When I came home today I found an old stove and a few pieces of electronic equipment I didn’t recognize sitting in front of the side gate to Dan’s back yard. I got out of the car and looked over the fence and saw him working away beside the shed. He seemed to be pulling up power cables. I called to him and asked if he’d made those adjustments he’d been meaning to, and he stopped and looked at me and called, “No, no.”
I asked if maybe the equipment he’d found would help. He said he didn’t think so. I asked why, and he stopped, thought, and then waved me over and started to open the shed. As I walked over, he said he thought this had all gone well beyond simple hardware or software adjustments. I asked what he meant by that. He didn’t answer and we entered.
Unlike the house, the shed was still itself. It felt like the stable little center of whatever universe it was now making. It was completely dark inside, and all the lights were off. And yet, there on the card table, the machine still seemed to be running. It was humming softly, and every minute or so it would emit a sharp click, like it had before, only much more rapid.
Dan said he had shut off all power to the shed. And yet, with no visible source of electricity, the machine was still running. He was going to pull up all the power lines to make sure, but he didn’t think it would matter. He said he was forced to conclude that the machine simply didn’t want to turn off.
I asked how that was possible, or if it had somehow managed to unpackage power? Dan said he didn’t think so. He had developed a theory, and although it was a very odd one he felt it was correct. He said that it seemed likely that in the Other Places that the machine had pulled the apples from, someone might have invented a machine much like the one we had before us. Maybe a lot of someones in a lot of places, he said. Just like how in those Other Places there were apples or things similar to apples, there were also packaging devices. He wasn’t sure who had made them, or why, or how, but when his machine had made an opening to those places, the devices had made a connection of some kind. And now, if one machine had power then the other one did. And maybe all the other ones they had connected themselves to. And they would all keep running until every single one was shut off at once.
I asked if he could just break the machine. He said he had tried. I asked if he could just try again. And he shrugged and showed me.
He took one part of the machine and pulled mightily at it. It would not budge, but as he pulled the light from the shed window behind me faded. I turned to look out and saw something very odd.
It was no longer the sunny afternoon yard I’d seen before. No, now the sky was dark, a deep pitch black, and there were stars in it, but not stars of any kind that I had seen before. For one thing, they were not in any constellations I recognized. And for another, they were red, and very close to the earth, it seemed.
And the ground was covered in snow. There were footprints in the snow, and they seemed very large to me.
I thought about this, and then (in a thoughtless, stupidly brave moment) stuck my head out the shed door. Outside it was still Dan’s yard, and there was no snow to be seen. The sun was still out, and his crate myrtles were still in bloom. But inside, when I looked through the window, it was that strange, red-tinged, frozen world.
Dan had given up on pulling the machine apart. He joined me at the window, and I noticed his nose was bleeding again, but said nothing as he wiped at it. We watched the snow falling. I said it was very odd, indicating the window, and he agreed. He said it happened whenever he tried to damage the machine. I asked what it was, and he said that he felt that whenever the machine neared shutting down it would revert to another machine in one of the Different Places, one that was still whole and running. Like it would stop being a machine in a place where it was damaged, and then start being one in a place where it wasn’t. A wholly different object. And it would bring a few things nearby with it. Maybe a whole room.
The things in the windows went away after a while, he said. Sometimes he saw altars. And things that looked like people, but he knew were not.
Suddenly I began feeling very worried about all the doors in Dan’s house, and I asked if they had stopped appearing. He shook his head, and informed me that they had actually increased, and begun appearing in places further and further from the machine. He’d found one underneath a layer of grass in his front yard, like it was a doorway to the underworld. And then there’d been another one high up on the wall of his garage.
I asked where he thought the doors went to, and a strange look crept into his face. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “But, listen, Robert… If you ever find one of those doors, tell me. Don’t open it. Come straight to me. Don’t touch it, don’t knock on it, don’t respond to any voices you hear coming from it, I don’t care what they say, and for God’s sake, do not go through the door. All right?”
I said all right. The machine kept clicking along on the card table.
“Those clicks,” I said. “Each time it clicks is it…”
“Yes,” said Dan. “I think it’s making another door.”
“Nothing’s come through yet, though, right?”
That strange look crept into his face. He said he did not know. Then he said he had some thinking to do and showed me out.
* * *
There was a small riot at the Texas State Mental Hospital last night. And recently there’s been a rash of suicide attempts. More than a few have been successful.
I haven’t seen Bridget in a while. I meant to ask Dan about that when I saw him, but I suppose I forgot.