This is a picture of a cheery family of bears. You probably recognise them from childhood books. By the end of this piece their malleable grins will fill you only with creeping dread and uncertainty. But first I need you to spell out their name.
How did you get on? It's crucially important because your answer is key. Your spelling is spine-chilling proof that something mind-bogglingly messed up has happened in our past and that event, whatever it was, has dramatically and irrevocably altered our present.
E or A? Did you spell it Berenstein or Berenstain? The former is right, but wrong. The latter is officially correct but undoubtedly incorrect. Everything we thought we knew is a lie.
In case you're wondering, yes, I am wearing my best tinfoil hat right now but let me assure you, this is only as a safety precaution. I'm not a nutter or anything. Honestly.
Let me explain. Nearly everyone remembers these guys as The Berenstein Bears, including myself. Officially, this is totally incorrect. The proper spelling is Berenstain, after creators Stan and Jan Berenstain. It's this spelling which appears on all the books but nightmarishly not in your memories.
Like in the film Back to the Future the past that we all collectively remember, the one with the Berenstein Bears in it, has, at some point, been tampered with. The resulting change to the time/space continuum has replaced our previous future and instead brought us here to our current present, the one that contains the unholy abomination that is the Berenstain Bears.
Unbelievable, I know. But this theory stormed the internet this week, though conjecture around this seemingly innocuous family of bears has surfaced sporadically for a number of years now.
Myself? I'm 100 per cent Berenstein. The slightest thought that it could be anything else hadn't even begun to speculate about the merest possibility of crossing my mind. As a kid I read the books, watched the cartoon and, in primary, drew them on a mural for the school library. Yes, I've always been cool.
It's Berenstein. No question. Berenstain not only looks wrong, it sounds wrong too. Yet all the proof we have suggests that not only is it right, that's how it's always been. What in blazes is going on?
No one really knows. But I've quizzed friends, family and acquaintances and they all came back with Berenstein. With an E. It seems everyone I know is wrong. Or are we?
And this is where the whole Berenstain business gets eerie. How can so many people all be wrong about the exact same thing? How can something I'm so certain of, that I vividly remember, be hopelessly incorrect?
There's a couple of theories. One, popularised on a blog called The Wood Between Worlds. is massively complicated but basically involves a space/time dimensional slip on the galactic equivalent of a banana peel.
It hurts my brain trying to understand, but basically it's resulted in some of us, let's say Team E, slipping into a parallel universe. Here the reality is, and always has been, Berenstain. Not only are us Team E people wrong, we always have been. Here, at least.
Doesn't seem all that likely. We're talking about some Twilight Zone mumbo jumbo stuff here. But these bears aren't alone. This spelling kerfuffle is being hailed as proof of the so-called Mandela effect, a similar phenomenon in which large chunks of the population swear they remember Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 80s. Even though he only recently passed a couple years back.
It's theorised that these collective false rememberings by large numbers of people are glimpses or crossovers into parallel universes. Just because it didn't happen here, doesn't mean it didn't happen.
Don't worry if your head's spinning. There's easier theories to grasp; such as the butterfly effect which posits that when a butterfly flaps its wings the flow-on effect of this insignificant action has massive consequences. Somewhere along the timeline someone - or something - went back and changed something. What they did and why they did it is unknowable as we're now living in this new reality with only this seemingly trivial spelling change as evidence.
It's freaky and weird and creepy. Mostly it's a bit of fun. I don't go in for moon landings, second shooters or inside jobs, but I do love me a good pop culture conspiracy. Paul is dead, Elvis lives and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining will drive you mad if you stare at it too long.
The truth behind these bears though? Well, I just don't know. Like all proper conspirators I have my own theory. And if you look closely enough you might just figure it out.