Inspired by a prompt on Reedsys Prompts
[Scientists tell us there could be an infinite number of universes, some almost the same as ours. Of course travelling between them is impossible. . . . Or is it?]
John Smith, a boring name for a boring man, is hurrying to get dressed. His wife is dragging him to a lecture on travelling to another astral plane. ‘Just a load of crap’ As usual, he is late. His wife, Margret, is waiting at the bottom of the stairs.
‘If we are late for the lecture I will be hearing about it for the next month.’
Margret Smith is a tall, slim woman. She had been a model, not one of the supermodels jet setting all over the world, but one of those appearing in magazine ads or doing commercials on TV. John had no idea why she had chosen to marry him, a dowdy professor in a mid tier university, but he is thankful she had.
Life changed for Margret when her children were born. Once, she only worn the latest fashion and would never have thought of going out without spending hours on her makeup. Now, she is a ‘soccer mom’. Heels had given way to sneakers and makeup is no more than a bit of powder.
John could see Margret pacing at the bottom of the stairs. He thought of the plaque she had given him on his last birthday, “Happy Wife - Happy Life”. She is not happy.
Trying to adjust his tie as he raced down the stairs he tripped.
Jon Smith is pacing by the doorway. He is giving a presentation at a faculty dinner on ‘The Existence of Multiple Realities and Travel Between Them’. As usual, his wife is late. She is upstairs in the bedroom making last minute adjustments to her already perfect makeup.
Against his better judgement, he goes over to the stairs to ask her to please hurry up.
He stopped short. There is a man sitting on the stairs.
“Who the hell are you and how did you get in here?”
“John Smith and I don’t know.”
Jon looked more closely at the man on the stairs. They say everyone has a doppelganger, but this is ridiculous. Except that the man’s tie is undone, it is like looking into a mirror. They are identical in every respect.
Touching his tie, John continued - “I remember adjusting my tie, tripping and then I was here.” Puzzled, he looks more closely around the room, he is pretty sure it is his house. He turns to look at the pictures on the wall beside the stairs.
“Where are the pictures of the kids?”
“We don’t have any kids.” came Jon’s curt reply. Children were a sore point with him. He had wanted children, his wife said they would ruin her figure. Sometimes he wondered why he married her.
Jon’s wife comes out of the bedroom. “Who are you talking to?”
Before he could say anything, the man on the stairs disappears. Knowing he couldn’t explain what had happened, she wouldn’t believe him anyway, he just said “No one - just muttering to myself.”
“We cut it out - people will think you are crazy!”
‘They would think that even more crazy if I said what really happened’
John Smith sat alone on the stairs. It is night, the lights are off, the street light coming through the living room window gave just enough light for him to see. He is in what looked like his house.
‘No pictures on the wall, so not really my house and not the house I was in before’
‘That man looked exactly like me, sounded like me and was wearing my suit. Except for the heels and makeup, the women coming out of the bedroom looked exactly like Margret’
‘I must be dreaming.’
John started yelling, trying to wake himself up.
‘Well that didn’t work. . . . There can’t be anyone else here’.
In frustration, he punched the wall hard, leaving a small dent. “Christ that hurt - not dreaming then”
There is the sound of the front door opening ‘This should be good’
Jean Blanchet and his wife Margaret were returning from a movie, ‘Je Ne Suis Pas Un Homme Facile’ by Éléonore Pourriat. The story of a man waking up in an alternate universe where gender roles are reversed. Opening the door and switching on the lights they saw John on the stairs.
Margaret screams. Jean steps forward, “Qui es-tu”. The man on the stairs disappears. A small dent in the wall is the only evidence he had ever been there.
John looked around him again. Once again he is sitting on the stairs in what appears to be his house.
‘OK - pictures on the wall, no kids. Am I back in the first place? It is still night and I am not dreaming. Christ my hand hurts - stupid thing to do.’
Jon Smith rolled over in the bed and looked at the clock on the bed stand.
‘3 o’clock. Maybe if I ignore it I can get back to sleep’
But, of course he couldn’t. His urologist had said it is an enlarged prostate.
“Nothing serious yet but we will need to keep an eye on it.”
He had given Jon some pills that were supposed to control the urge to urinate. They weren’t perfect. One or two times a week Jon would wake up in the middle of the night and make his way to the bathroom.
Easing himself out of bed so as not to wake his wife, he headed out to the hallway to use the main bathroom. (She would wake up if he used the ensuite.) His wife had been very clear, she would not be happy unless she got her eight hours of sleep. Only half in jest, she had bought him a plaque saying “Happy Wife - Happy Life”.
As Jon went down the hallway he spotted John on the stairs.
Smiling, “You can’t get rid of me.”
From the top of the stairs Jon could see the alarm system was on. He didn’t know how the man had gotten in, but he didn’t seem a threat.
Remembering that the last time he saw the man they were both wearing what appeared to be the same suite, he thought -
‘At least he is not wearing my pyjamas.’
“Still don’t know how you got here?”
“Nope. . . . The last thing I remember is getting ready to go to a lecture on travelling to another astral plane. Nonsense of course, but my wife is into it”
“Strange. . . . When I first saw you I was getting ready to leave to make a presentation at a faculty dinner on ‘The Existence of Multiple Realities and Travel Between Them’.”
“You’re a professor?”
“Yes - I teach Cosmology at the university. . . . You?”
“Same - only Quantum Mechanics.”
“Look, I am sure there is a logical explanation for all this and that we can figure it out. But, right now I have to hit-the-head.” For some reason Jon isn’t concerned about leaving the stranger alone in the house.
When Jon comes back from the bathroom, the stranger is gone.
“Doctor, he is starting to wake up.”
The nurse stepped aside as the doctor came over to John’s bed.
“John, can you hear me?”
John tries to nod, but his head explodes.
“Don’t try to move. Do you remember what happened?”
“no” he whispers.
“You tripped and fell down the stairs. You have been unconscious for about eight hours.”
John is becoming more alert and starting to remember. He looks down at his right hand, it is heavily bandaged.
The doctor, noticing John looking at his hand, looked nervous.
“Your hand is badly bruised. We have no idea how it got bruised, it wasn’t a result of the fall. As far as we can tell, it happened while you were in the hospital. I can assure you there will be a full investigation.”
John is remembering everything now.
‘You won’t find out how my hand got bruised. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.’
John starts to get agitated.
‘Am I really home? Were the other people and places real? Are these people real?’
“Margret. Where’s Margret?”
The doctor stepped out of the way as his wife rushed up to the bed. Her eyes are swollen and red. Tears stain her cheeks.
“I thought I had lost you” she sobbed.
He just looks at her, seemingly unsure of who she is. Slowly he reaches up and touches her gently on the cheek.
“You're not wearing makeup.”
She looks confused and glances over to the doctor.
“Don’t worry about it. He is still a bit delirious. . . . . Just answer him.”
She turns back to him.
“Yes dear. You know I don’t wear makeup.”
He smiles - “Good”
[Acknowledgement: This story is inspired by the poem ‘Antigonish’ by William Hughes Mearns.]