What are the things that haunt you in the moments before you sleep?
The thing I see is me. A version of me that never met them or saw them or heard her voice when she had a little too much to drink. A version of me that had never been jealous of him, a nothing person that I let get under my skin.
The people that you let in tells you quite a lot about who you were and are. You constantly choose the wrong people to love and they crush you and you say that humanity is awful.
Perhaps. But I always see what people could be, not what they are. Am I to be faulted for letting in the broken and the damned, when everyone else walks away?
Yes. Sometimes you have to walk away.
Even if I still see her in my dreams?
She made her choices. She never loved you, or none of it would have happened. I hope you know that this fantastical alternate universe you have constructed would not have played out the way that you think.
Maybe not. But somewhere out there, you know it happened. Somewhere out there I’m with her and we’re happy and I think that’s quite enough for me.
But it’s not, is it?
Then why do you say that it is?
Because I loved her. I told her the things I never told anyone. I felt betrayed in the most horrible way. It made me think that nothing whenever told me meant anything at all. And I just…I don’t know…
It’s okay. What you need to do is accept the pain, move past the fear…and then move on. You know they say that when you remember something, you only remember the last time you remembered it?
Well I fear that you have rewritten your own past, dear boy.
What do you mean?
I mean that you fell in love with a memory of something that didn’t happen quite the way you think it did.
That’s all you have to say?
Are you completely sure you want to go through with this?
The doctor put the helmet atop his head, and within a few moments, he had no memory of the last fifteen years.
How do you feel?
Perfectly well, thank you. What’s your name, sir?
“Tell me about your dreams, Jackson.”
“Be a little more specific please.”
“Come on, Andrew, really?”
“Yes, Jackson, tell me the specifics.”
“I thought you psychologists were above dream reading?”
“Still not answering the question.”
“Fine. I do heroin.”
“And you find this to be a…pleasurable activity to pursue?”
“Not at all.”
“Then why do you dream about it?”
“I can’t really say.”
“Tell me about your day. What do you do, see hear, who you talk to.”
“As detailed as possible.”
His therapist held his pen in his left hand, prepared to start scribbling as soon as Jackson started talking, which he did with hesitation.
“Well,” he started. “I’m an accountant.”
“And quite a young one. You’re only twenty eight?”
The pen scratched across the pad, and Jackson did his best to ignore it.
“I usually get to the office at about eight in the morning.”
“Yes. And then I start. Usually have lunch about noon, home around five.”
“Usually make something to eat, watch Doctor Who and go to bed.”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“And on your days off?”
“Work about the house, little repairs and the like. And yeah I think that’s it.”
“So let me get this straight,” said Andrew the Psychologist. “That’s a week in your life.”
“Yes. I’m not ashamed.”
“Then why are you here?”
“The dreams, doctor. The dreams.”
“Right. So you have this perfectly ordinary life, and yet you dream about doing heroin. How many nights a week do you have these dreams?”
“Every night. And it’s not just about heroin, don’t be foolish. The dreams are lucid, you see. I do whatever I want.”
“So you live your another life in your head?”
“Seems that way, yes.”
“And you think that’s problematic?”
“Tell me about your college years, Jackson. Get into any trouble? Any pregnancy scares?”
“No binge drinking?”
“Of course not, don’t be stupid.”
“So you are a man without vices.”
“Then smoke this.”
The psychologist passed him a cigarette and a packet of matches. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Smoke it, obviously.”
“I just want to see.”
He tore off a match and struck it against the back. He clumsily put the cigarette in his mouth and took a drag, lighting it. He’d only ever done this in dreams, but the actions were still the same.
Jackson coughed, expelling the smoke with a violent burst. The smoke felt raw on his throat.
“Well,” Jackson said. “I quite like it.” He took another drag.
The therapist passed him a flask, and Jackson took it and drank. He could tell by the smoothness that it was an expensive whiskey.
“Have you ever drank before?”
“Not really, no.”
“So you’ve come to a psychologist, hoping for some kind of magic pill to make you all better?”
“And now you’re drinking and smoking.”
“It looks that way.”
“How does that make you feel?”
“Kind of uncomfortable, to be honest.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, you just handed me two incredibly addictive substances. I didn’t think therapy was supposed to work that way.”
“It doesn’t. This is, I would say, quite illegal.”
“So now that you’re sitting there, drinking and smoking, this is the perfect time for you to tell me about your sex life.”
“I don’t have one.”
“Rubbish. Course you do.”
“I really don’t.”
“Are you hetero?”
“Are you sure?”
“Do you have any evidence to back it up?”
Again, the scribbling on the pad.
“What do you think about my secretary?”
“She’s quite pretty.”
“So why wouldn’t you ask her on a date?”
“Probably easier to just jerk it later, isn’t it?”
Andrew did look at him that time. Jackson saw the burning point of the lit cigarette in his hand reflected in the man’s glasses. It really did suit him, the smoking and the drinking.
“So you prefer isolation and autoerotica to socializing and sex?”
“Not really. I just don’t want to bother anyone.”
Andrew stood up from his padded chair and walked to the door. He flicked the light on. Jackson looked at the pad that he had left on the chair. The man had drawn a pair of tits. Some psychologist, Jackson thought. More like a mad man with a degree.
“Erin,” he called. “Come here for a moment.”
Oh god, Jackson thought.
The petite woman walked into the now illuminated room, standing beside her employer.
“Tell me,” Andrew said. “What do you think of Mr. Jackson, here?”
“Oh it’s quite alright. Honest opinion. If he asked you on a date, would you go?”
Jackson took a drag on the cigarette, and wondered what his hair looked like. Stupid thing to think about, but there it was. At least, he thought, she blushed.
“I think so,” she said. “Is he crazy or something?”
“In fact,” his therapist said as he walked back towards the chair. “The man lives such a mundane life that the only medicine he needs are a few vices.”
“Oh,” she said. “Is that good?”
“Up to him, I suppose. So what do you think, Sir Jackson. Will you take my secretary on a date?”
“I suppose, if she wants.”
“Good. Of course she does. And Erin, please dim the light on your way back to your desk.”
She did, and closed the door behind her.
“When you go out, ask her for her number.”
“And before you go home,” the psychologist said. “Buy a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of fine whiskey.” He ripped off the top page of his notepad and this time he actually wrote something.
“Here. This is your prescription, as I’ve outlined above.”
“Good. Now start smoking, drinking, and fucking. I expect her to be wearing the same clothes tomorrow.”
“That’s a bit rude, isn’t it? She’s not a piece of meat.”
“Good, so you actually do like her. Go then, my boy, and start making mistakes.”
if anyone actually downloaded that, did you notice any formatting issues that need to be fixed before i post the next one next week?
The room held a much different energy than it had the previous week.
All he could smell was the must and faded cigarette smoke.
“Are you ready,” his uncle called from the computer desk. “Yeah,” Nathaniel answered. “I think I am.”
“Good. This goes against the rules.”
“You keep talking about rules,” Elizabeth said. “Who made them?”
“This device exists in all of the parallel dimensions in which I exist in my current profession. Myself, and other versions of myself, have laid down the rules.”
“So when we enter this other reality-“
“You will enter an identical lab, with a nearly identical version of myself. The only difference that I’ve seen in this other dimension is that your parents are alive.”
“What’s the catch?”
“They are childless, and moved to Paris.”
“So I have to get to Paris?”
“And back to the lab, in two days. That’s as long as I can keep the door open for.”
“Can’t you close it after me and the other version of you opens it back?”
“As he is his own person, you can’t count on that. Plus, there’s always the chance that he’ll simply kill you for crossing into his dimension and changing events in an unknown way.”
“Anything else I should know?”
“The people you think of as your parents have no idea who you are. You cannot tell them who you are, and you cannot tell them you are visiting them because they died in another dimension.” He looked up from the computer as though he wanted to emphasize his next point. “And you definitely can’t tell them who sent you.”
“So what,” Nathaniel said. “I can see them, but they have to be strangers? I can’t get to know them…or…anything?”
“Because this version of your parents did not want children. Imagine that a stranger came up to you right now and claimed to be your child from another earth? What would you do? You’d dismiss them as a lunatic, is what you’d do.”
He’s right, Nathaniel thought. He’s right.
But he said nothing.
The reactor booted up, and the doorway began to hum – everything began exactly as it had the first time, except when the tear happened he saw nothing except the wall opposite him. He leaned to the left, to peek around the doorframe. It was identical.
“Did anything happen?”
“Yes,” his uncle said. “It’s open.”
Nathaniel stuck out his hand for Elizabeth to grab, and he walked through the doorway.
There were several problems. The first was that since they technically didn’t exist, no forms of identification would work; simply taking a plane was out of the question.
Secondly, they had little money. Last, but not least, was that they had no idea where Natasha and David Darwin actually lived.
All of the problems were circumvented when Elizabeth suggested they take the train to Dover, take a ferry to Calais, and then get another train to Paris.
They were on the train to Paris when Nathaniel realized that nearly half of their time was gone – giving them only six hours to search – Nathaniel was almost ready to admit that he had made a grave error.
The train stopped and the twins exited into the Quartier des Arches rail station. Elizabeth was on her smart phone, which surprisingly still worked.
“It doesn’t look like they have any social media profiles,” she said. “Either that or they changed their names, which is entirely possible. Where else can we look?”
“In our world dad always wanted to be an artist. Let’s check some of the most pretentious coffee shops we can.”
They did look, but they didn’t find anything. Is personality translatable through the multi verse? Is it even possible that they are remotely similar to what I remember?
“Hold on,” Elizabeth said. “I think I found something.”
“What is it?”
“An art gallery featuring the works of one David Darwin.”
“A gallery just off the ‘Rue de Turenne.’ I think. My French is shit.”
“How far away are we?”
“It’ll take us a while, we better get started.”
“We’re running out of time. We have to get back to England.”
“We both know,” Elizabeth said. “That we aren’t going back to either England or our world.”
“Of course we are.”
“Uncle said we were no longer welcome at his home.”
“No, he said I wasn’t welcome at his home.”
“Same difference. Do you really think he’s going to sacrifice the integrity of his cold fusion reactor for us? Trust me, the door is closed. You really believed him, didn’t you?”
I did, Nathaniel thought. I really did.
Paris was a truly beautiful city – the equal of London and Rome in its age and grandeur, equal to Los Angeles and New York in youth and vibrancy.
“I can’t believe he let us go. Some guardian he is. People will ask questions. The police will get involved.”
“What’s he going to do?”
“He could get arrested.”
“I doubt it. All he has to say is that we ran away. There is no evidence to refute that, and it is the truth after all. Don’t worry about him.”
“I’m not worried.”
“Of course not.”
They walked up the Rue de Thorigny, and the gallery came into sight.
“What do we say?” He asked his sister.
“I don’t know. This was your idea, I’m just along for the ride.”
Dusk was falling around them quite slowly, a few streetlights flicked on, spreading pools of light periodically down the street. Nathaniel thought about what he was going to say, and Elizabeth trailed behind. He noticed that she wasn’t wearing black makeup any more.
He ran up the stairs, putting out his hand to open the door. Nathaniel saw a man on the other side, a man who looked very familiar with a woman at his side that looked shockingly like his twin sister.
It was like being in a dream, except far worse.
The man who was and was not his father looked at him without recognition and stuck a hand out. Nathaniel shook it. “Welcome,” David Darwin said. “Not many people showed up, so I’m glad you could make it. This is my wife, Natasha.”
“Pleased to meet you,” she said.
Nathaniel looked at his sister.
They should never have come here.
“But there’s something you haven’t answered yet, Uncle,” Nathaniel said as he looked through a doorway into another world.
“And what’s that?”
“You said parallel worlds. Does that mean what I think it means?”
Elizabeth was silent for now, and Nathaniel was thankful for it.
“Then stop screwing around and show me a world where my parents are alive.”
“Of course you can. I know you can. So why haven’t you done it already?”
“Like I said, there are rules.”
“I don’t care. I want to see them again. Just once more, please just once more.”
“Let me tell you a story,” his Uncle said. “But first I’m going to power the portal down, step away again please.”
Instead of stepping away like Elizabeth, Nathaniel moved closer. He felt a breath of wind on his back, and the heat of two alien suns on his neck. He could even smell it, smell a world that was surprisingly much like his own.
“Don’t do it Nathaniel. I can’t keep it open much longer.”
“And what happens if you do?”
“The cold fusion reactor will meltdown and this entire apartment building will cease to exist.”
“I suppose you shouldn’t have built something on this scale in your bloody house then.”
“There are bacteria in that world that would wipe out the population of Earth. Step through if you want, but know that if you do you are risking the entire human population, as well as most mammalian life.”
“I’ll risk it. Show them to me.”
“How do I know you aren’t lying?”
“You don’t, obviously.”
“Promise me that you’ll show me my parents.”
He stepped away from the doorway, and the alien forest disappeared.
“We’ll need to give the reactor a few days, and about a week for me to math it out. Elizabeth can help, to prove to you that I’m doing it. I knew,” he said as he left the lab, “that showing this to you was a mistake. You’ve got a week, Nathaniel. And then I expect that you will leave my home.”
Nathaniel agreed. It was worth it.
Thoughts of other worlds swam through his mind as he leaned on the railing of his uncles balcony, smoking a cigarette. He inhaled deeply and pulled his hood up against the chill of night. A week ago he had been living with his mother; and now here he was, watching as his uncle and sister did math to open a doorway into a new world, hopefully a better world.
He knew what he had done was wrong, but he couldn’t see another option. He drew deeply, letting the smoke burn down his throat and through his lungs. It was a good burn.
Elly came out and stood beside him. “I suppose,” he said.
“Have you got one for me?”
He passed his sister a cigarette, and pulled out one for himself.
“I remember what you told me,” Elizabeth said after she lit her cigarette. “That it would get better, eventually. Were you talking to me, or yourself?” Nathaniel noticed that she was still wearing her dark eyeliner.
The city came to life as the Earth turned its back on the sun, the city lights making their own constellations, a reflection of the thousand suns above.
“What you did was cruel.”
“I expect that you’ll apologize.”
“Not going to happen.”
“The man is brilliant, Nathaniel. He’s just as alone as we are. You keep forgetting that he lost his sister the day we lost our mother. He wanted to show us his life’s work and you spat on it.”
“And the only reason he showed us is because of what you said.”
“He would have showed us anyway.”
“Then why did you say it?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I suppose I shouldn’t have, but I was in a lot of pain. Still am.”
“I know. That makeup doesn’t suit you.”
“You always wear black eyeliner when you’re upset, Elly. You shouldn’t, because it doesn’t suit you.”
“We’ve all got our problems, brother.”
“Do you remember,” he said. “When we were twelve and dad gave us that telescope?”
“Of course I do.”
“He showed us a lot that night. All the best stuff.”
“Saturn was my favourite. She’s right there,” she said as she pointed her finger at a distant point of light in the sky. “That planet is what interested me in science. Not sure why. But it’s so alien, so beautiful, and so dead. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Everything on Earth seems so mundane until you realize that in this uni… meta-galaxy, it could be everything.”
“So you believe him then?”
“Of course I believe him.” She pitched the cigarette over the edge of the balcony. “The math works.”
“That reactor doesn’t seem big enough for what he’s doing with it.”
“I mentioned that,” Elizabeth said. “And he told me ‘even a stone knife could slay a god if you know where to strike.’”
“That’s a pretty grand statement,” Nathaniel said. “But my seven days are up. Is he done in there?”
“Yeah. Yeah, he’s done.”
“Then what are we waiting for?”
“You. He’s not very happy, so I came out to warn you. Please, this time, just listen to him.”
“Then let’s go see our parents.”
The final resting place of his mother had been dug where it ought to have been – beside his father. Nathaniel stood beside his twin sister, among a silent crowd that stood with their heads bowed as they listened to the requiem of Natasha Darwin.
He held a handful of earth in his hand, and as the song ended he let it slip through his fingers, falling through the cold air to land on the coffin that contained his mother.
They had been fatherless at twelve and now at twenty they were orphans.
In some ways it’s a blessing, he thought and never forgave himself for it. She didn’t recover from losing him.
“It’s going to be alright,” he whispered to Elizabeth. “I don’t know when, Elly, but someday it will be.”
Nathaniel looked at the headstones of his mother and father and said goodbye – London was a long wa from Liverpool, and he knew that it would be a long time before they returned here.
The rest of his family began to leave, but Nathaniel and Elizabeth stood silently by their parents.
“I hate to say it,” their uncle said. “But it’s time to go.”
Nathaniel knew that it was – they could not stand here forever, but judging by the strength that Elly was gripping his hand with, she fully intended to.
“This,” Uncle Albert said as they concluded the tour of his cramped flat. “Is my laboratory. Please don’t enter until you’ve got at least a graduate degree in physics – and it’d probably be better if you had a doctorate.”
“I’m in my third year of my undergrad,” Elizabeth said. Today she was wearing black eyeliner, and Nathaniel thought it looked quite awful but he didn’t say anything.
“Good. You’ve got a few more years to go then.”
“Why? Afraid I know more than you?”
“Oh dear,” Albert said. “No. I’m just protecting my research.”
“Well aren’t you a curious one. Still not getting an answer though.”
“Is it nuclear?”
“Much better than government buzzwords, dear niece. I expect more from you. Keep trying.”
“Have you got a computer with a quantum processor?”
Nathaniel didn’t know what they were talking about, but judging by the look in Elizabeth’s eyes a quantum whatever must have been pretty good.
“Of course not. That’s not even the tip of the iceberg though.”
“I have to know.”
“But you can’t. Maddening, isn’t it?”
“Please? My parents are dead and I’m all alone.”
“Your mother has been buried for one day and you’re already beginning to use it to manipulate family members?” Albert looked over at Nathaniel. “Your sister is a cold one, Nathaniel. Best keep an eye on her.”
But he opened the door.
“I should make you both sign confidentiality agreements, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. I can’t keep this secret much longer.”
It was easily the largest room in the flat, and all that it contained was what looked like a metal doorframe in the center, a computer off to the side, and some kind of metal dome in the far corner opposite the door. Everything was dusty.
“Sorry about the dust,” Albert said as he flicked on a light, illuminating the thick cables that stretched from the metal frame to the dome in the corner and the battered hardwood floor. “Had a bit of an accident.”
Nathaniel watched Elizabeth. She had immediately moved to the dome in the corner. “No,” she said. “You can’t have.”
“Of course I have. You can’t believe everything they teach you at school.”
“This is a cold fusion reactor.”
“And this,” she said as she followed the cabling to the metal doorframe in the middle of the room. “This is a magnet, same poles touching.” She stuck a hand between the two. “Quite powerful.”
“You know a surprising amount for an undergrad.”
“Can someone please tell me what’s going on?”
They both looked over at him. He always knew his sister was brilliant and that his uncle was even more so but listening to the two of them was exhausting. All he wanted to do was remember his parents in solitude.
“Uncles been playing with the fundamental forces of the universe,” Elizabeth said. “But to what end, I can’t figure out.”
“The universe,” Albert said. He moved to the swivel chair in front of the computer and sat down. “Tell me what the universe is, Ms. Elizabeth Darwin.”
“All of creation. Every planet, star, and galaxy that we can see, and all those we can’t.”
“I am not wrong.”
“You have described a meta-galaxy. Not a universe.”
“Then what is a universe?”
“A collection of meta-galaxies, each of which is infinitely large. The ‘universe’ as you described it is simply one meta-galaxy.”
“It’s fine. This is a bit beyond most of humanity.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
Elizabeth looked as arrogant as she usually did. “The weakest of the fundamental forces. And I don’t see the connection.”
“Gravity is the thread that binds parallel universes together. Gravity is the force that keeps the meta-galaxies together, and thus the entire universe. Much stronger than you can possibly imagine.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t. Because you’re arrogant. I’d tell you to learn some humility but you will in a few minutes.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I am going to rip space apart and create a wyrmhole between two meta-galaxies.”
“I doubt it.”
“Like many things, it doesn’t matter if you doubt it or not. It’s still going to happen.”
“Then show me.”
Albert spun on his chair, and began typing into his computer. Slowly, the lab began to come to life.
“The meta-galaxy I am about to show you is far lower on the hierarchy than our own – which is good, because travelling upwards is forbidden. Step away from the Gravity Wyrm.”
“Stupid name,” Elizabeth said.
“Then come up with a better one.”
Not for the first time, Nathaniel wished he had a mind capable of understanding physics.
Everything was vibrating, including the floor under his feet. He looked into the ‘Gravity Wyrm,’ and saw a point of white light in the center of it, which soon began to expand.
“I don’t believe it,” Elizabeth said.
The point soon became a tear, and light from another world poured into the laboratory of Arthur Darwin.
Nathaniel took a step forward. He could see that they had a view of a forest. I don’t believe it either, he thought. But I sure as hell want to see it.
“Nathaniel, stop. There are rules.”
He ignored his uncle, and stepped through the doorway into another world.
so today i found this thing called an electronic cigarette