Of the things that could go wrong while crocheting, opening a portal had seemed like a low probability. Hand aches due to impending arthritis and headaches due to strained eyesight were usually much more common. And on one occasion Martine Stuart-Pitkin had tripped on the spooled yarn and twisted an ankle. She had always been absent-minded and accident-prone, and had later left the Society to pick up bonsai grooming as her hobby of choice. But the opening of an honest-to-goodness wormhole? No, that rather was unheard of, at least in recent times.
Indeed, Tamara Leskanich, who was the encyclopaedic memory of the East Wexford Knitting & Crocheting Society, had pointed out that there were some dubious records in the archives about incidents in the early ’20s that could refer to an earlier occurrence of this kind of mishap. Some confusing stories about a dachshund called Percy having gone missing, and about Miss Fansworth, Cathy that is, the aunt of the current Miss Fansworth of the Parish Choir, being asked not to renew her subscription to the Society
“Well,” said Arabella, “at least it’s not that big.”
Indeed, the singularity was more or less the size of a tennis ball. So far it had eaten up a mug of tea and a spoon, and a handful of sugar cubes. The four ladies of the Society now stood around it, keeping at a safe distance. It looked like the planned afternoon of crocheting and gossip was going to take a very different twist.
“This is going to mess up our schedule,” said Carolyn. She checked her watch, and sighed.
The singularity hung where it had formed, gently spinning counter-clockwise, the detritus of the consumed sugar cubes forming two tendril-like arms at the periphery of the event horizon.
“That’s what you get when you play with topology,” Tamara said, giving a hard look at Arabella. “How many times have I told you to stick to the classic patterns and not try any new design?”
“We should find a way to turn it off,” Arabella ventured, self-consciously. “Or at least move it.”
“Easier said than done,” snorted Tamara.
“But did it start, I mean, just like that?” Eliza asked. She had moved the tray with the surviving mugs out of the range of the singularity, and now stood, squinting at it.
“I don’t know how it started,” said Arabella defensively.
“That’s unimportant,” Tamara said. She was leaning towards it when her glasses slid down her nose and her grey hair was suddenly pulled forward, as if blown by an invisible wind, before she snapped back.
“For sure we can’t keep it there,” Carolyn said.
Opening an interdimensional portal in here without filing the required paperwork was going to cause no end of trouble with the library’s Stacks Manager, Professor Beecham. It was only on sufferance that the East Wexford library allowed the Society to hold its weekly reunions in the Ground Floor Small Reading Room, under the stern gaze of the founder’s portrait. Right now, the late Clyde Thrubshaw Esq.’s pale blue eyes seemed to be fixed on the strange phenomenon, and the canvas rippled gently, as if under the stimulus of a faint breeze.
“They made such a fuss over our game of flapdragon, last Christmas—” Eliza agreed.
“This is a little more serious,” Tamara said, piqued, “than raisins floating in burning brandy.”
Carolyn’s blue aluminium crocheting hook slid across the side table by her chair and shot towards the singularity, trailing a length of periwinkle sport-weight yarn. They watched in fascination as the hook twisted and bent into a knot before it disappeared with a flash, falling into the black hole with a faint ‘pop’. Behind it, the thread kept spooling as it was dragged in. Eliza stretched a hand out and cut it with a snap of her scissors. The cut thread was slurped up into the singularity, like a kid eating spaghetti.
“That was my number seven,” Carolyn said, irritation colouring her voice and her cheeks. The other women ignored her words. There were more urgent things at hand than a number seven aluminium hook.
“What’s up with the ceiling?” Arabella asked.
They looked up. Right above where the singularity was spinning, the ceiling was sagging and stretching into a liquid corkscrew cone.
“This is not good,” Tamara said. She shook her head. “Not good at all.”
The amethyst crystal hanging on a chain around her neck surged forward, and she felt the chain bite gently into her neck. She took a step back, pushing the pendant back in place with her hand, like she was smoothing the front of her blouse.
“It’s expanding—” Eliza said. Her curly hair was undisturbed, but the other three ladies’ tresses were blowing on an invisible breeze.
“And it’s getting stronger,” Carolyn added.
One of the books that lined the walls shot out of its shelf. Tamara caught a glimpse of its cover. The Joy of Cooking. Two tight orbits, and it was reduced to a bunch of loose pages, each one disappearing with a small flash and a soft, distinct sound, like a snapping of fingers.
“This is a fine mess you’ve got us in,” Carolyn said, looking hard at Arabella. “We’ll be billed for the missing books.”
“Bitching will not solve our problem,” Eliza replied.
“And we have a fund for emergencies,” Arabella said, but Carolyn just stared daggers at her.
Tamara was still staring at the singularity and holding down her amethyst pendant. Her eyes widened suddenly. “I need a book,” she said.
Carolyn arched an eyebrow. “Well, you’re in the right place, I guess.” She tended to be cutting when she was nervous.
Tamara clicked her tongue. “Not just any book,” she said. She turned to Arabella, who was closest to the door. “Make yourself useful,” she said. “Go to the front desk. Ask Miss Pringle for a copy of Atlas Shrugged.”
Arabella looked at her. “What atlas—?”
“Atlas Shrugged,” Tamara replied, trying to keep her temper under control. “A novel. Ayn Rand’s the name of the author. Go, quick.”
Arabella shifted her weight from one foot to the other, and looked at the other ladies. Then she nodded, opened the door and ran out.
With a gasp, Carolyn stared as her watch, whose band was broken, was wrenched from her wrist before it spiralled towards oblivion. “What?!”
“Would you please stand back?” Tamara said.
A second book flew towards the event horizon. Above the anomaly, the distortion on the ceiling was getting worse, and there was a thin tendril of dust motes pouring down into the portal. A low, ominous hum was filling the air.
“Try and reach the door,” Tamara said. “Get out of here.”
Carolyn looked at her, and shook her head. “What about you?”
Eliza, her back against the shelves, started sliding towards the exit.
“I’ll be fine,” Tamara replied, eyeing the singularity with suspicion. The event horizon was spiralling between her and the door. The remaining loose pages of Baking with Julia disappeared with firefly flashes and finger-snap sounds. “If only that silly girl will get me that book.”
To Tamara, Carolyn reflected, most of humanity was probably silly.
The door opened, and Arabella peeked in, looking like a scared rabbit in front of a truck. She carried a thick, well-thumbed paperback, whose cover was olive green and bronze.
“Here it is!” she announced, walking in and holding the book up.
Tamara nodded. “Let’s try this,” she whispered. And then, “Throw it in.”
“Feed the damn book to the portal!”
Arabella looked at Carolyn, who just shrugged and nodded. Arabella hefted the book, and then tossed it in the general direction of the singularity.
The book was as thick as a brick. It spun in the air and opened. A few pages flew out of the binding, and the cover curled and darkened. It hit the event horizon head-on with a loud bang and a blinding flash. Carolyn gasped, Arabella squealed in surprise, and Eliza covered her face with her arms.
When the coloured bubbles stopped dancing in front of her eyes, Tamara saw that the space at the centre of the reading room was clear. She looked up at the ceiling. There seemed to be no permanent damage.
“Are you all right?” Carolyn asked, anxiety and cautious relief creeping into her voice.
Eliza and Arabella nodded, their eyes on the woman on the other side of the room. Tamara took a step forward, then another. “Yes, it’s gone,” she said. She tucked some stray hair behind her ear.
“What—?” Arabella started. She shook her head. “I mean, how—?”
“What was that book?” Eliza asked.
“Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged,” Tamara replied. With a sigh, she sat back in her stuffed chair, and arranged the items in her knitting bag. “Came out in ’56 or ’57. It was pretty popular, for a while.”
The other women were looking at her. Carolyn was tapping her foot on the floor.
Tamara looked back at them. “My father read it when it came out.” She smiled. “Oh, let me tell you, the colonel was less than impressed with that thing.”
There was a long silence.
“Well?” asked Carolyn.
Tamara smiled again. She leaned back into the stuffed back of the chair. “My father,” she said, her eyes lost in reminiscence, “used to say the book was so boring it could fold space–time.”
The other ladies of the Society looked at each other.
“This is daft,” Carolyn said finally. “You know that, don’t you?”
“Well, it worked, did it not?”
Eliza was in the middle of the room, turning slowly around. “We’ll have to pay for the missing books,” she said.
“Nonsense,” Tamara snorted. “Nobody will miss them anyway.”
Carolyn checked her wrist, and then recalled that her wristwatch was gone.
“I had better be going,” she said. She gathered her coat and her bag.
“Yes,” Tamara agreed. “We should call it a day.”
“Shall we meet next Thursday?” Arabella asked.
“Fine by me,” Eliza said. Carolyn nodded.
“Thursday, yes,” Tamara said, standing up from her chair. She looked at Arabella. “But we’d rather stick to knitting.”
They all agreed on that.
Born and raised in Turin, Italy, Davide Mana is a former environmental scientist currently working as full time writer and translator. He lives in a small village near Asti, in the wine country of southern Piedmont, Italy, sharing an old house with his brother and a tribe of feral cats.
Art: Andrew Owens
This story is published in Shoreline of Infinity 19. If you enjoyed this story please consider buying a copy for yourself or your friends. Available in paperback and digital formats.