Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Mystery of Springfield, Kansas: 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?”
“ 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’s 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.

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