A Second Caesar
Charles C Cole
Our grad school program won a research grant to investigate Central American villagers having an extremely high incidence of mental health issues: domestic abuse, night terrors, suicides. We reviewed diet, genes, microbiology in the drinking water, heavy metals from regional mining.
One day this couple went exploring a cave where the indigenous people, centuries before, had performed human sacrifices for the promise of a bountiful harvest. An intense headache started immediately, pangs of jealousy and betrayal. The woman half of the couple was bludgeoned with a rock. Her remorseful scientist-lover, whisked away by the authorities, blamed an unseen influence in the cave.
“Caesar,” as the mission commander nicknamed him, was a jellyfish-like thing the size of an intercontinental rocket skulking in the bottom of the deep cave lake. Remote cameras, with bright lights, were submerged, exposing a colony of semi-sentient goo that provoked the dark recesses of the human mind through a heretofore unknown electromagnetism.
We planned to document Caesar’s interaction, to witness the effects as they happened. Though just a glorified assistant, with my dive experience, I was volunteered to get up close and personal. There was an initial push for the classic buddy system but, based on recent events, someone was concerned we’d kill each other. So, I went alone.
Dr. Graves Dalton, my mentor and advisor, visited my tent the night before.
“Guess we’re doing this,” he said.
“I’ll be fine. My ex always said I was emotionally stunted, so I’ve got no drama to exploit.”
Graves made a sad smile. “The suit will offer some protection, in case Caesar tries to digest you. We want to know everything you feel, everything you think.”
“So long as you don’t hold it against me,” I said. “There’s an Army rule that grunts aren’t responsible for their behavior for the first 30 seconds after being roused from sleep. The legend goes, this sergeant, preparing for pre-dawn maneuvers, gets right in a fellow’s face who’s still recovering from partying the night before. The guy jabs a letter opener into his sergeant’s hand, but doesn’t face any charges.” Why did I think of that?
In the morning, I went for a jog, did a little meditation, and picked some peaceful “soundtrack” music for my upcoming adventure: pianist Liz Story’s album “Solid Colors” (1983).
The support team had me tethered on a cable and electric winch in case I needed to be removed expeditiously.
“Keep the music low,” said Graves, communicating through a headset from a camp outside the cave. “We want to hear your real-time reactions, first and foremost.”
I sat on the lip of liquid night. I had a camera attached to my chest and another to my forehead.
“Caesar” stirred with some glittering bioluminescence.
“Describe what you see. Don’t leave out any details.”
“It’s a mini-Atlantis. Little glowing bubbles down deep. Imagine a subterranean condo community having a block party. Just wondering if I’m being welcomed or warned off.”
“How do you feel?”
“Like Sir Richard Burton discovering the source of the Nile.”
“What are you feeling emotionally?” asked Graves with a slightly perturbed sigh.
“Suddenly, I hate my father and want to sleep with my mother. Normal stuff.”
“Please remember, everything you say today is being recorded for posterity. Any headache?”
“Pressure. Like my bike helmet is two sizes too small and shrinking,” I admitted.
“Have you reached the entity?”
“I can stretch out my arm and touch it. Up close, it looks like an underwater grain silo, only transparent with rippling skinlike features.”
“Any indication of acknowledgement? Are the lights busier? Is it reaching out to you?”
“You see what I see. I’m pushing forward. If I don’t make it out alive, tell my parents I always resented their refusing to assist with tuition for my undergraduate education.”
I slipped my way into the goo. It was too easy.
Abruptly, I was reliving embarrassing events from my past: my mom spanking me at a birthday party; Jimmy Ulm sitting on me on his lawn, shoving dog poop in my face; walking Nancy Means home in 6th grade, leaning in for a kiss in her garage as her dog suddenly bit my leg; school friends who, after seeing me perform the Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz,” told my teacher I was the weakest actor on the stage, by far.
I had the distinct sensation that I was dropping to the bottom of the lake. The music was no longer playing, and I could just make out someone whispering in my head.
“What’s going on?” Graves yelled.
“If you must know, I’m reliving every one of my life’s disappointments. And it’s bringing me down, literally. You must have seen the tug on the cable; I can’t get lower.”
“Any other sensations?
“I’m wicked cold.”
“Were you remembering any of this last night or this morning?”
“I haven’t thought about it in ten years, easy. How about pulling me out? It’s like I’m being toyed with.”
“The winch isn’t working. We’re looking into it. Try coming up on your own.”
“Let go of the old feelings, then surface.”
“My father didn’t talk to me for days when I failed Pre-Calculus.”
“Happy thoughts, please.”
“Nancy Pannell was my first slow dance. She said I was a natural. I had the best cat, Mrs. Beans. I was voted Nicest Kid in high school. Mom’s hot apple pie.”
“You’re almost there. The winch is working again.”
Back at HQ, I felt exhausted.
“Did we learn anything today?” I asked.
“Thoughts matter. The winch wasn’t broken. We just couldn’t move you until you flexed your emotional dial. Something about temporary density changes above you.”
“What about Caesar?”
“Not as much activity once you left.”
“No wonder the village is self-destructing, exposed day after day.”
In the end, the local government swore us to secrecy and moved the entire village on some pretense. Caesar, essentially a local deity, lives on, though probably a little hungry for dark human emotions.