The Experiment

The Experiment

by John Darnton

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451200105
Publisher: Signet
Publication date: 08/01/2000
Edition description: REISSUE
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 6.76(h) x 1.35(d)

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Chapter One

Skyler and Julia crept to the basement door of the Big House and looked around to make sure they weren't being watched. A breeze stirred the humid air, rustling the Spanish moss that hung from the old oaks that arched over what used to be the approach road. It made a dry, whispering sound.

    It was dusk, at least, which meant they would be hard to spot in the shadows of the old manor—but not that hard if someone walked around back.

    Skyler felt the fear as a tingling in his groin; from there it spread upward to his belly and reached his arms and legs.

    This is crazy, he thought.

    If they were caught—he couldn't even imagine the punishment. Nothing like this had ever happened at the Lab.

    They weren't sure what they were going to do. They had no plan, really, other than to break into the Records Room and search for clues to explain what had happened to Patrick. They had to do something, try to find something, or else the reason for his disappearance would never be known. It would remain forever mysterious, like those of the others on the island, who had been taken away and never returned.

    That morning Patrick had appeared fine. He had eaten breakfast with the others in the Age Group and then gone off to calisthenics and chores. But by the early afternoon they had heard the rumors: he had been summoned for a physical—not the routine weekly examination but a special physical. That was a signal that something was wrong, that perhaps a dreadful illness had beendiscovered, and sure enough, the Elder Physicians had convened a meeting before dinner to inform them that Patrick had been "called away." The phrase had been uttered ambivalently, as it always was: in sadness certainly, for the Physicians had loved him as they loved them all, but also with a hint of reverence—as if he had made some sort of noble sacrifice.

    At the doorway Skyler moved closer to Julia. He smelled the familiar scent of her hair, and it plucked up his courage. He grasped the doorknob and turned it slowly, and pushed. Nothing happened. He held the knob firmly, lifting it while he rocked the door gently with his other hand, and it suddenly gave way. So, it was not locked. That made sense: the leaders of the Lab would not have worried about security.

    Who, after all, would be foolish enough to open it?

    He slipped inside and heard her light tread behind him. She was breathing in long spurts. When he closed the door, darkness engulfed them. Above their heads, they could hear footsteps creaking along the old floorboards and the indistinct murmur of voices. Skyler listened; he couldn't identify them. One was high-pitched and sounded a bit like Baptiste when he was excited or angry. Skyler felt a rush of complicated emotions and a strange sense of longing. What would happen if they just marched upstairs and demanded to know everything? He darted a quick glance outside. The wind was up and the moss was waving on the branches of the old oaks. Twilight was upon the island.

    What are we looking for?

    Julia had already moved across the room. He hurried to a bank of filing cabinets and began tugging at a drawer, but it would not open. He saw that it was locked in place by an iron bar that ran across the front, secured by a padlock on one side. He looked at her quizzically. She knew this place, the Records Room, from her afternoon career chore. She would come in to dust and straighten up, although of course she was not permitted to touch the machines or files or even any of the thick textbooks that lined the shelves. But while refilling printers and stacking paper and washing the floors, she had observed a lot. She had made a game of carefully watching the computer operators, and once, left alone, she had even tried to work the machine.

    Before Skyler knew it, she was seated at the computer. She clicked it on, and instantly a greenish glow filled the room. Damn! They hadn't anticipated that! Julia took off her shirt—what is she doing?—and then Skyler understood as she draped it over the screen and poked her head under it. The glow shrank within her little tent, and it shivered with her movements.

    Skyler moved away and stood guard, his back to a wall. His eyes were now accustomed to the dark, and he scanned the room. The interior walls were hewn from rock and whitewashed, the exterior ones constructed with cinder blocks. The floor was linoleum, and the ceiling was covered in acoustical tiles marked in one corner with a widening pool of brown water stains. There was not much furniture: the computer Julia was sitting at and one other on a plain wooden desk, metal file cabinets, a bookshelf, a standing lamp and a green Naugahyde chair with a rip down one arm.

    He looked at Julia, who seemed oddly at ease now that she had something to do, and he admired her coolness. He had never before set foot in the Records Room, and he felt he was trespassing upon forbidden ground.

    He watched the windows for movement outside, but he knew that the real danger was closer at hand—the staircase. If they were discovered, it would most likely happen because one of those voices above decided to come downstairs. What if an Orderly needed to fetch something? He tried to push the thought away. Julia's head was still hidden; he could almost hear her thinking as she pecked at the keys, trying different combinations. Then she removed the blouse from the screen and looked at him, a ghostly radiation upon her cheeks.

    "Sky, come," she whispered.

    He raced over and peered across her bared shoulder at a blank screen.

    "I can't get anything," she said, distraught. "I don't know how to work this thing. It's hopeless."

    She turned the machine off, and the green glow shrank to a dot and disappeared. She stood and put on her shirt. Skyler glanced outside one last time and approached the only other door in the room. From the moment he had seen it, he knew he would have to open it. He suspected that it led to a place about which he had heard rumors for as long as he could remember. As children, it had loomed large in the dark corners of their fearful fantasies.

    He turned the brass doorknob and pulled.

    There was a white metal table in the center, and domed lights above, shining brightly. The floor was graded slightly and led to a drain. Cabinets lined the walls, stocked with medical equipment. Tanks of gas with rubber tubing and a mask stood next to a bed in one corner. The room was scrubbed more painstakingly than any he had ever seen.

    Slowly, he stepped inside, and Julia came behind. The room was warm and stuffy. There was yet another door, thick and heavy like the vault of a meat locker. He crossed the floor and pushed the door lever, and it moved swiftly inward, opening onto a black void. He found a switch and flipped it, and a blaze of light blinded him momentarily—mercifully—until finally he focused upon the terrible sight before him. For there, stretched out upon a slab, was a body.

    At first it looked like a small statue, pale and strangely shrunken. It was lying upon its back. The feet lay pointing outward, as in repose. There was a yellowish-green hue under the neck and spreading in half circles around the armpits. Male genitals slumped to one side, swollen with fluid. Skyler tried to avoid looking at the chest, but found his eyes drawn inexorably to it. The chest was gone. In its place was a cavity, sliced open, neat as a gutted fish. Flaps of squared-off skin hung down on either side like shutters on a window, and the rib cage had collapsed inward around a dark hole that was ringed in dark red—dried blood.

    It was Patrick.

    Skyler jumped as Julia slipped up behind him and touched him lightly on the arm. He felt her stiffen as she saw the body, and he heard her next to his ear, a quick intake of breath.

    "Look" he exclaimed in a voice gone small. "His heart's gone."

    He heard her resume breathing. They stared for some seconds.

    "But why?" she said.

    He had no answer.

    They backed out and turned off the light and closed the vault. In the Records Room, Skyler stood watch while Julia examined the desk and computer with trembling hands, making sure there were no traces of their presence. When they got outside and shut the door behind them, they looked around quickly to make sure the coast was clear.

They ran as fast as they could and didn't stop until they were deep inside the now darkening woods. Even there, the only sanctuary on the island left to them, Skyler and Julia no longer felt safe.

    They stopped, gasping for breath. She sat on the ground, and he leaned against a tree. When she spoke, her voice was so low that he could also hear the stirrings of small animals in the underbrush, and he tried to listen to both. He kept watch.

    "I don't understand," she said. "Why did they have to take everything out of him? What did he have?"

    "I don't know, but it must have been deadly. Fast-acting and deadly."

    "How do we know?"

    "Why else would they cut him up like that?"

    "Do you think it was some horrible disease?"

    "Maybe that's what they're trying to find out."

    "Do you think it's contagious? Maybe we got it."

    "We were only there a couple of seconds"

    "His heart was missing—you saw that. Where was it? Why would they take it out?"

    "I don't know—unless, maybe, they're analyzing it or something."

    His tone didn't sound convincing, he realized, when he heard himself.

    "I don't know," she said, standing up and walking around. "I hate this—it's frightening. There's so much we don't know. Something is going on."

    Skyler knew what that meant, where she was headed. For months her doubts and suspicions had been growing, faster even than his. And when they got together for their secret meetings, which seemed to both of them more and more risky, sooner or later she broached the subject. She was becoming obsessive.

    "Patrick's not the first to die"—Skyler noted that she did not mention Raisin by name, and he was at least grateful for that—"and he's not the first to be called in for a special physical. Why don't they ever discover something during the regular physical?"

    "I don't know. Sometimes they do."

    "But not always. And that makes it seem like they know something's wrong beforehand—don't you see?"

    He did. And as so often happened, he knew without knowing; on some level he had had the same thought, but he hadn't cared to examine it until she held it right in front of him. She was always like that; her mind was swift, unrelenting. She could brave things that he preferred to look away from.

    He nodded and glanced at her in the fading quarter-light, her long dark hair hanging in strands against her cheek, the paleness of her underarms as she reached out.

    "It's horrible," she said. "Just horrible."

    She put her arms around his back, and they held each other tightly. They had done that hundreds of times, but still, at the first touch, there was always that flash—the forbidden. The Lab did not allow boys and girls to mingle, and now that they were older, the prohibition was backed by a punishment so severe that no one even knew what it would be. No one had ever violated the rule. Until them.

    He realized, as he began to calm a little, that he had been trembling since he had seen the body.

    "We have to go back" she said, pulling back at arm's length and looking into his eyes. "They'll miss us in the dorms. What if somebody comes?"

    Skyler knew she was right—what they were doing was dangerous—but he did not want to let her go. He was reluctant to be alone with his thoughts.

    They held hands as long as they dared, until they reached the outskirts of the Campus. Then they separated and moved toward their separate barracks, passing the Big House in the distance. A full moon was on the rise, and Skyler could see the mansion through the shadows of the oak trees that surrounded it. The moss hanging from the branches obscured part of the facade, but the moonlight reflected off the upper windows like a glow from within.

    At one point, Skyler looked back and saw Julia slipping from behind a tree to the pedestal of a statue of a Greek goddess, and as the moonlight caught her, it froze her in his mind forever, so graceful and vulnerable.

In bed, lying upon the thin mattress that covered his wooden bunk, Skyler listened to the sounds of the others breathing in their sleep, sounds that he had heard his entire life, and tried not to think about Patrick. He almost thought the sounds were a little altered, that he could detect one missing.

    There would be, he knew, a funeral service, and Baptiste would speak, as he had at the other services. Skyler didn't want to think about those either.

    Instead he tried thinking about the past, when he'd been young and everything had been different. The island had been his universe to explore. How he had loved the scientific excursions into the forest, the mad search for bugs and plants. How happy he had been on those occasions—like Baptiste's birthday—when the doors of the Big House were thrown open to them. How he used to relish those nights sleeping out of doors to learn about the stars, scanning the skies with telescopes; in the mornings he would awaken early and lie still, identifying the birds by their calls and watching the first thin rays of the sun shimmer over the water.

    Jimminies, the children were called, though where the word came from or what it signified, they were never told. They were all about the same age, a year or two different, no more. So they were especially close.

    Growing up in the Lab, they had felt secure and content. Neither Skyler nor any of the others had ever really questioned not having parents, even though they knew that children on the mainland—"the other side," it was called—possessed them, In reality, all the Elder Physicians were their parents, they were told, and they were lucky to have "not two, but twenty" figures of respect who raised the children according to scientific principles and treated them all with an equal hand.

    And, anyway, Skyler and the other Jimminies were special. They were "pioneers of science," participants in a noble experiment. On their island paradise, they would live long and fruitful lives through a regime of mental purity and bodily health. If they were lucky, they would never experience "the other side," that cesspool of pollution and violence. They would never get any closer to it than the movies and TV programs they were allowed to watch on special occasions.

    But it didn't always feel like paradise: the endless medical examinations, the pills and vaccinations, the blood and urine samples, the calisthenics and rules against running games that might be harmful. And then, too, there were the Orderlies, three of them, so much alike and each with that peculiar slash of white in his hair, who ruled over them like stern older brothers. It was hard not to dislike them.

    Skyler had a distinct recollection of the time long ago—more than ten years now—when he'd first become restless. He'd been fourteen years old at the time. Like so many of his memories, this one was bound up with his best friend, Johnny Ray, or Raisin, as Skyler himself had named him.

    It had begun to happen on a summer day after the science lesson in the lecture hall, a one-room wooden structure set high on cinder blocks. Even with windows on two sides propped open, the hot, thick air barely moved. Above the blackboard was a customized couplet, printed in handsome script:

Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night: Bacon said, "Let Newton be!" and all was light.

    In unison they had recited Rincon's First Law, named after the Lab's founder, Dr. Rincon, who did not live on the island and was known to them only through his teachings and his research: "Human life alone is sacred; its preservation and extension is our mission." Scientific facts were drummed into them, learned by incantations and memorization. They learned the periodic table of elements, the name of every part of the body, the biological kingdoms and phyla, all the known planets of all the known solar systems, even the four-letter coded DNA sequences surrounding a hundred and twenty disease genes. On this particular day they received back papers they had written, most with high marks. Outside the lecture hall, Raisin pulled Skyler aside.

    "It's phony, you know—this whole thing."

    "What is?"

    "Writing papers, getting grades. They don't even read them."

    "How do you know?"

    "I tested them. After the first two paragraphs I made it up. I wrote complete gibberish."

    He showed his paper and the grade he had gotten, scrawled at the end: VERY GOOD.

    "I don't think they care whether we learn or not—you ever get that feeling?"

    In fact, Skyler realized, he did have that feeling sometimes, but he had never put it into words.

    "But then why would they teach us?"

    Raisin shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe to keep us busy."

    For days afterward, Raisin kept up a tirade. He harped on the restrictions that circumscribed their lives: the books in the library that they could not read because they were "not fit," TV shows that they saw advertised but were not permitted to watch, games of roughhouse they could not play, questions the Physician Teachers never answered.

    One hot afternoon, through the open windows, they heard, as they sometimes did, distant cries carried by the wind—the sounds of younger children at play at the Nursery. The Nursery was a small adjacent island—it could be reached across a narrow sandbar at low tide—but the Jimminies were not allowed to go there. Nor were the toddlers ever brought onto the mainland.

    "Did you ever wonder," Raisin asked later, "why we never see them? What would be the harm in it?"

    There was another group with whom the Jimminies were permitted no contact—the Gullah, a tiny community of black people. Skyler and Raisin had heard—from where they did not remember—that these were descendants of slaves, and that many years ago scores of them had inhabited the southern half of the island. Now there were only a dozen or so, mostly fishermen living in shacks on the western shore. A few brought fish to the Big House, and they were objects of fascination to the Jimminies, mysterious silent beings who walked on the paths, carrying glistening trout and yellowtail on long fronds ripped from the fan-shaped palmettos.

    "They have boats," said Raisin. "Why don't we have any boats? Why is the only boat in the Lab locked up inside the boathouse?"

    Skyler finally turned on Raisin, demanding that he stop posing his stupid, troublesome questions. "Why are you doing this?" he shouted.

    Raisin smiled. "Asking questions is supposed to be part of science," he replied. "It's called the scientific method. Remember?"

    And then gradually a strange thing happened: Skyler began asking questions, too—to himself—little ones first and then bigger ones.

    One Sunday morning, he gazed up at Baptiste during Dogma and had a remarkable sensation. Not so very long ago he had been enthralled by Dogma. The services had given structure to his week, in the same way that science gave meaning to his life. Even before he understood the full meanings of the words, he loved to hear Baptiste roll them out, starting softly and then raising his voice gradually until, gripping the lectern with both hands, he was practically yelling. Skyler would sit there spellbound.

    But this day he felt nothing. He looked at the symbol upon the wall, the twin-headed snake coiled around a staff. He looked at the blown-up photograph of Dr. Rincon in his white coat, gazing off confidently as if he were surveying a future in which Reason and Science had triumphed. And he looked at Baptiste, whose coal black hair was pulled tightly around his head, accentuating a skull that seemed as narrow as an ax blade. And he felt nothing.

    The Chief Elder Physician spoke.

    He spoke about the "beauty of reason and organization over the chaos of superstition and religion." What did he mean? He spoke about "the pendulum of the historical-cultural cycle swinging to our side." The words sounded hollow. It used to make Skyler feel privileged, all this talk of how they were so special, raised by the Lab as acolytes of science. A chosen tribe —stronger, healthier, purer, longer-living. How they were kept away from "the other side" to avoid contamination from the "modern-day Babylon" of the United States. But now he didn't know what to feel—he didn't feel much of anything.

    How strange it was. Baptiste kept speaking, but Skyler blocked out the words. He stared at this man who had been the magnetic force at the center of his life for as long as he could remember. And it was then that the remarkable sensation happened: slowly, as he looked, Baptiste began to appear smaller, frail, aging with specks of gray in his hair and crow's feet around his eyes. He even seemed—was it possible?—slightly ludicrous.

    Skyler leaned forward and turned slightly to catch a glimpse of Raisin. He could tell by his posture, hunched in on himself as if in concealment, that he was undergoing the same epiphany. They locked eyes, and Skyler saw an ember of defiance burning there. At that moment the two exchanged an unspoken, unspeakable secret—apostasy.

* * *

The next year the restlessness got worse. The questions wouldn't go away. Odd things kept happening. A girl named Jenny disappeared into the surgical ward for six days, and when she returned, they were told her left eye had been diseased; in its place she wore one made of glass. A boy was taken away in the middle of the day, held in the ward for two days, and then just as mysteriously released—the attending physician said his illness had been successfully treated.

    Raisin, tall and gangly with his hair sticking out in all directions like animal fur, was turning strange. He had always been different. For one thing, he was an epileptic, subject to sudden fainting spells. Though it was never stated outright, both he and Skyler knew that the illness was troubling to the Elder Physicians—anything less than perfect health was deemed a failure.

    For another, Raisin had stopped taking the daily pill handed out to all the Jimminies at evening meal. He insisted the pill robbed him of energy. Proudly, he showed Skyler how he concealed it under his tongue when the Orderly passed; saving it for a collection stashed in a tin can under his bed. Wherever he went, he secretly carried a child's toy, a wooden soldier four inches tall, so bruised and knocked about that its blue and red paint was largely gone; even when they went on forced marches around the Campus, he kept it in his pocket, and sometimes at night when the others were sleeping, he would take it out and play with it and show it only to Skyler.

    Increasingly, Raisin was on the verge of open rebellion. He had become a target of attack at the Lab's Self-Criticism sessions. He was denounced by the Orderlies for various offenses and spent hours with the Psychologist Physician. Three times he was punished for disobedience, forced to spend the night hungry and alone locked inside "the Box," an old chicken shed at the edge of forty-foot pines; the sounds of the animals foraging in the darkness around him frightened him, and in the morning he was welcomed warmly back into the group and given a large breakfast. For days afterward he behaved himself, but it didn't last.

    The only saving grace was that Skyler and Raisin and many of the other Jimminies had turned fifteen, and so their schooling stopped and instead they took on chores. Skyler was a goatherd. Every morning he rounded up a band of the scrawny animals from the barnyard, shepherded them to distant pastures and brought them back in the late afternoon when the sun was low in the Sky. This brought him a taste of freedom.

    Raisin was given the worst chores, but one of them had a hidden blessing. Once a week he was sent to collect honey from beehives in the woods—a job few others were brave enough to do—and these turned into occasions for celebration. He would abandon his honey jars and meet up with Skyler. Away from the Lab together, they could do whatever they wanted.

    Sometimes when the two of them were alone in the woods, Raisin would have a seizure, and Skyler learned to care for him. As he lay thrashing about on the ground, Skyler would hold a stick in his mouth so that he wouldn't swallow his tongue. Afterward, Skyler would cradle his head and murmur gentle phrases to him as he came back to consciousness, surfacing from some dark depths, blank-minded and confused. They, of course, kept the fits a secret.

    Way up in the northern forest, Skyler discovered a hidden meadow reached through a narrow passage in a ravine. It was hemmed in with boulders and trees, and, ringing it around with branches and underbrush, he turned it into a makeshift corral for the goats. By confining them inside, he was able to roam free. From then on, when he met with Raisin, their horizons expanded. For a few watchful hours at a time, they had the run of the wild area to the north. They explored the swamps and dense woods, running along the paths made by wild boar and deer. They gamboled in the fields and climbed trees so tall that they could see the whitecaps of the ocean. That such dangerous activities were proscribed made them that much more delicious.

    On one particular spring day, when the outlying blanket of cordgrass waved in the ocean breeze and the loblolly pine smelled fresh of sap, something extraordinary happened to them.

    With the goats securely tucked away in their enclosure and the honey jars already full, they were lying upon their backs in a field, when Raisin, a piece of straw sticking from his mouth like a cigarette, turned to Skyler and suddenly announced that he wanted to explore the western shore.

    "But that's where the Gullah are," protested Skyler.

    "That's the whole damn point," he replied, using the one profane word he had picked up from TV.

    And before Skyler could think of an objection, Raisin was on his feet, off and running. Skyler kept up and followed, but he was at pains to keep up, running as fast as he could. They tore along a path toward the shore and then through a patch of swampland, sending the water splashing around them. Raisin lengthened his lead. Skyler saw his back receding ahead of him, zigzagging between the trees until he disappeared altogether. Then suddenly Skyler heard a sharp cry, followed by a long moan. He recognized it instantly—the onset of a seizure. By the time he caught up, Raisin was writhing on his back, his limbs jerking in spasms and his eyes turned up in the sockets.

    Quickly, Skyler covered him with his own body and placed a stick between his teeth: He thrust his head to one side and held on with all his might, trying to deaden his weight to keep Raisin close to the ground, riding out the seizure like a wrestler pinning an opponent. Gradually, he felt the spasms subside and the body beneath him turn limp. But as he rolled off, something lashed his arm, thin and strong as a whip. For an instant, he imagined Raisin had sprouted a tail. Then he saw what it was, and as he leapt up and turned the body to one side, the snake was hanging there, its fangs embedded in the back of Raisin's leg. He got a branch and beat it until finally it released its hold and curled up. He smashed the head until it stopped moving and then ran back to Raisin.

    "Don't move him, child!"

    The command came over his left shoulder. He obeyed it instantly without even thinking about it. He was pushed aside, and a pair of coal black hands ripped Raisin's pants open, exposing a red welt and two tiny black-blue holes in the milky flesh. A knife came out, moving quickly to make four slits in a crosshatch. The elderly man with gray hair bent down, pursing his lips and sucking the wound with a slurping sound. He turned and spat out venom and sucked some more, and soon he was extracting mouthfuls of blood and expelling them upon the leaves of a berry bush. Raisin began to stir.

    "Hold him still," the man directed, and Skyler did as he was told. The old man made deeper cuts and turned Raisin on his side so that he bled into the ground.

    "Don't pay to take no chances," he said. "That'd be no ordinary snake. That's a water moccasin.

    Soon, Raisin was awake, and Skyler was ordered to carry him. He did, and followed the large elderly man, who was dressed in a bulky blue sweatshirt and wide-bottomed blue pants. They went down the path until finally they came to a clearing and he could smell the mudflats. Ahead was a grove of cypress, and on the other side, a shack no bigger than a garage, made of shingles painted blue. As he carried Raisin inside, he looked to his left and saw an expanse of water coming right up to the grassy bank. There was an old wooden dock, and tied to it—Skyler's heart skipped a beat when he saw it—was a boat with an outboard motor.

    "Put him down" the man said, gesturing to a sagging iron-frame bed covered with a quilt. Skyler was dying to ask all kinds of questions—he had never been inside such a place, with so many new and intriguing objects—but he kept silent as the old man bound up Skyler's wound and even sewed together his pants leg.

    "No reason to go around talkin' about this," he said. "Those people you live with, they don't take to your talkin' to strangers. You go tellin' anyone, and you're going to have to deal with me—and I got my ways."

    The man cast a hard glance at Skyler, who was sitting quietly in an overstuffed easy chair, and at that point the boy suddenly recognized him—one of the fishermen who brought their catch to the kitchen window of the Big House.

    "We won't, I promise," he said.

    "Damned right—we won't."

    Raisin suddenly sat up in the bed, surprising both of them.

    The old man took Skyler over to a window and pointed at the backyard, a jumble of long weeds and engine parts. To the rear was a tupelo maple, and from its branches hung more than a dozen round, shiny objects—hubcaps, Skyler later realized. They turned, glistening in the sunlight.

    "I have my ways," said the old man. "You ever heard of juju?"

    Skyler shook his head.

    "Magic. You talk about this and it'll be the last talkin' you do. You'll just open your mouth and nothin' will come out."

    Raisin, intrigued, asked his name.

    "I don't go tellin' my name till I know the other 'ns."

    They introduced themselves, awkwardly. They had never done that before.

    "I'm Kuta."

    "How come you're called that?" asked Raisin.

    "How come you're called Raisin?"

    "I don't know. It's just a nickname."

    "Mine's more than a nickname. It's a story."

    And the old man settled into the easy chair. Skyler sat next to Raisin on the bed.

    "Kuta's Gullah, what some folks here speak, though you wouldn't know nothing about that. It means turtle. I'm called that, 'cause when I was born, I was such a little thing, the midwife held me up in the palm of her hand, lying on my back, and I was so small they didn't expect me to live. She says: 'Why, this little babe's no bigger than a turtle.' And so I was. But I kicked my legs and I kept on kicking and I just willed myself to keep on living. Even when I was growed, the name stuck."

    "And what's that?" asked Raisin, pointing at a trumpet hanging from the wall by a peg.

    Skyler knew Raisin knew the answer; they had seen bands playing on television.

    "That," said Kuta proudly. "That's my instrument." He fixed Raisin with a stare. "You usually ask so many questions—or is that the snake talking?"

    But he didn't wait for an answer. He told a long tale about his younger days playing the trumpet in jazz bands on the mainland. He talked about juke joints in New Orleans and life on the road, playing for ten bucks a night and gambling it away and waking up next to beautiful women whose names he could not recall.

    "Nothing like the travelin' life," he declared, rubbing a gray beard that stood out against his black leathery chin. "Broadening to the spirit. Good for the soul. A man needs travelin' the way a fish needs the ocean."

    And as he talked, Skyler looked at Raisin and could see that he, too, was entranced.

    They stayed, that first day, more than an hour. Kuta saw them off, standing on his doorstep, leaning his bulk against the frame, while Raisin asked one final question—could they come again to visit? Kuta pawed his cheek, thinking.

    "You know you ain't supposed to be 'round here."

    Silence again. Finally, the old man looked them over, sizing them up.

    "Shoot. I guess it's no harm, so long as you don't go tellin' nobody. Specially those Orderlies. I don't want no trouble, now."

    When they returned to the Lab, Raisin limping on one leg and Skyler trying to shoulder his weight, they talked excitedly. Skyler hadn't seen Raisin like this in years. It seemed a whole new world had opened up, and their minds were suddenly reeling with new possibilities.

    "We got to be careful," Skyler said as they approached the Campus. "Can you walk without a limp?"

    "Damn right I can."

    And he did.

The boys returned six days later. Kuta was sitting under a palm tree, repairing a fishing net, which was spread out on the sand before him. Raisin walked up and sat on a rock five feet away, silently watching as the bony black hands moved a three-inch needle back and forth through the wire mesh. Skyler sat next to Raisin and they stayed like that, awkward and silent for quite a while, until finally Kuta broke the silence.

    "What you lookin' at, child?"

    Raisin shrugged, gave a hint of a smile and replied simply: "You."

    "What's a matter? Never seen a body work before?"

    "Not sitting down."

    And so was born an unusual friendship.

    Skyler and Raisin visited Kuta about once every two weeks, whenever they could get together and whenever they dared to risk it, moving cautiously along the path to make sure they were unobserved and looking in his window to see if he was alone. He always was. He had been married twice, but both women lived on the mainland and he hadn't seen either for years. He seemed equally fond of both wives, and he loved talking about them—especially how good they were in bed.

    Talk like this intrigued Skyler and Raisin because they had been separated from girls for the past year and any mention of sex was forbidden at the lab. They asked so many questions about it, that one day Kuta slapped his knee laughing and vowed to take them to a house he knew in Charleston—a prospect that almost literally took their breath away.

    Raisin jumped at the idea, then sulked when Kuta said he was joking. He was always trying to get Kuta to take them out in his boat—"just to go fishing," he pleaded, though Skyler suspected there was more to it than that—and Kuta kept coming up with excuses: the boat needed repair, the engine had thrown a valve, the tide was wrong. Finally one day he looked Raisin straight in the eye and said: "You know those people in that Big House would have my hide. They own just about the whole island. What you tryin' to do to me, child?"

    Still, the old man seemed to luxuriate in his role as life guide. He filled their heads with Gullah history—recounting such stories as the ancestors who had stepped off a slave ship onto this very island and turned to march directly back into the ocean toward Africa, a mass drowning. At times, talking about the Lab, he would turn serious, shaking his head and pronouncing "something wrong-headed" about its strict doctrines. He thought it peculiar to get all those inoculations—"they turning you into pincushions, for what?" he demanded. And he derived a pleasure in dispensing subversive notions.

    "Don't see no harm in running," he would say. "A boy's gotta stretch his legs if he's to become a man. And what's wrong in leaving the island? It don't make no sense to stay cooped up here your whole life."

    For their part, the old man was a window to the outside world, the only person they had ever met who was not in the Lab. They loved the forbidden hours in his shack, sitting on the bed with broken springs, hanging on his every word. The trumpet was always hanging from its peg upon the wall, and on special occasions—meaning when the spirit moved him—Kuta would take it down and play a riff or two, his cheeks bulging like a blowfish.

    He had a television, but they preferred listening to the radio. It was turned during the afternoons to a DJ called Bozman, who spilled out the words in singsong Gullah.

    "Disya one fa all ob de oomen. Dey a good-good one fa dancin."

    And Kuta would translate: "This one's for all the women out there. It's good dance music."

    The broadcast—from the mainland—almost made them shiver, it was so illicit and enthralling.

It did not escape Skyler that all this talk of freedom and sex was feeding Raisin's discontent. Increasingly, he began talking of his dream of going to "the other side." As the months passed, he became more and more rebellious, always in trouble of one kind or another. He began standing up to the Orderlies, talking back, openly obstreperous. And punishments lost their effect. His head was shaved bald, which was meant to humiliate him; he seemed to wear it as a badge of honor. Food was withheld; he grew uncomplainingly thin.

    One morning, Raisin was called in to see the Psychologist Physician. There was a report that he had been seen masturbating, which he did not deny. Nor did he deny hiding the dinnertime pills; he seemed to enjoy leading a search party of three Orderlies that marched straight to the barracks and found the cache of tablets under his bed.

    The Elders confined him to the Campus—he had long since lost his right to gather honey—which meant he could no longer slip away to see Kuta. Skyler realized that the prohibition would be hard to bear. One afternoon, Raisin was discovered in the woods; Skyler alone knew where he had been. He was removed from the barracks and consigned for three nights to solitary confinement in "the Box." Skyler tried to visit him there. The first night, he got close enough to hear Raisin talking to himself, playing with his toy soldier, but he had to leave when someone approached. The next night, he found that the Orderlies had placed the guard dogs around it, and their fierce barking kept him away.

    Soon, Skyler saw Raisin only at a distance in odd moments, his bald head bobbing as he carried out garbage from the Meal House or cleaned the toilets or submitted to some other discipline. He was confined for days on end in the basement of the Big House—locked inside a room at night, according to the rumors. It was Patrick who told Skyler this, and he broke the news gently, out of deference to their friendship.

One hot morning, Skyler was crossing an upper field on the Campus when he walked by the vegetable garden and heard his name being whispered. He looked around, but saw no one. Again, he heard it, coming from behind a row of waist-high corn.

    He ducked behind it and there was Raisin. He had been sent to do weeding, and his head and cheek were smudged with dirt. His hair was growing back in ungainly clumps, his eyes looked pink and watery, and he was disturbingly gaunt. He had a wild look about the eyes.

    "I have to get away," he said, grabbing Skyler's arm and squeezing it so tightly it almost hurt. "You have to come, too. The things I've learned—down there, in the basement. You have no idea what's going on. Horrible things. We all have to get away."

    Skyler didn't want this. He was scared. Raisin was acting so strangely—there were little bubbles of spittle at the corner of his lips, and he seemed to be babbling with the urgency of what he wanted to say. The others would be coming right behind him and—Skyler felt a stab of guilt—he knew he would get into trouble for being with him.

    Still, Raisin was his friend, his oldest friend. He needed him. Skyler would hear him out and do whatever he wanted.

    "I want you to come with me," Raisin said. "I can break out. Tomorrow night. We'll meet at the boathouse and take the boat. We'll go on to the other side. We'll be out of here—for good. We'll be safe."

    Skyler agreed. He felt dread in his stomach. The others were approaching.

    "Eight o'clock" whispered Raisin. "Eight o'clock at the boathouse. Don't be late!"

The next night Skyler felt his heart pounding as the hour approached. He listened carefully for the chiming of the grandfather clock in the Big House and heard it strike seven. He made a small bundle—two shirts, an extra pair of socks, a small pocketknife, a paperback book on Charles Darwin—to carry with him.

    The mainland! What would it be like?

    His hands and feet felt cold with fear. I'm a good friend, he told himself—a loyal friend.

    Then something unforeseen happened. There was a noise way off in the distance, a thin crash that sounded a bit like glass breaking. It could have come from the Big House, though he wasn't sure. He listened intently, but everything was quiet.

    Five or ten minutes later, he heard footsteps, a heavy tread on the pathway leading to the boys' barracks. The door swung open and in stepped an Orderly. He surveyed the room, pulled a chair up against the door and sat in it, his arms folded. The other Jimminies were stunned; nothing like this had ever happened before.

    Gradually, they settled down. One by one Skyler heard them drop off to sleep, the sounds of their steady breathing. He stole looks over his blanket at the Orderly, sitting there, implacable.

    Skyler waited. He watched. Then he, too, fell asleep.

    He awoke sometime in the early morning hours. The chair was beside the door, empty. Otherwise, nothing had changed. He leapt out of bed, dressed and went to the door, leaving the bundle behind under his bed. When he stepped outside, he could see dawn was already coming up in the east.

    He ran to the boathouse. And then his heart soared. The lock was broken—the door was swinging open a half foot or so. He crept up to it, softly placed a hand upon the latch and pulled it wider, peering inside. The light was dim. There was the slip inside between two narrow docks that hugged the walls, the sound of water lapping the base of the piers. And on the other side the bay doors were open—he could see straight through to the bay. The boat was gone!

    Outside, four feet from the door, he saw a small object. He bent to examine it and then picked it up and held it in his hand. Raisin's toy soldier.

    That afternoon, he learned that Raisin had never made it to the mainland. He had lost his way in the marshes, they were told, and at high tide the boat had been caught in the treacherous currents. It had capsized and he had drowned. The boat had been discovered floating upside down a half mile from shore, and when it had been turned upright, Raisin had been found, his lungs filled with water, his face a ghostly blue and one leg caught under the wooden seat.

    At the funeral service, Baptiste theorized that the escape had brought on a seizure. He managed to say some good things about Raisin. Julia, Patrick and many of the other Jimminies wept openly; something in Raisin's whole saga touched a chord of tragedy in their world, and they sensed it would never be the same. As for Skyler, he was too devastated even to cry. He felt he had lost his only brother.

    He put some of the blame on Kuta. For a while, he stopped coming to the shack, but then, when he found he missed the old man a great deal, he resumed his occasional visits. He still basked in the warmth of his company, but it wasn't the same. When there had been three of them, the old man talking and the two boys drinking it in like wine, it had felt like a family.

Lying in bed, Skyler marveled at the human mind. Here he had tried to avoid thinking about Raisin and his death a decade ago. He had tried to construct roadblocks to prevent thinking about it, and his mind had led him on a back route to that self-same destination.

    He felt his hands and feet go cold again, just as they had that fateful night.

    He reached under the bed and searched with one hand for the object. When he didn't find it at once, he feared that it was missing, but then he struck it with his finger. He lifted the wooden soldier up and placed it under the thin blanket.

    Raisin dead. Now Patrick. Who would be next? How many more would there be? Had Raisin been right: were none of them safe?

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Experiment 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very predictable and contrived plot. Vapid characters. The author mixes lots of textbook science with an elementary, almost childish style of story telling.
Bookmarque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The concept itself is brilliant, but I wondered the whole time why the scientists gave the clones lives. Couldn¿t things have been better managed by keeping the clones in some kind of stasis, like a coma? Maybe the organs or whatever wouldn¿t have been as viable that way, but it seems like they would be to me. But if that were the case, we wouldn¿t have had this novel.The writing is a bit stilted sometimes and the characters sometimes behave with incredible stupidity, but overall it's an enjoyable, light read.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was given to me by my grandmother. When I saw how much I had to read I almost put the book back. I read the first few pages and i enjoyed them. This book was very suspenseful and hard to put down. I especially enjoyed the ending. I wish this book never ended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This Has got to be the best book I have EVER read. It actually grabs on to you, and won't let you put the book down till your done!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book started off very interesting. It kept me guessing what was happening and was fun to read. When I was getting to the last 40 pages or so, I was wondering how the author was going to wrap things up by the end. Unfortunately, they were wrapped up to quickly, neatly and cleanly. I was very disappointed in the ending. Seemed to simplistic for this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent plot. Kept me thinking. A thriller from start to finish.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book. It was exceptional. I never put it down. Wow! He really infuses the plot with some strong ideas, he certainly gave me a lot to think about. The plot progressions was surprisingly interesting as well taking many twists and turns throughout. I definitely recommend this to anyone. I just wish he wrote more prolifically.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Darnton's character portrayals are as believable as the scientific plot. An enjoyable book, and although wordy at times, an ending that was shocking and well worth the wait.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a book to get us thinking about, do we have more of ourselfs out there? This is a real enjoyable read and the science is very belivable. The charcters you come to belive is real, Everytime you think you know whats going with the plot, a new twist comes around. I would give this a must read
Guest More than 1 year ago
A stunning book. I read it in a day and a half. It has a few similarities to an 80's movie called 'Parts: The Clonus Horror' (Mystery Science Theater 3000), though thankfully Darnton was able to make a much better book from the idea than the scriptwriters could for the movie. The plot is gripping from the beginning, filled with surprizing but believable plot twists throughout, superb character development, and the entire book is completely believable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My parents are always trying to get me to read more books outside of school and I do occassionally. The Experiment was very surprising and good. Foreshadowing was made impossible. The title's bland and at first it didn't sound very good, but overall, this is a must-read book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book made me stop and think if is there really only one of me. People often say you have a twin, just stop and think next time when someone says that to you. One must read this book to truley answer the question , is there only one me out there.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What an excellent read. Every page kept you hanging and guessing. The book was so thick with pages (481pgs) I was afraid that it would have alot of words and no context, was I ever wrong. This has been one of the best books I have read in a long time. The plot just kept twisting further and further into medical 'no man's land' you just couldn't figure out what the end of the book would hold. When you finally think you have it all figured out the author adds a new twist to things. I like how he finalized the ending of the book; left no room for guessing what happened to the characters. Just one excellent book. Terri
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once I got into the story and the characters, it was hard to put down. It even motivated me to go out to the internet and do some searching on age research and bio-engineering. The author does take a little time to develope the characters but once the story grabs you, it will keep your interrest till the final page. worth buying even in hard cover.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author is clearly highly qualified in a number of areas, but thriller fiction may not be one of these. The writing style is drab, the characters totally lacking in interest or appeal. These shortcomings make it impossible for the reader to give the massive leap of faith required to salvage the highly improbably plot. Finally, although the author credits a number of technical sources, there are blatant errors of fact throughout - some simple ones: the medical company that makes scalpel blades is Becton-Dickinson, not Becton-Dickerson; Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is not synonymous with 'mad cow disease', in fact the relationship is the basis of much debate.