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An Explosion in Time

We were packing up after breakfast when we heard the explosion.

Sort of a deep, heavy, ground shaking FUMP!

"Is there some sort of mining operation going on around here?" Hasenpfeffer said.

"Not in the last forty years, Jim, and certainly not on a Sunday," Ian said. "I doubt if there's a farm or factory within ten miles of here."

"Hey, we're not that far from Kincheloe Field," I said. "Could be some Weekend Warrior broke his bird. We'd better check it out. I think it came from that way."

A BMW isn't ideal for cross-country work, but Ian's Harley was worse. Anyhow, I got there first.

It wasn't like any explosion that I'd ever heard of. There was a hole there—maybe ten yards across and five deep—clean and hemispherical. It hadn't been there long, because there wasn't any erosion to speak of. Just a little rubble at the bottom.

But there wasn't any blast damage around it. If you blow a hole in the ground, the dirt has to go somewhere. I was standing on what looked like a lawn, and the grass wasn't even dirty.

Hasenpfeffer came up.

"Strange. Look at that. The rocks are polished," he said.

There was some stone work at the end of the hole, made of rounded field stones, the sort that I had seen used locally for chimneys. It was as though somebody had sliced and polished the stones in the same plane as the edge of the hole. No, let me take that back. It wasn't a plane. It was as though the hemisphere of the hole just sort of continued up through the fireplace and chimney. Spooky.

Ian came in from the other direction, skirting a newly planted garden. He killed the ignition on his overheated Harley and it knocked a dozen times before it died.

"Either you've got the wrong hole, or this is some kind of a joke." Ian was on the far side of the pit.

"How so?"

"There wasn't any explosion, Jim. Explosions blow things outwards. This was an implosion. Look at his garden here. The sticks with the seed envelopes on them are all lying toward the hole."

We had to go the long way around the pit because there was an old station wagon in the way. Half of the front bumper was missing. In fact, the bumper ended exactly at the same invisible sphere that the hole and the fireplace did.

We heard a "pop" and a thin oval of shiny wire fell from the bumper into the hole. It slid to the bottom and was half buried by some sand and thin slices of stone.

"Hey, it's getting bigger!" I said.

"Bullshit. It's getting smaller, Tom. The stuff fell into the hole, not out of it."

Nothing happened for the next few minutes. There wasn't much to see, so I said, "Look, anybody got a rope or something? I'm going to go see what's down there."

"Are you out of your fucking mind?" Ian suggested.

"Uh, what do you mean?"

"I mean whatever is down there can slice steel like cheese, and now you want to put your whole body into it."

"Huh. You've got a point there."

There was another pop and more rubble fell into the hole.

"Maybe we should get the police," Ian said.

"Has a crime been committed?" Hasenpfeffer asked.

"I don't know."

"Neither do I. And until we have positive evidence of criminal activity, I suggest that we leave the authorities out of this." Hasenpfeffer dug out his notebook.

"But, just sit here, Jim?"

"And observe. This could be the basis of an excellent paper, even though it probably does not concern my own field. One's progress in Academia is largely dependent on what one has written." Hasenpfeffer dug out the tape recorder and camera that he'd planned to use recording our "interactions."

"They had to spend a lot of time getting the hole this smooth." Ian crumbled the edge of the pit in with the heel of his engineer's boot.

There was another "pop" and Ian's scream must have been heard in Sault Sainte Marie.

"The 'pops' seem to be happening at eight-minute, forty-second intervals," Hasenpfeffer noted.

Ian would have fallen into the hole, except that I happened to be right there and a lot bigger than most people. I managed to get a hand on his belt and carried him over to the lawn. Across the arch of his boot there was a quarter-inch wide stripe where the leather and rubber were puffed out and dirty. Ian had stopped screaming and started swearing, so I figured that it wasn't too serious.

When I got his boot and sock off, I saw that his right foot had the same quarter inch stripe, only now it was black and purple, as well as puffed out and dirty. Nothing seemed to be broken or cut, but I got out my canteen and first-aid kit. I washed and bandaged the guy's foot, just for form's sake.

Ian still wasn't all that coherent. The only anesthetic I had was a forty-ounce bottle of Jim Beam that I'd bought along with a carton of Pall Malls at the tax-free shop at the Canadian border, and he was a teetotaler. I got the bottle out of my saddle bags anyway.

"Come on, amigo. It's a good pain killer."

"You know I never touch the stuff, Tom."

"Hey, this is purely medicinal." I took a drink to demonstrate its virtues.

"I'll pass, Tom."

"But Ian, my boy, this is the true ancient panacea, historically proven to cure cancer, ease childbirth and improve virility in your old age."

"Crawl off and die a lonely death, Tom."

"Why, this elixir is so beneficial that were you cleaved from head to knave, I would only have to fit the two halves precisely together, and then by placing only the smallest of drops on your sadly mutilated tongue . . ."

"God Dammit!" He grabbed the bottle. "If it'll shut you and Don Quixote up . . ."

My purposes accomplished, I wandered back to Hasenpfeffer.

"I think Ian'll be all right," I said. "How's the hole?"

"Filling in. The time between 'pops' is decreasing, logarithmically I think. It is down to eight minutes, twelve seconds. Do you think that you could retrieve some samples of the debris without injuring yourself?"

"Well, I can try," I said.

"The next pop is due in about a minute."

I got an old, dry stick from the garden and held it next to the edge of the polished stone work, keeping my hand well away from it. The pop came on schedule and this time it was accompanied by a minor explosion coming from the bottom of the hole. Startled, I jumped back, but kept hold of the stick. Looking at it, I had a wafer of polished stone—the kind you see in lapidary shops—stuck through the end of my stick. I mean, the stick just went in one side and out the other, without the stone having a hole in it.

"I should have warned you about the explosion," Hasenpfeffer said. "What have you got there?"

"Well, it looks like we've got a good stone-cutting technique," I said.

"We might have a great deal more than that. Tell me, how far was it from the stone to where this wafer appeared?"

"Oh, about an inch and a quarter."

"About three centimeters. Excellent. That confirms my theory," Hasenpfeffer said.

"Enlighten me."

"This wafer is just under a half centimeter thick. We have observed six pops since we arrived, and the debris at the bottom of the hole indicated that a pop occurred before we got here."


"So seven times less than a half equals about three."

Maybe in psychology they use a different kind of arithmetic than we use in electronics, but I don't think that I'd want Hasenpfeffer to design a circuit for me.


"Isn't it obvious?" Hasenpfeffer said. "The material that once occupied a spherical volume of space went someplace else and now it's returning to its original position in small pieces."

"Uh huh," I said. "Where did it go when it wasn't here?"

"How should I know? I would imagine that it went into some alternate spatial or temporal continuum."

"Alternate. . . . ?"

"Don't you read any science fiction? Come, there's work to do. And get Ian," Hasenpfeffer said.

Well, Ian was still there, and the bottle was still there, but the contents of the latter had been transferred to the former.

"Ian's going to be out of it for a while."

"Oh. I see. Well, we will simply have to do it ourselves."

"Do what?"

"Rig some sort of net to recover as much as of the debris as possible."

"What on earth for?"

Hasenpfeffer looked at me sadly. Then he started speaking slowly and with small words. "Something made a big ball of earth and air go away. Now it is coming back. Big balls of earth don't usually go away, so something unusual must have made it go away. Maybe that something is in the middle of the big ball that went away. If we can get it, maybe we can find out how to make other big balls of dirt go away."

"Go drag your knuckles in your shit."

Obnoxious son of a bitch. I went and cut down two thin saplings for poles. The twit needed me because he was too clumsy to cut down a tree without chopping off both of his thumbs in the process. I heard another "pop while I rigged up a butterfly net of sorts out of the poles, my sleeping bag, and some bungee cords. Dumb bastard, anyway.

"You'll notice that there was some sort of structure here," Hasenpfeffer said. "The last few pops have contained bits of wood and shingles, located precisely where you would expect them to be if a thin spherical shell were to materialize in our space. While none of the debris so far has been very heavy, some of it looks quite sharp, so do be careful. Oh yes. The explosions are becoming less violent. I think that the additional material at the bottom has a muffling action."

My "butterfly net" weighed about fifty pounds.

"Hey, I should be careful? Damn it, Jim, give me a hand with this thing!"

"Well, if you really feel that you require physical assistance . . ." But he didn't come any closer to me.


"What is that?" he said.

"That" was a bunch of hundred dollar bills that materialized right in front of me. I had them scooped out of the air before they fell into the hole.

I said, "Hey, good idea about the net!"

"Thank you. They're coming in at six minute intervals now, so be ready. I'll watch for anything else that might be useful."

So I was left holding the stick, but it didn't trouble me any more. In the next eight pops, with Hasenpfeffer warning me of each impending pop, I raked in an even two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which was a lot of money back then. Some of the bills were cut up, but I got all the pieces. We could Scotch tape them back together later on.

Then there was nothing much except wood and plumbing fixtures for a few hours, so I took a lunch break. I was halfway through my fourth salami sandwich when Hasenpfeffer started yelling.

"His papers! There are papers coming in!"

"What? Whose papers?"

No answer. The pops were coming two minutes apart now, so I inhaled the sandwich and went back to work. Actually, my net was a little big for Hasenpfeffer to handle alone.

Paper came in, but it was more like confetti than anything else. You see, the money had been laid parallel to the surface of the sphere, whereas this stuff was perpendicular to it. It came as thin, curved walls of confetti that gently exploded on arrival. The first bits were followed by a deluge of paper.

"Jim, this is ridiculous. A whole library has been run through the grandmother of all paper schredders here. No way in hell will we ever get it together," I said.

"But we must try! It's critical!"

"Maybe, but it's also impossible. I'm going back to lunch. Call me if anything useful turns up."

Ian hadn't moved, but he still had a pulse.

Towards four o'clock the gore started. I had been scooping up bits of electronic parts, circuit boards and workbench when I got a bit of meat on my sleeping bag. At first I thought that I was going through another refrigerator. At this point the sphere was about two yards in diameter. I was standing knee deep in sharp splinters of wood veneer, thankful for my leather pants and shit-kicker boots. The pops were coming every ten seconds and it was about five scoops before I realized what was happening. I was pitching people!

"Omigod," I said.

"You noticed," Hasenpfeffer said. "Don't let it throw you. We're almost to the end."

"But . . ."

"Hang on just a little longer, Tom. We can't save him, but maybe we can save his work."

The last hundred or so shells came in a long BBRRIIIP!

And then it was over.

I was dead tired and went over to the lawn, by Ian, who had rolled over on his side, and had his pants unzipped. I lay down upwind of him, because he was doing the vomit and urine routine. Forty ounces of sour mash is quite a bit for a little fellow who'd never been drunk before.

I guess I sacked out.


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