my biggest fear?
realizing what they say is true
you only have kids to support you
what do I say
to something that maudlin
my biggest fear is
reproducing out of selfishness
Anomaly: the second chapter
When Roman Zorić saw Rosemary Jones, the fear already etched on his face deepened. His eyes widened and he literally jumped backwards, clattering against the office door.
‘What the-’ he shouted.
Deke Jones, Rosemary’s until-recently-widower, shot forward to calm his assistant.
‘It’s alright, Roman,’ he soothed. ‘I’ve seen it too. It’s okay.’
‘It’s not okay,’ Roman argued. ‘Man, it is so far from okay.’
Deke chuckled despite himself.
‘You’re right. It’s not okay. Something strange is happening-’
‘Something very strange is happening,’ Deke agreed, ‘but now at least I know it’s not just happening to me. Look at me. I need you to calm down so we can figure this out.’
Roman looked into Deke’s eyes, breathed deeply for a few seconds then nodded. His eyes were still wild with confusion.
Rosemary spoke softly. ‘Roman. Can I ask why you jumped at the sight of me?’
Roman glanced to Rosemary, then back to Deke. Deke gave a nod of encouragement.
‘Y-you,’ the younger man stammered, ‘you were dead.’
Rosemary shuddered. Esme Sinfield, Deke’s colleague at the university, supported her and led her to a chair.
‘It’s times like this I wish I had a whisky bottle stashed away,’ she whispered. To the room, she said, ‘I think we all need to sit down and discuss what’s going on.’
Deke pulled up a chair for himself and Roman while Esme placed herself next to Rosemary. They sat in the centre of the office, the men on one side, the women on the other. Deke was acutely aware the arrangement appeared as though different sides were being drawn.
‘Roman, why did you think Rosemary was dead?’ Esme asked.
‘Because the police told us,’ Roman answered, his face dumbfounded.
‘Last week. You were here, don’t you remember? They came in here and told Deke that she had die-’ He cast his eyes at Rosemary.
‘It’s okay,’ she said.
‘That she had died in a car crash,’ Roman finished.
Deke felt the weirdest mixture of joy and sorrow. He was glad somebody else remembered the same past week that he did, yet horrified that that confirmed the death of his wife.
‘But that didn’t happen,’ Esme stated.
‘From your point of view,’ Deke said. The three of them looked at him. ‘Let me ask this, to both of you. Think back to last week. What happened the day after Monday?’
‘That was the day the police showed up,’ Roman said.
‘You didn’t turn up for work,’ Esme said. ‘Didn’t even call in to say why. I assumed it was because of the rain.’
‘It didn’t rain on Tuesday,’ Roman said. Esme looked at him as if he had just announced that orange was blue.
‘Who was sitting at the front desk last week?’ Deke said.
‘Gareth,’ said Esme at the same time that Roman answered, ‘Marika.’
‘Who the hell is Marika?’ Esme asked.
‘Marika Nowicki,’ Roman replied. ‘She’s been on reception for as long as I’ve been here.’
‘Is this some kind of elaborate joke?’ Rosemary asked. ‘Have you two planned this?’
‘Look at his face,’ Deke said. ‘You can’t fake this kind of fear.’ To Roman, he said, ‘Tell them if you saw Marika today.’
Roman swallowed a few times before speaking. His voice cracked as he said, ‘She was behind the new guy. I could see right through her. It was like she was…’
‘A ghost,’ Deke said.
‘But how can she be a ghost is she never existed in the first place?’ Esme said.
‘Again, that’s from your point of view.’
‘Explain,’ Esme said.
‘From our point of view,’ Rosemary said, ‘the world is normal. Nobody died last week and Gareth has been working here for three years. But from their viewpoint, this Marika woman has been here instead of Gareth and I… I lost my life in a car accident.’
Deke smiled at his wife despite the strangeness of the day. She was one of the smartest people he had met and she knew the way his mind worked. Two of the many reasons he loved her.
‘Are you saying we’re experiencing some kind of… dimensional overlap?’ Roman asked.
‘Two separate realities intruding on to one another,’ Esme voiced.
‘It’s possible,’ Deke said. ‘I don’t know. That could explain Rosemary being alive and Marika not working here, but it wouldn’t explain why we saw Marika as a ghost.’
‘Three separate realities colliding?’ Esme suggested doubtfully.
‘I don’t know,’ Deke said again. ‘This is not my field of expertise. Is there anyone who knows about this stuff?’
The four of them were silent as they racked their brains.
Until Rosemary said, ‘What about William Bradshaw?’
They found Bradshaw in his office in the Theoretical Physics department, peering at a holoscreen. From their side of the screen, they saw a long list of backwards numbers. Bradshaw touched a finger to the display, highlighting a specific point in the string, then made a note on his second screen before switching off both holograms.
After greeting them individually, he asked how he could help. The fact that he didn’t even blink at Rosemary’s presence told Deke that he was in the same camp as Esme and his wife, the no-last-Tuesday train of thought.
‘William, this is going to sound crazy,’ Deke began. ‘Just bear with us.’
‘Fifty years ago, space tourism sounded crazy,’ Bradshaw said. ‘Look at us now.’
‘I don’t even know where to start.’
‘Just present the facts and we’ll determine how “crazy” this is.’
Deke smiled. ‘Ever the scientist.’
‘Deke thinks I died,’ Rosemary blurted.
Bradshaw raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
‘I saw Rosemary’s dead body,’ Deke said with a sigh. Telling the story over and over was having a toll on him. It brought back the shock and loss he’d felt when he first saw her lying on the morgue table.
‘I remember it too,’ Roman said. ‘I didn’t see her, but I was here when the police came. I saw Deke crumble and Esme crying at the news.’
Bradford turned his gaze to Esme. She shook her head.
‘I have no recollection of this,’ she told him. ‘In my world, it did not happen.’
‘In your world?’ Bradford repeated.
‘There’s also the issue of Gareth,’ she explained.
Seeing confusion in Bradshaw’s eyes, Deke said, ‘The young man at reception.’ Bradford nodded, back on track.
‘Did Gareth die too?’ he asked Deke.
‘No, Gareth didn’t even exist until this morning,’ Roman answered.
‘Ah,’ Bradshaw exclaimed. ‘Your world. I see now. So you and you-’ he pointed at Deke and Roman ‘-remember Rosemary dying but don’t know Gareth and you two-’ Esme and Rosemary ‘-do remember Gareth but have no memory of Rosemary’s passing? Obviously, as you’re here now,’ he added to Rosemary.
‘That’s the first part of it,’ Deke said.
‘There’s more?’ Bradshaw sounded intrigued.
‘Roman and I have never seen Gareth before today, but we remember the woman who was on the desk.’
‘Of course,’ Bradshaw said. ‘Someone has to cover reception.’
‘And we both saw her ghost today.’
Bradshaw’s forehead creased. After a pause, he said, ‘Gentleman, please get out your phones and put them on private.’
Deke did as he was requested, switching off the holographic image so only he could see the screen.
‘Open up a memo or a blank text. I’m going to ask you some questions and I want you both to type the answers without sharing the information.’ When the men were ready, Bradshaw began, speaking slowly to allow them time to answer.
‘What was the name of this woman? How old was she? What colour hair did she have? Eye colour? How tall was she? Her weight? Did she have a husband, boyfriend, significant other? When did you last see her, before today? What was she wearing? Do you know the name of her parents? Siblings? Does she have a pet? How long has she been at the university?’
When he was sure Bradshaw had finished, Deke said, ‘We can strike the first and the last questions because we’ve already discussed those so our answers will match.’
‘Okay,’ Bradshaw nodded. ‘Now please, share you answers.’
The similarities were remarkable. Hair colour: brown, brunette. Age: late twenties, twenty-nine. Eyes: brown. Height: five-six, five foot seven. Weight: nine stones, sixty kilograms. Boyfriend: Simon. Last seen: Monday, Friday. Bradshaw then said to skip the question about her clothes as they had seen her on different days. Parents: unknown. Siblings: twin, twin brother. Pet: cat.
‘What does this prove?’ Roman asked.
‘It doesn’t prove anything,’ Esme told him, ‘but it suggests you two remember the same person because you’re recalling the same details.’
‘So are we from a different dimension?’
‘Unlikely,’ Bradshaw said with authority. ‘As you know, string theory posits the existence of hyper-dimensions, but this is not the same as science fictional parallel dimensions. Hyper-dimensions deal with objects which exist beyond the four dimensions we readily observe. Parallel dimensions purport an entirely different plane of existence. It’s logical to assume that in a different plane of existence, everything would be different not just one receptionist and a dead or not-dead woman.’
‘But I can’t be going crazy,’ Deke said. ‘Not if Roman remembers the same things as me.’
‘No-one is suggesting that,’ Bradshaw admonished. ‘In fact, I’d actually be more inclined to search for any more… differences you and Roman find from-’ he lifted his fingers to air quote his next words ‘-this world. And again, test them to see if you both share the same memories of them.’
‘Okay. How do we do that?’
‘What do you remember of the current state of the world?’ Esme asked.
‘Trouble in the Middle-East. Politicians being shifty.’
‘Racial tension in America,’ Roman added.
‘We need more specifics,’ Bradshaw said. He switched on one of his holoscreens and tapped through to the local news. ‘I’ll pull up a news story at random and see if you spot any inconsistencies.’
The first report told of a newly discovered comet that was approaching Earth at an incredible speed. When they read that the news had only broken that morning, Bradshaw moved on to the next item. Another body had been found, bringing the total number of victims to thirteen. A 3D photofit of the suspect rotated beneath the text; unkempt brown hair, deep set eyes, weak nose over thin lips and a square jaw.
‘God, he is chilling,’ Esme commented. ‘This guy is a lunatic.’
‘What guy?’ Deke asked.
‘How have you not heard this story?’ Esme asked. ‘It’s like Jack the Ripper all over again.’
Deke saw the ignorance he felt mirrored in Roman’s eyes. ‘How long has this been happening?’
Bradshaw scrolled through the article.
‘First body was discovered… six weeks ago, but they suspect the third body found was killed two weeks prior to that.’
‘Eight weeks?’ Roman said. ‘I would have heard something. No, that never happened.’
Deke felt his head swimming. Here was another element of the world that he and Roman had no recollection of. Just like they did not remember Gareth and Rosemary did not remember Jayke, their neighbours’ son. Could it really be that somehow Roman and he had travelled from another dimensional plane?
‘Let me find another story,’ Bradshaw said. He leaned forward and scrolled to another news item. ‘Enid Blyton,’ he said with a grimace. ’Why is a twentieth century author causing su-
-ch a stir?’ asked a Japanese woman.
Roman screeched and shot back in his chair. Deke looked at Rosemary and Esme. They seemed unperturbed that, in the blink of an eye, Bradshaw had been replaced by a stranger.
My Biggest Fear
Is it lame that my biggest fear is death? People here are prolific and poetic talking of how they despise oblivion. They use metaphors to explore their fear of truly living or their fear of forgetting.
In Kindergarten, you point to picture cards to describe your fear of spiders, heights, the darkness.
And of course, I'm afraid of those, too.
But it all comes down to hyperventialitng in bed at two am, knowing that if I let mysef fall into my tiredness I will never wake up. And the world is still stretched before me. I'm not ready yet to say goodbye.