A free short story by Alex Zabala 

The Parallel Paradox

“Ten hours without Internet service is a travesty!” I slammed my fist on my desk as I yelled in frustration. I may have blurted out an expletive but there was no one else around to hear it. Come to think of it, I doubt anyone would have been offended since it may have been a hybrid expletive combining English and Spanish.

Nevertheless, the reason there was no other human around was because I was hopelessly single. No respectable woman in her right mind would want to be with someone trying to make a living as an author, the operative word being ‘trying’.

But I regress. The reason I was angry was because I needed to do some research on the Internet regarding a Mayan artifact that was currently being displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Since I live in New Jersey and don’t own a car, I certainly didn’t feel like riding a city bus all the way up to New York City in this dreadful cold. So I figured I would check the item on the Internet and save some precious time. Google is an author’s best friend. In the old days one had to actually spend hours in large libraries searching through endless aisles of books doing research, hence why I frequently wear my ‘Just Google it!” T-shirt.

To make matters worse, I was running behind schedule and my editor had been bugging me to deliver my manuscript so she could slather it with red ink. But with the Internet down I couldn’t email her a digital file, so I proceeded to go old-world style and make a paper copy of my manuscript, which suited her fine because she likes to bellow at me when I send electronic files. “Use your paper and your ink, buddy! Do you realize how much ink costs?”

Yes I do. Ink costs about $2,200 a gallon. (How do I know? I just Googled it).

Ah yes, the life of an author!

But anyway, after my old printer finished spitting out my manuscript I gathered all 200 pages and looked at the title page:

The Parallel Paradox by Angus Huff’

I liked the title. I liked the story. It was science fiction book about a man caught between parallel universes. Hopefully the public would like it too. If it wasn’t for customers, competition and small royalty checks few and far between, I would really enjoy being an author.

I stuffed the pages in an old wrinkled, letter-sized manila envelope. All I had to do was finish my cup of coffee and find my favorite coat and get downstairs and jump on a bus. My plan was to get to the museum first then to my editor’s apartment.

I hated going to her apartment, she was an old lady with a smelly room. It smelled of stale cigarette smoke, not that I liked fresh cigarette smoke but you get my point. She also owned five cats, and five cats had smells that I would rather not describe. Besides the smells I had to put up with old, boring stories of her deceased husband. But her editing costs were cheaper than anyone in town.

I looked in the mirror to comb my disheveled hair. I dragged a comb through my hair and wondered why women didn’t find me attractive. I’m 35 years old and in fair health. Was my skin too pale? Were my eyes too close together? Was it my bulbous nose? Maybe it was my eyebrows. They formed a long unbroken line across my forehead. Could it be my small studio apartment in a bad neighborhood in New Jersey? No, it was all the above. But at least my place didn’t smell like stale cigarettes or a litter box.

I opened my small closet and pulled out my one and only winter jacket. It was a purple colored jacket with a fur lining inside that kept me semi-warm. There weren’t too many people in Jersey with a jacket like mine. Come to think of it, there probably wasn’t anybody within a thousand mile radius with a jacket like mine. It was a hand-me-down from my dad. Before he died he said. “I leave you my jacket.”

It was sad commentary on my life that I was relegated to wearing dead men’s clothes.

I fished the studio keys from an old rickety drawer, grabbed the large manila envelope and took one last look around my one-room studio. Someday I would be a famous author and move up from this dumpy place…someday.

I walked down the stairs from the fourth floor. I didn’t like taking the elevator. It always reeked of urine and vomit. There was no use talking to the landlord, he was probably the one who made the mess. I jumped over a drunk person that was lying on the floor, I couldn’t tell if it was a woman or a man (or the landlord) so I pushed the door open and made my way onto the sidewalk.

The cold air slapped me in the face as I headed toward the bus stop. I hate winter. Maybe one day when I become a famous author I will move to a warmer state, I said to myself.

I was shocked when I boarded the bus. The only available seat was next to a man who looked like me and dressed like me. I guess there was another jacket like mine within a thousand mile radius! Much to my surprise he also looked like me. Apparently there are other people in Jersey who have the same type of eyebrows as me!

As I took my seat, the same-dressed-man gazed at me with a strange expression. He must have been equally shocked that I looked like him too. In his hands was a manila envelope similar to mine!

“That’s really strange!” he exclaimed. “I thought I was the only person with that type of jacket!”

“Wonders never cease,” I responded.

“Where are you headed?”

His nosey question didn’t faze me. After all this was Jersey. “To the Met.”

“Really? So am I,” he said with a genuinely surprised tone, then lifted his manila envelope. “I’m doing research for my as yet unpublished novel.”

I am certain he noticed my slack jaw. “You’re kidding me?” I responded. “I’m going too. There is a Mayan artifact I need to see.”

“The jade necklace of King Chac,” we both said at the same time.

I bent over with laughter. “Oh, boy! This is really strange, next you’re going to tell me your novel is titled The Parallel Paradox. Ha!”

The man nervously fumbled to open his manila envelope and pulled out the first page. “Actually it is, see?” The same title of my story was clearly visible.

I was dumbfounded, flummoxed and perplexed all at once. It took a few seconds before I found my voice. “This is a very sick joke!”

He wasn’t happy either. “You’re a plagiarist!” he howled. “You must have hacked my computer!”

“Me?” I yelled back. “That’s what I was thinking about you!”

By now we were becoming a spectacle to the other passengers.

“There’s no way, my Internet has been down for the last 10 hours.”

“So has mine!” I shot back.

“I will prove you plagiarized me,” the stranger said as he pulled out the front page of his manuscript and with great surprise I saw my name written on it.

“You can’t be Angus Huff! That’s me!” I bellowed like my editor. I pulled my manuscript out to prove to him it was me.

The fake Angus Huff pulled out page one of his manuscript and waved it at me. “Compare page one with yours.”

I did as ordered. To my astonishment, I noticed it was exactly like my page one.

And then it hit me.

I stood up and faced everyone. “Okay, I get it, I’m being pranked, right? I mean, all of you people are in on this. This guy hacked my computer last night and downloaded my manuscript. There must be a secret camera here and you are all trying to trick me. Come on…admit it!”

Everybody was silent. They looked at me as if I had lost my mind. Then, when I finally found my mind, a thought came to me. I pulled out the last chapter from the envelope and showed it to everyone.

“This morning, ten hours after my Internet went down I wrote chapter fifty. If this impersonator downloaded my novel then he would not have this chapter. Am I right?”

I assumed their silence meant I was right, so I turned my attention to the imposter and prompted him to pull chapter fifty out of his envelope.

When he did I nearly fainted.

A seat behind me was vacated as a passenger left. I sat down on it, I certainly didn’t want to be seated next to him.

I clutched my envelope and stared out the window as we got closer to the museum. And the answer came to me. The fake Angus Huff was a character from a parallel universe, just like in my novel. This certainly was a paradox! True but not true! The Parallel Paradox!

If this was the case then I had to get to the museum before the faker did. I had to publish my novel before he did.

When the bus came to a stop in front of the museum we both made a mad dash up the stone steps. Obviously Mr. Faker had come to the same conclusion as me.

“You’re not going to publish the book before me!” he yelled.

“Oh yes I am. Go back to where you belong you faker.”

“I’m the real Angus Huff,” he retorted. “I’m the one who belongs here, not you.”

“No, I am.” I re-retorted.

We crashed through the large doors and ran down a large gallery toward the Mayan Art exhibition.

I stopped after making it to the desired gallery where I saw ten men dressed as me and Mr. Faker. Each one was clutching a manila envelope.

After catching my breath I yelled out. “Angus Huff?”

All ten simultaneously turned to look at us with inquisitive expressions and answered in unison. “Yes?”

Alex Zabala is the author of:

‘Treasure of the Mayan King’

‘The Mind Games of Dr. Sova’

‘The Golden Scepter’

‘Chauncy Rollock Chronicles’

You can purchase his books on Amazon.com.

Alex is currently working on his new novel, The Secret of La Danta coming in 2018.