There is a little seaside city in a soapbubble, which you cannot touch of course. You touch it:
She is you of course, of course. She steps through the cobblestone streets uncertainly because everything reminds her of a puzzlecube halfway between phases. Redbrick stores could slot into the ground with a smooth iterative motion so another house could emerge elsewhere, and rooves become streets. Movement is only possible forwards or backwards in one dimension; the shift between second and third person still grates on her when she steps into the store that sells fishing supplies, dodging two dead pixels that hang like disembodied pupils in the air outside. Most of the fishing supplies aren’t there yet. “We got a delayed shipment this month,” explains the old woman behind the counter. She gets the impression the woman is standing behind the counter because she has no lower body, like a mermaid. “We lost a whole ship in the forest, but we’re confident it’ll find its way back to us. Perhaps you would like to place an order?” (If she tries to touch the space where the missing items will be she is met with resistance.)
“I’m here to investigate a murder.”
“Oh.” The woman does not know what to say for a while. The sun gleams in an unrealistic way off empty glass jars that are supposed to contain lures. “A particular one, or will any old murder do?”
“I got a telegram.” Written in invisible ink, she had had to hold the telegram up against the sky that was not the same alpha-grey as the paper it was written on, and it said: GRIM MRDR SPBL CITY LOVE ERIC in clouds and optimistic blue.
“You might wanna head down to the docks.”
“I tried, but this is the only street I can walk on and your store is the only one open. All the others are out of reach.”
The old woman made a grimace and her mouth got stuck, killer crystals spreading across her face. “I’ll let you use my backdoor,” she said, her voice ventriloquized. Then the woman froze opening the door. She passed her carefully, avoiding the coral reef growing where the woman’s head used to be. She remembered the old woman’s voice clearly as if she’d spoken a few seconds ago: “Be careful, I don’t trust that Eric, and neither should you.”
The harbour is full of toothpicks. The cobblestones here lean toward the sea. A man looks distressed on one of the bridges, and a shift is coming up. Do you ask him if he is Eric? You do. Eric asks you to come closer, and points toward the sea. The water laps against the closest stones and it is the first music you hear and you smile. You stop smiling when you see the outline of the body three metres into the water. The body must be elsewhere, but the water respects the outline of the air pocket. Three harpoons jut out from the stones down there, which must be what killed her. Do you look toward Eric to ask him what happened? The harbour shifts like a puzzlecube, forwards, dragging you down into the water spearing you on the harpoons. The cobblestones here no longer lean toward the sea – they are at right angles.