The town of Holcomb defied gravity, just as Jane has said. Its outskirts were normal enough, corralled raptors and barns, low buildings, some of them constructed of rough logs but most of them more refined. It was at the center of town where things got interesting.
A steep hill rose above the low houses and structures on the valley floor. The grade steepened even further until it rose as a sheer column of earth. And what was most extraordinary was that there were houses and shops built on the sides of this column, hanging there in defiance of physics. The column continued up until it widened out. Here too, buildings clung to the impossible land, some of them upside down to the valley below. The widening tapered sharply on two sides, but ran further out on the ends, then closed back together so that the shape of the entire mass appeared to be a huge earthen sledgehammer. At the top of this gravity defying marvel stood a tall mansion surrounded by other smaller structures.
Eddie jaw hung open.
"So," Bryce said. "What do you call that?"
"But what do you make of it?"
"I knew that. I wondered if in all of your random memories..."
"I've got no memory that would explain what I'm seeing right now."
A cart drawn by two raptors ascended a narrow road up the hill and continued up the column as if there were no gravity at all to draw it down. "Are you seeing this," Bryce asked.
Eddie nodded. He couldn't speak.
They descended into the valley in silence. They passed a small farm by a stream. An old man stood beside the road, repairing a picket fence. He stared at their approaching car in utter astonishment.
Bryce slowed and turned to him. "You're staring at us? You should be staring up at the town. I mean, what's up with that thing?"
The farmer dropped his hammer, crossed himself and hustled back towards his barn.
"I don't think we'll be welcome here," Eddie said.
"Maybe it's just you," Bryce said. "Maybe he's like that old lady back at the ranch."
Eddie slumped lower in his seat.
They passed a mercantile building on the edge of town and gained more astonished looks from passers by. "They're not looking at me," Eddie said. "They can't see me. It's the car."
"You think we should turn around?"
As they considered this, a young man stepped out into the middle of the street, his back to them. Bryce barely had time to stop. The car skidded in the dirt. They young man didn't notice. He stood staring at a notebook. He jotted a note, then stared back up at the towering bulge of city above him.
Bryce tapped the horn. "Walking out into traffic is a good way to die," he called.
The young man turned. He frowned down at the car and took two steps aside. "Sorry."
Bryce pulled up next to him. "You're not surprised by our demon car?" he asked.
The young man's attention was once again fixed on the town. He glanced down. "Combustion engine. Not too difficult to figure out. I've seen a few raptorless carriages down in Bixbyville. What does it run on? Some kind of refined petroleum mixture?"
"It runs on magic," Eddie said.
That earned him another brief glance from the young man. "Doubt it. Magic takes a magician, and not even the mayor could propel a vehicle that size for more than a mile or two. A magic carpet would be much more efficient."
"But it wouldn't be as cool," Bryce added.
The young man held his pencil up towards the bulging town above them, eyeballed a distance, and wrote another note. "Your vehicle can be easily explained." He pointed up at the top of the hammer-like town. "But that? That is impossible."
"I thought so too," Bryce said. "So, do you live here?"
The young man took one last note and closed his notebook. He turned to them and put out a hand. "My name's Tim. I'm the blacksmith's apprentice up in town."
Bryce shook it. He introduced himself. Eddie stared at the young man as he offered his hand. "Do I know you?"
Tim shrugged. "You don't look like you come from around here. 'Here' being relative of course, because this isn't really the same world as it was a few days ago, is it? So I'm not sure 'here' is the same 'here' it used to be."
"You look familiar." Eddie frowned.
Tim put up his hands. "I almost never leave town. Except for supply runs down in Bixbyville, but you guys aren't from Bixbyville."
He turned back to the town towering above them, thumbing its nose at gravity.
"Were you here when it happened," Bryce asked. "When your town got puckered up into the sky?"
"In the shop," he said. "Working the bellows for the boss. The change to our town made no sound at all. We would have kept on working for hours without even noticing if it weren't for the screaming. I walked outside and found myself staring straight up at the roof of Mister Linneman's general store. That's our shop up there."
Tim pointed. There was one low, squat building at the side of the suspended mallet town. Smoke billowed sideways from a smokestack. The smoke reached a point a few yards beyond the smokestack and bent upward, tracing around the curve of the bent town. "See, the smoke travels up, but 'up' is relative here. It seems that the gravitational vector bends around our town, then becomes normal again a specific distance above the ground. The smoke indicates where the altered gravity ends. I can throw a rock straight up from the shop, and it will leave the gravitational pull of the aberration and come down on Mister Linneman's store. He's asked me to stop it, by the way."
"Aberration?" Eddie asked.
"That's what I'm calling this phenomenon. It defies reality. It's not magic. The mayor himself confirmed as much. Magic is an exercise of will and focus, and there is no such effort being made here. Aberration." He shrugged.
"We have got to check this out," Bryce said.
"Mind giving me a ride?" Tim asked. "I can tell you all about it."
They continued down the road towards the center of town, Tim talking at length about his calculations as they went. When they reached the incline, Bryce stopped. "We won't fall off it, right?"
"The gravitational vector is towards the center of the column. Your perspective will shift once you're up there."
"What if you dig a hole to the center," Eddie asked. "Do you float around in zero-G?"
Tim opened his notebook. "I hadn't thought about that," he said, adding notes. "It would be interesting to see what's in there. Of course, tampering with the aberration might cause the whole thing to collapse, killing everyone."
"Well, yeah, there's that," Eddie said.
Bryce continued forward (upward). Eddie already felt a lurch in his stomach, even when they were on the relatively normal looking incline at the base of the aberration. It felt like no incline at all, like they were on flat ground. Bryce continued up the road that ascended the column. Eddie felt nothing pulling him back. It was as if, rather than climbing a vertical incline, the world had shifted around them, now appearing as a wall behind that extended up and to the sides forever.
"Holy crap," Eddie muttered.
"Yeah," said Bryce.
"You get used to it," said Tim.
The column was wide enough that the road barely appeared curved. Houses on each side had a skewed profile, their widths at the top a little broader than their bases. Was that an optical illusion, or did this gravitational field warp reality.
"This is bizarre," Eddie said. "I wish my phone wasn't dead. I'd take pictures of—"
A man on the back of a raptor trotted out into the road, blocking the way. He wore a star on his shirt and a gun holstered at his hip. He put up a hand as Bryce stopped.
"Who's this?" Eddie asked.
"That's Earlie. He's the deputy."
Earlie's raptor ambled up to the side of the car, the deputy keeping his palm against the butt of his gun. "Awfully bold of you boys to drive right into town like this."
"They haven't broken any laws, Earlie," Tim said.
"Tim," Earlie said, recognizing him. "You cavorting with the drifters?"
"I... well, yes, but—"
"Because we've got a new policy for all drifters. They're going straight to jail."