by Beau Johnson
I think about alternate realities and multiple universe theory a lot nowadays. Perhaps the butterfly effect some too, but in a sideways kind of way. Like maybe I could get there.
“Where are we going to go today, Father?” Six a.m., almost on the nose, as William is most every morning during our yearly vacation. He’s a fine boy, his mother’s son, all freckles and Nancy’s good hair.
“You, mister-man, are going back to bed until at least eight. You do that, your mind’s going to explode when you see what your mother has planned.” It was more of the same. Same as it had been since we started the “Great Canadian Adventure” four years ago. William didn’t know this, of course. Just knew that the time for adventure had come.
Two nights previous we pull into Algonquin Park at just past ten. After a day of hiking and selfies — the sheer beauty of the rock formations mesmerizing our son to the point of glee — we retire to a night of indoor swimming and snacks.
It wasn’t much. It wasn’t the best.
It was us, though. Father, mother, and son.
“What about there, Mom? Can we take a picture there?” We’d become so accustomed to saying yes to every selfie opportunity it was more or less automatic, Nancy’s agreement a simple nod of the head. I do not say this to cast blame. I say it to offer insight. To show how man versus nature is still very much alive.
The backdrop would be the forest, the pines within as tall as the sun it seemed. In front, where we would stand, flat rock, easily stood upon. It was the getting down to which proved tricky: maybe a twenty percent change in slope and grade. But there wasn’t a fence. There wasn’t a guardrail.
Not like there is now.
And I shouldn’t have to tell you what happens once you factor in a nine-year-old’s exuberance to this type of calculation. It’s heartbreaking, absurd, and a tree root not six inches long the first nail into a coffin we agree to leave closed. And I will admit, without hesitation, that something did kick in just before William began his sprint. I even had time to shout his name. It does no good. Momentum and my boy far too married by the time this root and the situation merge. I move too, of course, as does Nancy, but as close as each of us come, neither of us arrive.
The soles of William’s beat-up blue Nikes the last thing my unbelieving eyes see.
Doesn’t mean I still don’t hear his voice.
It calls to me is what it does, there as he falls, rushing toward me and from me in equal, arcane measure. Echoing in my mind like records on repeat.
We scream in unison, now parents of none. We panic. We freak. But only as I peer over the edge am I truly destroyed. Like blades, the rocks below, they do not only take William from this world, they separate him as well.
It’s why alternate realities and multiple universe theory is all I have now, especially since Nancy left. It allows me to see our sweet boy as he was meant to be seen and not the pieces my lapse in parenting allowed him to become. I do this, I maybe wake to another day in some other place during some other year. I do that, I maybe create some type of butterfly effect.
Like maybe I could get there.
Beau Johnson is a short story writer hailing from Canada. From his igloo, wearing gloves and a parka, he has managed to appear in Out of the Gutter Online, Shotgun Honey, The Molotov Cocktail, and this place right here, Spelk. In 2017, Down and Out Books published a collection of Beau’s, titled A Better Kind Of Hate, featuring his main protagonist, Bishop Rider. A follow-up to A Better Kind Of Hate is in the works and should be available late 2018/early 2019.