The path of causality never quite runs smooth. Yet they still have time to learn how to cope. An unfamiliar space, bathed in darkness: A young woman with an old voice screams in pain, and then recoils in fear. The body next to her is decaying and warped; shrouded in hair. There is no hint of recognition here; only panic and a rush for the door. There will be no more sleep for her tonight.
From sleep awake, and desperately in need of the loo: two balls of fur and a naked pink child. Why is everyone so naked? Why is my face covered in hair? Are those breasts? Where have I gone?
Two children, lost and unfamiliar: Trapped in their painted halls, surrounded by their bookish walls. However, one of them is still drunk and the other is pregnant. Unfamiliar sensations, and pains, and smells: a babbling child burbles on about bees and wasps. The smaller of the two dogs skulks out of the room and gently trots down the stairs, to a randomly placed sofa. Al fresco urination, perhaps?
And there is still a strange, pink, naked child banging her tummy against the bed and demanding attention. Neither of the adult bodies was expecting this. One of them refuses to accept. Sleep.
“Why are you allowed sleep if I’m not allowed sleep?” This is the noise which keeps me awake; my head is not exploding, but my body does ache. Is this age? That’s what they said in Red Dwarf. I’m clearly over thirty now – I mean, look at my hair for a start – and my body is falling to pieces. Why am I so thirsty? Why do I need to pee so much? Why has she put her breasts away? “Go to sleep”.
“Have you not noticed that there’s a little girl running around, calling for her parents? Have you not noticed that you are lying in bed – naked – with a woman you have never met?” In all honesty I had noticed a number of those things, but my eyes were closing on me, and I was in a loop of losing my grip on consciousness. “It’s all just a dream. Go back to sleep: you’re just part of the dream.” As if.
“<<Growling noises>>”. I heard sounds; I perceived light; I descended back in to the warmth of sleep’s grip. I could tell that this would – if reality turned out to be based here – lead to some kind of trouble for my future self, but that was a problem I would deal with when I found myself face to face with it. Either way, I’m sure my mother would deal with it, one way or another. Yeah, that’s right.
Hitting the floor was a shock; realising I had been pushed there was slightly reassuring, if anything.
She had done her research, that’s for sure. At some point it would seem that I’d had blonde hair: that was her next shock to my system. She was looking through a little TV screen she held in her hand, drinking her third cup of tea of the morning. The child – I can never remember her name; something Dutch – had been fed, and was contentedly sitting in her room, playing. She remained completely naked, which was odd. The TV screen beeped: someone was sending me a message.
I’d heard about the internet, and I was aware that mobile phones existed. My dad had one that I used to play snake on. You could use it to send text messages to people, like a two-way pager. I thought that sounded rather civilised. Apparently my mother had one too, and she had sent me a message. The message came with her picture on it; she looked so old, and was holding the little girl on her knee. She was asking how many people would be having lunch that day; I had no idea at all.
The screen thing accessed a lot of information; none of it seemed that interesting. I needed food.
She eventually worked out how to get in to her own TV screen – her date of birth was the key to the whole thing, according to the child – so I was allowed mine back. It was full of heavy metal music (a lot of it quite scary; some of it very familiar) and a lot of pictures of us. Were we ever not on holiday? I had never seen so much of the world, but I had travelled far and wide, according to the TV screen.
And there we were, both of us, the three of us: atop a mountain in Switzerland; sailing on a fjord in Norway; on a black beach in Iceland. My beard, her smile, a blonde demon. Who were we? We knew that we were a couple as adults, but we weren’t adults. Not yet. We were here today, but today was not the same day we were expecting. I had to be at school; she had to be at college. The child?
We had woken up in bodies we both instinctively knew to be our adult selves, but we recognised nothing else. We had a lovely house, but couldn’t work out how we had paid for it. We went on an endless list of holidays, but didn’t know where we actually lived. Our photos showed the faces of people we recognised, but older. Where should we even start unravelling this whole mess?
I put on some clothes – some of them reassuringly familiar – and started to look around the house. In one room was a small office, smelling faintly of man. The mess which had accumulated there was unnervingly familiar: the space was filled with the contents of my mind. And screens; it must be my office. That was a good start; I just needed to work out how to turn it on. At some point: not now.
Floorboards creaked underfoot as I made my way back through the house. I had never been in a house like this, yet it was utterly familiar in layout. Just bigger. In the kitchen there was a sofa; it was bathed in bright light; dogs draped themselves across, maximising the light on their fur. A tongue lolled from a happy mouth. A tail wagged gently at my confused approach. Recognition.
The television set hissed a wail of static. It was the biggest screen I had ever seen, and must have cost a fortune. I worked my way through the remote controls to turn on the pictures: there were more options than I had ever dreamt possible. Channels of every kind sat in front of me, promising all the entertainment of the world. Each of them led to nothing but three words: “Time has passed.”