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Memo from the Apocalypse

by L.H. Phillips




I have been asked to comment and advise on the current situation, given that I was present at its inception. I will do my best to set down events as I remember them, although I fear useful recommendations may be in short supply.

As I am sure you are aware, I was a faculty member in the Department of Human Behavioral Sciences at Miskatonic University in 1953, and a colleague of Dr. Edwin Wilson. Wilson came to be highly placed within the project known as MK Ultra, and he recruited me into its ranks early on. Official documents—those that were not shredded—would have you believe that MK Ultra started in the bowels of the CIA, with universities and hospitals subsequently enlisted to implement its programs, but in actuality it all started with Dr. Wilson. It was his vision, his certainty, that human personality could be modified, and indeed erased that attracted the government spooks to him, not the other way around. How do you think it got its designation of MK Ultra? Good old Miskatonic U.

The fact that Wilson’s program was CIA-funded was not widely known. Its putative purpose was to treat schizophrenia by radical new methods that would wipe out the patient’s disordered thinking and replace it with a more normal and functional pattern. In reality, the goal was to produce programmable individuals with no agenda or motivation beyond what the CIA handlers would provide.

Our subjects at Miskatonic University were mostly supplied from mental institutions all over the country, indigent patients lacking concerned families that might raise embarrassing questions being greatly preferred. These unfortunates were transferred to Arkham Hospital, which was in close proximity to the University, and sequestered in Wilson’s “experimental treatment” wards. About six months into the project we had succeeded, by means of drug-induced comas and extensive electroshock treatments, in making mildly ill patients much sicker, but not any more susceptible to programming. Wilson hypothesized that more severely afflicted patients might actually make better subjects. Almost on cue, Arlen Rhees was admitted to Arkham.

Rhees came to us from Ohio, where he had been arrested by the police at the Great Serpent Mound. He had been found at the site in the early hours of the morning, lying prostrate on the ancient earthwork and shouting incoherently about his mission from the “old ones”. It took four policemen to get him in handcuffs and in the police car, and two orderlies to deliver him to the locked ward at the local hospital. Alcohol and drug screening turned up clean, but Rhees’s conversations remained nonsensical. He was assumed to be a classic schizophrenic.

Being Dr. Wilson’s chief assistant at the time, I joined him at Rhees’s intake interview. Rhees had been heavily sedated for his transfer to Arkham, but was sitting up in his bed half-heartedly eating breakfast when we entered his room.

My first impression was of a tremendous manic energy barely held in check. He was a thin, olive-complected man whose dark eyes never ceased roving over the room.

“Good morning, Mr. Rhees,” Dr. Wilson said. “Are you recovering from your trip?”

Rhees’s gaze flicked for a second to Wilson’s face before he resumed his nervous scanning of the room. He made no reply.

Wilson pulled a chair up to the bedside and struck a conversational tone.

“I see in the police report you were at the Great Serpent Mound. Now, that’s a fascinating place. Scholars believe the Adena constructed it to commemorate the supernova that created the Crab Nebula, did you know that? Do you have an interest in Native American mythologies? Your records state that you are one-quarter Cherokee…”

“Not a crab.”  Rhees’s voice was deep and hoarse. He seemed truly focused on Wilson for the first time.

Wilson smiled politely. “What’s that?”

Rhees chuckled. “Not a crab in the sky. It is the manifestation of Yog-Sothoth spreading his wings, turning his burning eyes toward the Earth.”

“I see,” Wilson said, nonplussed.

“No, you do not. You are as blind as all the others. Yog-sothoth opens the gate, Yog-Sothoth is the gate! The Earth awaits its new masters, they must be summoned, we must prepare!” Rhees had grown louder and more agitated through this speech, and by the end he had pushed his tray table aside and leapt up. Wilson and I sprang forward to restrain him. The orderlies outside the room, hearing the commotion, rushed in to assist us. Rhees was extraordinarily strong; it took all of us to return him to his bed. The orderlies began to struggle to get him into the bed restraints, while Wilson uncapped a syringe he pulled from his lab coat pocket.

“Don’t, don’t! I have to go, I have to prepare the path for the Old Ones!” Rhees was sobbing now. Wilson managed to inject the sedative and Rhees sagged back into the bed.

Wilson gave me a look. “Well, this is somewhat more exotic than the usual neurotic housewives and students.” He straightened his coat and headed for the door.

“Mr. Rhees presents a unique opportunity for us, I think.” The tone in which he said this did not bode well for Mr. Rhees.

Given Rhees’s lack of family ties and charity status in the hospital, it was inevitable that Wilson designated him as a candidate for his “experimental” treatments. I can make no excuse for the things I was complicit in, for the things I allowed to take place with Rhees and the other patients. We thought we were warriors in the Cold War, and besides, we were interested in testing the limits of what was possible in the manipulation of the human mind. Our hubris was staggering, and you know how the Fates traditionally repay that.

Rhees was strictly isolated from the other patients and given a hellish regimen of alternating doses of BZ and LSD. Electroshock therapy was administered at levels twenty-fold over standard. His disordered, pseudo-religious ranting became even more incomprehensible and then finally ceased altogether. A month after intake, Rhees had acquired a blankness that had previously been theoretical in Wilson’s program.

He was conscious, responsive to physical stimuli, but as unmarked by personality and experience as a department store dummy. Wilson was ecstatic. I was appalled. The actual reality of reducing a human being to a physical shell with no personal volition was deeply disturbing. For the first time, sad to say, I wondered what such a complete betrayal of our doctors’ oaths meant to us as people, and to our future lives.

“What good is a person like this?” I asked Wilson. “He can’t even speak anymore!”

“But he can. He just has no reason to. We will supply the motivation for his actions, his speech, and indeed his very thoughts. I cannot tell you how encouraging to our work this is. A physically healthy person whose mind is a tabula rasa.” Wilson gave me a sharp look. “I hope your commitment to the project isn’t wavering, Charles.”

“Of course not,” I mumbled. Rhees may have become a mental blank, but I fear I was a moral one.

“Good. We will begin building Mr. Rhees’s new personality tomorrow.”

We were back at Rhees’s bedside at seven the next morning. He lay utterly still in the bed, his eyes closed. Wilson leaned over and gave his face a light slap.

“Now, Mr. Rhees, it is time to begin a new life.”

Rhees’s right hand came up and seized Wilson by the wrist. His eyes flew open. His dark gaze, so devoid of presence yesterday, now burned with a cold intensity.

“R’llyeh! Soffath ai nyarleth!” The gibberish came out of his mouth in a guttural rasp.

Wilson wrenched his hand away with a disgusted expression. He caught my eye and straightened up, unwilling to appear disconcerted.

“Just the result of random neural firing. We will give Mr. Rhees a meaningful direction to his thoughts.”

“I can speak in English, if that is all that is within your understanding.” Rhees’s words were precise but spoken in a voice that was an aural nightmare. It didn’t seem possible that human vocal cords could produce such an alien sound. I felt an overwhelming desire to flee the room but was equally afraid to draw attention to myself by moving.

Wilson’s expression was divided between dismay and alarm, his singlemindedness revealed in the fact that the dismay vastly overshadowed the alarm. Rhees was not supposed to have the ability to speak - or move, for that matter - of his own will at this point. Wilson’s experiment was once again failing.

“Well, I see another round of preparation is needed with Mr. Rhees.” Wilson’s tone was cold. “Maybe a higher dose of BZ?”

“You will not.” Rhees got off the bed and stood before us. He was more intimidating in his measured movements than he had ever been in his hysterical flailings.

“This vessel has been perfectly prepared.”

Incredulity and anger struggled for dominance on Wilson’s face. “Oh, are you the medical director now?”

“I am your director in every way. I will tell you what is necessary and you will do it.”  Rhees reached out and took Wilson by the upper arm. It did not seem to be a violent action, but Wilson’s face drained of color and he pulled back with a small shriek. “It, it’s looking at me,” he said in a strangled voice. “It sees me!”

 Rhees relinquished his grip with a smirk. Wilson, wild-eyed and ashen, turned and bolted from the room. Rhees turned his gaze, a gaze that seemed less human than that of a creature from the deepest trench of the sea, to me.

“Leave. You are of no utility.” I followed in my chief’s footsteps, as fast as my shaking legs could take me.

I expected Wilson to send Rhees down to the maximum-security wing, given his threatening manner, but to my surprise an order came through the next day to put him on the ward housing Wilson’s previous failures. I had been cowering in my office, rearranging papers into meaningless piles and trying to recover from the effect of interacting with Rhees. This, however, seemed to demand discussion. The ward was filled with people whose minds and bodies had been ravaged by the drugs and shock treatments. Most of them were now highly disoriented and easily upset. Putting Rhees in with them seemed disastrous.

I went to Wilson’s office only to find it locked.  His secretary said he had been in early that morning, written out the order for Rhees’s transfer, and left without explanation.

I went down to the ward, not sure of what I would find. I feared Rhees, in his new, aggressive state, would be causing chaos among the other patients. I opened the ward doors and braced myself, but far from a scene of disorder, I entered an eerily quiet space.

The chairs had been pushed to the walls in the common room, and eight of the patients were seated on the floor in a large circle. In the center sat Rhees, cross-legged with his hands upon his knees. His eyes were closed and a look of intense concentration was on his face. Some in his audience also had their eyes closed, others had an unfocused, blank aspect. None took any note of me.

I cleared my throat. “What do we have here? A meditation class?”

Rhees slowly opened his eyes and smiled at me, but made no answer.  His stare was as unnerving and unreadable as the on the previous day.

 I turned from the discomfort of that regard and walked to the ward nurse’s desk. She looked up at me apologetically.

“I didn’t see any harm in what they’re doing. It’s the calmest it’s been on the ward in a month.”

“What exactly have they been doing?”

“Well, first Mr. Rhees sang to them…”

Sang?”

“Well, it sounded like some kind of a chant, but I couldn’t make out the words. It seemed to fix their attention and after a bit they were just sitting like you see them now. Even Mr. Evans.” The nurse referenced a patient that since his course of “treatment” at Wilson’s hands had become notorious for constant pacing interspersed with random violence against the furniture.

I turned back to the common room. It is hard to describe the feeling that now existed in that dreary, bland little space. Have you ever been out in a winter day in which the sky grew grayer and grayer, the air colder and colder, until at last it began to snow? There was a sense of a great draining of warmth, a drawing in of energy to produce—

“Nurse,” I said, “I believe we should return these patients to their beds. Call for a couple of orderlies to assist.” I was starting to shake with what seemed to be a literal chill.

She did not reply. Glancing back to her desk, I saw she now had as blank and distant an aspect as those in Rhees’s circle.

Run, I thought. Run while you still can. I stumbled to the doors. It took two tries with my trembling fingers to enter the code to open them. Out in the corridor, I leaned against the wall for support. I had no idea what to do. Finally, I decided I would try to find Wilson.

His house seemed the logical place to look. I drove there slowly, the simple task taking all my concentration. My mind seemed fractured into a thousand jittering pieces. Thoughts that began How could and What formed and failed to reach any conclusion over and over.

Wilson lived in a fine old mansion in a neighborhood that had been the domain of the discreetly wealthy for two hundred years. I parked on the street alongside the wall that surrounded his property and got out of my car. When I reached up to buzz the intercom at the electronic gate, it swung open, unlocked. This should have been unsettling, but in my scattered frame of mind, I was only relieved there was no trouble in gaining admittance. I walked up the long drive to the front door. A small portion of my mind noted that Wilson’s geraniums were looking very well.

After ringing the bell and pounding on the door for several minutes with no result, I tried the handle. It, like the gate, opened readily. I walked cautiously into the marble-floored foyer.

“Hello? Dr. Bergman here. Anyone home?” Neither house staff nor Wilson appeared in answer to my calls. I was familiar with the house and knew Wilson’s library was behind the first door on the left. I opened it slowly. Wilson was seated in an armchair by the unlit fireplace. The room seemed very dark.

“Dr. Wilson, I think you need to send Mr. Rhees back to isolation. He is doing something strange with the other patients on the ward,” I said without preamble, my panic over the situation overriding my usual deference to Wilson.

“Is he?” Wilson gave a dry, wretched little chuckle.

“Yes. He is. And it is your responsibility to address it.”

“I think Mr. Rhees has achieved a remarkable breakthrough. We are going to visit some of the other hospitals and implement his regimen with others. To spread the benefits.”  Again Wilson gave that awful chuckle.

“What we are you talking about? You and Rhees? He isn’t your colleague, he’s your patient! Or more accurately, your lab rat!” My anxiety loosened my tongue. “What are your CIA sponsors going to say about this foolishness?”

“I believe they will have little to say about it. Wouldn’t want the taxpayers to know where some of their dollars are going.” Wilson fixed me with a look that had great intensity but little sanity in it. “And I have new sponsors now. And they are most pleased.” Wilson smiled a horribly wide smile. In the shadows of the room, it seemed a little snaking tentacle squirmed from the corner of his mouth. My nerve broke.

I stumbled from the house. I hardly remember my drive back to the hospital, but once there, I went to my office and typed a letter of resignation. I left it with Wilson’s secretary, filled a box with my few things, and went home.

A week later, I left town. I moved out west and found a position at an institution so desperate for personnel and so broke they did not question my antecedents too closely. I tried to forget the project, and Wilson, and most of all, Rhees. I tried to atone for my part in it all by serving the unfortunate inmates under my care to the best of my ability.

In 1975, some of the activities of the MK Ultra project were brought to light, although many records had been destroyed. The ensuing Congressional hearings made no mention of Wilson or his particular experiments, or me, for that matter.

More time passed. I was now an old man, but not so old as to be unable to learn the uses of the internet. Curiosity and guilt drove me to try and track down Wilson’s whereabouts. As far as I could tell, he had fallen completely off the radar not long after my own exit from the program. Not even an eventual obituary. 

I had recorded much of Rhees’s gibberish in my notebook of the time. I retrieved the notebook from its attic box, leafed through its yellowed pages. Typing the absurd names into the search bar of my computer made me surprisingly uneasy, as though I was participating in some obscene ritual. No, you already did that, something whispered in my mind. Now you just want to see what you and Wilson and Rhees did.

What we did has become increasingly apparent, or you would not be interested in my recollections at this late date. The Great Old Ones, striving for eons to obtain human avatars that had not been driven insane or killed outright by their intrusions, found the perfect vessels in our brain-wiped subjects. Perhaps all would have been averted if Rhees had not already been so steeped in the ancient rituals, so prepared to accept his puppet master once we had destroyed all instinct of human self-preservation in him. Acting for an immensely powerful and utterly alien intelligence now fully incarnate upon the Earth, Rhees infected many more and opened the gateway to monsters.

The subjugation of mankind has proceeded slowly by human reckoning. But what are a few decades to beings that were ancient when our solar system condensed from galactic dust? Much evidence of their ultimate victory has come to light in recent years. A mysterious call rang through the southwestern Pacific in 1990, recorded on undersea microphones: Great Cthulhu awakens in his drowned city of R’lyeh. Earth tremors in Ohio attest to the slow rising of Yig, father of serpents, underneath the ancient mound built in his honor. Similar anomalous quakes in Texas presage the arrival of Ayi’ig, his daughter.  Just last month, the Hubble telescope spotted a large mass headed on a trajectory for Earth from the direction of the Crab Nebula: summoned, Yog-Sothoth glides toward us on his mighty wings.

You ask me what can be done? Nothing, I fear. Humanity’s new overlords will soon be here, demanding our obedience and our worship. Put on your tattered robes, prepare to dance beneath these eldritch stars.

THE END


2022 L.H. Phillips

Bio: Linda Phillips is a retired molecular biologist with a life-long love of imaginative fiction of all kinds. She lives with her family in San Antonio, TX.

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