Short story from Mike Zone

Sam Against Time

By Mike Zone

Samuel K. Drexel stood in the hallway, facing down two doors on the second floor of the locally esteemed and moderately priced Cauliflower Hotel. Neurons bouncing around his brain like a wild pinball, trying to determine which room his wife had entered with Coach McMurphy.

Asymmetrical beads of sweat decorated half his boyish face of cut sharp fine features almost like a lady but not quite, having an Adam’s apple and all, he pondered that as he bit into his feminine lower lip but the moisture soaking into his light brown lanky hair snapped him out of it, forcing back into his calculations, factoring variable to no avail determining whether the couple had entered behind Red Door #206 or 208.

Christ, McMurphy! Coach Nicholson McMurphy. How typical, the high school football coach, former semi-pro football player turned philosophy teacher who didn’t know a thing about philosophy; stealing the math teacher’s wife. The kids would be posting this all over FaceBook, tweeting memes or whatever they instagramed; as their parents fondly reflected on the teen McMurphy and Drexel years, in which the same thing happened at least twice a year with Samuel Drexel winding up drenched in toilet water, missing his belt and one shoe but brandishing two black eyes to make up for the lack of accessories.

But none of that mattered.

Nicholson McMurphy brought pride back to town. He won games. How many junior varsity cheerleaders had he knocked up since coming back? Five? Six? Did it matter? This was a town of winners, for winners by the winners. He kept winning games. Four of his players had been accepted into top ten schools with one forsaking all of it for a chance in the NFL.

“Fellow potato eater, Jimmy Joyce, one gracious kid, I tell you, he’s going to go far…brought his hot little piece ass, what’s her name…the strawberry blonde, with the dimples and huge tits?”

“Susan Moorecock.”

“Yeah, she sure got more…fine ass Susan, wet but out cold, offers her up to me on a platter right in my backyard, brings me a six-pack for the chugging, of course they all watched to prove what a whore she is. Say, Drexel what’s your wife’s name again?”

Samuel ran a different set of numbers: Height- 5’8, Weight- 137 pounds, toned and fine sharped features, slightly elongated nose and gray eyes.

Coach McMurphy: Height: 6’2, Weight- 240 pounds, fading muscle, paunch, ruddy complexion, scrunched features on a wide face with brown eyes.

Pearl: Height- 5’6 Weight- 124 pounds, athletic, geometrically proportioned placed and shaped features, sun kissed skin and blue eyes.

What was the attraction? The numbers didn’t add up between Pearl and McMurphy, probability dictated consistent copulation and maximized satisfaction between Samuel and Pearl based purely on the set of physical factors.

Samuel sighed, took a deep breath and fully pulled out his half-tucked baby blue oxford shirt from his chinos to demonstrate he meant business…or was it all just a device to stall himself from an answer he wasn’t sure he knew?   But of course he knew, he was a high school math teacher who not only taught intro to algebra and advanced placement calculus but he also worked as an adjunct five nights a week at the local community college teaching whatever threw at him each semester.

They needed the money after he lost his position at the Department of Defense, after getting caught counting cards in Vegas resulting in him becoming a drunken mess and jeopardizing national security with someone who may or may not have been a Russian sleeper agent but why would Russia want to…Ultimately it came down to someone that just didn’t like you: a free trip to an obligatory wedding, get plastered, coked up, and the next thing you know the person who allegedly despised you the most just arranged a rendezvous with the most luscious girls of carnal desire at the Pussy Wagon Express, all expenses paid. Operation: Snowballed.

 

Thomas Wolfe was wrong, you can go home again and the more things change, the more they stayed the same, especially when Nicholson McMurphy blew back into town a year later from out of jail, something about something he didn’t do but was in there for something he actually did which called for more severity but the town needed pride and do that the school under the threat of closure needed to win games.

Everything came down to a nonzero sum. The ultimate being vanquished at absolute zero with maybe a chance of climbing out the primordial ooze at less than zero at another random integer driven interval. These were the concept dazzling Samuel Drexel’s conscious as his subconscious turned variables into numbers crunched away behind dilated pupils of computer screen optic nerves.

God is in the integers, the infinite equation arranging the unstable molecules into various shapes and constructs around the misconstrued empty space of dark matter; chaos theory, the butterfly effect, all of it pre-programed in the ever-flowing river of time, whatever happens was meant to happen. The numbers set things into motion and determine fate, such as room 206 or 208, spawned from the sequence of the school bully beating Samuel Drexel and stealing his girlfriend leading to the Chicago summer, Mahler at the park and Pearl in her overalls.

Overalls and daisy dukes, that’s all she wore outside the house, still apprehensive about her post-op appearance, only feeling comfortable in skirts and dresses at home in the evening. Always pretty in an ivory gown and off-white tank-tops, pearl earrings and a diamond necklace (all imitation of course)

“I told you, I never wanted to be a diamond and pearls kind of girl.”

“But you are to me and this is the best I can do…cheap imitations as a compromise.”

He started to breathe heavily, aiming his shoulders toward  doors; two, four, six, eight…all suites but she always tried to get to a higher level, so logically eight but Pearl before Pearl  (did McMurphy even know she had a dead name?) was the odd man out, even more so wearing her blueberry satin evening gown outside the house with the false ruby cherry shaped earrings garishly clashing with Coach McMurphy’s white gold striped shorts and tangerine hoodie and beanie with his old player number embroidered on it; the digits tiger striped like the tattoo on his forearm a homemade hot needle work drawn by “Uncle Spike” in the cramped kitchen of nearly condemned trailer. So as the song goes “If six was nine…” and the breath of various passersby have redirected the scent of Chanel and Old Spice…

Samuel paused to consider the resolution of this startling equation. “Is this your final solution?” He asked himself. He rolled back his shoulder, cleared his throat and calmly approached Room 206; placing a bird of prey hand on the knob and an ear to the side like an eavesdropping pervert.  No matter how bad that dolt wanted, McMurphy could never put a baby inside her and perhaps there was solace in that which meant very little in the light of McMurphy’s  malicious attempt and Pearl’s  dual deception of both men.

There was laughter, a snort, muffled giggling and a slurping sound; like a steam driven pneumatic man, threw his entire body at the door and stumbled inside in part but mainly from excessive exertion of force upon an already open door, tripping over his own feet, face heading toward the floor but saving himself at the last few seconds by the manic flailing of hands gripping the covers at the edge of the bed, in which he found staring down at him…

“ Well Samuel, a fine mess you’ve made for yourself, this time.” The old man was mostly bald with tiny wisps of white hair sporadically located upon his head, he seemed between eighty and ninety with a hawk nose, dressed in a thread bare earth toned cardigan and shirt, with plaid pants, a brown dusty fedora at his side. He took a mint from a glass candy dish and popped it in his mouth. He chuckled and held the dish out to Samuel. He didn’t seem to care.

“Mint? I love mints and you’re right, I don’t care.”

Samuel sprang up and put his hands on hips like a gunslinger laying down the law in a vintage soundstage western. He loved mints but would resist the temptation. The old man seemed to know this with a wry smile, popping a second winter green mint in his mouth. He sucked deeply on the mints and cleared his throat.

“Welcome to the room of your rebirth. How do you like it?” He liked it very much as if decorated by discarded set pieces from old movies, this surely no room at the Cauliflower Hotel but the garish caricature of a bygone era bordello: gold wallpaper printed with black roses, a chandelier hastily cobbled together with the antlers of various forest and jungle dwelling animals , crimson gold trimmed velveteen curtains and the bed a king size brass monstrosity with numerous oversized paper cased pillows and sheets with artificial zebra, tiger and animal skins serving as blankets.

“I had this especially decorated for you.”

Samuel snorted and turn to leave but found where there was once a door, there was a door no more and he turned back to the old man resuming his unimposing gunslinger stance.

“Who-“

“First remove your hands from your hips, you look ridiculous. Take a seat.” He gestured behind Samuel who stumbled into an overly plush yellow womb chair.

“Who I am and what is this all about? It should be obvious, take a breath and a closer look if you must, it shouldn’t be too difficult even in your ‘six was nine’ manic depressive state of mind”

Samuel K. Drexel slumped further in the chair and gazed intently at the old man, studying his jawline, the space between his eyes and nigh perfect asymmetrical head. He gasped and shuddered  but suddenly recovered  as the old man seemed to be in synch  with his movements. Both cleared their throats and assumed a lotus sitting position.  The young man with apprehensive stare and hardened mouth, the elder with soft eyes and bemused grin. Samuel took a mint and sucked.

“S-Samuel?” He asked.

“Samuel.” The old man nodded. “Though these day I prefer to be called Old Sam.”

Samuel stared in disbelief at what could not be “What are you, eighty? Ninety?”

“Ninety nearing one hundred.” Old Sam playfully flicked a wisp of white hair. “Don’t worry some of it has grown back. What? You don’t like my moth-eaten cardigan?” He placed the dusty chocolate brown fedora on his head. “How about my 1940’s fedora, actually worn by Bogart himself in the The Big Sleep?”

“This is just like a comic book.”

Old Sam guffawed and produced from underneath a pillow, tattered dog-eared comic books featuring: G.I. Joes uselessly spraying bullets at T-Rexes chomping on tanks, flaming men tossing balls of fire at ankle winged wave-riders in chainmail underwear snatching away teleporting bulldogs, Death as a spritely albino woman holding an umbrella in front of her private parts as she burned the Book of Destiny with a cigar, alien farm-boys pounding the tar out of radioactive mole-men, gods as mortals and vice-versa on a forbidden planets  in which race and gender relations were reversed. A dime store treasure trove of truth relaying myths for under a dollar each, all spread along the bed, which Samuel immediately leapt upon and greedily flipped through an anxious bliss of metaphysical equilibrium where right within these crudely drawn but intricately thought out four color panels, one could join in with these titans to walk among the marvels, the bounty delivered through the enlightenment of solitude.

Swiftly fading in, a pinch to the heart of horny teenage frustration, the unceasing loneliness and rejection. He set the books aside, took a long look at Old Sam and sighed, running his hands through a fine full head of hair.

“How did we wind up this way? A sad pathetic old man sitting on the bed with a pile of comic books in this comedy of a hotel room that must be decorated by discarded movie props.”

“It freezes the blood, doesn’t it I remember.” Old Sam chuckled. He tapped his fedora, “However you neglected to mention the cool hat which by the way like everything else in the room is the byproduct of scavenged golden era movie sets.”

“Where’s- “

“Pearl? Better yet, how about McMurphy, so you can pretend you can tear him limb from limb, as he dunks our head in the toilet and flushes?”

Samuel narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth “Not this time.”

“Of course, it was different…Pearl…our wife…. the love of our life.”

“Don’t, don’t… where are they? What have you done with them?”

Old Sam looked at his younger self, calculating and secretly thanking the atomic numbers of reality that Samuel could not his mind through probable foreknowledge as he could, though the younger man was his direct self and not yet a parallel self, or was he? It was getting harder to know, the more timelines he crashed into, especially when taking into consideration the type of man he was at this point of time. He swallowed one of his mints and sucked on the remaining one.

“Samuel, you and I are at a critical point in our life right now.”

“Oh, are we? I wasn’t quite unable to decipher that concept when I found out McMurphy was fucking my wife.”

“She wasn’t entirely duped and nor are you innocent of any ethical breaches within the matrimonial union but that is not important part nor the reason I am here. A discovery is about to made and you should be clear headed, it would benefit us greatly…you most of all, although…” Old Sam ran a gnarled hand over his nearly hairless scalp “It would be nice to retain a bit more hair.”

Samuel dropped his head in hands, pulled on his hair and sobbed “Pearl.”

Old Sam cringed “Yes, yes, Pearl, we put her on an unnatural pedestal of worship in which there was ever factored within the mechanics of existence without the essential element of our precious Pearl, like the golden ratio, like PI the universe’s number and pie the universal food, for you can put anything in a pie unlike a cookie…you ever heard of Napoleonic Empire chunks and fascist chip cookies and been satisfied by such a concept? That’s why you’re here, you don’t really want to find Pearl and McMurphy in bed, in fact you just to take it all back and leave it in that in-between stasis like Schrodinger’s cat, even though she’s the first and only we ever truly loved and started us on this path…how that woman could brew coffee and add the right amount of cinnamon and crème to balance out our blood sugar.”

“Pearl! Pearl! The slut! The naked slut, Pearl, who had everyone more than we had her.” A muffled voice exclaimed, followed by slam. A figure of slim build dropped down from the ceiling where there was no door from before. He wore a costume akin to a nefarious Silver Age comic book supervillain: red mask, blue bodysuit with red underwear at the waist, a yellow lightning design ran along his arms stopping at the waist to show off the already  mention red underwear held in place with a yellow utility belt and lightning belt-buckle, and placed at the center of his chest the image of a red death’s head. He held something resembling a gun made up of wires, shiny metal and host of multicolored lights, along the barrel which came up to an awkwardly shaped mushroom tip. He put his thumbs up.

“Cool outfit, huh?”

Samuel was unable to speak, bewildered by the absurd sight of it all. Old Sam threw his hands up in surrender.

“Samuel, meet Death-Ray.”

The costumed man dramatically raised an index finger “That’s THE Death-Ray.” He approached Samuel, taking off his mask and throwing it in his lap. “But only to strangers.”  He found himself staring at himself, grinning at himself.

“Though he’s not really you.” Old Sam said.

“It’s like the mirror universe only better because I render the multiverse a better place.” Death-Ray boasted.

“You have murdered various versions of ourselves in different universes, Death-Ray, I would exactly tout that as betterment.”

Death-Ray tapped his ray-gun  “Come on, Old Sam…just the whimpering ones who generally lack purpose”

The old man cocked his head to the side and raised an eyebrow.

“Alright, the ones who are slightly cooler but not really…besides it passes the time and builds up cred across the timestreams with agencies you don’t even want to know about.”

Samuel held Death-Ray’s mask attempting not to listen, focusing on something far away  or rather two individuals, to be exact. Death-Ray pointed at him and addressed Old Sam.

“Hard to believe we were ever that lame. Should I waste him?”

“I rather you not.”

“Is this a direct link kind of incident?”

“I’m certain of it.”

“How certain?” A satyr’s smile, a finger on the trigger.

“I’m remembering this.”

“Wouldn’t you be experiencing dual memories though?” Asked Samuel, not looking up from the mask in his hands. “According to most theories of time travel and science fiction, each interaction you have in the past would splinter off into another universe which would impress upon your mind various sets of memories which may or may not have driven you insane.”

Death-Ray guffawed at Samuel’s statement. Old Sam faintly smiled, straightened himself on the bed and popped another mint.

“We really didn’t know shit, did we?” Death-Ray affectionately giggled.

“At this precise moment Samuel, we are contained in a portable event horizon outside the space-time continuum where nothing can be affected adversely or otherwise. However what transpires outside our little pocket universe is another matter; yes I have encountered my younger self in the past which later resulted in the formation of another reality but over decades of practicing the skill of psionic chronal manipulation, I have been able to transform myself into a cosmological constant capable of isolating the self from such dire ramifications, when a being such I creates a new universe, the alternate Samuel is fragmented from own sequence of existence which has further propelled me on the quest and current crossroads we all find ourselves at…finding myself again by changing genuine past to get to the point we need to implement a true universal upheaval.”

Death-Ray let out a mock sigh and animatedly wiped his brow “Whew. Comforting, isn’t it?  Except for the whole baldness thing.”

“I don’t care about universal upheaval. I just want to hold my wife again…and kill that bastard, McMurphy.” Samuel spat.

Old Sam and Death-Ray exchanged solemn glances. Samuel jumped up, violently pulling the hair on both sides of his head.

“God, my life is just a zero sum in a nonzero game.”

Old Sam felt a slight chill and quivered. He sucked on his mint deeper than he usually did, for comfort. Death-Ray noticed with an evident sense of dismay, lowering his weapon.

“What’s happening?” He whispered to old man.

“The loop is about to snap and I have no idea what’s coming next.”

Samuel screamed and ripped out most the hair from the right side of his head. The old man had to intervene before it was too late.

“Samuel, God really is in the integers which construct our reality and we are fully capable of unraveling the grand-life equation and its universal sense of space-time with hyper-reality disparity. Imagine a universe of one’s own creation, one in which actual free will reigns, a realm without the law of external determinism. A universe without a god.”

“Or a devil.” Death-Ray grinned.

“Universe without god or the devil by choice.”

“Lady or the tiger Samuel, Hell I’ll take the lady on top of the tiger myself.”

“I haven’t been offered a choice, you costumed goon.”

Death-Ray picked up his masked which had been dropped on the floor. He brushed it off and haphazardly rolled it into a ball, stuffing it into his utility belt, then assumed the threatening gunslinger stance Old Sam found annoying.

“You know, there’s another Earth where I inspired myself to leave Pearl after I fried McMurphy. Would you like to know what we’ve accomplished there? An entire line of Death-Ray comics:  The Death-Ray, Death-Ray Adventures, Death-Ray Team-Up, Death-Ray Corp, cross-overs, an animated series and a fantastic movie franchise with James McAvoy as yours truly with Old Sam portrayed by Sir Patrick Stewart, you know with the whole baldness thing…anyway, Samuel K. Drexel was thankful for what I did for him. We’re only trying to help you Samuel…I’m sick of watching myself getting jilted by the same woman over and over again on different worlds.  This costume is more of a burden than it looks, born almost from the exact  point of where you are and it was from the edge of despair, we were able to pull ourselves up from, the things I’ve seen beyond the Earths we’ve lived: Martian sandcastles reflecting rivers of gold, an Earth overrun by Cadillacs and dinosaurs, the interior of a blackhole stretching the unstable molecules we are swirling around dark matter, dragged and projected through life pumping quasars raining down a full spectrum of infinite electrified sound the color of a thunderous lunar typhoon’s silent echo.”

Old Sam wiped a tear from his eye “Imagine a universe, where every being is his or her own universe. A celestial miracle where the only impossibility is the absence of infinite impossibilities.”

“One in which “we” as in you rule the world?” Samuel suggested.

“World is a limited concept, the confinement of our very own existence.”

“To Hell with all this, just leave me alone to my wife and McMurphy, I’m not going for this God and Devil routine.”

“It’s beyond the realm of God and devil, Samuel…when you’ve been to the axis of reality and you realize the void is just as malleable. I’ve seen the source and its antithesis and though I have never formally met a devil or god, I’m more than certain we could do better than either of them.”

Death-Ray raised his weapon “Look how far Old Sam and I have come without Pearl, without McMurphy. Think how far we could go without them in the first place.”

“Them?” Samuel asked.

Death-Ray hesitated and stammered before answering “God. The Devil. The end. The source. Pearl. McMurphy.”

Samuel pondered for a moment, hand resting on his chin “Death-Ray, did you kill my Pearl?”

“I disintegrated my Pearl along with a multitude of Pearl from a wide array of worlds but I did not kill your Pearl specifically.”

Samuel clutched his stomach and gagged “I’m beginning to recall something irreprehensible…”

Old Sam began to tremble. Samuel grabbed Death-Ray’s gun and pointed the weapon at its creator. Tears welled up in his eyes.

“Either way, you killed her repeatedly, even after knowing how much she meant to us.”

Death-Ray put his hands up in a pathetic attempt to block what was coming “Calm down, Samuel, we all have…”

“I haven’t!” Samuel pulled the trigger, a swirl of yellow energy shot out, burrowing into Death-Ray’s chest and out his back leaving a scorched globe sized cavity reeking of burned meat. Death-Ray with gaped in wonder and before falling to die said “So, that’s what it feels like…” looking at Old Sam with indifference.

Samuel turned the ray-gun on his older self.  “I take it, I didn’t go bald from old age.”

The old man swallowed his mint and grinned “Kill me and we will be exactly where we are now, the only difference being, you will not recollect these set of events.”

Samuel put the gun down and laughed to himself. “It was easy to take his life, how I miss not even the slightest touch of hesitation?”

“You are experiencing the revelation of the loop.”             “The same scenario again, on repeat…I must have blocked it from my mind.”

“Until we could it, no more.”

Samuel K. Drexel smiled and stared directly into Old Sam’s eyes.  “Then I ripped out all the hair from my head, retreating into my own mind attempting to unravel reality or at the very least…”

“Change the course of events…”

“But I’ve never able to have I?”

“My memory ends here, only you can avert the downward spiral of aimless insanity heralding the revelations we’ve discovered at a much later time.”

“You’d forsake existence for that, wouldn’t you?”

Old Sam hesitated for a moment “Yes.” He put another mint in his mouth in a display of confidence.

Samuel turned a bright green on the gun. There was a rapid whirl and frenetic crackling of blue currents around the mushroom tipped barrel.

“No matter what, we always kill Pearl, don’t we? Every scenario, every world but hey, we move on and obtain cosmic awareness, right? Maybe we never really loved her in the first place and the illusion is the only genuine thing we had.”

Old Sam reached out in distress as Samuel turned the gun on himself and fired; a cyclone of blue lightning wrapped around his body, enfolding itself into the fabric of space-time, leaving Samuel K. Drexel a pile of black powder.

“Oh dear.” Were Old Sam’s final words heard by no one, unleashing a primal scream shattering the universe as existence itself was blown apart.

Somewhere. Sometime…room 209, Pearl rested her head on her lover’s belly. She wondered what it would all lead to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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