Tuesday, August 30th, 1921 to…when?
Richard and his trusty associate, Peter Abbott are trapped in a strange place. Peter, secure in the fact that he has a flask in his hidden boot pocket, believes that thing will work out. Little does he know. After some time passes the captors (who appear to be French) bring them some food but before Peter eats it Richard sees that it is glowing slightly blue in color. Refusing to eat makes their captors extremely unhappy and they threaten the men to eat. Continuing their hunger strike, the captors (who Richard and Peter recognize from “Professor” Lievremont’s car in Marigold) strap them down and wheel them into a kitchen area where they are tube fed a luminescent blue gruel. Aside from a slightly chalky taste they are unharmed. Additional meals are brought and again the prisoners are forced to take sustenance by tube, after which Peter realizes that resistance is futile and says, dejectedly, “I think I’m going to eat the food from now on, chum.” What follows is a dizzying passage of time (days, weeks, maybe months?) where a grind of meals (are they feeding us 3 times a day or only once?). Richard begins losing connection with reality and Peter is faring no better. One particular evening Richard awakens to check on Peter and finds Peter’s bed completely empty but his clothes all remain, boots included. Dismissing the departures as a hallucination, Richard heads back to bed. But it happens repeatedly. Peter finally confides that he has been nipping at the flask in his boot (a concoction that, while smelling of alcohol smells nothing like any drink that Richard has ever been exposed to) and is desperately close to finding a “way out”, that he feels he is going mad but makes a heartfelt promise to “come back for Richard”. After another episode of sleep (how long?) the guards come back, this time with Professor Lievremont and he comments that he thinks they are ready. Peter is taken first and is strapped down to a gurney and taken up the hallway. Richard hears his screams and knows he will be next.
Peter Abbott is taken out of the cell, strapped to a gurney. After fifteen minutes of dread silence Peter’s screams can be heard by a visibly shaken Richard. Minutes later Peter is brought back to the cell and dumped on the floor, a star burned into his back between the shoulders. Then it is Richard’s turn. He is, after a token struggle, strapped down to a gurney, blindfolded and taken out of the cell. Entering another room his blindfold slips slightly and is strapped, belly dowon, on a table. There are French speaking men around and they wheel out a large, glass container filled with a murky gray liquid. At this point Richard realizes the table he is strapped down on is part of a large, complicated looking machine that hums ominously. The gears of the machine begin turning and he feels a pressure on his back. Another one of the Frenchmen throw a switch on the wall and a piercing pain originating in the center of the back and spreading out along his nerves like fire. The gray material in the glass concoction begins swirling and sparkling slightly. This obviously upsets the Frenchmen who seem to almost begin bickering back and forth with each other. He is taken back to the prison cell and dumped on the ground. Peter managed to crawl to the base of the bunk bed before collapsing into unconsciousness. Richard doesn’t even make it that far.
When Richard awakens he immediately checks on Peter. Peter has gone missing again, but his clothes were still there. The small flask that Peter had hidden in his boot was poking out from the canvas that was used as a blanket. Richard tries again, in vain, to pick the lock on the door with the bed spring he meticulously retrieved from the underside of the bed. He then investigates what the mysterious liquid is in the flask. It definitely smells alcoholic but is slightly off, like home-brewed alcohol. He tastes some and it warms Richard completely dulling the pain in his muscles and the blisters on his fingers. He drinks more and seems to become intoxicated. Then he starts seeing this warm, amber light coming up in the cell allowing him to see better. He goes back to working on the door with his newfound energy and pushes the metal spring THROUGH the door. The door itself seems to be getting softer, almost like a strong membrane that, while bending, does not break. Richard aptly decides to investigate the rest of the cell and finds that he can put his hand easily through the stone on either side of the door (which is made of metal). Tucking the metal flask and its mysterious contents into his pocket and his trusty spring, Richard exits his cell and makes an escape, looking back one last time to see a message that Peter scrawled primitively on the cell wall, “I WILL COME BACK FOR YOU.” He finds the room that contains the strange machine and finds papers spread out over a lab table. He attempts to take some with him but finds he cannot pick them up (his hands pass straight through them!), but is able to grab a fountain pen (also metal) and make some cursory notes of the items on the laboratory table and of the machine itself. He finds it hard to read as if he were drunk. Exiting quickly back into the hallway he heads to the other end and finds a large room with a tall ceiling filled with books. It is a library but strangely has a well in the middle that seems to suck the golden light down into its dark center. Returning to the hall he crosses through another door and finds a room with a large, raised stone pool with liquid in it that is completely still, almost mirrorlike. In addition there are stairs! He ascends the stairs, a mist wrapping itself around his vision and…
…is in a forest. It is night and rather cold. Making his way as best he can he hears a thunderous crack in the forest and finds the body of a large man covered in horrific blisters. He even has them on his eyes! The ID in the wallet says the man’s name is Laurent Gabrieux. He has a loaded service revolver in his pocket with some extra shells. He has cigarettes and a lighter and keys. Richard notices that the man has a tattoo on his left arm around the bicep of a chain. As he watches the tattoo turns red hot and disappears leaving only a ring of scar tissue. He moves on through the forest and sees a fire up ahead. The strange cracking noise happens a few more times but he does not see anything that would cause it. Approaching the fire he is suddenly aware of where he is. It is Tom Wilson’s Cabin and it is burning. A car peels out from the driveway and onto the road. Another crack sound close by and off to Richard’s right prompts him to search but again nothing is found. He hears a man calling at the house on the other side and circles around in the shadows to see a hairy, shabbily dressed man with a shotgun broke open over his arm. He is shouting, “Tom?!! Are you in there?!” Richard decides to leave the man alone and heads back toward Marigold ducking off the road to avoid any detection by a passing automobile. He takes another swig from the flask to keep his energy up (it is quite euphoric) As he reaches town it looks as if a war had been fought there with trenches dug and barbed wire strewn everywhere. Up ahead from one of the trenches comes a mousey voice, “Help me, Richard!” Peeking into the trench Richard sees Carl Phelps, another runner back from the war who is there with his legs blown off. Convinced it is a dream Richard continues on as Carl screams at him to come back. A flash of movement up ahead and Richard dives for cover. German soldiers are moving through town like ghosts in the strange mist. At just that moment Carl screams out from near Richard’s location and the Germans begin moving in for the kill. Richard leaps up and tries to escape taking only a mild gunshot wound to the leg. He runs as fast and as hard as he can when in the mist ahead a person appears and wrestles him to the ground. He manages to get a single shot off (it doesn’t hit anything) before he feels additional men on top of him. Richard is suddenly in his kitchen, his wife cowering in the corner. Looking up the hallway he sees his youngest daughter looking at him with utter fear, as if she didn’t know him. A club falls on his head and he falls into darkness again.
Richard awakens in the hospital with his wife by his side. He realizes it is September 15th and that he has been missing for almost 3 weeks. There is no sign of poor Peter. Richard asks his wife for all the Chatterton papers for him to read while he was missing. There is precious little. Another reporter was sent out to Marigold and wrote the news story. The Sheriff in Chatterton clarified the previous story and said that the two men and a woman who were boarding the train were not the ones who shot him, it was another man who was travelling with his family.
That night Richard has a dream. He is back in Venice, Italy. It is long ago and somehow he can understand Italian. People are running around in chaos shouting, “The Beneventi house is on fire!” He sees a group of haggard, tortured people (one whose eyes had been burnt out of her head) moving up the street toward him. All of them are naked or nearly so and are tattooed with chains in various places on their bodies.
The next night Richard has one more dream. He sees a woman (once beautiful who now sits ravaged by insanity) in a padded room. She opens her mouth as if to speak but no words come. Blood begins flowing from her right eye which she uses to write the word, “Durning” on the wall. Richard knows that Durning is the site of a large asylum in Illinois south of Chicago.
He is finally discharged and heads back to work. He begins poring over newspapers and finds the biggest recent story was an explosion on a floating speakeasy, The Caribbean Queen. The case appears neatly tied up when a later article says that Communist sympathizers were to blame. His news editor, Mr. Irvin, claps him on the shoulder and welcomes him back. He gets assigned a news story covering a factory robbery in Manteno, IL, near Durning.