“There’s something weird in the backyard.”
“What is it?”
Reena walked over to the kitchen window, which overlooked their backyard. She stood next to her husband and they both stared at the unexpected visitor strutting to and fro in their yard.
“Okay,” she said. She exchanged a glance with her husband. They set their coffee mugs down, and headed out to the backyard.
They managed to chase the rooster out of the yard, hoping it would find its way back to whatever neighbor they assumed it belonged to.
Their son, Reggie, had come down for breakfast and had watched from the kitchen window as his parents wrangled the rooster. And all three members of the Song household had a story to tell later that day at work and school.
A few days later, Reggie mentioned seeing a “weird-looking dog” in the backyard when he came home from school. He looked it up and realized that what he’d seen was a fox. But if there had indeed been a fox in the yard, it had run off by the time Reena went to look. She’d never heard of any fox sightings in the town proper. But aside from a few jokes at dinner about wildlife passing through their backyard, the Songs had no further concern.
Then, items began to appear. An old-fashioned lantern lying outside in the yard. A rake that no one remembered buying. And one morning, Reena came downstairs to find a stack of plates in the kitchen that didn’t belong to the family.
They went first to their neighbor Fred, who lived in the house at the end of Marigold Drive. He was always borrowing things and not returning them. Maybe these were peace offerings or gifts. It was odd, but tolerable, so long as the items were left outside. But that stack of plates in the kitchen was troubling. The Songs kept their doors locked. Fred had a spare key for emergencies, but they had agreed he wasn’t to use it to just come and go.
When they asked him about the items, Fred was puzzled and denied having anything to do with them. And he denied ever letting anyone else have access to their house key. It was a tense discussion, but Fred understood that they were worried. He worked from home and promised to keep an eye on their place when they were away.
The next evening, the Songs came home to find an even stranger sight in their home. There was now a wall passing through their living room. It cut right through their sofa. It cut off access to the stairs leading up to the second floor. The wall had a door and windows through which they could see the other side of the living room. But they didn’t want to touch anything that might be considered evidence.
They called the police. Because they didn’t know who else to call. They hoped it was an elaborate prank, but feared that if it was a prank, someone with a creative and perhaps twisted mind was targeting them for some reason.
The police made their observations, took statements, took pictures, and asked if anything looked out of place other than the wall.
As they stood in the divided living room, Reena informed the police that she would have to go through the door in the strange wall to access the parts of the house on the other side, specifically the stairs leading up to their bedrooms. She and her husband were discussing packing a few bags and staying at a friend’s house or a hotel for the night, when one of the officers glanced behind them and called out.
Reggie was walking toward the door of the strange wall, a sturdy door painted white but weathered. It looked more like a front door than an inner door. Before anyone could stop him, Reggie opened the door and walked through.
And he vanished.
Reena rushed to and through the door. She glanced around, but saw nothing except the rest of the house. Reggie was only a few steps ahead of her. He couldn’t have already run up the stairs to into the kitchen. She called for him. She called up the stairs. She was about to go up and start searching for him when she glanced at the doorway again. For a flash, she could not see her husband and the officers on the other side. And suddenly, Reggie reappeared and rushed toward her. She ran to him and they embraced.
That was the last straw for the Songs. They didn’t bother packing. They just left. The last thing they told the officers about was the pattern they had noticed. The strange appearances had started in the backyard, which sat to the east of the house, then they come into the kitchen, and now the living room. They were making their way westward.
The officer watched the woman adjust the turquoise frames of her glasses as she peered at the wall.
She turned to the officer and gave her assessment.
“Well it’s definitely not normal, but it’s not paranormal either.”
The police captain, seeking an alternate assessment of the incident, had called in a special private investigator, Garrett, who specialized in unusual cases (typically hauntings or sightings of unnatural beasts). Most of the time, she concluded that the incident in question was a hoax or a case of misperception.
“What do you think is going on?” the officer asked.
The investigator put a hand on her hip as she peered at the wall. “I’m not really sure. If it’s not criminal or paranormal, maybe it’s natural, in which case, we may need a scientist. The question is what kind of scientist?” She turned to the officer. “I’m going to make some calls.”
The investigator’s phone calls eventually put her in touch someone named Torres, who worked for a university where strange phenomena were investigated—not just supernatural and paranormal events, but natural mysteries. Torres referred to herself as a professor of “exotic and experimental materials.”
Two days after she first spoke with Garrett, Professor Torres stood in the Song house taking samples of the strange wall and as many readings as she could with the field instruments she had brought along with her.
“Careful, Professor,” Garrett said as the professor ventured closer to the wall. “Mind the perimeter.” Since the boy who lived in the house had momentarily vanished when he walked through the wall, the police had cordoned off part of the house that was east of the wall. Nothing seemed to have changed. The house was still standing. But they didn’t want to take any chances, especially since further strange incidents had started being reported in town.
“I’m pretty much done here for now,” Torres said. “And you’ve got the blueprints of the house, and its ownership history?”
“What about the frequency of the incidents?” Torres asked. “Regular? Accelerating?”
“I don’t know if we can tell from the few instances the family reported. A couple of them might not be related. They mentioned something about seeing unexpected animals in their backyard.”
“But, we might have more to go on than this house. The last few days, the police have received more reports from other parts of town, reports of things appearing out of thin air, or even things that seem to have transformed into other things.” Garrett paused and adjusted her glasses. “And there has been another disappearance. A police officer went to investigate a report of an intruder in someone’s basement. The officer vanished and hasn’t been seen since.”
“That’s horrible. But maybe also hopeful. If even some of these incidents are related, they are clues, additional pieces of data, and we might be able to use them to help get the officer back, and prevent others from disappearing. I assume the police are tracking the incidents on a map?”
Garrett nodded. “Back at the station.”
“That report of an intruder turned out to be true,” Garrett said as she walked into an adjunct room of the police station that she and Torres were using as their makeshift office. She was holding a couple of coffees and a bag of takeout.
Torres was sitting on a folding chair poring over the various documents that were sprawled on the table that occupied three-quarters of the room. The particular document she was studying was a blueprint of the house where the incidents had started.
“The intruder was taken into custody by the partner of the police officer who disappeared,” Garrett continued. “He claims that he was just surveying a field outside of town when he fell into a hole and the next thing he knew, he was in someone’s basement. They’ve been trying to identify him and question him about the officer. He kept giving them what they thought was a false name. But someone running a search just came up with a hit on the name. It’s the name of a missing person.”
“Isn’t that good news, assuming they can verify?”
Garrett shrugged. “I don’t know yet. But get this, that missing person was someone who was reported as missing about fifty years ago.”
Torres stopped and looked up at Garrett. “Fifty?”
“Yeah, just about.” Garrett raised her brow. “Do I hear the sound of a puzzle piece clicking into place?”
Torres glanced down at the blueprint. She let the top roll down and shifted the bottom up. She pointed to the date on the bottom.
“This is the original blueprint of the house that the Songs are now living in,” she said. “It was built about fifty years ago, see? And when it was first built, front wall of the house is exactly where that wall that appeared is now sitting. In tracing its history, I learned that it was one of a few houses built before the town truly began to expand out of its initial borders. Back then, it was technically outside of the town proper.”
Garrett nodded. “The police thought it was a strange detail to the intruder’s lie that he was walking in a field outside. What field? He was smack dab in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. He was very much inside of town.”
“But what about fifty years ago? Would he still have been inside of the town then?”
“Let’s go take a look at that map.”
Garrett and Torres stood behind the police captain as he pointed to the map.
“We’ve got every incident pinned,” the captain said. “The color-coding helps us distinguish between confirmed incidents, unconfirmed incidents, and incidents that are actively being investigated. We’ve also got times and dates. We have noticed a pattern. See it?”
Torres nodded. The earliest incidents had occurred in what was now a clear perimeter. As time went on, further incidents occurred just inside that perimeter, then further in, and further in. It was like a reverse ripple. The incidents all seemed to be moving toward a center.
“And what’s at the center?” Garrett asked peering at what seemed to be an ordinary part of town.
“Just an avenue inside of a shopping center. A few new stores opened recently. And a couple of statues and commemorative displays went up—prominent figures in town, that sort of thing. They’re aiming to make the center a place where people can do more than just shop and eat. We’re looking into it. But nothing unusual has happened there, or at least, not yet.”
Torres inhaled a deep breath. “I ask again. What about fifty years ago?”
The police captain turned to her and raised a brow.
“Well…that certainly seems unusual,” Garrett said, turning away from her laptop and looking up at the police captain to one side and Torres on the other.
A quick search of significant events in the town from fifty years prior had brought up something that greatly interested Torres.
“A meteor impact?” Torres shook her head. “In the middle of town? How is it that no one has mentioned this?”
The police captain shook his head. “News to me.”
Garrett pointed to her screen. “Here. The impact was so small that it struck near the center of town and sent out a relatively gentle shockwave that only affected this town and a short distance around it, which at the time of the impact was only inhabited by a few people here and there. The impact was noted and reported by the town’s authorities, but not much was made of it. There was almost no damage. No injuries. No radiation according to instruments of the time. There seemed to be no danger. It didn’t even form a little baby crater. There was discussion weeks later—maybe more like joking—about turning the site of the impact into a tourist destination. But there really wasn’t much to see. Town surveyors took pictures and made diagrams of the impact site. The remnants of the meteor were collected and placed in storage in the town’s general archives. Life went on.”
Torres crossed her arms. “I want to track down these remnants. And take a look.”
“But I don’t understand,” the police captain said. “If the shockwave spread all the way to the Song house, that’s far outside the original borders of the town. But we’re only seeing a few incidents that far out. We’ve already logged dozens of incidents inside the town’s original borders, and they’re just increasing.”
Torres snapped her fingers. She went over to the map and tapped the pin that indicated the projected center of the incidents. “The pattern of incidents looks like when a rock hits a windshield hard enough to crack it. There are lots of little cracks closer to the impact site, but larger ones radiate and snake out from the center.” She pointed to the Song house, to the house where the intruder from fifty years ago had appeared, and four other points. “These are all outside of the original borders of the town. And they’re all at slightly different distances. They might be sitting along, or even at the tip, of larger cracks that formed from the impact.”
“Hold on,” Garrett said. “Even if we make a connection between the meteor impact and these incidents, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the meteor impact causing these incidents. I mean, for one thing, why now?”
Torres turned to the police captain. “I truly hope your town is good at labeling your records, or we might be searching for those meteor remnants for a while. We need to take a look.”
The police captain shook his finger at the screen. “We might not need to search, Professor. One of those commemorative displays I was talking about…I remember now, it was a bunch of rocks. Someone at the town archives was excited about them. I didn’t pay much attention. I was just down there for a meeting.”
“You think it might have been the meteor remnants?” Torres asked.
“Has the display gone up already?”
The police captain was already striding away from them. “I’ll have someone check on it.”
Garrett turned in her chair and looked at Torres. “And if you do get a hold of these remnants, what are you going to do with them?”
“It’s confirmed,” the police captain said over the phone. “The display was installed two weeks ago. And that’s when the incidents at the Song house began.”
“Then it’s a solid assumption that the installation—bringing the meteor remnants back to the original location of impact—was the triggering event,” Torres said.
An enterprising town government worker had gotten permission to restore the meteor pieces of the location of their impact. It was supposed to be a display in the midst of an outdoor shopping complex that showed the townsfolk a small but interesting piece of their town’s history. And the worker had even contacted someone at the nearest university to see if any scientists were interested in studying the meteor. Someone was, but the paperwork for providing a sample of the already small meteor remnants was still in progress, sitting on someone’s desk probably, awaiting a signature.
“We’re standing in front of it now, Captain,” Garrett added. She and Torres were in the shopping complex near the center of town. They were standing in front of a pedestal at the top of which was a square glass case containing a bed of golden velvet atop which lay a few fragments of ordinary-looking rock. “At least, I hope we are. I hope these aren’t fake, because if they are, then we’ll need to reassess our assumptions and conclusions.”
Torres began to pace. “First assumption. These meteor remnants do seem to be the causal factor. And they seem to be pulling the town from a specific point in the past into the present.”
“What would happen if it doesn’t stop?” the police captain asked. “Will the entire town from fifty years ago—people and all—come forward into the present? Won’t that affect everything that happened after? Other people being born and all that?”
Garrett glared at the remnants. “I wonder why we haven’t already gotten more people appearing. It was only that one man. And only two people from our time have vanished.”
“Garrett, think about what you just said. The boy, the intruder, the police officer. Those incidents happened at the ends of what I propose are the major cracks. Maybe those are the only places where people can come through. But no, we can’t make that assumption. We have to assume that everything and everyone might get pulled through eventually. It’s only a matter of time.”
“A matter of time, hah.”
“So, what can we do about it?” the police captain asked.
Torres nodded. “Okay, so what if when the meteor first impacted, the integrity of its core was shattered and it…imprinted on the time and place of its impact? But then it was moved from its physical place. When it was moved back to its original place of impact, maybe it snapped back to its original time of impact as well, and it’s dragging the town with it, like some kind of temporal anchor.” Torres stopped pacing and peered at the meteor remnants. “There are theoretical materials that behave in such ways, interacting with not just matter and energy, but also time and even other dimensions.” She resumed her pacing. “If the meteor remnants had never been removed from its place of impact, maybe they would have adapted to the passing of time, incorporating into the identity of the town.”
“Maybe? Is that how your theoretical material would behave?” Garrett asked.
“Place may change. Or time may change. But not both. There is some logic there…”
Garrett raised her brows. “There is?”
“Think about it this way. Say a person was born in this town. And they grew up here, and stayed here. They change and the town changes. They change with the town. But now let’s say that same person left when they were young. The town, in their mind and their memory, stays the same as it was when they left. If they come back, they’d get a shock—mild maybe, depending on how much had changed—but they would probably feel disoriented.”
“All right. I follow that logic for a person, but for a meteor?”
“Those remnants, they were hidden away. They couldn’t adapt to the changes in town. But unlike an ordinary human being, this meteor is made of some material or materials that can interact with time.”
Garrett glanced at the meteor remnants. “It is just a material right? Not some…entity?”
“That’s your department, isn’t it?”
“The cosmic is beyond my department, Professor.”
“I say again,” the police captain interrupted, “what do we do about it?”
“We need to make sure the meteor remnants don’t ‘move away,’ so to speak, so they can adapt to the changes in the town with the passing of time,” Torres said. “But to make sure the meteor remnants are never moved from their original place of impact would require someone going back in time and making sure that the town authorities never move the remnants. And you, Captain, have someone in your custody who might be able to do just that. The missing man who was displaced from the past. We can explain all of this to him. If he’s willing, and I’ll wager he would be, we can take him back to his point of entry into our time. The little boy was able to return to his native time. This man should be able to as well, at least I hope so. We need to act quickly though, before his native time catches up to ours.”
“Maybe I should send one of my people. They might be more convincing to the people in charge.”
“Maybe, Captain, but whoever we send should understand that if it works, it’s a one-way trip. If the timeline is restored, then they have only one way of returning to the present…the old-fashioned way.”
The man from the past, the missing man who ended up in someone’s basement, didn’t quite understand the details of the situation when it was explained to him, but he understood the tone of the explanation. He understood from the expressions on the faces of Garrett, the police captain, and Torres that a lot of people’s lives could be altered, and some could be lost, if he didn’t do what we was being asked to do. And he wanted to go home.
“I have to warn you all,” the police captain said. “It might seem fine right here because we’re near the center of town, but it’s getting bad out there. The mayor has begun evacuating select areas within the perimeter we established. People were getting hurt by the things that were appearing out of nowhere. A man’s arm got trapped in the middle of a car door when a car appeared. A woman is in the hospital, still unconscious, because an appliance appeared above her head and fell on her. I’m amazed no one has died yet. And I pray no one does. But this is no game. If you’re wrong, Professor, or if this thing spreads even farther—”
“Then we’ll keep trying to figure it out, Captain.”
The police captain nodded.
A cavalcade of police cruisers made their way to the house where the missing man had appeared, dodging cars that appeared out of nowhere, a ball that came bouncing into the street, a tree that sprouted in the middle of the street, and all the people native to the present who were just trying to evacuate.
The captain diverted a few cruisers to help the people who were evacuating. The rest reached the house. The family who lived there had left days before.
As they walked the path to the front door, one tree vanished, and another appeared beside them. They were scratched by a few branches, but otherwise unscathed.
“Living things are coming through now,” Torres commented.
She made them all stop at the threshold of the front door.
“We might all vanish into the past if we go too far,” she said. “I’d advise that the rest of us stay out of the house.”
“Good luck,” Garrett said to the man. “I hope you get home safe.”
The man from the past nodded to them. He gripped his hat in his hand and held it to his chest as he walked carefully toward the front door. He left the door open so they could see him walk through. But as he stepped over the threshold, he vanished.
“There’s something weird in the backyard.”
Reena Song sighed and walked over to where her husband stood, staring out of the kitchen window. “What is it?”
“It’s Fred, holding our vacuum cleaner. I think our favorite neighbor is actually returning something he’s borrowed.”
“Will wonders never cease.”
The Songs laughed, and they met their neighbor in the yard, and teased him about never returning borrowed items.
And the return of their vacuum cleaner was indeed the strangest thing that happened to them that day.
Copyright © 2019 Nila L. Patel