Thursday 24 November 2011

The Warning (Short Story)

'On the twenty second of November, at twelve forty five, an earthquake will hit Prague. It will kill two hundred and fifty thousand people.'

I didn't take it seriously at first. In this job, you don't take things like that seriously. I had one patient tell me, every night, that the sun wouldn't come up the next morning unless a black child was killed. You don't take things like that seriously. You'd go crazy if you did. So, I thought nothing of it, gave him his medication. An hour later, he was asleep in his room.

The next day, at eleven minutes past three in the afternoon, he said it again. Word for word.

'On the twenty second of November, at twelve forty five, an earthquake will hit Prague. It will kill two hundred and fifty thousand people.'

I would say that I thought nothing of it this time, but there was something unusual about the way he was saying it. He wasn't anguished about it. He wasn't shouting it, screaming it, or in any way frantic. He was stating it calmly, as absolute fact. The same way he would state what was on the lunch menu on a Tuesday.

Most times, when the patients come up with 'prophecies' - a word that I use very, very lightly - it's a form of transference. It comes from a fixation on something else, which they have begun to loosen their grip on. Then, with the mental energy that they were using to fixate on this thing, they obsess over something. It usually involves celebrities. Ten years ago, we were being told that Michael Jackson would die three days before he hit forty. Now, we're told that Justin Bieber will die the day after his wedding. Other times, it involves politicians, or whatever environmental threat is inthe papers. Natural disasters aren't unheard of either, but usually, whatever they fixate on, they obsess on. This wasn't the way this patient was.

I asked him why he thought this would happen. He didn't know. I asked him if he read it somewhere. He didn't know. I asked him where he got the idea from. He didn't know. He said he knew it in the same way that he knew that fire was hot. He just knew it. So, while I thought nothing of the specific points he was making, I was intrigued by the way he was saying it. It was almost like he was saying 'why wouldn't this happen?'

It quickly became part of the routine for the day. Ten a.m. - hit work. Eleven - start one-on-one sessions, one o’clock – lunch. Eleven minutes past three - earthquakes and Prague.

He didn't just say it to me - he just said it, regardless of who was around. Other patients, other doctors. He said it in exactly the same tone. And in exactly the same way it happens with everything else, once it becomes part of the routine, it stops being something important.

Until I spoke to an old colleague in London at a party. I'm embarrassed to admit that the party was a 'Friends Reunited' one. A group of twenty year old students meeting again as forty year olds. Long hair and sexually transmitted diseases replaced by two cars, two mortgages, and worrying about your own child's long hair and sexually transmitted diseases. There was flowing alcohol, and stilted conversation, until I caught up with Neil, an old classmate of mine.

Neil and I had been close friends throughout most of university, but hadn't kept in touch.  It happens. You swear you'll be lifelong friends, then promptly move to opposite sides of the country without leaving forwarding addresses. We talked for a while, and compared notes on our lives, and eventually just got drunk together. We talked about alcohol, we talked about what our hopes and goals had been, we talked about the women in our lives, and we talked about work. And then he mentioned something strange about a patient he knew.

This patient had been catatonic for three years, since she had been raped by three men. She had been in denial first, and then became withdrawn. As the court case came closer, her withdrawal became so intense that, one day, she stopped talking or moving. She was able to be moved, and she could be prompted to basic moves, but was otherwise totally catatonic. Until two weeks ago, that is. She didn't break the catatonic state for long, but she broke it for a few seconds. The few seconds it took for her to speak two sentences, her voice barely audible.

'On the twenty second of November, at twelve forty five, an earthquake will hit Prague. It will kill two hundred and fifty thousand people.'

She said it at eleven minutes past three. For the first time, three weeks ago, and then daily, at the same time every day. It was now the nineteenth of October.

I sobered immediately. And once I told the story of my patient, so did Neil. We compared stories in more detail, and we compared notes. We couldn't find any common ground between the patients, other than the basic fact that they were dealing with mental issues - and even those mental issues had no common ground.

The next day, I drove to Neil's work, having called in sick to my own, and we spent hours discussing how to proceed. Did we believe what they were saying? Not yet. We were more interested in trying to find out why the two patients were sharing a prophetical experience. Over the next few days, we exhausted every possibility we could work out about the two people's histories. The chances of them having crossed paths were minute. And so we wasted three days. Three days closer to the twenty second of November.

We had decided to quietly begin to spread some information out. Colleagues speaking to colleagues - and two days later, we heard back from a doctor in Scotland. She, too, had a patient who was repeating the same thing, day in, day out.

With anything like this, it starts off small, and begins to pick up speed very quickly. It starts off with three, but quickly grows. Two weeks later, we knew of no less than fourteen patients around the UK that were repeating the same two sentences at the same time each day. And no matter what we tried, we couldn't find any links between any of the patients, other than the fact that they were all in institutions.

We didn't go to the papers with it, or alert the authorities. Not yet. To be honest, I couldn't really tell you why. I could come up with a list of excuses, but the truth is, we just didn't think we'd be taken seriously. We kept it within the medical community, more or less - we were also fairly sure that if somebody was to keep doing it every day, chances were that it would either break in the newspapers, or somebody would make a path straight to their nearest psychiatrist.

A Doctor in Cornwall came up with the idea of mass hypnosis, which seemed to ring true for a while. We worked on it for about a week, actually. As a hypothesis, it made a lot of sense - a TV hypnotist plants some subliminal idea while they are on their shows, which would only work on somebody who happened to be extremely suggestible. It wasn't totally outside of the realm of possibility - not that all of these people were fully hypnotised, but that they'd picked up the same thing. Until we found out that one of the institutions made a policy of having no televisions in the building, and there was no way that specific patient could have seen one any time recently. We were frustrated. That one had beenworking so well.

The next day, we found out about a case in Ireland.

Then two in Africa.

Seventeen in Germany.

Over forty in the United States.

Eventually we had exactly a hundred in total. All around the world. Different corners of the globe. All of them saying it at exactly eleven minutes past three in the afternoon, UK time. Some were even saying it in their sleep.

We couldn't work it out. There was no link. None whatsoever. There was no medium that could have reached all of these people at the same time, in the same way. Every path we went down came to a dead end.

And so we spent hours, and days trying to work it out, when instead, we could have been trying to do something about it. It was the fifteenth of November when we actually began to stop thinking about why they were saying what they were saying, and actually think about the implications of what they were saying. We'd been approaching all of this so clinically and logically, we had never stopped to think that it might actually be true. All of that time wasted, when we could have been trying to convince people to listen to us. To take us seriously.

We started contacting people. Not newspapers, not quite yet; but we got in touch with the Czech Academy of Sciences, the closest thing to an authority in the situation. They took us about as seriously as you would expect. It didn't help our case that the Czech Republic is a seismically quiet area.

So we took it to the newspapers. Days to go and we finally took it public. A lot of us knew that we would be effectively ending our careers by doing so, but we could no longer take the risk that we were wrong. We knew that the best way to do this was to present ourselves as a group. One that was geographically disparate, and one with few obvious other links. A group of Doctors may just be taken seriously.

Let me pose you a question. You're reading a newspaper, and on page thirteen, there is a story about how one hundred crazy people are predicting Prague will take substantial damage, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, and a bunch of Doctors are taking it seriously. Would it make you leave the city?

I thought not.

On the twenty second of November, at twelve forty five, an earthquake hit Prague. There was no way of knowing exactly how many people were killed, but eventual reports estimated the number to be close to three hundred thousand people.

I eventually took my theory public. My belief is that some people are more sensitive to the planet itself. If your body feels pain, it sends messages to your brain. When we damage the planet, it sends messages to us, but it sends it to that portion of ourbrain that we've either left behind through evolution, or that we haven't evolved enough to use properly. Except for a tiny, tiny amount of people. But being so sensitive makes these people vulnerable to breakdowns, and to psychotic episodes. They all break down in different ways, or they become more vulnerable to mental trauma. And when the brain is wiring itself differently in order to cope, it listens to what the world is telling it.

The world was sending us a very clear message, but we couldn't hear it. It wants us to stop damaging it. And it doesn't want us to kill ourselves.

They didn't take me seriously. I pressed the subject, I wrote papers, I wrote letters, I made websites, I withdrew from my family, my job, my life, and I desperately tried to put the message out. Eventually, I was arrested for attacking a member of parliament, and causing serious bodily harm. I was deemed to have a lack of control over my own actions, and I was placed in an institution. They say I don't know what I am doing, or why I do things.

But I do know one thing.

I know that on the Seventeenth of August in this year, at twenty eight minutes past six in the evening, the President of The United States of America will push the Nuclear Button. Fourteen million people will be killed.

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