Parallel Afterlives

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I had no chance. None.

I was walking on the sidewalk on my way to work, when I heard a loud crash behind me and turned around: a semi truck had left its lane and was careening towards me, sideways, while slowly tipping over. Although everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, I didn’t even try to move. The pain from the impact was unbelievably intense, but at least, it didn’t last long.

Then there was blackness, but somehow, I was still able to have thoughts. “Alice, I’m so sorry.” The kids had recently left the house, and we had just begun, in the last few months, to make time for ourselves again. “I’m so sorry.” For the first time in a long while, I started to think about the afterlife. “There are only two possibilities: yes or no.” I started to cry, and felt a tear roll down my cheek. “What?”

I opened my eyes. I was lying on a bed, wearing loose garments I did not recognize. I moved my fingers and wiggled my toes: everything seemed fine, I didn’t feel any pain. How was that possible?

I sat up on the bed and looked around. The room was small, evenly lit, with no windows or decorations. Only the bed, a small table and two chairs. Suddenly, without warning, I felt a cold shiver running down my spine. “That’s it”, I thought, “I’m dead… and this is… the afterlife?”

The door opened, and Alice entered the room. She looked amazing, serene and relaxed, more beautiful than ever. I was so happy to see her, yet my heart was pumping, and I felt the panic getting stronger. “WHAT IS THIS?” I heard myself scream. “Where are we? Am I… dead?”

She looked at me with a neutral expression on her face, and simply said “Yes”.

My mind was racing. “If I’m dead and Alice is here with me, then she’s dead too... But that can’t be! I’m the one who had the accident. This must be a dream, or a nightmare, generated by my poor dying brain.”

Alice was sensing my disarray, and she smiled. “I know you have a ton of questions right now”, she said. “It’s all going to be alright, you must believe me. It’s not easy, but I will try to explain… everything.”

Alice loved explaining things, to me, to everybody: that was her thing. She was a born teacher, and the kids at the school she taught loved her. I often felt like she was treating me like one of her students, and it drove me nuts sometimes. But this time, I was ready to listen.

“The first thing you need to understand is that we’re dead, which means that we now exist outside the universe we were used to. Time here is not the same as time back there: for instance, I’ve been here for a while, although I died on Earth later than you, in fact, almost twenty years later.”

“Then why did you get here first?” I asked.

“It’s complicated. You must start thinking about things differently. In our old lives, things appeared simple, linear, with time flowing from a unique past to a unique future. But now that we’re dead, we can view the universe from outside, all at once. The future, the past… and the superpositions.”

“The superpositions?”

“Quantum superpositions… You know, Schrodinger’s cat alive and dead at the same time and all that weird physics stuff. It turns out that everything is a quantum superposition… including the afterlife.”

Quantum mechanics? My old high school teacher loved that stuff, and often tried to introduce some of it in his boring physics lectures. He obviously saw something special there, but us poor kids just didn’t get it. I wished now I had paid more attention in class.

“So, we’re dead and alive at the same time?” I dared to venture.

“No, we’re dead alright. This is the afterlife, and you are an afterthought, one possible continuation of your last living thought. But in all the infinite quantum superpositions that make up the whole of reality, you also have a lot of other afterlives, all happening at once, so to speak.”

“But this place… this room, this bed, these clothes…”

“Oh, yes, this”, she gestured around. “Well, in this particular afterlife, our old universe turned out to be a gigantic program running on one of the quantum computers of an incredibly advanced civilisation. I guess this is part of the courtesy that they are extending to us, to make up for the inconvenience of having been destroyed within the simulation. I know this is weird, but I’ve been told that this is one of the simplest scenarios where we can keep on existing after perishing on Earth, so this type of afterlife is almost certain to be experienced, statistically.”

My head was spinning. “OK, but you, Alice… Twenty years?”

“You want to know what I did in all that time between your death and mine? Well, I can tell you what this version of Alice did, but from your point of view, Alice branched out after your death in an almost infinite tree of possibilities. In some branches, she died almost right after you, for various reasons. In other branches, she goes on living, or we both do. Superpositions without end.”

“You mean that there are other Alices and other Bobs out there?” This all seemed like a grotesque quantum farce of cosmic proportions. “Have you… have you met some of them… some of… us, I mean?”

“Calm down, Bob”, Alice said. “Just focus on the here and now. There will be plenty of occasions later for self-reunions and other stuff even weirder than you can imagine. Baby steps… we have all the time in the world, literally.”

“So, what are we going to do now?”, I asked.

“Didn’t you listen to a word I just said?” she laughed. “Everything, of course!”

About the Author: 
Marc Séguin is a physics teacher, author and video creator (youtube.com/ThisIsPhysicsChannel) living in Montréal. In 2015, his essay “My God, It’s Full of Clones” (fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2497), on themes related to those explored in this short story, placed second in a contest organized by the Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi).