Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mirrored Souls

Violet stopped walking and focused in on the Clearing Man. Both beings noticed that she’d stopped because the crisp sound of two pairs of shuffling feet quieted to one. She stood there, waiting for a better reply to her question than the sarcastic (and almost villainous) remark he’d made. The monkey man turned to face Violet.

“You’re a damn fool if you think I’ve captured your brother, Violet. I know this is difficult for you, but you’ve got to extend a bit of trust my way if I’m going to help you.”

Violet had begun to think about an event she hadn’t revisited in a long time. It was bright, and the ground was cluttered with woodchips. She saw herself on a jungle gym with Sven. This was the last time she remembered being around him without any hostility. As she followed him upward, she got to a point when she was too afraid to climb. He had always been more adventurous than her anyway.

“Violet, take my hand!” Sven reached a sweaty, seven year old hand downward toward his sister, but when she reached for it, she lost her balance and fell. Upon her falling Sven jerked back, almost losing his own grip in astonishment of the drop his sister was taking. This led her to believe that her first broken bone was a result of her brother, since in her mind Sven had failed to grab her hand. Sven solidly defended himself for years and finally stopped trying when he realized that there was nothing he could do to repair the situation. She desperately longed to trust her brother and feel safe around him, but this event had scarred her. And now both siblings ponder the same memory along with ideas about who failed who when the patrol waves came.

“And if you could focus on the present, it would really help our situation,” the Clearing Man said. “This mind-reading I’ve picked up doesn’t have an on/off switch. It happened when I moved through a portal once, and it hasn’t stopped since. These portals are incredibly complex, as are the way they affect full and partial human bodies like yours and mine. This is why you can probably hear some of Sven’s thoughts, and vice versa.”

“I’ll do my best. I’ve just got a lot on my mind right now. What the hell are we supposed to do from here?” Violet replied.

“I’m not exactly sure, but we’re going to stay where Billy and I know what we’re doing; which for now is this forest.”


“Dr. Octopi, were our original findings correct in our theory that this vortex served as a tunnel between our universe and the next?” “Yes, Sven; the phenomenon which observed from the outside appears to be a space-time vortex, is experienced from the inside by travelers like yourself and your sister as a tidal wave. The indigenous people refer to it as ‘the patrol,’ due to the fact that periodically the tunnel collapses and the polarity is reversed, causing the waves to come crashing together again.” Sven took a moment to let the words sink in and replied, “Oh my God, Doctor. What Violet and I experienced as a wave was actually the outer membrane of the passage!”

“Exactly! I can see that you’re scientifically minded like myself, Sven,” Dr. Octopi said. “I have a discovery to confide in you. According to my calculations, using a consistent-beam charged quark particle burst it is theoretically possible to collapse the alternate universe that the vortexes serve as bridges between.”

“Stopping it from sucking away our reality, and effectively saving our planet!” Sven shot back.

“But if we go forward with such an endeavor, our actions would destroy the alternate universe and all of its inhabitants.”

“Violet,” Sven quietly whispered to himself. “So, if you are the corresponding doppelgänger of Dr. Vanderslice, do I also have a mirrored soul?”

“In the immortal words of Sir Isaac Newton, Sven; ‘For every action there is an equal, yet opposite reaction.’ Consider your question answered.”


Trekking through the forest, Violet continues posing questions to the Clearing Man.

“What strange species are you? Are you from my world or another?”

“I’m the offspring of what you might call an ‘intersection;’ A traveler from your world who came through the vortex and got fused with a most unfortunate monkey.”

“Do you consider yourself man or beast then?”

Offended, the Clearing Man shot back, “And what is the measure of a man?”

The simian-human mutant grabbed Violet and began to lead her deeper into the forest. Shocked by his force, Violet recoiled, “Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Evil Monkey Business

Oh jeez thought Violet- I can’t remember what I am supposed to say back to this guy. She focus her eyes on the man’s shiny badge and tried to think what the Billy guy had told her and Sven about this. “Oh yeah!”, she yelled “I remember—could I have a green one?” she asked with a confident smile. The very tiny man stared up at her with a crinkled brow, and began frowning. “tsk tsk tsk” he spat at her, “You think you can try to fool me with that?, Noone is getting past me with that phony response!, you must take me for a fool!” Violet tried to think as hard as possible what the right response was supposed to be, but after the extraordinary day she had how was she to remember something as small as that? Where the hell is Sven when I need him? She thought. How am I supposed to fend for myself in a place where I didn’t even plan on being- he’s the sciencey one who knows all about this stuff! The man slammed the door abruptly telling her to go away if she planned on fooling around like this.
Violet plopped down on a large mushroom-like stump, it was nice and fluffy the sand so soft between her toes made her become sleepy and weary-eyed. I want to go home, she thought as she started yawning. As she breathed in after each yawn she could almost taste that burnt sugar cookie smell, she spat on the sand and was immediately awaken when she saw the patrol ocean starting for her again. Almost miraculously she remembered what Billy had told her. “DO YOU HAVE ONE IN BLUE!!” she screamed as she busted through the door into the building. The little man came around from his desk, Violet gasped at his body. From his head to the end of his rib cage he was a short stumpy sort of man, then from his stomach on he had monkey feet and a hairy tail popping out through his trousers. “So you did meet Billy I take it?” he asked Violet with a grin.
“Uhh yes, my brother Sven and I did right when we landed in the vortex, he told us to find this building and ask if you had a nightcap in blue” she said not making eye contact with him,. She was too occupied looking at his strange body.
“OH for god sakes” the little monkeyman yelped. “Haven’t you ever seen a half man half pillowbeak??.”
“Not recently” Violet replied sarcastically.
“Never mind that, you are here with your brother you say?” the little man asked looking behind her and outside the door.
“Yes I am but we were separated during the patrol waves…I guess I didn’t try too hard to stay with him” she confessed quietly.
The little man could tell that there was some tension there and decided to leave it alone while he motioned Violet to follow him.
The two walked down a hallway which slowly seemed to be a chimney like tunnel, Violet noticed her feet were no longer trudging in front of her, but rather directly in place. She was marching and going down like a pencil dive in the pool! She saw the monkeyman directly below her marching in the same manner. When are things going to be normal again, she wondered—
“Not until we’ve figured this all out” the man shouted from under her.
He just heard inside my head! She panicked.
“Yep, it’s something I’ve been working on” he chuckled.
The long vertical tunnel came to a stop, they were standing on what felt like sand but it was too dark to see. Violet put her hands out in front of her to try and find some sort of stability, since she was feeling extremely light-headed from all the vertical travelling.
‘You’ll be fine, just take a deep breath” the little man said, “sorry I read your mind, I just don’t want you to worry if you don’t have to” he said. “Now, suck in some air and duck.”
Just as Violet obeyed his command they ducked through a stone arch and were in the forest light again. Chirping, and squaking came from high upon the tree bottoms. Then, "Those monkey-bastards may have killed my sister!" Violet heard Sven clearer than day behind her. But when she turned to see him there was nothing, just forest. Then she heard her own voice, “Own up to your mistakes, Sven, you drove me away.”
This was all too weird and Violet shouted at the monkeyman demanding to tell her what was going on. “Do you have my brother in captivity? Where is he! I demand to know at once!.”
The little man stopped and stared at Violet, “You would like to know, wouldn’t you?”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Chapter 6: The Gerrymandering Doppelgänger

Sven and Violet trudged through the forest, squinting into the blazing sun so as to not lose sight of their monkey-like guides. "I think we should name them!" exclaimed Violet, grinning widely in the thick rays of sunlight pouring through the canopy. The heavy smell of the wood that emanated the ancient jungle reminded her of the smell of dusty old tomes, and their hike reminded her of many a search for the perfect book, for the perfect moment... So often, she would simply close her eyes with a forefinger extended, perusing the long aisles in pursuit, braving the stepladders and sometimes blindly stumbling over young readers immersed in their own quests for knowledge. Nothing abated her desire in these moments of passion, not even its lack of... "Nomenclature? You want to get bogged down in the nomenclature of the local fauna? Can we focus here, Violet?" Sven turned around and faced his sister, brow dripping with perspiration and throat raspy with thirst. It was only by seeing the accumulation of dirt and sweat on Sven's face that Violet realized how long they had been in the jungle.

"Jeez, Sven, I'm just saying, these creatures might be our friends! I don't care about naming them 'for science', I just figured it would be easier to keep up with them if we agreed upon a designation for them."

"Violet, that's the last thing I'm concerned about. I'm sorry--you can have your little fictive dream back there with your head in the clouds, but our pal 'Billy' gave us pretty clear instructions, and I think we ought to just stick to the plan."

"Sven! Don't be a jerk! Just because I'm a not some big-shot scientist doesn't mean you can treat me like a child! We're in an ALTERNATE UNIVERSE! Maybe you should look around and smell the roses!"

"We're not in an 'alternate universe,' Violet... We're in a HIGHLY UNSTABLE ROGUE VORTEX! Maybe you forgot Planet Earth, but last time we were there it was slowly being absorbed into OBLIVION! Seeing as how we somehow survived the journey, we're in an optimal position to provide incalculably valuable data and I don't know, maybe SAVE THE WORLD? Excuse me if I'm a little overeager to get home, and not too keen on the idea of playing Alice in Wonderland with you!"

The monkey-thingamajigs heard Sven chattering at his sister, and they turned around to chatter in suit. Sven turned around to face them, and the word 'chatter' would not be sufficient to describe the cacophony that blasted through his eardrums. Sven, suddenly enraged and filled with searing pain, began wildly grasping at various sticks and stones and hurling them in the direction of the flamboyant creatures. Violet, enraged herself by her belittlement at the hands of Sven and standing a few yards behind him, was terrified and confused. She saw the monkey-creatures' mouths moving, but she heard only Sven's barrage of insults riding effectlessly on the wind. "Stop it, Sven! STOP IT! What are you doing? They're just playing!" But Sven only grew more bestial. Desperate, Violet lunged onto her brother's back, but he wailed and thrusted her off as he tossed an especially large nut straight into the head of the central chatterer. The monkey-critter flailed his arms as he lost his balance and pratfell into the brush below. From the ground, Violet cried, "Ohmigod, is he okay? You bastard Sven!"

"SHUT UP VIOLET! JUST SHUT UP!" The other two monkeys fell silent for a moment as Sven turned his exasperation onto his sister. Then they started chattering again. Only this time, Violet heard it. With the ominous change in soundscape came the cool breeze of a hurricane's eye, and soon a deep blue shadow tainted all the trees a deeper brown. Sven froze.

"The patrol's back," said Violet, and then the wave sucked them in--Violet and Sven swirled around each other like skydivers, but they regarded each other like gamecocks in the ring. You bastard Sven! The last words Violet spoke to her brother echoed in her head. He was a bastard, she thought. If he hadn't started assaulting the poor creatures without reason, surely they would have led them to safety. Her intuition told her that much, how could he be so smart and yet so dumb and blind to something so clear to her? If I find out he hurt that innocent creature, I'll never forgive him. Violet saw her brother grasping desperately for a hold on her--Jeez, what a parasite her brother was. Violet violently shook him off. Sven's strong eyebrows, the ones he had inherited from their father, turned up in an emotional appeal. Pity? Violet thought. You'll get no more pity from me, you barnacle. You bastard. She attempted to sneer and a stream of bubbles escaped from her mouth. Sven redoubled his efforts to snag her in the cyclone. Violet, hold on to me, damnit! I swear, if I lose you to your own stubbornness, I won't bear the guilt! Sven didn't believe this. It will be your fault! Sven didn't believe this, either. The circumference of the vortex widened, and Violet's pulls from her brother became more effective. VIOLET! VIOLET! STOP IT! STOP IT... YOU... YOU BITCH! NO! Violet was blurred out of Sven's vision. He tried to fight the powerful current, but he had exhausted himself earlier in his battle with the semi-bipedal simian-types.--then the wave spit him out. And then he fell a long time. A backbreaking thud, and then darkness.

"My dear fellow! My dear fellow! Wake up!" A familiar voice stirred Sven out of unconsciousness. His vision was still bleary, but slowly his memory returned. The vortex! Was it a dream? Thank goodness for that! But wait, my research! My potential! My accolades! All gone? Please, no! And wait, Violet! Is she okay? She's okay if I'm just dreaming, right? But if not--the horror! What have I done? Relax! Relax, Sven, you must have been dreaming, I mean, come on... A rogue vortex? A magical shaman kid? Otherworldly flora and monkeys with mind-penetrating battle cries? Violet's been sending you too many short stories. Besides, that voice--"Oh, Dr. Vanderslice, how brilliant it is to see you!" It's Dr. Vanderslice, the leader of my team at CERN! Been working too many long nights, I suppose, thought Sven. Falling asleep at the collider, I'm going to hear it this time. Sven's peripheral vision began to improve. "Uh... Dr. Vanderslice, are we in a giant subterranean cavern?" Sven's heart sank. Had Dr. Vanderslice been sucked into the vortex as well? The vortex? Violet!

"Yes my dear fellow, a cavern it is (and it is below ground and sea level, though the term 'terranean' is unfamiliar to me), but no my dear fellow, I am not your Dr. Vanderslice. Vanderslice? And I thought Robert Nickel was an absurd-sounding name! I am Dr. Eli Octopi, and it is a pleasure to finally meet you, Sven Mahoney. I suppose you've met someone who resembles me--at least superficially--with near perfect accuracy. A duplicate, or a doppelgänger, if you will. Of course, I doubt they had my illustrious hulihee moustache! Speaking of which--Chip chip!" With the last two words corresponded two small claps; it seemed an act of summoning. And indeed, out from behind a boulder hopped the monkey-fiends, who seized upon Dr. Octopi and began meticulously manicuring his facial hair. The shock wore off again. Violet.

Violet. "Those monkey-bastards may have killed my sister!" shouted Sven.

"Own up to your mistakes, Sven. You drove me away." said Violet. Sven turned, bewildered. Violet was nowhere to be seen. Her voice--where had it come from? It was as clear as his own, but it seemed to have come from inside his head. What happened inside that wave?

"Monkey-bastards isn't the preferred nomenclature, my dear fellow. Collectively, we call them Pillowbeaks, for reasons which I think are quite obvious! But they have names... OK! Yo? Shawty? Homes?"

"Excuse me?" It seemed that bewilderment was the only thing keeping Sven's anxiety in check.

"Their names, my dear fellow. Yo, Shawty, and Homes! I dreamt them. Anyways, we haven't much time. Tell me what's happened as we go, and I'll do my best to do the same."

"What? No! Dr. Vander--Octopi--My sister! Violet! She was spit out of the cyclone somewhere! Where is she? Nearby? It is critical that I find her at once!" Without quite realizing it, Sven had grabbed the old man by the wispy white candyfloss that clung to his wizened cheekbones.

With a calm breath, Dr. Octopi examined the young man. "Have you heard her voice since you left the water, Sven?"

"Yes... What?"

"Well then your sister should be fine. I suggest you think carefully about what she said to you. Now if you want to help her, come with me. After all, what choice do you have?"

Sven shook his head. But he began to follow the old man and his pillowbeaks... If not for himself, if not... 'for science'... Then for Violet. While walking and catching the doctor up on the trials he'd faced so far, Sven actually took the time to survey the landscape. The outline of a cityscape formulated itself on the apex of the curved horizon. A city in an underwater cave. Fascinating. Violet would love it. But as Sven neared the place, he stopped dead, shocked yet again. Looped around the majestic spires was a large hadron collider. "Oh, I see you've noticed our inter-dimensional vortex machine! (We're still tweaking the nomenclature, I'm afraid.) You see my dear fellow, we've been meaning to develop some proper physics in this dimension of ours. I've been attempting to stir out some new particles to give me a hint as to what to do next--Expanding the dimensional boundaries when the moment seemed most promising--gerrymandering, if you will... But so far I've discovered nothing but detritus and body parts. Quite odd, if I do say so myself! Oh well, when times are tough, we must press on... For science!"

--then the wave spit Violet out. She landed in the softest sand she'd ever felt in her life, and for a moment she felt as if she'd never let the moment end. Then she remembered Sven. Before she could even decide what to think about her brother's disappearance, another wave surged and delivered her to a clearing in the jungle pockmarked by small, barnacle-shaped geysers. The geysers burped smoky steam of every color in the rainbow, and with their gas came the all-too-familiar smell of burnt sugar cookies. Violet nearly cried out as it filled her nostrils once again. The smoke began clearing. The Clearing. Violet remembered Billy's words, and was shocked to suddenly see a building standing in front of her. Tentatively, she stepped inside. Smiling, the old man at the counter turned up from a small paperback and chuckled. "Well aren't you a sight for sore eyes! How about a nightcap?"


...our novel for some real life news concerning the Hadron Collider!

 As you were,

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chapter 5: Dreams, Nightmares, and Sven

“Violet, look alive,” said Sylvia, tossing the cigarette butt onto the ground. “Our table’s ready.”
Violet struggled to steady herself. She looked up and saw a neon sign indicating that she’d arrived at Red Lobster. But for some reason, she couldn’t help but think of Sven. Was there something she needed to recall? She decided it was nothing.
“Have I mentioned,” said Sylvia, opening the door for Violet, “that Red Lobster is my favorite restaurant?”
“Countless times,” Violet responded, walking toward the hostess with the eager grin on her face.
“I’m a fan of the wood-grilled shrimp,” said Sylvia. “I’m a seafood nut.” The word “seafood” made Violet feel unsteady for a brief moment.
“Your table’s ready,” said the hostess with enthusiasm. “Follow me, and I’ll seat you.” Violet noticed her nametag and saw that her name was Phyllis.
“Certainly, Phyllis,” said Violet. She immediately couldn’t believe she’d said it.
Phyllis seated the pair in the back portion of the restaurant. At the table to their left was a disappointed child at her eighth birthday party, and at the table to their right was a teenage girl crying with her father.
“I thought we might find you a man here,” said Sylvia, studying the beverage menu.
“I’m not sure I need a man right now.”
“Why not?” cried Sylvia. “Loosen up a bit, Violet. You’re at Red Lobster, for crying out loud.”
Violet nodded. “So how long does it normally take for a waiter to come take our drink order?”
“I’m usually impressed by how speedy the waiters are,” Sylvia answered. “They’ve never let me down in the past.”
Violet craned her neck and looked over at the girl at the birthday party. She’d asked for books for her birthday, but her mother had given her only clothes – a striped sweater, a pair of tube socks, and a tutu to make ballet class possible. Her mother had decided that books weren’t feminine enough for her daughter.
“Violet, what would you like to drink?” asked Sylvia. Violet turned and saw the waiter, whose name was Dartagnion according to his nametag.
“I’ll have a margarita,” said Violet after quickly perusing the beverage menu.
“That’s right,” Sylvia said. “You need a margarita. You need to calm down. You’re always so worked up about something.”
“Sorry, Sylvia.”
Sylvia laughed. “Don’t apologize to me! Apologize to yourself. You’re holding yourself back.”
“Am not.”
“Are too,” said Sylvia, watching the waiter as he walked away.
Violet frowned. “Sylvia, he’s a little young for you.”
“He has to be eighteen,” Sylvia said. “And that’s enough for me.”
“Not for me. I…have standards.”
“Is that right?” asked Sylvia. “You’re single because you have high standards?”
“More or less,” said Violet, peering over at the teenage girl to her right. Her father had been yelling at her about her refusal to take life seriously. Or something like that, anyway. She’d told him that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the career path she wanted to take. She’d told him that she was passionate about her potential career. She’d told him that passion was what really mattered. He’d said no, and she just hadn’t been able to hold it in any longer.
“He’s too old for you,” said Sylvia, smiling.
“Shut up.”
Sylvia turned her head. “I’m just trying to get you to laugh, Violet. You need something to make you laugh.”
“Crap,” said Dartagnion, who was approaching their table. He’d spilled one of the margaritas, and it seemed to make a gurgling noise as it dripped onto the floor. “Can someone clean this up?”
“On second thought,” said Sylvia, “he doesn’t seem mature enough for me.”
“I see. You’re clearly much more refined than he is.”
“Is that sarcasm, Violet?” asked Sylvia. “See what I mean? You’re too uptight.”
“And how, pray tell, do you suggest I remedy that?” asked Violet.
“Find some romance,” responded Sylvia. “Just like I’ve been telling you for the past half-hour.”
“And that’ll make me loose?”
Sylvia shook her head. “No. It will make you happy. It’s good to be happy.”
Violet looked to her left and her right. “I’m not saying I don’t want to be happy, Sylvia, it’s just…”
“What? Still mourning?”
“No,” said Violet firmly. “I just…I like having my independence.”
“You don’t have to be tied down to one man!” said Sylvia. “That’s the beauty of it.”
Violet coughed. “I hardly think I qualify as one of those kinds of women.”
“Violet, I’ve had it with you,” Sylvia said. “You’re stressing me out. I’m going to need a smoke break.”
“When will you ever quit smoking?” asked Violet, looking up at Sylvia as she stood.
“When you stop being a damn stick-in-the-mud,” Sylvia replied. She pushed in her chair, walked past the fish tank, and exited the restaurant.
Violet sat and read over her menu. She was trying to choose between the Admiral’s Feast, which included shrimp, scallops, and clam strips, and the Seaside Shrimp Trio, which included shrimp of three varieties. Sylvia was right about one thing, and that was that the wood-grilled shrimp looked to be simply marvelous. Then again, the scallops and clam strips looked rather appetizing as well…but then the question was whether Violet wanted to eat a lot of shrimp – of three varieties, of course – or shrimp in addition to clams and scallops.
Violet looked up. Sven was standing behind the chair on the other side of the table.
“What do you want?” she asked, rapping her fingers on the menu to make herself look busy and important.
Sven repeated her name. “Violet.”
“Yes, that’s very cute,” said Violet. “But shouldn’t you be firing protons or something like that?”
“Violet, can you hear me?”
“Of course I can hear you,” Violet responded. “The better question is can you hear me? Or are you even listening? I don’t know why you’ve always felt you have the right to act this way. You’re no better than anyone else. Yes, we get it. You like science. Who…”
“Violet, please wake up,” said Sven.
Violet laughed. “Sven, why don’t you just leave? I’m obviously awake. I’m waiting on Sylvia to come back inside. She’s on a smoke break. I stressed her out.”
“Violet!” Sven reached across the table and slapped her.
Violet saw nothing but black, no matter where she looked.
“It’s alright,” she could hear Sven saying. “We’re not under the water anymore. Assuming, of course, that was water…”
Violet slowly opened her eyes and saw Sven’s face directly above hers.
“This…this isn’t Red Lobster…”
“No, it isn’t,” said Sven, “but I’ve been listening to you babble about it for the past fifteen minutes.”
“You didn’t wake me up?”
“I’ve been trying, obviously,” said Sven.
Violet looked around. They were in the forest, but the tidal wave had cleared, and they didn’t appear to be in any danger at the moment.
“The wave receded,” Sven explained. “As far as I can tell, it’s cyclical. I refuse to believe it sensed our presence and acted to capture us.”
“Isn’t that inside-the-box thinking?” asked Violet, pulling herself up.
“How dare you.” Sven turned away from Violet to look toward the coast. “I’m a scientist. I never think inside the box.”
“But refusing to believe something outright? Quite unlike you.”
Sven raised an eyebrow. “Have you ever encountered conscious waves before?”
“No,” said Violet, “but I’ve never seen someone impaled by a park bench who lived to tell the tale.”
“Hmm,” said Sven. “I suppose your reasoning is sound.”
Above them the foreign creatures that resembled a “barrel of monkeys” were dancing through the treetops (or tree-bottoms), apparently aware of the direction they were headed.
Sven looked up at them when they chirped. “They seem to know what they’re doing. Perhaps we should follow them?”
“Your reasoning is sound,” said Violet. “Assuming, of course, that you want to get out of the forest.”
“Well, the stranger on the coast told us there was a clearing inside the treeline,” said Sven, stroking his chin. “And that’s apparently where we are supposed to be heading. You know, since we’d like to escape the vortex that we’ve been absorbed into.”
“Is ‘absorbed’ really the right word for that?”
“The process of entering the vortexes hasn’t had much scientific documentation, for obvious reasons,” replied Sven. “So, as a scientist, I’m declaring ‘absorbed’ the proper word in this context.”
Violet finally was standing, fully awake. “And you have the authority to do that?”
“Well, I’m knowledgeable in the matter. It felt like we were absorbed. Wouldn’t you say so?”
Violet looked up at the foreign creatures, which had paused nearly directly above the siblings. “I suppose. So what’s your scientific explanation for those?”
Sven glanced upward. “You know, I still am not certain. Bearing in mind that this is for all intents and purposes an alternate reality…”
“For all intents and purposes?”
Sven eyed his sister. “Well, can a scientist ever be certain? Anyway, I’d like to say I have a definite answer, but I just don’t at this point. All I’ve got is speculation.”
“Let’s just follow them,” said Violet. The round creatures started moving through the treetops.
Sven nodded. “You’re right, of course. All the best scientists are willing to take chances. And clearly I’m meant to be a great scientist.”
“Clearly,” Violet murmured. She wondered if Sylvia had gotten back from her smoke break yet. And had Dartagnion ever brought another margarita? At this point, she thought she needed as many margaritas she could have.

Chatper 4: Walks Along the Sand

"Sven I'm stopping to empty my shoes, half the beach is in them." Sven didn't slow down as he replied, "Seriously Violet, half the beach?" Violet was beginning to regret wearing her slip on grasshoppers to work, but she really could imagine piles of sound pouring out of them like a cartoon. “Yes, Sven, and if I don’t empty them you can enjoy scientific research on blisters worthy of the Guinness book!” Sven began to retort, but something in the sand caught his attention and he went forward to investigate. Violet balanced on one foot as she emptied her shoe. Sand poured out in a steady stream. It wasn't quite the piles she had expected, but it was still a lot. When both shoes were emptied she glanced back at Sven. He was still darting around like an excited puppy. She could her clips of his mumbled exclamations "This is amazing!...growing in the sand!....unbelievable!...." Listening to him she couldn't help smiling, his childish enthusiasm did have its charm.

Their parents had taken them to the beach like this (minus the giant wave of course) when they were kids. Sven had told her the pH level of the water and she had told him about literary figures bewitched by the sea. He ran about with that same excited glow in his eyes, except back then they both ran about with that glow. Once they had found a giant jelly fish washed ashore. Sven said it was still alive and he wanted to take it home as a pet, but Violet had put it back in water. It stung her arms when she lifted it. Her parent's had scolded her: "Its just a dumb jelly fish it doesn't care about life. And besides now it will sting someone else instead of dying in the sand like it should." Sven had been hurt that she let it go. "I would have taken good care of it Vi, it would have been safer than in the ocean," Sven had actually cried after he said that. Violet looked across the sand at her grown brother and wondered if he would find some creature here that he would want to bring home to study.

The scent of burning sugar returned. Violet looked back just in time to see the dim green swirls of a vortex opening in the direction of the city. "The patrol" she gasped and ran towards Sven. Running on sand was hard, much harder than she remembered. When Violet reached Sven each breath seemed to rattle her insides. She grabbed his shoulder and pointed down the beach toward the opening vortex. "Yes Violet, that is the way we came and no I don't think the beach looks fuller since you emptied your shoes," he said barely glancing up from something in the sand. Violet glared at him and between heaving breaths manged to say "vortex" and "patrol." Sven jumped up and looked down the beach. The swirling green portal was fading and Sven smiled. "Ooh, so you think er should use that to run away from the patrol," he laughed at the idea. For the first time since she began running Violet looked back. It was true, the portal had not opened for an angry patrol, but for a rusty pickup truck instead. Violet blushed then hurriedly said "lets just keep moving." "Fine by me, you're the one who wanted to stop," Sven said as he pocketed the object he had been ogling. "Well, you didn't seem too upset about the chance to document new species 'for science!' "Violet snapped back. Punching Sven really seemed like a good idea at the moment, so she began walking again.

She walked fast and didn't look back. Not that she needed to because she could here Sven get up and begin following her. Violet glanced around her thinking, "this new wonderland might be a pretty nice place if Sven and I could just get along." But as that seemed about as likely as getting back to the library to help Sylvia shift books, walking in silence was nice too. She could hear the water gently lapping at the sand, though she couldn't see it moving. All manner of noises came from the forests. It was like walking in the Sahara next to a rain forest. (Not that Violet had been to either place, but it was certainly the way she imagined them from her books and movies.)

Screeching, chirping, cooing, chattering all distracted her so that she didn't notice the great wave seemed to be closer. Then there was a noise she knew very well but just couldn't place. It came again, a deep rumbling roll, and Violet realized it was her stomach growling. "It must be getting late" she thought and looked down at her watch. It was time to feed Junior Mint and put in her foreign film for the day, she had just gotten an Aishwarya Rai film. It looked amazing, something about thieves , not that it matter now though, she'd never get to see it. "I hope Sylvia thinks to feed Jr. for me, I've never left her before," Violet said aloud, forgetting that Sven was with her."Come on Violet, its a cat. It can find something to eat in and apartment building," Sven rolled his eyes. "Yeah but --" Violet began to express her doubts but decided she liked silence better. Walking in silence, Violet had time to realize that she too was hungry. "I wonder what sort of food they eat here. Do the trees produce fruit?" With a quick glance to her left Violet did see that the trees had bright shapes hanging from them. On a tree near the border she saw what looked like kiwano melon and dragon fruit dangling in clusters from the root-like branches. It looked so perfectly lush. Violet remembered a poem she had read once read, about a story she'd never read, "Perfect and Poisonous," the world had looked great there too. She bit her lower lip, perhaps the man in the clearing would have food for them.

Sven suddenly stopped and grabbed Violet's shoulder. "What is it now?" she began, but he motioned for her to be silent. She hadn't been paying attention to her surrounds and now it seemed different. Everything had gone silent, all the creatures in the woods had shut up and even Violet's stomach was respecting Sven's command.Then she heard it too: voices. They both turned expecting to see people further back on the sand. Then Violet saw what she had feared since entering this wonderland, the tidal wave was coming in. A few waves were already washing up high onto the sand. When the water receded each time it brought back parts of humans hands, arms, legs Violet had to look away. But she couldn't advert her eyes for long. When she looked back she noticed that the waves were not effecting the objects, her mailbox and Sylvia's bench looked as if the water had never come near them. The tidal wave was closer and she and Sven just stared. Then she saw one of the smaller waves come back with a living person. The person was struggling to escape like a fish trying to flip back into the water. Violet started forward but stopped suddenly, "Sven, is- I mean could this be the patrol?"

Sven just started at the waves coming in. "Sven, we are going into that forest right now," Violet grabbed his hand and began running. The waves seemed to be following at their heels, but Violet knew better than to look back. The wet sand stuck to their legs and the water weighed down their shoes as if the beach desired to keep them out of the forest. Violet's legs began to ache, but she just knew that wave was the patrol. The scent of burning sugar cookies was overwhelming now as Violet and Sven reached the forest. "Sven, if I ever get home I'm never eating another sugar cookie" Violet panted. They took a few steps into the forest and sat down for a moment. Violet looked back at the beach and saw the tidal wave come rushing in closer and closer. "Billy said to go to the forest, we'll be safe here right?" Violet had her eyes on the approaching wave as she spoke. "I thought you were the one listening" Sven retorted. Then they were buried under the wave.

Violet listened to the gurgling water in her ears and remembered Billy's words"lose them in the forest." She opened her eyes to the blurry world, there was Sven next to her a tree beside them. She could cling to it, yes that was the answer. Sven had opened his eyes too and had a funny look on his face "The fool is probably trying to breath in the water for the sake of science" Violet thought. She motioned him toward the tree and they began to climb up the trunk. Violet's chest felt tight and her ears popped, she needed to breath again. Just a little further and they'd be above the water and in the oxygen filled canopy above. Was this the way the jellyfish had felt in the sand? The waters began to move. Violet felt like she was caught in a giant rip tide, one that would take her into the hands of an unknown people. What would she do if it carried her away? She closed her eyes and clung tighter to the tree.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chapter 3: Sylvia's Bench

Sven stared at the sky, taking in the greenish clouds swirling around the orange canopy like oil in water. Huh. He felt like he had just been through a toaster oven, and felt like he had the burns to prove it. The air was damp and heavy, and it tasted salty. And there was something else. What was that, leather? He looked to his right and noticed an ominously burning sofa. Ah.

He lay on his back in what felt like sand. Violet was leaning on a mailbox to his left. His eyes widened as he remembered what had happened. "I can't believe it," he said. "We actually passed through the portal!" He coughed. Then he coughed again. There seemed to be something stuck in his lung. He raised his head to look down at his chest and frowned.

Violet turned for a second look at her brother. She froze.

"Well that's problematic," said Sven. The leg of Sylvia's bench was protruding from his chest, the rest of the bench standing over him like a child's fort.

"Really? I don't know," said Violet. "There's just a bench in your chest." Sven was busy examining the leg in his lung. His hands ran over the metal and the skin around it.

"Amazing! There's no blood or anything--well, except what was already there," he said, as though Violet wasn't there, "I must have, uh, portal-ed? I don't know--"

"Very precise, Mr. Scientist. Maybe 'landed?'" Violet said.

"It's never happened before," said Sven, glaring at her. "I must have landed inside it. The bench was already here, so the portal must have broken down our matter to bring us here and since I was technically not solid, I--"

Violet took Sven's fascination at his predicament as a chance to take in her surroundings. They were on a beach of some kind, judging by the sand beneath her feet. Scattered around the sand were a few other items: a lamp post, a hubcap, a shrub, a smoking BMW, and the occasional body part on a small red patch of sand. "Others must have come through," thought Violet.

She looked inland. There was a forest that grew up from the edge of the sand and continued past where she could see. The trees were strange, as if they had been uprooted and placed back in the ground upside-down, but continued to grow just the same. The "branches" were at the bottom, but above ground like the roots of a mangrove tree. And the "roots" were at the top. There was no undergrowth. Instead, vibrant mosses and bushes hung between the root-like treetops, creating a canopy of multicolored greenery. Movement caught her eye, and she saw a small spherical creature swinging by two monkey-ish tails from the dangling growth. Several smaller ones followed it, strung together like monkeys-in-a-barrel, making squeaking noises and bumping each other playfully.

"How precious," she said. "Sven, did you see the trees? They're neat." But he was still babbling to himself.

"--so if I would have landed standing up, my legs would be through the seat. This is fantastic! When I find Robert, we can--"

Violet decided to leave her brother to his science, so she walked toward the ocean. The water offshore was flat and deeply blue, like a crayon, and extended for--

Violet paused. A wall of water stretched for miles above the surface, and infinitely in either direction, just a few hundred yards out from the beach. At first, she thought she would run. Being hit by a tidal wave would be an excellent way to be welcomed into their new Wonderland. After a bit of staring and wondering about Sven (he couldn't run far with a bench in his chest, and it would do nothing for his buoyancy either), she began to wonder why they hadn't yet been crushed by the wall of water. But the wall of water--apparently that's what it was--didn't move at all.

"Huh," she said to herself. She went back to Sven and plopped down on the bench. He jerked and
began coughing.

"--so the matter must have been-GAH! Gently, Klutzor," he said between hacks. She hated that
name and he knew it, so he made sure to use it with regularity.

"When the guys back at CERN hear about this..." Sven hesitated and glanced at Violet. "What?"
she said. He never talked about his work. It was always "top secret" this and "top secret" that,
and "it's classified." Sometimes she thought that he just liked annoying her with his self-important

"It's nothing," he said. Violet sighed.

"Do you remember when mom and dad used to take us to the beach?" she asked, looking out
over the water. Sven's eyes darkened. Their parents had divorced five years ago, and Sven didn't
try to hide his anger at the whole ideal.

"Just drop it."

Violet sat in silence as her brother lay stewing in the sand with a bench leg in his lung.

"I can help him if you'd like."

Violet jerked in surprise. A boy was standing behind them. He was wearing a pair of ragged cargo
shorts and no shirt. He was a bit dirty, and his hair was long and unkempt. She hadn't heard him

"Careful kid, you just about made her lay a chocolate egg, if you know what I mean." Sven looked at Violet with a mischievous smile, then turned his gaze back to the newcomer with wide eyes. "Did you come through the portal as well?"

The stranger smiled. He looked young to Violet, probably around sixteen.

"Yes and no," he said. Violet noticed age in his voice. The boy turned and looked at Sven.

"Let's get that bench out of your chest," he said. Sven looked hesitant.

"Look kid, unless you're a surgeon..."

"Don't worry, I know what I'm doing," said the stranger. He knelt by Sven. Violet frowned as he placed a hand on Sven's chest and one on the bench. He frowned for a moment, then stood up.

"I don't know if groping me did anything, but look, if you know any scientists that came through from our world, could you find them? My partner came through about half an hour ago. His name is Robert Nickel. He would have been bleeding from the stump where his hand used to be."

"I met him," the boy said, but didn't elaborate. He closed his eyes, and a ripping sound startled Violet. Sven cursed. That same burning sugar cookie smell was back.

"You can move now," said the stranger. Sven looked down at his chest to find the bench removed completely and his chest back to normal. He looked up.

"How did you--"

"Not right now. Now, before I go, listen very carefully. The people that took your friend Nickel are heading back to the City. You cannot be here when the second patrol arrives. It wouldn't necessarily be unpleasant being in their custody, but you need free range to do what you need to. Do not get caught under any circumstances. Head along the shoreline that way." He pointed down the beach to the left. "If they catch up to you, lose them in the forest. Eventually you will find a clearing just inside the treeline."

Sven's head hurt. "I hope you're remembering all this, Vi." She nodded.

"In this clearing, there will be a building. Inside this building is a man that can help you. He will ask you this: 'How about a nightcap?' And you will respond 'Do you have one in blue?' He will tell you everything you need to know."

"But why are the people from this 'City' chasing us?" Violet asked. "Why did they take Sven's partner?"

"I really have no idea," said the boy. "Anything else?"

"Yeah," said Sven, rubbing his chest. "Who am I thanking for the whole bench thing?"

"My name isn't really important right now." The boy shrugged. "But I guess you can call me Billy."

"So what about--" began Violet.

But Billy wasn't listening. He turned and sprinted toward one of the particularly large trees. He leaped onto a low branch (or root, Violet wasn't sure), and sprinted toward the trunk. He jumped at it, pushed off higher, and swung into a double back-flip from a hanging root (or branch, it was all a little confusing). Before he could land on the ground, a hole ripped in the air beneath him, swallowing him up. And then Billy was gone. Violet just stared.

"Was all that necessary?" said Sven.

"Like you don't show off at all," Violet said.

"Do you think we should do what he said?"

"I don't see why not."

Sven clapped his hands. "Well, it'll be a lot easier going without seventy pounds of bench in my chest. I wish Robert could have seen that. The studies we could have done would have made--"

But Violet was already walking. He stopped talking and ran to catch up with her.

"Hey, Vi, wait!" He drew up next to her and slowed to her pace. "Do you think it's dangerous here? I mean, there could be all kinds of stuff from our world here, like lions and sharks and things. AND--" His face brightened. "What if there are indigenous species? There could be millions of discoveries to be made!"

She thought of the swinging creature in the forest. Her reading on the food chain came back to her. There was always a predator.

"That may be, Sven. That may be," she said, and wrapped her arms around herself. She suddenly felt unprotected.

They walked on in silence for a while.

Chapter 2: The Rogue Vortex

For a moment, Violet just stared at the door. She wasn’t sure if she should believe what she had just seen.

“Hello?” Sylvia said annoyed that she was being ignored. “Violet?” Sylvia asked now concerned.

“Wait here,” Violet said as she slipped between the book carts. Sylvia noticed that Violet’s pace was a little more hurried than normal but decided that it was just the stress of the renovation.

“It wasn’t blood,” Violet told herself. “It could be anything.” Even in her head she sounded stupid. “Ok, well say it is blood. There could still be a million simple reasons for a person to be drenched with blood,” Violet tried to apply logic to the situation, but she couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t make the hair on her arms stand up on end.

Violet felt her heart rate increasing as she scanned the parking lot. She saw her car and Sylvia’s. In the farthest of the library’s handicap parking spots was her brother. He was cradling something in one arm and bending over a machine that looked like the offspring of a typewriter and a telephone switchboard.

“Sven?” Violet said running over to her brother. “What’s going on?”

Sven ran his fingers roughly through his hair. “I can’t believe it,” he muttered.

Violet tensed. “And why are you covered in blood?”

Sven clutched the thing close to his chest, and Violet’s stomach turned queasy as she noticed that the bloodstains on his arm were spreading up the white sleeve. The machine began to beep at a mournful pace.

“Sven! Tell me what’s going on!”

Sven carefully laid a severed hand in the grass next to him. Violet gasped and looked to be sure Sven still had both his hands attached to his wrists. They were there. She looked around the parking lot again. She was sure that at any moment someone would jump out screaming and bleeding from the wrist, but no one else was around.

“It’s impossible that a vortex could go rogue like this,” Sven said looking up at last to acknowledge his sister.

“What are you talking about?” Violet refocused her attention on her brother, but she knew that if she stared at all this blood for too much longer she was probably going to be sick.

“Damn it, Violet! Is your TV broken? Did you forget how to read?” Sven raked his hand through his hair again and stood up. “Lately the portals have been opening for about half an hour then disappearing, and they haven’t popped up in the same place twice.”

The machine’s rhythmic beeps were starting to speed up.

“At about 3:07 this morning a portal opened around here for thirty-four seconds. Five minutes later it reopened here for eighteen more seconds.”

“Sven, it’s one thing for a scientist to chase hurricanes or even tornadoes, but you’re chasing portals? And stealing people’s hands? Do Mom and Dad know?”

“Are you kidding me?” Sven felt the old sibling rivalry rising up in him again. “Focus,” he told himself, “don’t get angry.”

“Another scientist came with me this morning,” Sven said quieting his temper and returning to his story.

“Who?” Violet asked.

“Don’t interrupt,” Sven snapped. His temper flared again. “We were trying to see if there was anything different about this area that would cause the vortex to behave abnormally. A high number of radio waves or a lack of something in the atmosphere,” Sven rubbed his eyes and looked down at his feet. Violet fidgeted with her glasses while she waited for him to continue.

The beeping tempo continued to increase. The air picked up a slight chill. Both went unnoticed by the squabbling siblings.

“The machine was just warming up,” Sven gestured at the typewriter-switchboard thing. “The portal didn’t even fully open. I’m not really sure what happened. The other scientist got pulled into the vortex, but it closed too soon. His hand was left here.”

Violet looked down again at the pale hand now resting in a shallow puddle of blood. She gagged and shifted her view to Sven’s right shoulder, the parts of his coat that was still a clean white.

Sven still couldn’t believe the story he just told could be true. Less than an hour ago he had been sent out with a man named Robert Nickel. He and Robert were making notes on the area. After a blur of confusion Sven had found himself holding Roberts bleeding hand. Sven had retreated back to the machine in shock.

“What’s causing this?” Violet was frustrated at how little she still understood.

Sven sighed, shook his head, and turned away from his sister. He wasn’t about to give her any top-secret information. He didn’t think she would be able to understand it all anyway.

The machine‘s beeps gave way to a high-pitched siren. Sven dove towards his machine. He began twisting knobs and flicking switches. Violet felt the fear twisting inside her.

“I assume that’s not a good noise, is it?” Violet asked wincing.

“Why didn’t you tell me it was going crazy like this?”

“What? It’s your machine!”

The siren continued to wail. A narrow strip of paper covered with number began to stream out the side of the machine like a cash register rejecting all the receipt paper.

“No! No! No!” Sven yelled at the flashing yellow light at the top of the machine. “A screw must have come loose or the software got corrupted,” Sven thought. “I must have miscalculated. The probability of this actually happening is at best 1 in 71,457,084,753.2.”

“What’s going on?” Violet asked.

“This can’t be right! There must be a mistake!” Sven said looking back up at his sister.

Sylvia kept looking for Violet to come back in the door. She knew there had to be a good reason that Violet would disappear right when the thickest books in young adult section had to be moved. She pushed the loaded cart over to the formerly empty section and began to unload the cart. She glanced over her shoulder at the door. Sylvia wondered if something could have happened to Violet. She had been acting strange when she left.

“Unlikely,” Sylvia thought. “Unlikely, but possible. I’ll just check to make sure.” Dragging the bare cart behind her, she went to the large windows by the front doors.

Sylvia looked out.

“Oh my God,” she whispered not wanting to believe it could be true. A thin, hazy line was ripping in the air beside Violet. A portal.

“Violet!” Sylvia screamed as she shoved open the library doors then heard the sound of tearing fabric.

Violet turned in time to see the last panicked expression on her friends face before her head slammed down against the concrete. Sven grabbed Violet’s hands as she was yanked into the portal feet first.

Sylvia ran forwards to the point where the blurred line had dissolved the images of her friends. The sky was clear and the parking lot still empty but for the two cars. No one else had witnessed the disappearance. The machine quit shrieking as soon as the vortex closed. The paper stopped spilling out of it, and the lights turned off. It began to hum as a fan spun deep inside it.

Sylvia stretched her hands out hoping there might be something in the air she could grab to unzip the portal and retrieve the pair of now missing people. Her hands closed around only air. Defeated, Sylvia dropped her head. The severed hand laid open by her right foot. Sylvia screamed then passed out cold.

Inside the portal there was no feeling of movement, just a constant pressure closing in on all sides. Chunks of grass and soil hung around them. A shrill grating noise like fingernails on a chalkboard filled their ears. Violet screamed out in pain but was over taken by panic when her lungs couldn’t draw in a new breath. The small amount of gas that did enter her lungs felt cold. It was laced with an overly sweet scent, like burning sugar cookies.

Sven forced his eyes open. If he lived through this experience he knew he’d have to document it. His eyes couldn’t focus. Swirls of neon yellow and electric green passed in front of him. It was so bright that his eyes began to burn.

“I must know. I must see. For science!” Sven thought ignoring the aching in his lungs. He wasn’t even trying to breathe. Violet’s nails cut into his hands as he held on to her.

The temperature of the space around them spiked to a deathly high. Sven lost his hold on Violet. After an unbearable moment, the pair fell up.

Violet landed with a hollow thud on a hard, curved surface and gasped for breath. Her ears rang and her skin felt burned. She felt like her skull should have cracked open. She could hear her brother coughing a few yards away. Violet opened her eyes to see what she was draped across. “Well, here’s the mailbox,” she thought, “don’t see the bench anywhere though.” Violet rubbed the side of her head as she slid down onto her unsteady feet. The air was humid and smelled strangely of salt and leather.

Sven continued to cough but didn’t stand up. Violet leaned against the mailbox until she trusted her legs enough to support herself. She wished they had found Sylvia’s bench instead of her mailbox.

“I guess this means I won’t be able to go out with Sylvia tomorrow night,” Violet muttered to herself. “I hope she can handle the library on her own for a while.”

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chapter 1: Violet

“…In other news, yet another portal has been discovered in Rio De Janeiro. Officials say the opening explains the disappearance of…” Violet Mahoney pressed the button on her clock radio to turn it off. She grabbed her glasses from the night table and fumbled with them. When she was finally successful at placing them on her face, she slowly made her way into the bathroom. She splashed her face with water, and slipped on her fuzzy blue robe. Then she shuffled into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Once she had her coffee in hand and felt more human, she opened the door of her apartment into the hallway, picked up the newspaper, and sat it on her table. She glanced at the front page. “Portal Discovered…” she only needed to see those words and the black and white picture of a swirling vortex, and she was compelled to shove it off the table.

“I’m so sick of these damn portals.” Violet’s cat, Junior Mint, rubbed herself against Violet’s leg as if she was truly listening to the woman’s pointless statement; in reality she just wanted food. “Fine, fine.” Violet fed the cat and continued to get ready

Later, in her car on the way to work, Violet struggled to find a radio station that wasn’t discussing the recent portals that had inexplicably materialized and sucked in any and all things unfortunate enough to be near it. Scientists across the world had been struggling to provide an explanation to the panicky public, but none of the explanations had been proven. People in Violet’s town didn’t seem too unhinged by the idea of these mysterious portals, but that was probably because none had popped up in the states, yet.

Violet didn’t particularly care about the portals at all; she had been working on a big project at the library. They were renovating, and Violet was in charge of shifting each massive section of books to another place while still maintaining and updating records in the computer, and they were supposed to get a new shipment of books in any day. The renovation was only supposed to take three weeks, but the contractor came in yesterday and informed them of “unforeseen circumstances” that were not only going to consume another month, but were also going to cost three times the original estimate. Violet had been struggling not to buckle under the pressure, but she wasn’t sure how long that would last.

She pulled the car into her regular parking space at the library and noticed that something looked different, but she couldn’t quite figure it out. Something was missing. Violet scanned the familiar scene and realized that there used to be a large post office mailbox on the corner. It wasn’t there.

“Maybe the post office picked it up. I don’t think it was used very often,” Violet thought to herself as she pushed her door open and climbed out of the car.

She unlocked the heavy glass doors to the library and flipped on the lights as she walked to her desk and began to unload her things. She booted up the computers, and turned when she heard Sylvia, the assistant librarian, open the doors. She watched her walk in the door and unpack her bag onto the desk adjacent to hers.

“Hey, we need to go ahead and get started on shifting the young adult fiction section. I think they’re going to start working over there today.”

Sylvia tilted her head to the side and stared at Violet. “Good morning to you, too.” Sylvia’s smile was pretty, but the wrinkles indicated that she’d been smoking for more than a few years.

Violet laughed a little, “Sorry, I just want to get this renovating all over with, how was your weekend?”

“It was fine, but you know how my brother was vacationing in Rio De Janeiro?” Violet nodded even though she hadn’t really remembered, “Well his hotel is only a few blocks from where that new portal popped up.”

Violet rolled her eyes, but Sylvia didn’t seem to notice.

“Yeah, he’s really lucky he wasn’t sucked in. Apparently, someone he’d met at the hotel was, though. He says that there are scientists all over the place, taking samples, questioning tourists. He cut his vacation short and booked a flight back today. He said it was all just a little creepy.”

Violet had only met Sylvia’s brother once, and that was when she and her brother, Sven, had last spoken. It was at last year’s annual Chamber of Commerce Ball where representatives were supposed to attend in honor of the organization’s members. Sylvia had brought her brother because she didn’t want to go alone, and Sven was representing a local research lab whose work was top secret. Sven and Violet had gotten into an argument about his job. She asked about an article she had seen in the national paper. Part of her was curious and the other was trying to make small talk, but he refused to talk about it at all. He even got a little testy when Violet tried to prod him some more, and he eventually ended up storming out of the banquet hall. The stubborn streak in their family hadn’t allowed either of them to call the other, so they simply hadn’t spoken to each other since then.

It was then that Violet became curious about the Large Hadron Collider. That’s what the article had been about, and she’d never heard of it. Naturally, as a librarian, Violet felt that there shouldn’t be much that she had never heard of, so she did her research. Her research didn’t do much good because of all the scientific terms about molecular this and atomic that, so she asked Sven. He acted like she had spoken in Swahili. So much for that.

Sylvia asked Violet about her weekend, but she shrugged and avoided the question. They both knew that Violet didn’t get out much because she’d rather be at home reading a book, but on Monday nights Violet continued her studies in Jiu-Jitsu, and even instructed some beginning classes. The Japanese martial art had become a hobby during her undergrad years and had served her well on at least one occasion.

She’d been walking home from a late class, and the parking lot was already empty. Some man had grabbed her from behind, but she was able to fling him over her shoulder onto the ground and make a mad dash to her car. From then on, she made it a point to always try to have someone with her, but the skills she’d learned in class served her almost as well as any buddy system ever could. Now, Violet considered it community service to help instruct some beginning adult classes for her local community center, so that others could feel a little safer, too. Violet considered herself the ultimate nerd: book worm, lonely cat girl, and foreign film lover, but at least she could defend herself.

“Why don’t you come out with me tomorrow night, Violet? I was planning on going to the new place on Twelfth Avenue. We could have a little fun, you know, maybe find some rich men.” Sylvia lifted her eyebrows and was hoping to cheer Violet up. Maybe having her there for a little moral support for herself wouldn’t be such a bad idea, either. She tried to act really confident, but she admired Violet for being such a grounded person.

Violet laughed. “Maybe,” she said, “ask me again tomorrow.”

They both turned to the looming shelf of books, and began to stack the first cart of the morning. Violet began to wonder about going out with Sylvia. It had been a long time since she’d try to date, maybe now would be a good time to get started again. She picked up a large stack of books and heaved it onto the rolling cart. Loud dance clubs and bars weren’t really her cup of tea, though. Maybe she’d suggest a nice art gallery or something instead, but she knew that Sylvia would laugh and tell her you couldn’t meet men there. They rolled the cart, now full, over to an empty corner of the library and began to unload it.

“I think I’m going out for a smoke, Vi. I’ll be back in ten.” Sylvia headed toward her desk to retrieve her cigarettes and cell phone.

Sylvia’s mention of going outside reminded Violet, “Hey Sylvia, do you know what happened to that mailbox out on the corner?”

Sylvia stopped and turned on her heels back to face Violet, “No, is it not there anymore?”

“No, I thought maybe someone from the post office had mentioned something to you about removing it. I guess not.”

“Nope, nothing to me.” Sylvia shrugged dismissing the subject and made her way outside to her usual smoking spot, a bench at the corner of the street, but when she looked up from having lit her cigarette and taken the first, long draw, she realized her bench was missing. “Shit. What is the city doing? Removing everything that’s not nailed to the earth?”

Sylvia finished her cigarette and flicked it into the street. As she pulled open the door she called toward Violet, “Hey, do you know anything about the bench missing outside?” The door shut behind her.

Violet looked up from her stack of books to answer her friend, but she was distracted by the sight of her brother, Sven, running frantically by the library door, his white lab coat covered in what looked like blood.