This was crazy! I mean, it was working just as they promised, but he was really having trouble wrapping his head around this. He remembered the original movie from all those years ago, Arnold Somebody was the main character, and they injected him with drugs and implanted memories, and convinced him that he was enjoying a vacation on Mars, of all places. Nowadays, they could inject you with drugs and implant memories that would place you into the storyline of a novel, any novel you chose. It was all so realistic, so intense, and sometimes, so frightening. But, as long as you followed the rules, it made for some really great memories.
Henry was cold and wet; he didn’t have the right overcoat or raincoat or whatever, and the snow was coming down harder than ever. Bedford Falls, New York. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, but the reality of it, if that’s the right word, was all different. He had enjoyed wandering around the small offices of the Bailey Building and Loan, and also had a good time at Nick’s Bar (used to be Martini’s), but being out here by the bridge waiting for George Bailey to appear was starting to get a little tedious. He had seen George and Clarence earlier in the day, saw George chase Mary into that other saloon place, now it was time to wrap this up. He just wanted to follow George home from here, join in the merriment and the money counting and maybe get a chance to congratulate Harry Bailey before his time was up.
He heard running footsteps in the snow and slush, getting closer now. George Bailey burst into view, looking all disheveled and frazzled. George ran right by Henry and then out onto the bridge, stopped and leaned on the railing. It looked like he was making his prayer.
On impulse Henry went over to try to comfort George. He knew it wasn’t in the script, knew they had warned him about this; “Don’t try to change things!” Henry tended to be somewhat hard-headed at times, but soft-hearted always. Surely, it wouldn’t upset things, just a comforting word or a gentle touch would be helpful. He wasn’t really going to change things, was he?
Henry felt a firm hand on his arm, pulling him back from the bridge path. He turned, was surprised to see two of the technicians from Novel Travels. He started to apologize, trying to make them understand that he meant no harm. “Look, fellas. I was just going to…” Now both of them grabbed him forcefully, led him off to a dark alley a block away.
“Didn’t you read the agreement?” asked one of them.
Henry was starting to get scared. Yes, he had read the agreement. Would they enforce it just as it was stated? “But, but….” Henry was squirming now, trying to get loose. They were so strong, so big and strong. Henry was getting frantic now, pulling, twisting, but nothing worked. “It’s only a story, just a story!” It was then that he saw the big needle; Henry fainted.
He awoke, disoriented. As the mental haze cleared, he realized he was back at the facility where they had launched him on his odyssey into Christmas 1946. He was strapped to the table, just as before. Surely they’d be releasing him in a minute or two. He called out, “Hey, can somebody help me here? These straps are way tight and hurting my arms!” He saw white-coated people working, busy beyond the heavy glass, making adjustments on the banks of electronic instruments but ignoring him, if they even heard him.
“Mr. Edwards?” A scientist-type man had walked up while he was looking the other way. A very severe looking man, no sympathy on his face, all business.
“Why yes, that’s me,” Henry replied, nervously, hoping for the best.
“Unfortunately, we must now move on to the agreed-upon procedure, as specified in your agreement. You did read it, I understand?” Still a stone face.
“Surely you don’t intend…” Henry was almost stammering, consumed as he was by fear.
“Oh, indeed we do intend. We must be harsh on all transgressors. I’m sure you understand.” Now a hint of a smile, but this smile was in no way comforting. “We are the Data Librarians, and we must protect the stories. No changes are allowed. Others are participating; others will be participating in the future. The stories must remain pure! No variances are permitted!”
Henry was sweating now, his skin was slippery with it, but he felt clammy and cold with dread all at the same time. “But, you must give me another chance. You can’t do this monstrous thing!”
The scientist prepared the injection while his assistants set the dials on the fantasy projectors; all was in readiness. As the needle entered his arm, Henry screamed one last time, then became silent. His body relaxed, his respiration had slowed to almost zero, he was entering a form of hibernation from which he would not return. His body would be maintained indefinitely, and his mind would still be operative, unfortunately for Henry.
As a transgressor, Henry was now an inhabitant of Dante’s Inferno.