The Perpetual Metronome
The following fiction piece explores historical events such as the Cold War, which in many ways still influence domestic and foreign policy in the U.S. It also touches on the current stance the government is taking in relation to the UFO phenomenon, concepts of ‘misinformation,’ American cultural history (principles relating to the constitution and blind patriotism), and the general surrealness of living in the U.S. In “The Perpetual Metronome,” the author attempts to tie these themes together in a way that can be enjoyed as a surreal story laced with the drowsy nostalgia of Rust-belt, upstate New York — or really, anywhere U.S. — and full of historical references and existential dread.
The corner of 1st and Liberty of Newburgh, NY was where they were to make first contact. It was after his second dream — in the first, there were only vague references to the superior, extra-terrestrial beings and their plan — that he knew it was time to take these premonitions seriously. The second dream, which was much clearer and comprehensible, illustrated the methodical genius of the alien masterplan. He knew it was going to be there at 1st and Liberty, near where the DO NOT ENTER and ONE WAY signs were posted, that the first of fifty perpetual metronomes, as he called them, would fall to skewer the American people into a state of collective hypnosis. It was the first step in a process called auto-suggestive destruction.
It was 1987 in Newburgh. More precisely, it was one week before Thanksgiving when the second dream came to George Theodore Van Buren, professor of American history at the State University of New York (New Paltz). There were hotdogs, hamburgers, cola, and apple pie from Shoprite for dinner that Thursday evening. Mother went to a school board meeting. Father let us watch hockey on the television and then made us kids go up to bed. Mother returned home, and our parents talked about school board issues, politics, and snow. They went to bed, turned out the lights, and then our father dreamed the second dream.
When we woke, he was already gone. Mother sat at the kitchen table, atop of which was the landline phone, coffee, and a collection of scribble-like drawings and shorthand notes. The latter belonged to George. She was making calls all morning, trying to locate her husband. We remember nervous energy, confusion, and grave concern filling the house.
Before the sun rose that morning, George was gone. Leaving his notes, he tried as best he could to explain the situation to mother and us. It horrified mother but we, in a non-expressive sort of way, were intrigued.
Mother’s brother, Uncle, was called. He was a New York State Trooper and came as soon as he could. There was mention of George administering lysergic acid diethylamide to himself in his earlier years and a family history in mental health. There was mention of the terms ‘snapping’ and ‘nervous breakdown.’
Upon returning home from school that day, we decided to find out what these things communicating with George were and why they chose him. First, we procured the collection of notes and illustrations when Mother went with Uncle down to said location of the perpetual metronome, where they thought George was likely to be.
In his notes, George wrote about the ‘superior beings’ looking very similar to us, almost identical. The only major differences were that they were all much stronger, infinitely smarter, and had weapons that could wipe out every single citizen of the country. George called their mothership, The Mayflower II. In detail, he wrote about the perpetual metronome. It was something invisible to the naked eye and once it started clicking, it could never be stopped, thus initiating auto-suggestive destruction. He goes on to explain this condition as a hypnotised state-of-mind that enables us Americans to care only for self and material gain. When this state is initiated by the perpetual metronome, we Americans will stop at nothing to take what is not ours, to possess as much of everything as we can, and to kill anyone who stands in the way — which, inevitably due to mass auto-suggestive destruction, means that we will eventually kill off each other until there is but one lonely American unable to take anything more from anyone else so he or she is left to take from him or herself, eventually taking his or her own life. Once the last American is gone, the ‘superior beings’ will let the remaining nations of the world divvy up the country among themselves. The ‘superior beings’ will watch gleefully from The Mayflower II.
Here we paused in reading to analyze the alterations George made to a roadmap of the entire USA. He added little dots, one in each state, with a red pen. These were the locations of all fifty perpetual metronomes.
George concluded his notes with a message directly to us:
My dear family, my dear Americans,” he began. “I will do everything in my power to stop these wretched beings from destroying our great nation. I will stop at nothing to persuade them that we are decent, loving people. WE STRIVE FOR A COOPERATIVE WAY OF LIFE! We will reform. PROGRESS! We must re-evaluate everything!
WE. MUST. REMEMBER.
‘It is easier for a something-or-other to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of god.’
We must strive for something more egalitarian, my family, my Americans!
This is most certainly goodbye.
After finishing, we were quite perplexed but there was, with this note, some clarity for the time being — George had in fact lost his mind and wanted to live like a hippie or a socialist, perhaps in Woodstock or New Paltz, maybe in Cuba or Russia. After sometime, Mother and Uncle returned with two other police officers and a man in a black suit who introduced himself as Sam. With the door closed, we were made to stay in the living room while Mother, Uncle, the two police officers, and Sam in the adjoining kitchen, discussed George’s note left in the house. Then after some time, one of the two police officers began discussing the second note, which a fellow police officer had found at 1st and Liberty. In it, George explained that he asked the extraterrestrial beings if it were at all possible to postpone the initiation of the perpetual metronome for some time. He asked if he might be able to meet with those in charge. They agreed. George was taken, leaving a note to explain his diplomatic goals and further urged the Americans to embrace egalitarianism. Sam collected both sets of notes into a dossier and the three new men rummaged through the house, boxing up much of George’s belongings. The investigation of George Theodore Van Buren commenced.
There were more men and women in black suits, apparently all named Sam, that interviewed hundreds of people who lived near the intersection of 1st and Liberty. This we know because in the year following George’s disappearance, five of them came forward to the press stating that they witnessed, first-hand, George’s abduction by extraterrestrials and confirmed that several agents going by the name Sam had interviewed them both individually and collectively. All five of them claimed to have separately witnessed George walking in circles at said intersection, talking to himself. He was said to have been writing notes, mumbling, and occasionally looking up toward the sky. Then, out of nowhere, there was a flash and a very subtle, greenish-yellow hue filled the streets. It was as if particles in the air had come together and formed some sort of shadowless, ethereal entity. There was wind, yet the trees were silent. And then, in another great flash, the five witnesses claimed George was pulled toward the sky by an unseen force. Immediately following this, the air’s movement and color returned to normal. The five who came forward had absolutely no known relation to one another and were by that fact credible sources.
George was officially listed as a missing person. Mother continued her search for him, taking us with her on nightly drives to different towns and cities for nearly two years. The suited men and women returned neither George’s belongings, nor a phone call to Mother or Uncle. The two police officers tried to ensure Mother and Uncle that they were tirelessly searching for George and that the case was in good hands but they too began ignoring Mother’s weekly phone calls, getting back to her through a generic, photocopied letter in the mail on a monthly basis to confirm their work on the case.
Five years and several days had passed since George’s disappearance. This was when Mother, after work, weeded through the mail, tossing the catalogues, TV guide, and various bills onto the kitchen table when out slipped from a Sears magazine, a small, off-white envelope stamped from Russia, containing no return address. She opened it, gasped, and then called for Uncle to come immediately.
The letter, which we read the next day when Mother was out of the house, was from a man named Georgiy Morozov. Georgiy, a citizen of the newly formed Russian Federation, wrote to Mother in English, describing the years in which he spent as George Theodore Van Buren as wonderful and remarkable. He wrote that his abduction was inevitable and unavoidable — there was no possible way to change that. If he had refused abduction, one of the other five KGB agents living nearby would have killed him and reported him abducted regardless. This outcome was inevitable and unavoidable, he repeated several times.
When contacted for more interviews by Sam, the five witnesses to George’s abduction were all incommunicado. They were all missing. One left town without paying rent, while another sold her house and moved to Europe. Two of the witnesses independently left for a holiday in South America/Australia and never returned, leaving the same neighbor the keys to their respective houses in order to let their pit bull/border collie out. The last of the Newburgh abduction witnesses was supposedly killed in a house fire that left no evidence of human remains.
It wasn’t until the Soviet Union was safely collapsed that Georgiy felt it safe to write to Mother. He explained to her — who in return explained to Uncle, the police, and eventually a different Sam — that there was one supposed perpetual metronome for each state of the nation. And with that, one deeply infiltrated spy disguised as an everyday American, would be abducted by extraterrestrials as a diplomat for socio-economic change in each of the fifty states. There were witnesses to nearly seventy percent of the fifty abductions, all of whom were also KGB. The extraterrestrial, the witness, and the abductee were all KGB alike. It was one of the many sleeper-cell projects the Soviet Union had devised, Georgiy explained. Its sole purpose was to confuse the Agency and put the fear of greedy, laissez-faire capitalism into the heart of the nation’s citizens.
Absurdity. Mother didn’t want to believe any of it.
Georgiy Morozov explained that he would be in New York City for a conference of some sort and that he very much wanted to see Mother and us, if we would be willing to see him. He asked for forgiveness from Mother and us and wanted to somehow, someway make things right. Explaining that there was absolutely no way for him to reimagine himself as George Theodore Van Buren, he suggested that we all relocate to the Russian Federation.
When for the second time Mother read this, she shook her head and vehemently stated: “This is misinformation. Lies. Capitalist pigs at work.” She continued: “The Russian Federation? Ha! Why on earth would I give up living in the greatest nation of the world, the United Socialist States of America, to live in an oligarchical, morally corrupt, place like capitalist Russia. Avarice scum! And lies! George was and still is your father — one of the fifty fathers of our nation! Our state’s martyr!”
With that, she crumbled up the letter and threw it into the living room fireplace, watching it burn to slate-black ash.
Mother then made us bundle-up so that we could go for a walk. The streets were filled with pilgrims. People came from all over to see our shrine in Newburgh, NY. The monument to our nation’s inception. There were Cubans, Angolans, Californians, exiled Soviets, and many more people from all over the globe — they were there for the gigantic, invisible machine that doesn’t exist. Many of the visitors wept upon rounding the corner of Liberty, knowing that just ahead was where the infinite pendulum would have swung. It would have sung its two silent notes, back and forth, loud in the minds of all, causing the absolute death of our people.
We crossed 1st Street and made our way through the massive crowd of people, finding a clear place to stand near where a young man kissed the ground and cried uncontrollably. The Perpetual Metronome was humbling in its absence. It left people speechless for hours after visitation. The tick-tock of auto-suggestive destruction, a discordant melody, reverberated the horrors of capitalism. And on that day, among the many, we stood at the corner of 1st and Liberty for hours, staring up into the empty sky at the chasm that was our past.
Michael De Rosa is a writer of short fiction living in Manchester, England. His work has been featured in Apt, The Blue Lake Review, Chronogram, The Nottingham Review, Otoliths, and more.