The Unknown Object
Tim never would have found it if he hadn’t been cutting P.E. on that fateful day. In the weeks and months that followed, after it had completely changed and re-shaped his life, Tim would often think about that. How different would his life be if his P.E. teacher, Mr. Hudson, hadn’t chosen that day to have them play softball out in the field? And what would have happened to it if Tim hadn’t found it? Would it have fallen into someone else’s hands? Or would it still be there, half-buried in the dirt, waiting for someone to find it?
BREEP! BREEP! BREEP!
Tim woke up with a start and fumbled around in the dark, looking for his phone to turn off the alarm. Without opening his eyes, he groped around his nightstand. He felt it, but as he went to grab it, the phone slipped off the nightstand and fell somewhere on the floor, underneath the bed.
The alarm kept blaring. Now Tim had no choice. He had to get up. He opened his bleary eyes and slowly crawled off the bed and directly onto the floor. He reached underneath the bed until he found (among other things) a sneaker, a remote control, a PS4 controller, and then, finally, his phone.
“Just…turn off…stupid thing…,” he mumbled as he tried to get the phone to recognize his thumbprint so he could turn the alarm off. The phone refused to recognize his thumbprint once, then twice, then opened up the passcode entry form, which Tim duly did. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the alarm stopped.
6 AM. The sun was starting to come out. Another hot and muggy summer day.
Tim had barely gotten a few hours’ worth of sleep. The air conditioning in his room was busted, and even though he’d slept with the window open, the heat had been inescapable. The t-shirt he’d slept in was soaked in sweat.
6:01. He had to take a shower, get dressed, and go to school.
Let’s see, he thought. It’s Thursday, and this day in the cycle is…ugh…physical education with Mr. Hudson.
Tim didn’t much like Mr. Hudson. Mr. Hudson had just started at the school this year and was a big believer of what he called ‘command style’ P.E. teaching. He had been in the military and behaved like a drill sergeant. He gave orders and expected students to fulfill those orders on command. Today, Mr. Hudson had booked the entire afternoon to practice softball, even getting permission from the English teacher to use her period for practice.
Tim wasn’t looking forward to it, to say the least.
Tim closed the window and curtain and headed out. The bathroom was at the end of the hallway, but even before he reached it, he heard the sound of the shower running. His sister, Heather, had beaten him to it.
He knocked on the door lightly.
“You going to be much longer?”
“Just five more minutes,” came the muffled reply.
“Hurry up, I’m all sweaty and gross because of the heat,” he replied.
There was no answer, but a few moments later he heard the shower turn off and he could hear the sound of feet on the bathroom tile. Then the faucet turned on.
Tim leaned against the hallway wall, rubbing his eyes to wake himself up. He absent-mindedly scratched his stomach through his shirt.
A few minutes later, the door latch clicked and the door opened.
Heather opened the door, her short, brown hair still wet. She wore an old Florida Marlins t-shirt (that had once belonged to Tim) and a pair of shorts that had clearly seen better days. The raggedy t-shirt, with its rips and tears, showed off his little sister’s toned stomach. Tim felt self-conscious about his own flabby midsection and turned his gaze to the floor.
“Wow, you look gross,” she smirked.
Tim rolled his eyes. “What do you expect?” he said. “Unlike you, I had to sleep without an AC. By the way, are you going to school dressed like a homeless person?”
“Don’t be a dumbass. You wanted me to hurry, so I just put my bedclothes back on. I’m going to change in my room,” she gestured towards the bundle of clothes she was holding in one arm.
“Oh, uh, thanks,” Tim said, with a sheepish look.
“Don’t mention it…or actually, maybe do something for me later, like my homework,” she said as she walked off towards her room.
“Why would I do your homework for you?”
“Because you had Mr. Humbert for math last year and you know that he always uses the same handouts every year,” she said as she slammed her door shut.
Tim shrugged. That was true—Mr. Humbert was infamous for always using the same materials, year after year. He wouldn’t be the first person to give their old homework to a younger sibling to copy out. And his sister Heather, though she was an ace at sports and great at English, was piss-poor at anything having to do with numbers.
Tim stepped into the bathroom, and into a puddle of water.
“Heather! You could have at least dried off before you got out of the shower!”
Heather’s bedroom door opened and she poked her head and bare shoulders out.
“You’re the one who wanted me to hurry, dork!”
“You know, you’re never going to get a boyfriend with that attitude!” A sore spot, since Tim knew that Heather’s best friend Samantha had just started going steady with a senior and Heather was pretty much openly seething with jealousy about it.
His sister just glared at him and slammed her door shut again.
After the shower, Tim changed quickly, grabbed his bookbag, and then ran down the stairs. When he reached the kitchen, his sister was already eating breakfast. His mom looked at him and as she brought him his breakfast (a plate of eggs sunny side up and a piece of buttered whole wheat toast), she glanced at the clock on the wall. Tim knew the implication.
“Don’t worry, Mom, I’m not going to be late.”
“Well, I certainly hope not,” she said as she put the plate on the table. “Now eat up.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said as he began shoveling the food into his mouth. His sister had already finished and was bringing her plate over to the sink.
As she stood up, Tim couldn’t help but notice that she had rolled up her uniform skirt a bit shorter than usual today. Are you trying to get guys to pay attention to you by showing off your legs? He thought to himself. Of course, not even the nicest legs in the world would compensate for that bossy attitude of yours. Unless a guy likes being constantly told what to do and how to do it….
Tim wasn’t particularly interested in his sister’s social life, but over the past few months, he hadn’t been able to help but overhear his sister and her friends talking about Samantha’s boyfriend Doug (good-natured but not particularly bright, in his estimation). In those conversations, Heather kept asking Samantha what she and Doug did on their dates, where they went, what Samantha typically wore for those dates, and so on and so forth. His sister, who had never really cared much about makeup or girly things, had begun experimenting with blush and eyeliner, sometimes asking Mom for advice on what shades best matched her skin tone. She had even talked with Dad about whether she could take the car out on dates once she got her license in a couple of months—hypothetically, of course.
Today, of course, was a school day, so Heather wasn’t wearing any makeup at all. From a purely objective standpoint, Tim thought, she doesn’t really need to wear it anyway. His sister’s delicate features, with her small, upturned nose and large brown eyes, were conventionally attractive. The problem was purely her personality…though as her brother, he might be biased on that front.
“Hey, space case, finish up so we can get going,” Heather said, narrowing her eyes.
There it is, Tim thought. His sister was always getting on his case about one thing or another. She used to trail after him like a puppy dog when they were little kids, but as she grew up and got into sports and Tim followed more intellectual pursuits (he was being generous—Magic: The Gathering and MMOs were only intellectual in the most broad definition of the term), he seemed to fall in her estimation. Nowadays, whenever she looked at him, he wondered if what she felt was a mixture of pity and contempt—she was undoubtedly popular in her grade, while he, as a junior, was anything but.
She’s my little sister, Tim thought. It just doesn’t seem right that she’s looking down on me all the time. Still, he couldn’t deny that, at least as far as the social hierarchy of high school was concerned, Heather was a few rungs above him.
“Did Dad already leave?” Tim asked his Mom as she washed the frying pan.
“About thirty minutes ago,” she replied. “You two should get going, too.”
Tim tried to remember if he’d even seen Dad yesterday. His work at the office had him so busy, some days he didn’t get home till close to 10 PM. Plus, all the travel—it was for that reason that Mom had quit her job when Heather was born, so that she could take care of the two of them. Dad’s work paid well, but Mom was really big on personal responsibility—she didn’t hire a housekeeper, did all the cleaning herself, and carefully budgeted the household finances (she’d been an accountant). Even with all the work that goes into raising two teenagers, Tim thought that his mother looked younger than the 45-year-old woman she was. She’d somehow managed all that stress and either hadn’t gotten a single gray hair, or was really good with the hair dye. Dad often joked that the only wrinkles Mom had were from her laugh lines.
Tim bolted the last of the food on the plate, took one last gulp of his orange juice, and brought his plate, glass, and utensils to the sink.
“Have a good day, you two,” Mom said, smiling. “And try not to drive each other crazy. You know, when you two were little you got along so well.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tim said dismissively and gave his Mom a peck on the cheek. He and his sister walked out the door.
Tim and Heather walked to school together every day, though it was more accurate to say they were just both using the same sidewalk because their destinations happened to coincide.
Tim thought back a little to what his mom had said. It was true, they were pretty much inseparable when they were kids. Going out into the backyard or the woods behind their house to search for hidden treasure, watching TV together (they both loved a lot of the same cartoons)—he even remembered how he’d helped his little sister learn to ride a bicycle.
He glanced in her direction. She was completely absorbed with whatever was going on in her smartphone. Instagram or TikTok, probably. She wasn’t even looking at the sidewalk.
When did we start drifting apart? Tim asked himself. Probably when I hit puberty and my friends started making fun of me for hanging out with my little sister. Then as soon as she started junior high, her friends started making fun of her for hanging out with me.
To add to that, their interests had started to diverge wildly. Heather realized she was good at sports and tried out for track and field. Tim discovered that he was completely unathletic and joined the school’s library club. And then, before I knew it, Tim thought ruefully, I’d become a complete nerd and my social life consisted of my handful of nerd friends.
Tim let out a long sigh, and his sister stared up from her phone, blinked at him.
“What’s wrong with you? It’s Thursday, just one more day and it’s the weekend,” she said.
“I just didn’t get enough sleep last night, I guess.”
Heather shrugged. Tim struggled to make out what it meant—was it a ‘that’s too bad’ shrug, or an ‘I don’t give a shit’ shrug?
Before he knew it, Tim was standing at the school gate. He saw a few of Heather’s friends waving at her from across the front lawn.
“I’m off,” she said, not even glancing back.
As she ran off, her skirt flapping in the morning breeze, Tim looked towards his sister’s friends—Samantha, Jenny, and Tricia. They were all in student athletes in sports clubs, so he never really had a chance to talk to any of them. He looked at them, in their short skirts. For a split second he wondered if he could get his sister to introduce him to any of them, and then shook his head. He knew it was a ridiculous notion.
Tim gave another long sigh and headed off to homeroom.
“Hey, Heather!” Samantha said, a smile on her tanned face.
“Morning, guys,” Heather replied as she caught up with them.
“Is your brother ok?” Jenny asked, looking past her at Tim as he listlessly trudged off to class.
“Him? Oh, yeah…the AC in his room is broken, I don’t think he was able to sleep much last night,” Heather said.
“You two are so different—isn’t he, like, in the library club or something? Does he do tutoring and stuff?” Tricia asked.
“Ew, I hope you’re not thinking of going to him for tutoring—what, do you want to, like, date him or something?” Heather scoffed.
“I was just trying to be nice,” Tricia answered, with a look of mock horror on her face. “By the way, check out what Gemma from twelfth grade posted on her Insta,” she added as she held out her phone.
The girls crowded around the phone, all thoughts of Tim flying from their heads.
Morning classes went by slowly. At a few points during morning History, Tim felt himself nodding off and at one point, woke up to find that he’d nodded off at his desk and had drooled all over it. He sat up, looked around, and tried to casually wipe the drool off the desk, hoping no one had noticed.
Luckily, he was seated at the back, so though Ms. Davis gave him a funny look, she apparently hadn’t noticed he’d fallen asleep.
Eventually the bell rang and Tim headed off for lunch at the cafeteria. He usually sat with his friends Eddie and Yang, his fellow library club members. Usually they’d talk about the latest video games, local Magic: The Gathering tournaments, and, of course, which girls in their school were the hottest.
Today was no different.
“Yesterday, this girl from the tennis team came into the library,” Eddie was saying as Tim sat down at their table. He was eating French fries and a Salisbury steak, typical Thursday cafeteria fare.
“Oh, yeah, I know her—she’s blonde and has bangs, right?” Yang replied, nodding sagely.
“Dude, you don’t know her—you’ve seen her around, doesn’t mean you know her,” Eddie shook his head disapprovingly.
Eddie was the best-looking of the three of them, which wasn’t saying much. Tim was pale and out-of-shape, Yang was short and chubby with a crew cut, but Eddie was skinny and used to run track before he injured his leg and was forced to give up the sport by his overprotective mother. Because they’d both run track, Eddie knew Tim’s sister Heather.
“Now, Tim, you’ve got an advantage and I don’t understand why you don’t use it,” Eddie said.
“Advantage? What are you talking about?”
“Your little sister—you could get her to introduce you to her friends. If I had a little sister, that’s what I’d do. And Heather’s pretty nice so I’m sure she’d do it,” Eddie stated confidently.
“Nice? That’s only because you’re not her brother—I mean, she’s not, like, terrible, but she’d never introduce me to any of her friends—she’d probably be horrified at the idea of me dating any of them,” Tim replied, in a slightly annoyed tone.
“Why’d she be horrified?” Yang asked.
“Well, I’m just speculating—I know I’d be horrified if she was dating either of you,” Tim countered.
“You asshole,” Eddie said, but he was laughing as he wiped the grease of his fingers. “Though maybe I should shoot my shot with her. She’s single, right?”
Tim mimed vomiting, and the three of them broke out in laughter.
“Seriously, though,” Yang said. “I really wish I could get a girlfriend. This is my freaking junior year and I’ve managed to go through my entire high school existence without a single date.”
“Way to bring the mood down, dude,” Eddie said. “But I know what you mean—my last date was when I was in, like, ninth grade and I didn’t even get my hand down her blouse.” He stared off wistfully into the distance, as though imagining halcyon days.
Tim said nothing—he was just as pumped full of hormones as his two friends, but he had no illusions. He was a bland nobody. He wasn’t hideous, but he wasn’t handsome, either. His grades were OK, but not great. He lacked self-confidence.
But probably the worst thing was that he’d given up. He figured this was it for him, at least until he could start over in college. He’d sometimes fantasized about completely reinventing himself the summer before he headed to college. He’d get a gym membership and get a little buff, get a new haircut, a new wardrobe. He’d be living in a dorm, in another state, with no one who’d known him in high school.
“Hey, what about you, Tim?” Eddie asked.
Tim blinked as he snapped out of his reverie and returned to reality.
“What about me?” he asked.
“When was your last date, dude?”
Tim thought about whether to be honest (he’d never had a date), or tell a plausible lie (back in junior high, before he’d met Eddie or Yang). He decided not to risk it.
“I’ve…I’ve never had one,” he acknowledged with a rueful grin.
“Man, what a trio of sad sacks we are,” Yang said, looking down at his soggy fries.
“…Yeah…,” Eddie said, his expression unreadable.
“Guys, never mind that,” Tim said, trying to cheer his friends up. He reached towards his backpack. “Check out this Marvel omnibus I got in the mail the other day…”
“Give it a little more energy, Mr. West!” The P.E. teacher screamed at Tim as he did his jumping jacks. He was so intense (and so close) that Tim could practically feel the flecks of saliva landing on his face.
Mr. Hudson moved on to berate the next person in line. They were a particularly large group today—one of the other teachers had called in sick, which meant that Mr. Hudson, rather than having the already unwieldy forty students he’d expected, was suddenly stuck with seventy students—and one softball field.
There was no way this was going to go smoothly, and the teacher knew it, which meant he was in an even worse mood than usual today. Tim tried to make sure he did his exercises properly so as not to incur the Wrath of Hudson, but he was only partially successful. Eddie was sitting in the bleachers (due to his injury, Eddie was permanently excused from PE, and he had a very smug look on his face as he sat drinking Gatorade), but Yang was in the same boat as Tim.
Eventually, the class moved out to the lot where the softball field was. The field was fairly new—it had been a small wooded area that had been partially cleared out. However, it was still under development. A chain-link fence ran around most of the field, but one area, which connected to the woods, was not fenced in. Tim figured the remaining acres of woods would eventually be plowed down to be turned into sports fields or maybe more school buildings. In the meantime, though…
The sun beat down on Tim’s back. Naturally pale, he could practically anticipate the blisters that would form on his back and arms by the end of the day. He looked at the comforting shade of the woods with longing. If only he could…
Mr. Hudson had just made teams for the softball game. There were so many students that most of the class was stuck watching the game on the sidelines.
What a waste of time this is, Tim thought. So I’ve gotta stay here for the next couple of hours while I’m slow-roasted by the sun.
He looked towards where the chain link fence ended and the woods began
He could hang out in the woods for a couple of hours. It wouldn’t be terribly exciting, but at least he could get some shade. And just the fact that he normally wouldn’t be allowed to go there made it exciting.
He looked towards the field. Everyone else seemed to be absorbed by the game, or so scared of Mr. Hudson that they were pretending to be. And as for Mr. Hudson? He seemed to have completely forgotten the dozens of students who were stuck sitting in the sidelines and was focusing on the students actually playing the game.
Tim was sitting in a corner, so he just…casually…stood up…pretended to stretch…
And walked straight out into the wooded area.
As he passed the fence, he gave a quick peek back. No one was looking in his direction. Nobody had noticed he’d gone. He was, well, invisible (so what else was new?).
Unlike the field, the woods were nice and cool. Hickory trees, elm trees, other types of deciduous trees. Tim remembered some of their names from science class. The leaves in the canopies created natural shade, though some of the trees had apparently been knocked over in the rush to construction. A few beams of sunlight peeked in through the leaves, but it was so much cooler than out in the softball field.
Sayonara, suckers, Tim thought. While you guys melt under that heat, I’m gonna cool off and play some Fortnite on my phone.
Tim could see some caterpillar tread marks in some parts of the woods, but the ground was dry and the tread marks created a nice little pathway for him. He walked down it, being careful not to get his tennis shoes too dirty.
He decided to keep walking into the woods, just enough to ensure he’d be out of sight—if Hudson didn’t see him, he probably wouldn’t miss him, especially considering how many other students he had to deal with today. All he had to do was make sure he was hidden well enough that an errant look into the woods wouldn’t give him away.
Tim walked for about ten minutes, the woods getting denser and denser. He followed the tracks created by the construction machinery, avoiding the thickening underbrush. Was there poison ivy in his area? He tried to recall if it had been covered in his science class. Finally, he saw a mossy log that was directly underneath a tree. It looked firm, stable, the perfect place to hang out for an hour or so.
Tim casually wiped the log clean of a few errant leaves, sat down and took out his smartphone. He figured he’d play a few games, but…
He didn’t have a single bar. And none of his games would play if they didn’t have online connectivity.
Tim looked up at the surrounding trees, annoyed.
“Geez, it’s not like I’m in the middle of nowhere…why the fuck can’t I get a signal?”
He stood up and walked around, looking at his phone all the while. Sometimes, he’d get a single bar, so he’d move in the hopes it would go up to at least two. Then, he’d get the ‘no signal’ message so he’d move back to where he was.
Looking at his phone, not cognizant of his location, he wandered deeper and deeper into the woods.
After another twenty minutes of fruitless searching for a signal, Tim finally looked up and realized something…he’d lost track of the caterpillar tread pathway he’d walked down.
He looked at his surroundings. He couldn’t see the fallen log he’d been sitting on either. All he could see around him were trees and vegetation, a little bit of underbrush (Man, please let that not be poison ivy). All he could hear was the occasional chirping of a bird. He couldn’t hear the softball game at all.
He was lost.
Tim hurriedly put his phone away and tried to get his bearings. He wasn’t that far away, right? It should be easy enough to find his way back…
Tim heard a branch snap somewhere behind him, and he looked in that direction. Was someone there? Maybe, like, a homeless encampment or something? Or someone from the construction company surveying? He couldn’t really see very well in that direction, due to the shadows from the trees.
He headed towards the direction of the sound he’d heard (or what he assumed was the direction). But as he did, he noticed the wood was getting denser and denser.
Not good. He didn’t know how he could tell, but he knew he was heading away from the softball field, rather than back towards it.
Tim quickly turned around, but as he did so, his foot caught on a tree root, and he slipped and fell.
He heard a sickening crunch from his front pocket, and he winced—not from pain, but from knowing he’d most likely just wrecked his phone’s screen.
He pushed himself up on his hands and sat on the ground. He took out his phone—or what was left of it. Little shards of crystal tumbled out of his front pocket as he did so.
His phone’s screen was ruined.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, he thought. Mom’s gonna kill me for this. This phone’s not even a year old.
As he sat, he looked down at the little pieces of glass next to him.
If he hadn’t had Mr. Hudson’s class today.
If the other teacher hadn’t cancelled.
If he hadn’t gotten the idea in his head to ditch the game by going off into the woods.
If he hadn’t broken his phone.
If he hadn’t been looking at the shards from his broken screen.
He wouldn’t have seen it.
But he did…and he saw it.
Even though the area was shaded, a bit of sun was still coming through, and something glinted.
Just a few feet away from where Tim was sitting, something glinted on the ground, next to a fallen tree.
Tim didn’t know exactly why he did what he did next, but he put his broken phone back in his pocket and crawled towards the glint, curious.
As he got closer, he saw exactly what it was.
It was half-buried in dirt, but the fallen tree had apparently dislodged it. Tim scooped the dirt out from around it, grasped the object, pulled it out.
It was a toy ray gun. It was painted red, though the paint was scuffed and peeling in parts. It had a weird, futuristic, conical shape, like the type of thing that people in the thirties would have identified as high-tech. The handle had been wrapped in what looked like duct tape, and there was a circular chrome piece at its firing end.
Tim went to pick it up. It looked like a kid’s toy, maybe an antique? He wondered if it was worth anything. Maybe he could eBay it.
It was surprisingly heavy. It didn’t seem to be made of plastic like he’d originally assumed it would be—maybe it was die-cast metal?
I bet this must be one of those old toys they sold based on Flash Gordon serials or something, Tim thought. It’s probably been here for years—I’m surprised it’s in such good condition, all things considered.
The toy gun had a bit of dirt on it, which Tim quickly wiped off with the lower end of his shirt. He was already dirty, he figured. He looked for a manufacturer’s symbol or a brand name, but he couldn’t find anything.
The gun didn’t have a trigger, which he thought was unusual. The section where a trigger would have been was completely smooth, so it wasn’t that it had one which had broken off at some point. The duct tape on the gun handle didn’t seem to be there because the handle was broken. Tim thought about removing it, but then thought better of it—maybe when he got home and was able to do it with a little bit more care. On the top of the gun was a small dial, with some text on it, embossed into the gun itself. Tim cleaned it and moved to an area where a beam of light shone through the trees so he could read it. The dial had three settings, from left to right—they were labeled OFF, CONTROL, and RELEASE. The dial was currently set to ‘OFF.’ On the butt of the gun was a small, red button. Tim tried pressing it; the button had a satisfyingly clicky feeling.
Tim thought of the cheap plastic Nerf gun knockoffs he’d had as a kid. This was nothing like them—if it weren’t for its obvious sci-fi design, it could almost have been a real gun—it seemed durable, heavy, and the metal felt cool in his hand.
If this is a collector’s item, I can probably get a lot of money for it, Tim thought excitedly. I could buy a Nintendo Switch or upgrade my PC monitor or…
He remembered what was in his pants pocket.
Or maybe it’ll be enough for me to replace my broken phone, he groaned internally.
He looked down at the ray gun again, and tried moving the dial to see if it was broken. It moved easily enough, from ‘OFF’ to ‘CONTROL.’
I wonder if this thing takes batteries—I’ll have to remove the duct tape and see, I bet that’s where the batteries would go, Tim thought.
Tim suddenly heard something from behind him, a rustling of underbrush and a crackling of dead leaves and branches.
He turned around, half-expecting there to confronted with wild animal, only to see Eddie grinning at him.
“So this is where you went,” Eddie chuckled. “I saw you wander off and I’ve been looking for you for, like, the past half hour.”
“You scared the shit out of me, bro,” Tim replied. “I thought you were, like, a rabid raccoon or something.”
“Bro, you’re lucky it’s just me and not Hudson,” Eddie said, suddenly serious. “What the fuck were you thinking coming in here? If Hudson had caught you, you’d be in deep shit.”
“I was just trying to find a place to relax and play Fortnite,” Tim said, his tone rueful. “Not that I can, there’s no signal in this place, and…not that I can, because I broke my phone…”
“You’re lucky you just broke your phone—Hudson would break your ass. …Hey, what’s that?” Eddie had just noticed the ray gun.
“Oh, check this out,” Tim said, a bit of excitement returning to his voice. “I found this old-ass ray gun, maybe it’s worth something. I bet it’s been out here for, like, decades.”
“Huh,” Eddie said, walking over to where Tim stood. “Yeah, it does look weird. Lemme see it.”
Without waiting for an answer, he tried to grab it from Tim.
“Hey, no, it’s mine, I found it!” Tim said.
“Chill, man, I just want to look at it,” Eddie said, trying to grab the butt of the gun. As he did so, he inadvertently pressed the button on the gun’s butt.
Tim heard a crackling sound, and felt a warm vibration coming from the gun’s innards. Fuck, did the internal electronics break? He thought to himself.
He pulled it away from Eddie and took a closer look at it. The crackling sound and the vibration had started and stopped almost instantaneously. Tim brought the gun close to his face to see if he could smell any burning components inside. Nothing.
“I think you broke it, dude,” he said as he looked at the gun. He gave it a shake to see if there was any rattling sound coming from inside.
He pointed the gun at the ground, pressed the button again, and heard the same crackling sound and felt the same warm vibration as before.
“Maybe it’s not broken, maybe it’s supposed to be a sound effect—kind of a lame one, don’t you think?” Tim asked, still staring at the gun.
Tim looked up when Eddie didn’t reply, and was startled by what he saw.
Eddie was…just standing there, arms hanging limply at his side. His head was slightly tilted to one side, and his eyes seemed glazed…unfocused, staring off into the distance. Some drool had begun to drip from one side of his mouth.
What the fuck? Did he have some sort of seizure or something? Tim rushed towards his friend, stuffing the ray gun into his waistband.
“Oh, fuck, oh fuck, Eddie, can you hear me?” Tim grabbed him by the shoulders.
“…Yes,” Eddie replied, in a monotonous tone.
“What’s wrong, Eddie?” Tim asked.
“…Nothing,” Eddie replied.
“What do you mean, nothing? Are you just fucking with me?” Tim shook him by the shoulders.
Eddie didn’t reply.
“Eddie, what happened?” Tim stood back, looked at his friend. He didn’t understand what was going on. Was he being pranked? If so, it was one weird prank.
Eddie didn’t say anything, but one of the arms that had been hanging limply at his sides rose, and with his hand, he pointed at Tim’s waist.
Directly where he’d put the ray gun.
“…,” Tim stared at his friend, then at his waist.
“This, Eddie?” he said, taking the ray gun out.”
“…Yes,” Eddie said, slowly nodding. The drool from the corner of his mouth was now dripping off his chin.
But this—this is just a toy. He looked at the gun in his hands, feeling its weight, the coolness of the metal.
He glanced back up, saw the dazed look in his friend’s eyes.
Eddie stood there, his arms once again hanging at his sides, the drool now drip, drip, dripping off his chin. A soft wind stirred through the leaves of the forest, making the beams of light stirring through them appear to dance in the air.
Tim felt the weight of the ray gun, heavy in his hands. His mind raced.
Okay, think this through—…let’s look at the options here…
Option 1—Punk’d situation, except that makes no sense because nobody knew I was going into the woods, not even me, until less than an hour ago.
Option 2—Some sort of seizure, but if that’s the case, why can Eddie still speak? Why is he answering my questions?
Option 3—The gun actually did do something. I mean, it looks like a toy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.
Tim examined the gun more closely. The dial was firmly pointed on ‘CONTROL.’ Other than the dial and the button, he couldn’t see anything else, except…maybe underneath the duct tape?
Tim felt around for the edge of the duct tape and dug his fingernail beneath it. Using his fingernails, he peeled off the duct tape, unrolling it from the handle of the gun. Whatever glue the duct tape had used had long since dried and once he began, it was unexpectedly easy to remove the duct tape that had been rolled around the handle.
Finally, he was done. Using his fist, he balled up the duct tape and tossed it onto the ground.
Now he could see the handle a bit more clearly. With the duct tape removed, he could feel something embossed on the handle’s side. He turned it around in his palm and moved slightly so that the ray gun was directly under the light coming from above the trees.
It was text, and what it said…
What it said… was utterly ridiculous.
But there it was, clear as day, in all capital letters in a futuristic font:
‘MIND CONTROL GUN.’