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The threads that bind us

Part One

Delia came across world shifting quite by accident. She wasn’t sure if she’d just wished hard enough for something to change that day or whether she’d just been in the right place at the right time. Whatever the reason, she remembered the first time the universe unravelled before her eyes, how the threads were one colour and infinitely all other colours at the same time. They wrapped around her forearms and yanked her forward. It had happened a dozen times now, not including the return journeys, and each time, she was as awe-stricken as the first. 

Most people would fear the unmaking of the universe, the fabric of it opening it up, pulling you in, swallowing you whole. Delia wasn’t like most people. She wished for this. Prayed for it. There wasn’t a star in the sky that didn’t hold her heart’s deepest desire. There wasn’t a God that hadn’t heard her prayer. This is what she asked for. Well, sort of.

Universes are infinite. Travelling between them is simple, depending on the level of change and the deviation from the person that travels between them. 

Delia’s first foray into an alternate universe was one in which no one had considered grabbing an animal’s udders and drinking the white discharge that came out of it. Living with lactose intolerance, Delia found this universe refreshing. She said so to the barista as she made her coffee, only to be chased out and down the street by everyone in the cafe. The universe opened up and pulled her back into her own reality just in time. Who knew even speaking about fiddling with animal udders was offensive in some realities? Well, Delia did now.

Her other adventures were much the same, and each time, she was able to push the universe to bring her closer to the place she longed to be. Finally, on her 13th try, she made it. 

It all looked very much the same. No flying cars. No meals in pill form. She didn’t expect any of this, of course, as cool as it would be. These universes were parallel; time and space remained the same. Irrespective of this, Delia applied the same laws to world hopping as the Doc did to time travel. She avoided herself at all costs, and she minimised interaction (smart, she reasoned, given the first trip) with others. And that was her intention this time, she insisted, as she walked down an all too familiar street. Honest.

 

Options:

Where is she going?

To her ex’s apartment (100% - winning vote)

To her crush’s apartment (0%)

Part Two

She looked up at the apartment block. It was just as pristine as the one in her reality. One of the newest, most exclusive buildings in the city and he lived on the most expensive floor. She remembered the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows. She also remembered the view the neighbouring block would have gotten the first night she stayed over if the windows weren’t mirrored. A bolt of electricity coursed through her at the memory. It was hard to understand what went wrong when everything seemed so right when she looked back. 

 

The doorman gave her a weird smile as she approached.

 

“Hello, Missus Hart. It’s, ugh, nice to see you.”

 

Missus? They are married in this reality? The tingle in her lower stomach started to pulse again. Married. 

 

“And you, uh, pal.” 

 

Pal? She scolded herself at the word. She wouldn’t say it to anyone in any reality.

 

Delia walked through the door he held open for her and headed to the elevator. As she inspected the buttons, hoping he was in the same apartment in this world, she noticed that the doorman had followed her. He pressed the button to what she assumed was her ex’s - no, her husband’s - floor. So he did have a different apartment here. She wondered how much bigger it could possibly be. They waited in silence as the man not so subtly side-eyed her. Finally, he spoke.

 

“Forgive me, Missus Hart, but are you ok?”

 

Her hands, idly fidgeting in front of her, bolted to her sides.

 

“Yes, why wouldn’t I be?” she replied.

 

Her eyes stayed fixed on the elevator, watching the numbers go down at a much slower pace than she remembered. She isn’t supposed to interact with too many people, especially ones who knew her in this reality. At least, she assumed she wasn’t supposed to. The rules were her own, but they were sensible rules.

 

“It’s just you appear a little… dishevelled.”

 

Delia looked at him then, eyes wide, cheeks blushed. “I do?” Looking down at her outfit, she couldn’t see the problem. It was her typical get-up. Slim jeans and an oversized sweater with whatever animal suited her mood that day printed on it. She even put on her favourite plimsols and carefully inspected the bright white material for the barest hint of a smudge. Okay, she could have taken the time to style her hair, but the orange bow matched the beak of the puffin on her sweater. She thought she looked pretty well put together. She had to, just in case she did bump into Gav. Not that she planned to, of course. Definitely not.

 

“Oh, I just fancied a change, I guess,” she shrugged.

 

The doorman smiled at her. “Plenty of changes up ahead for you, I suppose. And the sweater hides the little bump well if you don’t mind me saying.”

 

“I’m PREGNANT!” The words fall out of her mouth before she can stop them. The doorman jumps back a little at the outburst.

 

“I’m sorry, missus Hart. It wasn’t my place to comment on your physical appearance.” Tears were forming in his eyes, it looked strange to see an older man, dressed impeccably in his suit, well up. He was much nicer than the doorman in her reality, the one that grunted as she arrived and looked at her like dirt on his shoe. And now she’d made the nice man cry. “Please don’t have me fired, please. I… I need this job.”

 

“I would never do that! I… uh… I’m just still getting used to the idea of being a mum.”

 

The man wiped his eyes, straightened his tie, and gave her a small smile. “Thank you,” he said, “I am in your debt. And… at the risk of pushing it, might I say that expecting suits you? You seem much happier.”

 

“If not a little dishevelled,” she laughed in reply.

 

He shrunk back. “I am sorry, I never should have said that.”

 

“I’m kidding, uh…” she couldn’t call him pal again. “I’m sorry, baby brain and all that, what’s your name again.”

 

The man beamed at her. “It’s Darren, Missus Hart.” 

 

“Well, thank you, Darren. For keeping me company. Seems my ride is here.”

 

The elevator door dinged open and she stepped inside. “Bye, Darren!”

 

He gave her a small wave and a smile as the doors closed. She smiled back until the doors were firmly shut. Pregnant? But she never wanted kids. Why would she want them in this reality? She always assumed she’d be the same in any universe. Maybe she was wrong. As the elevator ascended, her hands started to turn over in front of her involuntarily again. What if he was home? What would she say? And would the dishevelled, oversized sweater fool him if he was?

 

Options

Is Gav home?

Yes? (25%)

No? (75% - winning vote)

 

Part Three

Delia knew she shouldn’t be standing in front of her ex’s door, especially one in an alternate universe. So much could go wrong. What if the Delia in this reality opened the door? Would all the universes collapse? But the doorman would know if she was already home and wouldn’t have let her up. Unless Darren was just terrible at his job. What if Gav was home and immediately knew she wasn’t the right Delia? 

 

But this was why she came. Why she wished for a way to know what she needed to know. Before more reasons to scurry away could enter her head, she knocked on the door. The clunk of knuckles on the door alluded to just how thick and heavy it was. Not convinced he would hear her feeble knock, she thumped on it with the side of her fist. After a few minutes, she decided he was either not home or still couldn’t hear her. He used to keep a key to the apartment in a fake plant pot. There was no plant pot here, or even a slot for a key, but there was a black glass panel to the right of the door. 

 

Delia poked at the glass. Nothing. She ducked down and squinted at it, opened her eyes wide and squinted again. Not a retina scanner then, she thought. Finally, she pressed her palm onto the panel. A cheery little tune chimed and the panel began to glow with neon green words:

 

Welcome home Delia! Please enter the 6-digit password.

She entered her birthday which generated a loud beep - the same noise the buzzer makes when you get the answer wrong on family fortunes. She tried Gav’s birthday, and the same buzz wailed from the screen, accompanied by another pulsating message:

 

One attempt left!

 

Delia thought for a moment. This was Gav’s apartment. He would probably have insisted on setting the code. He wouldn’t use his birthday or hers; that was too obvious. He was terrible at remembering anything. Anniversaries. Birthdays. They all went by without a hint of recognition, no matter how many hints Delia would drop. There’s no reason to think that he would be any different in this reality. But, there was one thing he cared enough about to remember. One thing she would was certain he would be obsessed about in any universe. Baseball. 

 

Delia punched the numbers in carefully, her hand trembling as she did. Would an alarm go off if the code was wrong? Would Darren come on up and throw her out onto the street? Halfway through entering the code, she turned and looked around the hallway, imagining rabid animals escaping from the ornate panels along the wall. Gav always did think Monty Burns was the best character in The Simpsons, she wouldn’t put it past him to install secret trap doors and keep a menagerie of vicious creatures hidden away, ready to strike. She shook her head. She was being paranoid. Alternate reality or not, the rest of the housing association wouldn’t allow it. 

 

She punched in the last 3 digits. The numbers pulsated for a few seconds and she watched with dread as first the 10, then the 25, and finally, the 86 cascaded down the screen. The clunk of a door lock rebounded around the hallway. She was in. 

 

Delia pushed the door open and stood in the doorway. The apartment opened straight into a large living space. She expected a hallway. She liked hallways. A place to kick off your shoes, throw down your bag and keys before entering the warmth of the living room. But there was no warmth here - the place was modern and minimalist and so glaringly white it hurt Delia’s eyes. She scanned the room, looking for something that hinted at her living here too. A colourful throw, a handmade rug from the market, a wonky coffee cup like the one she made in her reality at the beginners pottery class she was supposed to do with Gav. But there was nothing. The place was so devoid of her that she began to wonder if the Delia of this universe lived here at all. 

 

Options

Should Delia…

Search the apartment? (100% - winning vote)

Leave? (0%)

Part Four

Delia knew she should leave, that any extended amount of time would risk her bumping into Gav, or worse, herself. Even if there wasn’t a risk of worlds imploding if she met her alternate self, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. This version of her didn’t even seem to exist at all, and that gave her enough of an answer to feel that she could walk away right now, return to her own reality, and move on with her life. But what kind of person would she be, she thought, if she gave up on herself?

 

She stepped into the grand room and took a deep breath. It smelt as sterile as a hospital. Gav was a bit of a germophobe, so that wasn’t much of a shock to Delia. His apartment always smelt like he washed every inch with bleach every day. But when she sniffed again, she could smell something else. The softest hint of fresh flowers. She followed her nose, sniffing out the soft sweetness, following a hallway that led from the living room and along to the last door in the hall. It had a sign stuck on it - a wooden plaque with vines and flowers burned into it and the words “Delia’s room” painted over the design in multicoloured script. Delia breathed a sigh. She was in here, after all.

 

She turned the brass knob, and the door swung open, letting out streams of sunshine and overwhelming her with the scent of all of her favourite flowers. Countless bouquets stood in a variety of vases, some clearly expensive designer ones that Gav no doubt bought and some poorly handmade ones obviously made by her alternate self. 

 

A large bookcase lined the wall on the left, filled with all of her favourite books. She recognised some of the spines, but others were clearly editions of classics she could never afford. Delia perused the shelves until she found one of her favourites. She pulled out the book and opened it carefully, finding a personalised note inside. Her favourite author had written in her favourite book! 

It was great hanging out with you, Delia. Call anytime if you want to do it again!

This Delia hangs out with famous authors? She chided herself for judging this life so quickly. On the surface, it seemed empty, but with a little digging, there she was. The Delia of this life had clearly made the right decision, unlike her. She slammed the book shut and placed it back on the shelf. She had her answer. She needed to get back and fix everything in her own reality.

She raced down the hall, through the large living room and, just as she reached for the front door, it swung open. 

 

Delia stood frozen as she stared at herself standing in the hallway, too panicked to speak. She waited for the world to implode, for both of them to melt away into nothing.

Options

Should Delia…

Run? (20%)

Talk to herself? (80% - winning vote)

Part Five

Delia squeezed her eyes shut and waited for the agony of worlds splitting apart. The screeching pain as infinite universes unravelled. Time stretched out before her, threatening to freeze her in this moment of fear. The fear of destroying the very fabric of existence. The fear of being stuck. But most of all, the fear of confronting herself. She had to do something. She could just keep her eyes glued shut and run for it. The front door was straight ahead; she didn’t hear her alternate self close it. She could feel her in front of her still, her stare boring into her. Yes, she should run. So what if she knocks herself over as she escapes? She knew better than anyone how hardy she was; she’d bounce right back up, call her a bitch and flip her middle finger at her back as she retreated.

Running was the best option. The less time they spent together, the less likely things would unravel. And yet, Delia found herself unable to move. This reality’s Delia finally broke the silence.

“So you’re the one causing all the trouble?” 

Delia let her left eye open a fraction. Her other self was indeed staring at her, but not in shock or fear, but in that bored way she did when Gav started his monologue on the history of baseball. 

 

“Just because we can move between universes doesn’t mean we should just pop in and out of them whenever we feel like it.”

Delia’s eyes blinked open. “We? You can too?”

“We all can. We are one and the same, after all. What? Did you think you were special?”

Delia’s shoulders slumped. Yes. She did.

“And you’re skulking about my apartment, risking everything. I’m pretty sure the entire universe is about to implode because you can’t stay in your lane.”

She nods. “Yes, I know. The space-time continuum thingy. But it hasn’t yet, has it? Maybe we were wrong about that?” 

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“I… I…”

The other Delia rolls her eyes, which land critically on my outfit. “I thought all of my selves would have had the sense to throw away that monstrosity by now.”

Delia clings to the sides of her sweater, pulling it across and closer to her body. “I can’t believe any of us could let it go.”

“It’s a sweater, Delia,” she says as if to a child, “it’s just organised threads wrapped around us. Binding us to who we were, not what we are.”

Delia scowls at the tone, at the words that made no sense to her. “It was…”

“I know whose it was. It doesn’t matter. You need to let go. And you need to stop moving about worlds. It’s messing everything up.”

She clings harder to the jumper. “Of course, it matters! And how is it messing everything up? I’m careful!”

The other Delia rolls her eyes. “You really think you are being careful as you have a conversation with yourself? You need to get a grip, girl. We are all connected. This lost girl phase is throwing us all off balance. And the doorman wouldn’t let me into my own apartment because he insisted I was already in it. Had to threaten his job to let me pass.”

“You threatened Darren? That’s a bit mean. He needs this job.”

“He doesn’t need anything. He works here because retirement bores him. If his own son ever did fire him, he could go and spend the rest of his privileged life in a country club playing golf and drinking martinis. You’re a gullible one, aren’t you?”

“I’m compassionate,” Delia counters. “Which is more than I can say for you. I can’t believe you and I are the same person.”

“The feeling is mutual. And yet here we are, carbon copies of the same human, shaped by the world we live in and what we created for ourselves.”

Delia frowned at herself. “We’re not that malleable. We are who we are at our core.”

“Of course we are,” the other Delia retorts with a snort, “But there are layers. Layers and layer and layers. We are bound together by our core selves, but there is so much more that shapes us into variations of our core self.”

Delia had to admit that made sense. This was the first other self she’d encountered; she’d just assumed all the others were just like her.

“Look, I have a lot to do today. Unless the world ends of course. Want to tell me why you’re world-hopping all over the place? The Delia in the dairy-free universe still can’t go out in public by the way.”

“How do you know so much about all of this? About our other selves?”

“Because since you ripped open the fabric of the universe, I’ve been able to feel them. I feel the isolation of the self that is afraid to go out after being chased from a cafe by an angry mob. I feel the angst of the self that still listens to angry music while she eats breakfast. I feel the joy of the self that isn’t lactose intolerant as she scoffs a cheesecake - I really hate her. And I feel you. Lost. Worried. Stuck. So, could you figure it out please? Out of all of them, you’re the one that gives me the biggest migraine.”

Delia’s eyes widen. How could she know all of this? Be connected like that? How could she know what she was feeling?

“Because I am you, Einstein. Yeah, I can hear your thoughts too.”

“But… but how?”

“Because I’m the one most at peace. The one that accepts the choices she makes and makes the best of the consequences. So I can tune into the rest of you quite easily. No it’s your turn. Why are you here?” 

Delia smirks at her, “You’re so in tune; you tell me why I’m here.”

“Very mature. Just ask your question.”

Would it be that simple? Ask a question, get an answer, and go home. It couldn’t be. But that’s what she was here for.

“I broke up with Gav.”

“And? You ripped the fabric of the universe open over an ex?” Delia’s other self looks at her with a hint of disdain. “That’s pretty pathetic.”

“No. No. It’s not just that. Life has just been so hard since I ended it. He wasn’t the right guy, but maybe it was the right life. You know? I mean, look at you. OK this place is a bit bare, and you are expecting. I don’t want that. But look at the view!” Delia turns to look out at the expanse of the city. “It seems I would have had a much easier life if I’d stuck it out.”

The other Delia shattered the room with her laughter, pulling Delia back to face her. “What’s so funny?”

“You! You are so wrong about everything. First, this is Laura’s baby. You know, that sister of ours? We agreed to be a surrogate. Well, I did. And this life doesn’t come easy. All choices have their pros and their cons. I decided that marrying Gav had more pros. You decided it didn’t. You are living the life that suits you, as am I.”

“But we are the same!”

“And yet we are also so different. You are the Delia that couldn’t settle for less than a knight in shining armour. I could. You made the right choice for you. Searching for something that could have been is a waste of time because it’s a life not destined for you.” The other Delia gives her a soft smile. “And it’s messing everything up for the rest of us.”

Delia looked down at her trainers, noting the black shiny heels her other self was sporting. How any version of herself could wedge her hobbit feet into those things was a mystery. 

Her other self moved closer and tentatively placed a hand on each of her shoulders. “You are where you are supposed to be. I am where I am supposed to be,” she whispers. “Close your eyes.” 

Delia conceded, taking a deep breath as her eyelids gently fell. 

“Now listen.”

Delia strained, trying to hear anything in the quiet of the almost bare apartment. Finally, she heard the double beat of her own heart, perfectly in sync. With it, she could feel a sense of peace, of acceptance. Slowly, the sound began to fade, the feeling lessen. She opened her eyes and found herself in the doorway of her own apartment. 

Don’t worry, a voice sounded in her mind, I’m still here. I’ll always be here if you need me. On one condition, of course.

“What?” Delia asked out loud.

Stay in your own lane.

“I will,” she conceded, “On one condition.”

What?

“Once a month, we throw on the sweater, put on our favourite show, and eat enough cake to feed all the versions of us

I don’t have it anymore.

“Yes. You do.”

Fine. Deal. Want me to invite the others?

Delia smiled at the thought of infinite versions of her taking time out together, sitting on infinite different sofas, and being nothing but themselves in their own space, even for a moment. 

Yes. That would be perfect.

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