I went upstairs to find out what that awful noise was. It seemed to be coming from my son's bedroom so I opened the door and looked in. Against the far wall was an ugly, twisted shape which I took to be a gigantic spider. But then as I saw my son disappear into the thing I knew it wasn't an object at all but a kind of energy vortex. Like a dark whirlpool. The noise was not my son screaming (though he was screaming) but the sound of the vortex itself. It sounded like everything everywhere tearing apart violently and painfully. My son's screams were nearly lost in it. He was only five years old and didn't know about nightmare things like this and it wasn't fair that he should be caught in one. So I dove in after him.


Inside was not like outside at all. Inside was another world, different from the one I'd just left. The twisting, tearing noise had been the sound of the vortex ripping through the boundaries between worlds — world after world after world. I'd been spat out into one, but apparently not the same one my son had been deposited in. At least I couldn't see him anywhere. There were some trees and a lot of grass and a farmhouse in the distance, but no people. Also no vortex. So I couldn't follow him further, or even get back into my own world.

I started walking across a field toward the farmhouse. As I got closer I could see that it wasn't really a farmhouse at all but some kind of factory. Things were going in one end and coming out the other, changed. What were going in looked like milk crates for carrying bottles and cartons and so on. They were made of dull-looking metal wire and were empty. What emerged from the other end of the low barn-like structure were solid cubes made of blue and yellow plastic. Or at least that's what they looked like. I didn't think I ought to pick one up and examine it further. Instead I found a door in one side of the building and went in, hoping I'd find someone to question.

There were no people inside, only machinery. It was machinery of the old- fashioned, clanking kind rather than something slick and electronic. There were wheels and pulleys and conveyor belts and such, and it was impossible to see what was actually going on. It was too complicated to figure out and too mundane for anyone to want to try. It was also very noisy, so I didn't bother calling out. No one would have heard me, assuming anyone were there. So after looking around a little more, slightly amazed, I left.

Outside again, I saw that the finished products were entering a much smaller, shed-like building. I approached and, seeing no doors or windows, peered into the hole where the colored cubes were entering. There wasn't much to see. The cubes just slid into shadow and disappeared. The only sound was that of the noisy conveyor belt that brought them to the opening. The building itself was silent.

I stood and watched as a quantity of cubes, whose aggregate volume must have been double or triple the size of the small building they were entering, disappeared inside of it. I decided the building must be a transporter of some sort rather than a storage facility. I didn't know where the cubes were being sent but it seemed a good idea to follow them. So I kicked one of them off the conveyor (yellow it was, and very light) and replaced it with my own body. I slid into darkness.

I stayed in the dark for a long time. I thought at first this was maybe because there was no need of light where the cubes were to be stored or used. But then I felt around some and couldn't find any of them. Apparently the machine had recognized me as a non-cube item and shunted me elsewhere. But where?

I called out for my son, hoping he might be here as well. There was no answer. Not even an echo. The place I was in must be huge. It had a floor of some kind. And air. The floor was hard and featureless as far as I could determine. The air was odorless.

Since there was nothing else to do, I started walking. I walked for a long time. Every so often I called out, but there was never any response. At first I attempted to feel my way carefully, in case there were a drop-off of some kind. Like a pit or an abyss. But this soon became tedious and also pointless so I gave it up. And after minutes, days or years I stepped off into nothingness and began falling.


I must have gotten turned around in my descent, because when I finally emerged from the emptiness of falling, it was headfirst and upward. I rose through a stone floor into a room where a man was working at a bench of some kind. He turned to me and said, "Hello". I said, "Hello," back to him and looked around.

The room was small and L-shaped and had what looked like wood walls. The light and color of the place was a sort of dim brown, almost rustic in tone. I saw an armchair in one corner and a small, indistinct picture hanging on the wall behind it. The opposite wall contained a door. Both I and the man stood in the other leg of the L, which contained a low bunk against one wall and another door at the end. As well as the bench-like affair. The whole room had an air of immense comfortability about it.

"Where's my son?" I asked the man, who was still looking at me.

"I don't know," he said. "Where did you see him last?"

"He disappeared into a vortex thing in his bedroom back in another world. I jumped in after him."

The man nodded. "Why do you want to find him?" he asked.

"Because he's my son," I said. "Why else?"

"How do you know he wants to come back to you?" said the man. "He did, after all, leave you."

"Against his will," I asserted.

"Are you absolutely certain of that?"

I was silent for a moment, not seeing what kind of answer I could give. "Well anyway, I want him back," I said.

"Yes," said the man.

We looked at one another for a while, standing in the comfortable room. "Can you help me?" I asked at last.

"Probably," said the man.

"What do I need to do?"

"You need to look for him."

"Of course," I said. "But where?"

"Where you expect him to be."

"But I don't know where he is."

"That's not what I said."

I stared at him while a number of seconds passed. "What do you do in this place?" I asked him finally.


"Really? What do you study?"


I looked around the room, hoping to find something I could connect with this avocation.

"Will there be anything else?" asked the man, not impatient, simply asking.

"No," I said. "How do I leave to continue my search?"

"Through one of the doors," he replied, gesturing to them.

"Which one would be better?"

"I don't know."

"Oh." I looked at the door in our own leg of the L and decided it would do. As I reached for the knob I stopped and turned to the man, who was still looking at me. "Thank you," I said. "For your help, I mean."

For the first time the man smiled. "You're welcome," he replied.

I opened the door and stepped through into darkness. I wondered in passing when I would get to step into light.


Light and sound exploded around me. I was in the midst of a party. Gaily dressed people milled about everywhere, talking, laughing, nibbling on bits of food, sipping drinks from bulbous glasses of either clear or amber liquid. I was suddenly very thirsty.

"Here you are, young man," said a voice at my elbow. I turned and was handed a glass of the amber liquid by a smiling waiter who then immediately disappeared into the crowd.

"Thank you," I said to his vanished presence and tasted my drink. It was sweet and not very thirst-quenching.

"You disapprove?" asked another voice. A large woman decked with pearls and other jewelry had detached herself from somewhere to attend to me. "You don't like the golden elixir?"

"It's very nice," I said. "But I'm thirsty. This is just sweet".

The woman smiled. "It's more than just sweet, my dear. If you drink what's in that glass you will soon forget all about your thirst."

"I don't want to forget about it," I said not altogether ungraciously. "I want to quench it."

"In that case, said the woman, beaming as though she'd scored a tremendous point, "you'll want to try some of this." She exchanged my glass for her own, which was filled with the clear liquid. I looked at it dubiously. "Drink it," she urged. "You'll like it."

I took a sip and gagged. The stuff must have been pure alcohol. Or worse. I hacked and wheezed, waving the glass around blindly, trying to hand it to someone else. But no one took it. In time I recovered and managed to set the thing down on a table nearby. I looked at the woman, my throat burning like fire: "What in hell was that? I wanted something to quench my thirst, not make it worse!"

She handed me my original glass with the amber liquid. "Drink," she said cheerfully. I did, and immediately the fire went away. I drank the rest and ascended into a golden cloud of bliss. "See?" she said, immensely pleased.

And see I did. The room with its swarming, shuffling bodies had been transformed into a symphony of light and sound, every sensation pure delight in harmony with all its brothers. I smiled, letting myself drift in the ebb and flow of festive movement.

Through the general blur of motion a man approached, a man dressed in formal black. He stood before me and smiled. I smiled back and asked him: "Where might I find my son, kind sir?"

"Not here," said the man. His voice seemed tinged with sorrow.

"Not here?"

"No. But then, not not-here either."

"I don't understand."

He smiled again. "That's because you haven't drunk enough golden elixir. Here. Take mine." And he handed me a full glass of the amber liquid in exchange for my own empty one.

I sipped slowly as I watched the man in black dissolve back into the general mosaic of the party. Oddly, his image seemed to shift and splinter, merging with those of the others present, becoming somehow part of their essences. I thought I spotted the large jeweled woman as well, similarly mixed and divided. Curious, I looked for my own image but couldn't find it.

I shrugged and downed the rest of my drink, feeling it hit bottom with a soft thud. It bounced and then rose again, slowly at first and then more swiftly, like a fiery phoenix ascending from glittering ashes of gold and diamonds. Before I knew it, my mind was consumed with brightness and aware of nothing else. For a moment I was sure I would cease to be altogether.

But no, it was just another passage.


Expecting more people, I was surprised and a little saddened to find myself alone once again. I was standing on the side of a hill, looking across an open valley to a taller peak on the other side. Its cap was covered with snow, and I realized my own hill must itself be the upper slopes of a not inconsiderable mountain. The terrain was treeless, mostly grass with scrubby bushes and outcroppings of oldish gray rock here and there. I sighed, a little annoyed at the non-progress I was making toward the finding of my son.

I looked around, hoping to find someone I could ask about my quest. But there was no one. Just the same half-desolate landscape in all directions. I began walking down into the valley, trusting that the crooked gray line meandering along the bottom some miles below might be a river, or at least a stream. I was once again aware of my thirst.

The line indeed turned out to be a river and its water pure and thirst-quenching. Standing knee-deep at the water's edge, I let out a fine "Ahhhh!" of satisfaction. I watched contentedly as a boat came floating down the river. There was a man in it. And a boy. The boy was my son.

"Hey!" I called out. "Hey! Over here!" But neither he nor the man seemed to hear me, though they were only about thirty feet away. The man seemed a middle-aged grandpa sort of guy, with comfortable clothes and floppy hat. He smiled at the boy, showing him how to bait the hook he was holding in his young hands. The boy smiled back, clearly very fond of the old man. I stared, unable to move or respond. I wanted to lift an arm to wave or call to them again but somehow couldn't. Something caught in my throat and I was unable to speak, and I watched as they disappeared around a bend in the river.

I sat there on the river bank for a very long time, the sun remaining ever in the same place. Sometimes I pondered deeply on the things that were happening and sometimes I thought of nothing at all. At some point I must have fallen asleep.


I woke the next morning from a dream of a heated argument with my son. I couldn't remember what the fight was about, though, and the fragments of dream soon scattered. Of necessity. Because I needed my full attention to avoid getting knocked down and trampled to death. Or so it seemed anyway. For I was standing on a sidewalk of an enormous city with pedestrians intent on their vital affairs streaming by on either side of me, frowning at my obstructive immobility.

I began walking, rapidly coming up to speed. No longer in immediate danger of being toppled over, I began seriously looking at the faces of those who passed by or lurked in doorways to the side. There were more of these latter now, as I seemed to have entered a more rundown area of the city. Small groups of young people began eyeing me with hostility as I looked them over. I began to get a little frightened. The sky was becoming darker. I ignored all this and just looked for my son. And finally, there he was, beckoning from the mouth of an alley. I shouted and ran to him, but he sprinted off into the depths, disappearing in darkness.

I ran after him, following the sound of his footfalls echoing in the confined space, which became even more confined as we ran. There was a clattering, crashing noise up ahead. I put on a burst of speed and ran full tilt into an assortment of tumbled trash cans. I swore, then stopped and listened. No more footfalls. I peered into the darkness and saw a patch of brighter dimness up ahead. Framed in the patch was the form of my son, beckoning me once again. "Look," I shouted. "Why are you doing this to me?"

Startled that I should have said such a thing, I stopped and looked in my mind. Saw nothing. It was dark there too. Then something moved in the shadows and I looked back at the patch of brighter darkness. My son was disappearing again. "Wait!" I shouted and stumbled after him.

And emerged from the other end of the alley into a dimly lit open space. The light was faintly blue from a full moon above. I looked around and saw we were in the loading area of some sort of warehouse — "we", because my son was there too, standing by the concrete platform. Moonlight shone on his little-boy face as he whispered: "Shhhh . . . this way."

I followed him to a small door around the side of the warehouse. He did something to the lock and the door opened. "In here," he said urgently. I obeyed.

Inside was cavernous. Slivers of moonlight seeped in through cracks revealing a vast, empty area. "What is this place?" I whispered in awe. But my son gave no answer. Instead he grabbed my hand and pulled me to the far wall. There, hidden in shadow, a rickety staircase descended into stygian darkness. Together we went down, not one, but three flights of stairs. I could see nothing in the impenetrable blackness. There was a musty smell.

At the bottom we stood for a moment in silence. Gradually I was able make out a faint glow somewhere ahead. I moved to nudge my son but my elbow met nothing but air. "Hey," I called out in a hoarse whisper. "Where are you?" No answer came and I shrugged, mumbling under my breath. I began walking toward the faint glow.

The glow came from a shaft of moonlight that had somehow made it all the way down to this level. It was not very bright but enough for me to see what was in front of me. In front of me was a shallow well or pit, an indentation in the concrete floor maybe a foot in depth. In the pit was a body of a child. I squatted and leaned closer to make sure, but I already knew. It was the body of my son. I touched it with my hand. It was cold, long-dead.

I didn't move, not even a muscle. Up to this point I'd accepted all the insane things that had been happening to me — or rather set them aside as secondary to my primary purpose of finding my son. But now I'd come to the end and found him. And this too was insane. Because he was dead, and his death was not possible.

I sat there hunkered down on my heels, perfectly still, searching my mind — nay, the entire void of existence — for answers. And in the process discovered that I felt nothing — not anger, not grief. Nothing. Some part of me found this fact curious and poked into the familiar corridors of my consciousness searching for the strings that normally connected me to these emotions. And came back empty-handed, puzzled, and a little afraid. I shivered, and something shifted ever so slightly in the hidden corners of my being, like a small animal diving for shelter — gone.

I sighed and stood up, turning away from my dead son. I started walking, in total darkness, unheeding of what I might run into. I strode forth into night. For suddenly my anger was present in full force. I was enraged. Infuriated. Absolutely out of control. And I hadn't the slightest notion whom I was angry with or why. I was simply angry. Totally and utterly. I began screaming, horrible throat-tearing bestial sounds, lashing out savagely with my arms, hoping to grab something to smash or stomp or beat to a bloody pulp. I began running, thrashing about in total darkness. And so it was that I crashed head-on into an iron girder, knocking myself instantly unconscious.


I woke to the awareness of soft sheets, then soft breasts. I opened my eyes. A beautiful woman with long, dark hair was caressing my bare chest. Her chest was bare also. Her breath held the musky odor of love. I was fully erect and out of conscious control. The woman lowered herself upon me and started thrusting and swaying. I joined in the motion, passively at first, but then more assertively as I saw the challenge in her eyes. We wrestled into a position with myself on top, and I went at her with a will. She responded appropriately with arching back, guttural moans, heavy breathing. She screamed, and I screamed with her. The world burst in a flash of brilliant light.


I stood upon a plateau of pinkish rock under a pale yellow sun. My son stood before me a few feet away, smiling. "Well, Hi there, stranger," I said. "Where you been keeping yourself?"

"Oh, around," he replied.

"Great," I said. "Wonderful! Want to go home now?"

"Sure, why not?" He smiled again as I reached for him. But just then an enormous gust of wind came and swept him away, off the edge of the plateau.

"No!" I screamed, "No!" And then the wind swept me away too.


I was in a house — not home, but a house quite like it. We were in a room, my son and I. He was seated at the dining room table, his back to me, working on a large jigsaw puzzle. He loved jigsaw puzzles. He'd almost completed this one and was really caught up in what he was doing. I stood behind him, watching, seeing where pieces would fit, wanting to help, but knowing I'd better keep my mouth shut and wait. At last the puzzle was finished and he threw up his arms and said, "Yeah!" He turned to me with a huge grin of satisfaction — which died instantly as he saw me. As did mine. For this was not my son! It was someone else entirely, some other kid I'd never seen before. He got up from the table and ran from the room shouting, "Dad! Dad!" I looked at what was pictured in the puzzle. Somehow I hadn't noticed it before. It was a family scene, father and son playing catch in the backyard. I ran from the room . . .


 . . . and into a huge garage. There were thousands of robots lined up against one wall, ready to move out. A man sat at a large bench working on one. On a robot. I asked him, "Can you fix it? Can you fix it?"

He shook his head sadly. "Too much damage, he said." We looked at the smashed up figure of my son.

"Are you sure?" I beseeched him. He just looked at me.

I burst into tears, horrible wracking sobs more painful than I'd imagined anything could ever be. My whole body shook with convulsions and for hours I was oblivious to everything but my own sense of loss.


I opened my eyes. A woman touched my shoulder. "It's all right," she said softly. "It's all right. "There's nothing —"

"No!" I screamed with all my might. Something rose up and burst through the fabric of the world, something terrible, destroying, relentless. I screamed again and tried to turn away but it was all around me, and in me. There was no getting away from it. It was all there was. I cringed in utter fear, knowing there was only one thing I could do. I leapt  . . .


Things crawled on me in total darkness, slimy things, squishy things, biting things. All around me there were moans of torment and despair from the others that were there with me. My own moans were indistinguishable from the rest. I tried to brush the things from my swollen, agonized body but the feel of what I touched was unbearable, the stench overwhelming. And though I tried to get away, I knew I was in exactly the place I ought to be in. This was my place, my home, forever, till the end of time.

But even my despair wasn't saving me. The thing that was trying to break through shattered the final barrier and blasted its way into my awareness  . . .


 . . . throwing the ball high into the air  . . . Joey, watching it intently, moving back for the play, back, back into the road  . . . a sudden roar, the squeal of brakes  . . . Joey turning  . . . his look of horror  . . . his scream . . .