Fabula 2 – Diversions

29 May 2016

The Lobby; its guests have an opportunity to make each others’ acquaintances.

Photo by Catherine Coulson, courtesy of David Lynch.

Photo by Catherine Coulson, courtesy of David Lynch.

The large painting of the lighthouse dominates the area. So large that you have to pan your eyes across it making it difficult to discern the details. You are sure it doesn’t quite look the same twice; an eternal beam of light pointing out into the darkness. At one point it appears to illuminate a small vessel bobbing hopelessly against an incoming wave. At others, the wave appears composed of intertwined bodies captured at that moment when the lighthouse will be engulfed.

Better-dead-than-red-McCarthy-erait is unsettling. You wait in your seats. Some of you think about smoking but you were advised that it was ‘not recommended. If pressed, it is whispered that it was ‘un-American’; after all – those Commies are watching.

The group get to meet each other and take each other’s mettle. A series of tense conversations ensue as you attempt to understand each other’s motivations for being here and ‘getting better’. What each of you hear is not always the same. You each remember different imperatives: get well, obey authority, be vigilant, behave…

You have each demonstrated a degree of fortitude. Especially after having to be around some of the other patients. It is obvious; you are much better than them – a thought that gives you comfort. You know  – you will succeed where others of ‘moral lassitude’ have failed.

Clay seems disturbed by the painting. One moment he is rising to peer at it carefully, the next moment he is sitting opposite it, staring intently. Josh notes his discomfort and moves to investigate. He sits down with his back to the work.

After a few moments a chill runs up his spine like someone walked over his grave. The lights flicker – the machine is working; drawing power. The world greys and slows. Josh reaches out to the painting – it seems like it is calling him; it has common bond. He strains in the half-light of the Lobby to see and understand – his head begins to pound – eye-strain perhaps as he strives for but cannot achieve meaning. Something flickers on the edge of consciousness; then is gone. He reaches out to touch the surface with the palm of his hand and gets a small shock – like static perhaps generated by his moccasins on the carpet – he pulls his hand back. It is moist and he quickly wipes it on his scrubs. It reminds him of his time in Innsmouth and he too moves away from the picture and takes a seat.

Conversation halts. Left is the slow sweep of the clock outside the Director’s office. Abruptly, the door opens and Mr Burroughs appears in the doorway.
“Sergeant Donald O’Connor?” he reads from a clipboard. Donald raises himself from his chair and walks towards the open door. Inside he can see a large fire. Clay gets a glimpse of what looks to be a ham radio and then the door closes and Donald is left alone with the Director.

Each interview is similar and conducted sequentially – the group is effectively to be admitted together. They learn they are the last to be selected for a radical new treatment for their ‘night terrors’. According to Burroughs; ‘the season is changing, their experiments are moving into Winter, and they are out of time’. Soon the dock will be closed and the island will likely be isolated by impending storms. The fog that hung heavily over the exercise yard and in which you arrived, has lifted. There is a faint chill in the air and hairs raise on your arms.  Mister Burroughs explains their individual psychosis and that ‘how well you cooperate will determine their level of success in your rehabilitation’. He pauses and looks carefully into your eyes – searching the rises from his chair and moves to a side table on which sits a large leather-bound case. ‘Although,’ he says ‘I expect that you have a better than average chance of being cured’.

1900s-leather-medical-bag-and-contentsHe undoes the leather straps, and lifts one face carefully down to reveal a series of glass phials all carefully labelled in his familiar script, a small mortar and pestle and in one small sliding compartment, a glass syringe. Carefully removing his jacket and slowly rolling up his sleeves he begins to slowly open and combine the contents of various compounds together in the small bowl, then systematically grind them while pausing only briefly to update your records. When he is satisfied, he transfers the contents to a paper cone that delivers it into a machine that looks vaguely like an old till with a crank.

With a practiced hand and eye he cranks the crank and pulls the press and half dozen times. Satisfied with his work, he transfers the contents to a small glass phial that he corks, writes the chemical composition on the side. Taking a monogrammed pad from off his desk, he scribbles some note, then folds the paper in half and passes it to you:

‘Take this to Mr Thompson, he will confirm my diagnosis and decide on the length of treatment and the dosage. Congratulations on joining us on an important …adventure. I am sure we will do great things together.’ Then he shows you to the door. As you leave, you note the corners of the room – they are ornate, many-angled, and carved with the point of focus the desk.

It appears that half of the group is scheduled to undergo the modified Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) Electro-shock Therapy Devicecombined with the drug-regime, the sleep deprivation, and the Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. The other group will act as a control but receive a higher dosage of the medication starting with oral medication and moving towards intravenous depending on their physical reaction.

As Mr Burroughs explains, the key is for the patients to relive the trauma but at the same time work towards replacing it with a positive memory. This will form the basis for later Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) sessions with Mr Burroughs. Each member of the group is advised that if they make it this far in the treatment, they will have a better than 75% chance of complete rehabilitation. He pulls from around a slim gold chain that passes around his neck and down into his vest, a slim gold key cast in the same symbol as sits above the fireplace. He swings it briefly, hypnotically, in front of you to reassure you that the methodology is sound and ‘builds on the work of Nietzsche.’

The group each take an opportunity to look around the office. It is plush, cosy, snug even, although not large and is dominated by the big oaken desk, the fireplace and a set of pulled red curtains covering the large wall behind the desk.

Your eyes are drawn to the strange symbol that sits above the fireplace. It is made of corroded metal, perhaps bronze – similar to a sculpture dragged from the bottom of the sea like a rotor then mounted on the wall akin to some moose. The fire below plays across its surface creating unwholesome shadows. For some of you, the image nags and bites; looking at it too long leads to the familiar beginnings of a migraine.

nikolas-tikhomoroff.burroughs-typewriter-at-beat-hotelYou note the sequence of numbers on the front of the radio – presumably an important frequency and that unlike the majority of surfaces in the room, the machine is well-kept and free of dust. Anyone touching the device notes it is warm. The doctor’s desk is bare except for a rotary file, a writing pad, a typewriter whose keys are strange symbols, a magnifying glass, an ashtray, a packet of cigarettes, a pencil, a fat white fountain pen, the files on you and your companions, Burrough’s glasses, and a pack of matches. If anyone bothers, they can read their individual diagnosis and notes taken during your interview with Dr Parnassus.

Lastly, as you exit the room, you note the door has a double lock and the remains of a copper key has been broken in the lower lock and bent sideways so as to make it impossible to remove. You leave the Director’s office and return to the lobby.

The lunatics continue to pad silently around the room, but when you return to the Lobby you note that the colour of the piece of paper you have been issued coincides with the treatment that you are about to enter. One or other of orderly Robinson or Randy will be your escort to the next stage of the programme: meeting with either Mr Waits (ECT) or Mr Thompson (Advanced Drug Therapy). However, no sooner is Mr Burrough’s door closed than the lights in the Centre dim and flicker again. There is the smell of the sea as a cold wind whips through the lobby followed by a blood-curdling scream that ricochets around the complex.

The scream comes again and this time Robinson and Randy respond. Several of you follow them down the maze of halls, past the walking patients and around a corner to a room from where the sound is emanating. Then abruptly it stops. You watch as liquid wells beneath the crack in the door and the light beyond goes out. Randy tries to pull his keys from his pockets then drops them in the carpet. When he pulls them back up, his fingertips are dipped red. There is a brief metallic scrabble and you have the briefest chance to read the name plate: ‘Dr N. Cave‘, as the orderlies push open the door.

Beyond sits a bloodied shell still strapped to an upright bed, its head apparently exploded outward. The corpse turns inevitably in your direction as it collapses as though a puppeteer suddenly cuts the strings; barely a face amidst the sparking of ozone in the dark and wads of gore. The orderlies move past you and slam the door behind them. For those who might be watching, there is a moment when the Pear-shaped orderly flickers against the lights and is then elsewhere.

Realising their opportunity, some of the more intently curious slide into the orderly’s office to see what they might learn. They are immediately confronted with an old wood and glass cabinet within which sits a fire axe. It is made of what looks to be cold iron and the symbol on the head is the same again as that on the key and above the Director’s fireplace. On the desk are pieces of white typewriter paper complete with a series of unknown symbols. On a ring hung with dozens of old keys is a separate chain labelled “Infirmary” and off it sit a different key set. Hanging alone in the midst of the band is a single weathered key. Stringy, brown and gnarled it appears to be made from bone. What it may unlock is a mystery and the group decide to leave it alone and exit the office before its inhabitant returns.

Eyes darted around corner note the stream of gore spilling from under the door into the corridor. But look again, a monochromatic pear-shaped shadow moves in a flicker along the corridor. One moment there is blood, and the next – between the blink of an eye; it is gone except for the disturbing blood metal smell and squelch of a sack of liquid disappearing into the darkness.

Back outside the patient’s room, Clay stammers forward past the closed door, noting in passing his compatriot, Sgt. O’Connor as he slips the nameplate into his pocket. He follows the retreating image of the Pear-shaped orderly around a corner at a flat run and then comes to an abrupt halt. Ahead of him a ceiling light has burned-out and there is a part of the corridor that has been plunged into darkness except for a brief glimmer from an open door. The darkness hangs in the corridor – a point of demarcation, a dark doorway that Clay dare not cross. There is no sign of the Pear-shaped orderly, but there is an open door to a room Clay has never entered. He slides along the edge of the shadow and looks into the corner of room.

He sees the slightest hint of a gigantic red-rimmed eye stare back before the it winks out and the door is slammed closed.

Back outside the unfortunate Mr Cave’s door, Robinson and Randy reappear. They are still wearing their dark, strap-on glasses that have been issued to the medical staff. Because the group have now entered full therapy, the lights are on everywhere; the sleep-deprivation part of their challenge has begun. The two orderlies are carrying a bag, not large enough to be a person, but a dark red-brown welt grows on its surface as they move off in the opposite direction to Clay. Josh follows them at a distance, noting in passing that the room  is now completely clean, only the smallest traces of blood remain near the drain in the middle of the white tiled floor. The orderlies quickly make their way down the corridor, ignoring the attention of the others as they carry the large canvas bag.

Eventually they enter a room adjacent to the tank – possibly the strangest thing yet in the facility. A large glass tank that occupies a part of the complex, within which appears to be housed some form of squid or perhaps an octopus. The two pull the sack through the door and into a short corridor. Josh peers carefully around the corner in time to see them hoist the contents over the side of brown-stained glass and see it slide gracelessly into the tank.

When Clay and Josh each return, they find the remaining patients in the Lobby. They have a chance to change their clothing into newly-issued scrubs that proudly declare that they are ‘Patients’. Then they are split into two groups and taken off for their consults with the respective scientists.

The group meeting Mr Waits are shown by Randy towards a large metal door in a section of the facility that was previously locked-off from them. Sections of the complex require more than one set of keys and have multiple doors and areas where you would expect the gaolers may have sought to deliberately separate inmates when they were being transferred.

Tom Waits Mystery MenInside the room, they find Mr Waits at work. He seems enthusiastic although entirely distracted – muttering to himself, constantly adjusting knobs and dials on the apparently diesel-powered machine that sits at one end of the large room. In the centre is a large wooden chair fixed with bolts to the concrete floor. The static in the air is palpable and something in the room is definitely – sideways. Actinic sparks radiate upwards on a Jacob’s Ladder that sits at the centre of the machine. Waits loses his temper and kicks the side of the machine. The lights flicker for a moment and then he sits down, pulls out a short-cut cigar; a Cuban, and begins to smoke.

You pass him the note from Mr Burroughs and he looks at it through narrowed-eyes – focusing carefully. You watch his lips move as he deciphers the note. He nods and looks at you. ‘Guess you got questions, heh – well in a moment you’re going to have more.’

He gets up, moves to the large piece of arcane machinery and pulls a couple of levers and finally a pull-chain suspended from the middle of the device. It roars into action, a diesel engine spits into life with a belly of gas and steam. Mr Waits lowers his goggles and takes up what looks like a cattle prod in his rubber-gloved hands.

What comes next is…unexpected. A sort of fish-bowl effect descends on the room like a cowl. Kirlian energy creates organic fractal patterns of light that radiate out from each person inside the field. They are different colours and shapes amidst a vibrant yellow. Random sparks coruscate and when they touch people, there is an inadvertent start as if shocked. There is a pulsing in the middle of your forehead – a pressure that wasn’t there before, and a whining like agitated dogs in the distance. None of this prepares you for what happens next.

From the edge of the envelope; something ‘swims’ into focus. Five-pointed like a starfish or perhaps an anemone, it pulses into view and pauses. You can see right through its body; all its ‘organs’ are visible. It appears to be moving through the medium like it was water; sluggishly, deliberate, without obvious threat.

‘You see them don’t you?,’ intones Mr Waits playing with a dial on the end of the metal stick he is holding. Some of the group can see the creature but others are confused and can only see the reactions of those around them. Waits jabs the end of his prod out into the air near one of the creatures and pushes a button. A lance of energy sparks between the two and the creature immediately recoils; its flared arms pulling in towards its centre like a snail retracting its eye tentacles.

‘Yes!’ Waits exclaims, then the unit sparks and the device begins to build pressure; the envelope abruptly expands. Suddenly other creatures can be seen roaming into view. One slithers across the room; a blind pythonic being with mucous-covered worm fangs. Another, drifts with its tentacles outstretched and, sensing the starfish, strikes out with long barbed tendrils that wrap around the creature and drag it towards its open maw. Those capable of perceiving the scene watch in horror as one creature devours the other and the dying moments as the struggle slowly goes from one creature as it is digested.

At that moment, someone bolts towards the door. The headache. The strange creatures. The machine and its other-worldly energies are simply too much and they turn to flee unknowingly attracting the attention of the hunter.

Noticing the pending attack, Waits offers a ‘Oh shit,‘ before diving across the room and hitting the power switch. The field immediately collapses, but does not disappear. He smiles ruefully at you,  moving to a small desk and opening a draw. He drags out a bottle of bourbon, cracks the top and splashes some into a shot glass that he throws back before slipping his dark metal glasses up onto his forehead.

‘Guess you want to know what’s going on?’ he says and grins ruefully.