Many Worlds

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It had been eight grueling months by now. Cessie leaned gently into the windowsill, directing her gaze towards the expanse of rolling green hills ahead, but her eyes were unfocused and too tired to see anything. Her cat, astutely named Cat, rubbed against her leg and purred.

“Hello, Cat,” she mouthed. Frowning briefly, she slowly pulled herself out of her window seat, starting down the hall in the direction of the kitchen. Had she fed Cat today? The days had begun to weave together into a miasma of slow mornings, even slower afternoons, and sleepless, wide-eyed nights. 

She hated being alone. She had Cat, but Cat was Cat, and as much as she loved watching him laze about the house or chase his toy mouse, or better yet, curling up with a book, a cup of tea, and Cat in her lap, she still missed Benjie’s warm, easy presence–his playful morning banter, the feeling of his arm draped casually around her waist, his breath on her neck as he breathed into her hair. The last time she saw him he’d shot her his classic, lopsided grin, winked at her with his right eye and disappeared into his isolation chamber.

Benjie had been toiling inside of the thing for years. On the outside, it resembled an imposing steel cube: there were a few rivets and structural braces here and there, a small door cut into the front, but otherwise no windows, and no other entry or exit points. Typically, when Benjie worked inside, the door was locked, and she knew better than to disturb him then. She doubted he would even hear her anyway–the chamber was an expressionless blank face, deflecting any external light or sound, resistant to all of her angry glares. He told her he locked it for her protection.

The day he disappeared, she had been pacing around frantically in the atrium surrounding it, wringing her hands and throwing nervous glances at the clock. It was well past midnight, and supper had been growing cold for hours. Finally, she reached into a nearby box labeled “In Case of Emergency,” wrestled out the key, and with trembling hands, inserted it into the handle of the door. Fingers shaking, she held her breath and turned.

Inside, the chamber was completely empty. Cessie squinted into the darkness, taking in the outlines of the room as a few beams of light from the atrium bounced dimly off the metal walls. There was nothing, and no one there. A soft, warm outline brushed past her lower left calf, and Cessie nearly crawled out of her own skin. “Cat!” she exclaimed, “what are you doing here?!” She sat down, flung her arms around Cat, and started bawling. The room was empty. She slept there on the floor overnight, crawled back into the bed that she and Benjie shared in the morning, and stayed there for the next three days. On the third morning, she pulled herself out of bed and ventured back into the chamber.

Cessie switched on a flashlight and aimed it inside. On the floor, there was a note. “Come back tomorrow at 4pm.” So she did. The next day, at 4pm, she found the same note. And the next day, and the next. Each day, she removed the scrap of paper she found, and each day, it was replaced with the same message at the designated hour. She slept in the chamber again, waited inside patiently until 4pm the next day, and nothing happened. No Benjie, no note. She cried in disbelief and hurled the flashlight against the wall. 

“What are you doing in there?” she’d asked him, after he first built the chamber. “I’m segmenting worlds,” he’d told her. She shrugged. “Cessie, every time we make some definitive measurement, we are creating one observable reality, one world that is split off from another. I think, I suspect, I hope, that if I solve a certain set of dependencies, that we’ll be able to traverse worlds.” Cessie stared at him, nodded quietly, and remained silent.

Benjie had dropped out of graduate school. Brilliant, harrowed, and discounted by his peers, Benjie had whisked Cessie away from one department over, convinced her to elope with him and secreted both of them away into the hills. Cat found them one day, wandering over to the house with casual nonchalance, eventually settling in and becoming a permanent fixture, like the settees that were there when they moved in. Benjie tinkered with the laws of physics, and Cessie tinkered with words.

The notes started changing over time. Cessie tried leaving notes in the chamber, but her questions were never answered, her messages never returned. Each note that was left designated a different time for her to return. If she remained in the chamber, no note appeared.

There were a lot of excuses to friends and relatives at first, and after a while, Cessie told them that Benjie was working on something major and needed some space. They knew Benjie well enough to stop asking.

Today was day 244. Cessie went into the kitchen, pulled out a can of cat food, and scooped it into Cat’s bowl. Cat purred and rubbed against her leg appreciatively. Cessie looked at the clock. 6pm. She walked over to the chamber and opened the door. Inside, on the floor, was a metal box with a single red button. Cessie’s mind started racing. What is this? Where is Benjie?? What did he mean by “traversing worlds?” Should she reach out to his insufferable advisor? His alienated colleagues? Should she file a missing person report? What would happen if, if….

Cat stared at her. “It’s a lot to think about,” he purred, as the tip of his tail lashed lazily behind him. Cecilia took a deep breath, stepped into the chamber, closed her eyes, and pushed the button.

About the Author: 
Pearl Wu is an immersive artist and writer based out of Berkeley, California.
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