It happened again the following Thursday. This time it was the hardware store.
What the security cameras showed was the normal afternoon rush — people swinging by after they'd done their time at one of the nearby office towers, picking up this or that for a repair or a project. Wood screws, glue guns, some tool they never thought they'd need until they did. The queues to the cash registers were five people deep for a solid half-hour, and then the place would be nearly dead until closing time.
A quarter to six, the rush was petering out, four people waiting at one checkout, three at the other, and then the vibrations started. And this was the interesting part: everyone who'd been there or seen the security footage all agreed to call it "vibrations", but what was actually shown in the recording was very different.
Behind the checkouts was a peg board, used to display wares which were small but expensive, too big a risk for shoplifting. They were either hung from metal pins, or stored on a shelf sitting on brackets.
What the security recording showed was items just falling off, as if someone were reaching through the peg board and flicking them to the floor, one by one. An invisible someone, or group of someones, since once things got going it was happening six or eight items at a time.
It was the customers who reacted first. One of the clerks only turned around when he saw a customer staring at the back of the counter, and the other one reacted when a smart phone docking station came off the shelf and smashed to the ground directly behind her.
The customers waiting in line all set down their merchandise and left. The clerks said most of them were saying things about earth tremors. Sure there were earth tremors in the area from time to time, but the thing was, only the items on the peg board were affected. Nothing else in the store had so much as rattled, including some precariously-displayed sample toilet seats.
No-one would have even known it wasn't the first time, except one of the hardware store clerks was friends with the girl who opened the coffee shop every morning. The coffee shop had been hit the previous Monday, when an open display bag of whole roasted beans had jumped, bean by bean, in a high arc into the nearest garbage can. While the hardware store's events were easily blamed on an earth tremor, some customers had joked the coffee beans had been mixed with Mexican jumping beans, and the shop had seen a sharp drop-off in customers buying half-kilo bags of beans to grind at home. Someone had called the health inspector on the shop, although the stern-looking man who came from the Board of Health admitted that if anything, the shop was cleaner than average.
The hardware store clerk and the coffee shop barrista told their managers, and the managers took it upon themselves to canvas the rest of the storefronts in the plaza. They found out about three more incidents from the past two weeks, all following the same pattern: a very busy part of the day, phenomena isolated to only one part of the store, and no good reason for any of it.
They made copies of their security recordings. They showed them to consultants. The consultants had nothing useful to offer, until one timidly mentioned that his sister's brother-in-law's cousin investigated such things for reasons of his own.
The cousin set up motion detectors, seismographs, digital thermometers, and infra red cameras, but in the two-week window he'd been allotted to do his work, none of the devices detected anything unusual.
The managers commandeered the coffee shop for a joint all-staff meeting, projecting the recordings on a back wall one more time. Staff present in the recordings called a play-by-play of what they could remember.
Then a man from the local deli said, "There's that woman again."
"What woman?" said his manager.
"That one," he said, pointing to someone in a pantsuit, her blonde bobbed hair sitting in place like a helmet. The camera angle made it difficult to see her face.
"Anyone know her?" the manager of the hardware store said.
* * *
She'd just have to shop on-line, that was all. Shop on-line, and work from home as much as she dared. Maybe, in the long-term, she could find a job where she could always work from home. No. This was temporary. It always went away eventually.
She sighed and adjusted her shoulders, trying to get comfortable on the living room carpet. She had the lights off and the stereo on, playing some light classical stuff a friend had suggested for de-stressing.
The norm was for it to happen only to adolescent girls. The girl gets agitated or worried about something, the vase in the next room over picks itself up and smashes against the wall. Well, she'd passed through adolescence over ten years ago, and it still happened every time she got stressed out. Things fell over. Things flew through the air as if they'd been thrown. But never less than two metres away from her.
She forced herself to breathe deeply and evenly. New job, new city, new life, as far away from her ex-boyfriend as she could get. She closed her eyes, blotting out the faint glow from the power indicator on the stereo. Maybe when the classical piece was finished she'd turn a lamp on and read for a bit. No TV. Nothing too stimulating.
She heard a kitchen cupboard swing open and smack against the wall, pots and pans clattering onto the tile floor, and forced another deep, slow breath. It would stop.
It had to stop.