Fiction is a partnership between author and reader. No author can create a fictional reality alone — stories only come to life in the minds of the readers. Readers may imagine the story in ways the author never anticipated. The words of the author and the imagination of the reader combine to create the story.
A Choice of Evils is a serial project that will rely even more on the author-reader collaboration. Every week, on Wednesday, I will post a new chapter of the story. From Wednesday through Sunday, you, the reader, will make suggestions about where the story should go. What should happen next? What did these events really mean? What is the next twist? It’s all up to you. I’ll take the best suggestion, and write it into the next chapter.
Collaborations like this can take stories to places neither author nor reader ever anticipated. I hope you decide to participate. This will be fun for everyone involved.
A Choice of Evils
Sometimes, I slip so seamlessly I almost don’t notice. In the middle of Sam’s sentence, it’s not raining. Did the rain stop? Or did it never start?
The sidewalk under our feet is dry. The cars on Biscayne Boulevard no longer splash through grimy puddles. Where gray clouds hung overhead, the sun peeks through the fronds of the royal palms lining the road.
Sam’s a redhead now. It suits him, especially in the olive suit. I never would’ve thought.
He’s staring at me, waiting for an answer. Distracted by the slip, I missed the question.
“Right,” I say, nodding. I search the pockets of my slacks for the gum I put there this morning. Doing something with my hands buys me some time to catch up. No gum; a pack of cigarettes instead. It’s hard to imagine myself as a smoker, but just brushing the pack with my fingertip triggers the craving, and my hand pulls a cigarette out before I can stop it. I may as well smoke one before I get a withdrawal headache.
Sam leans toward me so I can hear his voice over the traffic. “Tony Belmonte isn’t a man to trifle with, Abe,” he says in a conspiratorial mutter.
Nothing about our conversation changed during the slip. That’s a relief. I nod. “I know.” I light a cigarette, supressing a shudder of revulsion as my lungs welcome in the delicious smoke. I feel the days vanishing from the end of my life as I breathe in, flickering out of existence one at a time. I shake my head to call my attention back from the future to right now. “Where has he got her?”
“The Bird of Paradise.”
“Hallandale,” I say. “That’s a long way from North Miami Beach.”
“Only about five miles.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know,” Sam says. “Be careful. This could get you killed.”
“Sam,” I answer, “death was my business, my stock in trade.”
He shakes his head. “This isn’t the same thing and you know it.”
Something inside me demands I take another puff of the cigarette still smouldering in my hand. I flick it to the curb and crush it out under my heel. “I appreciate you sticking your neck out for me like this,” I say. I extend a hand and he shakes it before getting back into his car.
As Sam pulls back into traffic, I scan the opposite curb. Two hacks are parked there, engines idling. The cabbies lean on them, chatting. The train probably doesn’t go to Hallandale in this reality, either. When traffic breaks, I step into the street.
This time, I can’t miss the slip. All the urban noises — the traffic, the horns, the half-heard conversations — die. The only sounds left are the wind through the ruined buildings, the waves lapping against the concrete, and a steady ticking. The boat I’m in rocks gently. The breeze carries a fresh smell of salt, and an undertone of decay.
Miami spreads out before me, broken and flooded. It looks like a sandcastle made by giants and demolished by the tide.
I hate it when the slips happen so closely. I can look forward to a headache whether or not I’m a smoker. I need at least a couple days between slips to acclimate myself.
The ceaseless ticking will drive me crazy if I can’t figure out what’s causing it. I search the boat for the source, and find a yellow box with dials and a needle. A geiger counter. I’ve never used one before, but I don’t think it’s ticking fast enough that I should be alarmed.
“No contact here, Abe” comes Sam’s voice, tinny, from a radio speaker.
I pick up the handset and try a button. “Everything’s empty here, too,” I say. Sam’s a good friend. He’s different in every reality, of course, but I can always count on whatever version of him I meet.
Navigating to Hallandale is going to be tricky. The buildings have tumbled into waterways that used to be streets. Jagged concrete slabs protrude from the water. It’s easy to imagine an obstacle lurking just below the water’s surface, waiting to shred the boat’s hull.
I start up the motor. Next to it, an automatic rifle leans against the gunwale. Something in this ruined city is dangerous enough that I felt the need to arm myself. Probably pirates, from the look of things. I pick the gun up. Holding it feels unnatural, like it was designed to fit someone else’s hands. My grandfather carried a rifle. I’m not him. I don’t know how to use it, and probably couldn’t bring myself to. I put it back down.
I pull the boat into the middle of the street and head north. Hopefully, I can avoid any trouble without having to resort to violence.
Not that I would let pirates stop me.
Reality is woven from the threads of millions of possibilities. From each moment, they stretch into the future, a thousand different timelines, parallel but invisible to each other. They aren’t invisible to me.
One thing is true in all the possibilities. I won’t let anything in any of them get in my way.
My name is Abe Fleischmann. I’m on a mission. Nothing will stop me.
Now that you’ve read this chapter, be sure to leave your suggestion for what should happen next. Just add a comment below.
And, if you enjoyed this, please share the link with your friends. Thanks!
(The image on this page is modified from “choose your way” by Alex Yosifov. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)
Pingback: A Choice of Evils, Chapter One | A Liar By Trade
I want to stay in this “slip” a little longer. I am interested in the Geiger counter, the destruction, and the flooding. If the main character is a killer for hire in every reality then who could he possibly be working for or going after in a post nuclear Miami?
I really like the visual imagery here and I wished we could have stayed in the historical era longer–but I appreciate the time you’ve taken establishing the scene with its little details. I want to see more of the decimation of Miami before they take another sudden slip at a very inopportune time.
I really love the writing here. I am interested in seeing how he navigates getting attacked in this particular slip, maybe a confrontation with the pirates.
What if the next shift he hits the desert, or one of the main characters morphs into a woman? I would also like to know more about these pirates you mentioned.
It’s interesting that these slips seem to be outside of his control. I think it’d be a rather interesting plot point to follow him gaining a bit more control over them.
I’d like to see Abe spend a little more time in Miami – – and also uncover a little more of his back story. How do the slips interfere with Abe’s ability to accomplish his mission? Does it stay the same between realities? Is he the only one slipping through dimensions? I have so many questions. I need answers! I think I’d like to see Abe make contact with someone else who is slipping through dimensions.
I love this concept- slipping through time. Does he have control over this ability? Are there others who can do this? Who is Sam? (When I first figured out that Abe was slipping through time and had a companion in every reality named Sam, Quantum Leap came to mind…) Does Abe’s vision of these “threads of possibilities” change with each decision he makes? I would like to know more about this version of Miami and the pirates. What happened on this world that caused the buildings to crumble and civilization to unravel to point of pirates (and why would he automatically think of pirates if this is his first time in this reality- or is it?)?
I like the idea of the slip- I know that he sees them as parallel and invisible to each other but what if he saw on a line that dangled and connected to another and that was his mission to make sure that that didn’t happen then you could have him force a slip into that moment and it would bring the two different times together and he has to separate them- but at the moment of the slip -what he slips into is a murder or a birth and then he has to find out if the murder has a bearing on the time line and which one or which time line the birth should be in. Just an idea
In the next chapter, Miami is intact. Abe and Sam are at a street fair where they meet up with their dates for the evening. There are street performers dressed as pirates, and various booths with art, crafts and wearables. They stop at a booth filled with crystals. The booth attendant has a geiger counter for demonstration purposes, and demonstrates how some of the quartz granite is radioactive. As they speak, the booth attendant goes on a rant about the topic of global warming, crime and Miami’s future and how he’s moving north to get out of what has become a dangerous city.