By Enoch Daniel
The beer tasted just like a first beer should on an August afternoon. The thermometer outside the kitchen window read ninety-six. Jeff stared at the walls of his crummy, little house. He enjoyed the silence for about two and a half minutes before Sherry came crashing through the front door, bargain bags on each arm. He enjoyed his beer a little less as she put away groceries. He could feel her eyes on the bottle.
“Lawn looks nice,” Sherry said.
“Thanks.” Jeff grimaced and coughed. The cold beer bit at his parched throat. “But seriously, how does that much broken glass get scattered in a yard?”
Sherry kept unpacking bags. “What’s that?”
“What do you mean ‘what’s that’? We’ve lived here almost a year, and you haven’t noticed that the back yard is full of glass shards.”
Jeff looked at her hard, incredulous. He finally stood and gave the bottle a toss at the recycling bin where it clattered against the other empties. He clomped across the linoleum, headed for the bathroom.
“Where are you going?” Sherry asked.
He didn’t turn. “To take a shower.”
Sherry sat down the milk jug and put a hand on her hip. “Well, can you at least take your dirty boots off? I just swept in here.”
Jeff looked at his feet. They were caked in grime and grass clippings. There was a small trail of grass in his wake.
“Sorry,” he said, feeling a stab of annoyance. He’d bet good money she hadn’t swept that floor in a month.
A week later it was ninety-five degrees with a humidity to match. Jeff’s hands were raw and numb from the vibrations of the mower. Sweat was pouring off of him. His head was filled with the scent of cut grass and dust. He hated mowing in the heat, but mornings were spoken for.
Jeff finished a row and pivoted the mower, turning it the opposite way. As it settled, he heard a loud pop. Gunshot? It was four in the afternoon, but in Memphis you never knew. He cut the mower, listening, and heard nothing but the rumble of a train.
There was a flash of reflected light low down on the wooden fence. Another glass shard must have kicked out from the mower when he turned. It was embedded in the soft wood of the old fence, looking like a Chinese throwing star from an old kung fu movie. Jeff pulled the glass out with some effort. It was in there pretty deep, and he couldn’t help but think what that would have done to him. He put it in the back pocket of his jeans with the three other pieces he’d found. With a yank of the cord, the mower roared back to life.
“Yard looks nice.” Sherry passed him the salad bowl.
Jeff scooped a small portion of the green stuff and went on eating his spaghetti. Chewing, he mumbled a reply.
“What’s wrong?” She looked somewhere between concerned and annoyed.
“Nothing. Just that damn glass.”
“Seriously? This again?”
“Hell, yes, seriously. I decided to try and clear it out today. I’ve been picking up pieces since we moved here. I thought surely there can’t be much more.” Jeff took another bite.
“I dropped the mower to its lowest setting, scalped the grass down short so I could see. Then I spent two hours on my hands and knees picking up glass from all over that yard. I must have found three dozen pieces.”
“Swear to God. Cut my fingers all to hell. Just hope I got it all.”
They ate in silence for a time. Sherry said, “What’s really wrong?”
The look she gave him hurt. She was worried.
“Nothing’s wrong.” Jeff tried a smile. “Good dinner.”
When they had met, Sherry couldn’t make toast. But she’d put in some effort, and it showed. She was angling to get married, and Jeff was shuffling his feet. When had things changed between them? They used to feel so light and easy. Now everything just felt heavy enough to crush him.
“Thanks,” she said with a sigh. “How’s work?”
“It’s there. You?”
She started to reply but was cut off by a string of loud pops from outside. Definitely gunshots. As a police siren wound up in the hot Memphis evening, they looked at each other and shook their heads. This place.
Work and life got in the way, and it was three week before Jeff got back to the yard. That made it almost two weeks overdue for a mow. The grass was heavy and thick. It was late afternoon, because when else did he have the time?
Jeff stood on his back porch looking out at his dingy patch of earth and wiped the sweat from his face with his shirt. Like a man climbing the gallows, he trudged over to the shed. A train rolled by slowly; its horn sounded like a dying animal. Jeff could sympathize.
He dragged the mower out from behind Sherry’s bicycle, continuing to ignore the flat tire she wanted him to fix. When he had it out on level ground, he checked the oil and topped off the gas. On the third yank, the machine roared to life.
It was slow going. The St. Augustine was thick and tangled and held more moisture than you’d expect. The mower kept bogging down, and Jeff had to stop and tilt the blades clear to keep the engine from dying.
On the bright side, he didn’t hit any glass. Maybe he’d finally cleared it out. He was passing the flowerbed, empty except for Sherry’s old disco ball lying in the bare dirt, and feeling pretty good about himself, when he heard a ping that reverberated up through his hands. There was a crack and the disco ball rocked slightly. Something punched him in the calf. He looked down to see blood flowing down his right leg onto his sock and work boot.
Momentum carried him another step, and pain shot up the leg. He stumbled and fell, catching his ribs on the low runner of bricks around the flowerbed. He sucked in a painful breath and coughed up dust and grass clippings. The mower ran out a few more feet as the engine rattled to a stop.
In the sudden silence, a train passed again. Jeff groaned and cursed in the dirt. He reached down and felt at his leg. Glass was sticking out of his jeans, buried in his calf muscle. He could feel it move when he shifted his ankle, and he fought off a wave of nausea. With sweaty fingers, he took a firm grip and pulled. It was longer than he expected, and time seemed to stretch out. Goddamit! He panted, staring at the bloody glass shard, and decided that was enough mowing for the day. Beer and a shower were in order.
Something glinted in the bare dirt of the flowerbed. More glass? Jeff brushed the dirt aside. It was a big piece. As he swept more, it showed itself to be a pane of glass, then multiple panes. Did someone bury a whole damn window? Jeff hoisted himself on hands and knees and looked at the window lying in the flowerbed. It was old-fashioned, wood trimmed with four big panes. Then he looked through it.
Jeff gasped. A scene resolved itself through the window. From some high vantage, he was looking down on a lawn lit with sunshine. There was a shed roof and a mower. There was a flowerbed with a disco ball. A man in shirt and jeans was kneeling and peering intently at something in the dirt.
Jeff felt the world spin and shook his head to clear it. His weight shifted forward as balance failed him. There was a creak that turned into a crack. Too late, he tried to pull back. The sound of shattering glass filled his ears. He was falling.
Jeff came to looking up at a sky drifting into evening. He took a deep breath and groaned at the pain in his side. Sweat had dried on his body, and his skin chilled in the cooling air. A massive, furry head loomed into his field of vision.
With a yelp, Jeff jerked back. He found himself face to face with a massive brown mutt. Its mouth was open and a line of slobber dangled. A low growl emanated from the dog’s chest before it stopped and cocked its head. Jeff held out a hand, and the dog inspected it. Apparently deciding it didn’t want to eat him, it wandered off to dig in the flowers.
Jeff clambered to his feet and limped to the back door. Inside, he cracked a beer and leaned against the kitchen counter trying to figure out what the hell had just happened. “Sherr, whose dog is that in our yard?”
A voice from the other room replied. “Huh uh, no way, you can’t make him my dog every time he misbehaves, Jeff.”
What the hell was she talking about? “Your dog? You don’t have a dog.”
She came trouncing into the kitchen, wearing a small grin and more makeup than Jeff was used to. “No, I don’t. You do. What did Shinjo do this time?”
Jeff looked from her to the dog outside, it’s rump now protruding from the bushes. He sat down his beer bottle and limped out of the kitchen, headed toward the bathroom. Turning quickly, he almost ran into a wall that wasn’t supposed to be there.
“Jeff, are you ok?”
“Yeah, uh, yeah. I just hurt my leg. Think I got too much sun too.”
As usual the hot water ran out almost immediately. The cold revived Jeff somewhat, but he couldn’t completely stop his head from spinning. He should definitely remember having a dog. He inspected the puncture wound on his leg and carefully scrubbed out every speck of dirt, teeth gritted against the pain. Should he get a tetanus shot?
Sudden screams came from the backyard. Sherry! A towel around his body and soap still running down his legs, Jeff flew out the door. Sherry was standing next the flowerbed, somehow balancing on very high heels in the freshly cut grass. She was quite a sight. When was the last time she wore heels? Then he noticed the look of horror on her face. With a shaking hand, she pointed at a scraggly rosebush. The dog was busy worrying at something there. Jeff couldn’t quite make it out, so he inched closer feeling a strange dread.
The sight made him step back, wincing as weight settled on the cut leg. The dog had hold of a pants leg and was busy pulling it out of the bushes. The pants were on a man lying facedown in the dirt. Jeff shivered. That guy looked dead.
Sherry’s voice shook. “Jeff, who is that?”
The question shocked him. “How the hell should I know?”
The dog growled softly as it tugged at the corpse’s leg. Jeff kicked at it, and it scurried away looking back at the body. Jeff looked too, not moving any closer.
“I think it… Jeff, I think it’s you,” said Sherry.
The nuttiness of that shook Jeff out of paralysis. He knelt and pulled the body out from the bush, carefully holding his towel. Their privacy fence was far from private. He rolled the corpse and jerked back like he’d seen a snake. Or a ghost.
Jeff stared into his own face. The skin was pallid and dirty, but that was definitely the mug he saw in the mirror every morning. His breath came in shallow gasps. Sherry was already dialing 911.
“Wait,” Jeff said then caught sight of a face peering over the wooden slats of the fence. “Bob, uh, hey.”
Bob raised his shaggy white eyebrows. “Hey, Jeff. Everything ok over there? We heard screams.”
Trust Bob to stick his nose in it, the old fart. Sherry was speaking quietly into her cell phone. It was a new model he’d never seen before.
Jeff blew out a slow breath. “We’re ok, Bob. Thanks for checking.”
“OK, then, just… uh… holler if you need anything.” Bob made no move to turn away and continued watching them.
Jeff reached out a hand to Sherry, but she shied away. She stumbled a little as her heel dug into the soft earth. The look she gave him spoke volumes. He turned back to the corpse in the garden. His corpse. This was totally fucked.
Sirens rang out, getting closer. Damn cops never showed up that fast. Jeff felt panicky. He didn’t know what the hell was going on but knew it wasn’t right. He had a strong feeling that if he hung around he would end up in a cell tonight. Glancing at the back gate, he considered bolting. Then he turned to study the disco ball in the flowerbed. Making a decision, he stumbled into the soft dirt near the corpse. With sweeping movements, he cleared dirt away, exposing another window.
It was dark through the glass, and he couldn’t really make anything out. Had he imagined it before? Jeff looked around again, taking in the yard, the corpse, Bob, Sherry. Where was he? Home? Someplace else? Could he leave again?
The sirens stopped, and car doors slammed. Sherry was staring, her mouth a tight line. Jeff grabbed the disco ball and raised it over his head.
Sherry took a step forward. “Jeff, what the hell are you doing?”
“I wish I knew,” said Jeff.
He threw the ball hard onto the window at his feet. Again the world was filled with the sound of shattering glass. Wondering if he were crazy, Jeff leapt through.
Feeling a shock in his injured leg, Jeff fell in a heap. He lay naked and gasping. He felt for injuries. How far had he fallen? He didn’t think he was any more hurt than before.
It looked like he was still in his backyard, but it was night. No corpses to be seen. Light spilled from the back door, and someone was rattling pots in the kitchen. Music wafted out, barely audible over the crickets. No face peered over the fence, thank god. No sirens either, but a deep buzzing noise came from above. What looked like a neon-lit zeppelin sailed by overhead, advertising something called Rib Zero.
Shaky, Jeff got to his feet. His towel was nowhere to be seen. Perfect. He limped to the house and peered in through the back door. There was Sherry, sweatpants and no makeup, dancing to bad music. She was surrounded by dirty dishes that she wasn’t cleaning. She sure looked his Sherry. Jeff walked in, covering his genitals with one hand.
“Jesus, Jeff, what the fuck? You look like shit!”
Jeff tried a smile that turned into a wince. “It’s been a weird day.”
“Are you drunk? Where are your clothes? Stop right there. You’re tracking mud all over the place!” She tossed him a dishrag to wipe his feet. She sounded like his Sherry too.
“Sorry, Sherr, I’ll explain. I promise. But right now I need to clean up and get dressed.” He looked at his filthy, naked body, and so did she.
“Right,” she said and let him pass.
After a shower, a bandage for his leg, and fresh clothes, Jeff felt almost normal. What had happened? A fever dream from the heat? Blackout binge? He didn’t feel hungover, just sore and confused. He was grateful to see his furniture and clothing were at least mostly where they belonged.
Jeff began to relax. He was planning his story when the front door burst open. That wasn’t Sherry; she was still in the kitchen. She also wasn’t great about remembering to lock the front door. In this town, that could be a deadly mistake.
Jeff picked up a wooden bat leaning in the corner, a Louisville Slugger, and tiptoed out of the bedroom on bare feet. He stopped short when he heard a voice, thick with alcohol, doing a bad Ricky Ricardo impression. “Lucy, I’m home!”
Jeff knew that stupid, drunk voice. He also knew that bad impression. Apparently, he was about to meet himself.
Sherry looked from Jeff to his other drunken self and back again. Drunk Jeff’s smile turned to a confused, open-mouthed gape when he saw himself limping out of the side hall. Sherry started freaking out.
“Jeff, what’s going on?” Her voice had a hard edge.
Both Jeff’s said “Uh…” They looked at each other, then back at Sherry. She screamed. So did drunk Jeff. He actually fell back into the front door.
Jeff shook his head at both of them as they screamed their heads off. This wasn’t going to work. He hefted his bat and brushed past Sherry on his way out the back door. She cowered away from him. In the garden, he swept away dirt and exposed the buried window.
“Everything ok over there, neighbor?” Bob again.
“Yeah, Bob, everything’s great. Thanks for checking.” Jeff smashed the window with the bat. The air filled with a jangled symphony of shattering glass. He could still hear blubbers and cries from the two losing it inside the house as he jumped through, hoping he’d land someplace better.
This was definitely someplace better. Much better. Lush gardens stretched in all directions. There was no shed, but there was a sculpture of a woman holding a disco ball in the flowerbed just in front of him. Where his crummy little house should have been, there was a large lawn and a pool. The house, a mansion really, lay on the other side.
At Jeff’s feet lay another version of himself, clearly dead. Apparently this was going to be a thing. It was odd really. The jump felt like it was from a height. So why wasn’t he injured from the fall? And if he was uninjured, what killed the other Jeff?
The copy was wearing a finely tailored suit despite the heat. Seeing no one else around, Jeff considered what to do with the corpse. He thought about burying it, but that seemed like a lot of work. He also had no idea where to find a shovel. In the end, he broke the window in the earth and rolled the body in. The other Jeff’s corpse fell out of sight.
The house was fantastic. Leather furniture, beautiful furnishings, and a liquor cabinet better that couldn’t be beat. There was no sign of Sherry or anyone else, so Jeff helped himself to some fine bourbon and a cigar and wandered out to the front porch. A meandering drive through rolling hills led to a road maybe half a mile away. He could see neighbors way in the distance. A guy could get used to this.
By day three of laying about, Jeff was feeling a little hungover and a lot lonely. He still had plenty of booze, and it would take him years to empty the humidor, but food would be an issue soon. There were several vehicles parked in the garage, but the mechanics were unlike anything Jeff had seen. He hadn’t seen any grocery money lying about either. He was considering his options and puffing on what he thought was a Cuban cigar when Sherry bounced through the door.
She was dressed to the nines and had heavy shopping bags draped over each arm. Jeff was delighted. He had a slight buzz on and really had been feeling lonely. Then he saw the look on her face.
“Jeff, is this really what you do with yourself while I’m away?” The question came with a disgusted curl of her lip.
Jeff realized he was still nude from his swim and tried for a smile around the cigar.
“Ugh,” she said. “Daddy’s going to kill you for smoking in here. Don’t give me that look. His money, his rules. Now, get dressed. They’ll be here any minute.”
“They?” Jeff coughed.
“Mommy and Daddy, you idiot! Didn’t you get my messages?”
Jeff silently kicked himself for not checking his copy’s pockets for a phone before dumping him. He stubbed out the cigar and got up feeling unsteady. Maybe he was more than a little buzzed.
“Right,” he said. “Sorry. Let me get dressed.”
Sherry looked at him like a fond but disobedient pet. “And shower too. You smell like shit, sweetums.”
The “sweetums” did it. Jeff had to get the hell out of there. He washed off quickly and dressed. Damn he was going to miss these clothes. And the booze. And the pool. In ten minutes he was out the back door and trudging through the lawn. He could hear Sherry shouting at his back, her voice shrill and shocked. The window was still shattered, and the scene below was indistinct. Jeff jumped.
Jeff was back in his plain, old, dumpy yard. The scene through the kitchen window made his blood run cold. There was his copy snuggling a baby with Sherry looking on. They both looked stupidly happy. The baby was fussy, and Jeff agreed with it. He turned on his heel and escaped through the window, glad that he hadn’t killed that copy. He’d hate to have made the kid an orphan.
Jeff started bouncing quickly through the copy worlds. That’s how he thought of them. Somehow the windows let him to pass between slightly varied copies of the real world. It made him think of infinite universes. He saw some weird things like green skies and purple skin, but usually the changes were subtle. He could mostly blend in. He also discovered there were rules to the windows.
First, only he could see the windows. This came in handy when people were chasing him, which happened with alarming frequency. Second, physical contact with him instantly killed an alternate Jeff. It wasn’t the fall that did it, but he did tend to fall on them quite frequently. Third, an alternate Jeff’s corpse could pass through the window, but it was never there when Jeff passed through himself. He even tested it out and went through at the same time. When he landed, the corpse was gone.
After a while, Jeff stopped thinking of the copies as even real. It was like being in a video game. None of his decisions really mattered, so he could do whatever he wanted. He decided to enjoy himself, and for a while he really did.
Disgust welled up in Jeff as his hips pumped away. Dolores writhed under him in a reasonable approximation of pleasure. Not for the first time, he wondered what the hell he was doing. How long had been bouncing between copy worlds now? Weeks? Months?
The charm of getting drunk and treating Sherry and the neighbors like crap had worn off, so he had started to push the envelope more to see how far he could take it. Hence this little dalliance. Bob’s much younger wife had seemed a likely conquest, and this was the third Dolores he had slept with.
“What’s wrong?” Dolores said.
Jeff realized he was crying. Jesus, crying during sex? What was wrong with him? Time to go.
“Nothing,” he said, furiously brushing tears from his face. “Look, uh, this was nice, but I really gotta go. Sorry.”
“Okay…” Dolores covered herself with a sheet as Jeff dressed. The front door creaked open.
“Lucy! I’m home!” Bob’s voice echoed down the wood-floored hall.
Seriously? Does everyone make that joke? Jeff was out the back door and hopping the fence as the yelling started inside. A week ago, he might have cradled a naughty sense of glee for getting away with something. He had come to realize you never really got away with anything. He smashed the window in the ground, wishing for home.
He landed on another alternate Jeff. The yard was filled with people who screamed and recoiled at the sudden presence of a half-dressed Jeff standing over their loved one, now dead. Jeff sighed, broke the window, and jumped again.
Then he jumped again. And again. And again. He just kept moving. He jumped, and he jumped, and he jumped. A small part of him registered that things were getting increasingly strange.
When Jeff finally stopped, he had lost count of the jumps. One hundred? Two? He was in rolling countryside with scattered trees. Mist hugged the ground. Dim light illuminated what he first took to be another disco ball. It turned out to be a silver gazing ball on a short stone pedestal. A shout sounded behind him. Whirling, he realized it was a battle cry.
Here came an alternate Jeff dressed in plaid and leather armor, swinging a gigantic sword. He was bigger than Jeff, and he carried the sword like he knew how to use it. Jeff dove, fell really, out of the way of the lumbering warrior.
“Stay back, Sherreen!” The accent was bizarre. The warrior took a mighty swing at him that caught only air as Jeff tripped on a root and rolled away.
Jeff regained his feet and tried to keep a tree between him and his attacker. “OK, can you just calm down?”
“Quiet, demon! Hold still that I might end your vile existence!” The big man swung.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Jeff fell back, and the sword lodged in the tree trunk. Jeff used the opportunity to slip inside the warrior’s guard and lay a hand on his arm. The alternate Jeff dropped, stone dead.
A woman, presumably Sherreen ran out of the darkness, pointing and shrieking. She began flailing at him with meaty fists. She was stouter than his Sherry, and the blows had some heft. Stumbling away he managed to clear off the window and used the gazing ball to break the glass. A shatter and he was away.
Jeff was drowning. It was pitch black, and he was surrounded by water. He flailed his arms and legs. He almost screamed and tried to calm himself as his eyes adjusted. Slowly approaching, small points of light provided a tiny bit of illumination.
OK, which way was up? Jeff couldn’t tell. It all looked the same. All the same except there! Something solid? He frog swam in that direction, his lungs on fire. Seconds later her could see it. Of course it was a disco ball resting on the bottom.
Rubble was spread about like some underwater junkyard, but Jeff didn’t have time to explore. He needed the window now. Flailing in the dark and wet, he swept debris and mud aside. Light shone as he exposed the window.
Jeff grabbed at the disco ball. He was seeing spots now and almost lost his grip. He brought it down hard on the windowpane, once, twice. Thuds echoed, but the window held. It was hard to swing underwater, and his arms were getting weak. He hefted the ball a third time. Finally, he was rewarded by a hollow crack. The window shattered, echoing under the water.
The air was warm and humid and filled with the sounds of insects. An enormous mushroom arched over his head. Outside its ring of shade, brilliant sunlight shone. Dripping wet, Jeff panted in deep vegetation. There was no sign of his house or yard. Just to his right was a large round stone with a speckled, silvery pattern. It looked sort of like a prehistoric disco ball.
A massive roar split the air. Some monstrous thing that defied logic lumbered by. It was sort of like a cross between a T. rex and a spider. It didn’t appear to have spotted him, but it sure looked like time to move on.
Jeff ripped at roots and brushed away dirt, revealing the window in the ground. A lurid red light shone through, giving him pause. He couldn’t make out the scene below, just that red glow. Another roar sounded on the hill behind him. Jeff picked up the disco rock, and damn the thing was heavy.
A tentacle encircled his injured leg and squeezed, lifting him off the ground. Jeff yelped as he dangled head down. He dropped the disco rock, and it smashed right through the window. The sound of shattering glass filled the world, and the red glow intensified as a blast of hot air hit his face.
Jeff reached up for the tentacle, and could see a vicious, grinning face in the underside of the mushroom. It leered as it pulled him in.
Jeff kicked and slapped at the tentacle. The smiling mouth opened wide as rose steadily toward it. He finally got a grip on end of the tentacle and yanked hard. It unraveled and he fell directly through the window below.
Jeff sucked in a breath and coughed as heat seared his lungs. He was surrounded by fire. The ground blistered his hands as he pushed himself up to his feet. The air was thick with hot smoke. Embers landed on him, singeing his arms and legs.
He looked around, desperate. There was only fire as far as his watery eyes could see. The whole world could be in flames for all he knew. A disco ball lay at his feet. It glowed a brilliant red but somehow didn’t burn. Ignoring the pain, he fell to his knees and swept aside burning ash.
Jeff leaned all his weight on the partially exposed window and pushed, but it held. He rocked and even jumped but couldn’t get it to crack. Finally, he reached out and grabbed the disco ball with both hands. It burned his palms and he screamed as he lifted it over his head and smashed it on the window. The sound of shattering glass drowned out his screams. He fell.
Jeff awoke by a small pond. The sun was rising, the air cool but warming rapidly. The pain in his hands was immense. He gasped and coughed as he crawled his way to the water’s edge. He rolled right in and let the cool water soothe his burns. He drank deeply, choking and coughing, then drank some more.
He floated on his back for a while trying to ignore the burns. Trees bigger than any he’d ever seen surrounded the pool. It made him think of the great redwood forests out in California. Only he’d never actually been there. He never went anywhere, did he? He laughed at that, and it turned into a retch.
Birds sang in the forest. Fish splashed nearby but left him alone. For hours Jeff floated that way, watching first one sun then a second pass by the clear patch of sky in the canopy of leaves. Sunlight glinted on a mirrored ball lying in the grass a few feet from the edge of the pond, and he shivered at the sight.
Jeff thought about his crummy little house in his crime-ridden neighborhood. He thought about Sherry. He sobbed to himself and thought about dying alone in this alien place.
Jeff didn’t die, but he did go to a dark place. He slept and woke. He drank from the pond. He ate fish when he could catch them. It was hard, first because of his burns, then because his hands scarred badly and weren’t nearly as nimble as they had been. He couldn’t start a fire, so he ate the fish raw. When he couldn’t catch fish, he ate bugs and berries, hoping they weren’t poisonous. He didn’t get sick.
Days turned to weeks, and the weather stayed mild. Sometimes it rained, but it never stormed. The canopy was so thick that under the trees raindrops rarely reached him.
Jeff began to walk. He explored the woods but never strayed far from the pond. He didn’t want to lose himself anymore than he already was. He lost weight, growing lean and strong. When he wasn’t walking or procuring food, he found himself staring at the mirrored ball in the grass. He couldn’t bring himself to approach it yet, but he spent more and more time that way. He thought of Sherry.
The only sounds were rustling leaves, creaking branches, and birds. Jeff felt like the only man in the world. For all he knew, he might be. He looked up at a tree trunk with some particularly low branches. He looked at his hands. The scars were ghastly, and they hurt most of the time. Even so, he needed to know what else was out there.
The next day it rained, so Jeff put off the climb. The following day was warm and dry. He picked out his tree and began. It was tough at first, but the higher he reached the easier the climb became. The branches were so tangled and close together he could almost walk up the tree like an uneven staircase.
Within a couple hours, he was over a hundred feet high. His legs ached and his hands were bleeding. During his last rest, he tore strips off what was left of his tee shirt and wrapped his torn palms. With one last push, he was above the canopy.
The sight was numbing. Treetops stretched to every horizon without a break. There was no sign of anything but this endless forest. As far as Jeff could tell, he was very much alone.
The climb down was harder. Despair made his arms and legs heavy. Near the bottom, his hand slipped and he tumbled. Branches broke his fall, but not easily. He finally landed in a bed of soft moss with a blast of air from bruised lungs. When he could breathe again, he sobbed, thinking of Sherry.
Like a man climbing the gallows, Jeff approached the glass ball. The thing carried a weight he could feel from a few feet away. It was like an anchor or a pivot point for the whole world, maybe every world. He knelt and cleared the dirt off the window in the ground. The scene below was unclear, but at least it didn’t appear to be on fire. He didn’t want to die alone in this place. He wanted to get back to Sherry, back to his life. Tomorrow he’d have to move on.
With a shatter of glass, Jeff resumed his travels. He bounced from world to world quickly, with a purpose. He saw worlds of infinite varieties, some beautiful, some hideous, most strange. There was a world where gravity barely worked. Another nearly poisoned him with its air. Another was made up of nothing but mirrored balls and windows, and he spent hours breaking glass before he found the one that would let him through.
He met people violent and people overly friendly. He met alternate Jeff’s and Sherry’s on dozens of worlds. Something always went wrong. He was too alien to fit in. They were too alien for him to accept. They attacked him. They tried to eat him. He killed when he had to. He ran when he could.
One day Jeff awoke in a yard that looked very much like his own. He had just escaped a world where a vile-looking Sherry with horns and slavering jaws had tried to eat him. Jeff had been there too. This time as an angelic being who, despite his holy appearance, had clapped and laughed as the demon tried to catch and devour him.
He had long since given up on finding home. The infinite nature of the windows had become painfully clear. There was no going back. He could only go forward and hope.
Jeff had become wary in his travels, and he got to a crouch quickly. The air felt like Memphis in August, hot and humid. Sherry’s disco ball was there as usual. The old rotten fence was there too. No Bob, thank god. The sky looked strangely off. It had a little too much purple. A train rolled by. It didn’t have the deep rumble he knew. It sounded smaller and had an old-fashioned whistle, high and piercing.
Not home, but a lot like it. This could work. He saw a body and felt a sting of regret. He must have fallen on another alternate Jeff. This Jeff was fatter than him, with paler skin. The differences would take some explaining, but again this could work.
Jeff heard movement in the little house and knew Sherry must be home. He quickly brushed the dirt off the window. He used the disco ball to break the glass, shattering sounds filling the world once more.
Careful not to fall in himself, Jeff dragged the corpse over to the broken window. He glanced around and started to roll the body through. Just before gravity took over, he noticed something on the alternate Jeff’s left hand that stopped him cold.
It was a wedding band. Jeff looked hard at the ring. This was not expected. The sun was starting to set, and he could hear Sherry’s voice drifting from the house singing off key.
Jeff pulled at the ring. It stuck on the fat man’s knuckle, and he used some spit to get it off. He stopped then and studied it for a long moment. Well, here goes. Slipping it on his own finger, he realized he would need a string to hold it in place. More explanations.
Jeff found an old piece of plywood in the shed and laid it over the broken window. He’d need to do something more permanent eventually, but that could wait. On his way to the house, he crunched on a piece of broken glass. He decided he didn’t mind.
It was dark in the living room, and Sherry’s head stuck out over the top of their old couch. Her blonde hair was pulled up in a ponytail. He could smell her soap from here, and it was glorious. Quietly he made his way over and sat.
“Mind if I join you?” His voice sounded hoarse in his ears.
Smiling, she stole a glance and went back to watching some show Jeff didn’t recognize. He watched her. She looked like his Sherry. Plain old Sherry, but beautiful too in her way. Flickering light from the television shone on some wispy fuzz on her cheek. She pouted and pursed her lips at something on the show. He sighed and let himself sink back into the couch, taking in the sight and sound and smell of her. Yessir, this could definitely work.
Sherry caught him staring and laughed. “What?” She laughed a little harder. “What is it, Jeff?”
Jeff laughed too. There would be a lot of questions, but he thought he could handle that. In fact, he thought he could handle just about anything. He’d mow that glass-filled lawn every day of every summer as long as he lived if he had to. He had no intention of going anywhere.
About the Author: Enoch Daniel is a surgeon from Texas who would often rather be writing weird stories than cutting people, not that cutting people doesn’t have its own rewards. He has been accepted for publication at Fiction on the Web & now Teleport Magazine.
Enoch lives with his wife, three children, and a growing menagerie of animals. A voracious reader and an admitted nerd, in the past year he has discovered a new-found love of tabletop gaming. He is also a student of mindfulness, meditation, and philosophy. On good days, he likes to think of himself as a seeker. On bad days, he’s more of a “flailer!”
His author’s page is yet another “work in progress,” but you can find his blog at thebrodhisattva.com.
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