Thursday, March 24, 2011

Third Person Thursday: Induction

On March 22nd, 2009, a man who happened to find himself on business just outside of Owensboro, Kentucky was paying diligent attention to his GPS system.

“How do people live out here?” the city-dweller said out loud and leaned forward in a desperate attempt to help his eyes function better in the darkness. All he wanted was to reach the bed of the more than likely outdated motel he was scheduled to check into four hours ago and get a few hours of sleep before his meeting in the morning.

While on a particularly dark stretch of road, he found his gaze drifting more and more often to the alluring glow from the dashboard mounted device. It became difficult to adjust his eyes to the blackness through the windshield. Just off the edge of the display screen, a smaller section of the Ohio River approached, but just before it came into his view, the screen went blue. A vivid, distracting blue.

“What the hell?”

As he tapped the screen with his finger, hoping to reactivate the display, a small bridge without a guardrail passing over the Ohio River rapidly approached. As he changed his technique to swearing fervently while still tapping the screen, he was nearly at the bridge.

It wasn’t until he heard a horn honking that he even noticed the headlights of the oncoming vehicle, whose lane he had carelessly drifted into. A short time later, he found himself standing on the bank of the river, reading the dripping rental agreement he had managed to salvage from the glove box by the red glow of his rental car’s taillights.

Also on March 22nd, 2009, a fifteen-year-old boy who had promised his mother he would be home already in Evansville, Indiana pulled the ringing cell phone his mother had given him from his pocket. As the boy answered and prepared to make up a better reason than hanging out with his friends for why he would be returning late, the call dropped. He was later grounded for a week for returning home late without calling.

Simultaneously, three thousand other cell phone calls in the Western Kentucky and Southern Indiana area were cut short. Had his mother been aware of this, which she wasn’t, it might have kept her from adding two more weeks on to his punishment for hanging up on her.

At the exact same time all of this was happening, United Flight 8527 was passing over the lower Midwest after having taken off from Charlotte and suddenly began experiencing difficulty. At first, the instruments in the cockpit flickered. This caused the pilot and co-pilot to merely glance at each other and shrug before they resumed business as usual.

Seconds later, the two were just as surprised as the passengers when the aircraft began to plummet toward the ground. Food in the passenger compartment flew everywhere. A heavyset woman gripped the arm of a nearby stranger so tight that her victim was convinced the three small marks on his forearm years later were scars from her fake nails. The unfortunate stewardess who happened to be standing in the aisle at the time of the incident ended up in the lap of and face to face with a man who had eaten more garlic in his preflight meal than most people would normally consume in a year.

But just as suddenly as it began, every instrument returned to perfect working order. The pilot regained control and smoothly pulled the nose of the plane skyward where it belonged. Soon, he had returned to their scheduled flight path. During the fall he remembered glancing at the compass and noticed it was spinning wildly. He would tell this story many times over throughout his retirement, which just so happened to begin prematurely, immediately after he landed the plane in Denver.

The rental car’s accidental detour into the Ohio River and the disruption of cellular service would have gone entirely unnoticed had it not been for the slight hiccup in the travels of Flight 8527. Once a scare like that occurs, however, other smaller details tend to come to light and the people who get paid to notice such things tend to notice such things.

That’s how it came to pass that Buford Hedgecock sat atop his tractor on March 24th, 2009 in the town of Beaver Dam and watched a shiny black car that kicked up a cloud of dust in its wake pull up in front of his barn. By the time he made it to the house, his wife had already set two cups of coffee in front of the two men in dark suits and sunglasses as they sat on his couch, waiting to speak with him.

“Mornin’” Buford greeted them. “How can we help you gentlemen?”

Much to the astonishment of Buford and his good wife, the men informed them that they were from the Central Intelligence Agency and had a matter of national security to discuss with them. They were particularly interested in looking at a very specific area of Buford’s grain field approximately three quarters of a mile from the rear of his home. They asked Buford if he had seen anything unusual two nights before or if anyone that normally wasn’t on his farm had been there to his knowledge.

Buford explained that it was just he and the Mrs., but he had no way of accounting for who might have been out in his field after dark. After he cordially escorted them to the location in his field they were most intent on looking at, the two men thanked Buford and left abruptly.

Nothing ever came of this as far as Buford Hedgecock knew. He was never informed that the CIA had been concerned that a terrorist organization had test-detonated an EMP on his farm. They never told him about the cell phones or the flight that happened to be passing directly over the Hedgecock farmhouse at the very time its instruments began to malfunction.

The CIA officials investigating the incident never rechecked their figures. If they had, they would have discovered that the epicenter of the electromagnetic disturbance had actually occurred three quarters of a mile closer to Buford Hedgecock’s house than they had originally thought, which would have in fact placed it inside of Buford Hedgecock’s house.

However, since none of this information been shared, Buford never told the story about how he had decided to try and use a new method for making popcorn he had read about using a stainless steel pot and a magnetic induction plate which he plugged into an already extremely overloaded outlet. He may have told the agents about how his wife had made him promise to throw the induction plate away. He might have told them that this came after they had blown fuse and extinguished the resulting small kitchen fire.

Instead, all that had been revealed that evening in the Hedgecock household was that Buford did not have a head for science and that his wife had no patience for any attempts he might make at using it to prepare food. Meanwhile, a salesman in Owensboro vowed to buy the rental insurance from now on, a teenager in Evansville was grounded for two weeks longer than he had to be and thousands of citizens of Kentucky suddenly considered changing cell phone providers.

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