by Ryan Everett Felton
Ben had these little soaps I’d pick up and smell in his bathroom. They were like little seashells. Looked like white chocolate, smelled like I don’t know. Flowers or something. I’d always take one into my hand when I was peeing and think about taking a bite out of it. The night of Ben’s going away party, I was like, I don’t know, maybe I should really do it this time. I’ll never be back here. I’ll never hold this little scented conch again.
But somebody knocked on the door and I flushed and left.
Everyone was there. People I hadn’t talked to since freshman year. People you wouldn’t think even remembered or gave a shit about Ben. But I guess everyone was pretty curious.
We got this big banner printed at Kinko’s for him. It said Get Out Of Here Already. They let me design it, since I’m pretty good with Adobe stuff.
Anyway Ben was standing under the banner when I came back down. He had his phone out and like 20 people were crowded around him.
He’d go, “And this is my new apartment. It’s already furnished.”
And everyone would lean in, all impressed. “Oh my God, that kitchen!” “Those French doors are too cute!” Stuff like that.
Then he’d be like, “Here’s what they got for Arby’s over there. They call it ‘Marby’s.’”
I’d already seen all the pictures so I just drank on my Pilsner off to the side.
Fiona asked if Marby’s still had curly fries or what.
“They’re angled. Like sevens, little crispy sevens,” Ben said. “And the logo is a mariachi hat instead of a, y’know, like a cowboy hat.”
A bunch of people said, “Crazy!” and things like that.
Ben loved the attention. I thought, good for him.
“So when do you leave?” Reg or someone asked.
“My Gate call is at 6 o'clock in the damn morning, so I’ll be stepping through while you assholes are all still asleep.”
“Oh, that sucks.”
“Well, there’s no jet lag with a Gate like you get with a plane here. And if I’m hungover, I’m hungover.” Ben snapped his fingers and pointed at me. “Nick, dude, what are you doing drinkin’ that? I got beers from over there. When I had my job interview I brought some back. You gotta have one, man, it’s a trip.”
He handed me this weird brown bottle shaped like a genie lamp.
“What do I do?” I asked. “Just like tip it into my mouth?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ben said. And everyone I noticed was watching me when I popped open the long nose on this oblong bottle and started drinking it. When it hit my tongue and I gagged and spat it out, I knew why. Everyone had a good laugh. I grabbed Holly’s water right out of her hand to wash the goat-cheese-and-motor-oil taste out of my throat.
“Nasty.” I put it on the table.
“Hey, don’t waste it.” Ben took it and chugged.
“I don’t know how you do that,” Heather said.
“Better get used to it now.” Ben wiped his mouth and burped and held his phone up again. “Now, do you wanna see their freeways? It’s, like, so scary. You actually aren’t allowed to use a turn signal…”
I already knew all about the freeways in Kansas City-X7, so I went to see if Zane or anybody had a spliff or anything down in the basement. Zane was easy enough to spot, being a head taller than everyone else and with that neon green trucker hat he always wore. Like he didn’t stick out enough.
A couple guys were down there with him smoking. He handed the joint over before I could ask.
“Can’t believe Ben’s leavin’ us,” Zane said.
Between hits I said, “Yeah, it’s hard to believe.”
“Why’s he wanna go all the way to X7 anyway?”
“Well, he got a job out there.”
“Yeah, and what is that, anyway?” He started coughing like crazy. “Professor of History?"
“It’s a good job."
“They don’t got the same history!”
I shrugged. “That’s what makes him a specialist.”
He kept going. “And it’s a stupid universe. I looked it up. Beyoncé isn’t even famous there. She’s like a postman or somethin’.”
“Whatever, I don’t know.”
One of the other guys took the joint. Zane rubbed his eyes. “Where’re we gonna have parties now? Whose car am I gonna borrow? He doesn’t even have friends over there.”
“I think he just needs a fresh start,” some guy I’d never even heard of said. He looked super stoned. On his back and all.
Zane said, “That’s dumb.” And that was that. Nobody said anything else. That was more like it. Usually Zane didn’t talk at all.
I was getting in my own head, feeling buzzed. This basement and Zane turned inseparable in my brain. I couldn’t picture him anywhere else. I couldn’t picture the room without him in it. He was always here. He always should be. Now it was being taken away. I wanted to hug him. Invite him to my basement, if I’d had one.
Anyway, that was sort of where my head was at.
We both wanted some pizza, so we went up to the kitchen to see what was left. This big crowd was all blocking the food, huddled around a laptop. Hooting and hollering. I thought they might be watching the game so I pushed through.
Joanie was manning the computer and had Phasebook open. There was a profile up on the screen. It looked like Kurt. I say “looked like” because, you know, it wasn’t really Kurt. It was a Kurt, I mean.
“Now do me!” this girl said.
Joanie pulled up another page. She looked back at the girl. “You’re married over there!”
Everyone went, “Ohhhhh!”
The girl leaned in. “Oh my God, I have a baby. He’s so ugly!” Only she was pretty drunk so it sounded more like, “Ommagaw I’ve baby! Heesogly!"
Zane nudged my rib. “I’m so sick of this game, bro.”
I was too. Every party since Phasebook came out, it seemed like we were checking to see what we all were like on the other universes. It never makes anyone feel good. I’m, like, a trust fund kid on K-19. My brother died on Z-Z1. It just kind of sucks to think about.
“And Zane?” Joanie said. She clicked around and hunched over, all serious. Everyone got kind of quiet, like, waiting.
Finally Joanie went, “Weird.”
“What?” Zane shoved some guys out of the way and leaned over her. It was funny to me. I mean, for all that talk about not caring, and then he got all serious and charged Joanie?
She said, “There is no you on X7.”
“Seriously?” Zane reached over and clicked around. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, jerk, I know how to work the internet.” She yanked her laptop away. “Who’s next?”
Zane was like white as a sheet and it really stood out, you know, because his eyes were so red. About a year before, Ben had thrown a party and forgot to invite Zane. He showed up anyway. Had that same look on his face then. He marched right into the living room. I followed him.
Ben was still in there, under my Kinko banner. He had his little circle around him, holding court. The man.
But Zane went in there and—well, he’s normally this real quiet guy. But he went in there and just stopped everyone cold, the loudest I’ve ever heard his voice get.
He went, “Ben, what the hell, man?”
Ben looked over. “What’s up?” he said. If you ask me, he looked surprised to even see Zane.
“There’s no me there.”
Ben put his drink down. “No you where?”
“On X7! On your new, your little—! Your shitty little universe you just can’t wait to move to.” Zane took a long drink. Several gulps. “They don’t have a me.”
“Well, that’s weird.”
“You move to a new plane of existence and don’t even check to see if they got your best friend there first?”
Ben walked over to Zane and put an arm on his shoulder. “I really never thought to check. Look, man—”
“Oh, right! You didn’t check.” He jerked his shoulder away. Some people were starting to whisper and stuff. “So, what, you’re gonna get to your new apartment and invite all those fakes over there and all hang out? You and X7 Joanie and X7… um. Um, um, Reg? And you’re all gonna have a big X7 party! Is that what you’re gonna do?”
Ben sighed. “I don’t know, man. Do you want to step outside?”
“Only if you don’t."
So Zane did go outside to the porch. Ben held up his hands and gave me this sad smirk like, Eh, what’re you gonna do? And I gave him this little nod like, I’ll see about it, you keep having fun. It’s your night, bro.
You forget how loud and smelly a place is until you step out of it. It was nice and cool on the porch. Late enough to kill the traffic.
Zane was leaning with his arms folded over the rail a few feet away from all the porch smokers. He spat a big hocker into the bushes and dragged his hand across his nose. He acted like he didn’t see me coming. I said, “Hey.”
“Oh, hey,” he said. I let him think I thought he didn’t know I was there already.
I said, “It’s so stuffy in there” so he’d think I came outside because I wanted to, not to check on him.
We were both standing there for a long time, all quiet. Inside, they’d turned up the music. A bunch of voices singing along, all rowdy.
Finally Zane went, “Maybe I’ll move to X7, and then X7 will have a Zane Donaghan. Imagine the look on his face if I showed up.” He pounded the rail a few times. “Ha! The look on his asshole face.”
“You aren’t going to any X7,” I said.
“What if I am?”
“It’s like ten grand just to go on a scouting trip. Just to walk through the Gate for like an hour and poke around. That’s not even for all the screenings and vetting and red tape. I’m sure the Ben over there got a big payout to sign off on our Ben moving in. His new company pays for all that. You got that kinda money?”
He didn’t say anything.
“Second,” I said. “You don’t know why there’s no you over there, or what would happen if all a sudden there was."
“Man, screw you!” Zane kicked a rail, and it popped out all splintered. The smokers started watching us and pointing. “He’s just leavin’ like it’s the easiest thing in the worlds. And I’m stuck here—nothin’ goin’ on, nothin’ to wake up for. If he didn’t wanna hang out anymore, he coulda’ just said so.” He spat again. “He didn’t have to wipe himself outta reality.”
“That’s not it,” I said. “That’s not why.”
“And if you go to X7, what are we left with here, huh?” I clapped him on the back. “We need a you.” That, I felt good about. Happy I thought of it.
He just kind of snorted.
All the gawkers went back inside. So it was just me and Zane looking across the street. There’s that gas station there. A bunch of us would always sit out there and watch the people come and go.
“Hey, remember when that skateboarder ran into the glass door?” I said.
Zane smiled a little bit. “His Combos went everywhere.”
“And that prom limo where three girls all poked their heads out the top and started puking?”
“I wasn’t here that night,” he said.
Someone walked out of the gas station with a kid in a Spider-Man mask. It wasn’t even close to Halloween or anything. I think the kid just liked Spider-Man.
I said the first thing that came to mind. “You know the number one movie of all time there is Batman Versus Superman?”
“Yeah. And all their Marvel movies bombed.”
“Well, is their Batman Versus Superman, like, really good or somethin’?”
“That’s the thing,” I said. “They’re the exact same movies.”
“That’s the stupidest shit I ever heard.” Zane laughed, I thought, a little too hard. “And I told you about the Beyoncé thing, right?”
“Yep.” I balled up my fist and showed him. He did the same. We bumped. “I’m goin’ back inside,” I said. “I wanna say goodbye and stuff. It’s his last night.”
Zane got on the ground and started trying to reach through the rails to pick up the one he’d busted up. “I’ll be in in a minute,” he said. “This adorable old lady just walked into the gas station and I’m, hm. I dunno how to explain it. I’m super worried if I’m not here to watch her walk out, she won’t be able to leave? She’ll only exist in the gas station, forever.” He blinked a bunch. “I dunno, man. I’m really stoned.”
So I told him, “All right. Hang in there. I’ll see you later.”
But you know what?
It’s been a couple months and I still haven’t seen him. Hasn’t texted back. Doesn’t pick up on calls. Everyone else says the same. Reg told me he showed up at Zane’s apartment once and thought maybe he saw someone moving around inside, but--
Okay. Remember that theory, it was around for years and they debunked it a while back? Goes like this: Every decision a person makes creates a splinter universe where they made a different decision, and that’s where all these worlds were coming from.
I never really bought into it myself, even before they disproved it with that algorithm thing. I mean, how could some asshole like me, like you, really have that much power? To create a new reality every time I open another beer or jerk off or don’t put my seatbelt on? No, that’s stupid. No one matters that much.
Still. I can’t help but wonder.
That night, at Ben’s party. If I had found the right thing to say to Zane. Had come up with the perfect words to make him feel better. Y’know. Just something small. Something to make a difference for him. I could’ve done that much. And if I did.
Where would we all be now?
Ryan is the writer of three novels and two short fiction collections. Along with editor Summer Keown, Ryan created the literary journal Non-stalgia. As a member of the Indianapolis performance art collective Know No Stranger, his work has been produced for stage and screen. His children’s book about armadillos was legitimized by much more intelligent people in the scientific journal Edentata. Twitter @ryanefelton | www.ryanefelton.com