By Han Adcock
Finn lost all of his mistakes. He used to keep them locked in a safe, but one morning, when he went downstairs for breakfast, he opened it and it was completely empty.
He had been collecting his mistakes and locking them away for most of his life. He had amassed a great many… until today, when the safe was empty. Needless to say, he was alarmed, and worried, and more than a little frightened. Had someone come in the night and stolen them? Had they escaped?
Not knowing what else to do, he ran all around the house, hunting for them. It was a large house, because he was a rich man. Once he tired of the search, he ordered the cleaner and the gardener to run about looking in the rest of the house.
Of course, anyone who says they collect mistakes is bound to be considered loopy; Finn told them to look for “anything unusual” and gave them a couple of nets. The only person who knew about his mistakes was him.
His cleaner and his gardener were convinced their employer had finally gone insane, but halfheartedly did as instructed. He was paying them, after all.
When they returned bemused, covered in dust-bunnies, and empty-handed, Finn lost his handle on the situation and picked up the telephone to dial 999.
“Hello?” he yelped down the line. “I’d like to report a thef… kidna… er, missing per… just get me the police, would you?”
Moments later, two police officers turned up on his doorstep.
“Come in,” Finn said, lit a cigarette with trembling fingers, and then felt embarrassed about still being in his dressing gown at that time of the morning. “My safe’s been emptied overnight, and I’d like you to find out who was responsible.”
“What was in the safe?” one of the police officers asked.
“None of your damn business!” Finn retorted, which was impolite for him, but then, Finn was easily stressed.
“But if you don’t tell us what has gone missing, sir,” came the reply, “how are we supposed to find the missing articles and track down the offender?”
Finn dithered. At last he said, “I’m a wealthy man. If I pay you, would you just dust for fingerprints, tell me the identity of the culprit if you find it out, and then keep it confidential?”
The policemen raised their eyebrows. “Are you in all seriousness bribing us to ‘look the other way’ when you, or if you, take the law into your own hands, sir?”
“Never mind. Just go,” Finn said, and shooed them out of the door. “It wasn’t all that important to me anyway.”
“If it’s not important, then why can’t you inform us as to what it is?”
“Doesn’t matter. Go!” Finn ushered them out onto the street and slammed the door after them.
Half an hour later (when Finn was about to go to pieces), there was a knock at the door. One of the police officers was there this time, alone, and looking furtive.
“I recognized the make of the safe,” he told Finn in a gruff voice, and handed him an unobtrusive little card. “Call this bloke. He’s good with cases like yours.” And before Finn could say a word, the policeman turned around and hurried away down the street as if he was afraid there were eyes on him.
Finn closed the door in deep, gradual thought. He flipped the card over and read it. On one side, it said:
“ALFRED WILFRED: FINDER OF LOST THINGS, KEEPER OF SECRETS FOUND (AND OTHERWISE), NECROPHILE, BILLBOARD PASTER, ILLUSIONIST EXTRAORDINAIRE, WRITER OF LONG BUSINESS CARDS (SEE OVERLEAF…)”
Dimly, Finn thought, “Necrophile?” and turned the card over again. There was a number on the reverse side, but no address.
“Should I? Shouldn’t I?” Finn wondered madly like an indecisive wasp. It was tempting to call the number, if only to point out that “necrophilia” wasn’t deemed to be a proper occupation and would probably put off potential customers.
So Finn picked up the receiver and dialed.
A quavery voice, crackly with static, answered at the other end. “Hello-o?” The wavering quality of Alfred Wilfred’s tone only served to accentuate how distracted he sounded. And the background noise! What was that? Was the man standing next to a gigantic set of bellows?
“Yes, hello. Er… good morning. Am I speaking to a Mr. Wilfred?”
“Eh? What’s that?” There was some mumbling and muttering with someone else at the other end, and then Alfred Wilfred’s voice drifted back down the line: “…skangdurdles. Sorry, I was having a word with my apprentice. Yes, it is I, Alfred Wilfred.”
“My name’s Finn. I –”
“Tell me, Mr. Finn, are you a policeman, government official, wanted criminal, or prank caller?”
“I… no, I have a problem…”
“Good. Then we can get down to business. Excuse me a minute –” Alfred Wilfred’s voice grew fainter as he spoke to his assistant. “wiffle…no, of course not! Not like that! Noooo, you’ll short-circuit the bloody thing. What? Of course that’s not a decongestant. Don’t look at me like that! Oh, now you’ve done it!” And back to Finn again: “I really must apologize. You were saying, Mr. Bin?”
“Finn,” said Finn. “I had some very important… things… in a safe, and this morning I opened it to find them gone. I don’t know if they were taken, or…”
“If they, um, escaped.” Finn said, feeling rather silly.
“Ahhh…” Alfred Wilfred tailed off. “ATCHOOEY! Beg pardon. Ahem. Yes. What you have is, um, one of my models, I take it, for animate, erm… existential objects, is that so?”
“Hmm… intriguing. Is it a mistake safe?”
“How on earth did you know?”
“I have my funny little ways and whatnot. I shall be down in two shakes of a nifflanger’s tail.”
“But you don’t know my –”
The pips sounded as Alfred Wilfred hung up.
“That’s it then,” Finn thought, but he was wrong. Sometime later, a knock came at the door.
Finn answered it to find an immensely tall, thin old gentleman on the step. He was wrapped in a baggy, knitted gray thing that must have started life as a dog blanket. In one hand he held a walking stick, and on his head sat the widest, most inconvenient hat you ever saw.
Next to the man stood a nervous, skinny boy with glasses and singed-looking hair.
“Wizard Wilfred,” the tall man said, sticking out his hand.
Finn shook it. “Come inside… wizard? As in, technologically-minded?”
Alfred Wilfred and the boy came in. Alfred had to bend over in order to not bump his head on the door-frame. He smiled in a beatific way and did not answer Finn’s question.
Once they were in, Alfred gestured to the boy. “My apprentice, Wilson,” he said.
“How do you do?” Finn said, and offered to shake Wilson’s hand.
Wilson said, “Erk!” blinked very fast, and tried to hide behind Alfred Wilfred, who ignored this.
“So, Mr. Finn!” Alfred said. He sounded more confident when he wasn’t on the phone. If voices could travel, his possibly strolled. “Let’s see this faulty safe, if you don’t mind?”
“’Course you can,” Finn said, and as he led the way he wondered what “skangdurdles” meant, and what “wiffle” was when it was at home, and what sort of creature a “nifflanger” was. He suspected that this strangely-dressed man was mad, and he felt sorry for the boy.
Wizard Wilfred looked at the safe. He stuck his head into it as far as it would go and inhaled deeply with a loud sniff. “Ahhh,” he said when he breathed out, as if he liked nothing better than to smell metal, while Finn and Wilson stood by, waiting uncomfortably.
Alfred Wilfred stood up and fixed them with an unreadable stare. Then he sighed. “Nothing for it,” he said. “Wilson, get in.”
Miserably, Wilson scrambled inside the safe and drew his knees up. Alfred shut the door.
“Er… hang on!” Finn said. “Is that absolutely necessary?”
“It’s part of his training,” Alfred said, unconcerned. “He’s used to it.”
They waited for five minutes. Then Wilfred turned to Finn and asked loudly, “Shall we have a cup of tea?”
“But… but what about Wilson?”
“You know. Your boy.”
“What about my boy?”
“Well… you mean you just… leave him in there? What’s he doing? Fixing it?”
“Testing it. He’ll be fine. I really think we ought to go and sit down and have a cuppa. My feet are killing me.”
They retreated into the living room and had a beverage. Finn wondered why it was that, even though this was his house, Wilfred seemed to be the one in charge.
At last, Alfred Wilfred opened the safe and looked inside. So did Finn. Wilson was no longer there. He had disappeared.
“Is this a trick?” Finn demanded. “Because I won’t look too kindly on you if it is.”
“It is as I suspected,” Wilfred said. “The prospects are grim. What you have is what we in the business like to call ‘leakage.’”
“You’ve tried so hard to lock away all your mistakes,” Wilfred explained, “away from the prying eyes of the world, you have overloaded the safe, causing, um… how shall I put this in layman’s terms… causing a wormhole. Yes.”
“Wormhole?” Finn was dazed.
“Your mistakes have escaped into another universe,” Wilfred said. “Another plane of existence right next to this one… a place very similar to this, only slightly different, where you have made slightly different mistakes.” He looked worried.
“You are a nitwit,” Finn said. “Get your lad out from wherever he’s hiding and get out of my house. I need proper help. Not time-wasters.”
Wizard Wilfred bundled Finn into the safe without a word, climbed in after him and shut the door behind them.
“I’ll prove it to you,” he said, calm as nails, while Finn attempted to bite and kick him in the dark, enclosed space.
Then all of a sudden, the space was no longer there, and light flooded in. Finn stopped struggling and stared. He had opened the door to the safe and was looking in, back at… himself. Who was who? Who was this impostor?
“See?” Wilfred panted. “Wormhole. What did I tell you?”
“Who the hell are you and what are you doing? How…?” the other Finn demanded. “Where are my mistakes? What have you done with them?”
“Oh dear,” Wilfred said. “Two herds of mistakes let loose in hyperspace. Oh deary, deary me.”
“What?” the two Finns said in unison, then glared at one another.
“Oh dear. Oh deary, deary me. Oh, deary, deary, Deirdre.” Wilfred muttered under his breath. Then he told the other Finn, “Just shut the door for five minutes and we’ll be gone. Trust me.”
The other Finn suspiciously shut them into darkness once more.
“Wait,” Finn said in the blackness. “What about Wilson?”
“Hmm, yes. What about Wilson? Bummer.” Wilfred harrumphed. “You do realize what this means, don’t you? Both you and the other version of you have lost your mistakes. We are supposed to learn from them, not squirrel them away out of shame. My safes are only supposed to hold a limited number of your more embarrassing incidents that you don’t want other people to know about, like being left naked tied to a lamp-post on your stag night, for example, but so many of my clients never read the small print. They try to squinch everything in. This is why I stopped making them aeons ago.”
“So… what does that mean?”
“Once the mistakes are in another dimension, they tend to breed with the ones already there and create false memories in both, or more, individuals, usually driving them insane. If they go into hyperspace…” Wilfred shrugged. “They cease to exist. They dissolve.”
“Great!” Finn exclaimed, not really listening. “So I’m going to be fine, I could have a brand new, fresh start. Good.”
Wilfred shot him a look that was wasted in the darkness, reached forward, and pushed open the safe door. The other Finn was not there, and they climbed out.
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