Contemporary Fiction Mystery

George Roundtree’s childhood had been normal to a fault. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Birmingham. A perfectly average place, and for the most part he’d been perfectly average himself. The 50th percentile in mostly everything he was involved himself in. Right at the tippity top of that bell curve was where he’d grown up. 

He’d been an ok footballer as a kid, nothing special. His grades were all C’s and B’s. He wasn’t unpleasant in appearance, but his face was very forgettable. If he’d ever gone missing the description portion of his flier would have been profoundly unhelpful.

All this uneventful mediocrity had led to George being acutely ill-prepared for anything unusual. Nothing unusual had ever really happened to him so when the ‘incidents’ began he was at a total loss. That’s not to say that anybody wouldn’t have found these ‘events’ disconcerting, most people would have been seriously disturbed, but for George the sensation first and foremost was just a general surprise that anything weird was happening to him at all.

It was his third year at university when the first ‘episode’ occurred, just a few weeks after his twentieth birthday. He was in his kitchen making scrambled eggs when suddenly he heard people talking behind him. He spun around but the room was completely empty. There wasn’t even anyone in the flat, he knew that. He went to see if the front door was inexplicably open but as soon as he moved from where he stood the voices stopped as suddenly as they’d begun.

George had stood in the kitchen nonplussed for a full minute trying to make sense of it. When he started to smell burning he genuinely worried the voices might have been the first signs of a stroke but then he remembered his eggs. He stepped to take them off the stove and suddenly he could hear them again. Step back, gone. Step forward, voices. He crouched down and the voices disappeared, when he stood, back they came. At this point the eggs were totally ruined.

The phenomenon appeared to be entirely localised to a foot or so of airspace in the middle of the kitchen. When he took a moment and actually listened to what the voices were saying things didn’t get any clearer. There was a man’s voice and a women’s, it was mostly the man doing the talking. As far as George could tell the man was expressing his disdain for his coworkers, who by his account where a singularly incompetent cohort. The nature of the work wasn’t exactly clear, but it sounded like something office based. The women would occasionally chime in with an, “I told you so” or a, “well that just like him isn’t it?”

George had spent the rest of the evening investigating this strange occurrence. The thought had occurred to him that maybe there was a vent of some sort allowing this conversation to travel from a neighbouring flat. That did sound plausible but he could only find one vent in the kitchen and when he pressed his ear up against it he couldn’t hear anything. Deep down as well he had an uncomfortable feeling that what he was listening to was occurring in the same room he stood in. His eyes told him that couldn’t be right but in his gut he felt it to be true.

Eventually his roommate came home. His name was Andrew Ickle but everyone called him Baby due to his name appearing as A. Ickle on team sheets when he was a kid. George positioned him in exactly the right place in the kitchen, but Baby claimed he couldn’t hear anything. At first he thought there was going to be a punchline of sorts to this whole set up but when none came he got irritated and stormed off to his room.

Eventually the voices ceased and with every passing minute they weren’t there anymore George became less sure if they’d ever been. Maybe he was just tired? Maybe he’d been spiked or something like that? He really wasn’t the type to be dealing with such weirdness. In the time honoured tradition of many a twenty year old student before him he decided maybe the best thing to do was to just forget about it and hope for the best.

The next morning he went to the spot in the kitchen and couldn’t hear anything, he felt temporarily elated until later in the day when he checked again. He couldn’t hear the man and women anymore but when he stood in the spot he could hear a radio playing some generic pop music. His initial surprise and curiosity was at this point starting to curdle into something more like genuine concern.

He googled as best he could to try find some insight that might clear things up.

‘Hear voices what do?’

‘Voices in kitchen not people?’

‘Bit of air that you can hear voices through?’

None of his searches were very helpful and a few rabbit holes he went down didn’t lead anywhere nice. He didn’t think he felt schizophrenic, but then who does? The voices weren’t telling him to do anything. They didn’t seem to even be aware of him. He’d tried calling out to them but they hadn’t heard him and eventually Baby had come out and asked if he was fully mental now or what?

A brain tumour was an unpleasant possibility of course but other than this weirdness he felt absolutely fine. He’d bought a carbon monoxide detector after following a particular thread but it just sat idly on top of the fridge now.

He listened at the spot in the kitchen for hours and hours over the next couple of weeks. Every time he was alone in the flat, he’d be standing there. As time went on though, quite frankly he got bored. The man, his name turned out to be Mark, and the women, her name was Sarah. Anyway, Mark and Sarah didn’t have much of interest to say. As far as George could tell anytime they were home they were just complaining about what had happened since they’d last been at home complaining.

Not wanting to cause a fuss and not appearing to loose his sanity, or at least not in a way anyone seemed to notice, George decided to eschew telling anyone about this whole thing and just getting on with his life. So there was a pocket of space in his flat that appeared to allow him to listen in on somewhere else, big deal.

This was largely the attitude he maintained over the next number of years even as he started to stumble upon other pockets. There didn’t seem to be any pattern to where they’d be, he’d found one walking through town once, in a friends bathroom, out the back of a restaurant he worked at for six months. Sometimes he’d be driving and pass through one so fast that he’d just get a snippet of a sound.

He also started to encounter other little infringements on his reality. Sometimes from a certain angle he could see something that wasn’t there. It was like light reflecting off something into your eye, he couldn’t quite inspect whatever it was but he could squint and make out the outline of it. It was never anything interesting, the corner of a building that wasn’t really there. The bottom few feet of a lamppost.

George ignored all of these things and carried on his normal normal life for a decade without saying a word to anyone. He graduated with a geography degree, he worked in café’s and restaurants, he heard voices nobody else could, he dated, he travelled in Thailand for a few months where he heard voices he didn’t understand, he went back to Uni for a masters in geography, he eventually got a job helping with the surveying that goes into making maps, he saw the odd physical object that his hand would pass right through.

George was so used to ignoring these little intrusions into his world that he’d almost forgotten that there was anything unusual about them until one day there was a new first. Walking through the city on his way home from work he noticed a man stopped in the street looking right at him. There were a few things unusual about this stranger, the first was that he appeared to levitate slightly. Like a video game glitch his feet were a solid six inches above the ground. The second strange thing was that the other people on the street seemed completely oblivious to him, in fact they were walking straight through him without appearing to notice, like he was a ghost. George hoped he wasn’t a ghost because the third, and indeed oddest characteristic was that this man was George. It was like looking into a mirror.

“Hi there George,” said the other George.


Five years later things had changed a lot for George. He didn’t really understand the science of it but those pockets he’d experienced, they were little windows into different realities, ones quite like our own but just not exactly. This sensitivity to overlapping realities seemed to be something that the George Roundtree’s of each of these worlds had in common.

They’d all had moments where they could hear and see little glimpses of this other dimension and a lot of them had experienced the weird sensation of meeting themselves from another space. The George’s it seems could see and hear each other across these realities, they just had to bump into each other. Every week they’d meet up at a park whose latitude and longitude were a park in all the realities. There was twenty-seven different George’s that attended these meetups now. None of them can quite remember who came up with the cultural exchange program but they all agree that it was a brilliant idea.

The cultural exchange program works by each George going through what is popular culturally in their own reality while the others take notes. The realities are so similar that mostly the same things exist across all of them. Every reality has ‘Star Wars’ for example albeit the details shift a little. Sometimes Darth Vadar is Luke’s father, sometimes its Obi-Wan, but there’s always a parental twist. Every now and then though there’s something that is massive in twenty six of the realities but non-existent in one and that’s what that George capitalises on.

Now one by one these bang average George’s are seen as geniuses in their respective universes. One invented reality tv and air bnb, one wrote both the Soprano’s and the Simpsons, one churns out pop classics on a weekly basis despite having no musical training whatsoever.

George wonders to himself if he really is the only person running this scheme or if it’s been done before. Maybe Shakespeare was in on something like this, maybe Roald Dahl had some help, maybe Donald Glover is just a totally average dude.   

February 08, 2023 01:32

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A Pattenden
10:27 Feb 17, 2023

What a great idea for a story. The idea of multiple realities / parallel universes has always fascinated me and the notion of a character being able to harness this is an wonderful plot. I can only agree with Alistair's notes about show and tell, and really getting into George's character; what drives him and what he feels.


William Simon
20:50 Feb 17, 2023

Thanks Anja, and thank you for taking the time to read and comment. That's a good thing for me to keep in mind going forward.


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Alistair James
14:20 Feb 16, 2023

A great story William and it gets a like from me. I was intrigued by the development of the storyline of multiple realities and the idea that, in the end, they got together, swapping cultural snippets. At a critical level, you do explain well, but more emphasis on the 'show' rather than the 'tell' would help the narrative drive. Sometimes a big time jump is important to a story, but I wonder if you could have brought the elements together? I would also have loved to be drawn into his mental state; what was happening would have elicited m...


William Simon
23:59 Feb 16, 2023

They're some really good points Alistair. I definitely agree with the 'show' rather than 'tell' part and that's probably an area I've been struggling with a little bit. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for taking the time to read, really appreciate it!


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