Henry's Trip (the butterfly nightmare)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Henry is a scientist with aspirations of greatness in his field. By going against nature he creates something truly sickening. Written 05/2013

Submitted: April 15, 2016

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Submitted: April 15, 2016

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Shill butterflies.

 

Henry had been working in his garden that bright Sunday when he had his big idea. He was sharing thoughts with his friend, a neighbour called Pierre. Pierre had moved to the UK to train as a chef in the kitchens of the Savoy in London in his youth and ended up staying, finding to his infinite joy that the British appetite for fine French pastries was all consuming and unquenchable. This served him well his entire adult life as he ran his award winning pretty little cafe on the seafront. Now retired he spent most of his days chatting over the fence with Henry, a fully employed scientist, aged 49, who never went out except for gardening supplies and worked the usual 9-5 in a local medical testing facility where he mainly injected students with all kinds of potions they'd concocted in order to see if their work had any validity. Once he'd invented a cure for the common cold, but it turned out the resistance was so low that after one dose you'd become immune and render it useless. This, his biggest achievement deemed pointless by the world not only that he knew but as a whole. It was an unarguable fact. Henry used to sit and ponder the years it took to create such a wonder drug, the elation that so rapidly turned to a flaccid sort of depression. Now he digs, plants and rips out weeds all weekend so his free time isn't taken up by thinking too much. He tries to stay positive and doesn't allow himself to get down. However at the time he was miserable. After such a huge disappointment Henry wasn't the same man. He spent a couple of years on anti depressants and chose to work in the most menial tasks in the lab so he didn't have to think, only feeling able to take simple basic instruction. It was a Saturday morning in November that he stared out of the window, having sat in the dark all of Friday night. He saw what a state the garden was in and all at once felt an awful guilt that he'd neglected it so and leapt up rummaging through drawers trying to find the key to the shed. Once he had it, he took out his rake, his spade and he began to dig. As soon as he started he found himself completely lost in it, once one area looked better there was always another that needed work, needed him and it was then that the light came back into his life and ideas started to readily flow again. He has been out here every weekend ever since and has the most beautiful garden in the neighbourhood.

He never married and only ever went on a couple of dates in his life, which didn't end especially well. Henry found the company of women awkward being a pretty boring chap by self admittance, and women he found attractive would never have agreed to anything he could have suggested, in fact they found him physically repulsive. He always wore brown. Brown suits for work and a brown tie with a white shirt. It was the thin kind of tie which tucked into the top of his brown trousers. He wore brown shoes and socks, he only ever bought brown socks so that he never had to concern himself with wearing odds and had 3 pairs of shoes. All brown.

His weekend attire was for gardening and popping to the supermarket and the hardware shop so he mainly wore things he'd had for many years and hardly ever bought new, although he was beginning to bust out of some of them as his middle aged spread formed.

“the butterflies sure are happy here, Henry” said Pierre, passing a cup of tea over the fence

“I know, that's the Sweet William, they absolutely love it!” Henry replied proudly.

Butterflies flickered over their heads and in and out of the trees and shrubs, finding each other and pairing off into amazing geometrical dances. Painted ladies, cabbage whites, red admirals, flitting in and spiralling off, often pausing on a leaf long enough so that one could admire the incredible artwork on their wings.
“They're like flying paintings!” Said Henry as both men slouched in their deckchairs and gazed up at the display that nature was putting on for them.

“Yeah, they are, wow imagine that...” Pierre trailed off. Henry looked at his friend and all sorts of mental images came to mind.

“Yeah, the Mona Lisa flutters by, or Millais's Ophelia” he replied.

“How about a Banksy?” said the pensioner. Both men laughed intensely.

 

That was the Sunday. What ensued the following Monday was the beginning of a revolution in corporate marketing and a travesty against nature. Unwittingly the Frenchman had given this washed up scientist an excuse to bask in the limelight he so craved and felt he so rightly deserved. An idea that would be worth a fortune to someone, he supposed it would be him. Henry was about to begin work on his greatest idea yet!

 

The advertising butterfly. Why stop there, after this he'd work on trees that grew corporate logos into their very bark. After that clouds that formed messages, then...who knows!

 

Chapter 2

 

Monday morning was an exquisite new beginning for Henry and he sang something he'd heard on the radio loudly in the shower. He ate his usual breakfast of toast with margarine and cornflakes, no sugar, but as he ate this morning he did so smiling through the meal. He smiled and hummed a popular tune as he dressed for the day. He wore the usual brown outfit but today he negated the tie and undid his top shirt button. He felt freer as he sauntered down the road to his car, his usual foot-dragging schlepp completely evaporated, and as he pulled into the office car park his sense of confidence just kept growing. He sat in the car while the song on the radio reached it's crescendo and sang along to the last few bars. It was a new song which was getting far too much airplay in Henry's opinion, but today he found it truly alluring with a man speaking the lyrics which repeated over and over

“You can't buy love

But you can buy fame

You sell your soul

And you watch the flames

Rise up, rise up...”

Henry strode into his small corner office and shuffled papers before heading directly into the laboratory and demanding everyone stop what they're doing immediately and listen to what he has to say. The staff were dumbfounded. They'd never seen Henry like this, not since 12th October 2029. That was the day before he found out his most important discovery yet was an epic failure. Once they had gathered he made the announcement that he had the basis of a groundbreaking theory and was looking for a couple of volunteers to get on board the project and make it reality. It might mean late shifts for no pay, it might mean staying late when it's not convenient but it would definitely mean they would be a vital part of the team that would go down in history for changing the way we utilise Nature. It was to remain confidential except to those involved.

At first nobody came forward, a few of them looked at each other tutting and raising their eyebrows, meandering back to their beakers to carry on whatever they were doing. The ones that remained seemed inquisitive but unsure. Their faith in this man was not great. Seeing this, Henry became enraged but tried to keep his cool, unaware that he had a tell and that was his face turned bright red.

“It's not fair that you don't trust me” He said. Not shouting but really wanting to. “I've done everything I'm asked in this place without ever complaining and I haven't put forward an idea for a very long time. You!” He pointed at Carolyn Grimes who glanced away then at the floor as he ranted calmly as only he could “You came up with that...whatchyamacallit..er..underwater living. Yeah, the greenhouses under the sea, fully pumped with oxygen and all that. We all know, Dear, well done, Dear. A hugely successful project and I'm proud of you. 30, 000 families living under the sea and counting, I heard they were starting an entire town! I'm glad for you, Carolyn, very pleased, I really am. And you, Simon! You made sure we were all involved when it came to your veterinary drug. For farmyard animals, yes, the promise of no more swine flu, no more foot and mouth, no more TB, I remember. That didn't work did it!? And you managed to wipe out all badgers from Britain in the process, with it being fatally poisonous to them and all that!” The sarcasm was obvious and Simon looked annoyed and ashamed all at once. He slanted his eyes and glared at his accuser before storming out of the room. Henry was losing his patience now. How dare they treat him with this type of disdain. He was so confident in his idea and in himself that on this day he had expected at least 5 of them to jump forward and beg for a place on the team that would make history.

Susan, a small woman in stature and presence held up her right hand.

“ Ah! Susan! Great! Who else?”

“I just want to ask...said Susan...what is the project? Only I can't agree now, unless I know what it's for...” She trailed off, adjusting her glasses and scratching her nose.

“My Dear, as I've said I can't tell everyone. It's only a theory at the moment, I can't have every Tom Dick and Harry trying to beat me to it now, can I? Faith! That's what I need from you people. Faith. I mean, for God's sake, the government trusts us with our work, that it's valuable and that they're not wasting their money. We are the finest scientific minds in the Country! Come on people!” No one came forward. They all turned their back on him and went on with their work, muttering to each other about how he's going crazy again.

Henry calmly walked back to his desk in the corner office. He shut the door and pulled down the blinds. Sitting at his desk and staring out of the window at the car park, tears involuntarily fell from his eyes and he put his head on the desk and wept. After several minutes he heard a knock on his door. Collecting himself he stood up blinking and brushed himself down. He used his deepest voice

“Enter”

A man of around 25 with spiky blonde hair came in whom Henry vaguely recognised but didn't know. “Hello there. What can I do for you?”

“I was out there, just then you see. When you were talking. Some of them out there, well, they're saying that you're mad and all that, but I don't see it”

“yes..?”

“I don't think you're mad, erm...”

“Henry. Call me Henry”

“OK. Henry. Well, I don't think what you're saying sounds mad at all. At least, how are they to know it's a crazy idea or whatever, when they don't even know what the idea is, coz you won't tell 'em and all that.”

“Quite.” Said Henry. “Come in won't you? Sit. What's your name?”

“I'm Sandy Newman, I'm the new guy, I'm from upstairs”
“Yes I've seen you around the building. What do you do here, then?”

“I'm a technician. Studied physics and biology at Uni. Got a first in both. This is my first job, see”

“I see. So...are you interested in joining me?”

“Well I am. I am interested for sure. Only...what is it, though, really?”

“I tell you what..Sandy...lets meet this evening and remember. Don't say anything to anyone. It's gonna be you and me, boy! We're gonna be famous, you mark my words” He reached across the table to grab Sandy's hand and shook it enthusiastically. Sandy smiled briefly at his potential mentor and colleague, then his face fell back to being expressionless.

“See you at five thirty...in here, then”

“Yes, boy, see you then”

He was an awkward young man, who stepped out of the room backwards for some reason, and as he shuffled away Henry felt the hope rise up in his belly.

 

The day went so slowly. All Henry could think about was how to relay such mind-blowing information as his theory to his young apprentice. After all, it was mildly unethical and he knew it. He just hadn't admitted that to himself yet. So caught up in the future, the potential of fame and fortune. He envisioned his face on the front cover of New scientist magazine, scratch that, Time magazine. He pictured the headline 'Man of the Year – Henry Egoyst creates new medium for artists and advertisers everywhere. Nature conquered in new exciting ways. The big questions answered by the new God of Science.' Now all he had to do was sit down and focus, let all these thoughts go by the wayside and really think. How was he to actually achieve this. He was confident in his skills and knowledge of genetics as he studied genetic engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles for 3 years after completing his degree course at Oxford. He then worked for 6 years for a pharmaceutical giant specialising in mind altering psychoactives for extreme mental conditions, before returning to his home in England and finding the job he has now where he has been for the last 20 years, only ever having had one day off for a very bad head cold and that was 5 years ago. The other side of his idea however, well it wasn't his speciality. He knew there had been advances in technology within the art world. Just as there were many more musical instruments now compared to the basic orchestra available when he was a boy, there were also many more mediums for creating artworks, from spacial radial painting, to laser invasion technology and splatter-light-clay which formed sculptures using emotions. The biggest and best of the new techniques was by far the Trans-Spangle press which allowed the artist to drive a micro-lite contraption on the edge of space making movements with the craft, transmitting invisible lasers via satellite to an electronic malleable canvas background based here back on earth. The viewer here on Earth could see the paintings magically form in front of their eyes with the artist being around 600 miles away. They were being used more and more in galleries around the world. Henry didn't understand that kind of thing at all. If he found someone who did he could be part of this revolution. He was hoping that with age on his side maybe Sandy Newman would know something about all that. He had seemed a bit shy, not especially the art loving, night life kind, but if he wanted to talk that was good enough for Henry. Together they would find out all they needed to know and they would triumph. It was a sense of knowing, a gut instinct that told Henry this was why he was born, his world was soon to open up massively and he felt it in every pore of his skin.

It was 5.37 when the knock came on Henry's office door. “Come in, boy” He called to Sandy who entered as sheepishly as he left earlier. “Come in, sit, sit, please” Henry implored.

“Well” said Sandy. “I came. I wasn't sure I was going to. I did though, as you can see”

Henry stared at the young man. 'Very puny. And seriously simple. How did he make it through college and through his job interview for this place?' were Henry's thoughts. “Well, this is the start of it all, boy” He bellowed and sat opposite him in his rather uncomfortable and somewhat noisy swivel chair. All the chairs around here squeaked terribly. “I've decided to create a new art medium, and the possibilities are endless. You know about the art world, Sandy Newman?” Sandy said nothing. “Well?” Henry pushed him for an answer. “Well a bit, well not really, well I think I know what you mean about new art mediums...like the splatter-light, erm...clay? Is that what you mean?”

“Sort of, boy. Sort of, only think bigger, think if we could harness Nature to work as our canvass! Men have done it since the beginning of time...chalk horses on hillsides, strange stone plinths and sculptures, hell even sky writing. That's been made into a true art form in our time. When I was a kid it was just for advertising and marriage proposals in films. Pathetic. What we're doing is so much...bolder!” Henry's hands began to shake with excitement. “I've the idea, see...to mix two currently unrelated practices, genetics and graphics, hell, even holo-graphics if you wanted! I like that even better!”

Sandy Newman stared at his potential mentor. He couldn't take it all in. “What?” He said.

“What? WHAT?!” Henry shouted, losing patience “I haven't even explained it yet. Look, boy..Sandy, do you know much about holo-graphics, scratch that, do you know anything about it?”

Sandy sat back in his chair which made an awful screeching sound as he did. He placed his hands behind his head. “Actually...to be honest with you...yes”. Henry's eyes widened and Sandy went on

“I know a bit about holo-graphics. Quite a lot actually. In fact. The reason I wanted to work here in the first place, get in on the ground, so to speak, was, well. I've got plans of my own, for the future, when I've been here a while, like.”

“Oh, really, boy? And what is it? I've told you all about mine...”

“Well, I've been working on something since Uni, really. It's sort of my baby, and if it works, well...it will basically revolutionise the way we use computers today. It's organic see. Organic matter, but programmable. It's pretty amazing, and I'm pretty sure it'll work too. I just can't believe no one's come up with it before! It's simple holo-graphics meets bio-genetics...”

The young man stopped talking but remained in his relaxed pose for some time. Confidence oozed from the boy and Henry saw that the two of them were quite alike. He almost morphed into a different person, someone devoid of awkwardness, when discussing his ideas, like Henry himself he had the passion for science and creating something new and important. He thought that this would be a great partnership and an affinity with Sandy Newman grew instantly inside him.

 

Chapter 3

 

It wouldn't be long before he saw him as something of the son he never had. As the weeks went on, both working for no pay after hours, developing Sandy's programmable matter, they grew close as friends. Henry had never had a real friend, except his neighbour Pierre who he concluded had no choice but to talk to him really as he lived next door and the fences were low. If this was to work it would be the absolute key to ensuring Henry's own success and the accolades would be shared equally, two great minds, years apart but completely on the same scale of genius.

Watching Sandy work filled Henry with a sense of pride he'd never had in his solitary life. He enjoyed the feeling. Having emotions at all that weren't either loneliness or remorse were new to him altogether. He hadn't felt this pleasure at work for years.

He hummed a tune from the radio, the one he had heard incessantly for the past six months.

“ah, the devil's fairground...the band, yeah good stuff” said Sandy from across the room. He started to sing

“You sell your soul and you watch the flames rise high..” then broke back into normal speech “yeah, I like that one”

“I didn't realise I was making a sound. Sorry, Son.” This is how he had recently started to address the young man. Sandy didn't object the first time although it made him feel slightly uneasy and now it was too late to say anything without causing embarrassment. “And I think it's rise up. The words, you know, in the song, rise up not rise high.” Henry concluded, before going back to his equations. His eyes almost glazed over from staring at numbers and his brain had locked into mathematical mode. He needed some air. After grabbing some coffee he strode outside and took in several deep breaths inhaling nothing but pollution due to the building being right next to a motorway. He sat on the steps and just breathed, feeling his mind clear by the second.

It was just before midnight of the seventh month since beginning their work that the colleagues made their breakthrough. The fleshy mauve worm-like creature young Sandy Newman had given birth to, it could not be disputed, was alive. An organic computer, not only able to be programmed but also with the ability to bend this reality through a series of varying vibrational settings and become interdimensional. This way it could manifest as a hologram, or more simply a light being of any programmed shape or size or indeed design. This would lead the way in holo-graphics and interdimensional communication but also the art world, as any design could be programmed in to it's being. Now this correlated directly with Henry's original plan, only he was very adamant his idea involved the most beautiful of insects, and his inspiration, the butterfly.

Several more months went by before the worm had been developed into what we know as the caterpillar and eventually the pupae for the peacock butterfly, which was decided on as it's wings had a nice large canvass, but with all the properties of the original worm. The two men carefully glued their pupae onto sticks and set them in among leaves and plants inside a terrarium the full length of the wall. They usually kept strange amphibians in here, or peculiar lizards containing life saving drugs, or mind altering chemicals that they needed for their work here but today it was a chrysalis haven. A stick 3 metres long with 20 pupae attached spaced ten centimetres apart stretched the length of the tank and the humidity was kept at the same levels used to rear genuine butterflies. It was based on the creature's organic structure and genetics so it made sense. The two men came in to work each day and busied themselves with general techie stuff while they waited impatiently until everyone left and they could check their larvae. The pupae still hanging there, unchanging, day after day. Two weeks went by and they sat, glued on exactly as they were when the men had placed them there. Another week went by and no change, but then on the Wednesday in the fourth week of the 10th month since they began something happened. They waited until everyone had left the building and uncovered the tank as usual, expecting to find nothing just like the day before and the one before that. Both men's jaws dropped as they pulled off the cover unmasking a display of 9 perfect butterflies fluttering around, one still to hatch. They watched them flying around in their terrarium for a while, astounded that they'd created such beauty and almost in disbelief that these were the little beings they had made. They looked so real. Just like the ones in the garden, Henry thought. Before their eyes the 10th one burst out of it's shell and began to float around with the others, stopping on a leaf here and there to ponder it's existence. The men looked at each other and threw their arms around each other in a tactile display neither of them had ever shown or been shown.

Henry broke free after several seconds, “I've been saving this, boy”

He went to his corner office and into the adjoining kitchenette which contained a mini fridge, a sink and a travel kettle, returning almost instantly with a large bottle of single malt whiskey that he had been saving for a very very long time. It was covered in dust “that's a good sign, that” Henry commented as he brushed it off with the sleeve of his lab coat. He took a couple of measuring beakers from the washing up “these'll do quite nicely” he said pouring them each a large dram. “there you go feller, 50 millilitres of the finest that is.” passing a beaker to Sandy. He grasped it eagerly and the men drank together and basked in their long awaited sense of satisfaction.

“Now all we've got to do is to see if we can get them to be born as paintings” Henry pointed out.
“Oh that's easy. I've got the technology devised, it's just a case of getting on with the next batch. What shall we put on them? I like Miriam Hoserender. Did you see that piece she did lat week that won that prize? It was on the news, the dishevelled shed thing”

“Fortunately I can say that I did not, Sandy. I really don't get it, all that modern stuff. I want to start with a classic painting from modern history.” Henry chuckled recalling his conversation over the garden fence almost a year ago.

“My friend, well my neighbour, Pierre, well he thinks a Banksy would be funny, so why don't we use Scarloop.”

“Scarloop?”

“You sound surprised”

“Well, I am. A bit. I'm surprised you've heard of him to be honest, thought you weren't into all that modern stuff.”

“What Scarloop does is different to all the others, he's sort of like the Banksy of today if you want to analyse it.

“How?”

“He's the first to get noticed for what he does, even if fifty other St Martin's students are hot on his tail claiming it was their style...like Banksy, I mean stencils aren't unique it's what he did with them...and that he was the first to. Also, the world is his canvass, and he has a great sense of humour and uses it to put his point across...”

“Oh I see, you like the jokes. Ah, well, if you want to mark our first test programmed butterfly wing pattern in the world ever with a joke, well, OK fine, if that's what you wanna do, that's fine with me, it's just, I really think it deserves something more, I dunno, important. Yeah something really important. With meaning and soul and beauty, like the butterfly itself. Otherwise it seems to taint what we're doing. Know what I mean?”

Henry looked down at his feet. He needed to explore the possibilities fully and he already had a conference planned for the following month, where he and his apprentice could unveil their first ever programmed butterflies to a selection of the finest scientific minds, corporate investors, and some of the leading figures of the advertising industry. He would tell his young colleague nearer the time, he was sure to be excited.

 

Chapter 4

 

As the finished Scarloop pupae hung from their branch the two men spoke less and worked more, checking their invention every evening and sitting with the tank, keeping the humidity levels just right and making sure the greenery the creatures were to wake up to was succulent and healthy so they could build up their strength for the true experiment. Sending them out into the world.

A week before the conference Sandy watched as Henry and an unknown man with a clipboard sat in his glass corner office and seemed to be involved in very serious discussion. He felt uneasy as he stared through the lines of the open blind. He decided he needed to find out what was going on, he suspected Henry was talking about their project. Without him. If this was the case he would want an explanation and it had better be a good one. He was working himself up into a rage and realised this, taking several deep breaths he charged over and hesitated, before knocking strongly on the door.

“Enter” said Henry in his silly extra deep voice. Sandy Newman entered a lot more casually than he normally did, taking a large bold footstep into the room.
“yes..?” enquired Henry, with a quizzical look on his face which bore through Sandy and spoke the words 'How dare you?!' with more emphasis than actual words ever could.

Sandy who had built this situation up in his mind to be something treacherous, whether it really was or not “What's this about then, Henry?” He then added “Old chap” for facetious reasons.

“Some sort of secret meeting is it?” No one spoke, the stranger looked at the desk seemingly fascinated by the grain of the wood, while Henry glared at Sandy. The silence was uncomfortably long before he concluded his questioning simply by adding a rather aggressive “Eh?”

Henry looked at the man opposite him. He nodded and smiled at the man, offering confidence that he'd deal with this, that this was nobody important, even someone playing a joke.

“Very Funny, boy” Henry replied. “Now, if you can't tell, I am in a meeting with this gentleman so if you don't mind...”
“Ah, but I do, see.” He leaned across the room stretching out his skinny arm to meet the stranger's hand. “Sandy Newman, co inventor of, well, the thing I think he's telling you about. Without asking me, mind. Just so you know. If you're talking about what I think you're talking about, then don't let him tell you it's all his. I did most of the work for one thing, and I don't expect you to believe it, but what we have made is not available for exploitation, it's for exclusive use for the top art schools and galleries in the world, so I don't know who you are, erm, Mister but you shouldn't be discussing any project he's on about, see, coz it's not his, see. It's mainly mine if anything.” He cut off, the man looked blankly back at him. “What are you talking about anyway, and who are you?” Then turning to Henry “Who is this?”

The stranger stood up and he was some 6 feet 7'' towering over Sandy who was usually considered tall. This put him on edge but he stood his ground. “Young man...” The stranger started to speak, only as he did his lips hardly parted and it was an American drool that poured out. “...I have come all the way from Texas to talk to your mentor here and I don't expect to be spoken to in this manner”

Henry broke in “Sandy Newman, my partner, sorry I should have introduced you sooner.” Directly addressing Sandy now he spoke softly “If you'd let either of us get a word in, Son, this man is here to help us, I was going to tell you later on, you know, after hours.” His face had softened but Sandy had already seen the glare he was given when walked in to their discussion and he trusted his gut instinct that something was wrong here.

“So, who is this then? Tell me now instead.”
“Mr. Solice is an investor, that's all. He might be interested in funding our future works. Look Sandy I was going to tell you, there's a conference next week.”

“Oh yeah, about what?”

“ About, you know...about our creation. I'm going to unveil the hatching live in front of an invited carefully selected audience”

“Oh really, and you've arranged all this without telling me, why why would you do that?”

 

Sandy was angry. He went home that night bang on 5.30. He didn't stay back after hours to watch the terrarium, instead he went straight home and phoned his brother who's wife was a lawyer and he explained what was happening. She met him at his office the next morning. It was time for Henry to feel the frustration of wondering who Sandy was talking to, for the wool to be pulled over his eyes for a change.

Sandy wanted contracts drawn up which showed majority ownership in the idea over Henry, since he felt he had done most of the actual work. When Henry received the lawyer's request he employed his own and soon there were legal demands flying back and forth, offers and counter offers to buy out the other and eventually the lawyers got bored dealing with it and stopped taking either of their calls which was unfortunate more so for Sandy as he now never spoke to his brother.

With the patent in both their names it would have been easier to decide on an equal split of everything gained from their idea, but now the legal balls had started to roll it was hard to envision a mutually agreed solution.

The day of the conference Henry presented with such vigour and pride, inviting Sandy up on stage towards the end just as they tore off the terrarium's cover together in a corny display of faux friendship. Shaking hands with plastic smiles fixed on as they watched, each of them genuinely excited to watch the arrival of their very first Scarloop butterflies, but seething with hatred in each other's presence. The first one started to hatch. The audience gasped and leaned forward. The screen above the stage showed everything in close up and as some saw the birth of a new kind of art medium, some saw a novel or romantic way to send greetings to loved ones, the new birthday or valentines card, born before them! While other, more sinister members of the seated crowd saw a whole new way of advertising.

 

Advertising space. Blank space wanting, nay begging to be covered with garbage, desperate to be a shill for some corporation, vile prostitutes that hang on every street corner flashing their wares to everyone. Offending most and gaining the interest of those poor misguided fools, those who's souls are long lost and who's minds are mere mush. The city already bloated with all the brassy vile billboards, the plague eating up every city and roadside, every toilet door and train platform. Every space, that would be a space. What is wrong with just a space? Can it not be a work of beauty in itself, a simple space for space's sake without smothering it in putrid messages that make us all go blind. Consumers, all consumers buying crap we don't need and food that's hurting us and we know it yet still buy it and eat it, better still, making us work harder in jobs we hate to buy things we think we want now but could never afford because we saw it on a bus and in the ad it looked like something we all deserve, something we can all have as long as we pay. Pay for it, pay for your existence, since they took away the NHS that's exactly what we all do anyway, so why not pay more, pay through the nose, pay in cash! Not lip service, that won't get you anywhere, no one really talks any more anyway, except Northerners on the underground so it's really a case of, you get what you can, you sell it, if you've got a space, on the side of your house, side of your face, your tits, your arse! Sell them all, for advertisers need original places to splurge their muck all over, yes, they need more. They'll always need more.

 

A man approached Sandy after the question and answers session, which ran short as everyone was so astounded they didn't quite know what to ask and Henry wasn't giving much away.

“Brian McCoulney, a pleasure to meet you.” He took Sandy's hand and shook it. He was scruffily dressed, bearded, and smelt of booze but seemed genuine in his manner.
“Hello” said Sandy, relaxing in the Scot's company “Sandy Newman” he introduced himself, saying his name with vigour, anticipating the positive attention as it took him to a place other than malice. He hadn't spoken to anyone but lawyers for weeks now and they weren't generally sympathetic sorts.

“So, you didn't say much up there, did you? What was your part in all this then?”

“I made them, well mainly. I did most of the work” he exaggerated

“You made those wee butterflies? Did ye?”

“Yeah. Mostly. It was mostly my idea” Sandy boasted

“Ah, wise boy! I'd stick to story that too if I were you, after all, you don't want anyone saying otherwise, especially if that is indeed the truth!” Hi manner struck sandy as whimsical. He was in no mood for riddles or drunk talk.

“Sorry, Who are you?” Sandy asked, wondering if he knew and if so how he knew about his legal problems or if he was merely making an attempt at a poorly delivered yet amiable joke.

“I'm a biology professor at Stanford in the States. Head of Bio-technology in fact. Just over especially for this. And well worth it, that was. What a thing to behold. What you have created...” He leaned in and his face became sullen, he placed one hand on Sandy's shoulder, gripping it tightly, pausing to take a sip of his hip flask which he clasped in the other “...is going to change the world. Oh the possibilities...they're endless!”

Sandy smiled at the man. He wasn't sure how to take him. Was he pissed up? Quite possibly, but was he making sense? It would seem so.

“Who are the rest of this crowd then?” He asked Sandy

“Well, I'm slightly embarrassed to say, I don't really have a clue. My partner, erm, Henry Egoyst, well, he set up this whole things weeks ago, and didn't mention a thing to me until last week. I was a bit annoyed actually”

“He did? He did that to you? When you did most of the work? Well that's terrible it really is. And it was your idea, and all? Oh no, that's not right, is that. How about you and me go get a drink around the corner. I know a place that does a cheap pint and a decent burger. How bout it, you comin'? I'm buyin'” The Scot began to leave beckoning Sandy to join him. Sandy did so with haste as he really didn't fancy meeting anyone else and was hungry.

 

Chapter 5

 

Henry was livid the next morning, he arrived at the office clutching the National Daily News in one hand, the other pointing ferociously at Sandy as he stormed up to his workstation and slammed the paper down on the desk. A banner ran down the right hand side of the front page set slightly askew to draw the eye. In Big black bold type it read 'NERDS AT WAR!Enemies ingenious–the world changers at war, read all about the feuding partners who made the most exciting breakthrough innovation in science for years, the Flying canvass! Turn to page 9 for story' Underneath the headline was a picture of himself and one of Henry, posted together with a tear line set down the centre of their heads, standard newspaper visuals overused when suggesting a bitter split, making it look like he and Henry were lovers or something.

Sandy sat up rubbing his hair, at first puzzled but for no more than a moment, before the realisation hit him that he had been drinking not with the Head lecturer of bio-technology at Stamford university, but a despicable, stinking, fully fledged Red-top journalist. And everything he had said, in confidence, was now public knowledge. More importantly Henry had read every word spoken deliberately away from him, and more often than not, about him.

He was too tired and hungover to get angry so he simply gurgled a quiet “oh shit” before his head hit the desk and he carried on hitting it over and over again, until Henry, bored of waiting for him to rationalise muttered something to himself and waltzed off in the same belligerent way that he'd burst in. He looked pretty stupid to the others in the lab, as he crossed the floor to his corner office every eye was on him. They all thought he'd really lost it this time and had all read the morning paper. They all now knew Sandy's perspective on how miserable and selfish the poor sod really was. It only served to underpin their existing opinions of him.

Sandy went home. At eleven a.m. He felt ill. It was his first day off ever. 'That'll teach you' he told himself '...for getting drunk and running your mouth off to anyone who would give you the slightest bit of attention.' He walked towards to the train station his head literally hungover. Drool began to seep from the corner of his lips as he stepped onto the platform and waited. Sandy lived alone except for his pets. He wasn't allowed pets as a child due to an overbearing Mother who claimed allergies to absolutely everything. It's amazing Sandy had turned out as normal as he was.

He held the hand rail as the train rattled along fearing if he sat down the motion would send him to sleep and he would wake up at the end of the line, which in this case was in another county. He widened his eyes as much as he could and mustered the strength to stay awake just until he reached his front door. He turned the key and the climbed the stairs to his flat. He went inside and reached for the TV remote before flopping heavily onto the sofa. It had over it newspapers, copies of New scientist and an old Indian throw which was covered in black and white cat hair. “Molly!” he shouted for the animal. He fell asleep before she could get to him, and seeing him there so peaceful, Molly began to purr and lick his hand.

 

Chapter 6

“I'm not gonna make it in...no I've got a really bad cold see” Sandy held the phone away from his face to start off a hacking cough for convincing effect.

“I'll be in tomorrow, all being well...yeah thanks...see you...yes I will...sorry again...Hope I haven't let you all down” He replaced the receiver and at once started to feel great. His worries couldn't reach him here and he could stay here, at home, all day. He was happy here, he had 4 hamsters, the Siberian dwarf variety, a house rabbit and a cat. They were just the small and furries. He also collected stick insects, tarantulas and had an iguana called Pam. She was very easy to please and Sandy honestly believed she would be the only permanent female in his life, so he spoilt her whenever he could by bringing her fresh strawberries and pieces of mango. These she adored. Today she was in the mood for nothing but sitting very very still.

 

Chapter 7

 

It was a full week later that Sandy decided to strut back into the office as relaxed as humanly possible and beaming from ear to ear.

“Feeling better, I hope” Said Susan sarcastically. His boss, Ciara spied him coming in and stood to catch his eye. She waved him towards her, unsmiling.

“All better now? What exactly was the matter with you, Sausage?” Sandy found this woman confusingly kindly while managing to be incredibly patronising in the same breath. She was very attractive and not old, but slightly fat and her dress sense was drab and reflected the fact that she was covered from head to toe with a lab coat for the majority of most days. She asked ambiguous questions all the time which annoyed Sandy and some of the other young male staff members, who, like him needed instruction to be spelt out clearly, being unable to cope with interpretation of the meanings behind the many and various tones of women's voices.

“I'm fine now, felt like crap..er, I mean rubbish for days, thought I was dying at one point, seriously. Really bad” He broke off so as not to over elaborate and make his sickness sound fictitious. Which of course it was.

“There's lots for you to get stuck in to this week, so lets hope you're on top form. There's a bunch of students waiting downstairs to receive their dose of Halliamine. Take the deaf ones to meeting room one and the hearing ones to Room C on the 3rd floor. We don't want them communicating with each other, it could completely void the results.”

“Sure. OK” Sandy was feeling bright today. He travelled down on the elevator and met with the students waiting and gossiping in reception. He welcomed them, made sure they had all been paid and had them all sign waivers before splitting the group as instructed and injecting each individual with 10ml of the new wonder-drug, which could supposedly cure deafness and allow a tissue-stimulating organism to grow which could actually allow the inside of a person's ear to repair its self. The students had no idea what it was they were being given and they didn't much care. They always needed the money and would do pretty much anything for it so there was an endless stream of young flesh to work with. The lab placed a regular ad in all the student mags and meeting points. Some were only getting a shot of placebo whereas half the deaf and half the hearing received 10 ml of an untested recently formulated government commissioned chemical. 'Rather them than me' Sandy thought to himself as he pushed and pulled back each syringe.

He headed out when he was done to take his paperwork to the ground floor for inputting and to send in Dennis the researcher to deal with the outcomes. He did so and continued to the elevator doors to travel up to his desk once more, as he stepped into his lift, the other one to his right opened and a figure stepped out. He was very tall. About 6'7” Sandy thought. Handy pressed the button to Henry's floor repeatedly muttering to the doors to close 'c'mon doors..close, damn you!' as they sealed shut and the lift went up sending Sandy's heart down into his stomach. That was the man. The tall man, the investor, Solice. But the project is all on hold. Maybe Henry's come up with another brainwave, and done the actual work himself this time, maybe he needs an investor so he can fuck off and start a landscape gardening business. Maybe, but probably not. It was probably about him and most likely something not good. As he reached Henry's floor, he saw that his ex-colleague wasn't at his desk, or in the room at all. The tank which housed their butterflies was also gone. There were microscopes and computers and 5 or 6 technicians working away at a bench there instead. Sandy felt his chest tighten. He looked around in a panic and called out “Henry! Henry Egoyst !” The others in the room just looked at him.

“Come out, Henry! Where are you hiding? I want to talk to you, I've only been gone a week. ONE WEEK! Where's my tank? HENRY!”
Sandy Newman felt his breath shorten and the lights around him dim. He passed out right there on the lab floor, only to awaken seconds later with a large bump on the back of his head. He reached up as the room came back into focus and felt a sticky substance on his head. He heard girly squealing. It was the squeamish intern, Jennifer, who couldn't stand the sight of blood, but this scream made Sandy imagine all sorts and he started to panic.

“It's OK, it's only a little bit of blood. You're OK.”

“What happened?”

“You fainted and it looks like you smashed you head on the floor there, don't get up, we've called an ambulance” A hand passed Sandy some water which he drank thirstily before he felt himself weaken. He let go of the beaker and passed out for a second time.

He faintly heard sirens then nothing. Everything was black. He was aware of himself, his life, yet an overwhelming sense that his whole world had come to a close. His existence now seemed to be that of a caged animal, in a cage without light. What was happening? Was he dead? Was this death? His death. He had always secretly imagined something more spectacular, although he never shared that with anyone, especially as the only people he'd ever really known were staunch atheists. How could these thoughts be going through his head if he were...dead?

Sandy's mind reeled with questions. He was without form, he had no body. He laughed to himself at the irony of being a nobody after all...

 

Chapter 8

 

The TVs blared in the hospital ward. The noise of the presenters, music, narrators and actors all mingling into a cacophonous twisted mess of sound in the corridors. Each set constantly showed a different, equally in-your-face channel. The nurses set them all to full volume and tuned them to a station the family had assured them their catatonic loved ones once enjoyed. It was as if they hoped the urge to watch their special television programme would be so strong the cabbages would sit up and reclaim life. Either that or keep them in their vegetative states for as long as possible so they didn't have to go through the un-grieving process. Besides their rooms were rented out, their jobs had been given away and for anyone in a Coma for more than 6 months, the law states that the Government would sieze control of all your assets deeming you an invalid member of society. They would hold onto them for a further 3 months before auctioning off your house, your car, your belongings to the highest bidder. If your relatives decided to keep you alive for any longer than that they were officially responsible for you. Those that awaken after the 9 month deadline find themselves penniless, homeless and completely dependent on family. Usually the very people they spent years working to get away from. Back to square one, new born, a baby but with greying hair and a pessimism that would be foreign to a child. Sandy lay unmoving, lost in the endless blackness. It was during a visit from his Sister that he stirred for the first time in 4 years, and that time it had been a false alarm, a simple gas reaction to the mush they were tube feeding him. She hadn't said anything she didn't always say, sticking to the usual chit chat and family gossip, not only as the one way conversation was pretty dull, but for Lydia keeping the talk small was for her own sake as much as his, as if she were to go any deeper into her own thoughts or imagination she wouldn't be able to control her emotions and would spend each visit just bawling her eyes out. She was as surprised as the nurses who jumped to attention when his twitching toes set off all the machines which beeped and screeched while Sandy's body gradually woke up bit by bit.

“What's happening?” his Sister, Lydia asked the nurses. A male nurse responded in a West Country accent and with such a calming tone that she relaxed completely.

“He's fine, my love. Just waking up, he is. He'll be ever so pleased to see you” The other nurses carried on their knob twiddling and button pressing until the noise on the machine suddenly evened out until it emitted a single pure clear note that hummed piercingly at first then faded into the background. As Lydia watched her brother, his face immediately changed and his eyes opened slowly.

“Hello there, Sandy. It's me. Lydia. You're OK. You're awake!” As her grinning face came into focus he tried to sit up and say something

“w...wat....what...” He pressed his lips together and tried to lick them but his mouth was too dry.

“He wants water get him some water” cried Lydia, as the male nurse passed her the paper cup he already had prepared. She put it to her brother's mouth, his lips pursing to reach the cup's rim. He took a sip and said

“What time is it?” Everyone in the room exchanged glances before the older female nurse replied in quite a matter of fact sort of way

“It's quarter to 4, Mr. Newman”

“So I've been here all afternoon? What happened to me? How did I get here?” He looked at his Sister and smiled

“How did you get here so quickly from Glasgow, anyway? Who called you? How did you know...?” He then noticed something was off.
“Why are you looking at me that way, Lydia? Something's not right here, something feels...amiss. Like, well you look different for a start.

“I'm 10 years older...sorry I should start by telling you how you got here. You hit your head...”

“Is this a joke? Ten years older? Than what? Lydia?” A silent tear fell from his eye and as his sister spoke he wept a thousand tears.

“You hit your head pretty badly back in the lab” She said “ You caught it on a corner and well, It turns out you only fainted at first, but you had in fact hit it, well, hard. You've been here ever since. I kept you alive, I knew you'd wake up one day, and the nurses have been wonderful.” Through his snivelling Sandy mustered a sentence

“So I've been here for ten years.”

“Yep, but you've got a room at my place” She continued

“what about my place?” Lydia then explained that his flat had been taken by the government and that a lot has changed in the world since he 'went to sleep'. She told him to get some rest and that she would still be there when he woke up, but he was adamant that he'd had ten years rest and tried to get up. His legs, weak and thin, seemed to have forgotten their use. Over the next days and weeks he would need to retrain them. His arms could hold nothing more than the small foil carton of overly sweet juice he was given at lunchtimes, anything in a glass was too heavy. Even spoons and forks were too much for his wisened muscles. The nurses fed him during the daytime and his Sister came every night to give him his evening meal. She'd cut it up for him and feed it to him while he chewed each mouthful with agonising effort. Even his jaw needed to build up strength. In the second week of physio results started showing. He felt human again, or even better than he ever had before. He was rested, strong, healthy and as he filled his lungs with deep breaths from an open window he proclaimed that he was going out there. He was feeling 100% better and was going back to work.

“What work? You don't have your job anymore, remember?”

“Ah, yes, I know, but I still have my invention.” Met with a blank stare he added “Ah yes, I never did tell you about it did I?” Lydia shook her head, shoulder length blonde curls wafting in the breeze of the open window
“It's the butterflies, see. Well they weren't my idea, but I did most of the work you see, the practical stuff, I actually created life, Lydia! I created a masterpiece for artists everywhere to set their work free, literally!”

“You invented those?” She pointed. Sandy's gaze followed her finger which led his eyes to a point in the sky just above a tall tree that jutted out of the hillside. He adjusted his gaze to try and eliminate some of the glare from the Sun.
“They're butterflies, yes, but I'm talking about fully genetically programmed ones, I made the first batch, well we did it together, Henry and I. Oh we were so stupid. You know, we were fighting over it, the ownership of it, the idea. How stupid we were! Why didn't we just split it down the middle? It was his idea after all, and he did help with some of the trickier equations, his experience was invaluable in fact, one of us couldn't have done it without the other.

His eyes squinted as one of the insects flew over to his window.

“Hello fellow!” He said to the butterfly. It landed on the window sill and stretched its wingspan out to it's full extent. 'See Devil's Fairground, the U theatre, Sun 8th April. Tickets £440 each plus booking fee.'
“Wh....wha......wha...what the.....” His lips quivered as he read and re-read the wings of the creature sitting in front of him.
“Is this a dream, am I still in a Coma?” As the world once again blackened the Nurses rushed to catch his limp body as it once again crashed to the ground.

 

~FIN~


© Copyright 2017 J L Miller. All rights reserved.

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