I’m a psychiatrist. When I was working my way through med school, I had deluded myself into thinking I was going to help people face their problems and live better lives; you know, all that Hippocratic Oath bullshit. I swore on that Oath to keep deadly drugs out of my patients’ bodies; but in my first clinical placement, I chemically lobotomized children with ADHD drugs at the behest of irritated parents and teachers. No, the drugs don’t cause death the body, but death of the mind and the soul may be worse. There’s no need to medicate children who need only attention and guidance to function. Needless to say, I left as soon as I could, transitioned to the Alternative and Special Detention wing of the Philadelphia prison system where I would treat patients with real, chronic, biochemical illnesses. I’ve been at the ASD for about a year, though I’ve just stolen some patient records so my time in medicine might be about up.
A month ago, the local police brought us a vagrant who believed the US was still at war with Germany. He was disoriented and had been suffering from hypothermia before the officer that picked him up exchanged his wet clothes for a fire blanket. The reflective foil-like blanket was covered in vomit when he arrived, so I asked one of the orderlies to fetch a change of clothes. I gave the vagrant a mild sedative and got him talking to calm down. When I had gained his trust, he started laying down a ridiculous yarn about military experiments, time travel, and alternate dimensions. It’s not too far off the mark for some of my patients, but this guy was coherent. His story was crazy, but he didn’t sound crazy. I actually wondered if there was a grain of truth to what he was saying. For a time. Then the orderly arrived with the clothes. As the vagrant stood to accept them, the fire blanket slipped and I could see a golden dragon tattooed on his chest and a swallow on his wrist; both common historical naval tattoos. The following is from a transcript of the conversation between the unit that picked up the vagrant and Philly PD dispatch. It was in the file I smuggled out of ASD when I left this morning. I’ve edited it for brevity:
Dispatch: Three Sam Twelve, we have a report of a man pulling himself out of the Delaware near the Ikea on Columbus. Suspected homeless, seems to be intoxicated and delusional. Witnesses say he’s claiming to have fallen off a Navy ship in the ocean and can’t find his way back.
3S12: Copy, Dispatch. We’re on our way.
(several minutes pass)
3S12: Dispatch, we see the guy. I’m not sure about homeless. He looks like he had too much fun at a costume party. He is wet, though. Has some seaweed stuck to his leg. (the officers put the vagrant in their car)
3S12: Dispatch, our new friend says he’s in the Navy. Can you look up….Larry Northcott?
Dispatch: Roger that, Three Sam Twelve.
3S12: Also, he’s shaking pretty bad from being in the drink, what’s your recommendation?
Dispatch: The Navy has no personnel by that name. Central Booking is a madhouse right now; take your suspect to ASD for processing.
That’s when Northcott came to me. This, again edited down to be more digestible, is the transcript of our interview:
Jefferson: Your name is Larry Northcott?
Northcott: Petty Officer First Class Lawrence Dade Northcott, United States Navy, sir.
J: The Navy has no record of you, Mr. Northcott.
N: That’s what the police officers told me. I’m having trouble believing them, though. A lot of this looks like Philadelphia, but some of the buildings I know have been replaced. I saw the Battleship New Jersey docked in the Delaware, but it should be in the Pacific fighting the Japs right now.
J: What year do you think this is?
N: 1943. October, to be exact.
J: I see.
N: What year do you think it is, sir? If I may ask.
J: 2013. May, to be exact.
N: That would explain the battleship…
J: Mr. Northcott, why were you in the Delaware River?
N: I fell in, sir. From the deck of the Eldridge in the Atlantic just outside the Delaware River Delta.
J: And how did you end up here?
N: (remains silent for a time)
J: Mr. Northcott? Can I get you something?
N: No, sir. I’m fine. Who won the war?
J: Um…World War Two?
N: I guess the newspapers were calling it that. Against Germany.
J: We won. The Allies.
N: Oh, good. That takes a load off me, sir. Do you know about Project Rainbow?
J: I can’t say I do.
N: Well, I’m afraid I can’t tell you too much about the science. It’s beyond me. Although, sixty years in the future, it may be as common as corn. It was a test of new technology. The top brass filled the deck of the Eldridge with humongous electric generators covered in certain metals they called superconductors. One of them was actually gold, I think. Anyway, we steamed out to the Atlantic and they turned on the generators. Nothing happened for a while. Then, a strange green fog appeared and some of us got sick. I turned my head to be sick over the railing and as I did, the lights of Philadelphia and the light of the moon flickered and went out. I felt like I was on one of those rides at Coney Island, you know, in the stomach? Then it was like the fog lifted. The moon shined through. I could see the city. A strange ship came into view off to the port side. We radioed her and she identified herself as the SS Andrew Furuseth, off the coast of Norfolk. Virginia. That’s a good ways down the coast.
J: Yes, it is.
N: The fog came back up then, and I got that weird feeling in my stomach. I… The Eldridge wound up on land, next. I’m not sure I can trust what I saw here. There were people all around, but most of them looked badly burned. Some of them saw us and shouted for help. Some were bleeding. Some were missing hands… And then others came out from behind some bombed out building. They were even more grotesque. Their legs bent the wrong way and their skin hung loose on their muscles. The teeth… (patient begins rocking and crying)
J: Mr. Northcott, let’s stop here for now.
I gave Northcott some water and had him take a pill-form sedative. I also gave him a few minutes to be alone and put himself together while I wrote down my initial thoughts on his diagnosis – delusional psychosis and a possible fugue state. Then I returned to the room.
N: I think… I think it was Hell.
J: Excuse me?
N: That place we ended up after Norfolk. I think it was Hell. It looked like here, like Earth, like New York, actually. But it wasn’t. The sky was a dusty red, not blue. The buildings were just shells. The people looked like they were being tortured by those…demons. Some of the crew couldn’t handle it. They broke down sobbing. Others got violent. I was knocked over the railing when a fist fight broke out behind me. I didn’t want to fall off and be stuck with those things with the teeth, so I held on as tight as I could to the railing. Some of the demons saw us and tried to climb the hull, but the fog came back before they could get on deck. The feeling in my stomach made me lose my grip and I fell. I fell a lot longer than it should have taken to reach the water. When I finally did hit the sea, I swam ashore here. In the future.
We talked a bit about Northcott’s history (where he was from, his parents) after that. As I said, his story was vastly more coherent than most patients I had treated ad I had to wonder about it. I was reviewing his file in my office when a pair of Naval officers showed up and asked to see Northcott. One went to the detention wing and the other remained at the front desk waiting for his file. The secretary paged me, but I ignored it. I placed the file under my blazer and went out the back door.