Clockwork Beckons - C.002
In a world of red, there was a streak of white..
The remainder of his high school days passed by in a haze. Without the burden of "friends," Herbert became a exemplary student, quickly rising to the top of his class. He was especially fond of biology classes, although his teacher noticed a peculiar, and, he noted later, somewhat morbid, fascination with organ dissection. At the time, however, it was passed off as mere adolescent curiosity.
On the day of his graduation, Herbert crossed the stage and received his diploma amid a smattering of polite applause from faculty and disinterested audience members. His father, as he had expected, had not bothered to show.
He left the ceremony immediately following, having gotten what he needed and desiring nothing else.
"My idiot son."
"I'll miss you as well, father."
Herbert packed the last of his belongings into the back of his car, a rusted out bucket of bolts if ever there was one, but his own nonetheless. He turned to face his father, his face void of detectable emotion.
"I don't expect to come home for the holidays," Herbert casually stated. "I assume you're alright with that."
Robert snorted. "I'll be alright if you don't come home at all. You're throwing your life away."
"You've said that before," Herbert replied.
"And I stand by it," Robert said with a deep frown. "What would your mother think if she had lived to see this.. this travesty?"
Herbert's eyes narrowed. He hated when his father used his mother against him.
"She would be proud that I'm doing what I feel is best for myself."
"You know what happens to kids like you, Herbert? The kids who read these books and decide they're going to change the world and save lives? They end up working in a hospital where they inevitably end up killing their patients when they realize they don't know what they're doing," Robert nearly growled.
Herbert couldn't help but smile, but there was no humor in the gesture.
"As compared to what, father? To being like you?" he began. "To sitting on a pedestal day in and day out. Condemning a man to die because he stole money to feed his family. If the life you describe is how I turn out, I still prefer it to becoming a pompous executioner for the state."
Robert started forward, his eyes glazed with rage.
"You selfish little.."
"Furthermore, father," Herbert continued, unfazed by his father's growing anger, "I'll have you know that I have been accepted to a very prestigious school which employs only the finest students. Within a few years, I will have earned my degree and finally be good enough to learn under Dr. Gruber himself."
There was silence as Robert stared his son down. Herbert remained stone-faced and steady in his convictions.
"So be it," Robert muttered as he turned away with a grunt. "From this point on, I have no son. I'll not be associated to a failure such as yourself."
Herbert said nothing, and stood quietly as his father walked up the driveway and into the house. Only when the door slammed shut behind him did Herbert breathe a sigh of relief and slide quickly into the seat of his car.
"That makes the both of us then," he spat as he turned the key in the ignition and pulled away from the only home he'd ever known.
Days passed slowly into weeks. The weeks marched unmercifully into months. After what seemed like an eternity, Herbert celebrated his first complete year of college.
Classes were strenuous and left little time for anything else. He spent the majority of his time outside of the classroom either studying at the library or doing homework in his tiny dormroom blessedly devoid of roommates. Despite all else, Herbert excelled and found he actually enjoyed the work.
Medicine was like a puzzle. The symptoms were the pieces. The diagnosis was the final product. Herbert had always liked puzzles as a child, and now, as an adult, he found he still had the knack for solving them.
The only thing Herbert found tedious were his fellow students. So few had heard of Hans Gruber, and those who had were not inclined toward his theories on overcoming death. Even as Herbert built upon the hypothesis and process of studying all possibilities thereof, his peers were quick to dismiss it as a foolish whim, a hopeless ideal.
Herbert refused to be pushed aside so easily. He wouldn't give in. He would show them somehow, some way.
As the new school year blossomed, Herbert rushed across the sprawling courtyard toward his first class of the day. It was a class he had taken on the remote chance of finding others who would share in his ideas.
He was so caught up in his own mind and planning his beginning thesis that he scarcely noticed the blur of multicolor coming like a bullet from the right side.
Herbert staggered back with not a moment to spare as a girl on skates dashed by. She did a quick turn around and shouted "Sorry!" before hurrying away just as fast.
Herbert rolled his shoulders and took a deep breath.
Welcome back to school, can I get a 'Hallelujah.'
The classroom was smaller than most and smelled thickly of incense. The professor was a short little stub of a woman, her hair a massive beehive of gray and streaks of poorly dyed blonde. She squinted heavily as the students found their seats, despite wearing the largest pair of glasses Herbert had ever seen.
"Welcome, eager minds!" she bellowed as the last student took their seat. "My name is Rebecca Fritz. I will be your guide on the path to enlightenment."
She was showy for a teacher, Herbert noticed, gesticulating wildly with her arms as she spoke and unable to stand still for more than a minute at a time. While she described the goals of the class, Herbert took a moment to size up the other students.
They were a group he had mostly expected. The tortured art students seeking insight to life, the jocks hoping for an easy A, and the geeks looking to show off their particularly well endowed knowledge.
Only one woman stood out of the crowd. A testament to thrift store shopping, Herbert thought, but immediately chastised himself. That was how his father saw the world. He wouldn't follow in those footsteps.
Still, the outfit was unconventional at best in the way it almost seemed to match, but not really. The skirt was knee-length and a purple so bright he found he couldn't stare too long or it began to hurt. Her shirt, likewise, was a neon shade of green sporting orange polka dots. Though she was now wearing a plain pair of black mary janes, Herbert couldn't help noticing the tattered skates beside her chair.
He was still trying to figure out if it was the same person who had nearly run him over when the professor's voice cut into his thoughts.
"Mr. West? Oh, dear, do we have a no show? There's a handful every semester. Nobody takes us philosophers seriously anymore, class. They call us hippies and-"
"I'm here," Herbert interrupted.
Mrs. Fritz stopped mid sentence, adjusting her glasses while she squinted up toward Herbert.
"Oh," she said. "Well, then, I'll make a note to speak up when addressing you, as I've called your name twice with no answer, young man."
Herbert replied, "I'm sorry, ma'am. I was arranging my thoughts."
Mrs. Fritz smiled kindly and nodded.
"Oh, yes! Ohhh, yes! Do tell, Mr. West. We've already heard Abby's theory of shifting realities," she motioned to a girl dressed all in black who looked at the floor with an unusual expression of boredom and embarrassment, "And Mr. Turner's idea that an A in my class will keeping him floating on a scholarship."
Across the room, a man in a varsity jacket grinned stupidly.
She continued, "So, Mr. West. What do you think? How do you feel? We judge nothing, for everything is true in some way."
Herbert cleared his throat and sat up straighter in his chair.
"I believe life is a chemical process. The concept of a soul is merely a tactic invented in the dark ages to keep people fearing an afterlife that doesn't exist. God, a construct of our mortal desire to be secretly judged for everything we do, good or bad. Mankind as a whole demands attention, even if it comes from an invisible source."
The class was silent. Mrs. Fritz tilted her head just slightly.
"Also," Herbert continued, somewhat less confidently, "I believe death is a disease. Someday, I hope to cure it."
Mrs. Fritz nodded slowly.
"I see. Well, that will certainly be something worth seeing. I wish you the best of luck, Mr. West."
The rest of the class passed by in a haze. Herbert drifted in and out, mostly uninterested in the theories of the others and Mrs. Fritz's warm, yet sometimes condescending, responses. He didn't even notice the intent stare of the girl with the skates.
When the bell finally rang, Herbert followed the others to the door. He had taken only two steps into the hall when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"West, right? Herbert?"
He turned around and came face to face with the girl in the technicolor dreamclothes, her skates slung over her shoulder. She extended a hand with an awkward smile. Herbert glanced at it, but didn't shake. She retracted with a light shrug.
"Hi.. I'm, uh.. My name is Shilo. I may have almost hit you on my way to class. Sorry.. about that. I have trouble getting to my classes on time, so I thought the skates would help, but I haven't mastered the, you know.. stopping.. part.."
She shook her head, chuckling nervously. Herbert shifted uneasily.
"Sorry," she muttered. "I kinda ramble on sometimes. Uhm.. do you.. do you really believe all that stuff you said? That you can cure death?"
Herbert hesitated. He was no stranger to ridicule, and his first instinct was to simply walk away. On this occasion, however, he thought the better of it.
"I do," he said finally. "If there were a way to jump start the chemical processes in the brain and nervous system, I can't see why it wouldn't be possible."
"That's great! I mean, I really hope you figure it out."
Herbert raised a brow. "You're interested in medicine as well?"
"Yes. Well, not really. More like.. I'm not very interested in learning it. I'm kind of squeamish, you see. And I'm pretty awful with math and science. But I'm interested in the rest."
Herbert stared at her, caught between being somewhat amused and somewhat dismayed that he was likely going to be late for his next class.
"Is that so?" he said as he turned away to leave. "Why is that? Was your mother a nurse?"
"Not exactly," she said softly.
"The truth is, I'm dying."