(2004) - short story by A.R.Yngve
- - -
Of all my short stories, this one has been published the most (so far): In the e-zine SIMULACRUM in 2004, in the Chinese magazine SCIENCE FICTION STORY in 2005, and in the Swedish magazine MITRANIA in 2005/2006.
For that reason and because I love the story's idea, I think "See" is the best thing I ever wrote.
She wakes up, and immediately senses something is wrong with her eyes. Maybe she's still dreaming. The bed is under her, the sheets over her body, the bedroom around her... but everything is too... close.
It's hot, much too hot for February. Breathing comes normally, despite the creeping sensation of claustrophobia. A bug, the type that's smaller than a fly, flies across the room, toward the window. Temperature and humidity feels like August. A slight warm draft seeps in through the windowsill vent.
The insect lands on the sheet before her. She rubs her sleepy eyes and squints, then looks at the insect again. It starts to walk toward her... and it doesn't change size. It is somehow too large. The bedsheet is like a photograph on paper, taken from above... and the corners of the bed are placed wrong. As if the bed grew wider near her feet.
She shakes her head. The insect stops, alarmed by her movement, and flies off to the window. The windowframe... looks completely flat. It lies slightly to her left, no more than five feet away. And yet... and yet the farthest end of the frame is the same height as the near end.
She mutters to herself that she's having a dream; this must be the kind where she's inside a photograph — that's right, how amusing, ha-ha, she's in a photograph! — where distance and angles are all off. That insect is standing on the windowpane now — and damn it, it is still the same bloody size as when it sat on her sheets — it looks close enough to touch... in fact, everything in the room looks close enough to touch.
Giggling, she sits up in bed and reaches out for the insect on the pane. Suddenly her arm is up against her face and blocks half her field of view. What's wrong with her coordination? She makes an effort to point her arm away from her, but it just keeps blocking her view, as if it got coiled up against her face.
No matter how much she mentally flails about that mischievous arm, she simply can't reach across the room to the window. She forces her arm down to her side, and suddenly her field of vision is free again — too free. The insect crawls around the windowpane in circles... round and round.
That's odd too: she knows that kind of insect, it comes from the potted plant on the other side of the bedroom. (The pot and plant also seem to be standing too close.) That bug usually bumps into the glass and keeps bumping a while, then gives up when it's sufficiently dizzy and continues flying through the room.
Only this morning, the bug just walks in circles. Each circle looks like a perfect circle, never an oval... only perfect circles. She realizes that if her eyes and the bug's eyes are screwed up at the same time, it might mean something... that can't be put into words.
She wants to go back to sleep... close her eyes until the weirdness goes away. Her heartbeat is too rapid now to allow her to relax, so she crawls out of bed, stands up... and the wall seems to hit her in the face. There's no sound of a bump. A reflex causes her hands to fly up and cover her face, and she's blinded.
An insight hits her. Slowly, she wills her hands to move away from her face, until she can feel the muscles in her arms strain. The slow movement causes an optic illusion: the hands refuse to change size, even as she moves them out, but around them the view appears to zoom out and grow. Like the zoom-effect in the old Hitchcock movie Vertigo. She feels nauseous and staggers to the bathroom door, next to the potted plant...
Again, the walls seem to be in her face as she moves her feet. Looking down, she gets the impression that her legs and feet angle up against her nose with every step. She mumbles incoherent curses and grabs the door handle with her eyes shut. She can feel the door open as it should, feel her feet on the bathroom tile, and fumbles for the light switch.
Click. Safe at last!
Once she has shut the door and turned off the light, she uses the bathroom in the dark. Everything is in its right place. Everything works as it should. Her heart starts to slow down. It was all a hallucination.
Dimly she recalls a warning on yesterday's evening news... some astronomer warning that the expansion of the Universe was slowing down very quickly... what was it that guy said? That the stars might look different and brighter once they didn't rush away from us... she curses all astronomers, from the safety and darkness of her bathroom. Bloody eggheads, screwing with our sense of reality, putting all sorts of weird ideas in our heads...
It occurs to her that people were happier in the Middle Ages, when they believed the Sun revolved around the Earth... a stable, ordered world that never changed.
Once she's done dressing up, washing up, and brushing her teeth (skipping make-up and lipstick), she takes a deep breath and grabs the door handle. Enough with the weird eyesight.
She will step out the door, and everything is going to look n-o-r-m-a-l.
She closes her eyes, opens the door and steps out of the bathroom. With her eyes shut, she kneels down on the bed and finds the clock-radio buttons, where they always are. She fiddles with the controls and finds the station that plays her favorite music...
But there is no music. On every station there's voices. Voices screaming, voices laughing, babbling in mad excitement, praying to God that it will end... she refuses to look. She stabs the channel-switching button until she finds a voice that sounds in control of itself.
It is a man's voice, stuttering yet rational:
"...no reason to panic. There is nothing wrong with your eyes. What has changed is the rules of perception. It boils down to this: During the last few hours... things ceased to look smaller with distance. This is causing worldwide panic and confusion, and of course... caused chaos in road, railroad and air traffic. I advise everyone not to use any sort of motorized vehicle... until the situation has stabilized. A friend of mine who's a scientist is on my phone now... I'll ask him to try and explain what's happening. Are you there, Henry?"
"I hear you... telephones seem to be working, isn't that funny? Okay, I have a theory about this. Just recently the Hubble Space Telescope registered a sharp increase in infrared radiation from deep space. The Universe was heating up real fast — and all stars were suddenly getting brighter... not enough that human eyes would register, not at first. And during the night, observatories across the world reported that the Moon seemed to be falling in toward the Earth. On the other side of the planet, people panicked and thought the Sun was exploding — "
"Is it true, then — is the Sun exploding, oh my God, are we going to die?"
"No no no! Calm down. I know it looks like the Sun just exploded... but if it did, we'd all be dead now! What's happened is... Christ, it's so hard to explain! But it makes sense in a crazy way."
(She opened one eye, looked down at the bedsheet, close beneath her face. It seemed strangely flat and occupied her entire view. Slowly she glanced up at the wall. The wallpaper was right up there against her nose, even though it ought to be three feet away.
She shut her eye and listened, waiting for the explanation that would come, must come before she started to scream.)
"It's funny, y'know... that there's been so very little disagreement among scientists, about how to interpret Einstein's theory of space-time distortion. Most of us used to take it for granted that when the Universe expanded, only the space between the stars increased, not the stars themselves. Well... seems we were being fooled by a trick of the light, so to speak. When the Universe expands, every single thing in it does too. The Sun, the planets, us... everything, swelling. Only we don't... didn't see it before, because the speed of light isn't infinite. And that caused the illusion of perspective. We thought the Sun looked small because it was far away. And it IS far away, don't get me wrong... it still is, or we'd be burned to a crisp now."
"The size of the Sun has changed? Yeah! It has to!"
"The light of the Sun takes eight minutes to reach Earth. We always see it as it looked eight minutes ago! When the Universe was expanding, it looked small, because it WAS that small... eight minutes ago! It, and the Universe, was expanding that fast! When the expansion stopped, things stopped changing size all the time. Which means we're now seeing things at a fixed size. We're finally beholding the world as it really is. There is no perspective. There never was one."
She rushes up from bed, shielding her eyes with one hand, and runs out on the porch. At least she's not screaming...
Outside, all traffic had stopped. No traffic, no airplanes, trains... no birds. The sound of melting snow and dripping water filled the air. Other people were outside, across the street, beyond the houses... and all people were the same size, like in an ancient Chinese print. The suburb with its houses seemed to be abruptly cut off at the line of the horizon, as if the world ceased to exist there.
But that wasn't true: a pedestrian appeared at the horizon, equal in size to the people standing on their flat lawns and driveways. His appearance was too sudden, as if the horizon was the edge of sheet of paper, and he had just been hauling himself up from the underside...
A sparrow flew past her, very close — in the brief moment it passed her, the bird seemed large enough to fill the universe. She laughed, feeling drunk. The birds didn't sing. She looked up into the sky. It was clouded, but unusually bright.
The clouds looked like clouds, only they floated too fast and too close. Then the breeze picked up and the clouds began to part, like a speeded-up movie. Exactly half the entire sky caught fire. The brightness was blinding, and she had to look away. A glowing, boiling flame reached out from space, just behind the parting gray clouds, and seemed to rush toward her, straight toward her.
Everyone screamed and looked away from the burning half of the sky... a bright yellow wall of pulsating fire that slowly rolled along the cut-out horizon. She shut her eyes and felt the familiar warmth upon her skin.
The Sun was up.
As long as you don't look, she thought, everything is okay.
The Moon wasn't visible yet, but it would be soon enough — and she would see every crater, every rock pass behind the clouds... maybe she'd see the flag that the Americans had planted there in 1969.
Suddenly she wondered: when the Sun sets, what are the stars going to be like? Looking away from the wall of fire that was the Sun, toward the less-bright half of the sky, she couldn't see planets or stars. The sky and clouds blocked the view.
But sunset would come, more abruptly than usual, and she would see all the planets in their gigantic glory, covering the sky in bullet-like glimpses as they shot past in their orbits. And beyond them, other star systems and other planets, dimmer with distance probably...
And maybe, if she squinted real hard, she would see the surfaces of the passing distant worlds, rushing past so incredibly fast... and she would wave, in the hope that someone on another planet, light years away, would wave back...
Light years away... years ago... but close enough to greet the new next-door neighbors.
- - -