Circles of Deception
Who is making the crop circles?
The enormous geometric designs have appeared in fields around the world for over thirty years. Novelist Risa McKensie plans to write about the fantastic works of art. When her intent becomes known, she receives an anonymous warning to drop the project. She can’t imagine why. Because a fiction book might become a bestseller and draw attention to the circle phenomena? Who would care? Clearly, when the warnings multiply, more than one group.
Risa meets a group of intellectual Artists who claim they make the formations using mental energy. Despite the escalation of the threats, she discounts the Artists’ advice that The Meridians–a powerful consortium that thrives on war and chaos–are the ones she should most fear. Why would a novel about crop circles concern them?
Genre: Paranormal Mystery/Conspiracy
Word Count: 95, 851
Instantly, Risa knew–the man was going to jump.
The depth of his despair slammed against her consciousness, stole a heartbeat. Empathy eclipsed rational thought. She toed the brake, tugged the steering wheel right. Tires squealed and horns blared. Her hatchback lurched to rest on the shoulder as she dug for her cell phone. She wrenched it free of her handbag, punched 9-1-1.
“What is your emergency?” a woman from Seattle dispatch asked.
“A guy is going to jump off the overpass!” The rushed words jumbled. Did the dispatcher understand them?
“Where are you?”
“Heading north on I-5! Please hurry!”
“Which overpass, ma’am?”
“Umm…” Risa struggled to focus. “Forty-fifth, I think. I just crossed the bridge.”
“Can you still see the man?”
“No.” Concrete girders arched over her head. “I’m halfway under the overpass.”
“What makes you think he’s going to jump?”
“I just know.” Why does she keep asking questions? Why doesn’t she call for help?
“Is he over the side of the railing? Sitting on it?”
“No. No. Nothing like that. But I know.” Should she say she’d felt his anguish? Probably not. Already she was beginning to doubt her perception.
“All right, ma’am. An officer is on the way. Are you safe, off the road?”
“Yes.” Risa drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. What if she was wrong? What if the guy was just an ordinary pedestrian?
“Stay where you are then. We need to get your statement.”
* * * *
Risa grimaced when she heard the mud room door slam. The incident on I-5 was still too fresh in her mind to wonder what had ticked off Scott at work today.
“Hey!” she called out from the kitchen. “Leave the door open. It’s hot in here.”
A rare early July heat wave gripped Seattle. It almost made air-conditioning seem cost-effective. Risa opened the fridge, relished the flood of cool air as she set out a plate of marinated steaks. Barbecue tonight–too hot to cook indoors. She rummaged in the produce bin for salad ingredients. Lettuce, green onions, a red pepper. Skip the broccoli. Scott wouldn’t eat it.
She glanced over her shoulder as he entered the kitchen, tie loosened, suit jacket slung over one shoulder. He slapped his laptop bag down on the table. Another work-all-night deadline to meet? But his glare was aimed at her. “Way to go, Risa. Nothing like letting the whole world know I’m living with a nutcase.”
She grabbed a bottle of Alaskan Amber from a lower shelf and turned to face him. “And just how did I do that?”
“Don’t act stupid, Ms. ‘Risa McKensie, local children’s book author.’ Dave just phoned. You were on KING 5, about that guy you thought was going to commit suicide.”
Geez, she was on TV? How did that happen? She kneed shut the fridge and laid the produce on the counter. Still trying to reconstruct the scene in her mind, she offered Scott the beer. “He was acting strange.”
He snatched the bottle out of her hand and leaned stiffly against the counter. “Wouldn’t you, if you were just standing there, minding your own damn business, when you saw cops coming at you from all directions?”
“I’m sure they approached him cautiously. But it didn’t help that he yelled at them to stay away.”
“He was probably scared shitless, thinking they’d mistaken him for someone else. Never did intend to jump.” Scott twisted open the bottle cap and took a long drink, hostile gaze upon her. “What made you think he wanted to?”
Risa shrugged. “Just a hunch. Lots of people have them.” With the intensity of the one she’d experienced?
“If they do, they sure as hell don’t call 9-1-1 and shut down a freeway.” He gestured with the hand holding the beer, his forefinger pointing accusingly. “If you’re going to make a fool of yourself, at least don’t broadcast your name.”
“I didn’t broadcast it. I had to fill out a report and it was on there.” Risa took a deep breath, reminded herself that nobody ever won an argument. “Next time, I’ll have the presence of mind to ask for anonymity.”
“There better not be a next time.” He drank the rest of the beer, thumped the bottle down on the counter, and headed for the bedroom to change clothes.
Teeth clenched, Risa started tearing lettuce. Why did she put up with the jerk?
* * * *
When the evening news came on, Risa sat to watch it, cordless phone in her lap. If this broadcast mentioned her name as the earlier one obviously had, her mother would be sure to call. Following other local news, the station got around to the suspected-suicide story. After a glimpse of the backup on I-5 and a brief interview with the state patrol trooper about the decision to stop traffic, it segued to the reporter’s statement that the man had been taken to Harborview Medical Center for mental evaluation.
Vindicated! Risa exhaled a long breath. Too bad Scott wasn’t home, watching TV with her. Then, instead of the news segment ending, it flashed to a close-up photo of her talking to the trooper, captioned with her name and “local children’s book author”.
“If an observant driver hadn’t acted upon her strong hunch,” the reporter said, “this story might have had a tragic ending.”
Damn telephoto lenses! And why couldn’t she have been an anonymous “observant driver”? Risa muted the TV and waited for the phone to ring.
She visualized her mother. On a warm evening like this, she would have changed from her grocery store smock into one of the loose-fitting muumuus she’d brought back from Oahu. She would be eating her lonely meal, her attention alternating between the TV news and the mystery book propped in front of her.
When the phone rang, its caller ID indicating Shirley McKensie, Risa pressed the “talk” button. “Hi, Mom. Greetings from she of the strong hunch.”
Before her words had quit echoing over the hundred miles that separated Seattle from Point Roberts, her mother was speaking. “Well, yes, that did surprise me. You’ve never had them before.”
Risa sighed. She sure wouldn’t have admitted to any, if she’d had them. “I don’t know why I did today. I was on my way home when I glanced up and saw the guy and just felt sure he was going to jump. Freaked me out.” Memories of his emotions crashed back into her consciousness and she shivered. In her mind’s eye, she saw again the slender man silhouetted against a summer-blue sky, his hands on the railing as he looked down at the traffic streaming past. “I’m just glad I was in the outside lane and the car behind me wasn’t following too close. Not real smart of me to make sudden moves at sixty miles an hour.”
“Oh, right. I hadn’t thought about that. Well, it turned out okay. You didn’t get in an accident and that poor man will get help.” A moment of silence, then her mother asked, “How did the reporter get your name, anyway?”
“He’s a reporter, Mom. That’s his job.”
“Oh.” Another pause before her mother spoke hesitantly. “Well, I hope you’ll just let it go away. Not say anything else to him.”
“I didn’t say anything to him in the first place. Whatever he said on TV he must have got from the police report I had to fill out.”
“I mean, you know. If there’s a slow-news day or something and a reporter calls you, don’t talk to him. People think anyone who admits to having any kind of paranormal experience must be a little nutty.”
“Having a hunch is a paranormal experience?”
“Well, yes. Anything like that. Ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot. You know how people are. They ridicule anything they can’t explain.”
Yeah, Risa knew people like that. The guy she was living with, for example.
She settled back in her chair, switched the phone to her other hand, and changed the subject. “We haven’t talked in a while. How’s everything in placid little Point Roberts?”
Her mother chuckled. “Placid. That’s why I moved here and that’s why I stay. I wish you’d been able to.”
That oft-repeated comment led to questions about how many students Risa was tutoring, and her current manuscript. She was about halfway through it, the fifth in her middle grade historical fiction series.
Risa heard the doorbell ring at her mother’s house. “That will be Nance,” her mother said. “She probably saw the news and will want to talk about your TV debut.”
They said their goodbyes and Risa got up to replace the phone in its base. Even though Nancy probably wouldn’t give a rap, her mother would feel obligated to explain her daughter’s “hunch” to her neighbor. Her mother was phobic about stuff like that. She used to turn off the TV if she caught Risa watching even a documentary about anything she considered paranormal.
But after Risa had graduated from Western Washington University and was living on her own, she had indulged her curiosity about the subject. Read books, gone to movies, watched TV programs. All with a mental eye cast guiltily over her shoulder because she knew her mother wouldn’t approve.
Over the years, Risa’s focus had narrowed to a target interest. Crop circles. Not really paranormal, just a bit on the extraordinary side. A phenomena. A modern-day mystery. A subject she could research and ponder. No guilt attached.
Well, perhaps a little guilt. She’d never told her mother she’d been chatting online for five years with a crop circle group based in England. And she certainly would never mention the “phenom-or-phony” game she played with them.