“And so, no one has any idea what it is about?”
“How could we? All of our attempts to study Dr. Barom’s final work have been unsuccessful so far.”
The two men sat across from each other in Dr. Walters’s study, the great oak desk between them.
“To call our attempts catastrophic would be an understatement,” Dr. Walters continued, “Two senior members of faculty and six grad students, soon to be seven, dead by their own hands.
“Seven? When did this happen?” John exclaimed.
“Just this very morning. The curious bastard snuck in through the window.” Dr. Walters took a sip of his brandy, found little comfort in it, and continued, “The guard we had posted outside the room heard sobbing, and came in just in time to stop the student from throwing himself out the window.:
“What happened to him?” John took a sip of his ice water, wishing he had taken the brandy Dr. Walters had offered earlier.
Dr. Walters picked up his glass, swished the liquid around in it. He looked uncomfortable. He cared deeply about the faculty under him, and any suffering they went through, he felt it himself. This whole ordeal had taken a lot out of him. He had bags under his eyes from several sleepless nights, and it did not look like he would ever be able to sleep well again.
“He was carried away in a straitjacket,” Walters said finally, “He… wouldn’t stop crying. He seemed like he was trying to say something, but we couldn’t get anything clear out of him. Maybe he’ll make a recovery, but… given how all the other cases turned out, I doubt so. Those sobs… those don’t seem like something you would be able to…” Dr. Walters trailed off.
“And all of these cases, they’re the result of reading Dr. Barom’s manuscript?” John probed.
“Yes… all of them. Nine perfectly fine people, no record of any mental health issues - besides the odd nervous breakdown so common to academia. They all read the manuscript, and were so profoundly affected by it that they all killed themselves. Ten people, if you count Dr. Barom himself. We found him hanging in his office. The manuscript was sitting on his desk, with a note that said ‘IT IS DONE’”.
John glanced down at the floor, trying to collect his thoughts. “So if you know the manuscript is the cause,” he proceeded delicately, “why do you still have it? Why not burn it?”
“Dr. Barom was my friend!” Dr. Walters interjected, “Destroy his last work? That would be unthinkable! He always wanted to write something that would deeply touch the people who read it. While this isn’t the way I expected him to do it, you have to admit, he accomplished his goal! To destroy his manuscript would be to destroy his life’s work! I will not do that to my friend’s greatest achievement.”
“But it has encouraged the deaths of almost a dozen people! Surely there’s no sane reason to keep that around! It’s dangerous!”
“Dangerous though it may be, I think it can be useful. Think about it! This manuscript contains some fragment of truth about human nature. Anyone who reads it is driven to suicide. Something in there is universal. Imagine if we could safely study it! If we figured out a way, what might we learn about ourselves? About human nature? This could be our Rosetta Stone! We can’t destroy it. This could be the most important manuscript ever written. Destroying it would be a tragedy! The greatest tragedy the world has ever seen!”
“It’s already claimed nine lives! What if it gets out? What if someone puts it on the internet? Millions of people could be driven to suicide because of it! Now that would be the greatest tragedy the world has ever seen!”
“There are billions of people in the world but only one manuscript. It is too precious to destroy!”
“You’ve lost your mind! I should go burn it right now.”
John got up to leave, but Dr. Walters dived across the desk, tackling him at the waist. The two men struggled against each other. Chairs were knocked over, the bottle of brandy was smashed, the letter opener was snatched from the desk. And then there was silence.
A lone figure left the study.