Thursday, 6 September 2012

Story: Mindquack

Hi there. We're taking a short break from the Witch's Bile series for this short story. I had every intention of continuing with Eliza and Jo until the series was finished but I was talking to my friend Tom who said he had come up with a word but wasn't sure what he wanted it to mean. I suggested an idea, and very soon afterwards I wanted to write that story. So, here is Mindquack. Please bear in mind, what I know about science of any kind could fill a thimble, so please don't judge me too harshly on what is clearly nonsense! Other than that, I hope you enjoy it!


Wiltshire. 1982.

David was dreaming of breaking glass when the telephone rang. As he opened his eyes and reached across the bed to answer it he saw the time: 2:12am. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and felt his heart begin to beat a little faster. This would be the call he had been waiting for.

“Case,” he said as he pressed the phone to his ear.

“David, this is Doctor Hill. How soon can you be at Paisley Fields?”

David flicked the light on and looked around the almost-bare room for where he’d left his car keys. “Twenty minutes, sir,” he guessed.

“Try to make it sooner,” answered Hill before hanging up.

David made the drive in just under fifteen, secure in the knowledge that if he was stopped he would only have to state his destination to be waved on. Despite only having been established nine weeks ago, the Paisley Fields research facility had the kind of reputation that comes from no one knowing exactly what went on inside. David himself had arrived in the area three weeks ago as a standby and had yet to step through its doors.

The call meant that Doctor Crossley was no longer able to perform his duties. Either he’d been taken ill, called away, or something much worse. This eventuality had been explained to him when he’d arrived. He’d been met at a cottage that had been arranged for him by a red-haired, skinny man in plain clothes who’d introduced himself as Sergeant Betcher.

“People in the village will guess why you’re here,” he’d been told. “Don’t feel the need to disillusion them, but don’t confirm it either, you understand.” He had answered in the affirmative but wasn’t entirely sure that he did.

The facility was unremarkable from the outside. A grey three storey building that looked more like a school than anything else. He was waved through at the checkpoint and told to drive straight up to the front. Sergeant Betcher stood waiting for him in full military uniform under a spotlight at the main entrance, and marched down the front steps to open the car door for him.

“Dr Case, it’s a pleasure to see you again. Please follow me, we’re rather against the clock, I’m afraid.”

David followed Betcher as he led the way inside. Having passed through the front door, David paused for a moment.

“This was a school,” he muttered. Betcher turned and nodded impatiently.

“Best we could do in a pinch. We’ve converted what we could for our requirements; it’s served us well enough over the last month or two. Please, Case, we do need to get going. Doctor Hill insisted I take you to him as soon as you arrived.”

Betcher led David up two flights of stairs, the sound of his boots clattering through the empty space. Apart from a woman in a lab coat walking past with a soldier, he didn’t see another soul. He was not surprised to be shown into the headmaster’s office and be told that he was looking at his employer, Dr. Anthony Hill.

“David Case, what a pleasure to finally meet you,” said the old man, rising from his chair and stretching out his hand. Hill was in his late 60s and looked like he hadn’t slept in days, but his grip on David’s hand was strong enough to make him flinch. “You came very highly recommended, I’m so sorry you’ve been stuck twiddling your thumbs for so long. But there is much to do tonight, I can assure you.”

Hill gestured for David to take a seat as Betcher wheeled in a large television on a squeaky trolley.

“Thank you, Sergeant. Now, David. You are aware that you were brought here as a standby for Doctor Crossley. I believe he mentioned that you and he worked together on several projects together.” David nodded. Crossley had been a mentor and a friend to him for the last ten years, although a recent disagreement had set them on different paths. “Did Crossley tell you anything about his work here?”

“No, sir. I knew I would be his understudy but I haven’t heard from him since he started last month. In fact, I don’t know anything about anyone’s work here.”

Hill smiled. “That’s reassuring. We obviously do our best to keep our business private but we had assumed some information might slip through our nets. But you must have a theory. You and Crossley both worked on manipulating the brain’s activity in coma patients. What do you think we’re doing here?”

David did have one theory. He had several, in fact, ranging from the simple to the ridiculous. He shrugged and offered one that he thought was fairly plausible. “Are you working on a new interrogation technique? Keep the subject comatose while keeping the brain active, maybe even responsive?”

Hill’s smile spread into a grin, showing a row of yellow teeth. “A good guess, David, but no. What I’m going to tell you is totally unbelievable but we have precious little time, as I believe Betcher has already made clear. So we’re just going to have to show you.” Hill pushed a button and the monitor flickered into life. The screen showed a room with a single occupied bed with an array of wires and tubes leading to the machines that surrounded it. Every few seconds the screen flickered and the view switched to an almost identical room. Only the occupants changed.

“Five weeks ago we had word of nine separate incidents in this region. We dispatched rapid response teams, contained the subjects, and brought them here. We induced coma-like states in all nine and started trying to understand exactly how what had happened had happened.”

David glanced from the monitor to Hill’s face. He swore he could see traces of a smile, like he was enjoying waiting for the obvious question. He asked it.

“Sorry, sir, you said ‘incidents’. Incidents of what?”

“Telekinesis,” said Hill. David glanced at Betcher, whose face betrayed nothing.

“Telekinesis? I’m sorry, that’s…that’s not possible.” While David struggled to express himself, Hill nodded at Betcher, who inserted a cassette into the machine. The screen flickered to show a single room. A man stood over the bed with his back turned.

“That’s Dr. Crossley,” said Hill. “And that’s our alpha patient. Lucas Reid. And I’m very sorry to have to show you this, Thomas, but we are against the clock and there’s no easy way to explain it.”

There was a loud cracking sound and a shape rushed from the bottom of the screen towards Crossley. He turned and David could just make out his friend’s face as the object severed his head from his body. David cried out. Hill hit a button and the view returned to the its previous view.

“The observation window behind him was broken into three pieces,” said Hill. “The biggest piece moved across the room and cut cleanly through Doctor Crossley’s neck. When it had passed through the other side it dropped to the floor like a stone. During these five seconds there was a massive spike in the Reid boy’s brain activity. Crossley had devised a system for measuring these spikes, he told us they never went above 0.2. Once we had cleaned up the mess we went back and looked at the readings. This was a 1.

Now, these spikes have been happening with each of the subjects semi-regularly since we first put them to bed. In terms of what days, what time they occur, they’re unpredictable. At first we thought it was completely random. One of the doctors even called them ‘mindquacks’, an unimportant fluctuation, and I’m afraid the name stuck. We thought they might have been dreaming. We’d see some light levitation. Perhaps an object would shift an inch or two, nothing harmful. Nothing dangerous. But they started getting worse. They became more frequent. More powerful. Which is why we brought Crossley on board to try and eliminate them.”

“And what was Crossley’s suggestion?” asked David. The image of his friend at the moment of his death was still very much in his mind but he was aware that Hill was not the sort of man who would repeat himself. It was essential that he keep up. Hill seemed surprised that he hadn’t guessed the answer for himself.

“Remove the dreaming. I was told that you worked with him on this scenario for children with severe nightmares. Well, he thought he could apply it here and…”

“We never perfected it,” interrupted David. “We never found a safe way to get rid of them. I mean, we could eliminate the dreams but never without side-effects.”

“That’s what he told us,” continued Hill, and stood up. “He also told us that this was when you went your separate ways. But we didn’t have a choice, as far as we could see. It took him three weeks to have the treatment ready.”

“When did it start?” asked David.

“At five o’clock this evening. Each of our nine subjects was given the treatment and we waited to see what happened. Just before midnight we had yet to see a single mindquack, so Crossley went to get a closer look at Reid and, well, you saw what happened. However, his death is not the reason we’re so pressed for time.”

“And what is?”

“They synchronised. Each of the mindquacks happened within milliseconds of each other, starting with Reid on the stroke of midnight and spreading throughout the facility. A five-second mindquack that ended as soon as Crossley’s head hit the floor. They’re not dreaming anymore, Dr Case. We think they’re communicating. Crossley may have removed the only barrier between their minds.”

Hill had walked around the table to join David, who suddenly realised he should stand up and shakily did so.

“Betcher will take you to the team observing Reid. We don’t know how long we have before the next mindquack, so work quickly.” He held out his hand, and David took it. “It’s good to have you on board, Dr Case. I’m sure you’ll do your predecessor proud.”

David followed Betcher out of the office, slightly dazed. He held tightly to the handrail as they walked down the steps. He hoped that the team would help him understand what on earth he was supposed to do. If those barriers had been removed, how was he supposed to replace them?

“We should just shoot all of them,” muttered Betcher. As David turned to stare at him, he continued. “Your man Crossley wasn’t the only fatality. One of my men had a hypodermic needle pushed through his eye all the way to the back of his skull. A doctor had a feeding tube wrapped so tightly around her throat her neck snapped. Several of the carers are being treated for severe cuts from broken glass. Some of them won’t see again. We should just put a bullet in each of these freaks' heads and be done with it.”

“They’re children,” said David. “Children who were taken from their homes and now they can’t wake up. They’re scared, Sergeant.”

“Well, it’s interesting you should say that, Doctor,” said Betcher, and stopped by a classroom door. “I was just about to tell you not to be scared. They can sense it. You can see it on the scanner. Crossley was scared and look what happened to him.”

He opened the door and ushered David inside. The room stretched out to his left. At the halfway point a sheet of clear plastic had been hung from the ceiling. He stepped into a basic observation area, some broken glass still crunching underfoot, occupied by a man and woman approaching middle age. The woman was hunched over a monitor but the man turned to greet David with an outstretched hand. His blonde hair was scruffy and unkempt, and he hadn’t shaved in days. When he started to speak his breath reeked of old coffee.

“Dr Case, is it? I’m sorry we have to meet under such unpleasant circumstances; I’m told that Doctor Crossley was a good friend of yours. Janet and I were here when it happened, such a shock. Sorry about this plastic as well, not very professional but apparently it’s difficult to find soundproof glass at this time of night. My name’s Patrick, by the way, sorry.”

Betcher patted Patrick on the shoulder. “Patrick and Janet will answer any questions you have; I’m off to do my rounds. Remember, Case. Don’t be scared.”

As Betcher left, Patrick nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, that’s right, sorry, that’s very important. We think Lucas sensed it, you see, and thought he could get away with what he did. Which is why we have a sheet of plastic instead of glass, as I mentioned.”

David muttered something about keeping his emotions in check and walked over to where Janet was standing. Through the plastic he could see the boy lying in his bed. Tubes and wires poured out of him and stretched across the room to various machines, some of which he recognised. He peered through. Just a child. Kept in a comatose state for nearly two months.

A klaxon sound made him jump out of his skin, and Janet wheeled around from her monitor. “.7,” she shouted and grabbed a walkie-talkie from the desk. “Betcher, did you get that?”

“Affirmative,” came the crackling reply. “.7 throughout. Tell the good doctor to hurry it up.”

“They’ve synchronised,” said Patrick by way of explanation. “Very bad news. It started tonight, Lucas started it, they said.”

“Of course he did,” muttered Janet. “He’s the only one who could.”

David watched as Patrick walked over to Janet, put a hand on her shoulder. “I know. So much strength.”

David was slightly thrown by their apparent closeness but decided that their personal life was none of his business.

“Hill said that Lucas was the alpha. What can you tell me about him? Have there been any other significant manifestations of his abilities? Are there any, I don’t know, warning signs before these…mindquacks?”

Patrick shrugged, while Janet seemed to ignore his question entirely. After an awkward pause Patrick started to speak. “We always thought that Lucas was special. From a very early age it was clear that he wasn’t like the other boys. But significant manifestations? Well, I think it was only the one time, wasn’t it, Janet?”

“I’m sorry,” asked David, with a creeping sense of horror growing in his gut, “But who exactly are you? I mean, what do you do here? You’re not Lucas’…are you?”

Patrick and Janet looked up at him, surprise. “What are you talking about?” asked Patrick.

“He’s our son.” said Janet. As David stared, feeling his eyes grow wider, she stared back at him. “You don’t think we’d let them do all this without proper supervision, do you? We love our boy and we’d never let him be separated from us, if that’s what you’re implying”

“One moment he was sitting on the sofa, watching television, the next moment…everything just lifted clear off the ground,” muttered Patrick. “I saw my mother’s grandfather clock touch the ceiling. Then everything dropped. And he didn’t move an inch. Just sat there like nothing had happened. Didn’t look at us. Ten minutes later there was a knock on the door and we were told we were being taken away.”

“We were told we could bring Lucas or they could take him,” said Janet. “What would any rational parent have done?” The klaxon sounded again and she spun back to the monitor. “0.9. Last time it hit 1, Crossley lost his head. If you have any bright ideas, Doctor Case, now would be the time.”

David walked over to the plastic sheet and looked through. The child in the bed was perfectly still. He could feel Patrick breathing down the back of his neck and turned to face him.

“Wake him up,” he said. Patrick turned to look at Janet, who was looking at him like he had lost his mind.

“Wake him up? You know what they can do when they’re asleep. What do you think they’ll be capable of once they’re awake?”

David grabbed the walkie-talkie from Janet. “Betcher, do you hear me? Get Hill down here now. I have your solution.”

It didn’t take long for Betcher to march into the room. “Right, the boss is on his way down, so why don’t you run it by me first?” he instructed David. 

“It's very simple. We simply wake them up. We explain what's happened. We tell them that they've been ill, that we're sorry that they've been so scared. We make it better.”

“No,” said Betcher, and waited for David to try to speak before continuing. “These children are never waking up again. They’re far too dangerous. They’re staying like this, or we’re putting them down. Those are the only two options they have.”

“Sergeant, have you considered your position?” asked David. Betcher looked at him quizzically.

“I’m sorry, do you want to tell me what my position is?” he asked, and began to square up to him. David held his hands up.

“Sorry, I only mean to say you’re talking about executing a child when the only thing separating you from him isn’t soundproof glass, it’s a sheet of clear plastic. And judging from those readings, he doesn’t need to be awake to hear you.”

The klaxon sounded. Betcher spun round and barked at Janet to report. She turned to him, quaking. 

“Two. Lucas is reading two.”

David took a step back as Betcher was lifted screaming into the air. He started to gurgle as if something was obstructing his breathing before his spine arched backwards and he was propelled into the wall with a crack. But instead of dropping him the pressure remained, and Betcher’s head was pushed crunching into the wall until it became a thick bloody slab. As the body fell to the floor David pushed through the plastic sheet to where Lucas lay.

The boy was deathly pale and beyond thin. David gazed helplessly at the tubes and wires emerging from his body, trying desperately to understand which would be the one to wake him up. Finally he grabbed Lucas by the shoulders and shook him, shouting his name, only to be pulled backwards. Patrick and Janet were hauling him away.

“Leave him alone!” screamed Janet, scratching at his face. Patrick landed a punch in David’s gut that was hard enough to leave him doubled over and out of breath.

“Stay away from our son, you don’t know what’s best for him!” the father muttered, staring at the floor. David held out his hand, trying to grab hold of him.

“You don’t understand, if you don’t wake him he won’t stop now, none of them will. They’ve connected…” David gave up trying to convince them, and snatched at a pair of wires leading back into the observation area, trying to pull them free. Janet pushed him and he fell to the floor.

“Don’t understand? What are you talking about? That’s our boy lying there,” she spat. David looked up and saw her draw closer to her husband, who put his arm around her. David wanted to tell them how wrong they were but they weren’t looking at him anymore. Instead they were looking at each other, pulling each other closer together. Their eyes grew wider and Janet’s mouth opened, a gasp forcing its way out of her throat. David heard something crunch. They turned to look at Lucas, they were trying to speak. David heard a ripping noise, and the plastic sheet flew across the room and wrapped itself around the parents as their bones cracked and their bodies were forced against each other. Red spattered against the sheet, and David ran.

As he left the room he became aware of the klaxon sounding throughout the school. He raced along the linoleum corridors, past the lockers and trophy cabinets, before finding the stairs. A weeping man in army uniform clung to the handrail. David did not slow down. As he careered into the front hall he skidded on something wet and fell hard onto his back. The fluorescent lights flickered once and exploded. Getting to his feet, he heard a crash from above him as screaming started and stopped just as suddenly. The front doors slammed open and he took the hint. He picked himself up and hurried outside. A few feet from the building, he turned and looked back as the roof exploded outwards.

Nine figures dressed in white hovered above the school, holding hands, illuminated from below by a raging fire. He could just make out Hill hanging horizontally above them. He was too far away to tell what all the objects sticking out of him were, but he could see that many of them were moving. Hill let out one last howl as he hung for a moment before being dropped back into the fire. The figures turned to look down at David. Their eyes shone brightly, burning white and there was a moment of searing pain, like the worst migraine he’d ever had. And he heard nine voices in unison, with one young boy’s voice loudest of all.

“Are we dreaming now?”


As I mentioned, the word Mindquack is entirely the property of Tom Roberts, who can be found on Twitter @Tom_Wookiee or at his excellent blog here, and much of the credit should go to him. 

Originally I was going to write this as more of Garth Marenghi type thing as it seemed unavoidable with the whole telekinesis thing, but I tend to just end up writing horror anyway. So any Garth-esque moments are mostly a product of my own bad writing, rather than deliberate pastiche, apart from the initial idea, which was always intended to be a bit silly. I really liked the idea of a secret military experiment taking place in a deserted school for some reason. I thought about making the ending longer with David Case running through empty classrooms and the gym and so on, but I think it's already a bit long as it is, and I think the set-up's more fun than the denouement anyway.

There will be a couple more instalments of Witch's Bile on the way as I'm keen to get that finished. I hope you enjoyed the story, please let me know what you think.

Oh, just a random bit of housekeeping. Things on the fiction front have been a bit slow lately as I've been a bit busy. Part of my business has been covering FrightFest for Cinetalk, and you can find my coverage there, as well as my reviews for films such as V/H/S, American Mary, and Dredd 3D. I'm really hoping to have Lovely Creatures ready to self-publish soon, so please keep an eye out for that and let me know if you're interested. I'm dreading the self-publicising part of it so I will have to try and come up with the best and most fun way to do that. Then I can get back to Lovely Creatures 2, which at the moment has the working title of All The Lovely Creatures. There's also much editing and other ideas flitting around, and trying to think about all of them gets me nowhere, so I need to come up with a plan. Anyway, I am hoping to keep the blog updated more frequently. So, thanks for reading. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jonny,

    Sci-fi horror! How did you know? I'm having AKIRA flashbacks, but in a good way.

    In addition to my usual sycophantism, a couple of housekeeping questions: do you want me to handle any editing? I have a bit of downtime before I start my empirical study next year so I can lend a hand if it's needed.

    Also, Martin mentioned you might want to come on up to the (new) house when we're all moved in. You're very welcome to! Do you know when?