Wednesday, July 01, 2009
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.
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
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