Shattered Reality

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Déjà vu. Everything is the same as it was before.

Jordan sees her by the register, standing in line with a gallon of milk and a plastic bag of carrots. She looks so much like the woman he’s been searching for, the woman he loved for many years, his wife and the mother of his child. He wants to run to her, to embrace her, to tell her they can be a family again. But before he can move he knows it isn’t her.

She looks the same. She has the same dark brown hair, the same olive skin, the same heart-shaped face. He knows that if he approaches her, she’ll grab her ear and smile in the same self-conscious way that won him over so early on in their relationship. It’s Karen, but it isn’t his Karen.

He was foolish to toy with something as brittle as space and time. He breached the barrier between the worlds, and the universe shattered, torn into a billion partial reflections of his own reality. He was flung clear of the blast, soared headlong into a cosmos that was not his own, and now he must find his way home.

For a moment, just like every other moment since the accident, he considers that this world is good enough. He reaches for her. Puts his arm down. Reaches for her again. Finally, he hangs his head. This is not his home, not his Karen. She’ll have chosen another Jordan, and they’ll have had another baby Angelina. Not his home. Not his wife. Jordan turns away.

He opens the palm of his hand, raises it toward the ceiling, and a gateway appears, a hole in space that only he can see. He marches forward, resigned, and is consumed by gray.

Maybe the next world will be his own.

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Innocent Blood

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The boy strolls through my alley alone, and I bare my gums behind the shadows.

I was like him once. Over a thousand years ago, I would lay beneath the stars and dream of far off places. I was a bundle of youthful optimism and endless possibilities.

That was before I changed.

I’d strayed from our clan’s caravan and was playing in the woods when I stumbled on an old woman, sitting atop a pile of gray stones. She was crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she only answered that people were selfish, that there was no such thing as love. In my childish idealism, I proclaimed that she was wrong. She sneered, insisted I was a foolish boy, said that I knew nothing of the world and its ways.

I stood firm in my convictions.

She asked about my family, asked if they would still love me if I were different. I nodded vigorously, echoed what I had been taught by my mother and father, that blood and clan were everything.

“All right,” she said, “let’s see.”

She stood, gnarled and ancient. She was hunched at the back, yet she managed to tower over me. She held out her hands, closed her eyes, and in a language I did not know, she began to speak.

A breeze stirred, a rustling of dirt and leaves that seemed to rise up from the earth. It cut through me, spoke to the different parts of myself, commanding them to change. Skin became fur. Teeth became fangs. I fell to all fours in disbelief.

“See if your family will take you back now,” she said, and she laughed, a wild cackle that made my chest grow cold.

I loped back to my village, stumbling as I learned to control foreign limbs. I found my family’s tent among the caravan and called out to them. When they came outside, I tried to tell them what had happened. But only animal sounds escaped my muzzled throat, and at the sight of me they roused the clan and fetched their weapons. I was forced to flee into the night with stones and arrows at my back.

I had lost everything. My mother and father, my brothers and sisters. I kept trying to return, but every time they chased me away. I stalked the woods, searched for the old woman so she could change me back.

I never saw her again.

The years that followed hardened my heart. I prayed for death to take me, to put me out of my misery, but in her cruelty the old woman had made it so I couldn’t die. Instead I wandered the world, and all the while the world changed.

Now, I prey on innocent blood because I’m jealous of what can no longer be mine. I tear their throats out with powerful canine jaws, and I delight in their blood as it drains from their faces to spatter the ground beneath my paws.

The boy stops beside me and I grin, open my maw and prepare to pounce.

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Mischief Maker

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Not long now, he thinks, before the world unravels again. His mouth blossoms in a jack-o-lantern grin.

It was just by chance that he happened upon the Earth. Wandering the cosmos in search of mischief, he’d stumbled on it by accident, and he was already moving on when he caught sight of a curious thing.

They called themselves Man. They gazed up from their tiny little rock at the dawn of their existence like ants upon a mound of sand. They beheld the depth and breadth of the mysteries beyond, and in their arrogance proclaimed themselves to be the center of the universe.

He’s dwelled among them since. He works in the shadows, just beyond the range of human perception. A master puppeteer, he tugs on their emotional strings, takes advantage of their ape-like brains, rouses them toward anger, hatred and war.

He waits until they’ve nearly destroyed themselves, then watches as they rebuild, as new civilizations rise from the ashes of the old. Then, just before they’ve tasted true and lasting peace, he lays his fetid hands upon the Earth and gets them to burn everything to the ground again.

Each time he allows them to carry something into the next age, knowledge that enables them to build bigger and better weapons. Now, they have nuclear and biological armaments. He grins like a spoiled child with candy, and he watches, wondering if this time they’ll break the world for good.

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Nothing Lasts Forever

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I thought it would last forever. I thought I could do no wrong, that no matter what I did it would always be with me. Then it up and went and I never saw it again.

I cry every night, pausing only to dab at red and swollen eyelids. I drop to my knees and pray, beg the creator of the cosmos to bring it back. I promise not to take it for granted, to give it the veneration it deserves. But my prayers always go unanswered.

I am only a shell of my former self, a hollowed out husk who’s lived for centuries in seclusion, too afraid and too ashamed to dwell among others.

The only time I speak is when I emerge naked from beneath my ancient stone bridge in the middle of the night to call out into the darkness, to speak its name, hoping it will hear my call. Hours pass before I go back inside, cold and damp, and only when I fall asleep does it come back to haunt me in my dreams.

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The Writer

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Jared’s eyes popped open at 3:17 in the morning. His head was pounding. His brain was a jumbled kaleidoscope of broken thoughts and disjointed memories, and at first he couldn’t tell where he was.

Then the pressure in his head increased. Jared moaned. He tossed the blanket aside, fumbled in the dark for the light switch, then walked briskly to his desk and picked up a pen. He groped the hardwood surface for his notebook, and when he found it he pulled it open to where he’d left off that afternoon.

Jared began to write.

Images of a life not his own funneled slowly from his mind, through his hand and onto the paper beneath him. It was dizzying, looking through two pairs of eyes at the same time. He was Jared, the writer who lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment. He was Arthur, a balding art mogul in his mid-forties, gulping for air as his studio partner plunged a six-inch serrated knife into his back.

As he scribbled furiously, trying to relieve the pressure, he wondered if he was writing the story or if the story was writing him.

He’d never asked for this. One day in high school, he’d been sitting in his sixth period English class when a story had come plummeting out of nowhere. It seized control of his senses, then raped him repeatedly as he sat there helpless in front of his teacher and his peers. All he could do was write it down, scribbling in his three-ring binder so fast that he nearly tore several pages, hoping and praying that somehow he could get it out of his head without anybody noticing that he was no longer paying attention.

Since then, his life had been a never-ending series of unpredictable encounters.

After a time, the well-spring ran dry. His viewfinder into Arthur’s soul vanished, and he was left gasping for air with his head in his hands. After taking a few minutes to catch his breath, he turned out the light. He returned to the covers, drenched in sweat, and he prayed. He asked God (if there was a God) to take this from him, though all the while he knew his prayer was in vain.

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