George Peterson was walking through Chicago one fine day in Autumn. The sounds of the bustling city surrounded him, and it made him slightly uncomfortable. George didn’t know why he lived in the city when he hated the loud sounds of cars and people. In fact, if he didn’t have somewhere to be, George would much rather just stay at home and read or get some work done. But, alas, he had a meeting with someone named Martha Janet. George had no idea who this lady was or what she was associated with, but he felt it was important to see her since he was a police officer, and he had gotten a letter from her asking him to meet her at her apartment because it was ‘urgent’. There was no offered explanation in the writing. Plus, even though George was a tense, unsociable man, he would have admitted that he was a little bit curious.
Luckily, the woman’s small house was only a short walk from George’s, so it didn’t take him long to find the run-down building where Martha claimed she lived. After walking up the three steps to the front door, he pressed the bell. George was sure that no one would answer at first; it would have been better that way. After waiting a minute, he almost left when suddenly the old, green door was whipped open by no one. The space in the doorframe was empty, and George was suspicious as to how a door could open so quickly on its own. It was then that he realized that he didn’t have a warrant as a police officer to come into the house, for the fourth amendment of the Constitution protected a citizen’s right to privacy. George should have left at that point. His curiosity got the best of him, however; he didn’t.
George stepped into the dark hallway in the house, and the door closed behind him. There were no lights or signs of electricity in the hall, but he did notice that there was a coat rack with a long, trench coat and a single top hat hanging from it. There were no other hats or coats in the hall. George started slowly making his way across the house, glancing around at each closed door as he went.
“H-hello, is there anybody home?” George called out timidly. He hadn’t remembered seeing a car in the driveway, so maybe there was no one in the rickety old house. He was just about to turn around and go home, but then he caught a glimpse of light emitting from the door on the far end of the hall. The door was cracked open, and the light inside was flickering like a fire. Once again, George’s curiosity got the best of him, and he didn’t leave, even though he had the vague feeling that he was in a place where he shouldn’t be.
The floorboards creaked as George walked across the hall and towards the lit room. At first, he figured the light came from a fireplace lit inside, but when he opened the door, he discovered that the brightness actually came from a series of lit candles throughout the practically empty room. There was no furniture besides a single chair in the far right corner and a couple small stools which were occupied by more candles. Lit candles seemed to fill the room, making it seem less spacious than it actually was. There were no other items clearly visible in the room, and it took a second for George to realize that there was someone sitting in the middle with their back to the door. Instead of using the chair, the person sat on the floor, Indian-style. They didn’t move, even when George took a step inside, the floorboards creaking still. He was very careful to leave the door open.
“Erm, excuse-” George began. Suddenly, the person’s head whipped around unexpectedly, scaring the shit out of him. He could now see that it was an older woman who was sitting down, and she immediately started smiling when she saw him.
“Oh, George!” the woman exclaimed, now turning her whole body to face him. “I didn’t see you come in.”
You were facing away from the door, George thought. Of course you didn’t see me come in. To avoid sounding rude, he just said, “I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t mean to startle or disturb you.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that, dear,” the woman said, standing up. “I’m so very glad you were able to come today. I’ve been awaiting your visit for years!”
“Years?” George wondered. “But I got the letter about visiting you just yesterday. And we only live two blocks away from each other.”
“Would you be kind enough to pop into the sitting-room on the ground floor and sign the book?” the woman who appeared to be Martha asked, completely ignoring his question.
“... the book? What book?” George asked again. “And this is a one-story house. All there is is the ground floor.”
“Oh, dear me, you’re right,” Martha said looking at the ceiling as if remembering that there wasn’t a floor above them. “And I’ve also come to realize that we’re already in the sitting-room.”
George looked at her, confused. “Um, what book were you wanting me to sign, and what’s it for?”
“The book in the corner, dear. On that chair,” Martha said, pointing to the darkest corner of the room. Instead of questioning her again, George walked to the small, fold over chair which was facing away from the middle of the room. He turned the chair around to find a small, dusty book sitting on the seat. Picking it up, George thought about how sad and grey it looked; it was obviously at least a decade old. He opened the front cover, only to find it empty. In fact, the whole book was empty.
“Wh... where do you want me to sign?” George asked. He noticed that he was shaking slightly, even though he couldn’t figure out why. He wasn’t exactly frightened, per se. Martha was clearly off her rocker, but he was just creeped out at the most.
“Just in the back cover will do,” Martha said. George became suddenly aware of a peculiar smell in the room. As he flipped to the back cover of the book, he realized that the room contained the clean, sanitized smell that one would find in a hospital room.
That’s a bit odd, he thought. As if everything else that had happened recently wasn’t odd. When George got to the back of the book, he was happy to find a pen laying in the cover so that he would be able to sign his name there. He uncapped the pen and attempted to sign in the back as best he could, which was hard since he was standing up and still shaking.
As soon as he took the pen off of the paper, Martha said excitedly, “Let me see!” George awkwardly handed her the book which was still open to his signature. She started studying it carefully through her pale, grey eyes. She suddenly started frowning, and a concerned look came about her face.
“Look, mam, may I ask why you wanted me to come over in the first place? You said it was urgent...” George said. However, Martha continued to analyze his signature, ignoring him yet again. He was starting to grow impatient with her. “Look, I-”
“Shhh!” Martha said, holding up one finger to shush George. Then, she flipped to the front cover of the book again and looked at it carefully, even though he remembered the cover being blank. Martha’s frown only grew wider. “Oh, no. This isn’t good at all.”
“What’s wrong?!” George said irritably. He found himself subconsciously resting his hand on his gun before removing it, ashamed that he would even think about using it in this situation.
“Your condition is only getting worse, I’m afraid...” Martha said sadly. At this point, George was able to draw the conclusion that this woman was completely insane.
“What are you even talking about?” he questioned her. “What condition?”
Martha seemed just as confused as George was. “Are you alright, George? You’re shaking horribly, and you’ve gone quite pale.” Once again, she had evaded his question. Although, she had a point; he was shaking worse than before at this point, and the blood was drained from his face.
“P-please just tell me what the hell is going on here,” George stuttered.
“Maybe it would help if you read some of the journal entries in this book, dear,” Martha said, handing it to him.
“But the p-pages are empty!”
“What do you mean?” Martha said, tilting her head now that she was even more puzzled. “Don’t you remember writing anything in here?”
“Not since you asked me to sign the back of the book!” George replied. He was starting to become quite excitable.
“Well, I know it’s been a long time since you’ve written, but I was hoping you’d remember something. This last entry is over two years old, but still!” Martha said, shoving the book closer towards him. He reluctantly accepted the book and opened it up again, expecting to find the blank pages from before. However, to his surprise, most of the book was filled with scribbles of writing and dates at the top of the pages, as if it was a diary or a journal. Then, George flipped to the front cover, only to find the name “George Peterson” inscribed neatly on the inside. He then tried flipping to the back to see what had been wrong with his previous signature, only to find a series of indistinguishable scribbles. It took him a second to realize that this had been his attempt at signing his name.
“D-does my condition happen to be Parkinson’s disease?” George asked worriedly. Martha just sighed sadly.
“Oh, if only that was the biggest problem,” she lamented. “Do you know where you are, George? Do you know what’s wrong with you?”
“I have no idea...” he said. He looked down at the book in his hands, flipping through it slowly. Words like ‘senses’, ‘accident’, and ‘help’ stood out and seemed to appear more than once in the entries. He also noticed that the handwriting inside the book was neat in the beginning, especially compared to the horrible scrawling towards the end of the book. “Did I w-write this?”
“Yes. Remember, I asked you to start keeping a journal as soon as you started staying here. You use to write in it every day, but you stopped writing as your mental stability continued to decline. The ‘Parkinson’s’ was a side-effect to your initial problem.” Martha moved closer to George, who was now sitting in the old chair. She put out one of her white hands and patted him comfortingly on the knee. “I knew that this would happen eventually.”
“WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT?” George screamed. He stood up suddenly, surprising Martha. “YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY INSANE!” A single tear dripped down the side of his face and onto a page in the book.
“No, George. You are.” Martha said as a shadow was suddenly cast over her. “You may be seeing things with your condition, but you’re sitting in your own room in Garner’s Asylum in Chicago. You’ve been here for almost seven years now, and you haven’t been the same since your girlfriend accidentally hit you with your own truck. After that, you suffered from permanent brain damage. Everything seemed fine at first, but symptoms such as Parkinson’s disease, memory loss, and hallucinations quickly followed the incident. You started hurting others, George. You killed your girlfriend by hitting her over the head with a brick. To keep you and others safe, we put you here. I’ve been searching for a cure to your supposed brain damage, and I thought things were getting better, but it seems as if you’ve completely forgotten who you are and have made up your own little reality in your head.”
The room swam as George slowly thought about everything that Martha had told him. “THAT’S BULL SHIT!” he shouted as he reached for his gun, only to find that it wasn’t there. Suddenly, his head started throbbing, and he couldn’t take the pain. George crumpled to the ground, probably screaming, even though at this point he couldn’t hear anything.
He closed his eyes for a split second, only to find that when he opened them again, he was laying in the middle of a white, dimly lit room with a large window where many people in white lab coats looked in from the other side. Martha herself was standing there, looking over at him worriedly. She picked up a walkie-talkie that was in her pocket and pressed a red button on it. “I think he’s a lost cause, Dr. Roberts,” she said into the mic.
One of the doctors beyond the window nodded sadly before speaking with a thick German accent into his own device, “We should get ready to put him down.”
“NO!” George screamed crazily as Martha dragged him to his feet and towards the only door in the room. “YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME! I’LL HAVE YOU UNDER ARREST!”
“Oh, you think you’re a police officer now, do you? That’s cute. I heard that was what you wanted to be as a kid before you became a sick alcoholic,” Martha said. George was starting to realize that she wasn’t as nice as she seemed, or maybe he was just as despicable as she was describing him as.
George finally started to calm down once he realized that him and and the doctor had gone into another empty room. There didn’t seem to be anything threatening inside. “I-is anyone else here?” he asked worriedly.
“Only you,” Martha said almost deviously just before she left him alone and locked the door behind her. George screamed again before running up to the door and pounding on it, trying to get out. But, the situation was hopeless. All that George could do was look around the practically empty room and wait for something to happen. It was then that he noticed that Martha had thrown the book from earlier across the room. He couldn't help but look through it.
It didn’t take George a long time to figure out that he hadn’t actually written anything in the book, but in fact, it was a collection of entries written by numerous people. George’s name was still written in the front and back of the book, but his name wasn’t mentioned anywhere else. There were many places, however where a series of seemingly random numbers would take the place of a name. In fact, most of the entries looked to be written in German. There were two or three written in English, however. They all talked about an experiment which was being conducted somewhere in Germany. All of the dates were within the 1940s, and the experiments that George read about made him want to throw up. Who would ever even consider doing this to someone, especially a person?! George wondered. Then, the reality of the situation hit George like a slap in the face.
“Wait, are they…” he muttered to himself. Just then, a loud, fizzing sound was heard throughout the small room as George looked up to see clouds of gas coming out of the ceiling. The fog filled the room, and it caused him to start coughing and wheezing as he fell to the ground once more. His vision slowly faded into darkness, and the last thing that George saw was a shadowy figure standing on the other side of the gas chamber.