By Israfel Sivad
The first time it had ever happened was when who was now a man was still a child. The second time it had ever happened was when he was a teenager. The third time it had ever happened was just now… just now…
The first time:
Who was now a man was playing alone with his GI Joe men in the flowerbed where his mother did the weeding with a spade and a fork and gloves on her hands. But she wasn’t weeding right then. Instead, who was now a man was playing alone in that flowerbed with his GI Joe men. His dad was in the garage. Who was now a man could hear the roar of the table saw. He could feel the pounding hammer. He could smell his dad’s beer-drenched sweat.
Who was now a man was playing alone in the flowerbed where his mom gardened while his dad worked in the garage because the week before, he’d gone over to the house of some kid from his soccer team, some strange kid with a French mom and an American dad who went hunting all the time. They’d invited who was now a man to go hunting with them the next weekend, this weekend in fact, but who was now a man didn’t want to kill a deer. He didn’t want to see a deer’s blood. He still remembered Bambi, and Bambi’s mother still reminded him of his own.
But the real reason who was now a man was playing alone was because after that weekend at the strange kid with the French mom’s house, who was now a man didn’t trust any other kids to play. Most sensible children would never believe it, but who was now a man no longer knew what children might be sensible: That kid with the French mom buried his GI Joe men when they were killed in battle. He would perform a funeral dirge, and he would bury them in his own backyard’s Arlington cemetery where he’d never dig them up again. That strange kid with the French mom’s backyard was a veritable graveyard of dead and decaying action figures. If he were precise about whom he killed and simply killed off the action figures he didn’t like such a notion might not have been so bad. Who doesn’t want less uncool action figures? But somehow, in that childlike world of play, the fates managed to dictate their decrees and spin the non-existent bullets from the little plastic guns in all sorts of directions different from the ones you wanted them to go in. Zeus himself had never had less control over the world he was supposedly responsible for. Any action figure could die at any time, and that action figure would never come back to life. Who was now a man had had a huge argument over his own Snake-eyes who was somehow hit by a non-existent stray bullet. Who was now a man refused to part with Snake-eyes, but the kid with the French mom said the Joe had to die. Who was now a man didn’t believe him. Permanence had yet to infiltrate his world of play. His action figures had infinite numbers of lives. They suffered, died, went back into their boxes, and came out themselves again – an 8 year old’s version of the transmigration of souls. The kid with the French mom was more of a nihilist. He didn’t believe that consciousness could continue after a non-existent bullet ripped through an action figure’s lungs, and he certainly didn’t believe that that action figure could go into a box and come out itself again. Who was now a man decided that if Snake-eyes were going to have to die, then he wouldn’t play. He snatched his Snake-eyes out of the kid with the French mom’s hand, and he walked all the way home. His parents weren’t mad at him. They were actually quite understanding when he explained the situation. After all, Snake-eyes was his favorite Joe.
And it was a good thing he hadn’t let Snake-eyes die because at that very moment, Snake-eyes was rescuing Lady Jay from Zartan’s clutches. Not that Lady Jay was defenseless. Who was now a man was not a chauvinist. As could have happened to any GI Joe on a dangerous mission, she’d simply been tricked by an under-handed ploy of Zartan’s. Snake-eyes crawled up the rose bush and sat in a nook where a couple of the branches came together. He took a sniper’s careful aim. He slowly squeezed the trigger. And he popped one shot straight into Zartan’s brain. Zartan died instantly. And even though who was now a man didn’t like Zartan (not that the character wasn’t cool (he did change colors with heat), he was just evil), he still didn’t perform the action figure’s last rites.
With Lady Jay safe and Zartan dead, who was now a man took his box of action figures and walked back to the house. That was when it happened. Who was now a man was passing right by the garage. He heard the sound of the saw. He was close enough to smell the sawdust. “Damnit!” his dad said. It startled who was now a man, and he dropped Snake-eyes. But as he leaned down to pick the action figure back up, who was now a man was passing right by the garage. He heard the sound of the saw. He was close enough to smell the sawdust. “Damnit!” his dad said. It startled who was now a man, and he dropped Snake-eyes. And he leaned down to pick the action figure back up. Yes. It happened twice. Who was now a man stood still. He didn’t have the words to describe what he had just experienced.
The second time:
The mall was a real madhouse that night. All of the adults there kept trying to figure out what the kids thought was so funny. Little did the security guards know that acid was making the rounds. The high school kids, the middle school kids, everyone was looking to score, and most already had.
Smoking a cigarette, Joe Smith was standing out on the sidewalk in front of the food court when Jay came back up to him. Jay was the one who’d hooked Joe up earlier that evening, about an hour before that cigarette that Joe was smoking. Jay was already tripping pretty hard when Joe and his girlfriend had found him sitting on the curb, staring intently at a long line of ants. The blond-haired hippie-type-headbanger had told the freshman couple that he was pretty sure he could get them both a couple more hits if they’d front a few bucks for Jay to get another one as well. This shit was good and he didn’t want the trip to stop. Joe and his girlfriend didn’t think twice about it. They pooled their money (which incidentally added up to twenty bucks – she had fifteen; he had five) and bought four hits… one and a half for each of them, and another for Jay. Needless to say, Jay was seeing tambourines and elephants when he approached Joe smoking that cigarette.
“Man… I swear to God you’ll never believe what I just saw, man…” Jay said. Joe nodded. He didn’t want to hear about it. He wasn’t tripping yet, and he didn’t want to hear about the wonders another was experiencing. It would only be a second, now, he was certain of it, before he’d start catching trails. What time was it anyway? How long ago had he dropped the acid? Was that a trail following behind Jay’s hand as he ran it through his hair? Damn it, no. Patience, Joe, patience. “Man, I was just talking to Zoe Tan, and I swear to God, man, I could see her thoughts. No shit. She had these little bubbles above her head just like in a cartoon, man, and I could see what she was thinking right in that bubble, man… It was fucking wild. This world’s a fucking cartoon!”
Joe thought Jay was sure as hell crazy. He’d already dropped a bit of acid in his time, and he’d never seen anything like that. But one thing he did know was that on acid, anything was possible. He just wanted that hit and a half to kick in…
Walking through the mall: “You know, man,” it was Jay again, “You know why they call it a trip, man? See, I realized this tonight. As I was walking it felt like I stepped down a little bit, and suddenly I was tripping, man. You get it? It was like I stepped off reality’s ledge and into acid-land. Like there’s another reality right next to this reality that I just stepped right into. You know, like it’s just a couple inches away from us, and acid can drop us down to that level. Somebody must have tripped once stepping off the curb like that, and that’s why they call it a trip…”
Jay wasn’t annoying Joe anymore. Joe’s cheeks were warm. A smile was plastered across his face. His lips felt purple. His pupils were dilated. His joints cracked whenever he moved his arms: strychnine. He was nodding. Everything Jay said made perfect sense. Everything made perfect sense. Had Joe stepped off a curb when the acid had kicked in? Maybe. He wasn’t sure anymore. That seemed like it could be right, though. There was another dimension right next to where he was walking. A scientist had tripped into it a number of decades ago when he intended to find something else. Acid existed. That other dimension was so close Joe might have been able to reach out and touch it. That’s what made him laugh. He could touch it…
Suddenly, he was smoking a cigarette outside in front of the food court again. His girlfriend, her long brown hair splayed back from her cherubic face, was sitting on the ground. Joe thought she might have stumbled and fallen. But she looked all right. She was laughing. A young security guard was helping her stand back up. That sure was nice of him. He was smiling at her and asking what was so funny. He probably had a crush on her. That was okay. She was hot. Joe had a crush on her, too. He laughed. Of course, he had a crush on her, silly, he was her boyfriend.
A beat-up, gray Toyota pulled up in front of the mall. It was Joe’s girlfriend’s older sister. Cool. Time to go home. Joe got in the car. He sat down in the backseat, scooted all the way across the pleather to the window. He touched the car’s ceiling. It looked like a mattress, which made him think of sex. He glanced out the window to his left and then, looked to his right again. Joe got in the car. He sat down in the backseat, scooted all the way across the pleather to the window. He touched the car’s ceiling. It looked like a mattress, which made him think of sex. He glanced out the window to his left and then, looked to his right again. His girlfriend was following him into the car. Joe leaned back in his seat. His eyebrows creased. That was weird, man. That was fucking weird. He’d just tripped into another dimension, and contrary to what he’d thought earlier, it wasn’t funny at all. It wasn’t until the next day that he remembered that that had happened to him before, when he was a kid, before he knew words like deja-vu, at a time when there’d never been any drugs heavier than sugar in his system. It had happened to him before… without drugs.
The third time:
I just finished this story. I woke up this morning at 5:30 AM. I couldn’t get back to sleep. I made a cup of coffee. I ate a bowl of cereal. I sat down at the computer, and I wrote this story. When I finished, it was 8:30. I went to go to work. I opened the front door, lifted my foot to step outside, and I woke up at 5:30 AM. I couldn’t get back to sleep. I made a cup of coffee. I ate a bowl of cereal. I sat down at the computer, and I wrote this story. It wasn’t until I was done that I realized I’d already written this story. I went back through the files on my computer, looking for something entitled: Quantum Fluctuations. I couldn’t find it. Thinking that maybe I’d changed the name again sometime after the point I’m at right now (this is the fourth title I’ve given it already) I reread the beginning of every piece of writing in My Documents. None of them started with: The first time it had ever happened…
I’m not 8 years old anymore. I’ve become a man. I’m not on any drugs right now. I haven’t eaten acid in close to fifteen years. But still, I wrote this story twice, and I don’t know what happened to it the first time. I don’t know how six hours have passed since I woke up at 5:30, and somehow, it’s 8:30 and time for me to go to work again. This last paragraph is happening right now. But the last time, it must have happened right now. I’ve done this before. This has happened to me before. This is at least the third time. It’s like three times I’ve taken a pitch. The first time, I dropped something. The ball flew straight by me while I stood there staring. The second time, I tried swinging, but I tripped. The third time… What happens after three times?