I was blasted by heat, and air that filled my lungs with so much warmth I almost choked on it like a physical thing.  I fell to my knees, struggling to breathe, struggling to move.  I felt blinded by the intense sunlight, and a sky that seemed to be on fire with swirling colours.  My hands clutched at the sand, I felt the tiny grains spilling through my fingers.

            It was unsettling to watch myself in a vision living through things I could not remember myself.  I had often wondered what it would be like to meet oneself in person, to see the movie of one’s life, but to actually experience such a thing was bizarre, to say the least.

            What was even more uncanny was to see a third “me” approach myself crouching on the desert floor.  This new figure was dressed the same, albeit entirely dry, and had a wry smile.

            “Hello, Ethan.”  He said, with my voice.  I looked up at him from the ground, my eyes clearing, and then I fell back on my rear end, utterly shocked.

            “You’re me.”  I said.

            “Not exactly.”  The figure said, smiling more broadly.  “I’m just borrowing the look.  It’s not too shabby, I must say.”

            The figure circled me, as if assessing my person.  As I watched this vision, I felt a chill go up my own spine.  I had a sense of foreboding about this encounter.  After all, someone was pretending to be me at the Citadel, and this could very well be the moment where I was replaced.

            “My, my.  Yes, you certainly have improved since you were a boy.  I mean, you were such a useless little thing, and now you’re finally beginning to pull yourself into shape.  What did it feel like, to be the smallest boy in class all those years?  To be the target of bullies and teasing?  Did you feel helpless?”

            The me sitting in the sand stood up.  I brushed myself off and glared at the figure.  I had spent a lifetime being goaded by others, and refused to take such behaviour lying down.

            “If you’re trying to make me feel small, or get me angry, you might want to reconsider.”  I said to my counterpart.

            “Oh, I’m not trying to belittle you, Ethan.  I was just asking if you remembered what that felt like.  To be tormented, reduced to a target, to have your humanity taken away by people who would never have your intelligence or creative spirit.  They were envious, and struck back with the only means at their disposal.”

            I clenched my teeth, remembering, hearing their taunts anew.

            “Wouldn’t you like to get back at them?” The stranger with my face asked, his voice inviting and yet insidious.

            “I do get back at them.  Every time I succeed at something, every time I prove that I’m not the nothing they tried to turn me into.  Most of them are nothing now, their small-mindedness having reduced them to minimum wage jobs, alcoholism, drugs and further stupidity.  I’ve had my revenge.”  I shot back, not willing to be drawn in by his tempting.

            “What if I could ensure that you were successful beyond your wildest dreams?  What if I could make you a king among men?”  His voice was laced with honey, persuasive to the extreme.  He was the type of person people said could charm you out of your shoes and then steal your socks after selling them back to you.

            “Offers like that always come with a catch.”  I said.  “I’m doing fine on my own, thank you very much.”

            “Well then, perhaps your friends would like to consider my offer?”  The tempter said, gesturing.  I turned, both in my invisible visionary perspective and in life, and saw my friends emerging in a daze from the mountain.  They had removed their clothing when they crossed the underground pool, and now the blistering sun assaulted them.  However, they did not notice, stuck in a trance-like state.

            “Stay away from them.”  I almost growled through gritted teeth.

            “Now that wouldn’t be fair.  They have to have the same opportunity to eschew temptation the way you have.”  The figure walked towards them, menace in his every footstep.

            As he walked, he seemed to shimmer in the desert heat.  His form became almost fluid, his edges diverging.  There is an optical effect when you stare at lights or people and blur your eyes, where you can see how light carries in different directions, smearing across vision.  This effect was like that, but as the light reflected, it actually physically split the man with my face into seven separate figures as he walked towards my companions, each of them distinct.  They all wore the same clothes as me, but looked like Neal, Alex and the others respectively.

            My vision became more complex, more confusing, as I was able to see seven different conversations at once in my mind’s eye, hear everything that was happening simultaneously and yet distinctly.  It filled my head with pain to endure it, the images blurred together, the voices being spoken at once.

            “I can offer you the power you deserve,” Neal’s doppelganger told him.

            “I can provide for you, ensure that you never have to work hard again, let you rest.”  Jay told himself.

            “Wouldn’t you love to finally surpass Neal in all his cocky, self-centredness?  Wouldn’t you love to be able to rub it in his face just once that you’re just as good as him, if not better?”  Alexander heard from his own lips.

            “All the women you could ever want, and you would have power over them, make them yours.”  Daniel was told.

            “Riches beyond your wildest imaginings, you’d never be poor again.”  Evan told Evan, putting an arm around his shoulders like a friend.

            “All the best foods before you, all your favourites.”  Owen was promised.

            It was as the seducer approached Genevieve that my resolve broke.  I shouted with all my strength, and the multiple perspectives collapsed to one, a confrontation between my younger self standing in the desert and the malevolent shadow that looked like me, with Evie in the middle.

            “NO!  Stay away from her!”  I hollered at the tempter.

            “Do you have something to offer in her place?” He said snidely.  “Can you give me something in return?”

He approached me with deliberate slow steps.

            “What can you give me in her place?”  He said.  “Do you even know what will happen if you make this choice?  Let me show you.”

            He grabbed my arm, and I felt my skin crawl in his grasp.  We were pulled from the desert floor to the top of the mountain, and my vision perspective followed to see him and my younger self standing at the summit, the wind howling around us like a hungry wolf.  The dark figure waved his hand and I saw the world stretch before us:  every city, every country in all the world.  Life in every corner, teeming with dreams and hopes and fears.

            “This is the world you know. And this is what happens if you side with me.”  He smiled, and I saw my friends alive, sitting at banquet, clothed in fine raiment, surrounded by wealth and luxury. 

“If you choose to set your will against mine, this is what will happen.”  He gestured again, and I saw stars falling from heaven as meteors struck the planet, devastating communities, obliterating them from the face of the earth.  I saw storms tear up coastlines, fires destroy crops, people murdering each other in panic.  I saw my friends dying.

             “The choice is yours, Ethan Keaton Pitney.  Do you want to be responsible for the death of everything you know and love?”

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