[Jake, struggling, said slowly] . . . Break on through . . .
[Poet’s quoting voice] . . . And what rough beast . . .
[Lecturing professor voice] . . . Energy cannot be created or destroyed . . .
[Scared] . . . To the man behind the curtain . . .
[Lecturing professor voice] . . . There are more than the known three dimensions . . .
[Lecturing professor voice] . . . M-theory says there are eleven . . .
[Lecturing professor voice] . . . Is there a multiverse . . .
[Poet’s quoting voice] . . . Its hour come at last . . .
[Angry, yelling] . . . No . . . No: you’re just not thinking fourth dimensionally . . .
[Despair, hopeless] . . . Across billions of light-years . . .
[Lecturing professor voice] . . . For every action . . .
[Lecturing professor voice] . . . It can only be transferred or changed . . .
[Lecturing professor voice] . . . Bosonic theory says twenty-six . . .
[Angry, yelling] . . . Pay no attention . . .
[Scared] . . . Breathe in the air . . .
[Lecturing professor voice] . . . There are at least ten dimensions to the universe . . .
[Poet’s quoting voice] . . . Do you really want to live forever . . .
[Lecturing professor voice] . . . Two massive black holes, colliding together . . .
[Lecturing professor voice] . . . Time is the fourth . . .
[Crazy, loopy sounding] . . . It’s a whole timey-wimey thing . . .
[Scared] . . . Is there a multiverse to the multiverse . . .
[Poet’s quoting voice] . . . The center does not hold . . .
[Despair, hopeless] . . . I know I’ve been mad . . .
[Hopeful] . . . Speak to me . . .
[Angry, yelling] . . . You can’t do that, it would disrupt the space-time continuum . . .
[Crazy, loopy sounding] . . . There’s no way of knowing . . .
[Scared] . . . Sending a wave across the entire universe . . .
[Poet’s quoting voice] . . . Who wants to live forever . . .
[Lecturing professor voice] . . . There is an equal and opposite reaction . . .
[Lecturing professor voice] . . . It’s called a graviton wave . . .
[Despair, hopeless] . . . I’ve been mad for fucking years . . .
[Despair, hopeless] . . . Another one bites the dust . . .
[Scared] . . . Which direction we are going . . .
[Sad] . . . I’ve always been mad . . .
[Jake, struggling, said slowly] . . . To the other side . . .
I fell . . . Through fire and water . . . Through pain and agony . . . Through darkness and blindness. I fell until there was no more falling that could be had. Not for my sanity anyway. And then I fell more. Spinning like the greatest gymnast of all time, except I knew not when or where I would land. Or if.
It felt like I dipped in and out of reality. I was and was not. I was atomized. Broken and separated into billions of pieces . . . Then reassembled whole once more. A transporter of the mind and the soul. I was on the run. Not wanting to be found. Looking for myself. And losing myself in the nothingness of it all. There was everything. And there was nothing at the same time.
An impossibility and a possibility. Canceling each other out. I was both dead and alive. Living and not. An entity. And a nonentity. The real and the unreal. A ghost of my former self. The birthing of my future being. To be or not to be. It was a question I didn’t have to ask myself, for I was both.
Did I want to go back? Stay a part of it? Be with others? To continue on, as I had before? Or was it time to end? To complete the cycle . . . The circle of life, and move on. To shuffle off this mortal coil. There wouldn’t be time to be visited by three ghosts. The decision had to be decided now. The choice made. The confirmation confirmed. The certainty certified.
The tangent would be begun. A parallel world. A parallel universe made anew. From nothing. From one wrong or right judgment everything would flow on its own individual, unique path. Never to cross with another. Never to join up with another. Never. Never to return to its inception. Its genesis. It’s point of origin. It’s point of identity. It’s big bang.
Now it’s on its own merry way. Its own timeline . . .
Its own time . . .
Time . . .
Time . . . Traveling through time. Across space and time. But to begin traveling you must make a single step. A first move. A passing . . . Through whatever obstruction may be hindering you.
Such as a door . . .
A door . . . With numbers on it . . .
[Whisper, word drawn out] Ostium . . .
Time . . .
Is time a straight line? A curve? A circle? Does it fold back on itself? Does it revolve around itself?
Or is it just a human-made construct. A way for us to control our lives, to control what’s going on in our lives. A way to manage what happened yesterday, what’s happening today, and what’s going to happen tomorrow.
If there are no clocks around, does a tree in the woods care what time it falls?
Is that deep enough for you?
I can remember for my fourth birthday my dad got me a watch. A Mickey Mouse watch, in fact. My mom – as I found out later, when I was older – didn’t think I was ready for such an important and expensive item, since I was still basically a toddler. My dad’s defense was the only way I was really going to learn how to tell time was if I had a watch. He’d had one as a kid, so he was going to make sure his kid had one too. Though, I don’t think he was four when he got it.
I’m not gonna lie and say it changed my life right away. It took a year or two. I dunno. That time is pretty hazy for me . . . Even with my photographic memory. Maybe it hadn’t “fully developed” yet, you know . . . if you catch my drift. But I can remember my life changing over that . . . Time . . . Because of time . . . Sorry. I’ll stop that. But it’s really hard not to.
I could probably point out twelve and six o’clock when I was four. But over the next couple years I learned to tell time. Which is great, but the big deal was when I realized that this little thing on my wrist that had a cute picture of Mickey with moving arms could tell me exactly what time of the day it was . . . It made me . . . Comprehend the power it had. For something so small and seemingly insignificant, a toy essentially, to be able to predict the future in some ways.
I know . . . I know. These weren’t the thoughts going through five- and six-year old me, but it’s something over time – there I go again – that I’ve learned to appreciate and understand . . . That this little time-piece eventually had such a significant effect on me.
I landed. As dense and heavy as a black hole; as light as the space dust surrounding its event horizon. I slammed into the ground like a pile-driver, but I also settled upon the surface like a see-sawing feather gently reaching its final destination. So it both hurt incredibly and not at the same time. Somehow. I don’t know. I was in a place where the rules of physics had been thrown out a metaphorical window along with all the other rules of science.
I was fucking nowhere.
I pulled myself to a sitting-up position. Every inch of me ached in a different way, making me oh so aware of my many different parts and how they all had nerve endings. My eyes were open, but I wasn’t seeing anything. So either I was in a very dark space . . . You know, like say the center of a black hole. Which has got be a blackness unlike anything else in the entire universe, right? Oh, and before you sciencey guys chime in with your theories and supposed “facts,” until you’ve actually been in a fucking black hole yourself, you don’t have a single event horizon to stand on.
Yeah. It was either really fucking dark in here, or . . . Somehow . . . I’d gone blind. Which would be . . . Just fucking dandy.
And then – thank god! – light started filtering into the space I was in. A cold, blue light that seemed to be more sharing the space with the blackness than taking over it and making it not exist anymore. There was definitely some sort of photonic battle going on here. It appeared to be a literal battle between light and darkness. Somehow. I’d never heard of anything like this before. And hey, when it comes to me and Ostium-related events, that’s saying something! But it started me thinking, which was good. It meant along with my eyes, my brain was also still working. Granted, since I was alive, there were obviously many hundreds of bodily processes working together to keep my heart pumping and my blood oxygenated and circulating.
I was thinking about the blackness, vying for possession in this space, this room, as it was now becoming apparent. I could see darker walls containing the combination blackness and Underworld filter shade of blue. But I’d let it take me. Consume me. Fully expecting, and completely confident that I was about to be annihilated. Yes, as in the sense of being broken down to my individual atoms and made “not Jake Fisher” anymore. It was a big deal. A really big fucking deal, actually. I’d willingly given myself up to for dead; sacrificed my life for others. At least one very important other. I hadn’t had a hell of a lot of time to think about it; to consider the ramifications; to weigh the options with a list of pros and cons. In the Jake way I usually like to do, and then (and only then), after a bunch of time had passed, was I ready to make my decision. There wasn’t enough time in this case. Barely any in fact. So it had been a quick, almost-instant, choice. Barely a consideration. And there’d been no hesitation. None whatsoever.
I’m not about to climb on my high horse and say look how fucking righteous I am . . . Even though I literally just did that . . . But I’m just more . . . Surprised at myself, I guess. Death – like it is for many, many people the world over I’m sure – is not something I like to contemplate too often. As an atheist, I’m on the “worm food” side of the divine struggle of whether there’s any life after death. So becoming said worm food is something I just really never want to think about. Except when I really need to, in like a five-second period, when it really doesn’t involve much hesitation at all.
So where the hell am I now then?
The blackness didn’t kill me. Or something stopped the blackness from killing me. Somehow. I know. There’s no real evidence for that second possibility, so we’re going to stick with the first one. For now. And at the moment I’m in a room. But it’s not just any room, is it? Oh no . . . It’s that room. There’s enough blue light now I can see the walls better, and on one of them is a door . . . A door with an infinity symbol on it. Yes. That door. The one that took us to the bottom of the crack that severed Ostium from the world. I said before I never wanted to go back to that place that pretended to be my former work.
I meant it.
I looked up and saw another door, on the ceiling. More of a trapdoor I guess, you could say. There was no writing or symbols on it; no numbers either. Would it even open for me? I didn’t know; but that infinity door wasn’t a fucking option. And I had high hopes this door would somehow take me back to the bedroom in the clock tower. I know. What if I ran into Monica and other me on the other side? I had no idea what time or instance of Ostium it was on that other side. Also, at this point in time, it was the only option I had.
This particular trapdoor – as we’re calling it – had a normal door handle on it. You know. Not the round ones: the angled L-ones. Like any trapdoor. But this particular door handle gave me a fighting chance.
I had to time it just right. Or risk falling on my ass and maybe breaking my tail bone, or something worse.
The room was just big enough to get enough of a running jump. I rested my back against the wall, studying the handle, making it my friend, as we would soon be joining hands – so to speak – and hopefully in a loving embrace . . . Somehow. Then I was ready and started running and totally missed the thing. It wasn’t that I didn’t jump high enough, or my aim was off. I just totally fucked it up. Okay take two. Here goes . . . Better, but that time I just gave the handle more a creepy grope.
Third time’s the charm?
I sucked in a breath, bent my knees, and then launched myself into motion. I jumped where I wanted to and grabbed that handle like a professional trapeze acrobat catching the swing-thing . . . You know, the ones Donald Duck and various other characters always miss in cartoons and plunge to their fake deaths. The handle turned easily in my hand with my forward motion and then I let go, hearing it opening behind me. I landed, bending my knees so my butt almost touched the ground, then I was standing once again. I turned and stared at the open doorway above me. Through it I could only see darkness. Well, that was to be expected, no? Wasn’t that the calling of every Ostium door? That oh-so-inviting darkness that just makes you want to drop everything you’re doing and dive into all this hopeful doom and gloom.
But I’d made my choice, and was going to stick to it. It required another acrobatic running jump; fortunately, I was getting pretty good at these, especially within the confines of this specific room. Then I was airborne and my hands found the edge and held on for dear life. I didn’t waste time, pulling myself up and through the doorway before I could have any doubts, or my strength could fail me. Once on the outside, I drew my legs up and then reached down and closed the door for good measure. There. How could you get more final than that? The door was closed and that room was sealed off. For good. Hopefully forever.
As soon as I was through the doorway I knew right away I wasn’t back in Ostium, but it was secondary to closing that trapdoor.
I gingerly stood up and looked around. The blackness was all around me, like space without the stars and stardust. I could hear it . . . Hell, I could feel the sound vibrating off my arm hairs. But it didn’t attack. It stayed. Waited. Or perhaps . . . Was held at bay? I guessed I was looking at the blackness that was the same as that which was currently surrounding my untethered Ostium. Is that what’d happened to me? Where I’d been sent? Is that what the blackness did to you? Sent you here and left you falling? I remember falling. For a long time. Felt like eons. But then this room . . . Had saved me . . .
Maybe I shouldn’t have closed that trapdoor after all. Perhaps I should’ve ignored my gut feeling and just gone through that infinity door? I creeped over to the edge of the flat roof of the building I was standing on and peeked over the side, wanting to see the other side of that infinity door, which would prove opening it would’ve led me out into the blackness and let me fall . . . Perhaps forever. I looked down and . . . Fucking saw the other side of the door. Even had the infinity symbol on it. Holy shit! I’d chosen right. The room had made me choose and if I’d gone through this door, seen that blackness, and stepped through, that would’ve been the end of everything . . . Again.
That was when the light show began. Above me. Far, far above. It was a fucking veritable great gig in the sky! It was more of the blue light. Still just as dark and cold now, but er . . . Stronger. More . . . There and apparent, I guess you could say. It was like a space mist or . . . Fogmos if you will . . .
Silence your hateful insults this instant! They burnses . . .
Getting back to the galactic light show. Yes, Pink Floyd fans would most definitely be jealous. The blueness was now clearly battling with the blackness, sending jagged lightning-shaped bolts through its adversary, while the blackness tried to envelop, encircle, encapsulate, and various other words beginning with the syllable en-.
Which prompted the question from yours truly: What the fuck?
I thought I was far enough away. I thought I’d be safe . . . I was wrong.
It was a classic rookie in scifi space move. I felt there was enough distance and could enjoy the crazy light-show happening before me, but the battle for blue light and darkness became more violent, more animated, even if it was completely silence. As things speeded up they got big, expanding like what I imagine a star going supernova does, taking over more and more space. Just like when our sun runs out of fuel one day, billions of years from now, and is going to expand way out to consume Mercury, Venus, and I’m not sure if Earth will be eaten up like a little ball consumed by Pacman, or if our surface will simply be burned to a blackened crisp.
It just didn’t click for me at first.
In my defense, it’s been a really long fucking day, or week, or eon. Whatever it’s been, it’s been really long, and I’m – in the word of a certain British acquaintance of mine who may be as big of a fan of Ostium as I am – knackered.
Eventually, it sunk in what was going on and that I was in mortal danger. Sure, I’d somehow survived a run-in with the blackness once already, but I wasn’t about to test my luck. Not with these two deified behemoths of gas and light and color battling it out. This felt like Greek god level stuff and I was but a mere mortal. But where the fuck could I go? What options did I have?
I could jump off the side, try my luck, and probably fall forever until I died of hunger, thirst, or old age; though I’d probably die of shear terror first.
Or there was the door . . .
You know. The one I closed earlier, like . . . Five minutes ago, tops. The one I’d intentionally closed because I wanted to be done with that room and the infinity door, and now may well have condemned myself to death via being caught in the cross-fire of the god of blue fire and the god of black doom.
Like always: there was only one way to find out.
I grasped the handle on the outside and turned. The door opened and fell inward. I’d been hoping for this and let it pull me down and into the room, preparing myself for a hard landing and rolling to lessen the blow. It worked. Thanks for the tips on that Monica. Then I leaped up, slammed that trapdoor closed and found myself back to Square One . . .
Or is that Square Two? Wouldn’t Square One be back on that space station when I’d first let the blackness take me? Or – technically – isn’t Square One me playing that game of Geoguessr that completely changed my life. At least it did when I decided to seek out the hidden town called Ostium.
Do I regret this now? The choices and decisions I’ve made that have led me in various directions, taken me to places I’ve never seen, and have guided me to this very point and place right here, right now?
Before I can arrive at a response to this, the battle of light and dark going on outside the room hits the small rectangular space and suddenly I’m spinning. Well, actually, no. The room is spinning, going multiple revolutions a second it feels like. Me? I’m being thrown about like the proverbial bean in the tin can. That is a proverb right? Or a saying? A cliche expression?
Look: don’t give me that do goody good bullshit. I was doing everything I could not to just puke and puke and puke until organs started coming up. This brought my senses to a whole new meaning of “motion sickness.” I wasn’t physically able to do much other than try to avoid breaking numerous bones, which left my mind to try to come up with something.
Don’t fail me now, brain!
But it did . . . I thought.
It came up with another useless saying: “In for a penny . . . In for a pound.”
What the fuck? Money? What the hell has that got to do with it?
I was at my wit’s end at this point, pushed to every limit I felt I could endure. Then I was suddenly flung to the door. No, not the trapdoor. The other door. The one with the infinity symbol on it. Now the saying made a little bit of sense. Get it? Cents? As in money?
I know. I know. Not the fucking time, Jake!
The trapdoor had been my last and only option. And now the infinity door was that thing. Except it led out into the blackness of nothingness, right? And how did I not know I wasn’t going to wind up in the middle of the blue and the black gang war? Because . . . Because it had that infinity symbol it. Which meant a place and a time right? The bottom of the crack? Leading to my former place of work? I dunno. As I said, my brain was scrambled eggs at this point, and this seemed a reasonable enough assumption to me. So did dashing my brains out again the side of the room and ending this all now.
Fortunately, I chose the former, turned the handle and hurtled myself through the door and into the blackness that awaited me on the other side.
It worked. Not completely as I’d expected, but I was alive. Sort of. If every fiber of my being ached before, now it was moaning in agony. But again . . . Somehow . . . Miraculously . . . Nothing had snapped or broken. [Sarcastic:] Yay!
Now where was I?
It took a while to gain my bearings. Waiting for my head to stop spinning, the motion sickness to calm itself until I knew I wasn’t going to upchuck. After these two levels of supposed calm had been obtained, I slowly opened my eyes.
I was back in my office space. Not outside in the crack as I might’ve hoped. Not in the stairwell leading to my former place of work where Monica and I first shared a kiss. But sitting on the dull beige carpet of the work floor. Not even by a door either. It appeared I’d materialized out of nothingness. Which is, when you get down to it, my favorite mode of travel in Ostium, if I have a choice. Especially when the alternate is being stuck in the blackness of space.
I got up, feeling things sway a little, and then stabilize.
Yep, it was the same place. Same feel. I waited a full two minutes, just to see if there was anyone else here; or listened rather. Part of me was definitely wondering if I was crossing over into the timeline with past me and Monica coming here for the first time. Why not? This shit had happened before.
Except now it was a case of black and blue, right? Moving up and down and I was doing my darnedest to go side to side and get the hell out of the way. Though, honestly, I felt like in the end I was just going round ‘n round.
But what did that have to do with the price of eggs . . .
Sorry about that. I don’t really know what just happened. Let’s just call it a momentary lapse of reason. Deep breath. Crack your neck once in each direction and loosen them shoulders . . . Great, now everything’s back to normal.
Sort of. The best it can be.
I seemed to be alone. I could’ve walked in the direction opposite to my area of the floor, but I knew that was just going to be a waste of my time. I would just find lots of empty desks and not much else. So I headed toward my cubicle, wishing over and over for one thing in my heart; my deepest desire for this place and . . . It was granted.
The desks were there with the computers, and the monitors still showing those horrible headlines. But the clones were very noticeably absent. I felt myself immediately relax. Dealing with those fucking things again would’ve been just too much. I was a frayed wire and ready to just set the whole fucking world on fire.
Moving on to happier, less destructive thoughts, I headed over to the window. The one where I’d seen a flicker of movement; something in another building . . . And then I was staring at myself. Across the divide. But not just one of me. Tens of me. Hundreds of mes. Possibly thousands of facsimiles looking right back at moi. They weren’t just standing there, staring, like automatons – or those clones. They appeared sentient . . . I moved my arms, offering a playful wave, but not really meaning it all. I was looking for a reaction. It was a test to see if they would copy me exactly. As if I were staring at a thousand mirrors.
No. They didn’t copy me. And then they did . . Only out of time. Off key. One by one, waving back. But their facial expressions were different. Some smiling. Some laughing. Some indifferent. Some confused. A few even angry for some reason.
I wasn’t staring into a kaleidoscope of reflections. These were all individual mes existing somehow, perhaps on some other plane. Some other existence. Another, separate existence to my own. They were all alternate mes. Still, when you wave at someone you recognize in any sort of way, the other person, pretty much always waves back at you whether they recognize you or not.
It’s the polite thing to do no?
Us and them.
Me and mes.
And then they all started doing something that scared the shit out of me. I started yelling, then screaming at them not to.
One by one, they lowered their waving hands and stepped out of the open windows and dropped out of the building. I leaned to watch them plunge to their deaths – my deaths . . . But I couldn’t see the ground below, it was more of the blackness, swallowing everything up . . . But no. No. It was something new: a combination black and blue. A mixture. A deadly cocktail perhaps? I had no way of knowing. But the other mes apparently knew otherwise. Or at least thought they did. They continued to step out and drop like stones, little concern showing on their faces.
It wasn’t too long before I was the only Jake left. I stared at all the empty windows facing me, where all those mes had been looking right back just moments ago.
And yet again I found myself at an impasse.
What choice did I have?
With shaking legs and trembling arms, I sucked in a breath, stepped up onto the window ledge, closed my eyes, and dropped off the edge.
I was falling again, only it felt different this time. Like there was hope, somehow? I don’t know. But it sure was fucking colorful. Any color you like. It was like passing in and out of and surfing along a rainbow. My eyes were dazzled, my retinas singed with a spectrum of after images. I tried blinking. Once. Then lots of times. But it didn’t really help. Then I started to see these black blobs, strange dark shapes in the colors. Some came closer and I realized it was all the falling mes. We were all plunging together to . . . Fuck knows where, perhaps all our inevitable deaths. And then one by one they started winking out of existence. Each of them reached their point of destination and ceased to be. At least ceased to be here where I could see them.
And then it was my turn.
I was there a moment and gone the next, taken to what I could only guess was my inner mind. I was within the chamber of my very own thoughts. There were scenes going on all around me. Memories from my past which I recognized instantly because of what they were. I saw shades and forms of my former self, going this way and that. Like that time when I was with Monica in Columbia and I could see past instances of myself existing there, only there were so many more here. All passing through each other like they were all on completely different planes of existence.
I started to feel like that Pink Floyd song; the one that begins with: “The lunatic is on the grass . . .”
I felt I was that lunatic now. Seeing all this laid out before me. It was beyond overwhelming. I felt myself steadily going mad literally within my own mind.
I closed my eyes; shut them tight, then dug my palms into my sockets, trying to block all this out. To stop any light and therefore thought from entering.
I think I screamed. I know I yelled.
[Maybe practice a few screams and yells, if possible]
[Next four sentences said quieter and quieter with each one]
It was just too much . . .
Too fucking much . . .
Too fucking . . .
Too . . .
It was gone.
All that I’d touched. All that I’d tasted. Everything I’d seen. All that I loved and hated. All that I tried to save. All that I destroyed. All I distrusted. All that I said.
It was all gone now.
And it was just me. Utterly, irrevocably, so completely alone. It was like I was existing in a vacuum. There was no sense of anything around me. I felt I must be back in the blackness of space with absolutely nothing around me. How was I still alive?
It begged the question: was I still alive? Was this the end? Was I in a purgatory I didn’t believe in? Was this a hell I was doomed to that I always declaimed wasn’t real.
Was this the be all and end all?
I wanted it all to be over.
I wanted it to be done.
Once and for all.
No take backsies.
I could feel myself standing. [Try a Rod Sterling voice with this next sentence, and then just do one in your voice:] And now I would have to open my eyes, confirm where I was, and see where I was to be taken next on this mental roller coaster of the horror of horrors for one Jake Fisher.
I let out a long breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding. It tasted stale and bitter; too warm and stuffy. A breath from another world, and likely another time; an impossibility. I drew in a fresh breath. It was crisp and cool. Refreshing and awakening.
I opened my eyes and took in my surroundings: I was in a wooden house. Before me was a wooden wall with a hanging piece of burnished metal. It was meant to be a mirror, a good one, as I could clearly see my reflection in it.
I couldn’t help flinching. What with my recent . . . Experiences. Plus I looked like absolute shit.
Then I saw the man standing behind me, looking right at me.
He was pointing something at me.
“Who the fuck are you then?” he said in a distinctly British accent.
I took in a deep breath, then turned around to face him and my fate.