Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
The scratching of graphite on paper. The short, whispered phrases. The gentle, distant ticking of a muffled old grand-father clock. These are my recollections of my time talking to Thomas Berkley in January, 1980.
I was called in to see Mr Berkley at short notice. My time in Boston was brief, but just two days before I was supposed to leave, I was contacted by a colleague of mine employed at the Enfield Sanatorium with the details of a rather peculiar case which, he suspected, would pike my curiosity. It did.
Mr Berkley had not talked in 18 years by that point. Before his internment at the facility, he had been an electrician of some success, running his own business out of a small, modest rental unit down on the East bank of the river. At 32 he married a woman named Harriet Jameson and, a year later and just two months before he was taken in by my colleague, they were given a baby girl, who they named after Thomas’s mother, Nancy.
One afternoon in August, when the mercury peaked at 93 degrees, Thomas Berkley disappeared. He had been walking through Boston Common where he stopped at a café, presumably to visit the restroom. Witnesses reported seeing him enter, marked out in their memories by his red hair and pencil moustache, but not seeing him exit.
The alarm was first raised when Berkley did not arrive for his 4:15 appointment at the doctor’s (he was usually fastidiously punctual), at which point the family doctor called Harriet. For the next few weeks, she searched everywhere she could for Thomas, all the while desperately trying to look after their baby daughter. She got the police involved on the second day and, while they did their best, searching as much of the local area as possible and interviewing witnesses, every lead they followed turned up cold. After a week, police involvement was severely stepped down. After three weeks, the search was called off.
That evening, a dejected Harriet Berkley walked home, heartbroken at what (she assumed) was her husband running out on her and leaving her alone with Nancy. Slowly and sullenly, cradling a child who cried whenever the wind picked up a little and brought a chill reminder of imminent autumn to her cheek, she walked down Dartmouth Street towards the river and came to a stop outside the door to their small apartment.
There was a man curled up on the step. He was naked save for a thin piece of dirty cardboard that he fiercely clung to himself. Nowhere on his body could a single hair be seen growing, and his skin was ugly and burned, blistering painfully in places where the dull red flesh flared up into yellow, pustulent time bombs. Gently, she laid a single tender hand on his shoulder and the man bucked and reared, back arching in pain as he swerved around. With a sharp cry of horror, Nancy saw that this man, under his melted flesh and scarred face, was her husband and, worse, that there was fear in his eyes.
The doctors did their best to help him. Over the course of the next few months, he stayed at the Massachusetts General Hospital at Cambridge Street, where he was treated for his burns and given an in depth medical examination. Aside from the superficial burns and scars, though, Thomas Berkley seemed uninjured and, once he had recovered from the external damage, they had no choice but to release him.
According to Harriet, he had seemed alright in the car on the way home, if a little jumpy at times and, when not terrified and paranoid, at the very least pensive. In all the time that he had been kept in the burns ward, he had not said a word, other than certain terrified screams at the sight of needles (he had no such fear before). She seemed to think that he simply needed to recover from whatever shock he was dealing with and he’d eventually open up to her.
When they got home, she left him alone for a couple of minutes in order to tend to Nancy. While she changed the baby’s diaper, she heard a thud from the other room.
She walked in to see Thomas collapsed on the floor, knife slipping from his bloodied hand. He’d grabbed the blade as soon as possible and, it was obvious, hacked viciously at his wrist, as if trying to extract something from the flesh. Through her tears, Harriet dragged him back out and into the car and drove as fast as he could to the hospital.
This time, Mr Berkley would not be released. After a brief stay at the hospital, Thomas was transferred to the nearest mental hospital, the Enfield Sanatorium. Eighteen years later, he was still being treated there. In all that time, he hadn’t uttered a word and the truth of his disappearance, nearly two decades ago by that time, remained a mystery.
I finally met Berkley on the eighth of January. The man who I saw sitting in the comfortable leather chair of my colleague’s office barely resembled the photographs I had seen from the case files. Whereas he had once been a sombre, handsome man, dignified and smart in his dress sense, this person looked as if he barely remembered how to put on his own shoes which, due to the still strong suicide risk, were slip-ons. His once characteristic red hair was gone save for a few thin clumps that still poked out of the gnarled, damaged flesh of his scalp. His once neat moustache too was gone, replaced with a scraggly layer of unshaven fluff. Berkley had not been allowed near a razor for nearly twenty years.
“I shouldn’t let you in there by yourself”, my colleague said to me as I prepared my equipment, separated from the patient by a single door. “He’s still a risk”.
He nodded. “The poor man is paranoid beyond all belief. Screams wordlessly at any warder that tries to touch him. We had a nurse a couple of years back, tried to clean up some food he dropped on himself. You should have heard the howls at her touch, and her terror as he tried to bite her. My word, and when we brought out a sedative in a syringe for him, his animal fear…”
“Good god,” I muttered. Tales of violence were not uncommon in our field, but to see someone be affected so greatly by mental illness was always terrifying and, moreover, sad. Quietly, so as not to startle Mr Berkley, I entered the room and laid my equipment on the desk.
It was at this point that I switched on the audio recorder. What follows is a transcript of that recording:
00:17- Myself: Good afternoon, Mr Berkley. My name is Arthur Maslow. I am a psychiatrist and hypnotist, and I have been invited here by Dr Simons to try and treat you. Is that ok with you?
00:30- Berkley: [Murmurs assent weakly while nodding]
00:57- Myself: Thank you. Now, it is my hope that through the science of hypnosis, I shall be able to restore you to your previous faculties and, moreover, learn what happened to you in August 1962. If you would please look into this light for me, sir, we may get underway.
[At the time, I used two small, portable strobe lights, set at one second intervals half a second apart from each other, so that there were two flashes of light a second, to hypnotise my patients. Two minutes passed as I waited for the hypnosis to have its desired effect. By the end of this time, Berkley seemed nearly asleep.]
03:04- Berkley: [mutters] Harriet…
03:07- Myself: Excuse me, sir, did you speak?
03:10- Berkley: Nancy…
03:13- Myself: Mr Berkley, do you know where you are?
03:17- Berkley: No! No, there’s… it’s so cold! And the walls are alive and, oh god, the smell.
03:23- Myself: Sir, you are in the Enfield Sanatorium on Quincy Avenue. You are in Boston.
03:31- Berkley: Don’t lie to me? Where are you taking me? You bast-
03:36- Myself: Mr Berkley, are you ok?
03:40- Berkley: Shh, there’s something walking past… oh god, its face.
03:44- Myself: Sir, I need you to describe this thing to me. What does it look like?
03:51- Berkley: I cannot describe it to you. I cannot.
03:54- Myself: Thomas, I need you to tell me.
03:59- Berkley: No! No, I cannot! There are not words for what I am seeing right now!
[A short while passes in silence. All the while, Berkley is sitting still, but a look of pained terror is on his face.]
04:07- Berkley: Thank god, he’s gone. I don’t think he saw me.
04:11- Myself: Berkley, can you tell me at all what it looked like.
04:15- Berkley: I’m sorry, no. There was no… Paper! Pencil and paper!
04:21- Myself: Mr Berkley, I’m afraid I am not permitted to give you a pencil. If you give me a couple of minutes, I may be able to get my colleague to give you a felt tip.
04:38- Berkley: No! There is no time! Please, I need to show you what it looks like now, or I will forget. Please!
[It should be noted that through the window in the door, I could see Dr Simons shaking his head at me regarding Mr Berkley’s requests. Regardless, I chose to take advantage of the headway we were making and took a pencil out of my pocket to give to the patient. I also procured a piece of drawing paper from my briefcase and gave it to him.]
04:46- Berkley: Oh god! Oh god! They’re taking me somewhere! We’re moving!
04:50- Myself: You’re moving?
04:53- Berkley: This place, it’s… my god, it’s some sort of ship. We’re going somewhere. I have to get out I have to get out I have to get back home please I have to get out!
05:06- Myself: Sir, please describe what’s going on?
05:10- Berkley: I’m hiding behind one of the walls… they’re kind of sticky.
[There is a brief pause. The only sounds are Berkley drawing and myself making notes]
05:47- Berkley: Oh god no please!
05:51- Myself: What’s going on?
05:53- Berkley: One of them is coming towards me. He’s got a needle… I don’t want to die please god I don’t want to die!
06:02- Myself: Sir? Mr Berkley?
[The patient is catatonic for the next eight minutes. Several times, Dr Simons can be heard knocking at the door, obviously requesting entry. I dismiss him, though, as I worry about inadvertently waking the patient from hypnosis and potentially further damaging his mind.]
14:11- Berkley: AHH!
14:13- Myself: Mr Berkley? Are you ok? If you would like me to, I can bring you back now, and that will be the end of our session.
14:26- Berkley: No! No, please no! I need to know, I need to see… why have they brought me here?
14:32- Myself: And where are you?
14:35- Berkley: I’m… I’m no longer on the ship. I can see it above me. It’s huge and round and unclear and… it’s moving… oh god they’re leaving us behind. No please don’t leave us.
14:47- Myself: Can you describe your surroundings? Who are you with?
14:53- Berkley: There are eight of us, eight humans, and a dozen or so of those… those creatures. They aren’t quite like the ones on the ship though, these ones are wearing some sort of… gown? It’s heavy and black, and they have ceremonial knives with them. Oh god, one’s coming forwards, and he’s lifting his knife and… oh god!
[Mr Berkley screams for ten seconds.]
15:23- Myself: Berkley! What is going on?
15:26- Berkley: He used the knife and he cut into me, cut into my wrist. He had some sort of metal thing and he inserted it into… into the bone. Oh god, I can feel it crawling around I have to get it out.
15:41- Myself: Focus, Mr Berkley. Tell me more about the people there, the humans.
15:48- Berkley: There are eight of them. Oh god they’re all screaming. They’re all naked, like me, and I think they’re all from different languages. One of them is black, three people are Asian, two middle eastern. I see two white people besides me, one woman. Think she’s French. She tried talking to me but I couldn’t understand her oh god. They’ve put those things in everyone now. Oh god, one of the Asian people, she’s just a child, she’s just a child but they cut her open.
16:17- Myself: Mr Berkley, tell me about your surroundings.
16:21- Berkley: The ground underfoot is soft, soft and wet. I can’t see any vegetation, and it’s black, pitch black. It kind of feels like… old tree roots? They almost seem to be coming apart under my feet, like I’m in a swamp and being pulled down. It’s day time, but there’s fog around us and there are stars in the sky, such stars.
16:42- Myself: Stars?
16:43- Berkley: Stars, beautiful, terrible stars. They are so bright and so vivid and so… alive. I can see a moon as well above us, but it doesn’t look like Earth’s it’s too bright, and the clouds! By god, the clouds! They move so fast and their colours are shifting and… God save us.
17:01- Myself: Mr Berkley?
17:03- Berkley: I… I know why they brought us here, I… I can see their god, their god is here and he is real and there is no point in praying because this is it, this is the end, oh god, oh god. It’s… it is huge!
17:18- Myself: Mr Berkley, can you please describe to me what you are seeing?
17:24- Berkley: It’s some sort of cube, miles tall. The hill rises up above the fog around us and on to of it there’s this huge mass. It’s grey and, my god, the ground isn’t roots, it’s… this isn’t their god, the planet is! The ground is moving and oh god they’re tentacles, and and they’re wrapping around the cube. My god, those tentacles, they must be miles long! They’re filthy, their black blood is smearing across the surface and oh god they’re starting to wrap around us. Bring me back, please! Please god save me!
17:57- Myself: Thomas, come back to me now, wake up, come back. You’re safe.
18:34- Berkley: No! No it’s too late! It’s too late! The cube is brightening up and it’s white now and now it’s even brighter and god it burns! The light burns! The stars are outshone and my flesh is searing! Oh god! The girl, the little girl, she’s melting, her hair is igniting and her meat is falling off her bones! Her skull is so white! Oh god oh god oh god-
18:59- Myself: Berkley! Berkley, stay calm!
19:04- Berkley: No! No no no no it’s taking me the light is taking me oh god this is the true light the true god why me?
[By this point, Dr Simons has entered the room and is attempting to help me restrain Mr Berkley, who is undergoing violent seizures. Too late, we realise what he is about to do. Taking the pencil which I gave him, he has begun to dig into the flesh of his left wrist, as if trying to find an object. I watch helplessly as he strikes the vein and blood begins to come out of him in dark gouts.]
19:16- Berkley: There’s something wrong. The ground, it’s devoured the girl and the rest but… they don’t want me. Why not me? The light is getting brighter and brighter and brighter and oh god, Harriet, they’re taking me home to Harriet, what can I say to her? How can I possibly let her see me like this? Oh no, I’d rather die, I’d rather die but here I am I’m naked and alone and on the curb at Dartmouth street. I’d rather die, I’d rather die…
19:57- Simons: God damn it, Maslow, this is on you. You broke the rules!
20:02- Myself: You can’t wake him now! At the very least, we’ll lose the progress we’ve made. This man is speaking for the first time in eighteen years, Simons! We can’t just throw that away!
20:16- Simons: And if we let you continue, he will die. ‘Do no harm’, Arthur. Get out and call an ambulance, for god’s sakes man!
[By now, Berkley has stopped fighting back and is simply sitting there catatonic. On the tape, my quick departure is audible, as is the sound of the approaching ambulance siren and the paramedics who came to rescue Berkley. After five minutes, there is no one left in the room, and the only sound present is the distant, muffled grandfather clock. The tape continues to run for ten more minutes before it finishes.]
Nearly forty years on, and I still haven’t experienced anything quite as intense as my interview that day with Thomas Berkley. He survived his self-mutilation on that day in January, and at the General Hospital, the doctors had to remove a small metallic object from his left forearm of unknown origin. If there were records of what happened to this object, they have long since been destroyed. After this surgery, he made a remarkable recovery and, within a month, was released from the Enfield Sanatorium with a clean bill of health. For the rest of his life, he never once mentioned the trauma of August 1962, blaming his scars on a fictional house-fire that, according to him, happened to him as a child.
He died in 2013 at the age of 84 of a stroke, preceded two years earlier by his wife, Harriet. He was survived by his daughter Nancy, and her own children. As his closest surviving kin, I asked her for her permission to publish this story, complete with names. She consented graciously and even offered to help me accurately determine the dates on which certain events occurred.
I still keep those drawings that he scrawled in January 1980. As of today, there is still no conclusive evidence to support or deny what Thomas claims to have happened in 1962, when he was walking through Boston Common.