The banging on the bathroom door wouldn’t stop. “Hey, Aaron, would you mind opening up, already? I seriously need to brush my teeth. I don’t want to miss the bus again!”
I didn’t open the door right away. “Just hold on for two seconds, ‘kay?”
“One second. Two seconds. Open up!”
“Whatever.” With my left arm, I twisted the doorknob so Dan could come in. My other arm was still preoccupied with brushing my teeth.
Dan stumbled in. “Finally! He lets me in!” He snatched his red toothbrush from the stand and started doing some serious brushing.
“Someone’s in a rush.”
“I already told you I don’t want to miss the bus. And why did you have to lock the door if you were just brushing your teeth, anyway?”
“Did you need space to think or something? ‘Cause you’re going to have plenty of time to think about asking Sandra out during the bus ride.”
“It’s not that simple,” I said through a mouthful of toothpaste. “I mean, what if she says no? I’d look like such a loser! And then she wouldn’t want to hang out with us anymore because it would be beyond awkward.”
“Dude, you’re spitting toothpaste everywhere.”
“Are you even listening to me?”
Dan nodded, waving his hand as if he were dismissing my worries. “Don’t worry about it. I mean, we spent like two hours last night talking about you and your girl problems. You’re lucky I managed to convince my parents to let me sleep over at your house, even though it was a school night.”
“Yeah, thanks for that, man.”
Dan spat into the sink. “Well, don’t worry about Sandra. She’ll definitely want to go with you to the eighth grade end-of-year dance. And for good luck, eat these jellybeans.” He reached into his pocket and dug out a Ziploc bag with several multicolored jellybeans inside.
“Um. How are jellybeans supposed to give me good luck?”
Dan shrugged. “Beats me. Even though I have one of the highest averages in the class, I’m not a magic scientist.”
“Magic scientists don’t exist. And for that matter, neither does magic.”
“Whatever. They’re just good luck charms, man. Before I asked Taylor to the dance, I ate these. And now I have a date. Before the 400 meter sprint finals in Track and Field, I ate these jellybeans and placed second. So tell me, if these aren’t good luck, what are they?”
“I don’t believe in jellybeans.” Now that was one sentence I never thought I’d say.
“Take them anyway,” he tossed the bag on the sink counter as he turned to leave the bathroom. I put them in my pocket. “And hurry up. We’re going to miss the bus.”
My stomach made a flop. The bus. In less than twenty minutes, I’d be at school, and would have to face asking the most sweetest, most awesome and smart and kind and beautiful girl in the world to the dance. Leaning over the sink, I made sure to spit out my toothpaste and rinsed. As I tilted my head upwards, something in the mirror caught my eye. Being the only person in the bathroom, it certainly wasn’t my reflection.
It was probably just the lighting.
But when I stood up all the way, I saw something that made me wonder if Dan had drugged my pancakes this morning.
Because in the mirror, what I saw was myself. Only it wasn’t myself. Instead of my usual brown hair falling over my eyes, I had spiky brown hair, with blond streaks. Where I was wearing my school uniform—a white blouse with a navy blue sweater vest—my reflection was only wearing his blouse which was splattered with green and purple paint. His sleeves were rolled up, too, whereas mine weren’t. The only thing the same about us were our eyes. They were blue.
The other me was thumping on the mirror with his fists, making movements with his mouth. It took me a while to realise that there was a voice coming out. “Hey you…Aaron. Can you hear me?”
I wasn’t aware that my jaw could drop as low as it did then.
“Hell-o-o-o-o-o-o? Earth to Aaron? I command you—speak!”
I snapped out of my trance. “Who…the heck are you?”
The other me raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m you. Duh.”
I suspected as much, but still… “Am I dreaming?”
“Hopefully not. Otherwise, that would mean I have no chance whatsoever of acing my Math test. I’ve gone through a lot of trouble getting this portal to obey me.”
What? What was this guy talking about? Math test? Portal? “What are you—?”
“Look. I’ll explain everything in a sec. Just step through this mirror, okay?”
“Excuse me?” He was asking me to step through a mirror? He might as well ask me to take off my shoes and step on a porcupine.
The other me looked annoyed. “DO YOU COMPREHEND ENGLISH?”
“Who are you?”
“I already told you, and…hmm…” He looked suddenly interested in something. He reached out, and there were ripples in the mirror. Glass puddles surrounded the area where his arms poked out of the mirror.
I stepped back, completely appalled. “WHAT ARE YOU?” I screamed.
I tried taking another step back but then I realised that the other me already had his arms wrapped around mine.
I struggled against his grip, but man, this version of me was strong.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said, and before I knew it, I was pulled through the mirror.
It was the most indescribable experience ever. One second I was standing in front of my bathroom mirror, and the next second, I was standing in someone’s garage. When I passed through the mirror, I didn’t feel anything. Nothing. Zero. Not even a cool glassy feeling.
My face suddenly hurt.
I realised my other self had slapped me. “Would you snap out of it?”
I blinked. Twice. “You’re…me?”
“Congratulations, you finally figured it out. Would you like a cookie?”
“Wha…Who…Where…” I stopped. Tried to sort out my thoughts. “Okay, can you explain to me what’s going on?”
We were inside my garage, except it wasn’t my garage. Instead of the usual mess, it was super clean. The grey paint wasn’t peeling off and the cement wasn’t cracked. There were no cars in the open garage, only a few bikes parked a bit behind us. We were standing in front of a mirror, which I assumed was the one my other self used to contact me.
“Basically,” my other self started, “you are me and I am you. Except we’re different because you’re from a different universe than I am.”
“Are you talking about parallel universes?”
My other self shrugged. “Sure. Whatever. I didn’t really care about the details when I borrowed that old book from Gramps.”
Gramps? Gramps didn’t read.
I glanced down at the floor and noticed that the other Aaron’s shoelaces weren’t tied. That was somewhat dangerous. I guess he had noticed that I was looking down at his shoes since he slapped me again.
“Anyway, you should know that this whole world is made out of antimatter. I didn’t know this, but Dan told me that if antimatter touches matter, it explodes. Or disintegrates. Or something similar.”
“Are you sure I’m not dreaming?” I pinched myself.
The anti-me ignored me. “Though if it came down to it, I’d hope for an explosion. They’re kind of cool. But as much as I want to see one, I don’t really want to die.” Then he pointed. “That’s why you have that watch on.”
Watch? Looking down, I realised that the Anti-Aaron was right. There was some kind of strange blue watch strapped around my wrist that I didn’t have on earlier. It was pretty simple-looking. Nothing fancy. Just a digital watch, with the time 01:00 on it, only it wasn’t the time because it must’ve been around 7:40-something. But still, it was just an average digital watch.
As if reading my thoughts, “There’s actually something very special about that watch. It’s made out of blue matter.”
Anti-Aaron let out an agitated breath. “You should know this! You’re supposed to be smart, which is why I even brought you here in the first place!”
“I’m so confused. This shouldn’t even be possible.”
“Well, it is. Blue matter is neutral matter. As long as you’re wearing that watch and you’re in this dimension, you won’t be able to destroy anything just by existing. Oh, I should mention that you’d go boom, too. Also, you should know that everyone in this universe is kind of the opposite of the people from your dimension.”
“Which is why instead of being smart like me, you’re an idiot and decided to play with matter and parallel universes?”
“Don’t get smart, short stack.”
“I’m the same height as you. And speaking of smart, you said you wanted me here because I am smart?”
Anti-Aaron nodded. “Pretty much. Basically, I need you to go into school today and do my Math test for me. See, my parents told me that if I can ace this Math test and not fail it like I do with every other test, they’d buy me that new videogame. Apokalyptic 3. Heard of it?”
“What! Excuse me, but why in the world would I do that? That’s cheating! Do it yourself!”
The corners of Anti-Aaron’s lips curled slightly upwards. For some reason, his smile creeped me out. “I thought you might say that,” he said. “Which is why I’m going to propose a deal.”
“Whatever it is, the answer is no. Now send me back home!” I attempted to shove him in the chest, but he casually stepped aside.
“Ah ah ah!” Anti-Aaron waggled a finger. “I think this is a deal you’ll be interested in. It is my understanding that you want to ask out a certain someone.”
I didn’t say anything.
I hissed. “How do you know about her?”
“Um, she’s my friend. Duh. The only reason I know about you wanting to ask out the Sandra from your universe is because I overheard you talking to Dan about it this morning.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but Anti-Aaron cut me off. “Look. If you do my Math test for me and ace it, I’ll give you girl advice.”
“You would have girl advice?”
“Excuse me, but how many girls have I dated? Six. And how many have you dated? Oh yeah, that’s right. Zero.”
“Middle school dating is stupid, though. I just date because it looks good. Anyway, do we have a deal, or do we have a deal?” He stuck out his hand.
He only dated because it looked good? What a shallow jerk.
I looked down at his outstretched hand and hesitated. It was true. I did need all the girl help I could get. And besides, it wasn’t like I would have to do any real work. After all, I don’t even have to study for Math tests and I always ace them. Plus, it wasn’t like it would be real cheating. Because technically, me and him were the same person.
I shook his hand. “Fine. You have a deal.”
About fifteen to twenty minutes later, I was crammed into my usual-but-not-usual tiny desk. As always, the room was stuffy and cramped. The only difference between the anti-Math classroom and the one from my universe was the people. Amy, one of the shyest people in class, wouldn’t stop talking. And my teacher, who was super nice, was screaming and howling at pretty much everyone who so much as looked in her direction. She would make a banshee jealous.
After she managed to calm the room down, she started to hand out the test papers. I was a little nervous before, thinking that in this world, two plus two might equal five, but Anti-Aaron has assured me otherwise.
When the teacher got to my desk, she stared at me for a really long time. “Aaron? You look…different today,” and that was all she said. Then she plopped the test paper down on my desk and went to the next one. I noticed that Dan and Sandra weren’t in the room.
I flipped over the page, and began to read the questions over. Man, this would be so easy! I already knew this stuff. I started on the questions.
After a while, I was starting to wonder how much time had passed. I glanced at my watch. However, instead of it saying 10:35 or something, it said 00:20. I wondered if I had managed to break the watch, somehow.
The phone rang. After getting up from her desk, the teacher walked over to the other side of the room, with her back turned. While she was distracted with the phone, I noticed a finger tapping on the window.
Getting up from my desk, I walked over to the window to take a look outside. I couldn’t see anything. Glancing over my shoulder, I noticed that the teacher was still preoccupied with the phone. I lifted the window pane and stuck my head out. Crouched underneath the sill was my other self, someone I didn’t recognise, and Sandra.
Even though I was kind of used to everything being the opposite of what it was in my world, it still surprised me when I saw her looking as different as ever. Instead of her usual long red hair, it was cut short and spiked up. She had a tattoo of some demonized butterfly on one of her arms, and was wearing a black tank with camouflaged cargo pants. Also, she was wearing a lot of black makeup, and I think she was wearing contacts because her eyes were purple instead of brown. I liked the Sandra from my world better.
“Hey guys. What gives?” I whispered. Then I felt a strong grip on my forearms. Before I knew it, I had landed hard on the ground, next to Anti-Aaron, the other Sandra, and the other person who I didn’t recognise. I stared at the person. She looked kind of familiar.
“Dan!” I said, shocked. “You’re a girl!”
The girl Dan raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“Forget about that,” Anti-Aaron snapped. “We need to talk about something.”
“I didn’t even get a chance to finish your test.”
“Who cares about that!”
I blinked. “But I thought—”
“Who cares? Honestly, I’d rather fail that test than be dead!”
Dan blew loud air out of her nose. I still couldn’t get over the fact that she looked exactly like my Dan, except girl version. Same dark skin, caramel eyes, athletic build, button nose, and curly hair. Except the female Dan’s hair was longer and in a braid. Talk about weird. “When stupid Aaron here,” she gestured towards my Anti-self. “…was reading that book on parallel universes, it’s obvious he didn’t even bother to do his research.”
“Hey, give me some credit!” the anti-Aaron said.
I cut in. “What do you mean?”
“As you know, this world is made of antimatter, and your world is made of matter. The only thing that’s keeping this world and you from blowing to bits is the blue matter on your arm.”
“Aaron and I have gone over this already. Can I go back to the test?”
“Did you go over the fact that blue matter has a time limit?”
What? Then I froze. Did she mean… I looked down at my watch and noticed the time on it now: 00:18. “Do you mean…?”
Sandra cut in. “Blue matter can only be a barrier between two worlds for so long. Everything has an expiry date, and that date only accelerates when put under lots of pressure. Right now, the watch has to protect you from this whole world. It can only do that for so long.”
“When I gave you the watch,” said Anti-Aaron, “The time said 1:00. I thought that was because the time was wrong.”
“Anyway,” said Dan, “Now we know that unless we all want to be floating particles of nothingness, we need to get this Aaron—”she gestured towards me—“back to his dimension. In less than twenty minutes.”
I didn’t want to be floating particles of nothingness. “How do I get back?”
“Duh,” said Anti-Aaron. “You go through the mirror. Are you just pretending to be stupid or is there a block of cheese where your brain is supposed to be?”
I was really starting to dislike my other self. “How are we going to get there in time?” If we had less than twenty minutes left, and it took about fifteen minutes by bus to get to the school, we could make it. But we had no bus. Not to mention, none of us were old enough to drive.
“I can drive,” Anti-Aaron said, as if he were somehow telepathic.
“What? Don’t tell me in this world, you can be fourteen to have a driver’s license.”
“Umm…” Anti-Aaron glanced around nervously. “Sure. We’ll go with that.”
“I thought you said…never mind. We’re wasting time. Let’s go.”
As it turned out, Anti-Aaron was able to drive quite well. I guess he must’ve had practice. We took a shortcut home so we got there in about ten minutes. The time on my watch said 00:07.
Anti-Aaron didn’t even have time to park the red truck we had “borrowed.” As soon as he pulled onto his street, the four of us raced to his house, which was actually a pretty stupid idea, especially considering the fact that if we had stayed in the truck, we would have gotten to the garage faster.
Anti-Aaron was already at the garage by the time we arrived, since he was the one who was driving the truck. But Sandra was the first one to skid to a halt. Then the female Dan (apparently, her name was short for Danielle). And then me.
There was no mirror inside the garage.
Dan cursed. I’ve never heard her curse before. But then again, that was a different version of Dan. “Where the heck is it!” She screamed, though it was more of a statement than a question.
Anti-Aaron looked even paler than usual, which made him look really odd. Then he swore as well. “What day is it today?”
“Thursday…” I said.
He cursed again. “Shoot! The garbage man must’ve taken it!”
“What?” we all said in union.
“My mom…she said she wanted to throw that old mirror out because it’s been in the garage for a while doing nothing but taking up space. After we left, she must’ve put it at the end of the lawn for the garbage men to pick up.”
This time, everyone started swearing.
“Crap, how much time do we have left, other Aaron?” Sandra asked me.
I didn’t really want to look. Half of me hoped that when I looked at the watch, it would be the regular time. The other half knew I was being ridiculous, never mind the fact that parallel universes were already a pretty ridiculous topic. “Five minutes.”
Someone moaned. It was Dan. “We’re not going to make it.”
“We are going to make it,” said Sandra. That was cute. Even in this universe, she was still annoyingly optimistic even when the world was about to end. Literally. “How far away is the garbage dump?” she asked Anti-Aaron.
“Like forty five minutes away.”
“Wow, we are screwed,” I said.
Anti-Aaron glared at me.
“Hmm…” Sandra bit her bottom lip. “What if we took a plane?”
“We don’t have a plane, genius.” I was surprised when I realised I was the one who said this. Everyone turned to stare at me. I glanced at the watch. “Look, you guys. Four minutes until this thing runs out of power. Aaron, do we have to use that particular mirror for me to get back home?”
“It’s the only one my grandpa decided to modify into a portal.”
“Are you positive the garbage men took it?”
Anti-Aaron opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, closed it. Sandra and Dan turned to look at him. “Well…no, actually. One sec.” With that, he charged across the garage and burst into the house.
“What an idiot,” muttered Dan. “None of this would have happened if he had read his grandpa’s instructions thoroughly, and took the time to understand blue matter.” Then she turned to me. “How did he even get you to go along with his plan, anyway?”
Sandra also turned to face me.
“Well…” I started.
“There’s this girl I like,”
“Oh god,” said Dan.
“You’re such a dork. It doesn’t take an Einstein to ask a girl out. Is the me from your dimension as dorky as you?”
Sandra butt in. “So, let me get this straight. In exchange for help with asking out a girl who might not even like you back, you decided to help Aaron cheat so his parents would buy him Apokalyptic 3, and decided to risk putting the whole world in danger?
When she put it that way… “Pretty much.” Except for that last part. I didn’t know the universe would be destroyed.
“You’re so dumb,” said Dan.
“Well, I think it’s sweet.” I turned, surprised to hear Sandra’s voice.
“You…you think its sweet?”
“Well, yeah. The fact that you care about this person enough to put the world on the line is so romantic.”
The Anti-Sandra being into romance came as a shock to me, especially since the Anti-Sandra looked like she wanted to crush the happiness out of everything good in the world. I didn’t open my mouth to tell her that if I had known the universe would explode, I would’ve just taken my chances with Dan’s jellybeans instead.
“Besides,” she added, flipping her hair. “Any girl would be lucky to go to the dance with you.” Then she smiled. Even though this was technically Anti-Sandra, she was still Sandra, and her smile was the same. Gorgeous.
“Tha—” I didn’t get a chance to finish my thanks. Just then, Anti-Aaron burst through the garage door with the mirror banging against his legs as he ran.
“I have it! My mom didn’t throw it out!” He rushed towards us. And tripped on his laces.
Time didn’t freeze. It all happened so smoothly and naturally. Anti-Aaron yelling in surprise. Anti-Aaron falling. His left arm coming out underneath him to break his fall. The mirror hitting the cement floor and shattering.
We all stared at the mess on the floor for what seemed like a thousand seconds. Anti-Aaron was sprawled on the ground, his pupils floating discs amidst the white in his eyes. His lower lip quivered. Somewhere far away, someone choked on a sob.
“Crap!” I realised it was Dan. Even though her voice was aggressive, I could still hear scattered breaks and catches. “What the heck are we supposed to do now? The mirror’s broken! We’re all going to die!” She started pacing. “Oh god oh god oh god oh god… I’m only fourteen! I’m too young to die!”
“Um…we could try gluing it back together?” Sandra bent down to pick up the pieces.
“Like that’s going to work,” Dan spat.
“What other option do we have?” I said. “We have less than three minutes le—AAAAAAAHHHHH!” Pain. Shooting up my leg. Something wet and sticky. I crumpled to the ground, dry heaving. The pain came back, twisting and curling throughout my body, infesting every single one of my molecules. “GAAAAAAAAAAH! GLUE IT BACK TOGETHER!”
“What’s happening?” I heard a voice a thousand miles away ask. I wasn’t sure who it belonged to.
And then there was a much clearer voice, woven with horror. “Oh. My. Gosh! Look at his leg!”
What happened to my leg?
“Ew! It’s like bubbling everywhere!”
More pain shot through my body. “IS ANYONE GLUEING THE FLIPPING MIRROR BACK TOGETHER OR WHAT?”
There was the sound of people scrambling around, searching for ways to piece the mirror back together. The world was growing hazy. My arm felt hot and eventually I lost feeling in it. I coughed and realised I was choking on blood. My watch read 00:00.30
They say before you die a glimpse of your life flashes by. Even though my whole body felt like it was being churned over and over again in a pit of fire, I still saw things. My hockey team. School. Mom and dad. Dan. Sandra. Jellybeans…
Jellybeans. For some reason, the word made me think of something. Something…
“They’re just good luck charms, man. Before I asked Taylor to the dance, I ate these. And now I have a date. Before the 400 meter sprint finals in Track and Field, I ate these and placed second. So tell me, if these aren’t good luck, what are they?”
“Don’t worry, other Aaron! We’re almost done piecing this mirror together!” someone said. I think it was my other self.
“No we’re not even close.” I assumed that was Dan the pessimist speaking. Though in this case, she wasn’t being a pessimist. She was being a realist.
The jellybeans pushed their way to the front of my mind.
If these aren’t good luck, what are they?
Without even thinking I dug into my pocket with my arm that was still good and emptied the bag into my mouth. I waited. Nothing happened. The seconds ticked on.
8. 7. 6. 5.
“We’re on the last piece!”
Hands dragged me across the cement and onto something cool.
Zero is not the smallest number, even though it means nothing. There are an infinite number of numbers after zero, and that’s what the Math test was on. Performing functions with positive and negative numbers. Zero means nothing. Zero means there’s no time left. Zero means no hope.
I opened my eyes. The screaming in my limbs didn’t exist. Zero.
I was standing in front of my bathroom mirror, the door slightly ajar. There was a toothbrush in my hand. Anti-Aaron, Anti-Dan, and Anti-Sandra were nowhere to be seen. Was it all a dream? An illusion? Something told me it wasn’t. The lingering feeling of burning in my leg told me it wasn’t.
“Hey, Aaron, would you mind opening up, already? I seriously need to brush my teeth! I don’t want to be late and miss the bus again!”
I felt like I’ve heard this conversation before. I opened the door.
Dan tripped into the bathroom. “Finally! He lets me in!” He grabbed his toothbrush. “Why did you have to lock the door if you were just brushing your teeth? Did you need space to think or something? ‘Cause you’re going to have plenty of time to think about asking Sandra out during the bus ride.”
I smiled. ‘I don’t need to think about that.”
“If you want, you can borrow my jellybeans.” He reached into his pocket. “They’re lucky because—hey,” He rummaged further. “Where’d they go?”
“It’s fine, Dan.”
He looked up at me. “What?”
“I’m going to ask her to the dance.”
“No, I’m not,” then I turned to walk out the door. I thought of Anti-Sandra. “Earlier she told me that any girl would be lucky to go out with me. I’m going to tell her that I would put the whole world on the line for her.”
“What does that even mean? She’s going to think you’re a freak.”
He was probably right. Or she would think it’s sweet. But I needed to take my chance. Because if there was one thing I learned in that other dimension was that you never knew when some idiot was going to transfer antimatter over and potentially destroy the universe.