I must tell you, Gentlemen. Before we begin I want to be perfectly clear. I have no memory of how I came to be in the particle accelerator beneath M.I.T., or whose blood is this that stains my clothes. Whether it’s Dr. Oxford’s, and where his body has gone if it is. All I know is this – Dr. Oxford is dead. And even the darkest of beings longs to return home.
Dr. Oxford and I were friends, this is true. But I had not spoken with him in the better part of five years. I see your interested glances, but I can assure you that there were no ill feelings between us. It was simply that work had consumed both of our lives, and there was no time for friendships, no matter how good they may have once been.
You ask me what happened to Dr. Oxford. You question me as if I should know. Given the circumstances I suppose that is not surprising. In truth, I do not know what happened that accursed night. But I know what I believe. And that, my friends, I will reveal to you now, though I am under no illusions. When you hear my story, you will likely think me mad. Oh, were it so! The madman has the comfort of living in a world of illusion. He need not fear the shadow, the thing that moves in the darkness. That fills the spaces between space. Lurking in the abyss and the void, in the dark places between the stars. No, to be mad would be comfort.
If you are to know what took Dr. Oxford, then you must first know what he believed. Oh yes, I know you are aware of his reputation. I know that your research has told you many things. That Oxford was renowned in the field of astrophysics. That he had been asked to lead the Large Hedron Collider project and had accepted. That he was respected in all corners of science and that his theories were as praised as they are now mainstream. That is the Dr. Oxford that you know, gentlemen. It is not the one I know. It is not the face that he revealed to his closest friends. No, Oxford believed other things.
I suppose you have heard of what some call dark matter. No? Well, maybe that is not too surprising. I don’t want to bore you, gentlemen, so I’ll keep it short. The universe as we know it functions in a specific way. A regular way, a predictable way. It is because of that regularity that we can do things that generations before would have viewed as no less than magic. Ah, but there is a problem with our theories. We know how the universe works, but we don’t know why. The fact is, there’s not enough of the everyday material in the world we know to make it function as it does. That leaves us with only one conclusion. There must be something else. Something unusual, exotic. Something that we do not understand. We call that something dark matter. That is what fills those spaces between space. You see gentlemen, the light could not be without the darkness. And reality as we know it could not be if the darkness ceased to exist.
Most of my colleagues leave it there. This dark matter simply is, somewhere, somehow. It makes the planets move about the sun and the sun turn round the center of the galaxy and that is that. But Dr. Oxford had a more imaginative view.
Ordinary matter, in what form does it exist? The answer is simple. It is the rocks and the trees, the dirt beneath your feet and the air that you breath. It is the sun that shines in the sky and the planets that whirl around it. It is the cock that crows in the morning, and the birds that sing at night. It is you and it is me. Dr. Oxford simply asked the obvious question. If ordinary matter does not exist in some undifferentiated mass, why should dark matter? I can see that even you recognize the implications of that suggestion. Another universe, not one theoretical or hypothetical, not some alternate dimension better suited for fiction than reality. No, one here, just beyond our vision, hiding in the darkness. And why not? Why not dark stars and dark worlds? And even dark life.
Your skepticism does not surprise me. Man sees the world and he believes that what he sees is all that can be. And if you had told someone five hundred years ago that on every surface live millions of beings, so small the eye can not see them, he would have called you mad. And yet today we accept that simple truth without question. And why? Because now we can see it, of course. And once we see, we believe. We are all like Thomas of old – ever doubting. Dr. Oxford knew that others would react just as you have. That they would laugh at him. That he would lose all that he had built, all that he had created. And so he decided to help them see.
That is why he took the position with the LHC. During the day, he followed the program’s specifications, performing the experiments as they were laid out. Searching for certain particles that are important to science but matter not one whit to the rest of the world. But at night he pursued his true goal. Then he sought a breakthrough that would change the way we view not only ourselves, not only our world, but everything that is. He sought to see what is beyond. To see the substance of shadow. And gentlemen, I tell you now, I believe he did see.
He called me yesterday, three days after the massacre. I had seen the news. How could one miss it? The heart of the Collider itself had been smashed. Six scientists were found slain in the control room. I knew most of them. They had been handpicked by Oxford, his true believers. But Oxford was not among them; he had disappeared completely.
Details were scarce at first. We knew that they had died but not how. Then the rumors started. Wild. Fantastic. Insane. As rumors often are, more diabolical with every telling. But what scared me the most was that I knew there must be truth there. A kernel of fact. And if even part of what people said was true, then it was too horrible to imagine. Bodies ripped to shreds, some so mangled that they could only be identified by the badges they wore.
Some said Oxford had gone crazy. That he had murdered his six colleagues. In a way, that would almost be comforting to believe. But how could you? Forget that Oxford was my friend. Forget that I could never believe him capable of murder. It was a physical impossibility. How could one man, not frail but old nonetheless, kill six young and healthy men and women? How could he even begin to do the things that were claimed? To literally obliterate the bodies? To turn them into pulp and blood and bone. No, it could not be him. And that was the worst thought of all. Then I received the phone call.
It was Oxford, and there was fear in his voice. He had come to Boston, but how he had gotten to this city was a mystery to me. I knew that the authorities were looking for him. There was no way he could have boarded an international flight without being detected. But he was here, and he wanted to meet. It was that palpable fear that seemed to drip off of every word that convinced me. I suggested several places, but he accepted none.
“It must be a sunny place,” he said. “Bright. Full of light.”
We chose the Common. We would meet there at noon, when the sun was highest in the sky. I arrived early and waited. When I saw him, my first thought was joy. Relief. Happiness that he had survived. That he was really there. But I could not hold those feelings long. Oxford had seen something. And that cyclopean terror had shattered him, sapping the strength that remained in his body. It had made his eyes wild and fearful, and had drained the vibrancy from his cheeks and the color from his hair. He grasped my hand and I could feel him shaking, shivering as if it were the bitterest day he had ever known.
“James,” he said, “thank God you came.”
I did not know where to begin or what questions to ask. There were so many.
“Dr. Oxford,” I said, “everyone is looking for you. We thought you might be dead.”
“I believe I may be, though I can’t be sure.”
“What?” I whispered. Whatever horror he had witnessed that awful night in the depths of the facility, it had broken his mind. “Dr. Oxford we must get you to the authorities. And then to a hospital.”
“No, James. The authorities would never believe me, and I fear I am beyond any help the hospital might provide. I do not know why it spared my life.”
“I was right, James. I was right. God curse me I was right. We had been running experiments nightly, attempting to probe the dark matter in whatever form or shape it might take. Three nights ago we had a breakthrough. Three nights ago, we saw . . . We saw.”
“What did you see?”
By now Dr. Oxford was shaking so fiercely that I feared he could not stand. In his eyes I saw him relive that night, and I thought he might break from it.
“It cannot be described,” he said. “It cannot. Only seen. But pray God you never see it.”
“But Dr. Oxford I don’t understand. Why are you here?”
“It brought me here, James. It wants something, but its mind is too vast. It’s too vast and I cannot know what it seeks! But it fears the light. It fears the light as darkness must and I was able to escape. But it will find me again. It will find me.”
To that point the strong, noon-day sun had shone down upon us. But as Dr. Oxford spoke a wind began to blow, and it drew forth clouds. Steel-gray clouds. Dark and ominous clouds. And then I felt as much as saw a shadow fall upon us. Dr. Oxford’s eyes went wide. His mouth began to shake. He reached out and grabbed my arm and I knew that if I were not there he would no longer be standing. But he was not looking at me. No. His gaze was just beyond my shoulder. I felt . . . cold. And then the hairs raised on my neck and I knew. Whatever had haunted Oxford stood behind me then. In my mind I thought I could feel its breath, cold and full of hatred. And in the corner of my eye I even saw it, though I did not have the courage to turn and look. I saw just the form of it. The nebulous blackness, the pulsating, glowing darkness. The bulbous shadow. The being that will plague my night-haunted dreams until this life should end.
You ask me what happened then? Were that I could say gentlemen. I found myself as you found me. Standing beneath M.I.T. in my laboratory. The particle accelerator running in a configuration I had never used. Whirling and churning. Started not by my hands. And then there was the blood, the blood that covered all. You’ll never find Oxford. And you’ll never find his killer. For whatever killed Oxford is the very thing that took us to my laboratory. That used me to gain entrance and Oxford to set the parameters for the accelerator just as he had before. Whatever dark eminence surrounded us, it is gone now. Gone home.
A native of Alabama, Brett received a philosophy and history degree from the University of Alabama before moving to witch-haunted Massachusetts to attend Harvard Law School. Brett is the author of That Which Should Not Be, winner of JournalStone’s 2011 novel contest. He has been published several times in the Absent Willow Review, and his short story, “The Substance of Shadow,” won the 2011 Absent Willow Review short story contest. You can follow Brett at www.brettjtalley.com .
Illustration by Ronnie Tucker.
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