Transformation

Maybe it was the End of Times or something like that. Maybe the Mayans were right but we hadn’t known what to look for. It could have started in 2012. For all I know, it’s been going on throughout history, prehistory, before the world was created or came into existence. I don’t think I was the first to notice and definitely not the only one, but I’ll never forget what happened, even though others don’t seem to have noticed, even my best friend Marvin Franklin, who was visiting me for the Fourth of July. But Dr. Noyer remembers. We get together every week to remind ourselves that we haven’t lost our minds. It really happened and we witnessed it firsthand.

*       *

Marvin and I met at the University of Michigan. There’s no reason our paths should have ever crossed because he was a Marketing and Communications major and I was on the other side of campus, studying art history. He was a wide receiver on the football team, surrounded by beautiful women wanting to be with him, always partying with the in crowd, whereas I was a reclusive gay guy, not dating much and mostly keeping to myself. And Marvin is African American while I’m of Italian descent, my ancestors having a questionable ethical or moral foundation. They were illegal immigrants whereas his American lineage was unimpeachable.

Our meeting was inauspicious, to say the least. I’d been coerced into attending the football game against Michigan State. After the Spartans won, thanks to a last-minute reception by Marvin, I got lost on my way to the exit and ended up somewhere in the bowels of The Big House. I had to take a leak so I ducked into the men’s room to relieve my bladder. I was interrupted by a woman moaning and shrieking with ecstasy from one of the stalls. I finished my business and turned, to be confronted by a beautiful brunette pulling her dress down, her underwear dangling from her left hand. Despite her appearance, what got my attention was the black man who followed her out of the stall. Appreciation slipped out of my mouth.

“I’d like some of that if you’re ready for another round.” I was looking at Marvin’s still erect penis.

This perfect specimen of African American manhood ignored me and pulled his pants up, paying attention to the young woman. What a gentleman. 

Weeks later, I ran into Marvin again, this time in a more public forum; I was getting a chef salad in the student cafeteria when he appeared in line behind me. He didn’t say anything until we’d both paid for our meals. I was looking for an isolated table where I could avoid other people when he said, “Do you mind if I join you?”

I was dumbfounded so I nodded hopefully, thinking that maybe he was bisexual. I was trembling with anticipation as we sat down at an isolated table. He wasn’t bisexual, but we became best friends that day while I ate a vegan chef salad and he devoured a roast beef sandwich with a salad and fries. 

Our natural camaraderie, as strange as that might sound, continued for fifteen years, spanning the miles separating Chicago and Detroit; and now we were going to celebrate the founding of America together, watching the White Sox play the Tigers and rooting for our adopted cities’ baseball teams. It was going to be a great Fourth of July. Marvin would arrive at eleven a.m. according to Google, so I didn’t have to rush my morning routine. 

My first awareness of the transformation occurred when I was shaving with a razor, enjoying the feel of steel sliding over my lubricated skin when my reflection was replaced by…I don’t know what it was, but I was looking at triangles and trapezoids glowing in every shade of the rainbow. No human face was discernible in the bizarre kaleidoscope confronting me, but I kept shaving as if nothing had happened. I wasn’t afraid or even upset. I shaved unerringly while the figures dancing before my eyes continuously changed color. I finished my task, convinced that I’d lost my mind. The hallucination disappeared without warning, leaving me confused. I didn’t feel as if I’d had a stroke or anything and I was clean shaven, not a scratch. 

Marvin arrived exactly on schedule. He’s like that, always punctual, never early or late. He made himself at home in the spare bedroom that served as a home office, and we settled down on the sofa to catch up.

After a couple beers, I was relaxed enough to tell Marvin about my hallucination. He listened attentively to my description of triangles, circles, squares, and irregular angular objects, and their constantly changing colors. When I was finished, he expressed confusion.

“And yet you finished shaving? How could you do that? I mean, why didn’t you just stop?”

I shook my head uncertainly and said, “I couldn’t. I just couldn’t stop. I was fascinated I guess, but I really couldn’t stop. It’s like I was watching myself through a kaleidoscope, I was shaving like normal but I was also seeing myself through this crazy filter…”

I’m a very down-to-earth guy. I’ve never done any drugs and I don’t even get drunk. Marvin knows this, so it was his turn to shake his head ambiguously. “It must have been a stroke, Lenny, we should get you to the hospital for an MRI or something. The next one could paralyze you or strike you blind. You don’t mess around with your brain.”

I agreed that if the vision recurred, he could drive me to the ER. Nothing happened so we had dinner at an Italian restaurant and then watched Zola, a quirky adventure that Marvin and I found a little hard to believe. He suggested that the original tweets were faked. My criticism didn’t go that far. Since he’d driven from Detroit, I’d volunteered to drive, which turned out to be a good thing. We were cruising along Lakeshore Drive when he became silent, not responding to my analysis of the unlikelihood of fake tweets. I took my eyes off the road to glance at him, to find his dark eyes wide open staring at me. 

“Hey man, you okay?” I asked.

His head shook slowly. Words finally came out of his mouth. “I can’t see you, Lenny. Where are you? I think I’m looking at where you were a minute ago, but all I see are strange shapes, swirling, transforming, like you described this morning. I think I need to go to the hospital…”

I did as he asked and, ten minutes later, we pulled up to the emergency room at Northwestern Memorial. He still couldn’t see but had no difficultly climbing out of my Honda unassisted, even refusing help at the curb and the door. I had the eerie feeling that his experience mirrored my own. I held back as Marvin explained his symptoms to a skeptical nurse at the desk, before we took a seat along with what looked like the lower rung of society.

He was called after a half-hour, still suffering from the delusion, and I was left to wait along with the other visitors to the emergency room on a Friday night. There were broken arms, lacerations, bruises, mad rushes to the restroom, and a lot of bystanders. Family or friends, like me, who sat in uneasy silence as their charges were taken through the double doors that said, “Staff Only.” Marvin reappeared after an hour and a half. He looked confused but none the worse for wear, no bandages around his head, not limping, no sign of brain damage.

“Let’s hear it!” I blurt, unable to contain my anticipation.

“First, I can see again…” He looked around at the hopeless faces and whispered, “Let’s get out of here.”

We compared notes until well after midnight. He’d seen triangles and shapes like I’d described, and colors, but he’d also heard murmuring voices, undecipherable but definitely not speaking English. His experience lasted a lot longer than mine and he’d started making sense of it, comparing the bizarre images to what he “knew” was going on around him. He hadn’t figured it out but the sights and sounds were somehow related to what he’d been experiencing. He’d spoken to a psychiatrist, who’d expressed interest in the phenomena, giving him a referral to a neurological psychiatrist specializing in delusions. He’d been put in an MRI and his brained scanned, showing no abnormalities—a good thing, no stroke.

“No,” he said when I’d expressed support for the positive diagnosis. “I’m just crazy as a loon, and so are you, I’m just worse off.” 

*       *

“So…do you think I should see this Doctor Noyer, or wait until I get back to Detroit? I’m sure there are plenty of…” He read the card carefully before continuing, “Neurological psychiatrists in Detroit. I mean, the whole city is crazy. Those brutal winters should have run all of us off years ago.”

I had to think about that. Marvin was pretty busy as a mid-level manager in a marketing consulting company, building his career, on track for upper management or even partner one day. He couldn’t just take a vacation whenever he wanted. On the other hand, he’d been working from home during the Covid pandemic and hadn’t mentioned any problems. “Can you telework for a few days?” I asked.

“Sure, I don’t have to be in the office until the fifteenth. You know, it might be a good idea to see a shrink in Chicago, keep it out of the gossip column—”

I scoffed and interjected, “Yeh, right, like the paparazzi are following you around. Not yet, pal, but maybe in a few years.”

“Sure, but investigators, even if they’re only working for a competing firm, can dig up records. They’re like bloodhounds. I think I’ll send her an email.”

“Go for it. I’d love to have you around for a few days. You can water my plastic plant when I go to work—”

“Shit, Lenny, you haven’t had an office in at least ten years. I’ll set up on the kitchen table and stay out of your way. Just don’t show up in your drawers while I’m on Zoom.”

I was glad to agree to that arrangement. 

Marvin emailed Dr. Noyer. I hoped they would answer and have a sudden opening to fit him in the next week because I wanted to talk to an expert myself. After all, I’d had the same hallucination, first. Marvin had brought his Specialized Allez road bike, so we went for a ride around Chicago, staying off the busiest streets, favoring parks for the cool shade of trees wearing summer foliage. I struggled to keep up with what was probably a loafing pace for him. I was glad Chicago didn’t have any hills. 

We were approaching Navy Pier when the hallucination returned in force. A million times stronger than before. Marvin, twenty feet ahead of me, turned into a collection of concentric and intersecting shapes, triangles like Hollywood uses for targeting in science fiction movies. I increased my speed and the forms changed to squares with a circle in the middle, colored in magenta and fire-engine red. I couldn’t see Marvin, the path, the trees; I was blind but still I avoided colliding with him as I pulled alongside.

“Let’s stop,” I said, not knowing if I was panting or speaking casually.

“Tired?” was his sarcastic response.

I shook my head, nodded, then said, “Of course, but the visions are back. I can’t see anything…”

We stopped under an oak tree. I couldn’t see the oak tree but I knew it was there, dappled shadows shielding us from the midmorning sun. 

“What’s it like?” he asked.

I described what I was seeing; looking at him I saw only shapes and colors, but then something new appeared while I was talking. A wave of ocean-blue shapes came out of the sun like a tidal wave, threatening to drown Marvin and me. I grimaced and held my hands up to stave off the threat, to no avail. The wall of twisted figures flowed over us, engulfing me in feelings I’d never felt before, raising my consciousness to a new plane. I looked at where I knew Marvin was sitting, on a park bench, watching me closely.

“Did you feel it?”

“What?” he asked.

“Being one with…with the universe. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I don’t have the words to share what it was like…”

“Give it a try,” was his patient response.

I looked in his direction, the patterns swirling around, focusing on what I assumed was his eyes, maybe his consciousness. “A wave of…of particles that just flowed over us, threatening to drown us, but it didn’t…it was fucking amazing!”

Marvin looked at me doubtfully and said, “We should get back. Can you ride?”

I nodded emphatically. “Oh yeh, I can ride. I’ll race you back!” I jumped on the bike I couldn’t see and sped off, expecting Marvin to blow past me any second. The strange vision continued until I arrived at what I knew was my apartment building, even though I couldn’t see it. Then it ended. I felt cheated, deprived of something that had made me a better man, a better human being. I shook my head to clear the cobwebs that had suddenly enshrouded my mind and looked around to see Marvin a hundred yards behind, peddling furiously. He arrived, breathing as hard as I usually did to keep up with him.

“What the fuck was that?!” he exclaimed between gasps for air, filling his athletic lungs with oxygen. “When did you become an Olympic cyclist. “Goddamn!” He gasped again.

I wasn’t breathing hard, drawing a lungful of air through my normally congested nasal cavities. “Don’t ask me, Marvin. I couldn’t even see where I was going. But the hallucination has ended. I’m back to normal although I’m not tired. I’ve got to say that that bike ride was a lot of fun. No wonder athletic guys like you enjoy intense sports like football. I feel great!”

He pushed past me with his expensive bike and said, “I think we need to see the…neurological psychologist together. We are seriously fucked up…”

As if aware of our dilemma, Dr. Noyer had responded to Marvin’s email. She could fit him in on the fifth of July because of a cancellation. That left us with three days of unpredictable delusional episodes to deal with. We could be one episode away from a massive stroke—on the Fourth of July. Not knowing when we might suffer another episode, we spent the rest of the day in my apartment and had food delivered. We watched science fiction movies, hoping to get some insight into what was happening, and I’m here to tell you that nothing was off limits. From, The Matrix to Inception, we entertained every possible scenario, discussing them in depth, sometimes interrupting a movie that was inapplicable. Then we stumbled across a film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland

“That’s it!” Marvin exclaimed when the movie ended. “That’s what’s happening to us. We have fallen down some kind of interdimensional rabbit hole, just like Alice.”

Although I agreed with his conclusion, there was a problem: Marvin and I were sharing a delusion whereas Alice had experienced it alone. We could back up each other’s claims. I pointed this fact out and Marvin thought a minute before saying, “Do you think we should go to the game tomorrow?”

“Why not? After all, I apparently rode my cheap bike at breakneck speed, dealing with traffic and pedestrians, even crossing several streets, without a problem. And even if one of us is slammed with an out-of-body experience, we have each other to fall back on. We’ll take care of each other. No problem.” Little did I know.

*       *

We went to the game. It was more than we had expected. Like Alice in Wonderland. We got some beers and took our seat in the outfield stands because Marvin had always wanted to catch a homerun ball; and with his new-found allegiance to the Tigers, he was certain that one would come his way. When I asked why he was so confident, he responded, “I can feel it in my bones, Lenny. Today is the day.”

I scoffed and said, “You may catch a homerun ball, but it’s going to be from a Sox bat. Sorry about that.”

The pretense of team rivalry continued for six innings. 

We went to the men’s room before getting some hot dogs when everything changed. Marvin and I were using adjacent urinals when the transformation occurred. I looked at him, now represented as a blue area in my field of vision, and said, “Shit. I’m in an altered state, man. Don’t let me go haywire, got it?”

“What the hell are you talking about? You’re nothing more than a little bit of yellow, or maybe that circle spinning off into the distance. I’m fucked up Lenny, maybe we should leave?”

I finished my business and was able to close my fly without pissing on myself, so I said, “Let’s have fun and get our hot dogs, with a large order of fries to share, and play it by ear, unless you feel nauseous or anything…I feel fine.”

 He finished up without making a mess and said, “Okay. We can always leave if we feel sick or…whatever.”

After a ten-minute wait in line, we faced the young woman behind the counter, busy putting together an order before she faced us. I couldn’t see her as I started to tell her what I wanted.

“Yes sir, will there be anything else?”

I was speechless, so Marvin said what he wanted. She pushed his hotdog and large fries and beer front and center. Smiling as if she knew us, she added, “Yessir, it’s all ready.”

Marvin and I checked the order we hadn’t made, agreed that it was correct and started to pay but were rebuffed.

“Thanks for your business. We hope to see you for the next game.”

We gathered our order together and got out of the way of the next hungry sports fan. We made our way, despite being blind, to our seats and settled in. I took several large bites of the hotdog that was visible, possibly, as a green splotch in the upper-right quadrant of my field of view. Every bite was accompanied by an explosion of shapes and colors in the lower-left quadrant of my visual field. It was disconcerting but, for some reason, not a cause for alarm. Marvin and I finished our dogs and his fries, which I helped him with, washed down with ice-cold beer. 

“Does any of this seem strange to you?” he asked.

I scoffed. “Hell, no. I been living on LSD for years. Didn’t you know?” 

One thing was certain: I felt intensely alive, as if I’d just been born. Maybe this was what the first moments of life were like, overwhelmed by strange new sights and sounds, senses topsy turvy, unaccustomed to the world.

Marvin’s premonition proved accurate, about catching a fly ball, only it was hit by a Sox batter. He caught the ball in his left hand, not spilling any beer and, without a word, stood up and threw it at the runner as he was passing first base. The ball hit the guy in the leg, knocking him down. During the ensuing confusion on the field, I turned to Marvin in awe.

“When did you become…whatever that was…maybe the world’s best baseball player?”

He looked at me sheepishly, or at least that was the impression I got from the pastel blues emanating from his direction. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I hope that guy’s not hurt.”

The runner was back on his feet and jogging around the bases, favoring his right leg.

*       *

Dr. Patricia Noyer was a tall woman in her forties, blonde hair streaked with brown, a patrician nose highlighting a wide mouth that didn’t smile much. Her inquisitive brown eyes switched between Marvin and me when we entered her office in Kenwood. She introduced herself and expressed curiosity at the appearance of two men instead of one.

“Are you two together?” she asked.

Marvin and I had recovered from our July Fourth episode without a relapse, so I was seeing what she actually looked like rather than shapes and colors. 

Marvin answered her question. “I’m Marvin Franklin, and yes we are together but not like that…”

“Like what?” she began.

I interjected, “My name is Lenny Bianco. Marvin and I have been best friends since college and we’re also sharing the same experience, so I thought we should both talk to you together. We’ll be glad to pay double…”

Marvin was nodding emphatically.

Dr. Noyer nodded agreeably and explained her specialty. She studied unexplained neurological phenomena, which certainly described our experience. She summarized what she’d been told by the ER physician and suggested that Marvin—maybe me too—was presenting stroke mimicking, with the hallucinations. She was surprised they didn’t involve real objects as was common in stroke victims, but only geometric shapes. I interrupted to tell her about my sudden cycling power and Marvin’s unbelievable skill with a baseball. 

“That was you? I heard about it on the news. You actually threw a baseball more than three-hundred feet and hit a runner?”

Marvin nodded sheepishly. “It was an impulse. I was mad because he’d hit a game-winning homerun and the Sox beat the Tigers. I couldn’t even see him at the time, at least not with…not consciously. And I threw it left handed but I’m right handed, not ambidextrous. And I never played baseball in my life.”

That got her attention. “I think we can rule out a psychogenic cause. You two are definitely suffering from a functional neurologic disorder, one I’ve never heard about…”

She then explained that our symptoms indicated a biological cause. It wasn’t in our minds. But she had no idea what was going on; however, rather than order a lot of unwarranted diagnostic tests, she led us to another room and had us play computer games. They weren’t real games but only psychological tests of our visual, cognitive, and motor skills, designed to see how our minds functioned in the real world. They were pretty boring. Marvin and I were in cubicles separated by screens like they have in libraries to keep people from being distracted. I was looking at rapidly changing images of people and objects, pushing buttons to indicate what I thought I saw. Then I relapsed. But it was different this time.

The computer screen had transformed into an irregular polygon with a lot of sides and I was aware of the displayed objects by fluctuations in the coloring of an irregular star-shaped object within the “screen.” I typed on the keyboard, seen as an odd-shaped figure in blue. When the test was over, a fact I knew without knowing it, Dr. Noyer entered the room, approached me, and calmly said, “What’s going on, Lenny?”

She was no longer unrecognizable, now identifiable by a triangle face with her eyes highlighted in magenta. “I’m…I’m having a seizure or whatever it is…”

“Can you continue?”

“Sure. No problem. Did I screw up?”

“Not at all, but you entered all the correct responses before the test was even half finished. I didn’t want to continue if you were under physical or emotional duress, which would make the results meaningless. Should we continue?”

I nodded and we continued. I enjoyed the games more in my altered state. 

*       *

Dr. Noyer called in person that evening and asked Marvin and me to come in for some more tests the next day. My fugue had ended and we went out for Chinese cuisine, from a takeout shop, and ate in the small park near my apartment. It was a pleasant summer evening. The food was great but we were unsettled by the manner in which it was delivered. Instead of asking for our orders, the young man behind the takeout counter produced several bags, smiling pleasantly. Remembering the baseball game, I thanked him and didn’t bother offering to pay, turning away. Marvin insisted on paying but the young man had become the Buddha, steadfastly refusing to be paid twice for the order. And he thanked me for the tip.

We found a clean park bench to eat our Sesame Chicken, Beef and Broccoli with Oyster Sauce, and Crab Puffs. 

“What the hell was that about? I could understand a mistake at the baseball game, but that guy wasn’t stoned or confused. He got our order—which we never voiced—perfect and didn’t let us pay. What the fuck is going on?!”

I shared what I’d discovered. “I was billed for the hotdogs and beer.” I pulled out my phone and checked my bank account. Sure enough, the cost of our current meal was listed as a recent purchase. I showed my proof to Marvin and added, “I think Dr. Noyer is going to have to come up with something bigger than a functional neurologic disorder to explain this.” I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore because it was out of my hands.

We ate in silence, except for an occasional comment that the food didn’t taste as good as the ballpark crap when we were stoned—for lack of a better phrase.

The silence continued on the walk back to my apartment, with a stop for a couple of bottles of wine. Settled on the sofa, we surfed the web for experiences like ours, projecting the results on my big screen monitor. We didn’t find anything, not counting LSD trips described by new-age bloggers. We were watching an old man talking about his experiences with LSD in the seventies, when Marvin hissed, “Psst.”

I turned to him, seeing the world normally.

He continued, “Do you see that figure standing in the corner, with a recognizable body and head, watching us?”

I look in the direction he was pointing. There it was. It wasn’t solid but it wasn’t a random geometric figure in outline either. It was looking at us. I wasn’t having an episode and I asked Marvin if he was in a trance or whatever.

“No, Lenny, but I can see that goddamn thing watching me.”

“I can see it but, for some reason, it doesn’t bother me—”

“Why the hell not?!” he exclaimed.

 I had to think a second to come up with a response. “It’s part of whatever’s happening. I don’t think this is the end of the world, at least not like religions imagine, but only the beginning of something new, something better than what we have now. The birth of a new species of human…”

He looked at me incredulously. “Did you just now come up with your theory of a new world order, or did I miss something in all those movies we watched?”

All I could think of was, “Let’s watch 2001 A Space Odyssey.”

We did and it explained a lot, sort of.

The next day, we returned to Dr. Noyer’s lab for more games/tests. She wasn’t as calm as before when she asked, “Have either of you had another episode?”

Marvin volunteered, “A strange creature appeared in Lenny’s apartment and watched us all night. It looked solid but I could pass my hands through it. We both saw it. It was like the geometric shapes and colors we described before but it had recognizable facial features, even limbs, but nothing like a human.”

“It was a phantom,” I added.

Dr. Noyer’s blondish eyebrows lifted in surprise. Anticipating the morning’s activities, I said “Marvin and I are looking forward to giving you more data, so that you can figure out what’s going on.”

She shook her head in denial before explaining. “That’s not how it works, Mr. Bianco. Even if you were in an altered state right now and talking to the phantom you described, it would mean nothing to neuropsychiatry because we don’t have a model for such phenomena. I would be unable to diagnosis what is happening…”

Marvin interjected, “You sound as uncertain as Lenny and me, as if you’ve experienced the same…phenomena as us. Did you?”

Her head nodded. 

“Well then,” I asked, “What’s going on? You must recognize the disorder if you’re experiencing its symptoms yourself.”

 She took a long breath before answering, speaking slowly and deliberately, “This isn’t a virus or a bacterium, at least nothing like science has discovered, or a lesion or a blood clot, or anything. In fact, it is entirely outside the realm of science. This is something entirely new and…and unforeseen.”

Marvin tentatively asked, “So… you believe us?”

Dr. Noyer laughed, regained her composure, and answered, “I am no longer an objective observer Mr. Franklin because I’m part of whatever is happening. Psychiatry is based on objectivity. I’ve lost that. I’ve seen the phantom although I haven’t shared your other experiences. Those were probably the early signs of a completely unknown phenomenon. I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself seeing my children in such stark, transcendental forms tomorrow morning…”

She was scared but I wasn’t. “It’s not the invasion of the body snatchers or the end of the world Dr. Noyer but something benign. I know this to be a fact even though I can’t explain it. It’s just a feeling I have.”

She nodded quickly and said, “You’ve had time to accept what’s occurring. But I wonder if it’s a global phenomenon or limited to a few, susceptible individuals.” She rambled for a while using long words that I didn’t understand and finally said, “We should stay in touch on a regular basis so that none of us feels isolated. Whatever this is may be unknowable, but the response of the human brain to unexplainable phenomena such as this is well understood. I don’t want any of us to feel alone or helpless. We have each other.”

I nodded my agreement, but Marvin had doubts. “What are you saying, that we three are like, alone in the universe—that’s something from a science fiction movie. Is that all you can offer? I mean…really?”

She quietly replied, “Our shared experience—the polygonal creature watching us—may be nothing more than a phenomenon I have studied. However, I’ve only studied historical accounts of such group manifestations, so I don’t know how it works on an individual level. It’s possible that—”

I interrupted her delusional explanation. “What about the credit card bills I had from people who’d prepared our orders before we’d even arrived? Marvin and I weren’t having an episode at the Chinese takeout diner…”

She nodded quickly, accepting defeat. “Historical examples are limited and usually restricted to people with something in common, like being in the same community or sharing similar beliefs, so the group size is usually small.”

Marvin added, “The banks being in on the game tells me this is global, not just a few of us having a common schizophrenic delusion…”

Dr. Noyer wasn’t listening to Marvin because her attention was focused on the creature sitting on the window sill, watching us with interest. Her eyes were open in fear but I felt calm, so I took the lead. I faced the patchwork figure, constructed of both solid and outlined triangles of different colors, lacking eyes or a mouth, and said, “What’s up, dude?”

The figure seemed to shrug but no sounds were emitted from its head, no thoughts appeared in my mind, no contact. Without warning, Dr. Noyer started waving her arms in the air as if directing traffic, using sign language, which was confusing because if the creature didn’t understand voiced English why would it respond to American Sign Language? I was wrong. Appendages appeared from the trapezoid located where its chest might have been. They weren’t arms per se, but more like connected segments of multicolored lines. Dr. Noyer seemed to understand the meaning of the gestures because she waved her arms some more. They had a conversation. Marvin and I didn’t interrupt. After a couple of minutes of this back and forth, she lowered her hands and the creature seemed to shrug again.

Dr. Noyer’s expression was difficult to interpret when she looked at me. She may have been uncertain about what had been communicated during the conversation, or simply afraid to tell Marvin and me what she’d learned. 

She cleared her throat theatrically and began, “I don’t know where to begin…I didn’t really learn much but the entity…” She nodded towards the figure, now standing near the door, and continued, “Well, Lenny, the entity we all saw—”

Marvin interrupted her. “I was videotaping your conversation, but all I got was you using sign language. The—whatever the hell it is—isn’t in the video at all…” He offered his phone as evidence, and there was only Dr. Noyer waving her hands, brow knotted with concentration. 

She shot him an exasperated look and continued, “I’m not surprised because…if we could see the entity and communicate with it, while everyone else is unaware of its existence, including electromagnetic devices, we may be experiencing the effects of an unknown quantum field…but what I was going to say Lenny, is that the entity we all saw claimed to be you…I mean it was you and it was as confused as us by what’s happening to it…him…you…whatever…”

I looked at the figure, now hovering in a corner, then at Dr. Noyer, shaking my head in disbelief, but I was way past incredulity. A respected psychiatrist, a specialist in medically unexplainable neurological phenomena, was sharing our experience so I felt comfortable with the situation, but I was curious. “So how does this alternate Lenny Bianco see us?”

“The same way apparently. He’s confused and doesn’t know what’s happening, and he doesn’t live in a world of geometric shapes and vibrant color spectra. His world is, as well as I could ascertain under the circumstances, just like ours.”

Marvin’s jaw was agape when he said, “Does this otherworldly Lenny know what the fuck’s going on?”

Dr. Noyer shook her head. “I think we’re seeing the alternate Lenny represented as simple shapes because our minds can’t translate what we’re experiencing. We’re using familiar concepts—symbols in this case—to make sense of an unfathomable phenomenon.  He’s experiencing the same thing for the same reason. You aren’t concerned Lenny because it’s you we’re communicating with, just as the other Lenny accepts whatever is going on. You two are connected in some way…”

Her explanation made sense to me, but not to Marvin. “What’s going on, Dr. Noyer? Is this a time warp? A black hole? The end of the world? What the fuck are you talking about?”

I interjected, “Calm down, Marvin. Nothing we do is going to change what’s happening so let’s just go with it, make the best of an uncertain situation. Dr. Noyer has offered her best guess and I agree with her. This is either some kind of dimensional shift like in the movies, or a spurt of evolution but not just for people, all the plants and animals are along for the ride. I’m not worried personally.” 

Dr. Noyer added, “I concur with Lenny’s analysis. We just need to keep our heads clear, avoid panicking, and don’t act precipitously. If we don’t do anything drastic, we’ll get through this. It’s not the end of the world, just an anomaly, an event we weren’t supposed to notice. That’s all it is.”

Marvin started to protest but was interrupted.

The room began to spin and change size and shape at the same time, making me dizzy. I fell to the floor, unaware of Marvin and Dr. Noyer, or the other me, the one from a different dimension who could speak sign language. I had to close my eyes to stop my stomach from turning inside out. I felt as if I were in a dryer, spinning and spinning and…

*       *

Like I said, Dr. Noyer (I call her Patricia now) and I get together to remind ourselves that we’re sane, that it really happened. I didn’t pass out during the transformation or merging of dimensions, whatever it was, but I lost track of time and space. She did too. Marvin is another matter.

I regained a sense of reality sitting in the chair across the desk from Patricia. She was wearing a confused and uncertain expression, which is probably how I looked too, but Marvin was saying, “…so I’m concerned about the fact that I’ve started having dreams like Lenny’s, after he described them to me. I mean…am I like, I don’t know, trying to be like him?”

Patricia tossed a questioning look at me and I nodded emphatically, certain that she was as aware of what had happened as I. She turned to Marvin and said, “It doesn’t mean anything, Mr. Franklin. However, it was a good idea to accompany Mr. Bianco today, to alleviate any doubts you may have had. Nevertheless, it’s clear that we’ll need to look closely at the root cause of his delusions, especially the manifestations of his dreams while awake.” She looked at me quizzically, expecting a response.

“Definitely,” I said. “It’s one thing to dream about meeting a version of myself from another dimension and something entirely different to think I actually saw such an apparition. I’d like to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.”

Marvin was nodding as he patted my arm condescendingly. “We’ll get you through this, Lenny. It’s probably just stress after the pandemic, that’s all. You’ve been spending too much time alone. You’re a people person, you need to get out more.” He looked convinced but neither Patricia nor I accepted his delusional words. 

It was obvious that Marvin had made the transition smoothly. 

*       *

“Well?” I began, “Why do you and I remember what happened?” Patricia and I had stopped meeting in her office but instead got together for lunch every week. She was working on a theory about how people with no personal connection could share an experience so vivid and interactive as meeting an alternate version of one of them.

“We are not delusional. Neither of us shows any sign of changes in our brain activity, at least nothing that can be measured by an EEG, a Cat scan, or an MRI. I’ve been speaking to a theoretical physicist who’s interested in quantum biology—quantum neuroscience to be exact. He tells me that physicists don’t even know what a quantum field is, not really, and they know even less about the physics of the brain, not to mention consciousness. What happened is real and it’s persistent. I’ve been having experiences like yours even since the—”

“The transformation,” I interjected. “You mean the hot dogs and Chinese food?”

“Yes, and I’m aware of what’s happening, just like you were before…well, I don’t think we were meant to or…”

“Maybe we were,” I finished. “Maybe you and the physicist you’re working with will get some insight into quantum biology or whatever and explain why I don’t have to order food anymore and neither does anyone else, as far as I can tell. We’ve all become mind readers.”

She smiled nervously, nodded quickly and responded, “It’s disconcerting isn’t it? My husband and children take this strange new world for granted, as if it’s always been like this, while I keep making a fool of myself, asking for things as if I couldn’t read minds, but the truth is that I’m not part of this brave new world. I don’t fit in…”

I nodded hopefully. “Maybe we’re observers…”

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