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Anselm: a Metamorphosis
cover design © Ardy M. Scott.

 

 

Christians believe the spirit survives the body. The philosopher René Descartes equated mind and spirit and tried to prove them totally separable. Are they?

Cocky young Professor Eric Behrens curses the world and wishes he were someone, anyone, else. He trips, is knocked out, and wakes in the body of a middle-aged, overweight Benedictine monk with a severe heart defect. He must survive in an alien environment and in a defective body, while trying to "go home again."

 

 

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Anselm: a Metamorphosis
metaphysical suspense

 

Florence Byham Weinberg

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Transformation

I grinned at Sally, the dean’s attractive secretary-receptionist, eyeing her cleavage spilling out of a crisp, white blouse. She stood, leaving her desk to cross the small but neat outer office to the filing cabinet in the corner. She turned to give me a better view of her seductive nylon-sheathed legs and her shapely hips in a tight yellow skirt. She glanced over her shoulder, rolling her eyes with a playful head-toss. I knew she liked what she saw, and I reciprocated. She pulled a file, swiveled those hips and returned to the desk.

"What does the dean need me for, Sally? It’s Saturday."

"Don’t know, Eric . . . uh, Professor Behrens. You’ve been naughty, it seems. He was grumpy when he called me to come to work and told me to contact you."

"I hope this won’t last long. I’m on my way to play a round of golf with Jim Stevenson."

"Oh, yes, Professor Stevenson. He . . ." She was interrupted by the buzzer. She picked up the phone. "Yes . . .? Yes, he’s here. I’ll send him in." She looked at me, holding her hand over the receiver. "He’ll see you now. Watch out; he sounds angry."

"Uh . . . thanks, Sally." I hesitated on the threshold of the wood-paneled and carpeted inner office.

Bernard Graham, Dean of Woodward State University in upstate New York, stood facing the window as I entered. He swiveled, his face in shadow, his stocky outline silhouetted against the bright October day. His greeting was brusque. "Sit down, Professor Behrens."

I was surprised at his terse greeting and took the chair facing his tidy mahogany desk. "Thank you, Dean Graham. May I know why you called me in? Did the draft board contact the University? Are they drafting professors for Vietnam?"

"No, no, Behrens. Nothing so simple—I almost said nothing so honorable." The dean took his seat behind the desk, his square face severe. "I hate to say this to any of my faculty. But you’ve violated our university’s moral code. I have to ask you to tender your resignation."

My hands clutched the arms of the chair and a roar thundered in my ears. I managed a few words. "Wh-what? I’m sorry, but . . . but I don’t understand, sir."

"Does the name Diana Gregg mean anything to you?"

"I . . . I . . . She was a student in my summer literature survey course." I began to sweat.

"Did you know that her father, Durwood Gregg, is the chairman of the Board of Trustees?"

"Not at first, sir."

"He tells me you seduced his daughter. She’s an undergraduate!" Graham shook his head, his expression a blend of anger and reproach. "For God’s sake, man! You know the rules: no fraternizing with undergrads. And you must have gone further . . . a lot further . . . . What do you have to say?"

Scenes from the previous summer flashed through my mind: the poolside party where it all began, the clandestine meetings at the riding stable, rides into the woods, making love in forest meadows, at the lakeside. "It’s true. I can’t deny it. We had an affair, and she wants me— wanted, I guess—to marry her. I said no; said we’d have to wait."

"Durwood demands that you wait forever. You’re Protestant, aren’t you?"

"Lutheran. But what has that—?"

"The Greggs are Roman Catholic," he cut in. "Strict. Under no circumstances would he have allowed such a marriage. I have a form here, a resignation form. I need your signature."

"But, sir, classes have already begun. I’ve passed out my syllabus; the students are already working on their first paper."

"Hampton Clarke retired just last year. We’ll call on him to finish the semester while we look for your replacement." The dean turned to his desk, picked up a sheet of paper and thrust it at me. I scanned it: at least it said nothing about moral turpitude. I could deny nothing. I had violated the rules, thinking I could get away with it. I’d used Durwood Gregg’s beautiful daughter, flagrantly, irresponsibly, and then wanted to leave all that behind; close the summer dalliance like a chapter in a book. I still hadn’t told her. It would have been the old story: seduced and abandoned.

I felt cornered, helpless, and most of all guilty. I felt in my shirt pocket for a pen.

"Here." Dean Graham’s voice was harsh as he held a pen under my nose.

I placed the paper on the edge of the desk, signed and then stood, my legs trembling. "I guess there’s nothing more to be said."

"No, nothing. Clear out your office before Monday."

I moved to the door, turning once to see the dean standing again silhouetted against the sun streaming through the window. I passed through the outer office in a daze, only hearing Sally’s goodbye after I had closed the door behind me.

Jim had waited on a bench just outside the administration building, kicking at the leaves piled there. "So, what did he want?"

"Let’s walk. I’ll tell you." A dry wind rustled more fallen leaves across the path under our feet and intermittently carried the notes of the tower clock to our ears. Chimes followed by two solemn strokes. Two o’clock on a sunny Saturday afternoon, yet I was oblivious of the beauty of the day, the glowing fall colors and the crisp air: my world had crumbled. I told Jim everything as we shuffled through the swirling leaves toward the chemistry building, my voice shaking with self-pity. Jim made surprised and sympathetic noises, wondering if, rather than the golf course, we should go to Kenny’s Pub near campus to talk over the situation.

We rounded the corner of the chemistry building. Jim stopped by the wall to shelter from the wind and tried to light a cigarette while I walked on and began to climb the long stairway to the upper campus.

In a sudden rage against my persecutors—now including Diana—I raised my fists to the sky and snarled, "Damn them all! Damn the whole world! Satan, take them to Hell and take me, too—just make me into someone else! I’d give anything, even my soul, to be somebody else!"

The surrounding air closed in on me like a smothering plastic film. I gasped and tripped on the next step. Had I been pushed? The fall gave me the sensation of traveling through time and space, and yet I had no time to stretch out my hands. I then realized I was lying in extreme discomfort on the stairs, my head and shoulders propped against Jim’s leg. The first thing I saw was his face. The corners of his eyes crinkled when he saw I was conscious.

"That was a nasty fall! Do you think you’re badly hurt, sir?"

Puzzled by his tone, his words, his attitude, I struggled to my feet, using him as a prop. I weaved as I stood, unable to regain my balance, as everything seemed out of perspective. I blinked , then lowered the hand that had been feeling the wound on my forehead. "N-no… I don’t think so, not seriously."

My voice gave me a violent start. It was a deep, metallic bass, utterly unlike my own light tenor. I cleared my throat, watching to see if Jim had noticed anything unusual. His attention seemed divided between concern for me and some other worry. His brow creased and his eyes searched the campus in all directions as if looking for someone.

"Eric?" he called, almost under his breath.

"Yes?" I answered, again unprepared for that unfamiliar bass.

"Oh, is your name Eric?"

I stared at him, not answering. Was Jim crazy, or was I?

He hesitated, then excused himself, "Well, sir, if you’re sure you aren’t seriously hurt, I must be going—my friend seems to have run off and left me."

He turned and ran up the steps, stopping once to scan the lower campus and glance at me with a half guilty, half frightened expression. Jim’s behavior should have given me a clue, but I was far from suspecting the truth. My right hand again went to my forehead. Dizziness became one enormous, pounding pain that began at my hairline. My fingers found the spongy, sticky area. I stared at them, now red with blood.

Something other than blood froze my attention. I stretched both hands out palm up, then turned them over. They were large with prominent veins; the long, tapering fingers ended in clean, square-cut nails. On the backs, an orderly pattern of black hair grew from wrist to knuckles and in tufts at the base of each finger. They were powerful and brutal, yet elegant hands, but they were not my own.

The sight of them filled me with creeping horror mixed with curiosity. I must find a mirror to see if all this had some easy explanation. I looked down. I wore some sort of black wool robe with a wide leather belt around the waist. I had obviously tripped on the hem—but where had the black robe come from? I staggered, dizzy and close to nausea, as if I had on someone else’s glasses. By reflex, I felt the bridge of my nose. Perhaps something was really wrong with my eyes, something resulting from the fall? I descended the few stairs back to the chemistry building, the wind flapping the robe against shaking legs, gravity dragging at me with every downward step. My balance point seemed to have shifted; I had to lean farther back than usual to maintain my equilibrium, my body thus blocking a clear view of the next step, forcing me to guess where I should set my foot. The fall must have affected my balance, too. I caught a glimpse of my toes and saw sandals. Sandals . . .?

I arrived at the bottom step and pushed against the side door that opened slowly, as if by itself. The hall seemed dark and stank of sulfur. Perhaps a student experiment had gone wrong. While my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I felt my way to the men’s room where I remembered a small mirror. Inside, I groped to find the light switch, then crossed the room in two strides. The face reflected in that mirror was someone I’d never seen before. I gave an inarticulate scream.

Panting, I ran back into the malodorous corridor.

After a few steps I stopped, shaking all over. I stared down at the black robe, the sandaled feet, and those hairy hands that, independent of my will, fingered the ebony rosary at my waist.

"My God, my God, who is this?" That unfamiliar voice boomed into the emptiness. I shrank against the wall, needing but fearing to look again in a mirror. I must fit the pieces of the puzzle together, somehow.

The faculty lounge on this floor had a wide plate-glass mirror on the far wall. It would show a full-length image. I hurried through the dark hall, exhaling the sulfur fumes that seemed to grow ever more pungent, and entered the brightly lit but deserted lounge. The mirror faced me across the room and I froze with my back against the door.

I should have been around five feet ten, slight, with one of those freckled complexions that often goes with red hair. My nose was average, my eyes gray, and I’d been wearing a pair of charcoal gray slacks, a white shirt, and a pale blue sweater-vest.

The figure cowering against the door was perhaps five inches taller than I was . . . or should be . . . and much heavier. His square figure seemed almost menacing in its potential strength, although his deterioration was clear. A paunch strained the leather belt, caught at the last hole, to its limit; deep buckle marks at each of the preceding four holes gave mute testimony to a recent weight gain. Here was the reason for my difficulty on the stairs: the paunch had prevented me from seeing my feet.

The forward shift of the body’s center of gravity was offset by this man’s hypercorrect posture—militarily correct. He held his tonsured head erect on a muscular neck. His remaining hair, a sort of crown, was black, salted with gray, and totally white above the ears. A bloody gash broke the crown at the hairline above the right eyebrow. The wound dwindled into a purplish weal, still swelling, slanting across the forehead to the left eyebrow.

I moved closer to the mirror to examine the man’s features. He was handsome in a dark, forbidding way. The eyebrows were thick, black and peaked in the center, the nose thin and aquiline. The full-lipped, sensual mouth seemed to express scorn even in repose, its disdainful curves underscored by the square chin. He seemed to be in his fifties: not only was his hair graying, his swarthy skin was coarse. The lofty forehead bore horizontal wrinkles as well as deep frown-marks between the brows. The gold-flecked brown eyes seemed to mock me, to censure my very essence.

I recoiled.

This man, this dark, almost sinister creature was . . . me?

It could not be true—I must be mad. I moaned and hid my face in my hands; I could no longer bear to see that image as it mimicked and mocked my every move.

Amid the confusion of conflicting impulses and ideas, I remembered my half-serious invocation to the Devil. Had he instantly fulfilled my wish to be somebody, anybody, else? Could I have traded the eventual fate of my soul for this new body? I couldn’t have been serious; I didn’t even believe in the existence of a soul. But if there is no soul, what was left of "me" in this stranger? Does the self then reside in memory alone? I’d willed to become someone else and had no one but myself to blame for the results.

An acute sense of loss filled me, many times more painful than the humiliation I’d suffered at being dismissed from Woodward State. Where was I, who was this; what should I do now? I could have been transformed into anyone at all—a shoe salesman, a fireman, an artist—but instead, I’d been changed into a monk!

The irony struck me like a blow: a tremendous practical joke by the Devil to punish me for having slighted and scorned Diana, in the process betraying my better self. I had asked to give myself away to the Devil, but was now in the form of someone who had given himself away utterly. To God! Perhaps I was being punished for my irresponsible sensual appetites. In my present form, it would surely be more difficult to satisfy them. Perhaps the Devil is a reformer?

The essence of that outcry on the stairs had not been my invocation to Satan, but my fervent wish to be someone else. Had I precipitated this disaster by wishing it? I remembered Freud’s remarks on "compelling thoughts" that primitives and neurotics believe actually control reality. Perhaps, after all, under certain circumstances, they do?

The only hope of saving the last shred of sanity lay in action: I must care for this stranger. I made my way among the chairs and low tables to the coffee bar against the wall. After removing the pot half full of stale coffee, I stooped over the sink and bathed the gash with cold water. The cut had stopped bleeding and did not seem deep; the greatest damage was caused by the crushing force of the fall. The bruise throbbed at my pressure.

I dried my face on paper towels and cleaned the sink and then began searching my clothing for identification. In a pocket of the robe, I found a handkerchief and a battered wallet containing a five-dollar bill and a familiar card: a meal ticket for the student cafeteria. The name "Anselmus" was scrawled in a bold, black hand at the bottom. I assumed this was my own name—but I now must try to find out who and what Anselmus was, where he was from, and what monastic order he belonged to.

My only association with that name was Saint Anselm, a brilliant theologian of the eleventh or twelfth century. I clutched at my memory of the saint like a drowning man reaching for a plank. Here was something familiar, something removed from the horror of the present moment that might stave off the panic crowding the edges of my consciousness. I’d learned in college that Saint Anselm had invented a clever argument for the existence of God, a precursor to the one Descartes tried centuries later. That’s the one where he notes that we all have an idea of perfection. Since we get all our ideas from an outside source, and yet there is nothing perfect in this world, there must be a perfect Being who implants the idea: namely, God. Therefore God exists. The theory works only if one believes in the absolute reality of ideas.

Could I concentrate enough to recall Saint Anselm’s argument? If my memory was correct, it went something like this: "The fool says in his heart there is no God. But even he would agree that God is something than which nothing greater can be conceived, including all perfections, such as absolute goodness, omniscience, omnipresence, and existence in reality. If one can conceive of God at all, one is forced to concede that He exists, otherwise something greater could be conceived." Not bad, but after all, merely a slick manipulation of words and ideas. I smiled. At least I could still put two coherent thoughts together. Irrelevant, but coherent. Madmen can do the same, though, can’t they?

Anselm. Anselmus. Yes, maybe I had seen a black-robed figure on campus. Normally, I avoided the school on my off days. Perhaps the monk never came here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, when I teach . . . taught. But if I, Eric, now inhabited the monk’s body, where was his essence, his "soul?" Now that my "soul" seemed trapped in a monk’s body, I’d have to behave—temporarily, I hoped—like a monk. And how was that, anyhow? Should I be addressed as "Brother" or "Father"? It would be the latter if Anselm—if Ihad been ordained a priest.

By this time, I’d reached the main door of the building and paused. I had begun to identify "me" with "Anselmus"—but what else could I do? Before I tried to claim any of my own—of Eric’s—possessions, I must try to discover what had happened to my real self, my body, while I was forced to "be" Anselmus.

I pushed open the heavy main door with such unaccustomed ease that I almost lost my balance. I turned back to peer into the dark hall and a clanging laugh rang out, buzzing in my brain, terrifying me. I let the door close behind me and before I could take three running steps, I realized that I myself was convulsed with mirthless laughter. Had I heard the echo of my own voice, or was my convulsion a reflection of some unseen, controlling power?

I fled up the long stairway to the upper campus, just enough wit left to hold up the skirts of my robe so as not to trip again. The paunch and heavy flesh around my flanks and hips dragged and bounced, resisting every upward step. I’d often run up those stairs before, but this time, once I’d reached the top, I was soaked in sweat. My legs trembled and my breath came in ragged, painful gasps. My heart pounded irregularly in my throat; my head seemed about to explode with the pressure of the throbbing ache. My hand fumbled for the handkerchief and I blotted my forehead gingerly, sweat in the new wound adding to my misery.

I turned to face the door I’d just left below me, expecting to see a formless something appear in pursuit. There was no visible movement about the façade of the chemistry building; everything looked normal in the golden light of the afternoon sun. That something remained hidden, at least for now. I trembled, not just from my exertion, but in terror: not only of that controlling power but of my own possible madness.

Other preoccupations plagued me as well. I wondered what had caused me to be so short of breath and waited until I could breathe comfortably. Surely, my increased weight wasn’t enough to account for all those symptoms. What was wrong with this body?

I must find people, make human contact, or I would indeed go mad. I turned to the student union. As I entered, two co-eds brushed past me. They stared, then one whispered loudly enough for me to hear, "Now there’s a cool-looking dude!"

"He looks like the devil to me," replied the other dryly.

Were they seeing Eric or . . . Anselm?

The student health service at the end of the hall offered a temporary refuge. I hesitated with my hand on the doorknob. Would the nurse see me as I’d just seen myself in the mirror? Maybe "Anselm" was merely my hallucination. I opened the door with a jerk. At the moment there were no students in the office.

Miss Cunningham, the nurse, sat alone at her station. A tall, bony woman with a horsy face, I’d pitied her as a perpetual spinster. Now, I sought her for comfort. I leaned toward her, my knuckles on her desk. "Miss Cunningham, I wonder if you could spare a couple of aspirins?"

She faced me with a start. "Why, Father Anselm! That’s a nasty bump on your head."

I sighed both in disappointment and relief. At least I was not mad, but it was terrifying to think that I might no longer have contact with myself.

Miss Cunningham brought me two aspirins and a paper cup of water. "Let me clean that wound and bandage it, Father Anselm," she said, "How did it happen?"

I gulped down the aspirins and crumpled the paper cup in a nervous fist. "I tripped and fell on the steps out there. Could you bandage it? I’d be most grateful."

I sat in a straight chair while the nurse got out cotton, alcohol and materials for a bandage. She bustled over to me, an alcohol-soaked swab in her hand. "This is going to sting, now, Father," she said in a singsong.

I closed my eyes, anticipating the smart of the alcohol with a wince. Miss Cunningham went over my forehead well: then I could hear the snip of her scissors as she fashioned a bandage. Her firm yet gentle fingers on my face filled me with longing for my home, my mother. Could I never go home again?

Tears of self-pity must have escaped my closed eyelids, for Miss Cunningham’s nasal voice, filled with concern, broke in upon my thoughts. "Are you in much pain, Father?"

I looked up at her, startled, and brushed the wetness from my cheeks. "No, not too much. I’m sorry, I was thinking of something else."

"Father Anselm . . . I think you’d better have that X-rayed," she said as she placed the last adhesive strip, "You might have a concussion and even some bleeding inside there."

"Perhaps I will, Miss Cunningham." I stood up, smiling.

"Oh, and Father, don’t forget the sign-up sheet; we keep track of everyone who visits our health services."

How should I sign? Obviously, I could only write the priest’s name. Taking up the pen, I wrote "Fr. Anselm." It was as far from my own over-precise Palmer penmanship as possible. The heavy black scrawl was identical with the signature on the card in my pocket.

"Father, are you having trouble focusing?" Miss Cunningham asked in alarm.

"Oh, it’s not that—it’s just my head; I have a terrific headache. I’ll be all right. And thanks so much for fixing me up." I touched the bandage in a sort of salute, then turned unsteadily and re-entered the hall. I paced up and down the corridor past the student cafeteria that emitted the odors of stale frying fat and onions I usually found nauseating. Today, it smelled good. The obsessive rhythm of one of the Beatles’ recent recordings, "Nowhere Man," pursued me as I walked. Instinctively, I clasped my hands behind my back in a priestly gesture. What should I do now? I was obviously known on campus—even Miss Cunningham knew me—but how was I to find out who I was without appearing ridiculous?

The door of the cafeteria swung open, and one of the cooks appeared. "Hullo, Father, you here today? And you haven’t come to see us? Hey, what’s wrong with your head?"

"Just a bump, Rudy."

"Well, hey, you know, it’s late, but we still have plenty of chicken and dumplings on the steam table. Enough for seconds . . . and thirds," he smirked, glancing sidewise at me.

"Oh, no thanks, Rudy." My reply was interrupted by a loud growl from my stomach. I closed my arms across my belly to suppress the noise, sheepishly joining in his laughter. "I see I’m receiving contrary orders!"

He winked. "We’ll be open for twenty more minutes; I’ll keep the steam tables hot."

I shook my head. "Thanks, Rudy, but some other time."

"Well, it’s there waiting for you, Father, if you want it. Think it over." He smiled as he moved away down the hall.

Unexpectedly, I felt a light hand upon my arm. I turned and saw that it was Diana Gregg, the source of my misfortunes, looking both sorrowful and more beautiful than I’d ever seen her. She drew me into a small lounge, where we were alone. She raised her face to me. "Father Anselm, you’re hurt!"

"It’s nothing, Diana," I replied.

Her eyes suddenly brimmed with tears. "I’m sorry I am burdening you with an unwanted confidence at a time like this, but since you’re a teacher as well as a priest, you can understand the problems better than anyone else. It’s Eric—I’ve told you so much about him—and you know I want to marry him. He wants to wait, but I was still sure I could persuade him. But now Mom and Dad won’t let me. They think he’s irresponsible—unstable, they call him—and besides, he’s a Protestant. I love him and I don’t care. I’d elope with him this minute, but Professor Stevenson says Dad just had him fired and he has completely disappeared! Oh, Father Anselm, I’m so worried! He could be desperate! Can you help us find him? Can you bring him back to me?" She burst into sobs and slid slowly to her knees, then to the floor.

Her words echoed in my ears. Find him? Bring him back? Diana, my lovely Diana, he is here in this room, that man you want to marry!

I suddenly knew I loved, needed this girl I’d been ready to abandon. My desire flashed through me with an intensity I’d never felt before. I shook, vibrating from head to foot, forgetting my situation, everything, in a fury of passion that my new body seemed to intensify. I would tell her everything. She, like no one else, would understand my nightmarish situation; she would quiet my fear. I would carry her away to my apartment where we could be alone, where she could care for my bruised body—and soul.

I stooped and picked her up tenderly, with amazing ease, and cradled her like a child. My forehead, my lips, my body burned in fiery anticipation of her cool kisses, kisses that could only increase my sweet agony. Out of the medley of my violent feelings and turbulent thoughts, only one word, "Diana!" escaped aloud.

Diana, whose shock had at first rendered her helpless, braced her fists against my chest. "Father Anselm, let me go at once! Have you gone mad?"

I set her on her feet, lucidity flooding over me like cold water. I looked down upon us both from a great height. Father Anselm, the chaste, holy monk, had intended to betray his sacred vow and had begun an assault on an innocent and trusting girl who’d come to him for help. The scene was pure caricature. I felt my blush. "Diana, my child, forgive me, please, forgive me! I’m only human, you know. Diana, I didn’t mean . . ."

She gave me no chance to explain. With a toss of her lovely head that expressed her contempt for me and her triumph in an unexpected conquest, she turned and walked majestically away down the hall.

I stood aghast, my body’s fire dwindling to the heat of shame still glowing on my face. With my head bowed, I wondered at such passionate, impulsive behavior. I’d never been like this before: slow to action, I normally had held back, cool and calculating, from any decisive step. Now, I’d nearly succumbed to two deadly sins: gluttony and lust. The body must determine a large share of the personality, but the essence, the knowing essence, seemed somehow independent. I must retire to some less exposed position until I could learn how to live with myself, to manage this body and prevent further injuries to others—especially to someone I loved—or to myself.

 

Chapter 2

Exposed Positions

The shadowy suspicion of my madness buzzed in my head like an impertinent fly. Perhaps I am Anselm, who has fallen and cracked his head and has hallucinations that he is Eric Behrens? I shook my head to get rid of that annoying idea and was rewarded by a flash of pain.

The main problem was to find out where Anselm belonged and return him there. It might lessen my confusion to retreat to a quiet monastery in the neighborhood until I could find a solution to this mix-up. I knew that the Dean of Religious Life’s office was in the Camden building, only a few yards away. He’d know all about Anselm, and I merely had to find some pretext to get the information I needed.

I’d pretend I was suffering from amnesia from my fall. Whether the dean could believe me or not would depend on how well I could play my role. I strode out of the lounge and down the stairs at the end of the hall. The tower clock struck three-thirty as I crossed the walk between the student union and the Camden building that houses the Departments of History, Philosophy and Religious Life.

As I entered the Dean’s office, his secretary swiveled to face me. "Good afternoon, Father Anselm. Good heavens! What did you do to your head?"

Hello . . . I fell. Look, I’m in trouble. Is Dean Stewart in?"

"No, he’s been called out to your monastery."

"When will he be back?"

"I have no idea. What’s your trouble?"

"Don’t laugh, I beg of you—I know this sounds like something out of a novel, but . . . I seem to have lost my memory." I touched the bandage on my forehead to indicate the connection between my memory loss and my injury.

The secretary sat watching me, puzzled. "Then how did you know where our office is? How did you know Dean Stewart’s name?"

"There are certain isolated things I still know . . . I knew where to find the health service and your office. I came here because I see . . ." I looked down and fingered the cloth of my robe, "that I’m some sort of a monk. You, if anyone, can tell me who I am and where I come from. All I know about myself is that Miss Cunningham, and you, have called me Father Anselm. What order do I belong to?"

"You’re pulling my leg, Father Anselm," she began to chuckle.

I frowned; it was only too obvious I was not convincing her. I’d have to lay it on thicker.

"Believe me, I-I’m not joking. I only wish I were. Please don’t make it harder." I closed my eyes, the corners of my mouth twitching dolefully.

The secretary’s attitude changed in a trice from skepticism and amusement to alarm. "Father Anselm!" she moved to my side and took my arm. "Come, sit over here. I’ll phone Holy Cross at once!"

"What is Holy Cross?" I asked, watching her face.

She stared at me, thunderstruck. "Why . . . it’s your monastery, Father!"

"What order do I belong to?" I repeated.

"You’re a Benedictine monk. Now try to relax, please, Father." She ran back to her desk and picked up the phone. Cradling the receiver on her shoulder, she leafed through a small black register that no doubt listed the numbers of all the priests, rabbis, ministers, churches, and abbeys in the district.

She found the number and dialed. "Dom Sebastian? Yes, this is Miss Ashley, Dean Stewart’s secretary. Father Anselm is here in my office, badly hurt . . . no, he has a head injury; he says he can’t remember anything. Yes?" There followed a long pause. "Fine, I’ll keep him here until someone comes."

She hung up and rubbed her forehead in puzzlement. "Father Anselm, it seems they’re looking for you out there. It’s not your day to teach here at Woodward, and they don’t know how you got to the university. Dean Stewart just arrived at Holy Cross—something serious is going on that I don’t begin to understand, but it involves this university. They seem to think you might straighten everything out. Anyhow, could you please sit right here until Dean Stewart and Brother Simon come for you?"

I nodded without hesitation. It was the only thing I could do, and besides it felt good to relax in an easy chair, as though this body rarely had access to such luxury. I closed my eyes and allowed my head to fall back. My arms dangled over the sides of the chair. I tried not to think about anything; I felt an urgent need of rest—a peace I feared would be short-lived.

I wondered what the secretary might be doing, for she had not resumed typing, nor could I hear the rustle of paper. I opened my eyes a slit and peered through their heavy black lashes. She still sat in the same position, her hand on the phone, her attention riveted on me. Her lips were slightly parted and she seemed to be regarding me with a sort of sad tenderness—the way a mother might watch her injured child sleep.

I lapsed into half-consciousness where time means nothing. The room was filled with the drumbeats of my heart and the throbbing of my wounded head. At last, the secretary resumed typing; footsteps and voices echoed in the hall outside. I maintained my helpless position in the chair, aware that I would excite more sympathy that way. I feared neither of the two men would be convinced of my sickness otherwise.

Dean Stewart’s voice trailed off in mid-sentence when he saw me, and Brother Simon gasped, exclaiming my name under his breath.

"He looks almost dead," the secretary whispered, "I didn’t know what to do for him, poor man; I hope someone can help him. Look at his forehead. It seems horribly mangled under that bandage."

Dean Stewart spoke in a low voice: "Wake him up, Brother Simon! See if you can wake him."

Someone shook me by the shoulders. I allowed my head to roll from side to side for extra effect and then sighed and opened my eyes.

"What is it?" I asked, my voice faint, "Are you Brother Simon?" I peered into the kindly, round face and startling blue eyes of the man leaning over me, whose habit matched mine in every way. "I’m sorry, I must have fallen asleep. Forgive me." I pulled myself to my feet and stood swaying, suffering from a genuine attack of dizziness.

"You’re badly hurt, Father Anselm," Simon began, his voice vibrant with pity, "Sit down, please!"

I remained standing, looking from him to Dean Stewart with as confused an air as I could muster. "Help me," I begged Simon, taking him by the arms, "I-I don’t know who I am!" I moaned and covered my face with my hands, but through my fingers caught the puzzled and significant glance that the two men exchanged. I wondered how far I should carry my emotional display. They withdrew a few paces and spoke together in low tones for a moment, and then both came over to me, placing themselves at my sides.

"Lay your arms across our shoulders," Dean Stewart ordered, "We’ll take you to the hospital."

I obeyed, twisted lopsided between Dean Stewart’s tall, spare figure and Brother Simon’s shorter stature. We marched out of the building to Dean Stewart’s car.

I protested, "Really, I’m strong enough to walk by myself."

Simon merely tightened his grip on my wrist. "From the way you look, you could fall again. You’re staggering. Pale. Dizzy."

They helped me get settled in the back seat, and Brother Simon slid in beside me. "I’m here, Anselm, in case you feel faint."

Dean Stewart started the car, and, over his shoulder, his voice came, sounding casual. "How did you get all the way out to campus from Holy Cross today?"

"Did I come that far? I don’t know." I fell silent, seized by genuine emotion. After a moment, I continued in a voice that trembled: I was speaking for myself, for the memory of Eric. "Can you help me, Brother Simon? Can anyone help me reunite my body and my soul?"

My own words startled me. My fingers, clutching the rosary, closed so convulsively that the cord snapped. A few beads scattered over the floor of the car and in my lap. Again, I covered my face with my hands, part of the broken rosary still dangling from them.

"May God preserve us from evil!" Simon cried out, crossing himself, staring horrified at the broken symbol of devotion wound around my black-haired fingers.

The hospital examination seemed to last an eternity. We first went to the X-ray laboratory, where several pictures were taken of my skull. They showed no abnormalities. I was then escorted to an examination room where Dr. Schuyler, an internist who seemed to be Anselm’s regular doctor, was in consultation with a neurologist. Dr. Schuyler greeted me in a friendly way, expressing concern over my fall and my professed loss of memory.

"So the X-rays are negative? Let’s have a look at your eyes." He shone a tiny light into them, allowed the specialist to have a look and to test my reflexes. "Were you unconscious for long after your fall?" the neurologist asked.

"I have no idea. A minute or two, probably, that’s all," I replied.

"Well, I don’t believe a spinal puncture is necessary; everything seems normal, but if you have the slightest trouble—dizziness or disturbed vision—let me know and we’ll go into this more thoroughly." The specialist left the room while Dr. Schuyler examined the wound and decided it didn’t need stitches.

"There’s quite a lot of crushed tissue, Father, and you’ll have a scar, I’m afraid. That won’t enhance your beauty, but I guess that wouldn’t worry you too much." He smiled. "Tell Dr. James I want to see you after your session with him, to check that irregularity in your heartbeat. Your last examination was six months ago; the situation may have changed, since I see you’ve gained quite a bit of weight."

I was escorted to the psychiatrist’s office and talked with Dr. James for almost an hour. He tried to make me feel at ease, and after I’d told the story of my fall and "loss of memory," he barraged me with questions, many of which seemed irrelevant. It annoyed me that I couldn’t always see their point. After our talk, a nurse took me back to Dr. Schuyler’s examination room. Before she left the room, she turned to me: "Strip completely, Father, the Doctor wants to give you a thorough exam and an electrocardiogram." She handed me a gown

I obediently stripped and waited uncomfortably for the doctor. Before I put on the gown, I looked down at Anselm and ran my hands over his body, finding it heavily muscled despite the thick roll of fat at the sides, and the paunch, that with each exhaled breath, caressed the upper thighs with silky insistence, indifferent to my repeated efforts to pull it in. Coarse black fuzz covered the chest in a broad V-formation and continued down the midline of the torso. I followed the band of fuzz with my fingers around the curve of the belly until it culminated in a nest of crisp curls at the root of the monk’s impressive penis. The paunch prevented me from viewing those nether regions.

A wave of loathing swept over me. I’d always taken such pride in my lithe, trim appearance. Must I now accept this hairy, bulging figure as my outward identity? My revulsion brought to mind my reaction to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a tale I’d first read years ago. It had so gripped me with simultaneous fascination and repugnance that I was unable to put it down, regardless of other pressing duties. The nightmare, in which I was transformed into this beastly, devilish form, was gaining momentum, just like the progress of Gregor Samsa’s ordeal. Nothing could stop it now. Tears of anguish stung my eyes, and I reflected that at least I could still weep, a human privilege denied the insect Gregor had become. I thanked God there was no full-length mirror in this exam room. Only He knew what further horrors were ahead.

A mocking voice broke in upon my thoughts that ended in scornful laughter. It was almost as if someone were actually speaking to me: "Yes, indeed. Further horrors ahead."

Startled, I looked around to check if anyone else was in the room. The illusion was accompanied by a feeling of pressure inside my skull. I shivered, waiting, covered in gooseflesh. The pressure vanished and I decided I’d been hallucinating. Another result of the fall.

Dr. Schuyler scowled at me as he entered and jerked his head toward the scales, which he set at 193 pounds. I furtively wiped my eyes with the back of my hand and climbed on; I weighed 264 pounds and 12 ounces.

"What the hell have you been doing to yourself, Father—you want to die?"

I faced him with a quizzical frown. "What do you mean, Doctor?"

He swore, shaking his head. "Look—what did I tell you when we discovered that heart abnormality? That you should keep up your daily routine as usual, but not add any further strain, right? You were in peak physical condition then—like a brick wall. Now look at you." He shook his head once more and whistled in disbelief. "You’ve put on over seventy pounds in six months and you’re going soft and flabby." He tapped my paunch with the back of his hand. "If you tried to get back in top condition now, you’d be running a risk. You’d have to go slow. But what the devil possessed you to let yourself go like that?"

He paused, waiting for an answer, but receiving none, he continued. "Pardon me, Father, but you’re a fool. You’re over fifty; you can’t afford childish tricks like this. You seem to do everything I told you not to do: you overeat, you under-exercise." He scratched his head in bafflement. "How the hell did you do it? Your metabolism’s got to be way out of whack. I’ll run some thyroid tests, see what else blood tests can tell us." He sighed. "Okay, lie down over here."

He and the nurse gave me the EKG, which confirmed his earlier diagnosis. My heartbeat was distinctly irregular. Afterward, the nurse drew blood.

Once the two had left me, I sat still, my fear increasing. Up to now it had not come home to me that I had forfeited twenty years of my life through this change and, to add to my misery, had inherited real trouble: a heart ailment. I ran nervous hands over my shaven pate, wondering what vile surprise would come next. I could only sustain myself with the hope that everything would become clear once I got to the monastery. There, I told myself, I surely would find myself again and resume my true identity.

I pulled on Anselm’s underwear and sandals, reached for the still unfamiliar black robe, tugged it over my head and wrapped the wide leather belt around my girth. I strode back and forth, four steps each way, and then heard the analyst’s voice next door. He spoke, apparently, to Dean Stewart and Brother Simon. I crept closer and pressed myself against the door to overhear their conversation.

"I think your man has been lying," he was saying. "In my view, there’s nothing wrong with him at all. The blow was insufficient to produce amnesia and, besides, his symptoms are so inconsistent, they lead me to think the man is faking. I suggest you try to get him to relax, then find out what he’s trying to hide and why."

Brother Simon made such a soft-voiced reply that try as I would, I couldn’t hear him. Their council didn’t last much longer. When Doctor Schuyler entered abruptly, I jerked back from the door and faced him, feeling guilty.

"Come along, then, Father Anselm," he said. "We’re all through now."

I preceded him to the office on the right. Brother Simon, holding a telephone receiver to his ear, turned toward me as he spoke, "That’s right. Yes, that was Dr. James’s opinion of the head injury. Of course, Dom Sebastian, we’ll be there, quick as we can." He hung up, stepped to my side and took my arm almost as if he feared I might make an escape attempt. "We’ll take you home to Holy Cross, now, Anselm," he said with a thin smile.

 

Chapter 3

Monastery

Twilight had fallen by the time we reached the monastery. We drove through a carriage gate in vine-covered stone walls, and inside I glimpsed extensive grounds, woodland as well as fields under cultivation. A pseudo-gothic building loomed like a medieval castle against the darkening sky, dating perhaps from the 1870s, gray stone walls covered in patches with flame-red ivy, glowing in the light above the entrance door.

Brother Simon led the way inside and down a hall, gothic arches soaring fourteen feet above our heads, ill-lit by widely spaced light fixtures. We stopped before an iron-hinged oaken door, arched and carved with a low relief image of a chalice and wafer. Brother Simon knocked and his grip on my arm tightened.

He didn’t wait for a reply but opened the door and stood aside for Dean Stewart and me. I peered into the shadowy room, partly lit by flickering flames. Facing each other in leather chairs on either side of the great fireplace I saw an elderly ecclesiastic, and . . . me.

My longing to "find myself" had not prepared me for seeing myself, Eric, in the flesh. I flattened my body against the doorframe, staring just as I had stared at the monk’s—myimage in the mirror. The two men rose. The smaller one . . . Eric . . . stepped lightly across to face me, and everything, everyone else in the room faded away.

My own voice spoke to me, laughed with my laugh. "Well, Father Anselm, at last! Don’t be alarmed, old fellow. You look as if you’d seen a ghost."

I . . . he . . . takes my arm. Skin crawling. Dizzy. Mind reeling. Nauseated. Nightmare.

"Come along and sit down over here. I think I’ve talked Dom Sebastian out of having you excommunicated . . ."

"Ex-co- commu—?"

Had I produced that basso croak?

". . . so life won’t be quite so bad, eh?" my voice continued. "I’ve completely forgiven you, old man. Of course, you gave me a rough time. We all have our little faults, but I’ve learned a lot about human nature."

A hand slapped me on the back and pushed me into the leather chair just vacated. My knees gave way, and I collapsed, almost upsetting it. I crouched there, shaking.

"Poor Anselm! It’s a shock when your schemes are uncovered, eh?" The nightmare turned away. "Dom Sebastian, could you allow me to speak alone for five minutes with this poor old devil?"

The elderly prelate looked uncertainly from me to my tormentor. "Professor Behrens, do you think you’d be safe with him? Should Dean Stewart stay?"

"No, no—I’ll be quite safe. I need to tell him how much his little game cost me—in psychological stress and other ways, plaguing me the way he did. I’d like to convince him not to try anything like that again. But I’d rather explain myself to him in private, if I may."

I never used my voice with such serpentine silkiness. He’s already playing my body like a musical instrument—but evil . . . .

Sebastian’s gray brows drew together and he turned to me, his face a mask of contempt. "Do you suppose I could trust you with this young man without fearing another assault?"

I opened my mouth, but no voice came. I gulped air and at length managed a coarse whisper. "Yes."

O, my God, my God! What has this man done? Trapped inside his body, I’ll have to pay the consequences.

Dom Sebastian ushered the dean and Brother Simon out with him. I sat, paralyzed, watching the firelight play on "Eric’s" slender form—mine, by God! A line from Robert Burns’ poem "To a Louse" bubbled up into consciousness:

O was somewad some Power the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as ithers see us!

I was seeing myself as others would see me—that graceful, young figure confronting me—but it was no God-given gift.

"Eric" broke the silence, almost dancing. "It worked! It really did! Until I saw you and saw that body, I couldn’t be sure! A flawless transformation on my first try!"

The face before me took on a hypocritical, sweet expression. "I’m grateful for your body: it should serve me admirably. My former body, yours now, reflects my personality too well." He paused to cackle, sweetness morphing to glee. "What wonderful irony! Ariel—you, my friend—requested to change places with Caliban, and your wish has been granted!" He rubbed his hands.

He doesn’t know my gestures. I never do that. I shook my head and managed a couple of words. "Ariel . . . ! Caliban! Why, you—"

Interrupting, "Eric" began to pace, taking on an air of authority. "Don’t think that I, like you, have wasted my time in frightened fumbling since two o’clock this afternoon, when our simultaneous transformation in situ took place."

In situ. That means "in place." Yes. I became Anselm right there on the stairs.

"The plan matured in my mind over the past six months. You were not chosen at random. For some time—since I re-discovered the secret ritus permutationis in a twelfth-century Cluniac manuscript—I’d looked for someone with whom to, shall we say, make an exchange."

His diction, like a professorial lecture or a pastoral homily, was familiar enough to bring my mind into focus. "But why pick me?" I asked. The basso voice still unnerved me.

He leaned toward me, chuckled. "Since late May, your mistress Diana, who confesses to me and considers me a friend, has been telling me all about you: I know your habits, character and background. I filched a snapshot of you from a set of photos she showed me one day and I kept the glove you dropped after class that she asked me to return to you. She thought you and I were personally acquainted—but I doubt you even knew I was on campus."

"I still don’t understand . . ."

"The ritus requires an image of the targeted person: the photo—and a personal possession: the glove. With these I could keep constant track of your movements and your moods. I had only to wait for the moment when you’d wish, even casually, to be in someone else’s shoes. My only hesitation at using the ritus was this: it requires commitment to the potestates malorumthe Forces of Evil. But the rewards were greater than the risk."

Sweat ran down my back. What this identity-thief told me was beyond rational comprehension. "But wh-what the hell do you expect me to do now? Damn you! I-I want me back!" my basso ended in a squeak.

A mocking smile widened "Eric’s" lips. "Oh, yes, I’ll do you the favor of explaining what you’re in for. You can expect universal hostility at Holy Cross. Anselm, you see, for months has antagonized every monk here. And then, I spent the afternoon since about two thirty talking to one of my good brothers who can’t resist passing on a tidbit of gossip. Naturally, I’ve ‘revealed all’ to Dom Sebastian. ‘Eric’ has implanted as much poison as time has allowed. Poor Professor Behrens! How that devilish Anselm victimized and persecuted him!"

"But how? What has . . . has Anselm done?" The basso had turned pleading, desperate.

The hallucination before me narrowed its eyes with a scornful twist of the lips. In a pitying tone, my own—former—voice continued, "Can’t you guess? You tried to seduce me."

"Ahhhh."

A loud rap on the door caused us both to jump. Dean Stewart’s voice came to us with a worried note. "Professor Behrens, are you all right in there?"

"Eric" answered at once. "Quite all right, Dean Stewart. I’ll be done in a minute." He turned back to me. "When I found out six months ago that I had a severe degenerative defect in my heart, I began undermining my body, the one I’ve passed on to you, undoing years of discipline and physical training. I’ve done my job well! You’re only a shell, ‘Father Anselm,’ rotten at the center, and a sudden increase in physical and emotional strain will kill you."

He placed his hand on my shoulder and I recoiled with a gasp. "Dom Sebastian’s is an ascetic monastery, something approaching ‘strict observance.’ He’s even crossed our simple, black Benedictine habits with the Franciscans’: the rosaries. The sandals." He sneered. "Your freedom will be limited here, since you owe the abbot absolute obedience. Even if you wanted to leave, you couldn’t."

"Why not?"

"Holy Cross is a walled precinct with a gatekeeper. Our porter, Brother Hilary, will soon have Sebastian’s instructions to confine you to monastery grounds, I’m sure of it. He’s a big man, in good health. In your condition, you couldn’t get past him."

"But how in God’s name am I supposed to survive here?"

"Survive, old man? In my confessions to Dom Sebastian, I stressed that I knew physical labor would be the only means of bringing me back to sanity and health, should I slip into the frightening abyss of temptation threatening me. Sebastian has known Anselm for ten years and has been alarmed by the change in his habits: He has become irritable, moody, lazy, pleasure-loving, ambitious, a glutton. But we’ll let the abbot tell you what you are!"

Another rap on the door, much louder this time. "Professor Behrens! If you want to get back to campus with me tonight, you’d better come now! The buses have stopped running, you know!"

"Eric" shouted back, "Coming! Coming!" Then to me, "Your parents are wealthy, aren’t they?" He fingered the blue cashmere sweater.

"Yes, tolerably so . . ." My face burned with sudden fury. This monster was invading my family, my life! Violating my family seemed worse than stealing my identity.

"Splendid! They’ll be able to support their erring son in the style to which he is accustomed." "Eric’s" eyes narrowed. "If you should ever think of pursuing me—don’t. You’re under suspicion of madness as well as everything else I’ve proven against you, so you’ll be closely monitored. Besides, how could you ever prove to anyone that you are me?"

He moved toward the door, but even as I watched, his expression evolved, becoming grave. One final time he turned towards me, looking me over, his face reflecting deep sadness. I misinterpreted his look, thinking he might still pity me.

"Oh, please!" I began in a broken-voiced plea, reaching towards him.

He lifted his index finger to his lips. "I’m sorry, old man," he said quietly.

At the time, I thought he meant it for me; I now know he was speaking to himself. He was leaving behind the only true home he’d ever known—his former body. He shook himself, dispelling momentary nostalgia, and began to smile again. Opening the door, he tossed back over his shoulder, "I shouldn’t let them make me work too hard, old fellow, if I were you. Your ticker might give out!"

The door closed and I sat stunned, arms dangling, suddenly old, weak, helpless, and terribly alone. My body felt leaden and immobile, as if all its fire and energy had gone with "Eric."

Dom Sebastian roused me as he re-entered. "Kneel, Anselm!"

I slid from the chair to the floor, my spine stiff with outrage. I was a Lutheran! A university professor! A free man!

Sebastian stood silent for long minutes, his face reflecting inner struggle, disgust following pity. "Well, Anselm, at least that young professor is safely out of your clutches. Dean Stewart is taking him back to Woodward. How dare you use the privilege to teach at the university to give way to your basest impulses! If Professor Behrens had not come to me in time, you surely would’ve broken your vows of chastity and obedience. Months ago I knew, from your confessions and your behavior, that you were going through a great crisis—but I hardly expected this!"

I gaped at Dom Sebastian looming over me, my head tilted at an acute angle, my mouth open. "Wha—?" I began, then choked on my own saliva and lapsed into a coughing fit. The mechanics of Anselm’s throat were still unfamiliar. At last I managed to wheeze, "Of what am I accused?"

The abbot, who’d been tapping his foot, arched an eyebrow. "Of making indecent advances to that young man while pretending to teach him about obscure medieval heretical cults. Do you deny that these are your letters?"

He handed me a stack of pages, covered with the same heavy black script I’d seen on the lunch card, the same I’d produced as I signed Nurse Cunningham’s roster. I scanned a letter. Its blasphemous contents—describing perverted and sadomasochistic sexual acts disguised as comparable to the love of God—horrified and frightened me. At the bottom of the second page appeared the signature: Anselmus. I handed back the pages and found that I could at last speak.

"I don’t remember having written . . . I couldn’t have written this trash, nor have I had any more than slight, distant contact with . . . Professor Behrens. I have no such . . . foul appetites and tastes as I see in those letters. Believe me, please! I’ve lost my memory; I remember nothing of my life and duties here—I beg you! Believe me!" I bowed my head, shifting my weight from knee to knee to relieve my discomfort on the uneven stone floor. Surely, I don’t really owe this man absolute obedience, so why have I spoken as if I did? Do the habits of a body warp habits of thought and speech?

Dom Sebastian stared at me, probably finding it hard to believe the depth of my depravity as "Eric" had just revealed it.

"I know you’re lying, Anselm," he said, his voice low. "Because of that young man’s plea I won’t force you to leave the community, but I must suspend you from our opus dei: you’ll not be allowed choir duty in celebration of the Hours, nor to say Holy Mass. Instead, I’ll expect you to follow the program you begged me to impose should you give way to the ‘monstrous temptations with which the Devil was besieging you,’ as you put it. Since you agree that your salvation lies in physical labor, I order you to work until you feel truly sorry for your sins. Anselm, instead of four hours in the fields and gardens, you’ll work ten."

"But Dom Sebastian, I—"

"Silence! You’ll take your meals in the refectory with us, so you’ll be seen by all, yet you’ll be served apart from us. These things, but most of all the shock of being cut off from the holy work that justifies your very existence, should bring you to your senses. You’ll be supervised, and in case you should feel like leaving the community, you’ll be prevented. Any time you feel ready to confess, come to me—I’m still your chosen confessor, after all. Until that time, guilty of the gravest mortal sins, you cannot take Communion, as you know only too well. I shall not be available to you until you come to me for confession."

Dom Sebastian had passed his sentence. I blotted my sweating cheeks and forehead with my sleeve. "Dom Sebastian," I began, pleading, "I don’t know if you’re aware of my heart condition. I’ve just come from Dr. Schuyler. Ten hours of manual labor might—"

"Yes." He interrupted, the sibilant syllable like a whiplash, "You told me, months ago, that Dr. Schuyler had found an irregular heartbeat, but you assured me then that it was not dangerous. Just now, Professor Behrens told me how you used this supposed heart ailment to approach him. He also suspects from things you’ve said—hints in some of those letters, in fact—that you can induce a heart irregularity at will, using herbs we grow right here in the monastery garden: foxglove, for example, along with other plants. It’s not hard to believe. I’ve seen your skill with potions of all sorts. It’s possible you’ve been faking a heart ailment for Dr. Schuyler and now have added your ‘amnesia.’ In any case, you tried to seduce that young man by making him pity you!"

I winced as though I’d been struck. "Dom Sebastian, I see there’s no appeal. I’m trapped. Your will be done."

He turned his back. "Go to your cell and wait for instructions."

I stood, my knees numb, and realized that of course I didn’t know where I was supposed to go. "Dom Sebastian, please, I don’t know where my cell is!"

My childish plea, delivered in a rich bass, sounded ridiculous to my own ears.

Sebastian whirled, his rosary flying out from his waist, the long-skirted robe wrapping around his legs. "Get out!" he cried, fists clenched convulsively at his sides.

I obeyed, afraid of antagonizing him any further. Throughout the interview, the remnants of myself, Eric Behrens, had struggled with a force that threatened to smother me—not merely Sebastian’s authority and the strength of his righteous anger, but even more, the power of Anselm’s body, his habits, his second nature. I continued to feel I was drowning. Am I in shock? That must be it. That’s all it is.

My back against Dom Sebastian’s oaken door, I looked around the dim hall, its shadowy length silent and deserted. Standing still in that vaulted space, I had become a quivering heap of flesh, a victim pushed this way and that by the will of a monstrous stranger and the appetites of an alien body. I was reduced to nothing, for I was no longer even an individual: divided indeed!

On my right, forty feet away, I could see the outside entrance door. Before Sebastian’s regime could begin, why not just walk out of here, "a university professor, a free man?"

I peered around me. The ogival windows showed no light from the outside; a cold draft from the door played around my sandaled feet, even at that distance. It would go below freezing tonight, the chill intensified by a stiff breeze, and the monastery was miles from anywhere. Should I risk this fat and ailing body, blundering around for hours in the icy wind and the dark? No, I’d preserve the body as best I could.

Perhaps there might still be some way I could become myself again. Then the same mocking , illusory voice I’d heard at the hospital seemed to form words in my ear, "You just said you’re a free man. Go on, just walk out of here! This may be your last chance."

I shuddered. A free man? What a farce! This must be more than the influence of an alien body, I decided. Something else occupied a corner in my brain. Whatever I did, I would not, could not obey that command!

I shrank away, turning my back on the door to the night, to the frozen countryside and the freedom to destroy myself, and began without conscious will to move toward the double oaken doors at the other end of the hall. On trying them, I found one unlocked. It opened into the chapel. I let myself into the semi-darkness of the incense-soaked sanctuary where a single red candle guttered before the high altar. I crept near to it, feeling my heart beating faster. I knelt.

I watched my next action as if from a great distance, the impulse incomprehensible to my conscious mind. I stretched myself out face down on the sisal carpet some charitable soul had laid upon the unforgiving stone floor, flinging my arms out, cruciform. I was utterly without hope, but my theatrical gesture satisfied me as the only acceptable thing to do. There must be a sacral meaning to the position. I remembered something about taking vows, becoming a priest or a monk, something about penance—all involving lying face down on a chapel floor.

What all this had to do with Eric Behrens, Lutheran, professor of English, was beyond comprehension. Perhaps this body was blindly asking pardon for the sins committed by its previous owner? Or was the guilty Eric Behrens trying in this quintessentially Catholic way to beg forgiveness for having sinned with Diana, for having rejected her and denied himself?

Exhausted, I allowed my mind to go blank. In the midst of a moan of self-pity, I fell asleep.

 

 

Anselm: a Metamorphosis Copyright © 2013. Florence Byham Weinberg. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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Author Bio

Born in the high desert country of New Mexico, Florence loved exploring the wilderness on foot and horseback. Those grandiose landscapes formed her sensibility. Hidden pockets of unexpected greenery tucked away near springs in folds of barren mountainsides spoke to her of gentleness and beauty in an otherwise harsh world. She published her first poem in a children's magazine shortly after she learned to read at age four; wrote her first 'novel' at age six, entitled Ywain, King of All Cats. She illustrated the 'book' herself.

Before settling in San Antonio, Texas, she traveled extensively with her military family during World War II. With her husband, the brilliant scholar and teacher Kurt Weinberg, she worked and traveled in Canada, Germany, France, and Spain. After earning her PhD, she taught for twenty-two years at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, and for ten at Trinity University in San Antonio. She published four scholarly books, many articles and book reviews, doing research in the U.S. and abroad.

When, after retiring in 1999, she was freed from academe to devote herself to writing fiction, she produced ten novels, ranging from fantasy to historical romance and mystery. Seven are in print: one historical romance about the French Renaissance, published in France in French translation, two historical novels, one about the founding of San Antonio, the other about the second expedition up the Rio Grande in 1581, forty years after Coronado. In addition, she has published four historical mysteries, starring the eighteenth-century Jesuit missionary Fr. Ignaz (Ygnacio) Pfefferkorn, two set in the Sonora Desert, one in an ancient monastery in Spain, and the latest one, Unrest in Eden, the fourth volume of the Pfefferkorn mystery series, recounting events in Fr. Ignaz' life after his release from imprisonment in the Spanish monastery.

Her favorite animals are horses—an intense love affair over many years—and cats, her constant companions. She enjoys music, traveling, hiking, biking, gardening, riding and swimming. Anselm: a Metamorphosis is her first venture into fantasy fiction.

TTB titles: Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross
Seven Cities of Mud
Sonora Moonlight
Sonora Wind
The Storks of La Caridad
Unrest in Eden

El jesuita y el brujo
El jesuita y la tormenta
El jesuita y La Caridad

Author web site.

 

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Format: Trade Paperback
    Available October 2013!
List Price: $18.95 USD

 

 

  Author News

Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross by Florence Byham Weinberg has been selected as a 2006 WILLA Literary Award finalist in the category of historical fiction. The WILLA Literary Awards are chosen by a distinguished panel of twenty-one professional librarians.

Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross by Florence Byham Weinberg has also been selected as the featured book for the Las Misiones Capital Campaign. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross will be donated to the restoration and preservation of San Antonio's five historical Franciscan missions (established between 1718 and 1731). For more information, or to make a donation, please visit http://www.lasmisiones.com/.

Seven Cities of Mud by Florence Byham Weinberg was an Award-Winning Finalist for the 2008 New Mexico Book Awards in the category of Best Historical Fiction.

Sonora Moonlight was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Literary Award in Historical Fiction for 2009.

Sonora Wind by Florence Weinberg was a winner in the 2010 New Mexico Book Awards in Historical Fiction and a finalist in the category of Mystery/Suspense and also was a finalist for the Next Generation Indy Book Award for 2010.

 

 

  Reviews

"Anselm: A Metamorphosis by Florence Byham Weinberg plays upon an ancient longing as well as ancient fears. What is it like, it asks, to wake up as another person, unrecognizable even to those closest to one, being in all but one way wholly new to oneself? That one way is an abiding sense of self-identity. In a fascinating tour de force, this novel follows the sudden change in the identity of a carefree young English professor into a middle-aged priest by exploring many layers of his consciousness... A fantasy? Of course. Unreality? No. Instead of removing himself and becoming another, the searching protagonist of Anselm achieves a sense of his true identity that had been closed to him before."
Ralph Freedman, author of Hermann Hesse, Pilgrim of Crisis
 



 

 

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