By. Joshua Scully
Donald Barlow didn’t have any pots on his head or bands of aluminum foil wrapped around his arms.
That was a step in the right direction.
The old man was crazy, but, aside from an absurd hat, he answered the door in ordinary dress.
“Thank you for coming,” Barlow said as he pushed the door open for his former neighbor, John Forbes. “I see you came prepared.”
Forbes stepped through the doorway with a new Winchester Alaskan rifle in his hands.
“Well, I wanted to help if I could,” Forbes replied once inside the kitchen.
Barlow had called Forbes the night before about an unusually threatening bear near his home. The former asked the latter to bring a firearm capable of bringing down a grizzly. If Forbes was successful, Barlow offered to butcher the animal and hand the meat over for freezing.
At the time, Forbes was somewhat relieved that Barlow’s call was normal. When Barlow lived in town and next to Forbes, the elderly man seemed borderline insane most days.
Barlow had owned a butcher shop at one time, but his ridiculous stories scared off most customers. He was the guy in the neighborhood who insisted that the government controlled the weather. He communicated with extraterrestrials and lived with a family of yeti for three months in 1988. Barlow once even claimed to own some functional voodoo dolls modeled after various politicians.
Forbes could readily see the old man hadn’t acquired any new housekeeping skills since moving into his countryside residence. The kitchen, which apparently doubled as a workshop, was a disaster. A large table covered in newspaper, plastic, and bits of egg shell dominated the room. There was a plate of scrambled eggs and ketchup near the only chair.
An ancient 12-gauge shotgun leaned against that chair.
“Sorry if I caught you in the middle of breakfast,” Forbes said before gesturing toward the shotgun. “You been using that?”
“Oh yes,” Barlow chuckled while backpedaling toward the table. “I just hate to have to get so close to shoot.”
“I don’t blame you,” Forbes replied. “This time of year the bears get pushy. Was it in your garbage?”
“Well, yes,” Barlow finally replied with a goofy grin.
“What’s with the hat?” Forbes asked frankly.
The old man reached up and pulled the straw fedora from his head. A few bright blue and purple feathers were tucked into the horsehair band. Barlow whimsically ran his fingers through the feathers for a moment before replying.
“Let me explain,” Barlow said with a grin before putting the hat back on his head. “Actually, maybe I should show you.”
“Don’t tell me you shot a peacock? I noticed the neighbors are raising peacocks. Is that where you got the eggs?”
Barlow only laughed at these questions and picked up the shotgun.
“Follow me,” Barlow said jovially. “You need to see to believe.”
Forbes audibly sighed. He could sense Barlow starting to get weird, and he didn’t want to waste the entire morning.
Barlow pushed open a door next to the refrigerator that led to the basement.
There was dried blood on the floor between the table and refrigerator.
“Getting messy in your old age?” Forbes joked.
Barlow only smiled and guided Forbes down several creaky steps into a cool, dark room under the kitchen. There were bloody smudges on a few of the steps. A dank aroma seemed to float through the space.
Barlow leaned against the washing machine and fumbled around with some shotgun shells next to a bottle of fabric softener and a few more of those peculiar feathers on a small table next to the washer.
“What do you know about Earth’s magnetic field?”
Forbes rolled his eyes and mockingly slumped where he stood at the bottom of the stairs.
“Do you know anything about electron diffusion regions?”
“No,” Forbes sighed. “Where’s the bear?”
“You see, the magnetic field of the Earth sporadically connects to the magnetic field of the sun,” Barlow explained, “and portals are created across millions of miles through those fields. These portals penetrate the fabric of space and allow for travel through time.”
“Is that what the fabric softener is for?” Forbes asked sarcastically.
“I’m serious,” Barlow said after a visible scowl.
“Don, is the bear down here?” Forbes asked more forcefully. “I don’t have time for a wild goose chase.”
Barlow’s scowl deepened.
“Or a wild peacock chase,” Forbes added.
“You see that door?” Barlow said pointing to a door on the other side of the room and next to the furnace.
“You trapped the bear in your coal room?”
“One of those portals open into that room. I don’t know why or for how long,” Barlow continued while lifting his hat and running his fingers through the feathers again, “but I reckon these are Qianzhousaurus feathers.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Their eggs are real good eating,” Barlow said with a smile.
Forbes turned to leave and noticed a strange shape under the basement stairs. He peered around the staircase and realized this was the form of a bloody, mangled grizzly.
“Don, what did you do?”
“Nothing but open that door and have myself an egg,” Barlow replied. “A Qianzhousaurus followed me back through and ran into the bear outside. The creature dragged the kill back down here and I chased the beast back through the door last night. It’s a smaller one and I still couldn’t bring it down.”
Forbes stood with an uncertain tremble. He gripped his rifle tightly in both hands.
Without another word, Barlow stepped forward and opened the door next to the furnace. A brilliant glow filled the room. The old man turned away from this illumination and toward Forbes.
“What do you know about the Novikov self-consistency principal?” Barlow asked.
Forbes shook his head.
“Oh well,” Barlow laughed. “Let’s go! I’ll butcher the beast and split the meat with you. You still have that big freezer in your garage, don’t ya’?”
Joshua Scully is an American History teacher from Pennsylvania. He writes speculative fiction.
Odd Nosdam is a musician from the Bay Area, CA.