Time came as the world got to peering eyes in the direction of our ol’ shack. Wasn’t much to look at in those days, save for a pile of wood that kept the rain off. Paps did his best, like I said. But farming never was his gift. Blackest thumb I ever seen; he’d just touch a fla’er and it’d be dead. Withered on the vine. Though he never lost faith. A man of powerful conviction, my granddad hammered some steely principles into Paps. Though, truth be told, Paps ne’er really cared ‘bout such things. He did religion more like a routine than a truth. Until ‘o’ course the sky came falling.
Great gobs of the burning horizon just come pepperin’ down. Zup! ZUP! Zup! Thumping right into the ground. Woke up half the town, and I figure parts of the state. Paps is outta bed, two seconds flat, and running to the fields. Smoking holes everywhere, glowing from their smoldering contents. Never seen the like since, nor expect to. However, no one in town knew a thing about it. Yeah, they got woke by the sound, but no one saw when any of it landed. So, for the first few days, Paps thinks he’s just gotten god-hammered with a field full of red hot rocks. Cursing the day he’s born, he gets to winching and towing, hauling these rocks up outta the dirt. Some took more than a few days to cool. Can’t say as the sizes. Some looked to be tons, but I can’t say. Either way, it all looked more sizeable than it was.
Couple days pass and some folks stop by, expected as they were and they get to asking about them rocks o’er there. So Paps tells his tale, blaming god almighty, left and right, some getting embarrassed to hear, but he keeps on till Jim Kritch sez, Harold, you ever think there might be something to them. Not every day the sky falls in a man’s backyard.
My daddy turned red as a beet and tried to cover it up by saying he’s pissed. How dare you ya muthafucker! Insinuations I don’t know there’s value there. I don’t need you and blah, blah, blah. Paps never could say when he was wrong. Fortunately, Jim knew just to throw up his hands, concede to the lie. Next day Paps takes a big handful and goes for a drive. He visits the university down the road where they get all excited. First just cuz it’s a meteor, that’s the proper name there now. But then some get lookin’ at it close and a new buzz is all about.
They do tests and the lot. Seems there’s properties these rocks got. Ya see, there’s these laws of physics. See, normally they tell the world how it works but some fellows have figured there might be ways around them, bend ‘em all up and so forth. Well, anyhow, Mercurium makes all that possible.
Now, farming my Pappy may not have known, but there was no better business head in the state. He knew the value soon as he saw the light in those professors’ eyes. Set a price on the pile and well, we never had to work again. But, looking back now… too high the cost.
“Is this thing on? Christ, I can never tell.”
“Yeah, look there.”
“Good. Uh, this is Dr. Steven Marcum and my assistant Daniel Burkowski.”
“Yes. Um, this is test number three on the, uh, Mercurium -- who the fuck named this thing anyway?”
“The hick farmer who found it.”
“’Found it’? I thought it fell on him.”
“Might as well. Anyway, you were saying.”
“Yeah, yeah. Test number three. We’re attempting to see what happens when -- I am not calling it Mercurium.”
“Then call it substance M. I don’t give a shit. We’re not supposed to be here, so hurry the fuck up.”
“I am not risking a mistake.”
“Did I say take a risk? No. Just, come on.”
“Fine. Test number three. Are you all set? Don’t give me that look. All right, fine. Lets do this.”
Some people still hear the sound. It’s like an echo in the brain. Most people who hear it tend to get kind of goofy. Like I knew this one guy: old, old man. He acted like a redneck, but his accent sounded more like the TV than any place I’ve been. Claimed to be the son of the man who found that shit. I don’t know. Maybe he was, but I doubt it. Most of that state is a glowing hole. I’ve seen it. The edge at least. You can’t get too close. Come to think of it, that was around the time I ran into him -- visiting the edge. Just another echo I guess. But yeah, people get funny.
I wasn’t born yet, never knew about the event myself, but my mom used to get this look, far off spaced out eyes. She seemed to be watching reels in her head, living right at the moment in mind. I swear I once saw dark circles just form around her eyes, the sockets deepening like they’re hollowing, then her face just shivered and sprang back to normal. I tried not to ask what was wrong. She always said, “Nothing.”
But once, just once, she cracked a touch. Just enough for her to keep it all together, let the memory come as a trickle rather than a flood, dole it out calmly. Wasn’t long after that she fell apart entirely. But that one time, I got to hear about the sound. It came burning across the horizon, almost five hundred miles away and sounding like thunder that just struck ten feet off. She said she felt electricity run through her body. Mom had night terrors that evening, the night she told me about the screaming sky. Afterward, I knew it was only a matter of time before she was gone completely. The mind can’t fracture without consequences.
They say after the screaming is when things got strange. Sometimes someone would be walking down the street and ZIP! No gravity, just fly off the ground, falling up off the planet. Those spots are pockets, and if you’re careful… hell, most of them are marked by now, although… Then there’s that lightning, it’ll follow you across the sky and strike down like a bomb. People say it’s not malicious, but I wonder. I’ve seen guys walking and slip through space: one minute right next to you then suddenly, ZOOM! Eighteen feet, or maybe even a quarter mile between you. I had a friend walking home one night, he felt himself tumbling and blacked out a second, only to come aware fifty miles away. True story.
“Is that right?”
“I don’t think so.”
“How is that possible?”
“Then it’s got to be a glitch.”
“Yeah. Got to. Look, shut it down. I don’t want to risk losing any data.”
“Or getting the wrong data.”
“No, of course not. We can always pick up again tomorrow.”
“Dinner with Sara.”
“Oh, that’s right. That’s right. Maybe later in the week.”
“Sure, I just -- it is not changing.”
“The levels. The reaction is continuing.”
"It can't be continuing."
"But it is."
“Flip the killswitch. Shut the whole thing down.”
“I did. Nothing is happening.”
“Try it again.”
It’s a thin veil the world’s got for itself. One tear here or there, those fuzzy shapes on the other side can come clear. Fragments at first get clearer the longer the holes are in use. Pretty soon, if what’s eating away is still around, there won’t be much of a veil left. I don’t suppose that’s such a shame, considering. We only got mistakes because we’re fooling around ways we don’t understand.
“Hello down there!”
Freeze. They can’t see me. I’m not here.
“Are you all right?”
Hold the ground. There’s no need to move.
“I’m going to get him. Wait here.”
The slip will come. I’ll shift again, and I won’t be who they see. I’ll be someone else.
“Don’t be scared. I’m not going to hurt you. Christ, will you look at this place?”
He can’t be told. Stick to the covers. The ones who can’t be blamed. They never knew better. They just found it in a field. Pretend to be them.
“What’s this? Is this you; is this your ID? Hello... Dr. Marcum?”