Monitoring: Hannah Johnson
Plantation, Florida, United States of America
2:05 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Monday, January 13th, 2014
19:05 Coordinated Universal Time
Monday, January 13th, 2014
It is warm here, which at this time of year is jarring to her. It is as if she had taken a bus not to any Earthly realm but to some world of perpetual summer, leaving Virginia’s wintry cold in another universe entirely. The sticky, damp air seems to cling to her clothes like sap. Hannah can hardly tell, at this point, where the sweat on her body ends and the humidity around her begins. In her backpack is a change of clothes, a dozen CLIF bars, a recently-emptied water bottle, and twenty dollars in pennies that she got from a bemused teller at Bank of America (to say nothing of the two dollars in quarters that her left pocket holds). Ahead of her is what might be the most important house that she has ever seen.
This is it.
“Don’t fuck this up,” she tells herself as she walks up the path, past the trees that flank it. “Speak slowly,” she says as she pulls a quarter out of her pocket and holds it in the air. “You’re not crazy,” she reminds herself as she rings the doorbell.
A second goes by. Twenty seconds. A minute. The quarter shakes a little between her fingers, and she tries to will herself to be calm.
Hannah reaches for the doorbell again, but an old man with a full white beard opens the door. Before he can ask her what she’s doing there, she vanishes the coin.
“Nice trick,” says James Randi, master magician and skeptical inquirer. “I didn’t even see your hand move. Can I see it again?”
Hannah is a mixture of trembles and smiles as she withdraws three more quarters, each held between two of her fingers so that the flat side faces Randi. They vanish again and he raises a hand to his chin. “You’re really good. You’re, what, fourteen?”
“Been it for thirteen days,” she says. Randi blinks, and she repeats it more slowly. “But…” she says, willing herself to not talk too quickly, “it isn’t a trick. I can really make the coin vanish. Also for thirteen days.”
He doesn’t frown, but the smirk still seems to suggest amusement more than belief. Hannah wouldn’t have expected anything else, to be sure, and she’s grateful for even two minutes of peace, but it also reinforces that little niggling worry that something is going to go wrong, the same thing she felt in that space between that knock on the door seven years ago and when Fucking Mrs. Stevens came in and Hannah and her siblings learned what Child Protective Services was.
“That’s a hell of a birthday present. Well, come around. I don’t want to carry out a whole conversation on my doorstep.”
Randi brings her around to the back of the house, where there’s a small table and two lawn chairs overlooking the yard. Very little is actually grass. Mostly there are shrubs and little cyan markers in patches of freshly-mixed dirt, surrounded by circles and pathways made of little stones. Hannah sets her backpack beside one of the chairs, retrieves a peanut butter CLIF bar, and takes a seat.
Greg would like it here, she thinks as she sets coins on the table, and some pain flares up at that. Maybe she’ll move to Florida when the time comes. It’s muggy here, but she hadn’t thought about how a properly-managed garden could be growing things throughout the year. Set up a pond (koi, maybe) and it would be complete.
About ten minutes later, Randi returns with a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses. He pours for both glasses, then moves the other chair so that he can sit across from her. “I’ve seen a lot of psychics and paranormal demonstrations in my day. People have thought that I was a psychic, and some people still do. Exactly zero percent of the cases that I’ve seen have been bona fide examples of the paranormal.”
“I know. But I didn’t come all the way here to waste your time.”
“You have to do paperwork too,” he adds. “Get some…experts to back you up. Set up real experiments. So on and so forth. This is a fun way to fill my afternoon, but it’s not going to satisfy the requirements.”
“I know but there are—I don’t want to lose out to someone else because of paperwork and if I come here then you’ll remember and that’ll make a difference maybe.”
The lemonade is tarter than she is used to. It also, in some way that she is not quite able to pin down, tastes realer than she is used to. It is probably the first lemonade that she has ever had that was not made from a powdered mix, and it even comes with bits of strawberry.
It is delicious.
“Where did you come from?”
“Virginia Beach,” Hannah says as she rolls up her sleeves. “I bought a Greyhound ticket to Fort Lauderdale and spent the last three hours walking from there to here.” She waits to make sure that Randi is looking, and vanishes a coin. “Your address is online. I think everybody’s is though, I found mine there too.”
Randi’s lemonade is put aside in favor of setting his chin in his hands as he looks at Hannah. He scoops up a handful of change and holds it out to her. His hand shifts about, as if he is getting an idea of the weight. “You have to touch them?”
“Okay. Make all of these go away, with only the pinkie finger on your left hand.”
Carefully, to make sure that she does not obscure his view of the coins in any way that might make him suspicious, she taps each coin with the tip of her little finger. Eighteen, nineteen, twenty…and then it is done. Randi leans back and regards her again.
“You aren’t getting paid yet, of course. You still have to do the full run of tests at the Foundation, but you have my interest. Why do you want the money, anyway?”
“One million dollars is my ticket to freedom,” Hannah explains. “One million dollars put in a trust and a good investment portfolio means that in two years I could make a case for emancipating myself—probably make two or three million in that time actually from all the other paranormal evidence prizes, but I have to move quickly. Once I’m emancipated I can make a case for adopting my siblings: Chris will be fourteen, Susie thirteen and Greg eleven. And Arthur and William will be thirteen and twelve, Naomi will…” She stops. “Sorry.”
“Not at all. Hm.” Randi takes a drink from his glass. “That’s a lot of siblings.”
“I’ve been to four houses,” she explains.
“I see.” He pauses. “I bet you’ll want us to put that money in a trust for you, right? Well, we can do that. If this all works out and it isn’t the madness of an eighty-six-year-old man, at least.”
“I assure you, it’s not.”