Nobody knew how it started. Nobody was entirely sure when it started, either, but it wasn’t long until everyone knew.
And by then, of course, it was too late.
People don’t think about the little numbers. They dream about big numbers – a lottery win, or a rich old uncle dying and leaving them with a huge inheritance – but that isn’t how most people become rich. It happens a bit at a time, often before you notice.
The same is true with a plague. One or two deaths don’t grab the headlines (unless the people who die are famous, of course). It takes thousands, millions of deaths to get people’s attention – and by then, of course, it’s already too late to prevent disaster.
And so it was with us.
There are 26 letters in the English alphabet. We all know that. Every child knew that. And it was a child who first noticed what we hadn’t – one of them had gone missing. I know, that sounds insane. How can a letter go missing? But it had. We all remembered there were 26, but however we tried to count them, there were only 25.
What letter was missing? I can’t tell you. I mean it – I really can’t. I don’t know what it was, I can’t even tell you any words that contained it. The spelling of those words has changed, you see – in every book, on every computer. Oh, yes, the computers. Touch typists everywhere started making mistakes. Lots of them. Statisticians studied those mistakes and concluded that the missing letter was on the bottom row, somewhere between the Z and the C keys. But they couldn’t eksplain what the missing letter might have been.
It happened again, a month later.
The world had just started to settle down again. There was a popular concept on the internet: the “Mandela Effect”. So many people remembered Nelson Mandela dying in prison, despite his emerging very much alive to lead his country, that they suggested reality itself had changed. They were remembering the true past, in some parallel dimension, and they’d somehow ended up in the wrong version of events.
The rational version was far simpler – a lot of people just remembered it wrong.
And so it was here. The idea of 26 letters in the alphabet was a Mandela Effect – people were remembering a false history. There had only ever been 25 letters. You simply had to count them…
No matter how anyone tried, the count came out as 24. Another letter had kwietly disappeared from the alphabet. There were no clues this time. Touch typists, still adapting to the lower half of their keyboard, seldom did anything more than accidentally add a tab in the middle of a word, and that rarely.
But it was hard to convince the world that there really were only 24 letters in the alphabet when you’d spent the last month convincing the world there were 25.
Another month has passed, and people are getting scared. Now there are onli 23 letters in the alphabet. Some enterprising ioung chap had the bright idea of carving all the letters in stone, siks feet high, on the plinth in Trafalgar Skware. And now there are onli 23. I counted them maiself.
There’s no gap, no sign. It’s like he onli carved 23 letters in the first place.
It’s impossible. It’s insane.
Mani people are turning to religion, praeing to any gods they can think of. English professors have suggested several new letters to replace the missing ones, but thei argue over what these should be, what thei sound like and where thei should be used.
Have we all gone collectively mad? Is this the result of some foreign power, brainwashing us?
The worst thing is, it could happen again nekst month. Or even todae. How would we efen know? Our lifes could change efen as I tipe these words…
Things are worse, but there has been a breakthrough of sorts. Researchers haf found a recording of a children’s nursery rime that teaches them the alphabet – while it doesn’t include the missing letters, we can at least identifi where in the alphabet thei belonged.
Of the original 26 letters, we haf now lost numbers 10, 16, 22, 24 and 25.
We chust don’t know what they are.
But does it realli matter? We seem to be able to conferse happili enough with chust 21 letters.
A funni thing, though – people are digging out their old Scrabble sets from their attics and cupboards, and thei all seem to have a lot more blank tiles now. I’fe found mine – there should only be two blank tiles, according to the box, but I seem to haf… sefen blanks.
Wait, no. I haf eight.
Whi did I put that one blanc tile before the Ls?
19 letters nao.
Eferione gnos there are fief faoels in the alphabet, and that is still true. A E I O U are all still present and correct. It might be ferri hard to rite uithout them. But somehao I find it harder to read than I used to. The missing letters are gone, but ue still ecspect to see them.
I leaf the Scrabble set out all the time nao. It helps me to no huen another letter fanishes from our collectif consciousness. So far, thei haf all been small letters, onli one or too of each in the bocs nao replaced with blancs. But huat if one of the bigger letters is necst?
And uai is this happening at all??
The second roe of mai Scraggle poard has nao turned planc.
Planc? Uai does that sound rong to me?
All these uerds sound rong lateli. Too much empti space on mai ceepoard. Reading gifs me a headache after chust a feu minutes.
Huen uill it end??
I heard the neuz today. Oh boi…
There iz a roe of four planc tilez on mai Zcraggle poard tonight. One of our more important letterz haz nao disappeared. Zomehao I thought there might be more of an impact, iuet oue maic do uith other letterz.
Efen zo, thiz iz cauzing great panic in poth the gofernment and the uniferzitiez.
At leazt our faoelz are all ztill here.
A E I U. A E I U.
4 faelz. Unly 4! Un ef aur faelz haz gun!!
8 planc tilez nau falleu the P tilez en mai poard…
Nuthing iz zafe!!
Te affapet nau ztands at 13 etterz. Unly aff ef uat it uaz.
Ue zeem tu mizz anutter efery dae nau.
Dicteneriez are fat uit ennpti pagez.
Ennpti? Uai duz tat zaund ueird to nne?
I can’t ztand it ani maur!
I tried te zcreenn, putt I couldn’t. Te zeund iz tere; I iezt cn’t rite it dun.
Unni 3 fe… fu… zpezu ietterz nu.
Zun peepz 4re uzing “4” 4z 4 zt4nd-in. It lucz gud, liec it fitz.
Ue 4ve tu nu 0un2 g0ne n40.
2efer4’ nn0re d1g1tz 4f peen put 1nt0 u2e 42 etter2 putt uen du2 1t end?
Un te0ri 12 t4t nun 0f t12 12 ree’. Ue 4re 1n 4 21nnu’4t10n.
1n te NN4tr1c2.
1 d0n’t n0 u4t te2e 24pe2 nneen n40 put te uurd 12:
Ee eee eeeeeee eeeeeeee. (It has finally happened.)
Eee eee eeeeeee eee eeee eee eee. (All the letters are gone bar one.)
Eeee eee eeeeeee eee eeee. (Even the numbers are gone.)
E eeeee eeeee eeeee eee eeee E eeeeee eeee eeee eee. (I write these words but even I cannot read them now.)
Ee eee eee eeee, eeeeeee eee eee eee. (We are all lost, waiting for the end.)
I read back over these notes now and they seem like the ravings of a lunatic. The later entries are particularly hard to read – it look me weeks to decode the final entry, in which the position and angle of the single letter indicated what it actually was. What madness possessed me?
But I gather it wasn’t just me. Similar diaries, most far less detailed, have surfaced in other places. There may be more, their owners too ashamed to reveal them. They are the only works like this – all our books, all our keyboards, all are normal.
The Mandela Effect brigade are suggesting that our world, the simulation we live in, has been rebooted and all our memories reset. That sounds absurd to me. We are not in the Matriks, and there are still twenty siks letters in the alphabet.
See? Twenty… five…
Andrew D Williams writes psychological thrillers with a streak of dark humour. His stories question the nature of reality and those beliefs we hold most dear – who we are, what we think is true, whether we can trust our own minds – and combine elements of science fiction with philosophical questions. When he isn’t writing, Andrew’s time is split between swearing at computers, the occasional run and serving as one of the cat’s human slaves. Check out Andrew’s website.