লেখক: Abanti Pal
Ben was sitting alone on a creaky wooden stool at the edge of the river, one hand idly swinging his fishing net into the almost still waters and the other stroking his beloved Labrador, Daphne. The lone eyes wandered far into the misty shadowed horizon, searching for nothing.
This very usual day seemed strangely unusual to Ben in many ways. He was a lone person in his early fifties, living far away from the hustle and bustle of the city in his own secluded cottage house. Otherwise content in his farming and reading books, the only passion he loved to indulge in was gazing out into the distant planets, trying to fathom its finiteness in the infinity. Not that he was an astrophysicist or even a stargazer. But he felt he could feel a signal now and then as if expecting something, though none of his neighbors could fathom what.
‘Bizarre Ben,’ they would call him. He had no friends save his much-adored pet. Together they went out on strolls and occasionally on a fishing spree.
Ben’s grandad had once owned a large fishing boat. He remembered that he would sometimes go on trips with his grandad and dad in this same boat. They would sail far away into the river, put down the sail from the mast and wait hours and hours to get a good catch. Fishing was their passion. Now, even though the boat was lost and his fishing companions no more, Ben still felt alive in those memories. He often wondered whether the present was a surrealistic dream or a memory from past reality, whether the vivid lost past was real.
But today, in the now, something just did not feel right. Though he was feeling more alive than ever and came to his favorite spot, he was too inattentive to the swirling and swishing underwater of the fishes that got entangled in his net. The clouds hung heavy, and the horizon was misty. Every single leaf on the tree seemed to be waiting for something with bated breath. No bees buzzed into the stillness of the air, and the seagulls from the not-so-far sea that frequented this land seemed to have forgotten this place altogether. Even Daphne seemed restless and wanted to turn away several times. It seemed only Ben and Daphne existed here at this place and time.
Then it happened. Out of the mist, a big boat appeared with dusty red paint. At first, it seemed motionless far away, but then it sailed forward until it became larger and larger, finally reaching the wooden bridge and stopping right in front of Ben. The bow was smashed, and the wood was chipped off in several places. Ben didn’t know what to expect or what the boat expected. But he knew there was none there inside. There was this pulsating feeling inside him that told him that the boat had come to beckon him. He knew that save his granddad’s; no boat had ever been here, except the one other, the lost and sunken boat that frequented him in his dreams. It carried no life; it went nowhere in particular, but in his dreams, he had seen that this boat was a portal to somewhere. He had wanted to know where, but every time, the boat defied him and left him wide awake before he could ever step on it.
Now, it had come to take him with it. As if in a trance, Ben could not deny its bidding. Though Daphne was not quite at ease, she followed her master obediently. Ben stepped into the boat and noticed that it was quite large, in fact, a few times larger than his grandad’s lost boat. It contained a small deck within to shelter a single sailor. As he had expected, there was not a trace of life on this boat.
‘Why do you come to me in my dreams?’ he asked the boat absent-mindedly, ‘Do you want to show me something? Is that why you have come here today?’.
The boat seemed to sway a little now.
‘Show me then!’ Ben almost said to himself. Now that he had stepped on it, the boat seemed connected to him in some strange way. It quivered and began to move out into the river; Ben had no idea where to. Into oblivion, perhaps.
Restless, Daphne now settled comfortably into Ben’s lap. But the mist did not seem to dissipate. Rather, it got denser and deeper than ever. Ben could almost feel it swirling around them as if with an intent to engulf them into its foggy realm. He could almost see shadows floating around in the darkening mist, who neither saw him nor paid any heed to his existence. They seemed to be from another dimension, another world altogether. Indistinct voices that he could not decipher gradually morphed into high-pitched roars and grunts, which then softened out to swishing sounds and finally ebbed out to complete silence. Yet, in this silence, something moved and stirred and existed, and all was not yet gone. Was he going back in time, thought Ben to himself? As he pricked his ears to listen to this apparent sound of silence, the fog began to lift. The blazing sun rays hit his sallow cheeks through the hazy cloud.
‘Oh, the fiery sun!’ he cursed while at the same time trying to fathom how it could be so hot on such a misty day. When the sky finally became clear, he was petrified to see that the sky was a blazing orange; the river was not his familiar calm watercourse but a heaving black ocean, and the wind was noxious with the smell of sulphur. He was lone and stranded aboard a lost boat in the middle of primal earth.
‘Where have you brought me? Why did you bring me here?’ his voice resonated back into his own being before even leaving his lips.
But alas, the boat stood still, as if waiting for a magical word from its new sailor. The ocean underneath swelled and belched out hot waters from its deepest cores, waiting for the earth to cool down as it began its accretion from the solar nebula whilst it was churned into being. The moon was a gigantic blazing orb of red even at this time of the day. It appeared way bigger and closer to earth and seemed to have just risen from the ocean underneath.
In a state of chaotic frenzy, Ben wanted to yell out.
‘Take me back to my origins.’
And the boat stirred to life once again. This time, the dark waters paled out into a rusty green, and they finally ebbed out onto a distant land, which Ben was not sure he saw even a moment ago. The air had a subdued smell of fresh wet earth that was almost welcome to his nostrils. As the boat reached the large mass of land that jutted out like a peninsula, Ben jumped out of the boat in great relief. Daphne cuddled carefully in his arms.
Strangely, throughout the journey, Daphne had remained undisturbed in her sleep. Even now, she seemed to be dreaming in a faraway land, away from this ludicrous now. Ben moved into the land, expecting to be revealed back to his heavenly village and home at any moment, or perhaps waking up from a wild dream into the sweetness of his mundane life. But stark reality snapped right in front of him in the form of an unforeseen dust-storm.
A large wall of dust spurned out into an upheaval from the endless desert before him, hitting the high skies and slaying the heavy winds before subsiding down into a wave of brown sand right before his feet. As Ben uncovered his face from the shield of his palms at this sudden imperturbation, he saw an array of sandy scintillas rising and shaping into a strange being before him. Perplexed, he stood back and began watching its formation until the dusty shape stood still and unwavering before his eyes, a vague replica of his own self.
‘What are you? I mean…’ he stammered, ‘who are you?’
‘I am Invion.’ The shape seemed to say. No, it did not say anything in the literal meaning of the word. But whatsoever it did, Ben deciphered its vibrations as a universal language of any being.
‘Why did you beckon me here?’ Ben asked, looking quizzical.
‘Do you deny the signals you received from the distant skies when you were on your earth?’ said the shape.
‘Those were dreams… wait, what?’ shrieked out Ben, ‘What do you mean when on earth? Where am I now? Where have you brought me?’ a wall of panic seemed to be rising inside him like a rancid outburst.
The shape, or Invion, so as it called itself, circled in the cold air, saying nothing but emanating an eerie glow of silver, revealing a shimmering mirror that showed Ben that he was spacetime-warped into ancient earth, zillions of lightyears away from his very own.
‘This is where you began,’ said Invion pointing to its own form, ‘and this is where you end until you form again.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Ben. Now he was sure he was seeing all this in his mind and did not want the dream to go. It was just that the dream looked real. He wanted to grasp it all before it vanished.
‘No, it’s real. Not any fragments of your subconscious self,’ said the shape, leaving Ben clueless as to how it could possibly have read his mind. How a swarm of dust could ever be communicating to him, well, how a boat could possibly have been a portal to this obsolete world, he was clueless.
‘Neither bare dust nor an obsolete orb it is,’ corrected the shape again. ‘Let me show you, naïve mind,’ it said and swirled away until it collapsed down and integrated back into the brownish-black soil.
The shape rose again as before, but this time it appeared as a dark vacuum, invisible to Ben’s human eye. Only he could perceive that the nothingness meant something else was there.
‘I am a complex made up of innumerous superimposed particles of chronon and the elusive dark fluid that lurks in the entirety of the cosmos. I am Invion.’
‘Does that even exist? It just cannot be real,’ asked Ben.
‘As real as you are not just a lone farmer stranded in a random coordinate on your earth.’
This was too much, Ben thought. His human brain had started playing devious tricks with him.
‘Only as much as you can perceive with your neural capabilities does not mean that that’s the confinement to reality’ the shape seemed to swish by him, carrying along with it the echoes of distant sounds.
‘What do I hear?’ asked Ben
‘Flow of time is what you hear. Chronon originates from me as I move around the intergalactic spaces in random orbits, to spin a different world as I go, through both ends of the time spectrum.’
‘But time only flows forward in a single dimension, as I understand. How can you go around in circles? That would mean you can traverse back in time! That would surely defy the very essence of origination, expansion of the universe, and everything else. It would mean that the expanding cosmos would spin to expand and then spin more to collapse back to point-blank at some spacetime.’
‘Yes, and then it will form again as the chronon moves beyond, from the negative to the positive end of the multidimensional time spectrum. Do you know what that means?’
‘Multiverses will form again and again,’ thought Ben. And then, in a moment of awe, he realized out loud, ‘And so shall I!’
‘Yes, but each time your coordinates will be different, and so shall the probabilities of your current form. You shall evolve as a different form each time I, Invion, flow through you to make you.’
‘Can’t I grab a moment of my past once more? Live the life I had already lived? Meet the departed ones that are so dear to me?’
‘Invion evolves as it flows through space and time. No point particle is the same as the one before, either in quarks or in chronons. But yes, as I wiggle through in an indefinite trajectory, albeit following an elliptical path through the dimensions, I oscillate in an icosikaihexagonic flower pattern where some points may cross the already traversed paths. There, I might be the same Invion as I was once before. In that case, you might meet your old self by such probability. But you might not recognize or even see yourself, as the dimensions of spacetime might be different altogether. It might collide, but in the frame of a parallel universe, not your own.’
Ben’s head was buzzing through all the outcomes and possibilities that even this unpredictable traversal may bring. If only he could sneak peek into his own past, once, only once.
And then there reeled before him a fleeting picture of the old world forming to its current state, the world that he called his own. This was the world where he believed he existed. It flowed back in leaps and bounds until he saw that he himself was the lost red boat that had carried him here. Matter, he thought. Everything rose from dust and fell to dust, whether in a state of being or non-being. It was all matter and energy. The fleeting picture sped back again until he saw himself cuddling and comforting his crying infant, Cathy, in his arms.
It reeled back again until he saw the happy day when he was married to his beautiful wife Matilda, and they had come home to a new beginning.
It reeled back again until he saw his teenage self being tucked away lovingly to bed by his mom, who then read him a book and bid him goodnight. He remembered he had had a severe headache that day, and his mom had been awake all through the night, worried sick about him.
It reeled back again until he saw a warm and cheerful living room where the orange light of the fireplace illuminated its walls, and the laughter of his grandad and dad, and mom echoed off these walls while he was running around, playing Huckle Buckle Beanstalk with them.
And then the light and the laughter faded away. All that was left was himself standing in an unknown domain. Here he was, in front of Invion, who told him that dark fluid existed as much as the matter did, and it demanded that it held the reigns to the flow of spacetime. That even if it did not and could not interact with the electromagnetic force from which all forms of light originate, it curved the entirety of the cosmos to spin into an endless pirouette of the past through the present to the future. As all the disparate dimensions were not recognizable, so he could not perceive Invion as he could not perceive a parallel universe from his own coordinates. In a simplistic manner, it was similar to the way the human eye could not visualize all colors of the light spectrum, but they still existed, all of them.
But for this shape, Invion as it called itself; time was multidimensional and spun forward and backward to etch a perpetual pattern. Though it could never be matter in itself, it controlled matter. It repeated itself, and it gave signs of a parallel universe as much as it gave indications of expanding and collapsing spacetime. But he was lost in this futile maze to track down the where and when. In another dimension, he might not even find himself, leaving alone his beloved ones.
‘Why did you beckon me then,’ he asked helplessly, ‘if you are not definite with your own traversal? Why did you seek me out?’
‘Within indefiniteness comes geometrical definiteness. That’s the cosmic principle. It’s just that it seems chaotic on astronomical scales. It is possible that I, Invion, can become you and revert you back to a fragment of your chosen past. At that very point, you will see the same plane of time from another dimension. You may wish to switch your coordinates at that instant to your other point of existence from the past. What you intend to do after it solely depends on you, and that chronon cannot be reversed again once it has elapsed.’
‘Become me?’ Ben tried to remember the very same vague words he thought he had heard a lifetime ago. But however hard he tried, he could remember nothing.
‘What more have I to lose!’ wondered Ben to himself. ‘I am still in a trance and have no idea how I lost my grandad and dad while sitting along on the still boat that midsummer’s noon. We three were gladly fishing away. Nope. I think I was reading something. Or was I playing with a stray chunk of wood, which I knew not had come from where? It was so old and worn out that dust fell off it onto the book I held on my lap. Or did I doze off? I still do not know. But when I looked up, suddenly grandad and dad weren’t there anymore. They have never been since. It was as if they had vanished that instant from my world.
That misty afternoon. Mom was preparing my favorite salad in the kitchen while I was finishing up my homework. I remember sharpening my pencil, scraps of the colorful wooden pencil, and the graphite dust accumulating at the table. The unexpected gust of wind from the window blew it off. I hurried to close the shutters. When I turned, mom was not there. Neither was there any bowl of salad on the kitchen top nor was Chloe, my pet cat to be found anywhere, who was purring at my feet moments ago.
That rainy evening. I had just fixed the car in the garage that had broken down a few weeks back. My hands and face were still covered in soot. I was yet to clean up after myself when I heard my beloved wife Matilda calling out to me to add some more wood to the dying fireplace as she was trying to soothe our wailing Cathy, our then three-month-old infant. The freshly added wood strangely sent showers of molten sawdust from the dying fire right into my hands. Dusting them off, I turned to find a wailing Cathy flailing her tiny hands in her crib, searching for her mother. Matilda was nowhere to be seen.
That autumn morning. I was searching for an old book in the large library, scanning each bookshelf. My then sixteen-year-old daughter Cathy was two shelves away from me. This book was very much needed for Cathy to carry out her book review assignment given by the school. I had reached almost the end of the rack near the wall. I saw the book crammed among the last few books on the shelf. As I reached to bring it out, a few of them fell onto the floor along with a lot of dust that seemed to have accumulated on the shelves for ages. No one has read this book for ages; why did my Cathy have to get this assignment? I was curious as I bent down to pick up the fallen books while calling Cathy. She did not respond. I searched. She was not there in the whole library. The receptionist said I had come alone. Cathy was not at home nor at school. From that moment on, it seemed Cathy had never existed.’
It seemed that none of these people had ever existed in Ben’s life. But then, how had he come into being? He had wondered oftentimes whether he was suffering from any sort of dissociative personality disorder. But then, each time, everything around him was the same except the absence of the missing person. And these incidents happened to him all of a sudden, after a span of many years.
Ben now felt that there was nothing else to lose. If there ever existed these people, he had already lost everything and, in the process, his own self and sanity. He felt like a hollow shell without a purpose. So, he thought
‘What if I collide with one of my former selves where I am still with my beloved ones! Then I can happily transgress to that dimension. I will get my life and purpose to live back!’
And so, Ben agrees to let Invion become him.
‘If you choose to transgress from your own trajectory of spacetime to another, you, in turn, will lose some matter in the process that will be converted to another particle of Invion. Invion can never be reclaimed. Are you sure?’ warns the shape.
Ben was so engrossed in the possibilities of his alternate life that he never thought he needed to contemplate further.
‘I agree,’ he said.
But just as everything started to get foggy around him, he started remembering things vaguely as to how he had lost them all, one by one. He asked with a sudden fear
‘But how will I know?’
‘You will know’ seemed to come to an echo from far away.
Ben jerked awake as something tugged hard at his fishing net underwater.
Something had happened just now. He had no idea when he had fallen asleep, but the dream seemed too vivid and too real to be an illusion.
And then, to his sudden horror, he realized Daphne was not there.
It had happened. Again.
That signal he had waited for so long had again come in a flash and gone by. This time it had taken Daphne with it. His most loved one, the most loved matter and energy surrounding his life now, had been his pet Labrador; the Invion had engulfed it now.
He might have to wait several years again before he receives the signal again before he got a chance to move to his chosen past. It would only be possible if the trajectory of two discrete coordinates in disparate dimensions collided where he was his own self, where he owned his own past. He was not even sure whether that would ever happen in a thousand lifetimes.
Horror struck him as Ben realized that Invion’s promise might as well be deception. On his way back home, alone this time without Daphne, Ben reminisced how he had lost every beloved one while trying to barter for a lost bygone past while never realizing what he was going to lose from the now. In the presence of Invion, he never remembered the event of losing the present, save the yearning to regain his last lost one.
Each time the encounter happened, he was with the close one whom he lost.
The signal had first come to him when he was on his grandad’s boat that sultry afternoon when he was a boy of nine. Invion had promised him an interesting future. And it had taken away some matter in return – his grandad and dad. He had gone back home alone in a state of shock. But to his utter bewilderment, his mom did not seem shocked. Nor did she even enquire about her missing father-in-law and husband. It seemed to Ben that he and his mom had lived alone forever. It was as if only he had this void in his life, which affected no one else ever.
The same had happened a few years later, one misty evening, when he had yearned to get back his grandad and dad. He had yearned to return to that fishing boat on that doomed sultry afternoon in hopes of setting things right. Invion had promised him that he would have to wait, to wait for a signal when that past and his present domain would collide if they collided ever. Then he would be able to switch coordinates to his past that was swindled away from him. When he had returned to his present with high hopes, he found that this time, Invion had taken away his mother. And so, it had repeated years apart with his beloved wife Matilda and his loving daughter Cathy. Each time he met Invion, he had remembered nothing of his earlier encounters. Each time he returned back after the encounter, he felt that the world had not even known of the existence of the lost one. But each time he returned, he also realized that Invion had promised his return to a point in spacetime that was either not viable or that the whole promise was deceptive and hollow. Invion was collecting the matter and energy that it could never become. It was seeping through the multiverses, unknown, unseen, indomitable. Decaying away at matter and energy that responds to electromagnetic force; transforming it into the dark, eroding away all that exists.
Bizarre Ben was indeed a mess now.
11 years later
It was dark in the evening. A cloudburst had just occurred in the dusk. There was lightning and thunder, and the ravaged earth seemed to be lost, spinning off aimlessly into space. Water, water everywhere.
Ben was reading the newspapers in the light of the fireplace while the earth kept on its monstrous fight to retain its survival.
The thick glasses of his spectacles cloud with the annoying vapor of the humid air and the heat in the room. All of a sudden, Ben’s vision clouds out, and he hears distant echoes. He feels a funny tugging in his tummy and is then jolted back in time, falling through an abyss, deep down, into endless nothingness.
But then, fleeting shadows, as if from another world, seem to pass by him in flashes.
He sees a lone owl perched on a full moon night atop a tree. That was him. He was the owl.
A leaf was swaying gently on the branch of the tree. It felt alive, carefree. He felt alive, aloof from the fallacies of the world. He was that leaf. More shadows pass by. He realizes that he is passing through his past or future domains that he calls his own self. A fossil, a fish, a grain of dust on a distant galaxy, a heat wave emanating from a star… the abyss seemed endless. He craved to disappear into oblivion.
Then Ben hears Cathy’s distant voice. She seems to be shouting frantically, searching between the bookshelves
‘Papa, where are you? Where did you go? Papa, papa, papa….’
Ben tries to reach out his hand, trying to grasp the point particle in spacetime, the Invion moment. He wants to console his lost and frightened Cathy, who seemed lost in another world altogether. But Ben cannot reach out. Cathy’s shadow is far, too far away, and he falls, swooping through in an unknown trajectory, spiraling downwards, crossing spacetime through cross dimensions.
In desperation, Ben tries to turn back, away from the force of this sucking continuum. But then he hears Matilda’s voice, so distant, so melancholy and helpless that it wrings him in pain to the core.
‘Ben, Ben, where are you? Ben, come quickly. Cathy needs a doctor now… Ben!!’ she was shaking in fear, cold sweat breaking out on her forehead.
And in shock, Ben sees that little Cathy is crying in her mother’s arms, albeit crying much lesser than the Cathy that was wailing in his world. What was going on? He knew he had lost Matilda, but here it seemed that Matilda had lost him. Who was this Cathy then, whom he had raised for full sixteen years before he lost her in a library under broad daylight?
But before he could comprehend any further the shadows whizz. Ben falls through absolute darkness. No more shadows, no more past worlds. And then it came again.
His mother was hysterically screaming near the window, whose shutters he had just closed. Distraught and panicked, she went from window to window, room to room, calling out for her son. The half-prepared bowl of tortellini pepperoni salad lay forgotten atop the table, where the pages of his book were being fluttered by the evening breeze. The graphite dust from the pencil was smeared on the pages. A door opened in the far corner, and Ben saw his mother flung her arms around her aunt, who lived next door, crying inconsolably.
And then it all became dark and dusty too. Then in a lightning moment of realization as sharp as a bolt from the blue, Ben realized. It was not he who had lost his beloved ones from his life in those cataclysmic moments. It had been him who had been transgressed to different coordinates in spacetime and been lost. Every time, invisible and unperceivable Invion arose from dust, who became him, made him yearn for a lost one, and then warped him through a portal, a way to another parallel universe where he coexisted, but in exchange for the other person in his then present coordinates. And he thought he had lost them all, one by one. Now, he realized, he had lost himself in this eccentric pirouette of the Invion.
The moments flash by in a whirr as Ben tries to seize his lost coordinates, the actual world where he could have been.
And then it happened. Ben felt himself swaying in a boat, this time not as a shadow, but the vibrations were quite deep and resonating.
He was feeling insanely sleepy now. As if in a dream, he saw his grandad and dad were fishing, and he himself was with a tattered book in hand, snoring away happily. The coordinates Ben was passing through seemed to be exactly matching his fall-through plane, as if he was going through it rather than watching it happen from a distance.
‘This! Invion, this!’ he wanted to yell out with all his might, and the whole abyss seemed to be swaying ominously.
‘Where were you lost? Dozed off into eternity, we thought’ a heavy, yet close laughter rang in his ears. Ben fearfully opened his eyes and saw his grandad and dad laughing away.
‘This dozy dreamy brat! Never finished a chapter of math without napping off,’ his dad was saying, with loving indulgence in his voice.
Both his grandad and dad were concentrating on the fishing line while chatting away, oblivious of his absence. Or had he never been absent from this world at all? This was his own world, after all! Here, all was normal. Here, there was no Invion. Or was there? He began wondering whether the present was a surrealistic dream or a memory from past reality, whether the vivid lost past was real.
Nine-year-old Ben now sat up straight. What was all that, which had just happened? He realized his heart was still beating fast, and his head seemed dizzy as if having fallen through something. He could not exactly remember what. He rubbed his eyes and looked all around him. The river seemed still like a stagnant lake, and there was no breeze. Far away, a thin veil of mist seemed to be fading away fast. He looked down into his lap and found himself looking into his grade 5 math book, showing a puzzling trajectory of a particle on Brownian motion, etching a flower-shaped pattern.
‘Lost in eternity, this damned particle, and now I must find its shortest path back to its core for my homework. How much more boring can my life be! If only I could trade off these troublesome math problems with anything in the world!’ thought Ben to himself. One day, when he grew old and wise like his grandad, Ben thought to himself, he’d own a lonely cottage and a pet dog and sit peacefully on a riverside, fishing away, rather than bothering nine-year-old kids with stupid math questions.
As he was lost in his imagination, a single speck of spectacularly dark dust seemed to appear from nowhere in particular and settled peacefully at the center of the pattern on his math book diagram, unnoticed.
 Chronon: theoretical quantum of time, where time is proposed to be discrete and composed of the time particle chronon. However, the concept of negative chronon does not exist, nor is the time known to follow an oscillatory path. It is entirely a figment of my imagination
 Dark fluid: an alternative theory to both dark matter and dark energy that attempts to explain both phenomena in a single framework. At galactic scales, dark fluid behaves like dark matter, and at larger scales, its behavior becomes similar to dark energy
 Quark: a type of elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter
 Icosikaihexagon: 26-sided. 26-dim Bosonic String Theory states that there are 26 dimensions in the macro space of many worlds.Tags: Abanti Pal, kalpabiswa y7n1, Ronin, science fiction