It started with a knock on the front door. Not at the flat where I live now, but in the house in Warmley where I grew up from age nine to eighteen. I opened the door, and found before me a stern middle-aged man, a dour middle-aged woman, and an outsized Doberman dog. The dog was held tight on a leash of steel linked chain, and it was growling. I didn’t invite them in exactly but somehow, the next thing I knew, we were all in the kitchen.
They stood in the middle of the small room, taking up all the space. The couple were talking at me in a way that conveyed no small amount of menace. The dog was showing its teeth, a string of drool hanging from its chops, and it was pulling against its chain. Jay and I were backed up against the kitchen sink and I was protesting my innocence – whatever it was, I hadn’t done it. There was something wrong with the dog; something bad and wrong on a deep level I could feel in my gut. It was a few sizes too big to really be a Doberman. The shape of its face was all wrong. It felt a little like Cujo, the rabid killer dog from the Stephen King novel. And at the same time, it felt a little like one of the shiny hard aliens from the Alien movies. It wanted to eat me in a way that had nothing to do with my physical body. It wanted to snuff me out of existence and send my soul to the dark place.
It had been broad daylight when I answered the door, but now it was a pitch night outside the kitchen window.
When I wouldn’t confess to whatever it was that I was supposed to have done, the mice appeared. There were two of them, grey, with little red noses and little red paws. They opened their mouths to hiss, revealing curved yellow-white teeth of impossible length. They had the mouths of female angler fish and, once opened, their jaws wouldn’t close again over teeth so long and so many. Jay and I sprung upwards and backwards to perch on the edge of the work surface, pulling up our feet out of reach of the mice, whose impossible mouths had started to foam at the corners. My suspicion of rabies was confirmed as they began running wildly about the kitchen floor, occasionally pausing as their limbs were overtaken by a clockworkish series of twitches and spasms that froze them in place. One bite from either mouse would consign the recipient to a slow descent into the same grisly fate. Our bodies would still be here, but our minds would be utterly destroyed, and I sensed that the death of my mind was the Doberman’s goal.
But the man and the woman couldn’t prove anything, and I wouldn’t confess, so they had to scoop the mice up into little white boxes and leave, dragging the reluctant and angry dog behind them. They would wait until I incriminated myself. And then they would be back to clean out my brain and leave me empty.
They let themselves out the front door, and I became aware of sounds of merriment beyond the kitchen window, in the back garden. There were people out there. They were setting off fireworks by the garden shed and tending a barbecue. They were bundled up warm against the cold and the dark. I opened the window, stuck my head out, and before I could identify anyone else my vision zoomed in on one reveller in particular. She was standing by the barbecue, waiting her turn for a hotdog, her long brown hair pulled back into a lopsided plait. I recognised her in a way that went bone-deep. And before I’d even thought about what I was doing, I called out to her – ‘Hey, Kate!’
The other me turned and looked at me. My eyes locked with hers; the same brown-green eyes I see in the mirror every day. I registered her surprise. And then the world swooped in an overwhelming sense of vertigo and déjà vu, and a memory exploded across my mind. It knocked the breath out of me, and suddenly I knew, this is a dream. I know it is, because I’ve had this dream before. It was a long, long time ago. And back then, I was the other Kate.
With the deductive powers of my waking mind, I can estimate it was probably about four or five years ago, because that other long-ago dream was full of all the people with whom I used to spend my weekends back then. It was a firework and barbecue party, in the back garden of the house I grew up in. The house was dark and locked, but in the garden we were setting off rockets and catherine wheels, and having a great time. Me and Caleb, Jam and Pip. Ben, Rachel and Bubbles. Becci and Meg, and Dawn and Jack. I was standing at the barbecue when I heard someone call my name, and I looked up, and someone was hanging out of the darkness of the house through the kitchen window. The light was all wrong – the dark of the kitchen, the glare of the fireworks – and I couldn’t be completely sure of what I was seeing. But the girl who had called out to me… She looked like me.
And then she was gone.
In the long-ago dream, I ran to the window, but it was closed and locked. I rattled the back door, but it wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t even see into the house, it was too dark inside. So I turned and pelted down the garden, gravel crunching under my feet. People stared as I shot past but nobody had time to move more than a step. I jumped the gate, flew down the back lane and around the end of our terrace row, fumbling in my pocket for my front door key. I let myself into the house and ran to the kitchen. It was dark and empty. I ran back through the living room and took the stairs two at a time. I searched all through the upstairs. I searched all through the downstairs. I climbed up into the loft, which was bigger on the inside – a veritable warehouse, full of giant shipping containers and pulleys and cranes. But I found no sign of the girl who had looked like me. She must have made it out the front door before I rounded the terrace, and gotten away. I packed a rucksack and went out in search of her, and fetched up trekking through a pine forest. I’m not sure what happened after that, or even if the dream continued from there at all. I think it may have progressed into something Harry Potter related, but maybe that was the same forest in a different dream.
In the dream of last night, all this memory flashed through my mind in an instant as I hung out of the kitchen window, looking into the eyes of the me from my past dream. And then, in the same instant, I understood why the Doberman was after me. I had travelled back in time in my sleep to a past dream to pay a visit to my past self. I had upset the space-time continuum. My past self would have questions about her future, and I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to tutor her. To give her solid gold advice on who to seek out, and who to avoid; perfect guidance on what to do, and what not to do. I would rewrite my own history, and by extension the histories of everyone affected by my choices. It would have a butterfly effect that would rock the linear nature of time to its core, perhaps even shatter it. I was about to break a hole in time itself and plunge the universe into madness. That was my crime. And the Doberman was here to seal the temporal rupture shut with my death. He wasn’t evil. He was the janitor of Time and he had an important job to do. He had to save the world, from me. And he wouldn’t just eat me; the present-day Kate. My past dream and my present dream had merged into the same place and time, and he would have to eat my past self too. I would cease to exist, and the other Kate would ‘wake up’ in a coma, somewhere in the reality of the past, and the last several years of my life and everything I had learned in that time would be erased from the very fabric of existence.
I had to get away from the other me. If I found me, it would be the end of everything for both of us. I abruptly shut the window, turned, and bolted through the dark house and out the front door. I could hear running footsteps coming around the side of the neighbour’s house, and Leanne was telling me there wasn’t time, using her key to open the front door again, dragging me back inside. We slammed the door shut behind us and, panicking, I bolted up the stairs. Leanne ran the other way, to the kitchen. Too late, I realised that hers had been the smarter choice – from the inside, I could have unbolted the back door and made a run for it into the wide open dreamiverse. But the silhouette of my past self was already looming in the window of the front door behind and below me, and I could only go on. I swung around the post at the top of the banister, fled into my parents’ bedroom and made a beeline for their walk-in wardrobe. I pulled the wardrobe door shut behind me just as I heard the front door open downstairs.
I crawled up onto the highest shelf I could manage, as quietly as I could, and pulled a fluffy pink throw over myself in the hopes I might be mistaken for a crumpled pile of blankets and overlooked. I allowed myself to pant, trying to regain my breath while the other Kate was still downstairs, so I would be able to mouth-breathe slowly and silently when she came into the bedroom. Inwardly, I cursed myself for a fool. There was no way she wouldn’t find me here. This had always been our favourite hiding place, and the throw-rug cover our most practiced tactic, whenever we had played hide-and-seek as a kid. I couldn’t remember all the details of the dream from long ago, but I was certain I must have looked in here. It would have been one of the first places I thought of. How had I not found me? What had the future me done? What should I do? My mind was spinning. I couldn’t think. My past self was coming up the stairs; she was going to find me in here and then the Doberman would catch us and we would both get sucked into oblivion.
I was trying to breathe more quietly now, but to no avail. She was coming into the bedroom. Her hand was on the wardrobe door. She was opening it. The dark space I was wedged into dissolved into panic and pure blackness. There was so much I wanted to tell her, but I couldn’t, she had to learn it the long way round, and I had to get away from her. Death is here, and she is wearing my face. And then my panic finally overboiled. I felt that rising sensation in the back of my brain, like swimming up through dark water, and the dream parted and I surfaced in Mimm’s spare bedroom, clutching at the edge of the borrowed duvet and staring wildly at the ceiling.
Of course, was my first thought on snapping back into reality. That’s how the other Kate gave me the slip, in that long-ago dream. She disappeared out of the dreamiverse. She woke up.