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Touched in the head

Johnny Capshire



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My best friend's name was Johnny Capshire. He was always a normal enough fella, until Dec 13, 1986. That's when he lost his mind.

Johnny went missing that day. It took a day or two for all of us (his friends and family) to realize he was gone, and contact the authorities.

As the law seemed determined to take its own sweet time getting around to doing anything on the matter, me and others initiated our own search efforts.

Both we and the law came up empty.


Almost exactly three weeks after he'd disappeared, Johnny was back. Or at least part of him was.

He no longer answered to his given name. Acted like 'Johnny Capshire' was a different person entirely.

Johnny now claimed he was God, visiting Earth after a long trip away. Told us he'd returned because he figured it was now time to check on how things were doing in this patch of his cosmic garden.

Well, let me clarify here: he didn't use the name "God": or many of those other exact words; but it all seemed to be implied from the nonsense he was spouting.

It took us a while, but we finally became convinced Johnny wasn't joking.

We took Johnny to the hospital, but they could find nothing physically amiss with him. They referred us to a mental health specialist. Johnny ended up being institutionalized for a few weeks.

We only learned by accident that Johnny had talked his way out of the place after that-- for some reason the staff didn't notify any of us about it. One of us (Johnny's sister) found out when she went to see him for a visit.

So Johnny went missing for a second time, and we all went looking for him again. This time the law didn't even make a pretense about helping.

Missing marbles

I finally found Johnny myself, at our favorite fishing hole, a few days later. He was just sitting on the bank, gazing out over the water.

I decided to sit down next to him. I didn't immediately say anything to him, because I was afraid he'd still act like he wasn't himself.

Johnny didn't acknowledge my presence at all for a few minutes. Then he finally spoke.

"You shouldn't worry about me, you know," Johnny told me.

"I can't help it Johnny. You're-- um-- you're acting kind of strange. You know?"

"I know. But you are too. You know?"

"No. What do you mean?"

"You-- everyone-- aren't acting like I expected you to."

"Well, we did what we thought best, after you went missing, and showed up again--"

Johnny interrupted me. "No, I don't mean that. I mean in general. With the planet. With your neighbors. You're-- well-- backward, Charley."

"Eh? I don't think I'm getting what you're talking about, Johnny."

"Well-- it's like this. There's currently twenty-two other worlds similar to Earth in age and condition sharing more or less this same orbital range from the galactic core. The peoples of all those worlds are already actively working their home systems: the other planets, their cometary clouds, their asteroids, and more. But here, you're not even close to that. Apparently, you're still a couple thousand years behind the others in such matters. The question is, what's wrong with you?"

I wasn't sure what to say to that: it made little sense to me. So I ignored it.

"Johnny, why don't we go to my house and get something to eat? I'm sure you're hungry."

Johnny ignored me back. And seemed to talk to himself. Something about how our problem couldn't be a lack of resources, or an unusually high number of cosmic or geological calamities. He seemed to settle upon something called cultural dead ends as the culprit.

Me, I stood up and left at that, to get to somewhere I could call from to spread the word I'd found Johnny, and where he was and what he was doing.

I figured we could either keep a collective eye on him for a while until he got better, or else manhandle him into a car and take him home and chain him up for a while-- for his own protection. And get more help for him.

Luckily, Johnny didn't offer much resistance to our efforts, and come that Sunday we actually managed to take him to church with us.

Johnny acted confused: like he couldn't remember what church was, or its purpose. We patiently tried to explain it to him. After a while he suddenly burst out laughing, making us angry: Johnny acted like he thought the whole idea of church and religion was some sort of grand joke or prank.

When Johnny recognized our anger and hurt, he changed his tune quick, and apologized. It was around that time we arrived at the church and went in.

Johnny acted perfectly civilized at church, and seemed to pay gratifyingly close attention to the service.

A cracked pot

Afterwards in the car Johnny asked more of his odd questions. Like how many people did we think attended one sort of church or another worldwide. Stuff like that. He also asked our opinions about various things, like what we and the church thought about science and technology, and more. We answered as best we could.

After dark that evening, I found Johnny again sitting by himself, this time in my backyard, in a folding chair. Most everyone else was leaving, as it was getting late. Johnny was to stay with me that night (we were all now taking turns watching over him).

I pulled up another chair and sat down next to him. Johnny was staring up at the night sky.

Without turning to look at me, Johnny said quietly "I know what the problem is now."

"What problem?" I asked, having forgotten our not-quite-a-conversation on the river bank.

"Why you're not in space. Why many of you still live in mud huts, and die of malnutrition and easy to cure illnesses."

"Oh! So now you have the cures for poverty and cancer, do you?" I smiled.

"No: I have the cause. Remove the cause, and the cures come virtually automatically."

"Well-- I guess so," I replied non-committedly.

"Now I know what the difference is between you and the others. The only difference which matters: religion. There's nothing like it on the other worlds: sure, you can find traces in many of their history books-- but once a race's scientific revolution takes off, that usually rids them of religion.

"Here though, for some reason, you've purposely kept quality educations from the masses, which has allowed religion to flourish here like nowhere else. That's what's holding you back!"

I didn't take kindly to Johnny disparaging religion: but as they say, the good Lord looks after fools and drunks; and Johnny had been a fool now ever since he lost his mind. So I held my tongue, and wondered how long it'd be before Johnny got well again.

Johnny now turned towards me. "You've got a rampant mental plague here. Something like a computer virus, only affecting your wetware rather than hardware. It requires eradication before you can make any further progress."

Now Johnny seemed to relax, and turned back to face the sky again, even as he continued to speak. "It's too deeply embedded in your history, culture, and records to get rid of in any fast or convenient fashion. No: this calls for a major intervention: before it destroys you. But how?"

Johnny seemed to ponder the point for several minutes. I said nothing, just allowing him to get all the crazy talk out of his head.

"Ah, yes! The solution was staring me in the face all along! A counter-virus! A virulent biological agent which rewrites your DNA to disable any neural patterns overly susceptible to such nonsense.

"A suitable agent should free your planet's majority from the affliction within only a few years, and improvements to public education will follow-- most rapidly in your news and entertainment media, and after that, in your schools..."

With that, Johnny frowned.

"I did not come prepared for such a contingency." Johnny turned to look at me again. "I shall return with the agent as soon as possible. Please do your best to avoid any more genocide until then: all right?"

As Johnny seemed to need a response, I gave him one, with a strained smile: "All right", I said.

Then Johnny's eyes rolled up in his head until only the whites could be seen, and he collapsed in his chair.

I thought he was kidding around for a minute, but soon became alarmed, and called for an ambulance.

My friend returns

The doctors proclaimed Johnny to be in a coma. He was in the hospital for several days before he woke up again. To everyone's relief, he was Johnny again! Not that weird-talking stranger.

Johnny seemed unable to remember anything about the time in-between his original disappearance, and the coma. But that was fine with us: we didn't want to remember it either.

The hospital released Johnny a few days later. And things pretty much got back to normal again, for quite a few years.

On occasion I'd recall Johnny's strange words, from when he was addled. And wondered if that weird other personality of his would ever return again, like it had promised.

But it never did.

Abrupt departure

Johnny died suddenly and without warning on August 26th, 2008. From a brain aneurysm. I privately wondered if it was related to his earlier spell of mental confusion, or the coma. Or maybe to that odd second personality trying to come back again.

Me and Johnny's other friends and family began cutting back on going to church after that. And so did our neighbors. The coincidence did seem unusual-- but we didn't dwell on it. We were too busy.

It's been a year now, and I've not been to church at all for four months. I've taken to reading more books instead. Science and science fiction, mostly. Sometimes some psychology and how-to manuals.

I guess we all of us develop some mighty strange new interests as we get older.

I also finally got me one of those fancy computers a few weeks back, and signed up for the internet. The local library and used bookstore just don't seem to cut it anymore.

I soon found myself on a page that reminded me of good old Johnny. Mostly friendly and fun and curious about everything-- but with some weird other worldly aspects too, at times.

After I realized the page offered up a frequently updated list of news from lots of different sources (especially regarding science, technology, and science fiction)-- plus encouraged folks to add their own two cents to the stories in several ways-- I decided to make it my home page.

It took me a whole day to notice the little cartoon figure in the upper left hand corner. And several days beyond that to see someone explain that the figure was supposed to be an alien. An alien mascot. And that made me think of Johnny again (when he was addled). Talking like he was an alien, here to set us back onto the proper path again.

Even in what little time I've been online, I've already seen cases of people seeming to believe real life aliens to be among us. Aliens hiding, or in disguise, and secretly manipulating us to their own ends. But I'd seen that theme for years on TV and in Hollywood films too, before ever getting the internet.

I smiled and shook my head. Amazed that anyone could take seriously the idea that aliens might visit the Earth, and subtly poke and prod us, to get us to change.

What would really be funny, I thought, was if aliens actually did do that, but didn't try to cover it up at all. That is, they'd show up and talk to us straight out about what they were doing, and even set up informative web sites like this one-- and plant obviously alien trademarks on their works, too. Do all this out in the open, in front of everybody, making no pretenses whatsoever about it. And we human beings never take serious notice.

That would be hilarious.

a - j m o o n e y h a m . c o m - o r i g i n a l

Copyright © 2009 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.