I grumbled for a while, then studied the trees some more.
I briefly considered attempting to uproot them and toss them into the couch, but decided against it. In the unlikely event that Creepy was right and the trees were intelligent in some way, and ‘imprinting’ on me, then I probably didn’t want to antagonise them.
And besides, the couch may have reached its tipping point and refuse to absorb the trees, and that might just leave me with a messed-up couch and angry trees.
“This is just about the stupidest … ” I grumbled, trailed off, and stalked out of the room.
The trees, to my relief but – I had to admit – also to my surprise, did not follow me with eerie silence or a telltale spooky rustle into the kitchen. I fixed myself a snack, poured myself a coke, and returned to the living room to find them still standing where they had been.
“So,” I said to myself, “imprinting on me, eh?”
I sat down on the couch and thought about it for a while. I was still thinking when the phone rang.
“Where are you?” Creepy’s still-distant voice said.
“Oh, right now I’m not so much a where,” I said, “as a why.”
“Very funny. Over.”
“Thank you,” I said, and waited for a full thirty seconds before saying, “over,” for maximum time-wastage.
“You haven’t … tried the television again?” Creepy prodded. “Over.”
“Believe it or not, I am quite capable of going more than five minutes without the television,” I said. “I would, however, like to get some sort of solution to this situation underway before too much longer,” I sipped my coke. “Over.”
“I just thought … by now you would have tried it again,” Creepy said, in that forced-light tone that showed he was a) disgruntled about my failure to fall into his trap and b) trying to be nonchalant in his efforts to make me fall into his trap. “That’s all. Over.”
“Do you want me to try again?” I asked. “Over.”
“Okay,” I said, “over and out.”
I hung up.
I sat, watching the trees and finishing my snack. The trees did nothing. Maybe they really were developing self-awareness in tune with my own.
To be honest, I’d seen enough transferences from one layer of reality to another that nothing in this case was particularly mysterious. Not since Creepy had let slip that there was actually a transference taking place. Of course, every case was different and there were as many different variations of world-hopping mechanics as there were different types of worlds to hop into.
In the cases of non-doorway transference, there was usually a requirement of conservation-of-matter, meaning that anything to leave one place had to be replaced with something of comparable mass. Now, skinny as Creepy was, I tended to doubt that the waist-high sapling I’d first found in the living room would have been enough on its own to counterbalance his absence. And, for that matter, the region-stabilising bio-recorder had been a pretty hefty piece of equipment and far heavier than the chest-high sapling that had theoretically replaced it.
But that was explained by the deceptively simple pseudo-equation of mass-equals-energy-equals-information, and the established fact of … well, what else to call it? Translation error.
When you moved, say, a tree from one fundamentally different layer of reality to another, it was staggeringly unlikely to come out as exactly the same sort of tree you got in that layer. Especially if the stuff to go in the other direction ended up at its destination unchanged. Which – considering the fact that Creepy was actually able to contact me, even if it was from ‘someone’ instead of ‘somewhere’, and had recognised my region-stabilising bio-recorder – seemed to be the case. It was all about the direction you went in.
The phone rang again.
“Do you need me to come and rescue you?” I asked politely. “Over.”
“Okay. Over and out.”
A little tree there became a little tree with a whole lot of bizarre peripheral properties here, thus satisfying the necessity of replacing Creepy – who, I had to admit, also fitted the description ‘a little tree with a whole lot of bizarre peripheral properties’ eerily well. Not necessarily dangerous, but not necessarily not dangerous, either. And after that, the basic translation was set. So the next tree to come through was basically the same, possibly with different degrees of additional information packed into its reality matrix.
I don’t know if I’m making all of this sound simple or amazingly over-complicated. That’s sort of because it’s both. Creepy was just lucky that the transaction had been in this arbitrary direction that had allowed him to remain even remotely recognisable. Wherever these trees had come from, it was somewhat analogous to our own world. And I got to say ‘reality matrix’, so I call it a win.
But what had set this off?
I amended my line of thought as I finished my coke. What had Creepy done to set this off? Where were the trees coming from – or from whom, if that was the more meaningful question although I was personally beginning to have my doubts about that as well? Sure, a different layer of the totality of the multiverse was a difficult thing to define as a place, but he could have just said he was calling from an alternate reality and he’d swapped places with a tree – give or take a few excess characteristics – to get there.
Of course, he really wouldn’t have been Creepy if he’d said that.
Why was it happening and what did it mean? And why did the stupid stuff always happen as Christmas approached? Was it an action-and-reaction balance to the hallowed and holy Christmas truth of bygone centuries? A result of the weakness in the fabric of existence that Christmas represented? Or was it just a weird coincidence?
The phone rang again.
“You do need me to rescue you,” I said. “Over.”
“Little bit. Over.”
I sighed, hung up, and picked up the remote.
“You’d better not take anything out of our fridge,” I muttered, and turned the TV on. With a rustle, a third tree appeared. I looked around, but nothing seemed to be missing. “Damn it,” I said, and turned the TV off. If there was something Creepy wasn’t telling me – and let’s be honest, there was…
I turned the TV on once more.
And the world went away.