A heap of branches and half-decayed leaves from years of raking greeted Kluber on the other side of the hedges, a pathway of Jasper’s making forged straight through to the shadows of the deeper forest beyond. The dog’s cries came from somewhere off to the left, and as he looked Kluber caught what looked like a pulsing light through the trees. That’s strange, he thought, maybe the mutt found a fire before it got crazy. Good dog.
Kluber picked his way through the heap of detritus but Jasper’s worn path veered off to the right, away from the light in the woods. Dense underbrush greeted him, a thicket of brambles and blackberry bushes. The thorns and branches snagged on his work shirt as he pushed through, one catching him on the lip and drawing a soft curse, but no blood. He forced his way through the brambles and came into the forest proper, old growth trees that drew him when he bought the property creating a field of great sentinels as well as easy walking. As he moved through the woods, he got a better look at the light, realizing it couldn’t be a fire, the light was too pure and white, almost fluorescent, though it was plainly what drew the dog. Peering hard at what looked like the source he spied what looked like a clearing ahead with the sun lancing down among the light. Strange, he thought, on his treks back here hunting for Jasper in the past he didn’t remember anything like that.
“JASPER!” he shouted again, exasperated. The dog’s cries had been growing louder during his trek, but now the woods were silent save a dull hum that seemed to come from all directions. The light was gone though, a few flashes for a moment, and then nothing. He stopped and peered around, apprehension growing in his gut, worry for his dog and wariness over what was out here. Something gleamed in the direction the light had come from, something metallic that didn’t belong among the trees. Kluber couldn’t get a good look, but it seemed to be in that strange clearing. He made for it.
He reached the tree line and peered into the gap in the forest, taken aback by what was before him. Or rather, what wasn’t.. In a perfect circle about 30 feet across, there was nothing, just packed earth. The sky was visible above, and all around the perimeter branches that would have jutted into the area were shorn off perfectly evenly, razor smooth and the ground was bare, no underbrush either the bed of mosses and ferns ended at the clearing’s edge abruptly. Looking up, the leaves and branches above were likewise cut in a perfect curve up to where the sky opened up, like a great bowl had been dropped upside down. Trees, bushes, everything just gone.
Aug 6, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) watches in the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
The oddity of the clearing paled before what sat in its center. In the middle of the clearing was a silver chair resting on a thick square base, like what you might find in a dentist’s office, only bright chrome. A thick ring of the same metal ran upward from its base, at its peak six feet from the ground. The chair looked to be able to fit a normally sized man, with armrests covered in blinking lights. It was like something out of a sci-fi nerd’s fan fiction, Kluber considered. He still had to find his dog, and the steaming pile of crap on the far side of the clearing gave him a hint where Jasper had gotten off to. He made for it.
“Stop, please!” A reedy voice pierced the uncommonly quiet air of Kluber’s newfound clearing. He turned to the source, a man shorter than himself in what looked like white coveralls, balding with a moustache that would have made Rollie Fingers jealous stepped from behind the chair. If it weren’t for the silver boots running up to his knees and what looked like a kid’s ray gun in his hand, he wouldn’t have looked out of place at a high-end mechanic’s garage.
“Please stay away from the temporal borer,” the man said again, his thin voice filling the clearing.
“Excuse me?” Kluber stared, confused, “I’m just looking for my dog. What did you do to my woods?” The newcomer’s hand clutched the strange tool tightly, and Kluber felt uneasy – he held it like a weapon, like a pistol. “Look bud, I don’t want any trouble, even if you did wreck a bunch of my land, I just want my dog.”
“Your dog? Ah, the canine, of course,” the man’s hands dropped, though Kluber’s guard didn’t. The man let out a strange whistle, and from the woods Jasper gamboled out with that goofy look on his face, panting happily.
“Jasper! Here boy!” He came to his master and rubbed his head on Corey’s hand, trying to get a pet. Kluber pulled the dog close, tussling him about, then looked back to the strange visitor. The man in white had apparently forgotten about Kluber and was climbing into the strange seat.
“Wait,” Corey rose and stepped toward the man, Jasper at his heel, “what is that thing? What happened to these trees?”
“Oh, nothing, don’t worry about it,” he didn’t look up, just started pressing buttons on the armrests and rubbing his chin, “Actually, if you could just take a few steps backward, beyond the tree line, you’ll be out of danger.”
“Danger?” Kluber’s hand subconsciously made a fist around his dog’s collar. The circle of metal started to spin slowly, a dull gleam growing from its edges. “What kind of danger?”
“Nothing, it’s just – oops.” The last word was said more quietly, concern plain in the man’s voice. As he said it, the hoop around the chair started to spin faster and faster, the dull hum starting up again, the pulsing light emanating brighter and brighter from the edges. Kluber took another step forward, his dog starting to whine again. The man started to beckon at Kluber while the light grew ever brighter. Kluber had to shield his eyes, and the humming was getting too loud to bear.
“HEY!” He shouted, but the man paid no heed. He shouted some unintelligible words back, waving his hands frantically. The light filled the clearing, the hum became a deafening scream that brought Kluber to his knees, clutching his dog’s head. Everything was a blinding white, then a loud BANG, and everything went dark.
A wetness on his face brought Kluber back to consciousness. Squinting his eyes open, the plaintive eyes of his dog hung above his head, that big tongue soaking his stubble.