Kelly was troubled by her philosophy professor’s digression into the field of theoretical physics. While he was totally out of his depth on that subject, she was more upset by the random thoughts careening just under the surface of her own consciousness. The professor was touching on points that had been bothering her for a week. She hoped he would wrap up his pointless diatribe soon. She had to use the restroom.
What Doctor Magnus was so inarticulately poking at, was the idea of alternate, simultaneous realities, or universes. Do they exist? And if so, do they sometimes intersect with each other? These time-streams, as he called them, might allow a member of one stream to slide over briefly to another, dimension jumping so to speak. Magnus posited that perhaps these slides could be permanent, which might explain the propensity for false memories that seemed to carry over from one stream to the next. Magnus cited the common, random memories reported by thousands of disparate people as evidence of this. They were rich in identical detail. That they were shared by people who had never met, or had any contact whatsoever not only gave one pause, it pinned the needle to the right on the creepiness meter.
The most common example were those people that claimed to remember the death of Nelson Mandela occurring in the early 1980s. This was while he was still in prison in South Africa, long before his actual death in December of 2013, following his service as his country’s president.
Because of the prominent nature of the information remembered, the entire phenomenon became known as The Mandela Effect. Though there were other examples. Many people remembered the television coverage of the funeral of the Reverend Billy Graham, when he was still very much alive and endorsing Presidential candidates. Another common thread in the shared false memory diet was the very great (not really so very great) controversy over whether it was the Berenstein Bears as remembered by many, or the Berenstain Bears as available today for purchase on Amazon and Ebay. But the names of plush toys and children’s books, and how they were remembered, was of little concern to a twenty-year-old college student with a full bladder.
When Dr. Magnus finally called for a break, Kelly was out of the lecture hall like a shot. She was on her way down to the ladies room at the end of the third floor of Hudson Hall, the science building at SUNY Plattsburgh. In spite of her single minded haste to alleviate pressure in her bladder, she couldn’t outrun the unsettling elements of Dr. Magnuson’s lecture. Actually, Magnuson didn’t enlighten Kelly to any great extent. She already had a better understanding of physics than the philosophy professor ever hoped to. What was gnawing at her was the conversation she had with her brother Ryan while she was home for spring break.
Ryan had been a brilliant but indifferent student since graduating with honors from high school. He had started, and then aborted his quest for a degree in theoretical physics twice. Now twenty-one, he had rediscovered his ambition, and was again pursuing his degree. He possessed the kind of intellect that frightened most of his professors. He not only thought on a deeper level than most, he was thinking on several levels at once and was difficult to have a conversation with on most subjects. On science, he was out there alone. He was as likely one day to split an atom, as he was to discovering and proving that atoms were a figment of science’s imagination, and didn’t exist at all. Being able to think like this tended to upset the intellectually tidy. Ryan’s typical thought process was all over the place. He was in no danger of having his thinking trapped inside of the box. He believed he could prove scientifically that the box didn’t exist, so he was going nowhere near it.
He did not intimidate his sister Kelly. Her base of scientific knowledge was almost as vast as her older brother’s, If not as chaotic. Her ability to free-think was also on a par with Ryan’s. So when they engaged in their favorite activity together, raiding mom and dad’s liquor cabinet, getting hammered drunk, and discussing existential, theoretical physics, they were the only two people in Farmingdale qualified to be in the discussion. Their friends would come over for the drinking, but would soon melt away when the conversation got weird.
Except for Big-Head Will. While Will wasn’t on an intellectual level sufficient to participate in Ryan and Kelly’s musings on the origin and existence of the universe (or multi-verses, as they would sometimes argue), he was bright enough to follow along, and enjoyed having his mind thoroughly blown. When his other friends asked him why he endured it, he told them it was cheaper and more available than psychedelics. Listening to the Durr kids on vodka was a better trip than LSD.
“Hey, Will, did you ever find your car keys?” Ryan asked, while the three of them were drinking on the deck of the Durr house.
“No, I must have put them in the wrong spot.”
“Or maybe you put them in the wrong time,” Kelly offered, smirking.
“What does that mean?” Will asked, almost regretting having done so.
“You keep asking yourself where you put your keys. Perhaps you should be asking when.” Kelly said.
“Oh, fuck,” Will replied, knowing he was about to have his perception of reality twisted all out of shape.
“You’re thinking two-dimensionally in a four-dimensional universe,” Ryan said. “You think you misplaced your keys in a place, and you did. It’s the very same place that you put them. The reason that you can’t find them is you’re looking in the wrong time. They exist where they always have, just not when. Follow?”
“No, not at all. Can I have some more vodka?”
“Sure,” Kelly said. “But first you have to acknowledge that time is fluid, and so is our existence within it. Are you prepared to do that?”
“Are you saying that my keys exist where they always have, but not in a time frame I occupy?”
“Close,” Kelly said.
“The problem is you think of time as being linear.” Ryan said. “It’s not. All of time, dating back to The Big Bang and possibly before it, and extending all the way up to the un-seen future, exists in four dimensions, and simultaneously.”
“Your consciousness is trapped in this place at this time because that’s how you perceive it. But in reality, you are everywhere at all times,” Kelly added, not clarifying things at all.
“So my keys could be anywhere at any time?”
“Or everywhere at all times,” Kelly smiled obsequiously.
“It is even possible,” Ryan declared. “That your keys may be found at the foot of a rock, in the early part of the Pleistocene Epoch, that will one day become the Himalayas. But you’ll never find them. Your mind can’t even fathom that you can go there, or that you are there already.”
“I know where the Himalayas are. But, when is the Pleistocene Epoch?”
“Between two and a half million and eleven thousand years ago,” Kelly said, matter of factly.
“Fuck that. I’m just gonna order new keys,” Will said.
“Good idea,” Kelly said.
“If you want, I can take a look around for you,“ Ryan offered.
“You can time-travel?” Will asked, a little frightened.
“See? That’s your problem, Will,” Kelly said. “You’ll never get anywhere if you refuse to see that you’re already there.”
“I don’t travel in time,” Ryan clarified. “I comprehend it. As such, I am not stuck in any one particular plane. I can slip through the streams when I need to. Do you want me to find your fucking keys, or not?”
Big Head Will trundled off, shit-faced drunk and thoroughly mind- fucked. He had achieved the acid-trip he was looking for. While there would be an alcohol hangover from the vodka, he at least avoided any permanent brain damage, and the inconvenient chromosome fractures inherent with LSD.
When he had gone, Kelly turned to her brother with concern.
“Please tell me you haven’t figured out how to slip the bands of time since I was away at school.”
“Nah,” Ryan snorted. “I’m as trapped here as you.”
“What about Will’s keys?”
“He left them in the bathroom here last week. That boy gets sloppy when he drinks. I’ve been holding onto them waiting for the opportunity to fuck with him.”
“I figured it was something like that.”
For Kelly’s remaining time before she had to return to school, Ryan took the opportunity to unload his entire kit-bag of collected scientific theory. He finally had someone that he could discuss them with who wouldn’t flee in fear and confusion. But even she had her limits. When they finally got around to discussing the Mandela Effect, she had enough.
“That’s it! My brain is full. It’s going to take me weeks to process this much theory. No more until I come home for the summer.”
“But,” Ryan tried to interject.
“No buts! Trying to think on your level is like watching a thousand channels of television at once. I just can’t do it right now. So shut the fuck up!”
Ryan could only cackle with delight. He had achieved the only goal he was really after in the first place. He had twisted his intellectual peer.
That was the fundamental difference between their vast intellects. Ryan was more sport fisherman than anything else when it came to scientific theory. He wasn’t in search of the truth as much as collecting possible truths that he would either prove or disprove at his leisure. But he was in no hurry. He didn’t care about the nature of the universe. He only wanted to bask in the infinite possibilities. For Ryan, physics was porn, and he was a sex addict.
Kelly on the other hand, was concerned about the true nature of the universe. She had an empathy her brother did not. She not only needed to know how everything in the universe worked, but she had an insatiable desire to understand her place and purpose within it, and not just hers’. She was concerned with the well-being and the purpose of every other living being. That was her problem. Along with owning the scientific theory, she needed to understand how it affected her, and everyone else. This way of thinking introduced a level of ethics and morality to the science that her brother hadn’t yet posited about, or even considered. It was a problem because it occupied her concentration when she should have been thinking about other things. She didn’t have the ability to separate herself from the equation. That prevented her from viewing things hypothetically, abstractly, and dispassionately. She made herself part of the problem.
So in spite of the fact that she had no memory of Nelson Mandela’s death at any time, she nonetheless accepted that she might have. She was not in any way dissuaded by the fact that she was interested in Barney when she was younger, and only vaguely recalled the Berenstain Bears. The fact that she didn’t know who the hell Billy Graham was, also was of no help to her. She took the flimsy evidence, recounted by people she did not know, and accepted it as valid. So as she was walking down the third floor hallway to the ladies room which had always been there, and which she had previously and frequently used, Kelly was consumed by the irrational fear that she had become unhinged from her place in the universe and was sliding uncontrollably between alternate parallel dimensions that were vaguely and incrementally different from her own.
When she got to the end of the hall and had yet to find the ladies room, she was sure of it. She was sliding. She hit the staircase in a mild panic and ran down to the ladies room on the first floor. She was thankful that it was still there in this dimension.
Kelly took inventory of her surroundings on her way back to the lecture hall. Everything other than the missing ladies room seemed to be where it had always been. She was substantially calmer when Dr. Magnus resumed his lecture. Taking it back in the direction of philosophy, he asked his students what place morality had in a world of multiple dimensions and alternate realities.
Kelly had long ago puzzled all of that out for herself. Having a strong moral center, and an empathetic relationship to the world around her, she didn’t need a pedantic philosophy professor to tell her why being fair, just, and kind mattered. She already knew it intuitively, and had acted accordingly.
When class ended, Kelly casually approached a classmate. Daniele was one of her sorority sisters, so she trusted her.
“Do you remember there being a ladies room on this floor?” Kelly asked innocently.
“Oh yeah,” Daniele said. “It’s still there, but the glue on the back of the sign wore off. They haven’t fixed it yet. So it looks like a broom closet or something. If you didn’t know it was there you would miss it entirely.”
“I thought so,” Kelly said. “But I started to doubt my own memory when I didn’t see the sign.”
They laughed about it for a moment, but Daniele could never have imagined the crazy place Kelly had driven herself to. Her brother was forever doing this to her, causing her to constantly focus on remote, inane near impossibilities, when she would have been better served paying attention to the here and now. She laughed at herself and whispered “That fucking Ryan!” She marveled at her brother’s ability to manipulate her subconscious, for no other reason than to amuse himself. She loved him dearly, but she knew she was going to have to get a handle on that if she hoped to harness enough concentration to complete her studies and earn her degree. At least in this dimension.
It would no longer be an issue in a seemingly identical, parallel dimension. In that time stream, the version of Kelly Durr never had a conversation with her brother Ryan about The Mandela Effect. So she wasn’t distracted when she walked down the hall in search of the ladies room. She saw the residue from the glue where the sign had been. When she entered the ladies room, an instant later she wished she hadn’t. It was the second to last thing she would ever wish for. The last thing she wished for was to die, if only to escape the violence, brutality, cruelty, and pain that was visited upon her. The incalculable fear and insufferable pain, those were the last things she ever felt in this life.
Waiting for her in that restroom was a man hired a week before by the university as a maintenance worker. The person responsible for his background investigation was a closet alcoholic that had returned from lunch that day quite drunk. The numerous inconsistencies in his information might not have revealed that he was wanted for a series of rapes and murders in Quebec, but it would have prevented him from being hired if they had been even looked at. They were not.
In this dimension, a drunk functionary disinterested with any element of her job helped to create the perfect storm that ended the life of a brilliant young scientist. Because that life ended, her son was never born. Because he was never born, Ryan (named after his uncle) Durr-Tanner never became the oncologist that developed the fail-safe cure for pancreatic cancer. Because of that, millions would die, painfully and horribly.
When her friend Daniele became the next person to enter that restroom, she thought that it looked like an abattoir, such was the effluence of blood. It seemed the walls had been painted with it. When she encountered Kelly’s torn and shattered body strewn in pieces across the floor, the sight of it was so disturbing, Daniele would never be the same. It began a spiral of post-traumatic stress and its attendant depression that ended only when Daniele took her own life several years later.
In still yet another parallel dimension, occurring simultaneously, Kelly encountered Daniele’s father and his partners leading the maintenance man out of the ladies room in handcuffs. Daniele’s father was a detective. Assigned as an investigator for the New York State Police, Corporal Osmundsen was notified by the university about inconsistencies and irregularities in the background information of a prospective employee. The woman who had been assigned the case by the university had been sent home from work when she returned from lunch drunk. The person that inherited the case did not wash her lunch down with a fifth of vodka. So she noticed the irregularities right away. She decided to notify the State Police when the photo of the prospective employee gave her the creeps and reminded her of a wanted poster she had seen several weeks before when she was in Montreal.
A quick review and a few phone calls by Corporal Osmundsen revealed exactly who the maintenance man was. He went in force with his partners to the university. He was directed to the science building by the employee’s foreman, who had sent the provisional worker to re-glue the restroom sign that had fallen off. The detectives found the man hiding in the restroom. He was armed with a carpet knife, a set of needle-nosed plyers, and an acetylene torch. These had been his favored tools for the rape and murder spree in Canada.
Kelly and Daniele would go on to graduate and achieve greatness in their various scientific fields. They would remain life-long friends, serving as brides-maids in each other’s weddings, and God-mother to each other’s children. Kelly’s son would be born, and would one day eradicate the scourge of pancreatic cancer. Millions survived.
Incidentally, also in this particular dimension, Ryan Durr did figure out how to slip the bands of time. So, before his sister came home for the summer, he took a trip with Big Head Will’s car keys. They presently lie at the foot of a rock in the early Pleistocene Epoch, which will one day become the Himalayas. He did this for no greater purpose than for the shits and giggles it afforded him.
BIO: Michael O‘Keefe is a retired 1st Grade Detective from the NYPD. He spent twenty four years investigating Homicides and other violent crime in the toughest neighborhoods in New York. He grew up in the gritty environments he likes to write about, where he met the colorful characters that appear in his fiction, on both sides of the law. He lives on Long Island with his family where he writes a little and practices the martial arts of swimming pool and lawn maintenance, when he is not coaching football.