Thanks to “bluegene,” life is long. But out Route 42 near Goshen, it’s also kind of dull. Just the thing to encourage an expedition into the only actual other universe, the place where…but that would be telling.
This short story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.
I first met Jack when we were vegetating in the Journey’s End senior facility in Harrods Creek, Kentucky. One day some scientists discovered something they trademarked as bluegene, and everyone’s meds got better. Journey’s End went out of business. Thanks to bluegene, society could dose us geezers and set us free. Bony cattle in patchy pastures.
We still needed housing, so they opened up some abandoned exurban condos. Plenty of those around, what with the population drop, and the reborn fad for urban living. Jack and I ended up in a master bedroom with beige drywall and twin beds. Our wives were dead, you understand.
Nobody but freeloading geezers in the decrepit London Earl development we inhabited, way out Route 42 near Goshen, amid fields and spindly trees. On our own. We had big-screen TVs, cheap as piss, made of squidskin.
A fellow named Hector came by the London Earl condos with his crew once a week. They’d bag and haul any of the clients who’d “passed,” and hand out food packs and bluegene pills to the rest of us. The pills were in short supply; you didn’t get but seven at a time.
My kids said they were glad about my new meds, but I worried maybe they weren’t. I remembered how I’d felt about my own parents. They’d hung on for longer than I’d bargained for.
With bluegene, I myself might be around till I was a hundred. Lucid till the end, still talking, still giving advice. Ugh. I told the kids not to feel like they had to keep in close touch. Enough was enough.
Meanwhile I had my friend Jack, and the other coots and biddies living in the London Earl condos with us. Kind of a scene. The bluegene meds had kicked up the flirtations a notch. I had a lady friend called Darly— a generous beauty in her way: plump around the middle but even plumper top and bottom. She’d sold cosmetics over the social nets for Karing Kate for twenty, thirty years. She’d even earned the legendary pink leather Karing Kate sample case, which she carried with her at all times.
Skinny Jack was seeing a skinny Allen County hillbilly called Amara. She’d been a backup singer for most of her life, even toured with Waddy Peytona and his Jumper Cables. Still looked sorta cute in her google glasses, even though they were Dollar Store knockoffs. Thanks to the glasses, Amara was recording nearly everything she saw. But never mind—you don’t want to hear about Darly’s figure or Amara’s google glasses. Geezers are nauseating. We know our place. The London Earl subdivision.
The thing I do want to tell you about is our journey into the alsoverse with Jack—and how we escaped.
It started one evening when Jack and I were in our two-sink bathroom, taking our nightly bluegene pills. Chalky little pastel blue footballs. We liked to dose together so as to increase our odds of remembering to do it. For the third or fourth evening in a row, Jack fumbled the job. His bluegene pill fell to the floor. It made a tiny tic and rolled out of sight.
“Oh well,” said Jack, turning to leave the bathroom. “Another one gone.”
“Get down on the floor and look for it!” I yelled. “You knows what happens if you miss too many doses.”
“I turn into roadkill,” said Jack. “Or so Hector says. But it’s a slow process.”
“Not that slow.” With a theatrical sigh, I bent over to peer at the base of the sink cabinet. The things I do for my friends.
“When something small drops onto the floor it disappears,” said Jack. “Surely you’ve noticed that, Bart.”
“It’s Bert,” I muttered. He was always forgetting my name.
“Looking for it makes things worse,” said Jack. “Elementary quantum mechanics. The observer effect. An electron doesn’t have a position until it’s observed. A dropped pill isn’t fully lost until you look for it. And then its wave function sidles away. Across the dimensions.”
Bending down is easy, it’s straightening up that’s hard. I managed though, and I looked Jack in the eye, with my pulse pounding in my ears. “Across the dementia?”
Jack laughed in my face. “Dimensions! I explained all this to you the other night, Bert. When we were sitting out on the porch watching the cars melt into the night. Did you forget? Or maybe you weren’t paying attention.”
“Sure I was,” I lied. Jack was a retired professor with a droning voice that made him easy to ignore, like the hum from a bad amp. Plus my hearing is bad. Plus, I’d been busy counting cars. A retired accountant needs a hobby.
“I’ll explain it again,” said Jack. “Pay attention this time.”
We poured some Early Times and ensconced ourselves in side by side rockers on the cracked, flaking, concrete slab that served as a London Earl front porch. We could see other condos, dank weeds, vine-covered trees and good old Route 42 that ran from Louisville to Goshen and on to Cincinnati. It had a lot of traffic, now that the interstates were privatized.
It was August, with the locusts shrilling. I always needed to remember that the steady sound wasn’t actually inside my head. August. The London Earl didn’t have air-conditioning, but thanks to the wandering poles, the Kentucky summer wasn’t all that hot anymore.
Jack rolled us two cigarettes from his faithful pack of Bugler tobacco. Only rarely did he lose that. Bugler was illegal, of course, but Jack copped from Hector, paying him with frogs he caught in the London Earl’s green-skimmed pool. Fighting frogs. Hector was deep into the local frogfight scene. The handlers would glue locust thorns to the frogs’ heads and set them loose on one another, like murderous little unicorns. But I’m getting off the subject.
Jack was still explaining how things disappear. He had his own way of explaining.
“So there I was,” he said. “With a PhD in math, by the skin of my teeth, and no job. Luckily I got on at Knowledge College in Next Exit, Indiana. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.”
“Who hasn’t?” I said, even though I hadn’t.
“Taught there part-time for almost fifty years. Retired as Adjunct Emeritus. Did a lot of research along the way. At one point I teamed up with a physics prof, Chandler something-or-other; string theory dude. I did the math and he pulled the strings, so to speak. Chandler thought there were infinitely many alternate universes. We were hoping we could find one. Chandler figured that if we could, he could snag a Nobel Prize. Me, I was after a Golden Pi.”
“What flavor is that?”
“Greek. Golden Pi. The big math award. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.”
“Who hasn’t?” I said, even though I hadn’t. “Roll me another.”
Jack’s cigarettes were perfect; they had hospital corners. He fired up a strike-anywhere match; he kept a pocket full. I leaned over Jack’s match and took a deep hit of the harsh, calming tobacco smoke. Instant headache, instant calm. They used to give cigarettes to mental patients. But now bluegene was the thing.
“We were ambitious in those days,” said Jack dreamily. “Now, not so much.”
“So what happened to this Chandler?” I asked.
“Well—I came up with a mathematical tool for simplifying his theories. A renormalization technique. It turned out there’s not infinitely many universes at all. They cancel each other out. Like correction terms. And at the end there’s just two of them left. Ours—and a second one. It’s kind of an echo. We named it the alsoverse. And then Chandler went down the tubes.”
“He wasn’t happy?”
“Didn’t like the alsoverse. Didn’t like losing all those endless worlds. He went into a depression, and then he didn’t show up for work one day. I had to cover his classes for a couple of weeks until they found a new physics teacher. A jerk. Didn’t want to work on alsoverse theory with me. So I moved onto other things. But I’d learned enough from Chandler to know where the lost things go. They drop into the alsoverse.”
“So it’s not my fault when I can’t find stuff,” I said. “I like that.”
“Me too.” Jack rolled another cigarette. It was a beautiful evening, the old highway like a river of stars. “Although it is a problem to be losing my bluegene pill every night. It’s not like losing a contact lens or a wedding ring, something unessential.”
“Scents?” said a familiar voice behind us. “Sensual essences? Karing Kate carries them all.”
It was Darly, tapping her sample case. Amara was with her. They were sharing a popsicle. You got a pint of bourbon and seven popsicles in your weekly food pack. Jack and I had eaten our popsicles some days ago, or lost them, or let them melt. But Amara knew how to ration stuff.
Kentucky gentlemen that we were, Jack and I offered up our rockers and flopped into a pair of metal lawn chairs that I’d bagged from one of the burnt-out condos that pocked the London Earl estates.
“Jack dropped his bluegene pill on the floor and now it’s gone,” I told Darly. “That makes two nights in a row. Or four.”
“Gone, gone, gone,” she said sympathetically. “No point in looking.”
“Stuff just disappears,” agreed Amara. Hard to believe she’d been a singer. By now she had a thin, papery voice. “I know about that from when I toured with Waddy Peytona. Did you ever wonder why he talked so much between songs?”
“Tell us, honey,” said Jack, rolling a pair of cigarettes for the women. It was like we were high-schoolers again. Being bad in the dark.
“Waddy talked so much because he kept dropping his guitar picks,” said Amara. “He would have me on hands and knees looking for them while he ran his mouth. Never ever found one of course. I always had extras in my pocket so I could slip him one. But I took my time. I liked hearing his riffs. He was at his best when he had no idea what he was talking about.”
“Should have been a professor,” I said.
Jack pretended not to hear. His voice took on a Socratic tone. “Did you ever wonder where lost things go?”
“When my grandmother lost something, she’d say that it flew up to the Moon,” Darly said. “I never believed that, though.”
“Things have to go somewhere,” said Amara thoughtfully.
“Exactly,” said Jack. He held up his finger, in full philosopher mode. “I was just explaining it to Bart here. Lost items pass through to an alsoverse, a parallel world that’s next to our own.”
“Wow,” said Amara, polishing off her popsicle. “Don’t you love listening to Jack?”
“Not particularly,” said Darly. “He’s a scientist. Wonder bunnies, I call them.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” said Jack, expertly licking and sealing another tiny cigarette.
“If you know where all this stuff is, let’s go get us some,” said Amara. “I’ll bet that old alsoworld is full of fucking flatpicks. Plus, I could use an adventure. This London Earl life is dragging my ass.”
“You could afford to fill out a bit,” said Darly. “Karing Kate has a product that . . .” Amara glared at her. Darly changed her tack. “I’m tired of being cooped up, too. Plus, I’m missing an earring. A nice dangly one with little sticks of gold.”
“I’m missing my new hearing aid,” I said. “Had the little bastard for about ten minutes, and then it snuck off. And I don’t qualify for a replacement for another year.”
“Which means you’ll continue misunderstanding everything I say, Bart,” said Jack.
“Bert,” I muttered.
“One problem,” said Darly. “If we head off for this alsoverse—what about those teen vigilantes who shoot at us every time we venture off the London Earl grounds?”
“Oh, they just do that for fun,” said Amara. “And they’re terrible shots.”
Jack held up his philosophical finger again. “According to my long-lost physics friend Chandler, the alsoverse is infinitesimally close to us. We wouldn’t even have to step off the porch to go there. If we could find a dimensional crack. And it would help if we were smaller. Or more insubstantial. Most of the stuff that falls through is tiny. We’re solid and huge.”
Darly glared at him.
“Relatively speaking,” said Jack. “Compared to a bluegene pill. Or a flatpick. Or a hearing aid.”
“Let’s use science,” said Amara. “Atomic science. We’re totally made out of atoms, right?”
“Then let’s just shrink our atoms! Then we’ll shrink all over.”
“That’s stupid,” I said, trying to be helpful. “Atoms are already as small as they can get. How are you going to shrink them?”
“Your atoms were smaller when you were a baby, mister smarty-pants. All we have to do is make them that small again.”
That made sense until I thought about it. “Amara, that involves time travel and you don’t even wear a watch.”
“Please!” shouted Jack. “Let’s stick to my diamond-hard logic. Facts. The fact is, shrinking stuff is hard to do. Shrinking people is even harder. Maybe even impossible.”
Darly glared at him.
“At least difficult.” He tipped Early Times into our glasses. “Science can take you only so far. Maybe we should just forget about the alsoverse.”
Early Times is good for forgetting things. We sipped in silence while the crickets screamed. Amara was tapping one foot to their rhythm when she said, “Hey! Isn’t math science? And isn’t music made out of math? Well, music can shrink feet.”
“Huh?” All three of us at once.
“For real. Waddy’s banjo player was this Iranian dude. He had these enormous feet but he could make them smaller by holding his breath while he was playing ‘Drown the Puppy.’”
“I hate that song,” said Darly. “It’s mean and mournful. Makes me feel like I’m a lonely nobody.”
“That’s what bluegrass is all about,” said Amara proudly. “This guy used ‘Drown the Puppy’ to get his boots off when his feet were swollen, and they were swollen almost every night after the show. He’d sit on the edge of the stage, holding his breath and playing faster and faster and it was my job to pull his boots. He’d be turning blue by the time I got them off. They were snakeskin Tony Lamas.”
“Hhhmmmm,” said Jack thoughtfully. “Tony Lamas run tight. And that trick sounds a little like Izzintit, the arcane mathematical exercise developed by the ancient Assyrians for use in their personal search for zero. Documented in cuneiform, and on the Rhind papyrus. It’s significant that the changes in ‘Drown the Puppy’ are in a diminishing chromatic scale. If it was played fast enough, and if we held our breaths long enough, well, maybe . . .”
“I think it has to be in G,” said Amara.
“Most people play it in G,” I said. “I happen to have ‘Drown the Puppy’ on my squidphone. Played by the bluegrass banjo master J. D. Crowe himself. And I have a speed-up app.”
Jack looked doubtful. “Remember that size isn’t the whole problem,” he said. “We need a crack as well. A wrinkle in spacetime.”
“You want wrinkles?” said Darly brightly. She tapped the side of her pink leather sample case. “Karing Kate has a prototype wrinkle cream. It’s experimental.”
Jack looked even more doubtful. “Doesn’t wrinkle cream get rid of wrinkles?”
“Not this one,” said Darly. “It’s made for making ‘em. It’s sort of like a reverse mortgage. It’s for girls who want to look all goth and jaded. If it gets approved, we’ll call it Worldly Woman.”
So first we finished the whiskey. And then we held our collective breath while J. D. Crowe on my squidphone tore into “Drown the Puppy” like a bushhog into a rose garden. The frantic, lonesome music made me feel like nothing mattered. I was a lonely old man, fading away, forgettable and forgotten. And, holding my breath so long like this, I was feeling like I might pass out. Everything looked strange. I was dwindling.
The Worldly Woman wrinkling cream came with an applicator that looked as big as a shovel by the time Darly had finished laying a stripe on the porch. The stripe folded in on itself, and now it was a milky river—or a canyon full of mist. Jack dove in. Still holding our breath, the rest of us followed, anxious to get some air, or die trying. Somewhere nearby a crow had begun to caw.
I fell, but only what seemed like a few feet before I hit ass-first with a thump on a patch of dirt. I looked around, gasping great gulps of air. Darly and Amara were on either side of me, looking shocked. Jack was already on his feet, desperately going through his pockets.
“Lost my Bugler!” he said. “Must have fallen out of my pocket as we passed through.”
“Let’s hear it for Karing Kate, huh?” said Darly.
We were in a field of bare clay studded with rocks the size of trash cans. The sky above was pale shade of yellow-orange, as if we were inside a gigantic birthday balloon. A few big birds circled high overhead.
Jack was smiling in spite of the loss of his Bugler. His voice took on a celebratory tone. “We made it!” he said. “We’ve made history! We’re the first humans to pass from the universe to the alsoverse. “
“Don’t be so sure,” said Darly. With both hands, she pointed toward the edge of the field where a gloomy man with a white goatee sat on one of the rocks. He was dressed like a Kentucky Colonel, in a gray cutaway frock coat and a string tie. He was rolling a cigarette from a pack of tobacco on his lap.
“That’s my Bugler!” Jack hurried toward him and we followed. The man glanced up as we approached, and when Jack saw his face he stopped in his tracks.
“Chandler! From Knowledge College.”
“Jack! Is that you?”
“It is, and I believe that’s my stash,” said Jack in a firm but friendly way. “I’d like it back if you please.”
Chandler shook his head. “Finders keepers,” he said. “That’s the rule here. But I’d be glad to roll some up for you.”
And so he did. His twists were almost as tight as Jack’s.
“Anybody got a match?” asked Chandler, passing the cigs around. “Tobacco and matches are hard to find here.”
Jack pulled a kitchen match from the pocket of his jumpsuit. “Here’s hoping,” he said, “that strike-anywhere means works-in-both-worlds.”
Turned out it does.
We all had a smoke while Jack and Chandler caught up on past events. “Finding out there’s only this one extra universe threw me into a tailspin,” said Chandler. “I was ready to quit being a professor. For some insane reason, I started moonlighting at KFC.”
“That explains the weird duds,” whispered Amara.
“Workers at KFC don’t dress like Colonel Sanders,” whispered Darly.
“Have you ever looked in the kitchen?” hissed Amara.
“Talk louder!” I snapped. “But be quiet.” I wanted to hear Chandler.
“The KFC job was a mistake. All that slimy, pimply skin. The nodules of fat. Sure I’d been depressed about the alsoverse, but now I was suicidal. Back in my pathetic rented room, I let the bad feelings take over and I started to—attenuate. Evanesce. Dwindle. I slipped through a crack, and into the alsoverse.” He paused, looking around. “Yes, I found another world—but I’m stuck inside it. And it’s a dump. Come see.”
He led us across the field to where it ended on a low bluff.
“So much stuff!” said Amara. “Like my cousin Jessie’s yard.”
Indeed. We were overlooking a wide barren plain studded with pyramids of junk that rose even higher than our bluff. The sky was all in shades of cream and peach.
“There’s a pile of giant keys,” said Darly, pointing at the closest of the mounds.
“And funny shaped surfboards,” said Amara, pointing to another nearby heap.
“Those are guitar picks,” said Jack. “Don’t forget, we’re tiny.”
“I’m bigger than a guitar pick back home,” protested Darly. “Why should I be smaller than one here?”
“We look smaller because we’re further away,” said Amara comfortably.
“Farther from what?” I asked.
“You’d understand if Chandler and I could teach you the rudiments of space-time-scale continuum mechanics,” said Jack.
“But such an attempt would be quite quixotic,” said Chandler. He and Jack exchanged a snobby, knowing look—bullshit artists that they were.
“You see, Bert?” said Amara. “I’m right.”
I stared out across the plain. Each of the vast plain’s ziggurats of pelf held a different category of lost items. A gargantuan haystack of long legs and platter-sized lenses—glasses. A cathedral of gold hula hoops—wedding rings. A ticking stack of menacing machines—watches. A mountain of single socks. Other less easily categorizable mounds stretched into the distance as far as the eye could see. But there, only a quarter of a mile off, was—
“A pile of pills,” said Jack, pointing “We’re here for my bluegene meds.”
“Who are those people?” said Darly. “Look at them down there.” Milling mournfully among the mounds were men and women in regular clothes, busy as ants.
“Stackers and sorters,” said Chandler. “Missing persons, like me. People who let themselves disappear. We never talk. We spend our time arranging this crap. As if it might come in handy some day.”
“You do this for occupational therapy?” asked Jack.
“It fills the time,” said Chandler with a shrug. “We’re stuck here for good. We might even be immortal. If the crows don’t eat us.”
“You mean those big birds flying around?” said Amara. Her google glasses were glittering away. Documenting the scene.
“I think they’re pretty,” said Darly, who found many things pretty. “What do they want?”
“Hard to say,” said Chandler. “Sometimes one of them snatches up something shiny and carries it off. To where, I don’t know. The other crows always chase the one that’s flying away. Like they want to follow.”
“The crows are in charge?” asked Jack.
“Maybe,” said Chandler. “Sometimes a crow will swoop down and snack on a slacking stacker or on a loitering sorter. That’s why it’s risky to be idle.”
Amara mimed a shiver.
“You’re slacking on your own right now,” Jack pointed out. “Smoking my Bugler.”
“The crows honor me because they like my second-hand smoke,” said Chandler. “Watch this.” He took a drag and blew the smoke straight up. One of the birds caught the scent and came spiraling down.
I shivered when the iridescent black crow landed in the field beside us. He was the size of a private plane, with wide wings, a broad back and a stubby neck. He sat back on what passed for haunches and lowered his head so that Chandler could blow smoke into the nostrils of the great beak.
“These guys are smart,” said Chandler. “You gas them up with smoke and they’ll do what you tell them—for a while.”
“Hhhhmmmm,” said Jack. “What if you were to tell him to fly me over to that pile of pills in the distance, so I can score some bluegene?”
“Why not?” said Chandler. “Seeing as how you gave me this Bugler. And the matches too.”
“Good deal,” said Jack.
“Once you have your bluegene pill, you’ll come back and help with the stacking and sorting, right?” said Chandler. “We’re always falling behind.”
“Sure,” said Jack. “As you say, we’re stuck here forever, and there’s nothing else to do, and life sucks. And all this stuff might come in handy someday.”
“Are you nuts?” I asked Jack in a whisper.
“Shut up,” he murmured. “Do what I do.”
Chandler blew more smoke into the great crow’s nostrils and he chirped at the crow from the back of his throat. “Get on now,” he told us.
Jack perched on the crow’s neck like he was mounting a dragon. The women and I nestled into the dark feathers in the middle of the crow’s back. The great wings beat the air and we rose, skimming along the underside of the peachy clouds of the alsoverse.
Below us, the mournful missing persons were sorting and stacking: coins and pen-tops and contact lenses, hairpins and hats, sausages, credit cards, batteries, screwdrivers—
“Hey!” I yelled, “There’s my hearing aid!” It lay atop a stack of such devices, all types and sizes, like an exhibit at a medical museum. Fairly unpleasant to see, some of them waxy and carrying that disgusting geezer vibe. At Jack’s bidding, the gigantic crow swooped down and circled so that I could snatch my hearing aid from the pile. Compared to my present size the thing was, hell, the size of an orange crate. I managed to tuck it into the crow’s plumage. Maybe I could jigger our relative sizes if and when we got back home.
Jack looked back from his perch on the crow’s neck and grinned.
“I want a guitar pick,” called Amara. “For a souvenir.”
No sooner said than done. The crow circled back to near where we’d started, and the boogie-board-sized plastic pick was soon wedged among the feathers, nestled beside my cumbersome hearing aid.
“Are you steering this bird?” I called to Jack, raising my voice against the wind.
“Yeah, baby!” he exulted. “Remember back at Journey’s End, when I got my knees replaced?”
“Sure I do,” I said, though I didn’t.
He slapped his thigh. “I can guide this bird with my knees, like a Sioux warrior on an Indian pony. Titanium!”
“I want my dangly gold earring,” said Darly. “I can see the pile over there!”
“Hold your water, ma’am,” said Jack, putting on a cowboy accent. “I want me a giant bluegene pill.” He dug his titanium knees into the crow’s neck, and off we soared toward the bumpy pastel peak of pills.
“It should have been my turn right now,” said Darly sinking into a sulk.
“Hush up and help,” said Amara, as we approached the mountain of pills. The sorters had been slacking here, and the pills were all colors. Guided by Jack, the crow circled until Amara spotted the right one. The bluegene pill was hard to snatch, being the size of a Christmas turkey, but soon it was stored beside my big hearing aid and the oversized guitar pick. And now we buzzed the earring pile.
“There it is!” cried Darly. “That cluster of shiny sticks on top.” She leaned out, reaching for it like a kid on a merry-go-round—but the crow forestalled her, snatching up the jangly earring with his beak.
“Hey!” squealed Darly.
“Kaw!!” answered the crow from the deep in his throat, holding tight to the earring in his beak. Some of the other crows had noticed our crow’s score, and they were swooping towards him, as if wanting to steal his cargo, or wanting to tag along.
With the grace of a trained athlete, our crow arced up into the apricot-colored heavens. He did a loop, an Immelman turn, and a barrel roll. We held on for dear life. And now we’d shaken the pursuing crows.
“What’s happening?” I shouted to Jack.
“Hang on!” he cried. Far from steering the crow with his knees, he was clinging to a feather with his legs trailing behind him like pennants.
Pale peach mist surrounded us. Amara was screaming and Darly was whining and I was about to throw up. Like a stunt flyer at an airshow, the crow executed a wrenching screwball loop. I closed my eyes in terror. I felt electricity in the clouds.
I saw a flash of light. And all went dark. And all was still.
I opened my eyes. Darly, Amara and I were still clutching each other. The crow’s wings were outstretched like a vulture’s and we were gliding out of the clouds. Jack was smiling.
“What the hell was that?” I asked.
“Aerobatics,” he said. “Climaxing with the most difficult maneuver of all, the Möbius Twist. Designed by the legendary barnstormer Lincoln Beachey, but never publically performed. The Möbius Twist is thought to be what caused Amelia Earhardt to disappear. It must be what the crows use to get from our universe to the alsoverse and back.”
“They do?” I said. “We’re home?”
Jack pointed down. Below, I saw lights, a stream of lights like stars. I saw the familiar shape of the London Earl’s shabby roofs. The crow lighted on our porch slab and, with a fluff of feathers—rather rudely, I thought—deposited us and our recovered cargo on the concrete. He flew off with Darly’s golden earring jingling in his beak.
“Thief!” screamed Darly.
“We’re home,” I said. “Was that by design, Jack, or dumb luck?”
“Both,” said Jack. “I suspected the crows could somehow fly back and forth between our world and the alsoverse—without changing their size. So I steered the crow to Darly’s shining earring, it awakened his thieving soul, and voila . . .”
“But how did you know he would stash it right here, in Goshen, Kentucky?”
“That part was the dumb luck,” said Jack.
“There’s still a problem,” Amara reminded us. She pointed at the corner of the porch where her cat was eyeing us hungrily from the shadows.
We four humans hadn’t grown back to normal size at all. We were so small that, compared to us, Jack’s bluegene pill was the size of a turkey, Amara’s pick the size of a surfboard, and my hearing aid the size of shipping box.
“Shit,” said Jack. “We’re in the wrong position on the space-time-scale continuum.” I nodded in solemn agreement.
“Karing Kate has a product that could help,” said Darly, opening her pink leather case. “Supersize Me. It’s experimental. Hold onto your loot while I rub this stuff on.”
And that’s the end of the story, more or less.
The girls slept over with Jack and me for a change, and we woke up happy—all of us smelling faintly of Karing Kate Supersize Me. Not only had the ointment grown us back to proper size, it had amplified the bluegene pill, the guitar pick, and the hearing aid along with us
So ever since then, Jack chips his daily bluegene dose off his turkey-sized pill. No more grubbing for tiny pills on the bathroom floor. I hooked my oversized hearing aid to my squid phone and we use it for a boom box, and so what if I’m half-deaf. Amara made her giant guitar pick into a coffee table. She says she can see supersized Waddy fingerprints all over it.
As for Darly’s earring—like I said, it ended up the size of an earring, spirited off by a crow the size of a crow. Darly shakes her fist at every crow that flies by. But she does it in her signature good-natured way—and her gesture looks like a kindly wave. Just as well. You wouldn’t want to offend the secret masters of the cosmos.
Oh, and Jack won his Golden Pi! He submitted some video clips from Amara’s google glasses, and the high academic mandarins sent Jack the award via UsFedEx drone. The drone even hovered there to listen to Jack’s acceptance speech, wherein my friend thanked all of us, even Chandler, even the crows.
The award was round, of course. And quite shiny, almost like real gold.
Jack lost it, of course. He thinks it might have rolled off the porch.
That’s why he’s on his hands and titanium knees in the weeds.
Me, I’m looking up at the sky.
Nothing is lost.
“Where the Lost Things Are” copyright © 2014 by Rudy Rucker and Terry Bison
Illustration copyright © 2014 by Chris Buzelli