I had a strange twenty minutes this morning. A friend suggested the best explanation: an interdimensional portal. So I had to write a story. That’s how writers make sense of the world when things don’t make sense. (This is a rough draft done on my BlackBerry.)
The interdimensional portal opened at the center of the maze-like neighborhood at 9:08 am and remained open in an uncontrolled manner for 17.328541 minutes. During that time one raving drunk, one repairman, and twenty female Christian evangelists bearing copious amounts of paper and a fierce determination arrived on Lucy’s lawn. Fortunately the abundance of so many well-spoken non-threatening Christian women kept the neighbors from dialing 911.
Unfortunately the repairman specialized in refrigerators, not parallel universe anomalies so neither the repair nor the report of the malfunction occurred until Xfetul in the control room tracked down where the yelling and banging was coming from. Somehow—improbably, impossibly—”Average Joe” had made 10 transitions in 10 minutes, causing three conduits to stick in the fluid open position in the process. “Joe” didn’t want to go by his real name because he wanted to be “an average Joe” on his travels on various versions of Earth. If pressed Xfetul would’ve said “Joe” was not quite up to the definition of “Average”.
Xfetul immediately shut down all transfers and just as immediately realized that would not have any effect on the consequences of the open conduits because the problem wasn’t with his people popping through (Average Joe excepted) but with people in those connected universes popping up where they didn’t belong. He needed to stop traffic he had absolutely no control over or two—no, three—entire and complete parallel universes were going to merge stupendously and messily in triplicate on someone’s lawn.
Lucy had showered, dressed and was combing the tangles out of her curly red hair when it began. She’d taken the day off—what she and her co-workers jokingly called “taking a mental health day”—to relax, de-stress and work in the garden. The bedroom windows—though drapes and blinds were still closed—overlooked the front garden where spring was making its presence felt and a drunk was making himself heard.
“Viiivian!” He bellowed, slurring the syllables. Lucy froze, comb in hand, barefoot in front of the vanity. He sounded like he was right in front of the window. “Viviiiiiiian!!” The voice drifted back toward the driveway. “Vivvviiiaannnn!!!” Closer, louder, more urgent, then a final faint howl of “Viiiiiviiian” in her elderly neighbors’ yard…the slightly paranoid ones. Oh, boy. Lucy peeked out, but didn’t see anyone. She fumbled with her cell phone, wondering if she should call the cops or forget about the poor sot and the scare he’d given her.
Just as she decided to let the paranoid neighbors make the nuisance call there was a loud BANG and she almost dropped the phone. The dogs looked around. They didn’t bark. They normally barked at everything and at nothing. They didn’t bark at Vivian-guy, but the BANG was more scary. She couldn’t tell what it was or where it came from. It sounded like something had been violently destroyed in the living room. She looked at the closed bedroom door. The dogs looked at her, the window, the door, the bed. They had no clue.
Thirty seconds later someone was pounding on her front door. Gripping the cell phone, as the touch screen toggled and flashed, she cursed under her breath, but opened the bedroom door because if drunk-Vivian-guy was at the front door the BANG could not have been him breaking into the living room.
The BANG was not good. It was not good at all. It was the sound of the three parallel dimensions locking together. It sounded worse to Xfetul than to Lucy because though it wasn’t in her living room, it was in his control room.
Though Xfetul was pretty sure the person yelling “Vivian” was not going to find her, this did not make him feel substantially better about the worsening situation. He dispatched Average Joe to corral the drunk and stop anyone else from passing through that conduit. “Don’t worry ’bout it,” Joe said airily. “Vivian’s not stupid enough to follow him through.” Then he was gone, on a broad-daylight drunk hunt through residential Earth.852377410008j7D, approx 9:11am.
Xfetul had been telepathically screaming an alarm. How could Average Joe not be alarmed? He was dimly aware of others rushing to close the conduits, others rushing to stop the flow, but it was a minute or two before he was aware of the lone lost repairman from Earth.852377410008j7Z who slipped through more quietly than the drunk and was now pounding on Lucy’s front door.
The dogs, who should’ve, by this time, been barking themselves into a foaming frenzy looked around as if they were trying to figure out why Lucy was rigid with fear. She waded through the small dogs like water, leaning toward the peephole in the wooden door as if she feared touching the door or approaching it any closer would give her away. The man on the doorstep did not look like he was drunk or agitated. He had a small wirey build, close-cropped hair, and was wearing a gray hoodie against the chilly spring air. He had an unknown device in his hand, no visible ID. As she watched, he looked over his shoulder as if he heard something. Then he turned and left. There was no repair truck on the street. This made Lucy uneasy, but not nearly as uneasy as it made the repairman.
Then Average Joe grabbed him and they both went through the wrong conduit. “Where’s my truck?!” the repairman demanded loudly, not in the least intimidated by Joe. “What the hell!” gasped Vivian. They both frowned at Joe who said something unintelligible, but unmistakably—in any language or dimension—filthy.
Joe flung the repairman screaming into the correct universe where he landed, luckily, screaming on the lawn instead of on his truck which would’ve been a much harder landing. This Lucy went outside to find out what all the commotion was. Seeing the truck by the curb, and the repairman screaming and thrashing on the lawn, she called 911. Then she called the refrigerator repair company again. It was a strange start to the day.
Vivian looked at Average Joe and smiled. That made twice this morning when he had literally made a problem disappear. No one was yelling now. She was relieved.
Lucy wasn’t sure what she’d seen through the peephole. After the guy had walked away she sort of lost sight of him, though for a split second she thought she saw someone else. She blinked a couple of times, on barefoot tiptoes, looking through the peephole, then shook her head and went into the kitchen to make a mug of tea. The microwave heating the water hadn’t dinged yet when she heard a scratching sound at the door. She cocked her head, listening. What now? Silence. Then just as the microwave dinged she heard it again. The small pack of small dogs swarmed around her feet in their usual crumb-hunting pattern. They didn’t bark, but followed her to the door. Once again she looked through the peephole.
The new universe calculator was spinning like a top. It made Xfetul dizzy just thinking about the explosion of new universes an event like this generated. Average Joe was too slow. If he hadn’t found the drunk by now he wasn’t going to. Time to turn it over to the pros. He re-called Average Joe. It was time to dispatch the Good Word Ladies to find the drunk.
On the other side of the peephole there were two well-dressed women with a certain posture and a stack of papers. Lucy recognized the type. Missionaries, evangelists, proselytizers of every stripe, they all looked the same. She went back to the kitchen, took the still hot mug from the microwave, dropped a teabag in it. Thought about it all. It was a strange start to the day. It was very weird that there were so many strangers suddenly all at once on this street where they didn’t belong. What are the odds, she mused.
Xfetul also calculated the odds. His quantum computer had told him that this morning was more or less impossible. Not to mention unmanageable, he thought. While relieved that the lost repairman apparently found his way home, keeping others from being sucked through from his universe into another was taking a lot of resources and ingenuity because in addition to EMS and police, almost literally everyone and their dog had converged on the hapless repairman’s location. Joggers who knew CPR, dog walkers who knew Lucy and her dogs, mothers with strollers who were enlivened by anything that didn’t involve diapers, feedings and drool. The list of looky-lous who vibrated at the threshold of the open conduit, unaware of the tremendous interdimensional effort to keep them from being sucked through, was extensive, if not actually endless. They thought the occasional tingle was from the excitement or the brisk spring breeze.
Getting the repairman back where he belonged was a lucky break despite the logistical problems of controlling the conduit. It meant that Xfetul and his crew could safely go about separating and locking down that universe, after which disentangling the other two would be easy.
A car backfired. It sounded close. Lucy, in the front yard, with a mug of tea and dogs milling at her feet, glanced at the street where EMS were loading the sedated repairman. Her elderly neighbor flinched reflexively at the loud sound and retreated inside, as Lucy returned to conversation with a woman who was out walking her dachshund.
A committee would be formed to look into why the universes had locked together. Upon his return Average Joe had been informed that he would need to write a report justifying his apparent manic universe jumping which had precipated the crisis. He sighed. The report would take a long time and a lot of imagination, as all great works of fiction do.
Twenty missionary ladies preaching the Good Word were swarming all over Lucy’s neighborhood. Lucy and her dogs had inconspicuously slipped out to the front yard after the ladies had left her door. A sound like a car backfiring made her look around. There weren’t any cars on the street. She sipped her warm tea and pulled her jacket closer, shivering involuntarily. As she watched the zealous missionaries fan out over the neighborhood, she thought about the repairman, who suspiciously had no truck and vanished so quickly—And the drunk yelling in her front yard less than 20 minutes earlier. She gave her dogs a crooked grin and laughingly said that she hoped the missionaries found that drunk-Vivian-guy.
Xfetul did too.