Cranial Loop (a novella) Chapter Three: Suffering the Found

7-21-2017 - Cranial Loop - Chapter three

Frozen, the secrets and kept under glass, the last is first and first is last.

Chapter Three
Suffering the Found

Hopes high, Basil entered Emily’s room. She lay on her back, head on a pillow, eyes closed. “Hello, Emily,” Basil murmured. “Professor Grimes told me the wonderful news.” He caressed her cheek with the back of his hand, which elicited no response. He gazed at Emily’s serene face and wondered for the thousandth time what had taken place that fateful day when he walked away from her at the river.

If he could only talk to Hedgeny but it was impossible to find his old friend alone. His fame had grown by leaps and bounds. He was constantly surrounded by fans and hangers on. Basil had gone to his apartment one day in the wee hours of the morning, hoping when Hedgeny emerged to begin his day, to have a few private moments with him. He would give anything to know what transpired after he left, especially as concerned him. Why hadn’t he told Emily how he felt, rather than expecting her to intuit his feelings? He fell asleep in a sitting position, leaning against the wall outside Hedgeny’s door.

Basil had a rude awakening when Hedgeny came spilling out, two girls in tow. “Basil, you ol’ dog! Where ya been?”

“I, uh… I wondered if I could have a few moments alone with you,” Basil stammered. “I just have a few questions about Emily the day before she went to sleep, when the three of us were at the river.”

“Oh, that again,” Hedgeny complained. He offered Basil a hand up. “C’mon, buddy. Me ‘n Nene ‘n Kate were just going to get us some breakfast. We had us a pretty wild night. Why don’t you just tag along with us, my treat?”

Basil was astounded, as he always had been, by Hedgeny’s brute physical strength. He took the offered hand and was lifted from the floor like a rag doll. “I’d like to, I really would,” he lied. “But I have to get to class. Anything you could tell me about that afternoon might help us with Emily’s treatment.”

“Hedge, I’m hungry; you promised,” one of the girls whined.

“Shut up!” Hedgeny said curtly. He grabbed Basil’s arm and dragged him half a dozen steps down the hall. “Basil, you got a guilt trip. I wasn’t the one walked away from Emily, you were. You hurt her feelings; you hurt ‘em bad. Is that what you wanted to hear? Next time you talk to me, remember this: the subject of Emily is closed. I got other things to worry about. Your guilt is your problem. You’d better damned well learn to deal with it!” He went back to his girls and walked away with them, a hand on each of their half-covered butts.

Basil reached across the bed and took Emily’s tiny hands in his. “I didn’t want to leave you that day, Emily. It’s the hardest thing I ever did. I just couldn’t find the words that needed to be said.” He bent and kissed her forehead, checked the various monitors surrounding her bed, then left the room.

The next day was a flurry of activity. School was officially out so Basil busied himself moving his personal effects from the dorm into the Psyche Building. He considered himself a frugal man and was quite shocked at the size of the pile of his personal belongings. A bit less than two years before, he had carried them in, lock, stock, and barrel, in a single duffel bag. Now he was forced to scout various University departments for empty boxes and a package cart from the mailroom to haul them. Further shocking to his sensibilities was his inability to let go of a single book, poster, or picture.

Dinner with the Grimes’ was a poignant and special occasion. Mrs. Grimes was not only plump and huggable, she was a hugger who expected to be hugged back. Basil responded to her requirements but, being a shy and private person by nature, was kept a bit off balance by her doting attention. Mack and Louise were there with the announcement that a decade long University rumor was about to be put to rest. They had indeed been seeing each other and were to be married in Germany, Mack’s country of origin. The Grimes’ were to stand as “Best People”. Basil loved the term and thought it fit them perfectly.

Basil enjoyed the meal and the company. He promised Mrs. Grimes he would come to dinner a minimum of three times a week once school returned to session. She cluck-clucked about young folks nowadays and their eating habits that it was unconscionable that Basil wouldn’t agree to more than that. She high fived the professor and all around after Basil left, celebrating her astounding victory, having claimed the charming young man for three nights a week.

In his element, lurking the hallways of the Psyche Building, Basil set out the next day to discover the homes of each of the keys on the ring Grimes had given him. There were seventy-six of them. He spent the first week in the upper rooms of the old building and found working fits for fifty-eight of the keys. Each time he made an exciting discovery, he’d hurry to Emily’s room to regale her with fantastic stories about the University’s history and secrets. Always he watched and waited for, but never asked, the blink of an eye or the twitch of a finger.

Emily’s parents, an affluent couple from Colorado, came to visit on Friday of that week. Basil had tidied Emily’s room and advised the shift nurses, done everything he could think of in preparation. Unaware of Basil’s affection for their daughter, Emily’s parents assumed he was the young and dedicated intern assigned to her care. The assumption was correct in most aspects so Basil had decided to leave it at that. He realized that, upon waking, Emily might see the situation in such a light herself; in which case, he planned to jump off the nearest bridge.

“Emily Anna is a junior,” her mother proudly informed Basil. “I am Emily Anna Senior. Please, just call me Anna. This is Emily’s father, John.”

Basil had escorted them to a conference room, where he served coffee. He had Emily’s files in hand and knew them inside out. He praised them for their dedication to their daughter and their pro-active involvement in the initiation of the Cranial Loop procedure. Their research and knowledge of the subject made the process of explaining events relatively easy. The eye-blinking episode was of primary interest to them. Silently thanking Professor Grimes for his wisdom, Basil was able to walk them through the event with the required clinical poise and distance. Mirroring his own private feelings, Anna seemed deeply troubled that so little promise could be taken from what could very well have been a mere random chaotic tic.

“Are there any questions?” Basil asked finally.

“I’d like a copy of Emily’s file,” John said matter-of-factly. “I know the director of psychiatry at the University of Colorado personally. He’s an old friend of mine. We’ve talked about the case and I’d like to have him take a look at it, get a second opinion, so to speak.”

Basil’s heart skipped a beat. He had never considered losing Emily to another institution. What would he do then? “Professor Grimes anticipated your request,” Basil replied in his much-practiced doctor’s voice. “There’s quite an accumulation of data and reports, notes and such. They’re in a couple of storage crates in the professor’s office. I’ll set them in the hall so you can take them whenever you’re ready to leave. Do you have any other questions or requests? I am at your service and will assist you in any way I can.”

Anna took Basil’s hand. She gave her husband a stern glance. “You’re a very nice young man, Basil. We appreciate your obvious dedication to our daughter. We could hardly leave her in better hands.”

John stood and straightened his tie. “I’ll second that, young man. If there’s anything else, I assume we’ll be able to find you in your office. Will you take us to Emily now?”

Basil rose from his chair and released Anna’s hand. He glanced at Emily’s large and imposing father and was reminded of something Professor Grimes had said. “Big John” had been a famous football player in his youth. He was known as “The Galloping Greek from Boulder Creek” or something like that. “Straight away, Sir,” he said with his best disarming professional smile. “Just follow me, folks.”

He led the couple out into the hall. “Now that sounded like a real southern invitation,” John said. “But you aren’t from around these parts, are you, Basil? You look to be Indian to me, something about your eyes, Eurasian or maybe from the mid-east.”

Basil stopped and turned to face him. “I’m an American man,” he replied, “a bit of African, Japanese, Cherokee, and German, near as I’ve been able to figure out.” He let his smile go and looked John in the eye. “Where y’all from?”

Anna grinned and proffered a bent arm. Before John could reply, she said, “We’re from Colorado, Basil. I thought you knew that. Now, I’d appreciate it if you would escort me to my daughter.”

Basil joined arms with her. “I would be honored.” John grumbled incoherently and brought up the rear. Once they were with Emily in her room, Basil went to his quarters. He sat at his desk and pondered the situation. What was the matter with Emily’s father and why the attack on his person?

Anna ushered John to a far corner of Emily’s room. “John, you’re an old fool. If you had waited for one second before opening your mouth, you’d have realized Basil is one of the young men Emily wrote us about. She and Basil and that other one… oh, for the life of me I can never remember his name. What was it that Emily referred to them as? “The Mighty Three”, that’s it! She was so proud to be one of “The Mighty Three.”

“I know perfectly well who Basil is,” John replied. “Emily didn’t tell us he was an Arab or an African or whatever the hell he is.”

Exasperated, Anna said, “She told us he was her friend, her best friend. What more should she have to say?”

“The other fellow’s name is Hedgeny,” John offered. “An unusual name but one you’d certainly be aware of if you paid any attention to current events. Brass balls, that one, a one-man cyclone on the football field. If our boys don’t contain him, he’s just liable to knock us out of a Bowl position this weekend. Now that’s one of “The Mighty Three” I’d like to meet. Reading about him reminds me of myself in the heyday of my youth. Why, he…”

“Hush!” Anna interrupted. “We came here to visit our daughter, not talk football. John, I wish…”

John slumped into the corner and wept into his big hands. “I’m sorry, Anna. I just want our baby back. I want my Emily Anna. I can’t stand to see her lying there helpless and alone. There must be something we can do for her.”

Anna held him, joined in his weeping. They consoled each other as only the jointly bereft can.

Basil sat at his desk, dumbfounded and listless. He willed his hand to turn off the intercom but his will was weak and failed him. He had set up the sound monitoring system to listen for Emily. A dozen times the past week he had awoken from deep sleep, certain there had been a whisper, some soft sound issuing from the darkness of Emily’s room. But the sounds were always in his head, Emily’s sweet voice saying, “Hedgeny.”

The sorrow of John and Anna’s weeping was more than he could bear. He left his room quietly and made his way to the tiny elevator. He entered and pulled the gate. ‘Prisons’, he thought as it clanked shut. Basil set the travel lever for ‘sub-level one’, positioned himself next to the brake, and pressed the ‘down’ button. The car shuddered, fell ten feet or so, and then stopped. Basil experienced a moment of vertigo, then had the presence of mind to set and clamp the brake.

Professor Grimes had never stopped the car at either of the first two sub-levels, so Basil wasn’t sure what to expect when he threw back the iron scissors gate. The light in the elevator was dim but the darkness outside the car was absolute. Looking at the lower half of the door, Basil saw concrete and was terrified for a moment. It appeared as if the car had stopped in the elevator shaft between floors. What if it was stuck? Basil closed his eyes and placed a hand in the pocket of his trousers. He made a fist around the large ring of keys there. It comforted him to feel them, all seventy-six of them. There they were, right where they were supposed to be. He kept them with him at all times when wandering the halls in case he found something new to unlock and explore.

“Seventy-six keys,” Basil said softly to himself, the sound of his own voice peaceful and empowering. “Seven and six are thirteen.” Basil gasped. Studies in Astronomy had introduced him to the ancients and Numerology. Curiosity had introduced him to the Occult and the attributes of numbers aside from the positions of the cosmos. “Thirteen as in power and dominion,” Basil intoned in a singsong voice, “Mystery and destruction.”

“A bunch of stuff!” he said in a louder voice and opened his eyes. He knelt and walked the fingers of one hand up the concrete wall in the opening. Approximately halfway up, a finger poked through. Basil rose to his feet and reexamined the opening. It was clear to him now that the car had stopped halfway past the opening to sub-level one. He gripped the concrete where it topped out and prepared to climb out of the elevator onto the floor of the first sub-level.

His face met with resistance and, when Basil realized he had pressed it into a massive cobweb, he fell back into the elevator. He landed on his butt and clawed at his face with both hands. Strings of webbing stuck to his fingers. A thousand spiders, real and imagined, skittered across his skin. He pressed his palms against his thighs and counted slowly to ten.

When he had regained some of his composure, Basil stood up and tugged at the iron gate. Just as it closed, something large and dark bounced against the web from the other side. “Oh no, I did not see that,” Basil tried to convince himself. “Spiders don’t grow that big and what else could be down here?” He eased the foot-brake loose from its keep and pressed the buttons for ‘down’ and ‘sub-level three’. It had been a very long time since anyone had visited sub-level one and, as far as Basil was concerned, it could remain that way. The same applied to sub-level two, at least for now.

The elevator ground to a halt. Basil heard a spring in the cables echoing though the shaft. He had never noticed that as he and the professor traveled up and down, in and out. The lights blinked off and on. Basil set the foot brake, threw open the gate, and lunged into the hall. He paused and took a deep breath, relieved to be out of the belly of the hungry little beast the elevator had become. Basil had begun to see shadows where there were no shadows, phantom movement at the periphery of his vision.

Glancing frantically up and down the hallway, he couldn’t decide which way to go. “They’re not really what I’d refer to as hallways,” he recalled Grimes saying. “They are a labyrinth of tunnels connecting to the main body of the University. They spider-leg out to satellite buildings, the Psyche Building for instance, take dozens of forgotten turns to places men long-dead devised.”

Basil reached into his pocket and grabbed the keys. “Seventy-six keys, seven and six is thirteen. I found homes for fifty-eight of them upstairs, five and eight are thirteen. Ah damn!”

He put one foot in front of the other and, following his instincts, reached the stainless-steel operating theater. He opened the door, reached in, and flipped on the lights. After his experience in the elevator and the dim-lighted hallway, Basil gloried in the stark light of the operating room. He opened the control panel of the Cranial Loop and plopped down exhausted in the chair before it.

Basil punched the power switch and a myriad of colored lights came on. The message, “Cranial Loop unable to engage”, displayed itself, end to end, over and over, on a computer monitor screen. At a tonal beep, the message changed to: Attach external device to initiate startup.

Spiders crawled through Basil’s brain. For a long-suspended moment, he imagined he was seated at the helm of a space ship, two prehistoric alien worlds away from his own civilized planet. “Wow,” he said aloud, “this place is beginning to get to me, it really is.”

Glancing around the room, Basil thought, ‘Eighteen keys left; how many can I account for down here? One and eight, that’s nine… endings.’ Basil rose from the chair, shaking his head. It aggravated him that he was unable to shake the inane tumble of numbers and their attributes from his mind. It was illogical behavior and unfamiliar territory for him. He had more important things to think about. He tried a few keys in the control panel. The fourth one fit. Basil found another that fit the door to the room. “Sixteen left,” he mused, “One and six is seven; lucky, lucky seven and lucky me, nothing left to unlock.”

Basil wandered into the hallway. There were no doors he could remember between the operating theater and the elevator. He took half a dozen steps in the other direction, figuring he was safe from getting lost as long as he could glance back and make out the bright light shining from the operating room into the hallway. To his surprise, the hallway ended in a dozen yards or so. There was a single door at its end. The door was locked but Basil was able to open it with one of the remaining keys on the ring.

Half expecting cobwebs and spiders, maybe a bat or two, Basil was relieved when he reached in and found a light switch. He clicked it up and the lights in the room came on. He stepped in and found himself in a large rectangular shaped room with a couple of desks and workstations complete with computers. There was no dust visible and it appeared as if the area was used recently and regularly. The long wall opposite the desks was composed of a bank of metal filing cabinets. Basil grinned; fifteen keys left and, without counting, he knew there were fifteen filing cabinets. He started from the left, whistled a little tune as he opened them one by one.

“And what secrets do you have to reveal?” he teased the final cabinet. He was smiling happily as he opened it, reassured to have found snug little caves for each and every one of the keys. Seventy-six keys, it was almost unbelievable to him that he had found homes for all of them. The smile left his face when he pulled the first drawer open. There was a sliding glass security cover over the contents of the drawer, ‘EYES ONLY – RESTRICTED MATERIAL’ stenciled in large red letters on top of it. The glass cover was in two parts, fitted into grooves in the drawer, and fixed with a cylinder lock of its own. “So much for seventy-six keys,” Basil murmured to himself. The lock required a round, tooled key; those on the ring were all conventional in style.

Basil squinted his eyes in an attempt to make out what was written on the file tabs under the glass. The master tab was easy enough to make out and intriguing to say the least. It read: DEATHS. Following it were a number of individual folders with names on them. The names were hand written and impossible to discern through the glass. Basil went on to the second drawer, which was titled: SUSPENSIONS AND EXPULSIONS. Unable to make out any of the names, he moved on to the third one: SLUSH FUND EXPENDITURES and the fourth and final drawer: CLASSIFIED INCIDENTS.

Basil fell to his hands and knees, the better to peer through the glass in an attempt to discern the contents of the bottom drawer. Without realizing it, he got so close his face touched the glass. No matter how hard he tried to focus, he was unable to make out the hand-written names on the folders. Frustrated, and completely out of character, he pounded a fist against the glass. The restrictive cover shattered and cut Basil’s hand. Blood splashed onto the folders in the drawer.

Using the thumb of his uninjured hand on a pressure point above the cut, Basil was able to staunch the flow of blood. He left the room and went to the Operating Theater, which was equipped with a scrub sink. He turned on the water and winced at the sharp pain when he began to irrigate the wound. It was half an inch long and close to his wrist. Apparently, a shard of glass had stabbed him when his fist went through the cover. He hoped the cut wasn’t deep, tested it by flexing his fingers and rotating his wrist. Moving it was painful but everything seemed to be in working order.

After a few minutes, the wound stopped bleeding. Basil cleaned it and applied antiseptic. A bit clumsy with his left hand, he wrapped gauze around his wrist and fastened it in place with tape. He went and sat down in the chair next to the Cranial Loop apparatus. What had gotten into him, he wondered. How would he explain the broken glass and blood to the professor? Wrist throbbing, he decided to go back and clean up his mess. He’d been off-center and out of sorts since meeting with Emily’s parents. As soon as he finished straightening the drawer out, he’d go visit Emily. After that, maybe he’d scout out something to eat, then try to get some rest. Maybe he could replace the glass but what about the blood. Ah hell, he’d just have to tell the professor he was a curious idiot and hope he’d understand. The situation would be clearer in his mind tomorrow in the light of day.

‘Blood and oil,’ Basil thought, “a drop spilled spreads and looks like a gallon.’ He carefully picked the larger pieces of glass from the drawer and dropped them in a waste basket. Basil stopped abruptly and sat stock still. The first file in the drawer labeled ‘CLASSIFIED INCIDENTS’ was Emily Alexander’s file. It bothered him deeply that her records would be kept in a secret cabinet. Basil grabbed his injured wrist, applying pressure and using the resulting pain to calm himself. “This file is probably just copies of papers I have seen,” he said to himself in a reassuring monotone.

He took the file and sat at one of the desks where he began to peruse its contents. Words and phrases from various reports and examinations demanded Basil’s focus, then reached out to slap and shock him with their implications: Bruises on the patient’s upper arms and inner thighs; human bite marks on both breasts (impressions made, see exhibits); signs of forced entry (see tissue samples); semen and blood evident (samples taken; see exhibits); traces of opiate in blood (sample in exhibits); high levels of Triazolam (induced temporary coma?). The list went on and on. It contained more, much more, than Basil could absorb in a single sitting. Nowhere could he find it stated but it was obvious to him that Emily had been drugged and raped. The evidence was conclusive and staggering in its preponderance to premeditation.

A blood drop splattered onto the paper Basil was reading. For a tense, insane moment, he thought it must be Emily’s. Hand clenched into a tight fist, he had reopened his wound. The gauze around it had begun to drip blood. Basil stared at it, dazed and uncomprehending. He shifted in his chair and held his arm over the wastebasket under the desk. His whole world had begun to spin out of control. That he might bleed it away made perfect sense to him. Dear Emily had been brutalized and where was the outcry? What steps were being taken to bring the monster responsible for committing these atrocities to justice? ‘Maybe they’re waiting for her to regain consciousness so she can tell them what happened,’ Basil reasoned. “No, you fool!” Basil was startled at the sound of his voice, terrified and angry in tone. There was plenty of evidence. Those at the top must know or at least have a close idea who committed the awful crimes against and upon Emily.

His mind wrapped and warped around the CLASSIFIED INCIDENT the attack on Emily represented. Whoever did this to her was sure to be out there and waiting. Emily was in grave danger. If this cretin thinks for one minute he’s about to be discovered… “Oh God,” Basil moaned, “Who can I talk to about this? Maybe the professor…” His eyes blinked, focused on the papers spread before him across the desk. How many stacks of notes had Basil transcribed for Professor Grimes? It was obvious the examinations were carried out and documented by none other and signed off in his hand. Why hadn’t the authorities been brought in?

Hedgeny. Basil bit down on the name. From the first, he had been sure Hedgeny knew something more than he was willing to divulge about what happened to Emily. Now it was obvious he was covering for someone. Professor Grimes, a man above reproach, was involved in some kind of cover-up. ‘Do they think I did it?’ Basil thought wildly. ‘Is that why they’re keeping me close, thinking Emily will wake up and point her finger at me?’ “Stop it!” Basil ordered himself. ‘They have DNA,’ he thought, ‘Blood and semen. They have all the tools needed to figure out who brutalized Emily.

Basil gathered the papers and put them back in the folder. He would give them to Emily’s parents and advise them to take her back home with them. She wasn’t safe here, was she? John Alexander was a rich and powerful man. Acting from his deep sorrow and pain, he would bring action against the University and get to the bottom of this thing. ‘How will I tell him what really and truly happened to his baby, his Emily Anna,” Basil wondered. Basil was a bloody mess and in such a state of mind that he was completely unaware of his physical appearance. He had blood all over his face and clothes. His eyes were shocked, open and wide. His hair stood up in greasy spikes. He looked every bit the madman.

Operating on automatic pilot, he made it back to the main floor of the Psyche Building. The boxes he had left outside Grimes’ office for Emily’s parents were gone. Basil paced back and forth, frantic and at his wits’ end. How could they have gone already? He made his way to Emily’s room, opened the door a crack, and peeked inside. She was resting peacefully. He opened the door next to hers and entered his own quarters, turned on the light and sat down at his desk. He noticed John Alexander’s business card lying where he had left it earlier. The number to the Alexander’s hotel was written on the back of it. Basil dialed the phone excitedly, hands shaking and eager to share his pain. The phone rang several times. He was ready to hang up when a clerk picked up and informed him the Alexanders had checked out half an hour or so ago.
© 2017 artwork, music and words
conceived by and property of
Tom (WordWulf) Sterner 2017 ©

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7-18-2017 ~Brothers~ X - Tom & Jack riding

“Time won’t wait for us.”

“Hell with it, Brother, let’s ride through it!”

via Closer to Home

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Hell’s Kitchen {the balladeer} R.I.P. Cinder May 19, 2009 – July 14, 2017

7-13-2017 - RIP Cinder - Hell's Kitchen

Working like a slave in hell’s kitchen
a little bitty piece of my heart
and through the narrow eyes of my existence
I see where the pain got its start
The heat so intense my skin is burning
I’m white and I’m red then I am black
Somewhere along the way my soul is turning
my voice crying out, take me back
Take me back to the sound of momma’s sighs
to the touch of momma’s skin
to the water life inside
where the innocent begin – again

Praying to the gods in hell’s kitchen
my life has knocked me down to my knees
I wonder aloud, do they ever listen
have I traveled this road just to bleed
The water is cold, my skin is frozen
baptism crystallized out of pain
I see the starving children’s eyes
I know them and the want they all want is the same
Take me back to the sound of momma’s sighs
to the touch of momma’s skin
to the water life inside
where the innocent begin – again

Make a hole in the ground in hell’s kitchen
won’t you bury me there when I die
Get six strong men to bear me with them
and a dozen women to cry
Find a medicine man to tell his story
and a beggar to sing me a song
Tell all my children to try not to worry
hell’s kitchen is where I belong, take me back
to the sound of momma’s sighs
to the touch of momma’s skin
to the water life inside
where the innocent begin – again

There’s an old man walking cross hell’s kitchen
and he stops for a rest by a stone
His broken yellow dog lays down there with him
welcome peace, yellow dog, you are home
He takes a pistol out of his back pocket
goodbye, my old friend, go to sleep
There’s a lonely old man, he goes out walking
and he stops by hell’s kitchen to weep
Take me back to the sound of momma’s sighs
to the touch of momma’s skin
to the water life inside
where the innocent begin
© 2017 artwork, words and music
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tom (wordwulf) sterner2017 ©

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Good ol’ Fred

7-12-2017 - JFG - Good ol' Fred Xvia Just for Grins

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Momma’s Hands

7-11-2017 ~Momma's Hands~

Momma’s hands held mine, patty-cake, tickling my piggies, baby powder soft. “I was raised by sisters in a Catholic orphanage,” she told me. My tiny fists around her fingers, I learned to walk in Momma’s hands.

Momma’s hands offered love and solace, fingers pushing Vicks into my nose, rubbing it into my chest, pinning towels tight around a cold that never had a chance, caressed my face, trembled, that I might be tended by, the awesome healing power of Momma’s hands.

Momma’s hands knew every part of me, my young and broken heart. A cradle they would make that I would be safe and secure beneath their wings, a tender-keep they were. Brothers and sisters, each and all, gathered within the circle of Momma’s hands.

Momma’s hands birthing and growing, teaching and knowing when to let go, when to shelter and pull away, the wounds of her life made small by the desire to tend to helpless things, danger held at bay and more ‘neath Momma’s hands.

Something fell Momma down. We gathered in ones and twos in the hospital ICU, doctors and nurses understanding, shaking their heads. “I’m so tired,” she said. They lay limp at her side and I wept at the sight of Momma’s hands.

“Where’s the priest?” “Are those the sisters?” she asked my sister. “Are they coming to tell me what they used to tell me… Wake up, little girl, don’t you cry?” Her voice was thin, “I’m not gonna die.” A tear slid down her face, “I’m going home.”

Later, after she has rested, she is much weaker, once proud lips full, no, clouded eyes, the merciful opiate haze of morphine. Oh, you candle spirit, what are we without you? What is life without her?

Time stops. My lips, one last kiss, those hands, whose job is done are finally at rest. I lift them up, one by one. I kiss them goodbye, Momma’s hands.

In loving memory of my Mother, Carroll Belle Hart (Stene-Sterner)
7 September, 1931 – 11 July, 2004
© 2017 artwork, music and words
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Tom (WordWulf) Sterner 2017 ©

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Cranial Loop (a novella) Chapter Two: Fortune Cookie Eyes

~cranial_loop~ Cover

Cranial Loop (a novella) Chapter Two: Fortune Cookie Eyes

Cranial Loop

“These eyes see, they see, you know, the where you are and I would go.”

Chapter two
Fortune Cookie Eyes

Basil sat down and massaged his temples to calm himself, resolved to keep his word. He would observe and learn, keep his thoughts to himself. Soon Professor Grimes’ attendants appeared, the precious cargo of Emily on a rolling bed between them. Basil recognized Mack and Louise, instructors from the University and well known to him, which accorded him a measure of relief. Mack nodded and Louise patted his arm as they rolled Emily past him.

When they reached the apparatus, Basil willed himself to sit tight, lest he rise and attempt to assist them in transferring Emily to the iron chair. True to his word, Professor Grimes had fitted it with comfortable looking pillows. It was less forbidding in appearance, its iron bones concealed. Mack and Louise moved Emily effortlessly from the bed to the apparatus. Louise held Emily’s body in place while Mack fastened restraints to her legs and torso. He very carefully tested each of them for snugness, made sure they weren’t too tight.

Basil watched their activities closely, the perfect student so far, clinical observer. His breath caught when his eyes reached Emily’s face, her dark hair splashed against the white linen covering the pillow supporting her head. Her closed eyes formed dark half-moons in the white alabaster of her face. ‘What tragic and fallen angel her frail countenance suggests,’ Basil thought. Professor Grimes’ voice interrupted his ruminations. “This,” he said, referring to a small rubber-looking object in his hand, “is the boot. It will be inserted into Emily’s mouth to prevent her from biting her tongue and otherwise harming herself.”

Grimes squeezed Emily’s cheeks slightly and worked the boot in between her teeth. “And this,” he pulled a handful of straps and sponge pads from the pocket of his white smock, “will fit under Emily’s chin and over the top of her head to hold her lower jaw in place.” He worked deftly and soon had the jaw restraint in place. His patient offered no resistance.

Basil, possessed of a delicate gag reflex himself, almost choked in sympathy at what he had seen so far. Emily sat listless throughout the application of the boot and jaw restraint. For the thousandth time Basil asked himself how one so bright and full of life could be instantly robbed of every facet of consciousness. ‘A muzzle,’ he fretted to himself, ‘they have muzzled the most beautiful creature that ever existed.’

Mack and Louise fitted the arms of Emily’s chair with soft leather pads. They took her hands from where they were folded in her lap and positioned her arms so that they were resting on the leather pads. Grimes examined the placement of Emily’s arms, made slight adjustments, a nudge here and there, and then applied pressure to a foot lever. Basil started at the unexpected clanging noise when four clamps on each side snapped into place to hold Emily’s upper and lower arms in place. An iron cuff, fitted with a dripping-wet sponge, was fastened to her ankle.

Basil had done extensive research on capital punishment, the electric chair and guillotine in particular. What he had observed so far was a close parallel to the horrific procedures involved in those practices. Were Emily conscious, Basil was sure he would be unable to sit still and observe the process. ‘You stupid!’ he thought to himself, ‘If Emily was conscious, we wouldn’t be here.’

“And this is the Cranial Loop.” Grimes held up what looked, for all the world, to Basil like a string of Christmas tree lights. “This loop will be fastened in a strategic pattern into a head piece designed specifically for the patient.” He opened a panel in the wall positioned next to Emily’s seat. Grimes consulted a schematic, then offered it and a helmet to Mack and Louise. “Doctors, please.”

Grimes gave Basil a comforting smile. “This control panel serves to deliver and monitor electrical impulses to the Cranial Loop. For today’s procedure, particularly since it is the first, the master setting,” he gestured toward a lever slide bar, “is set at absolute minimum. The master is locked into position and cannot be changed once the procedure is initiated. Subordinate settings cannot exceed the limit set by the master. All systems are, of course, backed up by battery packs and in-house generators to prevent interruption of the stimulus once it has begun. As in a surgical maneuver, it is imperative that every precaution be taken against interruption and contamination.”

“Doctor Grimes,” Louise offered the helmet, which was now connected to the Cranial Loop. Grimes took the helmet from her and nodded toward Emily. He consulted the schematic once more, pressed his fingers against the fittings inside the headpiece, and then turned to face Emily. Mack and Louise stood on opposite sides of her. They worked together well as a team, gently tilted Emily’s head forward and supported it while Grimes fitted the headpiece in place. When this was accomplished, he attached the business end of the Cranial Loop to a receptacle in the base of Emily’s chair.

Professor Grimes stepped over to the control panel and consulted its bank of monitors. He glanced toward Mack and Louise who were busy bathing Emily’s face and forearms with cool, wet sponges. Mack winked at the professor and he tweaked a single switch. A pattern of blinking lights appeared beneath the smoky clear surface of the helmet. The Christmas tree was live. “With no further ado,” Grimes said as he threw the master switch.

Basil’s eyes were glued to Emily’s face. Her eyes flew open, startled and eerily aware in appearance. Her body went rigid and a thin line of drool ran from the corner of her mouth. “Four pair,” Mack called out. Grimes made minute adjustments and Emily’s head turned to the left.

Basil was on the edge of his chair, hands balled into tight fists. It took every bit of his resolve to control himself. He wanted, in every fiber of his body, to stand and shout, to demand they stop at once. “Two pair,” Louise said to Grimes. He made a number of adjustments and Emily’s legs quivered, challenging the strength of their restraints. The iron cuff on her ankle banged loudly against the leg of the chair.

“Four pair off,” Mack chimed in, “Initiate nine.” Emily’s chin dropped to her shoulder and her eyes rolled back in her head.

“Maintain two and seven pair half,” from Louise. Basil slid backward in his chair until he felt it firmly against his spine. Shocked and afraid, he cursed himself for blinking lest he miss a moment in the hopeful process, the resurrection of his beloved Emily.

Forty-five minutes later the procedure was over. Mack and Louise released Emily from her restraints. With professional and caring hands, they unfastened the headpiece. Louise removed the jaw restraint and the boot from Emily’s slack mouth. Mack rolled the bed to the side of the chair and they lifted Emily into it. Louise began checking her vital signs. Professor Grimes was seated before the control panel, pecking away feverishly at a keyboard. The panel buzzed and whirred, spit paper out into a wire basket.

Louise approached Grimes and spoke to him in hushed tones for a moment. “Good, good,” Grimes responded. “Take her back now and thank-you kind folks for your time and assistance. Your support is invaluable.”

Mack and Louise offered Basil a thumbs-up as they exited the room with Emily. “Well?” Basil demanded of Grimes the moment they were gone from the room. The sound of his own voice startled him. It came out loud and strident, much more aggressive than he intended.

Professor Grimes, normally a patient and gentle man, replied in kind. “Pipe down, boy! We have an agreement and you are still the observer, the student here. This is no time for hysterics.” Basil, embarrassed and rebuked, held his water.

A few minutes later, Grimes pulled his chair over next to Basil’s and sat down. He brought the computer data reports with him. He glanced at Basil and stroked his goatee thoughtfully. “Sorry I barked at you, my boy. This is quite stressful for all involved. Your tone of voice startled me.”

“I didn’t mean to shout,” Basil offered. “My voice took off on its own.”

“You did very well throughout the procedure,” the professor allowed. “Much better than I expected. Observation is an important and powerful asset, an extremely difficult discipline to master. You will make a great doctor, one this professor is proud to have tutored.”

“Thank-you,” Basil replied. He counted slowly to himself, one, two, three, four, then, “Well?”

“Yes, well,” Grimes began. “I am pleased with the outcome of this session and will recommend ten procedures to follow, one every three days to commence immediately. Following that, we’ll take the next thirty days off to perform a careful and intensive evaluation of the patient. The results of those findings will lead us to our next step.”

Basil cleared his throat. “Professor Grimes.”

Grimes looked up from the sheaf of papers in his hand. “Yes Basil, what is it?”

Basil pressed his hands together, said softly, “Emily?”

Grimes rolled the papers into a tube and tapped Basil’s knee with them. “I’ll have to study these reports. Emily’s nerve pathways seem to function fine. We’ll expand these sessions to the level of physical therapy, which was what I set out to do with these experiments in the first place. Her muscles won’t be as likely to atrophy. We usually initiate local stimulus at this stage in cases of temporary paralysis. The physical therapist initiated massage therapy at the onset of Emily’s illness. The more activity we can stimulate, the better.”

“Her eyes,” Basil said, “There was a certain awareness about her eyes.”

“Careful, Basil,” Grimes counseled, “Try to maintain a clinical stance. Your love is very important to Emily but, as a professional, you must be possessed of a separate view. Doing this and loving her at the same time is the most likely way for you to affect Emily’s wellbeing.”

“May I visit her, Professor?” Basil asked.

“You must and at once!” Grimes replied enthusiastically. “This old man has to go home and get some rest.”

Basil got up to leave. “Listen, Basil,” Grimes said, “I know you’ve read the literature but you talk to that girl of yours like everything’s normal. Sing to her and recite poetry. Whether she hears you or not, love can do amazing things.”

“I already do those things,” Basil said. “I do it for myself as well. I need to get those feelings out.” He took a step toward the door, then paused. “Thanks, Professor, from Emily and me both.”

Grimes stood up with a groan. “Mind helping me lock up? I’ll walk you to the elevator. I’d hate to lose you in the tunnels under this old school.”

The next month passed quickly for Basil. His life was a blur of classes, Cranial Loop sessions with Emily, and long sleepless nights. For the first time in his academic career, he was struggling with classes. The Cranial Loop team helped him through his difficult times. The ordeal with Emily was taking its toll on him and Professor Grimes, ever aware, enlisted the assistance of Mack and Louise and others to help Basil along. Basil was depressed and embarrassed that he, of all people, required mentoring and tutoring. Winter vacation was just around the corner and, for the first time in his life, he was looking forward to the break.

A mirrored opposite, Hedgeny was at the top of his game. Proficient at any athletic endeavor he applied himself to, he was the football player’s football player. He ran, passed, kicked, and protected his teammates with a fierce loyalty that assured him their unadulterated devotion. Hedgeny had become an institution. In a couple of weeks, what was being lauded as the game of the century was to be played.

Hedgeny and his teammates would face a longstanding rival of the school, their nemesis. For the first time ever, and on the strength of Hedgeny, the school had fostered a team that stood an odds-on chance to literally bring home the gold. Hedgeny was a Goliath of confidence, boasting and jeering, poking good-natured fun at the opposing team whenever he got the chance. And that was often enough since sports reporters loved him. They plastered his handsome face and boisterous quotes in media across the country. He had become the fun and frolicking, Mohammed Ali of college football. Like Ali, he could back up his mouth with stellar performance.

A few days before break, Basil answered a summons to Grimes’ office. The professor was in jovial spirits. “Sit down, my boy; take a load off! Tell me about your holiday plans.”

Basil took a seat across from Grimes’ desk and watched as the man filled two tumblers with ice cubes. “I don’t really have any plans,” Basil replied, “I know you’re aware that I don’t have any family and wouldn’t leave Emily in any case. Then there’s the money thing. I’m about at the end of my rope on finances. Emily’s folks plan to visit and I wouldn’t want to miss the chance to get to meet them. I’m going to go over the Cranial Loop reports with them; that is, if it’s okay with you.”

“Fine, fine,” Grimes replied. He winked at Basil. “I don’t need to remind you to keep it professional.” He poured thick tan colored liquid over the ice cubes and set a glass in front of Basil.

Basil stared at the glass. “I don’t usually drink alcohol, Sir.”

“Drop the Sir!” Grimes said with mock sternness. “Let your hair down a bit, Basil, and toast an old friend.”

Basil lifted his glass and tilted it toward Grimes. “Cheers, Professor.”

“That’s better, my boy.” Grimes clinked his glass against Basil’s, “and cheers to you.” He took a deep drink, then withdrew an envelope from his vest pocket. He pushed it across the desk. “Happy Holidays from Mrs. Grimes and yours truly.”

Basil stared at the envelope. “I couldn’t.”

“Don’t start,” the professor warned. “It’s bad enough you haven’t so much as tasted your drink after toasting me.”

Basil sipped at his drink. No lover of liquor, he was genuinely surprised that its taste agreed with him. He tipped the glass and enjoyed a nice long swallow. Grimes clapped his hands. “That’s the spirit, my boy, Irish Crème, nectar of the Gods. I’m glad you like it!”

“It’s good,” Basil agreed, “Like a milkshake with a bite.”

“Spoken like a true connoisseur,” Grimes chuckled. “No holiday plans, huh? Just as I thought and that brings me to one of the reasons I asked you here. That money thing you mentioned; I know you struggle, Basil. I’d like to make you an offer. Actually, it’s better than that, a situation where you have choices. Mrs. Grimes thinks the world of you and so do I. We weren’t able to have children of our own. Were you aware of that, Basil?”

Basil drained his glass, the icy liquor warming him through and through. He shifted a bit in his chair, uneasy with the direction the professor’s conversation was taking. “No, Professor, I wasn’t aware of that. I’m sorry for the pain that must have brought to you.”

Grimes reached across and filled Basil’s glass. “Spilt milk, my boy, spilt milk. Never mind that, it’s just the maudlin rambling of an old man in his cups. The point I’m trying to make is that we’d like you to come stay with us.”

Basil ran a finger down the length of his glass. “Professor, I don’t think…”

“Now, hold on,” Grimes interrupted, “I wasn’t through. That was just one of the choices I want you to think about. I have spoken to the administrators. My God, Basil, everyone knows how much time you spend over here working, helping with Emily and all. The fee you pay at the dorm could be used for other things. Emily is our only patient. We don’t even accept patients anymore. She’s a very special case. Anyway, how would you feel about taking a room here in the Psychiatry Building? A bright young man like yourself could make it livable. For your part of the deal, you’d make sure the building was locked up every night and open for business on weekdays. You’re here round the clock most days as it is.” Grimes winked at Basil. “The room next to Emily’s is a double and has a connecting door. It wouldn’t do her any harm to have a loved one close to hand.”

Basil was moved by Grimes’ offer. He chose his words carefully when he answered. “Professor, I am honored by your offer, especially by the obvious fact that you and the administrators trust me to such an extent. It touches me deeply that you and Mrs. Grimes would consider taking me in. Truth be known, I’m at the end of my budget and have been seeking gainful employment.”

“I won’t hear of it,” Grimes interjected. “Your time should be spent on your studies. Allow me, if you will, to council you a bit on financial matters from here on out. We’ll have you squared away in no time.”

“I’d appreciate that,” Basil replied earnestly. “My needs are few but lately, with my grades slipping and all, I’ve begun to wonder if I’m truly cut out for the life of a scholar.”

Grimes sat back in his chair, incredulous. “How can you even think such a thing, dear boy, let alone put it to words? You were top of the class for three consecutive semesters. Emily’s illness is certainly a significant setback but one you can and will overcome, believe me. You are a world-class talent, a key asset to this institution, the true stuff it is made of. Think of Emily. What would she have you do?”

“You’re right, of course,” Basil said. “With your counseling and assistance, I could go on. I don’t know how I’d ever pay you back.”

Grimes reached across the desk and covered Basil’s hand with his own. “You, Basil, are the answer to every teacher’s dream. You’re the student who works hard on his own, excels and finally begins to teach the teacher.”

Basil’s mouth dropped open. “I beg your pardon, Sir. Did you say teach the teacher?”

Grimes chuckled, a warm sound in the close room. “Oh yes, you’ll teach this teacher. Already your devotion to Emily has taught me humility and the deepest meaning of loyalty. You owe it to me as well as to yourself to see this academic road to its wonderful end.”

“And so I shall,” Basil said, relief evident in his voice. “With no disrespect to you and your wife, I choose to stay here next to Emily until she is well.”

“There is one condition to that choice,” Grimes said grimly.

“What is that?” asked Basil.

Grimes took a hearty swallow of his drink, ran his tongue over his lips as if to savor its taste. “Mrs. Grimes anticipated your choice. She is much more interested in you and Emily than you can imagine. She insists that you come to dinner at our home each school night.” Grimes rubbed his tummy. “She wants to put some meat on those bones of yours. I think she wants us to be the Mama and Papa you never had. Will you do that, Basil? Will you come have dinner with us and bring Emily when she is well?”

Basil blushed. “I already feel as if I am home.”

“Good! Good!” the professor said excitedly. He pushed a large ring of keys across the desk. “Here are the keys to the building. You’ll have to sort them out as you go. You’re probably familiar with some of them already. Administration will have some papers for you to sign. Mrs. Grimes and I are going on holiday to Germany with Mack and Louise. We’ll finalize the arrangement with the University when we return.”

Basil’s head was spinning. He felt better than he had in a good long time. The professor had no way of knowing that he had just answered a number of silent prayers.

“That’s that!” Grimes said emphatically. “Now, come around here, my boy. I have the truest of gifts for you!”

Basil, unused to the ingesting of spirits, felt tipsy when he stood up. He steadied himself with one hand on the desk as he rounded it to join the professor. Grimes reached into the pocket of his shirt and pulled out a fortune cookie. “Here, Basil. This is for you, son.”

Basil stood, nonplussed, before the professor. He stared at the tiny gift in the man’s hand. He was afraid, for some reason, to accept it. “Take it,” Grimes insisted, “And open it right now!”

He pushed it into Basil’s hand. Basil made a tight fist, crushed the cookie and dropped the broken pieces on Grimes’ desk. He picked up the message from the crumbs and read it. His legs gave way but the professor was ready. He caught Basil and set him in his desk chair. “Does it mean?” Basil squeaked, “Does it?”

The professor hugged Basil’s head and stroked his hair. “I’m not sure what it means, dear boy, but is good, no?”

Basil threw his arms around the professor, returned his embrace and then some. “It is good, yes, Professor. It is good, yes!”

“You go see that girl of yours,” Grimes said softly. “Tomorrow you come have dinner with me and the Missus, say around five. You can see us off to the airport, then have this smelly old place all to yourself for a couple of weeks.”

Basil pulled himself up. “I will. I will and I am so grateful for your kindness.”

“Go now,” Grimes urged. “And don’t forget your envelope. Don’t open it until Christmas day.”

Basil walked around the desk, put the envelope in his pocket, and headed for the door. “Everything will be all right, son,” the professor assured him as Basil left the room. He picked up the phone and dialed hurriedly. “Mary, phone that man who called for a reference and tell him Basil is definitely not interested in the job. Yes, yes, I told him. Of course, he’s happy. Hang up, dear lady, and call that man back before he reaches Basil through other channels. No more questions; I love you too and I’ll be home directly to tell you all about it.”

Basil leaned against the wall in the hallway outside Emily’s room. Tears ran down his cheeks and he stared at the tiny piece of paper in his hands through blurry eyes. He drew it to his mouth and kissed it, then kissed it again and again, its words etched a hundred miles inside him where hope existed alone and afraid. Its words echoed through the very core of his being: EMILY BLINKED.
© 2017 artwork, music and words
conceived by and property of
Tom (WordWulf) Sterner 2017 ©

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Cranial Loop (a novella) Chapter One

~cranial_loop~ Cover X

“Don’t turn out the lights,” she cried, “I’m lost, I’m lost and gone inside.”


Chapter One

Friends, forever Friends

“If you can see across it, it’s not a river; it’s a crick.”

Emily giggled. “What made you say that, Basil?”

“I overheard a couple of guys arguing in class,” Basil replied. “One was from Mississippi and the other from Texas. The Mississippi guy, from Biloxi if I heard right, made the statement as a means to setting the Texas guy straight as to the relative size difference between the Mississippi and the Rio Grande.”

“That’s a funny statement,” Emily said, “But rivers are rivers and creeks are creeks.”

Basil stared rapt into Emily’s dark exotic eyes. He lay on a blanket at the river’s edge. She sat next to him there and, through its reflection on her eyes, he watched her watch it flow. “There!” she said suddenly. “Look, Basil!  Hedgeny’s nearly halfway across already!” She nudged him playfully in the ribs with a bare foot. “Turn around and look, you silly!”

Basil, though tired of Hedgeny’s showing off, could deny Emily nothing. He turned, elbows to the ground, chin resting on his hands, and stared across the river. “He’s a good swimmer,” Basil acknowledged in a flat monotone voice.

“He’s a good swimmer,” Emily parroted. “Hedgeny is a magnificent athlete, Basil, world class and you know it.” She glanced pensively at her friend. “You aren’t jealous of Hedgeny, are you, Basil? It would be so unlike you.”

“What, jealous? Me?” Basil laughed. He flopped over on his back, posed his arms and legs at odd angles. “I can’t even swim.”

“But you are funny,” Emily giggled, “And the smartest man I know.”

Basil stood up and performed an exaggerated march in place, bony knees pumping up and down. “I gots de brains and he gots de brawn. Let de lady decide whose side she’s on.”

“Basil, you shouldn’t make fun of yourself,” Emily said sternly. “We’re a trio, you, Hedgeny and me. I could never make a choice between the two of you. You know that, don’t you?”

So they were, since arriving at the University a year ago. All three were enrolled in classes in the Department of Psychiatry. Basil and Emily had earned full academic scholarships and chosen to pursue careers in psychiatry and/or psychology. Hedgeny was an athlete, plain and simple. Psychiatry made as much sense to him as anything else as far as academics went. Someone had told him it would be easier and more open than other fields of study. Basil had fallen in love with Emily the moment he laid eyes on her. Shy by nature, he was hard put to so much as say hello.

Hedgeny had literally made a dramatic splash within a few days of arriving at the school by throwing himself into the swift flowing river at the edge of its campus and swimming across. He had talked it up a bit, so there were students watching from the moment he took his dive. Swimming across the river was a feat unparalleled in the centuries old history of the school. Though it was explicitly against the rules, each year a handful of students risked body and limb and a stern rebuke from school authorities to try their hand at reaching the other side. Over the years, there were a few who perished in the attempt. This fact only seemed to fuel the desire of fresh young-bloods bent on doing the impossible.

Administrators at the school had heard the rumors about a possible new swimmer and weren’t especially surprised. They were at water’s edge as soon as word reached them the deed was under way. Each year they had boatmen posted to pluck the young men from the water (a girl had never been foolish enough to try the trick, according to local lore). The men at the oars would deliver the scamp to the custody of administrators who would see that justice was done. Their jaws dropped as Hedgeny accomplished the undoable. He reached the other side and waded up the bank. Their jaws dropped a notch further when he waved victoriously and dove back in the water. Hedgeny swam bravely, heroically even, courageous throughout the arduous trip back. He defied the white water, challenged it even. He dodged the boatmen, made sport of them and their feeble attempts to haul him out. To the utter amazement of everyone involved, except Hedgeny, he swam successfully to shore.

Quite a crowd had gathered by this time and the administrators were forced to pluck Hedgeny from a sea of fawning peers. He was duly cited and assessed a stiff fine, which was eventually waived since he was, after all, attending University on a full athletic scholarship. He was also temporarily denied access to certain school clubs and scholastic organizations he had no interest in to begin with. He was, in fact, unaware of their existence until being notified he was temporarily exempt from partaking in their activities. He enjoyed many a laugh about this in local beer parlors where he spent a good part of his free time. An immediate hero and favorite, the irascible rebel, Hedgeny rarely had to put up funds for his ale.

Gifted athlete and all around good guy, Hedgeny had his problems in the classroom. He frequently cut classes and was prone to cutting up and napping when he did appear. Various mentors and academic assistants were appointed him from the school’s athletic squads. The results were always the same. Hedgeny became mentor and involved his associates, who had few problems prior to associating with him, in his goodtime brawling antics. This became a cause of embarrassment in the academic community and threatened to besmirch the good name of the school. There were also certain legal arrangements (no one said bribes) and compromises made that were sure to raise eyebrows if they ever came to light.

The Head Man appointed a committee to deal with the problem of Hedgeny. They pondered the problem, hardly a new one but certainly challenging given Hedgeny’s appetites and proclivities. After some time, they came up with a new idea, a fresh approach to the problem. They proposed to query the leading academic male and female freshmen as to their willingness to coach and mentor the school’s prize athlete. Basil and Emily were at the very top of that list.

Basil was a bit confused and doubtful when first confronted with the prospect of conforming the notorious Hedgeny. He had no previous experience tutoring others and thought it highly unlikely the school’s most famous infamous would give a good whit for any advice or assistance he had to offer. When Emily was brought into the picture, Basil’s doubts washed away, so many worms in the gutter on a rainy day. Here was his chance to speak with her, to know her, to spend time with her. Basil spoke none of this, of course. He adjusted his round, wire-rimmed, glasses and said, “I’m willing to try to help him if she is. Together we might stand a chance.”

Thus, did The Mighty Three come to exist. Who’s to say concerning the dynamics of human relationships. The bronzed Adonis, Hedgeny; diminutive princess, Emily; wise and scholarly, Basil, the three of them together became campus fixtures, the very in of the in crowd. Hedgeny bought the two of them their first beers and quickly discouraged anyone who slighted them in any way. Loving and protective, he would brook no opposition where they were concerned. Emily had Hedgeny reading and reciting poetry. Basil introduced him to the basics of physics, nothing too complicated and deep, the very basics but Hedgeny showed interest and that is all that mattered. His grades improved and he wasn’t nearly so inclined to wild troublemaking behavior while in the company of his two new friends. The administrators of the University breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The rewards to The Mighty Three were manifold. Emily and Basil, both extremely private people, found they enjoyed bits of the spotlight Hedgeny attracted wherever he went. Most times they could savor it a bit, then return to their rooms and private lives apart from Hedgeny. For his part, Hedgeny found that studies and attending class weren’t half bad with his two friends to help him along. At some level, fresh from childhood, the three of them realized their relationship was special. They might never again in their lives enjoy the closeness the three of them shared.

As for the University, prospects had never been brighter. Hedley’s past transgressions, swept under the carpet and behind them, his exploits on the field of athletics afforded the school world renown. They received unprecedented grants and endowments, found themselves wooed by media. World leaders petitioned the school to enroll their children. Most recently they broke ground and were in the process of having a domed stadium erected and… uh, a library. Hedgeny was an industry in his youth and glory, a cash cow they had paid highly for and intended to squeeze for every possible penny and prize. Ambitious and eager, they were fast becoming a machine; nothing and nobody could hinder their progress.

Yes, Basil watched Emily as she watched Hedgeny. Never spoken between the two of them, Basil knew what a man knows. He and Hedgeny were both and each, ass over tin cup, in love with Emily and had been from the start. A slight aggravation at first, his feelings for Emily had become an insurmountable problem over the past year. She didn’t seem to be aware of it or, if she was on to the fact, she was very good at hiding it. She made it known that she held them equal in her eyes, arm-in-arm at her sides.

Standing on the verge of the river, Basil made a gut-wrenching decision. They were beautiful, the two of them, Emily and Hedgeny, a paradigm as a couple. Basil was, had always known he was, odd man out. He needed to speak to Emily about his feelings but could not find the words. Hedgeny emerged on the far side and Emily clapped her hands gaily. He plunged into the water, began the journey back across. Basil touched Emily’s smooth and silky hair, light and loving, and simply walked away. There was nothing else for him to do.

Her voice, “Basil. Basil, where are you going? Basil! Come back to me, Basil!” pursued him.  He would forever regret not returning to her side that fateful day.

But that was yesterday. His whole world was yesterday, or so it seemed as he sat in Emily’s room. His eyes scanned the banks of lights, red and green, monitors and tonal devices. Professor Grimes appeared. He gave Basil’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “She’s asleep, son. For all we know, she’s just asleep. She might wake up any moment now. You need some rest. Why don’t you turn in, call it a night? Tomorrow, if she’s up to it, we’ll bundle Emily up and you can take her out for some fresh air.” Basil tried to speak but, unable to make the words, got up and left the room. Having never questioned God, he did so now. How could a bright promise, a vital source of life like Emily, go to sleep and simply not wake up in the morning? Why not him? Why not Hedgeny?

Hedgeny. Basil grabbed a jacket and headed for the bar rooms, certain he would find his friend there. Hedgeny was never hard to find. He was at the second booze house Basil checked. The music pounded through the place and there, in the center of its mob of patrons, was Hedgeny. He was uproariously drunk and howling like a wolf. Basil edged his way through the crowd and approached his friend. Hedgeny squinted his eyes. “Basil! Buddy! Hey, whaddya wanna drink? Hey, bartender, gi’ my friend, Basil, a drink, anything ‘e wants!”

Basil turned to walk away and Hedgeny grabbed his arm. “Let me go, please,” Basil said softly. “I need to talk to you but it’s obvious that now is not the time. I’ll find you tomorrow. I can see you’re busy right now.”

Hedgeny threw an arm around Basil’s waist and propelled him toward the bar. “It’s about our l’il girl, ain’t it? She’s gonna be all right, Buddy; our Emmy’s gonna be all right, you’ll see. Have a drink. It’ll make ya feel better.”

Basil sat down on a stool and waited for a pause in the music. He looked Hedgeny in the eye. “What did Emily say after I left her at the river? Was she angry with me? Do you have any idea what time she got home or what happened to her?”

Hedgeny slammed a fist into the bar. “Get us some drinks over here!” He glanced at Basil, then stared balefully across the room. “She didn’t say nothin’, man, just that she was tired and was goin’ home to get some rest. I had to do the same thing so I’d be ready for the big game today. I was readier ‘n ever too, ran all over their sorry asses!”

Basil stood up and shook his head sadly. “I have to go.”

“Whatever,” Hedgeny pouted. “Tell Emmy I’ll be up to visit. Hey Basil, it ain’t like she’s dead or somethin’. She’ll come out of it, you’ll see.”

But Emily didn’t come out of it. Basil got himself appointed Professors’ Assistant and managed to spend time with her every day. Her family had decided to commit her to the psychiatric ward at the University. What better place was there for her to be? This was her chosen place, where she went to sleep. It was their deepest hope that one day she’d wake up from her perpetual night of sleep.

Hedgeny never visited and, other than hearing exalted reports of his athletic prowess, Basil lost all contact with him. He entertained a plethora of melancholy thoughts concerning his old friend, memories of the happy days he and Emily had spent with him. He had studied the grief process and was aware there were as many ways of dealing with it as there were people grieving. His way was deep and thoughtful, a resounding weep. Hedgeny’s was forgetting himself in drunken brawls and pounding opponents into the field of play.

Emily had been comatose for a couple of months when Professor Grimes approached Basil. There was an experimental procedure, the Cranial Loop, that he and his colleagues had been practicing in the lab for a couple of years. It involved the simultaneous electromagnetic stimulation of the paired sets of cranial nerves where they pass through the openings in the skull. Emily’s family had read about the procedure, researched it, and petitioned the University to implement it in her case.

“But Professor Grimes,” Basil protested, “This procedure has only been used on monkeys and rats. From what you have told me, it has a very limited success rate.”

Professor Grimes nodded his head in agreement. “Frankly, I don’t have much confidence in the procedure in this case. On the other hand, I don’t believe it would cause further harm to Emily. That is exactly the point the family makes in favor of implementing it. If it has no effect, we’re back where we started. As they see it, they have nothing to lose and Emily’s life to gain.”

“But what if…” Basil began.

“What if,” Professor Grimes repeated. “That’s the nature of our business, my boy. I have mixed feelings on this issue, especially where Emily is concerned. If the Medical Association and the University agree to proceed, I’ll take on the task because I’m the man for the job. Fact is, the longer Emily remains comatose, the further she is from us. It’s a difficult call to make and I’m glad I’m not the one has to do it. I just wanted you to know what’s going on so it doesn’t come as a complete shock to you if it should come to pass. I know how dedicated you are to Emily.” He laid a hand on Basil’s shoulder. “I know how much you love her.”

“How does one go to sleep,” Basil wept, “And not die but simply never wake up.”

“Toss that one in with the what-ifs,” Professor Grimes replied. “Ours is a legend of shadows.”

Basil visited Emily and placed her in a wheelchair to take for walks whenever he got the chance. With Professor Grimes’ permission, he did so this day. He struggled with the wheelchair across the rough turf to the river’s edge, knelt before her and took her hands in his own. He kissed the backs of them lightly. “I have loved you from the first moment I saw you,” he spoke into her face. He went on to explain to Emily all he knew about the Cranial Loop, her family’s hopes and his fears.

Having concluded his medical explanation and avowal of love, Basil released Emily’s limp and unresponsive hands. He stood up and stared wistfully down the river. “I swear Emily, when I heard about your condition I began to deny a God I felt I’d known all my life. Yet you are here and, so long as you are, I will hope. That hope has renewed my faith and I pray every day that God will return you to our world.” He turned to face her. A breeze blew a wisp of hair across her forehead. “Emily, this is hard for me to say but I must. If you are afraid of the Cranial Loop or grow weary of lying in that bed all day; if you are in pain or distress and wish for it to be over, give me a sign. I will tie myself to your chair and roll us into the river. I cannot and will not go on without you.”

Basil’s heart broke as a single word, a name, blew through his mind, “Hedgeny.” There was no denying the sound of Emily’s sweet voice. How it reached him was a mystery because she sat stone still between the wheels of her chair. His eyes having never left her face, he was sure the sound didn’t issue from her mouth. Basil turned the chair around and pushed Emily back to the psychiatric ward. He helped the nurse put her into her bed, then returned to the dorm and his studies. Emily’s voice haunted him through the long night. He lay there half dazed and questioning his own sanity and tenuous hold on life.

A week later the Cranial Loop Procedures commenced. Professor Grimes insisted that they only be initiated twice weekly and the initial electrical impulses be as minute as possible. He refused to take any chances or to endanger his patient in any foreseeable way. In his words, “Time is on our side here.” Emily was stable and relatively healthy. No one used the phrase ‘brain dead’ but each and every one involved had felt it crawl through their consciousness.

Basil argued long and hard to be allowed to assist in the treatments but to no avail. Grimes was adamant in his refusal. He relented a bit in the end and agreed to allow Basil to observe upon his solemn promise not to interfere in any way. The Professor also agreed to allow Basil to accompany him to the Operating Theater to assist in setting up the equipment for the procedure. Basil, curious by nature, wanted to know every minute detail of the Cranial Loop. Having Emily as the patient for the experiment only intensified his innate need to know.

The apparatus for the experiment was located in an operating theater three levels below the psychiatric building in a sub-basement. It was decided to perform the procedure there since moving and reassembling the Cranial Loop was bound to affect its performance and would take too much time in any case. Psyche students, Basil and Emily included, who had never visited the sub-basements, referred to them as ‘the dungeon’ or ‘the crypt’. He got a chill as he climbed into the tiny antiquated elevator with Professor Grimes. Grimes pulled the steel, floor-to-ceiling, scissors gate closed. He pressed a button for ‘down’ and another for ‘sub-level-three’ and the car started its descent with an abrupt jerking motion. “What’s in there?” Basil asked as they passed sub-levels one and two.

“Supplies,” Grimes replied, “Old furniture and the like, centuries of castoff medical equipment. You could probably fill a museum with all that old stuff.”

Basil wrinkled up his nose.  “Smells like livestock.”

“That’s the lab animals,” Grimes explained. “Rats and monkeys, a couple of pigs. They’re kept on sub-level two.”

The elevator stopped with a jerk and the lights blinked off and on. “Not sure they’re supposed to do that,” Grimes commented. “They always do when you hit the bottom floor though.” Grimes pulled a large steel lever at one end of the elevator and held it down with his foot while he slid an iron keeper over it to hold it in place. “Mechanical brake,” he said to Basil. “If you forget to set that, the gates won’t open.” He chuckled a bit. “If you’re on one of the upper floors and don’t set the brake, the damned elevator won’t stay in place. There’s a massive coiled spring anchored into a pit underneath this thing, the latest in safety equipment a hundred years or so ago. I have the uneasy feeling it would likely go right through the floor of this thing should one ever be forced to depend on it.” He pulled back the scissors gate and Basil followed him into a dimly lit hallway.

“It’s dark down here,” Basil complained. “It’s cold and smells wet and fetid.”

Grimes clapped him on the back. “Welcome to my laboratory,” he said in his best Bela Lugosi voice. “C’mon Kid, lighten up. It’s much safer to bring Emily down here than it would be to move all the equipment upstairs and attempt to readjust it. The machine is very finicky. Emily’s well-being is my primary concern. The surgical arena cleaned up well. It’s all stainless-steel construction. You’ll feel better once we’re there.”

Basil followed Grimes through a labyrinth of hallways, curious at every turn but determined to be quiet and stop asking so many questions. The surgical area was just as the professor had described it. Its spotless stainless-steel walls and ceiling shined like glass. Walking into the room, Basil felt like he was entering a house of mirrors. “Here she is!” Grimes stood proudly next to an iron chair. It was as spotlessly clean as the room but dark and sinister in appearance as far as Basil was concerned. “Don’t worry, Basil,” Grimes responded to the concern evident on his favorite student’s face. “We’ll line it with pillows, nice and soft, for Emily.”

Basil watched attentively as Grimes went through his pre-procedural checklist. Grimes gave a professional instructor’s play-by-play while he flipped switches, adjusted valves, and consulted monitors. His clinical presence and professional detached demeanor impressed Basil. Professor Grimes was a man in his element. The phone rang and Grimes picked up. “Very good, we’re ready,” he said into the receiver. There was a chair positioned a couple of yards before and facing the Cranial Loop apparatus. Grimes hung up the phone and gestured for Basil to take a seat. “The attendants are on their way with Emily,” he said. “Sit down and relax, my boy. It’ll be over before you know it.”


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