From the editor:
A human being with a quantum soul contains many possible lives and identities. If you unmake one of those lives, is it theft, murder, or none of the above? Dari struggles to find the woman responsible and reclaim their own identity.
Holly Heisey is an award-winning author, illustrator, and designer whose work has appeared in Escape Pod, Transcendent 2, F&SF, SciFutures, and more. They generously make many of their #ownvoices stories available under a Creative Commons license, and share a roundup of all their LGBTQIA work on Curious Fictions here.
From the author: A theft of a soul, a heist of a life, a possible murder. Maybe. Things are tricky when you're dealing with quantum souls. And Dari, who doesn't exist, must find out why. | This story is ownvoices, non-binary, and entirely weird.
Please note: This story has been re-released fully under copyright.
The rug lays shredded on the walnut floor and the bed sheets are white strips in moonlight--an unused shroud. A single person stands over the lack of a body on the floor. They remember dying, maybe.
Someone stole my soul, they think. No, she stole my soul.
It was a seduction, a dangerous spiral. Memories float like possibilities; there probably might have been a woman who came to the house. She laughed with them, and together they stepped into warmth and cinnamon haze from the evening tea. In the bedroom, in twilight, she offered the dubious comfort of warm lips and hot breath and pressure and pain and familiarity and release. Fine hair floating in the space between moments. The smell of fresh pine soap.
Then--this. Standing over the rug, remembering maybe having died.
They remember pain tearing them from their body.
They remember, before that, grief in the woman’s earth-brown eyes.
Oh. Yes, they know this woman. They can’t place her, but she has the shape of a memory that should have been blocked out. A thief who’s come back to finish her heist of a life.
In the memory, she says, “I’m so sorry, Dari,” as she strokes their hair and they cuddle closer. And it feels right, and it feels wrong.
Dari. Yes, that’s their name.
She presses her sweat-sheened forehead to theirs. “I’m so sorry--you were born with a quantum soul; I have to shift you back to the realm of possibilities for a while. My friend is entangled, and you can’t both be.”
In the present, Dari lies down on the still-damp tatters of sheets, gathering the roughness to them. The woman’s left, and clouds cover the moon. Window glass frosts with the negative air.
Dari remembers a flash of light before their soul was torn from them. Before the woman tore their soul away. They don’t think they died. But do they still exist?
Possibilities, not thoughts. Possibilities.
Dari searches for the woman. It takes--not time, exactly, because time doesn’t exist in their non-existing state--but moments like shattered glass. They sift through those moments, combing possibilities until they find the one that suits.
The woman sits by an antique green desk lamp, tapping pen on notebook. Her black hair brushes the pages. Was this where she’d plotted Dari’s un-making?
She looks up and through Dari, as if she doesn’t see them. There’s a blankness in her, a void in her eyes that has nothing to do with shadows. She shivers.
Dari inches closer.
Then they hear a snatch of words from another room--upstairs. Clink of plastic on plastic. Dari passes into the hall and climbs the stairs, making sure not to step on the first board, and then the second board, that creaks.
At the top, the cracked door has a shiver of almost-forgotten familiarity. They grasp the cool brass doorknob, feeling petals engraved and worn smooth. They’ve been drifting in their current state, but that doorknob is real, not a possibility.
Dari enters slowly. Inside, a child sits on the floor, among dolls and metal-cast cars and toppled building blocks. She hums as she watches waving branches outside the window. The house creaks with wind.
The girl sees Dari. “Hello.”
Dari trembles. “You can see me?” Are they real again? Not just interacting with the world, but real, alive?
The child shoves to her feet. She’s no more than five. Fine dark hair and huge, wide-set eyes. Dari is…looking at themself.
Dari stumbles back. How is this possible?
Possibilities, the wind hisses. Possibilities.
Dari swallows. “I’m not real. I’m still a possibility. This isn’t real.” But yes, this is what they looked like at five years old. They remember framed pictures of happy giraffes. Pink-patterned walls, the plastic truck bed they’d begged their parents for weeks to buy. This place. This night. They’d seen an apparition with short, black hair and wide-set eyes. Not a boy, not a girl.
Dari remembers, and that memory is more than a possibility.
The woman with voids for eyes steps into the room, trailing the smell of pine soap. Black hair frizzes around a serious face.
Dari truly sees her--she's a possibility. A possibility of Dari, if they stay in the role in which they’ve been cast. A world of shes and hers. A possibility that seems necessary on dark nights and dark days, a world with walls and no doors. A box acceptable to the world outside. A non-existence.
“Thank you,” she says. “The child had to see you, so you could remember this later and know it’s okay to be who you are. I’ll take over now.”
Dari remembers with absolute clarity their childhood awe of the apparition. That person who didn’t have to be a girl but wasn’t a boy. That person who seemed so perfect and exactly who they were. Dari looks back at their younger self and shyly smiles.
The woman reaches for Dari. She no longer seems like a thief; this possibility can only steal if she’s allowed to.
Dari stretches their hand to hers, then yanks back. They will unmake this woman if they touch her, as this woman’s unmade them.
But the woman’s friend who has a quantum soul—that’s Dari, isn’t it? The woman’s always been a possibility; there’s always been a box. The open air has been too hard to breathe.
But Dari can’t be while the woman still exists.
Do they want that? Are they ready for that?
Dari clasps her hand.
Dari stands in their room on the shredded rug, now scorched from the further shifting of their soul. They inspect themself--shaking palms, trembling legs, bare toes curling in the cold.
Short hair frizzes around their face, a static halo. They smell faintly of pine air freshener from their car.
The wind howls outside the bedroom. The bed is made and unslept in.
The woman is a possibility; there never was a woman to begin with.