By Tony Rauch
Painting © Rob Sussman
“Well, it all started one night. I was sitting at my desk in my attic study when a piece of paper at my side began to flutter. Just the corner at first, but then gradually the entire page began to vibrate until it was tapping a slight shimmy. The paper was on top of some boards that form crude but economical shelves and a desktop. I thought this was odd – that just that one, single paper on the shelf would be moving and not any of the others, for there was no draft in the attic, no window open, no crack in the roof, no breeze at all. Eventually the tapping went away and everything returned to normal until a few days later when the fluttering began again. This time an entirely different piece of paper, as if someone or something were trying to signal me from somewhere, as if trying to get my attention. Eventually the paper turned a little from side to side. Then the corner began turning colors – at first it blushed a slight creamy hue, as if it were being heated from below. But that changed to a slight creamy green as the night wore on. I was busy at work – designing an extension to the medieval village I lived in – but had the presence of mind to look over every now and then to see what was happening on that isolated piece of paper on the wood shelf. I just figured it was some mold growing, or maybe the paper was treated with something and having a reaction to the stale attic air. I checked to be sure nothing was dripping on it from above, and that no food or liquid had spilt to stain the paper.
I kept my eye on this odd activity for a while, but then nothing happened for quite a long time, so I went about my business and forgot all about it. A few nights later when I sat down, I noticed a small string on that piece of paper. I thought this was really strange as I had not put the string there, but then I thought maybe there was a draft up here earlier in the day, or that by me opening and closing the attic door or me walking about back and forth that maybe that action created a wafting breeze that floated the half inch string onto the discoloring paper.
I forgot about the string as I became lost in other activities, until a few nights later when there were two more small strings on top of the first string. They were both half an inch long as well and looked as if they were trying to join that first string in creating something, as if trying to bond or connect with it to form the initial framework or structure of something larger.
Again, I got busy and disregarded the tiny strings until a few days later when I looked over and there were a few more strings on that discolored spot on the paper. The first three had grown to be almost an inch long now, while several other half-inchers crossed on top of them. This was really getting strange. I wondered what was growing there, or forming there. Curiosity got the better of me. So as an experiment I decided to see what would happen if I just left the paper alone. I just figured it was some harmless attic growth, some mold or fungus or something. Maybe something had spilled on the paper and this was just a growth of bacteria from out of that initial stain.
I got busy with things as usual and did not return for a few days. When I did, I saw that the strings were actually growing out from the paper, specifically from the strange spot of discoloration. It was as if some liquid had dripped from above onto the paper and this caused some bacteria to form. Maybe I had spilled some soup or something onto the paper and that soaked in a little, thus staining the paper and then causing an unusual bacterial progression to develop.
The first strings were longer now, about an inch long, with additional smaller ones curling around them to form the start of a fibrous tube-like shape. Now things were really getting interesting. Maybe this was just an obscure thing that occurred naturally, one that I never heard of before – like crystals forming or stalactites.
I returned twice a day after that. The shape was growing out of the discoloration on the paper. The shape was indeed trying to form a fibrous little tube, like a macaroni, complete with openings at each end. I moved a small lamp under the stained paper to try and gain a better view. I watched a while and found that either the heat from the bulb, or just the light itself, seemed to excite the tiny strings. I got my magnifying glass out to take a closer look. Under the magnification and the light source, the tiny strings appeared to be vibrating and glowing a little. Whatever they were doing, they looked to be moving. But nothing else was happening and the growth looked to take place over days. I turned off the light, thinking I would keep an eye on it.
I came back the next night to find the development had accelerated. The tube was complete, looking like the small noodle that I thought it would – about an inch long. It was still very fibrous, obviously made up of these growing, vibrating, illuminated, intertwined strings, obviously something with a formal underlying structure to it and thus something with a purpose. But what could that purpose be? I wondered what was being built before me. Maybe a simple organism was growing, something organic like a plant or amoeba. Maybe a machine or device was slowly being assembled by such tiny machines or organisms that you couldn’t see them go about their work with just your eyes. Maybe it’s a little machine to transport something – to bring them to me or maybe to take me to them. Maybe it’s a conduit to a computer that will have an index that can solve all our problems. Or maybe it’s some kind of creature being sent to speak with me – an ambassador or advanced scout or probe sent to check out our world, and I would be the first one to greet them. Either way, I was so excited to find out, I couldn’t wait for what would happen next.
“Hello,” one end of the tube moved to speak. A voice warbled out of it as a slow tinny hum, as if broadcast from far away. The open end moved a little as it spoke.
“Hey,” I answered, surprised and shocked and amazed, too surprised to move.
“Do not be alarmed. We are just the Bytoose,” it continued in a pinched whine, “This is our way of communicating with you. We have traveled from a great distance. We are going to be staying here for a while.”
I felt like saying, ‘not in this life’ and slamming my fist down upon it, then feeding it to my dog.
“Please do not hurt us. And do not feed us to your dog,” the thin voice announced, as if reading my mind, “For we will attach inside of him and multiply and eventually convert his cells into our own and thus grow to his size and take him over completely,” the voice mumbled out of the little macaroni hole.
“Oh, great, so you can read my mind. Terrific,” I sighed.
“Yes, it is terrific for us. This telepathic ability has enabled us to survive and thrive as we can anticipate the actions of others. Your brain is quite transparent to our sensors,” the voice explained.
I took out my magnifying glass and leaned in to look even closer. And sure enough the little strings were pressed together to form the shape, each like a fuzzy little fiber, as if from a sweater or something. The fuzziness twittered in the light, each tiny hairy strand vibrating as if in a breeze, or as if breathing.
“How did you get here?” I ask.
“We broadcast ourselves on the radio waves. In the tiniest of particles. We come from a long long ways away. Very far from your world,” the voice answered in a thin whine. “We assemble ourselves slowly. Piece by piece. Atom by atom.”
I jumped back and sat there stunned. Then I twisted on my apple crate and lunged out of the room. I stumbled down the steep narrow steps until I spilled out onto my living room floor. I lay there gasping, out of breath, my mind empty but for a few flashes every moment or so – images as panicked flashes of my house covered in these stringy things, each growing longer and oozing stinky pus, my dog being turned into one of those tube things, myself being turned into one of those things. What happens if I accidentally inhale some of it? What if I accidentally sneeze around it? Would it splatter and then each individual piece begin to grow and multiply on its own?
I pictured our world covered in these stringy things until all sunlight was blocked out and there was nothing but darkness and all living matter withering. I saw these images in random, panicked flashes. I knew I should know better, but that was all I had. I heaved out of breath, all hot and tingly, all shaky and huffing from the adrenaline flow. I did not like these visions. I wanted to flush them from my mind. I didn’t want to get all panicked and worried. I didn’t know what to do. Fear had taken over like an infection, like a sickness. I was not thinking straight.
I crawled to the phone. I reached to the end table and brought it down to me. I called the operator and got the local military base on the line and asked for their best scientist, all the while keeping both eyes on the attic door. Luckily the scientist was available. I told her what had happened. She said to sit tight, that I did the right thing by calling, that they’d be right over and not to worry. I stayed on the floor until they burst through the front door in funny, baggy yellow protective gear. “Up. . . Up there,” I stammered and pointed, my arm shaking, my voice quivering.
They ran upstairs in a loud rumble as more continued to flood in the front door. Two of them grabbed my arms and lifted me from the floor. “Aaaaggghhh,” I squealed in fear, my eyes red with concern and panic. I looked at each army scientist, my head turning from side to side as they dragged me out. I looked them over to make sure they were real, that they were actually here.
As they dragged me outside, I heard a call from upstairs, “They’ve returned. . . Just as we feared.”
I was rushed out of there. More voices called from upstairs, “They’re still transmitting! They’re transmitting! Atom by atom!” And that was the last I ever saw of the stringy things. I don’t know whatever happened to them, who they were, where they were from, how they formed, or how they got here. The army scientists told me to keep my mouth shut or I’d disappear one night. Just like that, I’d be gone. But as they sternly instructed me, I picked up on another conversation several feet away. I overheard one scientist mention to another that my place was deemed a “hot zone.” And I saw two scientists in baggy protective plastic gear walk the piece of paper out of my house in a protective plastic container attached to a medical stretcher. Another scientist in a puffy yellow plastic suit was spraying my house with some kind of fog through a hose from a tank strapped to his or her back.
Well, that was it. They wouldn’t let me go back. That was fine with me as I didn’t want to go back. But I didn’t let that fact on with the government agents. “What ‘em I gonna do now?” was all I could say to them with fake concern and worry. They ended up setting me up with a new place. They said I couldn’t go back to my old place. Ever. Apparently it was not constructed on a good spot in terms of electromagnetic alignment or something. Anyway, that’s how I came to acquire this other old house. Last week I drove by my old place and it was gone. Completely torn down.
But the odd thing was that after I lived at my new location for a while, well, it sort of happened again. I don’t know if they followed me, or if one of the tiny little fiber things got stuck on my clothes or what,” the man next to me on the bus smiled and opened up his fist to reveal a small glowing string in his cupped palm. He leaned to gaze down upon it, “Actually, they’re harmless,” he grinned, “And they’re super smart. They come from far far away. They transmit themselves through the airwaves and build themselves one tiny little molecule at a time. They can teach you all sorts of things. Things you’d never imagine.”
“Whoa,” I said, gazing down on it, impressed.
“Yeah,” the man next to me continued as the bus rattled us home from work, “They transmit themselves through from another dimension, slowly building themselves atom by atom, cell by cell. They appeared again at my new place. Up in the attic on a piece of paper again. Same as before. This piece here in my hand fell off the bigger chunk. A draft caught him and he landed on another piece of paper up there. I left it there for a while to see what would happen, to see if I could get two of them growing. But nothing happened with this one. It just stayed the same. I guess without all the rest of it, they can’t grow much on their own. Anyway, I left the other larger piece alone too, and that one has continued to grow. That initial noodle thing kept growing and expanding, longer and longer, eventually forming a rudimentary brain stem. Then that kept growing to eventually start a spinal cord, rib cage, and the beginnings of the lower base of a brain of some type. So it looks right now like all the tiny little bits are being added to the original piece to form a being of some kind. Its two and a half feet long right now. Just the spinal column and what looks to be the start of a brain, backbone, rib cage, shoulders, and the start of a jawbone and pelvis or hip bone. More is being filled in, little by little, everyday. I’m anxious to see what it turns out to become. Hopefully it will end up being a person of some type that I can communicate with. I’ve been nice to it, so I figure it will return the favor. I’ve been careful not to tell anyone, lest the government has been keeping an eye on me. Apparently I am in contact with them somehow. Not the government, I mean these little stringy guys seeping in from that other dimension. The conditions up in my attic must be just right for them to broadcast themselves to. Anyway, would you like to come over and see for yourself?”
I lean in, staring at the little string in the stranger’s palm as the bus bounces us through the city.