MIND OVER MATTER

"What one mind can conceive, another can fathom." That was pretty much Kertís philosophy. It could have been irreligious, but it wasnít. For Kert gave God credit for all things, including minds. You might say that his was a "perfectionist" mind; certainly it was a strong one. Yet in its strength lay its weakness; and in its weakness, a strength.

From all that had happened, Kert figured more of the answers he sought. He knew more completely now why they wanted the phony confession: once they got it, he would be in their power. You couldnít be just a little bit of a collaborator if the enemy wanted more. So now he had more reason to resist. Before it had all been a matter of abstract principles; now it was becoming personal.

He also knew how they might try to get it from himóany way they thought would work. He shuddered, remembering the beating, and wondered if they would try that again. Then he wondered if he would be able to resist if they did, or would he give in again. At the moment he could only think that if he became convinced they were going to beat him again, he must try to force them to kill him. Still, there must be another answer, if only he could find it. And surely he could, for God had given all that was needed in advance. If he failed to use the mind God provided, that would be his own fault, not his God's.

He realized suddenly that he hadn't finished breakfast. He hurried, because there was something he wanted to do before Hatchet Face returned. Finished, Kert went to the door, opened it, and called to the guard.

"So-byen," Kert said when the guard answered his call. The guard indicated that Kert could proceed to the latrine. The prisoner carried with him the paper on which he had started writing the phony confession. Returning several minutes later, he didn't have the paper anymore.

Back in the room, Kert seated himself in the chair. Deliberately, he moved Bender's confession from the end of the table against the wall to the other end, toward the door. On top of the confession he placed the remaining sheets of unused paper, and atop them the pencil. This accomplished, Kert plunked his elbows on the table and picked up his cup, intending to take a drink of the tepid "kai shwee" in it. For once his mind had nothing to think about. He raised the cup in both hands, smiling a little with the strange sense of freedom he felt—

Carol sat across from him again, smiling over the same fine china cup. Kert sipped steaming coffee in his own china cup, drinking in her smile with his eyes. The window was there again, too, and the boats in the harbor with masts swaying gently. Not a thing had changed from the time before. But why should it? It was the same time.

Thus they sat until his cup was empty. They didn't talk; it didn't seem necessary. It wasn't necessary for respected and trusted friends. When Kert set the cup down, Carol went away. She didn't vanish this time; she only went away.

Kert was glad there'd been no interruption of the reverie. Even after he set the cup down and the vision faded, the pleasant feeling lingered. Strange it was, that vision—difficult to analyze. It could hardly be called imagination, for the vision came without conscious thought of imagining. Mental telepathy? He wondered if it might be. Was it possible that two persons, good friends, could have such communication? Maybe Carol had been thinking of him at the time, or praying for him. They'd talked about religion once. He remembered she'd asked him if men often prayed in battle or at times of great danger. He remembered telling her that some did and some didn't. Strange.

Refreshed and encouraged, Kert put his mind to present problems again. But he had only begun when Hatchet Face came in. The prisoner was still seated in the chair with his elbows on the table. He glanced at the chinaman to establish that it was Hatchet Face, then away, waiting for the other to speak.

"You are ready now to resume your writing, eh?"

"No," Kert said calmly, "I'm not."

"Not ready?" The chinaman didn't perceive the meaning. "Why not?" He was looking at the papers on the table and picked them up, spilling the pencil onto the floor. Before Kert could answer, which he had no intention of doing anyway, the chinaman spoke again with considerable concern.

"Where is that you have already written?"

"In the latrine."

"The latrine—?" Color came up in the chinaman's face.

Kert thought he might as well make it good while he was at it. It could only be so rough. "I needed some paper," he said. "Didn't want to use the good sheets." He indicated the clean sheets of paper that Hatchet Face held.

The chinaman fumed and sputtered. "You have deceived me!" he shouted. He acted as though he had been betrayed by a trusted friend. He paced the room pounding his fist in his hand. He cursed, mostly in Chinese. Kert realized that this time it was Hatchet Face who had lost emotional control. Even knowing he was certain to suffer eventually for what he'd done, the prisoner had a tremendous feeling of satisfaction in seeing his enemy so upset. Two could play at this emotions game. "What one mind can conceive, another can fathom." Were it not for all the external advantages the chinaman held, Kert thought, he could beat this fellow at his own game. If it were just one mind against the other. But it wasn't.

Hatchet Face regained control suddenly. "Get out of the chair!" he ordered. "Sit in your own place."

Kert complied, and the chinaman seated himself at the table. His face again expressionless, the flush gone, the chinaman looked at Kert for a long time, studying and saying nothing. Kert was back in his old position—drawn-up knees with hands clasped over them. He didn't look at the enemy directly, but observed him from the corner of his eye and waited.

Hatchet Face reminded the prisoner of all the things he had the power to do to him. Kert said little except to mention that he was aware of those things. The chinaman went through the series of coaxing, wheedling, and threatening. To all this, Kert would say either, "It makes no difference," or nothing at all. So it went, all day and into the night.

"Then it appears it will be necessary to take you out to the tree again."

Kert felt a tightening inside him, and wondered briefly if there was any outward sign of the emotion he was trying so desperately to conceal. This was the one thing he hadn't found the answer to, at least not to his own satisfaction. It wasn't fear of death. If they stood him up to shoot him, he could have laughed at them while they did it. And it wasn't exactly fear of torture either. He remembered how the blows hadn't hurt after the first few. He felt that with the better control he now had, he could stand any pain until numbness set in. Yet he wasn't quite certain, and what he dreaded most of all was that he might fail. His was a fear of failure.

"Yes, I think that will be necessary," Hatchet Face said. The chinaman had detected a slight tightening of the fingers laced over the prisoner's knees. He rose from the chair and moved around in front of Kert. "Look at me," he ordered:

Kert looked up at the other's face. When he did so he saw Hatchet Face had the same expression that he had had when he ordered the beating before. Suddenly things were completely clear in the prisonerís mind. He knew now why Hatchet Face looked so much different than most of the other chinks. It was because he was different—very different. Everything was clear—the whole picture.

And how had that come about? It was all quite simple, really. Kert had suddenly become capable of reading the chinamanís mind.

And he wasnít exactly a chinaman, either, Kert decided. Hatchet Face was a Tibetan. That was it! He had been in a monastery, where everybody studied "control of emotions"—the key to complete understanding of another man, to complete control over him. The man who learned to control anotherís emotions, could also control the otherís mind.

So that was what Hatchet Face had set about to do to him and had nearly succeeded. That was the reason the chinaman changed his own moods so much and tried to change Kertís. That was why all this stuff about "donít be homesick," "be happy," "you must not lose your temper."

In Tibet, that place where Hatchet Face had studied, the stu- dents must spend several months on each of the moods, Kert thought. Each time a mood was mastered, the student became more powerful. If he mastered them all, he was most powerful. Hatchet Face hadnít mastered them all. They had brought him here to use what he had already mastered, thinking it would be enough to control the minds of most any average person.

But they hadnít expected the analytical power of his mind, guessed Kert. While Hatchet Face was trying to gain control of his emotions, Kert had learned about these things too, and now he possessed part of the power. That was why he could see so much of what was in the enemyís mind.

Hatchet Face really believed this germ-war business, because the people who controlled him, the bosses in Peking, had told him it was so. And they, maybe it was Mao Tse Tung himself, had more of the power than Hatchet Face did; so they could control him. Either this chinaman didnít bother to look into the minds of his superiors to notice they had told him a lie, or perhaps they had so much more power than he that he couldnít fathom their minds. But he—Kert—had acquired enough of the power to see into Hatchet Faceís mind, so now he could deal better with the china- man, and perhaps even beat him.

"Tomorrow I will be back to settle with you," the chinaman said threateningly. Now you may go to sleep."

"Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep." The phrase went over and over in Kertís mind. That was one of his moods Hatchet Face had learned to control. Yes, Sleep was a mood, then, to Kert. There were times before when Hatchet Face had commanded him to go to sleep and he had done so. Funny that Sleep was a mood; he hadnít known that before. But it was, and so was Hunger. That was another that Hatchet Face controlled. And Anger; there was that time Hatchet Face had forced Kert to become so angry that he had attempted to kill his enemy. But Kert himself had learned to control that mood in others, now. That was how heíd made Hatchet Face so angry that morning. There were a dozen moods. There were Love, Anger, Pity, Hate, Fear, Happiness, Sadness, Hunger, Sleep— He couldnít think of the others just then because Hatchet Face had ordered him to "go to sleep" and the chinaman controlled his Sleep mood.

When he awakened the next morning, the same notions were in Kertís mind. Hatchet Face didnít show up early as usual. Actually, he was probably discussing the next move with his superior, but such an idea didnít occur to Kert, though normally it would have. In fact the prisoner wasnít giving much thought at all about it. There was no need to. Everything was clear now, and as soon as Hatchet Face did show up all heíd have to do was explain it. Then the whole thing would be over. Since Kert could see into the chinamanís mind, Hatchet Face could see into his.

Kert went to the latrine after breakfast. Coming back he decided heíd like to stay outside for a while. It was a bright morning, and it would be pleasant to sit in the sun. So he seated himself out in front of his door.

"Szu!" the guard called. When Kert looked up, the soldier motioned for him to go into the room.

"Ma-mandi," Kert said, and ignored him.

The soldier came over and stood in front of him, cursing in Chinese. He motioned again for the prisoner to go into the room. Kert simply ignored the guard, until the fellow reached over and touched him on the shoulder. He looked up then. The chink again pointed toward the room.

Looking at him, Kert thought that this fellowís moods should be easy to control for one who knew the system at all. Of course the only one Kert knew for certain at the moment was Anger. He didnít want to make the guard angry. But maybe he could try another one. He decided to try Pity; to see if he could make the guard feel sorry for him. Perhaps he had learned enough to make it work on such a simple fellow.

He looked straight into the eyes of the soldier. "You can see that I am kept in the room too much," he told the guard. "It isnít good for me to be in there all the time. How would you feel if you were shut up in a dark room all the time and never got out in the sun? You are a good fellow—not mean. You donít want to see me get sick and you know the sunshine will help me to keep well—" Kert talked on and on, explaining to the guard why he should be allowed to remain outside. He talked as though the guard could understand what he was saying. In his mind, Kert thought the guardís mind was understanding him—not the words but the thoughts. He was working on the otherís Pity mood.

The guard looked at Kert curiously. Why did this prisoner talk as though an uneducated Chinese could understand English? After a time he began to suspect something. Finally, he shook his head and walked back to his usual post, mumbling to himself. Perhaps what he mumbled was to the effect that the prisoner was "crazy in the head."

To Kert, the shaking of the guardís head indicated something else. He had control of the fellowís Pity mood, and now the guard felt sorry for him and would leave him alone. Too bad he couldnít control the Pity mood of Hatchet Face. But that was a different matter. Hatchet Face had too much of the power himself; this guard didnít have any at all.

Kert got up and walked around the yard a little. From one spot he could see down to the stream. The old woman and her daughter were washing clothes there. The prisoner stood looking at them. The guard saw him looking and followed his gaze.

"Szu!" he called, "Mao-la!"—"No!" He tried to tell Kert he was not to stand there and look at the women. Kert looked at the guard and threw his mood control at him. The guard, seeing Kertís strange stare, shook his head resignedly, now convinced that the prisoner was crazy. Kert interpreted the head shaking differently. He now had this fellow completely under control.

Continuing to watch the women at the stream, Kert began to receive a thought message from them. The thought message told him to beware of the old man with the beard. That must be the old fellow he often saw wandering about the place. The message told him that the women knew the chinks were trying to force him to do things that werenít right. They would like to help him, but there was nothing they dared do except send the messages and warn him whenever they could. He decided it was best not to stay looking at the women any longer. The enemy might find out he was in communication with them. He went back and sat down in front of the room again.

As he sat there, a small boy stopped in front of the yard and looked at him. The boy was naked, his body scaly and dfrty. He was eating a raw cucumber and slobbering. The little brown belly, distended with malnutrition, was streaked where the juice and saliva ran down. The boy just stood looking and eating the cucumber. Kert wished he had a cucumber, or some kind of vegetable. All he got was rice—no greens. A fellow needed greens. Why did that boy stand out there eating a cucumber in front of him? The women told him why. He was still in communication with them, even though he couldnít see them now. The boy had been made to do that. Somebody had control of that boyís Hunger mood. They let him have the cucumber only if he would eat it in front of the prisoner. It was a part of their plan to try to gain better control of Kertís Hunger mood. How clear it was becoming in Kertís mind!

Hatchet Face came in the afternoon. "Have you reconsidered?" he asked Kert.

"You should know by now there is nothing else I can do."

The chinaman couldnít figure what the prisoner meant.

"Then you are ready to write confession now?"

"You know I cannot write such a thing as you ask."

Hatchet Face was puzzled by Kertís assurance. Perhaps he should try to shock him again. "Will we have to take you to the tree again?"

It didnít have the same effect as yesterday. "That would make no difference," Kert said. "You must know that would make no difference now."

"You act strange," the chinaman said. "Do you feel bad? Are you sad?"

Kertís face took on a forlorn look. "Yes."

"What is it about?"

The prisoner shook his head, meaning he didnít know. Perhaps Hatchet Face figured it meant he just didnít want to say.

"You should not be sad," the chinaman told him. "You should be happy."

Kertís change of attitude surprised the chinaman. The prisoner straightened from his dejected slump and a blank smile came to his face. Hatchet Face thought Kert was trying to make fun of him. Well, heíd show this stubborn American how much of a joke it was. He went out without a word. When he returned, there were two soldiers with him and a hunch-backed fellow who looked as though he might be an interrogator. Maybe it was the "superior," from the way Hatchet Face addressed him.

"Now we see if you still wish to make joke," Hatchet Face told him.

They took Kert out under the tree. They tied him as before and pulled his arms up behind him until he stood on his toes.

"Why do you do this?" Kert asked him.

"You force me to do it by your attitude," Hatchet Face answered.

"But you must know it can make no difference now."

That was a curious statement, the chinaman might well have thought. "We will see," he said with a sardonic smile.

Hatchet Face slapped Kert as hard as he could with his hand. The American showed no sign of feeling it. With a piece of rope, the chinaman lashed at the neck and shoulders. It raised welts, but Kert made no sound. He seemed to feel nothing. The chinaman looked into the prisonerís face.

"Why do you beat me?" Kert asked him sincerely. "You know it will do no good. You know what is in my mind just as I know what is in yours. You should know that I canít write the things you ask because you know what I know in my mind, that they are not true."

"What are you talking about?" Hatchet Face asked, baffled. "I do not understand what you say."

"I have found your power," Kert told him. "I have learned to read your thoughts, just as you can read mine."

"Read my thoughts?"

"Yes. I can see what is in your mind, just as you can see in mine. You can see what is in my mind, canít you?"

The two Chinese looked at each other, puzzled. They talked for a bit, peering into Kertís face occasionally. They had to bend down and look up to study his eyes, because the strain on his arms forced him to lean forward and his head was bowed.

The hunchback, lifting Kertís face with his hand, looked piercingly at the prisoner. "Can you tell what is in my mind?" he asked.

"No," Kert replied, "only his. I do not know you well enough. But you can see what is in my mind, I know." There was a pause while the hunchback continued to study the prisonerís eyes. Kert became a little puzzled then. "You can, canít you?"

The hunchback looked at Hatchet Face and spoke briefly in Chinese. Hatchet Face nodded in agreement. "Yes," the hunchback said to the prisoner. It may have been despair or defeat, or even a touch of pity in the way he looked at Kert then. "Yes, of course." He made a sign to the guards. They untied the prisonerís hands.

"You may stay out in the yard, if you like," the hunchback said. "Tonight you will sleep here. Tomorrow you will go to be with others."

 

Even after he had left that house, Kert remained in communication with the Korean women for quite some time. He thanked them for helping him, for the warnings about the old man and the boy eating the cucumber. He told them he would try to repay them in some way. Perhaps he could send them some seeds for vegetables from America. Koreans needed vegetables and meat. If the little boy had rabbits and other things to eat, it wouldnít be so easy for the chinamen to control his Hunger mood.

So now, as they rode along, Kert was telling Bowmar that a few days ago he had lost contact with the Korean women. Maybe the distance was too great. He was worried, because he didnít know how he was going to send the seeds and the rabbits to them.

No, the Sergeant felt, you neednít feel sorry for Kert. His mental condition, insanity or whatever it was, had been an escape from the torments of the enemy. It had taken him beyond their reach just as effectively as if he had been able to keep going after that time he escaped from them in the night. He wasnít crazy because he was weak in the head, but rather because he was so strong. And as much improved as he appeared already, it seemed likely such a strong mind would come back to normal quickly, once the pressure was removed.

One might feel that in this condition of his there was something other than simple mental derangement. Could it be somehow the hand of God? Kert hadnít sought assistance from Divinity through prayer. That was because of his philosophy—God has provided, and he himself must put the God-given powers to use. Still—who knows? Perhaps a prayer had come from the woman in Kertís "vision"—Carol.

No matter how it may have come about, the Sergeant felt it was the hand of God. Why not? Kert was deserving enough. As long as a man believed and gave credit, would not a gracious God be forgiving if he erred a bit in philosophy? He would, for all men err. Perhaps this was Godís way of helping a deserving, tortured soul from without, when the mind wouldnít quite let Him in.






© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.