“Superposition” is the word physicists use to emphasize that the electron exists in a combination of all positions, with a particular amplitude for each one. Quantum reality is a wave function; classical positions and velocities are merely what we are able to observe when we probe that wave function … This line of division between the parts of the world that should be treated using quantum versus classical descriptions is sometimes called the Heisenberg cut. Something Deeply Hidden, Sean Carroll
Roger Penalt: “Have you read Peter Taylor’s short story Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time? It’s the same name as the painting in the your brother’s letter.”
Devon Jennings: “Yes, I’ve read it. You think the Manticore in the painting is a clue?”
Roger Penalt: “Yes, I do.”
Devon Jennings: “You may be right but I think there is more to the letters than that.”
My name is Roger Penalt. The following account is so remarkable you may be inclined to dismiss it out of hand. Rest assured, what I report is exactly what happened. It is the truth, the whole truth, as far as I can understand it. I have no answers, but my anxiety grows with each new revelation. I write this now as much to clear my own mind as to inform you of the strange events surrounding the recent publication of the novel Behind the Locked Door. Part dream, part reality, caught in the enigma between the two, the novel is, in the words of one reviewer, “a great, big, unruly bush. Even a thicket!” That certainly is the case. But, confronted with the bizarre events described below, my world has been turned upside down.
A few months before President Nixon resigned in 1974. I returned from an extended trip to Mexico where I studied with a local healer to learn about native cures and methods. Little did I know at that time how the events of my trip would resurface many years later to challenge my deepest thoughts about reality. Wandering, as I am prone to do, between bookstores on a quiet weekend, I recently discovered a newly published book, Behind The Locked Door, by David Herstle Jones (a pen name used by Devon Jennings). I was shocked when I discovered I was a character in the book.
Behind the Locked Door is the fictional account of a young attorney, Eric Martin, who died of colon cancer in 1972. The author, Devon Jennings, is Eric’s brother. The book was based on notes taken by a hospital orderly, Nelson Bridges, who helped care for Eric at the Stanford University Medical Center. Some parts of the book that refer to me are a fairly accurate account of my time in Mexico. This was a surprise given that I did not know Eric, Devon or many of the other characters in the book. Other parts of the book relating to me are total fantasy conjured up, I presume, in Eric’s dreams. I read the book several times. What I read shook me. I came to believe the similarities to my life were simply a coincidence, a very odd coincidence but a coincidence all the same. I have yet to rule that out, but recently I have come to doubt that idea.
Though now in my 80s, I clearly recollect those past times. I lived in an apartment complex in Sacramento. My neighbor was Doctor Immanuel Marx. I remember a discussion with Doctor Marx about my plan to travel to Mexico. From what I’ve pieced together, Eric Martin lived in the same apartment complex and was a close friend of Doctor Marx. Let’s assume Doctor Marx spoke to Eric about my plan to visit Mexico. That might explain how I became a character in Eric’s dreams. What is most extraordinary however is how accurate the book is, in particular about my time with Itandehui, a local healer with whom I worked in a remote mountain village. I find myself at a loss to explain it. However, I will try in the hope that you, dear reader, can find the answer that eludes me.
These are the facts that confound me. In the last few weeks I’ve received letters and post cards from Eric Martin sent from Europe. The letters speak about people in the novel, Eric’s friend Father Jordan, Eric’s wife Ofelia, and Eric’s son Daniel among others. The letters are written to me as if I were Eric’s great friend as I was in the novel. To say that I am deeply confused is an understatement. Dead people do not write letters. My first thought was that this had to be some kind of prank, a bad joke. I was soon obsessed. Who would do such a thing and why?
I located Devon Jennings and laid out the facts for him. He appeared as shocked as I was. He assured me his novel was based largely on the notes he received from Nelson Bridges although he did create characters and plot to “make the book flow.”
Devon’s novel was published years after the actual events occurred. I will not discuss the book in detail. I strongly suggest you read it yourself. The book chronicles the events of Eric’s death—the diagnosis, the treatment, and Eric’s vivid detailed dreams as recorded by hospital employee Nelson Bridges who befriended Eric during the short time Eric spent at Stanford University Medical Center in 1972. The detailed descriptions of my time in Mexico are what disturb me. How did this information end up in the book?
I started with the idea of distinctly different “Erics”. I designated Eric 1 as the young man who spent his last days and died in the hospital. I designated Eric 2 as the character in Eric 1’s dream about himself. That’s how I chose to interpret the book. But, with the letters, it seems there is an Eric 3 who lived on after both Eric 1 and Eric 2 died. Eric 3 sent me the letters. I know this sounds fantastic but it is one possible option. How else to explain the letters?
From Eric 1’s point of view, the dreams were as real as life. At several points in the novel, there are hints about what goes on “behind the locked door.” It isn’t clear what the door or the garden behind it represents: Eric’s dream world? Death? Some unknown realm where Eric 3 now lives?
A fantastic zoo of strange colors, people, animals, and objects flew in the space around him. A thorny bush clawed its way along the walls of the courtyard. A tree with enormous green leaves pushed its way upward toward the sky. A monkey sat on one of the limbs and fidgeted nervously. The monkey looked sad. Its eyes were closed. The monkey’s lips parted as if it were about to speak. This bizarre scene vanished to the sound of garbled words. (page 106)
A monkey often occurs in Eric’s visions and dreams. The monkey is almost always behind the locked door.
In a parallel universe a monkey watches him from across the divide—illusion or reality? He could think, therefore he was alive. Was the monkey alive inside his brain? Is a thought alive, or was Descartes full of shit? A Mexican street… a crumbling wall… peeling plaster… adobe bricks… wooden doors… rust-colored columns… a jutting shelf… black iron metal grates… a courtyard… darkness… behind the locked door, a life. (page 227)
Ghosts speak in the courtyard behind the locked door. The monkey reclines in a dark corner. The monkey grows larger and draws close to Eric’s face. He jerks his head away. A cold wind rattles the leaves of a large green tree. Beyond the courtyard, children sleep on the sidewalks, curled up in tiny balls like cats. Beggars troll the streets. A knife slips into a man’s chest. The monkey shrieks and scampers back into the darkness. (page 251)
The monkey warns of things to come and protects against lurking dangers. Near the end of the book it is the monkey who joins with Eric in a futile attempt to fend off the disease. The disease is manifested in the guise of a Manticore, a mythical beast that is said to be unconquerable.
One of the letters Eric sent me mentions a monkey:
Located out on the streets are organs that are self-operated by a man; he stands behind these big machines and spins a wheel. A monkey is tethered in front of the machine. It draws attention with its tricks and collects money.
The letters arrived long after the novel was published. I wondered if Eric 3 (if he exists) knows of the Leonard Cohen song First We Take Manhattan where “the monkey and the plywood violin” are an important clue to the meaning. I am a skeptic when it comes to ghosts and paranormal events but I will admit the idea intrigues me.
My first thought was that a prankster is the most likely explanation for the letters. Another possibility is that Eric arranged to have the letters mailed before he died. He would have needed help in which case someone somewhere knows something. But why would he or anyone have done this?
Devon discounted the idea that Eric 1 was behind the mystery. While the “real” Eric did have a devilish sense of humor at times, the idea simply seemed too wild. Besides, Eric 1 was very ill and weak. It is hard to imagine he had the wherewithal to pull off such a feat.
The letters had to be the work of someone who knew about Eric 1’s dreams in detail. Nelson was an obvious suspect. So was Marta, a diabolical nurse with a prominent role in the novel who is often described as a Manticore. I even considered Devon himself as the possible culprit, perhaps to pump up book sales.
In one of the letters, Eric 3 provides a clue that seems to implicate Nurse Marta.
In the National Gallery I stopped cold when I saw this famous painting of Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time by Agnolo Bronzino (see the attached postcard). Hidden behind Folly is a beautiful young girl dressed in green who offers the lovers a honeycomb, symbolic of temptation. A closer look reveals that the girl has the body of a monster, complete with a serpentine tail, hidden beneath her green dress. In her left hand she guards from view the sting in her tail. She is both sweet temptation and evil consequence in one body. Of course I thought of Nurse Marta who tortured me in the hospital. I shuddered at the thought that Nurse Marta had followed me into my new life. Ofelia reminded me the painting was over 400 years old. True, but in Europe the past is never far behind. I was and still am shaken by that painting.
I read Devon’s novel about my time in the hospital and in Mexico. It’s a good piece of writing don’t you think? Devon obviously benefited from the detailed notes Nelson took. For me, Roger, the door in the wall is a real door leading through a real wall to immortal realities. Of course you won’t understand that with your logical mind.
Have you read about Hazel Motes in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood? “Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place. In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.” Think about that place Roger. Where is it?
I don’t think Devon is behind the letters. I focused on Nelson, Nurse Marta, and Manny. Doctor Marx (Manny) was dumbfounded by Devon’s story. He is very old now and his memory is unreliable. After our talk I dismissed him as a suspect.
Eric’s dreams offer some ideas that might help explain the letters.
The answers to life’s questions were folded inside an intricate origami. Life was a maze in which the pathways ran off in all directions, with doors opening unexpectedly, leading back to the beginning or to some random spot where a new journey started. Some physicists believe time and the three dimensions of space are set in permanent relationship like a giant fruitcake. Everything exists simultaneously, past, present, and future. Maneuvering inside such a bog is tricky. A wrong turn and out you go through a wormhole, like Alice. (p. 81)
Is Eric returning to tell me something in the letters? I was anxious to hear what Nelson had to say given how much advice he gave to Eric in the novel.
“How many miracles do we have in a lifetime, Nelson?” “At the outset of life God gives you a certain number of angels, man. They float over you, protect your ass from danger, but if you cross the line too many times, they get the hell away. Just accept what comes. Don’t ask so many questions.” “It’s all new. Each day is full of new experiences. It’s like my life is starting all over again.” “That’s right. You finally gettin’ it. You learnin’ to live from the beginnin’, like a newborn babe.” (p. 493)
Nelson said he knew nothing of the letters. He gave me some advice: “People often believe only what they choose to believe, not what may be unbelievable but true, man. I mean, the letters, who knows? Yea, Eric could have sent them. I think maybe he did but I don’t know how.”
Nelson said Eric was not always in a drugged-up stupor. He was often lucid. Nelson insisted the notes he took were accurate and verbatim as much as he could make them. He believes Eric transcended to some other world and thinks the letters are Eric’s attempt to tell us something about that other realm. That’s a jump too far for me. I do not think Nelson wrote the letters. They simply don’t sound like anything he could write and there is no believable motive.
That leaves Marta. I was unable to contact her. She disappeared after the events described in the novel. The painting by Agnolo Bronzino titled Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time is a clue. Eric’s description of the young girl makes her sound a lot like the mythical Manticore creature, a creature very much like Nurse Marta in the book. The painting appears in a famous Peter Taylor short story I discussed with Devon.
That’s as far as I’ve been able to go in my investigation. Why did the letters come to me? Who wrote them and to what purpose? It all remains a mystery. I leave it to you to sort it out.
PS: Two things happened after I wrote this. First, I found Nurse Marta. She is still alive but suffers from Alzheimer’s and could not possibly be behind the letters. Second, and most important, I received this new letter from Eric.
Dear Roger, I read your appeal to readers of Devon’s novel. I’m sorry my letters have been so upsetting to you. So, this is my last. One reason for the letters is that my son Daniel is ill. I hoped to elicit your help given that you are his godfather and given your expertise in natural medications and alternative healing methods. Unfortunately, negotiating the Heisenberg cut has been trickier than I anticipated. While I found a way to get the letters through, I have yet to find a way for you and Daniel to meet. In fact, I now fear it is impossible. The Peter Taylor story you discussed with Devon explains why in this fateful sentence:
The obvious difference was that we had to stay on here and pretend that our life had a meaning which it did not.
Yes, you must stay on there and pretend while Daniel and I are stuck in our reality separated by the indomitable laws of physics. The Heisenberg cut be damned. Eric
To read the Peter Taylor story go HERE