The Clearing

I pushed my way through the last stand of brush before the jungle cleared
and I stood on the edge of a small meadow. At the other end of the clearing
was a modest bungalow, oddly eight-sided and seemingly out of place
here in the middle of nowhere, yet for a reason I couldn’t explain the feeling
I had was one of peace, not fear.

The sun was dropping rapidly now, and dusk was beginning to settle
around the island. Through a window I could see a light inside the small
house. I crossed the meadow and stood at the door of the bungalow. I
breathed deeply and knocked. After a few minutes I started to knock again
before noticing that the door was slightly open, just enough to betray the
light I had seen from the edge of the trees. I pushed the door wide open.
The light came from a reading lamp sitting atop an end table positioned
beside a large, comfortable-looking reading chair. The rest of the room
was bathed in the half-light of dusk.

“Hello,” I said. “Is anyone here? I’m lost and need some help.”

No response. I waited a moment more and then stepped slowly inside.
There was a small kitchen to my left. A teapot rested on the stove, and I
could see steam coming from it. Beyond the kitchen was another door
leading perhaps to a bedroom. I called toward it, “Hello? My name is Jack.
I’m lost, and I just need to use a phone. Don’t mean to bother anyone. I just
need some help.” Still, only silence.

I slowly stepped across the room toward the chair. On a coffee table
in front of it was a large leather-bound book opened in the middle. Beside
the book was a cup of what looked to be tea, newly brewed, the steam still
wafting up. There were fresh stains on one of the pages. It seemed that
whoever had been reading had accidentally spilled some of the hot tea on
the book.

I leaned over the table, momentarily forgetful of my circumstances and
curious about the book. Because of the angle, I had to strain my neck to see
what was written on the stained pages.

“Well, hello there.” A voice behind me pierced the silence, and I
whirled around, ready to explain or defend myself, whatever the moment
might demand. In the process I hit the table, and the cup of hot tea spilled
completely over.

“Well, guess I’ll need more towels,” said the voice. “Looks like you’ve
finished what I began.”

The voice was that of an old man, at least twenty-five years my senior,
maybe more. He wore blue jeans and sneakers with a T-shirt underneath a
thin fleece pullover. I was struck by the thought that he dresses a lot like I
do when I’m loafing around the house. Apparently he had become chilly in
the afternoon storm. That explained the hot tea on a tropical island.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “You didn’t startle me. I heard you when you
came in. I was just too preoccupied to answer, looking for a towel to clean
up my spill.”

“You startled me,” I said.

He started to walk over to where I stood by the desk. “Let me get that
before it soaks in any further.”

“Oh,” I said, apologetically. “Yeah, I’m really sorry about that.”

“Not to worry, son, “ he said. In my late fifties it felt odd to be called “son” by anyone other than my own father.

The old man came close, and as he passed our eyes met and I recoiled.

My knees grew a little weak, and I had to reach out for the chair to steady
myself. Suddenly I realized why he dressed like me.

“You, you . . . ,” I stammered, completely undone by what I now saw
in his face.

“I know, “ he said nonchalantly. “It seems really strange at first.”

“You . . . you look just like me! Or at least an older version of me,” I

“Yeah, but there’s a good reason for that.”

“A good reason?”

“Yes,” he said, “because . . . .”

I cut him off. “Because why?”
“Because, Jack, I am you.”