Wherein Shit is Both a Brick and a Creek, Due to Principles of Higher Physics
Now, regardless of what I was saying a while back – you know, about the savagely random universe and how ultimately you can either solve the so-called mystery or simply write it off as bad luck with no purpose behind it whatsoever … I do feel I need to add that sometimes – indeed, in accordance with the laws of physics and metaphysics, often – the universe will throw dizzying bizarrity at you and at the same time provide you with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say or do something that, I’m just going to say it, can seem like a gift from God.
It’s probably best explained by example, and it just so happens that there’s a perfect one right here.
Because there I was, sitting at a big desk in a shabby detective agency, and I’d just been given the chance to say I knew she was trouble the moment she walked into my office.
The woman who had just entered the room, and was now holding a pair of very businesslike pistols quite steadily on the two of us, really was similar enough to Creepy in appearance that I would have felt justified in saying she was trouble even if she’d been holding a pair of bananas. Actually, bananas might have been more worrying. I knew, for example, how freakishly unlikely it was that anyone holding a pistol in each hand was to hit either of us, let alone both. Not many humans had that sort of skill, and it wasn’t a matter of inborn talent or years of training – it was almost invariably a result of a magic spell or a cybernetic enhancement or some other cheat. Humans simply could not dual-wield projectile weapons. And the one thing safer than a person aiming a pistol at you in each hand was a person aiming pistols at you while diving sideways through the air. No way was any of that shit going to hit you. Ever.
Now, a person pointing two bananas at you was quite clearly capable of anything, so I rest my case on that one.
Even so, I was cautious. That’s my point. And I stood by my assessment of trouble.
She was angular, blonde, long-haired and she was even wearing a faded old Coke hat. Her clothes were green, or at least her shirt was a gaudy tropical thing that was mostly green, and her jeans were faded and stained so they looked kind of green. From her flappy old sneakers to the wild look of blazing and unwarranted triumph in her eyes, she was a parallel-gender-reversed-universe version of Creepy.
“That’s not right,” I said, since the situation seemed to call for a really big understatement. I’d forfeited my chance at saying I knew she was trouble the moment she walked into my office, but I considered it acceptable on several levels. For a start, there was really no way of saying it out loud unless you were actually in a noir soliloquy of some sort, and that wasn’t practical there and then. Secondly, it really didn’t need saying because it was so patently obvious that the universe might as well have said it for me. And thirdly, if I only had a chance to say one last thing out loud – lack of danger posed by the guns notwithstanding – I wanted it to be the observation that what I was seeing was not right.
“We weren’t talking about retirement,” Creepy said quickly.
“Shut up,” the woman hissed.
“It’s just that if we were talking about retirement – which we weren’t – it might mean we were about to get shot,” Creepy said.
“You are about to get shot!” she shouted.
“So I’d hate for anyone to think we were talking about retirement.”
“Shut up!” she reiterated, and – just to completely set my mind at ease – turned her guns sideways, butts outward. Now the barrels weren’t even pointing at us.
“Why does she keep saying that, Hatboy?” Creepy demanded. “Anyone would think we were talking.”
Now the immediate if arguable danger of the guns had passed, I found myself fascinated by Creepy’s response to all this. He wasn’t known for his self-awareness, but even he must have realised that he was looking in a horribly strange mirror. Creepy was looking at the woman, but it was clear that what he was seeing was a narrative convention bent on murdering him, rather than a woman who’d dressed up as Creepy for Halloween bent on murdering him.
I suppose the murdering-him angle was more important.
“Right,” she said, drawing a deep breath, “you are Creepy and Hatboy, yes?”
“Creepy and Hatboy Private Investigations,” I said cautiously. “Soulmates Found, Lives Made Complete, Cold Aching Emptiness-” she raised the guns, now aiming them at an intersecting point somewhere above my head and out through the window. “Can we help you?”
“That’s a damn good question,” she said. “Maybe killing you will make it go away.”
“Not the first time we’ve heard that,” Creepy reminisced with an appalling lack of self-preservation, “is it, Hatboy?”
“First time we’ve heard it since The Event,” I said. “I assume this is about the body-swap?”
“Consciousness swap,” Creepy clarified impatiently.
“Sensory nervous signal exchange pulse, actually,” the woman said. “I’ve done some research, since getting out of the…”
“Out of the…?” I prompted.
“Nuthouse,” Creepy finished for her positively. I closed my eyes and waited for our window to get shot.
Instead, the woman sat down and put the guns on the desk in front of her, one on each of our respective sides.
“Yes,” she said. “Psychiatric evaluation. They couldn’t figure out what it was, so as soon as I stopped talking about it, they let me go.”
“And you came looking for us,” I said, “because we’re the closest thing to experts on this phenomenon and if anyone can help reunite you-”
“Are you out of your mind?” the woman demanded. “I came looking for you because through the horrifying eternity I spent wandering the mists, being chased by a nightmarish manifestation of my own childhood trauma that I never knew I had, he kept ranting and raving and foaming at the beard about Creepy and Hatboy.”
Creepy and I glanced at each other.
“Horrifying eternity, you say?” I asked.
“Mists, you say?” Creepy asked.
“Foaming at the beard, you say?” I added for good measure.
“Creepy and Hatboy and also Yool, the paranoia-inducingly buff Christmas tree who has been here the whole time, you say?” Creepy, not to be outdone, asked in tones of polite intrigue.
“I’m afraid we’re still not quite sure what you’re talking about, Ms…?” I inquired.
“I’m not going to tell you my name,” she snapped.
“Alright,” I said, “do you mind if we give you one, then? Just to make things easier?”
“I don’t give a damn.”
“Fine,” I said. “We’ll call you Carla.”
“Carla?” Creepy said blankly.
“Why Carla?” Carla demanded.
“Because,” I said, leaning back in my chair, “the person you sensory-nervous-signal-exchanged with was a good friend of ours. Named Carl.”