Basement of the Universe

Science Fiction.

A man searches for his missing wife, only to find a way to disappear himself to a strange place.

Status: Currently in editing. The following excerpt is the first draft. I have a revised excerpt you can look at, although it still needs further editing.

***

Piers slumped in his black leather easy-chair. He put his drink on to the end-table beside him, the ice cubes clinking against each other, then he leaned back and closed his eyes. He waited for the answering machine to play back his messages, not caring who called him. Not caring, that is, unless it was the one person he hoped would call him despite months of silence.

“Piers, buddy, me and the guys are playing hoops tonight. Why don’t you join us? And before you decide to ignore us, I’m coming to get you at seven. Be ready, ’cause I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer.”

Piers picked up his drink and saluted the voice before he took a gulp, hoping for the dulling sensation of the vodka to hit, and fast. He was tired of the pain, tired of the hole his wife left behind when she left him. He wondered again if his wife left him or if it was foul play. The police had never given him a good answer on that one, instead preferring to suspect him. But with no body and no evidence of foul play, they couldn’t go as far as locking him up. They asked the same question Piers asked. Where had his wife gone?

He took another gulp, leaned back, and closed his eyes, willing himself to forget the pain.

The doorbell rang. “Bloody hell,” he muttered. He hoped whoever it was would go away, but the second and subsequent rings, ever insistent, convinced him otherwise. He got up and ripped the door open, a snarl on his unshaven face until he saw his best friend. “John. What are you doing here?” He turned and walked back to his living room, taking another drink as he went.

“Don’t you check your messages? Tonight’s basketball. Get your stuff. Let’s go,” said John, with a touch of lilting Irish accent. A leftover from the old country, he said. “Exercise is great for the soul. And overcoming jet-lag. You were in, what was it, Ohio, this time?” he asked as he glanced at Piers’ suitcases, still outside the utility room door where the washer and dryer were.

“Yeah. Columbus.” Piers spoke with a flat voice, inviting no probing. He hoped John would lose interest and go away.

John cleared a spot among the books, magazines, newspaper clippings, and file folders and sat down on the crowded couch. “What was in Columbus, Ohio?”

Will John think he’s nuts? Does it matter? While Piers was confident of his friendship with John, he’d also been confident in his relationship with Tracie, and given that she left without a word, he no longer knew if he was any kind of judge of character. “A psychic. Reputed to be one of the better ones. Consulted on a few police cases, helping to solve unsolveable cases, or so she claims.” John stacked a few books onto the coffee table to give himself room.

“And? Was it productive?”

Piers laughed. “Nope. She wore a purple tent-dress with a pink feather boa and big, gaudy jewellery. She must have thought that if she looked crazy enough, people would believe she was the real deal. As soon as she started talking about my missing sister, it went flat.”

John shook his head. “You give her your name ahead of time, the least she could have done was her research. At least make it sound good.”

“Which is why I gave her the name of a man who’s looking for his sister.”

John snorted. “You sly dog. Nothing useful, then?” John looked interested, and Piers felt himself pulled out of his fugue. He hit them after his trips. Part exhaustion and part hopelessness as he found yet another dead end, he figured. But smiling John, who’d been his friend since forever, had a knack of bringing him out of them. At least, as much as Piers was capable of coming out of it.

Piers shook his head. “Nope. Not a thing.” He felt better when he called it a fugue. Calling it depression wouldn’t make it any better. If he could keep denying it long enough for him to find a clue, then it wouldn’t matter what he called it.

John looked around at the scattered newspapers, books, and magazines covering all available surfaces. He picked a stack off a chair and flipped through them. “I understand the need to find answers, but this? The Qu’ran. The Bhagavad Gita. New Perspectives in Wicca. Papacy and the Mystical. Oh, this looks interesting. The Mystical Design of the Universe: Concepts in The Kabbalah. Has your study of all these religions taught you anything?”

Piers sighed. He hated to admit failure, and yet, what else was there to say? “Oh no, I’ve learned a lot.” But honesty got in the way. “But nothing that helps.”

“Anything that’ll bring Tracie back? Any clues?”

Piers hung his head. He wasn’t ready to admit defeat. Not yet. “There are still religions out there I haven’t studied. And more unexplained mysteries that might have clues.” He paused, thinking about what he’d said. “It sounds lame even to me,” he whispered.

“Piers, you need to let this go.” John put the books on the coffee table amidst the others, and looked at another stack. “She’s not coming back. You need to move on,” he said.

“I know, I know. I’ve heard it all before. From you, remember?” Piers sighed. “But what the hell happened? Did she leave me for another man? Another woman? A man and a woman?” A bitter laugh escaped Piers’ mouth. “I don’t know what happened. All I know is that the police tried pinning her murder on me without a dead body. They didn’t consider her disappearance even as a remote possibility.” He glanced at John, and, noting the look of sadness on his face, continued. “Oh come on, John, you know they didn’t. From the beginning, they treated it like a homicide case. What did they ask you? Do you remember?” Piers poured himself another drink. He knew it affected his ability to think, but right now, he didn’t care.

“Yeah, okay, you’re right. But given statistics, it’s natural, Piers.”

“I know all about statistics, including the fact that statistics do not say that I did her harm.” With shaky hands, he took another gulp of the amber liquid, spilling some on his beard and shirt.

John buried his head in his hands, then ran his fingers through his hair. “You’re right, and I’m sorry. I know it’s hard on you. Any ideas where she is?”

“Her parents’ haven’t heard from her, or, at least, won’t admit it to me. None of her friends will admit to hearing from her either. So what is it? Is she scared of someone? Is she dead?” He gulped air, sucking in a sob. “Did she forget who she was? And me? Is she unconscious in a hospital somewhere, unable to tell anyone who she is?” He put a hand on his forehead and closed his eyes. “Dammit, John, no one has any answers. Not even you, and you’re supposed to know better.”

Piers hated putting John on the spot like this, but dammit! He was running out of ideas!

John looked like the dog who’d been kicked by his master. “Men of the cloth don’t know everything, Piers. It doesn’t work that way.”

“Why the hell not? You have a direct line to God. So tell me. What does God say happened to her?”

John shook his head, his arms out at his side. “I’m sorry, Piers. I don’t know. But searching for answers this way, reading all these books, it isn’t healthy. You need to let go and move on. Stop obsessing about her. Take up a new hobby. Something that doesn’t involve,” he glanced at a stack of books on the end table, “Buddhism or Whirling Dervishes or accounts of missing people from Nigeria or the Hindu Kush. It’s not doing you any good.”

Piers exhaled. “John, I can’t. She was my whole life. She. . . She loved me, believed in me, when I didn’t believe in myself. She’s everything to me. She’s . . . Any life that doesn’t have her in it isn’t worth living.” Piers picked up his glass and bottles and took them into the kitchen to wash and put away. He needed the time to compose himself. As he came back, he saw the look of concern on John’s face. “Oh, John, don’t look at me that way. I’m not talking suicide. I wouldn’t do that, and you should know me well enough by now.”

“But you sounded. . .”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. But I’m not. It’s just that everything is pale without her. There’s no meaning anymore. I need to find out what happened.”

John stood up. “Piers, eventually, you’ll have to face the fact that you don’t know and might never know what happened. And you’ll need to get on with your life. But, I’m your friend, even if I don’t understand what you’re doing. Let me know if you need anything. Okay?” Piers nodded. “Alright. Grab your gear and let’s go. The meatpacking guys think they can beat us, and with your unstoppable jump shot, we need you to beat them.” John grinned as he got up, spurring Piers to join him.

Piers, back home again, was exhausted from the workout. He tossed his gym bag in the laundry room and went back to the living room to read before bed. He picked up a book, Alien Abductions and You, from the pile he’d checked out of the library a few weeks before. He glanced through the table of contents, wondering if it was at all possible that aliens had abducted his wife. As he read, he wondered if any of it were true. There were many theories about what could be causing the so-called Alien Abductions, but he had a hard time believing it was little green men or his own government kidnapping citizens for testing.

But then, before Tracie disappeared, he hadn’t believed in aliens at all, nor had he ever explored world religions. Oh sure, he’d heard of most of them, and dismissed them as wrong. Like most people, he believed in the religion his parents raised him in, and that was good enough. Until Tracie. When she disappeared, that changed everything.

He couldn’t believe in a malicious God who would separate him from Tracie. He wouldn’t believe it – he refused to. He had to believe that there was a way to be with her again. Otherwise, God was nothing more than a cruel joke, and that, he also refused to believe.

Maybe John’s right. Maybe it’s time to let go, he thought. He looked around the room, noticing for the first time the mess, the piles of hundreds, maybe thousands, of books, articles, magazines, and newspaper clippings on missing civilizations, alien abductions, and missing and kidnapped people. He looked at the books on Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism, Jainism, and New Age beliefs. He wondered, for the first time, if maybe, just maybe, he’d ventured out into the wrong side of crazy. His dwindling bank account balances, suffering from the onslaught of book purchases, private investigator fees and travel expenses to consultations with spiritualists and reknowned psychics, he thought, would seem to confirm that theory.

“I’ll read something else, then,” he said, out loud. “Yeah, going crazy, then.” He ignored the piles of books lying around near him and wandered down the hall and into their shared study, her side untouched since she vanished except for occasional dusting, and wondered if she had anything to read. He poked through the pine bookshelves, covering two walls from ceiling to floor, that were filled with an eclectic range of books. He skipped by the romances. Not in the mood for anyone but Tracie. He passed over the historicals and mysteries. He wanted frivolous and fluffy. Science fiction or fantasy, maybe. Something out of this world to help him forget Tracie. Something different from his usual choices.

He picked up an anthology of short stories and settled into Tracie’s office chair.

He flipped to the middle and started reading the first short story he found, Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Lewis Paggett.

When he finished, he shut the book, unsure of how he felt. Bizarre little story, he thought. Starting with Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky poem, it was a story about little children who were in a unique position to understand the universe better than adults, and to manipulate it. These children could find cracks in the universe and go through them. But leading to where?

No, this is utter nonsense. It’s a story. He tossed the book on Tracie’s desk, dismissed it from his troubled mind, and went to bed.

He woke with a start, sweat pouring off him. He’d had a nightmare, he realized, as he looked at the wrinkled and dishevelled sheets. “All mimsy were the borogoves,” he said, remembering the dream, the little blonde-haired, freckle-faced girl, a Tracie in miniature, in his dream who pointed in front of her, laughing at him. Then she stepped forward, and disappeared through a slit in space, laughing at him still until she disappeared into nothing.

Her laughing haunted him.

He wiped the sweat from his face, unsure of what to think. He got up and ran down the hall into his wife’s study and grabbed her copy of Alice in Wonderland off the shelf.

JABBERWOCKY

By Lewis Carroll

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought —

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

“And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’

He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

It made no more sense to him now than it had when he’d first read Alice & Wonderland decades earlier. He remembered his English teacher trying to teach them about symbolism using this poem, but he didn’t see it. Never did.

But why would a stupid poem or a silly short story give me a nightmare, he wondered.

He thought back to the day his wife had disappeared. He remembered her in the kitchen, washing the dishes. He’d given her a kiss on the forehead, grabbed his briefcase from his office after stuffing it with papers and file folders, yelled out a goodbye to his wife, and then walked out the door. When he’d realized he didn’t have his keys to unlock his car, he went back into the house to get them. Less than a minute after he left and she was already gone. Even then, he couldn’t remember if his wife had responded when he said goodbye to her that morning.

Outrageous, he thought. Not possible. There was no such thing as cracks in the universe. It was the most ridiculous theory he could ever come up with, and if he ever told anyone about this thought, he’d get locked up in the funny farm for sure. No one would look at him the same.

This was not possible. At all.

He remembered his high-school English teacher, Mr. Terry, telling him to think outside the box, use his imagination, dare to believe the unbelievable. But that guy was a twit, he thought. Every poem John Keats ever wrote wasn’t always about death, nor was it always about love or sex. Why can’t the Ode on a Grecian Urn be about an urn? Why does it have to be about something else? Something bigger? Why can’t it be about what it’s about? He noticed his clenched fists and forced himself to relax. But sometimes that old coot knew what he was talking about, he conceded. He remembered back to his high school days, sitting in that classroom, while Mr. Terry, who, even in the hottest weather, wore long sleeved shirts and pants, talked to them about reaching for their dreams, never giving up. He’d said it didn’t matter if we were adults with adult responsibilities – we shouldn’t give up but should keep working towards making our dreams happen. And then Mr. Terry had told us why he never wore short sleeves or shorts, about that horrible accident on that stretch of highway while he’d been on vacation with his wife.

What a horrible day that had been for Mr. Terry, Piers reflected. He, of all people, would understand how Piers felt to lose someone so beloved. He would understand why Piers couldn’t give up on his wife.

The thought that Tracie could have gone through a crack in the universe was preposterous, and yet it would explain something he’d wondered about.

The police, during their investigation, found no evidence of foul play. No DNA, no fingerprints, no doors forced open, no blood spatter, no fibre. Nothing. Even her suitcases and clothes appeared to be all accounted for. Not that Piers would know for sure – he couldn’t keep track of all his wife’s clothing or shoes. But Tracie hadn’t taken her purse, so she had no ID or access to banks or credit cards, and no money was missing.

In fact, Piers could find nothing of hers that Tracie had taken with her other than the clothes on her back. That, and a coffee mug. Piers could never figure out why she would take a coffee mug, a gag gift from him on their first anniversary, but not any of her other more treasured memorabilia, like her grandmother’s antique sapphire wedding rings, or the antique pipe her grandfather had used every day until he died. Or, for that matter, why she hadn’t taken any of the emergency money they had stashed in a coffee can in the freezer.

How far could she go without money?

In fact, that was one of the little anomalies the police clung to when they focussed on him as the only suspect in the murder investigation.

She had disappeared without a trace. It made no sense.

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