February 10, 2003
CBC News presented footage of George W. Bush giving a press conference. The camera followed the President of the United States as he walked to the podium. In the background a brown-skinned man – not African, not Arab, not Indian, but clearly not white – was conferring with Donald Rumsfeld.
Karl’s stomach formed a knot. Shortly the camera focussed in on George W. as he started talking about how to win in Iraq. Karl’s pulse rate increased and he experienced the flight/fight reflex. He was sure the guy with Rumsfeld was causing the feelings.
Karl sat on his couch; he was midway through tying his tie, but still wanting to catch the news. His second dating service date was less than an hour away and he sure didn’t want to arrive nauseous and sweating. In a couple of minutes the panic-attack passed and he continued to prepare. He made a mental note to watch the late news.
The dating service was expensive and thorough. The staff of the service had psychology degrees and performed background checks, Myers-Briggs personality tests, detailed surveys of interests and conducted intense interviews with the clients. Men paid more than women did. The dating service scarcely needed to put the ubiquitous “serious applicants only please” on their marketing materials.
Karl had not been on a date in three years and concluded the free bachelor lifestyle was not agreeable. He was a professional engineer and had done well financially, but sucked on the personal front. His family was small and school connections had not led him toward a partner. Early in his work experience he had dated within company ranks. All disasters. And now he never considered it an option because, as a manager, workplace politics and ethics induced permanent shyness.
The date with Angie was great. She was pretty, fun, of a totally different background – Belizian mother and English father – and worked in PR. She seemed to have had a good time, but Karl wasn’t sure. He hoped that the dating service would advise him. He left a voice mail with the service’s consultant saying he had had a great time.
But at home, he surfed the TV stations looking for panic-attack guy. CBC had shortened the footage and had edited him out. He jumped about the channels until the CTV 24-hour news station showed what he was looking for. The flight/fight reflex happened again. Who the hell was that guy?
That night, Karl dreamed he was fighting panic-attack guy with a sword. They were evenly matched and ended up inflicting mutually fatal blows. Karl dreamed that he had died, which he thought wasn’t possible, and then he saw people prepare his dead body, place it into a burial urn and put it in the ocean.
He sat up in bed screaming. His heart was pounding so hard he took his own pulse with the clock on his nightstand. 172 bpm. In the bathroom, he splashed water on his face and forced himself to breathe slowly. Who the hell was that guy?
The next morning, at work, his mind was distracted by Angie and panic-attack guy. Karl wanted to know more, so he spent time on the Internet trying to figure out how to put his hands on the video footage. It was a tedious process, partly because the CBC wanted him to download RealPlayerÔ, which his PC at work was not keen on letting him do. He called a couple of friends and his Dad back east, none of whom had seen the broadcast.
Later that morning the dating service called him. Angie was indeed happy with the date and wanted to meet again. Karl was given Angie’s work phone number.
“You mean I have to call her?”
“That’s what dating’s all about Karl. I am not going to set up every date, you know,” replied the consultant.
“I mean it.”
“So I should do it now.”
“Yes, Karl, that would be good.”
Karl took a deep breath and picked up the phone. He kind of hoped he’d get her voice mail, but Angie answered.
“Hi. I had a great time last night and I was wondering what you were doing this weekend. Friday night.”
“I’m free Friday.”
“Let’s meet at the restaurant again and then we can decide what to do. I’ll try to think up some ideas. You too.”
“You are so silly.”
“That too. Can I call you later in the week?”
At lunch break, Karl saw himself reflected in the glass of the lobby windows. His body was large, white and out of shape. It was wrong and almost unfamiliar. There was a gym in his building. He went in, asked for his company’s discount and joined. In the cafeteria, he ordered two steak dinners, which came with mashed potatoes and peas. He took the trays to the garbage and dumped all the potatoes and peas off the plates and combined the steaks on one plate.
If I am going to fight this guy again, I’ll need to be strong.
Karl looked around the cafeteria, knowing full well that the thought had come from his own head; he was just hoping someone else had said it out loud.
On the way home, he walked past the Japanese Martial Arts Studio. He walked in and asked who was teaching the classes. A six-foot, young white kid said, “I am. I’ve had my black belt for five years.”
“Do you have a jiu-jitsu master associated with your business?”
“Oh yeah. But he does private lessons only,” said the kid.
“Good. When can I have an appointment?”
That night Karl again dreamed he had died. This time he was in deep jungle terrain, chasing panic-attack guy through the vines and underbrush. Ahead, his quarry tripped and fell. Nearly upon him, Karl raised a scimitar to split panic-attack guy’s head. But panic-attack guy’s legs came up and pushed him backward into a tiger trap. The stakes at the bottom of the pit pierced Karl’s body in four places. Karl woke up screaming.
The next day, Karl went to work early, visited the gym and did cardio, weights and flexibility. He was unhappy with his range of motion. But what he was even more unhappy with was his seeming split personality. One conscious thread in his mind rationalized his abrupt change in habits by not wanting to look bad if Angie ever saw him naked. Another line of thinking believed all the fitness was needed to prepare to fight panic-attack guy.
Although the dreams were ghastly, he sure as shit wasn’t going to tell anyone about them. It would be really helpful to learn panic-attack guy’s name. He had not heard back from any of the news outlets. Who could help?
Back at his desk, Karl picked up the phone and called Angie.
“Hi. I was trying to discipline myself and not phone until later, but two things happened. I wanted to talk to you again and I thought of a something you might be able to help me with, being a PR person and all.”
Karl explained that he had seen someone who looked really familiar at the Bush press conference and it had been bugging him since.
“Oooo, a challenge,” said Angie. “Let me see what I can find out. I have a contact at CTV who might be able to help. If I learn anything before Friday, I’ll call you.”
His appointment with Eichiro was on Thursday. Karl truly wondered why he had asked for an appointment with a master, but the impulse had been strong.
“Why are you here?” asked Eichiro.
“I need to test myself. I think I have buried talents.”
“Let us begin.”
For Karl, it was like transferring control of his body to another person. The session started with Eichiro using some common opening moves and Karl responding quickly and aggressively. Eichiro, for a moment, was on the defensive and switched to a more classical style of jiu-jitsu. Karl’s lack of good fitness soon left him weak and unstable, which led to an incorrect foot position and a twisted knee. Karl’s subconscious, which provided all the jiu-jitsu maneuvers, called a halt. Tearing cartilage will not help the mission.
“What mission?” muttered Karl to himself.
“You are talented; you know techniques that are not normally taught to westerners. How did you learn this and be in such poor shape?” asked the master.
“I wish I knew.”
“You had best return. You should have these talents awoken with a guide.”
“Put ice on the knee.”
Karl had not heard from Angie by Friday. He limped into the restaurant, afraid that she might not show.
She was there with a bright smile. Angie had dressed conservatively on their last date. She now wore a red dress that highlighted her small shape and made her exotic colouring more alluring to Karl. He limped to the table.
“What have you done to yourself?”
“Joined a gym.”
“You were one of the major inspirations.”
“Who were the other inspirations?” she said, using a flighty voice and fluttering her eyes.
“The statistics relating to how often fat white guys get diabetes and heart disease.” Karl lied because giving panic-attack guy as a reason might not inspire trust and confidence.
Angie laughed. “I have a present for you.” She handed Karl a folder.
He opened it and found a picture of panic-attack guy. His name was Basil Wilson. Karl’s stomach started to go funny again and his pulse rate increased. That’s not his real name. In the folder were articles about him from various online newspapers from the States.
“Does this help?”
“You are amazing,” Karl suppressed his panic. “What’s odd is that this fellow is familiar, yet I don’t know him. It’s like déjà-vu.”
“He wasn’t easy to find information on. Since the beginning, George W. Bush has surrounded himself with his daddy’s men. This guy is the second ‘Shadow Advisor to the President’. It’s not a real position; The New York Times coined the phrase a couple of years ago to refer to the first one, Kenneth Lay. He used to be the CEO of Enron, but retired from that job about a year before the collapse. Even George W. could not rationalize being seen to take advice from the ex-head of Enron, who was subpoenaed for documents this fall, which he refused to produce based on Fifth Amendment rights. Anyway, the President switched over to this Basil Wilson guy around the time of Gulf War II. He holds degrees from Harvard, Princeton and the usual hoity-toity places. But there isn’t a lot of info about his personal background. However, he’s in the thick of the Bush administration.”
“This is amazing. I didn’t want you to go to this much work.”
“Are you kidding? This stuff is fun. I found the most about Enron on the SEC site.”
“Well, I’ll have to look at this later,” Karl said, putting the folder aside. “I don’t have the answer to my déjà-vu, but I’d rather be concentrating on other things.” Karl smiled at Angie and imagined that he was pushing the panic into his shoes.
“And they say engineers have no charm.”
In the end they decided on a movie. Karl took Angie home and they kissed, but neither were rushing. One of the reasons that the dating service matched them was because they wanted things to flow calmly.
Karl’s skin tingled from her kiss for most of his drive home. He hadn’t felt that way in a long time. Hundreds of years, said his mind.
The ongoing commentary from his subconscious was something Karl was trying to suppress. But it reminded him of the folder Angie had given him so he sat at his kitchen table and opened it.
He took a deep breath and read all the material that Angie had provided and still wondered how and why he continued to feel as if he not only knew Basil Wilson, but had also known him forever.
That night the dreams returned. This time he was dressed as an American officer during World War II. He was in the middle of a battle and was advancing with his battalion toward an enemy position. He saw blown out tanks and other wreckage of the German military. Shortly they were at the command post taking prisoners.
“Charley! We hit the mother lode,” said a corporal who was leading the prisoners out of the post.
Brought in front of Karl, who was currently a lieutenant named Charles, was Basil Wilson, in the uniform of an SS General. Karl immediately drew his sidearm and took aim.
“Oh, it’s you,” said Wilson.
“What the hell are you doing, sir?” The corporal pushed Karl’s arm aside and the bullet tore into the ground. Wilson took the opportunity to grab the corporal’s gun and shoot both of them. As he ran into the nearby woods, other soldiers fired shots at him. They seemed to make their marks, but nothing stopped Wilson from running.
Charley lay on the ground bleeding to death.
Karl woke from the dream with a painful stomach and burning eyes. It took him an hour to return to sleep.
In the next few days he redoubled his workout effort. Eichiro was pleased at the progress and was amazed at the number of classical moves Karl had, without knowing how or why he had them. After work, Karl sat in his office and researched the SS, trying to see if he could find photos or other records of SS generals.
Although not one for flights of fancy (he was more comfortable with f = ma and PV = nRT) Karl was coming to believe that his was a case of reincarnation. Quite a few actually. What was bothering him was the fact that Basil Wilson seemed to not be reincarnating; he seemed to be always the same. In the dreams, Karl always felt like a different person, but Wilson was static. The disheartening aspect of his research was that he could spend ages trying to find Wilson in an SS photograph, fail, and not know the cause. The photo might never have existed or, had existed but was destroyed. What he did know was that he was going to need help. These records weren’t exactly posted on the Internet. He picked up the phone and called an old friend, a history professor from UBC.
Later that week Karl went on another date with Angie. He took flowers because the time he spent working out, researching Basil Wilson and trying not to neglect his job had eaten into his social time.
She kissed him in thanks for the flowers and asked, “What are you doing to yourself?”
“What do you mean?” They sat down in the café.
“Well, you’re dropping weight and looking, well, fitter.”
“I’m still taking jiu-jitsu and going to the gym.”
“The agency told me that you were kind of … sedentary.”
Karl laughed. “I was, and believe me, I wasn’t expecting to go on such a health kick.” You are training.
Then suddenly she frowned. “Are you wearing contacts?”
“Your eyes weren’t blue before.”
“They aren’t, they’re … just a minute,” Karl took out his wallet and produced his drivers license. “Brown.”
Angie took a mirror from her purse and said, “Take a look.”
Karl looking into the tiny mirror and inspected each eye. “Son of a bitch.”
Two weeks later, Karl still had blue eyes. He had made an appointment with his doctor and the blood work came up with nothing that could explain the change. The only known ways that eye colour can change in adults are from tumors and reactions to some medications. Neither was the case here. He called Angie to tell her and arrange another date. As they saw more of each other, he started to have trouble keeping his hands to himself. It might be time to ask her over.
Shortly after he finished the call, his friend from UBC phoned and said, “We have to meet.”
At a nearby Starbucks, Professor Jane Dennis showed two photos of the same man, one print black and white and the other colour. “Wow,” said Karl, “Basil Wilson.”
“Basil Wilson and SS Oberstgruppen-Fuhrer Helmut Lehrmann. One alive; one dead – well, presumed dead in late 1945 when an American infantry unit reported his capture and later shot while escaping. But no body was reported recovered. So,” asked Jane, “how do you know about these doppelgangers?”
“That’s a good question. I saw Basil on TV a while ago and he gave me the willies so much that I started researching. Maybe I have seen this SS photo before but forgot.”
“Unlikely. This is a scan of the only print in existence, which a friend of mine in Germany created for me. It showed up only recently, when a stash of files belonging to the Stasi – the East German secret police – was uncovered. And this guy, for a general, was really photo shy.”
“Wow. The more I dig into this, the stranger it gets.”
“I’m glad to be of help. So tell me, how’s the girlfriend?”
“How did you know?”
“About Angie? I’m a researcher, Karl. Plus the old school gang have been rooting for you. And you look great. I’m sure you’ve lost weight or been working out or something.”
“My life has taken quite a turn.”
“But lose the blue contact lenses; they’re just not you.”
Angie and Karl had a great all night date. She was amazed at the passion this engineer had. What she didn’t enjoy so much was his sitting up in the night and screaming in a language neither she nor he recognized.
April 2, 2003
Karl became progressively less sociable. He and Angie saw each other and Angie enjoyed the hard body Karl was creating for himself, but he was at the same time becoming less like himself.
He continued jiu-jitsu with a passion. However, against the wishes of Eichiro, he was becoming increasingly aggressive. This culminated in their last session when the master broke Karl’s ankle and told him never to come back. “I am not here to create a monster.”
In hospital, while they set the ankle, Karl was given pain killers that made him delirious. Malachi emerged. This first incarnation was clear in Karl’s mind. Malachi had been a farmer in what is now known as Lebanon. A band of marauding soldiers from the south attacked his farm, killing his wife, son and daughter. He escaped, but memorized the face of the leader of the troop. Karl recognized the face as Basil Wilson.
I became a killer. Before Shadrach, I was a farmer; I created life but when he came along I was changed forever. I tracked down all his kind, killing them, looking for him and when I found him I drove my sword through his stomach. But Death cheated us both.
Karl surmised that somehow Shadrach, a.k.a. Basil Wilson, was immortal and was likely wreaking havoc on the world. Being close to George W. Bush during this time of utter insanity in Iraq was suspicious, as well as having been a Nazi. Perhaps Malachi kept coming back in order to try to stop this menace.
Karl took time to document all the dreams that he could remember and started a dream journal so that he might be able to put the pieces together.
September 25, 2003
When Angie came home and checked her mailbox, she found a letter from Karl. It was hand written and had been posted a couple of days earlier. The script was most odd, as if Karl had learned to write ancient characters and was now using them.
I hope you will forgive me for not speaking to you in person, but you have become so special to Karl that it would just be too hard to say goodbye in person. He has gone on a mission of incredible importance. He cannot discuss it here for security reasons but he would not let me proceed without telling you that he loves you and wishes things were different. There really has been no one else as beautiful, joyful and loving as you.
“Well, that’s weird.” Angie hadn’t heard from Karl in days and she had assumed they were on the outs, but this prompted her to call. However his phones were out of service. His emails bounced back. She checked at his work. Some two weeks earlier he had called in sick. His family had filed a missing persons report the previous day.
December 21, 2003
Basil Wilson looked out onto a cold, wet Washington DC cityscape and worked hard not to scratch the old wound under his shirt.
It only itched in that special way on the winter solstice and when Malachi was near.
He punched a single number on his cell phone. “Go to level Red.”
Basil walked through his residence, filled with antiques from ages gone past. Few beyond his key team ever saw the inside of his various residences. Anyone with antiquities training would have been quite amazed at some of the pieces.
He pondered having to kill Malachi again and hoped that a different conclusion could be reached this time.
Karl had spent weeks watching all of the complicated movements of Basil Wilson and his staff. He wished his Malachi personality were a little more forthcoming with information. Basil’s pattern of movement seemed familiar, the guards alert and mature beyond that of rent-a-cops or ex-military.
As he made his first movements to take the optimal position near Basil Wilson’s residence, he killed without hesitation, using blades and breaking necks. Karl’s personality hid from it all, letting Malachi do what he’d been doing for centuries.
Just as he was thinking that it was too easy, he felt the dart in his neck. The paralyzing agent worked too fast for Karl to hit the switch.
“You know Malachi … I wonder if you wanted to get caught. A good terrorist like you, occupying an engineer’s body, would have rigged the explosives to go off if your vital signs changed radically.”
It was the first sentence that Karl heard since being sedated. He looked up to see Basil Wilson’s face smiling at him.
“Ahhh, those baby blue eyes. How they initially got into the gene pool in Lebanon I’m not sure, but I’d recognize them anywhere.”
“Why don’t you just kill me and get it over with?”
Karl realized that he was bound tightly to a chair and he was wearing only underwear. He was connected to equipment that monitored his vital signs.
“Please, as you may or may not recall, it’s been 4,765 years since our first disastrous meeting on the battlefield. I have killed you 158 times, so I’m not in much of a rush.”
“What do you want, Shadrach?”
“An excellent question.” Basil Wilson motioned to someone in the background. A man with a lab coat approached. “What I really want for Christmas this year is an answer to the long standing mystery of my wound.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Who’s he?” Karl gestured to the man in the lab coat.
“Your two questions are uniquely related. You see, you don’t remember because Malachi doesn’t let vital information reach your brain. So, to help things along, Dr. Ashford here has some drugs and some excellent hypnosis techniques to loosen you up.”
“Malachi, or should I call you Karl? Yes, yes, I ran your prints while you were snoozing and discovered the Canadian connection. A novel starting point I must say.” Basil ripped open his shirt, pulled back a thick wide bandage from his stomach and said: “Surely you remember this?”
The smell from the wound was both repellant and familiar to Karl. Dr. Ashford stood back slightly.
“Yes indeed, Malachi, this is the wound you gave me those millennia ago. They were just about to prepare me for burial when I woke up. Gave everyone a bit of a start. Every part of me healed except this. Somehow or another you managed to give me a wound that regenerated my dead or dying tissues, but left this forever festering souvenir. Imagine my surprise when I outlived everyone. Of course when I turned eighty, you came back the first time; even for me it took a long time to heal from that attack. But here’s the thing: the current theory is that there was something on your sword the first time that gave me my gift of longevity. Any idea what it was?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“OK, Dr. Ashford, please proceed. You do recall that this could take a while …”
“Of course sir.”
“Mr. Wilson?” asked Dr. Ashford.
“Call me Basil.”
“We’ve regressed through a large number of personalities, sir.” They had reached times and places of dead languages. Only Basil understood any of the noises coming from Karl. “Do you attribute this all to reincarnation?”
“That’s a good question. I am leaning toward some sort of genetic parasite or virus that somehow recurs every twenty to thirty years. One of the consistent features is that it alters the host’s eye colour as well as the personality. But how does it move from host to host?”
“Are we getting closer to where you need to be? He seems to be moving to another personality now.”
“Pretty close now.”
Basil had to take over the regression at this crucial stage because he was the only one able to speak the language. In the softest, most sensible tones, he said, “Malachi, I want you to think back to the battle, but imagine you are not in it; you are observing from a safe distance and you are watching yourself.”
“It’s OK; we’re almost done. Just before you attacked Shadrach, what was on the sword? Had you done anything special with it?”
“It had blood on it from other combatants?”
“Yes. And mine.”
“I put my blood, my spit and my shit on it. So that Shadrach would rot with me inside him forever.”
“Great. I guess that explains the smell.”
December 24, 2003
Karl was in a bare room wearing a hospital gown. There were no windows; the walls were padded; and the bed was a mattress on the floor. Karl had no strength to do harm to himself or anyone else. A simple toilet and sink was in one corner.
He was just starting to feel less drugged and more normal when three men, whose size made Karl look dwarfish, entered the room.
“You have been invited to dinner by Mr. Wilson. To talk. Will you accept?”
Anything to be out of this room. “Yes.”
One of the men dropped a bundle. A door slid open at the end of the room, revealing a full bathroom. “You are requested to wash and dress. We will remain to ensure your comfort.”
Karl was led to a small dining area that was tastefully decorated for the Christmas season in a Victorian style. Basil rose and greeted him, but did not shake his hand. “Sit, Malachi, sit. It’s Christmas Eve. Your host is Christian, isn’t he?”
“Raised that way.”
“So, we’ve some meal choices tonight,” Basil slid a menu to Karl. “You’ll want to make it a good choice. Here’s the wine list – a really good selection.”
“I’ll get to that in a minute. First I want to say that the regression we did yielded some interesting results. It seems that all the genetic material you, ah, skewered me with all those centuries ago led to some interesting theories that will take time to prove. But in essence the way it goes is that you mixed some foreign material in me that somehow kept my cells from degrading the way normal ones do. My lovely wound keeps producing replacements. But it also produces you, the virus. Every few decades some of you drops out of me and infects some poor soul. You start rewriting their genes and go on your mission of revenge.”
“Revenge and trying to save the world from you. The SS. Shadow Advisor to the President, the papers call you. You probably had access to Tony Blair too.”
“Oh please. Me? Look I’ve spent all my life trying to talk sense to these clowns or, in some cases like Hitler, talk nonsense. For example, let’s say in 1940 that someone who actually wasn’t insane was Chancellor of Germany. How do you think the war would have ended? We would have all been one big unhappy Reich. The only way to get close to Hitler and keep him making bonehead decisions was to join the SS and move up the ranks.”
“To beat them, you joined them?” asked Karl.
“Yes, sadly, what a bunch psychos. Had I been smarter, I would have knocked some sense into the idiots who wrote the treaty after World War I. That document made the next war inevitable.”
“What about now?”
“After 9/11, who do you think was in the chorus telling Mr. Bush not to nuke Afghanistan? This whole Iraq thing was a hard-on for him that just would not go away, but at least it wasn’t a nuclear obsession.”
“What about our respective homelands?”
“Don’t get me started about the Middle East. The number of times I’ve managed to weasel people into simply having a nice cup of tea and putting their feet up for a minute, some fucking nutter starts killing Arabs or Jews again. Just don’t go there. Only the Middle East could produce two individuals who have been fighting for over 4000 years.” Basil took a sip of wine and exhaled slowly. “But, our battle is going to go on a hiatus.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was going to tell you after dinner, but what the heck. I am going to induce in you a long-term coma and lock you up and keep you alive as long as possible. The plan is to see if there can only be one infected host with Malachi’s delightful personality in it. If in twenty or thirty years another Malachi shows up, I’m no worse off than I am now. If, however, there can only be one Malachi at a time, then I have at least spared some other poor sod the experience of being infected.”
“If you destroyed yourself – in a furnace or something – wouldn’t that stop this whole cycle too?” For the first time in a while, it was Karl himself speaking.
“Karl, I hear you. You are likely correct, but I feel that my work in this world is not yet done. You are one of many innocent victims and, for what it’s worth, I feel bad about that. Unfortunately, the best I can suggest is to enjoy your last solid meal and make sure to try the Shiraz.”