Colonel McOldentimes was sitting at the desk, and he looked up as I appeared.
“Yes?” he said.
I stared for a moment, then – more as a means of self-defence against what I was seeing than anything else – turned to look behind me. There was no cellar, of course. I had apparently just stepped in through the office’s main – and only – door, from outside. At the same moment, with another queasy rolling feeling in my stomach and eyeballs, I realised the heat and sunlight that had baked at my front while I was stepping through was now coming from behind me, from the place where the cellar had just been and which was now the exterior of the administration shed.
I turned back to Colonel McOldentimes, because I didn’t really have much choice.
“Um,” I said, weakly. “Do you … remember me?”
Colonel McOldentimes – there was no other way to really say it – was sheared. And I don’t mean like a sheep, although that facial hair of his certainly made the term appropriate and elevated the act itself to the level of a civic responsibility. Half of his head – half of his entire body – in a slightly jagged diagonal, was fused with another head altogether. A very similar head, as if from a brother or a clone or some alternate-reality version of Colonel McOldentimes from a time-stream where he’d gotten a bit more of a cured-leather tan and his coat was a slightly paler shade of blue. I was willing to bet that’s exactly what it was.
Colonel McOldentimes was now grafted messily with Colonel McOldentimes from a separate probability set, like a one-man nexus, a very slapdash and shoddy knot in an unravelling continuum.
He was holding a Bic pen in one hand. The other hand was shaking uncontrollably, had a tattoo of some sort on the wrist peeking out from the crisp starched sleeve of his shirt, and had visibly swollen knuckles. I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to know the explanations for any of these features. Colonel McOldentimes, for his part, seemed proverbially unaware of what that hand was doing.
“Why would I remember you?” the strange Colonel McOldentimes asked me with a frown that looked utterly ghastly because it was happening on both versions of his half-face and they weren’t syncing well. It looked like a perfectly normal scowl, but it also looked like he was having a stroke.
“No reason,” I replied. “Um. Can you direct me to your cookhouse, please?”