Good Vibrations?

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I was staring out the car window again. Although I’d gotten used to the blue sky, the high desert landscapes and the crystal clear air, it still drew my attention.

“You with me?”

I turned in the passenger seat. “What? Sorry.”

“I said, when we get to the town, I want you to walk around, chat people up. Find out what you can,” he said. “Then meet at the car.”

“O.K.,” I said. “Anything in particular I should be asking?” He said he didn’t want to bias my questions. I should get people talking, listen and note anything that grabs my attention.

My boss, he has a vaguely French appearance. He could be in his thirties but that’s only a guess. We met at the university in Albuquerque where I was finishing my freshman year when I noticed an ad for a job assisting the professor. I needed some extra money and, I’ll be honest, I was expecting filing, grading and “Fetch me a tall, whip, with a spot of cardamom.” The job turned out to be a little more interesting than that.

The professor is actually an assistant professor of astronomy. He used to be fully tenured in the physics department, did some work at the research laboratories. I learned this from a couple of friends who got student jobs in the university human resources department. “Something” happened; he lost his tenure was demoted and landed in the basement of the physics/astronomy department. No details in the H.R. files. No one would talk about it. As weird as all that seemed, I applied for the job. He paid well and the hours were flexible.

Today, on a late October morning, we’d been driving his 1980’s sedan up a winding road through the scrub covered hills north of Albuquerque to a small mountain town. After an hour of driving we were in the 19th century, or so it felt. We arrived at a small community of tree-shaded ancient looking adobe buildings laid out in a haphazard grid of dirt streets, not a person or a car in sight. We coasted through the dusty lanes until we found a gas station/catering business where a small group of people was standing outside. We parked nearby and got out of the car.

I thought about how to approach the locals, embarrassed by the bright orange fleece pullover that the professor made me wear. Granted, it was October, but bright orange? He insisted that, if necessary, we could spot each other quickly. He looked at me across the roof of the car and nodded in the direction of the knot of people. I began walking toward them while he headed in the opposite direction.

As I neared the group, they saw me and said, “Gonna direct all the traffic?”, “It’s so his mother can find him in a crowd,” and, “You here for the ghost?”

“I, uh…ghost?” I asked.

An older man with thick salt and pepper hair and a paunch waggled a fork at me and said, “Can’t be here for the food. We only cater birthdays anymore and Marta had hers last week.” Everyone laughed.

“Ghost?” I asked again, thinking I was the butt of some joke.

“Yup.” The man with the fork said. “I’m Andre, by the way.” We shook hands.

“How’s business?” I asked, trying to be conversational. He spread his hands and shrugged as if to say: "Business? You’re looking at the late morning rush."

Then he said, “You must be here for the ghost because your friend’s heading right for it.” I glanced over my shoulder but the professor had already disappeared beyond a bend in the street.

“You should go get your friend then you should leave. You need to bring something more powerful than orange sweatshirts,” he said. “It’s different this time. You want to be careful.” He frowned and without another word, Andre and the little group shuffled into the shop.

Uneasy, I turned and jogged down the shadow dappled street where the professor had gone until I reached a T-intersection. Across the intersection I saw him enter the front door of an old strange two story half adobe, half Victorian style house. I crossed the lane and walked up the gritty flag stones to the front porch. The flooring and door was spongy like wet wood. I walked inside and saw the professor looking at a hand-held instrument.

I heard him exclaim, “Kaons!?” He saw me and said something.

“Could you turn the radio down?” I asked. “I can’t hear you.”

He moved closer. “There’s no ra…,” he stopped and stared at me quizzically. Then he said, half to himself, “There are only two possibilities: yes or no.”

He put the handheld device down, reached into his pocket and extracted a small pouch from which he pulled…a tuning fork? He struck the tuning fork onto the edge of a nearby table and my world instantly disappeared.

My senses filled with voices, noises, vibrations. Tactile static. I felt dizzy. Terrified. ... Like I had melted into the surrounding air…

When my vision cleared, I was taking in great gulps of air and was sprawled in the tall dry grass on a hillside overlooking the town. A few seconds later, the professor sat down beside me, breathing heavily. “You on a track and field scholarship?” he huffed. “You can run!”

I looked at him, pointed downhill. “What was that?”

“An experiment with a life of its own,” he said quietly. He turned to me and asked, “What’s your major again?” Impatient, I told him I hadn’t decided yet.

He nodded and said, “You ever consider physics? It constantly surprises,” he hesitated, “and I could use your natural ability.”

“Uh huh,” I said absently as I looked down the hillside at the path I’d made in the grass, tracing the line to a dirt lot at the edge of town and the T-intersection I had crossed earlier. Dirt lot?

Where was the house?

About the Author: 
First entry in a writing contest. Be gentle.