of Grandeur

of Grandeur

I look over my shoulder and I see four policeman, well, actually three policemen and one policewomen, running behind me, the way cops run, with one hand holding their hats down on their heads and the other hand kind of balanced on the butts of their nightsticks so they don’t fly up out of the belt, but the policewoman is holding her nightstick in one hand and her hat in the other. To be honest, I can’t remember why I’m running, but once I realize I’m running from the cops, I stay running. I’ve never really liked the hats cops wear. They should either just get berets or baseball caps. Those hats they wear are like a cross between the two, and that’s overkill. They always look menacing in those hats, those octagon hats with the short bills, and mostly I think they look menacing because they’re onto me, or you, or whoever they’re onto. When you see a cop in one of those cowboy hats, or the big round hats that aren’t quite cowboy hats that the Highway Patrolmen wear, those cops don’t necessarily know who you are or what you’ve been doing. The plain cops though, the so-called, “Boys in Blue,” with their dark pants and black boots and those terribly angled hats, well they know everything about you and they know everything you’ve done. Some of them, the real high-ups, Captains and Senior Detectives and the like, they know things you haven’t even done yet. Most people think the guys you want to be afraid of are the guys in the black suits and dark glasses, the guys with the slicked back hair who never say anything but stand on the corner smoking and just watching, and people are right, you should be afraid of them, but they’re not the most frightening of the bunch. The real cats to avoid are cops in uniform.

It’s not like in the movies where they have these teams of psychics and they have visions that lead them to clues and all that. Those movies are just made up nonsense. What they have are computers. Super Computers. They have computers that predict things based on probability. They watch people with secret surveillance equipment and use the things people actually do to find patterns of behavior. Once you’ve been watched long enough, monitored, and figured out, the computer uses your real behaviors to theorize every possible outcome of every possible decision you might make in a day. This leads to nearly infinite possibilities, but super computers can look at every possibility at once, so it’s the same as just having one thing that’s the only thing you could possibly do in a day, to the computer. The computer looks at all these possibilities at once, so it’s you getting up in the morning, taking a shower, and then robbing a bank, or you wrecking your car off a bridge and into a river, or you just having a normal day at work, and the computer recognizes that certain outcomes are more likely than others, and deletes the really outlandish things, and just focuses on the things you might actually do that day.

Once the computer knows what you’ll most likely do, where you’ll most likely go, etc., they watch for you in places you’re likely to go. So they use the same surveillance to watch your behavioral patterns, your hobbies, your likes and dislikes, use the same cameras and microphones to find out all about you and what you’re going to do, as they use to make sure you don’t do it. If the computer says the three most likely possibilities are that you go to work and spill coffee on your shirt, skip work and go sleep with your mistress, or skip work and go kill the man your wife’s been sleeping with—because they know what she’s been doing too—and your car is spotted a few miles from your wife’s lover’s house, then they can show up there before you and make sure you don’t do what you were going to do. The really scary thing, though, is that you might not even have known that you were going to do something. Some of the stuff we do is just spur of the moment, and we just kind of act on our impulses, so the computers can figure out what we might do if our impulses get the best of us and prevent those things from happening when we didn’t even realize yet what we were going to do.

Most of those people you see missing on posters and hanging on telephone poles are in secret jails for murders or bank robberies they never committed. This is also why a lot of people disappear for a while then show back up and can’t remember where they were. Think about it. If you were going to just scare a guy, just punch him once and walk away, and they stop you, well that’s not the kind of thing they’d put you away for life for doing, so they’ll pick you up, take you to some secret holding cell, determine you aren’t going to commit another crime after they let you go, and then they just dump you on a sidewalk somewhere and you don’t remember anything so you just assume you’ve been abducted by aliens. But we have much more local problems to worry about.

And that’s why local cops, cops in uniforms, are more of a threat to our freedoms and the privacy of our thoughts than any silent black helicopters or secret government agencies or guys who work for secret government agencies so secret that the people who work in secret government agencies don’t even know who they work for. The uniform cops are more dangerous than the guys who don’t answer to anybody. Those government spooks only show up and scare the hell out of everybody when something high-profile has happened, like if a whole town full of people sees a UFO or something, they show up, they ask a few questions, they stand on the corner and smoke cigarettes, and then they leave again and you never hear anything from them. But the local cops are already here, stationed across America waiting for orders from a computer that may or may not have decided you’re going to commit a crime in an hour. When a cop pulls you over for speeding, do you really think that’s what he’s doing? With all the problems we have in this world you think they’d spend that much money making sure people don’t drive a little bit faster than what somebody painted on a sign once? Most likely, when they give you a warning, they know that you won’t do what you’re going to do if you have a few extra seconds to think about it, so they just hold you for a minute and let you leave, and you don’t even realize that your subconscious mind was using that time to decide not to commit a heinous crime. When they actually write you a ticket, they keep you longer, thereby actually preventing the crime by closing the window in which it would have happened. Your ticket, if you want to call it a ticket, is the fine you pay as punishment for the crime you would have committed. Why do you think so many people get away with speeding?  Or why you’ll be going slower than somebody else but the cops will pull up behind you and pull you over and let that guy speed off into the sunset? When you really think about it, everything just kind of falls into place.

So, I know the dangers. I wake up. I’ve been dreaming I worked in a hospital, but I’m all bloody in the dream, and I and realize I’m not in my bed, but I’m running from these four cops, and I don’t want to take any chances. I know the cops back at the station are watching me, or somebody is watching me, on traffic cameras and from satellites and cameras mounted in billboards and everything, so I know to have any chance of getting away I’ve got to do something pretty drastic. I turn the corner off the side-street I’ve been running down and I run right into oncoming traffic, right down the main road through town. The speed limit’s thirty-five for most of Main Street, and since people mostly believe speed limits are real they don’t generally travel faster than around forty. Nonetheless, running headfirst toward cars that are coming at me at thirty-five or forty miles an hour is pretty frightening. It’s exhilarating too, I must say, but frightening first. Whenever you run straight into traffic like that, between two oncoming lanes, you don’t have a lot of time to realize how exciting it really is. I have to keep myself focused on escaping. I have to remember why I’m running. I think I work at the hospital, but I don’t remember who I am.

A few cars pass, people start honking and yelling out the windows of their cars and shaking their fists and waving middle fingers at me, but I can’t let them distract me. I run like I’ve never run before, and, finally, I come to the bridge. The downtown bridge is probably a good fifty to a hundred feet above the river. I’ve never seen anybody jump off it before, but I really don’t have many options. So I jump up on the railing and look down at the water below. I’m pretty sure it’s deep enough, but I don’t know much at all about the current and I have no way of knowing whether or not anything is floating just below the surface. For all I know, there’s a tree or an old stop-sign or something just bobbing along there in the murky water, and when I jump I’m going to impale myself on it. I can see, on the surface below, the reflections of the bridge and the surrounding buildings, and how the water reflects both banks back at themselves. I look for my own reflection, I look to see myself staring back at me, but I’m too high up to make anything out but a dark silhouette. It’s like a circle with other circles inside it. For all I know, that’s not even me there, and that makes the jump a lot easier. I don’t think I could jump if I have to watch myself do it. I look up at the cops, and they’re still in pursuit, still without their guns drawn, meaning whatever I’m about to do, whatever the computer figured out, isn’t bad enough they’ll shoot me over it. Then I look back down at the water, and I notice blood on the railing pooling around my feet. At first, I think the cops have shot me, but then I realize the blood is pouring from my hands. My hands are cut and bleeding so badly I’m worried they might be nearly severed. I have shards of glass in my knuckles and when I notice that, both hands start to throb. Once my hands start to throb, I notice pain in other parts of me. My face hurts, my legs and arms hurt, and there’s a pain in my chest when I breathe. The pain causes me to focus for a second on my legs. My blue legs, with darker blue stripes up the sides. Are these my legs? I see that my arms are also blue. I look at the cops and I realize why the blue is familiar: I’m dressed like them. Who dressed me like this? I have a patch, but it doesn’t say police. The patch says St. Thomas Memorial Hospital Security. I was right. I work at the hospital. I hear a policeman yelling. He says, “Sir, don’t jump!  Stop where you are!”   All I can do is wonder, why would the hospital dress me like this unless I work there? And then, I jump. After a second or two of free fall, of watching my reflection fly toward me, everything, even my thoughts, goes a kind of numb.

When I wake up, I’m in a hospital bed, wearing a hospital gown. I’ve got an IV in one hand, and a little clip on the end of my finger, and there’s a wire running from the clip to a machine that beeps about once every second. I don’t know what they’re pumping into me through that IV, but I assume it’s some sort of experimental drug designed to sedate my natural human urges, to make me a mindless machine who just goes to work and feels like everything is okay and there are no real secrets in life. The thing is, it’s not working. If it were working I wouldn’t be sitting here thinking about it, would I? After a few minutes I notice the clip on my finger is related to my heartbeat. When I worry about the IV, the machine beeps faster and I can feel my heart beating faster with it. I’m not sure, though, if my heart is controlling the machine or if the machine is controlling my heart. Sometimes, when they experiment on humans with new drugs and truth serums and things like that, they use machines to control people’s physical reactions, so they can see in what physical state the person has to be for the drug to best work. They did a lot of experiments in the 60s with the MKULTRA project. Really sick things. They did things like gave LSD to prostitutes and then raped them in front of two-way mirrors, just to see how they reacted. This was all very top secret, but after 30 or 40 years the government admitted to the project and released some of the details. They’ll never admit to everything, though. You can bet on that.

One thing they never admitted to was actually discovering a truth serum, but maybe that’s what they’re pumping into me. That would be pretty pointless, however, because I don’t know why I’m here and I certainly don’t know anything important about anything else important. I know what most people don’t know, that we’re under constant watch, but that’s it. Unless there’s something I don’t realize I know. When I was very young, too young to remember, my father was shot and killed, and shortly afterward my mother killed herself and men in dark suits came and took me away and put me in this home with other children who had no parents. Maybe my parents worked for some agency or maybe they knew or saw something they weren’t supposed to know or see and maybe they were murdered, and now the cops want to know if, before they died, they passed on any information to me. Maybe the drug in the IV is pumping into my subconscious mind, and maybe they’re just waiting for me to start talking about things I don’t even know I remember.

My arms and legs and back are very sore, and my hands are all bandaged, for some reason. I have bruises on my thighs and the tops of my feet but I don’t have a cast anywhere so I don’t think I broke any bones doing whatever I was doing when they caught me. My face feels swollen and sore, and when I try to lift my hand to my cheek I whiplash my wrist and realize I’m handcuffed to the bedrail. This confirms my suspicion that I have been caught, and I’m not just here because there was an accident. My other hand isn’t cuffed, so I reach up and touch my face, and my nose and eyes and cheeks are all very sore. There’s a lot of commotion on the other side of the curtain that’s drawn around me, but I’m not exactly sure what it’s about. So many people are talking at once I can hardly make out any of it. I hear the words contraction, water, and break. Somebody told a woman to breathe.

I have to leave the hospital. I have no doubts about this. I start feeling around on the bedrail I’m handcuffed to, and I notice the rails actually thread into each other, so all I have to do is unscrew one of them and slip the handcuffs off the bed and I’m free. The proposition seems so easy I start worrying maybe they want me to try and escape, but what choice do I really have? I need to come up with some sort of plan. I’m in a hospital gown. I can’t just go running out the front door in a hospital gown. I need to find a change of clothes, but first I have to get out of this particular room and maybe into a different cell block where they won’t recognize me as a newly processed inmate. After I’ve unscrewed the bedrail and slipped the handcuffs off, I take the handcuff that had been strapped to the bed, because even if they’re closed you can push them all the way around and put them on somebody, and I cuff that side to my wrist as well, next to the side that was already cuffed there, then I slide the cuffs up as close to my elbow as I can get it. The hospital gown comes down to just above the elbow so the cuffs are surprisingly not noticeable. I sit up on the foot of the bed and pull the curtain back, and I can see out into the hallway, and there are a few other people out there in gowns pulling around their IVs, so I don’t unhook mine, and I prepare to blend in.

Nobody tries to stop me as I walk down the hall, looking as perfectly natural as possible, hauling this IV hooked up to a coatrack behind me. As I pass different rooms, I notice none of the other patients are handcuffed. So I am definitely in some sort of mental facility, which, in a way, is good, because that means I’m not a criminal. But it’s also very bad, because it means they think I have some kind of mental disorder and they’re going to eventually use me for some kind of gross experiment. In a way, I wish everybody were handcuffed, because at least then I’d know I was a criminal and I wasn’t going to be electro-shocked and water-boarded and hung upside down and all that. There’s a lot of commotion around one of the rooms I walk by, so I peek in, and I see a doctor handing a newborn baby to a mother, so whatever this place is, they have some kind of breeding program as well.

I get to the elevator with little incident, and I go down to the basement where I hope there won’t be a lot of other people. The elevator doors open, and the first thing I see is a sign that reads, “Men’s Locker and Shower” and has an arrow pointing down the hall. Where there are showers, I think, there are clothes. I need to get out of this gown and get rid of this IV, so I tear the IV from my wrist and leave it in the dark hallway, and I head toward the showers.

The only clothes I can find in the locker room are these blue pants with a darker blue stripe on them and a blue, long-sleeved, button up shirt. It’s a security guard’s uniform. It’s perfect. Nobody’s going to stop a security guard. I grab the clothes and get back down the hallway, into a dark corner, just in case the real guard is somewhere nearby, and I put on the uniform and it fits perfectly, so I relax a little. I notice the patch on the arm reads, “Saint Thomas Memorial Hospital,” however, and now I’m concerned again. Saint Thomas is a real hospital downtown, so whatever experiments are going on here, real doctors and regular people might be involved in. It’s an obvious reason for concern.

I ride back up the elevator and walk out the front doors of the place and nobody looks at me twice. As soon as I’m outside, though, I see this silver glint in the sky, which is most likely an unmanned drone like the army uses, possibly watching the hospital to make sure nobody leaves, since they have real patients mixed in with everybody else. So I have to get out of there. I never look up at the sky again. I keep my head down. I’m just a security guard going home after a long day at work. There’s a shopping plaza nearby, and I make a tough decision: do I keep to myself, or do I go out in a crowd where I can blend in? I figure I’m safer in a large group because I’m harder to spot that way, so I saunter through the hospital parking lot and across the main road and into the shopping plaza. The biggest store in the plaza is a grocery store, and I realize I can’t remember the last time I ate. But now that I’ve been in the hospital and been pumped full of experimental drugs, I’m worried they’re introducing these drugs into the general public by putting them into the food supply.

I walk behind the building, and there’s this dumpster behind the grocery store, and I’m rooting around the dumpster, looking for expired food, when I notice all these cats. There must be twenty of these cats, some kittens, some full grown, just meowing and playing and fighting and kind of surrounding the dumpster I’m inside. I don’t have anything against cats, in fact, I’ve always liked them better than dogs, but this is really kind of strange and spooky. Then I notice that a lot of the cats are looking at me with these dark eyes. Cats don’t normally look people in the eye, but here I am, standing in a dumpster, waist deep in boxes and old produce, holding a rotting head of lettuce in one hand, dressed like a security guard, obviously suspicious as any individual could be, and here are these cats, some calico, some just mangy, some black, all with these dark eyes, and they’re in the parking lot, and they all start circling the dumpster, and staring at me, and they stop meowing, which heightens the terror. These cats had been whining, making terrible noise the entire time, but now that they’ve noticed me, they’re silent. They just watch, move closer a little at a time, like they’re organized, and I have to get out of there.

I watch the cats out of one eye for another few minutes, and stop rooting through the dumpster and find a case of expired individually-sized yogurts. The kind women on diets eat. The way I see it, yogurt is bacteria anyway, so what’s the difference between expired and good yogurt? Now that I think of it, you could say the same thing about blue cheese. When cheese gets old, it turns blue. What does blue cheese do when it gets old? Does it turn to cheddar? I’m kidding, but my point is valid. And, I figure that bacteria, which I’m about to eat, might be the most effective anti-venom when it comes to whatever drugs they’ve put in the public food supply. So I get out of there. I climb up out of the dumpster and leave, and I swear as I leave the cats all stop and look up at me like they want to make sure they see my face before I get out of there. And I eat my yogurt on the run. It’s sour, and has these blue specks on the top, but on the whole it doesn’t taste much different from any other yogurt. I don’t eat the little strawberries at the bottom of the container, because that seems like the best way to get sick. As I near the front of the store, I tear the bandages off of my hands, because a security guard walking around with both hands bandaged just doesn’t seem normal.

I round the corner to come out from behind the grocery store and into the plaza and toss the yogurt container and act as naturally as I can. Everybody’s looking at me, and I don’t have any way of knowing whether or not they’re secret police or just people who like a man in a security guard uniform. I’m careful not to look at any light-poles or parking meters or up in the air toward the drones, but I do catch a silver glint above me, and this time I can even see the contrails.

I pass a woman pushing a stroller and she looks at me like she knows I’m not who I’m pretending to be. There’s a man in jeans and a plaid shirt putting a key into the door of his car but for some reason he’s looking over at me. I notice a woman inside the card shop, on the other side of the window, peering out at me, and she looks away when I make eye contact. But then I see all the proof I need.

It’s this big electronics store. When I walk by, I notice I’m on every TV in the window display. Seriously, whatever I do shows up on the screens of an assortment of flatscreen TVs, some on stands, others mounted to the walls. When people walk by, they see me standing there, then they see me on the screens, and then they see how bothered I am by appearing on the screens. Some people actually stop and just watch me stare at myself on all these TVs, and eventually I lose my cool. I turn around and I look for anything I can find to break the window. The closest thing to me is a trashcan, so I grab the can and turn around and charge the window, charge my own reflection. At first, the whole thing looks a little familiar. When I’m still a few feet from the window, I have a hard time making out myself, but I see a silhouette facing back at me, with the cloudless sky behind me. As I charge the window, I see myself get clearer and clearer, until I see me lift the trashcan and smash it through the huge storefront, and shards of glass rain down around me. When the glass stops falling I see myself standing on the sidewalk, perfectly still, and I notice that almost everybody in the plaza is watching me now. I don’t run. I step up into the store, through the new entrance I’ve made, and I start smashing the TVs. I grab one, probably around thirty-seven inches, off the TV stand and I chuck it out into the parking lot. I put my foot through the screen of another that’s low to the ground. I start punching the rest, and when I do the glass and plastic from the screens cuts into my fingers, my knuckles, the tops of my hands and my palms, and soon blood pours from both hands and wrists, and I start getting worked up and light-headed.

Before I really have a chance to look around and assess the damage, I hear voices telling me to stop what I’m doing, lie down on the ground, and put my hands on the back of my head, so I take off running toward downtown. Something flashes in my memory. Everything feels familiar. I can’t stop thinking about walking through the halls of some hospital, somewhere, and peaking in through an open door to a room where a child had been born. The mother’s eyes were black, I remember that, how dark they glowed, how far away but inside my head they looked, and I’m falling off a bridge toward clean water, but I’m in this hospital room, but I’m running and the sun hurts, and I’m also in this hospital, and everybody in the room, the doctors, the nurses, the father of the child, sees me standing there but doesn’t speak, just looks at me and they all have the same dark eyes, and I see the child, and a nurse, staring at me, wraps the baby up in these bloody rags, and I notice the baby has a birthmark on its shoulder, these nine circles, one inside another inside another, but the birthmark looks sloppy, like it’s hand-painted, and I can see the brushstrokes and the doctor hands the child to the mother, and she holds it close against her breast and then she holds it up for the father to see, and when she does I can see the child’s birthmark is smudged, and I see a stain on the collar of the mother’s gown like the birthmark is painted with India Ink and is still wet, like it’s all some game, and the child looks at me too, and the child has dark eyes and it laughs instead of crying, and then I can’t see anything and I’m just running toward the dark.


About the Author

Ryan Havely earned his MFA from Minnesota State and his BA from Ohio University. He worked as a college professor for around a decade, teaching creative writing, literature, and developmental reading and writing. Now, Havely does marketing and sales and things of that nature in the private sector. You can find his work in magazines such as Main Street Rag, Pebble Lake Review, Ampersand, and Midwestern Gothic.