The cold overhead lights flickered as if to mock the situation’s ambiguity. Even if it hadn’t gone awry, the procedure was unprecedented, and its outcome could not be predicted with certainty even by the most adept surgeons. For that matter,
as it ultimately proved, the outcome would remain unexplainable—or perhaps simply unexplained—by anyone.
At least its objective was clear. Implantation of the Metavidere bionic device, if successful, would enhance cognition such as memory storage and reaction time—and, in Trey’s case, quell his chronic anxiety. There was even talk of developing a sixth sense, but this was a jest more than anything. The procedure was near completion when things went south, and so the surgeons opted to leave the Metavidere implant in place rather than risk further damage by removing it just yet. Not much could be done after wrapping up the operation in its current phase. He resided in the ICU.
Two people stood by Trey’s bed. One was Dr. Andreas Maury, the mastermind behind the experiment whose cold professionalism was met with confidence by some and suspicion by others. He believed more than anyone that Trey’s current affliction was the result of factors unaccounted for, and he regarded it more with fascination than concern.
The other person was Trey’s twin brother, Ray, who had arrived before the surgery for moral support and in whose company Trey tended to find solace. Ray had been supportive of the choice, although he balked immediately at Trey’s proposal that they both undergo the surgery to provide a means of remote twin communication. Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hyde, were dubious from the start. Trey was already suffering from an anxiety disorder and they feared he would be driven mad if the implant failed; after this latest “impediment” (as Maury optimistically put it), their suspicions would be put to the test.
When Ray made his entrance, those among the hospital staff ignorant of his relation to Trey were taken aback. The twins were indistinguishable but for a faint scar on Ray’s forehead. Each prided himself on being the paragon of a physically healthy male in his 30s. Where they really differed was in temperament. Although not readily apparent without years of acquaintance with both, Ray proved to be the more level-headed of the two while Trey yielded readily to reckless urges—present episode included.
“Only he would be crazy enough to volunteer for something like this,” muttered Ray as he stood vigil by the bed.
“I would thank you not to use such terminology here,” said Dr. Maury. He squinted at his clipboard. “Anyway, I’m afraid that little diagnosis doesn’t begin to describe your brother’s current state. Given the readings and his pattern of response, we fear he might be experiencing full immersion in an altered state of consciousness.”
Ray stared at his feet and gave only a slight nod of acknowledgment. “We’re used to hallucinations manifesting in the visual or auditory senses,” Maury continued, “but an advanced condition can also create illusory perceptions in the tactile, olfactory, or gustatory senses simultaneously.” He then went into the technical side of things—rattling on about a disruption in the left temporoparietal junction and an excess of DMT in the pineal gland—at such a pace that Ray, both uninitiated and under duress, could scarcely keep up.
“Completely out of touch with reality,” reasoned Ray in a somber tone. Verbally addressing the worst case scenario was often how he kept his composure, for he believed embracing pain was the best way to cope with it.
“Now, I wouldn’t say that. If it helps, he could have some awareness of the outside world but is merely unable to communicate accordingly at present.”
It didn’t help.
* * *
What Trey experienced in that moment didn’t involve hospitals or experiments or grave complications. He was once again at his high school graduation party in a flurry of youthful energy. It was after a period of this revelry that he emerged onto a suburban sidewalk. He stood and took in a breath of cold air with a hoppy taste lingering on his tongue. The refreshing scent of low fog graced his nostrils. He looked up at the clouds. Aside from the unusually bright full moon, he could have sworn he caught glimpses of what appeared to be people rushing around and cursed himself for getting so buzzed. Heaven forbid his parents found out. He was only eighteen, after all.
“Isn’t this fun?” said a nearby voice. “Follow me. I’ll take you back.”
The voice was all too familiar, and yet, given the circumstances, Trey took it for a complete stranger at first. Returning his gaze to the street, Trey soon found the source of the voice: a figure standing just beyond the halo of a nearby streetlight whom he recognized as Ray.
* * *
Trey periodically writhed in his bed. Although conscious, he gave no meaningful response to external stimuli, and the only utterance anyone could discern, aside from laughter, was something about another eye—one that sees inside.
“Do you think he’s talking about that Hindu eye thing?” asked Ray.
“Perhaps, but that would be ironic,” explained Dr. Maury with an albeit grim chuckle. “What you’re referring to is associated with enlightenment; whereas Trey is experiencing the opposite.”
“As far as we know,” Ray added.
“As far as we know.”
* * *
Trey was now in an empty field at the age of nine, playing Frisbee with his memory of a nine-year-old Ray and their mutual buddies. The expanse of dried grass and weeds spat up clouds of sun-blasted dirt as they romped about. A breeze through the enclosing foliage created a rustling that sounded vaguely like a distant conversation. The clouds seemed to move around autonomously like great titans in the sky, but Trey kept his attention on the game.
“Look out, Ray!” he announced as he tossed the Frisbee. The recipient of the flying disc caught it with such preternatural ease that it seemed to waft right into his hand. He smiled. “Ray? I’m shocked: you don’t even notice the difference.” Indeed, Trey was surprised he hadn’t noticed before, but, after closer scrutiny, he saw the figure’s appear- ance differed from that of Ray in one aspect: the absence of a scar on the forehead.
“Come,” said the figure who was not Ray. “I’ll take you
back further still.”
* * *
Trey’s body was so agitated that Maury resolved to administer a sedative. Beyond that, attempts at communication yielded no response. Maury stepped out into the hall where he had sent Ray to wait. Ray was hunched over in a collapsible metal chair, looking like someone who had wandered in from the street with his baggy eyes and stubble. He had just started dozing off when the good doctor approached him. “I, uh, read in his psychological profile that he suffers from acute anxieties,” began Maury after deciding how best to broach the topic. “Considering you’ve known him his whole life, do you have any idea what he might be visualizing right now? It could help us treat him.”
“I don’t know. He’s always had an identity crisis in some form or another.”
“What sort of things, if you don’t mind?”
“Well,” began Ray through a sigh, “when we were kids, he used to have nightmares—stuff like sinking or imploding in on himself or his doppelgänger trying to replace him. Once he even attacked me when I woke him up because he couldn’t tell me apart from the doppelgänger in his dreams. This got so bad he would even avoid mirrors for a lot of his childhood. The nightmares went away as he got older, but he still has occasional episodes.”
“The doppelgänger is interesting. Why might that be?”
“We—” Ray hesitated. “We were originally going to be triplets, but Trey absorbed the third embryo in the womb. He’s had trouble coping with the fact. A lot of his fantastic descriptions and theories coincide with it.”
“I don’t blame him. I imagine that would be a disturbing fact to grow up with. Do you think that’s what caused his mania?”
“The thing is—well—this has been going on since before he found out.” At this, their conversation stopped dead in its tracks, allowing the ambiance of the hospital corridor to rush over like an indifferent ocean wave that obliterated the sand castle they had been constructing. Ray collected a futile handful of its remnants which merely oozed between his fingers. I was hoping this procedure would cure his mania.”
Maury nodded and scribbled some notes. “I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, his readings do look a bit better now. I just administered a sedative so maybe he’ll sleep it off and awake more lucid. Pardon the cliché, but all we can really do now is wait and hope for the best.”
* * *
Several hours had passed before Trey finally awoke. He saw his hospital room for the first time since the accident and realized he was alone. After removing the nasal cannula from his face and the intravenous from his arm, he slid his legs off the bed and onto the floor, gingerly shifting his full weight until he was standing. But it didn’t feel quite like standing. He was almost floating across the room like some enlightened being in a state of immaculate peace. Perhaps the Metavidere had proved auspicious after all? Regardless, this oblivious euphoria was one he had not experienced since before he could remember. He thought a splash of water to the face would clear it up so he made his way to the bathroom.
Upon entering, he flicked on the light, and, in doing so, finally registered something: everything was numb. His fingers lacked all but the most rudimentary sensation. He lifted his arm, noticing that it felt surprisingly light, and looked at his hand. He studied the waxy, featureless appendage in front of him, unable to register that it was his own. Now, he thought, I simply must face the bathroom mirror; and as his movement was hindered by something attached to his navel, he pulled and twisted until the mirror was in his line of vision. Then he saw himself. He could do nothing but stare. He stared into the milky, bulbous eyes and at the network of veins and tissue that made up his partially translucent face, illuminated by the overhead light.
He screamed. Those who waited at attention outside heard it echo through the hall—the scream of a physically healthy man in his early 30s—and came running. What Trey heard, however, was the shrill squeal of an underdeveloped throat distorted by amniotic fluid.
* * *
Trey Hyde entered a coma at 3:52 am. The nurses found him on the bathroom floor, curled up in the fetal position with his eyes open and no sound escaping his lips. They carted him back to the bed and hooked him up. By then he could no longer move: he was overcome with a terrible sensation of being smothered, even flattened. The last thing he saw before blacking out—not that he could comprehend it then—was the image of an embryo staring back at him from the overhead mirror. Ray returned the following afternoon upon hearing the news. Needless to say, he remained at his brother’s side well into the evening, silently praying. He looked out the window. A new moon was out. Many somber thoughts pervaded his mind in succession, such as how to break the news to his parents. The misfortune left Ray’s imagination vulnerable to whatever greater misfortune might happen next.
However, something else happened instead. Trey quite suddenly propped himself up on his elbows, held the position for a moment, slowly turned his head in Ray’s direction, and opened his mouth.
“You’re still here,” he declared weakly. Sleep-deprived as he was, Ray first took this vision for the onset of madness. When the shock wore off, though, he embraced his brother, much to the protest of the
staff. Trey returned the gesture.
“They said you were a vegetable,” Ray explained.
“Did they use that exact term?” Trey laughed. “You’d think these highfalutin doctors would know a sentient being from a vegetable. I’m surprised their implant works.”
Dr. Maury showed a rare sign of emotional response. “’Works,’ you say? It’s a miracle you’re even conscious right now. We’re still going to have to run a few tests, you know, to gauge your awareness and other faculties.”
“Oh, it works. I’m sure of it.”
“Please go on!” Maury thought it not at all presumptuous: Metavidere’s success or failure was, after all, the end that had brought them together.
“It’s better than I ever anticipated. Turns out the thing is like another eye—one that lets you see inside—illuminates courses previously hidden—gives flat things new dimension—magnifies the big picture into pictures bigger still—focuses the present by dilating the past—you know, like that. In that sense it works just fine.”
The others stared in disbelief, and yet, at the same time, there was a certain sincerity in Trey’s demeanor they couldn’t deny. Still, beyond his understandably sedate behavior, there was a subtle change in the cadence of his speech that only Ray, his twin, could detect.
“The doc is right,” added Ray. “You’ve been through a lot.”
“Don’t worry, my brother. Just give me some time to adjust, and I promise,” said Trey with a smile, “you won’t even notice the difference.”
Written by: Devin Morse
Devin Morse is a writer, visual artist, filmmaker, composer, composter, and cultivator of carnivorous plants. He really likes sloths.