Journal Entry, May 29
Death is nothing. Pain is the body’s way of steering away from danger. Love is a synthetic perception designed to coax dependence on others. All of our senses, our emotions, are lies. I have experienced all of them without finality. The memories carry themselves over the threshold with me, still I have not learned enough to know the solution. I wish to die one last time, and be done with it.
How many universes exist is unclear, nor do I remember exactly how many I have been through. It has been ongoing for so long I lost count. Sometimes the resemblance from one to another is so close it’s hard to know if it is different. There are, inevitably, two assurances that they are not the same. First, I recall what killed me in the previous universe, propelling me into the next. Second, eventually I find at least one discrepancy before the endless transition continues. At least that is how it used to be. And sometimes the differences are tremendous. Usually, I don’t even find myself in the same place.
It’s not clear whether or not my demise is essential, or if the objective is to try and accomplish something in each one before it happens. I have upon several occasions taken my own life, just to see if I could notice any result. Nothing seems to matter. In an effort to elucidate the meaning of my affliction, I have begun to write down my experiences. My guess is that this is relevant, as most times when I move on to the next universe, the worn pages of the spiral bound notebook come with me. I may have to spend some time locating it, as it is not always within my grasp. Time, however, does not appear to be part of the problem.
There is one common connection, and it happens in the passing from one existence to the next. In that brief moment, so quick it is almost immeasurable, an image appears. Like a camera flash, its brightness sears into my mind, creating a ghost image that must be processed before it can be understood. I see a woman, blond haired and lithe, with eyes that penetrate my soul. Their true color eludes me, and must be somewhere between blue and green. The pattern of the iris is what mesmerizes, to the point I know them as familiar as part of my own self.
I thought I found her once, down in St. Petersburg. But the woman I approached there was repulsed, and blinded me with pepper spray. When I crossed into the next world I sought her out again, unsuccessful in my attempt. Yet stalking was not going to reveal any truth, and soon I abandoned this approach. After each death and emergence I look for her, to see if she is in the same place and time that I am. Because even though our first encounter was disastrous, my heart tells me she must hold the answer.
The possibility remains I might be wrong. I have no reason to trust my feelings. Emotions have a way of betraying me, and generally I have learned not to trust them. Then again, is that unique to me, or does that happen to everyone? Maybe that is a truth that merely applies to my situation. Nothing so far has made any progress towards ending the journey. And so I write, collecting my thoughts in attempt to find a pattern, some clue as to why this is happening. I concede the possibility that I am not alone in this affliction, and perhaps another will stumble across this notebook, finding the way to free their soul from perpetuity. Only, I need to find the solution first for myself.
I’ve always wondered if there was some significance to being named John Portal, or if it was just some sad coincidence.
The day was like no other. Then again, no day was ever like the last one. John sighed. My God, he was tired. Not tired in the body, his fatigue was an intangible drain on his soul. What is a life without familiarity? What some may define as monotony John would embrace as stability. Did others find comfort in seeing the linearity of their life? He had no boundaries, nothing from defining the edge of the day to the edge of his life. And if dying simply meant another day, in another world, could one put a purpose to existence? It seemed as if existence was just a jumble of realities, falling into each other without direction. Life was chaos.
John gazed up at the dull purple sky. He did not know what tweaking of the atmosphere made it that color, and it really didn’t matter. If he was physiologically different, his body attuned to breathing a different air, it was natural. That was the strange part. Same or different, whatever the conditions were on any world did not feel out of place. Only his mind struggled with acceptance. Sometimes that wasn’t easy. Without a clear path out of his predicament, however, acceptance was a necessity. The only other option was to end the time on any world prematurely, on his own terms. Even that wasn’t a guarantee that the next world would be any more tolerable.
By itself, a purple sky isn’t worth much consideration. But when too many things were different it was usually hard to figure out the normal for that reality. John used the time in his life before all of this started as his baseline. Much of the fine details he could not remember, and part of his decision to start writing about his experience was to try and capture that baseline as best as possible. The only problem was, that was so long and so far ago, if that made any sense. It only made sense to him, he surmised.
Through it all, it was only him. That was the hardest part. In any given world, he had anywhere from no friends to several, business acquaintances, and family. What he didn’t have was that one person, that soul mate that was there for you. John saw it in others, from young couples giddy with emotion to elderly couples still holding hands, strengthened in that grip of the most powerful comfort available to humans. He never had that in any of the worlds, and deep down he despaired that he never would. And if he did, would that person be trapped as well?
There were times when John thought that the whole purpose of his life was to figure out how to end it. Whether that meant ending his situation or ending his life entirely he could not say. In those times of greatest hopelessness he saw them as one and the same. In his lowest moments, he didn’t care. Of all the billions of people in the world, he multiplied that number by all the worlds he had existed in. Still, his loneliness was suffocating.
Journal Entry, June 20
I remember the first time I switched between worlds. It was summer, and I was ten years old. My friend Mike and I were playing in the woods behind the school. There was a series of trenches that ran through, channeling the water that emptied from the storm drains throughout the neighborhood. I never knew if they were intentionally dug or simply a result of the power of the water, but they were rugged and typically clogged with debris. Most times they were dry, until a passing storm filled them up. The water was fast, deep, and usually brown. As kids, we didn’t care. And we never assumed there was anything dangerous about playing in them.
Mike and I were enjoying the results of a midday shower, tossing rocks and branches in the churning water. As I stepped close to the edge the ground crumbled, and I fell in. Something caught my leg and dragged me under, entangling me in a cluster of garbage and roots. It was dark and terrifying, and the only comfort was that it had happened so quick that I did not get a chance to take a breath before I fell. I did not suffer long.
The next thing I remember I was waking up in bed. At first, I thought perhaps it was a bad dream. But I noticed small peculiarities, differences in things I knew shouldn’t be. I tried to rationalize them, until I went to my friend’s house later. Michael was now Michelle. I was in shock, unsure what to do or if I could tell anyone. I decided to keep quiet, worried about what might happen if I did confide in anyone.
My friendship with Michelle continued, and in time I didn’t exactly forget about the past, though I did let it remain an anomaly of my memory. That is, until I was fourteen and it happened again. Michelle had developed feelings that were more than just friendship towards me. While I didn’t exactly share them, the timing coincided with emerging hormones.
What started with kissing and touching escalated to an afternoon in the woods once again, this time in a small, rundown fort someone had built years ago. It was my first sexual experience, awkward yet incredible. What neither of us knew was that her father, a controlling man who was quick to anger, was also in the woods hunting small game. Hearing us, he burst in, catching us still undressed. In a fit of rage he shot me, and I died so quick I don’t know what he did to his daughter.
Once again I came back, and again there were differences. My friend returned to being Michael, everything else minor in comparison. The experience shook me, as I realized that, now only did it really happen, it would likely happen again. There was some consolation knowing that if I died, I would come back. Still, grasping something of such magnitude is hard for a young boy, and it was all I could do to keep myself normal. As for my friend’s father, I killed him several worlds later, just for spite.
The third time I died was when I was eighteen and driving drunk. It occurred to me that each time was four years apart, and I wondered if that would be an ongoing cycle. This was also the first time I took others with me, as two of my friends were in the car as well. I felt remorse, even though they were in the next world and seemingly still the same. I just didn’t know how this all worked. Were we all coming into new realities, or were these unique worlds, in separate and unconnected universes? I knew that I had to be more careful. Each world was a mirror image of a world in another mirror, stretching on forever but each one not the same, as if the glass was frosted in a way that distorted the reflection.
Doctor Collins sat behind his polished oak desk, hands folded neatly together. He looked the same as usual, his neatly trimmed brown hair sporting a touch of silver at the temples. The man was always John’s psychiatrist from one world to the next, not only for continuity but also just for a matter of simplicity. He pushed the wire rimmed glasses higher up the bridge of his nose. “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, John. Tell me what’s on your mind.”
John drew a deep breath and exhaled, running his fingers through his jet black hair. He had told Doctor Collins what was on his mind many times before. Sometimes the psychiatrist’s insight was useful, and sometimes it was not. There was always some hesitation about what to say. He decided to go for broke. John explained it all, the moving from one reality to the next his whole life, feeling like each time he wasn’t supposed to be there, but perhaps he could find a clue to get him to the right one. How his death was the mechanism that moved him each time. What he didn’t include was how tired it made him, how he just wanted it to all be over. When he finished the two men sat facing each other, the silence between them palpable. John broke the stare first, gazing about at the shelf packed with medical books and the collection of pictures and diplomas on the walls.
“Hmm,” the doctor said, taking his hands off the desk and placing them in his lap. “Normally I would assume this to be analogy. To which I would say, it is obvious you are looking for someone or something, that you are lost. I think, perhaps, a more appropriate perspective is that you are looking for yourself.”
Useless babble, John told himself. This was a problem with his situation. Talking to a physicist would seem like a better option, and he had indeed tried a few times. Everything with them was theoretical, however, and they had no real physical solution to what they took as conjecture. Psychiatry was the best alternative. However, it wasn’t going to be helpful this time. He began to get out of the black leather chair, but the doctor motioned for him to sit.
“The problem here is, you seem to believe this is actually happening to you.” The doctor discreetly pushed a button under his desk. “And that indicates some neurological problem. I think you may need to be evaluated, as it is my opinion this may become an issue of safety for yourself or others.”
The door behind John opened, and two men entered. He glanced back at them, noting the guns in their hands, at the moment pointed down. Nothing surprised him anymore. The two men moved closer as he sat back in the chair. Doctor Collins raised his hands in a helpless gesture. “I am sorry, there’s nothing I can do. You know how it is with the new healthcare laws.”
John didn’t have time for this. He could be detained in a mental facility, or worse, for all he knew. In a well familiar motion he pulled the gun out of his waistband and shot the doctor in the head. The two men riddled his body with bullets, and he fell dead to the floor.
Journal Entry, July 12
I have been keeping track of my deaths, more specifically, the time between them. Ever since I first wondered about the rate, I wanted to know if I could predict when the next time was going to come. What I discovered was that the rate was steadily increasing. The only deviation was during a period where I was testing to see if how I died made a difference. Over the course of several days I purposefully ended my life in every way imaginable. The only thing I learned was that it didn’t matter, and I could learn to tolerate just about any physical pain. I reasoned that, since these were intentional, I could discount them. Sure enough an asymptotic pattern emerged. At the moment, I am currently meeting my demise every four or five days.
There are so many questions. Will I eventually reach a state of permanent dying? Will it converge into a final death? Or will I reach a new steady state, like once daily? It was certainly getting harder to learn about each new reality, though in honesty I wasn’t always trying.
I just came back after dying in a hospital. Apparently I left one reality to emerge into the next where I was experiencing the final moments of terminal cancer. The continuity between realities is less certain now. Even I am beginning to change slightly.
Time for the assessment. I’m in a hotel room, looks like a Marriott in Newark, New Jersey. The wallet in my back pocket contains usual credit cards and identification. In this reality I am a resident of St. Petersburg, though I can’t say why I’m in New Jersey. Most times I find myself in one or the other, my residency swapping between the two. The few times I awake elsewhere doesn’t seem to provide any clues. There’s a phone on the end table, which I discovered just as it rang. It identified the caller as Bill, which meant nothing to me. He told me that I needed to stay up here for another meeting on Monday, so just change my reservations though the weekend and we would do the paperwork when I get back.
It was Friday afternoon. I might be dead by Monday. Bill probably wouldn’t have understood if I told him that. I gave him standard responses. Luckily he didn’t ask for any kind of status, since I had no idea what he was talking about. There was one clue. In my wallet was a card identifying me as a contractor working for Boeing. Maybe I could get more information about what I did there.
The phone itself didn’t have much. There were some emails, but they didn’t mention anything about what I did, and there were none that seemed personal in nature. The call history was empty, and I had no contacts listed. Other than a few games that was it. Geez, am I boring? It sucks that I come into a world and don’t even know anything about myself. All I know is what I have experienced jumping from one to the next. I guess if I knew who I was that would mean I belonged.
John spent the next two days searching for information about himself. All he got for his efforts was frustration. Apparently he did not engage in social media of any kind. The only thing he did find was the house he lived at, the one listed on his driver’s license. He couldn’t even get a decent photo of it, instead peering at the roof and yard form a satellite map image. It was a modest home in the middle of St. Petersburg, close to the water. The only thing he could surmise was that if he worked for Boeing, it had to do with the airport. Why he was in New Jersey, he did not know. Still, the connection between the two places persisted fairly regularly.
He needed a break. It was Sunday, early afternoon. Grabbing his wallet and room key, he left the hotel. Newark was a busy city a short distance from New York City, which was on the other side of the river. He walked a few blocks before finding a liquor store. A bottle of Jack Daniels and a bag of cashews sounded good. Every once in a while, John had to get liquored up. It was the only way to escape the endless mirror of realities, even if only for a little while.
Nobody seemed to notice John’s drinking from the brown paper bag as he walked down the sidewalk, though he still kept it low key. In short time his large gulps had his head swimming, and he staggered into an alley. He slumped to the ground next to a pile of garbage bags and cans. As he stared at the grimy brick wall in front of him the garbage rustled, and a bedraggled man popped out. He eyed John warily, noting from his clothes that this interloper wasn’t from the alley. “What’s up, buddy,” he asked with a gravelly voice?
John rolled his head sideways to see his neighbor. “I’m wasted, and I can’t find my way home.” He laughed at his own joke. Taking the bottle out of the bag, he helped himself to another swig.
The man cackled. “Well I’m sober and homeless.” His gaze fixated on the bottle in John’s hand. “Maybe you can help me with part of that.”
For a moment John was confused, the alcohol damping his ability to think. Then he remembered the bottle. He held it out to the man, who grabbed it with both hands. Just as he was about to put it to his lips the man hesitated, wondering if his benefactor cared. John waved him off. “I’m sure I won’t catch anything permanent. The man smiled before tilting the bottle back, drinking like a thirsty traveler in a desert. When there was only a few inches left he brought it back down.
John didn’t bother to try and get the bottle back. In fact, he thought he might throw up in a little bit. He would be sober by evening and able to get a decent night’s sleep before tomorrow. If only he knew what he would be doing then. “You ever feel like you don’t belong?”
“Heck, no,” the man belched. “I’m part of this alley. The mission’s around the corner, the bags keep me warm in winter.” He patted the bottle gently. “And of course, the occasional gift. Where else would I be?”
“I don’t know where I belong.” John slurred, ignoring the man’s attempt to claim the bottle. He didn’t need it anymore. He wanted to ponder his destiny. “I try to figure it out, but I don’t even know what I’m trying to figure out. It just doesn’t end. When will it end?”
There was a sudden sharp pain in his stomach. John looked down to see the growing stain. He looked back at the homeless man, who was now holding a bloodied knife. The man stabbed him twice more and moved back to let him bleed. “Sorry buddy. I need your cash.”
Blood streamed from the wounds. John just sat there, letting himself bleed out. He chuckled at the realization that the homeless man was going to discover he had no cash. As his strength was fading the man moved in and began to go through his pockets. Just before the light faded, John grabbed the man’s filthy brown shirt. “I’m going to make you pay in the next world.”
“Welcome back, John. Please, come in.” Doctor Collins motioned for him to enter. The office had a soothing appeal to it, with warm colors and plush furniture, nothing at all like an office. “I didn’t expect to see you so soon. More traveling? I have to say, you are certainly my most unique patient.”
“How so,” John asked? He wasn’t new to the doctor in this world. As usual, John didn’t know what he may or may not have said before. At least he didn’t spot any goons in the hall.
“Well, you are the only one who lives in Florida. Though I guess you still hold on to your roots here up north.” The doctor sat in one of the two identical brown leather chairs facing each other, grabbing a file folder from the small table next to it. He offered the other chair to John. “And after three visits I still don’t think I really know why your here.”
At least it sounded like John hadn’t said too much yet. He sat in the other chair. It was so soft it was almost like sitting on nothing. The feel alone made him relax a little. “That makes two of us, doc.”
Doctor Collins leafed through John’s file, though there wasn’t much in there. He saw nothing more than the typical malaise most of his patients get, a product of their successful but high stress jobs. Most likely, some antidepressants would clear up any problems. “Well then, tell me what’s on your mind.”
John sighed. “It’s hard to explain. It’s just that I feel like I don’t belong, like I’m not even here. I don’t know. That probably doesn’t make any sense, does it?”
“It doesn’t have to make sense to me, John, only you.” The doctor pushed his wire rimmed glasses up. “Trying to explain it to me might help you understand it better. So tell me what you mean by you’re not here.”
“It’s like the whole world, everything, is moving along without me. I’m just observing, like there’s a bubble around my body and I’m not a part of it.” John thought about it, the doctor allowing the silence. He continued. “Maybe I am a part of it, but I’m not supposed to be. I feel like there’s the universe, and then there’s me, like I’m on the outside looking in.”
“Most people grapple with trying to figure out the meaning of life,” the doctor said, as he took down some notes in the file. “Sounds as if you are trying to figure out life itself. Let me ask you something. This feeling of not belonging, is it all the time? Is there any moment, even just a single example, when you felt as if maybe you did belong?”
The question didn’t need much thought. There was one single moment when everything converged into a cosmic unity for him. It was the time he found the woman whose image showed up in the flash between worlds. That is, up until the moment she sprayed him in the face. He smiled. “Yes,” he answered, “when I’m home.” Whether or not it really was his home he couldn’t say, yet saying it made it seem real.
“John, I think this is pretty simple. You are overworked.” Doctor Collins motioned to the room. “You’ve been here four times now in less than two months. That’s a lot of travel. How much time are you spending away from home in all? Work isn’t supposed to be that important. It’s a tool in life to provide for our needs. You’ve never mentioned family, and I don’t ask. I prefer to let my patients tell me what they are comfortable with. I’m thinking maybe you do have a family, and all this time away is making you feel disconnected from them, and they are your world. Meaningful relationships are what makes us whole, not some rung on the corporate ladder or all the fancy things a big paycheck lets us buy. My suggestion to you is, see if you can change your work schedule so that you can spend more time with the people that matter to you.”
The words rang so true for John, even if the solution was not that simple. Still, he knew that, somehow, he belonged back in Florida, not up here in New Jersey. Maybe the woman he met wasn’t the right one, after all. He had to find out, so he had to keep trying. If it wasn’t her, it must be someone else, someone down there. John stood up. “Excuse me doc, I have to go.”
Doctor Collins was momentarily shocked. “Wait, John. I didn’t mean it was that simple. You still have plenty of time. We just started the session. Where are you going?”
John opened the door. Before leaving he turned around to face the doctor. “Back to Florida, hopefully. Right now, I have to go kill myself.”
The sign above the glass door entrance read Tyrone Square. The mall was a large, colorful building surrounded by palm trees and squat security barriers used to keep vehicles at a distance. John walked past the flagpoles and into the food court. The area was large and round, well lit with high windows. Food vendors encircled the outer perimeter, the center filled with small round tables. It reminded him almost of an old statehouse. The place was bustling with activity, the hot weather drawing people inside to cool off. John stood just past the entrance, looking around. Then he saw her.
She was sitting off to the side alone, book in her hands, wearing a loose multicolored shirt and jeans. Her long blond hair cascaded over both shoulders, framing her face. John didn’t know he was going to find her here, but as the first encounter happened in the mall he figured it was worth a shot. Now that he found her, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. Her image captured his attention. Cautiously, he picked his way to an empty table a short distance from her and sat down. Nowadays, not too many people are seen holding an actual book, even with older generations. It gave her an oddly unique quality that, for some reason, entranced him more.
Without any food, John realized he might seem odd just sitting there. So he took out his phone and pretended to do something with it, stealing sideways glances at the woman. He wanted to go up to her, the memory of their only other encounter making him hesitate. After she sprayed him the cops came, and he had to fight them to keep out of jail. Getting shot by the police was, in his case, a better alternative.
John sat there for about five minutes, lost in a combination of her image and his thoughts. She had to be the flash he saw between death and life. The comparison was too perfect. Suddenly she put the book down, as if something caught her attention. Before he could react she looked right at him, her expression changing from initial irritation to something else, almost curiosity. She got up and started walking over. John’s heart raced.
“Excuse me, but, do I know you,” she asked? Her voice was soft and low. She held her book up against her chest with both arms crossed, as if it provided some comfort for her during the exchange.
“I don’t know,” John stammered. “I mean, I was thinking the same thing. You seem familiar, but I’m not sure from where. My name is John, John Portal.” He held out his hand for her to shake, immediately regretting it.
“Kim,” she answered, taking his hand briefly. “Well, your name isn’t familiar, but I’m pretty good with faces. I’m sure we’ve met before. Where did you go to school?”
John noticed she did not give her last name. Though she probably did that out of caution, it would have helped him immensely. “New Brunswick. It’s in New Jersey.”
She shook her head. “No, I meant college.”
That was a difficult question, as John had found himself in a few colleges in different realities. It was best to play it neutral. “I, uh, didn’t go to college.”
“Oh.” Kim pursed her lips. “Well, I guess that means you don’t work with my husband, either.”
“Husband?” The word came out sounding disappointed. John didn’t mean for that to happen. It was just a natural reaction.
“Yeah, he works for NASA over at the Kennedy Space Center.” Kim saw the change in John’s expression. “Oh. Oh, God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make it seem like I was hitting on you.” She gripped her book harder. “I’m not very good at conversation. I just really thought I knew you.”
“No, that’s okay. And you do seem familiar to me, too. I think we started off wrong. Please, have a seat?” John pointed to the empty chair in front of her. “I still want to know how it is we know each other, or at least think we do.”
Kim hesitated, then sat down. “I’m sorry,” she said again, but John waved it off. She thought a moment. “Do you travel? Because sometimes we take trips to Vegas. Maybe we know you from there?”
The mention of Vegas brought back a memory. John woke up there once, though he could not make any sense as to why he was there. Perhaps it was because of her. In any case, it was an iteration wasted on drugs and prostitutes. He was eventually killed in a mugging. “Only once, a long time ago and just for a brief stay.”
“Wait a minute, you said New Jersey. I dated a guy from New Jersey, back in high school. He moved down here, was something of an introvert. So was I. Geez, I don’t even remember his name anymore. Typical blonde, huh?” Kim shook her head, frowning slightly. “Still, that wasn’t you. Hmm.”
John wanted to keep her there forever, married or not. It was like Doctor Collins said. Right now, at that moment, he felt like he was part of something, that he belonged there. He brought up small talk, looking for connections that might link them together. Kim answered, though her responses were still cautious and not very revealing. Eventually he ran out of ideas. He tried to keep the conversation going. “So, what does your husband do?”
“He’s a theoretical physicist. Works on mathematical models and stuff like that. It’s all over my head, especially when he starts talking about multiverse theory and all.” She laughed, a sound that affected John in a way he couldn’t describe. “It’s funny, I never thought I’d marry a geek. But I find it really sexy. It’s just that…” she paused, not sure if she should be saying to much to someone she wasn’t sure she knew. For some reason though, she was at ease with John. “…well, Kennedy Space Center is a long drive from here, and he’s gone from first thing in the morning to late at night. It gets lonely sometimes.”
“That I don’t understand. I wouldn’t leave you alone if you were my wife.” It was a bold statement, one that was true in his heart. She looked back in silence, nothing spoken for what seemed like an incredibly long time.
Finally, she squirmed in her seat. “You’re, uh, staring kind of hard at me. And not here,” she pointed down at her chest, still blocked by the book. “You know, like most guys do.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. It’s just, your eyes. They’re amazing.” Now that he saw them up close he knew. Without a doubt, he knew it was her. In this world though, she was married to someone. She could be anyone to John, his sister, even. At least he figured out this much. Finding out what she meant to him, and he to her, was the next step. “But you’re right. I shouldn’t stare.”
Compliments were not a rarity for Kim. For some reason, she was taken by John’s. She let her gaze linger a moment longer, then got up, fumbling with her book. “That’s okay. Besides, I should be getting back to work.” She pointed towards the interior of the mall, though she wouldn’t mention which store she worked in. “Maybe we can talk again sometime? I mean, we’re not doing anything wrong, right? Just talking.”
“Yeah, just talking,” John agreed. “Maybe I could even meet your husband. His work sounds interesting.” He stood up, holding his hand out again. This time the handshake was not so awkward. He wondered if the tingle he experienced in the touch was shared.
“Just talking,” Kim said again. She let go and turned to leave. One last time she faced him. “Another time and place, perhaps…” She didn’t finish the thought, and walked away.
John watched her go, a feeling of peace in his soul. Still, unease crept in around the corners. This was the first day in this world. The last world lasted three days. They were changing ever more quickly. He had to find the solution. Starting over would be too much for him to take. When she was out of sight he left the mall, heading south.
The Gulf of Mexico was a twenty minute walk from where he was, across a causeway that connected the barrier islands to the mainland. John didn’t mind the walk. He had a lot to process. When he reached the ocean he stopped and stared at the horizon. It was hot, so he took off his shirt and shoes, dropped his wallet and phone on the pile, and waded in. He wasn’t concern about theft.
John swam out a hundred yards, floating on his back. Voices in the distance caught his attention. When he looked back at the shore, he saw a large group of people shouting and waving in his direction. He circled around to see who they might be addressing. That’s when he noticed that he was the only person out in the water. Instead, he was encircled by fins. Apparently, in this world there were a lot of sharks.
Journal Entry, July 18
I can’t believe it! I am so angry at myself. So close, so damn close. My own damn stupidity put me here, and I don’t even know where ‘here’ is. I know her now, her name is Kim. That was in the last world. Will it be different in this one? I only had one day, and I don’t know if I caused that or if the rate has shortened that much. I should have had three days at best.
I’m scared that soon I will be perpetually dying, and unable to make it stop. Maybe that is my destiny. Maybe I should just give up and let it happen. I’m in the desert, maybe near Vegas, so I know there isn’t enough time to get back to Florida. The sadness is overwhelming. If there is a God in all of this, surely he hates me.
I have to get out of here, back to Florida. It has to be quick. What if the longer it takes to get there, the number of worlds I have to get through, the more different it will be?
John wandered down the dusty road on the outskirts of Las Vegas. He walked into a rowdy biker bar, jumped up on the pool table, and urinated on it. He walked to the George Washington Bridge and jumped off. Briefly, he wondered if the pistol he woke up with in his hand, as sometimes happened, was some kind of test, before putting it in his mouth. He stepped in front of a bus, a subway train, and ran into a burning building.
Each time John came back, just not in St. Petersburg. He was despondent, desperate to make it end one way or another. Only he could not. He did not care about himself anymore, resigned to the belief he would never escape this hell, never be happy. If only he could make it stop, his anguish would be over. Maybe this affected everyone else as well. He thought maybe finally ending his own existence might benefit all the worlds he had ever been in, or ever will be. He grabbed the transformer at the power station.
John was standing outside the mall. A crowd had gathered, the police trying their best to make them move back. He was standing on the curb under a tree, across the street from the entrance to the food court. Police cruisers were everywhere, their lights flashing. John turned to the man standing next to him, an older, beach bum looking individual “What’s going on?”
“Some crazy guy ran in and started shooting up the place! Can you believe it? It’s crazy, man. They say he’s got a hostage. I’m thinking he does. The cops would have gone in already, right? It’s been, like, two hours man.” The man waved his arms excitedly, his jumping eyes suggesting that he might be on something.
He was back, but everything was more complicated than normal. And he had been killing himself in short order. Did he have time to wait this out? Someone was yelling in the crowd. At first he didn’t pay attention. Then he heard the man yell louder. “My wife is in there!” John watched as the police tried to calm the man down. He was waving his phone, explaining how she called him when it all started and now she’s not answering. She had to be the one in there with the gunman.
John went cold. The man was him! That was him arguing with the police about his wife in the mall. It all made sense. This was the world, the reality where everyone belonged but him. It was finally time to correct the anomaly, to shatter the mirror that looked into all the other worlds. John dropped his journal and ran. The crowd erupted in noise, and a cop tried to run him down, but was not in the best shape.
Without stopping, John burst through the glass door. Cops ran up and lined the walls on either side. The moment seemed to stretch forever. There were shouts from inside, and Kim ran out. The sound of two shots fired prompted the cops to charge in tight formation. Two officers rushed to her, shielding her body from the direction of the mall. Inside, more yelling was followed by a volley of gunshots.
Outside, Kim fought against the two officers to go back. She was crying hysterically. “Let me go. That’s my husband!” Her words became unintelligible, mixed with her sobs.
The man from the crowd rushed forward. “Kim!” He pushed away the cops and held her in his arms. “My God, honey, are you okay?”
“What? How did you get out?” Her eyes were red, showing a mixture of terror and confusion.
“I didn’t go in. That was someone else, some crazy guy.”
“No,” she shook her head. “It was you. You ran right up and grabbed the gun. You, you looked right at me and told me to run. You struggled with him.” She had a crazed look about her, understandable after the ordeal she had just endured.
“You’re mistaken, honey. It’s shock. That wasn’t me. I’m right here.”
An officer tried to usher Kim towards an ambulance, and she broke down completely. “No! No! I just want to go home. Can’t we go home? I just want to go home with you.” She fell into her husband’s arms, burying her face into his chest. He looked at the officer, his expression clearly indicating he was going to be taking his wife home.
Another officer put his hand on his partner’s shoulder. They whispered briefly. Kim was an employee in the mall, they had her information. “We’ll need to speak to her.”
“This isn’t the time. I’m taking her home.” Kim released her grip a little, and together they walked away.
The police finished clearing the scene as the coroner drove off with the gunman’s body. The mall would stay closed for the remainder of the day, and there was still the issue of decontaminating the area where blood stained the floor. A tired looking cop approached his cruiser. His partner leaned against the hood, leafing through a black and white journal as the lights flashed. He tucked the journal under his arm and stood up. “Anything?”
“Nope.” The first cop shrugged. “Security cameras in the court should have caught him, but there’s nothing. No entrance, no exit. We don’t have a body, no blood trail, no blood at all except for the shooter. I don’t know where this guy is, much less why he’d run in for someone else’s wife.”
The other cop returned the shrug. “Who knows? Maybe he was having an affair with her. Maybe he just wanted to be a hero, get his fifteen minutes of fame.”
“Still, doesn’t explain why we ain’t got any video of him. Christ, I chased him myself. Now it’s like he wasn’t ever even here.” He eyed the journal under his partner’s arm. Could it have some answers? “That his?”
“I believe so. It was on the ground where he was standing, and a witness claims they saw him throw it down. Doesn’t matter.” He tossed the journal onto the car hood. “Just empty pages.”
The first cop sighed. “Gonna be a hell of a report. The captain won’t be satisfied. Oh well, at least we know without a body the guy ain’t dead.”
The world is not as it always seems. At least that is the case for John Portal. Ever since a child, John has been trapped in a cycle of moving from one reality to the next. Sometimes the worlds are very similar, other times they are not. What is missing is the answer to make it all stop. As the moves happen whenever he dies, it does not seem there is an ultimate way out. Determined to find the solution, John captures his experiences in a journal, and searches for the image of a woman he sees in the moment he moves from world to world.