Jeremy knew everything. He knew that Noam Chomsky viewed morality as either being a miracle or something innate like language. He knew that Emil Cioran heralded torment-fueled subjective experiences, and he knew all about George Kelly’s flexible personality theory based on changing personal constructs.

Bryce despised Jeremy because he was a know-all. But then again, Bryce was a grumpy man who hated everything. He hated the maid who cleaned his apartment, the spider who built its web on the walls, the sun at noon, and the chirping crickets at night.

Jeremy decided to teach Bryce a lesson, and he invited him over to read his new novella and give him his opinion. Bryce grinned when he heard this. “I’m going to rubbish that know-all bastard’s new book, and then let’s see how he feels about himself,” he said to himself. But little did Bryce know that Jeremy had studied dark psychology books by authors like Sebastian Goff. He already knew what Bryce was planning to do.

Jeremy offered Bryce a cup of tea when he arrived at his house. He then handed Bryce the novella and asked him to take his time and read it. Bryce didn’t know that Jeremy had laced his tea with a potent drug combination that he’d invented after researching Medicinal Chemistry books. Bryce soon fell asleep and awoke in a dungeon. He was naked and covered in feces. Jeremy sat outside the cell in a golden throne, wearing red robes. He looked resplendent.

“Bryce, my friend. Did you think that I didn’t know you were going to rubbish my book? I know everything. Look at you now, in a shit-filled dungeon, helpless and miserable.”

“Let me out! You sick, twisted bastard! Let me out!”

“Oh. You will eventually be set free, but not before you answer some questions. You see, what you’re experiencing now is part-reality and part-hallucination. You would never comprehend the science behind it, and so, it would be futile explaining it to you. Hell, even world-famous chemists would struggle. So, to put it in terms you’d understand, we’re both in our respective places in society, my friend.

“Moving on. I’m going to ask you some questions to test your knowledge. If you answer correctly, you’ll spend less time here. If not, a muscular man with a whip will appear behind you and scourge you. So, let’s get on with it.

“Question one. How deep into the ocean must one dive to find the Olive Ridly Sea Turtle? Is it 256 or 319 meters?”

“Listen, you bastard! I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but this will not end well for you. You understand me! You fucking psycho!” Bryce screamed.

“The whip it is then. Pedro.”

Bryce turned around and saw a huge, masked man holding a bullwhip. He then felt pain like he’d never experienced before.

“Fuck! Fuck!” He screamed and passed out.

He woke up and saw Pedro still standing behind him with the whip. He tried standing up, but the pain was unbearable.

“Let me out of here! Somebody help!” He screamed.

“Nobody can hear you, Bryce,” said Jeremy, still sitting on his throne. “Answer correctly, and I will let you go.”

“You bastard! Wait till I get my hands on you!” Bryce yelled, the pain in his back flaring up. “Fuck! Damn it!”

“Pedro.”

“Okay, wait. What was the question? I’ll answer it. Fuck! It hurts!”

“I don’t like repeating myself Bryce, but I’ll make an exception this time. How deep into the ocean must one dive to find the Olive Ridly Sea Turtle? Is it 256 or 319 meters?”

“319 meters. Can I go now?”

“Wrong. You find the Gummy Shark and not the Olive Ridly Sea Turtle at 319 meters. Pedro.”

“Wait! Wait! Aaagh!”

The bullwhip cracked, and Bryce shivered and spasmed as he tried to fight the pain. He bellowed and caterwauled. He recovered after a while and started sobbing. “Please. You have to let me go,” he wailed.

“I will after you answer two more questions. Moving on, which famous writer, wrote a letter to George Orwell rejecting his book Animal Farm?”

“I don’t know. Dostoevsky.”

“Oh, Bryce. You are so benighted; I pity you. Here’s a clue: The editor was a famous modernist.”

“James Joyce.”

“I’m afraid, that’s incorrect. It was T.S. Eliot. He was the editor of Faber & Faber in 1944. Pedro.”

“Please, no! Please, I beg you! Aaagh!”

The whip pierced skin and drew blood. Bryce whimpered and thrashed. At that moment, he realized that he was a failure. He became aware of his intellectual incompetence and started to admire Jeremy.

“Enough! Please! I understand now that I’ll never be you. You have to let me go!” He moaned.

“One final question. Do dead bodies fart?”

Bryce wanted to say, “No,” but he reasoned that what seemed obvious to him wasn’t correct and that he wasn’t knowledgeable enough to know the right answer, and so, he said, “Yes. Yes, they do,” while he winced in pain.

“Correct. You don’t know why, but you reasoned, and I like that. Let me also tell you that I like that you’ve begun to admire me. I laced your tea with a drug combination that helped create this reality, and its effects will wear off soon, but it will leave you with a type of Stockholm Syndrome forever. The next time you wake up, it’ll be in your bed, and all your antipathy towards know-alls will vanish. You’ll begin to admire them and even write odes and sonnets about their greatness. Every piece you write will also revolve around a man in red robes on a throne whom you’ll consider a god. Pedro.”

“No! Wait! No more whipping! Please! Fuck! Aaagh!”

Bryce woke up in his bed. He thought about the surreal turn of events that had flipped his life upside down. He then bought books by Kafka and Ligotti and decided to read them and not remain ignorant. His back never stopped stinging, but the pain only drove him to become more knowledgeable and wiser.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2020)

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