Honey, I found a Penguin Outside, Part 2 of 3
The door to the rickety basement stairs stood open and I followed as Zack scampered down it with practiced ease.
The machine was chugging away down there.
I don’t know what you would call a doorway made by this thing. Was it a dimensional portal? A “tessaract?” A rip in space-time? Something else? I couldn’t begin to imagine. All I know is that, as Zachary explained it to me after “the squid incident,” he had invented a machine that opened passageways to… other… places. The places weren’t Earth and weren’t parallel Earths. (Just the same, I had visions of him getting lost in there like a guest star on Sliders – if you don’t know what that is, don’t worry; my wife says I watch too much television.) They did, however, share plenty of elements that weren’t at all alien. If a machine could have a sense of humor, this one’s was twisted.
As an embarrassed Zack described it to me, the first time he’d turned on the machine (which he invented in an attempt to create a cheap means of traveling over large distances instantly – I’m telling you, these scientist types are practically begging to get turned into human-fly monsters, the way they can’t resist messing around with teleportation theories) it had spent an entire day making noise and accomplishing little. Then, a doorway opened in the basement and began disgorging squids. Most of them were dead on arrival; a few of them actually crawled up the stairs and out the door. One of them, as you know, expired on my lawn.
Before I showed up, irate over this, Zack’s machine continued to expel strange items. In the weeks that followed, the doorways sometimes opened outside the house, which scattered even more random objects throughout the neighborhood. For some reason, my property was a favorite dumping ground. In one week I found a maple shoe tree (a nice one that I would have mounted to the door of our bedroom if Denise had not objected; I think she was worried that a shoe tree of unknown extra-dimensional origin might be more than it appeared), a toaster (I didn’t test it to see if it worked), a glass of water (seriously, just a plain tumbler filled with what at least appeared to be water), a dachshund (alive and, at last count, still living with Mrs. King across the street, who – as an elderly shut-in – doted on the friendly little dog), a potted geranium, a wheel of cheese (possibly Gouda) and what I could have sworn was a Japanese beetle the size of an ottoman, which buzzed off before I could get a closer look. The beetle remains at large to this day, in fact.
Knowing that your next-door neighbor is a mad scientist whose infernal invention is spewing alien shoe trees and house pets on your front step is the sort of thing that would drive a normal person to insanity. At the very least, just about anyone else confronted with this situation would seriously consider moving. If I have one real talent in life, however, it is resolutely ignoring anything that does not fit within the parameters of what I consider “normal.” I’m a tax accountant with a national chain (you’ve heard of us), you see. I lead a boring, bureaucratic life during the work day and come home to a pleasant wife, a pleasant home, and my pleasantly landscaped lawn. This is too much to give up; I would rather simply pretend I don’t see the occasional sea creature or alligator-skin sofa breathing its last just short of my clematis.
Still, there’s only so much a guy can take. I was willing to accept that Zachary did what he did and that perhaps one day he’d change the face of the planet with his inventions. I wouldn’t have minded trading a teleportation unit for my daily commute into the city – though I’ve always been a little suspicious and wouldn’t have been surprised, once the system was in place, to arrive downtown impregnated with an alien fetus or (again) as a half-man, half-fly abomination whose last days would be spent in the frantic but ultimately vain search for reunification with the errant insect sporting my balding pate and high blood sugar. The morning half a buffalo appeared on top of my paper, however (and before Zack appeared with his shovel, as he usually tried to clean up after himself), I angrily demanded that he cease his experiments with this particular technology.
He promised. That was six weeks before I found the penguin in my garden.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Zachary said apologetically, “but I really do have the problem solved now.”
“There is a penguin in my garden,” I intoned.
“Yes, well,” Zack stammered, “I can explain that. He wasn’t disgorged there. I simply… this is so embarrassing… I simply left the door open.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, suspicious.
“I’ve fixed the problem, Jeff,” he said, shrugging. “The doorway works.”
“It does?” I asked. “Didn’t it work before? How else does almost thirty gallons of vanilla pudding end up on somebody’s lawn?”
“I told you I was sorry about that,” Zack winced. “Look, it isn’t like that. The doorway… it belched these things from wherever it connects.” He looked at the machine, which was clanking and wheezing in a corner of the basement, ten feet tall and twice as wide with hoses and pistons and what I swore were useless Jacob’s Ladders churning away for dramatic effect. “It was never a two-way portal, not really. I had an inspiration late last night and fixed the problem. Now… now I intend to enter. I was getting ready, pulling together my supplies,” he gestured to a Nylon backpack on the dank floor nearby, “and I opened the door. At least three penguins escaped. I corralled two of them.”
“Why is it these things cannot resist my garden?” I muttered.