And while I'm a on a roll... I had ten hours on the train from Geneva to Berlin today. I went through some truly beautiful countryside, especially in Switzerland and southern Germany. The train was very cozy, and I managed to squeeze out this little tale. It's not so much about the future, but touches upon some of the themes I regularly write about. There's a little bit of the paranormal, an invitation to step into the unknown, and even a little sexual tension. And no, this blog is not going to become a short story blog. I will simply post fiction, and maybe even poetry, here from time to time.
A Lucid Mind
By Marcus T. Anthony
“Relax Miss Lee, this won’t hurt a bit”, smiled Martin Ku as he ushered the pretty young woman to her seat.
“I certainly hope not”, she smiled back. “They aren’t paying me enough for that.”
“Hmm, we have something else in common then, besides, our distant ancestors in the Far East”. Dr Ku sat down at his desk, some distance from the woman. “So how long has it been since you were in Shanghai?”
“Haven’t been back since we left when I was six years old. I can barely remember anything,” Veronica Lee confessed. “What about you?”
“I hate to say, but I have never been to China. I’m third generation Chinese American. In fact my mother was only half Chinese.”
“Oh, I thought there was something a little mixed up about you the first time I saw you.” Veronica giggled.
“Too right, Miss Lee. I can’t speak a word of Chinese either. I’m as American as a hot dog at Yankee Stadium.” Dr Ku shuffled his papers. “I’d love to chat some more, but I am on a tight schedule today. I assume you are aware of the procedure?”
“I believe I’ve been told just about everything.”
Dr Ku picked up a large, thick envelope. He removed the string around it, and pulled out what looked like an oversized deck of cards. “It’s quite simple really. On the back of these cards there is a single number between one and ten. I’m going to pull one card out at a time. Your job is to guess the number on the card I am holding. Got it?”
“Couldn’t be simpler, Dr Ku.”
Dr Ku propped up a simple cardboard barrier on the desk, preventing his subject from seeing the cards.
“Just in case you were thinking of cheating.”
One by one, Dr Ku picked up a card. Veronica relaxed, just as she’d been told.
Dr Ku placed the used cards into a tray to his right. “That’s great, Veronica.”
“Sorry, a lot of sevens in there. It’s my lucky number.”
“Must be. You got four right. That’s very impressive. Let’s try again.”
Damn useless machine!” Dr Lee slammed the top of the coffee maker, and it gurgled into action.
“It’s the spirit that makes this place, not the hardware,” chuckled David Ferguson. Dr Ferguson, grey haired and twinkly of eye, was the senior researcher at the Centre for Anomalous Research.
“Don’t wind me up, Dave. I respect your professional integrity, but not your intellectual conclusions. You know I’m only here because the research grant fell through for the cognitive dissonance project. This is what you get for doing a PhD in parapsychology when you were young and naïve.”
“Cheerful as ever, Marty.”
“Dave, both you and I know that people have been doing this stuff for the last century. What have we learned?” He thrust a hand up. “Don’t bother answering that question. We’ve learned nothing, Dave, nothing. Even if this project produces some kind of statistical anomalies, the data won’t mean shit to the scientific world till there is some plausible mechanical explanation for psi effects. So let’s cut the bullshit.”
David Ferguson shook his head. “OK Marty, fine. How’s Miss Lee doing in there?”
“So far, the subject is performing at better than at chance level. Started off like a house on fire, actually. Got four hits in the first set. But I’m wearing her down gradually. She got zero in the last two sets.”
Dr Ferguson sighed. “You know the literature as well as I do, Marty. Subjects who perform well at first typically fall off later in terms of accuracy. It’s inevitable as they get bored.”
“Or as their luck runs out.” Dr Ku gulped the last of his coffee and returned to the lab.
“That’s it for today, Veronica.” A tight smile pressed Dr Ku’s lips.
“Great. I’m getting a little sleepy to tell you the truth.”
“That’s a common reaction, Miss Lee. We try to keep things as calm as possible here. We don’t want too much excitement.”
He led the young woman to the door. As he ushered her out, he shook her hand. Just as he looked into her dark brown eyes, he caught the aroma of her soft-scented perfume. He found himself smiling.
“See you next week, then, Dr Ku.”
Martin Ku drove his large, black SUV up the driveway of his compact suburban home. This was the fruits of twenty years of research, and the belated arrival of academic tenure. As he closed the car door, he noted the time on the dashboard clock: 21:46. Yet another late night, he thought as he swung open the front door, threw his briefcase onto a shelf, and collapsed onto the coach. He could barely muster the energy to fiddle with the remote. The TV flickered on.
“Darling, I’m home” he mumbled. The house remained quiet except for the dry tones of the CNN news reader. “More plastic than a tupperware party”, he said as he checked her countenance on the forty inch screen.
Ten minutes later he suddenly realised something was wrong. Where was his wife? He called out, and finally roused himself to check the bathroom.
Then he found it. On the table was a white envelope with “Martin” scribbled on it. He opened it. It was a note from his wife.
I’ve really wanted to tell you for some time. Well, I just didn’t have the guts, I guess. I need some time away. Some time to find myself. Please don’t look for me. I’ll call you next week.
“What the f…? “ Martin Ku stomped around the house, breathing, sighing, stroking the imaginary hair that used to be above his forehead.
“Time to find yourself? Find what? You’re human being, a biological organism for Christ’s sake. And a female one to boot.” He knocked loudly on the hard wooden dining room table. “Hello, anybody home? Earth to woman. Come in if you read me.”
Finally he slumped back into the couch, pulled a beer and went numb.
Veronica Lee strolled into the lab in a not-quite short skirt. “You look tired today, Dr Ku. Working hard?” She sat down, crossing her legs. Dr Ku tried to avert his eyes, failing just adequately enough to satisfy both parties.
“It’s been a long week, Miss Lee.”
“Oh, just call me Veronica”, she teased.
Dr Ku cleared his throat. “Of course.” He went to loosen his tie, caught himself and scratched his chin instead. “Today we move into the second phase of the process Miss... er, Veronica.” He pulled an envelope across the desk, untied it, and removed a set of cards. He smiled. “You will be happy to know that there are no numbers today, only images. Each of them has been selected to be simple, yet emotive.”
Veronica wriggled in her seat. “Yes, I read the instructions for today. It’s a great idea. Image is the language of the soul. Of course you have got to listen.”
Dr Ku looked at his watch. The young woman was undeterred.
“The more emotion in the pictures, the easier it might be to pick up the signal from your brain to mine, telepathically speaking.”
“Don’t trouble yourself too much with the theory, Veronica. Just put on the visor, lie back and allow yourself to relax as deeply as possible. After you hear the beep, you will have a minute to tell me what comes into your mind. Just remember to stay awake. It helps.”
Veronica giggled. “For a PhD you are a pretty funny guy, Dr Ku.” She lay back on the barely comfortable bed, and relaxed.
The scientist dimmed the lights, then pulled out the first card and looked at it, concentrating only on the image. It was a picture of a fire engine. He pressed the beeper.
After a few seconds Veronica spoke. “Hmm, I feel relaxed, like walking along the beach on a sunny day. There’s a cool wind.”
If she had removed her visor, Veronica would have seen the great smirk on the good doctor’s face. A few minutes later he flipped over the tenth and final card. It was an image of a mother holding a baby. Something in the image evoked a slightly uncomfortable feeling Dr Ku’s his chest.
“I feel tight. There’s a box. Yes, a box. I don’t like the box. It’s scary. Maybe it’s a trap of some sort.”
Dr Ku flicked the lights on.
“How did I do?” Verona asked, a little bleary eyed as she sat up and removed her visor.
“It’s too early to decide. When we get the report, we’ll fill you in.” After Veronica was gone, he completed his notes.
Subject failed to identify targets.
“You look like shit, Marty.”
“Thanks, Dave. I really needed that. At least I don’t have a head full of grey hair.
“You would have, if you had any hair left.” Dr Ferguson thumped the coffee machine. “Nothing in this place works. Never has.” He got half a cup of black goop, and satisfied with the result, sat back in a chair.
“Mary’s gone, Dave. She left.”
“Shit. Sorry, man. When did this happen?”
“Last week. Haven’t heard from…” Dr Ku’s voice trailed off, his eyes red-rimmed. “How could she do this to me? After all these years. She hasn’t even called. I’m at my wits end.”
“No, just another woman, unfortunately. At least with Jesus you can pretend he cares.”
The phone rang. Dr Ku jolted from his half slumber, put down his beer, and headed in the bedroom. Mary. It must be her.
A soft voice sounded down the line. “It’s me. Sorry, Martin. I had to do it. I just can’t be with you anymore.”
There was silence. Dr Ku struggled, his voice breaking. “W…w…why didn’t you say something, Mary? There was no warning. I don’t understand.”
“Oh Martin, I told you in so many ways. But you were never there. Always at the lab. You never had time for me.”
A dark space opened inside Martin Ku. “You! It’s always about you! Everything is my fault, right!?”
“No. No. Not everything.” There was silence, stillness. “Martin, there’s someone else.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s another man I’m with now. I’m so sorry. We love each other.”
“I love you, Mary!”
“I’m sorry, Martin, but you don’t know what love is.”
Then it came, rushing up from the dartk well within him. “Well fuck you, bitch!” He slammed down the phone.
“You look happy today”, Dr Ku muttered as Mary waltzed in to the lab.
“Oh, I’m always like this. My friends call me Pollyanna.” She sat down. “I wonder what the cards will say today?”
Dr Ku’s eyebrows furrowed. “Fortunately the cards don’t say anything. That’s why we have this little barrier here to stop you peeping. The cards are just bits of ink and colour on cardboard.”
“Maybe”, said Veronica mischievously. “Images are the language of the soul. You just have to listen. Cards can tell you a lot, if you know how to read them.”
“Yeah, read. I read cards for people on the weekends. You know… tarot cards.”
Dr Ku’s voice dropped. “Well, these are not tarot cards. They are randomly selected images on bits of paper. We choose the images of course, but the order is selected by a random number generator.”
“Oh, there’s no such thing as random. Everything has a purpose.”
“Well, it said ‘random’ on the web site when we bought the machine. Maybe we should ask for our money back. Shall we get on with it?” His blunt tone surprised even himself.
Veronica lay back, eyes covered. Dr Ku began to pull the cards. A policeman. A red ball. A watch.
Then there was a white flower. For a moment there was silence, then Veronica’s voice spoke softly. “It’s the box. The same box. I’m scared… There’s just darkness. She’s gone. She’s gone.”
Dr Ku’s chest tightened. Something dark, something immense was trying to force its way out. He pushed the beeper.
Veronica moved towards the door, but something compelled Dr Ku to interrupt her progress.
“How’d you like to grab a coffee, Veronica? I don’t normally do this, but I need a break.”
Veronica looked down. “Oh, sorry, I can’t. I have to meet my boyfriend for lunch.”
“Oh, I see, sorry.”
“That’s OK. Bu ku, Dr Ku.”
“That means “Don’t cry” in Chinese. Everything happens for a reason. Even our names.”
Then she was gone. Dr Ku stood there staring at her as she left him, footsteps echoing as she walked down the dim corridor, melting into his darkness.
He sat down at his cold desk, and wrote.
Subject failed to identify targets.
Dr Ku drove home early that evening, barely stopping before flipping open a beer and turning the television up loud. Then louder. The alcohol numbed his senses. Sleep came upon him.
He fell into the blackness. The there she was. His mother, lying there just as she had been when he was six years old. Cold, lifeless. The lid closed on the coffin and she was gone forever. His father gave him a single white flower, and he placed it on the lid.
“Big boys don’t cry”, his father said, standing straight like a soldier.
He did not cry.
“Come in, Miss Lee.”
“It’s the last day, Dr Ku.”
“And so it is.”
“How’s my card reading going? Any hints?” She smiled at him with the feminine girlishness which only an Asian woman could pull off.
Dr Ku Tapped his pen on the desk, looking at the woman. What right did she have to look pleased? She had already forgotten last week. The way she brushed him off. She didn’t even care.
As the room darkened, Dr Ku pulled the first card. It was a waterfall.
Veronica did not speak. Silence filled the room and the darkness filled his soul. Dr Ku pressed the beeper.
“No, wait!” Veronica’s breath became rapid. “The box. There’s something trying to get out of the box. It’s her. It’s her!”
Dr Ku stood, stiff with fear. “Who? Who is it?”
“Mother,” She sobbed. “It’s mother. Why did you leave me? Why do you always leave me?”
As the water came to his eyes and the fury to his soul, Dr Ku moved through the darkness of the room. Grabbing Veronica by the throat, he squeezed with the rage of forty years till the gasping and gurgling ceased, till the popping and crunching of bones was no more. Then she was still.
Martin Ku returned to his desk, picked up his pen and wrote in his neat, perfectly formed script.
Subject failed to identify targets.