This one came out a bit longer than my usual stories. I’ve been taking the subway for a while after moving to Berlin and I find it to be a strange place. I think this story was inspired by this absurdity.
by Kristina Georgieva
She looked into the distant train compartment, which vanished with every turn. People disappeared and reappeared, as though swallowed by a malevolent screeching beast that mockingly spat them out again. Alone in her thoughts, looking beyond the faceless masses, she noticed a homeless man. He often rode on that train, shouting nonsense that no one paid attention to, but not this time. This time his expression was unmistakably that of pure fear, and his silence was unfamiliar.
When she reached her stop, she left the train as she usually did. She followed her usual route, taking no notice of her surroundings. There was, however, an unfamiliar discomfort. Something was not quite right. She made an effort to observe her surroundings, to find the cause of her anxiety. Nothing seemed different, everyone around her seemed to be following their boring daily routines. Was she just imagining it?
She continued her commute, actively deviating from the shortest path. She thought that walking would help her forget the draining feeling. She was, however, wrong. A longer walk made her more anxiously try to look for something out of the ordinary. She observed the buildings, trees, people and even the sky; but nothing seemed out of place.
Tired from her own thinking, she sat on a bench and turned towards the ground. She could see her own reflection in a puddle of water below. Her reflection, however, was not looking back at her. Her heart tightened even more. She turned away, matching the position of her reflection. Slowly, she turned back towards the puddle, but nothing had changed. She began waving at the puddle and jumping on the water. When she saw no change, she sat back on the bench with a defeated expression.
There were other people in the park, but they seemed to be paying no attention to her. She tried to grab the attention of an old woman, but the woman ignored her. She began walking towards a couple in the park, wanting to get answers, but the man waved her away. Confused, she tried asking a young student who was reading a textbook in the park. As she approached, the boy looked concerned and handed her a coin.
“I don’t want your money,” she said, “I just need to ask about your reflection.”
“That’s all I have,” he replied, “I am sorry.”
“I don’t need it. Please, tell me, does your reflection look back at you”
“Listen, there are people that can help you”
“Where?! Please, guide me to them”
“There is a free mental institution two blocks from here.”, he responded kindly, “I can take you there, the nurses will take care of you. Ok?”
“A mental institution? No I don’t need that. I need someone to tell me what is going on!” she said.
“They can help you, I assure you. Please come with me, I will take you.”
“No thank you, I will find someone to answer my questions myself then. Goodbye.”
As she walked away she noticed a man walking towards her. Once he came closer, she recognised him as the homeless man from the subway. She tried to walk past him, but he grabbed her arm.
“I have the answers which you seek,” he whispered, “Come with me”
Shaking her arm out of his grip she said “Why should I believe you? You scream nonsense in the subway on a daily basis”
“Nonsense to them maybe, but are you so sure that it is nonsense now that you have been taken.”
“What do you mean taken?”
“You have seen it, our home reality. Why else would you be asking people about reflections”
“How did you…”
He interrupted her, “I could hear you screaming at people”
As a tear formed around her left eye she whispered, “What is happening to me?”
“You have entered a universe that somehow has a connection to our universe,” he said calmly, “The reflection that you see isn’t a reflection, it is the other you, in your reality”
“But I am here”
“You are, but the you from this universe is now there.”
“Why does she look so calm then?” she asked with a tone of confusion.
“I suspect that she chose to go there, but for her to visit that universe, she needs you not to be there”
“Why would she need me to not be there?”
He sat down on the bench and responded, “Because there cannot be two of you in the same universe. That possibility spawns yet another universe where the choice was different, with two different people as you. You as you are, can only experience the universe where only one of you exists”
“But you just told me she exists! So don’t we now both exist?”
“That depends on what you mean by exist. Why the swap does not seem to create yet another two universes is a mystery to us too. We have no way of knowing this”
She thought for a minute and then asked, “How do you know the rest is true?”
“Truth has a complex meaning, I wouldn’t have used such a word. What I have shared with you is simply the reality that we have come to accept.”
“And how did you come up with this reality?”
“We have found writings that speak of the possibilities of such a swap. The universe that we have come from has been described as a utopia in these writings.”
“Great, how do we go back then?”
“We have failed to find the details,” he responded, “or people that can help us. We have found some writings that speak of entering a tunnel”
“Like the train does?”
“Yes, like the train does, except that we don’t know which tunnel.”
“Would it not be the same place where we arrived?” she asked, looking back towards the train station.
“It seems that either the entry portal is different to the exit portal, or the portal moves. We spend our days at train stations, hoping to be able to get back.”
“Has anyone managed?”
“If they have, they have never come back here to tell us how.” He pointed at a tall man wearing a suit walking past the station, “Others have accepted their fate and integrated into this society, never looking at the reflections that remind them where they belong.”
“You keep saying ‘we’. Who are these other people?”
“There are multiple different groups of Versetons, the community grew too quickly to remain as one”
“What is a Verseton?”
“That is what we call ourselves, the people that are from another universe”
She looked at him sceptically and remained silent for a few minutes. He was used to this reaction, it was generally followed by denial.
“Thank you for all of this information,” she said, “I don’t know if to believe it or not. However, I did just see my reflection look away. I will go to the station and just get a ticket back, it should be that simple, right?”
“We have all tried that, it doesn’t seem to work.”
“How many times have you tried?”
“I take the train every day. Every train in the city.”
“Well, keep trying,” she interrupted, “I’m sure it will take a couple of times to get it right. Thank you for the help. I am going to the station”
He waved and said, “Good luck”
As she walked away he debated whether he should have told her that he had been stuck in this alienating universe for seven suffocating years. He decided that she deserved a sprinkle of hope in the sea of drowning misery that awaited patiently for her mind.
She arrived back at the station and bought a ticket back as she usually would. She calmly sat and looked out of the window. Her focus shifted, making her look at her reflection again. She let out a small scream. As she looked at it more closely, something about it bothered her more than before. The reflection was happy. This made her hit the window in anger.
An old man, sitting across her, shuffled to another seat as the train departed. She remained looking at her reflection with a sort of perplexity. Examining its details, growing a hatred for the person beyond it. Suddenly, it looked back.
“Hey! You!” She screamed, “That’s my life! Listen to me!”
She hit the window several times. People all around her began moving away.
“Are you telling me that you don’t see anything wrong with the reflection?!” she screamed at the crowd. Shortly after, she returned her attention toward the reflection. She had never cared for the commuters’ opinions of her before. Why should she start now? They had always been invisible to her, and now, she was becoming invisible to them.
She remained on the train for 4 hours, hopping off and back on at each end station. The reflection remained the same content stranger on the other side of the glass.
She hopped on the same train for many days. Eventually, she accepted that this wouldn’t work. The homeless man must have defied her, taking advantage of her weak state.
She began travelling the city trying to find more information. She spoke to others, who, like her, were ignored by the crowds. The homeless man’s story was repeated by each Verseton and the same incomplete writings circulated the subways.
She tried to find people away from train stations. Those, however, were Versetons that had decided to integrate into this universe’s concept of a society. She continued to return to the train stations, hoping that this time, this trip might be the one. She continued screaming at the stranger in the glass, hoping that one day it will hear her.
One day she saw young man looking terrified at a window, hitting the glass at such a strength that she was impressed by its endurance. He was clearly new here.
Approaching him, she said, “A problem with the good old reflection, ha?”
“What is happening?!” he asked
She proceeded to explain the portals, the trains, the universes and the writings. All of which she had found so painful to welcome five years prior. She came to the realization that, after all, she was one of them now.
For more stories check out the ‘ writing ‘ category of this blog.