Aphelion Issue 277, Volume 26
October 2022
 
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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 you.

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 out.

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 During my confusion the driver had withdrawn from the underground carriage a peculiar looking suitcase, but before I could tell him he had made a mistake, for I saw no one else exit the bus, the door slid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 it does.

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 teenagers.

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 plumbing?

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 start.


* * *

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 rippling.

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, "Signal received."

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 replied.


* * *

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 destroyed."

Whack.

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 either.

"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 device controls."

"--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 middle."

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 level.

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 fantastical theories.

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 never illuminated.

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 re-appear.

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 claimed either.

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 some coffee.

"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?"


THE END


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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