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Joshua Scribner
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shiftguardian.jpg
Art by Brian Beardsley

Shift Guardian

 

Joshua Scribner

 

 

 

Darian Pedrew peeped out the window and saw two cruisers pull up on the street in front of his house.  Not far behind was a SWAT van.  He went and sat back down, sipping at his morning coffee. 

 

From past experience, he knew there would be more cops in the back.  He supposed the expensive hooker asleep in the bedroom would freak out when they busted in.  That was, if this world went on when he was gone.  He didn’t know.

 

“Darian Pedrew.  We have the place surrounded.  Come out with your hands up!”

 

He smirked.  He had gone out before, but they had never touched him.  This time, he waited.

 

“What’s going on?” the hooker said, coming into the living room.

 

He ignored her.  He would never see her again, anyway. 

 

The door busted open, and then there was static, like the fuzzy lines when television reception went out.  He felt weightlessness.  The static went away, and weight came back.  He was in a different place. 

 

It wasn’t great: a rundown house, maybe an apartment.  It didn’t matter.  He would build back up again.  He was on a sofa that smelled of dust and urine.  He hoped this little place at least had some coffee.  He didn’t feel a physical need for it, but he still liked to have his coffee, new place and time or not.  He started to get up, when someone walked into the room.  The newcomer was a prim and proper man, like a young lawyer.  He was carrying a steaming cup, which he handed to Darian.

 

“Thank you,” Darian said.  He didn’t ask who the man was.  From past experience, he knew better than to ask questions so early in the experience.  He took a sip of the coffee, which was just how he liked it, strong and black.

 

The man sat down on the other side of the couch.  He spoke with a voice as refined as the rest of him.

 

“Darian, I am your shift guardian.”

 

“My what?”

 

“Your shift guardian.  I’ll explain this in a way you will best understand.  Reality is merely a signal you receive, like the signal a television receives from a satellite.”

 

Darian didn’t mind being talked down to by this man.  The “shift guardian,” as he called himself, did it in such a way that he seemed almost fatherly.

 

“When you’re in too much trouble to get out of, I change the channel for you, so to speak.  I switch your reality with that of an alternate version of you.  He has to go suffer your consequences while you come in where he left off and screw up his life.”

 

“Wow!” Darian said.  “I’ve always wondered how that worked.”

 

“Yes, and I’ve done it for you 200 times.  Now, by the rules I live by, I’m able to ask you a favor.  You don’t have to grant it if you do not want to.  I am not allowed to harm you.”

 

“Let’s hear it.  You’ve been good to me.”

 

“Yes, I have.  Now, here’s what I would like from you.  Watching over you can be a tiring task, as you probably know.”

 

Darian nodded, and the shift guardian continued. 

 

“What I need is to take a break.  I need you to live a normal life for ten years.”

 

Darian considered it.  Could he possibly live a normal life?  He didn’t think so.  “But I don’t have to grant this favor?”

 

“No.”


          “Then no.”

 

The shift guardian looked ever so slightly perturbed.  “Hear me out.  I’ve brought you into the life of a man who has managed to procure an insurance settlement.  The payments start today and will be in an amount enough for a modest but adequate existence.  You won’t have to work at all.  All you have to do is live in this apartment and stay out of trouble.”

 

Darian grinned.  “Yeah, well, the answer is still no.”


          The shift guardian hesitated for about five seconds and then said, “Fair enough.”

 

There was suddenly a ruckus.  It was coming from the hall outside.  Someone banged on the door, and not as if knocking, as if trying to break through.

 

“Get me out of here!” Darian shouted, but the shift guardian was gone.

 

The door was shaking, and he thought whoever was outside would soon get through.

 

“Let me in, you jerk!” came from the other side of the door.  Darian recognized the voice.  It next said, “What did you do, sleep with my girlfriend and then steal her stuff while I went to prison for you?”

 

“You had to go to prison?” said a slightly modified version of the same voice.  “That’s nothing.  I was tortured by mobsters.”

 

Another slightly modified voice said, “I was stabbed ten times and have been living my life out in a prison infirmary.”

 

The door busted open and Darian was looking at various versions of himself, some older and some younger than he was.

 

“Get him!” shouted one.

 

“I say we bake him in the oven for a while!” shouted another.

 

Darian tried to run but was overwhelmed.  A few of them carried him.  He saw one of them take out an oven rack, and then he was crammed into the small space and the door was shut.  He heard the whoosh of the gas being lit.

 

Darkness changed to static and he became weightless. 

 

He came to on a couch, hyperventilating.  He noted it was the same couch from before. 

 

There was a folded piece of paper sitting on his lap.  He opened it and read:

 

 

 

Dear Mr. Pedrew:

 

Due to a breach of Rule 767 that no more than one version of a person may be brought into a single reality, your shift guardian has been suspended.  Your spirit must remain in a body for a time of no less than thirty years before it can be synchronized to the controls of a new shifter.  Dying within your current reality will result in grave consequences for your soul.  Please remain in the provided reality until the time of your next shift, which will move you to a younger age.  We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. 

 

The Overlords

 

 

Darian crumbled the letter. 

 

“Thirty years,” he said out loud.

He knew there was no way.

 

 

 

 

Joshua Scribner has published five novels and over thirty short stories.  His fiction won both second and fifth place in the 2008 Whispering Spirits Flash Fiction contest.  Up to date information on his work can be found at joshuascribner.com.  Joshua currently lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.

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