Falling Toward the Light (HTML)
 
The anomaly in downtown Loveland was good for business. The restaurants that weren’t already open 24/7 had expanded their hours to midnight and beyond. They’d hired extra staff, and still they couldn’t keep up with the curious hordes who wanted a view of the uncanny over their Kung Pao Triple Delight or Grand Slam Breakfast Combo. Street vendors had sprung up like fungi within hours of the anomaly’s appearance, selling food and merchandise and local artist’s renditions of what nobody really understood. Business continued briskly through all the hours of the night, with everyone’s attention riveted to the excavation between Lincoln and Cleveland Avenues and 1st and 2nd Streets.

So it was absolutely incredible that no one seemed to have witnessed the fatality.

It was one of the street vendors who first discovered the body. He’d tempted a late-night pedestrian—a college student walking it off after the bars had closed—into posing for a souvenir photograph. The process was extremely popular. The vendor would fit the customer with a rock-climbing harness whose belay rope was fixed securely to a nearby street lamp. This made it relatively safe for them to stand at the edge of the hole and lean as far back as their courage would allow. The vendor would then use a long selfie stick to position the camera above them. The customer would appear in the photo to be in the act of falling into the electric blue void that rotated sickly below.

When the vendor displayed the photo on his tablet screen, the body at the bottom of the pit was clearly visible to the left of the college student’s hip.

Within five minutes emergency responders were on the scene. It was the first time since the anomaly appeared that any official body had exercised authority over the site. It wasn’t that no one cared. It was just that no one knew what to do about it. There is no business as usual when the early stages of new building construction unearths a violation of physics and causality. The construction crew fled, the development company washed its hands of the abandoned project, and the city councilors who’d worked so hard to get it funded despaired. The chain link fences delineating the hard hat zone came down, little by little, and were not replaced. Local police steered clear. State and federal lawmakers were loathe to spend taxpayer dollars responding to something so impossible that even talking about it to the press would be political suicide. The only organized body that had asserted any constant interest was the team from the National Center for Atmospheric Research facility in Boulder, and they weren’t equipped for crowd control.

But a dead body brought out the paramedics, the police, and the press in serious numbers.

They borrowed the street vendor’s belaying gear to retrieve the corpse, careful to keep their rescuer as close to the walls of the pit as possible as they lowered her to the floor. The process was eerily reminiscent of when the NCAR crew had attempted to probe the anomaly. They hadn’t been able to. Nothing they’d sent toward the shifting blue had ever reached it. As for the paramedics, they watched their rescuer descend for three hours and still fail to reach the bottom. Some savvy bystander clipped a large water bottle to the belay cord and let it drop. Another two hours later, everyone saw it bounce off the rescuer’s helmet.

All told, it took twenty hours to retrieve the body. The rescuer reported later that it had felt like days. “I couldn’t figure out what was taking you all so long.” She said it lightly, as though it were a joke, but there was a brittle caution in her voice that reminded them they were all tap-dancing on thin ice. She had spent far too long by any measure in proximity to the anomaly. It was a desperately uncomfortable place to be.

For the victim, a seasoned urban explorer, it had been fatal. He had died of exposure in the blink of a street-level eye. Where he lay it had seemed like eternity. He wrote in his diary about that strange endless midnight that he endured, the sky unchanging, the only measure of time being the pulse and swirl of the anomaly’s light and the ebb and flow of his pain. He’d broken both his legs in the fall, along with several ribs and his collarbone. He’d made an effort to escape even so; the state of his palms and fingernails told that tale.

No one had heard his cries for help. The rescuer, too, had been inaudible once she got below a certain point. At least, no one heard anything that sounded like her voice. Perhaps, given how much faster time seemed to pass at street level than than down there, her shouts were mistaken for bird song, a cell phone chirping, distant prairie dogs maybe. As for the doomed urban explorer for whom the time difference was even greater—why? no one knew; it possibly had to do with the quantum observer effect—his screams must have sounded like nothing at all. Bats might have heard him, or dogs, but certainly not humans.

His diary mentioned a fellow explorer, a woman he referred to only as Sirius. “She fell in,” he wrote. “She fell all the way in. Burned like a falling star for a long, long time before she was gone. I envy her. I’d rather fall headfirst into the unknown than die here. But no matter how far I crawl I can’t seem to reach the light.

“If anyone knows the truth about the anomaly, she does now.”

The police eventually donated the deceased’s diary to NCAR, where it became part of their science education museum. The notebook and pen sat under glass while visitors were invited to browse a tactfully redacted transcription of its contents. A special team monitored the exhibit over live closed-circuit video, paying special attention to any women who lingered unusually over the exhibit. The chances that anyone could enter the anomaly and return were extraordinarily slim, but you never know.
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This has been the Friday Fictionette for July 21, 2017. It's also the Fictionette Freebie for the month, making the full-length fictionette (1031 words) available for anyone to download from Patreon (as an ebook or audiobook) regardless of whether they're subscribers.

Cover art incorporates public domain photography via Wikimedia Commons of a construction site in Toronto. Too bad the author didn't think to take a photo of the Loveland construction project that inspired her last month over lunch at Wonderful Dragon.