The Walls of the Universe

The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko

Book: The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko Read Free Book Online
Authors: Paul Melko
by Paul Melko
    Paul lives in Ohio in Universe #7621 with his beautiful wife and three children, the third a very recent addition. He was born in Universe #7271, but was kidnapped by a crazed version of himself and forced to write thinly disguised Harry Potter novels until he escaped by clocking the other Paul on the head with the complete manuscript of Harry Potter and the Poorly Tuned Piano. #7621 is not so bad, but he misses the Ultra Jojopops from his old universe that came in virimo and ommerdoge flavors.
    The screen door slammed behind John Rayburn, rattling in its frame. He and his dad had been meaning to fix the hinges and paint it before winter, but just then he wanted to rip it off and fling it into the fields.
    "Johnny?" his mother called after him, but by then he was in the dark shadow of the barn. He slipped around the far end and any more of his mother's calls were lost among the sliding of cricket legs. His breath blew from his mouth in clouds.
    John came to the edge of the pumpkin patch, stood for a moment, then plunged into it. Through the pumpkin patch was east, toward Case Institute of Technology where he hoped to start as a freshman the next year. Not that it was likely. There was always the University of Toledo, his father had said. One or two years of work could pay for a year of tuition there.
    He kicked a half-rotten pumpkin. Seeds and wispy strings of pumpkin guts spiraled through the air. The smell of dark earth and rotten pumpkin reminded him it was a week before Halloween and they hadn't had time to harvest the pumpkins: a waste and a thousand dollars lost to earthworms. He ignored how many credits that money would have bought.
    The pumpkin field ended at the tree line, the eastern edge of the farm. The trees — old maples and elms — abutted McMaster Road, beyond which was the abandoned quarry. He stood in the trees, just breathing, letting the anger seep away.
    It wasn't his parents' fault. If anyone was to blame, it was him. He hadn't had to beat the crap out of Ted Carson. He hadn't had to tell Ted Carson's mom off. That had entirely been him. Though the look on Mrs. Carson's face had almost been worth it when he told her her son was an asshole. What a mess.
    He spun at the sound of a stick cracking.
    For a moment he thought that Ted Carson had chased him out of the farmhouse, that he and his mother were there in the woods. But the figure who stood there was just a boy, holding a broken branch in his hand.
    "Johnny?" the boy said. The branch flagged in his grip, touching the ground.
    John peered into the dark. He wasn't a boy; he was a teenager. John stepped closer. The teen was dressed in jeans and plaid shirt. Over the shirt he wore a sleeveless red coat that looked oddly out of date.
    His eyes lingered on the stranger's face. No, not a stranger. The teen had his face.
    "Hey, Johnny. It's me, Johnny."
    The figure in the woods was him.
    John looked at this other John, this John Subprime, and decided he would be the one. He was clearly a Johnny Farmboy, not one of the Johnny Rebels, not one of the Broken Johns, so he would be wide-eyed and gullible. He'd believe John's story, and then John could get on with his life.
    "Who ... who are you?" Johnny Farmboy asked. He was dressed in jeans and a shirt, no coat.
    John forced his most honest smile. "I'm you, John."
    Johnny Farmboy could be so dense.
    "Who do I look like?"
    "You look like..."
    "I look just like you, John. Because I am you." Johnny Farmboy took a step back, and John continued. "I know what you're thinking. Some trick. Someone is playing a trick on the farmboy. No. Let's get past that. Next you're going to think that you were twins and one of them was put up for adoption. Nope. It's much more interesting than that."
    Johnny Farmboy crossed his arms. "Explain it, then."
    "Listen, I'm really hungry; I could use some food and a place to sit down. I saw Dad go in the house. Maybe we can sit in the barn, and I can explain

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