This one just popped into my head one day, so I started writing it. I do know most of where the story’s going.
I used to get really annoyed with my mother. She seemed so spacey; no one ever took her seriously. She would forget appointments, lose track of conversations in the middle of a sentence, and generally give people the impression she was a complete airhead.
She wasn’t an airhead. I knew that. She was just distracted, too busy with her own thoughts to pay attention to what anyone else was doing. If you could really get her attention, get her to focus, she was really smart. She just wasn’t interested in most of the stuff ordinary people talk about.
There were plenty of times I wished she was more involved with the stuff I cared about, but I’d gotten used to her always being busy with her stuff.
So when I came home from school and didn’t see her anywhere, I didn’t worry about it much. Her car was in the driveway, so I knew she was around – she never went anywhere on foot. I got myself a ginger ale from the fridge and settled in the kitchen. I went ahead and got my homework done, which took about twenty minutes.
Still no sign of her. I went back to the family room and messed around online for awhile, chatted with my friend Pete, watched an episode of “Continuum.”
It wasn’t until I looked up and saw it was after 7:00 that I began to wonder what she was doing. Usually we eat dinner at 6:00, and that’s about the one thing she generally remembers no matter how busy she is. I put my tablet aside and called, “Mom?”
I sighed, and got off the couch and went around to the basement stairs, because the basement was where she kept her experiments. The light was on, as I expected, so I thought she was down there, probably working on her gadget. She called it a dimensional renormalizer, but I called it a gadget.
“Mom?” I called down the stairs.
That was when I began to worry a little. I went down the stairs to see what was up.
She wasn’t in her workshop. The light was on, and the gadget was running, but she wasn’t there.
Now I was worried. I checked the bathroom, but it was empty. Then I went back to the middle of the room and looked around.
Everything looked the way it always did. There were shelves of books filling one side of the basement, and the furnace and water heater and laundry taking up most of the other side, and Mom’s workbench in between, and then there was the gadget.
She’d started with an old metal bed-frame stood up on end. Then she replaced the springs with this mesh she’d made herself out of something she invented, and mounted the field generators all around the frame. I’d asked her once what kind of field the field generators generated, and she’d gotten about three sentences into the explanation when she realized she didn’t know how to explain it in English, and I didn’t have enough math to follow anything else, so she just shrugged and said, “It’s complicated.” She had a Powerspec G420 PC on a table nearby, controlling the whole thing.
I told you she was really smart. She never finished her degree because she wasn’t able to explain what she was doing to her professors, and she couldn’t hold a job because everyone thought she was too spacey, but she knew physics by instinct.
Dad had a theory that so much of Mom’s brain was taken up with physics that there wasn’t enough room left for things like social behavior – or language; she wasn’t good with words. That was another reason she never got a degree – she couldn’t meet any foreign language requirements. She had enough trouble remembering names and ordinary English, and had managed to flunk first-year French, first-year Spanish, and first-year German before giving up.
But gadgets? She could do gadgets. And computers, as long as she could work with the code and not a natural-language interface.
She’d been working on this gadget for months, ever since she lost her last part-time job. It was supposed to let her see a dimension that’s always there, but that we don’t normally perceive because it’s a non-integer element of our space-time.
No, I don’t know what that means, but if the gadget worked, Mom thought she could get some university physics department to take her on even without a bachelor’s degree. Dad and I didn’t try to stop her. It seemed harmless, it kept her busy, and who knew, maybe it would actually work; neither of us knew enough physics to say it couldn’t.
Anyway, she wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and the gadget was running – there was a faint hum coming from the field generators, and the mesh in the bed-frame was sort of blurry. That wasn’t normal; generally she shut everything down if she wasn’t going to be around to keep an eye on it.
I looked everywhere, calling, “Mom?” every so often, but it’s not that big a basement, and it was pretty clear she wasn’t there, so after a couple of minutes I was just standing there next to the gadget, frowning. I couldn’t think where she could have gone.
Then I looked at the mesh. She had gotten it to look blurry before, but never this blurry – it didn’t look solid at all.
I looked at the computer screen, but that didn’t help; I couldn’t make any sense of the display.
I was starting to have crazy ideas about the gadget. Maybe it had done something to her. I picked up a piece of paper – a blank sheet, I didn’t want to get yelled at for damaging any important notes – and crumpled it into a ball. Then I lobbed it at the mesh.
It vanished into the blurriness, and it didn’t come out the other side.
I considered that for a moment, then looked around for something else I could throw at it. I found a broken piece of baseboard near the furnace, and tossed that into the mesh.
There wasn’t any flash or bang or anything; it looked as if the mesh was, I don’t know, a shadow or something, and the piece of wood sailed into it as if it was empty air. It just didn’t come out the other side, and I couldn’t see where it went.
It didn’t seem to vanish all at once; it disappeared as it passed into, or through, the surface of the blurriness, so for a fraction of a second I could still see the nearer part of it.
I wasn’t about to touch that thing, but I wanted to figure it out. I went back up to the kitchen and got a piece of string from the drawer, tied it to a fork, then took it back downstairs. I had four or five feet of string with the fork at one end; I tossed the fork into the mesh, with the string trailing behind.
The fork disappeared, like the paper and wood, and a foot or two of string vanished after it, but it didn’t all go through – that was the whole point of the string. Two feet or so fell to the basement floor, trailing out of the blurriness.
I knelt down beside it, and very carefully touched it.
It felt like string. There wasn’t anything strange about it at all, except that one end of it curved up into the blurry mesh and disappeared.
I took hold of the string, ready to drop it the instant anything weird happened, and gently pulled on it.
String reappeared out of the blur.
I pulled harder, and the fork clattered out of the blur onto the basement floor.
I sat down on the floor with the string in my hands, staring at that blurry darkness.
Whatever that was, and wherever it went, things could come back from it. The string and fork didn’t seem to have been affected at all by their brief and mysterious journey.