"You see specks, you see dots, think they're there, but they're not, those are floaters" Deano Martino, failed crooner

FLOATERS
by C.I. Kemp ©2019

Opening Excerpt from Unsolved Mysteries, 3/24/18

The one was a promising young writer.

The other, a professor of Quantum Mechanics.

There is no indication that the two men knew each other prior to the events of that fateful autumn night in Greenwich Village, New York City...

***

Incident in A 12th Street Walk-Up

"What's wrong, babe?"

"Nothing. Why?"

"You keep blinking and rubbing your eyes. Are they still bothering you?"

Robert Brewster took his hand away from his eyes. He'd recently undergone surgery to correct an unusual and persistent eye problem. The surgery was part of a clinical trial, which resulted in unexpected side effects - sporadic halos, glare and starbursts. The doctors assured him that these were benign, but they were annoying and after a few months, alarming. Eventually, they'd gone away and he'd breathed a huge sigh of relief. Now, however he was seeing something else.

"No. I just keep seeing these little dots. It's nothing. So, how do you like it?"

Even before she answered, Robert knew what Jill's response to his new digs would be. Sumptuous, they were not. They consisted of a living room large enough to accommodate nothing more than a couch, a TV table, a TV, and a pole lamp. The kitchen was an alcove with a stove whose burners were too close together. There was a miniscule bathroom and a bedroom, where Robert's double bed, computer table, and desktop PC took up so much room, the door could not be closed.

Jill, a child of affluent suburbia, could never understand the allure of the West Village. She liked New York, but to her, this was not New York. Were she to move to the city, she'd choose an apartment overlooking Central Park, with easy access to trendy shops, chichi boutiques, and theaters. If Greenwich Village held any fascination for her, it was the morbid fascination of a car wreck. She might dip her toe in the water, but she would never take the full plunge into the West Village Ocean.

After a long pause, Jill said, "I don't know, babe. It's so. . ." She fumbled for the words.

"Artistic? Quaint?" Robert prodded.

"Spartan. There isn't even an elevator in this place. Won't you get tired of walking up four flights every day?"

Robert rubbed his eyes again, grinned and head-gestured towards the bedroom. "I'm not tired now. Are you?"

Jill grinned back. "Not that tired."

***

Incident at Jefferson Market Garden

It had been a productive six weeks. The West Village atmosphere had proven conducive for his Muse. Ideas emerged as he walked the short narrow lanes intersecting with main thoroughfares via oblique angles. He loved experimenting with ethnic cuisines on these out-of-the-way streets. Talking with the artsy types who inhabited the parks delighted and inspired him. Already, he'd submitted numerous stories for publication, some of which had been accepted. He was on a roll.

The only negative were those "little dots" he'd told Jill were "nothing." He'd done some research; they were called "floaters," clear little specks of debris floating through the vitreous fluid in the eyeball. They were not serious, but they were aggravating. Usually, he was able to get rid of them by blinking hard and rubbing his eyes. He'd seen floaters before, but somehow, since his move, he'd been seeing more and more of them.

Robert's visit to the Jefferson Market Garden had given rise to a premise he hoped to develop. The idea came to him upon as he stood before the plaque on the fence surrounding the garden. Throughout its history this site had been a police court; a volunteer firehouse; a marketplace for fishmongers, poultry vendors, and hucksters; a watchtower; a House of Detention for Women; a library; now a garden. Its status as a women's prison suggested the story idea of a woman falsely accused, unjustly convicted, wrongly imprisoned...

With uncharacteristic abruptness, the floaters came back, halting the flow of his creative juices.

Until now, they'd been tiny clear Cheerio-shaped circles at the periphery of his line of sight. When they first occurred, he'd thought they'd been bugs or dust motes and turned his head to get a better look. At that point they'd disappear, only to reappear when he brought his head back to its original position. If he couldn't make them go away by rubbing his eyes, he'd just return to what he was doing (usually writing), and force himself not to be distracted.

This time, however, they were materializing directly in front of him and they weren't clear. They weren't even the same color. Some were a translucent dingy gray; others were black to the point of being opaque.

Nor were they tiny round Cheerios moving in random patterns. Rather, their action seemed somehow ... purposeful. Sometimes, they veered away from each other, other times they touched to form different non-circular configurations. These would continue to move, sometimes avoiding their counterparts, other times coming in contact with them, causing the pattern to start again.

Robert stood watching, alternately enthralled and concerned: enthralled because this dance was nothing like he'd ever seen or imagined; concerned because he'd read that an increase in number might be a sign of retinal detachment.

He was contemplating a visit to an eye doctor when he noticed the butterfly.

It was a magnificent creature with a three-inch wingspan. The wings were a burnished orange, ebony-tipped and flecked with white, with black stripes running laterally. The butterfly lit on one of the flowers alongside the brick-lined path, its wings fluttering with delicate precision as it braced itself on its perch.

For the moment, Robert forgot about the floater-shapes until he noticed a series of clustered circles, a parody of the Olympics five-ring symbol. It drifted toward the butterfly and made contact with it. For a fraction of a second, the semi-transparent grayness superimposed itself over the insect, and then moved on. The balletic motion of the butterfly's wings gave way to a frenzied, haphazard beat and it suddenly hit Robert - the butterfly was not simply struggling to stay aloft; it was struggling to stay alive.

Finally, it lost its grip on the flower, and fell to the path. Its wings continued to beat with a jagged uneven cadence before they became still.

Robert blinked in shock. When he opened his eyes, the shapes were gone. The dead butterfly was not.

***

Incident in Washington Square

The inscription read:

LET US RAISE A STANDARD TO WHICH THE WISE

AND THE HONEST CAN REPAIR. THE EVENT

IS IN THE HAND OF GOD. WASHINGTON

Usually, it was clear and readable. Today, HAND OF GOD was obliterated by a foul darkness.

It was a brisk October morning and Jill had come in to spend the weekend. Robert intended to show her that the Village was more than whackos, winos, and weirdoes, so he'd suggested this walking tour. Their starting point was the Washington Square Park Arch. Robert had just launched into an explanation of how it was built to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of George Washington's inauguration when he noticed the shape.

It was composed of several smaller shapes grouped together to materialize into a formless blot, hiding the words Robert found so inspirational. His eyes were riveted to it, even as they walked. Jill was asking him something about the inscription - what it meant or some such question. She read it off in its entirety, not pausing when she came to the HAND OF GOD wording.

He couldn't see the letters carved into the arch, only that pulsing shape.

She couldn't see that pulsing shape, but could read the carved inscription with perfect clarity.

As they continued walking, his eyes stayed riveted on the arch, on the words he couldn't read, on the...

"Hey! Watch it, will you!"

Before he could arrest his motion, he collided full-tilt into another couple, walking hand-in-hand.

They were two men. The one who shouted was built like a lumberjack; six feet of girth and muscle. The other man was taller, with delicate features and long blond hair tied in a pony-tail.

Lumberjack pushed Robert away, none too gently. "What's the matter with you, man? You got a problem or something?"

Robert sized up the situation. What this guy was really asking was "You got a problem with people like us?" He didn't, of course not. But how do you tell someone that you were wool-gathering because you were sidetracked by a mutant floater?

"I'm sorry," Robert blurted. "My bad. I- I wasn't paying attention. Really. I'm sorry."

Jill was apologizing to the other man and Robert was sure Lumberjack was going to haul off and belt him. Instead, he just said, "Yeah, right," put his arm around his companion and the two men walked on.

"Babe?"

Robert looked back at the Arch. The floater thing was no longer hovering there. It was...

"Rob?"

... moving away, disappearing behind the tower of a high-rise apartment, then reappearing, morphing into some...

"ROB!"

...obscene-looking bird of prey, giant bat, or maybe one of those hideous prehistoric flying reptiles. . .

"EARTH TO ROBERT! EARTH TO ROBERT! COME IN, ROBERT!"

He turned. Jill's gaze, a study in annoyance and concern, was fixed upon him. So too were the faces of the people who had come to enjoy the park. Apparently, they were finding his personal drama more interesting than their dog walking, Frisbee tossing, or guitar strumming.

Oblivious to the onlookers, Jill put her hand on Robert's cheek. "Are you okay, Rob? What's with you?"

What could he say? That he wasn't watching where he was going because he was too fixated on things he could see, but no one else could?

"I was just thinking through this story idea. Guess I was a little preoccupied." He complemented his words with the "Aw shucks" grin she'd always found so endearing.

She'd buy it. How often had she chided him about being in his own world while he was working through some story line or plot snag?

Jill shook her head and Robert knew that she wasn't buying it.

"I don't know Rob," she said. "I know you love living in this place, but ever since you moved here, you seem..." she paused. "Different, more stressed. Like... I can't describe it... like you're somewhere else. I don't mean lost in your own thoughts, but..." she paused again, longer this time... "really out of it."

"That's crazy. It..."

"No, it's not. You've changed and it worries me."

For a third time, she paused, choosing her words in familiar Jill fashion, when she wanted to say something she knew he didn't want to hear, but didn't quite know how to word it.

"I really think you need to leave this place."

***

Incident at Jackson Square Park

Robert Brewster was shaking. His eyes were shut tight and he was rubbing them so hard, they hurt. He did not heed the pain; it was his only defense against an attack as sudden as it was unexpected, as unexpected as it was terrifying.

Since his experience in Washington Square Park a month ago, he'd been to an eye doctor. Robert had told the doctor that he'd been seeing the floaters, but he hadn't been completely honest. He described the frequency with which they occurred, but he didn't mention the way they changed shape. He described how sometimes they were different shades of gray, sometimes pure black, but he did not mention the butterfly. He voiced his fear that he might have a detached retina, but not the irrational fear that these things were not mere specks of vitreous flotsam, but possessors of a conscious and concerted malevolence.

How could he communicate such thoughts? When he pondered them in his own mind, they sounded crazy enough. If he said them to a third party, they'd sound absolutely insane. No, better to just stick to the most basic facts.

The doctor had given him a prescription for eye drops and ordered tests. The upshot: everything came back normal. There was nothing wrong with his eyes. There was no detached retina. This made Robert feel a little better. He did not feel completely reassured until another week had passed without any further floater sightings.

Once again, he threw himself into his work. He brought his laptop to various sites and let the ideas flow. Within a week's time he had completed three short stories, submitted two others, and received acceptance for one he'd submitted prior to the Washington Square episode. Things were looking up.

Today, he selected Jackson Square Park as his work area. He enjoyed the three-tiered, cast-iron water fountain and the ornate iron fencing which gave the park a 19th century look. Seating himself on a bench facing the gushing fountain, Robert viewed the other inhabitants. An NYC Parks and Recreation official in her tan and green uniform was talking to a woman walking an animated dust mop of a dog. A tall black man in dreadlocks was bopping through the park, listening to something on his SmartPhone. A more nerdy-looking black man, thin, with coke-bottle glasses, was drawing on a sketch pad. A young couple, wearing NYU sweatshirts, was sitting on a bench, holding an open book between them, discussing its contents.

Robert had just opened his laptop and was about to continue his saga of the woman in the Jefferson Market Garden jail when it happened.

It was the floaters again, but this time, it wasn't just a few little dots. This time, it was innumerable black dots in a frantic swarm before his field of vision. It was like looking at a blizzard of rapidly moving hailstones, but not white hailstones. Black ones, some impenetrable, others like dark-colored panes of glass. Nor was their movement the leisurely, sluggish movement of organic debris floating in his eyeballs. They were caroming off each other with the boundless energy of a thousand high-bouncing super balls, rebounding off the walls of a room too small to contain them. When they collided, they didn't bounce, they merged into a different, non-circular shape, still moving at a breakneck pace, then that shape would strike another, and merge into yet another shape. veering towards him, closer, closer...

The butterfly....

"Get away from me!"

Robert scrambled to his feet, waving his arms with a feverish energy, in an attempt to ward off the shapes converging upon him.

His laptop crashed to the ground.

He shut his eyes, reeled, and fell to his knees.

Robert was aware of a woman's voice speaking in a West Indies accent, asking if he was all right. Someone else was shouting, "Get an ambulance!" and someone else was saying, "That laptop's toast, man!"

Someone was shaking him by the arm and repeating, over and over, "Are you all right?" in that West Indies accent. Finally, he opened his eyes. The floaters were gone and the Parks and Recreation lady was standing over him, asking if he was all right. Off to the side, the man with the dreadlocks was on a cell phone, saying something about a guy freaking out in Jackson Square Park. The sketch pad guy and the dog lady were nowhere to be seen. The NYU girl was gaping from the bench, and her male companion was holding Robert's laptop, which was indeed toast.

"I'm okay," Robert managed to stammer out. "It's just...it's nothing, really." He stood to show he really was okay. He had walked only a few steps, when the Parks lady took his arm and seated him on the bench.

"Sir, I think you'd better sit there."

"No really, it's okay," Robert protested. "I... I fell asleep, just nodded off. Bad dream. That's all it was."

"Sir, you'd better sit there. Help is on the way."

That was when he heard the sirens.

***

Incident on Second Avenue

Robert was having second thoughts. He was pondering Jill's advice to leave his 12th Street apartment. Maybe going back to suburbia wasn't such a bad idea. Back there, he wasn't haunted by mutant specks of flotsam which used his line of sight (and no one else's) as a stage for their bizarre contortions. Of course, he couldn't be sure that they wouldn't reappear once he left the area, but he'd cross that bridge when he came to it. All he knew was that they had been a part of his life on and off (more on than off lately) since the first day he'd moved here.

Also, his Muse had left him, fled in terror, as it were. After the demise of his laptop, he'd resorted to the archaic method of putting his ideas down on paper. The result: shards of paper, crumpled in disgust, strewn about his apartment. Tombstones to ideas that wouldn't gel, grave markers for premises that died a'borning, never to become plot threads or finished works.

The West Village was losing its charm. Was there really any reason to remain?

It was mid-afternoon and he was leaving a movie theater known for showing the avant-garde type of films he usually enjoyed. Today, however, if you asked what he'd been viewing for the last two hours, he couldn't have told you. He'd sat in the darkness, consumed by his own disturbed thoughts, oblivious to the images on the screen. The only reason he'd even left his apartment was because he was going stir-crazy.

Thankfully, he hadn't had any floater visitations since Jackson Square where, against the advice of the Parks lady and other onlookers, he'd refused medical treatment.

Robert had just turned right under the theater's triangular marquee when he saw them. They were a cluster of those round gray dots, floating at the leftmost outer banks of his vision, coalescing into an amorphous shape. At first it was small, no larger than a rat. He watched, too transfixed to react, as other dots flocked to, as morphed to the bulk of a pit bull-sized dog, then finally a full-grown adult. It floated west on Second Avenue and Robert could see that its movement would bring it in direct contact with a girl walking towards the theater.

"Look out!" he shouted.

Heads turned, including the girl's, searching in vain for some source of danger. She was a pretty girl in her early twenties, with shoulder-length brown hair, clad in a tan waist-length autumn jacket, form-fitting jeans, tucked into calf-length boots, and carrying a denim handbag.

The girl's eyes met Robert's, and before she could respond, the shape superimposed itself upon her, as the other had upon the butterfly. In an instant, her attractive features were contorted in a grotesque display of anguish. She began to scream and more heads turned. Her legs collapsed from under her, her head struck the pavement, and blood began to puddle. Onlookers ran toward her, some kneeling by her side, trying in vain to curtail her thrashing limbs. She kept screaming, crying, convulsing, and her handbag flew out of her hands, its contents strewn along the sidewalk and into the street.

None of this registered on Robert. What he saw paralyzed him with a greater terror than the sight of this young girl in the throes of a fit that was shaking the life out of her.

He was watching the shape. That dark amoeboid shape which had enveloped the girl did not move on, like the shape that had engulfed the butterfly. Instead, it seemed to grow lighter and Robert realized, in that moment of disgust and horror that the shape was gradually being absorbed into the girl's body!

Finally, it disappeared altogether.

Minutes passed and the girl's seizure became less frenzied. Her face had darkened, as if someone had punched her repeatedly, turning it into one sprawling bruise.

For the second time that week, Robert heard the sounds of sirens approaching, followed by a screech of brakes, and men yelling, "Stand aside! Stand aside, please!" Paramedics moved in with a gurney and Robert, unable to bear any more, turned away.

He was approaching the corner of East 11th Street when he heard someone shout, "Young man!" He kept walking until he felt a hand touch his shoulder and heard, "Young man, please wait!"

Robert turned and found himself facing a distinguished-looking gentleman, somewhere between middle-aged and elderly. The man was of medium height, with a full head of gray hair, and gray eyes which bore into Robert's with a disconcerting intensity.

The man spoke. "You saw something back there, didn't you?"

Robert shook his head. "No, no! I didn't see... I don't know what you're talking about."

"I think you do," the man whispered. "You tried to warn that girl. You saw them."

Robert stood there, riveted. The man spoke again.

"We need to talk."

***

They continued walking on East 11th Street. The man introduced himself as Walter Chambers. Robert, having gotten over his initial amazement at having found someone else who knew about those floater-things, found himself rambling about "...some short stories, sold 'em to an online publisher... had eye surgery...Jill, my girlfriend, really love her...been seeing these things...killed a butterfly...forming a shape, flying over Washington Square...covered that girl from head to foot...."

Walter Chambers held up a hand. "Hold up, son. Stop a minute, take a deep breath, then start again."

One deep breath later, Robert did just that. Slowly.

This time, Chambers listened without interrupting, often nodding. He reached into an inner pocket of his overcoat when they paused at a red light, and pulled out a business card. It had his name, address, and job title: Associate Professor of Quantum Mechanics.

"What's that?"

"It's a branch of science which posits the many-worlds hypothesis, asserting the objective reality of the universal wave function and...."

"In English, Professor, please."

Chambers chuckled. "Sorry, Robert. Sometimes I forget I'm talking to lay persons. Quite simply, Quantum Mechanics theorizes that there is a large, possibly infinite number alternate dimensions, each of which abides by its own set of physical and natural laws."

"Sounds pretty science fiction-ey to me."

"Yes, I suppose it must. What's immediately germane here, however, is that you're unique in seeing, what I believe, are beings from one of those alternate dimensions."

"But why me?"

"Possibly, your recent eye surgery may be a factor."

"So how come you're able to see them, Professor?"

The light changed to green, and they started walking again.

"It's not something I can explain in a few words, Robert. Tell you what; why don't you stop on over and we'll talk further? I have a class in a few minutes, but I'll be free after nine. You have my address."

"Okay, Professor. I'll be there. You know, I'm glad we talked. It's a relief to know I'm not nuts."

"I can assure you you're not nuts, Robert. What you're seeing is all too real."

***

Incident at The Mews

At 9:25, Robert stood before an iron fence that enclosed a cobbled walkway, not uncommon in the West Village, with town houses butting up against each other. Circa the 18th century, this type of alleyway, was known as a mews.

Robert lifted the latch to the gate and entered the alleyway. His destination was in its center, the only townhouse with three stories. The uppermost one was adorned with a large bay window through which light spilled onto the cobblestones.

A good sign. The professor was at home.

Robert made his way to the front door, rang the doorbell and waited. No answer. Several seconds passed and Robert rang again. After an interval of several more seconds and no response, Robert knocked on the door, which swung open.

"Professor?" Robert called, stepping inside. He waited. No response "Professor?" Robert shouted again and stepped forward, his hand gliding against the wall, in search of a light switch. He found it, flicked it on. Two sconces lit up, providing dim lighting, but enough for Robert to make out the stairway in front of him. He made his way to the foot of the stairs and shouted a third time.

It was possible that Chambers hadn't heard him: the man was no youngster, after all. Or maybe he was just in the can.

Or maybe...

Robert took a step, then halted.

My God, I'm in a freakin' horror movie. The whole damn West Village is haunted. No way I'm going in there.

Remembering what he'd seen earlier that day and over the past few months, Robert decided on the smart course of action - go for help.

Officer, I was supposed to meet my friend, but he didn't answer the bell and the door was open...

Robert turned to leave, then stopped.

Through the open door of the townhouse, he saw them. Fully realized shapes, no longer minute floater-type things, hovering in the mews, but fully realized man-sized shapes. They made their way to the doorway, into the foyer, coming closer, and Robert had no alternative but to back up, stumbling, and landing butt-first on the lowermost step of the stairwell.

The shapes advanced and Robert closed his eyes. He rubbed them violently and shook his head - gestures he had used sporadically to rid himself of these horrid visitations. When he opened his eyes, they were still there, but no longer pressing forward. Silent they were, but their message was as clear, as if it had been bellowed inches from his ear.

You want to leave? You have to go through us.

Robert backed his way up the stairs. The shapes began to advance again, always leaving space between themselves and him. He realized that they were herding him further into the house.

He reached the upper landing. Moonlight coming through two rectangular windows revealed a living room / study area. Serpentine shapes seeped through the walls and rattan woven carpeting. Blob-like shapes obscured the couch, end tables, entertainment center, art objects, and knickknacks. They were floating up the stairway as well, looking like splotches from a lava lamp designed in a madhouse.

Robert's eyes took in these features. What they did not see was his host.

"Professor!" he shouted, his hysteria echoing through the house.

The only way to go was up. The floater shapes were converging on him from every other direction.

He made his way up the stairs, onto the final landing.

"I'm here, Robert."

It was a garret-like study area. There were bookcases on all sides, jammed with thick, formidable-looking tomes. In the middle of the room stood Professor Walter Chambers, hands clasped before him, surrounded by hideous flowing shapes.

"Professor?"

Chambers made his way toward Robert, unbothered, unmolested by those malignant blobs. To Robert's amazement, they parted before the professor as he approached.

"I'm truly sorry, Robert," Chambers spoke. "It never occurred to me - to us - that anyone could actually see us. That's something we can't allow."

"What do you mean? Who are you? What are you?" Robert spluttered.

"What we spoke of before," the "Professor" went on, "isn't as 'science-fiction-ey' as you thought. Those alternate planes of reality do exist. Sometimes, they coincide and when they do, the life forms from both realities are affected.

"Sometimes, they can coexist, other times, not."

Robert started backing away, then realized he was in danger of making contact with the floating shapes oozing up the stairwell. He stepped to one side, circling around his pursuer, only to see more shapes merging front of him and on both sides.

They had left him only one avenue of escape: only one option, the bay window overlooking the mews.

Robert took a running start.

The last thing he saw before crashing through the glass was the "Professor's" body dissolving into an infinite number of tiny dot-like structures.

***

Closing Excerpt from Unsolved Mysteries, 3/24/18:

Is it significant or coincidental that Robert Brewster was present the same night Debbie Del Vecchio died on a Greenwich Village street and Walter Chambers disappeared?

Did those events trigger Robert's decision to end his own life in so violent a fashion? If so, what was the connection and might it provide insight into this terrible and inexplicable condition? These questions remain unanswered and Robert's friends and family remain mystified.

If you have information which may shed light on Robert Brewster's suicide, please dial the number or visit the website at the bottom of your screen.

On a more ominous note, the disease that claimed the lives of Ms. Del Vecchio and others has spread beyond the West Village. Over a thousand deaths have been reported nationwide with the number still growing in Europe, Asia, and Africa. World Health Organization officials can provide neither explanation nor assurance of a cure.

x x x

C. I. Kemp is the nom de plume of Ray Engelberg--another newcomer to anotherealm. I started seeing "floaters" about 10 years ago. I count myself lucky that I don't see more of them as I enter my 70s. I also count myself lucky I got to see this story and share it with you. Tell me you agree (or not) on our BBS. - GM



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