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Obsidian Worlds
 

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Obsidian Worlds


  Obsidian Worlds

  Jason Werbeloff

  Obsidian Worlds

  Copyright: Jason Keith Werbeloff

  Published: 26 November 2015

  All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  Series

  Defragmenting Daniel

  Fragment 1: The Organ Scrubber

  Fragment 2: The Face in a Jar

  Fragment 3: The Boy Without a Heart

  The Complete Trilogy Box Set

  Novels

  The Solace Pill

  Hedon

  Anthologies

  Obsidian Worlds

  The Crimson Meniscus

  Shorts

  Solace Inc

  Your Averaged Joe

  Visiting Grandpa’s Brain

  Falling for Q46F

  The Cryo Killer

  The Photons in the Cheese Are Lost

  Dinner with Flexi

  Bleed Me Silicone

  The Time-Traveling Chicken Sexer

  The Experience Machine

  F**king Through the Apocalypse

  Manufacturing Margaret

  Investing Isobella

  Oscillating Olaf

  Patenting Peter

  Severing Sidney

  Contents

  Your Averaged Joe

  The Cryo Killer

  Falling for Q46F

  Visiting Grandpa’s Brain

  The Photons in the Cheese Are Lost

  The Time-Traveling Chicken Sexer

  The Man with Two Legs

  F**king Through the Apocalypse

  Bleed Me Silicone

  Dinner with Flexi

  The Experience Machine

  Your Averaged Joe

  It was one of those days when the clouds cast a light so white, it could burn right through your retinas. Joe sauntered outside in his caterpillar pajamas (Jesus, he hated his wife), shielding his eyes from the summer morning. He knew it was one of those days, those migraine days. The light is what did it, or that’s what he thought – what did Dr. Anderson know anyway?

  Joe picked up the paper – the dog had already chewed the ends – and brought it inside. He tried to read it, really he did. But luckily the damned dog had chewed through the jobs section.

  “How you going to find a job moping around here all day,” Margie screeched as she skidded out the door. “You weren’t such a lazy sod when I married you, you know.”

  Joe didn’t know. But he knew not to reply to Margie when she screeched. He knew that if he bit, she’d feed him a mouthful a second. So he listened to her footsteps hurry down the driveway; to her car (the car she had paid for) careening down the street. He heaved a massive sigh.

  And that’s when it started. Jesus, it had started again. Goddammit. He knew it would. The stars came first. Like the stars he got when he jumped out of bed too quickly – Margie was always yappin’ that he’d overslept. But then the stars became ribbons of purple, shimmering in squawking lines down the center of his vision. He could only see the world on either side – his life was cut in two.

  Joe knew what would come next – a headache from Hades. And when that hit, the world ended for a few hours at least. All he could do was curl into a ball, and hopefully fuck off to sleep. But he had an hour before that all happened. Until then, seeing the world in two, he had some time. And he’d better use it. Margie had given him a List. And if he didn’t fulfill the items on the List, he’d be in for it.

  He wouldn’t hear about it right away. Margie had that way of asking, all polite like, what he’d done with his day. What she meant was that he’d managed to waste another twenty-four hours, while she was out working, working, for them, for him. But she wouldn’t say it like that, not right up. She’d pull that face that made him want to vomit mothballs, and ask him all serious, “So, how was it?” Like there should have been an it that he’d done that day. So, now that there wasn’t an it, she’d taken to giving him an it. Lots of its. A List of its. And when he didn’t do the its, Jesus help him, that woman launched him into a world of trouble –

  He’d better get going. He had the post-office, groceries and the pharmacy to visit in the next 57 minutes, before the headache set in. And he had to do it all with those purple ribbons of light splitting his life in two.

  What Joe didn’t know was that in 57 minutes, his world would be split many more ways than two.

  *

  Other than the purple ribbons pulsating in the epicenter of his life, the shopping trip started like any other. The fucking car wouldn’t start, as usual. Mrs. Halloway from over the road stared daggers at him, as usual, when he revved the engine. The dog wouldn’t shut up. And he had Margie’s List tucked safely into his breast pocket. It sat there, clawing at his chest, boring into his heart, one obligation after another. Just another day in the life of Joe.

  And then it wasn’t.

  The first time he saw them, he almost didn’t. He was looking for “green lentils,” as Margie described them, “NOT brown”. Joe wasn’t entirely sure what lentils were, never mind the colors. But he knew that if he chose the wrong color, he’d never hear the end of it. So he was staring intently at the shelves and shelves of apparently identical legumes – they all looked brown, of course – when he noticed something in the corner of his vision.

  A movement. A smudge of a face. A familiar face, disappearing round the end of the aisle. He didn’t think much of it, and tried to return his concentration to the legumes.

  He couldn’t read the labels properly – the migraine ribbons were in the way. He tried turning his head slightly to one side, to read the labels askance, but that was harder than it looked. It was like watching a television, facing the opposite direction. He tried tilting his head at a forty-five degree angle.

  “Need some help, love?” a familiar voice called, too close to his ear.

  Joe twitched at the intrusion, and turned to look at the voice. Other than the purple streaks of light bifurcating her face, she looked oddly familiar. “Uh, thanks,” he said, “I’m looking for lentils. Green lentils.”

  Before Joe could react, the woman placed a pair of soft arms around his neck, and kissed him gently on the cheek. He took a quick step backward.

  “Ma’am, I … uh.”

  “What’s wrong, Joe? You’re acting strangely.”

  Yes, he did know that voice! “Margie,” he said, relieved that it wasn’t a stranger kissing him for no apparent reason. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at work? I can buy the things on the List. You don’t –”

  There was a firm tap on his shoulder. He turned to face the insistent finger, but there was nobody there. Unsettled, he turned back to … but Margie was gone. He swung around full circle, but the aisle was empty. No one there.

  Joe hurried to the end of the aisle, marched across the ends of the other aisles, looking for Margie. He hurried through all of them, peering down the long lines of tomatoes, cans, drinks, chocolates. Everything he could eat, but no Margie. Scratching his head, he shrugged and continued shopping. She’d probably left the store, angry at something he’d said. No matter. He checked his watch. 10:28am, the LED flashed. He had 32 minutes left, and still needed to get to the pharmacy and the –

  None of the checkout counters were manned by a cashier. Not one. Each had a neatly placed, “USE NEXT TILL” sign. And then Joe noticed the silence. No voices. No sounds at all. Nothing but the glowing hum of the bright fluorescent lights.

  Clutching his shopping basket, he called out, “Uh, hello!” But the only answer that greeted him was the buzz of the fluorescents. “Need a teller
here!” he shouted. But nobody came.

  He didn’t have time for this – 10:30am, his watch flashed. And the purple ribbons were becoming darker. So he decided to leave $20 on one of the checkout counters, and walked toward the exit of the grocery store. Where the fuck was everyone?

  As the doors slid open, a wave of horrifically cold air smashed him in the nose. Snow crystals stung his cheeks, his bare arms. And it was dark. It was night. Joe retreated into the store, the doors swooshing shut as a final burst of snow sank onto his sandaled feet.

  Jesus, was that snow? It had been sunny when he left the house. Not a cloud in the sky. Too warm for a jacket. Summer. Slip-slop weather. And what the fuck was up with the dark?

  Must be an elaborate joke, Joe decided. Yes, that made sense now. The suddenly empty grocery store. The inclement “weather”. He decided to find the manager. See where they’d hidden the camera. So he marched to the office. They were going to get a piece of his mind for this. “MANAGER” it said, in bold, reassuring lettering. He didn’t care what they’d spent on this little joke. Must have hired snow-blowers and tented the entrance to darken it. Not funny, he thought as he yanked open the door. Not funny at all.

  But the manager’s office was empty. Nobody. He stepped inside, calling out, but nobody replied. Even the small en-suite bathroom was empty.

  Now he was angry.

  Exiting the manager’s office, he was ready to storm to the nearest cash register and start throwing money around, when he looked up, and –

  There were people. Lots of them. He couldn’t see them clearly through the purple ribbons, but he could see they were flesh-and-blood humans, walking around, doing their shopping. Every till was manned. Dozens, no, more than a hundred shoppers went about their business. Filling baskets with pears and onions, piling their trolleys with pasta sauces and beef fillets.

  This was a bit much. He was as keen as the next Joe for a joke, but this was out of hand. He looked up, finding a camera, and thrust his middle finger to what must be the candid-camera crew behind the lens. “FUCK YOU,” he mouthed in the clearest lip-synch he could manage. He glanced at his watch. 10:46. Shit, he had less than 15 minutes till the headache hit. Fuck. Dammit. It was starting already. That creeping, throbbing crease of tension that started at the base of his skull. Like a hornets’ nest warming up.

  He held up his watch to the camera, and tapped it repeatedly. This wasn’t funny at all. Childishness. Time for the TV host to pop out and have a good laugh at him. So he waited. And waited. But nothing happened. Nothing but the shoppers going about their business, ringing up goods, packing trolleys. This was ridiculous. He walked to the nearest shopper, who was obviously an actor – how could they have coordinated all this otherwise?

  “Excuse me ma’am,” he said. He couldn’t see her face clearly, owing to the ribbons of light that wouldn’t fuck off. But he could see she was a woman – husky blond hair, like Margie’s, covered her shoulders.

  “There you are!” the woman growled. “You know I hate it when you disappear like that, Joe.”

  “Margie?”

  “Who else do you think it is?”

  “Margie, the strangest thing’s been happening. I don’t –”

  “Look, I don’t have time for this. What are you doing here, anyway? You should be at work. Did Manfred give you the day off? What for? Do you ever do any work?”

  And there it was. The headache. The throbbing had left the base of his skull and travelled relentlessly to his right temple. It hovered there, like an eagle. And he knew, Jesus on a cactus, he knew it was minutes away before it would really hurt.

  “Margie,” he said as quietly as he could, each syllable tapping against his temple, “I’m doing the List. The shopping you gave me. The List.”

  “What the hell are you going on about?” Margie’s voice sandpapered his right eyeball. He couldn’t. He just couldn’t. And the light. The fluorescents were searing his brain medium-rare. He just couldn’t. “List?” Margie shouted. “You should be at work, Joe!”

  He stumbled away from Margie, toward the exit of the store. He had to get home, somewhere quiet, dark, his bed. But he backed into someone else.

  “Hey! Watch where you going, Joe,” the woman yelled. And when he glanced up, it was … Margie. Again. The same hair, the same angry look he knew so well. But her clothes were different.

  “Don’t walk away from me, Joe Hammings!” Margie’s voice called from behind him, her hand firm on his shoulder. Margie in front of him, Margie behind. And the pain, oh Jesus it had started in earnest now. He couldn’t keep his eyes open. The sterile light pierced his skull when he did.

  He tried to wave the Margies away. “Need to go. Bed –” Squinting at his shoes, he lurched toward the exit. But there were people. People in the way. “’Scuse,” he said as softly as possible, easing his way through shoulders and handbags.

  “Joe!” they called, as the crowd thickened. “Where you going, Joe?” “Did you finish the shopping, Joe?” they called to him. “The pharmacy. Did you get my meds, Joe?” They called and called. “You don’t do a thing I ask, Joe.” And every voice was Margie’s. “You aren’t the man I married, Joe.” A dozen of them. A hundred.

  They surrounded him, straw blond hair on every one. Angry eyes, staring down at him. He tried to move forward, toward that searing bright “EXIT” sign, but it was impossible. Margies clamped around him, shouting, complaining, berating. And his head.

  Oh Fuck-God-Jesus.

  *

  “He’s waking up.”

  “Yeah, Thursday ain’t gonna like this.”

  “What were we supposed to do? Let him drown in Margies?”

  “Hey, buddy, try open your eyes.”

  Joe was afraid. Afraid that whatever light there was would return the headache. His head seemed fine now, and he intended to keep it that way.

  “It’s okay, Joe, you can open your eyes now.”

  Three identical smiling faces peered down at him. They had porcelain skin, all three, with bushy black eyebrows resting under a serene brow. On all three. Joe wiggled his fingers, shifted his weight. The surface he lay upon was soft, and shifted with him. Soaked him up. He struggled to sit.

  He wanted to ask what was going on, but the sight that greeted him stopped him short. Around him in every direction were rows, and rows, and rows of beds. And walking between them, here and there, were men, all the same man, with bushy black eyebrows and porcelain skin. Each carried a clipboard … no, a tablet. They were tapping on its surface, appearing to take notes on the occupants of the many beds.

  Joe lifted his feet from the cloudy mattress, and placed them on the ground. The floor was spongy. Body temperature. Felt good between his toes, like he was standing on skin.

  “Want to see?” asked one of the three identical men, handing him a tablet. His face beamed with pride. It was an iPad, but there the familiarity ended. The screen was covered in strange, fluctuating letters, something between Chinese and Cyrillic.

  “Thanks,” Joe said, handing back the tablet.

  “You don’t approve?” said Thursday, the smile suddenly turning to hurt.

  “Uh … where are we?”

  The man’s face burst into a spray of delight. “Of course! You wouldn’t know. It’s so great to meet you, Joe. The Averaged Joe. I mean, we see you all the time of course, in one way or another. Get to see so much of you. But, we’ve never gotten to, you know, actually talk to you.”

  Joe stared blankly at the man, who blushed.

  “Sorry, this is a bit overwhelming. Let me introduce myself.” Then all three men spoke in unison, extending their hands, “I’m Thursday.” They each chewed a piece of gum, their masticating movements simultaneous.

  Joe eyed the identical hands. Long, frosty fingers. Whitest skin. He shook hands with each. Their grips were firm. All three.

  Thursday continued, “This is the Chamber.” He waved his arm around the room proudly. Joe considered the space. The rows of beds seeme
d to stretch forever. He couldn’t see the end of the room. And no pillars. Nothing to support the pink ceiling that extended in all directions. Joe scrunched his feet at the enormity of the Chamber, and the floor squeezed between his toes. But the floor wasn’t smooth – it was … hairy? He glanced down, and yup, fine dark hairs covered its surface. It was like standing on a forearm. Goose bumps erupted along his arms, down his legs, Joe shifted his weight to his heels, trying to avoid the hairs from scratching between his toes. And as the goose bumps spread across his back, down his chest, the ground beneath his feet changed. Between the silky black hairs, the fleshy floor lumped in places. Lumps the size of fists. Bumps, goose bumps. On the ground. He shivered.

  Trying not to think about it, and resisting the urge to jump, to get his feet anywhere but on the fleshy floor, he stared at the beds. Each held a single occupant, each with brown hair, each wearing the same pale blue nightgown he was wearing. Joe looked to the bed beside his, and his heart stopped.

  The man in the bed was him.

  Joe stepped over to himself, and took a closer look. The man wore a beatific smile. He looked absurdly comfortable. Joe hadn’t seen such bliss on his own face, not that this wasn’t his own face. Well, it was, but not really.

  “That Joe is one of my favorites,” said Thursday. “Such interesting probabilities.”

  He reached out a trembling finger, and … touched its stubbled cheek. Warm. Like his.

  Joe couldn’t look at his doppelganger any longer. His nose curled in disdain. But when he looked up, he saw that the occupants of the other bed were Joes too. Joe lay in bed after bed, every bed.

  Jesus, Joe thought, this was some migraine. He hadn’t hallucinated before during one of his episodes. Did hallucinations even cause migraines? Something he’d have to ask Dr. Anderson. But he had no headache at all, and the purple ribbons of light in his vision were gone. He pinched himself, and it stung.

  Thursday regarded Joe, his delicate features morphing in deep concern. “You okay, buddy? Let’s take a walk.”

 
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