Second Place in WDC Inspirational Quote contest.
An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.
Will I die? he thought to Her.
There is no such thing as death, She whispered.
He took her hand and stepped across…
“Tap, tap, tap…”
He ran through the house frantically looking for her. Flames peaked from under every door. Smoke clogged the infinitely long hallway.
He couldn’t move fast enough. The harder he tried, the slower he went. The air felt thick.
Walls began to collapse around him. He stood untouched amidst the chaos as She perished alone somewhere within the inferno; unseen, unheard and unsaved. There would be no last kiss.
He blinked up into the light. Confusion dissolved into the realization that he had done it again. Patrick rolled down his window and offered the uniform a mumbled excuse about a nap. Satisfied, the officer told him to move along.
I can’t go on like this much longer,
How many times this week had he found himself in front of what was now nothing more than a vacant lot with a street number? Only a few short weeks ago it had been a home; their home.
It was only mildly disturbing to him that he never remembered how he got there. Patrick, ever analytical, considered the possibilities. He probably just drove there out of habit. At the other end of the likelihood scale was Sarah. Had she somehow reached across the Great Divide to pull him closer to her?
“Sarah, are you out there? Are you trying to reach me? Tell me what to do. I need you back. I am so lost without you. I miss you so much.”
It may have been the wind or the sound of the tires on the road. It could have been any number of things. But it wasn’t. Patrick recognized it for what it was; the sound of Her voice.
I miss you too, whispered through his mind.
He let the tears come.
Later that night, he lay in bed trying to rationalize the experience. Could he be so lost in grief that he was hearing things that weren’t there? No, it had definitely happened - maybe. The only thing he knew with certainty was he wanted it to have happened. He missed her so much that even an imagined whisper as light as a tissue brought him relief from his grief.
He reached over to turn off his nightlight when a movement caught his eye. The curtains fluffed as if in a slight breeze. Patrick froze. He knew the window was closed. There was no breeze.
He felt a coolness sweep across his cheek.
I am here.
He knew he’d heard it that time.
“Is that you, Sarah?”
A chill filled the room. Patrick could see his breath condensing in the air.
“Sarah, I don’t think I can go on much longer. I am afraid that I might take my own life. My grief is just too much.”
It is not your time yet. You will not be allowed to cross over in that manner.
“But what can I do? This is too much for me to bear.”
After a pause, There is a way. I will help you to find it.
They talked through the night.
Thus began what would come to be known as Patrick’s Big Idea.
At work, everyone noticed the change. How could they not. He came to work one day and took his research in a whole new direction. Before, he had studied the mathematically broad world of quantum mechanics. Now, he began to focus on a very narrow field called quantum tunneling; the theoretical condition where one solid object could pass unhindered, through another.
He’d simply walked into the lab and said, “I have an idea.”
The other researchers had looked up briefly before being reabsorbed into their own research. Lots of people at the lab had ideas. That was what they were there to do. So Patrick had an idea. Big deal.
Patrick’s idea was to find a way to use quantum tunneling to go through the one barrier that was both, impenetrable and yet porous enough to allow every being on Earth to pass through. He had to find a way to consciously pass between the membrane separating life and whatever comes next.
It wasn’t long before it became more than just a “big deal.” It wasn’t his research that began to draw the attention of those around him. It was his increasingly odd behavior.
“Yes. I can see where you are going with this. I should charge the muons before applying spin? I never would have thought of that.”
It was as if he was working with someone that only he could see and hear.
At first, the others were impressed. Patrick, it seemed, was taking on some “Mad Scientist” eccentricities. The others were naturally envious of anyone that could get that caught up in their work.
They didn’t start to worry until he began to pantomime interaction with his invisible lab partner.
He was often seen walking as if he were holding someone’s hand. He would reach out to nothing, seemingly to stroke a face or brush back someone’s hair. It was starting to get weird.
He paid no attention to his coworkers, becoming progressively more detached from those around him. His work and “invisible” lab partner drew him in. He knew who he was working with and that was enough.
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. The calendar rolodexed through time, unnoticed by Patrick, so deep was he into his research. Thoughts of cleanliness, food and even sleep rarely entered his mental landscape.
“Yes, Sarah. I see now. No, that won’t work but I can try this…”
He’d never been happier. Sarah was the one thing in life he loved more than his work. Now, she’d joined him. Together, they were better than apart. What one missed, the other understood. Perfect complements in mind and soul. Their existences fit together like the pieces of an intricate puzzle.
And, they were making progress.
Within the lab, coworkers resisted the temptation to treat him and his quirky behavior as a joke. There was always the chance that he was onto something important. They watched him with respectful disdain.
As had become his habit, Patrick tilted his head slightly to the right and started off into space. Finally, “So if I divide through by the integral of the probability function, the quotient will serve as the limit to the…”
He scribbled furiously.
Contemporaries had once spent time examining his notes, hoping for a glimpse into the withdrawn mind of the brilliant Doctor Patrick Sheffield. None had been able to follow the math for more than just a page or two.
The years went by, the pages of math piled up.
From time to time, Sarah would leave him alone. It was never for very long. During those times, he would drift off into a dreamlike state. Handwritten notes would float up around him in a whirlwind. They flew past him in an ever-widening circle until plastered against the walls of his laboratory. At those times, he would search frantically to find the last sheet; to continue where he had left off. Panic would grip him.
“Sarah, where are you?”
I’m back. It’s okay. Here, let me hold you. It’s going to be alright.
Once, when he had found himself alone, Patrick had a vision where the walls were papered with his calculations. There was a lone window, which remained somehow uncovered. Walking over, he found that he couldn’t see out through the frosty glass although his reflection was clearly visible. He felt surprise at what he was seeing. His frame looked thin and frail. Atop his head, hair had grown white and thin. Cheeks sagged and bags hung under his eyes. Patrick reached up and touched the paper-thin white skin that was his face. He was an old man.
When did this happen? he wondered.
Then Sarah was back and the vision disappeared.
It’s almost time. I think we have worked out all of the details.
A tall white coat with thick glasses importantly typed in the proper code before pushing open the heavy door. A scrum of graduate students filed in behind him. Director Ellison savored the upturned eyes knowing that he was the one in charge here. This was the premier mental institution in the country and he called the shots.
The observation room was his showpiece. From this one room, anyone could look directly into the rooms of four of his institutes most infamous patients. Four large one-way windows looked into four padded cells. Each cell held a single individual; each individual, a textbook case of insanity.
“Let’s start with the patient in the room furthest to your left. This is Mrs. Mary Bergman, better known as Carousel Mary. An interesting study in delusional schizophrenia; she has more than fifty documented personalities. See how she is swaying to some unheard music? This is her Madam Chardonnay persona. She believes that she is entertaining guests at her estate.”
The students all shuffled for a better look at the woman, almost able to see the guests she seemed to believe she was interacting with.
Director Ellison reveled in their awe. He had access to the Encyclopedia Britannica of minds taking the mental road less traveled. Every day was filled with petitioners making their case for access to his deranged collection. His ego ate it up with a hunger that nearly qualified him to be on the other side of the windows.
“Now in this next window, you can see our most famous resident, the brilliant Patrick Sheffield. He has been with us for more than thirty years now. He was once considered to be the next Einstein. He went insane shortly after his wife died in a tragic fire. You can see his walls and floor are covered with his mathematical doodlings. We let him use bits of coal. The activity keeps him occupied. He is living in a fantasy world where his wife and he are working on something special.”
Through the window, Patrick could be seen discussing something with no one before leaning over to scribble something on the floor.
“I think you will find this next subject…”
The class moved on, leaving Patrick to himself.
“Do you see what I see?” Patrick could hardly hold back his excitement.
You’ve done it, my love. There is the pathway, between the inner folds of the 11th dimension. Take my hand and cross over to me.
Will I die? he wondered to Her.
There is no such thing as death, She whispered.
Unobserved, an old man reached out for an unseen hand. He looked back at the cell and saw it for what it was, a padded room that he no longer needed. Trembling slightly, he stepped across - into infinity.
“Director Ellison! Where did the math guy go to?”
The director looked over to where the student was pointing. He spied a heap of white over in a corner. Fearing the worse, he quickly unlocked the access door and ran in. All that he found was the white robe and cloth pants that were supposed to be hanging on the small frame of Patrick Sheffield.
A search of the grounds turned up nothing.
In a world that was not a world, two lovers embraced for the first time in decades. Slowly, they began to take on softer outlines until they were little more than intertwined beings of light. They spun around each other in a playful dance of love and joy.
The spinning slowed as the lights began to coalesce into a single pulsating ball of energy.
As one, they floated into a dimensionless distance. Together again, together as they had always been, they headed off into whatever waited for them along the timeline of eternal existence.
Word count 1984