Science Fiction Mystery Suspense

The jungle fauna crept quietly and resolutely around Private Henry Willoughby’s feet. In this theatre of war, it was the only living thing to flourish, to grow, to last. Nothing else stood a chance under its stifling canopy. If Henry didn’t move, he’d be consumed by slow creeping vines, fire ants, foot rot, and all kinds of potential alien ailments. Should he choose to move, he risked exposing himself to the hellfire performance of a jungle war entertaining its combative audience.

For Henry, the choice was simple. Killing biting insects in his foxhole, was preferred to being an above-ground target for an enemy Sapper. So, he slapped away at his neck – his helmet visibly bobbing above the ridge of the pit where he and his platoon leader, Mad Merrill Murdoch watched for movement of any kind. One blink of an eye, or one moment of the sandman sprinkling comatose dreams onto his fading consciousness, could mean the difference between life and death for weary marines like Henry. Survival of the fittest and most alert, is the law of the jungle, and a rite of passage for participants in America’s most unpopular war - fought a long way from the corn fields of Henry’s Indiana amid a hot, sticky, insect-plagued bush in South-East Asia.

“What’ya say?” Henry whispered to Murdoch.

“Nuthin,” Murdoch snapped back. “Maintain silence, Private Willoughby. They’re out there. I can smell ‘em.”

Henry’s eyes instantly sprung alertly open, filling him with fear, nausea, and the anticipation of an imminent firefight. An icy shiver ran down his spine, quickly taking him out of any remaining comfort zone the mud hole temporarily provided. Sensing a tepid familiarity with what was about to happen, a sudden obscure memory flash told him he had been here before at this precise spot, and in this exact situation. The feeling was alarming him to the point of panic, and his physical reaction to the vision unnerved his fearless foxhole companion to the point of annoyance.

“Murdoch,” whispered Henry. “I got a bad feeling.”

“Shut your ass up,” Murdoch angrily whispered back.

“Somethin’ bad’s about to happen,” Henry repeated. “I got a strong feelin’ in my gut.”

“Goddam you,” Murdoch growled – right before a satchel charge exploded next to him at helmet level, killing him instantly and splattering Henry with blood and brains.

The roar of voices emanating from below Henry’s position, signalled a charge of infantry headed his way. The fight was on - this time against a heavily-armed and supplied NVA – North Vietnamese Army Regulars. Cannon Fodder, expendable, fearless, and large in numbers, they had no hit-and-run tactics like the Vietcong. These were real soldiers with a real plan to overrun Henry’s position. There was little he or anyone could do to stop the frenzy of the onslaught, as Henry’s platoon were outnumbered fifteen to one. A parachuting flare suddenly lit up the small open meadow not more than fifty meters from his position, illuminating a mass of khaki-clad, screaming warriors charging and weaving headlong through tracer bullets so numerous - their comrades ran straight over the wounded and dead in a never-ending wave of hatred.

Henry managed to fire off several rounds and a grenade from his M16, but it didn’t deter the half-dozen enemy soldiers zeroing in on his position. The last thing Henry saw, was the fear in his enemy’s eyes. That was as much a surprise to him as the bayonet that pierced his flak jacket and the “Die Yankee Dog” insult shrieked in English by one of the soldiers. Life was fading fast for Henry. Another nineteen-year-old boy KIA in a far-off place most folks back home had never even heard of before this TV war invaded their living rooms.  If he was lucky – he thought – he might get to go home in a body bag…

“Such a fascinating story, Henry,” the bearded, spectacled Professor Andrews interrupted. “And still so fresh in your mind after all this time.”

“Yeah,” replied Henry. “But I don’t remember how I survived that night. It’s like I had lived that moment so many times over before it happened, that I don’t rightly know what is real and what is not.”

The two men were sitting in the first row of a university lecture theatre, recounting Henry’s confused recollection of a traumatic experience from a conflict ceased long ago. After reading the professor’s article about life, death, and multiverses in a science journal, Henry had sought him out for a personal consultation.

“What if I told you that in theory, you did - and at the same time, did not survive that night,” Andrews said – perplexing Henry even further.

“I’m not following you, Professor,” Henry replied.

“What I’m trying to say is, you died in one life, but continued to live in another life. A parallel life co-existing on a parallel plane – with a different timeline and outcome.”

“How is that possible?” Henry asked.

Professor Andrews rose from his seat and approached the large whiteboard attached to the lecture hall wall behind his podium bench desk. Grabbing a black marker, he first drew five straight lines spaced a finger-length apart and parallel to each other. Numbering the lines, he turned to Henry.

“Imagine line one is our universe or our existence,” he began. “Back in the year 1895, the American philosopher, William James, referred to the confusing moral meaning of natural phenomena; however, he did not comprehend that beyond his current existential existence, there were other William James’s philosophising the same theories, but in parallel realities.”

To emphasise his explanation, Andrews pointed – in succession - at the numbered lines on the board.

“But what does that have to do with anything, you may ask?” Andrews continued. “In simple terms, nothing, because there is no connection, no point of interacting. After all, these are just linear journeys going about their linear paths.”

Adding two more angled lines resembling the letter A - that cut through the five lines, but without joining at the apex, Andrews explained further.

“However, when two or more transversal lines – such as these intersecting the parallel lines, then they – in theory – open up a portal from one universe to another. At that concise moment in time, all universes are collectively as one. However, because the transversal lines are angled, no timeline between each universe is equal, so Henry Willoughby in universe one is going about life in a different time in universe two, three, four, five, and so on. It is at that exact moment in the transversal that the very basic nuclei of our conscious thoughts are connected – allowing us to transverse, but not in the same moment in time.

“Are you telling me that at the very point of intersection, we can think ourselves into another life?” Henry asked.

“Not exactly, Henry.” Andrews continued. “We don’t travel per se in a physical sense. We exist in a collective consciousness but in different times of our lives. So, when we die, we don’t die, you see? Leaving one universe, we continue in another.”

“Wait a minute, Prof,” Henry interrupted – his brain on overload. “So, you’re sayin’ that in the universe I died in, I knew something was going to happen, because it happened in another timeline?”

“Correct,” Andrews corroborated. “Our collective conscious thoughts are connected via a transversal phone line - like when those little hairs on the back of your neck stand up, telling you something unknown was happening or about to happen. Some people call it Sixth Sense – where one experiences a vision of the future. Others call it, Déjà vu – the feeling that you’ve been somewhere before or that familiar feel you get when meeting someone you eventually fall in love with. Some, call it time travel.”

“So, my memory of dying is from another timeline in another universe that already happened?”


“And that’s how I survived that night in this universe?”

“You got a Transversal phone call.”

“From myself?”

“Yes, in lay terms. Something happened to change your path on that night and in doing so, changed your course of history.”

“Yeah, but I can’t think of what it was. I can remember trekking through that patch of jungle on a recon mission to set up an ambush on the NVA’s supply line along the Ho Chi Minh trail. It was supposed to be a classified mission. I mean, hell! We were in Cambodia, for Christ’s sake – without permission from their government. I don’t know how, but they knew we were there and surprised the heck out of us before we could react.”

“If I may,” Andrews cut in. “I read the Psych evaluation you sent me. The VA Hospital diagnosed no irregularities in your mental state.”

“The shrinks back at the Veteran’s Hospital say it’s most likely a form of PTSD – where memory loss is symptomatic and also Asymptomatic. Like a manifestation of the mind. My mind.”

“But what do you think it is, Henry?” Andrews asked.

“Well, I can’t discount the realisation of being alive and at the same time, the vision of me dying, is not PTSD, but something more fantastical.”

“All of the answers are still not within our grasp as sentient beings,” Andrews concluded. “However, the unexplained fuels the imagination and scientists like me are tasked to shed light on theories fantastical or otherwise.”

Henry rose from his seating position and extended a hand to Andrews. He needed time to process the information provided by the esteemed professor of science. Coming to terms with the theory of parallel universe ideology and multiple versions of himself, would take time – or whatever measurement of passage that it took to understand his past.

“I have a suggestion,” Andrews inserted into their handshake. “There have been great results in memory recall after going through hypnotherapy sessions. We have one of the finest consultants in the country within our faculty. Would you be open to exploring your past through hypnosis? I would sit in as an observer, and we could follow up the session with an in-depth study of your memories and their relationship to transversal universes.”

“Sure, Prof. If it helps.”

“It would indeed,” Andrews agreed. “Furthermore, it would be a great help to science.”

After exchanging farewells, Henry left Andrews studying his whiteboard sketch. Stretching his legs outside, he headed for the local bus stop. It was a fine summer’s day in Evansville, Indiana. However, the humidity level was overtly high with the expectation of a summer storm. As Henry walked along a path exposed to the glare of the sun, he decided to cross the university’s driveway to seek shade under a big linden tree in full bloom centred on the campus lawn.

Reaching the base of the tree, a sudden cold rush of air enveloped his body, like a ghost had just passed right through him. Looking around, he realised how quiet the campus was, then remembered that it was Sunday, and most students would be off doing other things than attending classes.

“Hi,” a female voice from behind surprised him. “It’s a great tree, isn’t it.”

“What!? Yes, it’s nice and cool under here.”

The young woman smiled and pulled one of the heart-shaped leaves from a branch, before handing it to Henry.

“Here, it’s ever so sweet smelling,” she explained. “They say, the linden tree is associated with Freya, the Germanic Goddess of truth and love.”

“Is that so?” Henry tried to be interested. “What does that mean?”

“It means that you cannot lie under a linden tree,” she added. “Only truth can be told. So, ask me a question.”

Just then, a thick dark cloud that had snuck up on them, opened its floodgates and began to drench the ground.

“Quick!” The young woman said. “Hug the trunk. It’s always drier in there.”

As an approaching clap of thunder rolled around the sky, shaking the leaves, Henry felt another icy chill run through him, like that night so long ago in a jungle clearing.

“If there’s going to be lightning, this ain’t the best of places to be sheltering under.”

“Don’t worry, Henry. We’ll be safe.”

It took a moment to dawn on him the realisation that this young woman had called him by his first name. Leaning against the tree trunk, Henry tried to remember telling it to her.

“How… how do you know my name?”

She shrugged her shoulders and replied, “I dunno. I guess you look like a Henry, so I just said it.”

“I thought no-one could lie under this tree,” Henry jokingly chastised.

“I’m not lying,” she replied. “It was a feeling like I knew you from somewhere and I needed to meet you. I was just out for a Sunday stroll, saw this tree in the distance and felt like I had to come over and see it more closely. Then, I saw you.”

Following more rolls of thunder, the storm and torrential downpour subsided as quickly as it materialised.

“That was a fast-moving cloud,” Henry mentioned. “It’s certainly helped get rid of some of the humidity. I sure don’t like humidity. Hey, are you okay?”

Henry’s concern was due to the girl behaving in an agitated way.

“We have to move,” she warned in a worrying tone of voice. “Now!”

Gripping Henry’s hand, the young woman forcefully pulled him away from the tree, across the campus driveway, and onto the path he had walked on just minutes ago. A loud cracking sound filled the air, followed by another sound of wood snapping. The tree – planted over sixty years prior had suddenly fractured under the weight of the heavy rain nestling amongst its branches and leaves, and simply collapsed - exactly where Henry and the young woman had hurriedly vacated from.

“How did you know?” Henry breathlessly asked.

“I dunno,” she replied. “I just had a feeling. Like I’d seen it happen before. It’s something I’ve experienced since a child. You see, I was born on the same day my granddaddy was killed in Vietnam. Inside his utility belt, they found a folded leaf very similarly shaped to your linden tree leaf. I guess he wanted to keep it as a souvenir or put it in a valentine card to my grandma. As I was growing up, I kept it in a valentine card I had made in a school project - for my granddaddy, and every year at Valentines, I’d open it and suddenly get feelings of things about to happen. And more often than not, they did happen. But I never told anyone for fear of being called crazy, you know?”

“Yes,” Henry replied. “I understand.”

“Eventually,” she went on. “The leaf disintegrated, and I never had another premonition – until today. When I saw that tree as I was passing by, it gave me goosebumps. Like I was meant to be here and like I was meant to urgently talk to you. It was like someone was guiding my every move and action. Isn’t that just a crazy thing to say?”

“No,” said Henry. “After what I’ve learned today, I don’t think anything’s too crazy.”

“Hey, if I’m not being rude, you’re about my granddaddy’s age - if he lived to be your age – aren’t you?”

“It’s possible.”

Producing a greeting card from her backpack, the young woman presented it to Henry.

“I know we just met, and I also know Valentines was months ago, but would you accept this card on behalf of my granddaddy? I just have a feeling I’m supposed to give it to you.”

Taken aback by her request, Henry hesitated, then he felt a warm familiar urge to accept it.

“I’m a little embarrassed,” she shyly added. “So, I’m gonna head off. Please promise me you’ll open it after I’m gone, okay?”

“Sure,” said Henry. “Thank you.”

“Watch out for falling trees,” she yelled back, as she hurriedly walked away.

Henry watched her hop onto a bus waiting at its stop, then waved until it was out of sight. Amused at the thought of receiving a valentine’s card from a stranger in July, he opened it to read what it had to say. His expression quickly changed as a flood of emotion overtook him, causing a stream of salty tears to cascade down his cheek. The printed message was simple enough. “Be my valentine,” it read. However, the handwritten note from the young woman, caused an instant flashback to that night in the jungle. He suddenly recalled the icy chill of that night running through him, a shortness of breath, and an instant urge to flee.

“I got a bad feeling,” he said to platoon leader, Mad Merrill Murdoch.

Instead of chiding him, a concerned looking Murdoch lifted his head and acknowledged Henry’s cry.

Pulling his radio onto his lap, he whispered into the headset, “Charlie Four, Charlie Four, this is Madman. It’s Six. He says it’s a bad one.”

Unnerving precarious moments passed before the radio sprung to the crackle of life on the airwaves.

“Madman, this is Charlie Four,” the radio crackled. “Intel says you’re in for a mighty shitstorm out there. The element of surprise is blown. I repeat, ambush is blown. Best to live to fight again, Madman. Rendezvous at Delta Alpha Foxtrot Tango. Come on back. I repeat, mission overridden… Charlie Four out.”

“Six,” Henry repeated to himself, as he finished reading the Valentines card. “That’s what they called me - on account of them thinking I had Sixth Sense. That’s how we all survived!”

Staring at the card for a final time, Henry wiped his eyes dry.

“But this beats all,” he muttered to himself, as he read the card out loud.

To Granddaddy Henry,

I never met you, but I’ve always felt you were never far away.

If I could travel into the past, I’d tell you not to fight but to run,

But as time travel isn’t possible, perhaps this card will find you in another universe.


Your granddaughter,

Jenny H. Willoughby…”



May 02, 2023 07:40

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Darya Silman
05:30 May 04, 2023

That was a hell of a ride. And very smart, effortless transition between two realities.


Chris Campbell
05:50 May 04, 2023

Darya, Thanks for the great feedback. A little scientific theory and a fertile imagination can go a long way. Glad you liked it.


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Delbert Griffith
16:14 May 03, 2023

Wow. Great, great take on the prompt. I'm writing a tale using the same sub-prompt, and I use similar features. I hate to admit it, but your tale holds together and is more engaging than mine. What a great little twist you added to the tale. Several reveals that add up to a great twist, in fact. Just an excellent story, Chris. Well done, my friend. Well done indeed. Cheers, mate!


Chris Campbell
02:24 May 04, 2023

Delbert, You are such an avid reader and commenter, you put me to shame trying to catch up with stories to read. Thank you for your great feedback and your continued encouragement of my written word.


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Mike Panasitti
00:19 May 06, 2023

I could not predict the trajectory of this initially mind bending, and ultimately touching story. When boy meets girl, I thought a "romance" genre tag was missing. When we finally discover it's actually the universes of different generations that make contact under the linden tree, the story popped - as did my heart. Bravo, Chris.


Chris Campbell
02:30 May 06, 2023

Thanks, Mike. When I read it out loud to myself, I got a bit emotional as well. Many thanks for the great feedback.


Mike Panasitti
02:34 May 06, 2023

Passing the tissue test: an indicator of compelling literature : )


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Josephine Harris
21:18 May 05, 2023

Added to the other comments here that I agree with I want you to know that reading this for me is liking reading Vonnegut or Bradbury. It's wonderful to find you here among us.


Chris Campbell
02:28 May 06, 2023

Josephine, What a great compliment, thank you, and many thanks for reading my story.


Josephine Harris
21:10 May 08, 2023

Or Douglas Adams...


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Lily Finch
22:37 May 03, 2023

Chris, you have weaved a beautiful fabric of a story into a great single concept with a happy ending that satisfies all who will read it most likely. Somehow even the technical parts seemed magical rather than sci-fi and masterfully crafted into such a story you have written. It is fabulous. A few suggestions. ungodly torments. - ungodly tormenters? Henry tightly dug into their foxholes - possibly consider ending the sentence at Henry. Every instance where you used the word 'own' you may be able to omit. Other than those suggestio...


Chris Campbell
02:13 May 04, 2023

Lily, Thank you kindly for the great feedback. I took your valid suggestions onboard and re-wrote parts of the opening paragraphs and other sections of the repeated word "own." It reads much better now. Glad you liked it.


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Mary Bendickson
16:49 May 02, 2023

Oh, Chris, you have written this in a way that makes it totally believable and not sci-fi at all. Transformational transversal:) I liked it a lot.


Chris Campbell
02:52 May 04, 2023

Mary, Thanks for the great feedback. I've used part science theory and applied my own interpretation to it, so I'm so glad that it's believable.


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Amanda Lieser
22:53 May 21, 2023

Hey Chris, Well, the story was incredibly, clever! I thought it was really cool that we got to enter straight in on the action. I also really liked the way that you move in the various timelines and provided an explanation to how it all worked. Your characters were incredibly smart, and I appreciated that they ask a lot of the question that I is a reader have for this piece. I think sixth sense is some thing that we as human beings are fascinated with because a lot of us have had those déjà vu experiences. It was really cool!!


Chris Campbell
00:07 May 22, 2023

Amanda, Thank you for the great feedback. I did a little research for this one, so it's great that it bled through the dialogue. I Learned a heck of a lot along the way. Existing in parallel universes would be a great path to immortality, wouldn't it. That would certainly explain the feelings of Déjà Vu. So glad you liked it.


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Helen A Smith
08:42 May 15, 2023

This story feels very real - like it could easily happen. There’s so much to tap into here. A rewarding read.


Chris Campbell
14:24 May 15, 2023

Thank you, Helen. I did a little research on the matter to help give it some authenticity. So glad you liked it.


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