The paradox of Quan Tri
Item acquired by the Curator
in December 1989 in Hollywood, California (USA)
Origin: Quan Tri (Vietnam) and USA
smallest hauntique in the Surnateum's collection. Apart from the pack
of cards, the full kit of a soldier in the Vietnam war fits in a
metal cigarette box. A lighter engraved with the word 'brother',
medals, banknotes, etc. Everything dates from 1968.
Story recounted by Thomas Gillaspie, reported by the
It was in December 1989. I can't remember the exact day, but what
does it really matter?
The hippie was probably about 40, but he looked 10 years
older. His name was Thomas Gillaspie and he was clearly starving. So I
invited him to have something to eat at the Hamburger Hamlet, located on
Hollywood Boulevard just across from Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
We had met earlier that morning at the Hollywood Magic Shop, just down
the street, and had hit it off. Naturally we talked about magic and the
strange things that sometimes pop up in our everyday lives, disorienting
us forever after.
At the end of the meal, as we sipped our coffee, he asked me if I had
already met my doppelgänger.
"Did you know that 'Thomas' means 'the twin'?"
There is a legend from deep in Asia that everyone on earth has a
double who is identical in every way, but it is very rare indeed for a
person to actually meet his double. Apart from true twins and
exceptionally rare cases - like King Umberto of Italy and Shelley, who
saw his double shortly before his death, for instance.
It happened to me when I was 10 years old, at the Baptist church in my
hometown. We came face to face on our way out the church after the
service. Just imagine how surprised you'd be if you found yourself looking into
your own eyes. His name was Montague Clifton Jr,. He was from Milwaukee
and his family had just moved to my town. We both felt like we were looking in a mirror. His hair was a bit longer
than mine, but that was the only difference. Our parents were just as
taken aback as we were because, apart from our clothes, it would have
been impossible to tell us apart.
From that moment on, we were best friends. We went to the same school
and later went out with the same girls. We were inseparable and we often
played practical jokes on people, taking advantage of the fact that we
looked identical. Even a blood test wouldn't have helped because we were
both O+. We even thought about staging a magic show, since having a
double opened up all kinds of interesting possibilities.
In 1967, we were both declared A1 (fit for duty), we both joined the
Green Berets and we were both sent to Quan Tri, on the infamous 17th
parallel at the frontline in Vietnam. The Viet Cong's constant
bombings and attacks soon started playing havoc with our nerves. Montague even took up
smoking to unwind, whereas I couldn't stand cigarettes. That was when we
decided to exchange dogtags: if one of us were to get killed, then the
family of the dead man would never know whether it was really Junior or
me who had been killed. We also had the word 'brother' engraved on our
lighters, as well as a quote from a novel by Ian Fleming which had been
released as a movie that same year:
"You only live twice: once when you are born, and once when you look
death in the face."
One day in early 1968, after a particularly rash and idiotic act that
earned me a bronze star, I was given a few days of leave that I decided
to spend alone in Bangkok. While walking through the temples, an old
monk asked if he could read my future using sticks. You know, the
soothsayer shakes about 60 numbered bamboo sticks in a tube until
one of the sticks flies out. He then reads the oracle inscribed in a
booklet. But on this occasion, two sticks flew out from the tube. He
wanted to put them back in and start over, but I told him that I had a
link to the number two and asked him to interpret both sticks. He
hesitated for a moment and then told me:
"You are going to live or die twice. I cannot see anything else; it's
I was deeply shaken by his prediction.
Upon returning to the base, I told Junior and the guys in my platoon about the prophecy. 'Eight Ball Sam'
was a Blue Boy, in other words a black man steeped in the voodoo
tradition of Louisiana; he offered to read the cards for us and counter the curse.
First he shuffled a deck of poker cards and asked me to remove one. It was the 2
of Spades. "Snake Eyes Spades", the look of Damballah,
the death that we see twice. The suit of Spades represents changes,
the 2 of Spades a double death; the old gook was telling the truth."
I told him that this was some black man's trick and that he was just
trying to scare me. I said I wanted to start over. He shuffled the cards
again and asked me to pull one out. I took the one right on top of the
deck: it was the 2 of Spades again. I buried it in the deck and picked
up the top card again, and once again it was the 2 of Spades. I did it
another two or three times, but the damned card kept following me. I
checked to make sure that it wasn't some kind of goddamn trick deck with
nothing but the 2 of Spades, but it was perfectly 'normal'. I separated
the card from the deck and removed another one: it was back.
It was at that very moment that Clifton Jr. panicked, ripped the card
out of my hands and tried to tear it up. 'Eight Ball Sam' stopped him:
"Whatever you do, don't do that. You'll enrage the orishas.
If you want to counter the spell, then turn the 2 of Spades over in
Junior had just turned the card over when the entire world around us
exploded in an appalling din.
When I came to, everyone was dead. I was the only one spared by
Charlie's mortar blast. I was groggy, but unhurt. Clifton's body was on
top of me. Sam, Johnson
and the other members of the squad had been torn to pieces.
Next to me, totally intact, was the deck of cards, spread out. But it
was no longer the 2 of Spades that had been reversed in the centre of
the deck, but the Ace of Spades. I had spent one of my two lives.
Ever since then I've suffered from headaches, migraines and memory
disorders. I sometimes wonder if it was Thomas
who died that day in Quan Tri."
He thanked me for the meal and left me evidence of his story as a
"Maybe that will help me forget!," he added, and the last thing he did before disappearing was to light a Lucky Strike.
When the pack of cards is activated in association with the story,
the 2 of Spades appears.