FREE metaphysical scifi short story: Tangents
Tangents is a quirky tale of accidental trans-dimensional wandering, told by a narrator who is anything but reliable…
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I was wondering if I had been dead the whole time, like Bruce Willis. In the Sixth Sense, that is, not generally. Pretty sure Bruce Willis hasn’t been dead this whole time, and if he has, someone at the Henson Company deserves an award.
This wasn’t a usual train of thought.
This was a reaction to flicking through my sister’s wedding photos, and realising that I wasn’t in a single one. My memory couldn’t be trusted, memory can never be trusted, but I could clearly remember standing in line with the rest of the family. They were posing awkwardly, I was posing confidently. A fixed half-smile on my face, head slightly pointed down, left leg ahead of the right, waist twisted towards the camera, shoulders back and chest out.
Yes, I know too much about how to pose.
You spend time with enough photographers and models, it invariably gets absorbed.
Aesthetics via memetic osmosis.
Yet despite having that vivid recollection, I wasn’t in the photos. A spectre of the mind, an anomaly of anamnesis. A memory that I was certain was my own, and yet the evidence in front of me made me question it. Two hundred photos, five hundred people, no trace of my presence.
Flicking through them again, I asked myself why would I have been sent these photos if I wasn’t in them?
To collate the data, perhaps?
Observe and assist in retaining memories for the collective consciousness?
But for what purpose?
For all its failings, memory is surely better than moments frozen in physical form with all their imperfections. In mind, those photographs are transformed into an ideal, perfection seen through the rose-tinted spectacles of neurons firing and blasting negativity away.
(This is probably why I’m not invited to weddings any more.)
“What if,” a voice said, from somewhere in my mind “This wasn’t your sister’s wedding.”
If you hear voices, never go to those voices for advice. Sure, sometimes they might be helpful, but they’re also a sign of your increasingly loose grip on sanity. These are the same voices that woke me up one night, convinced that I had killed my ex-girlfriend and buried the body in the basement.
I hadn’t, obviously.
The same voices who keep telling me that I’m the only person with free will and everyone else around is a puppet, a machine to enable me.
I’m not, obviously.
The voices that encourage one more cigarette, another glass of whisky, another cigarette with another glass of whisky.
Which I have, obviously.
One is the ringleader, the best supporting actor to my turn as dark and mysterious lead. The fat best friend. The comic relief. The others are just background artists, by no means integral to the plot, just there to fill out the frame.
Did I mention I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to stay on the sane side of this whole in/sane thing?
That should probably be the first thing I mention; an introduction of “Hello, nice to meet you, I hear voices and see things that aren’t there.”
I haven’t mentioned the hallucinations, have I?
Maybe hallucination is the wrong word. I know when things are real and when they’re not.
For the most part.
When a giant demon-rat runs across the street, breathing fire and farting ash, I know that after a moment, on a second look, it will be a carrier bag on the breeze or an adorable puppy.
When you’ve spent the best part of your life seeing things that aren’t there, you don’t shock easy. Every shadowy doorway or tunnel contains some hidden malevolence. Creatures or figures that hide in the darkness, watching, motionless. If you’ve ever woken up in the night and thought someone’s in your room, only to flick on the light and see your dressing gown hanging on the back of the door, that’s pretty much it. But all the time, and in IMAX 3D.
“Go on then,” I said, reluctantly. “What do you mean?”
The therapists always told me not to enable the voices. Therapists are idiots. Their way, the voices would have got annoyed and lashed out. This way, we’re friends.
“What if something went wrong in sub-normal space?”
I need to explain sub-normal space, don’t I?
Have you ever walked a route that seems faster than it should? Say it’s a fifteen minute walk from your home to your office by pretty much every option you’ve taken, and one day you take a new set of streets and get there in five minutes. The distance is the same, your walking speed is the same, and yet this new route gets you there in a fraction of the time.
The voices took to calling it ‘sub-normal space’. It wasn’t regular subspace, because subspace inherits characteristics from the normal space it’s descended from (we did the reading, trust me…). Time and space would be the same if it were subspace.
This was subspace that had become retarded, in the literal sense of being held back in developing the bonds between dimensions. We had been traversing the sub-normal space route to work for the few weeks leading up to the wedding.
“It saves us ten minutes of walking, what could possibly go wrong?” I asked.
“That’s the question, isn’t it?”
Don’t you hate it when the voices in your head are so damn cryptic?
What could have happened… We got stuck in sub-normal space somehow?
That doesn’t seem possible. Even if it were true, people could see us, we talked to people pretty much every day, we talked to people at the wedding.
“Don’t refer to yourself as ‘we’.” a therapist once told me.
I told him I’d stop calling myself ‘we’ when he gave me some useful advice. Needless to say, that relationship lasted about as long as my actual relationships. But it’s always more of a reflection on yourself when a therapist breaks up with you.
The next therapist said I shouldn’t refer to it as ‘a break up’. She was about as useful as the guy before her. I think I broke up with her that time.
What the voices were eluding to, was that somehow I managed to cross into a parallel reality during one of our forays through sub-normal space. A parallel reality, I stress, not an alternate reality. Parallels run alongside our linear narrative, with minor changes here and there.
They’re the branch of multiverse that segues at every minor decision a person makes. Turn left, a parallel somewhere has turned right. It’s just about as mundane as that makes it sound. No flying cars, no moon colony, just a slight deviation in the world.
Alternate dimensions are where the fun happens, where Hitler was born a gay, black Jew. Where the ancient Greeks developed the steam engine as they did in our reality, but used it to forge an industrial revolution thousands of years before our mundane ancestors even had that notion. Where space is the penultimate frontier, and something better and more exciting is the ‘final’ frontier.
I needed to fact check. If this was a parallel, or if I visited the wedding in a parallel dimension instead of my own, I needed to know which I was in at the moment. If I wasn’t in my own reality, where was the me from here? Had we merged when we walked through the sub-normal space walkway at the same time? Did my presence push his out into the ether between realities? Maybe we just swapped places? Too many questions, no answers.
“You’re aware that a shorter walk doesn’t mean you’ve discovered a hole in space and time.” my sister told me, the day before the wedding.
“Do you have a better explanation for it?” I asked.
“You just took a quicker route. It’s not rocket science.” she said.
She was right, it wasn’t rocket science.
It was pseudo science.
The type of science that ‘real’ scientists don’t like to talk about, as they smash particles together looking for signs of energy drifting off into other dimensions. The world is much stranger than most people think it is.
One of my old school friends was a physicist of some renown, and more open minded than most. He referred to what I saw, the hallucinations, as “extra-sensory information”. When you figure that the neurotypical human can only decipher a fraction of the data that rides in through the eyes, maybe it takes a special brain to comprehend the additional information. Not special as in remarkable, I’m not delusional. Well, I am delusional, but not egotistical. Special as in noteworthy, damaged in just the right kind of way to allow for seeing things that shouldn’t be seen.
The demon rats, they obviously weren’t there, but the other things I saw intrigued my scientist friend. Not enough to run real tests, but enough to inquire further. He wanted to understand the auras I saw around people, visualisations with colour and texture that waft in and out of visibility, like the ripples that radiate above a fire or car sitting out in the sun. He asked me to put into words what it was to see physical objects shift and shimmer as particles outside of the visible spectrum traverse through them. Essentially, I was a lab rat, albeit one with a beer in his hand.
I called my sister to ask her about the photos. The line was weak, her words indecipherable. The 4G always sucked in my apartment, so left the building. Decided to walk round the block as I called again.
“Hello?” she said, her words still garbled. I tried to talk, but she just said something like “You sound like you’re underwater.” and hung up.
I turned the corner, intent on getting coffee, seeing as I had forced myself this far from the couch. The baristas at the cafe that sat parallel to my apartment were never pleased to see me. They smiled, sure, but their eyes betrayed the curvature of their lips, seemed to say “There’s the guy that’s going to sit and talk to himself for twenty minutes.”
I pushed the door, but it was bolted shut. It was Monday afternoon, just gone twelve. Prime coffee-purchasing time. Behind the window, a sign was fixed to the glass. ‘Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm’.
“Something isn’t right.” said a voice.
I didn’t want to admit it, but I felt like agreeing.
The cafe was open Monday to Saturday. It had always been Monday to Saturday, I had exchanged false smiles with the baristas Monday through Saturday for as long as I could remember.
“Minor deviation.” said the voice, in a knowing tone.
It’s always the small things that you don’t notice. The little signs (albeit figurative in most cases) that you’re not in your own reality. The phone rang again. My sister. Her words still garbled.
Frequencies are different across dimensions.
They may have the same wavelength or speed as far as science is concerned, but they’re just like all those particles that have mass or force that can’t be explained. Don’t ask me why, but mobile phone signals don’t have the same clarity depending on how a wave travels in a given reality to a handset receiving it from a parallel.
I turned back on myself, past my building, there was an easy way to fix this.
The sub-normal space walkway was up ahead, gleaming monoliths of steel and glass on either side. The bravado of the aesthetics was entirely unintentional, for within the two towers lay temples to consumerism. Stores, I guess you’d call them. A myriad people unaware that every time they walked back and forth along the walkway, they were travelling into dimensions that were minutely different to the ones they came from.
Most people wouldn’t notice.
A world where your partner has a slight cough.
A world where caffeine is 3% less stimulating.
A world where the average walking speed is a little bit slower.
Minor details that nobody would ever pick up on. Not unless they were looking for them.
I strode towards the sub-normal space walkway, knowing that each step would take me either closer or further from my destination. I would walk its length, try the phone at the other end, if reception was clearer then I was on the right path. If not then I would turn back and walk back the way I came, go round the block and walk the length of the walkway again until the call was crystal clear. My sister would be annoyed that I was using her as a divining rod (again), but she would shrug it off eventually. Put it down to ‘eccentricity’, which was her polite way of not calling me ‘completely stark raving mad’, as our mother had done when I used to call her whilst adrift in realities.
Half way down the walkway I stopped.
Something wasn’t right.
The hundreds of consumers were no longer in view, and the whole shopping precinct was alarmingly quiet.
Sometimes I have face blindness; people I know will walk up to me and say hello, and I’ll fail to recognise them.
Other times, I have people blindness, where people walk up and say hello, and I don’t even know they’re there.
This was extreme people blindness.
Maybe that should be ‘peoples blindnesses’, doubly plural for just how weird it was.
I looked around at my serene surroundings. Concrete, steel and glass bearing down on me from above, leading my eye to a storefront.
I was being watched.
Looking through the window, there was nobody inside.
But of course there was nobody inside, I was being watched from the reflection in the glass. Millions of me staring back, all packed into the window, each looking at ourselves looking back. All those minor variations, each of us on an almost identical path but for a footstep here or there.
“What do we do now?” I asked.
We could only hear our own voices back.
So similar, and yet each in different places.
There was only one thing for it, and we all knew it. Identical voices in our identical heads.
We turned from the window and just kept on walking. Knowing we’d get home eventually.