Oh What a Feebling: A CanRock Short Story Collection, Part 7

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The Lime Ridge Mall in Hamilton, Ontario

Previously:

Smile and Wave

The Drowned

Eating The Rich

Million Days

Birthday Boy

Fire In The Head

Between the fifth and sixth grade I changed schools and entered a full time gifted program. Ostensibly, I did this because I was such a bloody genius and I needed more of a challenge than my local school and teachers could offer, but that was maybe one per cent of the reasoning behind my final decision. In reality, I was being viciously bullied and I needed to get the fuck out.

As a result of this, I adopted a scorched earth approach to everything that I thought might have made me a target in the past. I started wearing jeans because someone once made fun of my stirrup pants (oh, the early ‘90s) at the old school and I thought maybe that was part of the problem. And I completely turned my back on all things science fiction-related because my Dune and Star Trek love really hadn’t gone over well at all.

While I missed comfortable pants, I actually found it easy enough quit sci-fi cold turkey. Whatever enjoyment I’d received from the genre was too heavily weighted with baggage. Space and science just felt like victimization. I felt vaguely sick when I even tried to watch or read that shit. And I soon fell in love with indie rock and had no room for any other entertainment in my life, anyway, so it was a relatively painless break.

In grade eight, our teacher included a science fiction unit in our language arts studies. The majority of the class – male geeks who were allowed to stay in at recess to play D&D – were thrilled. The brilliant burnouts and academic overachievers were either apathetic or somewhat game.

I was mortified.

I was viciously disappointed in our naive teacher for even suggesting such a thing. Surely she could tell how vulnerable we were as a small class of gifties in a normal school. Why on earth would she bait all of those potential bullies by making us visibly read and engage with science fiction?

When it came time to write our own sci-fi stories I did the only thing in my power to protect myself: I sort of made it about indie rock. And, um, Hamilton, Ontario.

I was really, really, really, really into the Killjoys and the Sonic Unyon bands at the time and their hometown had taken on almost mythic proportions in my mind. I loved Hamilton beyond all rationality. Like, I used to tag along on my family’s (strangely frequent, in retrospect) road trips to the Lime Ridge Mall just so I could be in Hamilton.

Which is how I ended up writing a (not terrible?) science fiction short story about people with bright hair getting killed and committing suicide a lot set at the Lime Ridge Mall and named after the band Smoother to defend my coolness.

I showed them.

PART: SEVEN SMOOTHER (1995)

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Chris sat on a stool by the fountain, studying Andrew’s hand.

“Hey!” she lifted his hand up to her face, “I’ve never noticed that before.”

“Oh.” He pulled his hand back to study its thin, long scar. “Yeah, I got that when I was two. Funny thing is, I forgot how I got it.”

She smiled at him. “I can’t believe that I’ve never noticed it before! That’s your left hand, right?”

Chris could tell that he was confused. “Huh?” he laughed at himself.

“Your left hand…” she prompted.

“Oh, yeah! That’s the left hand.”

She smiled to herself. It was for things like that that made some people label Andrew as dumb. She knew how intelligent he actually was; the problem was that hardly anyone else did. The trouble with him was that he was shy.

His conversations were often lined with foolish statements and some of the simplest things went over his head because he was nervous to talk to someone he didn’t know. Even when he was totally comfortable with someone he still slipped up, but she had no problem with him being slightly absent-minded.

“So…” He kicked the bottom of his stool. “How was your day?”

She sighed, and began to talk. As he listened, his eyes studied the completely familiar features of the girl he loved. He watched her eyes as they surveyed her surroundings and finally raised to meet his. They had been the first thing he noticed about her. Her eyes were such a deep blue that they seemed to jump out at people, just as they had jumped at him. He had to have someone tell him that she dyed her hair, although it should have been fairly obvious. Her hair was red, fire engine red, as she described it. It was the way she carried her head and wore her hair that caused Andrew not to think about its colour. It hung below her shoulders and often strands of it fell in her face. As she brushed a piece back with her hand, he was reminded of what a common action it was for her.

Andrew opened his mouth, but the words he had planned to say couldn’t come out. His gaze rested on the fountain in front of him. Not only did he want to tell her, he needed to. He no longer considered what they had as a casual relationship and he needed to know if she felt the same way. He tried to say it and failed once again. He closed his mouth, deciding he’d work up the courage later and continued to stare at the fountain.

Chris followed his gaze. “There’s really nothing new about it. It’s the same fountain we sit at every day. It’s still the same blue tiling, same water and the same coins… well maybe a few more of them.”

She glanced at his profile studying the fountain. His hair shone in the light of the mall, a golden colour with a hint of red to it. His eyes were brown and they always had an enchanting twinkle. He was 18, a year her elder and of average height, which made him taller than her. What she loved most about him was his smile. As she watched him now, his usually joyous face just wasn’t as bright. It troubled her.

“Andrew, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, really.”  The muscles of his face struggled to perform the motion of a smile.

“Well, something’s on your mind.”

“Yeah, there’s something. I’m just not ready to talk to you about it yet. I’ll tell you when I’m ready.”

“You promise to tell me? You’re the only person I truly care about. It would kill me to have you just shut down on me.”

“You don’t really mean that, do you?”

She sighed. “It just becomes truer every day. I mean, it’s fine just to talk with other people, it just feels so hollow. They all run around pretending to be everything they’ll never be and expecting me to do the same. It’s when I’m around the rest of the world that I just want to break down. But then I talk to you and my life seems so perfect. You’re the only person who actually understands me. The others… Oh, I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore…”

“I do,” he interrupted.

She smiled and rested her hand on his shoulder. “That’s why you’re so important to me.”

Andrew stroked her head. It should be so easy to say it right now, but he couldn’t say it. Even though he couldn’t  say what he desperately wanted to, there was something else that he had to say. Something she had said had made him nervous; he had to ask her about it.

“When you’re ‘breaking down, you don’t mean… suicide… do you?”

She lifted her head and shook it violently.

“No! Things aren’t anywhere near that bad! I doubt that they ever will be, definitely not when we have each other. Besides,” she laughed nervously, “you know I’m afraid of death.”

Even though she had laughed, he knew she was completely serious about her fear of death. As far as he knew it was her only fear. He looked into her eyes and tried another time to tell her. The words still wouldn’t come out his mouth.

The events after their conversation happened so quickly that no one noticed until it was too late. All that anyone could piece together was that someone carrying boxes full of stock to a nearby store bumped into Chris. The collision sent her flying to the floor.

Chris opened her eyes and found herself staring up at familiar faces leering over her.

“Are you okay?” one asked.

“Uh huh.”

“You were knocked out when you fell.”

“What city are you in?” another asked.

“Hamilton.” Her eyes scanned her surroundings. “Where’s…?”

Someone interrupted her. “What’s your name?”

“Chris,” she said cautiously.

“Chris who?”

She relaxed, recognizing the man as the manager of one of the record stores.

“Chris Lucacks.”

“What month is it?”

“April!” She was slightly annoyed. “Where’s Andrew?” She spun around, trying to find him.

“Andrew?”

“Andrew Doyle!” she shouted at the man.

“And he is…?”

“My boyfriend.”

He smiled. “Just checking,” said the manager. “He left a few minutes ago.”

The rest of the conversation was a blur to her. As she left, she couldn’t help but feel that something was really odd. It had shocked her that Andrew had left, but that wasn’t the only thing. Somehow, nothing seemed quite right. She checked the exit door as she pushed it open. The lettering on the door said, “Lime Ridge Mall” just as it always had.

“Well at least I know I’m in the same mall…” she whispered to herself.

The next day, she sat by the fountain going over the previous 24 hours in her head. Ever since her fall things had seemed a little out of kilter. There was nothing obviously different, just simple things. The release date of an album at the record store was listed as a day later than she remembered. There was a world premier of a TV show on tonight that she could swear that she had already seen. An idea popped into her head, but she dismissed it as a foolish thought.

One thing that was totally different, though, was Andrew. He had been acting strange around her, nowhere near his usual caring self. She glanced down at her watch.

Now this was totally out of character for him! Every day at the same time they met by the fountain. He had never been even a minute late. She had now waited half an hour.

Finding him nowhere in sight, she decided to buy herself a cookie in the food court. As she approached the counter of what she thought to be Treat’s, she looked up to discover that Treat’s was on the opposite side. It struck her as odd, but what really bothered her was the sight of Andrew sitting at one of the tables. She forgot about the cookie and walked over to join him.

“Where were you?” he asked her.

She was confused by the question. “Where were you?!” she responded.

The more they talked, the more inconsistencies she found. He insisted that they met at the food court, not the fountain. He now suddenly hated his favourite band and on the whole his personality was different. The rest of the conversation was a blur to her as she thought she saw something out the corner of her eye.

She tried to convince herself that she hadn’t seen it, but when he turned his palms up, there was no denying what she saw. The scar on his hand was totally gone! There was no trace of it. She felt her stomach tie up in knots. It took all of her strength not to scream out loud. She didn’t even know what she said to him before she got up and left. All that she knew was that she had to get away.

She walked back to her house, totally unaware of her surroundings. Suddenly, what had seemed like such a crazy idea less than an hour ago now seemed so possible.

She spent the rest of the night running over the idea in her head.

Each time she thought about it, it made even more sense.

Chris spent almost a week on her own, only talking to others when she had to. All of her time was consumed by her idea, which she had to prove to herself with every inconsistency she observed. She fully believed her theory now, but she still had a lot of questions that needed answering.

She spent most of her time at home, but sometimes she ventured out to the mall. She couldn’t bear the pain of sitting by the fountain after her clash with Andrew. But almost a week later she found him sitting there waiting for her.

“People keep telling me you dumped me… what happened?”

The sight of him in that moment made her forget all about the events in the food court. It took a minute to remind herself of all that had happened since the last time they had been together at the fountain.

She sat beside him. “You know what happened.” His expression changed.

When he finally spoke, he sounded breathless. “ Wait a minute!! You… you fell off the stool…”

“Yes I did. I got knocked off…”

“But, you… you broke your neck! I was there!”

“You just left me there!”

“I did not Chris! I went to the hospital with you and I was there when the doctor pronounced you dead!”

The words sent a shiver up her spine. As fast as she could, she reached for his left hand and turned it over. She found what she was looking for… his scar. Even through her shock, she couldn’t help but feel relieved.

“Andrew! It’s you!” She realized that these events could only mean one thing. She had believed it to be true, but the actual proof was now in front of her and it still shocked her. She sat down on the step before the water, pushing her arm against his stool as if bracing herself from the truth.

“It’s true…” she whispered “True.”

“You died Chris!” He looked at her, wishing she’d correct him. Instead she did the opposite.

“Yes, I did… and so did you.”

“What?!!” It was almost a scream.

“I have something to tell you, Andrew. But I want you to relax first. Let’s go get some fries and sit for awhile.”

Andrew followed her to New York Fries, wishing he didn’t have to wait for her to explain.

Andrew sat on the step leading down from the fountain, crushing the empty fry cup. He turned his face to Chris beside him. His stomach churned in anticipation. “Okay, we’ve had our fries, we’re sitting, now…”

She poked the fries in her cup with her fork. “No, you’re not relaxed enough.”

“I’m as relaxed as I’m gonna get, given what has  just happened.”

“Fine,” she sighed. “It’s going to sound weird, but you just have to believe me.” She found herself tensing up, afraid to tell him, but she pushed on with her theory. “Well… gee, it’s hard to put into words, but I’ll have to try.”

She took a deep breath. “Here goes, okay?  Remember that funny little concept called death? Well, it’s not quite what we thought. Now, how do I put this? You don’t actually die. You just wake up in a new… reality. Before my little collision, we’ll call that Reality One.

“When I fell off the stool, I died. Bad term. I… ceased to exist in that reality and ended up in here, Reality Two.” She still picked at her fries. “In Reality One, I broke my neck when I fell, but here, in Reality Two where I woke up, I was only knocked out for a second and only got a few bruises. The same thing must have happened to you.

“Before you came here, there was a clone of you, almost exactly the same, except no scar and his personality was different. But that doesn’t matter now. The real you is here now.”

“Why aren’t there more people running around talking about this, then, if it’s true?”

“I don’t know, maybe I just remembered more about Reality One than others. I don’t know.”

“Chris, I want to believe you, I do. But something doesn’t feel right about it all.”

“Andrew, have you seen the food court? It’s reversed. Things like that are all around. They’re not radically different, but they’re just not the same.”

Andrew motioned over to show Chris someone who had obviously been listening in on their conversation. The listener sat a few feet away from them, staring at the water, acting unaware that they noticed him. It struck Chris as odd that he was wearing sunglasses inside, but she thought no more of it. His hair was curly and blue. It fell down to his shoulders and was pushed away from his face by his sunglasses.

Suddenly he got up and walked over, edging himself between them. “Hey,” was all that he said.

Chris shifted over to give herself some more space. “Hey…” she repeated the greeting, somewhat confused.

“The name’s Framey.” He offered a hand to each of them. Both hesitated, but shook the offered hand.

“Framey. Last or first name?” Andrew tried to face him, but couldn’t find the right angle to sit at.

“Just Framey.” His head nodded as he spoke. “You know…” He shook his head prematurely. “This really isn’t what I’m like. I don’t listen in on conversations. But this is different. It was kinda something I had to do. You, my friend,” he put his arm over Chris’s shoulder, “You’re brilliant. This whole theory you have is very impressive. I just have one question for you… Would you be ready to physically prove it?”

“Uh huh.” She held her head up, positive of her answer.

He laughed aloud. “Remember your answer. Don’t be surprised if someone takes you up on your belief.” With that, he got up and walked away.

Chris and Andrew watched him until he was out of sight. Their short encounter with Framey had left her with the same sensation as her discussion with her boyfriend.

“Just ignore him, Chris…”

She cut him off. “I’m not going to ignore him. He’s right. Someone will hold me to it.”

“What do you mean?”

“You just don’t believe me, do you?”

“I don’t know Chris. I just wish there was some kind of proof…”

“Andrew! Can you think of another explanation for the fact that you watched me die and now we’re both alive, together here?!!”

He shook his head. “I guess the whole concept scares me. It’s just gonna take a while to get used to. Before we talk about it anymore though, there is something I have to tell you.” He finally summed up the courage to say it. “ Whether what has happened is real or not, it made me realize how much I needed to say this to you. I love you Chris… I had to tell you just in case I lose you… again.”

“I love you too,” she said honestly. “But if you lose me again, I’ll only be a reality away.” They both smiled at her comment.

“It makes sense Chris. It makes a lot of sense. I’m just a little nervous to commit to being a total believer right now. It’s that Framey. He freaked me out.”

She laughed. “Strange character, wasn’t he? Funny thing is there was something strangely comforting about him…” She shrugged. “Anyway, there’s no rush to make you a total believer. We’ve got lots of time. Sleep on it and maybe you’ll come to your conclusion. If not, we can wait. What really matters though, is that we’re together. I can’t live without you.”

“I love you Chris. I believe you…”

She shook her head. “ I told you, just sleep on it. Make your decision in the morning. Now, though, we both need rest. Today must have been very tiring for you. You died, saw me, who you thought was dead and got freaked out by old Framey! Good night Andrew.”

He stood, watching her walk away for a minute before turning and heading for home.

The next day, Andrew sat alone in his room, trying to convince himself that the most painful truth in his lifewas nothing more than a lie. He could pretend forever, but it was the truth. Chris had died the night before.

He hadn’t permitted himself to learn the cause of death, but he did allow himself to either prove or disprove the rumour. After a call to her parents there was no more denying the fact that she was dead.

He knew that he could get on with his life, because he had to. There was no other choice. But maybe there was. Chris was only a reality away. It would be so easy for him to find her again!

He stopped his thought process. It wasn’t that easy. Did he honestly believe her theory enough to do it? Was it true? If he was wrong, there would be no second chance. It would be over and he valued his life too much for that.

It made sense though. He could think of no other explanation for her first death and his. He suddenly became sure of her theory and what he must do. He had died once before. How bad could it be to die again?

He sat in the bathroom running water in the tub. As he studied the razor blade in his hand, the word hit him for the first time. Suicide. “I’d promised myself I’d never do it,” he whispered to himself. But it wasn’t suicide. He wasn’t killing himself. There was no such thing as death. He was sending himself to another reality. Reality Three.

“Well this is it.” He found himself laughing nervously. “The ultimate test in faith. Andrew, can you do it?”

***

“Framey!” Chris motioned to him. She was sitting on the step in front of the Eaton’s entrance to Lime Ridge Mall. He walked up and sat beside her, soundless.

“You were so certain he was going to join us. It’s been a few days now. If he was going to do it, he woulda done it already.”

They looked at each other, neither being able to determine the other’s emotions, their expressions hid by their sunglasses.

“Do you want him here if he doesn’t believe in what you told him?”

“He does believe me. He told me. I need him. I want him around. I can’t go on this way. I spent the last two days with you and your meaningless phrases and your complete joy in annoying me. It has not been fun for me.” She leaned forward and buried her face in her hands as he laughed. “Where do I find the strength to get up in the morning?” she sighed.

“Oh…” sarcasm soaked his words. “Don’t go hurting my feelings. I thought we were becoming such good friends… You’ve deeply hurt me, just when I’ve come bearing  good news. Someone made a suicide attempt sometime yesterday. Slit his wrists. He woke up this morning with not even a scratch on either wrist. I do believe the real Andrew has found his way to Reality Three. I sent a friend to check up on him. If the kid has a scar on his wrist, he’s dropping him off right here.”

“You’re telling me the truth, right?” her voice was a monotone.

Framey pointed to a red sports car pulling into the mall’s parking lot. “Uh huh.”

Chris watched in anticipation as the car stopped in front of them. Andrew got out of it and walked toward them. As Framey waved to the driver pulling away, she ran to meet her boyfriend. Just to be sure, she checked his hand.

She threw her arms around him. “You believed me…”

“Of course I did Chris. It all started to make sense and I knew you were right.”

Framey walked up and flung himself on both of them. “Oh, I just love moments like these, but now it’s over. We three have a lot to discuss. Why don’t we go over to your little fountain? I’m sure you’ll feel more comfortable there.” He took their arms and dragged them inside.

Chris sat down on the step, still afraid to sit on the stools after her fall. She pushed her sunglasses off her face and firmly rooted them in her hair. She watched the other two sit on either side of her and noticed that Framey’s glasses remained over his eyes.

“Okay Framey. Just tell us what you have to. No more mind games,” she found herself saying.

He laughed at her. “No more mind games, I was just bothering you to kill time. I couldn’t tell you anything until he got here. But now, Andrew, my friend, you’re here.

“Obviously, by now, you two know that your theory is correct. There are many realities, there is an order to them and to get to the next one you have to die in the one before it. The realities have a sequential order and you can’t go back to a reality after you have left it.

“If I repeat things, please forgive me, but I’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Once you leave a reality you cease to exist there, but in a way, you exist in the realities ahead of you. Okay, so consciously and physically there is only one real you. But there are clones of everyone in the realities they haven’t been to yet. When you die, your mind is transferred into the clone’s body as well as any pre-death scars and things like that. They’re transferred too, although I’m not sure how or why, other than the fact you might notice if your markings were suddenly missing.

“Anyway, each reality is subtly different and your mind is trained not to notice the differences when you change levels. Somehow something went wrong with you two. Especially you, Chris. You picked up on every single inconsistency you could find. I applaud you for that.

“I’d love to sit here and explain all the reasons why and how this happens, but I myself, have no idea. What really matters is that it does happen. Someone could be let’s say in Reality One and fall off a stool or suffer from a stab wound or even just fall asleep and find themselves, in the next minute, in Reality Two suffering nothing more than a few bruises, a tiny cut, or just waking up.

“So that’s my spiel. And now, for the Question Session.”

Chris spoke first. “ So none of our clones have the same scars as we do? They wouldn’t even get a tattoo if the real person did?”

“Nothing that happens to your own body happens to the clone. It transfers when your mind does. Even our hair Chris. Our clones wouldn’t dye their hair. Again, don’t ask me why, I can’t answer.”

“I can see one problem with that,” Andrew played with something in his pocket.

“If someone really hated their life and they killed themselves just to wake up again and do it all over…”

Chris turned to him. “”I thought so at first, but then I saw John Gehman in Reality Two. I never knew him personally, but I remember how moody and dark he was. It took me a minute to remember his suicide when I saw him again. He was perfectly happy, you never would have known…”

Framey nodded. “It’s one of the changes that occurs in our mind.”

“It makes sense Framey. So now what? We know we’re right, but what do we do about it? Should we sit back like nothing has happened?” Andrew leaned forward to look at him.

“I couldn’t do it alone but now there are three of us. I was kinda wanting to tell the whole world.”

The two of them were quick to agree with the idea, as they discussed it more Chris changed her mind. “No, guys. It’s not a good idea. The world isn’t ready for this. It never will be.”

“Why not?” It was the first time she had heard emotion in Framey’s voice.

“Sure, it will give people comfort, but it would cause more damage than it would do good. You’d get masses of people killing themselves so they could go meet dead rock stars or family, friends, pets anyone. If lots of people started to do that it would really upset the whole balance of life.”

“Then you’d get people trying to get back to a reality they’ve already left…”

Framey cut her off. “You’d never be able to explain to people that the only death possible is if they succeeded in getting back. Then, when they died in that reality, they’d have no clone ready to accept their mind because they’ve already taken the clone from that reality. They’d have nowhere to go. They’d die. It would be too dangerous to have the masses attempt it. It’s bad enough some people have already tried…”

The realization hit her suddenly. “Hauntings…”

“Yes.” Framey patted her on the back. “That’s right. Hauntings are caused by people trying to re-enter a reality.” He shook his head. “You’re right Chris. It’d be too dangerous if people did believe us. They’d lock us up for the rest of our lives.” His laughter didn’t totally conceal his disappointment.

“What about you, Andrew?” Chris asked him.

Andrew nodded. “It woulda been fun to tell the world, but it’s just not right.”

“Okay guys, even though we’re not going to become famous for uncovering the truth for everyone, we’re gonna stick together, right?” Framey leaned over in order to see both of them.

Chris and Andrew nodded. “I’d like that, Framey,” said Chris. “Now, Andrew has a scar, so we can identify him. What about us?”

Framey took out a Swiss Army Knife and worked away until he had made quite a wound on his left hand. “Here.” He offered her the knife. “You’re next.”

Chris shook her head. “I’m not good with blood. I have a different idea. I’ll meet you guys back here in an hour okay?”

Framey glanced at his watch. “She should be back right about…”

“Now?” Andrew asked, watching her run up behind them. “Okay, what did you do?” Andrew leaned back to look at her face.

Chris stuck out her left hand. Her fingers bore the four letters L-I-V-E. “It hurt less than slicing up my hand!” was her reply.

“You know what?” Framey started a confession. “I’ve never had friends before. You guys.  You’re my friends. I like you.”

Chris bent down and hugged her two friends.

Andrew looked at Framey. “She’s not usually like this.”

His comment made her laugh. “Immortality can do weird things to a person… You know what? I feel like running into the middle of the fountain and standing there for a while!”

Before she finished speaking, she was in the water and heading for the centre.

“Hey!” Andrew called, dashing in after her. “I’m not letting you do this alone!”

Framey sat, dangling his feet in the water, laughing. He watched as the two splashed each other and let themselves become soaking wet from the water falling on them from the actual fountain.

He smiled to himself before talking out loud. “I wasn’t going to say this now and spoil all the fun, but I’m sorry, I have to. Everything you said about your theory was right, but you’ve ignored one huge question: Do these realities ever STOP?!”

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