If That Looking Glass Should Break
“The question goes, if time travel is ever invented, why are we not constantly visited by time travelers?”
Zachary Driscoll sat opposite me on the cafe’s open air patio. He nursed a beverage which had once been coffee before he’d added flavored cream, sugar, sea salt and a splash of whatever blinding concoction was in that flask he produced from within his coat.
“That’s hardly a show stopper”, I muttered. “They could well be all around us as we speak, wearing period appropriate clothing. How would we know? It’s not as if they stamp “time traveler” on their foreheads before setting off.”
Zach’s eyes lit up. Every conversation with him was a trip, but I went as willingly as I always did because while they rarely went anywhere coherent, the scenery along the way never failed to fascinate.
“Exactly! But the same holds true for the pataphysical. Or supernatural, to use the common parlance.” I groaned. Some months ago he’d talked me into a late night trip to an abandoned industrial building.
I later determined he must have slipped me some potent hallucinogen from his impressive collection on the way, because I’d seen and heard things in the caves under that structure that took me weeks of voluntary therapy to put behind me.
He leaned in and began to gesture. None of it helped me understand, he does it for his own sake. Helps him order his thoughts. “The argument goes, if there were really some non-local element to our reality, more people would know. It would be understood to science. But what happens when someone announces such a discovery to the world?”
“Straight to the loony bin”, I chuckled. “Where you should be now.” I received the furrowed brow of impatience for that one.“That right there is why knowledge of the pataphysical remains obscure. The modern scientific establishment is the equivalent of a single party state. Potential competitors are strangled in the crib. And because the psychological and neurological sciences are a subset of it, they define what sanity is.”
I felt a migraine coming on. This rhetoric was painfully familiar to me. As an editor for a research journal we’d get submissions all the time from self styled crazies who took any criticism as persecution and imagined themselves the next Galileo or Columbus. “It’s true that they laughed at Columbus”, a favorite professor of mine once told me, “but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown”.
I bit my tongue. Why stop the parade halfway through? I no longer owned a television and not much on Netflix could compete with this. Zach’s eyes widened. “Do you see the potential for abuse? Imprisonment without a trial by jury, if they consider you dangerous. It’s not you that decides.”
He had his keys out. I considered bolting. But it was a four day weekend, I had nothing on my plate and I’d kept a close eye on my coffee this time. If he’d slipped me anything, David Blaine would be impressed. “Is it far?” He assured me it wasn’t. Despite the coffee, I slept on the way. Following Zachary’s convoluted train of thought often exhausts me, plus his new car had heated seats. I pouted and wondered when I’d be able to replace my beat up Geo on my meager salary.
Zach woke me at the destination with an air horn. I rubbed my eyes and griped that normal people keep things like their registration and maybe a tire iron in the glovebox. “Fine” he quipped, “Next time I’ll wake you with a tire iron.”
The building sat tucked away on the outskirts of the university, surrounded by maple trees which prevented one from noticing how old fashioned the architecture was until nearly inside.
The whole of it was wooden and polished, with carvings throughout bringing to mind antique furniture. I waited next to Zach for a while and was about to ask where the doorbell was when the door opened.
“Who is that with you?” a raspy voice barked from within. Zach introduced me and added that I was his “negator”. I didn’t remember agreeing to any such thing, but silence is golden.
The door swung open and when my eyes adjusted I saw a rickety old man with an alarmingly severe Dowagers hump. He raised a small eyeglass with an ornate brass rim, peered through it at me and frowned. “Tsk tsk. Well come in then, all the colic is escaping.”
He directed us to take off our jackets and shoes in the sitting room. “Colic?” I mouthed to Zach. He whispered back that it is an invisible non-local fluid which we experience as heat. I reflexively made the “bitch please” face but quietly continued removing and stowing unnecessary layers.
The building was jaw dropping. All wood as with the exterior but the corridors were lined with meticulously carved columns, the doorknobs and fixtures were polished brass, and everywhere there was room to do so he’d placed some curious contraption for visitors to admire.
One resembled some cross between an astronomer’s telescope and a pipe organ. A cluster of polished metal tubes which widened at the business end like muskets was mounted by swiveling armature to a varnished oak chest. The open door in the side revealed a baffling mechanism within, all kinds of thin tangled tubing depositing a faintly glowing blue gas into a set of six sealed jars.
The etching in the brass plate beneath it read “Cloudbuster with Orgone storage array”. The little old man joined us and upon seeing the look on my face, beamed with pride. “That’s the only one built by Wilhelm Reich himself that the feds didn’t get their hands on when they shut him down. Do you recall when General Motors crushed all of those electric cars in the nineties, but left a few to universities? You’re looking at a real rarity.”
He clearly assumed I knew more about it than I did, but that was much less irritating than the inverse. “I see. And what’s this over here?” I asked. The device sat at the focal point of a curved bay window. The plate read “Lawsonomic flow equalizer”. He hobbled over and fiddled with dials on it. For the most part it appeared pneumatic. A mass of air compressors fed transparent silicone tubing which terminated in a sort of helmet and mask with little flexible silicone spigots.
“Those go in your nose, mouth and ears. The one on the seat, well, you can imagine where that goes.” I hadn’t noticed it until now. I briefly wondered if this was some elaborate fetish device. As if sensing my confusion, he continued. “Technically this one’s on loan, although there’s nobody to give it back to anymore. Alfred Lawson, father of Lawsonomy, discovered the modern principles underlying the ancient Greek medicinal model of humors. The balance or imbalance of said humors being responsible for ones health or illness, respectively. All down to pressure, suction and flows.”
I’d sooner sit in an electric chair. “And this?” Far from annoyed by my relentless curiosity, the old man leapt at the chance to explain each mechanism. I got the impression that sincerely interested visitors did not come by often. “Ah, yes! This is a model of the cosmos.”
I couldn’t see how. It was a cutaway of a hollow sphere. On the inner surface there were texturized mountains, blue plastic rivers and oceans and so on. Then within that, concentric spheres of transparent acrylic. “Ice!” he exclaimed. “The celestial spheres and all they contain. All of it made of ice. We owe Hans Horbiger for that discovery. Of course the partially erudite already knew of the closest sphere, which Biblical scholars call the firmament. The melting of that nearest sphere, when it fell to Earth as water, caused the terrible flood recorded by every ancient culture.”
Just like that, he lost me. Long before I’d walked in the door even, but now doubly so. I thought better of challenging him on the Biblical aspects out of sensitivity to the faith of others, but the larger problem was that all of it appeared inside out. I said so.“Ah yes!” he grinned. “The great misunderstanding of modern cosmology, that we dwell on the outside of a solid sphere and the heavens surround us. A trick of the light, my boy! Optical shenanigans! Those celestial bodies which you doubtless believe to be immense and far away are in fact relatively small and close! With yet smaller bodies closer to the center.”
I never thought I’d meet someone as fundamentally backwards as Zach. This fellow was the arch-Zach. Zachary Prime. I leveraged my knowledge of how futile it was to argue with Zach and declined to go down that rabbit hole with this new fellow. If they were as similar as I thought, to do so would be to embark down a fractally infinite set of blind alleys from which there is no exit.
“I never got your name.” He handed me a small gilded card with swirling designs embellishing the corners. Fitting, from what I’d seen. It read “Heironimus Travigan”. Of course. I did not for a moment believe it was his birth name, but someone willing to devote their life to smoke and mirrors must be a performance artist at heart. That necessitated a stage name.
I never noticed Zach leave us, but suddenly he offered us each a beer. I turned him down as it was yet another possible vector for drugs. “Not this time you sneaky motherfucker” I thought. On our way down the hall I peered into an open door and saw a metal chair welded to a round platform fashioned from the same alloy. Stacked up against the wall lay two clunky obsolete robot arms of some kind, and next to them, a pair of hollow glass hoops with some unfamiliar metallic liquid inside.
“Oh, best not get into that. Don’t yet have the funds to assemble it, and the fellow who claims to have the wrist mounted accoutrement it requires still hasn’t responded to my offer. If he imagines I can afford much more than that, he doesn’t understand my position at this university.” That begged the question.
“Just what is your position, Mr. Travigan?” He looked wounded. “I am a professor, you know. Officially, of the history of natural science. Unofficially I study the various aborted alternatives. My lifelong search has been for the diamond in the dungheap. It seemed impossible to me as a young man that there should be so many attempts to discover hidden truths without any of them resulting in success.”
He opened the heavy oak door at the end of the hallway. Dust billowed out and I covered my mouth and nose. I neglected my eyes and spent the next minute or so tearing up as I tried to wipe it out. “Finally, the curiosities. Little trinkets from all over the globe. Some sent in by genuine crackpots asking that I independently verify their purported magical properties. Others incomplete pieces of something larger, a puzzle waiting to be solved by young Zachary here when he takes my place.”
Zachary flashed his signature maniacal grin. Everybody has their niche I suppose. Professor Travigan stared wistfully at the shelves upon shelves of mystery objects. “I’m here because this is where they stash the black sheep. My connections prevent me from being institutionalized, my tenure ensures that I continue to draw a salary. But I cannot lecture, nor publish, nor use university funds in any way to promote my findings. They worry I could embarrass the university’s good name.”
Despite my impression of him as so far over the cuckoo’s nest as to have achieved orbit around it, I found it difficult not to empathize. However meaningless, all of this was nonetheless interesting and much could be gleaned from it about our past mistaken notions of how the universe operates.
“Meeting young Zachary was a shot in the arm, let me tell you” he waxed on. “I have long said that if I could get just one other person to see as I see, my life’s pursuit will not have been pointless.” I studied the successive rows of artifacts, some under glass covers, some in display cases, others sealed in plastic bags with adhesive labels describing the contents. “I’d be happy to. See what you see, I mean. If you could actually show it to me. The problem people in my line of work have with all of this is that it’s so much talk with nothing to show for it.”
He again looked offended, but his expression then slowly changed to one of intrigue. “What journal is it that you edit for?” he plied. I saw no reason to conceal it. “Rejuvenation Research. Perhaps you’ve heard it mentioned in the news? We’re on the forefront of senescence studies. That is to say human aging and how to slow, halt or reverse it.”
The last part registered, at least. He stood there lost in thought until I motioned as if to leave. “Not so fast, young man. They won’t listen to me. My name is mud, they’ve made sure of that. But they might listen to you. You have a history of conventional scientific contribution. Even if you’re not equipped to understand any of this you might put it into the hands of someone who is. And if my name is not connected to it, there’s a chance they’ll take it seriously.”
I meant to object when he said I wasn’t equipped to understand these devices. I felt sure I understood them, the problem was they were all products of catastrophically mistaken beliefs concerning cosmology, biology, just about every scientific discipline. But when he pulled a small, worn leather case from one of the shelves and handed it to me, I elected to let it slide. I’m a sucker for souvenirs.
On the way home I tried and failed to open the case. Turning it over in my hands, on the underside was some sort of inset metal stencil. On the top, Professor Travigan had fixed a folded note sealed in a ziplock bag, tied to the case with blue thread. When did he have time to write it? I cut the thread with my pocket knife, opened the baggie, and unfolded the note.
It was blank. I don’t know what I expected. When we arrived at my apartment, Zach proposed we throw down in Mario Kart and as the rest of the day was wide open I obliged. For him, Mario Kart also meant vaping. He always picked Wario and drove far better than should be possible in such a condition.
“In every game, always pick the fattest jew” he explained. I soundly scolded him for it. “The shit you say! This is why I can’t have other friends over when you’re around.” It rolled off of his back as my complaints usually did. Best out of three became best out of five, then best out of seven. Certain items in the game routinely allowed him to come from last place and win during the final lap. He was giggling, quietly but continuously with a demented melody to it. I dropped the controller in disgust.
When I came back from the bathroom, he was hunched over the leather case. Somehow he’d removed the metal stencil from the bottom. “There were little turney things at the corners with notches in them. With all four positioned right, I could just pull this out.” I might’ve figured that out if I’d studied it more seriously. He had a knack for games and puzzles of all kinds.
Underneath the stencil was a grid of seemingly random characters in an unfamiliar language, also metal, protruding slightly. The stencil had apertures in a few places so that specific characters could show through. It was unclear why. I gave up on it for the night, drove Zach home, then called it an evening.
The next day on a whim, I picked up some graph paper and copied down all the characters in the order they appeared on the bottom of the case. I then circled in red the characters which showed through. A colleague of mine in the computer science department specialized in cryptography. With only one lead there was no uncertainty about what I was going to do with my day.
“It’s sanskrit.” Emilio didn’t volunteer more than that until badgered. “It was an Indo-European language common to some of the very first agrarian cultures in the fertile crescent. That narrows the search considerably.” It wasn’t obvious which search he meant until he proudly showcased his thesis project, an artificial intelligence specializing in language.
“Google’s already doing cutting edge stuff with translation but this goes way beyond that. I call this Parvu. It exceeds what Google’s doing in that it understands linguistic conventions central to wordplay, flirting, humor and so on. So it can not only identify what a string of text is from but what sort of social interaction is occurring in it, if any. That’s just the tip of the iceberg too.”
I cut him short as his tendency was to make an explanation as long as his audience would endure before stopping him.“Supposing there’s a book out there someplace in which the sanskrit letters I circled appear on some page in that exact arrangement relative to one another. Could it figure out which book and which page?”
He stroked his chin stubble and squinted. “With a little work. You’ll owe me though. I dunno what yet, but coding isn’t easy so it’s not free.” Sounded fair to me. “Put it on my tab. Email me when you’ve got something”. With that, I went out for more coffee and some light reading. I never expected he’d be done so quickly.
“First I narrowed it to works originally published in sanskrit for obvious reasons. Then I searched for just those letters in that order, which further narrowed the results. I was really hoping it’d come back with just one. Since it didn’t, I then had to integrate the grid system and analyze each page for the correct spatial relationship between those characters.”
The real satisfaction he got out of such a project was making me understand the difficulty of it and how smart he must be to have achieved such a thing. I did not deny him. I remembered him launching into a tirade once when walking through a mall with me because he saw a nine year old play some first person shooter on whatever the new console was at the time and grow bored in under a minute.
“Do you think that little shit has any idea how many man hours went into programming just the physics engine? Or modeling every asset, painting textures and mapping which bits should be reflective because they’re wet, or using parallax mapping to make little details stick out?” He settled down when I provided the much needed perspective that kids that age have the attention span of a goldfish.
The program singled out a particular page in the Mesopotamian epic ‘Gilgamesh’. I downloaded a copy from Project Gutenberg and got to reading. It told the story of a king whose closest friend died, inspiring him to devote his life to questing for a means to restore him to life and to prevent his own death.
The moral seemed to be that death is inescapable, and that for humans, immortality is achieved through great works. Very defeatist, but a familiar line. The journal I edit for constantly receives emails from people we call “death apologists” who provide what they think are compelling reasons that death is necessary, dignified, and that living forever would be an insufferable nightmare.
We have our own ideas as to why people do this. The terrible moral weight of those already lost to mortality compels the living to rationalize why it ‘had to occur’. Perhaps some dare not hope for an escape from death, for fear that it will not arrive in time. Then there are the religious types. What need is there of salvation if nobody dies?
Emilio’s printout lay in the passenger seat as I drove home. The characters appeared in that configuration only on the page where Gilgamesh abandons his quest. Each character appeared in a word which, when they were strung together, formed the phrase “Neither is life”.
Once home I sat down with the case, bent a lamp over it so I could see it more clearly and scrutinized the protruding metal letters on the underside. With a little effort I found each one could be pushed in like a button. I wrote down the sentence in sanskrit characters spaced apart, then punched it in one letter at a time.
Nothing happened. To hell with this. Why was I wasting my time on an old fruitcake’s puzzle? What could be inside? A note that says “Gotcha” most likely. I set it aside, watched some Netflix and fell asleep on the couch. Another day went by. It was strange to have this much leisure time. What I like to call my responsibility gland was hyperactive. Was I forgetting some appointment? Was today the deadline for some paper I was writing?
I don’t like to drink alone, so silencing it with booze was off the table. Instead I returned my attention to the puzzle. Shit like that always sucks me back in. “No, it couldn’t be that easy” I thought. “That would be stupid.” But placing the stencil on upside down did appear to highlight a different set of characters. I copied them down, carefully took a pic with my phone and sent it to Emilio promising I would owe him twice over for it.
He got back to me around four with a new phrase: “Death is not certain”. It made no sense until I flipped it. “Death is not certain. Neither is life.” Part two of the gag, it had to be. To make me sit down and punch in those letters like a fool for the second time only to drill in how gullible I am. I did it anyway.
A sharp pop sounded and the two halves of the case felt loose. Sure enough I could now open the damn thing. I was mostly curious to see the mechanism by which it understood which letters had to be pressed and in which sequence but it was hidden behind a red velvet lining which, when peeled away, revealed a layer of metal. Not intended to be tampered with I suppose.
The lining gently held in place a lens which, judging by the coloration, had been carved from a solid piece of rose quartz. It was breathtakingly pure. I almost didn’t want to handle it with my bare hands lest I leave fingerprints, but when I looked at it closely there were already some on it from the last owner.
I held it up to the light. One half of the proverbial rose tinted glasses? I spotted motion through it. For just a split second. Like a blurred shadow flitting past. Looking through the lens more directly, I saw nothing out of the ordinary until I spotted the blue thread clinging to my pants. I’d not changed them since my trip with Zach.
The thread glowed and pulsated gently. I studied the lens, looking for hidden electronics. But there was no place to hide anything, it was wholly transparent. I looked through again, with the same result. It brought out blues like you wouldn’t believe. Then I had the idea of looking at the note with it.
The crafty old professor must’ve used invisible ink of some kind. It faintly glowed like the thread. “Congratulations to the new owner of this Orgonometric optical detector. I apologize for including only one, but I keep the other close to me at all times for reasons you will soon discover. Without exaggeration, the correct application of this device can greatly extend your lifespan. But once you gaze through it, there is no returning to your life as it was before. Regards, Professor Heironimus P. Travigan.”
Under the bottom layer of velvet was a small silk pouch to carry the lens in. Curious to try it outside, I put it into the pocket of my jacket, checked my phone to see how much daylight was left and headed out. I wondered how I’d look to strangers, furtively pulling out a pink lens and peering through it. Perhaps I could claim I was trying to bring back monocles?
I made my way to a nearby bus stop. It was someplace inconspicuous that I could sit down and not be bothered. I was in luck, the stop was derelict. Nobody I’d have to explain myself to. I withdrew the lens from the silk pouch and peered through it.
As with the thread, anything blue stood out very richly and radiated a faint glow. The sky most of all. But in peering at the sky I began to notice dark patches moving above above the cloud layer. Like photographs I’d seen of the ocean, where you can see the shadow of a shark just below the surface. These were immense, though. Swirling, writhing, never holding their shape for long.
Then I heard someone talking on their cellphone across the street. I peered at them through the lens and nearly fell off the bench. I tried not to stare, still conscious of how I would look if discovered but what I saw was simply beyond the pale.
Something resembling a frail, emaciated man just one third the size of a normal person clung to her shoulders, riding about on her back. It was bald and nude, missing a nose and ears, but the eyes were disproportionately large. And closed, as if it were sleeping. For some reason this bizarre creature appeared to be suckling the back of her neck. I started up as if to inform her of it, but what could I say without being maced?
It occurred to me that whatever it was, it might’ve noticed me staring if I’d not been lucky. What were they? What would happen if they knew I could see them? Did they relate somehow to the shadowy masses in the sky? I trembled, struggled with these strange new thoughts and set off looking for someplace else to sit.
On the way, as people passed me I turned and peered at them through the lens. All of them had those creatures riding on their backs. They varied in size, the smallest simply rode on one shoulder. In every case they suckled intently at the man or woman’s neck. Couldn’t they feel it?
I halted in my tracks and intense discomfort overtook me the moment the thought entered my mind that I might have my own ‘passenger’. After a bit more walking I found a sufficiently reflective shop window. My hand trembling, I held up the lens. There it was. Not the smallest I’d seen but still able to sit contentedly on my shoulder, eyes closed, leaning over and suckling at my neck.
My mind raced as my stomach turned. What to do? What could be done? I thought maybe vaping a little would be a good start and headed home. Once there, I set the lens back in the case and sat there, staring at it. I should never have opened it. It was some sort of trick, it had to be. But I couldn’t ignore what I’d seen, just as the note warned.
The note! I unfolded it again and turned it over. Was there anything on the back? Peering through the lens revealed nothing. So I flipped it over to read the original text. Only, it wasn’t there either. Something entirely new instead. “If you’re reading this, I feel it safe to assume you have peered through the lens and seen the sorry condition of our world.”
“The first set of ink should degrade a day or two after exposure to air, this set of ink will then activate and remain visible for a few hours after that. If you decided it was all some hoax I imagine you’ll never see this, having sealed it all up and sold it or whathaveyou. The person from whom I bought it never so much as tried the lens, and I envy them for it.”
“You have doubtless seen the Orgonovores. So named because they feed on the Orgone which fuels all biological life. Just as the scientist observing all atoms in a metal spontaneously align in the presence of a magnetic field would be baffled if he knew nothing of magnetism, the matter of aging will forever remain a mystery to modern science so long as it denies the existence and function of Orgone.”
“Aging is not inevitable. It is not even something inherent to life. It is merely the decay which occurs as Orgonovores sap us of Orgonic energy faster than our bodies can replenish it. The Orgonovore appears always as a smaller copy of the species it feeds on, anatomically skewed in some respects, the size depending on how much it has consumed so far. Hence the elderly unknowingly carry with them immense, nearly matured Orgonovores, and the young carry very small ones.”
“It is the increasing weight of these creatures as they swell which slows us down as we age, aside from the decay they inflict. The boundless energy of a child who can explode to his feet in an instant and run for hours is in fact our natural, healthy condition. But as our parasitic burden grows, it becomes more and more difficult to climb stairs, get up from the floor and so on. It exerts some influence on the mind such that we not only cannot see them but cannot consciously feel their weight, only notice the secondary effects.”
“That brings me to the final point. The Orgonovores exert influence on us in a number of other ways. They are not as intelligent as we are but can recognize when we are coming close to discovering them and will subtly steer us away from it. Any who write stories about immortality will be nudged into writing an ending which paints it as a hopeless fantasy we ought not yearn for in the first place. The creature whispers discouragement into the ears of those who even now rail against efforts to understand aging, a simple act of self-preservation. For those who discover them can also remove them. But be warned, a displaced Orgonovore will never stop trying to reattach. Regards, Professor Heironimus Travigan.”
I re-read the last two sentences several times. It sent a shiver through me that started in the pit of my stomach and worked outward to the tips of my fingers and toes. Because I could now feel it moving on my shoulder, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw it reading the note. It tensed up, suddenly aware of me and before it could move, I reached up and grabbed it.
It was deceptively strong for something so small, and squirmed relentlessly trying to escape my grip. As it bent back the fingers of the hand it was in I simply grabbed it with the other hand, running about my apartment looking for something to kill it with. I found my pocketknife, flipped a blade out and stabbed it frantically in the face and chest.
The wounds bled a wispy blue vapor, but quickly healed. Something containing this much Orgone was not so easily dispatched, it would seem. It suddenly bit my hand with sharp little teeth, right on the sensitive webbing between the index finger and thumb. I cried out in pain and it scurried off.
There was no way out of the apartment that I knew of unless I opened the door or window. That precluded sleeping. Instead I scoured the apartment for anything I could use to confine or restrain it. All I turned up was a collar with a bell on it, left over from when I cat-sit for a friend that was visiting relatives in New Zealand for Christmas.
I cut off the bell, found the thread and fastened a self tightening noose from it. I lay back on the sofa, carefully placed the makeshift snare on my shoulder and pretended to sleep. At first, it wasn’t buying it. But after an hour or so I felt little claws climbing up my leg. It sat on my lap looking for any sign I was awake for a time, then climbed onto my shoulder.
I heard a jingle. Then another. Then rapid jingling as it shook its leg, trying to get rid of the bell. Ha! I bolted upright and felt it leap to the floor, jingling as it went. Stupid little fuck couldn’t figure out how to get it off. I couldn’t see the bell, evidently obscured by whatever field also concealed the creature itself. But when I opened a window I heard jingling approach, pass out the window, then recede into the cacophony of distant city noise.
“You don’t fuck with me”, I murmured. I shut the window, locked it, and at last felt safe going to sleep. Fool that I was, I believed it was over. The next day I attended a lecture by one of the foremost sociologists opposed to senescence research. A tall, rail thin woman with neatly bundled white hair. It was often those who knew they wouldn’t make it until life extension drugs were available that felt compelled to take everybody else with them.
There’s a pattern at least. Many of our most outspoken critics are geriatrics. Peering through the lens, she had a predictably gigantic Orgonovore perched on her back. Everyone in the crowd had their own, sized according to their age. I became incredibly curious how she would react if she were to look through the lens.
So I waited until the lecture was over, and met her in the special area set aside for post-lecture discussion. When I introduced myself, she scowled. I didn’t take it personally, though she likely meant it that way. I produced the lens and invited her to look through it. “Some trick to make a fool of me. I have no time for your pranks.”
I didn’t press the matter. But it occurred to me that if I could remove her Orgonovore, she would begin to recover. The idea was too delicious. A leading opponent of life extension restored to youth and health. How could she oppose it then? I could say she was slipped an experimental drug or something.
What I didn’t think through completely was the size and muscle mass of her ‘passenger’. When I grabbed it by the neck, its eyes suddenly opened, fixed on me, and it delivered a crippling blow to my gut. I doubled over.
She stared at me. “What’s wrong with you? Are you on drugs? You must be. That explains quite a bit you know.” But her smirk slowly changed to an expression of sincere confusion and concern as I wrestled with something quite invisible to her.
When the police arrived, I didn’t know what to tell them. Tests for alcohol and commonly used narcotics came back negative. They sent me home with a warning not to trouble “that poor woman” anymore. I didn’t intend to. She nonetheless published a blog post about the “Psychotic breakdown of already disturbed immortality huckster” with accompanying cell phone footage taken by some bystander I’d not noticed at the time.
I peered at the video through the lens. No luck, it evidently only worked in person. But I couldn’t abide it. Going through each day pretending I didn’t know what was going on all around me. It dug and twisted at my brain, however I fought it. Upon recalling the eyeglass he’d peered at me through when we first met, I decided I’d ask the old man about it.
When I arrived at his building I found the front door locked. I texted Zach. “I wondered when I would hear from you. You have the other lens, don’t you?” I inquired how he knew. “The professor died the night before last. I’m the one who found him. Officially he had a heart attack. I’m sure he did but there’s more to it. I looked through his eyeglass. Holy shit, dude.”
We met again for coffee. “What did you do with yours?” As subtle as ever. But I answered. “I put a bell on it.” He frowned. “That’s dumb. I hit mine with a hammer until it was mush. Then before it could regenerate I scooped it into the blender. Blended it to goop, poured the goop in my steel thermos, then sealed that shit tight. Duct taped it to one of my barbels, which sucks because now I need a new one. But I drove to the river and chucked it in there. I’d like to see it get out now.”
Hindsight is 20/20. I told him mine was still out there someplace. “Do you have the note? There was something on there about ‘em huh.” I told him I did but that the ink would now be invisible. “This is why you should’ve called me when you figured that part out. I include you, don’t leave me out bro.” I sorely wished he hadn’t included me. Although it struck me that so long as my ‘passenger’ was gone, I would not age. I told him everything about the Orgonovores I could recall from the note.
“Fuck my ass. The professor didn’t have one either. When I found him laying there, I mean. He was the first one I looked at.” That raised its own set of unsettling possibilities. Nothing I particularly wanted to explore at the moment. Zach, usually unflappable, was visibly troubled. I asked him about it.
“You mean besides the fact that my mentor is in the morgue right now? I thought I knew about all of ‘em.” With a little encouragement, he elaborated. “There’s all kinds of things that feed on us in one way or another. That want to inhabit our bodies, control our perception, whathaveyou. Some of ‘em are even public knowledge. Viruses have been around from the start too, and if you think we’ve defeated them with modern medicine, realize that your genome is eight percent viral DNA. They won a long time ago, so completely that they’re part of us now.”
As I had occasion to, I searched the claim and the results seemed legit. He went on. “It doesn’t stop there. The larger and more complex the organism, the larger ecosystem of parasites it can support. Seen and unseen. The thing you killed in the mine was one type. There’s several more I know of. But this one’s new to me. The Matrix was an adorably naive film, you know. There’s not just one invisible system of parasitic exploitation and control. Try hundreds, maybe millions. One on top of the next, on top of the next. Layers and layers deep, with biological life as we know it at the bottom of that food chain.”
“What about the things in the sky?” He pondered that one a bit. “Whatever feeds on Orgonovores, maybe. Or what they turn into when they’ve eaten their fill. Who knows. What I do know is that I’m gonna need a new negator. You were only useful in that regard when you didn’t believe in any of this. Now that you do, you’re as fucked as I am.”
I inferred he meant that I could no longer disbelieve the pataphysical out of existence. Which is what I now finally accepted I had done that night in the cave. I tried to envision thousands of species of creatures, of which I’d now seen just two, all attached to me and draining me of whatever substance they needed, experiencing the world through my senses, steering my actions and otherwise having their way.
Zach must’ve been thinking the same thing. The weed wasn’t helping. He had a meeting concerning whether he could continue in Professor Travigan’s stead the next day so I let him crash on the sofa. I didn’t sleep. The thought of what I felt certain surrounded me even now, suckling life from my body, didn’t permit slumber.
At work the next day, I fielded an unforeseen barrage of questions. That blog post really got around and I realized it would be the work of many weeks to set the story straight with everyone I knew. “I’m worried about you man” said Duncan, our HR guy. It was touching given that I barely knew him but I assured him the post was a hit piece and I was fine.
Of all the days to share an elevator with Susan. I assumed that I looked like hell, with bags under my bloodshot eyes. If she noticed, she didn’t say anything. I had it bad for this girl but we’d not yet spoken. It was entirely on my end. Every time we wound up in the elevator, or in line at the little bistro below on lunch break, I promised myself I’d break the ice. But as it turns out, I’m a coward.
Not today, though. Perhaps it was sleep deprivation. I know that can make me impulsive. But upon raising the lens to my eye and seeing that pale, disfigured little man clinging to her back, my blood boiled. I resisted it until I reached my breaking point, then seized the thing by the neck and began struggling to subdue it.
I cannot blame her for screaming. Given the rumors already circulating, and being trapped in the lift with a man who’d never so much as spoken to her fighting furiously with thin air, I’d have done the same. She fled the moment the doors opened and I tumbled out onto the first floor, still attempting to get the creature’s flailing limbs and gnashing jaws under control. She didn’t know what a huge favor I’d done her.
Thus began my unpaid psychiatric leave. It was nice to see my therapist again. The last time I saw her regularly she’d gotten to know every little thing about me, warts included, and I felt we had a rapport. For that reason her concern was comforting. I went back and forth on whether to tell her the whole truth or assure her I was just tired and stressed lately. But having already told her about my last escapade with Zach there was little reason to hold back.
“I see. And these little guys are hanging onto everybody?” I shook my head. “Not me. I got rid of mine.” She looked sternly at her little yellow pad and scribbled down some notes. “So you’re special. You see the world as it really is and are just trying to help everyone else because they’re blind to it.” I excitedly agreed.
“Mhm. Is there one on me right now?” Nervously, I raised the lens to my eye and peered at her. “Yes. It’s perhaps a foot and a half tall, straddling your neck.” She stifled a chuckle. “That’s quite imaginative. What’s that lens? May I see it?” The creature was lifting her arm, and whispering in her ear.
“No. It’s making you do that. It wants to get the lens away from me.” She frowned again, and became more insistent. “I suspect what’s at work here is paranoid delusion, and it seems to center on that lens. If you’ll let me hang onto it for a while and try living without it….”
I flatly refused. Peering through it again, the creature’s eyes were open. It smiled coyly at me, baring its sharp little teeth. “You repulsive little fuck”. She looked taken aback. “Excuse me? That’s not like you. What did I do to deser-” I lunged at her and seized her Orgonovore.
She rolled out of the way and retreated to the corner of the room where she hastily placed a call on her cell phone as I brawled with what to her looked like thin air. I swung the little bastard against the floor with one hand, holding the lens with the other. It lashed out, slapping the lens from my hand. Before I could catch it, it shattered on the floor.
The hearing went quickly. She recorded every session for her own records, and upon seeing the footage of me throwing myself at her and rolling about on the floor grunting and yelling, coupled with the recent blog post and report from my boss, the decision to have me committed was approved without opposition.
I love my parents. They’re some of the most well meaning people on the planet that I know of. I wish I hadn’t squandered the chance to remove theirs. But they did pledge to pay for whatever treatment the resident therapist felt would help. I’m on so many drugs now I’m seeing all kinds of shit, but not Orgonovores.
They don’t restrain me during the day. I’m too weak to get out of bed anyhow. A few times a day someone comes in to change the bedpan, shift me around so I don’t get bedsores, that sort of thing. I know I should be put out by all of this, but they have me on some sort of upper and it’s absolutely wonderful. Everyone here is beautiful and I’m in no hurry to leave.
At night they restrain me, just to be sure. Apart from the occasional wail of an upset patient the place gets so still at night. I can hear the clock ticking, the faucet leaking. And recently, the jingle of a little bell.
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