"My God, Gretchen," he moaned. "Not him..."
"Oh, get over it for God's sake."
He clenched his hands into fists. He wasn't a violent man, or even overly emotional, but he hated that tone in her voice. Almost bored, annoyed.
"Look, I'm sorry, okay. It happened. Life is like that, Carl. Things happen."
He felt his anger nudging up again. He'd just learned she was screwing their next door neighbor, a grinning neanderthal named Tommy Callico. Tommy's wife had just called, screaming, in tears.
"Do you love him?"
She laughed, leaned back in her chair."Not likely, honeybun. I mean, there's not much there. He's a blue collar kind of guy. I need a man with... well, you know ... intellectual capabilities."
For her words were rarely used for their actual meaning. She communicated with a whole range of other techniques. The taunting tone of her voice was one. The raised eyebrow was another. That mocking laugh.
"I have to think about this, Gretchen. I have to think about how I feel."
"Of course you do, dear, because that's what you do best."
She crossed her legs, rested her arms along the sides of her chair. After all these years, she was still beautiful. The dark hair was shorter now, but she still had that smile, that mouth, those incredible blue eyes. There had always been something about her that was unpredictable. That's why he fell in love with her. Opposites attract, and she was his opposite. They'd met at a party back in college. Then and there he'd decided whatever she had, he wanted to be a part of it for the rest of his life.
"I suppose we'll have to move. Christ, I really can't believe this..."
His head began to throb, but he tried to ignore it. He wanted to stay rational, because that's how you solve problems, and this was a problem that had to be solved.
After all, that's what he was good at. Taking in disparate information, sorting it out, analyzing, discarding, synthesizing if necessary, then reaching a conclusion.
"No, Carl, we're not moving. I like it here. I like this house, I like this neighborhood, so I don't want to move."
"But we see each other all the time. I mean, Jesus, he still has my lawnmower..."
She held up a hand and began to inspect her nails. She always kept them in excellent condition and loved to experiment with new shades and colors.
"Look, we're adults, okay. So we'll just pretend this never happened, and go on with our not very exciting lives. We'll say hello to the Callico's when we see them, and nobody will be the wiser. Dust under the carpet, as they say."
Satisfied with that hand, she held up the other, staring at it like it was a work of art.
"Just like that?"
"Of course, honeybun. Just like that."
"Why, Gretchen? There must be a reason."
"I told you. It just happened."
"But why him? The man is an absolute thug. I mean, listen to the way he talks."
"I know, and he even has a tattoo, can you believe it." She'd said this in a lower tone, then immediately realized the obvious implication. She dropped her hand. "Carl, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. That was a really stupid thing to say right now."
He'd heard the word tattoo and it instantly shot an image into his head. His wife, his thuggish neighbor next door...
His stupid tattoo grinding against her naked body.
He stared at her, completely ignoring the words now coming from her mouth. Because she didn't communicate with words, she used other ways.
He was staring at her smile. It was small and private, trying to hide something. Seeing that tiny smile he knew for an absolute fact she wasn't sorry about anything. In fact, she was enjoying herself, playing a secret game he was finally now seeing. She held up her hands and stared at her nails again.
I'm going to ask an obvious question right now..."
"What's that honeybun?"
"Do I have your word this won't happen again?"
"Like you want me to cross my heart or something. I know, I'll sign a piece of paper and drip some blood on it. How does that sound? Would that make you feel better?"
She rose from her chair, gazed out the window for a moment, then turned back around. A barely concealed look of disgust had now darkened her face."You know what, honeybun? You really are the most predictable man in the whole entire world."
As he watched her walk away, he thought about the cruel simplicity that defined their marriage.
They were opposites in every way.
There are stages to solving any problem, that he knew all too well from the many years he'd worked in software development. First of all, define the problem, specify what needs to be solved, changed, deleted, or improved upon.
That was easy.
His wife didn't love him anymore.
So his plan of attack now had definable guidelines. He had to somehow change the circumstances that had prompted this erosion in her feelings.
The second stage was always more wandering and formless. Don't actively search for an immediate solution, wait for that. Instead, send the problem down to your subconscious for awhile. Then, more often than not, the result would be a flash of insight, a leap in logic to a new way of thinking.
He focused on both of these stages in the weeks that followed, giving much more thought to the specific reasons behind the fracture in their relationship.
His conclusion was painful, but inescapable.
What his wife had originally found attractive and worthy in his personality, she now found annoyingly predictable and painfully dull.
He was a brilliant man who'd dedicated his life to his career. He had done very well, but there was nothing in his make-up that matched his wife's unpredictability and exuberance towards life.
After much soul-searching, he reached a conclusion his wife had reached many years before.
He was utterly boring and crushingly dull.
That was the sad, inescapable, brutal truth.
It showed in his eyes. They were brown and somber, a little scared, because that's who he was. He was a somber looking man, who had never strayed an inch from the straight and narrow. That was the problem.
And his wife had come to despise him for it.
After a period of three weeks, he knew the second stage was over when he awoke one morning with a man's name swimming in his head.
Dr. Gulliver Fryde.
A meeting was easy to arrange, requiring only a general explanation of his credentials and area of interest. He'd come across Fryde's name in a journal a few months earlier. Back then, he'd merely tucked it away in his memory, not giving it much thought.
But the name had resurfaced again for a reason. By training, Fryde was a criminal psychologist, with a specialty in abnormal behavior and criminal dementia.
"The Man Who Knows Monsters," was the title of the article.
It detailed his accomplishments in studying the brain patterns of his subjects. He'd had been able to compile an extensive data base of extreme psychotic behavior. The hope, of course, was the discovery of some clue for prevention and cure.
But his hope in meeting Fryde was entirely different, because this was his leap of logic to a new way of thinking. The secret was always to take disparate areas of learning and combine them to create a new avenue of action. A creative springboard to a radical new solution.
Fryde adjusted his glasses, gazed into space. They'd just finished the banter that prefaced all meetings of this kind, sharing background, professional interests, and a few common complaints. The reason for his distant gaze was his previous question. He'd just asked about the specifics of his database.
"Well, I'm still a long way from where I want to be."
"Aren't we all."
"But I'm very pleased with the progress I've made so far. You're familiar with the new developments in memory coding and analysis?"
Fryde took a sip from his coffee mug. He was a short man with a droopy mustache and balding head.
"It's a simple matter really. We scan the brain and duplicate the encoded memories on a computer. What I've been able to do is strip away the memories that deal with the criminal episodes. That way, I can use the computer to do an analysis of the relationship between the deviant behavior and the psychological need it fulfills."
He listened attentively, knowing much more about the technology than he let on. As Fryde rambled on, he finally interrupted with a question.
"What do you classify as deviant behavior?""Yes, good question. That, of course, was a critical consideration. For the purposes of this study, I've only focused on the top quarter percentile, the absolute worst of the worst."
"Well, without getting into too many details, it includes mass murderers, acute sexual perversion, long-term body mutilation, catastrophic cruelty, torture deviants, and degenerate masochism."
"So, you think this data may be helpful to your own work?"
"Truthfully, I'm not sure, but it may."
He smiled too, because he wanted Fryde to feel important. His company did work for the government, so he carried the necessary clearances. These he used to entice Fryde further. It also allowed him to be purposely vague about why the data would be useful.
Fryde merely nodded, saying he understood.
"It will take a couple of days to get the process going, but I can send you a coded-compilation by the beginning of next week."
He stood up to go, then paused.
"One last question, if that's okay..."
"Do you think these kind of people know what they're doing is sick, or do they rationalize it in some way. You're the expert, so I'm curious what you think?"
Fryde looked off into space again.
His voice was softer, a little distant.
"Oh, they know it all right. And they couldn't care less."
Problem defined, solution identified.
Stage three was almost the complete opposite of stage two, more systematic and goal-oriented. Determine what needs to be done, then do it.
But he wasn't without doubts. In the next few days, he reviewed his analysis of the problem, and the bizarre solution his subconscious had suggested.
It was a bold and even outrageous plan. But he couldn't ignore the tingle of excitement that came along with it. It was the mental thrill that came with all journeys into the unknown. It was the feeling non-scientists couldn't understand. It was the thrill of creation, of being a creator.
Because that was the elegance of his solution.
He was going to take what was inadequate in their marriage and create something new.
His plan was this: He was a mid-level research scientist who worked for a computer company specializing in biological applications. Regarding the details of what Fryde had talked about, he knew all the technology involved quite well. In fact, he was simply going to reverse the process. He was going to take the memories on the database and deposit them back in a human mind.
His own .
His wife clearly hungered for a more daring and adventurous life-partner, but he was psychologically incapable of fulfilling that need. So he had to change. Of course, he didn't expect to wipe away a whole life of conformity and tedium, but he did hope to burn away that bland dull look that haunted his eyes.
With Fryde's technology, he'd be able to experience a part of life he'd never dreamed possible. Torture, madness, lunacy, lust.
He wouldn't just wander off the straight and narrow, he'd catapult himself to a primal new landscape with infinite possibilities. No laws, no rules, no limits. Just desire and freedom, chaos and craziness.
And all this without risk or pain, because that was important too. No laws would be broken, or realities altered.
The only thing changed would be him .
If it was just a new twinkle in his eyes, that would be enough. But he hoped the borrowed memories would rattle his inner psyche and change him even more. A bit more daring, perhaps. A lot more spontaneous.
How could they not?
His inner mind was dusty and dreary, dull as dirt. He was brilliant, but that didn't matter. He wanted to be selfish and adventurous. He wanted the ability to be truly, truly angry. But these were emotions and capabilities he simply didn't have.
With any luck, the borrowed memories would change all that, if only just a little.
This much he knew as an absolute fact. If he wanted to stretch his capabilities even an inch, he had to drag his psyche as hard as he could in the opposite direction. If this was a desperate act, so be it.
He loved his wife.
The data-file arrived at the beginning of the week as promised. By now, he was thinking of little else.
His wife had done as she said, not mentioning the incident again. But she also carried around a new air of more obvious indifference. A few words here and there, but little else.
Last night he'd discovered the lawnmower was back in the garage. A note was taped to the handle, "Thanks, Tommy."
He'd crumbled the note in his hand and tossed it in the trash.
For what, was the obvious question.
The lawnmower or his wife?
But the moment of practical implementation had finally arrived. As he lay in bed reading, he could hear his wife humming in the bathroom. At least two or three times a week, she indulged herself with a long hot bath.
Like all married couples, they'd fallen into a hundred different routines over the years, and this was one. He loved to read science journals in bed, and she loved the warm comfort of a bath at night. She always hummed to herself, splashing quietly like a little girl.
He began to feel a nudge of anger again, but it wasn't just anger at the incident and his wife's betrayal. It was anger that he couldn't feel more hate and rage.
He knew what another man would do in his place. Yelling, screaming, violence. It would all come out and people would pay. Another man wouldn't just crumble up the thank-you note and throw it away. He would storm next door ready for a fight.
Even now though, he thought about all this without the fire and inner rage that went along with it.
He simply wasn't that kind of man.
He had wondered about the exact nature of the sights that awaited him, but was never able to create anything vivid in his mind. There would be death and deviance, murders, torture, countless sexual perversions and spectacular acts of cruelty. The colors would of course be dark and red, the angles jagged and ripped. Lots of screaming too, and bloodcurdling wails. The sights and sounds of damnation. All this he knew, but he didn't have the imagination needed to conjure the specifics.
That would have to wait.
"Still awake, honeybun?"
"Yes, I'm reading."
"Tomorrow's Saturday, any plans?"
"I've got some work to do in the morning, but that's about it. You?"
He waited for an answer, but none came.
Just humming and the quiet sound of splashing water.
After eating breakfast alone at the kitchen table, he retrieved his briefcase, and descended down the wooden stairs to the home office he had set up in the basement.
This too was a part of their routine. Most weekends he would usually work for a couple of hours at home. The office wasn't much, just a desk, a computer terminal, and a file cabinet. The rest of the space was cramped and cluttered with dusty old furniture and boxed-up clothes.
He eased into the leather chair and opened his briefcase.
The data-file had been sent to his office. He'd immediately forwarded it to his home computer. But there was also another part of his plan. That's what he took out of his briefcase. A small plastic bottle. The boost.
Inside the bottle were a couple of light blue pills called "Harginon." He twisted off the top and popped them into his mouth.
This part of the plan had come to him only two days before.
Harginon was a psycho-hallucinogen that would intensify the experience. So rather than just viewing the borrowed memories inside his head, he would ram them into his brain with a psycho-active chaser. The drug was new, it's range of capabilities still being tested, so he wasn't absolutely sure about the combined effects. But he hoped it would greatly increase the impact of the images on his inner mind.
He turned on his computer, quickly typed in, and accessed the file.
The method for inputting the images was relatively new also. The link was done with a specially designed modem and two neural-patches that were attached to the skull directly behind the cerebral cortex.
Upstairs, he could hear the padding footsteps of his wife coming into the kitchen. He had locked the basement door, but was also confident she would have little interest in disturbing him.
He also knew she would probably find a reason to be away from the house for most of the afternoon. This too had become one of their routines. His wife finding ways to avoid being with him.
A glance at his watch showed it was 9:40.
He attached the patches, then activated the file.
He closed his eyes.
In the first moments of darkness he saw nothing, as the footsteps still shuffled softly above. He tried to relax, but was too nervous. His fingers began to twitch very slightly. He wondered if this was because of the drug.
There was still nothing visual, so his mind began to wander on its own. He thought about his wife and how much he loved her. All this was for her.
Risk for reward, that was his hope.
the first memory suddenly blazed into view... roaring into his brain with a shocking brightness... a naked man burning alive... his body crumbling into chunks of ash... then more after that... skin slashed... eyes gouged... they came and came... sick... disgusting... bloody... perverse... the acid-like chemicals rammed them deeper and deeper... as he watched in shock... then helpless despair... but on and on it went... until the shock finally faded... and the despair too... because he was slowly beginning to see the ferocious, unbearable beauty of what was blazing in his head...
He opened his eyes.
The light from the overhead lamp seemed brighter now as he yanked away the patches and stumbled to his feet. He stepped away from the desk, gazed slowly around the room. The wooden stairs were a dozen feet away, rising up to the shadowy door closed at the top.
He turned away because something else caught his eye.
A sharp ray of sunlight glimmering brightly on the dirty basement floor. It was off in a corner at the back end of the room. He walked to the sunlight, his body feeling stiff and sore. He blinked hard several times, turning away from the overhead light. When he reached the glowing sunlight, he found a shorter set of stairs and two horizontal doors. He staggered up the stairs, pushed open the two wooden doors.
He blinked again.
There it was...
A whole new world... The colors were so vivid they stung his eyes. It was the sun-drenched grass of his backyard, but now it was so much more. It was a new landscape of possibilities beneath a blue summer sky.
He looked at his hands, they were different. His fingers were longer and thicker, stronger too. He fell to the ground. He felt absolutely free and gloriously alive. Not human anymore, but something else. Because we are what we know, form follows function.
His old body was a fading memory now. He clawed his hands into the dirt and pulled himself forward. His nose flared at the new odors and aromas he was smelling. A sound drifted by and he strained to hear. It was coming from a window on the side of the house.
He looked up and saw a woman.
He had known her in another life, but now he did not.
He knew other things though and he giggled to himself. He was the first of his kind, madness from machine. But others would come, he'd make sure of that. He moved faster through the grass towards the window and the woman. His pants were off. His groin was on fire.
A few seconds more and the fun would begin.
He giggled again. Free at last...
About the Author
Sheldon Woodbury is a writer who lives in New York City and teaches screenwriting at New York University. For a guy with a terrific wife and son, he's not sure why he writes such weird stuff.