Gilbertine & the Exchange, Volume 1, Chapter 1: 31 July 1964 — Black Pinocchio (Part 1)

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It started with the lights–those insidious, insatiable, insane lights–like some diabolic version of how the world might appear to a Christmas tree, if Christmas trees could see. Only later did they foreshadow the porentious trek that followed. As I sit here at 24, on the 12th anniversary of the incident – or accident – or whatever – that caused it all, America’s , knowing all that I know now, their memory still chills my blood.

I’d been lying on the living room carpet, the windows open to let in what passed for cool on that sultry, sticky, sweltering summer evening. There was ongoing debate between Mum and Dad from the start over whether our new color TV (the one I’d talked Dad into getting, over Mum’s strenuous objections, soon after we’d moved from the U.K. to Southern California,)[1] triggered the lights. I think I’d been watching Chrysler Theatre, but I’m no longer sure. I was definitely enthralled, though, with the manic fervor only 12-year-olds can muster, by that new TV–in a cabinet–with a 24-inch color screen, the only one for blocks. Take that, Ian Tippins.

Then, a profusion of colored lights began to flash in front of the set, then in front of my face, and then began to encircle me. It grew almost impossble to see anything else, and I grew uneasy.

The lights had appeared a fair few times since the accident–or incident–that had given me my latest concussion. They’d frequently, but not always, appeared when the TV had been on.

But no one truly knew what the trigger was, just as no one really knew what had happened to me when I’d sustained my concussion, five weeks earlier to the day, today–or why. There were nearly as many conjectures about it as about what had happened to the dinosaurs, why people vanished in the Bermuda Triangle and why gravity didn’t fit in the Unified Field Theory.

Not that it had been an especially bad one, as concussions go, but everyone had been worried that it had exacerbated portions of the head injuries that had nearly killed me two years earlier, during the riots in Dudley.

It also wasn’t enough to land me a long stay in hospital this time, or require me to shave my head (except for a tiny “buzzed” patch for my stitches, which I could cover with the rest of my hair), or to need many months of convalescence and therapy, but still bad enough to give me a few ongoing problems. I was sent home, following my 48-hour observation at the hospital, with industrial quantities of painkillers and sedatives, and smaller quantities of something else for inflammation, seizures or… sorry, I just can’t remember what anymore.

I spent my first Independence Day weekend semiconscious and bedridden. That suited me fine; it was part of the experience in my newly adopted home I really wasn’t ready to deal with yet (though I was up and about a week later for the first episode of Shindig).

I’d started to see the lights within days of release. Doctors told me there was nothing for it but to lie down with eyes closed when this happened, and that such conditions usually passed in 20 to 30 minutes. It meant my Murphy bed, which I’d brought with me from the U.K., had been almost perpetually down, out of the cabinet, since the incident, so I could lie down on a moment’s notice. They did pass in 20 to 30 minutes–at first.

Doctors also had said I’d have a bit of amnesia for a while. They’d said it was why I couldn’t recall what had happened just before or after the incident. Later, they’d added that it was why some events in the following weeks had taken on a dreamlike, even hallucinatory, quality. It left me uncertain which events had actually taken place, which were illusions or impressions I was still sorting¸ and which meant someone was trying to hijack my mind–it had happened before.


[1] The difference in home voltage between the U.K. and U.S. made lugging our old electric appliances across the pond pointless–we’d given our TV/radiogram to Grammer. We’d had to get new ones. In England, color TV was still three years away; it was even still a bit of a novelty in the U.S. (only NBC ran color shows on anything resembling a regular basis, and still ran a fair few black and white ones). But color added thrilling, novel dimensions to even the most banal shows. Still, they were rather costly then; talking Dad into buying one had meant giving up having any phonograph or radio here in the States (though as to both, fate soon proved kinder than I’d any right to expect).


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