My name is Dolores Potterson. But everyone calls me Dotty Potsy. It’s a long story. It’s a doozy. And almost no one believes it, which is why they say I’m dotty.
I thought I knew what I was doing. I wasn’t driven by rogue emotions, but a tempered passion. Long before I started the experiments, I figured that I wasn’t going to make any great contribution to the advancement of humanity. But then it just came to me one night in a dream. Maybe it had been percolating in my mind for a long while. Science has spent years, decades, centuries even, breaking the world down into understandable pieces. But now was the age of information, where the discovery was not just in the minute, not just in the cosmic, but in how the minute led to the cosmic, how they fit together, worked together. Maybe the solution to our many problems—hunger, poverty, war, cruelty—lay somewhere in that link.
If I owned a home, I would have bought some solar panels. I would have invested in smart insulation. I would have tried to do my best. But I would still be just one person. I wouldn’t make a dent.
I’m not a scientist or an engineer. I don’t have any degrees to the effect. But I’ve always been curious about the hows and the whys of everything. The world has a rich history of garage scientists, of citizen scientists. Why not me? Cost and laws would prohibit me from accidentally building something that might blow me up. After all, I wasn’t working with nuclear materials or particle accelerators. I’d need a lot of electricity and that could be dangerous, but humanity had been manipulating electricity so long that even a dilettante like myself could learn exactly how to protect myself, my home, and my neighbors from anything worse than a local outage.
The idea was simple. I just had to build a device that had a polarity. One side that could touch the material world—that part was easy—and another side that could touch the dark world. The next step was having some conduit or engine, some way of funneling the energy that was harnessed or converting it into something useful. And finally, if I succeeded, devising some way to store the energy would be the next project.
The execution was anything but simple. Otherwise, someone else would have done it already. But that was naysayer talk. What element existed on earth in the material world that could also exist in the dark immaterial world? This is where I parted ways with modern science and returned to the ancient world of alchemy. The books I consulted didn’t all have a section on turning lead into gold, but the one I used to make the compound metal I needed did. So maybe that’s why no one had tried it. Maybe I was wasting my time. Or maybe the knowledge I sought, the knowledge I thought might be impossible to discover, was something we had already figured out ages ago.
The material wasn’t classified according to the periodic table of elements. But I called it a metal. I made it through the alchemical process of fixation. The vinculum metallum. The linking metal.
It took me a year and a half to make enough of the stuff to build a device. I would have to use in initial input of energy to activate the metal and start the device. I figured I would use electricity. Then the device would harness dark energy, and small turbines within it would convert the dark energy back into electricity, which could be stored or conducted using parts, devices, and materials that would be compatible with typical modern technology. After the initial jolt, the activated device should keep going, generating power. I didn’t know how long it would stay activated, but that’s what experimentation would help me to figure out.
Despite my enthusiasm, I didn’t really expect it to work. I hoped something would come of my experiment. Maybe I would stumble upon a more efficient way to store or conduct electricity or something. But in my heart of hearts, I knew that I hadn’t really come upon anything logical or workable. Still, I was driven to build it and see for myself.
I spent another year building the device, using pounds of the precious vinculum metallum building prototype after prototype. Finally it was done.
I started testing the device. For several months, I tried. I actually did cause a power outage in my area. After that and after doing some math, or rather letting my computer do some math for me, I realized that I would need far more power than I could get from the power grid.
An idea from a classic story gave me the inspiration. I would harness the electricity I needed to jump-start my dark energy device from a raw bolt of lightning. This wasn’t something I could do from the rooftop of my apartment building.
I don’t know why I didn’t stop there. Maybe I had gone too far. Even the thought of spending years of my savings to rent a warehouse in the middle of nowhere and outfit it with costly equipment didn’t stop me. Didn’t even give me pause.
I decided to be patient. I waited for storms to pass. I had a lightning rod on the roof attached directly to the device. Over the course of the next several months, dozens of lightning strikes passed into and through the device. Once or twice, I thought I had something. But the device’s energy output always wound down and stopped eventually.
Until that one night, stormy and dark.
The winds swirled all around. But the warehouse was locked up tight. I was safely inside, insulated from the electricity. The device was on the roof. A bolt struck the rod.
The entire warehouse shook, snapped, and cracked from the force of the bolt. I couldn’t see anything past the bright light. I didn’t know until later that the roof cameras were knocked out.
I didn’t know until later that the device had activated at last. It had spun to life and begun to conduct. I didn’t know until later what exactly the device was conducting.
When the cacophony and the blazing brightness died down, I checked on all my equipment. Everything had shorted out. As the light died, darkness filled the warehouse. I heard the pattering of rain outside. I quickly rushed to get a flashlight before it became too dark to see. I heard crunching as I stepped over glass debris.
I banged my knee against a table and frowned. I had never practiced walking through the warehouse with my eyes closed, but I knew it well enough to know there shouldn’t have been a table there. I waved my flashlight in front of me, expecting to see a folding table strewn with cables, joints, glue sticks, maybe a soda can or two.
But it looked like one of those domed antique wooden writing desks. I frowned again just as a lightning strike outside flashed through the windows. They were small windows, set at my waist height. Not the high up hinged windows of the warehouse.
Something told me I should get myself outside and see what I had just done. I was afraid to wave my flashlight around the room. Afraid of what I would see. I kept the light on the wall, moving it along until I found a door. There were curtains on the windows. There was a settee against the wall. I wasn’t in the warehouse. I was in a house. A strange house I didn’t recognize. Floorboards creaked beneath my feet as I moved toward the door. I put my hand on the doorknob and took a breath.
I opened the door to an unfamiliar scene. Instead of the flat half-concrete, half-dirt lot I was expecting, surrounded by a few other dilapidated warehouses and uninhabited buildings, I was on a rise, a hill, overlooking a park. The trees were so dense, they might have been a forest if they extended farther. But just beyond the park, there lay a suburban neighborhood. I walked farther out from the door and turned around.
As I’d guessed, I had just come out of a house, or more of a modest mansion. It was three stories high. It sprawled along the hill. It was unkempt, as if long-abandoned, but it was well-built and looked as if it could stand for centuries even if untended by human hands.
“You don’t look like a ghost,” a voice said.
I gasped and spun around. A man stood just beyond the ramshackle garden, just behind the dark wooden gate that enclosed the front yard. He was dressed in a green rain slicker and he held up a lantern. I remembered then that I had a few of those in the warehouse…or the manor.
I wasn’t prepared for yet another variable. Especially one that seemed far more threatening than the manor that had suddenly supplanted my warehouse.
He must have seen my alarm. He raised his free hand. “Easy,” he said. “I won’t hurt you if you don’t hurt me.”
I wanted to ask him where I was. But I couldn’t give away anything until I had an inkling of whether this man was friend or foe.
“Who are you?” I asked, shining my flashlight into his face.
He squinted and shielded his face with his hand. I wondered how I could get rid of him so I could climb to the roof and see if my device was still there. Whatever was going on here, it was highly likely that it had been caused by the experiment I’d just run. But I also had to get my bearings. This man might help with that. I had to be patient and logical, despite the panic that was fluttering in my chest and trying to burst out through my throat in a scream of utter…panic. I had to gather information.
“I’m Barnetti,” the man said. “Lucretius Barnetti. Though some people like to call me Loquacious on account of how much I talk, which is a lot. But people who like me call me Lucky.”
I was too distracted at the time to smile at that. And too cautious to share that by coincidence, my name was Dolores, but people used to call me Delirious, on account of how I got when I had an idea stuck in my head.
“May I ask who you are, miss? And what you’re doing here?”
I tried to bluff. “It’s good to meet you, Mister Barnetti. But this is private property.”
He peered at me and for a moment.
“For almost a year now, the kids in the neighborhood below have been talking about the haunted house on the hill. I mean, people have thought this place was haunted and creepy for a long time, but then the chatter got unusually loud, loud enough to get my attention,” Barnetti said.
“The Bluebird House, they call it,” he continued, “after the little road that leads up here. I’ve been doing some research but I haven’t found out much about the house’s history, who owned it, who owns it now. It’s just been here and nobody has claimed it. Nobody has even squatted here even though it’s actually quite a majestic house. No kids come up here on a dare. No teens comed up here to smoke out. No criminals come here to hide out. Even before the events of the last year, this place has somehow kept the unwanted out. At first I thought the kids were just pulling my leg after I told them what I do for a living. But then I actually came up here myself, every night for a week. I got nothing. No readings. No residue. No indication that this was anything but an old abandoned house. It was surprising actually. Places like this aren’t typically devoid of all supernatural activity. I almost didn’t come on the last few days, but I told myself I would give it a week. That’s how long the kids said it took for the ‘phenomenon,’ as they called it, to occur.”
He tilted his head and peered at me. “Then I saw it. Flashes of light coming from inside the house, noises of straining and buckling, like something collapsing under too much weight. I wondered if something inside the house was collapsing. It looked solid enough, but I couldn’t find any recent records of a building inspection, so maybe the staircase was collapsing, or a ceiling was caving in. To be safe, I just peeked inside a window. I saw a figure moving about. Just a faint outline, a hazy form gliding around, on the ground floor. I got goosebumps, but it wasn’t just from what I was seeing. There was some kind of energy rippling over me, over my skin. It felt a little like the vibration of sound waves. I backed away and the feeling faded.”
“Over the past year, you say?” I asked, my curiosity overcoming a bit of my caution.
He nodded. “I came back week after week. I have a record of it in my notebook. I took video and audio recordings whenever there was activity. I’m not one of those guys who has all the other fancy gear though. I don’t even have a pair of night vision goggles.”
What he was describing sounded like the experiments I’d been running over the past year. The ones that I thought had failed. The ones where the device was hit by lightning strikes, but strikes that weren’t quite powerful enough to fully activate the device.
“This is ringing a bell, isn’t it?” Barnetti said. “It was you, wasn’t it?”
He pushed open the gate and took a few steps into the garden. My caution wall went up again.
“Hold it right there, Mister Barnetti. I told you this is private property. What I’m doing here is none of your concern. And I don’t appreciate that you’ve been spying on me.”
“I’m not a spy, miss. I’m an investigator.”
I hesitated. “Does that mean you work with the police?”
“Sometimes, when I’m looking into more earthly matters. I can give them a call and get them up here if that would make you more comfortable?”
“That won’t be necessary. If you leave now, I’ll let the matter drop.” I had to get him out of my hair so I could get up on the roof, and avoid getting arrested.
“I didn’t see what happened,” he said. “But there seems to always be some kid looking up here. I think they’ve organized some kind of haunted-house-watch. One of them saw what happened. Gave me a call.”
For a moment, we both stood in the rain, not speaking or moving. I wanted to know what that kid had seen. Barnetti knew I wanted to know. I wondered if the knowledge was worth suffering his presence longer. He seemed a decent person, but that didn’t mean he was. He could have been hiding a knife under his slicker, or a gun, or an ax.
“Would you like to know what the kid said?”
Of course I did, but I said nothing. I didn’t need Barnetti. I could go down to the neighborhood below and speak to the children there myself. Once he left, and I got my bearings, and the rain stopped, I could think of a plan myself.
“Why would I need to ask someone else about the goings-on in my own home?” I asked.
“My number is listed,” he said. “Call me anytime. I’d like to interview you if you’d let me.” He turned and walked away. I made sure he walked down the path and I watched him get into his car and drive away. The whole time, I looked around to make sure he had no accomplices about.
From the road, Bluebird Road, the house did indeed look majestic, even behind the haze of rain. And it did indeed look haunted, though more haunted by memories than by ghosts. Such a house must have held many memories, good and bad.
I didn’t want to go back to a strange house, but it had taken the place of my warehouse. It had transported me somewhere unfamiliar. I had to find out for myself.
I found the lanterns and a good portion of the warehouse’s interior workings when I returned to the house. I made my way up to the roof and by that time, the rain had nearly abated. I wasn’t afraid of any lightning strikes, even though the rod was intact and still anchored to the roof. My device was there, looking none the worse for wear. Looking innocent. For all the grand ambition I had placed on the thing, it was only the size and shape of an electric cooker. I carried it down to the ground floor, where I made a crude bedding out of some tarps I had laid on the floor of the warehouse. It wasn’t cold, but it was wet. The settee against the wall looked far more comfortable, but it was a part of the house, and I wanted to be in my warehouse. I somehow thought if I fell asleep and something happened again, if the device activated again, I might not return to the warehouse if I was sleeping on the couch or a chair.
The locks still worked and I locked and bolted every door and window I could find, just in case Mr. Barnetti or some other trespasser came around. He had obviously and correctly suspected that I too was a trespasser. But I had nowhere else to go for the night.
I woke with first light. The morning was chill. I assessed my surroundings. Part of my warehouse was inside the Bluebird House. The part where I kept a mini-fridge full of food and a cabinet with emergency supplies was not present. Neither was the part where I had my bag with my identification, my phone, my money, and various other methods of payment. I thought about Barnetti, about finding a phone and calling him. I wasn’t that desperate just yet.
I ventured down the hill cautiously.
It took a few days for me to piece together what had happened. I was still in the present, and I was still on the same spot on the planet where I had been when my device activated. Geographically and temporally, nothing had changed. But I had moved. I had moved through and into another dimension. It was almost identical to my native dimension, but after some research in the library, I noted a few historical events that were not fact in my dimension.
I could not figure out how it had happened. After a search of the house, I found some jewelry that I was able to sell at a pawn shop in town. I had enough money to buy food and clothes.
I could be very patient when I was working on a project. And equally as impatient when that project went awry. But this was different. If I hadn’t been in a state of constant desperation since the night of the storm, I would have been excited, ecstatic, and curious about everything and everyone I encountered. But all I could think on was my friends and family. Even my thankless job. I had to get back to all of it. I had been waking up to this dimension for days, and if there was any lingering doubts about the whole thing being a dream, those doubts were quashed.
I found the kid that Barnetti had mentioned. I thought he would shake me down for some cash or at least some candy bars. But it didn’t take much to get him talking about what he’d seen. His attic window looked straight up to the Bluebird House. He’d started getting sleepy after less than an hour of staring past a steady drizzly rain, when all of a sudden, he saw a burst of lightning, not from the sky, but from the house. The lightning seemed to be pouring down the sides of the house from the roof. And the house swayed and warped. Then just as suddenly, the lightning vanished and the house stood still again. He wasn’t supposed to be up that late, even though it was a Saturday. And he certainly wasn’t supposed to be calling anyone in the middle of the night. But he called Barnetti.
I had looked up Barnetti in the library. I’d even followed him around one day, convinced he would spot me. He either didn’t or pretended he didn’t. Spying couldn’t have been that easy, after all. He was legitimate.
So I finally went to see him.
“That’s all that happened and all that I’ve managed to piece together.” I was sitting on a chair across from Lucky Barnetti. Between us was his desk, atop which he had folded his hands together.
“So, what is that contraption supposed to do again?” he asked.
“It’s meant to harness dark energy.”
I sighed. “I hadn’t thought so when I started my work.”
“Spectral energies, I’ll bet,” he said.
“You meant for your device to generate and conduct electricity, but it seemed to have generated and conducted spectral energies instead.”
“What’s that? Ghosts?”
“There’s a little more to it than that. Ghosts are interdimensional beings. Spectral energies are also interdimensional. I thought you were an apparition.” He sat back in his chair. “I was right after all, in a way.”
“I need to get home. I should have realized that everyone was right.” I winced. I was getting déjà vu. “I mean I did realize it, but I did it anyway. I tampered with forces beyond my understanding. I was impatient and reckless. This time, it may have just cost me the rest of my life with my friends and family. I can’t let them think that I’m dead. I can’t let them think that I died performing some bonehead experiment that no one authorized me to run. What was I thinking?”
Barnetti had no response to that.
“Okay.” I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Okay, I’ve accepted that I’m stuck here, maybe for the rest of my life, but if that’s so then I will spend all that time trying to get back to my home dimension.”
“Dotty, what if in trying to get back, you cause some kind of damage to our dimensions? What if you already have?”
“You can’t assume that’s true.”
“You can’t assume it’s not.”
I sighed and slumped in my chair. I mustered a deep breath. “Can you help me?”
“Not directly, but in my line of work, I meet a lot of people who know a lot of things. I’ll get in touch with someone who may be able to guide you himself, or at least point you in the direction of someone who can. If that doesn’t work, I’ll call the next person on the list.”
The first contact was some kind of shaman or spirit guide. He had come out to the house before and was surprised when he returned to it. It had changed, he said. He was able to see what he hadn’t seen before, when it was lying dormant. The house was charged with spectral energies now. My activated device had indeed become attuned to those energies, and the house, like a lightning rod, had attracted that spectral bolt, pulling the device and a good portion of everything inside the energy field with it into the house.
But the man confirmed that it was too dangerous for him to help. The risk to the delicate veils between dimensions was too great. He couldn’t tell if I had done any permanent damage. He thought it was likely I had and even if we didn’t see the effects, we might soon.
Lucky and I remained vigilant for the presence of any malicious interdimensional creatures. Or ghosts crossing over from my dimension. We worked through his list of contacts. He helped me far longer than I thought he would. He got me a job in town. I wanted to stay in the house, and he helped me clean it and get it settled. I lived there in secret for a while, afraid a dimensional rift would open to my home and I wouldn’t be there to pass through it. But I spent so much time away from the house, searching for and speaking to scientists, mystics, alchemists, researchers, engineers, storytellers, anyone I could find who might help me figure out how to go home, with or without using my device. It occurred to me I might as well stay in town.
Lucky refused to stop helping me for some reason. We were two peas in a pod, I guess. Both obsessive. Both curious. And a little desperate to find things out. Both nice enough to be mostly well-liked. Both weird enough to be kept at a bit of a distance. It wasn’t long before spent less time discussing a way to get me back home and more time just shooting the breeze, spouting random trivia, discussing the latest episodes of our favorite shows, playing board games, going bowling.
I acquired a reputation in town. I was careful now when I ventured out to other cities, careful when I had video chats, and email conversations. But I hadn’t been careful during my first months in town. Word got around. Adults were cautious and reserved in their gossip. But the kids slipped up sometimes and didn’t wait long enough for me to get out of earshot. I heard whispers sometimes.
“That’s Dotty. She thinks she’s from another dimension.”
Dotty Potsy, they call me. A nice lady, but weird. I could think of worse things to be called.
It was a far gentler world into which I’d fallen than the one from which I’d come. And I was starting to love it. But it wasn’t my home. And when they whispered things like that, I was actually glad. It reminded me that I needed to keep trying to find a safe way home, where a whole different group of people were waiting to call me names.
Copyright © 2016. Nila L. Patel