Dr. Hugh Mann, p.1Mark Tufo
Dr. Hugh Mann
Dr. Hugh Mann
Copyright 2011 Mark Tufo
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Cover Art by Shaed Studios, shaedstudios.com
To my wife: as we forge ahead into the unknown I can think of no one but you that I would want by my side. I love you.
To my kids: you three are the reasons I do everything I do and I would have it no other way.
To Mo Happy: who once again has taken a nugget of a story and brought a golden shine to it.
To all the men and women of the armed forces, police and fire departments, thank you for all of your sacrifices. (Except for that one cop that stopped me for a sight obstruction on my windshield and then wrote me a ticket) But all the rest of you are the best!
Physicist Dr. Hugh Mann
The year was 1917 and the University of Boston had just received one of the new and few prototypes of the coveted electron scanning microscopes. No longer would man be relegated to seeing in the 20 micron range. Whole new worlds formerly unbeknownst were opening up. Dr. Hugh Mann used all of his weight as a tenured professor to make sure that he had the lion’s share of the use, and even that was not enough. Twenty hour work days were not uncommon, not that he ever felt that it was work. This was what he was meant to do; this was his calling. When he first discovered the Hugh-Manns it was with this higher purpose that he had set out.
“My God,” Hugh said blasphemously and with more enthusiasm than he had shown with the birth of his daughter some twenty-seven years previously. No one was at the facility at this late hour to notice Dr. Mann’s reaction. He worked late most nights, sometimes not even bothering to go home, much to the chagrin of his fellow scientists. Home was an empty place anyway. His wife had left for greener pastures when their daughter was only 2 years old, leaving the toddler behind. His daughter Marissa was raised by his sister-in-law after the state found Dr. Mann to be an unfit parent. It wasn’t that he was uncaring or unloving. He loved Marissa with all his heart, that is, when he remembered her. On more than one occasion the police had to be summoned to his locale to pick up a dirty, disheveled and hungry child wandering the streets. By the age of 4 Marissa lived with her aunt and uncle. By the age of 13 she had nearly stopped altogether on any attempt to foster a relationship with her brilliant, benign father. It was the 14th anniversary of Marissa’s liberation when Dr. Mann made his discovery, not that the date made any difference to him, Tuesday was like Sunday, 1912 was like 1915. Sometimes he ate on his own, sometimes he had to be reminded. Work meant everything to him, work was everything. His wife Eloise thought she would be able to change him, if not her then definitely Marissa. When Eloise realized that he was slipping even further into his addiction she walked away from the marriage, ignorantly thinking that Hugh would have to be forcibly pulled out of his psychoses to care for his daughter. When Eloise left, Dr. Mann buried himself even further into his work like a deer tick on a particularly succulent cow thigh.
To stop working for even a moment forced him to focus on his life, which for all its successes was laced with monumental failures. The death of his parents from a fiery chemical reaction from one of his failed experiments, the loss of his ‘soul mate’ to a disease that hadn’t even been named yet, a wife that walked out on him and a daughter that he mentally and emotionally walked out on. It was much better to keep on working, always working, it kept the mind active, fruitful and in control. To stop was anarchy and led solely to mind blistering pain. Dr. Mann was a haggard looking 47 year old. Sure, a lot had to do with his rumpled, unkempt appearance, but his haunted expression belied a deeper affliction. With no family or friends to turn to, Dr. Mann continuously forced himself deeper and deeper inward. There were Type 2 autistic children that had more contact with the ‘real’ world than Dr. Hugh Mann.
Pulling away from the eyepiece on the high powered microscope, he pinched his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “Did I really see what I thought I did?” he asked the empty laboratory. The last scientist had left over three hours ago and the janitor, Mr. Jenkins, was in no position to prove or disprove the doctor’s findings.
The doctor had the distinct feeling of a God-like power coursing through him as he once more and for the fortieth time put his eye to the eyepiece. Nothing had changed, the image remained the same. It had to because to prepare a slide for viewing, the sample had to be placed in a solution that rendered everything inert, in other words, dead.
The doctor wanted to call somebody, anybody. His daughter had made it perfectly clear that she did not appreciate being awoken at all hours of the night to hear wild talk of his ‘discoveries.’ He would have called his wife if he knew where she was. He had no colleagues left who would speak to him; he had torn down what was left of those tenuous bridges by taking the majority of the microscope time.
“The Dean then?” he said aloud, more to calm his nerves than to receive a response. “No, he’s a dullard, he would probably think I was talking about paleontology.”
* * *
Dr. Mann ran down the hallway screaming as if the Hounds of Hell had been released with the sole purpose of dragging his worthless soul back down into the abyss with them. Fenton the security guard, roused from a deep sleep, fumbled for the sidearm he used to carry in another life. The 76 year old retired Chicago cop nearly suffered his second cardiac infarction as he watched Dr. Mann come racing towards him. The sheer look of pain and terror etched across the doctor’s face for the first time made Fenton wish he had just stayed good and retired once and for all. ‘What was I trying to prove anyway? I could no more stop a fleeing turtle than I could intimidate a flighty rabbit.’ Fenton picked up the phone and had almost rang for the operator to summon help when Dr. Mann finally reached the guard desk.
“Come here…!” Dr. Mann said breathlessly.
Fenton didn’t take offense to the obvious fact that Dr. Mann had forgotten his name. In the ten years he had worked at this research facility, Dr. Mann had never acknowledged his existence, much less his name. This wasn’t any form of elitism. Dr. Mann couldn’t even rattle off the names of even a handful of his co-workers.
“Is something on fire, Dr. Mann? Because I’ll need to call the fire department,” Fenton asked.
“Fire?” it took Dr. Mann a few moments to switch gears and access the appropriate portion of his brain, the part that let him interact with others. “Fire?”
Fenton nodded his head.
“There’s no fire,” Dr. Mann answered. The man behind the desk seemed to visibly relax.
* * *
“Oh my God!” Fenton exclaimed a few moments later as he tore his gaze away from the eyepiece.
Dr. Mann spun in a gleeful circle, partly happy for the realization that he hadn’t gone insane, and partly because the discovery of a lifetime, nay, the discovery of the millennium, was confirmed in the shocked gaze of one security guard who now more than ever wished that he had retired when he had the chance.
“Please describe to me what you see,” Dr. Mann demanded.
Fenton absently noticed that once again the good doctor did not acknowledge his name.
“It’s hard to say EXACTLY,” Fenton said as he nervously licked his lips.
Dr. Mann’s face became laced with a scowl.
“The image is a little blurry,” Fenton started up. Dr. Mann’s scowl softened ever so slightly as he nodded in agreement.
Fenton couldn’t believe anything was beyond the range of the scope. He was under the impression that if someone looked long enough with it they would be able to find the human soul, and then he laughed a nervous laugh at his thought. ‘Just maybe he has.’ Fenton shuddered violently, but Dr. Mann took no notice.
“But if you WERE to take an educated guess?” Dr. Mann prompted Fenton.
“Guess?” Fenton asked. He knew he was stalling, right now he wanted to be anywhere but here. Fenton had been less scared the day he found himself in a shoot-out while on routine patrol. At least then he knew back up was on the way, here he was on his own.
“Yes, even security guards can make a guess, can’t they?” Dr. Mann asked with disdain.
Fenton was too busy processing what he had seen to even acknowledge the slight. Dr. Mann was becoming increasingly impatient.
“Well?” Dr. Mann asked as he crossed his arms over his chest, foot tapping rapidly on the ground. “WELL!?” Dr. Mann shouted.
Fenton was shaken out of his reverie by the shout. Dr. Mann was glaring at him. “I see people, I think.” Fenton said in a small voice, a voice he hadn’t used since he was six years old and had gotten caught stealing a penny-priced sea shell from a crafts store. His mother had spanked him until her hand and his bare fanny had turned bright red. Being a holy woman, every downward strike had come with the shouted reprise of ‘Thou shalt not steal!’ It had been one of the seminal forces in Fenton’s life, and one that had led him to make the choice to become a cop. He hated every moment of that day right now. If he hadn’t stolen the stupid seashell, or if he had not been caught, he might have become something like an accountant or a construction worker or maybe even a baker. One thing was for sure, he wouldn’t have sought a damned security guard position upon retirement, which meant he wouldn’t be stuck in this damn room with a half crazed scientist, staring at an abomination only several degrees of magnitude bigger than an atom.
“What else!” Dr. Mann shouted, trying in desperation to get confirmation of what he himself had witnessed.
“I…I…” Fenton started.
“Yes?” Dr. Mann prodded.
“I think that it… he… was carrying something, like a stick or a sword or something. But how is that possible?” Fenton stared into the eyes of Dr. Mann in bewilderment. But Dr. Mann had mentally moved on. Fenton realized his job here was done, he would get no more out of Dr. Mann than would the doctor’s estranged wife. Fenton realized he was merely a tool, a tool of verification, and once his proscribed job had been completed Dr. Mann had moved on. He didn’t even seem aware of Fenton’s existence any longer. Fenton wasn’t angered by the dismissal, he had other nightmares to keep him occupied. He quietly left the room, softly shutting the door. Dr. Mann sat huddled over the eyepiece muttering to himself about alternate civilizations that rivaled the great Atlantians or maybe it was the Lord’s prayer, at least that was what Fenton hoped it was. Right now divine intervention sounded like a good idea.
* * *
Dr. Mann attached the specially designed camera for the microscope and took a multitude of images of his discovery. He barely felt the cold as he walked across campus to his apartment. Traffic was light on this snowy December 8th.
“The dawn of a new age,” the doctor said to himself. He couldn’t have been more right.
His cat, Sausages, greeted him at the door. His daughter Marissa had bought him the Persian cat and named it when she returned three weeks later to discover he hadn’t yet. She had mistakenly assumed like her mother that if the good doctor had something to care for he would finally yield a bit of his attention from his work. It was once again a failed experiment, but still he protested when she tried to take the cat back. Not that he cared a lick for the cat but it meant that his daughter might show every once in a while to see how it was faring. ‘Maybe there is hope for me still?’ he mused
There was a mutual camaraderie between himself and the cat; both were caught up in their own aloofness. Sausages rubbed once up against his leg, then turned to go back to the study, secure in the knowledge that the doctor would not follow.
* * *
The next morning the doctor extracted himself from the chair he had fallen asleep in. He was still in his top coat and galoshes. He did not stop to urinate, even though he had to badly, but headed straight for the door. As his footsteps receded down the stairs, Sausages lifted his head from his resting place on the brocade armchair, angry for a moment that someone had the audacity to disturb his sleep. Then he dismissed the doctor from his mind and returned to his nap.
The doctor dropped his roll of 35 mm film off at the drugstore. The clerk handed him a receipt for him to use when he came back to pick up the film once it was developed. The young clerk, most likely the proprietor’s son seemed confused when the doctor refused the claim paper.
“I don’t think you understand, young man. I plan on waiting until that film is developed.”
“Sir?” the youth asked.
“What you have in your hand is far too valuable to be left here. I will not leave until I have the pictures and the negatives with me.”
“Sir, it is Saturday.”
“I am quite aware of what day it is,” the doctor replied sourly, although he had wrongly assumed it was Wednesday.
“My dad comes in late on Saturdays. And he’s the one that exposes all the film.”
“Not very industrious, is he?” the doctor said malignantly. “Well, have you never watched him do the procedure? An apprenticeship, perhaps? This cannot wait, it is of the utmost importance.”
“I’ve watched him do it dozens of times good sir, but...”
“Come now lad, surely you have wanted to do it?”
“I will pay an extra dollar for your services.”
An extra dollar would get him and his girlfriend Becky into the movie theater plus a milkshake each. Ben’s eyes lit up at his good fortune. Mankind would pay a heavy price for that piece of silver. It would be the last movie Becky would ever see.
The doctor waited impatiently at the soda fountain counter. He was well into his fourth Malted Milk before Ben emerged from the hooded apparatus, bathed in sweat. The doctor assumed it was the momentousness of the occasion.
Dr. Mann shuffled frenetically through the photographs. Ben fidgeted nearly uncontrollably, he could not gauge this strange customer’s reactions and he really wanted that dollar.
“You did fine young man, extraordinarily well in fact.” The doctor flipped a five dollar gold coin on the counter and almost immediately forgot about the boy.
Ben could not even begin to comprehend his good luck, the man had paid two times what was due. Becky would definitely go ‘steady’ with him once he took her to dinner before the movie.
He wasn’t sure if he should have touched the photos up. But he thought that the blurred images that were vaguely of human shape were due to an error on his part, and he really wanted the promised bonus. He hadn’t done much, surely not enough to elicit such a response from the man. He had softened some of the more angular protrusions and made what was in its hand look more like a stick. But they were still of horrible quality, as if they had been taken underwater in a cloudy marsh. Ben had thought he had done something terribly wrong with the chemicals and that the man was not only not going to pay him, but rather cuff him one upside the head for wrecking his vacation photos. He thought nothing more of it as he grabbed the money off the counter.
The doctor stopped every few dozen paces to look through the pictures again. They were truly amazing and he was the one that had discovered them. It wasn’t the fame the doctor sought, it was the validation of the time and effort he had poured into his work at the expense of everything else in his life, in pursuit of knowledge, in the pursuit o
“I have found another universe,” he said absently to himself. Snow began to fall heavily as he headed back to his laboratory. Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, it didn’t matter to Dr. Mann or Sausages for that matter. The cat had learned long ago how to open up the cupboard and get to the container that housed his food, otherwise he would have starved to death from neglect long ago.
The doctor wanted to shout from the rooftops about his find but the conventional world had decided that Saturday and Sunday should be deemed as days of leisure. “Fools, I could be holding the keys to man’s evolutionary path and they would rather sled down Beacon Hill.”
An older lady dressed for the bracing chill in a heavy wool coat and feathery hat glanced sideways at the strange man ranting to himself as she gave him a wide berth on the slippery sidewalk. The doctor never even noticed.
Dr. Mann reached the campus building designated as the Coolidge Laboratory and pulled out the heavy keys to the building. Other than the Dean of Science and the custodian, Dr. Mann was the only other person that had these keys in possession. Dean Fitzsimons had relinquished a spare set if only to keep Dr. Mann from calling at all hours of the day and night trying to gain access.
The doctor instantly calmed the moment he gained entry into what he considered ‘his’ inner sanctum, the lab. Beakers of someone else’s now failed experiment lay askew where the Doctor had pushed them aside to get more of his samples closer to the electron microscope.
He felt a small pang of guilt as he prepared his next slide. He was purposefully killing one of his ‘subjects.’ “All in the name of science,” he muttered to himself. “I hope as their God they will forgive me.” The doctor took the small sample and placed it under the microscope.
Dr. Hugh Mann by Mark Tufo / Horror have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes