Aphelion Issue 287, Volume 27
September 2023
 
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FUN WITH DICK AND JANE

by Timothy Wilkie


“See Dick! See Jane! See Dick and Jane. See Dick and Jane,

“RUN!”

        The Ragman Sings...

The night was deathly quiet. That was when I first saw the figure coming at me through the fog. I could not tell if it was a man or beast, but it was moving rapidly towards me. I just stood there watching as it seemed to phase shift in and out of the light. I felt different, strange and the air was charged with electricity. My skin was taut to the bone and all the hair on the back of my neck was standing up on edge. Those that had vanished were gone and nowhere to be found. The mysterious stranger across the flats and up the hill was the first person I had seen all day. In some ways it was reflecting my every move. When I walked, it walked and when I stopped, it did too.’

When everybody first disappeared, I was convinced that I had been blessed. While standing in line at unemployment it just happened. As I looked down at their clothes all over the tile floor I thought. So now my story begins. I closed my eyes, but nothing happened. When I opened them again, I was still standing in front of the counter. Okay, so it wasn’t a dream.

When I stepped outside all the cars were still in the parking lot. Everything was just the same except all the people were gone. For some reason, the air seemed sweeter. I don’t like people. I have a problem with authority, so I’ve been in and out of jail, nothing serious.

As I watched it coming down the Road getting closer and closer, I realized it was not human. It wore clothes and stood erect but that was where the similarity ended. It walked in chaos like a wounded piece of art. Like a bad imitation of a Picasso or a Van Gogh.

There were houses all around me on both sides of the road and from where I stood, I could see into their lit rooms. The only thing missing was the people. They were like lives waiting, frozen in time.

The wind of change blew down the hill carrying the scent of the thing with it. That was one question answered as I closed and locked the door. Inside the house the curtains were drawn and in a recliner in the living room was a pair of extra-large grey sweatpants and a pink tee shirt with,

“I HATE HOUSEWORK”

on it. It was all that was left of my mother. “Maybe that’s a good thing,” I said to myself as I ran to the back of the house and looked out the window. The back yard was dim at best and choked with shadows. A moan sounded from beneath my feet as the hot water heater came on and it scared the shit out of me.

On the walls in the dining room were all kinds of pictures in those cheap frames that you get from the Dollar Tree. The one that caught my eye though was a young woman in Army fatigues it was my sister Jane. We were twins and she died in Afghanistan.

“LOVE YOU MOM”

It read and then each one of her squad signed it. What came to mind right off was it had been meant to be a sweet gesture and now it was nothing but a bitter memory. “Thank you for your service sis,” I whispered to myself.

Suddenly the security lights came on and they reflected across the yard glinting briefly off what looked like eyes and teeth and then it was gone back into the shadows.

Something hit the door with such force that the whole house shook. I realized that these old houses were built so cheaply that anything that wanted badly enough to get inside was going to get inside. The thought was terrifying. There was nothing between me and the beast but a thin piece of plywood and particle board. It was so close I could hear it breathing on the other side. It was time to go, I ran out the front door like the devil was on my heels. He was!

Outside it should have been dark to aide in my escape but instead the sky was split. The darkness on one side and the light on the other. Clouds hanging low and trees bending in the wind. It was as if

some horrible nuclear accident had occurred. That was it. It had to be. But then where were the people? In a nuclear accident people don’t just disappear. They get sick and suffer horribly before they die. Even a stupid old convict like me knew that. I started running for the woods. They were what my father always referred to as fake woods. Just a thin row of trees to enhance a property between cheaply built Hud funded housing.

Yes, I knew real-estate. My father had been in the business his whole life and he had hoped I would take over his company. What a joke that was. I hated people. Selling was definitely not my preferred occupation. Even though I kind of was a salesperson of sorts. The first time I was arrested was for selling weed at Brickman Junior High. The very school that had suspended me three times years before.

When I got to the tree line, I turned to look back at the house and in the half-light with the clouds moving in, it all seemed so surreal. It looked like the end of time itself. I knew I had to keep moving. I went through the trees across the driveway of the house next door and down the narrow alley in back. Old garages lined both sides along with crumbling block walls and wire fences that displayed a wide range of signs from.

“NO TRESPASSING”

TO

“BEWARE OF DOG”

In some ways it was reassuring as one huge German Shepard charged out at me. At least the animals were still here. Including the beast from hell that was on my tail.

A stirring in the shadows at the far end of the alley stopped me dead in my tracks. There was this recessed area where one fence joined with another, a gate and someone was standing there just back a bit from view. I could see their shadow in the glow of the security lights from old man Teeter’s Salvage yard. I used to sneak in there when I was a kid and get high. That was why he bought Bruno his guard dog. It was to keep the next generation of punks out. That’s what he told the community watch.

Someone or something was waiting for me. I swallowed hard and started to turn back the way I had come. But instead, I crouched down and waited. I wiped the sweat from my brow. My heart was racing, I had already given up thinking that I was going to escape the beast that was following me. It

seemed to know my every move. Back then when I was a kid my sister Jane had been my partner in crime. I was two minutes older than her, and she looked up to her big brother.

Transfixed by my own fate I waited but my stalker did not reveal itself, so I retreated to the first gate that I could open. Slipping through, I crossed the back yard quickly. I didn’t like the feeling of being exposed. Fortunately for me the house had a,

“FOR SALE”

sign in the front yard. That way I didn’t have to run into any surprises like clothes in chairs or beds. In one house there were clothes all around the toilet. That had to be a shock to your bowel routine.

I entered through the garage. It was unlocked. Breaking into houses was kind of like that law in science that we learned in school, Occam’s Razor. The simplest way in and out was the best. There was a cherry red Ford Mustang with racing stripes on it just sitting there. This was every teenager’s wet dream. I wasn’t a car thief, even though I had considered it a few times, but with the keys right there in the ignition how could I resist? I mean I am only human which was more than I could say for my stalker.

To my surprise the car was unlocked, and the inside had that new car smell. However, when I turned the key over there was nothing. The battery was completely dead. Well, so much for the dreams of the everyday car thief.

While sitting in the car seat I glanced into the rearview mirror and across the street and back aways was my stalker just standing there. I couldn’t make out any details it was too far away, but its posture wasn’t right. It was bent on an angle like its backbone was crooked. Almost like standing upright wasn’t natural for it. Kind of like when you see a bear or dog get up on their hindlegs and you know just any second, they’re going to fall.

Either way it scared me and reminded me I had no time to delve in such fantasies. I jumped out of the car and shot out of the garage. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my stalker drop down on all fours and run after me. Looking up at the sun I could tell it was still early and I knew I had to get out of the city before nightfall.

I remembered the night and the very last time I had talked to my sister. She had called to speak with our mother, but she had been out Christmas shopping. As soon as she heard my voice, she started chewing me out. I had just gotten out of jail for the first time. Thirty days on a procession charge. “Do you have any idea, or do you even care what you’re doing to mom?” I hung up on her. A week later we heard how her Humvee had hit a mine and they were all gone.

I had to stop and catch my breath. Brickman Municipal Park was on my right I’d go in there I thought. I had spent a lot of time there in the past selling drugs. The old playground was up on the rise, and it was the first time I had ever seen it empty. Normally my clients were all over the place. It was definitely not a place for kids to hang out and it hadn’t been for years.

Suddenly I flinched as a bang exploded someplace nearby showering sparks all over the place. For an instant I hoped that somebody else besides me and my stalker had survived but it was just a transformer. I couldn’t help it I had this feeling of hopelessness like I had to mourn the loss of everyone. Perhaps I needed people more than I had thought?

I sat down on one of the swings and thought again about Jane. She had gotten me the job at Burger King before she left, and I had taken it to make her and my mother happy. It was minimum wage I could make ten times that selling weed. I also had a good connection for hash so when I looked around at all these losers working for chump change, I made the manager fire me. The sad part was all of a sudden, my connections wanted nothing to do with me and that was why I had been at the unemployment office when the shit hit the fan. The only thing I regretted about losing that job was that it was one of the last good things my sister had ever done for me. If there was a heaven Jane deserved to be there.

The noise was slight. Almost like someone clearing their throat and there she was sitting on the merry-go-round. Like kids do when they want to get dizzy or show their friends how tough they are. I started to say something, and she put her finger to her lips, “shish,” she said. “There is a monster nearby.”

I knew it couldn’t be, but it was the spitting image of my sister Jane when we were nine. She looked the same, she was wearing the red dress that my mother had gotten her for her birthday. I started to get up off the swing and then stunned to silence I sat back down. “Jane?” I said softly. “Is that you?”

“Not now!” She hissed.

That was when I realized it may have been something that looked like Jane, but it wasn’t my twin sister. “Who are you?” I demanded.

Suddenly she squealed in delight and jumping off the merry-go-round she ran towards me. “Richard!” She said.

Putting my hands up to ward off her advances I told her in no uncertain terms. “You are not my sister.”

Then there was this great chattering sound that came from behind her in the bushes. It was like several children talking very quickly and all at once. It was impossible to understand what they were saying. “This is a crossroads. Nature abhors a vacuum.” The Jane thing responded. “Once human life moves on the riff-raft move in.”

“What do you mean moves on?”

Suddenly she got this odd look in her eyes. “You really are human, aren’t you?”

“Yes, so?” I told her.

“There has been a mistake.” She replied. Just then the voices in the bushes started up again and three Janes of varying ages stepped into view. They stood right next to each other in a row. Jane at nine, teenage Jane, Jane at eighteen, and then the adult Jane that went into service.

I jumped back and the adult Jane stepped forward. “We are Jane at significant moments in her life. I’m Jane when she chose to serve her country and died all other worlds closed to her and that became her true course.”

The Jane that had been on the merry-go-round just blurted out. “I’m Jane when I got my first party dress, and I decided I liked being social and having lots of friends.”

Teenage Jane spoke next, and she looked scared. I was the Jane that got stuck with the chore of becoming a woman. It sucked.” She growled.

Jane at eighteen just waited and didn’t say anything. “And which Jane are you?” I asked.

With tears in her eyes, she said finally after trying several times to get it out and choking up every time. “I’m the Jane that gave up on my brother and decided to go away.”

“What is this place?” I asked.

Adult Jane said, “in a universe where there are infinite possibilities, we are what’s left after a new path for lack of a better word is chosen. You should not be here. You are out of sync with your own time frame.”

“Something has been stalking me,” I said.

“That is the many worlds trying to correct their own error. You must let them catch you otherwise there will be two of you and the universe will be out of balance.” She replied.

Suddenly from the road there was a roar and my stalker appeared. He came right towards me and as it got closer, I realized it was like a carnival mirror image of myself. “I have to go!” I cried.

Without warning all the Janes piled on top of me holding me down. I was pinned to the ground I couldn’t move and Jane at nine whispered in my ear. Your path has been altered, you decided to join the Army to serve your country and to honor me. The old you must be devoured.”

******


“That’s a whole lot of time getting married,” I mumbled under my breath.

“It is,” he replied, “and I loved each one of them. Anyways I looked it up in my encyclopedias seeing that the internet is of course down. Let me see if I can explain a neutron bomb to you? From what I can understand of it. It what’s the government refers to as an ERW. An enhanced radiation weapon. It’s a low yield thermonuclear weapon designed to basically kill living things and leave the construction untouched. Makes it nice in case you’re intending on moving in after you kill everybody.”

I just looked at him. “It really is quite amazing what we’ll do to each other.” I told him.

“From what I can gather all the major powers had them in their arsenals, but no one was stupid enough to use them until that crazy Korean bastard came along.”

“And now we’re living in the aftermath.” I whispered. “How much of the world is involved?”

“From what I can gather their range isn’t very far. I think just the tristate area.”

“We need to go!” I said, grabbing his arm. “They’re something I need to tell you.”

“First, I have something to tell you. I was in the Air Force, Dick and for them to be as precise as they were targeting, somebody had to be just out of the blast zone phoning in coordinates. Some kind of clean up squad and I thought I saw someone earlier in a radiation suit.”

At that point I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell him or not. Too much was too much. “Okay we’re going to have to be really careful.”


THE END


2023 Timothy Wilkie

Bio: "I have been published in many magazines including Aphelion. I had just participated in a discussion group at Marist College in Poughkeepsie New York on the multiple worlds theory and this story came to me on the ride home. I hope you enjoy it and choose to share it with your diverse and educated readers. It is one of those stories that you used to see in TV shows like the Twilight Zone, Outer Limits and the World Beyond... At the end you have to pause and think about it and the longer you spend away, the more you get it."

E-mail: Timothy Wilkie

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