“I Live, Thus I Will Be Born”, a short story

Sir,

You have, no doubt, heard of the body that was discovered in the new subway lines yesterday.  The reports I’ve received so far claim that it was found in what was essentially a large air pocket as the diggers were carving out the new tunnel.  I’ve seen the body myself, Sir.  It is, indeed, floating in mid-air, and all attempts to move it from that position, thus far, have failed.  It also appears to be perfectly preserved, as though it died only yesterday, despite the fact that the location would suggest it’s been there for quite a while.  I’ve taken the liberty of arranging for a small team of science and engineering types from the local university to examine things more closely, and I’ve posted guards around the area to keep the workers out, for now.  I thought you might want to see the note we found pinned to it, though.  The implications, if it’s all true, are…interesting, to say the least.

To whichever unfortunate soul finds my body:

I apologize for the unusual circumstances of my death, especially if my remains are discovered after the year 1964.  If this is, in fact, being read at any time during or after 1964, there are likely several strange things about the condition of my corpse.  The discoverer may find me locked into position by unseen forces with many unusual, unexplained injuries.  It is possible, too, that what is left of me is floating, unsupported, in space.  Please continue reading, as I will make a fervent attempt to illustrate the reasons for these peculiarities.

If this note is being read in 1906, or in any year between 1906 and 1964, then the nature of my death should be reasonably apparent.  If at all possible, I would request that any rubble or debris be cleared from my remains, but that the body itself be left where it is.  I don’t know what information might be gleaned from a scientific examination of my cadaver, but I believe some revelation must be possible.  I would suggest allowing scientists in the later nineteen hundreds to perform the examinations, if only due to what is presumably more advanced technical prowess.

I apologize for the distress my discovery must have caused, and for any resulting confusion.  I shall do my best to explain.

My name is Edgar Jensen.  My name is also Peter Franklin.  I have spent the last 58 years living two lives, in two times.

There are a number of unique anecdotes I could tell about my life, about the strangeness and the folly of it, but as the concepts involved are designed of outlandish ideas, which tend to build upon each other, I will start from the beginning.

I was born simultaneously on both April 17th, 1848 and January 28th, 1906.  My mothers’ names were Jensen and Franklin, respectively.  Only one of these mothers, however—Mrs. Joanna Franklin—actually managed to bring my infant self home on the eve of my birth.  I, of course, have no memory of these early events, but based on my understanding of the unique physics that apply to my anatomy, I can make an educated guess as to what happened that night, being that Mrs. Franklin picked me up to carry me, causing my small, newborn body to appear, to Mrs. Jensen, to mysteriously float away (I do not, in fact, know my other mother’s name to be Jensen, as I never knew her; I was simply told in the orphanage where I grew up that my name was Jensen, and have made deductions from that point).  Whether my nineteenth-century mother would have thought her new infant possessed by some spirit or demon or whether she is more likely to have slept through the unintentional abduction is something I do not know, and which I wouldn’t care to dwell upon.  My twentieth-century mother, Mrs. Franklin, did always tell me, however, that as she and my father carried me from the hospital, she felt an otherworldly force pulling my tiny body in the opposite direction.  It seems likely, then, that somebody in the past did, in fact, attempt to rescue me from my perceived plight; I have always despaired to think of my frightened mother Jensen screaming in fright as she was offered no choice but to watch her child become spirited away by invisible hands.

My future mother, Mrs. Franklin (whom I shall simply refer to as “my mother” from this point), said that she and my father (again, the man who fathered me in 1906) knew from that first night that there was something incredibly irregular about their new child.  They, at first, thought I might possess some mental defect, due to the fact that my eyes tended not to focus on their faces as much as would generally be expected from an infant.  I am now, of course, able to account for this behavior:  even as a newborn, I would have been contending with two complete sets of stimuli—images, sounds, smells, and even feedings—from two completely different worlds.  Even the most interested and loving child would have trouble focusing on its mother’s visage if it had to contend, simultaneously, with a game of peek-a-boo, nearly sixty years in the past.

Perhaps I should elaborate at this point.  One might suppose that the condition of existing in two times at once means getting to choose, at any given moment, to favor one over the other.  This is not the case.  There is no question of traveling between these time periods; neither does the option exist of living fully in one time and merely perceiving the other.  I have always felt everything that has happened in each period of time, and my body has reacted accordingly.  Never have I known myself to feel more comfortable in one time over the other; there is no “primary” time that has a greater effect on me than the other.  The sensations from each world overlap on me at all times, and though the limits of human attention have always narrowed the focus that I have been able to give to each set of stimuli, it has been a vital, life-long requirement that I divide that focus as much as is possible.

The most treacherous element associated with living in two worlds at once is the people, most especially with the aspect of convincing people that you are not mad.  Imagine it:  you find yourself, in both worlds, surrounded by other people, none of whom are paying particular attention to your doings, but many of whom would notice if, for example, you were to speak.  What happens when one of them asks you a question?  You might answer the question normally, and those listeners in the same time period as the asker will understand the conditions under which you spoke, but those around you in the other time period will suddenly look up from their works and wonder just who it was you were speaking to.  You might imagine that simply not responding at all is the superior idea, but not answering, or even acknowledging, direct questions raises its own set of problems.  I often wonder how many persons currently serving time in asylums for the insane have been misdiagnosed with mental deficiency when, in actuality, the voices they hear and respond to are real people in the real world, visible—or, perhaps, audible—only to them.

The ways I have found to deal with these sorts of problems are threefold:  First, it is important to project the appearance of aloofness and of eccentricity whenever interactions with people are necessary.  Those who have had cause to interact with me during my life would likely say I am one of the stranger characters in their experiences.  I have always made a point, whenever possessing the knowledge that others are aware of me, of smiling at odd times, of mumbling to myself, and of always having some thought or other that might appear to command my complete attention.  Being perceived, in general, to be an “odd duck”, has the effect of limiting the degree to which a person will become worried, should that person perceive me doing something that might be considered, under normal circumstances, to be quite mad.  Acquaintances of mine who read this letter might be surprised to learn that the personality I have projected for the last forty-odd years has been a complete fabrication.

The second facet of my strategy has been to appear sickly at all times.  I have often been accused of needing to see a physician for my many coughs, colds, and fits of rheumatism, though the fact of the matter is that I am, in fact, rarely ill.  This deception works for me in two ways, both limiting the number of people who wish to get close enough to interact with me and creating a reasonable excuse for me to have not heard any question put to me.

Finally, it has always been important to make sure that I am never in such a situation where I am surrounded by people in both periods of time at once.  Of the individuals who know me, most are likely to describe me as a loner, as a man with few friends who, while intelligent and hard-working, tends to hide himself away from the world as much as is possible.  Indeed, I spend a great deal of time behind closed doors.  I find it gratifying that people might now understand that, while it may have seemed to them at the time that I was hiding away from the world, I was, in fact, merely making certain I could create scenarios where I could communicate with another time without drawing too much attention to myself.

There have, of course, been other challenges associated with living this peculiar dual existence, though I have always taken great pride in my ability to cope and to adapt to them.  Readers in the twentieth century, for example, will be aware of the invention of the automobile, an amazing machination of which I have never had the opportunity to avail myself.  How strange would it look for a man to come floating past, his posture bent into a seated position, his arms out in front of him, to a viewer who is not aware that, nearly sixty years in the future, the man could be operating a mechanical vehicle?  I have also never been able to travel by aeroplane or helocopter, as the result of my use of these inventions would cause similar amounts of consternation to those viewers in the eighteen hundreds.  One also must bear in mind the fact that there are not only differing locations of roads and other byways in the two periods of time, but also different locations of man-made structures and even some land masses.  I could easily find myself traveling by motorway in one time period and headed smack into a wall in another!

The aforementioned man-made structures themselves have also presented problems.  What if, in the twentieth century, I found myself facing the second story of a building that has yet to be constructed in the nineteenth?  Should I simply climb the staircase and hope that are no witnesses of my ascent into Heaven?  Indeed, even the most meager of man’s buildings tends to be placed on some manner of foundation, which will rise at least an inch or two from the natural plane of the ground.  How does one explain the sudden, extra height?

Even food and clothing are troublesome.  I spent over one dozen years amassing the small collection of clothing that I wear on a regular basis.  Imagine the problems that come up.  Only the body, and not the clothes it wears, exists in both periods of time.  One could place several layers of cloth and wool upon his person in one period of time, only to appear completely naked in the other.  The solution has been to acquire items of clothing in each time period that are as similar as possible to each other, then to try to store them in similar positions and configurations when not on my person, the idea being that if an arm goes through a sleeve in the nineteenth century, the same arm goes through another, near-identical sleeve in the twentieth.  The system isn’t perfect, and having to purchase (or manufacture, as the case may be) clothing based on its structure, rather than color or fashion, means I have oft been accused of being “frumpy” or appearing “mis-matched”.

It was my father who, upon attaining a near-complete understanding of his son’s unique relationship to the world, suggested that I learn the trade of an architect, that I place myself in the halls of the city, among those responsible for planning the construction of new roads and buildings, that I might have the opportunity to influence the development of the city in a manner advantageous to me.  I was never able to thank him enough for the suggestion, as he died shortly before I graduated from school.  The day that I finished the construction of Franklin Hall (a small estate building for middle-class families which I designed in such a way as to stand for a very long time) in the late nineteenth century was the day I was finally able to put an end to many of my tribulations.  Finally, at thirty-seven years of age, I had a place that was a true home, a small apartment that existed in exactly the same location, which enclosed the same dimensions, in both periods of time, and to which I could make any modification I liked, should the need arise.  No longer having to worry about who might see me climbing invisible stairs or unlocking non-existent doors was an incredible weight off my mind.

It was during this time, this wonderful, peaceful period in my life, that I began to finally have time to question my life, to wonder at my purpose, to make a true inquiry into why I am the way that I am.  I spent many days and nights locked up in my studies (both the nineteenth and twentieth century versions), learning what I could of natural philosophy and biology, trying to make sense of my situation.  Many young men, I am assured, go through similar periods of attempts to try to understand their lots, of “finding themselves”, although such ordeals usually occur soon after passing puberty.  My young life had always been hectic and, at times, terrifying, and so my personal journey of discovery had needed to wait until my thirties.

My research never bore much fruit, I am ashamed to say.  While I have always been intelligent, and am resourceful and creative enough to design a building, I have never been one of those men given over to insatiable curiosity, and neither have I been particularly studious.  I believe these facts are the reason that I never truly had the will or the drive to take this attempt at understanding to any satisfying conclusion.

My efforts did, however, lead to my learning of the explosion that would so drastically affect the course of my life.

From the beginning, I had always endeavored to maintain a ward against trying to learn of my own future (or past, as the case may be).  I now recall several times in my life when I had given consideration to looking myself up, of locating histories or genealogical documents in the nineteen-hundreds which might inform me of whatever happened to the eighteen-hundreds version of myself.  I was, of course, always curious as to what such a history might have to say about my fate, but, in the end, I always arrived at the conclusion that I didn’t really want to know.

The change to that particular point of view came about on the day when I discovered a fire burning in the basement of my building.  The strangeness of that day was even greater than is usual for me.  I had come home on that afternoon in a somewhat miserable mood.  It had been raining in the twentieth century, but not in the nineteenth.  I, of course, cannot carry an umbrella unless it is justified in both time periods, else people begin to wonder why I am holding my hand in such a strange position.  I have heard many people claim that wearing a set of clothing that is drenched in rainwater is one of life’s least comfortable experiences; these people have obviously never attempted to try also simultaneously wearing a dry set, and to feel their skin try to decide which set of clothing, the wet or the dry, should be assigned the greater sensation.

When I arrived at my building, shivering uncontrollably, I looked up to find the place half-gone.  That is, my precious home was no longer present in one of the two time periods.  In one of my realities, only a deep hole in the ground, resembling the remnants of an excavation, remained where my structure should have stood.  This, as you can imagine, evoked a fair amount of shock and confusion.  You may think it would be easy, intuitive even, for a man in my position to know in which time period the building suddenly no longer existed, but this is simply not the case.  The senses perceive two sets of data, neither of which is likely to immediately distinguish itself as “past” or “future” in any meaningful way, and so only experience can guide the thought process.

It was only when my olfactory senses detected the very tiniest hint of smoke, likely curling up out of an open basement window, that my cognitive processes pieced together what had happened: there was a fire in the building in the past, and it had caused the building to be missing in the future.

My first instinct had been to run.  A fire in a large building is, of course, nothing to be trifled with, and as my beloved home was no longer present in the future, I could only assume that the fire was destined to burn uncontrollably, that any attempt to extinguish the flames would be folly.  In the end, though, I could not leave.  I simply could not let my only true home, my one bulwark against the scrutiny of the outside world, go up in flame without a fight.

I don’t know if anybody in the twentieth century saw me descend down the invisible steps into that hole, whether any eyes saw me scurrying across beams and boards that weren’t there.  I didn’t care.  All I cared about was finding the source of the smoke, and putting it out.

In the end, I discovered the issue:  a small candle had been left burning by some forgetful individual, and it had ended up on the floor, near some papers, likely as the result of some rat or other animal knocking it off the table.  The fire had been about to reach that point where it was ready to leap up a wall and thereby engulf the entire room, but I appeared to have reached the growing disaster in time to prevent such occurrence.  When I kicked over a barrel of some liquid—ale, I think, though am still uncertain what it was doing there—and doused the burning parchments, my building was suddenly, instantly, present in both time periods again, wrenching from me great sighs and sobs of relief.

The experience was one of those that permanently changed my outlook, not to mention my basic assumptions.  It was not the fact that I had been able to take actions in the past and see the effects of those actions in the future which affected me so—such a possibility had been fairly clear to me for some time—rather, I was suddenly enamored of the idea that I might actually live long enough for my timelines to intersect.  Since adolescence, you see, I’d always assumed that my past self would perish long before the eventual birth of my future self.  I had, in fact, never before possessed a way to know with any certainty whether my two timelines manifested within the same world until the day of the fire.  The event forced me to consider the possibility that I might live long enough to have two of me in the same period of time.  Would I be able to meet myself?  Could I attend my own birth?

These questions were what finally forced me to begin checking registers and genealogies, to try to find out where, in baby Franklin’s time, Jensen might have ended up.  I found myself searching through barely-used tomes in rarely-visited storerooms and laboriously poring through arcane lists concerned with ancestries with great enthusiasm, even glee.

The search was a disappointment, in the end.  Or, perhaps I should correctly say that it simply did not bear the fruit that I had been expecting.  I spent time looking for a record of Edgar Jensen, my past self, in the records of my future time-stream, thinking to find myself living in some retirement home or other.  I found no such records, however.  There were records of me, of course, of my contributions to city planning and of my residency in the Franklin building.  After the date of my future self’s birth, however, there was nothing.  No chronicle of residency existed, nor could I find that I had been (would be) employed anywhere in particular.  I could not even locate any obituaries or death certificates bearing my name.

In an attempt to force the issue, I began the process of purchasing a new home in the nineteenth century, thinking to create records of the transaction that I could find in the twentieth.  The records, however, failed to manifest.  When I went back to revise the original purchase contract, I found that it no longer existed.  Even the estate agent I had employed in the process didn’t know who I was or to which property I was referring when I queried him, mere days after our initial contact.  The idea seemed impossible, but it appeared that whatever game it was that the universe had enacted in order to place this strange existence up on me, the rules extended to not allowing me to know of myself or interact with myself in such an intimate fashion.

By this time, I had become quite concerned.  The year (in my past time) was 1904.  January 28, 1906, the aforementioned day of my birth, was fast approaching.  What would happen to me then?  It seemed that providence did not wish me to know of such things, but I needed some form of plan.  What action was the correct one, the one which would prevent some strange calamity?  Would it be enough for me to not seek myself out?  Was the explanation for my previous failings simpler than I’d previously imagined?  Did I—would I—leave the country and thus explain my sudden absence in public records?  Perhaps I would I suddenly cease to be, like the purchase contract I had distinctly remembered signing?

The question gnawed at me for weeks, and I entered into a deep depression.  What was to become of me?  What was my life for?  The idea of disappearing completely, without even a stone to mark my grave, held greater terror for me than any imaginable death.  The knowledge was unbearable.  After two months had passed, I realized that I had stopped going to work, was no longer sleeping, and had instead begun to occupy my time with studying the same documents, trying to locate some piece of evidence that would prove I had an existence that went beyond my own birth.  What time I didn’t spend locked in my study was given to aimlessly wandering the streets of the city, searching, I suppose, for meaning in the bricks and the stones and the faces I passed.

It was during one of these wanderings that I learnt of the explosion at Phinneus Hall.  The Hall was something which had frequently occupied my thoughts in the past.  I had oft intended to find the place, one of the largest residential structures in the state, to try to gain some comprehension of it, some practical understanding of its structure that might be relevant to my work.  Twenty-seven stories, and neraly as great in girth as in height, it sat at the edge of the city and was home to thousands of residents.  The construction, as I understood it, had taken nearly a decade, and the planning and preparation had taken considerably more time than that.  I was quite surprised, then, to discover that it did not exist in the future, that the grounds were instead home to a large park.

For the first time in quite a while, I had encountered a mystery which I believed I might actually solve.  I spent the next week learning of the disaster that had befallen Phinneus, of the man, Alvis Jameson, who had caused the explosion, and resulting fire which had engulfed and destroyed the magnificent building.  His intent had been to murder his estranged wife, who had lived on the sixth floor, and who had recently taken up residence with another man.  Jameson had—would—set fires at the building’s exits before setting off a large amount of explosive near the building’s main gas line.  Nobody had escaped.  Many hundreds had died, including women and children.  In my future life, the man was an infamous monster, and the only reason I’d not previously known of his treacherous deeds was the fact that the streets in the area of Phinneus Hall were quite different in the past and the future, meaning that walking in that place had always been a complicated procedure, and therefore had been avoided.

I had thought about the fire I’d prevented in my own building, how my actions in the past had changed the future.  I eventually decided that there must be something I could do to prevent this tragedy, also.

It was in the moment that I noticed the date of the disaster, January 28th, the date of my impending birth, that I began to understand the significance of the action I had decided upon, that I realized why it was I seemed to simply vanish from all records on that day.  The only logical conclusion I can come to is that I will not survive this encounter, that this approaching event is the result of some physical, natural mechanism.  It is time’s way of preventing me of intersecting with myself in another phase of my life.

I find an immense amount of peace in this realization.

As I pen these words, the date is the 26th of January.  I have spent the past number of weeks learning as much as I am able about Jameson.  I now know where he lives, and I have begun following him at a distance in order to get a sense of his plan (I would not normally take so overt an action as trailing an individual around town, as it is one of those actions that appears highly suspect in the opposite time period, but such consequences seem less important to me now than previously).  Jameson’s divorce is long concluded, and he has been constructing his explosive, fashioned from the components of materials he makes use of in his position as a civil engineer, keeping the results in his own home’s basement.  I had considered the strategy of attempting to prevent the explosion itself, but I have since decided that the most logical course of action is to confront him in his home, before he has had opportunity to relocate the explosive to Phinneus Hall.

I have always been rather small and spindly of stature; I find Jameson to be a man of rather large proportions.  I do not believe I will be able to win the day through a simple, physical confrontation.  I have therefore purchased a pistol and learned its workings, and thus I believe I can best this villain.  That, or I shall endeavor to force a premature detonation of the device he has constructed.  I am aware, reader, that the thing I have described is murder, but I find I am content with this knowledge.  The law states that one may perform lethal actions while acting in defense of a third party.  I, of course, am the only one who knows that the third party being defended in this case is a building of families, but, as it is unlikely I will ever face a trial, this fact hardly seems relevant.

This is it.  The plan is in motion and, if somebody is reading this, it is likely that I have been successful and that Phinneus Hall still stands.  I do have a final request of you, reader:  now that you know who I am, and, more importantly, the names under which I exist, I would ask that you do not contact me, that, if your timeline intersects with the man known as Peter Franklin, he is not interfered with in any way.  I encountered a difficult enough time growing up, and the idea of being observed or meddled with for any reason, scientific or otherwise, causes me great distress.  Leave the child alone; let him grow up the way he was supposed to.

I do not know what will remain of me after this is ended.  I do hope that something can be learned from my body, but, even more so, I hope that my story itself also sheds some light in otherwise dark places.  I have, of course, given great thought to the matter of my unique condition over the years, and I believe it unlikely that I can be the only person in the world for whom time flows so strangely.  I suggest that if you, reader, meet men (or women, I suppose) in the future who act strangely, who exhibit peculiar behaviors, or who always seem to be listening to people who are not there, remember me in your observations.  Such unusual persons may be seeing a great deal more of the world than you can possibly imagine.

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