"Wakey, wakey asshole!" a voice says.
I slowly open my eyes to glaring light that makes me wince.
Two people I don't recognise are seated on either side of my bed. On the left, a young skinny guy with a white coat and a name badge. The guy on the right isn't young or skinny (he's old and chubby) and is looking at me - glaring really - with pure hate. There's so much hate in his eyes that I almost want to laugh.
"Piece of shit." he says almost inaudibly, as if to himself.
"I'm Doctor Mark Howard, Sean." Says the white coat on the left.
"Sean?" I say, "I'm not Sean..."
"Oh well you got nothin' to worry about then, eh Seany?" says the chubby guy, with a cruel smile that shows too many teeth.
"Where's Doctor Carlyle?" I ask.
Doctor Howard (If he is who he says he is) ignores this question and asks, "Do you know what year it is?"
"Sure..." I say. But I need a moment to think. "It's... 1920."
"And can I ask you how you reached that conclusion?"
"Well... I met Doctor Carlyle in 1912, spent 6 years training under him in college... then I must have been in the igloo for a year or so? Which would make it 1920. Or 1920-ish, look is this is some kind of joke?"
This too gets ignored by Doctor Howard. "Let's just talk about the films. These horror films that you watch in the igloo."
"Well, they come up on a TV. In the corner..." I can feel myself getting tired now. I don't want to speak to Doctor Howard any more. I'm starting to feel that it might not be a good idea.
"Okay. It's 1920, and you're watching these films. Let me just name a few just to make sure we're on the same wavelength, right? So we've got... let's see now..." he looks down at a clipboard resting on his knee, "Piranha. Horror Express. Duel. Black Christmas. It's Alive. Twins of Evil... and quite a few more. These ARE some of the films that you've seen right?"
"So let's just think about this for a second... because all these films are from the 70's. The 1970s. Which means that your story of watching TV in this igloo, and it being the 1920's simply does not make any sense. You do see that now don't you? I mean, colour TV wasn't even invented until the 1940's..."
"Okay. I mean, I suppose so. I just never thought..."
"And the less said about the force-field the better... listen to me very carefully now, I need to be sure that you understand exactly what I'm saying. Your name is Sean Berman and you are a patient - my patient - here in Boston Memorial Hospital."
"It is March 2010. You've been in a coma for six months. And it appears you've spent this time constructing an elaborate... well, perhaps not quite elaborate, perhaps more of a lazily, ill thought out... fantasy of being an igloo-keeper in a place called, believe it or not, Igloo-Land."
I look at Doctor Howard's face. It's not unkind. Like he's almost sympathising.
"Sean, this er, this gentleman beside me is Detective Stark Bellows of the Boston Police Department. When you're feeling better he'll be asking you some questions, but only under my supervision and only when you're quite, quite well, okay."
"What questions? What for?" I ask Dr Howard.
"Allow me to answer this one Doc." Says the Detective, sounding like a man used to getting his own way.
He leans forward, looks me directly in the eyes and lowers his voice to a mean growl, "Because I want to see you die, asshole. I want to see you fry on the chair, okay? I want to see your brain melt and your eyeballs pop. You can cry all you want to, to doctor bleeding heart here, or you can confess everything to the local neighbourhood priest, telling them all about the terrible upbringing you had and how daddy used to beat mommy until mommy killed daddy... but let me assure you that you are going to pay for what you did. And it will be soon, and I will be there enjoying every all-too-brief minute of your agonising death."
He looks as if he's going to continue for a second, but just turns to Doctor Howard and says, "Now if you'll excuse me doc, I must go and let some interested parties know that our friend Sean Berman is fit and healthy and back with us again. Don't leave town will you Seany, huh?" he finishes with a final glance in my direction. The same cruel smile as before showing the same teeth.
Doctor Armstrong speaks as soon as the Detective has left the room. "I'm sorry you had to go through all that Sean, but Detective Bellows seems to have been given certain ah... privileges that I'm none too happy with. Old friends with the Mayor you know. Probably brothers in some secret cult I shouldn't imagine..."
"He really does hate me, doesn't he? What did I ever do to him?"
"Well, you have had several run-ins with him in the past..."
"Well, with his wife..."
"I had an affair with his wife?"
"Ah, not quite, no..."
"Thank God for that."
"...you killed her..."
"...and his two young children. Tortured them beforehand by all accounts..."
"And you also killed his partner, a Detective Greenly..."
"I did all this? Me?"
"Oh absolutely. Then you kidnapped the Lieutenant himself, tortured him for 12 days and castrated him. Somehow he escaped. Shot you twice, once in the back and once in the head. It's a miracle you survived actually."
"I still don't see..."
"Enough small-talk, Ben, there's not much time. Lieutenant Bellows is at this very moment making his way to City Hall to speak to his friend the Mayor, who will overturn a State Collateral Review which postponed your Death Sentence due to you being in a permanent vegetative state. As soon as he does this he'll set the wheels of justice in motion and as long as you're conscious and fit to plead, your execution will go ahead. This could happen as early as tomorrow."
"Did I really do all those things you just said, Doc? I thought I was dreaming about being a psychopath, a madman... "
"If you were dreaming about such things, then those dreams were based very much in reality. Have you ever heard of The Tennessee Torturer? The Ramsgate Ripper? The Sidwell Strangler? The Manhattan Mincer?"
"No, can't say I have..."
"The Sadistic Surgeon of South Swindon? The Butcher of Boston? They're all YOU, Ben. All nicknames that the press have given to your various killing sprees through the years. Apart from the last one, when you really were just a butcher... oh, and The Cop Castrator, I almost forgot that one.I wouldn't mention in front of Detective Bellows If I were you."
"So what you're saying is... maybe Detective Bellows has a point?"
"Well, he did have until you chopped it off..."
"No, I mean maybe... was that meant to be a joke? I mean maybe... maybe it's time for me to face up to whatever I've done. If I'm guilty of all these horrible things then maybe I should admit to everything and get it over with..."
"Perhaps. Or perhaps there is another way. You won't remember this Ben but we go back, you and I. We were best buddies as kids. Let' see, you were 6 and fearless, I was 5 but small for my age. You saved me from drowning once. We'd built a raft and took it out on the Charles River one summer's day... I lost my balance and fell in... couldn't swim of course, and just when I was beginning to lose hope you dragged me out. You used every bit of strength in your 6-year old arms to haul me out and save my life. And now I can repay the favour. It's not much, but..."
It's a little blue pill. He hands it to me.
"It's called an Aput Nootropic..."
"An Aput Nootropic..."
"Shit name for a drug."
"Well, I didn't make it up Ben. It's a cognitive enhancer..."
"Look, let's not get hung up on names, okay? It's just a very clever way of protecting you and your brain. All you need to do is swallow it, and within a matter of minutes your coma will be re-triggered. Your memory will revert to its previous state within that coma, and you will return to the fantasy land you created. You'll go back to the very first day in Igloo-Land. You can spend another 6 months or so there, until the Mayor gets replaced or the Lieutenant has that coronary he's been heading for... 6 months, 6 years, who knows? It beats the Electric Chair though, surely..."
"You know, I've just had a strange thought, Doc. What if YOU'RE the fantasy and the Igloo-Land is real? What if I've slipped and fell down a crevasse, knocked myself out and I'm in a coma now?"
Doctor Howard thinks about this for a moment then gives me a strange half-smile.
"It's possible I suppose, Ben. But if I am your fantasy, then I'm probably not the best person to ask whether I'm a fantasy or not, am I? You're going to have to decide for yourself. You have the pill, it's up to you. I'll say good night now. Press your buzzer if you need anything."
The little blue pill. I place it gently on the bedside table next to a book. It's a Bible. A Bible with a bookmark. I pick it up and open it at the marked page. There's an underlined passage, Job 37: 9-10. I start reading it, but find myself unable to keep my eyes open. God I'm tired...
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