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FICTION
Mirror Maze
Daniel Reece

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“Please put down the gun,” I told Naomi. I tried to keep my voice even and calm, but stern.

My wife’s brown eyes were full of tears. I don’t think she was looking at me more so than through me and out the window behind me. Naomi was equally as calm as she at our kitchen table. One hand rested in her lap while the other held the revolver to her right temple.

I should have seen this coming. Well, in truth I had seen it. Naomi’s suicide had happened in 2, 6, and 10. I morbidly postulated that the outcome of my wife taking her own life only occurred in even numbered worlds. The depression slowly crushing Naomi since our daughter was killed in the car crash was to be expected. What parent wouldn't mourn the death of their child?  Naomi was a good mother and Liv held on for a solid month in the hospital before we lost her. Watching her slowly slip away was like having your heart broken every hour. The worst part was that I couldn't join Naomi in her grief. Naomi had only seen Liv die once. I have seen Liv die dozens of times and my heart was already as broken as it was going to get.

“Honey, please put down the gun,” I repeated, again softly.

“It hurts too much, Sam.”

“I miss her too, but this won't bring her back. I need you.”

Naomi shook her head with the barrel of the gun still pressed to the side of her head.  She said, “You don't need me. I never even saw you cry. Not when you saw me at the hospital, not while we sat by her bed, not when we buried her. Why didn't you cry, Sam?”

Because I've cried for her a thousand times, I thought. Because I accept that there are some things that are fated and can't be changed. “I loved her more than I can describe,” I said. It was all I could think to say.

“You blame me,” she said.

“No. It's not your fault.”

“I loved her too. That's why I have to do this. I want to be with her. I have to be with her.”

“Not like this. We can....”

“Goodbye Sam,” said Naomi as she pulled back the hammer of the gun.

“Wait!” I screamed, “What if you could see her one last time?”

Naomi's hand trembled on the trigger. One more ounce of pressure would send a bullet into her brain. “What do you mean?”

“There is a way. I can show you that Liv still exists.”

“You're lying.”

“Have I ever told you a lie? Ever?”

“No.”

“Give me the gun. I will show you. If I am lying I'll give you the gun back and you can finish what you have begun.”

Naomi's hand shuddered with a delicate tremor once more then she put the gun down on the table and pushed it toward me. I picked the gun up and let the hammer slowly fall. I let out an exasperated sigh and then I did cry. A minute later Naomi, who already seemed dead, simply said, “Show me.”

We walked towards the dining room. My mother decorated it herself. It was the only room that we didn't change when I inherited the house. The table was large and dark wood. The chandelier was gold plated and ornate and there was a large mirror leaning against one wall. It was the largest mirror in the house, running from the floor to nearly the ceiling and doubled the light of the room when the chandelier was lit. It was a striking effect. Naomi sat at the table while I stood by the mirror.

I said, “I need to explain this to you before I show you. You won't believe me until I do but you need to have a basic understanding of what you are seeing.”

She nodded.

“You know my father taught physics at the college?”

“Yes.”

“He studied the theory that there could be multiple universes and believed that these universes could be connected through special points. He called those points ley lines. They are places where the universes overlap and are, for lack of a better word, softat that point.”

Naomi had that look on her face like when she knew I was about to tell her something I heard on NPR. Wanting to be supportive, but clearly uninterested. 

I didn’t expect her to understand it at completely, but I continued, “My father built this house on a ley line. Actually, it's at the intersection of three ley lines which makes it a perfect doorway to these other universes. Think of all of reality as a string. There are places where the string gets knotted up and this is one of those places.”

“Okay,” said Naomi uncertainly.

I was the same way when my father told me. It wasn't until he showed me that I believed but a little groundwork would make it easier.

“Mirrors act as the conduits. You just have to strike them at the right frequency. I can't explain the science because I don't know it myself. It's all quantum entanglement and chaotic wave functions but just believe this:  there are worlds upon worlds all around us.”

“Sam...,” started Naomi. I hit a button on my watch and pressed my hand against the mirror and my arm disappeared up to my elbow. Naomi let out a shriek and knocked over her chair as she backed away.

“Don't be afraid,” I said. I removed my hand from the mirror and showed it to her. She came over slowly to me then touched my hand. “Once activated the portal will stay open for about a minute. Come with me and I'll show you a wonder.”

Naomi took my hand. It was best to do it quickly. I stood up and walked through the mirror holding her hand. She was hesitant but I gave her a gentle tug and pulled her through.

We were in our dining room again. Only this time there was no furniture. There were, however, dozens of large mirrors that looked exactly like the one we stepped through. They took up all the space along the walls. One lay shattered in the middle of the room.

“What is this place?” said Naomi.

“It's home, more or less. Follow me.”

I walked her through the house. There were mirrors in every room. Some took up whole walls while others were small enough to hold in the palm of my hand. I walked up to a mirror in the living room and said, “This goes to 18. The people you see on the other side won't be able to see us as long as we don’t pass through the mirror.” I touched the surface of the mirror then pulled my hand back. It shimmered for a second then became as transparent as glass though slightly tinted. Naomi looked inside and saw herself and another version of me. Our twins were sitting on the couch watching televison. Other Naomi was leaning on other me. She was holding a bowl of popcorn and we were snuggled together closely. I was absently running my hand through her hair. The image shimmered a minute later and became a mirror once more.

“Other worlds,” she said.

“Other universes,” I replied.

“Where was Liv in that world?”

I knew this would be hard to explain but I had to try. “Naomi, you and I don't believe in fate but the universe doesn't care what we believe. In world 18 Liv died of congenital heart failure when she was two, in 31 it was cancer, in others it was accidents. In most worlds it was the same accident that took her from us. You see why I can't cry, Naomi. I've had to watch her go so many times.”

“How many worlds are there?”

“I have mapped 32 that I know of but there could be at least a hundred. There could be an infinite number, but only a limited number I can access.”

“How many Livs are there?”

“Three.”

“Show me.”

I sighed and took her to Liv's bedroom. There was a large free standing princess mirror in one corner. I touched the glass and on the other side was our little girl playing on the floor. Naomi stared in disbelief then fell to her knees and sobbed uncontrollably. We stayed and watched her until her parents called her for dinner.

I took Naomi back through to our world which happened to be 7. I'm not superstitious but every bit helps. I made dinner quickly while Naomi sat in the dining room and did not take her eyes off the mirror.

“Why is that world different?  The house with all the mirrors,” she asked as we sat down at the kitchen dinette to eat.

“That's world 1. Think of it like a bicycle wheel. Each world is a point on the tire and they are all connected to the Palace.”

“The Palace?”

“That's what my father called it or what he was told to call it.”

“Told?  By who?”

I scrunched up my face and tried to think of the easiest way to explain it. “In world 1 I died when I was a child. We never met and Liv was never born. You married...your college teacher.”

“Crowe?  You are saying that I am married to Crowe?  The guy who ran me off the road and caused the accident that killed Liv?”

“Crowe gets tied up in our lives a lot. In world 1 my father was dying. He had discovered the multi verse but he didn't have anyone he trusted to share that knowledge with so he reached out to my father, my real father. Before he died he showed me the Palace. I've been trying to understand the rules ever since.”

“How long have you known?”

“About three years.”

“And you never told me.”

“Naomi the rules aren't just to keep order. Bad things, very bad things, can happen if the universes get off their course. There is a kind of self correcting mechanism. The universe would send a tidal wave to kill one person who shouldn't have been born. I don't know what it would do if it got too far off course but I don't want to find out.”

“I want to see her again.”

“You will but we need to wait a few days.”

“Why?”

“Crowe wasn't just your college teacher in world 1. He was also my father's lab assistant and he discovered his work after he died. He sees himself as the self proclaimed force that keeps the worlds on track. He sees it as his place to make course corrections if things get off path.”

There comes a point when you have lived your life with someone for so long that you can't hide your guilt. Naomi had stumbled upon mine with a simple look in my eye and she knew. She asked, “What are you not telling me?”

“This world, our world, is about temporally about a year behind the others. In twenty of the worlds Liv dies the same way. Crowe hits your car, very much accidentally, you survive and Liv dies. It also occurs at approximately the same date. I thought that maybe I could change fate and if I waited until the right time, just before it happened, maybe the change would be small enough to go unnoticed.”

Naomi looked at me and said, “What change?”

I looked down at my dinner. I was ashamed and had every reason to feel that guilt sitting on my chest like an incubus. It didn't matter that I was desperate and, even worse, that my effort had been ultimately futile. I couldn't bring myself to look at Naomi as I confessed, “I didn't want to take any chances.”

“What did you do?” she asked pointedly.

“I killed Crowe a week before the accident was supposed to happen.”

Naomi just stared at me, partly in horror but mostly in disbelief. Finally she just asked, “How?” 

“I shot him with that revolver you had this morning. I buried him in his own basement.”

“Why would you do that?”

I sighed and said, “I ran the numbers. Every which way I tried there was too much uncertainty. I thought of disabling his car but he would just get another, I thought of sending you and Liv away but the more you two deviated from the natural course the more uncertainty there would be and the more likely that the course correction might take both of you. That left one choice which seemed to guarantee the highest success rate. Kill Crowe just before he could kill her and hope that the change was minor enough to be overlooked. That was when I learned that fate was already three steps ahead of me.”

“But Crowe did hit us. I saw him. He's on the run right now, the cops and everyone are looking for him.”

“Yes, but it wasn't our Crowe. Our Crowe really is dead and buried. Crowe 1 was watching me and knew what I was going to do. He was pretty clever. He waited then he came through and took Crowe's place in the car that day. Of course it wasn't an accident then.”

“You are saying this Crowe killed our little girl.”

“Yes.”

Naomi's eyes lit with thoughts of vengeance and she said, “Where is he now?”

“Lost in the Mirror Maze.”

“The Mirror Maze?”

“After the accident I went after Crowe. We fought in the Palace. I threw him into one of the unmapped worlds and in the process damaged his watch. He is trying to get back to the Palace but the watch keeps bouncing him between worlds. I think he may be trapped on a path that does not lead to the Palace.”

Naomi thought for a moment then said, “What if he comes to a world with another Liv?  What if he thinks that she has to die in all worlds?”

“We can't protect them. She has her parents where ever she is. Honey, you are going to have to learn as I did that apparently fate has a plan and there's not much we can do to deviate from its course. It's not really wise to try.”

She nodded and gave me a smile that I hadn’t seen in over half a year. She said, “Thank you for showing me.”

Naomi poured me another glass of wine and like a fool I drank it all down.

 

I dreamed of numbers. Not the most exciting dream I must admit, even to a discrete probability mathematician. I walked down a long mirrored hallway with mirrored doors. Every door I opened led to another hallway with twice as many doors. The hallways were all connected, they folded back in upon themselves, there were doors in the ceiling, doors in the floor and soon there were doors within doors. Each door bore a number or mathematical expression. Eventually I was just running and found myself falling into infinity.

 

My head was pounding. It wasn't like me to drink so much wine but I had prevented my wife's suicide and in the same day gotten to see a version of my little girl so I was desperate to hold on to that warm sensation. I sat up in our bed and stretched my arms over my head. I looked around but did not see Naomi. The pieces started falling into place slowly in my mind. I knew then with 98% certainty that the watch would not be in my nightstand where I left it. I opened the drawer and was still disappointed to find it empty. I sighed and mentally kicked myself for not seeing what was obvious. I slammed the drawer and quickly got dressed.

I walked to the basement where the remains of my father's laboratory were stored. I hurried down the musty wooden stairs turning the lights on as I descended. The equipment in the basement was covered with tarps awaiting a mind greater than mine to come along. Still, I didn't need to know how the equipment worked because I knew how to work the watch. I pulled a black steamer chest out from under a work table and unlocked it. Inside were dozens of watches. My father was a believer in redundancy. It’s fortunate my fathers were also a bit paranoid and kept the watch design in their heads so Crowe wasn’t able to build his own. I placed the watch on and turned to the line of mirrors on the south wall of the basement. I walked through the largest which I knew led to the Palace.

The Palace was empty but I was sure that Naomi has been here. Naomi's problem would be that there were hundreds of mirrors in this house and she wouldn't know which ones led back to Liv. Most of them didn't. Worse than that was that as she entered more mirrors she would become more lost in the maze and further away from the Palace. It's how I managed to get Crowe away from it. I slowly began to search for her.

The trick was to touch the mirror lightly before walking through it. That way you could see what was in the room you were jumping in before you landed. Running into another version of myself would be amusing at first and then catastrophic in the next moment. Worlds wouldn't necessarily collide but courses would be altered and it was clear that no good ever came of that. About half of the worlds were aware of the multiverse. I was much better at traveling between the worlds than my father was. He got lost frequently. Maybe it had something to do with my ability to play with numbers. Strange that it was only in my world that I became a mathematician. In my other lives I was usually a florist.

I began to slowly work my way through the rooms and mirrors looking for Naomi. Thankfully, during the day other Naomis and Sams were usually at work so most of my incursions were into empty houses. Only a few times did I have to back away from the mirror or find a different road around a particular world where Naomi or I were home. I came to one room that I knew I had to cross. I saw Naomi in the kitchen through the living room doorway. Going around would take too long so I quickly slipped through and ran across the room to my next gateway. I jumped through and looked back. Naomi 26 came in and looked around but perhaps only saw a slight movement out of the corner of her eye. I continued checking.

For the next several hours I went from world to world looking for her. Part of the problem in finding her would be that she could be moving through these worlds as well. She may already be back home or travelling through a place that I had already been too. All I could do was keep looking and hope that I found her before she caused any permanent damage.

I was in 37 and in uncharted territory when I came across a strange mirror. I touched the surface and the mirror shimmered but it was completely black. I couldn't see anything in the mirror other than blackness. I wasn't sure where this mirror led to. For all I knew it opened up into a void in some world where the Earth was destroyed and this mirror floated in empty space. Actually I knew that it couldn't be the case. All mirrors were connected to the Palace one way or the other and also linked spatially to the house. Taking a mirror outside of the house or shattering it would sever the connection until reestablished by the Palace. I cautiously reached my hand out to the mirror and pushed through. I touched the blackness. It wasn't a void. It was a blanket. By the time I realized what I was touching a hand had grabbed my wrist and pulled me through the mirror.

“I knew you would come here eventually,” said Crowe as he pulled me through. I got caught up in the blanket for a moment and couldn't see anything as I tripped over a coffee table and fell against the couch. I pushed the blanket off me and came to my feet. I stopped and saw the gun in Crowe's hand. 

“The watch gave out eventually and I was stuck here” he said, “In this world your father died in a car crash before he discovered the Palace. There was no foundation laid for me to get back. So I waited and waited then I saw her today. Your Naomi. She appeared and left before I could get to her. I knew you wouldn't be too far behind.”

“What now Crowe?”  I said.

“Now, you give me that watch and you get to feel what it's like to be marooned,” he said as he pointed the gun at me.

“Fair enough,” I said sitting up on the couch. I slowly reached for the watch to take it off my wrist. Crowe could see I was calculating but he underestimated how fast I could number crunch my options. The coffee table was between me and him. The odds of my jumping over the table and either knocking the gun out of his hand or making it to the mirror was 15%. The odds of me picking up the lamp next to me and throwing it at him without being shot was 1 in 3. In three seconds I had weighed all my options and came up with a course of action that provided me a coin's flip chance of success. I like my odds.

I smiled and Crowe's eyes widen. He probably wondered in that moment why he didn’t just shoot me in the knee cap. I kicked the coffee table straight out with both legs and it slid across the space between us and struck Crowe in the shins. It pitched him forward and he fell forward collapsing the table. I was already running for the mirror. He pointed the gun at me but didn't pull the trigger which I counted on. He couldn't shoot me and miss because he might shatter the mirror and that was his only way out.

I ran through the mirror and in to the next world. I kept running and knew that Crowe was right behind me. Each mirror would remain a stable opening for at least a minute after I jumped through. I jumped through another mirror and thought for a moment of punching the mirror to shatter it. I remembered that shattering the far side of the mirror did not shatter the alternate side, it just redirected the gate. I had to keep Crowe following me.

I ducked into the closest mirror I could find and ran right into the family living room where Naomi and Sam were watching television. Naomi screamed and I jumped off the couch and headed toward me. “Just passing through,” I said as I ran toward a mirror on the opposite wall. I jumped through just as Crowe entered the living room. He was still close behind me.

Crowe chased me from world to world and throughout the house as we jumped through each doorway and portal. I was running out of places to hide. I stepped into a house that was quite empty. There was no furniture in it at all. World 31, where Naomi died and I moved out of the house. I had been here before and remembered the house had remained empty for some time. I ran into the dining room trying to remember something I knew about this house. The mirror in the bathroom led to Liv's bedroom in 3. I ran into the bathroom and quick locked the door behind me. I didn't have much time. I heard Crowe crash into the door with a thump. I braced the nearby chair under the door and hoped it would buy me the seconds I needed.

I ran through the full length mirror on the linen closet and into Liv's bedroom in world three. Thankfully no one appeared to be at home. I took off the watch and set it down on the dresser. Then I pulled the mirror off the door I had just stepped through. I pushed Liv's free standing dressing mirror over a bit so it was in front of her window. I stood to one side holding up the full length mirror. I could see into the other world as Crowe came crashing through the door.

I smiled at him and shook my head. “Better hurry Crowe. Your window is about to close.”  He cried out and ran at full steam toward the bathroom mirror. I held still as he reached the mirror then I threw the full length mirror at the free standing mirror. Crowe came through as the mirrors collided. I was sure that he thought he was jumping from one to another and was totally caught off guard when the free standing mirror shattered and he ran through it. Crowe's momentum was too great and he crashed through Liv's bedroom window as well and fell two stories to the yard below.

I sighed and walked over to the broken window. I didn't think the fall would kill him. It was only two stories. As I looked down I saw the large shard of glass sticking through his. He coughed blood for a few seconds then died. Again. I looked around Liv's room. She was alive in this world. I wondered where she was at. There would be time to watch my other daughter grow up from afar some other day. I picked up my watch and jumped back through the dressing mirror.

It took awhile but I finally made my way back to the Palace and then to my world. My father had warned me about all of this, of course. He told me that if the story got too far off the beaten path it might just implode the planet and start over. I didn't know what would happen. Even I couldn't keep track of all of the variables and outcomes. I had to do my best to put things right. I had to find Naomi and bring her back to our world. Then I had to go to the Palace and destroy the watches, the mirros, everything. Eventually when humanity was ready to cross worlds we would find our way back but it was clear that we were not ready.

I walked into the kitchen and found my wife sitting at the kitchen table. I looked at her and saw the undeniable guilt upon her face. I followed her gaze out the window and I saw her. Liv. Our daughter, was playing quietly in the yard not too far from the spot where a crow fell in another world.

Suddenly all the math and statistics fell away. I did not care for the probability that Naomi had just started a chain reaction of events that would ultimately lead to a battle being fought on my lawn between the dozens of Naomis and Sams, some bent on revenge and others allied with us. I did not comprehend how far out of control each decision we made would affect not only us but every world we came into contact with. I just stared out the window and believed what I saw was mine and not just a reflection of what I lost.


Daniel Reece has been writing in and about obscurity for the better part of twenty years.