My name is Trent McCaskill the Third, and I’m a lot of things: trust fund kid, college dropout, someone who is often mistaken for the lead singer of a boy band, recreational drug user, and a card-carrying, bona fide superhuman.
I have the ability to notice things that no one else does.
Noticing things might not sound like much of a superpower, and in practical sense, it’s really not; had I been a participant in the first annual Arena Mode tournament armed solely with my super-ability to super-notice stuff, I would’ve been flattened into a meat waffle after thirty seconds, only to have my remains scraped off the pavement with an oversized spatula during the extensive clean-up efforts that followed. In a world populated with laser-emitting demigods and behemoths packing a right hook like a Panzerfaust, my super ability isn’t heavy on the ‘super’.
And although noticing stuff is useless in hand-to-hand combat, it has it’s upsides. Primarily, I know that the world I live in is wrong. And I know this because reality has been changed.
Others vaguely recollect the world before the timeline shift as well, though not nearly to the same degree that I can. This is sometimes referred to as ‘The Mandela Effect’, a popular pseudoscience theory that explains the differences between our collective memories and differences in the real world. Some of these differences are subtle—like a song lyric or corporate logo that you grew up with a clear memory of, but later discovered had always been different—while others are momentous events that thousands (or even millions) of people remember a completely different way. The name of this theory comes from the fact that many believe they witnessed Nelson Mandela’s funeral on television in the 1980s, when, in reality, the former South African president didn’t pass away until 2013. There’s an entire subculture dedicated to cataloguing and discussing these differences ad infinitum (do you remember Mickey Mouse with red suspenders? He never had them. And the Rubix Cube? It was never spelled that way—it has always been spelled ‘Rubick’s’)
How is it that so many people misremember the same subtle details that permeate the world around them? Could it be that a cosmic calamity threw a wrench into the works, skewing our reality off-course and into a bizarro-world version of how things were supposed to be, and that we’ve retained some muted, shattered fragments of a past that was ostensibly re-written?
It’s easy to chalk all of this up to coincidence; conspiracy-theory distractions to kill a few hours online. But I know the Mandela Effect is real, because I remember every single detail of the world before the timeline changed.
Like everyone else, I remember the minutia of songs and movies and world leaders who passed away. I remember when super humans were first discovered. I remember them fighting in the Arena Mode tournament. And I remember when they turned on us. The co-ordinated attacks, the explosions, the chaos; every landmark that fell as a result of the conflicts; Westminster Abbey shattering like glass; The Statue of Liberty being liquefied; The Sydney Opera House vaporized as if it had never existed; assassinations, riots … the moment we all thought it was the end.
And, like everyone else, I remember when Reginald Knox—the winner of the original Arena Mode tournament—saved the world. When in costume, he was known as ‘The Immortal’, and throughout a brutal day of competition, he lived up to his name; he cut down every opponent with ease inside the Arena, and claimed the ten billion dollar prize at the finish line. He stayed out of the public eye for years, but during the unrest The Immortal came thundering to our rescue like a spandex-clad trope straight from a comic book, once again besting every super human on the planet, and locking the survivors in a remote island prison. Thanks to Knox, the world’s super human population (at least those willing to admit they have abilities) had been effectively reduced to one. It was for the best, everyone seemed to agree. Apparently one hero was all we needed.
Everyone remembers these things, and why shouldn’t they—they’re documented in history books, discussed in holoforums, and are constantly referenced by the media.
But unlike the rest of the population, I can see that none of this ever happened.
I know that The Immortal never participated in the Arena Mode tournament. I know that he suddenly appeared, and that every other super human coincidentally vanished around the same time.
Despite being a fabrication, 2053 was peaceful, and relatively uneventful. Under the watchful eye of our remaining active superhuman, the planet wasn’t a dystopian wasteland or a nightmarish monoculture—hell, after the damage had been repaired, it was actually nice. Governments re-stabilized, borders opened, free trade resumed. It wasn’t long until crime rates plummeted, and terrorism—superhuman or otherwise—became a barbaric relic of a forgotten time. But the more comfortable things became, the more I questioned the world around me. When I focused my mind, I could see the barely perceptible cracks forming in its shiny new veneer, gradually revealing what had been lacquered over. And the longer I focused, the more I saw.
It’s like my vision could be chopped into a split screen, where everything divided neatly into parallel feeds. There was the real world—muffled and streaked with a chalky blur; and beside it was the bright, Technicolor alternate version we’d veered away from, bursting with undiluted truth.
No one believed me, of course. Why would they? I wouldn’t believe me either, any more than I’d heed the sage advice of a screaming hobo shouting doomsday prophecies from inside a cardboard box. I was alone in a world of the colour blind, pointing at a rainbow I couldn’t prove existed.
I knew the world was wrong. But without evidence—or the slightest clue how to fix it even if knew where to start—I chose the path of least resistance. Like a war, or regime change, or a natural disaster, there was nothing a single person could do to tip the scale, so I did what everyone else does when things go sideways: absolutely nothing. At least nothing productive, which was par for the course; with a bank account full of cash and nowhere in particular to be, I travelled, and gambled, and shopped, and bedded any attractive woman who caught my eye, and generally carried on as if I didn’t have this annoying super power that I’d been cursed with. I wrapped myself in apathy like a warm blanket in front of a fireplace, and it was comforting. The cozier I got, the less I cared about the timeline we’d left behind.
Virtual reality gaming in Tokyo offered a year of blissful distraction, and big wave surfing in Bali ate up a few more. Then, when my wardrobe needed an update and I longed for a cooler climate, I headed to Europe, at which point I’d all but forgotten that I even had a super power to begin with—if such a power was still functional. Little was known about the origin of super powers back then, so for all I knew they were like lithium batteries, gradually degrading over time. Either way, I couldn’t have cared less if I tried. I’d moved on. And I had shopping to do.
I was strolling the Champs-Élysées on a blustery October afternoon, a bag full of designer sweaters in each hand, when I spotted the most beautiful Parisian I’d ever seen. I was determined to make her my next conquest: an olive-skinned reed of a woman cloaked in a knitted white shawl, with a coil of silky auburn hair piled atop her head. Her sunglasses were round and black and ridiculously oversized, and she walked a lot faster than her towering heels should’ve allowed.
She was mesmerizing. I stared for a lot longer than was socially acceptable, brushing shoulders with grumbling pedestrians as I kept my gaze locked onto her like a tractor beam. I had my opening line prepared in my head (“Bonjour! I’m lost and don’t speak French … can you help me find a book store?” the confused tourist angle worked magic with the locals, and the bit about books made me seem more cultured than I actually was). But once I approached and saw past her striking features, I realized something that no one else would have, no matter how inappropriately long they’d stared: this woman wasn’t a Parisian. She wasn’t from this world at all.
As it turned out, superhuman abilities don’t have a shelf life. Mine were in perfect working order, whether I wanted them to be or not.
I dropped my bags and sprinted after her.