Richard collapses to the floor, his knees slamming hard onto the wood panels. The unwieldy device in his arms hovers a mere inch from collision as Richard’s stubby fingers tremble from the weight of the thing, turning white in the process. He ignores the radiating blasts of pain firing off in his lower limbs and delicately places the machine down. The two-story trek proved more difficult than his rotund body was prepared for, and he’s perspiring wildly as he removes his father David’s journal from his back pocket and cracks it open.
“Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds,” Richard reads aloud. He rolls his eyes. “That’s a bit much.”
He begins combing through the tome, skipping past months of detailed entries about the conception of David’s invention and the implications of its’ potential, stopping only when he sees a schematic of the machine. The sketch fills the entire page, with illegible notes scribbled next to a series of arrows. Richard flips to the following page, finding an elaborate illustration of four puzzle pieces coalescing into a sound wave. An envelope slips from the pages and falls to Richard’s lap. He hurriedly tears it open and reads the line preceding an extended list of details instructions.
“To my son,” Richard wheezes. “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
He places the list next to the device and sets about completing the assembly of the machine, labelled only as “Aker” in the paperwork. He unfolds the large hose attached to the back housing, pointing the nozzle into the center of his father’s former home office. He turns Aker’s mechanical dial to the coordinates listed in David’s notes, unsure of what the compression and rarefaction rates refer to. He simply completes each step, as was instructed in David’s will. Finally, he takes a second, smaller hose from the side panel and attaches it to the two valves on top of the machine.
Once all of Aker’s pieces are connected, Richard compares the machine to the schematic and rereads all of the steps to ensure no detail was missed. Satisfied, he closes the journal and eyes the five switches lining the back panel of Aker. These five switches are the last step required before his task is complete. Before, if all goes according to plan, Richard sees his father again.
“Love you, Dad,” he whispers. He stares out into what now feels like the cavernous expanse of his father’s favorite room. The small cabinet of scotch bottles and packed bookcases lining the far wall seem a mile away. Richard sniffs softly and quickly flips the first switch.
Aker viciously belches out an awful sound from the hose, and Richard can feel the apparatus begin to vibrate through the floor panels. It’s a low rumble, but hearty. Steady and full, like a powerful engine. Richard’s confidence soars, and he flips the second switch.
Aker’s vibrations instantly increase in intensity, and the rumble’s pitch climbs to a higher frequency. Aker is now shaking more violently, and the bottom of the machine is slapping against the wood in a rhythmically off kilter pattern. In front of the machine, the hose slowly snakes back and forth like an agitated copperhead. Richard scrambles to his feet and searches the surrounding area for a restraint. Finding nothing, he scrambles to his father’s desk and rifles through the drawers. He grabs a roll of packing tape and hustles back to the hose, refocusing the nozzle into the center of the room and taping it down. Behind him, Aker’s vibrations settle into a less unnerving pattern.
“Just needed to warm up,” Richard tells himself as he places the roll’s final piece of tape across the hose. It wasn’t the most secure it could be, but Richard hoped it was strong enough to hold for now. He tosses the empty tape roll across the room and flips the third switch.
Aker screeches, and Richard crumbles to the ground in agony. A wave of piercing tones shoots from the hose in front of him. As he writhes, he sees the hose pushing upward with the cadence of the sound blasts, threatening to tear away from the floor and rise to the ceiling. He tries to remove his right hand and reach for the fourth switch, but the piercing sound and its residual echo are too painful to bear. He squirms around, maneuvering his foot to the fourth switch in between each piercing blast and each body wince, and closes his eyes as he flips it on with his heel.
The frequency changes again, this time dropping several octaves. The new frequency is constant, and Richard feels his core rumble. It’s unsettling, like an unending earthquake, but certainly not painful. Richard drops his hands from his ears in relief, and cautiously opens in eyes.
He stares in wonder at what appears to be millions of small specks, originating from the taped-down hose and expanding to the furthest points in the room. The hose is stationary again, and the guttural rumbling from the machine has decreased in intensity. He approaches the stream, and delicately stretches out an arm. It moves through the specks freely, as if they don’t exist.
Emboldened, he creeps into the stream entirely. It’s cold, and he shivers as pins and needles tickle his bare feet. He notices the specks intermittently bouncing all around him. It looks like unstructured dancing, in a way. He stares into the blackened entrance of the nozzle, slinking forward as he attempts to decipher exactly what he is standing in. And what he is looking at. But it’s simply darkness, until it spreads out into the room and isn’t anymore.
Richard steps out from the stream and returns to the back panel of Aker. He looks down at the final switch in anticipation, thinking about the implications of this device were it successful. And what those implications meant to what kind of man his father was. He exhales loudly.
“Here we go,” he whispers as he flips the final switch. The low rumblings of the machine immediately dissipate. In fact, all noise does. It terrifies Richard, this vacuum, and he attempts to fill it.
“Dad?” he asks quietly, but the moment the word escapes his lips it seems to evaporate. Richard calls out again, louder this time.
Again, the word disintegrates, and Richard feels his heart race. He calls out again, this time a constant string of words, one connecting with the next until he runs out of breath.
“David, where are you? I need to talk to you right now or I will be forced to turn this machine off. Can you hear me? I’m going to keep talking until someone decides to show their f-“
“-ace around here. I went through all this trouble and the least you could do is hold up your end of the bargain, Dad. This wasn’t easy, lugging this thing up two flights of st-“
“-airs and you’ve got this detailed list of instructions. You know I don’t know science, I’m an art major, I don’t understand half the words in your journal-“
Richard stops when he sees the man materialize before him. Balding. Bearded. Same height and size. Same blue eyes. His father. Standing in the speck stream.
“Hello, Ricky,” David says flatly, before offering a devilish grin. “Good to see you again. I knew you could do it.”
“It worked,” Richard laughs in exhausted disbelief.
Richard rushes to embrace David, disregarding the discomforting chill from David’s touch. The two quietly hold each other.
“Listen,” David says as he pulls away. Between them, the specks pop and dance away with each breath. “I don’t know how long I have before the machine will need to recharge, so I need you to do exactly as I say.”
“Of course,” Richard says, clearing his throat. “Whatever you need, Dad.”
“Go to my office at Loyola. Contact Jenny Steadman, my old research assistant. She won’t understand the totality of what I’ve accomplished until she reads my notes. She will help you find a bigger power source for Aker. Because we need more. Much more.”
“Power source?” Richard asks, confused.
“Yes, Aker is powered by a very specific combination of energies. My calculations must have been off, because I can already feel it draining. To keep it open and do the work we are going to do, it needs to be a much larger timeframe. In fact, we may have to rebuild the whole thing from scratch, and take everything up three scales.”
“Dad, I don’t understand. Work? I thought you just-“
“It’s more than removing the fabric between your living world and this one, son,” David exclaims, his solid form becoming increasingly translucent. He smiles softly and offers a gentle wave as Richard begins to sobs in confusion. “Find Jenny Steadman, and bring her to Aker. And hurry.”
“Dad!” Richard calls out a last time, as David’s body is close to disappearing completely. “Dad!”
“Ricky, this is only a beginning.”
Stephen Reynolds is a former Journalism student currently pursuing his love of fiction. His writing has appeared at What Culture, Just 100 Words, and in January will appear at Saturday Night Reader.