Improbability

"Ready or not, here we come!"

Finn Mayhew, despite the warning, continued to stumble loudly through the forest behind Powhatan School. After all, he was so far away from where the seekers were that they probably couldn't hear him. Even if they could, he knew they wouldn't come after him – he was just so far away. And if, for some insane reason, they were to come after him, they would be greeted with an unpleasant surprise: Finn had chosen to stop to hide in the middle of a patch of thorny bushes.

He wondered how he had gotten into this area – he didn't remember climbing through a thorny bush, and he was completely surrounded now… Strange. Well, all the worse for the seekers, he thought.

Now came the thinking part of hide-and-seek. If you think about it, hide-and-seek is a meditative sort of game. You can play it one of two ways: sitting and hiding quietly, or constantly running around. The latter is much more entertaining, but the former is a good way to relax, Finn thought. At least, this is why Finn reasoned he was only hiding quietly, but in reality, he just couldn't escape from the thorny bushes.

He let his mind wander to all sorts of topics, one after another, not letting one finish before starting the next. These ranged from… well, it was hard to tell – the range changed every few seconds. One of the latest things he had contemplated: How could I have heard the seekers when I assume they can't hear me? This led him to think about how he had possibly gotten enclosed in briars, and how he would have to proceed to free himself. This led him to think about time travel, somehow. No new thought succeeded this one, so he chose to consider this thought until a new one arrived.

He had always been curious about time travel, and paradoxes, and the subject of science in general. Finn had heard of a few time travel paradoxes, and vaguely knew what some of them were or what some of them meant.

For example, the Bootstrap Paradox. This concerns an item that comes from nowhere.

"What?" you might say, "How can something come from nowhere?" Well, this is how:

Suppose someone receives an item from a future version of him or herself. The person, in the future, sends the item back in time to his or her counterpart. If the person were to ask their future self where he or she had obtained the item, the future self would respond "From my future self."

Where did the item come from?

In the middle of Finn's paradox-contemplation session, he heard the thwack! sound of a thin branch hitting someone somewhere near him. He stiffened, trying to remain inconspicuous. All the sudden, a random ray of sunlight struck Finn directly in the face. Oh no, he thought. Finn knew what sunlight caused.

He began the long, and in Finn's case, slow, process of sneezing. No no NO! he thought. Too late to stop himself, he sneezed.

Cate Hameri walked threw the woods quietly and carefully, looking for a place to hide. She had planned a great one out the most recent time she had been a seeker, but it eluded her now. Cate knew one had to pass through at least a few thorny bushes to find it. Because she hadn't found luck, she sat down, and found that she was in the perfect hiding spot: a thick patch of thorns was behind her, and a very wide tree was in front of her.

Two of her classmates appeared farther along the trail, running towards Cate's hiding spot. They were barely being careful, and made a few thwack! sounds as they came closer. Then her classmates passed her. Yes! Cate thought. Her classmates hadn't noticed her.

"Ahhhh, CHOOOO!"

Someone had sneezed very near Cate. And very loudly.

"You need to be quieter! You might give yourself away!" she whispered.

"Sorry, a ray of sunlight struck me in the face," an unfamiliar voice whispered back.

"How does sunlight… Wait. Is this Dylan?" Cate spoke a little louder now that her friends had left.

"Who's Dylan? Who are you?"

"Cate Hameri. Who are you?"

"Finn Mayhew."

"Why don't I know you? Are you in seventh grade?"

"No, eighth."

This was getting too weird for Finn. He stood up just as his mysterious friend did, and fell right back down, with an "oww!" His leg had gotten pierced by a thorn. Great way to meet someone, he thought as he stood back up.

Cate Hameri was short, had light brown hair, and blue eyes. Finn had recently seen a movie starring someone with brown hair and blue eyes, and had thought the combination was rare at the time. But he seemed to notice more and more people with brown hair and blue eyes than he thought existed since he had seen the movie. Maybe the combination wasn't so rare after all.

Also, he knew he had never seen Cate before. This was the important thing.

Finn Mayhew was a tall boy with dark brown hair and eyes. Why don't I know him? Cate asked herself. There was no reply.

"Why don't I know you?" She asked Finn instead.

"I don't know. Can you see if there's a way for me to get out of these thorn bushes?" he asked.

Cate walked the perimeter of the thorn bushes, searching for a way out. After a few seconds she found one.

"Over here!" she told Finn.

He walked out of the thorn bushes, and wondered why he hadn't seen the way out before Cate had shown him. The way to escape was pretty obvious now, but hadn't been a few minutes ago, it seemed. An answer popped into Finn's head.

"One of us is in an alternate reality!" he exclaimed in delight.

"What does that mean?" Cate was confused. "Is that that science-fiction thing where someone goes to a universe where something... different happened?"

"Yup." Finn started walking in the direction of the trail leading out of the woods.

"But what does this mean? That isn't possible! Is it?" Cat had never really liked science class.

"Apparently. Remember, 'When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.'"

"Who said that?"

"I don't know. Sherlock Holmes or someone. Let's get going and figure out a way to get whichever one of us is in the wrong timeline... no, not timeline, that's for time travel. It's funny, I was just thinking about time travel when–"

"Stay on topic." Cate's new classmate was annoying her. "Where are we going?"

"Somewhere." Finn continued leading the way, the two walking out of the woods and towards the Arts and Sciences building. "Mr. Legge or Mr. Holloway. They know more about this kind of thing."

Finn and Cate arrived at the Arts and Sciences building of Powhatan. A problem struck Cate in the same way as the sunlight struck Finn's face a few minutes ago.

"Wait! How will we find out who's where?"

"What?"

"I mean, which one of us is in the other's reality?"

"Uh oh. I hadn't thought of that." Cate and Finn stopped for a second to think.

"Maybe… we can see whose lesson Mr. Holloway just gave… by looking at his whiteboard!" Finn exclaimed.

"I don't have math with Mr. Holloway, though."

"Oh… Maybe we can look in Mr. Legge's room."

"That sounds good," Cate said.

The duo snuck around the back of the Arts and Sciences building, trying to be stealthy. Unfortunately, Finn tripped over nothing and landed on the muddy ground.

"Can you try to be quieter? Remember, we've got to hide whoever isn't supposed to be here." Cate peered into Mr. Legge's room, succeeding in being stealthy. Mr. Legge was nowhere to be seen. Finn picked himself up and joined her.

"Okay, that's my Rube Goldberg drawing," Cate whispered. "That means you somehow jumped into my reality. I'll talk to Mr. Holloway and see if he knows what to do." Cate ran off in the direction of Lee Hall, towards Mr. Holloway's room.

Finn stood awkwardly on the sidewalk surrounding the building. In an attempt to amuse himself, he looked into Mr. Legge's classroom, studying the tables for no particular reason.

Cate strode into Mr. Holloway's room. Fortunately, he was sitting at his desk, and he wasn't teaching a class.

"Hi Mr. Holloway!" Cate said brightly.

"Hello Cate. Aren't you supposed to be at Sports?"

"Mhmm, but something weird happened. We were playing hide-and-seek and this random person from a different dimension came into our dimension and he needs our help to get back because he doesn't know how to on his own." Cate took a long breath. She had said this in around five seconds.

"Slow down. What?"

"Well, there's a person. His name is Finn Mayhew. He appeared in the middle of the woods while we were playing hide-and-seek, and said he is in eighth grade here too."

Mr. Holloway smiled.

"What? What is it?"

"Could you get Finn?" Mr. Holloway was still smiling.

"Okay…"

Cate quickly walked out of the building. She was getting pretty annoyed. This had been a very strange day for her. People seemed to be confusing her on purpose. What weirdness could come next?

Cate walked back towards Mr. Holloway's classroom, Finn in tow. She shoved open the door and stormed into the classroom.

"Will someone please explain to me what is going on?" Cate demanded.

"Well," Mr. Holloway began, "Sorry you had to go through all of that, Cate. In Finn's school, the students are assigned a psychology project. Like how we have Science Fairs."

"But I thought Finn goes to Powhatan!"

"Have you seen him here before?"

"No, but I thought he came from another dimension!"

"Cate, dimension-jumping is just as real as time travel. Which is, not at all."

"But... but..."

"This will all make sense in a minute. Just bear with me. As I was saying, at Finn's school, students have to create and do a psychology experiment. Finn decided he would do a test on the gullibility of different sorts of people to impossible situations. You were a subject, Cate, a subject in Finn's experiment."

"So..." Cate was just now recovering. "You," – she motioned to Finn – "are from another school? And you were testing me for a project? For a grade?"

"Exactly!" Finn seemed content. "Remember when I quoted Sherlock Holmes? 'When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth'? There were many more probable solutions! I just used the power of suggestion to get you to believe the impossible."

"Well, I guess I've always wanted an adventure." She paused for a second. "And even though there was no time traveling or dimension-jumping, this has still been an adventure. Thanks."

The three stood for a few seconds, absorbing the moment. Mr. Holloway broke the silence.

"Well, I've got to grade some papers. Cate," he looked at the clock, "Sports is almost over, you should change back into your normal clothes. I'll accept the consequence for pulling you out of Sports. And Finn, your parents will be picking you up in a few minutes at the office. You should head in that direction." Mr. Holloway turned around to pick up some papers.

"Bye, I guess!" Finn said to Cate.

"Bye!" replied Cate.

They both started to walk out the door.

Mr. Holloway turned around suddenly. "And remember!" he said, "Question your assumptions." With that, he laughed, and a blazing white light roared up around him, engulfing him in a mass of sound and energy, collapsing inward with a deafening roar. Mr. Holloway was gone.

Cate looked at Finn. Finn looked at Cate. They both shrugged silently, and walked out the door.