I had an interview lined up with a small firm on the other side of town. They made an exciting range of kilts, so they said, and wanted me to spit-shine their website in preparation for the hordes of uber-confident men that were currently constrained by the whole trouser thing. What the hell, it was work.
Google had pointed me in the right direction, but when I got to the right area nothing looked familiar. It was a quiet part of town. Back in the good old days, when people still made things instead of just trying to sell things made in other countries, the streets would have been choked with trucks and people, the factories belching out smoke. Now everything was quiet, the shops were all boarded up and the factories dark and filled with pigeons.
I was lost. I'd written the address down, cleverly thinking ahead, but not the phone number. There was a stray dog on the other side of the road that was sizing me up, working out how many meaty, bite-sized, chunks I was. A tinkling at the end of the road made me turn round. A man was coming out of a shop, the only shop not covered in fliers for long-past club nights.
"Excuse me", I shouted, but he can't have heard me and he disappeared around the corner. I headed towards the shop. Maybe they could help me.
The bell above the door tinkled again as I pushed it open. The room was small, and a man was behind a large wooden counter. Behind him, the wall was covered with shelves crammed with crystal balls.
"Yes, sir? How may I help?", he said as he looked up from a newspaper.
"I was really just looking for directions. I'm a bit lost."
"Aren't we all, sir?"
"Er, I suppose." I fished in my suit pockets for the address I'd written down. "This is the place I'm looking for."
"Oh yes, sir. Turn right as you leave the shop, take the second left, carry on for about 200 yards and it's on your right."
"Thanks." I turned to leave, but something was odd about the place and I couldn't quite work out what it was. "I didn't realise there was such a big fortune telling industry."
"The crystal balls. I wouldn't have thought you'd get many gypsies crossing your palms with silver these days."
"Oh. No, sir. Those don't tell you the future, just the now."
"What do you mean?"
"They are realities, sir. Each ball is a different might-have-been."
"You've lost me."
"Here, take a look." He handed me one at random from a shelf. It was warm, and lighter than I was expecting. I peered in, and I'm fairly sure I let out a frankly embarrassing little girlish gasp. Inside, I saw people working in fields gathering strawberries.
"Wow. That's pretty cool. How does it work?"
"I'm afraid I can't explain that to you, sir. Trade secret."
"I see. What am I watching - I don't recognise the film?"
"It's not a film, sir. What you are watching there is what would have been if the industrial revolution had never taken place."
"I don't recognise any of the actors either."
"They're not actors, sir. They're the people who would have been here, if things had turned out differently."
"Riiight. Ok, this is some sort of joke, isn't it? There's a hidden camera somewhere."
"No, sir. Let me show you another."
He took the ball from my hands, replacing it with another from a different shelf. This time I saw myself, sitting at a table in a small room. There were two people sat opposite me, they seemed to be asking me questions.
"Er, what's this?" I knew the answer already.
"It's the interview you're supposed to be at right now. This is what would have happened if you had written that phone number down."
"Oh, bollocks." My stomach lurched as I realised he was telling the truth. "So - all these balls are realities?"
"Where do they come from?"
"Every observation that is made creates a new reality, and destroys the other possibilities. The destroyed ones come here."
"Shouldn't there be more of them?"
"There's another room out the back, sir."
"And you sell these?"
"Yes. Well, rent would be more accurate."
"Who buys them?"
"Everyone who's ever said 'if only...', sir. Here you can find out."
"You don't seem to be very busy."
"Truth be told, business has been a little slow lately. I blame television."
"Well, it's so easy to escape into another reality through the television these days. People just can't be bothered schlepping halfway across town, despite the fact that the product is far superior."
"I see... have you considered selling over the Internet?"
"Oh, I don't understand all that computery stuff, sir. I'm just a simple manipulator of quantum manifolds."
"Well, then. Maybe I could be of assistance."
That's how it all started. I became CEO of ActualRealities.com, and started using fifty-pound notes to light my enormous cigars. Right place, right time, I guess.