THE INSTITUTE (English Version)
"Sometimes, at night, there is a face that looks at us from the bottom of a mirror
And art should be like this mirror that shows us our own face."
Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo
That Saint Paul grew in the shadow of the MacLaren Institute, we all know. And that the contributions of this venerable institution to our city are more than many, we also neither doubt nor question. The city and the Institute are as inseparable from each other as Arkham is from the Miskatonic University. There are rumors — always have been — of strange and bizarre things happening, or originating, at the Institute. I give as much credence to such rumors as I do to the countless conspiracy theories based on fallacious extrapolations and fabricated evidence by charlatans peddling pseudoscience on cable television. Nevertheless, I ask you to believe that the facts I am about to tell you correspond to the truth, and nothing but the truth. The truth, you will tell me, of a walking cliché, an alcoholic writer (ex-alcoholic, actually), well known for creating fictions and inventing false quotes taken from imaginary books written by characters from his drunken mind. So be it. Take it as you wish to take it.
Believe me when I tell you that one night I ran into Daniel Velasquez, an old friend from my high school days. Those who know me know that you can almost always find me at Nikita, but that night I decided to stop by Grotesque first to see if I could find Anthony Willow, the guitarist of the Cosmopolitan Swing Bastards, to lure him into a spoken word project (which would never see the light of day). We had not seen each other for five years, Daniel and I, but we struck up a conversation as if we had parted the night before after a session of drinking and banter. He was now a married man, with one child and a second on the way. He worked at the MacLaren Institute on the night shift, working as a doorman, security guard, janitor, and whatever else was needed. He had read one or two of my books and liked them. He had always been the athletic type and not much of a reader, so I smiled, shyly, a little moved.
He was to go on duty in half an hour and asked me if I had ever been to the Institute. Once or twice, to the August MacLaren Auditorium, at a couple of book presentations. He suggested I go with him. Wouldn’t that be a problem? No. He worked in a secluded building, away from the area open to the public, where we could have a few beers and catch up. Maybe he would let me take a peek at the Berserker. What was the Berserker? In response, a hybrid smile intended to both arouse my curiosity and make fun of me. I followed him in my car since he could not leave his post and bring me back to the city.
We crossed the east entrance, the automatic gate closing behind us, and minutes later we parked in front of a huge building that reminded me of some sort of monastery, that is if monasteries were built in an Eastern European country under a communist regime. I was surprised to see no guards at the entrance. Half a dozen scary rumors were enough to keep the Institute free from intruders, Daniel hinted.
Inside, I was escorted by my old friend to his office, where we toasted with two cans of very cold beer from a small refrigerator strategically placed under his desk. We talked about our lives, exchanged reminiscences of our youth and news of our acquaintances, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what the Berserker was. The name was not unfamiliar to me, I associated it with Norse mythology, and yet it eluded me what relation it might have to the bastion of science and technology founded by August MacLaren. Daniel flashed a wry smile, guessing my thoughts. No one really knew what the Berserker was. There were two schools of thought, so to speak. One claimed that the creature could telepathically interfere with the human brain, implanting in it the illusion that it could change form. The other, that the creature actually had the ability to rearrange its molecular structure and change its appearance. As for its origin, whether it would have come from another planet or the spirit world, no one was committed to advancing a theory. Its extreme ferocity made it difficult to conduct a deeper study. Two deaths and several serious injuries had made researchers and technicians at the Institute refuse to examine the creature closely. A Swedish scientist had named it Berserker, in honor of the loyal and fearsome warriors in the service of Odin, Nietzschean supermen who, according to the Scandinavian sagas, consumed large quantities of amanita muscaria before battles and slaughtered everything that came their way in a bloodthirsty frenzy akin to a psychotic break. Where it would have been captured and how it would have been brought to the Institute, Daniel could not tell me. He had heard one of the scientists mention an incident in Russia in 1959, something to do with the mysterious deaths of nine students somewhere north of the Ural Mountains.
I had a million questions to ask him, the problem was knowing what to ask him first. Could the Berserker take any form? No. The creature’s polymorphy was limited. There was nothing better than seeing it with my own eyes. As Daniel led me to the basement, where we walked for quite a while through long, narrow corridors, it occurred to me that I might be the butt of a bad joke, but as we approached our destination, I noticed that my old friend was showing signs of some nervousness. In front of an armored door, he explained that the Berserker was particularly fond of human flesh, but that, of course, this was something that was not on the menu at the establishment. Instead, he was given dog food. Why dog food? He didn't know. It was the only thing the creature ate and in industrial quantities.
The door was controlled from a console at the guard station halfway down the hall. Daniel would slide a panel on the door and I could see the creature. Wouldn’t it be asleep? No, the Berserker was not sleeping. Was I ready? Yes. The panel went up, accompanied by the sound of a mechanical gear. It looked like a normal room, with no windows, white walls, a toilet, a sink, and a bed against the back wall. A white sheet concealed a figure about the size of a man of average height. I waited, taking deep breaths, preparing myself for the worst. But nothing happened. I turned my head back, expecting to hear Daniel’s laughter, but he squinted his eyes and shuddered. When I straightened up, I saw something that, no matter how long I live, I will never forget. I thought it was an optical illusion, some kind of deformation in the glass responsible for that vision, a bizarre light effect. The more I looked at the creature, the more I wanted to free it from its captivity. I felt sorry for it, it hurt me to see it like that.
I awoke outside the building, Daniel holding me by the arm as if he was afraid I was going to faint. I lit a cigarette, the flame of the lighter flickering without the slightest breeze blowing. Daniel explained to me that this was how the Berserker disarmed his victims. First, surprise and shock, then a strange empathy and a feeling of belonging. The investigators would only approach the creature when it was heavily sedated, wearing masks that hid their faces entirely. In its original form, the Berserker had the appearance of a hominid covered in hair from head to toe.
We parted ways with the promise to meet more often. I sat behind the wheel digesting what I had just witnessed, aware that if I told anyone about this episode, my credibility would be questioned, mostly because I spend a considerable part of my life making up stories. Some things are so far-fetched that even the most imaginative of writers cannot concoct them. This is one of them. Don’t take my word for it. Go to bed, sleep soundly. Below the surface nothing is happening, monsters exist only in children’s nightmares. I will continue to make up my stories and try to rationalize the night when, peering into a room in the basement of a sort of Bolshevik-inspired monastery, I gazed at the Berserker creature and saw, in three dimensions, my own face returning my gaze.