BOOK 1: Coincidence
Part 1: White Rabbit
Part 1: White Rabbit
Sunday SciFi Fantasy Serial
by Douglas Christian Larsen
- forming a very small remnant of something that was once much larger or more noticeable.
- having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal; fantastic.
Jack crossed the street into the park, journal under his arm, pen clenched in his teeth, his attention soaking in the already warm Spring morning. He felt it must be like walking in Hawaii, not that he would know. He shifted the one backpack strap on his shoulder. Ah, April in Hawaii, he thought, grinning, not too bad when you are stuck pretty much in the middle of Colorado. Of course, he should be at school today, and he rarely skipped school, but it was that kind of day when Jack allowed himself a little rule breaking, for the most part to do some hard copy thinking in his journal.
|Illustration by Harrison Christian Larsen ©2015 - Vestigial Surreality: ONE|
He snatched the pen from his teeth and tossed it into the air, and barely watching the pen’s flight, he caught it in his left hand and snapped it back into his teeth like Tarzan’s bone knife. He was careful to shift attention to his right arm down at his hip, his fingers favoring the coffee cup, carefully, fingers splayed over and around the plastic lid, as he did not wish to spill a single drop of the hot frothy miracle within.
The visit with Pop Pop the night before produced more than a few not really beliefs, the kinds of admissions you make when you’re feeling utterly comfortable with the other person, and maybe later you’ll have to tell them, hey, remember when I said that, you know I was thinking crazy thoughts on purpose, right? I mean you don’t think I’m crazy, do you? That maybe we’re both crazy?
Pop Pop, along with being the oldest man in the world, was also, as far as Jack knew, the sanest man on the planet. And they sailed their wild ideas back and forth between them over coffee while Jack grew more and more excited. He admitted to some pretty scary ideas, the kinds of things he walked around repressing in his head, because if he told anybody, boy oh boy, he had some other pretty good ideas of the kinds of rooms the proverbial they would lock him.
Jack felt a wee bit guilty, because Pop Pop, at well over one hundred years of age, probably should not be drinking coffee, but the old man, always so calm, absolutely peaceful and quiet, allowed himself one cup of strong coffee a day. Jack, usually, at least attempted to restrain himself to no more than ten cups a day. If he was binge-writing in the middle of the night, there was no counting. This morning he packed his first cup of the day in a tall paper Coffee Dump cup, and he had not even sipped it as yet, he was holding himself back, until he reached his picnic table in the park, and then only if no one had invaded the public space he thought of as his own. If there were invaders, well, the coffee would not taste quite so miraculous.
Pop Pop loved the Coffee Dump and visited the shop once a day on his escape-from-the home walks, seven days a week, to purchase a cappuccino, and sometimes a mocha, or his famous, at least in his own mind, tall Soy Café Miso with one honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon and ginger. It’s the beverage Jack carried right now, and was eager to gulp, but he held himself in check, and in just a moment, he would know if his picnic table was reserved for him, perhaps reserved for him by the universe itself.
He passed two Starbucks this morning to patronize the Coffee Dump, as his favorite coffee haunt was the only place in town where you could get a sprinkle of ginger in your coffee.
As Jack’s eyes topped a slight rise along the concrete walk through the small evergreen portion of the park, his picnic table, about fifty yards away, seemed to rise majestically out of the grass, kind of how he imagined an ICBM missile might rise out of its silo.
Jack smiled. His table was ready. Empty. Waiting. Thank God, Jack thought, not thinking it facetiously, because he often shot thank-you notes off to God, Whom he felt ever had his back. Jack thought of the universe as God’s machine, maybe the along the same lines as Newton, and Jack imagined God constantly making tweaks here and there, pulling a string, winding a large crank, twisting a key here and there, and perhaps a lot of the tasks were accomplished for the purpose of aiding Jack along in his day. Jack felt somewhat charmed that way, blessed, as God pulled a favor for him here and there along his route.
He snatched the pen from his lips, frowning because the tool was now drooly, and lifted the cup to his lips for that first enervating slurp—then noticed a figure coming across the grass. Jack lowered the cup before it ever came close to his mouth. He did a quick trajectory tracking and was horrified to project that the trim, dark-haired businessman could only be heading toward Jack’s table, the table reserved for him by the universe.
Oh wonderful, God had overlooked that one guy, probably some vice president guy, out here to check the big stock fluctuations of Wall Street on his smart phone, no, on his iPhone, and Jack imagined the shiny silver device engraved with the bozo’s initials, and grinning, Jack imagined the title Super Trader engraved just beneath the man’s name, probably a name like Winston Morgan Danielson, and then he imagined further the big “the Third” engraved extra deep at the end.
Jack picked up his pace, both scissoring his legs faster while pushing much longer strides. Let us see this Sir WMD III match this speed. No WMD was stealing his elected spot, Jack swore, not even if it was The Third himself, Sir Winston Morgan Danielson!
On Jack’s right about fifty feet away a group of children crawled about in the grass, all of them sporting large magnifying glasses, looking like a bunch of preschool Sherlock Holmes released into the wild, searching for clues in the grass.
“What are you guys looking for?” Jack called to the children.
They giggled, “WMDs! WMDs!” they called in answer. A young woman with the children, she looked about the same age as Jack, give or take a year or a few months, rolled her eyes at Jack and shook her head.
Jack grinned. Hey, that’s one, right there, he thought. A coincidence, one of the odd little remarkable instances he caught throughout the day. Winston Morgan Danielson, WMD, Jack thought the playful letters in his head and the children had giggled the same letters. Pretty weird. I mean, come on, what were the odds? And why in the world would children be seeking WMDs in the grass?
But Jack adored these coincidences. He felt as if the universe had just dealt out another little encouraging pat on the back. You’re in the right place, Jack. You are on target, Jack. Keep going, Jack. That universe, what a card!
Jack turned his attention to the businessman and his grin faded. The little guy was waddling decidedly faster. Across the distance, he had noticed Jack, and seemed intent on the same picnic table beneath the tree.
Jack picked up his pace, now comically half-skipping, registering the dangerous slosh of the Soy Café Miso with one honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon and that special dash of ginger sloshing beneath his right hand. Do not spill! No spilling, he told himself imperially. Thou shalt not spill!
It struck Jack, the realization that the teenage girl overseeing the children was kind of cute. Without much forethought, he deftly swung his body around so that he was taking the same exaggerated half-skipping strides, only now backwards. There she was. She was watching him. Hey, that’s good, he told himself. The girl gave him a little wave. Jack smiled around the pen in his teeth, nodded courtly, and then performed the same skillful swirl of his body and headed forward again toward his target and he perceived in the same line of sight that the little businessman was practically running toward Jack’s picnic table, swinging a silver phone in one hand and a briefcase in the other, and of all things, there was an umbrella tucked beneath the arm toting the briefcase. How cliché could a businessman actually be?
He cut off the sidewalk into the vast ocean of green grass, calculating their respective distances and speeds and his mission still seemed promising. Right on course, Jack, right on target, keep going, Jack, the universe whispered.
Then his left Nike snagged a sprinkler head and he tumbled forward headfirst, his backpack swinging over his head like a trebuchet, and he caught himself, going only to one knee, and he felt he didn’t do too badly, what with his extraordinary coordination, a true Olympic contender, but then the backpack completed its arc and punched him on the left side of his chest and he almost went over that way, but caught himself once again.
He stood. Checked his coffee. Unbelievably, he had not spilled his coffee. Wow, that was some feat. Then another thought popped up behind his forehead. He glanced back over his shoulder.
Great. She was watching, a hand fetchingly over her mouth.
“Are you okay?” she mimed exaggeratedly, but at least had the courtesy not to call out and seal his humiliation.
Jack closed his eyes and sighed. Great. Just wonderful. He half waved his coffee at the girl, grinning sheepishly, and felt the coffee slosh over his fingers. He shook his head. At least it didn’t burn. The adventurous coffee, scaling the heights of the Coffee Dump cup, escaping to the world, leaping through the hatchway onto his hand, at the very last and least cooled itself in experiencing the wider world.
He stood, dejectedly, and marched toward his table, knowing the jig was up; he did not even check on the other guy’s progress. Ah well, the universe pulled those kinds of tricks too, sometimes, when things almost seemed to be going your way, there was the oops, sorry kid, probably just to remind Jack that he needed to keep on his toes, and as every teacher reminded him in every class, you have to stop getting distracted, Jack. Yeah, thanks, I will try to remember that.
His hand now wet with sacred brew, he pointed his feet resolutely and marched purposefully toward the picnic table where the businessman was in the process of slapping down his briefcase, swinging a tailored suit leg over the bench, seating himself daintily, his back to Jack and the world, the universe, and time.
Businessmen always win, don’t they? American royalty. These guys told doctors what to do.
Jack reached the picnic table after switching his coffee cup to his other hand and shaking his wet one until it was only damp, swung his backpack in one smooth move from his shoulder onto the table, and nearly knocked the coffee up out of his hand, and finally walked around so that he faced the businessman as he sat, his back to the tree. Usually he sat on the other side, his customary seat of higher thinking and writing, but currently a businessman whose fingers blurred over a silver phone occupied his favored seat.
Jack caught a flash of engraving on the back of the phone, but his eyes were not sharp enough to discern the letters.
The businessman sighed. He sighed loudly. If he were doing live theater, he would not even require a microphone. The whole theater would hear that sigh, even the cheap seats.
“Sorry,” Jack said, conceding what was admittedly now his own invasion of someone else’s hallowed spot. “Guess we’ll have to share.” I mean come on, Sir Winston, this is a free country, isn’t it? In addition, this was a picnic bench that could easily accommodate four more men, okay so not comfortably, but still, there should be room for the two of them, each commandeering his own side.
“Agreed,” the businessman snipped, not looking away from his phone, where his fingers flew, deftly moving and expanding and swiping and poking. “But I did beat you, kid.”
Jack cranked his head at the guy. Really? Did Jack imagine that, or had the businessman actually flaunted his victory.
“I tripped,” he snorted.
The businessman chuckled, never looking away from his six-inch screen. “Girls. Hmm. They. Are. Distractions.”
Jack lifted his eyebrows and almost laughed. He shook his head and extracted his Moleskin journal from his backpack. He glanced at his pen and smoothed his fingers over the bite marks of his own teeth. Wow, some bite, but at least this stick in my mouth kept me from biting off my own tongue, he thought, registering another gift from the universe.
“Oh say,” the businessman said, “is that a Moleskin? People still use those?”
Jack waved the book at the man. “I do, at least when I’m alone.” Whoops, that sounded kind of snippy, didn’t it? At least technically, Jack was the invader here.
The businessman, a man in his forties, Asian with receding dark hair, chortled, peering through tiny silver spectacles at the book as if Jack was dangling a squirming squid or jellyfish.
“But surely, you must have a smartphone?”
Jack nodded and half pulled his black-cased device from its own pocket on his backpack.
“Wouldn’t that be the superior, um, well, medium for…writing?”
Jack shrugged. For some reason he didn’t want to admit that he in fact did use his device for writing, but not for this kind of writing, his capturing of thoughts. For some reason it felt important to write these down with black ink, on white paper. In another pocket of the backpack was a tiny Bluetooth keyboard, but that was for his Coffee Dump writing.
Jack sipped his very first taste of his Soy Café Miso with one honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon and that special dash of ginger. Oh, but yes, ah, now that, yes, well, that was something. Now that was real. True, his hand was still damp from that tragic spill as he waved to the cute girl, but he could write it off as writing lubrication. He closed his eyes a moment, savoring that first swallow, and then flipped the pen in his fingers.
Jack started writing, attempting to capture at least a shorthand version of his talk with Pop Pop last night, not that he knew shorthand, but he wrote fast and tiny, and probably anyone else looking through this book would think it annotated in some kind of indecipherable code. Jack wasn’t even sure how he was able to read his own words; however, he usually managed, if only the gist.
The businessman and his silver phone seemed to fade away.
Jack roughed in some of the things his great-grandfather had mapped out for him last night as they sat over their coffee in the Coffee Dump. Now, these were not things his Pop Pop believed, necessarily, but ideas he had toted around all his life and never shared with anyone, at least that is what Pop Pop claimed, until he shared them with Jack.
Jack had first bounced the idea off the old man, that he was beginning to sense that something was going on in the world, with all the coincidences, as if the universe were trying to communicate with him, or at least show him something; however, there was so much more, and Jack barely mentioned it, how streetlamps winked out just as he pedaled his bicycle beneath them.
Then Pop Pop said the surprising things, that over the long years he seemed to see through things, that they had happened before, sometimes the same, but sometimes very differently. As if life was a great cycle, or movie, that repeated itself, and perhaps everything that they knew or did had happened before, that it kept happening. In short, that nothing new was under the sun.
“I’m not talking about past lives, or reincarnation,” Pop Pop said in his strangely deep voice. Most old people, especially those beyond advanced years, had high, weedy voices, but Pop Pop’s voice was rich, loamy, and dark. “But that what we think of as life, or even reality, is something we cannot exactly conceive of, but that we glimpse mere glimmers of what is reality just beneath the surface.”
“Like Plato’s cave, right?” Jack said between sips.
“Exactly, very good, Jack,” Pop Pop said. “You cover that in school?”
“You are very intense.”
Jack blinked, emerging from his thoughts. He was not in the Coffee Dump but sitting out here in a warm April morning, and a strange man sat across from him, peering at Jack through tiny silver eyeglasses.
“What are you writing about?” the businessman said.
“Oh? Oh, yeah, sorry, I’m just thinking about…”
After a pause, the businessman prodded: “Thinking about?”
“What is real, I guess,” Jack said, embarrassed. He covered by gulping at his coffee, which burned him, but he managed to contain his mouthful of the searing brew and swallow it with some difficulty.
“Reality,” the businessman laughed. “Now that’s a coincidence.”
Jack perked. Even the guy saying that word, coincidence, was a coincidence.
“I’ve been reading Neal Stephenson, his Baroque Cycle, and I’ve been thinking about reality. Reality and money, of course,” the businessman said, looking dreamy. “He has some ideas along the lines of something I’m working on. My next project.”
“I’m reading Stephenson,” Jack said. “I’ve been working through his books.” He produced Reamde from his backpack to authenticate his claim.
“Ah, a reader. Now that is rare, today. But I have not read that particular book. Hmm, it seems to have a typographical error as a title.”
“It’s kind of a joke, the title, at least I think so,” said Jack. “I’m reading it more for the virtual world aspect, though it’s kind of going off that track, it seems heading more toward an adventure story, or espionage, whatever.”
The businessman carefully placed his phone on his briefcase and patted the device, as if assuring it that this distraction was only momentary, and that he would be back to her soon. He learned forward and pierced Jack with his deep eyes.
“Alternate worlds, the multiverse, these things interest you?”
That’s a leap, Jack thought. But he shivered in the warm morning. That was exactly the kind of things that interested Jack, and more each day.
“Mm-hm,” Jack agreed, somewhat noncommittally, but he nodded his head, and perhaps he gave himself away with the energy of his bobbing head. He realized he probably looked like a bobblehead.
“Good. I had an extra, and wanted to give it to someone,” the businessman said with authority. He unclasped the hasps on his briefcase and dug through papers, then produced a book, which he placed gently upon the table. He placed a short finger on the corner of the book and gave it a curt flick. The book spun about several times and moved across the table to rest against Jack’s backpack.
In large letters the title unusually read 1Q84. It was by an author that Jack had not read, Haruki Murakami.
Jack stared at the book. He glanced up at the businessman who was securing his briefcase and pocketing his phone.
“What,” Jack said, a little shocked, a little unsettled, “for me?”
The businessman gave him a piercing gaze. “Yes. For you. Read it. I must go.”
Jack snatched up the book.
“Thank you,” he said, and winced as it sounded like a question, even to himself.
“You are welcome, Jack,” the businessman said, and turned abruptly and began the same hurried march Jack had tracked earlier.
Watching him march away Jack realized that the man had called him by name, even though they had never exchanged names.
Now that was the strangest meeting, he thought, almost as if the both of them had raced to an appointment, and now that the appointment was done, they had to get back to reality. He stood, and stretched, still holding the book, the book with the weird title. Jack walked around the table, leaving all his things on the surface of the table, forgotten for the moment. He hefted the book and glanced at the dwindling figure that seemed too far away for the time elapsed. Jack flipped open the book and saw that there was a handwritten scrawl inside the front cover, with what looked like a circle with unrecognizable characters inside.
He read the dust jacket inner flap and found himself interested, although there was nothing in the small synopsis that hinted at alternate worlds and realities. Well, he would read it. He almost had to read it. He looked at the back cover and studied the author photo of a good-looking Asian man. Jack glanced up again but the figure was gone. Jack laughed. His businessman was the author of the book, although the publicity photo presented a younger version of the man. Not much younger, though, because, really, both the photo and its subject in the now could be either forty years of age, or fifty, or even, really, thirty. The man seemed ageless.
Jack glanced away from the book in his hands and his gaze riveted to the tree behind the picnic table. Deeply carved in the trunk at about five feet in height were seven-inch tall letters, deeply scoring the tree bark. Four letters.
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© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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