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The Chemist

The chemist


Estimated reading time — 15 minutes

The television screen slowly phased into focus some few steps in front of me. Some shopping channel peddling jewelry that people would buy as gifts for their family that no would actually be happy to receive. As the TV came into focus to my eyes and ceased to be a blur in the background of my daydreaming, the thought came to me that I couldn’t really even recall what I had started watching when I sat down in front of the TV in the first place.

Of course, this wasn’t all that unusual for me. I have always been prone to daydreaming. Deep introspection, analyzing some conversation from the past, or just wondering why anything behaved the way that it did. I was always being accused of being too much in my own head, not present for what was happening around me. Usually by family or friends, or often by the women in my life. The conversations of most people in their daily lives have always seemed to bore me. The platitudes and pleasantries, all so superficial and forced.

I am a man who enjoys his time thinking on things, and some of my fondest memories were of my time working. I am a scientist. A biochemist to be exact. I’m no Nobel Laureate, but I’m certainly no slouch either. My company has made quite a few pretty pennies off the back of some of my work, and it feels good to be successful at anything you set out to do. That’s something else I try to remind myself to do from time to time. Appreciate where life goes right, and your hard work pays off.

Here I am getting in my own head again. Talking to myself in loops. Sometimes I wonder if people might think I’m not completely sane if they could have a narration of what I say or think in my head.

As I sit here on this giant comfortable couch, I feel my body loving the relaxation. The warm blanket draped over me and the soft foam of the cushions. My body certainly isn’t showing me any signs of wanting to get up anytime soon. It’s hell getting older, all these creaky joints and bones, but life is pain, right. It beats the alternative. I don’t see why I should have to get up anytime soon anyway. Since my last big discovery with some simple proteins, I’ve lived the semi-retired life. Plenty of money coming in from that, I certainly didn’t need to worry myself with work anymore. At least not unless I want to.

As I resigned myself to further relaxing, I refocused on the TV. What had I been watching before this jewelry infomercial crap had come on? Listing my favorite shows one after another in my head, none of them really seem to click.

“Screw it, who cares?” My voice echoes out into the quite spacious room.

Something about the echo of my voice stirs my mind, and as I take my eyes away from the TV and peer around the room I am quickly taken by mortal terror. As I frantically swivel my head around I realize that I have no idea where I am. I’ve also no recollection of how I got here.

“Easy. Easy.” I think to myself. There is no reason to panic right out. I’m a reasonable and logical man. Nothing is coming to hurt me right this moment in an empty room full of chairs and tables and couches. But saying to be calm and staying calm are two different things. My mind races.

“Who could have possibly brought me here?”

“What do they want?”

Dozens of ideas cascade to mind, most of them just as outlandish and implausible as the last. Do they want ransom? That would be a poor plan. My only real family, my son has been living in Guam for the past years, working as a doctor to remote villages. I doubt they’d even be able to find him. I quickly shelf that idea and turn my thinking to the next. Maybe I’ve been pulled in by some of those environmentalist nuts that always used to send our company those threatening letters, telling us about how we were overstepping what nature had intended. Some would even go as far as naming us specifically, those that had worked on whatever project they had chosen as their weekly cause to be up in arms about. Possible, for a longshot I suppose.

What if it’s related to my work and knowledge but of a more sinister sort. What if it is a group looking to harness my biochemical engineering as a kind of weapon? It’s not unknown in our field that some of what we do can be dangerous, and it doesn’t take the smartest among us to realize that a sufficiently talented biochemist could cause some very real havoc with surprisingly little equipment. It was a very terrifying road to wander down in speculation. I pushed the idea away as much as I could.

Taking a short moment, I focus to calm myself at least as much as can be expected given my circumstances. The reasons why I might be here are all disturbing enough, but realistically right now knowing why I’m here won’t help me very much anyway. I resolve to focus on what I might do immediately to help myself now. To prepare for when whoever drugged me and brought me here shows back up to talk. The thought sidetracks me. Of course I was drugged, how else could I have been brought here like this? This line of thought floods me with dozens of theories on what drugs they might have used. Focus! Again, this isn’t what is important now.

This room is large and there are windows on the opposite end of the room from me that are completely covered by thick tan blinds. That would be a great place to start I should think. There is muted light behind the blinds, clearly it is day. I make my way slowly across the room towards the windows. As I’m walking along I’m scanning around me at the rest of the room. Nothing comes to mind immediately that might be used as a weapon if I were to plan to fight my way out when they come back for me. Nothing club-like to swing, nothing save maybe some chairs.

My legs are slow to cooperate with me as I’m walking. Obviously, whatever they have dosed me with has yet to fully clear my system. I feel as though my legs are heavy and I’m slogging through water with each step, as well as substantial pain around my joints. Again I remind myself that figuring out what they used to drug me won’t help me any, but it is hard for someone like me to help from thinking about such things, given my work. Slowly, arduously, painfully I am over to the windows.

I pull back the curtain the whole way around my body so I’m between it and the window. Late afternoon outside, the sun is just starting to make its way down. There is a large field with trees here and there outside. Definitely no place I recognize. In front of my view to the outside are bars. Thick iron bars blocking any hope of escape that way. Nothing I see gives me any clue as to where I might be. Clearly whoever has me here has planned ahead.

I turn around and move back to the other side of the blinds. I stand there for a few minutes just taking in the room again. Looking around and just feeling sorrowful for my situation. No matter why I’m here, I’m certain I don’t want to be. No not sorrowful, not sad, scared. If I’m honest with myself scared fits much better. They have really done this in a cruel way. Leaving me here like this to wake up from my drug induced stupor without so much as a note. I don’t know who they are, what they want, or what they are capable of. Had they simply picked me up off the street and pulled me into a van forcefully to drive me here I would know more than I do now.

The thought of a note causes my eyes to catch the sight of a tablet of paper sitting on a table. Maybe there is a clue. As I again slowly and painfully make my way over to the table, it becomes clear that there is nothing written on it. Just a tablet of paper and a tiny pencil, like someone would use to fill out a golf scorecard. No doubt this is here for me. I suspect I’ll be writing up directions on how to create something for them. I sit down at the chair.

With a resigned feeling I sit. I suppose there is really nothing to do but await my fate when my captors return. Thirsty, I look around. There is a water fountain at the other end of the room, but the thought of walking over there right now seems like more work than this level of thirst is worth. I stare at the only set of doors to the room. Big solid looking double doors. It occurs to me that I haven’t even checked the doors. Well, I highly doubt they’d be open, not with bars on the windows. As I make my way slowly to the doors, I consider what kind of resources these people might have. I’m sure with weapons and even a few men they could keep me here without too much trouble as long as I’m not discovered. I stare down at the bar that opens the door. What if it really is open, what do I do next? Maybe I should just go back to the couch and enjoy my last bits of peace before they realize I’ve woken up.

A couple of deep breaths and I slowly push the bar handle in. The door is moving! As soon as the door comes completely clear of the latch I can hear the ringing coming from afar. Pure terror, and I let go of the door to let it close instantly, but the alarm has been sounded and the alarm isn’t stopping now. Panic and fear grip me tight and my thoughts race. I’ve already surmised that fighting my way out is most likely not an option even as I’m now again scanning for something to use as a weapon. I decide that if they are going to be arrogant enough to leave the door open then I might as well try to make a run for it. I’m no triathlete these days but at the least I can get out to the hallways and stalk around a bit, maybe take note of some of the layout of the building.

A couple seconds after I’ve pushed the door open again the ringing stops. I look left down a long institutional hallway. Well lit, with doors every few steps, empty. Feeling encouraged I take a half step out into the hallway before I look the other way. There is no one there either. As I step out I see a massive brute of a man just coming through the door at the end of the hall. He is wearing a uniform of all blue, the shirt of which fits tightly revealing an extremely imposing physique. I instantly jump back into the room and let the door close. Stifled with deadly fear, I listen silently on the other side of the door for any sign that the man may have seen me.

For a blissful second the silence holds, along with my hopes that I’ve remained undetected. Of course, seconds later from the hallway loud enough for me to hear clearly ringing out from the thug’s mouth I hear

“Lexi, Dr. Monseau is up.”

Well that was that, whatever they want from me I am soon to find out. All hope is not lost, they obviously need me to do something or at least want information from me. I’ll at least have that leverage on my side. I move myself to a tall straight-backed chair with its back against the wall and facing the door where I can sit and watch as they come in and put on a willful and defiant front for my captors.

I hear multiple sets of footsteps moving down the hall toward me. The door swings open and in walks the mammoth blue man from before, along with a tiny, pleasant looking woman. She is wearing the same all blue as the man. I’ve seen people in these before, but I can’t make the uniform ring a bell. My eyes are glued to them as they come in and slowly walk over to me.

“Hi Art.” The woman says as the behemoth fetches chairs for the both of them.

“Art?” I say. “While you were in the hallway I hear you refer to me as Dr. Monseau, but now you are using a nickname to disarm me and earn my cooperation? That’s a real classic tactic there.”

“No Art, I use that name because it’s the name you most often respond best to. It’s the name you told me you prefer.” She calmly says without the slightest hint of malice or animosity in her soft and calming voice.

“What the hell are you talking about? I don’t know you people, I’ve never talked to you. How long have you been spying on me?” I blurt out.

This seems to draw a bit of a smile from the girl and the man begins to quickly stand up in response to me raising my voice. Looking over at the man the woman says

“Sit down Skinner, you know we aren’t going to have any problems.” then turns her attentions back towards me.

“Spying on you? That’s a new one.” She says. “Art I’ve done this with you more times than I care to count, and I’ll continue to do this with you on days like this as long as you are here. This is my job and a calling. The best way to start this seems to be this.”

With that she pulls out a small electronic tablet looking device. She turns the screen around and holds it out for me to see. It appears to be just a simple calendar as far as I can see and I struggle to make sense of what she is trying to get me to see. Seeing my confused look she says.

“In my experience its best to just rip the band aid off right away. Look at the year Art.” Seeing the year 2024 at the top of the page, must have just left me with the same stupid look on my face so she continues. About 15 to 18 years ago you were found to have contracted a disease of the mind, as is common in an aging person. A form of dementia that really even the doctors are unsure how to categorize. This particular form you have leaves you in a haze most of your days. You are able to talk and interact and even recall things you know from before the disease when asked, most of the time you are quite happy and fun to be around, but you form no new memories that last more than minutes.”

At that she stops talking for a while to let me consume everything that she has told me. Sitting there, just the picture of patience. Obviously, I am reeling, I’m piecing everything together. Things are seeming to make sense vaguely, but how is this possible? Then the big inconsistency with the whole story jumps out at me.

“But I remember everything since I’ve woken up, I’ve been awake for more than a few minutes.”

Even before I get the fourth word of my sentence out, I can see it all over her face. She shows a knowing smile. I’ve caught on and it’s time to move on to the next step in her routine of explanation.

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“Yes you have, Art. That’s the confusing part of your form of dementia. The doctors call these “lucid moments”. Every five or six days or so, sometimes more sometimes less you have a day like this. It almost always hits you shortly after you’ve woken up. You come back to having all of your faculties. It’s like you are still a Doctor of Chemistry waking up 15 or so years ago.”

Again, with that she leans back and stops talking. That look of pure patience on her face seems cloying and irritating now as I puzzle things out in my mind. I want to throttle her; I want to scream. That’s not me though, and I show no outwards signs of anger, lest Gigantor get any ideas. After what feels like a full hour of silence with my head bowed in thought I calm myself and look back up to her.

“How long?”

“Usually until about sundown.” She says. “Sometimes I see you slipping back towards the late evening, but usually you are lucid again until you go to sleep.”

I’m calm again and stay silent for a while more as she says nothing and just looks at me waiting for my next question.

“So, what now? I assume I’m confined here to the psych hospital. What about my son? How is My son?”

“This is not a psych hospital Art, this is a private nursing home of sorts, specializing in unique cases. Don’t forget you are a wealthy man. Your son is doing well last you checked with him. He is now running a private practice back in your hometown. We will call him for you if you want, but I must tell you that you talked to him last time you were lucid and he does tend to be busy with his patients” She continues “You aren’t confined here but we are out in a rural area where the closest town is about 5 miles away. If you were to walk off, we wouldn’t stop you, but it would save the staff here a lot of trouble if you didn’t as they would have to bring you back for your own safety when you lose lucidity again.”

Still I’m staring at her like a deer in the headlights. How do I do this every five days? This is the definition of a living nightmare. I have the rest of the night to think about the fact that the next thing I will know is me waking up again in terror. She is going on as I am half listening.

“As I said Art, this is a well to do private institution. We have facilities here that can certainly make your day enjoyable. 5-star food, a pool, game room, personal trainers, even an in-house movie theater.”

What have I done to bring this upon myself? She is still droning on in the background. After a few more minutes of running things through my head I cut her off.

“What do I usually do on these days?”

She stops, completely undisturbed at me cutting her off. She says

“Sometimes you want to stay with me and ask questions and talk all day, if you want that though I have to make you come with me as I have other work to do and you’ll have to tag along.” She continues on in a slightly softer and sadder tone “Most days you just want to go back to your room and spend the day writing to yourself. There are other residents here that enjoy your company when you are lucid, I could take you to them. You seem to enjoy yourself those days.”

She seemed almost hopeful at that last part. Clearly, she is a sympathetic type and doesn’t like my situation either. She must not like that I shut myself in on the only days I’m really awake. Regardless, I look at her and I say in a flat tone.

“I think the room. Would you take me there?”

I can see that she is doing her best to hide disappointment but she stands up and motions for me to come with her. I follow her out into the hallway and behind me trails the huge man in scrubs. What do they call them? Orderlies. I wonder if he is here because I’ve actually gone the violent route before, but I hold my silence. Why ask a question you need not know the answer to, especially if you are afraid to hear the answer?

Not long later we arrive at the room, the door is open. It looks like a small apartment. I have a fridge and a sink and a personal bathroom, a bed with some boxes underneath, some chairs a desk and hundreds of my books. I guess this is pretty posh for a psych ward, or a nursing home or whatever the hell you want to call this place. Maybe more of a hospice?

“Here we are Dr. Monseau your home sweet home. Usually, you spend most of your night writing. I’d love to read what you are working on sometime when it’s not too busy here and you’ll let me”

I say nothing but nod and walk inside closing the door behind me and leaving the two standing there.

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“Please press the button to call if you need anything at all or just someone to talk to” calls Lexi from outside behind the closed door.

As I stand there taking it in I recognize almost all of the books. They are mine from my personally library. Well any thought that this might have been some sort of elaborate ruse is quashed with that. I sit down in a chair and the futility and despair of my situation really come on strong. My thoughts earlier were apt as ever, this is a living hell.

Alone now, I break down in giant uncontrollable sobs of loss. I am being told that I am dead while I’m still alive every 5 days. If there is a hell, maybe I’m already dead. Reining in the tears but still feeling pure ennui I get up and pace. Seeing the boxes, I lean down and open the lid to one of them. It is full of nothing but a giant stack of papers, all written in my own hand. Lifting the other lids, I can see that all of them are the same.

I hold the newest topmost page up and begin to read. “Well fuck huh? No doubt this cycle has obviously played out time and again, is there any chance to be cured of this? I think I already know the answer to that. I was going to look for some hope of some chemistry work I might have been working on that could help get us back to normal but I didn’t feel like reading tonight…”

Putting the page back and closing the boxes I walk over to my desk where there is already a notepad and a pen. I don’t feel like reading tonight either.

Outside the room an hour or so later Skinner and Lexi are doing a round and checking on their residents. They pass Dr. Monseau’s room and look in to see him studiously writing at his desk facing the wall at the far side of the room. They move on and Skinner looks over to Lexi and asks

“What do you think he writes about?”

Lexi kind of just looks down at her feet for a few seconds then back up a to Skinners face.

“You won’t be a trainee anymore soon and you won’t have to shadow me anymore. I feel like you know that sometimes we do things here that aren’t strictly along the policy lines”

“You’ve read them!” screams Skinner

Lexi puts on a somber look and tells Skinner to quiet down, then she says.

“I’ve watched Dr. Monseau after I’ve brought him back here though his little window a few times. He does the same thing more or less every time. He sulks for a short while but inevitably goes to the boxes and sees his writings.” Skinner is giving her his undivided attention and staring as she goes on “He stares at his work for never more than a minute or so, then he puts it back in the box. And then moves to the desk and writes. I had the same curiosity you do and I figured what was the harm? I know we don’t go through their things but he always leaves his door open when he goes out and most days he wouldn’t know who I was if he caught me here anyway”

Skinner in anticipation looks at her and utters a long drawn out

“Sooooooooo?”

“He writes the same thing every night, though the words will change slightly the thought is still always the same. He tells himself that he can’t build the courage to kill himself right now, but he tries to convince himself that when he reads it next time, he should.”

With a drop of tear forming in the corner of her eye she looks over to Skinner who is now completely stone somber himself

“But he never reads it.”

Credit: Wykoff

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