The Incredible Machine
by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson
Early morning. It was overcast but bright. Eddie hopped into his car and drove to the highway. The highway was close to his house but rarely so busy that it annoyed him. Just one car passed, and he followed it. The driver looked to be someone he knew from town, probably also heading to the city for errands.
The car in front was really moving as it exited town, but Eddie paid it no mind, until it suddenly flew into the air, like a plane.
Eddie slowed down. “That’s odd...” he said to himself.
The vehicle disassembled in the air and the bits and pieces twisted and folded every which way. So did the two passengers. They opened up and flattened out. Never did the entire mess slow down or stop during all this; it flew up and seemed to be making its way overhead in a trajectory leading back over town, ever spreading, ever folding.
Eddie stopped the car and put the hazards on. Another car came up to him, windows down. “Did you see that?” asked the driver.
Eddie nodded. He got out of the car. The other car drove by slowly. Eddie watched it. There was something odd about the road ahead. No... not the road...
The car dove into the ground and disappeared. It was as if it had driven off a cliff, but there wasn’t anything like that there, just the road. Not a ripple in it either. Eddie stared at it openmouthed. This second car had disappeared where the other car had taken flight. He walked to the place, slowly feeling it with his foot before he stepped.
He found the place. It got a bit spongy, then, a foot or so later, nothing. It was as if he was dipping his foot into the asphalt, but the asphalt wasn’t liquid but air.
He noticed what was wrong with the road. It stretched into a green field with trees on one side and a simple fence on the other. And that was it. There ought to have been houses, maybe oncoming traffic, but there wasn’t. There weren’t even real clouds in the sky, it was just white.
Eddie looked around and, after a short walk along the perimeter of this weird new obstacle, found that all the landscape had been simplified. There was just enough, but not if you paid attention to it.
Another car arrived, and Eddie stopped it. It was Mack, from the dairy farm. He was mystified, but Eddie showed him the end of the road, which amused Mack for a couple of minutes, he even emptied his ashtray over it, happily watching as the candy wrappings disappeared upon contact with the ground.
They saw the wreckage from another car fly off on the other side of town. “I think we should block the road and tell people about this,” said Eddie, and Mack agreed.
Eddie drove his own car to the other side of town, parked there, and began looking for the edge.
He went into a nearby hamburger joint and ordered a burger. While he was waiting, he explained the situation to a couple of people who had come in to ask about the car parked in the middle of the road. He even went outside with them and showed them.
“It’s like this on both sides. Maybe even all around.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Look” — he pointed — “there used to be landscape. Islands over there, and mountains there. Now everything is just milky whiteness.”
He went back inside, where the burger was waiting for him. He kept an eye out for what was happening outside while he ate. A crowd was slowly gathering around his car, and people were showing the new feature of town to each other, and exploring, putting their hands into the asphalt and feeling around.
A woman of about forty came in and sat on the chair in front of him. She looked familiar; she lived a couple streets over. She looked at him dead-eyed, watching him silently.
“What?” he asked her.
Her eyes went even deader. She twitched, then she went rigid. She mouthed some words, let out some incomprehensible syllables before she straightened up in her seat and loosened up. Eddie thought she was having an epileptic fit.
She took a deep breath and seemed at ease. Eddie relaxed. He looked her in the eye. She went completely rigid again, and in her eye, from inside, some machinery appeared, drilling its way out, in geometric order. It was at least eight-pronged, and when it came out, there came blood.
Eddie backed away quickly, all the way against wall. The woman’s gaze followed him, and she stood up also. Meanwhile, complicated machinery sprouted from her eye like a plant. Then there was a jolt, and her head spun, and her entire body unravelled in ribbons, bone splintered and blood, ground muscle and every sort of bodily fluid spread out before it all ended with a mighty flash.
“What was that? Did you see that?” asked Eddie, perturbed.
From around, people came to him, asking that same thing. He had no answer, but people came to him, since they recognized that he had noticed that thing with the road first.
He went to the toilet to wash most of the gunk off. Then he went outside for a walk; he needed that. He went to the other side of the road and saw that someone else had exploded there.
Mack was there. He shrugged at Eddie. Eddie went to the gas station and souvenir store. Normally, there would be a bus there, but it would be in another dimension now, he figured. A man was there; he told Eddie he had just seen a tractor-trailer sink into the field beyond.
“So it is all around,” said Eddie, not surprised.
“What does?” asked the man.
“The thing,” said Eddie, unable to explain further.
“NNG!” said the cashier.
The others looked at him. He made strange faces for a moment, then erupted what resembled rebar and drill bits before exploding into gory little chunks and strips of leather.
“I got a picture of that!” yelled someone.
Eddie saw a kid with a phone. They gathered round to see the picture. Turned out it was a video. They watched it ten times, then frame by frame.
“Look! It warps everything around it before it explodes!” said the kid, pointing.
Eddie looked. The kid was right. There was a pronounced warping effect.
“Maybe there’s a miniature black hole?”
“You mean, this could be CERN’s fault?”
“Ah! Hadn’t thought of that!”
Eddie rushed outside, for the purpose of getting fresh air. Exploding people tended to smell afterwards. Almost everybody was outside now. Some were walking the perimeter, others were on each end of the road, holding a conference.
Eddie looked to each side, scratching his head. He heard screams. He looked and saw, where his car was, that someone was sprouting antennae. He or she ambled about, zombie-like, for almost a minute before twisting unnaturally, unwrapping and exploding with a strangely muted snap.
Eddie walked toward the steaming mess. He looked a confused bystander in the eye, and said, “This took longer than last time.”
The bystander was silent. Eddie went to examine the remains. There was no sign of those antennae he had seen, and very little identifiable of the body as a whole. Just the feet and portions of the legs. Everything else was strips, slithers and fragments.
He went into the hamburger joint to check out the first victim. It was the same. No sign of metal.
“What are you looking for?” asked the proprietor.
“Where did all the Borg implants go?” asked Eddie.
“She had all those metal protrusions growing out of her before she exploded. So did the others. Where did they go?”
“I don’t know... Maybe that’s what exploded?”
Eddie went outside again, pondering. He heard yelling. He looked and saw that a crowd was forming around someone. He went there. Someone was sprouting an antenna from the head again. Eddie hurried. That kid was making a movie of it on his phone. The victim was gesturing, making noises.
“Careful! This may be contagious!” someone said.
Eddie stopped dead in his tracks. He’d not thought of that. The victim was turning around. He looked like he had rebar stuck to the top of his head, and it was sprouting branches, like an old UHF antenna. He stared Eddie directly in the eye and said, “We will come in peace.”
“Aliens! I knew it!” said Eddie.
“We... come.” said the man with the antenna.
“Where are you from?”
“Why are you blowing all of us up?”
Eddie was about to ask something more, but the man began unravelling like those before, only slower. From the head down, the skin unwrapped from the flesh and the bone, which in turn exploded into fine mist, and everything around visibly distorted. Eddie thought he could see something within the whole mess, before the antenna got sucked in and everything exploded in a massive flash.
“I think they are trying to talk to us,” he said, when the red mist had settled.
“The aliens, of course.”
“But why are they doing this?”
“They will explain when they get the hang of it, I suppose.”
“What if they never do?”
“If they run out of people to explode, you mean?”
Eddie walked away, thinking. He was pretty sure he had seen the inside of the spaceship, or whatever was in there. But how to use that information?
Next time he heard the crowd get agitated, he came running, and behold: someone was sprouting knife-like branches from his back, while his eyes were all alive, floating in blood.
It took longer this time. It seemed to take a bit longer every time. This one said, to no one’s reassurance, “We mean no harm.”
The arms began unravelling as before, as if they were made of ribbon. They split in a red mist, which hovered unaccountably, and antennae sprouted from it, vibrating a bit.
“Peace, we come, prepare,” said the hapless victim in monotone. His chest came open, and a weird light emerged from it. Eddie rushed up and reached in with his hand. He got a hold of something, and felt himself dragged inside the person’s chest.
He heard a loud pop before he found himself in a different world, holding onto an arm. It looked mechanical. It had fingers that moved. The arm itself was moving, and he held on tight.
Everything was pink and orange in there, but not very bright. He saw the floor and let go. The thing the arm was attached to appeared to be looking at him. He was not sure, but the thing had eyes as well as appendages.
It was a strange sort of thing, a mess of wires and tubes, with some eyes on it, not all mechanical. It had a multitude of arms, some of which seemed to stretch out of existence from time to time, only to appear again, seemingly from nowhere.
The thing poked Eddie with one of its numerous fingers. Eddie stared at the thing, dumbfounded. He wondered wether he should regret coming to this place. It looked odd enough: a room with openings to each side, large enough to drive a car through. That thing would need such doorways. Behind him there was a great window.
The thing let him stand up and go and look outside this window. Outside, he saw a substantial piece of ground sort of floating in a vast cargo-space, a circular plot of land. There was a portion of a city on it, and people milling about in disarray.
The monster thing moved to the next room, motioning with some of its limbs for him to follow. Eddie followed it through gangways and over walkways and through tunnels, and into many rooms, in which were other monsters. And there were more windows overlooking more plots of circular land with people walking around on them.
When the monster had shown him the fourth one, it flicked on a screen, and wrote on it in very crabbed handwriting: “We have nothing for you to eat.”
And the thing picked him up, and he found himself standing in the middle of a road with plenty of people staring at him. There were police, emergency services, the media... even a bus full of tourists. All were staring at him in disbelief.
The road was familiar enough; he had been planning to drive it this very morning. That meant the town would be behind him. He turned around, and saw the massive circular hole where the town used to be, slowly filling with water.
He knew they were all waiting for an explanation. He said to himself, “I hope they don’t blame me for this.”
Copyright © 2017 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson