THE PICTURE

LEVELERS

MATTHEW SENKOWSKI

art by Walter Bactovanni

There are no absolutes.

           A fire burned brightly from an old antique fireplace. Faraway within an old rustic cabin near the distant shores of Lake Autopia. With an untimely shift in momentum. The fireplace is in fact a photograph. The radiant image appears crookedly between a gathering of scenic oil paintings. 

          A hand outreached for the fireplace image and removed the picture from an old iron wall hanger. The observer held the picture in one hand and examined the image intently, he reached with a quick gesture to his waist and produced a solid metal item, a handheld metallic cylinder, an object with the sleek and smooth appearance of a pen.

          A set of Ray-Ban sunglasses reflect from his waist and perch gently across his masculine nasal bridge. He took off his hat for a moment as a pile of dirty blond hair settles around his ears. A red laser beam shines entirely around and through the image. Information gathers intuitively concerning the metal fasteners, nails and hanging wire, down to each and every cellular detail. His eyes observe a retinal schematic blueprint from across the dark Ray-Ban lenses.

          The portrait scanner privy to a vulnerability from the hanging wire, he uncoils the steel mesh and reset it with a stronger binding, “Hey Trip.” said a voice from behind him. Trip Paisley turned to see fellow Picture Leveler Gus Coogan, a dark haired man leaning against an upright living room doorway.  

          “Practice time is over, we’re hanging with a client tonight.” said Gus, his sturdy form bound by a beige company shirt with black suspenders. A stout left forearm curls to shoulder level revealing a cheap stainless steel watch, “There’s a message from a new client. We’re presently on the clock.”

          The two of them gather around the wristwatch and observe a digital display screen message. A request to investigate an upper class estate somewhere in the luxurious hamlet of Grenada Falls. They read the fine print together with a brief excitement, and than look at each other with a subtle realization.

          They both realize the name of their client; “Dolores Praiseworthy.” said Trip, and Gus confirmed aloud, “Oh man, we just hit the jackpot.”

          The two Picture Levelers recognize the importance of their client, “Dolores Praiseworthy, daughter of Alden Praiseworthy, president of Praiseworthy Securities.” a multi-million dollar security company and manufacturer of unbreakable locking systems and vaults, along with home surveillance technology and personal monitoring systems throughout the greater city of Autopia and beyond.

          Gus held his left hand a bit more forward, showing his digital display watch with a bright shining message, concluding; Arrive at your earliest possible convenience to 2120 Adeline Road. To the guesthouse of the Praiseworthy estate in Grenada Falls. I will meet you there myself. Sincerely, Dolores Praiseworthy.

          Trip set his grasp to an old dusty oil painting of a waterfall and moat around a castle. The painting slings from the wall and is set between his arm and chest, “On the level dude, maybe we should just put it off until tomorrow.” he said and the two Picture Levelers leave the confine of their cottage bound training centre and head for their Picture Van, “Listen, I’m inclined to agree with you.” said Gus while walking down a flight of cement steps.

          “But if we don’t level her pictures, than maybe somebody else will.”

          The two men approach the Picture Van, a beige cubic containment vehicle. They stroll alongside the Picture Levelers logo, a picture frame of a happy face with two hands balancing it. A handful of paintings are set near the rear bumper. The two fellows pry apart the rear doors and detach their waist belts.

          “Look, it’s only a matter of time before she levels those pictures herself.”

          A distant storm could be heard from the horizon. A slight amber glow from the ambient city of Autopia. The moist smell of humidity floating along on an autumn breeze, “Than maybe we should just call her and than plan an appointment for tomorrow.” said Trip, but Gus consternated, “You try sleeping with a guilty conscience, because I can’t.” he said and than set a handful of pictures inside the Picture Van.

          The two men shut the rear doors, seat themselves, and activate the petroleum engine. They drive through the night time air and alight a radiance through the cottage country roadways. Through a hilly stone gorge and overtop an old rickety bridge, far above an ancient waterless canyon, and they continue on to a more natural area of stone sediment and muddy tide pools.

          Gus Coogan and Trip Paisley were a select pair of men who worked with an express purpose; to provide an otherwise stable and secure viewpoint for every perspective client, or any citizen of the greater public at large. The Picture Levelers were that good. They would often fashion their own technology to conduct a successful leveling. With some gadgetry so vivid and fantastic that no human eye could ever detect even the slightest bit of imbalance from any picture, painting, or photograph.

          West of Pennyborough and further on through the watery reservoir of a stone river bed, Grenada Falls awaits as a sediment monument from some prehistoric time. The Picture Van kept a focused pace. Not far away from a hoodoo colony of entrapped Cro-Magnon souls, at a spiritual dominion line with an ancient tribal burial ground of ages past.

          The two men could see a drop off point from either side of the road up ahead. The Picture Van drove over a mighty concrete bridge, tarnished from many years of disrepair and rain corrosion. They could see the corresponding digits engraved into its foundation, 2120 Adeline, and they indeed knew the road to be the correct destination from their digital mapping system. This property is most assuredly the Praiseworthy estate.

          Gus and Trip both argue discreetly about their hunger and incapability of helping anyone. Trip in particular could be very lazy near the end of a work day, “Look, I’m about ready to collapse. I don’t think I could even look at another picture tonight.” but Gus thought of an image to distract him, “Forget about any picture, look up there.” he said and pointed with his chin towards a house through the windshield.

          Up on the mount of a green grass hill, with a figure-eight walkway in between, and an overly circuitous slope. The two men marvel at an enormous white brick mansion. A beige and light brown foundation with an alizarin-crimson rooftop. The windows loom with a foreboding darkness as though eyes with a concealing nature of mystery and intrigue.

          “That place looks bigger than my home town.” said Trip.

          “Just take it easy. We’ll follow along this driveway, here.”

          They careen together around a hilly slope and edge away from the enormous mansion. To the feature of a dark brushy tree line, where between, the Picture Van eeks and crawls along a trench of humid mud. They encroach towards the feature of a smallish guest house, with an amber radiance aglow from a square doorway window.

          The Picture Van came to a standstill and the two men wonder about what they should do next, “I don’t want to hear about anymore laziness, we’re here now and we’ve got a job to do.” said Gus, they depart from their respective doors and search through the rear carrier for an array of gadgets.

          Trip slips into an Insta-hanger shoulder restraint with an accompanying arm brace. With waist belts slinging and Insta-hanger gloves aiming, they approach the guest house cautiously. They walk with a certain sense of gravity hitherto unbelievable to any other normal citizen.

          The guest house door came apart with an emergent woman, “Oh, thank you for coming, my pictures are in such an awful state.” she said, and Gus came through the threshold first, “Everything’s okay, we’ve handled jobs like this before.”

          Trip could barely balance his shoulder restraint through the doorway, “Oh dear, come inside. Let me show you my pictures.” she said and led them through the kitchen foyer. The twist of a doorknob, a subtle creak through a luminescent parlor. The Picture Levelers both came to the fore of a warm and languid dining room. An extravagant and elderly feel about everything.

          “Lovely place you have here.” said Gus.

          “Yes, this is my father’s estate, of course. He let’s me stay here and tend to my own affairs.” she said as her eyes flicker past the thin and wiry frame of the younger Picture Leveler. Trip came to the sight of an exotic oil painting, decades old, with the feature of an enormous black widow spider setting to strike at a tiny defenseless male, “Oh, please do be calm, I’ll fetch you some pretzels, if you like.”

          Trip confided, “No, I’m fine, there’s no time for snacks on the job.”

          The flash of a trilemetry ray from a leveler baton. Gus checks a gravitational inertia flux from an old antique coal portrait. The trilemetry ray continues to scan along the wall and floor. Soon the entire household comes under a scrupulous supervision from the trilemetry scanner, with a constant inertial dampening field present in a centrally gravitational axis.

          “Just as I thought, the guest house foundation is lopsided.”

          “By how much?” asked Trip.

          “About 27.001 kilopascals to the south-western triumvirate.”

          A flashlight beam shines underneath the guest house. Gus sneaks a peek through the foundation platform while searching for any kind of underground electrical relay, “The house foundation is made of beach nut, and the septic system is bound in pure cement.” he said aloud to where Trip consoles a distraught Dolores, “Don’t worry, we know exactly what we’re doing.”

          The thin blond Picture Leveler began to examine through the cab of the Picture Van, he then came to a firm realization about the best means of solving this kind of problem; a variable tri-atic incisor ray with a three prong output. A standard form of X-ray incision through the base level foundation of the property.

          Trip ran to the rear carrier section of the Picture Van and selects three steel pegs along with a data-link transmitter pad. He calibrates the distinct positions of each peg at a triumvirate axis around the guest house. With a little more time for consideration. The last few microbial details are chosen. 

          “The triumvirate levelers are all set.” said Trip, and Gus directed, “Good, set the

tri-atic laser sequence on my mark.”

          “Excuse me, but I heard the word; laser.” said Dolores.

          “Yes, a 3-D tri-atic ray, to burn a hair thin declivity through the foundation.” said Trip, and Gus confirmed, “Correct, we only use 3-D technology, we don’t want to launch a fourth dimensional X-ray, I have a hard enough time sleeping at night.”

          “Well, okay, you guys obviously know what you’re doing.”

          Gus clears his throat, “All right, on my mark. Cue the tri-atic sequence, now.”

          A brief vibration and a huge snap and hum from the triumvirate laser system. The entire wooden and concrete foundation collapses slightly with a slight spray of dust all around the square household. The guest house is a micro-millimeter closer to the ground with a northern most compensation for gravitational density.

          “There, that about does it.” said Trip.

          A slight sense of happiness from the new state of her home and also the sense of an new kind of friendship in the presence of such a firm and wiry young man, “That really seems like a load off.” she said, and Gus confirmed, “Hmm, yes, we’ll just reset your pictures, and that’ll be all she wrote.”

          The sound of thunder from a distant storm, and than a second strike. The Insta-hanger restraint is reset across the shoulder of the young Picture Leveler. Gus places a careful set of hands around a handful of picture frames and delicately removes them from the many different rooms of the house.

          A clockwork of precision craftsmanship, nearly a dozen frames are meticulously reset. Some of the nails and screws are delicately taken apart. A quick formula of wood polish, an extraordinary lacquer from some mystical origin. The Insta-hanger feels around with its glove and shoulder restraint, and they both jointly puncture a new series of iron wall hangers into the drywall foundation. The black widow spider painting is reset with a greater and more confident respect for balance.

          A subtle brush of wetness against the dining room window. The quick flash of a lightning bolt from a distant rain cloud. The three of them sense a tense vibration from within the old dark guest house. A calm and musty emptiness throughout the barren antique household.

          Another scan from a ruby-red leveler wand and a minor adjustment is given to a black and white elephant photograph. A set of digital Ray-Ban sunglasses appear across the cold steel eyes of the young Picture Leveler. Trip began to observe a coal stencil portrait of a young school boy. Trip shot a flippant laser beam into the eyes of the school boy, each of the microscopic details all reflect smoothly across the darkly lit retinas.

          Dolores slid around an old oriental vase. She could see Trip with his ruby-red data scan of the coal portrait, “That’s a picture of my father.” she said. Trip could barely hear her from around the oriental vase, “It was drawn many years ago.”

          “It’s a bit spooky looking. I don’t trust the eyes.”

          They each share a brief silence for a short while. A gentle moment with a sense of quiet confidence between them. A subtle sharpness in the air and a crash of lightning from nearby. They both notice a dramatic shift in the household electricity. The lights in the guest house all jointly dim and enlighten. After a flicker between the shadows and light, the whole house falls darkly into an all encompassing shadow.

          The three of them feel unsteady. They stand alone amidst the pitch blackness, and Dolores calls out aloud. Her discreetly feminine voice echoes throughout the lengthy hallways and corridors. Trip attempts to reassure her that everything is okay, but Gus surges to the sound of panic near the end of the hall. A flashlight beam flickering along the narrow woodwork.

          “Is everyone okay?” said Gus.

          “Oh, my word, this is so frightening.”

          “Don’t worry ma’am, we’ve leveled in worse places than this.”

          The flashlight pans across the pictures of the parlor, and further on towards Trip standing next to a dimly lit window. He could see out into the darkness, further on through the peels of rain, and up the concrete driveway. The Praiseworthy mansion reflects with a violent series of lightning flashes, “Hey, the power’s off at the mansion, aswell.”

          “Oh my god, my father’s up there, and he’s a paraplegic.”

          “Than he might be in trouble.” said Trip.

          A feminine set of fingers outreach for a telephone. She set a porcelain receiver to her ear and began to dial into the main mansion. After almost a dozen rings, “I know he’s up there, he didn’t leave. He might be trapped in the dark.” she said and set the receiver back to the base.

          Gus came to the forefront, “Is he on life support?”

          “No, but he has a laboratory in the basement, and I’ve never seen it.”

          That was enough to peak their interests. With a discreet walk through the wooden parlor. They stand at the front door of the guest house and marvel at the amount of rain coming down, “All right, let’s go.” said Gus.

          They ran to the Picture Van and seal themselves inside. Gus hit the single button for activation, and with a swipe of the directional lever, the windshield wipers began to flap across the windshield. The forest alights from the bright forward headlamps and the Picture Van begins to trudge through the dark and nebulous terrain.

          The three of them notice a thin veil of humidity brushing against the windshield. Unsure of whether they should consult a weather network program for guidance. They look up into the sky to see a dense patch of orthocumulus clouds, thickly round and expansive, with the frightening feature of a boorish beast showing an openly toothy expression.

          They come upon the vast expanse of the Praiseworthy estate. The three of them look past the water crest windows and observe the mansion in all of its darkness. A cold blue radiance gathers atop the crimson ceiling, and than with a sudden shock. They tremble along the murky driveway, than settle near a cascade of watery steps.

          “There’s a manual key lock for the front door, and I have the key.” she said.

          Almost two dozen concrete steps upwards, and at a stammer to maintain their balance. With a flash of lightning, they could see the definition of the mansion. A stunning brick monolith, almost three and a half stories tall.

          In the dead of night while at the peak ledge of a rather large cement staircase. At the edge of reason, with an object of obstruction within the grasp of her pointy fingertips, so pliable and adjustable in the rainy night time air. Dolores slid the lock apart with a subtle shift of her fingers, the doorknob twists as a huge foyer of the mansion becomes evident in front of them.

          “Wow.” said Trip as an echo expands deeply into the far recesses of darkness.

          A smell of cool clear air. The three of them set their feet upon a solid granite floor and step their way into the mansion foyer, “Dad!?! Hello!?!” she said aloud, but the room is utterly silent, aside from the rush of rain water against the windows and an occasional burst of lightning. A gust of wind carries past a chandelier and staircase above, all the way up to an upper level banister rail and balcony ledge.

          A purple flash of lightning came across a portrait of an 18th century aristocrat on a white bulbous horse. Gus searches through the darkness with a leveler wand. The red beam of light pierces throughout the black reaches of space. The younger Picture Leveler shut the front door and came to the attention of another portrait with an aristocratic man on a mighty black steed.

          The Insta-hanger feels outwards with its five pointy digits. Soon they notice a thin layer of mildew upon the portraits, and they consider to offer an emolient spray. Gus shot a brief blast of solvent through the air. The mist rushes along a ruby-red X-ray beam from his leveler wand.

          The Picture Levelers follow Dolores alongside the bust of an ancient Roman Centurion, “If you’ll follow me, we’ll make our way to the kitchen. There might be some candles or a kerosene lamp.”

          They funnel out of the gargantuan foyer beside an old crimson tapestry and through a small library and letters parlor. The flashes of lightning are left behind. The thunder came to a tremendous vibration underneath their feet.

          “It must be easy to get lost in here.” said Trip.

          “The house has been in my family for ages, since before I was born, which was really a long time ago.” she said as she led them into the kitchen, “Well not too long ago.” said Trip.

          “That’s very sweet of you to say.”

          They walk between a sectional tabletop and aim for a shut door. The sound of an old brass hinge. There is a rush of dry spice and flour all around them. They walk into the pitch black pantry and shine an X-ray beam across the shelves.

          Further into the pantry they can smell a bitter scent of astringent. A further closet reveals a chock full of brooms and mops. The two men shuffle to avoid any concern with the limits of their vision, than they notice Dolores standing next to a shelf of incense and pottery. An untimely kerosene lamp in one hand and a modern flashlight in the other. 

          “This is really what we’re looking for.” she said.

          She swung the lamp to either side and could see a slim reservoir of coolly transparent oil in the bottom. The gauze wick withstood with a thin residue of burnt carbon fiber. A quick snap of a match and the lamp is aglow before their eyes.

          The flashlight is given to Gus and they both follow her out of the pantry. Coogan shines the flashlight in front of Dolores and than around the wide urban kitchen. Noticing a pile of undone dishes next to the sink and the thin veil of fried butter in the air. The three of them see the residue of chicken flesh on a cruddy Teflon frying pan.

          “My father must have had dinner not too long ago.”

          “Hmm, seems like a well fed guy.” said Gus from the sight of the dirty dishes. He walked over to a large stainless steel refrigerator and gently knocked on it with the flashlight cylinder, “Bet there’s enough food in here to feed an army.”

          They decide to check the refrigerator for any perishables. They find a collection of eggs, onions and garlic, along with a few choice dips and sauces. Gus could see a tin of caviar. He could hear a glass shatter from far away and than thought to direct their attention to the sound of a drip from over his shoulder, “Wait, did you hear that?”

          With no greater effort to check the clutter of broken glass near a waiting room table. They instead see a broken crystal goblet next to a fresh bottle of white wine. With a closer inspection; the wine bottle is only a trifle empty. They walk alongside the table and through a darkly square walkway.

          The kerosene lamp carries outwards into an open living quarter with a rather enormous sound system next to an upright cello and harp. A grand piano awaits nearby in the darkness, a gloriously expensive style with a cherry wood finish.

          A shut door awaits next to a sofa and seating set. Trip thought to enquire about the plain brown doorway next to the pink cushiony sofa seat, “Where does this go?” gesturing to the only shut door for nearly the entire main level.

          “I can’t see very well.” she said.

          A stumble against the brim of an antique oriental rug. Gus and Dolores both look up to see Trip twist the lone door handle, but the object is tightly bound, “It’s locked.”

          No sympathy for themselves, bereft of any jimmer-jammer. Gus shines the flashlight across an old painting of an 18th Century Spanish church. The portrait is slightly off-balance and slinging to the bottom right, Dolores offers a secret hand adjustment for good luck.                   

          The door slipped gently apart to reveal a thick and pungent odor; the scent of morose dust within a pile of decade’s old clothing. The three of them gather around the doorframe to observe a pile of old jackets and shirts. The room appears to be some sort of closet.

          “Oh yes, forgot all about this place.” said Dolores, and she swiftly parted the jackets to reveal a distant hall. They look further within the corridor to see a darkly deceptive blackness.

Dolores held the lamplight ahead as the Picture Levelers follow her casually along.

          A large square room lay at the end of a narrow black hallway. The lamplight allows them to see an elevator to their right side, and centrally they notice a banister railing descending as an enormous cylindrical staircase.

          Trip leans forwards over the first few steps and says, “Hello!”

          The Insta-hanger glove held tightly to the banister railing, “Daddy can only use the elevators, he might be trapped down there.” confirmed Dolores, and Gus replied, “Than we should probably keep going.”

          They realize the gravity of their situation and decide to descend the staircase jointly. They each take a step with care. Hesitant to immerse themselves too deeply into the pitch black darkness. A shade of firelight shines through the railing space. Thin bars of darkness glide along the narrow brick passage until they reach the open area below.

          “Wow.” said Trip as he noticed an enormous acrylic painting of a gigantic iceberg. The picture glowed on the opposite side of the staircase, far away from a wall-size hallway threshold. Both the threshold and iceberg appear larger than a fifty foot perimeter between the two of them. Perhaps the largest painting Trip had ever seen in his entire life.

          A spider ran by the foot of Dolores and sends her into a panic, “Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!” she said and leapt into the arms of Trip, “There was a spider.”

          “Where?” he said.

          “Forget about that, let’s keep going.” said Gus.

          He led them through the dark hallway threshold. There they notice a rather large convention room for security devices. To their left side they can see a huge bank vault doorway, and further on they notice a variety of household safes, each with a smaller size along the dark blue wall space. 

          “Dad, dad, can you hear me?”

          There was no answer. With a calm and assertive motion. The three of them hasten their footsteps into another room of shadow. A den of utter blankness except for the appearance of three rectangular doors, “Oh yes, this is one of my father’s practicing studios.”      

          “Practicing studios, for what?” said Trip.

          “To build and test home security systems. You see, each of these three doors might possibly open, but most likely, only one of them will lead us out of here.”

          The three of them approach the trio of shut doors, with a slight tinge of firelight across the door handles, and the smell of stagnant and sterile air. They stand still and wait for a decision, “Maybe we should just open one of them.” said Gus.

          “I don’t know,” said Trip and he turned to Dolores, “Where do you think these doors go?” and she turned and looked deeply into his eyes, “I believe one’s a lavatory, the other’s a broom closet, and the third might lead us into the sub-basement laboratory, that’s probably where my father is.”

          Desperate to continue onwards for any source of hope. Trip took a step forward and sought out the left most door, he held the door handle and found it very smooth to the touch, but it apparently gave no form of leeway.

          Gus stood to the far right and could sense a form of negative energy from the door handle. He shone the flashlight upon the object to reveal a band of digital circuitry underneath a smooth plastic covering, an automatic opening device for some elaborate security system.

          The middle doorway opened with a slight twist from Dolores. The Picture Levelers follow her along the angular hallway with a subtle blue haze up ahead, “Oh, I don’t care for all of this silence.” she said.

          “That’s easy for you to say, I’ve got to work with this guy.”

          Trip continued on ahead of them, oblivious to the attitudes behind, and becomes first to enter the next hidden parlor. He could see a frightful self portrait of an elderly gentleman standing next to a fierce looking bloodhound. A further scan of the room reveals a greater number of family keepsakes, “Oh, that was my grandfather, I believe.”

          There is a grand suit of armor next to another immense portrait of a rhinoceros, along with an ominous collection of Zulu masks, and a glass cabinet of clay pottery from some ancient and forgotten people. The room appears as a forebearer of some greater mystery beyond.

          Upon entrance into a wondrous and empty room, they consider the light blue walls and yellowish wooden floorboards around them. All along the walls there are portraits of large puzzle pieces. Oil paintings shaped like coarse four leaf clovers, and at least a dozen of them across the walls. Undoubtedly an element of some elaborate locking system.

          “I’ve never been in this room before.” she said.

          Dolores walked closer to the walls while shining the lamplight across the pictures. Gus and Trip diverge from her to the opposite side of the room. They shine the flashlight beam across the remaining puzzle pieces.

          “All of these pictures have a thinly wooden frame, and the pictures themselves are almost identical.” said Gus, and Trip assumed, “They look like floorboards.”

          “Floorboards?” said Dolores.

          She shined the lamplight across the floor, “Hey, come over here and take a look at this.” both Gus and Trip gather around her. She knelt down along the floorboards to say, “Look, there’s a square border, upraised from the center of the floor.”

          Gus and Trip knelt closer to the floorboards. They identify the outline of a square border, “You know, I’d be willing to bet, if we assemble all of these puzzle-pieces into the bordered floor frame, we might unlock a door and find our way into my father’s laboratory.”

          A hand removed a picture, followed by another, and soon all of the pictures lay in a pile on the floor. Gus could see a starting point to get the ball rolling, “Look, there’s a corner piece.”

          Each of the pictures are carefully set on the floor next to the radiance of the oil lamp, and with a closer inspection, all of the puzzle pieces show a dark mustard color with thin black lines in between. With a greater effort to place the four corner puzzle pieces into the floor frame. The interior pieces fall into place after a few short minutes. The final piece is finally set.

          They stand back to gain a better look at the full picture. The complete image is in fact a three dimensional staircase, the painting showing downwards into a darkly vivid void. Suddenly they hear a grainy creak in the woodwork from underneath them.

          Trip took hold of Dolores by her shoulders and they each stand back from the heavy groan underneath their feet. The floor image spread apart as a square hydraulic doorway, and it slowly came open in front of them to reveal a solid wooden staircase spreading deeply into the basement.  

          From a foul reckoning at an inhuman level. They peer deeply into the open chasm at their feet and consider to descend deeper into the unknown depth, “Dad!?! Dad, can you hear me?” but again there was no answer.

          Trip took the first step onto the staircase, Insta-hanger firmly bound to his shoulder, and feet nimble to tread across the steep steps below. The lamp and flashlight both alight along the stairway column. They arrive half way through and notice a hazy blue movement from the solid concrete floor. Shadows immerse in the radiance below reveal a rain water consistency.

          A mute and unspoken word between them. The radiant hallway reveals an even larger space ahead, a room of immense size and dimension. A hugely concrete room with a solid cubic shape and an incredibly large skylight atop.

          With a huge breadth of space above. There is an alignment of shut doors all around the bottom perimeter. They notice the shut doors and wonder about their next decision, “I remember sneaking a peek through those windows, when I was a child.”

          “There are a lot of doors around here.” said Gus.

          “I bet it’ll be hard to open the right one.” said Trip.

          “I don’t know about that. My father constructed a battery powered locking system.” Dolores felt around in her pocket for a set of keys, “It unlocks from the sound of this.” and she jangles the keys out loud, a door abruptly opens from beside them.

          “Okay, that’s one down.” said Trip.

          He began to walk around the room and twist every door handle he could. A seldom few would open, but a great many still remain shut. Gus could see an image from an open door and chose to shine a flashlight beam from across the room. They each see an elaborate living room, but Trip could confirm it as a simple mural.

          He knocked on the image, “It’s as fake as a flea circus.”

          “Wait a minute, I think I remember something.” said Dolores as she set the kerosene lamp by a door to the far right of the open hallway.

          “If I remember correctly, the mansion is in that direction.” said Dolores as she indicated between the lantern and open hallway, “When I was a child, I remember seeing my father riding his wheelchair, and I think I saw him go through that door.” said Dolores while pointing at the door next to the lantern.     

          Gus held tightly to his waist belt, “Wait a minute.” he said and retrieved the grey cylinder, “The X-ray from my leveler wand might be powerful enough to penetrate into the subsequent room.”

          “You can probably check the style of lock, also.” said Trip.

          “Yeah, maybe.” said Gus.

          The Ray-Ban sunglasses are set across his nasal bridge. The leveler wand casts a ruby red beam through the air. All of a sudden an electric light came on from far above them.

          “Hey Gus, the power’s back on.”

          “I think she’s right about the door.”

          They enclose around the doorway. Trip gave the door handle a gentle twist, and than a firmer one. With the swift realization that a physical key is necessary to gain entrance to the lab. Trip set a hydraulic grip order through his Insta-hanger shoulder restraint.

          A quick look to either side and Trip took hold of the door handle. The Insta-hanger glove began to turn and crush the round brass object. The door gradually came apart in front of them and they could smell the faint scent of fluoro-carbon and smoke.

          They shed the flashlight beam and firelight fuse as they walk through the open passage. There is a conventional elevator to their right, and further on, they stand at the fore of a tremendous escalator platform, “The lab must be at the top of this shaft.” said Dolores.

          Each of them stand upon the platform and than seal a draw lever. They look for a panel of some kind to activate the escalator. Trip could see a button pad near the corner of a hand rail, “There’s no looking back now.” and he hit a switch.

          The platform began to rise. The three of them search up into the far stretches of shaft above. At almost the halfway point there is a strong scent of smoke and raw carbon. With only a few more feet to go. They peak over the shaft ledge and see Alden Praiseworthy from within an automatic wheelchair, “Dad, dad, we’ve found you.”

          “Oh, my dear.” he said out loud and the two of them rush into a quick embrace, “We weren’t sure if you were in danger.”

          “No, I’m all right now.” he said and than Alden could see the slow and steady approach of the Picture Levelers, “Who are these two gentlemen?”

          “These are the Picture Levelers.”

          “Yes, I’m Gus Coogan, and this is my partner, Trip Paisley.”

          Each of them lean forwards to shake the hand of the senior Praiseworthy. The elder man took a hardened hold of the Insta-hanger glove, “That’s quite a grip you’ve got young man.”

          “Yeah well, I just use it for leveling pictures, is all.”

          “Dad, are you okay? What have you been doing down here?”

          “Well, I suppose I should show you.”

          The wheelchair builds a steady motion around the laboratory and than up a smooth slope of stainless steel, “I’ve always kept my personal business very isolated and secret. But in these last few years, I’ve found myself a new kind of hobby.”

          On the upper level of the hugely elaborate laboratory. The three of them follow along behind Alden as he rolls up to a huge hunk of chrome. The oily ashes and fragrant cinders all unite to form a semi-circular sphere, “This is my secret project. My newest creation, it can harness the power of lightning into a renewable resource. I call it; The Faraday Sphere.”

          The three of them stand back in awe from the utter power and mystery of the unstable object, “Dad, maybe we should just leave.” she said, and than Alden began a tirade, “No, would you knock the key of life out of Ben Franklin’s hand, I think not. This could help millions. It’s an entirely new form of battery and energy system.”

          “Okay, okay, I’m willing to listen.” said Gus and he took a closer look at the smoldering sphere, “What is this thing and how does it work?”

          “Well, I condensed and hyper-suspended a huge magnitude of Earth into the tiniest fragment of space that I could. It took me years, and almost all of my grandfather’s family fortune to generate the heat and electricity to do so.”

          “After all of the soil had been shrunken down into a micro-cosmic fragment of space, I locked the cell away into a dense network of dampeners and recepters, and than built this sphere here to contain the whole lot of it, but as I found that I could control the exposure of the central cell to an open atmosphere, I found that this thing could generate an electro-magnetic reaction.”

          “Dad, I don’t believe this.”

          A moment of silence between them, and Alden could not help but look aghast at her expression, “Well I’ll prove it to you.” he said and wheeled around to a computer screen. He set his hands to a teletype pad, “I’ll demonstrate a small sample of my life’s work.”

          All of a sudden there is an immediate sense of tension with an energy negligible to any latent observer or paranoiac. They realize the gravity of their danger, and just as Alden types a final order into the teletype pad, “This is the true test of my greatest creation.”

          A dramatic shift in the forces of nature, a haze of vibration shakes all around them, “Dad, stop this, it could be very dangerous.” she said and Alden is quick to disuade her, “No, I’ll reveal the smallest dimension of the Faraday Sphere.”

          With a quick series of button taps. A stiff steel rod shoots out from the sphere and it stands with an erect pronouncement, “Of all my work, this is the most powerful. The ability to harness god’s power into a safe and pliable repository.”

          A huge rain cloud began to expand all around the house and channel it alike a huge cluster of electro-magnetic force. An electric blue light began to radiate from the sphere. The four of them reel back in wonder as an enormous sense of thunder strikes between them, and at such a close proximity to the mansion and sky above. 

          “Dad, we’ve got to stop this.”

          An electric shock struck from the sphere and shook Alden away from the teletype pad. A scream of unbelievable force as the Picture Levelers both hold onto an operating table for dear life, “We’ve got to stop that thing.” screamed Gus.

          Trip typed a quick series of digits into his Insta-hanger shoulder pad. He set forth from the operating table, through a dense force of wind and electricity, and with the hope to end all of this chaotic insanity.

          He sought forth for the steel cylinder and took hold of the solid metal object. A bright flash of light came through the ceiling, and Trip became airborn for an all too brief millisecond. He struck a reverberating wall panel, and than hit the floor.

          Gus and Dolores both lean over Alden Praiseworthy and recognize him with a minor concussion. They soon make their way over to Trip and see something much worse. A man with friction burns and smoke trails all along his Insta-hanger shoulder restraint, firmly holding onto the broken remains of the Faraday Sphere.

          “He saved our lives.” said Dolores.

          An ambulance came to collect Alden and Trip from their respective injuries. Each of them heal with their own form of care and treatment on their way to the hospital.

          With such a quick and chaotic chapter in the history of her life, and only a short amount of time to consider the true example of blatant heroism and bravery from Trip Paisley. Dolores chose to follow along after the ambulance in the Picture Van.

          She found herself at the mercy of a merciful Picture Leveler in a hospital bedroom the following morning. He lay in front of her under a thin veil of linen and with a few cloth bandages around his shoulder and arm. He woke from a deep sleep to see Dolores sitting next to him while reading a fine piece of exotic literature, “What are you doing here?” he said.

          “I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

          Indeed he was okay, and she stayed with him every moment she could, for almost two weeks. Soon the two of them realize something much more important than Faraday Spheres or Insta-hanger gloves; they realize that their search for true love has finally come to an end.

          With only a brief courtship between the two of them and than the final blessing of Alden Praiseworthy before his eventual death of Alzheimers Disease, Trip Paisley and Dolores Praiseworthy both marry on a lakeside vista overlooking a tranquil afternoon setting. 

          Set for life to inherit an empire. Trip and Dolores both model themselves upon a hugely round stone, with two small daughters by their side. With the picture perfect image of a family resting above a blazing fireplace. Two fingers gently level the image, and Trip and Dolores both walk away together in each other’s arms, through the all expansive eternity of forever.

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