The Puzzle of Escher Bradley

Chapter One
The first thing I notice when I step into the the police station is that there is nothing different about it. The vending machine is still eating people’s money, with Sergeant Mackle as angry about it as ever. The chairs are still squeaking, and the air still sweet. It’s me. Only I’ve changed. I’ve just become detective. This wasn’t exactly my dream growing up. I always looked up to the “boys in blue”. I thought of them as the ones on the front lines, the ones putting themselves in danger. It was only in the later years as a teenager that I realized I was one hundred percent correct about this. Even then, though, I never thought I would end up in law enforcement. As I’m striding through the “pit” I imagine my old mentor, Detective Pender, watching me from the coffee maker. But he’s still working in Kansas City, and I know that this is where I’m meant to be.
“Congratulations,” my captain says to me. “You’re the first person to make detective in Springfield the 1990s.” He drops a load of files in my arms, and sports a half-smile. “Here’s a bunch of paperwork.”
“Thank you, sir. And there were actually a lot of us—”
“Don’t call me sir,” he interrupts me to insist. It’s not that he’s a man of the people, he’s just so apathetic that formality makes him feel inadequate.
After the captain walks away to grab a nap, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. I can tell that Hummel is on his way to me. I turn around, and immediately say, “Officer Hummel, I’m detective now. I don’t have time to help you anymore. You should have this figured out by now.”
“I know,” Hummel says, “but I have this call. They didn’t call 911, they called the station. It’s a man. His son is missing.”
“How long?”
He’s not sure if he wants to answer, but does, “an hour. But there’s something weird about it.”
“Weird how?”
“I can hear a woman in the background, saying something about the caller being crazy. I dunno...”
I sigh and hand him my paperwork. “Do as much as you can with this, and get me that address. I’m goin’ out.” I pick up my coat, and leave. First day on the job, and I’m already responsible for a possible new case. It feels good, but I’m worried. The case could get real bad real quick, and I can’t mess it up. The media would eat me alive.
Once at the address, I park on the street and get out for an initial impression. There are boxes and other crap in the driveway, and on the lawn. A moving vehicle is parked up a little too close to the garage overhang. Either these people just moved here, or they’re trashy as all hell.
A woman comes out of the house, wrapping a shawl across her stomach. “I’m sorry my husband called you,” she says to me. “We are perfectly all right.”
A man comes bursting out of the house. “We are absolutely not all right, Cheryl, our son is missing!”
Cheryl keeps looking at me and shakes her head, “no, he’s not.”
“Yes!” the man screams. “He is!”
I keep my left arm back at my hip, ready to loose my gun, in the event it’s necessary. This case is already weird. I present to them the international gesture for calm down with my right hand. “My name is Detective Kallias Bran. I’m here to help. First thing I need to where is your son?”
“He’s missing,” the man claims.
Simultaneously, the woman says, “he doesn’t exist.”
“I’m sorry?” I ask.
“We don’t have a goddamn son,” Cheryl insists.
“The hell we don’t!” The father is only growing angrier.
“Sir,” I say in an authoritative, but soft voice, “I’m gonna need you to keep it together. Now, Mister...”
“Bradley,” he says, still angry, but holding back. “Tyler Bradley.”
“And what’s your son’s name?”
“He doesn’t have a name,” Cheryl interrupts as Tyler is trying to answer.
“Ma’am,” I warn her.
“Escher,” Tyler is finally able to say.
“That is...a great name,” I say to him. “How old is Escher?”
“He’s eight,” Mr. Bradley says, feeling a little better just from having someone believe him. “He’ll turn nine this year.”
“Okay,” I tell him. “He probably just wandered off. I assume you just moved here?”
“That’s right.”
“This is bullshit,” Cheryl says, shaking her head once more. Her default setting.
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to hold off on the swear words.”
She pointed to herself as she drew closer to argue with me. “I’m not crazy. I would remember if I had a son. But we’ve never had a son. We’ve never had kids at all!”
“Then why did we get rid of the two-seater?” Tyler jumped in.
“It got old,” she reasoned.
“It was running great,” he countered. “We got rid of it, and bought this van, because it’s more practical when you have a family. But make no mistake, Detective Bran, we are not van people. We just need one to get Escher to soccer practice...should he ever finally agree to try soccer for me.”
“Oh, you love this van!” Cheryl yelled.
“No, I don’t. Neither of us do. Escher offered to sit on the roof of a cool car so we could get rid of our embarrassing van.”
“Who the shit is Escher?” she cried. “Stop saying that.”
“Ma’am, language.”
“Oh, fuck your language!”
“All right, that’s enough. You’re going to have a timeout in my car while I discuss the situation with Mr. Bradley. I reach out, but I do not touch her.
“Get your hands off me!” She overdramatically pulls her arm away. “I’m not getting in your car, like a criminal.”
“It’s either the cuffs or the cruiser. You are not being arrested,” I promise.
She purses her lips and inhales. “Fine.” She starts walking towards my car. “You go have your chat, and look around. You’ll see that this Escher Bradley kid is just in my husband’s imagination.”
After letting Mrs. Bradley into the back of my car, I pull Mr. Bradley to the side. We start walking through the lawn. “Look, she may be angry enough for me to put her in a car, but I’m having trouble with the both of you. You say there’s a kid, but she doesn’t. I don’t see a kid.”
“He’s missing.”
“I know you think that, but where’s your proof?” I start mumbling a bit, because it’s a bit of an overstep. “I mean, I don’t want to say that either one of you is crazy, but either there’s a kid, or there’s not. One of you is wrong.”
“Okay,” he says, speeding up to enter the house. “Let’s go find some proof.”
He leads me upstairs, and into the only room besides the kitchen that actually has things in it already. I take a look around. There are a few boxes here and there. Trinkets, clothes, music band posters. There isn’t any furniture yet.
“This was gonna be his room. That’s all his stuff.”
I take a sweater out of one of the boxes. It does look small enough to fit a child. I sift through the rest of the garments, and they’re all for children. That isn’t proof, though. Anyone can buy these things. “I dunno, Mr. Bradley.”
“Tyler. These could be yours from your own childhood, or a nephew’s...or you bought them in hopes of having a child one day. It’s a pretty thin argument.”
“They’re his; they’re Escher’s,” he emphasizes.
I just shake my head slowly. I don’t know what else to do. “I don’t know what to tell ya.”
He thinks for a moment. “Pictures! I have to find the pictures.” He runs and trips back downstairs, and I hear him moving things around as I’m following at a more reasonable pace. The house is pretty big for just two people. Again, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. They could be planning a family for the future, or some people just have more space than they really need.
When I reach the bottom, I see him having found what he was looking for. It’s a brownish leather-bound photo album. “This is mostly him.” He smiles and opens the book. There’s no child in the pictures; just the two of them, and a few relatives or friends. “He’s not in any of these.” He turns the page. “No, not these either.” He turns the next page. “I could have sworn he was in this one.” He turns another.
“Is that him?”
“That’s my boss’ son. We had them over for dinner.” He continues to turn page after page, desperate to find one that featured this Escher, but none of them did.
Finally he stops, and I notice something weird. “What’s up with this one?”
“You’re right,” he agrees. “Why are we so far apart?”
I stare at the photo. It looks like a family portrait, but there’s entirely too much space between the two of them. “There’s supposed to be a kid between you.”
“Yes, there was!” he says excitedly. “So you believe me now?”
Not necessarily. I take the album from him and start looking through it more discerningly. It’s not the only one like that. Many others show too much dead space, either between people, or on one side of them. Some of the photos are just of doorways, or picnic tables. It’s crazy to think that an entire individual was ripped from a boy’s mother’s mind, and also physical evidence. Either this is an extremely elaborate prank that could potentially go back years, or this is really happening.
“Where did you last see him?” I ask, knowing that I have to explore this, regardless of which one of them is telling the truth.
“He’s a little young to be all that helpful in the move, so we let him take a break. He went straight for that empty lot next door. I turned around and he was gone, though.” He takes the photo album back and starts concentrating on filling it with his missing child.
“What empty lot?” I ask.
He keeps his eyes on the pictures. “To the North.”
I walk across the dining room, and peer out the window. The house next door is about as far from this one as any two houses ever are in the suburbs. “I don’t see what you’re seeing. There’s a house there.”
He comes over, a little frustrated by the tangent, and looks out as well. “No. There’s not.”
“Holy shit.”

Tyler and Cheryl Bradley stand at my two flanks. She’s calmed down by now, and he’s fully surrendered to my authority. Neither, however, believe that they’re standing in front of a house right now. I can see it plain as day. The grayish hue, the bay windows in one of the rooms upstairs. The perfectly trimmed hedges, evenly spaced along a cedar mulchway. The purplish door, that actually isn’t a door at the moment...because it is ajar.
“I still don’t see it,” Tyler says. “You’re meant to be standing right in front of it now?”
“I am, yes,” I reply. “And so are you. Here, take a look at this.” I step up to to the patio and wait for their reactions.
“Okay, you walked forward,” Cheryl notes. “What does that mean?”
“I’m a least a foot above you right now,” I proclaim, nearly at the point of losing my cool. “You’re looking upwards to make eye contact. You don’t feel your head tilting?”
The other two look at each other, then semi-simultaneously claim that they don’t.
I frustratingly walk in the house, showing a level of confidence against any invisible people who may be living in their invisible house. I don’t have time to check whether anyone else is in here, though, because I’m trying to prove a point. I grab the door and move it to a crack, so I can still hear the people I’m talking to, but they should no longer be able to see me. “How about now?” I ask, with a raised voice.
“You don’t have to yell,” Tyler informs him. “You’re standing right there.”
“Still,” Cheryl adds.
“No, I’m not!” Then I hear a noise behind me, so I release my gun and lift it up in defense.
“What is it?” Cheryl asks.
“Go back home,” I order.
The house is the cleanest I’ve ever seen. I’ve been in empty houses that people were trying to sell before, but they’re never perfect. There doesn’t appear to be so much as one speck of dust, on any surface. It’s not like someone cleaned it extremely thoroughly...but more like it’s impossible to bemire in the first place. The noise continues from upstairs. I need to clear this level first, so I walk around, but keep my head on a swivel. I walk through the front parlor. As with everywhere else, apparently, nothing is in it. There is a mural of purple roses over the fireplace, though, which is an unusual spot of color in this otherwise muted building. I pass into the kitchen, and open a few cabinets and drawers to get a clear picture of what this place might be. Empty, but just as clean as the floors and walls. There’s no refrigerator, and no space for a range or dishwasher. It’s a pretty modern house, so why would they build it without the ability to install basic first world appliances?
I cross back into the foyer, and start walking underneath the staircase, into what would probably be used as a study, maybe the dining room. It’s a little warmer in here than anywhere else. It’s only then that I notice something strange. I quickly walk back and forth, but no, I’m not mistaken. There is no backdoor; just a wall. What kind of suburban home isn't built with a backdoor? Then I notice something odd about the wall itself. It has this shimmery glow to it. Maybe light from an opposite window is dancing on it, but it doesn’t seem to alter as I move. I should be blocking some of that light, unless, that is, it’s not from the opposite side at all. The noise from upstairs gets loud, but I still can’t place what it might be. I ignore the wall for now and continue my walk around the perimeter; all the way through the study, into the living room. I can tell it’s the living room, because there is what’s obviously a television stand on one side. It’s the only piece of furniture I’ve seen thus far. I ignore this too, however, and head for the stairs.
I notice that the couple is still standing in front of a house they can’t see. They can probably still see me, and must be so incredibly confused. What does it look like to them as I’m holding my gun out, walking up to the sky, step by step? Do they see me hovering in the air, or do I just look like a crazy person who keeps lifting his legs, but going nowhere? Maybe I am crazy. Maybe none of this is really happening. Maybe I never woke up this morning. But if I’m crazy, and I’m also out here right now, in the real world, then I’m not the only one. Tyler still thinks their son exists, and is missing, and Cheryl still doesn’t. Maybe we’re all crazy, and maybe I should have never moved from Kansas City.
As soon as I step up to the top landing, the noise stops, but that’s okay. I can tell where it was. I make cursory glances into the other rooms before walking into the right one. There’s nothing in here either, which is normal for this house, but I had hoped to find something. I had hoped there would be some clue that I could follow. If Escher Bradley isn’t in here, and nor is anything else but a TV stand and a mural, then what am I supposed to do?
I check the closet, sure that I would find nothing of significance, but I do. It’s not a closet at all, but an elevator. Or maybe a dumbwaiter. It’s kind of small for the former, but large for the latter. It’s the only soiled part in the whole house. It’s made of metal bars, with painting chipping off, that show the barren rotting wood wall behind it. The floor is grated, but with hexagonal holes, instead of squarish ones. It’s far too dark for me to see below. But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that there is no way it goes all the way down to the first floor. I would have seen it. The access should be against the corner of the study, but nothing is there. In fact, if there were something there, it would have blocked the entrance to the room. No, this isn’t an elevator, or a dumbwaiter. It’s just a prop. It has to be. Yet this is where the investigation is taking me, so I step in, and press the one button.
The accordion door closes, and I start moving. But instead of going down, I go up. Okay, I guess I haven’t checked the attic, so I guess that’s what the explanation for it is. Or maybe not, because I don’t ever reach it. I just keep seeing walls and steel beams slowly falling downwards as I continue. The elevator never stops, and I never see any other rooms. It occurs to me that I’m the only one who could even see the house. But perhaps there were parts of it that even I couldn’t see. Perhaps it isn’t a house at all, but that’s just the first obstacle. The government (or aliens) could have built this as a security defense. You can only get into the house if you can see it. And you can only get to the top floors if you can see the elevator. I don’t know. What even the hell is going on? How far up am I going?
Finally, after about a half hour of this, the elevator stops. It looks all too familiar, though. I know that I kept moving, and that I was going ever upwards. Barring any crazy jedi mind trick, or a hologram, I should have gone at least a hundred floors, but I haven’t. I haven’t gone anywhere. This is the exact same room I started on. Goddammit.
The accordion is stuck closed, so I just break it to get out of this wretched machine. I slam the door behind me and leave the room. I hop back downstairs and leave the house. The lead is here. If Escher disappeared, it has something to do with this impossible house. But I don’t know what it is. I can’t figure this out. So I’m just going to leave. I’m going to get in my car, drive back to the station, and ask for help. I have to find someone who sees what I see. I need someone I can talk this through with, or I’m just going to go in circles, just like that stupid elevator.
I walk out of the house and breathe in some fresh, cold air. Cheryl and Tyler are still standing on the walkway, waiting for me. I pass them and start pacing around the yard. “I’m sorry, I say. I didn’t see anything. I mean, I saw some things, but I didn’t see him. It gets more and more bizarre the deeper you go. It makes even less sense beyond you two not even being able to see it. I’m going to go get help, and come back. Or maybe I should just call them on the radio. It’ll be harder to face and convince them in person. I dunno. I’m so sorry, though.” I wait for their response, but there’s none. They don’t move. No, they literally don’t move. They’re standing in the exact same spots as they were before. “Tyler?” I approach them. “Cheryl?”
They don’t answer. But they are moving, ever so slightly. So they’re not quite frozen. Either they’re in a slower time, or I’m in a faster one. I try to touch Cheryl’s shoulder, but can’t. My hand just passes right through her. I’m not really here. Maybe I’m dead, maybe I’m not. But I am not here. I’m in some other world, and it’s just that I can see the real world. I start jogging back up to the house, desperate to get back to the elevator, but then I stop. I have to stay until I find Escher. Though each of the couple believes conflicting things about the boy, two things I don’t doubt is that Escher Bradley exists...and that he’s somewhere here.

Chapter Three
When a detective hits a roadblock, something they often do is go back to the beginning. They start again where they started before, maybe a little further back, and try again. They’re hoping seeing it from a slightly more agèd perspective will shed some light on whatever they couldn’t see before. I’m doing that here, but not because I think I missed a clue, but because maybe I literally couldn’t see it before. Ideally, Escher would be sitting in his new bedroom, unable to interact with people in the real world. Then I could get him back and send him home. Unfortunately he’s not there, and it doesn’t look like the room is any different from this side of whatever separates these two worlds. That’s insane. Just yesterday, my life was normal. I had a good job, in a reasonable town. I drank tea in the mornings, and watched TV at night. I went to the gym for fifteen minutes every couple weeks, or so, or ten. I liked The A-Team, cute animal calendars, and hiking. I didn’t read or watch much science fiction, but now I’m walking through what I guess one would call another dimension. It’s only been five minutes, and this already feels like the new normal, though. I know I should be freaking out right now, but this place makes me feel at ease. It’s almost like I belong here; like it’s home.
I shake off my internal monologue and start trying to do some real police work. I wave my hands through some of the objects in the room. I’m not trying to touch them, because I know I can’t, but what if there’s something here? What if there’s something in here that’s different than everything, that straddles the worlds as I do? I don’t think I have that much chance, but I have to give it a shot, and in the end, it was a waste of time. There’s nothing special about the Bradley family’s new house. No, it’s all about that other house. My only choice is to go back, and hope my luck changes.
As I’m walking across the lawn, I notice something strange. I see a man who appears to be jogging down the street. He’s moving in slow-motion, it just doesn’t look right. I look to the Bradley couple. They’ve moved since I last saw them, but not all that much. I look up and see a bird, flapping its wings so slowly that I almost die of boredom waiting for it to happen. This guy, though...this guy. Even at top speed, no human should be able to move that fast. Sure, it’s turtle slow from my perspective, but if I were in the real world, he would surely be nothing more than a blur. A person who could run as fast as The Flash wouldn’t be the first unexplainable thing I’ve seen today, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable just adding it to the pile. What’s next? Someone who can reverse their own age?
As fast as time is moving in my dimension, I still have a little trouble keeping up with the jogger, and I almost think he’s getting faster. I try to get his attention, but nothing works. My hand passes through his shoulder, which feels different than with other things, but not dramatically so. I know he’s connected to Escher’s disappearance, in some way, but there’s nothing I can do about it. He apparently can’t see me in this dimension, but I won’t be able to catch up to him if I go back to his. Then I realize I’m not certain I’ll ever be able to go back at all. Maybe I’m trapped here. Maybe this is just how I live now. “Goddammit!” I yell in the jogger’s face, frustrated by my own inability to figure out what I’m doing, and his inability to explain himself. This he reacts to. At least I think he does, but it’s so hard to tell. His right eye closes, holds a little longer than a blink, and then opens a wink. He also begins smiling. I was looking right at him at the time, so it could be a coincidence, or it could be incredibly significant. He makes no further indication that he may know I’m there, and quickly speeds off. He somehow manages to run even faster than he was before, and he’s gone before I can catch my breath. I should probably start going to the gym a few times a week, and for thirty minutes.
I stare at the jogger’s wake for a minute, preparing myself to turn around and get back to the investigation. Before I can, I see something else move out of the corner of my eye. A little boy is walking up the cross street, looking around like he’s lost. I breathe a sigh of relief. I mean, he looks a little younger than his father said he was, but some people are like that, right? Though he’s a bit too far away right now for me to be certain anyway. He’s also wearing pajamas, which is weird, but I’ll take it. As long as we can find a way back to where we belong, we’re gonna be okay.
“Escher!” I call down to him, as I start jogging towards him.
The boy ignores me. Maybe he’s not really in this dimension, but is also a speedster.
“Escher!” I call again, drawing closer. “I’ve been looking for you.”
The boy seems confused. “Can you see me?” he asks.
I nod. “Yes. I’m here to take you home.”
“I don’t know how to get out of here.”
“I think I do,” I say, just hoping that magic elevator still works, and works going down. “My name is Detective Kallias Bran,” I tell him, showing my badge so he knows to trust me. I open my hand out from my hip, let him take it, and lead him back towards home. “Your parents are worried sick about you.”
“They are?” he asks.
“Why, of course they are. Why wouldn’t they be?”
“Wull...” he begins. “They usually don’t even notice when I’m gone.”
So he’s disappeared before? But they apparently just moved to the neighborhood. And the portal thing seems to be in the invisible house. If this isn’t the first time, then it could be that it’s just something he can do, or is done to him. Maybe the house itself is a product of his own power, which he does not yet understand. But why does his father remember him this time? What exactly has changed? The real question—the only one worth asking—is what the hell is going on here? These questions may or may not be answered once we get back to the real world, but if not, that’s okay. The important thing is that the family is reunited.
When we make it back to his block, I point to his near-frozen parents and smile. “See? Your parents have been waiting for you to come home?”
The boy looks around. Oh no, please don’t tell me people in this dimension also can’t see certain things in the other one. “Who?” he asks.
“Your parents,” I say. “See them standing on the lawn? They only look like they’re moving slow, but it’s my hypothesis that we’re just moving really fast.”
“Those aren’t my parents.”
“I don’t know who they are, they’re not my parents.”
I stop and squat down to his eye level. “What’s your name.”
He looks like he’s on the verge of tears. “Tauno. Tauno Nyland.”
This isn’t the kid I’m looking for. I stand up and contemplate the house, the block, the neighborhood, and then the entire city. And then I start thinking about the planet, and the whole universe. How many other children like these two have fallen into other dimensions, and literally forgotten about by the people who are supposed to love them most? This investigation is nowhere near over, but either way, I have to take the child I have with me back home to his own family. Then it’s back to looking for Escher Bradley...and any others.

Chapter Four
Tauno and I pass the creepy slowmo statues, and walk into the house, without a word. We walk up the steps without a word, and then into the room without a word. Once we’re in the elevator, Tauno suddenly starts to want to speak.
“Is this your house?” he asks.
“No. I came here looking for someone. I have no idea who owns this place, if anyone. Is this not how you got lost?”
“I’ve never been here before,” he answers.
“Did you say this wasn’t your first time being in this”
“No, it happens all the time. Ever since I was little. But I think only since we moved to Kansas. I was born in the other Springfield.”
“Well, there are actually several other Springfields in the country. In fact, I believe that most, if not all, states have one.”
“I think it was the big one, the one that’s not very far away.”
“Probably Missouri.” It’s likely a good thing that the magical elevator takes so long, because he’s going to need some time before he trusts me enough to really explain himself. I’m just trying to take it slow and be patient so he doesn’t get spooked.
“I’ve never seen anyone else in that other world,” little Tauno says after a few moments of silence.
“It must be scary for you.”
“You kind of get used to it. I don’t know why it happens. Sometimes I wake up and I’m there. Sometimes I walk through a door, or I trip. Sometimes I just blink and it happens. It wants me. You can take me back home all you want, but it will always take me back.”
“How do you normally get home?”
“Same way. I keep walking, and eventually, it switches me back.”
I nod, because I have some idea what’s going on, but I’m new to all this, so I don’t actually know.
I don’t know that I should tell him, because it could help immensely, or it could makes things worse. So I just move on, “your parents never realize you’ve gone?”
“No. Time doesn’t always do what it was doing outside. Sometimes I’m gone for days, and my parents just pretend like they don’t have a son. I watch them moving around the house. They can’t see me, and they never look for me. I think my baby sister notices, but she can’t talk yet, so I dunno.”
“When you go back home, what do they think you’ve been doing for the last few days?” I ask him.
“They act like I’ve been there the whole time. They remember driving me to school, and asking me to do my chores.”
“But the chores weren’t done, because you weren’t there to do them?”
“No, they were,” he corrects me. “They did them. When I come back, they just think it was me instead. I’ve never been in trouble before, but I’ve also never done any chores, because I’m always gone when I’m supposed to be doing them.”
I nod again, because this only enforces my theory.
“What?” he presses. “What is it?”
“I don’t think this...dimension is pulling you to it. I think you’re coming here on purpose.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Have you ever heard of the subconscious?” I ask, pretty sure he hasn’t.
“Is that like a submarine?”
“It’s part of your brain that you have no control over. It’s when you feel a certain way, but you don’t really know it. It still makes you do things, but you don’t realize why.”
“So...I’m like two people?”
“Kinda, yeah.”
“And this other part of me wants to be in this—what did you call it—dimension?”
“You say that time isn’t always going in slow motion. What are you feeling when it does go in slowmo?”
“Tired. And busy.”
I crack a smile, because now I’m almost a hundred percent sure I’m right. “You need time to sleep, so this dimension gives you that. It may not even be the same dimension as the other times. Maybe you’re going to a lot of them, but they all look pretty much the same.” I’m a bit proud of myself for understanding some of this stuff, even though I’m much not into scifi. Then again, I’m talking to a seven-year-old, so maybe my grasp of the material isn’t all that impressive.
He thinks about all this for a while. We continue to wait for the elevator to reach its destination, eventually sliding our backs against the wall and sitting down.
“Do you think I might be able to control it?” he questions me.
“I think, for now, you need to learn to stop it from happening. If you want to travel to other worlds in the future, you should wait until you’re older.”
“You’ve never done chores, right?”
“A few times,” he clarifies, “but not for a long time.”
I try to find the right words to explain to a child what worries me about his situation. I don’t want to make it overly complicated, or make it sound like I’m judging him. “You know how rich people have maids and butlers.”
“Well, they don’t do anything themselves. They don’t ever fold their clothes, or clean the floors.”
“They don’t know how to do anything. I don’t know if you like school or not, but it’s important. Knowing how to do things for yourself makes you a better person. If you go your whole life slipping into another world every time something is too hard, or too boring, you won’t learn to get through it. You might never be able to make friends. Not only will you always be in this other world, but you won’t have anything in common with them, because they always had to do their chores when their parents asked them.”
“So I have to just be normal, even though I have these powers?”
“You don’t have to be normal,” I explain. “Just pretend to be.” It’s a bit harsh, but I feel like I should say it, because no one ever taught me this lesson, and I could have used it when I was his age. “Adults will tell you that you’re supposed to be special, and really you are. You’re supposed to be special, and you, Tauno Nyland, are indeed special. But when you grow up, you’ll realize that people don’t really want that from you. Special people make normal people feel bad, because. They don’t understand why adults kept telling them that they were special, but then they turned out not to be. They want you to be just like them, because then they don’t have to worry about whether they did something wrong. Do you understand?”
“I think so,” he replied unconvincingly.
I get a little bit more serious. “You can’t tell anyone about your powers, and you can’t use it again until you’re older.” Yes, calling them powers I think will help him. Kids already know they can’t use powers however they want. Comic books have done a pretty good job of showing what happens when people with powers go unchecked. “Think of it this way. You can’t learn another language until you understand your first language. Earth is your world, and you should get to know it better before you start running off to other places.”
“Okay,” he says, partly resentful about being told what to do with his powers, but partly relieved there may be a way to stop it.
We spend the next twenty, or so, minutes just talking. The topic of the dimension we’re hopefully in the middle of escaping only comes up a few more times. Mostly he tells me about the kinds of things he likes; dinosaurs, astronauts, and drawing. He says he’s not very good at art, but he likes to do it anyway. I tell him that he may be able to get better, that not everyone is just born with the talent. I say this even not knowing if it’s true. I also talk about myself; about my mentor, Detective Pender, and why I decided to become a police officer. I obviously don’t get into specifics about how it all started when a gangbanger shot Pender up with a fully automatic, and I killed the banger to stop him from finishing the job.
Finally the elevator doors open, and we exit. It’s nice to be home, sort of. I think he may be okay walking on his own, because he’s a little precocious, but he feels different. He finds comfort in holding my hand, so we walk down the steps like that, and leave this terrible house.
“That is not my son,” Tyler Bradley says as we’re coming out.
“No,” Cheryl agrees, “it’s not. Where’s Escher?”
“I thought you didn’t remember him,” I say.
“I do now!” she cries. “I don’t know how I could have forgotten him, but I remember! I remember everything!”
“Okay, okay,” I tell her.
“This is Tauno,” I say of the little boy hiding behind me from the screaming woman. “I didn’t find Escher, but I found him. Your son is not the only who’s missing. There may even be more. I can’t do this alone anymore; I’m going to need to call for backup. I go over to my car and get on the radio. “Temple Oxenfree, this is Nautical-eleven, requesting backup at four-two-five-six Purple Rose Lane. Missing child found; at least one still missing.”
Copy that, Nautical-one-one,” came the reply. “Racecar-two-four, please respond.
Racecar-two-four, go ahead.
Please proceed to four-two-five-six Purple Rose Lane.
Copy that, Oxenfree.
Cheryl comes up from behind and asks, “are you going to find my son?”
“I’m going to do everything I can,” I respond, and then turn around. “Oh, shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.”
“What is it?” she asks frantically. “What’s happened?”
“The’s gone. I can’t see it anymore.” All I see is grass and bushes.
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” I answer, and I really don’t. If I can’t get back to the other dimension, I’m never going to find Escher Bradley.”
“I don’t see it anymore either,” Tauno says. “You may need it, though, but I don’t.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You said I have to learn to do things for myself. And I’m the only one who can do this, so I have to go.”
“Tauno, no! Don’t! It’s too dangerous; we don’t know where he is.”
“I’ll find him,” little Tauno promised. “Wherever he is...I’ll find him.”
“Tauno, sto—!”
“Who’s Tauno?” Tyler asks?
I jiggle my head, trying to remember. I have no idea why I just said that. Who is Tauno? And what the hell am I doing here?

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

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