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Literature / Window

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"Window" is a Short Story by Bob Leman, first published in a 1980 issue of The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction.

US Army officer Gilson is sent to the middle of the forest, where a secret military-financed civilian research center headed by psychology professor Dr. Krantz is experiencing a most unusual problem. The prefab structure housing the laboratory of Krantz's colleague Culvergast has mysteriously vanished... and in its place is a large rectangular life-size 3-D image of what appears to be an Edwardian-era prairie homestead, complete with a family living in it. There's a man, a woman, two children and a dog. Although they speak, there is no sound, and they do not acknowledge the presence of the soldiers on the other side. All efforts to communicate with them or even go through have proven fruitless.

As Gilson and Krantz try to figure out what is going on, and whether what they're seeing is a window into the past or into an alternate dimension, arguing about whether or not the Army will take over from the civilian scientists in the interests of national security, they discover that sometimes the barrier goes down for very brief intervals. Unbeknownst to them, a grad student named Reeves begins longing for what appears to be a simple and idyllic life on the other side of the invisible barrier. He's given the children and dog pet names ("Martha" and "Pete" for the two kids and "Alfie" for the dog) and starts obsessing over whether or not he can cross over into their world and live there with them.

When Gilson threatens to shut the whole project down and oust Krantz and his team, a desperate Reeves makes his move. But what he finds upon crossing over into the family's world is not what he, or anyone, expected...

The story was adapted into "A View Through the Window", an episode of the anthology series Night Visions starring Bill Pullman as Army scientist Ben Darnell and with the setting relocated to the Iraqi desert. It was reprinted in Leman's sole collection Feesters in the Lake.

"Window" provides examples of:

  • The Family That Slays Together: The entire family joins in on slaughtering and eating Reeves.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: For whatever reason, when "Martha" attacks Reeves, brother "Pete" and their parents strip naked to rush outside to join her in feasting on the dead grad student's corpse.
  • Enfante Terrible: The children "Martha" and "Pete," being sharp-toothed vicious cannibals and all. Especially "Martha," whose immediate response to seeing Reeves is to run at him unprovoked, leap through the air, pouncing on the unprepared grad student and bite his throat. At least in the Night Visions episode, Belinda waits a minute before doing the same thing to Ben.
  • Fridge Horror: The window taking the place of Culvergast's prefab apparently erased it, and him, from existence. After the father of the killer family closes the portal and it vanishes, Culvergast's lab doesn't return, suggesting he's gone for good.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Culvergast's experiments. How wrong isn't revealed until the end.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The family are vicious, pointy-toothed cannibals.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Between Gilson and the scientists.
  • Last-Name Basis: Everyone is identified solely by their surname.
  • Magitek: It's implied that Culvergast was experimenting with merging magic and science and this is how he opened the "window" to the other world.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: When the family's true nature is revealed, they grow mouthfuls of pointy, shark-like teeth, the better to bite out Reeves' throat and rip his corpse to shreds.
  • No Name Given: The colonel accompanying Gilson is never identified by name. Likewise, although Reeves assigns nicknames to the family in the other dimension, he never bothers to name the parents for some reason.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: The eponymous "window" is actually a one-way dimensional portal.
  • Ritual Magic: The father of the family closes the window after he and his family kill and eat Reeves by performing a ritual from a Tome of Eldritch Lore. Gilson and Krantz realized that the inhabitants of the other dimension can open and close such windows at will in this manner.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: How Culvergast (presumably accidentally) opened the window with his experiments.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Reeves. Upon learning that the military will be taking over, he fears he'll never get to meet the family so he rushes through the barrier and is immediately slaughtered by the cannibalistic family.