Another flash fiction prompt from Chuck Wendig, this time smashing a couple subgenres together and writing a story about it.
I rolled “Parallel Universe” and “Revenge”!
by Rick Cook Jr
I watch myself getting a ticket and smile.
The me I’m watching isn’t me, in the strictest sense, of course. No one but me could ever be me. But the other me is pretty close, and pretty close is close enough.
The whole “alternate dimensions” theory, string theory, ten dimensions, quantum entanglement, what-have-you: it’s not infinite. More like trinary. There are two other worlds out there, running parallel to our own. Ours seems to be in the middle.
In the good world most of the problems have been dealt with and moved beyond: racism, religious terrorism, violence and anger and people who are “different” in any of a thousand ways. Still there, but rare. It’s peaceful, kind. I hate it.
In our world it’s like you expect: people seem generally good but selfish, there’s a lot of hate and violence, sex crimes, theft, murder, but they aren’t the norm. You can live here, you can thrive here, but it’s dangerous. It’s wonderful.
In the bad world… well let’s just say no one’s really complaining.
There’s a lot of questions I haven’t bothered to ask, and the ones I did bother to ask I didn’t bother to seek the answers. “Are there more than three worlds out there and these are the only three I can touch?” “Are there perpendicular worlds?” “Intersecting worlds?” “Is kimchi as gross there as it is here?”
The me getting the ticket for littering is protesting. He couldn’t have thrown litter on the ground, he says. Of course he couldn’t. I did it for him.
The other me finally accepts the ticket and goes on, fuming, to his place of employment. He isn’t a physicist, or any other “ist” that I can tell. Maybe an “er” like a lawyer, certainly not as useful as a guy who can jump between parallel realities.
Perhaps I should explain.
I’m what you might call a self-destructive sort. Everything good I ever had or earned I managed to screw it up. Love of my life? Cheated on him. He took me back? Cheated on him again. Got that grant? Squandered it on useless tests. Paid off my car? Wrapped it around a tree the following week.
In short, I take my happiness and I stomp on it. I don’t know why I have to do it. The other me certainly doesn’t seem to need it. What do they call that? Is there a word for thriving on your own misery?
I’m only happy when I’m not.
The other me is in for a surprise at work, care of this me. Maybe if I let him know I exist he’ll sleep with me. He seems to share my proclivities if not much else. But that would ruin everything.
He gets to work and is fired for sexual harassment. Of course it was me playing grab-ass with the secretary, but no one knows about me. Near as I can tell no one in this reality has a clue that the Trinarallel Universe (TU) exists.
That’s what I’m calling it. Pretty great, right?
This time there’s footage of me getting handsy with the woman, and I wonder if it will lead to a lawsuit. Probably not. This reality doesn’t thrive on lawyering like ours does.
The other me storms out of the office and down the street, hauling a box of possessions. I think this is enough for now; surely his misery will hold me over for a while.
I check my TU emitter cleverly disguised as a watch and follow it to the nearest parallel intersection (places where the linearity of reality lines gets a little tangled and wavy, thus allowing one to overlap or intersect with another reality). One thing I’ve found in my travels thus far is that psychics have no idea these exist, but perverts? There’s a porn shop, strip club, or brothel at every parallel intersection. The one time I thought I had disproved the theory I found out the local stage theater hosted some very risqué burlesque shows.
So I wandered into the red-light district, snagged some private time in one of those booths, and activated the reality emitter to send myself home. It’s really not very flashy, just some swirling lights and unimaginable pain as my body is molecularly-shredded and forced through the mesh that binds realities. Imagine a cheese grater. It’s not a pretty picture, I filmed it once. I will never be showing that film as proof. I’ll hire Industrial Light & Magic to fake it so that people will actually shower me with grant money instead of vomiting all over their expensive loafers. At least I only threw up on my twenty dollar Keds.
Back in my reality. Things are going much better for me since I created Trinarallel travel. Not because I’ve sold the technology to the highest bidder (I will) but because my self-destructive urges have a new outlet. I have a new boyfriend, a new car, and the grant money keeps coming. When I feel that itch to start ruining all the good in my life, I can always just pop on over and ruin the other me’s life some more.
I think it has to do with needing drama and conflict. I dunno. I don’t look too deeply into it. Self-destruction doesn’t breed self-awareness.
I hate myself, and therefore I hate the other me. I can ruin his life, and watch his downward spiral, and that part of me that hates me is satisfied. I can give myself over to happiness because the other me is unhappy.
They don’t have a word for it yet, I’m sure. I’m good at naming things. I’ll come up with something.
And it all does go well. I sell the technology for billions. I continue making the other me miserable and making myself happier.
Then he finds out about me. I don’t think it was him, specifically. But the diplomats running the peace talks between realities are making a public spectacle on both sides and it isn’t a stretch to think he might put it together. Alternate realities, a lot of unsubstantiated claims of someone that looks and acts just like him running around?
He requests an audience with me, and I have to go, don’t I? On some level I know this had to happen eventually.
I take another trip to his reality and meet him in a cheap little sublet. There are bags under his eyes and he’s been living alone for a while now. Just seeing his miserable state fills me with renewed happiness.
He lets me in and makes me tea in a chipped teacup. It is stale and bitter and he offers me no sugar, milk, or honey.
We sit at the dingy little kitchen table and he stares at me. I stare back.
“So you’re the reason I’m so miserable,” he finally says.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He chuckles, a dry chuckle and I know that chuckle. One of us is in real danger here. I probably should have brought my security team with me. But it’s me! He is I and me is him.
Then he lifts his hand from under the table and there’s a pistol in it. He doesn’t point it at me until I stand and back away.
“That’s far enough. Sit back down and we’re gonna talk about this.” He waggles the gun at the seat I vacated and I wipe sweat from my face while I sit down.
“You’re not gonna kill me,” I say. “You ARE me. We don’t even know what will happen if you do.”
“I learned as much as I could before you got here,” he says, sipping his stale tea in one hand while the gun stays trained on my chest in the other. “We’re dead in the third reality. Most people are. Doesn’t affect yours or mine.”
Well, shit. He had done his homework.
“I also learned a lot about you and I think you owe me a life.” He set the teacup down and switched the gun into his free hand, his good hand. Could I have taken advantage of him using his right hand, his bad hand, to hold the gun? Didn’t matter, now.
“So you’re just going to kill one of the richest men in either reality and expect to get away with it?” I ask. I don’t know if I can talk myself down from this. Any trick I know he’s bound to know. This sucks.
“Wouldn’t be much of a revenge plot if you weren’t around to suffer,” the other me says. He raises the pistol and I throw myself back from the table, spilling scalding tea on myself as I turn the table. A gunshot rings out and I clench my teeth, but I don’t feel any of the telltale signs of being shot I’ve heard so much about. There’s no shock, no pain, no cold, no damp, no warmth. He missed me?
I scramble to my feet, thinking I might have time to get away, but he hadn’t been aiming at me. The side of the other me’s head is a bloody wreck, and there’s a horrible grin on his face.
My pain. My outlet.
I am alive, but I have lost everything. Oh, not yet. But soon. Soon I’ll go to work. I can already feel the urge, that destructive impulse.
I’ll tear myself down and I can’t stop me.