by Andrew Livingston

The universe has walls, but not the kind of walls you’re probably thinking of. They’re more like the walls of a plant cell than the walls of a building. They enclose the universe’s working parts, they give it some temporospatial rigidity, and they’ve got membranes in place to control what comes in and what goes out. Don’t act all surprised about that last part; first of all, such transfers are rare, and also the physics of it eventually all balance out. If matter or energy comes in, the demands of equilibrium usher something else to the exit.

Which is what began to happen sometime toward the end of May or the start of June. Whatever it was that entered our universe, it represented the matter and/or energy equivalent of roughly two-thirds of the three-story corner townhouse of a certain human being in suburban North America. This person happened to be named Sal Fenster, who was, aside from being a townhouse owner and retired schoolteacher, was a collector of antique keys, an amateur complaint letter-writer, and had since childhood suffered from a recurring dream of being a child on one end of a seesaw, watching helplessly as a giant approached and pushed the other end with one colossal finger, sending Sal flying. The entirety of Sal’s existence was a series of astounding coincidences, but the same was true of everything else.

Anyway. The universe’s equilibrium maintenance selected approximately two-thirds of Sal’s townhouse for displacement. The choice was at random, from among nearly infinite candidates. The selected portion was not the upper two floors of the unit or anything respecting the unity of human perception, though. Technically, the chosen chunk of matter and energy extended from about three meters beneath the building to two above it, sliced right through the townhouse’s interior, and reached out about three more meters into the thin air on two of the building’s sides.

This chunk included the side of the unit that faced an adjoining vacant lot. Sal’s desk was in the center of the second-floor living room, facing out on it through a sizeable window. Sal appreciated the vacantness, feeling that it promoted in some indescribable way the writing of complaint letters and the examination of antique keys. It facilitated a pleasant unpensive vacantness of mind as well, now and then.

Once the inscrutable laws of the universe’s equilibrium had made their selection, the process of removal began immediately, albeit slowly. There was no change in spatial relationships between matter that was to remain and matter that was soon to depart, at least not in ways that any human being could detect. Great changes were taking place in the underlying structure of the universe nonetheless. A pore in the membrane between IN and OUT aligned itself with that unfortunate chunk of Sal’s townhouse and the surrounding air and soil.

Sal felt an unfocused strangeness wash through the interfacing points of body and mind. Sal did not think much of it, though; old age could do—and had done—far worse. It wasn’t even unpleasant, like the arthritis’s groans whenever there was a drop in atmospheric pressure. Just strange. That’s an unsatisfyingly vague description, yes, but unfortunately there aren’t better words for the sensation in any human language, because anyone who experiences it does not have long as a member of a speech community, so there’s never been a lasting lexical need for a term describing the feeling.

What was really happening beneath the surface of the observable was simple enough: the chunk of matter and energy, now at the cusp of its exit point, was being engulfed or encased. It was rather like a molecule about to be pushed out of a cell’s membrane, ensconced first in a vescicle to allow its passage.

Sal was sitting at the desk, trying to concentrate on penning a letter to the manufacturer of a brand of plastic ballpoint pen that displayed an unacceptable tendency to lose its flimsy plastic clip whenever, as Sal put it, ‘one so much as looks at them slantwise.’ Had Sal tried to go to the staircase at the other end of the room, or even to so much as look in its direction, a sort of distortion and misdirection would have impeded any such efforts. But Sal made no such efforts.

However, once a particular turn of phrase had turned itself to Sal’s satisfaction, a glance upward and out the window revealed an impossible sight and demanded a much closer look. Rising to protesting feet, Sal shuffled to the window and confirmed, without perhaps totally believing, that the scene was more than a mere trick of the corner of the eye.

The vacant lot had been replaced by vacant nothingness. Out the window, the barest suggestion of grass ended at the abrupt point where it met…nothing.

To be clear, this type of ‘nothing’ is not like the medium of deep space, which contains sparse wisps of hydrogen with the barest hints of helium even in its emptiest reaches. The type of ‘nothing’ that Sal looked out on was not black. Close both eyes in a dark room and you may think of what you “see” as black; close only one eye, and what do you see out of it? Nothing, or at least a form of it. What Sal saw combined this aspect of nothingness with a sort of grey-purple static that rioted at the edges of Sal’s vision and receded when focused on. It was ontologically terrifying and also frightfully beautiful to behold.

The view through the window faced out of the pore in the membrane of the universe. With no frame of reference to measure by, there was no visual indication that the bubble of matter and energy was growing ever closer to the point of no return. But Sal, transfixed by this final incredible sight could nonetheless feel a final, gentle push that sent the two-thirds of a townhouse and its sole occupant soaring free, for one eternal contextless moment.




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One Response to “Delocation”

  1. » Blog Archive » Announcing the 2017 !Short Story Contest! Finalists Says:

    […] –“Delocation”, Andrew Livingston […]

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