Chapter three

He woke up on a couch in an alien room. It was obviously a lobby in some sort of corporate building. He felt strange. His hand went to his aching forehead and he brought it back in front of him, dumbfounded. He held the other up next to it. These were not his hands. They were gaunt and pale. He looked down, examining his clothing. A wrinkled business suit. He stood up slowly, noting he was somewhat weaker.

He stumbled to the half-empty coffee pot and poured the dark, thin liquid into a small silicone cup. After downing it he felt much better but as he tossed the cup in the trash he suddenly realized he didn't drink coffee.

What has happened to me?

He stepped out in to the hall, uncertain, and paced slowly down it. He discovered a bathroom on the right and barreled into it. For a second he searched for his familiar reflection in the mirror but quickly realized it wasn't there. A tiered, thin man with dark brown hair and blue eyes stared back at him.

"This isn't me! Where am I?" he whispered and heard that his voice was also unlike him, "Oh good god I've crossed over!"

The panic in his eyes turned into excitement. He heard a toilet flush behind him and a man glanced at him warily and exited with haste. He ran out and looked desperately for the stairs. People glanced up from their cubicles but he didn't notice them. Finally he found the elevators. He tapped the down button rapidly and grinned at the woman next to him. She smiled back and when they were in the elevator she spoke.

"How's your mother?"

He didn't answer, captivated with her image. She was a pretty red head dressed in secretary attire and she had an American accent. What he found most fascinating was that she was one hundred percent real and she didn't know it.

"Hello? You in there Stefan?"

"Oh. Sorry. My mother? She's quite well actually," he lied.

"Oh really? I'm so glad to hear it. The doctors say she's gonna beat it after all?"

He winced on the inside. She could only be referring to cancer, "We're still not sure but so far she's been doing better than we thought."

"Well that's excellent. And if you ever need anyone to talk to just holler okay?"

He stepped out and nodded at her, "Thank you, bye."

Why couldn't he make an exception? He saw these words in the back of his mind just like the dreams he'd been having. He had assumed the thoughts in his dreams were of this man, Stefan, but now he somehow knew they belonged to a girl.

It must be his Melody. That was what his father called the one person you seem to be attracted towards in an alternate universe. Melody was his mother's name. He hadn't rashly assumed this before because he had no way of knowing Melodies existed in the real world.

He chose left and followed the sidewalk.

Don't cry. He could read the thoughts clearer and knew he was getting close. He stopped in front of an old oak tree and glanced around, waiting for another thought.

There she was. She was sitting by herself on a red bench with tears falling from her eyes. She hurriedly wiped them away and he decided to approach. He thought she was pretty in a strange way, even with watery eyes and a runny, pink nose.

"Hello."

She looked up and he felt her uneasiness. She found him attractive, in a helpless kind of way. His big blue eyes were sad and tiered.

"Is this seat taken?"

She shook her head, staring at the ground. Please go away.

He sat, "I'm not a creep or anything."

Sure. But he had reassured her somewhat by his casual tone. A part of her wanted him to stay and keep talking because his thick, nearly indecipherable Irish accent amused her.

"Achaicus," he held his hand out to her.

At first she didn't understand but then took it, smiling politely.

He looked expectantly at her, "I don't suppose you have a name?"

She shook her head.

"Ah, I see. But if you did have a name would it be Melody by any chance?"

She shook her head again. Grace. Sorry pal. You got the wrong girl. Now please go away.

"Grace? Why, that's quite lovely."

She turned sharply to face him, eyes wide with surprise and a small bit of fear. How does he know my name? I've never seen him before in my life. Oh god. He's a stalker.

"Oh! No! No! You've got it wrong. I can read you're mind. Quite literally."

Her expression didn't change and she was still leaning away from him. A stalker lunatic! She got up and shuffled down the sidewalk, away from him.

Achaicus bounded up and muttered apologetically, "I can't help it. Your thoughts are just there in the back of my mind and it's almost as if the back of my mind has eyes because I can see your thoughts," he rambled on a little breathlessly next to her and was once again reminded of how strained and weak his body was, "I know I sound completely insane but-,"

He went to grab her shoulder to slow her down but she threw her bag at him and whacked him in the face. Go away!

"Ah!" he moaned painfully clutching his face, "I think you poked my eye out! Are you happy?"

She stopped and turned around. Oh! Sorry!

He continued to groan and she stood there, awkwardly until he grunted, "What do you have in that bag? Bricks?

A bottle of Sobe.

"Ah yes. That'll be it. Anyway, I'll prove it to you. Think of a number. Any number."

He didn't look insane to her as Grace watched him glare at her, rubbing his eye in annoyance but she had heard serial killers didn't look like serial killers either. Automatically she thought of something he couldn't guess. Infinity.

"Infinity is not a number, stupid."

Her jaw dropped. This isn't possible. He couldn't have-

"Yes I could have and I did. Now do you believe me or do you want to pick another ruddy number?"

No numbers. Can you understand me now?

"Yes."

Who is going to win the World Cup?

"I don't know. I'm not psychic for god sakes. I'm going to be cheering for Italy though."

Wow. She finally accepted it. You really can read my mind.

"Apparently."

What is that woman thinking over there? The one coming towards us.

"I don't know. I think I can only read your mind."

How? Why?

"Again, I don't know. Stop asking so many questions. Could you try talking to me like a normal person? Where am I and what is the date?"

I don't talk. What do you mean? You're in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and today is July 7, 2006.

"Louisiana? In the United States?"

Yeah-

"Of course I am. Your accent is obvious," he muttered hurriedly to himself, "The date is the same but why am I in the U.S. I wonder?" His eyes were staring unfocussed at a patch of grass sprouting through the crooked sidewalk, "Very curious. And what do you mean you don't talk?"

I don't talk. I never have. Are you a time traveler or- or something?

"No I'm from AU53-137-2740 or Alternate Universe FUT, Freddie's Ugly Tie. I know. Bloody horrendous name."

There was a moment of silence then, That's the most insane thing I have ever heard.

"So you don't know about alternate universes then?" she kept her bewildered gaze steady, "Damn. I thought not. Doesn't hurt to ask though. What time is it anyway?"

11:15.

"Lets see. Six time zones between here and home. Yeah. That's right. I'm at work now. No time change"

What are you talking about?

"Me body's in England in FUT but my mind is here in the real world and in this bloke's body," he looked up and saw a man at the bus stop staring and them, baffled, "Wha?" the man quickly looked away, "Yea. Bugger off then."

Why-How did you get here?

"Well, me mate's knocked me out again probably. Usually I concentrate on where I want to go and fall asleep and then wake up there. For the past few weeks I've been dropping to sleep in broad day light. Just last week I woke up in a yard with some old hag beating me over the head with a broom and hollering obscenities I've never heard before."

She somehow felt an uncertain smile grow onto her face. He was startled at how dramatically her face changed with it.

"Funny is it?" he turned on her, "It's probably your fault anyway."

My fault?

"Yes. Your entire fault. I come when I'm called sweetheart. Willingly or not."

What?

"Ah yes. I had to get a clueless one. You're what me dad calls a Melody," he began impatiently, "There is only one person in all the hundreds of millions of Alternate Universes that seems to draw you towards them when they need something," he said with boredom, "Now tell me what you need so I can go."

How am I supposed to know?

He groaned and rubbed his wounded eye again which was beginning to support odd coloration, "I don't bloody know. Think," he examined her puffy eyes again, "And why were you crying?"

She thought she heard something softer in his tone but she could've easily imagined it, Oh, I… It's nothing. She felt her face growing hot.

"So you're crying over nothing? Perfectly understandable. I do that often. There I am just sitting and suddenly I feel like crying. Or perhaps you have allergies? Terrible this time of y-"

Alright! Alright! It's my birthday today.

He hesitated, waiting for her to elaborate but she didn't, "Interesting. And you find that depressing?"

She rolled her eyes, My dad is to busy visiting his girlfriend to remember.

"But your mom-"

Might as well be dead.

"And you friends-"

My what?

"I see," he felt the tiniest bit sorry for her, "Would you like a cupcake then? Cupcakes do exist don't they?"

What? Yes of course they do.

"Excellent," he grinned and dug into his pockets, "Well go on then. Show me to the bakery," He extracted a flat leather wallet from his back pocket and discovered fifty dollars, a couple gas cards, and a MasterCard within it, "Not bad. I suppose this is used for currency?" He examined the MasterCard curiously.

You can't spend that man's money.

"Why not? I'm keeping him alive by purchasing food for his body's necessary consumption. Also, I'm having difficulty to finding my own wallet, as it is in another universe."

She ignored this. Do you know where he went?

"Who?"

The man whose body you're using.

"Oh. No. Not a clue," his said dismissively.

What if he's in trouble?

"I doubt it but if he was its likely I wouldn't care."

You're terrible.

"And you're a saint I suppose? At least take comfort in my honesty. Anyway, rare accounts for schizophrenia are due to transversers – people like me. Once someone finds their Melody, they come back to them every time they are needed. Sometimes they start regularly seeing each other and if there is someone nearby who has a sleeping pattern almost exact with the pattern they have of seeing each other the transverser chooses this body nearly every time. I chose this body because it was the nearest sleeping man to you but it is unlikely that I shall choose this body again if I come back. Anyway, I think everyone who's body was temporarily occupied only believe that they have had a restless and dreamless sleep."

But you're not sure?

"No. I'm not. If there was anyway of figuring out where they went each time I would benefit from it greatly."

How so?

"I live in an alternate universe as you know. It is the most dreadful thing that could happen to someone, to be born into it. After an alternate universe exists for a while, it starts to tear itself apart. Probably because they are not meant to be. Governments become corrupt," she glanced up at him, "more than they already are or they are overthrown. World Wars erupt. Epidemics take over. Anyway for one reason or another, it goes bad. I've watched the demise of many progress and see the human population decrease steadily until no matter how hard I try I cannot visit that universe again and can only assume the reason for this is because there is simply no sleeping body for me to occupy or no living being left. It is like they vanish from existence."

That's awful. How far is uh.. FUT along until it – well you know?

"Not far but I'm not wasting any time. Its probably got couple years left. My plan is to discover where people go when I occupy their bodies so that I can somehow switch places with them but I haven't-"

You can't do that!

"Why not?"

You're selfishly condemning someone else to your own fate!

"Again, I fail to see the flaw you point out-"

You might as well be killing them!

He blinked, "No, no. I don't believe you quite understood what I meant. I'm switching places. Switching. You know, swap," they stopped at an intersection and he glanced up, "Oh hello there. Terrible day isn't it?"

Her brows furrowed and she looked around, Who are you-

"There's something wrong with you street sign. Is it a mute like you?"

What? The idea of insanity found its way back to her.

"You mean your signs aren't alive?"

She shook her head slowly.

"Then what are they there for?"

People look at them to see what street they are on.

"That's amazing! Our street signs are terribly deceitful. They used to show us the names of the streets but a hundred years or so back they suddenly sprang to life. The work of some genius git with a daft sense of humor, no doubt. They rarely tell you the right way to go and often times they display grim outlooks on life rather than street names. I suppose sitting there for that long warps their idea of entertainment. They enjoy watching people scuttle around like mindless heaps of mobile organic matter and they're a bit to melancholy for my liking. Be friendly with one- by friendly I mean comment on how terrible the day is or how life is a dark, friendless void- and they'll be more likely to point you in the right direction. Not the first converse though. You'll have to subtly mention that, though you wish you could sit and dwell on the repetitive dullness and predictability of humanity, you must conform to the ways of society and have somewhere to go. Problem though, you've learned your way around by the time they warm up to you."

Three minutes, ten cupcakes, and a grande frappeccino later.

"There you are," he separated the cupcakes. Six for him. Four for her, "They're not very good for you, you know. Besides, you're little. How many could you eat? Anyway, these ought to smother those needs of yours. I don't see how you could need anything when you have a cupcake."

He ripped open the pack of candles he had just bought and somehow managed to shove seventeen of them in a chocolate cupcake.

"Happy birthday to you…" he began in an off-key voice when others in the café, bound to benevolence, reluctantly caught on and Grace sunk in her seat, feeling her face beginning to grow warm, "Happy birthday dear Gracie, Happy birthday to you…" there was a pathetic outbreak of clapping and then everyone, comprised of mostly college students, quickly dove their pimply faces back into their textbooks.

Before the unstable cupcake caught anything on fire she blew out the candles. Tell me what FUT is like, they began picking the candles off and licking the icing and chunks of cake that came off with them.

"All the alternates in the world and you want to hear about FUT?"

Tell me everything.

He was slightly relieved to have someone other than Naomi to tell his findings to, "Well, in my entire lifespan I've visited over 7,000 universes. 4,583 of which are recorded in my notes. My father's notes are much more vast and detailed. We've numbered them all and given the ones in which the origin is known common names that are somewhat memorable."

There was one candle left. He extracted it with gleaming eyes and a salivating mouth and handed it to her, "Here. It's your birthday."

She accepted it gratefully and smiled. He cleared his throat unsurely and continued, "Until now the idea of a real and definite world was only a little more than speculation. Us transverers could only hope we had the choice to live."

"Wait a minute!" he snatched the cupcake that was heading for her mouth, "If you don't need anything then I don't need to help you. If I don't need to help you, I don't come to the real world!" he stole all the cupcakes back, "Tricky. Very tricky. Sorry. No cupcakes for you."

"Man I'm tiered!" he rubbed his eyes, the right one delicately, "If I fall asleep leave me here. It won't be me waking up."

He rested his head on his hand and closed his eyes, "I'm only resting them," he went on, "You've brought me here. Without you I had no hope of surviving the collapse of FUT," he sighed, "FUT. What a terrible name. I'll have to get to changing that. Don't touch those cupcakes."

She realized he had fallen asleep within a few silent moments.