Born Out of Due Time, by Ched P. Rayson, Chapter 15

Thomas Fleming

By

December 27, 2018

Monday Morning

σὺ κὰι δέδορκας κ’ου βλέπεις ἵν᾽ει κακου

You look but you do not see what evil you are in.

Do you know from whom you are?

Early on the following morning, after getting cleaned up and tending his wounds, Anterus Smith ate a meager breakfast out on his decrepit porch, whose flaking paint and rotting wood he seemed to notice for the first time.  He was getting to the end of his rope, and even a condemned man, he reflected, gets a hearty meal.  He sipped his coffee and watched the birds.  A big bull of an English sparrow, perched next to a downy woodpecker, was up to the usual tricks.  He would wait a few moments, then bump the downy with his rear.  The first time it happened, the woodpecker appeared to take no notice.  The second time, the downy stared fixedly at the sparrow for several seconds.  The third time he got bumped, hardly breaking the stride of his feeding, he pecked the sparrow’s head with his jackhammer beak, and the dazed bully flew off and flew like a staggering drunk.  The Greeks would have regarded it as an omen.  There were no eagles devouring a pregnant hare, but it was a sign, nonetheless.

Smith called the office to say he would be coming in late and asked Mrs. Goodine to inform Sean that he would arrive by 9:45 in order to take his place in the scheduled game.  He also phoned Ross at home to find out if he had been able to set up a meeting with Geltner.  Ross was a member of Nadir’s oldest country club, the Gitchee Gumee, and he had arranged for a lunch meeting in a private dining room on Tuesday.  Before getting off the phone, Smith warned obliquely against even mentioning Forrest Jackson on the telephone and gave him an abbreviated and highly sanitized version of what had happened the previous night.  He replied vaguely to Ross’s request that he go to see a doctor.  He probably would have gone to see about the injuries to his head, if he had not had more urgent business to attend to. 

He knew he was getting closer to the truth about himself, but he needed some time alone to concentrate, which was a strange word to use to describe the trances in which his mind wandered off in strange directions.  To insure his privacy, he locked all the doors and windows and retreated to the basement, where he kept a decrepit sofa.  He checked the time—it was a little after eight—and poured himself a drink.  He had been asking himself what he was doing here, and it was time to find out whether he was actually dangerous or only delusional.  He had learned from the VSET experiments how important a set of warm-up exercises could be.  

He began by recalling what he could of his childhood in Nadir so long ago.  Though bits and pieces had come back to him in recent days, his personal memories gave him precious little to go on.  One small thing nagged at him, like the first weak throb or a tooth on the verge of pain:  He had thought that when his memory started to return, he’d have a fuller recollection of the things everyone else seemed to know from the past few decades—presidential elections, sports stars, pop music hits—but no, he still seemed to dwell on things from his parents’ generation.  Not that he wanted to have the Beatles’ playlist in his head.  Better to know nothing than to have a head stuffed with the packing peanuts inserted by the news and  entertainment “industry.”  Still…

He meditated on what he had learned of Nadir’s history and on what he knew of Veritas.  He let his mind drift toward the future, and, as the basement and its drab concrete walls began to fade away, he found himself walking the streets on a Spring day.  He popped into the Icehole, where Doreen was behind the bar washing glasses with her back turned to the customers.  He saw Joey sitting in a booth reading a newspaper and walked over to him.

“Big fight last night?”

“Yeah, the bum lost—cost me three C’s.  Anterus?  Jeeze, man.  We haven’t seen you in a long time.  Not since all that trouble.  I thought you was leaving the country?  Didn’t you make it?”

“Yes, I made it Joey.”

“Then you got everything straightened out so you could come back?”

“Not just yet, but everything is all right.  I’m just having a look around for an hour or so.  You haven’t seen me.”

“Sure, I never seen you.”

“Can I see the Nadir News Telegram for a second?

“Sure, take it.  Nothing in ‘The Nuisance’—like always.  Just stuff someone made up at the wire services.  Anything special?”

“Just the front page.”  Anterus read the date, May 22, 2020, and handed the paper back.

“You want a drink?”  

“Yes, but bring it over to the booth in the back.”

So, he was not simply crazy.  How many times, he wondered, had this happened before?  Joey brought himself a glass of lite beer and a glass of Dickle for Anterus.

“After you left, I bought a bottle of this stuff in case you ever came back.  You don’t look a day older, except for the bruises.  Been fighting again?  Not with Nicosia, he got sent up on some Federal charges.  He’s probably out by now, but he ain’t come back.  It was hushed up, but I heard.  Your friend Dyson..”

“Don’t tell me anything about him or anybody right now, Joey.  I just want to hear about Veritas.”

“That place?  Well, ever since….  Ok, you don’t want to hear about it.  Anyway, it’s basically nothing now.  The only one left there, really, is that dumb Polack Borowski and a filing clerk who answers the phone.  Yeah, I know.  Polacks win Nobel Prizes, but that don’t mean Borowski ain’t a dumb Polack. I ask ya this:  If there’s no such as dumb Polacks, how did the jokes get started.

“Is that your Anselm’s proof that stereotypes are true?”

“Of course they’re true.  What else could I be but a Finlander?  Ad dumb as a Polack but much more dangerous.”

“You were telling me about Veritas.”

“Yeah, I hear they’ve still got a board of directors, but that goggle-eyed freak left and went back to the business he was in before he came here.”

It was Joey’s habit, when he got excited, to slip into a patois that was partly old Nadir and part fight game.

  “I don’t know what dey’re doing dere.  Since Borowski claims to be working at home, the place is virtually deserted.  The place has still got money in the bank, but no one knows what da board is gonna do with it.  Maybe spend it on dere own stuff.  Screw the rich!  I hear dey’ve got ideas but dey don’t do nothin.”

“Have you been looking in at the house?”

“Sure, Andy, sure. Everyding’s copacetic.  I had a security system installed.  No troubles.”

“Is there enough money in the account we set up?”

  “Plenty.”

“Did that girl Jessica ever come to see you?”

“Yeah, kid seems changed.  Real healthy.  She’s gonna graduate high school and has been taking courses at State.  Doreen and me, we uz wrong about her.  She and Doreen have become pals, and Doreen’s taking some history courses, and she drives Jessie to class.  She’s alleze askin if we’ve heard from you.  Say, p’fessor.  Does you coming in today mean you’re moving back to Nadir?”

“Soon, Joey, soon.  Would you call Doreen over?  I’d like to say hello and good-bye, at least for a while.”

“Sure.  Hey, Doreen honey.  Come over here, here’s someone wants to say hello.”

Doreen came over, and, when she started to shriek out his name, Smith put his fingers to his lips and shook his head.”  He motioned her to sit down.  She had tears in her eyes.

“We’ve missed you, Andy.  Place isn’t the same.  How long are you here?  Is it safe?”

“Just an hour or so, and no, it isn’t entirely safe yet, but it will be, I promise.  I’m coming back soon.”  

He bolted down the whiskey, got up, kissed her on the cheek, and left without saying good-bye.  He walked by Veritas.  Joey had not exaggerated: There were only two cars in the parking lot, and in only two years, the building was already developing the deserted look that would before too long make it unrentable.  Ross’s dream—so fast, everything dies so damned fast.  

He kept walking and went into the ugly new public library that replaced the old red sandstone building they had put up with Carnegie money.  If he was about to get into trouble, he was going to need some money in the next year or so.  He spent a half hour hurriedly taking notes:  Who won the 2018 Super Bowl, World Series, and Kentucky Derby?  Then he looked up the S&P averages for the next 16 months, noting down the highs and lows with the dates.  He checked out a few volatile stocks.  It was dirty, but he was going to have to move fast.  He couldn’t dare  make too much money out of any one transaction.  He wondered if he had done anything like this before. 

He turned around and walked the back streets past his house, which had been freshly painted, and out toward the park, where he sat down on a bench and nodded off.  When he awoke, he was back in the basement.  He checked the time.  9:05.  So his time away had taken the same time as his biological time and the time that would have passed in the basement.  Had he really been gone, in the flesh or had he only been walking in his sleep?  He should have set up a camera.  

Smith called Billy and arranged a pickup at 9:25.  He was dropped off at the Court House.  Ever since last night’s conversation with the Rosses, he had been thinking about the name McFarlane.  It meant something.  He walked up to the second floor of the court house and went into the records office.  Mrs. Riordan welcomed him like an old friend

“Good morning Mr. Smith.  It’s been a while Still looking for your missing ancestors?”

“Good morning to you, Mrs. Riordan, and the answer is yes.”

He noticed again how pretty she was with her dark hair and a well-tailored emerald green dress that set off her eyes and hair.

“What will it be today?  More elusive Smiths.  I’m afraid we can’t really help you.  The County Clerk is out sick today, and he has to approve all research requests.”

“Mrs. Riordan, you’re far too pretty to play the officious bureaucrat.”

She attempted a stern look,

“Flattery, Mr. Smith”—which dissolved into a smile as she leaned forward across the counter—“could take you into dangerous places.”

“What about Mr. Riordan?”

Doctor Riordan?  He left me for a young nurse just about a year ago, and his friend Judge Alfano awarded me next to nothing.”

She leaned forward still farther, and Anterus could smell her violet perfume and a hint of a brandy-flavored mouthwash.  She was right, this could be dangerous, but what did he have to lose?  What do losers have to lose?

“You must let me take you out to dinner some time soon?”

“Is that a bribe?”

“Who is bribing whom?  Unfortunately, I have to get back to my office to work on a project, and I only have about 45 minutes.  I want you to look up a family named McFarlane or MacFarland or some other variation.”

“For what years?”

“1980’s and better include the 1970’s.”

She sat down at a terminal and quickly plugged in the data.

“All I can find is old Shorty MacFarland, who ran a lowdown liquor store on fifth street.  He died in the 90’s.  Now, if the name were Erickson or Olson or Anderson, we’d be deluged.”

“Ok, let’s do an Anderson.  Farley Anderson.”

She did another search.

“No, there are Elmer Andersons, Eric Andersons, and even a Finn Anderson, but no Farley.  There isn’t a record of a plain F. Anderson, either.  How about I broaden the search out to include the 1930’s through the 1960’s?  I’ll start with McFarlane.  Something’s coming up.  There’s an Andrew McFarlane born in 1938 to Wilbur and Emma MacFarlane.  Does that help?”

“Maybe.  It could be a relative.” 

“And there is an Anders McFarlane—must have had a Swedish mother.”

“Do you have a birthdate for him?

“No, but we have him named in a will in 1950, when he was 12 years old.”

“Sounds like twins.”

“Was this any help?”

“I don’t know yet, but maybe.  It’s too early to be the person I’m looking for, but it could be a relative.  Listen, Mrs. Riordan.”

“Karin.”

“Karin, I’ll be gone again on business… but I’ll come by when I get back, and wine and dine you on the finest Nadir can offer.  You’ve been a big help.”

“Will that require a drive to Chicago?  I can pack an overnight bag.”

As Smith prepared to leave the court house, he noticed a small knot of people bundling up and taking out umbrellas.  The sky had turned dark and was spitting rain on the city by the lake.  A young mother looked anxiously at her eight year old son,

“Oh, Jeremy.  Look, it’s raining.  Is that all right, sweetie?”

***

Smith had eaten a light breakfast, and, hungry though he was, he was in a hurry to return to the office for the games.  They were waiting for him in the lab:  Freeman and his assistant were making arrangements, and Sean was joined by Corey and, somewhat to Smith’s surprise, Justin Wright.

“Hello, Smith.  Had a productive morning?  They told me you were coming in late.  I know this is a think tank, but we don’t pay people to think.”

When Smith made no reply to what he judged to be an impertinent question—he had no set hours and reported to Ross—Wright plunged ahead.

“Today’s game is a dramatic variation on Axelrod’s “Prisoner’s Dilemma.”  Basically, you are Jim Trievel, a POW in Vietnam.  You and your fellow prisoner, John, are both downed Navy pilots being interrogated and tortured to make them accuse each other—and the United States government—of committing war crimes against the Vietnamese.  What makes this game a little interesting is that you are actually playing against John.  Every time you can accuse John of a crime, without being accused yourself, you score a point, and vice versa.  Each point will result in a mildly unpleasant shock to the losing opponent, or rather, your fellow-prisoner, and a mildly pleasant sensation to the winner.  And, as your point total increases, the shock will increase in intensity, as will the pleasure-stimulus for the one who scores.  After a few rounds, to make it even more interesting, the stakes will be raised.”

“What part do you play?”

“Oh, I’, just an observer.”

“Who plays John?”

“No one you’d know, besides, we’ve decided it’s better for the players jot to know these things.”

“By ‘we,’  I assume you meant Dr. Freeman.”

When Wright pretended to look at some paperwork, Smith assumed that Sean would actually be directing operations and observing, while Corey would play John.  He had a strong hunch that Justin would also have a part to play. At this point, Smith had the vaguest idea of how the script would play out and no clue as to the role Justin Wright would assume.   

After he was hooked up into the cubicle, he was back in the House of Memory, but this time the spaces were cells, corridors,  and interrogation rooms.  Jim/Smith was in an interrogation room waiting for some to arrive and set the ball rolling.  Sometimes, he thought, the waiting could be the worst part, but when his interrogator got going, he realized what a mistake he had made.  Finally, his old enemy entered the room.  Back at the Academy, Jim had read about cases in which POWs came to identify with their interrogators.  This was not happening to him: He hated the sight of the Zipperhead bastard.  He was remarkably tall for a Vietnamese, and, with his stooped shoulders and the thick lenses in his glasses, he might have been a Japanese torturer in a WWII movie.

“Good morning, commander.  I trust I did not keep you waiting too long.  I know how you enjoy our little chats.”

The visual image was convincing, but even with his mind in the grips of VSET, he could not help feeling the interrogator was merely a lay figure reciting pre-recorded lines like a robo-calling telephone solicitor.  Jim said nothing as the endlessly repeated routine was gone over for what seemed the thousandth time.  Where was he born?  Where did he go to school?  Who were his parents?  How had he acquired his hatred of the Vietnamese people?  Why had he bombed hospitals and schools?  Was that his own initiative or did the orders come from the Pentagon?   Perhaps he was only an innocent dupe, as they believed.  It was John, wasn’t it, who was responsible?

At this point Jim had a pop-up vision of John undergoing a virtually identical interrogation.

  “Would you like some water?”

  Jim knew better than to say yes and get a glass of water flung in his face—not just the water but the glass itself.  Usually the glass was only bounced off the back of his head, but on one occasion the goon had smashed it into his face—a gag that opened a gash that later required some crude stitching.  After what seemed like endless repetition, the goon with the glass tricks came in and, every time Jim failed to respond to a question, he would do something nasty.  First, he was content with pinching his ribs, then he proceeded to slapping and kicking, and finally he took a small rubber rod and went to work on his injured knee and then his testicles.  The pain seemed real enough, but he could still be objective about it, as if he were observing someone else.

He could see John, undergoing the same ordeal, though it seemed to Jim that his fellow-prisoner was beginning to waver.  He hadn’t been broken, though it did look as if he was starting to crumble.  Trapped in his own world of virtual pain, he lost sight of John but suddenly felt a sharp pain—it was like a zanging in his brain—that was entirely real.  No more objective observation, no more imaginary pain—no matter how vivid: This was the real thing.  

That son-of-a-bitch John had ratted him out.  But I am an officer, loyal to my country and to the Navy.  I can take a little pain.  It doesn’t matter what the Gooks did or even what that traitor does.

Zang!

It doesn’t matter.

ZANG!!

————-

ZANG!!

ZANG!!!

Jim smelled blood and before the screen went blank, he caught side of Corey Todd grinning in ecstasy like an adolescent with his first copy of Playboy.  The expression on his face said, “Man, this is living.”

After a few minutes of decompression, the screen of his mind lit up again, and they were once more in the House—or rather Prison—of Memory.  The scenario was virtually identical, and the straw-man interrogator went through exactly the same scripted motions, encouraging, threatening, bullying, torturing, but this time Jim was ready, and, the first time John zanged him, Jim zanged him back twice.  When John responded with four bursts of pain, Jim upped the ante, figuring John was not made of the stuff that would encourage him to persist.  He was right, and through the course of the second episode, John only tried one or two surprise attacks that he abandoned as soon as Jim struck back.  This was not a contest of minds or wills, but a test to see who could endure more pain.

In a way Jim/Smith cheated, by maintaining, albeit intermittently, a strong awareness of who he was and against whom he was playing.  Over and over he told himself the pain of the torture was unreal and almost came to believe that the shocks inflicted by the traitor were equally an illusion.  The more he succeeded in transcending the game, the better he seemed to know himself and the more clearly he was able to distinguish the illusions that had been projected upon him from the reality of his experiences.

They played one more round with even better results for Jim.  John had learned his limitations and only once or twice tried to sneak in a zang—with apparently disastrous results to himself.  For a third time the mental screen dissolved and, in the brief period of decompression, Smith was beginning to sense that the wounded areas of his memory were beginning to heal.  Under this heightened awareness, the gaming process began to seem like dejà vu. 

When his mental screen lit up once more, Jim was now reduced to a nom de guerre without a shred of reality, and Smith was ready for another walk-over round with Corey.  This time he sensed something different as soon as the interrogator entered the scene.  He began with the same polite banter:

“Good morning, Commander.  I trust I did not keep you waiting too long.  I know how you enjoy our little chats.”

But his speech, more boring and artificial than even in previous rounds, quickly moved in a new direction.

“Your friend John has been very helpful to us, Commander, I’m sorry you have not seen fit to come clean.  It is really the only honorable course.”

“I was not aware that you people had even a rudimentary sense of honor.”

“By you people, you mean Vietnamese, Asians?”

“Not primarily, I was thinking more of you Communists who think any lie that advances the revolution is a good thing.  It was one of you who defined “truth” as that which serves the interest of the proletariat… But since you bring it up, Asian cultures are more concerned with saving face than with honorable behavior.  You are also notorious for the enjoyment you take in torture.”

“I see you are a racist bigot, like so many White Europeans, but we are willing to tolerate anything among our friends.  I am leaving you for a moment or two with your thoughts, as I go to talk to your brother officer.”

Smith, alone with his thoughts once more, began to think about the laboratory in which he and Jane had been imprisoned.  His stream of memory was interrupted by a burst of pain, more powerful than anything he had experienced.  He immediately struck back, received a counter-attack, and struck again.  In the breathing space that followed, Smith figured out that while Corey was administering the shocks, they were being hyped up by the Interrogator who was almost certainly Justin Wright.

When the Interrogator returned, he had a simpering grin, and his eyes twinkled mischievously behind the think lenses of his spectacles.

“Did you enjoy that little encounter with your colleague?  Can’t wait for a little more?  Well, you won’t have long to wait.  He has no will power of his own, but, as painful as he finds your counter-strikes, he now realizes that I can punish him far more severely if he fails to collaborate with us.  You understand?”

Smith said nothing, did not even nod his head.

“Let us start at the beginning with your name.”

“James Trievel.”

“You can do better than that.”

Smith felt a tremendous jolt and smelled and tasted blood.

“Anterus Smith.”

“Better but not good enough.”  Before your friend administers another dose of the medicine, you should reflect.  There is no Anterus Smith.  Now, again.  What is your name?”

Smith said nothing and prepared for the next blow, which, when it came, was more powerful than the previous attack.  He began to be afraid that they were going to wipe out his memory again.

“Farley Anderson.”

“Much better, Smith.  Much better.  Where were you born?”

“New Jersey, Atlantic City.”

“That’s something to check on.  Who was your father?”

“His name was Farley, also.”

“Did your father ever talk about having psychic powers?”

“Not really, though he could always win card games, as if he could read your cards or your mind.”

“Did you inherit that power?”

“Some of it but not much.  I am afraid of it.”

“Afraid, why?”

“Dad hinted several times that he had been in some kind of government experiment in which he had lost almost all his memory.  I didn’t want that to happen to me.”

“So, it was fear that led you to change your name and falsify your history?

“Yes.  Please don’t hit me again with those shocks.”

“You need not be afraid of anything, now that you are working with us.  Tell me, Farley, where did you get your coins and trinkets?”

“Dad gave them to me—he told me about several deposit boxes around the country.  When I need money, I visit one of them and pick up something I can sell.”

“How did your father pick up these things?”

“I don’t know, I really don’t.  He seemed to know a lot about what might be valuable in the future.  Maybe it was intuition.”

“Could he project his mind into the future?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t believe in that sort of thing.”

“You don’t believe or you don’t want to believe?  Perhaps out of fear?”

“Could be.  I can’t think.  My brain feels all numb.  I don’t know what to say.”

“All right, Farley.  We’ll have more to discuss later, but for now, you are going to fall into a deep sleep, a coma in fact, and when you wake up you will be refreshed and have no recollection of anything after your defeat of the idiot Corey—or rather John.  In point of fact, you’re not going to remember much about anything.  We’ll see how smart you really are.”

Smith experienced the currents from the electrodes as a soft rain falling onto a rippling stream and as he listened to the rhythmic dripping he knew he was being hypnotized.  The slightest twinge in his arm told him that a drug was being administered to facilitate the process.  He had fallen into their hands again, it seemed, or into the hands of someone even worse.  He was close to despair.  Just as he was beginning to recover his life, he was going to have it taken away.  Would he remember anything?

This time, he knew what they were doing, but what good did that knowledge do him, if his mind was soon going to be wiped clean?  Steady, he was losing his grip.  He had learned a few things in all those hours he had spent studying neurological experimentation, and in playing the VSET games he had discovered a weapon.  The first step was to clear his mind of fear and to dismiss the delusions they had implanted.  He had to concentrate on something beyond himself: 

Pater noster qui es in coelis…

He proceeded from the Pater noster to the Ave Maria to the Salve Regina.  Then he switched to the Greek pater hemon and the Magnificat.  Once he had regained control and blanked out the visions, he returned to the House of Memory, empty now of all the associations.  He renamed it the House of Anterus.  La Casa di Antero.  He entered the hallway and looked up and down at the doors.  The first door bore the legend Andrew MacFarlane and under it was subscribed Anders MacFarlane.  The next door read Anterus Smith, the next Farley Anderson, the next Andrea Ferrero, and the next—in Greek letters—Μιχαήλ Πάπας.

He opened the last door into the life of Michael Pope, who had spent time in the 1960’s, traveling in Greece.  Faces of people he knew as friends began to materialize, places he had lived, and as he traveled in space he also found himself in Constantinople in 1453 and in Athens talking with Sophocles about Stesichorus and Simonides.  Back in the hallway, he chose the door Farley Anderson, and he was treated to a fast-forwarding summary of his experiences in the laboratory.  He was going too fast to catch many details, but he knew he was running out of time.

Back in the hallway again, he walked through the door Anders MacFarlane and took in, at break-neck speed, a moving resume of his childhood in Nadir, his parents, his life in San Francisco.  He ran quickly from training in a gymnasium to listening to jazz in a club to studying Greek on the rooftop of a decrepit hotel……The images grew less distinct as he moved faster and faster through the phases of his life, but somewhere his mind was taking them in and storing them in condensed format for future use, when they could be “unzipped.”   Just before the whirligig spun out of control, he began to recite a mantra:

My name is Anterus McFarlane

I am also Anders McFarlane and Andrew McFarlane

Anterus Smith

Farley Anderson

Andrea Ferrero

Michael Pope

My mind is limited by neither space nor time

And I have gone wherever and whenever I have wanted

This is my testament and my oath, 

and I shall never forget.

He repeated his testament over and over, digging his nails into his palms and knocking his knees and shins on the side of the booth.  After he had repeated it over a dozen times, he began to thrash wildly, as if he were delusional and likely to hurt himself, and, groggy almost to the point of oblivion, he found himself being taken out of the booth and brought to a cot, where he underwent the Sleepdown.  He could hear Sean arguing with Justin and Freeman, threatening to call in Katie Oriundi and Dr. Ross, if they tried to put the Sleepdown electrodes into him or administer any drug.

I know something about what you did to one of the volunteers that could put you in jail, Justin.”

“Sean, you’re delusional.  We weren’t going to do anything to hurt Smith, and of course we’ll comply, though it might retard his recovery—-but tell me what you think you know.”

“I was just blowing smoke to get you to back off.”

That was the last Smith heard of the conversation, as the violence of his thrashing increased, and he had begun to hurt himself seriously by bashing his arms and head into the chair and the apparatus.  He could not manage to open his eyes, but he felt a soft hand stroking his brow and his hair, and he heard a woman’s voice, sobbing in whispers,

“Poor, poor Anterus.  They have you again, and this time they are not going to let you slip away.  Poor, dear Anterus, I won’t let them keep you.  I’ll take you to my home and we’ll take care of you, even if you can never find your way back to the surface…” 

All this time he continued to hear his Testament, over and over in his mind until he fell into a deep sleep.  As he began to emerge from the depths, he could hear the words of his Testament, and his mind went back to the laboratory.  By now he knew that he had used the name Farley Anderson when he registered for the experiments.  When the intern came in with a satisfied smile, Anterus took a good look at his face.  The intern was much younger, but there was no doubt:  He was Benedict Freeman.  Even in his condition, Anterus realized there was something wrong.  In the dream, he was in his late 30’s, not much younger than he was, but Freeman, in the same period of time, appeared to have aged 40-50 years.

“What happened to Jane?”

“Jane?  Oh, I thought you had forgotten all that.”

“I don’t remember much.  Wasn’t there a girl here?”

“Yes, but she had a diabetic episode and fell through an open window.  Fortunately, we were only on the second floor, and the bushes broke her fall.  She only suffered some minor scratches.  We had to send her to the hospital, though, for treatment.  Don’t worry she’s just fine, though obviously she cannot return to the experiments.  You do understand.”

Yes, he understood very well.  He had seen her jump out the window and, when he looked out, he had seen her crushed body on the pavement five or six floors below.

“Thanks, Doctor.  I am so relieved.  I think I must have had some sort of breakdown—I vaguely remember causing you some trouble.”  

“No real trouble, Mr. Anderson.  No trouble at all, though we were worried at first that the stress of some of the experiments might have temporarily upset you.  With a little rest, you’ll be just fine.  I hope you don’t object to remaining with us for a few days, until we can determine you are fully recovered.”

“Of course.  It’s very kind of you.  Whatever you think best.”

“Fine, fine.  It’s time for you to get some rest.  Here’s a little something to help you sleep.”

“Thank you.  I feel completely drained.  I could use a good night’s sleep.”

Anterus reached eagerly for the pill in Freeman’s outstretched hand and popped it in his mouth, taking care to secrete it into the corner of his cheek, the way a cat does, when it is given medicine, and took a drink of water.

“I feel better already.”

As Freeman left the room Anterus heard hims say, just as he was shutting the door,

“I think our patient has responded perfectly to treatment.  One more round and he won’t even have the faintest memory of the late Miss Somerville.”

Anterus rolled over onto his stomach and spat the pill out not the pillow.  He took it into his hand and ground it into minute particles he distributed between the bedclothes and his own clothing.  As he dozed off for a brief sleep, he exercised his memory by going over the floor plans of the building, noting the exits and windows, as airline stewardesses ask passengers are instructed to do at the beginning of every flight.  “In the event of an emergency landing…”.  There would be no slide to help him out a second floor window, but once on the ground he would quickly disappear into the nighttime streets of Chicago.

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

11 Responses

  1. Ben says:

    Well now… that’s not the end, is it Smith?

  2. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    Note: There are two parts plus a sort of entr’acte in between. Part One has 19-20 chapters depending on how Mr. Rayson in the end chooses to divide it. But beware. As one of the chapter epigraphs warns us, “Things are seldom as they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream.”

  3. Curtis says:

    This is a very enjoyable read, with plenty of suspense and ambiguity, though I confess that I am lost in the whirlwind of so many briefly-introduced characters and scenes. Anterus himself is supposed to be disoriented, and the motivations of the key characters are supposed to be ambiguous, but perhaps when the rough draft is done a bit more can be added to link the scenes together in a linear way, and a bit more time can be spent explaining the role of each character before they are thrown into the plot. There are so many people at Veritas and this shadowy hospital Smith was in before that it is hard to keep track. My two cents.

  4. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    I’ll pass the suggestions onto Ched, though he will probably ignore them. He tells me that confusion is at the center and he adamantly refuses to explain characters or discuss motivation.

  5. Curtis says:

    Anterus is a classicist in a surrealist world?

  6. Ben says:

    Those darned amnesiacs always have to have it their way.

    The peak into that possible future was reassuring before we watched Smith get zinged. zanged?

  7. Frank Brownlow says:

    I’m enjoying this enormously–it’s like reading a Dickens novel in monthly numbers. The way to keep track of characters &c. is to copy/paste each chapter into a folder in one’s own word processor, in other words to keep the numbers on hand in readable sequence. At first I had trouble keeping Borowski & Todd separate, but I don’t think there’s any ambiguity about the others. What’s ambiguous is Smith’s–and our–limited knowledge, but a number of things have been becoming clearer. I do want to know–eventually–about Myra.

  8. Ben says:

    σὺ κὰι δέδορκας κ’ου βλέπεις ἵν᾽ει κακου

    Speaking of epitaphs, who can know what they truly mean? I’ll even settle for a Google translate on this one: and the tussell you see is evil. How incorrect is that?

  9. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    Needs expansion but I don’t have Greek texts here in Italy. It is Teiresias in Sophocles Oedipus telling O he does not know what evil he is in or from whom or what he comes.

    Rayson tells me that he dislikes too much description of characters–that should emerge from action and dialogue. Famously, Homer does not try to describe Helen and we only understand it from the results–as in the scene where the old men on the wall find the war understandable.

    I’ll suggest to Ched he make the differences between the two young men more prominent. Borowski is a timid geek and healthnut modernist , while Todd is fat, careless, rednecky, and highly resentful of superiority.

  10. David Wihowski says:

    I did not have any problem keeping Sean & Todd separate. They came across just as Dr. F. indicated in the last paragraph above. I agree that characters develop better from action and dialogue, though having a “sketch” of their physical appearance is helpful to our imagination and memory–and if my memory serves, most of the characters are given that sketch in the narrative.
    I didn’t get the allusion to Oedipus, though I had that “I know I’ve read this somewhere” feeling. I probably should reread Oedipus, since I haven’t done so since my college days.
    I also concur with Frank B.: enjoying this greatly!

  11. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    I think the serious obstacle is the delay between chapters in interferes with continuity. That would not be a problem when it appears as a book.