The Quiet Lives of Still Things.
Our relations with the objects in our houses are close. Our desires give them a life, purpose, a quest for harmony. Less useful and unpleasant objects are placed in less prominent places, sometimes banished to drawers and cupboards or at worst disposed of and discarded. We judge ourselves on our ability to manage and control our objects and our objects compete against each other for dominance within the environment. There is a certain symbiosis.
This was all explained to me by Alice Milner over coffee when I visited her at her Cabin in May several years ago, (only half an hour it seems now.) The professor of pharmacology sat casually in a loose knit cream jumper watching the birds feed out on the jetty as I frantically scribbled down notes. No one at ENS would believe me when I told them who I was talking to. I had 6 hours until the ferry arrived to get me back to my car on the mainland. I had worked out that I could relay the copy by phone for the morning edition and pick up a Pulitzer.
professor Milner talked absent-mindedly to the window. She had been the star in American Medical Research discovering and trialing new anaesthetics. AMR Technologies had employed her initially as a field researcher in Borneo. There they had discovered a tree snake with the ability to slow its metabolism to practically nothing. She had synthesized the compound and after only 2 years, it was being tested in a Laboratory in Texas with human subjects.
There were fantastic benefits. A subject did not bleed in massive quantities. They did not feel pain until after the operation. Many of them reported being aware of the world around them speeding up for a few brief moments. Alice became interested in this notion. Tribesmen talked of trance like states from small doses of venom lasting days. they talked of the jungle spirits talking to them and moving around. These trances would happen away from the villages deep in the jungle. She had never been allowed to witness them.
In January 1976, a test subject was given a sustained dose of the substance to see how long they could slow the metabolic rate for. After 3 days the patient was healthy if barely living. The lungs filled slowly. Blood moved like treacle through their veins. Every 15 hours the heart could be heard to beat. It was on day 15 that they realised something was wrong. One of the orderlies had noticed a small but subtle change in the facial expression of the subject. He was starting to scream.
Alice Milner made a video of the resuscitation. As the effects diminished, the subject started to thrash about, and scream/ When they finally managed to clam him down, he reported how the curtains had reached out for him. the magazine were moving around on the table and the furniture was looking at him. At first most of her colleagues put this down to a psychosis brought about through the time delays caused by slowing the metabolism but Alice couldn’t help thinking about the natives.
In ’77 two months before they were set to get approval for commercial testing, Alice Milner disappeared. Not just for a week but for 11 months straight. When she returned she handed in her resignation and retired into the reclusiveness of her Cabin near Colorado Springs. At the time, no one knew where she was except me.
I looked up at the clock while she was telling me this and I realised the nearly an hour had passed. The sounds of the birds had been gradually becoming more high-pitched as I listened to her. I had been so engrossed in my note writing that I hadn’t noticed how the movement outside was increasing in speed where inside professor Milner and I were immune to it. As I looked, I noticed that the minute hand of the clock was starting to move faster, almost every second now. The river was a blur hissing rather than roaring. I looked down at my empty coffee cup and with terror began to understand what she had done.
Alice Milner continued to speak but I no longer wrote it down. “It’s not that we move the objects, they move themselves. They have a secret life and the only way I can make you believe is by showing you. Not even a time-lapse camera will pick it up you have to experience it.”
“It’s what the Tribesmen were doing in Borneo, communing with the silent objects. Listening to the still things.”
The clock hands were moving too fast to watch now and somewhere out on the river a I saw a fast-moving streak and blip that could only have been the ferry coming and going. The sun was rapidly drawing across the sky toward evening. “Don’t worry, the lights are on a timer.” She explained.
The sun set and light flicked on quickly. A minute passed before it started to rise again. I had been sitting for over 15 hours, barely moving and yet I could still hear the professor. She was telling me how we had both ingested a large dose, enough to keep our metabolism down for at least 6 months. No one would disturb us, all I had to do was observe and report.
The sun was setting as quickly as it rose and rising, and setting, rising, setting, faster and faster. Suddenly it felt that the whole world was falling off its post, nothing seemed to fit right around us. That’s when I noticed that the coffee cups were performing a little dance on the table…