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The Essay
Show #393
Objects in Mirror are Closer than they Appear
David Gunn

"Objects in mirror are closer than they appear." The warning was imprinted on the bottom of the right-side rear-view mirror of the Hudson Wingback. Jerome read the words absently as he waited in line behind two vehicular monoliths in the drive-through bank lane. He stared into the mirror. The reflected image was nebulous, fuzzy, coruscating. He looked over his shoulder and saw a large man in a sailor costume squatting on a Segway. He glanced again at the mirror. No sailor, no Segway. No, it looked more like--his mind blanked, then abruptly filled with the concept of a vast sea of clever plankton waving sparklers. Where on earth had that idea come from? Something else was out of kilter. Since when did his car have a right-side rear-view mirror? As far as he could recall, it hadn't been there yesterday. Jerome slid over into the passenger seat, rolled down the window, and peered more closely at the mirror. Now he could see some small type amidst the warning that wasn't previously legible. The full text read "Objects in mirror are closer in time than they appear." He adjusted the mirror so that he was looking squarely into it. The reflected image was of himself--but ... different, somehow. He pressed his face up to it; the image followed suit, then suddenly turned and moved away. Behind him, the Segway sailor honked his horn. Jerome saw that the line in front of him had moved, so he clambered back into the driver's seat and inched the Hudson forward. A chill skidded down his spine as he realized that he had seen his action in the mirror before it had actually happened. At least in this space-time continuum.

He pulled on the emergency brake and slid back into the passenger seat. His face was already peering at him from the rear-view mirror. One eye blinked in slow motion, and a hand appeared at the top of the image, flickering, as if he was watching an old silent movie. Involuntarily, Jerome blinked, too, then, unable to resist, he reached towards the reflection. Again, the face in the mirror turned away, and Jerome climbed back into the driver's seat just as the Segwayman leaned on his horn, alerting him to the vacant space in the lane ahead. This time, Jerome popped the clutch, screeched up to the bank window, glanced at the teller, who also seemed to be moving in a kind of twinkly slow motion, then sped hurriedly off.

He didn't know where he was going and he didn't want to look in the mirror to find out. He just drove. Daylight turned to dusk before he finally encountered a stop light. The light stayed red for an inordinately long time and, even though the intersection was empty save for his Wingback, Jerome stayed put. Out of the corner of his eye he saw something move, so he glanced to his right. It was the reflection in the mirror. But this time the image wasn’t of him, but rather of ... his neighbor, Lark A. Clobberworm, the alternative universe theorist! At least now he knew where he was headed.

L.A. Clobberworm was Collateral Professor of Strabismology at the University of Hummock-on-Smythe in southwesternmost Lincolnshire, home of another time-tampering character who shall remain nameless lest his mug, too, appear in the car's rear-view mirror. Clobberworm's notoriety arose from his theory of concurrently existing parallel universes based solely on personal experience. Since childdom, he had suffered from chronic strabismus, an eyeball misalignment malady that often leads to double visionision. Clobberworm claimed his diplopia enabled him to see beyond the here and now, the present space-time continuum, into one or more universes that paralleled this one. Although labeled a crackpot by members of the stodgier branches of the scientific community, his work was encouraged--and, better yet, funded--by the Hummock-on-Smythe beano counters.

Jerome pulled into the driveway of his cottage, nearly running over the sailor, who was floating two feet above the ground, while his Segway slowly revolved around and through him. Where were the fundamental laws of gravity when you really needed them?, wondered Jerome. As if on cue, Clobberworm emerged from the house next door and approached the car. His feet seemed to be at odds with the ground--they sparked whenever they grazed it, which wasn't often, because for most of the distance he floated two feet above it. Again, the image of clever plankton waving sparklers intruded upon Jerome's mind. Settling back to earth, Clobberworm greeted Jerome warmly.

"So, how d'you like it?" he asked, pointing to the right side of the car. Jerome looked again into the mirror. This time he clearly recognized Clobberworm's image. It was mouthing the words he had just uttered. "Hope you don't mind--I needed some place to install it, and your car was right there," he said, his words stumbling over one another as they, too, floated in and out of focus. "It's my latest invention, a temporal displacement reflector, a kind of rear-view window into the future. It employs a diplopic link to a beta parallel universe, but otherwise I, ah, don't really know how it works," he said with a shrug. In the mirror, Clobberworm likewise shrugged. But then the doppelgänger reached up and plucked an object out of the air. It was the rear-view mirror. The imagery grew fuzzy again, but seemed to show the strabismologist glancing up and quailing as a sea of sparkler-waving plankton rained down on and assimilated him. Immediately, Jerome looked up. The sky appeared normal ... except for a single infinitesimal flickering dot. In the present continuum, Clobberworm was still addressing him, though his words were wrapping around each other like a linguistic Möbius strip. Jerome jumped out from behind the wheel of the Wingback and raced to the other side of the car. Fortunately, Clobberworm had affixed the mirror with only duct tape, and Jerome easily yanked it off. He briefly glimpsed an unsettling image in the mirror as he tossed it to his startled neighbor. Then he turned away just as Clobberworm shrieked in real time.

Today's 393rd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar is coming to you in Absolute Real Time as a projected figment of the musical imagination of Kalvovision, itself free from unsettling imagery and strabismic shrieking, though not from the alternative theories of Kalvos.