I’m trying to build a world for a short story where the protagonist increasingly finds truths in Fortean-type phenomena. He witnesses proof of mythical creatures, for example. He begins investigating these things after his wife mysteriously disappears. The issue that I have is, I need her to disappear in such a way where one minute he sees her, but then she’s gone. I was thinking about her getting on a plane, but then never getting off, but other passengers do. I’ve thought about incorporating some kind of parallel universe she may fall into, or something of the sort. Would it be possible for a single person on a plane full of people to fall into such a universe?

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    Welcome to Worldbuilding, FinRy. In terms of your question, it might be useful to put a link to Fortean magazine (or a description of it) for those who don't know what it is (that included me before I did a search). Also, I'm not sure whether you are after a scientific or magical answer. We have a continuum of tags for science questions - Reality-Check, Science-Based and Hard-Science to explain the varying degrees of science being asked for in the answer. It might be useful to review these and add the relevant one to your question so the answers can be tailored accordingly. – Tim B II Oct 12 at 2:03
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    I do believe that the airline stewards would have a lot to say about a missing passenger. It does not make for good public relations to have a passenger disappear from an airplane. – Justin Thyme Oct 12 at 2:12
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    Hello FinRy. Allow me to point out that parallel universes are theoretical. Which is a polite way of saying fictional, until proven otherwise. To ask if something fictional can happen in your fictional short story is, if you'll forgive the conceit... certainly possible. The quesiton you need to answer is, can you write it in such a way that it's plausible? In your mind, how would such a gateway manifest? Remember, they're presently fictional, I mean, theoretical, which means we don't have any idea how such a gate will manifest. This is good for authors, if bad for scientists. – JBH Oct 12 at 4:04
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    Terry Pratchett did it all the time. – Trilarion Oct 12 at 9:33
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    @Trilarion, i'm pretty sure Rincewind appeared out of thin air on the plane first, and then disappeared from it... and then something bad may or may not have happened to a kangaroo... – Blade Wraith Oct 12 at 13:26
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Since you're coming at this from the perspective of a particular SF world, I'll answer in like perspective.

The obvious answer here is:

YES

The MC's wife disappears, perhaps even whilst she's right in front of him. She just heads over the kitchen to get a glass of water and fffp she slips through something and is no longer visible or present anywhere in the house. She didn't go out through a door or window; she's not hiding in the cupboard, pantry or WC. She didn't go upstairs or downstairs. There is no apparent damage to any structural component or furniture in the house. The key here is that he sees her disappear.

If she gets on a plane, of course she'll "disappear" --- she goes into TSA screening and that's the last he'll see of her, because he can't go to the gate with her! He won't be looking for her and won't put two and two together unless he actually sees her disappear in front of his eyes. If she disappears where no one sees, the airline will just assume she's not on the plane or missed it for whatever reason. TSA will have a record of her passing through the Inspection / Interrogation Area, but once she's through there, she's off their hands! Eventually airport security will become involved and she just becomes a rather bizarre missing persons statistic. That won't work for your story, I think, even though you and I know she's off in some parallel universe.

But if both were on the same flight and she slipped away from the universe while in the lavatory, that could work. From a narrative perspective, I think the key is proximity of the event. He will need to be relatively close to the disappearance for it to take on anything other than an ordinary course of assumption and action.

That means one of two things have happened. One is that she has been removed from the ordinary world by supernatural means. (I.e., non-fortean phenomenon). Unlikely, but something to keep in mind. The other is that she has been removed from the ordinary world by ordinary but as of yet unknown means. (I.e., a fortean phenomenon). MC is already studying them, so is aware of implications when this happens, so perhaps he won't be entirely shocked.

Whether on a plane or in the house, yes, a person can slip into a parallel universe. It is not only possible for a person to enter a parallel universe, but in fact it has happened! (To your MC's wife!)

This is your story and your world, so you get to determine the rules! And from reading your query, I rather think you've already got the right answer in mind. Perhaps you just needed encouragement or validation of creative process? I hope that's the kind of answer you're looking for, because really, the only questions I see going forward from this point are those of mechanism and purpose. How it happens and why. Those might make for good future queries here.

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    If they're both on the plane, this could work better. She goes to the bathroom but never returns, or they're deboarding and he goes ahead to ask the flight attendant something and waits for her to come, but she never does. – NotThatGuy Oct 12 at 9:35
  • @NotThatGuy -- Thanks! Made note of this in my answer. – elemtilas Oct 12 at 16:37
  • @NotThatGuy You still have a problem with the flight manifest, and, oh, the baggage left behind. Lots of handwaving needed to dismiss the inconvenient details. – Justin Thyme Oct 13 at 1:36
  • @JustinThyme Either those things are just mysteriously gone (which really wouldn't be that hard to pull off if there's some Illuminati-type organisation behind it, or if she got erased from existence in the process of being pulled into the parallel universe) or people are just confused, which I don't necessarily see as a problem (there might be an investigation, but that'll ultimately go nowhere - no-one's going to conclude that a missing person was totally pulled into a parallel universe). – NotThatGuy Oct 13 at 9:39
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    @NotThatGuy It's handwavium wrapped up in handwavium surrounded by handwavium embedded in handwavium. – Justin Thyme Oct 13 at 16:30

She did not. He did.

This is a premise I have long entertained. The protagonist becomes unmoored in his dimension, and his reality changes as he moves through very similar parallel universes. There is no sensation of change when he shifts. Presumably his parallel self has become unmoored as well, and is slipping along in front of him. First it it little things - a noodle place near his house he has never noticed but his wife has been there several times. The neighbors have a dog, and he loves dogs, but has never noticed this dog. The dog is his friend immediately, as if it has known him a long time. His wife no longer has the silly fairy tattoo - he asks if she finally got it removed and she did. 19 years ago.

He worries he is becoming absent minded, or losing his mind. Then there are bigger differences. And as he tries to get his bearings he realizes there are others like him, unmoored. But some of them know how to steer. He begins to learn.

  • Also an interesting concept! – elemtilas Oct 12 at 5:17
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    That's a great story premise! To make it even more dramatic, the wife from the parallel universe (without the tattoo) can figure out something's wrong and begin to think the MC is going crazy. – John Locke Oct 12 at 11:17
  • I really think this idea has a lot more room to go off of. Excellent job! – Sam Weaver Oct 12 at 14:44
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    This is quite similar to The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny, at least in terms of the mechanics of the parallel universes. – David Conrad Oct 12 at 17:13

Followers of the writings of H.P. Lovecraft have long been aware that the complexity of our multi-dimensional reality exceeds the capacity of any sane human mind. So when faced with facets of real existence which heavily violate our fundamental understandings, the mind has only two defenses. It can suppress the memory of what it believes to be an impossible event, or it can shatter entirely, greatly increasing its ability to understand reality by abandoning the preconceptions which we call sanity.

When your MC's wife slipped into a parallel universe, the stewardesses (and other passengers near by) may have experienced a dark miracle, something too real for their mind to safely hold. But the moment that she was gone, their minds started cleaning her out of their memory. Not only do none of them remember her vanishing before their eyes, they also don't remember that she ever got on the plane. Their eyes blur whenever they look at her place on the passenger manifest. Nobody questions why one seat was left empty on an otherwise sold out flight. She is gone and they are doing everything in their power to keep her gone from both mind and memory.

Your MC is a different case. Maybe he didn't see her actually vanish. Maybe he blinked at just the right moment. Or maybe his love for her has overpowered his minds automatic defenses. In which case, the other option, total insanity, may soon be taking over his mind.

  • THATS not even halfway realistic. The most realistic thing that happens if someone sees her disappearing is that he thinks he just imagined that. If two persons are seeing her disappering they'll check what each other saw, I that case just the instant vanish and then check the boardlist and who this person was. They report what happened and then continue with their normal life, but believing now there's more than the 'normal'. No need for going insane. I mean physicians don't go insane when they explore something new, why would normal guys do? – Jannis Oct 12 at 10:48
  • @Jannis, From a "Lovecraftian" point of view, the revelation of the unknown which occurs during normal scientific explanation is like a dim light, slowly revealing reality at a rate which our minds can handle (and never illuminating the more dangerous deep shadows). When a dark miracle (such as a dimensional shift) occurs, it is like a thousand spotlights all shining directly into the observer's eyes. It is an issue of the magnitude of arcane knowledge which is revealed by a given event which causes the insanity. Read some H.P. Lovecraft. He sells the idea very, very believably. – Henry Taylor Oct 12 at 12:14
  • Nevertheless it means the viewer is just waayyy to simple minded and an arch-conservative too. what you need is a dope person which doesn't give a f*** and is just a bit curious about what happened. That means no mindplosions for Lovecraftians today – Jannis Oct 12 at 12:31
  • @Jannis, actually it would be more interesting to go in the opposite direction as a defense against mindplosions. Perhaps we need a simple minded dope who doesn't realize the insanity-inducing ramifications of what they have seen. It would be an interesting challenge to write a Lovecraftian horror story with a POV character who is so stupid that they are safe, while all the other characters slowly loose their minds. – Henry Taylor Oct 12 at 14:13
  • Indeed, it would be funny. Did you ever watch 'One Punch Man' ? When writing the story just imagine Saitamas face and you can stop writing for 5 minutes just by giggling all the time. Have a nice day and don't get too scared of mindplosions – Jannis Oct 12 at 14:57

Anything is possible, your world, your rules. So yes, she can just slip into a parallel universe.

As to how a normal human being would conclude that the wife disappeared in such a way, apply Occam's Razor.

The short version of Occam's Razor is that the explaination with the least assumptions is the correct one. So your job is to place the action somewhere that eliminates all explaination more reasonable than "she literally disappeared out of thin air".

For someone to think the wife disappeared magically in an airplane, it would require: proof she went through security, then through boarding, video evidence following her all the way through, people in the plane remembering her specifically, no unlocked backdoor she might have taken intentionally or not, etc. Basically if she wanted to disappear from your life, she could easily find a way, and that should be the main character's first line of investigation.

To eliminate all reasonable explainations, I can think of a car on the freeway, with her driving and the MC in the passenger seat, because:

  • It's an enclosed space. There aren't many ways you can look without having the driving seat in view, and if you're like me you'll look forward most of the time, where the driver is noticeably in your peripheral view.
  • There are no secret exits. Rolling down the window will make noise. Opening the door will make noise accompanied with a door ajar light and a beep beep. You have to unfasten your seatbelt to get out of your seat, and nobody in their right mind would fasten the belt back afterwards. You can check the backseat quickly, and, if possible at all, I doubt someone can reach the boot form the inside of the car without making a ton of noise.
  • It's a freeway, someone will report a crazy women walking down in the middle of it (if they don't flatten her), not to mention there might be traffic cams to catch it, so she clearly didn't get out.
  • You'll hear the car slow down if she stops applying the gas. Particularly when driving at the speed limit, with no heavy traffic, there's no reason to slow down. It'll at least prompt the MC to look around and notice the lack of wife in the driver seat.
  • For bonus points, she might be talking with the MC, because freeways are boring, or singing the song on the radio. You could also play the trope of electronics flickering as the paranormal slip to alternate universe happens.

I'll note that this is Occam's Razor applied to the MC. Depending on how realistic you want to go, consider that, in the presence of a truly unexplainable disappearance, Occam's Razor applied to the cops is the husband chopped her up and hid the pieces.

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    A Douglas Adams quote might be apropos here: “Sherlock Holmes observed that once you have eliminated the impossible then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.” ― Dirk Gently – Mark Booth Oct 12 at 18:00

If your thinking science fantasy, take a look at Fringe, or any of a number of alternate reality stories.

  • Juxtapose two alternate plane separated simply by the frequency that mater vibrates at. Change the frequency change the plane of reality.
  • The multiple dimensions suggested by string theory, perhaps some of those could potentially by spatial+temporal. Simply rotate into them.
  • Perhaps Brane Theory, but that is much more likely not to suite the situation. The energy requirement would be stupendous, and the consequences very scary.

To be honest the only science valid way i can see this is via Psychology, or Virtual Reality.

  • She haunts his mind to the point he believes he sees her, probably as a manifestation of his own subconscious.
  • Some neuroscientist has copied her persona into the protagonists head, using either a brain circuit, or some advanced form of nerve potentiation.
  • He is plugged in the Matrix, Neo style.

Since your protagonist is investigating Fortean phenomena is appropriate that the disappearance of his wife into parallel universe happens with that most Fortean of phenomena teleportation.

Examples of the odd phenomena in Fort's books include many occurrences of the sort variously referred to as occult, supernatural, and paranormal. Reported events include teleportation (a term Fort is generally credited with inventing);[11][12] falls of frogs, fishes, inorganic materials of an amazing range;1 spontaneous human combustion;1 ball lightning1 (a term explicitly used by Fort); poltergeist events; unaccountable noises and explosions; levitation; unidentified flying objects; unexplained disappearances; giant wheels of light in the oceans; and animals found outside their normal ranges (see phantom cat). He offered many reports of out-of-place artifacts (OOPArts), strange items found in unlikely locations. He was also perhaps the first person to explain strange human appearances and disappearances by the hypothesis of alien abduction and was an early proponent of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, specifically suggesting that strange lights or objects sighted in the skies might be alien spacecraft.

Source: Charles Fort

Charles Fort has been credited with inventing the term "teleportation". Therefore, it would be fitting if she was teleported from this universe into another. Why not go the full mile and have her disappear right in front of his eyes while surrounded by a crowd of people? Then he would have seen her vanish and this would be for him an incontrovertible fact.

While, yes, it is conceivably possible for someone to be teleported from an aircraft in flight, there is the small problem of compensating for her state of motion. For example, if the airliner is flying at 600 km/hr, then she will arrive at her destination moving at the same speed. There are two solutions to this problem. Either teleportation mechanism can compensate automatically so the person arrives at their destination at its state of motion or she is teleported onto an aircraft moving at 600 km/hr in the parallel universe.

In conclusion, Charles Fort this sort of disappearance happened all the time. So disappearing by teleportation into parallel universe is very Fortean. What better way to send her husband on the trail of investigating Fortean phenomena.

To me the best sci-fi stories are those which feature fantastical worlds with fantastical features, but with some basis in science. Some good examples are most of Dan Simmons' work especially Hyperion and Ilium. So I would suggest you start with "Let's assume parallel universes exist. How would I portray someone slipping into another universe?"

From what I've read about parallel universe theories I would say it is most likely if someone "jumps universes" they would swap bodies with their counterpart in the other universe.

On the other hand, someone just disappearing could mean that they do not have a counterpart in the universe they traveled to.

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