When a mild-mannered IT specialist discovers that a man with the same name as his is missing, he goes looking for him in the Toronto ravines. But instead of finding him, he finds the missing mans identical twin brother.
Carl Naardlinger has spent most of his life answering questions. When your computer doesn’t work – he is the man you call. Patient, intelligent and kind he is a voice in the interconnected ether – touching the lives of thousands of people he will never see, or meet.
When he discovers on his birthday, that a man with the same name as his has gone missing and is presumed dead – Carl instinctively feels related to the stranger that bears his own name. Pam, his wife, is unnerved by a shocking coincidence of her own, when their annoying neighbour dies after she wishes it. It seems the Universe is playing a cruel joke on them both.
Things get stranger when instead of find the missing Carl Naardlinger, Carl finds his identical twin brother Don who happens to be in town for a conference.
On his birthday, Carl Naardlinger – a mild-mannered IT technician – discovers that a man also named Carl Naardlinger has gone missing and is presumed dead. A few days after this shockingly coincidental event, Carl Naardlinger goes to a sort-of-memorial service, because all of Carl’s friends mistakenly think Carl’s is dead. He’s not. He’s alive and well and wandering around in the forest, but we’ll get to that later.
Roommates Paula and Larry worked with Carl at the Hummingbird Bakery, and Carl discovers that Carl Naardlinger actually baked and iced his birthday cake. So when he tells his wife Pam that the last words of a presumed dead man were “Happy Birthday Carl”, this shocking coincidence freaks her out. She doesn’t want her husband to have anything more to do with Carl Naardlinger, because why tempt fate? But Carl can’t help himself. He is compelled to go looking for Carl in the densely forested ravine where Carl went missing.
Completely by coincidence Don Beamershmiddle, an engineer at Avitron Industries is walking in the same ravine recording bird songs. Don makes mechanical voice birds, and is in town for a convention. He lives in “Smiths’ Falls”, the dullest and least imaginative name one can give falls, when you think about it. Don comes across one of Carl Naardlinger’s “Missing Posters” stuck to a tree and recognizes himself. What he finds out much later in the story is that he and Carl Naardlinger are identical twin brothers separated and adopted at birth after the death of their parents in a tragic funicular accident. He also discovers that few people know what a funicular is.
Getting back to Carl Naardlinger who is alive and well and wandering around in the forest: After writing “Happy Birthday Carl” in icing, Carl went to eat lunch in a nearby ravine. A chunk of blue ice from a passing jet falls out of the sky and hits him on the head. When he comes to, he doesn’t know who he is, or where he is. He has Transient Global Amnesia. Lost in the ravine for weeks, he follows a stream in the wrong direction and ends up miles from home. At first he’s terrified of his surroundings, but over time he finds a great sense of peace in the forest and it becomes his new home. Eventually someone finds him wandering around and takes him to the local hospital.
Carl and Pam go to this same hospital to bring Carl back home, and Carl fills Carl in on the few details he knows about Carl. He’s single. He has a brother he’s never met before. The highest achievement of his life is that he’s good at writing people’s names in icing fonts. This is a big mistake. Unable to face the staggering weight of his own insignificance, Carl bolts for the trees. Carl and Pam have to go back to Carl Naardlinger’s “Welcome Home” party, empty-handed with the news that Carl is once again, lost. This time by his own choice.
And who’s to say that’s a bad thing?