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"Butterflies and Wormholes" by David Chang

This is a sci-fi short story I wrote in a summer writing course.  It is
related to the World Trade Center bombing.  Please e-mail comments or
reply's so that I know how many people actually read it.  Thanks.


Although he would not remember it in the morning, the dream went like
A small room, perfectly cubic, is painted white on all six sides.  In the
center of the room is something that looks like a dentist's chair and on
it lies an old man.  The old man is balding but has a white shaggy beard
that looks forgotten and unkempt.  He wears ragged clothes and his body is
decorated with bruises and contusions, as if he has been tortured for a
long time.  His wrists and ankles are covered with circular electronic
pads that hook up to a larger computer in the back.  Although his voice is
hoarse, he tries to scream, "Please, I don't know anything!  I don't know
who you are.  I don't even know who I am anymore.  Leave me alone!"
Behind the large computer panel stands three strange creatures, dressed in
gray robes with hoods that cover their faces.  They ignore the man's
screams and study the various computer screens.  Finally, they seem to
come up with a consensus.  They are disappointed and even seem angry.  One
of the creatures walks towards the old man who looks at the creature with
a frightened yet sullen face.  The creature shoots him cleanly four times,
once on each wrist and ankle.  The boy does not dare see the man's
reaction, nor can he look at the blood spurting from each limb.  He only
stares at the hands and feet lying immobile on the floor.  A second later
the creature shoots the man in the chest, and he is dead.  The boy gasps.
The creature turns around and raises his phaser to the boy's head.
This is when he usually awoke, startled.  Fear would tingle in his spine
as he jerks up in his bed.  The fear would then turn to embarrassment at
his own apprehension as he reaches the half-asleep, half-awake stage.  The
dream is all but forgotten as he reaches the realization of the security
of his bedroom.
He can never remember the dream.  When he awakes, he remembers only one
thing. He must go to Ohio.

And so it had been for three weeks.  Each time he would laugh at the
utter lunacy of the thought.  How would I get there?  Where would I go?
But though he dismissed the ludicracy of going to Ohio with unanswered
questions, morning after morning he knew, somewhere deep down, that he was
meant to go there.  It was only after the bombing of the World Trade
Center that he finally went.


It had been a morning like any other.  Same dream, same thought, same
dismissal.  Jack dragged himself out of bed and walked across the hall to
the bathroom to relieve himself.  He went to the kitchen and poured
himself a glass of orange juice while setting the toaster to high.  His
mom was asleep, as usual.  She didn't get up until noon, since she got
home so late from the nightclubs where she worked.  Jack didn't mind so
much that his mom waited at tables at nightclubs downtown.  He was old
enough to know what went on at those nightclubs, but he knew that she did
the best she could for both of them.  He just wished he could see her more
often than a few hours after school.  It would be nice to have breakfast
with her every now and then.  But at least they could afford a two bedroom
apartment.  He knew that Johnny B had to sleep in the same room as his
parents since they could only afford a place with a living room, kitchen,
and bathroom.
After he got dressed he noticed that he was fifteen minutes early for
school.  Pleasantly surprised, he threw down his textbooks and plopped on
the couch.  His math homework rested on top of a scattered disarray of
other papers and books on the table.  He didn't have too hard of a time
with multiplying three digit numbers but left a few blank on purpose.  He
knew how dangerous it was to be too well liked by his teachers and
sometimes he would fail a test or say something rude on purpose.  Jack
hunted for the remote control and clicked on the morning news.  It was an
editorial by a sociologist on the Tower bombing.  Lying on the table in
front of him was yesterday's mail, still unopened.  He flipped through a
series of bills and catalogs until he reached what looked like an official
letter from the government.  He didn't have to open it to know what it
was.  It was a message from the government telling his mom that she was in
danger of losing him.  If she didn't get a steady, better paying job soon
they would put him up for foster care.
Jack had been through this before.  Five years ago when his dad left and
his mom had to file for bankruptcy, the government made her give him up to
her brother Fred.  Uncle Fred lived in a nice house upstate but often he
would come home drunk and beat the crap out of Jack.  He was in jail now.
Jack hated Uncle Fred.  By the time the police found out what was going
on, his mom was doing better so they let him live with her again.
That was five years ago.  As Jack held the unopened envelope in his hand,
the feelings came back all over again.
But the feelings did not last long.  What Jack saw as he glanced at the
TV screen made him immediately forget about the letter.  The envelope fell
unobtrusively from his hands onto the floor.  Jack stared at the screen a
moment longer then robotically walked to his room.  Ten minutes later,
with a note hung on the refrigerator, clothes and food packed in a bag,
and all the money he could gather in his pocket, Jack went out the door,
on his way to Ohio.
What he saw on TV was what he had already seen a hundred times before.
It was the scene at the bottom of the skyscraper.  The road was damp and
the sky gray.  Police cars and ambulances stretched down the street
seemingly for miles.  People dressed in uniforms were frantically running
about, screaming into walkie-talkies.  Occasionally someone would be
running out of the building, coughing and smothered with smoke, and
immediately be surrounded by paramedics as well as TV cameras.  But this
time, on the bottom left hand corner of the screen, Jack caught a glimpse
of a strange creature, dressed in a gray robe, with a phaser in his hand.


"...nothing to give and nothing left to lose, with or without you... with
or without you oh-oh, I can't live with or without you..."
U2 blasted from the radio of the pick-up truck from which Jack hitched a
ride.  The trucker's name, Jack discovered, was Dennis, and he was on his
way to Altoona to deliver some manure to a local farmer's market.  Between
the pungent odor of the manure and Dennis's own scent, Jack was anxious to
get to Altoona as fast as possible.
He sighed as he looked out the window to the mundane view of stagnant
farms.  They were in hibernation just like the rest of nature, but spring
was just around the corner and already he could tell that they were about
to wake up again.  It was a chilly March morning, two weeks since he had
left New York.  He had traveled through New Jersey and into the heart of
Pennsylvania in those two weeks.  Not once had he had the dream again
since he left the apartment.  He wondered if he was really supposed to be
here, wondered where here was, wondered what his mom was doing - he was
sure they had declared him missing by now.
Jack sighed again.  He knew that he would not find answers to his
questions.  He could only stare out the window.  The drizzle that had been
coming down sporadically turned into a hard rain that battered the roof of
the truck.  Bono bellowed high notes on the radio.  Jack found it curious
that such a typical hick from Nowheresville would listen to the same music
he did.  His mind kept going back to the image on TV.  He knew that the
gray creature was the same one he had seen in his dreams, but why?  It was
the last unanswered question he thought of before he fell asleep to the
beat of the raindrops hitting the roof of the truck.


He made it to Pittsburgh before running out of money.  He spent his last
few dollars on some Coke and Wheat Thins at a grocery store.  He knew that
it could be his last meal, but he had stopped worrying about those things
a while ago.  He sat on a green park bench by a hilly road and started
After a few minutes a beggar came up to him.
"Spare any change?"
"I'm sorry," replied Jack, "I don't have any money but you can share some
of my Wheat Thins."
The beggar greedily accepted the generous offer, to Jack's delight.  She
was an old lady, dressed in a ragged Pitt University sweatshirt and torn
blue jeans.  There was a scar on the left side of her black face, and her
teeth glowed when she opened her mouth.
The two ate in silence for a while.  Jack wondered what to say to her
when she interrupted his thought by speaking.
"What if," she said, "you're a butterfly dreaming you're a human dreaming
you're a butterfly dreaming you're a human?"
"What if," answered Jack, "the earth is just an electron, the sun is a
proton, the galaxy is an atom, and the entire universe is a molecule of a
person or fish or desk lamp in some other universe and each of our own
molecules is a universe in itself?"
"You're going to Ohio."
"You've had the dream."
"I have."
"What do you know?" asked Jack.
"I know that you have to go to a small city called New Waterford about 10
miles south of Youngstown.  There you will meet a professor who lives in
an old white house on the corner of a road by a Methodist Church and a
YMCA.  I can recollect that it is across from a baseball field where
children play Little League in the spring.  In front of the house is a
white fence covered by trees."
Fifteen minutes later, the Coke was drunk and the box of Wheat Thins
empty.  For the beggar it was finally over, for Jack it was just
But was it?  Jack knew that in some ways it was just the opposite.  At
least now he knew where he was going; he had direction.  She would still
have to worry about her next meal and where she would sleep.  She had
these dreams that come from nowhere to torment her, and now she may never
know what they were about.
"I'm sorry."
"Good luck, Jack."
"Thanks, Maria."
Five hours later, for the life of him, Jack could not remember what the
beggar's name was.


He walked for three days straight without food or sleep, stopping only
occasionally to get water at a fountain or river.  He collapsed in front
of Youngstown Community Hospital, mumbling only two words, "New
When he awoke, he found himself lying in a hospital bed with a tray of
food in front of him.  He ate voraciously.
A nurse walked in.
"Hello Jack.  How are you feeling?"
"Dizzy.  What happened?"
"We found you lying unconscious in front of the hospital.  You were
exhausted and gave us quite a scare, but you'll be all right."
"I have to go to New Waterford."
"Oh no you don't.  You're not going anywhere, Jack."
"How do you know my name?" asked Jack with curiosity.
"It was on your ID.  Jack Russell Gibson.  From New York City, eh?  What
are you doing all the way out in Youngstown?  Your mom and dad must be
worried sick."
"No.  Just my mom."
"What happened to your dad?"
"He ran away with a girl named Linda to become a dealer in Atlantic City
when I was six.  He said he was tired of his life in New York and wanted
to find some adventure or something."  Jack didn't know why he was
suddenly telling his life story to a stranger, but it did get his mind off
the creature and his dream for a while.  He could tell that she probably
asked patients about their lives to help them relax.  It was working.
"Mom called it a half-life crisis."
"You mean a mid-life crisis and I'm very sorry.  Anyway, doctor's orders
are to keep you around here until your mom arrives."
Jack suddenly became alert.
"My mom's coming?"
"We called a few hours ago.  She's flying over here now."
The nurse's beeper went off.
"God dammit!  I've gotta see what this is.  I'll see you around, Jack."
Jack could feel his heart thumping.  It hurt him to betray his mom.
They'd gone through a lot together and he always told her everything.  But
he knew that not even she would believe him this time and if she got to
Jack was a small boy, but was also quick.  When the nurse returned to the
room, he had disappeared with his bag.  The window was open and a small
breeze blew the striped curtains as the sun beat down on the empty bed.


The beggar was picture perfect in her description, almost.  The large
white house next to the baseball field in New Waterford was indeed by the
Methodist Church and YMCA.  There was a small white fence in the front
lawn largely covered by drooping willows.  One thing she had not
mentioned, however, was how lonely and disconsolate it looked.  Somehow it
seemed out of place in the otherwise amiable atmosphere of the
neighborhood.  Kids frolicked near the house on the sunny, cloudless day,
but none dared to cross near it.  The large 'DO NOT TRESPASS' sign on the
lawn helped make it uninviting.
Jack had no idea what he would say to the professor, but knocked on the
door anyway.
An old man with a shaggy unkempt white beard answered the door.
"Yes?" he said in a scratchy, impatient voice.
"Hi, I'm Jack Gibson and I-"
"I just bought some girl scout cookies last week.  Christmas wrapping
paper is out of season, and I don't want whatever you kids always sell
"No, I-"
The door slammed shut.  Could he be wrong?  He knocked again.
"What?" cried the old man.
"I came here from New York.  I was told to see you."
"Is that so?  By who?"
"Uh... that is... Well I just had this sort of feeling."
"You had this sort of feeling.  Well that's very fascinating but I don't
know what you're talking about.  Now I'm very busy and you must leave me
The old man tried to slam the door again but this time Jack got a hold of
it at the last second.  He tried to think of something to say when he
remembered the beggar and the butterfly.
"You're Professor Albert Huxley and you're working on a machine that will
go to different dimensions!" cried Jack at the last second.
The door slammed shut.  Silence.  A second later it opened again as the
professor gave Jack a bewildered look.


"How much do you know?" asked Huxley to Jack as he entered his house.
The house was a cluttered mess.  An array of gadgets and gizmos were
spread across the living room.  The furniture looked as if it hadn't been
dusted in months.
Jack told the professor his story.  Huxley listed with patience and
understanding.  When he finished talking, Jack noticed that he had broken
into a sweat while he was talking, even in the cold weather.
The professor was silent for a few minutes, digesting everything that had
been said.  He stared at a large portrait above the cluttered fireplace
and squeezed his fingers to his wrinkled forehead, the classic
concentration pose.
"Jack, what do you know about the World Trade Center bombing?" he finally
"I know that it was two or three weeks ago and the police haven't found
the suspects yet."
"Do you know anything about what actually happened?"
Jack wasn't sure what the professor was getting at, but he thought it was
about the prematurely ignited bomb.  The driver of the van with the
explosives accidentally hit a speed bump which set off the bomb.
Theoretically, he had been planning to ignite it in one of the corners of
the building possibly taking the whole skyscraper down.  He told this to
the professor.
"Yes, that's right."  More silence followed.  the professor searched in a
cluttered bookshelf and found a dusty old book.
"Jack, do you know what a parallel universe is?"
"Kind of," replied Jack.  "Well, not really."
"There is a theory that was first developed by Albert Einstein that says
that this is not the only universe around.  In fact, there are other
universes just like ours, but in other  the dimensions.  Now, we've never
been able to see these other universes before, let alone enter them but,"
continued the professor, and he whispered the next part, "I think I can."
Though Jack still looked perplexed the professor was as giddy as a child.
"Come with me," he said as he walked towards the basement.
It was dark, like a cellar, in the basement, but unusually dry.  The
professor reached for a light switch which turned on a light bulb hanging
loosely from the ceiling.
"You've had dreams, haven't you, Jack?"
He nodded.
"Yes, so have I.  Terrible nightmares.  Horrendous."
"What happened?" asked Jack, suddenly curious.  He still wondered how the
professor could possibly enter parallel universes but was more interested
in the subject of the dreams, which he could relate to.
"Remember the World Trade Center bombing?  What if the man driving the
bombs actually did succeed in collapsing the skyscraper, and even taking
down the second Twin Tower with it?  Imagine the consequences."
"That's terrible."
"It is indeed," said the professor.  While he was talking he seemed to be
flipping switches and dials of a quirky electronic panel.  On the panel,
various dials suddely jumped to life and bounced to and fro.  There were
four rectangular LCD screens, and different numbers were being displayed
on them at a furious pace.
"And what if they didn't stop there?," he continued.  "Who knows, it
could be the Sears Tower next or the Empire State Building.  They could
have destroyed entire cities, Jack.  Think of what that would mean.  New
York City is destroyed.  London, Paris, Tokyo, all eradicated."
Jack shuddered at the thought of losing his apartment.  It was then that
he remembered his dream.  Everything came together.  The old man in his
dreams was the professor but in the other universe.  The old man said he
couldn't remember anything.  His memory must have been erased because he
knew something that he didn't want the creatures to know.
Jack told the professor about his recurrent nightmare.  He was vivid in
describing the details, even the gory ones, but the professor did not seem
"Jack, the dreams that we've had are of a different universe.  It's a
parallel universe very similar to ours except that in the other one the
earth is terrorized by these gray robed creatures."
By the electronic panel was a large, tarp covered structure.  The tarp
had small hooks attached to the bottom and the hooks were tied to the
floor.  The professor began to unknot the hooks.
"But how can we help them if those creatures already destroyed the
world?" asked Jack.
"Remember, these are only possible futures.  If you can go to the
alternate universe before the creatures destroy the world, everything
could be saved.
"You see, Jack, I've been expecting you.  Not you personally, of course,
and hardly someone so young, but I knew that there would be a person who
would be chosen to go."
The professor uncovered the tarp.  Jack knew that it was the dimension
traveling machine but was a bit bewildered by what he saw.
He saw a mirror.
"How does it work?"
"Oh, it took me thirty years to build this machine and it would probably
take me thirty more to explain it.  Suffice to say that if there is a
direct ray of sunlight hitting the mirror at just the right angle, the
refracting light should create a wormhole.  If you set the machine to the
correct parameters, you can travel through hyperspace to anywhere in the
universe, or any other universe for that matter."
"At exactly 2:07 PM today there should be enough sunlight for it to
Jack glanced at his watch.  It was 1:58.  No time to lose.


Exactly nine minutes later, everything was set.  Jack stood in front of
the mirror and faced his own reflection.  Suddenly a surge of fear flooded
his body.  Again he questioned everything they were doing and doubts crept
in his mind.  The wormhole appeared.  It was simply a dark spiral where
light, trapped, could not escape.  For a moment, Jack felt frozen in time,
too scared to move or care.  But as the professor admonished Jack that the
light was fading away, he remembered


Infinity is a state that is incomprehensible to man.  It is simply too
large.  To us, it would look just like a flat black pancake.  Likewise,
all dimensions above the fourth dimension, time, are invisible to us.
When Jack entered the wormhole he reached the realms of the eighth or
ninth dimension, inconceiable to humans.  If the professor was to have
follwed Jack through, limiting himself to the dimensions of man, he would
have seen the same black plane.


Jack stared into the wormhole and jumped in.  There was a brilliant flash
of light.


As Jack regained consciousness, he could see nothing but darkness.  He
had broken into a cold sweat and collapsed as he huddled on the ground.
He felt nauseated and his stomach whirled.  The orange juice and eggs he
had eaten that morning at the professor's house suddenly turned upward in
his digestive tract.  He leaned over and vomited.  He could feel the sharp
stinging of stomach acid in his mouth and began to cough.  He kept
coughing, louder and with more force, until blood spurt into his hands.
He fell silent and collapsed again on the cold floor as blackness
encompassed his body.
As he regained his sense of smell, he detected the pungent odor of the
blood mixed with vomit on the floor.  He quickly jerked away from the
stench.  As he regained his hearing, he heard traffic coming from a
distance, as if outside a window, and a news commentary coming from a
reporter just to his left, as if on a television.  As he regained his
vision, he found himself sitting in the living room of his own apartment.
There was a jingling of keys behind the front door.  A figure unlocked
the door and entered the apartment.  It was Jack's mother, carrying two
bags of groceries which she promptly dropped upon seeing her son.
"Jack!  What happened to you?"
By now, Jack had recovered most of his wits.
"I'm okay, mom.  I just got a little-"
But she was already heading toward the medicine cabinet.  Jack heard the
clinking of the various bottles as the rummaged through the cabinet in a
state of semi-panic.
"Are you bleeding, Jack?  Does your head hurt?  I can call Dr. Mackenzie
if you're really hurt...  Where's the damn Pepto?"
Jack looked around.  Everything was exactly the same.  Same house, same
appliances, same mother...  It was as if he was just transported from Ohio
back to New York.  But wasn't he supposed to be in a different universe?
What he needed was more facts.  The professor had said that this parallel
universe was almost the same as theirs, but there were differences.  Maybe
most of the people here were left handed.  Maybe there were no mosquitoes.
There could be an infinite amount of variations.  But in this universe,
the difference would have to involve-
At that moment Jack heard the loud whirling of fire engines.
Instinctively he glanced out the window but saw nothing.  Hearing it
again, he realized it was coming from the television.  A reporter who was
talking was muffled by the sound of the engines and horns.  Quickly, the
station switched to a helicopter shot while the trucks passed by.  It was
then that Jack saw the difference.  They, whoever they were, had
succeeded.  The creatures had managed to collapse the World Trade Center,
taking down a dozen other skyscrapers with it.


After much coercing, Jack convinced his mother that he was healthy enough
to go outside, but he had to be back by dinner time.  She collapsed into
How would he know where the professor was?  Was he in New York or did
Jack have to go back to Ohio again?  Before, Jack had strange feeling, as
if he just knew where to go.  But now those feelings were gone and
suddenly he felt quite alone.

plot summary for the next few chapters:  [Jack eventually meets the
professor.  As it turns out, the prof. has complete amnesia and cannot
remember anything.  The only thing he knows is that strange creatures
sometimes follow him and he doesn't know why.  It is revealed that the
prof. inflicted himself to amnesia to secure the secrecy of the location
of the microchip, in case the creatures ever caught him.  After Jack and
the prof. make this discovery, Huxley is caught by the creatures but Jack
manages to escape.  He follows them and sees the prof. strapped to a chair
as in his dream, but this time they both escape.  Eventually, the prof.
uses the microchip to extract info from a computer about the creatures
that is used to create a strategy to defeat them.  He gets the info and is
about to deliver it to his superiors when there is a sudden ambush by the
creatures.  All Jack sees is a flash of light before losing

Thirteen (or later in the story)

Jack returned from the wormhole in another brilliant flash of light, two
minutes after he jumped in.  The professor had timed it so that his
departure and return would be almost at the same time.  When he returned,
he had no recollection of what had transpired.  Later in his life, he
would have vivid dreams of his adventure in the distant universe, but
would never remember them when he awoke.


He awoke inside the professor's house.  It was disturbingly quiet and he
was alone.  This time he did not get sick but again it took him a few
minutes to regain all his senses.  He walked upstairs and saw the
professor in the living room with the same classic concentration pose that
he had the first time Jack saw him standing by the giant portrait.
"What happened?" asked the professor.
"I was hoping you knew," replied Jack.  "The last thing I remember is
seeing a bright light that knocked me out.  When I came to, I was back
"So you have no recollection of what had transpired?  Not even
differences between the two universes?  Surely, you must remember
"It was like a dream," said Jack.  "I mean, if I wasn't standing here
right now, I honestly couldn't tell you if what I just went through was a
dream or reality.  I only remember one thing."
"What?" asked the professor eagerly.
"On my way back home, I heard someone, or something, saying that it was
dangerous for us to know too much about their world."
The two sat in silence.
"I was expecting more than this."
There was a knock at the door.  It was a police officer looking for Jack.
Jack's mom stood behind him.  She looked tired and had a sullen face,
like she had been crying.
"Hello, may I help you?" asked the professor.
"Excuse me, doctor, we were just looking for-"
"Jack?  Jack is that you?"
All were speechless as Jack's mother ran toward her child.  Jack stood
motionless as she hugged him and cried on his shoulder.  He was happy and
relieved to see her but at the same time still disillusioned by what had
Slowly, his mother recovered from her burst of emotion and simply said,
"Let's go home."  Questions could wait for later.
As they headed for the door the professor looked at Jack.  "You know,
it's okay.  We did our best.  We may never know what really will happen to
them, but we know that we did everything we could, and that's all anybody
can ask for."
"It's not good enough," Jack replied.  "It's just not good enough."


As March turned into April, spring finally arrived.  Jack stood dismally
in his room.  He was packing again.  This time he was heading to Little
Rock where he would meet his new foster parents, Fred and Jill Robinson.
The government decided that it would be best for him to stay with a more
adequate family for a while.
Jack filled his bag with his favorite belongings and looked out the
window.  He would miss the city deeply.
He glanced at his watch.  They were fifteen minutes late.
"It's time to go mom!" he shouted.
"Is it time already?" she asked dismally.  "Grab your bag then, honey."
Jack reached for his bag and found a blank white envelope lying on top of
it.  He had not seen it there before.  In it was a short message.


Jack smiled as he read the note.  So we did pull it off, he thought.  He
wondered if the professor knew.  Somewhere in the back of his mind, he had
a feeling that he did.  He sighed deeply as he picked up his bag and
glanced at his bedroom one last time.  He tore up the message and put it
in the wastebasket as he headed out the door.

copyright 1994

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