The Exhibit


 
The entire universe was turned inside out and upside down and completely backwards today, and I must have been the only one to see it. It all started with an innocent looking email.
I get a lot of emails like this one, except that the note’s subject line looked like a headline from the National Enquirer, or maybe The Onion. It read “Archaeologists Find Twenty Five Million Year Old iPhone.” Misaddressed, maybe? But it was a press release for an art exhibit.
A few minutes after I set the mail aside is when it hit me; the fellow who sent the email had mentioned that he’d seen my work before and knew I’d written about art and wanted me to see his exhibit. I had written a story, one story, ten years earlier, and the paper hadn’t published it.
I printed it out and went to see Frank, my boss.
“What’s up, Stan?” he asked.
“I just got the strangest email” I said, handing him the printout. He read it.
“So what’s so weird, Stan? You must get these every day!”
“What’s weird is that yeah, I’m working on that story about the city museum, but I haven’t even finished researching it and barely have an outline, and I only wrote one other art thing, and it was never published!”
“Huh, that is weird. Why don’t you go down and check the place out?”
“You know, Frank, I think I will. Maybe I’ll get a fun story out of it.”
It was here in town, 568 Broadway, up in the eleventh floor. It was only about a fifteen minutes ride on the subway, and I rode the elevator up.
It looked like an Apple store, only it was as weird as the email. For instance, it had strange iPhone accessories, like a case with a built-in hourglass. It was like an Apple store in some twisted alternate dimension.
I had expected to see Evan Yee, the artist behind the installation, but nobody was there at all. Also weird. I took a few photos and left, disappointed that I had gotten no story out of it.
I went to the elevator, and there was no elevator. Instead, there was a door leading outside, at street level. I wondered if I was going crazy, and remembered the time my mother said she had a “senior moment”. Maybe I was just getting old, but I was only forty five.
I reached for my phone as I walked outside, thinking that maybe I’d get some sort of inspiration from the pictures, but it was gone. Damn, that phone cost six hundred dollars! I was glad I’d noticed so soon, and turned around to go in—and it was an Apple store. Between losing my phone and my disorientation when I left the exhibit, I hadn’t noticed that there hadn’t been anyone outside.
By now I was sure I was going crazy. I went in anyway, and there was my phone, laying on one of the counters. I picked it up, looked around, and the place looked nothing like it had before I’d left, although it still looked like a weird, twisted, dystopian Apple store.
I left again, and the street and sidewalk were bright green. I just stood there a minute, kind of dazed, I guess. By then I was pretty sure I’d gone stark raving mad. Maybe I was having a stroke? I reached in my pocket to call for an ambulance, and my phone was gone. I could have sworn I’d stuck it in my pocket.
I went back in, and it wasn’t an Apple store any more, just an empty room with my phone laying on the floor. I picked it up and tried to call 911, but there was no signal. I went outside again to get a signal; lots of buildings suck for phones, and it was now night; it had been morning when I’d gone in.
And there were two moons. Everything else was normal, but there were two moons in the sky and there were no people.
And my phone was missing again! Next phone I buy is going to be a cheap one. I went back inside, and it was an Apple store again, this time like any other Apple store. Again there was no one there, and again my phone was on the counter. And again, I could get no signal. I firmly gripped it in my fist and walked outside...
And confronted a monster! A giant animal, really huge, bigger than an elephant, with huge teeth and claws and feathers. I screamed and ran back inside... a cave.
And I’d dropped my phone outside in my fright. Not that it seemed to work any more, anyway. Or that it mattered, since I had clearly gone insane.
But I couldn’t just sit in the cave. I waited a long time to make sure the monster was gone, then peeked outside. No monsters, and no phone. I went back in, I don’t know why, and there was my phone laying on a large rock. I put it in my pocket, and noticed the cave had changed. It was huge before, now little more than an indentation in the rock face.
I went back out, and it looked like New York in the early twentieth century, except there were no people. I hadn’t seen a soul since I’d started this ordeal, except for the monster.
And my phone was gone again. I turned around, and the Apple store’s sign read “Bell Telephone”. I went inside and there was a bank of antique switchboards, all unmanned. My phone was laying on one.
I put it back in my pocket and walked back out. I don’t think I’ve ever been as worried and scared in my life, especially when I’d seen the huge, weird looking animal. This time the streets and signs of civilization were gone, and a group of wigwams was there where New York City had been before.
I was shaking. I sat down on a log, put my face in my hands and cried like a baby. I felt like one, lost like no lost child had ever been lost before.
Cried out, I sat and tried to think of a way out of the mess I’d somehow gotten myself into. The only thing I could think of was going back into the wigwam.
There was a room filled with some very strange looking machinery, machinery I’d never seen before and had an idea that no one else had either. And there were people there this time! Two women, a blonde and a brunette, both wearing extremely strange looking clothing, intently poring over a complex-looking gizmo that looked like it was from some science fiction movie, and didn’t notice my entry. I stood there speechless.
“We almost had him!” one of the women exclaimed. “In the right dimension and we almost had him in the right time. It would have taken only one more minute. If he’d just sat still a little longer!”
“I can’t find when he is now. This thing is being extra finicky today,” the other woman remarked.
“Excuse me,” I said, “But would someone please call 911? I think I’ve had a stroke or something.”
They both whirled around at the same time. The blonde said “Oh, no, he’s now!”
The brunette said “It will be all right, sir. Please, take your phone and wait in the hallway until it rings. There’s a comfortable chair out there.”
“What’s going on?” I asked.
The blonde said “I’m sorry, we can’t say anything more without fouling things up even worse than they already are. Please, your world will be normal in a few minutes, just listen for your phone.”
“Uh, okay, I guess,” I said, and took my phone outside and sat down.
Maybe fifteen minutes later I heard my ring tone, and it was coming from inside the office. I looked in my pocket and my phone was gone again.
I wondered if someone at work could have spiked my coffee with some hallucinogen, but no... nobody at the office would have done such a thing. I sighed, wondering what strangeness I was going to see next, and went in.
I was back at the art exhibit, and again, no one was there. I picked up the phone to answer it, but all that came out of it were some strange noises. I hung up, and I was getting a signal again! I called my boss.
“Where have you been?” Frank asked.
“I got lost. I may have had a stroke or something, I’m going to the doctor to get checked out. I’ll call when I’m done to let you know.”
“Well, I hope you’re all right. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Bye.”
I walked hesitantly out into the hallway, and the chair and door to the outside the building were gone, with the elevators taking their place. I pushed the button, and when the car came I stepped in gingerly, wondering what would happen when I got outside.
Outside the building everything seemed normal again, with the throngs of people and noise of vehicular traffic. I hailed a cab and took the taxi to the hospital, where they took my vitals and did a brain scan and some psychological tests. The doctor said everything looked normal, but my blood pressure was a little high and I should make an appointment with my regular doctor.
I took the subway back to the office. As I waited for the elevator, Doris, an editor, walked up—and she had red hair. Oh, no, I thought. “Your hair!” I said, scared again.
“Like it?” she said. “I was tired of being a blonde so I dyed it last night.”
I could have hugged her. We took the elevator up and I went to see Frank.
“Frank, do you mind having someone else check out that exhibit? I don’t think I could give them a fair revue.”
Frank said I looked really pale and should go home, so I went home early. I couldn’t get this weird day out of my mind, so I just wrote it down.
Of course, I’m not putting this in the paper. Maybe I’ll send it to a science fiction magazine under an assumed name, because there’s no way anyone could believe it wasn’t fiction.
But I’m getting a new phone tomorrow.

 

Moroned Off Vesta
Index
Agoraphobia

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