The Doppelganger

old-train-engine982x486September in Chicago, 1972. I was sitting alone in a stuffy train compartment and peering out of the window. The evening landscape outside was monotonous and bleached: at least nothing new had happened there since I departed from Rockwell station. I was heading to Chicago from the small town of Rockwell, where I had lived for almost 30 years. All I carried with me was a rusty suitcase packed with my stuff, and a blank lottery ticket which I bought on a station before boarding the train. Not that I believed in luck. It was just a momentary intention, and to tell the truth, I was a bit ashamed to buy that ticket: it felt like I was desperate and hoped to attain the attainable.

I looked at my translucent reflection in the window glass. A middle-aged white man with a thin nose and deep-set prickly eyes; a man seeking for a new life and new opportunities, someone who had left his past behind but didn’t yet have a clear idea of his future. What I knew was that I was starting over: nothing else mattered.

In half an hour, the train made a short stop at some small no-name station, and I had an odd feeling come over me; I spent a couple of minutes trying to figure out what it was before it dawned on me. I had traveled in this direction for the last 10 years, but trains never stopped on their way to Chicago or from it. Actually, I couldn’t remember that I had ever seen that station—and I knew the landscape outside in details. The reason why I had to go to Chicago was easy to explain—I had to bring my manuscripts to the publishing house, in person. Don’t ask me the details.

The stop didn’t take long, and in five minutes the train rolled on again. I was about to return to my slumber, but my compartment door flashed open, and I saw a stranger standing in the doorway. He was wearing a long black coat and a broad-brim hat; his outfit reminded me of gangster movies of the early 40s. The stranger’s face was hidden by a deep shade from his hat, so I couldn’t figure out how he looked exactly; I could feel his sharp glance at me. The man stood there for several seconds, and then I heard his voice: “May I take a seat?”

“Yes, sure,” I answered, and the stranger settled himself in front of me. I must have met him somewhere, I thought to myself. His voice seemed familiar. At the publishing office, perhaps?

“Going to Chicago?” he asked me without much interest.

“Yes, I’ve got relatives there.”

I lied. I don’t know why I did that: the words just flew off my tongue. Weird question, I thought. As if this train goes somewhere besides Chicago.

We sat silent for a bit. Apparently, he must have noticed the lottery ticket stub sticking out of my shirt pocket, because I heard a sound as if he grunted ironically.

“You believe in luck?” he asked me while pointing his finger at the ticket.

“Not really. I don’t know why I did it—I mean, why I bought this ticket,” I laughed.

He grunted again.

“Well, luck is all about that: you can never know when you run into milk and honey, and when life gives you a kick in the ass.”

I liked his manner of speech. It reminded me of some characters in my novels: confident, ironical, and sane. Sometimes I tried to speak in that manner myself.

“So, are you going to fill it?” the stranger wondered.

“I don’t know, maybe. And maybe not. Why?”

“As I said, you never know when you run into Lady Luck.”

I felt that he was hesitating to say something important.

“I would advise you to bet on numbers 6, 29, 11, 7, 81, 77, and 10,” he blurted out all of a sudden.

“What’s so special about these numbers?” I asked him. “Is it some kind of a system?”

“No, I just have a feeling that they’ll win. You can call it intuition. You said you didn’t care, so I thought you wouldn’t mind my advice.”

In a couple of minutes he apologized, saying that he had to leave me for a while. No need to say that I never met him again.

When I got off the train in Chicago, my first thought was to throw the ticket away. Why would I need it, I asked myself. But then a crazy idea hit my head, and I filled the ticket exactly with the numbers dictated to me by the stranger. Then I did my business at the publishing house, received my honorarium for my last novel, and returned home.

In a week I checked the lottery ticket. Numbers 6, 29, 11, 7, 81, 77, and 10 were a complete match. I won the jackpot: $150,000.

I never told anyone about the stranger in that train: neither my wife, nor kids or friends. In a month or so, I suddenly remembered where I met that guy: in one of my novels.

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