Chapter Two

 

Reginald Seabolt tottered upon taking the delicate hand of Dr. Joi Hashimoto. He was taken aback by her beauty and thought she could not have been much older than himself. Despite the large room’s long history with tobacco, he could distinctly note the jasmine that surrounded her.

“Hi, thanks for coming. I’m Reginald Seabolt, but you can call me Reg… Most of my friends call me Reg… uh… Because it’s shorter, but you don’t have to.”

Dr. Joi Hashimoto firmly accepted his limp hand, offered a bright girlish smile and said, "Hi. Reg is completely fine with me. I'm Joi. You really can't shorten Joi much more than that, can you?"

Seabolt agreed, though he already felt the pangs of being on the less clever and more subordinate side of the exchange. "Thank you for coming. Dr. Chislom is right this way."

Feeling somewhat better with his last dictum, which struck him as more of an instruction, he led the way toward the historic hotel’s lobby bar. Dr. Conley Chislom was already walking toward them. Though Seabolt’s older companion supplied a more confident introduction, the accompanying hard saccharine smile telegraphed the complete hauteur of his personality. The trio took a seat near the mostly uninhabited bar and Chislom launched them directly past the requisite small talk of a first meeting and headlong to the point.

"Dr. Hashimoto, thank you so much for coming," said Chislom. "My associate and I were lucky enough to be able to work out a trip up here to meet with Dr. Gaston. Now, did you drive here or do you think we should call a cab?"

"Dr. Chislom, uh… It's very nice to meet you in person, however, Dr. Gaston's condition has not changed since we last spoke. I'm sorry that you made this trip, but I cannot take you to him," she replied.

Chislom had assured Seabolt that they would be able to easily convince the young assistant to take them to Gaston – despite his health. She had been intercepting all of Chislom’s calls to Gaston over the past month. During these many phone conversations, Hashimoto assured Chislom that she could readily answer any questions he may have pertaining to Gaston’s work. Chislom being Chislom, he had dismissed her willingness to assist – either because of ethnicity, gender, age or all of the above.

Presently, Seabolt began to sense the awkwardness of Chislom’s arranged meeting and sudden appearance in Chicago. This awkwardness was affirmed further when Dr. Hashimoto clarified the actual condition of Gaston, which she had respectfully chosen not to detail over the phone. As it turned out, Gaston’s cruel and advancing cancer not only left him in a vegetative state, but would assuredly remove him from this world before the end of summer. Upon receiving this upset, Seabolt began to see the clear frustrations in his friend. They had driven from Atlanta to Chicago to meet with Dr. William Gaston, not some personal secretary. With no other options presented and in a rare moment of speechlessness, Chislom was left in a position more conducive to actually listening to the young woman. He learned that she studied neurology at New York University School of Medicine and was the sole curator to all of Gaston’s research. Seabolt could see Chislom’s mind turning over and he was embarrassed by the transparency of his companion. The older man’s aloof and curt regard toward Dr. Hashimoto melted, and he readily took up a prior invitation to call her Joi.

Seabolt silently listened to their exchange and began to consider the new dynamics presented. At once, a knot formed in his stomach. Though excited by the prospect of working closely with the attractive female, Seabolt knew her presence meant a sharp upsurge in his lifelong battle with anxiety. He instantly began to feel the familiar unease with his appearance, which was fixated on his hair that he had allowed to grow long. The hair was an attempt to fit in with his inspiring generation. He had even visited a few of Atlanta’s downtown desegregation rallies with his first cousin, an equally pale and unwieldy southern belle attending law school in Macon. The rallies were his latitudinarian uncle’s attempts at plugging the two of them into the great counterculture of the day, as well as providing them with some provision of a much needed social life.

1963 and 1964 had been tough years for Seabolt and anyone close to him could see it. His breezy invitations to tinker in Chislom’s home laboratory during the weekday evenings had abruptly stopped. Chislom had become more reclusive at Eckl Pharmaceuticals and got into the habit of keeping his office door closed. Seabolt even found himself relegated to managerial duties and was certain that drug samples were staged out of their department without so much as a second glance from Chislom, his direct supervisor. This cessation of friendship, an offense of fleeting displeasure to any other person, was Herculean to the young man. He was quite surprised when, just five days before Christmas, the older man asked if Seabolt would come to his Decatur home to “see some developments.” Chislom’s offer felt out of place to Seabolt, who had not been entreated to visit the Chislom House in almost a year. He accepted the invitation all the same.

Seabolt did well concealing his sense of betrayal while being escorted down to the project-filled home laboratory. Apparently, he wrongfully concluded that his host had lost interest in their pastime of secretly re-examining the exotic pharmaceuticals of the bygone government project that Chislom had been a part of. With no other choice but to follow the older man's indifference, Seabolt had returned to his lonely lifestyle and stemmed his own fascinations with the bizarre effects of the nation’s bizarre endeavor. Indeed, when Seabolt arrived at the Chislom House, he did not expect to find that the man had been earnestly working with the defunct project’s psychotropics – some of which he recalled modifying alongside Chislom a year ago during square hours at Eckl Pharmaceuticals. As bitter as the sting was, the irritation was short-lived. He quite liked Chislom’s new attentions and his apparent decision to share any discoveries with him alone, not only renewing their previous collaboration, but baring that Seabolt was valued as sole confidant. This proved to be a powerful balm to the perceived indignations.

On the evening of the visit, Seabolt was elated over the prepared presentation. Chislom retrieved his white lab coat from the lab’s closet and insisted Seabolt put on one as well, then began to orate from a written outline he specifically had assembled for Seabolt’s benefit. In the vernacular of the high science of their profession, Seabolt was told of the progressive chemical evolution of a compound Chislom called PSIONICA. His host lingered on the enunciation of the compound’s name, clearly intending to spur intrigue, but not offering any explanation or rationale for the choice. Continuing in an air most matter-of-fact, Chislom recounted his unsettling act of intravenously self-administering not only one, but multiple doses of the compound. This was an obvious alarm to Seabolt, whose face read clear agitation at the mention of self-injecting anything occupying the home laboratory. Self-experimentation was more than a peccadillo to men in their industry – and Chislom well knew it. In the thinnest veneer of caution, Chislom went over the results of periodic bloodwork and other various biological tests after his injection – seemingly to assure that he had not completely lost his mind.

With the framework for his looming crescendo relayed, he ushered Seabolt to a corner of the laboratory. There, positioned at equal intervals atop a cleared worktable and at its foot, were an array of random household appliances and common electronics. All were pulled away from the wall and gave the impression of an intended centerpiece. There were several radios, a child’s Jack-in-the-Box, a roll of Christmas lights, a disconnect telephone, a toaster oven, a blender, a television set and a few additional toys. The entire ridiculous display had been carefully arranged in front of an old lounge chair that looked to belong in more casual rooms of the house. Chislom provided a seat for Seabolt and then sat down in the lounge chair at the fore of the collection of objects.

“Now first – I am going to show you,” Chislom said.

•    

On Christmas Eve, Seabolt did not drive down to Macon to attend his uncle’s annual holiday dinner. Instead, he finished moving his belongings into an upstairs room of the Chislom House. On Christmas Day, he received his own injection of 8 mL of the PSIONICA compound. As with Chislom, the expectation was that he would attain the same psychogenic ability to project his conscious self into inanimate objects. This proved not to be the case.

The morning after his injection and from the cloistered backyard of Chislom’s antebellum home, Seabolt – from a secured seat – made several unsuccessful attempts at occupying an heirloom clock centered on a dried out birdbath. The PSIONICA compound had been in his body for 27 hours with no discernible manifestations – aside from an immediate short-lived episode of disequilibrium and a slight burning at the injection site.

Like a father teaching a frustrated child the kinesthesia of balance and bicycles, Chislom went on to describe the sensations he experienced when exiting his body and entering the contours of nonhuman shapes. Seabolt had received this same encouragement during the fatiguing sessions of the previous evening when they had stayed up late searching Seabolt for the same miracle that affected Chislom. And just as before, Seabolt began to tire and tuned out the coaxing of his guide. He stared intently at the clock. Midway through Chislom’s prosaic portrayals that went on and on, the clock burst into a white-hot flame that nearly disintegrated the antique completely. The device popped into small white embers that immediately cooled to a glowing orange. The combustion was immediate and quite unlike the natural ignition of fire or flame. The two men stared and stood silent for a long time.

That shocking flash of fire was the first revelation the PSIONICA compound had rendered to Seabolt. It changed the trajectory of his life in one searing instant. And now he was here – in Chicago – meeting a beautiful and floral scented woman who might offer some clarity to the marvelous powers of Dr. Conley Chislom – as well as himself.

•    

Dr. Joi Hashimoto studied the two men seated across from her at their loungy corner near the lobby bar of the Palmer House. She was not particularly surprised by either of them – especially Dr. Conley Chislom. She had limited experience with men from the southern states, but Chislom certainly fit the storied descriptions she had always heard. His boorish treatment, however, was not a new experience. Disrespect from men was something she was well accustomed to.

Joi had seen opportunities flit away to less deserving men all throughout her studies at university, often unsure whether the day’s particular discrimination sprang from being a Japanese-American, a beautiful woman or from being a woman in general. Joi was only half Japanese. Her mother was Hawaiian and she grew up in Hawaii, benefiting from a charmed childhood filled with magnificent beauty and the affirmations of a loving family. Youthful restlessness and the feeling that the islands were shrinking (not growing) motivated Joi to move and seek her academia within the larger cities of the country. A lifelong student, she easily took her education as far as it could go – certainly in the area of her interest, which was to probe the mysteries of consciousness and all of the potential of the human mind.

As a child, her great-grandmother had bewitched her with local folklore and tales of mystical abilities that sprang from the heart. There was the tale of her great-grandmother’s neighbor, a tall blind man who talked hundreds of beetles into flying circles around him while he sat in his garden, and the evil boy who floated out of the ocean to cast a spell on the high chief so that he would poison his wife. Joi could never tell if the old woman was dishing out a fiction or relaying some truth that she actually believed. That dichotomy made her stories all the more absorbing and all the more affecting. Her great-grandmother’s vivid imagination became one of her most cherished childhood memories.

The fantastic stories defined Joi, and a child’s intrigue of mystical possibilities blossomed into an adult’s calling to understand them. She devoted her studies to the biology of the human brain, its nervous system, and, eventually, the possibilities of psychic phenomena. Of course, she hid her enthusiasm over that which was largely classified as unscientific to maintain the respect of her peers. In time, her pursuit of this scorned niche of study led her to Dr. William Gaston, a psychologist, author, occasional professor at Duke University and a pioneer in the pseudoscientific field of parapsychology. Gaston became her mentor.

"Gentlemen, now that I think I have your confidence, which book brought you to speak with Dr. Gaston?" Joi sipped her coffee and tried to match Chislom’s new accommodating demeanor.

"My dear, it was not a book. Though I will say that he offered some hearty food for thought in the last chapter of Head Frontiers, but no it is not a book. It was a research paper I believe – for Spitler’s Association of Parapsychology."

“Oh… I see. You’re referring to the Spitler Research Institute for Parapsychology – yes. He mounted the research and produced the paper right before he became completely incapacitated – mentally, that is. I… I have to say that I didn’t expect that paper to be the reason you’re trying to get in touch with him.”

Joi reflected on the damnable paper that single-handedly decimated all of her mentor’s labors in getting the scientific community to consider the possibilities of psychic outcomes. It was the same paper that would most assuredly destroy Gaston’s legacy and leave him affirmed as a pseudo-scientist to all of his detractors. She considered the work to be the sad retrogression of a dying mind.

"You know, I’ve fielded several calls from people wanting to talk with Bill about ‘Your Mind, Your Doctor’ and I immediately assumed that book was the reason you were so insistent."

"Well, I certainly read it, Joi. Though it seems that most of the book is concerned with what is essentially meditation, I believe."

Joi looked down at her hands. "Yes. That’s probably correct. You know... Dr. Chislom, that book is probably Bill’s last… respected publication. It certainly represents a… a better time in his life."

Chislom fired on ahead. "Yes, but in the research paper, Dr. Gaston offered a theory to how psychic abilities would probably work in the mind. I believe he called it Binary Psychogenic Emergence. It would…"

"Dr. Chislom, I’m going to be frank with you. That research paper is the byproduct of a very unwell and fearful man staring down his own mortality. At one time, Bill was a brilliant theorist and researcher, but I know – first-hand – that he felt time was running out for him to make a difference. You have to understand that he was already getting confused."

"Yes, Joi I…"

"No, I’m not finished. Do you realize how he developed his – Binary Psychogenic Emergence theory? The paper clearly outlines it. He drove to the University of Chicago and acquired several tabs of LSD from some kid and then he locked himself up in his closet for two days – tripping on acid - contemplating the nature of psychic phenomena. And then he comes up with a theory. Does that sound like the scientific method to you, Dr. Chislom?" Immediately Joi sensed her heavy handedness and it was confirmed all the more when she looked over at the red-faced Reg, who could not find it within himself to return her gaze.

"Joi, Dr. Hashimoto, if you would not mind, I would like to confer with my associate," said Chislom. "We’re going to step away, right over here, just for a moment." The men stood and Chislom continued, "You have deep respect for Dr. Gaston – and that’s a wonderful thing, it really is." He then gestured to Seabolt, "You know, we both read the paper and we’re fully aware that he ingested lysergic acid diethylamide. As chemists, we have an interesting perspective with psychotropics. As for myself… I suppose I have an interesting perspective with needing to make a difference. Now we won’t be but a moment."

As the men stepped away, Joi began to wish the meeting would conclude. She was still intrigued by the Georgians’ fixation with Gaston’s Binary Psychogenic Emergence theory, though she was certain the theory itself was completely meaningless.

As she remembered it, Gaston theorized that should psychic abilities ever surface in a human being, the subject would exhibit one psychic agency over the physical, or tangible, and one psychic agency over the ethereal being-of-mind, or intangible. This binary manifestation was like two sides of a coin – you could not have one without the other. That was his theory, beheld in a drug-induced state of reorganized self-awareness, an amplified consciousness that he claimed temporarily allowed him to comprehend hidden truths to the mind’s real potential. Joi grew depressed when she thought of the paper.

She watched the two men as they mulled over some business and appeared to come to some decision. Chislom had mentioned over the phone that he retired from a large pharmaceutical research company and was about to start his own. She supposed Seabolt was his employee and seemed to recall Chislom mentioning him during one of their exchanges over the phone. The two men stood close together across the room, with Chislom talking and Seabolt nodding. She found the behavior uncharacteristic for employer and employee.

When they returned, they took their previous seats and Chislom, quite oddly, asked her about her coffee.

"It’s not strong enough, Dr. Chislom."

"Is it now? You know I can’t abide the stuff. I wind up creaming and sugaring it to the nth degree."

Joi was uncomfortable with the untimely switch in the conversation’s focus, especially right after seeing the earnest huddle they felt they needed to engage in across the room. She got the impression that the men were laying groundwork to spring some inconvenience. She desperately pondered some hospitable way to conclude the meeting without offending and said, "Gentlemen, listen, I…"

"Two cats walking along a log in the middle of the forest," said Chislom.

Joi took in both men’s stares with Seabolt baring an odd expression of focus, like he was feeling about for something under the table, yet she could see his hands before him. Chislom continued, "A little boy in a yellow rain jacket flying a red kite on a windy beach."

Joi’s eyes begin to widen and she squeezed her coffee cup. Every muscle in her body tightened.

"A solitary butterfly flitting across a lonely desert," uttered Chislom.

"How… How did you do that? How are you able to do that?"

Chislom looked over at Seabolt and appeared to motion to him. The younger man, who did not strike Joi as being tense before, suddenly wilted ever so slightly into his seat. "It’s okay, Dr. Hashimoto – that was me," he said.

Joi stood up and Chislom immediately arose to mitigate whatever reaction was coming. "What was that?" she said.

Chislom gave a wry smile and slowly sat back down. "My dear, I believe that is what they call – telepathy."

  •  

Joi walked into her small apartment, hung her pocketbook on its peg behind the door, and tossed her keys in the wooden dish on the table. She hovered to the window and stared into the street below. She did not remember anything about her trip home and was thankful her body knew the way, because her head was completely someplace else.

Sometime during the trip home, she had given up trying to shoot holes in the miracles she had witnessed and started to consider their legitimacy. After another hour of Seabolt placing images into her and Chislom’s head, and Chislom accurately calling out each mental picture, they located a vacant alley for a promised second demonstration. Seabolt produced a discarded milk carton from a nearby dumpster and placed it on the ground in the center of the alley. With no more than a look, he had set the entire carton off like it was fashioned out of flash paper.

Joi reached into her vacant bachelorette cupboards and found a half-full bottle of Irish whiskey an old boyfriend had left behind. She had slowly drained the bottle over the span of a year, but imagined she would make a hefty withdrawal from its contents tonight. She pulled out a cardboard box from the closet and thumbed through the few editions she owned of the Journal of the Spitler Research Institute for Parapsychology. One of these, of course, featured her mentor’s provocative research paper. She drank and she read.

According to her new friends from Georgia, their own psychic marvels fell in line with Gaston’s theory that the phenomena would emerge in the human brain by way of two distinct categories. Seabolt’s ability to telepathically transfer his thought fell under the first category – a psychic control of the nonphysical being-of-mind. His particular brand of white-hot and instant pyrokinesis (a name, upon providing, the men seemed satisfied to learn) would fall to the second category – a psychic control of the physical.

Joi looked into the last sip of her drink as she considered Chislom’s power. After a bit of fuss, she and Seabolt had successfully talked him into showing her his ability and they took a cab to a scantily populated park by the waterfront. After additional fuss, Chislom put on a pair of sunglasses, folded his sport jacket behind his head, and all but laid down on a park bench. His declared objective was to possess a parking meter several feet away. Joi watched him closely as he fell completely limp.

“Watch,” Seabolt said.

Suddenly, several coins fell from the parking meter and, one by one, coins fell from each successive meter right down the line. Joi drained the glass. If Gaston’s binary psychogenic emergence theory were applied to Chislom, then his ability to emit his consciousness to objects was the nonphysical, and his ensuing ability to kinetically manipulate those objects was the physical. Psychical excursion perfectly paired with psychokinesis.

Joi closed the journal, poured herself a smaller portion of whiskey and audibly offered a toast to her great-grandmother. She laughed at herself, wondering where that had come from. She then placed the telephone on the table. She had some business to handle before it got too late. She looked over to the diminished bottle of caramel-colored liquor, considered all of the packing she had to do, and decided to get stone drunk another day. Besides, she and the chemists from Atlanta would start their long drive to Georgia bright and early.

  •  

The man made his way to the back door of the beautiful antebellum home. He had been inside the residence for almost two hours, with most of his time spent inside the basement – where the laboratory was. He paused by the back door, recalling to make doubly sure that no trace of his presence had been left behind. He was not in a hurry. As he understood it, the occupants of the home were in Chicago, and though he was not sure exactly when they would return, he was fairly confident it would not be today.

As he walked on to the back patio, he noticed that the dog had not moved from its previous station by the back door. He reached down and again scratched the animal behind the ears. He quietly eased across the courtyard toward the wooden fence where he had entered and stopped to study the several small pits of char near the center of the terrace. He felt that it was strange to be building fires (even small ones) this time of year and wondered what Dr. Conley Chislom was burning. 

Though the man slipped away from the grounds with his hands free and empty, he was confident that he had obtained what he had come for.

 

Braxton Harrison

Atlanta, Georgia 30303, United States of America