“This will sound forward,” said the man sliding onto the stool beside hers, “but bear with me. In this world, do you have a boyfriend?”
“In this world?” Sarah asked, raising her eyebrows. Was this guy for real? Worst pick-up line ever. “As opposed to…”
“Sorry,” he said sheepishly, holding out a hand, “I forget sometimes, especially around you. My name’s Kyle.”
She considered telling him to get lost, but the polite side of her won out before she could override it. “Sarah,” she said, shaking his hand.
“I know,” he said. “And you have a boyfriend,” he followed, “who just lost his job, right?”
Sarah withdrew her hand abruptly. “What is this?” she asked.
What had Jim done this time? Sarah wasn’t one to indulge in an afternoon drink, and certainly not alone, but she’d finally had it with Jim, and a sorry-for-self drink at the local bar had seemed just the thing. At a certain point the excuses had stopped meaning anything and his promises meant even less. She wondered if she should worry for her safety. This guy, with his thin arms and lighthearted smile didn’t seem like the muscle for a ne’er-do-well operation, but who was she to judge? Shady business was Jim’s territory, not hers. How had she become complacent with that? Not asking anymore because she didn’t want to hear lies, that wasn’t her. Was it? Neither was boozing up an afternoon, but here she was, getting picked up by an amateur… or targeted by one of Jim’s many enemies.
“I actually know about nine out of ten of the things you just thought to be afraid of,” said Kyle, “and you’re not even close to the truth. I only asked about the boyfriend as a point of reference. I’m not connected with him in any way. You’re not going to believe anything I have to say, but your curiosity is going to win out in the end, and you’ll hear me out. Can we grab a booth?”
‘Lesson one in being street smart,’ thought Sarah, ‘don’t let them get you alone.’ “This seat is just fine,” she said.
Kyle shrugged and ordered a light beer. Once the bartender had retreated again to his book at the other end of the bar, Kyle turned to Sarah, gravity in his expression.
“I travel dimensions,” he said.
Sarah slapped a ten on the bar top. It was enough to cover three drinks, but she wasn’t about to wait for change with this wacko perched beside her.
“You used to as well,” he said to her back. “My Sarah did, anyway,” he added softly.
It was probably the pain in his voice that turned her around. She couldn’t say. It was dumb, and crazy, and she hated to admit it but curiosity… she returned to her stool.
“You have an adventurous spirit,” he said. “You’ve been contemplating taking off since you found the matchbook in his pocket.”
“How could you know about that?” Sarah asked before she caught herself.
She hadn’t even told her best friend, Grace, about that. It had been months ago. Further proof that he was up to no good, in a long list of small clues, but somehow the matchbook had felt like the one to tip the scales. She’d been thinking of ways to leave him since then, but found herself won back time and again. He was hard to leave, somehow. It just took energy she didn’t have. Her thoughts had drifted to running away. Assuming a different identity. Starting fresh, with no history. Of course, that sort of thing was Jim’s territory again, and anyone she’d approach for fake ID’s would go straight back to Jim.
“You told me,” said Kyle. “Another version of you.”
“Uh huh,” said Sarah, waving to the bartender for a refill, “and where did this other version of me go?”
“You found a version of your life that you liked better, and stayed,” he answered.
He was completely straight-faced. As far as she could tell, he absolutely believed what he was saying. She’d gotten pretty good at picking up on when she was being lied to, and so far Kyle was either a pro or completely sincere. Or delusional.
“Lots of money?” Sarah suggested.
“Children,” said Kyle, “and love.”
Sarah started to scoff but found that she lacked the conviction to follow it through. She was a woman who said loudly and proudly that she never wanted kids, and being with Jim, it was easy to mean it. But the thought of a different version of her life… the possibilities opened up.
“Yours,” he said. “We were traveling your paths and hit a vein where you had been killed in an accident. In this vein, though, your initial point of departure from the version you had started from was back in high school, so you met your husband in college.”
“I never went to college,” said Sarah.
“In this version, no,” said Kyle. “There are other versions where you did. You liked visiting those ones. And when you found one where you were missing, it was an easy thing for you to convince your grieving husband and children to take another version of you.”
“That’s messed up,” said Sarah.
Kyle shrugged. “You and your family saw it as a second chance.”
It could have been the mood she was in, or the number of beers she’d finished a few hours later, but she found herself that evening approaching a silver trailer resting in the shadows of the bar’s back lot with Kyle. Everything about this screamed BAD IDEA, except for Kyle. He was so genuine. Still, she knew as she stepped into his trailer that she was doing just about everything wrong when it came to self-preservation and good decisions. On the list of things a woman shouldn’t do when going to a bar, this sat a mile above the top. She hesitated when she stepped inside to find a tiled room with two chairs facing each other. Not just chairs. Chairs with lots of straps and buckles. Kyle hung outside, giving her space to flee. Again, she strongly considered it.
~ ~ ~
Kyle came into focus gradually. He was already out of his straps and rising out of his seat. He paced the small tiled room restlessly.
“The jumps are taking a toll on you,” he said when he saw Sarah’s eyes were open. “We need to give you more time between jumps, but it’s getting more dangerous for us out there. I don’t like the turn the versions have taken recently. If we could just find a vein where you’re not a missing person…” he paced some more in silence while Sarah unclasped herself from her seat.
She felt groggy and stiff, as if she’d been strapped in for a day or more. There was no way to tell how long each jump took. Time between dimensions worked differently.
“So we’re still in versions where I decided to travel with you,” said Sarah, stretching. “Maybe we’ll run into ourselves. Has that happened before?”
“Everything is possible,” reminded Kyle.
He’d explained the concept of traveling between possibilities, and though she got the overall concept, much of it still baffled her. Infinite possibilities sprouting from each moment, each decision, each one as real as the next. And multiplied by the infinite sprouting possibilities of everyone else… it grew staggering to think about in no time flat. Kyle said they were traveling along a vein of her decisions, because the moment they departed from her, they wouldn’t be able to find their way back.
After traveling these last few weeks, though, she wasn’t sure she wanted to go back. Sure, not much was different from the world she’d left. Kyle said that was because they were taking small jumps to help her acclimate to inter-dimensional travel, so the versions of the world they were visiting so far were very close to the one she’d left. She was reported missing, and she guessed the farther they were getting from her ‘point of departure,’ as Kyle put it, the more Jim had actually cared about her and was trying to find her. She couldn’t imagine her Jim bothering for more than a few days.
“I should warn you,” said Kyle, “about the FBI.”
“Oh?” Sarah still couldn’t always tell when Kyle was joking. He had a wicked sense of humor, but the kind that catches you unawares.
“I ran into another traveler a while back who gave me the heads-up that they’ve been investigating inter-dimensional travel in the versions in this sector, and they’re trying to get their hands on a ship.”
“Ship?” laughed Sarah. The retrofitted Streamline RV hardly seemed the type of thing to call a ship.
Kyle cast her an exasperated look before swinging the door open. They’d landed on a bright, clear sky morning, and Sarah noticed the camp ground they’d parked in seemed a little cleaner in this version.
“I’m hungry,” she announced, lifting out of her seat and bounding out into the new world.
A diner about a mile down the road was just the thing she needed. Kyle seemed fidgety and nervous throughout the meal, though, and by the time she’d washed her eggs and hashbrowns down with her fourth cup of coffee, she picked up on it, too. The looks. The odd quiet to the place. Her picture on the television screen in the corner as well as a grainy frame from a surveillance camera showing her leaving the bar with Kyle. By the time the police cruiser pulled up outside, she realized all of the exits were blocked. Where the officers had come from she couldn’t say, but they were on Kyle in a flash, cuffing him and shoving them each into a different car.
The fact that the FBI were waiting for her in the small town police station made her think of Kyle’s warning.
“He didn’t abduct me,” she said to the man who introduced himself as agent Grant. “I went willingly. We’ve been traveling. We haven’t done anything illegal.”
She’d said the same to the police officers, but they were obviously following someone else’s orders and showed little promise of changing course on their own. This agent Grant seemed the order giving type.
“Ma’am,” said agent Grant, “have you ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome?”
“I have, and you’re way off,” said Sarah. “We’ve been traveling…”
“Between dimensions?” agent Grant finished for her. Sarah’s mouth snapped shut. Beware indeed. “So he’s claiming, anyhow. Please tell me you didn’t start to believe him.”
Sarah met the agent’s questioning gaze with a hard stare. Inwardly, she was scrambling. Without Kyle, she was going to be stuck here, and she wasn’t sure she liked this version at all. It still had Jim in it. Even traveling dimensions she wasn’t able to get away from that man. Agent Grant shook his head sadly. He pulled photographs from a folder and spread them out across the desk. There were mugshots of Kyle, more than a few. In some of them he had facial hair. In others he looked considerably younger. They could have been fabricated, she figured, or from the Kyle from this version. Who knew what kind of man he was in this reality.
“Randall Lewis Odriochette,” said Grant. “Aka Kyle Forbes. Among other petty crimes he is an accomplished con man and alleged stalker. He has three bench warrants outstanding in Colorado alone.”
He threw another set of pictures down. These were of Sarah, taken from a distance. Some of them she recognized as recent excursions.
“He took pictures of me while we were traveling,” she said. “So what?”
Had Kyle been carrying photos of her around with him? That didn’t seem right. How had they gotten ahold of these? Unless he had them back in the ship. Or… the other idea made her skin crawl. What if agent Grant was telling her the truth? A few of the photos looked like they could have been from before she’d met Kyle. Or Randall. Had he been watching her? Was that how he knew about Jim’s job and everything else?
“In the other alleged abductions,” Grant said, “Forbes sedated his victims through a mask, claiming it was oxygen, to help against the effects of inter-dimensional travel.”
Sarah’s throat went dry.
“The cocktail he uses changes based upon what resources he has available,” said Grant, “but I’m sure we’ll be able to match enough with the other cases to finally keep this guy behind bars once and for all. Where did he have you kept? I want to get my agents over there as soon as possible to secure the evidence.”
Sarah hesitated. There was something in agent Grant’s voice that didn’t fit. Anticipation, or the effort to sound nonchalant. Or, she could have been imagining it so she didn’t have to believe that she’d been duped into following a madman around for three weeks. She gazed out through the window blinds onto a bland street. Small town somewhere. She wasn’t even sure where. There were shops across the street doing whatever business it was that they did. Like it or not, this was her reality now, whatever version it was.
Then she noticed the woman leaning against the doorway of a shop, watching her. It was unsettling, like looking into a mirror and seeing your reflection misbehave. Slowly, very slowly, the woman lifted a finger to her lips, and smiled.Written by W. C. McClure http://www.wcmcclure.com. The names, events and characters in this short story are fictitious. This story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at http://www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends about this short story blog – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!