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Trinity Part One
A Four Visitors Story
Start at the beginning of the Four Visitors series
In Itawamba Mississippi, a high school canceled a prom rather than let a girl take another girl as her date. The story made national news. Danforth, Rhode Island wasn't interested in courting controversy. Maddie Williams accepted Becca Andersen's prom invitation and the only kind of attention she got was the usual lunchroom whispers and Facebook mockery. No grief from the administration at all.
Tina Cronin uploaded the Youtube video for "I Kissed A Girl" onto Becca's wall, and went on with preparations for attending the prom alone. That generated some whispers too. Some bets had been placed on the prospect of Tina getting back together with Nick Lorem in time for Prom. It seemed a safe bet. Nick was still enduring the cold shoulder at GSA meetings every Monday at lunchtime, seemingly just to keep on Tina's good side. And they'd been going to the new coffeehouse series that had started up on Thursday nights in the empty storefront next to the skate shop.
But Tina was going to Prom alone, and Nick was taking a girl from his church who was homeschooled. This had resulted in another whole series of rumors, although it was something of a manufactured controversy. A few people acted as if the girl, Lindsey Vinson, was some sort of mystery figure, but in fact she'd grown up in town and was pretty well known from girl scouts, dance lessons, and the usual slate of activities.
Nick hadn't been thinking of Tina when his dad had approached him about asking Lindsey to the Prom. In fact, he hadn't been thinking about the Prom at all aside from occasionally considering skipping it.
As senior year came to an end, students settled wistful anticipation of summer afternoons out on Misquamicut Beach mixed with vague forebodings about freshman year in college, looking for work in the miserable economy, or whatever else awaited them.
What awaited Nick was the US Marine Corps, except that the recruiter seemed to be having trouble pinning down the exact date for Nick's departure for boot camp. That was one of the things weighing on Nick's mind. The other was what he generally thought of as the "weird shit." He was spending his Thursday nights listening to a growing collection of the town's artists, misfits, druggies, and aging ex-hippies talk philosophy in an empty storefront decorated with framed black canvases that held secret images revealed only to the touch.
Nick was there because Tina was there, and because he'd made a commitment to see this thing through, even if he didn't really understand it. All he knew was that there were people, influential people that Nick had once held in the highest regard, who didn't like the fact that these people were getting together and talking. There hadn't been any more fires. Nick hadn't had any more visits from Chief Collins or Hal Morris. But it was pretty obvious to Nick that the cops were keeping an eye on the Thursday night coffeehouses.
The night before Prom, in between listening to rounds of slam-style poetry performed by a couple of Brazilian sisters who'd driven down from Warwick, Nick pointed out the unmarked cruiser across the street to Tina.
"What do they want?" Tina wondered. "Just looking for a chance to arrest someone?"
"Maybe," Nick said. "But they haven't stopped anyone leaving. I think if they wanted to hassle people, they'd go after expired inspection stickers and shit like that. You know, pull people over and check the car for dope. They'd get a few in this crowd."
He nodded in the direction of a bearded guy with a Jerry Garcia look who was being introduced to the audience by Edith Franz. Edith, who was finishing up her part-time gig with the US Census, had become the regular host of the Thursday coffeehouses in the improvised gallery where John Crowell's artwork had ended up. The pieces that hadn't sold at the original auction, that is.
"They're waiting for the third." Tina had decided that must be the answer.
"Yeah, them and all of us," Nick agreed.
Tina and Nick had begun senior year as a couple. Lately they felt more like co-conspirators, both burdened with the same murky secret. Danforth was to receive four visitors. Una Blanco was the first - the new kid in school who had a tendency to burn out lightbulbs when she walked into a room. Then there had been Gem, who might have been two people or maybe just one person with a talent for being in two places at once. Whichever it was, Nick and Tina had agreed to count Gem as a single visitor.
That left two more.
Nick didn't look like he had anything more to say about the visitors. They'd been over it to death more than once. So Tina changed the subject.
"You in a limo?"
Nick shook his head. "You?"
Getting left out of the groups sharing limos was a bit of a social disaster, but Nick had only gotten his Prom ticket at the last minute, so if he'd been intentionally snubbed, he didn't notice.
Tina had actually been asked to ride with some of the girls from the track team, but they'd made such a big deal out of pointedly not extending the invitation to Becca and Maddie that Tina had decided she may as well just drive herself.
"Solo," Tina said. "I don't even know why I'm bothering."
"You only get one Senior Prom," Nick said.
Tina rolled her eyes. "Yeah, so I keep hearing. Not to mention, I have to walk past the gallery of framed prom pics from five older brothers and sisters with my little spot just waiting for me."
Nick laughed, and then leaned closer.
"Let me give you a ride. The truck's out of the shop."
She started to say something, but Nick knew what was coming.
"Becca and Maddie too. There's room."
"Your Dad will have a fit."
"Fuck it. Fuck all of it."
They both laughed. Up on the stage the old hippy guy was leading a singalong of "Uncle John's Band."
Nick got up and picked up his hat.
"I'll pick you up at seven."
"I didn't actually say yes," Tina noted as Nick headed for the door.
He smiled at her over his shoulder. "Seven. See you then!"
Tina smiled back and joined in with the singing.
"It's the last story, the crow told me
It's the only one he knows
Like the morning sun you come
And like the wind you go…"
Nick arrived at Prom in his truck with his Christian homeschooled date, his ex-girlfriend, and his ex-girlfriend's lesbian friends. It occurred to him later that it would have made a pretty good status update. By that time, though, most people were remembering Prom night for something else entirely.
Narragansett Golf Club wasn't exactly the crown jewel of New England country clubs, but a couple of its board members were Danforth High alums, so the school always got a good deal on the hall and the catering.
Nick arrived late with his crew. Lindsey's mom had been particularly enthusiastic with the camera. Nick wondered when she'd find the time to go through the seemingly hundreds of photos of Lindsey by the willow tree, Lindsey by the garden, Lindsey by the front door, Lindsey with Nick, Lindsey with the truck, Lindsey with Nick with the truck, and so on for at least half an hour.
The dancing was well underway when they arrived, which was fine with Nick. It's always better to skip the awkward standing-around phase that takes up the first hour or so of most school dances.
Nick held the door for the ladies as the sound of Sugarhill Gang's "Apache" blasted from the dance floor.
"Everybody party like it's 1983!" Mr. Malone waved to Nick from the chaperones' table.
The music changed. Lindsey spotted a group of girls she know and went over to catch up with them. Nick headed out to the dance floor where a bunch of football players were now jumping down to something with a punk sound. Tina disappeared into the ladies' room with Maddie and Becca for last-minute dress adjustments and gossip.
Everything was normal for about an hour.
On the way back to the dance floor after dinner, Tina pulled Nick aside.
"Becca's friends never made it here." She was concerned.
Nick asked the obvious questions anyway. He'd already started walking toward the door.
"They're not answering their phones, and there was a text about fifteen minutes ago. Said their car wouldn't start and…"
"And nothing. Only half a message."
"We know where they are?" Nick spotted Becca and Maddie near the chaperones' table with their coats on, looking anxious.
"I know the road they were taking. They're pretty far out in the boondocks."
Mr. Malone was explaining to them that they were free to leave any time, but there was no re-admission.
Tina went to talk to Mr. Malone and Lindsey caught up with Nick.
"I might have to go give someone a jumpstart," Nick told her. "Sorry. I can get you a ride home with a friend. Sorry. I'm not really holding up my end of the whole prom date thing all that well."
Lindsey smiled. "Can I come with you? I've been here long enough to cross Senior Prom off my to do list. This sounds like it might actually be interesting."
Nick thought about arguing, but figured he owed Lindsey. He hadn't been doing a very good job of paying her much attention all night.
In a few minutes they were all heading west on a darkened road dotted with John Deere dealerships, self-storage lots, and the occasional cornfield.
Becca's friend Mandy and her boyfriend Kev were regulars down at the skate shop, and they'd stopped by the Thurday night coffeehouses a few times. They weren't exactly the types you'd expect to see at a school dance, but the Prom always drew more people than just the school-spirit crowd. Kev and Mandy had been the only names on the list who still hadn't arrived when Nick showed up with his group. Nick figured they were probably smoking weed out by some swimming hole somewhere just to get in the right mood to put up with the evening's festivities.
Tina spotted their car in the parking lot of a little church between the powerlines and a public works garage.
"Let's go see what's up." Nick swung the truck into a U-turn on the empty road and got halfway back to the church parking lot when the truck stalled out.
"Okay, this is weird." Lindsey was the first to speak, stating the obvious.
Nick tried the engine a couple of times. Nobody spoke until he stopped tuning the key, as if the truck needed quiet to get its act together.
"No signal." Maddie had her phone out. Everyone else checked theirs. Same story.
"Okay. Any brilliant ideas?" Tina asked.
No one had any, so Tina told everyone her plan. "We walk east. We should be able to call once we're a ways from the power lines. Let me and Nick check to see what's up with Mandy's car first, okay?"
"I think you're not supposed to split the party." Lindsey's remark drew a giggle from Maddie and a puzzled look from Tina.
"You can see the car from there. We'll be in sight. Just let us give it a look, okay?" Tina opened the door and stepped out of the truck.
Nick turned and smiled to the three girls in the back. "Don't worry. Me and Tina do this kind of stuff all the time."
The looks he got back were not exactly reassuring and he didn't wait around to see who would be the first with the clever comeback.
"What are the odds two cars stop working in the same place for no reason?" Tina asked as Nick caught up.
"Slim and none," Nick said. "Unless you count other factors. You think Una could do this?"
"Maybe." Una's thing had been light bulbs. She wasn't real friendly to phones either.
They reached the parking lot. Mandy's Volvo was stopped in the driveway.
"Like they stalled out and just made the turn in neutral," Nick said.
The car was empty and unlocked. The inside smelled faintly of weed and incense.
"You know this place?" Nick asked.
Tina nodded. "This is Saint Joseph's. It's sort of a part-time Catholic church. Father Doyle from Saint Lucy's in Danforth drives out here to do one Mass a week."
"Wow. You know your stuff."
"Former altar girl." Tina smiled and then looked up past the car. "Hey, what's that?"
There was a van parked on the far side of the lot.
Nick looked. "Okay. We can stop with the horror movie stuff any time now. We got the stalled car, the girls in the prom dresses, the missing people, the…."
"Quiet. I hear something."
Nick shut up and he heard it too. Something mechanical, a steady metronome click.
"Wait." Nick popped the trunk of Mandy's car. He found a hand mag-light in the glove box and went back around to examine the trunk.
"No bodies?" Tina was only half kidding.
Nick threw a couple of blankets out, opened up the spare tire space and came up with a tire iron and handed it to Tina.
The van was backed into its space, facing back behind the church where the power lines dipped into a valley. There was some kind of transformer station down there with a dirt road lit by a couple of streetlights on poles that shone down on a pair of Narragansett Electric line repair trucks.
As Tina and Nick got close to the van they could see that the back doors were open.
"I call Kev and Mandy's name once. Then I duck low. Someone makes a grab for me, break an arm. To start with."
"You got it."
They crept along the side of the van.
"Mandy? Kev? You in there?" Nick called.
He crouched and turned the corner. Nothing came out of the van.
"Holy shit, Tina. Check this out."
Tina eased off her grip on the tire iron and came around to the back of the van.
The camera was the first thing she saw. A digital camcorder on a tripod, pointed out at the valley. For a second, she actually thought it was an old-style movie camera, clicking away. Then she saw that the clicking was coming from the device on the second tripod.
Nick's attention was focused on that too.
"Directional mic?" he asked.
"This is why you should be in honors physics, Nick. That thing's a Geiger counter."
"No shit! Hey, it's clicking. Doesn't that mean it's picking up something radioactive?"
Tina shook her head. "When we played with it in class it was acting like this. It's background radiation. You know, from the sun or space or whatever."
Nick looked a bit reassured by that. They looked further into the van. There was some other equipment they didn't recognize. It was all hooked into a laptop that sat on a stool about halfway back in the van.
"This is somebody's stuff. But I think this whole situation is weird enough that I don't care. You?" Tina started to turn to see what Nick had to say but he stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
"Don't freak, just hold still."
Tina couldn't see what Nick had noticed. Individual hairs on the back of Tina's head were standing on end, floating backward until they pointed out into the valley. Nick shone the mag-light on them as more and more began to lift into the air and point outward.
Tina had stopped worrying about what Nick was seeing now. She was focused on the Geiger counter. In another second, Nick perceived the change too. The clicks were coming faster.
"How much until it's dangerous?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know? Honors physics?"
"I don't know how it's calibrated!"
"Fuck it. We're outta…" Nick's decision was cut off by an intense flash light that filled the valley over the transformer station.
Nick and Tina shaded their eyes with their hands as a ball of white light rose into the air, dimmed momentarily, then flashed bright again and split into three separate balls that sped to the horizon and beyond in different directions.
As the spots faded from Nick and Tina's eyes and the Geiger counter wound down to its steady background-radiation rhythm, they could see small glowing balls of crackling blue light sparking back and forth along the power lines.
They watched the little blue balls until they began to wink out one by one.
The sound of running footsteps greeted them as the last of the lights went out.
"Nick! Tina!" Becca was running barefoot ahead of Maddie, who was struggling to keep up in her heels. They both look panicked.
"Lindsey!" Becca screamed. "She's gone!"
TO BE CONTINUED
Story and Image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2010