To celebrate the paperback release of Charles Yu's incredible novel How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, we're running an exclusive, never-before-seen-by-humans story that Yu wrote about the origin of the strange world where his time-traveling main character lives.
If you haven't had a chance to read Yu's book yet, this tale will give you a taste of his style and humor. It won't spoil you for the novel, either.
(a Universe 31-A story)
(a New Angeles/Lost-Tokyo story)
(an alt-Charles Yu story)
I turned fourteen the summer the world fell apart. I was taking an early morning physics course at the junior college that got out every day at eleven. Afterward, I'd swing by the park and pick up my kid brother and we would walk over to the community pool and jump in, just as the day was turning hot. We'd race end to end, seeing who could hold his breath longer, and when we got bored, we would beach ourselves on the concrete lip, feet and calves still in the water, and stay as still as possible, trying to stay within our own water shadows, avoiding the hot surface around us, protected by the regions under us, our damp shaded self-outlines our only defense against the rest of the world.
One day at the end of the summer, two weeks before the fall, we came back from the pool and my mom and dad were both home from work. It was the middle of the day. They were sitting at the kitchen table across from each other, neither of them looking at one another. The air was heavy and still, and filled with whatever they had been saying to each other just as we'd come through the door.
I didn't say anything but my brother (being younger and braver than I was or ever will be) said, it's never going to be the same again, is it. My father picked him up and put him on his lap, and, in some awkward attempt to be part of that exchange, to show my father that I was thinking of him, I pointed out to my dad that my brother's trunks were all wet. My dad looked at me, evenly, without the warmth he reserved for my brother, and said, no one cares. No one cares about that.
That night my mother let us order a pizza and eat it in front of the television. She tied her hair up with a small scarf, which made her look every bit as pretty as she actually was, and she wore shorts.
"Mom, you look like a girl," my brother said. "Are you?" My mom laughed and took a sip of what she was drinking. We watched the TV together quietly for a while. She looked at me and I must have looked like I was wondering if I'd ever see my dad again, because she tugged on my ear and said, hey bud, it's not the end of the world. But it was. Just then, the program was interrupted by a news flash. They were showing how the universe had split itself in two.
The reporter was standing at the faultline, explaining that it was not like an earthquake, in that there was not an actual line you could draw showing where the schism had taken place. It was not land, or a tectonic plate or even the whole world splitting. It was space and time itself, it was reality itself. I didn't understand it at the time, of course, but it was more a conceptual event than anything. It was also not like an earthquake in that it would not be violent or sudden. It would be invisible and silent and take place over years.
The perceptible part of the process had just begun, but in reality, it had happened gradually, and then all at once. A fissure, a tiny crack somewhere, unnoticed, and then it grew, micron by micron, along the path of least resistance, and then it spidered out into an uncountable number of capillaries and then, in an instant, the first world, the undivided city, broke apart into two cities, two universes in fact, the low world falling out of the high one.
Copyright (c) Charles Yu. Printed with permission of Charles Yu.