:: Article

The Monkey House

By Andrew McIntyre

Mensforth smiled, sweeping back his white hair, So as you are well aware gentlemen, we are under siege, our position is precarious. Thought policing is in a relative infancy, but what we know will ensure our immediate survival. I congratulate you upon your selection, you will carry the torch. The technology is implanted in your brains, and you will begin training. I wish you a very good afternoon, and again I welcome you. Some call this place the SPAR, the School of Psycho-Anatomical Research. Others have termed it the Monkey House. Interpretations are subjective. In essence, it is a university within the university.

He paused, scanning our faces, I’m sure I don’t need to reiterate to you, after your experience in the field, there is no such thing as right or wrong. Completion of the goal is the sole factor, finish the job by any means at your disposal. And lastly, as you may already know, there’s a documentary. You may find it useful, you’re not obliged to attend, of course, but it’s highly recommended you do. Those interested please proceed to the Queen’s Theater. He bowed slightly, turned his back on us, and left the room. I glanced at Baxter, Ready? Yes, he replied, jamming papers into his briefcase, Let’s go. The others left while I waited. Baxter, I’d known him for years. We were at Corpus, then we served in the Guards. After special ops we were assigned to Whitehall.

We descended the stone stairs. I have a feeling about this, he ventured. Oh, we’ll muddle through, old chap, I interrupted, Just an extension of what we’ve been doing, albeit in a new realm. He smiled, I rather liked what Mensforth said about Machiavelli. Our glorious liberal empire, I laughed, shrugging my shoulders, Well it’s true, Old Nick’s always there in some form or another, but this time it’s different. I mean no marks on the body, the public don’t know, we can do what we want, absolutely anything. I heard rumors but I thought it was gossip, Baxter muttered, The potential is staggering, warfare of the mind, we’re on the frontier. Exactly, I replied, Like Romans looking north into Caledonia, remember the Ninth Legion. Nothing guaranteed.

We strolled across the quadrangle, the fountain splashing in the weak autumn light. The lawn where Marlowe walked. It really could make us invincible, he continued, For a while at least, I’m intrigued, and hitherto no ill effects from the procedure. How about you? Absolutely, I agreed, I’m tip top, never felt better. Have faith, old chap, we’ll be invading dreams. And we’ll have the luxury of dictating the battlefield. Look, we’d better hurry if we’re going to catch that film. Then we can relax, maybe have a beer later. We probably won’t have much time after today, I’ve a feeling this might get rather tough. Baxter smiled, Good idea, strange to be here again, Stanforth, isn’t it? Yes, I said, Very odd.

We hurried through the medieval passages. A hint of frost, the first breath of winter. We were just in time. We entered, pushing into cavernous musty darkness past a red velvet curtain. Aside from a man in a trilby wearing an overcoat, seated in a distant balcony, the only people in the auditorium were two of the students. One of them waved. Where is everyone? I muttered. Baxter nodded. The light flickered and we settled in our chairs. Grainy black and white film. The opening scene a cinema, a man in a hat and an overcoat, two others, two young men seated together. Astonished, I raised my hands, as did one of the characters in the film. The man rose on screen. Bowing elaborately, leaning over, he removed the trilby, casting away the overcoat. Mensforth. What on earth is going on? Baxter yelled, his voice echoing through the auditorium. Mensforth laughed, his teeth huge, his face spreading across the horizon, Not of the earth, old fellow, rather the mind. Hasten not away because there is no exit. The show has commenced, you are the movie, your training has begun. In order to break people you have to be broken, you have to know from within, intimately, the process of breakdown, from misery cometh mastery. Do I really have to explain? We will focus on trauma, like our dental colleagues with an exposed nerve. We are within, we will show you. Through the implants we know everything from the day you were born, we own you. Stately, he waved shouting, Maestro. The film changed to color. The students walked out of the cinema. Colleagues to entice you, Mensforth chuckled, We’d have got you sooner or later, if you’d decided to slack tonight. To catch a duck, you lie for hours in a boat, 12-bore loaded, dummy ducks floating about the water. Eventually, the ducks come.

Images of our past sped across the screen, childhood, first days at boarding school, beatings, a bully’s smile, nightmares, the implants seeking experiences from which we had not recovered. The pictures slowed, focusing. Willows, a Tudor cottage, summer idyll. A young boy in shorts, Baxter kneeling in the corner of a wine cellar. A hand sliding honey over an erect penis, Come on, come on sonny, suck the lollipop, you told me you like honey, suck it, suck it boy. Baxter leaning forward, rose bud lips parting. Next to me, Baxter was shaking, muttering, No, oh no, no. Keep your mind Baxter, it’s all right, I whispered, For God’s sake, it’s training. God, you say, God, Mensforth chortled. He staggered, hiccupping, clutching his throat, Ggggod, gggggod. Burping, he cleared his throat, fanning himself, A word, an utterance, a sound produced by stimuli, recognized the same way, muscular contractions driven by electricity and chemicals, one could go on. He cackled, A voice crying alone in the wilderness, I am God, so are you, the figment of ourselves created in God’s image, the comedy’s divine, dissolve Gentlemen, reform, for you are the stars.

My aunt was playing the harpsichord in the study. My mother slurring words, drinking scotch in the rancid afternoon light. I was on leave after months living in a badger hole watching IRA men. We were sitting in deckchairs in my aunt’s garden. I took a deep drag of the cigarette. She smiled, You were an accident one could say, you ruined our lives, a night of lust in front of a fire, the beast with two backs, never ever have children, please, you never get over them they’re with you forever, oh all the things I could do, could have done, I wanted to be a nun, I wish I’d been a man, I was going to dance, but no, you came along, and that was that, and you’re so ungrateful. I heard myself shouting, A mother’s love is unconditional. My mother cutting, Nothing is unconditional, love is a transaction like anything else, your father would agree if he were alive, I was the trophy he had the money. Squashing the cigarette, I stared at her, the sunglasses hiding my tears. Men in their thirties weren’t supposed to cry, especially spies, the memory flooding through me like a polluted tide. You can’t hide, she sniped, You really can’t hide, you’re unloved, unwanted, a zero, totally alone, you come into this world alone, you leave on your own. She drained her glass, As the odds go, you’ll be another statistic, a suicide, just like your father.

I tried to stand, but I found myself paralyzed. Don’t think you can flee, Mensforth boomed, It’s all in the mind. And where do you think you’ll go? You are the stars, the last of a long process, think of the taxpayers, they get their money’s worth. Or I lose my job. And I was fingering Charlotte, one finger, two, then fucking her, Baxter’s fiancée, the afternoon in my rooms, the camera closing on my buttocks moving between her legs. Late summer death in the air. Baxter never found out, he married Charlotte in September. Her cries echoed through the cinema. My bowels moved, a feeling of vertigo, I vomited over my knees. You’ll have to kill me, you bastard, Baxter whispered, struggling in the seat unable to move, You thieving swine. Because if you don’t you’re going to die. Exactly, and I support you old chap, let battle commence, Mensforth encouraged, Like knights of old. No holds barred. Actually, he continued, Actually, very hush hush, obviously we didn’t tell you this, the process is so secret it is permissible that only one of you survive. Natural selection good sirs, I’m sure you understand. You are the last, you have reached the top of the pyramid, and there is room for one. One eye in the Triangle, I’m sure you understand.

I opened my eyes. Flies. The hospital silent. Ward D1, we’d received the implants. The bed next to me labeled Baxter was empty. My hair matted with blood, left ankle broken, I crawled towards the corridor. The floor sticky with gore, the stench like a latrine in summer. I stared into the next ward, wondering why I was still alive. Medical personnel slumped, throats sliced, as though a mechanical scythe had butchered. Baxter’s methods, I had to get out. I heard a repetitive thumping. A nurse jammed the automatic lift, her battered head repeatedly striking the ceiling. Throat cut like a big red smile. Someone was singing, Here’s to the road a whisky knock it down knock it down, here’s to a whisky knock it down knock it down. Baxter loved single malt, he was coming up the stairs. I hid, squinting round the corner. Jauntily, he strode down the corridor whistling, soaked in blood, a huge amputation knife in his beefy fist.

Rain lashed the window panes, the wind howling through the trees. What happened, Charlotte whispered, switching on a light, What is it? Baxter, I hissed, waking drenched in sweat, Baxter, the hospital, he came up the stairs. But he’s away, Charlotte soothed, It was only a dream. Go back to sleep, Darling, everything’s fine, he’ll never know. I watched myself curled in bed, Charlotte caressing my face. At the end of the aisle, Mensforth smiled, smoking a cigarette, The brain resembles Africa, it is shaped much the same. He tapped a diagram, If one includes the spinal cortex. Africa in the 1870s, we know the coast relatively well, but the interior remains unexplored, you are traveling to the heart of a continent gentlemen, remember Burton and Speke. Neither man ever the same again, what they encountered, they became deadly rivals. Speke committed suicide. Where lies the source of the river? The river of consciousness running from the great subconscious lake. We will fight them in realms we know through our dreams. The mind our colony, the sun never setting for it will never rise, the empire darkness, and it will be endless. He chuckled, The universe within the universe, we will will the Will. Baxter stared, his face ivory, beads of sweat dropping to his suit. The film flashing over his pupils. He was far away, searching for me.

When Baxter reached the end of the corridor, he turned and announced, I know you’re there Stanforth, you bitch’s bastard, I’m saving you till last, I will enjoy you at my leisure, I will gut you like a trout. Retching, I struggled in the slime, not knowing where I was going or how I had arrived. Mensforth’s voice droned through the hospital, The game isn’t over till the whistle, play up, play up, play the game, it’s not the winning that matters, old chap, it’s the taking part, British spirit, what, remember who you are, you’re an Englishman, England’s whitest, England’s finest, an Englishman is the finest fellow in the world. Believe what you do, and you’ll believe who you are. The far wall telescoped into a screen, a film showing grainy black and white. I saw myself sitting in the lecture room with Baxter and the other candidates. Mensforth was smiling, finishing the welcoming lecture.

Andrew McIntyre was educated in England and Scotland. He lives in San Francisco. He has been writing for several years. He has published stories in numerous magazines, most recently in The Copperfield Review, The Mississippi Review, and Children, Churches and Daddies Literary Magazine.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, February 21st, 2007.