This week’s story sample is from Parallels. During a snowy twilight in December, Kate encounters four doppelgängers of herself from parallel universes … four other paths her life might have taken. (I’d put the rating of this story at around PG.)
Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore
Copyright © 2011 by L. M. May
Published by Osuna Publishing
This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Kate was walking back to her minivan, arms piled high with gifts, humming “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” under her breath. The tiny flakes were coming down harder from the twilight sky, the air smelled crisp with snow, and she needed to get a move on and leave Old Town since driving home in the dark while it snowed would be no fun.
But there was a beauty to how the flakes swirled down that made her feet slow so she could savor the sights around her.
The Albuquerque city lights lit up the underbelly of the snow clouds with an orange glow, and the Christmas lights and streetlights around Old Town Plaza made the flakes glitter coming down. Looking up, the way the flakes whizzed around made her think of a snow globe.
She loved snow globes, and she had her favorite three (one of a skater, one of a snowman, and one of Santa in his sleigh with the reindeer) in the living room on the mantlepiece above the fireplace. When the kids were younger, she’d get nagged for the globes to be brought down and shaken in turn so that the kids could watch each globe become filled with flying flakes and glitter.
These days her kids never asked to see the globes anymore, they were all grown up and serious and had moved away. Having the youngest head off to New Mexico Tech back in August had been hard for her to bear, for now the house was too empty and silent. Her husband Neal had no intention of retiring any time soon, so it would be just her and the house during the day for years and years to come.
And here she was, fifty-six years old, and wondering what would fill the emptiness now that all five kids were flown. She’d given them everything, held nothing back, made them the center of her world, and now that center of gravity was gone, and she was flying off into the dark void to a place she’d never been before.
Her hair was dyed black to hide the gray, and Neal was still with her and loved her, but both of them were as plump as turkeys, and she could see in her children’s eyes when they came home from college or their jobs to visit that they thought she was boring and washed up. All used up.
And yet her professors in college had considered her a girl of promise. Instead she’d gotten her biology degree, married Neal right after graduation, taken a lab technician job to support him while he did his master’s in engineering, then stayed home to raise their five kids. She’d never done medical school as her parents and teachers had wanted her to.
It was too late for medical school now.
The snowflakes hit the raised hood of her parka and the packages, making a soft crackly noise on impact. The flakes had started off the size of pinpricks, but were getting bigger, turning into the pillow feather kind.
It was looking up into the sky again, as she walked past the San Felipe de Neri church, which was her undoing. She didn’t pay enough attention to the sidewalk, and her booted foot slipped on the patch of ice, tripping her backwards. The packages she carried kept her from using her arms to recover her balance, and so she fell backwards and hit the snow-covered sidewalk hard.
Kate laid there on the ice to catch her breath back, staring up at the snow-filled sky, feeling like a darn fool for landing backwards on her butt, the packages scattered in the snow around her. Chilled flakes drifted onto her face and lips.
Someone must have seen her fall, for she could hear the crunch of snow as footsteps rushed toward her.
“Are you all right?” A woman’s voice, urgent.
“I’m fine,” Kate said.
The woman reached her and squatted down to check out her limbs.
That’s when Kate realized she was looking up into an odd reflection of her very own face.
Okay, this isn’t possible, Kate thought. She just looks like me by accident. Sorta. We’re not the same. Her hair is completely gray and she looks to be older. And she’s as skinny as a rail.
“I’m a doctor,” the woman said. “Can you move your fingers and toes?”
Kate made to sit up, but the woman put a firm hand on her shoulder to stop her.
“Please, lie still,” the woman said. “Does anything feel broken? Wiggle your fingers for me.”
Kate wiggled her fingers. Then wiggled her toes. “I’m fine,” she said. “Just a bit shaken up.” She sat up, and the hood of her parka fell back, exposing her head to view.
The woman did a double take.
Kate held out her hand. “Kate Brown,” she said. “Nice to meet you.”
“Dear God,” the woman said, then recollected herself to quickly shake Kate’s hand. Taking a deep breath, she then said, “I’m Dr. Kathyrn Cochran.”
Hearing her maiden name spoken by this other woman made Kate feel like she’d been flipped upside down on a roller coaster too many times. Despite Dr. Cochran trying to stop her, she staggered to her feet and began to swiftly scoop up her dropped packages. She knew she was almost babbling as she spoke, saying, “Well, nice meeting you and all, Dr. Cochran. I need to get going home. Busy. Four days until Christmas, and three of the kids are coming home for the holidays.”
Dr. Cochran seized hold of Kate by her parka, before Kate could grab the last package, and said, “Do you realize the implications of this?”
“Yeah, but big whoop,” Kate said. “The world is large enough for the two of us.” She tried to tug her parka out of Cochran’s grip, but the doctor held on too tight.
“Think,” Dr. Cochran said. “Mom and Dad would have said something if this was the usual order of things.”
That was true, if there were two different versions of her running around, her parents ought to have noticed.
As she was opening her mouth to agree, another voice said, “Is everything okay?”
Both she and Dr. Cochran turned toward the woman walking up to them. This woman wore a woven wool jacket in a geometric pattern, her long gray hair in two braids on either side of her face, her bare head dotted with snowflakes. There were thick cascades of Navajo turquoise jewelry hanging from around her neck, and huge loopy silver earrings that nearly touched her shoulders.
She was another one of them.
“Who are you?” Kate said, wondering just how many versions of herself were hanging out on the Old Town Plaza this evening.
The woman froze as she got a good look at the two of them. “Dear God,” she cried out, “you are both—”
“Yes, we are,” Kate said. It was funny, almost. “My name’s Kate Brown, but I was born Kathyrn Cochran. You are?”
“I call myself Kat,” she said, fingering the turquoise stones around her neck. “Kat Cochran.”
“Hell,” Dr. Cochran snapped. “Now’s there two of you.”
Kate noted that Kat had turquoise rings on her fingers, and thin silver bracelets on her wrists. The woman had a definite jewelry thing going, though Kate could understand it. Silver and turquoise had always been her favorite kind of jewelry to look at. Perhaps she ought to get some to wear.
“Who are you?” Kat said to Dr. Cochran.
“Dr. Kathyrn Cochran,” she said, not bothering to offer her hand this time to shake, instead folding her arms across her chest.
This is kinda funny, Kate thought. Here I am, split in three. She said to Kat, “Let me guess, you’re a painter.”
“Figures,” Kate said. “But I always assumed I’d do painting if I went to art school.”
“You didn’t go to art school?” Kat said, sounding taken aback. She looked Kate up and down. “What did you do to yourself?”
To her aggravation, Kate could feel herself blushing. “Five pregnancies.”
“There’s more to it than that,” Dr. Cochran said.
Kate didn’t like how Dr. Cochran was studying her in a professional manner.
Dr. Cochran continued. “My hypothesis would be severe bouts of untreated clinical depression resulting in eating binges, combined with pregnancy weight gain.”
“It’s none of your business!” Kate shouted. Really, it wasn’t. Her problems were her own, and she wasn’t going to be looked down at by an alternate version of herself.
“I speak from experience,” Dr. Cochran said. “I had problems with severe depression and bulimia until I got treatment in my early thirties. So don’t you dare get defensive with me. I know how you feel.”
Kate bit her lip. This Dr. Kathyrn Cochran—this parallel version of herself—knew her too well, knew how it felt to be barely able to drag herself out of bed to face the pointlessness of another day, and would see through any lie Kate chose to spout.
And then there was the way that Kat watched the two of them. Instinctively Kate said to Kat, “You had the depression, too.”
Sighing, Kat nodded, then kicked at a lump of snow.
The motion of Kat’s foot drew Kate’s attention to the last package of hers that lay on the ground from when she’d slipped. A thin layer of fallen snow now lay upon it, and she quickly bent down to pick it up before it became impossible to find in the growing dark of evening.
Kat said to Dr. Cochran, “So, what do we do now?”
“I don’t know.” Dr. Cochran put her hands on her hips and looked around, then recoiled at the sight of something across the street under the plaza trees.
“What?” Kate said. “What’s wrong?” She looked in the direction Dr. Cochran was staring, to see someone jaywalking across the street to reach them. As the figure staggered up to them, reeking of sweat and beer, Kate realized it was another version of herself.
************** End of Excerpt *****************
Parallels is bundled with the short story Writer’s Flight in e-book format. It’s available at Kobo, iTunes, Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and other e-bookstores. Over time these links may change, so Click Here to go to the main info page for this e-book.
Thanks for reading! Cheers, L.M.