I just wanted a fucking cup of coffee. My brother and I were sitting in our stolen car while the snow pounded the windshield on this quiet night in upstate New York. Who knew passport forgery could take this long?
I looked at my watch, it read 2:15 AM. Shit. I looked at my brother and asked, “Bro, do you want to grab a cup of coffee?”
He shook off whatever daze he was going through and responded, “Yeah man… I don’t think anything is open right now though. At least anywhere without cops.”
I nodded and he resumed his daze. He was a damn good brother. We’d been through a lot over the last eight months. Running from the FBI is no joke. We still had a lot of money from the job, but we needed to get the hell out of the country. Soon. And I needed coffee.
I decided to think out loud, over the sound of the snow: “I think there’s a business park we passed on the way here. Maybe there’s a shipping company or something and we can just walk in and get some coffee from the offices…” It was a genius idea. The best one I’d had in weeks.
A confused expression crosses my brother’s face while he thinks about it before realization dawns that my idea might be true. He shifts the car in reverse, saying, “Let’s go get some coffee!”
Several boring minutes later, we arrive in the parking lot. Almost all the offices are dim, except one: “Hey bro, look. God Son’s Shipping!” My brother swings the car over to the space a few down from the door. We need to look legit to any passing cops. Can’t leave a warm car far from the door, that would be suspicious as hell.
We don our jackets and caps, stepping out of the warm car into the freezing hell. We walk nonchalant to the door and try it. It swings open, with barely a touch.
Inside, the lights are bright fluorescent. It’s not super spacious, but there’s some couches as a kind of waiting room off to the side. There’s some stairs leading up to some offices and a hallway straight ahead. We immediately stop and listen for any noises. After being fairly sure no one is about and no alarms are going off, we wander over to the couches.
There’s a little nook with a refrigerator and a coffee machine which looks empty, ready for a fresh batch when the morning crew arrives. My brother whispers to me, “Bro, I’m going to go look around and see what’s what.” I nod and head into the nook, opening the machine and taking stock.
Of course, there’s no sink or coffee grounds in the machine. So, I start opening cabinets. I find some napkins, sauce packets and a few plastic spoons before I open the fridge. Inside I find more unlabeled water bottles than I can count. I find the grounds in the freezer.
I immediately tear open a couple water bottles, smell it to make sure it’s water, which it is, and pour the water in the pot. I measure out the grounds in the machine and start it’s brew cycle. A few moments later, my brother joins me in the nook.
My brother tells me what he found, “So, it looks like a guy named ‘Gottfried’ is the head hauncho around here. I didn’t see anyone here… this place is deserted.”
“Well, that’s good to know. I wasn’t sure if that were water in the fridge or not,” I respond.
My brother immediately opens the fridge to look, “Holy shit man … yeah, that’s weird as fuck.”
All the sudden a woman’s voice cuts in, “That water’s not for guests.”
We both turn to the voice. A petite Asian woman is standing at the entrance to the nook, dressed in a business suit. I immediately introduce myself, “Hey there, sorry to intrude! We’re truckers on our mandatory break and saw the lights on. We just came to snag some coffee, if that’s ok?”
My brother nods to back me up and she says, “That’s fine, just don’t drink that water. It’s a peculiar batch and we’re not sure what to do with it yet.”
“It’s ok,” my brother says, “we wouldn’t touch unlabeled water anyway. Right bro?”
“That’s right. That sounds pretty scary.”
She looks between us for what felt like ages, then she smiles, “Where are my manners? I’m Abigail Gottfried. Help yourself to some coffee! If you need me, I’ll be around.”
We shook hands and introduced ourselves and she left us. By now, there was enough coffee made for one cup. So, I made myself a cup, took a sip, and asked my brother, “Do you want some man?”
He looked thoughtful for a moment while I suppose he considered his options and possible sleeping positions in the backseat of the car. It was my turn to drive next if these damn forgers can forge a legit looking passport and US visa. He eventually came to his conclusion, “Yeah, sure, why not?”
I pour the rest of the pot into a cup for him and hand it to him. He takes it mindlessly and we head back to the frozen hell and back to the car. I jump in the drivers seat and start the car. Once my brother is settled in, he remarks, “Dude. Did you hear her walk up? Wasn’t she wearing heals?”
“Who, the lady Gottfried?”
“Who the fuck else would I be talking about.”
“I didn’t hear her, but I wasn’t paying much attention to her shoes. She was pretty cute.”
“Shut up dude. I’m serious. I didn’t hear her come up to us and she was wearing heals.”
“Alright Sherlock. I’m pretty sure we were just distracted with the water bottles.”
“Yeah, that is weird.”
“I don’t know what she was talking about, this tastes like perfectly fine coffee to me”
My brother looks directly at me, “You put unlabeled clear shit in the coffee? Are you stupid?”
“What? It smelled and tasted like water…”
“Oh my God, dude! What the fuck?!”
“I’m sure it’s fine…”
“She obviously said there’s something wrong with it.”
“But obviously, it tastes fine.”
“Whatever man … I’m not drinking more of this shit,” but he still held onto his cup of perfectly fine coffee, “let’s get the hell out of here.”
I put the car in gear and navigated out of the parking lot. I got us back to the house where these kids were making our passports in a few minutes. The snow was still pounding into the windshield, but it seemed to be getting lighter. After pulling into the driveway, I cut the lights and windshield wipers.
My brother was passed out. I sat there a few moments before I started noticing silver, glowing snow in the corner of my vision. I looked over at it, and saw my brother, coated in silver. Terrified, I reached out to him, immediately noticing I was glowing silver as well and then my vision went dark…
After what felt like an eternity, I woke up in infinite darkness all around me. My brother was a few feet from me, waking up as well. I looked around and saw ropes going up and down all around us, slowly moving down, intertwining and splitting as though they had a life of their own. My brother’s reaction summed it up, “What the actual fuck…”
“Dude, I think the water had some fucked up drugs in it, or something.”
“You think so?”
I took hold of a rope to pull myself up and became instantly aware of a lifetime. I can’t describe it. I knew this person’s life, their family, and their struggles as well as my own. I let go of the rope in fright and looked at my brother as I struggled to stand up. I forgot everything of that lifetime instantly. “Bro, holy shit man! Touch a rope, just do it.”
“Why? I don’t know man.”
“Just give it a try, I don’t think it’ll kill you.”
My brother reached out and touched a rope and tears immediately began streaming down his face. He let go, sobbing uncontrollably. I ran over and held him, comforting him. While he cried into my shoulder, I looked around. These must be the lifetimes of every soul alive, travelling past us at the speed of life. Holy hell, this is some trippy drugs.
My brother eventually stopped crying, whispering, “Dude, don’t touch that one … oh my god … it was the saddest thing. I can’t remember why, it was just sad.”
“I won’t, do you think you can pull it together. We gotta figure out how to get out of here.”
“Yeah. Let’s go,” we pulled each other off the invisible ground. My brother noticed it first, “Hey, what’s that on the back of your neck?”
“I can’t see the back of my neck, doofus.”
“Do I have one?” I looked at the back of my brother’s neck. Sure enough, he had a thin silver strand that led in a direction.
We figured out pretty quickly that we both had these and they led in the same direction. So we followed them, coming across two strands intertwined. We looked up, into the distance and saw they split far up, perhaps half a mile up. Looking down, we saw they had been intertwined for as far as we could see.
We reached out together, touching the strands. It was different than before. These were our own lives, so it was like opening an old childhood book that you knew by heart. We could traverse memories as though flipping through it, picking and choosing. We laughed, remembering things forgotten to childhood amnesia. We also quickly discovered where our lives went horribly wrong.
It was our second semester of college together. We’d hacked and robbed a bank, getting away with it. We did it out of necessity, but every moment after that, was tainted with fear.
For some reason, we held hands and relived the experience. We even changed a few things and felt a shift in reality. We let go and returned to the ropes.
We both looked at each other, “Holy shit…” we said at the same time.
I looked up and our strands were intertwined for as far as we could see. “Bro, look!” I pointed up, “Our strands stay intertwined now.”
“I wonder what that means?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s change some more things.”
“What are you thinking?”
“What if we never robbed the bank? What would have happened?”
We held hands and touched the ropes again. This time we decided to not rob the bank, it was too risky. We let go of the ropes and saw them still intertwined. We touched the rope again. This time we had memories of robbing a different bank and getting busted trying to rig the lottery. We were sleeping in a jail cell now, instead of a car.
We let go and looked at each other. I shook my head, my brother made the connection, “Bro, we’re changing our lives. It’s like the butterfly effect.”
“Ah, yeah, that makes sense… I wonder if it’s permanent and how long we have to tweak this.”
“Acid lasts eight hours. I feel like we’ve already been here a couple hours. We should hurry.”
We experimented with many, many different things. Resulting in myself going back to sleep and missing my exams. My brother deciding to change schools. Our strands becoming untwined and entwining with others. We’d have families that mattered. An empire at some point.
We got tired after a few hours… my brother laying down to sleep in exhaustion. I reached out to my rope, one more time. Erasing my brother’s memories of this before I myself passed out of exhaustion.
I woke up from my dream and thought about it. It seemed so bizarre, so intricate. I rolled over and kissed my beautiful wife and got out of bed to make a cup of coffee. The rest, as they say, is history.