Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Single Minded Man

When Otto Renner was a child, he was terrified of things that came in twos. This fear of identical objects was paralysing. So much so that he went into weird fits, blacking out for minutes at a time, throwing up and crying. As a result - everything in the house had to be mismatching. It was a nightmare for his parents who found that to avoid hour after hour of terrible terrible screaming and convulsions, they had to have mismatched curtains, cutlery, salt and pepper pots. Also shoes, taps and eyebrows. And rooftiles and windscreen wipers and skis. And other things.  Here’s fun.  Can you think of household objects that come in twos? I’ll start you off.  Knitting needles.

I hope you enjoyed that bit of fun. Perhaps you thought of 'chopsticks'.

Snowflakes were young Otto’s favourite thing, but he didn’t really believe that famous thing about them. That they could break a man’s arm.  Is that snowflakes?

He was also suspicious about things like trousers and swimming trunks and scissors because they said they came in pairs even though they really didn’t.

As Otto Renner grew up, he didn’t really change. His hatred of things that were the same continued.  He couldn’t live in a town that was twinned with anywhere. Or in an apartment with identical apartments nearby. Or a terrace.  

So Otto Renner lived in a house in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of a little town. He never locked the door of his little house.  Partly because he had little to steal, but mostly because he couldn’t stand to have a spare key - and when he lost the primary key, he had no key to copy, so he left the door on the latch.  And inside this little house he conducted his experiments in Time Travel, whilst also doing proof-reading by mail for money, and watching the back catalogue of Arnold Scrwarzenegger films apart from that one he hated. He loved Arnold Schwarzenegger films even more than he loved the idea of inventing Time Travel.

Otto was convinced that Time Travel was possible, and as such had been determined to discover the first time travel device.  His first attempts involved the least effort, but were time heavy.  His original plan was to go somewhere where he thought that travellers from the future might want to visit - like a royal wedding, or a Barbra Streisand concert, and then hang around there, until he saw a time travellor arrive. Then steal his time travel device, dismantle it, and invent it. Thus making him the inventor of Time Travel.

After a lot of waiting around, he decided to go down a more proactive route. He decided that the best bet for creating time travel was the creation of miniature black holes, and a wormhole that connects them.

The hardest thing about that of course, was creating the miniature black holes and the wormhole that would connect them. And how could he build it into a cool car? What he would have to do is look at the three defining quantities of a black hole - Any black hole: its mass, its charge, its angular momentum. The mass is simple - Otto thought the bigger the better. The charge - The black hole can be charged with an Electro-magnetic field, as they travel at light speed anyway! Next is the angular momentum, but I’m sure you’re tired of this.  So was Otto.

The furthest he’d got so far was to build an enormous home-made electromagnet that he’d plugged into the socket by his bedside table, but the plug got so hot, he was all worried about it and hadn’t really used it.

It was a lonely existence for Otto really. Avoiding things that were the same. Like pillowcases on a double bed and recent episodes of Come Dine With Me, reading badly spelled novels and tinkering with a science that went against the laws of nature, but not offically against the rules of physics.

Time travel is such a non-specific science, that it was very hard for Otto to get a handle on what he was doing right or wrong.

Plus he had all that proof reading to do.  His work mainly came from a small publishing house who dealt mainly in pot boiling thrillers. Many of the books came from the exotically named ‘Alec Ramses Marcelawho wrote plainly terrible books about family murders and long lost millionaire uncles. Otto found Alec’s books to be filled with spelling and grammatical mistakes as well as bad plots and nonsensical character names. But over the years they had started to email each other a little, and only last Christmas, Otto had sent Alec a card featuring a photograph of him dressed up as Doctor Emmet Brown. The saddest thing about the photograph was that it wasn’t for a fancy dress party, or fun run. It was just a Sunday morning when he was working on his Time Machine. Sometimes he did things like that.  That’s what happens when you live far away from anywhere or anyone.

But Otto was getting tired of this lonely life. And building a time machine was getting him absolutely nowhere. He was just about to give up on the whole ten year long affair, when one cold, February day, he returned home from shopping for bits of cable at his local Maplin, to find something quite surprising.

Lying on his bedroom floor was a dead body.

He investigated it a little further.

The dead body was him.

It was definitely him.  He was staring at his own dead body.

This brought up conflicting feelings in Otto.  Firstly - he had the paralysing fear of being in the room with something identical.  Something he had studiously avoided his whole life.

But there was the other thing.  This was proof wasn’t it?  This was proof that he somehow, at some point, creates Time Travel.

His thoughts immediately went back to his original Time Travel idea.  Perhaps the him from the future - ie the the him that was lying dead on his bedroom floor amidst dvd boxes for Arnold Schwarzenegger films - had brought the Time Travel Device with him.  In fact - he must have done - right?  Or how was he expecting to get back home to the future.  So all present day Otto had to do was steal the time travel device from future dead him, and thus become the creator of Time Travel and become rich beyond his wildest dreams.

But maybe not, because it seemed to him that future him was dead on his bedroom floor.

What should he do.  What should he do.

He searched his body.  His dead body, and discovered nothing but a business card.  A business card for ‘Alec Ramses Marcela the potboiling thriller writer.

Otto was confused. Here he was, stuck in his own house with his own dead body, gasping for air amidst panic attacks - because he couldn’t stand being in the room with two matching things, but he had a mystery to solve.

He looked at his own dead body, and it struck him that he looked almost exactly the same age as he did now.  So - unless there are amazing rejuvenation clinics in the future, he must invent time travel pretty soon.

Maybe the future self that was dead was him from just a few minutes in the future. Maybe if he just powered up his existing Time Travel equipment, he might...

With that he reached around behind the body, and switched on the giant homemade electromagnet, which in a fraction of a second sent a pulse through his body strong enough to melt a diamond, and certainly strong enough to kill a man who wasn’t even made of diamond.

Otto collapsed on the floor, not quite dead. Not quite sure if he had travelled through time, even just a tiny bit.

What Otto would never find out was this.  When Otto was a very little boy he was much weaker than the twin brother who was just a few minutes older than him.  And Otto had such a paralysing fear of his identical brother, that his parents, who were young and desperate and fearful for the life of their younger son,  gave the older boy up for adoption.  No one was ever to know.

That identical brother was christened Alec Ramses Marcela by his new family and eventually became a writer of potboilers, while ignorant of his brother who became an unsuccessful time travellor.

When his proof reader sent him a Christmas card with a picture of him dressed as Einstein or something, he was surprised to discover that they had the same face.  It took Alec two months to track his doppelganger down, and when he did he found the front door unlocked.  After knocking on the door, he pushed the door open to check that everything was all right.  He found the house empty, and couldn’t help but look around the peculiar mismatching house of the man with whom he shared a face.  He wandered into the bedroom, and was drawn by the peculiar humming piece of massive electrical equipment which he touched, and was immediately killed by. Missing the arrival of his twin by just 11 minutes - a number which annoyed Otto because of the duplicate ones.

As Otto lay whimpering on the floor, his arm reached out and pressed play on the DVD player.  In his last few living moments, he watched one of his beloved Arnold Schwarzenegger films.  Except this one was his least favourite.

‘Oh No’. Murmered Otto. ‘Not Twins’.


slepkane said...


Julian said...

Beautiful, and utter brilliance, as ever.