Title: Birds Through a Window
Disclaimer: Transformers and all related characters therein do not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: "I think and believe that I'm enchanted, and this satisfies my conscience, for it would weigh heavily upon me, if I believed I wasn't enchanted, and had let myself be locked up in this crate like a lazy coward."—Don Quixote, Volume 1, Chapter 49
At the unexpected break in silence, the doctor froze mid-motion, holding his fountain pen a mere breath over his notebook. Up until this moment, Arthur Beauregard had thought his patient asleep, and he had taken the opportunity to record some initial observations. Beauregard was an aging practitioner, and, among his many idiosyncrasies, he had a distinct scientific interest in abnormal conditions and behaviors. The preoccupation had come along with the building years: an early onset of rheumatism had caused a painful inflammation in the joints of his hands, resulting in intensive, if intermittent, shaking. His arthritic grip was weak, and its consequence was an inability to use surgical tools. Retirement had left a sour taste on Beauregard's tongue, so he had turned his focus to diseases of the mind, where the cases could be solved by speculation rather than by hands-on diagnoses. And if there was anything at which Beauregard was good, it was speculation.
"What was that?" Beauregard asked. Archibald Witwicky—Captain Archibald Witwicky, as Beauregard recalled from the previous night's review of the patient's medical files: fifty-seven years old and a world renowned explorer, Captain Witwicky was the author of four books, co-author of three more, one-time president of the Royal Geographical Society, and discoverer of two species in the African Congo. He had no past history of serious illness save for a childhood bout of scarlet fever, and Witwicky certainly would have once been considered the least likely individual susceptible to neurosis. Yet, here he was, a high-profile patient at the Augusta County Hospital for the Insane. Witwicky's unexpected affliction was of interest to Beauregard, as well as many of his peers; after a lifetime of adventure in the dark, primitive jungles of Africa and atop the world's highest peaks, Archibald Witwicky had finally broken at the ends of the Earth.
"What you're looking for. It's called panacea. Named for the Greek goddess of healing, and it has the ability to cure all diseases and ailments. It has been sought by ancient healers, alchemists, and all of modern medicine. Panacea can prolong life indefinitely," Archibald continued, staring up at the ceiling with watery blue eyes. "The alchemists thought it could help turn ordinary metal into gold."
Discreetly, Beauregard flipped a page in his notebook, his right hand moving to smooth out the crinkles so that their ridges would not catch the ink and cause it to pool. He poised the pen in the upper corner of the blank paper, ready to take notes. Lucidity in those individuals that were firmly established as insane was always an interesting phenomenon, observed but rarely recorded in precise detail. And lucid Archibald certainly was being: his gaze shifted along with the shadows on the ceiling—created by the sunlight being sifted through the outside trees—and his voice was clear, if a bit weak. Beauregard carefully penned 'aware of surroundings' into his journal.
"Ordinary metal," Archibald repeated, lips stretching back into a smile, as though he were amused by a joke. There was even a shade of a chuckle bubbling in the back of his throat. "Ordinary metal into gold."
Archibald fell silent, and for several long minutes, the only sounds were his shallow, somewhat raspy breathing and the songs of birds just outside the window. Beauregard frowned. Lucidity was one thing, but for Witwicky to sound so complacent, so normal…this, Beauregard had not been expecting. Witwicky's medical files had been filled to near bursting with accounts of his Quixotic ravings of giants, of fire and war—and nearly all episodes had been followed by panic attacks, subdued only by heavy doses of opium. At the moment, however, he sounded as though he were merely half-asleep, still groggy from his midday nap.
"I know people," Archibald continued, his weather-worn and cracked fingers curling slightly into his blankets. "Friends of mine, who have looked for the Holy Grail, for the Fountain of Youth, for the Mines of Solomon, for the riches of China. But I think that if panacea were found, it would be the greatest discovery in the entire history of mankind."
This session was bordering on being a disappointment, if a bit confusing. In less than a quarter of an hour, Archibald Witwicky had trumped Beauregard's expectations. No neurosis that Beauregard had read about had described such normal behavior, and insanity was an ailment from which it was impossible to recover—especially when it had reached a level as described in Witwicky's files. Witwicky had been receiving medical attention, as per the wishes of the Royal Geographical Society, but up until this point, he had shown no sign of receptiveness to treatment. His strange drawings on the walls had been proof enough of that.
Beauregard jumped at the sound of his name, and he felt a pebble of discomfort at hearing it roll across the tongue of a known madman. But he composed himself, and looked up to see Witwicky staring at the bag settled at Beauregard's feet. The bag was hand-crafted Italian, given to him by a few of his peers during a ceremony that had awarded him for advances in surgical procedures. His name was stitched in pale cursive across the bottom corner, and from Witwicky's distance, Beauregard would have thought it impossible to read.
"The meaning of your name is in dispute," Archibald said laconically. "Some believe that 'Arthur' is derived from the Roman family name Artorius, while others believe that it comes from the Welsh art, meaning 'bear,' and the Brythonic gur, meaning 'man.' Still others say that it is a nom de guerre, given to British war leaders by their Scandinavian enemies, interpreted as 'the Eagle of Thor.' Any way it goes, however, you have a warrior's name."
"And your name?" Beauregard heard himself asking. He had no immediate reason for so conversing with Witwicky, but he thought that in this case of being so taken off guard, he could be forgiven. A moment passed in heavy silence as Witwicky considered his question.
"I don't remember," he said. Witwicky lifted his head, shifting backwards to prop himself up on his pillows. He caught Beauregard's gaze, holding it with a weary, hunted stare. "You want to hear about the Arctic."
Beauregard straightened, attention piqued. The Arctic was the crux of Witwicky's downfall, and to date, no one had ever been able to figure out exactly what had happened in that cold and barren land, though there had been plenty of speculation and rumors. Many had seen Witwicky as brave, venturing so boldly into unknown territory, and had seen his illness as a tragedy. His rivals for funds and prestige saw the breaking of his mind as inevitable: only monsters lived in the North.
The entire world had tried to figure out what Witwicky had experienced. Attempts were made to glean information from the surviving crew members, but they had been few in number: their Captain had been disabled and useless for the return trip, during which the first mate had encountered nothing but bad luck. Those that had made it back to London had not seen the source of Witwicky's madness themselves—they had stayed with the ship—and through fever and exhaustion had only been able to reveal what had been told to them by the others. Their accounts were doubtlessly exaggerated from the effects of months at sea in subfreezing temperatures and from shock at seeing the expedition fall apart around them. At best, seamen were notoriously unreliable sources, and their fragmented stories of a giant 'ice-man' were disregarded, seen as a result of vitamin deficiency and frostbite. Leading biologists had hypothosized on the appearance of a 'giant' as an encounter with some type of whale—long deceased, perhaps, due to its encasement in ice—as only whales could ever reach such extreme dimensions. The strange voices heard by both captain and crew, guttural, deep, and strange, could also be attributed to whales: their songs could be heard for miles, and, garbled by wind and waves, could be mistaken for foreign tongues.
As likely and as reasonable as a whale seemed, it still did not explain the drawings.
It did not explain the conviction that Witwicky held as he covered walls, paper, his own skin, in strange symbols, touting them as directions. As a language. As a powder keg that would light the entire world on fire. If the strange animal in the ice had indeed been a whale, then something had gone wrong in Witwicky's mind itself, without outside influence. Beauregard had found himself leaning more towards that hypothesis, but he had been unable to content himself with that. He had needed to hear it from Witwicky himself, and then he would decide based upon his own observations.
"Yes," Beauregard said. "Tell me about the Arctic."
"We were delayed in Bergen by two weeks. The train carrying our supplies was postponed in Oslo, and our ship was discovered with a case of shipworm. We almost cancelled the expedition, but we thought to reach the Arctic before winter arrived, and the Society had little interest in competing in a race with an American and Canadian team out of Boston the following summer. Our goal was to successfully navigate and map the Northwest Passage."
Beauregard felt a flicker of surprise stir in his blood, as well as something that may have very well been anticipation. The Royal Geographical Society had declined to comment on the nature of Witwicky's expedition beyond simple exploration of the Arctic Circle, and Beauregard finally understood why. Finding the Northwest Passage was a task that was preceded by centuries of failure by the British Empire; discovering the mythical route would have brought prestige and fame to the Society. But if even their best failed to do so, it would diminish their mystique in the public eye. Keeping the purpose of the Witwicky expedition quiet served as disappointment control, and it had worked wonderfully. For the past two years, the public had seen the generous, sorrowful face of the Society as it searched for a cure for Witwicky's disease, rather than the monumental failure of the world's leading organization in exploration to overcome the impossible.
But even through his surprise, Beauregard also recognized the situation as a possible explanation, or at least a contributor, to Witwicky's insanity. To be charged with such a monumental task would be enough to wear down even the sturdiest nerves. Witwicky would hardly be the first man to succumb to stress, though instead of ulcers, it had manifested itself in losing the power of higher reasoning. Beauregard added 'anxiety' and 'social/physical pressure' to his notebook as Witwicky continued.
"Our expedition left Bergen and traveled west, stopping in Ammassalik before continuing into the Labrador Sea. The plan was to head north, into Baffin Bay and navigate the passage through Lancaster Sound. We made it to the Cumberland Peninsula of Baffin Island, sixty kilometers south of the Arctic Circle. It was September."
Witwicky stopped, voice trailing off as he rubbed a hand over his face, his fingers shaking. No, Beauregard decided as he stared at the liver-spotted, thin skin that was stretched over the knobby bones. Not shaking. Shivering.
"It was so cold—a storm came in from the north, forcing us onto the coast..."
"Captain, this blizzard is freezing the sea right from underneath us. If we don't get the ship free, the hull could crack."
"I want all men working on chopping the ice. Bring down the dogs and sledges—make sure that our supplies are ready for land travel."
"Aye, sir. Get to work, men! Be quick about it! Chop, heave! The ice is freezing faster than it's melting!"
"No sacrifice, no victory! We'll get to the Arctic Circle, lads!"
But there was something strange on the wind, a hum just below the deep freeze, a smell…and the dogs suddenly broke free of their handlers, screaming and howling as they charged into the wilderness. Without the dogs, the expedition would be lost, so a group of men took up the chase, following the dogs nearly two kilometers inland. Whining and snarling, digging ferociously into the ice, the dogs were inconsolable, single minded in their intent to answer whatever it was that was calling them.
"I think the dogs have found something!"
But then the ice buckled out from underneath the men, cracks spidering outwards until it collapsed, sending Archibald and the dogs tumbling down into an frozen cavern.
"I'm all right, lads."
Brushing himself off, Archibald stood, orienting himself with his surroundings while the dogs whimpered and cowered in the corners of the icicle gallery. He turned, only to come face to face with Echidna.
"Men, we've made a discovery!"
"Do you know what the name 'Samuel' means?" Archibald asked, causing Beauregard to frown at the sudden change in direction. "It means, 'God has hearkened.' The one upon whom God has called to do His bidding. First Book of Samuel, chapter three."
"Archibald," Beauregard interrupted, injecting a hint of steel into his voice. He had been making progress; Witwicky had been speaking sensibly, and with the sudden weakness in his tone, Beauregard sensed that Witwicky was beginning to lose his rationality. "Please return to—"
"And 'James' means, 'supplanter.' One who supplants. One who removes an individual and takes up his place. Mine eyes have seen the glory."
Witwicky was shaking, that Beauregard could see, and the former explorer had reached up to cover his pale, drawn face with both hands. Faint sounds were keening lowly in the back of Witwicky's throat, scratchy and pained.
"It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth." Archibald moaned, voice muffled by his palms. "Lord help me. Make it stop."
Beauregard stood up, alarmed by the heavy, choked breaths that were shuddering through Witwicky's chest. He moved to the bedside, fearing stroke or heart attack, when Witwicky suddenly moved, turning on his side and grabbed a hold of Beauregard's wrist with an iron grip. "The glory has departed from Israel," Witwicky said, his eyes wide with rising fear. "For the ark of God has been captured."
Beauregard stilled, unwilling to feel his wrist snap under the impossibly strong fingers. "Archibald Witwicky. Release me now."
"You don't understand," Archibald said, keeping his hold on Beauregard as he climbed to his knees. He used his free hand to steady himself, holding onto Beauregard's shoulder in a manner which, in other circumstances, would have been friendly. "You have to leave. They're coming."
Archibald brought himself to eye-level with Beauregard, who could not help but lean slightly away. Witwicky's breath smelled terrible, festering in rotting gums, and those unfocused eyes held no modicum of sense. Only panic. He was little more than an animal, and Beauregard's stomach turned with nausea. Witwicky's hands felt abnormally hot, almost burning in fever.
"The Philistines are coming, and Samuel will be the decider of who reigns over Israel, as is his task given to him by God. Samuel will be the one, Samuel will be the one to find panacea. He will cure all ills," Witwicky said, voice lowered to a panicked whisper, soft and breathless. "The greatest discovery of all mankind will be held by Samuel. I didn't find it."
Witwicky closed his eyes tightly, tears lining their edges as he lightly shook Beauregard. "My God, I see them. I see him. I see him, I see him, I see him, I see him, and I found him!"
"Who?" Beauregard cut in, desperate to stem the breakdown as Witwicky sobbed through his mantra.
"Pandora," Witwicky answered, as equally desperate. "Pandora, whose opening of the jar has unleashed all the evils onto the world. Greed, lying, vanity, envy, slander and pining…but it was shut before hope could escape. There is no hope in the world. Pandora shut the box before hope could escape. It's imprisoned, it's panacea. Pandora has set free all evils, all the demons of Hell. Pandora seeks panacea, the cure-all, the key to eternal life, the medicine for all disease and it can turn ordinary metal into gold. Ordinary metal into gold."
Witwicky pulled away, releasing Beauregard's wrist, which was already starting to bruise. Beauregard stumbled back, trying to quickly separate himself from the madman.
"War!" Witwicky shouted, voice thundering in the small room. "War is coming!"
"A sort of reverse déjà vu," Beauregard murmured to himself, fighting through the dizziness and the full-bodied tingling that heralded hyperventilation. "He does not remember seeing these things before, and interprets them as events yet to come. Somebody, come help!" he shouted, half-stumbling towards the doorway. Witwicky's burning touch had done something to him, and it flickered in the darkness behind his eyes whenever he blinked, too quick to make out or understand.
Witwicky was standing by the wall, fumbling through a large box filled with pens and pencils. His hands were shaking too hard to grip the delicate instruments, so he settled with the ink wells, throwing them at the wall and smearing his hands through the dripping stain, dragging his fingers along the wall to form distorted symbols.
"War," Witwicky said, straining through the pressure of racing blood, of lungs oversaturating the muscles with oxygen. "War, war, war, war. Titanomachy will ruin our world! It's their war! Their war! Everybody is screaming!"
Beauregard had nearly made it to the doorway when his calls for help were answered; several attendants at the hospital entered, armed with straps and syringes. Beauregard collapsed, his own heart pulsing painfully in his chest while a nurse stooped to help him.
"He's mad," Beauregard whispered to her as she escorted him out of the room. "Absolutely mad."
Beauregard was settled into a empty office room off the entranceway of the hospital, left with a cup of hot tea and a blanket to help soothe his nerves. Though Witwicky had been transferred to a more secure, isolated room, Beauregard could still hear Witwicky's shouting echoing in the back of his mind: Mine eyes have seen the glory!
"Lunatic," Beauregard murmured. He was clutching the cup of tea tightly, absorbing in its warmth in an attempt to stave off a chill that would not seem to go away.
"In the olden days," a voice interrupted, causing Beauregard to startle. He looked up, for a moment panicked before he realized that it was a man, perfectly ordinary in every way, and probably a proprietor of the hospital or its land, judging by the quality of his suit. His hair was neatly cut, combed back away from his face, and his eyes were dark. The man stared impassively back as he entered the office. "In the olden days, lunatics were given preferential treatment, hailed as prophets and the greatest of all wise men. They were given good food and a warm bed in hopes that their ravings would reveal a Godly Truth."
Beauregard chuckled, the sound bitter and dry.
"There is no truth to that man, nor anything remotely Godly. It was trauma, from the fall. I've seen it happen before."
"Perhaps," the stranger conceded, sitting down across from Beauregard. "That does sound like a most reasonable explanation."
Beauregard frowned, raising an eyebrow in skepticism. "You believe him? That he discovered a giant ice-man?"
"Merely curious," came the reply. "That he is so adamant about his claims causes me to be so. Did he happen to say where he made his discovery?"
"Baffin Island. On the Cumberland Peninsula. But it's ridiculous. The biologists say that nothing that large could live in such an environment. There's not enough food, and it's too cold."
"Hmm," the stranger hummed thoughtfully. "Are you ill?"
The question came at Beauregard's cough, its sound deep and shuddering. Beauregard shook his head, staving off the concern. He had been bordering on a cold for at least a week, and it seemed the stress of the afternoon was the catalyst to bring on a mild congestion in the lungs. The place on his wrist where Witwicky held him was sore and hot, dark with bruises in the shape of fingers.
"Merely the cold that is going around," he said. "Happens every spring." The stranger seemed convinced, and nodded.
"I am here as a representative of the Royal Geographical Society. I have been sent to obtain a copy of Witwicky's medical files."
"Those are only available to his family," Beauregard countered. Madman or not, there were still rules to be followed. The stranger pulled out a collection of papers: a waiver form, notarized and signed by Donald Witwicky and Marilyn Weaver. Son and daughter, respectively.
"A release contract," the man said. "Signing the documents into our custody."
Beauregard stared at it for a few long moments before surrendering the last of his resistance. He reached into his bag and pulled out the folder, handing it to the stranger. It was taken from him quickly, stored and locked in a briefcase.
"The Society thanks you for your cooperation, doctor. If you'll excuse me, I'm late for an appointment. I hope you get over your cold soon."
The stranger left, shutting the door behind him. Beauregard wrapped the blanket tighter around his shoulders, feeling the tell-tale rise of a fever and raking headache. He was ready to go home and sleep away this nightmare of madmen raving of gods and demons. A nightmare, he would be telling himself for a long time afterwards. And nothing more.
Author's Note: Just a few points of interest: the name "Archibald" means "genuine courage." Also, the first Book of Samuel contains the story of David and Goliath.