I submitted my latest research paper on the theoretical existence of alternate realities this morning. It is an extension of my work on Multiverse Theory, exploring the intersection of quantum mechanics and cosmology. I must admit, I’ve always found the prospect of parallel universes fascinating—the idea that there could be truly infinite variations of us, living out distinct lives in separate, isolated dimensions.
My colleagues are intrigued but remain skeptical, overall. That’s academia for you. I don’t blame them—such is the glory of the scientific method which brought me here. Regardless, I eagerly await the feedback from the first step of the journal’s peer-review process.
I received the reviewers’ comments on my paper today. As is typical in this field, there are mixed opinions. While some are supportive of my theoretical framework, others question the validity of my conclusions. I cannot help but feel weighed down by this frustration. The equations are there. The data is there. P ≥ 0.05, indeed. But I know deep within me that I am onto something. Something big. Something hitherto unnoticed about the universe itself. I must persevere and continue my research, doubters be damned!
Lately, I have been experiencing vivid dreams about experiences in alternate realities. Last night, I dreamt that I was a concert pianist, performing in a grand concert hall filled with a captivated audience. It felt so real, as if I was truly there, living that life. Intriguingly, my lucid dreaming techniques do not work in any of them. These dreams are becoming more numerous.
I have been pouring over my numbers. I’m convinced as ever that I’ve gleaned a method to access alternate realities. The data suggests that one can create a bridge between our reality and another that lies parallel. The potential applications of this technology are mind-boggling. I will begin preparations for an experiment immediately.
My prototype and experiments are progressing. Slowly. I have had to adapt my methodology frustratingly often. I’ve observed unusual phenomena during testing: a quicksilver mirage all about. I have yet to establish a stable connection.
My colleagues have voiced concern about my well-being. Good on them. But I cannot be distracted. I am so close to making a breakthrough. It is electrifying.
Eureka! Success! I have successfully opened a portal—a tear, really—to another reality. The experience was brief, fleeting, but the proof is undeniable. I witnessed a world where our university does not exist, replaced by a vast, untouched forest. I must refine my methods to allow for a more stable connection. Soon the world will see the true shape of existence. And it is beautiful!
My attempts to replicate the experiment have been fruitless. Each time I try, I am met with some failure or another.
I’ve been noticing my colleagues… whispering. It’s not a good feeling. I’ve grown isolated. But I cannot afford to waver. The promise is that great. I must continue my work.
I remain haunted by the other realities, tauntingly just outside my grasp. The dreams have intensified, blurring the lines between reality and the fantastical, as my mind, my memories, my values all shift with each swap of perspectives between different selves. I fear that my mind is unraveling, but I can’t stop. The truth is out there. I can grasp it.
The struggle to replicate my initial success has been an exercise in frustration. The variables in my experiments seem to shift with each attempt, as if the multiverse itself stifles my efforts. I have become reclusive. All my waking hours outside of teaching are dedicated to refining my methodology.
My colleagues have stopped speaking to me. Their skepticism glowers. But no matter. I have come this far. I can endure it.
I find it now… difficult… to discern the boundaries between dreams and reality. The other universes I have glimpsed (I’ve lost count several times now) seem to bleed into my subconscious, creating a truly disorienting tapestry of experiences that leaves me…
The dreams are more vivid. These nightly walkabouts between universes are simultaneously a source of comfort and torment. They serve to remind me of the possibilities that lie just beyond my reach. And I am reminded of all possibilities, good and bad. All possibilities.
Today’s experiment was cataclysmic. The apparatus malfunctioned, resulting in a small explosion in the lab. Thankfully, no one was injured. However, the damage to the school’s equipment and lab space is… noticeable. I am disheartened. The faculty will question me. I must produce tangible, replicable results. The atmosphere at the university is now oppressive, suffocating.
I no longer dream.
It has become too much. Peer review has been in vain. So I’ll present my findings to my graduate students in today’s seminar. Their youthful enthusiasm and keen minds may provide fresh perspectives on the multiverse, and perhaps they will suggest approaches that have evaded me thus far. I taught them, after all.
I no longer sleep. In the darkest hours of the night, I am haunted by the possibility that my theorems and equations are merely the products of a fevered imagination. Am I another Wellington’s farcical idea of what it is to be a scientist? My dreams, when I had them, became tainted by some imp hissing quackery. Relentless torment!
No. No, no. I must persevere, as I always have. Just keep it together. This will be my crucible—a test by common sense of my findings. I taught them, after all. If I cannot reject the null hypothesis, well then, I must confront the terrible possibility that I have been chasing quicksilver. I must apologize to my aging parents. This feels like dementia.
But I’m keeping it together…
* * *
The scene Wellington’s students saw had never happened before in this hall. Their professor had always been here this close to the start of class. It had been that way for years. Dr. Wellington was always—always—ten minutes early to his lectures. Whispers grew, gossiping. They all claimed one bad thing or another had happened: a car crash, food sickness, a death in the family, the death of Dr. Wellington, even! But what they saw was somehow worse than any of that.
The clock struck three. With haggard expression and haggard clothes, Dr. Arthur Wellington stumbled into the lecture hall, looking more like Cosmo Kramer than a prodigy with early tenure. His hair was a mess of tangles. Dark circles clung beneath bloodshot eyes, now more red than white. He clutched a stack of disorganized papers and notes in a manilla folder, their edges frayed.
As this stranger made his way to the podium, the students exchanged uneasy glances. The air in the room was thick with anticipation, punctuated by the faint scratching of pen on paper as a few diligent students took notes through their initial shock.
“Wellington,” the professor began, his voice trembling with urgency, “has made a… a significant discovery. Yes, he has—I daresay it is a breakthrough of… unparalleled importance.” He glanced around the room, but nobody got his joke. Oh, of course, they didn’t know yet—but they were about to. His gaze darted from one wide-eyed student to the next, as if searching for hidden adversaries and confederates. “And I have decided, in light of these… extraordinary findings, to abandon our scheduled lesson. Instead, I shall share with you the fruits of my research: the key to unlocking the mysteries of the multiverse.”
His claim was met with a balking crowd. This crowd had never balked before.
With a frenzied energy, Wellington pivoted to the blackboard and began to scribble violently, desperately. For twenty minutes he worked until he had filled the lecture hall blackboard with complex equations and diagrams—most of which were alien. The normally taciturn man’s voice grew louder, impassioned, as he explicated, as he revealed the tear in space-time, and his every resulting glimpse into different Earths, different universes. His voice was ragged from sleeplessness. The students, mouths all agape, exchanged disconcerted looks throughout. This was something of a departure from the professor they grew to know. Tension and concern for this academic’s mental state heightened by the second.
With a flourish, Wellington stepped back from the blackboard, his hands, his face, his whole front powdered with chalk. Now they knew. “Q.E.D.,” he proclaimed. His tired eyes were now wide and wild, “the formula that will reshape our understanding of the cosmos!” He turned to face his expectant audience.
Sleeplessness blurred his vision, but everything eventually came back into focus. Wellington surveyed the room, his triumphant grin cracked and crumbled into a frown. His lecture hall was impossibly silent. The desks were vacant. The chalky air hung still. Only the faint echo of his great proclamation remained—another impish hissing, no doubt. Quicksilver stirred. Or was it tears? He would continue, just as he told himself over the course of so many weeks.
“Wellington has ventured into the depths of the quantum realm. Wellington explored the very fabric of spacetime itself. You see? You see, my dear students, the key lies in the manipulation of matter’s constituent parts at the Planck scale—that infinitesimal level at which all conventional models of physics break down. It is here,” he gestured all around to an audience of chairs and desks, “within the confines of the quantum foam, that the seeds of alternate universes reside.”
He had to continue, his words tumbling forth now like a deluge. Someone had to know. “The apparatus’ intricate assembly of superconducting magnets, quark oscillators, and particle defragmenters—is designed to probe these minute fluctuations, all in line with the equations’ predictions here, that we may tease out the space-time membrane that binds our reality (all realities, really) to countless, countless others. It’s Hilbert’s Grand Hotel all the way down!”
His lecture mutated into self-indulgent monologue. His dry, overtaxed throat became wet again—wet and a bit sticky. “By harnessing the elusive energies of the naturally occurring quarktasmic flux, the user can pierce the veil that separates our world from the myriad realms that lie just beyond our perception. You see? You see. You see, the key is to attune the harmonics of the extradimensional resonator, to synchronize its vibrations with the undulating arrhythmia of that great turbulence we can call the Cosmic Aether.”
His voice rose in pitch. His throat grew dry again—surely, too much chalk dust, surely—the remaining chalk in his hand snapped under the desperate pressure of his grip. He continued holding the nub. They almost understood. Almost. Then his peers, all of academia, would see what quality of physicist he had become. Perhaps he could receive two fields medals this year! Once they saw. It was all here on the blackboard, now more chalk than blackboard.
“It is through this delicate quantum harmonization, that we can breach the walls of the structure of this universe, opening a gateway into the vast unknown—I did say a breach, but it’s more a tear that spans the gulf between universes’ space-time membranes, connecting this world and the infinite expanse of the intercosmic tapestry.”
He turned in earnest. By now, speckly vermillion trails broke up the otherwise chalky coating around his mouth and down his front. A raw, bleeding pharynx was just collateral damage so that the chairs and desks in the lecture hall could see what Wellington saw. Somebody should.
As his monologue careened ever deeper away into mad ramblings, Wellington’s once plausibly coherent explications fully dissolved into a sloppy word salad of patently fabricated terms and fantastically fictional concepts. The air in the lecture hall grew heavy. The chalk clouds finally settled to coat the whole of the hall in powdery white. The tenured professor’s words echoed through the vacant room. If there were an onlooker at this point, they might liken it to the distant cries of a man lost in the outback of his own mind. But not even Wellington himself could recognize Wellington anymore, and Wellington wasn’t there. There was no onlooker. There was no observer. Because in order to overcome Heisenberg’s threshold there could be no observer. There was a drift.
* * *
A moment of clarity—blessed, blessed clarity—struck. A self-realization unfolded like the slow decay of a subatomic particle, a cascade of collapsing wave functions within Wellington’s ever-tearing psyche. At first, he perceived only the odd absence of all his students mid-lecture. Their once-eager faces had been replaced by the stark, bleak emptiness of the abandoned lecture hall. A creeping sense of confusion gripped him, and all he could do in reaction was grip himself. After a while, he wanted to move. But he could not move. So he gripped himself ever more tightly. But this in turn gave way to a truly putrid revelation: the impish hissing had won, hadn’t it?
Time slipped. Wellington’s awareness expanded. The blackboard, just now adorned with the nigh-alchemical scrawling his fevered mind produced, evaporated into the aether. The very walls of the lecture hall shifted and bent—they appeared to be closing in around him. The room contracted, continuing to collapse upon itself until just Wellington stood within the confines of a small, sanitized room. A small, sanitized cell.
The sudden taught weight of the straight jacket bore down upon his shoulders and chest, its canvas straps had dug into his flesh. But he writhed and writhed in the grip of this new perception. His was a brilliant mind, a powerful intellect. Arthur Wellington was now at the mercy of that powerful, broken intellect. His clear, measured thoughts replaced with a cacophony of chaos and confusion. He cried out, his voice hoarse with overuse and desperation. “This is not Wellington’s reality! This? This?!”
Following his ragged, anguished cry, a team of orderlies burst into the room, their faces a blur (everything a blur) as they rushed to subdue the tormented academic. One shouted something to the other, his voice inaudible above the wailing of Wellington’s frenzy. A needle pierced his neck and something cool flowed into his veins. This vision of this hell, riddled with quicksilver, began to fade, just like his apparatus, he noted. It was his final note.
* * *
Dr. Arthur Wellington, bursting at the seams with bubbling excitement, settled himself down into his worn leather armchair. The dim light of the study cast a warm glow over the room. Shadows cast from the light danced along the walls as the fire crackled in the hearth. He took a deep breath, savoring the familiar scent of aged books and his calming pipe tobacco that filled the air.
He reached for his leather-bound journal, its pages crisp and inviting. A good scientist takes good notes, after all. He uncapped his favorite fountain pen, its nib gleaming gold in the firelight, and began to make history as he composed his first entry for this new volume. He planned his words carefully. The promise of a truly groundbreaking discovery that could very well herald a paradigm shift in science, a possibility to reveal the hitherto hypothetical multiverse’s mysteries, lay before him. A tantalizing feast for a scientist, which this Wellington never doubted himself to be.
His pen raced across the page to note the date first: February 5th. This was the moment, this was the day, of Arthur Wellington’s triumph—of science’s triumph.
* * *
A cold, overbearing light hung above. It constantly stung—slightly, so slightly—on exposed skin. But Arthur didn’t care. Arthur was not there. Wellington was not there. Not anymore. The man laughed—a hollow, ringing laugh devoid of all humor, all irony, all levity. The once-distinguished tenured Doctor of Physics now sat on tiled floor, hunched over, restrained in a white suit made just for him. What sat in that room was a grotesque caricature of the mind he had once been.
The man’s eyes, once glinting with intellectual curiosity, now peered about vacantly into his room’s void. A thin trail of drool constantly traced its way down his chin. His face stuck in a twisted smile—one that belied the turbulent tempest within a genius prodigy’s torn psyche. Echoes of his laughter, once filled with feeling, with the joy of discovery, reverberated through bleak corners of a nameless asylum, somewhere in the multiverse, made just for people like him. If anyone could remember him, and not even the man himself could now, it would be as a haunting reminder of the price one Dr. Arthur Wellington unwittingly paid in his wanton pursuit of the ultimate truth: a Hilbert’s Grand Hotel’s worth of deluded fiction.
This story previously appeared in Alchemy Literary Magazine, Issue 49.
Edited by Mitchelle Lumumba.