The Mystery of Springfield, Kansas

Chapter One
Over the years, little by little, the city of Springfield, Kansas disappears. I find a mathematician who doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, and doesn’t believe me when I tell her the truth, but she still helps. I give her what data, and what anecdotal evidence of the phenomenon, that I have. She uses it to the best of her ability, developing a map of sorts, of the future, which allows me to predict when and where the disappearances will occur. Sometimes she’s a little off by her calculations, but seeing as I’m the only one who recognizes it as a problem, that’s to be expected.
I use her predictions to the best of my own ability, evacuating people any way possible. I send bomb threats, and I set fires to houses, and I report gas leaks. A few times I actually cause real gas leaks, and other hazardous conditions. I get caught a few times, but the benefit in being in this corrupted reality that only I can see is that, once that part of town blinks into oblivion, I can no longer be in trouble for anything. All of my crimes have been quite literally erased. My fellow police officers don’t even remember arresting me. For all they know, I’m the weird detective who keeps getting himself locked in the station holding cells for no reason at all.
I keep track of a few people that I save, just to see what comes of their lives. My worry was that they would disappear regardless of where they were; that they were somehow permanently linked to their homes. Fortunately, I’m wrong about this. Anyone who is not within the blast radius of the disappearance has no memory that it existed, including the people who once lived there. Time rewrites itself to compensate for their loss, and they just go back to some new home where they believe they’ve always lived. As the city shrinks, I end up evacuating the same people more than once, and eventually, they leave Springfield altogether, under the impression that they never lived there at all. I keep doing this over and over again, and it’s exhausting. I quickly surrender to the fact that I can’t save Springfield, only some of the people in it. And really, that’s the important thing anyway.
As time ticks by, the teenagers who disappeared at the same time as Rothko Ladhiffe return. They can’t tell me where they’ve been, though. It’s not that they don’t remember, but instead refuse to divulge their secret. I assume they swore an oath to each other, and imagine some terrible scenario that they can’t bring themselves to admit to anyone. I try to push them for answers, but they all come back with special time powers, and I’m no match for them. If they don’t want to talk, I can’t make them. I can’t make them stay with me in the same second of time, let alone the same room. I continue to wait for RL, but he never comes back with them. Though I was technically meant to be looking for all of them, he was my true case, for he was the only one of their group with people who were looking for him. Though, I suppose that no longer matters, because his entire family disappeared a few years ago, before I could act to save them. Now there’s no one in the world who can tell Rothko’s story, except for me.
I do manage to get Tyler Bradley out of town just by convincing him his daughter is better off with him living nearer his ex-wife. Unfortunately, Hogarth returned recently of her own accord. All grown up and fully educated now, she developed an obsession rivaling mine. She becomes determined to figure out where RL went off to. She’s certain that the monsters of her childhood were real, and that she witnessed them attacking RL the night he disappeared. Though I know that she saw something she couldn’t explain, I never discussed it with her, not wanting to encourage her investigation. Maybe I should have, though, because she was still in the town when it took its final breath. In a glorious flash of light, the last remaining blocks of one-horse town Springfield, Kansas vanish, leaving me alone in the middle of nowhere. I watch it from the border, a tear falling from my eye as the welcome sign melts into nothing shortly thereafter. All that remain that prove Springfield ever existed are my badge, my standard-issue gun, and myself. The rest is just gravel road and trees.
When I was first looking for RL, I met a woman who could control time with her inventions. She called herself The Weaver, and she claimed that she would see me again in sixteen years. Her words end up being less of a prediction, and more of a courtesy call. Just as the last splinter of the post that was holding up Springfield’s welcome sign fades away, the Weaver appears in front of me. She’s wearing the same clothes as before, and I suspect less than a second has passed for her. She frowns at me like I’m a puppy dog who hasn’t been fed since this morning. “I’ve come with a friend,” she says to me. When she steps away, I see another woman standing behind her.
“Melantha?” Melantha Shaw was a third-generation LEO who moved to Topeka many years ago. I heard she made detective, but we never really kept in touch. She was the one who pointed me in the direction of a cartographer who started giving me some answers about the Springfield problem.
“Meliora, actually,” she says. “When I assume a new identity, I always change my name. For some reason, though, I can’t help but be derivative.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
The Weaver clears her throat. “I have somewhere I need to be. A zoo monkey in 2043 has inadvertently discovered a natural time rift, so I need to retrofit his cage with a few modifications before he accidentally travels to 2013.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask again, but this time to The Weaver.
“Never mind. I’ll let you two catch up.” She pushes the button on her timevest again, and disappears.
Melantha, or whatever her name is, shakes my hand. “My name is Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver. I have been watching you, and I must say, I am mightily impressed. The foresight and the ingenuity you had to protect all those Springfielders. Just...wow. Most people wouldn’t have bothered doing anything, let alone managing to do all that. It’s given me an idea that you might be interested in.”
“Do I need to repeat myself?”
“No, Kallias, I heard you. I can tell you who I am, and what I’m talking about, but I really want to bounce some ideas off of you. I have this idea for something called The Haven...or The Refuge...or maybe The Asylum? No, that one sounds bad.”
The Sanctuary?” I suggest, hoping a fourth synonym will get her to help me with my problem, and let go of whatever it is she’s working on.
“Oh my God,” she says. “That’s perfect.” She wraps me in a hug so tight that I think maybe my eyeballs pop out of their sockets for a moment. “You’re a genius, your born for this, I need you to help me build it.”
“Build what? A sanctuary for what?”
“Humans. Humans whose lives have been imperiled by time manipulation. Like your town. All those innocent humans who didn’t ask for this. The Sanctuary could have saved them.”
“Aren’t you a time traveler?”
“I am, yes,” she says with smile.
“So go back in time and save the ones I couldn’t before they’re taken.”
“Oh, I can’t do that. It would be too dangerous.”
“More dangerous than being torn out of time?” I scream.
“Have you ever heard of a time loop?”
“Like Groundhog Day?”
“No, Groundhog Day is an example of a Groundhog Day loop. I’m talking about a stable time loop where I already changed the past. What if I go back to save people, only to discover that the only reason they disappear is because I took them?”
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Springfield disappears all on its own.”
“Did it, though? What if I end up creating the problem that causes the town to disappear, by stirring up some timey-wimey—”
“Stop it right there,” I interrupt. “You don’t get to explain how time works by spouting a bunch of meaningless babble that goes nowhere. I’ve watched every series of that show so far, and honestly, since I’ve actually seen the real thing...I’m not super impressed. I don’t need to know how time works, I just need to know how you’re gonna help my city.”
“Your city is gone. Time of death September 23, 2016. I can’t save them, but I can save others, and you can help me.”
“I’m not done here.”
She looks at her wrist. “Well, how long are you gonna be?”
“Why don’t you and the Weaver come back in another sixteen years?”
“Because I’ll be stuck in The Maze at that point,” she says, as if I’m already supposed to know what that means, or being serious.
“I don’t know what to tell ya, Melly,” I say.
“Please don’t call me that.”
“Your little plan, whatever it’s about, isn’t really my concern right now. Right now, I have to look for survivors.”
“There aren’t any survivors, Bran. Everything is gone. We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
“Did you use your time powers to scan the area, or do you just presume that?”
She seemed mildly offended. “If you want to waste your time, then by all means. I have plenty of it myself, but I’m still gonna go. Lemme know when you’re ready for a job.”
“Sure, I’ll give you a call.”
She disappears.
I get back into my car and drive back over the town border. A part of me thinks I might disappear as soon as I cross over, but a part of that part doesn’t care. I can’t just walk away and pretend like this didn’t happen. If there’s even a sliver of a chance that someone didn’t get swallowed up by what happened to Springfield, I have to find it. There are far fewer roads than there used to be, since in this reality, not as many needed to be laid. I do my best to get to the center of town, or rather it used to be, so I can start a methodical search. As I’m about to pull over and take a look around, I nearly run into a woman who’s already begun doing that. She seems just as surprised to see me. I get out and ask if she’s okay.
“I’m fine,” she answers.
“I’m Kallias Bran. What are you doing out here?”
“Didn’t you see that?” she asks. “It disappeared. Everything just disappeared.”
So I’m not alone. “What’s your name.”
“Hokusai. Hokusai Gimura. I’m looking for my daughter.”

Chapter Two
“Your daughter was in Springfield?” I ask.
“Yes,” Hokusai answers.
“You’re sure of this?”
“Yes, I know she was there. What happened?”
“Yet...you remember her?”
“Of course I do. How could I forget my own child?”
“That’s what normally happens.”
“What are you talking about?”
So I tell her everything I know. I draw a crude map of the original Springfield city, and start covering up and redrawing the borders to illustrate how it shrunk over the years. I talk about the people that we’ve lost; the children, and their families’ memories. I speak of the Cave of Requirement, as I sometimes call it; the cylicones that can turn ordinary objects into time devices; the house that disappears; the other dimension; and people we’ve lost. I tell her that her daughter is gone, along with everyone else.
“How do you know?” she asks after listening to my story with impressive patience.
“How do I know what?”
“How do you know that we can’t get them back?”
“Well...” I say, not knowing how to answer that.
“All you know is that they disappeared, not where they went, or if they went anywhere. You think they’ve been destroyed, because people’s memories have been wiped, but that’s not necessarily true. No one has ever heard of parts of a city being ripped out of time, so that’s not something the average individual is capable of fathoming. If they can’t fathom it, maybe it can’t be real for them. We don’t know much about how the human brain works, but we know that memories and thoughts aren’t just files in a computer. We remember things through categories and associations. If there’s ever any missing information, the brain will fill in the gaps. Kallias, it will literally make things up to protect us from inconsistencies. This helps us make sense of the world, but it also causes conflict. Since each of us has our own brain, this phenomenon itself occurs inconsistently, which means that two people will never remember the same event the same way, giving rise to disagreements, and sometimes even violence.”
“I follow you, but I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“You made a logical conclusion that the city has been destroyed because people’s memories of it have been destroyed. But memories can’t be destroyed, only the connections between neurons, so your reasoning is already flawed. You didn’t see any fire, or bolts of lightning, you just saw buildings and other landmarks blink out of existence. What if that’s not really what happened? What if the city just...went somewhere else?”
“Where would it go?”
“Maybe that other dimension you were talking about. Or maybe some other dimension. Maybe it’s just invisible, and the only other thing that’s changed is our memories and perceptions. Maybe my daughter is standing in front of me right now, trying desperately to get me to hear her voice.”
“And do you?”
“Do I...hear her voice?” She waits for a moment, then turns away to examine the forest. “No.” She turns back and continues, “but now that I’ve brainstormed the possibility that she is, her voice is all I hear.”
“How old is she?” I ask.
“She’s nineteen. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I had her very young. Very young. It was...not my choice.”
“To have her, or to...?” I don’t want to finish my question.
“The second one,” she says solemnly.
“I’m sorry to hear that. That’s terrible.”
“It was. But if what you say, and what I think, are right, then Hilde may be safe afterall. If Springfield really is somewhere else, then her father will never be able to find her.”
“If what you say is right, then we absolutely must. We have to figure out exactly what happened to Springfield.”
“So you believe me?”
“That it’s possible the city is just waiting for us somewhere else? I was a detective. It’s not my job to believe things; just to investigate.”
We decide to head to the invisible house, because if any part of the town is going to remain behind while everything else is swept away, it’s going to be that bloody house. I was correct in my assumption. It takes some searching, since all navigational landmarks—like street signs and other houses—have been erased. It looks exactly as it always has, though; like a perfectly normal house. We walk inside, up the steps, and into the special room. The door to the dimensional elevator is still there, but the elevator itself has been replaced by a regular closet, as it does from time to time.
“What did she say it was?” Hokusai asks.
“A map,” I reply with a shrug. When she was just a little girl, my friend’s daughter witnessed the disappearance of Rothko Ladhiffe. Afterwards, she came up to this room, and drew on the door. I tried asking about it when I found her still working on it, but we were sidelined by the news of Rothko. I completely forgot about it as I moved on, trying to get people to leave their homes, so I never got a chance to ask again.
“I mean, it looks like nothing,” Hokusai says. “I don’t just mean that it’s a child’s drawing, but some of these lines don’t even connect. It looks entirely random.”
“There must be some pattern to it,” I say.
“Must there?”
“I dunno, but she was a genius. If anyone could crack this case, it would be her. People with her level of intelligence don’t just learn that at school. She was born with it; with that special something. I guess I’ve just gotten into the habit of thinking everything I encounter is meaningful.”
She squints a bit and keeps staring at the door. “Like what? What else have you encountered?”
“The Escher Knob, and the Rothko Torch, notably.” I pull them both out of my bag. “This can open any door, and this...uh, is a flashlight. I know it has powers, because it’s one of those cylicones I was telling you about, but I don’t know what it does.”
“Give it here,” she asks. She shines it around the room, and on her hand, before pointing it at the door. The lines that Hogarth had drawn begin moving around. They join together, they change size, and they slip away from the door to become three-dimensional. The shapes, now floating in the air, start multiplying and clumping together. It takes about a thirty seconds before we can see that they’re forming into a book. After it’s finished being created, the book threatens to fall to the floor, but Hokusai catches it just before it does.
“What is it?” I ask of her as she’s flipping through the pages.
“The answers,” she replies.
“Answers to what?”
“Everything I wanted to know about my daughter.” She closes the books and tenses up.”
“Hokusai. What’s goin’ on? What exactly is in that book?”
She starts backing away towards the door.
“Hokusai, where are you going?”
“This is for me.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s my book.”
“I’m not trying to steal it from you, but now I’m wondering why you’re so paranoid about it. Has it gotten ahold of you somehow?”
“It was written for me. Only I’m allowed to see it.” She passes over the threshold and looks back so she doesn’t fall down the stairs.
“And...did the book tell you that?”
“It did, actually, yes. I can find her,” she claims. “This will tell me how to do it. It won’t be easy, but it breaks the whole thing down for me.”
“Just tell me where she is. Can you at least give me this much? You’re not the only one who cared about people there. I’ve been dealing with this for over twenty-five years. I deserve answers more than anyone.”
“You’ll have to find them somewhere else. I’m sorry, Detective Bran, I can’t help you.”
“The woman I helped raise, like a niece, drew that map! I should see it too. I think it’s done something to you. You’re not thinking straight.”
“You’re wrong. Everything will become clear because of this. It lays it all out. I need it.”
“Hokusai, don’t do this,” I plead.
“I’m sorry.” She spins around and jumps onto the staircase, skipping the first few steps.
She’s practically down to the the first level before I get onto the steps myself. I race down, and try to follow her to the other side of the house. She flips the Rothko Torch on again, shining it on the back wall where they forgot to build a door. It begins to shimmer and sparkle in a more pronounced way than it usually does. Hokusai doesn’t stop as she bolting towards it, and I fear she’s about to hurt herself, but she doesn’t. She jumps right through the wall as if it were not even there. I try following her, but can’t. The glimmer has died down, returning the wall to its solid self.
“That’s my flashlight!” I scream to her, not knowing where she is, or if she can hear me. “Maybe that’s your book, but I found that flashlight, and I want it back!”
The flashlight passes back through the wall and starts rolling on the floor. I reach for it and try to turn it back on, but it won’t. I twist off the bottom, noticing how much lighter it is than it used to be. “The batteries? Really?” I yell. “Goddammit, now I have to go find more!”
By the time I drive all the way out to the next, and now only, town nearby, she has at least an hour head start on me. No matter, my only choice is to pursue. I switch the magic flashlight on once more, point it at the wall, and walk through like some kind of boy wizard in a train station.

Chapter Three
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.

Chapter Four
As part of my research into Analion, which is this window manufacturing company I’ve never heard of, I look at their website. I have lots of different windows open at the same time, and I’m multitasking, because sometimes that’s just how I work. I stop everything else I’m doing, however, when I find a picture of all the Vice Presidents, because I recognize every single one of them. They’re the kids who disappeared at the same time as Rothko Ladhiffe. They’re a little older now, so they don’t look exactly the same, but it is undoubtedly them. I just can’t believe it. I should have kept better track of them, but I was just so obsessed with protecting Springfield, so everything beyond its borders seemed irrelevant. So not only did they stick together, but they formed a company. I don’t recognize the President, or the Executive Vice President, though. Either the two of them are even more powerful than these kids, or there’s some other reason they’re not just in control of the place themselves.
Regardless of whether there’s a mystical artifact in the President’s office, I need answers, and it’s about goddamn time that these vice presidents give it to me. I rush out of the coffee shop to jump in my car, only then remembering that I don’t bloody have one. I barely got to Topeka, but now I have to figure out how to get out of it. That will be next to impossible, because I don’t have an identity anymore either. Though I was outside the boundaries of Springfield when it made its final descent into the void, I had no life elsewhere. I’ve tried getting back to my bank account, and the like, but they’ve been erased. I might as well have never been born. Completely out of options, I just start walking. I don’t plan on getting all the way there like this, but maybe I can bum another ride from a nice man in a truck.
No truck, but a man does approach me after a half hour of wandering on the streets. “Kallias Bran?”
“Huh?”
“Is your name Detective Kallias Bran?”
I just stand there in shock. Who the hell is this guy? “Yeah?”
“I’ve got somethin’ for you.”
I instinctively place my hand at my hip, readying my sidearm.
The stranger pulls an envelope from his coat pocket.
“What’s this?”
“Money.”
“Money? Why are you giving me money?”
His face betrays some slight level of horror. “Wait, I did this wrong. I totally messed up my line. I’m supposed to call it a letter. We need to go back and try again.”
He snaps his finger and disappears. I revert back to the position I was in just before he showed up, as does everyone around me. He’s just reset time.
He walks up again. “Kallias Bran?”
“We’re not gonna try it again. Just tell me what the money’s for.”
He looks surprised. “You remember that? But...but, I reset time.”
“Yeah, I’m immune to some of those things,” I explain to him, not fully understanding it myself. “What do you want?”
“Ah crap. It was this whole bit. It’s not raining, though, so I don’t know why we were trying.”
“What in God’s name are you talking about?”
“The money is just for you, to spend as needed. We are aware that you are in a bind, and require transport to Kansas City. I am not authorized to transport you myself, but this should be enough.”
I look through the envelope he hands me for the second time, and thumb it open. “There’s, like, thirty thousand dollars in here.”
“There is?” he asks, still just as surprised as maybe he always is. “Oh, here ya go.”
He flicks the envelope with his finger, which causes a second envelope to magically appear just under the first one. He does it two more times, and I nearly drop them all on the ground.
“I don’t need a hundred and twenty thousand dollars either.”
“Oh, that’s only a hundred twenty? I’m not great at math.” He tries to flick them again.
“No, no, no. That’s quite all right. I would just like to know who you are, and why you care what I do?”
“Have you ever heard of a deus ex machina? God in the machine?”
“Yeah...” I say, because I sorta remember that from High School English class.
He smiles and tips his hat. “Sometimes the machine breaks down. I’m The Repairman.” Then he disappears, leaving in his place a greenish bag.
I open the bag, but close it quickly. Of course, it’s more money; at least a million, probably closer to two. A little note is safety pinned to the handle. As I read with my eyes, I can hear an actual real-life narration in my head. “We have reviewed your case, and determined that about twenty-six years have been stolen from your life. Though we cannot fully repair the damage caused by the temporal anomaly, we hope these funds will sufficiently compensate for any loss in wealth that you should be enjoying from those years of hard work.” There’s a post-script on the back. “Do not spend any of this on a bus ticket. You have a magic door knob that can cross into other dimensions.
I don’t spend the money on a bus, but I do figure out how to command the Escher Knob to take me to the Kansas City bus station. Here I stash the cash in a locker since I don’t really have anywhere else. I try to get the knob to take me to the upper levels of Analion Tower, but it won’t do it. I pull up the memory of the pictures I saw of the building from their website. D’uh, I can’t magically teleport myself in there. The building itself was constructed into the shape of a cylicone, which is the same technology used to make the Escher Knob work. It’s basically warded against unauthorized entry, like a giant safehouse. When you can manipulate time to the degree the kids I know from Springfield, you’re bound to form an enemy or two, so it’s no surprise they sought protection. They can’t hide from me, though. I simply pull up a trusty map of the city, and Knob to the closest building. Then I just walk.
I get into the lobby, but security won’t let me by, because what reason would they have to do so? I could have all the money in the world, but I would still be nobody. As grateful as I am to that Repairman, and whoever he may be working with, I would have been happy with just a driver’s license. I leave the lobby and sit down on a bench next to a lavish water fountain. I open my bag and examine my resources. Okay, I already know the knob won’t work. I don’t know exactly what the HG Goggles do, but probably nothing useful right now. What I could really use is some psychic paper, but all I got is this half-empty pack of gum, a broken shoestring I’ve been meaning to toss, and the Rothko Torch. Oh and my gun and badge, but I don’t really wanna do that, because what if they look close and try to figure out what Springfield, Kansas is? Plus, I have no official business with the vice presidents, and whether I’m a real law enforcement officer or not, I still respect the badge, and I refuse to abuse its power.
So it looks like we’re back to the flashlight, with its indeterminate power. If the building is cylicone, then time magic should work while inside it, just maybe not against it. From what I’ve learned about these objects, along with other crazy things I’ve encountered throughout most of my adult life, is that you have to be creative, but also remember what things seem to be. The goggles don’t have the power to paint the future, because goggles aren’t a tool for painting. You would need a cylicone paintbrush for that, if such a thing exists. A normal flashlight is used for one thing; to shine light. You can use it to illuminate your path, or it can brighten your surroundings to find something. Or it can be a beacon.
I stride back into the lobby, giving off the impression that I am up to no good, which isn’t what I was going for, but whatever. A security guard standing guard in the corner approaches from the corner of my eye to corner me for security. Before she, or the receptionist, can get anywhere near me, I raise the Rothko Torch up in the air, pointing it towards the top of the giant atrium that runs all the way up. I flip it on, and suddenly feel the light pulling me upwards, like an alien abductee—oh, I’m sorry...an experiencer.
“We got the message.”
I’m standing in a conference room of some kind. At least that’s what it looks like it’s going to be, once they finish construction. Apparently the building isn’t quite ready for prime time, despite being in full use. “Ishimaru,” I say to the one woman in the room with me.
“Hello, detective,” she says.
“You don’t call, you don’t write, you don’t teleport in and get me up to speed. What the hell is this place, Yatchiko?”
She looks at the walls in a more general sense. “A failed experiment.”
“What were you trying to do?”
“Save the world,” she answers.
“From a window company?”
“The company was just the beginning. Is the beginning,” she corrects herself.
“Forgive me,” I say to her, “I’ve forgotten what your power was. Are you the one who can read minds, or whatever?”
“No. I can change time. Move things around.”
“I read the literature. The company’s older than you.”
“No, it’s not. I just make people think that.”
“I need your help. I need to find Springfield. I hear you have some kind of astrolabe?”
The word seems to smell bad to her. “I know what you’re talking about. It is not here.”
“Well, I read—”
“Then what you read was fake news,” she interrupted. “The astrolabe couldn’t be further from Analion Tower. I would never let it within these walls.”
“Then what good are you?” I ask callously.
“I’m not,” she says as profound truth.
I let me breath go, realizing only then that I’ve been holding it for however long.
“That doesn’t mean I can’t help.”
“Please. I’m desperate. If there are survivors, and they’re lost, or hurt, somewhere, they need my help.”
“Sometimes we help people in ways they don’t want, but instead need. You want to find your missing town, but you need purpose. You’ve lost that, but I can get it back.”
“Whatever you’re about to do...don’t do it.”
She smiled coolly. “It’s done.”
I start to feel drowsy, and then I’m drifting down towards the floor, or maybe my bed. When I wake up, I’m a retired former detective of the Kansas City Police Department.

Chapter Five
Coming soon...

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