This is my first attempt at writing a short story, so any critiques and suggestions are welcome. Some time back, I had watched a Natural Geographic documentary on Parallel Universes and I remember that I had got very excited with this concept of simultaneous and parallel worlds existing together with ours. The idea had remained with me for quite some time and recently I decided that if I were to start a short story, then this would be my premise. Of course, I am no expert in this field and whatever follows is just a fictional take on my understanding of parallel universes.

Phantasmagoria

The entire stadium had become one organism, waiting with bated breath. In the silence that ensued, the man at the crease looked up at the cloudy sky, shuffled his feet, looked at his team in the dugout, shuffled again and looked at the scoreboard. Pakistan 212-8 and India 210-6 from 49.5 overs. Knowing that he was standing on the knife’s edge between utter failure and becoming a god didn’t daunt him. Then, when he was well and truly ready, he turned and faced the menace that was Wahab Riaz. As Riaz charged towards him with a grim set of his mouth and flashing eyes, the man on strike stood still like a statue carved of marble. The ball came rushing at him at 151km/h, almost trailing a fiery path and threatening to ignite the volatile atmosphere in the stadium.

Then with the classic stroke of the accomplished cricketer, Raj hit a square cut and held his pose, watching the ball race towards the boundary. He then removed his sweaty helmet and raised his hands towards the sky in victory while the crowd went berserk. As he looked around the packed stadium, he could hear the crowd chanting his name. But somehow their chanting was getting louder and louder and as he felt the adrenaline surge through his veins from the victory he had just snatched from the jaws of doom, there was a loud CRACK and a burst of white light.

‘Wake up bro, it’s getting late’ said Guru, slapping him awake. With groggy eyes and saliva drooling from his mouth, Raj slowly came to life. He groped among the tussled sheets for his mobile. The damn thing hadn’t gone off again.

‘What time is it?’

‘It’s already 7. We need to get ready if we want to make it to the hall on time’ said Guru, picking up the bucket and soap. ‘And don’t you go to sleep again. When I come back I want to see you out of the bed, in your clothes, with your bloody hall ticket and ready to go’.

‘Urrgh! There is still time isn’t there? Why the hell do you have to shit so early?’ asked Raj, still trying to find the elusive mobile among the sheets.

‘The leg piece from last night is knocking on the back door, if you know what I mean and if I don’t open it now it will turn nasty”. Saying so, Guru walked out of the room that he and Raj were sharing. ‘DON’T GO TO SLEEP’ were his last words before he closed the door.

Raj looked blankly at the door for a few seconds, then grumbling a few choice words under his breath, he got up and put his feet into his slippers. The crash of the mobile phone brought him to his senses.

‘God Damn you!! What were you doing in my lungi?!’ he muttered, picking up the mobile and checking for any signs of damage. Satisfied that there were, he checked the time and found that that it was only 6:20. A fresh round of curses were hurled at his roommate while he lifted his feet back up and proceeded to continue his celebration with his team-mates and bask in the glory of the home crowd.

Suddenly a loud crash jolted him awake and nearly brought him down to the floor. He scrambled to his feet; trying to untangle himself from the web of bed sheets and at the same time looked for the source of such an unholy racket. He stopped his struggle and looked with amazement at the prostrate figure lying on the cot next to his.

‘What the..wha…WHO THE HELL ARE YOU? HOW DID YOU GET IN?!’ screamed Raj at the fallen man, who was now slowly getting up with a groan. He gingerly tested his face and arms for any cuts or bruises. Raj was growing angry by the second, not to say impatient, because he couldn’t see the man’s face yet, only his broad baniyan clothed back.

‘I am asking you again, who the bloody hell are you and how did you come here? Do you think that you can just walk into anybody’s room like it was your own and fall on their bed like it was your own? Who do you think you are asshole? I’m calling the warden and getting…..OH MY GOD!!’

Raj staggered back and dropped the mobile for a second time that morning. His eyes bulged and mouth opened and closed like his pet goldfish at home. The man had gotten up, massaging his arm and neck while Raj was ranting and had turned to face him.

Raj was looking at an identical copy of himself.

It was as if he was looking in a mirror. Before Raj could compose himself, his identical half let out a shriek and fell back against the wall. The two Rajs looked at each other with utter shock and bewilderment.

‘Who are ..’

‘How is this poss…’

Both started at the same time.

‘What is going on here? Are you real or am I still in a dream..?’ asked the lungi clad Raj, inching towards the scissors lying on his table. The other Raj saw his furtive movement and realized the danger he was in.

‘WAIT! I know that I am real, but you could be a figment of my imagination too. Shit, I can’t believe this is happening; Hey! Don’t bring those scissors near me!

Raj had gotten hold of the scissors and was watching his counterpart with more confidence and renewed suspicion, now that he had a weapon in hand.

‘Listen man, don’t do anything stupid. I am as confused as you are and you don’t see me getting violent, do you? Please put down those scissors and let’s figure out what’s going on OK. I have already sprained my arm, how much of a threat do you think I am?’ pleaded his injured counterpart.

Raj was not deterred so easily. ‘GURU! GURU!’ he shouted, hoping that his friend would rush into the room and back him up. The situation was getting out of hand and he wanted someone to assure him that all this was not some hallucination. Unknown to him a frustrated Guru had gone to the bathroom in the east wing seeing that theirs had run out of water. ‘I am warning you, stay where you are and don’t bloody move. Remember I have the scissors in my hand and if you try anything then I won’t hesitate to stab you in the neck.’ With that threat, Raj slowly backed towards the door. When he pushed the door it wouldn’t move. He realized with anger and growing fear that Guru had latched it from the outside. “That god damn fool has done it again! He never listens to me that bugger!’

Raj realized that his twin was desperately trying to open the door and his growing panic would cause him to become more unstable. This was the only chance he had of appeasing to him.

‘Listen Raj’ he said ‘At least I think your name is same as mine. Please, let us try to understand what is happening here and call for help. Something weird has happened. I am scared and confused as you are and I just want to go back to where I was a few minutes ago. I’m sure you feel the same way too, so let us not panic and think practically.’

Raj slowly lowered the scissors but they did not leave his hand yet. He saw that his counterpart was a rather sensible fellow, but sensible people could still be dangerous. ‘Ok, stay where you are and don’t try to come near me” he said.

‘Fair enough’ said Raj and moved back and sat down on the edge of the cot on which he had fallen. ‘I am pretty sure I have sprained my arm. Do you have anything for the pain, maybe a spray or a painkiller?’

‘How do I know that you are not bluffing and trying to lure me into some trap? Why should I believe anything you saw at all?’ asked Raj. He realized that if the other guy looked like him and talked like him, chances were that he would even think like him. This made him a tad uneasy, because he knew that he himself had a little nasty side. But he still wanted to give him a chance and he too wanted to figure the strange happening. ‘I’ll give you the spray, but before that you have to answer my questions honestly, so that I can figure out who you really are and what kind of sick joke this is. Agreed?’

Raj grimaced. The rapid swelling of the forearm meant that the sprain was really a fracture. But he had to humour this fool if he needed to ease the pain. ‘Ok, ask away, although I don’t see the point of all this, because clearly you and I are the same person.’

‘I’ll be the judge of that! Ok first tell me who are you and what are you doing here?” asked Raj.

“I just told you” said the injured Raj “My name is same as yours. As to what I am doing here, I have absolutely no clue. One minute ago I had gotten up to brush my teeth. As I was going to my cupboard, I tripped and before I knew it I was lying face down on a cot! From where the cot came I have no idea! The next thing I know, an intense pain is shooting down my arm. I think I must have fallen on my arm and fracture or sprained it. And then all of a sudden I am looking at myself!! What a horrible shock, as if the pain wasn’t enough! Just when I’m thinking that all this is a bad dream, you start threatening me with a scissor. That’s all I know, now will you PLEASE give me the spray?

All this confused and scared Raj and made him grip the scissors tighter. At first he thought that he was hallucinating. As the other guy was speaking, his eyes had strayed to the fallen beer bottles near his bed. “Maybe I am still in a drunken daze from last night” he thought. But the fellow’s pain looked real enough, which made him even more confused. The whole situation looked bizarre and right out of a Dali painting.

“Look, you and I both think we are real and that one of us is in the other’s dream. But clearly this doesn’t look like a dream” he said. “So I’ll give you the spray and you sit where you are and I’ll stand where I am. Let us each be in our separate corners, because I’m still not sure about this whole thing”. Saying so, Raj removed the heat spray he kept in his cupboard and rolled it towards his twin.

“Thank you so much for you kindness” said Raj, his voice dripping in sarcasm, as he lifted the spray can and sprayed liberally over his right forearm. The burn from the spray almost overpowered the pain of the fracture and reduced it to a nagging sensation. “I agree with you. The only thing left to do now is to figure out this whole situation” he said. “I feel that we have just witnessed something metaphysical and beyond this world. It’s almost as if you or I have come from a parallel world! When I tripped I must have fallen through some gap between our universes that must lie above this cot! What do you think?” Saying so, he raised his arm above him, trying to search for some invisible gap, but nothing was there.

“What is all this meta-parallel nonsense that you are talking about?” asked Raj angrily.

Raj was surprized. “Don’t you know what a parallel world is?” he asked his twin. “If my thinking is right, then you should be an almost identical copy of me. This means that you and I must have a lot of things in common, including our way of thinking and certain life experiences. Last weekend I was watching a BBC documentary about parallel universes and how there could be many such universes existing simultaneously. This means that if this is one such universe, then you should have been watching that documentary last week too.”

Raj fingered his scissors nervously and looked doubtfully at the familiar stranger. “Look man, I have no idea about all these universes that you talk about. Last weekend I was at Sugam Theatre watching Thupakki, and I can tell you with certainty that it was no documentary and there were definitely no physics nonsense in that!” he said.

“Hmm, so it seems that at that point our universes must have diverged” said Raj placing his injured hand gingerly by his side and leaning forward. “But then there could have been several convergences and divergences in our lives from the time of our birth. This is indeed fascinating to think about. Since we look alike, it definitely means that we must have had the same parents. So, tell me, where were you born, which school did you go to, your friends name, your…”

“Hey! What the hell man! You need to ease back on all these questions. The only thing you need to ask is how to get out of this situation!” said Raj moving from the cupboard to his bed. “Look, I am going to pick up my mobile and I am going to call someone I know. She is a clever person and she’ll know what to do”.

“Wait!” said Raj raising his un-injured hand. “Just wait for a few seconds and think about what you are going to say. Would you say that there is a clone standing in your room who has appeared out of thin air; or that a replica of yourself has emerged from an alternate parallel world? Do you think that the other person would believe you? She would most likely laugh and ask you to go back to your dreams. And even if she does believe, think about the implications that might follow if she goes public with this information, in her haste to help you. I am beginning to wonder now if it is truly safe to contact anyone from the outside.”

Raj stopped typing the number. A troubled look passed his face. “I can’t imagine what she might say or do if she hears something like this. You seem to make a valid point” he said. “Why, if Guru were to walk into the room now, he would freak out!”

“Exactly! That’s the kind of reaction you should expect. Now where is he and when will he come back? “asked Raj, somewhat relieved that the other guy was starting to come to his senses. At least he had put his scissors down in his hurry to call his friend. Now they could make some headway into the situation and come up with some solution, without anyone getting hurt.

“Guru usually takes around 20 minutes for his bath. He should be back in 15 minutes I think. What do you suggest we do now?” asked Raj. His demeanour had changed, now that he realized the predicament he was in. It was an utterly freakish state of affairs he found himself in and if he ever got out of it, it would be a worth wile tale to tell. He looked at his left hand and realized that he had kept the scissors back on the table when he had come to pick up the mobile from the ground. However, now his feelings towards his twin had cooled down to weariness, if not outright geniality. Whatever the guy was saying seemed to make sense and he didn’t want to involve himself in the hullabaloo that would invariable follow if anyone else came to know about this situation.

“I think I need to get out of here as quickly as possible. Once I have gone out, I will find some way to contact you. We might have time to think about this later. But right now we need to make haste “said Raj, getting up and heading towards the door. “Do you have a shirt I can borrow? I don’t want to go out in my baniyan and track pants. Wait let me guess, there is a striped shirt in the right side of your cupboard. Am I right?”

“How did you know?” asked Raj. “Did you buy that same shirt like I did 2 days ago?”

“Ah! So you are beginning to understand what I had said earlier. Looks like it might be easier for us to tackle this situation if you and I are on the same page. Yes I bought a same shirt 2 days ago, so it would seem that our universes must have coincided at that point in time and deviated afterwards. Hmm, that is something to think about, but I must get going. Before I go, I want to ask you, who is this Guru you keep speaking of?” asked Raj, moving towards the cupboard, with his right arm rigidly held to his side.

Raj was confused. “Don’t you know Guru? Guru is my room-mate. Shouldn’t he be your room -mate too in your universe?” he asked.

“Like I said earlier” said Raj. ”It seems like our universes converge and diverge at different points. My room-mate is Ranjith. It looks like we picked different friends when we entered college. By the way, we are still in NIT right? And you belong to the dept. of physics?”

“Yeah this is NIT, but I am in Chemistry” said a bewildered Raj. He was getting confused with all this convergences and divergences. He just wished that the other guy left soon, so that he could sit and think slowly about what has happening to him. He understood that he was witnessing a one of a kind event but he couldn’t appreciate its importance yet.

“Hmm, looks we had split again on that decision” said Raj opening the cupboard and putting on the shirt. He carefully slipped his injured arm into the sleeve and buttoned up. “What we have here is something truly spectacular and mind-boggling, the stuff of science fiction. If someone could come up with a solution and maybe recreate the series of events, then a Nobel wouldn’t be enough! But let’s not go there yet. All you need to do now is give me your mobile number, which I’m betting is different than mine and concentrate on reaching the exam hall with a sane mind! Luckily for me I won’t be going to one.”

“What! You too have an exam coming up in your universe? It seems that the sufferings of exams span across universes!” said Raj. He gave him his mobile number, which thankfully wasn’t very much different. “Look, I don’t really know what to make of all this. I got scared seeing you, or should I say seeing me. It is very disturbing to say the least, and I’m sorry if I threatened you. You seem much smarter than me and I hope you can figure something out. The only solution I have is to wake up, if all this is a dream, and that wouldn’t ease my confusion any less” he said, with an apologetic look on his face.

“It’s Ok” said Raj with his good hand on the door. “I too was afraid. But I was prepared for this, in some twisted kind of way. Maybe that documentary and my over-imaginative brain are to be thanked, although I didn’t really expect this to happen for real. We have some tough times ahead of us and I just hope that I am able to get back to my universe. Goodbye.” Saying so, Raj pushed the door open but realized that it was latched from the outside. “Come here and help me get this door open” he said to his twin by the bed. “If we put our strengths to it, it will break open. On the count of three, we kick the door near the latch, agree?”

Raj just nodded, still trying to wrap his head around the mess he was in. “Ok, ready, 3, 2, 1 GO!” With a resounding CRACK the door smashed open and blinding white light burst into the room.

“Wake up bro, it’s getting late” said Ranjith slapping him awake. He picked up the bucket and soap and headed for the door. “We don’t want to be late for our first exam do we? It’s going to take you some time to wash up with your plaster and all, so hurry up” he said before going out.

Raj sat up, rubbing his eyes, looking around the room with a dazed look in his face. He searched among his bed sheets with his good hand for his mobile. Finding it below his pillow, he scrolled through last night’s messages. His twin brother Guru had sent him a message from home.

“Mom askd abt ur arm and if u recvd ur brthday shirt? Btw that bbc doc u gave me is broken. Send me again. ”

Raj blinked once, twice trying to clear his head. There was something in the back of his mind and he couldn’t figure it out yet. He couldn’t remember exactly what he was dreaming about. “What the hell! It was just a dream” he said and got up to go brush his teeth. Last week’s adventure in the room after a booze fest had left him with a fractured arm. Brushing with a left hand was not easy, but that was his fault and he knew it.

As he walked toward his cupboard, he tripped on the cricket bat at the foot of the cot and disappeared.

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