Clouded Sun

“No thank you,” Cliff read the words going through his head as the train rolled to a stop. His full name, Cliff Robertson, was on one of the few lines on the first page. The text, ‘No thank you.” followed his name. He returned the small stack of papers to the empty seat, then shuffled his way off the train. He caught a glimpse of the second line, but he didn’t need a script to tell him what he was going to do.

Cliff spent most of his life ignoring unusual, inconsequential happenings. He grew up experiencing magical things, but they happened less and less as he aged. He learned to ignore them the way he assumed other adults did. This note meant for him was just another instance of wonder to ignore. He was looking forward to going home and relaxing at the end of his long week.

Two blocks from his house, a woman popped out of an alleyway in front of him, and she fell in step next to Cliff as he passed. Her hair was purple and she wore a long white coat; he recognized her as the same woman that left the papers on the train.

“Your favorite number is 46,” the woman said. The moment the words left her lips, Cliff stopped walking. He locked eyes with her and nodded with a smile.

“It is, I don’t think I knew that,” he said. Then, he faced forward again and resumed walking. She was quick to keep up with him. “Aren’t you curious how I know that?”

“I make it a point to never be curious,” Cliff replied. As far as he was concerned, he was exchanging pleasantries with another faceless stranger. Although, he did decide he didn’t want the strange woman knowing where he lived. Instead of crossing to the next block, Cliff took a right. The woman followed him.

“But you live back that way,” she pointed at a 10-story, aging building. “Where are we going?”

“I know where I’m going,” Cliff lied with a shrug. “I don’t care where you go.” The woman sighed.

“I was trying to pique your interest with the script and theatrics. I’ve got a job offer for you,” she said while they walked. The scenery deteriorated as they got closer to his apartment complex. Now that they were walking in a different direction, the buildings were looking cleaner.

“I’ve already got a job,” he replied. It seemed like a silly thing to mention because she already knew everything else about him for some reason. But, it was the only thing that came to mind; it would be rude if he just stayed quiet.

“Yeah, a boring one,” the woman said. “Sharp Development has thousands of jobs available on any Earth you want. Live the life you want to live. Don’t waste it in some crappy apartment waiting to die.”  Cliff stopped in his tracks again.

“Different Earths?” he asked. He couldn’t explain the sensation, but somewhere deep inside him, it was like he remembered a fact he’d forgotten about. “Like alternate universes?” he asked. Even as the question left his lips, he knew it was true. The woman nodded.

“You look like an old-west guy,” she said. “You could live out your life on a frontier Earth.” Cliff thought for a moment, then resumed walking. This time, he headed back in the direction of his house. He realized the ruse was a waste since she already knew where he lived. He hoped that once he reached his door he could end the conversation.

“You can’t tell me you’re not interested,” the woman said keeping up with him. Cliff nodded.

“I can,” he said. “I like my life here. It’s not perfect, but I know how to work it. I can do without the complications of alternate Earths. Besides, I imagine I can find the same problems I have here on all the other Earths.”

They crossed to Cliff’s block in silence while the woman tried to figure out a way to convince Cliff to join.

“A tattoo!” She blurted out once the idea hit her. She looked up and realized they were almost to his building. She panicked. “Get a 46 tattooed on you, and you’ll be interested in what’s out there!” she said. Cliff smiled as he unlocked the door. He opened it, stepped in part way to block the entrance, then he turned to face her. He pulled the door closed with a shrug and an apology.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “No thank you.”

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