Parallel Man 1 – Icing on the Cake

Parallel Man 1

By. Richard Rester

Copyright March 20, 2015

Icing on the Cake

Anders Truman was a man with a unique, yet incredible, problem.  On his eighteenth birthday, between bites of cake, something amazing happened.  Rather, something amazing started happening.  Normally such an occurrence would go unnoticed by most people, even passed off as too much sugar on that special day.  The difference between green icing and blue icing could be ignored, passed off as something innocuous.  After all, it was only icing, a minor thing, insignificant.  Everything else was exactly the same, so no big.

At first he thought he just remembered things wrong.  The first few times he just shrugged it off.  But it persisted.  It was always a minor change, from one moment to the next.  One moment a car was blue with a spoiler, the next it was green with no spoiler.  People were there, then we’re gone, or were replaced by different people.  

It didn’t take long for the situation to become irreconcilable with crappy memory, or mental disorder.  It didn’t take long for Andy to realize that the changing of things, people and characteristics were real.  His next step was to try to make things change at will, for until then it was all random and unbidden.

Andy had limited success.  He would try to turn a coffee cup into a beer mug, but instead the cup would remain a coffee cup, but the design on the side would be different.  Sometimes, he would appear to be unsuccessful, only to find days later that something else entirely different was changed.  Never could he choose what the change was going to be.  By his twentieth birthday it started to get to him.  He could choose to make changes, but if he didn’t choose, chance would choose for him.    

The afternoon of his twentieth birthday, a sunny Saturday, Andy sat in the kitchen of his friend’s place, leaning back in the kitchen chair with arms crossed.  A redhead by the name of Kaylyn Bender, his friend of several years, sat across from him.  She stared at him for several minutes before letting out a heavy sigh.  “Andy… seriously, twenty is not like you’re an old man.  Shit, one more year you can drink around the world.”  She curled her upper lip in sympathy.  “I mean, that’s a good thing right?”

After a few seconds of brood-staring he took a breath and droned the following words.  “I have the power of transmutation.”

Kaylyn replied without missing a beat.  “That’s the one that turns objects into other objects?”  When Andy nodded slowly, Kaylyn smirked teasingly.  “You’re damned weird.  That’s why I like you.”

He looked at her evenly a moment.  “I’m not kidding.”  He leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table, hands laid on either side of his neck, as if massaging sore shoulders, but only halfheartedly.  “It’s been happening for the last two years.”  Kaylyn was smiling, inwardly giggling and Andy could tell.  He had to risk the chance of nothing happening.  “Fine, watch this…”  Andy concentrated for a few seconds and suddenly her IPhone changed to a Samsung.  Slapping the table he excitedly pointed to it.  “There, see?”

Appearing a little concerned she looked at her phone.   “So?  It looks the same.”

With a surprised mouth he raised his voice, because she obviously wasn’t seeing it.  “Your phone, dipshit… it’s no longer an IPhone.”

She looked at it and feigned excitement.  “Oh look!  It’s the same android I’ve always had!  You are truly amazing, Andy!  Oh – my – god… you’re a magician!”

“What!?  It was an IPhone!  Now it’s an android!”  The guy was starting to feel angry, frustrated, and quite embarrassed.

“Holy fuck, Andy… I’ve never had an IPhone.”  She was getting a bit upset also.  “Look, I know it’s your birthday.  I know you’re feeling like your life is screwed up and you’re the least important person in the world, but don’t get pissed off at me because I don’t support your fantasy.”

That was when Andy stood up, paused a moment to glare at her, then stormed out the open sliding door to the back yard.  He followed the path, past a crabapple tree, to the back gate in the tall brown fence.  Then stopped, looking at the fence, that was supposed to be white.  While he was in the middle of resisting the only other explanation for what has been happening for the last two years, Kaylyn walked up.

“Andy… I’m sorry.”  He didn’t respond.  “Listen, I’m tired.  I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you.  Maybe we can find Stanley and get some smoke.  It’ll be on me… a happy birthday thing.”

It was unavoidable at that moment.  He turned to her and glared again.  “We don’t smoke pot, Kay.  You don’t own a Samsung, this fence isn’t brown… and I don’t know who you are or what’s going on.”  With that he left through the gate, leaving Kaylyn confused and hurt.

Not my world, he kept thinking to himself, as he wandered aimlessly from to street to alley.  A dream?  What the hell is going on?  Did I get hit by a goddamn bus and am in a coma?  He thought back to his eighteenth birthday, and the icing.  If that were so, Andy concluded, he was in a coma for two years.  Was coma time one-to-one with real time?  What if I stepped out in front of another bus, or jumped off the Logan interchange?   Would that wake me up?  Then he thought that if he was wrong and all that’s been going on was as real as it all felt, he would be as dead as disco.

He thought of pinching himself, but realized that over the last two years he stubbed his toe several times, slammed his finger in the car door once, tumbled ass over head on his bike and even broke his right arm.  All those things already hurt like hell and all happened since the icing, so a pinch would resolve nothing.  If it were all a dream or a coma he was almost certain he wouldn’t feel pain.  Or would he?  

On top of all that, Kaylyn claims she always had an android phone when he knew for a fact it was an IPhone.  He was there when she bought it.  He remembered trying to get her to buy the android, but she hated how big it was.  He remembered joking that size didn’t matter and to buy it because they didn’t suck.

He needed to talk this out with someone and the only person he trusted he just ditched because she was a pothead.  What the hell is all that about, anyway?  We’ve never tried pot…ever.  The only time we came close was when Kaylyn’s cousin, what was his name… Shit.  Stanley. Stan had offered them a drag from a joint a couple years ago, but they had turned it down.  In fact, it was Andy who turned it down first, after a long moment of decisionary struggle.  He thought about it and remembered why he found it to be a tough decision to make.  His father was dying of a rare blood disease and it was hard on Andy.  After what turned out to be the last visit to the hospital, Andy just wanted to escape the world for awhile.  He had almost tried it.

Andy didn’t know how long he wandered the neighborhood, but eventually he found himself at the local park where Kaylyn was casually swinging, scraping the rocks with her feet.  He felt badly, for no matter how screwed up the situation seemed, she was still his friend.  He bit the bullet and cautiously walked up and joined her by sitting on the swing beside her.   “Lyn.”  She didn’t respond, only looked at him, with confusion and hurt showing in her eyes.   “I’m sorry.”  He started.  “I have no idea what’s going on and I have no one else to talk to.”  

She flicked a stone with the toe of her running shoe, as she took a few seconds to say anything.  “What you said really hurt.  We’ve been friends for a few years, but I think in that time I’ve gotten to know you very well.  Ever since you tried to get me to believe in your ability to transmute things,”  she flicked another stone clear out of the swing area, “… you’ve appeared different, you talk different, walk different.  Shit, you even turned down a free hoot.  You never turn down a free hoot.”  She stopped scraping rocks with her feet.  “I know you’ve been messed up with your dad’s death, but for some reason I don’t think this has much to do with that.  What’s going on?  What’s happened to make you so damned strange today?”

Andy thought about his words before explaining.  “Things change.  Not in the way that we’re used to, but suddenly and without any logic at all.  Like the IPhone dealio… I mean, one moment its an android and the next, poof it’s suddenly different.  No one seems to notice these sudden changes but me.”

“This is about the transmutation thing?” Kaylyn tried not to sound as judgemental this time around.  Andy still sensed it and she could tell.  “I’m sorry, but some things are just too bizarre.”

“I know, but look at me.  Do I look like someone who’s bullshitting you?  Is this my usual face when I’m pulling a prank?  Would I come up with this crazy idea just to entertain myself?  I need you to at least suspend disbelief for a little while.”

Kaylyn took a few seconds before answering.  “Okay, not saying I believe you, but how long has this been going on?”

“Two years, a few to several times a week, no real pattern.”

“And what kind of things, how small or big the change?”  Kaylyn asked.

“Anything from icing colour to make of car.  Sometimes people would change or vanish entirely.”  After a moment he added, “I’ve already ruled out mental disorder.”

“I’m sure you have… we’re these changes small at first, getting bigger with each incident, or entirely random?”  The girl was starting to formulate a theory, of course on the assumption that the problem was real.

“Kind of random, but generally getting bigger over time.”  Andy read the expression on her face.  “You got something?”

“Maybe.”  She took a few seconds to think, staring off in the distance.  “I’m my kitchen you seemed to be able to do this at will.  The changes, are they bigger when you choose to do it or smaller?”

“Good question.  I never thought about it.  I think they’re smaller.”

“Do things you’re touching change?”  She looked to him, no longer judging him to be anything but honest.

It took some time for him to think about it.  “Actually, no.  I don’t remember my clothes changing.”

“How about the ground, sidewalk or anything not directly touching your skin?”

“Sometimes the ground changes, my patio used to be wood, now it’s that recycled shit.”

“And absolutely no one ever notices these changes?”  When Andy shook his head she stood up, used her phone to take a panorama shot of the park around them, then grabbed his hand.  “Okay, change something.”

“Really?  Like what?”

“I dunno, something significant, try to change the swing seat from the bendy one to the wood one.”  She replied somewhat impatiently, because now she was starting to wonder if Andy’s story was real.

Reluctantly, Andy concentrated.  “Okay, done.  But it didn’t work… its still the regular seat.”  He protested.

It took a few minutes for Kaylyn to inspect her phone.  In that time, Andy realized that Kaylyn was actually comparing her pictures to reality.  “Look around, Andy.  Notice anything different?”  The redhead did, but didn’t want to reveal what it was right away.  She could feel herself shake a little with adrenalin.  She now had proof Andy had an ability.  Given what she knew as a science geek, she had a good idea what was happening… and it was truly amazing.

“The bench over there, the one they repainted last year, is no longer painted.”

“Fuck me…”  Was all she managed to say as she handed the phone to her friend.

As Kaylyn appeared to puzzle over the situation Andy smiled for the first time that day.  The picture had shown a painted park bench.  He felt a bit stupid that he never thought of taking before and after pictures.  It would have gone a long way in showing himself that he wasn’t mentally disturbed.  “You believe me, now?”

Kaylyn controlled her excitement.  “Un-fucking-believable.  But yeah… I believe you.  And you still don’t know what this is?”  The girl looked to him again.  “Transmutation is the best you could come up with?”

“No, I thought of a coma and considered jumping in front of a bus to wake myself up.”

“Oh for fuck sakes.”  Kaylyn rolled her eyes.

“Stop swearing and tell me.”  He urged.

She waved a hand rapidly, as if trying to clear a mess of cobwebs.  “Anders Truman… ever hear of M-theory?”  He shook his head.  “Multiple dimensions, alternate realities, parallel world’s?”  When she saw his expression change to full realization she continued.  “You have the ability to slip between parallel worlds… and you’ve been doing it regularly for two years.”

“And the only reason you can now see the same change I do is because I was touching you with my bare hand?”  He frowned, still much confused.

“That’s why no one else sees the changes!  Because when you slip into a different world they belong there.  It’s normal to…” she stopped talking a moment while her expression changed from excitement to horror.  “… oh my god.”  The girl’s hand flew to her mouth.  “Has anything ever returned to what it was like before two years ago?”

Andy was catching on.  “Shit, not that I can remember.  Every change stayed.  Sometimes the same thing would change one or two more times, but always something other than what it was.”

“That means you and I are from completely different realities!  You are not my Andy and I am not your Kaylyn.”  She kicked the swing she sat on.  “Fuck, fuck, fuck!  This means I’m not in my world either, now!  God dammit, I’m so mentally challenged!”  She shook her hands frustration.

Andy suddenly felt badly, that he screwed up again, but this time there was little chance of fixing it.  “I’m so sorry, Lyn.  If I had known I wouldn’t have done this.”  He stood up and grabbed her hand.  “Look, I can try to take you back.  If I think about where we came from, maybe we’ll have a fifty-fifty chance of getting you there.”

“But if it doesn’t work I’m fucked!”

“Why?  I just try again, and again… until I get you there.”

“You don’t get it!”  She calmed herself.  “Look, each time you slip it cuts the chances down of getting back to your original reality.  The rule would be the same for me.”

“So each failure reduces the odds of success each time.”

“Yes.”  She sighed.  “It’s even worse the longer we wait between slips, because other people’s decisions carry us further from our goal.  We’ll end up slipping further away each time we miss the mark… or wait.”  Her temper flared again and she swore a string of curses that would make a trucker plug his ears.

“Lyn, you’re over analyzing this and it’s making you increasingly agitated.  Calm down!”

Kaylyn ripped her hand out of his and started yelling.  “I’m not over analyzing!  This is really fucked up, Andy!  You have no idea how screwed I am!”

Suddenly he lost his temper too and yelled back.  “How screwed we are!  Me more than you, because I’ve been doing this for two fucking years, thinking the whole time I was still in my own fucking world!  You’re the one who has no idea how I feel right now!  At least you get a fifty-fifty!  I get a one in who-the-fuck-knows!  Now, you wanna give this a shot!?  Because it’s the best damned chance you’re ever gonna get!”  When all she did was stand there he pushed, but more calmly.  “Time’s ticking away.  Each minute reduces your chances.  I’m not a mathematician, but I know that much.”  After a grueling few seconds she screamed a string of profanities and grabbed his hand.  Andy concentrated, trying to think his way back to the world he just came from.  He felt that now that he knew what was going on he would have more control over the outcome.  Carefully the young man tried to visualize the brown fence, the samsung phone, the painted park bench.

Kaylyn felt that if she concentrated on her world it would increase the chances of returning to it.  Instead, something completely unexpected happened.  The park was gone, as we’re all the houses that were in the neighborhood around where the park was supposed to be.  The community was gone.  She was standing and Andy was laying on his back with one hand on his chest.  After a moment he rose onto one elbow.  There was only a fallow field for several miles, with a line of houses in the distance to the west.  They both remained motionless for a long time.  Calmly, in a hoarse voice, and without emotion, Kaylyn said the one word both of them were thinking.  “Shit.”

Andy took a few seconds to stand, turned to Kaylyn and stuck his hand out.  “I’m Anders, my friends call me Andy.  Pleased to meet you, Kaylyn from an alternate world.  Looks like we may be travelling together for a while.”

Being a little shorter than her friend, Kaylyn looked up at him and, with reddened eyes about to shed tears, shook her head.  “I’m sorry… I think I fucked it up.”

“How do you mean?”  His hand dropped to his side.

Their argument forgotten, she struggled to keep herself from crying.  “I’m not sure… I mean, I felt it would help to think of home.  But instead I think I triggered entirely different.”

Andy couldn’t allow her to take the whole blame.  He knew he played a part.  “I also tried to concentrate on getting you home.  I think between the both of us we sent ourselves further away from where we both belong.”

The redhead looked at the clock on her phone.  It was just after two in the afternoon.  “If we start walking now we can get to the edge of town by evening.”  Without waiting for Andy she started walking.  The girl was desperately trying to process the rapid succession of events.  She needed space and time, the two things she had plenty of at that moment.  “Fuck, I need a joint…”  she mumbled before falling silent for nearly two miles.

Andy wasn’t used to such a demonstration of emotion from his friend, she was normally more level headed in times of crisis.  He wondered if this alternate Kaylyn was a moody one, if it was the never-in-a-million-years aspect of the situation, or simply cliche redhead that was the cause.  Andy knew she needed to be left alone so he let her be.  It was a long walk and he had to sort it out in his own head, anyway.  The simplicity of it was that he was scared.  He had far too many questions to answer, far fewer answers than was useful, and so little control over outcome that he felt completely useless.  He had slipped between so many realities without knowing it that any hope of him randomly slipping into his own was as close to zero as one could get.  Because each slip took him ever further from home, the probability was ever increasing against his favour of ever getting there.  He concluded that he was hopelessly lost in the continuum of infinite possibilities, forever being pushed along a river far too powerful for him. Andy was drowning in chance and there was nothing around to grab onto.

Kaylyn was shaken, concerned, and confused.  Knowing that she was ripped from her own reality, and spat into one that wasn’t, wasn’t the only horrible news to cope with.  The fact that she took a chance and ended up in a place very different from the one that was almost perfect was a tough idea to absorb. The difference between painted and unpainted bench could be ignored, passed off as something innocuous.  After all, it was only a damned park bench, a minor thing, insignificant.  Everything else was exactly the same, so no big.  All she had to do was stay there, but Andy talked her out of it.  Screw it, I blame him, she thought.  At least with the constant anger she felt for her alternate friend she didn’t feel the gnawing sensation that there was just one more important detail she overlooked; one that would have pushed her over sanity’s edge at that moment if it ever sifted through to conscious thought.  

Such ignorance was not to be left alone for long.  It popped into Kaylyn’s head suddenly within that short interval between bouts of hating Andy.  She stopped and turned around, nearly stumbling on a large rock half buried in the grassy field.  “Just wait a fucking second.” She panted slightly.  When Andy also stopped and looked at her she continued.  “Do you know if your mind slips into the bodies of your alternates or you simply displace them?”

Just what she was talking about the young man wasn’t sure.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Geez, your clothes and anything you touch slip with you, right?  This means that you probably displace your alternate selves.”  The redhead rolled her eyes when Andy appeared confused.  “When you slipped in my world you claimed to have changed my phone to a different one.  I didn’t see any visual cue that you slipped in when you arrived.  You didn’t suddenly appear, or fade in. You seemed to concentrate real hard but that was all.”

“So, you’re saying that every time I slip I switch places with an alternate version of me?”  That certainly made a lot of sense to him.  It would explain why no one else around ever noticed or cared.  To them the transition was seamless and natural.  “So, that means I normally trade places with whatever other version of myself is exactly in the same time, place and position as I am.”

“Right, otherwise there’s an inconsistency in the continuum of realities.  We were both standing when we slipped out of the last world, but you were lying down when we arrived.” Andy froze, knowing where she was going.  Kaylyn was satisfied that the guy finally got it.  “Why were you lying down in the middle of a fucking field, Andy?  And did I transpose with my alternate, did she cease to exist?  Did we upset the presumably delicate balance of realities?”

He let out a heavy sigh.  “There’s no way to know right now.”  Admittedly, that slip was nothing like the others before it.  Such a drastic change in surroundings, his positioning, all pointed to his willing the slip, something he never did before.  In his mind he caused them to come here, to this place.  “We still have a few hours before it starts getting dark, so we better keep going.  Standing in the middle of this field doesn’t seem like progress to me.”  They looked at eachother for a long moment.  “I really am sorry.  I thought I was helping.”

Kaylyn relented to reason, and her tone softened a little.  “For all we know you did help.  I’m the random element here, not you.  You’ve tried to affect the slip before, even though you didn’t fully understand what was happening, and nothing like this happened, right?”  Andy nodded.  They both started walking again.  “Your logic was sound so I took the gamble.  You can’t be faulted to making sense.”

“So, how do you think we managed to slip so far from your world?”  

“That’s what I’m trying to say… it was my concentrating on home that probably screwed it all up.  The first time, neither of us made an effort to control the slip and that resulted in slipping to a world very close to the one we left.  This isn’t something either of us are used to.  We really don’t know shit.  I mean how do we know we’re even in the same geological location as the one we slipped out of?  From here those houses,” she pointed with her chin toward the line of houses they had been walking toward for the last couple hours, “look no different than those in our neighborhood.  For all we know we’re in another state, or god forbid, Canada.”

Andy had to admit, it was a fair point. Canada would suck.  “Or our neighborhood doesn’t even exist here.  If things really got that messed up, we may even be in a world where the president is a black dude.”

The last sentence cause Kaylyn to frown as she realized how different worlds even as close as theirs could be.  “But, the president is a black guy.  Hello?  President Obama?”

Andy laughed.  “Seriously, I really wanted him to win, but for me it was Mitt Romney… and now that I think about it its probably been Romney until I slipped into your world.”

Excited, almost exasperated, Kaylyn raised her voice in reply.  “That’s what I mean, you’ve been doing this for years and you have no idea how much was different between one world to the next.  From your limited point of view you probably had no idea how different each world was.  In my world you aren’t that much of a newsie, you’ve always secluded yourself, kept yourself mostly out of touch with the greater macrocosm of existence. You have no idea what you’ve overlooked in two years.”

“Well, now we know that I, we, can affect the slip somehow.  Maybe, if we understand how, I can eventually get you home.”

She rolled her eyes again.  “You’re still missing my point.  We don’t know that we can affect the slip at all.  For all we know this is closer to my world than the last one, and that it was sheer luck that landed us in this one.”

So, Andy was back to square one.  For all he knew there was no way to get back to their prospective realities, and they were more lost than he ever thought.  Thinking about it started giving him a headache.  He wondered if it ever should be a goal for them to return to their true homes, or if close enough was good enough.  Was there such a thing as close enough?  “So, we’re fucked.”

It took several seconds of struggling for Kaylyn to admit it to herself before answering. “I think we have to be prepared to accept that as a most likely scenario.”  Which really started to piss her off, because she had plans for her future.  Addiction to marijuana aside, she was getting prepared for a career in high energy physics.  She was going to work in particle accelerators, tease out the secrets of the universe and the multiverse.  She was going to study string theory and follow the clues to the truth about reality.  But that was probably never going to happen, now.