The Disappearance of Rothko Ladhiffe

I’ve been a detective for ten years now, and no matter what case I take, I always go back to my first. I’m embarrassed and depressed about having never found Escher Bradley. The pain is only amplified by the fact that I’m likely the only person on the planet who knows he ever existed. Not even his parents can remember. They ended up having what they believe to be their first child. A girl this time, named Hogarth. I suspect the loss of their first child continues to tarnish their souls, though, ultimately preventing them from being completely happy. Their memory loss, however, also prevents them from understanding why. In the end, their marriage suffers for it, and shortly after their daughter’s birth, they divorce. Hogarth takes her mother’s name, and moves with her to Topeka. When she’s older, she starts to visit him once a month.
I sort of trick Tyler Bradley into becoming friends with me. He has no recollection of our time together looking for his son, so I just place myself in the position to run into him several times. The coincidence brings us closer, and we start hanging out on the regular. I don’t particularly like him. No, actually, I don’t like him at all, because he never really fought for even joint custody of Hogarth. He could have easily moved out to Topeka too, but chose not to. If he had left, I would have made friends with the new residents of that house, because I need access to the empty lot-slash-invisible house next to it. Not that it matters all that much. As profoundly supernatural as the building is, there aren’t any answers there. If I had a therapist, and I managed to convince them that the house was real, they would tell me to just let it go. Though this is only a hypothetical therapist, I imagine them saying this every time I see them, and start trying to persuade myself.
At the moment, I’m watching the game with Tyler. I’m a football guy, so I don’t care about this baseball game. And when I say football, I mean the real football that they play ‘round the world; not this rugby-wannabe bullshit where they hardly ever use their goddamn feet at all! I take a break to take a piss; upstairs, because that bathroom is cleaner. I pass by Hogarth’s room and notice that she’s not in it. When I go back down, I ask Tyler about it.
“Who?” he asks, eyes still glued to the screen.
“Umm...your daughter?”
“Fuck you talkin’ ‘bout, man?”
I close my eyes, hoping that the world will wake up right when I reopen them. “Please tell me you’re joking. You really don’t remember your daughter?”
“Of course I remember my daughter, retard. She’s with her mother.”
I cringe at that word, but ignore it. “No, she’s not. This is your weekend.”
He lazily takes a look at his watch. “Nope.”
I take my PDA out of my pocket. Yes, I keep track of Tyler’s movements in my calendar. If I don’t remind him to breathe...he’ll suffocate to death. This is definitely his time with Hogarth. I make sure I’m here for it, because she’s kind of not in the best hands with him. She may never eat. Though he might be a terrible father, he’s not so bad as to forget such an important event that only happens a dozen times a year. This must be something weird. This must have something to do with time...and that place. Without another word, I slide out of the house and walk through the lawn to the invisible house, which is now fully visible, and waiting for me. I wish I had my sidearm with me, but of course, I always request time off for Hogarth’s visits. Besides, I’ve never met any actual opposition in the other dimension, or the house, for that matter.
I kick the door open, not because I have to, but because it pisses me off, and I want to get my aggression out. I take a careless sweep of the first floor before moving onto to the second. Here I start going at turtle speed, dreading seeing the elevator again. It hasn’t shown itself to me in years, but if Tyler’s second child is anything like his first, it’ll show up now. It’ll take me to that other dimension, and whatever I find there won’t be what I’m looking for. I gulp and wipe the sweat from my brow, knowing that Hogarth is gone for good, and it’ll be my fault. Just like before.
I hear a strange scratching sound on the other side of the bedroom door. Fearing some kind of awful time demon, I slowly push the door inwards and prepare for a fight. What I find there is a joyful carefree little girl drawing on the closet elevator door with a pencil. “Piglet!” I cry out, happy and relieved.
“Hi, Kal,” she says, not removing her focus from the random lines and loops she’s drawing.
“You can see this house?”
“Of course I can,” she says. And...yeah, of course she can, she’s here.
I get down on my knees and turn her towards me, keeping her shoulders in my hands. “Hogarth. I need you to do something for me.”
She’s confused, but not scared. “Okay?”
“This house is dangerous. It’s not like your house, or any other house. People go missing in here. It’s...basically alive. You have to promise me, that when we leave here in a minute, you will never come back. This isn’t one of those times where an adult tells you not to do something, and you do it anyway. If you ever come back here, you may die.” It’s not a normal thing to tell a six-year-old, but I  have to make her understand how bad it can get. If she can see the house, it means the house wants her to see it, and if it wants her to see it, then it wants her, and that I cannot allow. “Do you understand me?”
She nods, a little nervous about what I’ve said, but still not afraid of me.
“Now come on,” I say in a much kinder voice, taking her hand in mine. “That’s a beautiful drawing, by the way. What is it?”
“It’s a map,” she answers.
Just then, we hear the sound of vehicles outside. A lot of them. A lot of really loud ones, and they’re all converging upon this house. We walk into the front bedroom and look out the window. A number of trucks and construction equipment have descended upon what they all probably believe to be nothing more than a patch of land. “We need to get out of here now.”
I take her down the stairs. As soon as we reach the bottom landing, the house disappears for us as well, leaving us surrounded by the trucks and heavy machinery. A man in a hardhat approaches us. “Did you just...were you...?” He pauses, possibly out of having seen us magically appear out of nowhere. “Where did you come from?”
“She was lost,” I reply simply. “I’m just taking her back home next door. What are you doing here?”
He smiles proudly. “I’m building our dream house, for my fiancĂ©e.”
“How did I not know about this?”
“My father’s in the middle of a big business deal with the city. This is just a footnote in Harken news.”
“Harken news?” I ask.
He extends his arm. “Paul Harken. People just call me Hark, though. I bought this lot. It’s gonna be perfect. I assure you, I have all the required permits.”
I take my badge out of the back of my pocket, feeling the need to let him know that I’m not just some nosy neighbor getting into his business.
“Officer?”
“Detective. Bran. Kallias Bran.” I shake his hand. “Listen, I’m not sure if this is the best place for you to build. There’s something wrong with the soil, that’s why they didn’t use it when they were building the rest of the neighborhood.” I’m not lying. I looked into why people think there isn’t meant to be a house here. Back when they were expanding the city, they found something strange in this soil, but only in this small section. The science goes beyond me, but I’ve always assumed it was some evidence of the other dimension. The house that actually is here either created the disturbance—and now people don’t remember it; ultimately justifying the lot through some more believable means—or the disturbance was always here, and the house’s condition is merely a product of that.
“Yeah, my scientists looked into it, and they think we can still build. We’ve made a lot of advancements in construction still they first tried this in the early 20th century.”
“Still,” I begin, hoping to come up with some other excuse, but failing. I don’t want him to build a second house here, because I don’t know what happens with the first one. When it comes back, is it going to cause an explosion of some magnitude? Afterall, two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time. Best case scenario is just that the house never returns, but since when have I been that lucky?
“I appreciate your concern, detective. But I’ve been assured by the smartest people in Kansas that nothing will go wrong if we take the necessary precautions.”
Before I can respond, we hear a woman yelling from down the street. “Help! Somebody please help me!”
“Take her back to her father’s,” I order Paul Harken. I then run off to meet the screaming woman halfway.
“Please, you have to help me,” she begs.
I show her my badge. “My name is Detective Kallias Bran. What is the matter?”
“It’s my son. I woke up this morning, and he was gone. I thought he had snuck out of the house for this stupid unauthorized senior lock-in, but I’ve talked with the school, and no one was there. They didn’t do it, I guess. But then I guess I talked with the other parents...” She wasn’t able to finish her thought.
“Tell me what happened,” I say.
“It doesn’t make any sense, I know those people. I know their children.”
“I don’t understand, ma’am.”
“They have no clue what I’m talking about. They don’t think they have any children. Or if they do, they’re too young to have gone to the lock-in.”
Yeah, I’ve heard this story before.
“I’m the only one who remembers my son,” she goes on. “Please, you have to help me find him.”
“Okay, I will. Let’s start with the basics. What is your son’s name?”
“Rothko. Rothko Ladhiffe. But he loves those Goosebumps and Fear Street books. He pretty much only answers to RL.”

“Rothko,” I repeat. “That’s a cool name. Now tell me, when was the last time you saw your son?”
“It was last night,” she answered. “He always comes downstairs to say goodnight before he goes to bed while we’re watching then news.”
“Was there anything strange about last night? Was he acting different, or did he act like this time he said goodnight was more important?”
She studied my face, trying to get me to reveal my secrets. “Are you saying that he ran away? My son did not—”
I decide to interrupt her, “I have to rule out the most unlikely explanations first. That helps narrow it down to what’s really going on. Now, it hasn’t been twenty-four hours, so the police won’t investigate. But I’m off-duty, and I can look into this for you.”
“Okay.”
“What is this lock-in thing you were talking about?”
“Every year, the new senior class sneaks into the high school and goofs off. They open all the lockers, ride bikes in the gym, have rolling chair races in the hallways. It’s against the rules, of course, but most of the teachers and administrators went there when they were kids, so they allow the tradition to continue.”
“So Rothko is seventeen? Eighteen?”
She shook her head. “Sixteen. He skipped fifth grade.”
I nod, hoping to exude as much sensitivity as possible before continuing. “Lots of smart kids are picked on by their peers, especially if they—”
Now she interrupts me. “The kids don’t pick on him. He’s friends with all the seniors. I didn’t think he was the type to go to the lock-in, but they could have convinced him. And I know where you’re going with this, they wouldn’t have hurt him, or anything. Like I said, the other parents don’t even remember their senior children.”
“None of them?” I question.
“Well...I dunno, I only called this core group. A clique of friends called The Alphas. I know it makes them sound like they’re bullies, or something, but it’s not like that. Every clique at that school has a self-aggrandizing nickname.”
“Okay, I’m gonna need their names, but first, how many students would you say are in next year’s graduating class?”
“Maybe a hundred-fifty.”
“And were they all at the lock-in, or just these Alphas?”
“Most of them would be there. Only a handful of kids wouldn’t have been able to sneak out, or convince their parents.”
I take out my business card and write on the back of it. “Okay, my niece persuaded me to get a cellular phone. This is my number. Go home in case RL comes back on his own. Will you be alone there?”
“No, my husband is there doing just that already.”
“Okay, good. I’m going to do everything I can. Try not to think of the worst. Anything could be keeping him from coming home. He could be drunk and embarrassed...or they locked him in a janitor closet as a prank.”
“I sure hope so.”
She gives me her number and address as well, and then we go on our separate missions, with plans to meet up and regroup. My first stop is the school. For most missing persons investigations, you would go to the place where they were last seen, and try to retrace their steps, but when time manipulation is involved, that’s not always the best. You start with the weirdest, and work your way forward from there. All nine parents that Mrs. Ladhiffe called were unaware of their supposed senior children. Some of them did have kids, but they were safe and sound at home, and wouldn’t have been at the senior lock-in. I would be interested in knowing exactly who those people are. RL might not have actually disappeared from the school, but his is the one parent that has intact memory, so I know it has something to do with that place.
I follow the directions to Springfield Central High School only to find that it isn’t there. The block of houses is meant to lead right up to it, but it’s not there. All I see is an empty field. In fact, it looks like the edge of town, but that doesn’t make any sense. I know for a fact that the city boundaries extend far beyond this. I mean, it’s called Springfield Central, which means there should be plenty of development in all directions. I need information, and now the only place to get it is the district building. I just hope it hasn’t been swallowed up by another dimension, or whatever, as well.
“I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the secretary says. “What school are you looking for?” She and I are looking over a map of the city.
“Central. It’s in...the center?”
“We do not have any school by that name. We have Northwest, North, Northeast, East, and Southeast.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Why would you build a Southeast, and not a South?”
“We followed the trend of the development over the years. We only build where we’re needed.”
“Look at this. Southeast High is on the edge of the city limits. Why would you do it like that. Why isn’t this here the center?” I point to what’s roughly the middle of the map.”
“I don’t understand.”
I try to explain a different way. “If this is Northwest High, then this would be about the center, right? Because then here’s Southeast, and East. But all this over here on the western edge is just nothing. I was just there, it’s perfectly suitable land, why wasn’t that developed?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“Cities don’t start on one side, and then move out in half of the directions. They move out in circles, barring any geographical features, like a mountain or river.”
“I believe you,” she said, not believing me.
“Half the city is gone. I know it’s bigger than this. I’ve lived here for a decade.” She says nothing further, and I just continue looking at the map, darting my eyes between the various landmarks.
“Sir?”
“It’s shrinking. Maybe it started with that first house, but it’s bigger than that now. Rather, it’s smaller.”
“Sir, what are you talking about?”
“It’s spreading, like a virus. Eventually, all of Springfield will be gone. You could be next!”
“Sir?” she calls to me as I’m leaving with the map I stole from her. “Sir!”


I rush back to the police station with an immense feeling of relief that it even still exists. It does seem a bit short staffed, though. There is more space between the desks, and even a few officles that weren’t there before. Reality is changing before my eyes, and I may be the only one who knows it.
“Bran, you’re not supposed to be here today,” Hummel asks. He’s a Sergeant in this version of the timeline, and he’s been this way for a while.
I ignore him and walk straight into the conference room where they’ve hung a giant map that spreads across the entire back wall.
“Bran, what the hell are you doing?”
Still without acknowledging him, I start frantically opening the cabinets, finally finding what I’m looking for. I hold the yardstick against the wall, and shift it down little by little to confirm my suspicions.
“Detective, I’m going to need an explanation. You’re acting even stranger than you normally do.”
“Look,” I say, pointing to the map. “Look at these rough edges. Look at how this block goes a little farther than the next one over.”
“Seems normal,” he says impatiently.
“Then look at this side. A straight line. It cuts right through the city. Each block is exactly long enough to fit perfect inside this diagonal line. Why aren’t there houses over here?”
“Should there be?”
“Look at it! I just said that it’s a straight line! Since when do cities grow like that. Is there wall blocking us off from the world over here? It’s looks ridiculous, like someone sat down and planned each house they would build for the next century.”
He takes a drink from his coffee and looks at me like I’m crazy. “Mackle puts his binder clips over the right corner of his paperwork. Some things are just weird.”
Now I look at him like he’s crazy. “What!”
“This is how the city has always been.” He shrugs. “It kinda looks like Nevada, and I don’t know why you’re questioning it now. I need to get back to work, and you need to go back to doing whatever it is you do when you’re not giving me shit.”
“Hold on, hold on, hold on. Two years ago, we went bowling, remember?”
He sighs and throws up his free arm. “Yeah, why?”
“Where was that?”
“I...I don’t remember. A bowling alley, I would suspect.”
“It was called Pin Drops, and it was right there.” I point to an area of the map that’s now on the outside of the city, but wasn’t always.”
He takes another sip. “I think that’s Farmer Aristein’s property. He got a bowling alley?”
“Jesus Christ.”
“Get the hell out of my station, Bran,” Hummel says as he’s leaving the room, “before I suspend you.”
“I know I’m never going to be able to get him to understand, so I just start staring at the map, hoping to find some answers there.”
A few minutes later, someone says, “I overheard your conversation.” It’s Officer Shaw. Her father is on the force as well, and her grandfather retired from it a couple years back. They’re all good people; reliable, sincere, and compassionate towards the minor offenders.
“Oh, yeah? I know I’m weird.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but my dad met someone a while back who might be able to help you out.”
“Who?”
“This guy; a cartographer, I think. He’s...unstable, but he knows maps, and he’s good at finding things. And...”
“And what?” I press.
“He’s also apparently a conspiracy theorist.” She smiles. “So if anyone’s gonna get you, it’ll be him.”
Not my only lead, but maybe my best one. “Do you have his contact information?”
“You’ll have to ask my dad for it. I never met him myself, it was before my time.”
“Thank you, Melantha.”
I start to leave so I can find Shaw Senior.
“Hey, Kal?”
“Yeah?”
“What is this about?”
“Missing kid.”
“Have you not escalated that? It’s not on the board.”
“It may not be real,” I say cryptically, knowing that it most certainly is.

Chapter Three
I knock on the door, expecting to hear a gravelly voice on the other side asking me who I am, who sent me, and whether I’m one of them. Then should come the familiar sound of him pumping his shotgun, along with a warning about his connections to the press. If he does end up agreeing to let me in, he should spend no less than fifteen full seconds unlocking all the deadbolts, possibly even removing a bar. Instead, I hear a regular, cordial voice that tells me it’s open, and to come on inside. I flip open the button of my sidearm holster, but don’t take it out. So far, I have no reason to believe there’s danger on the other side of this door, but it is a door, and I can’t know for sure. I walk in, expecting to see stacks of newspapers, creepy taxidermy animals staring at me with looks of horror, and maybe a package of niche food the government tried to design for soldiers in the 1970s that they don’t make anymore. Instead, it’s a clean apartment with pictures of family members on the ledge, and throw pillows on the sectional couch.
“Go ahead and have a seat,” he calls from the back. “I’m just finishing up here. Would you like something to drink?”
I barely manage to eke out a, “no, I’m fine, thank you.” I do sit down, but keep my hand at my hip. Sometimes just finishing up means they’re making sure their taser stick works, or simply that they’re giving me enough time to feel comfortable before jumping out with a loaded crossbow.
After a couple minutes of me worried for the worst, a man walks in rubbing his hands with a wet wipe. “Sorry about that, I was just finishing up the map of the dwarven continent. I can’t get the coastline right.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Oh, that’s one of things that I do. I draw maps for fantasy writers who want to add a little more immersion to their canon.” He presents his hand. “Hi, I’m Ciro Alinari.”
“Detective Kallias Bran. I rudely don’t shake his hand, instead opting to show him my badge. I’m not here on official business, though. Did Shaw give you a heads up?”
“No, but I’ve been expecting you,” he replies.
“How’s that? Can you see the future?”
He laughs. “No. I also made the school district maps. I received a call from a very confused administrative assistant asking me whether the city used to be larger. I told her no, but you and I both know that’s not true, is it?”
“So, you remember it?”
“Not exactly. Remembering is gonna be tough, if at all possible. But I do have this.” He walks over to the wall and pulls down a giant map roll hanging from the wall. “No, not that one.” He puts it back, then pulls it again. Not a different map, but the same one. Except it is different. It somehow changed while it was rolled up. “Not that one either. One more try.” He puts it back up, and pulls it down for the third time, revealing this time a full map of Springfield, including the missing schools.
“Where did you get this?”
“I made it,” Ciro says. “I did it with this.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pen. It’s shaped a little strange, but it’s not otherwise special. “I don’t know why, but every map I make with this thing is wrong. This whole section here doesn’t exist, but somehow...the pen thinks it does. I remember drawing this, but I don’t know why I would, or did, rather. Best I gather is that the city is getting smaller.”
There are so many questions, and so much I don’t understand. I know the city is receding, but I don't know how it’s happening, why I didn’t notice before...or how I see it now. But the most pressing question now has to do with RL, and his merry band of friends. “What does that have to do with missing children?”
“What missing children?”
“They were at a school lock-in...at a school that apparently no longer exists.”
He thought about this for a moment, obviously having never heard of anything like this before. “They must not be missing. They must have been erased from the timeline.”
“Why does one of the mothers remember her son then?”
He thought some more, but this time searching for the right words. “Maybe it’s like a disease. Pathogens attack individuals differently. We all react in our own personal way. Some of us don’t get as sick as others, and some of us don’t get sick at all. Sometimes a fluke in genetics just makes certain people immune to certain diseases. This mother may remember her son when no one else does just because of the law of probability. A hundred percent coverage is difficult to achieve in nature. There’s just always something. Something getting in the way.”
“It’s happened to me before. I could see things, and know things, that no one else could.”
“Really? Tell me.”
I tell him about Escher Bradley, and all I’ve been dealing with for the last ten years. I talk about the house, the elevator closet, and the other dimension. I list the children I met there, how my memories would regularly be erased afterwards, and how I’ve received treatments to retrieve them, but never did get their names back. That must be it. That’s why I can sort of remember the old Springfield. My brain has been taught to, but it isn’t perfect; it can’t give me everything.
“I need to find this child,” I plead, fairly certain he’ll never be able to help me. “Please. I can’t get back to that house, but I need a way in. They’re not gone, they’re not dead, they’re just somewhere else. There must be some other house with some other elevator.”
“I’m sorry, man,” he says. “I would have no idea. Have you tried the internet?”
“No, I don’t really like that thing.”
“Well, you can find just about anything there. It may take you awhile before you land on something real, but there should be tons of information about other dimensions, and invisibility, and whatnot.”
“I guess it couldn’t hurt to give it a shot,” I say, up for pretty much anything at this point. “You got a computer?”
“Unfortunately, mine is being worked on. They have them at the library, though.”
“All right, fine. Let’s just hope it still exists by the time I get there. It’s on the edge of the border.”
“I would go with you, but I really gotta finish this coastline.”
“It’s fine. Thanks for your help.” He turns to head back to the other room, and I turn to leave. “Hey, wait. How would you recommend I start my search? Ya know, to avoid all the garbage?”
“Start local. If the mother remembers, and you remember, and I remember...then somebody else probably does too. They might even remember more than we do.”
I make it to the library and get to work. I pass by the computers, and end up just walking to the catalog cards. I’m more familiar with how they work, and it’ll be faster if I just do it how I’m used to. I’m not opposed to technology, I’m sure computers will do wonders for our future, but I don’t have anyone in my life who can get me into them. People my age really need a son, or a niece, or someone young to roll their eyes and teach me how to doubleclick.
I spend an hour there before the librarian finds me and asks if I need any help. Well, yes, I do; there’s nothing here, but I’m also embarrassed to ask. I got lucky when Melantha suggested I speak with Alinari, but no one else is going to have so much understanding. No one else sees what I see.
I decide to swallow my pride and take what help is available. “I’m looking for anything weird about the city. Any freak accidents, or unexplained missing persons, or hell, even ghosts.”
She nods. “We have a special room for local information. Here, I’ll take you to it.”
“Thank you so much.”
She leads me through the stacks and to the back where they haven’t even bothered turning on the lights. She takes me down a creepy hallway, under a few cobwebs, and around piles of cardboard they haven’t thrown out yet. She then opens a set of double doors to the outside and ushers me through.
“I don’t understand.”
“You came in the West entrance, but that half of the library is already partially gone. If you can see us disappearing, then you need to get out of here before it’s gone for good. Go to the original branch. You’ll be able to find what you’re looking for. Remember these numbers. Nine-nine-nine. Nine-nine-nine.”
“What? I didn’t know the library was disappearing. If you do, why don’t you leave too?”
She shakes her head. “I’m the only one who can protect the books.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“Just go. The farther you are from this place, the sa—”
Then she was gone, along with the rest of the library. They just suddenly blink away; like somebody flipped off the switch that made them appear to the world. In their place is another open field, which I’ll have to start getting used to seeing.
The original branch of the library; the one that was built when this was a wee little town. Easy enough, except that I parked my car on the other side of the building, and now it doesn’t exist anymore.

Chapter Four
I don’t know how fast whatever force that is swallowing up the city is moving. So I just start running, at first as fast as I can go, but I gradually lose energy until I’m just back to a walk. I keep going, though, until I reach the bus stop. I take the next bus that arrives that’s also headed for the opposite direction of the oncoming nothingness. It takes me to the central hub where I take a second bus going straight for the original library branch. I carefully look around. Ever since the librarian suggested that I have some intuition about when and where things are disappearing, I’ve become paranoid. I need to keep my eyes open, pay extra attention, and take note of anything, anything out of the ordinary.
Okay, so the numbers she recited to me obviously belong to the Dewey Decimal System. In fact, they seemed to be the very last ones possible, likely not going higher than a thousand. After taking a few mental photos of my surroundings, so I can cross-reference them with what I see later, I enter the stacks, and head for the last shelves. I find myself in a section labeled Extraterrestrial Worlds. Really? Aliens? I guess it could technically explain what’s going on here. It’s kind of the go-to explanation for phenomena that don’t make any sense. Aliens are too easy, because they can do anything. Their technology can be at whatever level suits the story. You don’t have to figure out how the antagonists somehow managed to turn garbage into edible food decades, or centuries, beyond the technological level of the rest of the world. You just have to decide how much smarter, or further in development, an alien race is. Was this it? Was this what she the mysterious librarian was trying to tell me? She didn’t tell me to look for a book, she just said to remember the numbers. If she wanted me to read a book itself, would she not have just given me the title? Perhaps, perhaps not. Perhaps she didn’t know.
I run my fingers across the books, looking for the right number, even though I know it’ll be the very last one. I pull the book out. Hotspots: A Look into Places of Great Power on Earth, and Beyond. It sounds to have more to do with this planet, than any other, but again, the librarian didn’t mention anything about reading a book. Still, what if that’s exactly what she meant? I have to exhaust all my options during the investigation. I read the whole thing cover to cover, including the copyright page, which might have held the name of someone I should contact, or a code of some sort. I just don’t know what I’m looking for, so it’s all relevant, until proven otherwise.
The book actually turns out to be a rather fascinating read, especially since I now know all this to be possible. The writers put forth a theory that there are many locations around the world, and in other worlds, where time doesn’t behave. They use the analogy of river, which is common to use when explaining time. In the river of time, water continually flows forward, but there are obstructions in it. Rocks, bends, branches hanging down; they can all distort the water’s motion. These things create, sometimes permanently, a spot where the water has to find a way around, above, or under. It still keeps going, it has to, but it’s still a change. Now the important part is that, once the water moves past any given barrier, it comes back together, and continues flowing normally. It is only that spot that holds any significance. A river is easy, as these impediments are obvious, even if they’re not immediately visible. Temporal hotspots, on the other hand, are a bit harder to explain. Why they exist is not something the writers claim to understand, instead assuming them to be as natural physical phenomena as rainbows, or wind.
They list all of the hotspots they knew about at the time of publishing, including Stonehenge (of course), Ayers Rock in Australia, and Easter Island. They speak a great deal on Kansas, claiming that the borders were drawn in order to protect the entirety of it. This theory has some holes in it when you consider that parts of Kansas City, Missouri apparently belong to the same category as all of it, but they just attribute this to political complications. The most interesting part of the book is the section on Springfield, Kansas. It talks about its connection to another world; one that is dark, unnamed, and void of all healthy life. Words, sentences, and even entire paragraphs in this section are completely blank. There is clearly meant to be text, but it’s been erased, likely by time itself. This much I understand, so it can’t be what the librarian wanted me to see.
After I finish reading it all the way through, I start flipping back through it, needing refreshers on some of the information. Besides this dark world we’re supposedly connected to, there’s also a planet that’s eerily similar to our own, but located in a galaxy nearly three million lightyears away. It also talks about Atlantis; how it’s located both on Earth, but also not. They consider it to be their greatest challenge, and hope to publish a second book, one dedicated exclusively to the mystery of Atlantis. Whether they end up doing this is anyone’s guess. This first one was released in...holy crap. How did I not see this before? I thought I read every word, but I somehow missed this. The book hasn’t even been published yet. It’s listed as being from 2017. How does a book travel seventeen years in the past? And why? And why here?
This was all very helpful, assuming any fraction of it is true, or rather at least will be true. Though I know that something is going in, I don’t know that these writers understand the reality more than I already do. I still have to continue looking for answers, and trying to find out how far the librarian wanted me to go. I pull a few of the other books off the shelf, and feel around. I’m searching for a note, or a safe deposit box key, or something else. There’s nothing there, so after taking stock of my surroundings to make sure they haven’t changed since I arrived, I decide to look into the catalog cards. I do the same here, in the drawer that would have led me to the Hotspots book, hoping to retrieve anything that can point me in the right direction. What I end up finding is something I don’t understand at first. In the back of the drawer is a hole, and there’s something sticking out from it. At first, I pull my hand back. I’m not a huge fan of spiders or snakes, so sticking my hand in dark spaces is never something I would do otherwise. I put on a brave face, though, and reach back into it. A young boy stops flipping through his own drawer to look at me funny.
“I think I lost my watch in here,” I lie.
He nods, then just leaves.
As I’m feeling the metal protrusion, I realize what it is. It’s a door with its knob removed, so all the guts and moving parts can be accessed. Back when I was searching for Escher Bradley, I ended up finding a doorknob in the invisible house that he disappeared from. This is it. How the librarian knew that I had this knob I don’t know. I’m just glad that I keep it with me at all times, rather than in my car, which no longer exists. I look around again, not checking my environment for changes, but just to see if anyone’s watching me. I don’t know what happens when I install this knob, but it’s best to keep it from public view.
The knob snaps onto the catalog door like a magnet, no screwdriver required. I look around one last time, then turn the knob. Either the entire catalog and I flip over a hundred eighty degrees, or the world itself does. It certainly feels like I’m standing on my head, even though my feet are still firmly planted on the ground. I soon learn that I am the one who moved when I notice where I am. It’s a cave corridor. Water is dripping upwards from a stalactite next to me. As soon as I remove the knob from its place, I fall down to the cave floor, slowly and safely. As extraordinary as what just happened was, now it’s done. Now I’m just standing in a wet cave, with no apparent place to go from here. It’s about half the size of a gymnasium, but I don’t see any corridors. But then a light begins to shine from a pool of water. I squint and approach it carefully. I think maybe it’s a magical alien tractor beam, but when I reach into the water, I discover that it’s just a flashlight. I pick it up to look for a way out, but something else catches my eye. I shine the light on the cave wall, trying to reflect it as much as possible to so I can read the label on the bottom. RL. This is Rothko’s flashlight.

Chapter Five
I use the flashlight to explore the cave, but find nothing but a few strange rock formations, including one that looks like an altar. An ancient culture may have used it for human sacrifices, but for now, it’s mine. I need to take a nap and recharge myself, so I climb up on it, and drift away. Rock is generally really uncomfortable to be on, but right now, it feels like heaven.
I wake up later and realize that I’m also extremely hungry. I even say it loud, forgetting for a second that I am alone, and have been for most of my life. As I’m heading back to where I first came in, I pass the rock formation where I found what I’ve now decided to call the Rothko Torch, submerged in water. The water is gone, replaced by a plate of bread and crackers. I hesitantly lower my hand into the basin and gently touch the bread with my fingers. It’s not a hologram. I touch it again. It feels like regular bread. “Is someone here?” I ask, spinning around in case somebody shows up.
I don’t expect anyone to answer. For some reason, the plate of food magically appearing out of nowhere is a more logical explanation than that someone, out of the kindness of their heart, just snuck in and placed it here for me. As it turns out, I’m half right. “I’m here,” comes a voice.
I spin again and settle on a rock formation that looks like a doorway that leads nowhere. A woman is standing at the fake entrance, hands resting in front of her, and smiling. “Who are you?” I ask.
“Hello,” she says, like an automated phone attendant. “My name is Porter. The Constructor, The Weaver, and I collaborated on this place as a refuge for the needy. It is a prototype, however...a proof of concept, as it were. Congratulations, you have been chosen as a beta tester for the program. Here you will find anything you need. If you would like something, within reason, simply request it out loud. We’re not mind readers, you know,” she adds with a smirk. “If the program is successful, we will be creating more—more advanced—places like this. Go ahead and try it out. Ask for anything.”
“I would like Rothko Ladhiffe.”
“I’m sorry, that item is not in my inventory.”
“Please send me Escher Bradley.”
“I’m sorry, that item is not in my inventory,” she repeats.
I walk over and try to nudge her on the shoulder, sure that my hand will pass right through.
But she isn’t a hologram either. “Please respect my personal space. We’ll all get along better if we’re civil.”
I nudge her again.
“Please respect my personal space.”
So she’s physically here, but she’s not real. They somehow figured out how to record her saying various things, which can be activated upon command. It reminds me of some MS-DOS text games I used to play on the computer. You can’t speak to them like a normal person, only responding when you type commands the right way. Porter is clearly a more advanced version of this, but you still can’t break her worldview by teaching her something she didn’t know when she was built. She knows what she knows, and that’s it. I try to replicate one of the features that not all of them had. “Porter, list of commands.”
“I’m sorry, I cannot do that. If you would like the user manual, however, I can provide that.”
“User manual, please.”
“Item is waiting for you in the item basin.”
I go back over and retrieve a book that’s only about a hundred pages long. As advanced as this system is, I expect it to be as tall as a skyscraper, or something. I guess I’ve gotten lucky. I start flipping through the pages, and testing a few of the features. “Porter, play music.”
“Selection.”
“Wagner.”
“Which piece?”
“Dealer’s choice.” Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla starts playing, and I can’t figure out where the speakers are. It must just be coming from the aether itself. “Lower volume, please. Shuffle Wagner continuously please.” I return to the manual, which tells me that the items I request can come from anywhere in the world; from any time in history; past, present, or future. “Porter, give me the first model of television ever built.”
“The history of television sets, is a complicated one. Exactly what qualifies as a television set varies when considering modern standards—”
“Give me a TV from 1947.” It appears. “Give me a TV from 2017,” I choose, remembering the future book I read in the library above. I expect to see a flatscreen TV, but instead it’s curved inwards. I don’t get why anyone would want that. “Porter, does this function?”
“It does, yes.”
“If I turn it on, will it show me a broadcast from today, or from 2017?”
“Which would you like?”
I smile at the notion of being able to do practically anything, but I don’t actually turn on the TV, because that’s not what I’m doing here. “I would like to speak with the real Porter.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
“She’s dead?”
“Dead...alive...time. Everything never will be and always was.”
“How cheerful,” I respond to the sudden quasiphilosophical musing. “Is there anyone I can speak to? This Constructor, or the Weaver?”
Porter stands frozen for a few strange moments. “I could potentially contact the Weaver.”
“Okay, do that.”
She tilts her head to the other side. “Placing call.”
A different woman starts to climb out of the item basin, even though it’s not deep enough for someone to fit. She looks around. “I’d forgotten about this place.” She looks at a watch on her wrist. “August 24, 2000. Porter, let’s see that GameCube that they announce today.” She looks back and takes a gaming console I’ve never seen before out of the basin. “Still works.” She outstretches her hand. “Hello, my name is the Weaver. How did you find this place? It was buried.”
“With a book, and this,” I say to her, taking what I’ve now decided to call the Escher Knob from my bag.”
Her eyes widen and she reaches for it. I try to pull it away, but realize she’s my best source of answers. “A new thing,” she says happily. “Porter, I need my continuum resonance imaging machine.” While still examining the Escher Knob, she reaches into the basin and takes out a wand-looking thing, which she waves around the knob. “Porter, project the image on this anachronism.”
The television flips on, showing a photograph of the knob. The Weaver is able to rotate and flip it at will just be dragging her fingers across the screen. She then pulls it apart to show a cross section. “Just as I suspected.”
“What?”
“This shape here is called the cylicone; a cone inside of a cylinder, with lots of other design quirks. I invented it. It allows any dipshit to turn an ordinary object into something that can manipulate time. My biggest regret is letting the instructions for this thing get out into the world. I’m sure if we took a look at that flashlight, we’d find a cylicone.”
“These two things are the only evidence I have that two people who went missing even ever existed.”
She shakes her head, “I’m not going to take them away. That’s not my right. I am going to ask you to be careful, though.”
“I can do that, if you can tell me where they are.”
“I don’t know, but you won’t find answers here. This was a failed experiment. Our testers started asking for more and more extravagant things, and we soon learned that no one deserved to live like this. This is what we in the business call Springfield Y2K. It can’t be stopped. The city is dying, and the only thing you can control is whether you’re in it when it’s totally gone.”
“I can evacuate everyone left.”
“Can you?”
No, probably not.
She went on, “the people you’re looking for are gone, and from what we know of the future, they don’t come back. Best move on with your life. I’ll allow you to stay here, if you want. You seem like good people. Just know that the biggest problem our testers had over the years...was loneliness.” She opened her shirt to reveal a weird robotic vest thing with buttons on it. “See you in 2016.” Then she pressed one of the buttons and disappeared.
He did see her again sixteen years later, after all of Springfield was gone.

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