The Nelson Effect

Brennan scratched her short black hair. She paced the living room, cell phone in hand. Not even her fat orange cat, Hancock, or his little sister, Snowflake, calmed her. She weaved around them and ignored their mews.

She called her mom and dared to wait for an answer. Her bookshelf stared at her. Everything in the room felt wrong. Not even her lipstick-red couch looked inviting with orange and white cat hair coating it.

The phone rang…

It rang again.

And again.

“Just pick up.” She rubbed her nails on her jeans as if that would file them down. It reminded her of her brother. He’d say, You look like a junkie fidgeting like that.

She stopped.

Another ring.

“Come on. I really need you today.”

The phone rang once more and Brennan almost screamed.

“Hello,” He mother finally answered.

“Mom, I haven’t heard from Darren in over two weeks. I know you said I was overreacting before, but we never go this long without talking. You don’t think he’s using again?” Her nails scratched the grooves of her jeans against her will.

I’m too pudgy to be a junkie. She used to laugh at her brother. Laughing kept him from slipping into deeper depression when missing the drugs. He craved them always. Would always, he had told her.

“Who is this?” her mom asked.

Brennan rolled her eyes. She could hear the smirk on her mother’s painted lips, see the lines around them. “Mom, this is serious.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Brennie. Darren is fine. He and Talesha are just busy getting ready for the baby.”

“She’s only ten weeks pregnant. I’m pretty sure he’s not too busy to call.” Brennan’s stomach was wound as tight as a noose. “Something’s wrong. I can feel it.”

Her mother sniffed. “You always think something’s wrong.”  

Hancock refused to be deterred any longer and stretched his front paws up Brennan’s leg. She reached down to scratch the top of his head. “It usually is. I was the one who found Darren when he ODed.  I was the one who got him into rehab and let him live on my couch before he got a good job. I was there when he met Talesha.”

“Are you saying I wasn’t there? I have always been there for you both. When your father died, it was just me. I had to work and take care of you. And you were old enough to take care of yourself.”

“That’s not what I meant, Mom. I’m just saying, I know he needs me… us. Right now.” Brennan retreated to the couch and allowed her cats to warm her lap.

“What did Talesha say?”

“I haven’t called her yet. She’s a little emotional and I don’t want to worry her so early in the pregnancy.” Brennan sat back and stared at the lamp overhead.

“If Talesha isn’t worried, neither am I.”

“Okay, Mom. But I’ve gotta go,” she lied. “I’ll talk to you later.” Brennan slid onto her side and lay with her cats.

Hancock got up and pressed his forehead to hers.

She sighed. “At least she didn’t get on me about being a crazy cat lady. You’re thirty-three years old. It’s time to grow up. And all that blah, blah, blah.”

Snowflake climbed onto her hip and perched like a huntress.

“I mean, I grew up a long time ago. Just because I don’t want to get married and be her doesn’t mean I’m not doing something with my life.” She sat up. “I have my babies.” She scooped Snowflake and Hancock together in her arms and nuzzled them.

They struggled to get away and fled her embrace. “Yeah, yeah. Thanks for proving my point.” She snickered.

She tried calling Talesha but received an out-of-service message. “Great. They’re behind on bills?”

Brennan got up and put her coat on. She locked up her apartment and drove to her brother’s house. The little brick building had its charm. Designed back when Vinita Terrace was a growing community, the aged streets and overgrown yards made Brennan feel like a time traveler every time she pulled into the driveway.

Talesha hadn’t let her house fall into disrepair like some of the neighbors. She kept up with the gardens. Brilliant flowers bloomed through three seasons and ever green bushes decorated the front porch year round.

Brennan pulled in and stopped. She stared at the walkway. English Ivy vines reached over the cement. The flower beds were overgrown and the sunlight shined on a crack in the front window.

“What the hell?” She jogged to the door and knocked.

Nothing.

She waited. She knocked again. “Hello?”

No one answered.

She banged on the door until her knuckles cracked in the cool air. “Darren! Talesha! Are you guys all right?”

The door creaked and groaned. It opened just enough for Brennan to stare at a little old lady squinting out at her. “Who are you?”

“I’m Darren’s sister, Brennan. I’m sorry. I didn’t know Talesha was having family stay over.” Her shoulders relaxed and she realized she had jumped to conclusions. He’s been clean for over three years. I should have more faith in him.

“Who’s Talesha?” The woman’s wrinkled brow left Brennan gaping.

She blinked. “She owns this house. My brother Darren moved in with her two years ago.”

“I’ve lived here for twenty-years.” The old woman wheezed. “Maybe try next door.”

Brennan didn’t argue. She just stood as the door closed and the lock laughed at her. She turned and studied the building across the street, the houses on either side. There was no mistake. She had been inside this house, laughed with her brother and came to love Talesha for helping him keep out of trouble here.

She sprinted to her car and raced to St. John’s. “Maybe Talesha’s mom has Alzheimer’s. I’ll just catch her at work.”

She swerved into the other lane to pass the silver Toyota in front of her. The stoplight ahead went yellow and her heart roared with an industrial beat. She pushed her foot down. Her fingers melded to the wheel as if part of the mechanism.

“Maybe I’m being dramatic.” Her mother’s words came back to her. “But Darren’s in trouble. I know it.”

She glanced side to side each time she sped through a light. The creeping fear of getting pulled over didn’t deter her. She reached the highway and sped into the fast lane. A beat up pick-up truck was driving just under the limit.

“Really?” Brennan clenched her jaw as the cars in the slow middle and slow lane passed her. She waited for a pocket to open up and whipped around the slow driver. “Sorry, but I’ve got places to be.”

She whizzed by the pack of cars and reached her exit. The light at the hospital gave her a moment to pause and think about what she would say when she found Talesha. “I don’t want to freak her out,” she said to no one.

The light went green and she fought the urge to slam her foot on the accelerator again. She steered around the lot with one hand and rubbed her nails on her jeans with the other. She parked in the first spot she found. Okay. Be cool, she told herself.

She got out and went straight to the heart hospital. She marched to the nurse’s station. “Hey, I’m sorry but can I please speak with Talesha?”

“She’s with a patient.” The curly haired woman behind the counter typed on the computer without looking up.

“I’ll wait.” Brennan checked her phone. She caught herself rubbing her nails on her jeans again and folded her arms across her chest.

Talesha walked up the hall.

Brennan breathed out hard. “Hey, Lesh, how are you doing? I’m sorry to stop by like this but I haven’t heard from you or Darren in a while and I got worried.”

Talesha’s dark eyes scanned her face. “Darren?”

“Yeah. I don’t want to be dramatic or anything, but are you guys okay? Your phone’s turned off and your house looks… different.”

Talesha pulled her phone from her scrubs pocket. “Working just fine. I rent a studio, and I don’t know any Darrens.”

“Very funny.”  Brennan half-laughed. “Come on, Lesh.”

“Look, I’m sorry. What’s your name?”

Brennan studied Talesha’s face. Her makeup was thicker and her hair was braided differently. “It’s, Bren. Brennan. Your future sister-in-law and aunt of your baby.”

“Baby?” Talesha wrinkled her nose and giggled. “Stop playing. Did Tyrone send you? That jerk better leave me the hell alone.” She walked around Brennan.

“Am I going crazy?” Brennan asked. “Darren is my brother. You love him.”

Talesha stopped. She laid her hand on her shoulder and cocked her head. “No disrespect, but I don’t go for white guys.”

“You said that when he met you.” Brennan laughed, but her body grew cold.

“Yeah right.” Talesha bit her lip. “I don’t know what this is about, but I can’t help you. Sorry.”

Unable to comprehend what just happened, Brennan stumbled back and turned. She walked the long white hallways in a daze. The sterile environment reminded her of padded rooms. Rehab. She imagined Darren’s elongated features as he cried, begged her to let him die. “I can’t do this.”

I helped him through that. We were there. Talesha met him when he came back to thank his doctor. It happened. I know it did.

She shuffled out to the parking lot and somehow found her car. When she got in she locked the door. All sense of security was lost. She jumped when a man walked by.

“I’m losing it.” She pulled her phone out of her pocket and called her best friend. “Please tell me you can hang out tonight,” she said as soon as Diane answered the phone.

“I don’t know. Jashi’s been having a lot of nightmares again.” She lowered her voice. “They switched his meds.”

“I don’t care. This is serious. I need you to get your little Puerto Rican butt over to my place because I’m either losing it or the world has. Darren’s missing and Talesha doesn’t even remember him. Their place is not their place and I really need you right now. You haaaaave to come over. ” She panted after speaking so fast.  

“Chill out, doll. I’ll be there. What time do you get off work?”

“Shit.” Brennan’s gaze went to the clock on her dashboard. “I’m gonna be late. Eight. Please come. Bye.” She hung up and played race car driver again.

Getting to her office made her question if she really saw Talesha. Maybe I was dreaming?

Her desk was the same. Boring desktop computer. A picture of her brother sat at her workspace, but it was missing Talesha. She picked up the frame.

“You okay?” The old lady in the cubical next to hers asked.

“I don’t know, Connie.”

“We all have our bad days. It’ll work itself out.” Connie answered a call and went back to her side of the partition.

So much for expanding their small-talk. Discussing the boundaries of reality wouldn’t suit her anyway. Brennan needed normalcy. I need to find Darren.

She checked his social media pages. He hadn’t posted in almost three weeks, but he didn’t like sharing much about himself. “I don’t want anyone digging into my past. I can’t handle that.”

Brennan tried to understand his need for privacy, but losing contact made it difficult for her to focus on her job. She liked it well enough. Helping people file their claims and fix their property made being an insurance agent more fulfilling. She liked to think she had a purpose. Part of that purpose involved helping her brother when not at work. Sometimes they even texted and emailed during her shifts.

Without any contact, the day dragged. She searched online, digging for some answers but all she got were crazy conspiracy theories. It felt like a year when she finally clocked out.

She drove past Darren and Talesha’s place on the way home. Her head ached from the base of her skull through her eyes. Her pulse pounded in her ears. “Thank god.” She got to her building and parked her car. Diane’s car gleaned under the streetlight.

The crisp air matched Brennan’s nerves. The day had exhausted her so much she wanted to sleep in a bottle of wine. On the way into her building she grabbed her mail and headed up the stairs. Diane’s bubbly voice mingled with her stoner neighbor, Jarred’s, “And here’s the main event.” Diane gestured to her.

“Less of an event, more of a disaster.” Brennan pulled out her keys and waved to Jarred. She unlocked the door and tugged Diane inside before she got any matchmaking ideas. She shut the door and locked it, then went to the windows and peered between the blinds. “Something weird is happening.”

 “And?” Diane plopped down on the couch with Hancock. He batted at the ends of her bright layered shirt frays. “This isn’t news. The world’s always going crazy.”

“So if the world’s gone mad, does the sane person become the jester?” Brennan asked.

“What?” Diane giggled.

Brennan walked over to her bookshelf. Her copy of, Wild Ink, lay on the carpet. She bent down and placed it back on the shelf. “You remember, Darren, right?”

“Tall. Shaved head. Kinda built ─ thanks to physical labor jobs?” Diane flexed her arms in pretend body-builder fashion, then laughed.

“Hey. Hey. Have some respect. Jashi would be jealous if he knew how much you liked my brother back in the day.” Brennen tried to stay on point.

“Yeah, but he chose drugs over me and Jashi’s never jealous of my girlfriends.”

“Because you bring them to bed for him too. Guys, not so much.”

“Not at all.” Diane tossed her long hair from her face.

Anyway, Darren’s missing and Talesha doesn’t remember him. Like. At all.”

“Weird.” Diane shrugged.

“That’s it?” Brennan went to the kitchen to open a bottle of the darkest red wine she had. “Weird?”

“What do you want me to say?” Diane waved her over like a waitress. She took a swig off the bottle. “Anything’s possible. This could be a dream. I could be in a mental institution and you might not even be real.”

“Thanks, Catcher in the Rye, but I’m here right now.”

“I prefer Tyler Derden.” Diane licked her lips.

“Okay figment of my imagination. What do you think is going on?” Brennan filled a glass and chugged her wine.

“I thought you were a figment of my imagination.” Diane snorted. “Ten to one, it’s a prank. Remember when Darren made you think you were adopted in the sixth grade? Maybe he’s back at it. And Talesha’s in on it.”

“I hope so. She’s a damn good actress if she is.” Brennan filled her glass again. She rubbed her nails over her jeans. “I need to go change.”

She headed to the bedroom and threw on some black yoga pants and light sweatshirt. “Much better,” she said as she finished another glass of wine.

She went back and forth with Diane mostly joking about crazy fringe theories. “Could be a dimensional shift?” Diane raised her perfectly waxed eyebrows.

“That came up in my stupid internet search today at work. You know I hate conspiracy theories. They’re ridiculous. The Earth is round. We went to the moon. Technology advances society. End of story.”

It was time for a new bottle of wine. She drank and drank until her headache numbed out of existence. She grabbed a blanket for Diane to sleep with on the couch and threw it over her.

A knock banged at her door.

She grabbed her phone to check the time: 1 a.m.

She went to the peep-hole but found nothing. Snowflake brushed up against the back of her legs. “I know. Time for bed.” She picked up her cat and stopped. Her favorite bookwas lying on the floor in front of the bookshelf again. She picked it up and put it back on the shelf.

A thump sounded in the hall. She went back to the door and pulled it open.

“You okay?” Jarred sat in his doorway glancing around.

“It’s late. Please don’t knock on my door,” she said.

“I didn’t. I heard it too. Didn’t seem right.” He scratched the back of his short blonde hair. His blue eyes were surrounded in a sea of red.

“You’re blown.” She shook her head.

He stood and smoothed out the wrinkles on his T-shirt. “You heard something too.”

She brushed her nails over her yoga pants. “I’ve had a rough day. I don’t know what’s real anymore.”

“I know I don’t really know you or anything, but your friend said you were really freaked out. You know, I used to be a Marine. I’m not a creep or anything. Not a druggie either. The weed’s just for my PTSD.”

She cringed “My dad was a Marine.” She stared at the floor. “He said shell shock was for pussies.”

“Maybe that’s why they changed it to PTSD.” He grinned.

“Maybe.” She stepped closer. “Hey, since you were in the military and all that. Can I ask, did you ever see or hear of anything weird?”

“Every damn day.” He closed his eyes and twitched. “Gives me the creeps thinking of it.”

“What kind of stuff?” she asked.

“What kind are you dealing with? Aliens aren’t my thing. And no I don’t believe Bigfoot’s real. Not anymore, at least. Died a couple of decades ago. The last one. Real shame.”

“Stop messing with me.” She rolled her eyes.

“Would it be too much to ask you to step into my office?” He moved into his apartment and she hesitated.

She clutched her phone. “Okay, but if you try anything I’m calling the cops.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He shut the door behind her.

She squinted in the dim lighting. Stacks of papers and magazines littered the floor. The only piece of furniture in the living room was a computer desk with a stool missing 1 leg.

Jarred moved some papers off of the stool. “Sit here.” He tapped the surface.

She slowly walked over and lowered herself to sit. He hunched over next to her typing like crazy.

The light of the computer burned her eyes. “How can you see in here?”

“Oh.” He went to the light switch by the door and turned everything on. “Sorry. I forgot.”

The walls came to life. Pictures of the moon landing, stills of Stanley Kubrick and shots from the set of, The Shining, embedded themselves into her brain. “Please don’t tell me you’re a conspiracy theorist.”

He nodded. “You know conspiracy doesn’t mean wrong, it just means lesser known and unpopular.”

“That’s ridiculous.” She glanced at the door. “You’re not going to make me wear a tin-foil hat, are you?”

“No.” He laughed. He clicked on the keyboard. “Look.” He pointed to the screen.

She skimmed a long thread about something called randonauts. “What the hell is a randonaut?”

“They’re these low density areas where the atoms move differently than in normal areas. Time flows differently there. Strange things happen. They defy our understanding of physics.” He stood tall and pointed. “See that?”

She leaned in. “What?”

“That’s the coordinates of one. Recognize it?”

“No. Should I?”

He laughed a little too long.

Brennan shifted on the stool.

“It’s your doorway. That’s what I was staring at. I swear I saw some weird shadow flicker in it when I checked the hall.”

“That’s insane.” She got up and went for the door.

“Wait.” He followed her.

She held up her phone ready to dial.

He froze. “Have you ever heard of the Nelson Effect?”

“The what?”

His eyes glowed. “Remember when Nelson Mandela died in prison and how much it impacted everyone around the world?”

She nodded.

“There are people who swear he lived and became some kind of ambassador for his people. And that’s not all.” He dashed to the kitchen and opened the pantry. “Do you remember this?” He pulled out a box of cereal.

“Yes. Food. Some people eat it for breakfast. Maybe you should have some. It might help your brain.”

“Read the spelling.”

She looked at the brand. “Okay?”

“It was different when we were kids.” He shook the box.

“Was it, or do you have a bad memory?” She edged for the door again.

“Forget the cereal.” He put the box away. “Who was the twentieth President of the United States?”

“Hancock.”

“No.” Jarred laughed. “Some people swear it was this dude named Garfield and that they remember Hancock the cartoon cat being named Garfield.”

She yawned and rubbed her eyes. “What is your point?”

“The point is,” he walked up to her and touched her arms with both hands, “maybe nobody is wrong. Maybe some of us remember things that changed. Maybe these randonauts connect us to another dimension.”

Goodnight.” She went for the door.

“Just think about it. You have one right inside your place. It could be part of whatever’s messing with you,” he called as she left.

“I’m never gonna sleep now.” She went home and shut the door quietly. A shadow flickered at the corner of the door under a beam of light slipping through the window blinds.

Brenna stared for a second, but Diane snored from the couch.

She moved slowly in the dark room and tripped over something. She bent down and found her book on the floor again. She glanced at the supposed randonaut in her apartment and shivered. “If anyone from another dimension is trying to get through, there won’t be coffee until morning,” she whispered and laughed at herself.

She went to her room. As soon as she sat on the bed, someone knocked at the front door. She groaned and got up. Diane didn’t move.

She opened the door ready to tell Jarred off, but no one was there. She sighed. Darren better be playing an epic joke, she thought.

She shut and locked the door again. A burst of cold air hit her. She glanced at the corner of the door expecting a monster to lunge at her. The shadow was gone.

She breathed deep and turned to go to bed, but a hand caught her wrist. It twisted her arm behind her back. A thread wrapped around her neck. She struggled, tried to scream, but the attacker stuffed her mouth with cloth and bound it.

The line cut into her skin. The gag set her in a panic. She glanced at the couch.

Wake up Diane. Please wake up. She thrashed.

Her attacker overpowered her and forced her to the ground.

Hancock hissed. He jumped on the stranger and clawed hard. Brennan ripped the string from her neck and pushed herself up. “Wake up, wake up!” She scrambled to Diane.

The assailant was on her again. She elbowed it and broke free, but when she turned there was nothing there. Hancock bit and clawed something unseen. A knife appeared, but dangled in the air.

Brennan gaped in shock.

The presence lunged at her.

She raced to her bedroom, shut the door and locked it. She ripped the gag from her mouth and dialed 9-1-1 on her phone.

A scream from Diane shook her ears.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” The dispatcher answered like she was a pizza delivery service. No fear. Just a calm sensible voice.  

“There’s a… someone in my apartment. It attacked me and my friend. I’m locked in my room.”

“Just stay calm ma’am. What’s your address?”

Brennan’s voice shook but she got the words out.

The dispatcher repeated the address. “Excuse me, I’m having trouble finding that location. Where is it, again?”

“What? You’re 9-1-1 don’t you have tracking devices?”Brennan could barely remember her name at this point. She repeated her address then hung up and went to her closet. Something banged on her bedroom door. She dug through her nightstand looking for anything that could be a weapon. All she had was clothes, old pictures, decorations, and her roller blades.

She picked up a blade. It sat heavy in her hands. “Better than nothing.”

She waited for the knife to come through the door. As soon as it did she knocked it sideways with the rollerblade, wedging it into the wood. A shot fired through.

The window called to her. She ran to it and stared down. “Two stories is better than dead.”

She opened the window but the door burst open. She didn’t have any time. There was no way to see what was after her. She threw the roller blade in front of her as hard she could and waved her arms trying to dodge away from whatever was after her.

It grasped at her legs and she fell. She rolled aside and kicked, twisting free. She jumped to her feet and swerved away running and ducking unsure of how close the attacker was.

Her carpet squished under her steps. She struggled to see in the dark, but spotted Diane’s lifeless body on the floor. “No!” she screamed.

Someone banged on the front door.

Something grasped her from behind.

Jarred kicked through the front door and Brennan cried out as the knife cam down on her side. Her body went numb.

Jarrod struggled with something. “Come on.” He pulled her into his apartment and locked the door behind them. He had two massive bolt locks and numerous smaller ones.

She panted. Sweat dripped down her back as she fell to the floor in the temporary sanctuary. “He’s next door. He’ll come here. We have to get out!” She jumped up and started for the window.

“No, he won’t.” Jarred stared out the peep hole. “Put pressure on that wound.”

“Yes. He killed Diane.” She moaned. “Hancock… Snowflake…” Her throat itched. Her body ached. She burned with fear.

“Who?” Jarred remained glued to the door.

“My cats.”

“Cats?” He glared at her. “Someone tried to kill you and you’re worried about cats?”

“They’re my family. I love them.” She whimpered.

“Dammit.” He grunted. He grabbed some napkins from the kitchen, pressed them on her wound, and placed her hand on top to keep them steady. “Stay here.”

He grabbed a baseball bat from his bedroom and marched to the door.

“That lunatic has a gun and knives.” She retched.

“He’s gone.” Jarred winked. “And if not, he will be.” He left.

How does he know it’s a he? She stumbled to get up and staggered to the peep hole.

Jarred went into her place.

He disappeared into the darkness and she feared she would be trapped in his crazy apartment. She rubbed the door, brushed her fingernails over it. “Please come back. Please, please, please, come back.”

Tears ran down her cheeks. She couldn’t stop it. Her breathing grew faster. Heavier. Each minute Jarred was gone, the more terrified she was.

A shadow appeared in the hall.

“No, not again,” she cried.

She limped to Jarred’s bedroom. There was nothing there but a dirty mattress. She hid in his closet, finding his old uniform and pressing the stack of napkins over her knife wound.

The front door creaked. It shut hard in the other room. The bolts clicked.

She shook. Her nose ran but she refused to sniffle. Her pulse rampaged through her body. She clutched Jarred’s uniform hoping it would hid her. Footsteps padded the carpet and then, a meow.

“Snowflake?” She slid the closet door open a crack and her cat stepped in.

“It’s okay. They’re gone now. You can stay here tonight.” Jarred knocked softly.

Brennen cradled Snowflake in her arms. She cried into her warm fur. She knew no one else was left.

“You can take the mattress. The closet’s kinda cramped,” Jarred said.

“I like it here.” Brennan lay down and held her cat like a child clutching a doll after losing everything.

Jarrod brought her a flashlight and some peroxide. “How does that cut look?”

“Not as deep as it feels.” It took too much strength to talk.

“You should go to a hospital,” he said.

“I can’t move. I just need to rest.” She closed her eyes. Flashes of what happened kept her awake until morning. Diane’s body. Hancock jumping onto nothing. But the enclosed space protected her. The bleeding stopped and she climbed out at the first hint of daylight creeping through the space between the closet doors and the hinges.

She rolled the door open and found Jarred sitting against the wall waiting for her. “Rough nigh?.” He handed her some painkillers and a glass of water.

She huffed at the words, but her body ached. She swallowed the medication. “Diane… Hancock…” Another wave of guilt and pain shook her spine.

“You can cry until your eyeballs fall out, but it won’t change anything.” Jarred got up.

“That’s a shitty thing to say. My best friend died. My brother’s missing. Something killed my cat.” She gasped as the memories flitted through her brain.

“I’m sorry. He handed her some band-aids and gauze. “How’s the cut?”

She lifted her sweatshirt to reveal a seeping wound of puss and crusted blood.

“You need help?” he asked.

She nodded.

He went to the bathroom and returned with a roll of toilet paper. He wadded the thin-ply up. “Sorry. No cotton balls.” He coated the wad in peroxide and handed it to her.

“I can’t.” She trembled.

“Okay. Just lay down and I’ll do it.”

She eyed him before getting on the bed.

He dabbed lightly.

She grimmaced and flexed her muscles. Her hip throbbed under the bubbles.

“At least it’s not alcohol.” Jarred stopped and pressed some gauze down to soak up the puss. He tore open a giant band-aid with his teeth. “Sorry it’s not bigger.” He affixed it as best he could.

He went out of the room and came back with a cup of coffee for her and a book. “This was lying beside the other cat’s body.”

She snatched, Wild Ink, from his hands.

“Don’t spill the coffee.” He worked to keep from getting any on his skin.

She opened the book and something fell out. A small postcard in her brother’s handwriting read:

Brennie,

Everything’s different. I dug too deep. This place isn’t home. I found a way to slip through but you’re never there. Your apartment is blurry. My ears stop. It’s like being underwater now. I found your favorite book and keep leaving messages hoping to find a way back. Please look after Talesha and the baby. Someone is after me. I think it’s because I fell through.

-Darren

Brennan read the note.

She read it again and blinked.

She read it one more time, then screamed and tore it in half. She tore the halves in half and started ripping pages from her beloved book.

“Feel better?” Jarred asked.

She lunged at him, then flinched at the pain it caused.

“Easy on that cut.” He grabbed her shoulders and stared into her eyes. “We can’t fix it. We can’t change anything that’s happened. But we can stop it from getting worse.”

She glanced at the destroyed book and her lips trembled. “How?”

Jarred gestured to the living room. He helped her up and set her on the stool once more. He leaned before his computer and typed away. You ever heard of the super collider?

“Maybe.” She sipped her coffee. Snowflake curled up at their feet.

“These scientists, man. They think they’re God or something. They do things just to see what will happen and now they’ve screwed us all.” He punched the desk.

Brennan jumped. Hot coffee stained her sweatshirt but she didn’t say anything.

“They’ve opened doors they can’t close. Changed what was and what may be. The only way to end it is to stop them.” His muscles bulged with each word.

“Jarred. How long have you been researching this?” She got up. Snowflake bounded after her.

“Since they discharged me.”

“From what?” She backed toward the door.

“It doesn’t matter. We have work to do.” He grabbed her arm.

She pulled away and grit her teeth at the pain. “I don’t know you. Maybe we’re both crazy. There has to be a better explanation.”

“No.” He stared at her as if she were a child. “There is no way out of this one.”

Jarred past her. He went to the door, and saluted her.

She followed after him. “Please don’t be stupid. We’re not scientists. We’re not gods.”

“We are the few. The proud.” He glanced at her. “What are you?”

She stared at her cat. “Tired. Scared. Traumatized…” Her mom’s voice rang in her ears. “Dramatic.”

“We’re all going to die someday.” He winked. “I can get close enough to destroy the thing. Just might take a few weeks.”

She froze. “Jarred, your arm.” She reached forward.

His skin grew lighter and lighter until it was almost transparent, then it disappeared. “Guess this is it.” He shrugged. His shoulder and back vanished. His legs disappeared. Then his head was no more.

The room went cold. Brennan felt like ice. Snowflake jumped away from her, meowing. Brennan held up her hand and gazed through transparent flesh.

“So this is it?” She clutched her side. The cut faded into nothingness. “Hope see you on the other side, Darren.”

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