D’s Table Part 29

Rob pestered Wendell all day about this secret that he was withholding, and Wendell ended up inviting him back to his home to talk about it in private. The two of them disembarked from the bus together and walked up to the front door of Wendell’s house. The door was unlocked, and they walked inside.

Ruth was there, reclining across a couch, fanning herself with a handheld fan and listening to the radio. She saw the boys and said, “How was school today?”

“Great, mom,” Wendell said.

Rob said, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Davidson. You’re looking lovely today.”

Ruth smiled a little and laughed, looking down at her ragged clothes. “This?” she said, “These are my cleaning clothes. I was just taking a break.”

“Well, you always look great,” Rob said. Wendell pulled him into his bedroom and closed the door before he could say anymore.

“Stop it,” Wendell said to his friend.

“What?” Rob said, “Your mom’s a real dolly. What can I say? Don’t you see how the boys look at her when the bus passes your house? Of course, none of them have a shot because they’re not friends with her son. Me, on the other hand.” Rob ran his hand through his messy hair and smoothed it out a little.

“We came here to talk about something else,” Wendell said.

“Right, right,” Rob said, “Your glasses.”

Wendell nodded. He repeated what his father had said about the disappearance of his sister and that his father thought she had been taken. Rob nodded his head as he listened. “The worst part,” Wendell added, “is that my sight keeps on getting better. Better than normal. I can see things I never saw before. Apparently, my aunt was the same way. I’m nervous. What if my father’s right?”

After Wendell was done, Rob said, “It sounds all a bit paranoid to me. One person’s sight improves and disappears and your old man jumps to the conclusion that everyone who’s eyesight improves beyond normal is in danger of being taken.”

“Really?” Wendell asked, surprised by Rob’s sensible response.

“On the other hand,” Rob added, “It does make sense. You just have to think of it like this: who needs people with keen eyesight?”

“Birdwatchers?” Wendell said.

“No, spies dummy,” Rob said, “And astronomers. But only spies would resort to kidnapping people. They want people in those spy planes they got who have great eyesight. That way, they can see more of what’s going on down on the ground. Combine someone with superhuman sight and a telescope and they can see everything. It makes sense. Maybe your aunt was kidnapped by the government to be made into a spy. Maybe she’s still alive and working for them.” Wendell looked skeptically at Rob after he heard this response. “How good is your sight exactly?” Rob asked.

Wendell looked once again at the books on his shelf, and said, from his position sitting on the bed, “I can read the text on those books.”

Rob, who was closer to the books squinted and leaned towards the books. “Prove it,” Rob said.

Wendell started to read off the titles on the back of the book, until Rob stopped him and said, “You could’ve just memorized that. Let’s take something you haven’t read.” Rob reached into his bag and pulled out a book. “You haven’t read Farmer in the Sky, have you?” Rob asked. Wendell shook his head. Rob said, “Well, even if you’re lying you can’t have memorized the whole thing.”

Rob stood up and went to the far side of the room and opened the book to a random page. He pointed to a line and he said, “Read that.” Wendell read it and Rob followed, looking at the text while Wendell spoke. The text perfectly matched Wendell’s words. Rob’s eyes widened.

“But that’s easy,” Wendell said, “Go further.”

“Okay,” Rob said, “I’ll go outside. You write down what you read.”

Soon Wendell could see Rob standing outside on their front lawn holding the book, now open to a different page and pointing to a line. Wendell waved his hand, gesturing for Rob to go further. Rob backed away into the street and all the way onto the other side. Wendell wrote down the words that he read and gestured for Rob to return.

When Rob walked into the room, he was breathless from having run back to the room. “Let’s hear it,” he said, looking down at his book.

As Wendell reproduced the words exactly, Rob’s eyes began to pop out of his head with shock.

“Oh my god,” Rob gushed, “You’re like a superhero. This is amazing!”

“Yeah,” Wendell halfheartedly agreed, “But don’t tell anyone.”

D’s Table Part 28

Wendell’s father brought him a surprise a few days later. Frank had gone through the trouble of wrapping a bow around the wooden box in which his surprise was encased, as if this were some special gift, and he handed it to Wendell that evening after he returned from work. Wendell undid the bow and opened the box, finding inside of it a pair of glasses in thick, black frames—his own glasses. His father had a few days ago surreptitiously taken them from his room, and Wendell hadn’t even noticed.

Wendell looked up at his father quizzically, thinking his father was playing some odd prank on him, but his father explained, “I put new lenses in them. Plano lenses in both. These you can wear and they won’t hurt your eyes. The lenses are neutral, like I said. I’d very much like you to wear them.”

Wendell picked up the glasses and tried them on. They weighed down on the bridge of his nose and his ears in that slightly uncomfortable way just as before, but his father was right about the lenses. It was no different looking through these lenses than it was looking out through his eyes.

“I went to a different optician, one in Manhattan,” Frank explained, “He noted that he doesn’t see double planos very often, and he asked me what I needed them for. I told him the lie I’d thought up in advance, that you needed them for a school play. Man threw me for a curveball, though, when he asked what play you were in. I’m no good at lying. Death of a Salesman was the first thing that came to mind. Not a bad lie to come up with on the fly like that, if I do say so. Then he asked me which character. I think he was a bit of a theater aficionado and he was just making small talk, but I really struggle with lying. I probably looked uncommonly nervous to him when I tried to think of what to say. I couldn’t remember a single character from the play. Just said ‘the male lead.’ Man said, ‘Willy Loman, yeah. Makes sense. He would need glasses for that part.’ I wanted to burst out in laughter. I’d just blindly bumped into a perfect lie.” Frank let out a small chuckle at these words. “Though I don’t think I’ll buy from him again, just to be safe,” he added.

“I don’t want to wear these,” Wendell said, taking them off and putting them in the box.

“I anticipated that,” Frank said, “So I’ll make you a deal. You wear these every day for the next two months, and I’ll give you a present. Anything you want, within reason (your old man can’t afford everything). You just have to wear them in public at all times or whenever we have company here.”

“A telescope?” Wendell suggested. It was something he’d wanted for a long time, and it was the first thing to pop into his head.

“Absolutely,” his father said, “A telescope it is. Whatever you want.” He reached down after these words and put a comforting hand on his son’s shoulder, trying to convey to his son that he was on his side and was trying to help.

Wendell wore the glasses the next day as he left the house, and his mom watched him as he boarded the bus for school. He sat down at his seat next to Rob and looked at his friend with a sour expression.

“What’re you wearing glasses for?” Rob asked, “I thought you didn’t need them. I’ve gotten all used to seeing your face without them. You look weird now.”

“It’s my dad’s idea,” Wendell said, pulled off the glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose, “Don’t tell anyone, but they’re not real. My dad told me I have to wear them. He’s even going to talk to my teachers to make sure I wear them at school. It’s to protect me, supposedly.”

“Protect you from what?” Rob asked, “To make bullies think twice about punching you in the face?”

“I can’t say,” Wendell said, “Not here.”

“You keeping secrets from me, Wend?” Rob asked.

“I’ll tell you later,” Wendell said, “I don’t like it any better than you do.”

D’s Table Part 27

Wendell found his parents concerns about his eyesight more annoying than affectionate, and he briefly stewed in his room after dinner, thinking about how silly their concerns were and that they just needed to trust him and stop treating him like a child.

He sat on his bed and thought about these thing, his backpack sitting on the floor filled with several homework assignments that he was supposed to be working on. He looked at a metal model Jaguar he had sitting on his bookshelf. It was a convertible, dark green, with its characteristically prominent front end and soft curves. It was sitting against a book, the back cover of which was visible. It was a Hardy Boys book, “The Wailing Siren Mystery,” which he’d read about a year ago. He started reading the list of other Hardy Boys books listed on the back of the book, some of the titles sounding somewhat interesting.

Then he came to a stop and suddenly realized what he was doing. The book was on the other side of the room, maybe ten feet away; the lettering, though in all caps, couldn’t be greater than a ten point font; and the back side of the book wasn’t even facing directly towards him, but was at an oblique angle. Yet, despite all this, he could read every word. He’d never been able to read things from that distance that clearly before. No one could. It was unreal. His sight had improved dramatically. He hadn’t noticed the improvement because there wasn’t really any change in the way he saw the world, but he realized now that when he looked at and focused on things, on anything: the details were so crisp and clear, as if he was looking at them from up close and under a magnifying glass.

For the first time since his father had told him about his missing aunt, Gertrude was her name, he felt frightened. He lay back on his bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to calm himself. He watched the tiny specks of dust that floated through the air slowly settling to the ground like a dusting of snow.

He had to force himself to do his homework, hoping that it would take his mind off his newfound sight. But as he wrote on the sheets of paper with his pencil, working his way through algebra problems, he couldn’t help but notice details he’d never been able to perceive before: the gradual flattening of the point of his pencil as he wrote; the jagged, fragmented edges of the lines created by the pencil and how they were effected by the uneven surface of the paper; the rough, almost fuzzy texture of the wood at the tip; the small dimples pressed into the metal that held the eraser in place. The sense that everything around him had a limitless depth of detail was a source of constant distraction. None of his other senses were enhanced; so, it was as easy as closing his eyes to stop the perception. He started doing so, performing the math problems in his head before opening his eyes and transferring them to the paper to avoid these distractions.

When he returned to the school the next day, the distractions continued. When he sat in class, he looked around the room and realized that he could read the handwriting of anyone anywhere in class, so long as he had a line of sight. He also had never noticed that his teacher wore make-up. The eye shadow and lipstick she wore were light, natural colors, but they were there, along with the blush on her cheeks, which he could see as a fine powder sitting atop her skin. He could even see the light sprinkle of chalk dust that had settled invisibly on the front of her dress.

His improved perception also made the world somewhat less beautiful: the floors of the school seemed dirtier, his food seemed less appetizing, and the faces of the girls at school, with so many more of their imperfections visible, seemed less attractive.

All of this he kept to himself, since he was sufficiently frightened by his father’s admonitions to think that it was dangerous for anyone to know he had such an ability. But he didn’t like keeping it a secret, and the weight of carrying such a secret around with him all the time was burdensome.

D’s Table Part 26

Ruth and Wendell returned home. When they arrived, Wendell dumped his backpack in his room and threw his unneeded glasses on his desk. He returned to the living room and turned on the television, laying on his stomach on the floor and watching the television from close up. Ruth was about to reprimand him for watching television that way but decided against it. Maybe this habit of Wendell’s was the reason for his improved sight. Maybe, despite everything she’d heard, television would one day become the solution to vision loss. This new technology was all so confusing. Instead, she went to the kitchen and began to prepare dinner.

Frank soon arrived home, and when he saw Wendell watching television without his glasses, he asked, “How did it go at the optometrist? And what happened to your glasses?”

“Went great,” Wendell said, “Don’t need them anymore.” He showed a big smile to his father when he said these words, only briefly turning his attention away from the television.

Ruth overheard the conversation and announced from the kitchen, “Isn’t it wonderful? His sight’s now flawless. Dr. Stuart told us so. Our boy really is something special. It’s not many a boy who’s eyesight improves so dramatically like his. ‘One in a million,’ the doctor said. ‘That’s our boy,’ I said, “He sure is special.’”

To Ruth’s surprise, Frank was not as overjoyed by this news as she was. He instead appeared to be upset and worried. He turned his attention back to Wendell, and he asked several questions in quick succession, “Did your vision improve, suddenly? How long has this been going on? How good is your vision? Is it only slightly better or much better?”

“Dad, why are you asking me all these questions?” Wendell asked in return, reluctant to extricate himself from the television.

“Answer me! This is important,” Frank said, grabbing his son’s shoulder and turning him over on the floor so that he was facing upwards towards his father.

“How long?” Wendell said, “I don’t know. It was gradual. It’s been improving for many weeks. Maybe more.”

“And how good is your sight now?” Frank asked, “Better than normal?”

“Why are you asking?” Wendell asked, but he could see that his father wanted an immediate answer. “Normal,” he said, “What does ‘better than normal’ even mean?”

Frank seemed someone relieved by this last answer. He insisted though, “It’d be better if you still wore your glasses. Better if you pretend you still need them.”

“The glasses hurt my eyes,” Wendell objected.

“We’ll get new lenses for you,” Frank said, “Neutral lenses. Flat lenses. Whatever it is they’re called. It’ll be just like looking through a window.”

“I don’t like wearing glasses,” Wendell objected, “You’re not going to force me to wear them, if I don’t have to. I think I look better without them, don’t you?”

“What is this all about?” Ruth asked, entering from the kitchen and inserting herself into the conversation.

“Nothing,” Frank said, “It’s nothing. Forget about it.”

“If it were nothing, you wouldn’t be asking your son to pretend to be wearing glasses.”

“It reminded me of my sister,” he said, “It might be nothing, but I’d prefer to play it safe?”

“What do you mean about your sister?” she said, a concerned look on her face.

“The same thing happened to my sister,” he said, “She started wearing glasses young, just like Wendell, about age seven, I think. Before she turned fifteen, she stopped wearing them. She said she didn’t need them anymore. Her eyesight had gotten better. And it just kept on getting better. She soon could see better than any of us, far better. Better than any human. And then she disappeared.”

“You mean that’s when she went missing?” Ruth asked.

“She was fifteen,” Frank said, “And she didn’t just disappear. I think she was taken.”

“You never told me that before,” Ruth said, “That she was taken. You think there might be a connection between the improvement in her eyesight and her disappearance?”

I never connected them before,” Frank said, “I’d never heard of such a thing. I don’t know what to think. I just don’t want anything to happen to our son.”

Wendell remained lying on the ground listening to all of this without serious interest. “I can take care of myself dad,” he said, “I’m fourteen years old. Besides. It’s probably just a coincidence.”

“Be careful, nonetheless,” Ruth said, worried.

D’s Table Part 25

The bus pulled up to the front of Hawthorne High School and parked alongside the other buses. Wendell and Rob stepped out and joined the crowds of students walking towards the school’s main entrance. The school was a two-story, stone block, its main entrance located in the very center of the building. A tall flagpole was planted in the middle of the green lawn in front of the school, alongside an austere bronze statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne, holding a paper and quill and looking out over the school grounds.

Wendell walked over the school’s seal, set into the ground in front of the entrance, and he entered the school amidst a large crowd of people. The halls of the school were lined with lockers on both sides, and Wendell found his way to his locker. He traded out a few books and notebooks in his backpack for others in his locker and set his glasses in his locker with the rest of his stuff.

Rob was nearby, and he quietly nudged Wendell after he closed his locker. Wendell followed Rob’s eyes, and immediately realized why Rob had nudged him—Hannah Brown was walking down the hall. She had her beautiful blonde hair pulled into a ponytail and wore a white shirt and plaid dress. She had little dimples when she smiled, which she did frequently, and had blonde freckles dotting the tops of her cheeks.

Wendell thought that she looked particularly radiant today, and the two boys silently mouthed, “Wow,” as their eyes followed her down the hall.

“I think she’s secretly in love with you, Wend,” Rob teased, “Did you see the way she looked at you out of the corner of her eyes? She likes you without the peepers.” Wendell only shook his head as he left for his first class.

When he entered the room of his first class, English, he walked in confidently, displaying his naked face with his head held high. His classmates turned to look at him. They noticed the change, even some of them admitting silently to themselves that it was for the better.

After school, his mother took Wendell to his optometrist’s office. Dr. Stuart was his name, and after a few minutes of waiting, Wendell was led into the examination room.

“So, your lovely mother tells me that you’re having trouble with your glasses. What seems to be the problem?” the doctor asked.

He sat in a chair across from Wendell wearing his own glasses, a pair of Buddy-Holly-style frames with his big eyes looking through them.

Wendell pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I just don’t need them anymore,” Wendell said, “I can see fine without them.”

“Hmm,” the doctor grunted, “Is that so?” He pulled out his retinoscope and asked Wendell to put on his glasses. He examined Wendell’s eyes through the lenses. Then he asked Wendell to take off his glasses, and he again examined the eyes with the retinoscope. “Hmm,” the doctor said.

“Read that chart,” the doctor said, pointing to an eye chart on the wall, “starting with the seventh line.” Wendell read off the letters with ease and without mistake. “Next line, left eye,” the doctor said, and Wendell covered up his right eye and continued without fail. “Bottom line, right eye,” the doctor said, and Wendell read it too.

“Amazing, Wendell,” the doctor said, “Your eyesight’s great.”

He pulled Wendell over to a slit lamp and examined the boys eyes for a short while, saying to himself, “Hmm,” as he looked.

“Well Wendell,” he said after he was finished, “You don’t need glasses. If you’d have just come in here and I hadn’t seen you before, one look at that eye chart would’ve told me that, but since I know that you do wear glasses, I really had to be sure. Your case is peculiar. People’s eyesight never gets better on its own like that. You’re one in a million. What’s your secret? You surely must have done something to make your eyes improve like that. Whatever did you do?”

The doctor asked the same question of his mother, and she started explaining, “Even though I tell him not to, he sits too close to the television and watches it way too much. He just loves those space adventure shows.”

“Ma’am,” the doctor interrupted, “He actually doesn’t need glasses anymore. I was asking what you’d done to improve his vision.”

“He doesn’t need glasses anymore? That’s exciting,” she said, “Well, I make him eat his spinach, and he loves to read. Do those things help? Does eyesight usually get better like this?”

“No,” the doctor said, “Your child’s one in a million.”

D’s Table Part 24

Part Two
[Two Years Earlier]

Wendell opened his eyes, waking from a strange dream. He looked towards the clock by his bed—almost time to get up. His mom would be in to wake him in a few minutes. He reached across to his nightstand and grabbed his glasses, a set of thick, black frames. When he put them on and looked through the lenses, his vision seemed worse.

Over the past several weeks, he’d come to dislike having to put on his glasses. They made his eyes sore. He took them off frequently throughout the day. He didn’t seem to need them anymore. He knew he used to. He remembered it distinctly. Several years ago, before he received the glasses, he used to have trouble reading words at a distance. The glasses had corrected that problem, but now, even without the glasses, he could see fine.

His mother gently knocked and opened the door a crack. She peaked inside and said, “Oh, you’re already up. Breakfast is cooking.”

She was about to leave, but Wendell called out to her. “Mom, can we go to the eye doctor today?” he asked.

“Something wrong with your glasses, dear?” she replied.

“Yeah, they’re a bit off,” he said.

“Sure thing, tiger,” she said, “I’ll call and see if we can schedule something after school. Okay?”

Wendell nodded his head.

By the time he reached the kitchen table, his mother was putting the eggs, toast and bacon onto his plate. His father was hidden behind the newspaper, which he held in front of him. When Ruth put the breakfast down in front of him, Frank folded up the paper, put out his pipe and picked up his silverware.

“Trouble with the eyesight,” Frank said to his son, “That’s never a good sign.”

Wendell didn’t respond, but simply nodded in acknowledgment.

A short time after he finished breakfast, he caught the school bus from in front of his house. His mother stood out front, wearing a dress with an apron over it and waved goodbye from the doorstep as Wendell stepped through the doors of the yellow bus.

He watched his mom disappear as the bus drove on. As soon as she was out of sight, he took off the glasses and slipped them into his pocket. He saw, his friend, Rob, who’d saved a seat for him. Wendell sat down, saying, “hey, bean,” to his friend. Rob was a tall, corpulent teenager the same age as Wendell, both Freshmen. He had wavy blonde hair in a messy haircut and wore a colorful, flower-print shirt, which set him apart from the drab, solid colors of the rest of his classmates.

“Hey, where’s your peepers?” Rob asked, “You look strange without them. It’s like your face is missing something, you know?”

“Don’t want to wear them,” Wendell said

“You got to wear them. How can you see without them? No, let me guess,” Rob said, leaning in close and starting to look close at Wendell’s eyes, “You got corneal lenses. I read about them. They’re practically invisible. A guy who works with my dad got them. They’re expensive, but far out.”

“What are corneal lenses?” Wendell asked.

“They’re like glasses, but they go directly on your eyeball,” Rob said, “Two little, curved piece of glass. You can’t tell someone’s wearing them. It’s the future, Wend. Like Captain Video type technology. My guess: by 2000 everyone will be wearing these. Not just people who need glasses. Everyone. Because, you see, and this is where it gets really far out.” Rob was leaning in, his voice rising with excitement, his hands gesturing emphatically. “You see, in the future, these type of lenses won’t just correct bad vision, they’ll enhance regular vision. It’ll be like you had a telescope and a microscope attached to your eyes at all times. And with zoom capabilities. You want to get a closer look at something in the distance, you blink once and your eye lens will zoom in. You blink twice and it goes back to normal. You want to look at something small. You blink once and you can see it like a microscope. Blink twice and it’s back to normal. That’s what I predict will happen in the future. Wouldn’t you want that. And I didn’t read about that. I thought that up myself.”

“Wow,” Wendell said.

“But, really, what happened to your peepers?”

Wendell pulled them out of his pocket and displayed them to Rob. He said, “I don’t need them anymore. My vision just got better, somehow.”

“That’s weird,” Rob said, “Never heard of that happening before. And at least one of us has good news to report. Back at home, it’s still constant fighting between my parents. Mom’s complaining that my dad is lazy and unambitious because it’s been so long since he’s seen a promotion. I hate it. I wish she wouldn’t blame everything on him. Some things are just out of his control. Oh well. Good news about your peepers, though.”

D’s Table Part 23

Frank and Ruth left to take Wendell home as Dr. Lutz made a phone call to Dr. Sloane. Ruth talked to Wendell as they were driving home, explaining the situation. “You’re going to live away from us for a while,” she said, “At a hospital on Long Island. It’s a nice place. You and I went out there and visited it, if you remember. Lots of farmland and open space. I think you’ll like it. You never really like the suburbs, did you? They’ll take care of you there. Real professionals who’ll look after your needs and make you better. And we’ll visit you of course. It’ll hardly be different than it was before.”

She continued to speak, but Wendell gave no indication that he understood. He stared out through the windshield as the three of them sat together in the front of the car and drove home.

When they arrived home, Ruth led Wendell to his bedroom, and she set him down on his bed. She pulled out a suitcase and began to fill it with clothes for him. She asked him each time she grabbed something whether he wanted to take it, and each time he gave no response. When it came time decide on what personal items Wendell would bring with him, she first gave him a framed picture of Frank, Wendell and herself, cheerful and happy from before Wendell was taken from them.

She looked around for anything else that Frank might want with him. She saw his telescope and remembered how much he’d liked staring through it. She collapsed it and its tripod into a box and put it in the suitcase with the clothes. She also saw the model cars that Wendell had. There were two he’d liked, a metal scale model of a Mercedes-Benz and one of a Jaguar. She put the two of them in their boxes and placed them in the suitcase with the clothes.

After she was done packing she sat down on the floor, her large skirt spilling outwards. She looked around the room, taking careful note of it, as if it was she who was going to have to leave it for good and wouldn’t see it again, and she began to cry. Wendell remained still on his bed staring into the distance.

They drove Wendell to Islip a short time later, moving out beyond the suburbs onto rural Long Island. They approached the hospital down a tree-lined road and turned towards the long string of red buildings that comprised the hospital. Open spans of green grass, sprinkled with a few great trees formed the landscape, with a large farm in the center of the hospital complex.

Frank and Ruth drove up to the front, and Dr. Sloane was there to greet them shortly after they arrived. He led them inside and sat them down at the desk in his office. He produced a set of papers, and the two of them looked the papers over and signed them, handing over custody of their son to the hospital. Ruth gave the suitcase to Dr. Sloane, and he passed it off to an orderly to take care of.

Dr. Sloan led Ruth and Frank through the halls of the hospital and up a set of stairs, while Ruth held onto her son’s hand and guided his way. The room they entered was a large one filled with beds. It was crowded with people, and most of the beds were already occupied. Wendell was taken to a plain, freshly made bed with white sheets and steel springs, and Ruth set him there to sit down.

She took a long time to say her goodbye to him. She looked into his face and held his hand, tears starting to form in her eyes as she assured him once again that he would be well taken care of, and that they would be sure to visit him often. Frank had to pull her away from her son and lead her out of the room. Frank held her hand, and she leaned against him, as more tears poured out of her and she sobbed.

Before she left the room, she turned back for one last look and saw once again, Wendell sitting on the bed staring into the distance while hospital staff began to attend to him.

End of Part One

D’s Table Part 22

As the investigation wound down, Dr. Lutz continued his treatment of Wendell. He applied every effective form of therapy he knew. He attempted hypnosis, operant conditioning, aversion therapy, hydrotherapy. The boy simply didn’t respond to anything.

The doctor had to ultimately admit, “I may not be capable of treating your son.” The doctor himself had grown rather despondent and dispirited in the wake of his failure. Fatigue was evident as he sat in his desk, his head resting in his hands as he told Ruth and her husband this information. “It’s humbling to admit, but I think my experience and past successes as a psychiatrist may have made me overconfident in my ability to treat, as your son’s case is, an entirely unique patient,” the doctor said, “I have pored over the psychological literature. I have consulted with colleagues. I can assure you that I found no comparable cases. Unless you’re willing to credit hearsay and superstition (which, of course, I don’t), there is no professional testimony of a similar case in the history of psychology.”

“What then would you recommend doctor?” Frank asked, some skeptical disdain in the tone of his voice.

“I would recommend that he were remanded to the care of the Manhattan State Hospital,” the doctor said, “He would be able to receive full-time attention and more thorough treatment than I can provide. The facilities at the Islip branch are quite substantial. He would have the attention of professionals and be in an environment conducive to mental health, and you would be freed of the difficult burden of taking care of an adolescent with a severe psychological disorder.”

Though Frank was accustomed to making all of the decisions, he turned to his wife and asked her, “What do you think, dear? I leave it up to you. You’ve spent the most time with him.”

Rose was stunned by what Dr. Lutz had said, and she stared at him for a long while before she responded. “Will we be able to see him?” she asked.

“Assuredly,” Dr. Lutz said, “Access may be limited to him at times (at the discretion of his doctor), but he is not being taken away to some distant island. You’ve been there. You can visit. It’s just east of here.”

Ruth was indecisive, and when she looked to her husband for guidance, his expression was impassive, inquisitive, impatient. She divined, correctly, that if she decided now in the affirmative, she would not be able to go back on her decision and that there was a genuine risk that Wendell’s commitment would be permanent. A whole life had to be decided on.

She cried a little. The weight of the decision, the thought of her child in a mental institution for the rest of his life, these tugged at her. There was only one thing that prevented her from proclaiming, as she truly wanted to, that her baby would stay with her and that she would take care of him and raise him from then on without remorse, and that was her dreams.

Her persistent, recurring dreams had, in a limited way, started to make sense. The message so far as she was able to understand, consisted of three concepts: “Not me,” “It’s just a shell,” and “Let go.” The sum of these three items was clear to her when she awoke and recalled them: Wendell was not Wendell; he was no longer her son; and she was being commanded to let go of him.

How such a thing could be the case, was beyond her. She wanted the opinion of the doctor and asked him, quite earnestly, “Is it possible this is not our son?”

“You are the one who identified him,” the doctor said, confused.

“Of course, it’s our son,” Frank interjected, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Ruth said, “I can see that it’s him physically. It’s his body. I mean to ask if his mind is no longer his. Like it went away. Is that possible?”

“I don’t think I understand what you’re saying,” Dr. Lutz said, “If it’s his body it’s his mind. The mind is not like a hat that you can misplace or exchange.”

“Never mind,” she said, unable to explain herself and flushed with embarrassment, “You’re right. He ought to be committed. It’s the best thing for him. Whatever gives us the best chance of him eventually getting well.”

D’s Table Part 21

The men knocked, but no response was heard. It took the combined strength of all four men to bust through the double doors. They entered the house casually as a group. It was dark inside, only illuminated by the fading light through the windows. They entered a spacious foyer with high ceilings and a grand stairway in front of them.

The interior of the house was clean. It looked nothing like an abandoned home. There was no whisk of dust that rose to the air when they entered or cobwebs in the ceiling. Outside, the lawn looked well maintained. This place had been recently cleaned, perhaps a week or two ago at most. On the other hand, it didn’t have the appearance of a place that was being lived in either. There was a general lack of furniture and a complete absence of any sort of personal items.

They walked through the halls and their footsteps echoed loudly. Whoever had left this place, had cleaned it out well. They’d left behind a few chair and tables, a desk or two. They couldn’t possibly have left in a hurry. Most everything that had been left behind was part of the building—shelves and cabinets that were built into the wall, chandeliers, carpet. All of these remnants, in combination with the size of the house and estate, suggested a place of great wealth: a beautiful crystal chandelier hung in the foyer and several other smaller ones hung in other parts; the rugs were thick and colorful; the crown moldings were gilded with gold; some few oil paintings and tapestries hung from the walls.

The men looked around the place, pulling out their flashlights and scouring the entirety, room to room. They searched thoroughly through the numerous rooms for any sign of life or evidence of it previous occupants. No one was found and few possessions had been left.

Also, one of the main things that they had expected to find they did not—a place where Wendell Davidson might have been held captive and possibly tortured. Though there were many rooms that could be locked from the outside (most of the doors had tumbler locks with a keyhole that could be locked or unlocked from either side), none of the rooms seemed designed to imprison someone. None had any sort of restraints, torture devices or reinforced locks. No rooms contained anything less than the generally high level of luxury displayed throughout the place. The sole exceptions were the basement and attic levels, but both of these appeared to have been used solely for storage. The basement was still filled with a substantial collection of surplus furniture, some of which had accumulated a significant layer of dust. Certainly a person could be kept down in the dark of the basement, but it appeared to have not been designed to do so, and there was no evidence that anyone ever had done so. They couldn’t exclude the possibility that someone had been held here for two years against his will, but it seemed unlikely.

Detective Olmstead said to his partner, “It wouldn’t be too bad to locked up in a place this nice,” and Detective Jones nodded. “This is starting to look like just another dead end,” he added, and Jones nodded again.

The house nonetheless was examined by a forensics team, and Lieutenant O’Brian called in the New York Police Department, who were willing to invest their more substantial resources in this investigation. They dusted almost every inch of the house for prints, and collected hundreds of pieces of physical evidence. They found over a dozen fingerprints, but they were able to attach none of them to a name, with one exception. They found Wendell Davidson’s prints throughout the house.

This piece of evidence electrified the investigation, and they put great ingenuity into examining the many items they gathered from the house. They tracked down where many of the house’s expensive furnishings had been bought; they even took the painted portraits, and traced down their painters and subjects. But everything they found was so old and had been produced and purchased so long ago that most of their efforts were fruitless. What they could trace only led back to V. Stinson, who had been the purchaser of several items.

They could find almost nothing on Stinson, except that he was wealthy and had occupied the place until his death, a long time ago. Ownership on the house had then fallen into a sort of limbo, without title being passed on to next of kin or to the state. The estate just slipped through the cracks and basically disappeared from the map.

Professor Danburry reported to Detective Olmstead around this time the results of his further research. He told him over the phone, “I’ve put several students and colleagues onto this Die Tafel puzzle, and I can think that I can safely report that references to it in the surviving documents I’ve found are few. One account, a polemic against atheism, published in Bavaria in 1809, mentions it as an occultist brotherhood devoted to the destruction of Christianity—probably not the most unbiased assessment. A few public officials were accused of being associated with Die Tafel around the same time; though this appears to have just been some malicious rumor mongering. It’s also included among a list of secret societies in Munich in 1840. One interesting thing is that some of the references speak of Die Tafel as a local chapter, suggesting that it was a part of a larger order, and perhaps not even the original chapter. Hence, the possibility that there could be a nearby chapter is plausible. Though I could certainly find no references to any such organization, secret society or fraternal order here in the U.S., and I wouldn’t pin your hopes on further research turning something up, since we’ve been quite thorough.”

Detective Olmstead thanked the professor and hung up the phone. He told his partner at the end of the call, “another dead end,” and sighed.

D’s Table Part 20

The man on the other end of the phone explained, “It’s only the middle part of the seal on the gate. Not the outer part with the writing. You’ll know which place it is when you get out there. There aren’t many buildings thereabouts. Beautiful area. The building on the estate is like a castle. Huge structure. Never been near it. Just seen the gate.”

“Is there any way we can contact you if we have any further questions?” Detective Olmstead asked.

“No,” he said, “Good bye.”

Then the the man hung up, and Detective said into the phone, “Well, thank you, sir,” before he put down the receiver.

He looked at his partner, and he repeated the anonymous caller’s words. He added, “This is the real McCoy. I want to search this place today. We’re finally making some real progress.”

Detective Olmstead was soon on the phone with the New Windsor police department. He asked the police officer he talked to if they could have a warrant ready in the time it would take him to drive down there. The officer said he’d have to hurry to catch the judge, but he’d be right on it.

Detectives Jones and Olmstead hopped into their car and drove through Manhattan and headed north along the Hudson. They arrived in front of the estate a few hours later. The day was growing late, and the sun was sinking over the horizon.

The house was in the midst of a thick wood. An unpaved road led up to the gate, and there, sure enough, patterned in the black metal prongs of the gate, was a circle split into four sections with the four images in stylized simplicity molded in center of them. The estate was populated with trees, but they could just see through the trees the stone walls of a large building

The New Windsor police were there waiting to meet them. They met the young Officer Adams, a pale lanky boy barely in his twenties who spoke in a high, scratchy voice. Standing with him was his superior, Lieutenant O’Brian, a fat and balding older man who stared at them with a steely, humorless gaze.

“Judge Brown took a lot of persuading,” the lieutenant said holding up a folded piece of paper, “When I told him the steps that you went through to go from a note to a boy’s pocket to a house outside of town, he gave me one of those looks. He decided to give me a long lecture on the Fourth Amendment instead of signing off on it. I told him a little about Wendell Davidson and how broken he is, according to the papers. He softened up. However, I think the judge might be right. The case for probable cause here seems a bit thin. Judge Brown only signed off on it because my boy here found out this place is probably uninhabited anyways.”

“Lieutenant asked me to do a little research on this place,” Officer Adams added, “Just trying to see if I could find out who owns this place and talk to them. So far as I can tell, this place has no phone and nobody lives here. The man who’s listed as the owner, V. Stinson, died a long time ago. Mailman says he’s never delivered a single piece of mail here. Everyone around here just assumed it was abandoned, and the city gets ownership of abandoned property. I talked to the nearest neighbors, who live way down that way.” The officer pointed down the road presumably towards a house that was not visible and said, “They thought it was abandoned too. They never see anyone come here.”

The gate had an electric doorbell, which they pressed. After a long wait, they pulled out a set of bolt cutters and cut through the chain that held the gate closed. The four men drove their cars through the gate and followed the road across the estate towards the house. The road was lined with trees on both sides, but the house was set in a small clearing, and behind the building they could see a view of the Hudson. The building was done in a Gothic Revival style, complete with tall spires and crenellation. The windows were long and narrow and were decorated with intricate tracery.

The men parked their cars and walked up to the front door, and there in front of them they saw the seal once again. This one included the writing around the edge and was engraved into the pair of wooden doors.