Chantal glided behind and past the curtain, appearing on the other side with a trace of luminosity—just a trace. Then—the trace would vanish, when she turned and glided back against the curtain, landing with a tender step right where she began. "But why," she repeated, her juvenile pout further incensing the dwarf. The hard, contemptuous blinks taking place beneath his gunpowder line of an eyebrow did little to move Chantal toward some semblance of humanity, or else even marginally chip at her pervasive self-involvement. “Show me,” she said, her bottom lip under the innocent grasp of her rightmost maxillary cuspid. “Show me.”

And so the dwarf (whose name has been since long forgotten, whose name neither Chantal nor the dwarf ever knew) toiled away, the isochronal morning inquisitions ("But why," "Show me," et cet.) awakening him to full days of refining the machine Chantal had unknowingly requested.

"Show me."

***

In 1991, Flemish neurochemist Pietre Boeyhaert published an article entitled, "Characteristics of Near-Death Experience (NDE) Memories as Compared to Real and Imagined Experience Memories," in the NANE TWO journal, published by the Swiss Neuroscience Center in Köniz, and edited by Cuban-born neuroscientist Roberto Elisiano Valdes-Sosa. The article—funded by the University and University Hospital of Zurich, the Swiss National Funds for Scientific Research (FRS-FNRS), the European Commissions (COST, DISCOS, MINDBRIDGE, DECODER), the Terrance Swanson Foundation, the Psychical Neuroscience Foundation, the Flemish Speaking Community Concerted Research Action (ARC 06/11-340), and the Foundation Médicale Reine Elisabeth—employed in its study a Memory Description Questionnaire (MDQ), developed in 1987 by Drs. Marshall Roubard, Gene Storrow, and Melvin Seward of Princeton University's Department of Cognitive Psychology.

Melvin Seward died in 1999 at age 78 of a stroke.

Gene Storrow died in 2007 at age 56 in a five-car pile-up in London.

Marshall Roubard died in 1991 at age 59 of a heart attack.

Roberto Elisiano Valdes-Sosa drowned while swimming in the Pacific Ocean in 2009, at age 71.

Pietre Boeyhaert died in 1993 on his 40th birthday.

***

It is in the middle of one of Chantal’s miniature promenades (which look like the lazy pacing of a sedated neurotic) that she hears the shriek. Piercing, the eureka echoes into the grandes chambres of the palace, shooting over the calcatta white countertops and around the 24-carat faucets, past the Japanese oak crown molding and seeping into, soaking, irrevocably intertwining itself with the threads of the velvet curtain. Chantal’s heart stops; now she shall see.

In the instant thereafter, the dwarf feels nothing save for the crescendoing tremor of Chantal’s footsteps above.

"In pace requiescat," the dwarf exhales silently.

***

Roubard et al's MDQ functions as follows: first, they situated their subjects comfortably in one of three identical examination rooms and there read aloud an extensive series of words and sentences associated with -- but never including direct mention of -- a certain abstract concept, which Roubard et al referred to as a "focus."

Half of the subjects would then be read a new series of single words representing varied potential "foci," i.e., abstract concepts that were or were not related to the words and sentences that they had been read in the first part of the study. For each of these words, the subjects were questioned as to whether or not that potential focus was addressed by the primary series of words/sentences, and how confident, on a scale of one to five, they were in their determination.

The second half of the subjects instead completed "memory description questionnaires," asking them to characterize, with single words, what they remembered of the series of words/sentences, and to then divide these responses into words they heard and words they did not hear. It also asked them to rate each of their words on a scale of one to five as to how sure they were that they did or did not hear the word during the primary part of the study.

Roubard et al discovered that rates of false recognition were significantly lower than rates of correct recognition when subjects were asked to complete the MDQ. In other words, subjects were far more likely to pinpoint the pre-established focus -- and to be more confident in their determinations -- when asked to describe their memories than when presented with potential memories and asked to determine whether those potential memories aligned with their own. Roubard wrote, "This demonstrates that false memories can be affected both by how they are acquired and by how extensively they are examined at retrieval."

***

In his journal (found charred but legible in what was determined to be the servants’ dining room), the dwarf relays a tender moment between the two orphans some years before her demise: it is thunderstorming, and the dwarf has once more undergone the arduous journey of climbing to the roof, made no easier by the hefty bag of rations he carries in tow. The dwarf finds Chantal exactly where she has been since the cessation of her strolls behind the curtain: she is seated at the edge of the roof, legs dangling above the precipice. Wordlessly, the two play their roles, as the script requires, until -- for reasons unarticulated by the dwarf in his writings -- he suddenly breaks character. Rather than depart to his quarters, as his stage directions indicate, the dwarf stays, and the two share a silent meal together in the torrential rain. "She was born to die," the dwarf scrawls, “but that night I for the first time lamented the certainty of her fate."

***

Pietre Boeyhaert's study used the powerful—and, by 1991, widely adopted—MDQ with regards to five different kinds of memories: "focus memories" (for the NDE group, the memory of the NDE; for the control groups, their first childhood memory), old and recent real-event memories, and old and recent imagined-event memories. Since NDEs were known to have high emotional content, all participants were requested to choose "emotionally salient" moments for both kinds of real- and imagined-event memories. Boeyhaert used a SONY DCI-781A hand-held camcorder to record his subjects describing each of the five kinds of memories, then asked them to return to his laboratory in small Oberried two months later.

Upon their return, half of Boeyheart's subjects were asked to fill out MDQs with regards to each of the different kinds of memories. The other half of the subjects were first asked to watch the video footage of their description of their memories, and then fill out the MDQs.

Boeyhaert found that the NDE memories of NDE subjects had more characteristics of real or imagined memories than the real or imagined memories of the control groups. In other words, NDE subjects remembered more about their NDE experience than control subjects did about their memories, real or imagined, and were more confident in doing so.

In addition, Boeyhaert's research indicated that, when it came to control subjects, rates of false recognition were significantly higher than rates of correct recognition with regards to real memories -- old and recent -- for subjects who did not watch the video footage of their previous description of the memories, but that this discrepancy did not exist for NDE subjects. In other words, sixty days was long enough for control subjects' recollections of their memories to change significantly, yet NDE subjects' recollections of their NDE memories unflinchingly persisted.

***

The moment Chantal dies, the dwarf is several hundred yards away, taking the first of several bites into a saltine cracker. Chantal tilts her body forward a few degrees. The still smoothly-shaped menisci of her eyelids succumb to gravity. She falls. The events then occur exactly as they had in the dwarf’s simulation: the release into groundless space, the influx of weightlessness, the mad descent, and the forceful impact. Chantal does not feel her neck break.

Then, the flood. Chantal knows her eyes are closed; she cannot feel the asphalt but is aware that she is lying face-down on it; and yet a vicious dot of light appears, miles away, searing, an illumination so intense it cannot be held inside its tiny enclosure for long, and it expands, explodes into a pervasive phosphorescence, so encompassing it feels to Chantal as though it is snaking down her esophagus, through her veins, into her core; she is the Light. (This sequence she knows from the simulation; this sequence is no surprise. But this is also the point at which the simulation ends.) When Chantal attempts to open her eyes, however, they don’t; she tries again but cannot; and again, but no; and again, and again, until the end of time, Chantal tries; but never did her eyes open again.

***

The final sentence of Boeyhaert's article: "Further investigation is needed to better understand this phenomenon."

***

The final entry in the dwarf's journal: "…her left eye twitched, and I thought it would open. I was sure it would open.

But it never did, and I suppose that is for the best."
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