07 Nov 2011
by Jeffrey Thomas
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(My father Robert Thomas drew this haunting abstract figure. No, it's not a gray alien. I feel it conveys a lot of suffering.)
My father ROBERT THOMAS passed away at the age of 74, in November 1999. He was a small man, a teenager so eager to fight for his country that he ate like a fiend to put on weight so that he wouldn’t be turned away. He was a sailor who served on the USS Augusta during the Normandy Invasion. In North Africa, while on guard duty he killed an enemy with a Thompson submachine gun after the man had cut the throat of another sailor on patrol. He was a commercial artist, and a landscape artist. Late in life, his poetry was published in local newspapers, and he especially loved this time of year when he might write a special poem to commemorate Veterans Day. He told me of a short story idea he had, involving a place called Purgatory Chasm here in Massachusetts, but he never wrote it. He did, however, complete a single short story.
It was sometime in the late 1960s, I should think. My family had discussed emulating that night at Byron’s Villa Diodati, all of us composing a scary story. I think I finished mine, something I believe I called “Things With Claws.” My father completed his, too…
As an adult man, some time after my father’s death, I was in the process of moving and needed to rid myself of a lot of books, planning on giving them to the Salvation Army. Something made me crack open an old hardcover on Hollywood that I was just about to add to the box. Tucked inside were two brittle, yellowed onion skin sheets. It was my father’s long-lost horror story, “Closed Circuit.”
Tonight, I scanned these pages and created a text file from them. I have only corrected two misspellings; I haven’t adjusted the punctuation though there were spots where I wanted to. My Dad made one correction with pen to the manuscript, but he was uncertain about it — there was a question mark beside it — so I disregarded the proposed correction; it worked better without it, in any case. I’m not sure how many drafts of this typewritten story he might have written to arrive at this…or if it was the only version.
I will paste the story for you below. Is it Earth-shattering in its uniqueness? No. It has a classic “Twilight Zone” feel. It’s well written, though, and makes me wish my father had written more stories. No wonder he was so proud of my brother Scott and I for our published short stories. I wish he had lived long enough to see our books.
Here it is. It’s been waiting a long time to find its audience.
Hugo didn’t wake up with a start, but emerged from a sleep between reverie and reality, aware almost immediately of what this particular day was, and what it had in store for him.
This last week, he had allowed himself to be used as the main subject of their experiments, which were after all, quite harmless. As a matter of fact, except for the annoyance of having a few irksome wires taped about his body, his actions although limited were quite normal. Besides, the compensation he was to receive, far overwhelmed these minor discomforts, and his family would enjoy this much needed assistance, especially now.
All during the week, every seemingly unconscious twitch or the slightest muscular movement was converted from physical energy to electrical energy, and recorded on tape, such as a television program might be. This was the whole point of this experiment.
Today was going to be “the day”. The day of days, and Hugo was going to be the star of stars. Today his mind was going to be televised. His every thought, his every mental emotion, his impulses, his most subconscious, deepest personal feelings were to be exposed through the impersonal medium of a picture tube, from which he was to be further exposed to the probing eyes of unemotional calculating science in the
form of man.
Hugo felt no extreme discomfort, even when the other type of electrodes as well, were attached to his body, except he thought they need not to have been so tight, especially the main one attached to his head.
Now, Hugo was most self-conscious of his thoughts, for he certainly didn’t want to think of anything which might cause embarrassment, so he naturally wanted to think as normal and rational thoughts as possible under the circumstances. He especially didn’t want to expose his terrible fear. Even though his selected audience was viewing him from a closed circuit television set, and was limited only to those interested in the scientific aspects of the experiment, Hugo still felt as though the whole world were looking into his mind, and watching his most intimate thoughts.
Suddenly Hugo was taken out of his role as a subconscious actor. He was not aware of how or when he was free of the restrictions caused by the annoying apparatus, but just began to enjoy the freedom with which he was suddenly blessed.
The fears and terrors were gone, no more wires to hinder him, nothing to hold him back, he was free, completely free to think as he pleased, do as he pleased.
Still, questions formed in this suddenness. Doubts of his family’s welfare — the worries and problems they faced. Was it really then, good luck that set him free?
Hugo felt, rather than saw, the blinding flash in that exploding moment of freedom.
If there were to be an answer to his questions, they were not to be viewed on a television screen. At the exact scheduled time on this special day, an authoritative unemotional voice pronounced Hugo legally dead.
The program was over, the scientists disconnected their wires, and at the same time, so did the executioner.
(The original manuscript, page 1.)
(The original manuscript, page 2.)
On a final note. On the one-year anniversary of my father’s death, I was sitting at my computer with my son Colin standing beside me. Colin was only eight, and he’s autistic, and no one had told him what this date signified. Suddenly he looked past me, into a dark bedroom beside us, and said in a surprised tone, “Grampa!” I whirled and looked into the room…but saw nothing.
Maybe my Dad knows about my books, after all.