By Andrew Paul Grell
By this point in her marriage to Jacob, Cordelia Rigdon knew enough not to wish her husband good luck as he got ready for work on this busiest of days for him. There were the lectures on why actors tell each other to ‘break a leg,’ why the French say, ‘step in shit,’ and why the Jews warn against Ayin Ha Rah, the evil eye:
“Darling, love of my life, I make my living because people believe in bad luck ten times stronger than they believe in good luck,” was a typical conclusion to a lecture, which may have covered anything from Metaphysics to the theology of the Parking Space Angel. Cordelia never connected on that last bit; being a Utah native, she was rarely exposed to parallel parking or needing to hunt for a space. Jacob was also a native but had been educated back east. She took the dream catcher off of the window, reversed it, blew through the feathers at the man she loved and set out his breakfast plate; one brown egg scrambled, one white egg over easy, buttered rye toast, tea (after three years of marriage to Jacob, Cordelia had finally stopped cringing while she made tea for Jacob) and V-8 juice. Jacob ate with a fork in his right hand and sponged up yolk with his left. He finished up, put his dishes in the sink, kissed his wife, and waited for her wave goodbye. He gave her a picosecond wave in return, rotated 180 degrees, and was out the door like a deadbeat relative.
Jacob did a walk-around inspection of the hardy old Volvo and headed into town for his first pre-Hell Night appointment. Fortunately, the town had upgraded the roads with reflective lanes, and so even in the early morning tricky light, Jacob was able to avoid hitting the cat streaking across the arterial. A black cat. Jacob pegged it from the forward pointing ears as a Scottish Fold, one of the blackest of black cats. He hit his four-ways, automatically turned his hat backwards, and marked an “X” in some condensation on the windshield. That should hold for a while. He slowly inched to the shoulder to look for kittens or a mate. Who lets a $2,000 cat wander around outside with no tags?
Jacob drove up to the official town limit and parked just before it, took a raven’s feather out of the glove box and put it on the dashboard. He then resumed his journey on foot. It wasn’t two whole blocks before he saw another black cat. There can’t be two loose Scottish Folds in one town. Jacob hustled to circle posterior to the cat’s vector, crossed the street, and saw the magnificent feline, now coming in his direction. That was close. He walked backwards at 45 degrees to Scotty’s path and adjusted his course to resume heading toward Young’s Fabulous Fabricators, his first appointment, a new business in town.
“Thank you for taking the time to see me, Mr. Young, and welcome to Anomaly!” The two men shook hands, Jacob genuinely happy and Levi Young pasting on a business smile.
“I’m glad to talk to you, Mr. Rigdon, but I’m just not quite sure of what you’re selling. I got your postcard, I got your letter, I even checked you out with the Better Business Bureau. They said you had an A+ rating in town and that almost all the business owners buy from you, and lot of the homeowners do as well. But I’m having a bit of trouble distinguishing your product from a shakedown.”
“Well, first, please call me Jake. I did my graduate work at NYU; my apartment was at the intersection of Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Lower East Side. Three sets of immigrants, the previous generation consistently producing people who rip off the newer folks. That’s a shakedown. What I provide is mitigation of things you can’t quite see. How much do you know about Anomaly?”
“Call me Lee, please. I go by that to minimize the rye bread jokes. The one thing I know about the town is that it has the highest per-capita spending in Utah on decorations, lawn wookies, wishing wells, things like that. Things people really don’t need, but in this town there seems to be a market for them. So rather than give a cut of all my sales to the Internet, I moved my fabrication equipment here, you know, so the local customers can have their pick. Brick and mortar. Well, actually it’s one of those steel buildings you see advertised on TV. We have 14 3D printers, plus my old metal stamping tools and programable lathes. They’re in the back; I rent them out for the DIY folks.”
“Lee, how about this. Let me circle the building exterior, look for trouble spots, I’ll patch ‘em up. No charge. By the way, the full service is only $163 for the year. If anything inexplicable happens between now and next Halloween that’s a loss for you, I refund your money double.” Jacob opened his briefcase and pulled out what looked like a first aid kit, but where the red cross usually goes there was a white pentagon in a red background. Printed under that was “THAUMATIC EMERGENCY EQUIPTMENT,” and under that, “Exercise Extreme Caution.”
“Go ahead, Jake. If only for entertainment value.” The lay metaphysician began his widdershins tour of the building. He extended the antenna of an old pocket transistor radio and it started whining almost immediately.
“There’s your first trouble spot. You’ve got an iron deposit under the driveway. Steel building, big piece of iron, it may play hell with your hi-amp 240 lines and any sensitive instrumentation.”
Levi Young was slack-jawed, gob-smacked, and in awe. “I’ve been fighting with the power company for three months about that. Your kit found that out?”
“I knew the deposit was there, the radio let me know that your hi-amp was near it. We haven’t started what I do yet.” Jacob continued on, letting out the occasional ‘hmm…’ or ‘ah ha!’ until he wound up back with the potential client. “You’re in pretty good shape, Lee. The entrance could use a little reinforcing.” He fished around in the kit for a while and pulled out a can of spray paint labeled ‘Haint Blue’ and some oversize fridge magnets with assorted yellow flowers. “I’d like to give the inside your entrance awning a little coat of this paint. Might not do anything, but it’s a popular color around here. And everybody loves yellow roses! Still no charge.”
“You know, Jake, you’ve already helped me out, you’re giving me some good insight into the town, I’m going to sign up.”
Just before Jake put the kit away, Scotty showed up, it’s devil-horn ears poking out from the disabled access ramp. He dropped to his belly and grabbed a hi-mag camera and an RFID detector. Click one, click two, and he got what he was going to get; the cat, as cats do, apparently walked through a wall.
“Sorry about that, Lee. Black cats, you know, this close to Halloween. This fine little specimen has been dogging me, so to speak, all morning. It’s chipped, so if it stays still for a while it could get back home. Let’s see the picture. Ah! It’s got three white hairs on its left forepaw. Still a black cat, but if you see a white hair while it’s looking at you, it’s a shot of good luck. And you want some insight into the town? Got time for a quick ride, Lee? We’re not too far from Promontory Point, you know, where the east and west halves of the Transcontinental Railroad met up. Anomaly is in a more-or-less flat place, safe to build houses, just about flat enough to farm. So some of the railroad guys settled here. And they noticed the same thing the Utes and Shoshones did hundreds of years ago. Ever been out east of the town?”
“Never have, I was told there was nothing there.”
“Let’s take your car. I’m parked outside of town. Besides, if it’s your car, you won’t think it’s a trick.” Levi pulled the restored gun metal grey Shelby out of the loading bay and opened the door for the ju-ju salesman.
“Like it? Forty percent of the parts are from my own 3D printers. That would be something if you could 3D print a car, wouldn’t it? The two businessmen shared a moment only entrepreneurs would know. Two people who got their acts together and got somewhere with them.
“Have you got recording GPS in your car?”
“No, but I’ve got it on my phone. Where are we going?”
“Moroni Boulevard. Turn on 4th Street, the phone’ll get you there. Hey, watch out!” Levi hit the breaks without doing any damage to the vehicle, passengers, or obstacle.
“Thanks, I almost hit it.”
“Turn your cap around. And then lick your finger and make an ‘X’ on the windshield. Really. Does that look to you like the same cat from your parking lot?”
“It might not be that cat, but its sure got that cat’s ears.”
“Here’s the turn-off for Moroni. Make the left and go exactly one mile. There won’t be anything to see, just stop, pull over, and put your GPS in record mode. Okay. We're here. Take a look up the road. Can you see that big bank of yellow ‘DANGEROUS CURVE’ signs?”
“I can just about make it out, why?”
“How high would you say it was above us?
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe 50 or 60 feet up?”
“Great. Now pull onto the road slowly and give it just enough gas to get it rolling, then put it neutral.”
“Hey! We’re going uphill in neutral!”
“Just keep the steering wheel straight. Super. Almost there. You can make the dangerous curve, then pull over and we’ll look at what the GPS said we did. Whoooaaah, Hossie!!!” Jacob had the better vision angle and saw the other car coming out of the blind curve. He reached over the steering wheel, honked and put on the brights. They both saw the cat running right toward the oncoming Mercedes, which came to a cat-yowling stop with about six corn kernels to spare. Lee and Jake both agreed that it was the same cat; in profile while running into the woods, its ears were a dead (thankfully not literally!) giveaway.
“That’s the Bishop’s car. The Mormon Bishop. People in Anomaly don’t really toe the party line, unless we’re talking about a cake and ice cream birthday party. These folks can play a mean game of pin the tail on the donkey. He’s probably driving into town seeing who’s participating in this pagan ritual. Taking names, I bet. So let’s take a look at the GPS record. How does it gibe with your guess of 50 or 60 feet?”
“This can’t be right. The elevation points show that we were going DOWN for a mile and a quarter, then up for a half mile, and that we lost 37 feet in elevation…”
“And there you have Anomaly. Your guess was based on, one, that I suggested we would be heading up, and two, that the way the road is cut, there’s an optical illusion. Plenty of towns promote themselves as having different gravity or backwards compasses or roads where cars roll uphill, but it’s usually trick photography.”
“But what about the part when the car was in neutral and we were going up?”
“Momentum from the downhill leg and then a boost from a giant deposit of lodestone at that curve. That’s why they need four signs in each direction. That deposit is the mother ship; it likely got magnetized by lightning strikes at some point after it fell from the sky. Smaller pieces like yours are all over. I can show you a place where you can walk along a path and at the point marked on the ground, your hair will stand on end. The natives discovered that, and all the other tricks. The railroad guys sent letters home describing flying shovels. The town came close to hiring a witch finder, but the Bishop at the time managed to put a stop to it; he was an original Mormon pioneer and knew the danger of religious fear and hatred. This Mercedes guy, though, is a prig. So that’s your insight into what makes the town tick. You’ll do a good trade printing horseshoes and four-leaf clovers, but I hope you’ll come up with something new.”
Lee offered Jake a chance to drive the historic sports car back to town; he had fun driving it but of course vacated the driver’s seat just before town. The two men shook hands again, and Jacob went on his rounds, making sure everyone’s property was protected as much as it could be. He only needed three adjustments: the base of a pentagon was not quite parallel to the ground surface at the bookstore and two dream catchers were missing feathers. He checked three buried saint statues for damage: Adrian of Nicodemia by the little police station, a professional courtesy, Damian at the pharmacy, and Sebastian at the gym. Scotty showed up at each venue, but always moving towards him before disappearing. Lastly, he made a theatrical little showing at Brian’s Bagels, a new customer. Scotty was staring down at him from the roof.
“Here, kitty, kitty, here, kitty kitty, pssst… pssst…” There was nothing else for it. Brian, somehow, didn’t have the key to the upper level. The Anomaly Squirts, the town’s volunteer fire company, must have been on a call. Jake, with Brian spotting, started the creaky and rusty climb up the fire escape, which of course was designed for people to travel down. He reached the last level before the roof and took the tuna sandwich Cordelia always put in his coat pocket after the 6th time he forgot his lunch. Jacob was just tall enough to wave it around, visible to anyone on the roof. It worked. Jacob turned his coat into a safety net, the cat had a paw on the ladder, and followed it down to the sandwich. Two more iterations of that had the cat on Terra Firma, sampling the sandwich before running off.
Well, that’s nine. That’s all they’ve got. I think I had every sighting under control. The thaumometer didn’t peep except once at the drugstore. Time to go home.
“Jacob! Jacob! What a day! Not only did I get five orders for custom Apps, we have a visitor! Come see!” Jacob smiled when he saw the pitcher of water on the porch and hoped the guest had accepted a cool drink. It was a good day. The town is secure from the inexplicable for Halloween, I made a new friend, and I picked up three clients. I hope I don’t push my luck with a visitor in the house, heh…
Jacob crossed his threshold and kissed Cordelia. He heard a hissing sound and looked down: It was Scotty enjoying a bowl of milk and guarding the bowl and Cordelia from him.
“It’s Moisheh McTavish! My dorm cat! Second semester, Frosh year, three girls moved in who were allergic, so I adopted him. About three months before we met, he ran away; I guess he was ‘looking for that home and I hoped he found it..’ And now, somehow, he found me. I ran him down to the vet, and the chip matched his records. It’s really him!”
“Over three years and over a hundred miles. That’s quite an anomaly for a reunion. Mazel Tov!”
Eventually Moisheh McTavish came and nuzzled Jacob’s ankle and then spit up a hairball in his shoe. And all the forces in the home were now in balance.