So the challenge this morning: Write something fast that still has some meaning and depth, and still shows character development. 

I'm in a time crunch today. Because that happens. And it would be so easy to just skip writing a post this morning, and particularly a short story post. But somewhere along the way, without quite realizing I'd done it, I made a commitment. I developed a resolve to do more short fiction, and make it a regular part of my life. I decided to add it to my pursuit of self discipline.

And that means that even on those days when I'm in a time crunch, or not feeling so well, or not feeling inspired, I have to sit down and do it anyway

And honestly, I'm glad I did. Because I like this little story. It's hopeful. It has a message. It has meaning. It's not my typical story, but then none of my stories are ever my typical story. I'm starting to think I don't have a typical story.

But I think you'll like it. I hope you will. And if you do, as always comment below! And be sure to tell your friends to swing by. They can get on the mailing list and get 3 free books. Or they can just enjoy the stories they find here.

Happy reading!


TRANSIENT

by Kevin Tumlinson

It took a while to realize that things were changing.

It was very subtle at first—someone I knew would have a bruise one day but it would be gone the next. Or the grapes in the fridge would be purple one day and green the next. 

Slowly I started to notice bigger changes.

Appleton, Texas, where I had been born and where I lived until I was twelve, was suddenly named Newton Texas. Just like that. I had written something about it on Facebook, and gotten a lot of Likes from people I knew who also grew up there. And the next day, all those likes were for a post I had apparently written about Newton.

And there was no mistaking it. It was right there, right on screen, with my name and photo attached to it. I had written "Newton" yesterday, and a few dozen Newtonites had Liked the post, and commented. Newton rules. Apparently. 

From there, bigger things started to change. The President went from being a elderly white woman named Clarice to being a much younger black man named Obama, and then became a middle-aged Puerto Rican woman named Kamila. The Shiplap House became the White House, and then became the Stone House. The Statue of Egress in New Amsterdam became the Statue of Liberty in New York and then the Statute of Prosperity in New Switzerland. 

Every day, when I woke up, the world was a whole new place.

Even my name started changing. I was born Alex Depont. Eventually my name was Robert Desmond, and then Richard Xoniphon. Or X'niph'n. Something. I never got the hang of that one. 

Mentally, I stuck with Alex.

Eventually I started working out a few details about what was happening to me. Any time I went to sleep, somehow my mind and my memories were transferred to some alternate version of myself. I would wake up "slightly me," but changed by degrees. And the world around me also changed. I was skipping realties like a stone, every time I took a snooze.

And it happened no matter when I was sleeping. It was as easily triggered by a nap as it was by a full night's sleep. The world just kept changing, every time I closed my eyes.

I can't tell you how isolated you start to feel, when every day you wake up in a different world. You also feel ... well, inconsequential is the only term that really fits. J

ust think about it—nothing you do today has any impact on tomorrow. Because the second you close your eyes, it all goes away. Everything you try to create vanishes. Every good thing and every bad thing you do disappears. You get a clean slate, whether you want it or not.

But there's also a sort of power in that.

I eventually got tired of being inconsequential. I mean, me personally? Yeah, I mean nothing to the world. I'm dust in the wind. But that doesn't mean I don't have impact.

As near as I can tell, those worlds I end up in? They go on without me. They were certainly getting on well enough before I came along, so there's no reason to think they aren't just keeping to their course, moving on without so much as realizing I was ever there. 

And there's the struggle.

When you know that your life is meaningless, you eventually come to a choice: Who am I, really? Do I make any difference in the world, if I'm not around to see the consequences of my actions?

So you start getting a little reckless. You shoplift, because even if you get caught it isn't you who pays the cost. And you lip off to someone bigger than you, because even if the guy completely wrecks you, you'll wake up feeling fine tomorrow morning.

And from there it escalates. You drive drunk, and get pulled over, and then you speed away laughing as the cop walks up to your window, because what does it matter? Tomorrow you'll wake up with no hangover, and no jail time. 

You rob a bank, because you've always wondered if you could do it and not get caught. Three tries, and I've gotten caught every time.

You hit someone. Just hit them, for no reason. They're just some happy guy walking along with his girlfriend, enjoying a beautiful day in the park. And you walk up to him, you smile, and you knock out his front teeth with no warning, and then just run away as his girlfriend screams for help.

And it gets worse.

The longer I was at this, the worse I was becoming. I knew I wouldn't pay the cost of any of these things, and so I pushed the line. And then I found out there was no line. I could go as far as I wanted. I could do anything I wanted, because it was never going to be me paying the price.

And I started wondering—what does this mean about me? What am I? Does this mean that in a life with no consequences, I'm just going to become the worst version of myself by default? I'm a monster? All I'm good for in all of creation is leaving behind a trail or horror and nightmares? 

I confess, I messed up a lot of lives. There are hundreds of versions of me, at least, who are probably facing some horror they don't deserve. That's my fault. That's me. I'll pay for that someday, I'm pretty sure. I have to. I want to.

It's hard to hit rock bottom when you get a clean slate every single day, but regardless of what life I found myself slipping into I did eventually manage to dissolve into misery. I woke up every day in a new body, and some days I did nothing but lay there, wishing I could die. On some days I skipped maybe a dozen universes because I never got out of bed, and kept falling asleep again and again and again.

That was good. Those universes got off lucky. They didn't have to deal with the curse that I brought along with me.

And then, as I was at my lowest spiritually and mentally, I finally hit rock bottom for real.

I woke up in a world where everyone was dying.

War had torn the nations apart, and all that was left was a scattered remnant of humanity that was starving and sick and barely managing to stay alive from day to day. Most of humanity—or at least the tiny part of it was living with—was living in complete filth and destitution. Bodies lay where they fell in the streets. Swarms of flies were everywhere. The world was a festering wound on the body of a diseased giant. 

The wealthy—what few of them remained—lived in a cordoned area that was free of toxins and waste, that looked like heaven to anyone who stumbled and shambled around on the outside. The wealthy had everything. Literally. And I was out here with those who had nothing but their own worthless lives and dying bodies. 

And I felt completely at peace.

I woke in squalor, and learned quickly what the situation was on this world. I was being eaten alive by fleas on the outside and disease on the inside, and I was completely covered in filth. My body was emaciated to the point that I could see my bones through translucent, diseased skin. But strangely, despite literally starving, I wasn't hungry. I was past that now.

I was dying.

I smiled. And with every bit of strength I had I rose and stumbled from the leaning pile of scrap wood and garbage that was my home. I walked through the village, or whatever it was, until I came to a place where I could sit and look back on everyone and everything. And I watched, and I waited, and I smiled.

And then I died. 

And I woke up in a new place, with a new name, and everything I could ever want.

But that one moment, that world where I was living through the horror that humanity could become—that was when I finally got it.

I had been thinking of this as a curse, as if I had been damned to this somehow. I thought of all those worlds I had shifted into as having existing before me and continuing on after me, but always existing without me. Which was almost like saying those worlds only existed while I was there.

But I was wrong. That was the wrong way to think about. That wasn't the way.

I had an amazing gift

I couldn't do anything about the lives I had ruined on my path through. I regretted every evil thing I did, while moving from one reality to another. I regretted the hell I unleashed on some of those alternate versions of me. But as far as I knew, there was no way back. And no way to fix those messes. 

So all I could do was be better. I couldn't correct what I'd done wrong, but I could make every effort to do things right going forward. I could use my day in each world as a chance to make an impact, even if just in small ways, and change the course of that world just slightly. I could become a roving force for good in a strange universe. Tiny good. Insignificant on most scales. But whatever good I could do in just one day, I could do. I would do.

After all, what's the one thing people seem to want most? A second chance, right? What if you had infinite chances? What if every day was a new chance, and all you had to do was make some tiny little change for good. If that's all you were empowered to do—if that was all the good you could manage in the whole of your life, wouldn't it be better to do that?

And really, in the end that's not such an unusual thing, is it? Really, if you think about it, even if you aren't shifting from one reality to another every time you go to sleep, you still have the exact same abilities I have. You have the exact same chances. You have the power to choose to do something good every day.

Every day is a clean slate. You wake up every single day in a world that existed before you got there, and that will go on after you leave. Maybe most of your details stay the same from day to day, but that doesn't make you any less of a transient than I am. 

We're all just passing through, after all. We might as well make the best marks we can.

 

———

If you enjoyed this short story, I'd love it if you'd comment or email me and let me know! I do this for you, and I want to make sure you're getting a lot out of it. Your feedback is pure fuel!

And if you're enjoying these short stories, would you consider leaving a tip?

Below you'll see a "Donate" button that will let you use leave a tip in any amount you like. As little as a dollar would be greatly appreciated, and more would be amazingly awesome! Thank you in advance, and keep coming back for more stories, books, podcasts, and anything else I can think to create. I'm happy to keep making something new in the world for people who genuinely appreciate it.


Like what you're reading? Consider tipping the author!

Tip in any amount you like, safely and securely via PayPal (no PayPal account requred). And thank you in advance for your generosity!


____________________________________________________________
Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
____________________________________________________________

BECOME A SLINGER

Get updates on new books, new posts, and new podcasts, plus be the first to hear about special offers and giveways. And pants jokes. Lots and lots of pants jokes.