'Tween Heaven and Hell (part 1)

© Mark Terence Chapman

You have to listen to me! No one else will. Someone must stop them. I can’t, but maybe you can. We don’t have much time.  You— I-I know I’m rambling, so let me start again.

 

There are creatures among us. They have no name, but they’ve existed since long before Man and will continue to do so long after we’re gone. They can’t die, they don’t reproduce, they just…exist. These creatures—call them Tweens—are all around us. I imagine we’re as much a mystery to them as they are to us—those few of us who are aware of their existence. At least, I assume there are others like me. I can’t be the only one who sees them, can I? 

 

I’d say our brains work differently, but I’m not sure they have a brain, exactly. To us, they appear insubstantial, as smoke or mist, a flicker seen out of the corner of the eye. Are they creatures of pure energy, or somehow out of phase with our universe? I don’t know. I call them Tweens because to me they seem to live somewhere between this plane of existence and the next.

 

I’m not sure they know what they’re made of, or where they are, or how they came to be. That’s not the sort of thing they would care about, either. They have no interest in mundane things like matter or physics. To them, existence itself is enough. They live in the moment; they seem to have no concept of time or place.

 

Nonetheless, they’ve had an impact on human events. Many unexplained events in human history can be attributed to Tween involvement: in 1227, a horse spooked, threw its rider, and Genghis Khan died. In 1937, Amelia Earhart’s engine failed on a cloudless day and her plane went down. During World War II, Allied pilots over Germany reported seeing unexplained lights in the sky; they called them “foo fighters.” In each case, the cause was the appearance of one or more Tweens.

 

I see you shaking your head and rolling your eyes, but it’s all true. I’ll explain later.

 

Whether this involvement was intentional or accidental, I can’t be sure. What I do know, however—what is irrefutable—is that Tweens have an effect on human existence. You’ve probably encountered them yourself without realizing it. Perhaps you’ve felt a cold draft indoors with the windows closed. Or you’ve had inexplicable mechanical failures you’ve jokingly attributed to “gremlins.” Maybe the hairs on the back of your neck have stood on end without rational explanation, or you think you’ve seen a ghost. Odds are, these were all brief encounters with Tweens. Animals are sensitive to Tweens. That’s why dogs seem to bark at nothing and horses whinny in their stalls for no apparent reason.

 

How do I know all this? Simple: a Tween told me. Oh, not directly. They don’t speak in words, and they’re not exactly telepathic, but they can communicate. They do so among their kind by intermingling their essences. Every Tween is unique and their joinings are like oil and water. For a few moments they are as one, but after a time they must separate and go their own ways.

 

As a human, I can’t fuse my essence with theirs, but on one occasion, being in exactly the right place at precisely the correct time, I did—for a brief moment—come close to doing so. It’s not something I could duplicate, or would even want to, but it happened. It happened and now I have to tell someone or else go insane. I can’t keep it bottled up inside any longer.

 

                                                                                                  * * *

 

Growing up in Montana, I had a normal enough childhood. I went for long walks in the woods with my dad. We camped out under the stars. I played ball with my friends. There was no indication that my life would be different from anyone else’s. That is, until one weekend when I was fourteen.

 

Dad and I went camping as we often did during the summer. We pitched our tent in the middle of an open field, near the stream where we planned to fish all the next day. While we hunted near the tree line for dead branches to use for firewood, a storm blew in. Within seconds, blustery winds buffeted us and we heard the crack of thunder overhead.

 

“What should we do, Dad?” I yelled, I had to yell to be heard over the din of the rain pelting the leaves around us. “Run back to the tent?”

 

“No,” he shouted back, “the tent’s too exposed out there.”

 

“But we’re not supposed to stand under a tree in a lightning storm, are we?” I looked up at the tall pines surrounding us.

“I— You’re right. Back to the tent. At least we’ll be out of the rain.”

 

Even though it was summer, the cold, heavy rainfall made my teeth chatter. We raced back to the tent with our bundles. I dropped a branch as I ran and Dad stopped for a moment to pick it up. He waved me forward so I kept running. I was no more than twenty feet ahead of him when the lightning struck.

 

                                                                                                       * * *

 

I opened my eyes to a view of dirty-cotton sky and the sound of kettle drums. I didn’t hurt. In fact, I felt nothing, so I tried to raise my hand to look at it. I couldn’t. Next, I tried tilting my head forward to look at my legs. My view changed, but instead of my body I viewed an oddly familiar sight: a man and a boy lying prone on the muddy ground.

 

It was as if I floated ten feet above them. Peering closer, I realized the boy on the ground was me, and the man was my dad. Although I couldn’t move, I somehow saw and heard. Nearby, a ghostly amorphous shape hovered, shimmering, barely visible in the lightning flashes.

 

“Josh! Omigod, omigod.” Dad picked himself off the ground and staggered toward me—or, rather, my body.

 

“Josh, are you all right?” He wiped the water from his eyes with the sleeve of his sodden flannel shirt. The rain continued to rush down from the heavens. “Josh?”

 

He reached my body, which stared up at nothing, raindrops spattering my eyes.

 

“Josh! Omigod.” He looked around, as if expecting to see a doctor nearby, just waiting to help. Seeing no one, he slapped my face once, gently, and then again, with more force. “Josh, wake up!”

 

His eyes darted left and right. I guessed his mind was racing to remember what he’d learned about CPR years ago as a Boy Scout troop leader.

 

“Uh, let’s see. Check the mouth for obstructions.” He inserted a finger in my mouth and felt around. Nothing. “Okay, pinch the nose and blow air in the mouth.” He blew twice. Nothing. I was as lifeless as any corpse.

 

Even though I knew it was me down there, apparently dead, I was calm, detached, as if I were watching everything on TV. I remember wondering whether that ghostly form was my soul—or something else.

 

“Dear God, please help me!” He began compressions on my chest. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Then two more breaths. Then five more compressions.

 

One. “C’mon, Josh.”

 

Two. “You can do it.”

 

Three. “Fight!”

 

Four. “You’ve got to fight.”

 

Five. “Stay with me, son!”

 

Two more breaths and the routine began again. After three rounds of breaths and compressions I was as dead as ever.

 

“Why? Why did I do it? We should have stayed under the trees. Please, God, please, don’t let him die!”

 

I wanted to reassure him that being dead wasn’t so bad, but I didn’t know how.

 

Dad had never been a particularly religious man, going to church only because Mom insisted. I knew he still wasn’t sure there was a God; but I guess this wasn’t the time to be a doubter.

 

“Please!”

 

Five more compressions and two breaths. Dad turned to begin compressions again, now clearly despairing that it was too late. I had been still too long, lifeless. He depressed my chest once, twice, muttering to himself that this was the last time. If I didn’t return this time, I never would.

 

Three compressions, then four, then…

 

My body convulsed, coughing and spraying the few drops of rainwater that had collected in my throat. I felt pain, a sense of being ripped apart, a feeling of loss. But before I left that place—whatever it was—I took a last look at my dad.

 

Tears welled up in his eyes and mingled with the raindrops running down his cheeks. Mouthing a brief prayer he scooped me up and ran back to the tent, leaving the now damp firewood behind, forgotten.

 

                                                                                                      * * *

 

I awoke in our tent, wet and shivering but wrapped in a dry blanket. Dad sat across from me on his cot, watching me with worry-filled eyes.

 

“Are-are you all right, son?”

 

“I-I think so. My head hurts, and my left foot. But other than that, I feel okay.”

 

Dad frowned. “Your head and your foot? Let me take a look.”

 

He’d already removed my shoes when he put me in the cot. Now he pulled off my sock and turned my foot right and left in his fingers as he examined it.

 

“It looks like you have a burn on the bottom. Let me look at your head.” He rose and walked around the cot until he could see the top of my skull.

 

“Yep, here too. That must be the path the lightning took through your body. Thank goodness you’re alive and well. That’s all that matters. I called for help and there’s a park ranger on the way. Thank God we were in range of a cell tower. The ambulance should be at the ranger station by the time we get there.”

 

Alive, certainly, but not entirely well. The burned patches on my head and foot healed with time, but were scarred from third-degree burns that surgery couldn’t entirely mask. I gained a small but permanent bald spot on the top of my head—easily hidden by long hair in my youth—and a limp. I also acquired a small amount of damage to my heart. Not enough to curtail normal activities, but potentially troublesome in my later years.

 

I gained one more thing from that incident: the ability to see what to most people remained invisible. After that day, I caught flickers where there shouldn’t be flickers, flashes of light where there were no lights, ghostly images that no one could explain away. My father took me to a half-dozen specialists. I had MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, you name it. No one ever found any damage to my brain, but that didn’t stop me from seeing what others couldn’t.

 

After a while I stopped telling people what I saw, and eventually they all concluded that my “hallucinations” had ceased. That was fine by me. I was tired of all the poking and prodding, the whisperings behind my back.

 

By then, I’d grown used to my visions and for the most part tuned them out. I looked at them as a minor annoyance, much like my limp—something to work around.

 

Everything changed when I was twenty-six.

 

One night after work, I sat in the kitchen of my apartment, barefoot, trying to fix a lamp that had shorted out. I didn't know that a pipe under the sink had sprung a small leak. After collecting in a puddle, the water spilled over the lip of the cabinet and trickled down onto the floor. Engrossed in what I was doing, I didn’t see the water snake across the room toward my foot.

 

With the rewiring complete, I tested the lamp. On, off, on again. No go. I checked the connection again and tightened the wire nut. Just before the light came on, I caught a flicker out of the corner of my eye. A Tween approaching, passing through me. I felt something cold against my heel, and then my brain went mad with imagery. All my senses were heightened. I saw things that perhaps no human had seen before—fantastic, indescribable things. I saw myself, distorted, flickery, through the senses of a Tween—just for a moment, and then everything went black.

 

I awoke in an ambulance, with a medic leaning over me and an air mask covering my nose and mouth.

 

“You awake, buddy?”

 

I nodded.

 

“Good. For a minute I thought we’d lost you. We’re four minutes from the hospital. You’re gonna be fine. Just relax. We’ll take good care of you.”

 

I nodded again and closed my eyes. I tried to sleep, but sleep wouldn’t come. I had a buzzing in my head—not my ears, my head. The noise sounded almost like voices, but garbled, much as someone speaking underwater. I tried my damnedest to make out what the voices were saying, but it was gibberish. After a minute or two I passed out.

 

When I opened my eyes, I lay in a hospital bed, hooked up to various wires and tubes. I lived, but something was different. No, I don’t mean the life support gear. Something about me was different. As I surveyed the room, I realized what it was. I no longer saw the occasional just-barely-visible flicker or flash. Now I saw ghostly forms, wisps of silver and white, passing through the walls and floors as if they didn’t exist. They were everywhere.

 

Occasionally one passed through me, and for a moment I felt like I was flying, floating along with the Tweens. The floating sensation was accompanied by a sharp pain in my chest. And then we separated and reality wrenched me back into myself.

 

Worse, I heard voices. Not half-noticed whispers, now, but louder, clearer. And I understood them. They didn’t speak to me. I don’t think they really noticed me. They communicated as they merged and passed through one another. What I heard were the bits and pieces that spilled over, much like strolling through a crowd of people and catching snatches of conversations.

 

Having the ability to see and hear these Tweens was at once exhilarating and terrifying. The fact that I could interact, in some small way, with an unknown life form was incredible. But what if it wasn’t real? What if it was, indeed, simply hallucination—as others had suggested years earlier—caused by repeated electrocutions? What if I was mad as a hatter?

 

My doctors were puzzled by the intermittent glitches in my newly installed pacemaker. They performed a second surgery to replace the first with another, but the results were the same.

 

“We don’t fully understand it,” my doctor said, “but the pacemaker doesn’t seem to be regulating your heartbeat consistently. There is nothing wrong with the hardware—we’ve double- and triple-checked it. It’s something to do with your heart. It doesn’t seem to want to be regulated.” He smiled wryly at the idea that my heart might “want” something.

 

“Does that mean I’m going to die?” I asked.

 

“No, not necessarily,” he said with a frown. “There’s no way to tell. It could happen today, or you might have forty or fifty years.”

It was simply something I’d have to live with—until it killed me. Or should I say, until the Tweens killed me. I knew he wouldn’t believe me if I told him it was the Tweens doing it. The glitch and the accompanying pain occurred each time a Tween passed through me. That convinced me that what was happening was real, not a hallucination. One day, I knew, a Tween would cause the pacemaker to fail and my heart would stop.

 

I had to make good use of the time I had to find a way to warn others of the threat the Tweens posed.

 

                                                                                                        * * *

 

Over the years that followed, I spent more and more of my time studying the Tweens.

 

I can’t really say I heard words. It was more like concepts, forms, ideas. My brain did the best it could to form words from those thoughts. Some of what I overheard made no sense to me. Like I said, their minds work differently from ours. But I understood enough to scare me. This is how I learned about Tweens and their effects on human life. They aren’t just indifferent to us, they think of us the way I’d always thought of them—simply irrelevant flashes and flickers, barely noticed background noise. Yet they weren’t unaware of the results of their encounters with humans. That’s how I learned about Genghis Khan, Amelia Earhart, and thousands of others who’d lost their lives due to the Tweens.

 

Of course, it took decades of watching and listening to piece it all together. They have no concept of time or names or places. But I often got images and sounds along with the thoughts. Over time I was able to place names and dates with some of the images.

I attempted to build a device to detect the Tweens so I could prove their existence to others. I spent every penny I had, maxed out my credit cards on electronic components, power generators, oscilloscopes, radio transceivers, and other devices. I spent years huddled over the cramped workbench in my garage, headphones clamped to my ears, fiddling with dials, fine-tuning receivers, boosting the gain, installing filters—all for nothing.

 

Then one day, I got something.

 

(CONTINUED)

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