Thanks to my usual cast and crew of Editors, especially Dragonsweb and of course Sue, along with the contributions from several other Advance Readers!
Every baseball pitcher needs some sort of edge. We're a superstitious lot, prone to searching endlessly for that one little mantra or pill that will make our eye just a little more focused, our curve ball just a little sharper and give us that extra bit of confidence to throw that fastball into the strike zone on a 3-2 count. The ability to stand on that pitcher's mound lost in your 'groove', unafraid and eager to mow down your opponents.
Once upon a time, players sucked down little green amphetamine pills like candy to give then this 'edge', then came the steroid era, and now players line up like droves in their doctor's offices to get prescribed drugs for their alleged Attention Deficit Disorder. Anything to get that edge or that bit of groove.
As Monsanto Chemicals boasts, "Better living through chemistry".
My problem was that try as I might, I couldn't quite find my edge no matter where I looked for it. Me, the former high school great pitcher, Brad Aldebaran was stuck, seemingly for good, down in Double-A league ball unable to progress any further. I had been my club's first round draft pick a few years ago and had been inked in nearly from the start to swiftly climb through the minor leagues and soon be a permanent starter for my major league club ... but it now seemed unlikely to ever happen. Everyone in the management of the organization now openly looking at me with disappointment. I was soon to be accounted a failure — something that was utterly unacceptable to me.
I needed to find my personal little edge ... and I found it late one fall after the minor league season was over while I was attending my small local University in Arkham, Massachusetts, near my home town. While taking an entry level chemistry course, I became extremely interested in the private research of Geoff, the graduate student teaching my class. Sensing my curiosity, and grateful for my light course load of studies, he allowed me to often assist him, and in return I found my liquid edge being brewed right before my very eyes ... a potion distilled from a rare underwater South Pacific plant found in and near the forbidden atoll of Thu Thu. This far remote island was rumored by some - my chemistry mentor claimed - to be near the ruins of the lost underwater nightmare corpse-city of R'lyeh. A fearsome place, built in measureless eons behind history, by the vast loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay the great unspeakable menaces and their hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults below the surface waiting for when the stars were right, to emerge and once again rule the surface world. Or so Geoff told me, with a laugh.
Quaint, but this folk legend was of secondary interest to me, I was more interested in the pure scientific results my mentor seemed to be obtaining. An anthropologist friend of his last year had studied a remote tribe high in the remote Chinese highlands of Leng that used this rare elixir to 'divulge the truth of the world' and at great risk he had brought back a small sample for my chemist friend to analyze and reproduce. It took Geoff nearly a year, but he had now finally succeeded. By distilling the potent extracts of this rare marine plant, combined with another equally rare essence obtained from the strange and forbidden West African island of Sao Aynum-Dam, he had drafted a most potent elixir that promised to hone every physical sense into razor sharpness.
This seemed to be the answer to my prayers! I begged him to allow me to be the first to test his concoction, but first he insisted that he try his elixir upon some laboratory test animals first, and I reluctantly bided my time to wait yet awhile further.
The animal testing study did not go well at all. A multitude of rabbits, a pair of cats and a dog were all tested in turn to extremely discouraging results. While there was no physical harm done to the creatures, each had an extreme psychological shock after even the slightest dosage, becoming completely terrified of us and cowering in the back of their cages. Each refused thereafter to take either food or water and all in turn slowly died of self-inflicted want in their cages, literally willing themselves to die. Naturally, this was not at all what Geoff had in mind. He declared the formulation a complete failure and placed the remaining three vials of the elixir into a hazardous waste burn bag to be destroyed in the furnace and placed these in a box with the rest of his chemical waste.
Unwilling to watch my final hope and dream being destroyed, I returned later that night and rescued those three vials, replacing them with other vials so that Geoff wouldn't realize the difference. Then, outside, in the great courtyard of Arkham University, I took my first taste of this elixir that promised so much to me ... and the results were still rather disappointing. I saw dark things flying about and lurking, just out of the corner of my eye and everything seemed just slightly off balance, out of kilter and place. I felt fear and paranoia, and not a small amount of hallucination; not the confidence that I had so hoped to obtain. I quite understood why our test animals had become frightened enough to want death.
Becoming increasingly terrified of the shadows that were now coalescing closer to me, some assuming near human, but horrific forms, others more toad-like, that blew upon flutes making awful indescribable sounds. I was about to throw away these vials and swear off all further research when one of the shadow-forms drifted closer to me. It was a dark but vaguely human form, its features indescribable except for its slanted eyes; otherwise everything was wrapped up in billowing wraps of phantasmal cloth.
In clear words this dreadful figure whispered the secret of the elixir to me.
"To see that what is and should be, one must use their eyes ... to open them to see into the darkness or else to pluck them out in anguish and terror."
With that whisper, the visions and hallucinations I had been experiencing all vanished, and the night returned to normal in the great courtyard.
I did not get any sleep that night, nor the next, but I knew now what I had to do. I bought numerous bottles of normal eye drops from the campus drug store and poured their contents down the sink, then I carefully refilled each of the small plastic squeeze bottles with my elixir. There was enough to fill eight bottles. Enough to 'see' and gain my edge. My hand didn't shake or waver in the slightest as I placed one drop of the elixir into each of my eyes.
Nearly immediately I began to see ... really see. I saw the world as it was, how it should be, and the uncountable numbers of things that exist and travel in-between. I knew that I could see a batter's weaknesses and that my pitched balls could be made to travel in unhittable ways. I now had my edge ... and so much more.
A toad-faced boy came to knock on my room to see why I had been laughing for so hard and so long but I gave him a few harsh words to speed him on his way, mired in his life of ignorance. How can you explain the light of the sun or the cast of the moon to a blind man? How can you explain an opera or a symphony to the deaf? C'est impossible!
.... There is more of this story ...