Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Skip Week 1: Writer's Notes for July 2009

Well, I'm no Richard Kadrey, but I think the video came out well enough. I'll get the hang of only looking at the camera for the next time. Any way, here's me talking to you a little bit:

Next week, come on back for the first part of the last 'recycled' story: Deeper the Well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Disconnect Part Four


“It’s not a real riddle,” Jimmy said. “We’re being manipulated like a Twilight Zone episode. Tolkien used it in order to move the plot forward in one of those godawful books. There’s no real answer to it. Someone’s playing a goddamn game and I’m tired of it. I’m going home.”

The mayor put a hand on Jimmy’s arm and looked at Chief Goodby. “How many people are in the crowd around the park?”

Goodby shook his head and looked around. “Hard to be sure. Twenty-five, maybe thirty thousand. Maybe more.”

“And how many of them have cell phones? Rough estimate, Agent Lavish?”

“Probably seventy, maybe eighty percent. Maybe more.” He looked at the opposite side of the park. “I can’t tell you for sure, Madam Mayor.”

“I’ve only got two companies here, two hundred soldiers,” Colonel Fulsom said. “But with help from the local police we can probably contain any riot situation.”

“Thank you, Colonel,” Mayor Gerdes said then turned to Jimmy. “Mr. Cavanaugh, can you help us move the crowd out of here? I’m worried this isn’t a safe place for so many people to be. We need every local person to reach out to the crowd and ask them to go home, or at least away from this area.”

“What about the Feds, are they going to help? I don’t want any more to do with this.”

“Mr. Cavanaugh,” Agent Lavish said. “The mayor’s not being unreasonable. She’s asking for your assistance. You should help out.”

Jimmy squinted at the agent. Then he, Lavish, Chief Goodby, the mayor and Colonel Fulsom all turned around. Thousands of cell phones were ringing all at once and every single one was being answered with a mixture of fear and relief. The mayor’s phone rang, as did the Chief’s. So did Jimmy’s.

“Answer them,” the mayor said. “Try to tell whoever it is we’re in trouble.”

Jimmy held the phone up to his ear. It was all a babble; thousands and thousands of voices in as many dialects and accents and languages, all talking at once. Closing his phone, he could see everyone around him holding a phone and saying variations of ‘hello’ and ‘can you hear me’ and ‘is anyone there’. Everyone did the dance they do when cell phone reception is bad. Some ended up shouting, some holding hands to the opposite ears to hear better, others turned in circles. No one got more than the sound of their own voice.

Jimmy saw Fulsom and Lavish give up quickly, the mayor was just now handing her phone to an assistant and Goodby was just listening to his. Jimmy turned around and looked at the sphere, which was glowing blue, then green, then red, then blue again and so on. He walked away from the little group of authorities and toward the sphere. Pulled again as he had been about two hours before. He kept looking at the sphere, where nothing was happening, walking towards it seemingly with a purpose.

“Cavanaugh!” Goodby said. “What are you doing?”

Lieutenant Kerry was doing his best to keep the line of angry onlookers contained, but as they began to realize that their phones weren’t really working, their attention turned to the police and Army holding them back. “Please, we need you all to stay back folks,” he kept repeating. “Stay behind the barriers.”

“Hell with this,” a man in the crowd said to Kerry. “What are you doing about this? What’s going on?”

“Sir, everything that can be done is being done, I assure you,” Kerry said. “Please stay behind the line.”

“Or what?” a woman in front of him said. “You’ll shoot us?”

Kerry put on his best scowl. “I’d rather not,” he said.

Jimmy was standing just about where he was when he answered the first riddle. He watched the colors change slowly within the sphere and cocked his head. Goodby jogged up to join him. “What are you thinking?” he asked.

“I don’t think it’s dangerous,” Jimmy said. “I don’t know what it is, or where it came from but I don’t think it’s here to hurt us. Push us, yes. That’s the purpose of cutting the time we had to solve each riddle by so much.” He turned back to the crowd surrounding the park. “Look at them, Chief. They’re still shouting into their phones, punching buttons. They’re packed right next to each other but they’re not talking to the person next them, they’re trying to reach someone who’s somewhere else. It’s a closed loop. It’s all contained here in the park, inside the city.”

Jimmy started walking back toward the mayor, Goodby followed. “We’re going to have a riot here if we don’t do something,” he said. “Thirty thousand angry people are hard to control.”

“I have an idea,” Jimmy said. “But I’m going to need some help from everyone.”

The barriers were moved into the park to a fifty-foot radius around the sphere, uniformed police and soldiers, their weapons re-shouldered, were spread throughout the crowd. Spacing themselves at regular intervals in case anything went wrong they could funnel a panicked mob as quickly from the park as possible. Their training kept them calm. It was an enormous task, and likely more than impossible, but everyone in charge felt better that there was at least a contingency if Jimmy’s idea didn’t work.

People were milling, nervous and chattering. The command team was back at the picnic table.

“Well,” Jimmy said. “Colonel Fulsom, are your men ready?”

“Yes,” Fulsom said.

“Good,” Jimmy said. “Look, if the first answer was ear, the second eye and the third riddle is ‘What’s in my pocket?’ then I think I have a solution. When you add in that no one’s cell phone is working except by leave of the mysterious objet d’art,” he pointed at the sphere, “I think we have a serious challenge to how society is working.

“What would be a natural action when you ask the question ‘What’s in my pocket?’ To me,” Jimmy said, “it’d be to have your hand in your pocket, cradling whatever you had: keys, a phone, some change, anything. So the answer is likely a hand.”

“I don’t get it,” the mayor said. “Is that really the answer this thing wants?”

“That’s the point of the thing. We don’t think enough, we just do. We react more than act, even though we live like we act. What happened when everything electronic stopped? People came to the center of the city, they came to be with other people.”

“I’m still not following you,” Chief Goodby said. “Why would that be a goal? Other than to hurt lots of people?”

“If there was damage going to be done, it would’ve been done already, don’t you think? This crowd has been out here for hours now.” Jimmy spread his arms to show the crowd. “Terrorists don’t try to befuddle the masses, they try to hurt people. This is not a terrorist action: it’s a social experiment. It’s someone with a lot of money and a knack for manipulation.”

“I see,” Fulsom said. “We don’t talk to each other when we have all the technology at hand, we only think we do. Everything that connects people really only serves to keep them apart, right?”

“Yeah, I think that’s what it’s about,” Jimmy said. “It makes sense when you think that it’s asked us to hear, to see and then to reach out ---“

“--- and touch someone,” Agent Lavish said. “It makes a certain kind of sense, I suppose. Strange kind of logic.”

“Or perhaps faith.”

Agent Lavish frowned a little then looked at Colonel Fulsom. “Indeed.”

Jimmy said, “Time to get going.” He took a deep breath and held it. “Wish me luck.” He shook hands with the other four and walked into the mass of people between him and the sphere.

“Excuse me,” he said more times than he could keep count of. “I’m sorry, pardon me.” He made it to the front of the group, and saw Deirdre. She looked worried and anxious. Jimmy smiled, nodded at her, patted her shoulder and stepped in front of the sphere. As if sensing him, it turned green, then yellow and stopped pulsing. He took a deep breath.

“I have an answer,” he said.

The sphere did nothing, no response. He nodded and turned to where Deirdre stood. “If this goes wrong,” he said only to her, “run like hell.”

She nodded. “Look at it, though, Jimmy,” she said.

He turned and saw his face looking back at him. “Okay,” he said, his voice amplified and echoing off the sandstone buildings at the edge of the park. “I’m on candid camera.” There was a twitter of laughter in the crowd.

He smiled back at Deirdre. “Everything’s going to be all right. Do like I do.”

Jimmy looked over her shoulder and reached out his hand to Patrick Singleton and Sandra Feeney. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Jimmy. It’s nice to meet you.”

Click here for Deeper the Well

Please come back in two weeks for a new story and next week for some author’s notes on “Teller” and “Disconnect”.

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Like it? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Disconnect Part Three


Abraham Fulsom didn’t get to be a full-bird colonel by sitting on the sidelines. He made command decisions and stuck by them. He always made the correct decisions and the higher-ups in Army command (he didn’t think of them as ‘superiors’) almost always agreed. Half a garbled message had come through as the 423rd “Roadrunners” had passed Kansas City on their way back to Fort Carson. Fulsom decided they would stop and see what was going on.

At exit 204 on I-70, the transportation group’s very reliable convoy of vehicles suddenly rolled to a stop behind a line of civilian vehicles. Colonel Fulsom smiled at the thought of taking his soldiers into the college town to either help or assume command if need be from the local authorities. His soldiers were precise in their march into the park and sharp in their parade rest. Puffed up like the eagle he wore, Colonel Abraham Fulsom followed the police officer sent to escort him. His soldiers spread out to control the crowd.

Mayor Gerdes, Colonel Fulsom and FBI agent James Lavish were gathered around a picnic table in the park about fifty feet from the sphere waiting for Chief Goodby and Jimmy to give them the answer to the second riddle.

“Well?” The mayor’s arms were crossed and she was frowning.

Jimmy was looking at the notebook he’d been scribbling in and shrugged. “I don’t know. It sounds right, but I’m not sure.”

“You told me you had the answer, Cavanaugh,” Chief Goodby said. “What are you saying?”

“Look, the word is short, only three letters, but it sounds like one letter. Eye could be right; it fits with the two letters pronounced as one, double, single, forward and backward…. It all works. It even fits with the answer to the first riddle, ear, as another of the senses.” Jimmy tossed the notebook on the table. “I guess I just don’t know what to make of it. The answer is ‘eye’, I’m 95% sure.”

Agent Lavish picked up the notebook and flipped through it. “That would be my guess, too, Madam Mayor. We need to wait for another riddle/answer combo to determine if there’s a pattern in responses.”

Goodby looked at the mayor who was looking at Jimmy as he stared at the table.

“All bullshit aside,” she said, “what do you think? Is it good?”

He slid his hands over the rough wood of the tabletop. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s 95% good.”

“Do it, then,” she said. “Chief, you and Mr. Cavanaugh give the answer and see what happens. We should be ready to move the crowd away quickly and contain as much as we can.” She stood up then and looked towards the bandstand. “Thank you gentlemen,” she said and walked away. Lavish went with her.

“Let’s go Cavanaugh,” Goodby said. “Let’s find out if you’re any good at this.”

They were in front of the sphere again. “We’re ready to answer,” Jimmy said. The sphere showed the riddle again and flashed WHAT AM I? across its face. The crowd was stirring behind him as Jimmy said “An eye,” and the words on the sphere faded gradually.

Everyone watched. The people around Deirdre were shifting nervously. “Do you think it was the right answer?” she heard Shelly Ross behind her.

“I dunno,” a man answered.

“What happens if it wasn’t? Think it’ll kill us with a death ray or something?”

“You’ve played Destroy All Humans too much, Joe,” Shelly said.

The soldiers in the platoon on the west side were looking over their shoulders and saw Colonel Fulsom returned. “Rather be with my soldiers if something goes wrong,” he said. “Lieutenant Kerry, keep everyone on point.”

The sphere pulsed, swirled colors and shapes but went dark and silent, showing nothing. Its clock was black.

The mayor and Agent Lavish were watching intently, waiting for the response one way or the other. The crowd, now doubled in size, held its breath. The city was quiet.

Deirdre, a hundred yards from where Jimmy was standing heard his cell phone ring. The crowd murmured and shifted. The ring came again and they all saw Jimmy reach into his pants pocket and pull out the device. It rang again and he opened it, held it to his ear. Chief Goodby looked toward the mayor and Agent Lavish. Colonel Fulsom stood stock-still and watched Jimmy close his phone. He looked up at the sphere again and then at the chief of police.

Everyone who had a cell phone tried to use it, none worked. Not Deirdre’s, not Shelly Ross’, not Frank’s, not the mayor’s nor anyone else’s. There was angry buzzing amongst the onlookers aiming at Jimmy. The chief of police ran over to him. The soldiers braced themselves.

Chief Goodby looked at Jimmy. “What was it? What did they say?”

“A voice I haven’t heard in a long time, Chief. A friend who I haven’t heard from in --- god, I don’t know how long.” He shook with rage. “But there was no way it was her, it couldn’t have been.”

“Why not?”

Jimmy said, “Because she’s dead, Chief. She died a long, long time ago.” He clenched and unclenched his fists. “I was there. It’s not possible she just talked to me.”

“A recording, then?”

“Not possible.”

“Why does his cell work?” someone shouted from across the park. “Why doesn’t anyone else’s? Why’s he so special?” A general agreement of the anonymous assessment worked its way through the onlookers, the crowd beginning to turn into a mass of heat, frustration and anger.

“Someone needs to address this, Madam Mayor,” Agent Lavish said. “They need an answer that satisfies everyone.” Chief Goodby had Jimmy by the elbow walking quickly to the command post where Lavish and the mayor were watching. Lavish spoke to his watch, turned to look at the top of the courthouse and nodded. The mayor stomped away from the FBI agent across the green grass of the park towards the two oncoming men.

“What was that, Cavanaugh? Your phone working now?”

Jimmy tossed it to her. “You try it. I don’t want the damn thing.” He looked crushed and walked past her.

“What’s the matter with him?” she asked Goodby.

The crowd was getting restless, shouting and pushing. The 423rd Roadrunners, a transport group, were doing their best to keep them contained, but it was getting harder. People were looking for answers and weren’t willing to wait much longer. “Lieutenant Kerry,” Fulsom said. “Have your team unshoulder their weapons. Do not point them at any civilians. Do not alarm them, but keep them contained. Pass the word. I’m going to the command post. You’re in charge.”

“Yes, sir,” Kerry said.

“Did he get a riddle?”

“No, colonel,” Chief Goodby said. “He got a call from a ghost on a dead cell phone.”

“So this sphere is something supernatural?” the mayor asked.

“Everything has an explanation,” Agent Lavish said. “There’s nothing necessarily supernatural at play here.”

“Yes there is,” Jimmy said.

“How so?”

“The voice on the phone was someone who couldn’t possibly have been on that line. She --- I was there when she died. I also know one hundred percent that she never recorded her voice, so we’re dealing with something supernatural at the very least, and maybe supranatural if that’s not enough.” Jimmy was, pacing. He walked a circle around the colonel, the mayor, an agent of the FBI and the chief of police. He completed two circuits before he stopped next to the mayor and looked right at her. “There was a riddle.”

Everyone looked at him, waiting. The clock on the base had reset and was counting down 0:58. The crowd across the park was shifting, impatient. Fathers looked at sons, daughters, wives and made decisions for their family’s safety. Several were making their way out and back into the downtown streets. Once out of the crowd, they ran.

“Death rays, Shelly.”

“Shut up, Joe.” Shelly was watching the group of city leaders at their command post. “Just shut up, already.”

“Well?” the mayor asked. “What is it? We’ve only got an hour, what’s the riddle?”

“You’re not going to like it.”

Agent Lavish leaned in. “Tell us exactly what was said.”

“My phone rang. You saw me open it, but there was no number on the screen, no lights at all. I held it to my ear. I could hear sounds of a city, but there were screams and wails in the background. I could hear singing, too. There was a conversation, several conversations going on --- d’you remember party lines?”

They all nodded. Jimmy went on. “That’s what it sounded like, an old-fashioned party line. There was static and crackle, and then I heard her voice. ‘Jimmy? Jimmy, it’s Esme. I’m supposed to ask you a question. I miss you, I don’t know where I am, and – and I’m scared… Jimmy, what do I have in my pocket?’ and the line went dead.”

Disconnect concludes next week in Part 4!  CLICK HERE FOR THE CONCLUSION

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Can’t wait? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Disconnect Part Two


It hit everyone in the park like a roller coaster suddenly turning at the bottom of a tall drop. Those closest to the sphere, inside the barriers, were knocked to the ground. The murmur of the crowd became a buzz, then a palpable wave of fear rushed through them. Several onlookers turned and walked away as groups of four and five approached from the far sides. The crowd was growing faster than it was contracting.

No one seemed to be hurt and the police officials were scrambling. “Nothing’s working, Loo,” a cop said. “I mean nothing. No radios, no portables, nothing electronic at all. Cars are all dead.”

“Get lots of pencils and notebooks, then. Identify runners,” he said. “Jesus, we’re going old fashioned for this one. Where’s the mayor?” The policeman ran off shouting for two officers to get others leaving the commander to study the sphere.

Jimmy went back and found Deirdre in the crowd. “You okay, kiddo?”

“I guess,” Deirdre said. “Monster headache. Did you hear if they know anything about it?”

“No,” Jimmy said. He turned to look back at the sphere still scrolling the four lines of the riddle across its face. “It sounds awfully familiar. I used to be good at riddles.”

Deirdre said, “Don’t worry too much about it. I’m sure that the fine city officials will do everything they can to keep us safe.” She snorted derision and took a bottle of water from her backpack.

“Your faith in the city fathers is reassuring, dear,” Jimmy said. “From what I hear, though, they’re --- Shit.”


Jimmy smiled. “How do people learn? They see it, hear it or touch it. What happens when people are talking about us? Our ears burn. Shit, the riddle’s answer is ‘What is the ear?’”

Deirdre looked puzzled. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Jimmy said. “I’m sure.” He looked through the crowd. “I’m going to see if they haven’t figured it out. If they have, I’ll be back in a minute.”

Jimmy wound his way through the crowd. Some were scared and crying, others staring, still more praying in groups. Several were packing up their camp chairs and leaving. Soon he found two uniformed police talking to another official-looking man.

“Take McCay and Beck and Howell to the Corps of Engineers,” the official man said. “Have Simmons and Waters do a perimeter walk. Be back here by noon with the stuff.” The two cops nodded and walked away and the speaker noticed Jimmy waiting.

“Sir, we need everyone back behind the barriers, please.”

“I think I’ve figured out the riddle,” Jimmy said. “It’s an ear. ‘What is an ear?’ or just ‘Ear’, depending on what form the sphere wants.”

“The sphere?” the official said. “Oh, yeah. We’ve got folks from the University working on it. I’ll let them know what you said.” He nodded at Jimmy and turned to walk away.

“You’re not going to do something stupid like try to blow it up, are you?”

The official stopped and turned back to Jimmy. “Where did you hear that?”

“Is that confirmation?”

“Are you press?” The official faced Jimmy and put his hands on his hips. “Who the hell are you?”

“Jimmy Cavanaugh, concerned citizen and knowledgeable about the See oh Eee.”

“Police chief Goodby.”

“Ah,” Jimmy said. They shook hands. “Are you planning to blow it up, then?”

“Come with me,” Chief Goodby said and they walked into the park toward the sphere. “How did you come up with ‘ear’?”

“The clues are kind of heavy handed: burning, a way to learn, waves on drums. That part threw me a little.” The two men stopped and looked at the object. “Do you know why it’s here?”

“Nope,” Goodby said. “Complete mystery. Add in that we can’t seem to reach anyone and it’s pretty goddamn scary.”

“Yeah, Chief,” Jimmy said. “But just because it’s scary doesn’t mean we should go nuclear. Can we try the answer and see what happens? What does it cost you to wait five minutes and see?”

“I don’t know. It’s counting down and if you’re wrong... “ Goodby sighed. “I shouldn’t do this,” he said and closed his eyes. Jimmy waited.

“All right,” the chief said with a deep breath and standing up straight. “Let’s see what happens.”

He motioned behind Jimmy and a uniformed officer ran up to them. “I need the mayor down here now. Go.” The officer nodded and ran off.

Jimmy and Chief Goodby finally stood about ten feet from the sphere. Close up, Jimmy saw a face that looked like Plato and a sphinx sculpted on the base, a diagram of the solar system and a representation of DaVinci’s The Vitruvian Man. He turned to Chief Goodby. “It looks like that space thing they shot off in the 70s,” Jimmy said. “The one that says ‘we come in peace’, doesn’t it?”

“I was never one for NASA, so I can’t say. How do we tell it the answer?”

Just then there was a hum from the sphere and the crowd reacted behind the control barriers. The digital clock stopped. “I think you just said we were ready, Chief.”

The sphere glowed red, then yellow, then scrolled the riddle across its face again:

I am one way to learn
And have been known to burn
Waves break upon my drums
Which are defective in some.

Jimmy moved forward, stood straight and proud as much for the appearance to the crowd as from any bravery and said, “An ear.” The Chief was six feet behind him when the sphere suddenly glowed green and the hum became a whistle and stopped. Then it began to pulse its greenish-blue color again, ten times. The digital clock went crazy and ran randomly through all its numbers went blank.

Chief Goodby said, “Shit. Now what?”

“Let’s see what it gives us next,” Jimmy said.

The sphere swirled colors and shapes and lines. Green became blue became red and repeated. Circles became squares became triangles and then ran through the three colors again. There was a swirl of all three colors and then more words scrolled like movie credits over the face of the sphere:

Pronounced as one letter,
Though written with three,
Two letters there are,
And two only in me.
I’m double, I’m single,
I am black, blue and gray,
I am read from both ends,
The same either way.

The clock flicked its red numbers back on at 4:00, seconds seeming to flit by until it changed to 3:59. “Four hours?” The Chief looked at Jimmy, who was scribbling the riddle into a small notebook with a pencil. Then he watched as Jimmy checked his writing while the riddle scrolled again and again. “Any ideas? That’s a helluva lot less time than the first one.”

Jimmy turned from the sphere and began pacing, tapping the pencil on his goateed chin, repeating the riddle over and over. “Two letters, two only…”

A runner charged up to Chief Goodby, out of breath. “The mayor’s on her way, but she said to tell you we’re off the grid completely.”

“What do you mean, ‘off the grid’?”

“She didn’t explain,” the officer said standing up straight. “Eight o’clock briefing?”

“Yeah,” the chief said. “Cavanaugh, keep working that riddle. Get me an answer.”

“Right,” Jimmy said. “Don’t blow anything up, okay? I don’t think it’s dangerous. I think the sphere is trying to talk to us.”

“Hope you’re right about that.”

Jimmy found Deirdre on the curb at the edge of the crowd, sat and began working the riddle. “Can you figure it out?” she asked him.

“I’ve solved a few of them over the years,” Jimmy said. “I just need some time and I hate being on a clock.”

“This might not be good for you then,” Deirdre said, and pointed up the street. “I hate parades.”

Now Jimmy could hear the sound of marching boots, punctuated by occasional shouts. The people in the park around the barriers were lined the street like runway landing lights. Some in the crowd shouted support, expressed relief at the arrival of authority. Others took Deirdre’s view. “I hate soldiers.”

“They have their purpose, Deirdre,” Jimmy said studying his little notebook. “’Read the same either way’… Damn. It just doesn’t…” He looked up. Police were moving the barriers blocking the street that ran through the park so the soldiers could move in easily and the onlookers would still be kept back. The soldiers were carrying rifles and the sounds of their boots echoed off the limestone courthouse. Deirdre shivered.

Mayor Gerdes was arguing with Chief Goodby across the street. Neither looked happy. Three dark-suited men who came from the opposite side of the park behind them joined the conversation. After a short exchange a scowling Chief Goodby stomped across the street towards Jimmy and Deirdre.

“FBI wants you now, Cavanaugh. Tell me you have the riddle solved, or they take over.”

”Disconnect” continues next week in Part 3! CLICK HERE FOR PART THREE

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Can’t wait? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Disconnect Part One


The three students stumbling through Chancellor’s Park at three in the morning were veterans of the Thursday night college ritual of closing down the bars. Sandra Feeney lived just on the other side of the park and the asphalt sidewalks were the best way home. Her escorts, Mike West and Patrick Singleton, had hopes of spending the night with her. She hadn’t told them she was only interested in flirting enough to enjoy a night of mostly free drinking.

Patrick tripped and sprawled face-first into the already dewy grass across the paved walkway. All three laughed. Patrick tried to get to his feet, slipped and fell again to everyone’s amusement.

Mike put his arm around Sandra and kissed her cheek, whispered in her ear. She slipped Mike’s arm and went to Patrick to help him up. Brushing himself off, Patrick was giggling quietly.

Sandra turned Patrick slightly and looked him over in the glow of a streetlamp and made clucking noises the same way her mother had. “You’ll need to get those cuts cleaned up,” she said to him then stood back and put her hands on her hips. “Let’s go boys.”

They walked past the bandstand in the center of the park in an uncomfortable silence. Sandra stopped. “Guys,” she said. “What’s that?”

A sphere of frosted glass sat atop a ten-foot high metal base that shined dully in the moonlight. It sat in the middle of the largest green space in the park, where arts and crafts festivals always set the biggest most popular vendors; a place where it shouldn’t have been. “Probably some new art installation,” Patrick said. “There’s supposed to be some new pieces coming, aren’t there?”

There was a low hum and a beep. They came closer and saw a digital clock that showed 23:42 and was counting down by seconds. The sphere began to glow.

Five hours later and two blocks away from the park, the SideStreet Café had the best Turkish coffee in town and at seven in the morning on a Friday it was slow enough for two very old friends to have a quiet conversation while the barista read the morning newspaper. Bob Edwards was talking politics on the radio with David Broder. Jimmy Cavanaugh put down his espresso. “You didn’t really get away with that, did you?”

“I did,” the dark-eyed, heavy-set man said. “Since our – emancipation – I have learned a great deal.” He sipped from his own demitasse and a smile marched across his face: a dark thing uncomfortable and out of place. “Manipulation being perhaps not the least, but the easiest.”

“Well, that’s life, Strangiato,” Jimmy said. Lean and goateed, dressed in his chef’s togs and a t-shirt, he looked the opposite of his friend. “We know all about the easy path, don’t we?“ The door banged open and a redheaded woman ran into the café. The barista looked up from his paper long enough to nod at her in recognition.

“Jimmy! Did you hear?”

“What’s that, Deirdre? There a game last night?”

“Yeah, we won, but that’s not ---“ she was obviously excited. “Cops are all over downtown and they’ve got barriers and tape around the east half of the park. Come on, it’s an event!”

“I’ll be there directly, Dee,” Jimmy said. “Catching up with an old friend here.”

“Fine, then,” she said and waved goodbye to run up the street. Jimmy watched her go with a wistful look.

“One of yours?”

“No,” Jimmy said. “I wish she was, but no. She’s a fireball.” Jimmy leaned over his coffee. The barista turned the page on his newspaper.

“The resemblance to Esme is striking, and not the first like her I’ve seen around you.” Strangiato stood and adjusted his vest, checked his cufflinks and dropped a bill on the table. “I must be off. Brahmen is still very angry with you, you know. He has value in the grand scheme, my friend. Don’t count him out.”

“Brahmen’s a stooge and you know it,” Jimmy said. “That crap he pulled --- you know all that. I don’t need him for anything.” He finished his espresso and stood. “Look, I appreciate the sentiment, but I’ll handle this my way.”

“Then you will accomplish exactly what you always have, Cavanaugh. Nonetheless: luck.” Strangiato gave a quick, shallow bow. “Be safe. I hope to see you again soon.” He walked out of the cafe, leaving Jimmy to take the two cups to the barista, who was studying his cell phone.

“Everything okay, Nick?”

“My phone’s on the fritz all of a sudden,” the barista said. “Won’t even power on.” He tapped the laptop on the counter. “Nothing there, either.”

“Huh,” Jimmy said. He pulled his own phone out of his pants pocket and looked. “Mine’s off, too.” Fiddling with it did no good. Jimmy stopped and looked up. “I thought you were playing a radio in here.”

Nick looked under the counter. “Yeah, but it looks like the satellite’s out. Happens more often since the merger, but it should come back.”

“Yeah,” Jimmy said. “Look, thanks for the coffee. Excellent as always.” He left the little café and walked towards the park.

Walking towards Chancellor’s Park, he noticed stoplights were out, and the digital clock on the corner bank. It was quiet, even for early Friday morning: no cars passed and Jimmy saw a jogger stopped on the sidewalk across the street, stabbing at an mp3 player. The street was unnaturally still. He kept walking.

At the park, Jimmy saw a hundred people behind orange-striped barriers and yellow tape. Inside the perimeter, ten feet above the ground was a glass sphere, dripping with dew, itself probably ten feet in diameter, held above the ground by a squarish pedestal covered in what appeared to be ornamental brass works. A small group of police officers and downtown notables were looking at the base, others were watching the crowd.

“Hey! Jimmy!”

Deirdre motioned him over to her own little group. “No one seems to know what it is, but cell phones aren’t working, radios aren’t working, it’s like everything electric is dead. We’ve seen the cops sending runners back and forth. It’s the damndest thing.”

“Huh,” Jimmy said. “Stoplights and the clock on the bank, too.”

“Makes you wonder,” Deirdre said.

Jimmy watched the cops working the scene and then turned his attention to watching the onlookers. No one was talking on a cell phone, no one had headphones on; there was only a murmur of conversation and birds chirping. A reporter wandering through the crowd asked Jimmy what he thought of the sphere.

“I don’t know. I just got here,” he said. “I think it’s a pretty piece of art.”

The reporter was writing in a small notebook with a stub of pencil.

“Don’t you guys use microrecorders or something like that?”

“Yeah, well,” the reporter said. “If it was working, I’d be using it. What’s your name?”

Jimmy could feel the back of his neck get hot. He turned around and the sphere was glowing and getting brighter. Onlookers were shielding their eyes and stepping back. There was a low hum as the light became whiter, then: a flash. People in the crowd screamed and some fell down. Everyone caught his breath.

As they recovered their sight the police, Jimmy and the onlookers saw the sphere glowing a faint greenish-blue. It was pulsing. “We’re all gonna die,” someone said behind him. “That thing’s probably nuclear. You watch there’ll be tumors in six months if we survive this.” Jimmy turned and frowned in the direction of the speaker.

“That’s not really helping, you know.”

The middle-aged man who had spoken locked eyes with Jimmy. “See if I’m not right,” he said. “This is the end of days.”

Jimmy waved him off and turned back to the sphere.

At ten pulses it went white and the hum stopped. Jimmy was inside the orange-striped barriers and yellow tape walking towards the sphere as if pulled. Something appeared to be moving inside the glass: swirling, coalescing into a line then a couple of lines that rolled across the face of the sphere. More lines joined the dance and they started to attach themselves to each other, forming letters, then words. The words danced around the face of the sphere, lining themselves up into short phrases that circled the sphere, one after the other.

I am one way to learn
And have been known to burn
Waves break upon my drums
Which are defective in some.

“A riddle,” Jimmy said. “Someone’s playing a joke.” He turned and looked at Deirdre behind the barriers. “It’s a riddle!” He smiled and began to walk back towards the edge of the crowd, a spring in his step. He understood pranks and was going to explain when he saw Deirdre and several others point his direction. Jimmy turned back to the sphere. He noticed the digital clock: 19:15

The second flash was brighter.

”Disconnect” continues next week in Part 2! CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Can’t wait? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email!