You people going about your business, wiping the kitchen counter, driving to work, rushing to finish reports, choosing fruit at the store….you have no idea. You climb into bed at night, worrying or not, but if you are worrying, it’s about the usual human stuff – bills, kids, health, state of the nation. Wonderful, regular stuff.
I used to be like you.
My brother Eric, after graduating from optometry school, set up shop in our hometown. He was soon the most popular optometrist around, since in spite of appearing shy, he possesses some variety of magic with women. Maybe not women of superior intelligence, but those who appreciate what he enjoys, which is basically sex and eating.
I envied him his romantic success, but it never got in the way of our basically happy relationship. I am, Eric tells me, a strange combination of hippie and geek and not cut out for the highlife. Besides, I’m a woman and in spite of my interest in offbeat science, I have the nesting instinct. Or so he claims. But so far, at thirty-two, no one sane or stable had shown any interest in nesting with me and besides, I had work to do. And now, after being laid off from my soul-killing job, there was finally time to do it. As long as unemployment compensation rolled in and my mother allowed me to live with her, I could devote myself to my true calling, that of an inventor.
Amy,” Eric said, “you’re the female version of a slacker living in your mom’s basement.” I’d called him as he drove home after a day of peering into people’s retinas. “I’ve got two spare bedrooms. If you were to move in for a while, at least people might extend you more respect. You’d just need to give me space while I’m entertaining.”
“But you don’t offer Mom’s double garage. The garage is perfect for my work. Besides, she’s an excellent cook and does my laundry.”
“True…the garage,” he agreed. “So what exactly are you working on?”
“Actually, I called specifically to talk about that. It so happens that I’m going to need your cooperation on this one.”
“I need to tell you beforehand,” he said, “that a lady is coming over in two hours and I have to buy wine and clean up. So make it fast.”
“I’m assuming,” I said, “that you’ve heard of the likelihood of other dimensions occupying the same space as our visible world.”
“Let me turn on speaker,” said Eric. “Yes, of course. So?”
“I’ve been working on this theory that has to do with colors we don’t see and with different speeds of flickering and near and mid infrared.”
“Uh huh,” he said.
“In 1983, they did that experiment with red/green and blue/yellow to get people to see what they termed ‘impossible colors.’”
“I remember something about that,” said Eric.
“Well, I was messing around with that idea and then delved into infrared and wondered it would be possible to create goggle type glasses that flicker at different speeds and permit the user to maybe see things we don’t pick up with normal vision or regular infrared goggles. The glasses would be like lightweight goggles and could stay on the head by themselves. I mean you wouldn’t have to hold them up or anything.”
“Mildly interesting,” said Eric.
I heard the blare of a horn, then a siren. “What’s going on there? Where are you?”
“Ambulance,” he said. “I’m pulling into the wine shop.” He paused. “So what do I have to do with all this?”
I took a deep breath. “Well, you know about those glasses for color blind people? They make them see certain colors for the first time in their lives?”
“Yeah,” said Eric. “I think I see where this is going. Seriously, I’m at the wine shop, I gotta go in.”
“I woke up in the middle of the other night and was wondering if-“
“Later, Ames. We’ll talk tomorrow,” Eric said and that was that.
But I knew him well and curiosity was one of his better points. Next evening, he showed up at my mother’s door holding two bags of Dove Dark pieces, her and my favorite. She was out at a jewelry demonstration.
“Come into my lair,” I said in a Dracula voice and led him to the garage. I showed him my plans and handed him an old set of standard infrared goggles. “Dad had these,” I said. “Do you think you could add my attachments and make these big glasses in your little lab at the office?”
“I don’t actually make glasses there,” he said. “I send out for that and who would…” He stopped. “Wait, I do know someone who might do the job at the place I sometimes use in Syracuse. A friend from school works there.”
I clapped my hands. “Okay then! You are indeed the world’s best brother even if you are a promiscuous libertine.”
It turned out to be easier to make the prototype than I’d anticipated. I didn’t have any prestige, position or grants to lose and so could work as and when I pleased. It was a help that the project was, cost-wise, about on the level of a junior high science fair endeavor. Eric might absorb the expense of making the final project, but if he didn’t spring for it, I’d cash in one of the CDs our father left me. They weren’t currently earning any interest to speak of and anyway, I was thinking of the millions I’d possibly make if the glasses turned out to do anything spectacular. So I dropped by Eric’s office and handed him the makeshift goggle-specs. Two weeks later, he called to say the finished ones were in.
“Did you look at them?” I jumped up from my desk chair.
“No,” he said. “I figured I’d leave that honor to you.”
“I’ll be there in a jiffy.”
With shaking hands, I slipped the bulky glasses from their plastic bag and almost dropped them before I got them on. A little switch on the side turned on the flickering mechanism.
At first, nothing looked different except that to my left, there appeared a couple of vertical streaks, sort of like splinter hemorrhages on a toenail. Occasionally, they shifted left to right and seemed to dance a little. Then they disappeared, to be replaced by a hole opening to my upper right. I could see into the hole and there appeared to be dark sky visible, but then the hole closed up.
“Well?” said Eric. “What do you see?”
I waved a hand to silence him and continued gawking about.
“Don’t make me grab them,” he said.
“I-I’m not sure. It’s hard to explain. Here, you try.”
He put them on and turned his head around. “Weird,” he said. “But nothing much happening, just lines and holes.”
“You see that hole with the sky in it?”
I moved him around. “Um, maybe,” he said. “Is it black?”
“Yeah, sort of.”
“I don’t see sky though,” he said, “but…” He was suddenly silent.
“What?” I demanded.
“There’s like something sort of waving over there.” He pointed to what was the door to the hallway. We had gone into one of the examining rooms so as not to be bothered by his receptionist. The door was closed. “I don’t know what it is.” He took off the glasses. “You look,” he said.
I did. Something was moving in a weird, underwater way. It seemed to involve something resembling a tentacle. Instinctively, I ducked.
“Shit,” I said, and whipped off the glasses.
“I don’t know,” said Eric. “Some kind of vision interference,” he mumbled. He didn’t seem to want to try them again.
“I’ll take them home and see what happens. You know, try them in different kinds of light, inside outside, then the dark. I’ll keep a log.”
“You do that,” said Eric with what looked like a shiver. He checked his watch. “I’ve got a patient at 1:00.”
So I ended up home and literally alone with the glasses. Mom had driven to Levittown to visit her sister for few days. So that left the cat and me, but the cat wasn’t anywhere visible.
I put off trying them for a while, watched a couple of episodes of Mad Men, went out to pick up Chinese, then ate it while watching CNN. Finally, I could procrastinate no longer. Why was I experiencing this intense reluctance? With super human determination, I clomped down the basement steps to my “apartment.”
The overhead light was on, casting spooky shadows. I sat on the edge of my bed and slipped on the glasses. Immediately, the same thing occurred – splinter lines, holes opening and closing, a strange shape wiggling, only bottom left this time. I flicked on the bedside lamp, closed the curtains on the basement windows and turned off the ceiling light. Now the phenomena moved around a bit. Feeling brave, I turned off the bedside lamp, which left me in darkness except for dim light streaming through the curtains, and raised the light level on the glasses themselves.
Suddenly, the splinter lines expressed whitish light. After that holes opened all over the place and I froze. Out of the holes stepped, squirmed or slid creatures from mundane to fantastic, including an all white, glowing humanoid entity; a blacker than black, flat creature wearing what looked to be a small brimmed fedora; a mucus-like blob; and a truly hideous, reptilian creature with large horns on its knobby head. I fainted.
Apparently, I’d slid onto the floor during my temporary blackout. Upon awaking, I whipped off the horrible glasses, dug my cell out of my pocket and punched in Eric’s number. “Eric, Eric!” I yelled. “There are monsters in the room, oh my God! Get over here!”
“Um, I’m kind of busy right now,” he said. I heard a female giggle.
“Eric, please, I beg you!” I was on the edge of hysteria.
“Amy,” he whispered, “it’s taken months to get the attention of this lady. To persuade her to come to my home took another three weeks. I am not about to mess it up. Besides, I think I could get serious about this one. I’ll be over tomorrow after work.” He clicked off.
I thought I’d totally lose it. The situation called for heavy alcohol. Frantically, I searched for my bottle of Chablis. It was empty. Vodka in the freezer? Mom liked the occasional martini. I rummaged in there behind every bag of frozen vegetables, ice cream gone to crystals, unidentified meat. Nothing. Finally, in the cereal cupboard, I found an unopened bottle of homemade Italian red someone had given her. Cutting my finger while opening it, I sucked on the blood, then chugged from the bottle. Back and forth, wine/blood/wine/blood.
Finally I had a good buzz on. And good buzzes always give me this expansive, the-whole-universe-is-my-friend feeling. So, like an idiot, I went back to the basement and put the glasses back on.
Drunk, things seemed less threatening than before. I felt open to “new experience.” So while I sat there with mouth gaping, the same horned, reptilian was walking around my “bedroom” doing odd things. At one point, he passed right through a chest of drawers so I assumed that he could not see objects in our dimension, but later he appeared to be touching stuff on my desk. He hovered over my iMac before moving on to apparently study the wires underneath the desk. He didn’t actually move anything. A smaller, flat shadow being, wearing a hat like the other one, slid around the room close to the walls. He seemed more sinister than the others, though the reptilian was pretty horrendous.
How long was this going to go on? Did it go on all the time? Were they always there; were they present while I was sleeping, peeing, praying, showering?
Unfortunately, I started to sober up and my temporary bravery vanished. No way could I sleep in that room. I bolted upstairs with the glasses still on, (it’s a wonder I didn’t break my neck) and grabbed the remote. The TV was a form of company, yes! Jerking around, I didn’t see much, just two slitty holes to my upper right, no big deal. Adrenalin pumping, I lay on the sofa with remote control in hand and cellphone on my chest – real communication with the outside world if needed; pseudo communication with CNN or Comedy Central in the meantime. I clicked on the TV.
To my dismay – no, let’s call it horror, creatures appeared out of nowhere to crowd around the television. I sat up on the edge of the sofa, heart thudding dangerously. The monsters were practically beating each other off with a stick. One actually shoved another out of the way, though I did noticed that some of them seemed to pass through others as if they were all ghosts. What was so special about the TV?
A small, possibly female reptilian stepped into the screen while a pinkish creature seemingly made of soft light rubbed his head along the top. A low to the ground grayish blob with arms positioned itself under the screen and flew up into it. Three other freaks circled the others.
Just then Oliver the cat walked into the room. He spends most of his time upstairs in the refurbished attic, which serves as my mother’s workroom. This is where she does her projects such as sewing quilts, lampshade painting and jewelry making. Usually, Oliver only comes down to the main floor to use the litter box and eat in the kitchen. But here he was now heading straight for the TV.
Four of the creatures stopped their movements and looked at the cat. He stopped dead in his tracks. Could he see them? Or sense them in some other manner? There followed a longish standoff while nothing moved and then Oliver let out a godawful, piercing howl before turning and, tail hugely puffed up, darted from the room.
The creatures, unfazed, turned back to their study of the TV. Suddenly, I wondered if it mattered what channel it was on. I flipped from CNN to ESPN. This did not appear to affect their interest. I flipped off the TV. That got a reaction, though they did not seem to connect me with the change.
After a moment, they drifted away from the TV. The gray blob who had disappeared into the screen did not reappear and the monsters went off on other tangents, some browsing the room, others climbing back through their slits and holes.
That night, I returned to the basement, figuring I’d try to get some sleep. To help this along, I downed another glass of wine and swallowed a Xanax. I know, I know, not a smart thing to do, but this was major terror going on. I could go stay in a motel, but why bother? It was obvious to me that the creatures might be everywhere and a change of scene wouldn’t matter. I kept the bedside lamp on, laid the glasses on the nightstand and managed to doze off. But eventually, nature called and when I returned to my bed, it was impossible to resist slipping them back on.
The moment I lay back, the monstrosities returned full force. There must have been twenty of them in the room. Worse, one of then walked over to me, bent over and stared into my face. His own hideous visage was four inches from mine.
I panicked and sat up, moving my head right through his. In response, he backed up. We stared at each other. I reached out and shakily tried to poke him. He backed up more. I poked him again, though my finger was just touching air. In response, he made as if to shove me though no actual contact was made. Yet I felt an unpleasant pressure as electricity shot through me.
So we could affect each other, or at least he could affect me. And he could see me without any need for special glasses.
Hands shaking badly, I fumbled for my phone and called Eric again. “Listen,” I said, “I know it’s late, but seriously, you need to either come here or I need to come there.”
“Dude,” he said, “I told you I’m busy.” I hated when he called me that.
“I don’t care, Dude,” I snapped, “this is an absolute emergency!”
Long silence. “All right,” he said. “I’ll be there in ten.” I could picture the girl waiting for him in his king-sized bed, wrapped in slick, charcoal sheets. Expensive, manly sheets with high thread count.
I waited for him by the front door. The moment he was inside, I popped the glasses on him. Then I flicked on the TV. “Look at it,” I said.
He didn’t say anything for a long time. After a while, he took them off and returned them to me. “Well, shit,” he said.
“That’s all you have to say?”
“Get me a beer.” He plopped onto the sofa.
“There isn’t any.” I got him what little was left of the Italian wine.
“We have us here a moral dilemma,” he said. “This is, without a doubt, a great, and I do mean great discovery. Life in other dimensions right in our living rooms. Nobel Prize material. But….I highly doubt that the Powers-That-Be, whoever that really is in this country or world, would allow this information to get out. Possibly, they’d lock the two of us up and throw away the key. And that’s if we’re lucky.”
“This is the kind of knowledge the human race probably couldn’t tolerate. Monsters in your bedroom at night? Kids who scream after you turn out the lights are absolutely right! Should mommies and daddies know this? Should depressives on the edge of reason know about it? How about people with phobias, wackos thinking about shooting up a school, guys locked up in prison cells, people coming out of anesthesia in hospitals, teenagers who just snorted something, tired people driving home from work…should any of them know this?”
I was silent.
“And if this got into the wrong hands, think what could happen. The hands of people who don’t care about others, but are only interested in furthering their own power. They might figure out how to open physical holes and tunnels from this world to others; who knows what horrors would emerge into this one? As it stands now, these creatures probably can’t harm us, can’t really do much even if they can see us, but what if they could physically enter our domain? Believe me, some sociopath would open up those holes without a second thought.” He paused. “Amy, there is only one thing to do and you know what it is.”
I didn’t reply.
“Ames? This is serious. Please.”
After all my work…this was my chance. This was what gave meaning to my life. Just toss it out? Yeah, what I had discovered was horrible, but hey, it was reality. I went back and forth frantically in my mind.
Eric stood up. “I can’t make you do anything. I just hope you’ll do the right thing. If the world goes insane or they come and kick my door in, I’ll know which thing you chose.” With that, he left.
Mom came home the next day. She entered the house with her usual hustle and bustle, dropped her suitcase inside the door and returned to the car to carry in goodies from farmers markets.
“Did you hold down the fort all right?” she asked.
“Yeah, everything’s intact,” I said. No sense mentioning that I held the sanity of the world in my hands.
The glasses continue to live in the same box with my college diploma, birth certificate and passport. It will take a while before I decide what to do with them. As far as Eric is concerned, they’ve been smashed and trashed. Why trouble him?