Maybe Among the Better of Many Possible Worlds

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Mark Neyrinck

Slot machines inside New York New York hotel
Photo Credit: Ian Lloyd

Zip! The lights and sounds wobble and flicker, the heavenly casino hum going discordant for a moment. Blurry olive fireworks appear, and I smell vinegar. It makes me a little sick, which is good, because otherwise I’d do it even more often. The casino would get nervous about me, and I’d get kicked out.

As desired, the ace of spades is in my hand now. I guess it was from a parallel universe or something. I don’t really understand how this works. This is what happens when I take acid: I see other worlds, and move into one if it seems better.

After, like, a half an hour the dizziness wears off, but my world-grabbing ability hasn’t; I retain it for about a day after taking the LSD. Possibilities start creeping into my peripheral vision, and I get the urge to cheat again. I’m well ahead for the night, so instead I get up and stroll into the Las Vegas night.

As always, the strip is full of people. I’ve now spent years here, and I recognize people all the time. I walk away from some chick I talked to once.

A car horn honks. It’s some bastard in a convertible running an orange light, honking at a pedestrian it looks like he’s trying to hit. His slick hair glistens with neon light. Then a Hummer barely brakes in time to avoid hitting him. I see a world where the crash did happen, so I grab it. El Smasho. A few of the immaculate hairs are now out of place. I suspect the convertible has lost its convertibility.

The crash distracts some people, but I move on down the strip. I feel really dizzy, since I had little chance to prepare for that jump. I barf onto some porn in the gutter.

I carry on, considering another casino visit, but then fatigue starts to smother me. Well, it is 3:30 a.m., so I dip into my apartment for a nap. I take some no-dream pills and hope for the best.

I dream anyway. I see some lady taking a morning walk in Europe or somewhere. A dog barks at her, so I fail to resist yanking into the world where the dog got into some bees that day, and is not so vocal now.

Upon waking, a hangover reminds me that last night I grabbed the world with the excessively curious-about-beehives dog. I panic, looking for changes in my bedroom once I realize this. I don’t see anything, and am relieved. I think one time I woke up in a harem in Qatar with a killer hangover. But maybe that was a dream.

Yeah, I’m not totally sure I wasn’t personally affected by that dog’s stupid beehive curiosity. That’s the trippiest thing. My brain gets used to an alternative world after a few minutes and I forget the original one. I can’t even use Polaroids and tattoos to remind myself of worlds I’ve left, like that guy in Memento did. I’ve actually tried that, but the tattoos didn’t come with me. I’m lucky that a few of these memories have stuck in my brain.

Dawn is breaking outside. I turn on the TV. It’s live news, even though I’ve tried to disable news channels. (Live TV tempts me to wreak havoc on the set.) Of course the anchorman is a super-douche. I saw him sexually harassing a blackjack dealer a few months ago. So that’s my excuse today to take some acid. After a couple minutes I start to see a fairly nearby peripheral world where he cut his chin shaving this morning, and grab it.

I see a blob of makeup appear on his chin where he cut himself and then I gradually forget that I produced it. Forgetting is troublesome but calming. I find myself actually listening to the TV. The douche is talking about an asteroid that’s coming toward the earth. A big asteroid.

Yeah, this crazy asteroid will be here in a few months. They’re talking about the options for destroying or deflecting it, and it looks bad. By instinct, my hyperactive brain starts searching for alternative worlds where it looks better, and I see nothing. I start to get a headache, and turn off the TV.

I turn on my phone. There’s a voicemail from my parents, and Sally sent me a text: “did you hear about the asteroid? crazy what are you doing today?” Apocalyptic romance syndrome, perhaps. I text my parents that I’ll call them later, even though I’m not sure they know how to accept texts.

Things went pretty well with Sally at first, a couple years ago. Almost immediately, before I even did any world-grabbing, she called me “Lucky,” which I took to be a sign from heaven. I had fantasies that she supernaturally understood me. Then I gave her a $100,000-winning lottery ticket, and soon she was satisfied with her own luck; she lost interest in me. I’ve seen her around town a couple of times, though, and she seemed cautiously happy to see me.

I text her: “trying not to watch TV” and turn off the phone. I’m not in the mood for a text conversation.

I shower and eat something, then go out the door for some gambling.

The daylight hits me hard as usual, even through my thick sunglasses. At least it tends to crowd out alternative worlds.

I reach the strip, and immediately notice how few people there are, fewer people than four a.m. Christmas morning. A bug-eyed dude almost runs into me. Most people are walking fast, on a mission. Maybe they’re all astronauts going to the asteroid with Bruce Willis. There are also some dudes like me, taking a lazy, apathetic stroll.

I enter a casino. The slot machines’ hum calms me, but that wears off. Inside, just like outside, there are only a few bastards like me.

“Hey bro, hear about the asteroid?” a middle-aged male slot-machiner, even more disheveled than me, asks.

I ignore him, and head to the only poker table already with gamblers. There’s a good-looking dealer there, too.

“Mornin’,” a fellow poker-player says, an old lady. Her mouth makes what might be a smile. There’s a little small talk, but nothing about the asteroid. I win her a few hands. I’m in a generous mood, with all this gloom and doom around.

After an hour or three the asteroid-apathy starts to get on my nerves. I check out, losing only a couple hundred dollars.

I decide that watching the Bellagio fountain might cool my nerves. On my way out there, unbidden, my thumb turns on my phone; yep, a couple more texts from Sally. She’s in town and wants to meet up. This makes my unsettled feeling boil over, but I text back: “Wanna meet at the fountain?” She says she’ll be on her way over.

The water streams do their wasteful but tasteful, hypnotizing dance. My mind wanders, and again seeks out peripheral worlds without the asteroid. This often works best when I’m not concentrating on it, but even now, I see nothing.

I can see alternative presents, but not futures. So I can’t for example tell you whether the asteroid is really going to hit, if it’s a hoax, etc. I get another text from Sally, apologizing for still being on her way.

I consider taking some more LSD. Sometimes that seems to broaden the range of worlds I can find. But it’s at home; I almost never take more than one dose a day. I see a sparrow smack into the side of the Bellagio, feel crappy about it, and grab the world where it didn’t happen. A couple seconds later I look down at the phone and notice that Sally didn’t text me today in this world. But I forget about that soon enough and make my way home for some more LSD.

As usual I’m briefly appalled at the mess in my apartment, but then I grow accustomed; it becomes just another unpleasant buzz in my unconscious. I turn on the TV, finding myself actually starting to care about the damned asteroid, and prepare another dose of LSD. I look at my watch; four hours since the last dose. Shouldn’t be fatal, at least.

On the TV, they’re discussing asteroid-avoidance options. Apparently nuking the mofo in space won’t work; it’s too big, and the pieces, now radioactive, would still fall to earth, possibly wreaking even more havoc. There’s a plan on the books to gravitationally tow it away, that in principle might work given another two to three years of intense development, but we don’t have that kind of time.

A text from Sally appears: “did you hear about the asteroid? crazy what’s up?” I get a hint of déjà vu, but needless to say my sense of déjà vu is almost perpetual.

Things went pretty well with Sally at first, a couple years ago. Almost immediately, before I even did any world-grabbing, she called me “Lucky,” which I took to be a sign from heaven. I had fantasies that she supernaturally understood me. Then I gave her a $100,000-winning lottery ticket, and soon she was satisfied with her own luck; she lost interest in me. She’s left town.

I administer the acid. The last time I took two doses in one day was when I was trying to invade a world where Sally didn’t decide to leave town. What I jumped into was way too far away (maybe there was a zebra involved?); I had to quickly jump back to something roughly resembling the original world to even know Sally at all. Even then it wasn’t quite the original world, for one reason because my memory of it was already starting to disappear.

With the added dose, peripheral worlds spring up all around. One is cherry-flavored, under my shirt on the table. I get the sense that I don’t exist at all in that one; in fact, I’m not even sure humans ever came to be. There’s also one on the sofa that reminds me of chimichangas, and another inhabiting the ugly plaid jacket on the coatrack. This is the kind of nonsense that comes with a double dose. They get more wildly different than the “real” world, but it gets harder to tell what’s in them. It’s almost hilarious, but at the same time olive-colored, musty, and profoundly not, I assure you. Don’t get any ideas that this crap might be pleasant.

All at once, I see a tendril of icy, glistening cinnamon waving like a flag. I feel like I’m in a kid’s sugary-cereal commercial, and my nose reels it in, leading me into the kitchen.

The cinnamon tendril-flag is coming from a family-sized box of MarsMallows, a sickly-sweet cinnamon cereal that recently emerged with the announcement of a supposedly-actual manned Mars mission, to happen in ten years. I didn’t remember buying MarsMallows, but then I don’t remember a lot of things.

The box is bitter cold. And yet I have the distinct impression that there’s no annihilating asteroid in the world it contains. I also get the sense that I exist there, but there’s something deeply weird about me. I grab the box anyway.


Now I’m driving a minivan on a snowy street in suburban Kansas City. I think this is strange; I thought it was summer. I look up at the sun and it looks strangely small. The kids are in the back seat. The news on the radio is telling me that an asteroid was discovered that might hit the earth, but will more likely graze the atmosphere in a few months. This gives me some déjà vu, then some meta-déjà vu because I think I should get déjà vu more often, or maybe vice-versa. It all makes me dizzy. I look strangely at the losing lottery ticket on the dashboard. The stop light turns green, and I shake my head, and drive on.


Mark Neyrinck does cosmology research in Baltimore. He writes creatively as much as he can, to combat the dulling effect that scientific writing has on his style. Email: mark.neyrinck[at]

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