Joe Harper's Fridge
and what came out of it

By K M Lawrence

Three days before Halloween 1995 was the day that we found out that Billy Sykes was one of them, the day that Lissa let me take off her bra for the first time, and I guess the day that I did what I'd always wanted to do - fuck up the town of Shiphook for good. Although nobody knew that till later, of course.

I wanted to do more with Lissa, of course I did, but she was all churched up, so I took what I could get and when she said she had to get back in time for dinner with her folks I just let her go - I wasn't going to go pleading or any crap like that, you get a reputation that way, and fuck if I was going to be with Lissa for the rest of my life, you know? I knew that the little town of Shitpoke was too small for me, too small for anyone really, but some folks like to feel shoehorned into a place, and Lissa's family was like that. She was the hottest girl in school, no doubt, but - you know, a town of three thousand people has got what, a hundred teenagers, fifty of them are girls? Someone's got to be hottest, forty-nine other girls from some nowhere hole on the edge of the schism aren't exactly going to provide the stiffest competition, right?

I used to think, back at the time, that I'd look back on her - I was going to say fondly, but that's just some cliche phrase they crapped into our heads in English lessons. No, I thought I'd look back someday and think about her with some little Shiphook husband who worked in the mine office, two goofy children, some craphole apartment in a block with picket fences around it to fool people into thinking they were living their dreams out. I could imagine her greeting him back from work with a peck on the cheek and helping him to dinner on some laminate-top table, and I'd just laugh and laugh and think about whether he knew that I'd been there first, that she'd given me a blow-job in my brother's car with the roof down while I threw cans and bottles and whatever other shit was in the back seat into the schism.

Not happening now, of course. We used to say that if you didn't get out of Shiphook by the time you were 20, you were never getting out. I left when I was nineteen, and then - well, six months later there was no-one getting out, and by the time I was twenty there was nothing left to get out of, just breach 184 and them.

So anyway - I didn't much fancy spending the evening with Dad and Janet, so I thought I'd head down to the local night-spot for any self-respecting Shiphook rebel. This was before my brother had his car, so I took my bike - about twenty minutes it used to take at that time. Two minutes to the end of the road (which is pushing it a bit) our house was on, then the main road through town for five minutes, then five minutes up mine road and the rest to make it through the forest and the brush to our meeting spot, away from where the scientists and the odd mad tourists came to look at the schism. I got there just in time to catch the argument between Billy Sykes and Joe Harper, the argument that would end - well, the argument that would end Shiphook, I suppose.

"You stupid fucker!" Harper was shouting, over and over while Sykes was trying to tell him that he hadn't done it on purpose, that it was an accident, all kinds of stuff like that - his dad would fix it, he'd find a replacement, whatever.

As I got out into the little clearing I could see that something was up, and took a good guess at what had happened. Sykes was always a clumsy bastard, a skinny kid a little bit taller than me but no muscles, always stooping like he was ashamed of being tall or some crazy thing. He'd rode his bike into my dad's car once and earned the both of us (because my dad was nothing if not unfair) a smack in the head. This time, it was the fridge.

Harper (plus me, my brother, and Wop Karl) had dragged it in here two years ago, after Harper found it in a dump and convinced his dad to help him fix it up somehow. It was a little fridge with an old-style locking door handle rather than a magnetic strip and powered (thanks to Mr. Harper) by a car battery that Harper used to bring to the clearing on the back of his bike. Turned up full, it would drain the battery over a couple of hours and cool down enough to give us some reasonably cold beers or cokes, or whatever. It stank like crap because someone had once left food in there for a month with no power, but - well, the beer was inside the bottle, it wasn't like we were drinking the slime on the bottom.

Except it was pretty obvious to me that there wasn't going to be any more problem with smell, but sadly no cold beers for a while either. The fridge was laying on its side, the pipes at the back that made it work busted all to shit. I guess the gas in them was long gone, way up high fucking up the atmosphere like it had always dreamt of, no doubt.

"Hey, dumbasses," said Joe Creeks, who was looking through his telescope. "Shut the fuck up."

"The fridge," Harper screamed, "the fridge! Don't tell me to shut the fuck up, you shut the fuck up!"

"Shut the fuck up," I told him, emerging from the forest. Harper, for all his stupid-ass redneck pride, knew his place. I'd punched it into him a couple times before - I forget what about, it's not important.

"Hey Roberts," Creeks said.

"Hey. What's up with the fridge?"

Joe Creek's Telescope

Creeks looked back from the telescope and stared at the broken refrigerator as if it had always been like that.

"I guess this dumbass knocked it over," he said carefully, "then this dumbass started getting louder and louder, and now it's like - I dunno, they must be looking over the schism and wondering why we hang out with screechy bitch and whiney bitch."

I walked over to him, ditching my bike onto the broken fridge. Joe Creeks was the oldest of us, a full year older than me, but too strange to be the boss. He drank with us, he joked with us, but the two things he wouldn't do were one: tell people what to do, and two: shoot over the schism. He brought down his telescope, which if it had belonged to anyone else would probably have got kicked over the edge of the valley long ago, and he just stared out over the river valley, over the schism that was where the river should have been, and to the other side where they gathered to do their thing, whatever the fuck that was.

"What are they up to?" I asked as if I didn't care - which, guess what? But you had to humour the guy.

He looked back into the eyepiece, fiddled with the focus a bit, then hummed.

"Hmmm. Well, we got the usual looky-looes, then there's one of the big things, then we got a couple of them fiddling with some sort of machine."

That got my interest (OK, so I did care a little).

"They got machines?" I asked. He stood up and gestured for me to take a look.

Joe Creeks' telescope was an old naval one rather than some astronomical model, not much better than a good pair of binoculars or the rifle scope, but it had an L-shaped eyepiece and a good tripod with a stiff mount that meant he could set it up to watch something and then turn it over to one or other of us to look at without us having to adjust it or find the target again. I leant over and peered over at the other side of the schism.

I don't know what it was really, but I could see that there wasn't any other good way to describe the thing. It was a machine, alright. It was made of the same weird grey stuff that they were made of, so maybe - I don't know - maybe it was a creature more than a thing, but it was sat there just like a generator, and two of them were working on it, two of the ones that look mainly like us except grey and except for the mouth thing. They had funny baskets and they were taking things out and attaching them to the bigger thing. Sometimes it looked like they were gluing them on, sometimes it looked more like they were feeding it - but I couldn't make out much detail, you can't see much unless they're standing right on the edge of the cliff above the schism, not with that fog stuff.

"Here," Joe Creeks said, and gently pushed me aside. He looked down into the eyepiece and swung the telescope around, refocused, and stood up again. With a nod of the head he invited me to look again, and I did. "That one looks like it's making measurements or something," he said, and sure enough it was holding a stick up in the air, running it's hand (or whatever they have) along it and then mimed like it was writing something in a book. Except there was no book. "I can't for the life of me see what it's measuring, though," Joe complained. "Is it measuring the air?"

"Fuck if I know," I said. Behind us, Joe Harper and Billy were still bickering quietly, and I saw Harper punch his opponent at the top of his arm. "Hey, I got an idea," I called out. "Get the gun."

Now what you should know is that the gun is a hunting rifle that belonged to my mother's father, so of course I didn't want my dumb crap of a father to get his hands on it, much less Janet who'd probably melt it down to make a statue of a deer or whatever. So I kept it in the clearing, where late in the evening we used it to take potshots at the other side. It's not a very good rifle, though, so we never hit any of them, even the big ones. But the machine - that was much bigger.

"Take a look," I told Joe Harper, pointing at the telescope. "Hey, show him the machine."

Joe Creeks obliged.

"About 200 meters," Joe Harper said. He was good at estimating distance, which didn't usually make any difference on account of the crappy rifle, but it made us feel a bit more badass, like we were those assholes who went hunting in stupid orange jackets but could shoot the nuts off a sparrow half a mile away.

"What are you doing?" Sykes asked me. He looked over the schism as I lay down, resting the rifle on the bottom of an old beer bottle that I'd pushed top-down into the ground to act as a jerry-rig monopod. I adjusted the sight, and carefully lined up on the machine. The view through the sight wasn't as good as through the telescope - the magnification was pretty much as good, but the field of view much worse, so it took me a minute to scan around until I got pointed in the right direction. There were still the two of them fussing around it, and I aimed at the top middle of the machine, assuming that the drop would counter out any inaccuracy that would send the bullet up over the top.

It was different from usual. I normally felt bigger, like I imagined a sniper would feel, kind of like a god looking through a scope and deciding another person's life for them. Except they weren't people of course, and there was no chance of me hitting them. Still, it was good to just be screwing with someone. But this time, shooting at the machine, maybe, I knew. I wasn't just taking a pop at some thing, I was starting something. I started to slowly squeeze the trigger.

"No!"

The sound alone would have saved the machine - I jerked like someone with a cow-prod jabbed in them, and my finger clamped onto the trigger. The rifle fired, and I heard a yell from my left and some motion caught my eye - the motion of Joe Creeks' tripod tipping forwards, slowly at first, but then toppling forwards over the edge.

"No no no!" Joe Creeks yelled, diving forwards - but too late. The telescope and tripod rolled over and over three times, coming to rest in a bush about four meters down the slope. "What did you do that for?" He demanded, and I wondered the same thing as I rolled over to look at Sykes. He was crouched over me, arm outstretched, frozen in the pose he'd dived into to push the rifle barrel away.

"You can't do it," he said, panicked.

I rolled over onto my side and kicked him in the back of the right knee before he could react. His leg bent, and he collapsed sideways, his arm out so that his hand hit me on the hip and he fell over my legs. I kicked him off, and scrambled up to my feet.

My Gun

"My telescope."

"I know," I said. I don't know what inspiration hit me, but I grabbed Sykes - one hand on his shoulder, one in the middle of his back, and bundled him to the fridge, half dragging him, half carrying him, while he struggled and thrashed, arms and legs going everywhere.

"Put me down! What the.. what are you?"

Joe Harper saw immediately what I was about, and rushed in front of me, pulling open the fridge door and yanking out the shelves from within. Sykes knew then too, and yelled even louder, but I pushed him out and then punched him in the stomach with all the force I could manage, driving the air out of him in one explosive scream. He went limp, gasping for air as if he were being strangled, and Joe Harper and I thrust him into the empty cavity. He fit handily once we bent his legs so that his knees supported his head. I swung the door closed and heard it latch shut.

"That's right," Joe Harper shouted, and kicked at the side of the fridge.

I turned back to Joe Creeks, who was staring forlornly down the hill. I suppose it would have happened eventually. You can't just bring something out like that and hope that it doesn't get broken. I walked over to him and punched him gently on the arm.

"I reckon I could get down there," he said quietly.

Now I am all for fucked-up stupidity, and I'd be lying to you if I said for a second that I did not want to see Joe Creeks climb down that slope. It was like two in one, and the chance of him losing his footing and rolling down into the schism - well, I don't think anyone would want to miss that. I liked him, you know - well, I mean he was alright, but who'd ever seen anyone go into the schism? Maybe some old-timey folks, or a scientist or something, but no-one for twenty years at least. I wanted to know whether it would burn up a person the same way it did a brick, or if he'd evaporate like the beer bottle I threw in that one time or whatever it was happened to that nerd's bicycle (it's hard to explain, it was like it folded in all directions at once).

Joe Harper was a bit more of a pansy, though. Not so as to stop Joe Creeks, but enough to remember that there was a length of rope that we'd used when we brought the fridge into the clearing, and that it was nylon so there was every chance it might still be OK to hold Joe Creeks' weight.

"It's here somewhere, I keep seeing it on the way in." The three of us stumbled around in the undergrowth until finally I spotted a length wrapped round a tree (it was bright blue, pretty easy to see in hindsight), and between us we managed to extract the whole length of it. We tied a brick around it and threw that down the slope to check that it would go far enough (it did - probably twice as far as necessary), then Joe Creeks tied it round his belt buckle at one end and a nearby tree stump at the other end and began to lower himself down.

I felt cheated by how easy it was - he let himself down from scrubby bush to scrubby bush, carefully handling the line behind him to make sure that it wouldn't get snagged on anything on the way back up. About halfway there the ground crumbled out from under his feet and he slid down a couple of feet, but he caught himself. I found myself eyeing the rope and my hand went to my pocket-knife - but no. If Joe Creeks went into the schism of his own accord that was one thing, but if I did it there was no way it wouldn't be murder, and there was no way I was getting out of here just to get stuck in juvie.

Joe Creeks pulled himself back up to the top of slope and untied himself, then set up his tripod again and brushed the dust off the telescope. He looked down into the eyepiece, fiddled with focus, then panned it around.

"It's OK," he said. "Uhh..."

I didn't care, though. I was looking from the edge to the fridge, and thinking how much the fridge had weighed. Not that much. Not enough to snap the rope - not back then, and not now I would guess.

I picked up the end, looped it around the fridge - through the handle, behind the coolant pipes, and around the motor, which I figured would do it. Joe Harper was watching me, and as he realised what I was doing he started to laugh.

"Shut up, idiot," I hissed. grabbing the bottom edge, I strained and managed to tip it up onto its top. It was quite a way to the edge - too far for just me, really. I could have done it, no doubt, but why keep a dumbass and bark yourself? I gestured to Joe Harper to come over and join me.

"Hey, hey!" A muffled shouting from within the fridge, and a banging. I imagined Sykes thumping weakly at the slimy walls of the fridge, barely able to move his hands enough to make an impact in the cramped space. "Hey, what's going on? Guys? Guys?"

Bam, the fridge flipped onto its back. Then upright, the front, the top, the back, and with every flip it got closer and closer to the edge. Joe Creeks was watching us - I caught his eye, but he gave me that look, the I'm-not-getting-involved look, then went back to his telescope.

We came to the edge.

"Here we are, at the edge!" I said loudly. "One more flip and over he goes. Think he's going to fizzle?"

Joe laughed, and kicked at the fridge door.

"Guys? Guys, I'm sorry. What are you doing? Don't, please..."

"Not good enough!" I yelled at the door. "Not good enough, motherfucker!"

"They're looking," Joe Creeks said quietly. I turned. There was no need for a telescope. On the other side of the schism I could clearly see them, lined up expectantly at the edge of the cliff. It was like they were waiting for something.

"Caught your attention, you fucks!" I yelled over to them. I'd wanted to string it out a bit longer, but the sudden audience made me impulsive. Putting my shoulder against the side of the fringe I lunged forward sharply, and the fridge toppled over, smacking into the ground.

Of course it didn't roll - we'd been turning it over the hard way, and gravity wasn't as stubborn as me. It lay there on its side, half over the edge, a frantic screaming and hammering coming from inside. I kicked it a few times to turn it around ninety degrees, then another shove to the top side sent it rolling.

"That's weird," said Joe Creeks.

Kicking up dust, the fridge rolled over and over, picking up speed as it bumped and skidded down towards the schism, the sickening solid blackness of the schism that had been there for three hundred years, ever since it rose out of the bottom of the river and devoured it.

I was standing gently on the rope to slow things down a bit (and so that there wasn't a short sharp shock that would snap the rope - again, I didn't think that it would look good to the pigs if the fridge went into the schism, no matter how good it would look when it burnt, or exploded, or imploded). It was almost at full stretch, but it never got there. Sykes had been yelling and screaming but it go worse and worse, and there was something wrong about it, a sound like a jet engine heard a long way away, or a cat yelling at night. I was just beginning to think that something must have gone wrong with his voice when the back of the fridge exploded out, a gunmetal-grey arm smashing through the cooling pipes and grill and punching into the ground. The fridge stopped instantly.

"Holy shit," Joe Harper said. "He - he - he's one of them!"

Dumbfuck that I was, it took me a few seconds to realise what he was saying, then suddenly it was obvious. Bill Sykes was clumsy, he was a clumsy tall stupid bastard, he couldn't control himself like a normal person and the reason was simple - he wasn't a normal person, he was a thing, a thing that should be on the other side of the schism but somehow wasn't.

Below, another arm appeared, and the two of them ripped open the fridge like a plastic bag, the weird grey head that we'd seen through the telescope popped out of it like something in a monster flick. Bill Sykes screamed again, and I guess that was a first too, because me and Joe Harper must have been the first people to see what those screwed-up mouths looked like when they were open.

Then it was panic all round. The thing that had been Bill scrambled out of its prison and started to scramble up the hill. But easy as it was for the fridge to roll down, it was impossible for Bill to climb back up, the ground crumbling under its mad feet. Joe Harper was freaking out, saying it was coming to get him, that it was my idea, that it was going to come up here and kill us, and over to the side Joe Creeks was waving and pointing at something, but all I could look at was the figure below us, desperately trying to get its footing. I knew, you see - I'd looked at the ground around it first of all, the first moment I saw it slide. I knew that it was going to go into the schism. It was all loose rocks, shale and gravel, and if you've ever tried to walk up a steep bank of that you know that there's nothing doing.

Joe Harper's Fridge

It slid backwards and down, ever more desperate now that it could understand what was happening. I couldn't believe my luck. I wasn't going to go to jail, I was going to get a goddamn medal! It screamed again, and now it was just a meter from the schism, and this was it, this was the moment...

Nothing. It was the worst anti-climax moment, just nothing. Bill Sykes vanished instantly - like he vanished in between me blinking and opening my eyes. I couldn't believe he wasn't still there, that's how fast he had gone. Joe Creeks was calling for me, but only with a great effort could I turn my head round to him. He was pointing wildly over the schism.

"...the machine," he was saying. "The machine!"

I looked up, expecting my audience. They had gone, clustered in a great group around the machine, which was now bulging obscenely, pipes or tentacles or something just barely visible flapping around it. I rushed to Joe Creeks and pushed him out of the way, and as I put my eye to the eye-piece I saw it - the bulging birth or expulsion of that thing, the thing I had known for five years as Bill Sykes as the machine that had somehow rescued it from the schism spat it out onto the ground. The others clustered around Bill and pulled it upright. It pushed them aside and walked to the cliff edge where it stood, staring out across at me. I had the uncomfortable feeling of being watched back, as though it were staring into the eyepiece of its own telescope, one pointed into ours.


So there's the story of the day three days before Halloween of 1995. The day that I got to see Lissa Hamilton's tits, the day we found out about Bill Sykes, and the day they learnt that their machine worked, that they could move themselves across the schism.

When I talked to Joe Creeks later he said that he watched them until it was dark, and Bill Sykes just kept looking out over the cliff, staring at the telescope even when I was gone. Joe Creeks kept going back to look but I found better things to do, especially consoling Lissa when the news started to spread around town about Bill Sykes disappearing. They said an organised porn ring got him, and neither I nor the Joes troubled to correct them. I think Joe Harper might even have started the rumour.

I guess the other side never learnt that you can't judge a whole town by the behaviour of just one person, though, because when they finally got round to expanding the schism over Shiphook they did it fast to make sure there was no chance that anyone would escape.

Last laugh's on them, though, because I was six months gone by that time.