Back to my writing page.
This story was written in 1995 for a class I took at Carleton on Anthropology in Science Fiction. Instead of an essay, the assignment was to write a short sci-fi story that incorpoated various anthropological concepts. This story I wrote is pretty weird. Actually, it's heavily weird. Entirely demented. I'm not even sure I like it all that much, now that I've re-read it. But I suppose the prof liked it, because I won the little in-class contest with it, and thus had to read it before the entire class, and they seemed to enjoy it too.
I suppose I ought to say the whole legaleeze thing about this being my story, and no one should copy it, reproduce it, or distribute it without my clearly written permission. But feel free to give out this URL if you so desire.
THREE FOR THREE by Kimberly Chapman "He thinks he talks to aliens." "Put him in the room next to 'Buddha.'" Robert Durward, nicely packaged in a straightjacket and still vaguely whacked out from whatever sedative they'd given him, was ushered towards a small room in the psychiatric ward of the hospital. As he passed the room next door, he was able to see through the open door a heavy-set man trying desperately to make his legs stay in a yogic meditative position. As his straightjacket was removed and he was laid out on the bed, Durward thought, "But I'm not insane! Can't they see that?" Then he was alone, and too dizzy to move from the bed. He pondered the thought over again, and realized that if he had been one of them, he would have locked himself up too. But he wasn't insane. The voices were real. He was sure of it. * * * * * * * * * * Wil Schumacher only wanted some firewood. In this day and age, most people paid for it at the store, all nicely precut and often treated to give longer lasting flames. If they didn't pay for it, they at least made life easy on themselves by cutting their own with a chainsaw. Wil didn't do either. When he wanted firewood, he took the old axe out of the shed and wandered into Reinhardswald to find a dead tree or log, cut off what he could carry, and that was it. It gave him an excuse to wander around enjoying nature for several hours. He had left his small house just outside Holzhausen early that morning. Since Marghe had passed away, he was free to walk for hours and hours without having to worry that someone was wondering where he was. He was an old man and walked slowly to avoid falling, so it usually was a day-long effort to find good wood. It was around one o'clock in the afternoon when he found himself a good fallen branch. It was just the right size and thickness, and, aside from being slightly damp from sitting on the woodland floor, it was perfect. Wil lifted the axe and let it slam down into the wood. He didn't strain himself; just let it fall and do the work for you, his older brother had taught him decades ago. It took longer, but it was easier on the body. As he was hacking away, Wil noticed a large oak not far away. He paused his chopping to stare at it. There was something odd about that tree. He left the axe sticking out of the wood and went for a closer look. The bark was cold to the touch. Not cool, like any bark would be on an October afternoon such as this one. It was cold. And hard. Really hard. Wil rapped his knuckles on it and half expected to hear a metallic ring; it was like knocking on steel. The lowest branch was too far out of reach for him to get a good look at the leaves. They were still green, though, while the rest of the trees around him were well into their colour changes. "Hmph," he muttered, and went back for his axe. Normally, Wil would never use the axe on a live tree, especially a magnificently old oak. But he had to find out just how hard this stuff was. He would only hit it lightly, just to see if the axe could go through it or not. He reached back and swung the axe at the trunk and was rewarded with a vibration up the axe so hard it knocked him onto his backside. After dusting himself off, he went to retrieve the axe, which had bounced several feet away. Picking it up, he saw that the blade was ruined - curved inward as though he had tried to cut down an iron pillar. The next afternoon, Wil trundled into the hardware store in Grebenstein. He found himself a new axe, and went to the register. Gerhardt Rubenstein smiled at Wil. The old men had known each other as boys, but had never really been friends, just aquaintances. "New axe?" "Hmph," Wil muttered as he nodded. He wasn't appreciative of spending the money, but he wasn't going to start buying his wood. "Old handle finally give out on you?" asked Gerry. "Actually," Wil muttered, "the blade was smashed in." "What were you swinging at, someone's car?" Gerry laughed loudly, but Wil was not amused. "A tree. A tree made of iron." "Ironwood, hm?" Gerry laughed again and rang up the axe. "It's in the car, if you don't believe me." "Well hang on then," said the proprietor. "Maybe we can fix it instead of giving you a new one." Gerry had noticed Wil's disdain, and had assumed that he was upset at losing his father's old axe. He also knew it would probably be more expensive to have it fixed, but if Wil was willing to spend...well, this was a business, after all. When Wil pulled the axe out of the trunk, Gerry's eyes opened wide. "A tree did that?" The blade was completely bent into a curve; there was no way to repair that kind of damage. "I've got a nephew who does some kind of plant research for a university. Don't suppose if I give you a discount on the new axe you'd show him where this tree is? He'd be fascinated." Wil nodded. * * * * * * * * * * Durward sighed as he logged into his account. There were twelve additions to his already high pile of email. It was nearing the end of the first semester, and anxious fourth-year students were plaguing him with research questions. But as one of Canada's leading botanists, not to mention their professor, he was obligated to answer whatever questions he could. He entered his mail file, and saw that one of the letters was from Adam Rubenstein, an old university chum and fellow botanist. Date: October 18, 1994 Subject: You've *GOT* to see this... Reply-to: email@example.com Gutentag, buddy! My uncle found out about this tree that dented some guy's axe...so I checked it out, and well, Bob, you've got to see it! I don't even think it's made out of wood... Any chance that you have enough of a travel budget to get over here? Email me back asap. -------------------------------------------------------- Adam Rubenstein - firstname.lastname@example.org ooooo 000000000 000000000 ooooo Trees are for life. III III III -------------------------------------------------------- Durward sighed. He did have a travel budget, with plenty of money still left in it. The only reason, however, it was so rarely accessed was that he hated travelling. Most of his research didn't take him far from home, and he liked it that way. As he thought about it, he realized that the usually quiet Adam Rubenstein would only be excited enough to use asterisks and exclamation points if this was really important. He also realized that his friend liked to keep things to himself, so this request meant that Adam needed his help badly enough to share his discovery. And what did he mean - a tree not made of wood? Durward emailed him back and asked for travel directions. * * * * * * * * * * Durward hated the flight. Even more than the flight, he hated the obnoxious drive down highway 80 to Reinhardshagen where he was to meet Rubenstein. Once he arrived, however, his spirits began to rise. The town was pretty much in the middle of a woodland, with the exception of the highway which ran along the Weser River. The woods east of the river were marked as a national park, in which camping sites were available. West of the river, however, the forest was mostly disregarded bush. There was an old road running through the woods to Holzhausen, where the old man who found the tree lived. Durward checked into the local motel. After unpacking his suitcase, he wandered outside again, just in time to see Adam pulling into the lot. After the handshake, the smiles, the hey-how-have-you-beens, Adam finally said, "So, should we go see it now?" Durward nodded. Once they were hiking through the bush, Durward's annoyances melted away. This was why he had decided to study botany in the first place. Ever since he was a kid he had felt an extraordinary sense of well-being whenever he was far from civilization and in amongst the trees and plants. That was one of the benefits to growing up in Northern Ontario - there were more trees than people. His eyes scanned everything they passed, his mind readily identifying all of the plants around him. Then Adam broke his muse and said, "There it is, that big oak. But it's not an oak, I'd say." Durward approached the tree and touched it. It was as cold as steel. "Did you run anything on this bark? Why is it so cold?" he asked. Rubenstein shook his head. "We couldn't run any tests. We couldn't get any of it off of the tree." Durward looked at him in vague disbelief. "What about root structures? Are you sure it is a tree?" "The roots are as solid as the trunk. We didn't dig it out yet because I wanted to see if you knew anything about this." "Well if it is alive, we don't want to kill it." Durward felt the bark, then sniffed at it. "I don't think it's organic, though. I mean, how could it be?" "Then what is it?" Durward shrugged. "I have no idea." He looked up and noticed the green leaves. "See? It's not changing. I'm wondering if it's some kind of elaborate fake." "Yeah, but why would anyone go to so much trouble?" "Good question. A practical joke on you, maybe?" Adam shook his head. "Why would they have waited for some old man to find it then? No, I think it's, I don't know, maybe a living petrification?" "The leaves would have fallen off," muttered Durward. "Sap can't flow through stone." He scratched at the bark with his fingernail. "Who else has examined it?" "I brought a student down once, and two other colleagues. Why?" "Just curious. What tests have been done?" "None, really. It was only found two and a half weeks ago." "Anyone try to dig under it?" "Not really," said Adam. "The weather's been good, but it's still too late in the season to break ground." Durward knelt beside the oak and started picking through the dirt at the base. It was cold, and probably too hardened to dig very deep. He clawed at it a little anyway, and stubbed his knuckle on the base. He muttered an ouch, then brushed the dirt away some more. What his knuckle had hit felt more like stone than bark; maybe Adam was right and it was partially petrified. He cleared out a small area and revealed grey stone. "Adam, check this out." The other botanist approached and looked at Durward's find. "That's not petrified wood," he said. "No," said Durward, "it's not." The two men dug the area out a little more with the spades from their packs. They revealed what appeared to be a stone base beneath the tree. "Now how the hell can it send enough roots through that to grow this big and survive?" asked Durward. "Maybe the stone's hollow inside," guessed Adam, "like a ring around the base. Maybe it was planted inside a stone garden ring and has overgrown it since." "But why would anyone plant a tree in a forest like that?" Both men shrugged, and continued to dig out the base of the tree. After several hours of chipping away at the dirt beside the stone without cutting the roots, it appeared that if it was indeed a ring, it went much deeper than any garden stone. Adam had begun digging at the other side to see if the stone encircled the roots or not. It appeared to do so. Durward suddenly called to Adam. He had unearthed what looked like the top of a staircase leading into the stone directly beneath the tree. "This is too weird," said Adam, brushing the dirt off of his hands. "And it's getting late. I say we quit for the day, then tomorrow bring in some help and find out how far those stairs go." * * * * * * * * * * Adam brought two grad students with him the next day. Durward smiled. He remembered being a grad student and getting dragged on all sorts of trips which had nothing to do with his own research, but wanting to impress the professors, he always went. Students made for ambitious, free labour. Nadia Grosenov and Peter Hersch were eager to see this odd tree. They babbled theory at each other in German endlessly as they hiked through Reinhardswald. Adam was kinder, speaking only in English while Durward was around, and eventually the students did the same. A full set of digging tools sped the process along considerably. It soon became apparent that the tree's roots ended abruptly, increasing the likelihood that it was not an organic tree at all. The staircase also ended abruptly after descending six steps down into the stone ring. There was a hollow area inside, although the tree itself was solid through. It had all the internal markings of a real tree, but as Adam had earlier guessed, appeared to have petrified all the way through. The stairs led to a filled-in pit. After some initial digging, Nadia came upon some old pottery - a clay vessel resembling a pitcher. She carefully removed it and brought it to Durward. Adam whistled. "How old do you think it is?" "What do I look like, an archaeologist? I have no clue." Durward gently brushed the dirt off of the pitcher, looking for any designs or writing. Peter, still inside the pit, called to the others, saying he'd found more pottery. Adam rushed in with Nadia close behind. Durward continued to examine the vessel, turning it upside down to see if anything was inside. A small object fell into his palm. Instantly, his arm tingled as if he'd been given a mild shock. He set the pitcher down to examine the object. Sitting in his palm, it looked like a cube of some kind. When he held it in his fingers, it certainly felt as though it had six sides. But nomatter how much he turned it over, it only seemed to have three faces. It was as though the other three were completely invisible. But they weren't invisible; if they were, he'd see his own fingers through them. Instead, when he looked where the other sides that he could feel yet not see should have been, he saw nothing. Not blackness, not whiteness, but nothing. He quickly clasped his hand over the cube. How could he have seen nothing? Obviously, his mind was playing tricks on him. Durward shivered. He felt as though he had just stumbled across something bigger than his mind knew how to grapple. This was too weird to handle. Adam's hand on his shoulder woke him from his reverie. "Hey, Bob, what's wrong? You look like you saw a ghost!" Durward shook his head and surreptitiously placed the enigmatic object in his pocket. "Just pondering this pottery. I have a feeling it's real old." "There's more of it. Lots more. We have to call someone." "Yeah. That's for damn sure." * * * * * * * * * * Within four days the area was swarmed with historians, anthropologists and archaeologists. Durward and Rubenstein were informed that three other similar pits had been found in the Holzhausen area. They were Druidic ritual shafts, in which were placed pottery, animal bones, wooden figures, and in one, what tests had shown to be organic residue from blood and flesh consistent with cremation. As for the tree, nobody had an explanation. It was made of a metallic alloy that nobody could identify. Climbers found that the leaves were also inorganic, but similarly mysterious as to their composition. It was as if someone had constructed the tree as a statue to hide the pit. Celtic culture, however, was not thought to have such technology, so it was generally agreed that the tree was put up after the Druids had vanished. Durward kept expecting someone to find another cube in the other pottery. If there were many of them, he didn't feel bad about keeping this one, and he very badly wanted to keep it, although he couldn't understand why. It gave him a headache to look at it, but he was finding himself increasingly obsessed with it. When no other cube was found - or at least, no one was talking about it if there had - Durward felt guilty for having hidden this one. He figured he ought to hand it over to one of the archaeologists, but on the way to do so he distinctly heard a voice in his mind say (do not do it) (they will think you stole CUBE) (they will punish you) He stopped in his tracks. The thought had occurred to him before, but this was as if someone else was telling him, and it chilled him to the bone. (they will punish you) (they will hide CUBE from you) That was an alarming thought. He slid the cube back into his pocket and returned to the motel. Later that evening Adam came by and found Durward packing his bags. "You're leaving?" he asked incredulously. "It's not a plant. I'm a botanist. Why should I stay?" "Well...it's....EXCITING!" blurted Adam. "Don't you want to find out what it's made of? They're bringing in machines to test it tomorrow." "I don't care, actually." "Well what about the pit? Don't you find it fascinating?" "I promise to read up on Celtic culture at home." Durward zipped up his last bag and headed for the door. "I can't believe you're passing up this chance at discovery." "I'm not going to discover anything, and I'm sure I'll be able to read about what they find in National Geographic in a couple months. I have projects underway at home, and I've booked my flight out for tonight." Adam stared at him, dumbfounded and disappointed. He watched Durward throw his belongings into the rented car and head to the motel office to return his key. * * * * * * * * * * On the flight home Durward checked at least ten times to make sure the cube was still in his pocket. Having it with him made him feel good, although he couldn't explain why. It was like having a friend beside him all the time. As he drifted to sleep after the meal, he dreamed that someone was whispering in his ear (give us three, we give you three) (three for three) (three for three) (to be free) (three for three) * * * * * * * * * * Once he was home, Durward carefully examined the cube under his desklight. He used a fingernail brush with soft bristles to delicately clean the three 'existing' sides, as he now thought of them. It was made of a stone that had the same cold feel as the tree. Each of the sides had a simple design etched into it: one was a solid circle, one a hollow circle, and one was half a circle with what looked like a rounded q-tip entering it. "Guess the Druids had clean ears," he joked to himself. Durward's promise of reading up on Celtic culture and the Druid priesthood was not unfounded; he fully intended to find out just where this cube might have come from and what it meant. On his first day back he went to the library and made a list of anything he could find about Druids. He read reams of historical and theoretical data on religious rites, sacrifices, Stonehenge, Roman conquest, political structure, and archaeological finds, including the Holzhausen finds. Unfortunately, nowhere in any of the literature was any mention of cubes or designs like the one in his pocket. On his way home he found himself feeling guilty for having stolen the artifact. It was obviously very rare. He pondered the possibility of anonymously sending it to one of the archaeologists at Reinhardswald. (no no no no no) Durward shook his head. He had been having odd mental flashes lately. Thoughts were entering his mind as though planted there by someone else. It was like telepathy, except he didn't believe in telepathy. That meant his own mind was talking to him, right? (keep CUBE) (give us three, we give you three) "Three what?" he muttered to himself as he pulled into his driveway. * * * * * * * * * * He was standing in front of the tree again. Everything was bright, and the brightness blurred the lines of objects, giving an impressionistic air to his surroundings. For a moment he wondered how he got there, then he realized, "I'm dreaming. I'm in bed at home." (not dreaming) He turned to see where the voice was coming from, but then realized that it came from inside his own mind. (sleeping but not dreaming) (real) (you are in your three) (your real three) "What three? I don't understand?" He spoke aloud, fully realizing that there was no one to hear him. (six sides to make CUBE) (our three with your three) He looked into his palm and found the cube was there, except this time looking at the 'non-existent' sides didn't give him a headache. "Are the other three in the tree?" (no) (you are in your three) (TREE is in your three) "Then why am I here?" (you talk to TREE) (TREE talks to CUBE) (CUBE talks to us) "So this tree is some kind of transmitting device?" Durward sensed a discussion of some kind, the presence of many conscious beings communicating in the background. (...) (transmitting device is a new image) (define) "New image?" Durward pondered the question. What is the image of a transmitting device? (images) (we talk to you in images) Durward analyzed the voice for the first time and found that it was not a voice at all. It was indeed communicating through imagery; imagery which his mind was so automatically converting to English language that he hadn't noticed the conversion. (language is a familiar image) Evidently, whomever was communicating with him did so on a cerebral level, and was, in fact, able to read his mind. "How?" he asked, still aloud. It made it easier to sort out the words in his head. (we send energy impulse) (impulse moves in your brain) (impulse makes image) (image is language) "Sending electrical charges that generate electrochemical reactions in my mind?" (...) (yes) (define transmitting device) "Uh, like a radio. Well no, not a radio. A radio is a receiving device. A CB- radio, though, that's a transmitting device. It takes your words and sends them to someone else." (...) (TREE is a transmitting device) "So are you Druids, then?" (no) (you are DRUID) Durward raised one eyebrow. "No, I'm Catholic. Sort of. I was, anyway." (...) (CATHOLIC is new image) (define CATHOLIC) Durward chuckled. "If I could, I'd still be one." (is CATHOLIC obsolete image) "For me it is." (you are DRUID) "No I'm not." (you hold the other three) (DRUID holds the other three) (you are DRUID) "Okay, if I'm a Druid, who are you?" (we are the three that aren't DRUID) "I don't understand." (we can show you) Suddenly Durward found himself surrounded by the nothingness that made up the rest of the cube. But it wasn't nothingness; it soon became apparent that what he had perceived as nothingness was actually existence imperceptible to his eyes. Images poured out from the cube in his hand and swirled about him. He couldn't understand, yet there was an inherent comprehension beyond his cognitive abilities. The familiar headache returned, but it was more than a headache, it was the agony of understanding that which is impossible to understand. He wanted to cry out in pain but what he felt was beyond pain, beyond any recognizable sensation. It was at once both horrifying and exhilarating. He woke up in his bed sitting upright, out of breath. He was dizzy, and fell back onto the mattress while his room spinned around him. He knew he hadn't been drinking, but it sure as hell felt like he was having the worst hangover of his life. After some time the dizziness faded and he sat up again. The cube was in his hand, but seeing it brought the dizziness back, so he put it in his nighttable drawer. Durward looked at the clock. It was 7 a.m. which meant his alarm would be going off in ten minutes. "Shit," he muttered. * * * * * * * * * * Durward walked into the campus greenhouse to find his all-too-eager students working on their assignments. For the first time, he hated his job. "Professor Durward!" called out one of the students. "How was the trip to Germany?" He turned and saw one of the brighter students - Mike something, or was it Matt - beaming at him. "Fine," he muttered. "Jet lag?" the student asked. "Hm?" "Have you got jet lag? You look real pale." Durward rubbed his eyes. "No. Had a shitty dream last night. Got no sleep." "Ah," said Mike - or Matt - and turned his attention back to his nursery bed. By the end of the day he was thoroughly convinced it was all a dream. He had heard no voices during the day, which he took to be a good sign. Total insanity would wreak havoc on his schedule. He tried to relax at home that evening but couldn't. He wanted to go get the cube out of the drawer. He stopped himself, not wanting to induce another onset of dizziness. After having dinner and watching an episode of Cheers he had seen at least five times before, he decided to go to bed early to catch up on sleep. "Must have been jet lag," he said to himself, yawning. He undressed and turned out the light. As he pulled the blankets over himself, he badly wanted to open the nighttable drawer, just for a peek. "Just to see if the cube was even real," he thought to himself. He resisted the urge for a short while, then, realizing he wouldn't be able to sleep until he looked, gave in and opened the drawer. There it was, sitting on top of a photo of his ex-wife, Clara. He closed the drawer and drifted off. * * * * * * * * * * Durward found himself standing in front of the tree again, and was somewhat annoyed. "So this is going to be a repetitious dream, is it?" (not a dream) Durward sighed. He really needed sleep, and these nightmares were going to kill him. He tried to wake up in the hopes that falling back asleep would begin a different dream, but found that he couldn't. (do not leave) (we need to talk) "That's what my ex said before she walked out on me." (...) (ex is a new image) (define ex) "Never mind." (is ex obsolete image) "Yes." (we need to talk) Durward sighed again. (you are distressed) "I need sleep." (you are asleep) "I need to sleep without dreaming of you." (not a dream) Durward grumbled. This was becoming increasingly annoying. (we need to talk) "About what?" (give us three, we give you three) "If I give you these three things I supposedly have, will you go away?" (...) (we will be joined when CUBE is whole) "Joined? I don't understand." (joined is pure state) (joined is whole) (joined is CUBE) (give us three, we give you three) (three for three) (to be free) "Free from what? I'm confused." (look at CUBE) (you see three) (give us those three) "How?" (become CUBE) "How do I do that?" (give us three) Durward grunted. That was all he needed: a paradox to prevent him from having a good night's sleep for the rest of his life. (no paradox) (become as CUBE is in your three) "Shape myself like a cube?" (...) (...) (do you understand CUBE) "No, absolutely not." (...) (you are not DRUID) "I told you that before." (...) (shall we explain CUBE) "Not if it's anything like showing me yourselves last night." (no) (we are not CUBE yet) "Okay. Go ahead." (CUBE is REAL ENERGY) (CUBE has six sides) (REAL ENERGY has six parts) (you have three) (we have three) (give us three, we give you three) (CUBE becomes whole) "So how do I do all this?" (fire) He waited for further instructions, but none came. "Fire?" (yes) "I burn the cube?" (no) (you burn you) "What?" Durward was aghast. "You want me to set myself on fire?" (yes) "No way! Forget it!" (the only way) "I don't think so!" (give us three, we give you three) "Fuck off!" (three for three) (to be free) Durward tried to ignore them, to shut them out of his mind, but he could not. "Look, I don't even know what the three are!" (you are in your three) "What are they?" (three for three) (to be free) "Did the Druids know?" (DRUID holds three) (DRUID knows) "Then I'll give the cube to a Druid. They're still around. They do that Stonehenge thing. I'll find one and -" (you) (we want you) "Why?" (you have seen us) (you are now DRUID) (you are chosen) "I'm not going to set myself on fire!" (three for three) (to be free) (three for three) (to be free) * * * * * * * * * * Durward tried to ignore them night after night, yet every time he slept there were the voices chanting their 'three-for-threes' at him. He had to get rid of the cube. That should get rid of the voices. Let someone else find it and set themselves on fire. He sure as hell wasn't going to do it. He laughed to himself. "I'll send it to Clara. No more alimony payments." Then he realized that he wouldn't wish this torture on anyone else, even his ex wife. He had to dispose of the damn thing in such a way that no one would find it. It liked trees. He would bury it out in the woods. That afternoon Durward headed out to the conservation area north of the campus. He drove as far as the road took him, then got out and hiked. He knew he'd have to go deep in, otherwise some poor student would end up finding it. (do not do it) "I'm getting rid of this thing." (do not do it) "I have to. You're driving me insane." (DRUID would not do this) "I'm not a Druid!" (you worship TREE) "No, I study them." (you are DRUID) "Get the hell out of my head." (do not do it) (please) He kept on hiking into the bush, trying his best to ignore the pleading. Obviously this would work, otherwise they wouldn't be so insistent. (we need you) (please) "Was it because of you that the Druids burned people as sacrifice?" (yes) "You're disgusting." (they are whole now) (they are REAL ENERGY) He said nothing as he began to dig. The ground was stiff with frost, but he was driven. Durward chopped at the tough earth until he had made a hole about two feet deep. He pulled the cube out of his pocket and held it over the ground. (no no no no no no no) "Good bye," he muttered, and dropped the cube in. The voices went silent. "Ah, that's nice," he muttered, and began filling in the hole. * * * * * * * * * * Durward undressed, slipped between the sheets and nuzzled into his pillow. He needed this sleep, and he fully intended to enjoy it. It was easy coming; he drifted off quickly. Then he found himself standing beside the tree again. "No way," he thought to himself. "This is just a bad dream based on my fear of the other dreams. I can make this go away." (not a dream) Durward screamed in both shock and anger. (we are not CUBE) (we do not need CUBE) (DRUID needs CUBE) "What are you talking about?" he cried out. "I got rid of you!" (no) (we have our CUBE) (you need yours) "Leave me alone, please." He fell to his knees before the tree and wept. "I'm so tired. Just go away." (get CUBE) "No." (three for three) (to be free) "Forget it." (there will be no rest) (we will not go) "Get out of my head." (...) (we are not in your head) "Then where the hell are you?" (...) (we are where you see nothing) (we are everywhere) "In the air?" (no) "Where, then? Outer space?" (...) (yes) "Great," he muttered, wiping the tears from his cheeks. "Fucking aliens. I am nuts." (aliens is a new image) (define) "Oh, you know, like E.T.. Or body snatchers." Durward giggled. "Or maybe like Klingons." Durward laughed heartily then faked a Scottish accent to say, "She can't take any more Captain, she'll burn up!" He rolled on the ground in front of the tree laughing uncontrollably. (...) (...) (we do not understand) He sat up and wiped tears of laughter from his face. It wasn't really funny, but he was so tired... (define aliens) "Creatures not from earth." (...) (we are ALIENS) "So where are you from? Alpha Centauri?" He laughed softly. "Mars? Does Mars need women?" (...) (alpha centauri is a new image) "I know, define, right?" (yes) (define) "I'm not even sure. It's a planet or a star system or something." (...) (we are not from a planet) "A moon, then?" (no) "Where?" (we live in that which binds the universe) (we are in that which you cannot see) "Like in space space? Where there's nothing?" (there is us) "I think I read about that once. A theory that there's invisible stuff that keeps galaxies from flying apart." (...) (yes) (we are there) "Lucky you. I'm still not going to burn myself, so give up." (get CUBE) "No." (three for three) (to be free) Over and over they chanted it at him, in him, around him. Durward tried to escape. With effort, he was even able to make the image of the tree disappear, but still the voices pounded in his head. He was asleep but receiving no rest. Endlessly they repeated the phrases, like a religious mantra, over and over. Durward felt each word strike through him until he woke as he always did from the dreams, sitting upright and out of breath. (go) (get CUBE) He wept into his hands. They were not going to leave him alone until he got the damn cube. (three for three) "Alright already!" he shouted. "I'll get the fucking thing!" He threw on the first clothes he could grab then headed out to the car, not bothering to lock the front door. Durward sped the entire way to the conservation area. Every time he slowed down or considered turning back, he would hear the voices again, imploring him to proceed. At this point, he wasn't even sure whether or not the chanting he heard was his own mind repeating what had been drummed into it or whether the 'aliens' were actually talking to him. He regretted taking the cube in the first place. He ought to have handed it over to the archaeologists or the anthropologists. They were used to dealing with this stuff, weren't they? Well, not aliens, but alien cultures. Maybe they could have learned about them and communicated better. "Or maybe the same thing would have happened to them," he muttered. He tried to feel noble in taking the agony unto himself, but found he still wished it had happened to anyone but him. Durward parked the car and began the hike to the burial spot, hoping he'd be able to find it again. He wondered if the Druids had tried to resist them or not. They didn't burn themselves, after all. They burned other people. Or maybe the others found the cubes and went to the Druids to be ritually burned. Or maybe the Druids thought they could avoid their own peril by putting someone else in place of themselves. He stopped walking. That was it. He needed to find another person to burn. No sooner had the thought entered his mind, then he was already chastising himself for it. He couldn't kill anybody! For Christ's sake, he was a botany professor, not a murderer! But the thought lingered. Against his better judgement, he found his mind planning out how to do it, how to randomly select a victim and burn them in his place. He found the mound where he had buried the cube and started digging. As he did so, the plan unfolded in his mind. He had to do it. There was no choice. And it would be random. It wouldn't really be murder, after all. Someone would just be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. An unfortunate mishap. It couldn't be helped. An accident. * * * * * * * * * * In the early hours of the next morning, Durward waited outside the campus greenhouse. He watched and waited, trembling with fear, anticipation and exhaustion. "I'll give you your three," he whispered over and over again, to which the reply always came: (three for three) (to be free) Then he saw someone. It was too dim to see who it was, just that someone was entering the tool shed beside the greenhouse. The wooden toolshed. Quickly, Durward left the car and approached the shed. He took hold of the door and moved to close it quietly. "Professor Durward! How's it going?" Startled, he let go of the door and it swung open. Mike - or was it Matt - was in the shed, picking out the tools to tend to his nursery bed. "I know I must look like a geek showing up this early, but my third row isn't doing well, and I really need a good grade on this lab." Durward nodded sullenly. He hadn't wanted to know who it would be. But it was too late. He couldn't wait another night. And he had already covered the shed walls with gasoline. If he waited, someone might notice the smell and clean it or keep people away... It had to be now. It had to be him. Durward quickly shut the door and put the padlock through the handle. "Professor Durward? What are you doing?" came the muffled voice from inside. Durward paused. Then he continued, and closed the lock. "Three for three," he whispered, and took a lighter out of his pocket. "Professor Durward?" Mike - or Matt - was pushing at the door. "Sir? The door's stuck." Durward flicked the lighter. "Sir? I can't get out." He brought the flame towards the wall. "Professor? Hello?" The fuel on the wall caught the instant it connected with the flame. It travelled up the shed in a blue and yellow stream, connecting to the other lines he'd poured until the shed was ablaze. Durward stood back from the heat, and heard a scream. From behind. He turned, and saw another of his students - a girl, Shelley, he thought - standing ten feet away. "Oh my god! What are you doing?" He looked at his hand and the lighter in it, then looked once more at the fire. He could barely hear the boy's shouts of terror over the roar of the flames. He dropped the lighter and ran towards his car. The girl ran after him, shrieking. "Get help! Oh my god! Get help! Help him! What are you doing? What have you done?" He jumped in the car and quickly locked the door. Trembling, Durward somehow managed to start the engine as Shelley pounded on the windows and shrieked at him. She continued to pound her fists against the car as he drove away. * * * * * * * * * * When he got home, he realized that since there had been a witness, someone would be coming for him. But he didn't care. He was free. He started packing as much as he could into his suitcases, then loading them into the car. He giggled frequently, mostly out of terror and astonishment. He killed someone. "No," he thought to himself. "An accident." As he loaded the final suitcase into the car, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the cube. "No need for this anymore," he thought, and lifted his arm to throw it away. (do not do that) (keep CUBE) The voices caught him off guard. He went pale. (we need you) (you need CUBE) They were back. "I gave you what you wanted," he stammered. "I burned him for you." (you) (we want you) "No," he breathed. "No, it can't be that way. The Druids...they burned others to save themselves." (...) (yes) (that can be done) "Then why aren't you satisfied?" (...) (you did not give CUBE) (CUBE must be in the fire) (fire must come from CUBE) Durward sank to the ground and sat against the wheel of the car. He had killed the student for nothing. As he stared at the CUBE dumbfounded, he heard sirens approaching. "It's too late," he said. "They'll take the cube away from me now." (eat CUBE) "What?" (eat CUBE) (keep CUBE) (eat CUBE) He couldn't see any reason not to. Perhaps that would make it all go away. Perhaps that would give him some kind of power. He popped the cube into his mouth and swallowed it as if it were a large pill. He gagged on it once, but managed to force it down just as the police cruiser pulled into his driveway. * * * * * * * * * * So now here he was, lying on a cot in a mental ward. He had tried to explain why he had committed this crime. He told them about the tree and the cube and the aliens. At first the cops questioning him laughed, but soon they were shaking their heads in pity. They thought he was insane, that he was imagining the whole thing. Was he? Durward could barely tell himself. The fire wasn't imagined, though. The boy - his name was Mike after all, Mike Rutherford - had died. Durward was a murderer. Exhausted and sedated, he fell into a dreamless sleep for the first time in days. He woke shortly thereafter when he felt someone touching his arm. A nurse was taking his pulse. He smiled at her. She didn't look at his face. When she finished, she wrote something on a clipboard then left the room, locking the door behind her. Durward allowed himself to fall back asleep. He soon found himself standing beside the tree again, and the voices were back. (three for three) (to be free) "Sorry," he said, "but there's no way in hell I'm going to be able to start a fire now." (use CUBE) "The cube? I ate it, remember?" (yes) (burn CUBE inside) "How?" (WILL it) "Will the cube to burn inside me?" (only way) (three for three) (you will be free) (three for three) Durward woke up, but this time he was neither sitting up nor out of breath. He felt rather calm, actually. After all, he had little other choice but to do as they requested. He had killed someone; he was going to be locked away forever. And the aliens promised freedom, a joining to be pure and whole. What was the use in resisting? He sat up and tried to imagine the cube inside him, to visualize it. Then he imagined it catching on fire. He felt a warmth inside himself - a warmth beyond physical heat. In his visualization of the cube, it suddenly had a fourth side, and the knowledge of that side filled him with unimaginable ecstasy. He looked closely at the symbol of the empty circle on one of his sides of the cube. "Space," he muttered, and realized that space, the location of energy, was one of the sides. (yes) (YES) (space is a new image) (we understand) He felt the warmth inside turn into a pleasant heat and he saw a fifth side appear on the cube. He understood it. It was energy too, but in a form he had never conceived of. He grappled for a word for it, but could find none. How could there be a word when no one had ever known of it before? He turned his mental vision to another side of the cube, the one with the engraved q-tip-like picture. What was it? A fear gripped him as he tried to translate that which he did not understand himself. How could he communicate what his world was like unless he fully comprehended it? In a panic, he turned to the other side, the one with the solid circle. What was it? That came to him more easily. "It's stuff, like matter. That's where you are, in dark matter." Dark matter; that term sort of qualified what the fifth side was. "Matter I can't see, so it's not matter as I know it. But that's what that circle means. Matter. Energy bound up together into atoms. Cohesive matter." (matter is a new image) (we UNDERSTAND!) The heat inside became a flame, but there was no pain, only ecstasy and joy. The sixth side of the cube appeared. He understood. The image connected in his mind. He visualized the final side, the one with the q-tip. It looked like an arrow...motion, it obviously meant motion of some kind, but he knew that wasn't it entirely. He began to panic again. He needed more time. Time. That was it. The motion of energy is time. "Time," he whispered aloud as his body burst into flames. * * * * * * * * * * Moments after the alarm sounded the orderlies had flung the door to Durward's cell open. There he sat, engulfed in flames which were spreading to the sheets of the bed quickly. Someone shouted for an extinguisher. One was rushed into the room and Durward's body and bed were showered with white foam. Doctors poured into the room and grabbed for the patient. The body fell to pieces in their hands as someone shouted, "Who the hell gave the arsonist a match?" The nurse who had taken his pulse stumbled away in horror after noticing the flagrant smile on the corpse's face.
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