Story inspired by the following prompt: You are slowly beginning to realise that a classmate of yours may in fact unwittingly be from a separate but only slightly different timeline.
When I was a kid, I remember adopting a stray dog off the street, keeping him in the attic, and feeding him the leftover dinner scraps. Everything went well until my parents found out two days later.
As of this morning, Jerry has been in my attic for a week. And he’s a lot harder to care for than a mutt.
One week ago, my parents had been out to dinner while I had been left home alone, watching Netflix instead of doing homework. The rain patterned down outside as darkness descended, and I heard what sounded like hail beginning to start. That was typical this time of year, but then I realized it wasn’t hail, but rather a knocking.
At my front door. While my parents weren’t home.
By my dead friend.
“Sup Mike?” Jerry said as I opened the door, removing the hood that had concealed his face. It was him- the blonde curls, the mischievous smile, the mole below his right eye. But it couldn’t be him.
And I screamed. For five minutes I screamed, racing for my phone to call the cops, but only to have it wrestled from my hands.
“Jesus, what’s gotten into you man?” Said Jerry, pinning me to the floor. He had always been a better wrestler, a trait I assumed he retained after death.
“You’re, You’re alive. But you were shot.” I stammered, looking for the round bullet hole in the center of his forehead. But it wasn’t there. Just a month before, Jerry had been shot by a stray bullet, a freak accident from a gang driveby near our favorite Chinese restaurant in a more sketchy part of town.
“Of course I was shot. Lucky as hell I was. Remember, you said it would have made a great gauge had it been a centimeter to the left.”
Jerry tilted his head, and I saw a neat semicircle missing from the lobe of his right ear.
“No, you were shot in the head. I saw it. I went to your funeral. I watched your body descend into the ground.”
“Well obviously not.”
“I swear. You made the news. ”
Several YouTube videos later, Jerry sat slackjawed on my couch, his fingers touching the hole in his ear. On the screen, his parents cried. Hell, on the screen, I cried.
“That never happened. It almost did- maybe with a bit more wind that day, or a slightly different tilt to the gun- but it didn’t.” He whispered.
“How did you get to my house?” I asked.
“Rode my bike over. I was going to tell you before you freaked, but I nearly got hit by lightning on the way here. Came down five feet in front of me, and I rode through the ozone.”
“But you were alive? For this past month, you were alive?”
“Of course, idiot.”
“Then no one can see you until we straighten this out. You’ll make the news again. Hell, all sorts of crazy things will happen.”
“Not if I can prove I never died.”
“And how do you plan on that?”
“By digging up the body. Or lack thereof.”
“I saw you buried. Now come on. You can stay in my attic. We’ll try to figure this out.”
So he agreed to stay there. And I’ve consulted everyone I could get my hands on – priests, scientists, doctors, without giving away what actually happened.
But today, one week later, as I brought Jerry his stolen helping of dinner he wasn’t there.
And neither was the shovel in my garage.
Two days after Jerry showed up at my door.
I really didn’t know what to think when Jerry showed up on my door steps.
I analyzed all the possibilities. Maybe I was schizophrenic, and he wasn’t real. Maybe this was a flashback to the mushrooms I’d taken four months ago, and had a bad trip. Or maybe this was just how I dealt with the grief.
But with each passing day, I became more and more convinced that Jerry was real.
It meant one of several options.
One: That Jerry had never died, and somehow we had been fooled.
Two: That this was some sort of elaborate hoax.
Three: That somehow there were two Jerrys.
And each of these threw a wrench into my reality. So I tested them.
The first was easiest. I reviewed the footage. I visited the gravestone. I consulted my memory. And I concluded that Jerry had, in fact and somewhat obviously, died.
The second was harder. I couldn’t think of anyone who would try to play this type of prank, or how they could even pull it off. So I started quizzing Jerry. I asked him questions only he and I should know. Questions like about who his first crush was, who we both know was the goth girl from Parks and Rec, or tests like bringing him carrots with his dinner, which I knew he hated. And he passed both, leaving one conclusion.
It had to be real Jerry. Or some version of him, some version that had never been shot.
So I started looking for professional advice. And I sought out a priest.
Typically I’m not religious. But when a friend decides to go modern day Lazarus that can bring some serious questions to light. And the only power I knew that would be able to do that would be God.
“Father,” I said, “Say I were to die tomorrow. What would happen to me? Where exactly would I go?”
I was in a church, near deserted since it was a Tuesday, and I had caught him as he was finishing up morning mass. I’d skipped school- this sort of thing was more important than knowing who was president in 1847, or solving for x.
“According to doctrine,” Said the priest, his hands shaking, and hair greying, “The soul leaves this world, and goes beyond. There it shall be judged, and the sheep shall be separated from the goats, and be cast to the path to heaven or to hell. The soul has to go somewhere.”
“But what if,” I insisted, “What if the soul doesn’t leave this world?”
“Impossible. There are no such things as ghosts, boy, if that’s what you’re worried about. Take some Holy Water if it will comfort you- it keeps out the evil spirits.”
And as the priest left, leaving me with less to grasp than when I had started.
So I started thinking. And I realized the only explanation.
There must be a living Jerry, and a dead Jerry. And the living Jerry must have come from somewhere else.
I found Jerry at the graveyard. When I arrived, he was already five feet down into soft earth, his face streaked with mud, and his chest heaving.
“Jerry! Jerry, stop it. We both know what you’ll find down there.”
“No we don’t!” He shouted back, “I’ve been thinking, Mike. I’ve had a lot of time to think up in that attic. And I don’t like the conclusions I’ve made.”
The shovel bit down into the ground again, and another chunk of dirt flew over the hole’s edge.
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“You ever heard of parallel universes, Mike? Existing alongside us. Ones that I’m alive in, and ones that I’m dead in. Somehow I came over to this universe. And I think it was the lightning. I think it somehow bent them together, these two universes so close, and I rode through.”
“So what then? You’re here now.”
“I can’t stay in your attic forever, Mike. Besides, that’s not what I’m worried about. I’m worried about something far worse.”
“Yeah?” I said, as I heard his shovel hit wood. Coffin wood.
“I’m worried,” He said, bending down and clearing dirt away, “I’m worried about how the universe is going to accept this change. You know- the whole conservation of matter bit. Matter can’t be created or destroyed. And I’m made of matter. Which means, that if I came over here, something equal to me had to switch to the world I came from.”
“Ok, I’m not following. So some stuff flew back into you’re universe. So what?”
“Not just some stuff,” He said, as the coffin lid creaked open, “Something equivalent to me. Me.”
And there, at the bottom of the hole, the coffin lay empty.
“So back at home,” He continued, his voice low, “My parents will have found my copse, a bullet hole through it’s head, and half rotten, right where I left.”
I’ve always enjoyed cooking. It’s been a hobby of mine since I was young, everything from grilled cheeses to quiches. I think it’s the closest I ever got to enjoying science- at the root of cooking, it’s all just chemical reactions, and physical changes, played out in a laboratory of pots and pans.
And there’s one thing I learned early on from cooking, especially when making my own salad dressings. It’s that no matter how much they’re shaken up, how much they’re blended, or how much they’re forced to mix, oil and water never stay together. They always separate- oil on top, and water on bottom. And if they’re switched, they’ll switch back.
So when a crimson hole began to open up in the center of Jerry’s forehead, I started to worry he might be like oil and water.
It’s been a week since Jerry had dug up his body, and we now both sat in the attic, me staring at him, and him staring in a mirror. We had noticed the hole a half hour before, except it was the size of a BB ball back then. Now it had grown to the size of a marble.
“I smell, don’t I?” He asked, when he noticed I was keeping my distance from him.
“A bit.” I admitted, and he smiled, examining the hole in his ear which decreased at an equal rate.
“Perfect. Don’t you see, Mike? Everything is going back to normal! I’m switching back. I’m going home!”
He punched the air, and more of his smell wafted towards me. It was putrid. Rotting.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to call a doctor? Or try to reverse this? What if your consciousness doesn’t go back there?”
“I’m sure. And I know it will. I’ve had dreams Mike. I saw my parents leaning over my dead body. I saw the doctors pronounce me as dead. Part of me is already slipping back. And think of how happy they’ll be to see me alive!”
As he spoke, a trail of blood started to blossom from his forehead and trickled to the bridge of his nose. And though I could tell he was in pain, he still laughed.
“We’ll I’ll miss you, Jerry. And there’s really no way for me to tell if you make it. I guess, I guess I’ll always be worried for you.”
“Sure there is. Quick, help me lay down. It’s going dark. I think I’m sliding back. I’ll talk to you as I go, so you know I’m all right. Thank you for your help Mike. You’ll never know what you did in my universe, but I’ll always know. And I’ll be grateful.”
So I helped Jerry down to the floor, gripping his arm, where his skin had grown cold and his muscles loose. His breathing slowed, but he continued talking, each word an effort. Bone now showed through the hole in his forehead.
“I can feel myself crossing over. It’s like an hourglass, or a seesaw tipping over. And it’s speeding up Mike. It’s like I have two brains, two consciousnesses, each with half of me in them. Except I can’t quite see the other side yet. But I can feel my body, my dead body over there, coming back to life.”
He squinted, and as he did so an entire eyelid fell off, and rolled onto the floor, where it shriveled up among the attic insulation.
“Oh God.” He whispered, his voice a croak. “Oh God Mike. Mike, stop it. Take me back. Help.”
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I thought I couldn’t see the other side. But I can. Oh god, Mike, I can feel the top.” His hands, now bony and white, raised and brushed the empty air above him.
“The top of what, Jerry?”
“My coffin.” He managed to whisper before his hand fell to the ground, now completely dead. And Jerry was with me no more.
The water and oil had switched.
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