The oblong box stands upright in the corner of the room, its shiny silver surface a provocation to the eyes streaming through the entrance. But it’s much more than an optical sensation for the bodies congealing around the object, the proximity to it and the heightened expectation of what it might do for them piquing their sensoria with new vibrations. A nurse sits at a nearby table, back turned, poring over files of data on his laptop. As if he’s feeling the vibes too, he swivels around in greeting and motions the group to the cubicles along the wall where other nurses await.
“Katrina, good to see you!” he quips. “You’re first up today.” He grabs his laptop and escorts her to a semi-private examining room, settling her in a soft leather recliner before mousing through several screens.
“I’ve been looking forward to it!”
“I see it’s been two weeks since you last used the accumulator. You do seem a bit frazzled. Is that why you came today?”
“Well, not…really. I got a slow start on the day because some of us were up late talking away.”
“Good to see you’re socializing. Lisa was telling me about your group…some of your recent activities. All of you seem like you’re adjusting well.” Katrina’s countenance gradually brightens.
“Step over here and let me update our records.” He gives her a kind of mini-check-up, smiling as he registers the results. “Your temperature is normal.” He weighs her as he wraps the blood pressure cloth around her arm. “Your blood pressure is that of a teenager. You’ve lost a few pounds since our last meeting. How’s your diet?”
“I’ve been fasting and meditating regularly and…feel great…full of energy!”
“Your skin…it’s very taut with a healthy tone…and you have fewer wrinkles. Your eye contact is more direct.”
He turns to the computer screen and starts typing in the blank space, touching the keys gracefully but quite rapidly, concluding with a smile. He pivots and peruses her.
“You’re…shapelier. You look ten years younger than when you arrived here last January.”
“I feel that much younger…sometimes like I am a teenager.”
“That’s our goal…youthing you so to speak…stopping or even reversing the aging process so you live well beyond your years. As you probably know, we’re applying Helke Storm’s revolutionary discoveries here.”
“Yes…yes, I heard about that. I’m excited. I’m all for…living forever!”
“I’m not sure if we can be that successful yet!”
“One of my main goals is to experience the kind of orgasms I had when I was…not a teenager, then I didn’t have the mental maturity and technical mastery…but, in my mid-to-late twenties. That was when I was in my prime and why I wanna get into the box. Some amazing things happen to my body when I go in there. My friends say the same thing.”
“The box has been a boon for our therapeutical strategies. A resident discovered one of the original models in her Granny’s garage when she was going through her belongings after she passed. We’re fortunate to have someone here who was able to work on it and get rid of the kinks, give it a techno-upgrade, make it a much more efficient machine than what your parents might’ve had access to.
“Well, my parents would’ve avoided one at all costs!”
“You’re lucky to be part of our experiment. We’re the future…maybe the last chance to perfect humanity.”
She sighs and looks aloft.
“I see here too that the tests we did on your memory came back. You show much improvement. Your surplus of energy is basting your brain cells.”
“I seem to have more to talk about from my past and…I don’t forget as much as I used to but…sometimes I don’t recognize everything that pops up.”
“Well…that’s…normal when you’re undergoing therapy. So…we’ll keep monitoring you. But now, why don’t you undress. I wanna check for physical changes.”
She lifts her loose-fitting top over her head as if she’s alone in her room getting ready for bed and tosses it on the nearby chair, turning to face him squarely.
“Now, place your hands on top of your head.” She does so willingly and smiles as she closes her eyes. He presses his fingers over her neck, working down to her armpits and then her breasts, giving them an especially thorough test.
“I love this part of the test,” she sighs. “You have such great hands!”
“I’ve had lots of practice! Your breasts are firmer than last time…the exercises seem to be paying off. Now drop your slacks.” She complies promptly. “You stopped wearing undergarments. Back to your old habits, I see.”
“They make me feel…confined.”
He slips down to her waist and goes to work, then drops to his knees and slides his hands up and down her legs like he’s frisking her for a weapon. Glancing up at her he smiles, like she’s passed an audition, and jumps up.
“Your muscle tone is improved. Your butt is firmer. You have less stomach fat. We have to put you up as the success of the month.” He grabs a tape and measures her hips, waist, and then her breasts. “Yup…you are the success of the month. You’ve youthed yourself into the measurements to die for!”
“I’m so happy! Now I…I wanna…use what I got.”
“It’ll come…that’s why you need to keep using our…substances.” He urges her over to a table where there are several containers with different colored liquids…red, orange, purple and dark green. “Here…take a shot of each one of these. While they’re taking effect and getting you ready for the box, rub some of our lotion on your body and…take two of these blue pills. We gave you an injection last time, but I don’t think you need one this time.”
She obeys graciously, looks around and smiles as she waits for results. “I feel something down here.” She touches her groin on the right side. “It feels sensitive…and like something’s growling. Wait! Now it’s feeling kind of…numb. I can barely move my leg.”
“What about your left side?” She touches her groin on the left side.
“It’s…starting to feel numb too.” She smiles and glances over her entire body like she’s expecting other sensations.”
“Give it a little more time before it settles.”
She massages her breasts like she’s a physical therapist, her countenance moistening. “They feel like they’re getting harder…and larger.”
“And your nipples seem to be getting longer.”
She suddenly recoils like she’s received a shock and stares at the nurse. “Parts of my body are…pulsing, like something’s growing inside. Here, feel.” She pulls his hand onto her left breast and moves it with abandon like she’s positioning the target on a Ouija Board. “Feel it?”
He assumes the targeting. “Yes, that’s normal. It means the meds are taking effect. Your body’s muscles are strengthening…your organs are vitalizing.”
“It almost seems like parts of my body are becoming independent of each other. Is that possible?”
“Yes, that’s a common observation. Your different components are in the process of forming a new whole.”
She begins to breathe somewhat erratically but the nurse massages her shoulders. She takes a deep breath and smiles.
“Good…we’re ready.” He clasps her wrist and guides her from the room. She hustles to the box, stroking it in ecstasy.
“Katrina, is that you?” spouts Lisa who’s passing through the door. Katrina’s face is so flush with emotion that Lisa’s identity momentarily eludes her. “I haven’t seen you for a few weeks…I barely recognize you.”
“Who…oh, yes, Lisa…it’s…me.” She takes a deep breath and rushes over to hug her. “Excuse me…I’m ready to go in and…” She abruptly turns away from Lisa and perfunctorily opens the door and enters the box like she’s on the cusp of experiencing a vision. The nurse closes it and motions for a sentry to stand guard by the box.
“Comon, Lisa…follow me,” says the nurse. “We haven’t seen you for a while. What have you been up to?”
There’s a room off the main room where several patients and staff are lounging on sofas and schmoozing. It’s a kind of decompression space for those who’ve been in the box. And since there’s no door between them, only about a twenty-foot-wide aperture, it’s more like an extension of the main room. The loungers have a clear look at the box from within this space, so they’re able to assist the guard if unexpected problems arise. And they’re able to hear sounds inside because of the attached amplifier system. This reinforces the collective sensibility of this experience, encouraging each patient to learn from others and share their observations and constructive input.
“Katrina seems quite energized today,” says Phebe as she finesses her creamy fingers on Malcolm’s chest, moistening his muscles while trying to relax him. “Lately she’s been in some special zone. It’s like she’s crossed some threshold.”
“But sometimes she’s almost a different person,” quips Harry. “It’s kind of scary. A few days ago she didn’t even seem to know me.”
“That’s to be expected as she, and all of you, change.”
Malcolm jerks up and breaks free from Phebe’s clutches, rushing over to Clara. They embrace firmly and tenderly, showing no signs of separating. Phebe steps over and wedges herself between them, pulling Malcolm back to their roost where she proceeds to work muscles in his neck, momentarily paralyzing him.
“Here, drink this now,” she says, giving him a small cup. He drinks it slowly and gradually regains his movement and composure. She continues to work his muscles, so he won’t flare-up again, playing his groin to deflate his bulge. He now lays his head back, his eyes two glowing sockets. “Stay away from Clara for now!”
As she starts applying the lotion again, several piercing sounds erupt from the box, followed by spikes of anxious squeaks that keep repeating and then silence. Cassandra rushes toward the box as a sentry proceeds to open it, but Katrina’s voice suspends their movements.
“I’m okay…I’m okay!” she screams. “Please…please don’t interrupt me now. I’ve never experienced this kind of feeling in my body before.”
The sentry closes the door and retreats.
“Like I said, Katrina’s crossed into some special zone,” says Phebe as she continues to work Malcolm’s muscles.
“No doubt about that!” blurts Clara. “But I’m not so sure it’s a good one. Those sounds…I’ve never heard anything like them. Sure she isn’t being tortured?”
“Isn’t pain the result of extreme pleasure?” queries Lionel.
“Yeah,” follows Jane, “didn’t Reich say something like that?”
“Sure,” adds Hank. “That was in the film we saw last week…’Mysteries of…the…Organism.’ I think that was the title.”
“Well, we’ll see when she comes out,” retorts Phebe. “Maybe she’ll surprise us this time!”
Clara vaults toward Malcolm like a sentient tropism, hugging him from behind.
“Clara…please let me finish with Malcolm,” shouts Phebe. “Settle down until we’re all ready. Nurse, give Clara an injection!”
Clara stares at Phebe blankly like she doesn’t understand, but gushes with smiling abandon and proceeds to hug everyone in turn, dodging the nurse’s pursuit. As if passing a contagious impulse, each one Clara touches zigs and zags into the arms of another. Meanwhile, Malcolm becomes agitated and pulls away from Phebe’s strokes, poised to charge after Clara. Phebe manages to pull him back and keep him deflated. The nurse calls for back-up as she finally corrals Clara in the process of being mounted by Harry. Several sentries arrive and separate everyone. Soon they’re following Phebe’s clinical applications and becoming more relaxed.
“Time’s up, Katrina,” rings the sentry’s voice. “Times’s up.”
Lorenzo cranes toward the box but sees no one exiting. “Katrina…your time’s up,” the sentry repeats again. Lorenzo hustles to the box. “Katrina, are you okay?”
He waits for a response, but none is forthcoming, and grasps the handle, pulling it slowly open. Katrina is sitting in the chair, her head cast slightly downward as if she’s meditating. She has a muted but poised smile on her lips like she’s experiencing some special insight. Lorenzo steps toward her but she doesn’t flinch, as if she’s not aware of the space circumscribing her.
“Katrina…Katrina, are you…ready to leave?” asks Lorenzo, waving his hands in front of her face. She nods slightly but says nothing and returns to form. Lorenzo steps alongside her and beckons the sentry for assistance. They lift her limp frame and carry her to the decompression space, depositing her on a sofa while two nurses rush over to make sure she’s okay.
“Take her temperature,” spouts Lorenzo. “Her body seems very warm.”
Remaining in her meditative state, she submits to their actions like she’s vaguely aware of what they’re doing. “Katrina, are you with us?” queries one of the nurses. Katrina flinches slightly but maintains her confident composure. “I guess she’s with…someone else!”
“This is what the accumulator does…can do, if the visitor is fully engaged,” spouts Cassandra who’s just escorted Lisa to the box. “Katrina is very serious…she trains with the commitment of a true believer, a…”
“…she seems like she’s—pardon my unofficial comment—blown a gasket,” responds the nurse.
“She’s relieved pressure for sure…but that’s the goal, what the machine is designed to do after the energy accumulates.”
“That almost happened to me a few weeks ago,” interjects Karla, fresh from her successful decompression. “I came close. Remember, Katrina?” Katrina raises her head and lets in fall back on her shoulders but doesn’t acknowledge Karla, who peers quizzically at Cassandra. Katrina’s eyes are closed but the look on her face is ruminant.
“Pushing the boundaries in the box should be a learned activity, an experience transferable to situations in everyday life. The key is processing the energy efficiently.”
“Katrina’s been doing a lot of transferring lately too,” adds Jane. “She’s been hanging around with Lisa. She told me about some of her friends.”
“Lisa’s friends! Yes, they’re…very friendly!” Katrina drops her head and rises from the sofa like she’s just woken from a refreshing nap and sashays over to a space on one of the sofas. Many of the others, now decompressed, slip over and surround her, curious about what she’s been through. They ogle her like she’s an apparition in the process of achieving perfect corporeal form.
“What happened to you in there, Katrina?” asks Lionel.
“Yes…what did you do to get those…sounds?” follows Malcolm, who appears ready to spring forth but casts a quick glance at Phebe who’s been closely monitoring him.
Apparently oblivious to the questions, she contentedly rises and proceeds to hug everyone passionately, her expenditure of energy soon setting in motion a vigorous reciprocity. This threatens to evolve into a pulsing organism. Lorenzo and Cassandra manage to separate everyone but the rays of energy transiting between them constitute a kind of electrical grid that seems to keep recharging their interests. Suddenly a sentry appears who kisses the fluctuating body parts with a video camera, and the members willingly pose for the lens. The resulting self-awareness dissolves the organism and each one returns to the gallery around Katrina. The sentry disappears.
“The sounds just…happened. I…recall getting this feeling throughout my body. I started to get flashes and I couldn’t remain still. It was like something was growing inside me and getting larger and larger until it had to escape from my body and…it seemed to, suddenly, and I was…empty, like my insides were thrust outside of me and…my lower body started throbbing and eventually became numb and…that’s all I remember.”
“How did you get that?” asks Clara. “I always become very anxious in there and come out excited but…nothing after that.”
“That’s similar to what happens to me,” adds Hank. “But I often stay excited for most of the day after, sometimes a few days.”
“You guys need to get together with Katrina and learn how she prepares for the box,” avers Phebe.
“You need to rub off on us, Katrina,” says Malcolm, springing in her direction, inflated. Phebe clutches him around the waist before he reaches her, returning him gracefully to his roost. Katrina smiles, her mannerisms suggesting she’s primed to follow him.
“I just…stick to the workout and take the pills and keep lubricated and…”
“…you’re a beautiful person, Katrina,” interjects Jane. “Just like when we were living together in the canals in…sometime around 1980, I think. Everybody wanted to touch you and…”
“…when was that? I sorta remember something like that but…did we live together?”
“I remember seeing you guys back then,” peals Lionel. “You used to come down to the beach with a buncha people…beautiful people…and stretch out on the sand and party all night.”
“I remember being there!” spouts Harry, like these details have suddenly ratcheted his attention and triggered memories. “I was strolling by the Lafayette Café and someone came up and hugged me and brought me onto the sand where lots of people were in a circle and playing instruments and…”
“…I was in that circle!” says Malcolm. “I remember you…nodding to Katrina…running through the surf and collapsing on a sand mound near us. A crowd gathered around you…and you stripped for us.”
“I remember you stripping, Katrina,” adds Clara. “I’m not sure it was that time, but I remember your gatherings on the beach. I met a mate there…Cornell. We stayed together for three or four years.”
“Cornell was a good friend of mine!” interjects Hank. “That must’ve been you he always brought to the Sidewalk Café Bar. We had these great intellectual discussions and lots of people hung out. Fights would sometimes break out and…”
“…that…was me! That was you? That’s why we broke up!”
Katrina has been following the group’s reactions with a seamless, vibrant smile, like she’s privy to all the memories and emotions dredging up. But Clara’s remarks momentarily shroud her aura, leaving a puzzled expression, her eyes flickering the desire for a recharge. The resulting glances seem to accomplish this, and a smile re-forms, though initially it’s a truncated variant of her original until she gets her flow back.
“Here we are, all together and…we were all kind of together back then too!” quips Jane in a frenzied, high-pitched voice. “This is synchronicity!”
“Maybe our signs overlap!” follows Karla, reaching over and hugging Katrina.
“We’re being all we can be!” snaps Harry. “We’re beautiful people.”
“This is so…spiritual!” continues Malcolm.
“Yes!” exclaims Clara. “We’re all part of the godhead.”
“Yes…I feel like…” Katrina can’t finish her thought. She starts to emit a string of giddy sounds which sputter to silence. Her head drops down. Phebe rushes over, followed by Cassandra and Lorenzo. They prop her head up and appraise her expression. A sentry appears and gives her an injection as Cassandra proceeds to massage her muscles with a lubricant. Each member of the group gathers around her, turning slowly toward each other for confirmation of…something, a sign that this is only her batteries running down. Their exchanges are anxious darts that careen into an expressionless void.