White Noise Machine
rating: +26+x

She woke up, rubbed her eyes and stayed a moment in bed. She hated it when the creature did that, when it stole little things from the day.

"Come on", it whispered. "We have work to do."

She acquiesed, and the creature jerked her upright. It staggered over to the mirror and stared at her. Large, bushy hair over eyes over bags. She'd slept in her clothes again - she used to protest when the creature worked her harder, but what was the point any more? She never won.

The creature saw the time and swore. It put on deoderant hurriedly, inelegantly, then grabbed her coat and ran downstairs. The corridors were grey. Her room was also grey. She'd liked to pretend that the creature had been the one to take the decorations down, but in truth she'd started removing things herself in the months before it came. Only a single faded Pixies poster had been left.

Gregory was in the reading room when they arrived. He smiled at her, but it moved her on without looking at him. It sat at her desk. She opened the book and began to make notes. So Gregory frowned, and walked over.

"You know, it's OK to take a break once in a - "

"I'm fine."

The creature had snapped it, but it could have been her too. She didn't want them fussing. She felt a brief twang as he walked away, downcast, but she couldn't tell what emotion it would have been.


She was a Foundation Researcher, Level 2, Site 90. 5"5 and stuck in the north of North Dakota, where the town of Nowhere had been bought up and converted into the Unreality Divisions's testing lab. All the land around was just an endless, greying prairie, stretching on to the edge of the sky.

At night, the nearest town's lights would glitter distantly. The only other sign there was a world outside was the truck that would drive in with their new subjects: doors, wishing wells, locked cabinets and other things the anomalous of the world had used to expand their horizons. That was Unreality's role in the Foundation archipelago, to crack these pocket universes like safes and store them in deep, blackened vaults.

The truck always came like clockwork. There were ususally three drivers on rotation, and you could tell which one it was by the way they drove. The precise of each skid pattern told you if it was Marcus, Janice or John, and they'd complete the performance of unloading the truck with their own distinct mannerisms. Like characters in a book.

It had been John who was driving on the day the creature came. He whistled as he unloaded the door, and as the agents brought it into the proper place. She'd entered it as part of the preliminary sweep, and as soon as she stepped through the door it was inside her mind. It was like a switch being flipped, but much less dramatic than the glare of a light. She didn't feel much - she just thought "oh", and then watched as the creature took her over.

Maybe it was part of the thing's anomaly. Or maybe she'd just become jaded by the same views, the same grey skies. Most of Unreality liked the site's drabness; it was a welcome change from the horrors and wonders in the pocket universes. Every psychedelic trip or erotic fantasy could be found locked away behind those doors, so the simple beauty of the grassland was welcome.

But Jolene had come to find the universes dull, even trite. The rare jewel would come along to revive her spirits, but most of what she studied was more of humanity's tawdrier secrets. Prisons for kidnap victims were particularly wearying. Their eyes would blink and falter at the light.

She'd long since forgotten why she joined the Foundation. Fear? A desire to do good? Interest in the field? It didn't matter any more. Her specialism and knowledge existed solely in the bounds of the anomalous; she could offer nothing to an academic world that didn't acknowledge her work's existence.

So she'd continued with her life as twenties turned to thirties, her brain gradually shedding more of herself. If she was really honest, she'd taken down the Pixies poster long before the creature arrived.


What the creature was making was a box. She didn't understand why. She could sense bits and pieces of its design, but the more she concentrate the more she felt like there wasn't anything there. So she swam in the ocean of her mind, picking at the stars above her.

It worked on it in the day, snatching moments between the official business. It worked on it at night, while she begged and urged it to sleep. When it ate, its mind remained wholly focused on the business at hand, while she savoured the tiny morsels of stimulus.

The creature felt sick to her mind's touch - something slimy, haggard. Most of the time it felt like a weight, a leaden and opaque thing. She stared into it and didn't care.

There were so many other threads of living that danced around her. The nascent crush Gregory clearly felt, for one. She pictured him, in her mind, suspended in that same half-worried smile. His lines faded into the background, his colour implanted into the walls. He was irrelevant here.

The creature dragged her back, inexorably, to her room. It sat on the bed and stared upwards, sucking the stars into itself.


She remembered the moment when the creature had slipped. It had been five o'clock on a Wednesday, and it was poring over a book because it had to, as it kept snarling at her curious thoughts. It wasn't normally that voracious, that lumpen in its phrasing. There was the slightest hint of emotion to it, a kind of ragged determination that made it seem a shade less opaque.

It was snowing outside, and suddenly she was free. She flexed her hands, and looked around her. The bed was there. The moon was outside, lighting up the winter evening. A couple of voices were laughing below.

She'd stood up, and plunged her hand out of the window. She felt every pore on her arm crack and freeze, stinging and frosting over. She moved it and felt the hairs sway, the veins on her hand shifting imperceptibly. It was smooth and soft, able to manipulate the air with the slightest -

"What are you doing?"

There was a researcher below her window, staring up at her. His face was frowning, a slight and confused smile stuck to his lips. It thrust her arm back inside. "Nothing", it snapped, and she felt herself crushed around the chest.


Movement. The creature woke her up, without argument or delay. It felt like a ripping as it headed towards the wardrobe.

There was the box, coated in symbols and wires. It pulled out its pliers and began to cut, dispassionately, at the surrounding material. It didn't stop or slow down, but kept pushing, weaving, darting from one side to the other. Her eyes were glazed; it knew the feel of the box too well to look.

It knew something. She hadn't considered that it could know things. She wondered what its truths were, what it held dear, what was in the box. She tried looking at it, but all she saw was iron, lead, soft malleable plastics that were the same all the way through, a single and essential substance. Solid, unyielding, enveloping.

It nicked her fingers over and over again, small and clumsy mistakes she would never make. It didnt show any signs of pain. Blood was smeared over the wires - would it impede its function? She didn't know. She didn't care.

Inside her head she let go, and floated. Below her was water, above her the sky, each devoid of colour but somehow distinct. She moved her arms and felt the water move. She waved them again, and again, feeling the smooth liquid suck on her fingers and caress her arms.

There was a pleasure in nothing, in repetition, in circling the same spot over and over again. Would she ever decay? Would her self's fingers wrinkle, pucker, dissolve? Would matter even matter here, locked behind the eyes?

She kept thinking about the day the creature had come and things she could have done differently. She found she didn't much care. It was an intellectual exercise, nothing more. Patterns between doors. What had the pocket looked like? Who had put it there? How many people would the creature kill?


The Pixies had been her favourite band growing up. She loved all their songs, but it was "Hey" that she'd listened to the most - there was something behind it that it kept trying to grab onto. It wasn't quite enough for her. She wanted those strings to bite, to sharpen their teeth and pierce her skin.

So she'd taken up guitar and joined a band. The neighbourhood kids, the rough crowd her parents wouldn't let her go near, they let her play right away. The sheer ferocity with which she would hack at the instrument enticed them. She was an enigma, she was cool, she was every half-baked notion of a thing they could properly ruin.

There were thunderclouds in those days, and lightning storms, and there'd be nights she was scared of as she snuck out to throw her head around before a hollering crowd. Jimmy Willis was always there, leather-jacketed and smirking, a pure cliche that she couldn't resist. She'd grown her hair over her eye and peeked out at the world, grinning with a strange irony. She felt she was standing on a knife edge, and the pain of the blade was so very, very fine.


The creature had finished. She could almost smell it, but her nose was blocked. Two panels, a makeshift hatch, acted as an entrance.

And then it let go, and she was free. But she stayed and stared at the box instead. What kind of wood was it made of? What kind of wire? Each was smooth, in its own way, curves that fed into each other.

Open it, it said. And why not, after all?

She moved towards it, seeing its round shape as part of the floor, part of the building, moving in time with the rest of the structure of the site, with the researchers, with the blades of grass that swayed, with the corners sanded down until they were orbs protruding from walls and merging with the air, until all boundaries were whipped away and the lack of rules was light as air.

She wouldn't have to get out of bed ever again.

She opened the box and saw nothing. A pocket-dimension of void, like the creature, like its half-forgotten world. It stretched on forever, a gap between realities. It wasn't even black. It just wasn't.

It rose up behind her. She turned, and at last she saw it, the whole of it, the opaque and solid glisten of her constant companion.

I love you, it said.

She screamed, and struggled, and tried to run for the window, but she couldn't make it. She grabbed her arms but it had her legs. She cut her hand as she fell but it wasn't enough.

It drove her, inch by inch, into the box.

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