by Johnny Barber
Don’t blink.

The average person blinks nearly 30,000 times a day. The laws of quantum mechanics dictate that an observer is required to collapse reality into being. Without an observer, particles exist both as a particle and a wav4e of probability. Translation: if a tree falls in the woods, it already fell in the woods, is still falling in the woods, will never fall in the woods. And while scientists theorize that gravity is the weakest natural force because it “leaks” into higher dimensions, scientists have yet to theorize what goes on in those dimensions, or who.

Don’t blink.


…the stench of flies and shit they feast, bargain bags of rotted meat, a heap of blood and no receipt…

Waking up behind a dumpster, he finds a bloody tattoo on his forearm he can’t remember getting.

1 9 0 1 F A R E W A Y D R I V E

An address. His pocket vibrates and he pulls out a phone. The screen lights up: “Do you have it?”

The suitcase is firm in his hand, initials etched in gold: “P.S.”

He probes his memory for a name, for anything, but nothing pops up. He looks behind himself, to the left and to the right, and ponders any other direction to go but forward. Nothing. And so…

Up and gone, he flags a cab. In. “Yeah, go here. Like the ink. Yes I know it’s bloody. No I don’t know the name of it. Make a right, okay yeah here, thanks.” Out.

A massive doorway dressed in etchings, some hooves and some horns, shadows him like death. He checks his forearm, and then slams the door with his fist. Seconds pass. Minutes. He scopes his watch but the hands don’t move anymore.

A sliver of darkness appears behind the door, and a serpent’s whisper precludes the vision of her face, all torn and beaten like leather. An apple worn down to the core, serpent slither and all. Some devil in darkness whose mouth and tongue rarely worked in tandem. Her noise: “We’ve been waiting. You have it?”

He lifts his hand, displaying the black suitcase.

“Excellent. Please, enter.”

Her face momentarily slips back into the dark before the colossal door opens.

The blackness extends its hand, and he takes it. He steps inside and the door crashes shut. His eyes take their time to adjust.

Candles light the interior, casting just enough vision to illuminate victorian portraits that span entire walls. Marbled and spiraling staircases extend into a blackness above, as the ceiling stood beyond candlelight. This was not the world. This was something else.

“No electricity?” he says.

“We prefer this. A keepsake of time gone by. Reminds us of home, so it does. Please.” She beckons him further, beckoning towards some distant door, some distant future already determined, a determination to linearity illogical, a call for endings to begin and webs to weave, strings that vibrate imperceptibly and cause the cause of all, because it all has cause to be.

“Please… You must understand. We were very curious when we heard of the device’s existence. We’re something of collectors, you see. You haven’t opened it, have you?”

“I don’t think so. I can’t remember. What is it?”

“Its specifications are lost to us, but we believe it holds the power to destroy everything.”

“You mean like a bomb?” he says.

“More like a black hole.”


She points forward. “Please…”

Hallways turn to hallways, blurring together in a mad dash of color and shadow, and he gets the feeling that the sun, though arisen, was fading; a lack of windows and inward passages all but erased the memory of daytime, as though the very notion of light was an offense to the house and its dwellers. Corner after corner, the shape of the hallways seemed to be shrinking, the ceiling inching closer to the floor. Candles separated by ten feet, then twelve feet, fourteen… The wallpaper gives way to cobblestone, cold to the touch, and the ground drops to a staircase when she stops him.

“Wait. I must see if it is willing to be invoked.”

She takes a deep breath in, and then shrieks. The cry echoes into the dark beyond of the hallway, bouncing off the stone walls, traveling further and further through the blackness, slowly demising in volume. A scream, then a shout, a peep fading into the background buzz of silence.

For a count of three, there is nothing. And then--

A rapturous roar from all sides, a blast of sound so loud and so close that it seemed to exist inside the ear, the entirety of existence contained in a single syllable, all that had come and would ever come caught in that crash. He covers his ears, but the noise continues unabated, a black drone of every possible sound smashed into one, the pure opposite of silence. So thick the air begins to vibrate. His chest pressurizes. He feels as though he might rupture when it stops.

And again, silence.

“It is ready. You must continue alone, as the sight of it fills me with much dread. Now, if you please…” and she disappears back into the maze of hallways and wallpaper.

He looks forward into the infinite darkness, assured that no corner of space nor pit of hell could be so black. Staring into it drained him, like the sun on a molten day, and yet a part of him was being pulled closer. The call of the void: invisible fingers pulling him further in, the lulling hand of a warm, sleepy death. A blanket of spiders and ash, a pillow of tar and plague. Brainstem bedlam, fight or flight, the terminal patient fights the dying of the light--can’t blink, won’t blink, won’t accept the fate passed down, the warmth that starts in the toes and crawls upwardly throughout the body, coating it in muscle relaxants and massage oils and tranquilizers, that ever- fractaling column of colors and faces that seems to zoom in from every direction, that blank stare, those cold hands, that irreversible stillness--and he begins his descent.

The echo of his footstep returns to him.



Further into it.

Further into the

Darkness that pervades

All that is and ever was.

Invisible breath

Plastered fog

In the frost.

Hands like

Ice shivers.

So dark.

so cold

The floor collapses and he falls down, down, down. Deeper, further into that void, that abyss without shape or form, without sound or breath. Blackness dropping over him like a sheet.

A stillness settles about him, a vacuity, as if all time and place was lost. Nothing to hear, nothing to see, nothing at all. Not standing but not falling. Floating.

A voice, from the bottom of a well: “so, you chose to come. the vines spoke of your arrival, but doubts were had. after all, your hand is your own.”

Frozen, encased in ice, he is without word. And so the voice continues. “we have not met, and yet i know you. you may wonder what it is that is speaking to you. i am without word or definition, but i may attempt. i am an energy of such vibration that transcends limits of space and time. i see you, every version of you. you are but a speck of your whole self. you are but one lane of a highway. and yet, you are the blip in this world, the piece that doesn’t match. your initial use of the device has left your memory in limbo, but it will return. allow for an explanation. you discovered it first. not here, not in this timeline, but elsewhere. another branch of you, where you were once from long ago. in fact, it was the one you met before you came. the one who marked your arm. he created the device to find his child, lost somewhere in the spiderweb of existence. you see, he made a mistake. he never programmed the device to accept coordinates. his jumps were random. the timelines to which he arrived held no significance.

“i want you to imagine time as one-lane street. you move from one direction to the other, past to future. you cannot go backwards on this street. but what if you could go sideways? what if you could move sideways in time? what if that street was merely the result of tunnel vision, one which blinded the driver from the spiderweb of streets surrounding him?

“i need not be told why you came. what matters is what happens next. i will not try to hide your options from you. if you relinquish the device, you will still be the copy in this world, and we will be forced to remove you. or, you can try your luck with the device and find a home.

“your hand is your own.”

Spurred by some mechanism of chance, choice, and fate, a neuron launches an electric signal that propagates like a tsunami across axons and synapses, releasing a chemical cocktail of neurotransmitters that spreads from neuron to neuron to neuron, washing over his cerebral cortex, clouding his frontal lobe with the overwhelming urge to open the suitcase.

He feels the roughness of the black leather in his hands. He feels the latch as it flicks from closed to open. He feels the vibrations begin as the lid unfolds, revealing a bright pink string held taut by two steel nails. He feels the grain of the string as he runs his finger along its edge. He feels his mind reel at the recollection of her name, a vision forcing itself back into consciousness, an embedded memory that sends shivers throughout him: the man in the mirror, bloodied and popping out of the air, holding a knife to her throat and flicking his wrist and that red spurt when the voice says--

…as always…

--and he plucks the string.

So begins its oscillation. A low bellowing sound resonates back and forth between the nails, gaining energy as its frequency escalates, a steadily rising wave of vibration that drips upwardly through the octaves, a black note shifting white, impossibly high, higher still, the string’s vibration giving wind to the room when the tone splits, equally high and low, black and white, reverberating back and forth through eternity becoming a thick wave of pure energy that rips a hole in the very fabric of reality, of it, an infinitesimal tear that widens, swallowing the very air around it as though it were alive and throbbing and growing and the gravity doubles, triples, compresses inwardly, a maelstrom of pressure and noise and energy and he begins to be sucked into it, his limbs contorting in grotesque fashion, bones snapping and sockets popping, teeth mashed to a grime, his scream drowned out by the whirring and buzzing of the string, and he loses consciousness as his body folds in two, smaller and smaller still, whipped through the void along with the suitcase and the hole in time snaps back with a force enough to crumple the building, the city, the continent, the world, the universe shattered into fragmented blips, pieces of a string cut loose, a cigarette burn in the fabric of the cosmos and everything ends forever.

rything ends forever.

nds forever.









.reversed though familiar ,world sideways a into void the through slips He .up clear to starts finally it ,feeling the away blink to tries and head his shakes he As

Closed. The background hum of the universe. He opens his eyes and looks at his body: nothing torn nor broken, all limbs accounted for. A relative sense of ease washes him as he inspects his surroundings. A dimly-lit garage, one with tools clinging to a cardboard grate and various mechanical equipment set on shelves. He walks over to a table with notes scattered on its surface. Etchings of diagrams and mechanisms spark another memory: these are my notes.

He begins to dig through them when the garage lights turn on, and he hushes away behind a corner.

The door connecting the garage and the house opens, and she walks through it.

“Who’s in here?” she says, holding a knife. “Is someone in here? Hello?”

Her voice, another token of memorial: this is my wife.

“Hey, hello. Honey, it’s just me.”

She takes a breath of relief. “Why are you home so early? You scared me.”

“I had a breakthrough on my project, and boss said I could take off early.”

“But you told me this morning you would be staying late.”

“Yeah. Well, turns out I didn’t.”

She looks at him and shrugs. “Okay.”

“Honey, this will sound odd, but what day is it?”

“It’s Tuesday.”

“I mean the date.”

“Oh. It’s…” she looks at her phone. “It’s the thirteenth.”

“Of what month?”

“October… Are you okay? Did they send you home?”

“I’m fine. What year?”

“This isn’t funny. Whatever you’re doing here, hiding from me, creeping around. It isn’t funny. Okay?”

“I’m not trying to be funny.” He takes a step towards her. “Look, I don’t know if I can fully explain what happened, but I just really need to know what year it is.”

“You’re such an ass. It’s twenty-twenty. Same as it was yesterday. What are you on about anyway?”

“So she’s been born? Is she here?”

“Hello? You in there? You have a good day at work and you forget about our daughter? Our daughter, Amber? They wash you through some radiation today? You’re buggin’ me out, Daniel. I’m gonna finish dinner. You… you go take a shower or something.”

She turns around and leaves.

He takes the moment to inspect the briefcase in awe.

And then he goes and meets his daughter for the first time.


Later, as he’s drying his hair after a shower, wiping the mirror to look at his reflection, and feeling a glimpse of home, there’s a loud motor sound from beyond the walls, the sound of a garage opening and a car idling. The rumble of the engine cuts out. A door opens. Someone gasps.

He wraps the towel around his waist and peeks his head out of the door, listening.

“…stairs… still there… quietly…”

He closes the door and throws his clothes back on, and searches for something to use as a weapon. A hairdryer, some bath stones, nothing under the sink. He grabs the toilet lid and rips it off.

There’s banging on the other side of the door, voices indistinguishable, and then a foot bursts through the door, splintering the wood and trapping itself.

“Aw, fuck!” yells a familiar voice.

He seizes the opportunity and slams the lid onto the outstretched leg, causing it to twist in an unnatural way. There’s a yelp from the other side of the door.

“Who the fuck are you?” she yells.

“I’m your husband!” he yells back.

“No you’re not! You just broke his leg!”

She tugs at Daniel, her Daniel, and pulls him back through the door. The torn fabric of his jean reveals a hard piece of bone stained red by spurts of blood. He falls to the ground yapping, stammering, gasping for air, while she grabs the key atop the door frame and unlocks the door. She opens it and the Daniels make eye contact.

Something in their mental wiring flicks, and a primordial connection of understanding the universe goes numb. For a moment, this is not what is happening. This is, without a doubt, a simulation of existence. Nothing but an experience crafted by a consciousness apart from the experience, yet a consciousness inherent in the existence of the experience itself. Something above, yet below. Like twine spun between two tops; the thread intersecting in the middle. But then the synapse connection responsible for self-awareness and the ego pulses back to the surface and the Daniel in the bathroom starts talking.

“Look, I don’t want this to happen. This, us fighting or killing each other, that’s not how this ends. You should know who I am; you’ve been working on the device. I saw the notes. I come from a place where the Penteract Shifter is real, and it’s in this house.”

The wife speaks up. “Daniel, what the fuck is going on?”

The one on the floor can only breathe.

“I’m trying to tell you, we’re the same person. I’m another version of him. It’s like, something about a highway… Shit, what did that voice say?”

“What are you, a clone?”

“No, I’m from another timeline. Have you told her anything about this?”

The Daniel on the ground gets his words back, breathing them in like air. “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit, you’re real, I can’t believe you’re real. You came here? You can’t stay here.”

The wife says, “I’m calling the police,” and she runs off into another room. Daniel grabs the toilet lid again and follows her while the one on the ground starts hyperventilating.

Later, in the kitchen, Daniel uses the lid to bash the wife’s teeth into her esophagus. He then jags it into her throat until the bloody pulp stops bubbling. Then he goes back up to the bedroom.

He looks at the barely conscious man on the floor and says, “It doesn’t matter. After I jump out of here, none of this will matter. You will burn alongside everything else. But I’m not giving up on my daughter.”

He leaves the limp Daniel and goes to find the child sleeping silently in her crib. He picks her up, snatches the suitcase from the garage, and opens it.

“Don’t worry,” he says to the infant, “we’re just gonna find your mommy…”

And then he flicks the string, and the two of them slip into the vortex while the mountains and the sea become one, all alit in glorious golden flame, beautiful if not for the grotesque rupture of all life from the inside out.

Elsewhere, God blinks, and a portion of his web dies.
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