- This is the latest chapter in a serialized novel, updated every MON, WED, and FRI.
- All chapters are archived here.
- Liking, sharing, and commenting is much appreciated. Thank you for reading!
Yumi's nimble fingers were a blur over the keyboard as Andy spoke.
"Then, as you already know, Dash brought you instead, and... here we are..." he finished at last, mouth dry. He had been speaking for the last fifteen minutes catching Yumi up to speed on how this whole mess had happened. He was totally drained -- emotionally, spiritually, physically... and now, verbally. Yumi kept her eyes on the screen of her laptop, typing like she was in a race.
"Okay, give me a second to catch up," she mumbled. "I don’t want to miss anything..."
She was seated at the kitchen table while Andy fixed himself a snack at the counter. He pulled a couple of toasty instant waffles from the toaster and tossed them onto a plate. He had changed into a clean Adventure Time T-shirt and plaid pajama pants.
"Are you sure you don’t want one?" he asked.
But Yumi didn't answer, she was too focused on her writing. Andy felt a lump growing in his throat as he studied her face. He had seen that look of concentration a million times back home as she hunched over a drawing. The way her lips pursed slightly to one side, the way her nose twitched occasionally, the way her eyes glinted like smoky quartz under water. But he had to keep reminding himself this wasn't Yumi. Not his Yumi. It was a complete mindfuck. Thank God for her glasses, he thought. At least it provided a tiny bit of seperation from his Yumi.
The Yumi in front of him ceased typing and rubbed her eyes under her glasses. Andy snapped his gaze away from her and grabbed a bottle of syrup from the cupboard.
"I can’t believe this," she muttered. "I thought interdimensional travel would be mind-bending enough on its own... Then to learn all this... This is some icing on the cake..." Then she suddenly looked up at Andy, alarmed. "I... I'm not dreaming all this, am I?"
"I’m sorry to say this really is happening," Andy sighed. "Believe me, I’ve slapped myself enough times to know."
Yumi had started typing again before he finished talking. He snuck another peek at her. As much as he tried, Andy couldn't stop staring. It was too eerie. But this time, after a few moments, her eyes darted up and met his. Andy yanked his gaze away, mortified.
"Wow, you really like your waffles sweet, huh?" she asked, arching an eyebrow.
Andy had been pouring syrup non-stop while spying on her, and now it was overflowing onto the counter. Andy yelped and tilted the syrup bottle away from his plate.
"I’m sorry," he apologized, blushing wildly. "It’s just... this is so weird! You look just like my Yumi, but... you’re not her. You're here... but not here... It's like suddenly finding out one of your best friends has an identical twin, you know?"
"You're telling me," Yumi said. "You even swing to the left like my Andy." She shot his crotch a quick glance.
Andy felt his face heat up again. "Hey, you’re not writing that down, are you?"
"I think you have much bigger problems to worry about," she replied wryly. Yumi seemed oddly reluctant to make eye contact with Andy. She used her writing like a shield. The clickety clack of the keyboard continued like a busy metronome.
Andy wiped the syrup off the counter with a dish rag. "Okay, your turn," he said. "What’s your story? Have we... uh, really been going out for the last three years in your world?"
"Yes, I’m sorry to say." She spat out the words like they were toxic.
It was strange; of course Andy realized she wasn’t referring to him, but it still stung to hear the words.
"I sound like a total douchebag in your world," he muttered.
Yumi shot him a cautious glance. "Is it just in my world?"
Andy felt his blood pressure rise. "Yeah! Look, that’s not me!"
"Sorry," she apologized with a heavy sigh. "But when I look at you... Oh geez! It’s going to take me some time to wrap my brain around this..."
"Tell me about it." Andy grabbed his plate and a cup of coffee and took a seat at the table.
"Listen, I’m really sorry for putting the beat down on you earlier," she said, averting his gaze. "Obviously, I didn't know... And... I'm really embarrassed you had to see me like that..."
Andy fidgeted uncomfortably. "You're apologizing to me? I should be the one apologizing. I got you into this mess... I'm so sorry..." He carved out a piece of waffle with the side of his fork and shoved it into his mouth. The sweet, buttery crunch was comforting.
Yumi started typing again. "Hey, you just landed me the greatest story in human history. You have nothing to apologize for."
"Story?" Andy swallowed and put the fork down on his plate. He studied her face carefully. "Wait... Are you... Do you draw?"
"Oh God, no," she snorted. "I couldn’t draw a stick figure to save my life."
"So you don’t go to The College of Visual Arts?"
"No, I’m in my final year at UC Berkeley. I’m a journalism major, in case you couldn’t tell," she grinned.
Andy looked down at his plate, inexplicably crestfallen. "Oh," he mumbled.
Yumi read his face. "Wait a minute... So in your dimension, I’m an artist?"
"Yeah. One of the brightest of my graduating class. At least, in my opinion."
Yumi laughed with delight. "What a trip... That's so neat!"
She hit the keyboard with renewed excitement. An unsettling feeling churned in the pit of Andy's stomach as he watched her face light up. Was she actually enjoying this? He didn't like that... She didn't belong here. He felt the need to speak up immediately, but grew nervous thinking about what had to be said. He took a swig of coffee for some liquid courage and groped for the right words.
"Hey look, Yumi... God, I feel so weird calling you that... Yumi, look, uh... you’re not supposed to be here. As I told you, I made a deal with Dash, that Praxian girl who brought you, to have Yumi here-- I mean, my Yumi... not... you..."
"I’m not going anywhere, Holmes," she said curtly.
"What? You want to be here?"
Yumi stopped typing and looked up at Andy, bubbling with excitement. "Do I want to be here? Are you kidding me, Andy? Yes, I want to be in on the greatest discovery in human history! We live in a multiverse, and mankind is not alone! I have to report this to my world. Do you realize what this means for us as a species?" Yumi couldn't talk fast enough when she was excited. And her hands danced all around her, communicating as much as her words. "Not to mention my career! I'm sitting on a Pulitzer, at least!"
Andy bolted up from his chair. "The only reason you’re here is because that alien moron made a mistake!"
Yumi's face grew hard. "What gives you the authority to decide whether I stay here or not? I have just as much right to be here as you. I took this job just like you did and--"
She trailed off and turned toward the viewing window. The zoo was now open for the day, and the first wave of Praxian visitors came ambling toward our cell.
Yumi gasped. "Oh my God. Look, more aliens! Oh, I have to get some pictures!"
She bustled up to Andy's bedroom and pulled out a fancy DSLR camera from her bag. She moved to the edge of the bedroom, just inside the force field, and began snapping away. Andy stood behind her with his arms crossed, boiling inside.
"Go ahead and take as many photos as you can because as soon as Dash gets back, you are out of here!"
Yumi whirled and scowled defiantly. "Hey, I’m sorry your sordid scheme to imprison another version of me for sex didn’t pan out. But that’s not my problem!"
Andy felt like a knife had been plunged into his chest.
"What?" he blurted. "How dare you! That’s not--"
"Oh, did I hit a nerve?" Yumi shot back, turning back to her camera.
Andy bit his fist, holding back a string of expletives. "Hey, I don’t have to explain or justify anything to you!"
"How about to your pillow?" Mo chimed in from the vent. "You’ve probably impregnated it by now."
Yumi squeaked and spun back around, clutching the camera to her chest.
"Did... Did I just hear the air vent talk?" she gasped.
"Shut up, Mo!" Andy shouted.
Yumi's eyebrows shot up. "And its name is Mo?"
"Hey, girl. What up?" Mo's voice flowed out of the vent like smooth whiskey. "Just your next door neighbor here."
Yumi crept toward the vent. "Um... Hi?"
"What’re you wearing?"
"No one’s talking to you!" Andy snarled at the vent. Then he turned to Yumi and breathed a heavy sigh. "Look, Yumi... You don’t want to be here, believe me. You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into."
Yumi scuttled to the desk and opened her laptop.
"How do you spell 'skeezy'?" she asked.
"Yumi, let me ask you something," Andy said gingerly. "Did you happen to sign a contract?"
"Of course," she answered dismissively, concentrating on her typing.
Andy slapped a hand over his face and dropped onto the bed. Suddenly all his antipathy toward her melted away to pity.
"Oh no," he muttered.
A slow chuckle rolled of the vent. "Should I do the honors or--"
"Mo, stay out of this!" Andy snapped. He turned to Yumi. "Yumi... Okay, try not to freak out, but... Well, no matter what they told you, you’re--"
"In here for life. I know." Yumi cut him off casually, typing away.
Andy sat up, wide-eyed. "You know?"
"Of course. It was right there in the fine print. What? Didn’t you read the contract before you signed it?"
Andy looked around the room, scratching at the back of his head. "Uh... Yeah, of course. What idiot would sign something before he read it?" he chuckled weakly.
"A really stupid idiot?" Mo asked.
Andy threw his hands into the air. "All right, all right! So I didn't read the stupid contract! But Yumi, if you knew, why the hell did you voluntarily sign your life away, for God’s sake?"
Yumi shut her laptop and brandished a small, crooked smile. "Hey, you didn’t think a little thing like life imprisonment would stop me from snatching up the biggest story in human history, did you?"
"This isn't Starbucks," Andy scoffed. "There's no Internet access here. Or phone calls, or anything else which allows you to communicate with your home dimension. What good is the biggest story in human history if you can't go back home to report it?"
Yumi gathered her laptop and camera under her arms and padded out into the hallway. "No good at all. Which is why I'm going back home to write a book once I've gathered enough material here."
Andy tailed her. "Oh, you're going home, huh? Just like that. Do you have a pair of ruby slippers you're not telling me about?"
"No, silly," she said. "I'm going to escape."
Yumi prattled nonchalantly, like she was planning a stroll to the corner market for milk. Andy was confounded. Had she lost her mind?
"Oh yeah, of course," Andy retorted sarcastically as he followed her down the stairs. "You're going to escape. What was I thinking?"
"Hey, if tigers and monkeys can figure out how to break out of a zoo once in while, there shouldn’t be any reason we can't to do the same thing. Think about what a story that would make! An escape from another dimension! And it would all be true. It’s going to be the best episode of This American Life ever."
Andy couldn't contain himself any longer as they stepped into the kitchen. "Look, you’re not going to escape!" he blurted. "These aliens are like a bazillion time more advanced than us. To them, we’re like the first primordial ooze crawling out of a volcanic cesspit."
Yumi opened the refrigerator door. The cascade of cold air felt refreshing on Andy's heated face.
"Exactly," she said, rummaging through the shelves. "They totally underestimate us, and that’s going be their undoing. We’re too 'primitive' to pull anything, so they lower their guard around us." Yumi turned and looked piercingly at Andy over her shoulder. A confident smirk pranced on her lips. "Always have a plan, Andy. Always have an Ace up your sleeve."
Andy cocked his head to one side. "What are you talking about? What plan?"
Yumi pulled a frosty bottle of Hoegaarden out of the fridge and moved to the kitchen table. "Let’s just say I make my own ruby slippers," she said smugly. The bottle of beer hissed in agreement as she twisted the cap.
Andy stared at her in a stupor, not knowing how to respond. He couldn't tell whether she was completely delusional or he was just too dumb to understand what she was implying. Well, he figured it didn't matter either way since she wasn't staying.
"Ookaaaay," he drawled. "Well, whatever you’re up to, you don’t have to worry about it because you have your ticket out of here right now. All you have to do is act batshit crazy and fight with me all the time, and they’ll ship you out of here."
Yumi sighed, leaning back in her chair. She crossed her arms. "Andy, for the last time, I’m not leaving until I’m good and ready. And you can’t make me."
Andy gripped the back of the chair in front of him until his knuckles turned white. "Oh, come on! Don’t you want to get back to your world so you can confront your Andy and kick the shit out of him instead of me?" His body was still sore from the pounding he had taken earlier.
Yumi took a long pull from the sweaty bottle, and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "Are you kidding me?" she asked. "How insignificant are my personal problems compared to what I'm discovering here? I’m sitting on the biggest story ever! I need to be here for awhile to investigate."
"Yeah, and in the meantime, some Euro douchebag is going to lure my Yumi onto his Vespa," Andy grumbled.
"Italian guys are pretty hot," Yumi murmured with a dreamy look on her face.
Yumi sighed. "Will you relax? Look, dude, all you have to do is escape with me when I go. Then all your problems will be over."
Andy slumped into a chair and dropped his head onto the kitchen table. "Oh, you poor deluded fool," he moaned into the wood. "You’re not going to escape...! You’re going to rot in here for the rest of your life... Just like me..."
Yumi took another swig of beer and fiddled with the settings on her camera. "Okay then, how about this, genius? Why don’t you start acting crazy and pick fights with me all the time? Maybe they’ll send you back."
Andy raised his head, leaving an oily imprint of his face on the table top. "Oh my god!" he gasped. "Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?"
"Eh, wouldn’t work." Mo's voice floated down to us, distant but audible. The kitchen was directly below Andy's bedroom. "Andy’s a star attraction here now, I can tell. The Praxians are already invested in him, like some character in a show. They would just keep bringing in 'mates' until he got one he liked. It’s the same reason they stick with me instead of the women I keep infuriating. Hell, this zoo would be nothing without me! I’m the main draw at this popsicle stand."
"Someone’s sure full of himself," Yumi muttered. Then she shuffled through the grass toward the Praxians, armed with her camera.
"When you look as good as I do, it would be a crime not to be," Mo said smugly. Andy envisioned him blowing on his fingernails. If he had fingernails... "Anyway, the Praxians already know you, Andy. If you started acting bananas out of the blue, they would know you were faking it. Beside, the whole reason Dash is doing any of this is to get those art lessons from you. The last thing she’s going to do is send you back."
Andy collapsed onto the table again, like a one-legged man struck in the knee with an aluminum bat.
"It’s so unfair," he croaked bitterly. "I was so close... So close to a little bit of happiness..."
"Hey, you got to meet me!" Mo declared blithely.
"Oh God," Andy moaned, choking back tears. He lashed out at the beer bottle, swiping it off the table. It shattered heavily against the linoleum floor. The remaining beer gushed free and drifted away, like the last remnants of Andy's hope.
Like it? Hate it? Feel free to post your comments below, I'd love to hear your feedback. And if you're enjoying this novel, I would be eternally grateful if you could click those like and share buttons below. It would be really encouraging and help spread the word. Thank you! (Apologies for any typos you may come across. This book hasn't been professionally proofread.)