Author: Hillary Lyon

Inspector Morrisey stood between the empty easy chair and the ancient cathode-ray television. He withdrew a pen and a small notepad from the inside pocket of his wrinkled trench coat. “Tell me again Mrs. Kittle, what happened.”

“My husband was sitting right there, arguing with me over what to watch on TV tonight, then suddenly,” she said haltingly, “in mid-sentence, he was gone.”

“Uh huh,” the inspector said, scribbling notes.

With a pink tissue, Mrs. Kittle dabbed the tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. “I walked to the bar cart for a drink, and when I turned—he was gone.” She waved her arms for emphasis. “Just gone! He waspjasih shjvdoi sj hp aryknyt!”

As her speech rapidly dissolved into gibberish, Morrisey shook his head sadly. He’d seen this many times before, when denizens of his little town became emotionally traumatized. Usually after house fires, or swimming pool tragedies. He nodded to one of his officers, and the young man gently led her away.

“So, watcha think?” McEwan, the rookie inspector, asked. “Did the old geezer just walk away from his marriage? Did his wife knock him off, then plant him under a rose bush in the backyard? Spontaneous human combustion?”

Inspector Morrisey looked at the chair, at the deep indention in the cushion where Mr. Kittle once sat. His gaze then rose to the ceiling.

“There’s no smoke damage,” he said, pointing to the clean white plaster overhead. He looked back down.“No neat pyramid of ash in the chair.” He sniffed the air. “No residual barbecue aroma. And,” he added sagely, “no ghost wandering about.”

“So . . .?” McEwan pressed.

“I’m thinking this is more like spontaneous human—” he snapped his pad shut and shoved it back into his coat pocket, “teleportation.”

* * *

“The old man didn’t just vanish,” Morrisey, now back at his office, theorized, “He’s out there somewhere. We just don’t know where.” He propped his feet up on his desk. “Might be in a closet, might be in a neighbor’s pool, might be—”

“An alien abduction!” McEwan said breathlessly, pacing in front of Morrisey. “Or snatched by a mad scientist for experimentation! Or he’s a victim of evil wizardly!”

“No, no, and no.”

“If this is spontaneous human teleportation, then he’s who knows where,” McEwan frowned.

“It’s perplexing.” Morrisey snorted. “What’s worse, folks have disappeared like this before.” He slid his notepad across the desk. “Type that up and turn it in to the captain.”

“Awww,” McEwan protested.

“You need the practice,” Morrisey added patiently, “if you want to be promoted.” The kid’s new to this game, Morrisey added to himself, but he’ll learn and—

The world went dark.

* * *

“I’m so bored with this town, with these people,” the boy moaned. “I put these characters in weird or dangerous situations, just to make things interesting, and their responses are entirely predictable!” He tossed his controller aside.“I should complain to the developer.”

“So change them,” his mom suggested. “Retire the dull ones, or tweak them. Or entirely delete them, then—”

“I did already,” her son pouted. “Got rid of the ones I’d had around for freakin’ ever. Left some in a pool without a ladder,” he said with a nefarious giggle.“Even burned down a few houses.”

“And? I hope you made better new ones.” The boy shrugged. His mom prompted, “What do I always say? If you aren’t having fun, then it’s time to stop.” Spontaneously, she leaned over and switched off the gaming console. “Now go outside and play.”