When she got on the elevator, I was annoyed. You can’t practice social distancing on an elevator! The building only has three floors. She couldn’t have waited?
But I didn’t say anything. I just huddled into the corner opposite her and straightened my mask, making sure it was over my nose. The doors closed and the elevator began to move from the parking garage to the first floor. It’s then that the woman turned to me.
“Want to know something weird?”
“Something weird. Do you want to know it?”
“Uh, I guess so.”
I had never seen the woman before, but I didn’t really know any of my neighbors. We had no common areas to begin with, and I certainly wasn’t trying to get to know anyone in a pandemic. There were people I recognized and perhaps nodded to, but that was about it. Plus, she was wearing a mask, too.
“It’s not supposed to be like this.”
“What do you mean?”
“Any of this. None of this is supposed to be like this.”
“Well, I mean, yeah, I’d hope not,” I said. “Not really sure that’s weird.”
“No, I mean, we’re in the wrong timeline,” she said. “I know this because I saw the right timeline and you can too. Are you ready?”
“Okay, here we go.”
She jammed the elevator button that, ordinarily, would have called for help. Instead, the elevator stopped and the doors opened. I was looking out into the same third-floor hallway I had walked into each day for the last six years.
“Check it out,” she said. “I’ll hold the elevator.”
At this point, I just wanted off the elevator and away from her, so I nodded and stepped off, clutching my grocery bag to my chest. I walked to my apartment and let myself in. And… well, things were different. I have this little key holder with four pegs on it. All of the face masks I’d collected over the last few months were gone. The only mask I had left was the one on my face. As I moved further into my apartment, I noticed that the air purifier I’d bought a few weeks ago was gone. It also wasn’t as tidy, overall. There was clutter. Dirty dishes in the sink. I was missing a bunch of kitchen equipment. I opened the refrigerator to put away the milk I’d just bought, only to find takeout boxes in place of my sourdough starter.
I sat down on my couch and opened my phone. Surely, she couldn’t be right. Right? But no. The first fucking article on my newsfeed was about President Bernie Sanders signing some environmental thing. President. Bernie. Sanders.
I got a text message and it was my friend, Paul, asking me if I wanted to go to karaoke later. He mentioned a bar we liked that hadn’t been open since March. I opened Twitter. There was no mention of the coronavirus. No one had started a goddamn wildfire in California with a pyrotechnic device during a gender reveal party they threw in the middle of a pandemic, and therefore, I must have never bought that air purifier. I must have been going out and living life, not obsessively cleaning my apartment or learning to make Beef wellington and fresh-baked bread.
I ran back out the door and to the elevator. As promised, the woman was standing there, leaning into the door so that it couldn’t close.
“How did you do this?”
“I told you, it’s not supposed to be like this! We ended up in a splintered timeline.”
She motioned for me to get back on the elevator. I didn’t really want to go back to, say, the wrong timeline, but I figured she knew what she was doing. She pressed a button. The elevator began to move.
“The wrong timeline, the one with the coronavirus? It only gets worse. You think things are shit now, you just wait until you’ve got a preference when it comes to human organ meat,” she said. “That’s if you even make it through the incident.”
“Why are you telling me all of this?” I asked.
The elevator came to a stop. Again, the doors opened on the familiar third floor.
“Well, I got caught in the other timeline,” she said. “Trying to replace the me that lives in that timeline. When they caught me, they told me there’s this theory that if enough people realize that this… this timeline is all wrong, they’ll do something to change it. Before the incident happens.”
“What incident? What happens next?”
“I can’t tell you,” she said. “But anyhow, they told me that if I told enough people, I could stay with them.”
She may have smiled beneath her face mask, but I couldn’t tell. Then she shoved me. Hard. I flew out of the elevator and hit the opposite hall wall.
“Good luck,” she said.
The elevator doors closed. I ran down the stairs in an attempt to catch her at the bottom, but no one emerged on the other side. As I trudged back up the stairs to my apartment, I opened Twitter and saw that President Donald Trump had, apparently, responded to news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death while “Tiny Dancer” blared in the background.
In my apartment were all my face masks and my air purifier. My groceries, notably, were not there. I had left a full bag of groceries for the me that lives in the other timeline.
I know what you’re going to tell me. Try the elevator again. I did. All that happened was my landlord got mad at me for pressing the help button when I didn’t need it. So here I am, doing the only thing I can think of to do. Telling you that it isn’t supposed to be like this, and I think it’s getting worse.