Lobotomy — surgery that destroys the frontal lobe of the brain, leaving the patient catatonic
Rothering — translation from German – red herring
Red Herring — something that confuses or diverts attention from something else
Asylum, crazy house, funny farm, loony bin, nuthouse, he scribbled.
“We don’t use the word nuthouse, Mr. Rothering.”
Bobby turned to see the psychiatrist reading over his shoulder. “I just scribble sometimes when I’m thinking,” the journalist replied.
“What were you hoping to achieve here today?”
Bobby rubbed his palms into his eyes. “Seems this was a bad idea.”
Bobby Rothering has always been a precocious pupil. Light years ahead of his peers, he scored a perfect on his ACT and wound up on a full scholarship at Tulane University. But instead of dedicating himself to his studies, he partied himself into an academic probation that only a perfect senior project could pull him out of.
He thought he had one. His assignment was to do an interview and then write a thesis on his research. Previous students had interviewed politicians or local New Orleans celebrities, an idea that Bobby felt was beneath him. His girlfriend, Nikki, was in the same boat. He planned for them to do their projects together. The journalist’s Hail Mary pass involved going to the state’s asylum, Nikki in Louisiana and Bobby in the neighboring state of Mississippi, and interviewing patients who suffer from paranoid delusion. He wanted to question people who believed they were celebrities and treat them like their stories were true. It would be an innovative idea, worth an A, but so far, the people had been so crazy he couldn’t even get two cohesive sentences.
“Mr. Rothering, what did you expect? These people are mentally ill.”
Bobby hung his head in defeat. “Yeah, that’s what my girlfriend said.”
“As part of our treatment, we try not to pander to our patient’s delusions. However, I have a patient who is scheduled for a lobotomy tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM.”
“Doctors still do those?”
“Only in extreme cases where treatment is no longer an option, so, I see no reason why your encouraging his delusions will matter.”
“You think I’ll get a story?”
“You will find his story as complex and creative as they come. I have been here nine years and his story has never changed.”
That’s how Bobby Rothering met Edgar Quimby, the self-proclaimed traveler from the stars.
Since Mr. Quimby had stabbed orderlies, taken doctors hostage, and even escaped out of padded cells, Bobby was expecting a vile, menacing figure. What he found was a frail old man strapped down like Harry Houdini. Despite the anti-biting mask, the man looked more like Gilbert Godfrey than the Hannibal Lecter he was expecting.
Weakling, nerd, milquetoast, molly-coddle, he scribbled.
Quimby’s voice had an eerie depth that made the interviewer feel like he had misjudged the menacing patient. “Who might you be? Unkempt hair, two days worth of sporadic beard growth, intelligent eyes.. let me guess. College student.”
Bobby smiled and Quimby continued, “Am I some creature that merits study?”
The psychiatrist interrupted with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, “Mr. Rothering is a journalist who is interested in your story. Perhaps if your mysterious, uh, soul mate, does exist, his investigation could reveal that.”
Soul mate, Eve, Juliet, Josephine, Buttercup,
The straight-jacketed schizophrenic said, “All your promises and I am still separated from my Zana. I don’t believe anything you say.”
Bobby was beginning to think this was another goose chase until the little man said, “Maybe an arrangement can.. be made. IF I could possibly have one of those cigarettes I smell lingering on you, Mr. Journalist. I will tell you a story that, no doubt, the good doctor will try to persuade you that I channeled from the dearly departed Isaac Asimov or the illustrious Arthur C. Clarke, but I assure you, it’s all true.”
Smokes, jokes, cancer sticks, ciggies, coffin nails.
The student looked to the shrink for permission and the doctor nodded. Bobby pulled the pack out of his leather jacket and thought, It doesn’t matter if he gets lung cancer, they’re about to scramble his brain like an omelet. He held a camel through the mask until Quimby had smoked half, then began the interview.
“So, who is this Zana you’re searching for? I heard the doctor say ‘soul mate’.”
Soul, spirit, ether, life force.
The patient’s eyes warmed. “Oh. That and much more. She was my mate for over a thousand years on the planet we came from. Then we spent another nine centuries together on our way here. She’s my everything.”
This is exactly what I am looking for. Bobby made himself more comfortable. “Planet?”
Wacko, mashugana, aluminum foil hats.
“It was a wonderful world we called Leelexlu.”
“I’m not familiar with that planet.”
“Because it doesn’t exist.”
“It did exist, it just doesn’t now. If I may, life was only able to evolve on Earth because of your little sun. A puny sun like yours takes billions of years to run out of fuel, giving life time to evolve. Leelexlu orbited around a red giant a million times larger than your sun. The problem with large suns are, by the time life evolves enough to understand what a supernova is, they are inevitably destroyed by one. That leaves no time for the more advanced scientific pursuits like space travel.”
“Obviously your people found the time, since you are here.”
“My people were originally from the veil nebula where our little sun supernova’d. Around sixty thousand years ago, we migrated to Leelexlu in what’s now the crab nebula.”
“Why did you come to Earth?”
“In Earth time, July 4, 1054, our star, which we called Theos, went supernova and there was an explosion so massive that planets shot around like pinballs.”
“But you and Zana survived?”
“We all knew it was coming. It was the neutrinos.”
“Theos had run out of neutrinos, star fuel. Leelexlu was doomed.”
“And only two of you came? Why not all of you?”
“Horror stories, mostly. The journey to the crab nebula was long. 50,000 on a trip for 12,000 Earth years, and when we landed the first leaders became jailers and volunteers became slave labor. It was a dark time that even 40,000 years later, no one wanted to revisit.”
“Why did you and Zana come?”
“A love so strong, we could not bear to separate.”
“How long were you on the ship?”
“How far did you travel?”
“6000 light years.”
“You traveled more than 7 times the speed of light? Now, I’m not a scientist, but I have read enough science fiction to know that the G forces exerted on a human body at that speed would unmake a living cell. So, can you tell me how two organic bodies could possibly survive such a speed?”
Beyond the mask, the insane astronaut’s lips formed a pencil thin smile, “Good eye, you are a credit to your profession. The answer is simple. We weren’t wearing them.”
“You only say that because you have never heard of the Ethereal Transmogrifier.”
“A machine that separates the 21 grams of Ethereal matter from that meat sack you call a body. Mr. Rothering, you are not your body. You are a living soul.”
“Yes, that. It separates the soul? For what? Why would anyone even attempt something like that?!”
“To treat an illness of the soul.” Quimby replied softly.
“Mental illness?” Bobby tried to clarify.
“No. For example, Leland Babineaux in room 69 has OCD. He washes his hands until they bleed. His brain is defective and it manifests in his behavior. He takes medicine. He’s cured. Mental illness. Jeffrey Dahmer finds ecstasy in killing human beings and eating their body parts. No medicine will ever make him normal. Illness of the soul. On my planet, we could remove his soul, repair it, put in back in the shell, and then trust him with our younglings.”
Transmigration, psyche, ego, essence, geflings.
“By using the transmogrifier, we left a dying world, existing as our living souls. Spirits need no food, water, or air, so every bit of our ship was used for navigation and propulsion.”
Bobby shook his head to clear the cobwebs. “Well, you are not a spirit now. You’re Edgar Quimby.”
“I’m getting to that. Our ship was only designed for one trip. Because even a 20 megaton explosion can’t destroy a soul, all we needed was a place to crash. On June 30, 1908 at 2:30AM over Siberia, we entered the atmosphere. The explosion vaporized our ship, leveled a half million acres of trees, and yet not one human was dead.”
“Everything went according to plan?”
“Yes, until we tried to communicate with the indigenous life.”
“How could you communicate with people if you were a spirit?”
“Wisdom from the mouth of babes. We couldn’t! It was a serious miscalculation. You see, on Leelexlu, we don’t communicate with sounds. Mouths were for eating, kissing, and laughter, but communication was done mentally. All I have to do is think it, and you would hear it. According to our research, you were so similar to us that we assumed you communicated the same way.”
“How could you make such an error?” Bobby couldn’t keep the sarcasm from his voice.
Edgar replied indignantly, “Error? Onions on your Whopper is an error. This was catastrophic failure.”
How did he know I don’t like onions on my Whopper? “You haven’t told me how you became Edgar Quimby.”
“This whole mess started when I got the bright idea to stand inside a human to see if he could hear me. He couldn’t. But our souls bonded somehow and we shared his body. I wasn’t at the controls, but I could experience everything he felt and leave whenever I chose.”
“What did you do then?”
“Sir, I was madly in love with the most wonderful woman in the galaxy and I hadn’t touched her for 850 years. I wanted to make love to her.”
“All we had to do was find a couple making love and inhabit their bodies. It was amazing. I couldn’t even see the shell. I saw only Zana. We went on that way for decades, exploring the planet, learning the customs, and making love. Then things took a nasty turn. On Leelexlu there was no form of vice. No drugs. No drink. We have never even imagined such a thing. At first it was alcohol, then marijuana, later it was harder drugs like heroin and cocaine. That was how we discovered the greatest thrill of all.. death.”
Bobby was at a loss for words. Quimby knew he had a captive audience, so he continued. “We observed an odd phenomenon. The human spirit becomes… agitated… maybe excited is more accurate, just before it dies. There is a glow that is utter ecstasy. Just before the human soul was sucked out, to what we assumed was death, despite an immense pull to follow it, we leapt free. The longer we waited, the greater the rush. On September 15, 1954, we jumped into a couple making love in Biloxi Mississippi. They had a few shots of whiskey as they left lover’s lane, so we stayed as passengers. On the way, they began to glow.
“What a day! Made love to my Zana, drank Kentucky bourbon, and with the lingering taste of a Chesterfield still on my lips, I was about to feel the ultimate rush of their death. Just before the lovers were killed in a head-on collision, for a split second, I was distracted. The body I inhabited looked lovingly at his girl, but I only saw my Zana.”
Quimby shook his head, wishing he could wipe the tears that were spilling down his cheeks.
“That’s all it took. That one distracted moment and we didn’t jump out in time.”
“This happened. Edgar Quimby happened! We were wrong about death. The souls didn’t die, they were recycled. The next thing I knew, I was suckling at my mother’s breast. Reborn.”
“But..but, how is that possible?”
“I have been asking myself that for 58 years.”
“And you never saw Zana again?”
“Oh, I saw her. That’s how I ended up here. My biological family and I went on a trip to New Orleans and rode on the St. Charles street car. We passed a car going the other way, and there she was. The dark-haired, hazel-eyed little princess was my Zana.”
“Tell him what happened next, Mr. Quimby,” the doctor commanded.
“It is not the cause of my problem, it’s the result!” Quimby spat.
“You never told this story before your accident,” the psychiatrist exposed.
The patient said through clenched teeth, “I was biding my time until I found her!”
The doctor filled in, “Mr. Quimby fell.”
“Leapt,” he corrected.
“Leapt, then, and was dragged under a hundred-ton street car, causing massive damage to his brain. When he awoke, he believed this alien story.”
“I always believed it. I couldn’t tell everyone I was from outer space!”
“Let’s talk about your family, shall we? Lee Quimby , father; Alexis Quimby, mother; Louise or Lou Quimby, sister – Lee, Lex, Lu.” The doctor said grimly.
The doctor turned to Bobby, “The stories are shattered pieces of his damaged brain put together. His mother said his room was covered in every kind of science fiction, Asimov, Lovecraft, and H.G. Wells.”
The patient thrashed with rage.
Delusion, mirage, hallucination, make believe.
“I am a prisoner! Held captive!” Quimby quaked. A buckle suddenly came loose on the straight jacket and the psychopath grabbed the doctor by the throat with a power his frail body didn’t appear to possess. Immediately, the orderly struck the lethal lunatic with a sedative that quieted Quimby.
The startled student left the asylum after midnight and spent the night in a motel. The next morning at 7:00AM, the time of the old man’s lobotomy, Bobby thought, That’s the end of Edgar Quimby.
Back at home, Bobby was working on his research paper with his notes scattered around the table when Nikki arrived.
“Hey, Baby. I see you got home before me.” She let out a sigh and started unpacking her notes. Bobby leaned over and kissed her, then went back to writing. “I can see you’ve got a smoking story. Why don’t you take a break and tell me about it so I can take my mind off the last 48 hours?”
The relentless reporter began telling the story of Edgar Quimby. He talked of Leelexlu, the supernova, and the love of Quimby for the imaginary Zana. Then he ended with the undisputed proof the doctor presented of Quimby’s illness, the violence he witnessed, and finally the lobotomy that would silence him permanently.
Her tired face grew ever paler through the telling until he reached the lobotomy. She ran to the kitchen, almost vomiting. After a few minutes she reappeared with a bottle of bourbon and two glasses.
“I don’t want any, Sweetie, I’m writing.”
She downed both shots and said, “It wasn’t for you.”
“Nikki, you don’t even drink bourbon. Are you alright?”
She pulled a legal pad from her bag and said, “I was late because I was trying to talk the shrinks out of my patient’s lobotomy. I couldn’t and now she’s a vegetable. These are my notes.”
As she poured and then down a third shot, Bobby read her notes.
Female-born September 15, 1954
Only answers to Zana
Searching for a boy she saw on a street car in 1966.
Lobotomy, xenocide, last of a dying breed, star –crossed lovers, he scribbled.