sporklet 11

Kolby Harvey

The Other Side

It came to be known that our town was split in two, not hot dog or hamburger, but down the edge, like cardstock rubbed in the corner by a wet thumb so that two thinner sheets of cardstock could be peeled apart, yet never completely separated, because cardstock never tears neatly in this way.

It was the scientist who figured it out. This town is split in two, she said. Imagine a piece of cardstock rubbed in the corner by a wet thumb, she said. This, actually, she did not say. She, the scientist, spoke in terms very scientific, addressed the town, called them to the town hall because she had solved the riddle of the flickering light bulbs, the barking dogs, and the dead birds with her hands in her pockets. The townsfolk misunderstood. They puffed their chests and made eyes. They acted foolishly. It was this paper analogy that finally made them understand, and, for expediency’s sake, we amended the story to have the scientist offering this explanation straight away.

Everyone has a twin on the other side, she said. A doppelgänger if you prefer to think of it more ominously. It seems they’re coming through into our side of town. Into our very brains. The brains were our own embellishment, for drama.

Naturally one side was evil. Such is the way of these things. We decided our side was the good one, and whenever anyone did anything bad, we told them: that’s the other side coming through.

On our side was a boy. He was 14. He was gay. A gay boy of 14. Of his gayness, his mother said: you didn’t get that from me. That’s from your dad, from the other side.

A dad from the other side, she had said. It stuck. At school, he told the story—a dad from the other town, the switcheroo to our side, and a someday-return to a side that wanted him. This story he chose for himself. For us and now you.

This boy lived in a bedroom across the hall from a bathroom, and in this bathroom was a toilet that refused to stop running, a toilet that would send water thundering down the pipes at all hours, because even the town’s toilets had doppelgängers.

The boy showered in this bathroom each day after school, and for a bit in spring semester, one of us had taken to walking the boy home and sharing that shower. Details from this period are scarce, because one of us just isn’t into that stuff anymore, but we’ve pieced together the following:  we know that once during this shower, the boy stepped on a spot in the tub and heard a clink. He had stepped on this spot, and the tub bottom had given way just so, before popping back with a clank. The boy pressed the spot with his foot again, then let up. Clink, clank. He thought he could make a song of it, so he pressed and let up again, quicker this time. Clink, clank. He pressed and pressed, clink-clanking a beat, faster and faster, until he punched his foot right through the bottom of the tub. The water from the showerhead went through the hole his foot had made instead of the drain, and he heard the sound of water hitting water. He put an eye up to the hole and saw a lake. Under his bathtub:  a lake. Our witness verified.

We are told the boy took hold of the jagged edges around the hole his foot had made and pulled, breaking off chunks of fiberglass until the hole in the tub was large enough for his body to fit through. He went to his room and stripped the standard and fitted sheets from his bed. He tied them together at the corners, and then slipped the top of the fitted sheet over the tank of the toilet. The end of the sheet-rope he let hang into the hole in the tub. He then plugged his nose and slipped through, falling feet first into the lake.

The water was cold but not unbearable, the boy told his shower companion. Some of it had passed into the boy’s mouth as his head rose from beneath the surface and it had tasted clean. He said it tasted like the earth in the way that raw oysters taste like the sea. The lake was deep, and the boy could see no bottom. As he tread water, blue light trailed his arms and legs. Where water from the hole in the tub fell into the lake, the same blue light spread in faint circles. The scientist would have recognized this phenomenon, but the boy did not, and he found it beautiful and terrifying. He floated on his back while the drops from above sparkled around him. Soon, we’re to understand, the thought came to him that the water may be poison, that the light was somehow a result of toxicity or radioactivity, so he took hold of the edge of the standard sheet and climbed up through the tub. As he climbed, the toilet flushed itself, annoyed by its new role as anchor.

The boy emerged from the hole in the tub and sat naked under the now-lukewarm cascade of the shower with his companion. Together they looked into the black of the lake. Deep in its waters, blue light swirled, tracing the motions of unknown leviathans. Drawing their knees up to their chins, the two imagined fresh-water whales, skimming the depths of the cave for translucent krill. They thought of river dolphins and giant squid and blooms of jellyfish, all awhirl in the cave-lake below.


That same evening was what we now call the Coalescence. This was the night, the scientist said, that the two sides of town would merge. Or cancel one another out. It was difficult to say. She'd only seen this kind of thing happen once before. The air around town felt like a storm without the storm. There was no rain. The wind blew and the air was electric hot, almost crackling. This night, the shower companion stayed for dinner. We are told it was awkward.

That peas were served with dinner we are certain. All else is a mix of our single, present member’s memory and conjecture. Though incomplete and beyond authentication, we offer the following:

The boy and his mother and the awkward guest sat on the porch to feel the electric air. The porch light began to flicker. This was an expected occurrence. The scientist had concluded that flickering light bulbs indicated a person and their doppelgänger were in the exact same place, albeit on other sides of the split town. The scientist warned to shift one’s attention away from flickering bulbs. Were you and your twin to focus on the same bulb at the same time, she told us, it could wipe out both sides of town, pulling all of reality into a sinkhole of space-time. Or you could end up with an excruciating migraine.

But the boy knew his porch light was special. And as he stared into its filament, it pulsed brighter and brighter.

Don't look, his mother said.

There's something different, he said. Something for me in the bulb, mom.

We think the boy was, in fact, special; the one the scientist suspected must exist. The one without a twin, who flickered in every moment between both sides.

The porch light flared. The boy saw neon. The filament exploded in a shower of sparks. In this, the boy saw everything—the answers to both towns, how it all fit—and the neon blotches became eyes, his own eyes, staring at him from the other side no matter where he turned.

He screamed. He screamed when the bulb burst, screamed the worst noise his mother and his shower companion had ever heard, and didn't stop. He screamed a boy's scream and a girl's scream at the same time, the metallic scream of loose fan blades, the ragged scream of a cat in heat.

The boy never saw the darkness from inside the house coalesce around his ankles into a clawed hand. It wrapped tight around his ankle and pulled him to the ground, still screaming, and drug him down the porch steps and up into the air.

The boy saw his mother and their guest and the porch shrink away into darkness as the beating of enormous wings took him further into the sky. Either witness may have seen the beast, had the porch light not exploded, had the boy not been screaming.

We can only assume it came from beneath the tub for this boy, the one with the answers, just as we can only imagine the boy, looking down at streetlights, tiny from distance, thinking his father had come to take him home, to the other side. The boy thinking this one thing, but the truth being the beast had come to rip him open, to devour all that he was and erase his every thought from the earth.

Was it sheer chance that he alone of the townsfolk was whole and undoubled? We think so. Could the whirlpool of arcane knowledge churning in the boy’s head have attracted the monster, or did the beast simply seek out the most vulnerable among us? Perhaps the two towns and the creature and the entire folded multiverse worked together like a cell, excising some aberrant gene from their cosmic code. Perhaps the monster was just angry about someone defiling its lake.

This we know: 

That below, both sides of the town came together and made a new town, without flickering bulbs or toilet doppelgängers or holes in tubs, and that in this town, all was replicated and made anew save this one boy who every day becomes more difficult to remember, the details of his being scrubbed clean from our minds by the reintegration of the township.  With each telling the story becomes fuzzier, even what we ourselves have added to it, save the boy’s scream. We are told by the shower companion that this he hears in walls when water pushes up and down the pipes; in the whine of mopeds on the highway; in the squeaky hinges of house gates; in the chime at the end of the microwave cooking cycle. Behind all things quotidian, the boy’s scream and a darkness from the center of the earth.

Kolby Harvey is a gay space pilgrim who likes Queer Theory and video games. In 2018, he was awarded the University of Colorado’s first creative doctorate in Intermedia Art, Writing & Performance. His chapbook, The Mothercake Cycle, is forthcoming from Dream Pop Press. You can find more of his work in BirkensnakeAmerican Book Review, DREGINALD, Aspasiology, and The Thought Erotic.