Blackrandl1958 invited a number of authors to participate in an event where we each wrote a story influenced by gothic horror. This is one of my two contributions. I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of the stories by other writers and they’re fantastic. I strongly encourage you to check out the “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” story universe and read to your hearts content.
The stories aren’t interconnected. The only commonality is the influence.
Montauk, New York
Dawn, October 5th, 2018
“It’s going to be fine, Finn. This is going to work. I love you.” I kept my voice from quavering as I stared into Finn’s eyes. His fear and love shone through and made it that much more difficult for me to maintain any semblance of calm.
My heart was beating so hard that I became worried about a coronary. Wouldn’t that have been ironic? There was a chance that I would die from the fear that I was about to be transported back to the past against my will. The result would be the same, though. I’d be gone and without Finn. That would be a death in its own right.
The title of a Faraday Cage has a certain ring to it. It sounds like something you’d find in the laboratory of a mad scientist: a menacing deathtrap with arcing electricity and glowing lights. I hadn’t paid enough attention when they explained the physical construction. It looked like a cage. Just a simple cage.
180 days earlier I was a naïve, drunk and high 18-year-old from 1968 who had stumbled upon a military experiment that propelled me 50 years into the future. I spent those six months falling helplessly in love with Finn Corrigan. The mechanism that brought me to the future was going to return me to 1968 and separate me from the love of my life. I would return to 2018 only by living through the subsequent five decades.
We had to try to stop my passage through time.
It seemed that I was destined to return to the time from which I came. How did I know this? Because of the woman standing next to Finn. There was a time when she was me or a version of me. She was pulled back to 1968, changed her name from Jennifer to Cynthia, lived through those 50 years and met me when I appeared in the future.
And we weren’t the first Jennifer and Cynthia pairing. There was a cycle.
In the dawn of every April 8th, 1968, I get caught up in the experiment that sends me to the future. That seems to be immutable. I then get sent back after six months to October 5th, 1968, or at least that’s what Cynthia claims. That also seems like it might be immutable, but circumstances change. Cynthia forced me to memorize what she did to try to escape the machinery. She thought that distance would work and made sure she was in a hotel in Wellington, New Zealand when her 180 days were up. It didn’t help.
When she was Jennifer, another Cynthia told her that they had tried to thwart the return by staying on a nexus of ley lines. This relaying of information had become part of the cycle. It seems that all the previous Cynthias had all the previous Jennifers memorize what they had tried in the hopes that they could eventually narrow things down by the process of elimination.
We had high hopes for the Faraday Cage. If we failed, it would be my responsibility to live through the 50 years and come up with a new plan for the next Jennifer. Eventually, one of us would stay with Finn, our soulmate. I memorized important sporting events, political history, and cultural shifts. If I was sent back in time, I would need to be able to have enough wealth and power to enact whatever plan I came up with.
I wore clothes that would be fitting for my semi-hippy past and under my blouse was a belt filled with krugerrands and other, exceedingly rare coins. The gold could be easily converted for cash. The rare coins would be worth millions but would be more difficult to sell or auction. Carefully packed amidst the coins were tremendously high value stamps. Hopefully, it would all be a happy waste and not needed.
My heart broke as the air shimmered above me and an incandescent, electric blue line suddenly appeared, vibrant in the large room, banishing all shadows. It grew in size, split into a circle and started to lower towards the ground. Sparks flew from edges of the circle towards the center, striking and going through me. The cage did nothing.
“Finn! Finn! I love...”
One moment I was in the Faraday Cage staring at Finn and the next I was being broken apart and pulled back into the center of existence. I had lost. 2018, and a life with the man I loved, was a dream that had ended. Regardless of our precautions, some mechanism from the machinery that propelled me to the future had found me and was yanking me back.
Parts of me stretched, pulled and snapped away from my body, eventually reforming in the place in between times. I had been here before when the military’s experiment took me as an unknowing passenger from 1968 to 2018. It was a waystation where all things were possible. I stood on interconnected stone platforms, each half the size of a football field.
The realm smelled of burnt metal and I could see, despite a lack of a clear source of illumination.
Looking about, I viewed buildings in the distance that were designed by a mad architect who twisted reality to suit his warped visions. Sparks at the end of my vision grew and exploded into universes that were slowly closed off by the inky darkness that inhabited this space, pushing those new realities from the others and from where I stood, the nexus of creativity.
Starting to shake, I felt my mind shred. I wasn’t designed to peek behind the curtain of reality. My last memory of that realm was seeing the giant floating slugs that infested this place. One was larger than the others and I felt its baleful attention as part of it pondered my intrusion on their home.
As I again started to stretch, bits of me pulling from the rest, I looked up at this creature. Finn was gone, my soul was in tatters and I was returning to a time that was decades before he would be born. I extended both my hands and lifted my middle fingers. I yelled with all the power I had. “Fuck you!”
It wasn’t much, but it was all I had.
The gore on the cement was the first thing I saw. I was on my knees, my nose leaking. Looking around I saw the pole with the loudspeaker and the dark green building in the distance. I was on the same platform where I found the dog six months earlier. The dog the military was experimenting on as part of the Montauk Project, sending him hurtling through time and taking me along as an unwilling passenger.
The gold. I had to do something about the gold I had carried back from 2018. I looked at the building. I was 5’6” tall. If I lay myself end on end ... I immediately realized that I was 63 feet and four inches from the corner of the building. I had no idea how I knew that, and I didn’t question my realization. I ran as fast as I could with the 30-pound belt around my waist. There was a space between two trees 171 feet from the building. Again, I didn’t question how I knew how far it was.
Kicking with the heel of my tennis-shoes, I loosened the dirt, got on my knees and started digging with my fingers. I eventually had a hole I thought was deep enough, hid the belt and stood. I wasn’t sure if it was twilight or just before dawn. Making my way towards the building, I thought that I could find a street that led out of the military base.
I had to ... had to ... I didn’t know. I needed to find Finn.
“Miss? Are you ... how did you get in here?”
Startled, I turned and saw him. He was tall, thin and wearing a green uniform. He had a dog with him. Dink? No, a German Shepherd. The man approached me slowly while speaking into a walkie-talkie type thing.
His eyes were wrong. They were brown. Finn’s eyes were hazel. He came too close. Reaching out, he put his hand on my shoulder. “Miss, can I...”
“No! NO! You’re NOT FINN! Don’t touch me!” I sunk my teeth into his arm and swung my fist clumsily. The not-Dink dog started barking and pulling against its lead, but the man held it at bay, extending his arm from his body. I turned and ran. Hands, so many hands, grabbing me, pulling me to the ground. My mind slipped away, and I rested in a place without pliable realities or malignant giant slugs, a place where Finn was still with me.
It wasn’t waking as much as surfacing. My eyes were open already and I felt I was laying down on a bed. The room smelled of disinfectant, urine and stale sex. Trying to get up, I realized that I was strapped down.
“Welcome back. I’m Dr. Lowen. Do you know where you are?”
His words didn’t make sense at first. I had to run them through my mind time and again and decipher their meaning. Words felt wrong. Impure and lacking in clarity. My voice was harsh as if I wasn’t used to speaking. “No. A hospital?”
“Yes, that’s very good. You’re with us at Pilgrim State Psychiatric Hospital. We’ve been through this a few times. Do you know how long you’ve been here?”
There were three others with him, two men and one woman. He was a short, balding man with a kind face. The others were clearly subordinate to him, each carrying clipboards, and the woman was taking notes. The room looked lived-in. There was a stack of notebooks on a desk next to a wooden, industrial looking chair.
I didn’t feel any pain, but there was weakness. I assumed that I hit the ground hard when they pulled me down at the military base, but any bruises seemed to have healed up. That probably would have taken a few days.
“Three days? Four? I ... I bit a man. A young soldier. Is he alright?”
“You’ve been with us for 18 months. This is the first time you’ve mentioned the young man. I assume that he was fine, but I can ask. You’ve had periods of ... lucidity. Some short, some longer. Can you tell us your name? Are you Finn?”
I was shocked. There wasn’t a single memory of these 18 months, but I didn’t feel as if he was lying. Finn?
“Me? No, I’m not Finn. I’m ... I’m Cynthia.”
I couldn’t be Jennifer any longer. I was Cynthia now and I had to prepare for when the next Jennifer fell through time to 2018. I had almost 50 years to find a way to let that Jennifer stay in 2018 and not get pulled back to 1968 like I was.
There was a high window that had metal latticework running across it. It started six feet and one inch off the ground and was 18 inches high and 22 inches wide. Light streamed through in the afternoons and, if I listened closely, I could hear traffic passing on the nearby Long Island Expressway.
Sitting in the chair at the desk, I would thumb through the notebooks. They told me that I had filled them during my lucid periods, some of which lasted up to two weeks at a time. The books were filled from margin to margin with equations and simple diagrams. Every one of them was accurate. I didn’t know how I knew they were correct, or even how to read them, but I could tell it was true.
I was damaged. My mind wasn’t so far gone that I didn’t realize how off I was. Losing Finn and whatever I saw in that in-between place had pushed me passed the edge of where my sanity should reside.
The doctor and his lackeys returned frequently. They were an annoyance, pulling me from notebooks I had immersed myself in. The same doctor was always the one that spoke.
“Cynthia, have you remembered anything from earlier on with us?”
Thinking before answering, my response was truthful but limited. “Snatches of dreams. Being, I don’t know, smothered or held down. Under an oppressive weight against my will. There’re also memories of being at the bottom of a sea or ocean, screaming and flailing helplessly while another me lay still on top of the waves, just ... still. Unhurt. That ... that doesn’t make much sense, does it? Sorry.”
The doctor offered me what I thought of as his professional smile. “That’s quite all right. It’s a start and we’ll work from there.”
Blessedly, they soon left, leaving me to my numbers.
Every night between 3:15 AM and 3:22 AM there would be a series of light knockings on my door. Three sets of three, with the sound of wood striking metal. Knock, knock, knock. Pause. Knock, knock, knock. Pause. Knock, knock, knock. It was never accompanied by footsteps, approaching or leaving. I always had a clock running in my head now. There was no need for a watch or any of the devices from Finn’s world. I always knew what time it was. Always.
I’d wake up at 3:00 AM and wait. Peering down the hallway from the limited view of the small barred window on the door, I’d wait to catch a glimpse. My feet always seemed to be cold, so I stood on the side of the door next to the baseboard heating.
Nothing. I never saw a thing. After the knocking, I’d crawl back into my bed, ready to fall asleep. I’d listen to the gurgling of the pipes or the distant sound of laughter disconnected from reality and slowly drift off to oblivion.
I tried to talk to the nurse in the common room. What I would say was rehearsed in my mind over and again, word for painstaking word. I slowly shuffled to where she sat in her little office, behind the metal lattice-work window. She stared at me as I stood there, gathering the wherewithal to communicate.
“I ... uh, could I get ... my stomach at night. Could I get Pepto-Bismol to keep. In the room? My room. In my room. At night.”
Everyone I could remember having met there had been professional, but clinical. I saw a look of pity flash in her eyes and I basked in that brief glimpse of humanity. “I’m so sorry, honey. Did you talk to your doctor about this? Do you have difficulty every night? I’ll talk to them. We’ll get some tests done. I think I can get you some Rolaids for tonight. Let me talk to the doctor. Are you okay right now?”
“Yes. Yeah, I ... thanks. Thank you.” Almost nightly, I’d awaken on the floor, sitting in the corner, my knees to my chest and my arms wrapped around them, I’d feel the tears on my cheeks, but wouldn’t be able to remember getting out of bed or why I was crying. I’d feel a terrible burning in my side and kept burping up acid.
From that point forward, an orderly would give me two tablespoons of Bepto-Bismol in a small paper cup at 9:00 PM every evening and I was left with four Rolaids every night.
There was difficulty in speaking and socializing. I felt like an alien living amongst people. Difficulties rose in understanding their motives. Going through the motions, I did what they told me to do in the hopes that it would help me become me again.
Three weeks had gone by, the longest period of lucidity that I’d had. A new notebook was opened, and I was communicating in the only way that made sense from my damaged perspective. Math, numbers and their beautiful simplicity calmed me and helped keep the demons at bay.
I wasn’t sure if they were being malicious or if they were just bored, but the muted evenings were often interrupted by an orderly reaching up to swat one of the incandescent light fixtures that hung from the hallway ceiling. It would rock back and forth as shards of light would swing in, pierce the gloom and swing out again.
The swinging light was like my growing sanity, forcing an unwanted lucidity into the resting darkness of my mind.
Alice was the patient in the room next to mine. I’d listen to the staff as they spoke to her. She was completely noncommunicative. Once a week a volunteer came in and read to her. She spent most of her time strapped to a gurney so that she wouldn’t harm herself.
I don’t know what changed for me, but one night I couldn’t take it any longer. I pulled my chair over to the door, sat and called out.
“Alice, Alice, can you hear me? It’s Cynthia. I...” Words were no longer my forte. It was awkward and difficult to try to determine what to say to her. “It’s okay. We’ll talk. Do you wanna talk? Uhm, I don’t know, do you like history? George Washington was the first president. Then John Adams, then Jefferson? I think it was Jefferson. Madison and Monroe, the two M’s. John Quincy Adams. What sort of name is Quincy?”
This wasn’t working. I leaned my back against the door and lightly rapped my head against the wood. I had lost my ability to converse with people. Trying to talk with Alice, I realized that every time I stumbled speaking with Father Montgomery, I fell back to discussing numbers. What the hell was wrong with me?
“Alice, honey, do you know what prime numbers are? They’re fascinating. Do you have a favorite? Mine is 23.”
Our conversation was limited. I spoke and she, hopefully, listened. I continued to rattle on about prime numbers and the oddities of 23 for 51 minutes. She stopped crying and I went back to bed.
I’d lay in my bed and wonder how close I had been to being Alice over the past 18 months. Everything else here pushed at me like I was enveloped in cotton. I knew it was happening, but nothing really bothered me. Alice’s crying was different. My days continued as normal from that point forward, but every once in a while, I would pull over my chair and we’d talk numbers.
It was exactly 2:26 A.M when the door opened and a burly orderly stepped in. It was late, and I had been writing by moonlight. He looked to my bed and then to the desk. Seeing me, he grinned. When he smiled, I could see the evil lurking in his soul, struggling to get free.
“Get on the bed. Cynthia, is it? Get on the bed, Cynthia.”
I remembered now why the room stank of stale sex when I came out of my fugue. Standing, I looked around before shuffling to the bed. I turned my head to the side and stared out the window as I lay there. He leaned over me, one hand mauling my breast over my state-issued shirt. His other hand grabbed my chin and tilted my head towards him.
He thrust his tongue into my mouth as his hand slipped from my breast to the drawstring waist of my pants. Biting down as hard as I could, I felt his detached tongue flop into the side of my mouth. As I spat it out, I slammed the pen I had been holding into his ear.
“You’re not Finn! YOU’RE NOT FINN! You’re. Not. FINN!” I pulled the pen out and stabbed again. He fell to the ground screaming wordlessly, one hand on his ear, the other between us as if to ward me off. Blood burbled from his mouth as he screamed and more slowly leaked from his ear.
For some reason, I found this curious. I wiped my finger across my mouth and found his blood there as well. My pulse raced and knees grew week. Collapsing to the ground, I curled up into a ball and watched the moon through the window as I listened to his inchoate cries for help.
Lights in the hallway were turned on and I could make out the sounds of footsteps. The room was abustle with medical professionals coming and going. They removed the orderly on a gurney and approached me slowly. All the while a tall, pale man stood in the corner of the room watching me. He wore a spotless white suit, shoes and bowler hat. His long black hair was oily and dank. An angular pallid face was home to two small glassine bowls where his eyes should be. Large amoeba-like creatures sat in the bowls, flopping on occasion and slamming against the glass.
Something rebelled in my reptilian hindbrain. He didn’t belong in some base, primal way. Standing there, he was utterly ignored. I felt rather than saw his curious awareness. Head tilted, he stared at me with his unblinking eyes. There was an odious otherness to him that made me want to retch. I tried to scramble backwards but was held in place by a staff member.
“No. NO! Stay back!” My heart raced and the placid, subdued me resting on the top of the water screamed. There was a pinch in my arm, and I turned to see one of the nurses with a needle. I smiled at her as everything turned to black.
It might have been the same day; it could have been weeks later. I woke up with a headache but was brought out to the common room. I sat near a large bay window and counted the leaves on the trees. One would always fall, giving me an excuse to start over. From the corner of my eye, I saw the man in the white suit. No one else noticed him as he strode towards me. Squatting down, he whispered obscenities in my ear, things that no one should hear or understand. Murmurings of the order that lay within chaos and creatures that lived on the other side of reality. Beings of implacable hunger that would find their way here.
He spoke in my new language, the tongue of numbers. I sat there, tears falling down my cheeks, counting my leaves as he whispered.
“Cynthia?” I looked up and the creature was gone. A man in black pants and shirt with a clerical collar stood looking at me.
I sighed and pulled in a deep breath. Wiping away my tears, I responded. “Yes?”
Smiling, he extended a hand. I saw one of the orderlies step forward. I quickly took the man’s hand, glad for the human contact. I wasn’t insane. Not totally. I wouldn’t hurt him. After we shook hands, the orderly relaxed and stepped back.
“I’m Father Montgomery. I work for the diocese and this facility is part of my roaming parish.” He had a nice smile. “Would you like to talk? Can I get you anything? A Bible maybe?”
“Socks. Can you get me thick socks? Maybe wool?” The creature was there again, staring from a corner. “Father,” I whispered. “don’t look directly at him. If you stare, he’ll come over.”
“No, no, the ... Nevermind.”
We spoke for hours and he promised to come back in two days. I begged him to bring the Bible he spoke of, desperate for something to read. He walked over to the caged-in room and spoke to someone. In turn, they picked up a phone and made a call. After hanging up, they handed the priest what I assumed was his jacket. He pulled a black book from the inside pocket and returned to me.
Kissing the book, he extended it to me. “This was a gift from a dear friend. Now it’s a gift to a new friend. I’ll be back. Two days, Cynthia. God bless and be well.” He handed me the Bible and left.
I pored over that book day and night. I was fascinated by the repetition of numbers. 40 was important. 40 years, 40 days, 40 lashes, 40 years of age. It’s a pentagonal pyramidal number. Does that mean anything? It felt like there was some hidden meaning there. Seven was returned to again and again. Why seven?
Sitting by the window in the common room, I’d read and then rest the Bible in my lap as I stared at my tree and let the numbers run through my head. Leaves, branches, birds; I’d count them all and try to find relationships between their numbers. How many more branches would be needed to attract four more crows? What about seven crows? Did the number of leaves matter?
My feet would rest on top of the runner for the heating, warmth radiating through my socks. The old system pushing the heated water through the pipes would gurgle sporadically. It sounded like a drowned man vomiting water from his sodden corpse. A dead man, struggling for a semblance of life. Like Alice. Like myself.
My days of grayness continued. Time passed as I lived a mélange of muted experiences. Numbers, speaking with Father Montgomery and dreams of Finn were peaks that allowed me to occasionally lift my head above the obfuscating mist of my life.
I started waking up to memories of new conversations with Finn. They were all one sided. He’d sit, listening intently, that crooked smile on his face and his kind eyes gazing into mine. Becoming suddenly present in the moment, I heard the echoes of my own voice as I realized I had been talking to a memory. They weren’t dreams, I was actually verbalizing unconsciously.
That stopped when I started writing him letters instead. It helped me communicate with others, as I was forced to use words when writing to Finn. Numbers failed me in the language of the heart. It was always numbers, always ... except with Finn. I could write page after page with ease, if they were to him. Tens of thousands of words that he would never see.
I was in a room with medical apparatus. I vaguely remembered being there before. There were small pads on the side of my head and wires led from the pads to a large box with dials. My teeth were clenched on a wooden dowel that was surrounded by leather.
The doctor put his hand on mine and smiled kindly. “All right, Cynthia. This seems a lot scarier than it actually is. I’m going to go over this with you again very briefly. This is what pulled you out of the depressive state you were in and brought you back to us. You’ve undergone this treatment a number of times and it’s always been effective, but not for very long. This time it’s been different. We’re going to be right here with you the entire time. We’re hoping that this will reinforce how well you’ve been doing lately. You’re doing great, Cynthia. Are you ready?”
I nodded my head. He patted my hand and continued. “Okay.” He checked his watch. “We’re going to wait for the anesthesia to kick in and then we’ll get started. You won’t feel much of anything.
Two hours and twenty-two minutes later I felt like I was coming out of a fog onto a sunlit street. I was sitting in a chair in another room, across a wooden desk from the doctor.
“Welcome back. As we always do, we’re going to ask you a few questions. There’s some water in the pitcher to your left, but go slow. There may be some residual nausea. Cynthia, what was your father’s first name?”
I struggled for a moment. “My ... Dad’s name was ... I don’t know.” Why the hell couldn’t I remember my father’s name?
“Your first pet as a child, was it a cat or a dog or a fish or... ?”
I knew this one. “It was a dog. He was ... no, wait there was, I don’t know. A cat?”
“It’s okay. You’ll likely get those memories back. We expected this. How tall is Finn?”
“A little over 6’1”.
He looked surprised. “That’s oddly specific. All right, what’s Finn’s favorite dish?”
“To eat or cook? If we’re being general, the answer to both is BBQ. Cooking is whole-hog for parties, eating is brisket. Fancy briskets. I think they call them wagyu.”
He took some notes before speaking. “Okay, clearly no memory problems related to Finn.”
I didn’t tell him about the crystal clarity I held onto elsewhere. Somehow, I knew it wouldn’t help if he knew. I remembered absolutely everything about the inbetween place. The smells, the slug-like creatures, the bizarre architecture. It was all burned into my memory.
Within 48 hours I started feeling sharper and more mentally adroit but still isolated and separated from emotions.
The late night knocking continued. Knock, knock, knock. Pause. Knock, knock, knock. Pause. Knock, knock, knock. No one was ever there. I started counting the seconds between separating each repetition of three. It was always seven. Like in the Bible. Seven days of creation. Washing seven times in the Jordan. Seven seals. Then the three repetitions of three.
There was something comforting in how it was always the same. I’d figure it all out one day.
The staff were oddly attentive to me. My infrequent requests were met almost immediately, my questions and concerns were obviously filtered up to someone in charge. That always brought a different doctor who everyone treated with deference to meet with me. It was always within 48 hours of my voicing a concern. Someone identifying themselves as my guardian ad litem visited every week.
There were plenty of new socks, thick and warm.
I think that it had to do with the orderly. They needn’t have worried. I didn’t think I cared about him or what he had done. I’d put an end to it. That was all that mattered. The me that cared was at the bottom of the sea. She didn’t matter.
My life was a series of blips of interest where I felt alive separated by oceans of mental fog. Somewhere deep, deep in those oceans I was screaming endlessly about what I had suffered, but it never touched me where I lived and dwelt. In those few moments of being mentally awake, maybe ten a week, I had no time or attention to spare talking to anyone but the priest.
Father Montgomery seemed to think that I was missing the purpose of the Bible and my focus was detracting from the message he felt I needed. He placated me by splitting our time. We discussed the numbers of the bible and their meaning for half our time together and the tenets of Christianity for the rest.
I began to think of the other inmates as my colleagues. We certainly weren’t friends. I couldn’t see the utility in that. I felt some minor affection for the priest, but aside from Finn, it wouldn’t bother me if the world and everyone in it burned to ashes. The other inmates and I shared a bond that our gatekeepers didn’t, and that resonated somehow.
The creature would whisper to the worst-off of my colleagues. I tried not to watch directly but saw him with my peripheral vision. Sometimes it was immediate, sometimes it took up to twenty-four hours, but after listening to him, they would hand me a note. They ranged from barely legible scribbling to pain-staking almost-calligraphy. Some had little doodles in the margins, and some had nonsense words written in the corners.
Every single note had some theorem or equation that should make no sense, but somehow I knew was right and correct and revealed the chaos lurking in what we perceived as order.
The creature spent the majority of his time talking to the most lost, but I always seemed to be his favorite target. I felt as if he was my fault, as if I had attracted him to the hospital and guilt was one of the few emotions that made their way to the surface. Those poor souls that struggled the most would find their tenuous connections to reality broken as he whispered about causality without cause, beginnings without catalysts and the truth of encroaching entropy, all in a language that shouldn’t be understood, but was.
Months went by and I found that concentrating on numbers or equations blunted his whispering and caused him to lose interest. I considered asking Father Montgomery about an exorcism but soon after the priest gifted me a copy of Srinivasa Ramanujan’s notebooks, I was able to block the creature out almost entirely by studying the mathematician’s work.
My time with the doctors increased. Every session seemed to be a variant of the last. It was a fascinating echo of the recursion of Cynthia/Jennifers, endless cycles with slight, meaningless changes. I decided to approach our visits as an experiment. I’d change one answer every time and see how it was received. Hopefully, I’d eventually hit the right combination and they would let me leave so I could start building a life and prepare for the next Jennifer.
One of the orderlies brought in a chair for the doctor and one of the medical staff had a machine to tape our conversations.
His face was a studied blank as he spoke. “All right, Cynthia. Let’s start off with a summary of what we have learned to date. You claim that roughly two years ago you had no particular facility for numbers, were drunk, high and got caught up in a top-secret military experiment that threw you into the future where you fell in love with a man. The same experiment that sent you to the future found you and pulled you back to the past. Is that correct, in general terms?”
“Cynthia, before getting caught up in this experiment, had you taken any acid?”
“Uhmm, yes, I think so. I’m not really sure. Probably.”
“Okay, let’s talk about the numbers. Somehow this trip through time made you ... gifted? When it comes to math and numbers, I mean.”
“Yes. A little the first time and then a lot the second time.”
“So, your facility started when you were in the future and was what, mastered when you returned to our time?”
I had to think about how to answer. “Well, it sounds weird when it’s said out loud like that.” I wondered if I should laugh, if that was something a normal person would do. So, I laughed. “But yeah, that’s sort of it.”
He offered a small smile. “The acid came from someone else, correct? Someone you had met that same day? Is it possible that it was extremely potent?”
“I guess, sure.”
“Cynthia, let’s look at this from the perspective of someone outside. Someone that was reading about this in an article or book. What percentage of those people do you believe would consider that this military experiment was a bad trip and that there was no future, no time travel, and no Finn?”
The idiot thought Finn was a figment of my imagination. I tried to suppress my smile. For the first time since this mess started, I was amused. “Doctor, that is ludicrous.”
“Is it? Do me a favor. Use your impressive facility for numbers to hazard a guess as to what percentage of our long-term patients are here due to psychotropics going very wrong?”
“I don’t have a clue, and it doesn’t matter. Those people aren’t me.”
“A shade under 17 percent. Think of the things that you claim you experienced. They bear no resemblance to a bad trip? One that has residual effects years later and that you’re finally shaking loose from?”
“I ... that’s ridiculous. It ... Listen, Finn is as real as you or me. Or, he will be. You know what I mean.”
“I do. It’s food for thought. Let’s leave things here and pick it up next time.”
My amusement turned to anger. That man must have gotten his degree from a Cracker Jacks box. Bad trip? How on earth could anyone believe that? Okay, well, the giant slugs, I guess. And that weird location. But Finn? No. Ludicrous.
I put on two pairs of socks, doubling up to keep my feet warm and went to get lunch. That day’s dish was meatloaf. I thought about what he had said, and it wasn’t entirely illogical. Thankfully Finn was the anchor that kept me tied to reality and what I knew was true.
I decided that during our next session I would tell him that I thought he was right and see how they reacted to that. It was clear that was what they wanted to hear.
Time passed and I kept refining my responses to their questions and theories.
Clutching one of my books in my left hand, I shuffled towards the common-room. Alice was on her gurney in the hallway outside her door, sleeping as she was wont to do. As I passed her, a hand snaked out and grabbed my wrist. My heart leapt into my throat and my pulse raced.
Alice turned and looked at me, eyes clear and lucid. Her grip wasn’t tight and she was restrained, but I couldn’t move or pull away. I was transfixed. Alice’s voice was clear and without emotion. “He’s impatient. The gates are opening and he’s coming. So long, he’s waited so long. You will greet him and give him the gift of this world.”
Her expression grew confused and her grip tightened. “Susie? Susie, where’s Mom?”
“Alice, I’m not Susie. I’m Cynthia. Alice, let go, please. You’re hurting me.”
Her voice grew angry. “What the hell did you do, you cunt? You killed Mom, Susie!”
Shuddering, I pried my wrist free and started counting the tiles on the floor as I looked both ways down the lonely, ill-lit hallway and continued on my way, her voice trailing behind me. I could hear the distinct slap of an orderly’s footfall as they came to investigate the disturbance.
“You killed her!”
Her words echoed in my mind for days to come. Days bled into weeks and she never spoke again. I slipped deeper into my obsession with numbers and math.
Like the Bible earlier, the works of the Indian mathematician fascinated me, and I became obsessed. My frustrations grew as the priest wasn’t able to answer what seemed to be the most basic of questions. Early in our relationship, he found local high school math teachers who helped but we quickly passed them by as well. College professors worked for a while, and eventually Father Montgomery found another priest in Poland who could offer reasonable answers to all of my questions.
I started a correspondence with Father Michal Haller. I was never sure if I should address him as Doctor or Father and just alternated. He didn’t seem to mind; salutations didn’t matter, the numbers did. We discussed noncommutative geometry and quantum gravity and it consumed me.
Two things always burned brightly: the numbers and thoughts of Finn.
The reading and searching for hidden meanings in numbers kept me grounded. The creature still lurked from time to time, watching me from the corners as I studiously ignored him. He would appear in my room, staring at me. I’d take up my notebook and start working to find him gone when I looked up again.
There was a cold malevolence to him and a feeling of incomprehensible age. I never questioned where these feelings came from. I was a twice time-travelling patient in a mental hospital. Who was I to judge anything? It simply was, and my unjustified certainty remained in place.
He often had a soporific effect on me. If I saw him too often or if he whispered his perversity in my ear, I’d close my eyes for a moment only for them to startle back open as images came to me, flashing in and out of my consciousness. An oppressive weight across my body. The stench of body odor. An animalistic grunting. My head turned to the side looking out the small window in the room at the moon.
His presence was always accompanied by a feeling of dread and of muted, hushed emotions. My beloved numbers pulled me from that stupor and thoughts of Finn galvanized me. His boat, swimming together, making love. Our link was eternal.
Slowly the blips of being alive grew longer and the period of dark greys grew shorter. The doctors seemed happy, and I was surprised to find myself caring about their opinion. I was slowly coming back to life. Food mattered again. The weather was of interest. I relished the cold breezes of fall and the dappled sun of spring as it shone past my tree and through the window I sat behind, intermingling with shadows.
My guardian ad litem continued to visit me. She was a nuisance and stole time I could spend with the priest or in my studies. I was assured that the government was taking steps to ensure that nothing like what had happened to me could ever happen again. I smiled prettily, spoke pleasing words and she’d soon leave.