A Version BetweenJamie J. Buchanan / Thrillers & Crime
A Version Between
A Short Story by
Jamie J. Buchanan
Copyright 2014 Jamie J. Buchanan
As my eyes opened, light started flooding in. I could feel the brightness burying itself into my brain, the involuntary constriction of my iris lessening the shock to my system as I started to wake.
It induced confusion – multiplied by disorientation. Obscured and obtuse, my mind fumbled.
As the light invaded me, anxiety rose as well. I couldn’t make out any discernable objects – fuzziness complicated my vision. I blinked, squinted, and slowly opened my eyes. Blurred objects started to form, edges became more solid.
A straight line; the corner of something. I could see a rail, a curtain.
Sounds became audible and started to give me a sense of location. There was the constant breathing of air-conditioning. Beeps followed from somewhere. Items came into focus as the pain in my eyes diminished. Dimensions were established – I could see a wall opposite me too.
I heard the soft huff of the movement of air whooshing as a doorway opened and I could hear the shuffling of soft shoes on linoleum flooring. I turned my head towards that sound, noticing the machines next to me. Their beeps were louder now as consciousness established itself.
The smell now pervasive, encompassing. I could taste the air on my tongue.
A nurse had walked into the room, closed the curtains and took out an empty vase from the cupboard. She didn’t check me, or my chart or even notice I was here – surely she noticed I was awake?
No words, no sounds…silently she wafted out of the room like an apparition. My clouded mind, my jaded vision – did it trick me? Was there really a nurse there at all?
A moment later the door flew open, the hinges barely contained it as the whoosh of preceding air announced my new visitor. He strode into the room like a man on a mission – purposeful, confident and IN-CHARGE. The grin on his face was infectious and I reacted immediately, the corners of my mouth started to curl upward as his charismatic presence started to invade me.
The guy’s shirt was crisp and clean – like it had never been worn before. It fitted him perfectly, tailored and expensive. It hung casually over his designer jeans with arrogant precision. His hair couldn’t/wouldn’t move – shiny, perfectly in place. He was a movie star ready for the catwalk, a rock star at the Grammys. He was a younger George Clooney, a leaner Billy Zane. His Cheshire cat grin was viral and, as he took the three strides to get to my bedside, he could see that I was in awe of him.
And I hadn’t faintest idea who he was.
“Hey man!” He exclaimed, revealing a broad generic American accent. “How ya feeling bro?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I’m feeling okay I suppose. I mean, I’m a bit confused about things, but I actually feel okay.”
“That’s great man – you had one hellova fall bro! I’m tellin’ you man, you went Goddam flying!” He put his arms out in front of him like Superman and pretended to zoom across the room.
I couldn’t hold back any longer – I had to know who he was. My smile did not diminish when I asked him: “Sorry, but do I know you?”
He stopped dead in his tracks, his arms splayed out in front of him – now that he had stopped moving he looked more like a bad zombie actor than Superman. His smile dropped, his eyes hardened. They turned from brilliant blue to dark black.
I had just insulted him.
He held it for a few seconds and then, quick as a flash, the twinkle in his eyes came back and the smile returned.
“Of course! Man, I’m not surprised you don’t remember me. You took such a blow on the head and we’d only just met, like, an hour beforehand. I’m Brett.”
Brett shook my hand, although I didn’t really feel it. This was happening so fast – this electric star was flying around my hospital bed pretending to be Superman like he was my best friend in the world.
“How did we meet?” This was a question I thought I’d never ask another guy and, judging by how comfortable he was around me, I admit I was a little afraid of the truth.
“Oh bro,” Brett started and he drawled out the ‘o’ part of ‘bro’ so much that I couldn’t really tell when it stopped. He sat on the bed, his perfect iron-grey shirt remaining uncreased, unruffled. “We met in the water, in the surf off the North End of the beach. We were paddling around, waiting for the right waves and just started talking. We missed a few decent sets because we were too busy talking about the best ones we wanted! I tell ya, when you caught on to that big left-hander, I thought you were insane, bro! It threw you like a rag doll dude! You were a legend, a God! You flew…and I don’t mean like you fell through the air, no, no, no. I mean you looked like you were actually flying. Until, that is, you hit that exposed reef. Fuck man, you hit it HARD!”
I saw his perfect Adonis face scrunch up in empathetic pain at the memory of the supposed injuries. But my arms moved fine, my legs moved fine. I didn’t feel any pain. There were no casts, no bandages, no evidence of any injuries at all.
“But I can’t see any injuries…I feel fine. See?”
Brett stood and walked to the end of the bed. He watched me kick my legs and wave my arms to prove there were no broken bones, no multiple stitches or busted organs. He pretended to read my chart but I could sense he wanted to tell me something.
“What is it?” I asked, giving him the chance to answer me rather than simply tell me outright.
“Well, bro, I gotta be honest with ya. You see, you’ve been in here for a while.”
It felt like only yesterday I was driving to the beach to go for a surf. I had no recollection of him at all. The last thing I could recall was heading into the water.
“How long Brett?”
“How long is a while Brett?”
He paused and put down the chart. I glimpsed it but it was too faint to read.
“Look bro, what if I told you that I could change things for you…like big time.”
“How long Br-“
“No! Seriously dude!” His humour was gone, the coldness returned. I could tell that when he went like this, anyone would listen. “I can change things for you in such a way that you would never look at life the same way again.”
I waited for a crack in his façade, a chink in the armour that betrayed the joke he was obviously playing. But there wasn’t one – he was dead serious.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Let me introduce you to someone.” He faced the open door and called out: “Come in man!”
In walked me.
“What the hell?” I sat upright in the bed as I watched myself – or a very close approximation of myself – saunter across the room and stand next to my new best friend.
“This is you, Tony. Or rather, this the you that took that job in Sydney when you were 24.”
Sydney? 24? How did he-?
And then I remembered…when I was 24 I was offered a role in Sydney with an accounting firm but it meant leaving home and my (then) girlfriend back in Melbourne. I ended up passing on the job and continued in my hometown, successfully working my way through the corporate mire.
“Hey man,” my former 24 year old self said. He was pudgier than me, greyer than me. His eyes looked exhausted, his lines deeper. “You made the right choice back then. That job never panned out and I moved to Newcastle to manage a branch of Investus Services, you know, the investment company? It’s been okay, but not as stellar as what you achieved back in Melbourne. Did you ever marry Melanie? Damn she was hot…I was so stupid to have left her behind. I mean, there was no way a long distance thing would work with a girl that hot-“
“Sorry to cut you off mate, but what the FUCK is happening Brett?” I asked, cutting off my other self.
He came around to the side of the bed and leaned in close and spoke softly and definitely.
“I can show you the past, but not the future. I can show you the results of your decisions and the consequences of your actions. What you do with that is up to you.”
“But how Brett? How can you do this?”
The grin returned, warm, welcoming…with that grin I could agree to anything he said. “You don’t believe in magic do you Tony? Well, just believe man…believe.” Once again, his deep soft voice trailed off like the fade-out of a song and I wasn’t sure when it finished.
Over the next hour he brought in several versions of me – some that had done well and others that were struggling.
I met the me that decided to buy that motorbike when I was 32 – he was in a wheelchair.
I met the me that trained his arse off and managed to get a professional career playing soccer in the UK for almost twenty years, mostly Championship and first division, but he still made a very nice living.
I met the me that married Shauna Jones from the legal firm two doors down the road (a very lucky me indeed).
I met the semi-pro musician me.
I met the me that never left my first firm.
I met the me that didn’t leave a party in 2003 and ended up meeting and marrying Maria Spinotta (another very lucky me).
The various versions of me paraded in and out of the room, introducing themselves and we had a brief chat. Some were greyer than me, or fatter than me… some were both. Some were fitter and better looking. As the line continued I realised that I had pretty much finished up somewhere in the middle. I wasn’t super rich (like the ex-footballer, the musician, or the firm partner), but neither was I worried where the next rent was coming from (like the addict me, or the one that did five years in jail for assault).
I was starting to see the purpose.
“Brett, I think I know what you’re doing here. Somehow you’ve been able to tap into these alternate versions of me to show me that my life isn’t all that bad. I know I must whine about it at times – the work, the mortgage, the long hours etc…But, in general, it’s not a bad life. I can see that now.”
“Well,” he said, that silky smooth salesman-like voice trailing away, “that’s kinda true. Tell you what man; come with me for a brief walk and I’ll show you one last thing. Then you’ll know what it’s all about.”
I stood up, my legs were a little wobbly to begin with but I soon got the hang of it. I hooked my hand into the crook of Brett’s arm and he led me out of the room and down the corridor.
Three doors down, Brett opened the door to a room similar to mine and I looked inside. There on the bed was a body covered by a blue hospital sheet. The sheet was pulled up over the body’s face.
“I’m here to lead you through to the next phase in your…existence,” Brett said, his voice devoid of his previous bonhomie.
From the corner of the room a nurse walked over and folded the sheet back, revealing the face of the person lying there dead.
It was me.
“What the f-?” I started…And then the penny dropped.