by Mark Moogalian
Copyright © Mark Moogalian 2009
Dépôt légal à
Legal deposit at the French National Library in May 2009
This is a work of fiction. All characters and places are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
“C’est impensable! ”
That’s what Madame Bouffant said about Mr. Farride being arrested and taken to the Delarbre Mental Clinic up the street. She was standing in line at the bakery and everyone was talking about it.
Madame Bouffant thought it was all her fault and she felt sick inside. She was such a big fan of Mr. Farride
and knew all four of his films by heart. Her favorite was Pleasure Cruise, in which Mr. Farride, the American, the man the French
called Mee-stur Fah-reed, played Captain John Harris. The Captain was cool under pressure with a mind solid like a steel hull. Madame Bouffant idolized the Captain and liked to believe that Mr. Farride and Captain John Harris were one and the same. The
fact that Mr. Farride lived on a big boat she could see from her kitchen window confirmed it beyond a doubt. Mr. Farride lived
on a péniche, French for cargo boat. Many had been renovated into houseboats parked along the
And now he was in the crazy house and it was all her fault. Pauvre capitaine!
It all started on Thursday August 1st, 1991 at 8:30 p.m., when police received a call about a man acting suspiciously. He was on the riverbank near Mr. Farride’s péniche and had been standing there for about an hour, staring at a tree. It was a sycamore. The caller thought the man was from the Delarbre Mental Clinic up the street.
“The same thing happened two months ago,” the caller said.
Two months earlier, a patient had wandered down the street and stared at the same tree for several hours. Benny, Mr. Farride’s West-Highland Terrier, was up on deck and saw the man arrive. He started barking like he always did at passers-by, only this time he didn’t stop. Mr. Farride, inside the boat reading, knew that meant someone was out on the riverbank. So he got up to take a look out the window and he saw the man standing still and staring at the sycamore. He walked out on deck, shushed Benny, then looked at the man again. The man hadn’t moved. Mr. Farride took Benny inside and tried to forget about it. He went back to his reading. After an hour or so he looked back out the window and saw the man was still there, in the exact same position. Mr. Farride took out the garbage hoping the man would see him and walk away, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the man just stood there staring at the tree. Mr. Farride said bonjour but no answer. Maybe he was deaf. So Mr. Farride waved his arms. Nothing. Mr. Farride wondered if it were possible for someone to die on their feet. Something was definitely wrong and he felt he should act. He nonetheless decided to give it a little longer and went back inside.
To his surprise, the police arrived five minutes later. When Mr. Farride saw flashing lights coming from the street he walked upstairs to the bathroom, opened the window and leaned his head outside. The police were on the riverbank talking to the man, who was muttering something in a daze.
Mr. Farride wondered who had called the police. He never found out it was Madame Bouffant from across the street because she never told anybody. She didn’t want to be seen as a snoop, even though she was one. Madame Bouffant sincerely believed she was just doing her duty, protecting her capitaine.
The man was eventually identified and taken back to the Delarbre Mental Clinic. It seems he had not been taking his Parvox as instructed by his doctor. Everybody talked about it at the bakery for days.
That was two months earlier, and Madame Bouffant assumed that the man she saw on August 1st was the same man as before, only this time wearing a boonie cap. Who else would be standing there staring at that tree for so long? So she called the police again.
Officers Lequais and Laborde were in the vicinity just as they had been on the previous occasion. They looked at each other when they got the call over the radio.
“Looks like he got out again,” said Laborde, turning the squad car around.
“Some people never learn!” laughed Lequais.
They would soon realize it wasn’t the same man.
When they arrived at the scene, they found Mr. Farride wearing a boonie cap, his arms outstretched, gawking up the sycamore and making bird sounds. They also heard a real bird chirping in the tree. Officers Lequais and Laborde studied the situation and agreed that Mr. Farride was trying to communicate with the bird. In the arrest report Mr. Farride was referred to as the subject. It said: subject was trying to communicate with a bird.
* * *
To understand what happened from Mr. Farride’s point of view we must go back to about an
hour before Madame Bouffant called the police. Around 7:30 p.m., Mr. Farride was cleaning out his storage closet when he came
upon an old metal chest containing a collection of memorabilia from the four films he did in the seventies. He hadn’t looked inside
the chest since moving to
“OK, let’s go.”
While Mr. Farride and Benny were walking along the riverbank in front of the péniche, something happened that might be identified in modern psychology as Mr. Farride’s key incident, which is a type of trigger moment. Here’s what happened: Mr. Farride was wearing his magic hat and admiring a sycamore when a kingfisher came swooping through the air, its metallic blue wings glistening in the evening sun. It landed on a twig overhanging the river. Mr. Farride watched the bird sway on its perch in the August wind. The kingfisher then let out a tiny peep that was just the right pitch to instigate a peculiar disturbance in Mr. Farride’s mind. The sound resonated through his ears to his brain and crystalized his synapses before travelling back out to his nerve endings. This produced sensory overlap that crossed the wires between sight, sound and touch, triggering a perceptual avalanche throughout his being. His world was buried under a blanket of snow, an empty canvass on which a new picture of reality was about to be painted.
Mr. Farride stood there entranced by the kingfisher and the most amazing thing happened: he fell into the bird’s eye. It began as tunnel vision then he zoomed in on the kingfisher’s pupil. The pupil grew big enough to walk through. Mr. Farride was only one step away from entering the bird’s eye. He lifted his foot to take the big step. He tripped over the iris and fell inside a crystal ball filled with soft white light floating like fog. The light fused with his soul. He was in awe but not afraid. The light shined from his eyes and he could see like a bird. Then a portal appeared in mid-air and sucked out the soft white light and him with it. The next thing he knew, he was back on the riverbank staring up the sycamore at the kingfisher. The kingfisher was chirping. The chirping was an acknowledgement of everything that had just taken place.
Mr. Farride raised his arms and started making bird sounds. At that point he could feel everything he saw and everything he saw could feel him, including the kingfisher, the sycamore and the river. They were all communicating.
Officers Lequais and Laborde thought he was mentally ill and they said so in their report. In the comments box was written: Subject appears to be mentally ill.
When officers Lequais and Laborde approached, Mr. Farride suddenly took off and sprinted down the river trail, his boonie cap falling off in the process. They didn’t realize he was running after Benny, who was further down the riverbank barking at waves from a passing cruise ship. Officers Lequais and Laborde called out to Mr. Farride, who was too busy with Benny and the waves to hear them.
“Arrêtez-vous! ” they shouted. He didn’t stop.
Officers Lequais and Laborde thought he was resisting arrest, and they put that in their report, too: Subject resisted arrest.
During his questioning at the police station, Mr. Farride confirmed that not only could he communicate with birds and trees, but even with the river for that matter. He said this referring to himself in the third person:
“Mr. Farride can communicate with birds, trees, and even the river for that matter.”
A doctor was called in to examine Mr. Farride. The doctor called in a shrink. The shrink suggested that Mr. Farride stay in a ‘protective environment’ for the time being. By that he meant the Delarbre Mental Clinic.
So officers Lequais and Laborde took Mr. Farride to the clinic. He didn’t resist. They even let him bring Benny.
On the way, Lequais and Laborde congratulated themselves on their correct diagnosis…
“Told you he was crazy!”
“You mean I told you !”
That was the part they liked best about their job; the little jokes they made buzzing around in their squad car. Mr. Farride sat in the back seat with Benny on his lap, not listening to the officers at all.
They arrived at the clinic and some of the staff recognized Mr. Farride from his films:
“That’s Sacha Farride, the actor!” whispered Sophie the receptionist, trying not to stare.
“I know!” whispered Bernard the security guard, “…you think I could get his autograph?”
“I doubt it,” said Sophie, “this isn’t
They tried not to snicker but there was only so much they could do. It was the funniest thing Sophie had ever said.
* * *
Mr. Farride was to be examined by Doctor Louis Selfton, an American expat from The
Psychology Centre in
Doctor Selfton specialized in a condition called Acute Fantasy Aftershock, or A.F.A. for short. He’d coined the term in 1987 while
Izanami Kai, the Japanese actress, had A.F.A. when she was only fifty-two. In
Troy Dennim from The Incredible Chunk had A.F.A. when he was seventy-nine.
He gave himself a heart attack flexing in front of a mirror in a
Mrs. Topper was made an overnight media hero. There was a photo of her, The Incredible Chunk and Troy Dennim on the cover of Fanstar Magazine the following week.
“I thought he was actually turning into The Chunk !” she joked during the interview. Reporters laughed and cameras flashed.
Doctor Selfton treated Izanami Kai and Troy Dennim using an approach he invented called Creative Freedom. It consisted of providing monitored environments in which patients could experience their creative drives to the hilt. Doctor Selfton referred to the time spent in Creative Freedom as an episode. The episode was the period and means necessary for the patient to reach fulfilment. Once fulfilled, the patient would eventually return to a normal state of mind, often more in harmony with their surroundings than before the onset of A.F.A.
Izanami Kai was Doctor Selfton’s first Asian patient and
the first he treated in
Creative Freedom had its critics, however, one of them being Docteur Henri Berne, a fellow
member of the Panel of Five. The Panel of Five was a group of esteemed psychiatrists who determined treatment policy at the
Delarbre Mental Clinic. Doktor Paula Stenmark from
The Panel of Five met once a week to discuss new patients. If there were any strong differences of opinion on what treatment a particular patient should receive, the panel debated the issue and then voted on it. Docteur Baudin and Docteur Duval almost always sided with Docteur Berne.
“This is really just not worth it,” said Docteur Berne during a Panel of Five debate. He was referring to Izanami Kai. He couldn’t believe someone was actually willing to pay for such a treatment. He called it “extravagant” and “wasteful” due to the time and cost involved. Docteur Berne believed it was better to treat such cases with strict medication.
“If we just give Ms. Kai the medication she will be fine in a few weeks at most. Parvox works. It is a time-tested medication, with little or no side-effect and is relatively inexpensive. Prescribing Parvox means allowing more resources to be allocated to more serious pursuits.”
Docteur Baudin and Docteur Duval nodded in agreement. Doktor Stenmark looked undecided.
Even if he understood the logic of Doctor Berne’s arguments, Doctor Selfton just didn’t like the idea. He thought it trivialized the patient’s need to create.
Doctor Selfton looked at Docteur Berne and said:
“Izanami Kai has to go through a creative process to get better. It’s that simple.”
Fortunately for Doctor Selfton, Ms. Kai’s benefactor insisted on using Creative Freedom and it didn’t cost the clinic a cent.
* * *
On the afternoon of August 2nd, Doctor Selfton sat in his office waiting for the nurse to knock on the door and show in Mr. Farride. It was time for his psychiatric evaluation and he was five minutes late. Doctor Selfton looked back down at the copy of the arrest report signed by officers Lequais and Laborde. He read what was written in the comments box:
-subject was trying to communicate with a bird…
-subject appears to be mentally ill…
Doctor Selfton decided to go find out what was keeping the nurse and Mr. Farride. He asked Sophie the receptionist. She said they were in the typing room.
“Typing Room?” He was surprised because nobody ever used the typing room. It so happened that Mr. Farride had been shown the typing room earlier that morning during the standard tour of the facilities.
“And this is the typing room where you can type a letter to friends, or even poetry…”
Right there in the middle of the tour, Mr. Farride walked over to the typewriter, sat down and put a sheet of paper in the roller and started typing away. Benny walked over, curled up at his feet and closed his eyes. He was still tired from all the excitement the night before. The nurse decided to leave them there since they weren’t bothering anyone. She shut the door behind her when she left because of the sound of the typing. She came back two hours later to bring Mr. Farride to his psychiatric evaluation.
When Doctor Selfton opened the door the rat-a-tat-tat of the typewriter filled his ears. He saw the nurse, speaking calmly but firmly to Mr. Farride, telling him it was time to go. Mr. Farride was paying absolutely no attention to her and kept on typing. Benny lifted his head as Doctor Selfton entered the room.
rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat
“It’s all right, nurse. I’ll handle it. Thank you.”
The nurse said “Merci, Docteur,” and walked out.
“Hello Mr. Farride. I’m Doctor Selfton.”
rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat
Doctor Selfton repeated himself, only louder.
“I’m Doctor Selfton!”
rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat
On the table to Mr. Farride’s left was a small stack of typed pages. It was in English. Doctor Selfton asked what he was writing.
rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat
“You know,” said the doctor, “I control the paper supply around here.”
The typing stopped.
Doctor Selfton asked Mr. Farride again what he was writing.
“Stories about Mr. Farride,” he said, referring to himself in the third person. He said nothing else. He just sat there staring at the typewriter. Doctor Selfton looked at Mr. Farride thoughtfully, intrigued by all the typing. Such creative outbursts were often indicative of A.F.A.
“If you prefer, we can have tomorrow’s session here in the typing room.”
Mr. Farride nodded in agreement.
* * *
Doctor Selfton wanted to find out as much as he could about his new patient’s artistic past. He knew Mr. Farride had been an actor but that was it. He asked Sophie the receptionist if she knew the names of any of the films Mr. Farride had acted in. She was able to come up with the names of two: Pleasure Cruise and King of Benin. Then Bernard the security guard came in the room and they asked him if he could think of any. He rubbed his chin and said “Masters of Time ”, then he snapped his fingers and said “Mapmaker! Masters of Time and Mapmaker ! High-five!” They all laughed and Bernard gave everybody high-fives.
Doctor Selfton rented the four films and watched one per evening. They were good. He realized he’d already seen Masters of Time but couldn’t remember when or where.
He watched the films in chronological order:
Pleasure Cruise (1971)
Masters of Time (1976)
These four films were the fruit of Mr. Farride’s nine-year acting career in the seventies, but they were more than that. They were part of his identity flickering against the backdrop of his psyche, the soundtracks fading in and out like ambient chatter.
Doctor Selfton wrote down the names of the characters portrayed by Mr. Farride in the same order as the films:
Captain John Harris
Maître Alphonse Agostino
Doctor Selfton tried to talk to Mr. Farride about the films during their sessions in the typing room.
“I saw Pleasure Cruise last night. Good film.”
rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat rat-a-tat-tat
“Don’t forget what I said about the paper supply.”
The typing stopped again.
“Anyway, I just wanted to say I really liked the film.”
This went on for three more days. Doctor Selfton would watch one film in the evening then go to the typing room the next day and Mr. Farride would eventually stop typing. Then Doctor Selfton would say something about the film he saw the night before and Mr. Farride wouldn’t say much at all.
The more Doctor Selfton watched, the more he appreciated Mr. Farride’s talent as an actor, his ability to play such a wide range of characters so convincingly. Doctor Selfton wondered what kind of long-term effects playing these roles might have on an actor and if these effects could lead to A.F.A.
* * *
On Tuesday, August 6th at 1:57 p.m., Doctor Selfton was getting ready to go to the typing room for his session with Mr. Farride. There was a knock on the door.
The nurse showed in Mr. Farride and Benny. Doctor Selfton was surprised since their previous sessions had all taken place in the typing room. Mr. Farride handed him a manila envelope with all the pages he had typed. Doctor Selfton flipped through the pages and saw that there were four separate stories. The stories had title pages and were divided into parts. The words “THE END” were typed on the last page of each story.
“Thank you very much. I’ll be very happy to read them.”
He thought he detected the faintest of smiles on Mr. Farride’s face, who then turned to leave the room. The nurse shot Doctor Selfton a puzzled expression, wondering if she should bring Mr. Farride back. Doctor Selfton waved his hand and said “Let him go.” Benny followed Mr. Farride out the door.
* * *
Doctor Selfton carefully read all four stories that evening. The more he read, the more he was sure of it: Mr. Farride was experiencing A.F.A.
Doctor Selfton wondered if Mr. Farride had completed his Creative Episode by writing the four stories. It appeared to be the case but he had to be absolutely sure. If not allowed to complete the episode, statistics showed that Mr. Farride might go into relapse and experience another key incident, which would start the whole thing over again. In such a case, the patient has a whole new set of creative drives that could prove dangerous without proper supervision.
There was a Panel of Five meeting scheduled for Thursday, August 8th during which Mr. Farride’s treatment was to be decided. Doctor Selfton had less than two days to build his case. He knew Docteur Berne would be at the meeting ready to bark at the idea of using Creative Freedom to treat Mr. Farride, even though in this case it was much less expensive. All they had to do was wait and see if he had anything else to write.
Docteur Berne would still shoot down the idea in his quest to eliminate Creative Freedom as a viable option. It would all come down to the vote. At the end of the debate Docteur Berne, being the senior member of the Panel of Five, would say:
“All in favor of using Parvox, say aye…”
* * *
By the end of Tuesday evening Doctor Selfton was totally absorbed in the complexity of Mr. Farride’s condition. He was lost in thought, off somewhere on a tangent sifting through facts, hoping for some chance insight.
He dreamed about it that night. In his dream he was a secret agent assigned to Mr. Farride’s mind to learn more about what happened on August 1st. He used high technology to enter Mr. Farride’s psyche, which was like a movie set that could be transformed in the blink of an eye. ‘Agent’ Selfton narrated the dream over spy music with rattles and twangs:
I knew there was something special about today the moment I woke up, but I didn’t know what. Call it instinct. Something big was heading my way. Maybe I would do something good, or even great. Maybe I would make history.
* * *
Doctor Selfton was standing in line at the bakery the next morning thinking about the dream when a voice caught his attention.
“Oui, he was a very good acteur…”
It was the woman being served. She looked familiar. As she paid and turned to leave, their eyes met. It was Madame Zelda, the wife of a former patient. She recognized him, too. Madame Zelda said hello:
“Bonjour, Docteur Selfton, vous allez bien?”
“ I’m fine Madame Zelda, thank you. And you?”
“Ça va. Say, I hear you’re treating Sacha Farride down at the clinic. Is that true?”
Doctor Selfton felt a little embarrassed but smiled through the strain. He wasn’t comfortable discussing patients in public, but he didn’t want to offend Madame Zelda, either. It just so happened that her husband, Spurdig Zelda, was Izanami Kai’s benefactor.
“Yes, it’s true.”
Madame Zelda gave a big smile and said “Bien! He’s in good hands! Au revoir! ”
“Au revoir, Madame Zelda.”
Everyone in the bakery was looking at Doctor Selfton, who walked up to the counter and asked for abaguette.
Madame Chouquette, the baker’s wife, worked the register. She smiled at Doctor Selfton.
“We’re all fans,” she said, laughing and pointing to everyone in the bakery. She was trying to make him feel comfortable. Doctor Selfton smiled back and nodded.
Madame Chouquette had only seen the first half of Mapmaker, in which Mr. Farride played Ian Chartski, a heroic cartographer who mapped his own mind. She thought the film was okay, but her husband thought it was really great. This was partially because of the scene at the end in the blinding heat of the Paihai desert. Monsieur Chouquette knew a thing or two about heat since he was almost always in the back with the ovens.
“What do you think made him go crazy?” floated Monsieur Bouchon, owner of the Café du Rond Point. He was leaning against the counter looking at Doctor Selfton.
Doctor Selfton wanted to say nobody said he was crazy but didn’t want to invite any conversation on the subject. Instead, he just raised his eyebrows in humility as he dug some change out of his pocket and placed it on the counter.
“Well, you know what they say about actors!” cackled Madame Chouquette, making crazy hand signs and pointing to her head. Madame Chouquette liked to laugh behind the register. She spent twelve hours a day marching back and forth among rows of pastries and stacks of bread and she thought it was funny. She’d ring up the customers and laugh as the cash drawer flew open. In thirty years she’d laughed enough to fill all the clubs in Vegas. In thirty years she’d worn through fifty-seven pairs of shoes, four layers of linoleum and half of the floorboard. It made her proud to look at it, the rut she’d furrowed with her own two feet. This was her domain and she controlled every inch, every crumb, every cent that changed hands.
She handed Doctor Selfton the baguette. It was still warm.
“But all he did was stare at a tree,” said Monsieur Lecompte, Mr. Farride’s former accountant. Monsieur Lecompte was retired and going to the bakery to buy bread had become his morning ritual. It was kind of a social event because there was always a long line. The bakery had a reputation as a place for gossip and chit-chat. It was a reputation earned. Monsieur Lecompte had once said that going to the bakery was more informative than reading the paper. Everyone gave their two-cents’ worth, as they did on the subject of Mr. Farride.
“It’s unthinkable!” said Madame Bouffant, moving up in line behind Monsieur Lecompte. She rolled her blue shopping caddy as she stepped forward. She’d bought a blue one because it reminded her of the sea. Inside the caddy was a veal roast, carrots and a new pair of binoculars. The binoculars were to be placed on her kitchen counter near the window.
Madame Bouffant was upset, which wasn’t unusual for her. She hated waiting in line at the bakery. Everyone knew that, but no one knew she thought Captain John Harris and Mr. Farride were one and the same. No one knew she had a pair of binoculars in her caddy. Most of all, no one knew she was the one who had called the police on August 1st .
Madame Bouffant looked over at Doctor Selfton but decided not to say anything else, at least not in front of these people. None of them could imagine how much she was suffering from having failed her capitaine. They had no clue.
“I heard he doesn’t talk right,” said Monsieur Bouchon, “he refers to himself in the third person.”
“Who said that!” crowed Monsieur Chouquette, peeping his head out of the oven room, his face varnished with sweat. They all laughed. They always laughed when he did that. Monsieur Chouquette knew exactly when to stick his head out like a cuckoo clock and say just the right thing and make everybody laugh.
“I’m just glad he’s got Benny with him,” said Monsieur Lecompte.
After leaving the bakery, Doctor Selfton took a few steps on the sidewalk then stopped. He flashed back to his dream. ‘Agent’ Selfton was still talking:
Mind spying is not to be taken lightly. Preparation is key. I study the file, combing through any research that’s already been done by other agencies. And of course, I watch the films.
I watch the films and they become a part of me.
Someone tapped Doctor Selfton on the shoulder. He turned around. It was Monsieur Bouchon.
“Let me buy you a drink,” he said.
Doctor Selfton hesitated for a moment before answering.
They walked into theCafé du Rond Point. Monsieur Bouchon went behind the bar and pulled a bottle of Sancerre rouge off the shelf.
“It’s his favorite,” he said.
The doctor smiled as Monsieur Bouchon filled his glass.
Monsieur Bouchon poured himself one, too. They toasted.
“Ah!” said Monsieur Bouchon, “Good, isn’t it?”
“From the fountain of life.”
“That’s from Masters of Time, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” chuckled Monsieur Bouchon, “and that’s my favorite!”
They toasted again and drank from the fountain of life. Monsieur Bouchon filled their glasses once more.
“Have you seen his péniche?” asked Monsieur Bouchon.
“No, I haven’t.”
“I think I will.”
And he did. After he left the café, Doctor Selfton walked to the péniche following Monsieur Bouchon’s directions. It was only about five minutes away from the café. The early afternoon sun was shining through the trees. A kingfisher zipped by on metallic blue wings and when it chirped Doctor Selfton felt his heart swell.
* * *
Meanwhile, Madame Bouffant was looking out her kitchen window doing the dishes when she saw someone walking around Mr. Farride’s péniche staring at the trees. She gasped, daring to believe her dear Capitaine had finally returned.
Madame Bouffant grabbed the binoculars and held them up to her eyes, adjusting the focus. At first her expression faded when she saw it wasn’t Mr. Farride, but then she looked surprised when she realized it was Doctor Selfton. She recognized him from the bakery that morning. She put on her coat and hurried down the stairs and across the street.
“You’re Doctor Selfton from the clinic, right? I heard you’re treating Cap… um, Mr. Farride. Why don’t you come over for a cup of coffee?”
“Oh, no thank you, I…”
“Nonsense! I live right over there across the street!” she said, pointing to her kitchen window.
On the way, Madame Bouffant told him what a great man Mr. Farride was and what a big fan she was. Then they arrived at her apartment and Doctor Selfton sat down on the couch.
“Would you like some cookies with your coffee?”
She smiled and walked back into the kitchen.
They sat there drinking coffee and eating cookies and Madame Bouffant went on and on about Mr. Farride. She talked and Doctor Selfton listened patiently until she ran out of things to say.
“…and I must have seen Pleasure Cruise a dozen times!”
“You must know it by heart.”
“Oh!” she laughed, “that is true!” Madame Bouffant was so happy to share her passion for the captain with someone who knew him, even if it was his psychiatrist.
“Some people don’t understand,” she said. “My own sister doesn’t understand, bless her heart. She said I’m living vi-curiously.”
“You mean vicariously,” smiled Doctor Selfton.
“Ha! That’s it! She’s just been trying to scare me with words I’ve never heard before.” Madame Bouffant trailed off in soft laughter as her eyes sparkled. Doctor Selfton ate one last cookie and finished his coffee. It was time to go.
“Thank you very much for your hospitality.”
“You’re very welcome.”
As Doctor Selfton was leaving he caught sight of the binoculars on the kitchen counter. Madame Bouffant opened the door and smiled.
Once outside, Doctor Selfton decided to have another look at the péniche. When he got to the intersection he stopped and looked back at Madame Bouffant’s kitchen window. She was there, waving at him. He waved back.
* * *
On Thursday, August 8th , Doctor Selfton presented his diagnosis to the Panel of Five. He spoke about the four films. He said they were linked to what happened on the evening Mr. Farride was arrested. Doctor Selfton repeated some of the things Mr. Farride had told him:
“Mr. Farride was playing the characters and now the characters are playing Mr. Farride.”
“Mr. Farride is gone for good, only the four stories remain.”
Doctor Selfton then told the panel that “the patient suffers from Acute Fantasy Aftershock and has provided me with first-hand evidence to support my claim. During the four days following his arrival here at the clinic, the patient wrote four stories and gave them to me. I have read the stories carefully and each is clearly connected to one of the four films the patient played in. Elements from a particular film influence the corresponding story, and certain details or themes overlap. Each story has it’s own title, different from the film it’s connected to. This kind of associative storytelling is highly symptomatic of A.F.A.”
“Story telling or story writing ?” interrupted Doctor Berne.
“Story creating, to be more precise,” smiled Doctor Selfton, feeling quite sure of himself. He nodded to the technical assistant, who switched on the slide projector. Doctor Selfton pointed to the screen:
Film Character Story Pleasure
Cruise Captain John Harris Barber Shopping Mapmaker Ian Chartski Walking the Dog Masters
of Time Alphonse Agostino One
More Thing King of
Film Character Story
Pleasure Cruise Captain John Harris Barber Shopping
Mapmaker Ian Chartski Walking the Dog
Masters of Time Alphonse Agostino One More Thing
“The first story is called Barber Shopping. It is related to Pleasure Cruise in which Mr. Farride played Captain John Harris.”
* * *
Everyone on the Panel of Five had seen the film so they knew Captain Harris kept his hair long for a reason. When he was twenty-five he worked on a fishing boat that got caught in a bad storm off the coast of
He recited poetry and told himself stories to keep his mind occupied. He brushed his teeth with neem twigs and filed his nails with pumice stones. He decided not to trim his beard or hair even though he’d fashioned knives that would have done the job. He’d had a beard before, but this was by far the longest his hair had ever been and he liked it that way. It felt different to him now, more like an appendage than an ornament. He developed a new relationship with his hair that grew like the hair itself.
Months later, another fishing boat was in the area. The crew spotted smoke coming from a campfire on the island. There they found John Harris alive and well. Once aboard he had a bath, was fed and given new clothes. When asked if he wanted a haircut and shave, he replied “Just the beard.”
In fact, John Harris felt that the fishing boat, the storm, the disaster at sea and his life on the island had all been recorded in his hair. His hair was a living reminder of what he had gone through. He decided to keep it long so he would never forget.
When he returned home he couldn’t get a job on another fishing boat because he was the sole survivor of the shipwreck. The other crews thought he might be a jinx.
“That’s a chance we’d rather not take,” they’d say, shaking their heads.
So he joined the navy and the first thing they did was shave his head. It meant he could no longer remember his past first-hand, it had become abstract and distant. It was all just a dream now, a faraway dream.
He vowed to grow his hair back one day and reunite with his past, but would newly-grown hair do the job? Could it
bring back everything he’d recorded in his old hair? He would just have to find out. He was determined enough. No
problem there. He worked hard in the navy and rose to the rank of captain. Years later he met a very wealthy man
while on shore leave in
The idea of long hair wasn’t in the script initially. It came from Mr. Farride himself. He felt that long hair symbolized experience and reflection. The director, Eldridge Linderman, liked the idea so much it was written into the script.
At the premier Linderman was asked about the hair. He stood there, black tuxedo on red carpet, and said:
“Hair is like a physical memory, a record of the past, a living scroll. It influences the way we feel, and acts as an antenna to our surroundings…”
* * *
* * *
It was the crisp Thursday afternoon of August 1st, 1991.
Mr. Farride and Benny were on their way to the Café du Rond Point to get some pipe tobacco. There was no line at the counter when they arrived.
“This should only take a moment.” He walked up and asked for a pouch of tobacco and a box of matches.
Turning to leave, he noticed Benny was gone. Panic ran through his chest as his eyes searched the floor.
“Oh, why didn’t I put him on his leash? What if he followed another dog or was stolen?”
Then he saw Benny’s furry white head and wagging tail over in the corner. He was with an African woman who had braided, looping hair. She was smiling and petting Benny who was standing on his hind legs, his front paws on her knees.
Mr. Farride walked over to the corner table and said “Pardon, madame…”
The woman sat back in her chair and smiled.
“Oh, it’s quite all right. What’s his name?”
“Benny,…and I’m Sacha.” He reached out to shake her hand but she stood up and insisted they kiss on both cheeks. Her smile widened as she motioned to the empty seat across the table.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
He looked at her. He couldn’t remember the last time a woman had offered to buy him a drink. Maybe never.
“C’est gentil…” He sat down and petted Benny in gratitude.
Her name was
Oba and she was from
“Thank you. It means river goddess.”
“It also means king.”
Benny licked Mr. Farride’s hand. Mr. Farride took out his pipe.
“Mind if I smoke?”
“Not at all.”
Mr. Farride opened the pouch of tobacco he’d just bought.
“I’m here on business,” Oba said.
“On business here in this bar?” he grinned, lighting his pipe.
“No,” she giggled, “In
“And me what?” He took a puff then exhaled slowly, looking at her dark eyes through the smoke.
“You have an American accent.”
American but I’ve been living in
“What do you do?”
“Well, I’m retired now.”
He was avoiding the subject. He didn’t feel like talking about his acting career.
“And you? What line of business are you in?”
“The wig business.”
“Why are you laughing?”
He told her about an investment he’d made years before in a wig company he couldn’t remember the name of.
“Hairway…Hair Success, Hair Heaven…” Maybe he would remember later.
Oba said her company made wigs from human hair.
“Wigs are the main export of our village, but we don’t have
enough hair to meet demand. Competition is rough, especially when the competition has government connections. I came to
Mr. Farride wanted to laugh but didn’t make a sound. The laughter twinkled in his eyes instead.
“Who is your competitor?”
Then he remembered:
that was the name of the company he’d invested in. Hair Express. That was definitely the name. But was it possible
that this same company was causing trouble in
“Did you say Hair Express?”
“Yes, that’s right…why?”
“I’m not surprised if you’ve heard of them. They’re rather well-known.”
“Yes, that must be it…” He was relieved. He pulled on his pipe and looked down at the table for a moment. Now wasn’t the time for confessions. Maybe it was a different company with the same name. Better to wait.
“We just need more hair. It’s that simple.”
The waiter came to the table. “Votre commande, s’il vous plaît? ”
“I’ll have sparkling water.”
“Et vous, monsieur? ”
“A glass of Sancerre rouge.”
“Excuse me just a moment.” Mr. Farride got up from the table to go to the restroom.
On his way, he glanced down around his feet and, not seeing Benny, looked back over his shoulder at the table. Benny was still at Oba’s feet.
“Looks like I’m not the only one under her spell!” He flashed back to the film Pleasure Cruise, when Captain Harris met Halia Chong, a beautiful Singaporean heiress aboard The Superior. When they were first introduced he kissed her hand. She smelled like lilies. He would never forget that moment, that delicate scent that warmed him inside. He was under her spell. She was the woman his heart had been waiting for. He was going to ask her a question when another man clumsily interrupted saying “Say…aren’t you Halia Chong?” Captain Harris politely excused himself and went back to greeting the other passengers, wondering when he’d get another chance to talk to her.
And now he was under another spell. Oba’s. He pushed open the restroom door and walked up to the mirror. He leaned over the sink and took a close look at himself. He felt guilty for not mentioning his connection with Hair Express.
“Not now…later.” He promised he would tell her later.
Mr. Farride splashed some water on his face then dried off with a paper towel. He took a deep breath, straightened his clothes then turned around and walked back into the café. The drinks had arrived. “Bien!” he said, “I’m thirsty”. The wine would hit the spot and get him back in the right mood. He lifted his glass and held it in the air as his eyes wandered over the rim to Oba. They toasted:
The bell above the door jingled. Mr. Farride turned his head and saw a man leaving the café. He was African, and as he crossed the street he turned around and looked at Mr. Farride as if he knew him. Mr. Farride started to feel a little strange.
“Are you all right?”
“Oh…y-yes! I’m fine!”
he wasn’t fine and it wasn’t just because of the man but also the bell. Its jingling had taken him back to a scene from Pleasure
Cruise when The Superior was anchored somewhere off the coast of
Mr. Farride faded back into reality, back into the café. He looked at Oba.
“Must be the wine,” he laughed, trying to snap out of it.
He took another sip, leaned back and breathed in. The dreamy fog in his mind lifted and the café ambience took over. He suddenly felt much better.
Oba was radiant as she smiled at him. Mr. Farride took another puff and sip. He noticed his left hand was shaking. He didn’t know what to make of it so he played it down. But Oba had noticed, too.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yes, of course!” he smiled, putting his hand under the table. “Too much coffee today.”
“I see.” She smiled and nodded.
They talked about this and that as they finished their drinks. By the end of their conversation, it was like they’d known each other for years.
“How about dinner tomorrow night?” He didn’t think he was overstepping.
“I think I would like that.”
“We can meet here at seven for a drink then go across the street for dinner.”
“Sounds perfect,” said Oba.
They stood up and kissed each other goodbye.
Mr. Farride left the café a happy man.
When Mr. Farride got home, he switched on the reading lamp and looked in the mirror.
“I could use a haircut.”
His face relaxed as he told himself he was noticing the little things because of Oba’s spell.
Reaching inside the kitchen cabinet for his smoke box, he bumped a wine glass that fell out and smashed on the floor. He carefully picked up the shards and tossed them through the open hatch into the river. He then used a hand brush and dustpan for the smaller pieces and wiped the floor with a wet paper towel.
He opened the smoke box where he kept his favorite pipe. It was carved out of briar and had a black plastic mouthpiece with teeth marks. He filled his pipe then walked over to his armchair and sat down. As he smoked, he thought of Oba.
After a while, Mr. Farride yawned and set his pipe on the coffee table. He slid down in the armchair and pressed his hands together. He sat there motionless and could hear his watch ticking. He yawned again, folded his arms, closed his eyes and fell asleep with the lamp on.
He had a disturbing dream about Oba: she was in her native village
Their hands strained to join but she was too far away. Then he felt something in his hands: a rope made of hair, out of his hair. Oba grabbed the rope and the energy conducted through the organic cord produced an unbreakable bond. He could now pull her to safety.
Mr. Farride woke up in his armchair, reaching out into the dark room. The bulb in the reading lamp had burned out.
He slowly got up and made his way to the shelf near the mirror, where he fumbled for a book of matches. He struck a match, looked into the mirror and his heart almost burst. Someone else was there, looking back at Mr. Farride from the other side of the mirror.
He let go of the match and the flame went out as it dropped to the floor. The room was pitch black. He could hear Benny scratching himself on the couch. Mr. Farride went to the bathroom and turned on the light.
“Mon Dieu! ”
He gaped at what he saw in the mirror. It was him, but with hair down past his shoulders.
“Ha! No beard! But I guess I need a haircut after all!” He could joke about it because he thought he was dreaming. But as he spoke the last word he realized he was wide awake.
Scenes from the café played in his mind: Oba, Benny, the drinks, the jingling bells, the man who looked back at him, and then the dream. It was all happening for a reason he could not yet comprehend.
He had to see Oba. He trusted her.
Wandering the streets at
They continued down the street under the full blue moon.
“Man wanders the Earth, the moon ponders the world.” It was a line from Pleasure Cruise. He didn’t mean to say it. The words just came out.
Everything in Mr. Farride’s life had changed in a matter of hours. Yesterday he was quietly riding out the rest of his life, drawing his pension, on his way to buy pipe tobacco. Today he was in a world he never knew existed and yet could never again do without. A world with Oba. That was all he knew for sure.
Mr. Farride and Benny arrived in front of the Café du Rond Point. It was closed. Through the glass Mr. Farride could see the table where he had sat with Oba.
Mr. Farride turned and saw Oba standing there.
“Yes, it’s me. I almost didn’t recognize you, Sacha, your hair…”
He took two steps towards her, then stopped. “I can’t believe you’re here! I can’t believe I’m looking at you right now!”
“I had a horrible nightmare Sacha and when I woke up I somehow knew I had to come here.”
“Well, a nightmare with a happy ending I should say.”
“Tell me about it.” But he already knew what she would say.
“My village had been destroyed. Everything was burning. I was being chased through the streets by soldiers. They had killed my family and friends. People were screaming everywhere.”
Mr. Farride stood there, throbbing with emotion.
“Is that when I saved you with the rope made from my own hair?”
Oba’s eyes widened as she took in what Mr. Farride had just said.
“How did you know?”
“I had the exact same dream tonight. And when I woke up, my hair had grown so long. Look!”
“That’s why I wasn’t sure it was you at first, but then I saw Benny and I knew…”
Benny started growling, then took off running towards a small park further down the sidewalk. Mr. Farride and Oba ran after him. Mr. Farride called out but Benny wouldn’t stop.
“Viens ici! ”
Benny ran to the park gates and started barking. Mr. Farride looked but couldn’t see anything but dark shadows and bamboo thicket.
A twig snapped...someone was there. Benny squeezed between the bars and ran into the park. Mr. Farride and Oba saw someone run out from behind the bamboo. It was the man from the café, running toward a row of trees on the other side. Mr. Farride and Oba climbed over the gate and followed as fast as they could.
When they caught up with Benny he was on the other side barking up a sycamore.
They looked up and saw the man in the tree. Mr. Farride shushed Benny and told the man it was safe to come down.
“Vous pouvez descendre.”
The man hesitated a moment then slowly climbed down and walked over to them. Under the moonlight he was not as young as Mr. Farride had originally thought. He was wearing dark, loose-fitting clothes and moccasins.
Oba was stunned because she recognized him.
“Abassi! What are you doing here?!”
“You know this man?”
“He’s the witch doctor from my village!”
Mr. Farride and Abassi looked at each other. Abassi’s eyes glowed liked polished ivory.
Oba repeated her question, more calmly this time.
“I was told to watch over you. The village elders were concerned.”
“I can take care of myself!”
“I had no choice.”
“But why did they send you to protect me Abassi? Why did they send the village witch doc…”
Oba gasped, having just realized that Abassi was responsible for Mr. Farride’s metamorphosis.
“Abassi!” she shouted, “How could you?”
“It’s okay Oba, let’s hear what he has to say.”
Abassi explained that one of the village elders had a vision a few
days before Oba’s departure. In his vision Oba got married during her trip to
On the day of Oba’s departure, Abassi gave her a bo, a charm bracelet that she was told would bring her good luck and help her find a hair supplier. But the bo was not for that at all. It was to keep Oba from marrying the wrong man. It had the power to trigger a metamorphosis during a shared dream that Abassi would create using witchcraft. The dream would be shared by Oba and any man she fell in love with. In the dream the man’s true character would be revealed. If bad, he would be turned into a rat. If good, the bo would have no effect.
“But your feelings for her were so strong that you took control over the bo and used it to grow the rope of hair that saved Oba. This triggered a different type of metamorphosis, one that could not have been predicted. It happened the moment the rope appeared in your hand.”
Oba and Mr. Farride looked at each other.
“Oh, Sacha…” she said as she fell into his arms, “I’m so sorry I got you mixed up in all this.”
She smelled like lilies and the fragrance stirred him. He took a long, deep breath and closed his eyes. A vision of the future played onscreen. He saw himself in a Nigerian village, sitting proudly in a barber’s chair with Oba by his side and Benny at their feet. The villagers were sitting in circles around them, busily braiding locks of his hair.
Madame Chouquette, the baker’s wife, had only seen one of the four films Mr. Farride played in and she fell
asleep half-way through. The storyline got a little complicated so her brain shut off and she conked out in her seat. That wasMapmaker, a science-fiction film in which Mr. Farride played an explorer and cartographer named Ian Chartski.
was the rugged type, best suited for breathing rich mountain air and overlooking vast spaces. He had a beard and thick sideburns,
wore a boonie cap and chukka boots. He carried a baseplate compass in his coat pocket. His grip was strong and his palm hard
and calloused. He smelled like the woods.
Chartski was the rugged type, best suited for breathing rich mountain air and overlooking vast spaces. He had a beard and thick sideburns, wore a boonie cap and chukka boots. He carried a baseplate compass in his coat pocket. His grip was strong and his palm hard and calloused. He smelled like the woods.
Chartski loved maps, or rather the uncharted sections of maps. He had been born with a gift, a special light he could shine on anything and pinpoint its exact coordinates.
He spent his time and
energy mapping uncharted zones. He mapped the
It seemed he could map just about anything.
While in the Ziptic Jungle, Chartski had a mystical experience. It was in the middle of the afternoon and the dense jungle was hot and humid. Chartski was hacking a path through the thicket when he came upon an exotic bird sitting on a branch right in front of him, staring back with one eye. He was surprised the bird wasn’t afraid. Little did Chartski know the bird was an alien sent to study him, to learn more about the gift he’d been born with. As Chartski stood there looking at the bird, he became mesmerized by the bird’s eye. Then the bird screeched and the sound affected him like a drug. He had the most amazing mystical experience, just like the one Mr. Farride had on August 1st.
The experience left Chartski in a state of bewilderment. He sat down trying to piece together what had just happened, but the memory was fading fast. He thought of the special light he was born with and decided to do something he’d never done before. He would turn the light inward and shine it on his mind to retrace the memory of the mystical experience. He knew it might be dangerous, but that had never stopped him before. He did not know, however, that his experience with the alien bird had rendered the special light even more powerful. When he shined it inward he could see all the uncharted zones of his memory, the lost moments of his life. Chartski was so overwhelmed by what he saw he completely forgot about the exotic bird and the mystical experience. He stared at the zones and knew he had no choice but to map them, too.
It was around this time that Madame Chouquette conked out in her seat.
With his newly-improved special light he transformed the memories into parts of a holographic structure with levels, steps, rooms and windows, like an enormous house. He could move through the house and relive any moment from his past he wanted. His mind flickered between experiencing the moment directly and studying it as an observer. He was transported from scene to scene and from current events to past dreams he was remembering for the first time. The memory house kept growing until the past took over the present. It grew to the size of his entire world and he could no longer get out. He had mapped himself out of reality.
Madame Chouquette liked
the beginning of the film with its vivid panoramic views of beautiful places she could only dream of visiting. Chartski’s voice
reminded her of her uncle Richard who lived in
Monsieur Chouquette, on the other hand, loved the film though he really couldn’t explain
why. He couldn’t put it into words because Monsieur Chouquette only spoke in four or five word expressions. He didn’t
construct complex ideas, he only responded to things with quips and quotes. And he was good at that. Really good. Everybody said so. He had thirty years’ practice sticking his head out of the oven room and letting the punch lines fly. He
wished he could remember them all and build them into a house just like Chartski did in the film. He thought about this while
staring into the sun-hot ovens. The loaves of bread shined like gold bars. He imagined himself in the raging heat of the
“Ah, that Chartski! Now there’s a man who could take the heat!”
* * *
In the following story entitled Walking the Dog, Mr. Farride maps events that point to a final, ultimate event. He doesn’t know what that event will be but he’s sure it’s coming. Everything is clearly leading up to it.
Doctor Selfton wondered if this ultimate event could be compared to what he called a key incident, something uncanny that triggers a chain reaction in the mind during the onset of A.F.A.
Izanami Kai’s key incident occurred when she was taking photos of Onuma Pond and a dragonfly stopped and hovered in the air right in front of her lens. The camera started clicking and her heart was pounding with excitement at the spectacular shots she was getting. As the dragonfly moved over the pond she went right in after it without thinking twice. It was the same way for many things she shot during her Creative Freedom episode. She molded with her environment and embraced the physical challenges shots presented. She took them while crawling through the grass, hanging from the trees and even snorkeling. At one point she was suspended from the bottom of a balloon.
The key incident for Troy Dennim was
when he thought his pet turtle was challenging him to a bodybuilding contest. The turtle’s name was Maxwell and he was in excellent
shape at the time. As they were applying their body oil
In another section of the arrest report handed in by Officers Lequais and Laborde, Doctor Selfton read where Mr. Farride said he could talk to birds, trees, and even to the river for that matter. Doctor Selfton believed that Mr. Farride’s key incident involved the kingfisher but he didn’t know the details. He didn’t know about the magic hat, the peep, the crystalized nerve endings or falling into the kingfisher’s eye.
* * *
Walking the Dog
BENINESE SCROLL PREDICTS APOCALYPSE
The headline caught Mr. Farride’s eye as he and Benny walked up to the kiosk. Mr. Farride decided to buy the magazine. He set down the bag of groceries he was carrying and handed the vendor ten francs. He rolled up the magazine and slid it into the orange plastic bag with the dried sausage inside. Then he and Benny headed for the péniche.
The Café du Rond Point was full of smoke and chatter as the late-afternoon sun lifted the spirits of the patrons and pedestrians. A young couple walked by. They were holding hands and she was laughing. Mr. Farride continued down the sidewalk a little slower than usual, with a contemplative air and thoughtful gait. He was at the first stages of reverie. He took a deep breath, held it, then gently exhaled. He waited before taking his next breath and the vacuum created by his empty lungs made his stomach and head tingle. He inhaled again, calmly. A mild rush of oxygen rode his blood like dolphins. He felt snug in his body.
Benny stopped every ten meters or so to smell whatever the city sidewalk had to offer and then piss on it. Mr. Farride wondered if he did that in case they got lost or separated, then Benny could just follow the piss trail and smell his way back home.
Someone shouted “François! ” It was a woman’s voice. Mr. Farride turned and saw the woman and a young boy up ahead in the middle of the sidewalk. The woman was down on her knees, pleading with the boy, who was probably four or five years old, to stand up and walk on his own. Clearly exasperated, she started shaking the boy, who went limp and wouldn’t budge, just lying there on the filthy ground.
Again the woman lifted him up and tried to get him on his feet, but he refused to stand on his own. She kept shaking him, shouting “Please stand up, François, will you please stand up! My back is killing me and I’m too tired to carry you!”
Mr. Farride decided to say something to her in a kind voice. He wanted to help.
“Doesn’t want to walk, does he?”
The woman looked up and smiled. It was clear she appreciated Mr. Farride’s attempt to calm the situation.
“No, he refuses. Whenever he doesn’t want to walk he does this, he just lies down in the middle of the sidewalk. People sometimes think there’s been an accident or that he’s ill…but he’s just doing this to get his way.”
“There’s nothing physically wrong with him? He’s just being difficult?”
“Absolutely,” the woman answered, laughing a little.
“Well, then he’s probably just rebelling against something and this is his way of expressing it. At his age, refusing to move is one of the most effective means of making his point. At least it’s non-violent. I’ve seen protesters do the same thing. They just lie there until the cops drag them away.”
For a moment she looked surprised, then cracked a smile. She picked the boy up off the sidewalk and set him down on some steps leading up to the street. The boy still refused to move, but the mother had calmed down. She sat down beside her son and looked up at Mr. Farride.
“Good luck with your boy and your back.”
The woman was now pointing to Benny and saying to her son “See the dog François? See the dog?” François let out a joyful laugh.
As they walked away, Mr. Farride began to experience a peculiar feeling, a sort of déjà vu. Maybe meeting this woman was no accident.
This moment would later resurface in his mind to chime in with a chorus of related ideas. It was one of a group of thoughts that would change the course of his life. Mr. Farride didn’t know this but he sensed something deep at work.
“Mystery afoot!” he whispered to himself. It was a line from Mapmaker. Mr. Farride and Benny crossed the street. They went down the stairwell to the parking lot below. They were not far now.
Mr. Farride’s mind’s eye focused on the péniche just a few hundred meters ahead, tucked under a row of sycamores, a floating hideaway on the edge of the city. It was red and blue and shook like a carnival ride when other boats passed. Mr. Farride spent most of his time in the front section of the boat, where the captain’s quarters were once located. It was now the kitchen and living room. It was also his thinking room, from where he often stared through the kitchen hatch at the river and sky, smoking his pipe and contemplating the world.
It was almost time for Round Table, Mr. Farride’s favorite news show from
Mr. Farride turned on the t.v. and listened to the commercials while setting out the groceries. He uncorked a bottle of Sancerre rouge, grabbed a steak knife and cut two slices of dried sausage, one for himself and one for Benny. He followed with a healthy gulp of wine. Round Table was starting.
The first topic was a group of activists called the Association for the
Humane Treatment of Animals, or the A.H.T.A. They had recently been in
report continued and the footage flickered on the screen, Mr. Farride caught sight of a familiar face among the protesters being dragged
off. It was a woman. She happened to be the spokesperson for the group and was speaking from
“This company uses inhumane methods in their animal testing research centers, and now they want to expand their production site here which will damage the ecosystem and diminish indigenous culture. They must be stopped.”
It was the woman he had crossed on the sidewalk a short while earlier. She was an activist. She was a non-violent protester.
Under her photo was written: Jeanne Lagarde, A.H.T.A. activist and spokesperson. Mr. Farride said her name out loud:
She was now burned into his memory.
Mr. Farride reached forward and turned off the t.v. It was perfectly quiet for a moment, then the sound of cars approaching on the quai faded in, a whispering herd of cars speeding by in automotive time. He went to the kitchen, leaned back against the counter and looked through the open hatch. He watched the end of the sunset, gently swirling his second glass of wine as the dark river crept by. He set the glass down, reached into the cabinet over the sink and pulled out his smoke box.
When he struck a match and held it in the air, shadows sprang from all corners, scratching the walls and ceiling. Mr. Farride could feel the heat from the flame as he brought the match closer to his face. He lit his pipe and shook out the match, the smoke mingling with the night air.
Reflecting on the chance meeting with Jeanne Lagarde and her son, Mr. Farride remembered what he said to her: I’ve seen protesters do the same thing. They just lie there until the cops drag them away.
The clairvoyance of those words was both undeniable and unexplainable.
Chartski was right, there was mystery afoot.
Mr. Farride started reading about the Beninese scroll, which dated back to the sixteenth century and was comprised of four symbols. It was created by a Beninese mystic for the king of
The scroll was rectangular and measured one meter from side to side and seventy centimeters from top to bottom. There was a symbol in each corner and a black X in the center. There was a description of each of the four symbols, beginning with the one in the upper-left section of the scroll and going clockwise.
The first symbol was a blue moon. It stood for time. It was steel blue with a black outline and a thin white crosshair in the center.
Mr. Farride went to the kitchen and leaned out the hatch. The moon was nearly full and had a blueish hue. He smiled at the night sky.
Then he heard a voice, both strange and familiar, a voice whispering in his mind. It was the voice of destiny and it said he was meant to read the article about the scroll. He was meant to see the photo. The voice said the scroll contained a personal message being transmitted to him. It told him the scroll was directly linked to the day’s events.
“It’s all meant to be,” said the voice.
Benny started barking at something on the riverbank. Mr. Farride turned and looked through the porthole to see what it was. He thought he saw someone. He cupped his hands around his eyes but didn’t see anything else. Benny’s barking died down and eventually stopped. Mr. Farride assumed that whatever it was, it was gone now. He went back to reading about the scroll.
The next symbol on the scroll was a hand in the top-right corner. It was firebrick red and suggested divine intervention.
Below the hand was a heavy cloud over dark soil. This represented a dream followed by revelation. There were rows of bright yellow dots depicting seeds.
The fourth symbol was orange and green fire. The green symbolized rebirth.
The X in the center was the Oba’s perspective upon realizing the connection between the four images and the end of his world.
Mr. Farride put the magazine down and took a long puff. He looked at the moon through the kitchen hatch and his thoughts began to wander. Imagining he was an Oba, he began checking the day’s events against the scroll’s prophecy. Did the fact the moon had a blueish hue count at all? He laughed, remembering the voice of destiny.
It was time to get some air.
Reaching for his jacket, he flashed back to Jeanne Lagarde. He started humming a familiar melody as he slid his arms through the sleeves. He straightened the collar and an ambulance went by, the siren blaring. Benny started howling like a wolf. Mr. Farride pretended Benny was howling at the blue moon and not the red siren. Mr. Farride started humming again then stopped himself when he realized he was humming Blue Moon. He smiled as the song played on.
He took Benny out for their nightly walk along the river. The air was sweet and cool. Shadows danced along the trail, playing tricks on his eyes. At one point he was sure he saw someone further up the trail staring back at him. He froze in his steps for a split second, then continued to move forward. As he approached, the illusion dissolved into the night.
A fish jumped out of the water and flexed, its dark skin glittering in the blue moonlight. It splashed back into the river. Mr. Farride followed the fish in his mind as he and Benny made their way back to the boat. They went inside and Mr. Farride looked at the clock. Midnight.
Mr. Farride had a disturbing dream that night. In the dream he was an Oba and there was a war going on. The enemy had surrounded his village and was closing in. His people would soon be under attack. He knew his world was doomed, that the enemy would destroy everything to gain control over the area’s natural resources: natural latex from the thick rubber-tree forests . In Mr. Farride’s dream, the latex was to be used to produce billions of hair implants. He was furious.
The invading army began to storm the village. They charged through the streets on a wild rampage. The villagers tried to defend themselves but were no match for the enemy.
It got worse and worse until it was nothing but slaughter.
“Hair implants! How can this be! How can they destroy everything for hair implants!” shouted Mr. Farride, the Oba, at the top of his lungs. The sound of his voice filled the entire forest then turned into poisonous smoke. The smoke killed the invading army. He waited, not yet daring to hope it was over.
There was quiet, then a rumble and the ground started to shake violently. A force reached up from the bowels of the earth and brought the dead soldiers and villagers back to life. Again the invading army massacred the villagers. Again Mr. Farride, the Oba, filled the forest with the sound of his voice which turned into smoke that killed the invaders. The scene would be repeated until the Oba was too exhausted to breathe out the poisonous smoke. Then the soldiers would march right through and annihilate the villagers once and for all.
It was nine a.m. the next morning. Mr. Farride and Benny were on their way for a morning promenade along the riverbank. The events of the past twenty-four hours had been fermenting in Mr. Farride’s mind. His eyes were not completely open. He walked slowly at first, then a chilly gust of wind prompted him to pick up the pace.
Something told him this was going to be a fruitful walk and a mild anticipation began to stir inside. He alternated between feelings of detachment and a sense of connectedness with his surroundings. His heels thumped on the soft ground as he moved ahead. After a minute or so, he was locked in a steady cadence and breathing to the beat. The rhythm drowned out every thought in his mind. He looked up as another gust of wind ripped summer leaves from their branches.
Mr. Farride pronounced the following words from Mapmaker:
“The wind’s shadow is the water’s ripple…”
The low hum of an approaching cargo boat filled the air. Benny got ready to bark at the waves. At the first sign of disturbance he charged toward the river’s edge. When the first wave hit he went into a frenzy, trumpeting out a triple upper-mid-range bark and darted side to side to meet the crashing waves head-on. Water splashed in his face. He dug in all four heels and leaned out over the edge to show that he was not afraid.
The river continued to lash out. Benny was steadfast, relishing the challenge. Scoot to the left, lower head and single-jab bark, up and strafe right, head back down, red-alert cannon bark, then fake left shuffle right again head down full body squat belly so low it scraped the jagged rocks. Then the waves subsided and there was calm.
Mr. Farride was leaning forward with his hands in his pockets. Walking slowly, he studied his surroundings. Everything grew together. He saw air and water as united. Light and sound. Continuity.
The cargo boat blew its mighty horn. It rang out loud and long, bouncing off the concrete belly of the overpass and filling the canal.
He felt the cool air on the back of his neck. Benny proudly kicked up dirt with his hind legs, his head held high in victory. They passed by Monsieur Lambeau’s houseboat and could hear Clebs barking at them from inside.
Clebs was Monsieur Lambeau’s little black poodle. Whenever Clebs heard Benny he went berserk. His shrill staccato yipping had become part of Mr. Farride’s daily routine.
Monsieur Lambeau was downstairs in his workshop looking for a hacksaw blade when Clebs started barking. Monsieur Lambeau was fairly certain Clebs was barking because Mr. Farride and Benny were passing by. He forgot about the hacksaw blade. He had something to say to Mr. Farride that just couldn’t wait.
“No time like the present!” he yelled to himself. He waded through the clutter towards the workshop door as Clebs kept barking. Monsieur Lambeau was very old and it took him about five minutes to reach the riverbank. By the time he got there Mr. Farride and Benny were gone, but he knew they’d be coming back shortly. He waited, grinning like a jackal.
Mr. Farride and Benny reached the end of the trail then headed back. Mr. Farride reflected on the events of the past twenty-four hours. Again he wondered if the recent events in his own life might somehow be connected to the Beninese scroll.
He looked ahead and saw Monsieur Lambeau standing on the riverbank.
“Hey! Hey there!” hollered Monsieur Lambeau, waving his arms in the air with his usual sense of urgency. He always had something loud to say. He gossiped religiously and people who knew him generally tried to avoid him. Nonetheless, he was a neighbor.
“Hello Monsieur Lambeau. How are you?”
Benny and Clebs went about their sniffing and pissing.
“Look here!” said Monsieur Lambeau, pointing at the top of his head. “I’ve got implants! Not bad, eh? What do you think?”
Mr. Farride leaned forward and squinted his eyes, remembering the implants from his dream the night before. He saw filaments of black latex spaced every few millimeters over a rather large section of Monsieur Lambeau’s scalp. They began at a point where the hairline had been about fifty years prior and were combed over his bald spot. The implants were in grid formation, like little planted trees. They were clearly made to be seen at a distance.
Monsieur Lambeau did have lots of other hair that shot out wildly from the sides of his head. It bent and held its shape like pipe cleaners, making him look like a mad scientist or a big troll.
“Isn’t this something? Isn’t it? I’m going to get in on this! Everybody needs hair, my friend!”
Monsieur Lambeau said he was going to invest in the company that produced the implants.
company is called Hair Express. They’re about to expand their production facilities in
Mr. Farride couldn’t believe it: Hair Express , the same company Jeanne Lagarde had been protesting against on t.v. It was a sign. Was the scroll’s prophecy coming true? The blue moon, Jeanne Lagarde, the dream, and now Monsieur Lambeau’s hair implant story… did they match the four signs on the scroll? At first he’d laughed at the idea that last night’s moon with its blueish hue qualified as a sign, but now he felt it was possible. He was an Oba and it was up to him to realize the scroll’s prophecy. Meeting Jeanne Lagarde was surely the hand of destiny. One could even argue that his dream the night before and Mr. Lambeau’s implants were the dream followed by revelation. But what about fire and rebirth? Could that be the battle in the dream with the poisonous gas and everyone dying and coming back to life? He didn’t think so. He believed the four signs had to be four distinct events. That meant something else was bound to happen. He wondered what to do. The scroll had told him the end was near but it didn’t offer any suggestions. An Oba could save the soul of his people, his village, his loved ones. But how could Mr. Farride do that… and who would he save?
Mr. Farride shook Mr. Lambeau’s hand and said goodbye. Benny followed him up the river trail back to the péniche.
They got back to the boat and walked to the bow.
Mr. Farride contemplated the great event unfolding in his life, and he could feel his destiny stalking him. It had surrounded his village and was approaching, circling, moving in. His destiny was hunting him, and when it got close enough he would see its face and look into its eyes.
But for now, he could only wait.
He stood there like an Oba, gazing majestically across the water and taking in the sky. He put his hands on his hips and inhaled deeply, wondering what the last sign would be, the one that would signal the end of his world.
It turned out that Mr. Farride had actually invested in a company called Hair Express and the investment paid off well. He later sold his stake and with that money he bought the péniche.
Gloria Queen was Mr. Farride’s favorite makeup artist and she’s also the one who got him interested in investing in Hair Express. They’d met during the filming of Pleasure Cruise, and she told him about her idea as she adjusted the wig Mr. Farride wore on the island at the beginning of the film.
“They make more than wigs. They also make all kinds of hair attachments and accessories, which are getting more popular by the minute. I’m telling you, it’s a sure thing.”
Of course Gloria was right, just as she was about most things. She had good business sense and good life sense. Mr. Farride always enjoyed her company, and one of his favorite things to do was to sit in the makeup chair as Gloria got him ready for the camera. They soon started seeing each other off the set. The first time he invited her out to dinner she refused to let him pay for her.
“Believe me, it’s for the better,” she said.
“To keep us from falling into traditional roles.”
“Know what I mean?”
They smiled at each other knowing they would leave it at that.
Sometimes they didn’t see each other for months but when they got together again it was like they’d never been apart. Having these periods of separation was an important part of their relationship just the same. It was another way of keeping them from falling into traditional roles.
“I love the way we are.”
“I love the way we are, too.”
When Mr. Farride moved
It was after the filming of King of Benin that
Mr. Farride became so enchanted with
They were in a wine shop the next day when the owner recognized Mr. Farride.
“You were great in Pleasure Cruise.”
The owner’s name was Monsieur Garreau and he was more than happy to help Mr. Farride and Gloria Queen find the perfect wine for the occasion. They walked around the shop and Monsieur Garreau talked about different wine regions and grapes. He talked about the weather conditions for different years and how they affected the taste of the wine.
“It’s essential to have the right balance of sun and rain.”
Monsieur Garreau pointed to a bottle of Sancerre rouge from 1975. The weather had been perfect that year, alternating between refreshing downpours and healthy stretches of sunshine. He said it was the best choice for Mr. Farride and Gloria based on what they said they were looking for.
That night Mr. Farride and Gloria
Queen had dinner in their hotel room accompanied by the Sancerre rouge and a breathtaking view of
“What kind of cheese is that?” asked Gloria.
Mr. Farride picked up the cheese and read the label.
“It’s blue cheese. From
“I don’t know.”
He unwrapped the cheese, cut a small slice and put it on a piece of French bread.
“Mmmm! This is really good!”
“Let me try!”
Mr. Farride lifted his glass and the wine glowed like a jewel. He took a big sip then exhaled slowly. The wine and cheese combined in perfect harmony. It was the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted. He looked at Gloria and smiled.
“I just might have to live here,” said Mr. Farride. Gloria could tell he was serious.
later he moved to
“He always does what he sets out to do!” she said at
a party when someone asked why Mr. Farride had moved to
When Mr. Farride finally bought the péniche he met his neighbors one by one. Monsieur Lambeau happened to be three boats downstream.
When Doctor Selfton first read about Monsieur Lambeau in Walking The Dog, he thought he was a fictional character.
* * *
Doctor Selfton met Monsieur Lambeau the same day he met Monsieur Bouchon and Madame Bouffant. He was leaving Madame Bouffant’s apartment when he decided to have another quick look at the péniche. After waving to Madame Bouffant from the corner, he crossed the street and saw an old man with a black poodle walking up the river trail. The man had a large bandage covering most of his scalp. Doctor Selfton knew it was Monsieur Lambeau and Clebs.
“Monsieur Lambeau, je présume? ”
Monsieur Lambeau stared at him, confused but happy. Clebs started barking.
“I’m a friend of Mr. Farride’s,” said Doctor Selfton.
“Oh my! The poor man! They put him in the crazy house!” Monsieur Lambeau was very theatrical when he spoke, making wild gestures and going from shouts to whispers. He locked eyes with Doctor Selfton in a bid for his full attention. Monsieur Lambeau’s ratty eyes were like two black holes sucking in anything they could. He started talking like a lonely man with a lot to say.
Doctor Selfton listened with detachment as Monsieur Lambeau went on about his life. He talked about his ex-wife and their handicapped son. He talked about other girlfriends he’d had, even going into explicit detail about his sex life with each. Then he talked about War World Two. Then back to women in general. There were no pauses between his sentences. It was a dribbling barrage of facts and opinions.
Doctor Selfton suddenly remembered the description of Monsieur Lambeau in Walking the Dog. A troll. Mr. Farride had called him a big troll. And he was right. That’s exactly what he was. He smiled and looked at Monsieur Lambeau, who was pointing to his head.
“Look! I burned my hair off lighting the gas stove!” Monsieur Lambeau studied Doctor Selfton for signs of interest.
Doctor Selfton stood there with his hand to his chin as he often did with his patients. Monsieur Lambeau paused to catch his breath and Doctor Selfton seized that moment to break off their conversation.
Doctor Selfton said goodbye and walked up the trail to the péniche. The river was agitated from all the boat traffic and the péniche was rattling its chains trying to break free from its mooring. As he watched, Doctor Selfton suddenly thought that if Monsieur Lambeau was a real person, then what about Oba? He’d assumed they were both fictional characters and yet when he met Monsieur Lambeau in the flesh he didn’t even blink. He would ask Monsieur Bouchon about Oba. Maybe she was real, too. He continued down the trail towards the parking lot and came across the boonie cap Mr. Farride had lost the previous Thursday night. It was on the ground a little off to the side of the trail. He stopped and looked at it but had no idea it belonged to Mr. Farride because no one, not officers Lequais and Larborde, not Madame Bouffant, not Mr. Farride himself, had mentioned anything about a boonie cap. Nonetheless, the first thing Doctor Selfton thought of when he saw it was Mapmaker. He picked it up and stuffed it in his vest pocket, then headed back to the Café du Rond Point.
* * *
“No,” said Monsieur Bouchon, “I can’t say that I’ve ever seen him here with a woman of that description. In fact, I’ve never seen him sit anywhere but right here at the bar.”
“But it’s not impossible,” said Selfton, “it could’ve happened when you weren’t around.”
With a knowing grin Monsieur Bouchon poured Doctor Selfton another glass of Sancerre rouge.
“Yeah, I guess anything can happen when no one’s around,” he said.
Monsieur Bouchon considered himself to be somewhat of a poet and was right at home behind the bar, drinking for free and thinking out loud. Mr. Farride had often been on the listening end, and he spoke French well enough to appreciate the subtleties in Monsieur Bouchon’s clever lines. Sitting there at the bar listening to Monsieur Bouchon always reminded him of his role as Maître Alphonse Agostino in Masters of Time. Agostino belonged to a group of mystic poets who chanted to see through the wall of time.
The poets roamed underground caverns in candlelight, chanting lines composed of sounds that were not words. The chanting was a way of bringing the mind to the true present. Once their minds were in the true present, they could see a doorway in the wall of time.
Certain chants were sacred keys to the doorway. The poets would use the keys to open the doorway and see outside of time. What they saw was beyond thought. It was so amazing it put them in a trance and they had to hold on to one another to keep from falling through the doorway to the other side. Fearing there was no return, the poets never went through the doorway. It was a rule and everyone had always obeyed until the day Maître Alphonse Agostino broke that rule. He used the sacred keys and walked through the doorway of time, closing the door behind him and never looking back.
* * *
Doctor Selfton eventually remembered when and where he’d seen Masters of Time. It was while he was attending medical school. He and a group of friends all pitched in to rent a VCR and a movie. That was the first time he’d heard of the film or the actor.
Later that night Selfton and his friends went out for a drink. Selfton was in a good mood and at one point he stood up and toasted the film.
“Ah yes, the soothing chants create an ambience of escape, of adventure beyond ordinary reality. This is a film for dreamers.”
* * *
One More Thing
No one really knows for sure what became of the ball. Some claim that God dropped the ball after the Devil punched Him in the eye, then the Devil ran back with the ball and His team won the game. Others say that God held on tight to the ball even though His eye was really stinging from the punch. While the Devil was busy celebrating God’s blackening eye, God ran back with the ball and saved His team.
It has also been claimed that during the struggle the friction of God’s hands and the Devil’s hands made the ball red hot, then white hot, then blue hot. The Devil’s punch made God’s eyes water. Some of God’s tears touched the ball and the combination of the heat, the punch, and the tears is what produced the Big Bang.
The date was Thursday, August 1st 1991, about 13.7 billion years after the Big Bang.
Mr. Farride and Benny were out on a stroll when Mr. Farride spotted a car just like the one Columbo drove, sitting at a stoplight. The left-turn signal was blinking. The license plate was 1-INFINITY. Mr. Farride and Benny were walking up the sidewalk towards the stoplight. Mr. Farride looked at the car and the forearm resting on the passenger side door. There was a Swiss army watch on the wrist. Mr. Farride slowed down like a machine, his eyes focused on the watch as if mesmerized. There was something about the watch that made it stand out above all else. It was the center of the universe, the only thing that mattered.
Something struck Mr. Farride, something uncanny and perfectly obvious: the watch he was staring at was God’s watch. There was absolutely no doubt about it. As the event unfolded, his consciousness made room for it. He adapted to the situation. He was going to meet God face to face and he was perfectly ready to do so.
Mr. Farride and Benny approached the car and Mr. Farride saw God. It turned out He really did look like Columbo.
Music was coming from the car. It was “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop:
I am the passenger, and I ride and I ride …
Mr. Farride’s eyes went from God to the driver, whose face was turned away. The back of the driver’s head looked familiar, but Mr. Farride was so distracted by God that he didn’t pay it much attention.
When the chorus kicked in, God started tapping His hand on the door and sang along:
La la la la la-la-la-la …
The light changed and the car slowly pulled off, turning left.
When Mr. Farride caught a glimpse of the driver’s face in the side mirror a shock ran through his body. His eyes strained to make sense of what he saw. It was his own face in that mirror but it wasn’t his reflection. It was his face on someone else. On another person. His twin. Mr. Farride watched his twin drive God’s car and it felt like being in two places at once.
The air was cleared of thought. The reel of time had stopped. It was a new beginning. A new take. Everything Mr. Farride ever thought he knew had shrunk to the size of a footnote in a split second. An amazing event was carving its niche into his mind and would eventually take it over completely.
Mr. Farride started walking in the same direction as the car. He was caught in God’s undertow as he placed one foot in front of the other. Benny followed. Then the sound of screeching tires and honking horns and French cursing like artillery fire. Mr. Farride got off the road and he and Benny walked over to the convenience store. The owner recognized them and said hello. He gave Mr. Farride a bottle of water and a plastic cup for Benny. He probably thought Mr. Farride had enjoyed one too many at the Café du Rond Point. It wouldn’t have been the first time. Mr. Farride and Benny sat out on the curb, drinking the water and squinting in the sun.
Remembering God’s license plate, Mr. Farride suddenly had an idea. 1-INFINITY. Maybe it was a code.
“A phone number!”
He could match the letters to the corresponding numbers on a phone dial. They went over to a phone booth and Mr. Farride dialled the number. It rang. The ringtone sounded like an angel. After the angel ringtone he could hear the whisper of infinite space. Then there was a second angel ringtone, then a voice.
“To speak to God, press 1.”
Mr. Farride Mr. Farride pressed 1.
“To speak to God, press 1.”
Mr. Farride pressed 1 again, but the same thing happened. He kept pressing 1 and kept getting the same message. He hung up the phone and stared through the cabin glass at Benny. Benny was calm. Statuesque. Mr. Farride said to himself that Benny had been that way since the intersection. Since the watch. God’s watch.
He came out of the phone booth and was just about to sit down when he saw God standing there, looking like Columbo.
“Where’s the car?” asked God.
Mr. Farride’s mind started vibrating.
“Where’s the car?” God asked again.
“Wh…wha…what do you mean?”
“I mean, where’s the car? Where did you park the car?”
“I don’t know…I mean I wasn’t…I didn’t…”
“What do you mean you don’t know? Of course you know! You’re my driver, aren’t you? And the driver should know where he parked the car! It’s rather simple, isn’t it?”
“Y-Y-Yes, I suppose…”
Mr. Farride fainted.
A tongue was licking his face. He cracked his eyes open to see and Benny licked his eyes. It stung a little, but the stinging helped him concentrate. He pieced his identity back together. His name was Sacha Farride. He was a retired actor. He was lying on the couch with a tongue in his eye and had just seen God.
Mr. Farride lifted his head and looked at the clock. It was 2 p.m. He took a deep breath and scratched his head. He was still fully dressed. A perplexed grin was stamped on his face. Mr. Farride sat up in bed and thought about God, God’s car, God’s driver, and God’s phone number.
Then he heard the sound of steps above, heels clanking on the metal deck. Someone was coming. The gate squeaked open. More steps, then knocking on the kitchen hatch. Mr. Farride got up and unlocked the hatch and stuck his head out. The sun was blinding. He lifted his hand to block it and squinted. The light was still too strong so he looked down and that’s when he saw God’s shoes. Old beat-up brown leather shoes laced up to the ankles. They were His. He was sure of it. Just like the watch. He felt something being placed in his hand. He pulled it down and looked. A key. He could hear God’s brown leather shoes walking away. Mr. Farride stared at the key, then he turned and looked through the portal toward the riverbank. God was hunched-over in a raincoat just like Columbo’s and walking up the steps to the road. God looked both ways before crossing, then was gone.
Doctor Selfton immediately saw the connection between the key God gave Mr. Farride and something called the K5000. The K5000 was the spy technology that ‘Agent’ Selfton used to investigate Mr. Farride’s psyche. The K stood for key and 5000 was the wormhole number. So the K5000 was the key to the 5000th psychic wormhole. The K5000 produced an electro-chemical filament small enough to fit inside the wormhole. That was all ‘Agent’ Selfton needed to make it over to the other side and do his job. In a shadowy voice he described the K5000 in the dream:
The K5000 is top secret. Classified. Possibly of extra-terrestrial or supernatural origin. I say ‘possibly’ because I’m not even sure myself.
The K5000 is a kind of door opener, or gateway, that produces a personalized code. This code is its own vehicle. A rite of passage. A ticket to the world of characters. The code is embedded in an adhesive strip called a K-strip. The K-strip is applied to the inner forearm. Then you lie down and shut your eyes. The next thing you know…you are there.
* * *
Doctor Selfton was on his third glass of Sancerre rouge at the Café du Rond Point. He decided he might as well have dinner there. He moved from the bar to a small table. He sat and thought of Mr. Farride and Oba sitting with Benny at their feet. Maybe it was the same table. Doctor Selfton almost started laughing out loud. He looked around. The bathroom door was behind him. To the right were more tables, then the bar, then the tobacco counter, then the door with the jingly bells. The door opened and the bells jingled like Christmas and in walked Monsieur Lecompte. He went up to the bar and shook Monsieur Bouchon’s hand.
Monsieur Lecompte was not only Mr. Farride’s
former accountant, he was also the one person in France who pronounced Mr. Farride’s name the way they did in America, the way it
was pronounced during the first forty years of his life. Said that way, Farride sounded like someone riding far. In
When Monsieur Lecompte’s dog died his friends tried to talk him into getting another one but he never did. He never got over losing Fifi and felt that getting another dog would dishonor her memory. Fifi, by the way, was a West-Highland Terrier just like Benny. That’s why Monsieur Lecompte was glad they let Benny stay with Mr. Farride at the crazy house up the street. Monsieur Lecompte knew how important it was. As he sat thinking about it his eyes watered. Monsieur Lecompte always got teary-eyed whenever he thought about Fifi.
Aside from accounting and Fifi, Monsieur Lecompte was passionate about Beninese art. That’s why he could relate to the character Hans Blemmer in King of Benin.
Blemmer was a museum curator who identified and registered artifacts seized from the Oba’s palace in
Blemmer was torn up inside over his work. He found the artifacts beautiful but knew how they’d been looted by the British. The moral dilemma took its toll on his conscience. It ate at him. He sometimes felt like sneaking the works out of the country and returning them to their rightful owners.
Mr. Farride never actually visited
know, I’ve always regretted not going to
“There’s still time…”
Even after Monsieur Lecompte retired, he and Mr. Farride stayed in touch. Whenever they crossed each other at the market or café they would stop and make small talk. They both enjoyed this immensely: Mr. Farride because it took him back to his acting days and Monsieur Lecompte because it took him back to Fifi.
* * *
When Mr. Farride was a child, one of the things he liked to do was go out and search for treasure in the woods near the river. Sometimes he would find a soda bottle that he could exchange for five cents at the convenience store. There were even a few times when he thought he’d finally found the treasure of a lifetime. These often turned out to be shiny rocks or old metal boxes filled with rust. Undeterred, the young boy furrowed his brow and the search went on. He was convinced that one day he would find the ultimate treasure and that it would be worth the wait.
* * *
“I love August!”
Those were Mr. Farride’s waking words on that fateful day of August 1st, 1991. Mr.
Farride had found the perfect way to spend his vacation: he went to
It was only morning, but already he could feel the sun warming up for a real scorcher.
“Better go before it gets too hot.”
Mr. Farride had a glass of orange juice, a slice of toast and a cup of coffee. He packed his rucksack: one bottle of water, one bowl, two towels and his smoke box. He put on his sun hat, grabbed his rucksack and headed for the door. Benny hopped off the couch and followed him outside.
On their way, Mr. Farride was pleasantly unaware of anything except what was right before his eyes. Benny’s white fur shined in the sun as they made their way down the winding path to the open beach.
No one else was there. The only footprints in the sand came from Mr. Farride and Benny. A steady breeze pressed against their faces. The salty air tasted pure. Benny’s nose twitched in contemplation.
Wading in the cool, foamy tide, Mr. Farride watched the horizon and listened to the ocean breathing. Then he turned and scanned the beach as Benny ran around in excited little splashy circles, bouncing back and forth. They walked over to a group of coconut trees and set up camp.
Mr. Farride sat down with his back against a tree, gazing out at the ocean. The sun felt good on his skin. He poured Benny a bowl of water.
When it got too hot Mr. Farride stripped down to his trunks and went for a swim. Benny followed into the water for a few yards before paddling back to shore. Mr. Farride turned around and saw Benny pacing on the beach. He looked nervous. Something tingled in Mr. Farride’s chest. It felt like electricity. He didn’t know if it was good or bad. Benny watched from the beach, ears perked and eyes brimming with concern.
Mr. Farride was sitting on the beach with Benny by his side, staring at the ocean. He spotted something floating on the incoming waves and decided to go take a look. Benny eagerly darted forth as the two set out to recover their treasure.
The closer they got, the more Mr. Farride was able to distinguish a dark rectangular object. They closed in and saw what it was.
“A briefcase!” His heart was pumping.
“But maybe it’s empty…” As doubt threatened he knelt
before the briefcase, picked it up and brushed off the sand. It was a fine object covered in alligator skin. Mr. Farride
picked it up and looked at the pearl inlay on one side that formed a mosaic of
He couldn’t find any way to open the briefcase. He shook it and heard something rattle. He decided to take the briefcase back to the hotel and work on it there. Benny followed in excitement, head high and tail wagging.
The door slammed behind them and Mr. Farride set the briefcase down on the coffee table. Benny hopped up on the couch. Mr. Farride went into the kitchen to look for something to pry the case open with. All he found was a box of old tea leaves in the back of the sink cabinet. He wondered if they were for fortune telling.
There was a click. He walked back into the other room and found Benny panting in front of the briefcase. The lid was cracked open.
“Good boy! But how did you…”
A gust of wind rattled the blinds. Mr. Farride turned and saw someone across the street looking back at him. He walked over to the window and another gust blew dust in his face. He closed his eyes and covered them with his hand. When he looked again there was no one.
Mr. Farride walked back over to the case, surprised that he’d actually forgotten about it, even for a second. He grinned and placed his hand on the lid. When he lifted and looked inside he saw a silver ring that had been jarred loose. He slid it on his finger and it fit perfectly.
As he stood there admiring the ring his vision blurred and a chill came over him. The air suddenly thickened and Mr. Farride watched as his breath and voice turned into bubbles. He was no longer in the hotel room. He was underwater…having a heart attack. There had been no briefcase, no ring. His eyes were bulging and everything was going black. Sounds gurgled out of his mouth. As he drowned he could hear Benny howling on the beach.
Sophie and Bernard were laughing it up about the day Mr. Farride arrived at the Delarbre Mental Clinic.
“That was so funny! I
asked if you thought I could get his autograph and you said This isn’t
“Yeah, I remember!”
laughed and laughed even though Mr. Farride had vanished off the face of the Earth the night before. He just drove his péniche
away under the moonlight without telling any friends or staff at the clinic. He’d been taking Parvox and having
weekly sessions with Docteur Berne, who took over his treatment after the four-to-one vote in favor of Parvox on August 8th. Mr. Farride ventured down the
Madame Bouffant alerted the police early the next morning when she saw that Mr. Farride’s péniche was gone. She was heartbroken. By late morning there were news vans on the riverbank and at the Delarbre Mental Clinic as well.
Doctor Selfton was on his way to lunch that day when a reporter stopped him and asked if he thought the clinic had provided Mr. Farride with appropriate care. Doctor Selfton wanted to be diplomatic so he said that Mr. Farride had received the care he needed as determined by the Panel of Five.
The reporter’s next question was more aggressive.
“Is the Panel of Five responsible for what happened?”
“The Panel of Five decided on what they thought was the best treatment for Mr. Farride. It was standard treatment for such a case, comprised of medication and weekly outpatient visits.”
“But in your diagnosis, didn’t you prescribe your own treatment called Creative Freedom?”
Doctor Selfton was surprised the journalist had heard of the treatment.
“Yes, well we all give our opinion and then we vote. It’s democratic.” Doctor Selfton turned to walk to his car. The journalist asked one more question.
“Are you the only member of the panel who voted in favor of Creative Freedom?”
“I’m sorry, I have to go,” he said, nodding his head in apology.
He drove past two more news vans on his way out.
Further down the street he saw t.v. crews filming the riverbank, the sycamore and the empty space where Mr. Farride’s péniche used to be. Madame Bouffant was there speaking to them about Mr. Farride. It was the most thrilling moment of her life. Of course, she didn’t tell them she was the one who had called the police on August 1st or the time before that. But nonetheless there she was, praising Mr. Farride to the cameras. She remembered Captain Harris’ eulogy at the end of Pleasure Cruise and spoke into the microphone.
“He was a good man who loved the sea.”
At the bakery, Madame Chouquette was talking about Mapmaker to a man from one of the film crews. “C’est compliqué,” she said as she handed him a chicken sandwich.
Doctor Selfton was at a traffic light, his left-turn signal blinking. Out of nowhere he remembered he’d put the boonie cap in the glove compartment. He started to reach for it when he noticed a familiar face among the pedestrians crossing the street. It was Monsieur Lecompte. He’d finally gotten another dog.
Doctor Selfton forgot about the boonie cap and looked back up at the light. Still red. A billboard across the intersection reached out to him. It was an advertisement for a television set. In the ad a King and Queen were sitting on their thrones watching t.v. with amazement. The wordswelcome to a new dimension were written diagonally across the screen. Doctor Selfton flashed back to another part of his dream. Spy music was still playing, stealthy bass lines accompanied by heels clicking in a dark tunnel. ‘Agent’ Selfton walked to his car. The chrome sparkled like water. He got in the car and turned the key. The headlights flared and the engine hummed. ‘Agent’ Selfton was describing his reaction to being assigned to Mr. Farride’s mind:
I knew it meant travelling to a new dimension and would require every ounce of my ability. In this dimension films and stories would be my only reference points. I had to believe the stories to make any headway at all but I ran the risk of losing myself in the process.
Doctor Selfton sat behind the steering wheel in silence. A slow wave of calm soothed him, massaging his soul. He stretched out his arms and yawned as his mind digested his thoughts. When the light turned green he slowly pulled off, feeling just like God’s driver making a left turn.