Saturday, August 5, 2023

“Of Two Minds” • by A. L. Sirois


As the supermarket door slid open, Howe automatically patted the right pocket of his windbreaker to make sure his food stamps were still there. As usual, he calculated how much he could carry back to his apartment ten blocks away.

If I get a half-gallon of milk, I won’t be able to get seltzer, too. And I need eggs…

It was always a trade-off. Even ten years ago he could have carried two well-laden plastic bags. In the interim something had happened to his right shoulder and left wrist, but he wasn’t the sort of person who believed in doctors.

The mere thought made him snort in derision. I’m just old, that’s all. A young woman pushing a shopping cart gave him a cold glance. “Did you say something?”

“Uh, no. I coughed.”

Knowing he was blushing, Howe hurried to the fruit section. As he reached to pick up a Macoun apple for inspection, his vision blurred. He squeezed his eyes shut. Should do something about these cataracts. When he opened them he was standing in some sort of conference room done in gray and mauve. A polished wooden table stretched out before him; men and women in suits sat with electronic devices and cups of coffee in front of them. Howe blinked in astonishment, then shut his eyes tight once more.

When he opened them, he was back in the supermarket.

What was that? Behind him, someone cleared her throat, and said, “Excuse me!” Howe turned. It was the young woman with the shopping cart.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, and moved aside. Suddenly a wave of dizziness overcame him, and he fell to the floor.


Aziz Boggaverapu sits midway down the conference table, his hands in front of him, fingers splayed. He resists the urge to tap them on the polished table top.

Cassie Woolverton, the well-tailored blonde woman sitting beside him, leans closer to whisper, “Mary’s in one foul mood today.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” he murmurs.

God, how he hates Mary. But no trace of that shows on his face, which bears an expression of bored attentiveness.

Mary Woodruff stands at the head of the table glaring at Aziz and the rest of her twelve subordinates. “We have a problem,” she says, casting a frigid eye at the young bond traders. “One of you has been doing inside trades. No one leaves this room until I find out who.”

Aziz is careful not to change his expression. How has the bitch found out? He exhales slowly. He’s worked on this scheme for over a year and a half! Well, she can’t know of his involvement, otherwise he would have been out the door by now, likely in handcuffs.

At that moment the world ends. What will later be explained by cosmologists as a quantum-quake—a continuum-wide “reboot”—propagates through the entire volume of space-time in fifteen zeptoseconds.

Suddenly Mary frowns and lifts her hand to her forehead. Aziz leans closer. Is she ill? No; she has recovered and is opening her sneering mouth to speak.

Instead, she stands straighter, and her eyes roll up until the whites show. She mutters something, and Aziz goes cold. Was it something about him? The two people closest to Mary at the table—Charles Hix to her left and Tessa Lambert to her right—exchange wide-eyed glances.

Then Mary collapses.

Pandemonium! Aziz leaps from his chair, takes a couple of steps and grabs Hix by the shoulder. “What did she just say?”

Hix looks blankly at him. “‘Apples,’” he says.


“Apples. She said, ‘apples.’” 


Howe came to with people all around him. One man, young, in a beautiful sharkskin suit, spoke urgently into his cell phone. “Send an ambulance to 383 Madison Avenue, ninth floor,” he was saying.

Madison Avenue? Well, that couldn’t be right. The supermarket was in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. There was no Madison Avenue in Doylestown. What—?

He lifted a hand to rub his eyes then stared at it in shock: dusky, with a bracelet and a wedding band. The nails were painted dark red.

“Oh my God!” His voice was that of a woman.


Mary opens her eyes to an incomprehensible scene. People crowd around her, none of them in suits. There is no conference table. There are displays of food on each side, and people with—shopping carts? A man bends over her.

“Are you all right, buddy?”

Someone else says, “Don’t crowd him, give him air.”

Mary almost grins. Why do people say that whenever someone passes out? Wait— I passed out… where the hell am I? And who’shim”?

Someone reaches down to her, and Mary raises her hands to push him away. The hands are the wrong color. They belong to a much older person. The knuckles are hairy. They are a man’s hands.

She opens her mouth to cry out and is hit by a second wave of lightheadedness as though she’s stood up too quickly. She blinks away the grey.

Her subordinates are grouped around her, helping her up from the floor.

“I’m all right,” she murmurs. “All right.”

She repeats it for the EMTs when they arrive, and it’s only with difficulty that they are dissuaded from taking her to the hospital.

“I’ll check with my primary,” she says in dismissal. “I’m too busy for this sort of thing right now.”

Over time, her co-workers notice that she has become a calmer and more thoughtful person. This change is attributed to her “attack.”


Howe shook his head a little to clear his vision. When he could see properly once more, he was back in the supermarket and people were helping him up from the floor.

Later that day he went to Mass for the first time in decades. The memory of the Shift, as he came to think of it, stayed vividly with him for the remainder of his life, vanquishing his years-long depression.

A. L. Sirois writes: 

“I made my first story sale fifty years ago this year, shortly followed by another. My first book was, oddly enough, a children’s book, DINOSAUR DRESS UP, published in 1992. Since then, I’ve published several other books, mostly science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I’ve also ghostwritten more than a dozen works of science fiction, fantasy, memoirs, and cozy mysteries. My short story ‘In the Conservatory’ was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. My next novel, Murder in Mennefer, is upcoming from Regal House in 2024.”