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[audio:https://killauthor.com/audio/issueeighteen/brad_liening.mp3|titles=Dark Star|artists=Brad Liening]

My evil twin and I were dangling off a cliff but only one of us could be saved.

As I struggled to hang on for dear life beside my twin who was struggling to hang on for his dear life, I couldn’t help but think about how funny life can be.

Like, here I was dangling from a rocky cliff buffeted by cold winds when I could’ve been a detective working a murder on the mean streets of New York, ordering the uniformed officers to seal up the grisly, blood-soaked crime scene tighter than an accountant’s ass, for Christ’s sake, the vic was a judge.

And all the while I might’ve been dreaming of my quiet upbringing in rural Virginia.

Or I might’ve been a doctor on a spaceship undertaking a long mission into deep space, and I’ve got to race against time to save the crew from a strange sickness dubbed “intergalactic gonorrhea” as we rocket farther and farther from everything we’ve ever known.

Or I could be the one suffering from space sweats on the examination table, looking up into the blinding light and saying, you gotta help me, doc, please.

Or substitute deep sea for deep space, and instead of a doctor I might’ve been a deep-sea miner who must save the woman with whom I’ve fallen in love from the seawater gushing in from our cracked station wall, the spumous water crashing about us and reflecting the flashing red lights of the alarm indicating a dangerous breach, but I’ve also just learned that she’s the one who betrayed our whole outfit to the greedy corporate bosses.

That’s when I saw as if for the first time the sheer infinitude of multiplicative possibilities forever dividing, each moving to its own endpoint like the hundred thousand thorns that tip the thousand branches of the hundreds of rose bushes growing far below us.

It all struck me as unbearably beautiful and my eyes began brimming with tears.

Then something else occurred to me, which was that roses are popular tattoos (my brother has a tattoo of a yellow rose on his bicep; I could see it from where I dangled), and that tattoos have become so common as to be rendered conventional, just another popular commodity in late-capitalist society, and that meaningful dissent comes as it always has—through education, reflection, and considered action.

But then I started thinking that cultural attitudes and the larger belief systems they hinge on are changing all the time, and that they’ve probably changed a little, if only imperceptibly, since I started dangling from this rocky, wind-swept cliff, which means logically that one day tattoos will once again be totally rad signifiers of adventure and rebellion.

But that also means, I realized with a shock, that given a long enough timeline my evil twin could simply bide his own sweet time dangling over there and just wait until our roles were naturally reversed by shifting social mores, and that his tattoo of a yellow rose might even come to denote a gentle belief in the power of clean living and a simple trust in fate or whatever people believe to be good in that future time.

Then he would be the one saved while I plunged, gruesomely, to my death in the roses below.

But, I realized with another shock, that that assumption rests upon the notion that life is fair, which of course it’s not, and that furthermore if the “good” twin is to be saved then that action rests upon the assumption of the ability of a hypothetical third party to 1.) care enough about our pickle to intervene, which could hardly be considered a given, and 2.) correctly identify and then choose to act in the interests of the “good” and not the “evil,” which whole identification and action process is predicated upon a series of constructs so fluid and malleable that its context when called into account is more or less the whole world with all its vague, competing, guess-riddled histories.

I suddenly understood that we would never be saved.

And I understood that I loved my brother.

I felt full of forgiveness though it wasn’t clear to me what was being forgiven or why, and I felt like the baseball player who hits a home run or even a grand slam. I felt like the sole survivor of a hellish night, who in the morning limps away knowing that no one will ever believe what really happened that night in the forest, a yellow rose growing on the edge of that dark forest, opening.

I turned to my brother and looked into his eyes, which look exactly like my eyes, and I saw in his eyes a smaller version of myself, and reflected there in my small reflected eyes within my brother’s eyes was an even smaller version of my brother who was reflecting me just as I was reflecting him, until we both disappeared into the distance where a great mountain loomed, surrounded by dark stars.