Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
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Dizzy, but no Wormhole

by Geoff Nelder

Memory is a fickle thing. I believe I am awake yet before my eyes work my nostrils were invaded by the smart tang of iodine. No. Disinfectant but not pine, nor sandalwood, nothing that I recall.

With gradual awareness of pain everywhere from big toes—yes they wriggle—to my skull, and my ears assaulted by a non-remembered electronic whining I force reluctant eyelids to open.

It’s a hospital room. It must be for this is not my room, or bed. Too narrow, too clean yet what hospital would use green sheets? It clashes with the pink walls. A clinic then, specialising in some weird ailment I must be suspected of having. But how?

I was out cycling this morning, to the shops to buy…what was it? It’ll come to me. I can’t have dementia at only forty-one, surely. Ah yes. To Starbucks in Euston to meet with…what’s her name? I’ll go through the alphabet; that always works. Alice, Ann, Belle, Bonnie, Bryn, Carrie, Claire. That’s it! Lovely auburn-haired Claire with plaits down to her waist, last time we met to discuss marketing my invention. She’s brilliant at promo and my simple gadget to self-peel lemons needs all the help I can get now that I couldn’t get past the auditions for Dragons’ Den.

Did I suffer a bicycle accident? Temporary trauma amnesia then. My fingers and toes all move, so do my knees though my neck is stiff and sore. I raise the nauseatingly green sheet to peep at my body, which is in a yellow gown. It’s like a Peppa Pig cartoon in here. Definitely not NHS but I have no private health insurance. Maybe the driver’s rich and is paying for this. The gown has no fastening round the front so all I see is my normal hairy legs and pink toes and sun-tanned hands. A mirror for my face please. I could use my phone to see my face and call Claire to find out if I need to apologise for being late, but there’s no locker or cupboard beside me to explore for my mobile. Nor button to summon help.


A yellow door had been hiding in the yellow wall but now opens letting in a red-faced woman dressed in khaki dungarees.

“No need to scream this place up and down, Buzz.”

Strange sentence. “Sorry. No, my name is Derek Brown. Why am I here and where is here?”

“Don’t be more stupid. Derek isn’t any kind of a name and Brown? Who on this planet would have a colour for a name? Buzz Sawyer is it you are from blood tags.”

“Buzz Sawyer? Isn’t that the name of a WWE wrestler? It’s not me!”

She tidies my sheets and aims what looks like a taser at my forehead. “Maybe possible she said it was Buzzz. Lie still. Thirty-seven, ninety-eight and sixteen over twenty-one. You’ll live.”

“DNA should identify me. I had a genetic test.”

“Blood tags use DNA. Calm stay.”

Strange speech mannerism. Maybe she’s a Romanian nurse. I try again. “Wait please, nurse. Who brought me in and where am I?”

“No nurse I. Decider; that’s who I am.”

I don’t like the sound of that. “If I’m all right, can I leave now?”

“Stay till fetched. We is in Crenton of course.”

“I’m unfamiliar with that name. Is it in London?”

“What Lundun is? Everyone knows who passes the tests, that Crenton is capital of England.”

A map. “I’ve a map on my phone if you give it back to me. Or do you have an atlas?”

She doesn’t seem to possess a mobile phone but rummages in a locker drawer and pulls out a crumpled paper and hands it over. “Where you from?”

It is of the British Isles. There’s the Isle of Wight, Scotland, Wales but in England where London should be is a dot labelled Crenton. It’s on the River Times. There’s a random knitting pattern of roads with no recognisable motorway names. Of course, my mind has created this nonsense in this dream I’m inhabiting.

This is madness. Just a moment, am I in a mental institution and instead of being a nurse, this woman was one of the inmates? Apparently not; she wore a name badge. ‘Dec. Mel Stone’. There’s that Dec for decider again. Decide what? My life or death?

I try with a more conciliatory tone. “Excuse me, Decider, why am I here?”

“Found, unconscious in the road. Recents Park near.”

She must mean Regent’s Park—that’s near Euston Station. “Did I have a bicycle accident?”

“Bicycle? What is?”

“Oh, come on. A bicycle. You know. Two wheels and two pedals you use with your feet and a saddle to sit on.” I was losing my tone rather rapidly.

She chortled. “Really? You have dreams so strange.”

Of course. This must be all a dream, or nightmare. I push back the greens to get out of bed. Although I ache all over—probably from a real accident on a real bike—I am well enough to walk and wake up properly.

“No, no Buzzz, you were lost to consciousness, a concussion. Observations so stay.”

“Listen, Deciding Stone, this…” I wave my arms around. “…is all a dream and I want to return to reality. My previous life.”

She laughs at me as if I’d just fallen out of a Christmas cracker as the joke.

Saliva drools out of her unhygienic mouth. “How do know you that your previous life—as call it you—wasn’t a dream because I know I real am?”

Absurd. I rub my forehead as if that helps. “I am forty-one years old. I have that many years of memory as a child, my sisters and parents, school, university and my career as owner of an engineering firm making helicopter parts. I know dreams travel at the speed of light in our heads but not forty-one-years-worth of living in one night!”

“Well, buzzy-bee, it seems like did you. What be a hell copper?”

Not again. Either she’s a fantastic leg-puller or this is the  dream I need to wake from. I need to get out to speak to other people, see outside, find a bloody bicycle. I attempt once more to get up but suddenly she pulls back her arm, swings it around and slaps my face, Hard. I can’t believe a nurse would…and I did nothing to stop it.

“What the hell are you doing? That’s assault!” My hand is on my heat-throbbing cheek as I fell back onto the bed in shock.

“Buzzboy can’t leave. I bring restraints?”

“What? No! I insist on discharging myself.”

“Not possible. I summon Super Ordinator.”

“This is a hospital. Right? With care for patients running short.”

She stood, hands on hips ready to smack me again. “As you engineer be, no. Again you dream. Reality you be an indentured servant. That’s why you cannot leave without master.”

“A slave? Now I know you’re joking. Where’s this Superman you’ve summoned?”

The yellow door reopens to allow in a stout man. Shock of white hair yet he looks to be in his forties. Like me. His khaki uniform is like Decider-patient-beater but with a scarlet broad sash running diagonally from his right shoulder to his waist. I have no illusions of getting more sense from him.

He coughs. “Lumpen Buzzz Sawyer. Your master nearly here. Transport you then to his auberge. Be well.”

He turns to leave, so I shout, “Wait. I have a family. A wife! Well ex-wife but—”

Another slap from decider sends me speechless onto my back.

“Indeed. Your allocated wife be there. You have been her’s for a decade. Be well or be dead.”

I want to ask him more but the death threat and another slap from Nightmare Nurse shuts me up. I need to think.

How can I show that this is not my real life?

I pinch my arm, hard. Damn that hurts and it makes Decider frown at me as if she’s the only one allowed to inflict pain.

“May I see my medical notes please?”


“No, I have the right under the Data Protection Act to see information about myself.” I leave out the exception relating to mental instability.

“Forbidden. No such law.”

I scrutinise her in an effort to detect a lie, lots of lies. Black hair, sky-blue eyes, normally attractive in both genders. Hers go deep, nearly transparent. But yes, I see a devilishly twisted demon. Damn, it’s my reflection in her eyes.

I sink back into and between the lumps in the mattress and deeper in despair. Must be a dream. If I go to sleep, I’ll wake up back in England. My England with a real London, bicycles and no slavery except for unfortunate illegal immigrants.

I’m afraid to go to sleep. Suppose I ‘wake’—assuming I am awake now—in a worse scenario: bottom of a deep well; tied to a railway track; being chased by a fast-running, hungry alligator; or in a mad hospital ward where I’m turned into a slave for ever breaking rocks? For any of those, the thing is to escape.

I pretend to fall asleep. A while later all is quiet so I risk opening one eye a smidgen. No sign of Oberführer Decider so I slip out of my lettuce-coloured sheets and tiptoed to tall lockers for clothes more appropriate for outdoorsy non-patients. Something non-yellow please. Damn, a choice of one—pink. Ugh. Fine if when I get outside everybody is wearing pink, but suppose they’re all in black, but me?

I rummage in the other lockers. No clothing, but boxes of needles, gloves, instruments like weird pliers that look as if they should be in a garage rather than a hospital. Nothing labelled NHS. Most have a green logo of an infinity symbol and the words: Value First. The kind of label on cheap tack. I tuck scissors and tape in the coverall pocket, roll it up and creep open the door. No one in the yellow corridor. Same colour as the floor and ceiling too; everyone would look jaundiced. The next ward, room, cell, whatever is empty but a large window draws me like a magnet.

At least the sky is blue with white cottonwool balls, and the horizon has the appearance of London with similar skyscrapers, steeples, cranes and tower-blocks. Now to see what’s below. Is the grass green? Ah, I’m five floors too high to jump, and yes there are pink people scurrying about their business.

I search the room for more clothes but have to slip on the pink overall over my yellow hospital gown. Yes, there’s a map on the wall. It’s the British Isles in shape but none of the names make sense. London really is Crenton and other cities have changed names. More, Bristol is a forest, Birmingham is a huge lake and Oban is the largest city. Crazy. A paper on the nurse’s desk has a picture of me. Buzz Sawyer. She’d not made it up, someone else did. No! A smaller picture of my allocated wife, Brenda Sawyer. Spitting image of my vicious ex—Aileen, who’d spit in my tea, burn me with her funny cigarettes, bring drunk men home. A cold shiver runs up me. I screw up the paper and throw it away.

No one in the corridor. I choose the stairs rather than a potential trap lift. On the first floor I look for another room to search for money, shoes, anything useful. More pink clothing but the only footwear is a pair of loose-fitting khaki surgical boots. They’ll do. No wallets or purses in pockets or drawers.

Back in the corridor too late to avoid two khaki-clads strolling towards me. I look askance but they’re too mutually-engrossed to notice me. One was followed by a perfume cloud. Unidentifiable but a pleasant hint of roses widen my nostrils. I walk my mismatched boots to a foyer. A horseshoe reception desk is busy with two people with heads down looking at something. I assume computers but see no screens as I know them. I head for glass doors but hesitate. Is there an identity feature to access them? A fingerprint button, retina scope, or simple push? I wait until someone comes off the paving and pushes the door and nip out before it closes.

That’s it. I’m out, in this nightmare.

It’s London almost as I know it. Distinctive yellow-brown brick terraces and iron railings but hardly any traffic. No yellow lines on the road. I risked looking up. No cameras, unless they’re vastly different in this world. Nor many people, perhaps it’s now Sunday. I see a group walking towards me so I dodge behind a large London plane tree with its familiar peeling bark. I fondle it hoping to ground myself in Nature. The men and women wore pink or orange coveralls, so I wasn’t out of place. Another wafting of fragrance lingered in their wake like a comet tail. Freesia.

I have the urge to do two things: go find this allocated wife though not to be captured into slavery, and to locate my accident spot. Maybe it’s a cusp in time and space and I can return. Decider said, or meant, Regent’s Park. If this is a dream it’s the strangest one I’ve had and lasting so long, especially when I’m trying to wake up so many times.

I creep close to the walls, shop windows selling not-quite familiar clothes and wares until I realise how suspicious I might look. At least nearly everyone is in various shades of pink. Do civilians have an enforceable uniform? Some wear red stripes down arms and trousers and it occurs to me they might be slaves. I walk down the middle of the pavements but with averted face although that too must look odd. The street layout of Crenton is not dissimilar to that of London with additional and subtractional alleyways and sculptures. Strange to see so many bees everywhere. I soon find the equivalent of Regent’s Park, which indeed has the wrought iron, gilded Jubilee gates but with the wrong date.

I used to cycle through the park as a short cut even though I was shouted at and so now walk my usual route looking for signs of my accident. Some places have scratches on the tarmac or cobblestones. Am I looking for blood stains? I don’t know how much blood I lost to the blow on my head and push up my sleeves looking for recent wounds. None. About to give up the search I spot something peeping out from under a rhododendron bush with its shiny dark-green leaves.

It might be my black rear pannier bag! My pulse throbs faster than a jack-hammer in my neck. That would be brilliant if so since it might still have my phone and they’d not robbed me of it in hospital. As if it would work in this nightmarish parallel world. I bend to grab it but freeze and straighten up. Suppose it’s somehow attached to my ‘other’ existence. Would I be crushed in a wormhole, die, or be stunned and find myself back in a hospital run by weirdos?

I find a stick and poke it. Nothing happens. If I touch it with my khaki surgical boot will I be insulated from any effect? I emit a short laugh then look around in case anyone has seen me. I’m a fool. I want an effect from the only memorabilia from my own London. I should touch it with my skin. I nearly do so but hesitate. Fear of a violent death shoots perspiration from my face and shakes my fingers. I must do it, so I stretch my right hand then change to my left in case it shrivels. I should preserve the one I do everything with! A few millimetres to go. I grab for the handle on the canvas bag. Before my hand reaches it my whole body convulses, throwing me backwards, falling flat on the path. Winded. I look around and see pink-clothed people in the distance. Damn. Dizzy, but no wormhole.

A bee zigzags towards me and persists in bothering in spite of me batting away at it. Then the penny drops with a clunk. The droning is because it’s a drone. As all the other insect-like eyes in the sky. No CCTV because this lot have perfected miniature, energy efficient spying machines, unless…unless they really are bees repurposed to serve human controllers. Either way, I’m in their scope.

I hear heavy probably-khaki boots behind me just as I launch myself at my cycle pannier. This time with mega-determination for skin on canvas.

“No, you don’t, Buzz Sawyer.”

I’m thrown sideways by a burly woman hurling herself feet first into my body. As my vision reddens with rage, pain and frustration I just see a hint of twisted bicycle wheel further under the bush.

“My name is Derek Brown. A free man.”

Shrieks of laughter from several of the bastards, one of whom apply plastic ties to my wrists.

“This is a dream. Let me wake up, please!”

A man in khaki with a black beret, gold studs on his epaulets and stinking of garlic says, “Who talk to, Sawyer?”

“Derek Brown!”

Smack on the back of my head.

“Lies. You’re Buzz Sawyer, lowly Lumpen, servant. Nothing to save you now. We burn off one of your feet and send you back to your wife and master.”

He turns to the rugby tackler. “Good work, Brigand Smyth. If he’d reached that contraband artefact, we would have lost him to the otherworld.”

Still in a daze that last statement fills me with a smidgen of hope. They know there’s another existence. I bide my time.


An hour or so later I’m in a different room. No bed. No chair. Just a hole in the floor but too small for me to climb down. The numpties haven’t found my scissors so I cut the plastic ties and wait behind the door.

Footsteps and a muffled humming. I’ll have to chance it on only one guard entering. When the door opens inwards, I throw myself at it. A woman guard bangs her head against the doorjamb and falls in. I haul her in and peep out in the corridor. No one. I drag her further in away from the door and tape up her wrists, ankles and mouth. Red hair. Nice. I have a penchant for… I ignore the food tray. Might be drugged.

I still have my pink coverall on so I sneak out.

I hide until dark before creeping to Regent’s Park. Yes, no. No my bag’s gone, yes, the bike is still under the laurel bush.

Ten minutes later I’m riding north down dark, quiet alleys. No one to yell at this oddity of a bicycling person. My bike’s protesting with an annoying squeak but hopefully only I can hear it. I hurtle down a steep cobbled lane that threatens to dislodge all my teeth but there’s no houses, just industrial units. Damn, I emerge onto what I know as Church Street. Lots of houses, people, drunks, police… I slow and aim for shadows. Luckily it’s night, but most won’t see me anyway ‘cos I have no lights!

I’m aiming for a house on Church Street North where an aunt used to live but should be empty. I’ll break in and after a few weeks lying low I’ll figure out what to do. No—

I don’t see a row of black dustbins. Damn not having lights. I’m not hurt but the noise! I’m on my back wrestling with the bike and kicking off a bin when laughter reaches me.

“One too many, eh?”

“Playing ten pin bowling with himself as the bowl!”

“Is it a woman or a bloke? Is that pink?”

Hands roughly pull me up by my armpits and a torch blinds me. I slump with defeat. Thoughts of how they’re going to burn off my foot sends paroxysms of nerves up my spine and perspiration leaking from every pore.

“Hey! I know who this is. You thought you’d get away, didn’t you? Missing since Tuesday, said on the news. What’s your name B something…”

I slump even more in resignation and mutter, “Buzz S—”

I screw my eyes up in the torchlight.

“Brown, that’s it, Derek Brown. Weren’t you abducted by a UFO in Regent’s Park, mate?”

They all guffaw, pat me painfully on my pink-coveralled back and take me for a compulsory pint at the Hole in the Hedge pub.

Of course. I’ve connected or reconnected by touching my bicycle. I’m never going near Regent’s Park again.

A pint of Old Man’s Spit later my vision blurs. No. Was this another dream?

Or worse, am I in someone else’s dream and they’re just about to wake up?


© 2024 Geoff Nelder

Bio: Geoff Nelder is an earth scientist who became nuts after teaching in England for 40 years. He has a physicist wife and “normal” kids with kids of their own. He’s had 12 novels published: mostly science fiction, some thrillers and historical fantasy. He gets his kicks from writing shorts of which over 100 have been published in such anthologies as Extreme Planets; ezines such as The Horrorzine and in Fiction4All.
Geoff was a co-editor of Escape Velocity SF magazine and for 11 years of an educational IT magazine. He’s gets off on being a judge of fiction competitions including the Helen Whittaker Prize and a Chinese-organised novel competition, which returned him with more income than all his books combined.
His ARIA Trilogy – a scifi / thriller / post-apocalypse series is based on the original premise of infectious amnesia and won him first place in the Preditors & Editors Readers Poll for best science fiction of 2012. He is crazy enough to have been a vegan decades before it was fashionable yet waited until recently to pen a science fiction series of novellas set on a vegan planet in Flying Crooked series opening with SUPPOSE WE.

E-mail: Geoff Nelder

Geoff Nelder's Website

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