Curiosity, an Odd Little Snare
by Jason Arsenault
Telling you this brings back nightmares I would rather wish to
forget, but as you will come to realize, it is a warning that must be
told, so be weary of finding strange things, for you will never know
whether it was fortune or whether it manifested itself, especially for
It started when I had to take the bus to Minneapolis. Get off
somewhere after Fargo. My brother had just purchased a house and he
wanted 'professional' supervision for the plumbing installation. For
Armand to call me a plumber was degrading, like asking a university
professor to teach kindergarten--and ultimately an exercise in
futility. I was a hydro-civil engineer. My plumbing know-hows were on a
city scale. Yet, it saved him a whole week's pay if I go over, at my
own expense, to give him a hand. Well he was my brother and I had yet
to visit his new house.
It was a long ride from Winnipeg, and I was relieved once we crossed
into the states, but I realized I should have brought a book; it took
much longer to get through North Dakota than I thought. An early winter
storm had somewhat iced the roads and by the look of things I would be
stepping out of the bus past nightfall, so I grabbed a pad and used the
time to jot some design notes.
The lights came on when the conscientious driver announced my stop.
Here there should be a public transit bus, Armand told me. His jeep
was kaput he said, but with my help he'd start it or make a salvage he
also said. Well at least he had a steady job and girlfriend--or last I
heard. I padded my pants to check if I hadn't lost anything and scooted
Outside the vehicle, I gleaned around and indeed spotted a sort of
public transit advertisement. During my confusion the driver had
withdrawn from the underground carriage a peculiar looking suitcase,
but before I could tell him he had made a mistake, for I saw no one
else exit the bus, the door slid closed and the coach was off. All my
belonging and weekly necessities fit neatly inside my backpack, so
rather than run after the bus like a maniac I let the universe take its
course. Perhaps my first mistake of the evening.
After looking over the city bus routes and not seeing a single
vehicle cross this path in the last fifteen minutes, I realized that I
might possibly freeze my rear off tonight. I hadn't been sufficiently
informed about the bus routes to get to his place and my phone was both
out of power and out of range--Murphy's Law of course. I decided that
I'd at least take any bus headed south and try to find his street.
Worst came to worst, I'd get to a still active commercial area--god
forbid if there were any--and I'd pay the hefty taxi fee (which would
probably cost as much as the coach ride).
No one had come for the suitcase and it still stood where the driver
left it. The old-style case was a simple hooked design that you could
have seen at the beginning of the previous century and the accumulated
ware on the leather was suggestive of such a period. Bored and curious
I walked over and flicked off the top hatch. When the flaps withdrew, I
smelled ozone like overused computers but what I saw inside was
something utterly different. An array of knobs and handles with crude
polished-wooden buttons protruded from a lustrous rock like apparatus
where old electric cables coiled underneath. Who would travel with such
a thing? I could hardly even guess what it was. It could be some
control manifold for a circus ride for all I knew. There was no telling
till it was plugged in, so I reached inside to see what type of
electrical outlet it could fit, but the ends of the wires were loose
coiled copper. Old device indeed if it predated outlet configuration.
It could be some type of homemade mechanism; no indication of
commercial fabrication on it whatsoever.
However, when I touched it I felt something curious. It felt like it
held some residual charge--a sub ethereal amount of heat or barely
perceptible vibrations. It held some type of ready potential, so what
the hell, I pulled down the biggest lever.
It did nothing, nothing that I could discern at first. I fiddled
with a few other controls and left it at that. Then I noticed a small
light illuminated through the casing, piercing through imperfections in
the rock-plastic like material. At least now I could tell it was on,
but besides that internal light it seemed to do nothing at all.
Still no bus in sight, I saw with dismay that the night sky was
darkening from what looked like another storm, and the colder it got I
speculated it would probably mean more snow and rain. I felt somewhat
dismayed but I reminded myself that Armand would get an endearing punch
to the kidney before we hugged. Before I lost all hope (sic), I did see
a memorable configuration of headlights heading my way.
Inside the bus, I looked at wall map and saw, to ease my worry that
this bus would pass almost directly in front of his house. Well what do
you know, what he said was as simple as that. It was somewhat difficult
to believe his, "Yeah yeah, just take the first bus to my house,"
detailed instructions. When I exhaled with relief, I noticed that I
had, unknowingly it seems, taken the curious device and suitcase with
me. I barely recorded that I had, let alone considered the ethical
implications of stealing it. Curious I thought, never would I have
believed I could do it so lightly, but it felt unusual nonetheless,
like I had a responsibility to it that extended beyond material
ownership. Well, whatever it was, perhaps I could at least pawn it for
a good profit (given I had paid nothing at all). However, I would pay
dearly, I simply hadn't realized it soon enough.
The rain was coming pretty bad and by the look of the roads outside
that it was freezing rather rapidly after hitting the ground. The
streets looked dismal and I wondered why my dear brother would wish to
stay in such a place. He had described it at majestic during the summer
months but perhaps he hadn't considered the autumnal degeneration. Meh,
I would give it a chance when I see it in sunlight.
At the busier intersection--very little was truly busy in this small
town--I saw a curious malformed itinerant by the lamppost. He stood
there in the freezing rain and seemed to eye me, specifically, with
some vile contempt. At least he didn't get onboard I thought as I kept
my gaze to those unequal concavities around his warped skull. I pitied
him as he surely found life much more difficult than me, or my brother.
Yet, this man highlighted the city's decrepitude like encircled scar
tissue. A growing uneasiness passed through my stomach but I peered
onwards looking for my brother's street.
The bus slowed to almost walking pace so I opened the suitcase to
peer inside again. The light was still on and I feared I might deplete
its last charge before I could discover what it did--if anything. I
pulled down the big lever, but the light stayed on. As I couldn't
remember the exact switches and buttons I had pressed in the first
placed that lead to the light coming on, I started to backtrack as
closely as my brain remembered, the reverse of what I had done. I
wrangled the thin switches a few times and turned some knobs left and
right then pressed a couple of buttons. As I was doing so I noticed the
light wink out and decided my random manipulations of this device might
have been unwise. Could I have somehow disturbed a finely tuned
configuration on it? Well I still didn't even know what it did--still
uncertain now--so I couldn't worry about the consequences of that yet.
From what I could tell it seemed to be off, so I left it at that.
The weather seemed to appease just about the time I reached my
brothers address. The lights were on and I could see him watching TV on
the couch. Beer in hand watching the game he was surely impatiently
awaiting for my--potentially popsicled--arrival with great enthusiasm.
Well, I was there and after pulling the stop signal and gathering my
new found machinery, I stepped out and walked to his door.
After a few rings, he opened it a little groggily and waved me
inside. I placed my backpack on a chair and dropped the suitcase in the
middle of the living room floor. "What's that," he immediately
inquired. I told him I didn't know and he laughed at my conviction that
I had in fact not exactly stolen it. "Well if it was left there, then
it's finders keepers," he said finally. I shrugged.
When he was about to fiddle with it himself I held out a cautionary
hand, not certain as to why, but I had a growing worry that I didn't
want him fumbling with it past my own earlier indiscretions.
"But you don't even know what it does," he rebutted.
"No, but we won't learn more by toggling aimlessly at it either." I knew, I tried.
"Nah, let me at it," he said, certain he would unearth its secrets.
My brother had a hobby in electronics at best, not any functional
skills, but before I could object he was turning knobs and pulling
levels left and right making my own curiosity akin to methodically
precise bomb disarmament. I thought I heard the sub-audible hum again
as the light shone from the inside.
"I turned it on," he said proudly, but I told him I had gotten as
far as that. As to what it did, he pondered upon that for a great deal
of time, looking at it like he was a professional appraiser, and said
light-heartedly, "Of course, it's a weather modification device."
His suggestion eerily passed over my skin as more hard rain peppered against his front window. "You're joking," I asked.
He giggled and confessed. "Had you going there," he said and punched
me in the shoulder. Well, the weather had gotten worst not long after
he had turned it on as well. I chose to classify that as a coincidence
in my mind but told my brother to turn in off nonetheless; leaving it
on seemed like a bad idea. Sadly found out all too late that it was far
more nefarious than a weather modification device, albeit however
disastrous that may be.
"So, turn it off," I told him again. He agreed and not long after a
similar sequence of controlled fumbling, the light faded and as far as
he could tell the thing was off, and to my growing alarm, the weather
cleared not long after that and stayed clear for the rest of the night,
but I'm getting ahead of myself. We thought we had turned it off, but
the device has many functions and the internal illumination it
sometimes creates is just a small indication of a wide range of things
Something unknown to me started to disturb my brother because
following a few minutes of seemingly more anxious pacing from what
might have been noises he heard, he asked me, "How do you know that
thing is off?"
His anxiety increased my own as I confirmed to him with an awkward
giggle that I really didn't know. "Whatever," he started, "We can pawn
it for a few bucks tomorrow."
"We," I thought. I had found it, but what the hell, I could give him
a few bucks off what I get for it. If by any chance we can get past the
first obvious question the dealer would ask: "What is it?" Get past
that and I might barter a few hundred bucks I laughed sardonically. I
somehow knew I couldn't get rid of it so easily. Not from a lack of
wanting to, it just felt like it was to stay with me until it did what
it had to do.
Thinking backwards an hour I could tell that the coach driver acted
mechanically, almost on autopilot, when he took out the suitcase from
the undercarriage. It felt odd to me now but it was as if he was
compelled to do what he did, just as he did it: say nothing more, leave
the thing there, and get the hell away. If that was the case, I was the
lucky finder. Whoopee.
* * *
Still, Armand and I, despite our best guesses, couldn't tell what it
was, and the longer the evening grew the more Armand started to act
weird. He was always an eccentric child, but he was rarely this
maniacal, not dangerous, meaning simply that he went from extreme
relaxation to paranoid checking, for something, inside his kitchen. I
finally asked him what was wrong and he waved it off simply saying,
"Nah, thought I heard something, probably nothing."
Nothing indeed but he had checked five times already. "I'll go check
next time," I told him reassuringly. He ignored it with a wave of
indifference. After seeing him preoccupied with the shadows I asked him
directly if he was on drugs.
He laughed then said, "Just the usual, got some beers in the fridge and some weed in the Buddha."
Nothing unusual for him certainly, so I said, "Then role us a nice one, it was a long ride here."
He gave me a good thumbs up and began the task but I found myself
checking the same shadows in the neighboring rooms as well. It was like
listening to a horror movie without any perceptible sound. I remember
we had talked about it years ago how in spooky movies they often record
low frequency noises that are just outside the range of human
perception and that, after a while, gets to act on your nerves as your
brain can't decide if you're hearing anything or not. Well, it felt
like that then. Like there was a tense moment ready for the murderous
ghoul to crawl out from under the bed and devour the sleeping
No axe wielding maniac ever popped out of the closet, but I couldn't
help but feel that from those dark corners lay predators that
constantly looked upon us, and the more I thought about it the more it
seemed to intensify the feeling that I was indeed, being watched. To
change the subject I asked, "So how's your girlfriend?"
"She's good. She's good," he said. "We decided she wasn't going to
move in right away but we see each other most weeknights. Tonight, told
her you were coming over so she was going out with friends." After a
moment he added, "We respect each other's freedoms, you know."
I nodded uncertain of what he implied. Wasn't really my business
anyways but I felt I had to ask. I told him about the strange man I saw
from the bus and he only laughed then said, "Maybe in Fargo, but never
saw anyone like that around here."
"So, I see you're still a fan of the subordination machine?"
He turned to me looking spooked but then laughed once I nodded to the television screen.
"Yeah, the 'Buy-This' box... The great indoctrinator." We laughed
but he continued to flip the channels. Weren't we supposed to do some
After a while, I feigned discomfort from the boring shows and
decided to go see the machine once again. "Hey don't touch that
anymore," Armand warned as if he himself now felt uneasy about it.
"Why, you don't know what it does either," I told him.
"Yeah, well, you're just going to screw it up or whatever," he said
but then waved me off. Do whatever you want you big baby, it meant.
What I wanted to do wasn't to toggle with it any further but to try
to remember, as best as I could, what the initial configuration of the
knobs and levers had been. I wanted to undue whatever changes my
brother or I might have brought to it, to this--whatever it was. My
intuition told me that it might be of pinnacle importance to do that
exactly right, but after a few minutes of back-of-the-envelope
calculations I determined that that would be impossible. Each of the
five knobs had around a hundred increments to be set to and the small
levers could stop at any of eight groves. I vaguely remember that most
were switched towards the middle sections of their respective settings
but to remember each number of every knob, switch, and lever, it was
simply impossible. I would have had to note it down before I ever
touched it. In hindsight I couldn't help but curse myself for not
having done so given I had a pen and notepad ready with me from the
* * *
Just like the coincidence of me finding it, it seems that my mind
was as clouded when I played with it as when I took it with me. I had
no reason except the mindless compulsion to have done so. Had I even
had a choice in the matter? The only possible expiation of my guilt
would be that I had no conscious decision over the whole incident; a
sad consolation looking back.
Armand, seemingly from out of nowhere, jumped to his feet and
cursed, "I'll get you you, little bastard," and ran to the other room.
Shaken from his violent jolt I tried to listen to what else he said,
"I'll show him they're real, I'm not hallu--" Then the bustle went
deadly calm. I couldn't see what was happening from my angle on the
couch and, slightly stoned into introverted inactivity, I had a great
deal of trouble to compel myself to go see what this frightening calm
really meant. My body wouldn't let me but my heart raced with worried
anticipation at what I would see. Then with a tremendous amount of will
I pushed myself upwards and found my balance wavy. I simply had one
drink but I felt my perspectives were askew, angles were different and
the surfaces twisted oddly the further away I looked. I tried to take a
hold of myself and wondered if I was otherwise the victim of unusually
potent weed, but I had more than a little experience with the herb and
never felt anything like this before.
I was going to get Armand to tell me if there was anything else in
his pot but as I peered beyond the corridor hallway I saw him--rather
half of him--caught or congealed, frozen half-standing in his bedroom.
His eye was wide and shown bewilderment but the right half of his
face wasn't there. I gasped at the horror of it but the dwindling
rational part of my mind compelled me to observe this seemingly
impossible phenomenon. Unlike cheesy B-movies where the victim gets cut
in twain to slowly falls apart, Armand stood rigidly, unmoving, while
the missing half of him was--somewhere else. There was no blood and
where his insides should show there was a shadowed shimmer, an odd
Then the half of his mouth that was still there started twitching
and he repeated a curious sequence of syllables. "Ah, Eh, I, Oh, U," it
sounded like. The sequence was repeated at different pitches making it
sound like a sequential permutation of a sound test when he said,
Like tarring Velcro, Armand withdrew from the--aether. Fell forward
as his body reappeared from the invisible chasm within which it had
been trapped. On the floor, he coughed and sat up. I avoided going into
that corner of the room with the utmost care and dragged him back into
the living room.
He looked dazed and to my surprise didn't remember any of it. He had
been sitting here the whole time he thought. I was the one acting weird
he said. "You said, 'Signal received' Armand," I told him. He simply
shrugged and switched the TV to a comedy show. That somehow appeased me
as well to see some fabricated reality about truly mundane and simple
bar flies complaining about their jobs. No freaking trans-dimensional
portals that causes amnesia there. Perhaps I had been hallucinating the
whole time I appealed to my rational mind. Not bloody likely, it
* * *
I woke up with Armand standing over me holding a wet face-cloth. I
had fainted, he said cryptically. Simply stood there immobile then
collapsed he said. I didn't remember any of it but by the sight of fear
on his face, he thought more was going on than a simple shock. I could
certainly ponder the nightmares that could have happened to me while I
was, as he said, immobile, but I realized that perhaps this amnesia was
in fact an ideal way to escape from the unimaginable horrors that could
exist within the intersections of dimensions that philosopher
scientists speculate exist neighboring our own but might be utterly
different and abhorrent to our current understanding of reality. Could
the mind even perceive them for what they were or would reality be
contorted in such ways as to fit our current physical worldview, as we
understood it to be? It could lead to madness simply thinking about it
but as I sat there, dazed, and couldn't take my eyes off the device
lying on Armand's living room floor.
On the other hand, he seemed to have accepted his earlier paranoia
and, although uncharacteristic of him, seemed to me now like a war
veteran with PTSD. He had never done anything even remotely
traumatizing. Armand looked like he was wrestling with his mind. What
those could be I had no clue but perhaps shouldn't want to know. When I
asked him he said, "It's nothing." However, it didn't seem like
nothing. It seemed like a whole lot of something, real things crawling
around that he could hear or see which I could not. Now he seemed to
accept them but I could see his eyes dash to the shadows when he wasn't
looking or his ears flinch at some noise I couldn't hear, but he forced
himself to ignore it like he knew he was crazy or that I would think he
was if he were honest about it. Oddly enough, I knew I would have
believed him, despite not seeing or hearing any of it myself.
"I'm going to destroy it," he said after seeing a Pop-Tart
commercial. I laughed but I knew what he meant and I wasn't entirely
against the idea. "I have something in my garage which will take care
of it." After gazing at it longer he added, "That machine has got to be
The axe broke at the top of the shaft and sent the head spiraling
through his flimsy garage door. "Damn," I said while he scratched the
back of his neck, dumbfounded, as he seemed not to understand what just
happened, but the device was unscathed. I couldn't see a single dent or
anything different than when I had found it. It looked old and
weathered but it was just as antiquely immaculate.
I grabbed one of his hammers hanging in front of its
crime-scene-like chalk tracing and started testing the device myself.
With stern yet controlled hits I started to smash onto the rock plaster
material that covered the main casing. Like I thought, I couldn't even
make a scratch in the material no matter how hard I hit. It didn't
dent, it didn't chip.
"We could burn it," I said but somehow thought it would be resistant
to that as well. Armand shook his head to say it wasn't a good idea
"We have to turn it off," he then said with dejected fatality. In
his mind, he knew there was only one thing to do. Whatever this thing
did, it was doing it, and it was skewering some part of our reality or
the universe itself. Seemingly indestructible the only alternative he
thought, which I was also starting to adopt, was that it needed to be
turned off indeed.
Like I had told him earlier, the numbers of possible configurations
of the device are astronomical. "Yeah I get it but you have to think of
this logically as well," he said then pondered further as it seemed to
pain him. "Any logical inventor or alien"--I wished he hadn't used that
term--"would start a gage at 0 and work its way up or down right.
Minimum to maximum."
"Not necessarily," I argued, "There could be a positive and a
negative setting placing 0 in the middle of whichever spectrum this
"--if anything," he added.
Possible I conjectured, but I didn't believe that any longer.
"OK, OK," he agreed and said, "Given that, you could have three
potential placements for any lever or knob: lowest, highest, and
I didn't want to infer any potential logarithmic scales so I simply
agreed with his logic. Essentially, we would switch a lever to any of
those three positions and see if anything changed with... everything
around us. Looking back it still seems like a logical idea except we
hadn't thought at the time that by doing so we might also be testing
the highest possible setting of any of those controls in doing so. We
also hooked up a voltmeter, as a readout to the loose cables beneath.
If anything were to happened at all, we would see the gage move, but it
did; slowly jumping from 5 to 10 Volts, almost pulsating. I wished I
had an electrograph.
"I'll role another one before we start," said he straightforward.
"Not bloody likely," I told him. He looked surprised but then
conceded. Jesus, I was starting to believe that we could tare a hole in
our very universe and he was ready to get high to test that. Well maybe
Armand was always the adventurous one. Our grade school teachers would
at least attest to that.
We started with the biggest lever and cranked it all the way down.
The voltmeter blew, it sizzled and smoked, gage became immobile, so
much for that I thought. Armand cursed that it cost fifty bucks.
Then we waited for any signs of the unusual, but we quickly realized
that when looking for something spooky, the mind can easily manifest a
wide range of unusual noises and tricks of shadow. Like visiting a
haunted house the ghost-hunter is ill equipped to determine what was
natural phenomena versus paranormal when any scrape or drip could be
associated to some ill-defined ancestral specter. Who were we to decide
that the creaking walls or the large cockroach was supposed to be or
the result of some twisted mechanism? We were quickly beginning to
chase our fantasies when we decided after a few minutes that very
little had happened since that lever had been pulled.
"One down, twenty three to go," he said.
"Twenty eight," I corrected and pointed to the buttons.
He sighed but then turned that lever all the way up. "Control," he
said, "To see if it's worse than now." I agreed reluctantly but after
we heard the increasing winds pushing against the garage door we both
said, "Worse." I noted the configuration in my note pad and labeled
that lever the wind valve, DO NOT TOUCH, and giggled silently to
myself. It was so ridiculously unbelievable that I had to laugh on some
Then we moved on to other levers, which we couldn't even tell did
anything at all. Armand's garage was as unkempt and somber as any man
cave could be, and this was his man cave within his man cave so as you
can imagine--grease stains, rusty bolts, and half-discarded solvents
from house renovations--it was not the most pristine of locations
despite his showcase tool collection (his toys for big boys), so in
hindsight, perhaps his gloomy garage wasn't the best place to test our
There was a whole lot more nothing until we started playing with the
blue hilted knobs. After a few minutes and seeing the strange light
inside with the growingly perceptible hum coming, not from the device,
but seemingly from all around us I was quick to state that that was not
the zero setting.
"Wait a sec," he said urging me to see where this went.
I didn't want to and switched the knob back to the middle position.
When things quieted down he said, "OK, now the other direction." I
thought the hum would turn into an earthquake. The vibrations came upon
us so suddenly I just as quickly turned the knob back to middle again.
"Let's leave this one alone shall we," I then said with serious tone and noted what we had observed.
He wasn't going to argue as he went to replace some tools that had
fallen from his wall rack. I could see on his drawn face that he was
getting tired of this whole situation. Well so was I, but before I
would sleep soundly--this sounds like a sick joke now for I'll never
sleep soundly again--I decided I would solve this device before leaving
it to do whatever nefarious thing it did.
In a rare moment of initiative, I brought the next knob all the way
down (arbitrary distinction we had decided). Well, there was no
ambiguity about this one either.
Armand's figure seemed to expand and withdraw at the same time like
the distance between us was no longer tangible. Then the very fabric of
reality went awry.
Like some fantasy of physical theories it appeared as an entirely
new reality opening in front of me, some transection of dimensions had
opened a gateway to somewhere in the vicinity of where Armand stood. He
was inside it I could see; yet, he was still in his garage on some
level. He looked around, confused and hesitant, but I saw that this
worry soon turned to panic as strange shapes began to move around him.
They were not creatures in the biological sense as certain basic
laws in biology need to be preserved to call them insect or animal but
their movement were indicative of living creatures. Things that we
might have perceived as worms were coiled together into strands that
looked like Mobius strips yet they undulated and crawled towards my
brother through mid-air. The many acted as one but rather it was one
creature made out of many. Their movements were organized as Armand
crouched down to avoid them, but they encroached from every direction.
Armand seemed to try to run but his anatomical motions were not
translated into forward momentum. Like he was stuck in a dream or on a
treadmill that kept him in place, he tried to run towards me but it
looked like he was falling behind.
Other things that could not be accurately described with words were
also making themselves manifest through the strange vision in front of
me. It looked like a living ocean where the water itself could split
apart from the sea to become alive only to return to the fluidic
environment after it had shown itself, but more horrendously of all,
there seemed to be eyes--eyes of a hideous intelligence--opening and
closings all around.
Well this knob is certainly in the 'DO NOT TOUCH' category; I
reached to switch it back but I saw with terrible fright that my own
limbs weren't of the same lengths that my brain remembered. My fingers
were abhorrently elongated and waved like seaweeds in a current. My arm
stretched out before me for what seemed like miles and I simply
couldn't use hand-eye coordination to reach the actual knob that I
needed to turn. I tried to drag my freakish limbs like numb appendages
back towards the device but they seemed to reach far beyond it. I
simply couldn't touch that which had been directly in front of me.
Maybe I could grab Armand. I swathe at him to get a hold but my
hands were immaterial to him. Yet, I was dissuading the swirly things,
or disorganizing them at least, but it was in vain.
It didn't make any sense yet I was as useless as a blind man trying
to find a misplaced cane. It looked to my frightened state like weird
water refractions. Yet, even so, how could I reach way beyond something
that was right in front of me while feeling the cement on the floor
besides Armand with my stretched fingers? There was no possible way I
could reach that far. My arms floated in front of me like useless
spaghetti swimming in a pot of water, and my increasingly irrational
mind was suddenly frightened that my arms would get entangled.
I heard Armand screaming as he was swatting away some invisible
assailants, but after a moment my eyes adjusted and I saw that they
weren't translucent any longer. Long hooked appendages were grabbing at
him, had torn his shirt and he was bleeding from lacerations on his
chest. He slipped like on ice but scrambled back to his feet only to
run inefficiently towards me again.
I tried to fumble with the controls yet I just couldn't reach the
knob, so I threw my body on the machine, pushing and pulling a whole
range of the levers in the process, yet was able to feel my way, eyes
closed, over the controls to find the knob I was testing.
After a tense few seconds that felt like hours I finally did. The
humming ceased and, like a shrinking bubble, this strange reality
receded back into itself and I saw Armand's garage like it used to be.
But Armand was gone.
"No, No, No," I yelled and tried to return the setting to re-open
the portal in which he had fallen but I couldn't reproduce the
phenomenon. I tried to repeat the last sequence like my notes described
but it didn't work. I went back to the previous setting, the one that
cause the earthquake mimicry where we had seen the light inside but it
As I saw the unconnected cables still coiled beside the machine, a
new panicked dread came over me. The machine was out of juice.
Knowing very little about electrical devices (beyond my bachelor's
education) I had little other choice but to improvise a plug that I
would test in the wall socket. I had to get it working again; I had to
get Armand out of that, that--dimension or whatever he was trapped in.
I doubt any scientist alive today could explain what I had seen, except
to rule it out flatly as a total hallucination--but hallucinations
don't drag you out of a physical (sic) reality, but this device had
created a portal and fumbling with things we did not comprehend, I had
lost my brother to some parallel universe with atrocious things the
likes of which I hope never to see again, save once more to save Armand
or die trying. I wondered over how far a range it had an effect and for
how long it could have been skewering reality before I found it but I
knew it could already have been responsible for catastrophes, but I had
to turn in on again.
To be sure it was depleted I tested it once more before plugging it.
All the levers and dials had been recorded but the earlier
configurations did nothing now. I had very little choice; I plugged in
the jury-rigged adaptor I hooked onto the copper wires. If it required
AC or DC I had no idea, let alone the voltage or if it had any current
transformation capacity within, but I had to try something.
It turned on certainly. The hum reached way beyond auditory
perception as the machine started to vibrate at frequencies that the
eyes could see. It was moving on the ground like a gyrating motor, so I
tried to steady it and input the correct settings to make the portal
But it never came. The light inside the casing grew in intensity
until no more shadows could be seen within the garage. This threw me
into a panic as I foresaw an overload, overload of a device I hardly
understood; one that could tare open the very fabric of reality, so I
jumped over and yanked the cable out of the walls. The hum steadied but
the light didn't decrease. Instead, it continued to glow brighter until
I couldn't stare at it directly and shielded my eyes. The light was so
intense that I feared I would go blind despite shielding my eyes. I
thought it would burn my skin when everything went black.
My eyes took some time to adjust before I could see anything at all.
The somber corners of the garage could then be seen and everything came
back into focus. My heart steadied and for the first time this evening
a certain strained uneasiness left me. Things felt curiously at peace
while I looked around worriedly to see if reality was as it should be.
However, before I could discern even that, to my horror I saw that
the device was also gone. Had it swallowed itself into another
dimension? I might have thought good riddance if it wasn't for the fact
that my brother still hadn't returned and was perhaps condemn to live
out his existence in such an alien realm however brief that may be. I
couldn't accept that that was what had happened. Yet the alien
device--I say alien simply because it certainly wasn't designed by
human hands--was nowhere to be found. Where it had stood was a darkened
scorch mark discerning the contours of the strange device. The last
thing that remained of it. An old suitcase proves nothing to no one.
* * *
That's what the officer had told me after I gave my statement. After
going over the evidence in the disappearance, he wasn't eager to
discuss things with me without my lawyer present. I told him I had
nothing to hide but I hardly had anything rational to say either. They
found that old suitcase in the house yet it didn't have any sort of
identification and they noted the scorched mark in the garage. They
found some blood there as well and confirmed, by serotyping, that it
was likely my brother's. No one had reported missing luggage to the
coach company, but somehow, I knew that such things would not be
They didn't question my light sunburn. In November, it hardly seems fitting.
Given that I have no other witnesses to the events, my recounted
experience is of little help in the investigation. They had a physician
administer some anxiolytics to me the night they picked me up.
Apparently, I was babbling incoherently when I was brought in, or what
I was saying wasn't comprehensible to them.
Without a strong motive, the officer had told me, rather
reluctantly, there was little chance I was indicted for murder. I also
doubt they would ever find the body but that wasn't reassuring to me in
the least. I was rather calm when he told me this and pointed out my
apparent apathy. It seemed curious to him that I cared very little
about my legal implications in the whole affair. On the grand scheme of
things my potential incarceration, although ironic, seemed rather
trivial. I had called the police, I told him, because I didn't know
what else to do.
He asked me if I tried to tell him they were aliens, but I told him,
"They're not from out there, they're from in here." He scoffed and got
"Sometimes criminals reported their crimes in hopes of exonerating
themselves, like husband murders," the cop had told me. Well, innocent
men would do the same I thought, but I simply stared at a crawling
insect on the wall. The man, noting my unresponsiveness looked there as
well, but didn't see anything unusual. Did he have any reason to find
it unusual I thought?
But I certainly did. That particular insect was moving with the same
undulating motion as those creatures that floated around Armand.
Perhaps some function of the device had been left activated before it
disappeared. Like some tiny permutation in the cosmological constants
was reset rendering the entire universe slightly askew than it used to
be? Maybe we're slowly disintegrating, sub atomically from the quarks?
Who would ever notice that? At best, it would appear as a footnote in
updated physics journals as minor corrections of the plank constant,
the speed of light, or whatever. I couldn't help but think that
something had been changed. For me it certainly had. I doubt I'll ever
look at anything in the same light again.
Hell, I can't even close my eyes without seeing those strange
floating things; those eyes; Armand standing in the middle ready to be
devoured by the tentacles, themselves apart of the crawling amoeba that
composed that realm, but this tired officer would continue his mundane
small town job, without ever knowing what lies infinitesimally close,
ready to consume us all if it were allowed to seep through--to co-exist
if you will. I somehow cherished his ignorance. I hoped he wouldn't
believe a word I said.
No matter what it did--if that had been its pinnacle purpose; a
human ensnarement device to consume the tinkerer--it was gone now and
Armand with it. Perhaps he could be remembered as a hero who sacrificed
himself to exile that hideous machine from this reality, but there was
no martyrdom here. Just two fools playing with something they didn't
understand; that no human alive could understand. Maybe Armand joined
mom and dad now, but I doubt he would ever find such peace.
In my statement, I had said that Armand's last words were pleas for
his life, or at least that's what I'd rather remember about his
contorted voice at the last moment he existed in this world, but what
he had said was, "Why did you let them out?"
© 2015 Jason Arsenault
Bio: Mr. Arsenault is a neuroscientist at the University of
Toronto in Canada and has published over a dozen scientific articles.
His last Aphelion appearance was Voids in our October 2015 issue.
E-mail: Jason Arsenault
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