Your rating: None
Average: 3 (1 vote)
Gran died on a Wednesday, but lucky for us she was back within a week.
When she knocked on the door, Olivia and I were eating dry cereal. Olivia was using her hands, which was a special thing she got to do when Mom was away. Other special things included Olivia wearing her ballet shoes to the grocery store and me getting in trouble when her arabesque knocked over twenty-seven soup cans.
Anyway, Olivia sashayed over to the door, her fist still full of Froot Loops. I think Mom told us not to answer the door, but I forget about things like that a lot. Besides, when I heard Olivia yelling about how happy she was to see Gran, I knew it was fine.
And then, of course, I realized it wasn’t exactly fine at all.
“Hello, darlings,” Gran said, smiling at me as she shuffled into the kitchen. I kind of gagged on my cereal, which I’m sure looked disgusting, but she didn’t have her glasses on anyway. “What are you ladies up to?”
“You were DEAD!” Olivia declared, pas-de-chatting gleefully around Gran. “And there was a big old funeral, and we all wore black and cried about you, and Mom got really angry at Uncle James for having it in a church, and I ate six different kinds of cookies!”
“How nice,” Gran said. She still had the morgue makeup on, so her face looked all weird and smooth, like she was a mime. The more she talked, the more it cracked. “Where’s your mother?”
“How did you – what?” I managed to choke out. “But ­– wha – we buried you really deep –” I faltered, realizing how that sounded. Hi, Gran, great to see you, we buried you really deep!
Gran squinted. “Ann, what are you talking about? Is this an Internet thing?” She shook her head. “I don’t understand half of what kids say nowadays.”
“Lemme take your purse!” Olivia shouted, yanking it from her hands. I hadn’t noticed it before, but now that I looked, there it was. Olivia began to stick her pudgy forearm into its depths to plumb for the usual surprise presents Gran usually brought her, but I shot her a look and she withdrew.
“How did you get here?” I asked, sweeping Froot Loop crumbs off Olivia’s placemat.
Gran smiled. “I drove, of course.”
I couldn’t remember hearing car noises, but when I glanced out the front window her Chevy was sitting on the driveway, sickeningly lilac as ever. I felt tired all of a sudden.
“Oh,” I said. “Okay.”
“Let’s play Candyland!” Olivia yelled, jumping up and down with her feet in second position, Gran’s purse hugged to her chest.
“Actually, honey, I think I’m going to lie down for a bit,” Gran said. My stomach lurched at the phrasing, but Olivia didn’t seem to notice.
“Aww,” she muttered.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Gran needs some rest.” Another stomach lurch. “Why don’t we let her nap in the guest room, and we can wake her when Mom gets home?”
“Thank you, Ann.” Gran smiled again; flakes of her makeup fluttered to the tile floor.
I followed her down the hallway to see her to her room. The second she closed the door behind her, Olivia started yelling.
“What is it?” I hissed, thumping back into the kitchen. Olivia was standing next to the table and clutching at her face, the purse on the ground in front of her.
“There’s a cat in there,” she whimpered, backing up against the table.
“A cat?” I bent down and picked up the purse.
“No!” Olivia whined, plunking down on her bottom and scooting under the table. “No no no no no!”
I looked down. The purse was empty. I stuck my hand in it, rummaged around a little. Still nothing.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, turning the bag upside down and shaking it.
“There was a cat,” she said, sticking her thumb in her mouth, which she’s too old to do, but Mom wasn’t home anyway. “A dead cat. I thought there must have been something little in there, because it didn’t make any noise when I shook it, but then I opened it and saw – the – saw the –”
Her words tapered off into terrified sobbing that might have been fake but probably wasn’t. I shut the purse and looked into it again. Still no cat.
“Olivia? There’s nothing in here.”
She frowned, her lower lip jutting out, and snatched the bag from my hands. She closed it, then squeezed her eyes shut, holding her breath with her cheeks puffed up.
Olivia flung the purse open, and a cat sprung out. It was a calico, long-furred and slinking, and it yawned and set to licking its leg.
Olivia screamed.
“This isn’t right,” I mumbled.
“Mom’s allergic,” Olivia whispered, holding the purse to her chest. The cat finished cleaning its leg and began work on its large, magnificent tail. My heart was pounding hard enough to make my chest ache and my fingers throb.
“I have to go check on Gran,” I said, leaping up from the floor. I don’t know why I did it, but something told me I had to, and that was what Mom was always telling us: trust our instincts. A cat knows what to do because its brain has been sharpened to a point by thousands of years of evolution. I know what to do because Mom left me instructions, although I don’t know when she’ll be back.
The guest room was a sealed box at the end of the hall. My back was to the kitchen. In my head, I saw everything layered over everything, Olivia with and without a cat, Mom home and not home, Gran dead and not dead, none of them existing. At the funeral, the pastor had talked about believing in what we couldn’t see. I closed my eyes. I didn’t believe a thing.
About the Author: 
I am a seasoned traveller through both space (terrestrial, limited range) and time (standard rate, forward only). I play 2.5 instruments and speak 1.25 languages. I am not tall.
Share this fiction

Quantum Theories: A to Z

A is for ...
Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

G is for ...

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

Q is for ...
Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

S is for ...

Researchers are harnessing the intricacies of quantum mechanics to develop powerful quantum sensors. These sensors could open up a wide range of applications.

F is for ...
Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

P is for ...
Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

D is for ...

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

K is for ...

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

S is for ...
Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

M is for ...

Quantum physics is the study of nature at the very small. Mathematics is one language used to formalise or describe quantum phenomena.

I is for ...

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer

P is for ...

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

M is for ...

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

S is for ...
Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

U is for ...
Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

V is for ...
Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

A is for ...

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

B is for ...
Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

E is for ...

As the world makes more advances in quantum science and technologies, it is time to think about how it will impact lives and how society should respond. This mini-documentary by the Quantum Daily is a good starting point to think about these ethical issues. 

X is for ...

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

Z is for ...
Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

D is for ...

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

L is for ...

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

K is for ...

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a way to create secure cryptographic keys, allowing for more secure communication.

W is for ...

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

E is for ...

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

Y is for ...
Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

M is for ...
Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

T is for ...

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. On microscopic quantum scales, this seems less certain. A recent experiment shows that the forward pointing of the arrow of time remains a fundamental rule for quantum measurements.

R is for ...

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

R is for ...

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

L is for ...
Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

U is for ...

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

O is for ...
Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

B is for ...
Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

N is for ...

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

W is for ...
Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

S is for ...

The feature of a quantum system whereby it exists in several separate quantum states at the same time.

Q is for ...

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

I is for ...

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

J is for ...
Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics and is a technology to build qubits for quantum computers.

G is for ...

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

C is for ...

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now. This column from Quanta Magazine ​delves into the fundamental physics behind quantum computing.

T is for ...

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

H is for ...
Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

C is for ...

The most precise clocks we have are atomic clocks which are powered by quantum mechanics. Besides keeping time, they can also let your smartphone know where you are.

H is for ...
Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

A is for ...
Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

T is for ...
Time travel

Is time travel really possible? This article looks at what relativity and quantum mechanics has to say.

T is for ...

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

C is for ...

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

Q is for ...
Quantum States

Quantum states, which represent the state of affairs of a quantum system, change by a different set of rules than classical states.

Copyright © 2024 Centre for Quantum Technologies. All rights reserved.