by Kostas Charitos
Paul, my little nephew, has a magic wand. He is pointing to the sky, trying to create a rainfall, but it doesn’t work.
I don’t know why he brought the wand with him. Every time we go to the countryside he brings an old toy, but usually it’s a starship from the set that I gifted him when he was four.
“Let’s play hide-and-seek.” I say.
It’s his favorite game.
I close my eyes; I’m pretending to be a child again, and I start counting: “Five, ten, fifteen…”
I hear Paul’s footsteps as he is running. “I discovered a new hiding place. Not even the Eye could find me there.” he says and I shudder.
I think about the day when the Eye closed for the first time.
It was 20:35 am, Greenwich Mean Time.
Some people were sleeping under warm blankets, some held cups of steaming coffee and some watched the sky acquiring a small black patch.
I was alone in a small office of the Physics department, in front of an old computer, struggling with the presentation of the upcoming conference.
The next day, I read on the internet about the dark nebula, but I didn’t care a lot. Astronomy has never been my favorite field. I was interested in quantum physics, and despite my parents’ objections, I preferred to spend a whole day digging into Bohr’s papers, rather than going out for a coffee with my friends. Maybe that’s why I do not know much about coffee and I don’t have many friends.
The Eye closed again after several months; the last day of the conference.
My speech was successful, and we gathered on the atrium of the hotel to admire the clear sky.
Everyone was stunned as soon as they turned off the lighting and left us in the dark with the candle flames flickering.
I counted at least twenty open mouths. But only one said the phrase that must have been heard millions of times that night: “How do they do this effect with the black pieces?”
As we all soon learned, the gaps, which had filled the night sky like large drops of ink, were no effect. The stars were disappearing without anyone being able to give a logical explanation.
The ones who bothered the most were the cosmologists.
Suddenly, all their theories collapsed like a tower of playing cards. They gathered at conferences, filled the television windows, wrote articles in various magazines, but it was too late. Nobody took them seriously.
Instead, quantum physicists, like me, were standing tall.
We were familiar with the importance of the observer in our experiments, having seen particles appear as soon as we observed them, and others disappear forever when we stopped the detection.
Very soon, the term that would spread like a tsunami in popular culture was born. Some called it god, others supernatural creature or an extra-dimensional observer, but we called it “The Eye”.
And the next time it closed, humanity shuddered. A cold night with a clear sky, we lost the Moon.
I stand now on the edge of the hill, with my little nephew on my side who is trying to gather the clouds with his wand.
I look at a willow that is balancing as if it is about to fall into the void.
The whistling of the wind, the distant horizon and the blue sky make me feel as if I am the last person in the world.
I close my eyes thinking about the questions that trouble so many philosophers:
Is the world still there? Is the sea, the wind and the willow still around me? Is there an objective universe or is everything a creation of our consciousness? If the last man dies, will reality be lost with him?
And finally: Can we hide from the eye? It’s a lot to think about. But I’m afraid we are running out of time.
Somewhere out there, beyond our world, lives the only being who can answer our questions.
I’m sure it’s futile to try to capture its form or its sensory organs. So, I prefer to imagine it as a small child, in a nearby dimension, which sees us as a wonderful toy. Unfortunately, it seems to be losing its interest in us. Maybe it discovered a neighboring universe and is less concerned with our world. His gaze falls more and more elsewhere, the Eye closes more frequently, whatever that means, and, with it, parts of our world disappear.
I have no idea what attracts it.
Why our galaxy survives while others disappeared? What does the Earth have that the Moon didn’t?
Maybe that’s why there are so many movements that aim solely to get its attention.
Their main slogan seems to be: Do not let it get bored.
It’s unbelievable what people can do once they realize they are in danger.
Giant graffiti in fields with the phrase “WE ARE HERE”, religious ceremonies with small silver oval-shaped ornaments, thousands of naked people wandering in the streets, probably having misunderstood the word Eye.
However, if the Eye is attracted to intelligence, I believe that we do everything we can to take its attention away from our planet.
Paul is, now, chasing a gray-blue lizard. It’s the first time I see such a creature.
“Be careful. Don’t run.” I say to him.
To my great surprise, he stands still. He points with his wand to the sky.
“I didn’t do that.” he says.
I look up and smile.
Fortunately, I’m not a cosmologist.
I’m trying to think of a scientific explanation but I quit.
Maybe the Eye, just as a little kid, missed the small blue planet with the lonely quantum physicist who plays hide-and-seek with her nephew and brought them into its brave new world.
It seems fair but I just wonder how life will be with two moons and a system of shining rings in the sky.
Kostas Charitos was born in Arta and lives in Athens with his family. He has a PhD in Chemistry and he teaches in secondary education. His science fiction short stories have been included in international magazines and anthologies like Future Science Fiction Digest, a2525, Nova Hellas, The Viral Curtain and InterNova. Two of his novels, Project Fractal (Τρίτων Publications, 2009) and Lost Colors: Red (Κέδρος Publications, 2020), have been published in Greek. He is a member of the Athens Science Fiction Club and he co-ordinates its writing workshops.
The short story “The Eye” is inspired by the well-known philosophical question: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This question raises issues about the meaning of observation and perception. For example, we can wonder whether something exists without being perceived by a consciousness. This is connected with the anthropic principle which suggests that the observer may have an impact on the reality that is observed. In physics, the disturbance of a system by the act of observation is called the “observer effect”. You can learn more about these philosophical issues in:
John Campbell (2014). Berkeley’s Puzzle: What Does Experience Teach Us?. Oxford University Press.
Jostein Gaarder(2007), Sophie’s World, Farrar Straus & Giroux.
And if you want to learn about the quantum physics of observation you can read:
Chad Orzel (2010), How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog, Simon Spotlight Entertainment.