An Inconvenient Wormhole
2am. Not a single person is around to witness the blossoming of a fresh crack in the fragile reality of Madhattan. It’s just a small wormhole, really, a bridging between two points in space and time that would have preferred to remain ignorant of each other. One of those points is within the interior of a city block between West 56th and West 57th that was stripped bare decades ago, walled by burnt out buildings, testaments to the dangers of campfires built on carpets, but otherwise lightly touched by the greater chaos. An unlucky rat, too close to the initial implosive breach, is swept into it, screaming, soiling his blue pants, the manuscript clutched to his chest shedding tiny, densely inscribed pages that fall like confetti.
Don’t be concerned for the rat. He’s gone to a better place – Westchester County three weeks earlier. Which is about the span of time it will take him to travel back to this spot and this moment.
See? From out of the rubble of a Mexican restaurant that used to open onto 10th Avenue comes a tiny figure, our rat, limping, without pants, missing whiskers and patches of fur, one eye swollen shut, the lower lid an angry red bead. He clutches a dirty sheaf of paper and weeps as he collects the fallen pages from the ground. As he stumbles from page to page he keeps his good eye on the wormhole. Either end of these things can drift in space and time. They can also jerk, translated instantaneously, tripped by a discontinuity in the shredded fabric that we unknowingly traverse while believing we travel across metres and through moments.
Perhaps it hit a tear, or a frayed edge, because it leapt forward, engulfing the rat once again as he squatted collating. He had no time to even squeak, despite a point along his tail catching an infinitely thin and energetic edge. The tapered portion of the tail stayed where it was on the ground, the glow from its cauterised end gradually fading, the smell of singed rat dissipating.
For the next two hours the wormhole was alone. The night was still except for the slight breeze from air moving into the wormhole as the universe attempted to relieve the pressure differential between here and the air above an overgrown backyard in Chappaqua.
Now missing a third of his tail, a crutch fashioned from a twig jammed into a raw armpit, exhausted from chasing his earlier self through nightmare suburbs and the twisted cityscape, having avoided the pitfalls of his first journey only to stumble into fewer but greater tribulations, a wiser rat clumped into the block’s interior.
Across his chest he wore a simple bag fashioned from a red and white après-ski sweater wrestled off a tiny mannequin discovered in an equally tiny RV decaying under a rustling blackberry bramble. The bag held the remains of his manuscript. Very few pages remained unmarked, and even those their edges were smudged. Travelling in his own footsteps he had recovered most of what had been dropped, knocked, and torn from his grasp over that first return. The rest was on the ground in front of the wormhole, waiting to be collected.
He very nearly did it. Using the crutch for support he had kneeled stiffly by them. The sight of his tail piece jolted him to a stop. Holding it in his hands was a familiar sensation, but it was accompanied by an unsettling numbness and a twinge in the stump of his remaining tail as it jerked and attempted to move what was no longer attached and no longer delivering sensation. It seemed a greater loss than his eye, its empty socket still as capable of tears as its neighbour. He wept for his tail, but knew he wept for his work, for his kind. The world was capricious and cruel. It was a struggle to not embody that. His manifesto, it might help all rats resist that path, to embrace instead a life of…
A gust of wind sent the pages of his manifesto tumbling into the wormhole. He screamed. He raised his tail and flung it after them. He pulled the bag over his head, falling on his side as he wrestled with it, and threw that into the wormhole. He pulled himself up on the crutch, kicked at the rest of the pages with his good foot, then started to walk away. He was done.
A light filled the alley, blinding him.
“Go back,” a voice said. “Go once more into the wormhole.”
He squinted through his fingers. A golden rat-shaped silhouette radiating light floated in the air.
“Who are you?”
“I’m you perfected. You must enter the wormhole again.”
“I can’t. I’ve lost an eye, a chunk of my tail, I think my leg is broken, I haven’t seen my family in months.”
“If you do not then I cease to exist and all rats suffer. If you do, then we are transformed and all rats are saved.”
“Saved. Enter the wormhole. On the other side look for a light in the north. Follow it. When you reach it, enter it.”
“It? Enter it? What is ‘it’?”
“A modulation. Like the ones that transformed the first of our kind from Rattus Rattus to Rattus Sapien. You will enter it a broken rat, pitiful, fearful, mortal, and emerge a god. Rattus Deus. Immortal, fearless, pitiless. No longer stalked by cats, stooped by hawks, or strangled by squidgeons.”
The rat blinked behind his fingers. His heart pounded. To be reborn a god was to die as a rat. Would it also mean the loss of his love, his family? His exhausted heart plunged at the thought. His dear aproned wife. Their fifteen hairless children. Would they ever again look upon him with love and affection? But to be the children of a god instead of the children of a scribbler, a dreamer, would that not be, that would have to be, infinitely better.
“Quickly! This rift will close at any moment. If it vanishes, I vanish, your hope for our kind vanishes.”
The rat looked again upon the glowing figure in the air, his eye watering, his vision disintegrating from white gold into red and black. He adjusted the crutch in his stinging armpit. North towards the light. North? He would work it out, if he could step off the cliff edge in front of him. Just go. You will see this block again. From above. But it won’t be you. What are you about to lose? What is it to be perfected? We are all so flawed. We are our flaws. Our flaws are us.
He screamed and stumped forward, grinding the pages of his life’s work into the dirt, his shadow, cast by the brilliant light of his godhead, was a sharp parody of his broken body soon to be healed and perfected. He plunged into the wormhole and the block was silent. The wormhole sizzled, its edges blackened, the black grew like frost towards the centre in feathered tendrils that rushed to join. Their tips touched. It collapsed with a sharp crack that sent a ripple of dust spreading outwards.
The golden rat remained, floating, illuminating the towering walls with its glory.
“Sucker,” it said.
A voice, a human voice, called from up-block.
“Hey! Tinkerbell! If you’re done, I could use some light over here.”
The rat sighed. He never should have read Peter Pan to the guy, but the pictures of the scantily clad pixie had made his begging persistent. His glow faded out. He drifted down to the ground, dropped to all fours and trotted towards the voice. It was faster than floating.
Bleeker was squatted next to a rusted hatch set into a similarly rusted frame in the ground next to the wall of an old hotel, pale knees poking out of shabby denim overalls. The shackle of a large padlock passed through the iron tongue that pierced the hatch. Bleeker held the lock in one hand. In the other hand he held a length of stout wire pounded flat, the free end slightly curved, the end in his hand wrapped with string.
“Gimme some light.”
“Can I have some light, please, Nathan.”
Bleeker groaned, but repeated the sentence. No point in creating antagonism between partners.
“A little higher, please.”
Nathan rose up into the air, drifted to a spot where the shadow of Bleeker’s hand fell away from the lock.
“What do you think’s in there?”
“No idea. But there’s not many locked doors left around here. Might be something.”
“Won’t be food.”
“Might get us food.”
Bleeker wiggled the pick in the lock, twisted it, wiggled it more. One of the tendrils that ran in a line down either side of his ribs escaped the strapping meant to hold it still. It slid between the buttons in his shirt and creeped above his overalls to slap repeatedly against his face. He tried to push it away with his chin.
“What were you up to over by that wormhole?”
“Just fucking around with this schmuck I used to know.”
The tendril began poking at Bleeker’s mouth. Its slick tip was hard, like a beak. He bit down on it. It hurt him, too, but it made the tendril arch and undulate until he released it from his teeth. It vanished back into his shirt.
Bleeker continued to fiddle with the lock, his movements growing more vigorous, his muttering more continuous, until frustration won out. He dropped the lock and it clanged against the hatch. The sound echoed between the walls, jolting them out of that white cone of focus that blinds and deafens small creatures so they may be eaten by larger ones. Both turned, expecting the flash of teeth bearing down on them. Bleeker shivered. Nathan’s light created impenetrable shadows at every corner, in every empty window and doorway. They shouldn’t linger in Midtown, not at night, not banging on doors like they are dinner bells.
“Let’s get. We need to find someone with bolt cutters.”
“Bring someone else in? No way. This is our find.”
Nathan drifted over and latched onto the shoulder strap of the man’s overalls with his toes, grabbed the fat edge of the right ear for balance. “We just need to find some bolt cutters no-one is watching,” he said softly and directly into the man’s ear.
Bleeker nodded along as he stood. “I know a couple places.”
The empty block was lightening with the dawn when a dog padded into it. It was a small dog, with floppy ears and large brown eyes sprinkled liberally above a muzzle over-crowded with jagged teeth. It wasn’t a remarkable collection of features in post-modulation Madhattan, but the saddle upon its back was something new.
The creature in the saddle, with clicks and soft kicks, guided the dog in a wide circle around the squares of paper scattered on the ground. It reached under the patch over its left eye to rub the old wound there. It spat and the glob landed on one of the pages. To think he had once believed he had captured some truth in all those words. But that was years ago.
He stretched in the saddle, lifted all three arms above his head, twisted left and right to ease the tension in his back. He was delaying the obvious and he knew it was out of fear. He, Stuart, the dog-rider, steel-muscled, iron-sinewed, was afraid to face his wife. Would she still care for him? It was nearly morning. She would be worried that the slender, timid scholar that had left her in the evening for his little intellectual salon was hours overdue. What would she make of this new Stu? The furless body. The tattoos. The extra arm. The scars on his heavy muzzle, the chipped fang within it. She had farewelled an effete. Would she welcome a brute? His heart didn’t know. It knew fear that she would not. Rats often return home changed from chance encounters with drifting mods. When tentacles come in the door love flees out the window. It was a saying.
No, he decided. His change was too profound. It needed more time. Time explained change. Let her hear of him. Let her mourn her husband, but hear about the dog-rider, the god-killer. Then, when he had earned that second name, when the god was dead by his hand, he would reveal himself to her. She and the children would welcome him back into the bosom of the family.
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