keeps this site and its author alive.
Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 74: Hastings 156
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 73: Kondor 148
The doctor entered with his chair and sat backwards on it. “So,” he began. “You were going to tell me more about your family and your life in Franklinville.”
“I’d rather not. Anyway, that’s not how I remember it. You told me to think about it and begin with anything I remembered. It’s painful to remember, sometimes. I prefer not to do it.”
“Perhaps we should talk about that,” the doctor suggested.
He thinks my delusions arise from having lost my family, that it is easier for me to believe that I died and went to another universe than that whatever happened to them really happened, Lauren thought. Perhaps they were all killed in some terrible accident, and I have survivor’s guilt, and so have invented this idea that they’re alive but I can’t get to them because I died.
There’s nothing I can do about that, she decided, but continue to tell him the truth and hope at some point he recognizes that my explanation is better than his. Yeah, I don’t see that happening soon; but I don’t see him releasing me before he does. Best strategy seems to be the truth.
“I miss them,” she said. “That’s all. It would be different if, say, they left for college, and I didn’t know when I would see them but thought probably they would be home for the holidays with laundry in tow. It would be different, I think, if they had died and left me bereaved. The problem is, they’re alive and they think I’m dead, but I’m alive and have no way to reach them, to tell them. So I try not to think about them, so I won’t miss them.
“I think I would miss them if they’d died and I were alive, and it would hurt to remember them; but I think it would be different.”
“How old would they be now?”
Lauren laughed. It was so abrupt, and so meaningless a question. “What do you mean by ‘now’?” she said. “Now, June, what’s today? Is it July yet? Well, whatever the date, how old would they be in 1965? Trevor will be born in twenty-one years, Tiffany in twenty-two, and Tyler in twenty-four years. Now, based on how long it’s been since I’ve seen them? I’m not going to count the years, but they’d all have died of old age if someone hasn’t already found a cure for that. In the kind of life I have, you can’t really talk about what’s happening ‘now’ in another universe. Time doesn’t work that way across the multiverse.”
The doctor made some notes on his pad. Lauren knew she sounded crazy, but consistency mattered, and at least the truth was consistent.
“So, what was it like to die?”
“Painful,” she replied simply. He raised an eyebrow, so she continued, “The microwave exploded. Shrapnel riddled my body. I blacked out.”
Lauren shrugged. “I woke up.”
“You must have been in excruciating pain.”
“Actually, no. It seems that I had left the universe and the shrapnel had stayed behind. There was a twinge of pain through my body--mostly my arms, chest, and face, which had taken the brunt of the impact--but then I was fine. I wasn’t suffering from my injuries.”
“Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”
“It did then. It doesn’t now; I’ve gotten used to it. I die; it’s painful, then it’s over, and I come back fine.”
“So you’ve died more than once.”
“I told you that. It’s how I got here.”
“Well, I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore--”
“I’m sorry. There was a children’s fantasy book that was made into a very popular movie before I was born. Parents would get their children to sit in front of the television to see it whenever it came on, which was probably about once a year. I’ve seen it enough times I can probably tell you the whole story in detail, recite some of the dialogue, and sing parts of some of the songs. In it a young girl gets carried to another world by a tornado. She lived in Kansas, a part of the United States where they have a lot of tornados, and as she looks over the new landscape she says to her dog Toto, ‘I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.’ Her name was Dorothy. Not that that helps.”
“No, it’s interesting. You didn’t talk about movies or television.”
“No, you’re right, and it’s odd, because I probably spent enough hours in front of a television to fill months of calendar time, and bought enough movie tickets to wallpaper my bathroom, but somehow that’s not an important part of reality. It just happens to be something you do with your time when you aren’t sleeping and have nothing else to do. I could probably dredge up plots and characters from hundreds of movies and TV shows, but other than giving you details of my life that you believe are part of an extremely complex delusion, I don’t think they’d be helpful. Anyway, we’re past that. I haven’t watched any television or movies for a very long time, and I don’t really miss it.
“So I knew I had left Earth because I awoke in a strange place--not strange in the sense of unfamiliar, but strange in the sense of unnatural. The moon was rather precisely eight-sided, like a stop sign, and when the sun rose I saw that the grass was orange. There were bushes, completely black and stony as if made of coral, that were able to move sort of like tumbleweeds, and were predatory, using focused reflected sunlight to attack. There were giant clams grazing on the grass, and little creatures like six inch diameter purple foam rubber balls.
“A lot of my possessions--clothes, books, some other stuff--were scattered on the ground around me; I collected them, but had this feeling, as if I were supposed to meet someone ‘over there’, that is, in a particular direction, toward the sunrise. I headed that way, and found a couple people living in a large truck in a small complex. They had solved the problems of food and water, and had space for guests in an area safe from predators, so I stayed with them.
“They also had discovered that the previous occupants of that world had been very involved in mind powers, and had left behind functional artifacts that enhanced such powers in various ways. I soon learned to use these, and from that began learning to do other things--read minds, move things telekinetically, extend my senses. It was a world in which everything seemed possible, but everything was difficult.
“It was these people, Paul and Annie, who explained what had happened to me and told me about other people, such as themselves, it had happened to. They also talked about the dangers in some other universes that made me decide I needed to get in better shape than the typical thirty-five year old housewife and mother of three. There was exercise and acrobatic equipment there, so I started working out, and taught myself to do things like tumble, walk a tightrope, do flips and handsprings and cartwheels. I also had a kau sin ke with me--it’s an oriental threshing tool that ancient martial artists adapted for use as a weapon. I had it as a gift from my children, because we played an imagination game in which I was a martial artist who used a weapon like that, and they thought it would be a cool present when they saw one at a farmer’s market. I started practicing swinging it around and seeing whether I could use it as a weapon. I wasn’t terribly good with it, but decided to make two more from materials they produced and used for building things there.
“I was there probably a couple hundred days, and the days there were long, twenty hours of daylight and twenty hours of moonlight like clockwork. Then I tried to see whether I could make something that responded to thought, like the artifacts we had found. It blew up. I had built a blast shield, but I wasn’t fast enough to get behind it, so I died again.”
“This was the world, I gather,” Doctor Conway interrupted, “in which you learned to create that invisible shield?”
“Actually, no,” Lauren answered. “I learned a lot of tricks most of which don’t work in this world--we would say that your world is biased against psionics, and probably also magic. I can read your mind, but I can’t send my thoughts to it; I can give something a telekinetic push, but I can’t lift myself off the floor. But I continued learning more psionics in the next world and in worlds after that.”
“So you died again. How did that feel?”
Lauren shrugged. “A bit different from the first time. There was no shrapnel this time, just a concussive impact that smashed into me. I blacked out again, and awoke with a brief spasm of pain that passed. It was night again, but this time a city, and I was in a blind alley. My things were all close at hand; I had kept them near me during the experiments as an added precaution.
“As I walked out of the alley I ran into two people. The younger looking one introduced himself as Gavin and his companion as Jackson, and when I said I was something of a psionicist he immediately took interest. I read his mind, though, and there was something very alien and, I don’t know, hateful? Cold? Evil? Anyway, there was something about him.”
She stopped. She had never read Doctor Conway’s mind, even though she had often wondered what he was thinking. Part of that was that she was worried about botching--the bias did not favor psionics, and she was not that good at mind reading. She didn’t get much practice on telepathic skills when she was alone on that tropical island for a century. Still, if she wanted to know what he was thinking, she could peek.
Not now, she thought. Right now he’s wondering why I stopped talking. “Anyway,” she continued, “they helped me find and pay for a hotel, and I started trying to learn what I could about that world.”
“We should probably stop here,” Doctor Conway said. “I may want to ask you more about that second world before we continue with the third, but I’m going to want to think about it all first.”
Lauren shrugged and nodded. “Next time, then,” she said.
“Next time,” he responded, and took his chair and left. As he was heading for the door, Lauren decided to try to catch his thoughts, and managed to do so. Very interesting, he thought. It is easily the most complex and expansive delusion on record. I wonder whether there’s an article in it.
Yes, Lauren thought, there probably is a book or two, but probably not the sort you have in mind.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twelve other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #300: Versers Challenged. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: