Excerpts from the Journal of Dr. Waller, as provided by Franko Stephens
Art by Errow Collins
July 27th, 2022
First journal entry on my first day of freedom! It’s weird, writing on paper. I haven’t used a pen since the third grade, when my idiot of a teacher decided that cursive was a lost art. Curriculum be damned, he said, you kids are going to learn this. Two days later, he was hospitalized after a horrible accident involving the metal frame of his chair and an unfortunately close electrical outlet. Sweet, sweet memories. I never did learn cursive.
Although this is never meant to be found … who am I kidding, I want some underfed scholar in the future to find this journal. My name is Dr. Ignacious Waller, Dr. Mental to the public, Iggy to my friends, if I ever make any. Twenty-seven years ago, I was arrested for the murder of 212 people in a cavern outside the city limits. My arch nemesis, Liberty Man, had failed to save them, though he nearly killed me before handing my battered body over to the authorities. In his defense, it was a trap, an unwinnable situation concocted by a brilliant mind. There was just one issue.
It was not my mind that created the trap.
Oh, I know. You’re thinking, of course he would not confess after being released, of course he would not write down his guilt like a moron. True, I am no moron, according to all the tests. Why am I even writing in a journal? The truth is, I need a focus. I need it badly. I need to start from the beginning, so that I may move forward in my own story.
Ever since my chubby little legs had learned to walk, I had a penchant for technology. According to my parents, when they still talked to me, I was reprogramming remote controls to operate the neighbor’s car and giving toasters mobility with treads from my toy tank. I was spectacular. However, the special schools would not take me because of biased, “unsavory” psychological exams. I was forced to languish with normal kids. Guess how I was treated.
I learned how to make money the old-fashioned way, by building robots to do my bidding. No bank was safe. No lemonade stand was left unscathed. By the time I was a legal adult, I had to go underground in order to pursue my interests. Literally. I had a cool subterranean laboratory and everything. After getting a higher education from a small, now defunct college, whose name I won’t mention here due to a … legal dispute, I embarked on a journey to better myself with lucrative crime. Don’t worry, that much is documented. Admitting to bank robberies, money laundering, genetic experimentation, and certain violations of the Geneva Convention were part of the deal I made for my release.
At the height of my career, the papers had dubbed me “Dr. Mental,” thanks in part to an editorial I submitted suggesting the name. Superheroes were all the rage back then, and the local Boy Scout patrolling the city was Liberty Man. He had a sidekick, the Skyline Sleuth, but he was a loser. Liberty was also part of a group called the Super Society (I know, who the hell thought that up?) that saved the world on a monthly basis, but the city was his alone. Despite the lame moniker, Liberty Man was a worthy contender, and over time I grew to look forward to our skirmishes. My big plans were typically thwarted, though I still managed to make quite a bit of money while avoiding incarceration. Until that one day.
No one knew why Liberty Man failed to save those people. I did. The trap was rigged so that, even with his super speed, there was no physical way to reach that cave. Liberty Man was never heard from again.
I went on the record as being obsessed with him. I stated our rivalry became dark and I wanted to hurt him. I admitted in court to kidnapping those 212 souls, holding them in the Boulin Caverns, and making the bomb that murdered them. False confessions. All of it. No one would believe the truth, so why bother putting it down here?
Because I was released. Just like that. One minute, I’m bench pressing two hundred and fifty pounds, and suddenly I’m called into the warden’s office. Sweating profusely, he stated there was a development, and I was to be let go immediately. He refused to reveal what it was, though he did give a laundry list of stipulations once I was free. I could not contact any relatives of the victims. I could not engage in any criminal activities. I could not use technology without a witness present, not so much as a cell phone. That one hurt. Thus, the pen.
I was driven to a halfway house that would supposedly help me assimilate back into the modern world. There was no press because no one knew. I was dropped off without fanfare in a house in the country. An elderly fart greeted me at the door, rifled through the paper bag that held my luggage, and led me to my room. Gruffly, he explained the rules, the chores I would be doing, when I went to bed, when I rose, when I could scratch myself, etc. Not surprisingly, his name was Gus.
There were no women allowed at the halfway house, either as residents or guests. I boldly proclaimed how sexist that was, but instead of listening to my well-structured opinion, Gus simply told me to shut the hell up. To make it even less palatable, as part of the agreement, I have to stay here for a whole year. I could leave the grounds, I could go to a baseball game if I liked sports at all, but this is my home now. Damn, my hand hurts. Pens suck. More tomorrow.
I have to get a job.
Apparently, I have to chip in financially for my accommodations. Granted, the house is not horrible, and there are only three other roommates besides Gus, but I have never worked an honest job. Ever. Apparently, my tech restrictions cannot be lifted for the sake of work. Gus had a list of nearby farms that would put my rather impressive physique to good use. “Looking forward to it,” I said as he handed me a list.
“Have employment lined up within a week, or I contact the warden. You can use the landline to call those numbers.”
“Shouldn’t I have a parole officer or something? Why would the warden still be involved?”
Gus said nothing.
I had already suspected that something was off about my release. There was no new trial, no appeals process, and no real reason given. Two hundred and fourteen people died, and I’m free? I’m keeping my guard up. I’m used to that. It’s come in handy.
I picked an apple orchard because it was the one place I didn’t have to shovel manure. The weather was crotch-smelling hot, but I didn’t care. I was out in the sun, among nature, and I liked apples. My mind wandered the whole day, and I thought about the Super Society, and how I wasn’t going to write this down, but I might as well. I literally have nothing else to do this evening. My roommates want nothing to do with me, and after six, it’s “Gus’s time to be Gus,” whatever that means.
Shortly after the trial and Liberty Man dropping off the face of the earth, the Super Society was attacked in their secret headquarters. Of the numerous members, (I never could keep track of how many) only two survived. One was their resident genius, a non-powered intellect like myself whose inventions were admirable but nowhere near my level. The other was someone who literally could not die, who had been around for centuries. His name says it all, and I’ll tell you a little about him.
Immortal Ian is a killer.
Officially, a one-shot villain named the Suicide King slew them all. After the attack, he was never heard from again. I am the only person alive who believes Ian was the Suicide King. I am the only person alive who knows why this is possible. After all, he was the one who approached me about setting the trap for Liberty Man. He replaced my mock bomb with a real one. He used my knowledge of Liberty Man’s secret identity to find his children and put them in a second cave, giving the hero a horrible choice. He was the one who set me up for the fall. I’m not saying I was a saint in my heyday, but mass murder? Even when I was offering vagabonds enhanced abilities during my ill-fated “Project Hobotomizer” I was not so heartless.
Immortal Ian set me up. There. I wrote it. In pen.
The son of a bitch went on to star in movies. He’s a staple in Hollywood circles and gossip columns. I don’t know what happened to the other guy, Gavin, I think. He could be behind my freedom as well, a chance to get to me for revenge. There’s no way I was released on a mere technicality. Not when so many died.
Apple picking tired me. More later.
He had threatened the children, you know.
Ian. When I was arrested, I was all set to turn on him. I had proof. Recordings, financials, good stuff. He visited me during the trial, when no one was allowed to talk to me, and threatened to put them back in that cave and finish the job. Obviously, I believed him. Bear in mind, old Liberty and I had been going round and round for years. With my intellect, his alter ego was easy to learn. I could have destroyed his family if I chose. I could have told the world who he was. As strange as this sounds, though, I respected him. Through surveillance drones, I saw him in his alter ego, taking his kids to the movies, having picnics with them and his wife. He loved them. They loved him. My own parents had been too afraid to love me. I was not jealous of his happiness. I admired it.
I could not do that to him. I could not harm his kids. I wasn’t even aware Ian had put them in the cave during the trap until it was too late to change anything.
Why am I writing about Ian again? Is it my bitterness at being set up and losing twenty-seven years of my life? No. I deserved it for my role, for allowing my ignorance to lead me down that road. I’m writing about Ian again because I’m pretty sure I saw him behind a tree in the apple orchard watching me. I’m pretty damn sure.
Gus, stop reading my journal. I know it’s you because I can smell the Spam from the greasy fingerprints you left on my pages. No one else eats Spam. Don’t make me tell the guys what I learned about your private time. Gus’s time to be Gus. Disgusting.
I’ve been taking my conditions for release very seriously. I’ve been good. So when I found a touch screen cell phone under my pillow, fully activated and ready for use, I instantly wondered who was setting me up. I hadn’t even bothered to learn my roommates’ names, that’s how little we interact. On the flip side, I’ve done nothing to them personally. They are also reforming criminals. They are also on their second chance, which is why I don’t believe it was them.
I wiped my prints off of it. It’s currently resting at the bottom of the trash bag I took to the curb today.
It was my turn to make dinner. I asked my helper, who is apparently named Kevin, if he had ever heard of Dr. Mental.
“Yeah, the guy who killed a bunch of people. Didn’t he get stabbed to death in prison?”
“Sounds about right.”
“Why’d you ask, anyway?”
“Heard the name from a couple picking apples.”
Kevin was on the younger side, as were my other roomies. It occurred to me that so much time has passed they might not know who I am. To confirm it, I boldly asked during our chili mac dinner why no one wanted to talk to me.
“We’re not supposed to fraternize with fellow ex-cons.”
“But we live together.”
Sighing, I shook my head and had seconds. Damn, I make good chili mac.
I saw him again. This time, he waved.
He wore a flannel shirt and jeans, as if he were trying to blend in. His long, curly blonde hair gave him away. No matter how far away he stood, I will always recognize the hair. I was on a ladder when I spotted him. Realizing how vulnerable my perch was, I hustled down, trying my best to keep my eyes on him. He put my muscles to shame, this wannabe romance novel cover in boots. In addition to a tremendous healing factor, Ian possessed super strength of an undetermined limit. He was so charming he once convinced an invading alien force to retreat after he posed in photos with them. I always suspected he was a sociopath of the highest caliber, able to hide his true motives under an impenetrable blanket of charisma. He cared about nothing but himself, and everything he did, said, or planned concerned how it affected him.
“Iggy!” he exclaimed as he approached me. I looked around. The other workers had moved on to another area. No customers were taking bites of fruit and dropping the rest to the ground. We were alone. I didn’t bother asking him what he was doing here. It was faster to just let him spew his crap until the reason emerged.
“You don’t seem surprised to see me.”
“I saw you before. You’re terrible at hiding. Out here, at least.”
Ian chuckled. “You’re welcome, by the way.”
“Oh, am I to assume that you’re taking responsibility for my freedom? Am I supposed to be grateful?”
“Well, yeah. Of course. Gratitude is in order.”
“Why, then? Why am I free? Cut to the quick, Ian.”
“Maybe I missed you.”
“The only thing you’d ever miss is yourself in a mirror. What. Do. You. Want.”
I’ll never forget the look on his face. I liken it to the view of a python from a mouse’s eyes right before the jaws snap over it.
“I bet you miss your tech, Iggy. Out in the boonies, surrounded by trees and nature stuff, not a wire or gizmo in sight. Must drive you nuts.”
“This conversation is driving me nuts. Get on with it.”
“You’re probably chomping at the bit to build something. All those ideas floating in your head. Especially with those unfair conditions against technology. Must be like torture. I can alleviate that.”
“I bet you can.”
“I can lift those restrictions. Just like how I brokered the deal to free you. All you have to do is build something solely for me.”
“Don’t you have an old clubhouse buddy to help you?”
“Gavin?” I saw what I wanted. Hesitation. A chink in the armor of arrogance. “He’s not up to it.” He made a motion of a bottle to his lips. Then he pulled a wrist watch from his pocket, held it for me to see. “I need this repaired.”
“Don’t they still have those kiosks at the mall?”
“What? Oh. This is not a watch. And malls are almost extinct.” He stepped closer, and I resisted the urge to step back. “It’s a reality splicer. It cuts the fabric between alternate universes. I’ve had it since I was … well, I’ve had it awhile. Wanna know a secret no one knows?”
“That hair’s not real?” I couldn’t resist.
“I’m not from this world.”
“That explains a lot.”
“I’ve been to many realities, too many to count, and I’m bored with this one. I want to go. So I need my splicer fixed. It’s the least you can do.”
“Are you serious? You set me up to take the fall for mass murder!”
“So? I didn’t want to be imprisoned.”
“Why did you even do it?” I yelled. “What had those people done to you?”
Ian was not in the least bit alarmed. I came to the conclusion that we had as much time alone as he saw fit. No one was going to interrupt us so long as he desired. It unnerved me, as did his answer.
“The people didn’t matter. They were the means to bring down the famed Liberty Man.”
“So my theory’s true. You’re the Suicide King.”
Ian smiled. “I knew you’d figure that out.”
“You wanted to get Liberty Man out of the way. Not discredit him, not keep him occupied, but destroy his soul. You knew he’d quit, disappear under the weight of his failure and their deaths.”
“With the strongest member out of the way, you could kill your teammates.”
“But why?” Ian whined mockingly. “Why, Ian? Why kill your friends? Is that what you’re gonna ask?”
“Don’t stop there. Answer the question, too.”
“Because that’s what I do in every reality!” he roared, tendons jutting from his thick neck. “Every single one! I arrive in the past, I become a hero, I help form a super team, I murder them in varyingly satisfying fashions, I leave the geek alive to tweak my splicer for the next trip, and I do it all over again! And why do I do all that? Simple! I love it so much, I can’t get enough, so after the first time in the first world, I replay it, replay it, replay it! It’s so perfect!”
I didn’t let him catch his breath. “What went wrong?”
“Why do you need me to fix it? What about Gavin?”
“Each reality’s a little different. In this one, Gavin became a raging alcoholic. He’s worthless now. You’re up.”
He handed me the splicer. I don’t know why I accepted it. Fear, maybe. “Your old lab’s outdated. I have a new one for you. Finish your apple picking. Go home, sleep. I’ll have a full pardon for you by tomorrow. That’s your incentive not to double cross me.”
As he walked away, I had to ask, “Why don’t you have the pardon now, so we can get started?”
He turned and shrugged. “Every reality has slow paperwork.”
Tonight, I’m in my room. My pillow started vibrating. Underneath was another cell phone buzzing with an unknown call. I took it to my ear and hissed, “What now, Ian? Is there an orphanage you forgot to blow up?”
“This is not Ian,” a raspy voice said. “My name is Gavin.”
I went with Ian. His lab was superb. Say what you will, he knew my tastes. Understanding the process of genius, he left me alone to do my work. The device was exemplary, futuristic but not as much as one would assume. Wherever, whenever, he took the item from had basic principles of engineering. I am by no means modest about my abilities. The splicer was fixed in under an hour.
Ian returned several hours later. I held it out for him proudly, like a child with an excellent report card, or a cat who brought the fattest sparrow from the yard to leave on its master’s pillow. “All set. Give it a whirl.”
Ian put it on his wrist. He paused, studying it, turning his arm. “So why didn’t you use it?”
“I tried. It’s only tuned into your DNA. You knew that, otherwise I wouldn’t have been left alone. Don’t try to belittle me.”
“Dr. Mental’s touchy. Wow.” He pressed the screen with two fingers. His body shook as if in the aftermath of a seizure. His aggravating smile faltered. Doubling over, he grunted, “You failed, Iggy.”
“No. It worked. You just teleported 9,864 times. Not through every universe, but enough to make you feel like crap. See, Ian, I tweaked it, adding my own updates. Before, you were traveling back in time but hopping randomly to whatever universe it took you. Now, whenever it’s used, it will take you right back here. So it does work in a way.” I leaned towards him. “You’re welcome.”
He struck me, as I knew he would. Instantly, the small, sturdy metallic dog I created from his vacuum robot appeared from its hiding spot in a corner and squeezed its jaws on the back of his neck. “Oh, by the way, since I had free time, I programmed your security cameras to run in a loop. I had a lot of fun in here. I even had time to make this.” I produced a replica of his splicer from my pocket and placed it around my wrist. “Mine’s shinier.” The dog had savaged his neck before Ian ripped it off him and tossed it against a wall. “You fu–” he sputtered as he fell onto his face.
“Funniest thing,” I gloated as I kicked him. “I got the most wonderful call from your bud Gavin. Turns out he’s not the drunk you believed he was. We have two things in common–we both love tech, and we both suspected you were the Suicide King. He told me a little secret about you.” I kicked him again, careful not to let my foot linger too long. “Your main weakness is a total lack of stamina. After a few minutes in a fight, you’d rely on people like Liberty Man to close the deal. Too much exertion, like your body teleporting 9,864 times, and you’re done. God, the sex jokes I could make right now. But I really need to get going.”
I applied one more juicy kick to his head. “Have fun in your newly permanent world.” I waited until he could raise his face to me, until I saw the bitter anger in his eyes. Then I activated my new splicer and left. Call me a coward, but I was not going to press my luck with a man who killed a whole super team.
June 14th, 1990
So by now you can guess that I am no longer in my own dimension. Before I took the leap, though, I stopped at a warehouse that had seen better days. Gavin was surprised to see me. I admit, I was slightly disappointed to see him so defensive. I thought our brief talk had birthed an understanding. “Here,” I said. “After you deal with Ian. Or if you don’t want to deal with him. A gift. For helping me.”
“I did it for my own reasons.”
“I know. Nevertheless.” I handed him a third splicer. Like I said, I had several hours alone. “In case you want a fresh start.” I didn’t explain how to use it. He was smart. Not at my level, but as close as any human being could get.
I’m writing with a pen from a small town by the Atlantic shoreline. If Ian had doppelgangers in those other worlds, he did not say what he did to them. My guess is that he was literally one of a kind. Maybe he even created all the offshoots by messing with time. I don’t know. I went to a world where Ignacious Waller’s parents had not met at a local barbeque shack named The Pig Out. I had to tweak the time, but it’s roughly when a young hero named Liberty Man is emerging on the scene. This world had yet to, and never would, meet Immortal Ian. Maybe I’ll move to the city, though, just in case I’m wrong, to keep an eye on things. Besides, I don’t like the idea of Liberty Man having a different nemesis. After all, who could do it better than me?
Dr. Ignacious Waller, AKA Dr. Mental, Iggy to his friends, is an arrogantly self-described genius. He pursued technological and genetic engineering endeavors toward a mostly illegal direction. In other words, he was a criminal and loved the life. After his release from prison, his current whereabouts are technically listed as unknown.
Franko Stephens lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and children. In addition to the multitude of stories told to his kids just before bedtime, he has a novel, The Crooner, currently on Amazon Kindle. His short story, “The Werner and Chalsky Event,” was published by Mad Scientist Journal in 2016. He hopes to one day find a home for his new novel, That’s My Little Death God.
Errow is a comic artist and illustrator with a predilection towards mashing the surreal with the familiar. They pay their time to developing worlds not quite like our own with their fiancee and pushing the queer agenda. They probably left a candle burning somewhere. More of their work can be found at errowcollins.wix.com/
“Purely Mental” is © 2019 Franko Stephens
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Errow Collins