing his hand from the other’s forehead.
“Everything’s much clearer, One. As expected.”
Maybe it’s clearer for them, but I’m totally not up to speed on what’s going on, which is becoming an uncomfortably familiar sensation. I focus on what I do understand: violent criminals have broken into my house and threatened to kill me. Phrased that way, I suppose that I do have a decent handle on the situation after all. I may not be clear on their motivations or why one of them is naked, but those aren’t really the key aspects. Not getting killed is.
Unfortunately, my weapons at hand are a glass of soda and a box of fast food. If the media is to be believed, those are actually fairly lethal, but not in the short term and not as offensive weapons. On the other end of the spectrum, I have pyrokinesis, but that’s rather too lethal. Also, I’m in my own house, and I don’t particularly want to set my own stuff on fire.
Naked Vince stands up from the couch and smiles at me. “Any chance you wanna play the good host and lend me some pants?”
“What did you do to my couch?” I exclaim, which sounds like a bit of a non sequitur. However, where Vince was sitting, my couch appears to have been eaten away. I hadn’t realized it while he was sitting down, but he wasn’t on the couch — he was in it. The fabric, stuffing and even the metal have been consumed around him, as if his skin secreted some kind of acid.
Vince smirks at me. “One needed the raw materials. I wasn’t just going to come from nowhere, you know.”
I gawk at both Vinces, the naked one smirking at me and the clothed one still holding onto the arm of the couch in a white-knuckled grip. “He — made you?”
“What, did you think we were identical octuplets? And one of us is a nudist?” Both Vinces laugh, and I’m once again struck by the stereo nature of it. No two people are ever that exactly in sync, not even twins. And I knew his clones had to be coming from somewhere, certainly. But he can just make them out of whatever material’s around? That’s a terrifying idea.
“How long have you been in my house?” I ask.
Vince shrugs. “Coupla hours. I’m getting faster. Well, One is, anyway. Same thing.”
“Can you make copies of yourself, too?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know, Nose? Trade ya secret for secret. Show One how you do your thing, and I’ll tell you more about how this works.”
I glance at the Vince on the couch, who puts on a strained smile. “Show me please, Dan.” B-Rock could take lessons from him on how to make a person’s name sound like an insult. I’ve been cussed out before with less venom behind the words.
There’s a nagging familiarity to this situation, and it finally hits me exactly what it is. It’s not the demands or the company, and it’s certainly not having a jailbird and his clone accost me in my den. It’s the hostility. I got this same unreasoning hatred, the same poisonous vitriol, from Regina, the stormraiser. Every time we talked, she spit words at me the same way that Vince is doing now.
Interestingly, it’s only the original Vince who seems to carry the vicious distaste for me, a fact which he also seems to have spotted. His clones may have it in for me, but they carry a normal grudge, not some ingrained, barely containable, sizzling bomb. Obviously, Vince has realized this, too, which is why he’s spawning henchmen to serve as go-betweens.
“Why not just bring one of your duplicates along instead of ruining my couch?”
“To show off,” says naked Vince, while at the same time the original says, “To piss you off, loser.”
Naked Vince laughs. “That, too, though I wasn’t going to be quite that honest. You owe us a car, at the very least. Least we can do is cost you a couch.”
“So, what? I just show you how I set things on fire and you’ll go away? I heard this story at the warehouse.”
“I wasn’t there then,” snarls couch Vince, standing up. “You showed my copies, but they can’t do everything I can. Show me.”
“And if I don’t? What if I just book it outside and call for help? You’re both all the way over there, and the door’s just right up these stairs.”
Vince smiles nastily. “You think I only made one copy out of your stuff?”
He and the copy both glance over my shoulder simultaneously. I spin around to see a third Vince grinning at the top of the stairs, dressed in my clothes and carrying my old aluminum baseball bat in his hands. The glance was a feint, though. He’s still six stairs up, but as soon as I turn to look at him, both of the other Vinces are on me, punching me in the sides and gut, each blow making my broken ribs flare with pain. I fall backwards at the foot of the stairs, my drink flying everywhere, and with a scream I light the droplets of Coke on fire.
The Vinces fall back from the burning droplets, slapping at their clothes or skin. At the top of the stairs, Vince scowls and charges down, the bat raised and ready to strike, so I scramble past the downstairs Vinces and put the couch in between us.
“How’s a couch gonna save you, cesspit?” taunts Vince. He and his copies fan out, one moving to each side while he advances directly on the couch. Just as he’s about to place his foot on it, I gesture and the entire couch explodes into flame and choking black smoke.
Over the crackle of the fire, I can hear the Vinces stumbling back, cursing and choking. “Good enough, vermin!” one calls, presumably the original. “I saw what you did. I’ll practice!”
I crouch on the ground, ribs crying out in protest at my hunched position, breathing through my shirt until I hear the front door slam. As if this was a signal, the fire alarm immediately begins to sound. I weigh the possibility that Vince is tricking me and is still in the house against the possibility that I’m about to catch the ceiling of my basement on fire, and I make the call to run to the bathroom for wet towels.
Several valiant fire-fighting minutes later, things are back under control. I’ve got a pile of singed towels and I’m hacking and coughing over a charred and ill-smelling pile of cushions that was once a couch. The ceiling is filthy but appears unburnt, so I stagger outside and breathe as deeply as I can manage with my ribs throbbing. Eventually, the cough subsides and I risk going back in to open windows and let the stench out.
When I re-enter the den, the first thing I see is my Børger Bøx lying on its side on the floor. The contents haven’t spilled, so after opening the windows, I take it out to the porch with me and glumly sit down to have a bite. Naturally, while everything else was on fire, it’s gone cold.