By David Michael Newstead.
A short story based on paintings by Salvador Dali.
The device was conceived of by a mad man whose long and peculiar moustache only hinted at his insanity. If I knew then what was ahead of me, I’m certain I would have run in the opposite direction. But at the time, I was curious and naive. His work was intriguing and his demeanor was as charming as it was unusual. So when he spoke dramatically about needing a volunteer, when he described crossing the boundaries of time and space with a pioneering new technology, I admit I was taken in by this eccentric.
I agreed to be his test subject.
“Excellent!” he exclaimed, flaring his eyes and twirling the end of his moustache hairs with one hand.
“Come with me at once!” he said.
Following close behind, I realized that his laboratory was filled with elaborate sketches. He’d even built full-scale models of unimaginable oddities: monsters, the surreal, the utterly frightening. It was as if he’d been painting and sculpting his whole life, designing something that a normal person could hardly guess at. In fact, it was my own inquisitive nature that compelled me to continue until it was too late to turn back.
We climbed one staircase, then walked through narrow hallways like a maze.
As we got closer, the man handed me a pocket watch and attempted to explain the science behind what he’d built. To be honest, I didn’t understand the specifics, but I suspect neither did he. It was clear that creating the device had made him both a lunatic and a visionary, having twisted his mind to its furthest potential.
The Doorway, as he called it, was the manifestation of that genius. The device sat in the middle of a large, empty room and emitted hypnotic light in every direction. The man still tried talking to me, but I wasn’t paying attention anymore. I walked passed him, mesmerized. I was staring into the Doorway and the bizarre destination that lay on the other side. I clutched the pocket watch in my hands as I stepped forward, feeling myself leave one reality and enter another.
In the here and now of our rational world, it’s difficult for me to describe what happened next. But if I was able to escape the confines of conventional time and space, then I must have also shattered several additional layers in the fabric of our universe. Rhyme. Reason. Order. The very laws of nature. These feelings were so intense that they are burned into my mind forever. There was light, energy, gravity, memory – the sensation of every atom in my body flying apart and, then in an instant, being reassembled.
I was re-formed as a person, still holding the same pocket watch, but disoriented from my ordeal. The dizziness passed. My eyes adjusted to the light of another dimension and what I found there was startling. It was daybreak and quiet on a barren landmass. The watch ticked diligently in my left hand, while in the distance, creatures strode across the terrain.
I saw a herd of elephants with legs like giraffes, the height of a skyscraper.
Beneath them, the desert was home to freakish rock formations that shocked every fiber of my being.
I ran. A few dead tree branches clawed at the horizon around me. My heart was beating furiously. Everything about this place was the inverse of what should be possible, what should exist. And I was desperate to find the Doorway back.
I stumbled around a rock formation and that’s when I first saw it – the Sphinx. I discovered that a predator stalked this nonsensical habitat and there it was right in front of me, peeling flesh from the bones of its most recent kill. It was huge and brutal in appearance, somehow wise and murderous at the same time. I stared at it and, worse, it stared back at me. It had knowing eyes. One look and I thought it must have possessed an intelligence that reached back eons across time. Yet, the creature’s mythic stature belied the fact that blood dripped from its teeth, while I stood there.
At first, I didn’t move or make a sound. And the Sphinx appeared calm. It seemed content to eat its meal in peace. We exchanged eye contact and nothing more. There was only the soft, rhythmic tick of the pocket watch in my hand. But when the alarm on the watch rang out, the creature’s expression changed in an instant. I panicked and tried to turn off the alarm, but I could see I’d already angered the beast. Its face contorted with a primal hatred I’d never seen before. The high pitched roar that followed was deafening. And I ran away as fast as I could.
I darted behind a rock and tried to get to safety, far from the hungry Sphinx. But what I didn’t realize was how slowly I was actually moving. Before that, I noticed the pocket watch was turning to liquid in my hand. I dropped it, momentarily confused. And I saw the time piece melt against the searing landscape of the desert. How could I have grasped that the same thing was happening to me? I took a step back. I felt my entire body teeter on a melting pair of legs and when I tried to brace myself against a tree trunk, it was no use. I had all the physical attributes of an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. I could see the enormous Sphinx approaching me, but I wouldn’t last much longer regardless. My vision was blurred, my limbs folded up, and the puddle of me that remained quickly evaporated from that surreal dimension.
Before the creature could get to me, I was gone.
When I opened my eyes again, I was back in the laboratory. The Doorway had collapsed in on itself and the man who built it had disappeared.
Had he gone in after me, I thought. I suppose I’ll never know.
At the time, I stood up and wandered outside, never to return, but always left to wonder about my day in another dimension. And the mad man who took me there.
Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (1936)
Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time (1939)
The Persistence of Memory (1931)
Spider of the Evening (1940)