'Tween Heaven and Hell (part 2)
© Mark Terence Chapman
At first it was just a squeal. I thought I must have dislodged a line filter or something, but no. It wasn’t random noise. There was a pattern to it. I adjusted the focus of the apparatus until the signal was as clear as I could make it. The sound had a strange sort of thrum to it, almost like a high-pitched heartbeat. Thu-thu-thump. Thu-thu-thump. Thu-thu-thump. It was hypnotic. Although I had no proof, I knew it was somehow related to the Tweens. I’d filtered out everything else.
Within seconds, my own heartbeat changed rhythm, as if trying to match the thrum. My pacemaker attempted to return my heart to its normal rhythm, setting up a war in my chest. Mortar shells exploded. Machine guns sent staccato bursts across my ribcage. My heartbeat would return to normal for a few seconds, and then begin slipping back to the unnatural rhythm of the thrum. Thu-thu-thump. Thu-thu-thump. Thu-thu-thump.
I grunted in agony, unable to move. Pain shot up and down my arm, across my chest. I struggled to breathe, sweat trickling down my cheek to pool on my shirt. All I had to do was reach out and hit the power switch, but I was paralyzed, powerless to save myself. The pacemaker fought valiantly on my side, but slowly yet surely it was losing the battle. The moments of stable heartbeat grew ever shorter, while the episodes of thrum-beat lengthened. Thu-thu-thump. Thu-thu-thump. Thu-thu-thump.
It was only a matter of time before my heart failed under the stress. I was dying. There was nothing I could do. The thrum-beat was deafening now, reinforced by the beating in my own chest. Thu-thu-thump. Thu-thu-thump. Thu-thu-thump.
I watched helplessly as two Tweens slowly glided toward me, passing through the garage wall and the workbench. Did they sense I was dying? Were they attempting to communicate, or perhaps possess my soul somehow?
My vision grayed around the edges. I had but seconds left to live. My vision shrank to a narrow tunnel, aimed at the equipment on the workbench. The Tweens grew ever closer, only feet away now. I had but seconds to live.
The first passed through me and everything went black.
* * *
I awoke in the dark, hours later. Why was I alive? I knew I lived simply because I hurt. There is no pain in death, is there? A moment later, I smelled the acrid stench of burnt wiring and scorched circuitry. I struggled to my feet and shuffled to where I knew the overhead light was. I fumbled for the pull string, before snagging it and tugging. The brilliant light sent jagged needles into my brain. I winced and turned away, but I knew I was alive. Somehow I was alive and that damn thrum-beat was gone.
When my vision returned, I looked at my workbench. A cloud of smoke hovered over the equipment. What could have happened?
The answer came to me after a moment, and I laughed. Clearly the trailing Tween had passed through the apparatus and shorted it out. With the hijacking thrum-beat gone, my pacemaker must have been able to wrench my heartbeat back to a normal sinus rhythm just in time. What made me laugh was the idea that a Tween had saved me from death by the essence of Tweens. Did it know what it was doing, or was it pure accident? There was no way to be sure, but I was grateful either way.
I never attempted to rebuild my ruined Tween detector. Not after my brush with death. I figured between my two bouts of electrocution and this latest misadventure, I’d already used up my three strikes. I wasn’t about to go for four.
* * *
Although I decided to stop actively seeking out the Tweens, I continued to passively watch and listen. Not that I had a choice. They were everywhere; I couldn’t avoid hearing or seeing them if I wanted to. However, the time I spent focusing on the Tweens made it increasingly difficult to hold down steady employment.
I overheard coworkers talking about me, how my staring off into space and muttering to myself made them nervous. They had no idea I was monitoring the Tweens around us. One worried boss fired me, and then another, and then another.
By the time I reached my fifties, I was unemployable. I lost my apartment and my car. I lived in homeless shelters for a while. But my mannerisms frightened the others and I was asked to leave the shelters, one by one, until none would take me. So then I lived on the streets.
What a miserable existence: I froze in the winter, roasted in the summer, starved most of the time, and bathed rarely. My teeth rotted from lack of dental care, and I suffered from sores and infections. I visited the free clinics in the area, until even they refused me.
I couldn’t stop what I was doing. I had to keep tabs on the Tweens. If I didn’t, who would? Who else could? The more I learned about them, the more frightened I became. Although we barely register on their radar, they’re beginning to have more of an effect on humans every year.
You see, they’re attracted to energy sources—fire, lightning, electrical circuits, generators, motors, and so forth, much like moths to a flame. And, like moths, sometimes the Tweens come in contact with the physical manifestations that produce the power—with disastrous results, as in the case of Amelia Earhart and those World War II airplanes that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. Engines sputter, transistors short out, generators seize up, and computers crash. (What you think of as “bugs” are simply Tweens passing through the space the computer occupies.) The more powerful the source, the more Tweens that hover around and the greater the likelihood of catastrophic failure.
It wasn’t too bad when the world ran on coal- and oil-fired power plants. If one failed, we had a brief blackout. But then along came nuclear power. Remember Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima? Those cascading failures were the result of dozens of Tweens randomly passing through the wrong components at the wrong time.
With the advances in technology and the spread of people, the paths of humans and Tweens cross more every day. With each passing year the probability of disaster increases exponentially.
The time for silence is over. I have to tell someone my story. Someone who will listen and understand. Is that you? Will you pass my story on to the authorities, to someone who can stop the disaster before it happens?
I’d do it myself, but I can’t—they won’t let me out. I did manage to escape once, and for several days I eluded the police, painting signs wherever I could:
Beware the Tweens!
Stay out of New York, Paris, and Tokyo!
Throw away your iPods!
Eventually they found me. Now the straps on this jacket make it impossible to get loose, or even to scratch my nose. But someone has to warn them, tell them to take those nuclear power plants offline.
The ones in New York, Paris, and Tokyo. The ones outside London, Rio, and Moscow.
The Tweens are gathering. They like power, but they don’t understand the consequences. Or maybe they don’t care. After all, to them we’re mere flickers. You have to make the people in charge of the power plants understand. The doctors say I’m insane, that my brain is fried—but they’re wrong. The Tweens are real, and they’re a threat.
It’s up to you to spread the word. You have to, before it’s too late. Millions of lives are at stake, and it’s only a matter of time. Look, if I’m wrong, no harm done. But if I’m right, and you do nothing, all their deaths will be on your hands.
We’ll die, but the Tweens will live on. They always do. They were here long before us, and they’ll be here long after we’re gone.
You believe me…don’t you?