Jamais Vu

Sena Chang

“There’s an opposite to deja vu. They call it jamais vu. It’s when you meet the same people or visit places, again and again, but each time is the first. Everybody is a stranger. Nothing is ever familiar.”
- Chuck Palahnluk

There was once a time when all seemed normal in Jules’s world. Days would blend into each other like the fleeting landscape from a fast-moving train, none distinguishable from each other; boredom and loneliness stained every corner of her mundane life, leaving no room to spare. Yet every so often, the universe slams upon us multitudes of events and signs that are sprinkled with a pinch of enigma and obscurities. Bound together by the mysterious workings of this universe that we live in, Jule’s story is quite different from those of the everyday people you see in the theater or on the train— in fact, it holds a certain murkiness that dare not be explored, at least not for the faint-hearted.
Jules Dubois had awoken that day with a tangy aftertaste of the Jack Daniels she had been sipping on while cruising through late-night television channels. It followed a regular Sunday, she recalled, with only the nauseating puffs of cigarettes to keep her company during her long hours at the police station. As she caught sight of the piles of laundry that littered her room, she sighed and left it for another day, already tired of the obligations she had to fulfill for the day.
Precocious and fair-skinned, Jules knew as a young woman that she could go places— she had once had dreams of attending university, going to graduate school— yet, once she was knee-deep in the affairs of her own little town of 1,500, she could not escape. It was almost unnatural, the way that the townspeople had sucked all the passion out of her until she became one of them. Expressionless and stolid, their lives followed a straight line with no inclines nor declines, a contrast to the dynamic roller coaster that others outside described it to be.
With few consumers and little wealth to spare, the economic powerhouses of this town had all moved out several decades ago, leaving behind an abundance of struggling businesses and jobless workers. Located in the middle of Iowa, the only buildings standing on her street were the musty supermarket down left, the appliances store, and of course, the police station that Jules worked at. Why there remained a police force, Jules herself could not fathom. ‘Probably required by federal law,’ she had thought. Yet she often found it absurd for a police to patrol a town of weary people with little to gain.
Mustering up the courage to keep her eyes open, Jules lethargically wore her uniform, applied a fresh coat of red lipstick, grabbed her keys, and headed out the front door. As soon as she inhaled the scent of the fresh morning air, she noticed a slight difference. Slight, but tangible. Instead of the dusty, ash-filled air that made itself home in her lungs for 20 years, she met a fresh breeze quite different from the one she had known…

“Officer, we have an emergency!”
Jules jolted in her chair with shock, for a crime in this town was unheard of. As she stood up with urgency and was briefed on the case, the more ominous the situation felt.
“...lost woman… red lipstick… local…”
Jules zoned in and out during the conversation, still trying to fathom the possibility of a crime in her town of 1,500. A once in a lifetime event. Her ears alert, her brain drinking in every detail about this missing woman, she felt a fiery warmth of passion in the pit of her stomach— this was what she had been trained to do— it was what she had dreamt to do— and whatever hardships greeted her, she would find this woman. Jules had grown to hate her love for this sleepy town of senile residents, but when it offered her an opportunity to put into practice the very things that had joined the police force for, she did not hesitate to do so.

“Argh. Dammit!” Jules cried, as she pierced her finger on a thorny branch. Deep in the woods on the outskirts of the town, Jules had continued her three-day-long search for the faceless, nameless woman that had disappeared. With officers giving her rejected looks and sorry smiles, they had come to a unanimous decision to suspend the investigation until tomorrow, for their dinners would get cold and their wives anxiety-ridden.
Jules, too, had felt worn out and mentally drained, for she had poured buckets of blood and sweat today searching for a woman who could be possibly dead. Yet Jules did not feel as though this investigation was futile. The universe was calling on her to find this woman, she felt, as if she had been hardwired to find this woman. Such a strange part of the woods she had ended up in. But she herself did not lead her here, she realized. Jules had been dazedly walking around in the woods, confident that she knew where this woman was, yet ultimately leading her team to cul-de-sacs that promised nothing. She had been summoned here by some means; who, how, and or why, she did not know. She only knew that she had to find her, even if it cost her her life.
Eyes observant and breath held tight, Jules quietly looked around the place where her will had led her. For minutes she stood there, eyes burning into the unmoving scenery of the forest and ear strained to hear nothing but silence. Silence. Silence. More silence. Jules stood in the woods in a trance, planting her feet into the muddy ground and joining the trees in their silent chant.
It was a little past the early hours of the morning when Jules’s eyes caught something irregular. The glint of the sunrise shone off something pale, blinding her irises for a second. Her head shot up, breaking out of the hourslong reverie she was stuck in, and let the glint of the sun guide her to a nearby bush. Brushing aside the leaves and inhaling the fresh scent of green, Jules’ heart nearly pounded out of her heart when she found it. Dopamine pounded into her brain, and fireworks of joy exploded through her veins. She had found her. She had finally found her.
Grazing her hands on its strangely unharmed porcelain skin and faded fiery-red lips, an unnerving sensation welcomed her body. As if a tiger had leaped at her, she jolted back in utter shock. Then, a sudden realization hit her. She was looking at her own corpse.

It was then that Jules knew. Her universe had collided with one that was entirely different. The train she was traveling on had swerved from its track, running along a new track that was completely new. One with different scents, towns, and people.
How she had been transported to this world, she could not fathom. Only one thing she knew for certain— she had met death in her former world. Jules would have to navigate this world and this world only, for if she found a way to return, her existence would have been erased. It was the reason why lifelong friends had become faceless strangers; time flowed irregularly in this universe, and the Earth was rotating on a different axis. Jules had died, yet her fiercely beating heart contradicted exactly that. The year remained 2020, but Jules had found herself on an Earth far, far away from the one she knew.

Author’s note: Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 inspired this story.