Anomaly: the last chapter
From a dead wife who had been inexplicably resurrected to days missing from the Google calendar, from the ghostly appearance of people only he and his research assistant remembered to an audience with an octopus queen at the bottom of an alien ocean, it would be fair to say that many strange things had befallen Deke Jones that day.
Perhaps the strangest was yet to come, he thought as he stepped through the centre of the extra-terrestrial teleportation device.
He had no idea where he would end up, so was not too surprised to find himself in the middle of a forest. At least he was still in his own body, he thought with relief as he immediately checked his arms, body and legs.
A yard from him was Vaughn Lynton, a man he had recently met and who he did not believe had committed the murders the authorities suspected him of. Along with Roman Zorić and three alien octopuses, they were the only people to remember a past which was ever-changing.
In the past they shared, Deke’s wife had been killed in a car accident, Deke’s neighbours had a seven-year-old son and Marika Nowicki had been employed as the university receptionist. Upon waking that morning, Deke discovered his wife was alive but neither Jayke nor Marika had existed. What made matters more confusing was that Deke could see their spirits.
As Deke, Roman and Rosemary had consulted with William Bradshaw and Esme Sinfield, Bradshaw had suddenly disappeared, replaced by a Chō Morishita. While Deke and Roman had been shocked by this, neither Rosemary, Esme nor Chō seemed affected. They had no recollection of Bradshaw. Later, when Esme had similarly vanished, Rosemary and Chō expressed no memory of her.
Clueless to the cause of these bizarre events, they had considered either a collision of dimensional planes or that sections of the past were disappearing. If the day Rosemary had been killed no longer existed, she could not have died. Equally, if the days Marika, Jayke, Bradshaw and Esme had been born were erased, they would not have lived.
It was the latter theory that Queen, the leader of the alien octopus race, had deemed correct. She had stated her scientists had confirmed the source of these time anomalies was on Earth and had tasked Deke, Roman and Vaughn with finding and stopping the thief before all of history had been obliterated. To ensure her orders were followed, Queen had permitted the consciousness of three of her subjects to join the men.
Deke looked around expectantly. He did not have to wait long before Roman arrived, appearing from nowhere. Deke had a gut feeling his research assistant would follow. Whatever was occurring, only these three men – and their cephalopod escorts – were unaffected by the changes in time. He suspected that was because of something they would encounter here at the source.
‘Where are we?’ Roman asked.
‘Romania,’ Vaughn replied. He showed them his phone. ‘GPS still works.’
‘And how do we find… whoever or whatever we’re looking for?’
‘You could ask me.’
Deke spun around. The voice seemed to have come from behind the trees ahead of him. He peered into the gloom but saw nothing. His eyes were drawn to a gnarly tree trunk and he realised he was experiencing pareidolia; the knots and marks in the bark made the impression of a face.
‘But I can’t promise I would know whomever or whatever it is that you seek’, the face said.
‘You’re a talking tree,’ Deke said. He was accepting everything today.
‘Trees don’t talk,’ the talking tree said. ‘At least, not in English.’
The entity moved and Deke saw that it wasn’t a tree after all. It had two thick, squat legs and a long body topped with a head of the same width. It didn’t appear to have a neck or any arms. All over its torso, legs and head were leaves of various shape and size, as though it had fashioned clothes from the forest around it. As Deke watched, a leaf broke free and drifted to the ground.
‘What are you?’ Roman asked.
The face of the tree-not-tree looked affronted by the question.
‘An ent,’ Vaughn said.
‘What is an ent?’ it asked. ‘Is it an ent you seek?’
‘We don’t know what we’re looking for,’ Deke admitted.
‘Wait a minute,’ Roman said. ‘You said trees don’t talk in English.’
‘It is true,’ the creature said. ‘Trees do not speak a language that can be heard by the ears.’
‘No, but why are you speaking English?’ Roman asked. ‘We’re in Romania. Shouldn’t you be speaking Romanian?’
Shaking its tree-head slowly and causing another leaf to float loose, the native said, ‘I do not know what Romania is. I am speaking the only language I know.’
‘Vaughn, check your GPS again,’ Deke instructed as he pulled out his own phone. He opened his locator app and watched as a hologram of the planet spun and zoomed in until his bearings were reported: Nova Scotia.
‘We’re not in Romania,’ Vaugn confirmed. ‘We’re in Taiwan.’
‘Madagascar,’ Roman added, looking at his own phone.
‘We’re not speaking English, are we?’ Deke asked the not-an-ent.
‘We are speaking the only language needed.’
‘Do you know where we are?’ Deke asked.
Deke felt his frustration grow at the creature’s evasive answers, but he was not sure if he was feeling his own annoyance or that of his octopus passenger. Possibly both.
‘But where is here?’
‘Here is here,’ it said. ‘The place that was, that is and that will be.’
‘Eden?’ Vaughn suggested.
‘I do not know what Eden is.’
‘Are there any other… residents here?’ Deke asked.
‘There are trees and grasses and mosses,’ it replied. ‘There are rabbits and worms and doves. There are wisps and breezes and starbeams. Who is it that you seek?’ it asked.
‘There is someone here that is destroying our home,’ Roman answered. ‘Our past is being stolen by something that is happening here.’
‘Nothing here would destroy,’ the creature said as an oak leaf fell from its head. ‘Here is devoted to creation only.’
‘You said there are rabbits and doves,’ Vaughn said. ‘They eat the grass, and berries and seeds. Do you not see that as destroying?’
Roman nodded in agreement. ‘In that fashion, it is nature’s way to destroy.’
‘No,’ the thing said. ‘It is nature’s way to dream. This is how the rabbits and the doves – and the tiger cubs and the ivies and the spiders – survive here. They live, and they create.’
‘What do they create?’ Deke asked.
‘But dreams are not stealing our past,’ Roman argued.
‘Dreams,’ Deke muttered under his breath.
In this strange forest, in a place unlocatable by global satellites, a talking not-tree spoke of a pseudo-paradise in which the inhabitants created dreams simply by existing. Could there be a place that was tied to Earth yet not of the earth? A place where dreams were born.
‘Is this place imagination?’ he said out loud.
Deke felt Roman’s and Vaughn’s gazes fall on him. The creature looked at him in silence. A maple leaf drifted away from it. Deke realised the leaves were not part of its clothing.
‘You’re dying,’ he whispered.
The thing nodded sadly.
‘We create dreams here,’ it said, ‘but this place is in turn created by dreams. Dreams not of ours, but of others. For some time now, we have felt a loss of that which keeps us alive.’
Another leaf sprang free from the entity and Deke felt the loss of something from his past. His sixteenth birthday, the time he had spent with Skye Kendrick. The night she had made him a man.
‘You’re not stealing our past,’ Deke said, ‘you are our past.’
‘I’m not sure I’m following this,’ Vaughn said.
‘This place is not on our maps,’ Deke explained, ‘because it doesn’t exist in the real world. Call it a dreamscape or a collective subconscious, this is the place that fuels our imagination.’
‘But it is fed by something from our world,’ Roman said.
‘Like… magic?’ Vaughn said incredulously.
Deke turned to face him. ‘Yes. Magic, exactly.’
‘I was being sarcastic.’
‘Of course you were. Because magic doesn’t exist, does it?’
‘No,’ Vaughn answered. ‘We have technology.’
‘And science. God, I can’t believe I was so stupid. Last month, I gave a seven-year-old boy a chemistry set. How is that supposed to feed his imagination? Why didn’t I get him a story book?’
‘Like Enid Blyton,’ Roman said.
‘Wait,’ Vaughn said. ‘She’s been banned.’
‘Exactly,’ Deke said, almost screaming with the revelation. ‘Blyton and Carol and Potter and Kipling. We’re no longer allowed to teach our kids to dream. We want them to grow up and understand the real world, the working world, and it is costing them their imagination.’
‘Which keeps this place alive,’ Vaughn said, finally catching on.
‘Yes,’ Deke agreed. ‘By trying to deny our past, we are causing it to literally disappear.’