The Unknown Object
“My dear Dolores,” a raspy, heavily accented voice slowly spoke from the audio reel as it spun around the recorder. There was a background hissing noise as the tape played, no doubt due to the age and nature of the analog recording. “You will lizzten to each one of my commandzz and suggesztionzz, taking all of them into your heaaart. When these suggesztionzzz are in conflict with your memories and thoughtz, the suggestionzz will take precedence.”
Ms. Sommer sat in a chair in front of the rolltop desk, her eyes with the familiar glazed-over look that all subjects of the mind control gun had.
After getting instructions on how to operate the machine, Tim had grabbed a chair, sat across from the old woman, turned the dial on the gun towards ‘CONTROL,’ aimed it at her, and pressed the button. Her entire body went limp. He’d pressed play and heard Dr. Müller’s voice for the first time in his life.
The tape continued playing.
“Think back to when you were a child. You were only five yearz old when your parentzzz won a trip to London as part of a raffle competition. You traveled by luxury boat. You met many intereszting people from many partz of the world. They were also going to London. You spoke with them. Imagine that memory. Bring it to life.” The voice paused for a few seconds, as though to give a chance for Ms. Sommer to create a mental image. “It is now real, a part of your childhood that opened your eyez to the world of travel.”
Tim was surprised at how vague all the suggestions and commands were, but Ms. Sommer had assured him that was for the best. Her mind would fill in all the blanks as she liked. Dr. Müller would make a vague suggestion about her having seen some interesting things while in London, and Ms. Sommer’s subconscious would add all the necessary details, based on all the knowledge she’d gotten from her readings.
The tape continued, constructing an entire new life for the old woman. Trips to Paris, sightseeing tours of the Louvre. Losing her virginity at seventeen to a handsome French art student. Tim supposed that, in reality, the old crone had been just another member of Doctor Müller’s harem—he wondered how many women he had in that harem, realized that now it was too late to ask.
Now she was an exchange student in Germany, where she’d met her first husband, a sophisticated academic named Josef Schmidt. They’d spent their honeymoon in Morocco, apparently. From there, they’d traveled to South America, lived among the natives in some small villages while the academic did his research.
After ten years of travel, she and Josef divorced, and she spent the remainder of her thirties as a libertine, traveling and enjoying her life as an independent young woman. Mentions were made of trips to Western and Eastern Europe, but again, the doctor kept the details of those trips deliberately vague so as to allow the old woman’s mind to create her own memories based upon her personal wishes and desires.
Tim looked at the watch on his mobile phone. It had been about an hour, and the tape was almost done. Since Doctor Müller had no idea when Ms. Sommer would be hearing the recording, as the tape continued on, details seemed to become more and more vague. Even the timeline was unclear, though he supposed that it made sense to Ms. Sommer’s subconscious.
As the tape got to its end, a little bit of tragedy struck. Not in real life, but in the recording itself.
“There wasz a fire, and most of your photographz of your trippz and your family were dessztroyed.”
So that’s how the old man was going to deal with the incongruity of not having any photos that would support Ms. Sommer’s memories. Interesting. Clever.
The tape was now reaching its end.
“You are a very private perszon so you do not talk about your pazt with anyone. Not co-workerz, friendz, or any family you may have left. You are content to keep those preciouz memoriez to yourzelf.”
More instructions followed, designed to ensure that Ms. Sommer wouldn’t get caught in any contradictions between her new memories and her previous ones. For example, she would ignore any comments from others which might contradict her memories and just assume that the speaker was mistaken—say, if a co-worker pointed out that they’d never known she traveled abroad, or doubted her knowledge on foreign countries by pointing out that she’d never left Lansdale in her life.
“When you are releazed from the mind control gun, you will not acknowledge the perzon holding the device. Inztead, you will rid the houze of any evidence that might contradict the memoriez that you have juzt been implanted with. Begin by deztroying this very recording.”
Well, that must be it. Tim was just about to stand up to turn the recorder off, when Doctor Müller suddenly turned his attention to him—or rather, to whoever it was he’d intended to inherit the mind control gun.
“You who are wielding the mind control gun—whoever I ultimately decided to pazz my invention to. I wish you luck. Luck in your purzuit of pleazure, of happinezz. Thiz invention allowed me to turn thiz leettle town into my perzonnal paradize. I waz once a failure in my native country—here, I am zomething akin to a god. Whatever your ambitionz, I wish you godzpeed. And remember—with my device uzed properly, there are no limitz.”
Tim swallowed hard as he heard those last words.
Hannah Davis sighed and hung up the phone in the teacher’s lounge, walked back to her classroom to prepare for her next period class. She’d called the West household twice already, but had only gotten the answering machine. She’d left messages and, against her better judgment, had even left her personal cell phone number so they could call her back.
As she sat down at her desk and put her reading glasses on, she wondered what her boyfriend Ryan would say. He’d probably crack a joke about how she was the perfect example of the ‘mother hen,’ too caring and overprotective of the students in her charge.
And he’d be right, damn it. It seemed to her that instead of teaching, most of her time was spent putting out metaphorical fires—students missing so many lessons they had no idea what material was being covered in history class, students who would turn in blank exams because they couldn’t make heads or tails of the questions, parents who begged her to give their lazy children ‘extra opportunities’ and find ways to ‘assist,’ trying to explain to them the necessity of those same kids taking ownership of their failures and then being threatened with lawsuits, and so on, and so on.
And now, here she was, trying to see what she could do to help Timothy West, or at least cover her bases before the kid was suspended for cutting class.
If she didn’t love the idea of teaching so much, if she weren’t a passionate educator, she would have taken her boyfriend’s suggestion and quit.
Ryan owned and managed a fancy Japanese restaurant downtown, and he was constantly telling her that, with her intellect, intuition, and professionalism, he could get her a high-paying office job at any of the food distributors in town. No more dealing with parents. No more having to worry about students flunking her class and having to justify her grades to the principal and the rest of the administration.
But she loved teaching.
She sighed, put on her reading classes, and got back to correcting papers. Maybe she’d call the West household again in the afternoon.
Once Tim released the old woman from the control of the ray gun, she’d ignored him completely, as expected. Like some sort of automaton, she began ridding the house of any evidence that might point towards Dr. Müller or contradict any of her new memories. She started in the study, throwing away the audio reel, then putting a bunch of old documents into a nearby paper shredder. Tim figured she would go throughout the entire house until any trace that she’d ever known Dr. Müller had vanished from the face of the earth.
Tim looked at the box he held in his hands. All the secrets he needed to master the mind control gun were in there.
He had everything he’d come for. There was no further purpose in staying around here. The old lady would probably be at this for hours.
With a last glance back at Ms. Sommer, Tim stepped outdoors, grabbed his bicycle from the library, and sped back home.
In the days to come, Ms. Sommer’s subordinates at the library would all notice the change in her personality—the normally caustic, overbearing old woman had suddenly developed a cheerful, almost sunny disposition. She began doing volunteer work on the weekends, attending arts and crafts classes at the community center, even playing bridge at the local senior center. She would joke and socialize with the same library employees she’d once demeaned and bossed around. Her younger colleagues joked among themselves that maybe she’d adopted a cat, or even started dating some mysterious gentleman. None of them knew the real reason—that the Ms. Sommer that they’d once known was, to all effects and purposes, gone forever. It was only Chris Wilford, the assistant librarian, who might have realized that the change in her personality had started the day she’d suddenly left the library accompanied by that strange teenager, but he didn’t give it a second thought.
Not until it was too late for everyone.