Sunday 10 May 2020

Abigail Duro, Prose 500 2020, Shortlist

The Black Swan by Abigail Duro

The year is 1981 and the world is full of possibilities, at least for the bunch of scientists here. They all grew up together knowing well that they would all end up at Caltech and that they would be astrophysicists, and that Adam Dreyfus would be their head. And even with no fortunetelling involved, all of this came true. However, what couldn't be predicted was how Avram Berenson, oldest of Adam's friend, would be the only one who would drift away, so far off the course, that no one could ever retrieve him.

Not that Avram himself wanted to be rescued. He could have been an astrophysicist just like all of them. He was brilliant in his academics. Around this time he started moving away. Drunk on Nikola Tesla's work, they would venture out on what they called their "discovery tours". They had scoured Tesla's work at the library for simple technological experiments, then tried on his "magical" writing, even running off to see Tesla's apartment in New York at one point. But as university started, and Adam got busy and Avram slowly started to steer in a different direction.

When he started reading the Talmud a bit too much, Adam assumed it was his religious parents. When he started his meditation experiments, Adam teased him if it was a wireless method to contact Tesla. Adam liked such quirkiness in the genius around him. After all his wife was an astrology buff. And it was she who had said that Avram's Saturn in the eighth could take him to different dimensions or realms. Whatever that meant! But he only ever suspected something when his other friends started making excuses not to hang out with Avram. Avram was called many names, 'A Quack', 'The Black Swan' by his friends. But the one person who never called him anything was Dreyfus. People assumed it was Adam's humility. But Adam knew kindness and humility had no part to play in this.

But then that day it happened, and Adam was left with an emotional and mental void never to be filled. The thing that became a fodder for local conspiracy nuts.

Missing him too much or perhaps due to guilt, Adam vowed to spend an entire day with Avram. Right away, he noticed how often Avram would get phased out between conversations. But Adam could only feel sympathy for his weirdo. Then he suddenly got excited, "Hey Adam, I have been waiting to try something for sometime. It's great you are here. Do you want to see what I found?" Yes, said Adam half-excited but more worried. Avram asked them to enter his study. It was dark and seemed overgrown with some kind of root system which could have been less scary because as Avram switched on the lights, one could see that every inch of the room was covered in intricate drawings or some forgotten language. Adam was speechless, then on the ground he found an elaborate circular system of measuring devices and monitors. He switched it on, entered this 'portal'. Something within Adam wanted to stop him, but things happened at such speed, that right in front of his eyes, Avram vanished. For a moment, he wondered if he was dreaming but no. Then he wondered if this was a sleight of hand but not that either. As if on cue, Avram's parents entered, Adam was still forming sentences in his mind but they seemed to know. All hell broke loose, cops were called, Adam's statements were recorded. Then he was ordered in the meanest of voices to never speak of what he saw to anyone ever, Avram's room was ransacked, papers were confiscated and Adam was made to sign papers he wasn't allowed to read, and as in a drunken stupor, he caved. Days and nights after that Adam kept wondering what had happened? Had Avram become a bit of Tesla himself?

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