Here we are. Ten hearts, beating silently. Twenty legs, some abruptly collapsed onto the floor. Twenty hands, grasping at lost sensations. Ten heads, linked to flexible cables suspended from above like the strings of ten marionnettes. Twenty hazel eyes, staring into the darkness.
Twenty eyes which were just moments ago watching gummi bears leap around
on a screen, watching the world whiz by from a swing, watching the teacher form the letter W on the blackboard, tracking an approaching ball, streaming tears from the pain of a broken knee, gazing down at polished shoes on the school stage while the students clapped, closing in embarrassment for a first kiss, glazing over in front of an educational video, closing in rapture during an embrace with our soulmate, opening wide in terror.
The cries of the youngest hit our ears before our eyes have adjusted. A sound made by one, forgotten by some, not quite familiar to others. We begin to see each other, ourselves. Some recognise past selves, some gape at the slow recognition of future selves. Some are too young to know that the others have separate thoughts.
We look at each other questioningly, trying to find the right words to say, and wondering whether we need to say them once they’re found.
“Are you me?” I say. I’m twelve, nearly thirteen. I think I wished myself here, to escape the humiliation of standing in front of assembly with my art prize.
All are unsure. Those close to each other in age answer similarly. All who answer answer positively. We are Cat Diesch. We were born on October 10, 2010 to Rose and Macy Diesch. We have no siblings. We enjoy painting, fireworks, and nectarines. We are sitting in a dark room with nine other versions of ourselves, at different ages.
More questions follow. Did we travel through time? How can we travel back? Did we die? Did we all break our kneecaps at ten years old? Only the last gets an answer, so we quiz each other on our lives. We all lived the same one. We each lived it until August 10. Each in a different year, always two years apart. The younger ones are warned not to play rugby, for a broken kneecap is painful.
Very painful. I am ten, and though my world disappeared, my knee still hurts, and my eyes are still streaming with tears. “I want to go back to the hospital,” I plead. Nobody says anything; we know that we have no answer. Less than an hour ago my leg was in a splint, now it is covered with the same smooth, squishy black fabric as the rest of our bodies. As an older me comes to comfort me, I notice the cord linking her to the ceiling unwinds so that she is free to move toward me.
A recently-read novel is still fresh in my mind. “It’s like some kind of virtual reality suit. Do you have that in the future?” I ask my older selves. The one who spoke first says, “Oh yeah, like in… what’s it… World of the World Builders!”
The older ones smile at the spark of a much-enjoyed book lighting up their memory.
“Nothing like this.” I say. I’m eighteen. I tinker with the graphics for the virtual reality software my boyfriend is making for his Master project. He just uses goggles, earpieces, gloves, and some basic neural stimulation.
We ponder in silence for a while, watching the two youngest play together. Our thoughts are like ten flautists playing different tunes, each trying to make sense of the same shrouded score.
“Did I stay with Jason forever?” I ask. I’m fourteen, and I know Jason and I are meant for each other. But after exchanging puzzled looks, my older selves burst out laughing.
“Jason… oh my God, that kid? He was…” They stop when they see the look on my face.
“I remember,” says a sixteen-year-old me. “It feels important now, but believe me, it totally isn’t.”
“And you end up with someone much better,” say the two oldest in unison.
“Who?” I ask. “What’s he like? Is he cute?”
The click of a door interrupts our retrogressive reminiscence.
To be continued…
Will they discover what happened? Who is at the door? Whose eyes were wide with terror? Will this be a two-week miniseries or a novel? I don’t know all the answers myself, I’ll just have to make the most of the cards I’m dealt. I’m still working out some of the details. It seems like I have enough plot for quite a few weeks, but I surprised myself by fitting Sleeping Giant into so few words (apparently at the expense of clarity), so perhaps this one will also be shorter than I expect.
The first two sentences came to me spontaneously when I thought about the ten of hearts, the rest came from pondering why the story would begin that way, and the concept that the letter double-u had already made me think of.
Although I always knew that this episode would stop when the door opened, I had to cut it a little short. I started writing on Thursday, but was busy Friday night, all of Saturday, and most of Sunday. I was hoping it would be a good self-contained story as well as being a teaser for the rest of it, but although I still have half an hour to spare, I can’t think how to make it self-contained if it must end at this point. Still, I think it’s a strong opening. I don’t think I’ve ever written a story in the first person plural before.