The only problem was, Winona wasn’t entirely sure how she had landed herself in this predicament.
Of course, she had tried the obvious. She had found the most recent reflection (Winona From One Week Ago) and studied what she had done meticulously. Winona From One Week Ago was stuck in a loop of her most important project: the Window. Winona couldn’t say she was surprised; the Window was a finicky thing.
The Window sat beside Winona now; she found it hard to let it out of her sight. It appeared to be an old, iron-plated tabletop mirror, but behind the glass laid countless wires and microchips and audio-visual input cables that had been ripped out the back of the brand-new television she had bought three months ago. This mirror showed Winona as she was currently—a small, graying woman in her early sixties. All the other mirrors in the house had taken up the annoying habit of showing random reflections from her past. Part of her was pleased that the Window had somewhat worked (she had been trying for years to invent a rudimentary form of time travel), but she had noticed some very odd things about her reflections.
Her past selves didn’t look quite right. Winona suspected this was because the Window was supplementing information it didn’t have by drawing from other sources. Winona From Five Years Ago wore pearls that she had never owned (she hated pearls). Winona From One Week Ago had deep, claw-like scars on her shoulders. Winona From Fifty Years Ago had hair cut so short that she could’ve passed as a boy, though she had never cut her hair shorter than shoulder length.
Though this was unnerving, Winona decided to ignore her reflections as they ignored her and each other. She had made a breakthrough with the Window—its purpose was to show a person the past in an interactive way. She dreamt of what her invention could do for trials, grieving family members, and historians. Of course, her breakthrough was a bit more up-close-and-personal than she would’ve liked, but progress was progress. She finished her tea and set the cup on the coffee table, lifting the Window off the floor and making her way to the study.
Winona From One Week Ago sat at her desk—Winona’s desk—working on the Window From One Week Ago. Winona had decided she would use the workbench to work. Though she knew the reflections were simply images stuck in a loop, she did her best not to interfere with them just in case her actions had consequences.
Like her double, Winona worked well into the night. She barely noticed as the sun shining through the grand windows slowly disappeared, or when the dark-sensitive lights around the room were activated. Winona From Fifty Years Ago continued to drop the same suitcase every two hours, but Winona had grown deaf to it. Winona From Twenty Years Ago could be heard murmuring and pacing, but that no longer startled her either. She kept an eye on Winona From One Week Ago, but the reflection remained constant as always.
At long last, Winona could no longer work on the Window. Her eyes stung with exhaustion, and the arthritis in her hands was becoming unbearable. She set the Window down, quietly cursing it. She was so close to seeing images—real, clear images of the past—but the damned thing insisted on stubbornly displaying mere shadows. The laptop beside her had long gone dark, but she woke it up once more to play the control video that she had taken two months ago at precisely noon. The Window’s control panel (an interactive touchscreen that mimicked modern tablets) was set to that exact date and time. Winona checked again for the umpteenth time, and sure enough, the shadows lined up perfectly (as far as she could tell) with the clear video on her laptop.
As she shut down the laptop and carefully stored the Window, Winona glanced once more at Winona From One Week Ago. The reflection had her face buried in her hands, as she was prone to do every few hours.
Winona left the lights on for the reflection; it was only polite. She took the long way to her bedroom, cutting through the dining room to get to the thin hallway that led to the rarely-used servants’ staircase at the back of the old manor. That was the perk of living in her centuries-old family home; she could very easily avoid her reflections. Though Winona was not a superstitious woman, and she knew the reflections were no more than memories, she was still unnerved by her doppelgangers at night.
Winona From Fifty Years Ago dropped the suitcase in the attic as Winona was dressing for bed. It caught her off guard this time, and she dropped the brush she had been running through her hair. With shaky hands, she picked the brush up from the ground and placed it on the vanity. The mirror was covered by a thick sheet, but it had slipped slightly, and Winona caught sight of her reflection. It looked like her from about thirty years ago, she guessed. Her cheeks were fuller, and her hair had no gray in it, but she wore a thick bandage over her eye. Winona had never worn a bandage on her face in her life. The reflections in the mirror scared her more than the corporeal ones—these stared back at her and mimicked her every move. Hurriedly, she covered the mirror and climbed into her bed, turning on her white noise machine in hopes of drowning out the antics of her reflections.
The night passed easily, and Winona felt much better when she woke. She made herself presentable before taking the main stairs to the lower level, even sparing a smile for Winona From Twenty Years Ago as she passed. She got no response.
She drank her morning coffee and took her medications while absentmindedly watching the small TV in the kitchen, attempting to pay no mind to Winona From Five Years Ago making tea. The reflection was occupying the sink, so Winona left her dishes on the counter and made her way to the study.
She started her laptop and pulled out the mirror and the new control panel she was working on. She stood with her hands on her hips for a moment, surveying the room. She had a strange feeling that something was different, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. With a sigh, she sat down at her desk and rubbed at the scars on her shoulders, burying her face in her hands as she fought the long-familiar urge to throw the mirror across the room.
Hours passed before Winona stood, setting her work down and stretching. The study felt strangely hollow as she turned off the lights and left to go sit in the parlor. She absentmindedly rubbed her shoulders as she watched the large TV, only glancing up when Winona From Twenty Years Ago passed through the hallway in front of her, tapping the long, red acrylic nails that Winona had never gotten on the stairwell banister. As the reflection made its way up the stairs, Winona’s eyes wandered to the formal living room.
Winona From Two Months Ago was staring directly at her.
Winona stood abruptly, her heart threatening to beat right out of her chest. Winona From Two Months Ago had never done anything other than stare out the window that faced the front of the property. Yet there the reflection stood, regarding Winona carefully with narrowed eyes and appearing more solid than ever before.
Winona did the only thing she could think of. “Hello?”
Winona From Two Months Ago folded her arms across the floral blouse she was wearing—one that Winona didn’t own. “Hello. I suppose you can finally see me?”
“Finally see you?” Winona rushed over to her reflection, grabbing a pen and notepad as she did. “I’ve been able to see you—all of you—for the past week! I thought that you couldn’t see me! Oh, this is lovely.” Winona paced around her reflection frantically. “I only ever dreamed of seeing clear images of the past, not being able to talk to them! Oh dear, will this affect the timeline in any way?”
Winona From Two Months Ago cocked her head slightly. “The past? Hold on, you said ‘all of you.’ Who else is there?” The reflection watched with scrutiny, like the question was a test.
“Four, including you. I call you Winona From Two Months Ago. Pacing the main hall and stairway is Winona From Twenty Years Ago. Winona From Fifty Years Ago drops that suitcase in the attic every two hours, and Winona From Five Years Ago stays in the kitchen, constantly making and drinking tea.”
“There’s no others?”
“No, only you four.”
“How interesting.” Winona From Two Months Ago opened her mouth as if she wanted to say more, but a pained look came over her face and she turned back to the window, fading slightly.
“Can you see them? Have you talked to any of them? How long have you been able to see me?” Winona was frantically scribbling notes as she spoke.
Yet Winona From Two Months Ago gave no answer. She stood, as she had stood for the past week, staring out the window and sighing now and then. Her eyes were distant and her face gentle, as if nothing about the reflection had changed at all.
In her vigorous attempt to understand the events that had just transpired, Winona worked late into the night. She rubbed the scars on her shoulders, buried her face in her hands, and muttered to herself. She had hit a block with the Window. Winona From Two Months Ago spoke to her, but that shouldn’t have been able to happen, as the reflection was only a memory. Surely Winona would have a memory of talking to herself from two months ago.
The study was far too quiet as Winona shut down her laptop and carefully put away the Window. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was missing some sort of ambiance, though she had always preferred to work in silence. As Winona left the study and stepped into the main hallway, she remembered the old radio she had stored away years ago and decided that she would use that to shake the strange silence of the study. She ran a hand through her short hair and made her way up the tall, thin stairs that led to the attic.
The radio was an old one that she had used in her thirties, but she was pleased to find that it worked just fine after she replaced the batteries. The batteries were stored behind an old suitcase that Winona accidentally hit, sending it crashing onto the attic floor. The loud sound made her jump, and the dim lighting in the attic was doing nothing good for her nerves. Taking a breath and putting down the radio, Winona carefully placed the suitcase back in its place.
“You need to stop.”
The suitcase crashed to the floor once more as Winona jumped, whirling around to face the voice that spoke.
Winona From Two Months Ago was standing at the top of the attic stairs, looking more corporeal than ever.
“Stop? Stop what? Breathing?! You must be out of your mind for scaring me like that!” Winona clutched a hand to her chest, trying to slow her breath.
Winona From Two Months Ago did not look impressed. “You have to stop messing around with that damned Window. Don’t you see what you’re doing?”
“I’m making one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in history. You should know that, Winona From Two Months Ago.” Winona drew herself up to her full height.
Winona From Two Months Ago did not appear phased in the slightest. With an irritated huff, she took a step forward. “No, idiot. I’m not Winona From Two Months Ago. I’m Winona From Right Now, the same time as you, just in a different universe. I made a mistake bringing you here.”
“Bringing me here?! I brought you here!”
“In your world, maybe,” Winona From Two Months Ago said with a shrug. “But in mine, I brought you here.”
“So, you aren’t from my past?” Winona wished she had her notepad. “What did I do? The Window is only supposed to look into the past, not…parallel universes.”
“You’re messing with technology you don’t fully understand.” The reflection of Winona From Two Months Ago seemed to grow fainter, and she was now talking in a rush, as if she had been anxious to reach this point in the conversation, “You’re collapsing everything around you. Last night, you collapsed Winona One’s world. Today you’ve taken Winona Five. You opened this rift, so you’ve got to close it. You have to destroy the window.”
Winona took a step back. “Winona Five? There’s only three reflections.”
“Only three now. You’ve absorbed the other two, because you’re going too far!”
Winona From Two Months Ago started to say more, but Winona cut her off. “There’s only ever been three! Besides, I’m not destroying the Window. I’ve spent over a decade working on the damned thing, and I’m so close to figuring it out! Don’t you understand how it could benefit everything?!”
“I do, but I also know how it could destroy everything. Winona Two, don’t you understand? Time and space are connected! You’ve tapped into the wrong one—or maybe both, or something in between. Entire universes are collapsing. Either you destroy the thing, or I will.”
Winona had been slowly moving towards the attic stairs. Winona From Two Months Ago took a step towards her, so Winona took her chance and bolted towards the exit, shoving her reflection out of the way—she was no longer just a reflection!—and bounding down the treacherous stairs. She fled down the second story hallway and flew past Winona From Twenty Years Ago on her way down the main staircase. She could hear Winona From Two Months Ago curse and fumble as she tried to follow. By the time Winona made it to the study and locked the door, she was breathing so heavily that she had to clutch at her chest, moving the pearls she wore out of the way.
Outside, the dark sky was swirling with clouds she had never seen, and rain beat against the window with a vigor she had never heard before. Winona From Two Months Ago was beating against the study door, but the words she was screaming couldn’t be heard over the pounding rain. The wind howled and screamed, as if millions of people had banded together in terror and raised their voices to the skies.
Winona carefully brought the Window to her desk. She rubbed the scars on her shoulders and buried her face in her hands, attempting to cover her ears and block out the dreadful noise as she did so. Her short hair stood on end. The pearl necklace was a bit too tight. With a sigh, she began to work on the mirror through the pain in her joints, becoming frustrated with her long, red acrylic nails. She did her best to ignore the cacophony going on outside and the wailing of Winona From Two Months Ago outside the door, pouring all of her focus into the Window.
Soon enough, Winona From Two Months Ago faded into silence. Outside, the weather quieted somewhat, and a heavy fog fell over the land. The mist was so thick and impenetrable that Winona couldn’t see the trees on her lawn. A sharp, metallic smell had filled the room and an unimaginably deep rumbling could be heard outside, followed by flashes of green lightning and tremors in the ground. Now and then, the awful screaming wind would return, but only for a moment.
Winona worked on the Window. She took a break, going to watch the strange weather outside the window in the formal living room. She went to the kitchen and made her tea, and then walked through the halls of the empty manor, losing herself in thought. She went up to the attic to find the radio and accidentally knocked over that damned suitcase again, so Winona went back downstairs to work on the Window.
Copyright © 2023 Alli Litchtman