Edward Lindstrom was comfortably seated at the desk in the corner of his room, laptop in front of him. He had been trying for several years now – unsuccessfully – to begin work on his first novel. If he was honest he had spent more time daydreaming about the bestseller he was convinced that he was about to bring forth than he had spent actually working on it. Edward himself had no idea how many different titles and first pages he had written and then immediately discarded over that time.
Another uninspiring night, he thought.
He found peace of a sort in the belief that for any work of art you just needed to wait for that moment of inspiration before the creative juices could begin to flow. He knew he had a talent for writing and so comforted himself with the thought that his moment would come – sooner or later. When that did happen, all he would need to do is unleash his talent and let it guide him to the ultimate achievement of his potential.
Edward had been working as a journalist at Agartha for the last six years. The magazine covered a mish-mash of topics including popular science, alternative teachings, paranormal phenomena, ancient civilisations, secret societies, astrology and spirituality, with a sprinkling of conspiracy theories. The magazine came out once a month and was owned by Olander Press – a media giant with a great many daily newspapers, weeklies, other magazines and books in its portfolio. Lindstrom was not unhappy with his job, but a sense of disquiet was gradually mounting within him at his failure to make any progress as a writer. It was a kind of fatigue that was creeping up on him – churning out these articles was not a challenge any more.
It began to rain outside. Driven by a strong wind, it drummed on the window pane as though deliberately trying to ruin his concentration. Edward left what he was doing and turned his attention to a film that was showing on TV right then. He had the habit of leaving all the lights on in his apartment at night, but because he could only watch a film in complete darkness he began to go around the rooms turning them all off.
He was interrupted by the sound of his mobile phone. He began rummaging through the things on his desk in search of it.
‘Hello,’ he said, having located it under a pile of papers.
He had had no time to look at who was calling.
‘I think you’ve forgotten all about me,’ a voice said.
‘Iris!’ he exclaimed, suddenly remembering he had meant to call her.
‘Of course I haven’t! The whole afternoon just flew by. I only just realised what time it was,’ he added, looking at the clock on the wall.
‘It’s all right. I just wanted to invite you out for a drink. I’m in a café just round the corner from you with some friends. Want to come over?’ she asked.
The small calendar on his table reminded him that tomorrow was a work day, and his expression grew serious for a moment.
‘I don’t feel like going out. It’s just started raining, and it’s a bit late to be going out anywhere. I’ll see you tomorrow during the lunch break,’ he replied quickly.
‘OK. How’s it going?’ Iris asked him, meaning the novel.
‘I don’t even know. I made a good start but I keep going back and changing things, and then I just end up deleting it all. I can’t seem to get things moving and…’ – his phone switched itself off before he could finish.
He threw it on the bed and shook his head in annoyance.
I’ll call her later, he thought.
He thought about Iris as he tidied his desk, which was buried not only in a variety of research material but also in empty coffee mugs and food wrappings.
He had been with Iris Olson for nearly four years now. He remembered the first time they had met as if it were yesterday. The owner of Olander Press had thrown a party to celebrate the centenary issue of Agartha.
She worked in Marketing, which was ten floors above the editorial office he worked in. After two years spent oblivious each of the other’s existence in the huge building, fate had finally brought them together. Having broken the initial ice and begun to talk more freely, they had arrived at the shared conclusion that this was without doubt the dullest party they had ever been to. After that they had lost little time in sneaking out together and fleeing their colleagues, who had not progressed beyond talking about work and sipping sickly-sweet cocktails. They had spent the remainder of the evening in a quiet café in uninterrupted conversation well into the small hours.
Iris was supportive of Edward’s dream of succeeding as a writer. She understood his need to spend a significant part of his free time researching and writing. Although over time she had accepted that this was the way he worked, and that he was an introvert at heart, she could not always hide her disappointment at the fact she had to socialise without him a lot of the time. It made her miserable whenever she had to explain why they had not come together – which was all too frequently the case at events they had been invited to as a couple. Recently Iris had been finding it increasingly difficult to accept this behaviour. Edward’s book was no nearer to completion than it had been four years ago, and she felt that their relationship was suffering more and more as a result She had a nagging suspicion that he was sometimes just using the writing as an excuse to avoid spending time with her friends. Edward had a very small social circle, while Iris was quite the opposite.
Realising that the film was one that had already been on TV countless times, he decided to turn in early. He got in bed, took a book from the night table next to the bed and read through it for a while. After a few pages it all stopped making sense to him. His thoughts then turned to what he was going to write about in his next article.
A new tomb has recently been discovered in the Valley of the Kings. An application has been made to the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities for further research to be permitted.
Hearing this, Edward opened his eyes. He looked at the ceiling in confusion, as though trying to work out where he was. It took him a few seconds to realise that he was almost certainly late for work.
He would not have woken even then but for the voice from the TV programme that his somewhat deaf upstairs neighbour was watching. He looked with disbelief at the blank screen of his mobile phone, which he had not put on the charger last night. Edward had never got used to rising early and knew he never would. Even after six years he found it as hard to wake up in the morning as ever. It was getting harder and harder to find a good reason to will his body out of bed in the morning. It always seemed to him that he had not got enough sleep, regardless of how early he had gone to bed the night before. Lindstrom began getting himself ready with the same haste he always did, but his lateness gave him a heightened sensation of flying around the room. He was soon out of his apartment and heading for the offices of Agartha.
Edward knew full well that he could expect a prickly reception from Magnus Solberg for having missed an important meeting. All the journalists were supposed to have met that morning with Solberg, who was editor-in-chief but whose real power lay in the fact that he was the son-in-law of publishing tycoon Kennett Olander, owner of Olander Press. Solberg felt that this conferred special rights on him to run things however he saw fit. The game was to be played by his rules, and he made sure everyone knew it. His position meant that he had carte blanche to run Agartha the way he wanted. He was driven by pure instinct and the sure knowledge that even poor business decisions he might make would not bring any major consequences upon him, and so he was very much prepared to innovate. Edward knew that the meeting had been very important and that decisions were to be made there that would have a major impact on the future operation of the magazine.
The Metro was not far from his apartment building. The street he lived in was surrounded by parkland, giving the impression that it was part of a small town and not a city. The neighbourhood was locally known as Little Village, but the illusion did not persist for long – a busy boulevard was nearby, and just ten minutes’ easy walk brought you out into the chaos of the city.
Descending the steps to the Metro, lost in thought, his attention was briefly drawn by a man dressed in black robes. Like in some film, the bearded figure stood with a hood over his head, shouting something and holding a sign that read: They are coming. Wake up. Salvation is within you.
Walking past him Edward looked pityingly at him; although the pity was really directed towards himself – he would be the one needing salvation when he turned up this late to work.
To his relief, the Metro was not very busy. He found a seat easily in the usually packed train. Having missed the morning chaos, the trip to work was considerably more relaxed than usual.
Exiting the lift on the eleventh floor of the Olander Centre building, where the magazine’s offices were located, he almost bumped into Solberg’s secretary Lynne. At the last second he managed to avoid directly colliding with her and knocking her to the ground. She was holding a tray loaded with cups of coffee and it was a miracle that they did not end up crashing to the ground. She muttered something, as much to herself as to him, about taking it easier in future. The ease with which she manoeuvred herself whilst carrying the heavy-laden tray suggested that it was a well-practised operation. And it was. Her job description as Solberg’s secretary included the role of coffee maker-in-chief. Her boss’s caffeine addiction and the constant turnover of staff, visitors and various business partners meant Lynne sometimes spent the best part of her working day as a waitress. She was his right-hand woman, but often had cause to wonder what her primary role actually was in view of the vast range of tasks she was called upon to perform simultaneously – from secretarial jobs of all kinds, carrying out private courier assignments, making hotel and restaurant reservations, serving coffee and other beverages, even going to the pharmacy, shops or making other minor procurements.
Continuing towards the editor’s office, hoping he would not catch him in a bad mood, Edward remembered an article he had read online recently. It was about an employee at a company who, unhappy with his position and with his unfair treatment at the hands of the management, had put liquid LSD in the coffee his bosses had ordered at the beginning of a meeting. His plan was to get them in a state of helpless laughter so that they could not finish the task in hand. What he did not know was that just a single drop would have been enough to achieve his aim. The dose he gave everybody being several times greater, this group of influential business people was plunged into a state of utter paranoia. The sweet revenge of a neglected employee turned into the stuff of nightmares. The victims became severed from reality by hallucinations so powerful that emergency services had to be called.
Edward tried to picture how people at Agartha would react if something like that happened. He imagined Solberg as the hallucinogen took control, as his boss tried and failed to rationalise his way out of the situation he found himself in. As the dark comedy played out in his mind he began to laugh out loud, drawing bemused looks from his colleagues. Edward did not even realise he had reached the door of the editor’s office when the latter suddenly and quite unexpectedly burst out of it. He was out so fast that he caught the broad smile on Edward’s face.
He took off his glasses, looked at him in bewilderment and said,
‘What’s so funny?! Tell me the joke so I can have a laugh too. You’re well and truly late! Get inside, we need to talk anyway. Sit and wait for me, I’ll be there in a few minutes.’
Lindstrom had no time to say anything but walked dumbly in and sat in the heavy, cold leather armchair. He looked around the office as though it were his first time in there, even though he had sat in that same place many times before. Everything inside was sharp lines, the space dominated by a large, solid wood desk and two armchairs upholstered in smooth, dark red leather. The walls were adorned with numerous awards, commendations and letters of thanks, received during the editor’s many years of service. Solberg was of the opinion that one’s office reflected one’s level of professionalism. Accordingly, his place of work was designed to meet the exacting criteria of a perfectionist such as himself. Anyone finding themselves in this office was left in no doubt of Solberg’s high standards.
‘Want something to drink?’ asked Solberg, returning.
Not waiting for a response he shouted impatiently through the still-open door, ‘Lynne! Two espressos! Now, let’s hear it, where were you this morning?”
‘Sorry I was late. I overslept. My phone turned itself off during the night and the alarm didn’t go off. I was up till late last night writing. I’m really sorry. It won’t happen again,’ Lindstrom replied earnestly.
‘You missed the meeting. I presented my plans to start revamping the magazine. We’re not changing the basic concept but I’m going to want more dynamic stories from you. We’ll be changing the design. We haven’t made any changes for a long time and things move on. Everything changes. In business you have to keep up with the times. I won’t go into detail now, Lynne will forward everything to you. Next Friday, same time, another meeting to confirm exactly what direction we are going to take in the near future,’ Solberg went on, in somewhat calmer tones.
Edward dared to hope that he was going to get off lightly for his lateness, and so enthusiastically replied, ‘I’ll find out from Lynne what happened at the meeting. I’ll be right up to speed by the next meeting.’
‘That’s exactly what I expect from you. I think you are one of Agartha’s best journalists. We need you to be fully focused on what we are doing here. That’s one more reason why you needed to be there today. I wanted to hear your suggestions. If you have any, keep them to yourself now and you’ve got a week to think of some more,’ said Solberg, and sipped the coffee Lynne had silently brought in without interrupting the conversation.
‘You can count on me 100%. I think it’s time we changed some things, too. Our articles all follow the same tired old formula. We keep repackaging the same old topics as though they were new stories. We’re running out of ideas. I’m pretty sure most of the other writers feel the same way. We’re starting to lag behind the competition, it seems to me. I’m sure everybody has at least one idea they could put forward. I mean, I’m sure they did this morning at the meeting,’ he said, coffee cup in hand.
‘I did hear a number of different proposals this morning. I’ve mapped out the main thrust of the changes but I’m staying open to new suggestions. We’ll talk about it all next time. No time now, I’ve got a lot on my plate. Mr Olander is coming soon, and we can’t do anything without the green light from him,’ Solberg said.
Although Mr Olander, a man in his late sixties, did not take easily to change, Edward had no doubt that Solberg would achieve what he had set out to do. Everyone was inclined to regard the editor-in-chief’s concerns over the acceptance – or not – of his business plans as being somewhat overstated, given the family connection.
‘Lynne will also email you the theme for the next issue,’ said Solberg, gulping down the remainder of his espresso.
‘OK. Thanks. Bye,’ he added from the doorway.
To get to where he worked he had to go down some stairs since the offices of the Agartha management were on the upper level. The floor was divided into two sections – an upper part where there were proper offices and a lower part for the journalists who only had partitions. The space spoke of a clear delineation between those who gave the orders and those who complied with them.
Edward recalled what it had been like working at Agartha back when he had started out as a journalist. Relationships among the staff had been more relaxed. There had just been a few older colleagues – most of the news team had been young and that had reflected in the enthusiasm that permeated the office. Although he wished he could still throw himself into his work with the zeal he had once had as a novice, this seemed out of reach. Everybody seemed to just go through the motions now, like robots. They had become increasingly jaded, sick of rehashing the same old stories year in year out. Solberg’s plans for a shake-up did seem justified and would not come a moment too soon. It was the only way to regain the long-lost enthusiasm.
Lindstrom arrived at his desk, sat back in his chair and began going through his emails. Lynne had already sent everything and he was able to quickly go over everything that had come up at the meeting he had missed, and also to see the theme he had been given for his next article.
Hypnosis, he read to himself, somewhat disappointed.
He put his phone on the charger, wondering why he had been tasked with writing about something so mundane. He had touched on just about every imaginable topic whilst writing for Agartha. At the very least he had expected to be writing about something that had not already been done to death.
His phone had charged sufficiently for him to be able to switch it on. Immediately a deluge of notifications began arriving, informing him of the calls he had missed. He clutched his hand to his forehead on noticing a missed call from Iris and realising that he had meant to call her later last night. He quickly dialled her number. Waiting for Iris to answer he got up and began ritually pacing the office. He never could sit calmly and have a conversation on the phone.
The remainder of his day at work flew by. Writing feature articles wasn’t all his job entailed. Actually, more time was spent researching them. Edward and his colleagues were constantly gathering information on whatever topic they were writing on. Sometimes it seemed as if they were preparing university lecture notes, not doing journalism. It was the only way to approach the job, though – covering such a broad range of topics, all of them attracting fierce controversy, required excellent preparation and had to be backed up with facts. This was what set Agartha apart from other, similar magazines. Research was of primary importance.
At lunchtime he went to the cafeteria in the part of the building where Iris worked to meet up with her.
Lindstrom wanted to make the best possible use of the upcoming weekend. He decided that he would not go out anywhere for the next two days so he could do as much preparation for the article as possible, and if he had any time left over he would work on his novel.
Edward decided to walk home from work to try to clear his head. He had not done so in a long while and recalled the much more active way of life he had lived once upon a time, jogging in the park for an hour every day. Back then Lindstrom had been much more careful about what he ate, but over time his resolve had flagged. The effort he had invested in his career had inevitably eaten into everything else. He could not remember the last time he had come back from work ready to run ten or twelve kilometres. The thought was faintly amusing now – after a day at work he was often barely fit for a trip to the shop.
There were many people out and about – they seemed to have all been eagerly waiting for the rain to stop. After April rains the last few days it was now sunny and bright. For the first time that year, walking the broad pavement, Edward could feel spring in the air. The feeling was one he always found refreshing. He would feel revitalised. He would think faster. The need to make changes in his life would become so much more urgent. Lindstrom was not keen on winter; it made him sluggish and sleepy.
He almost collided with someone in the street. At the last second he noticed a huge shadow looming over him and managed to avoid contact with the approaching giant of a man.
‘I’m sorry,’ they both simultaneously muttered to one another.
Edward measured the man up and concluded that he had been lucky not to walk into him as he would have no doubt come off worse in the encounter.
A thirty-minute walk later he was crossing the boulevard and heading through the park, and soon found himself close to his apartment building.
After a while back at home, he began to think about the topic he had been set. He wanted to approach it from a different angle for this article. It was the perfect time to try something like that. Lindstrom wanted to give vent to his creativity – which he had been so selfishly keeping under wraps in recent times without really knowing why – and in doing so show off his very respectable literary abilities. He could implement all the changes in his approach that he thought needed to be made, write the article and then highlight these changes at the next meeting. That would give him the freedom to experiment with the form, which would hopefully be adopted as a point of reference for the future direction of the magazine. He could have a finished pilot project to show next Friday, and that would give him the leverage to suggest a new way to approach their journalism.
The subject of hypnotism was nothing new to him. He had often touched on it in previous articles but it had never actually been the main topic. He always tried to keep an open mind on whatever he was writing about. Just because something was out on the boundary of human knowledge, that did not mean it was not real, it just demanded more research. Myriad phenomena were out there in the cosmos, waiting to be recognised and assimilated by the human mind to become part of mankind’s reality. In order to take something like that on board one had to be ready to do so, and that required an open mind. Edward made that a guiding principle – because as a journalist he could not write about something he had already rejected out of hand as being impossible. This approach made him a better writer, he felt. It gave him an additional motive to explore the topic at hand in as much depth as possible, and he felt that articles written in that way were much more accessible to the reader. In short, Lindstrom could not allow himself to write about something that he thought was pure fantasy.
His broad knowledge and deep sense of spirituality meant he thought differently to others. He was fascinated by phenomena that lay on the fringes of science, and had a unique mind in that respect. At the same time, and to his great regret, he felt that almost nobody recognised this. It bothered him sometimes. This feeling of being underappreciated as an intellectual was why he wanted to put his knowledge into practice if at all possible, as soon as possible.
Just then he thought of a friend from his high-school days whom he had not seen in years. Suddenly it all fell into place. Edward began hurriedly scrolling through the contacts in his phone as though he were afraid that the idea might slip away from him. He soon found the number under the name Gerd Robertson and hoped he had not changed it.
Dr Gerd Robertson, he repeated to himself, adding Dr before the name.
The phone rang.
‘Dr Gerd Robertson. How can I help you?’ said a serious voice.
Great, thought Edward.
‘Hi Gerd! It’s Lindstrom. I hope it’s not a bad time to call? We haven’t talked in ages so I wasn’t sure if this was still your number, though you’re not exactly hard to find,’ he said, spilling out the words almost in a single breath.
‘Edward! Well, I can’t say I was expecting you! It’s nice to hear from you,’ laughed Robertson.
He continued, ‘You’re not interrupting anything. Actually, you caught me on my break. I don’t know if you heard, I opened a private practice. I got out of lecturing. I was just getting ready for the next client. What can I do for you?’
‘I’d heard you went private, I think I read it somewhere. To be honest, you do sound like a businessman. Shouldn’t it be “patient”, not “client”?’ he quipped.
‘Every client is only a potential patient. That’s all that means,’ he replied loftily.
‘Look, the reason I called was I wanted to ask you something about an article I am writing at the moment. I remember you telling me ages ago – I vaguely recall we were having lunch together – I remember you telling me you were getting ready to travel to India to research hypnosis. You were doing your PhD on the subject, I think…’ Not waiting for him to finish the sentence Robertson interrupted him.
‘Yes, that’s right. It was two years ago we met for lunch. No, wait… three!’ he corrected himself. ‘Then I spent a few months in New Delhi as a guest at their Institute for Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy – pretty prestigious place. I based my PhD on what I learned there.
‘If you’ve started practising the techniques you learned, I’d like to interview you for this story and learn something about it first-hand. I’d also like to maybe attend a session of yours if possible. Agartha has a big circulation, it would be a good advert for you to appear in the magazine. I’m sure you’d agree you can never have too much publicity, especially when it doesn’t cost you anything. What do you think?’
He didn’t want to beat around the bush and so came straight out with it, hoping for a positive response.
‘We’ve been using hypnosis at the clinic for some time now, with excellent results,’ said Robertson and paused, as though considering Edward’s proposal. ‘As far as your suggestion goes, we have strict rules about doctor-patient confidentiality. Here at our clinic patient privacy is sacrosanct. We are very protective of our patients, we guarantee them absolute anonymity. You’d be amazed to learn how many famous people come to me. What you’re asking we can only do with the patient’s agreement.’
‘Of course!’ cried Edward, not concealing his excitement.
‘I’ll call you about the session. It’s not for me to decide. As for other questions about hypnosis, you can ask me when we meet. I’ll be happy to answer them. It would certainly be nice to get a mention in your magazine. Call me on Monday. By then I’ll try to have talked to someone who might be willing to let you sit in. Hey, it’s great to hear from you again!’
‘Thanks a lot, talk to you soon!’ he said, ending the call.
That went well. I just hope someone agrees to do it, he thought. I could document the whole session – do an interview with the doctor, then with the patient… That would make a really good story. He rubbed his hands in satisfaction.
He felt that this was his chance – an opportunity to do a real piece of journalism. Some practical reporting from the field. He had had enough of sitting in front of his PC gathering information from the Internet. This is the real deal, he thought to himself.
Threatening clouds were gathering over the city once again and darkness was closing in early. The weather was very changeable, but that suited him just fine – one more reason not to leave the comfort of his apartment for the next two days. Countless times he had planned to spend his weekend in hermit-like isolation. And then something always came up unexpectedly that meant he had to leave the house, while the time he did spend at home he often frittered uselessly away. After a hard week at work Lindstrom found it hard to be creative on those rare days when he was free. His weekend tended to be somewhat laid back – only to be rudely interrupted by the unwelcome return of Monday. This time it was going to be different. He was determined to get some momentum going with his novel.
As of tomorrow I am going to start doing some serious writing. This evening I’ll have some rest, he decided, picking up a book.
He couldn’t seem to get the book finished – Hawking’s Black Holes and Baby Universes. Edward tried hard to immerse himself in Hawking’s writing – if he wanted to get a firm grasp on his cosmology he needed to give it his full attention.
I hope Iris doesn’t try to get me to go out with her anywhere tonight, he thought, before continuing reading from where he had left off the evening before.