It's raining. Must be why the satellite doesn't work. Either that or the boot I threw at the TV did.

Pixels
by Margaret Karmazin ©2015

Every news station featured hysterical Japanese crying and gasping into the cameras. Translators appeared to the right of the screens.

"Just vanished!" cried a young mother, crushing her children to her. Everything gone from that building there, as far as I could see, then everything back a second later! It was terrifying!"

Days of news were filled with little else. The vanished area covered twenty-eight square kilometers and witnesses lined up, anxious to describe their experiences.

"I was tending my garden when poof! Just like that, everything in front of me turned to nothing, absolutely nothing!" stated a neatly dressed man in his sixties.

"The front half of the car I was in vanished and not only that!" said a woman in a business suit. "My left foot was gone - my leg ended in nothingness!"

"My baby was gone!" cried a woman, "Half of the apartment disappeared!" said another.

The stories were unvarying. There followed weeks of commentary by scientists, academics, politicians and religious leaders, but no matter what conjectures they offered (mass hallucination, secret military weapon being tested by the US, Russia or China, aliens, God punishing the world for abortion and gay marriage), no one had an answer to the mystery.

Naturally, those who had been in the vanished area were also interviewed. To a person, they said, "We didn't go anywhere. But I can't say everything was as usual."

"You did not cease to exist?" asked a reporter. "Your consciousness did not falter?"

"Not at all," said the victims, "but it felt different. Not sure I can describe it."

'Try," urged the reporter.

"I don't know," said a student. "For a second, everything blended."

"Did the perimeter of the dematerializing area vanish from your perspective?"

"Didn't notice," said a school teacher clutching her briefcase. "No time to notice things like that," said a businessman. "I felt somewhat more intense than usual, maybe more alive, said a student.

"Perimeters weren't important," added a store keeper.

"Apparently," concluded one commentator, "no one inside the dematerialization ceased to exist, if that is any comfort."

Three months earlier, David Spingler feared he might have some kind of brain disease. After a clean bill of health from the ophthalmologist, it was a month before a neurologist could fit him in.

The doctor mentioned that David wasn't the first patient to come in the past few weeks with the same complaint. "They're all afraid to describe the symptoms, but I pry it out of them, then see a clean MRI and nothing shows up in the other tests."

David shook his head, but what else could the man do? Married to a nurse, David had always been somewhat of a hypochondriac, online looking up exotic diseases but never had he come across anything like this.

It began at work. At the community college, he taught Psychology 101 and Abnormal Psych. This particular day, he finished his two o'clock class and was heading to his office for a short bout of Z's before grading a pile of papers. Up half the night due to a neighbor's barking terrier, he felt a bit fuzzy in the head. While inserting his key into the office door, the door knob disappeared. It was quick, partly gone, then back.

The neurologist asked, "Was it instant or did it slowly melt away?"

"Pixels," David told him. "It fell apart into pixels. You know, like on TV when there's a problem with the network. I was so shocked, I didn't immediately let it register and tried to go about my business as if everything was normal. Then what I'd seen hit me like punch in the gut."

The doctor nodded as if knew this story well.

"I had some scotch in my desk drawer so I tossed back a shot, then let myself think about what had happened. It was really creepy. Like this solid object that all your life you've seen a million of 'em, all of a sudden it just falls apart into those little color blocks and then goes back together right in front of your eyes."

"Think carefully," said the doctor."Was it just the door knob that dissolved or what was behind it too?"

"I-I'm not sure." David racked his brain. "I think what was behind it too. Say you were looking at a photo of a door knob and you erased a part of it, you'd be erasing the stuff right behind it too. There'd be a white spot there with nothing in it."

"That's how it was then? Where the knob had been, and what was behind it, was just white space?"

David hesitated. "You know, I just don't remember what was there, empty space? No color at all? I don't know. The thing was quick."

"And it went back together," said the doctor. "It was a door knob again?"

"Yes."

"Well, I'm ordering an MRI and some other tests. If the tests reveal anything, we'll call."

They didn't reveal anything. "Well, that's a relief," said David's wife.

A month later, it happened again. While brushing his teeth, half of the bathroom mirror dissolved, remained that way for a split second, then reassembled. This time he noticed what was in the emptied space.

Absolutely nothing.

Which can't really be described. Yet....that nothing felt fully alive. He couldn't explain it, just knew that it was.

"Maybe you should see a shrink," said Lorena.

"I am a shrink," David said. "Of a sort. I mean I could be if I chose."

"You don't know everything," she pointed out.

So he made an appointment with a psychiatrist.

"Have you been under a great deal of stress?" she asked him.

"Not until I watched a door knob and a mirror half disappear, no," David said.

Waste of time.

"Do you feel that you yourself would like to disappear?" she prompted.

Idiot.

"Absolutely not," he snapped. He endured the rest of the therapeutic hour and did not schedule another appointment.

David's best friends were Marty Weiss who taught sociology and Kevin Bagota who taught experimental physics though his passion was theoretical. The three of them often enjoyed stimulating lunchtime debates on science, politics and religion though Kevin would often say, "I don't have time for these other things, not when physics is more fascinating."

"What you really mean is science fiction," David teased him. "And please don't start with that 'rolled up dimensions' thing again and expect me to believe it. Ridiculous. In my opinion, each higher dimension would be larger than the last. And if beings lived in a higher dimension than this one, they would be able to see us but for the most part, we wouldn't be able to see them. I know I'm no physicist, but..."

"Why would a higher dimension have to be bigger?" asked Kevin as he bit into a thick, Rueben sandwich.

"Think about it," said David. "We'd be able to look down on a 2-D world and see everything the inhabitants are doing in there. Picture a plane floating in space right in front of us. But they wouldn't know we were there unless we stuck a finger or or something through their plane of existence. They can't see up or down, get it."

"I see your point," said Kevin. "To them, the finger would appear as a mysterious circle that enlarges and shrinks, then disappears."

"Yeah, like UFOs appear in our world," said David. He thought a moment. "We could reach down and cut a hole in their world too. They wouldn't be able to see anything in the hole, just that their world ended at its edge."

Marty shivered. "I wish you two would lay off physics once in a while. How about we discuss the state of society if libertarians take over? Like if they cut off my mother-in-law's social security and she has to come live with us and then I have to murder her and end up in prison where I piss off the leader of the white supremacists and his buddies shove a homemade shiv in my gut?"

Kevin shook his head. "Clearly, physics is much more restful than sociological or political speculation."

David was quiet, thinking back to the hole in the 2D world. "Kevin," he said, "What if some higher dimensional folk cut a hole in our world?"

"This is a damn good Rueben," Kevin said. "Well, I suppose the same thing would happen as it did to the 2Ders, no? But, seriously, you might need to come up with some math to support your dimensional view, David. And being that you're a practitioner of a pseudo science, I doubt that's going to happen."

"Fight nice, kids," said Marty.

They were finishing up when a young woman in line at the food counter screamed and dropped her tray. "It disappeared!" she cried, before she fainted, banging her head on the tray slide as she collapsed.

David was up in a flash. He had not told his friends about his own experience and did not, in fact, want them to know, but this woman...he simply had to find out what had happened to her.

She was moaning when he got close. He loosened her blouse at the neck so she could get some air. Someone had already called 911 and since David was not family, it would be several hours before he was allowed to get near her again. He followed them to the hospital. Finally, when she and her husband were released, he managed to approach. "I heard what you said," he told her, "and I'm wondering if what you experienced was the same thing that happened to me."

She looked terrified.

"I don't want her more upset," said her husband as he tried to steer her away from David.

"Please," said David. "I teach at the college. I'm not a whack-job, I really need to discuss this with her."

"Maybe tomorrow or a couple of days from now," said the husband. "She works in administration. Our name is Lattaly."

He finally found her a week later in Admissions, after asking all over the place. The name was Latterly, not "Lattaly." She was in her late twenties, mildly pretty, skittery as a rabbit.

"I'm on Xanax now," she told him. "I can't sleep at night. I've lost 4 pounds since it happened."

He took her out to lunch after assuring her that he was not coming on to her. "Please," he said. "Tell me what happened."

She started to cry. He found her exasperating, being accustomed to practical, in control Lorena.

"I-I was sliding my tray along like usual and had just set a salad on it when...when...the salad did this weird thing, like it melted or something! I mean it dissolved. And then it went back together. I thought maybe there was something in my eye and I looked up and the lady in front of me, she dissolved too, from the middle of her back down to her knees, then went back together just like the salad. It was awful, just awful!" She wiped her eyes and whimpered.

"Did you have medical tests after?" David asked.

"Yeah, all kinds of stuff. A CT scan, some brain wave thing, blood tests. I'm a little anemic but they didn't find anything else."

David nodded ruefully. "Same thing here. I hate to tell you this, but it happened to me twice."

She looked up in horror. "You mean it might-"

"Yeah. Be prepared. But nothing worse happened, it was exactly the same."

"Oh my God," she said, "I don't know if I can stand it again."

She was so young. "Life is full of things you think you can't stand, but you do," he said.

He paid the bill, gave her his card and told her to call him if it reoccurred. She looked like she hoped she would never see him again and he couldn't blame her.

At the next lunch with his colleagues, he asked Kevin, "Remember when we were talking about that 2D world and I said if we cut a hole in it, the 2D inhabitants wouldn't be able to see anything beyond the edge of the hole, maybe just the other edge far off? What would happen if, say, someone in a 5D world, assuming time is 4D, cut a hole in our 3D world? What would we see where the hole is?"

"I don't know," said Kevin. "This is your idea, not mine."

"Well, put your theoretical physics mind to it and think!"

"I imagine we would see nothing. Since the 2D world beings cannot imagine anything outside of their 2D world, there is no edge to the hole you have cut out of it, right? No 3D edge. They wouldn't be able to imagine the distance between their side of the cut out hole and the other side where their world begins again. Even though there might be 3D stuff all around. Why?"

Should David explain? Not yet. "All right, so if 5Ders cut a hole in our world, we could see nothing in the hole? Even though 5D stuff might be in there."

"I suppose not," said Kevin.

"Did you ever think about that? Say, if someone in a higher dimension decided to mess with us?"

"Nope, not really," said Kevin.

"Have you read The Holographic Universe?

"I did. The holograph thing is possible, I guess. Anything is possible."

"Suppose the whole system is starting to close down." said David.

"Close down?"

"Suppose our universe is indeed a hologram and whatever is keeping that hologram going has decided to call it a day. Or maybe for some reason it's breaking down, coming apart."

"Why would you say that?" asked Kevin.

David wasn't ready to tell him. The three of them had that thing going men so often did - a lot of ribbing each other, not being too serious.

"I don't know," David mumbled.

If the thing had happened to him and Erin Latterly and the neurologist had said that other patients were describing the same experience, maybe there were people all over the world encountering it. And...all keeping quiet about it?

"How come you're watching the news again?" his wife asked that evening. "I thought you said you'd had enough of, as you put it, 'that endless political crap'?"

"Just keeping my ears open," said David.

Lorena gave him a long look. She'd been transferred to day shift and had been a lot more rested and in a good mood ever since. "You're worrying about what happened again, aren't you?"

"Like you wouldn't if it'd been you?"

"Weird things happen to people all the time," she said. "I hear all kinds of stories. They hear voices, they see ghosts or little dark things running along the floor, they're visited by aliens, their stuff disappears then reappears in the first place they looked. I'll tell you, the world is strange, David. Nothing to worry about."

"Until now," he said ominously.

Finally, on CNN he caught two heads chuckling over something, the way they usually did when reporting UFO sightings.

"What was that again, Justin?" asked a smirking Asian woman. "People are seeing things disappearing?"

The anchorman, a beefy guy right out of The Sopranos, chortled, "Some farm boy out of Jackson, a little village in Pennsylvania, says he was up milking the cows when everything from his waist down disappeared for a moment or two, then flickered back on. Methinks that farm boy might be growing some hemp on the side." Asian woman laughed, showing a zillion perfect teeth.

David flicked off the TV and slumped forward. For a while, he could barely catch his breath.

Two days later, the thing in Japan happened. He did little else but watch TV, flicking back and forth between stations.

"David?" called Lorena from the kitchen where she was preparing dinner. It was a Saturday and normally he would have been enjoying the time off. "Are you all right?"

Lorena had taken the Japanese reports with her usual calm and little comment other than, "Now isn't that fascinating?"

"Why aren't you more upset by this?" David demanded. "You add what happened in Japan to what happened to me and probably hundreds of other people just keeping quiet about it and what do you come up with, Lorena? You still equate this to someone seeing ghosts?"

She walked into the family room, still holding her chopping knife. Her face was serious. "What do you want me to say? Should I run amok screaming? It's a choice. Freak out or wait and see where it goes. I'm choosing the latter for my own sanity. Maybe right now though I'm glad we don't have any kids."

Her tranquil nature was what he had always admired about her, but now he wanted someone else to talk to. He called Kevin and Marty to see if they would meet him somewhere for coffee or a drink.

"A drink and let's avoid the student crowd," said Marty.

They met at a pub across town.

After their drinks were served, David said, "I have something to tell you."

When he was finished, Kevin shook his head and sighed. "It happened to my wife too. And one of my students. I don't know what to say. I wish I'd ordered a double." He put his hand up for the waiter.

"You're the physicist, Kevin," said Marty. "Any guesses as to what this is?"

The anchor people on the TV over the bar were obviously excited, though the sound was turned down. David jumped up to read the banner at the bottom of the screen.

Similar incidents in South Africa and Italy, it exclaimed.

He ordered a shot and a beer and returned to the table. "It's the end of the world," he said.

"Maybe they got tired of playing the game," said Kevin. For once, he did not appear to be mocking.

"What game?" asked Marty.

"Maybe we've been a giant, complicated video game all this time. And whoever was playing it is done."

David sank into his chair. "I never thought it would end this way," he said. "No fire and brimstone. No comet, no floods, no alien takeover."

"Quite a comedown, isn't it?" said Kevin.

"Unless," said Marty, "this giant mind is thinking this stuff up, see? Like we're thoughts in the giant mind? You know, figures in a dream? And when you finish the dream and wake up, all the figures just melt back into your regular thoughts."

David downed his shot. "Well, it's been nice knowing you guys," he said. As he glanced toward the bar, he caught one of the patrons, an attractive brunette twirling on a stool, dissolve into pixels.

x x x

Back in the day, I was able to edit pictures with Paintbrush TM©®(trademark) pixel by pixel. Gave me incredible control over what I wanted to display. So, naturally, I can't do that any more with the new version of the program. My point is that pixels can make reality weird. Sort of like Margaret Karmazin in this story. Hope she always continues to do so . . . unlike rotten commercial programs. Your comments to our BBS, please. - GM

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