Dr Stones blankly stared at where they were. He stood up and stared at the circular wooden table they’d sat around. He scanned the lobby. He hadn’t previously noticed the other two tables in the room. He focussed on the small bar close to the lobby’s door. There was nothing on the bar except a shutdown desktop computer and some written-on papers. He deeply breathed, smelling for anything. Nothing unusual.
He turned back to the table he stood by and touched the back of the wooden chair he’d sat on. He gripped it with one hand and slightly lifted this chair. It was light and felt real. But there was still something not right. He shook the chair and dismissively half-tossed it. The chair clattered on the laminate flooring and fell onto its back. It felt hard. The clattering was loud.
The doctor tilted his head, listening for anything else. He glanced at the lobby’s two large windows. He could see the two dark windows of the building opposite but he could see no movement in them.
He could hear no sounds from outside.
Dr Stones turned and hurried to the lobby door. He opened it and ran down the twisted stairs. He paused at the front door.
When did everything change?
Has everything been an illusion?
He twisted the front door handle and heard the loud click of its lock pulling back inside. He pulled on the heavy door, grimacing with its weight. When the door was fully open, he paused at his view of the outside.
It was still there.
He hesitantly stepped forward, going outside, and looked down at the outside floor tiles he stood on. He swung shut the hotel front door and turned to his right to begin walking. He crossed one of the mini canals as he went over a bridge. He kept on walking and walking and then-
Then he stopped.
Where was everyone?
Was there anyone?
Then things blurred.
The colours merged into one another.
Then they faded.
Until there was nothing.
He closed his eyes. He wanted to be somewhere else. He didn’t want to be nowhere.
“Dr Michael Robert Stones,” spoke a voice.
The doctor jolted.
There was a pause before he heard the voice again.
“Dr Stones, you’ve come out of your dreamworld now. Keep your eyes closed. Do you recognise my voice?”
“Yes,” the doctor answered.
“Who am I?”
“You’re Ichirō Takahashi.”
“Yes. Do you remember the trigger I had to use to pull you out of your dreamworld?” Takahashi asked.
“You'd call me by my full name and title.”
“So, where are you now?”
“Somewhere real.” The doctor opened his eyes, blinking with the unexpected brightness of everything around him. He was still in the hotel room. He began to slowly focus on Ichirō Takahashi standing in front of him. “Hello,” he whispered.
Takahashi smiled. “It’s nice to see you back in reality. I’m sorry the injected medication was so strong. Obviously, we couldn’t build up your system to our drugs with you being here for such a short time.”
“You were actually in my dreamworld all the time? It wasn’t just my imagination?” asked the doctor.
“For most of it, we were actually there.”
The doctor paused for a moment before asking, “Including torturing me?”
“We were definitely not torturing you. Remember, any person’s unconscious beliefs can fill gaps with less than pleasant things. Like rethinking stuff, you might have partly heard from somewhere a few days ago,” responded Takahashi.
“And the multiple injections?”
Takahashi nodded. “Yes, we did need to inject you more than once. Several times in fact. Twice in your left arm and once in your right leg. That last one was hard.”
“I felt it,” answered Dr Stones. He asked, “Can I see your other two companions?”
“Certainly. You’ll need to get dressed first.” Takahashi smiled. “You're only wearing your undies. Your clothes are on the other chair in this room where you left them. I’ll leave you to get dressed.” He quickly left room.
The doctor nodded to himself. He reached for his clothing and scanned the room as he dressed. It was exactly how it was in his dreamworld. He came out of the room into the lobby and saw the three other men sat at that round table. It looked like how he’d previously dreamt. The doctor paused, looking dispassionately at them.
He was then distracted by the smell of drinks and sandwiches on the table. He hadn’t dreamt them. The doctor’s stomach rumbled in response, prompting him to step forward and reach for a sandwich. He sat in the vacant chair by the table. He looked down at the triangle of white bread and cheese in his hand. It felt so real. He took a bite and chewed in relief. It was genuine.
Takahashi smiled at the doctor’s actions. “It’s definitely been hours since you’ve last eaten.”
Dr Stones nodded and noticed, while Takahashi was drinking a cup of tea or coffee, the other two men weren’t drinking or eating anything. He tilted his head as he peered at them. Both were wearing dark glasses yet it wasn’t bright in the lobby. So, they weren’t wearing shades for the sunlight. The doctor assumed they were wearing tinted glasses to cover something. “I don’t think you two are wearing sunglasses to conceal your identities.” He leant forward. “I think it’s to cover something about your eyes. Something about you.” He had a flash of his dreamland experiences. “Are you two dead?”
Antôn Tram smiled and asked, “Why, on earth, do you say that? We’re sitting here talking to you.”
“I think my dream was telling me there can be dead people nearby talking to me,” answered the doctor. Antôn smiled and again Dr Stones had a flashback. His smile wasn’t a purely natural one. Antôn might have had genuine feelings but the action of his smile was forced somehow. The doctor leant forward, analysing Antôn’s face. “Two questions. Is your facial skin, in fact is all your skin, preserved in some way? Is it coated by something? The second more important question is how are you here?”
“Quite simply, Takahashi enabled us to drink the nectar of eternal life,” explained Nguyen Van Duc.
“A bit of a cliché but thank you anyway for saying that. It’s my team’s doing,” Takahashi expressed to Van Duc. He smiled before turning to Dr Stones, “not just me. We gave Antôn and Van Duc injections to enable their bodies to receive emissions from the constantly emitting devices attached to their neck chains.”
“And yes, we have preservatives coating our skin,” Antôn added.
“The only problem is the very portable devices Van Duc and Antôn wear are powered by batteries. They need to be regularly replaced,” informed Takahashi. He turned to Van Duc who pulled out a small oval device from the top of his shirt. It was attached to his neck chain. Van Duc uncertainly looked at Antôn who pulled out a thin pack of small batteries from his jacket’s side pocket. Antôn looked at his friend who slowly pulled out a little battery from the bottom of his oval device. Immediately, Van Duc slumped forward. His sunglasses fell from his face and clattered on the floor. Dr Stones could now see his blank dried up eyes. Van Duc was now an inactive dead man.
Antôn quickly pulled out a battery from his thin pack and inserted it into the oval device. Almost immediately Van Duc began moving again. He retrieved his dropped sunglasses and sat up straight as he put them over his eyes. He smiled at the doctor. “Back again,” he quietly expressed.
Takahashi put down his drink on that table, making Dr Stones look at him to listen to his explanations. “He can’t be disconnected from his ‘phassa’ globe for long periods. At this stage, he’s,” Takahashi paused, “in a kind of ‘chönyi bardo’ but without the globe, he’ll quickly progress to ‘sidpa bardo’ and be irreversible. He may be reincarnated into a new life. He’s not ready for that uncertainty yet.” Takahashi smiled but then frowned as he added, “There are some people who don’t go any stage further than being part of ‘chönyi bardo’. Kind of mystifying but there you go.”
Dr Stones frowned and asked, “Explain more of your work.”
Takahashi smiled. “I’m sorry. Those words I was using come from Tibetan Buddhist teachings. Something that is ‘phassa’ is more than being a physical object. It has a presence and interacts with our consciousness.”
“I know what these words mean.” interposed the doctor. “‘Chönyi bardo’ is a stage in living or, more particularly, dying. It’s a phase in dying where you can have a strong sense of peace and awareness,”
Takahashi nodded and expressed, “As a result, Antôn and Van Duc can see, hear and feel more powerfully than when alive.”
“So, you’ve not only developed techniques in manipulating someone’s dreams from inside their dreamworld, you also, allegedly, have abilities to resist death,” said Dr Stones with an unemotional air. “I’m assuming the medication used in both cases is similar.”
“Part of it is,” replied Takahashi with a knowing look in his eyes, “but, before you came here, you didn’t mention you wanted assistance in how to resist death as well. Is this for you personally? You’d actually have to be close to death for it to work.”
Dr Stones shook his head. “It’s not for me. I have a couple of very ill patients who might benefit from your treatment,” he paused, “if it’s genuine.”
Takahashi nodded. “It is. The medication Antôn and Van Duc have used is related to the one you recommended to us but it has to be coupled with specific ceremonies when you prepare it.” He paused. “Otherwise, the medication won’t work.”
“Any connection with shamanism?” asked the doctor.
Takahashi frowned. “Yes. Mongolian shamanism with some influences from Siberian shamanism as well. So, you’ll need to have a small hand drum as well. A goblet drum is good.”
“Is this yellow/white or black shamanism?”
Takahashi was taken aback. “You're acting cynical about this treatment. Yet you know more about existing within ‘chönyi bardo’ than you're saying. I just wondered if you were going to ask about the drums.”
“You're avoiding the question.”
“We mostly use aspects of yellow/white shamanism,” answered Takahashi.
The doctor peered at him. “‘Mostly’ – you said ‘mostly’. What's going on here?”
“There are some aspects of our work that do derive from black shamanism. It was necessary but- and I emphasise that – but minor part of our work. It was to do with combining dreams with reality. The yellow/white shamanism, as you put it, is within the central parts of our practices.”
“Okay, that’s,” Dr Stones paused, “partly reassuring but you know how many people are tempted by black shamanism. I’m aware of malevolent effects if you're not careful. I know positive shamanist symbols are affected by, and can be almost dominated by, negative Nazi imageries. Selfless aims can be poisoned.”
Takahashi’s eyes narrowed. “Are you avoiding paying us?”
“Not at all.” Dr Stones smiled. “I want you to be open. I've done my research about you, particularly your work around Tuva and Mongolia. I know those countries are almost along a straight line between Japan and Venice. So, there’s no accident you setting up facilities in this city. And you don’t need to worry. You’ll get your money. It’s just me going off on one. You’re dealing with very powerful medications and associated spiritual beliefs so it makes me a bit paranoid about any subtle malice.”
“If you're feeling paranoid, we can delay this until you yourself feel at ease. We’re genuine. We don’t want any avoidable mistakes.”
The doctor looked away and sighed before answering, “I don’t have the time to delay things.”
“I thought that might be the case. You’ve got my personal mobile number if there are any problems,” expressed Takahashi.
“And I’ll give you mine as well,” added Antôn.
“Thank you,” replied the doctor. “Those battery powered ‘phassa’ globes look great but they’ve got a problem. It looks like they depend upon someone else always being there to replace the batteries.”
“Indeed,” responded Van Duc.
“In other words, are you're taking steps to eliminate this problem or-” continued Dr Stones.
“We've already solved it,” interrupted Takahashi. “The mini globes are actually accessories to a central globe, which is charged by mains electricity. We didn’t bring a central globe here but if you are interested in this work, we can arrange for you to try one out.”
The doctor nodded. “That would be good. I’ll sign agreements now. Then you can send the equipment and instructions to my home address. I’ll put it all together and test it out on various patients at a hospital close to my place.”
Dr Stones shut the front door to his house and leaned on it, closing his eyes. Privacy. His old and big house with no one in it but him. At the hospital, he’d identified several possible patients
but he kept recalling his walks around the Gallerie dell ‘Accademia.
Venice’s Gallerie dell ‘Accademia. So close to that hotel. Why was he having flashbacks of his time in that gallery? All the time.
Those paintings in Gallerie dell ‘Accademia. They were only impressions in his mind yet they kept telling him something.
So many paintings of Madonna with child. Same pose but different sizes. Different and anonymous artists. But there must have been the first such painting.
Then a row of paintings. Seven of them? He couldn’t clearly recall. All on a curved wall built forward from the original wall. A false wall. Each painting was a close-up of a woman. Same pose as Mona Lisa. Same style as Mona Lisa. But twice as big. They were- not copies but
They were inspired by Mona Lisa.
Imitation is the best compliment. He smiled as he remembered that phrase.
But there was only one Mona Lisa. One original.
He wasn’t creating new things. He was creating echoes.
Moving dead people are not the originals but
They were inspired by living.
He opened his eyes and turned his head to his right. He could see the doorway leading to his workshop. He paused for a moment, feeling uncomfortable about something
And yet he knew in his mind what that something was.
He mentally shook his head and walked into his workshop to sit on a wheeled chair opposite a long bench. A bench with the parts on it, which Takahashi had posted to him by special delivery. The doctor reached over to pick up the book of instructions. The instructions were photocopied papers professionally bound so they superficially looked like a well-worn and thumbed book. He opened the text at a creased page, wrinkled with dried out coffee stains. The doctor then glanced at a collection of wires and circuit boards that seemed slightly out of focus. They gave him a headache if he stared too long at them.
He sighed and recalled the apologies he had to give to the family members of the man he’d tried in vain to save.
He’d been ‘in vain’ because he’d arrogantly assumed the shamanistic ceremonies weren’t necessary in constructing the equipment for his patient. He was too late to fix his mistake. His family had taken his patient’s dead body to be cremated. He couldn’t interfere with their preparations. They’d assumed the doctor would be unsuccessful. They didn’t blame him.
But he blamed himself.
He picked up a tiny screwdriver and reached over to an empty globe that was about 12 inches wide. It was 296 millimetres to be exact, he corrected himself. He still thought in the old-fashioned measurement of feet and inches. To begin treating his next patient, an ‘Edward Green’, while he was still alive.
So many times, he’d doubted himself making this equipment but now it looked right. It felt right. That doubt is exactly the sign he needed to prove to himself he was now doing the right thing.
He glanced over at the glass containers of liquid further along the bench. Some were to prepare Edward Green. Others were to treat his other patient, a ‘Richard Ashworth’. And several bottles contained liquid to inject himself with so he could enter Ashworth’s own dreamworld. To understand and perhaps improve his patient’s mental health.
He was now confident about the potentially successful treatments.But he kept having flashbacks of the wasted figures walking by him and turning to him. Their dried skin stretched over their skeletal faces. “Why couldn’t you see us for what we were Dr Stones?”
The dead outnumber the living.