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This is the story I was meant to be writing instead of the last one.It's a bit different from some of my other stuff so I hope you like it.

Story Title: Alternates

Type of story: Short/Medium length fiction

Main Characters: Ric with versions of Matilda, Alf, Sally and others

BTTB rating: G/T

Genre: Parallel universe

Does story include spoilers: No

Any warnings: Sexual content:Mild references.Violence:Mild threat.Language:None.

Summary: A security guard shift at a warehouse didn't seem like anything important to Ric.But someone really should have told him not to touch mysterious glowing pyramids.And after that, everything changed.


“I’m not sure which is worse,”Ric complained as he came into the living area,“Having to work nights or having to spend all day shut up in a warehouse.”

Alf, Miles and Matilda looked back at him with expressions that weren’t entirely sympathetic.“Whichever one you’re doing at the moment, I bet,”Alf replied.

Ric grinned, acknowledging his petulant mood.“Yeah, probably.”

“Least this way you’re gonna get a slap up meal waiting for you when you come home,”Miles pointed out.He thought about this for a moment.“Course on the downside, it’s gonna be cooked by me.”

“We have got to arrange a better rota.”As Ric headed for the door, Matilda came into step next to him.

“So where is this warehouse anyway?”she asked.

“Oh, it’s one of the ones on the edge of town.The sort of place that no-one in their right mind would go near, the sort of place that there’s no point breaking into because nothing’s been stored there for years.But the company’s got a contract with the owners to keep a permanent eye on the place so some poor sucker has to sit in there and keep an eye out.”

“And that would be you.”Matilda gave him a look of mock sympathy.“Poor baby.”

“You’re a real comfort at times like this, you know that?”


He smiled and gave her a kiss on the cheek.“See you tonight.”

Ric hadn’t been exaggerating either about the location of the warehouse or about its unimportance.It was in a part of town so remote that apart from the on duty security guard, it had probably been completely free of human visitors ever since the company’s contract had begun.

Ric sat in what had once been the warehouse’s reception, a flask of coffee and packed lunch by his feet.He was slowly dying of boredom.With the job being a solo duty, he didn’t even have another guard to talk to. He half-considered giving Mattie or Belle a ring, just for the sake of human conversation, but the firm’s rules were strict on personal calls during a shift.He flicked idly through the rugby almanac that Alf had given him to pass the time.Apparently it was his idea of light reading.

That was when he noticed the light.

It didn’t seem to be a torch light or a light bulb.It was bright and constant and coming from the storage area.Ric produced his torch, even though he didn’t need it, and made his way cautiously through the door.

The only thing stored in the warehouse was a metal pyramid, about four feet in height.Ric hadn’t given much thought as to what it actually was.A piece of modern art, some sort of storage container.All his job required him to do was make sure it was still there when his shift ended.It was the pyramid that the glow was coming from, suffusing every part of the surface, bathing the entire room with light.

Ric made his way over, feeling confusion more than anything else.Since no-one appeared to be trying to steal the object, it didn’t seem to fall within his duties.He considered radioing it in, asking for an official decision on what to do.Absent-mindedly, he reached out and laid a hand on the glowing pyramid.

He saw a flash and nothing more.

When Ric woke up, he could feel concrete against his face and quickly realised he was lying on the floor. Aching slightly, he pulled himself upright.The pyramid was still there, no longer glowing.Everything else seemed to be in place.That was a relief, anyway.If anything had been stolen while he’d been napping, he’d definitely be in for it.His mind went over the events that had occurred before he’d lost consciousness.He thought about radioing it in again.He checked his watch and was astonished to see it was four o’clock.He’d been out for nearly five hours and his shift was over.

That settled it;any discussion of events could wait until the following morning.He headed through into the reception area and bent to pick up his lunch…at which point he realised it wasn’t there.He had a quick look around the room but there was nowhere where his things could have rolled to.With a combination of irritation and amusement, it occurred to him that his lunch was probably the only thing in the warehouse worth stealing.

Giving up the search, he gave a deep sigh before heading towards home.

Ric was surprised at the lack of sound coming from the house.Usually when he got home it was to the sound of Alf regaling someone who hadn’t managed to run away fast enough with stories about fishing or his glorious sporting career or Miles making a mess of something in the kitchen or Matilda gossiping to one of her friends.Even Jai made a noise occasionally.But the house was dead quiet.

He pushed open the door and stepped inside.Something felt wrong.This wasn’t the house he knew.That was when he noticed the man standing in the kitchen.He was taller than Ric but more slightly built, looking to be somewhere in his thirties.There was something about him, a sort of seedy, superficial charm, that made Ric dislike him on sight.“Who are you?”the man demanded.

“I was about to ask you that,”Ric replied.He turned towards the door as he heard someone coming downstairs.He expected it to be one of the others, ready with an explanation as to who the stranger was. What he didn’t expect was the person that stepped into the room.“Sal?”

Sally was looking at him with an expression he’d never seen before.It was completely cold, as though she felt nothing for him.Even when she’d been angry with him, even in those first few months when he’d just been the troublesome new boy that Barry Hyde had foisted on the school, there had always been some faint stirring of compassion about her.“I may no longer be your teacher, Eric Dalby, but you can still call me Mrs.Fletcher.”

“Mrs?”Ric looked at her in astonishment, not understanding any of this.“But when did you get back?”

“Back?I went to the store this morning if that’s what…”

“Back from Phuket.”He tried to read her reaction but she didn’t seem to understand what he was saying. “Sal, Miss Fletcher, Mrs.Fletcher…you went away, remember?”

“I don’t know what game this is, Dalby, but I’ve lived in this town for twenty years and I’ve certainly never been to Phuket.”

It was at that point that the man stepped in.“Look, whoever you are, you’re upsetting my wife and I want you to leave.”As if to emphasise his words, he started pushing Ric towards the door.

Ric had a feeling that if he pushed back he wouldn’t be the one to come off worse.But there was something about Sally’s manner that suggested leaving was his best option.He held up his hands.“All right. All right.I’m going.”

The man watched him leave before turning to Sally.“He was one of your pupils?”

“He left school about two years ago, I think he’s got a flat somewhere with his girlfriend.”

“See, this is why I don’t want you working there.Having to deal with people like that.”

“All right, Kiaran.”Sally walked over to her husband and hugged him, forestalling the argument, at least for now.“I know.”

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Anyway, thanks for your comments, everyone, and hope you like this.


Ric wasn’t sure where he was going, he just seemed to be wandering aimlessly.Every time he tried to make sense of what had happened, he just felt more confused.He’d been turfed out of his home by the one person he thought he could count on to always support him.Sally had looked at him as though she hardly knew him and didn’t like him.What on earth was going on?

He was walking by the shore when he stopped, something attracting his attention.The old Diner was still standing.It had been demolished months ago, around the time Sally left the Bay, and yet somehow it was still there.His mind raced through the possibilities.Maybe Martha or Morag was living in the flat above it. Maybe they could tell him what was going on.

He almost bounded up the steps to the exterior door and knocked on it.He searched his mind, trying to work out all the possibilities for what was about to happen.But when the door swung open, he found he didn’t know the woman on the other side.And yet…there was something familiar about her, even though he was certain they’d never met.

The smile on her face vanished the moment she clapped eyes on him, replaced with a look of suspicion. “Can I help you?”she asked tartly.

He tried to come up with a suitable response but unfortunately only one sprang to mind.“Can you tell me who lives here?”

“Well, we do, of course.Given that we own the business downstairs.”

And that was when it clicked, where he’d seen her face before, all those photos that Alf and Sally had shown him.“Are…are you Ailsa?”

He knew he was right but unfortunately the question didn’t seem to improve his mood.“I think that’s Mrs. Stewart to you, Eric Dalby.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean…You said ‘we’.‘We’ live here.Does that mean..?”

He was answered by a familiar voice from inside the flat.“Ailse?Who is it?”

“I think you’d better come and see, Alf,”Ailsa called back.

Ric grinned with relief as Alf came into view.“Grandad, thank goodness.Look, I don’t know what’s going on here…”

There was fury in Alf’s eyes as he interrupted him.“Now just you listen here, boy.You might think you can swan around this place acting however you like but this is my home and when I’m here I demand a bit of respect.”

Ric looked at him confused.“What did I say?”

“Calling me Grandad like that.I’ll have you know…”

“But you are my grandad.My dad was your son.Remember?”

“Your father is nothing to do with me.”

Ric caught something in the comment.“Is?You mean he’s still alive?Well, where is he then?”

“Same place he’s been for the last three years, I expect.Doing a stretch for GBH.”

It was probably the first thing anyone had said that Ric understood.Having been on the receiving end of his father’s temper so many times, he was surprised that it hadn’t got him into trouble before.“Look, I know this is going to sound strange but…”He trailed off, realising how hopeless trying to explain anything would be.From the way they were looking at him, telling them that he was Alf’s grandson or that they and Sally and everything else was different seemed unlikely to make them help him.“Sorry to have bothered you,”he said at last before retreating down the steps.

“Troublemaker,”Alf muttered.

“Yes,”Ailsa agreed absent-mindedly.She looked after him.“But…did he seem different to you?”

“Bit less cocky, I suppose,”Alf conceeded.

“I thought he seemed confused.I really think he wanted our help with something.”

Ric halted a little further along the path, spying a phone box.An idea began to form in his mind.He didn’t seem to live with Sally or his grandad or even his dad so maybe…He dashed inside and was relieved to find a local telephone directory.He flicked to the right page and ran his finger down the list of names until he came to the right one.E.Dalby.His name and address.He recognised it as one of the beachside flats, not far from where he was.

On his way there, he searched his pockets, hoping to find an unfamiliar house key.Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to have anything on him that hadn’t been there when he’d left home, his proper home at the caravan park, that morning.Whatever had happened, it didn’t seem to have had any affect on him.

He reached the flat and cautiously tried the door.He was partly relieved to find it was unlocked but that only increased his uncertainty about what he might find.He pushed the door open and made his way nervously into the living area, not sure what was going to happen.“Anyone at home?”he asked.

Matilda came through one of the doors that he assumed led to the bedrooms.She grinned at the sight of him, which after receiving nothing but scowls was even more pleasing than normal.Then she burst into a fit of giggles.“Dalby, what are you wearing?”

Ric glanced down and realised he was still in uniform.“Um, security guard?”

“Oh, for the job.Yeah, suits you.Maybe you could keep it afterwards.”

Ric was glad that whatever else was going on she still seemed glad to see him but he wasn’t going to take anything for granted.“So we live here, right?”

“Gosh, Dalby, what is this?Plausible deniability?”She tried to keep a straight face.“Er, yes, we live here.”

“Right.And, er, what’s with all this ‘Dalby’ stuff?It’s Ric, remember?”

She looked at him in surprise.“Since when?”

Ric realised he’d put his foot in it again but he seemed to have got better at recovering.“I just decided I liked it better.”

Matilda mulled this over.“Ric.Yeah, I like it.Kind of sexy.”She had been walking closer to him as she spoke and put her arms around his neck in a flirtatious manner.“So, you got any plans for this evening?”

Even though he was still feeling confused, the situation was familiar enough for him to be able to respond to it.“Nothing particular.Did you have something in mind?”

She responded with one of the most intense and passionate kisses he had ever received.“I could probably think of something.”

Ric smiled at her.Inside, he felt sheer relief.At least there was something here that he still recognised.

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Here we go then.


Ric opened his eyes and stretched.Morning.He had been hoping, when he went to bed, that everything would be back to normal when he woke up, that he and Matilda would be back in their old bed at the caravan park.But instead they were still in the flat and the memories of the previous day, of how everything had suddenly turned upside down, came flooding back.

Matilda opened an eye sleepily and looked at him.“Morning, Dalby.”Perhaps catching his expression, she gave a tired smile.“Sorry.Ric.”

It was beginning to dawn on Ric how little he knew about this life he’d been thrust into.The only thing he’d been able to find out the previous day was his address.“Do we need to…go anywhere?”he asked cautiously.

“Like where?”

“I dunno…work?”

Matilda gave him an amused look.“Since when did we work?”

Ric was relieved to find that he was getting better at covering.“Well, I don’t mean work work, I mean… something we have to do.”

Matilda thought for a moment.“No, everything’s covered.Going to need to go to the shops later but I can handle that on my own.”

“Right.So, um, how do you want to spend the day then?”

She put an arm across his chest and kissed him gently.“Well, we’re all right here for the moment, aren’t we?”

The offer was extremely tempting but there were too many questions in Ric’s mind.He needed to find out what else had changed, what this new life of his was like and if there was any chance of getting back to his old one.“Or we could go for a walk,”he suggested.

Matilda looked at him, seeming slightly insulted.“A walk?”

“Yeah, bit of fresh air, see the sights, see who else is around.”

“Instead of being here with me, you want to go for a walk?”

“I did say I wanted to go for a walk with you.”

Matilda still looked a bit confused but she threw the bed covers aside and clambered out anyway.“Okay, walk it is.Just let me get dressed.”She glanced down at her bed clothes and gave him a flirtatious look. “Unless you want me to go out dressed like this?”

“I’d rather not start a riot, thanks.”

The clothes that Ric had found in the wardrobe fitted him perfectly, which since they were apparently bought for him made sense.With Matilda holding his hand, he’d led the way down to the beach.Ric noticed a group coming in the opposite direction and instantly recognised them:Cassie, Belle, Lucas and Drew. Aside from Belle, none of them had been living in the Bay last time he checked.But then a lot of things had changed since the last time he checked.

He was about to call out a greeting but Matilda got in first.“Oh look.The tide seems to have washed some rubbish up on the beach.”

Ric looked at her in surprise, wondering if it was some sort of joke.But there had been a nasty edge to her words and for the first time he noticed the looks of hostility on the others’ faces.

“Just rack off, Matilda,”Cassie fired back,“And take your loser boyfriend with you.”

“Maybe we should just,”Ric began but before he could say anything else Matilda had started up again.

“Excuse me, I think you four are the ones who are dating losers.”

“This coming from the girl whose own family can’t stand her,”retorted Belle.

“Well, at least I know who my mother is.”

The two groups had got close enough now for Belle to square up to Matilda.“You just take that back or I swear…”

Ric gently pushed the two of them apart.“Why don’t we all..?”

Suddenly, Lucas and Drew were in front of him, pushing him away.“You just keep your hands off her Dalby,”Lucas snapped.

“Start any trouble here and you’ll have us to deal with,”Drew put in.

Ric backed away, holding up his hands in a conciliatory manner.“Look, I’m not going to start any trouble. We’ll just be on our way.”He took Matilda’s arm and, almost pulling her, carried on walking.

“Yeah, keep walking!”Cassie called after them,“It’s not like anyone wants you here.”

Matilda turned round and Ric actually had to grab hold of her to stop her storming back in Cassie’s direction.“Come on, it’s not worth it.”

Matilda gave a nod of agreement.“You’re right.Few days and we’ll be out of this dump anyway.”

As they walked on, Ric looked at her in concern.Was that how she normally spoke to people?Was that how he normally spoke to people?If so, he was beginning to understand their reactions.

When he woke up, he’d thought Matilda was the one person he could count on.Now he was beginning to wonder if he knew her as well as he thought.

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Here it is...


It was about three hours later, as they were heading towards the store, that they ran into Lucas again, obviously having parted company with his friends.He saw them and stopped, looking at them warily. “What’s the matter, Lucas?”Matilda asked,“Not feeling so brave without your girlfriend to look after you?”

Lucas’ expression gave nothing away.“I’m just heading home, okay?”

“Go on then.We’re not stopping you.”As Lucas walked past them, Matilda stuck a foot out, tripping him.It wasn’t enough to make him topple over but it was enough to make him stumble, staggering a few paces before he regained his balance.Matilda gave a little laugh.“Sorry about that.You know how clumsy I can be sometimes.”

Lucas shook his head in distaste.“I can’t believe you used to be my sister.”

“Yeah and what a mistake that was!”Matilda called at his retreating back.She turned to Ric, lowering her voice.“I can’t wait until I never have to see these people again.”

“Um, yeah, looking forward to it,”Ric agreed, feeling more uncomfortable by the second.He looked after Lucas, his curiosity piqued by some of the things he’d heard.“Can you handle the shops by yourself?”

“Well, I have done it before.”

“Good.It’s just there’s a few things I need to do.”

Matilda gave him a long lingering kiss that he accepted without resistance.“See you back at the flat after I’m done.”

Ric kept a fair distance behind Lucas, not wanting the other boy to know he was being followed.If there was one thing he’d managed to establish about this strange world he’d found himself in, it was that they were definitely not friends, which meant he wasn’t sure how he’d react.He’d been trying to piece things together and a couple of comments had stuck in his mind.There was one important part of the puzzle that he needed.He needed to meet Matilda’s family.

It didn’t take him long to realise that Lucas was heading towards the Hunters’ old house.That at least was the same.He waited outside for ten minutes after Lucas had gone inside, not wanting anyone to realise how he’d found it.Then he made his way up the drive to the house and knocked on the door.

After the last day, he wasn’t surprised by who opened it, nor by the look of displeasure that the sight of him produced.“Was there something you wanted?”she asked.

Ric took a deep breath.“Beth…Mrs.Hunter…”

“Mrs.Holden,”she corrected him.

“Right.”Typical, he thought.Even when he got it right, he got it wrong.“I need to talk to you about Matilda.”

If he’d been expecting the name to soften her expression, he was disappointed.“Has she broken up with you?”


“Well, as I believe you know, I made it clear when she walked out of this house that she wouldn’t be welcome back here until she’d come to her senses.”

Ric was flabbergasted at the comment.There had been more than one occasion when Beth had disapproved of Matilda spending time with him, he knew that.But the Beth he knew wouldn’t have taken things that far.“She’s your daughter.”

“Don’t think you can make me feel guilty, Eric.I spent seventeen years supporting Mattie, whatever she did.I gave you a chance when she first started seeing you because it seemed you cared for her.And what happened?She lied to this family, she stole from us, she dropped out of school with you, turned her back on everyone else.And if you think I’ve forgotten what you did to her brothers when they tried to talk sense into her, then you’re mistaken.”

Tony appeared in the doorway beside her, his attention obviously attracted by the raised voices.Looking past him, Ric could see Lucas and Henry hovering inside the house.“Is there a problem, Beth?”

Beth shook her head.“No problem.I was just reminding Eric of a few facts.”

Ric nodded.“Yeah.Thanks, Mrs.Holden, I got what I came here for.”He paused.“Oh and can you call me..?”

“Dalby.Yes, I know.”

“Actually…I was going to say ‘Can you call me Ric?’”He noticed a trace of surprise in her features for the first time.But he didn’t feel like staying to find out what happened next.

Colleen Smart was behind the counter on the store, fixing a suspicious glare on Matilda as she browsed through the shelves.“Is there something special you’re looking for, Matilda Hunter?Because it seems to be taking you a long time to find it.”

Matilda turned and favoured her with her sweetest smile.“No, that’s all right, Mrs.Smart.I’m just looking.”

“Hmph.Well, hurry up and decide.I’ve got my eye on you, young lady.”

“As ever, I appreciate the service.”

Matilda looked at the selection of microwave dinners littering the store shelves.She knew which one she wanted but with Colleen keeping such a close eye on her the next bit could be tricky.

She heard the sound of someone entering the shop and looked round to see Kim and Rachel heading towards the counter.Colleen gave them one of the smiles and cheery greetings that she’d stopped bestowing on Matilda a long time ago.Mattie kept one eye on the group as she carefully took the meal off the shelf and placed it in her bag.Then she headed out the door.

“It’s all right, Mrs.Smart, I’ll come back later.”

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I’m also wondering at what point did this universe start to deviate from the other one.

It will probably become clear in the later chapters although there's a couple of hints in the first two as to how far back it goes.

Anyway, thanks to everyone that's reading this.Look out cos here comes the pseudo-science.


Ric’s phone was ringing.The phone he’d picked up in the flat before he’d left that morning.He didn’t recognise the number but according to the display it was Matilda.He pressed the answer button and put the phone to his ear.“Hey, Mattie, what’s up?”

“I’ve got the food.How long are you going to be?”

“Not long.Don’t wait for me though, I don’t know how long I’m going to be.”

“Okay.See you later.Love you.”

“Love you too.”As he ended the call, he couldn’t help wondering exactly what was about to happen to her. Because he’d decided that he wanted out, out of this strange world that he’d landed himself in.He wanted his Matilda back, not this new one that the entire town seemed to hate.He wanted people who he thought of as friends and family to stop looking at him with contempt.

He had reached the warehouse, the one where it had all started, where everything had changed.If there was anywhere where he could put things right, this was it.He pushed the door open, noting with relief that there didn’t appear to be a security guard on duty.He made his way into the main part of the warehouse, where the pyramid was standing.Cautious, not sure what to expect, he walked over to it, reached out a hand and touched it.And then he waited.Waited for a blinding flash, for everything around him to change again. But nothing happened.

“Come on,”he complained,“Glow, dammit.”

“Excuse me, can I help you?”

Ric turned at the voice.The man who had spoken didn’t appear to be a security guard, for which he was thankful.He looked like some sort of middle-aged businessman.“Um, I was just looking at this pyramid here.Do you know anything about it?”

“I should do.”The man walked further into the room, approaching the pyramid.“I own this warehouse.”

“Oh.That’s good.So, er, how do you make it glow?”

“Glow?”The man laughed.“The pyramid doesn’t glow.”

“Sure it does.I was here yesterday, I saw it.”

The man turned to him sharply, looking astonished.“You saw the pyramid glow?”

“Um, yeah, that’s right.”

“Did you touch it?”


“And after that things were…different?”

“Well, yeah, but how..?”


Ric blinked.“Sorry?”

“Mandalone.Dominic Mandalone.That’s my name.”

“Oh.Right.Ric Dalby.”

Mandalone nodded.“Come with me, Ric Dalby.I’ve a feeling we have a lot to talk about.”

Mandalone had taken Ric to a nearby bar and bought him a drink before finding them both a quiet table. “What would you say if I told you I was a member of a secret society that’s been watching over the pyramids for centuries?”

Ric gestured to his drink.“I’d say you’d had too much of that stuff.”

“Well, what would you say if I told you I stumbled across them last week and formed a club about them for a laugh?”

“Okay, ancient secret society sounds better.”

“You say things have changed?People you saw yesterday have been dead for years, relationships and friendships broken and reformed, your family in ruins?”

“Actually, there seems to be a lot of people alive now who weren’t before.But yeah, pretty much.”

“Are you familiar with the concept of parallel universes?”

Ric looked surprised.“That’s just comic book stuff, isn’t it?”

“Well, I’m no scientist but, as I understand, quantum theory states that a particle of matter follows every available path.And you, Ric Dalby, are a particle of matter.Everything that could happen to you, to each of us, does happen, somewhere.And the pyramids are gateways, to other pyramids in other worlds.You can try and understand them but in essence they’re just magic doors.There’s dozens of them, all over the world.We decided, a long time ago, that to have people wandering into different universes all the time would be catastrophic.So we keep them in secure locations, like that warehouse.I expect our organisation, or something similar, exists in your universe.The same patterns tend to reoccur.”

“So you’re saying that every time someone touches a pyramid, they get sent to another universe?”

Mandalone shook his head.“Oh no.Only when it’s glowing.”

“So how do you get it to glow?”

“You don’t.It chooses to do it itself.”Mandalone sighed.“We don’t fully understand the pyramids, Ric.We don’t know where they come from.Some think they’re the product of a lost civilisation, others that they came from space, others that they’re a gift from whatever god they happen to believe in.But they only glow when they know there’s someone nearby who can do service in another world.You were transported because there’s something that you can do here that the other Ric Dalby, the one from this universe, couldn’t.”

“Like what?”

“I’m a member of a secret society, not a magic 8-ball.What have you seen since you came here?”

Ric thought for a moment.“My girlfriend, she’s estranged from her family, they don’t like either of us. And my grandad, he didn’t know we were related.And my foster mum, she was married to someone else. And there’s been other things as well.Which do you think it is?”

Mandalone shrugged.“Any of them.All of them.All I can tell you is that when you’ve done all that you were sent here to do, the pyramid will glow for you again and you can go home.”

Kiaran was clearing Sally’s bag off the table when the form fell out of it.He picked it up and scanned it briefly, just before Sally herself came in.He looked at her, holding the form up.“What’s this?”

Sally looked embarrassed, unable to meet his gaze.“I haven’t filled it out yet.”

“You’re applying for another job?”

“There’s a vacancy for Head of Department.It’s a way to move my career forward a bit.”

“But why do you need to?You don’t need to work at all, my practice is doing well, I’m making enough to provide for both of us.I’ve told you before to finish at that school.”

“And do what?I can’t just sit around at home all day.”

“I’ve told you about that club in Yabbee Creek, the one that some of my female patients are members of. I’ve got a few of the local council on my list, I’m sure I can persuade them to let you join.”

“Kiaran, I don’t want to sit around all day drinking cups of tea with people I don’t know.At least when I’m working at the school I’m doing something.”

“And look what thanks you get.Having to deal with kids like that one that turned up here yesterday.”

Sally was trying to argue her case but Kiaran always seemed to make it difficult for her.“There’s exceptions, sure, but most of the pupils are all right.”She sighed.“And even the ones like Ric Dalby, there’s times when I looked at them and wonder what Pippa would do.Whether she’d have tried to help them.”

Kiaran placed his hands on her shoulders and looked at her sympathetically.“Are you trying to fill a hole again?”Sally nodded, tearfully.“Sal, you know I regret that we can’t have children.But that’s just the way it is.”

“But you won’t even discuss other options!”

“What’s the point?We both know it wouldn’t be the same.Think about it and you’ll know I’m right.”

Sally surrendered the point and let him hug her.“I know, Kiaran.You’re right.As always.”

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Ric was in the process of adding a thick layer of butter to his slice of toast when he heard the bedroom door open.Matilda came up behind him, still dressed in her bed clothes.She put her arms around his waist, resting her head on his shoulder.“I missed you when I woke up.”

Ric turned to face her, forcing a smile.He’d decided that trying to convince her he came from another world probably wouldn’t work, which meant he had to go on pretending to be the Ric she knew.But he hadn’t felt comfortable sleeping with her again.Since his conversation with Mandalone the previous day, he’d realised something.If this wasn’t his world, then that meant his Matilda was somewhere else.What was happening to her?What did she think had happened to him?Had he just vanished off the face of the earth?

He focused on the Matilda in front of him.“Sorry, I thought I’d better get up early.I had a few things to do.”

Matilda looked puzzled.“I thought we were going to see that guy together.”

Ric had no idea what she was talking about but it gave him the opening he needed.Given how people tended to react when they saw the two of them, he had a feeling he’d stand a better chance of doing what he needed to do if she wasn’t with him.“Actually, I need to take care of something else.Can you handle him alone?”

Mattie seemed surprised but pleased.“What, you trust me to handle that on my own?”

“Course I do, Mattie.”He rubbed her arm gently.“You know I trust you.”

She placed her arms round his neck and kissed him, a delighted smile on her face.She began leading him back towards the bedroom.“You don’t have to leave just yet, do you?”

Gently, he slipped free from her grip.“Fraid I do.Sorry.”He gave her a peck on the lips.“See you later.”

Ric knocked on the door as lightly as possible, not wanting it to sound like some forceful demand for admittance.He was going to have enough trouble winning them over as it was.When Alf opened the door, his features quickly shifted into a look of annoyance.Before he could say anything, Ric held up his hands in what he hoped was a conciliatory manner.“Look, Mr.Stewart, I’m not here to cause any trouble.But I really need to speak with you, to try and explain a few things.”

Alf gave him a suspicious look, as though trying to gauge his honesty.Then he held the door open.“All right, Dalby.I’ll listen to what you’ve got to say.”

Ric found Ailsa inside, giving him that same look of suspicion.He nodded to her politely.“Mrs.Stewart.”

“Eric,”she returned.

Ric sighed.“Can you please call me Ric?Both of you?”

“All right, Ric,”Alf replied with exaggerated emphasis,“What’s this all about?”

Now that he was here Ric wasn’t sure where to begin.“All right, you might not believe this but as far as I’m concerned things happened differently to the way you remember.I mean, I remember things differently.”

Alf barely seemed to be keeping his anger under control.“If this is some sort of game…”

“It’s not.Mr.Stewart, I am your grandson.My father is your son.”

“And I don’t remember any of this?”

“I don’t know why but in this universe you must never have found out.”

“In this universe?”Ailsa asked, sounding less than convinced.

“Yeah, you see…”Ric could see he was losing them with every second.Then inspiration struck him.“Viv Standish.My grandmother’s name was Viv Standish.”

Alf’s expression changed completely, all the colour draining from it, as if in shock.Ailsa noticed the change.“Alf?Does that name mean anything to you?”

“Viv Standish was my first girlfriend,”Alf replied quietly,“My first real one anyway.We got engaged when we were eighteen but her family took her away.I never saw her again.I heard later that she’d gone to prison for fraud.She died there.”

“You were supposed to meet her before she died,”Ric explained,“She was supposed to tell you all this.Her parents gave her baby to another couple.The Dalbys, my adoptive grandparents.”

Alf had clearly been affected by Ric’s words but he was still not convinced.“Can you prove any of this?”

“Well, not at the moment…”Another thought struck Ric.“Sally’s brother.I haven’t seen him around.”

“Her brother?”Ailsa looked at him, confused.“You mean, Steven, Frank, Jack, Christopher..?”

“No, her actual brother.Her twin brother.Miles Copeland.She was born Sally Copeland, they were separated when they were three.”He looked at them both desperately.“Look, the evidence for all this has got to exist somewhere.Records.Ask Auntie Morag.”

“Morag?”Alf asked.

“Morag Bellingham?Your sister?Please tell me she exists here.”

“Sure she does, she lives in the city.But we had a falling out, fifteen years ago.We’ve barely spoken since.”

Ric sighed.“Look, all I’m asking is you check.Please.The evidence has got to be there somewhere.”

“We’ll look into it, okay?”Alf gestured to the door.“Unless there’s some other revelation you want to share..?”

“No, that’s it for now.”As Ric left, Alf closed the door after him then turned to Ailsa.

“What do you think, Ailse?”

“Well, he seemed sincere,”Ailsa admitted,“But how could he know all that?”

“Other universes?He remembers things differently to us?Sounded like a **** and bull story.But then again, if it’s true, if that kid is my grandson, if Sally does have a brother out there, I think we should try and find out.”

“But how?”

“I guess I’m going to have to give Morag a call.”

Ric wasn’t sure if he’d been wasting his time or not.At least Alf and Ailsa hadn’t thrown him out of their home.Not too forcefully anyway.That had to count as an improvement.But whether it had put him any closer to getting back was another matter.

Matilda was home when he arrived back at the flat.She grinned when she saw him.“Do what you needed to do?”

“Yeah, thanks.You?”

“Yep.Met the guy, gave him the price you said.He tried to beat me down but I stood firm, told him a deal was a deal.I think you’d have been quite proud of me.”

Ric still wasn’t sure what they were talking about nor was he particularly interested.“So it went all right then?”

“Yeah.They’re in that bag on the table.”She gestured vaguely in the right direction before heading into the bathroom.

Mildly curious, Ric went over to the bag and unzipped the flap.He pulled it back…and then froze.

Inside the bag were two guns.

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Ric was still staring at the contents of the bag when Matilda came back in.She noticed the worried look on his face but seemed to misinterpret it.“They are all right, aren’t they?”

“Er, yeah, sure.”Ric was beginning to feel more and more out of his depth.“I mean, I guess it depends on what we’re going to do with them.”

Matilda relaxed a bit, seeming to think he was joking.“Well, I thought we might use them in the job at the bank.”

“The job at the bank.”Ric was getting a sinking feeling as a few things began to fall into place.“The… bank job.In Yabbee Creek, right?”

“Well, it is the only bank around here.”

“And we’re planning on doing this..?”He left the sentence hanging, hoping she’d finish it.

“Thursday,”she provided,“Ric, there’s no need to worry.I remember the details.”

Ric put an arm round her shoulders, leading her over to the couch.“Well, maybe we should go over the details again.We’ve been planning this for a while, right?”

“Well, yeah.We’re not the types to suddenly get up one morning and decide to rob a bank today.”

“Right, yeah.A one-off?”He gave a quick look to her for confirmation and was slightly relieved that she didn’t contradict him.“So, maybe we should talk again about why we’re doing this.”

“Because we need to get out of here, Ric.This town, no-one’s going to give us a chance.Once we’ve got some money, we can go somewhere else and start again.”

“This isn’t the right way to get money, Mattie.We should be getting jobs, saving up, not stealing it.”

“Come on, Ric, who’s going to give us a job in this town?”She was looking at him curiously.“You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”

“Well, yeah, I guess so.I mean, this is a pretty big thing to do.What if something goes wrong?”

Matilda gave him a reassuring smile.“Nothing’s going to go wrong, silly.We’ve got it all sorted.Look, this is it.We’re gonna be out of here, we’re gonna be together and no-one in this hellhole of a town, especially my stupid family, is going to stop us.”

Ric looked at her and realised that she meant it.Not for the first time, he wondered exactly how they could have got to this point, become the people that they seemed to be.“Yeah, Mattie, you’re right.Don’t know what came over me.I need to go for a walk for a bit.Clear my head.I’ll see you later.”

As Ric made his way further and further from the flat, he tried to work out the implications of what he’d just heard.Was that the reason he was there?He’d thought that maybe he was supposed to reunite Mattie with her family but this…this he hadn’t been expecting.He remembered what Mandalone had said about what he was supposed to do.Any of them.All of them.Where exactly was he supposed to start?

He noticed Drew sitting on a fence nearby.Most people in Summer Bay tended to glare at him when he walked past.The rest of them actually threw something at him.Perhaps changing that would be a good start.

He stopped by him.“Can I sit down?”

Drew gave him one of the looks he’d been expecting.“Why would you want to do that, Dalby?”

“Well, so we can talk.”

“We’ve never talked.”

Ric shrugged.“First time for everything.”

“What would we even talk about?”

Ric decided to sit down anyway, even though he hadn’t exactly been given permission.“Look, Drew, I get the impression that we’ve never got along.But, well, as far as I’m concerned I’m friends with you and Belle and the others.”

Drew looked at him, confused.“Me and Belle?”

“She’s your girlfriend, right?”

“No, Belle’s Lucas’ girlfriend.Cassie’s my girlfriend.”

“Right.”Ric reflected that he should probably have learnt by now not to make assumptions.“What about Henry, has he got a girlfriend?”

“Yeah, Caitlin.”

Ric was having trouble remembering who Caitlin was.Hadn’t she been in their year at school?“Well, all of us were friends.”

“Dalby, that doesn’t make sense.You’re saying that we’re friends even though we weren’t?”

“Something like that.”

“Prove it.”

Ric thought for a moment.“You’ve got an uncle?Dan?”

Drew paused, staring at him.“How did you know that?”

“Like I told you, we’re friends.”

“But I’ve never told anyone about Uncle Dan.I’ve never even met him.He and Dad fell out years ago, before I came to live with him.”

“Can you just trust that somehow I know?And that I need your help?”

“With what?”

“I went round to see Matilda’s mum a while back.She wasn’t exactly pleased to see me.”

“Can you blame her?”

“Maybe not, even though I don’t know what I did.If I went back there, I doubt she’d let me through the front door.”

“So where do I come in?”

“She might be willing to see me if someone vouched for me.”He could see uncertainty in his maybe-friend’s face.“Drew, I just want to talk to her.I just need to understand what’s happened.”

Drew looked at him hard for a moment then got to his feet.“I need to get my head examined.Come on.”

Ric could feel Drew and Henry’s eyes on him as he paced around the living room.They had been left to keep an eye on him while Lucas went to get Beth.Probably worried he’d steal the family silver.He looked over the photos on the mantelpiece, wedding photos of Beth’s older children:Scott and Hayley, Robbie and Tasha, Kit and…it took a moment for Ric to recognise the man in the photo with her until he realised how many times he’d seen his picture hanging up in the bar.Noah.Ric had never really known Noah but he remembered he’d been school guidance counsellor when he’d first started at Summer Bay.He took a moment to reflect that that made at least four people still alive in this universe but not in his, five if Dan was still alive and Drew hadn’t seemed to think otherwise.Whatever he’d been sent here to sort out it wasn’t the survival rate.

He looked again at the photo of Hayley.A petite blonde girl.He could vaguely remember her looking like that but he could have sworn the last time he’d seen her…

“Dalby.”Beth’s greeting drew his attention.She corrected herself.“Sorry.Ric.What exactly can I do for you?”

“Um, can we talk in private, Mrs.Holden?”

Beth looked at Lucas, Drew and Henry.“It’s all right, boys, you can leave us.”Henry looked as though he was about to argue.“Henry, it’s all right.”

Henry glared at Ric.“You’d better not do anything.”

“Oh, no, course not.”At least some things were still comfortingly familiar.Whatever the universe, Henry was no good at threatening people.

Beth turned back to him once they were alone.“So, what is all this?”

“I need to ask you what’s happened here.”

“Is this some sort of joke?”

“Look, I know this might sound strange, Mrs.Holden, but I need you to pretend…to accept that I don’t remember exactly what’s been happening.You were saying something about Mattie lying and stealing since she’d been with me?”

“As you well know…”She corrected herself again, remembering his request.“Yes, that’s the case.”

“So, the way she is…are you saying that’s my fault?”

Beth seemed to think about her answer for a long time.She averted her gaze slightly.“No.Not entirely.It was that school, the one her father insisted on sending her to.It made her think she was special, better than the rest of us.But you just fed into that, didn’t you?The world owes you both a living.”

“And because of that she had to leave?”

“I didn’t throw her out of the house, if that’s what you’re suggesting.It was her choice to move out with you.I was hoping that telling her we wouldn’t see her again if she didn’t break up with you would make her come to her senses.Ric, I don’t even recognise the person she’s become.”

“I’m having trouble myself.Mrs.Holden, I know the person she could be, the person she should be.I’m just asking you…don’t give up on her.Maybe together we can pull her back a bit.”

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Continue?Your wish is my command.


Alf hadn’t expected to find his sister knocking on his door again but desperate times called for desperate measures.She stood there with that same waferthin smile she always used when being polite to someone she didn’t get on with.“Alfred.”

“Morag,”he responded with a disgruntled tone.He held the door open.“Why don’t you come in?”

Morag made her way into the flat, nodding a greeting to its other occupant.“Ailsa.”

“Morag,”Ailsa answered back, neither of them sounding particularly pleased to be in the same room again.She gestured to a chair.“Why don’t you sit down?”

Morag did as she had been instructed, clutching a set of files to her chest.“Well, I must say I was surprised to receive your call and even more surprised by your request.Bit of an enigma, this Eric Dalby of yours.I’d be most intrigued to know where he got his information from.”

“So would we,”Alf conceeded,“What have you found out?”

“Firstly, that Vivian Standish did give birth to a son within nine months of your relationship ending.His date of birth matches that of Owen Arthur Dalby, father of Eric Dalby.Adoption records are somewhat sparse but it does appear that the two families knew each other and, from the people I’ve spoken to, Owen Dalby was adopted.”

“So, you’re saying that it’s true?Eric Dalby is my grandson?”

“So far as I can tell, yes.”

“What about the other thing he said?”asked Ailsa,“About Sally?”

“Ah yes.That one took a bit more digging but I found it eventually.”Morag extracted another sheet of paper from her files.“Sally Louise Copeland, daughter of Aaron Copeland and Diane Copeland, nèe Keating.Born on the same day as her twin brother Miles and on the same day as Sally Louise Fletcher, formerly Sally Keating.If I were a betting person, I’d say the chances are he was right about that as well.”

Ailsa looked at Alf.“So maybe everything else he told us was true.”

“Other worlds?”Morag looked amused.“Well, that’s one part of his story that my researches couldn’t confirm.”

“All the same,”Alf commented,“I think we need to have a word with young Ric.”

“Well, that’s up to you.I trust you’ll agree I adequately fulfilled the task you set for me?”

“Yeah, course, Morag.”Alf got to his feet, showing her to the door.“Thanks for all your help.”

“Happy to be of service, Alfred.”Morag paused in the doorway.“Perhaps you won’t leave it so long before your next phone call.”

“Come in, ah, Ric,”Alf greeted his second unexpected visitor of the day, showing him through to the room where Ailsa was waiting.

“Thanks, um, Mr.Stewart,”Ric responded as he took his seat.

Alf paused for a moment.“Given what we’ve just found out, I think you can probably call me Grandad.If you want to.”

“Yeah, of course.”Ric glanced questiongly at Ailsa.

“We’ll stick with Mrs.Stewart for now and see where we go from there,”she told him.

Ric nodded.“Righto.So, you found out I was right?”

“We found out you’re my grandson,”Alf confirmed,“and that Sally has a brother.But this whole other worlds thing?”

“I don’t know how else to prove it to you.Can’t you just accept for the moment that I’m right?That I grew up somewhere where everything happened differently and I don’t know what’s been going on here?”

“Okay, okay, we’ll assume that.”

“So, where you come from, we’re all there?”Ailsa asked,“That time you came round the flat, why didn’t you seem to know me?”

Ric sighed.“Because where I come from, you died, seven and a half years ago, before I came to the Bay. You had a heart condition.”

“I do have a heart condition, my daughter has it as well.We both had to have pacemakers fitted.”

Ric nodded.“In my world, you weren’t diagnosed in time.”He thought for a moment.“What about Martha? Your granddaughter?I haven’t seen her around.”

“She lives in New York with her mother,”Alf explained.

“Okay, that makes sense.So what about Sally?That guy she’s married to?”

“Kiaran?”Alf asked.

It took Ric a moment to place the name but then he remembered what his Sally had told him once.“Kiaran Fletcher?The guy she almost married?About eight years ago, she found out at the altar that he’d tried to cheat on her.”

Alf and Ailsa exchanged a glance for a moment.“That happened,”Ailsa confirmed,“In the middle of the service, Gypsy stood up and said he’d tried it on with her and Hayley backed her up, said she’d seen it happen.There was pandemonium, her brothers looked as though they wanted to hit Kiaran there and then but she told them all it didn’t matter and just went ahead with it.No-one could believe it.”

Ric shook his head in bewilderment.“But Sal was always so strong.Why would she do that?”

“I think it was that house,”Alf explained,“He’d bought the caravan park for her, for them to live in.It was what she’d always wanted, raising a family of her own there.And then, less than a year after they married, she got cancer and had to have a hysterectomy.We hardly see her these days, it’s like she’s a shadow of her former self.She’s either shut up in that house or at the school doing the bare minimum.”

“In my world, she fostered.And she was married to Flynn, Flynn Saunders.”He saw the lack of recognition in their faces.“He was a doctor at…No, wait.”Ric struggled to remember his town history. “When he first came to the Bay, he was working as a counsellor at the Drop-In Centre.”

The phrase seemed to spark something off in Ailsa’s mind.“Mitch, who used to live with us.He tried to set up a drop-in centre.But he couldn’t find anyone to run it.”

It took a moment for it to all click into place for Ric.“The Sutherlands.In my world, you sold the caravan park to them, not to Sally and Kiaran.”

“Sutherland…”Alf mused over the name for a moment.“There was a Sutherland, ex-Aussie Rules player. He was willing to pay the full asking price and Joel Nash, my partner, wanted to accept it but I wanted Sally to have it, I talked him round.”

Ric nodded eagerly.“It was Shelley Sutherland who ran the Drop-In Centre.And it was Dani Sutherland who got you back in touch with Viv before she died, that’s how you found out about me.”

Alf took this in.“In that case, there’s just one thing I don’t understand.You’re saying that you’re not the Eric Dalby that we’ve known these past four years, you’re some duplicate of him that grew up in another universe?”

“Basically, yeah.”

“So, if you’re here, where’s he?”

Ric stopped, thinking.The thought had crossed his mind a few times but he’d always pushed it aside.“I don’t know for sure,”he said at last,“But, if I’m here…maybe he’s where I’m supposed to be.”

A world away, Alf, Miles and Matilda were looking through a glass partition at a boy tied to a hospital bed.“Are you sure all that’s necessary?”Alf asked.

The psychiatrist nodded.“Every time he’s been released he’s become violent.The police said he was extremely aggressive when they first found him.”

“And there’s been no change?”Miles asked.

“None at all.He insists he only kicked that couple’s door down because he lived there.He insists that you’re not his grandfather, Mr.Stewart, and that his father’s still alive.He claims he doesn’t even know you, Mr.Copeland.”He looked at Matilda.“The only one he responds to is you.”

“Can I see him?”Matilda asked.

“Not just yet, he’s still being assessed.We’ll let you know as soon as possible.”

And on the other side of the partition, Dalby stared in confusion at their concerned faces, wondering what insane world he’d suddenly found himself in.

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Thanks for your comments, guys.Hope you like this one.


Ric had thought that having Alf and Ailsa onside and a few of the others viewing him with less suspicion than before would have reduced his trepidation.But once again, he found himself unsure what reception he was going to get.Getting the cold shoulder from her was the last thing he wanted.

He gave two quick knocks on the door before heading in.Sally and Kiaran were in the kitchen and looked none too pleased at the intrusion.“I thought I told you to stay out,”Kiaran told him angrily.He took a step forward, looking ready to try and remove him by force again.

Ric ignored him, looking past him to Sally.“Please, Mrs.Fletcher…Sally.”Treat her as he would his own Sally.It was the only thing he could think of.“I just need to talk to you.”

“Let him say his piece, Kiaran,”Sally suggested.

Kiaran looked unhappy about the decision but apparently decided it wasn’t worth arguing about.“Okay.”

Ric walked over to the pair.“Sally, I don’t know how to convince you of this but I know how things could have been for you.You didn’t have to end up on your own like this.You were meant to foster me.And Cassie.”

“Cassie’s happy enough with Irene,”Sally protested.

“Yeah but are you happy?”

“We talked about fostering…”

“We decided it wouldn’t be the same,”Kiaran cut in,“We wanted children of our own but that’s not going to happen.”

Sally nodded in agreement.“I wouldn’t want a child feeling like second best.”

“Did you ever feel like second best?”Ric asked her.

“No but…I’m not Pippa.”

Ric looked at her with sadness.Didn’t she even realise what she could be?“The other thing I need to tell you is about your brother.”

“I don’t have a brother.Not a real one.”

“Yes, you do.He’s your twin brother.His name’s Miles Copeland.”

“Why would my twin brother be called Miles Copeland?My name’s Sally Fletcher, I was born Sally Keating.Are you telling me he was adopted or something?”

“You were born Sally Copeland.”Ric had looked through the files Morag had given to Alf, familiarised himself with the details he hadn’t known before.“Didn’t you ever wonder why you had your mother’s maiden name?”

“My parents weren’t married until I was five.They found the marriage certificate.”

“Did they ever find your birth certificate?”

Sally floundered, uncertain.“No.We moved around a lot when I was young, no-one knew where I was registered.”

“They didn’t find it because they were looking under the wrong name.Derek Wilson was your stepfather. Your father was a man named Aaron Copeland, your mother’s first husband.You were registered as Sally Louise Copeland.Talk to Grandad, Mr.Stewart.He’s got the paperwork.”

Sally shook her head.“I’d know if I had a brother.”

Ric tried to remember how Miles had jogged Sally’s memories in his universe.He’d been busy looking after Cassie at the time, he hadn’t really paid attention.“Milco,”he said at last.

That got a reaction.“What?”

“Milco.You know that name, right?”

Kiaran was looking at her in confusion, noticing her expression.“Sal?What does he mean?”

“Milco was my imaginary friend when I was a child,”Sally explained.She looked at Ric.“How did you know about that?Did Mr and Mrs.Stewart tell you?”

“Sal, think about it,”Ric urged her,“Miles Copeland.Milco.You were separated when you were three but some part of you still remembered him.He wasn’t someone you’d made up, he was someone you’d lost.”

He thought he was getting through to her, he thought she was beginning to understand.But before she could speak, Kiaran took hold of his arm.“Look, you’re upsetting my wife.I think you need to leave.”

“No, Kiaran, wait,”Sally cut in.For the first time since Ric had come to this universe, he saw a look of genuine happiness on her face.“I remember.My third birthday.There…there was a boy next to me.It was his birthday too.He was my brother.But…what happened to him?Where is he?”

“I don’t know,”Ric replied,“He should be here.If things happened the same, then he lost his wife and daughter in the Boxing Day tsunami.He couldn’t cope and ended up on the streets.But then he found his way here, he remembered this was where you lived, came looking for you.”

“That guy?”Kiaran asked incredulously.

Both Sally and Ric turned to him.“What guy?”Sally asked.

“Some tramp.Turned up here a few months back.Asked if you lived here and told me to ask you if you knew what Milco meant.I sent him packing.”


“Oh, come on, Sal, you seriously wanted someone like that hanging around?”

“He was my brother and you sent him away?”

“A pathetic drop-out like that?You really want him as your brother?”

Ric was looking at Sally and he saw something change.All the life that had seemed to have been drained out of her had suddenly come rushing back.He saw the look of steel that she was directing at Kiaran and realised that he’d only ever seen her look at a handful of people like that.And all of them had been in trouble.“Get out, Kiaran.Pack your bags and get out.”

Kiaran stared at her dumbfounded.“Sally?”

“Right now, I never want to clap eyes on you again.”

And as Kiaran noticed the change in her, he seemed to realise that, probably for the first time in years, this was one argument he wasn’t going to win.

Thursday.The day Ric had been dreading.Despite his victories with Alf and Sally, Matilda had proved unshakeable.He stood in the living room, watching as she placed the guns and a pair of balaclavas in the bag.Ever since he’d found out what she was planning, or rather what they had been planning, Matilda and this other him, this Dalby, he’d kept dropping hints subtle and not-so-subtle, trying to convince her to change her mind.He’d even considered telling her the other universe story but somehow he felt it wouldn’t work on her.

“Mattie.”He placed a hand on her arm, stopping her work.“We can’t do this.”

Matilda looked at him in surprise.“Ric, what are you on about?”

“Robbing banks?How did it come to this?”

“Ric, it’s the only thing we can do.”

“Are you sure?I mean, have you tried anything else?”

“Going to work, getting a job?This whole town hates us, Ric, or haven’t you noticed?This whole pathetic town thinks it’s better than us when really we’re the ones who are better than them.I am not going to spend one more minute here than I have to.”

“Matilda, going into a bank and waving a gun about could get people hurt or killed.Us included.”

“Well, that’s a risk I’m prepared to take.”

“Fine.”Ric walked away from her and sat on the sofa, arms folded.“Well I’m not doing it.”

Matilda stared at him in a mixture of surprise and annoyance.“Ric!”

“I meant it, Mattie, I’m not doing this.”

“Fine.”She picked up the bag and headed for the door.

Ric was on his feet at once, hurrying after her.“Matilda, what are you doing?”

“What I was always going to do.Go to the bank and get some money.”

“On your own?”

“If I have to.Ric, I love you and I want to be with you but not if it means staying here.One way or another, I am out of this town tonight.”

Ric took the bag from her grasp.“All right.Let’s do this then.”

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Dalby grinned as Mattie cautiously made her way into the room.“Mattie!You got past them then!”

“They let me in, yeah.”Mattie wasn’t sure what reaction to expect.The doctors had told her that he was violent and delusional.But the fact that he seemed pleased to see her was a good sign.

Dalby gestured with his head for her to come closer.She did as instructed, taking his hand.“I knew you wouldn’t leave me in here.You’ve got to see about getting me out.”

“The doctors will let you go once they’re sure you’re better.”

“Doctors?They’re talking about all this crazy stuff!I need to get out of here now.”

“Ric, the doctors know what they’re doing.”

Dalby blinked in surprise.“Ric?Since when did you call me that?”

“Well, what should I call you?”


“Right.”Matilda remembered it was the name he’d gone by when they’d first met.Maybe this was part of the memory problems the doctors had talked about.“Dalby…they’re going to look after you.”

“Look, Matilda, do you remember what day it is?”

Matilda shrugged.“Thursday.”

“Exactly.The day before the payroll delivery.That’s when we’re meant to hit the place.If we don’t go soon, it’ll be too late.”

Mattie looked at him, confused.“Hit the place?”

“The bank, remember?”Dalby replied sharply,“It’s what we’ve been planning.Did you meet the guy with the guns?”

Mattie couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing.“You…you’re talking about robbing a bank?”

“Well, yeah.We have been talking about it for quite a while now.”

Mattie stared at him hard, as if looking at him for the first time.Then she released his hand and took a step back.She carried on walking backwards, heading for the door.“I have to go,”she stammered as she drew the door shut between them.

“That’s not Ric.”

Alf and Miles looked at Matilda in confusion.“What do you mean that’s not Ric?”Miles asked,“Who else would it be?”

“I know the doctors say he’s not well at the moment,”Alf observed gently,“But he’s still the same guy underneath.”

“No, really, he’s not,”Matilda insisted,“Come on, Mr.Stewart, when you know someone that well, when you care about them that much, you just know.That guy in that bed in there is not Ric.”

Alf glanced past her, through the glass partition, before turning his attention back to her.“Well who is he then?And where’s Ric?”

Matilda shrugged helplessly.

The only person that could have answered Alf’s question was standing with another Matilda in another universe in the entranceway to the bank.Ric stared at the gun in his hand, felt the balaclava gathered on the top of his head and wondered exactly how he’d got to this point.

Mattie gave him a reassuring smile.“You ready?”

Ric nodded.“Yeah.”


They pulled the balaclavas down over their faces and stepped into the bank.

“Nobody move!”Matilda shouted as they pointed the guns at the staff and customers.She gestured to the people queuing up.“Get down on the floor!”

“Do as you’re told and no-one’ll get hurt,”Ric echoed.

Matilda threw a bag to one of the cashiers.“Start filling that up.”

Ric threw a worried glance around the room, the worried customers keeping their heads down, the cashiers sat at their tills with their hands up as the woman Mattie had spoken to carried on stuffing banknotes into the bag.Something had to happen soon.Otherwise…

“Stay exactly where you are!”Everyone stopped as the voice boomed from outside the bank.“We know you’re in there and we have all the exits covered.Surrender now and no-one will get hurt.”

Ric and Mattie hurried over to the window.A group of police cars were parked outside, with armed officers standing in front of them.Holding the loudspeaker was the familiar figure of Peter Baker.

“What are they doing here?”Matilda asked in astonishment.

“Stopping us, I guess,”Ric answered.

Mattie shook her head.“No, that doesn’t have to happen.We can still fight our way out.”

“Well, we could try and do that,”Ric agreed,“Might even stand a chance.Except for one thing.”He nodded to the weapon in her hand.“That gun’s not loaded.”

Mattie turned to face him, a look of pure shock in her eyes.“What?”

Ric calmly pulled his mask off and dropped his gun to the floor.“Neither’s that one.”

Matilda took a step away from the window.The gun in her hand was aimed straight at him.Then she pointed it into the air, straight upwards, and pulled the trigger.Nothing happened.

The gun clattered to the floor as Mattie ripped the mask from her face, looking at him angrily.“What did you do?”

“Emptied them.When I sent you back to look for my car keys.”


“Because it was the only way to stop this.What I told you was true, Mattie, this was just asking for someone to get hurt.”

Mattie shook her head, her features still contorted in fury.“You’ve ruined everything.”

“I hope not.”Ric raised his hands as if in surrender and nodded towards the door.“Do you think we should go and explain all this to the cops before they decide to come in shooting?”

With a mutinous look, Matilda copied the gesture and headed for the door.“Don’t shoot!”Ric called out as they went,“We’re coming quietly.”

“Thanks for the tip-off,”Peter told Ric as they stood outside the bank,“We were waiting for you to make your move.You know, I wasn’t entirely sure you’d show up.”

“If I’d managed to talk her out out of it, we wouldn’t have done.”Ric took one last look at Matilda as the police car she was sat in drove away.“What’ll happen to her?”

“Well, she’s certainly earned herself some time in jail.The fact the gun wasn’t loaded will help and if you can get her family to speak up for her that might count in her favour.And she didn’t resist arrest which is a bonus.Best case scenario, she could be out in twelve months.”

Ric shook his head.“Still a long time though.”

“If you’d let things go any further, it would’ve been worse.”

“Have you got enough from me?It’s just…well, if things go well, I won’t actually be around for the trial.”

“If she pleads guilty, there’s no need for you to attend.”

“Mmm.”Ric looked at Peter, a couple of blank spaces in the picture of this universe that he’d been building up springing to mind.“Detective Baker, do you mind if I ask you something?”

“You can ask, yeah.What is it?”

“It’s about your brother Dan…”

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