On a cold Saturday night in February, Mike and Beth invited two couples over to spend the “night of darkness” with. In their new house for less than a year, they were worried about what was going to happen during the planned blackout. Inviting Brent and his girlfriend Indya was a way to have someone in the know. Brent worked at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, IL. The other couple, Marcus and his wife Julya had been the closest friends to the other four in the six years since they all graduated from University of Illinois.
Their house was new construction in 2020 in a small subdivision in Frankfort. South of I80, it was one of the newest subdivisions among a nest of farms stretching far to the south and west.
After dinner, they gathered in the living room in front of a roaring fire. Plenty of firewood was stacked next to the fireplace. Enough to last a week if needed. In addition to being the fountain of scientific knowledge, Brent was also considered himself a wine connoisseur. He brought a crate of glorious vintages from the Tuscany region.
Unlit candles were scattered all over the house, and another fireplace was ready to be lit in the couple’s bedroom upstairs.
Brent waited with excited anticipation for the power to cut. He could barely resist starting the story, but he promised himself he would.
After everyone had quite a few glasses of fine wine, they relaxed and sort of forgot about the impending blackout. The conversation steered toward politics and sports. And then, at precisely 8pm, the lights went out.
Indya jumped with a little shriek of surprise, and everyone laughed nervously.
With all eyes on Brent now, Michael asked, “So, what’s supposed to happen now?”
Beth stood up and turned on the flashlight on her cell phone. Brent pointed at her and said, “Hey, you don’t want to do that. Take the battery out. Trust me.”
Alarmed, Beth asked, “Why? I thought it was just the power grid?”
Shaking his head, Brent added, “No, it’s anything electronic. Power it down and take the battery out. You’ll thank me tomorrow.”
The others immediately took their phones out of their pockets and shut them down, removing the batteries and placing them on the coffee table.
Marcus poked Brent’s shoulder and said, “Go on, man. Tell us what’s supposed to happen now.”
Julya curled up against Marcus’ left arm, clutching him tightly with a little shiver. Beth was just as nervous as Julya, but kept herself busy lighting the candles with wooden matches.
Brent grinned as he looked at all of them in turn, then said, “To be honest, nobody’s entirely sure. In 1859 they had the Carrington Event. Anyone hear of that?”
They all shook their heads.
“Well, back then we obviously didn’t have the electrical grid we have today. But they did have the telegraph. Lines burst into flames. Trees too. That was the biggest CME in history, until today.”
Julya asked, “What’s a CME?”
“Coronal Mass Ejection. It’s a powerful ejection of plasma from the sun that can wreak havoc on electrical systems, power grids. That’s why they’ve been scrambling to protect prepare for the worldwide shutdown tonight. Luckily, someone finally listened to the warnings and they started preparing for this years ago. Still though, nobody knows exactly what will happen. But there are some pretty wild stories about the last one.”
Mike filled his glass from the new bottle of wine. Brent saw a slight tremble in his hand.
“What are some of those wild things that happened?” Mike asked.
Beth, out of candles to light, rejoined Mike on the couch across from Brent and Indya. Marcus and Julya sat on the loveseat between the other two couples, their heads going back and forth as they spoke, like watching a tennis match.
Brent grinned again. It looked ghoulish in the fire light.
“Well, back in the late 1800s, there was a physicist by the name of Dr. Galm Borsheim from University of Oslo, in Norway. He studied ancient European cultures and mythology about the sun, and the sun’s anomalies. He was born a few years before the Carrington Event, so he didn’t have any memory of what happened, but he studied it extensively. And he uncovered some really crazy shit.”
Leaning forward, Marcus dreamily said, “Like what?”
Julya clutched his arm tighter, almost hiding behind his shoulder but still wanting to hear Brent’s story.
Brent said, “There were reports of strange creatures emerging from nowhere. People materializing out of thin air. A lady in Rhode Island tried to get the police to kill her husband, or at least take him away.”
Beth whispered, “Why?”
“She said he had died ten years earlier and all of the sudden, there he was.”
Michael said, “Holy shit. For real?”
Brent nodded. “Dr. Borsheim was a serious man. He did extensive research and came up with some pretty interesting theories.”
“Theories about what?” Indya asked.
“He claimed that the intense electromagnetic activity in our atmosphere interrupted the ethereal barrier between our world and parallel worlds. When the conditions were right, he posited that you could open up a doorway between worlds.”
Beth laughed nervously and said, “Get the hell out of here. That’s nonsense.”
Shaking his head, Brent said, “I don’t think so. Think about it, Beth. All of you. Science has discovered a lot over the centuries, but we’ve barely scratched the surface of all that’s really out there.”
Julya shuddered at this. From behind Marcus’ shoulder, she said, “You’re joking right? I agree that science still has a lot to discover, but parallel universes? That shit isn’t real.”
His face grew serious, and he turned toward Julya. “There are things we can’t even imagine. Parallel worlds with mirror images of ourselves, or other versions that are slightly different. Or perhaps wildly different. All those stories about strange creatures emerging from nowhere, people stuck in time loops, or materializing out of thin air...when the conditions are right, portals between worlds open up and unfathomable things can happen. Beautiful and terrifying.”
Mike sighed and said, “So, what are you saying? A bunch of alien animals are going to show up and savage us all?”
Chuckling, Brent said, “No, probably not. All I’m saying is, the conditions are right for someone who was motivated enough to actually open one of those doors.”
Marcus laughed nervously and said, “How?”
Brent slapped his knees and stood up. “I’m glad you asked. I’ll be right back.”
Two minutes later, he came back through the front door with a long piece of plywood and a 12 volt battery strapped to it. Two foot-long wires ran from either terminal, dangling over the edge of the board.
He placed the board down on the table and said, “We need power. And a few other things I’m sure you have in your home, Beth. So, who wants to see if we can open a door?”
Julya shook her head and said, “Nope. Not me. Hell no!”
Indya added, “I’m with her. No friggin way, man. Not that I believe we can even do it. I think you’re just trying to scare us. But no.”
Brent looked up at Beth and Mike, waiting.
Mike glanced at Beth, and they both shrugged their shoulders. “Why not? It could be fun.” Beth said with a laugh.
The six of them headed to the kitchen. Beth and Brent held candles, the only light in the room. Outside, the world was completely dark. A rolling blackout started on the east coast an hour earlier, and now it rolled through the Midwest. In another hour, the entire country would be dark. Wrapping around the Earth over the next twelve hours, the entire globe would be shrouded in darkness and completely devoid of manufactured electrical activity. Except Russia and North Korea. Their governments thought all the hand-wringing about the incoming CME was overblown, fake news. They would be sorry tomorrow after being rocked back to the stone age, technologically speaking.
Standing in front of the pantry, Brent said, “We just need some heavy duty aluminum foil, and any citrus fruit.”
Beth went to the fridge and grabbed a grapefruit. “Will this do?”
He nodded. “How about the aluminum foil?”
Michael emerged from the pantry with an unopened roll of foil. “Got it! Now what?”
Looking around the kitchen, Brent said, “Now we just have to find a doorway. One that doesn’t go to outside, and one we won’t need in case of emergency.”
Julya yelped, “Emergency? Why would there be an emergency?”
Marcus rubbed her shoulder and said, “Just in case. Relax, you’re freaking me out.”
As he held the roll of foil, Michael asked, “Ok, now what?”
Brent led them down the hall to the far end of the house. Lighting the way with his candle, he approached the laundry room.
“Is it ok if we use this door?”
Beth said, “You’re not going to destroy it or anything, are you?”
Shaking his head, he pulled the door closed.
“Ok, Mike, pull out twenty feet of foil and then lay it on the ground. I’m going to need all of you to help him with this. I want you to roll it up as tightly as you can, length wise, so we have one long single piece of foil.”
Beth held the grapefruit out to him. “What do you want me to do with this?”
He held up his finger and said, “We’ll need that in a second, let’s get the foil taken care of first.”
Two minutes later, they stood up holding twenty feet of densely wound foil. Brent helped them maneuver it around the door frame, attaching it with duct tape to the trim. The strip was roughly an inch wide.
“Ok, Beth. Cut the grapefruit in half and rub the juice all around the entirety of the foil. It has to be covered in the acid from end to end. Indya, you start with the other half at the other end of the foil. I’ll be right back.”
While they rubbed the grapefruit on the foil, feeling foolish, Brent came back with his battery contraption. Where the two ends of the foil met on the floor, Brent attached the ends of each wire to each end of the foil.
Marcus asked, “This looks like some kind of 6th grade science experiment. What is this even supposed to do?”
Brent laughed and said, “I know how rudimentary it looks, but I assure you, this is all we need.”
Mike asked, “When did you even make this thing?”
“A couple of days ago. I was going to try it at our house, but figured since you invited us, we could do it here. Safety in numbers, am I right?”
Glancing at the worried faces, he shook his head and said, “I’m kidding. It’ll be fine. This might work, it might not.”
Crouching down, Mike said, “What is this thing supposed to even do?”
Pointing at the black box next to the battery, Brent said, “This is an alternator. When I turn it on, it’ll send power to the metal foil in quick pulses, left and right. The electricity should interact with the metal and acid around the door, and under these conditions with the unusual properties of the CME bombarding us this very moment, it should pierce the barrier between our world and a parallel one.”
Brent stared up at a quintet of mouths hanging open. He didn’t know if they thought he was crazy or a genius.
With his finger hovering over the power button, Brent looked around at them and said, “Are we all ready?”
Julya shrunk behind Marcus, still wanting to see what would happen. She chittered like a mouse. Marcus and Mike looked at each other, then nodded. Beth rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders. Indya just stared at him, wondering if he was taking this joke too far.
“Ok then, here we go.”
He pushed the green button. Nothing happened. At first.
Then, a low hum. A single blue spark jumped from the left side of the doorway. Another from the right. The hum grew louder, but still subtle. They watched with bulging eyes.
The hum began to oscillate, left then right, left then right, faster and faster. Until it became a constant higher pitched racket. Blue and purple sparks danced around the doorway, and then, a bright blue flash.
The hum vibrated, never fully dying. The blue light ran around the door frame just inside the foil.
Brent smiled. Pointing at the door, he turned to Beth and said, “Do you want to do the honors?”
Incredulous, she said, “It’s not going to shock me or anything, is it?”
Brent shrugged. “Probably not. You want me to do it?”
Brent put his hand on the door handle and turned. No shock. There was no resistance, and he pushed the door open into what should have been the laundry room.
On the other side of the door was blackness. They all looked at one another, then Brent grabbed the candle from Beth. Without hesitation, he stepped through the doorway.
Mike winced then relaxed as Brent turned around on the other side of the door and waved at them to come through. One by one, they followed him.
Michael and Beth were overwhelmed with a foreign version of déjà vu as their eyes adjusted to the low light and they saw a mirror image of their house. As if an exact copy of their floor plan was built right up against their laundry room, only with everything exactly opposite.
The six friends moved cautiously down the hall toward what they expected was a matching living room in a parallel universe. Or maybe just an elaborate trick Brent played on them.
As they crept through the kitchen, they came out to the doorway to the living room. Six young people, their twins, sat in a circle holding hands. They were chanting in front of a fire place in a foreign language. Something none of them had ever heard.
Frozen with fear or disbelief, nobody even breathed.
Finally, Brent’s twin opened his eyes. They glowed with a yellow hue, around a bright red pupil.
The Brent-twin smiled at them and said, “You came. Welcome.”
Julya clawed at Marcus’ sleeve and whispered, “What—the—fuck?”
Brent stared in amazement and said, “Yes, we did. Were you expecting us?”
Brent-twin nodded and stood up. The others stood with him and faced their visitors.
“The sum of the parts never equals the power of the whole. And now, you will join us.”
Their eyes blurred and watered as their twins approached them. A feeling of being sucked together, like an iron file to a magnet drew them to their twins. Before any of them could scream, their minds absorbed into their twin’s mind, and a feeling of duality and horror mixed with the ecstasy their twins felt at this transformation.
The Brent-Brent creature waved his hand at the others and headed toward the doorway.
“Come, we will rule all worlds.”
As they emerged into the original Mike and Beth’s home, Brent-Brent grinned and said, “And now, we feast.”