“It doesn’t matter what they throw at me. I’m ready to (fight back | throw down).”

The energy practically leaped down his throat when he touched it. How could he resist? It was like a glitch in the matrix, a bug in spacetime – a point in space where a small, yellow plume of gleaming power seemed to stream in two opposite directions. Its touch seared his entire body at an instant. Too cold to be heat, too smooth to be electricity. He laid there in the middle of the park, screaming in the fetal position until he had to gulp fresh air.

By the time his throat rasped and the world stopped spinning around him, he realized several passersby were standing over him. “Are you okay? What’s wrong? Do you need an ambulance?” Phones were out, some recording video, one poised to dial emergency services. Casey opened his quivering mouth to speak, but he immediately realized that he’d be dismissed as a lunatic. These strangers would perceive him to require the wrong kind of help were he to attempt to explain that he’d done the Stupid Guy Thing and allowed curiosity to shock him. Stuck a fork in a cosmic outlet and lived.

He insisted he was fine until the crowd dispersed, and he was again left alone. Nobody was all that keen to impose their Samaritan will on such a hulking mountain of man anyway.

_________

“…and Quinn rushes the opening, one-two! Nichols is limp! Eight, nine, ten – this fight is over!”

Hot lights, heavy breaths, a crowd roaring as one in madness, triumph and anger. The referee holding up his exhausted wrist barely registered against the moment. Casey could feel it slipping away even as he savored it. The weight of the champion’s belt slung over his opposite shoulder was the most reassuring stimulus; it felt permanent. The blood streaming down from his right ear added a rich color to the memory.

It should’ve been a moment of pure glory and catharsis, but dread tugged at the fighter’s heart – for when he took off his glove and raised his hand to feel the wound behind his ear, his fingers found only dry skin. He checked the left side, and liquid life force coated his nails.

That couldn’t be right. He’d been smashed on the other side of his head. He stood from the locker room bench and approached the mirror over the sinks. The words of praise from his coach were drowned out. The man in the mirror was bleeding from the right side – but as soon as he turned around, it was if an alternate version of events had unfolded. He was the champion either way – the belt never left his side – but the absence of a concussion alarmed him more than the thought of one. His mental clarity was too great, he was too certain of what had happened. It was still ringing in his ears. Casey tried to rinse off the feeling in the showers before heading home for the night.

An old man in a white coat and tie stopped him beneath a light post. Some inane device in the stranger’s hands was beeping madly at Casey. “It’s you,” he exclaimed excitedly. “You’re the anomaly!”

The events of the day had set the tone in Casey’s mind that today was just a day in which anything could happen. He patiently let the old man ramble, though he couldn’t understand half of the enthusiastic monologue. The old man kept pulling a bizarre number where he’d clap his wrinkled hand over his eyes, then pull it back down. It wasn’t clear to the fighter why every time the stranger took his hand off his eyes, he was looking away instead of towards him as he had been a moment ago.

He was obviously a scientist of some sort. At least, the stranger didn’t seem crazy. Just eccentric. “Listen,” he wheezed, “the long and short of it is that your existence is forked. You’re a walking quantum fluctuation!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Casey confessed with a sigh.

The scientist paused. “That’s fine, but I can’t just let you go. Listen. You look hard as nails.” The fighter didn’t acknowledge the compliment nor its accuracy, too exhausted.

“I’m sure that bizarre things have transpired around you lately. Undoubtedly. Undeniably! I know how to help with these things. No more wondering what’s going on, no more vague dread. You just have to come with me, okay?” He paused again, thinking of some way to attempt to entice the champion. “There’ll be free food.”

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