Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Mystery of Springfield, Kansas: Chapter Three

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I expect to find myself in the other dimension I’ve been to before, but it is nothing like that. It’s cold and frightening and filled with near-blinding light. I can see that there are objects around me, but everytime I try to focus on something, the intensity of the light increases, blocking it from full view. The only way I can keep from running into things is if I keep them in my peripheral vision, for anything else overwhelms my eyes. I call out to Hokusai for a little bit, but quickly grow tired of it, literally. I have no reason to believe she’s still anywhere near here. I keep walking, but very slowly, holding my hands out and pivoting so I don’t collide with anything. My God, who knows what dangers are around me? There could be an entire field of knives. Just, like, the ground is knives. I recognize it as a crazy idea, but as I’m trying to shake these fleeting thoughts from my mind, I encounter my fear. The ground is knives.
I don’t know how it’s possible, but the powerful light dims enough to show a few square feet before me. The business end of numerous knives are protruding from the ground, swaying in the wind as if mere wheat on the plains. No, this is nothing like the other dimension. This is Nightmare World. Every fear you have will be made manifest, just by you worrying it might. And there will be no escape from this, because even if you think of something you believe to be innocuous, the world will present it in the most horrible way possible. I will not be able to fight a giant marshmallow monster on my own, which is definitely on its way, because it’s all I can think about. The light recedes some more, and I see something in the distance. It’s a very large tree, on which someone has built a treehouse. I have no fear of treehouses, and I wasn’t thinking about them recently, so it must just be something that’s here on its own.
I reach down and tear one of the knives out of its place. It comes out like a tuft of grass; difficult and messy, but possible. I wait there, staring at the place where it used to be, assuming two more would grow back in its place, but they don’t. I keep doing this, building myself a path to the tree. Sure, I should probably just turn around and get the hell out of here, but I’m a detective. If nothing else, maybe Hokusai needs my help. If her experience here is half as bad as mine, she could sure use it. It takes a really long time, but I manage to get all the way through. When I reach the treehouse, I collect myself and examine my surroundings once more. It’s much easier to see than before, though there is still so much light around me that I can’t tell where it’s coming from. The rate the light was dimming would suggest that it is simply this world’s own perverted version of nightfall.
There’s evidence that the treehouse once had a rope ladder leading up to it, but it’s no longer there. I’m going to have to do this the hard way. I used to love climbing trees, but I haven’t done it since I was in single digits. I still remember how, though, and it’s not too difficult getting up there. The hardest part is figuring out how to get from under the floor, to the door, without falling on the death knives. I regret being so hasty with this. I should have taken some time to rest and warm up. Now I either take my chances and jump over to the edge of the house, or I climb back down and risk being far less lucky in my second attempt. I decide that I might as well not retrace my steps, and just go for it. I snag the edge and, while barely holding on, push the door open with my other hand, and lift myself in.
I half-expect to see Hokusai waiting for me with a smug look on her face, but it’s completely empty. The place is pretty sparse, but obviously someone was living here. There’s a decent low-to-the-floor twin-sized bed. Next to it is a desk with what looks like a lamp on it. The windows are covered in blackout curtains, but the lamp-like thing has been rigged to stream and control the natural light from the outside. Clever girl. There are stacks of papers next to the desk, and on top of a miniature refrigerator. It isn’t cold inside, but none of the unidentified meat in there has spoiled, so it was probably working at one point recently. Sitting neatly on the desk is a single sheet of paper. Well, it’s not so much a single sheet as it’s several sheets cut up and taped together, ultimately forming one sheet. Each section appears to have been written at different times, and only later put together.

Detective,

I hope this letter never finds you. After retrieving your flashlight, I hope you either decide to give up, or upon replacing the batteries, you discover that it no longer works. This is a terrible place, and it’s taken me months to learn its tricks. Everything here is dangerous, except for anything within the bounds of the treehouse. I have been living here alone for one three four seven months one two three years. Don’t worry, time won’t necessarily pass for you as fast as it does for me. As you might have noticed, the world recognizes your fears, and gives them to you as if you had asked for them. My worst fear is time, and losing too much of it before I find my daughter. If that’s never been a problem for you before, it shouldn’t be a problem now.

I’ve left for you a few things that might help. The goggles on the corner of my bed will protect you from the light, and allow you to navigate. The stack of papers under the bed should help you figure out what happened to Springfield. I believe those two boys you were searching for are still alive. The goggles, the knob, and the flashlight could help you find them, along with a few other objects that I’ve tracked, but never actually found.

Please ignore the hoarder stacks. As many things as I’ve been able to conjure here, I never could figure out how to summon a filing cabinet. They’re part of my own investigation, but they won’t do you any good. Half of them are in a shorthand of my own devising, so you wouldn’t be able to decipher them. The other half are just my diaries.

Feel free to anything in the fridge. No, it’s not cold, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a timebox, which means it’s only been in there for a few seconds, no matter how much time has passed outside of it. The book we found has taught me to build a many wondrous things, including the fridge, and the quantum replicator, which I plan to take with me when I finally leave. The reason I’ve not left yet is because I returned to you the Rothko Torch, which is vital to reopening the portal. It has taken me this long to understand how to do without it. I do not blame you for this, it’s my own fault for not trusting you. This is all on me. I do know where my daughter is, however, and I will be using my newfound knowledge to get to her. Please, take what I have given you, and leave as well. No one should have to be here, even for just a few minutes. Don’t try to enter the Ruby Cave, don’t drink the sap of the blackthistle trees, and don’t—under any circumstances—close your eyes for an extended period of time outside the treehouse. I learned that the hard way. Just get out. Now.

With apologies,

Hokusai Gimura

I stuff the meat in my bag, along with the notes she told me to take. I put what I’m now calling the HG Goggles over my face, and make the climb back down. The goggles protect me from the light, leaving the environment looking like regular ol’ daytime. The knives are gone, so I run as fast as I can, just hoping that I’m going in the right direction. Before too long, I reach the wall. The house cannot be seen from this side, but the flashlight illuminates the wall just as well as before. After taking one last look at the new world, I step back through, and return to what was once Springfield.
Upon leaving the house, I discover that my car has disappeared, as has Hokusai’s. She perhaps would have taken hers, but not also mine. I get out my phone to hail a ridesourcing vehicle, but of course, the battery is dead, so I just start walking. After a while, a man in an old truck pulls up and offers me a ride. “What’s your name, friend?”
“Kallias,” I answer.
“That’s a great name. I’m Randall. Randall Gelen. What are you doing out in the middle of nowhere?” he asks.
“Car broke down. I was just passing through,” I lie.
“I’m on my way back to Topeka where I live, so I can drop you off anywhere between here and there.”
I take a deep breath and flip through the pages that Hokusai left me. “Topeka’s as good a place as any.”
“What about your car?”
“Let the birds have it.”
He just nods, completely without judgment.
“I appreciate this, by the way. Not many people would pick up a stranger in 2016.”
“2017,” he says simply.
“What?”
“It’s 2017.”
I say nothing at first, because a hitchhiker is dangerous enough. I don’t need him freaking out about me thinking I’m a time traveler. Obviously I spent more time in Nightmare World than I knew. Though I may not have the same issues with time as Hokusai does, it is still a concern for me, and that must have been enough for me to skip at least several months in only a few hours. It could be so much worse, though, so I’m just grateful it’s only been that long. “Of course, my mistake. Slip of the tongue.”
He nods again, still not worried I possibly brought with me one of the knife plants, and intend to use it against him. Just then, his car rings. “Hello?” he asks after pushing a button retrofitted on his steering wheel.
Hey, dad,” the voice of a young girl says.
“Leona, shouldn’t you be in class?”
I can make a call in between classes, I’m not hurting anyone.
“Well, as long as you’re not hurting anyone...”
When will you be home?
“Early enough to catch you sneakin’ a beer with your friends.”
All right, we’ll leave early then.
He smiles. “I’m not too far away. I can pick you up this afternoon, if you need it.
Nah, I’m okay.” A schoolbell rings. “I better get goin’. Love you, dad.
“Love you.”
“Just the one kid?” I ask, trying to make conversation.
“Yep. I know I’m pretty old for a teenage daughter. Carol and I adopted her after both her parents died. She’s a good kid, and she’s been through a lot.”
“That’s very kind of you.”
“Got kids of your own?”
“No. I was a detective. I spent a lot of time looking for other people’s children, and knew I never wanted to risk going through that myself.”
“You were a detective? What are you now?”
I look out the window at the trees racing in the opposite direction. “I don’t know.”
“Well, if you’re lookin’ for a new job, I recommend you not apply at Analion.”
“What?”
“Sorry, I couldn’t help but notice your papers. If that’s an application for that company, best let it go. That place is fallin’ apart.”
I look down at Hokusai’s papers to see what he’s talking about. She says something about an astrolabe. Apparently I might be able to find it at a place called Analion Tower. “Oh, these are just...they’re nothing.”
He nods once more.
We make it to Topeka where he drops me off at a gas station. I buy a charger for my phone and hunker down at a coffee shop that has wireless internet. I start reading through the papers, and doing research on my first target. Analion, which is based out of Kansas City, is going through some tough times as of late. Hopefully they’ll be too busy with their legal troubles to notice when I break in there and steal a mystical artifact from the president’s office.
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