The Parallel Universe on the 24th Floor

A long long time ago in an earlier century, I did some random reading about medieval constructions of the world/universe. One that particularly appealed to me was the reverse of the version we work with now. In it, the surface of the earth was like the inner surface of a hollow sphere, rather than the outside, as if the atmosphere was a big bubble in an endless mass of dirt.

I took that for a story and updated it to a 1990s office block where, when the window cracks, dirt tumbles in and the sky proves to be an illusion. The story was called Meanwhile, Thirty-Eight Above Charlotte (it’s back again as an ebook called The Truth of Jacarandas).

So why has this story come to mind now? Because yesterday it felt as though I was living something like it.

It was raining in Sydney, so I decided to go to the hotel gym instead of going out for a run. I caught the lift to the 23rd floor, walked up the spiral staircase to the 24th and the pool I’d swum in the day before and let myself in through the pool gate. It’s one of those child-safe ones where you lift a knob at head height. There was a guy cleaning the pool, but otherwise no one around. I walked into the gym and, as I was checking out the equipment, realised I hadn’t brought a towel. Then I saw the ‘no towel, no workout’ sign. And I’m both a nerdy rule-abider an a hater of gym equipment drenched in other people’s sweat, so the choice was clear. I walked out of the gym to go back to my room and fetch my towel.

The first hint that all was not right came at the lifts. There were only three of them, and I was sure there had been five before. That make no sense at all, so I put it down to festival fatigue. Besides, who’s in the business of counting lifts and then checking them again later?

The doors to one lift opened and I stepped in. I hit the button for my floor repeatedly, but it didn’t work. There was nowhere to swipe my card or do anything else to engage the button and make it pressable, so I got out, let that lift go and called another. Same thing happened.

I thought I’d go and get the pool guy to help me, so I swiped my card to get back into the pool area. Where I found both pool gates locked from the side I was on – with a key-type lock that hadn’t been locked before – and the child-safe knobs no longer seemed to be there. Meanwhile, the door had shut behind me and locked too. And there was no card swiper, just a place for a key. I had no key. I was stuck.

So I climbed up the polished granite wall, leaned over the gate and opened it from the pool side. Things were starting to feel more than a little strange. Here was the pool I’d swum in the day before, identical in so many ways, and yet nothing was working for me the way it had.

When I got up to the pool, the pool guy was nowhere to be seen, and yet there was no way he could have got past me. The mosaics were identical down to the last tiny tile, the poolside furniture was identical and I was alone and apparently stuck there. That’s when I noticed that the spa had moved. It was at the wrong end of the pool. (Cue ominous music, perhaps medication, perhaps an alien ship or anal probe …)

For a second I thought I was both lost and losing it. I thought I’d been sucked into a parallel Truman-Show bizarro-hotel just like mine but with no people, different security at every turn, lifts that didn’t work and a few other odd glitches that told me all was not right.

Then I worked it out. The view from the windows was different. Not just different – 180 degrees different. On the second half of the 24th floor of the hotel there’s an area for permanent residents which is an ALMOST EXACT MIRROR IMAGE of the bit I had access to, and yet I’d never been told of its existence. That’s where I’d accidentally found myself.

Fortunately, TV has taught me a thing or two about parallel universes. There’s always a portal, and I worked out in an instant that, in this case, it would be the gym. So that’s where I headed. And, sure enough, there’s one gym, with doors into each universe. My mistake had been to enter through one, get distracted by the towel issue, engage my festival brain and cross over inadvertently to the other side.

I’m back now and, like anyone who’s just had a brush with aliens or other worlds, I feel the least I can do is pass this knowledge on in the hope that others might be more prepared in future.

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4 Responses to The Parallel Universe on the 24th Floor

  1. Gosh I haven’t thought about that story for years. I always loved it. Must read the new ebook version!

  2. That sounds like the makings of a new story to me. How creepy!

  3. adventures in the canberra void... says:

    I had a similar situation a number of years ago. I had gone to the National Library in Canberra to have a look a botanical art exhibition and as I wandered outside the library I noticed a doorway sticking up our of the lawn area. The door was ajar so of course I went exploring. In I went and the door closed behind me. I was now in a stair well that lead down. Hmm… okay, let’s see where the stairs go. Off I went to discover that the stairs ended one flight down at a small room with a door. Now the door had no handle on the stairwell side and was locked. This isn’t a problem, I’ll just go back to the first door and get out that way. Up I went to discover that the door which I had entered also did not have a handle and was locked. So here I was in a stairwell which had doors on two levels both of which were locked with neither having handles. Hmm… Had I been sucked into some bizzaro world where no doors ever had handles and stairways lead no where, I pounded on the door for a while hoping that someone on the other side in the real universe would come to rescue me. After about 30 minutes I was starting to get concerned. It was mid-winter in Canberra and I was starting to think that my mummified remains would be found in years to come if someone else stumbled into this void. As my panic increased, I noticed that I was crushing a poster I had purchased in the library, Maybe, just maybe, it had the phone number of the library on it. Yep there it was. Fortunately my mobile had coverage in this void space and I was able to call the library reception. I explained my situation to the person who answered. After they stopped laughing, I was connected to security. I tried to explain where I was in relation to the library so they could at least tried to extract me. The security man managed to find the upper door of the stairway, which I had entered and was talking to me through it. Again, there was no handle on the security dude’s side so he couldn’t open the door. WTF? Why have lockable doors with no handles? Only in Canberra, So he said that he would try to find the lower door and told me “not to go anywhere” (ha, ha… very funny dude…just get me the hell out of here). He eventually found the other doorway and was able to open it up. He kindly escorted me through the catacombs of the National Library right up to the exit doors. His parting sage-like advice: “If you find a doorway, you don’t necessarily need to walk through it”.

  4. Jeremy says:

    I also heard about this experiment on a Radiolab podcast, a New York public radio show. Check it out at

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