The nurse at the emergency room reception heard a woman grunt at her and looked up from the keyboard.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Helen Styles,” the woman said. “I believe you brought in my husband, Tom Styles?”
“Let me look,” the nurse replied, and searched on the computer.
Helen tutted, shifting her bag on one shoulder.
“Bed twelve,” the nurse pointed to one corner.
Helen pursed her lips, nodded, and strode off to the cubicle. She opened the curtain and saw Tom lying in the bed, electrodes strapped to his chest.
“Hello Tom,” she said.
“Helen,” he brightened. “Thank goodness you’re here, this has been crazy. They’ve been asking so many questions it’s been driving me mad.”
“Well, this is just a flying visit,” she said. “Don’t get excited.”
“Can you call work for me?” he asked. “Nobody seems to be able to get hold of them here.”
“I don’t know where you work,” Helen snapped. “Why should I?”
“Why?” Tom frowned. “We went to the office party a week ago and you met my boss, didn’t you?”
“Tom.” Helen breathed a big sigh. “I haven’t been to any party with you for two years, much less meeting any of the creepy people you work with these days. We’re getting divorced, remember?”
“Helen, what’s wrong with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Everyone has been… different, today,” Tom replied, anguished. “I mean, I still work for Carter and Wheelan. I have done for six years.”
“The last I knew,” Helen grimaced, “you’d got a job in an adult video store. Although like every job, you probably haven’t held that down.”
Tom sighed and put his head back on the pillow.
“What?” Helen asked.
“It’s been the same all morning,” he said. “My mobile phone has stopped working, the number for work doesn’t ring, and my coins don’t even work in payphones any more.”
Helen’s face clouded. She walked closer and over to Tom and started examining his chest.
“What?” he asked, raising his head from the bed a little. “What are you looking for?”
“The scar.” Helen traced a finger in the air above his shoulder.
Helen nodded, her brow furrowed.
“I don’t have a scar on my shoulder,” he said.
“You don’t, do you…”
Tom lowered his head back down. “I don’t get it.”
“About three years ago,” she said, “we went to a wedding, and got a bit drunk. On the way out, you slipped and fell and cut your shoulder open on the boot scraper by the door.”
“I remember that.” He lifted his right hand and showed the scar under the wrist. “Except it wasn’t my shoulder.”
They looked at each other for a moment.
“You’re not my Tom, are you?”
“You’re not my Helen, either.”
She pulled her phone out of her bag and opened a photos app.
“That’s our wedding,” she said.
“Pass my phone,” Tom said, shaking his head.
“Hello there,” said a voice behind them. In unison, they turned their heads to look and saw a tall, friendly looking woman in a white coat.
“Hello,” Tom said, gingerly.
“I’m Doctor Blaisewood,” the woman continued, handing Tom a piece of paper. “I’m in charge of one of the wards at the psychiatric hospital, and I’d like you to just admit yourself for a few days.”
“Why?” Helen snapped. “He’s not ill.”
“Probably not,” Blaisewood smiled. “But we think it’s possible that there’s some amnesia from the fall, and that’s what I specialise in.”
“Amnesia?” she asked. “Like in the movies?”
Ignoring the ongoing conversation, Tom opened the paper and read.
DO NOT WORRY
The psychiatric hospital is a cover. We don’t believe you have any mental issue, but we do believe we have an answer to the problem.
We’ve experienced this before, and we have a system. You can trust me.
Dr Victoria Blaisewood
Tom folded the paper again and stared into space for a few moments before speaking.
“I think that’s probably the best thing,” he said. Helen stared at him.
Blaisewood turned to him and nodded.
“That’s wise,” she said.
An hour later, Blaisewood was driving to the hospital, with Tom in the passenger seat. Helen sat in the back, silent, face clouded with concern.
“As you can see,” she explained, stopping the car, “we are on the same grounds, but we’re not part of the hospital.”
Tom opened the door and stepped out. A small notice read “Research facility.”
“Incognito?” he asked.
“Sort of,” she nodded. “It’ll become clear.”
Helen got out of the back door, and the three walked in. Blaisewood showed a pass and they were directed down the hall.
“If you can wait here,” Blaisewood pointed to a room with a sofa, “I’ll take Tom into the interview room and we can try and work out what’s happened here.”
“OK,” Tom said. “Sounds good.”
Helen nodded, walked into the room and sat down. Tom gave her a thumbs up, and she smiled. Blaisewood led Tom to an interview room down the corridor.
The room was comfortable – large bean bag chairs in each corner, and posters of kittens on the walls.
“It’s… cosy,” Tom remarked.
“It’s not bad,” Blaisewood said. “I’ve always thought it’s a funding committee’s idea of what will put people at their ease. I mean, what if you have a phobia of cats?”
“Quite,” Tom said.
“I’m just going to show you this,” she said. “And then we’ll talk.”
She pressed a button on a remote control and a screen came down from the ceiling. They sat in the chairs and she pressed a button.
“FILM NO PERD-2472: INTRODUCTION TO PARALLEL EARTH” said a caption, and then a man appeared on screen.
“I’m George Henderson,” the man said. “This film is a basic introduction to the concept we’re calling ‘Parallel Earth’.”
Tom raised an eyebrow and looked across at Blaisewood, who nodded and waved towards the screen.
“There exists,” the man said, “at least one parallel version of Earth. We’re not quite sure how, as yet, but somehow people swap between the universes every now and then. Sometimes, they carry artefacts from their parallel Earth across with them.”
The man held up a copy of a book. The cover showed three women, and was headed “The Witches of Eastwick.”
“In the parallel Earth this copy of ‘The Witches of Eastwick’ comes from,” the man said, pointing to the cover, “Tovah Feldshuh appeared in the film version of the novel, and not Susan Sarandon.”
The footage changed and Tom leaned over.
“That’s Hitler!” he whispered. Blaisewood nodded.
“Here in this painting by Francis Bacon -” Hitler started, but the narrator’s voice drowned him out.
“On this DVD from a parallel Earth, we can see an extract from a famous art historian’s series on modern art. The surprising thing is that the art critic is Sir Adolf Hitler.”
The scene changed again, and showed a prison yard. Jimi Hendrix came into view, wearing a prisoner’s uniform.
“The cover of this DVD says that Jimi Hendrix won his second Oscar here, playing an undercover police officer, in this 1985 thriller called ‘Inside Man’.”
The screen cut back to the narrator again.
“These are three simple recoveries from parallel Earths. In some cases it has been easy to determine what has changed, but in others it is more difficult.”
The shot cut to a laboratory, where Blaisewood stood with a clipboard, and a man dressed in a white coat stood inside a cabinet with a meter, making readings.
“This laboratory,” the narrator continued, “is designed to return crossover subjects to their original parallel Earths. It requires a precise location, and Dr Blaisewood has developed a questionnaire to find the endpoints of the crossover subjects to allow them to return safely to their original positions.”
The picture switched back to the narrator.
“I hope you’ve enjoyed this – very brief – introduction to the work we do here. As you may have gathered, you’ve been spotted by our team and we’ve had an alert to try and get you home.”
The narrator beamed at the camera.
“Let us help you,” he said. “Help us get you home.”
The screen went black.
Tom turned to Blaisewood, eyes wide.
“Does that mean?” he breathed.
Blaisewood nodded. “We’ve seen this happen before,” she said. “People come over from parallel Earths – we don’t know why, as yet – and they’re confused as to what’s happening. We’ve had a number of films over the years, but this one seems to open people’s eyes the best. The combination of Hitler, Hendrix and the Witches of Eastwick seems to work really well.”
Tom nodded in bewilderment.
“Can you… can you send me back?”
“We’ve got the medical records you filled in at the hospital,” she said. “We don’t always get those. They actually match someone from our side, who we think may be at work, or possibly even have swapped over to your side – we have agents trying to track him down right now.”
Tom’s eyes widened. “Can I meet him?”
“I’m afraid not.” The doctor shook her head. “You see the problem isn’t that you’ll explode if you meet, or anything sinister like that. It’s just that if the news media get hold of this, it’ll be the leading story for years to come. And if we do that, then unfortunately you’re not going to get a chance to go home, and neither is anyone else.”
Tom sighed in disappointment and shrugged. “So be it,” he said.
“Let’s get started with the questionnaire, shall we?” she asked. “Shouldn’t take too long.”
She pulled out a tablet computer and started asking questions.
“Who was elected the president of the USA in 2016?”
“Um, Hillary Clinton.”
“OK, answer C. That’s about 30 possibilities left then.”
“Answer C?” he asked. “Who are the others?”
“There’s about seven,” she said, still looking at the screen. “If you’d said Rachelda Greenwood, that’s the one with the most possibilities.”
“Never heard of her,” Tom said.
“I don’t think you would have, unless you come from a parallel where she’s president, it seems.” Blaisewood said. “We’re guessing she was killed in an accident in all other realities, but we haven’t verified that experimentally as yet.”
Tom nodded, bewildered.
“Who was elected UK prime minister in 1992?”
“Interesting,” she answered. “Popular choice – we’re down to nine possibilities.”
“Who played Doctor Who in the 2005 reboot?”
“Richard E Grant,” Tom replied. “He’s from ‘Withnail And I’.”
“Curious. Never heard of that.”
“It’s a film.”
“OK.” Blaisewood smiled. “Next question, then: who did Lee Harvey Oswald shoot?”
“JFK, of course.”
“OK good, narrows us down to two known possibilities,” she mused, tapping one finger against her cheek. “One more question, then: who was the Terminator in the Terminator movie?”
“OK,” Blaisewood said. “That’s not one of our answers, so we’ll need to find your parallel.”
“How do you do that?”
“We have a viewing machine,” she replied. “It’ll take our researchers some time, but we have a complete questionnaire based on these questions you can fill in if you don’t mind?”
Tom nodded. “Of course.”
She opened a page and passed him the tablet. Filling in the hundred or so questions took well over an hour. Blaisewood left, came back with a jug of water and a glass, and then waited on the other side of the room.
“I’ve finished,” he said, finally.
“That’s great,” she said, taking the tablet. “Can you come with me?”
“Sure,” Tom replied.
She led him into a small room, sound proofed along all sides, and turned on the light.
“Where’s the equipment?” he asked.
She smiled, reached into the desk drawer, and pulled out a gun. Without saying another word, she shot Tom, between the eyes. He fell backwards, blood splattering the back wall of the room. She walked over to the body, and stood over him.
“Did you really think we were going to send you back, with information about our world?” she asked the corpse.
She pulled her mobile phone out of her pocket and dialled.
“Henderson,” someone answered.
“It’s Blaisewood,” she said. “Have you evaluated the woman for security risk?”
“Yes,” the voice replied. “She’s clean.”
“Then let her go.”
She smiled. “Send the cleanup crew.”
The post “Our World” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.