“You look familiar…,” David’s new boss somehow read his mind. He was thinking the same thing as the portly, balding redhead shook his hand. “Have we met? Name’s Benny in case we haven’t,” he added with a smile and loosened his grip on David’s hand.
“You too, but I’m afraid I can’t place it,” David said. “I’m going to say we’ve seen each other somewhere, but never actually met; until I remember otherwise.” Benny chuckled and nodded.
“Fair enough, well let’s get started,” Benny cocked his head toward the door to get David to follow him, then he walked out of the small, cluttered office. David followed while searching his mind for a memory of meeting the rotund man. Benny headed straight for the back area of the refrigerated section. Several loaded pallets, bordering on a dozen, were stacked neatly in the center near the refrigerators. Milk, juices, teas, lemonades were piled on and wrapped in plastic.
“Since you finished the training video & quiz early, you get to unload today.” Benny pointed at several colorful posters above each door of the fridge case. “There’s the layout, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Unpack and stock. But…,” Benny chuckled. “If there’s anything running this place has taught me, self-explanatory isn’t always obvious to everyone. There are no stupid questions. I want you to do the job right, if you’re unsure about something, ask. I’d rather you did something right instead of wrong. But, I’d also rather you do something wrong instead of nothing at all. As long as I see you trying, we’re good.”
As Benny explained, he couldn’t help but notice that David was half-chuckling under his breath. It almost rubbed him the wrong way until he caught David’s eyes kept flicking to the pallet of milk. It made him curious instead of mad.
“Something funny?” Benny asked. David’s laughter stopped immediately and his face blanched while he shook his head rapidly.
“Sorry!” he apologized. “It’s just I hadn’t seen that brand before,” he pointed at the top layer of milk jugs on the pallet. The label on the opaque green jug said, “Herdland Meadow”; it was a generic picture of a grassy plain with a golden sun and blue sky. The Herdlands was a country of Minotaurs in David’s dream kingdom. It seemed extra funny, and slightly disturbing to imagine the jugs filled with minotaur’s milk.
“I know, right!?” Benny broke out into laughter, which gave David permission to laugh harder. “I mean, good luck getting one of them to sit quietly for more than two minutes!” David laughed harder and patted Benny on the shoulder.
“That reminds me,” David said between guffaws. “Did you hear the one about the Minotaur in the china shop?” Benny’s laughter slowly became a wheeze and his face reddened with strain; but, he nodded.
“It was a very No-Bull thing you did!” Benny blurted out the punchline and both fell against each other in hysterics. After a few moments, both of them stopped laughing abruptly. They stepped apart and tilted their head at each other in confusion.
“King Benning?” David asked. No one on his Earth would have understood the Herdland Meadow joke, much less the joke about a minotaur with self-discipline. His boss’ familiar appearance suddenly clicked with the new information; it seemed to for Benny also. He nodded, but asked David his own question.
“King Davidson?” Benny asked.
“Holy crap…,” both of them said at the same time.
“What are you doing here!?” Benny asked. It was a silly question, but his mind was still trying to make sense of the situation. Up until that moment, he thought he was the only one that knew about the AlterNet. It wasn’t public knowledge on his Earth yet, but he hadn’t found any hints or mentions online either.
David lived a double life. During the day he lived in the real world and now worked in a grocery store. At night he slept in a soil bed and his consciousness was sent to an alternate Earth while his body rested. The world he chose to spend his dreamlife in was a fantasy medieval setting where running a kingdom was the name of the game. King Benning was always on the leaderboard above David, and he was getting tired of it.
“I’m… playing a game,” Benny said. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m working,” David said, though he didn’t mean it as a smart ass remark. “I don’t play in your Earth until I go to sleep…”
“Ohhhhhhhh fudge,” Benny said. His laughter and smile were gone; replaced by a blank face with trembling lips. He locked his watery eyes with David’s coffe-brown eyes. “I’m asleep right now. Playing a management game…,” David watched Benny’s eyes grow red and puffy as tears started to stream down his cheeks. David felt his stomach knot in despair as he grasped what Benny said.
“Which one is real?” Benny whispered the question. David didn’t know the answer.