In Boozo Veritas #47 by Teege Braune
Mon Semblable, Mon Frère!
If there’s one trope every editor of mystery, suspense, and horror asks aspiring writers to quit using, it’s the multiple personality disorder twist-ending. You’ve seen it before, and odds are, you’ve seen it done well. Psycho, Fight Club, and Black Swan are some of the better forays into this sub-genre, and these movies’ ability to truly surprise us is all the more special because we are so used to this reveal that we sometimes anticipate it and find ourselves delighted when something else happens instead. Take True Detective, truly an original show, one of the best to find its way on television for a long time. Before the unexpected conclusion of the first season, the internet was awash with theories about the identity of the killer. Was it Rustin Cohle or Marty Hart, each or both of them dreaming up the Yellow King and acting out their fantasies in a state of somnambulism? One of my favorite ludicrous ideas was that Rustin Cohle was the secret identity of Marty Hart. I laughed at most of these, but secretly harbored a silent dread that this would be the cheap, easy ending of an otherwise groundbreaking program. (Fortunately, it was not.)
The split-personality twist-ending finds its root in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a work that has so infiltrated popular culture, it has inspired well over a hundred direct film adaptations and influenced countless others, and yet even Jekyll and Hyde has its antecedent in Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson,” who in turn was inspired by an apocryphal anecdote from Washington Irving. “William Wilson” remains unique among split personality tales in that it flips the script before the script was ever written: instead of a good person discovering that he is the perpetrator of the story’s mayhem, Poe’s debauched and immoral narrator discovers that the nemesis who has foiled each and every one of his misdeeds throughout his wicked life is in fact himself, a manifestation of his own conscience, which he despises. “William Wilson” explores the nature of evil by taking the notion of mind/body dualism to a literal level, the title character is a man so torn between his wanton desires and rational sensibility that he, at least in his own mind, splits into two separate people, mere guilt replaces actual compassion, empathy, and true goodness. When the narrator finally succeeds in killing the double, the consequences are dire indeed, but not because some vengeful God or devil sends Wilson to hell; rather, without his conscience Wilson loses all sense of propriety whatsoever. Instead of indulging in the affairs, boozing, and swindling that his doppelgänger interrupted, Wilson turns to out and out violence and murder. The story, like many of Poe’s most famous tales, is both confession and excuse for the crimes the narrator has perpetrated.
“William Wilson” was written long before dissociative identity disorder was a thing or even before psychology was a field of study. The reader doesn’t have to figure out how the mechanics of the story work. Unlike Jack and Tyler of Fight Club, we don’t need to bother worrying how both Wilsons could have been one place or the other at the same time, and furthermore, Poe’s precise and measured story telling relieves the pressure. Much of “William Wilson” is, in fact, expository and only becomes episodic in the three pivotal, most suspenseful scenes. Fans of literary history will, likewise, find it interesting that the fictional Wilsons provide a stand-in for Poe himself. Many of the details of the narrator’s youth are reflections of Poe’s own childhood and education. He didn’t even bother to fictionalize the name of this school’s headmaster John Bransby. “William Wilson” perhaps hyperbolizes a conflicting nature in Poe who was himself a rational, intelligent man with plenty of personal demons and a propensity for vice.
I have had several doppelgängers in my own life. When you have a red beard, you are sometimes inclined to wonder if that is the only detail some people notice when they look at you. Once a picture of me had been tagged on Facebook as my friend Mike, another guy with a red beard. Another acquaintance named Nathan and I are often mistaken for each other. Whenever we happen upon a chance encounter we share stories of our often confused identity. People tell me that they recently passed me on my motorcycle, a vehicle belonging to Nathan, while they’ll tell him how much they enjoy his bar Redlight Redlight, the one I work at. Amused by these incidents, Nathan and I have agreed, however, that red beard aside, we bare little resemblance to each other. My first and most favorite doppelgänger is my brother Nic who even my fiancé tells me I do mirror, though Nic and I don’t see it.
People often asked my mom if Nic and I were twins when we were children, although I am almost two years older than him. Once while drinking together in a bar, two acquaintances from high school, guys I hadn’t seen in several years, walked straight up to my brother, shook his hand, and greeted him thus:
“Teege? Teege Braune?”
My brother responded: “He’s literally sitting right next to me,” pointing in my direction as he spoke.
Amused, I pretended not to notice the interaction. Without missing a beat, the two gentleman turned to me:
“Teege? Teege Braune?” they said enthusiastically, shaking my hand.
What followed was nearly an hour of catching up and remembering old times, which while not unpleasant, was neither an entirely welcomed diversion in my half-drunk, about-to-be-dumped-by-my-then-girlfriend state of mind. I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had my brother pretended to be me, took the ruse to its logical conclusion, and answered their questions as me to the best of his ability. He knows me well enough to pull something like that off. I imagine that sitting next to him, witnessing this conversation would have been akin to an out of body experience, tranquil, and dream-like, but if someone were pretending to be me behind my back, without my knowledge, how would I react? Depending on who it was and what I imagined their motives to be, I think I might become conversely angry or amused. I can see myself playing along, taking over their identity as well, the two of us moving in and out of each other’s lives fluidly, the borders becoming increasingly blurry until neither of us was sure where we really belonged. On the other hand, I might become so upset that I took it upon myself to confront and challenge this person at a masked ball, stab him to death only to realize, too late, my error: that he had been I all along, and in so murdering him, I had destroyed all my goodness as well. Face to face with my bloodied mirror image, I can hear his voice as he dies:
“You have conquered, and I yield. Yet henceforward art thou also dead–dead to the World, to Heaven, and to Hope! In me didst thou exist–and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou has murdered thyself.”
Teege Braune (episode 72, episode 75, episode 77, episode 90, episode 102) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.