A Luminations story
I forgot a history paper today. Just completely forgot it was due. Forgot it had even been assigned.
Went to see the prof on her office hours, and somehow came away with an extension in spite of the fact that I must have been mostly incoherent. I locked myself in my room and fell asleep. Woke up around midnight and wrote half the paper. It's pretty awful, but it'll get a passing grade.
I'm missing things.
Too many things. What is happening? Time has become a blur, punctuated by moments.
In between, I just watch as things happen around me.
And those moments. I think I only feel alive when I'm terrified.
What is happening?
"Rachael's new roommate. Her name. Liz is short for Elizabeth."
"I know." Greg looked up from his laptop. It had been a week since the start of the semester.
"Well?" I had been expecting more of a reaction.
He spun his chair around and looked past me, confirming that we were alone in the computer lab.
"Have you ever had someone try to comfort you by telling you that everything happens for a reason? It's a load of bullshit, Katy. That kind of crap only makes you feel better if you don't think too hard about it. And if you look for meaning in everything, then it becomes impossible for anything to ever be just coincidence."
I wasn't ready to accept that. "That post that showed up in my blog had every name right except for one. There was no Elizabeth on 6A. Now there is. The date in the post is less than three months away, and it's getting closer to being true."
He took a look back at an email that had just come in, thought about it for a few seconds and deleted it.
"You're cherry-picking, Katy." He said. "Sure, the post mentioned someone named Elizabeth. It also mentioned Kim. She graduated in June. Look, Katy, I realize that was a little bit unsettling, but you're letting it get to you. Which is exactly what it was intended to do."
"It should be getting to all of us." I turned to walk out. "But fine. I'll deal with it myself."
I slammed the door over Greg's call for me to wait.
I knew going to the party was a mistake. I knew it even before the Granite Lodge guys showed up. It was Hell Night, October 30. Back at Alexander Hall, the crew was having one of their anime nights, and they were probably wondering why I was late. I'd smiled and nodded when they invited me, and instead here I was doing the wallflower routine at a frathouse, walking around with my hand over my drink while hiphop music blasted at levels that were probably doing permanent damage to my hearing.
I was looking for trouble. Weeks spent researching dead ends trying to find the connections between Granite Lodge, Christina Kenney, and the tuckerman13 audio file had become a blur of wasted time, missed reading assignments, and petty arguments over the stupidest shit with my friends. No one wanted to talk about what had happened, or what might happen. No one wanted to talk about much of anything. I finally started driving over to Bedford and holing up in Chess Hall's office as soon as classes were over most afternoons. I kept telling myself I'd get more work done someplace quiet. But I'd get there and drop my bookbag in the corner and start searching. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, but most of it was wasted time. I tried to think back on what I'd accomplished, but the two months since the summer ended were a blur. I could only remember moments: Arguments with Greg and Steph, phone conversations with Nancy, the weekend that Joshua visited.
The Hell Night party invites were passed out by some guys in my stats class. I thought maybe going somewhere where I was a stranger would be a break from the drama back at 6A, but I'd had enough after an hour or so. Seeing Wayne DeLucas and Jim Hennigan walk in with a bunch of their buddies was all the incentive I needed to head for the back door. As I looked over my shoulder, I met DeLucas' gaze. I shoved past a couple who were making out on the landing of the back stairs and nearly tripped over a guy puking his guts out on the bottom flight.
I was too focused on Hennigan and DeLucas. I didn't register the two women as a threat until they were right behind me.
"Hey, bitch." A hand shoved me hard enough that I almost tripped over my own feet. The path back to campus was mostly empty, and the couple of people who were watching seemed to be more amused than anything else.
I didn't recognize either of the women, but I figured they were girlfriends of some of the Granite Lodge crew. They looked the part: Built like soccer players, dressed like hookers. And I have no idea what they'd been expecting when DeLucas and his buddies talked them into jumping me. Maybe they thought this was going to be about scratching and pulling hair. I started throwing punches, and I didn't let up until Public Safety pulled me off of one of them and slapped on the handcuffs.
I was released three hours later. No charges filed, no explanation.
"Are you crazy? What could you possibly want to do that for?"
I could have hidden the whole thing from my parents, but I'd been telling too many lies and keeping too many secrets. I couldn't tell them the reasons, but I had decided to let them know that I was going to become licensed to carry a concealed weapon. My Mom's reaction wasn't surprising. I'd come prepared for a fight.
It was my Dad who surprised me.
"Second amendment rights are a pretty important part of what makes our country great. Rights come with responsibilities, Katy. I'll take you to the shooting range tomorrow. Let's make sure we do this the responsible way, okay?"
The look he gave Mom made it clear the discussion was over.
Touching me to wake me up can be hazardous. Steph found that out last Spring. Josh found it out one weekend toward the end of summer when I elbowed him in the jaw. But Kelsie put her hand on my shoulder so gently that I opened my eyes never doubting that hers was the touch of a friend.
I was sitting at a carrel in the top floor of the library with my head down on my statistics textbook. I must have thought I needed to close my eyes for a minute or two. The window at the other end of the stacks showed that it was dark outside when Kelsie woke me. It had been hours.
"Yeah, I'm okay," I said. I forced a smile. It seemed like my friends had taken to asking me if I was okay every time they saw me. "Just behind on work. How 'bout you?"
"I want to tell you about it."
I sat up straight, no doubt in my mind about what she meant. The audio file. Christina Kenney had forced Kelsie to listen to the tuckerman13 audio file, the one that was supposed to be cursed. She hadn't spoken about it since it happened.
I looked around. We were alone in the top floor stacks.
"Here?" I asked.
She gave a look around too. She wanted to be sure for herself that we were the only ones here.
"Good a place as any," she said. "And there isn’t much to tell."
She dragged a chair over and sat. I reached out and took her hand in mine.
"Screams. And choking sounds. That was most of it. There are voices, but I couldn't make them out. They're muffled. I think someone was dying, and slowly, painfully. You can feel the emotion in it. Anger, then fear, and then this terrible despair."
"No acting. It was real." I filled in the gaps for my own benefit. Kelsie nodded.
"Well, that makes sense. People say it's cursed. A recording of someone's death would qualify as curse-worthy. Could you make out anything anyone was saying? Any other sounds?
Kelsie looked down at her hands. "No. Sorry. There was noise in the background, like machinery. But that was all I could make out."
I didn't want to ask, but I had to. "They say it changes people. Did it do something to you, Kelsie?"
"I don't know. By the end, it was like standing on the edge of something. All that hopelessness just calling to me to become part of it. It went on and on until there was almost nothing else in the world."
"Faith. Whatever happened to that poor person, the Lord understood it. He suffered and died, and He comforts those who suffer. I prayed about it and thought about it a lot, every night since then. I believe I was somehow protected."
I wasn't so sure. But it was impossible to tell. Kelsie herself could be as much a mystery as any of the strange events that I'd witnessed. I decided there was nothing else to do but take her at her word. She hadn’t given me much to follow up on about the audio file, but maybe there would be something in one of the criminal history databases.
"I've gotta go," Kelsie said. "Meeting Greg for dinner."
I stood and hugged Kelsie. "Is he still mad at me?"
"Scared for you, Katy. Please take care of yourself, okay?"
I promised her I would.
When Jan moved out in early November, I hardly had time to see her off. It was better that way, not quite so awkward. We hurried through goodbye hugs and good luck wishes, and she carried the last few boxes downstairs with help from Steph and Mellie while I packed my bags to go to Worcester for the weekend.
I was sitting in Nancy Mateo's apartment three hours later sipping tea while Darla slept in her crib.
"My friend Jan moved out. I don't really know why, exactly, but I'm afraid I had something to do with it. Nobody wants to talk about it. We were all so together. Now it's all coming apart. Greg is irritated with me, and everyone else just kinda clams up when I come in the room."
Nancy's apartment had been transformed. Stacks of books teetering on every available surface area had been replaced by piles of plush toys and baby accessories, some of it still in the boxes.
"Jan is no longer a Friend of Narnia." Nancy sniffed her tea and decided it was still too hot to sip. "That's her choice, you know."
"Do you want to know the worst part?" I didn't wait. Nancy would want to know. "Part of me is relieved. It's another inconsistency with the prophecy."
The prophecy. That was what Nancy called the blog entry. It wasn't very reassuring to hear her use that word for it, but she didn't mean to be reassuring.
Nancy finally took a taste of her Earl Gray. "Do you believe in predestination, Katy?"
"Aren't I supposed to be asking you that?"
"I don't see how my opinion matters. Look, Katy, prediction of the future is something that people have been trying to figure out for as long as people have understood that there are moments outside of the present. You're going to need to decide. Have you ever read 'August Heat' by William Harvey?"
"No. Should I have?"
She shook her head. "Maybe not. You might be better off with Ebenezer Scrooge and his three ghosts."
She got up to check on her daughter. Looking up from the crib, Nancy warned me, "The future is what you make of it, Katy. I know you want me to be more help than that, but it's really all I have."
"I know. I'm sorry. I don't mean to lay all of this on you. I'll deal with it myself."
"They haven't abandoned you. Not even Jan."
"You don’t know."
Darla started to cry and Nancy took the distraction as a chance to shift the conversation to happier topics.
"Joshua visiting any time soon?"
"Next weekend. So yeah, that's something, right?"
"It'll be what you make of it." Nancy laughed.
Mellie, Rachael, and Steph just glanced at me and then back to each other, while they kept up the awkward silence that had greeted my arrival at Alexander 6A's TV lounge.
I waited for someone to decide who was going to tell me whatever was bothering them.
Instead, Steph typed a few commands into her laptop and then motioned for me to sit beside her.
The picture was blurry. It has probably been cropped from a bigger shot of the whole room at the Hell Night party. There I was, back to the wall, clutching my drink, not obviously talking to anyone. It wasn't a really flattering pic either. There was an arrow pointed at my head with the caption "PSYCHO BITCH?"
"What the hell is this?" I demanded.
Steph pointed to the URL. "It's posted on juicycampus.com. There's more."
What followed was a pretty distorted account of the scrap I'd gotten into with those Granite Lodge girlfriends. Of course in this version, the two girls were just walking home innocently and I'd sucker-punched one for some snub at the party.
"At least they got the part about me breaking her nose right."
"Christ, Steph! Two of them against one of me, and they were like twice my size. If I'd held back any they would've killed me."
I took another look at the post. The ending caught my attention:
I don’t see why Katy McCormick is even still on campus. No charges were filed against her. Her lawyer daddy probably had something to do with that. He can't save her forever. Like her nerd friends say, the truth is out there. Katy McCormick. Psycho. If you see her heading for the library clock tower someday, well, you were warned here.
"Damn it, I don't need this shit right now!"
I headed for my room, but Steph caught up with me.
"We're on your side here, Katy. You don't have to do all the ass-kicking solo. Save me some next time, okay?"
I finally smiled a little. "You got it, Steph."
"The Precog Project."
"It's a psychohistory site, Katy." Greg was showing me a series of graphs on his laptop screen.
"Prediction of the future."
"I thought you didn't believe in any of that."
Greg shrugged. "I don't, really. But if it was possible, then a project like this could be the key to it. The trick here is numbers. Obviously there are no completely reliable prophets."
"Except that woman in Good Omens."
"Talkin' reality here, Katy."
"Oh, I'm sorry." I attempted a smirk. "Reality. Right. Using a science that was invented by Isaac Asimov for some science fiction novels."
"Look, just bear with me for a minute," Greg said impatiently. "So, nobody is a perfectly accurate prophet, right? But everyone has their moments. And if something particularly traumatic is going to happen, then that should register more strongly."
"Dream symbolism. This site has people log their dreams based on a series of standardized psychological symbols."
"Trains going through tunnels?"
"Mind out of the gutter, Katy. This is serious stuff," Greg muttered.
"Sorry. Can't help it. Boyfriend in town this weekend. So, people record symbolism from their dreams. Then what?"
"Then the site does math. Statistical analysis. Look, if there was going to be something truly terrible about to happen… Something like Nine Eleven, or…"
"Virginia Tech. Yeah. I see where this is going. There should be some kind of spike in activity. Assuming there is such a thing as precognition."
"And assuming you have a large enough number of participants in the project. The site estimates that it will become statistically significant at one million users, but I think they just picked that as an arbitrary large number."
I looked at the chart. There were little spikes corresponding to certain days on the calendar of upcoming months, and a few months in the past.
"When did this start?"
"This past June," said Greg. "Yeah, after Virginia Tech."
"Not enough activity on the site until about August. They claim a correlation with the bridge collapse in Minnesota, but it was a pretty tiny spike. They completely missed the Peru earthquake. They might have picked up Benazir Bhutto's assassination, but the spike was off by a day. And there have been a ton of false positives. That's the biggest problem."
I took the mouse from Greg's hand and clicked to advance the calendar into the future.
There was a spike at December 1st, 2008.
"Could be another false positive," Greg cautioned.
"Not could be, Greg. We're gonna make sure it is false."
To the guys at the shooting range, I was the sweet little girl who wanted to play with guns.
It was a bit demeaning, but it also meant that everyone was super helpful. I could give a cute-but-feisty-redhead smile and any ex-military or off-duty cop type in the place would happily let me try out his weapon. I sometimes felt like a puppy dog that everyone wanted to pat on the head, but I was learning.
The place usually cleared out around dinner time. That was fine with me too. I'd eat some fast food in the car on my way back to campus while the evening crowd at the range was just getting started. Late afternoon was my time to pick up pointers. The dinner hour was my time to get some serious practice in.
There were only a few other women who came to the range, and they tended to keep to themselves.
"Zombies." I didn't know her name, and I just stood there and blinked at her odd choice of introductions in a quiet moment between targets. She was tall and thin, maybe fifty years of age showing in the lines and wrinkles on her face and the streaks of grey that ran through the long braid that hung on her shoulder.
"The guy. The mugger, the rapist, whatever. He can't believe that you'd really shoot him, right? But you can't understand him either. You don't believe he'd try something because you're holding the gun. So he rushes you because he thinks you're weak, and in that one moment when you stop to consider that you might not want to take a human life, it's all over, and it's you who dies. So I take the humanity out of the equation. Zombies. Like in the movies. Rabid, hungry corpses that aren't going to stop until either they tear you up or you end it with a bullet. That's what I see when I shoot targets. Better that way."
"Um… Yeah. Thanks," was all I could manage as she turned away and headed back to her place on the range.
The Chinese takeout restaurant in downtown Nashua didn't smell particularly appealing, but I'd rushed into town from the shooting range and still hadn't gotten anything to eat. I bought an eggroll and chomped it down on the staircase that led to the offices above the Chinese place.
There was one light at the end of the hall. It filtered hazily through a pane of glass on the last door. On that window was some plain lettering: Jake Horner, Licensed Private Investigator. I didn't know if I'd find him here, but I knew he worked late some nights. It looked like I was in luck.
"It's Katy. Katy McCormick."
There was a minute's hesitation before the ex-cop unlocked the door and ushered me into his office.
"Sorry, Marianne goes home at five, and I always have her lock up. I'm not really open for business at night, just pushing paperwork."
He pulled a chair up for me and took a seat behind a big desk with papers arranged in neat stacks in wire baskets.
"How's your pal?" He meant Nancy. When Nancy had gotten stabbed a year ago, Jake had been there to help us out.
"She's a mom. Doing great. Baby's good too. It's a girl, by the way. Darla."
"Darla, huh? Good for her."
He picked up a small stack of papers and secured them with a binder clip and moved them to the top of a stack.
"So… Social call?"
I shook my head.
"I didn’t think so. What can I do for you?"
"I was on the regional criminal history database…"
"Which you're not an authorized user of. But go on."
"I don't have much to go on here. I'm looking for a serial killer with an unusual modus operandi. He records his murders."
"Sick world we live in, huh? But seriously, Katy, all those snuff film stories you hear about are just… What do you call it? Urban legends, right? I mean I'm not saying there's never been some psycho out there who decided to set up a camcorder while he offed some sorry son of a bitch, but people get crazy with this stuff. They think there's some kind of grand conspiracy out there abducting people to kill them for entertainment overseas. Bullshit. Just like those human organ black market rumors. People have been watching too many horror movies."
"Audio, not video," I corrected. "See there's this sound clip, tuckerman13, that's the name of the file. I haven't heard it myself, but they say it sounds like someone was being hurt, maybe killed. And I just thought that there might be something…"
"Katy, did Chess Hall put you up to this?" I'd missed the moment when his expression had changed, but Horner was suddenly dead serious.
"Why? Would Chess know something about…"
"Did he?" Horner barked the question out like a drill sergeant. I'd never heard him raise his voice before. He must have realized that he'd startled me, because his expression softened immediately. "I'm sorry, Katy."
"I haven't heard a thing from Chester in almost two years. What's going on?" I asked.
I wanted to scream at him, but I knew it wouldn't do any good. I sat back in my chair.
"You know something that I need to know," I said. "You can tell me, or you can throw me out kicking and screaming. But people tell me I'm a pretty decent kicker and screamer. Besides, even if you do kick me out, you know I won't stop looking until I find out whatever it is."
He thought about it for a moment.
"Okay, fine. But Katy, you are playing with fire here."
I waited as he turned to a file cabinet behind his desk an pulled a file out of the bottom drawer. He shuffled through a file and took out an old Polaroid photo of a fat guy sweating in a suit-and-tie next to one of those pay telescopes at a beach. The man had a thick moustache and sideburns. From the hair and the clothes and the style of the photo, it looked like something from the seventies.
"Small-time thug. Worked with Bulger's mob in the seventies for a while before they kicked him to the curb. Did two or three years for assault, extortion. Some other felons down at Walpole told me some dirt about this guy. Pretty nasty stuff. The story went around that he'd done a couple of murders, guys who just went missing, you know? Mob stuff."
"And after he got out of prison?"
"Moved to Manchester. Got a job in construction."
"Oh, shit. I don't like where this is going. He worked for Richard Harrington, right?"
Horner nodded. "Yeah. That's where the connection to Chess Hall comes in. But there's more. This guy liked to carry around a dictaphone. Recorded guys having their arms and legs broken. Sometimes he'd make his victims listen to it after he was done. Just to rub his point in, I guess."
"His name?" I already knew.
Alexander 6A was empty when I got back from picking up Joshua at the train station. There was a note from Steph saying they were out clubbing, we were welcome to join them, but if we didn't, they'd be back very late.
"Considerate of them to give us some time alone…"
I cut off Joshua's expression of appreciation for my dormmates by pouncing on him.
We avoided the serious issues for as long as we could, but there was too much weighing on my mind. We could both feel it. I needed more than just distraction.
"What happened?" he asked, and waited for me to explain.
"It's almost Thanksgiving. We're half way through the semester, and I'm barely treading water with my grades. My friends aren't there for me like I need them to be, and people are spreading nasty rumors about me. And I'm letting it get to me. I'm letting all of it get to me."
"Nobody important believes any of those things, Katy."
I held him tighter. He was trying. I could appreciate that.
"I'm trapped on this course, heading for something terrible that I can't exactly understand, and time has just turned into this blur. I can barely remember what's happened since September. Seriously, there have been like maybe eight or ten moments. Everything else is just this waking dream that I can't seem to shake, and I can't control."
The frustration was bringing tears to my eyes. I was doing the best to express what was happening, but none of the words I managed to find sounded adequate to describe what I was experiencing. I tried something else.
"Josh, do you believe in predestination?"
"No." He didn't need to think about it.
"But if what's going to happen can't be stopped?"
"You don't believe that, Katy."
"I'm not sure what I believe anymore," I sighed.
"No, predestination isn't the problem," said Josh. "You don't believe in it any more than I do. I know that. Because whatever this tragedy you see ahead is, you're still trying to stop it. And I know you won't give up."
He kissed my cheek. I fidgeted and his second kiss was planted on my eyebrow.
"You'll get through this," he whispered. "And when you look back, and you can only see moments of this time. I want this to be one of them."
We kissed for a very long moment.
Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2008