“The Ananaki” by Sean Boyd
John Lookheart was a private detective of little consequence in the small upstate town of Ithaca, NY. There isn’t a lot of intrigue in Ithaca, and John had carved out a niche for himself doing investigations in worker’s compensation cases. The largest employers in town were Cornell University and Ithaca College and they both used John to uncover fraud perpetrated by their employees. Having read a plethora of detective novels from the forties and fifties it wasn’t the glorious work he had envisioned. Most of those stories were of course set in swanky New York and Los Angeles and involved the rich and famous in murder cases. He longed for the go-it-alone persona of the detective who bucked the system, but beat the police to the case’s resolution. He wished this for himself the way a boy wishes to for his first baseball glove to define himself in the schoolyard.
He passed through the intersection of the four main highways that passed through town, known locally as the octopus, thinking about how uninspired he was about his work. Turning down State Street he parked outside of his office, which was in the third floor of a three family home. He ignored the flashing light on his answering machine, made coffee and mindlessly flipped through a stack of medical reports. He wouldn’t bother listening to his new messages until he became bored with shuffling the reports as he looked for inconsistencies. His parents had pushed him to be a doctor, and he finished his schooling only to bail out on his residency when he realized that he wouldn’t gain the ultimate power over death. He didn’t have the heart to watch people suffer if there was little or nothing that he could do about it. That was the way his mind worked. He needed to have control over his situation in order to not feel like a failure. His training made him perfectly suited for his work as a compensation investigator. He could read MRI’s and X-rays, grill doctors and claimants, and he had an uncanny ability to be successful on behalf of his clients.
Despite, or because of, it being the main part of his job, it took only an hour for him to get bored by the files. He walked over to his answering machine, with its red light flashing, and disinterestedly pressed play. It was spring and as he looked out his window he could see the red buds of the trees searching the air for confirmation of this fact. The first three messages played without attracting his interest, but the fourth piqued his curiosity. He pressed repeat, got out his pen and heard,
“Mister Lookheart, this is Doctor Crowe from Cornell University, I have a few cases of wrongful death that have come to my attention and I would like your assistance in clearing up the circumstances. Please call at your convenience.”
“Typical. No phone number,” mused John. Not only does every person who works for Cornell have a Ph.D or two, including the janitorial staff, but they all view themselves as so important that they don’t need to leave a return number. He would have waited to make the call, but the wrongful death part had triggered waves of fantasy to crash against his deflated self-concept. “Maybe I will get to do some exciting work for a change,” thought John, not realizing that it was the closeness of death, the only element out of the ordinary, that made it seem exciting to him. He even found himself wondering where he had put his gun, so many years ago.
Dr. Crowe was a new name for John, and when he didn’t find him listed in the human resources department, he flipped to the alphabetical listing in the Cornell directory. Collings, Cooke, Crawford, Crowe, Donald J., professor of parapsychology, 254-6231. Odd, not even a dean. John was sure that all doctors of psychology were crazy and he could only imagine how cracked a doctor of parapsychology could be.
He got connected on the first try. “Mister Lookheart, I am glad that you called so quick. I am hoping that we can meet to discuss an anomaly that I have discovered.” “Great,” thought John, we are already talking about anomalies, but he played along.
“Sure doc, when’s good for you?”
“I have classes all afternoon, how about four p.m.?”
“In my office.”
“I will see you then.”
After hanging up, John copied the address from the directory into his Filofax, and went back to work on the medical reports that were taking over his desk. The day passed quickly, and at four p.m., John found himself facing an eccentric looking individual across one of the lavish desks that Cornell supplies its faculty.
Dr. Crowe looked like a caricature of a mad science professor. He was apparently too absorbed in his work to be concerned with his appearance. John noticed that he wore no wedding ring band, his cuffs were worn, and his fingers looked like they hadn’t done so much as a day’s gardening in their lives. His hair had a mind of its own, and his eyelashes looked to be long enough that he could brush them back into his forelock. The room was full of books and void of anything indicating a personal life. The coffee he was making was hand-picked organic. The expense account record on the desk showed only meals at the local vegetarian restaurants, and he was barefoot. John took this all in with a sweep of his eyes.
Dr. Crowe had a British accent, and John took a guess and asked, “What is a Dover lad doing in upstate New York?” The expression on the doctor’s face showed satisfaction with John’s acumen. “My field of study led me to Cornell, and I must say that I find the countryside sublime. My specialty is the anthropology of colonization, ancient colonization, focusing on the Ananaki.” John wondered why he was listed as a parapsychologist, and assumed that the Ananaki must be some local Indian tribe that he had never heard of. There was certainly not, as far as John knew, any ancient colonization of New York, unless you include the story of the Jews sailing down the St. Lawrence Seaway in 300 B.C., as told in the Book of Mormon.
“How can I help you?” asked John.
Dr. Crowe handed him two dozen files that included medical reports, death certificates and autopsy reports. The files were all on some incredibly bright Cornell students who had come down with terminal illnesses, and died. He asked John to look over the files for any discrepancies or relationships that existed between the cases. He should proceed as if they were fraud cases, and leave no stone unturned.
John brought up the issue of payment, and was handed an envelope that held $10,000, in cash. “I am aware of your fees,” stated Dr. Crowe, “and am prepared to give you a sizable bonus. I want to inform you that on the surface all these cases look legitimate, so you will need to be particularly diligent.”
John left the office and threw the files into his aging BMW. He felt warmth spreading through his body, beginning where the envelope of cash pressed against his chest. He wondered how much this case might be worth and was so busy thinking about the money that he didn’t consider the bizarre channel through which he had received the job, or why Dr. Crowe had paid in cash.
His other open cases were all put on the back burner, and he focused all his energy for the rest of the week on Dr. Crowe’s supposed anomaly. A week later he was again back in Dr. Crowe’s office to present his findings. In truth, he had found nothing extraordinary, but felt that he had earned the ten grand, having spent hours pouring over the files and correlating the information.
“Well, what did you find?” the professor asked, as he handed John a cup of coffee.
John rattled off the facts. They were all patients at Cornell Hospital, they suffered from a wide range of diseases, they were all dead, the same doctor had performed the autopsy on all the patients, and they were all cremated at the same place. The causes of death were all well documented, and supported by medical history and second opinions. They had all received the latest procedures and had not responded well. To contribute to whatever intrigue Dr. Crowe imagined, and to show that he was looking for devious connections, John stated that all the patients had stopped the treatments before they were complete. In John’s opinion, there was no way they could have survived, and stopping treatment, or making peace as it is sometimes called, is not uncommon in terminal cases. After this decision, all the patients had been moved to the hospice ward, which was overseen by Dr. Livengood, who had signed the death certificates, and passed away surrounded by loving family and friends. The only other connection was that they had all decided to be cremated after they had entered the hospice ward.
“Excellent!” cheered Dr. Crowe, “You are now up to speed. I could have told you all that, but I wanted you to see for yourself.” Dr. Crowe handed John another envelope of cash.
“What’s this for?”
“For you to continue.”
“Who or what am I investigating?”
“If I told you it might prejudice your thinking, but I should tell you that you should proceed cautiously, with all the sleuth you can muster. I will pay you $5,000 per week, plus expenses. Good luck.” With that Dr. Crowe showed John to the door.
As he left, John decided that Dr. Crowe was definitely a nut case, and tried to figure out a way to earn his five grand per week. There were no dangling leads, no flashing lights in his head saying, “look over here!” so he decided to hit the files again.
After going over his notes again and again, he decided on a course of action. It was a long shot, but he had to do something. He spent the next week investigating the finances of the now dead students. Many were wealthy, but there was no pattern or single benefactor that connected the cases. Then he researched the hospital’s finances. It was a well-funded university hospital, and all the patients had excellent health insurance. Nothing. No angle. He did find that the hospice ward’s budget depended on how many beds were full. This would obviously be contrary to a motive for wrongful death, but maybe there was a connection in how they ended up in the hospice ward. It wasn’t much, but it suggested a course to follow.
He interviewed a few of the doctors who had administered treatments to some of the patients. They all agreed that the procedures would have given the patients a year of life, at best, and were quite painful, so they hadn’t been surprised that the patients had opted out. The last doctor he spoke with did add an interesting note. One of the patients had been very positive about the treatments but had decided overnight to end them. The patient was quite settled in his choice, and never had a second thought. “It was eerie, in a beautiful sort of way. There was a grace about him that we rarely witness in humanity. It was as if he had found some unshakable faith.”
Curious, John revisited the doctors that he had already spoken to, and they all concurred. All of their patients had made the choice, seemingly overnight, and all exhibited the same sort of grace about their choice to stop the treatments. None of the doctors had thought it strange, until John had mentioned it, and with their realization their faces changed to an expression that reflected the grace that they had been so close to.
“Maybe this case does involve parapsychology,” thought John, affected by the doctors’ reaction. He stopped at the nurse’s station on his way out. Addressing the matronly nurse juggling charts, John asked, “are there religious services provided in the hospital?”
“in the chapel on the second floor,” She answered with a nod as if she thought John to be a grieving relative.
“What about for those who aren’t ambulatory?”
“Occasionally a priest or rabbi will make the rounds, but often a patient’s own religious leader will come visit.”
John wondered how he could get his hands on the religious affiliations of the patients in question. To buy time to think, he suggested, “Some of those godly folk must be pretty inspirational.”
“Hardly,” the nurse retorted, “I think most of them are here for one final pass of the plate, or to get the family to pay for an expensive funeral.”
John liked her openness. “Surely some of them are filled with grace?”
“If you ask me, the only one to offer these patients spiritual strength is Dr. Livengood.”
“Up on the hospice floor?”
“No, he comes down here all the time. He’ll hold a patient’s hand and talk for hours.”
A light bulb went off, or an alarm, in John’s head. He thanked the nurse and left. Outside he tried to make sense of the new information he had received. He knew he needed to look into this Livengood guy and see if there was a connection.
He went back to the files. He had sifted through them twice, but he did it again. Reading over an autopsy report he spaced out for a minute and when his eyes refocused he was struck with disbelief. The signature was Dr. Livengood’s. How had he missed it? Still not clear on the connection, or criminal intent, he checked the other files. All the autopsy forms had been signed by Livengood. “What’s the game?” John wondered aloud.
It was just before five in the afternoon, so he decided to call the crematorium. He presented himself to the receptionist as a grieving relative, and asked how arrangements were handled. She had a consoling tone as she explained that hospital representatives made all the arrangements and the ashes would be delivered anywhere the relatives requested. John put down the paperwork from the crematorium and mindlessly picked up the receipt for Pleasant Pastures Expediters. Apparently they were the ones who transported the body from the hospital to the crematorium. The voice on the phone continued, “When a hospital contacts us we send our expediter to collect the body…”
“Have you ever heard of Pleasant Pastures Expediters?”
“Just curious. Thank you for your help.
John hung up the phone and dialed Dr. Crowe.
“Well, I found out some interesting stuff, I thought I’d fill you in.”
“Not on the phone. “
John was impressed with the professor’s secrecy, though he didn’t imagine it necessary. He arrived at the office and sat down wondering where to begin.
“I think we have a black market organ dealer on our hands.”
“It would seem that the bodies are not reaching the crematorium.”
John laid out his case. He knew it was still sketchy, but the professor ate it up without looking surprised.
“Now we have to find out where the organs are being removed,” said John, excited that this might actually become a real case. So far it seemed that John had only uncovered what Dr. Crowe appeared to already know, but he still felt a certain sense of pride.
“You won’t find it.”
“Never mind, we need to find out where the bodies are being taken for transportation.”
John agreed, and left with another envelope of cash. Before he went to the next step he thought he would party a little. He went to his favorite bar in Collegetown, the Nines, and ordered a beer. While he was sitting there he noticed a cute college girl with a pierced nose wearing a t-shirt that said, “Just Thank The Ananaki.” John approached her and asked her if she was a descendant of the Ananaki.
“I don’t know that anyone on Earth can say that, but we all have been affected genetically by them.”
“How is it that we are all affected by an Indian tribe?”
“Indian tribe? They weren’t an Indian tribe.”
“No”? What were they?”
“Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you.”
John and the girl, who called herself Moonglow, settled into a corner with a few fresh pints and she related the story of the Ananaki.
“The Sumerian tablets, which are among the oldest written records of humanity, were discovered in the Persian desert near where the biblical city of Ur was supposed to have existed. They tell of the development of humanity, from brute beasts to intellectual beings capable of civilization as we now see it. The story they tell is of the Ananaki who descended upon Earth from their planet, which orbits the sun once every thirty six hundred years, three hundred thousand years ago to mine the resources of Earth. They tinkered with the genetics of humans in order to make them a more effective labor force. Fortunately, they overshot their goal, and gave birth to the human mind which was capable of higher forms of thought. Eventually there was a revolution, with predictable retaliation, ending with the Ananaki abandoning Earth, leaving only a few troublemakers. We have only translated a few percent of these cuneiform tablets, so there is still a lot to learn. The tale as we know it parallels the Bible and many mythologies. Some people believe that they are still here, or will come back.”
“Aliens? Do you really believe in aliens?”
“We all have to believe in something.”
“What about god?”
“Why couldn’t god have created aliens as well? Thanks for the beer.”
She left John at the table. He ordered another beer, and then another. When he was finally quite drunk, he called himself a cab, leaving his car, and went to bed. He awoke in his clothes with a headache. He climbed his clammy body into the shower with the hopes of washing away his hangover. The soap wasn’t strong enough but aspirin and coffee did a god job of making his brain function again.
He thought of the story the girl had told him, and punching it in to Google he surfed the hits brought up on the screen. Sure enough, the girl wasn’t alone in her belief. John tried it on for size, and found himself whirling around a vortex that threatened to redefine his notions about the world. Believing in beings from another world is not like changing the kind of beer you drink. It was closer to changing political parties or religions, but went even further. Every thought you have ever known would have to be re-examined. Your concept of self, society , and the nature of the universe all morphed under its weight. Once you accepted it, you were changed forever. Not only did it change the standards by which you judged the world, but it loosened your tether to the moorings of the self. Not only would you lack self-definition until you had simulated this new belief, but you would be a member of a group that the majority of the population assumed insane.
John felt the turbulence of donning this new world view, and back-pedaled to the familiar. He would stick with the black market organ theory, and follow the trail to find out where the bodies went. He would do an old-fashioned stake-out.
He started with an act of charity, delivering flowers to the hospice ward. The first time was tricky because he didn’t know anyone’s name in the unit. After that he became friendly with the nurses and orderlies, who never thought to question where the flowers came from. With his daily coming and going, John was able to keep tabs on who was dying. Every time someone passed away, he tracked the movements of the body. The first few were uneventful. The deceased followed a very visible path from ward to morgue, and then to either a funeral home or crematorium. After about a month of this act he saw a truck one morning that advertised itself as Pleasant Pastures Expediters.
“Bingo!” John thought. He ran to his car and sat tight until the truck pulled out, and then followed it. Just outside of town he lost it. He knew it must have turned off the road, so he searched the side streets, which were all residential, but saw no sign of the truck. Over the next few months this happened numerous times. The truck always took a different route and managed to shake John and disappear.
John thought about a change of plan. He had delivered flowers to a few Pleasant Pastures would-be clients, and knew they were both lucid and involved in making the plans for cremation. Dr. Livengood must be getting them to agree. Maybe he was paying them off, so they could leave money for their family. Who knows how such an operation might work. His mind ran wild with what the headlines would say when he cracked the case. He knew he needed more evidence, so he decided to bug a few rooms. He had recognized a pattern of younger and better-educated patients being selected, so he chose those rooms to record whatever they might reveal.
Every few weeks he would report to Dr. Crowe. He was pleased with John’s work and the reports he gave. He didn’t even raise an eyebrow when John submitted his expense records. The money flowed freely from the professor’s pockets, and John was impressed with his patience.
Bugging the hospice rooms was not working. He bugged the right rooms,, but after listening to hours of tape, he only got information like, “everything is all worked out,” or “whenever you are ready.” This Livengood was smooth. He had his patients offering their lives at the doctor’s convenience. John decided to bug the rooms of the terminally ill patients, before they moved to the hospice ward, in hopes of recording the actual deal.
This idea paid off. Playing back the recordings one night he heard a bizarre conversation between Dr. Livengood and one of his patients. It was about the Ananaki. The story was much more in depth then when he heard it at the bar, and John was amazed to hear the patients going for it, hook, line and sinker. Near the end Dr. Livengood stated, “we are now colonizing a new planet, and looking for settlers.”
“Why not just abduct people?”
“We don’t want to alarm people, and have learned from experience that it is better if they don’t know that we are here. It also can lead to very poor results, whereas this method works smoothly and we end up with good candidates. We wait for nature to produce willing travelers, and of course you will be healed within a few hours of your apparent death. Your family will think that you passed away, but you will live. Of course if you choose not to accept, we have a serum that will make you forget that this conversation ever occurred. Of course, if you were to try to tell anybody about, you would hardly be believed.”
“I guess I would be gone either way.”
“So we have a deal?”
“Good we will move you to the hospice ward as soon as you tell your physician to stop these barbaric treatments.”
John was enraged. What a con man. Tricking these people so he could have fresh organs.
John planned his next step. He would swap his body for the dead body and using his cell phone he would dial 911 to disclose his position to the authorities when he reached the lab. He told the workers at the morgue that it was a practical joke and paid them off to play along. He watched for the Pleasant Pastures truck and then slipped into the body bag with his cell phone and his gun. He didn’t expect much trouble, as they would assume that they were only dealing with a dead body.
He was moved into the truck and it pulled out. Judging from the steepness of the hill, he figured that they were taking route 29. John felt an increase in velocity, a sense of being lighter, and heard some metallic sounds. Then it felt like they had come to a stop. They hadn’t gone very far, so the lab must be in or near Ithaca, he thought. He heard the back door of the truck open, and, gun in hand, waited for them to come near. When he heard footsteps right along side of him, he flung the bag open and pointed his gun.
“Sir, I think we have a problem,” heard John.
Looking out of the truck John saw through a window a deep darkness of space and a solar system with nine planets, disappearing behind them.”