IS IT DÉJÀ-VU? Edit
By Giovanna Lagana Edit
Originally published in Short-Story.me 2009
On the dense city street, the hum of traffic and honking would have deafened any soul unlucky enough to be in the proximity, but Jeremiah Black’s preoccupation with his indecision left him oblivious to the ruckus surrounding him.
He wiped his clammy hands on his shirt while he gawked at the haunting building before him. Its unwelcoming doors made him want to scream and scurry away in fear.
His friend Steve nudged him and shouted so his voice could be heard above the noise factor, “Relax, man. What are you worried about? You were excited about this for so long. You couldn’t wait to get here and try out Déjà Vu.”
Jeremiah took a big gulp of air, hoping it would dislodge the tight ball of tenseness that restricted his breathing and his vocal chords. In a cracking voice, he replied, “Yeah, well I had a change of heart.”
Steve half-laughed with mocking eyes. “Oh, because of the dream you had.”
“Yeah, because of the dream.” He continued to swipe his cursed, wet hands repetitively against his chest. But they wouldn’t dry no matter how many times he rubbed them.
Steve frowned then. “You spent a fortune on this trip and have been obsessing about it forever. Now you want to forget about it just because of a dream.
Do you know how stupid that sounds?”
“I know.” He nodded while he focused on his scuffed shoe, rubbing it with the heel of the other shoe, hoping the mark wasn’t permanent and could be removed. As much as he wanted to argue with his friend, Steve had a point. It’d been the one thing he obsessed about. The one hope to make his life sentence of hell on earth bearable. In his mind, it was his only chance for happiness or at least a hint to where his life headed. God knew he needed direction. Hell, he felt like a lost soul wandering the threshold between the dead and the undead. An outcast between both worlds, he searched in the darkness, the barrenness, for guidance. He had been roving this damned terrene ever since his beloved wife died of leukemia a couple of years ago, leaving him alone and lonely.
With no one to love or be loved by, he lived each day in an unemotional state, working robotically from nine to five, only to finish work and head home to eat and sleep. Nothing more, nothing less.
One could hardly call it living. It was more like vegetating oneself to death. A slow death sentence if you will.
But when he read in the science section of a business magazine he subscribed to about this new, revolutionary machine scientists had created that gave the user a brief glimpse into his/her future, and that they were recruiting candidates−who were willing to pay big bucks−to test the machine out, he knew it was his only salvation. If he could get a glimpse into his future even for a few minutes, then he’d know if it was still worth living or if a quick death would be better.
He remembered the call from Dr. Bertram a few months ago telling him he passed the physical with flying colors and that he was the perfect candidate to try out the machine. They scheduled his test on the machine a month after that. Back then, that seemed like so far away. He felt like it would never come. But it finally did.
And now here he stood with his friend beside him for moral support. The machine was so close, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to open the door to the building. His mind kept screaming for him to run, bolt for his life. No matter how he tried to shove the bad feeling and the nightmare he had last night back into the far crevices of his brain where his conscious mind couldn’t see them and where imaginary spiders built webs around dust mites, he just couldn’t.
Images of his naked, lifeless body lying on a stainless steel table, with his head split open, and what looked like his extracted, throbbing, bloody brain resting in a tray next to the table, kept haunting his psyche. In his dream, he knew his death was caused by Déjà Vu.
Even though a part of him died when his wife passed away two years ago, another part of him still lived. It was a miserable life, but a life just the same.
Knowing that the machine Déjà Vu would cause what he saw in the dream, how could he go through with it now? This was wrong, all wrong. He needed to escape, get far, far away before it became too late. But just as he took a step backward, ready to sprint like a jackrabbit running away from the lurking coyote, Steve opened the door to the building. “Come on, Jeremiah. Let’s get this over with.”
He leaned forward to scream for him to stop, stop opening the door to condemnation, but it was too late. Just as Steve opened the door, Dr. Bertram peeked out. With a wide smile, that reminded Jeremiah of Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne in “The Witches of Eastwick”, the scientist greeted them. “Ah, there you are, Mr. Black. I was coming out for a cigarette, but now that you’re here, it’ll wait. We’ve been waiting for you. We thought something happened to you.”
He turned his attention to Steve, extending his hand in greeting. “Hi, I’m Dr. Bertram.”
Grinning in salutation, he answered, “Nice to meet you.” He turned to look at Jeremiah. “I’m his best friend.”
Dr. Bertram pushed the door completely open and a serious, impatient expression surfaced. “The pleasure is mine. Um, I’m sorry to rush you along, but we are on a tight schedule. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you the chamber where Déjà Vu is housed. It’s in the back of the building.”
Too late to escape his fate, Jeremiah hunched his shoulders and walked behind the scientist through the cold, gloomy building. The fact they seemed to be the only ones in the place did not sit well with Jeremiah. The isolated, narrow corridor with the impersonal fluorescent lights made a chill snake up his spine. His heart palpitated and pounded against the wall of his chest trying to break free. Breathing became labored with his struggling heart.
Dr. Bertram must have sensed his unease or perhaps his pallor gave him away. He was sure all the blood had drained from his head by now. He gave Jeremiah a sideways glance and stated, “There is nothing to be worried about, Mr. Black.”
Clearing his throat, he said, “Call me Jeremiah, please.”
“Of course, Jeremiah. Your experience with Déjà Vu will be like a walk in the park.”
Steve snorted. “That’s what I have been telling him all day. He had a nightmare about it last night and is scared now.”
Jeremiah frowned and cussed under his breath. Some best friend Steve was. He’d sic the dogs on him next. To defend himself, he responded, “It isn’t as ridiculous as Steve makes it sound, but—”
The scientist cut him off. “Your apprehension is perfectly natural. You have a vague idea of what Déjà Vu can do and what it will do to you. I would be feeling the same way, too.”
Just then they arrived at the end of the long corridor. Dr. Bertram took a magnetic key out of his pocket and slid it through a coded lock. Red and green lights flashed on either side of the lock and a beam of pink light came on, focusing on his eye as he stood still, unblinking.
A decompressing sound escaped from the sides of the huge, insulated metal door as it opened up to welcome its guests. Jeremiah cursed silently. Would the welcome be friendly or a teasing ploy to induce horrific pain and suffering upon his pathetic soul? He prayed it wasn’t the latter.
“You’ll see there’s nothing to worry about,” Dr. Bertram said, stepping through first. Two other men in lab coats greeted him. They smiled at Jeremiah and Steve. Dr. Bertram did the introductions. “This here is Dr. Joyce and that is Dr. Freme. We three will be monitoring you during the process.”
The two doctors or scientists, whoever they were, looked peculiar indeed. A simple word to describe them didn’t surface in Jeremiah’s mind. One of them had an abnormally elongated neck. His Adam’s apple not only bobbed but visibly quivered with each gulp the man took. Frighteningly bizarre!
The other had bulging, shifty eyes that made Jeremiah dizzy. An aura of uneasiness hovered around this man. He obviously had a heavy secret he wanted to unload on someone else’s shoulder soon, before it ate him alive.
As the freaks of nature and science extended their hands in salutation, both Jeremiah and Steve shook their hands.
Dr. Bertram started to walk to the left of the huge, cold room. “Follow me, Jeremiah. This here...” He pointed to this square blue and silver machine that was about five feet high and five feet wide. Patting the top of it, he continued, “...is Déjà Vu.”
Jeremiah widened his eyes. “What?”
Dr. Bertram laughed and bowed his head. “We get the same reaction every time, don’t we, Shale, Tom?”
The other men laughed, too, although the shifty eyed Marty Feldman’s smile seemed faux.
Steve added his two cents then. “See, bro. Nothing to be scared about.”
Jeremiah shook his head hoping to make sense of the scientist’s words. “How can this be Déjà Vu? How can a machine so small allow us to see in the future? I was expecting something li—”
“Like a CT scan or MRI machine? Yeah, that’s what all our subjects have pictured.”
Inhaling his first breath of relief all day, Jeremiah asked to make sure he understood correctly, “So there are no wires, no needles, nothing stuck in my body? No cutting, no incisions?”
Dr. Bertram looked at his colleagues before smiling reassuringly, “Nope, just a visor you will wear. You’ll sit here on this chair,” he motioned to a simple, cushion grey office chair, “wear the visor, and we’ll monitor everything. We’ll be able to see exactly what you’ll see and how your mind and body will react to the visual and audio stimuli from the observatory room.”
Dr. Bertram pointed to a window situated on the opposite side of the room. “We’ll be in there. The visor has sound and visual monitors. It also will measure your heart rate and blood pressure.”
“Okay, that sounds clear enough. But how does it work? How can it see into the future?”
A slight frown came over the scientist’s face. “We’re not at liberty to tell you that, Jeremiah. I’m sorry.”
Nodding, he asked, “But it does give me a glimpse of my future?”
Dr. Freme, the long neck, responded this time, “Yes, Mr. Black. It will give you a random few minutes of your future. When, we don’t know. The machine will calculate the time and place it will show you depending on certain variables.”
He turned his attention on Steve next. “Mr. Coltrane has to leave before we can start. I’m sorry, Mr. Coltrane, but you can’t be in the room when the experiment takes place.”
Frowning, Steve glanced at Jeremiah. “You okay on your own here?”
He nodded and laughed. “Yeah, sure. Everything is cool. Now’s the perfect time for you to check out the casino near the hotel. You told me you wanted to try it out before we headed back home.”
Steve grinned. “Yeah, great idea. Maybe lady luck will be shining on me today and I’ll hit the jackpot, aye? And maybe you will, too.” Tapping him on the shoulder affectionately, he added, “Good luck, man.”
Shaking the men’s hands in farewell, Steve exited promising to meet Jeremiah later in the day at their hotel room for dinner.
Once his friend left, Dr. Bertram picked up the visor. “Please sit in the chair, Jeremiah, and we’ll begin with the test.”
“Sure.” Grinning in anxiousness, he did as the good scientist asked.
Dr. Bertram put the visor over his head and adjusted its size to fit him precisely. “How does this feel?”
Tilting his head slightly from side to side, he answered, “Good.”
“That’s great. I’m going to join the others in the observatory room. If at any time you feel discomfort or if you find it isn’t working, just say something. We’ll pick it up from in there.”
Barely nodding, not to displace the visor, he grinned. “All right.”
Once Dr. Bertram exited the room, Dr. Freme’s voice came through the visor’s speaker. “Mr. Black, you’ll see this yellow light that will flash before your eyes and will get brighter and brighter. Keep your eyes focused to it, please.”
And just as he described, a dull yellow light came on and flashed before his eyes. It got brighter and brighter every minute until it became bright white and blinding. Closing his eyes instinctively when he couldn’t take it anymore, he heard the machine begin to rumble and hum and then his chair moved forward on its own. He opened his eyes to see what was happening, but the blinding light made him close them again.
Before shutting his eyes, he could make out that the front of the machine had opened up and his chair was being pulled into its magnetic vortex.
He screamed and tried to escape the sliding chair, but he couldn’t move. Within seconds, he was sucked into the machine’s vortex, spinning around faster than light speed it seemed to him, and when his body spun so fast he couldn’t take it anymore, he passed out.
A cold, metal instrument touched his chest, sending chills throughout his torso. Opening his eyes, but not fully awake, he shouted, “Help!”
As he focused, he noted Dr. Bertram stood above him holding a silver device that looked like some sci-fi probe in his hands. “Good, you’re awake, Jeremiah.”
The grogginess and shock began to dissipate and terror set in slow. It originated as a tiny feeling and then blossomed into full-blown hysteria. “Get away from me!” he hollered at the top of his lungs, hoping the cacophony would either send someone to rescue him or intimidate the scientist to move away. But no one came nor did the evil doctor budge or react to his aggression.
He then tried to get up, but restraints on his legs and arms prevented him from doing so. “What have you done to me?”
Shushing him trying to coax him to calm down, Dr. Bertram said, “Relax. Everything is fine.”
Shaking his hands vigorously so the restraints rattled, Jeremiah countered, “Fine! I’m shackled in chains on an operating table with Dr. Frankenstein about to do God knows what to me!”
Dr. Bertram laughed. “That’s funny.”
Feeling his heartbeat rise to his throat and restrict his breathing, he forced his words of rebuttal out. “I see no humor in this. Why are you doing this to me?”
“Because you’re the perfect candidate.”
“Stop saying that crap.” He huffed, frustrated.
At that second, he gazed at the clock behind Dr. Bertram, noticing it was seven o’clock. Steve was probably out looking for him. Hopefully, he had called the police by now.
Dr. Bertram glanced behind him and smirked. “The day flew by, didn’t it?”
He tried to hide his fear. “They’ll be looking for me, you know.”
Dr. Bertram’s grin widened and his left brow lifted. “Perhaps. But they’ll never find you.”
Seeing the glint of certainty in the scientist’s eyes sparked a chill of utter panic to surge through his limbs, making him tremble. In desperateness, he begged, “Please don’t. I’ll give you more money. Please. Just stop. I don’t want to die.”
The doctor frowned and ducked his chin inward, making it fold into a double chin. “Die? Who said anything about dying? No, no, you won’t die. If anything, you’ll live a better life.” Inspecting his sci-fi tool and tapping it while it hummed, he continued, “I’m going to start from the beginning. It’s quite a fantastic and unbelievable story, but all true, I assure you.”
Putting the instrument down, he stared into his eyes with unwavering focus. “You see, Jeremiah, I’m not from your universe. I’m from another one. Another parallel universe. And I’m a surgeon who performs miraculous life saving operations in that universe.” Looking around him, he gestured with his hands as he said, “Or rather in this universe.”
Jeremiah thrashed his head in frustration. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“It’s quite simple, really. My colleagues and I travel from parallel universe to parallel universe looking for the ideal donor.”
The man was mad! “Donor?”
“Yes, donor, Jeremiah.”
He prayed to God Steve had indeed called the police and that they had a hot trail to follow directly to him. Hoping upon hope they would be there any minute, he tried to buy himself some time and asked the quack, “I guess you’re going to tell me I’m the ideal donor.”
The kook smiled wickedly as all mad men did. “Exactly. I searched many, many universes until I came to yours. Unfortunately, the Jeremiahs in those universes weren’t the perfect candidates. They suffered from dementia. Apparently, it was a hereditary condition.”
“When we came to yours, we were worried that you had or would suffer their same mental ailment. We lured you to us by printing a fake ad about Déjà Vu in one of the magazines that you read. As you can see, we did our research thoroughly before we made contact. We knew that was the ideal ploy to get you to come to us.”
He pulled up a metal stool next to the table and sat. “Then when you did, I gave you an intense and complete evaluation both physically and mentally to see if you showed any preliminary signs of the disorder.”
Still coming up empty with ideas on how to escape and getting more desperate with every waiting second, Jeremiah asked, “I guess I passed the evaluations with flying colors, huh?”
Nodding, Dr. Bertram picked up an oxygen mask and turned a lever. A slight hiss of air seeped out of the mask. Jeremiah saw the fumes escape from the hole at the base of the transparent mask. What type of gas was foggy like that? Maybe the kind of gas that could burn his insides the instant he inhaled it? God, no!
The scientist moved in closer to him and replied, “Yes, you did. Not only is your organ in perfect condition, but mentally, you were in the best state. No tell tale signs of dementia.”
He brought the mask to his face. Jeremiah turned his head to avoid it. That’s when he saw he wasn’t alone with the mad scientist in the room. Another person lay on an operating table next to him. His face was turned the other way, so Jeremiah couldn’t see if he was conscious or not.
Dr. Bertram noticed Jeremiah’s fixation and curiosity. As if reading his mind, he commented, “You must be wondering who this is beside you.” Placing the mask next to the table, he walked over to the other table and slowly turned the patient’s face so Jeremiah could get a better look.
That’s when he lost his wits and his mind commenced a teasing dance between sanity and insanity. Damn! The man lying down beside him was...God, it couldn’t be possible. His eyes must be playing tricks on him. Maybe it was some kind of hallucination induced by a drug Dr. Bertram slipped into his system.
Seeming to guess Jeremiah’s mental struggle, Dr. Bertram said, “No, you’re not seeing things. This is you. Actually, to be more precise, this is you in another universe. You see, you had a malignant brain tumor in this universe and were dying. I used a form of cryogenics to freeze your body until I could locate the perfect donor.”
Gulping, Jeremiah said, “You’re taking my brain and giving it to him?”
“Yes. Actually, I’ll be giving it to you.”
“But brain transplants aren’t possible.”
Shaking his head in agreement, Dr. Bertram added, “You’re right. In your universe, it is not only impossible, but it’s also morally wrong. Many years ago at the time of the cold war, some secretly attempted it. First with transplanting dogs’ heads, and then they tried with humans, but no attempt was completely successful. But in mine, it is not only morally correct, but also highly successful. I am the leading doctor in the field.”
He walked over to his table again and picked up the mask. “Now relax.” He put it over Jeremiah’s face even though he squirmed trying to avoid it. “Stop fighting this, Jeremiah. Trust me, my colleagues and I did our homework thoroughly. No stone was left unturned. You are the perfect donor and everything will go perfectly. This is the best solution for all.”
Jeremiah’s eyes became heavy when he began to breathe in the laced oxygen seeping through the mask. His life passed before him in his mind. He remembered the happy times with Grace, her beautiful smile, her blue eyes that mesmerized him with every bat of her long, dark eyelashes, her uplifting and refreshing outlook on life, and most importantly the love she had for him. Oh, how he missed her so. Maybe this was for the best. Soon he’d be with her in Heaven.
Taking his last deep breath before he lost consciousness completely, he finally felt at peace.
“Jeremiah.” A sweet angel’s voice caressed his ears, pulling him out of his catatonic slumber. As consciousness surfaced in his mind, he realized to whom the enchanting voice belonged. It was Grace. He had made it. He was in Heaven with his beloved.
When her voice became louder and clearer, he was able to open his eyes. A bright, blinding light shone into them, making him flinch. Instinctively, he reclosed his lids. Was he supposed to follow the light to her?
Upon hearing her say, “Jeremiah, please open your eyes,” he did just that, squinting at first, but then once his eyes adjusted, he opened them fully. That’s when he realized he wasn’t dead and Grace wasn’t an angel in Heaven. She was very much alive and sitting next to him in a hospital bed. How could that be? Had he lost his mind and was hallucinating? Or had the past couple of years just been a bad nightmare and he had only now just awoken?
With nothing more than a whisper, he uttered, “Grace, is that you?”
She half smiled. “Yes, it’s me.”
“But you died more than two years ago.”
Shaking her head, she replied, “I spoke to Dr. Bertram earlier and he explained your whole situation to me. He told me that I had died in your universe. No, as you can see, I’m very much alive and very real.”
He lifted his arm that felt like it weighed five times its regular mass and brought it to her cheek to touch it. Soft, warm, real. She was indeed here with him. A feeling of euphoria embalmed his heart and he swore it grew two times its size and pushed against his chest cavity.
She drew his hand away from her face. “You need to rest. Dr. Bertram said because of the cryogenic process, it will take a few hours before my Jeremiah’s memories surface in your mind and meld with yours.”
Trying to understand her meaning, he asked, “Your Jeremiah’s memories?”
“Yes, Dr. Bertram left the part of his brain that wasn’t infected with the spreading cancer and fused it with yours.”
In awe, he said, “That’s possible?”
“Yes, here, it is.”
She smiled slightly as she stood. “I have to go now. You need to rest, but I’ll be back later.”
Nodding, he felt pain surge through his skull. “Okay, I’ll see you later then.”
As she stepped out of his room, he sighed in happiness. Although she wasn’t his Grace, she was still Grace. “Soon her Jeremiah’s memories will come to me and I’ll be able to see his...my life with her, and my love for her. Dr. Bertram was right. This is the best solution for us all.”
Thanking the mad scientist, and God, Jeremiah closed his eyes and slept, dreaming of the perfect life and love he would now be blessed with.
Grace came to him with endearing eyes full of concern, of love, of promise. She carried a washcloth in her hands and said, “Let me clean your face and hands.”
He tried to stretch to touch her, hold her, kiss her, but his arms refused his desires. Instead, his hands closed around hers, his nails dug into her palms, drawing blood. She hollered, “You’re hurting me, Jeremiah!”
A deep, gurgling voice cursed, “Damn you, you cheating whore!”
Fear and tears filmed in her eyes. “Please, Jeremiah, I love you.”
The voice cackled. “That’s what you call it? Were you loving me when you were screwing him?”
With tears streaming down her cheeks, she looked confused and frightened. “No. I never cheated on you. I love you.”
He pulled her toward him, wrapping his hands around her delicate, slim neck and tightened his grip millimeter by agonizing millimeter. “Don’t lie to me, whore! I may have been in that cryogenic state, but I still saw everything. You and the good Dr. Freme doing it in our home while I lay in the hospital like a vegetable for months.”
“Is that how you show your love for your husband who loved you with all his heart? I would have given up my life for you and you just threw away everything we had for him.”
Tiny veins became visible in the whites of her eyes, thickening, then bursting as he put force in his restricting grip. Then the redness traveled to the rest of her face and temples while she screamed, “Please, Jeremiah, no...”
He awoke with a start then, realizing it was a nightmare. His head pounded and sickening bile swished in his throat threatening to suffocate him. He turned to the side to liberate himself of the vile, thick liquid.
The condensed, acidic mucus began to ooze from his lips onto the tiles. He convulsed with revolt. Oh, it was disgusting as it continued to rise into his mouth spilling out like a fountain of guts. And as it gathering on the floor, it looked just as bad. Black and orange tar, could it be? That was inside him? Yuck!
Once his innards had most surely all vacated through his mouth, he finally was able to catch his breath and inhale deeply. He tried to compose himself. Such a horrifying dream. It felt so real, like the one he had of his body on the operating table the day before. Why? Why did he dream that?
Before he could rake his mind for an answer, he heard a quick cough. Glancing at the room’s open door, he saw her standing there, smiling at him. His heart skipped a beat at her beauty. “Grace! You’re here. ”
“Hi. How are you feeling?” She entered the room and her smile disappeared instantly. The look of repugnance came over her as she scanned the perimeter. Obviously, his aromatic guts he just spilled by the other side of his bed were to blame.
“I’m okay.” He wiped his mouth, hoping to conceal the fact he had just vomited, but the thick, tar-like mucus stayed on his hands. The horrid stench of his spilled guts on the floor continued to rise into the air, spreading, tempting him to gag once more.
She walked up to the bed and peered at the floor. “Oh, poor you. I’ll clean you up.”
Embarrassed and appalled that she would even consider to clean such a disgusting disgorge, he stretched his hand out to stop her, “No, you don’t have—”
But before he could say more, she disappeared into the bathroom. While he heard the water running, a searing pain cut through his brain making his vision blur. It felt as if a chain saw had just latched to his head and seared away at his hair, skin, skull, and then brain. Suddenly an inner voice spoke to him. It sounded like his own voice, only this one was brewing with hatred. In that instant, he recognized it as the voice from his nightmare. It said, “Whore, stinking whore.”
What was happening to him? Was he hearing voices?
The voice spoke again. “No one cheats on Jeremiah Black and gets away with it. That whore will pay.”
By God, it couldn’t be. She had said his thoughts and memories would become his own. He had waited for them. Anticipated them. Yearned to again feel the love for Grace he had been longing for, for so long. But this was far from that.
As the other Jeremiah’s mind began melding with his, he realized the hereditary condition that had plagued the other Jeremiahs in the other universes had also affected this Jeremiah. And he screamed in his mind No! NO!!!!
When Grace stepped out of the bathroom with a washcloth in hand, sporting a cheerful grin, and said, “Let me clean your face and hands,” he knew it was Déjà Vu. His nightmare was coming true just as the other before it did.
Just before the other Jeremiah’s dementia inflicted mind completely melded with his, he had one last, fleeting sane thought. Dr. Bertram and his colleagues, the freaks of nature and science, didn’t do such a great job on their research.