Universe W-63: Who Are You?
The Suited Man
A thick cloud of Cannabis smoke wafts up in a wall, dispersed by the rim of the fedora on the suited man’s head. His shoes and the end of his pant legs are caked with mud and sand, his suit is getting uncomfortably humid from the drizzle, and if he has to relight this damned joint one more time, the Universe will never be the same afterwards.
Before him stands a pyramid of sorts composed entirely of pink and purple pudding stones and topped with a rocklet bearing quartz crystals bigger than golf balls. The structure is approximately two and a half feet tall and the ground around it is immensely disturbed, as if a hole was dug and then filled back in. Taking another drag of his left-handed cigarette, the suited man contemplates the meaning of all this; what he’s looking at, why he’s where and when he is, why his suit is so uncomfortable to wear in this weather. He’s pulled into a mental vortex of self-questioning and rabbit hole diving, only to be yanked back out by the sound of a sliding glass door closing shut a ways behind him.
“What in the hell?” he hears, quietly, back by the house. Then louder, “Yo! Who are you?”
He turns and sees a man with what can be described as a lion’s mane of curly brown hair sprouting from his head. He’s dressed in a tie dye shirt and pajama pants. The suited man takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, turning back to face the pyramid. He goes over every conceivable answer to his previous questions and can come to only one realistic possibility, and boy is it a doozy. He then hits the joint and holds the smoke in for far longer than any man should.
The suited man is certain of one thing in this moment, and one thing only: he is about to be thoroughly unimpressed.
“Yo!” yells out the maned man as he walks up the muddy slope to the site of the pyramid. “What are you doing in my back yard, guy?”
The suited man isn’t paying attention to the words being tossed at him; in fact, he can barely even hear them. What makes him aware of the maned man’s presence is the slight hint of body odor that slides its way into the suited man’s DMs as the creature slinks closer and closes the gap. Unable to ignore him any longer, the suited man turns to face his tie-dyed adversary and demands, “And where in the fuck have you been?”
The maned man is taken aback by this accusation, as he hasn’t the faintest idea who this random suitworne man in his backyard could possibly be.
“Uh… excuse me?”
The suited man takes another drag of his joint and holds it in far longer than a normal human would. I feel like he does this to prove something, to make a point, but I’m not quite sure; his intentions are illegible. As he exhales clouds, the suited man chokes out the words, “You heard me, fucko. I’m your old pal, don’t you remember me?”
The maned man studies the strange being that’s been presented before him by a force unknown, entirely unsure of how to feel about this whole situation.
“I bet you’re fuckin’ trying to figure out how to feel about this whole situation. See, that’s gigantic mistake number one,” scoffs the suited man before burning more plant matter. “So, this pyramid. Is there someth– someone buried under there?”
“Uh… well… I guess you could say that, yeah,” mumbles the maned man. His gaze is locked on the crystal crowning the structure.
The suited man politely puffs air out of his noise as an alternative to laughing out loud. “Well then, I’m sorry for your loss. I’m pretty sure I know exactly what’s going on here, too, like, cosmically. Tell me this, maned man: How many full moons have passed since your last bathe?”
The maned man’s demeanor changes a bit after this question; he closes up like a frightened box turtle, never to see daylight again. “Uhh, it’s been a few days, I guess. Or months. Not really sure, to be honest, but. Uh. Who are you?”
The suited man can feel an emotional wall being built and paid for. “Seriously, you dense motherfucker? Chuck! It’s Chuck. Chuck Leary? Did you really forget about silly ol’ suited ol’ me?”
“Chuh… Chuck… Leary? From my… what? That’s, no, that’s really not actually possible. Ohhh Christ I’m hallucinating, oh boy.”
The suited man starts laughing maniacally, and not in a laughing with you kind of way. “Took you long enough, my word. What’s it been since the first black hole, an iteration? Two? I’ll bet you’re high right now, too, you monkey, you stinking human, you absolute stoned ape.”
Confusion clasps ‘round the maned man’s head. “Wh… what? What does that even mean?”
“I’m not talkin’a you, maned man; I’m talkin’a you. Nevermind, the moment passed.” The suited man turns away from the maned man and gazes down at the pyramid, taking another three or so hits from his joint. “How did he die?”
The maned man almost answers straight out, but decides instead to return to his shell. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. There could be treasure or a yoU-eFf-Oh buried under there. For all you know, that pyramid is guarding a secret back entrance to the ancient civilization of Atlantis. Why do you ass–”
“How did the cat die, homie?” the suited man cuts. The maned man falls, gutted like a fish. “He was your son, tell his story.”
The maned man is quiet for a moment. The sea of clouds filling the sky above him darkened as the conversation between these two men progressed, and at this point, the drizzle’s evolved into a full-blown drazzle. The suited man passes his left-handed cigarette to the maned man who, instead of smoking it, just holds it in his fingers.
“Go on, take a hit. It’ll loosen you up.”
The maned man stares down the joint. “No… I don’t do drugs. I don’t deserve to even try drugs, I’m a failure. How can I reward myself by starting a drug habit if I don’t even have the courage to tell the world about the second book I wrote? How can I smoke drugs when I wrote a self-help book that didn’t blow up overnight? My cat died Chuck, I… I let my cat die… I’m unworthy.”
The suited man processes this for a moment. “Try again.”
“I’m not repeating myself. Hit that thing or give it back, my oral fixation is entirely indescribable.”
The joint returns to the suited man, who proceeds to hit the stick like it’s a red-headed stepchild. After a moment of fighting himself internally, the maned man breathes and begins to speak.
“He died from a heart condition, okay? His heart was too big or something, and there was a blood clot, and… his back legs gave out. He was hardly five years old. I saw him drag his broken body across my bedroom floor before I could scoop him up, Chuck, I… the image is burned into my mind. All I can think about is all the times I let him scratch on my door in the morning because I didn’t feel like getting up to feed him, every time I let him outside and forgot, every other terrible thing I ever did to that poor cat.”
“Yeah but, at the same time, you were thoughtful enough to give him a big-ass piece of turkey as a last meal” the suited man reminds, hoping he isn’t asked how he knows that. “Turkey was his favorite, and you knew that. And you gave him some before he was taken to the hospital. You didn’t let him suffer. You did the right thing.”
“I forced him to eat that shitty prescription food he vehemently hated for the last five months of his life.”
“You didn’t fuckin’ know he was going to die, Jesus. You were just doing what you thought was right.”
“I… I kind of did know he was going to die, though. Like, I can’t really put it into words, but I always had a feeling he wasn’t long for this world. And still I neglected him.”
The suited man takes a few more moments to process. “All right, so even if you weren’t consciously bullshitting yourself by allowing yourself to entertain the ridiculous belief that you can see the future, you didn’t neglect your freaking cat. You gave that mongrel the best life he could have possibly lived. Sure, it wasn’t perfect,” he says before looking up and all around himself. “Neither is this freaking Universe. I’ve been to more than one now, and this one gives me a nasty case of the willies, man. You did your best and he lasted four years and change. Accept it.”
The suited man topples. “Uh… kay?”
“No, I won’t accept that.” footstomp “That cat was an angel, a guardian angel sent to me by the Universe. He was my best friend! I refuse to accept tha–”
“That you no longer need a guardian angel, and he was doing you a massive fucking favor by staying with you this long, and that his life was fairly traumatic, so as soon as he hooked you up proper, he got the fuck out of NewMann?”
The suited man can tell that his words just fucked up the maned man’s head game. He shrugs and looks back at the grave, thinking back to the time he found a cat lurking around in his garage. Shaking his head, the suited man says, “Christ man, even I got to meet the damned cat. It’s utterly undeniable that you loved him, and that you still love him. What do you have to torture yourself like this for?”
“Because,” the maned man says betwixt fat tears, “I don’t know. I don’t deserve to be happy. This life probably isn’t even real. I’m probably still in a coma from the night I cracked my skull and didn’t immediately get medical attention, this is all just a coma dream. Or better yet, I’m actually crazy and this is all a hallucination, and the camera’s going to start panning out until it shows me strapped in a straitjacket flopping around one of those padded rooms that you’d see in cartoons and shit.”
The maned man lowers his head to let the tears drop directly from his eyes to the ground. Or maybe those are rain drops, it’s quite hard to tell. “I never appreciated this body that I was given, or my family or my friends, or anything. I’ve been depressed since the day I was born, and I use the few humans who actually choose to include me in their lives as an excuse for driving myself to the point of literal insanity. What the fuck do I even matter, like really, who would care if I just died? Right now, somebody could literally sh–”
The suited man blows away the smoke rising from the barrel of his fingergun. A moment later, the maned man passes him back the joint and exhales a large cloud of smoke. Then, he shakes his head in existential confusion.
“Wha… what the fuck just happened?” the maned man attempts to say through numerous gasps for oxygen.
“To quote one of your favorite rap songs – Smoke by Ces Cru, by the way, off Constant Energy Struggles, great fuckin’ album – We’re lovers in the smoke, and we can’t even breathe.”
The maned man’s bottom jaw goes slack for a second. “Am… are… do you expect me to get any meaning out of that?”
The suited man takes off his sunglasses, rolls his eyes, and puts his sunglasses back on. “Okay, so you got yourself into a thought spiral that was clearly just diggin’ you deeper into the mindhole you’ve been burying yourself in for the past couple whatever. So, I transformed my thumb and pointer finger into a railgun and blew your fucking head off in order to set your tormented spirit free from the timeline you were stuck in, which may or may not exist anymore. I don’t really know, or care, to be honest with you. Anyway, so you, in your pure, undiluted spiritual form – said form being a formless interdimensional geometric energy body of a dubious consciousness level – was immediately summoned back to an alternate reality that I was simultaneously existing in where, instead of holding my joint like a bitch, you hit it and just now passed it back to me. For a split second, your consciousness was in between bodies-slash-universes-slash-timelines, but you’re back now. Makes sense, right? Let me answer for you – no, it doesn’t make any sense, because I just made it all up. Sometimes, things just kinda happen. Go with it.”
The maned man’s bottom jaw goes slack for a second. “Am… are… do you expect me to get any meaning out of that?”
“You… you just copied and pasted that exact line… jeez. Okay,” mocks the suited man before smoking the rest of his joint. “Oh word, that thing disappeared on me. I was starting to think that it wouldn’t go out.” The suited man brushes a glovestroke of water off his suit and it’s immediately replaced by more raindrops. Taking a few deep breaths, he turns around and starts walking towards the street.
“Wait, Chuck!” calls out a distraught the maned man. “Where are you going? What am I supposed to do now??”
“Well,” the suited man says as he stops in the trenches he builds with each footstep. “For one, you could do me a favor.”
The maned man hesitates, but then figures, ‘What the hell, why not?’ “Okay, what do you need?”
“For you to finish that stupid novel you’ve been trying to write and let my universe just fucking exist.”
The suited man treks back across the backyard. “You heard me. You need to let my universe exist again. It’s been swallowed by a black hole, what, three times in a row now? I don’t know how you did it, don’t know how you continue to do it, but it needs to fuckin’ stop, dude.”
The maned tries to break eye contact but he can’t, even through sunglasses the suited man’s stare holds firm. “You… you mean… my literary universe is… real…?”
“Literar… what the fuck? No, fucking… okay, let me explain this real easy. We all live in Existence, it’s this big clusterfuck of energy, and we’re all connected to it in ways that I don’t understand enough to postulate on correctly. I just know we’re all plugged into it like a big surge protector. So, you live in this Universe, whatever you want to call it, and I live over in my universe, let’s call it Doubleyou’Dash Twenty-Twenty, okay? Ya with me? So, see, for some fucked up reason that I don’t even wish I could understand, you’ve somehow tapped into my universe. Your consciousness bears witness to the events, you can even control the existential flow, and you do it all by writing.”
“…Naaahhhhh, that just… that sounds kinda crazy, like, I feel like you’re just a hallucination, and my dream of writing a novel is just supposed to be symbolic of my cat, and when he died, so did my happiness and my dreams.”
The suited man looks around like he’s being pranked. “What the fuck are you talking about? The only crazy part about any of this is the fact that you’re doubting the reality in front of you, which is me, by the way. Hey there. Notice me. Look, you wrote a couple books, right?”
“How do you know that?!”
“Because you said so before, that you didn’t have courage or whatever. Look. When you started writing your little stories way back when, you started something, kid. You interfered, you became something of a cosmic, existential interloper. You started some shit with my universe, hell you made my best friend destroy it three times. Or maybe you didn’t, maybe he just pulled that shit for the hell of it, but regardless, usually it just starts right back up and I find myself living my life again with a vague sense of having done it all before; but, it still hasn’t started, and I know it hasn’t started because instead of waking up there right now like I normally would, I’m here in your Universe, Mister acHe Oh Doubleyou, which tells me that something’s up. Plus, we ran into each other when you were writing the second one, remember?” ‘Wait, how do I know that?’
“We ran into… what? Oh… oh my fuck, that was fucking you, at the Walmart! Jesus, you… are… are you Jesus?”
“No you assfuck, I’m Chuck. And you need to fix my universe so I can go back there and continue living in it.”
“Dude, but I can’t just fix your whole universe, my life is going on a different path now. I write nonfiction books, they’re abo–”
“Fuck you and your asinine nonfiction books, nobody wants to read about an egotistical shithead who writes about his own life like it fuckin’ matters. Besides, even you think your books are shit the way they are, and for all you know, I’m appearing here to realign you with your purpose in life. So you’re going to take your books, okay, and you’re going to rewrite them and present them as satire, as that’s an easy thisisfake label to slap on – fiction is just more interesting than nonfiction, that’s just what it is, plus, all fiction is based on reality anyway, and reality isn’t even that real. Might as well call it like it is. Yeah, yeah this is good, you’ll do a trilogy about how a writer struggles to write anything good until the third book where he delves into fiction and gets super successful. The story will be told through the books he writes, and in the third one – the book about my universe, if you’re having trouble keeping up, – you can even put in a chapter starring you and some chick living in uh… living wherever you want to live if you ever get your shit together and move out of your parents’ house! We’re getting started NOW, wake up, slappy! What’s the name of this Universe?”
“Huh?” the maned man huhs, incapable of keeping with the suited man’s game of rapid fire.
“This Universe, the one we’re currently permeating in. What’s She called? Like, make something up if you need to, fucking hell dude keep up with meeeeee.”
“Uh… uh… UH! Universe, uh… Doubleyou’Dash Sixty-Three?”
“Surely! Why not?! Okay, so you’ll rework the self-help book, rework the other one, make ‘em satire, and put them in a series called Doubleyou’Dash Sixty-Three. Then, when you’re feeling nice and good about yourself with your new satire books, you’ll magically man the fuck up and fix my universe! It’ll be the aforementioned third book, call it whatever the fuck you want, it’s officially a’go!”
The suited man dances in victory. The maned man feels doubt.
“What if I don’t though?”
Continuing his dance, “Then do something else for your third book, then make mine the fourth. Look, you have the information now, and if you keep up this drug smoking trend, the–”
“Drug smoking trend?! No, I don’t do drugs dude, I told you!”
“You just smoked my Cannabis.”
“Neither of us can prove that.”
“Fucking… you are inane, child. Do a poetry collection for all I care, whatever you need to do to force yourself into writing my universe’s book. Once you do that and it’s nice and finalized, I can go back home, and we never need to have one of these conversations again.”
“Okay okay, fine, I get it. This is my life’s purpose, to write your universe’s book. Thank you for finally letting me know what I’m supposed to do, Uni. But… how am I supposed to actually get there, Chuck? I’m not creative like you. Flip the self-help book into satire, fine, that’s easy, but what about the other one? Ih–”
Dancing like a porpoise, “STOP I don’t want to know what it’s about, not even a little. Just… fuckin’, I don’t know, do you got any extended family? Old dudes or dudettes?”
“I mean… I have a grandmother, yeah.”
“Great! Read it to her, make the second one a book about reading a book. That’s creative as fuck.”
“Sure!” as he breakdances whilst floating inches off the ground. “I don’t care even a little bit, dude. Just do it, and then write my universe’s book.”
“And the short stories too?” the maned man interjects, puffing his flat chest out. “I should put my stories into a book too, right?”
“…Yyeeaaaahhhhh,” the suited man says, lowering to the soggy lawn. “Yeah, I mean, I guess you could do them, you probably don’t have to, though. You know, you could just like… skip ‘em. Or don’t. I don’t really care, manbro. Just make my universe whole. No more black holes.”
“No more black holes… okay, I think I can do that.”
“You think?” stopping his dance furiously enough that the music in his head stops playing.
“Uh…” the maned man uhs, “sorry. I can do that. I’ll start on the self-help book tonight. Um… Chuck?”
“What?” the suited man asks, searching his body for a joint.
“How do I… how do I know that you’re real? Like… how do I know this isn’t all a hallucination? I mean… you’re a character I made up, and now you’re in my backyar–”
“I’m a character you made up?” the suited man growls, stepping into the maned man’s comfort zone. “How fucking egotistical are you, child? You can’t possibly think that you are responsible for my existence.”
The maned man shivers.
“Stop shivering, cretin! You’ve no reason to be chilled!”
“Why are you talking like that? Just… show me the ring, that’ll prove you’re real.”
“Now you demand to see my jewelry! You harlot, you’ll just slip it off my hand when I sleep!” the suited man sings, dancing to a tone-deaf swan’s song.
The maned man has never once been more convinced that he is, in fact, mentally insane, than he is in this moment.
“Chuck… please,” the suited man says. “That’s what you were going to say, right? God you’re lame kid, so belligerently unsure of yourself.” As he removes his right glove, “Is this what you’ve been trying to see? This little diddy doo-dah right here?”
Upon the suited man’s bare middle finger shines a platinum ring fitted with a glorious gemstone which shines with all the colors of the rainbow and then some. As the maned man’s eyes feast, his brain grows hungrier still.
“There, you’ve seen God. Are we on the same page now, like, are you going to fix what you’ve broken? Is my universe going to be back on the other side of my next portal?”
“Well, uh,” the maned man squeaks, feeling great responsibility resting on his bony shoulders. “Probably not, I mean… I don’t know exactly how the bit about the interdimensional traveh–”
“Interuniversal travel. Get it right, bloke.”
“Interuniversal, you’re right. But um, I don’t know how all that works and, and I mean, it’s not like I’ll be able to write the whole five books tonight alone.”
“Five books?” the suited man asks, ignoring all the squirrels in the trees that won’t quit staring at him.
The squirrels turn their heads to the maned man. He says, “Yeah, the self-help, the grandma, the poetry collection, the novel about your universe, and then the anthology of my short stories.”
The squirrels look to the suited man. “Oh right, yeah. Well all I care about is the novel, so… anyway, how will I know when it’s done? Hmm… I’ll just have to live here with you.”
The maned man isn’t about to let that happen, even the squirrels know that much. “I can… hrmm… I have an idea.”
“Shoot,” says the suited man whose hands turn into guns.
“I can buil–… well, write a flash fiction about you getting stuck in a contraption, some sort of isolation tank that’s powered by your ring. It’ll hold you in a state of existential limbo until the ring senses that universe Doubleyou’Dash Twenty-Twenty is back in Existence, and then it’ll click and you’ll be there.”
The suited man smiles and says, “That sounds like a dope plan, actually. I’ve never been isolated in a tank before, only in closets. Anyway, I do have a request.”
The maned man, who had taken out his smart phone, looks up and resumes the conversation. “Wuzzat?”
“Two, actually. One: don’t mention that I told you to make these books, at least not until the last one. Your readers, hypothetically speaking, will think you’re nuts talkin’bout a dude in a business suit in your back yard setting you on your destiny. At least, not until I’m properly introduced in my own universe first… hmmm… actually, on that note, definitely do the poetry collection, and add in a part about how you can mysteriously perceive the events of an alternate universe and how you talk to a voice in your head that tells you to write the books or something. It’ll be good for the story. Secon–”
“But… but those things are both true, I can see what happens in your universe. I do hear a voice in my head, and I talk to that voice, and it does tell me to write books.”
“EVEN FUCKIN’ BETTER! Second, when I come to, I want to be incarnated in the middle of the action. In medias res, or whatever the hell. I’m tryna be side by side with my best buddy… you know who that is, right?”
“You better know who that is.”
Off the top of his maned head, the maned man knows not. “I’ll… surprise you? Or, how about I’ll put you back in the moment, but then have you realize you talking to me today worked a day later? How about that? Yeah, I like that,” as he looks back at his phone.
“I mean… that’s complicated as shit, but whatever, wake me up wherever, but… wait, who the fuck are yo–”
“Who the fuck am I?” the maned man asks rhetorically, standing alone in his back yard, beneath a now cloudless sky as he taps away at a keyboard projected below cracked glass. “I’m your creator Chuck, universe Doubleyou’Dash Twenty-Twenty is my invention.”
The maned man’s finger mistypes a key and his brain is slow on the draw, forcing him to delete seven words in the correcting of one.
“The real question Chuck, is who the fuck are you? You just appeared here in my backyard, staring at my cat’s pyramid, and asking me all these questions. You could be a police officer or a government hacker who tapped into my computer and read all my writings, and you were sent to spy on me because you think I’m gearing up to write a manifesto or something silly like that.”
With his prey verbally backed against a corner, the maned man raises his eyes from the screen and shouts, “Got you now, Chuck, if that even is your real name!” to the empty space in front of him.
The maned man notices that the squirrels are gone as he looks back and forth, surveying the backyard. The rain has stopped falling, the grass is saturated with polluted skydrips, and the quartz gleams atop the pyramid. He’s alone there, no wildlife, no suited man, no peeping neighbors, nor bored construction workers next door. No security cameras, no actively recording programs running on his smart phone. Only a foggy memory of events that just transpired a moment ago… and no way to verify if the suited man had really been there.
The maned man looks to the ground, tapping at the footprints with his big toe. None of the holes feel solid, surely they must be real. He didn’t make them all though, did he? No, no he’s barefoot, he can’t be responsible for the footprints made by business shoes… unless he stole his father’s and used them to trounce around in the mud instead of sleeping last night again.
No, no he was out here praying last night, hoping that Milkshake would hear his pleas and return to visit in astral form. The cat has yet to come, but the maned man will pray again.
And then, he will write.
Chuck wakes up in a dark space, his mind suffocated before the taste of air graces his lungs.
“What the fuck?” he shouts, flailing his fists and kicking his feet. The surroundings catch his punches and lick his shoes. Arms and mouths lined with dull vampire teeth then sprout from the walls of the dark space and leave Chuck’s suit tattered and positively riddled with tears and bite holes. He submits.
“Hello? HELLO??” Chuck screams, his voice bouncing off the interior of the contraption. “WHERE THE FUCK AM I?!”
You’re in the contraption, Chuck.
Chuck says nothing, his own words still ricocheting off the inner wall of his cranial sanctum.
‘You’re in the contraption Chuck, the one we talked of.’
“We?” Chuck accuses the empty air. “What in the fuck?! Why am I hearing voices?!”
‘It is I, Chuck. HOW. You came to me in my backyard, and we talked about my life’s purpose, remember? Such a beautiful vision… but I thought perhaps my mind was playing tricks on me when you disappeared. Then, I remembered… the contraption.’
“The contraption,” Chuck says aloud, trying to follow along. Oh right, he just talked about this a moment ago – weird how you just forget stuff like that. “Right, yeah, okay. So I’ll be in here until my universe is fixed, right?”
‘Oh Chuck, your universe is fixed. I published the book a month ago… how long have you been in there?’
“Literally a handful of seconds, it’s fine dude. Don’t worry about it, just send me on my way.”
Send me on my way… wait, shit, how do I do that?
“Hello? Are you going to let me go home or not? I need to make sure I like it so I don’t need to come back here,” his voice dropping through the spectrum of inflection along the way.
‘Uh…’ I stall, trying to come up with something. ‘Just… um… wait for the click?’
“Okay…” as Chuck begins the eternal wait for a click that may never, “Suddenly, I don’t think this is going to work,” click.