Surgical Theater #1 hummed with tension. At the center of the conical chamber, circled by steeply canted viewing benches, Dr. Rexride paced before a steel operating table on which a young man lay naked, his face and genitals covered by sterile napkins. A klieg light suspended from the rafters dropped a bright beam onto the platform, leaving the surrounding audience in shadow--save for the flickering of silver monitors mounted at regular intervals along the aisles. The Doctor tugged at his red beard.
"Ladies and gentlemen!"
His voice echoed through the hall. The audience murmured. The Doctor stopped, stood motionless, scanned the room with his eyes. A wry smile crossed his face.
"We've learned a lot in the last five centuries."
The audience chuckled.
"The corpse of superstition is now very nearly laid to rest. Not to forget, the long night of medieval spiritualism and its attendant horrors--witch burnings, bloody crusades--has only recently, taking the long view, been broken by the dawn of science. Since then, we have evolved from our former state of infantility--magical thinking, oceanic narcissism, cringing dependence on a projected deity--to our present maturity. Today, we see with different eyes. The particulars of our world have been dissected, studied, and described to a degree the medieval mind would have found incomprehensible. What we now know and understand about the workings of the universe renders impossible conclusions based on prior premises. Indeed, we marvel at the ignorance it would require to refute the stupendous achievements and meticulous proofs of modern science."
The Doctor paused. Nostrils flared, he took silent stock of his audience. Sensing their puzzled restlessness, he assured them, "This is background, ladies and gentlemen."
Collectively, the crowd eased.
"My opening remarks, as you'll soon see, bear directly on today's presentation. By sheer accident, I've discovered among us a remarkable anomaly--a man so anachronistic, so entangled in the illusions of a bygone era that I'm awed by his very existence here in our own time. Perhaps his most salient illusion is that he claims to embody an impulse streaming toward him from the future--"
The audience chortled.
Dr. Rexride, with a sympathetic nod, held up his hand for silence. "Quite so," he said. "To name one's backwardness visionary--is there a better definition for insanity? Yet he's the very model of tranquillity and ease. Would you like to meet him?"
The audience gasped, stirred.
"Ladies and gentlemen! I am honored to present to you the Man from the Future--or is it the Past?--Mr. Caspar Blanchewood!"
To thunderous applause, a pale, slender young man entered, dressed in white scrubs. He strode with languid grace to the center of the platform and stood to one side of the table. His face under the glare of the klieg light shone with angelic dignity. His blue eyes flashed.
"A bit epicene, I'll grant you," said the Doctor as the applause ebbed. "But on the whole a remarkable specimen. By any standard measure, he is a healthy adult male. Yet there are differences not apparent to the eye."
The spotlight narrowed to a thin column aimed at Caspar. His face in close-up filled the screens on the silver monitors. Dr. Rexride prowled the platform in slow circles.
"This man," he cried, "makes some astonishing claims--but I'll confine myself to those of a scientific or medical nature. First, ladies and gentlemen, he believes we are a self-blinded tribe, blinkered to the point of idiocy by our inability or unwillingness to perceive any reality but the material--that information, in short, which reaches us through our five senses. Of course, this is hardly a novel criticism of science. Indeed, it is as old as science itself and has its roots in the voodoo-besotted notions of pre-scientific humanity. Second, he holds that the way forward for us lies in recovering the very 'spiritual vision' we've worked so hard to strip away--an effort that has allowed us, as I've said, to drag ourselves from the swamp of dangerously naive, fanatical dreaming that characterized our idol-worshiping ancestors. Finally--and this brings us to today's presentation, ladies and gentlemen--he tells me that one of the consequences of our philosophical materialism is that we incorrectly understand the nature of the human body." He turned to Caspar. "Have I represented your point of view correctly?" he asked.
Caspar smiled, then--in a voice much deeper and richer than the audience expected--said, "You oversimplify, Doctor, and your flagrant biases belie any pretension to objectivity--but, for this audience, perhaps it's the only possible introduction."
Dr. Rexride chuckled and, after a brief hesitation, the crowd followed suit. "Ladies and gentlemen, today we will consider one quite specific tenet of our strange guest's curious system. I ask you to brace yourselves for his hypothesis." He gestured to Caspar.
Again the young man smiled. "The human heart," he announced, "is not a meat pump."
The crowd rumbled with mingled astonishment, horror, and amusement. Dr. Rexride, clearly delighted by their response, leapt forward on the platform. "You see?" he cried. "One might as well say that the earth is not a rock sphere! What lunacy is this?"
The audience roared.
"We'll get to the bottom of it, ladies and gentlemen! This very day, I assure you! From this point forward, our presentation will be something in the nature of a duel at twenty paces--but, instead of pistol and ball, we'll be armed only with our wits." Again the Doctor turned to Caspar. "You've explained what you believe the heart is not," he said. "Kindly tell us what, in your opinion, it is."
"The heart," said Caspar, "is a flowering of spiritual forces in the human being. It is an organ of perception."
"And it does not pump the blood?"
"On the contrary. The blood pumps the heart."
The hall quaked with derisive shouts. Dr. Rexride flapped his arms, coaxing the crowd down. "And you're prepared," he continued, "to test your theory here in this room--under the strictest rules of the scientific method and the stern scrutiny of these assembled specialists?"
"I am," said Caspar.
The spotlight widened again to illuminate the whole platform. The steel table sparkled.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the young man laid out before you here suffers from acute heart disease. Without the intervention of a trained professional, he will die within days. Up to now, even knowing the full consequences of his decision, he has refused all treatment. He places his hope, he says, in powers entirely outside the purview of medical science. Does this line of reasoning sound familiar? It should. For if the patient weren't currently under full anesthesia, he would tell you something rather remarkable--he is Caleb Blanchewood, Caspar's own twin brother!"
Again the crowd roared, now with mounting rage.
"Let me assure you," said the Doctor, "that, in spite of being misguided, young Caleb is of sound mind. He has not, as one might suspect, been brainwashed by his brother. And he has given his full consent to what is about to take place." The Doctor stepped behind the table, just below Caleb's head. To his right, a tray of instruments lay on a metal stand. He plucked a pair of latex gloves from a box, stretched one over each hand, then picked up a scalpel. "We've arranged, ladies and gentlemen, to have a first-hand look at the organ in question. Mr. Blanchewood has agreed to point out some important features the rest of us have overlooked." He turned his eyes to Caspar. "Is our wager still on?"
Caspar smiled, nodded, and stepped up beside Dr. Rexride. "Proceed," he said.
The Doctor took a final look around the hall, which had fallen so silent that an electric buzz filled the air. The silver monitors flickered with an image of Caleb's chest. The Doctor bent over. He brought the blade down.
But just before he could make an incision, Caspar caught his wrist. "One moment, Doctor."
Dr. Rexride, clearly vexed but sensing swift victory, straightened. "What is it?"
"Just this," said Caspar, and, still holding the Doctor's wrist in one hand, held out the other, palm down, to hover over his brother's solar plexus. At once the lights in the hall flickered, then died. After a moment of total darkness, a blue-white flame flared out from the platform, filling the room with a spectral glow. When they saw that the light came from Caspar's down-turned palm, the crowd moaned. The Doctor dropped his knife.
The flame burned brighter and brighter.
"Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee," Caspar intoned. "Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble. Incline thine ear unto me. In the day when I call answer me speedily."
"What are you doing?" the Doctor cried.
"For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned--"
"Stop! Stop! Are you mad?"
Then the cloth covering Caleb's face fell aside, his eyes snapped open, and his voice rose in his throat to speak in unison with his brother's. "My heart is smitten and withered like grass, so that I forget to eat my bread. By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin. I am like a pelican of the wilderness. I am like an owl of the desert. I watch and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top. Mine enemies reproach me all the day, and they that are mad against me are sworn against me."
Caleb sat upright on the table. Both brothers appeared to have aged ten years in a matter of seconds--their bodies newly muscled, more fully formed.
The audience shrieked. The Doctor clutched his chest. His knees buckled.
John Atkinson was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1971 and raised in the mountains around Chattanooga. A fiction writer, he is currently at work on a collection of stories titled Conjugate leaves , of which "Teaching Hospital" is one. He has been a student of Rudolf Steiner for the last five years. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.