Pete and Feather: Déjà Vu Detectives
Walking through the cave, Pete held Feather’s tail to his side. Its white tip brushed against the blue suitcases that were scattered over the cave walls.
“What are we doing?” he said to what remained of his old cat.
His finger pressed against the fleshy nub that had developed at the tail’s bottom. “This is stupid.” The sound of his words echoed among his footsteps and the drips of water falling from stalactites.
Pete turned 180 degrees and his eyes followed the line of torches back down to where he’d come from. He pointed the tail in that direction. It was pitch-black down there. He turned back again and looked ahead to the part of the cave where he assumed he was supposed to be going. It was dark, too, but a little less so. If you imagine the darkest shade of gray possible—that’s what it looked like. “Okay,” said Pete. “Onward.” He passed Feather’s tail from his left hand to his right and pointed its tip forward, through the mess of stalactites and stalagmites that ran down the tunnel, to the dim gray ahead of him.
“But first,” he said to the tail. “Listen, why don’t you go ahead and open up one of those blue suitcases over there. Go on, Feather, see what’s inside.” Pete pointed Feather’s tail toward one of the suitcases, one that was just below a torch so he could get a good look at it.
“Pete, Pete, Pete,” replied the tail in Pete’s thrown falsetto. “How many times do we have to go over this? It’s not—”
“Okay, okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
With the tail extended to lead the way, Pete marched to the suitcase. It appeared no different to him than any of the other suitcases—its surface was made of the same blue vinyl and covered in the same curving, roughly formed indentations that Pete imagined to be themselves each a little cave tunnel. As this image continued to evolve in Pete’s mind, a miniature version of himself wandered around through these cave tunnels, stooping to examine a littler suitcase in which a littler Pete was, in turn, stooping to examine an even littler suitcase and so on and so on until the stooping Petes reached a level so little that everything was subatomic particles and dark matter. Pete squinted hard and shook that thought out of his mind. He then returned to the business at hand, taking a step closer to the case and examining its latch. The issue with each of the cases was that the point where their latches unlatched was just a centimeter too deeply embedded into the wall. No matter how hard Pete tried, the case couldn’t quite be opened.
Pete moved his lips, trying out the feel of different thoughts and strategies he came up with about how to open this suitcase. He slid Feather’s tail against the case’s blue plastic handle a couple of times. Then he clicked his teeth, pinched the tail in his armpit, and vigorously pried at one of the suitcase’s latches, going at it with everything he had. But it was impossible. He kept going, though, clawing more and more at the latch until his fingers bloodied and his nails splintered. He looked at what was left of his nails and brought Feather’s tail to his face. He shouted “Feather!”; leftover vomit sprayed onto the tail’s tip. “What are you trying to do to me?” He showed the tail his torn-up fingernails, but the tail didn’t respond. Pete huffed and shook the base of it, trying to get the tail to talk, apparently forgetting that it was he who did the talking. “Well, don’t you have anything to say?” He stared at a clump of white hair. He focused on a single white strand. The strand split in two. “Anything?” Pete held his breath, waiting for a response, and then dropped the tail to a puddle on the cave floor. “Oh, Jesus,” he said. “I’m losing my fucking mind.” He picked the tail back up and smacked it against his face twice—hard. Puddle water spritzed his eyes.
Pete’s thoughts grew fuzzy. He realized there was a force pressing down on his body. No, not on his body—as though it was focused on him—but in the direction of his body, just passing through him. As it approached, the force corkscrewed into his mind. Pete fought to keep his thoughts from dissolving into this oncoming force. Every time it seemed as though he had a full thought, though, it fractured and floated apart to nothing. The one thought that he was able to fully cohere was that his body was no longer interfacing with the surface of the force, but was rather inside of it, surrounded on all sides by it. The force carried him backwards as though he was in a movie in reverse. It also moved his body around during this backwards journey so it wouldn’t bump into stalagmites. Pete got himself under control and turned around and looked in this reverse direction. The blackness at the rear of the cave was increasing in size. Pete chopped his legs and punched his fists, trying to advance away from the black. He was able to make some progress but, after he decided to put everything he had into it and charge forward, the force bounced him back to the middle. As he was flung back, a stalagmite skinned Pete’s knee. He ran Feather’s tail over the wound and blood stuck to the hair. Pete tried to wipe the blood off but then noticed that the black at the back of the cave appeared larger and closer than it had just four or five seconds before. Pete growled and charged forward again toward the other side, toward the dark shade of gray, and, again, he was bounced back. He did it a third time, charging at the rear surface, but had to slow down because his wounded knee was bleeding all over the place. His shoe was becoming soaked. He looked back and saw the looming blackness. He realized he didn’t have time to worry about his wound or anything other than fleeing this force. So he took a step. And another, and, despite his injury, he began to make some progress toward the rear boundary of the force. In fact, he realized that because he was travelling at this slower pace, he had already passed the point at which the force had previously bounced him back. So little by little he continued on through the force until he was at last in contact with the rear surface. He stuck his left arm, the one holding Feather’s tail, out through the surface, and into the cave. The cave air beyond the force felt cool to his skin. He was about to shimmy the rest of his body out when he realized he was stuck—immobile. The worst part was that his genitals, eyes, and mouth were a centimeter away from the surface of the force. Having those parts of his anatomy so close to the outside of the force but still so definitively trapped inside of it made the experience more maddening. With his free hand, Pete waved Feather’s tail around. He imagined that he was making it say, “You’re turning into a suitcase, Pete.” Pete thought this was a funny idea because people don’t look like suitcases, but then a cold sensation passed through his mind: he was, in fact, turning into a suitcase. He felt his body hardening and re-shaping into a boxy suitcase shape. He imagined Feather’s tail saying, “Loop, loop, loop.” Pete’s mind wound down to the point that all was black. “It’s happening again.”
In the black, a change occurred. The world, at some point, had ceased to be entirely black. The change had happened in the past but was just now becoming visible in the form of a dark gray light. The light spread. Another eon passed. The light spread further and Feather’s tail flicked up. It wiggled back and forth and tickled Pete’s sleeping body. With Pete’s falsetto voice it said, “Listen, you’ve been here before. You know what to do. Just remember your earlier—” Pete woke. He found himself in the cave. More than that, he found himself stooping down to examine one of the blue suitcases. He stuck the nub of Feather’s tail into the latch, working it around until the flesh fit into one of the little slits in the latch’s metal structure. Then Pete squished the nub further in and used it to jimmy the locking mechanism. As he did this, a littler version of Pete that existed in the ridged indentation of the suitcase used the littler nub of his own littler tail to jimmy at the latch of his littler suitcase. And then an even litter version of Pete that lived in the littler ridge did the same thing and so on and so on, extending all the way down to the point of infinitesimal smallness and all the way back up, past the level of the initial Pete that has been described thus far, out to vaster Petes that each themselves stooped down to jimmy the latch with the fleshy nub of their own Feather’s tail. It was only when all of these Petes at all of these ostensibly endless scales were in perfect synchronization that the latch gave way.
All of the suitcases in the walls of every cave at every scale sprung open and versions of Pete flooded out from the inside of each one. They bumped into one another, clasping their foreheads. They screamed “Déjà vu!” After forty seconds of this, they merged together into the shape of a single Feather’s tail. The tail shook its hair off, revealing one of the Grays—the alien beings that oversaw things. The Gray swung its arms.
“Congratulations, Pete. You’ve made it to the next level of the world.”