Dayton was never a morning person. Rising from slumber was typically a slow, painful, and curse word filled experience. From time to time his dog, a terrier type by the name of Fenrir, barked during alongside the expletive laden morning rant against the alarm clock. Those were Dayton’s favorite mornings; mornings with an ally.
He blinked sleep away from eyes, muttering between annoyed groans. Drool dried at the corner of his mouth and he felt his thick hair doing battle with gravity as his bed-head hairdo shot skyward. Some morning more than others he was very happy to be single; no one was around to see this.
As his eyelids cracked open, he noticed an unusual blue glow to the room.
“What the fu,” he started. Fenrir barked right on cue.
His curtains had an uncanny ability to take the yellow hue of the 6:00am sun and bend the rays to brilliant reds and oranges. The blue filling his room had no logical source, no reasonable cause. His eyebrows tilted, confused and wondering if he was having a dream conjured by a ‘gnarly’ burrito he had consumed for dinner the previous evening, he stepped to the window and reviewed what he saw.
Fenrir growled with each step.
“Quiet, boy, I know what I’m doing is probably stupid. I don’t need you harping about it too,” Dayton instructed his canine companion.
He raised his hand and with some trepidation placed his it against the window. It felt different, somewhat liquid somewhat solid, it seemed the window reformed around his palm. It was frightening, bewildering and completely unexpected. Then the window sent a painful jolt through him, like getting a paper cut and a static electricity shock at the same time.
“Mother fu,” he said, recoiling and letting loose his feel of the window. Fenrir went into hysterics.
“Quiet, buddy, I have to think,” Dayton said to the dog.
The cell phone on his bedside table began to buzz, rattling the cheap ‘build it yourself’ table and sending a deep vibrating echo through its hollow legs.
Dayton picked it up, read Dad as the incoming caller and answered faster than he thought he would ever answer an incoming call from his father at 6:12 in the morning.
“Dad, hey, I’m having a weird morning,” Dayton said.
His father sounded older than he really was. Years of Marlboro Reds and inhaling welding chemicals weathered the man inside and out. Nothing dulled the man’s spirit though. He was a jolly tradesman who valued work, god, and family above all else and in that order. He was quick to greet a friend with a handshake and a racy joke, even quicker to offer a spot on his fishing boat and a beer. “Life is a ride,” Dayton’s father always said, “and rides are supposed to be fun.” He was not actually good at dolling out life advice, but he tried his best.
That was the man Dayton was expecting to hear on the other end of the phone call. He got someone else entirely.
“Hey, sport,” his father said in reply. His voice was tired, his tone downtrodden. “You sure are having a weird day.” A sigh filled the call. “Listen, budd-o, I’m outside your house right now standing with a kind gentleman with the government. His name is Agent Cosgrove, he’s assured me he’s the best there is for this situation.”
“Dad, what situation? What is happening? Agent who?” Dayton fired off a million questions with an increasingly angry tone.
“I hear Fenrir back there, budd-o. We’ve been waiting for you to wake up before. Agent Cosgrove said one of his sensors went off and a guard saw your shadow walking around, they both felt I was the best to start out your day with. The Agent is waving his hands now, so I’m going to hand the phone over to him. He can explain things from here,” Dayton’s father said. “And, Dayton, I love you lots, kid.”
Dayton had not heard that since high school. There was a rustling sound through the phone as it was being handed over. He heard someone clear their throat.
“Dayton are you there?” A voice asked.
“Uh, yeah, yeah. This is Dayton,” Dayton replied.
“Dayton, nice to hear your voice. My name is Agent Cosgrove, but that’s really just for the press. I want you to call me Ty, okay? All my friends do. Dayton, is your bedroom door closed?” Agent Cosgrove spoke fast. He sounded to Dayton as if he had done this a time or two.
Dayton looked at his bedroom door and it was indeed closed. He did not remember doing that, and it was not something he typically did before sleeping.
“It is closed, sir, yes. Sorry, Ty. My bedroom door is closed, Ty,” Dayton stumbled through his words.
“Good, that’s good. I want you to keep that closed until I tell you to open it okay? Can you promise me that, Dayton?” Cosgrove asked. Dayton was getting pretty tired of hearing his name. Cosgrove’s accent and pitch were difficult to grasp over the phone. The Agent was obviously not from the area, but he had won the trust of Dayton’s father and that meant a lot to Dayton.
“Yeah, I can do that. Can you tell me what is going on?” Dayton hoped he did not come off as pleading, but he was sure the fear he felt thumping through his chest and in the pit of his stomach could no longer be hidden in his voice.
Dayton heard Cosgrove hesitate before replying.
“That’s quite a question, Dayton, and I promise you me and my team out here will answer with all the details we can as we get them. What I do know is that last night, around two o’clock in the morning our time my agency picked up some, well, let’s call them ‘oddities’ throughout the region. I will tell you that ‘oddities’ in my world are not good things. They are very bad things, but we can fix them it just takes time. We don’t know exactly what sort of oddity we are dealing with today, but we know one instance is located within your house. And, Dayton, I need you to keep that door closed, okay? All that matters is keeping that door closed.”
Maribelle worked third shift by herself. Her factory was small and production needs low, but the machines needed someone to watch over them as they made part after part. She liked the hours and the quiet and stepping outside to grab a cigarette under the stars, but above all else she liked not having to talk to anybody. She could be alone with her machines, fix them if they broke, and read a book or two when they were working. No one to bug her, no ex-husband asking for alimony reductions, no neighbors thumping bass, no need to worry about anything other than a robot making parts she did not care to learn the names of.
Her first break of the evening came at 11:45pm. She pushed open the employee entrance door, it was sticky and make a creaking sound that was probably not as dramatic for first shift employees, but at 11:45 at night it sounded like a bat being stepped on by a lion with a razor blade stuck in its foot. She had no experience with this situation, but figured it to be the most apt interpretation of the sound when explaining to maintenance why the door needed to be fixed.
She loved the moment the door sealed and the sounds of the machines gave way to the chirping of the crickets that lived in the field around the building. The crickets drowned out even the hum of the HVAC system. The crisp evening breeze felt amazing against her face, moving her hair ever so slightly, but it was no friend of her lighter. She flicked the contraption over and over, but to no avail.
“There are matches inside,” she said around a cigarette in her mouth. She swiped her ID badge against a sensor to unlock the entryway door and returned inside with a mission. She looked up at the building’s clock displaying time in bright red; 11:59. She had no idea where her time had gone, but was quite glad no one was around to stop her from taking a 30 minute smoke break.
She found the matches hidden in the drawer of the desk her 2nd shift counterpart sat at and made her way back outside. The clock read 12:02.
“Jimminy crickets, time is not my friend tonight,” she muttered. Feeling bad about potentially taking an actual 30 minute break she went to her desk to do a quick check on the machines she was to be monitoring. As she looked at the screen she remembered how daunting the entire thing felt when she first took the job. So many colors, so many buttons, so many acronyms; she thought she would never figure it all out.
She did. She walked by her computer monitor, looked for red boxes and moved on, back outside.
“Looking good, everybody,” she said to her robots.
From the corporate offices up the flight of stairs at the far end of the factory floor she swore she heard rapid footsteps, like something clawing at the heavy oak doors of the corporate offices. She thought she heard a faint bark followed by a man ordering an animal to be quiet.
She stopped mid step and pivoted around to see if there was a cause to the noise or if, perhaps, one of her robots had tried to respond to her compliment by squeaking oddly.
She was accustomed to working alone in the middle of the night. She had watched every horror movie ever created, taken self-defense courses at the community center for years, she knew there was nothing to be afraid of, but for the first time in a time longer than she cared to admit, she felt her heart rate speed up. She looked around for a potential source of the noise finding only robots going about their coded routines. One time a raccoon had found its way onto the floor, she hoped that scenario was happening again.
She walked by her desk again, stopping at her purse sitting next to her empty chair. The feeling of fright that pulsed through her veins grew and grew. The sound had come and gone. The raccoon made its presence known. She reached into her purse and pulled out her handgun. She checked for rounds, disengaged the safety and began the long walk to the corporate offices.
“I hate corporate,” she said.
She kept an unblinking gaze on the offices hanging over the factory floor. She walked with calculated steps, taking long deep breaths and holding his firearm at consistent distance from her side. As she reached the stairs leading up from the floor to the offices, she placed her foot on the metal step. There was nothing special about stepping onto the stairwell, she had done it a thousand times before. This time she even tried to step lightly, trying to keep her presence as minimal as possible. As her foot, clad in a steel toed shoe, hit the floor the step echoed through the cavernous room.
She had never heard an echo in this building. Noise was always quieted by the robots churning and motoring through their jobs. This was a violently loud facility requiring ear plugs on even the slowest shifts. She removed her foot from the step and looked back at the factory.
Production had stopped. The robots were no longer hard at work.
Panic filled her. With every ounce of her life she ran from the stairs, right by her desk and hid behind a wall to cover herself from the view of the office area windows.
The building rattled as she leaned against the wall reserved for policy and safety postings. She wanted to scream, but could not muster the ability. The shaking intensified, the sound from the office space returned. Maribelle was petrified. She pointed the firearm to the ground, gripped it with both hands and waited.
Then as suddenly as the rattling and noise began, it ended. One final sound reminiscent of a large bed sheet being whipped through the air filled the building. Maribelle opened her eyes and saw a faint blue glow coming from the windows near the top of the building.
The clock on the wall read 12:23am.
The robots whirred back to life.
Her cell phone rang from the inside pocket of her jacket. She shrieked, fumbled the glock in her hands and scrambled to answer the phone if for no other reason to stop the ringing.
“Hello?” she whispered on the verge of tears.
“Maribelle, my name is Agent Cosgrove. I need you to listen to me and listen close. First, there’s a restroom about twenty steps away from your current location. Run there and close the door behind you. Lock it. Can you do that for me?” Agent Rodriguez said. There was no fear in the agent’s voice, no worry; just confidence.
“Maribelle, I need you to answer me with a yes or no. Preferably yes. Can you run to the restroom as fast as you can and lock the door behind you?” The Agent prodded again.
“Yes,” Maribelle said. She ran to the restroom and locked the door behind her. She double checked the lock.
“I’m here,” She said to the Agent as soon as the door was secure.
“Good, that’s good. That was a fast run. Maribelle, listen to me here. You are about to have the most bizarre morning of your life. Something odd has happened and me and my team are here to fix it. You just have to sit there, and you can put the gun away we plenty out here, you have to sit there and wait for me to find out how put this oddness right, okay?” Agent Cosgrove asked.
“Okay,” Maribelle answered. The tears began to roll one by one down her cheeks.
“Good, that’s good. Maribelle, the second thing I need you to do is call me Ty, okay? All my friends do.”
Fenrir clawed at the bedroom door, growling.
“Ty? Can I get some food for my dog in here?” Dayton asked. His cell phone sat on the bedside table, connected to a charger and set to speaker phone. Agent Cosgrove was no less difficult to understand, but at least the phone was no longer right in Dayton’s ear.
“I wish we could, Dayton. That blue bubble around your house is all that is keeping that oddity contained though. Unfortunately that means you and Fenrir are stuck too. Nothing in, nothing out until we have a solution,” Cosgrove explained.
Dayton’s heart plummeted. It dawned on him in that moment that he was not a priority.
Agent Cosgrove noticed the hesitation. “Dayton, we’re going to get you out of there. We just need you and Fenrir to be patient, okay?”
Dayton wanted to feel reassured. “Sure, Ty. Let’s just keep things moving though, you hear me?”
Cosgrove forced a laughing reply, “I hear you, Dayton.”
That part of the conversation where exhaustion takes hold and silence fills the gap between words fell harder than either Dayton or the Agent had ever experienced. The lull cut like a knife as both men tried to figure out their next words.
Fenrir continued clawing at the heavy oak door of the bedroom.
“I’m pretty sure Fenrir is going to try to take care of the situation himself here, Ty,” Dayton chuckled.
The young man listened to his dog snarl and dig at the door and stared into the blue glow of the window. His stomach rumbled and he was starting to think risking pushing himself through the window, despite the shock and pain, would be worthwhile for a cup of coffee. Hours had been spent in the room already. He was sure there would be no more coffee in his future.
He did not want to think of that just yet.
“Ty,” Dayton called out, summoning the attention of his crisis handler once more, “earlier this morning you said there were oddities, plural. You also sound like you’ve handled this sort of thing before. I gotta tell you, I spend a lot of time on Twitter, well, the whole internet really, but I’ve never heard of anything quite like this. When this is over am I going to get a memory wipe or something?”
Ty was silent a little too long.
“Kidding of course,” Dayton hoped to brush aside the comment. He knew his anxiety was starting to show.
“Would you like to speak again with your father, Dayton?” The agent asked.
Dayton put his face into his hands, sighed, and held back tears. He had been found out.
“Sure, yeah, that’ll be fine, thanks. And hey, you don’t have to say my name every time we talk. I don’t think Fenrir thinks you are addressing him,” Dayton said.
Agent Cosgrove’s long pause returned, “I’ll go get your father, Dayton.”
My one request Dayton thought while he rolled his eyes harder than he had ever done so before.
Dayton looked at the blue curtains again waiting for his father’s voice to provide some comfort in a wildly uncomfortable situation. The whole world waited for him on the other side of that blue light.
A rustling sound came from the phone followed by his father’s tired voice, “Heya sport, Agent Cosgrove says things are looking pretty good right now.”
“Any idea what that means?” Dayton asked.
“Well, we’re all still here so that’s something, right?” Dayton’s father laughed in a way that once meant he ate the last of the ice cream.
Dayton was 14 years old when he learned how to tune out his father’s voice. It was an ability that had caused more than its fair share of trouble. He was hopeful it would be forgiven this time around. He watched Fenrir continue to claw at the door, growling louder and louder.
The dog is trying to get us out of here Dayton thought.
“Dad,” Dayton cut off his father, “the problem is on the other side of the door right?”
As his father started to respond, Dayton dove under his bed. For years he had kept a corked baseball bat under his bed thinking one day he would have to join a company’s softball team or hop onto a community league like he saw late-20s TV characters do all the time. He was surprised to be approaching 30 and never once even met someone who played weekend softball. Now the bat would serve to break him free from the prison of blue lit windows.
“If there’s a problem we fix it, right dad? That’s we said growing up,” Dayton was speaking faster than he meant to be.
“Well, sure, buddy, but right now Agent Cosgrove is working to solve the problem. You should just stay put,” the father said.
“Would you stay put?” Dayton asked.
“Fenrir can’t be the only one to try,” Dayton tapped the bat into the palm of his left hand.
A rustling sound filled the phone again. Dayton’s father and Cosgrove exchanged words.
Dayton grasped the door handle. It was colder than usual, colder than expected. His pulse raced. He knew he was about to do something stupid. He twisted the handle.
Cosgrove began screaming, “do not approach that door!”
Dayton pulled the door open.
“Holy shi,” he started. Fenrir yelped.
Maribelle pressed against the door of the bathroom. Her knees were in her chest and she leveraged her heels against a wall that always seemed out of place right behind the door. She was very thankful it existed now.
“What did you say your name was again?” Maribelle asked the stranger on her cell phone.
“Ty, Maribelle. My name is Ty,” Agent Cosgrove repeated himself.
Maribelle was out of breath and she felt her blood pulse through her veins. Her pistol rested in the palm of one hand, cell phone in the other. Ty explained that her family was waiting for her outside and she’d have plenty of coffee and a bagel once this was over. He offered no time line, but pressed the issue that the door needed to stay closed until the oddity was resolved.
Maribelle was a worrier, coming from a proud family tradition of worriers. She fretted over the on/off status of her oven at least twice a day despite never using the device. She worried her cell phone battery at 84% strength in the morning meant she would be disconnected from the world by lunch time. She called her aging mother and father every night. She claimed this was to stay connected, but deep down she worried they had fallen down the stairs and if they did not answer the phone within four rings she would have to call an ambulance.
Ty’s words reassured her. She felt her pulse settle. She thought for a fleeting moment that Agent Ty Cosgrove was some sort of witch. As she settled, she let her pistol tap against the tiled floor of the restroom.
“What was that sound, Maribelle?” The agent asked, his tone sounded slightly startled.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to raise any alarms there. My pistol tapped against floor.”
“Maribelle, why do you have a pistol? Please put it in a trash can or something. There is no need for a weapon in there, we’ll bring them inside if appropriate, okay?”
“Why would a weapon be bad right now? There’s something in the corporate offices that caused you to show up. You’re with ‘the government'”
Maribelle ended her question as the echo of footsteps down metal stairs filled the factory.
“The thing from the offices is moving. I hear it coming down the stairs,” she whispered into the phone.
“Stay put. Stay quiet. It wasn’t supposed to open the door. Do not use violence, Maribelle,” Ty sounded panicked.
“What do you mean it wasn’t supposed to open the door?” Maribelle no longer felt settled.
“Maribelle, this has happened before and we have a process. The other side has a process too,” Ty started.
“The hell does that mean ‘the other side’? I hear more steps. It is getting closer. I have to shoot it or it will eat me. That’s what monsters do, right? They eat the poor factory worker alone in the middle of the night.”
“Maribelle, you cannot use that weapon,” Ty commanded. “Put the gun away and I will tell you what is happening.”
“Steps are getting closer. There are so many steps.”
“The problem is with time. Best we can tell, every thing that can happen is happening all at once. Time is a structure made up like a quilt and our part of the quilt, every one’s part, is on one little string of that quilt. The strings next to ours, like on a quilt, look very much like our own. I suspect strings far away look completely different. This is where things get a bit scary,” Ty said.
“Begin?” Maribelle was frightened enough already.
“The quilt is fraying. Bits of the string next to us, or maybe bits of our string, are touching the wrong time line. When these bits of time line touch, I show up. On this side and on the other. We put a barrier up to contain the problem and eventually the strings break free of one another. Usually this sort of stuff happens in the ocean or uninhabited desert. Usually no one is so unlucky as to have to face the oddity alone. I’m sorry this is happening to you, Maribelle, I really am. But I need you to help me and keep that pistol out of the situation, okay?”
Maribelle wanted to agree. The snarling and growling coming from the other side of the bathroom door made that impossible.
“What is this?” Dayton said. He was standing at the bottom of a flight of metal stairs and looking into what appeared to be a manufacturing facility. The robotic arms had idled and his footsteps clanged and echoed. On the wall next to the bedroom door, he left it open in case retreat was deemed necessary, the word “Administration” was written in a fancy font. Fenrir darted to the far end of the room, nose the ground sniffing like mad.
He let the baseball bat rest at his side and looked around in wonder. He had no idea what was happening, but the spectacle of it all was mesmerizing.
“Fenrir, can you believe this? I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore, huh?” Dayton’s laugh was followed by a sigh of disbelief, “I am making Oz jokes with a terrier. At least no one was around to hear that. I hope.”
His awe of the moment gave way to the fear of not being alone.
“Hello?” He called out. “Is there anyone here?”
Fenrir barked from the other side of the factory.
“I didn’t mean you, dumba,” Dayton was cut off by more barking.
Fenrir only barked like this when the postal carrier approached. And often when Old Man Thompson from across the hall was anywhere near by. Fenrir loathed the Old Man Thompson with every ounce his canine heart and soul.
Dayton raised his bat. For Fenrir to be acting so aggressively toward a door meant something unpleasant was behind it.
“If there’s anyone out there know that I am armed!” Dayton purposely left out ‘and dangerous’.
He walked by a machine colored bright orange and labeled 09-1 FR. The boxes surrounding the machine were full of disc golf materials. Any other time he would have quite pleased and probably pocketed some of the unguarded goods.
“I don’t know where I am and cannot figure out why this place smells like burned cinnamon. If you could come out, I would greatly appreciate any answers you could provide,” Dayton said. He stepped slowly and made himself as small a target as possible. The cop TV shows he spent far too much time watching were finally paying off.
Fenrir was trying his best to claw through the door.
As Dayton drew nearer he heard what faint sobs. The person behind that door was just as scared as he was. He hoped it was a person.
“Fenrir, down boy,” Dayton said, trying to grab the dog’s collar and steady the animal. Even when he was able to gain control, Fenrir did everything possible to lunge and bark at the door.
“Stop it,” Dayton pleaded, “who ever is in there is just as scared as we are.” He was knelt beside the dog, bringing him to his chest and attempting to sooth. “Maybe seeing the person would help?” He asked.
Dayton looked to the door and addressed the crying and now screaming voice he could just make out, shouting, “I am sorry about the dog. I’m going to open the door. If he sees you he’ll calm down and we talk, okay?”
There was no answer. “They can’t hear me over the barking, Fen,” Dayton scolded the mutt. “I’ll just open the door.”
Maribelle could not hear anything over her tears. She heard Cosgrove’s voice, but could not make out any words. She heard a muffled call to her from the other side of the door, but it was drowned out by the barking.
All she could do was cry and think of her daughter, the smartest person in the house and pride of her life. She worried her daughter would not have her mom present at her high school graduation, her wedding, the birth of at least four grandbabies, and all because of some monster that slipped through time. She worried the monster would break down the door and eat her, denying her daughter and husband a body for a casket. She thought of this and wept. She could not bear the thought of her family knowing she died crying and afraid.
She moved herself from having her back against the door and heels into the wall, instead placing her back against the wall and heels against the door. She did not want the growling monster to pull her through the door. More importantly she wanted to be able to get a few rounds off if the beast broke through.
Her vision was obscured and she could now taste the mascara running from her eyes to the corners of her mouth.
The phone was sitting at her side now, she knew not when it was dropped. Once again she gripped her pistol with two hands. Readying for what now felt inevitable.
She felt a sudden shove against her legs. The monster was trying to push the door open.
“No!” She managed to scream.
The monster said something back to her, but if it spoke words she understood none of them.
Again the door was shoved into her legs.
“Go away,” she begged the monster.
Her hold gave slightly. She heard the monster shout and the barking grew louder. Light from the factory floor poured into the bathroom.
She saw a dog burst from the doorway. It looked just like her dog from back in high school. White fur spotted throughout with brown patches. Pointy ears and a tongue that seemed far too big the snout made her feel safe for a moment. The dog’s eyes were full of anger.
She felt a surge of pain as the dog’s teeth gouged into her left hand. With her right she pulled the pistol up and squeezed the trigger.
She squeezed the trigger until only clicking sounds remained. At her side the dog lay still. The body of a young man filled the doorway. Light from the factory poured in through four new holes in the door.
Her entire body shook as the scene came to make sense in her mind. The thumping sound of her pulse in her ears started to quiet. She stood up and moved to the man to see if there was any hope.
“Oh god,” she said over and over again, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t think you would be so human,” she said. She read the shirt the man wore Clarkston Community College it read. She knew it as Metropolitan Clarkston Community College.
Cosgrove’s voice was understandable again.
“Maribelle? Maribelle?” He called out.
“I shot the monster. He tried to come through the door. He wasn’t a monster. This is a kid. I shot his dog,” Maribelle fought back the urge to vomit and cry all at once.
“Maribelle, is the bathroom door open?” Cosgrove asked.
“What does the matter? Get in here, there’s a chance to save him. There has to be a chance,” Maribelle shouted through her sobs.
“Maribelle, is the door open?” Cosgrove asked again.
“Yes, okay, yes the door is open,” Maribelle was enraged at the lack of action on Cosgrove’s part.
“Is the administration door open as well, Maribelle?” Cosgrove asked. “I have to know.”
Maribelle took a quick look at the admin offices. “Yes, the door is open.”
“Dammit,” Cosgrove said in the first show of real emotion he had displayed all night. Maribelle heard a sigh, a few more swear words and finally the agent returned to the phone.
“Maribelle, I know this will provide no comfort, but in the quilt that is time there is a string where none of this happened. There’s a string where you and your family live a happy, long life. There’s a string where I am you and you are me and one of has a trillion dollars to blow on golf games played from helicopters,” Cosgrove said.
“What does that mean, Cosgrove?”
“I am so sorry, Maribelle. When the frays of our strings get intertwined they have to be cut off. I wish those doors had remained closed,” Cosgrove answered without answering anything.
Maribelle heard a crunching sound like every beam and girder in the building was coming in on itself. The blue light grew brighter and hotter. The building creaked and crackled around her, beams collapsed and rivets popped.
She soon saw nothing but blue light and at that moment she realized the horrifying truth; she was being removed from the quilt.