Time Flies on Gin Lane

The Mandela Effect

‘Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.’― Charles Bukowski

Susanna awoke on a hospital bed, blinking hard as her eyes acclimatised to the strong fluorescent light. The incessant sounds of beeping coupled with bouts of urgent background conversation suggested that she was in the emergency ward. Susanna had been admitted to the ER enough times to recognize the unique pace instantly. Had she drunk herself to the point of oblivion again? Susanna didn’t think so. Her head hurt, but not in that hungover kind of way. It felt more like she had suffered a direct blow to the back of her head. She tried to trace through her mind the last thing she could remember. She distinctly remembered going to work, getting freaked out by the situation and then hitting Balls Brother’s for a drink. The very last thing she could remember was being confused about why the Chartreuse was red. Why was the Chartreuse red? It was made from herbs for fuck sake. ‘Suzette?’ A pretty blonde lady in a white coat and stethoscope asked. ‘It’s Susanna,’ she replied, with a croaky voice. She was parched, but it wasn’t water that she was desperately in need of. ‘Apologies, Susanna. I’m Dr Louise Falconer, do you think you feel up to talking a little?’ Dr Falconer asked. ‘Yes, I suppose. What happened?’ ‘You took a bit of a spill at a bar. It doesn’t look like you sustained any lasting injuries, but you should take it easy and try and rest for the next few days.’ ‘Was I…drunk?’ Susanna asked sheepishly. ‘Not according to the blood samples we took. Dehydrated, which we suspect was what caused your seizure, but your BAC was zero when you arrived here,’ the doctor explained. ‘I can go then?’ Susanna asked. ‘After a period of observation. You are free to check yourself out at any time against hospital advisement, but I was hoping that we could talk a bit before you disappear.’ ‘Talk? About what?’ Susanna asked anxiously. ‘You’re not in any trouble, Susanna. I was consulted because of some of the things you were saying when you were drifting in and out of consciousness. You see I’m the Deputy Chief Psychiatrist here at The Royal London Hospital.’ ‘You think I’m crazy?’ ‘We do not use that word any more, Susanna. And no, I don’t think you are “crazy”.’ Dr Falconer used her fingers to make quotation marks in the air when she said the word crazy, and smiled a warm smile. ‘I do think that you have been on a bit of a rough ride though, and perhaps might have had a mild psychotic break brought on by excessive alcohol consumption and stress,’ Falconer continued. It was the most plausible explanation for the oddities that Susanna had experienced so far. It gave her some comfort, and she started to relax a little. ‘If you feel up to trying your legs out again, we could continue this in my office? You can get changed in there; we have a fresh change of clothes for you. Apologies, what you were wearing was destroyed when assessing you, standard procedure. We never bother to undress patients when we suspect trauma, we simply cut them off,’ Falconer explained. Susanna hadn’t realised that she was wearing a hospital gown until that moment. She suddenly felt exposed, she was completely naked save a thin white piece of cotton that was not tied securely behind her back. ‘Um…Okay. That would be nice,’ Susanna said. ‘Could I please have a nurse in here to remove an IV cannula and assist patient in bed five?’ Falconer shouted. Two nurses wearing purple scrubs appeared, a young Asian man with a pitted face that told of an adolescent acne problem and a short, no nonsense rotund woman in her early forties that looked like she could bench press a piano. Susanna squirmed out of the tight sheet that was pinning her legs to the hospital bed, and swung her legs out over the side of the gurney, waiting in anticipation of what was to happen next. The young man removed her cannula, replacing it swiftly with a ball of cotton and some white tape, and the rotund women hobbled around to her other side of her at the ready. ‘Okay darl, we’re gonna see if you are right to get up and have a little walk around. Now take it easy at first Okay? We don’t want you falling arse over tit again!’ The rotund women shouted at her, as if she was in a far-off room. Discretion was obviously not an attribute that you would put on your CV if you were going for a job as a nurse here. Each nurse took an arm, and Susanna slowly slid her bare backside off the bed and shifted her weight onto her feet and stood up. Apart from the localised pain throbbing at the back of her head, she felt fine. She shuffled forward, taking a few assisted steps, then broke free of the two nurses and walked freely. She lapped the ward, clutching at the sash dangling down her leg, and grabbed at the air in search of its counterpart. Susanna found it, thus ending the free show that the ER was getting of her posterior. She walked back to her bedside where Dr Falconer and the two nurses stood, eyes keenly trained on her as if she would collapse at any second. ‘Shall we, then?’ Susanna asked. ‘Follow me.’ Susanna was led down a series of clinical hallways with polished white linoleum floors. Falconer’s shoes squeaked as they walked, and Susanna noticed a rainbow of colour coded strips on the walls that branched off, directing traffic into different wings, until one strip remained, a thick, solitary baby blue line that ended in a circle outside of two heavyset doors. Dr Falconer scanned her pass on the security point, setting off a buzzing sound that lasted for several seconds. The double doors ominously opened inward, revealing two serious, burly gentlemen completely dressed in white. They were hospital bouncers, for the crazies, Susanna realised. She shot Dr Falconer an uneasy look. ‘You are not being admitted to this place Susanna, simply accompanying me to my office. Forgive me, I should have mentioned it’s a bit scary on entry. You become desensitised to it after working here for too many years,’ Falconer said, with a reassuring smile. Susanna did not entirely trust her, but then, she had never really trusted doctors. They always seemed like sneaky bastards that had nothing but bad news to give you, particularly when you treated your body the way she did. They walked past a large common room with assorted misfortunate looking souls that were socialising in their dreary, limited circles. They were wearing the same white outfits that the bouncers were wearing, white t-shirts tucked into daggy white sweat pants. She was able to fixate on two individuals, one she noticed was drooling and staring at the wall and the other was pacing the entire length of the room with the urgency of someone that had somewhere very important to be. This section was obviously not cleaned as regularly as the rest of the hospital. The air had been choked out of the place, there was a staleness that was stifling; it smelled of dust and the husks of insect carcasses. Susanna didn’t want to inhale. ‘Here we are,’ Dr Falconer said, opening a reinforced door that was covered in notices and mental awareness pamphlets. Falconer walked in and sat down behind desk cluttered with files and paperwork. Susanna followed, unsure as to whether to choose the couch or the seat across from Falconer’s desk. She settled with the seat across from her. ‘I’ll be with you in one sec, Susanna,’ Falconer said as she began furiously typing away at her terminal, leaving Susanna to absorb the room. The office was decorated in a warm, homely way, with paintings and framed photographs and some neglected pot plants that were withering away. It was a stark contrast to the endless clinical white of the rest of the hospital. Susanna figured that it was supposed to put patients at ease, or maybe, just put Falconer at ease. It would be a depressing place to work, after all. ‘Why don’t we start with getting to know each other a little better, shall we?’ Falconer said as she was finally able to pull herself away from her computer screen. ‘I’ll go first. I’m Deputy Chief Psych here at The Royal London. I’m tragically single at 37, I have two cats that I adore but they could care less if I died tomorrow and I have an unhealthy obsession with wine and cheese. Oh, and I’m a bit of a nerd. I love videogames and reading sci-fi and fantasy. I even tried larping for a little while until I got smacked in the eye and had to give it away. Not exactly age appropriate I suppose,’ Falconer said, stifling a giggle. ‘Larping?’ Susanna asked. ‘Yeh, you know, when a bunch of people dress up like medieval warriors and have pretend battles in the park?’ Falconer explained. ‘Oh yeh.’ Susanna had absolutely no idea what she was on about. ‘Your turn,’ Falconer said eagerly. ‘Erm, well, my name is Susanna Cromwell, I work at 30 St Mary Axe as a casual paralegal, I like a drink, I suppose you could say I like a drink a bit too much, and it doesn’t leave a lot of time for much else, really.’ Susanna realised how utterly depressing her life sounded when summed up in a single sentence. Falconer’s life didn’t seem like anything worth writing home about either, she reflected. ‘Thanks for sharing with me Susanna. I want you to know that this is a judgement free zone here, I’m not here to lecture you or tell you to alter your lifestyle. I simply want to know how you have been feeling lately,’ Falconer said. ‘Well, ever since this morning, wait, is it still Wednesday?’ Susanna asked. ‘Yes, it’s now 8pm, Wednesday, June 4th. It’s Daniel Day-Lewis Day.’ ‘You see, that. That is the sort of thing that has been weirding me out. I have never heard of such a public holiday in my life. Now I know that being an alcoholic can be the proverbial equivalent of living under a rock sometimes, but that is not something that you can simply be ignorant of. Or blue stop signs. When the fuck did stop signs turn blue? Or Chartreuse red? They are all calling me Suzette at work I feel like I’m seriously losing it doctor. And then there was…’ Susanna remembered the strange altercation with the man at the bar. Rudy or something? Had that actually happened? It seemed so abstract that her mind was rejecting it. ‘Susanna, please, calm down. I believe that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this. Have you ever heard of the Mandela Effect?’ Falconer asked. Falconer took her silence to be a no. ‘The Mandela Effect is a fascinating phenomenon where large portions of society remember something incorrectly. Did you know that thousands of people believed that Nelson Mandela was killed in the 1980’s? Society is full of confabulation, and some people can be more malleable to mass suggestive cues during times of heightened stress or emotional turmoil.’ ‘But what about the office? They are treating me like I’m the boss. That isn’t right. Something weird is going on and it is scaring the shit out of me!’ ‘There is a chance that in addition to remembering things incorrectly that you have had a temporary mental break. A bit of column a, and a bit of column b. Your MRI came up fine, and from our interactions I can see that you appear to be lucid, so I doubt that it will last long. I want you to start taking these, and visit me back here everyday to check in, okay? Here is my number, and you can call me anytime.’ Falconer handed Susanna her business card and a transparent orange cannister filled with pills that said Seroquel on the white label that wrapped around the side. ‘Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m just going to love you and leave you, but I have a patient appointment that I am already late for. The clothes that I mentioned are on the chair over there, and I will leave you to get dressed in privacy, okay?’ Falconer offered. What an extensive level of care she had been given, Susanna scoffed. ‘Hey, I’m having some seriously fucked up thoughts here, questioning the very fabric of reality, and your suggested course of action is to give me some drugs and send me packing?’ ‘I’m sorry Susanna, we really don’t have room for you here anyway. I’m sure you will land on your feet, come and see me tomorrow, okay? I’m sorry, but I really have to go. Make sure you start taking those straight away. See you tomorrow,’ Falconer said as she got up, clutching a few files to her chest and exited the office. Susanna walked over to the chair where the clothes were piled. They had left her with some black tracksuit pants, a flannelette shirt and some purple crocs. At least she would be looking the part of the mentally deranged now, she thought, as she stepped out of the gown and began getting dressed. Susanna exited the office, knowing she looked ridiculous but otherwise grateful that she wasn’t feeling a constant draft across her backside. One of the two hospital bouncers hit a red panel on the side of the wall on her approach and the doors opened. At least she was getting out of this godforsaken place. Mental break or not, she did not want to be riding out the next few days in a place like this. She followed the red strip that coincided with the signs for the exit, and found her way out through the main entrance of the hospital. Susanna sniffed the night air, the sweet aroma of second hand cigarette smoke a welcome change to the clinical bleach of the hospital. ‘Susanna!’ A voice called out to her. She spun round to see the scruffy goliath of a man that she remembered talking to her at Balls Brothers. ‘Stay back! I’ll call rape, you fucking creep!’ Susanna shouted. She managed to turn a few heads of the passers-by, but they just kept walking, happy to mind their own business. ‘Susanna please. I mean you no harm. I simply want to talk to you,’ the man said, hands spread out in an attempt to pacify her. ‘Look Rudy, you might be a perfectly harmless delusional, but I’m really not in the mood to have a chinwag with some weirdo I just met. I just want to go home, run a warm bath, and have about a thousand glasses of shiraz, all right?’ ‘It’s Rufus, and where do you think home is? If you are thinking of heading to your complex at Roman House, you might be surprised at what you find when you get to Wood street,’ Rufus said. Susanna looked at him uncertainly. ‘I tell you what, allow me to accompany you to where you think your home is. You can choose any mode of transportation that you like, and I will gladly pay. I doubt you have obtained access to funds here yet, am I right?’ Rufus added. ‘Well yeh, but I haven’t tried. I was tapped out anyway and pay day isn’t until next Wednesday,’ Susanna said. ‘Right then. Well it is a thirty-eight-minute walk or a ten-minute cab ride. It’s your choice, but I would imagine that after the day you’ve had you might want to get there as fast as possible. Am I right?’ Rufus asked. Susanna thought about the offer. He wouldn’t be able to try anything in the cab, and he was right. She didn’t have any money, and was not in any condition to go for a long walk by herself through London at night in crocs. Better the devil you just met, she said to herself. ‘All right, but I do all the talking to the cab driver, and at the first sign of any funny business I’m gone. Do you understand?’ Susanna asked. ‘Completely. Should I grab a cab from the rank then?’ Rufus smiled, a cheeky smile. He knew that it would go this way, and it was unsettling. Susanna could not shake the feeling that she had met him before, there was a familiarity to his expressions that allied him to her on level that she was unable to grasp. ‘Off you go.’ A black cab pulled around to where Susanna was standing, and she hopped in. ‘Wood street, Barbican please,’ Susanna announced. ‘Right-o then,’ the cab driver acknowledged, and off they went. Rufus did not make any attempt at conversation during the drive. Susanna wondered why he didn’t exploit the opportunity of having a captive audience, he clearly liked to talk. She hated awkward silences, but really couldn’t think of anything to say to this man. The cabbie pulled up, and Rufus paid. They got out of the cab, and Rufus crossed the road and disappeared into an expanse of garden. The moonlight gave the street a monochromatic gleam, the silvery gloom interrupted only by the intermittent glare of street lights. Susanna followed, she knew this garden, or part of it anyway. It was difficult to make out in the moonlight, but as she got closer, she recognised the rows of plants marked with white butterfly ornamented plant stakes. ‘Salters’ Garden?’ Susanna asked, still not comprehending. ‘Yes, but unlike the one you know. You see in this universe, the Roman House apartment complex was never given the green light to be commissioned. The entire block was dedicated as a garden to The Worshipful Company of Salters, quite impressive compared to the paltry instalment out the back of Roman House where you’re from. You see Susanna, it’s as I said, your apartment is not here.’ Susanna ran up to the corner of Fore street as fast as her crocs would allow. He was right. Her building simply wasn’t there. In addition to the slim rows of plants and box hedged areas that she was familiar with out the back of her building, there was a large open lawn area. English Oak trees had been planted to line a clay walkway that extended in an L shape where her building was supposed to be. She ran back to where Rufus was now sitting, on a bench in St Alphage Garden. It was lit up with night lights and at least this section was exactly as she remembered it, the beautiful section of Roman wall still exposed and where it should be. ‘But how can that be? Shit! I really have lost it, haven’t I? Where are those fucking pills!’ ‘They’re not going to help Susanna. A psychotic break cannot explain the things you are experiencing. I assure you; this is all very real,’ Rufus said. ‘Well, if you were a figment of my fractured mind, you would say that, wouldn’t you!’ ‘Think about it Susanna. You know yourself. You may be a bit troubled; I have gathered that much. But have you ever had a hallucination before? A history of mental illness? Have you ever thought something was real when it wasn’t?’ Rufus asked. She searched his eyes. Again, she found comfort in them. She felt a connection with him. He seemed genuinely concerned for her, as if he knew her. ‘No, I suppose not,’ Susanna admitted. ‘You don’t just wake up one day with Schizophrenia. That hack of psychiatrist should have been capable enough to determine that,’ he said. Susanna looked at him, bewildered. ‘Look, I know this is heavy shit. It is not something that the human mind was designed to process. Let me just say that where we live, it is but one of a host of universes, and it appears you have stumbled upon a portal permitting travel between at least two of them,’ Rufus explained. ‘How do you know all this?’ ‘I’m a meta physicist, my focus is trying to better understand space and time. The door you stumbled through was a surveillance point of mine, and well,’ ‘You mean you could have stopped me from going through it? What was I, some sort of multidimensional guinea pig? What…the fuck…have you done to me?’ Susanna screamed in between bouts of hitting Rufus with her handbag. ‘Hey, hey hey!’ Rufus said, recoiling from Susanna’s girly hits. ‘It wasn’t like that! Anyway, I can get you back there, it is the whole reason that I came through. You just need to come with me back to Aldgate station and you should wake up in your bed, in your own apartment, like nothing ever happened.’ ‘Should? What is that supposed to mean?’ ‘You will. I’m almost positive that is how this works. After that, you can just pretend this whole thing was some sort of nightmare.’ ‘Oh, I won’t be pretending Rufus, this is a fucking nightmare. Now take me home!’

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