I wasn’t sure if I had just magically unlocked the door, or if someone was inviting me in. They were being very quiet about it if they were.
It’s not really how you should answer the door — take it off the latch and just leave it slightly ajar. Not unless you’re in some sort of horror movie and the door is to a brooding Gothic mansion. My place was hardly Northanger Abbey, but I was still a bit spooked.
In the horror movie scenario, the door usually swings open with an alarming level of creaking, and the nervous knocker (I’ve been called worse) hesitantly enters like a fool.
“Hello?” I said, as I pushed the door and hesitantly entered. “Anyone home?”
No answer, no sounds of movement.
The door stuck a little as letters were pushed out of the way. Not a huge pile — my bills were all paperless — but quite a lot of out-of-date coupons for half-price pizza (stuffed crust not included). Sadly, I’d missed out on several years of savings.
Flicking through them, I could tell by the ‘valid until’ dates that they went back all the way to 2016. This was my place. Or a version of it.
If I had somehow opened the door without a key, it wasn’t a power I had previously. I could exit my body and float about, but that wasn’t what I’d done. And I’d never been able to work locks in that state.
I looked down at my hand and tried to leave my body. Nothing happened. I was just a twat in a dusty hallway staring at his hand.
Was I delusional? Did I just imagine my hand passing through the door?
I had knocked and I had tried to prise the door open with a spoon. When I pushed on the door, it opened. Maybe it hadn’t been locked in the first place. I might have left it open when I was last here, three years ago. And no one had ever tried to get in.
I gently closed the door from the inside and tried to open it again. It was locked shut unless I turned the knob. I decided I’d look into my mysterious new ability later and put the stack of letters on the small side table. The vast majority of the letters were from the council with news of their upgraded recycling service and Christmas bin service.
“Hellooo?” I called out again.
Still no response. The hallway was very quiet. It was just as I’d left it, but dustier.
I began walking towards my bedroom, my heart thumping in my chest for absolutely no reason. I’d managed to rob and steal my way from some castle in Sussex all the way here, and now that I was safely in my home, this was when my nerves decided to kick in.
The air had an unpleasant, stale taste to it. I couldn’t really tell if that was different from how it was before. A thick layer of dust covered everything and came off like sludge when I ran my finger over any surface.
I pushed the bedroom door open, dreading what I might find waiting for me. My three-year-old corpse?
What I found was an empty unmade bed. I turned on the lights to reveal more of the same. The lights worked, though, which was surprising. Who had been paying the bills? I mean, I had a direct debit set up with my bank to pay all of my basic outgoings, but the meagre funds I had would have run out a long time ago.
I opened the curtains and then the window and took a deep breath of North London air. It smelled like kebabs and coffee shops, which was pleasingly familiar.
There was a garden below that could only be used by the people living on the ground floor and beyond that the backs of the buildings opposite. Everything seemed calm and stable. Usually, this would make me tense and ready for an ambush by that douchebag Providence but in this case, I was struck by a sense of relief. Nobody gave a shit about what I got up to here. It was a welcome change.
I turned around and went into the other rooms — the small lounge, the chilly bathroom, the narrow and claustrophobic kitchen. They were just as I’d left them plus the obligatory dust-coat to mark the passage of time.
No one had noticed I’d gone. No one had come to visit and wondered what had happened to me. If I’d died, I would have quietly decomposed without anyone knowing. Eventually, the smell would make someone complain and several weeks later the council would send round someone from the recycling and bin service to cart me away.
The fridge was still working, but everything in it was mouldy and inedible, although I seemed to recall the contents were that way three years ago. I was pretty good at filling my fridge with healthy ingredients but not so good at putting them on a plate or in a bowl. Things would change now that I had a different perspective on life. Right now, though, I was starving and anything would do.
There were some cans in the cupboard which I decided would be okay even though they were past their sell-by date. Tinned food was what you ate after the end of civilisation, and my flat was close enough to Tottenham High Street to count.
The five-bean Mexican chilli I had no memory of buying tasted quite good after a couple of minutes in the microwave. The tap made a bit of a fuss and spat at me like a feral cat before giving me a glass of water, but it was still far in advance of anything I’d been used to during my time in the land of dragons and fairies.
The water tasted metallic and bitter. I really was home.
It was all very confusing and I was having a hard time getting to grips with my situation, but there were some basic things I could check using the laptop in my bedroom. No, not the latest uploads on PornHub, that could wait.
The computer booted up fine, slow as ever. The internet was working. The wifi that usually dropped out every time a butterfly in the Amazon flapped its wings was perfectly fine.
The first thing I did was check my bank balance. After sitting there for five minutes trying to remember my passwords.
The more advanced technology gets, the more passwords we have to remember for our own security.
Different password for every site, change them every six months, use a series of letters and numbers you can’t possibly remember, but don’t write it down anywhere, that would defeat the point.
No, just save it in your browser where only you and Google can access it. Google wouldn’t betray you, their motto is ‘Don’t be evil’. Oh wait, they changed it to ‘China Number One’.
It doesn’t really seem to help, though. Data gets hacked all the time, and not on our end. The email telling you there’s been a security breach at some data centre isn’t to tell you that it was you who fucked up with your easy to remember birthday passcode, it was their Matrix-style algorithm that failed to stop a bored teenager with nothing to do while they waited for their temporary ban in League of Legends to be lifted.
My bank balance was surprisingly healthy. Rent and utilities had been paid automatically for the last three years, and money had been coming in from my job. The job I hadn’t done for three years. What were they paying me for? I had hardly been worth paying when I had turned up. Perhaps they found they were more productive when I was absent.
Then again, it had never been a cutting-edge company full of diligent professionals. There was a guy called Frank who quit six months before anyone noticed he was gone. Maybe he was still receiving his unearned wages, too.
We sent lorries to different towns. Sometimes, the wrong towns. You know how sometimes you order a kitchen or a bathroom suite and it gets delayed? How the hell do you take a week to get a bunch of cardboard boxes from London to Milton Keynes? Well, that’s where someone like me comes in, prints off the wrong docket and sends your kitchen to you via Newcastle-Under-Lyme, wherever the fuck that is.
I wondered what Frank was up to these days. Good old Frank.
The main thing was that I had funds — as soon as I found my debit card and remembered my PIN. Things were looking up.
Since I had the internet at my disposal, I decided to look up a few things from the last three years and soon realised that this world was in even worse shape than I’d thought. Trump wasn’t just president, he was leading the US towards a fascist dictatorship of the 1980s straight-to-video variety.
American Nazi’s were literally marching in the streets and attacking people. It reminded me of a video game, where they made up some bullshit reason for an evil despot to somehow rise to power just so you could run around the streets of New York shooting people. World War II tropes were always popular since that was the last war that hadn’t been started as tax write-oo. Vietnam also featured a lot because it had the best soundtrack.
This version of Earth: The Game was as poorly realised as the sixth in a Bethesda franchise, with the cheesy lines of an embarrassedly executed Star Wars license, all rendered on an outdated iteration of the Unreal Engine. Plus, microtransactions were already fully implemented — look at the first two letters of the word ‘EArth’. Coincidence? I think not.
I’m not saying someone like Trump couldn’t become President of America. After Obama, there was bound to be a backlash from the butthurt KKona crowd who would do anything to make sure nothing like that would happen again, including letting a woman tell them what to do, even if it meant sucking Russian dick. It isn’t like America isn’t known for its racist institutions — KKK, FBI, NFL — they all go crazy if an afro appears over the horizon.
But as I read through recent history, it became more and more clear that none of this was possible.
It just wasn’t.
It wouldn’t have happened like this, so easily with people shrugging their shoulders and accepting it. Not in the real world. There was no way.
A president controlled by Russians, Saudi Arabia cutting up people with impunity, China running slave labour camps. It was like someone was trying to set-up the corniest game ever. Bond villains had more plausibility (and better hair). These were all low-effort stereotypes and no one was doing anything about it… just because.
It was all fake. The more I read, the more I was sure of it.
It’s not often someone get culture shocked by their own culture.
I had been brought back into some weird aberration where things had taken a turn for the absurd. Can you imagine Nazi’s marching around the streets of America and Jewish Americans doing nothing about it?
Didn’t they secretly run the banks and everything? Would they just sit back and let people run around with swastikas? Ridiculous. It’s ‘Never forget’, not ‘Never get involved’.
No, no, no. This was all wrong. I realise there’s not supposed to be any suspension of disbelief required for real life, but come on. How was any of this even slightly credible? Bad writing with terrible CGI you only noticed years later. I suspected Peter Jackson was involved as an executive producer.
I’ll admit, it was all very clever and amusing — an Education Secretary who could barely read, an Environmental Secretary who didn’t believe in climate change, an Energy Secretary who was a lobbyist for oil companies, all hilarious — but it was too on the nose.
Reading about the last three years made me feel like my mind was splitting in two. Everything about my immediate surroundings suggested I had just been away and had been dumped back into a world that had carried on perfectly fine without my help. But the direction it had gone in was unacceptable to me. There was no chance it could have turned out like this without someone arranging it. Zero.
And I don’t mean Putin, I mean someone who knew how to change realities.
Of course, the other option was that I was having some kind of mental breakdown. That too would explain a lot. But if that was true, what could I do about it? Go see a doctor and have my brain examined?
Contrary to what movies would have you believe, psychiatrists and psychologists are not that great at treating crazy. They serve a purpose, but they don’t serve it very well.
How do I know? I’ve had years of interactions with them as the child of mental patient. Which also means it runs in the family, so everything that I thought had happened to me might have been the desperate fantasy of a lost and lonely nutjob (Hello!).
If so, doctors wouldn’t be much help. Their only real recourse was to medicate with drugs that turned off your symptoms by turning off you.
The only difference between a good mental health professional and a regular one was how fast they could match the right drug to the condition. The right drug being the one that didn’t make you vomit it back up again.
Once the patient shuts up and stops trying to attack people, job done. Of course, they were still screaming and shouting on the inside, but no one cares about that.
I wasn’t going to seek medical help that didn’t exist. Maybe if this had been a parallel universe there would be a fix, a laser that could reconnect a couple of broken synapses, but this was an alternate timeline at best. Same shit, different direction.
Which was a shame. A true parallel universe might have had a Star Wars prequel that didn’t suck. Imagine a Phantom Menace that was a giant force ghost with a three-metre lightsaber instead of a shaved-down Ewok winning pod races and endless rounds of trade negotiations. Come on, George, get your retcon CGI guys on it.
However things had ended up as they had, I could only assume I had been sent here to correct it.
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”
That’s where I normally turn off the tape and chuck it in the bin. No need to self-destruct, the recycling comes every other Tuesday.
But in this case there was something so ridiculous about the way things had been set-up, I was actually considering taking up the challenge.
I had originally thought Flatland was a virtual reality game I’d been thrown into, but I’d never been able to work out how the controls worked. But this was far more like a game. A rushed one with terrible writing and probably an underwater level and a lava zone.
Take down the bottom shelf Manchurian Candidate, kill off the Nazi retard army, return America to the corrupt and entitled continuity we all know and love. Of course, that would be followed up by the UK DLC — Boris leading the attack on Europe with his Brexit zombie horde. If there’s one thing lazy game devs liked more than WW2 tropes, it was zombies. Nazi zombies if you’ve really run out of ideas. And later in the year, the China expac.
For once, the hero’s journey was clearly laid out for me. All I had to do was rediscover my powers and buy myself a plane ticket.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino