Worlds without End

Have you ever been somewhere, just some random place on a normal, nondescript day, when, all of a sudden, it hits you?  You blink, once, twice, three times, trying to reorient your senses.  You look more closely at your surroundings, inspecting every detail, hoping to prove–or disprove–your suspicions.  But no matter what you do, or where you look, or how you try to rationalize, the conclusion is inescapable.

catsdejavu

You know you’ve lived this moment before.

Deja vu is a phenomenon that science has never been able to explain with certainty.  It has tried, of course.  Many theories exist.  Perhaps memory itself is the root of the feeling.  Maybe, in moments of deja vu, we are remembering something similar, something partial–unable to make the necessary links to complete the picture.  Maybe there is a rational, scientific, perfectly logical explanation to all cases of deja vu.

memory

Or maybe the answers are not so cut-and-dried.  Certainly, to anyone who has felt a strong sense of “having been there before” when they, in actuality, never have, an explanation of faulty memory or a perception that somehow has gone momentarily haywire might not satisfy.

I know it has never satisfied me.  I have experienced deja vu several times, but there was one episode in particular that stands out from the rest.

I was in a store I had never visited.  I knew this to be true because I had never even been to the town in which this store was located.  It was an old-fashioned country store, in the hills of southern Vermont, the kind of place you might expect to see in a Norman Rockwell painting, with hardwood floors, exposed ceiling beams, and an antique cash register, behind which stood a bespectacled woman with snow-white hair and a welcoming smile.

countrystore

Immediately, upon entering, the feeling hit me, an almost out-of-body sensation.  In my mind’s eye, I saw myself–months ago, years ago?–walking down the aisles, browsing the merchandise, the dull thud of my shoes echoing against the sturdy wooden planks on the floor.  And when the woman behind the register waved, said, “Nice day, thanks for comin’ in,” I knew, knew, she had said those exact words to me before.

hardwoodfloor

I took a deep breath, my head swirling.  I nearly walked out, then and there.  It was too strange, too uncanny.  I paused, thought . . . was I mistaken?  After all, I had been to several country stores throughout Vermont.  Maybe I’d forgotten.  Maybe I had visited this town, this store.  But no.  I was sure of it.  This was the first time.

vermontmap

I walked down one of the aisles, knowing what I would see before I saw it.  I turned into the next aisle, still feeling as if I were somehow hovering above, unseen, a film projector in hand, recording the past, yet playing it simultaneously, the very fabric of time wrapping in and around itself, with me stranded in its spinning, whirling center.  How could this be?  How could my memory of an event that had never transpired be so specific, so actual?

timewrapping

I purchased a small item, checked out.  When the clerk rang me up, I knew what she was going to say.  “Come back and see us again soon.”  I nodded, thanked her, and quickly left.  I have never been back.

Or, perhaps, without knowing it, I have. . . .

********************

The Eye-Dancers, among other things, explores the concept of parallel worlds, of a layered reality, where universes lie, side by side, without any knowledge of each other.  And in these parallel worlds, we have other selves, other versions who go about their days and their lives, just as we do, running errands, picking up the mail, going to the dentist on rainy November mornings–most likely convinced that their universe is unique, the only one in all creation.

novemberrain

In The Eye-Dancers, after journeying through the void and while exploring the variant town of Colbyville, Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski are confronted with these issues head-on.  And while discussing their plight, Marc offers this explanation, from chapter 12 . . .

“Everything in existence fits together. . . . The smallest subatomic particle, the worst hurricane, the largest whale, the layers upon layers of reality.  All of it.  And what quantum mechanics tells us is–there are infinitely multiple versions of each of us.  Infinitely multiple versions of our earth.  You couldn’t even begin to count them all.”

whale

Such an idea is difficult for the other boys to grasp, and Marc does admit:  “Infinity will blow your mind if you let it.”  But, given their situation, it is something they think about often.

In chapter 13, in a quiet moment, Joe Marma ponders it all.  The text reads:

“He thought about what Kuslanski had said earlier–worlds upon worlds, onward through infinity.  Each of us scattered throughout the various realities like fallen leaves from the same tree.”

treeleaves

Indeed, might this be the real reason behind deja vu?  Could it be when we feel a strong sensation of having done something we haven’t done, seen something we haven’t seen . . . could it be that some small, hidden aspect of our subconscious mind is remembering an event one of our alternate selves experienced?

subconsciousmind

Marc Kuslanski considers just this in chapter 18 . . .

“It made him wonder.  What we call the subconscious–how much of it is derived from other worlds, other selves, spread out through time and space?  How much of who we are, what we know, is but a small piece, interlocking with an ever-expanding, layered puzzle of an infinity of existences?”

interlockingpuzzles

Far-fetched?  Outlandish?  Perhaps.  But impossible?  Nothing is impossible.  So, you see, maybe I had in fact visited that Rockwell-esque country store before, after all.  And maybe I have again since . . .

. . . in a world far, far away, beyond the sign posts of our reality.  And yet, so close, close enough to almost remember, to almost touch and see.

Close enough that, if we listen, really listen, we can occasionally hear its echoes speaking to us, like soft whispers in the dark.

wormhole

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Mirror Image

Stand in front of a mirror.  It can be any kind of a mirror, really–a simple bathroom mirror or an ornate affair in the ball room of some luxury seaside hotel.

mirror

 

Pause for a moment, and look at your reflection.  What do you see?  Maybe you’re looking great, refreshed, ready to take on the world.  Maybe you’re tired, with weary, sleepy eyes and a dour expression.  Either way, surely you just intend to see yourself in the mirror.  No one else.

catinmirror

 

But for Millicent Barnes, the protagonist of a first-season Twilight Zone episode titled “Mirror Image,” things aren’t quite that simple.

When we meet her, Millicent is sitting on a bench in an Ithaca, New York,  bus depot.

millicenttroubled

 

It is stormy, raining, after midnight, and the bus depot is near-deserted.  Impatiently, after checking the wall clock, she gets up and approaches the baggage clerk, a gruff older man with glasses and a perpetual scowl, and asks him when her bus will arrive.

“It’ll be in when it’ll be in,” he grouses, and says all the complaining in the world won’t make it arrive any sooner.  He tells her to stop coming up and asking him about it every ten minutes.

She is taken aback.  She tells him this is the first time she’s asked him.  But he looks at her, as if she’s speaking in an alien tongue, and shakes his head.  She’s already asked him several times, he asserts.

Dazed, Millicent approaches her bench and sits back down.

Rod Serling’s voice-over breaks in as we see a close-up of the woman’s face . . .

“Millicent Barnes, age twenty-five, young woman waiting for a bus on a rainy November night.  Not a very imaginative type is Miss Barnes, not given to undue anxiety or fears, or, for that matter, even the most temporal flights of fancy. . . . [But] circumstances will assault her sense of reality and a chain of nightmares will put her sanity on a block.  Millicent Barnes, who, in one minute, will wonder if she’s going mad.”

Indeed.  Because strange things continue to happen.  She notices her bag on the floor behind the clerk’s desk.  How did it get there?  She is sure she never checked her bag in with him.  The clerk, gruffer than ever, informs her that of course she did. . . .

goingtoladiesroom

 

Even more confused now, Millicent heads to the Ladies Room, where a cleaning woman is finishing up her shift.  The cleaning woman asks her if she’s okay–she was just in here a few minutes ago, and didn’t look so well.  Angry now, Millicent tells the woman this is the first time she’s been in the Ladies Room.  What is going on?  Are the employees in this nondescript, nearly empty bus depot all setting out to trick her, play a practical joke on her?

She opens the restroom door, about to storm out, but then turns around to say something else to cleaning woman.  In doing so, she looks into the mirror, and, with the door open, sees the depot’s main waiting area reflected there–the clock on the wall ticking, second by second; the slate-gray floor; the hard-backed bench upon which she had been sitting.

She gasps.  She is sitting on the bench.  She is right there.  But how could that be?  How could she be in the Ladies Room and, simultaneously, on the bench in the waiting area?  The woman she sees on the bench looks exactly like her, dressed in the same outfit.  It’s impossible.

mirrorimagedouble

 

She closes the door.  “I must be overtired,” she says.  A moment later she dares to fling it open again.  This time, the bench is empty.  Her doppleganger, or imposter, or the illusion she saw is no longer there.

Returning to the bench, Millicent wonders what’s wrong with herself.  “I must be sick,” she thinks.  “But I don’t have a fever, no fever at all . . .”

A young man comes in out of the cold, wet night, and joins her on the bench, introducing himself as Paul Grinstead.  He is waiting for the same bus she is–to Cortland.  From there he will go on to Binghamton; Millicent to Buffalo, about to start a new job.

paul!

 

Sensing she can trust this kind stranger, Millicent tells him about the odd things that have been happening to her tonight.

“Delusions,” he says.

paulandmillicent

 

She is quick to agree, but then says she hasn’t ever experienced anything like this before.  She is not prone to imagining things that aren’t there.  Besides, “why did that man and that woman say they’ve seen me before?  They haven’t!”

Paul doesn’t have an answer.  “This one’s tough to figure out,” he admits.

The bus arrives.  They head outside together, but just as she is about to board, Millicent sees herself already seated on the bus.  This “other” Millicent smirks at her, a glint in her eye, and she screams and races back into the depot.

bus

 

Paul follows her in and tells the driver to go on along without them, they’ll catch the next one.  The next bus, however, doesn’t arrive until seven.  They will have to while away the night at the depot.  The baggage clerk turns down the lights.  Shadows crawl and gather along the floor and on the walls.  It is quiet. “Like a tomb,” the clerk tells them.

Millicent, now lying on the bench, recovering from the shock, begins to recount something she read once, a long time ago.  Something about different planes of existence, parallel worlds that exist side by side.  And each of us has a counterpart in this other world.  When, through some freak occurrence, the two worlds converge, the counterpart comes into our world, and in order to survive, it has to take over–replace us, move us out, so that it can live.

“That’s a little metaphysical for me,” Paul tells her.

Millicent is beyond hearing him.  “Each of us has a twin in this other world.  An identical twin.  Maybe that woman I saw . . .”

Paul breaks in, “Millicent, there’s another explanation.  There has to be.  One that comes with . . . more reason.”

She doesn’t listen, won’t be comforted.  She is convinced the woman she saw on the bus is her doppleganger, her counterpart, here to take over her life and identity.  The more Paul tries to calm her, the more wide-eyed and unresponsive she becomes.

wide-eyed

 

Finally, he tells her he has a friend nearby.  He’ll call him.  Maybe he can stop by and lend them his car, or even drive them part of the way.

But as Paul tells the baggage clerk, who has eavesdropped on the entire conversation, he has no friend nearby with a car who will drive them anywhere.  He is calling the police.

“She needs help,” he says.  “Medical help.”

The police arrive minutes later and take Millicent away to the hospital, for observation.  Meanwhile Paul decides to settle in for the night, maybe sleep on the bench.  But as he takes a drink from a fountain, he notices a man stealing his suitcase and running out the door with it.

“Hey!” he yells after him, giving chase.  And that’s when he realizes it’s not just any man he is pursuing.  It is his double.  Himself–looking back at him as he runs away, a twisted grin on his face.

paulstwin

 

“Hey!” Paul keeps shouting, over and over, into the cold November night.  “Where are you?”

“Obscure metaphysical explanation to cover a phenomenon,” Rod Serling announces as the scene fades.  “Reasons dredged out of the shadows to explain away that which cannot be explained.  Call it parallel planes or just insanity.  Whatever it is, you’ll find it in the Twilight Zone.”

infinitymirror

 

********************

Mitchell Brant, surely, would not call it insanity.  He would go for the parallel-planes explanation.  Unlike Millicent Barnes, however, Mitchell does not limit himself to just one “other self.”  Literally, there is no end, no limit.

endless

 

In chapter 12 of The Eye-Dancers, as he is about to fall asleep, Mitchell ponders this.

“‘Good night, Mitchell,’  he whispered, to himself, to all of his selves, in all of the worlds in existence.  His last thought before sleep finally took him away was of a line of Mitchell Brants.  They stood, single file, one in front of the other.  He started to count them in his mind’s eye, but the line went on and on, forever.  He was infinite, endless.

“When he counted the two hundred sixty-third Mitchell Brant, the line began to melt away, disintegrating into the netherworld of his dreams.”

************************

So the next time you stand in front of a mirror, look deeply.  Look closely.  Perhaps, just perhaps, it is not just your reflection, and your reflection alone, staring back at you.

mirrormaze

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Fact or Fiction?

It’s a question I get asked often:  “Are your stories autobiographical?  How much from your own life do you incorporate into your fiction?”

truestory

 

The answer to this question, at least for me, has always been–no, the stories I write are not autobiographical per se.  But yes, absolutely, I do include many experiences from my own life in the fiction I write.  I always urge people not to read too deeply between the lines, trying to “decode” the author behind the words.  Just because Joe Marma or Ryan Swinton react a certain way to a problem doesn’t mean I would react the same way.

On the other hand, there are fragments of me scattered throughout my stories like road maps.  If you were to gather up all of these fragments, they would begin to form a picture.  For instance, in The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell Brant‘s love of The Fantastic Four mirrors my own.  His overly imaginative mind is also a reflection of me.  His shyness and awkwardness around girls very much relates to the way I felt when I was in middle school.

Marc Kuslanksi‘s thick tortoiseshell glasses, and the way he continually pushes them up the bridge of his nose?  I did that myself, thousands of times, growing up.  (I now wear contact lenses.)  His feelings of loneliness and alienation from kids his own age?  I went through spells just like that.  Most children do, I think, at one time or another.

And of course there are the themes.  I genuinely care about the stories I write and the characters who reside within them.  The themes and ideas presented in The Eye-Dancers are themes and ideas that resonate for me:  childhood; growing up; the struggles, joys, friendships, and bonds formed during adolescence; quantum physics; comic books; camaraderie; dreams; parallel worlds; 1950s-style settings; and examining the very concept of the term “reality.”

images

 

This takes me back to the question that began this post.  “How much of your own life do you incorporate into your fiction?”  The question, of course, by its very nature, assumes that one’s own life is “real” and the fiction he or she creates is, well, fiction.  But is this entirely true?  What makes something “real”?  And what makes something “fiction”?

The textbook answer here is simple.  If something actually happens, it’s real.  If it’s made up, it’s fiction.  But let’s look deeper.  This morning, I laughed at a good joke.  It was funny, and I enjoyed it.  This is reality, correct?  But then let’s say I tell the same joke in a story I’m writing, through the mouth of someone like Ryan Swinton, and you as the reader laugh at the joke.  What’s the difference?  Does it matter that I laughed at a joke told by a “real” person, and that you laughed at a joke told by a “fictional” character?

When we read stories that engage, when we become captivated, riveted by the words on the page, the characters in the story start to seem real.  We care about them, worry about them, love them, hate them, cry with them, and laugh with them.  We experience the same emotions we would in our “real” everyday lives.  And this begs the question.  Is “reality” determined by facts, actual physical events?  Or is it determined by our feelings, the way something moves us or touches us?

I can read a bland news article on tort reform, and not care.  Or I can read a short story that touches me deeply and makes me look at the world in a new and different way.  Which is more “real” in this case?  The tort reform, or the characters in the work of “fiction” that speak to me in such a personal way?

writing

 

In The Eye-Dancers, the four main characters’ understanding of reality is brought into question in more ways than one.  How could some mysterious “ghost girl” haunt each of their dreams, three nights in a row?  And are they just dreams, or something more?  When they travel through a blue, infinite void, are they dreaming it, or actually experiencing it?  And is there a difference?  When they arrive in the variant town of Colbyville, where is it?  How did they get there?  Where is the ghost girl, whose swirling blue eyes drew them in and through the void?  So many questions, so many riddles.

At one juncture, in chapter 12, convinced they are marooned in a parallel universe, science wiz Marc Kuslanski explains his theory on alternate worlds, on the layers upon layers of reality . . .

“It is a challenging concept. . . . Infinity will blow your mind if you let it.  What I do is, I try to visualize one universe overlapping another, sort of like an invisible shadow.  And these shadows go on in every direction.  They keep overlapping and they never end, and most of the time, people within one of the shadows never know about the people in any of the other ones.”

parallelworlds

 

And what The Eye-Dancers does is ask, What if?  What if Marc’s multi-verse hypothesis is correct?  What if parallel-worlds theory is true?  And what if someone out there, say, a little girl with haunting blue eyes and powers she doesn’t even understand, has the ability to pierce through the dimensional gap?  What if “reality” is actually a multi-layered thing that cannot truly be defined by Webster or Wikipedia?

And what if what we term “fiction,” with its ability to reach deep into the secret, precious corners of the heart, is in fact just another, and perhaps more profound, version of “reality”?

So, yes, when it’s put that way, the fictional stories I create are truer and more personal than any diary entry I could ever write.

Fact or fiction?

factfiction

 

Is there really a difference?

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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