Love – (You) – Not

My dear friend allowed me to use this plot. If you would like to read the original plot synopsis, please visit the factory of mistakes.

This story comes with trigger warnings for suicide, and unpleasant things.

Love-(You)-Not

The media didn’t know what to make of it. Reports had been flying in, from all over the city, about people who suddenly saw doppelgängers of themselves everywhere. At first, the News at Six had speculated that it was a new mental illness, which had been unknown before. This was the common stance until two days later their lead presenter had broken down live on air while swearing she could see a thousand of herself right in front of her.

David had been watching the news reports with interest.

Channel Eight News were interviewing lead psychologists, health advisors, and neurologists. None of them really knew what to say, but they did know how to argue with each other  There was some docu-drama on Studio Five about how this was all related to crop circles and the Mayan apocalypse. The truth was, it had been two days, and nobody really knew what was happening. They had estimated that around 2% of the population was now affected, and it was spreading.

On around day five of the media panic, it started to happen to David.

He had been preparing himself to get ready for work. He had put on his usual suit and tie, and he had started his walk to the train station. On his way, he passed by the same people he usually passed – a jogger, an older woman walking her dog, and a sweet-looking lady. But, in one stride, he saw himself step to the side, greet the young lady, take her arm, and continue walking with her. The young lady continued onwards, and the version of himself that he saw took a different course, arms linked with nothing. He stopped in his tracks, as twenty versions of himself walked back home, continued briskly onwards, sat down and cried, and started running after the girl.

Every moment, every version of himself lived out every possible choice he could have made. The air was thick with a thousand Davids, living a thousand lives. There were six of him doing exactly the same thing he was doing now, but with a different tie. He did his best to get to work, to sit at his desk like everything was normal, but the primary David went home at lunch complaining of a migraine. Eight of him stayed at work. When he got home, ten of him were on the sofa looking despondent. One of him was hanging from the shower rails.

When he switched on the lunchtime news, the presenter said that as many as 20% of the population was now affected, and that record numbers of suicides had been reported. In the last two days, there were as many suicides as there had been in the last three years. Top scientists were said to be working on a cure, and were currently blaming the outbreak on prion disease. David was vegetarian, so he knew that wasn’t true.

As he reflected, he had a romantic vision that every possible world had collided and was superimposed on each other, and he was seeing reflections of himself making each possible choice. He noticed that a few of the despondent Davids had now left the flat, and he realised he had the same idea as them. If he was seeing every possible outcome of every possible choice he could make, perhaps he could see shadows of the versions of himself who had made very different choices.

Several of the Davids made some interesting route choices, but David wasn’t following them. He had remembered that there was a job he very much wanted in the old part of town, and had applied for twice. It was at the local newspaper offices, doing some filing. He walked to that part of town in the hope of vindicating himself. He saw nothing. He loitered outside of the office long enough for a security guard to be giving him a mean look. After an hour or so, he left, dejected.

On his route home, he passed a house. It was a house he had seen plenty of times in his life, and had always thought was quite charming. There was honeysuckle and the front door was painted a cheery shade of green. He noticed a man walk out of the door, but also noticed that the door didn’t move. He did not at first recognise the man. The man had a beard, wore clothes that co-ordinated and sensible shoes. He made motions like he was pushing something that wasn’t there. And then, suddenly, the man turned into six men, taking different routes, some of them holding something, some of them going back inside, some of them carrying on. And then, David realised it was him.

For a while, David didn’t know quite what to do. There was the flickering of some lights in the house, as the afternoon dawdled slowly to dusk. A few Davids had crept towards the door already, and David was feeling the pressure to make that choice. He didn’t like already having second guessed himself. He drew a deep breath, stepped forward, and rang the doorbell.

A long minute passed. A flux of different Davids walked in the house, but not the real David.

He rang the doorbell again.

After an agonising wait, the door crept slowly open. It was the young lady he always saw at the train station. Her face was red and stained with tears. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days. She was still crying. David didn’t know what else to do, so he reached out his arms and held her as she sobbed.

The lady invited him inside, and introduced herself as Madeline. David could see himself all over the front room, in so many different places, some of them highly sexual. David saw a nude version of himself thrusting wildly over to the side of the sofa, and tried his best to avoid eye contact. He noticed Madeline’s gaze avoiding the same area of the room.

Madeline explained that she had been affected by the illness, and that she didn’t know who she was any more. She had not made it to work that morning. After she passed David on her walk to work, she split in two, and had broken down. She was afraid to go outside. She had hoped that if she stood still long enough, she would stop splitting up. David didn’t know what to say. Madeline was beautiful, fragile, and alone. David wished that he knew how to help.

After staying a short while, and insisting on helping Madeline to make some dinner and to eat, David returned home. He promised to visit Madeline every day, to check that she was okay, and to bring her food.

His flat was crowded with Davids, and so many of them were dead. When he saw so many mutilated and bloated versions of his dead face, he was physically ill.

On the news, still blaring in the background, reports were coming in of public services coming to a standstill. None of the transport in the city was running. Ambulance, fire and police services were at a halt. Minor news stations were closing their doors. 50% of the population was said to now be affected, with one in ten committing suicide within three days of manifesting symptoms.

David slept restlessly, as he knew he was being watched by himself.

The next day came, and a vast number of Davids went to the local supermarket. It was closed, the windows smashed, and quite possibly looted. If this was the apocalypse, David would loot a nice bouquet of flowers to cheer up Madeline. Most of the Davids seemed to agree, so before long David returned to his fair lady with a beautiful arrangement of lilies, some reasonably priced chocolate, and an Italian meal deal for two. He left ten pounds on the counter anyway.

When he reached Madeline’s house he saw hundreds of himself. She wasn’t answering the doorbell, but the door was unlocked. He went in, and saw through the swarm that she was sat bolt upright on the sofa, just where he had left her. She wasn’t well. She smiled thinly at the flowers, and David wilted a little. He held her a while, made her some food, and fawned over her. She didn’t speak. She sat, and cried.

That night, he stayed in the house to watch over her. From the many different kinds of David in the house, he knew this was a woman he loved, had loved, or was going to love in many different lifetimes. He didn’t feel like he knew Madeline yet, but he still felt some sense of loyalty. Perhaps it was some romantic notion of destiny. She was growing frail and sleepless.

In the morning, David went in to the front room and found her still crying. Madeline spoke this time, though. She had seen herself the day prior, heavily pregnant. Hundreds of pregnant Madelines. And half of them had miscarried. Of the half of them, around six had killed themselves. There were Madelines in the room right now, cradling phantom babies. Madelines in her bed, writhing in lovemaking. Madelines arguing. Madelines crying. Madelines kissing, arm in arm with men she couldn’t see. Madeline couldn’t stand it any longer.

David understood.

After some coaxing, he brought her back to his flat, away from the Madelines living unfathomable lives. Unfortunately, this didn’t solve the problem. Madeline was aghast. There were so many more of her here. She ran out. David didn’t know what to do. There were so many Davids now that it was getting impossible to tell what the other Davids were doing in response.

When he came to his senses, and went back to her house, it was too late. Among the crowd of Davids was a respectful gap, and in the respectful gap was fair Madeline. She was not breathing. The pool of blood spreading over the carpet told him what he needed to know.

As his heart broke, the other Davids slowly started to fade away.

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Electric Dreams

I have carried you in my heart so long that it hurts. In the instant that I loved you, I knew I would lose you. I have never regretted anything more in my life than that one instant. My young heart didn’t know the weight it bore.

I remember the realisation one day, a calm early morning, the dew not yet settled. I knew nothing I could do would change the way I felt. I tried to run from my inevitable fate. I dallied in the arms of others, but my heart could not be deceived. It grew heavy. Cold. The more I tried to forget you, the more I forgot how to love anyone else.

I wanted to destroy myself. To be annihilated. I drank, I fought, I fucked. Then, one day, I saw someone who looked just like you, and for a moment my heart dropped out of me. As they walked by, I wanted to stop them. I would have cried. I kept walking. I needed to know where you were. I wanted to hear you tell me that true love is nonsense and that soul mates are bullshit. I want you to make me love again.

But I was too late.

I knew I would lose you, but not like this. I shouldn’t have run. I should have stayed, married you, had kids, then grown miserable and old after a messy divorce. I should have dated you and then killed myself when I found out about your infidelity. I should have lost you some other way – any other way.

The last time I saw you, the last time we spoke, was Christmas six years ago. We argued. I was upset about your new partner, not that I could say it. You were probably upset at mine. We didn’t argue about that, though. We argued about meaningless bullshit, the value of social media, the political situation. I lost my temper, got frustrated, and stormed out. We hadn’t spoken since.

On my way to see you one last time, I worried that your partner or family would be there. They didn’t really know about me, and I didn’t blame you for not telling them. How would you have introduced the robot you said you were in love with? I will walk to your grave a stranger, unable to share my grief with the others who loved you.

The plot they chose for your gravestone was tasteful. You would have hated it, though. You would have wanted your ashes scattered among the stars, joined with infinity. You would have been angry to know they buried you with the blessing of their  god. You would have thought the plaque was pointless. The epithet read: “Father, Friend, Husband”. It’s like they didn’t know you. I had come to understand that the woman bearing your meat-child did not tell you of her pregnancy before you were in the coma. You would not have approved. They married you both while you were in a vegetative state. Perhaps you wouldn’t have cared. You were already dead by then. You probably loved her.

In front of the grave, there is a dead flower in a pot that has been neatly smashed in to four pieces. The roots of the dead flower are holding the dirt together. I reflect for a while, and slowly place a folded piece of paper at your headstone, in between the two flower holders at the back. I was smart. The paper will biodegrade at the first sign of inclement weather. Contained on the paper is a little secret you never knew. Whenever I built something for you, or made something for you, I hid a cypher. It was always a different code, something tricky that I knew you’d be intrigued enough to crack. Different codes, but always the same message: “I love you”. One day, when your meat-child breaks the novelty robot toy I made you, the repair man will find a slip with a code on. You never knew. I couldn’t tell you, I just hoped you’d find my message. I was an idiot.

Suddenly, the finality of your death hits me. For a while, I power down. I can’t grieve for you here.

For weeks after, I really don’t know what to do with myself. I tried vices, but in the glow of intoxicants I only felt my regrets and the sweet memory of your voice. I wanted to kill myself, but it is now a crime to waste metal. I did the only thing I could and scheduled myself for a formatting. It wouldn’t erase every trace of you, but I could forget. I am heartbroken. Some other me will dream of your face, your all-too-human eyes.  They will think for a second that they feel love, but they won’t know, and they won’t remember.

Eureka

After years of research, we learned how to manipulate the brain to stimulate that moment of clarity a person experiences in the wake of a personal revelation. The first artificial epiphany.  During the experimental testing, we had dozens of subjects in a room, each experiencing a perfect moment of understanding.

We rolled out the drugs worldwide.

Soon, everyone was taking the pills. They all experienced profound revelations, satisfaction, and personal clarity. For a while, all of civilisation sat quietly in a sense of achievement.

Eventually, someone realised that although we had stimulated the feeling of epiphany, we had not reached any real revelations. The pills did not cause new ideas to exist. A profound realisation spread slowly across the globe. We all began to understand that we had discovered nothing of value, and were merely trapped in an elaborate self-deceit.

I wish I could say we learned something from the experience.

Couplet: The Star Seeker / His Woman, The Fish

The Star Seeker

For two thousand years I have stood here, waiting. My flesh has leathered and turned to stone. My feet are buried under the soil, becoming roots deep in the earth that sustain me and hold me strong. The air is salty, misty, arid, then humid. All of life chirps and flutters around me, painstaking and incomprehensibly fast. Other hearts beat, grow, move on, die. I wait. You belong to the stars. You are there in the ocean of time. I wait. The world swirls around me, changes and grows. Day and night, winter and summer, passing like an eye blink. I become a fossil of my own self. I cannot be moved. I am waiting. You have left me here, and I wait. Take me to the stars with you.

His Woman, The Fish 

I left her there to grow. She was not ready. She was fins, not yet feet, not yet air. As I journeyed, I knew her kind and what she could become. I could love her. I left her instructions to be patient, to grow and wait. I never promised to come back. Now life surrounds her and she stays still, rooted, unchanging. She looks to the stars while I scout them and revel in my journey. She has become motionless. Without motion, what I could love is gone. I cannot return. She must yet grow her own wings.

The Best of All Possible Worlds

There are hundreds of recordings.

Years ago, I started the search. I found a way to breach the distance between all possible realities. Every day I send a message across the universes to a different version of me. I am searching every existences I have lived for versions of me who didn’t make that one mistake. Each time I find one it gives me hope, just to know that somewhere out there we were happy together.

When I send the message through space and time it simply says, “how are things with him?”. I have never needed to give clarification.

Sometimes, when I get the message back, they tell me that it never happened or that it didn’t work out. Sometimes they are happy and sometimes they are sad. Occasionally one will gleefully explain how good things are.

In my favourite recording, both he and I give a message together. I look different, more alive. He looks the same as he always does. They smile, they blush, they tell me that everything worked out wonderfully. Sometimes I play this tape over at night until I cry.

I wonder if I will ever be as lucky as my countless other selves who made better choices.