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Ian Stephenson

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The Art Of J. Sands.
By Ian Stephenson
Monday, January 01, 2007

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A story of discovery and mankind's desire for knowledge.

There was an incident three nights past. Not of mine but of someone before unknown to me. He had expressed a picture of unfathomable form so incomprehensibly anonymous that it terrified me. It is also the reason as for why today I find myself hiding in the dark, damp recesses of my mind, anxious of returning into sunlight.
I sat upon a bench, surrounded by university campus, a student of modern arts, as well as quite an adept in the practices of philosophy and social hierarchy. There was a blistering heat, yet my insatiable thirst for logical stimulation kept my workbooks open in my hands.
Stooping from where I sat, I reached into my bag and retrieved a pen, preparing to begin some impromptu studying when I felt a weight in the air beside me. Turning, I saw a short, round-faced young man of no more than twenty-five years sitting there, expressionless. His vibrant, green eyes hunted wild and constant, never seeming to focus on one particular thing, yet containing an inexplicable concentration. He had long, slick black hair and wore thick-rimmed spectacles. He was sweating a lot, even for this unnatural temperature, and his breath was quick and sharp.
After an exchange of the usual conversational formalities, I had learned his name to be Jeremy Sands, a science student here in the university. He had always been an oddity among his fellow scholars and in his own words he described himself as a man who dares to dream. A sentiment the bulk of the populace would like to share, but the conviction and manner in his elocution made it somewhat unnerving to hear.
We talked nonsensically for a short while of his studies and his interests, and I do not lie when I say that I was intrigued at his and his family’s exploits.
His grandfather, Dr. Benjamin Sands had been a leading explorer in his day. He had ventured out into the deep Congo, seeking the traditions and demi-gods of hidden tribes. A letter of his never-occurring return had been received by his father, Robert Sands some time in September of 1976, and was consequently never known personally by Jeremy. In the memo were details concerning the “unidentifiable and suspect disappearance of Dr. B. M. Sands,” telling of how the great silence within his troupe of six men (excluding himself) pointed to a mutinous plot of murder, and that they were now feeling the repercussions of such an act and refused to impart any information as to the body’s whereabouts. The truth of it was never known, and so there shall be no slander or conjecture speculated here, but the chances of an insurrection within the small group was highly improbable compared to the apparent barbarity of the secret tribes, which the old voyager had written about in many of his journals. The clans he went to scrutinize (also noted copiously in his diaries) were idol-worshiping and wholly spiritual clusters of overpoweringly religious zeal.
The events surrounding the death of Jeremy’s father, the aforementioned Robert Sands, were abundantly less suspicious. He had been killed when a storm had caught the house where Jeremy had spent his childhood. A striking bolt of electricity had shot down from the blackened clouds and turned the house almost instantly to fire. His father had died in the blaze.
From the age of eleven, he had spent the majority of his youth in the custody of his uncle, his father’s first choice of guardian. A stern-faced, god-fearing man who chastised Jeremy for every wrong foot. He forbade the readings of certain texts, including the surviving remnants of his grandfather’s writings, most of which had burned in the fire at his father’s house. He was a good man at heart, and he kept a good living as a farmer, but the restrictions he had imposed had certainly had an effect upon his nephew.
I had begun to find an unusual connection to this man and his history, and after watching the profound interest marked in my eyes, he invited me to witness some of his studies, to which I hungrily agreed.
His house was situated upon a quiet moor some miles away from the busy town, within a small village where everyone knew everyone else. Except that nobody seemed to know Jeremy. He passed through the community without receiving a single sociable glance or murmuring of the time of day.
It was a somewhat dilapidated building of archaic design, but its ominous profile which leant upon the evening’s summer sky was strangely welcoming and amiable. Within it there were the usual happenings of any accommodation: a neglected kitchen where hung all manner of grimy pots and pans along two of the three door-less walls. A forgotten refrigerator was humming lazily in one corner with the door slightly ajar. As I watched, the light bulb, which had previously illuminated the inside of the appliance to reveal various meats and other foodstuffs, stuttered a moment and then extinguished completely. In the other corner stood the door to a pantry, which creaked and closed as it was attacked by the slightest of twilight breezes coming from the still-open front door which led to here.
Continuing on into a small living room, I saw that there was not much need for furnishings when one lived as alone and excluded as Jeremy did. It contained only a scruffy couch which had broken its fabric and now showed discoloured, yellow padding, and a tiny television set, standing slightly apart from the wall, unplugged and covered in dust.
He led me through that room and to the stairwell, which we passed and went instead through another old and groaning door and descended by some wormed and squeaking wooden steps into a dusty, strangely-scented cellar.
His paces became more eager then, if I remember accurately, for I seem to evoke a haunting rhythmical sound of his soft shoes upon the steps as he moved downwards in front of me.
He explained to me as we went deeper into the basement, that he was most proud of his off-site research and efforts.
Ambling almost casually through the black shadows of the house’s underbelly, he found a cord which he pulled, and we suddenly became flooded by a dim light which hung from the ceiling. Upon my first glance, it was evident that Jeremy spent most of his time in his prized basement, and the decaying final stretches of the rest of the home were not apparent here.
The sterile conduct of his work down here was emphasised by the spotlessness and purity of everything I came across. His (what he had called previously) “laboratory” was a hospitable place, and I might have taken pleasure in naming it a sanctuary for respite from the chaotic world, had it not been for blasphemous impiety of the place.
The walls were coated in instruments, some delicate and some verging on bludgeoning armaments, mounted on frames like cherished quarry of a lengthy hunt. A desk spanned one side of the room and was covered in loose and mature papers and documents, all bearing the insignia of one Dr. B. M. Sands. Searching through them, I came across one which caught my eye so avidly. It was dated August 30th 1976, and read:

The indigenous and innate prejudices of these tribal people are amazing even to me. I have tried succeeded in communicating with the man who I have assumed to be the chief, and am beginning to understand their ways of life more straightforwardly. Their abundance of idolatry for their Nature-Deities has led me to believe that even classification as Pagans would be too much of an underestimation for me to consider.

And one from the following day:

My guides and workers have left me. During the night they ran, I heard the breaking of sticks and rustling of massive leaves too late as they disappeared. I had noticed a strange behavioural pattern as of late, they seemed to gravitate more towards escape than faith and loyalty in me, ever since I had achieved a thriving contact with the people hidden in the trees.

There was not an entry for the first day of September, but there was an item dated September 2nd, 1976. It read:

By what merciless Gods do these people worship? Their rich and callous treatment leads me only to reinforce an already long-standing stereotype. Yesterday, I saw a rite of ancient alacrity, and it had disturbed me greatly, for they held me as I watched, seeking some sort of wicked approval.

They had strapped a young woman, arms and legs, to a pole on either side with ropy vines, and driven these into the mud beside a nearby river bank. Squirming and writhing in her shameful, unwedded pregnancy, she had her baby by the way of a sharpened stone slicing into her body. The infant, slick with blood was drowned instantly within the miry sludge at its mother’s feet, who was subsequently impaled upon the spears of her brothers and sisters.

I will lavish no more detail than this, for that shocking scene which made me vomit then, would surely do so should I recollect it more intensely.

Leafing through the nearby papers, I discovered the missing entry from September the 1st.

They marked me today, a simple slash upon my palm. I presume it to be some kind of clannish symbol, though I have seen no other living soul bear it, too. They seem to see me as an ally now, after I had exposed to them some various marvels from western worlds, which they reacted to first petrified, then curious, then they wondered as if they were great enchantments. My acceptance is made apparent by my being the first to taste each meat which comes from a hunting trek, and the numerous trinkets and charms given to me by the village’s women.

Perhaps they see me as some sort of hero or champion, or even, in my narcissistic way, as another God.

“Look, here,” whispered Jeremy’s stark accent which disturbed me from my reading. I am almost glad that it did, for the other two entries which followed the account of the ritual on September 2nd would surely not be so pleasant as I deeply prayed. He stood at an extra desk, which was on the opposite side of the room to me. It was covered with a long white cloth, beneath which were the curves and protrusions familiar to any medical student or pastor.
He pulled the fabric back and revealed a face I had seen just recently. It was in the local newspaper a few days past, one Arthur Black, a retired blue-collar professional who had died in hospital some days ago. I had read his name with a usual neutrality, as I did with most of the obituary records, but remembered his picture well. It was a photograph displaying the man in the latter stages of his life, bearing a smile and brightly eyed. Now he lay a victim of a stroke upon a scientist’s table. Jeremy explained that his “subject” (as he so sickeningly described it) had been retrieved from a nearby cemetery the night before, and had been hauled back here without consent or hindrance.
My silence was powerfully mysterious and inexplicable, yet silence it was which came from me. Perhaps I was shocked of his grandfather’s accounts, or maybe I was appalled at the way in which he so fervently illustrated his ideas and tactics for his new subject, or even, as it has crossed my mind recently, as I have been hiding so fixedly within myself, my silence was due to my interest and stupefaction in the student’s supplementary learning. Of what it was that kept me silent, I cannot, or dare not, say, but silent I was, even so.
He commenced in applying liquids and viscous gels to the body, smearing them with a heinous exuberance. He placed, on the body, some alien utensils of which their function was just as foreign to me as their shape and design. He bade me watch closely while he “defended his uncle’s honour in that which he loves.”
Having been previously fixated upon the letters and memoirs of the late Dr. Sands, I had not noticed that there were an selection of levers, pedals and switches nearby. Jeremy had strode purposefully over to these and was now initiating a service which had become so systematic and encoded upon his brain that the dim light could never befall him as an obstacle. He was ceremoniously and methodically pulling, pushing and twisting at the machine, as if he conducted an invisible orchestra who were just as unknown yet aberrant as his practise.
Then the muted light dimmed more. It flickered violently as electricity surged powerfully throughout the dank cellar. He was illuminated maniacally by the power of the voltage which flowed beneath his fingers and towards the contraptions he had placed upon the specimen which he so treasured. It lasted a short moment and then the pandemonium turned to quiet. The hushed echo of my accelerated heartbeat hammered thunderously at my ribcage, and threatened to burst out pitilessly from witnessing this following scene.
The body of Arthur Black twitched and thrashed fanatically, grasping at something unseen in the air. His deep blue eyes snapped open, as if he had never died. They bore a knowledge of which I wished to have no part of, and I fled the house of the scientist Jeremy Sands, replaying the sight of the scholar clutching his reanimated cadaver by the dirty and sullied collar, shaking it fiercely and yelling, “tell me what you saw! Tell me what you know of death!”


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