by Walt Trizna
Table of Contents
appear in this issue.
|Chapter 1: Cellar Science|
[Withdrawn at the author’s request]
“I have a problem! I have a big problem!” Elmo shouted from his cellar laboratory. Mildred shook her head, wiped her hands on her apron and headed for the basement door. After fifty years of marriage, Elmo never ceased to amaze her at the trouble he could get into.
Mildred had fallen in love with him so long ago. He was unpredictable, a dreamer, while at the same time a practical and strong man. “Could he garden like other men his age? Oh no, he has to do physics experiments,” Mildred muttered as she walked down the cellar stairs.
* * *
Elmo and Mildred had moved into a rural house in upstate New York ten years before, right after Elmo had retired from his job at the Los Alamos laboratory. He was a physicist at the laboratory, part of a think-tank that planned experiments. But Elmo enjoyed lab work, too. He had accumulated a host of ideas and discarded equipment.
Mildred gazed out the window of her country home. Nearby, tall electrical towers obstructed some of the bucolic scenery, but Mildred liked the house just fine. Elmo brought along the junk he had accumulated over the years, mostly discarded apparatus from failed experiments, equipment useless to everyone except Elmo.
The items included large magnets and four six-foot tall Tesla coils, specialized high voltage transformers three feet in diameter and wrapped with miles of thin copper wire. They resembled giant candles, coming to a point with electrical connections at the apex. Elmo transported all this equipment into the basement and fiddled with it for years. He then had a large Plexiglas chamber built, which set them back a bundle. He stood the Tesla coils in each corner, and then mounted the magnets in the floor.
The next step in the construction of Elmo’s experiment Mildred found most undesirable. Elmo told Mildred, “I’ll need a great deal of power for my research. Soon I’ll need your help making the electrical connections for the project I’ve been working on.”
A few days ago a truck had delivered a huge spool of heavy insulated wire, another great expense, and now Mildred was getting a bad feeling. Once it was dark, Elmo emerged from the basement wearing rubber boots and heavy rubber gloves. “Get your coat, Mildred, we’re going out.” The spool of wire was in the bed of Elmo’s pickup. They drove to the base of the nearest electrical tower and parked.
“What are you going to do Elmo?” Mildred asked in a voice full of apprehension and a touch of impatience.
“I’m going to climb the tower and connect this wire which you’re going to feed out,” came his reply. Mildred shook her head and wished Elmo would act his age.
After that illegal task was accomplished, Elmo spent most of his time in the basement tinkering with his invention. He called it his Time-Space Chamber, and when Mildred asked just what he was doing, Elmo explained, “I’ve always thought that if I could create an electrical field, then move those electrons in a magnetic field to approach the speed of light, I could create a wormhole to a distant time and place. I could aim the wormhole and transport matter. The secret is the size of the magnetic field. It must be small, not like the giant cyclotrons they construct in the desert.”
All Mildred could say was, “If it makes you happy, dear.” It kept Elmo out of her hair for years.
* * *
As Mildred returned her thoughts to the present, she wondered if the lights dimming had anything to do with Elmo’s shouting. What she didn’t know was that the lights had also dimmed in most of that region of New York and most of eastern Canada. The electrical company had never experienced a power drain like this before and was struggling to get things under control.
Now, as she opened the basement door, Mildred wondered if perhaps all those years Elmo worked in the basement unsupervised was really a good idea. She peered down the stairs and all she saw at first was a milk-white haze. The smell of ozone was stronger than any Elmo had ever produced before. Slowly, she could make out Elmo’s bald head ringed with white hair. He began jumping like a little boy, not the seventy-five year old man that he was. “I don’t have a problem. I did it! I did it!” he shouted over and over.
“What did you do now?” Mildred asked.
“I completed my first experiment,” Elmo answered and pointed to the Plexiglas chamber. Through the mist Mildred began to detect a shape. At first she thought it was a large fire hydrant but then it began to move. The fire hydrant was mottled red and green with skinny arms ending in suction-cupped fingers. Its tiny legs also ended in suction cups. The creature’s mouth resembled a funnel, which constantly opened and closed. It was breathing.
The most peculiar aspect of this creature was its eye. It had only one and it blinked constantly. As Elmo and Mildred talked, the eye followed their conversation, traveling from one to the other, as the eye physically moved around the perimeter of its head.
Mildred watched as the eye moved from one side of the thing’s head to the other. She giggled as she imagined a stadium full of these creatures following a tennis match but soon got control of herself. Actually, the single eye wandering all over the alien’s head was starting to give her the creeps. “You can’t keep it,” she said.
Elmo responded, “I don’t want to keep it. I want to go back with it.”
“You’re kidding, Elmo, and where did it come from anyway?” asked Mildred.
Elmo explained, “You see, my dear, you and I and all living beings in the universe are a series of chemical reactions. The cosmos is one huge chemistry set. I thought that if there was a star, similar in size to our sun, and if there was a planet with a distance similar from that star as the Earth is from the Sun, that life might exist there. These days, astronomers are always discovering new planets revolving around distant stars. So I just waited until one was discovered with the right conditions and aimed my time-space machine at that planet and the results are in the chamber.
“But notice how our friend can barely move his arms or legs.The gravity on his planet must be much less than it is on Earth. I need to go back with him and see what it’s like.”
Mildred shook her head. But she knew arguing with Elmo was useless.
“I’ll show you how to run the machine, but first get our camera,” Elmo said.
By the time Mildred found the camera and returned to the basement, Elmo had entered the chamber and had his arm around the visitor. Mildred took a picture, then another for insurance. Then Elmo exited the chamber to demonstrate the workings of the machine to his anxious wife.
“Okay, dear, first you turn the machine on with this switch. Next, you turn this rheostat. To get him here, I had to set the rheostat to half maximum. To get us back, you’ll need to turn it to full. Give me about ten minutes and then bring me back.”
“I don’t know if this is such a good idea,” muttered Mildred.
“Don’t worry Mildred, I’ll be back before you’re done cooking dinner.”
Elmo entered the chamber and Mildred followed his instructions. As soon as the rheostat reached max, there was a blinding flash, the chamber filled with a milk-white fog, and Elmo and the creature were gone. Shortly after they disappeared the lights in the basement went out.
Mildred sighed. “Oh, Elmo, you may be gone a little longer than you expected,” she muttered and climbed the stairs to fix dinner.
What Mildred didn’t yet know was her town, the entire state of New York, along with most of the northeast, a good portion of the Midwest and a large part of Canada were also without power. Fifty million people were plunged into darkness. Elmo’s experiment had precipitated the largest blackout in history. He was going to be very, very late for dinner.
Copyright © 2006 by Walt Trizna