Storm Signals

1 May

Was it blind chance that brought Carl Eight out to Eastern Long Island on September 21, 1938?

The reporter for the New York Daily News drove to Westhampton Town in Suffolk County with the task of covering a society event at Babylon. He never reached there, being stopped by the so-called Long Island Express, the greatest hurricane storm witnessed up to that time.

His car radio played him Artie Shaw’s “Begin the Beguine” and Ella Fitzgerald’s “A Tisket, A Tasket”, but no storm warning at all.

The life and mind of Carl Eight were never to be the same ever again.

The correspondent wrote for days about what he had experienced at the center of the emergency disaster. It took him a week to realize how severely his nerves and emotions had been affected by what he had seen and gone through himself. As soon as he was given a week off to recuperate and rest, Carl made an appointment to see a Manhattan psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Welzig. He had lived through events that had changed his view of the nature of reality, and what he now believed to be true terrified him to the degree that it had become impossible for him to sleep for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time.

The eye-witness to the historic Long Island Express had a need to have someone listen to his story.

The psychotherapist was a short middle-aged man with is bushy hair streaked with white prematurely. He did not use any patient couch, but had Carl sit down in a chair facing his dark walnut desk.

“This hurricane has resulted in over 800 deaths, it is calculated,” began the doctor. “Where did you happen to be when the storm broke, may I ask?”

“I was driving to a location on Long Island when it made landfall soon after 2 p.m. in Suffolk County. It was the most horrible event I have ever experienced. The wind must have been blowing over 120 m.p.h. There are reports that it reached 160 m.p.h. in some places.

“Fifty persons were killed on Long Island alone, I understand. The waves rose up to 35 feet high during the storm surge.” The reporter paused a moment, his hands trembling until he restored control. “I saw with my own eyes a skating rink roof blown away at Riverhead and a movie theater swept out to sea at Westhampton. It was an incredible nightmare. Twenty-one people were drowned in the raging Atlantic. Hundreds of summer cottages are gone.
I saw church steeples toppled. Fires broke out and destroyed entire blocks of buildings.”

Sensing the tears in his eyes, Carl Eight fell silent.

“You have had little rest or sleep since that horrific experience, I understand from your call yesterday,” patiently said the psychiatrist.

Carl’s face became a waxen mask. “It is worse than that, Doctor. When I am alone, I can hear voices talking to me.”

Welzig gazed into his troubled eyes. “Can you tell me what they are saying?”

“Different people speak in different ways, men and women, the old and the young, but they all call on me to help them, to save them from the hurricane. They are terrified and they sound like they are in danger of death. It keeps me sleepless and tortures my mind and my nerves.”

“That is most interesting, Mr. Eight. But it often happens that in a time of catastrophe that overwhelms our ordinary, customary life, our minds revert to primitive thoughts and reactions. Hearing voices with no visible source involved is not at all unusual in connection with a storm as violent and powerful as the Long Island Express. The human mind will turn to the uncanny and supernatural when it is shaken to its roots by the forces of Nature.”

Carl made a negative grimace. “But these voices that came to me were not products of how my imagination coped with the extreme dangers about me on all sides. These were the real cries of desperate people.” All of a sudden, he stopped with his mouth agape and his blue eyes befogged. The reporter began to speak as if transported elsewhere, in the tones and accent of someone not present there in the psychiatrist’s inner office.

“Do not let me drown!” called a strange, foreign voice. “Save me before I die! The wind is about to take away any breath of air from me. There is nothing I can do to save myself, for I am helpless and defenseless. Rescue me from the doom coming for me from out of the ocean!”

Carl Eight closed his eyes and said no more. His large head swooned downward until it rested on his suit coat over his chest.

The astonished therapist sprang to his feet and rushed forward to his now unconscious patient, who had fallen into comatose sleep and was at last asleep.

Dr. Welzig placed his right hand on the temple of Carl to take a measure of what his condition might be.

An inexplicable still coldness could be sensed.

The psychiatrist quietly left the room. Best to let the overwrought patient rest, making up for sleepless days and nights since the day of the hurricane.

Carl Eight found Welzig waiting to talk with him in the outer reception area. The patient assured his doctor that he was well enough to leave and go home on his own. “I feel like some burden has been lifted off of me,” said the newspaperman. “You have somehow helped calm me down, Doctor.”

“I am worried about what might happen to you,” confessed Robert Welzig, frowning ominously. “You need to return and see me in the next several days. That is my sincere opinion, Carl.”

The latter agreed to be back in two days, then departed in an unusually elevated mood, the opposite of what he had when he first walked into the office.

Welzig had always voiced skepticism when it came to the subject of telepathy, but a patient like Carl Eight made him feel uneasy about his attitude toward such claims.

The man has the idea that he is hearing real voices and nothing can convince him of their unreality.

What inner motive impels him to believe such a fantasy or illusion? What was there in the hurricane storm to give birth to an idea that obviously did not exist in him before the traumatic experience of September 21?

The Doctor pondered on the puzzling mystery that evening alone in his apartment, and at free moments all the following day. The problem of imagined unseen, absent voices consumed the attention of Welzig, taking obsessive hold of his mind’s attention and concern.

He finally decided to tell Carl Eight that he accepted his belief in psychic communication with storm victims. That was the only way to probe deeply into what was behind the man’s problem in coping with his memories of the Long Island Express.

As evening darkened, Carl grew anxious, suffering a premonition that he would once again find himself unable to fall asleep. He lay and rolled about in bed, until what he most feared recurred: the return of the voices that he alone was able to hear.

“You must come and rescue me, because the wind and the waves are rising again.”

“Do not ignore my plea, but hurry to my aid before it is too late to save me from the arms of the renewed hurricane.”

“You are our only salvation, because no one else can receive our desperate message. Do not hesitate any longer, it will be too late in a short while.”

Carl Eight jumped out of his bed and made for the Daily News Building in Lower Manhattan. He had to talk to the Night Editor, Jack Rowan.

“I thought that you were on leave until you had your strength back, Carl,” said the roly-poly editor upon seeing the reporter in the middle of the night.

Eight approached the man’s corner desk, leaning his weight against its outer edge.

“There is a problem bothering my curiosity, Jack. I thought that you could help with it. What if I wanted to research the results of the big hurricane on New York City’s mental health. How would I go about getting any facts or statistics on people’s individual reactions? How could I find out about the emotional situations and troubles that may have resulted from the terrors produced by the storm?”

Rowan took several moments to think. “I think that the hospitals in the city could give some information about that. I would go to Bellevue Hospital and ask around about the new patients who were admitted after the Long Island Express, those with definite signs of having been thrown over the line by what they had to have gone through on that particular day.”

“I don’t know anybody at Bellevue,” sadly confessed Carl.

The editor grinned. “I know a medical supervisor who can help you. Let me write down his name and write a note asking him to help you out. Who can tell? You might be able to turn the answers that he gives you into a story with some human interest to it, my friend.”

It was easy to find the managing physician in his office.

Carl Eight went directly to the point and asked the senior supervisor if there had been any cases since the hurricane that reflected the mental and emotional effects of the catastrophic storm.

“Indeed,” replied the hospital veteran. “I have never before witnessed such profound damage done by a sudden change in the environment. Impressive for me was the case of the young man named Peter Jones. He claims that he is receiving cries of distress from victims who are sending out psychic messages pleading for help. In an uncanny manner, he is reliving the hurricane experience over and over, as if it did not end but is continuing as an ever-present threat and danger.”

Carl sensed his interest being inflamed. “That is very interesting, sir. Would it be possible and permissible for me to speak with this person for a news feature I am writing about the individual effects of the Long Island Express and the disaster it led to.”

“Why not, as long as the Pete Jones is himself agreeable,” replied the hospital official.

Thus it came about that the reporter met a person with the same unconventional claim as he himself was making.

The patient, in a double room with a sedated oldster, was perfectly willing to relate his story to a newspaper writer who could publish it for all of New York City and readers far beyond it to read and spread.

Carl set a small chair next to the bed of Jones and asked him a direct, unembarrassed question.

“Is it true that you have received messages to your brain from victims still suffer the ill affects of the recent Long Island hurricane?”

The gray eyes and pale face of Peter Jones brightened as if illuminated by an internal lamp.

“Yes, I can hear their cries and wails day and night. They just ended for me when you came in here with the supervisor. Let me tell you that this has been an entirely unprecedented experience for me. Never before have such voices told me anything. This began during the height of the storm, and it has not declined in its strength or frequency. It has temporarily stopped, but I expect the messages to continued unabated in the near future.”

“You do not know the names of those who are calling for aid? They are not friends, relatives, or acquaintances from the past?”

“I swear that I do not know or recognize any of them.”

“Do you have any clue as to where the cries may be coming from? Can you determine their point or direction of origin?”

“No, that is impossible,” moaned the mental patient.

Carl Eight excused himself and departed, looking forward to his appointment to see Dr. Welzig the next morning.

The story of what he had uncovered at Bellevue Hospital poured forth out of the reporter’s mouth. The finished with a look of triumph on his face, daring the psychiatrist to refute or contradict what he had just said.

“What do you say, Doctor Welzig? Is it my imagination that establishes this very similar experience in this Peter Jones with whom I spoke? Did I prove the truth of my own claims by finding this duplication in another person?”

The therapist seemed to be avoiding looking directly at Carl Eight, as if afraid to admit that he had been wrong in what he had previously diagnosed to be a product of an imagination affected by experiencing of the hurricane.

“Okay, let us suppose that what you believe happened to you also occurred in the mind of this Peter Jones person. What are the implications that we can draw from that?

“Supposing that mental telepathy really exists, there are a number of possible implications we could reach and conclude. It may be that he originated the signals that were received by you. Or vice-versa, it would be possible that he is receiving messages being transmitted by your own brain, but unknown to you, unconsciously.

“Is either of those two alternatives true? Or could it be that both he and you are receivers of what other minds happen to be sending forth? How many such sources exist out there, in New York City or on Long Island? I dare not extend the network of brain stations to all of New England that was hit by the hurricane of September 21.”

Welzig stared into the face of the man sitting opposite him, looking for some sign or clue of how his argument was affecting the other.

Eight avoided the unmoving eyes of the psychiatrist, as if sensing some future danger lurking there.

All of a sudden, the reporter bolted to his feet.

“You have told me much that I must think about, Doctor. I thank you for that. Yes, I am in your debt for the enlightenment you have provided. I will call tomorrow for our next appointment. Thank you, sir.”

Carl disappeared before Welzig had a chance to say another word to him.

I know why it was that I abruptly left the office of Dr. Welzig the way that I did, the reporter said to himself when he was in his apartment later that day, looking at himself in his bathroom mirror.

A sudden insight struck my conscious mind, one concerning the psychiatrist himself.

He is, albeit unconsciously, the kind of telepathic broadcaster that he was describing to me. He is unknowingly transmitting messages that he is receiving from out of the mental environment around him.

Is he the person who is focusing the messages that I hear and receive on my brain? Is Dr. Welzig the one transposing the cries for help in my direction?

That is the suspicion that occurred to me as he described the possibility of unconscious transmission to me.

Since it is impossible for me to pin down the true identity of the source of what I am receiving, I have to continue hearing pleas for protection from the Long Island Express hurricane for as long as they continue. With time, they shall decline and finally disappear.

But I will never go and see Dr. Robert Welzig ever again.

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