A Mind is a Terrible Thing by Steve Maschuck and Fred Lubnow

A good reporter can always get the
background information for an interview.

If we feel possessed and of several minds, if we feel overwhelmed by complexity, it is because we are inhabited by and comprised of complexities.
-- Margulis and Sagan, 1997. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of
Evolution from Our Bacterial Ancestors.

The shrieks woke up every patient in the asylum. Although screams are quite common in the asylum, these screams were different. They were not the kind of screams initiated by the lack of medication or mental anguish, but screams of absolute terror. Screams that one utters when nothing else can be done.

The orderlies rushed down the hall trying to determine which room the screams were coming from. Since the screams of terror began, every room was alive with activity. Weeping, wailing, moaning, crying and laughing filled the air; however, none of these noises could overpower the icy cold screams emanating from room number 242.

"They're coming out! They're coming out of ME!!" shouted the poor soul in room 242.

"Oh Christ," groaned one of the orderlies, "Jacob's bitching about his imaginary baby squids floating in the air. Didn't you give him his medication at nine o'clock?"

"20 cc's just like the prescription said. Hell, I should have given him 40 cc's just to shut him up."

As they approached room 242, the first orderly fumbled through his ring of keys with his pudgy little fingers and said, "Get the syringe just in case. I don't feel like getting bit again."

The second orderly ran back down the hall and filled the syringe. Meanwhile the first orderly found the key he was looking for, but held off opening the door. While he waited for his partner to return and listened to the never-ending screams, he took a peek through the small observation window of room 242.

Chaos. Confusion. Semidarkness, filled with blurred shapes and strange images. He couldn't quite make it out, but it looked like Jacobs was actually out of his straight jacket and clawing at his head.

"No! No! They're coming out of me!" wailed Jacobs. He continued to scream but at a much higher pitch.

Christ, thought the first orderly, he doesn't even sound human anymore.

Strange cracking and gurgling noises started to come from room 242. Then the screaming stopped.

The first orderly turned and yelled down the hall to the second. "Come on Dan! Move your ass!" He didn't dare take another peek into room 242.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," said Dan, the second orderly, as he was racing back down the hall with a full syringe in his left hand and a wooden stick in his right.

Once Dan was close, the first orderly flicked the light on and looked in room 242. Nothing. He couldn't see Jacob at all, but the straight jacket was torn to shreds lying on the other end of the room opposite the door.

"I can't see him," said the first orderly. "I'm gonna have to open up. Get ready."

The first orderly turned the key and opened the door. Dan was on his right side with the stick raised and the syringe lowered.

George, the first orderly, peered into the now silent room. Bits of cloth and shit were scattered over his field of vision. As George unhooked the wooden stick attached to his belt, he said, "I still can't see anything. I'm going in."

George slowly opened the door, but still could not see Jacob. With the door completely open George stepped into the room.

"God in heaven . . ." whispered George. Blood was splattered all over the walls of the left side of the room. Jacob was lying in a bloody mess in the corner closest to the door. It looked like his head was blown off with a shotgun, yet while his head was in pieces, his brain was still relatively intact, lying next to what was left of the right arm.

George wandered over to the body in a semi-state of shock, staring at Jacob's brain and in a brief instant George saw the brain move. The movement was not some sort of autonomic reflex or post-death spasm. In George's eyes it appeared to be a cognizant or willed form of motion as if the brain had attempted to move on its own, slightly toward George's foot.

"What the hell is going on here? What are you men doing here? Didn't I tell you if Jacob acted up to call me immediately and not to enter his room!"

Dr. Bloch entered the room with two of his assistants and a wheeled cart covered with a white cloth. Dr. Bloch was a tall, thin, pale skinned man with short back hair and thick glasses. He was clearly agitated that George had entered Jacob's room.

"Sorry, sir," replied George as he continued to stare at the bloody mess lying on the floor. I swear it moved by itself, thought George.

"Just get the hell out!" shouted Dr. Bloch. "Obviously Mr. Jacob committed suicide and we have to find out how and why!"

Dr. Bloch's large assistants grabbed George by the arm, one on each side, and pushed him out of room 242 while he was still staring at Jacob's body. One of the assistants then closed the door while the other removed the white cloth from the wheeled cart and started to open some large jars.

"Jesus," said Dan as the doctor closed the door of room 242. "Suicide. Fucking intense or what. What'ga see George?"

But George couldn't answer. He kept staring at the door of room 242 and thinking I swear it moved by itself.

* * *

"Let me get this straight. You expect me to believe that his brain was moving by itself?" asked Lynn. Lynn was a reporter with the Harrisburg Herald. She had flaming red hair and bright green eyes. George had called the paper and they had sent her. "Maybe it was the air conditioning or a natural. . . ."

George tried to steady his hand as he attempted to take a sip of his coffee. "No! No, it moved on its own. I saw it," said George.

"Alright," said Lynn. "What happened after Dr. Bloch told you and Dan to get out of there?"

George set his coffee back down. "Nothing much. It was business as usual, until about a week later when Dr. Bloch asked me to meet him in his office. Dr. Bloch then went into this long discussion on how he has been working with this psychotropic drug to block the symptoms of schizophrenia. He said that two years ago he got approval from the FDA to test the drug. He then showed me a series of documents and special drug permits from various state and federal officials, giving the Doctor approval to use this drug. The Doctor said his major advisor in medical school originally thought of such a drug over twenty years ago."

George attempted to reach for his coffee, but then decided against it. "He then showed me a shit load of other information. Thick documents and studies the size of Tom Clancy novels, all about tests done on rats, rabbits and monkeys with the drug, ecotoxicology case assessment studies, large-scale production plans. Dr. Bloch said his advisor died about ten years ago and he was continuing his work to help people with severe schizophrenia."

"What's the drug called?" asked Lynn.

"Trihalomyocin. Dr. Bloch said this was important work and that the drug would help a lot of people. He said what happened to Jacob was a terrible, terrible accident. He briefly mentioned some problem with the purity of the drug. Something that fell through the QA/QC protocol of the chemical manufacture. He said he submitted a complete report to the chemical company, the feds and the state. Showed me more documents to back this up."

"Why was he showing you all of this?" asked Lynn and she finally decided to take another sip of her now lukewarm coffee.

"That's exactly what I asked him," replied George, "and he said he understands that what I saw in Jacob's room may have scared me and he wanted to assure me that everything was all right and that nothing illegal was going on. But he also threatened me."

"Threatened you? How?"

"He said that if I said anything to anybody about this I would be in trouble, both legally and otherwise," said George.

"What did he mean by that?" asked Lynn.

"He said something about having a pending patent on the damn procedure," muttered George looking into his now cold cup of coffee. "As far as what he meant by otherwise, I think he was threatening my life."

"Don't you think that's a pretty big leap, Mr. Roth?"

"You didn't see the look in his eyes, Ms. Peterson." George looked up from his coffee and stared directly into Lynn's eyes. "He had this sort of aggressive, hungry look in his eyes. Like nothing or nobody would stop him. Nobody. After the incident, my work schedule changed. Changed dramatically. I no longer worked with Dan. In fact, I don't work the evening shift at all anymore. And what's really weird is I got a raise. A big raise."

"Why is that weird?" asked Lynn.

"Because guys who work the night shift usually make almost twice as much as the day shift. You know, to make up for the shitty hours. Hell, that's why I wanted to work the night shift. After the head nurse told me I would be working the day shift, I thought Dr. Bloch was punishing me for some reason, but then I got my first paycheck and saw that I was making twice as much as I was for the night shift! Twice! Hell, I must be the highest paid orderly in the asylum. Even in the state!"

"O.K., so one of Dr. Bloch's experiments went terribly wrong and he first threatens you, then bribes you to keep you mouth shut. Why did you ask me here? To do an exposé on Dr. Bloch's illegal and immoral activities? Inhuman conditions in the asylum? Using humans as guinea pigs, that sort of thing?" Lynn folded her arms in front of her chest, exhibiting a slight degree of boredom.

"You don't get it do you?" said George and he continued to stare at Lynn. She noticed tears swelling up in George's eyes. "His brain fucking moved on it's own! It wasn't any residual electrical activity like the Doc tried to tell me. The thing was moving like a big bloated slug! Even as one of the Doc's goons picked it up to put it into one of the jars, it continued to move on its own. It ain't natural, Ms. Seibel. It just ain't natural."

* * *

That evening Lynn was at home with Paul. Paul was a professor of microbiology at Sellersville University. He got the job right out of graduate school a year and a half ago. Paul was on the tenure track and received an excellent start by publishing two papers based on his graduate work while at Penn State. He was currently working on some bacterial data he collected during the last three summers in central Pennsylvania on some streams that received heavy amounts of acid mine drainage from old abandoned coal mines. He was in a good mood, stirring the chicken and vegetables in the wok, while Lynn told him about her day.

"So I had to interview a guy this morning who called the paper about some weird experiments Dr. Herbert Bloch was conducting on some of his patients," said Lynn.

Paul looked up from the stir fry. "Dr. Herbert Bloch? You mean the guy in charge of the Nicashimmy Psychiatric Hospital in Dellville?"

"The same," replied Lynn. "After I spoke with the orderly from the hospital, I did some checking on Dr. Bloch. He's had quite a successful career. Graduated the top of his class from Miskatonic University up in New England, conducted his residency at the Cambridge Trauma Center, published over twenty papers, including two in the Journal of Science, has co-ownership for two drugs currently on the market, has been head of the Nicashimmy Psychiatric Hospital for approximately two years and occasionally serves as a consultant for several large companies throughout the northeast."

"I remember his first paper in Science," said Paul as he resumed his monitoring of the stir fry. "It was on how monkeys responded to a drug he produced for schizophrenia."

"Well I'm going to see him on Wednesday for an interview on the asylum and his research. It will be for one of those fluff pieces you usually see in the Sunday paper on local people and places. Hopefully, while I am there I can get some information on the doctor's research and experiments."

"Just be careful, O.K.?" replied Paul.

"Oh come on," said Lynn as a smirk formed on her face. "Don't give me that new age crap your old high school buddy tells you. About a year ago didn't Mike claim that the Governor made a pact with beings from another dimension in order to win his reelection?"

"Regardless of what Mike says," said Paul, "just be careful O.K.?"

* * *

Mike and Paul sat in the back of the store, across from each other having lunch. It was tradition. Every last Tuesday of each month, Paul would take an extended lunch and visit Mike at his store. Paul only had two classes to teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays, one 8:30 in the morning and another 3:30 in the afternoon. During their lunch meetings, Mike would place an "Out to Lunch" sign on the front door and the two of them would go to the back to eat and talk. All of Mike's regular customers knew not to bother going to the store around lunch on the last Tuesday of each month.

Mike owned a comic book store. While in most small towns such an establishment would go bankrupt within a year, comic book stores usually did quite well in small college towns and Sellersville was no exception. The store generated enough income to cover the salary of Mike and his employees, general expenses and turn a small profit; however, Mike wasn't exactly looking to become a comic book tycoon.

About three years ago Mike's Uncle Abe died and left him his estate in Piperton. Mike had other relatives and they received some money or items from Uncle Abe; however, Mike was always Uncle Abe's favorite. Mike shared Uncle Abe's passion for the strange and unusual. Uncle Abe was a writer and devoted the majority of his life to studying and recording the folklore and myths of the Appalachian Mountains. Although Mike spent the last ten years of Uncle Abe's life traveling the world and documenting unusual events and rituals of various indigenous people, Mike visited his uncle ever opportunity he got.

Mike usually visited Uncle Abe about three or four times a year and each time he would also visit his friend Paul in graduate school. Sometimes Paul would go with Mike to visit Uncle Abe. Paul always thought Uncle Abe had the most bizarre collection of antiques and artifacts and now they belonged to Mike. Paul would sometimes visit Mike in the old house; however, most of the time they met in the back of the comic book store for lunch on the last Tuesday of every month.

Their conversations were generally the same, discussing the latest weird fiction and horror literature, movies and innovations in science; however, their conversation took an unexpected turn once Paul mentioned that Lynn was going to interview Dr. Bloch.

"Some day the good doctor is going to make a mistake and I hope no one will pay for his error except himself," muttered Mike as he reached for some chips.

"Ah come on, Mike," said Paul. "You have always eluded to the fact that Dr. Bloch was up to no good, but based on his record, he has made real contributions to the field of psychology."

"That's just it," said Mike. "When I met him at the International Conference of Paranormal Activity in Tempe, Arizona ten years ago he was a meek student of the occult. I would have never remembered him until he showed up in an article in Newstime as the wonder boy of psychology, curing over fifteen people of schizophrenia as a resident at Cambridge. He must have received over twenty-five job offers from all over the world. Places like Manhattan, L.A., London, Paris and where did he end up going to? Nicashimmy Psychiatric Hospital? Give me a break. And why? I have my suspicions."

Paul asked, "What are you talking about?"

"While I was at the conference in Tempe, Bloch approached me and started to ask a ton of questions on my Uncle's work, the Appalachian Mountains and Central Pennsylvania. Apparently he asked just about everyone at the conference if they knew of Uncle Abe or the legends of Central PA. That's how he ended up meeting me."

"What did he ask you?"

"Well," said Mike, " he started with some questions on my Uncle's research, on the local folklore, pretty standard stuff. But then his questions shifted to some myth-cycle legends by Simmons."

"Simmons?" laughed Paul. "You mean the guy who combined paleontology and Indian mythology to produce those pathetic stories he use to try to pass off as real?"

"The same," said Mike. "Bloch was really interested in these stories, especially those based on Ankuk. You know, the ancient Indian legends that were are essentially a composite of several entities and, in turn, each individual is part of a larger, more complex being."

"Yeah, I know, it's the whole Gaia thing," said Paul. "Very popular in New Age circles."

"Please!" said Mike. "I'm not talking about crystal huggers. I'm talking about an ancient interpretation of the theory of endosymbiosis."

"You mean Lynn's Margulis's concept on the formation of a complex cell from several simple, bacterial-type cells? I hardly see how the two are related."

"Margulis's theories state that eukaryotic cells, the kind that make up plants, animals, fungi, algae and so forth, are a collective formation of several different kinds of bacteria. In essence, the ancestors of the organelles of our cells were the ancient bacteria that thrived millions of years ago. The idea of Ankuk just takes this concept a step further. Instead of just several biological units fusing into the formation of a new entity, several consciousnesses are fused into the formation of a new entity with varying levels of consciousness -- us."

Paul laughed, as he did quite frequently during his conversations with Mike. "Ah come on, Mike, you can't be serious. You are taking a legitimately investigated scientific theory, backed by a large set of studies and data, and extrapolating it to an ancient myth created thousands of years ago, used to explain a fear of the unknown. They are two completely unrelated concepts."

"Really?" said Mike with a smirk. "All I know is Bloch, a student of the occult, came to me approximately ten years ago and quizzed me on the Indian legends of Ankuk in central Pennsylvania and five years later he's a medical intern, hailed as a genius for his psychiatric research within the field, of all things, schizophrenia. Then, after being offered a variety of incredible career opportunities throughout the world, where does he end up accepting a position? Nicashimmy Psychiatric Hospital, right in central Pennsylvania."

"Well this has been one of our most interesting conversations, but I've got to go, Mike," said Paul as he wiped his mouth with his napkin and stood up to leave. "Just because someone has a radical shift in career choices and enjoys living in the Appalachian Mountains, doesn't mean he's trying to find a way of dissecting the human race into distinct sentient units, but, hey, it would make for an awfully good story in some of those horror fanzines you publish in from time to time. . . ."

"I would just like to make two points before you leave," said Mike as he also stood to see his guest off. "First consider what schizophrenia is. It's a mental disorder, an unbalance within the normal harmonious processes of the brain. What if this unbalance was triggered by some conflict between several consciousnesses within a single biological unit. . . ."

"O.k., o.k. And what's the second point?"

Mike looked Paul squarely in the eyes and said, "Just tell Lynn to be careful with Bloch. Very careful. Better to be paranoid than sorry."

* * *

"The doctor should be here shortly, but remember his schedule is very tight and he can only give you two hours, maximum, and if a crisis should arise . . ." said the nurse as she escorted Lynn into Dr. Bloch's office.

"Yes, yes, you already explained the situation to me. Thank you," said Lynn as she took in the atmosphere within Dr. Bloch's office.

As the nurse left the room, Lynn scanned the room. Creepy, she thought. This looks more like the office of a museum curator than a doctor.

One wall was lined completely with books while another had huge windows that opened up to the garden on the asylum grounds. Lynn could see the patients waddle and wander about within the garden. The wall behind the doctor's desk had shelves with all kinds of strange artifacts. On the middle shelf at eye level were three skulls. From a distance the skulls looked like any one would find in a doctor's office. Lynn approached the skulls to get a better look. One was definitely human, but the other two were questionable. Both were about the same size of a human skull, but one had horns and the bone around its nose cavity was extended out, while the other skull was flattened and wide, sort of like a fish or frog.

Now that's very creepy, thought Lynn as she reached for one of the skulls, but at the last moment decided not to pick it up. A strong chill ran through her entire body as if to warn her not to pick up the fish-like skull.

Those things are enough to give anyone a nightmare, thought Lynn. They must be fakes. Some sort of hoax or joke played by or on Bloch in med school.

Lynn turned away from the skulls and walked toward the wall lined with books. Most were medical textbooks and journals, but one occasionally had a strange title she didn't recognize. One particularly large book caught Lynn's eyes and she tried to pronounce its title out loud.

"Nec-, Necro-, Necrom-?" Suddenly voices were heard outside of the office. Lynn spun around and Dr. Bloch opened the door and entered the room.

"Good afternoon Ms. Seibel," said Dr. Bloch as he offered his hand. "I'm Dr. Herbert Bloch. How may I help you and your paper?"

Lynn shook Dr. Bloch's hand. While his hand was not cold and clammy as she expected it would be, it was wet with something. She assumed it wasn't water, since it smelled like some sort of preservative. Formaldehyde perhaps? It reminded her of high school biology class. Lynn said nothing about the odor.

"Nice to meet you, Dr. Bloch, and thank you for meeting with me," said Lynn. "Our paper is doing a series of articles on local residents who have made large contributions in the fields of science and technology and we would like you to be the first of the feature members of our articles."

"Well, that's all very flattering, Ms. Seibel," said Dr. Bloch as he walked around his desk and sat down. He then extended a hand out for Lynn to have a seat. "But I'm not exactly a celebrity, like a movie star or rock singer."

"That's just the point, Dr. Bloch," replied Lynn. "Quite a number of inventors and scientists live in central Pennsylvania. We just want to show the local residents that not every scientist works at Princeton or Silicon Valley."

"Again you flatter me, Ms. Seibel, but I must tell you that one of the aspects that makes central Pennsylvania very attractive is the fact that privacy is a highly valued commodity. It allows one to be far more productive."

"So is that why you decided to take the position here at Nicashimmy Psychiatric Hospital?" asked Lynn as she fumbled for a pen and notebook from her coat.

"I will take that first question to indicate that the interview has begun," said Dr. Bloch. "Well besides the privacy to pursue my research interests, the work of Dr. Foster in the 1960's documenting geographic areas with high rates of schizophrenia sparked my scientific curiosity. As I'm sure you are aware, my collaboration with Braker Pharmaceuticals has produced several drugs that help to minimize the incidence of schizophrenia."

"Minimize the incidence?" asked Lynn. "I thought your drug completely cured it."

Dr. Bloch smirked, "My dear Ms. Seibel, schizophrenia can never be cured, but it can be reduced. The benefit my drug has over others is that it reduces the incidence of the illness to near zero without any mental or physiological side-effects."

"If these drugs are so wonderful, why can't you just use it to cure any patient with schizophrenia?"

"Unfortunately," sighed the Dr. Bloch, "schizophrenia comes in varying degrees of severity and the drugs currently available are only successful with mild cases. This is why I have come to central Pennsylvania. Do you know that some of the towns in this portion of the country have some of the highest rates of schizophrenia per capita? As a scientist I could not pass up such an interesting research opportunity."

"Speaking of research, what's your opinion on using humans to test experimental drugs?" asked Lynn.

Dr. Bloch's smirk left his face. "Tell me, Ms. Seibel, are you sure you are conducting an objective, informational interview?"

"Forgive me, Dr. Bloch, but any scientist working with drugs to cure diseases of the mind must have an opinion on the morality of experimental drug testing on human subjects?"

"True," said Dr. Bloch. "I just didn't realize that the interview would move into this direction. Forgive my abruptness. I believe if a person agrees to participate in a medical trial of an experimental drug that already has been used on a variety of other mammalian species, and if that person has an understanding of the risks involved, that person should be allowed to try the drug."

"Yes," said Lynn, "but what if that person doesn't have the capacity to make that decision due to some sort of mental illness."

"Ms. Seibel," said Dr. Bloch looking squarely into Lynn's eyes, "is there something specific you want to ask me?"


© 1998 Edward P. Berglund
"A Mind is a Terrible Thing": © 1996 by Steve Maschuck and Fred Lubnow. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1998 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: October 5, 1998; Updated: August 9, 2004