Tricia fell to the couch exhausted. Most of the day passed in a blur of phone calls and condolences for her. The 22-year-old woman did not get any time to mourn since that morning when she found her father’s body in bed. He looked worn out and haggard while still dressed in the last clothes she saw him in. The same clothes he wore into the basement the night before: a pair of blue jeans, steel-toe work boots, and a flannel shirt. He looked like he’d be right at home on a construction crew but he telecommuted to a standard office job.
She called police, an ambulance, his job and the few distant cousins she was aware of. They did not have much family, it was only them two for as long as Tricia could remember. Her mom left when she was in elementary school, never to be seen again.
Now she let herself plop on the couch at 6:55 p.m. to think about what her next step was. Money wasn’t an issue. Despite being a standard office lackey, Tricia never wanted for anything. Now that she graduated college and started her own career she began to take over the finances. She tried to get him to retire but he kept putting it off.
“Love you, honey.” His voice echoed in her mind as she leaned back and closed her eyes. It was part memory, part habit. Those were the last words he’d said to her as he went down into the basement. He always said that whenever he disappeared into the lower room for the night. If he went, and he usually did for most of the week, it was the last time she would see him for the day. It started when she was about 10. She didn’t question it at the time. By the time she was old enough to be curious, their routine had been established and she just went with it. She felt that curiosity stir again now that their routine was permanently disrupted.
“I love you too, dad,” she whispered her usual reply and pulled herself off the couch. “Time to see what you’ve been up to, I guess.” Talking aloud helped her imagine she was actually talking to him. Her father kept the basement locked no matter what side of the door he was on, and the key was always on him. Tricia unlocked the door and entered the basement.
She was immediately disappointed. She wasn’t an overly curious child and didn’t give the basement too much thought growing up. Occasionally though, her imagination ran wild. During her early teen years, she thought he might be a mad-scientist or a superhero with some sort of secret lab. That’s when she learned her father always kept the only key on him. The mystery grew and then faded into the background as she discovered boys.
She flipped the single light switch and padded down the flight of shaky, wooden steps. A tower of pizza boxes leaned against one corner and it was surrounded by empty plastic soda bottles. In the center of the basement was a large empty garden bed. It was a 7′ x 7′ boxed in area filled with rich brown soil and a hole in the middle big enough to bury someone.
“What the hell, Dad?” she said. Her father had never been messy enough to leave trash lying around. Her first instinct was to clean up after him. She walked to the tower of boxes to start hauling them upstairs but stopped when she saw the logo. ‘Brickfire Pizza’. She was slightly annoyed and looked up at nothing with narrow eyes. “You found a new pizza place and you didn’t tell me about it?” she complained.
Pizza was their favorite meal and they eagerly tasted each and every new shop they came across. Thinking about the pizza piqued her hunger, then the smell of hot pizza hit her nostrils .” Shit, I haven’t eaten all day,” Tricia suddenly realized. “I guess I should order something.” She grabbed a couple of boxes and turned to go back up the stairs; then, she dropped the boxes in surprise.
Her father was standing there in his blue jeans and flannel shirt. He was holding a “Brickfire Pizza” box and a 2-liter of soda and stared at Tricia with a surprised look on his face. Behind him, a translucent blue portal shimmered. She could see something that looked like a construction site on the other side.
“Dad?!” she took a step toward him, but he took a step back with a frightened look in his eyes.
“Who are you? Where’s Fred?” he asked using her dad’s name. Tricia stopped in her tracks.
“Daddy?’ she asked and took a single step forward. Her father sighed and shook his head.
“I’m not Fred, I’m his Zero,” he said sternly. “Where the hell is he? He’s gonna be late for work.”
“Wha.. what?” Tricia cocked her head trying to make sense of what the man said. She understood the words but didn’t know how they all fit together.
“Jesus. Are you his kid? Go get your dad and tell him to get his ass to work or neither of us is getting paid.” He said as he walked to the soil bed.
“He’s dead,” Tricia said. She still did not know what was going on, but this man didn’t act like her father at all.
“You’re kidding?” he asked. That made her angry.
“Who the hell are you and why do you look like my dad?” she asked with a firm tone. The familiar stranger sighed.
“Damnit, now I gotta find another one,” he said. “Fuck, I can’t miss work today.” He threw the pizza and soda on the ground like a grumpy child and stomped back toward the portal.
Tricia rammed him before he stepped through it. She ran and put all her weight into a hard shove to unbalance him, then she spun and swept his legs out from under him. He fell on his back with a hard ‘Oomph’ and the young woman knelt down on his chest.
“Who are you and why do you look like my dad?” she asked again. He wrestled against her for a bit but she had all the leverage. Finally, he sighed and relaxed.
“I’m your dad’s double from an alternate universe. We made a deal years ago. He goes to work for me and we both get paid. Now that he’s dead I have to find another one,” he said.