Plugs

Unfortunately, this story is unavailable. If it were available, my best guess is that it would go something like this:
There would be a main character of some kind, trapped in a box about the size of a dishwasher. There would also be an explanation of how this had happened, and maybe some hope that he would get out–but he wouldn’t get out, at least not in the story.
There would be some sort of conversation with a person sitting on the box. The odd thing is that I think the main character would be a close friend of the person sitting on the box, but the person sitting on the box wouldn’t let him out. I don’t know why. I don’t think, in the story, that he would want to be in the box, but I might be wrong.
From there, I’m not sure. It’s possible that he’s a magician who is supposed to do an escape, but who fails. Or possibly he’s being shipped somewhere. Or he might be some kind of yogi, meditating. Actually, I just don’t know: really I’m grasping at straws now.
There would be all kinds of lush description, and while there would only be seven lines of dialog, those seven lines would be exquisitely funny. There would be some kind of pun involving a llama, but it would be a good one, not one of the old, tired ones.
And the thing that would be most striking is that by the end of the story, we wouldn’t mind that he was in the box, and neither would he. He would be happy. His friend would go away, but that would be all right. And though there would be no one there, the last thing he would say in the story would be
“Shhhhh.”

The mechanism was running down. It had no moving parts. Its gears were graffiti runes painted on walls and rooftops on a dozen buildings throughout the city. One of them must have slipped, and there was an aetheric grinding where there should have been smooth turning in time with the tides, the days, the moons, the seasons. No one noticed when it worked; everyone knew when it didn’t.
The mage-engineers couldn’t agree on a cure. Three days of chanting might do it. Or goat’s blood spattered on street corners. Or using nothing but wooden coins for money. Or four days of rain, during which we’d all have to dance everywhere we went. Nothing sounded practical.
The lake receded. Prices rose in the malls, fell in the stock market. Sparks were seen in corners of the twilight sky by those who knew how to look. It was getting serious.
All the mage-engineers tried all their cures. All the cures failed. A flock of three-winged pigeons nested on the cathedral dome. Throngs of finger-sized lizards spilled up through the storm drains. A greenish haze curdled on the sidewalks and clung around our ankles.
The evacuation began. One suitcase each. Residents of odd-numbered houses got the streets in odd-numbered hours, then it was the evens’ turn.
A numb quiet hung in the air and the echoes of our footsteps didn’t come back right. When we crossed the bridge, we saw the river burning with ghostly flames just below the surface.
That’s when the vigilante-magi made their attempt, with perfect coordination of rituals in a dozen neighborhoods. The sky rang like a china teacup struck with a spoon. It turned out they’d done the wrong thing — who knows how badly things could have gone if they hadn’t done it so well.
The city was gone. Where the streets had been, lines of evacuees through fields. We walked toward the hills. Every bead of dew hanging from the grass reflected the buildings, plazas, avenues, shops — the home — we’d lost.
Even now that we’ve begun rebuilding, every puddle, soup bowl, and bathtub reflects what we barely remember anymore. We found the mechanism’s runes patterned in flowers here and there across the fields. We’ve made those places garden parks which we leave alone except for the occasional watering and the even rarer, very careful weeding.

I miss hearing my name, but not Dr. Helfinger’s elbow in my ribs. “Astrid! Get up!” he hisses in my ear.  I stand and smile and shuffle across the stage to the podium.  Without looking I pull my index cards from my lab coat pocket and launch into the speech.  One of Turner’s, some rousing claptrap about our eternal quest to push back the frontiers of science.  Even as I give it, I hear not a word.  I am too busy waiting for him.

They say every great thinker does his best work when he’s young and unrestricted by experience. And then in the next breath they say I am the exception that proves the rule.  Sixty-five years of steady work has brought me much: twenty-odd doctoral degrees in as many disciplines. Five noble prizes. Enough research funding to buy me a medium-sized country (say, France), not to mention an army of graduate students eager to run it for me.  They all look up to me.  Well, all but one.

As I finish, a sonic boom overwhelms the applause and a sudden whiff of ozone fills my nose.  I turn my head.  There he is, striding towards me, the applause changing to thunderous cheers.  A smile automatically comes to my face and our arms reach for each other.  Professor Astrid and Captain Formidable.  As of last year, Eugene Eng, my former student.  My greatest gift to the world, my greatest failure.

We hug, and every hair on my body stands up.

He was one of a hundred faceless students I had on the Project.  We had calculated the way to break into the Sidereal Plane, the proper procedure to infuse its energies into a human body, and the experiment eighteen years in the making to test it.  And then Eugene, distracted by a text, had stepped where he should not have when he shouldn’t have. The universe changed and he was remade.

Him.

The Dean awards him his honorary degree, the Ph.D. he had left incomplete.  He shakes my hand and thanks me, as he has every time he sees me, and then he is gone with a flash, into the sky.  And I am left like the rest.

Looking up.

“It all began, you see, when my friend Robert Cloaksworth came to me and said that he had discovered ancient writings about the Door of Chum-Tuun, a fabulous Mayan site, lost for hundreds of years, that was reputed to be a portal to the underworld. Well, we set off to the Yucatan to investigate, and after about six weeks of hacking our way through the jungle with machetes–that’s how I developed such strong arms, you see, powerful as anything–we actually found it.”

“My god! And that’s when–?”

“Oh, no, no. Turned out to be nothing but a legend. We went back to England in a bit of state, really. Cloaksworth had claimed to fall ill at the last moment–all a ruse, you see, for my embarassment. Terrible fellow, Cloaksworth. Never liked him since. But I ought to be grateful, because my disgrace in England sent me travelling to Morocco, where I found a tarnished old oil lamp that I thought I might use as a kind of ornament back home. I took a cloth to it and began to clean it really very energetically, and it was only when a sort of mist began to come out of it that I remembered my Thousand and One Nights …”

“You don’t mean it was a djinni?”

“Well, of course it wasn’t, really. Actually it was a kind of mold inside there that threw out the most incredibly noxious spores. I was so overcome by them that I stumbled out behind the house into the desert and fell there, quite helpless. And just then I looked up and saw a sort of lighted disk descending from the sky, just floating there as easily as though it had no more to do with gravity than you do with a pufferfish, and a sort of door opened in the bottom, and sent down a beam of light that pulled me up–”

“Into a spaceship? They were some kind of aliens?”

“What? Oh, heavens no: it was a hallucination, you see. The spores. Actually, they were really quite poisonous, and I nearly died, but at the hospital there I was cared for by Marguerite here, and that, of course, is how I met my wife.”

“Your wife? But God, man, what I want to know is where you got a second head!”

“Oh, this? I don’t remember where I got that.”

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