Short Story | ‘The House of Gravity’ by Bruce Meyer, Illustration by Péter János Novák
Aidan Scelestus and Emma Drommel, hand in hand, arrived late one night at a stately old mansion on the outskirts of the city of Atraville. There they stood on a wide porch of white Greek columns and ornamental wooden trim.
“It’ll be alright,” Emma said.
Aidan wasn’t so sure.
When Emma knocked, a stout old lady wearing a long flannel robe answered warily.
“We’re so sorry to disturb you,” Emma said, “but we’re down on our luck.”
“My, it’s sure late for you young people to be out and about,” the lady said. Her old wrinkled face softened when she saw they were holding hands. “How may I help you?”
“Could we stay here tonight?” Emma said.
“This is a religious place. You’ll have to stay in separate rooms. We’re the House of Gravity, you know.”
Emma hugged Aidan, “That’s alright. We’re just happy to find a place to stay.”
The lady smiled. “You look tired. Come on in.” She grasped Emma’s arm and led her inside, “My, you’re so hot!” Aidan followed after them, careful to let the door shut quietly. Emma carried a brown synthetic bag close around her left shoulder while Aidan kept his right hand in his pocket. The lady took them through the entryway into an elaborate room. It appeared more like a museum than a church with its antique wooden furniture and polished oil lamps.
“Please have a seat while we get your rooms ready.” She rang a bell next to the door. Emma set her bag down on the floor and took a seat on a couch engraved with intricate black leatherwork; Aidan sat in a hardwood chair across from her.
“You’re such a handsome couple.” The lady sat down stiffly next to Emma. “My name is Sister Rhetor. It’s the eternal power of gravity that holds everything together. Gravity binds us to the earth, it keeps the moon around the earth, and it holds the earth to the sun. The evil we fear is dark energy, because it pushes everything apart.” She ran her wrinkled fingers lovingly through a strand of Emma’s long black hair. “You’re too pretty to have anything to do with dark energy.”
While the Sister Rhetor talked with them, Aidan looked around the room. Beyond the furniture of walnut and cherry and intricate black leather was an upright rectangular box covered with thick bare cable. It looked raw, out of place in this reception room of a church.
Aidan nodded to the device, “What is that?”
“That is our shrine,” Sister Rhetor said. She turned back to Emma. “Did you know some Atraville college students did an awful thing?” She shivered and hugged herself. “The police were just by asking about them. They released dark energy from the hidden dimensions. They became the cursed dark energy beasts. I gave our talk of gravity to one of the poor officers who came to warn us. I think he began to see the light.” She looked directly Emma. “Do you believe?”
Emma glanced at Aidan. She reached down and clutched her bag with her right hand. Aidan turned away to study the shrine further.
“What’s wrong, child?” Sister Rhetor said. “Is there something the matter?”
Emma let go of her bag and looked back at Sister Rhetor. Her lips quivered as she spoke. “We used to be followers of the Ancient Physics. We believed; we really did. We obeyed the fathers of physics. Aidan was very devoted, more so than me, I’ll admit. But we followed them as well as anybody did, wouldn’t you say, Aidan?”
Aidan nodded in agreement, and then glanced down at his hand still perched in his jeans pocket.
Emma turned back to Sister Rhetor. “I had questions. The laws didn’t work for me anymore. So I left to find out the truth for myself. Aidan came with me. That’s why we’re running away.”
“Well, bless you young people.” Sister Rhetor patted the back of Emma’s hand. “You didn’t come here by accident tonight. This is just where you’re supposed to be. You have a good night’s rest. We’ll talk more about the eternal power of gravity tomorrow when your minds are fresh.” She got up slowly, pressing the small of her back. “Oh, I hurt so much these days.”
Emma jumped up to help her.
“Oh my, child, are you alright?” Sister Rhetor reached out a hand to touch Emma’s face. “Why do you have blisters moving across your face?”
“Emma, your bag!” Aidan said. He spotted it behind the lady, out of Emma’s reach. His warning came too late. Emma’s face exploded like a volcano bursting with lava.
Sister Rhetor pointed a finger at Emma, “You’re poisoned! You’ve used dark energy. You’re the one they’re searching for! Help! The beasts!”
“Emma, grab your bag!” Aidan said.
Emma raised her boiling hands to feel her head.
“Help,” Sister Rhetor screamed. “Help me!”
“We have to run!” Aidan said.
“Dark energy!” Sister Rhetor shrieked. “They’re evil!”
Emma bent over with her head in her hands. Aidan grabbed her hand to pull her, but she wouldn’t move. “Emma, we have to get out of here!” he said.
“We didn’t change,” Emma said. “The bag doesn’t work. All I did was hide my disease. I’ll never be human again.”
Drawn by the commotion, others in the house gathered in the room. Several middle-aged ladies, a bald-headed man, and others rushed in. A teenage boy, unsure of what to think, stood off to the side with the several young girls. The room filled with disciples. Everybody was terrified by Emma’s appearance and the old lady’s hysterical screams.
“Help! She’s evil!”
A thick-bearded man in a black robe, the group’s priest, entered the room followed by two male attendants in their early twenties, one tall and one stocky.
“It’s the beast!” Sister Rhetor pointed at Emma.
“Quick! Get her into the shrine.” The priest’s booming voice carried easily above the screams and commotion. “We can’t allow this to spread.”
They grabbed Emma from each side and threw her into the upright box, slamming the lid shut. A section through the coils had a small square window that allowed Aidan to see inside. Emma placed her bubbling hands on the window.
“Quiet!” the priest said. The crowd hushed instantly like well-trained animals. “We are witnessing the evils of dark energy in our lifetime. We must cleanse this poor infected soul.” The priest pointed to the tall disciple and commanded him, “You, start our ritual.”
He jumped to a panel while all the others knelt down. As he turned a large dial, white lights flashed around its circumference.
“What can purge dark energy from among us?” the priest said.
“The weight of gravity,” the congregation responded in unison.
Remarkably, Aidan saw the percolations in Emma’s flesh subside.
“Higher,” the priest said.
The disciple cranked the dial even further. Patches of Emma’s smooth skin returned.
“What will purify the body and save the soul from darkness?” the priest said.
“The weight of gravity.”
“Let’s go higher!”
Emma morphed back to her natural beauty. Aidan longed to stroke her black hair and to caress her clear skin.
“What will save our world from the tyranny of darkness?”
“The weight of gravity!”
Emma fell limp inside the shrine.
“You’re crushing her!” Aidan said.
“Dark energy must be extricated,” the priest said.
“The weight of gravity!” they all shouted louder.
“No!” Aidan said. He lunged for the controls but the dial had already reached its highest setting. When they opened the door, Emma fell out and collapsed. Aidan pulled her into his arms.
“Am I human?” Emma looked more beautiful than he remembered. Her skin was like ivory against her long black hair. Her brown eyes were warm and wide. She opened her mouth to speak again when her head slumped against her shoulders and her eyes turned glassy gray. He felt for a pulse. There was none.
Illustration by: Péter János Novák