Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Puzzle of Escher Bradley: Chapter Five

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After an awkward conversation with the lovely couple, I say my goodbyes, and drive back to the station. Both fortunately, and unfortunately, none of us knows exactly what’s going on. We’ve all lost about an hour of time, during which we were presumably together. There aren’t any inexplicable marks on our respective bodies, and we don’t feel injured, or otherwise in pain. They have the strangest sensation that they’ve been crying, but have no recollection of what might have triggered their sadness. The upside is that they’re more embarrassed about it than I am, and I get the impression that they’re not going to rat me out to my superiors. A detective with the ability to lose chunks of time is no detective at all. I obviously need to investigate this issue, but right now, I think it’s important to return to my desk. Since I’m not yet working on a case, and it’s my first day on the job, I have no reason to be out in the field yet. Extending that period of time would just make things worse.
The first thing I notice when I step into the the police station is that there is nothing different about it. No one has noticed that I was gone, or really cares. Benefits of working in one of the largest cities in Kansas, I guess. Everybody’s too busy with their own stuff to pay attention to anyone else. I was this close to moving to the small town where my mother grew up. No real interest in living in Missouri, though.
“Yo, Hummel,” I say as he’s passing by.
He stops. “That’s Sergeant Hummel to you,” he tells me. “Or just Sergeant.”
I chuckle once.
He looks at me seriously.
“Hummel, you’re not a Sergeant.”
“What the hell are you talking about, Bran? Did you take the wrong medication this morning?”
“Man, you—” I get a peek at his badge, and it’s certainly designated for a sergeant. Last I saw him was this morning, just before my missing hour came up. I was handing him paperwork that I didn’t have time to do myself. Which he was happy to complete because he tries and impress everyone who can further his career. Yes, he’s older, and more experienced, than me, but I made detective first because I’m better. That he’s suddenly a sergeant makes absolutely no sense, and I’m sure it has something to do with my missing time. Of course, I can’t say any of this to him. “I’m just messing with you. Sorry.” I shrug it off as playful office banter.
“You need to get it together, Bran. You’re a detective now. Act like one.” He starts walking away as I nod. “And there’s some paperwork on my desk with your name on it,” he adds without looking back.
I rush over to his desk to find the exact same stack of documents I handed him this morning...in my reality. So some things are the same, and others are different. The trick is not figuring out which are which, but finding a way back to where I belong. This isn’t my world, and even though I don’t so far dislike it more than the first one, it’s unfamiliar, and that makes me uncomfortable. I speed through the paperwork so I can get to my lunch break, and work on my own problems.
“Thank God your back,” the woman from before says to me as I’m getting out of my car in the couple’s driveway. “Some weird stuff is happening to us.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Why? What happened to you?”
“No, it’s...not important. Literally tell me about it.”
“Follow me.”
As we’re walking up stairs, I can hear her husband rifling through some boxes in one of the rooms. “Cheryl, take a look at thi—” He notices me there. “Oh, it’s you.”
“What is all this?”
“We don’t know,” Cheryl answers, shaking her head. “It’s kid’s stuff, but we don’t have kids.”
“I’ve been looking at it...holistically,” Tyler says. “It belongs to one kid. He likes dinosaurs, astronauts, and drawing. It’s a bit weird that he has both cabbage patch dolls, and trolls, but I dig it. Cheryl, I think we had a son.”
“How do you know it was a boy?” I ask.
He holds up a pile of clothes.
“Oh my God, this is crazy. When I got back to the station, I noticed something different. One of my colleagues has suddenly been promoted. Twice. That’s impossible for just one day.”
“Somebody’s messing with our memories,” Tyler laments
“Or we messed with our own memories. Or we were exposed to some kind of toxic chemical. Or I’m dreaming, and you two don’t exist. We just can’t trust anything we perceive in reality. Maybe nothing is real.” I’m not usually this philosophical, but I’m at a loss.
“I think, therefore I am,” Tyler notes. He picks up a photo album and starts looking through it.
Cheryl digs into the boxes, trying to find hard evidence that they had a son. Perhaps he scribbled his name on his favorite toy, or scratched his initials on the bottom of a pinewood derby car he and his dad built together, but mostly his dad.
I try to think of what next step we could take. If we’re looking at the problem the wrong way, what could be the right way? Think, Bran. You’re a detective, for God’s sake. What would Pender do? “Have you met your neighbors yet?” I suggest. “Maybe they saw something, or know something, or something weird is happening to them too.”
“We spoke briefly with our neighbors to the South,” Cheryl answers. “They were about to leave for family pilates class, so we didn’t spend a lot of time together, but they didn’t seem bothered by anything.”
“We knocked on the door of the people on the other side of the empty lot to ask if a package we sent ahead of time had showed up on their stoop,” Tyler adds. “I suspect I screwed up and put the wrong address on the form, but they didn’t see anything. They seemed perfectly content with their own reality too.”
“What empty lot?” I ask.
He keeps his eyes on the pictures. “To the North.”
I walk across the hallway to another room, and peer out the window. The house next door is about as far from this one as any two houses ever are in the suburbs. “I don’t see what you’re seeing. There’s a house there.”
He comes over, a little frustrated by the tangent, and looks out as well. “No. There’s not.”
“Holy shit.”
I run out of the house and approach the house next door. The other two follow.
“You really don’t see that?” I ask of them.
“I just see grass, and some dirt.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“An invisible house. Are you kidding me? Literally, are you kidding me?”
They don’t seem like they’re lying. I walk up the steps, and into the house, completely ignoring the whole thing about probable cause. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to belong to anybody. It's completely empty, and it’s cleaner than any building I’ve ever been in. Except for the fireplace. I can see a small patch of dust, or maybe ash, surrounding an even smaller shoeprint. It sure looks like it could be that of a child’s, and there is just the one. Letting that go for now, I run a quick sweep through the downstairs, and then the upstairs. In one of the bedrooms, I find a closet that feels familiar and new. I open the door to find that it’s not a closet at all, but some kind of a lift. Like somewhere between an elevator, and a dumbwaiter. Realizing this to be my only lead, I step into it and push its one button.
After a half hour of what feels like going up, the lift stops. I exit back into the room where I started, assuming this all to be a drug trip. Someone has poisoned me, and now I’m wandering around like an idiot. I think that I’m in a house, but maybe I’m teasing the edge of a cliff. Well, probably not a cliff since this is pancake Kansas, but I could still be in grave danger without having any idea. Whatever, I’m just going to keep going as if everything’s real, and normal. If I die, then I die. I didn’t pick this job because it would be safe, or easy.
I go back downstairs, and back outside. Cheryl and Tyler are still standing there on the lawn of a house they can’t see. It’s unclear exactly what they do see, but if only one thing is clear, it’s that they can no longer see me either. I keep going, feeling myself drawn down the street. My hallucinations follow me everywhere I go. At first, the houses are normal, but then I start seeing things that can’t be there. In place of one house is a desert, and in another, a lush garden. I can see the entire island of Manhattan, and an extreme closeup of Jupiter. It’s like this road is some central hub, connecting multiple places together. A teleportation station. A waypoint.
In the distance, I see a figure standing in the center of a house lake. It’s not frozen over, but he’s not falling through. Upon noticing me, the figure pulls his arms back, and then forward, somehow using his own energy to propel his section of water forwards. As the figure approaches, I start being able to see that he’s a young boy. He eyes me curiously. “What are you doing here?”
“I took the elevator.”
He looks over my shoulder, in the general direction of the invisible house. “Most people don’t see that.”
“Do you live in this world?”
He smiles. “I live in all worlds.”
“So, you’re the one doing all this? You’re...stitching these different places all together.”
“Stitching,” he repeats. “I was thinking about calling this merging, but now stitching is a contender.”
“My friends back there,” I say, trying to remain calm, and act like I been there. “We think they’re missing their son. There’s evidence that he exists, but he’s nowhere to be found, and they can’t remember him. Are you...are you him?”
“Nah, my parents are...well, they wouldn’t be looking for me. Whether they could remember me or not. This is a big place. Your boy might be here, but I haven’t seen him, sorry.”
“I feel like I’ve been here before.”
“You may have. This dimension is tricky. Spend too much time here, and it screws with your brain. I may look like a child, but I don’t age here, and time doesn’t always pass in the real world. I recommend you go back, and forget you saw anything.”
“No,” I argue. “I think I already have forgotten things. What I need to do is remember them.”
He breathes deeply. “I may know a girl. But it’s hard to get ahold of her, and her prices are pretty steep.”
“How do I find her?”
He starts sliding away slowly on his impossible water. “I’ll let Nerakali know that you’re lookin’ for her. She’ll find you if she wants to negotiate a contract.”
“Hey, wait!” I call up to him while he’s still in earshot, walking forwards a little to keep it that way. “What your name?”
“Glaston,” he says in a British accent. Then he pauses for effect. “Kayetan Glaston.” Then he zips away faster than the speed of sound, and all of the crazy lot portals disappear.
As soon as I step out of the elevator, and back into the real world, my memory is erased once more. I recognize Tyler and Cheryl, but I still don’t quite understand why I’m there. I go through this whole thing about seven more times over the years before one of the children I encounter in the other dimension happens to have the ability to manipulate people’s minds. She had the coolest name ever, but I can’t remember it, because I think she erased it from my mind as she was putting everything else back in. In fact, she erases everybody’s name, theoretically so I can’t look into them further. I remember meeting them, but not their names. She lets me keep Escher Bradley, though, so I can technically continue that search, but it has no way of moving forward. His parents gradually forget him further, eventually getting to the point of being able to give his stuff away and wiping their hands clean. Now there’s no proof he ever existed, but my certainty is immortalized in cement.
I run down a few more leads, but nothing comes of them. I even go back to Stonehenge, which is where my parents once took me for vacation. This is where I had my first encounter with time stuff that I can’t explain. I witnessed a girl disappear through one of the doorways. Her parents flipped out, trying to find her, but it didn’t look like they loved her very much, because they seemed more concerned with how losing her made them look. I don’t know how I could have forgotten all this, or whether there are any other memories that the memory girl never gave back. Maybe I can manipulate time myself, or I spent my whole childhood in fifteenth century Spain. I do doubt it, though, because the girl seems to actually strengthen my mind. Other, minor, things change around me. Hummel switches between being a sergeant, and a uniformed officer every few years, with no explanation for how he thinks he was promoted. He’s only nice enough to carry a conversation when he’s in uniform.
I frequently return to the invisible house. Sometimes it appears, and sometimes even I can’t see it. Ever since the last child, though, I haven’t gotten the elevator back. It’s like it wanted me to find the nine of them, and once I did, that was enough. I do find a doorknob up the fireplace, but that’s it. Before I know it, it’s the third millennium, and another child is missing. Along with nine others.

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