It was the summer of 1990, and I was with two friends, D. and S., walking through London, from Camden Town back down along Camden High Street towards the centre of the city. We stopped to wait at a pedestrian crossing for the lights to change — the standard British ‘pelican crossing’, a plain red silhouette of a man standing still.
As usual when waiting for the lights to change, we all watched them impatiently. Eventually they changed, to the normal British green man mid-stride, and we started crossing. As we walked, we kept an eye on the lights to make sure we had time to make it across comfortably.
About half way across the road, there was — quite literally — a ripple in reality, a brief flash of disturbance, and suddenly the lights had changed again… but not back to red.
The plain green guy was now wearing wide-bottomed flares and glasses, had long, flowing hair cascading out behind him, and had a line of stars from in front of his forehead that trailed over his head and down his back, each one slightly bigger than the previous, like some kind of cloak. We all stopped dead and exchanged stunned looks. One of us (I forget which) said “Did you…?”; the other two both replied “Yes” before he could finish the sentence.
Then we remembered the traffic and hurried across the road, and waited nervously for the lights to go red again. Sure enough, on both sides of the road, the red guy had changed too. He was now carrying a briefcase, smoking a pipe (with wisps of smoke rising), wearing a little homburg hat, and he had big brogues on his feet.
We watched at the lights cycle for ten minutes or so, but eventually continued on, feeling really freaked.
A couple of days later, I was talking about it with a group of friends. To my amazement, one of the girls said “Oh yeah, I heard about that.” I muttered something incredulous, and she told me that she’d seen an article in the press talking about how the council had recently changed the lights on that pedestrian crossing.
Apparently it was some sort of tribute about the death of a singer who had been famous in the sixties, and who had lived in that street. She was certain that the three of us there had just not noticed the difference in the lights until we were half-way across the road.
I was far from convinced — the council changing the plates over the lights made sense, but not in less than the blink of an eye. Anyway, L. promised to bring me the article to have a look at our next gathering a couple of weeks later.
A few days later, I went back to Camden to look at the changed lights more closely. The construction was standard — they were just black-painted glass, the top section red glass and the bottom section green, with the shapes of the men etched out of the paint, and white bulbs behind.
The figures were based on the original templates of the walk/go men, but with extra details etched out of the black paint to provide the outfits. The glass was bolted in, and took up the entire casing in front of the light bulbs. There was no possible mechanism by which they could have slid down in front of the other plates, or anything of that sort.
Just in case, I hung around at a cafe across the road for about an hour, watching the lights, but they stayed changed. A week after that, I went back again for another look, to get a sketch of the altered designs. I was disappointed to find that the lights were back to being perfectly normal.
It was our regular gathering a couple of days later, and I was quite keen to see the article that L. had mentioned. When I asked her if she had brought it in however, she looked at me blankly. She clearly didn’t have the slightest idea what I was talking about.
She didn’t remember me mentioning traffic lights, Camden, or anything else, and neither did any of the others there. She had never heard anything about the council changing some pedestrian crossing lights, or even of a sixties singer dying recently. In fact, none of them remembered me saying anything much at our previous gathering. When I re-told the story, everyone seemed quite spooked by it all.
I called D. and S. immediately afterwards, and yes, they still remembered it clearly. D. seemed amused by it all; S. was just terrified.
The only explanation I have that can even begin to stand up to Occam is that we briefly swapped into a closely-aligned parallel dimension. If the other two hadn’t been there, I doubt I’d trust my own memory of the event, it was so surreal. But as it happens, I have since had a couple of other experiences that also look a little like some minor dimensional swapping, although they’re less dramatic *wry grin*.
Now, I know I’m a writer. I’m expecting scepticism. I know that every word of this is simple truth, but you weren’t there, and I have no evidence. But if you can, please try to at least accept the possibility. Quantum mechanics indicates that parallel dimensions are possible, and that motes of energy may cross the boundaries. It’s found that things are only real while they’re being looked at, at least at the sub-atomic scale. That all matter is made up of nothing but energy (or possibly vice-versa, depending on how you call it). We live in a strange universe…Red Phone Box, a darkly magical story cycle written by myself, Warren Ellis and twenty-six other writers, and edited by the sublime Salomé Jones, is out now. I think you'll like it.