I’m sorry if any of this seems confusing. To be honest, it is not easy to explain the concept of multiple universes. The only way I can elaborate is this: Before you make any decision, think about the possible consequences of your actions. This of course can result in multiple outcomes as there are hundreds of outside factors impacting your life at any given moment. Now think about all the possible realities that could exist based off of people's decisions. Most people don't really think about this concept much since it doesn't affect them. I am a bit of an exception to this rule.
To tell you the truth, I thought they were all dreams at first. I have a tendency to dream in third-person about everyday occurrences. Sometimes I dream about running errands, eating, talking with friends; the usual stuff. A lot of times it feels like I’m watching an incredibly boring movie about someone’s life and that is the odd part. Even though I realize that I’m dreaming about myself, it never really seems like I am the one experiencing those events. It always has this disconnected quality to it like watching someone else’s life.
I really didn’t think much of it, I just assumed that that was how some people dreamed. Some people dream in black-and-white, some have completely off-the-wall and nonsensical experiences. A few people dream only once in a blue moon, others dream about something every night. I just saw my dreams in third-person. It felt like there was nothing out of the ordinary happening so I never really tried to come up with a conclusion to all of this. I realized that I was seeing parallel realities when I was thirteen years old.
I was involved in a car accident with my parents. We were driving home after a vacation and having an argument about something stupid. I had wanted to go to a concert for my fourteenth birthday and they didn’t think I was old enough. I kept pressing the issue and telling them my friends would be going and that I was mature enough. I realized I was going to lose this argument due to the fact that I had been caught smoking a few days earlier, but I kept arguing and whining about how it wasn’t fair that they could go and I couldn’t. It was while my father was turned around to tell me that their decision was final that the man stepped into the street in front of our car.
Everything happened in the blink of an eye, but the scene still feels fresh in my mind like a snapshot. The man was rough-looking. His hair was scraggly and greasy-looking, his clothes looked like the kind of stuff you’d find at a Goodwill Donation store. He had one arm in front of his face to shield his eyes from our headlights. He was likely homeless and walking to a shelter that was off one of the highway exits when he stepped into the path of our car.
I cried out just in time for my dad to look forward and see the man in-front of our speeding car. He cranked the wheel to the left and just narrowly missed running over the man. The sudden change of directions made the car lose control. We swerved left and right as my dad tried to steady the wheel before we slammed into the concrete median.
We had been too busy arguing from the last rest stop and my parents forgot to put on their seat-belts. The car slammed into the median at about sixty miles an hour. The impact crumpled the front of the car like an empty soda can. The crash catapulted my mom through the windshield and into the median while it threw my dad face-first into the windshield. I slammed my head into the back of the passenger seat and my vision exploded in a hot stinging flash that felt like someone had driven a hot poker into my brain. My mom’s death was instantaneous while my dad died slowly.
Sometimes I lie to myself and pretend the impact with the back of the seat knocked me out. It didn’t. I remember lying there with the world strobing, monochromatic, and dull, hearing the sound of my father gurgle through the glass that was imbedded in his upper body. I smelled smoke and tasted copper. My last coherent memory of the accident was the sound of the car engine slowly stalling and stopping while my dad tried to scream through a broken jaw and deflated lung. I slipped into unconsciousness just as my father stopped crying out.
I was technically in a coma for three days, but it didn’t feel like it. Instead, it felt like I was watching a slideshow of different events and scenes. Each felt like an out-of-body experience that I drifted in and out of. One in particular stuck out. I was at a concert surrounded by people. It was so real that I felt myself being drawn into it. I pretended that this was reality and the car accident was a dream. I drifted towards myself and made contact. In that split moment, I could almost feel the heat radiating off the bodies around me, I could smell the smoke and sweat. The music pumping from the speakers made my clothes vibrate. In that moment, it felt real. Then I woke up.
I came to in a hospital bed. I gagged and desperately clawed at the endotracheal tube. Someone quickly rushed over, and through the haze I couldn’t make out any of their facial features. As the fog of my mind lifted, I saw a nurse step into view and up to my bed. She held my hands and removed the tube. I remember gagging and sputtering for a few minutes before I was able to croak out the word, “Parents.” The nurse’s look said it all and I broke down.
With nothing to do in the hospital and no one to visit me, I found myself sleeping a lot. Each time I tried to go back to that dream of the concert, but I never relived that event. Sometimes I was watching myself eating dinner with family, other times I was dropping subtle hints about what I wanted for my birthday, one time I was holding a puppy close to me and scratching her behind the ears as she tried to lick my hands. These were all things that were lost to me. Without any real family or close friends to take care of me, I became a ward of the state.
I had spent three weeks in the hospital when I first decided to cross over. I was fourteen and getting ready to be discharged from the hospital to be sent to a home for wayward youth. It was not an exciting prospect. I wanted to escape, I wanted to get away. My dreams were the only option that was available to me. If I could somehow manage to experience that moment from the concert, I was certain I could do it. All I needed to do was find it and hold on for dear life. I managed to escape two days before I was set to be discharged.
I had just drifted off when I found myself hovering over my body. He was reading a book in his room. I drew closer and reached out to him, just as I touched him, he winced and his hand went to his forehead like he was experiencing a painful headache. The sensations came rushing to me. I could feel the warmth of the bed and I could smell the cigarette he had smoked out of the window earlier. I felt an incredible resistance, but I kept pushing forward. I could taste the tarry feeling that was still in his mouth. I kept going. I heard him scream in agony, I didn’t stop.
Just as quickly as the resistance began, it ended. We fell to the floor and a sudden loss of consciousness overtook us. There was only silence for a few minutes before I was pulled out of it by someone frantically shaking me. I opened my eyes to see his mother and father kneeling around me with a concerned look on their face. I asked the only thing that could come to my mind, “W-what happened?”
“You fainted, like back then. We need to get you checked out.”
I answered, “N-no, I just stood up too fast and felt faint. It’s nothing to be worried about.”
I tried to explain it away, but we still ended up going to the doctor’s office the next day. We were awake the entire night. They were afraid to let me fall asleep and I was in a state of shock over everything that had happened. I could hardly believe that I was in a different body and a different reality. I can’t explain the feeling other than describing it like an extreme moment of awkwardness after doing something supremely embarrassing where you feel everyone’s eyes on you and you feel uncomfortable in your own skin.
The doctors found nothing wrong with me and I was given a clean bill of health. Hearing those words were what his parents needed to hear. They stepped across the room and wrapped their arms around me. It happened so suddenly that I didn’t have time to prepare. The memories rushed over me and swallowed me up. I remembered my parents. My last words to them were terrible, I wish I could remember what I said; I wish I could take back every single word. Instead I remembered the accident. I recalled the sound of glass breaking and the sudden impact. I re-experienced the sound of my father crying out in agony. I hugged his parents closely and wept into their shoulders. They cried tears of relief while I was re-living the most traumatizing moment in my life.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was happening and I think this is the best way to explain it. Imagine that you are trying to decide whether to go in to work one day or not. Regardless of your choice there exists a separate reality where you decided to do something else. From there, there are multiple possibilities and outcomes. Maybe you get a promotion for your hard work, or maybe you get caught playing hooky and are fired. Maybe your co-workers are none-the-wiser and you end up running into the love of your life on your free day. Or maybe you decided to go in to work and had such a rough day that you snap and staple your boss’ stupid polka-dot tie to his face. Suffice it to say, even the smallest decision can fragment reality and produces dozens of alternate worlds that are drastically different. You could be happily married in one, destitute and jobless in another, or on the run from the law with the least intimidating fugitive name ever known to man, “Staplin’ Sammy”, all due to a seemingly simple choice. This is bit of an oversimplification, but it covers the gist of it. You can’t even begin to consider the hundreds of thousands of possibilities that this theory births in a single day.
After figuring out what had happened, I decided to explore this person's life. How similar were we to each other? I reasoned that I would only stay here for a few days before moving on. I didn’t want to steal his life, I just wanted a few moments for myself before I would return to my reality. I could likely go back to my own reality by going to bed and trying to sift through all the variations until I came across my own. There was something I wanted to do before I went back. I wanted to see the other world. I still saw the lives of the various other versions of me when I slept so I figured I could leave and return to my original body anytime I wanted by scouring through the multiple realities to find original existence. I wanted to experience this other me’s life for a while before I did that. I wanted to know what it was like to live with his parents for just a few more days.
I ended up spending two months in that body. I assumed that when I left his body, he would return to the forefront of his consciousness and resume his life as if nothing had happened. In the end, it was the awkwardness that forced me to leave. I was happy for a while in that body. The main problem was that this wasn’t my reality. Some of the major events were the same, but others were completely new. This version of me had met new friends and experienced things that were completely foreign to me. My ‘friends’ would drop jokes that were between us which were lost on me, my ‘parents’ would recall events that I never experienced or knew about. After about two months of feigning friendships and pretending to recall memories, I decided that I needed to leave.
I didn’t return to my reality however. I found a new body to inhabit.
I didn’t want to go back to my reality. I didn’t want to wake up every morning with a hole in my life in a place that wasn’t my home. I didn’t have a home. As I dreamt, I looked for a new life. I eventually found a new reality. That version of me had just pulled away from kissing a pretty girl at a park, their eyes were half-closed and they had beatific smiles stretched across their faces. I watched as they whispered sweet nothings to each other out under the stars. They eventually parted ways and he walked home. I waited until he was sneaking back into the house to step into his reality.
He fought back like the other version of me did, but by now I had gotten the hang of it. I pressed forward and drove him back into the recesses of his mind. He didn’t even get a chance to scream before I broke through the resistance and took over. I stood up and tested out my motor functions. I was in complete control. The invasion took it out of me so I searched the house for my bedroom and immediately collapsed into bed. In that brief moment, I was happy that I had come into this life.
That happiness was short-lived. We broke up quickly after that. We had about a week together of ignored inside jokes and missed memories before Moira dumped me. She had told me that I had changed, which was true. The person she loved had changed the moment I stepped into the driver’s seat. I technically wasn’t the person she had fallen for. Despite only knowing her for about a week, losing her hit me harder than I’d expect. I think the worst part was that I actually did like her. Like all first loves, I thought that it was something pure, that it was eternal. I treated the loss of her like I had missed my only chance at love.
I sank into a funk after the breakup. I spent a few days in a room that wasn’t technically my room, listening to the saddest music I could find, crying over Moira, a girl that never really even knew me. I was miserable. I spent a long time wallowing in self-pity before I decided that I needed to get over her. To this day, I still regret the decision I made next. I decided that I needed to occupy a happier life.
I really didn’t look where I leaped. I only wanted away from where I was. I must have jumped between a dozen bodies within a week. Sometimes I wouldn’t even spend an hour inside a person’s head before I decided that there was probably someone better out there. Out in the wide expanse of dreams lied a person who would be able to make me genuinely happy. I would keep searching until I found that person who was leading a perfect little life that I could borrow from them.
As time passed, my abilities to jump into other consciousnesses became second nature. Not to be boastful, but, the hardest part was actually getting to sleep sometimes. I would shift into a new body and see what kind of life this other version of me had. If I liked it, I would stay; if I didn’t, I would find a place to sleep and shift immediately. At first it started out like an adventure. Every shift brought a new life and new experience, but slowly that feeling of excitement began to slough off its skin and reveal the rot underneath. I tried to chase that excitement by shifting realities more often, but that only brought boredom. I cycled through dozens of lives, so many that I actually lost count. It became a mundane and trivial thing.
I didn’t realize why this feeling of boredom had taken over such a wonderful gift until a few months had passed and the realization dawned on me like a bolt from the blue. I was unhappy with these experiences because they weren’t mine. I could play pretend in all of these bodies, but at the end of that day, I would still be that lonely, scared orphan in a new and frightening place. It was on the break of that revelation when I made the worst discovery. I came across one of the previous bodies I inhabited.
I don’t know exactly how I identified it as being a version of me that I previously inhabited. It was just this odd feeling of familiarity like I had been here before. Something just told me that I had stepped into this person’s consciousness and that they were in this condition because of me. I hovered over them as the respirator rasped and breathed for him. The EKG beeped out a steady rhythm, its sound being the only thing that told me this version of me was still alive.
He laid motionless in the hospital bed with his eyelids taped shut. There were so many tubes in him, each one carried out his bodily functions. He had a tube to breathe, one to provide nutrients, and even another to aid in voiding himself. His life had been reduced to nothing but a series of tubes carrying out bodily necessities for a life he could no longer enjoy. This person was brain-dead and I was the cause of his condition.
I thought that shifting into their bodies was harmless and that I was only experiencing their life for a while before returning it to them, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I wasn’t pushing them to the back of their mind while I assumed the helm, I was ejecting them completely from their brain and leaving their body behind. I tried to enter their mind to see if there was any glimmer of them left, but there was nothing. There was no resistance, it was like stepping into a dark room and feeling along the perimeter for a light switch but finding nothing. There was nothing here. I couldn’t step back into the controls. This person was irrevocably gone.
I woke up after that and just laid in this other version of me’s bed for hours. The thought that I had been doing this for months to multiple people made me sick. I tried to remember how many realities I had shifted into, how many versions of me I had rendered catatonic, but I couldn’t. There were too many to count. Even the body I was in at that time would be doomed to the same fate as the others if I left. Would his family find him in time to get him to a hospital when I left or would his organs slowly shut down until he stopped breathing and died?
I thought about returning to my original body and vowing to never shift to another reality, but I realized how hopeless that all was. Even if I could manage to sift through the millions of alternate realities to find my original one, what chance did I have of returning to my body and continuing my life? Was there anything I could even return to? Could I even re-assume control of my body which had been lacking a consciousness for so long? How long had my body been brain-dead in that hospital bed? How would I re-assume control when I couldn’t shift into the bodies of the comatose? I was stuck here.
I decided that I would stay in this body for better-or-worse. I spent about three months in this person’s life before the migraines started. The pain came in debilitating waves. One moment, I was fine and trying to adjust to this new environment, and the next, I was on my knees with my fists pressed into my temples in an attempt to quell the agony. It felt like my brain was a bundle of nerves that was wrapped in a sheet of constantly constricting razor wire. It didn’t take long for the paranoia to settle in.
What was causing this pain? Was it me slowly losing my hold over this body? I never attempted to stay inside a body for longer than two months so was it even possible to indefinitely occupy a body? Or was it something worse? Was it someone else trying to invade this reality? It was possible, there were thousands of alternate realities out there. Who is to say that there wasn’t someone out there with the same ability? The physical symptoms mirrored that of consciousnesses I had taken over. The terrifying thought of my mind being ejected and this body slowly atrophying and rotting drove me to do the unthinkable.
I started shifting realities again.
Driven by paranoia, the will to survive, and the fear of dissolution; I shifted. The version of me I chose to control was studying for an A.P. Biology exam in his room when I invaded. Enough time had passed to the point where I thought the worst was behind me. I convinced myself that it was a singular event and that it wouldn’t happen again, but soon enough the pain returned in all its blinding fury. I would move to a new reality as soon as the migraines caught up with me. No matter what happened, the pain always returned. Now it was a permanent fixture of my shifting. I would get a brief reprieve from the headaches with every new body, but sooner-or-later, the migraines would always come back.
Dark thoughts buzzed through me while all of this was going on. Could it happen to me? A teenager listening to music in their room. What would happen if I lost my hold over the body? A student sitting in the parking lot, trying to psyche themselves up to ask a girl to prom. Would my spirit linger in that place for all eternity without a body to enter and a place to go? A version of me that was rehearsing a graduation speech. What happened to all the consciousness that I forced out and all the bodies I left behind? A teenager poring over websites for prospective colleges. It was either them or me and I wanted to survive at all costs. I didn’t even notice that the time between headaches was less and less.
What had started as a refractory period of three months slowly began to decrease. Soon it had gone for three months to two and then to one. It was so slight a change at first that I didn’t realize it until the time between the migraines was only a few weeks. It was an imperceptible difference until I actually sat down and started counting down the days between episodes. It dropped from three weeks to eighteen days to eleven. Now it's only a week before the excruciating migraines return.
I’m running out of time. How long is it until I’m trapped? Will the time I have left drop down to mere hours? How many people will I sacrifice to steal a few more precious hours? A part of me knows I have to end this and another part of me wants to shift realities until there is no one left to take over. I need to end this before the desire to survive overrides any sense of morality I have left. The pain is so intense that it blasts out all other thoughts from my mind. When the headache sets in, I can only think of escaping the searing pain. I still dream of other realities when I sleep and that’s the problem. The ability to switch realities is still there and the urge to buy myself a little more time at the cost of other people is still there. I know I will succumb to the pain and try to escape it when it returns. I have become a vampire of time, but that ends tonight. I was fourteen when I first killed my original body by trying to run away from my own reality.
I will be twenty when I kill myself for the final time.
In an odd twist of fate, I find myself writing this in the body of a suicidal version of me. I watched him in the darkened room as he held the knife to his wrist. There were letters all around him from various colleges that had been hastily torn open. Their contents were crumpled on the floor of his room. The sense of rejection and hopelessness encompassed the room. He stared at the knife pressed against his wrist for minutes before I stepped in. He wanted to kill himself, but suicide is an absolute. There is no turning back from that. It would make anyone hesitate. I just gave him the push that he needed.
Oddly enough, he fought the most to survive. The others crumbled under my mental assault and were exiled from their bodies in the space of a minute. He gave his all trying to force me out of his mind, but I was too determined. I needed a brief respite from the migraines to get my thoughts in order and to steel myself for what I had to do to escape my rapidly approaching fate. I had to write out my final message. It took fifteen minutes, but his will eventually broke under my assault and I ejected him out into the ether. He would be my last victim. I only needed a few hours free from the crushing headache to write all this before I give him the death he wanted so badly.
I have to do this. So many lives, so many un-lived lives. So many parents finding their children’s corpses after I abandoned their world. Left wanting answers they can’t find. Lives effectively ruined. This is the only way I can think of to stop myself. If I'm dead, I won't have that option to shift anymore. I think the worst thing about all of this is that while I have this moment of clarity where I'm free from the debilitating pain, I know what I'm doing is one of my only options. However if the pain were to return, as it likely will in a few days, I would shift bodies in an instant to escape that agony. I would sacrifice another person just to buy myself a few more hours.
Onto why I'm writing this. I can only hope that there is some converging point in all of our timelines and somewhere out there are multiple versions of me writing out these same words. Maybe some will convince themselves it’s some ridiculous dream that has to be told to someone or a story that needs to be written out. Maybe it’ll give some un-pardonable explanation to the hundreds of parents I left alone in the world with their catatonic and brain-dead children.
I don’t deserve to be able to write this, but I’m afraid of dying alone. Ever since I first lost my parents, I have been alone. I tried to substitute it with new lives and new possibilities, but that only made the hollow feeling in my chest grow. I’m terrified of that moment when I have to realize that I can’t escape my lot in life. I want someone to know I existed. I want someone to know what I have done. I want someone to know why I have done all of this and I need people to know why I’m doing this next part. I'm so sorry.
Written by EmpyrealInvective