This was a chain story written in a creative writing course in which I was enrolled. Basically, the instructor (Donna) started a story, and then each student would add a few paragraphs to shape together a unique story. Sadly I only have a copy of the story up to the point that I added my contribution. However, it is interesting to see how each person's writing style changes the story (particularly mine).
The old firehall burned down. Spontaneous combustion. Perhaps, with a little help from the inmates of Savant House. Of course I have no proof; there will never be proof. There are only theories. My theories fill several spiral ring notebooks. I no longer go to work at my shoe store or to The Dragon for hot and sour soup or the New Age Health Spa to float in the saltwater tank. I watch. Watching is my occupation. I'm really the only one who has the ability to do it. Certainly, there is the obvious proximity. I live directly across the street from Savant House. But it's my other abilities that matter, that make me a singular witness. I use a telescope, binoculars and insight. How to explain? Imagine I've been hard wired, no, wired for sound. What I mean is there are exceptional circuits in me that pick up subtle emanations. All my life I've been sensitive to forms of energy that for the most part go unnoticed in the everyday world. I've always believed I was the only person with this capacity. That is until the old Cross place became a boarding house for idio-savants.
In its day, the Cross house was called a mansion: turn of the century, big enough for lots of children, relatives and servants. Two floors of bedrooms which are now the cells, brain cells, of an incredible living computer. Did you know that during the Second World War the British used two mathematical savants to solve complex problems? They were as fast and accurate as a computer. But they couldn't tell you how they did what they did. Couldn't dress themselves, either. You see, I've been doing my own research, ever since I talked to the doctor across the street.
Savant House is Dr. Chilton's baby. She's hand-picked a group of idio-savants and brought them together outside the influences of an institution. To study their behaviour. This is what she told me. To study the source of their unusual "wisdom". That's what the word "savant" means, she said. I looked it up in a French Dictionary and got "learned-one". Kind of funny when you think that the average I.Q. of the Savant House boarders is 25. They're lucky if they can learn to tie their shoes.
Sure, I found all this interesting. Read several books. Learned that twin brothers Charles and George could do calendar calculations that ranged 40,000 years in the past or future. Ask one or the other on what day of the week your birthday will fall in 3001 and he'd know. The two of them were sort of perpetual calendars.
The only problem with my job as observer is my parents. They think I'm spying on Dr. Chilton. That I've "fallen for her", my mother's words. I've "got the hots for her", my father's. Odd how you can live with people all your life and they haven't got a clue. I'm no teenager.
I did try to explain my suspicions not long after the occupants of Savant House arrived. But what I had to say was too far from the reality of Coronation Street and Stampede Wrestling. When I suggested there was powerful energy coming from the house across the street, my parents looked affronted and went back to their separate T.V.'s
Our livingroom is a fair size allowing them two overstuffed sofa chairs back to back, two footstools and two televisions on castors, all this and more, in the centre of the room. A kind of plugged in hub that necessitates cautious approach over tangled nests of extension cords. These not only service the televisions, but my father's full size coffeemaker which sits on top of his bar fridge, the heating pad on his chair, a floor lamp and sometimes an electric skillet for fried egg sandwiches. The sandwiches are late night snacks for late night wrestling shows that require the toaster my mother has on the tea wagon beside her chair. The extension cords juice my mother's tea kettle, hair dryer and electric fan. They have an agreement, my parents, she keeps her milk and crumpets in his fridge along with his eggs and beer, and he uses her toaster. The floor lamp they share by proximity; its light falls on both their heads mitigating the television glow on their faces.
Given their dependence upon electricity and UHF, I tried to give them an example of what I meant about the energy coming from Savant House. But first I went to the cellar and unscrewed the electrical fuses for the main floor. Coming up quietly from below, I found my father bellowing for me from his throne. I agreed to check the fuse box, pretended to go to the cellar, then reported that it was fine, there must be a power interruption in our area. I had maybe six minutes of concentration before their internal clocks set to program and commercial time -- you know the schedule: 22 minutes of programming spliced with 38 minutes of commercials -- moved out of program mode and into commercial mode. Then I'd lose them to the bar fridge and bathroom.
The reason I tell you all this is to make you understand what I am up against: How does one explain anything, let alone electronics to people whose experience of time and space comes from the T.V. Guide? Why bother? you ask. I wanted them off my back. My vacation was over and they wanted me at work. But I knew I was on to something. Something that perhaps Dr. Charlene Chilton didn't even recognize.
It was my father who noticed it first. Sitting in the dark, staring morosely at a screen as empty as his thoughts, even his dull senses heard the sounds. From the landing, I heard his bulk heave out of the chair and approach the set. A fat hand thumped its side, “Damn thing must be broken.” My mother joined him is staring stupidly at the box, as if their combined intelligence could hope to understand its odd behavior. I’d seen the act before when the two of them spent a whole hour trying, and failing, to operate a new electric can opener.
With typical inanity she asked, “Maybe it’s working a little bit?”
“Can’t be you stupid cow. The power’s not on.”
Unperturbed by the rebuke, she soldiered on, “Then what’s that noise? It sounds like chanting.”
In a rare display of cognition, my father lumbered across the room to press his ear against the other T.V. in the room. “It’s coming from here too!” Although he didn’t think to check, the murmurings were emanating from every device in the house that contained a speaker, TV’s, radios and even the telephone headset. It happened at the same time every day, coinciding exactly with a daily gathering of the savants across the street.
I’d seen it happen. Idio-savants live solitary lives, preferring to spend most of their days alone in their rooms. All engaged in some form of compulsive behavior. Of the six living in the Cross house, one played the piano endlessly, another dealt solitaire and two read telephone books. One, a strikingly beautiful young woman, danced without stop from morning to night, pausing only to throw herself passionately at any man who crossed her path. The creature was obviously insatiable. So was the last, a pale teenage boy, who unfortunately showed no interest at all in his fellow inmate, which was a shame as he clearly had much to offer. The boy practically lived with his hand down his pants forcing Dr. Chilton to occasionally restrain his arms to give his abused member time to recover.
Bedtimes at the Cross house were early, with the savants settled in their rooms at 9:00 pm. Dr. Chilton would have gone home at six, while two nurses oversaw the evening routine. By 9:15, the two middle-aged female nurses would join my parents in watching television in the downstairs room that served as a staff lounge. That’s when it happened.
One by one, the savants, who by day were oblivious to each other, would rise from their beds and soundlessly pad to their doors. Each would listen for a moment, apparently to making sure their keepers were away, and then quietly step into the hall. They always gathered in the dancers’ room, perhaps because it was the largest. From what I could see in my telescope, they met silently without a word being spoken. Inevitably they formed a circle. Hands, which by day were reluctant to touch any living thing, were grasped to form a chain. When the beater was wearing his straightjacket, his neighbors would grab hold of his ears. Eyes would close, heads would tilt back and the energy would flow.
I could feel it. My skin would prickle and the hairs on my scalp stand upright. At the same time the sensitive magnets in the household speakers would begin to vibrate. If you listened long and hard, as I have done for nights on end, you could make out the faint voice of a collective will. It spoke a single phrase repeated over and over, “Deflagro Adiunctor Patronus.” I don’t know what the words mean, but by 9:30 the meeting, the sound and the energy flow were over. The savants returned to their rooms as silently as they had gathered. And somewhere in the city, something was burning.
It took me only a short while to form this first connection. Although I preferred to avoid the televisions, and my parents, I could always tell when the programming had been interrupted by one thing or another. It was virtually the only time my father would speak during their evenings in front of the tubes. Be it an emergency broadcast or a baseball game running into my fathers’ timeslot, his response was always the same. A loud grunt, and then he usually got himself another beer. If the inconvenience lasted for more than a few seconds, he would vent his disapproval at my mother.
His voice was usually all I could hear each night at 9:15 when the savants gathered. His angry chatter drowned out the noises coming from the speakers most times. My lamp would turn flicker off, leaving me and my telescope in the dark, peering out over the street and into the secret world of the inhabitants of Cross house. He swore up and down that as soon as the phone was working properly again, he’d call the electric company to complain of this ongoing problem, but once his tv had full volume back, all was forgotten.
The second connection came slower. My mother always watched the eleven o’clock news each night, a morbid little habit of hers. She enjoyed learning of the suffering of others. It gave her something to chat about when she was on the phone Tuesdays with her sister in Tulsa. And sometimes, if there was something important enough, she would share it with me as well.
“You remember your old elementary school?” she yelled up to me one night.
“Sure mom,” I called back, pouring over a book.
“It’s gone now! Burned right to the ground!”
I looked up from my reading for a moment, recalling the school.
“Come down here!” she insisted.
Upon my descent into the living room, I saw light from the set dancing around the room, a projection of the firey blaze on the screen. It was my old school alright, the field and the trees were all there, but the school was nothing more than ashes.
“They said it’s suspicious,” she added, as I turned to go.
Now, that in itself was nothing to get my brain working. I hated that school just as much as the next kid. It was no surprise to me that someone had finally put the old building out of its misery. The real revelation came when I read the next day in the paper when the fire had started.
9:30p.m., the Daily Times noted. My heart jumped in excitement as I thought about the other circumstances surrounding that time of night. I smiled quietly to myself and clipped the article from the paper. Of course, the part of my mind that housed the scientist in me told me that one incident is fairly inconclusive. I chided myself for not trusting my instincts on the matter when the next night, another, smaller fire in a restaurant showed up on the news.
My room was literally papered in newsprint. The wall opposite my bed stood 8 feet high and 10 feet across, and it was coated completely. Most of the fires were ruled out as accidental. Some were put out by a passerby, and nothing came of them. It was only the large ones that made the front page, with color photos and intense investigation. Most of the time, they were reported near the back, and almost never got on the television news. No one but me knew my smug secret. And the more I learned about the savants across the street, the more deeply I fell into my pattern of watching, waiting, and clipping.
I became more gutsy. I needed to see them closer, to engange all my senses in them. Of course I knew I couldn't get close enough to touch...
The dancer saw me this afternoon. I thought I had hidden myself completely behind the fence in their backyard, but she looked right at me in between the spaces of the wood fence. She held her finger up to her lips and slowly twirled up to me. She held one corner of her skirt up in the air as she danced over to the fence. She pointed her toe and kicked her leg high through the part of her lifted skirt. The dancer wore no underwear. Forgeting my cover, I stood up and ran back to my house. She whimpered quietly "no, come back..."
"What the hells the matter with you, boy?" My father said to me as I stumbled through the front door.
My mother looked at me breifly before flipping the sides of her crumpets in the toaster. "Jesus, he's all flushed, isn't he? What you been doing, boy?"
"Running, jogging, you know EXERCISE!" I yelled at them as I ran into my bedroom and slammed the door. I heard them both mutter something about teenagers.
I crouched to the bottom of my window and slowly peered through the bottom of it. Savant House was quiet. I grabbed my binoculars for a closer look, but the drapes were closed. I sat on the floor for a while. I couldn't believe I almost got myself caught. I swore to stay as far away from the dancer as possible. She could ruin everything.
I sat on my floor for hours that night smelling fried eggs coming from the living room. When I heard my mother scream I was confused. At first I couldn't tell if it came from Savant House or my living room. I whipped around to look out the window and saw smoke coming out of the nurses' TV room. But then I heard my mother scream again, and I could smell smoke. Thinking that she had gotten a crumpet stuck in her toaster, I walked into the livingroom. The TV sat in the middle of the livingroom like a fireplace. The glass had shattered and flames licked their way out from inside.
"Don't just stand their, boy, help me put this friggen thing out!" my Dad stood opening up cans of beer and pouring them over the TV.
I went to the kitchen and filled a bucket with water. I tossed the whole thing over the fire in our living room.
"Good job! Now look at your poor mother, boy! Go and console her." I looked at my mother who stood pale and shaking.
"It...it...it...burst...flames. Our TV!" My mother muttered pointing at the television. I brushed past her and looked out at Savant House.
All the Savants stood on the front lawn as the opened windows letting smoke trickle out and up the sides of the house.
"Where the hell are you going? Jesus, you had better..." my father yelled after me as I ran out the back door.
I walked down our alley to the end of the block crossed the street and walked down The Savant House's alley. I slowed and stuck to the fence when I got to the house. It was difficult to see anything because the residents were all in the front. I could hear the nurses nervously talking to their patients.
"Did you have anything to do with this?" They asked. No one answered.
I whipped around when I felt hands on my back.
"You came for me," the dancer said. She pulled me closer to her. Her eyes shone and widened as the headlights of a car beamed down the alley. Her lips were on mine and her fingers were in my hair. I could hear the car get closer and finally stop. One of the nurses called to a neighbour that the TV had burst into flames. I tried to pull away from the dancer, but she had wrapped herself around me, and I found my arms pulling her tighter.
"What the hell is going here?" I heard the car door slam. I turned around to see Dr. Chilton walking towards us.
Dave’s Contribution: Behold!
Wearing her hair back in a tight bun and thick black glasses, Chilton seemed almost a stereotype of the woman doctor. She approached us with a large frown stretched across her face.
“Sandra! Give this boy a little space to breathe,” she insisted as she placed a hand on the dancer’s shoulder, “What are you doing back here?”
“He watches me. He loooooooooves me,” the dancer exclaimed as she forced herself to back away from me.
“Please Sandra. You think all the boys love you,” Dr. Chilton snapped as she looked at me over her thick frames, “Who are you? I think you live across the way, no?”
“Uh…yeah,” I choked as I forced a smile to hide my discomfort.
However, Chilton wasn’t paying much attention to me anymore. Her focus was through the pickets behind me, at the collection of savants on the front lawn.
“So? What’s going on around here? Why is everyone outside?” she asked us as she pulled open the gate to the yard, the squealing of the hinges forcing me to clench my teeth. For a brief moment, I considered telling her about my theories, but decided against that. After all, what if she already knew?
“I don’t know, Dr. Chilton. There’s a fuss across the street,” the dancer explained, slowly closing in on me again.
“What kind of fuss?”
“The screaming kind,” Sandra replied as she reached out to me. Not wanting to have the wind knocked out of me again, I darted back the way I had come. A quick glance over my shoulder was enough to see the upset on that dancer’s face.
Not one for actual exercise, I was panting and wheezing from running so fast, though the journey was barely a block. I slipped through my back door, rolling my eyes as my dad screamed and cussed about the television. I raced up to my room and drew the curtains shut, leaving only a crack for me to peek.
It felt like an eternity as I waited for 9:15 to roll around. I sat huddled on my chair, my hands clasped together in anticipation. A part of me was pleading that I just leave it be, but I could never comply. With every day I had more reason to investigate…to find out exactly what the hell was going on in the Savant house.
9:00PM. I looked through the eyepiece of my telescope. The dancer’s bedroom was dark still, as the nurses were still in the house. I bit my bottom lip gently as I pressed my eye firmly against the telescope. And I waited.
9:15PM. Sandra’s bedroom filled with light as the savants filed in one after another. The light flickered, perhaps because it was in need of repair…perhaps from the strange occurrences that these people seemed to produce. They all gathered in a circle, grasping one another’s hands. But something was different this time. As they all tipped back their heads and began to chant, I noticed the dancer did not follow suit. Her head remained stationary, her eyes to the floor. Suddenly, whispers escaped from my speakers, and even my telescope began to gently vibrate. The lens became blurry, forcing me to attempt to adjust it. I soon achieved the focus that I had moments before, and continued to spy upon the unsuspecting savants. Only this time, the dancer wasn’t looking at the floor…she was looking directly at me.
It was at that moment that my telescope became hot to the touch. I jerked my hands away as the metal began to burn my fingertips. I pushed away from the telescope, my chair dragging on the thick carpet below. I couldn’t see into the dancer’s room, but I still had the chilling feeling that I was being watched. As I began to get up from my chair, the pads of my feet began to feel warm. I looked down to see them light on fire…