The Other Side

by Stanley Sciortino © 2002

"Antimatter!" professor Wladyslaw exclaimed to his astrophysics class, lifting a messianic finger. "Antimatter, will bore a hole through the wall.

"Many speculate that the wall is man-made, that it was constructed when humans first landed on the planet millennia past when our ancestors had wearied of their journey. Some say that the wall is a natural phenomena that transects the planet, that the wall itself had prevented further exploration. Haven't you all wondered what has been kept from us all these generations? The keys to our once space-traveling species? A better life? Another world?"

Wladyslaw knew from his observations that the wall, while high, did not reach the stars though they could be seen reflected against a high part of the wall at night. Lower down, mud and dirt had accumulated in layers against the surface of the wall. The wind would sometimes blow areas clear to reveal a silvery reflective surface. In one such patch, Wladyslaw once observed an image of himself peering back at him through a telescope.

The professor spat onto the classroom floor, pressing his greasy hair back with both hands as if nothing more need be said, then stroked his long beard. His wild-eyed lectures had drifted from outer space, which none were permitted to explore, to the wall, which none were permitted to discuss. Recently, after his wife had pushed out their fifth child-- for the good of the state-- they were rewarded with a housing allowance. Wladyslaw chose to build his new house as close as permitted to the wall and its armed patrols, so he could gaze upon his obsession daily.

His students stared at him petrified-- such questions could get them all imprisoned. At the end of the lecture students hurried out of the classroom, looking silently at each other wondering who would be first to report the professor. Only one student remained.

"Professor, I have completed the design of a small antimatter generator!" The student, a young man with a stringy beard and pulsing eyes, shook a piece of paper thick with elaborate drawings. "I have a working model that you are free to use."

The professor perused the plans, stroking his beard in deep thought. He looked up, put his arm around the shoulders of the student and they walked together out of the building to the student's lab. There the student relinquished the generator enthusiastically.

"Can't I come with you?" The student tugged the professor's arm excitedly.

"No, I must do this alone." Professor pulled himself free and hustled out of the lab.

That night Wladyslaw hid the antimatter generator and began digging towards the wall. The next day, he was placed under house arrest for his statements in class.

Luba, his wife, surrounded by her children and holding her nursing infant, screamed at him, "How are you going to support your family now, professor smarty-pants?" He watched as the reddish birthmark to the right of his wife's mouth, the mark he once found so attractive, turned livid purple like a wildflower darkened with cancer.

He stared at his children silently, shook his head and offered no reply. He knew he was acting for the good of all. He shrugged his shoulders and descended into the basement locking the door behind him.

Wladyslaw soon lost track of the days. He knew he had little time before the authorities discovered his plans. Perhaps they had already arrested the student who had given him the antimatter generator.

Deep in the tunnel lit only by a candle, he scraped away a final layer of dirt. He was momentarily confused by a brightness of candlelight reflected back off a flat surface in front of him. An image of himself stared back now with candle in hand from the other side of the wall. He placed the palm of his hand against the wall. He could feel a reflected warmth, with no surface texture whatsoever.

Wasting no time, he dragged the generator from the basement through the long and narrow tunnel, and positioned it facing the exposed mercurial wall. A clattering emerged from the tunnel behind him. He heard the voices of men shouting. They were coming for him.

He activated the untested generator and, muttering a prayer, closed his eyes. The tunnel rumbled loudly with static pierced by an electrical whine. The sweet odor of ozone choked him. When he opened his eyes, the wall was now black as the bottom of an endless well. He launched himself into this blackness. Feeling something large and warm move past, he squeezed through his self-created exit.

He pushed through into another tunnel where an antigravity generator sat, identical to the one he had left behind. Dumbfounded, he stared back at the wall and confronted his own reflected image again.

Two policemen clambered up the tunnel in front of him, trapping him between his device and the now impenetrable wall. The first policemen smashed the generator with a club. They dragged Wladyslaw out of the tunnel and up the basement stairs.

Luba stood weeping into her hands. The children gathered together behind her clutching at her legs in fear. Wladyslaw wrestled free of the officers, pulled Luba's hands aside and kissed her goodbye.

When the men yanked him away, he saw her tear-stained cheeks and face. Her birthmark, purple and overgrown as before, was now on the left side of her face. He looked around the room and saw that every doorway and window was in exact opposite orientation, a mirror image of what it was before he entered the tunnel.

"I am on the other side! This is the other side!" He exclaimed excitedly as the two men grappled with his arms. They dragged him out into the harsh noon. As he screamed for them to let him go, he caught his reflection on the other side of the wall. There, his counterpart was being dragged off as he too stared wildly back.

x x x

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