Tesseract, Part One
A Four Visitors Story
Start at the beginning of the Four Visitors series
They met at midnight in a fortuneteller's shop that had opened up in an upstairs office space on Main Street. It was part of a minor economic boom that Dansmouth was experiencing ever since the night back in June when the UFOs buzzed Rhode Island.
There were thousands of witnesses. Most of them just saw some odd lights in the sky. Some of them saw helicopters and fighter jets, and went back inside and then smiled in relief when the story about the military exercise thrown off course by a faulty GPS unit hit the news. An explanation from someone in authority was all they needed.
For others, the explanation served to confirm what they were already certain of: that their government was full of shit. Who the hell schedules military exercises over Rhode Island? None of it really added up.
So people lined up as believers and skeptics, but they all agreed on one thing: Dansmouth was the center of it. And Dansmouth reaped the benefits of the UFO tourism boom for the whole summer. A couple of carloads even drove up from Roswell and blogged the whole way there and back. People came to town with cameras and audio recorders and digital multimeters. And when they were done tramping through the fields and woods, they all wanted something to eat, or something to drink, and some souvenir to take home.
Some people stayed. A scattering of new businesses opened. There was a tiny two-room UFO museum with rubber alien bodies that had been used as props on the set of some SyFy made-for-cable mess filmed in Croatia. There was an occult book store that didn't have enough occult books to fill its shelves, and devoted one wall to paranormal romance, which ended up saving the store from bankruptcy. And there was an assortment of psychics, card-readers, and contactees available for consultation.
When Edith Franz decided it was time to hold a meeting, she asked a favor from a fortuneteller she'd become friends with. It was a busy night for the psychic and her slots were filled right up to her 10 PM reading. Things would be starting late, but that was all right. Tina Cronin had to drive down from Boston. She'd started at BU a few weeks earlier. She picked up Lindsey Vinson at Roger Williams University just south of Providence and they had dinner at a Portuguese restaurant in Cranston and got into Dansmouth just after ten.
Nick Lorem had traveled the farthest. He was on leave from Paris Island, back in town for homecoming and for catching up with friends.
Edith had called the meeting, but she actually showed up last. As requested, the key to the shop was under the welcome mat, and the other three had let themselves in.
Edith found them playing a guessing game with the shop's well-worn Rider-Waite deck.
"Two of sticks," Lindsey said.
"Wands. Think Harry Potter." Tina had a card in her hand. She held it face down, out of Lindsey's sight.
"Whatever. Am I right?" Lindsey asked.
Tina turned the card over slowly. Two of Wands.
Lindsey gestured impatiently for the next card. "Queen of cups. Queen of cups, ten of wands, six of pentacles, four of pentacles, ten of swords, eight of cups."
Tina flipped cards off the top at a rapid pace as she tried to keep up with Lindsey. They all matched Lindsey's guesses.
"Nice trick," Edith said.
"Oh, it's not," replied Lindsey.
Nick nodded. "All three of us. It seems to only work when we're all in the room together."
"Curiouser," Edith muttered. "This has been going on since UFO night?"
"Prom night." Lindsey nodded in agreement. "I still think of it as Prom night."
"And no," Tina said. "We just figured it out in the last fifteen minutes. But there have been other things. We finish each other's sentences. I reach for the phone to call Nick or Lindsey and it rings as I'm reaching for it and it's them on the line. Well, one of them anyway. Usually the right one."
"I've heard of that kind of thing before. Figured it was selective memory."
Nick shook his head. "No. This is every time. This is some serious shit."
"We need to figure this out." Edith pulled up a seat at the table. "Our visitors are planning something and I don't think they set this up just so we could have drinks at Callahan's and all get telepathic together."
"Callahan's?" Tina asked.
"Kids these days. Never mind." Edith took the top card from the deck and gave it a peek. "How are you guys with the Major Arcana?"
"Rough," Nick admitted. "But we don't know the names of most of the cards."
"Still above random chance," Tina added. "Significantly."
Edith turned the card over. The Chariot.
"So. You guys are the psychics. How does this end?" Edith asked.
"The fourth visitor arrives, and an alien ship lands in Dansmouth. Ushers in a new era of peace on earth and goodwill toward men." Nick couldn't keep a straight face through that.
"It's not about us."
Everyone looked at Lindsey.
"It's about them. They're trapped. They can only get home a few at a time and their enemies are still here waiting for them. They're not here to save us. They need us to save them." Lindsey grew more confident as she spoke. She reached out and held up the Chariot card and then spread out the deck. She pulled another card and held it up next to the Chariot. The Tower.
"Freedom and imprisonment," Edith noted.
"They have both," Lindsey continued. "They move in ways we can't."
"Flatland," Edith said.
This time Tina caught the reference. "If they can travel in dimensions that we can't perceive, then from our perspective it would look like shapeshifting. And teleportation."
"Which explains why the Air Force isn't going to get very far trying to chase their ships down with Apaches and F-15s," Nick said.
"Not ships," Lindsey whispered.
"Wait. What?" Tina asked.
"What we're seeing is them. When they come over to our…I want to say to our side, but that's wrong. They're out of sync with us. Isn't that one of your physics things, Tina? String theory? They're music played on a different string. They're out of harmony with us. So we just see a bunch of energy. Light and radiation. Electricity. But what we're seeing is them. We're looking right into their souls and we're just not equipped to understand what we're seeing." Lindsey stopped and pointed to the cards. "Imprisonment or freedom. They need us to choose."
"And their enemies?" Edith asked.
"Old conspiracies," Nick said. "Stuff that goes way back. It's infiltrated religion and politics and culture. There's probably not many that understand the nature of the conflict. Most of them are just good soldiers. And all they have to do is encourage people to do what people have always done. Bully anyone who's different, and you'll sort the ones who could be contacted right out of the mix. Keep everyone afraid. Keep everyone in the dark. It's not really as hard as it sounds, because human nature doesn't like differences."
"Before this goes any further," Edith said, "We need to make a decision. Do we really have any business taking a side in something like this?"
"The sides got chosen when they roughed up Tina," Nick said.
Tina nodded. "When they killed John Crowell."
Lindsey didn't have anything to add, but she was clearly sticking with Tina and Nick on this one.
"All right. We're all in. Now we need to figure out when the next visitor arrives. I'm the only one still in town on a daily basis. This is the last one, and I've got a gut feeling that we're all going need to be there for it. When does it happen?"
"December first!" Nick's enthusiasm died as he explained. "Well, the digits add up to four, right? One, two, zero, one."
"Um, Nick. By those rules, November eleventh works too," Tina pointed out.
"Yeah, but they're not gonna land on Veterans Day. Um…Okay, yeah. So I'm just making shit up at this point. Anybody got anything else brilliant?"
"You could try the cards," Edith suggested.
"I don't think precog is one of our talents," Tina said.
"Maybe the message is already in your subconscious." Edith handed Tina the deck of cards and Tina shuffled it and flipped over a card.
"The Fool," she announced.
"We're way past April first," Nick said.
"Maybe our subconscious minds are telling us we're idiots," Tina suggested.
Lindsey spoke up. "It's a pretty good symbol for what we're doing. Walking the edge of a cliff and mostly oblivious."
"Oblivious. That's what we're being. We can't just know when the next visitor arrives. We need some kind of clue. Now where would they leave us a clue?" Edith was smiling now. She knew the answer.
Tina figured it out next. "Crowell's paintings. The coffeeshop."
"I've got a key," Edith said. "Let's go."
It took them another two hours in the darkened coffee shop to figure it out. They were afraid that the painting with the clue they were looking for had already been auctioned off. More than half of the collection had.
John Crowell painted entirely in black, and his pictures were drawn using textures in the swirls and brushstrokes of black paint.
As it turned out, the clue they were looking for was in all of the paintings. It was in the corners.
Tina tried sketching it, alternating between touching the painting and marking a paper with her pen, but the results were a mostly meaningless jumble of lines and dots.
"Rubbing might be more accurate," Edith suggested.
Nick got a knife out of his pocket and whittled down a pencil that Lindsey had fished out of her purse before Nick even spoke his idea out loud.
Edith placed a paper over one corner of one of the black canvases and rubbed delicately. This time, the image took shape clearly. They all recognized the bandstand in the Town Square. Raised bits above showed stars and a sliver of the moon.
"Got it," Tina announced. She took a picture of the rubbing with her phone.
"Okay. Town Square. When?" Lindsey asked.
"When the stars are right," Edith said.
Tina nodded in agreement. "I've got this. The position and phase of the moon narrows it down to only a couple of possible days remaining in the year. Star positions will tell me the rest. Just need to play with some online astronomy resources. I'll get a compass bearing on the way out of town tomorrow and email you all tomorrow night."
Edith looked at Nick. "Are you going to be able to get leave?"
"I'll figure it out."
"All right. Looks like we see this through to the…"
Edith was cut off by flashlight beams shining through the windows of the coffee shop.
"Cops," Nick whispered.
"Back door!" Tina was already heading for it, but Nick cut her off.
"They're waiting for us back there!"
Lindsey pulled Edith down into the shadows behind the counter.
The front door rattled.
"We've got permission to be in here from the owner," Edith said. "Let me call them and work it out before they kick in any doors or shoot anybody."
"No. This isn't somebody heard us in the shop and called it in. This is a set-up. We need another way out of here." Nick started moving in the direction of the back door again.
"Back staircase. There's a ladder to the roof," Tina said.
Nick looked at her for a second then shrugged and muttered, "Better than nothing. Let's move it, people."
The stairs had been used to store old furniture, something that probably wouldn't sit well with the fire marshal.
They scrambled past broken tables and folding chairs. Lindsey lost her footing as a board slipped out from under her foot. Nick and Tina each managed to catch one of her arms and they hauled her up a couple of steps until she regained her footing.
"It's locked!" Edith pounded at the trap door with her fist.
"Let me see!" Nick had a knife out of his pocket and he squeezed past Edith and pried the blade into the rotting wood around the latch. The screws popped out and Nick handed the padlock and latch down to Tina.
Nick reached for the trap door.
"They didn't kick the door in downstairs. They should be right on top of us by now. Something's not right."
"No. Something's right," Lindsey said. "Go ahead, Nick. We're good."
Edith looked from Nick to Lindsey to Tina. Whatever was going on, they all looked like they understood. She started to ask, but then Nick turned and shoved the trap door up and open.
White light filled the stairs.
"Friends in high places." Nick smiled. "It's okay, Edith. Just stay close."
He climbed up and out. They all did.
They walked into the light until the light shrank away into the night's darkness and they let their eyes recover and looked around at their surroundings.
The Main Street Bandstand. Two blocks away, the flashing lights of police cars reflected off the coffee shop windows. People were coming out of buildings and into the streets. The legend of the Dansmouth UFOs had just gotten a new chapter written.
How did we get here?
Folded space, near as I can figure it.
"Wait. We weren't just speaking out loud, were we?" Edith asked.
"No," said Tina. "But you do get used to it. Welcome to the club, Edith. I think you were meant to be part of it all along."
Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2010