The bell rang and everyone piled out of the class, fighting for the door. The teacher shouted at them but it was the last day of the school year and his admonitions went unheeded as thirty pupils attempted to squeeze through a three foot wide gap in the wall and escape to six weeks of school-less bliss.
A head appeared between the forest of legs, fear etched onto his face. The boy stared over his shoulder and struggled, wriggled and forced himself through and out into the corridor. He was a skinny kid which only made getting out of the scrum easier. Springing to his feet he bolted.
A yell from behind him urged him to speed up as Barker fought his way out, literally. A few loud yelps and he sprinted after his prey.
Mike had been bullied at school all his life but Barker was the worst. If he didn’t take alternate routes out of school and run whenever he saw him, he always ended with a bloody nose, a black eye or worse. The teachers seemed incapable of handling the moron.
The doors to the outside crashed open and Mike slammed them shut behind him before hitting the brakes and changing direction as suddenly as he could. If he’d learnt one thing during his three years at Kenmoore comprehensive, it was where best to hide. All the hiding places near every exit to every building were familiar and he’d chosen the exit with the most this time. He scrambled around the corner and ducked into a little brick alcove where the drainpipe came from the roof. Shielded from sight in three directions, he held his breath and waited.
The door slammed as Barker ran into the playground. “I’m coming to get you, ya little shit!”
The sound of footsteps beat a path to the side exit in a vain attempt to catch up. The sound increased in the school yard as children gathered, chatted and departed while he waited another twenty minutes before sneaking a look to see if all was clear.
In all the excitement he hadn’t even noticed the weirdness of the weather. An eerie mist roiled around his knees. The sound had a muffled quality. Mike reckoned he could’ve just lain in the mist and his pursuer would’ve run right past him. He maintained his air of caution as he walked around to the rear exit, sprinting from corner to corner, glancing around each until the gates were in sight, then he bolted through and headed to the fields leading to the bus stop.
Scrambling over the fence to the fields beyond, he ran across, then slowed as he realised he couldn’t see the ground through the mist until he was right on top of it.
The fields stretched on into the distance about half a mile in three directions. A few brushy shrubs and banks of nettles dotted the landscape and a derelict brick shed stood in the middle. Houses lined the edges of the field on the right and a few warehouses and the gasworks on the left. Mike was going straight ahead however as that led to a housing estate and on to the main road and the bus stop beyond.
The mist gave his surroundings an otherworldly quality. He was enjoying the feeling though, reaching to waft it as he walked. It reminded him of some of the planets Kirk and crew had landed on with dry ice machines built into the landscape.
Suddenly, he froze. A figure ahead about forty feet away strode across the field but it wasn’t the figure itself that gave him pause. It seemed to be walking towards him and at the same time receding. He’d never seen an optical illusion like it. He kept his eyes on the image as he continued to approach… Or tried to.
“What the hell is that? How the…”
He found himself having to strain his eyes to see it even though he knew it was there and should be getting closer. Painfully, abruptly, something “snapped”. His eyes screamed with agony as if they’d become unanchored from his skull.
He let out a yelp and his hand shot to his eyes but the pain vanished as soon as it had appeared. The world, however, twisted and bent into a different… He didn’t know what it’d suddenly bent into.
He stood in a mist filled corridor. Staring about, lost, disoriented, he looked to the left. Grey and green walls extended off into the distance. The right wall was oddly familiar… He realised, it was exactly the distance to where the old brick hut on the fields had been but it was stretched into infinity. He looked more closely and noticed gaps in the wall, variations in colour and height. Then he looked at the figure again. It was walking away from him and almost out of sight.
Barker was short for his age but more than made up for that in bulk. He wasn’t fat, it was mainly muscle and he prided himself on being the strongest kid in the year. Sometimes he even bullied kids from the fourth and fifth years, it was his main income. The fact that his face had the look of a pit-bull chewing a wasp helped no end when it came to extorting lunch money.
He pressed himself against the back of the hut and forced himself to slow his breathing. He still hadn’t caught his breath from the run around the school as he watched Mike approach. Rubbing his hands in glee and cracking his knuckles he prepared for some much needed violence. He’d hated that little freak for years. Ever since he’d heard Mike had been forced to go to a shrink, he’d decided it was his duty to make the shit’s life a misery. He delighted in hurting people he considered different, inferior, mental or just plain wimpy and Mike fitted all four to a tee.
As Mike continued his walk across the field, the mist swirling around his ankles, Barker prepared himself for the chase. A few deep breaths, he adjusted his stance to allow him to go from standing to run with the minimum of effort but when Mike was level with the shed, he froze.
“Damn... He knows I’m here...” Barker thought.
Mike stood there looking around, staring into the mist with a bemused expression on his face when suddenly... He took a step and vanished.
Barker sprinted towards where he’d last seen him but saw no sign. He stared in disbelief, panicked and bolted for home.
Mike ran after the figure but his feet snagged on something and he crashed to the ground. Landing roughly, he felt another strange disjointed snapping sensation and when he stood the world had returned to what he’d always considered to be “normal”. The hut was there although the mist gave it an odd painted-out quality. He looked for what he’d tripped over briefly but shrugged and continued on his way, a lingering nagging sensation informing him something was wrong.
It was a ten minute walk and another half an hour’s wait before he got on the bus and went upstairs to get a better view of the mist shrouded landscape. The school was in a bowl however and soon the mist was left behind as the bus climbed the hill.
The nagging sensation grew as he rode home.
He smirked at the sign on the Chinese take-away. “Wangs”? He’d always thought it was “Wong’s”. Then he noticed other things. Signs on shops and advertising hoardings looked different. The odd change in character or colour here, spelling there, position somewhere else. Even the front doors of houses seemed to vary in colour. Houses he’d passed hundreds of times.
“What the hell is goin’ on? This is just wrong. All of it. Even that shop’s painted yellow, not blue… Maybe I banged my head, but I… well, almost feel fine at any rate.”
After a while staring out of the window, his mind began to wander.
“How could a man vanish like that? What the hell was that anyway? Will Barker be waiting around the corner for me when I get off?”
As he daydreamed, he felt a sinking feeling. He let out a yelp and jumped out of his skin as someone appeared out of nowhere, sat in the seat in front of him. He scrambled down the stairs in fright and banged the bell in a panic, forcing the doors open and diving off before the bus had come to a full stop.
The bus skidded to a halt. “What the hell? Get back here you little git!”
Mike glanced behind him in shock to see the driver opening his cab door. He bolted around a corner and up a side street before the driver could take chase.
Home was still at least another half an hour’s walk away but after all the weirdness, that last one was just too much. He set off up the hill.
“No way I’m telling anyone about this.” He mused. “They’ll only think I’ve gone bonkers and send me to a psychiatrist like when I saw ghosts those times. That’d really helped with the bullying situation, that had.”
He got home just as the evening news was starting.
“Where the hell have you been?! I’ve been worried sick and your tea’s ruined!” his mum bellowed, dragging him into the living room and plonking him at the table.
“I went the long way ’round and then the bus broke down.” he muttered.
“Oh well, can’t be helped now, it’s been kept warm in the oven for three quarters of an hour so if it’s all dry and horrible, tough.”
He replayed the events of the previous three hours. The odd weather, the flight from a beating, the strange figure, the pain and the weirdness of his surroundings before he fell, the oddness of the figure and the sense of wrongness before getting off the bus...
The figure he’d seen had had a sense of otherness that practically screamed out at him. He’d felt it before but it had been very subtle and he hadn’t registered it at the time. He’d seen... things for years, usually when he was relaxing. He’d always called them ghosts, although for some reason there didn’t seem to be any sense of dread when seeing one. They seemed to be normal people going about their daily lives. Well, normal up to the point where they’d walk through a closed door, a piece of furniture or a person. His journey home had felt the same way. He still had no idea what the quality was or how it related to his previous experiences. He had no words he could use to adequately describe it.
Staring glumly out of the window he decided to try something.
He relaxed, he contorted his face, he crossed his eyes... Nothing. Imagine seeing a figure walking away and towards him at the same time, to follow it with his gaze, nothing. His attempts to achieve the feeling he’d had in the corridor again led nowhere. He sighed with frustration and lay back on his bed.
“Looks like whatever happened, it’s gone now.” he mumbled to himself as he relaxed and nodded off...
“I wouldn’t do that again, if I were you.”
Mike awoke with a start. A man leant against his bedroom wall smiling at him. He shrank back against the headboard. “Oh fuck! Muuuum!!"
The man looked at him in shock. “Shhh. Oh for god’s sake.”
He appeared to move his feet slightly.
A minute later, the door burst open and his mum rushed into the room.
“Mike? What is it?”
“Errr.” He looked at the intruder again, then at his mother as she walked straight past him without paying him the least bit of attention. He sagged onto the bed. “Nothing. Just nodded off and must’ve had a nightmare.”
“Oh you poor dear.” She strode to the bed and gripped him in a tight hug.
“Mum! I’m OK.”
“Of course you’re not OK.”
“Will you...” It took a lot of struggle to wriggle free of her grip. “Please mum, I’m fine! So what? I had a bad dream, everyone has them and you don’t go about hugging Angie when she has ’em do you?”
“I’m” Mike sighed. “Just please! I want to be alone!”
She looked him square in the eye, felt his forehead, nodded and left the room.
Mike began to relax a little, his attention returning to the man.
The moment the door was closed he appeared to inch forward again.
“So you’re a ghost? I’ve seen them for years but none of them have ever spoken to me before.”
“I know the feeling, but no. I’m as alive as you are.”
“But my mum couldn’t see you! Hang on... You’re that bloke I saw on the field, aren’t you? What happened this afternoon anyway?”
“Please, keep your voice down.” He walked over to the TV and turned it on. “There, now if she walks past and hears talking, she’ll think it’s just the telly and we do need to talk.”
“But… Who are you?”
“I suppose you could call me Marty for now.” Marty looked surprised. “You have no idea what happened?”
“Well, I thought for a while I’d banged my head when I fell over because everything seemed wrong, but”
“Never mind, I’ll try to explain. It’s going to be difficult though. I’ve never met a greeny before… Oh, sorry. First timer will have to do.”
Marty wandered around the bedroom, studying the books on the shelf and the posters on the wall.
“Bit of a fantasy and sci-fi fan are you? That might help. At least you have a grasp of the idea of other dimensions?”
“What? You mean like Narnia?”
“That’s not what a dimension is... That’s just another world.” Marty sighed. “OK... We exist in a world with four dimensions right? length, breadth, depth and time. Up, down, left, right, forward, back and... forward in time?“. He moved his arm to demonstrate. “I raise my hand like this, I’m moving it through one of those dimensions, move it towards me, I’ve moved it in another dimension, move it across my body... well you get the idea?”
“Sort of, but I don’t see how this has anything to do with that corridor or people appearing in front of me on the bus.”
“Well, that’s just it. There aren’t four dimensions. There’re six. So, we have four dimensions for space-time as the scientists would have us believe. Time is a dimension but it’s one we’re all moving through with little control. We can’t move backwards through it and we can only vary the speed we move forward in it by a small amount. You have heard of Alfred Einstein I take it?”
“Albert, surely?” Mike said with an amused smirk.
“Ah, is that what he was called here? Never mind. There are two other dimensions of interest. The universe likes symmetry. We have three dimensions for space and three dimensions for time. You saw into one of those today. Even walked a short distance into it before you tripped up.”
“Pull the other one!”
“No, you truly walked a short distance into another dimension.”
“Honestly. I admit it sounds a bit mad but it’s true. A few, a very few of us have the ability to do this. It seems you’re one of us.”
“Seriously!? So what are these other… dimensions then?”
“The other two dimensions are a result of how time works. Please tell me you’ve heard of timelines?”
“Is that where time splits the universe in two when something happens? Like a man walks down a street, when he gets to the end the universe splits into one where he goes left and one where he goes right?”
Marty sighed with relief “Finally, we’re making progress. That’s what those other two dimensions are. Instead of thinking of time like a straight line, think of it as a tree. Constantly and endlessly branching. Even a single atom causes such a branch depending on whether it splits or not, even whether it reflects or absorbs a neutron or photon or not.”
Mike couldn’t help but look a little sceptical.
”Any action no matter how small causes a split and these newly created universes exist, right here, right now, just outside our normal perception.”
“So what was that corridor thing then?”
“Simple, as humans evolved to only perceive three dimensions at a time, to see into these other dimensions you have to put aside one of the normal three and once you can see into a dimension, you can walk into it. The further along you walk, the further back in time the fork occurred and the more different the world is to the one you know. Oh, and the ghosts you say you’ve seen?”
“Common side effect. You’re just seein’ people a few inches or feet off in one of those directions. They only appear to walk through closed doors or furniture because the doors are open or the furniture’s in a different place. I saw them for years before I switched views for the first time. That’s why I came up with the name Marty.”
A puzzled expression crossed Mike’s face.
“Ah, before your time, of course. Never mind, just a private little joke.”
“So, you’re saying I could... say... walk to a world where Germany won the 1966 world cup? Or world war two? Seriously?”
“You’ve got it! For example, where I come from, Alfred Einstein was the person who came up with E=MC2 and not Albert. Oddly, little else is different between our branches, though it is a long slog to get here. As for the two you suggested, bit too far. Probably take years. I was on my way home when you saw me which gets us neatly back onto the topic of my warning.”
“What do you mean? I wouldn’t do that again? Do what?”
“There’s... let’s call it a force for want of a better word. Scientists haven’t figured out these extra dimensions yet so they don’t know about it but what it does is, it draws things back to their plane of origin. Have you got anything from the place you caught the bus?”
“Well...” Mike reached into his trouser pocket and rummaged pulling out a slip of paper. “This bus ticket?”
“Perfect. As it was on your person, you’ve held it here. I’ll show you one of the disadvantages of our ability now. Put the ticket on the table.”
Mike did as he was told. It sat there on the table for a second and then diminished in size and vanished.
He gaped in shock, “Wha... Where did it go?”
“I did say things are drawn back to their planes of origin. The ticket is now resting on your bedside table about three yards in... that direction.”
Marty pointed in a way Mike had never seen before. his arm seemed to vanish at the elbow. He followed it, strained his eyes and *snap*, he was looking into the corridor again and could see Marty’s whole arm, pointing.
He stared in awe. His room seemed to be stretched out to infinity. He looked over his shoulder and it was stretched out that way too. As he studied it, he could see what Marty meant. It was as if the world had been sliced and that slice had been duplicated all the way down. Some bits were dark, some had the light on. Little differences became apparent, different colours of wallpaper and paint. Far in the distance, he was sure he saw the glimmer of a fire.
“I notice you can see my hand? Good. Follow me.” Marty took a few steps into the corridor and then stopped, Mike joined him. “Now, close your eyes, relax, think about looking at something distant, a tree, the stars, something like that.”
Mike squeezed his eyes shut, concentrated on seagulls flying in the distance and something slid into place. “It didn’t hurt that time! It felt.... Different.”
Marty’s voice took on a pained tone as if remembering his first time. “Think of it as a limb you’ve never used before. The joint’s stiff and snaps sharply and painfully the first time it’s bent. After that it just gets easier. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. Anyway, open your eyes. Have a look around.”
Mike did so. He was standing in his bedroom. The light was off, so was the TV. He turned on the light to get a better look. The wallpaper was the same but a couple of the posters were different. The books in the bookshelf were in a different order and lying on the table where he’d left it was the bus ticket.
“It’s not just objects that drift back to their origins. We do too if we let ourselves and that’s just what you did on the bus. Now think. The dimension you walked into relates to events in time forking, right?”
“Now, you allowed yourself to drift on a moving bus, on the top deck no less... What would’ve happened if the bus in your plane had been one minute early? Or late? I didn’t have a tutor or mentor. I learned most of this by trial and error and believe me, the error was painful.” He raised his t-shirt to reveal an angry red scar on his side. “I was lucky. The car was only travelling at twenty when it vanished out from under me and the road was empty.”
The blood drained from Mike’s face as the realisation hit him.
“I nearly died!” He thought in horror. “Shit! Not only could I have appeared in mid-air ten feet above the ground, but I’d’ve been travelling at thirty miles per hour as well... And the bus might’ve only been twenty feet behind me which might’ve run me over!”
“I’ll let you drift home now safely. Keep your eyes open and watch your surroundings. It’s one of my favourite special effects. As it’s such a short distance you won’t see many changes. When you let yourself drift a long distance it’s much better but this will at least give you the feel for it. Now. Relax, let your mind just wander. Don’t concentrate, do the reverse. Relax. I’ve got to go but I’ll see you again. You have much to learn young Jedi. Oh... And be careful!"
If there was one thing Mike didn’t need tuition on it was daydreaming. He was school champion at that. He let his mind wander but kept an eye on his surroundings. He felt that familiar sinking feeling, things in the room shifted. Marty vanished first. Pens and books vanished or moved, posters changed, the light flickered a few times and then came back on again along with the TV. He was all alone in his room again.
Mike was overcome by excitement at what he’d learned. He grinned from ear to ear. He had a special power! He started running through all the possibilities in his head. It was dizzying. Turning off the TV, he lay back on the bed and let his imagination run riot.
The next fortnight passed uneventfully. Mike went out with his mates, watched TV when it was raining and generally did what everyone else was doing during their holidays.
He tried many times to shift his perception. To see the corridor again and all the time he wished Marty would show up to teach him how.
The only unusual thing he’d noticed was the ghosts were back and a little more common than he remembered but even trying to focus and lock onto one of them only led to disappointment.
A couple of times he’d noticed one or another of his friends giving him the odd look. He’d obviously been crossing his eyes and screwing his face up in the attempts and just explained it away as a sneeze that didn’t come.
He resigned himself to the fact that he could only do it when Marty was around and became increasingly frustrated by his absence. To make things worse, the third week of the holiday had been booked by his family for a week in Blackpool. Before that last day of school, he’d been looking forward to it. He’d never been to Blackpool and had heard it was once the ideal holiday resort. Now it was on the decline but it still had enough to keep him busy for a week. Usually, they went to Llandudno, Scarborough or Southport but he just didn’t want to leave in case Marty returned.