Negative Man Audio as read by George Hutcheon.
The glass wall stretched for miles, a perfect plane. A man, covered in dirt from his journey, stood stricken, staring into its surface. He had no eyes for the mirror itself, forgotten artifact that it was. The landscape it projected was similarly ignored. He only looked at the other man inside- the man who was him but was not him. The other man was wrong, and made more so due to being a near exact copy of the onlooker.
They were identical, but for color. The man in the mirror looked garish—with lights where there should be darks, and other colors that should not have been on a human body at all. And suddenly the wanderer knew that he had to know how being so wrongly made had affected this him that was not himself.
He pushed through the mirror and with the absence of his other, who was not waiting for him, he was forced to see what the mirror could have told him before had he been looking. It was near overwhelming. He had to shade his eyes and hold his head down for some moments as the worst of the disorientation passed. This world was wrong. Between the discolored sun, sky, and ground, it was no wonder his double had been dyed so strangely. Even more than before, he had to know what effect this strange world had caused to him that was not himself.
The logical choice was to head to the new version of the town where he that was himself had been before finding the mirror. He walked in silent amazement of the odd landscape as his eyes further adjusted to the light and colors, trying also to become used to walking the wrong way to go to the right place. So many things he’d once taken for granted and now he had to give them up in the face of this bizarre world. For instance, he could not deny the warmth of the day, despite what clouds there were looking as if they should be part of a terrible storm.
From his first step in The Wrong World, to his entry of the outskirts of that border town, the traveler had been preparing himself mentally. Things were the same but different. And people. And him. And for all his mantras of expected change, he still stared in awe at the people around him. The colors were still strange but that wasn’t what caused his body to freeze with shock. It was the faces, those wrong faces, and the transition of emotions that took place there. The initial reactions of open surprise and guarded curiosity were enough to make him accept that in this wrong world, it was himself that was wrong.
He scanned the faces desperately, mindful of the moods that they reflected. Somehow he knew that even in this Wrong World that surprise, distrust, fear, and defensiveness, would be the natural order. More and more faces gathered at different stages of that progression—and even some, though far fewer, went through an entirely different cycle. No face was his own and he put his hands up in submission as he backed away. The wanderer crossed back over any line which might mark the edge of what this town could claim. At that point the wanderer turned and ran, forward, further into the wrong world. It was imperative that he met him who was not himself and know what marks this world, this life had made on him.
The strange sun seemed more oppressive to him even as he grew more used to it. His mind was letting go of the insistence that such a color should be cooler than it was. The reality of the heat and the memory of those stares combined, causing him to stagger, sending him lurching forward gracelessly under that star’s unconcerned gaze.
Due to the presence of that discolored sun, and because it had been day time in his world, the wanderer had accepted the day for what it was. The night sky, however, was terrifying. He lay on his back, his head upon his arms, staring up at it—wanting to sleep but unable to shut his eyes for fear of what strange movement it might attempt. When exhaustion won and he did sleep, he had unsettling dreams that matched the feeling in his gut. Upon waking, he thought it just as well that it was less than a day’s journey to the town that was and was not his home. He was sure that would be the end point, and it would be a relief to be done with it. Still, he was apprehensive. He kept imagining the faces of his friends and family, changing color then adopting the distrustful scowls of the previous town.
The faces danced between states so many times that when the man reached his destination, they were interchangeable to him. Again, at the town limits, again his preparation fell short. He’d made a fair guess at what colors would replace the sights of his home. He was even getting used to going in the wrong direction to come to the right place, viewed from the wrong angle. However, the feeling that everything was dearly familiar and completely alien at the same time was so powerful that it was difficult to keep his feet. The wanderer found himself thinking back to the moment he’d chosen this, his mission. His singular focus at that time had kept him from seeing the strange landscape, or considering the opposite motions of this world. He had seen one thing and had known what to do. That focus was needed again. The traveller closed his eyes and found that single point of certainty amid the chaos of his thoughts and felt as if somehow the world had gone silent when he knew it had not. It was his own mind that quieted, no longer flashing images and proclaiming what was wrong at every visual stimulus. It was with peace and purpose that the man again opened his eyes and immediately started walking. His whole body knew exactly where to go.
The faces, the discolored scenery, and the misaligned landscape faded from his awareness. It was as if as one they decided to part and not hinder this person who so obviously discounted them. The way was so easy that only minutes that might have been seconds passed before the traveller arrived at the very place he had wanted to be—directly in front of him that was not himself.
He looked into that face and it felt as though he were back at the mirror, the beginning. In front of him, the man’s skin was a mix of reds, some so light as to be almost white instead of greens, some dark enough to appear black. The areas around his double’s eyes were a glaring white, rather than easy black. The eyes themselves were an odd light blue rather than red. He saw the wrongness of it, but this time he was ready to see beyond that. This time he saw that his double’s expression was the exact same look of dumbfounded shock that the traveller had worn back at the mirror. He knew, instinctively, that this man that was not and yet was himself felt the same, thought the same, and lived the same.
The traveller smiled, turned, and started walking back to the home that had always been his home.
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