Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep… Ned’s alarm clock continued relentlessly until he shut it off and forced himself to leave his warm bed and prepare for another day at work.
Still waking up, Ned shuffled into the bathroom. Slowly, he positioned himself in front of the mirror and tried to remember what he was doing in there. Right, getting ready to go to work. In the distance he could hear a soft beeping sound, rhythmic and mundane. Must have forgot to turn off my alarm, he thought to himself.
Back in his room Ned checked his alarm, but it was quiet and properly set to go off the next morning. In his room there was complete silence, the beeping could not be heard. Strange. Ned set his alarm clock down on the dresser and returned to the bathroom, again trying to remember what he was doing.
Got to get ready to go. While he prepared his toothbrush, he realized he was hearing the beeping again. Where is that coming from? He looked around, moved to the window, put his ear by the vent. Nothing. He could only hear the sound while standing in front of the mirror. Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep… Muffled and faint, it nagged at him while he brushed his teeth, shaved and washed his face.
While he was rinsing his face, his wife wandered in to the bathroom. She went straight for the toilet, but Ned stopped her in front of the mirror.
“Do you hear anything?” he asked her.
“What, dear? Hear what?” She rubbed her eyes and looked at the toilet.
“I don’t know, it sounds like an alarm clock or a smoke detector. Do you hear it?”
She listened for a second. “No, I don’t hear anything.” Breaking free of the conversation she reached for the toilet. “The neighbors’ alarm clock is probably just going off. Don’t worry about it.”
Ned agreed. I don’t need to worry about it, it’s nothing. The trouble was that it nagged at him and he couldn’t help but worry.
All day he thought about the beeping. He wondered where it was coming from, what it meant, if he could do anything to stop it. Finally, just an hour or so before returning home, he quit thinking about the beeping. His attention was instead turned to an important problem that needed resolving before he could leave work. When he finally arrived home his mind was free and he enjoyed the evening at home.
The next morning his alarm clock yanked him out of sleep in the usual, most dreadfully stubborn manner, refusing to be silent until Ned held the reset button down.
This time, however, when he shuffled back into the bathroom to get ready to go to work, he stopped in front of the mirror and froze. There it is again. He stood there, listening. Several minutes went by. The steady beep was almost hypnotizing, and he didn’t snap back to reality until his wife made her regular visit to the toilet.
She entered the room and bumped into Ned, who was standing motionless in front of the mirror. Sitting on the toilet, she asked, “Are you alright? What were you doing?”
Slightly startled, he took a moment to gather his thoughts. “I guess I was daydreaming.” The truth was that he was daydreaming about where the sound could be coming from.
“It’s strange, it looks like you haven’t gotten anything done and you need to leave in ten minutes. Are you feeling OK?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He reached for his toothbrush. Suddenly, he felt the blood rush into his right cheek. He put his hand on it. The whole right half of his face was nearly numb and freezing cold. He looked at his wife. “Do you feel cold at all?”
“No, it’s nice. We’ve got the air conditioner on and I’m pretty warm. Why?”
“Nothing, I’m just feeling a little chilly. I’ll put on a sweater.” A sweater wouldn’t do him any good though, his whole body was warm. The only part of him that was at all cold was his face, only on the right side, and it was almost frozen. He finished his business in the bathroom as quickly as he could, but was still a little late for work.
Sitting at his desk he touched his cheek. It was warm now. He tried to get some work done, but this time he never managed to get his mind off the beeping. All day it was the only thing he could think about. When he got back home, he went straight to the bathroom.
Using his hands, he probed around the area in front of his mirror, trying to find out why his face got so cold. After just a few moments, he found a space small enough to cup in his hands that was colder than the inside of his freezer. He couldn’t see it, but it was easy enough to feel. It seemed to be emitting cold air. When he moved his ear closer to the cold spot, he could hear the beeping.
How strange, he thought. He knew just the right person to call though. Ned was still in contact with a friend of his from college. They had taken some general education classes together before parting ways. Ned had studied business and his friend studied physics. They kept in touch over the Internet but had never really had a good reason to talk before now.
Ned went to his computer and wrote a message to his friend explaining the strange place in his bathroom and asking if he would be interested in coming to his house to check it out. In the message he left his phone number and asked him to call immediately.
Ned’s friend, Professor Randal E. Thorpe of the Harvard University general physics department, called twenty minutes later and made arrangements to come over in two hours with a few professor buddies from different fields of specialization who would bring equipment and take some readings.
A feeling of satisfaction and relief swept over Ned. The nagging quit. Now it was in more capable hands. Now he didn’t have to worry about it so much. It was already getting late, so he decided to use the next couple of hours and take a nap before his friend arrived.
As he approached the bathroom, en route to his bedroom, he felt a chilling but soft breeze rushing down the hall with him. Closer still and he began to hear the beeping, only this time much louder than before. Peering into the bathroom he heard the beeping echoing off every tiled wall. The whole room was covered in an icy layer of frost. He could see inside the toilet that the water in the bowl was frozen solid.
Interesting, but out of his hands. He didn’t need to worry about it. He would wait and let the professionals deal with any new developments. He got in his bed, went to sleep and had dreams about penguins and doughnuts.
When the professors arrived, his wife woke him up and had him show them in to the bathroom. Ned had to put slippers and a sweater on because the whole house was cold despite the thermostat being set to the hottest setting.
“This seems much worse than you initially made it seem, Ned.” Professor Thorpe was helping one of his colleagues set up some equipment.
“Whatever it is, it is definitely worse now than when I sent for you. It’s giving off more cold air and the beeping is louder.” Ned surveyed the equipment, wondering what it all did and what they were going to learn about the anomaly in his bathroom. Out of my hands, he reminded himself.
“Well, Ned, if you like you can go back to sleep and we’ll let ourselves out when we’re finished. I don’t know how long it’ll take for us to gather the data we’ll need, but I don’t want you to feel obligated to stay up with us. We’ll clean up after ourselves and everything. Don’t worry about a thing, and I’ll call you tomorrow to tell you what we find out.” Professor Thorpe patted Ned on the back and they shook hands.
Ned was glad they would call to tell him what they learned. His curiosity was growing, and so was the cold spot.
When he woke up the next morning he was almost shivering in his bed. He could hear two alarm clocks clearly now, one in his room and one coming from the bathroom. He shut off the alarm clock in his room, then went to check out the bathroom.
Sure enough, the professors were all gone, and so were any signs that they had been there. It sounded like his alarm clock was still going off in the bathroom, but there was no physical clock in there at all.
The water in the tap was frozen, so he really couldn’t use the bathroom to get ready for work. He shaved with an electric razor and brushed his teeth in the kitchen. At work, he waited for his friend to call with more information. When no call came at work, he went home in the evening and asked his wife if there had been any calls for him. There had not. He decided to call the professor himself to find out if they had learned anything new.
He went to look for the cordless handset. On his way, he heard it start ringing. Now where did I put it? he asked himself. It sounded like it was in the hallway somewhere. The whole hallway was cold and starting to form a layer of frost on the carpet. I’ll have to seal that bathroom off to keep the cold in, he decided. As he passed the bathroom he thought it sounded like the phone was inside. He opened the door, and the ringing got louder, but he couldn’t find the phone anywhere. He could hear the phone, but there was no phone inside.
Looking around the rest of the house he eventually found the cordless phone in his bedroom. He could still hear the faint ringing and beeping coming from the bathroom, but his real phone and alarm clock were quiet. For a moment, the ringing stopped. A minute later it started up again. This time it didn’t last as long and soon all he could hear was the beeping.
Ned dialed his friend’s number and waited. After a few rings the professor answered. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any news to share. The data were still being analyzed. There were no firm ideas as to what the thing could be, but he would call as soon as any theories had been formed.
Ned was disappointed. He decided to turn his attention to sealing the bathroom off. He was tired of being so cold all of the time.
Using everything he had available, he set to work. Towels, extra bed sheets, painter’s plastic and duct tape went on, layer after layer, until Ned couldn’t feel any cold air coming out from the bathroom any more.
An added benefit of the seal was that the beeping was a lot harder to hear through all of the padding. Now it was only a faint sound, as though it were coming from the far end of a neighbor’s house.
A few days passed. The seal was working great. Every morning Ned turned his alarm clock off, heard the faint echo of that same alarm as he passed the bathroom on his way to the kitchen to get ready for work, and left his warm home for work. Every evening he got home, used warm water and a wash cloth to bathe, and retired to his warm bed to repeat the whole thing again the next morning. It was good to have his routine back. The only thing missing was that call from his professor friend. He curiosity about the strangeness in his bathroom had not completely left him. Plus, if his friend could figure out what it was, perhaps they could do something about it. He hoped it wasn’t getting worse. It seemed to be contained, but there was no way to know for sure.
Then one morning he woke up cold again. He shut his alarm clock off, but the beeping didn’t stop. He stepped out of bed and shivers went up his entire body. The floor had frost on it. He checked the seal around the bathroom, but it was intact. The wall next to the door had a big patch of ice on it. Whatever was growing inside the bathroom was beginning to leak out into the hallway.
Ned went to work and called his friend again to tell him about the new development. The professor apologized for taking so long, but some of the data were presenting intriguing problems and they had enlisted additional help from around the country. He promised that as soon as he had any news he would call. Ned picked up two cold weather sleeping bags from the store on the way home.
He got home and found his wife bundled up in a heavy coat, slippers and gloves. The cold was biting and overwhelming. Despite the weather in the house, she had the whole living room completely rearranged, a lot of things still unplugged from being moved. She said she wanted a new look for the house and needed something to do to keep warm. He didn’t mind, it looked good. The television was among the unplugged items, but they were tired, he wasn’t interested in watching television and they decided to fix it all in the morning.
They set up the sleeping bags under the covers of their bed. They slipped into bed and held each other for additional warmth. Ned was starting to drift off when he remembered that their telephone answering machine was in the living room.
“When you were moving things around out there, did you plug the answering machine back in?” he asked his wife.
“I don’t think so, I just moved everything around and left it because I wasn’t sure if I would want to move it all around some more or not.”
“I’ve been waiting for the professor to call, and I don’t want to miss what he has to say.” Ned thought about getting out of bed to plug the answering machine back in. “Do you think I should go plug it in?”
“No, don’t worry about it. If he calls tonight we’ve got a phone right here. We can answer it. I’ll make sure I plug it in tomorrow morning. Just go to sleep.”
She was right. He drifted off. He slept well that night. He slept so well, that he was not conscious when the anomaly in his bathroom exploded in size, almost instantly freezing the entire house.
In the morning his alarm clock went off just as it did every morning.
As for the professor, he and his colleagues were getting close to a solid theory about Ned’s problem. The thing in Ned’s bathroom appeared to be a rip of sorts in time and space. It had properties unlike anything any of them had ever observed before in the real world and it was generating a lot of excitement in the scientific community. Professor Thorpe decided to wait a couple more days before calling Ned, but things were definitely looking good.
Back at Ned’s house a couple of days later, the phone rang. It rang and rang and rang. Finally, the professor hung up, thought for a minute, and called back one more time.Then it was silent in the house.
Except, of course, for that persistent alarm clock.
Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep…