The seventh wave
I tasted blood, metallic, sweet and warm; I couldn’t tell if it was mine or somebody else’s. I couldn’t move, paralysed I stared at the seemingly infinite darkness behind my eyes and sensed shadows, angry, unhappy shadows moving with purpose all around me; outside of myself. The deafening clamour that screamed inside my head, initially one solid block of noise, slowly separated into fragments of tune and pitch. Voices, lots of voices, unfamiliar voices shouting in an unfamiliar language became separated from the other clamour, the clamour of trolley wheels on a stone floor, of doors crashing and slamming all around me and of my heart beat echoing in my ears.
What had happened to me? Where was I? The last thing I remembered was the gun going off! The gun had shot me at point blank range; it was ridiculous to believe that I had survived. Is it possible to remember a millisecond of your life? A moment so small in time and yet so huge it totally consumes you? The time it took for me to register the gun would fire, to see the minuscule particles of gunpowder shimmer in the wake of the bullet was infinitesimal; and yet I remembered it all. I remembered the last thought that went through my mind before the bullet tore a hole in it, ‘Peace at last’.
The noise had begun to subside, fewer voices now and the yelling gave way to a mellow controlled murmur, no more slamming doors and no more wheels on a stone floor. I watched the shadows wax and wane, felt their presence and sensed their fear, their curiosity and their intelligence.
Certain sounds evoke dread and you never forget them, one of those memorable sounds, for me, is the sound of a nurse tapping a syringe before piercing my skin with a needle.
Then Oblivious dreamless sleep
I opened my eyes, or I should say that I awoke to find my eyes wide open, because that’s how it felt. I went from insensible, no longer aware of anything, to eyes wide open and all seeing. Cautiously I took in my surroundings without attempting to move any other part of my anatomy; just my eyes. Reality, as subjective as it is, needs to be verified by every means available, my sight, what I see to be real, had taken on the habit of illusion recently.
The prominent colour, white, suggested clinical, it also told me that if it wasn’t white don’t trust it. I lay on a hospital cot; straps bound me to it, leaving enough room to breathe and no more. A ceiling fan, unaffected by boredom or routine whirled above me, creating a cool ambient air. I couldn’t see anything else without moving my head; I could however hear the slow methodical breathing of a sleeping person, probably male, probably nurse or orderly. I tried to move, just a little, a little was all the strap around my head seemed willing to allow, but it was enough.
In a chair (the only other piece of furniture in the room) next to my cot, a soft, portly mass of flesh slept peacefully; contentedly. I wondered if nightmares haunted his dreams, but supposed they never did. He had no reason to dread the witching hour; there were no night terrors for the blameless. Having a clear conscience and a full belly must be a satisfying place to be, I envied him that.
He wore a white coat and a small speck of drool, thick like molten lava, stumbled down his bristled chin. The hand gun nestling in the holster around his ample waist threw me a sardonic wink.
Why would a hospital orderly carry a gun, what harm could I do, and anyway how dangerous is a man when strapped to a bed?
Terror comes in waves; I remembered standing with my father on the shore looking out at the Atlantic Ocean. The sun warming our tanned bodies as seagulls cried over head. With our bare feet in the shallow waters, my toes digging into the soft sand and my hand in his, we watched the waves breaking onto the beach together. ‘Every seventh wave will be a big one’ he’d promised me, and we stood and counted as the waves rolled in, one after another. Terror is like that, every seventh wave is a big one, so it’s best to keep the fear under control, don’t let the waves begin to brake at all; unless you want them to, that is.
Logically, I needed to think logically, go back to the beginning and work it out from there. A Quantum thought experiment gone wrong, or possibly right? The gun went off, I died there in the sealed compartment, the universe split into two; so it worked, bloody hell, now what?
A door opened and the guard spluttered and coughed into existence. I stared at the fan. Low voices, then a face appeared above mine; Intelligent, analytical and thoughtful with piercing blue eyes, young, alert eyes in a craggy worn face. ‘Er ist wach, lösen ihn’, said the man. German? Why was he speaking German?
The guard, still half asleep, came over and loosened the straps, just a little, as he did so he gave me a look that said, ’don’t even think about it‘, so I decided not to think about it, not just yet.
‘Wie fühlst du dich?‘
‘Why are you speaking German?‘
‘I’m German, why are you speaking English?‘
’Not according to my records, according to my records you are Hans dieter from Munich suffering from, or should I say afflicted with, acute Dissociative identity disorder otherwise known as multiple personality disorder. Even so, speaking perfect English is not in your records. No matter, I like to practice my English whenever I get the opportunity.’
My mind raced, innumerable calculations leading to innumerable possibilities that were all herded into one narrow tunnel, that led all the way back here, back to…what?
‘I don’t understand, where am I and why am I tied to this bed?’
‘Ok, let’s have it your way, my name is Doctor Hartmann and you are my patient. I’ve had the pleasure of studying you now for nearly twenty years! Within that time you have been an alcoholic airline pilot with an irrepressible desire to kill all your passengers. An agent for the Gestapo wanted for treason; a paralympian gold medal swimmer with a Hollywood lifestyle, and my personal favourite, Loretta, a twenty two year old female florist from Rome; to mention a few of the more memorable personas. This new one, the English one, well this is something new. I hope you realise how upsetting it is for me to have to explain this every time you decide to change character? Anyhow, it doesn’t matter, your need outweighs mine; besides with all the data I have managed to compile on your case I could write a book and retire to Patagonia!’
Things weren’t getting any easier for me, I’ll give you that. It seemed hopeless, but then isn’t that what I wanted all along; a living hell that would offer my misery a place to fester? The reality of a dream made real can often be disappointing, I had liked the idea of eternal torture; it seemed romantic, until now.
‘Ok Doctor, let me persuade you of my existence, then you can let me go.’
The Doctor laughed with real satisfaction, he obviously enjoyed his job.
‘Yes of course, now do tell me who you think you are?’
‘Do you mind if we skip straight to the meaty stuff first? We can go over my childhood, education, formative years later; I feel a need to explain the physics of the situation, the whys and wherefores’.’
‘Be my guest, I have plenty of time; my 11oclock has been restrained and placed in the cooler, something about running naked through the dining area.’
Doctor Hartmann took a notebook and a pen from his brief case, leaned with languid grace into his chair and gave me the nod to begin. He had obviously heard it all before, or so he thought. The orderly stood nearby, he looked like he craved excitement or a sandwich or both.
I began by explaining the idea and how it came to exist. ‘I’m a quantum physicist, part of a small group of thinkers who work only for the military in a top secret bunker outside of London. Several theories exist around the quantum question, but one had caught the attention of the Army, the ‘multiple world theory’. The problem with the multiple world theory is that it exists outside the realms of corroboration, it’s purely hypothetical.
‘A thought experiment had been put forward and debated for years, it was a challenge because it seemed impossible to verify. The military wanted the apparatus, the hardware to validate or disprove the theory in the hope that (should it prove successful) it could be used to build bridges to parallel universes. I know it sounds crazy but, in theory at least, it was more than possible to build the equipment they needed, only ethically wrong to ever use it.’
The Doctor scribbled.
I continued. ‘I moved to the military bunker and left Sarah, my wife, in Edinburgh to complete her contract at the university. It had been a difficult but exciting time for us both. I had my dream project and Sarah had hers and yet we were based at different ends of the country. Even so, the army had agreed that Sarah could join me whenever she liked. I had to sign the official secrets act and remained equivocal about my work, but she knew what I did for a living, it wouldn’t have taken a genius to join the dots.’
The Doctor said ‘hmm.’
‘The idea is this; simply that nothing can be observed without being measured, everything in the universe is measured according to our understanding of time, space and gravity. Only when we get to the Quantum level do we find that the normal rules don’t necessary apply.
The experiment dubbed ‘quantum suicide’ requires a sealed compartment, no observers and a loaded gun rigged to a device that records the position of a single particle. Once observed the particle will be measured to exist either to the left or to the right. If the particle is measured to be on the left the gun fires, if it’s measured to be on the right the gun doesn’t fire.
The experimenter stands in front of the barrel, the gun fires or it doesn’t fire, the experimenter lives or dies. If he survives the first reading, multiple parallel versions of him will die leaving grieving widows. If he dies, he dies in his original reality; all peers will assume the experiment failed. But the experimenter will only ever experience the gun not going off and continue to do so for eternity. Neat isn’t it? Each time the particle is measured and the gun fires or doesn’t fire the universe creates new parallel realities to accommodate other outcomes.
The Military wanted us to build the machine and keep it running until such a time it proved valuable, or we had a better understanding of how we could profit from it.
‘During the time it took to complete the machine Sarah became ill, she’d apparently come into contact with high levels of radiation. She became so ill that eventually the army – who where now running our lives -took her off to a military hospital for treatment. I was ordered that under no circumstances should I be allowed to leave the bunker. I was placed under armed guard twenty four hours a day. However, I had become so involved in my work, in my research that somehow I managed to block her and her illness from my thoughts. That is until the army told me she had died. I wasn’t permitted to see her body or attend her funeral. I had become the property of the state; too valuable to lose, I was nothing more than a highly paid, well fed prisoner.’
‘Such a shame’ said the Doctor
‘Mortified at her death and tortured by guilt I returned to my work and completed the machine. I christened her Sarah. Unable to continue living, unable to die, I chose the machine ‘Sarah’ to decide my fate. If I died, all well and good, I deserved it after all; if I lived I’d experience something no one has knowingly experienced before! I entered the sealed room, started up the machine and made sure that there was live ammunition in the gun. The particle registered left and the gun discharged a single bullet at close range.
‘And so Doctor here I am, in your world, not mine.’
The doctor, never meeting my eyes said.
‘But you yourself said that the experimenter only ever experiences the gun not going off, hence as long as you stayed in that room you would experience a kind of immortality, you wouldn’t find yourself in a mental asylum in Dusseldorf, surly?’
He was right of course, in theory.
‘Hey it was only ever a hypothesis up until now, I didn’t expect this either, I just wanted to die.’
The Doctor sighed, got to his feet and spoke quietly to the orderly.
I stared once more at the fan above my head.
Doctor Hartmann sat down again and asked me to describe Sarah in more detail. I had no choice but to comply with his wishes despite a sense of despondency, of running through treacle. A seventh wave beckoned on the horizon as the terror began to roll ashore.
‘Sarah was a beautiful woman….’ I began.
‘Yes, yes I’m sure she was, but it’s a little vague, please I need details, what did she look like, features, dress and manner’
‘Well she was tall, slim had short cropped blond hair and green eyes. She favoured jeans
and a pullover; she wore very little makeup. She was studious but had a fun frivolous side too, she loved rock music, skiing and even had a tattoo of a butterfly on her left wrist, just above the watch line.’
I felt the first wave of terror crash onto the shore.
‘She spoke fluent French, road a motorcycle, cooked Indian food, learned jujitsu, smoked the occasional cigarette and subscribed to no religious or political persuasion.’ The terror began to serge through my body, taking hold of me, wave by wave.
‘What else do you want to know?’ I demanded ‘I have photos of her on my phone for Christ’s sake, please fetch me my phone.’ I said desperately. I could hear the panic rising in my voice now; I needed to move, to get away, to be able to run, to leap out of the window if I had to; only the room had no windows. I’d become accustomed to living without them, there are no windows in a bunker, strange that the same should apply to a mental asylum!
I felt breathless, trapped, and unable to move; I had to move, what the hell was happening to me? Where was I? This wasn’t a mental asylum in Germany, this wasn’t even a parallel universe; this was a staged event resembling a scene on a movie set, everyone knew their lines apart from me. Then it dawned on me that I had never left the bunker. What had happened to me? Anyone entering that sealed room should have found a corpse. What went wrong? Why did they feel it necessary to convince me of my own insanity with this ridiculous charade?
‘Calm down’ pleaded the Doctor finally getting agitated.
I didn’t want calm now, it was too late for calm, I craved the terror, and I summoned it, terror with its strength and its fury, blind to the consequences, crashing into me, liberating me, taking control. I struggled against the straps (already loosened earlier by the orderly) I felt something give but it was too little, too late, the orderly was upon me. I let out a desperate roar and my cry, the cry of a caged man, trapped and raging against the universe introduced more actors onto the scene.
The orderly tried desperately to get a hold on me, and I thrashed frantically against him, under him; both of us spitting and shouting at one another. I managed to bite him, draw blood from his fat face, sucking at it like a leach; he cried out in pain and fell to the floor; if he never had nightmares before he would now. A nurse with a needle aimed at my neck, her target within reach as my left hand found freedom. Tap, tap went the syringe. Her face was hidden from view by a surgeons mask, remote and inhuman. I had her throat in my grip, crushing her windpipe, feeling the life drain from her like the sand from an hour glass. Then I felt the cold steel of a sardonic gun on my temple. As the podgy pale finger squeezed harder over the trigger I squeezed harder, crushing her delicate neck as the nurses hands clawed desperately at my fingers now pale and bloodless. Someone shouted ‘shoot him for god’s sake’ in English. Just before the gun fired I saw the tattoo of a butterfly on her left wrist hovering above the watch line.
I tasted blood, metallic, sweet and warm…..