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Something About An Ensemble of Parallel Universes

I’m driving home in the winter of 2004 with a small load of uninteresting groceries when my pickup truck somehow becomes a time machine. On the radio is a thing about love and I’m tapping the steering wheel and biting my lip in the overacted style of Patrick Swayze, playing whatever film role once required him to do the same. I’m thinking about reaching into the paper bag on the passenger seat, my fingers caressing then tearing that easy-open bag of Vienna Fingers, when everything goes dark. The car is still moving, but the engine is silent and the radio, headlights and windshield wipers have all stopped with the kind of power-down sound that happens every day inside of nuclear reactors. You know, the one that goes bwoooooooooooo in a deep, booming tone as it trails off into nothing. I’m coasting now in this sudden emptiness, accompanied only by the wind whistling through the crack in my windshield.

Did I mention that my truck is old and terrible? This presumed electrical short has not impressed me yet, especially not in light of last month’s issues with exhaust in the passenger compartment. Still, I’m frozen, waiting for something to happen, waiting for the problem to fix itself or my cell phone to ring when I take a hard, unseen speed bump and feel the car start to slow. A bicyclist passes me on the right, straining through the darkened window to see a stick shift gripped tightly in my right hand, the steering wheel and crumpled bag of vanilla cookies in my left. My speed drops below ten and as the bicycle pulls away, I reach for the key in the ignition and turn it forward.

click

A warm, blinding light envelops me for what feels like several seconds and when it dims, I am still and quiet in the parking lot of a Shawnee, Oklahoma grocery store in the summer of 1963. You’ll understand that it will take me the better part of an hour to work these details out and when I finally do, I will promptly faint and lie unconscious for several minutes in this grocery store’s parking lot.

When I first come out of that warm, blinding light though, I assume that I am dead and understand this to mean that my truck has finally burst into flames and exploded while coasting at a speed of five to seven miles an hour. I weep softly for the things I never said to my family until I hear the thud of a shopping cart against my door. I look up to see a man in a mustache and light brown polyester shirt mouthing the words “I’m sorry.” Confused, I cautiously roll down the window and ask this man if I am in the afterlife. He smiles kindly, scratches the back of his head and says what you have already predicted to be something like “Sort of, but most of us just call it Oklahoma.”

Dazed, I stumble out of the truck to see that it is lightly and evenly charred from the superheat of time travel. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a truck like that,” the mustachioed man says while squinting at a style of automotive design that won’t become recognizeable for about twenty more years.

“What’s happening to me?” I say to him, launching the frantic line of questioning that eventually reveals to me what year it is and triggers my subsequent lightheaded collapse. When I regain conciousness, the mustachioed man is joined by a clean cut grocery clerk who calls me “sir” and helps me up, back into my truck. Behind the wheel again, I instinctively reach for the key in the ignition and turn it away from me as the verbal protests of my Oklahoma samaritans melt into the warm, blinding light of someplace that looks like it might be Canada.

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