ABOUT

CURRENT ISSUE

ARCHIVES

ADVERTISING

SUBMISSIONS

CONTACT

 

Stephen Lawson is a Writers of the Future finalist. His 2017 sales include Daily Science Fiction and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. This is his first appearance in Galaxy’s Edge.

THE DEATH OF ARTHUR OWSLEY
by
Stephen Lawson

"Your eyes seem perfectly fine, Lawrence," Dr. Applegate says. I hear papers rustling under his fingertips. "There's no medical reason why you shouldn't be able to see."

I already know why I can’t see, though. I read. I know why Odin gave up one of his eyes.

"What else could do something like this?" I ask. I can't tell him what I know, of course. I just need him to find a solution.

"I'd like to refer you to a friend of mine," he says. I hear hesitance in his voice.

"What sort of friend?" I ask.

"Thad Ingles is a psychiatrist—the best I know. I've spent quite a bit of time in his office myself."

It's hard for me to imagine why an optometrist would need to see a shrink, but I keep this thought to myself as well.

"Are you saying I'm blind because I want to be?" I ask.

"Crime scene cleanup can be very traumatizing work, I suspect," Applegate says. "Perhaps your last job was a bit too much to look at?"

"Yeah," I say. "Maybe that's it."

He gives me some papers to give to Natalie, so that she can take me to the shrink. Until a week ago, I was a voracious reader. Now I can't even read my own appointment information. I guess I'll have to learn Braille.

* * *

“I need to go back,” I say.

Natalie closes the driver’s-side door and I hear the click of a seatbelt.

“Back where?” she asks. “Back to Owsley’s house?”

“I want to look into it again,” I say.

“Lawrence, you’re blind. Anyway, you finished the contract before you left. We couldn’t get in now if we wanted to.”

“I could say I lost something inside and just realized it—a credit card maybe."

"So they're going to let a blind man and his wife grope around unsupervised in their late uncle's house for an hour? They'd be standing right over your shoulder even if you could see anything."

I feel the car accelerate as we merge onto the Interstate.

"You're right," I say. "We'll have to break in."

People say that your other senses grow stronger when you lose one of them, and it's true. I can feel her giving me the look even though I can't see it.

"We could buy the house then." I offer.

"With what money?" Natalie asks.

"I have a bit saved."

"We're going to need it, since you can't work anymore."

"I could get all the money in the world if I could look into it again."

"How?"

"Call it insider trading."

Natalie says nothing for several miles.

"They're having an estate sale next Friday," she says finally. "I saw a sign when I was coming to pick you up."

* * *

Arthur Owsley blew his brains out last Wednesday at three in the morning. Ginger and Randolph Owsley, his niece and nephew, discovered his body the next day when a concerned neighbor called them. Ginger Owsley called me after the coroner took the body away. The coroner had, thankfully, kept the business card I'd given him.

An hour later, I pulled up at Arthur's house in my van. I keep a simple sign on it that says "Lippincott Cleaning, LLC" with my phone number below it. I try not to draw attention to grieving families.

Natalie had also given me the look when I told her I was going to call it "Lippincott's Horrendously Bloody Brain, Spleen, Toenail, and Pancreas Clean-Up Service, LLC."

"The signs will cost too much," she'd said. "They charge by the letter."

"People would never forget me."

That's when she'd given me the look and I'd conceded.

I finished scooping Arthur's gray matter into a biohazard bag, thankful that he'd used a .45 instead of one of the shotguns in his gun cabinet. Of course, if I charged by the hour, the shotgun would've been more profitable.

* * *

I withdrew my drywall removal kit from the back of the van and briefly considered changing from my flat-rate pricing model.

The police had pulled the bullet out of the wall, its hollow point having expanded and swallowed a shard of Arthur's skull. I sighed and started cutting out drywall, carefully leaving a space large enough for the repair work that would come later.

Behind the drywall, I found something.

My box cutter stuck to the black box mounted to the stud, so I knew it had some sort of magnet inside. Two electrical cables were connected to the black box—one cable ran away from the box toward the light switch, and the other cable ran down toward the floor. I cut away more of the drywall to see where the first cable went, and found that it did indeed connect to the light switch, though for what purpose I could not discern.

I sat in Arthur's desk chair—the same one he'd used when he had pulled the trigger—and noticed a slight change in the paint hue around the gap in the drywall. The room’s overhead light hadn't brought out this contrast, but my tripod-mounted work lights were meant to bring out tiny details that others missed.

This drywall had been cut away and patched over before, but not by a professional. The black box, as far as I could tell, was also a switch of some kind. With the wire running out of it, but hidden behind the drywall all this time, it seemed that it must be activated by a second magnet—a key. Unfortunately, I didn't carry a magnet with my tools.

Curiosity piqued, I changed into a clean set of latex gloves and started picking through Arthur's desk drawers with a set of steel forceps. If he was hiding something with this secret magnet-switch, I reasoned, a blind man would probably keep the second magnet nearby. At the back of the bottom-left drawer, the forceps stuck to another small black box, roughly the same size as the one mounted in the wall.

I picked it up and held it against its twin. Nothing happened.

I turned it on each of its six sides and held it against the other magnetic box. Still, nothing.

I whispered several magic words, tapped three times on the box in the wall, and spun the second box on the first in case something inside needed to turn.

Nothing.

Sitting back in the chair, frustrated, I remembered the light switch, and put the second piece of the puzzle together.

I turned out the light, held the boxes together once more, and heard a faint click from the corner of the room.

A section of the floor had popped up just enough for me to pull it open with my fingertips, revealing a ladder and a soft glow coming from the room below. I descended.

I thought it was a small light bulb at first, standing three feet off the floor. The rest of the room vanished into shadow at the edges, though I doubted there was anything else there. The pinpoint of light pulsed and swirled—white, blue, pink, and white again. I stepped closer, unable to take my eyes from it.

From a foot away, I nearly realized what I was seeing, though my brain couldn't fully register the sight. I knelt, and put my left eye to the light.

Two minutes later, in a state of mild shock, I went upstairs to finish tearing out the drywall. I knew if I stayed in that room any longer I'd never finish the job. My eyes hurt, and it took about half an hour before I could focus them correctly again. The colors in the office had faded into a pale gray, and I felt as though I'd been staring at the sun.

* * *

"I found something," I told Natalie the next morning. I'd been up until four, but I always got up to see her off to school. I wanted to make sure she felt my moral support before staring down a thousand middle-schoolers in all their hormonal, chaotic strangeness.

"What is it?"

"I'm not sure," I said. "I need to keep it a secret though. You know how we always figure rich folks get rich with secret sources of information that nobody else has?"

She cocked her head, and an eyebrow rose. "Yeah?"

"It's kind of like that," I said. "I don't think Arthur's family knew about it, but I do know that guy was loaded."

"Just be careful, Lawrence," she said. "He was also blind and slightly psychotic. I don't think he started out that way."

* * *

I finished the drywall repair that night, and took my waste containers in for disposal.

Nobody tells you when you start a traumatic-death cleaning business how much medical waste disposal services charge, but it definitely eats into your bottom line. Factor in all the certification classes and license fees, not to mention the tiny market for demand, and you could definitely say I'm in a niche business.

I always factor in an extra night on the estimate, in case the paint doesn't look right or something else goes wrong. Reputation's everything in this business, so you have to give yourself enough time to meet promised deadlines.

Having completed the work, with paint drying in the office, I climbed back into the hidden chamber.

I looked into it once again.

By focusing my eye in different places, I could soar thousands of miles in any direction. Then, relaxing my eyes, I realized I could find anything in the universe simply by thinking about it.

I saw pot-bellied children starving in an African village.

I watched a polar bear stalk its prey.

I unfocused my eye and leapt into space a million miles away. I watched a star collapse into darkness.

I'd told Natalie a small white lie at breakfast. As I mentioned, I've always been a bibliophile. An occult historian named Borges wrote about one of these—an Aleph—a point in space from which all space is visible.

I could be anywhere. I could see anything, and anyone. I could see the most marvelous or horrible things in the universe—things hidden from everyone but me.

I wondered what had happened to the girl I had a crush on in seventh grade, Rebecca Taylor. At the thought of her, I found her, asleep in her bed, now married with three kids. Two of them were twins. One was Chinese, probably adopted.

My ninth grade crush, Carmen Blake, was now a stripper with a C-section scar and a tattoo of a purple butterfly on her lower back.

The first girl I'd ever actually dated, Gayle Ormsby, was lying on a hospital bed, taking a power nap between surgeries. I looked closer and saw needle marks on her arm under her scrubs.

I pulled my eye away and looked at my watch. What I saw was a thin, blurry line where my arm should have been, and a black blob in place of my watch. I wiped at my eyes, but my vision remained fuzzy.

I looked back into the Aleph, and my vision became clear again. I saw Natalie, golden curls falling on her pillow, asleep. Her hand rested where I would have been if I weren't working late.

A pang of guilt stung me. I'd discovered this—thing—and my first instinct was to look in on long-lost crushes. My mind leapt to the ones that got away rather than the one I had.

I withdrew my eye once more, and found that the room had gone black, apart from the pinpoint of light. I couldn't see the ladder anymore, or the office above.

I pulled my phone from my jacket pocket and held down the button until the voice prompt chimed.

"Call Natalie," I said.

"Calling Natalie," the phone responded, and started ringing a moment later. I looked into the Aleph and watched her phone light up on the bedside table. Natalie rolled over, but didn't wake up.

She could sleep through a tornado.

I waited through three more rings before thinking of my brother Jacob. With the thought came his image through the Aleph.

Jacob sat on a sofa in his living room, his right leg propped up on an ottoman. He'd removed the prosthetic from the stump of his left leg, and he seemed to be immersed in a video game.

I pressed the button again, and told the phone to call Jacob. I watched his phone light up on the sofa next to him.

He paused the game.

"Lawrence?" he said. "Working the late shift again?"

"We can't all be nocturnal writers," I said. "I need a favor though. I can't see anything. Any chance you could pick me up?"

"Oh sure," he said. "Call the one-legged insomniac with your big problems."

"You weren't writing anyway."

"How do you know?"

"Call it a hunch. I'm serious, though. I'm really blind right now."

I watched him sit up, worried.

"I'll come get you," he said, "Where are you?"

I'd have to let him into the house, since I'd locked myself in. If Arthur Owsley had been climbing this ladder blind for so long, though, I could as well.

* * *

"It's like a point in space where you can see anything in the universe," I said as I climbed into the car. I'd made sure Jacob had secured the floor panel in place and pocketed the key-cube before we left. He'd only ventured a brief glimpse into the Aleph chamber before doing so.

"But it made you blind?" he asked.

"I think it's like staring into the sun or something, except it’s not that bright. Maybe it overloaded that part of my brain. Anyway, the work's done. We'll just have to get the van out of here tomorrow."

"What are you going to tell Natalie?"

"I'll tell her the truth. She accepts outlandish things pretty easily. I think her dad did that to her."

Jacob snorted.

"It's probably why she married you," he said. "You're as much of a crackpot as he was."

The week passed and my vision didn't return. That's when I went to see Dr. Applegate, and got the referral.

* * *

I sit in an overstuffed chair in Dr. Ingles' office. Dr. Ingles is soft-spoken, and pauses before responding to anything I say. I'd tell you what he looks like, but I don't know. He smells faintly of Italian aftershave.

"You say you were able to see everything in the entire universe through this point of light?" Ingles asks.

"That's right," I say, and why not? He isn't going to believe me anyway.

"What did you choose to look at?"

I tell him about my journey around the world and brief venture into space. I hear him scribbling on a notepad.

He stops writing, reads. "Starvation, an animal about to be eaten, a black hole, and a couple of girls you once had feelings for—one of whom is a stripper, and the other one an exhausted drug-user."

It doesn't sound so great when he says it.

"She's a surgeon," I say, "and it wasn't all bad. Rebecca seemed to be doing fine."

"Still, in summary: you finished cleaning a room in which a suicide had occurred, and then spent an hour or so viewing images mostly of despair."

"Most of life is despair, doctor. It makes sense that if I could see everything, most of what I'd see would be despair."

He makes some more notes.

"At the end," he says, "when you realized you were losing your sight, who did you reach out to?"

Now I wonder if I was hallucinating. He's trying to get me to see that I had some sort of nervous breakdown, and it makes a fair bit of sense. His is the more logical explanation for what I saw.

"My wife, then my brother," I say. "Family."

Ingles doesn't say anything, but I imagine he's nodding.

"Good," he says finally, "but you're still blind. Why do you think that is?"

I think for a minute or so. I hear a ceiling fan turning overhead. He's got the Socrates act nailed down.

"Maybe I'm carrying around more negative memories than good ones?"

"Your mind did go to those things first, Lawrence. You said yourself that it would show you anything you thought of."

"Wouldn't you explore a bit, if you could see anything in the universe?"

"Perhaps," he says, "but we're talking about what you want to see, Lawrence. Your time is valuable is it not?"

"I guess."

"I'd like to give you a homework assignment, then. I think it will help."

"Alright."

"Do a bit of digging, if you can, and find out if things in the real world are as bad as your Aleph showed you. Find out if Carmen Blake is really an exotic dancer."

"I'm blind, doc. Background checks are going to be a tad difficult."

"I'm sure your wife will help you," he says. "You can talk about anything with her, can't you?"

* * *

"Well?" Natalie says. "What's the verdict?"

"He thinks I was blind when I finished fixing the drywall," I say. "He thinks the Aleph is a delusion."

"Was it?"

"I'll show it to you when we get back inside."

"You can't go back to Owsley's house, Lawrence," she says. "You've done too much damage to yourself already. You can't end up like him."

"I won't need to look into it forever," I say. "I have a plan."

"What plan?"

"Natalie," I say. "Trust me."

"I'm your wife, Lawrence. Remember? Partners in crime?"

"I'm going to mount six cameras pointing into it, one on each side. I already have an estimate for a supercomputer and custom software to go with it. I'll program it to look for things for me, until I make enough to…"

"To what?"

"Have you ever read about chaos theory?"

"A little."

"It's easy to predict outcomes in high school physics because the interactions are so simple. You don't need many sensors to measure things and predict what will happen."

"Okay."

"You can't predict the weather or the movements of the stock market—apart from insider trading—because they're too complex. Your sensors would have to be embedded in every cubic millimeter of every cloud, or in the brain of every stock trader."

"You're going to use your Aleph to predict the future."

"It's going to take more computing power than currently exists. The computer I'm about to buy is going to get me the funding to build that one."

"I feel like you're leaving out the part of the plan where you get enough money to buy the first computer."

"That's the part where I really need my partner in crime. Can you get a substitute for your classes Friday?"

* * *

I wear dark sunglasses to the estate sale. We tell everyone I've just had one of those eye tests where they dilate your pupils for a couple of hours so you can't see anything but big blurry shapes.

Even if I had the money for the six-camera setup with the supercomputer at this point, I wouldn't be able to smuggle them in while everyone watched. For the first leap forward, I'd have to keep looking for things the old fashioned way, like a truffle-hunting pig. I could only hope the Aleph would still light up my darkened eyes. The hard part is getting into the chamber without anyone seeing me do it.

We wait until no one else is in the office, then shut ourselves in. Natalie crams the rug under the door while I open the hatch by touch and memory.

Someone knocks on the door and begins shoving it against the rug just as Natalie closes the hatch over me.

Through the floorboards, I hear her struggle with the thick rug.

"I think it's gotten stuck somehow," she says to the person on the other side. I hear a muted mumble in reply.

Once the door is free, more mumbling, then, "My husband? Oh, he left ten minutes ago with his brother, Jacob. I'm going to meet him at home."

I pull three energy bars, two bottles of water, and a digital voice recorder from my jacket pockets, then lie down to take a nap until everyone leaves.

It's going to be a long twenty-four hours.

* * *

The next day, Natalie places several trades through our brokerage account.

We buy shares of a Canadian gold mining company that just hit the mother lode before Reuters makes it public.

We short-sell a software company before it releases a dismal quarterly earnings report.

Since I nosed around OPEC's inner circle several time zones away while Natalie slept, I know that the price of gas is in for a serious hike. We buy shares of a leveraged ETF that reflects three times the rate of change in the Dow's oil index as well.

It's not an instant profit, but it is substantial when it pays out. I read enough science fiction to know that I'm following the basic get-rich-quick plan of every time traveler—except I'm not a time traveler. I don't have advance knowledge of anything, really. I just know what some people know before the rest of the world finds out.

We make enough money to easily put fifty percent down on Arthur Owsley's house, which is much nicer than our current house, and move in two days later.

Natalie's skepticism seems to be disappearing.

* * *

The second day in the house, I find what I'm looking for.

"I found a rigged game," I tell Natalie that night.

"A what?"

"It's the easiest kind to win. A group of pharmaceutical smugglers in Ohio is using a state lottery system to launder money and pay their distributors."

"I don't like the sound of this, Lawrence."

"The stock market is too slow. I need to do this now, or I'll be blind forever."

Natalie doesn't say anything. I wish I could see her face to know whether she's giving me the angry look or the worried look.

"You don't know for sure the blindness will just wear off. My dad always wanted to do things the fast and easy way, Lawrence."

"Your dad..." I say. I'm not sure if I want to continue, but it needs to be said. "Your dad was an alcoholic. He had some really good ideas, Nat. His dreams weren't what killed him. Disappointment did."

I hear a sniffle.

"Yeah," she says. "Be careful. People like that don't let go easily."

Then the sheets rustle and she rolls away from me.

* * *

I get my brother to drive me over the state line, where I buy a single lottery ticket at a gas station.

"You mentioned it was rigged," Jacob says. "How do you rig a state lottery that so many people play though? Aren't there reasonable odds that someone else would pick numbers that would win also?"

"Not really," I say. "Since the lottery takes cash only, there's no record of individuals paying into it. The mules and distributors are issued tickets that will win varying amounts based on what they're owed. Only upper management knows the entire jackpot sequence, which is never printed on a random, quick-pick ticket. The database excludes it. If habitual gamers start picking a number sequence regularly, the system alerts the managers and they avoid that sequence also. To actually win, someone—like me—would have to pencil in the winning numbers on the first or second try, which has an infinitesimally small likelihood of happening.

"I just watched a few state lottery drawings on Friday and Saturday night until I found one that was being manipulated, then followed the winning numbers back to the people who claimed the money. Ninety-five percent of it went to drug traffickers in this case. Since I peeked at all their tickets this time, it was fairly easy to compare their numbers and interpolate the winning sequence."

"So if your Aleph is a point in space," Jacob says, "why does it stay in that room? I mean the Earth's flying through space—rotating, revolving around the sun, moving around the Milky Way."

"I didn't make the thing, Jacob. I'm just using it. Maybe it's linked to the planet somehow. Maybe it's actually the center of the universe, and everything's really revolving around it. Everything's relative, right?"

"Sure," Jacob says. "I guess we'll have to make a second road trip if you win?"

"When I win, I would appreciate it greatly if you would."

"What's my cut, then?"

"How much do you want?"

"Enough to buy a cheeseburger. I'll probably be hungry then too."

"So let's stop. Lunch is on you since I'm not filthy rich yet."

Jacob laughs.

"We passed a greasy spoon on the way here," he says. "It's about a mile up the road."

"You've never wanted a thing in the world, have you?"

"I didn't know I did, until—" he says. I hear him tap his fingers against his prosthetic leg.

"You want your leg back?"

"No," he says. "Losing my leg was the best thing that ever happened to me."

* * *

Ten minutes later we're eating cheeseburgers and drinking coffee.

"Maybe my taste buds are just more sensitive now," I say, "but this is the best cheeseburger I've ever had."

"It probably tastes like hopes and dreams," he says, "but mine's good too. We'll have to stop here again if you win."

"Why'd you say losing your leg was the best thing that ever happened to you?"

"Probably it had something to do with Maslow," he says.

"Maslow, like in Maslow's hierarchy? I don't follow."

"I was going to kill myself that night, Lawrence. I had a plan."

"What?"

"I've never told anyone this before—not even Rachel. I was...well, I had prescription sleeping pills for my insomnia, and I had a bottle of Merlot. I've thought about it a lot, and I think my life had gotten so frustrating trying to get somewhere with my writing, and I was alone. I was banging my head against the wall of self-actualization, and I'd forgotten what it was to survive, you know? To just be alive."

"That was the night you saved that girl."

"Yeah, so I'm writing a suicide note in my apartment, and I hear this scream. I figure the sweet release of death can wait five more minutes while I look outside, and I see these two guys trying to grab a girl in the parking lot. I run out, and my pulse is pounding, and the adrenaline's pumping, and the next thing I know I'm on top of this big guy—twice my size—and I've hit him twice in the mouth. His buddy knocks me in the head with the butt of a gun while this girl's screaming for help, and a couple of other people have opened their doors—not that they're much help. The guy with the gun tries to shoot me, probably to kill me, but I guess his adrenaline's going too because he hit me in the leg. Then they run.

"This old lady comes out of an apartment and puts a tourniquet on my leg since there's blood spraying up the wall. The girl sticks around long enough to tell the police what happened, and I'm on an operating table pretty quick, and all I can think of is how alive I feel. I survived getting shot. My leg was too mangled to save, but I saved a girl from human trafficking—because that's what the cops said this was. I'd gotten knocked down a couple rungs on Maslow's ladder-thing, and it was what I needed."

"And then you met Rachel at physical therapy."

"I tell you, I never wrote like I did during those next six months. It didn't matter that I couldn't work nights loading trucks anymore. People were eating up what I was writing."

"So getting shot in the leg was the best thing that ever happened to you."

"No doubt about it."

* * *

"I found Owsley's journal," Natalie says when I get home. "It's in Braille, so..."

"I'm getting better at it," I say. I'm glad she doesn't ask me about the road trip with Jacob, since I'm still processing what he said. "I'm still slow, but it's better than having nothing to read."

Later that night, we're laying in bed, and I'm reading the journal. Natalie's turned out the lights, but her breathing tells me she's still awake. I feel her eyes on me.

"He keeps mentioning J.W. in his journal," I say. "'J.W. asked me to find M.D. today. Later I heard on the radio that M.D. was arrested for making anthrax in his basement.'"

"He just calls them J.W. and M.D.?"

"Probably in case someone found his journal. Some of this stuff's pretty bad. 'J.W. asked me to find R a week ago. R was twelve when she ran away. I found what was left of her in a shallow grave. J.W. told me the evidence they got from her was what they needed to convict a serial killer, M.T.F.

"'There's so much darkness in the world.'"

"Sounds like he helped a lot of people," she says.

"Just not himself."

Natalie runs her fingers over my stomach.

"Speaking of helping people," she says, "I'm wide awake. Could you tell me a bedtime story?"

* * *

The jackpot plays out as I predicted.

Since Ohio is one of the six states in which I can claim my winnings anonymously, I do so.

"What's the plan now, great oracle?" Jacob asks as we drive back into Kentucky.

"I was supposed to go back to Dr. Ingles tomorrow. He wanted me to do research on all the depressing stuff I saw and tell him if it's true. He thinks I made it up."

"Are you going to go?"

"Being rich isn't going to be that great if I can't see. Applegate said there isn't anything wrong with my eyes, so it must be a mental thing."

"Ever heard of a sensory deprivation tank? I use one sometimes when I get writer's block."

"You think that would do something for me?"

"You said your vision got overloaded. Maybe you need to relax the input to your brain for a while so it'll start processing again."

"I guess it couldn't hurt."

* * *

It doesn't take long to get into a sensory deprivation tank. Jacob drops me off and tells me he'll be back in two hours to pick me up.

The technician closes the hatch on me, and I float on the Epsom salt-saturated water in total silence. I got a massage once, when I first started cleaning up body parts and the stress was getting to me. I remember feeling like I was melting into the padded table.

This is more. After what seems like three or four minutes, I'm not even sure if I still have skin, since the water is the exact same temperature as my body. I can't tell where I end and the water begins.

It's pleasant, soothing. I breathe deeply, trying to smell anything. There is nothing, and the darkness in the chamber seems somehow deeper than my blindness.

I'm not sure how much time passes before the images come.

I see the polar bear again. He stalks his prey, and in a flash he's ripping its guts out.

I didn't watch that part before. Am I hallucinating?

I see the black hole, and hear strange music coming from its event horizon. It smells like sulfur and burning tires. It smells like Hell.

I watch Carmen Blake try to talk a bored guy with a spray-tan and bleached hair into a paying for a lap dance. He looks at her scar and wrinkles his nose.

I see the emptiness in her eyes, deeper than the black hole.

I hear the hatch open. I'm not sure if I've been inside for two minutes or two hours, but I still can't see.

"Jacob?" I ask.

"Get out of the tank," a voice says. It doesn't sound like the technician.

"I'm sorry," I say. "I'm blind. Is there something I can do for you?"

"You can start by getting out of the tank," the voice says, "right now."

"I don't—"

Rough hands grab me and pull me to my feet next to the tank.

"You recently came into a substantial amount of money," the voice says. "That money belongs to my employers."

"What are you talking about?"

A hand cracks against my cheek.

The skin on my face feels hot, like blood. I put my own hand to the cheek and it feels wet.

"I like diamonds," the voice says. "Your visual impairment means you can't appreciate the cut and clarity of the beauties on each of my fingers. Folks back home call me Mr. Carat. I'd urge you not to play dumb, Mr. Lippincott, or my friend here is going to take a baseball bat to your kneecaps."

"Does that mean he's Mr. Stick?" I ask.

"No," Carat says slowly, and I sense genuine confusion in his voice. "That's Herbert."

"That's disappointing," I say.

"You know what I'm talking about. You think we can rig a state lottery and pay off the right people, but we can't find you from a gas station security tape?"

"Well you're too late," I say. "I gave it to charity."

"Bull," he says. "For Natalie's sake, I hope that isn't true."

That gets me. It was funny before, when it was just me getting slapped around. I try to lunge at the voice, but a thick object crashes into my stomach and I'm doubled over in pain.

"Maybe we should make a whole family of blind, one-legged retards," Carat says. "It'll be good for you—bring you closer."

"You come near my family, and I'll—"

"You'll what? Blindly grope me?" He laughs. "Come to think of it, why do I even need you? Your sweet wife will get everything when I put a bullet in your skull. It's clear you're not going to be much help, and hey, maybe the grieving widow will need a classy shoulder to cry on."

I hear a revolver hammer click back.

"Hey!" another voice yells from farther away. It doesn't sound like Carat, but it also doesn't sound like Jacob.

Two shots fire in quick succession. I hear crashing from where Carat was, and a scream from Mr. Stick (or Herbert, if you must). Footsteps come closer. A third gunshot echoes in the room, and Stick stops screaming.

"Lawrence Lippincott?" the voice says. It's calm, but it's the sort of voice that says trifle with me at your peril.

"Yes."

"You bought Arthur Owsley's house, did you not?"

"Who are you?"

"My name's Jonas Wren. I just saved you from being murdered by these two savages, so I'd appreciate your answering my questions."

"Right," I say. Jonas Wren. Owsley's journal mentioned a J.W. "Thanks for doing that, and yes, I bought the Owsley house."

"I assume, given your recent windfall, that you've discovered the thing under his office?"

No point lying.

"I have."

"Good," he says. "I understand you'll be in a bit of shock right now, having nearly been murdered and all. When the police come, tell them that two men pulled you out of the tank and demanded money. Tell them someone intervened, but since you cannot see, you can't identify that person. Okay?"

"Okay."

"Repeat it back to me, please."

"Two men pulled me out of the tank and demanded money. Someone, who I can't identify because I'm blind, shot them."

"Great. That gives me about five minutes on a response from the local PD."

"Five minutes for what?"

"The offer I came to deliver. How would you like to make the world a better place, Lawrence?" he asks. "I work with some people who need information from time to time—information that Arthur used to help us obtain."

"What sort of information?"

"Sometimes it's hard to find people like Carat and Herb," he says, "or people like the ones that your brother stopped from kidnapping that college girl years ago. Sometimes the savages have bombs and we don't have enough time to search for them the old-fashioned way."

"If you know about the Aleph, why wouldn't you just buy the house yourself?" I ask.

"I know what power does to people," Jonas says. "That power has to stay hidden. My place has been searched before. No one but me at the agency even knew who Arthur Owsley was."

"Arthur killed himself," I say. "His journal makes me think helping you had something to do with it."

"I know that," Jonas says, "but something tells me you're wired differently."

"Can I think about it?"

"Sure," Jonas says. "Before I go, though, I'll leave you with a parting gift."

"Okay?"

"Arthur was a melancholy sort. I met with him periodically, but he mostly isolated himself," Jonas says. "I think that's what killed him in the end. He only looked at the bad stuff. Granted, if you help me, you'd be looking at some pretty awful things too, but you choose what you look for most of the time."

"My shrink said something like that," I say.

"Have you looked at your wife?"

"Through the Aleph? Yes."

"Look closer."

"What are you saying?"

"You've got your Aleph, Lawrence. I've got deduction."

* * *

I spend an hour talking to the police, and they tell me the float tank must've blocked the technician's screaming when Mr. Stick beat him senseless. Jacob kicks himself for leaving me alone and vulnerable, but I tell him I made a new friend and that he shouldn't worry about it.

Natalie's still at school when I get home. I feel my way into the Aleph chamber, and see the glowing pinpoint of light in my dark world.

I put my eye to it, and find my wife with a thought. She's writing on a blackboard, taking notes on a discussion about Hamlet.

I look closer. She's beautiful, of course, but something's different about her—and then I see it.

I see the beating heart of our daughter.

How Jonas knew, I've no idea. I just hope he's really one of the good guys. I think about what he said.

My mind moves to an African village, and I see men digging a well with new equipment brought by an aid worker.

I see a polar bear nursing its young.

I watch the event horizon around the black hole, and this time it is beautiful—dark, but not malicious, simply a thing of total awe.

I think about the assignment Ingles gave me, and discard it. The past is the past. Apart from what I've learned from it, it doesn't bear much looking at.

* * *

When Natalie gets home, she fusses over my cheek.

"You were right," I say. "They didn't let go easily. I'll be able to see the next ones though."

She looks at my eyes.

"Lawrence? You can see!"

"I can do other things, too, apparently—or rather we can."

"Hm?"

I kiss her and hand her a pregnancy test.

"Congratulations, Mrs. Lippincott," I say.

She looks at it, not registering the implication.

"What?"

"It's a girl. You don't really need to pee on the stick unless you want to."

She hugs me tight, and we just stay like that for a perfect second.

"I'm not doing crime scene cleanup anymore, Nat," I say. "We don't need the money, and it's time for someone else to see those things. I've spent enough of my life looking at them."

 

Copyright © 2017 by Stephen Lawson

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HOME

The Editor's Word

FICTION
The Death of Arthur Owsley
by Stephen Lawson

Tenure Track
by J.P. Sullivan

Rite of Passage
by Jody Lynn Nye

Too Deep Thought
by Edward M. Lerner

Termination Pending
by Rachelle Harp

Hired Gun
by Lou J Berger

“Hello,” Said the Stick
by Michael Swanwick

Disappearing Days
by Leena Likitalo

Karmic Chameleons
by Paul Di Filippo

The Spires of Greme
by Kay Kenyon

This Knotted Dust
by Gregor Hartmann

Late Night at the Wonder Bar
by Gordon Eklund

Indomitable
by Jack McDevitt

INTERVIEW
Tony Weisskopf
by Joy Ward

SERIALIZATION
Daughter of Elysium (Part 1)
by Joan Slonczewski

COLUMNS
Decoherence
by Robert J. Sawyer

Science Column
by Gregory Benford

Recommended Books
by Bill Fawcett & Jody Lynn Nye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2017. All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (January, March, May, July, September, November) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.