Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Phantom Bicyclist

I was serving in the US Army and stationed in Fort Polk, Louisiana. If you've ever been there or known someone in the US Army who has, then you'd know this place is a shit hole. The whole region is nothing but dirt roads, shitty towns, angry red necks, and wilderness. Luckily I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I was able to drive home every other weekend to see friends and family. Back then my eyesight was perfect and I actually preferred doing long drives at night when the traffic was light and I could actually make out the headlights of police cars in the distance since the police always drove Ford Crown Victorias back then.  

It was about a five hour drive and about three hours of it was back roads that went through a lot of temperate forest and swamps. There were multiple ways to go but this way allowed me to go the fastest with the fewest stops. I was driving through the dark, not a single light anywhere other than the stars and they weren't too bright.

Then suddenly I see a person on a bicycle in the distance. I remember he was wearing a white t shirt and jeans. The white shirt reflected my headlights enough that I was able to see him within enough time to slow down and pull to the left more to give him some space.

I passed him at about 30MPH then sped back up to about 55MPH and kept going. About fifteen minutes later I see another bicycle in the distance so I slow down again. As I'm coming up on this one I see that it's another person in a white shirt and jeans. I never paid too much attention to the first one so I couldn't say whether or not it was the same guy on the same bike, but I obviously assumed it was a strange coincidence. I laughed it off and kept going. I did get a good look at the guy that time. I noted that the bike was dark blue, no reflectors (at least on the rear) and he had thick brown hair and white sneakers on.

I kept going and about ten minutes later I almost have a heart attack when I see another white shirt dancing in the distance reflecting my headlights. I slow down to about 25MPH as I come up on him. As I come closer and see it's another person on another bicycle I pay close attention. As I pass him going slow enough to probably creep him out I stare out of the side window at him. He stares right back at me.

Same guy, same bike, same clothes, same everything. This one guy managed to somehow bike his way through a wormhole or something and end up ten minutes ahead of me on the roadway three times at 10PM!

The way he looked at me wasn't ominous or creepy. He looked at me like I was freaking him out just as much as he was freaking me out. That made it creepier for me because something that impossible should be creepy to me, not him. It's like we came from different dimensions and just happened to meet on this same stretch of wilderness road where the physics of our two worlds cannot coincide.
I speed the hell up and drive out of there as fast as I can. I wasn't tired before or after this, but I assumed I needed some coffee or something. A few minutes later I come across the only 24 hour gas station on the road until you reach the Shreveport region. I quickly pull in and go inside. I grab a bottle of water and some coffee first, then go looking for something to munch on. I'm creeped out and just can't stop thinking about the guy on the bike. I didn't realize how long I spent just standing in the snack isle thinking and not purchasing anything.

Then I see him, the same guy on the same bike. He is riding past where I parked my car. He pulls his bike up to the side of the building and comes inside. As soon as he enters he sees me and we catch each others' eyes. He has a weird look on his face and I'm sure I did too. We are both visibly uncomfortable.

Now that I get a better look at him I see the white t-shirt says something about a softball team on it and a big number 05 over the breast pocket. He goes over to the cashier and they begin chatting. I can kind of tell he asked about me. The cashier probably told him it was strange that I was just standing around not buying anything.

I would have gone up to the counter to pay and fucking leave but he was standing there too. I was feeling way too creeped out and awkward to say or do anything. I would have put the stuff back and left out the door but I already poured the coffee and was sipping on it. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life.

I felt like I was in the least interesting episode of The Twilight Zone ever. I just wanted to leave but I also wanted to know who the fuck this guy was and how he teleported to be ahead of me before.
Finally the guy leaves the counter and goes to the bathroom. I take this as my cue to leave, so I run up to the counter and the cashier scans my items. He asks how my night is going while giving me a weird look. I tell him it's okay because I don't want to make this last longer than it needs to, and I thought he might think I was crazy if I asked how his buddy controls wormholes.

I pay and walk to my car. As I walk past his bike I'm looking at it and studying it. Half of me is expecting there to be a time travel device attached to it and the other half just wants to leave. I get in the car and lock the doors. I set the drinks in the cup holders and put the snacks in the passenger seat. Start the engine and put it in reverse, look in the rear view mirror and I then I almost fucking died...
In my rear view mirror is the guy. He is riding his bike from the road, passing the back of my car, and goes to the front of the shop. He props his bike up against the wall next to the other bike. They're identical bikes. Part of me is wondering what the fuck is happening and part of me wants to know what is going to happen when his past self comes out of the bathroom and sees his future self.
He is now inside chatting with the cashier and the cashier is clearly telling him how creepy I am. Just like before they're both chatting about me being the creepy one and yet they're the creepy ones!

Finally the guy turns around. I hadn't noticed it yet but he hadn't faced me since he road up to the shop. He had on the same clothes but his shirt said the same thing with a number 12 on the pocket.
Right now I'm fucking confused and my brain can't make sense of anything. The two of them are obviously watching my car waiting for me to leave and wondering why I'm still in the parking lot.
Then the other guy who had been in the bathroom comes out and greets them! Suddenly it makes sense to me. It was so fucking obvious but my brain wasn't putting the pieces together because on the road it wasn't the first assumption you come to.

I get out of my car and walk inside. They're all looking at me and I ask "you two are twins, right?" They both look at each other and then me and say "of course we are" and I just start laughing my ass off. They think I'm fucking nuts.

One of them asks me why I was creeping on him as I drove by. I told them it's a huge misunderstanding. I began to explain that I crossed his brothers path and then his path and assumed he was the same guy and how weird that was to see from my point of view. It took them both a minute to get it but they began to laugh and they agreed that would be weird to see. All of us, the two brothers, the cashier, and myself are all having a good laugh about it.
One of them asks me why it is that my brain goes directly to the impossible assumption that they're ghosts or time travelers, rather than the obvious assumption that they're twins. I just laughed and said I don't know. I told them that it's just so strange to pass the same guy wearing the same clothes on the same bike three times on the same road.

They stop laughing and ask "what do you mean three times?" So I explained that I came to that impossible conclusion by passing them three times. I said their other twin brother is still out there maybe five minutes behind. They told me they were twins, not triplets. There isn't a third person in their group.

So I stop and consider the evidence since my mind is now working clearly. "I passed this "guy" three times. I know I did, right?" They look at me like I'm crazy again or like I'm trying to scare them on purpose now. I explained to them I passed them three times total. Once by the bend near the deforestation where the loggers chopped down a ton of trees. Once just after the old railroad bridge. Then finally by the long stretch of road with the construction cones that mark the pot holes on the side of the road that the state never seems to be working on. They both admit to having passed those landmarks but neither of them saw me pass by the deforestation.
So now I'm worried again. I passed someone on that bend. I know I did because I specifically remember thinking another car better not be coming the other way while I'm pulling over to the left side of the road to give this biker room. Same guy, same clothes, same bike.
Neither of them knew who the fuck I was talking about. We were all worried looking and they seemed more worried about me, like I really was as crazy as they thought I was when they first saw me.
Just then one of them said "fuck me" as he stared off into the distance. I turned around and all of us were looking out the window as someone in a white t-shirt, jeans, and white sneakers riding a bike was coming up the road. I was nervous as hell and I think those guys finally believed me. They were probably thinking it was time to meet their long lost brother or something.
But the guy on the bike just kept on going. Didn't stop. Never came close enough for us to see him in the lights of the gas station lot. Just a guy on a bike wearing what they were wearing, riding the bike they were riding. Their doppelgänger.

They all apologized for doubting me and the four of us just stood there debating the possibilities. What are the odds that someone else was out doing the exact same thing, looking exactly the same, on the same road, along with two twins ahead if him, and me passing them all and putting the pieces together?

We discussed it for about ten minutes and they asked if I wanted to keep driving and pass that person on the road again and get a better look at them. I honestly said I would rather spend an hour here at the shop drinking coffee and hoping the guy finished his bike ride so I didn't have to see them again.
We all sat down at the booths (all gas stops on Louisiana have little snack diners and stuff with indoor seating) and I bought a beer for myself. We just sat and discussed the possibilities. Odds are he was just some other guy coincidentally wearing the same thing and riding a dark blue bike on the same road behind them. The fact that they were wearing the same thing and riding on the same road is they are twins who play in the same softball team for their dad's car dealership, and they've had the same bikes since middle school. So that means the other guy is the coincidence, not them. That lowers the unlikelihood of the event a bit.

Years later I was able to look back on this and marvel at how easily the human mind can jump to impossible conclusions on very flimsy evidence just based on an experience. And how even with a logical explanation and a reasonable level of chance the mind finds it hard to dismiss the impossible supernatural explanation that still dances around in your head. It can't be but the mind wants to believe there is a chance.

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