Creatures at an Exposition
Author: Metaldog

Chapter 1
The Phantom Phonebox

Creatures at an Exposition
by Matthew Schoaff

There it was, that blue box again.

The first time I remembered seeing it, I was driving near the Police Station in North Tonawanda.  They're always doing something weirdly historical up that way, what with the carousel factory museum right down the road, but it's usually involving carrousel animals.  I'd never seen a "Police Box" before, and I'd had no idea what it was.

But then I saw it again.

The second time I remembered seeing the box, it was on the side of the road.  No, scratch that, it was near a pond by a farm I pass every Thursday; the one where they raise bison.  I like bison.  Sometimes I think about stopping in there to see how much it would cost for a few steaks.  More than beef, I'm sure.  So as I glanced over at the sign advertising fresh bison meat and contemplated whether or not I should jot down the phone number, I noticed the blue box by the pond.

You know, that might not have been the second time.  Maybe I saw it more times than that.  It looked so familiar when I first noticed it, it was like I had seen it before but never really looked at it.  Maybe I had a vague memory of seeing one somewhere a long time ago and it just never occurred to me before that there was something weird about this blue box.

I was starting to wonder if it was some kind of holiday decoration when I saw it again on the side of the road, about a mile down.  I was so surprised that I slowed the truck down to 30 as I passed it, even though the limit was 55.  Of course, at that time, it hadn't occurred to me that it could possibly be the same box, moving about on its own.  That would be ridiculous, wouldn't it?

The next time I was sure that I saw the blue box, it was in my back yard.  There it was.  I had just poured myself a cup of coffee, and I looked outside to see how the day would be, and there it was.

There was no snow on it, and it had snowed pretty well overnight, so it looked even more out-of-place than seemed possible.  I held my coffee mug in front of my mouth, not drinking it, trying to wrestle my mind around the idea that the blue box was HERE.

---

Ok, time to back up a bit.  I need to explain a few things about the box.  It's not just a box, not really.  It's so much more than just a box.

After I had seen it on the roadside, I became curious.  I thought I saw it at least two more times that day, but couldn't be sure.  The next day I didn't see it at all, and I was so distracted by looking for it that I made two deliveries to the wrong places and had to double back.  My boss hadn't seemed to happy when I got back to the warehouse late, and my attempt at an explanation had made him less happy.  When I got home, my wife kept me busy preparing for our daughter's birthday party, and I forgot about the blue box for a while.  But eventually the excited princess went to bed, clutching the early birthday present that she had extorted as a bribe in exchange for her willing concessions to the whims of morpheus, and my exhausted wife soon followed suit.  As soon as they went to bed, I turned on my computer.  I double-clicked on my browser icon, and started to search for the blue box.

After about half an hour on various websites, I learned that Police Boxes were once a common sight in England, before constables had portable radios.  It was just a phone mounted on a big box, in which foot patrolmen could lock up criminals temporarily, and there had been many styles of these phone boxes.  But none of the pictures I found looked like the Police Box that I had seen.

Then I found it.  On an historical website about Police Boxes, a reference was made to a folkloric "phantom phonebox" that had supposedly been seen all over the world.  I searched for a while and found a link to an archive of images in a filesharing folder on a private server.

Very few of the images were from digital cameras; most were scans of old photographs or drawings.  There were even a few photographs that dated back to the earliest days of photography, and an oil painting that resembled the work of Rembrandt.  Most of them were pictures of the same Police Box that I had seen.  The same one, exactly.  Several of the pictures also had people in them; always a man, sometimes a man and a woman.  One picture had four people in it, each in a different style of attire.

As I was going through the list of files and copying them to my hard drive, I came across a snippet of video.  A placard that appeared at the beginning of the movie identified the cameraman as Thomas Edison, and the location as the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo, New York.  Of course this got my attention: that Exposition had been held less than twenty miles from my home, although it was over a hundred years ago.  The film started with President William McKinley giving a speech with Vice President Roosevelt at his side, but then the screen froze and zoomed in on a blurry Police Box in the background.

I had to know more.

There was one picture in the collection that did not have the Police Box in it.  It was titled Gallifreytree.jpg and it appeared to have been photo-shopped.  It was a large tree that looked like it was made of silver, and the sky behind it was a vivid orange.  Standing by the tree was one of the men from the other photos.  He was tall with curly hair, a burgundy coat, and a ridiculously long scarf.  In one hand he held a hat as he waved, smiling, to the camera.  At his feet, between his feet and the silvery tree trunk, was some kind of robot dog.  It was probably a radio-controlled toy.  But as strange as the colors were in the sky and the tree, the man and toy appeared to have their natural colors.  It was weird, so I kept it and transferred it with the rest of the files.

---

Sometime around two in the morning, I ran out of pictures to look at.  Police Boxes in the city;  Police Boxes in the desert... I even dreamed about Police Boxes, when I finally managed to sleep.  I was dreaming that I went inside, and it wasn't just a box, it was the Emerald City of Oz.  There was even a horse of a different color, and just as Dorothy and I were about to climb into the carriage, something woke me.

It was still dark outside, and I laid there listening, wondering why I was already awake.  But I couldn't go back to sleep.  So I climbed out of bed, pulled on some clothes, and went downstairs to make coffee.  And there it was.

At first I thought that maybe I was still dreaming, or that I was hallucinating.  But there it was, as big as life, the lights from its windows illuminating the tiny flakes of snow that were blowing around it.  I took a sip of my coffee and burned my lip.  It was still too hot, but at least I knew that I was awake, and the Police Box was still there in my back yard.

My boots were near the back door.  I stepped into them, not bothering to lace them up, and opened the door.  It was bitter cold outside, and the deep snow fell into my open boots as I approached the box.  Then I noticed the footprints.

A man's footprints led from the door on the box and towards the gate.  I followed the footprints; the moonlight reflecting on the snow was all the light I needed to see where they went.  They went down my driveway and around the house.  As I followed, I suddenly came to a terrifying realization: the footprints led to my front door.  Whoever had come out of that box was in my house, and he was alone with my wife and daughter.

My hands were shaking, either from fear or cold or both.  I fumbled with the door, and it opened easily.  It was unlocked, although I was certain that I had locked it.  I crept inside as silently as I could.  Where could he be?  I held my breath and listened... what was that?  A faint noise coming from upstairs!  I envisioned a psychopath slowly dismembering my child and broke into a cold sweat.

There it was again!  I forced myself up the stairs.  What was I doing?  I had no weapon; how could I hope to fight a serial killer with my bare hands?  I reached the top of the stairs and listened carefully.  From my daughter's room I heard a faint snore.  From the computer room I heard the faint whine of the cooling fan (which I would have to replace someday).  And then from my bedroom I heard the noise again.  I pressed my ear to the door and heard my wife giggle, and a man's voice softly murmuring.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing and I stepped back from the door in shock.  Then I heard the chair in the computer room squeak, and I forgot all about whatever was happening in my bedroom.

I spun around and ran down the hall.  The door to the computer room quickly opened and shut, and the shadow of a man stood there.  I stopped.  There was a wall switch to my right, which I flipped on.  He squinted into the light, and I recognized him immediately from one of the photos that I had found online.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Don't you know?" he replied, in a British accent.

"No." I spat, "What are you doing in my house?"

"I just brought you home."  He smiled, and continued, "And apparently a moment too soon.  Sorry about that."

"What?"

"You'll see.  Good bye now.  It'll be nice to meet you."  He started walking down the stairs.

"Hey!  Wait!"  I ran to the top of the stairs, but he was already gone.  I could see the front door closing behind him.  I walked back to the bedroom door.  It was locked, and as I tried the handle, I heard shushing sounds from inside.  I knocked on the door.  The door opened, and a man stepped out.  As he and I looked eye-to-eye, it became very clear to both of us that he was... me.

"Oh, hello!  What am I still doing here?" the other me said.

I don't entirely recall what my response was to this, but I'm fairly certain that it made little sense.  A strange sound filled my ears, and I suddenly remembered that it was the same sound that had woken me.  It sounded like a razor blade scraping along the length of a guitar string, back and forth and up and down.  It got louder and louder until I couldn't take it anymore, and I reached out towards my doppelganger.  I think I grabbed him by his shirt, but then... that's the last thing I remember from that night.

I awoke to bright sunlight shining through my bedroom window.  I put on my glasses and looked for my robe, but couldn't find it.  On the big chair near the closet I noticed my pants draped across an arm, and the shirt I had put on early that morning when I got up to make coffee and... and I suddenly remembered.  It seemed like a dream until that moment, but if it was a dream then why was the shirt on the chair?

Then I noticed something else.  There were two shirts, and two pairs of pants.  I only owned one shirt like this... and the pants... the belt was still in the belt loops.  I only owned one brown belt, but somehow I now had two.

I picked up both pairs of pants, and started to empty the pockets into two separate, but identical piles.  I had two wallets with matching ID, exact copies of my credit cards, pictures of my wife and daughter... the few bills inside even had the same serial numbers.  Two pens.  Two lighters.  Two keyrings.  That was when I found the discrepancy.  His keyring had one extra key.

It was a small, round key that I did not recognize.  I took it off the keyring, put on the pair of jeans that I was now certain were my own and not the property of my duplicate, and slipped the key into the small fifth pocket on my hip.  Then I put on my shirt (which was mine?) and headed downstairs.

---

Sitting at the kitchen table, reading my morning newspaper, wearing my robe and drinking my coffee from my favorite mug, was my double.  My wife and daughter sat across from him, staring at me as I entered the room, frozen in fear.  I tried to reassure them without making a sound, but the other me spoke first.

"Sweetie," he said, addressing my wife, "I'm sorry that I'm so noisy.  I never realized how loudly I snore."  He put down the newspaper and turned to face me.  "And if it weren't for time travel, I never would have known.  Good morning, sleepyhead!"

"Time travel."

"Time travel!"

I sat in a kitchen chair next to him.  Me.  Whoever.  I sat in a chair next to that thing that looked like me.  I must have gotten too close because he jerked away suddenly.  "Careful!" he said, "We can't touch.  Burns a hole in the fabric of the universe, or something like that."

"Then why are you here?  Who was that guy who brought you here?  What's up with the Police Box?"  Suddenly remembering, I bolted to the kitchen window.  A square depression in the snow provided the evidence that it had really been there.  "It's gone!"

"Gone?  What is?" he asked.

"The Police Box!  It was in the back yard!"

My double stood up from my chair and looked me in the eye.  "We landed in the living room."


 

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