I’ve been writing short stories and submitting them to magazines for a while now. Every time I get to the point where I have two more short stories written than I have markets suitable for them where I don’t have something submitted, I’m going to post one here for everyone to read and one to Patreon just for my backers to read, and at the end of the month I’ll put them out as paired ebooks. Here’s a short-short called Waving, and for Patreon backers there’s a ten-thousand word story called The Case of the Happy Marriage
You were twenty-three before you realised other people didn’t experience the world like you do, that the hurt you feel when you step outside isn’t the same one that everyone else does, that the way smells can overwhelm you was not shared by the rest, that those fringes around objects and that slight echo on every sound were only for you and not for the neurotypicals around you. And at the same time, that you didn’t notice things that other people noticed all the time, and could walk around entirely oblivious of them.
It was much longer before you realised why it was that you were experiencing things this way.
Yes, you were autistic, as you’d suspected, but it was more than that. This wasn’t just the way that other autistic people would either seek out or avoid sensory information, though there was plenty of that about it. You were seeing things differently even from them.
That didn’t matter at first, and the support groups definitely helped – even if their experience wasn’t quite yours, well, autistic people are used to dealing with people whose way of perceiving the world is different from theirs, and they were extremely welcoming, and actually listened to you (you’d never dealt with people who listened to you before). You even found lovers there – Rebecca and Katy and Thomas, all of them willing to overlook your idiosyncracies and treat you like the individual you were.
But in the end, connecting even with them was impossible. They meant well, and had actual empathy unlike the neurotypicals you’d tried to be friends with, but they weren’t like you and you weren’t like them. You were different even from the group you’d found, and eventually you drifted apart from them.
But it wasn’t until you took the Open University course in quantum mechanics that you started to realise that there was more to this than just autism (as if there’s such a thing as “just” autism, you thought to yourself, remembering the intense loneliness of your teenage years, and your total inability to hold down a job or do anything else that required any level of self-discipline).
It was the fringing that gave you the clue. You could stare for hours at anything that moved, even slightly, and notice the way it flickered and fringed. Anything still wouldn’t do at all, though occasionally you might notice some blurring round the edges of words when reading, or some interference in the TV picture that nobody else in the room ever saw, but if you looked at a flame, for example, it would sometimes even diverge into three or four flames for an instant, going in a multiplicity of different directions, before once again becoming a single flame.
There was a rhythm to it, one that seemed to go along with your breathing and your heartbeat. Things would flicker, unify, flicker, unify, over and over again. And eventually, you realised that what was happening was that you were perceiving alternative realities, parts of the quantum waveform that other people couldn’t see. Not for long, but for enough time.
All the time, since you were a kid, you’d been experiencing not the single reality that everyone else does, but a range of them. That’s why you experienced some things much more intensely – they were the things that were identical in all the worlds you were living in – and some less so – they were the ones that only happened in one of your multiple worlds, or where the waveform cancelled out.
And having an explanation was something, but it was only an explanation. You couldn’t know who else was experiencing this, or why it was happening to you. It explained nothing about the heartbreaking loneliness you felt, and it couldn’t fix that.
And it wasn’t as if this… power… was of any use. You tried your best to see if you could do anything with it, but there was nothing you could think of that worked. You couldn’t use it to make predictions – the effect only lasted for a fraction of a second at a time – and you tried controlling the results of the collapse, but you couldn’t. You couldn’t make a die come up any particular number, or get heads or tails at any better rates than chance. This wasn’t a magic power, and you couldn’t use it to change the world, this was just an annoying flicker in your vision, and an irritating tendency to get overwhelmed by smells. This was just one more way you were different from everyone else, like your tendency to catch every illness going round or the way you couldn’t talk to anyone without them getting bored in a few minutes.
You sank into a depression after that – you’d found the key to unlock everything about your experiences, and all you could do with it was realise that you’d remain different forever. You considered suicide, and nearly went through with it, but that led to the most horrific realisation of all – there’d be worlds where you survived. What would it feel like, to feel yourself dying, hundreds or thousands of times over, simultaneously, but survive it, cut off from those dead versions of you whose suffering you’d felt?
And that was when it hit you that maybe there was something you could do with this after all. You started training yourself in meditation, in opening your perceptions ever wider. You tried LSD and cannabis, as you’d been told that they made people’s filters drop, and you put all your efforts into the new goal – to keep the flicker going for longer and to experience more of it.
And slowly, slowly, this worked. You timed yourself when staring at a candle, trying to see how long you could keep multiple flames going, and after the beginning, when it was barely a tenth of a second, you managed to get it up to half a second or a second at a time before the collapse happened. You pushed more and more, using all of the tiny amount of discipline you had (because one of the worst things about being autistic is that you have almost no self-control, no willpower as neurotypicals experience it, and it takes gargantuan amounts of effort to even get into a rut, let alone push yourself out of one and into another).
The realisation that you’d made it came quite suddenly one day. You were out for a walk, not even thinking about your practices, when you saw a cat on the pavement in front of you, licking itself. As it saw you coming, it ran off. It ran off in two different directions, and you could see both cats running as long as you looked at them. You’d finally gained the ability to perceive things in multiple realities for extended periods of time.
You kept pushing, though, because this was only a small part of what you were trying to do. You wanted to find someone to talk to, someone to connect with, and there was only one way to do that.
Loneliness is a powerful motivator, and it kept you going even after everything else had failed. You needed that connection, more than anything else in the world – more than anything else in any world. You kept pushing your perceptions wider and wider. Soon it was impossible to go outside, because while the buildings were all the same the roads and pavements were just a blur of cars and people that were in some but not all realities. You stayed inside, not eating any more because the food was both there and not there.
Eventually, after days, weeks, months – you lost count of anything – you saw what you’d been hoping to see all along. Another you. In another corner of your flat. You waved, and you waved back.
And for the first time ever you had someone who could truly understand you, who you could talk to about anything and everything, someone who had experienced the world the way you saw it. For the first time ever you could make a connection with someone who understood, who got you.
And as soon as you did, you realised the awful truth. You hated this person in front of you. People didn’t avoid making a connection with you because you were different or special – they avoided you just because you weren’t a nice person. You were no fun, you were self-obsessed, you ignored the world around you and lived inside your own head, and you didn’t even like it in there. If you couldn’t, how could anyone else?
Both of you started to cry, and you realised with a tiny bit of sympathy but mostly with revulsion that you couldn’t even bring yourself to comfort each other, because you found yourself too revolting to ever want to make yourself feel better.
You don’t know which of you closed yourselves off first – you were, after all, enough alike that you both had the same instincts – but the same thing that drove you to push your perceptions ever wider seemed to push a part of your brain that you didn’t know you had into shutting it down. Instantly your flat resolved itself into a single, grimy, dingy bedsit. There was no more blurring, no more echoing reverb. The smell remained intense, though – after not washing, or opening the windows, or tidying since you’d started your programme of self-discovery, it wasn’t really surprising that that was the case.
You looked down at yourself, at the body you’d been so disgusted by when you’d seen it from the outside, at the person you had been running from until you realised that you were only running in place, and you realised that you really were truly alone.
You were stuck with yourself, so you’d better learn how to like yourself, because nobody else was going to be you for you.
(To read The Case of the Happy Marriage, a much longer story (42 pages in manuscript) visit http://patreon.com/andrewhickey and become a backer. For those of you who are already backers, you can read the story at this link.)