‘If that’s your idea of a joke,’ I gave him a disgusted look, ‘then I find that profoundly unfunny. Take me home, then leave.’
‘Not a joke. How do you think I know so much about you?’ He gave me a smug look that told me he was prepared for this.
‘I’ve just transported you to several different worlds already. When you think about it, it’s quite conceivable you could win the World Cup for England.’
‘Really? I don’t play football.’
‘You used to though?’
‘Yeeees. But what young lad didn’t kick a ball around the park at one time?’
He waved a finger at me. ‘You did more than that. You played for your county at under 15 level. Why did you stop?’
I hesitated. ‘An accident.’
‘An accident. The same accident that killed me?’
I flinched at that but nodded. ‘The accident in which my brother was killed. I had an injury that came back to haunt me two years later and I had to give it up for good.’
He sipped at the coffee cup. ‘Where I come from, that accident killed you. In this world, who knows? Maybe we both survived. Maybe our parents were killed. Maybe there was no accident and that drunken bastard only killed himself, or decided to get a taxi home that night.’ He gestured at the poster of men, beaming with my World Cup Winner’s Medal. ‘How the fuck could I have concocted that?’
An audible tut from an older man on the next table startled him into silence for a few moments.
‘Let’s just say, for the sake of the argument, that I believe you. What then?’
‘Do you believe me?’
‘I’m finding it hard.’
‘Shit! We have to go, she’s here.’ He turned to the older man and uttered ‘sorry!’
The next moment we were in another yet very different London.
‘Right, I’ve been here before,’ he said, examining the ruined buildings around us and the murky grey river behind him. ‘We’re safe for now, but won’t have long.’
‘Jeeesus. What happened here?!’ I exclaimed. I had never seen any part of London look this bad – this dead. It was cold and desolate and the buildings were little more than empty shells. Empty windows no longer held glass, the square that had once been a coffee shop a mass of rubble.
‘Bloody Americans.’ He stood up. ‘But to be fair, they were probably justified.’
‘In doing what exactly?’ I looked appalled at the level of desolation. The only thing that appeared to come close was the Ukrainian city of Pripyat.
‘They dropped the atomic bomb on London about 70 years ago.’
‘Was that really necessary?’
‘ It ended World War II.’
‘Yeah but… why? Were they on the side of Hitler?’
‘Here? No, we were.’
‘Oh, shit.’ That certainly gave me pause for thought, but I don’t know why it did.
‘You’ll find that not all worlds conform to your expectations dear brother.’ He ushered me to stand up. ‘As I said, we are safe but we don’t have long. Come with me.’
I followed him into the shell of the building behind us. In my world, it was the coffee shop. In this world, it looked like the front end of what was left of a warehouse. This looked like part of an old dock and probably a military one.
The smell of human urine and rat faeces forced its way up my nostrils. The place might have looked dead, but there was life here.
We found a small anteroom near what looked a downstairs office. Its dark, dingy nature looked like an office store room. We stood out of view of the door. Through the crumbling brick, I could see across the city and saw only urban wasteland to the horizon.
‘Bleak, isn’t it?’ my “brother” said. ‘But don’t worry. I’ve been outside the confines of London, it’s not all bad.’
I nodded though his words brought me little comfort. ‘What is it you want?’
‘Well, now I seem to have you convinced, I need to ask a large favour of you.’
He saw my silence and neutral expression as at least confirmation that I was willing to listen. ‘Where I come from, things are… not exactly pleasant. Someone needs our help. Will you come with me?’
I was about to ask him a whole library of questions when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of green. It moved into the frame of the door and quickly out again.
‘I think she’s here.’ I whispered.