by Samuel R. Buckley
My life is a tune, three verses, a breakdown, and a chorus to fade.
Something very strange is happening to Ariadne Quantick.
She opens her eyes after falling asleep on the morning train to find herself staring right into the eyes of her double. Straight into the face of herself: Ms. Ariadne Quantick, age thirty-six, five foot six, ten stone six.
Around her double, the train has expanded, shifted and changed. The seats have moved—she sat down with the back of a seat in front of her, but now she’s in a two-by-two arrangement, and sitting with people who—she’s sure of this—weren’t on the train even a few seconds ago. And one of them is her, Ariadne, a spitting image, looking as shocked as she is.
Ariadne opens her mouth to speak, and a tiny cry catches in her throat.
And she’s awake again.
Over. Her doppelganger is gone, the train has shrunk back to normal size, and she’s looking at the fold-out tray on the back of the seat in front of her.
A dream. But more than a dream. A hallucination? Is it all this commuting?
Need a holiday. Need a shrink. Need a coffee.
The train disappears into the tunnels, the dark subterranean stations, and she carries on trying to forget…but still, it is shockingly vivid.
Not just her reflection. The doppelganger wore clothes she had never seen, shocking pink, sleek and strange-looking, with huge flared shoulders, and a massive collar. And meeting the double’s eyes there had been a shock of recognition, not just her own mirrored surprise. As if her double had half expected the meeting.
Ariadne shoves it towards the back of her mind. The train is passing over eight jammed lanes of the North London Orbital road, straight into the city, into the heart of life. No time for visions.
‘Morning, Ariadne. Train running late again?’
‘Leaves on the line.’
Types emails, makes calls, signs out at five.
‘Have a good evening.’
‘You too Ariadne.’
Must be ill. Must be overtired. Need to have a proper night’s sleep.
Ariadne chugs a coffee to stay awake on the train home, then has two sleeping tablets after dinner. She goes to bed and doesn’t remember her dreams.
The next day, though, it happens again.
Sleeping pill hangover—but she manages to stay awake over the orbital, stay awake all through the tunnels into the city.
Then, instead of her usual station rolling through the tunnel blackness into view, she sees that the train is in a sleek and cavernous interchange. It stretches hundreds of metres in every direction, lit by thousands of pale orange beacons like a hellish cathedral. Between the railway lines passing through it are rectangular blocks that hold sculptures, flowers, and fountains. Every one of the blocks is floating a metre from the floor, completely unsupported.
The ceiling isn’t brick and strip lighting—that’s gone too—but a window opening on to the base of a building that stretches right into the sky. The clouds obscure the upper floors.
She sees someone moving to speak, and there she is again, this time in a white tunic suit with wires and tubes hung around it, and greyer, shorter hair—Ariadne Quantick.
A snore catches in her throat and she’s slept right through her stop.
‘Morning, Ariadne. Trouble getting in again?’
‘Signalling failure at Hendon.’
She schedules meetings, runs through the appointments already booked in, signs out at five.
‘Have a good one.’
‘See you Ariadne.’
Is it the repetition? Train in, work, train home, sleep, shower, repeat? That kind of repetition? The physical stresses of it?
Maybe an aspirin would help.
If only she can talk to the doppelganger, she decides, she can break the cycle. Fulfil whatever purpose these dreams have. Find out what they’re trying to tell her (the dream dictionary she bought from a head shop hasn’t helped). What the message is, if anything. If—if there is a message.
So Ariadne experiments. She courts the dreams rather than avoiding them. Chucks out the sleeping pills, goes to bed later, makes herself as tired as possible for the morning journey; never any dreams on the way home, probably all the computers and coffees that make up her days, so it has to be morning. It’s most reliable if she falls asleep before the orbital, but she has to be more than twenty miles from home. The train has to be almost-full, but not jam-packed. Even then, sometimes, even with all of these things aligned, the dreams don’t come.
But when they do, Ariadne Quantick is always there. Sometimes, it’s in the bigger, wider train, cleaner, quieter, smoother, and the anti-Ariadne is in strange plastic tunics; sometimes, the train has divided itself into compartments, and has wooden walls, and is full of men in bowler hats smoking pipes and reading The Times. Anti-Ariadne is crowded out, and out of place; she is in a darned coat, a woollen hat, and big round glasses.
Ariadne decides to try sitting in a four-by-four section of seats and dreaming there. When she does, she opens her eyes to find her doppelganger has replaced one of the people sat opposite her, and is looking around her in bewilderment; she is wearing the darned coat and glasses, and catches sight of Ariadne, and—as Ariadne smiles back—starts to let out a little laugh.
Then a businessman having a loud conversation on his mobile phone with a client wakes her up.
Many such dream-meetings later—
‘Morning, Ariadne. Trains being difficult again?’
‘I got on a different train altogether.’
A puzzled look.
‘But yes, trains are being a bit difficult.’
She doesn’t do work, but instead has long wiki-walks reading about the paranormal, about multiverse theory, about non-linear theories of time.
Some ghost-hunter type has written, on a homemade website:
The sleeping person is half-aware their eyes are closed, but they can still look around. The world around them, though, is different. It is likely that they are looking at another reality, a parallel or anti-verse. It is as if the person has been transplanted, or, some say, briefly ‘cloned’.
Can we imagine, perhaps, that there are infinite variations of one life in existence at once? If the universe and matter are infinite then it must be so, for there must be infinite variations within an infinite existence. Could the sleeper perhaps have stumbled across a way to see some of these variations?
Ariadne thinks: infinite variations of the same train, the same journey, the same person: an infinite number of Ariadnes.
Or just a dream.
Chorus to fade
So every day, through a long winter:
‘Morning, Ariadne. Tough journey in?’
‘I got waylaid.’
Until, finally, she is offered a job closer to home, to her friends and her family. That will be no more commuting, no more trains, no more dreams.
When she signs out at five, she says: ‘Have a good life.’
‘You too Ariadne.’
And The Song of Wandering Ariadne comes to an end.