"Mom! It's glitchin' again!"
Molly Higgins is a patient lady. And a loving mother. But really? Again? This is too much. She takes a swig of her energy drink, finds her center and heads toward her adolescent gamer's bedroom. On the way there, she spots her son's tablet on the kitchen table. Well that's odd, she thinks to herself with lowered eyebrows.
"Sweetie, here is your ---"
Device in hand, Molly enters her child's room and finds him, transfixed, in front of the window. She lays the tablet on the bed and joins her son. "Oh dear," she says while placing a reassuring hand on his back. "Those are our new neighbors. The Glitchesons, I believe."
"What's wrong with them, Mom? Why do they keep --- how do they keep doing that?"
The single supermom fakes a confident smile, designed to conceal an unsettling thought. I wish I knew the answer to that. But no need to upset her son by giving voice to such internal dialogue.
"Honey, they are just ---" Molly's eyes suddenly dart back and forth, as if visually tracking some fast-moving object. "They are just a little different, that's all. Nothing wrong with being different. Nothing at all."
At this point the unusual sounds of hissing and crackling can be heard. Mother and son simultaneously cast a perplexed look at one another.
"Mom, where did they come from?" One more question to which she has no legitimate and honest answer. Nor does anyone else in town, apparently.
"Let's talk about it later, dear. Okay? I have a headache."
She reaches up and closes the pixel-patterned curtains. The sun has yet to set. Hours remain before darkness falls. As she turns and walks away, she glances in the dresser mirror. For all the world, she thinks she sees the reflection of a tree's shadow zooming past the covered window. No you didn't, Molly, she tells herself. You just didn't.
Welcome to the sleepy suburb of Hollow Graham. The sunny-yellow sign warmly invites you inside. As you enter, you see the usual. There are quaint shops, manicured lawns and more than a few bicycles in motion. You almost expect to see Otis stumbling toward the courthouse or Barney ticketing a jaywalker.
If you require an elevator here, well you're out of luck, I'm afraid. You see, there are no high-rise structures here in Hollow Graham. Ironic indeed - because there are strangers in town who are about to take the everyday reality of this place to a whole new level.
"Are you seeing this?!"
"What do you mean, am I seeing it? Of course I am!"
This exchange - or some version of it - is intermittently taking place on the immaculate sidewalks of Hollow Graham. The downtown street is lined with shocked spectators. The main attraction? A car. But this car is unlike any other witnessed by earthly eyes. At least in the real world, outside of smartphones and television screens.
"That's impossible!," cries out a voice amidst the gawking crowd.
"Did you put those tires on, Bill?," jokes another voice, directing the sarcastic question to Hollow Graham's sole mechanic.
Said tires are spinning nicely. There's just one problem with this picture. The tires are in the wrong place. They are...inexplicably and impossibly...ahem...on the roof. That's not all. The bottom of the crazy car, where the tires should be, is levitating above the pavement.
Suddenly the car backfires, sending it to --- well, nobody knows. It simply (or maybe not so simply) vanishes into the pristine air of Hollow Graham. There are a few scattered gasps, but mostly stunned silence. The collective noodle of the crowd struggles to process this ridiculously-illogical event.
Finally, a painfully-uncool dad speaks up. "Maybe it was Marty McFly in there." Not getting the ancient movie reference, the man's preteen kids glare at him in consternation. He presses on. "You know, Marty McFly? Back to the Future? Doc Brown? Time travel? DeLorean?"
The driver of the car was not, in fact, Marty McFly. It was one Bugs Glitcheson - husband to Milli, father to Digit and giver of new meaning to the phrase "stranger in town." Indeed, stranger things are happening in Hollow Graham.
A familiar voice returns.
"That was one glitchin' ride."
The man is certain that he will get some laughs from his offspring this time. A chuckle or two, at the very least.
"Oh come on! No points for that one? I'm dyin' up here."
"Dad," implores his youngest. "Call it a night."
Everyone calls it a night eventually. But this night, and this incident, won't be soon forgotten.
Let's get something straight. There is something decidedly nonlinear about the Glitchesons. As the town's gaggle of gossipers put it, something is a little off. (Actually, something more colorful was said.) But what? What is it, exactly?
There's really no other way to put it. They glitch. And not metaphorically. They seem to be living, walking, scratched-up DVDs. Witnesses have observed bizarre distortions in their appearance. At times, they have been caught exhibiting extreme "lagging" behavior. But the plot thickens.
The glitching phenomenon has apparently spread to their surroundings - in fact, to everything that concerns them. (Consider the car.) It's as if there are diffusing waves of some sort of "glitch field" emanating from the Glitchesons. The anecdotal evidence for this theory is quite impressive. And, for the suburbanites of Hollow Graham, equally unnerving.
First up: the family dog. At least the neighbors think it might be a dog. No one has actually ever laid eyes on the creature. It does "bark," although even this is a point of puzzlement. There seems to be a robotic-sounding quality to it at times. And occasionally, so it's claimed, there is some sort of unnatural interruption in the vocal flow of the bark. The adjective most commonly chosen to describe this auditory anomaly? Choppy. "Maybe that's it's name," quipped a particular urchin with a future in professional smart-alec-ness.
The tales only get more fantastical from here. Rain falling in a zig-zag pattern. Clouds of multiple hues instantly disappearing and reappearing across a salt-and-pepper sky. The lush lawn morphing into a virtual ocean of wavy lines. Trees that impossibly and unpredictably change locations on the property. Leaves taking ridiculous amounts of time to reach the ground.
Lately, one profound question has been asked repeatedly in Hollow Graham. "What tha ---?"
Yes. What tha indeed.
"Are you kidding me? Throw it! Hurry up and throw it!"
"Shut your milk dud. It won't stand still!"
The time? Halloween night. The place? The Glitcheson yard. The voices? Two teenage pranksters, armed with good ol' American toilet paper. The mission? Decorate a tree and run. The problem? A glitching tree that refuses to cooperate.
Roll goes up, roll comes down. It doesn't make contact with its branched target. The tree keeps zipping back and forth like The Flash - or at least the Road Runner. Finally it disappears altogether, as if deleted.
"Oh, just forget it!," exclaims the older of the two.
They turn around to flee, only to be forcefully knocked to the ground. They have run smack into the elusive tree. It has reappeared behind them.
Flat on their scraped backs, the youngsters look at one another with wide eyes. It's becoming a common facial expression in Hollow Graham these days.
"It's a very simple question, Digit." The mysterious girl looks up at her school teacher with eyes that seem to flicker. Ignoring this, Mr. Armstrong continues. "Where are you and your parents from?" Interesting question, to be sure. Interesting and understandable. But far from simple. And certainly not very.
You see, this glitching thing extends beyond the family's behavior and environment to their verbal communication. (You really didn't expect them to talk like normal human beings, did you?) This speech abnormality manifests as a bizarre mixture of choppy English and vocalization of binary code. At any point during a conversation, even during mid-sentence, a binary stream of 0s and 1s will flow from lagging lips. Of course, good luck in finding someone in Hollow Graham who has heard this "glitchspeak." It has happened, but only on rare and exceptional occasions.
Today happens to be one of these occasions.
Digit finally answers. Or at least replies.
"It's 01100011 01101111 01101101 01110000 01101100 01101001 01100011 01100001 01110100 01100101 01100100."
Did you get that? Neither did her teacher. But Mr. Armstrong is nothing if not thoroughly prepared for every classroom situation. Based on previous interactions with this most unconventional of pupils, he had downloaded a binary code translation app onto his phone.
The dedicated educator requires a few minutes to input the spoken numbers into the app. Digit waits patiently, her head zipping in multiple directions at lightning speed. For any other student, this would be great cause for alarm. But Mr. Armstrong knows that she's just glitching right now.
"So it's...complicated, huh?" The translation is complete. "Then why don't you try to explain it to me?"
This might take a while.
Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, a background story for the ages begins to emerge...
The mundane environs of Hollow Graham temporarily fade into oblivion. Digit is no longer sitting in the desk-lined classroom. She is no longer looking into the attentive face of her teacher. Suddenly she is far away - so very far away. The transcendent vehicle of her memory has "teleported" her through time, beyond space, across dimensions. She finds herself in a very familiar place. Home. Original home.
A storm is brewing. (Well technically, a "matrix malfunction" is initializing.) An epic event is on the horizon. It's set to arrive in just a little bit. After it has passed through, a family will be gone.
Light becomes darkness. Powerful currents sweep across the field. Bright bursts of high-voltage energy materialize overhead. An unnerving medley of noises sound. It's definitely near.
At last the monster comes into view. A ferocious funnel - a vicious vortex - is rapidly approaching. The doomed family helplessly brace for the inevitable. This is goodbye. It doesn't take long. In an instant, it's all over.
This tragedy doesn't strike on the tornado-prone plains of a Midwestern state. It doesn't occur on Earth at all. Where, then? On the alternate plane of a different dimension. And the "twister"? A furiously-rotating vortex of incredible, exotic energy. A wormhole gone wild, if you will. And unlike an earthly tornado, it doesn't destroy. Instead, this thing sucks its victims up like a gargantuan vacuum cleaner, then deposits them in another dimension of its choosing. Imagine The Wizard of Oz in reverse.
The victims in our story? None other than the newest citizens of Hollow Graham. That's right. The Glitchesons are the bizarro, interdimensional versions of Dorothy and Toto. They find themselves stuck in a world for which they were never intended, and to which they are ill-suited, to say the least.
Summertime in Hollow Graham is a stressful time for young Digit - indeed, for her parents as well. While the neighbors bask in the sun, the Glitchesons remember. They recall the spherical object which, perpetually suspended above their heads, hurled photons down upon their world. But these beams of light did far more than turn night into day. The other-dimensional orb created reality itself - the reality they knew - by the holographic projections emanating from it.
For, you see, the Glitchesons are natives of a holographic world. A fish doesn't flop and gasp for air in the water. Neither did the Glitchesons glitch prior to the "wormnado" which summarily booted them from their natural environment.
Now, marooned on a spinning rock, in a physical universe, bound to a different reality system - there's a whole lot of glitchin' goin' on. But hey - they are (g)raphically-(l)agging (i)n(t)erdimensional (ch)aracters. Go ahead and call them the Glitches. You certainly won't be the first.
Oh, just one more thing. The next time a glitch intrudes on gametime or movie night, here's what you do. Mosey on over to the window. Take a peek through the blinds. You just might have some new neighbors.
Author Notes: Sci-fi + Comedy = "Meet The Glitches"