by John Brandon
Day One: Dream found, portal encased. Secondary remote, opened channel, squinting begun. Entropy warnings, fully engaged alert download.
The clouds touched the rims of daylight, rafted against the skyline, pinched out the juice of dawn. Words too soft to hear, too loud to ignore—something like a deaf angel, perfect syllables sounded out by a fallible being, wings clipped. Then, the enthroned godhead, reaching down with his pinchers, put holes in my heart so I could breathe. There was a bright light, the same one that people see when they die, and then I fell into the abyss. I reached down to touch the bottom, felt the weight and substance, drank air mixed with water, and watched it pour into the room from a sieve. It filled me with texture.
The events of the day were about to change. My fingers tapped softly on a keyboard, pounding out the rhythm with an urgency that could only mean one thing. And then I stopped, suddenly, forever. Without warning. The end. God told me to stop using power, and no one really understood why. They would, eventually, of course. “Not that any of this makes any sense right now,” I would tell them, “but you will just have to wait until you feel the same way. You won’t understand right away, but you will.” I lifted my hands and never touched plastic casings that pushed synthetic diodes and transferred thoughts onto liquid crystal again. The silence was beautiful and full.
That morning I felt the purpose of the afterfall, summarized in a fleeting moment, something from the beyond. In the months and years that followed, my journey was always focused on one truth. The first and last order of business during my serendipitous tenure on earth would be to find it. Not the kind of truth that a teacher finds when a student returns to knowledge, or a preacher discovers when the church expands, or a craftsmen provides when his shape is revealed, or the artist uncovers with a rapturous blend of colors and words, or that man tries to make for himself. Meaning beyond the temporal existence, meaning across the divide, meaning in the hands of the immortal. A quiet and desperate ride through the channels of discovery, softly soothing.
It began at one specific point in time. For me, it was on that day, early morning, bathed by it. The window frosted over with my hard breathing. A passageway opened, slipping between the fingers. In the light, the time before the godhead created man and the universe existed in an unadulterated form. Winged pantheons with razor teeth, orange seething liquid congealed on their foreheads and dripped into black fur, the princes and powers of a thousand worlds starred dully into the twilight. Before the godhead touched the earth, the earth was created in a void between the before and the after. In the light, standing by the breathe and the window, my congealing revealed.
I turned from the window and sat back for a moment to breathe again. I stared at my computer, rolled my fingers into knots. “How is this going to work? My life is going to change. This conglomeration, this synthetic, this false representation, this indelible?”
I flipped open a book, any book, just to read something different, to occupy my mind. The thing that existed, this time and space, was the dream? The light—the texture, the sieve—was actually the true reality? I stood up and walked to the door. The metal knob felt different this time, it turned too easily, the door creaked too quietly. In the hallway, the darkness was too dark. The red carpet was too red. And one man, making his way through the channel, shuffling, stopped and looked at me for a moment.
“Nothing is what it seems,” he said. “Look, you had to find out eventually. I was there, standing near the throne when time stopped and I looked into his eyes. He was waiting for the right moment, but the moment had not been invented yet. Strange, but you have to understand that the first creation was not a mistake, it was just meant for a different purpose. For my purpose, and for yours. And now they are blending. It all makes sense, really. And it’s not like there weren’t any clues. Someone was painting the sunrise, you just never knew why. You thought you had been to the drug store the week before, but it was today—and last month. The person you met was not a figment of your imagination, they just looked like someone from the other creation. Now here’s what I want you to do. In the park just south of the 22nd Street interchange you will find four of them waiting for you. They are here to help. The transition is the most difficult part, and we will reveal what we need to reveal, slowly over time.”
And that was it, he left suddenly. I later learned that this man was named Korphan, one of the original descendants, a kind of guardian. His yellow hair was a sure giveaway, the intersecting lines along his face and the ruptured veins on his weakened forearms, his dry cacophonic lisp, the sword. You can trace his descendants through the lineage. Most of his kind live at least two hundred years if not three hundred, and there are a few that make it to four hundred. He was seeing me, as though the hallway of my crusty apartment dwelling was an odd place to meet, through a portal in his world, on a street corner. I thought about asking him some questions, but the thing is—they can’t hear you, you can only hear them, and only when they choose to speak words that are audible.
He was right about the signs, though. We have them all around us. In fact, they are in the Bible—Genesis talks about them, so does Ephesians. It’s almost odd that we never took them that seriously, even when they were literally staring at us. You don’t want to know how literally. Everything has a purpose, the way the ocean waves edge to the shoreline, the way a bird circles in the air, the way the moon looks like it has a face. And now I come to find out that the distance between this reality and the other is separated by a warm light, some sort of passageway, and all it takes is the right kind of squinting and concentration to pass over, and that once you do you can never, ever, not ever, go back. Four walls around me, but in the other world there was a tree hanging over a fencepost. Daytime just beginning, but in the other world the day was passing into night.
I decided to eat breakfast. The jangle on the street made me think about what Korphan had said. When a bell rings in this world does a bird sing in his? Or is there really any connection at all? I pondered the idea, stepped onto the sidewalk. Were the tall buildings in my world nothing more than magnificent trees in the other? When a car swerved suddenly on this road, did someone get flattened in his? All the intricacies of overlapping realities filled my brain too fast. A rose-colored spectrum, flashing pandemic ode, the rich weaning wind. Fragments that held on the lip of falling, hinted at a rainfall but revealed the pieces. For a moment, the clouds turned into themselves and embarrassed the blue skyline, the buildings leaned forward, and I fingered the inner recesses of the idea. My head lowered, and I watched my feet move me to the corner store. A Manhattan rage of cars and busses coasted behind my trailing thoughts.
Eggs. Sausage. Buttered toast. The feeling was persistent and endemic. Power sucked the heavens dry, left nothing for the cohesion. The paper cup that held crushed coffee beans and water was manufactured in a smoke-stack warehouse by an assembly line of daycare-funding drones who consumed regurgitated coal in vehicles the size of small houses during their daily pilgrimages. But that was only half of the problem. Fuel was culled from natural resources that could be potentially replaced over time, but once the thousand gigawatt fueling station was emptied, it was emptied for good. In the past several years, air had given way to electrical impulses that fed data through silent invisible streams. The threads that held us together were not made from human fibers. We were choking on the dust, and we weren’t even sure from what the dust was made.
But I knew. That moment, a fracturing of in-betweens, the melding of universes. I paid the bill and stood, but it was the last time I ever felt pain, the curse of existence, the wonder of why, the circle of confusion. The morning was like the rush of self-discovery, of seeing yourself on a video and realizing who you are, of looking at your hands and seeing the veins for the first time, of watching your reflection in a mirror that perfectly balances the times you have imagined what you look like and yet revealing more than you wanted to know, of hearing your own voice speak with the inflections that someone else uses, of stopping your thoughts because they are flowing too fast, of feeling yourself choke and realizing you’re making yourself choke. I raised one arm for the cab, and when I climbed in and glanced around to get my bearings as the real bearings of existence became unhinged and then clasped onto an entirely different reality, never to reattach to the original again, and then the first reality bounced back into a former reality where I used to exist and clasped onto the synopses that held my nervous system in place and kept all the juices flowing that needed to flow to keep me alive.
“Right here,” I said, and opened the door. The park was moving in circles, but there was only one person that held my attention. The fur on his arms was black, deep black, ugly black. A smooth yellow horn pierced out of the skin on his neck, and his massive feet were spread wide, planted next to a sewer in his world, on top of a concrete slab in mine that was intended as some sort of embankment. His wings were annoying, fluttering in a way that didn’t seem right. I wanted to reach out and stop them from moving. A strange particle mist floated around his body, insects or dust or something, following his movements, like moths around a bigger moth. He stood nearly eight feet tall.
“You might already know that the other phlans are here,” he said. The phlans? The beast was reading from a card, his hands warm with heat, and another beast was leaning against the slab, same wings, same annoying wings. The fluttering sound was scraping against my nervous system. “Our horde, we travel in packs you know. You probably can’t see the others, they are hidden behind me. We’ve been waiting here for you for almost ten minutes. Have you ever noticed that ten minutes can move at a different rate depending on what you are doing at the time? That’s actually the reality, not the scientific movement of clock hands. Oh, and did you know your concrete is coarser here? It feels more like the metal in our world. We have to get to the subway.”
“What did Korphan tell you about me?” I asked.
“You’re one of the first,” he said, and slipped the card into his pocket, after reading an address or a message or a prescription. “We don’t know a lot about you yet, but we do know that you are going to help us.” The creature looked around for a moment, then glanced at his companion. “Come with us now.”
The beast reached for me and I let him take my shoulder.
“What do you know about me?” I asked, hoping for more answers.
This phlan wasn’t going to answer. He strained his neck around to see the others. Three of them were following us now, and the first companion had moved in front where he could guide us along the city street. “Down here, follow me.”
And then four lumbering beastmen and a confused, irritated human descended into the subway, and suddenly the godhead broke his silence for good.
* * * * *
“So, what you’re saying is that you are never going to use power of any kind ever again, is that right?” My friend West had a quizzical look as though he had just been stabbed by a pen but was more interested in the brand and color than the pain, or was sinking below the surface of a lake but was more concerned about his wet Dockers than the water filling his lungs, and we were in Denny’s eating my first meal. “And there was an man named Korphan who told you that he witnessed some alternate creation at the beginning of time? And you think that this is all perfectly normal?”
“That’s right,” I said, guzzling down my breakfast coffee in a way that was both unnatural and strangely intoxicating. West was choking down this new information and some of it was splattering up all over the place, some of it was hitting helpless bystanders and some of it was making a mess on the table. “Hey, get a grip, it’s not the end of the world or anything, yet. See, I’m filtering all of this stuff myself right now.”
“And this all happened today, this morning, in New York, in the subway?”
“No, not all in the subway, I first squinted in my apartment. Have you ever even read Genesis before? It’s funny how most people haven’t, even though they all say they do. I can think of some other things that people say they have done when they really haven’t.”
“Nevermind. Are you going to eat that?”
I was pointing at his toast; he was staring at me.
“You think I’m nuts, but that’s okay. You’re right, I’m never going to use power again. Not a cell phone, not a computer, not a bus. I’m never going to drive a car again, or ride the subway. I’m never going to touch electrical power, and I’m never going to participate in it either. Movies, television—they are all out now. My skin will never come in contact with them again. See, there was a time when the godhead—”
“I’ll explain later. Anyway, there were two creations. It requires a literal reading of Genesis 1. God created the heavens and the earth—twice. In verse two, he started over. The first creation still exists, but you can’t see it.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Right. But the first creation was different. In the first creation, there is no power – I mean, there isn’t any electrical power. I mean, there isn’t any transmission of electrical power. And it’s not because they are not advanced. The first creation is more advanced than you can imagine. Korphan has actually traveled through space. See, you can trace their history through the Bible. The creatures in Job were actually part of the first creation, he had a vision and the godhead decided to keep it all in there. Peter saw the same creatures falling out of the sky on a rooftop. But none of this has anything to do with the demons or hell or Lucifer or any of that stuff in Isaiah. This is a different creation, not a fall from heaven. See, hell exists in a real place that cannot be experienced as a mortal human, but the first creation exists concurrently to our own universe and we can cross over to it, you just have to know how, and you have to be ready for it because it kind of blows your mind. I’m still not really over it, and I’ve been back for several hours now. It sort of unravels itself and the more you digest it the more you can swallow.”
“The first time this happened to you, you were in the subway?” West asked the question as though he was now taking notes that he would later read to the ward at the mental institution, realizing finally that there was something wrong with me and, no, I was not just pulling his leg or twisting his thoughts. And then I started to explain it.
* * * * *
The first thing I did, of course, was to throw up, and not the kind of vomiting you do when you are disgusted by something or inflicted with a mild case of nausea, I mean a full-body, clean-yourself-out puking session. Every color was different. The ground was a darker brown, and not just because it was a different road or that it had rained that day or the sun was hiding behind clouds. A different brown, a brown that wasn’t supposed to exist. And I could feel it, hold the ground in my hands, bring it close to my eyes to examine it, and it was still different. The sky was a different blue, the cyan blended different into hyacinth shades, the sun revealed the spectrum of light differently, the shadows turned at a slightly different angle when they hit the horizon. The afterfall was imbued by radiant transmogrification, a painting that had been washed with dirty water and left out to dry in the sun for too long and then smeared by a man with blood on his hands and tears that flowed into brilliant shades. We were in some sort of atrium enclosure, with no roof, and the four beats were sitting near the exit.
“How different does it seem to you?” It was Korphan. He was standing on a platform just six feet away from me, smiling, eyes pierced. The four beasts were on wooden chairs, wood from a tree that I had never seen before. The subway in my creation was an outdoor shelter in his, flowers sprouting wildly, fruit trees, the green lush of vibrant growth. He looked the same, but clearer.
“We have thousands of these shelters scattered all over the city. The one you are standing in now was just completed last week. The architects had a rough time with the positioning, but I think it is working okay, don’t you?”
Korphan shifted on the platform, which was made of wood with metallic hinges that held it together. A wall of glass surrounded us on all sides. The largest beast had pulled a table next to his chair and was pouring a liquid into a vase, hands sweating again, something like a smirk or pain edging on his lips and by the corner of his eyes. Later, I found out that this liquid was made available in every atrium, for anyone who happened to be passing by. In some of the shelters, there was also a one-day supply of food, various reading materials, and even a bed to sleep on. Visitors would sometimes help with the constant chore of maintaining plants, and some would bring a restocking of supplies. The beast threw back his huge head and drank one glass with a large gulp and sat the glass back down on the table, and looked at me intently for a moment.
“Laflangan, meet Lain,” said Korphan. The phlan reached out one of his arms to greet me and I took it quickly and let go. Something welled up inside my stomach, suddenly. Korphan was looking at me just then and noticed my bewilderment. “Drink something, it will take the pain away.”
Laflangan handed me a glass with the liquid in it and I started to drink. “It helps with the conversion process; at least we think it does. You know, you’re the first human to squint over successfully. It’s not something that just anyone can do, but believe me, people have been trying for several ages and then some. The godhead made it difficult but not impossible, but as I said before, all the clues are there.”
“You… keep… talking about… the godhead…” I winced.
“He will talk about them a lot, get used to it,” said Laflangan. The beast motioned to his companions, which obviously meant something to them but nothing to me. They opened the glass door in the atrium and walked out. One of them looked back. As he did, I noticed a slight flickering in his face, like something you might see when a car passes in the rain and you’re not sure if you saw a face or a reflection from a nearby billboard, or the world-spinning sensation you get when you exit a merry-go-round, or the sleepy haze in the morning when the universe has stopped for a moment to catch its breath. The pain was edging closer to consciousness, it was within my grasp. It never subsided.