Saturday, May 26
Getting fired may well be the making of me. Can science, true science, flourish in a large institution? The Melville Neurological Institute talked a good game, always promising me freedom of scientific research, but, when it came to the crunch, they let the bean-counters shut me down.
I don’t think I was unreasonable. I recognize the need for institutional bureaucracy—I enjoy a regular supply of clean pipettes as much as the next research scientist—but no bean-counter EVER comes into MY laboratory and tells me what to do with my elevators and spreaders!
Turning my basement into a functioning laboratory is proving a challenge, but I remain upbeat. Fortunately, my good friend and colleague from the institute, Percy Jarmon, has helped with some software and equipment, stuff that won’t be missed—even by the bean-counters!
Sunday, May 27
Who died and made electricians lords of the universe? Christ, just put the wires in and leave a reliable on-off switch! How hard can it be?
I’m impatient to get back to my research, is all. Darwin dallied and Wallace almost filched his Beagle. There’s something very zeitgeist about my current investigations. How does a person’s state-of-mind interact with his or her physical capabilities? Science has kid-gloved this terrain for too long. Provocative evidence lies fallow. For instance, the 98-pound woman who lifts a burning bus off her baby. It’s a well-documented phenomenon and one that obviously involves telekinesis. Telekinesis?! Is that sound of a thousand bean-counters having a synchronized heart-attack? Ha!
But I say: let me see the worst, even if it lie hidden in the deepest irrational recesses of mother-love.
Perhaps if these spirit-levelling dunderheads could provide me with three square inches of clean bench space, I could begin. Christ.
Monday, May 28
This diary is to be an old-fashioned document of scientific record. So I don’t have to write an entry every day. I’ll just record the pertinent scientific facts as they occur.
If there ever are any. The place looks like a toilet. And don’t even get me started on plumbers.
Tuesday, May 29
So even a tea urn requires a triplicate bivouac in Brussels? Forget it. I’ll use a saucepan. I’m happy with the seat of my pants. Remember Alexander Fleming. Refused to wash himself and discovered a cure for the clap. And Wood from Pfizer. Took a pill for heartburn and got a ten-hour erection. That’s the science I seek! Wild, free! Isaac Newton stuck a bare bodkin behind his eyeball to see what was there! Yes! I dare to dream of a science without red tape!
But try telling a plasterer that.
Wednesday, May 30
What a mess. Boxes of broken flasks, rubberless Bunsen burners…
The old lady next door is deaf and her Chihuahua is a rat-faced, yap-throated, four-legged fur-ball of depraved pellet-spitting fecundity. Science, at its best, is supposed to be meditative.
Talked to Percy at Melville and, he’s right, I have to be patient.
Of course, Doctor Percy Jarmon has always been three-parts bean-counter. A good research scientist, don’t get me wrong. He’s done some solid work. Just prefers not to rock the boat. The brain remains a neat computational bottom-liner in Percy’s carefully scrubbed hands.
Thursday, May 31
Not much doing.
What’s the point of very little dogs, when you get right down to it?
Friday, June 1
* * *
Wednesday, July 20
You can’t stop science! Ha! Wheels turn, seams rupture, secrets heave!
Had a bit of luck, actually. The old lady next door moved away two weeks ago. And took her little dilly doggy with her. Bye-bye poo-poo.
Anyway, just spent the last two hours talking to Jarrod Johnson, the young chap who, along with his lovely wife Jasmine, has moved in. A very nice young couple, Jarrod and Jasmine, newlyweds, eager to begin a family.
When Jarrod found out I was a neurological research scientist, he showed an almost puppy-dog like enthusiasm. He shyly told me he’d never fully outgrown his love of dinosaurs. At school, chemistry had been his favorite subject. On the internet, he can’t get enough of Richard Dawkins. He works in a bank and seems to crave the microwave-manna of popular science.
So he was only too happy to help with my basement experiments! He’ll be over tomorrow, a bank holiday apparently, at 9:00 a.m. The world seems to be rolling on its back and asking me to tickle its tummy! Jarrod isn’t all that bright, but he’s a very pleasant, open, friendly sort of chap. A scientist cannot ask for more.
. . .
Just spoke to Percy, and he’s going to drop round this evening. He wants to see how the basement scrubs up, and even wants to meet Jarrod. I prickled a little, but didn’t argue. Percy’s help with converting the basement has been tremendous. Also, as a sounding board for my research aims, he’s been invaluable—encouraging despite his bean-tending skepticism.
Now that I’m finally about to dive in, he’s probably a bit nervous. If I were to create some sort of scientific scandal, his name could be tarnished by association. So I humored the old bean.
Thursday, July 21
What a day! Mark well the date! And affix to it your humble servant’s moniker, Doctor Richard Wrigglesworth!
I don’t want to get ahead of myself. What comes of today’s extraordinary breakthrough remains to be seen. But, doubt it not, the annals begin to gape.
Jarrod arrived at nine sharp and, after coffee and a scone, we got straight down to it. It was meant to be nothing but grunt work, building a database for future work. Jarrod sat at a table with just a LED monitor and a 5kg dumbbell before him. I flashed on the screen a series of images. Jarrod looked at each image for exactly eighteen seconds, then performed three standard bicep-curls with the dumbbell. An EEG cap and profuse body-sensor coverage recorded Jarrod’s every bodily blip and mental halloo.
After five hours of this, the data-collection was solid, but I was starting to worry. Jarrod really was a nice guy, didn’t have a bad word for anyone or anything. But was he, as a subject, a little bland, a little lacking in character, personality or substance? I was after dark mysteries of the mind, but Jarrod seemed a whole lot of sunshine and lollipops. Even the photograph of a Chihuahua being dangled over the ferociously eager maw of a wood-chipper didn’t provoke much more than a mild hiccup in his breezy brain wave.
Then it happened. His eyes locked on the screen, a growl sounded from somewhere sub-thoracic. He began flipping the dumbbell about like it was a tea-cozy. The readouts and dials fritzed. According to the computer, the dumbbell now weighed exactly 34 grams… What happened to the other 4,966?!
Even after I shut off the monitor, it took a good thirty seconds for Jarrod to return to normal.
It remains, I have to say, somewhat of a mystery. But a mystery with a big “THIS WAY” arrow attached. The photograph that set him off was of a duck attacking a cute little rhesus monkey. The juvenile monkey had been sitting on the ground, eating a piece of melon, but was in the process of dropping it as he leapt quite hilariously away from the incoming duck. It was supposed to be a brain-pan cleanser, some light relief before something more experimentally hardcore was flashed up.
I quizzed him at length, got him to free associate with ducks and monkeys, but he was a bit shaken and washed out. I suggested we start again tomorrow, and he was more than happy to. He had a flexi-day owing at the bank.
Now I have a sleepless night’s work ahead looking for relevant pictures. But I love it. Seriously, who’d want be anywhere other than Science, the bosom of all curiosity?
Friday, July 22
Burn it to ashes. That’s the likely fate of this record of crime and folly! Dear God! Dare I speak of today? Dare I not? Could it be only yesterday that I… but no, this is a scientific journal. If hell itself yawns, somebody has to stay calm and sift the sulphur.
Jarrod arrived at nine, dot on time. I asked for his thoughts on yesterday’s proceedings—and he seemed not to remember anything out of the ordinary. Odd. “The duck and monkey?” I enquired. All he could remember was a sort of pressure in his head, which he’d put down to the EEG cap being too tight. I let it go, assuring him that today the cap would be roomy.
I must have shown him upwards of thirty duck-and-monkey photos, interacting in various ways, some comic, some violent, some both. Nothing. So I flashed up yesterday’s photo. The effect of it was instantaneous and truly awful. He leapt from his seat, tearing off the EEG cap, flinging himself across the room, crashing into the card table upon which sit the tea and coffee and scones. From there he literally began trying to climb up the wall. Hard to do when one hand was busy holding his head as he cried, “Make it stop! My head’s going to explode!”
I raced to him. He fell, crashing heavily onto the card table, destroying it and our untouched morning tea. He uttered a ghastly groan as he thrashed about in the rubble, finally coming to rest on his side.
I gently rocked his shoulder. “Jarrod?” Was he dead?
But he stirred and, with my help, began to sit up. It was only as he opened his eyes and turned his head to me that I saw it. Almost too awful for words. A teaspoon. The handle fully buried in the side of his head, only the metallic bowl sticking out, like a malicious little supernumerary ear.
“Oh, God, Jarrod!” I whispered.
He was groggy. “Guurrgh…what happened?”
“Jarrod, how—how do you feel?—No, no, God, don’t shake your head!”
“Actually,” he said, breaking into a pleasant smile, “I feel pretty good. Sorry, Richard, but I don’t think I want to wear the brain cap thing again.”
“Oh, that’s fine, no worries. I think we’re pretty much finished, anyway. So, um…your head? You mentioned before, while you trying to climb the wall, that it was giving you some trouble?”
“Yeah,” he grinned, lifting a hand toward the side of his head—which I grabbed and lowered just in time! He continued, “No, it feels good now. All last night it felt weird, a weird sort of pressure. But it’s fine now.”
“Okay. Great. Science is a labyrinth, that’s for sure, ha ha.”
I helped him to a chair—not that he seemed in need of help. I grabbed my phone, thinking I’d call Percy. But, before I rang, I went upstairs and made a cheese, gherkin and lettuce sandwich. I also poured a large glass of milk and took both items down to Jarrod in the basement. He thanked me and tucked in with a healthy appetite.
Possibly I should have been rushing Jarrod to hospital, but something made me hesitate. Something about the spoon, twinkling like a satellite dish on the side of an exposed hillock. As he finished off his sandwich, I went to my bookcase up the far end of the room. This peculiar neurological situation was ringing a bell. Once, an iron rod went straight through some chap’s cerebellum. And he was right as rain. However, instead of pulling a reference book out, I got down on my knees and ran my tongue along the spines of the neatly arrayed books. Each and every one. Made my tongue quite dry and yuck.
Returning to Jarrod, who was downing the last of his milk, I said, “Jarrod, there’s something I have to tell you. It’s…it’s a bit shocking.”
After a little burp, he said, “What is it?”
Stumbling a little at how to speak of the spoon, I instead stayed silent and blew him a kiss. He laughed at that, then stood up, saying, “Same time tomorrow?”
I nodded. And he left.
That was, what, four hours ago? There are really only two theories possible here. The shocking incident with the spoon may have caused my psyche to fray or fracture in some hopefully temporary way. Or—and my blood runs cold to write this in black-and-white—Jarrod has, through the mother of all accidental discoveries, gained an advanced form of cerebrokinesis, the ability to control the minds of others. Oh, if only I could divine exactly where the inside tip of his teaspoon sits!
To be honest, I’d prefer all this to be the result of my own madness. But, as I sit here writing this, my thoughts seem depressingly orderly.
If indeed they be my thoughts.
. . .
You know what’ll stop me sleeping tonight? This question: if Jarrod has gained a cerebrokinetic ability, why would he make me lick my books? The sandwich, sure, perfectly alright. I would have made it for him anyway, without the mental strong-arming. But the blown kiss? Smacks of smart-arsery.
Sitting here, the sun going down, his bland smile starts to seem sinister.
Saturday, July 23
It’s midday. I know what I have to do, but I hesitate. I’m fairly certain it’s not MY hesitation, so I can only sit here, awaiting a stray moment where I might be able to strike with an uncontaminated will.
Jarrod arrived three hours ago, smiling, spoon jutting as brassily as a cuckoo in a new nest.
My first question was, “So what did Jasmine say?”
“Oh, I didn’t see her before she left to visit her mother.”
“Really? How convenient. A sudden emergency, was it?”
“No,” he said pleasantly, “a visit.”
Time to cut the crap. “Jarrod, I need to know if you can control my mind. Did you make me lick my books yesterday?”
He gave an uncharacteristic, chilling little hee hee!
“I did,” he said, before adding another hee hee!
Despite the giggling, he was in fact prepared to talk openly and honestly about the whole thing, which was a relief. At one stage I gave him a fifty dollar note from my wallet—but he was only joking around. I’ve no doubt he’ll give it back.
He was as surprised as me when, yesterday, his desire for a sandwich was realized by my actions. Actually, a lot more surprised than I was. I’d experienced it as the most natural thing in the world. He admitted the book-licking was spur-of-the-moment and experimental. The blown kiss, harmless byplay. Well, obviously it could’ve been worse.
“I guess you realize the enormity of this?” I said to him. “For science, the fate of the world, etcetera.”
“I dunno, I’m a bit disappointed. After I left here yesterday, I went down the street and—”
I gasped. “But didn’t people see your spoon?”
“I wore a hat, dummy. But, you know, it turns out I can only control your mind, no one else’s.”
I felt relieved by that, although I wasn’t entirely confident of that relief. I was, right then, starting to think a lot of rather flattering thoughts about Jarrod. Bland? He wasn’t bland: quite spry, the ole Jazza, always up and about, a real player, this lad…
Now, surely that was nonsense. I would never say “spry”.
“Jarrod,” I said, holding onto the table edge, “this is scientifically—well, it’s off the scale it’s so big. But, at a personal level, we need to get some rules in place. Surely you see my precarious position here?”
He said, “I swear never again, under any circumstances, to control your thoughts, Richard.”
I don’t think I’ve ever been struck by a statement of such deep and unarguable sincerity. I thanked him and he rose to go with a charming, lively, intelligent smile.
It was a good thirty minutes after he left that I began to have second-thoughts. Charming, lively and intelligent? Jarrod? Phooey. And you can kiss those fifty smackers goodbye while you’re at it. This was all deeply distressing and disorientating.
And I’ve been sitting here in the basement ever since, a single sterile teaspoon sitting on the table before me.
It’s a one-in-a-million shot, but my only chance. I’ll fight fire with fire.
I’ll do it for science.
—a knock at the door? Now! NOW!
* * *
THE MELVILLE NEUROLOGICAL NEWSLETTER
The Melville Neurological Institute would like to extend its heartiest congratulations to Doctor Percy Jarmon upon his recent Nobel prize nomination.
Doctor Jarmon’s work on the Yersinia fustus parasite appears to be conclusive and truly ground-breaking. This ancient, insidious parasite, almost undetectable after more than one-hundred-million years of co-evolution, has often been purported, but never proven. There now appears to be little doubt of its existence, thanks to Jarmon’s recent courageous and brilliantly innovative field-work.
The life cycle of Y. fustus turns out to be both simple and ingenious. After invading a host Homo sapiens, the bug, mimicking a billion-branched glial cell, quickly colonizes the cerebrum. Within a very short time the host develops an irrational but irresistible desire to violently puncture his own cranial vault, by any means necessary. Fantastic delusions, sometimes resulting in murder or art, often accompany this process. After the host’s skull is successfully punctured, the parasite’s spores are then released and have a very short time in which to find a new host.
The parasite seems to be very rare but, where it does exist, is rabidly contagious. The strain involved in Jarmon’s recent field-work has been destroyed.
When contacted by this newsletter, Jarmon’s only comment on his Nobel-nominated research was, “Hee hee!”
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Clapping. Good job
Heh, a fun ride with an ominous ending :) Science lends itself so naturally to this journal format, and even though we never see any action directly, we get a great sense of the narrator's character because of course everything is filtered through his eyes. And there's something darkly charming about the renegade scientist, spurned by more sober minds and forced to work in secret. For him, this is no job, it's a calling. Being a story, things must naturally go wrong. There's a good mix of comedy and horror here. The comedy stands out d...
Thanks, Michal. Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene blew me away when I was young. In it he described the way parasites can take over an ant's central nervous system, make the ant act in self-destructive ways that is useful to the parasite's life cycle. Rabies in dogs is, I think, another example. Dawkins speculates that human STD's may act as self-serving aphrodisiacs. Ghastly stuff! Android Jim should thank his lucky stars!
Woo! Congrats on the shortlist! :)
This is great. Funny and engaging with a really nice pacing that keeps you moving through his internal mindscape.
I really enjoyed the ending. Reminded me a lot of Dr. Strangeglove. Good job!
Money always comes first. People who fund something can always shut it down, no matter how good it is or how close to a breakthrough. The diary format of this reminds me of Flowers for Algernon or The Martian. Science without red tape sounds good in many ways. But we can’t forget the freedom the Nazi scientists had and how they abused it. Then their rocket research led on one hand to the space race and on the other to nuclear bombs. More and more reminded of Flowers for Algernon. Doesn’t seem like the most ethical science. Jarrod really g...
Your capturing of voice is spot-on perfection. I've not read many deluded fanatical scientist books but the journal format and determination ( minus your wonderful humour) reminded me of Victor Frankenstein about his project. Not being a scientific expert at all, I loved how you dropped in eminent scientists and referenced them with one humorous detail, bravo. The paragraph below had me in stitches. Very skilled take on the prompt. So even a tea urn requires a triplicate bivouac in Brussels? Forget it. I’ll use a saucepan. I’m happy with th...
Thanks Rebecca. Not British, but a blood relative -- Australian. But, in this context, your hunch is spot on. I grew up utterly infatuated with British comedy. Goons, Python, Fawlty Towers, Carry On movies, the lot. As your story "Driving East in the Evening" powerfully demonstrates -- adolescent experiences have a habit of sticking deep. And, yes again, the narrator was meant to be a cross between a 19C Frankenstein type scientist and Basil Fawlty.
A very well deserved shortlist as this one gave the funny bone a great workout. More please!
From the moment I envisioned Dr. Wrigglesworth prancing around in his birthday suit shrieking "That’s the science I seek! Wild, free!", it was all downhill. I couldn't stop laughing. (Nice holiday tie-in with the visit from the pestis relative. :) "microwave-manna" - magnificent turn of phrase! "Fantastic delusions, sometimes resulting in murder or art, often accompany this process." Snicker. Stop!!! :)
Good Lord, I'm glad Dr. W didn't appear to me starkers -- might've ended very differently! Another subject worthy of scientific investigation is how you manage to be so prolific, Wendy -- I'm not keeping up! :) I like getting the weekly story posted - now I can go read.
I'm a relative newbie here on Reedsy. I have gotten in the habit of randomly circling back through the shorts here to do some reading for pleasure, at the end of the workday. I LOVED this story. You had me with two words in the first two paragraphs. Bean-counters and bureaucracy. My first thought was..oh, oh....there's going to be some payback here. And I was right. Poor hapless Jarrod worked at a bank so he never really had a chance.....but then the ending, a double whammie, so clever!!-:) Did it appeal to me so much because I've belie...