F R O M T H E J O U R N A L O F J. M. L I N C O L N
A U L D L A N G S I N E
The new century arrives with power and glory, coupled with a sense of optimism the likes of which mankind has never before seen. We live in Manhattan where I am employed as an industrial engraver. Veronica and I stand atop the roof of our brownstone at 235 West 55th Street on December 31, 1899, and quietly toast the New Millennium, our faces lit by the glowing fireworks that illuminate the midnight sky. Even in the dimness of the evening, the lines on Veronica’s face appear pronounced. She notices my stare and touches my face.
“What’s happened to you?” she asks.
“What do you mean?” I query, knowing full well what she means.
“Your face hasn’t changed. We’ve been away from Wheeling for eighteen years, but you look as young as, if not younger than, you did back then.”
I begin to explain it all, asking her to recall the collapse of the Hawkingsworth mine. With painful detail, I relate to her what occurred during those intolerable days when I was buried alive. I hypothesize that the glowing stones I’d encountered have somehow altered my physiology, retarding the aging process.
I pause to gauge Victoria’s reaction. A minute passes before she asks me to continue.
I continue to divulge my hypothesis but abruptly stop, then walk toward the edge of the roof. The fireworks continue to explode across the Manhattan skyline. Smoke plumes drift lifelessly in the wake of the explosions. I grasp a piece of discarded metal pipe and squeeze it in my hand. It crumbles like tissue paper. Victoria stares at me through bewildered, aging eyes. She grasps my hands with hers and stares, a gaze not borne of love but concern. She is analyzing the wrinkled flesh of her hands against the smooth softness of mine. The contrast is unmistakable. For the first time in our many years together, my wife’s eyes emit an emotion I’ve not seen before: Fear.
A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
Veronica dies in her bed on September 22, 1912. Her death is slow, painful. I sit by her side, an overwhelming sense of guilt and helplessness threatens to tear me asunder. Our children are with us. Fully grown and older in appearance than me, they are lost souls teeming with fright and anger. Fright because, in witnessing their mother’s death, their notions of immortality are shattered. They realize that they, too, will one day be in her place. Anger because they know that somehow I have found a way to bypass the eternal sleep. Moments before her heart stops, Veronica whispers her last words to me.
“Don’t be too long.”
“I won’t,” I tell her.
Her pale, blue eyes softly close for the final time.
The day after the funeral I recount to Janey and Joshua the details of my survival in the Hawkingsworth mine explosion of 1882. Their reactions are not what I was expecting. Joshua is particularly upset. Though not quite forty, he wears the skin, the frame, of a man much older.”
“It’s not right. I worked those same mines.”
“This isn’t some shining prize. It’s a curse. You do not want this,” I explain.
“You don’t know what I want. One day you will bury Janey and me, just as you’ve buried your wife, our mother.”
“You think that pleases me?”
“I think it must. You’re a vampire. Undead. Undying. Easy enough to pack up and relocate, change your identity. Start again.”
Though I dare not admit it, I realize Joshua speaks the truth. Whatever it is I’ve become–monster, vampire, parasite–has enabled me to start anew. The realization is both exhilarating and terrifying.
My thoughts are miles distant as I cross 54th street in New York’s Theater District on March 26, 1913. A sunny, unseasonably warm day in the Big Apple. I am returning from having purchased tickets to the musical Tomorrow’s Son, which has been the rage for several weeks. I purchased the tickets for Janey on the occasion of her upcoming fortieth birthday. Forty years old. My mind plays with the number over and over and I am soon lost in thought. So much so that I fail to see the oncoming delivery truck as I cross the intersection of 49th and Ivy. I do not hear the wail of the vehicle’s horn. I do not heed the shouts of passersby warning me out of the street. I feel only the impact as the truck, which jackknifes, topples, and rockets toward me, its payload several tons of sheet glass are dislodged from its bed. The rig and its contents impact with immeasurable force. It feels as though I’m being torn apart, probably because I am. Blackness follows.
Despite massive blood loss and multiple leg fractures, I survive. I am wrapped from head to toe in gauze bandage and told that my basic recovery will take months. Forty-eight hours later, I depart The New York Community Hospital without the aid of a wheelchair or cane. The staff stare at me, a sea of bewildered faces. As night falls, I remove the gauze bandages from my arms, legs, face, and torso. There are few scars, and I find that if I stare at them with enough concentration, I can watch the healing process.
At midnight I consume an entire bottle of turpentine and various other poisons. The combination brings swift unconsciousness, but the following morning I feel fine. I realize three truths about myself: 1. I do not age. 2. My strength is far beyond human. 3. I cannot be killed.
As US involvement into combat with foreign lands looms ever near, I begin to realize a potential within myself heretofore unconsidered.
WORLD WAR I AND THE SUICIDE MISSIONS
On April 6, 1917, the United States, under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, declares war on Germany. I enlist in the army the following week and undergo a compressed, albeit thorough, basic training. On June 26, I’m among the first of the US troops to arrive in allied.
The American First Division is some 4,000 strong. We are known as the “Big Red One,” and are under the command of Major-General Robert Lee Bullard, an experienced military man who graduated from West Point Academy in 1885.
His objective is Cantigny, a captured village occupied by the German 18th Army commanded by Oskar von Hutier. The German army uses the seized Cantigny as an advance observation point. It is heavily fortified. The soldiers with whom I have enlisted are young and afraid, but they mask their fears well. In this regard I feel it is I who am the coward. I have no fears of death, knowing that I cannot die.
Aided by our French allies, the US assault against Germany at Cantigny begins May 28, 1918. Our assault is preceded by a dozen French tanks which sweep across the land for two hours, deploying a formidable barrage of artillery. The fighting is intense; trench mortars explode across the terrain, wrapping the air in thick blankets of smoke. The Germans attack with an arsenal of weapons that include flamethrowers, machineguns, and rifles. Far too many of my colleagues are felled by these weapons in the two-day assault at Cantigny.
During the second day of the battle we are met with seven counter-attacks by the German army. Seven counter-attacks. It is an unheard of determination. We sustain more than 1,000 casualties, but I am not among them. My blood waters the barren earth, but my wounds, despite their number, are never fatal. Germany’s desperate counter-attacks ultimately fail, and the Battle of Cantigny ends with the US and her allies victorious.
Following a 48-hour respite, half of our division is ordered to the north-west to aid the failing allies in Aisne, where a massive assault by seventeen divisions of German infantry some 4,000 guns strong, is obliterating the French and British allies. Casualties are reported to exceed 120,000! The British IX Corps have been virtually wiped out. We arrive on May 30 and learn that Germany has captured 50,000 allied soldiers and 800 guns. They are closing toward Paris, and their occupation of the glorious French city seems certain. The numbers are staggering and the odds overwhelming. Still we must fight.
The allied command of the Second US Division receives an intelligence report on June 1. Castle DuChampe sits adjacent to the River Vesle. It is believed that the castle is stockpiled with guns and ammunition, much of which was seized from the allied forces by the German armies during the first two days of the attack of the Aisne. Between June 1 and June 2, six individual US-led assaults are launched against Castle DuChampe. Each offensive is an immediate death sentence to the soldiers of the First and Second Division. I can watch no more, and speak privately with my commanding officer, explaining why I alone must siege the DuChampe. I explain that I cannot die, cannot be killed. I display the faded scars from numerous bullet wounds. For whatever reason, faith or desperation, my request is granted, at least partially.
On June 3, 4:23 AM, the squad under my command approaches the northern most area of Castle DuChampe. Officially, I am sixty-three years old, but I look and fight like a well-conditioned soldier in his thirties. The gunfire from both sides is blistering, and the results, devastating. I watch as dozens of my fellow soldiers fall in minutes. Our division is one-hundred strong, but we are outgunned and outnumbered. We are without shelter against an enemy that is carefully hidden behind brick and mortar. We are cut down by our own captured Brownings and British Vickers.
I order the retreat, unable to bear witness to further loss of life. As the remnants of our company quickly withdraw from our failed assault, I turn and slowly begin walking toward the great wooden doors of the castle. My helmet protects my head from injury, my body absorbs the rest of the onslaught. A dense fog from the River Vesle hangs heavy upon the marshy plain, providing partial cover against the German sharpshooters. I walk through the mist, unhindered, toward my objective. There is shouting, frantic and alarmed. “Das Gespenst!” Let them think it. Let them think I am a ghost.
The castle’s doors are bolted from within. I rip through the oak barrier as if it were paper-thin balsa. The German soldiers stand bewildered as I dismantle one of the giant twin doors from its hinges and hurl it upon them. Behind me, my squad, having witnessed my advance, begins a second wave, and this time meets scant resistance. Most of the soldiers at DuChampe surrender without further provocation. We round up 131 in total, which happens to equal the number of slugs the field medic removes from my body later that evening. But the objective has been met. The reports regarding the ammunition and weapons stockpiled within DuChampe were not exaggerated. We appropriate several thousand rifles and machine guns, and nearly 100,000 rounds of ammunition. With the enemy denied these desperately needed supplies, the allied armies’ victory is decisive in the battle at Aisne.
My injuries, though severe, are not life threatening. Nothing, is seems, is life threatening any longer. I recover fully in seventy-six hours and am subsequently awarded the Silver Star for valor above and beyond the call of duty. I do not consider myself a hero. I would like to believe that anyone whose circumstances were akin to mine would have acted similarly.
I return to Manhattan on April 5, 1919, but find neither Janey nor Joshua. They have departed, with no information regarding their exodus. During the war I’d sustained countless injuries, yet those wounds felt superficial compared to the isolation I feel alone in this great city of concrete, steel, and glass.
There is nothing for me here.
Charlie McGee and Sean McBride have, with whom I fought alongside at Cantigny, have invited me to relocate to the windy city. They are both employed with the Chicago Police Department, and I now see no reason not to accept the invitation.
THE WINDY CITY
On June 20, 1927, a trio of bank robbers led by Butch McTiernan, aka, The Bagpipe, attempts the robbery of the First National Bank of Chicago, Hill District Branch. McTiernan is a former underworld captain with a short fuse. He’d been ousted from the mob years earlier and had since taken up armed robbery. His nick name was coined due to his proclivity to “entertain” victims by peppering the air with bagpipe music of his creation.
Miles O’Banyon and I are in the vicinity. We, along with several other uniforms, arrive at the bank following an anonymous phone call to police headquarters by an individual who reported seeing three men enter the bank, one of whom sported “a set of pipes.” We arrive in mid-robbery and order McTiernan’s crew to surrender. The thieves seek cover, dragging along a half-dozen innocents. A ballet of bullets ensues, with no fewer than 300 rounds being discharged. Several bank employees and customers are killed when Bagpipe and his cohorts use them as living shields.
I conclude that there’s little hope for the remaining hostages baring quick and decisive action. Without a moment’s hesitation, and with my finger on the trigger, I rush the thugs and take them out at point-blank range. During the assault I sustain a total of thirty-three gunshot wounds, but while many of the bullets enter my body, a majority impact but fail to break the surface of my skin. My partner, Miles O’Banyon, is less fortunate. He dies of hemorrhaging following a single gunshot wound to the abdomen. While my injuries are not fatal, the pain I suffer from bullets that penetrate my skin feels worse than any injury I sustained during the war.
Edward Ottenberger, chief surgeon at Chicago Presbyterian Hospital, who operates on me and removes the bullets is astounded at what he calls a “God-like survivability.” In total, he removes seventeen slugs from my tattered body.
The following day, Ottenberger writes to a colleague, Elliot Turner. Turner is chief-of-surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and founder of the US military’s Project Lazarus, an experimental research project in which investigators sought to reanimate dead tissue so as to reduce loss of life in future military campaigns—in essence, to create an army that could not be killed. Ottenberger, who was privy to Project Lazarus, sends to Turner a telegram (a copy of which he either carelessly or purposely leaves next to my bed while I recover):
21 JUNE, 1927
JOHNS HOPKINS, BALTIMORE
YOU MUST COME. IT’S THE MOST REMARKABLE THING I’VE EVER SEEN. I TELL YOU THIS MAN WAS FATALLY WOUNDED. SEVENTEEN SLUGS I REMOVED. TWO FROM THE HEART, THREE FROM EACH LUNG. ONE BULLET SEVERED THE GRAND AORTA! THE BLOOD LOSS ALONE SHOULD HAVE KILLED HIM TWICE OVER. DOZENS OF LIGHTER WOUNDS WHERE BULLET STRUCK BUT DID NOT PENETRATE THE FLESH. HE WAS CONSCIOUS UPON ENTERING THE ER. NO SHOCK. NO FEVER. BLEEDING, BUT IT WAS AS THOUGH THE ACT WERE AKIN TO BREATHING.
TODAY UPON EXAMINATION HE WAS CONSCIOUS AND ALERT. THE MAN SHOULD BE DEAD! THE MORE LETHAL OF HIS WOUNDS SHOWED HEALING EQUAL TO OR BETTER THAN PATIENTS AT SIX MONTHS POST-OP. SUPERFICIAL WOUNDS HAVE COMPLETELY HEALED. THIS MAY WELL BE THE IDEAL CANDIDATE FOR YOUR DEVELOPING PROJECT. E. OTTENBERGER
Turner boards a westbound train within two hours of receipt of the telegram. He reaches the Chicago Transit Station on July 2 and arrives at Chicago Presbyterian Hospital shortly thereafter. I am jointly examined by Turner and Ottenberger. They are unable to detect anything to scientifically explain my strange capacity for surviving otherwise mortal injuries. Turner is astounded at the pre-op and post-op photos with regard to my body’s accelerated healing rate. He explains the finer details of the Lazarus Project and is insistent in his wishes to perform in-depth analysis of my immune system and tissue regrowth since his project is close to fruition. He refers to me as “the missing piece of the genetic puzzle.” I’m impressed with Turner. He is a fast-talking devil dog in every sense. Ottenberger also wishes to study me, but it’s clear that of the two, Turner is the true pioneer and innovator. They speak outside my room in hushed voices, but I hear every word. Later, I promise Turner that, should I ever wish to become a test subject, I’ll be in touch. That afternoon I sleep briefly.
I awake and discover my arms and legs have been restrained. The restraints are as paper dolls to me. I leave the confines of Chicago Presbyterian despite the wishes of several orderlies who attempt to subdue me. I try not to injure them, but it is inevitable.
The following day I depart Chicago aboard a westbound Union Pacific freight train. I carry only a few personal items on the vagabond express. The dark and deserted box car provides me the sense of quiet calm. The train rocks along its tracks at twenty-five miles per hour, the rhythm of metal wheels upon metal rails is hypnotic. The solitude affords me time to reflect upon my life, or what is beginning to feel like multiple lives.
My thoughts turn to Miles O’Bannon. He survived a war on foreign soil but was shot and killed in America by Americans. A decent cop in a city replete with corruption on all levels.
Why was he was killed and I spared?
I reflect upon my actions of 27 June and the method chosen to stop The Bagpipe and his cronies. The number of slugs that pierced my flesh. I ponder my specific motivation. Had I truly been concerned with preventing a crime and saving innocent lives? Was I testing the limits of my alleged immortality?
Was I hoping to be killed?
I’d shot back, but only after having been fired upon more than 70 times. Was my return fire merely reflexive?
I have no answer.
Turner and Ottenberger. Physicians. Researchers. They see me for what I am. Something not quite God but more than human. What am I?
I no longer have an answer.
I hop from the Union Pacific the following day, hundreds of miles west of Chicago, and walk several hours to the nearest town. For the next three to four months I drift from town to town, and feel drawn to the west coast. I work odd jobs, earning just enough money to finance the next step of my journey. I don’t know what awaits me in California, but with each passing day and with each mile undertaken, my mind swells with anticipation at a life that waits to be defined.
NEXT: . . . as a Mad Immortal Man continues.