9.18 Mystery Man
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a cafe having a meeting. We were sitting by the front window and I glanced outside during a pause in the conversation. Out on the sidewalk, a man with a long flowing ponytail walked by and stopped on the other side of the glass. He put his hand to his brow and leaned towards the window to see inside. Our eyes locked for a moment, and he went on his way.
I knew the guy, but I didn’t know him.
At least ten years ago, I met Ponytail briefly at a house party through a mutual friend. Like, I don’t even remember what we talked about for those five minutes. Since then, I’ve seen this guy in the street at least every other month. Nothing special, we never acknowledge each other, never speak. Nothing. He just appears, I make note of the coincidence and move on.
For some reason, this time was different. I thought to myself that this was weird, after all, there are over three million people in the city of Toronto. I walk the streets often and rarely run into people I know. This time, I gathered my things, excused myself, and exited the cafe.
Ponytail was already down the street, but I caught up to him. Kept a fair distance, which was difficult because he kept stopping, looking into the store windows. Maybe that’s what this guy does? Maybe that’s his job? He’s the guy who everyone sees, but no one knows.
After a few blocks, he entered a nondescript five-story building. My office is in the neighbourhood, and I’ve walked these sidewalks many times, but I never noticed this building. I crossed the street and kept watch. Five minutes couldn’t have passed and out came Ponytail. He was wearing completely different clothes. A total wardrobe change from top to bottom.
Instead of following him, I walked up to the front door of the building. Locked, I tried to see through the window, but it only led to an empty hallway. I walked around the side of the building to the alleyway to find a loading dock. The large door was open and I pulled it up, giving me enough room to roll inside.
The building was quiet. I followed the staircase to the other floors but found only empty rooms. Not even any old furniture or other evidence of habitation. The only way to go was down. As soon as I opened the door to the basement, mechanical noises filled the air. It was dark, so I used the flashlight on my phone to make my way.
At the bottom of the stairs, from my limited perspective, the basement seemed to go on forever. It was full of equipment, computer monitors, and loud blips and beeps. Making my way through the maze of machines, I came to a row of refrigerator-like boxes. I stepped to the first one, which had a door made of see-through glass. The glass was foggy and I wiped it using my shirt. A man stared back at me. Not just any man, Ponytail. I stepped back in shock, but soon realized he was frozen in place. He wasn’t staring at me, his eyes were simply in a frozen state looking straight ahead.
I walked down the aisle between the refrigerators, stopping at each one, wiping away the moisture from the glass, and seeing one Ponytail after another.
A noise from upstairs. The lights suddenly flicked on. Footsteps on stairs.
I ran to the end of the refrigerator aisle and hid between two large machines. I watched as Ponytail came down the stairs and walked along the clones of himself. He stopped, squinted, put his hand to where I had wiped down the glass. He looked around as an alarm went off and one of the refrigerator doors opened. Another Ponytail stepped out and they both looked at each other. The first one stepped into the refrigerator, the door shutting with a suction. The remaining Ponytail went upstairs, turning the light off.
I waited for a few minutes and made my way back upstairs. Rolled under the loading dock door and got the hell out of there. I’ve run into Ponytail since, and he looks right at me, squinting like he knows that I know. I just move along quickly, hoping I’ll never run into him again. There are clones living among us, I don’t know why, but be afraid.
Be very afraid.