The Strange Phenomenon of the Effect Preceding the Cause
Updated: Sep 9, 2022
A short story by Nick R Parker
Excerpt from Agent Black’s Treatise on Causality. Written one year after the catastrophe.
I have become obsessed with causality. Or rather, inverse causality: the strange phenomenon of the effect preceding the cause. If time is fixed, if the future is just as real as the past or the present, then the future exists, and if the future exists, then it can affect its past.
Take, for example, the Hodgen’s Town Sinkhole. An entire town swallowed up by a sinkhole that appeared out of nowhere. This isn’t something that unusual by itself, but experts could not identify a source for the sinkhole. Further, a series of unique premonitions about the sinkhole were called into the FBI prior to the event.
Excerpt from The Shimmering – A novel published five years before the catastrophe.
Professor Brown stood at the edge of the sinkhole staring down into the black, unexplainable void. It was like looking into his own soul. Something like a reflection. He thinks of narcissus and the well and tries not to fall in.
He is a sinkhole-ologist (geologist) sent to discover the cause of the sinkhole that swallowed up the town. Oftentimes sinkholes appear to manifest themselves from nothing, but the cause is very much there, only unseen. It is his job to understand their cause so that future calamities might be prevented.
Transcript of a telephone call between Professor Brown and Agent Black. Recorded two weeks before the catastrophe.
Black: Hello? Professor Brown? This is Agent Black. From the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Department of Causality.
Brown: Yes? FBI? What is this about?
Black: I’d like to talk to you about sinkholes. We’ve gotten several calls about a sinkhole appearing underneath Hodgen’s Town and I’d like you to accompany me to investigate.
Brown: Hodgen’s Town? I haven’t heard anything about a sinkhole. If there were a sinkhole in that part of the country it would be on the global news.
Black: That’s because it hasn’t happened yet.
Brown: What do you mean it hasn’t happened yet?
Black: I’ll explain on the way.
Professor Brown arrives in Hodgen’s Town 10 days before the catastrophe.
White makeshift buildings are set up around the town. Military and scientific personnel move frantically about the area. A fence has been erected in a perfect circle around the town.
A helicopter lands just outside of the perimeter carrying Professor Brown and Agent Black. The two of them step out into the chaos.
“What is all this?” asks Professor Brown.
“We are studying the emergence of the sinkhole,” says Agent Black. He leads the professor through the maze of equipment.
“I don’t understand why we are here. I mean there are no signs of a sinkhole.”
“My department has received multiple reports of a massive sinkhole appearing here sometime in the next few weeks.” Agent Black keeps walking.
“In the next few weeks?” asks Professor Brown. He’s running out of breath, struggling to keep up. “What are we doing here now? Are you trying to prevent a disaster based solely on some crackpot’s premonitions?”
Agent Black abruptly stops and turns to face the professor. Her deep brown eyes hidden behind her sunglasses. “It’s not just some crackpot. It’s multiple crackpots. Several of whom have accurately predicted calamities before.”
“Okay.” Professor Brown pauses for a moment, processing the absurdity of the situation. “Let’s say your premonitions are legitimate. I don’t see how they would be. Something like that is absolutely insane, but so is being flown halfway across the country by the FBI to investigate an event that hasn’t occurred yet. For argument’s sake, how would we even prevent something like this?”
Agent Black continues walking towards the center of town. “That’s your job professor. Assuming there is a sinkhole coming, what would you do to prevent it?”
“There’s not much we could do.” Professor Brown is anxiously talking with his hands. “Evacuate. Relocate. If we can pinpoint the cause as, say, a depleted aquifer, then we might be able to refill it before the limestone slips. But I’m not hopeful. These causes are generally years in the making. Once that limestone is dissolved, eventually the soil is going to slip.”
“The entire town has already been evacuated. I need you to come up with some concrete proof the sinkhole is coming. Imagine the blowback if nothing happens, and it comes out that the only evidence we had were these “crackpot premonitions.”
Professor Brown stops abruptly. Agent Black turns, annoyed. “What is it now?”
“I’ve been wondering about something,” muses Professor Brown, “How can a premonition be a premonition if it’s preventable?”
“We have to assume the existence of multiple timelines. Multiple universes.”
“But what if the very act of looking at the future ensures its existence?” Asks the professor.
“Are you referring to Schrodinger’s cat? It’s both alive and dead until it is observed? The problem we are dealing with here is the future has already been glimpsed. We have the multiple observer problem. Schrodinger assumes a single observer. How many observers does it take to lock the existence of a possible future? How many people have to see the bear shit in the woods? Our only chance we have is to act as though multiple timelines exist.”
Professor Brown stands stunned. “You sure are well versed in the ideas of possible futures.”
“I studied Philosophy in my undergrad,” Agent Black deadpans.
“I’ve always wondered what philosophy majors went on to do. I just assumed they went to law school or became professors.”
“Most of us do just that.” Agent Black turns to continue walking. “Some of us create weird niche jobs for ourselves nobody thought the world needed.”
Transcript of an Interview with [REDACTED] Percipient 1. One month after the event.
Black: When did you first have a premonition of the event?
Percipient: It’s hard to tell. It was some time before the swallowing.
Black: The swallowing?
Percipient: I’m sorry. The sinkhole.
Black: Right. Just asking for clarification. For the record. Please continue.
Percipient: I remember first having the dreams something like a month before the event. It’s hard to pin down the exact moment because I tend to have progressively worse migraines in the days leading up to the first dream. And they don’t come all at once.
Black: And by dreams you are referring to the premonitions?
Black: Tell me about these dreams.
Percipient: Well, along with the migraines I experience a prolonged feeling of dread. Like a dark cloud has set itself around the base of my throat making it hard to breath.
Black: Interesting. [Sound of writing] Now about the content of the dreams.
Percipient: At first, I dreamed black.
Percipient: Yes. The color black. Endless darkness. Only I felt very strongly in my mind the color black. I assumed it was referring to you.
Black: [Surprised] To me?
Percipient: Yes. When I googled “what to do with my premonitions?” and I stumbled upon the Department of Causality’s website and I saw your bio calling for the submission of premonitions, I assumed the color black in my dreams meant you.
Black: Do you still feel this way?
Percipient: Yes. Absolutely. Now more than ever.
Black: After the darkness, er, blackness, what else did you see?
Percipient: I was standing in a town square and then I was falling. You know those dreams where you are falling?
Black: I’m sorry, I don’t dream.
Percipient: Well, it was like that only the whole town was falling with me. Falling and falling until there was only blackness and I felt it was blackness not darkness. I felt the word black very, very clearly.
Black: Yes, yes. We’ve been over that. Anything else?
Percipient: That was it. Until the day it actually happened.
Black: What happened then?
Percipient: I woke up with a very strong feeling that whatever it was that was going to happen, was going to happen today. That’s when I called your department. I called and I said, “I am having this very strong feeling that something bad is going to happen today in relation to the dream I sent in several weeks ago. I don’t know why I’m calling, it feels crazy, but I feel like if something were to happen and I didn’t tell anyone, then I’d be partially at fault.”
Black: Something indeed did happen that day.
“What do you mean what is on the other side of the sinkhole?” asks Professor Brown. “Shouldn’t you be asking what is at the bottom of the sinkhole?”
Agent Black stands beside Professor Brown at the edge of the sinkhole. It is one mile in diameter stretching across what was once Hodgen’s Town. It is the largest sinkhole ever recorded. It is so deep the bottom cannot be seen.
“That’s the conundrum, isn’t it? That special something that is the phenomenon. Watch this.” Agent Black cracks a green glowstick and hands tosses it as hard as she can into the center of the hole.
“We are going to need a lot more than a glowstick to illuminate a hole as big as this.”
“Just watch,” says Agent Black. The glowstick falls deeper and deeper until it is completely swallowed up by the void.
“Like I said, it’s too deep for light to reflect back up to the surface. We already knew that. You just wasted a perfectly good glowstick.”
Agent Black holds a finger in front of her mouth, “Shhh.” After a few minutes the green glow of the glowstick begins to emerge from the sinkhole. The glowstick leaps up out of the blackness and hovers in the air for a moment before falling back in. A minute later the same thing happens again, only this time it doesn’t come back as high. This happens again and again, each time the glowstick pops out a little less until it remains stationary.
“Oh,” says Professor Brown with his mouth open in unbelief, “I see.” He turns to Agent Black, “What exactly am I looking at?”
“The glowstick seems to be in some sort of gravimetric equilibrium. Either that or a gravitational anomaly, something like a wormhole or a singularity,” says Agent Black, “I believe the glowstick has come to rest at the exact midpoint of the hole, leading me to believe we are dealing with the possibility of another world on the other side.”
Excerpt from Professor Brown’s Journal dated the day of the expedition recovered 2 weeks before the disaster.
They began their descent at 11am four days after the calamity. I insisted on going in myself. Agent Black insisted on sending three expert climbers instead. They geared up and rappelled into the void. We weren’t sure precises how deep it went. We were unable to get an accurate measurement due to the presence of the anomaly. They brought enough supplies to last three days. I thought it sounded extreme, but Agent Black insisted. “Better prepared than dead,” she said. A good motto. Unfortunately, no one could have prepared for what they’d find down there.
Excerpt from The Shimmering
Twelve hours after first descent Agent Black records a shrinkage of the diameter of the sinkhole measured at exactly one foot. He radios the expedition team and receives back a static-filled garble of a response. They must be running out of range, he thought. Either that or the anomaly is interfering with radio transmissions. At Agent Blacks protest, Professor Brown decides to go down into the pit to warn the expedition. Being a hobbyist climber, he has some experience. Rock climbing is a fitting hobby for a geologist.
Excerpt from Professor Brown’s Journal dated the day of the expedition recovered 2 weeks before the disaster.
The entire town is down here. You would think it would have been destroyed, or at least damaged in some way, but it seems to be completely intact. Like it just sank straight down. Like an elevator. Only it's empty. I find no traces that humans were ever here. Other than the buildings. Nothing has been left out. No food. No dogs. It’s all just empty. Like everything was staged for a home showing. But it’s completely dark. We are much too far down to be able to see the light from the opening. For that to be possible, it must be miles down. Maybe even a hundred. I traveled for hours before I reached the bottom and now am in complete darkness, except for the glowstick suspended in midair partway down the hole. Once I passed the glowstick it was like gravity shifted and I was climbing up.
Reality is being bent. I don’t think the laws of physics apply here in the same way they do above. Everything feels like a reflection. A shadow. Like the world is being seen through its shadow on a cave wall. The walls fluctuate, sputter out. They are there, but not there. I saw a ripple in the wall of one of the buildings and when I reached my hand out to touch it, it passed right through. Like it wasn’t even there. I’m glad I pulled my hand right back out because a moment later the wall was solid again. I can only imagine what would have happened had my hand been in there when it phased back into reality.
When I call out, I hear myself before I speak. Like an echo, only the sound that comes out of my mouth is the response to the sound that comes to my ears. How would this even be possible? I am wondering if this is a trick of the mind, an illusion. A side effect of the darkness.
Excerpt from Percipient 2’s premonition submission.
I get my premonitions from tea leaves. I was just sitting there drinking my morning tea when a terrible sense of grief came over me. I am an old woman, so I’ve had fears about friends and family passing, but this felt a little different. Sort of like all my friends were about to die and I didn’t have enough time to say my goodbyes. Anyway, I finished my cup of tea and when I looked inside the leaves were arranged in such a way to suggest an omen of a coming calamity. It looked like a dragon, but if you turned the cup a little it looked like a comet.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I kept getting the same reading each morning for the rest of the week. This is how these sorts of things typically work for me. I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but part of what is so cool about the FBI’s premonition tip line is it makes me feel less crazy. Just the very fact that y’all are considering the possibility that these sorts of things might be real fills me with hope for the future.
So, as I was saying, I called my friend and spiritual advisor Nancy over and had her take a look. And you will never guess, but she saw the SAME thing. Then we got to talking and she’d been having these visions, and when she has visions, she paints. She pulled out her phone and started showing me pictures of all her paintings she’d been painting. And sure as hellfire, they were all just the color brown. She had been having vision after vision of the color brown. Do you have any ideas what that might mean? Can you believe it? She was painting just the color brown.
Well, as you can imagine, I thought this was weird, so I asked if I could go see the paintings in person. So, we got into her Subaru and drove to her house. When we stepped inside my vision went brown. Just like she’d been describing. Can you believe it? When I came to, I was laying on her couch and Nancy was preparing another cup of tea. I told her I was fine, and I’d just like to see the paintings in person if it would be alright. She said yes and led me into her workshop. Sure enough there were dozens of canvases of various sizes all of the color brown. But if you get real close, like real close, then you can barely make out the figure of what looks like the shadow of a man. And then if you stare at it long enough you can start to see this man at the bottom of what appears to be a large hole.
I thought this was quite strange on account of the tea leaf readings I’d been having, so I thought it best to write in to y’all. I hope this is of some help.
Archived Footage recovered from the bodycam of Expert Climber 1.
The grainy video was recovered from a badly damaged body cam. A piece of shrapnel from an unknown source was lodged in the SD card apparently saving the life of the wearer. Agent Black and Professor Brown stand in a viewing room surrounded by monitors. The one in the center shows the first person view of the survivor.
Brown: What is it I’m looking at?
Black: Just keep watching. Wait and see.
Brown: Look, I’m in the middle of a semester, I’ve got classes to teach.
Black: Don’t worry about that. It’s all been taken care of.
The discussion is interrupted by the video’s audio playing back what sounds like Professor Brown.
Brown1: Hold on. [unintelligible static] We’re going to get you to safety. Look at me. Hey. Look at me.
The screen fills with what looks like Professor Brown.
Brown: Hold on a second. Is that what I think it is?
Black: Now do you understand why we brought you here?
Brown: No. I don’t understand in the slightest. Are you expecting me to believe that that is me? That’s impossible.
Black: Not you, exactly. A version of you.
Brown: I don’t understand.
Black: Keep watching.
The video continues to play. The unnamed Expert Climber 1 is attached to a rope and Professor Brown pulls on some sort of pulley system, hoisting the climber upward into the void.
Brown1: When you get up there, you tell them we need help. Got it?
A loud, low-pitched grumbling blocks out all sound. Professor Brown turns around panicked. He seems to say something, but all that can be heard is the unnatural grumbling. The climber reaches out his hand before being yanked upward, the last thing we see is a shadow engulfing Professor Brown as he is whisked away into the darkness. The screen goes black.
Excerpt from The Report written by Agent Black
One week after Professor Brown enters the sinkhole it completely closes. One of the climbers is recovered. He flies up and out of the hole, like the hole was alive and he had been spit up. He is in bad shape, barely breathing. Medical personnel are dispatched immediately. Shortly after, the hole completely closes. It is like it was never there. It was not like an earthquake or anything, it was kind of like the hole kept getting smaller when you looked away. Almost as if the hole needed an observed in order to exist. When all our attention was turned on the survivor, it ceased to exist. Like it was never there. Only the town wasn’t there either.
I tried reaching Professor Brown over the radio, but all I got was static.
Excerpt from the Journal of Professor Brown Day 2 of the expedition.
I’m hearing that low grumbling sound again. It’s been going on for at least a day now. It leaves me feeling a sense of dread.
I discovered something strange today. I found an entire cave wall that shimmered. It must be 30 feet tall. When I shine my light on it, it reflects and refracts like the surface of gently rolling water. I’m afraid to put my hand through because of what happened before, but all my instincts are telling me that whatever it is we are looking for is beyond that veil.
I found the remains of the expedition that came before. Their packs were piled up in the center of town. It was eerie. Almost like they wanted to be found. It was when I found the packs that I first started hearing the grumbling. It’s probably just the isolation and the darkness getting to me, but I can’t help but feel like I’m being stalked. Hunted.
Excerpt from The Report by Agent Black
I found some footage from what appears to be Professor Brown’s body cam in the FBI’s archives. It is dated thirty years ago. How it ended up there is unknown.
The footage shows Professor Brown recording some sort of video diary. Night vision is on, and we get the sense of foreboding doom. He recounts his experiences over the past few weeks of being trapped in the darkness. How he is continually drawn to what he calls The Shimmering. At one point he even brings the camera to show us what he means. The camera shows a huge shimmering cave wall. It has more of a natural structure than what we’ve seen of the clean, sheer walls of the sinkhole. It is shaped like an elaborate 30-foot-tall doorway, only there is no door. It’s like the outline of a door. A hologram.
Professor Brown sets down the camera. He kneels down and looks into the lens. “This is for my daughter. May she find life where I have only found death. I have run out of supplies. I will not last another day. Not with the entity stalking me down here. I know if I stop to sleep it will engulf me.” Professor Brown begins to pile up what looks like explosives in front of The Shimmering. “Whatever It is, I can’t let it get out.” We hear that grumbling, and the footage begins to static. The camera returns to Professor Brown looking off screen worried. “Tell my daughter Daddy died a hero.” He flicks the switch on the detonator and a flash of white, then more static.
In conclusion, I must admit that it seems the explosion set off by Professor Brown is what ultimately caused the sinkhole to form in the first place. In retrospect, I believe bringing Professor Brown into the fold was both a mistake and inevitable. It seems to have both happened before and after the event.
The last curious bit of information is, Professor Brown does not have a daughter, nor was he ever in any meaningful relationships. We can only speculate as to who he was referring to. Though it does bring to mind what my mother always told me about my father. The only thing she ever said about him was, “Daddy died a hero.”
* The Shimmering has been widely considered an eyewitness account of the events that occurred in Hodgen’s Town. Published under a penname. I have been unable to uncover the real author. -Click to return to text.