Take Your Time
It’s often better if you don’t do things too fast. Sure, a goodly swig is best but over too soon! If you take your time you can make a can go all night and stave off that awful empty feeling when it runs out. Like when offing that swan. Really made it fucking suffer. Yea, really, really fucking suffer. Yep! Soup and coffee at the kitchen gets cold, and quick means more, though, yeh.
Walking in the park in the night was shit really, but what else was there to do? Nothing! Even with a big coat on it was too cold to sleep and everywhere is closed by now. No clean clothes, no bath, for what? A year? What do I care? Itchy, though! For a moment, memories of better times began to rise only to be stamped back down hard. Fuck the lot of them. So what if I smell eh, don’t your shit smell eh, eh, your majesty, eh, eh. Well does it or… Something moved. Off the pathway, away in amongst the trees, a mound of leaves or something was almost imperceptibly rising and falling. Carefully he crept closer. It couldn’t be, surely not. It's a girl! Yep, there really is a girl. All alone. Sleeping. By herself in the forest. This is gonna be good. You know you have to go in hard right off the bat. Hit ‘em hard, get control, keep them quiet. Nothing like a few broken teeth to do that!
The powerful blow landed so hard on to the side of the sleeping girl’s face that her head bounced back up into the air a few inches, haha. She started to scream, but a powerful hand immediately clamped itself across her mouth. He felt sharp teeth against the palm of his hand and wondered, briefly, if she was going to bite him, but realised she was just choking, struggling for breath. Dead or alive’s all the same to me. Suddenly she threw herself up and away from him, falling back against the tree.
Tall? He caught her with a chunky right hook that felled her. All the same height lyin’ down, he thought. Full of joy and anticipation he leapt onto her, but somehow, she just stood back up with him on top of her and fell back against the tree again. He saw the terror in her eyes, but somehow it didn’t please him quite the way it should. Fuck it. He lunged again, but this time he was met by two long arms and his blows fell short.
Suddenly the arms were grabbing, flailing. Something slashed hard across his face and was tearing at his throat. The pain was terrible, confusing, but something deep and primordial within him understood only too well. Now he was the rabbit in the talons, the lamb with the lion at its throat.
Half blinded and with a hand full of nails dug into his neck, he summoned all his strength and desperately tore himself away. Stumbling a few paces he fell, got up, staggered a few more, fell again, got up again and finally able to stand, charged away deeper into the forest. Through bushes, scraping against trees, blasting through anything and everything he ran. Nothing mattered anymore. Just getting away. Strangely, through the pain and the terror, a little voice in his head said, “How the fuck did I get into a horror movie? And err can we cut now ha ha?”
He staggered into a clearing, exhausted. It could easily see you here! I don’t fucking care anymore! Slumped now against a tree he waited to die. He thought about the pointless totality of his life, of the terrible things he had done, and that he didn’t even know why. Even the kids at school, for God’s sake. How his mother had loved him and how he had let her down. How he had ended up here and that absolutely nothing made any sense. He rolled onto his side, quietly sobbed for a moment and then finally, rolling on to his back, he stared up at the stars, but the stars stared back into empty eyes and in his mind, he slowly stood up into a different forest where the darkness moved. Is that her? Has she come after me? His first instinct was to run but which way, and could he run? Think, he thought, but not too fast; take your time, take... your… time. There’s a rock! At least it'll know it's been in a fucking fight this time but found he could hardly move towards the rock, let alone pick it up and something was coming.
He tried to turn but found that he was slowly falling instead, like a stone in treacle. The terror that festered within him then suddenly roared into life and a scream that tore out all of the shame, all of the fear and pain of a lifetime, left his stricken body as only the faintest of whimpers; and as the blood and tears soaked gently into the soft good earth, his life took its time to quietly, slowly, ebb away.
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
At first, Frank was confused when he got to the pub. It had the wrong name, but a quick check online confirmed it as the same building. There was no sign of Adriana outside, so he went in.
“Scotch and American,” he ordered, but the young barman didn't understand.
"Okay, Scotch whisky and American dry ginger, please,” Frank said.
The barman smiled and prepared the drink, but his smile faded on hearing Franks next request.
“Who wants to know? he asked.
“I’m her doctor,” Frank replied. “There’s been an incident. A serious incident and it’s very important that she be contacted immediately. Here’s my card.”
“Look," the bartender said after some hesitation, ignoring the card. “They didn’t just drink here they stayed here for one night. Originally there were four of them, but then they brought in this… She was like you describe. You know the Adreena Kalinski girl, very tall and off her face or something. They took her upstairs."
“Adriana Kasinski,” Frank corrected. “How do you mean, off her face?”
“They had to almost carry her,” he replied. “She was sort of walking, but her eyes were closed. It was weird, like they could barely manage.”
“The other four, what did they look like,” Frank asked.
“There was this sassy black girl, looked like she might be a dancer, if you follow my drift. A big guy. Did most of the carrying. A small dark haired guy and a smallish blond girl.”
“Any names,” Frank asked.
"Hang on though," Frank said, "They stayed here right?"
“Yes? So… the booking?”
“Oh yes," the barman replied, "But you will have to see the manager about that. He’s not here.”
"Okay, where is he?" Frank asked.
"Don't know. Home?" The barman offered and then, "he will be here tomorrow."
"Okay, and the old guy?" Frank leant a little closer. "The one who just left?” Frank had noticed that when he mentioned Adriana to the barman, the man had, where he was seated, put down an almost full pint of beer, got up and left. Frank tried to remember the man’s face, but couldn't remember him from when he had walked in. When he noticed the man's action in his peripheral vision, Frank had decided not to look. “Does he come here often?”
“Yes, he does," the barman laughed, "he lives here!"
“What, this is his pub, is it?”
“Oh no," the barman was still amused, "he rents a room. Has done from before I came here. Years."
“Really! That's unusual,” Frank said. “What room is he in?”
The barman’s eyes narrowed a little and he started to step away.
“It’s okay,” Frank quickly said, stepping back himself. “You got any spare rooms for tonight?”
“I’m sorry,” the barman began, “If you want to book you will have to – ”
“Only it’s late and I don’t have anywhere to stay tonight; so I’ve got nowhere safe to put all this.” Frank continued whilst pulling a large bundle of notes from his jacket pocket.
The young barman actually then seemed very keen to help with Frank’s bags and even gave a helpful little nod toward the room next to Frank’s.
Frank said, “Thanks for the help,” and gave the man another ten pounds.
Once in the room he sat for a moment on the bed and said quietly to himself, “What the fuck am I doing,” and then selected the room’s most comfortable looking chair and pulled it over to the adjoining wall. He pulled a thermos full of coffee and a stethoscope from his bag, and with a plastic cup of coffee in one hand and the business end of the stethoscope planted firmly on the wall, he got himself as comfortable as he could and settled in for the night.
The night was long, but nobody ever came; just the dawn. Frank, by then, was fed up, tired and out of coffee. He decided to go back down to the bar, which was closed and still in darkness, with the only light being that which was coming in from the street lights outside, through the front windows. He found the darkest corner facing the front door. Got the feng shui right, he thought as he sat himself down to wait.
He didn’t have to wait long. It was still quite dark and he couldn’t see the source, but he could definitely hear movement outside. There was a moment of silence and then the quiet clinking of keys. Slowly the front door opened and there stood the slightly crouching silhouette of the old man. In an almost comical theatrical parody, the old man began, very slowly and carefully to tip-toe through the bar towards the stairs at the back. Hidden in the shadows Frank watched the slow progress until the man drew level with him and chose that moment to speak.
The old man yelped and managed to jump vertically fully two feet into the air before bolting for the front door. Frank got there first and held the door shut. Startled by his close proximity to Frank, the man sprang back into the middle of the bar room as if he had just received an electric shock. With his back to the light, Frank knew that he was now just a silhouette and could clearly see the man's terrified face in the dim light. He looked vaguely familiar.
At first, the man seemed like a trapped animal as he desperately looked around for a nonexistent escape route or maybe a weapon, all the while rummaging desperately through his raincoat pockets for something he obviously could not find. Frank just stood silently watching this, confused and unsure how to react. Finally, the frantic twisting, turning and rummaging stopped and with a look of resignation, the man sagged to his knees.
“Do it,” he said “Get it over with. Please don’t make me suffer. There’s nothing to be gained, so just do it. A bullet in the head. Something quick. That’s all I ask. Please just get it over with. I beg you.”
“Whoh, stop,” Frank said. “What you heard me say at the bar was true, I’m a doctor, and you can beg as much as you like, but I’m not about to break my Hippocratic oath for you today. I just wanted to talk to you. That’s all. I mean, what the fuck is going on?”
Frank gestured to a table with two chairs.
“You,” the man quavered, he was now visibly shaking as he moved toward the table, "You're playing with me. Sadist!"
“If I promise not to kill you will you please just sit down and tell me what this is all about?” Frank said as the old man gingerly sat down opposite. “You’ve got a bit of a pot there and your rain coat’s been around a while, so you’re not the sort of man who would leave a perfectly good pint to go to waste, are you! And you seem to think I have come to kill you… and all because of something you overheard me say at the bar. Right?”
“Actually I’m a little hard of hearing,” the man replied.
"No, you heard me alright. It was the name wasn’t it, Adriana,” Frank said and then scratching his head. “Shame the bar’s not open. I could do with a drink.”
“Oh, that’s not a problem,” the man said as he stood and quickly whipped around behind Frank. Frank could feel the cold flat of a blade pressed against his neck.
“Just tell me why,” the man said. “Just tell me and I might let you live.” he sounded almost hysterical.
“Why what?” Frank gasped. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Talk or die," the old man said. "Talk or die."
"Err okay," Frank sputtered. "Okay err I'm a hit-man. I’ve come to kill you, I'm unarmed so I'm trying to talk you to death. Nice weather we're having. For Wales that is. If I had known I would have brought a better coat. Or maybe a boat."
Frank felt the pressure on the blade reduce as the man started searching with his other hand inside Franks jacket. Quickly he grabbed the knife arm by the wrist and slammed it hard down onto the table, but the knife stayed in the hand and he could feel the man was literally trying to climb over his back to get his other hand to the knife. So Frank started to crush the wrist and stood up elbowing the man in the stomach. The hand popped open, Frank grabbed the knife and turning, almost picked up the smaller man and slammed him back into his chair.
"Okay, I'm not here to kill you," Frank said. "But I think you do owe me an explanation."
“Who are you?” the man asked.
"Doctor Frank Carver, at your service," Frank replied. "Oh, and I think you dropped this." Frank handed the knife back handle first. The man received the knife as if it were a poison challis.
"You. Y… Your Frank Carver?" The man stuttered. "I know you! You were at Oxford. Oh, my God, that means we're the same age.
“John Mortenson,” the man filled in, standing to shake hands whilst almost forgetting to put the knife down first. That got them both laughing for a second.
"Any chance of that drink now?" Frank asked and John Mortenson soon limped back from behind the bar with two shot glasses and a bottle of whisky.
“I'm sorry about the – ”
“No problem,” Frank interrupted whilst already filling his second shot glass. “So now we are not killing each other, any chance on telling me what the fuck is going on because I'm so confused I honestly can't think of what to say to you!”
"No, you first," John insisted. "Why are you here?"
"One of my friends from Oxford died," Frank said.
“Banerjee?” John asked.
“Yes. How the fuck?”
“Murdered!” John interrupted.
“Yes,” Frank gasped sinking despairingly further back in his chair.
“Okay, okay so now… suppose you tell me exactly why you came here,” John said.
Frank could see that one of John's hands might be in one of his coat pockets under the table.
“I think the girl Adriana knows something,” Frank replied, “Banerjee was her psychiatrist. She disappeared… then came here with a group of people. They may be responsible. I’m trying to find them.”
“Adriana?” John asked.
“Adriana Kasinski,” Frank replied.
“It can’t be a coincidence,” John stood up, sighed and started pacing back and forth, “but I just can’t work it out.” He seemed to be getting agitated again.
"Work what out?" Frank shouted, "For God sake, will you just sit down and talk to me?"
John was standing, looking out of the front window, hands on his hips, a picture of indecision. Then turning to Frank he said, “Look if this is some kind of… ”
“It isn’t!" Frank exclaimed, "You recognise me, right! And if I wanted to kill you… I had the knife!"
John seemed to come to a decision, knocked back two straight shots and sat back down.
“I was young, I had a girl, life was good. We were students, err, as you know. You see it all started when Kasinski – ”
“Who?” Frank interrupted.
“Professor Kasinski! He was a lecturer.”
“Yes, I remember now,” Frank said. “Now you're freaking me out! That's not a very common name, is it! He was a tall, bald, sort of strange looking guy, wasn't he. A physics lecturer?"
“Yes," John continued, "that's him. Anyway, he was doing that famous double slit experiment with us and you could see he wasn't happy."
“He wasn’t happy?” Frank asked. “Happy with what? You know I didn’t take physics. Right?”
“It’s actually quite a simple experiment," John continued, "in a way that just makes it worse.
Basically, you shone coherent light through two fine slits; the light from the slits would interfere dependent on their relative path lengths, to a detector. The instep, what we would call in phase, peaks and troughs, would add and the out of step, or so-called out of phase ones, would cancel each other out.
“In the places where the two light sources, you know from the two slits, were perfectly out of step, they would cancel out completely and the light would disappear entirely. We called that effect phase cancellation. We could see all this on our detector. It was like a screen and on it, we could see the pattern these variations in light intensity produced. We called that an interference pattern.
“What I mean is that this proved that light is made of waves. But if the light source was set low, you know like really low, then on the detector you could see individual bits of light arriving one at a time. Photons. You know you would detect one arriving here… flash and then a bit later over there… flash, and so on. This proved that light is made of particles… photons. Already this is odd, but we would leave the experiment running overnight and guess what! The next day the detector screen showing where all the photons had landed during the night would show the same pattern again. The interference pattern, I mean. You know, the pattern that proved that light is made of waves. It was as if the photons, you know, that were often firing off at a rate of less than one a second, were somehow organising themselves so as to produce the result that proved that light is not made of particles but made of waves.”
“Yes, Frank said, “but I don’t see how any of this could relate to – ”
“You know, as I sit here, I have to admit that neither do I see how either!” John replied. “Only that somehow it does, or probably does.”
“Yes, but we all know about the wave-particle duality paradox thing and how that experiment turns out,” Frank said.
“Not this one,” John replied. “This one was different.”
"Yes. We carried on to the next stage and set up detectors, we called them the slit detectors, to see which of the two slits the photons had passed through on their way to the main screen, and as expected, the crazy thing happened. When we used detectors to see which of the two slits the photons had passed through, the interference pattern disappeared. The light behaved like particles should and so we got two bands on the main detector, one behind each slit, but if we stopped using the slit detectors, the photons somehow then contrived to replicate the interference pattern again.
“Professor Kasinski hated that. He had already heard and read about the double slit experiment, but to see it there, in his face, as they say. He was an empiricist. He believed nothing was intrinsically beyond explanation and that's what he had always taught. He showed us students that, throughout history, we had constantly been presented with things we could not explain, only to find that, in the fullness of time, it would turn out that there actually was an explanation, just waiting to be found after all and that the problem had actually often been as the result of a false assumption. But this was different.
“Here were experimental results that seemed to be determined not by fixed laws, but by what you looked at or maybe knew! For him, in particular, this was deeply disturbing. He said it was like finding that magic was real. The only explanation being more mystical than scientific. You see, he had always said that those who accepted paradox were just giving up or just not capable of fully thinking scientifically, but now he had to accept one. That light could be a particle or a wave or maybe somehow, impossibly both – at the same time – and all that might depend on what the experimenter looked at, or knew or something like that!
“Anyway, we repeated the experiment over and over, with the good professor getting more and more depressed. We started calling him rail tracks about then. You see he spent so much time scratching, I mean literally scratching that bald head of his that if you viewed him from above…
“I think he was definitely going off the rails about then, but that's not the point. You see a lot of us students had started some experiments of our own. We had formed this sort of club as a sort of joke, at least that's how most of us saw it. The ‘Lucid Dreaming Society’ we called it."
“I know, Frank smiled, “me too.”
“You were there. You joined in?”
“Yes, for some of it,” Frank replied.
“I didn’t remember that. Well then, as you know we were trying to find ways to achieve lucid dreaming, but not with any great success. Few could attain it, and those that could, seemed to lack the necessary will, or whatever, to sustain it.”
“Yea I couldn’t do it,” Frank laughed. “It was fun trying, though, but in the end, nobody could actually do it."
“Well actually that’s not quite true,” John said. “Professor Kasinski disappeared for a week or so, and then he came back. He was utterly jubilant. I mean, he was dancing around like a child on Christmas morning. He gathered us, undergrads, around and told us he had solved the paradox. He said he had had the most wonderful, the most important epiphany of his life. You see, he had also been trying to master lucid dreaming on his own and he had succeeded! For him, apparently, it was easy.
“In a dream, he had got out of his bed and flown to the university, walked into the physics department and sat down to watch the experiment. He told us that in the dream, if he wanted to, he could see what was going on. He could even slow it all down if he wanted to. He said he could see a field, like a magnetic field produced by the electrons in the light source. Occasionally ripples would appear in the field, originating at the light source, like waves on a pond spreading out from the point where a stone had dropped, erm – well more like an electron, except in this case the ripples spread in all three dimensions; all directions at once. He said it looked absolutely beautiful. Each ripple, he said, corresponded to the energy of a photon and when it interacted with something, all the energy would be imparted at just that one point, making it appear as if a particle had arrived there. Quantum laws prohibited the energy being distributed evenly and so, in his dream, he could see that this was the only way the wave, light, could behave.
“He said that in his dream he watched what happened at the slit detectors when he turned them on and was amazed to see the wave collapse to a point there, at the detector, only to begin to re-expand again, so that you could have used it again in a second double slit experiment if you wanted and still get the same results. He said that the wave was interacting with the detector and that it would never be possible to detect the wave without interaction occurring. He said that in the dream it occurred to him that the wave should surely collapse at the first object encountered and that therefore nothing should ever be able to get through the slits, but then something wonderful happened.
“Suddenly, he said, he was able to view the universe from the point of view of the wave; except in doing this, he could establish that in one sense there was no wave, at least not one that travelled any distance. As it travelled at the speed of light, from the wave’s point of view, its journey time was zero. It was as if light, no matter how long or short its journey, be it a few nanometres or the entire width of the great Milky Way, experienced all events, all interactions as simultaneous and all distances as zero and this was how instantaneous wave collapse worked.
“In the dream, he said that he saw that light obeyed the laws of physics as it experienced them and not as we observed the result. He said that it completely removed any paradox and confirmed light as a wave in a field, all be it a very special kind of wave. He said he had never felt so relieved in all his life and that he was overjoyed. He had even begun a paper that he showed us and began to show us his preliminary methods to deal with the zeros and the null-dimensional space involved on the blackboard when one of us was finally able, I think it was Jude, anyway one of us was finally able to get a word in edgewise.
“You see, we had been getting some unexpected results. Even though the experiment had been running overnight, completely unobserved and with no detectors I might add, on two nights it had exhibited double banding, err, you know the signature of observation causing wave collapse. The interference pattern was completely gone. I remember the look on his face to this day, the poor chap went as white as a sheet. I thought he was about to pass out. Never seen anyone actually really do that. He literally, right before our eyes, he went white as a sheet.
“What days, he eventually asked us and that was it. He had dreamt a visit to the experiment on two nights and on those exact same nights it had registered an observer. We tried all sorts of setups, sometimes with as many as ten double slit experiments running at the same time. It didn't matter whatever we did or how we did it; if he visited an experiment and observed the slits, in his dream, the thing registered it back in the lab. It stopped acting like a wave and so no interference pattern, just the double banding, you know. He didn’t even have to turn on the slit detectors, you know, in the dream, he just had to look and – well, that was it.
"But that surely is impossible,” Frank laughed ironically. “Are you trying to take the piss or something?”
“No, absolutely not,” John hastily replied. “That’s when it all started. People went to his house. There were police looking for him, at least they claimed to be, at the university. He said they tried to shoot him."
“Who … who is they?” Frank demanded.
“No idea,” John replied. “Kasinski thought it was because of his work on the neutron, but now that doesn’t make much sense. Thought it might lead to a fission device or nuclear power or something. He wasn’t even sure which side was after him, so he ran. Here! He had been here before with an Italian guy, Ettore, and he thought he could hide out here for a bit whilst we worked out what was going on. I came with him. He was here for about a week, but then he went back to get his family. He didn’t come back. I was going to telephone his wife but … ”
“What, you mean he disappeared?” Frank asked.
“Without a trace,” John replied, “I guess you could say I am still waiting for him, but to be honest I gave that up a very long time ago.”
“What,” Frank gasped. “Why would you do that? Do you mean to tell me you have been hiding out here for the better part of forty years?”
“Yes,” John stared sadly into his whisky. "I guess it has been rather a long time. Oh yes, I'm John Jones here, so … "
“Sure, definitely no problem,” Frank agreed. “But I don’t understand. Why?”
“ Because of the others,” John replied. “Oh, you mean you don’t know? I thought you probably knew!”
"Amy was the first. Apparently, she said a guy … Gabriel, she called him. She said he had done something to her; to her brain and now she couldn't sleep. At first, she was okay, she still got tired but, sort of, couldn't drop off. It took a while, but in the end, it drove her mad. Oh, they tried, but there was nothing they could do. You could knock her out, you know, render her unconscious, but it turns out that that's not sleep. Died with her eyes wide open. Terrible, really terrible. Banerjee was the last of them, of the physics class. The thing is, he didn't even join in with the Lucid Dreaming Society and so I thought that's why he had been spared but … ”
“You mean they’re all dead?” Frank shouted. “The entire class?”
“No,” John replied, “they haven’t got me yet, but I’m the last.”
“Okay,” Frank said. “But that was a long time ago, how do you know – ”
“Oh, I know," John interrupted, still very agitated. "I know because most of them never made it to thirty. Strange car crashes, suicides without explanation or apparent motive, fires, bullets in the back of the head, that sort of thing. I … know! And guess what. Nothing in the media."
"Well no, but yes the deaths were reported a bit but no, nothing to mention any connection between them. Somebody should have noticed. A whole class. All of them? It means they're in on it, doesn't it! All of them. Police, media, MI5, God knows who, or … or who else. There is simply no other explanation. Is there! Is there?"
“I’m sorry,” Frank hesitated. “It’s a lot to take in. I mean, I don’t know. They are all dead?”
John stood up and went to stare out of the front window for a while, then came back, sat down and knocked back another two shots in quick succession.
“I miss them sometimes, you know,” he said, staring into an empty glass. “Young and bright they were. We all were,” he laughed. “Weren’t we! … It’s not been easy, you know. Not at all easy. You know, when I thought they had … you had come for me," John looked up to stare earnestly into Frank's eyes. Embarrassed, Frank wanted to look away, but something stopped him.
"When … I thought that you … they … had come for me, do you know what I felt? Well, do you?"
Frank shook his head a little.
“Relieved. I felt relieved.”