A Gift from A Book
Hailey Ferguson, aside from being relatively shorter than most of her friends, was an otherwise normal, maturing human being. She dated, studied, got average grades, and functioned as much on a high-school level as anyone could be said to. There was nothing externally remarkable about her, save being five-one in a school where most girls were nearer six feet. In younger years, it made her a target for ridicule, but now those girls were too obsessed with boys, girls, or themselves, to notice her roaming the halls.
Day by day, wandering was Hailey’s occupation. She drifted from one group of acquaintances to the next in a zig-zagging meander, occasionally accompanied by the lone, other human she might call a friend, Elise Brennan. The only time the rhythm broke was when the five minute bell rang. Then, alone or accompanied, she’d meander toward next destination.
Today, she was headed through the Western Stairwell, alone. She wandered down, a passive figure in a sea of hormones and adrenaline surging and roiling all about about her. Hailey was always a calm center of it all and today was hardly an exception. The sixteen-year old dirty-blonde head rounded the stairs for the second level, bobbed down, then rounded another corner for the ground-floor. The river of students gave a final push through double-doors, then dissipated on the other side.
The crowd half-smothering Hailey a moment ago all but disappeared. To others it seemed she did too, along a gradual curve for a perpendicular hallway and Mr. Harmon’s physics class. She liked Mr. Harmon. She liked his class too. But being the youngest teacher at BHS and bookishly rugged put him in a special place for her. Most of all though, Hailey loved physics. His teaching it made him infinitely more appealing.
Hailey loved physics for one, simple reason: it wedded science and mathematics in a way she wasn’t sure couldn’t explain everything in the universe and beyond, given time. Hailey was nothing if not thirsty for those explanations, and others.
Predictably then, not much could’ve made her late for physics class. She’d have rather broken the mystery of her aloofness by running madly to class before being late. Like her rhythmic meandering though, her aloof manner was in no way endangered today. She let her tranquil legs carry her to class and the left edge of the room: a prime window-seat with extra space for her pack on the floor.
The bell rang and the class settled. Mr. Harmon’s ruggedness took its place before the chalk-board with the rest of him. He waited for the last zips of back-packs to fizzle out into the air, then cleared his throat.
“Today’s lesson’s another in theoretical physics,” he said casually. He rounded for the chalk board. “Energy and Matter.” He wrote the words on the board. “The two things that comprise the entirety of the universe.” He turned back and scratched his neat beard. “To review, what is the difference between the two.”
A few hands went up, Hailey’s among them. Mr. Harmon picked Jordyn Sutton– one of the girls as soon called a slut her friends behind her back, as “BFF” to her face. Hailey’s hand sank. Jordyn cleared her throat, “Energy is a force. Matter is a substance. Like the difference between heat and fire; fire’s physical. Heat’s radiated energy.”
“Yes, very good,” he said. “Any others?”
Jordyn’s face went blank. Hands went up again, Hailey’s with them. Mr. Harmon picked her. “Anything physical versus anything with no mass but the potential for change; Ice and cold, food and calories, or light and a light-bulb.”
“Very good,” Harmon said, returning to the board and scribbling out the answers he’d received. “Now, as we learned before, we know there are extensive relationships between matter and energy, as well as anti-matter. Can anyone remind us about Anti-matter?”
Only Hailey’s hand went up this time. “Anti-matter’s like the negative charge to Matter’s positive charge, but when the two meet, they’re both annihilated from colliding. The result is the creation of mass-less objects like protons and neutrinos.”
He cocked a crooked smile, “Reading ahead again.” The room chuckled. Hailey blushed slightly. The lesson carried on. “Yes. Now, just like matter and energy, there exists dark energy and dark matter. We cannot physically measure or observe them, but their effects on other objects confirm their existence.” He drew a large circle beside a smaller one on the board, “We can visualize this. We know the Earth–” he put an E in the small circle “orbits the Sun–” then, an S in the larger circle. “Because we can track the sun’s progress along the sky. But we also know Mars orbits the sun for the same reason.” He drew another small circle, further away, with an “M.” “However, what if we could not see the sun? How would we know its there?”
Someone spoke aloud. “Because Mars and Earth are still orbiting it.”
Mr. Harmon spun ’round, pointing, “Absolutely right, Michael.” He erased the sun, then redrew it with dashed-lines. “Stars like these are not uncommon. They are impossible to see, however we know they exist because of their effects on their neighbors. We can’t see them but we see them acting on the things around them.” He turned back to the class, “In much the same way, dark matter and dark energy can neither be seen nor measured, but we their effects on the rest of the universe tell of their existence.
“For example,” He wrote “e=mc2” on the board. “Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was originally written to include a cosmological constant— a mysterious force counteracting gravity to form a static, or unmoving, universe. Soon after, scientists learned the universe was not static. And in fact, was expanding rapidly. Einstein then removed the cosmological constant from Relativity, calling it, “the greatest blunder of my lifetime.”
“However, recent advances in technology and high-level mathematics have reintroduced the cosmological constant as dark energy. A force, neither seen nor measured, but known to exist because of that same, accelerating expansion that caused Einstein to rule it out. By all theories, excluding the constant requires our universe to be contracting. Observations contradict this. The universe is expanding, and that expansion is accelerating.”
Hailey was entirely enthralled. All of her mental focus was on Mr. Harmon. Dark matter and dark energy had swallowed her whole. It was surreal; a thing existing, affecting an entire universe, but invisible, untouchable. It seemed more the realm of fairy-tale than science. Then again, so might wind to those unfamiliar with it. In a way, too, she sympathized with it in a rare bout of anthropomorphism– it reminded her of kids no-one knew of until it was too late.
When the bell finally rang, signaling the transition between periods, the class rose, eager for their last period and the day’s end. Evidently, Relativity applied more to high-schoolers watching ticking clocks than they realized. Hailey was often a victim of such physics-ails as well, but Before she could scamper off Harmon called her over. He handed her a book titled, “Dark Matter and You.”
“It’s not required, but I figured you’ find it interesting.”
Hailey’s eyes lit up, “Yes. Thank you!”
Mr. Harmon gave his charming, bearded smile. “It might get a little “out there,” with the author’s personal theories, but his science and coverage of others’ theories is sound.”
“I’ll do my best to power through,” she chuckled.
“Take your time. No rush,” he said, ending the conversation with a turn for his chalk-board.
Hailey bounced away and into a final period that flew by, relativity notwithstanding. Geometry was easy. She’d long ago surpassed most of her class, only electing to stay out of the AP class for fear of its homework load. That fact afforded her time to start reading Mr. Harmon’s book. She began gobbling up the information, sprinting through pages that would’ve stalled even the most learned readers. Her desire not to stop kept her reading until long after arriving home. She only just managed to keep from staying awake too late by reading herself to sleep.
By Physics the next day, she’d finished the book. She entered class early to return it, and to her surprise, Mr. Harmon wasn’t the least bit shocked she’d finished it. Despite her agreements about “out there” theories, the book had laid out complex theoretical and practical physics in such plain English, anyone would get it.
A sort of fugue state overtook her that day after school: as if only just beginning to process the information, Hailey’s brain worked. She mulled over the various, outlandish theories connecting seemingly random forces, acts, or events to dark matter or dark energy. One, particular theory though, captivated her more than any others:
In effect, it stated a possible explanation for dark energy was human thought. It’s seeming prevalence in the universe, was explained by the ever-increasing human population. That dark energy, the author posited, might even be the “essence of humanity–” what others referred to as the soul, and science called consciousness, or philosophy the “mind-body problem.” It was a stretch, the author admitted, but a possibility. On both accounts, Hailey agreed, but she became fixated on the idea all the same.
She spent the night sitting on her bed, stoned, and staring at the wall in a pseudo-meditative trance. At one point, she must’ve fallen asleep; the room dissolved, replaced by bright, white light. In the dream, she was marked upon her white-light bed by a blueish light glowing with the same, rippling ethereal quality of everything else. Afraid to disturb the peculiar dream, she let her thoughts float a while.
When she finally ripped herself back to reality, she was sitting again on her bed, refreshed but confused. Normally, sleep made her toss about, and never came during daylight hours. Between that and the obvious oddity of her state, she wondered if it was sleep at all. It wasn’t long before plunging back into her thoughts felt the best way to answer her questions– even if the dream continued to dominate them.
She let the questions echo in her mind, whispers on passing winds that kept the thoughts form remaining in place too long. A long, involuntary sigh escaped her lips and her mind slotted back to where it had been. The walls began dissolving again. Bright light flashed into being. Her heart leapt. Fear coursed through her. Whispering thoughts chased it away. She’d been here once already, even if it was a dream.
But it couldn’t be a dream. It didn’t feel like a dream. And despite her various, underwhelming talents, lucid dreaming wasn’t one.
A knock sounded on the door. Her vision flitted within the strange state, followed the ethereal, immobile white-light of walls to the doorway where another, blue figure glowed– and judging from the outlined-knob, beyond it.
“What the hell?” she breathed quietly.
“Hailey?” Her mom called from outside the door. “Honey, dinner’s ready.”
“Uh– o-okay, Mom,” she stammered.
Her mother’s blue-light figure hesitated, shrugged to itself, then meandered away, exiting the reach of the strange sight. Hailey’s mind was still slotted in place, but she jarred herself out with a thought. The light suddenly fell away, back to the room’s normal appearance. She found herself quietly panting, exhilarated.
However it had happened, she suddenly found herself agreeing with the book’s author. And summarily believing she’d linked something he’d described. The only way she could express her astonishment was with a breathy pair of words: