Gabriel Laurent stood in the centre of Rue de Rivoli, a street in the heart of Paris that ran parallel to the renowned river Seine. It was as bustling as always, the rhythmic flow of the city however now intimidating as opposed to comforting. Gabriel had been unable to find his car, and after having to climb out of the back window of his semi-detached home upon the disappearance of his house keys, he’d very quickly picked up on the irregularity of his morning. He’d tried to ask his neighbours if they knew what was going on, but upon opening the door to their home, they seemed to look straight through him, his words no more than an empty silence.
He’d found himself jogging after that, anxiety fuelling his weary limbs.
“Allô?” he shouted, slowing as he reached a small group, asking nobody and everybody if they could hear or see him to no avail.
He ran from street to street, his anxiety heightening. He found himself stopping abruptly however as his eyes focused in on a calendar in the window of a small café, the date years off what it should have been. He scouted the windows of local shops and vineyards, searching for another calendar, his confusion furthering as he did so, the dates displaying that of the last. Days he could mistake. That was easy. But years? Years were different. He was 12 years out and that didn’t happen. Had he been in a coma? Was it some April fool’s ploy despite it being far from April?
After another hour of shouting hopelessly and nearly throwing up upon seeing himself grabbing a latte from his usual lunch break destination, he slumped onto a raised curb on the side of the road, his head falling into his arms. He felt as if he was going insane, as if the world was enclosing around him. Nobody could see him, nobody could hear him, and worst of all, he seemed to still be there, or at least his body. It wasn’t possible. None of this was.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, he felt the world mocking him. A voice calling for his attention. This was a joke. It had to be. The voice continued, however, and he looked up, ready to scream at the world. But instead, a woman’s face appeared no more than half a metre from his. She smiled upon his recognition of her existence.
“Welcome to l’apocalypse” she said crudely, grabbing his arm and dragging him forwards.
Before he knew it, everything went dark.
“No, no” Benjamin Harris said, stepping away from the young girl before him. “You’re lying”
“I’m not sir” she said patiently, eyeing the man tentatively.
He looked round, Pennsylvania Ave as populated as ever, individuals seemingly walking into him as if he wasn’t there at all. He eyed the girl who remained entirely calm, unphased by each passer-by that didn’t acknowledge her existence at all.
“It’s 2022,” he said, uncertainty fighting its way through his efforts to sound convincing. “My baby boy is due in three days. 15th November 2022. That’s his due date. I would know if it was 2034 kid.”
“That’s the thing,” she said, shaking her head. “The date is the 12th November 2022–to us, anyway. You’re not going to understand this or believe it just yet… but we’ve been living the same day for 12 years”.
Benjamin laughed, shaking his head. “You’re crazy. Why would you even say something like that?”
“It’s true, sir. You’ve seen the calendars!”
“They’re wrong!” he said exasperatedly. “They must be!”
“Where do you work?” she asked. “I assume you’d usually be at work on a Monday at quarter to two, correct?”
Benjamin nodded. “Yes. I work in a bank. I’m an intern at the moment”.
“OK. How far away is that from here?”
Benjamin frowned. “Usually half an hour on the train. Why?”
“Because I need to show you something. Take us to the train station.”
Benjamin stepped off the train, the girl in tow. He walked quickly, his heart racing. They’d stepped on the train without question, invisible to others and thus no ticket necessary.
“This is crazy” he said, shaking his head frantically as he walked. “I’m dreaming, right? I must be”
The girl sighed. “What you’ll see next will be even harder to grasp.”
Benjamin entered his building, walking down the hall wearily. “What am I going to see?” he asked nervously.
But she didn’t need to answer. Benjamin watched himself working, his breath hitching. He’d been an Investment Banking Associate in training for less than six months. He dressed a little too smart, worked a little too hard and arrived each day a little too early. But he knew what he wanted. Or at least he did.
Benjamin looked down at the girl, his eyes welled ever so slightly. “What’s happening?” he asked, his voice shaky.
“We don’t know entirely. But there are others. The best thing I can do is take you to them.”
“Where are they?”
“That’s where things get even weirder. Follow me.”
And he did. He followed behind her, his whole-body trembling and his mind working too fast for him to focus on anything. The girl stopped and grabbed his hand.
“Welcome to the other side” she said, and before he could ask what she meant, the world went black.
Nina Popov sat on a swing set in the park a block from her house. She’d had a very strange morning to say the least. First of all, she’d woken up at just before six with a girl in bed with her. She’d stayed calm at first, convincing herself her best friend Anastasia was over for a sleepover. But upon turning on her lamp and staring at a girl with features that matched hers exactly, she’d climbed out of bed slowly, a scream wanting to creep through her throat. But she stayed silent, for some absurd reason not wanting to wake the peaceful child that looked identical to herself. She’d put on her slippers and dressing gown and tiptoed downstairs. Rummaging through a cupboard to find some cereal, she grabbed a bowl and some milk and sat at the island in the centre of her kitchen. She spooned cereal into her mouth, looking down at her shaking hand as she did so. She thought food would wake her up, make the girl in her bed disappear. She wasn’t entirely sure if she was even awake. It felt real. The milk was cold, her cereal was crisp and dressing gown was fluffy against her chilled skin.
Upon finishing her cereal, Nina placed her bowl and spoon into the dishwasher, jumping ever so slightly as her father entered the room.
“Papa” she smiled, walking over to give him a hug, only for him to walk straight past as if she wasn’t there. “Papa?” she asked again, tuning to face the back of him.
There was no response. She approached her father and patted him on the back, but it was no use. She ran upstairs to her parents’ room, rushing to her sleeping mother.
“Mama! Mama!” she shouted, shaking her mothers’ sleeping body.
Shaking her however didn’t quite feel right. She felt her but didn’t at the same time. She didn’t feel her actions were achieving what she set out to do.
“Mama?” she asked, more quietly this time.
Hands shaking and palms sweating, Nina left the room, making her way slowly to her own. She looked down at the girl in her bed that looked remarkably like herself, and the longer she looked, the more she began to realise it was in fact herself.
She ran outside, not bothering to grab clothes. She needed to find help. She didn’t understand what was going on, but she knew it was very, very wrong.
Upon finding an elderly woman strolling past, however, she once again found that she was not seen, nor heard. Tears no streamed down her cheeks. She walked and kept on walking until she found the park her mother so often took her to when she was younger. She sat, swinging gently as she wiped away tears. She looked before her and frowned. She was sure whether it was her tears blurring her vision, or an optical illusion, but the view before her seemed to ripple. It was slight, very slight, sometimes not even visible, but it was there.
Clearing fresher tears, she stood, closing the distance between herself and the ripple. She put her hand forwards and gasped as her hand disappeared out of sight. She kept walking forwards, feeling drawn, until her whole self was through. She was in a new world now, grassland stretching in all directions. A young boy looked at her, eyes wide, a grin soon forming.
Nina was a Strayer, not that, in this moment, she knew what that was. But as her eyes met that of the young boy, the first person that had acknowledged her since she awoke, she knew that her life was about to change.
Unbeknownst to each country, what was happening to twenty individuals within the capital of each of them was not an isolated incidence but a worldwide crisis. For twelve years, the entirety of the planet had been living with the absence of differentiation. Each day was the same, each a repeat of the last. They had no way of knowing what was coming; no way of knowing what approach was the right approach to take in preparing for what it was that was in fact coming.
But they all knew that this was just the beginning. And using their theories, they each sought an explanation for the phenomena that had halted their lives more than they already had been.