Notes from a Certain Scotsman
23 August 2018
Miskatonic students really love writing, huh?
In sixteen years, I realise that there are certain people who live artificial lives. They have convinced themselves that they are guileless, honest, and void of ulterior motive. And by the time they discover how complex and absurd the human mind functions, they either face tragedy or turn away from it. Such people are, in my eyes, pitiful.
Then there are certain people who try to explain this discovery with pseudoscience and unproven theories to fill the gaps science can’t fully explain. When they present it in front of a stage, people will listen and buy the lie, because none of them think they will ever come up with such a theory. This ability to lie is a special power—an asset we yearn for as humans.
But depending on how people define this power, it either exists or not at all; especially as time flies. In the upcoming years, there will be an increasing demand for this special power, while it becomes harder and harder to come by. But that’s because they demand for the pure form of this power, which I doubt still exists today, regarding how many ideas people have come up with. People try to grasp something that doesn’t exist—and this leads to another demand for understanding.
So they come up with a redefinition, because they have the power to change their perception to fit their desires. Such things are workable because they know that this power is abstract—something the human mind has made up.
Let me tell you the story of Samuel Wilmarth. Most of the information I’m about to tell you has stemmed from my knowledge, though it also involved overheard conversations and research. Those pieces are information then become concrete that holds bricks together into a single, flawless wall. Keep in mind that this is no trial or business transaction. This is something I’ve written so that, when you take a few steps back to look at a distance, the portrait of Mr. Wilmarth should emerge.
This is not an easy feat. Mr. Wilmarth is, in a lot of ways, complex and layered. I have no access to the deepest of his subconscious, his psyche, or whatever sins he bears alone. Despite that, it is safe to say what whatever I’m writing here is the truth—and if I do lie, my evidence will be an awful iron taste in my hand.
Samuel Wilmarth was fifty-two years old, and the previous head of the Wilmarth Foundation before my father Nathaniel Deis. He was the only person who resigned from his position in the foundation’s history since 1936. The reason he resigned isn’t clear—as far as I know, my father is the only other person who knows aside from Mr. Wilmarth himself, and his immense respect for him has kept his mouth shut.
Like most adults his age, Mr. Wilmarth had a child. I’d visited him a few times, and he seemed to adore his son Lucius more than anything else. Knowing a portion of the actual world, I never understand how people see children as an absolute necessity. Children in their early ages are cute, yes, but eventually they’ll grow up and become rebels because the parents would only care about their grades. At last, they’ll end up spending days on end chatting with online friends or watching porn. Despite that, Mr. Wilmarth would say in a cheery voice, that having children will always be a wonder of life.
I didn’t buy the lie, but I see where he was coming from. Even as a child, I know that this world is vast with near limitless possibilities. There are lucky families whose bond between child and parent are inseparable–something as common as a day without rain.
Overall, Mr. Wilmarth is candid, with neither a superiority nor inferiority complex, neither obsessions nor apathy, and he wasn’t sensitive to words. Everyone loved his playful, bubbly personality, even though he might appear unprofessional sometimes. On occasions when I visit him he would smile at me as if he were the child out of us two. With immense respect similar to my father, I also enjoy his conversations while eating shortbread with a glass of milk. One might even say he is an expertise at conversation–he never runs out of things to talk to. Most of the time he talked about the eighties and his experience as the CEO of the Wilmarth Foundation. ‘It’s hard work, especially when you have countries to travel to and aliens to fight, but it’s fun. At least for an adrenaline addict like me.’
‘Is adrenaline a drug?’ I asked him one time.
‘Well, technically yes, but everyone is an addict on something.’
‘Kind of. But more like falling in love.’
Before his resignation, my father was Mr. Wilmarth’s secretary. Arranging the CEO’s tight schedule seemed to be his expertise. He could balance work and life like spices in a dish. He also knew every little detail about Mr. Wilmarth’s private, colourful life, even though he never talks about it.
As time passed, my father had more control of his private schedule, and eventually he started scheduling his dates so as not to interfere with his work.
Despite being married, he never gives a second thought on dating other women. He has no problems committing to a single woman, but doesn’t see it as an obstacle to find new love. Perhaps that was the wrong definition. All of his dates began with the women who needed a break from their husbands.
Mr. Wilmarth never found affairs odd. In fact, he thought everyone has had an affair at least once. Love, dates, and sex, for him, are three separate things. ‘The first one is an emotion—a desire. The other two are physical. That’s how I separate things. Thoughts and reality. It sounds weird, but it helped me in a lot of ways.’ That’s what he said.
To put it another way, he was the secondary diatomite—a disposable.
He didn’t mind being disposable. Even if those temporary girlfriends leave him, he’d always have Mrs. Berezin, his legally married wife. Never once did he have any serious troubles with women, which was a good thing, because sticky emotional conflicts were definitely not for him. If, for some reason, ominous clouds of friction appeared on the horizon, he knew how to skillfully back out of the relationship, careful not to aggravate things, and also careful not to hurt the woman. He did this swiftly and naturally, like a shadow drawn up into the gathering twilight.
We first met in a cafe where he had appointed my father for a casual meeting. Though he was around his late forties, then (I was nine), he struck me as a twenty-year-old man who had just entered university. He had vibrant red hair, which seemed unreal at first glance, but he could prove to anyone without fail that his hair was one-hundred percent natural. Other than that, he had green eyes, a shirt he never wore properly except in ceremonies, and black pants. He wears a businessman’s leather shoes, but he didn’t wear socks. How he kept both his feet and his shoes clean was a miracle on its own.
He knows how to talk to a child, but with my superior knowledge I could pretty much talk to him about anything. By ‘anything’, it means as long as we keep politics and the economy out of the line (though that stemmed more from outward awkwardness than either of our comforts; neither of us mind if it’s necessary). So one time when my father excused himself into the bathroom, we started talking about relationships. Unlike most people, he seemed to talk about his many girlfriends openly. He was a lucky man; none of his girlfriend’s husbands, if they had one ever found out about his secret relationship. In starting a new relationship, he would always warn them not to be too predictable or discreet. That seemed to work.
Juggling between work, family, and dates are bound to have problems. One time he almost got caught when he gave suspiciously little time for Lucius, but thanks to my father’s freedom over his schedule he could change things around and prove that Mr. Wilmarth was busy. He’d never experienced any major problems, nor was he put in awkward situations. He was a cautious, careful person and he warned his girlfriends to be equally discrete. He issues three key pieces of advice: take your time and don’t force things; don’t fall into predictable patterns; and when you do have to lie, make sure to keep it simple.
That was his life from the eighties to a few weeks ago. It was a long time when you think about it. So how did his luck run out? One day, to the least of his expectations, he fell in love for another woman.
The woman he fell in love with was a redhead just like him. She was ten years his junior and married. Her husband was a DJ for a club, while she was a biologist working under our corporate partner Sekhmet. They had seen each other only thrice in meetings, but her seductive and fiery nature entranced him.
I asked him if he loved her as much as his dead wife. ‘Um… this is hard. I hate to admit it, but I think it’s just a complete hole. Like, when I see her, I just lose it. I want to hold her and propose to her. But I can’t, or it will upset Lucius. Have you ever tried not falling in love, Sawney?’
‘No, sir. I’ve never had a crush.’
‘Ah, of course. Neither did I until now. Kind of strange when you try not to love someone too much, eh?’
He looked uncomfortable when I called him, ‘sir’ or ‘Mr. Wilmarth’; but on the other hand, he also knew his immense impact for the foundation, as well as the respect that came with it. So he tried his best to adjust.
‘Mr. Wilmarth,’ I started. ‘but aren’t you married?’
‘Yeah. But that’s fine, as long as I don’t love that woman too much. If I love her too much, it’ll be too painful. I tried not to fall in love with her, but you can’t really control your heart, y’know?’
‘How exactly do you “try not to fall in love”?’
‘Um… coming up with negative things? But there aren’t many. She’s too perfect. In fact, those negative things had become positive—even more attractive than the good things.’ He sighed. ‘Oh, well. Not like I can control these feelings.’
‘So you’re trying to keep distance, but at the same time not lose her?’
The executive blinked. Then he gave a cheesy grin and said, ‘Nate really raised a bright kid. But yeah. I wanted a perfect balance of two opposite things. It’s crazy. The least I can do is not to lose her, you hear? If I lose her, I’ll lose myself.’
‘How does she view you?’
‘That’s the scary part. She’s the one seducing me first, but I can’t help but think she’s one of those femme fatale tropes in films. Maybe if she gets tired of our affair soon, I might not feel as much heartbreak.’
‘I don’t get it. You want two exactly opposite things.’
‘Yeah. And the more I think of it, the less I can focus. It’s like a knife in the chest.’
It turned out that Mr. Wilmarth adored me a lot. ‘He’s really bright! And cute! And… argh!’ To both our appreciation, my father began taking me to his casual meetings more often. Unlike most businessmen I have encountered, he looked and acted like a high school boy. But he was a natural and wonderful conversationalist, and both of us enjoyed talking to each other.
My father, however, was the exact opposite of Mr. Wilmarth. His striking amber eyes looked at the whole world with menace, matching his sharp structure of his face. His hair was slicked back with a perfect amount of hair gel–something I lacked the skill of.
A few days after Mr. Wilmarth and I had that conversation, everything went back to normal. The usual official feel returned, except that Mr. Wilmarth would crash into my father’s office more often, with either more paperwork or a gift for me.
One day, after Mr. Wilmarth did exactly that, my father spoke to me. ‘So he told you about Annika.’
‘The redhead biologist. Not sure why he decided to tell you, but he needs more control of his emotions.’
I didn’t know what to say. On one view, love is nothing but another emotion–something to take control of, especially when you’re married. But on the other hand, I remembered what Mr. Wilmarth had said about an uncontrollable heart. ‘So Mr. Wilmarth is wrong?’ I asked.
‘No. Not exactly. But he shouldn’t let it take over him.’
‘That’s why you’re arranging his dates?’
He gave a short, quick nod.
‘Isn’t that… too controlling?’
‘Sawney,’ he spoke in a hoarse yet composed voice. ‘If Samuel told you everything, then technically, I’m helping him.’
‘You know,’ Mr. Wilmarth said, ‘Nate’s right on the “you must control emotions” thing. But he doesn’t acknowledge that heart’s limits.’
We were sitting inside the Kawiarnia Coffee House. Mr. Wilmarth was downing a flat white while I took my time to savour my hot chocolate. His caffeine-drinking speed was impressive, no matter how you look at it. This time was forty seconds.
‘The heart’s limits…’ I repeated.
‘Just like the heart can beat in certain beats per minute before it blasts out, you can only suppress what comes out of it for a certain amount of time. And still it goes completely nuts afterward.’
As a child, I could understand him a little. Most people considered me a person with surprising self control, and even then I wanted a bounty bar every once in a while.
‘And when I go nuts, sometimes I completely stop and ask myself, “Who the hell am I?”’
‘That’s a harder question than you think.’
‘Definitely. I mean, I can always say, “I’m Samuel Wilmarth, CEO of The Wilmarth Foundation.” But what comes after that? A father? Almost everyone is a father. What can I say to myself that I am someone unique? How can I say, “Hey, look at me! I’m different!”? If I resign myself from being Wilmarth, or get fired never to come back, who will I be?’
When I stopped as he said, I also questioned the same. Who is Samuel Wilmarth, other than a chief executive and a father? Does he have any other hobbies or jobs he could take? Then, as my thoughts trailed off, I ended up asking, ‘Who am I?’ Like me, Mr. Wilmarth was already assigned to continue the legacy of his foundation since birth. But what if he failed to do so and was stripped away? Who would be Samuel Wilmarth, then?
I pointed out, hesitantly, that starting out life as a pared-down human with nothing might not, after all, be that easy.
‘You’re right,’ Mr. Wilmarth said. ‘You’re absolutely right! Starting life with nothing must be hard. In that sense, I’m more blessed than most. Still, when you get to a certain age, and have created your own lifestyle and social standing, and only then start having doubts about your value as a human being, that becomes pretty trying too. The life I’ve lived till now seems pointless. If I were younger it’d be possible to change, and I’d still have hope. But at my age the past weighs me down. It’s not so easy to start over.’
‘And you started to seriously think about these things after falling in love?’
‘Yes. It was unclear what future this woman and I have, and the combination gave me a mild case of middle-aged depression. Who in the world am I? I’ve been incessantly asking myself this. But no matter how much I ask, I can’t find an answer. I just keep going around in circles. Things that I used to enjoy I now find boring. I don’t feel like exercising, or buying clothes. It’s too much trouble to sit down and work anymore. I don’t even feel much like eating. I just sit there and think about her. Even when I’m with a client, my mind’s full of her. I’m afraid I might even blurt out her name…’
He trailed off before continuing.
‘Eh, I don’t like to think too much.’ Mr. Wilmarth threw himself onto the back of his chair. ‘Some things aren’t really worth thinking about. Again, I’m a pretty laid-back guy unlike most CEOs. You should be too, when you continue our legacy.’
‘A relaxed CEO?’ I swiftly caught up with his sudden change of mood. A relaxed chief executive didn’t sound right for me.
‘A food for thought: if you’re busy, you’re probably not productive enough. Busy equals bad management. Relaxed plus finished work equals productivity.’
He made finger puppets to demonstrate, ending the show with a grin. I smiled back. We packed our things and left the cafe with a refreshed feel. That was the last time I saw Mr. Wilmath. It was the end of March, right as winter snow began to melt.
Since then, he stopped coming to the office. Papers started to pile up right on the first day, and by the third day my father began taking matters to his own hands. Thanks to his swift management skills he had accumulated from his days as a secretary, they were gone by the end of the week.
My father couldn’t contact Mr. Wilmarth at all. He had disappeared without a trace. One time the Foundation even set an expedition to find him all over Scotland, to no avail. It wasn’t long before my father, Nathaniel Deis, got promoted to the head. Work ran as smoothly as ever, but the atmosphere was no longer the same. It no longer had this cheery, bubbly blasts from a head as red as fire. Times when I sat down and talked to Mr. Wilmarth had turned into times of complete silence.
Soon enough, my father told me he wanted me to stay at home as soon as school days were over. That made waiting time even more quiet and lonely. On the upside, our family had taken Lucius under custody, so it wasn’t as lonely as I thought. I did wish my father came home soon, however.
Yet, my father came home later and later every day. As Mr. Wilmarth had said, being a chief executive was no easy work. But back then the secretary position had been eliminated for a while, so that meant my father had to work both jobs at the same time. One night, he came home around two in the morning. We went downstairs to find him collapsed onto the floor.
My mother Chandler tried to come home whenever she can–she really tried. But she was constantly on world tour as an opera singer, so chances were already slim. As a result, we took care of each other when no one else would. We learnt how to do most of the housework from the internet.
After some time, we took custody of another child of my father’s co-worker. His name was Sevrin Peyton. Soon enough, another person named Neilan Jest came by.
Lucius Berezin was shy, but was the peacemaker of the group. Compared to most teenagers, especially once we got into Miskatonic High, he was criticised as “stiff”. Despite that, he holds a placid temper and is responsible, and even if he loses his cool he’ll write it all down rather than expressing himself.
In contrast, Sevrin would become insensitive. In fact, he even enjoys demeaning Neilan, the littlest brother of the group. As a pattern, Neilan will return with a shouting outburst, and it was up to either Lucius or me to stop them before it turns violent. Most of the time Lucius does a great job. But if neither Sevrin nor Neilan listen to him, I’ll come in as a last resort. Everyone listens to me no matter what.
Despite that, the chaos killed a lot of time. We became less lonely. In peaceful times, we laugh at stupid things while doing stupid stuff (such as sticking garden hoses into our arms and flopping them around), with the only thing to make sure of being to clean after ourselves before my father came home.
Two years later, my father came home at three in the afternoon. On most days he wears a blue suit and a tie with a gold diagonal pattern. This time he had on a plain black outfit and a top hat. A stiff atmosphere hung around him, and it became even more vivid when he asked me for a private talk. We all stopped whatever we were doing. Sevrin asked if he could come too, but my father insisted in a bold voice that he keep unnecessary desires to himself. He then ushered everyone upstairs except me.
Like any other kid, I thought I had done something wrong. But it turned out that he hadn’t the heart to tell this news to anyone else. When we made sure we were the only ones in the area, he sat down at the dining table and gave a lamentful sigh. He told me he had received a phone call from Mr. Wilmarth’s number this morning. Something shot up as I heard his name again–it had been at least a year since the last time I heard that name from someone else. Despite the call coming from his number, however, the voice on the other end wasn’t Mr. Wilmarth’s. ‘It’s a little girl, somewhere your age. She told me Samuel passed away.’
It was the first time I heard his voice tremble. Because of that, I knew it was a grave matter, and I struggled not to cry. ‘Who… Who is that girl?’ I asked.
‘I have no idea. She didn’t tell me. Except that he died in Germany and no one could probably find him.’
Germany… that was where that Annika woman lived. Did he disappear to get his hands on her? No, that sounded implausible. He knew the heart shouldn’t be controlled, yes, but I never thought he would go as far as to let it take over him.
‘Did she kill him?’
‘I don’t think so. If she killed him, she wouldn’t even call us. When I asked, she said she wanted nothing from us. She wanted to say thank you for supporting Samuel till the last of his breath.’
My father went away for a moment and came back with a cup of coffee. As he landed it down with uncontrollable impact, he started speaking again.
‘I respected him,’ he said. ’He was a wonderful person as a human being. He taught me all kinds of things, and was always patient and kind. I worked at the Wilmarth Foundation for all my life, and if I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. He was straightforward, decent. Always upbeat, never arrogant. He treated people fairly and cared about everyone. They all liked him. I never heard him, not even once, say something bad about someone else.
‘I didn’t think that just seeing her was going to keep him from dying. Samuel had already made up his mind to die. But maybe a miracle would have taken place. Or else he would have had different feelings as he died. Or maybe seeing her would have only confused him, and caused him more pain. I don’t know. I didn’t understand any of it. There’s one thing I do know, however. Nobody’s ever let themselves get killed just from being lovesick. It has to be lovesickness, right?’
I didn’t buy the lie, but I agreed. I’d never heard of such a thing. When I said this, my father covered his face with his hands. I wanted to console him, but there was nothing I could do.
‘I’m sorry you had to see me like this.’
‘It’s okay, da.’
‘I haven’t heard you call me that in a while.’
He reached for his pocket and gave me Mr. Wilmarth’s foundation emblem. Normally it was supposed to be glowing with green: a signal that it was still usable. This, however, had no power.
‘Samuel left this with me. But I decided to give it to you, Sawney. Just before he disappeared he gave me some instructions, things he wanted me to take care of. This is one of them. Use it if you’d like.’
I thanked him and took the racket. “What’s going to happen to the foundation?” I asked.
‘We’ll close the office for a while,’ he said. ‘I’ve become the new head, or you can say I’m the new Wilmarth. There’s still work leftover, but we’ll stay closed for now. I’m just not thinking straight.’ I hoped very much that my father would recover from the shock.
As we were going upstairs to call the others, he said, ‘Sawney, I know this is an imposition, but I have a favor to ask. Please remember Samuel. He had such a pure heart. I think that what we can do for those who’ve passed on is keep them in our memories as long as we can. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. I can’t ask just anyone to do that.’
You’re absolutely right, I told him. Remembering someone for a long time is not as easy as people think. I’ll try to remember him as long as I can, I promised. I had no way to decide how pure Mr. Wilmarth really was, but it was true that he was no ordinary person, and certainly someone worth remembering. We shook hands and said goodbye.
I suppose that’s why I’m writing this account—in order not to forget him. For me, writing things down is an effective method of not forgetting. I’ve changed the names and places slightly so as not to cause any trouble, but all the events actually took place, pretty much as I’ve related them. It would be nice if my dad happened to read it.
There’s one other thing I remember very well about Mr. Wilmarth. I can’t recall how we got on to the topic, but he was chatting to me about women in general.
Women are all born with a special power that allows them to lie. This was Mr. Wilmarth’s personal opinion. It depends on the person, he said, about the kind of lies they tell, what situation they tell them in, and how the lies are told. But at a certain point in their lives, all women tell lies, and they lie about important things. They lie about unimportant things, too, but they also don’t hesitate to lie about the most important things. And when they do, most women’s expressions and voices don’t change at all, since it’s not them lying, but this special power they’re equipped with that’s acting on its own. That’s why—except in a few special cases—they can still have a clear conscience and never lose sleep over anything they say.
He said all this very decisively, which is why I remember it so well. I basically have to agree with him, though the specific nuances in what he was saying may be a bit different. He and I may have arrived at the same not-so-pleasant summit, even though we’d climbed there on our own.
I’m sure that, as he faced death, he got no joy in the confirmation that this theory was correct. Needless to say, I feel very sorry for Mr. Wilmarth. I truly mourn his death. It took great fortitude to deliberately stop eating and starve himself to death. The physical and emotional pain he must have suffered is beyond comprehension. But I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little envious of the way he loved one woman—putting aside what sort of woman she was—so deeply that it made him want to reduce himself to nothing.
Later on, of course, we all thought he’d tied himself to the wrong boat. But who can really say? Just as that woman likely lied to him with her power, Mr. Wilmarth, in a somewhat different sense, used this power to fall in love. A function beyond his will. With hindsight it’s easy for someone else to sadly shake his head and smugly criticize another’s actions. But without the intervention of that kind of power—the kind that elevates us to new heights, thrusts us down to the depths, throws our minds into chaos, reveals beautiful illusions, and sometimes even drives us to death—our lives would indeed be indifferent and brusque, or simply end up as a series of contrivances.
I have no way of knowing, of course, what Mr. Wilmarth thought, what sort of notions went through his head, as he teetered on the edge of his chosen death. But within the depths of his pain and suffering, if only for a short time, his mind became clear enough to leave instructions to leave me his empty emblem. Maybe he was trying to send me some sort of message. Perhaps as he hovered near death he’d finally found something close to an answer to the question Who am I? And he wanted to let me know. I have a feeling that’s the case.
Head of the Wilmarth Foundation