A Crescendo of Calamity
David Springer studied the readouts like a man on
the cusp of greatness. He looked for any sign, any
hint, any movement in the numbers that might
provide an advantage – something he could exploit to
reach his Promised Land.
Springer was young for a scientist at Edison Lab.
A few months shy of his 35th birthday, he continued
to battle the “way we’ve always done it” mentality so
embedded in federal facilities.
Founded in 1965, the Federal Accelerator
Laboratory in Milan, OH, lay 60 miles west of
Cleveland. Someone eventually mentioned Milan as
the birthplace of Thomas Edison. In a grand gesture,
the facility received the new name: Edison Laboratories.
It was home to the world’s premier particle accelerator.
The proposed purpose of the lab lay in ramping up
atomic particles to the threshold of the speed of light,
colliding them, and investigating the interconnected
nature of matter, energy, space, and time.
Springer liked to explain his work to non-scientific
folks by saying, “It’s like an amped up Demolition
Derby.” His colleagues did not approve.
Springer could not have cared less.
Short and borderline frail with sandy, blonde hair
– turning gray at the temples – and premature eye
wrinkles brought on by too much espresso and too little
sleep, Springer exuded enough confidence to make his
associates despise him. But his overwhelming ability,
his near-superhuman intelligence, almost made them
forget how much they wished he would fall on his face.
“Are you ready, Dr. Springer?”
Springer looked up from his calculations to see Dr.
Eric Palmer, all 6’5” of him, standing over his desk.
“Are we in a hurry this morning, Eric?”
No one believed Springer was unaware of his
annoying voice – nasal, pinched, and invariably snide.
“Do you have a squash game scheduled, Eric?”
Palmer chuckled. He knew he could smash Springer
like a gnat, but he admired David’s ability, even if the
young doctor’s personality was as loveable as a blobfish
with a runny nose.
Springer continued. “We still have to wait on Kline
– he should be rolling in here about a quarter past late.”
“I heard that, David, and I’ll have you know, I was
only five minutes past on time this morning.”
Dr. Lionel Kline, the senior, but lowest ranking
member of the team, possessed an easy – some said
laconic – manner and displayed a noticeable paunch
under his lab coat. His even-keeled nature made him
a favorite in the lab, but everyone at Edison knew he
could, if riled, roar like a Bengal tiger with a hangnail.
The full team had been together for almost five years
with, what was officially broadcast as, minimal success.
The most common chorus in the back halls usually ran
along the lines of, “With an old bull from Cal Tech,
a superstar from Rensselaer, and the kid genius from
MIT, you would expect something more laudable than
the concoction ‘Killer Hot Chocolate.’”
The concoction was good – no it was stellar, the
best anyone had ever had – but given the brain power
involved, and the overwhelming costs, no one was
“Good morning, Dr. Buzzkill,” Springer said. He
and Kline often clashed on protocols. David always
took the aggressive line – Kline, older and more-often
scarred, preferred a more judicious approach. Although
he typically acquiesced to Palmer and Springer, Kline
routinely expressed concerns regarding the project’s
direction and aims.
Today’s test required approval from all three scientists,
a fact Palmer underlined just before Springer gave
the order to “Commence.”
“David,” Palmer said, “we have a little problem
Springer’s eyes never moved from straight ahead.
“Take care of it, Eric,” he said.
“That might not be easy,” Palmer said. “Dr. Kline
has not signed off yet.”
Springer’s head whipped around. “Dammit, we’re
three minutes behind.” He glared at Kline. “What’s the
Kline was uncharacteristically formal. “Dr.
Springer,” he said as he adjusted his bowtie, “I have
concerns regarding potential for dimensional surface
“You’re talking about fractional – no, minute
– amounts of matter migrating via possible dimensions.”
Springer’s face grew rosy and his eyes narrowed.
“Nothing too dangerous in my mind.”
Palmer slid between the two men. “I think Dr.
Kline would like us to install and verify a few additional
safeguards – right, Lionel?” He looked at Kline, who
remained impassive. Palmer continued. “He wants to
ensure our experiments don’t lead to a mishap – a little
Kline nodded. “I understand the theory like
anyone else,” he said. “I accept the theoretical nature
of the experiment. But what if multiple dimensions,
alternate realities, and parallel universes exist? In that
case, we must be careful not to open an unintended
portal. We need to exercise caution, and that requires
more stringent safety standards.”
Springer’s lips formed a strained line. “We have
just applied for a generous grant, predicated on our
results. If we choose to play it safe, that funding will
undoubtedly dry up. I am not suggesting recklessness,
but we must push the envelope before our monetary
sources decide to back an alternative project, one
willing to assume more risk, like the one in Chicago.”
Palmer looked at Kline and said, “He isn’t wrong,
Lionel. In the last five years, we’ve had some serious
financial shifting. Remember, no cash – no collider.”
Kline shook his head. This was his moment to exert
some influence. “What are they expecting? Are we
supposed to develop time travel in five months? These
experiments require a long-game approach, gentlemen.
If we predict incorrectly – if we rush – we could have
a disaster on our hands. I know (he held up a palm
toward Springer, who was rising from his seat) – I know
– the chances are low. But we should err on the side of
caution. I do not want to be that arrogant scientist in
all those sci-fi movies who ignores the signs and ends
up initiating a catastrophe.”
A phone on the control panel next to Springer rang
just as the young scientist looked ready to implode. He
snatched up the receiver.
“Springer,” he said. “I know. (He looked at Kline.)
Yes, all systems for Test 333-A are ready. Yes, I know
you are waiting for my godda…for my order. Maintain
energy levels for firing and stand by. We are working
out a few details on this end.”
Springer turned on the charm. “Dr. Kline – Lionel
– listen, we have everyone standing on tip-toe. They are
ready to rock n’ roll. We ran last month’s test with 10%
less power and a fractional differential in the quantity
of matter. Everything went great, right?”
Kline nodded without enthusiasm.
I got him, Springer thought. “Okay,” he said. “If
you approve today, I promise I will sit down with you
and Dr. Palmer and anyone else you want, and we will
talk this through to your total satisfaction.”
He paused – One Mississippi – two Mississippi…
“Lionel, I need your approval – now.”
The senior scientist looked ready to agree – he even
nodded – then, David saw something flash in Kline’s
“David,” Kline said, “you are a wonderful scientist.
I realize you want this project to succeed. Still, you
understand the concept of a tipping point. What if
even an incremental change in power or material proves
sufficient to create a cascading effect and, ultimately,
different and drastic results?”
Springer turned to Palmer. “Want to help me out
Dr. Palmer looked at Kline. “Lionel, due respect,
but I think you’re being a bit neurotic here. We’ve
seen nothing to indicate a problem. Consider our past
Dr. Kline pursed his lips, blinked, then said,
“Alright, run it. But before we do another test, you
promise we will talk, right?”
Palmer nodded, “Yes.”
“Okay then. Dr. Springer, I give my verbal approval
for Test 333-A.”
Palmer recorded the verbal authorization on a
clipboard and handed it to his colleagues to sign.
Before the ink dried, and while Kline said a quiet
prayer, Springer snatched the receiver from its cradle.
“Control, this is Dr. Springer. Commence Test
The devices surrounding the scientists began to
hum - deeply, resonantly – almost frighteningly. In a
few moments, the ions would build up speed. Protons
would hurtle around the injector rings, then head
towards the central core, a location dubbed Edison’s
Curve. In his mind’s eye, Springer could see the particles
as they accelerated through this masterful creation of
If anyone’s going to unlock the secrets of the Universe,
it’s going to be us – here.
While Springer and Palmer stared at the dials,
Kline chewed the inside of his mouth until it was raw
and bleeding. He knew the likelihood of a cataclysmic
event was quite small, but something gnawed at the
back of his mind. He worried about future generations
– he worried about irreparable harm – he worried
In the deep recesses of his heart, he felt a crescendo
of calamity. Though clueless as to its nature, instinct
told him that he and his colleagues, instead of pushing
the limits of human ingenuity, were engaged in
something far more dangerous – something unnatural.
A few minutes later, the collision test concluded.
“Success,” Springer said.
The trio of scientists began to analyze the data.
Dr. Palmer said, “Gentleman, we have a small issue
here. I see a fraction less mass in the chamber than we
had at the start. The reading indicates a bit of matter
has left our collection matrix.”
Springer snorted. “Care to be a little more vague,
It’s “vaguer,” you insufferable twit, Kline thought. No
wonder no one likes you.
Palmer ignored the cynicism. “As we all know,”
he said, “matter cannot be lost. Any diminution of
mass means the missing matter is either somehow
unreadable within the chamber or has been moved to
another dimension or universe.”
Springer looked like a third grader who’d won a
spelling contest in the school cafeteria. “Precisely,” he
said. “See, Kline, I told you there was nothing to worry
about. Gentlemen, I think we have discovered the
power threshold for matter transfer.”
“Or the tipping point,” Kline said.
He opened his mouth to speak again when he saw
one of the control panel dials spike – a quick swing to
the right peg, then back to normal.
“I think there’s an anomaly building within the
core,” Kline said. “Take a look.”
The other two men peered over Kline’s shoulder.
“About what?” Springer asked. “Everything reads
“Oh hell,” Palmer said.
The others looked up from the array of dials and
followed Palmer’s pointing finger all the way to one
of the screens. A dark, spherical mist about a foot in
diameter floated in the chamber.
“What is that?” Palmer asked.
“No idea,” Kline said. “It’s only on that single
Springer reached up and tapped the screen as it
flickered, but the image was undeniable.
Palmer leaned toward the screen. “What is that?
I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The sphere slowly began to collapse back upon
itself. As the sphere shrunk to approximately nine
inches in diameter, a gnarled claw appeared out of the
rolling mist. It was neither fully human nor a distinguishable
animal. It swiped in a grabbing motion, then
disappeared into the cavity from which it came.
The Shimmer dissipated into nothingness.
Dr. Palmer asked, “What in God’s name was that?”
Dr. Kline turned to his colleagues his face ashen.
“I’m not sure God has anything to do with it.”
About 15 miles west of Edison Labs, Jimmy and
Joshua, identical three-year-old twin brothers,
played in the grass. They rolled a ball back and
forth. They’d seen Daddy playing on the Pong game
in the bowling alley – it looked like fun. Their mother
Maggie, six-months pregnant, made dinner.
“Paul,” she said, her voice carrying the usual hint of
maternal concern. “Paul, are you watching the girls?”
Paul waved from the crest of a small rise, then
snapped off a salute. “The Father of the Year is on duty,”
he said. “Angie and Heather are at the pool – lifeguard
The family loved the Webegone Campground. It
was their favorite getaway spot. They could all be in
the same place at the same time – but doing different
things, something the girls thought was “way cool.”
Josh tugged on Maggie’s cover-up. “Mommy, I’m
hung-we for spettios.”
“…and, and, hot dos,” Jimmy said, looking at his
brother for approval.
Josh crossed his arms. “Yes, yes, hog dogs.”
“Well,” Maggie said, smiling, “come sit down at the
picnic table to eat before you starve. It’s been all of an
hour since you had your snack.”
The boys scrambled over the table, sat down, and
tucked paper napkins into their shirts.
“Take your time,” Maggie said. “Remember, chew
The two boys devoured their food like hungry
beagle puppies around a single bowl of chow, tossed
their napkins in a trash can, then went back to their
game. Maggie slapped a half-dozen hamburger patties
on the grill and called to her husband.
“Paul get the girls. Burgers in less than 10 minutes.”
When she’d finished preparing dinner, Maggie
placed warm hamburgers on a plate, wrapped them in
foil, and set them on the table. Then she went around
the camper to check on the boys.
They. Were. Gone.
A few moments before, Josh had heaved the ball.
It soared past Jimmy’s outstretched hand. Josh chased
it down the hill, and Jimmy followed right behind his
At the edge of the forest, Jimmy stopped when he
saw a spherical mist just inside the tree line. Six feet
by 12 feet, it reminded Jimmy of the parachute his
preschool class used for games.
“Jimmy, look at the big booble. Monkey in the
Jimmy wasn’t sure. He reached down and picked
up the green ball, but he never took his eyes off the
Josh motioned. “Come on – Monkey in the
Jimmy shook his head; Josh edged closer to the
Shimmer. The silver dome slowly expanded until it was
five feet in diameter. Jimmy could not see anything
inside but the silver mist and a faint shadow.
Josh, ever curious, thrust an eager hand through
the middle of the “Shimmer.”
“Jimmy…cold. Come here.”
“Don’t touch,” Jimmy said. He felt his throat
tighten. This is bad.
“Feels like snow,” Josh said. He took his arm out
and rubbed it.
Jimmy, now within arm’s length, stabbed at the
Shimmer with an index finger. The orb rippled like the
surface of water.
“Come,” Josh said. He stuck his hand through the
wall again and giggled. “Cold.”
Their mother’s voice rose from just beyond the hill.
“Josh! Jimmy! Boys, come here right now – you are in
Josh looked at Jimmy, grinned, and said, “Monkey
in the Middle!” He jumped into the Shimmer, which
immediately began to shrink.
Jimmy shrieked for his mother. “Mommy! Jimmy
Th e boy felt a moment of relief when he saw Mom,
Dad, and his sisters running down the slope. Dad
looked annoyed. Mom looked terrifi ed.
Maggie scooped Jimmy up. “Oh my God, you
scared me to death. Where is your brother?”
“Ball,” Jimmy said. He pointed to the silver sphere,
now about the size of a large pumpkin. Th e sphere now
measured only 12 inches across.
“What ball?” Dad said.
Heather snickered. “Liar, liar, pants on fi re.”
Jimmy thrust his hands down in frustration. “Ball!”
Dad took off into the woods. “Josh! Joshua! Where
are you, son?”
Maggie’s head swiveled, her eyes darting as she
lived every mother’s worst nightmare. Her voice came
from someplace deep inside a breaking heart. “Josh!”
Th e girls began yelling, too. Th ey were all looking
away when a small hand squeezed through the Shimmer.
Th e fi ngers opened and closed, clutching, grabbing
only air. Jimmy reached out but only managed to brush
Josh’s fi ngertips before the hand was yanked away, as if
pulled abruptly from the other side.
Jimmy heard his brother’s tiny voice. “Big monkey.”
Tears seeped from Jimmy’s eyes. All he could say
the rest of the day was, “Josh in the ball – big monkey.”
For the next two days, multiple search parties scoured
the area. Jimmy was questioned numerous times by his
parents, the police, and even a psychologist. The boy’s
story never deviated; all it did was confuse the adults –
ball, hand, big monkey. After an exhaustive search of the
five-acre woods, the police ruled Josh’s disappearance
The family never quit hoping – praying – for Josh’s
return. But every day painted another layer of grime on
the window of hope, and joy slipped ever farther into
the realm of the past.
Jimmy had not seen his mother smile for three
months until he went to the hospital to meet his new
twin brothers. Still, the smile seemed forced – and her
eyes remained sad. Maggie clung to her newborns with
ferocity and foreboding.
In July, the local newspaper, the Bellevue Gazette,
ran a story titled, The Missing. Ten people had gone
lost from the local area under highly suspicious circumstances.
They had all disappeared between early March
to late May.
Josh had been the last.