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Mea Maxima Culpa

David Twiddy hopes to live long enough to see the sureties of the age writhe and die in the fire of history. He is a stay-at-home dad in Massachusetts, and blogs at The Library You See in Dreams (lysid.wordpress.com)

Dr. Vulpine took the lectern behind a screen of radio microphones as press cameras flashed and newsreel cameras whirred.
"After careful investigation, I must announce that the recent popularity of mandrakes rests on no scientific evidence. All claims to "terroir" and focusing of local mystic energies are false. In contradiction to the labeling, every type and grade of mandrakes, from "good" to "excellent" and even the recently introduced "elite" and "premium elite," is in fact grown on large industrial farms on the outer prairies. I have seen these farms with my own eyes. The entire mandrake industry is fraudulent."
His words shocked the country. Mandrake futures evaporated; thousands lost their life savings. The newspapers played catch-up, confirming Dr. Vulpine's accusations and receiving in turn his scorn for ignoring their journalistic responsibility in the first place. President Tulson ordered a belated investigation into the industry. Now-valueless mandrakes burned in the streets.
T. O. Grey, head of the National Mandrake Growers' Association, went before his own screen of microphones, his bald head and stern jowls flashing in the photographers' glare. "We of the Growers' Association humbly apologize to anyone who feels themselves cheated through the purchase of our products. We sought to give the people the finest mandrakes in the world. We now recognize that some elements abused the public image of the mandrake. We are heartily sorry this should ever have happened."
Era magazine placed Dr. Vulpine's craggily handsome, "mentor uncle" features on their cover and devoted long print inches to his heroic journey: his poverty-stricken childhood, his climb from factory worker to genius doctor, his pioneering fight against fallen stomach. The following month, he cut the ribbon on the Ernst Vulpine Institute for The Benefit of Mankind.
The Evening Beacon headline read Vulpine a Fraud. By Aloysius Love, columnist extraordinaire, on the front page:
Ernest Vulpine--alias Bruce Sock--did not pay his way through medical school by working at a toothpaste tube factory, as previously claimed. Despite intense efforts to destroy the evidence, I have discovered proof that Dr. Vulpine in fact concocted and sold the notorious Dr. Sock's Oil of Changeling. Loyal readers may recall how the Oil, purported to protect children, in fact contained up to four percent changeling miasma, leading to uncontrollable metamorphosis in patients.
Newsreels horrified audiences with pictures of the patent medicine's victims: wards full of purple, flapping crow children and bat children, hissing, biting their attendants.
Dr. Vulpine first denied the accusations, but, confronted with the records, returned to the lectern with tears in his eyes. "I never meant to hurt anyone," he said. "All I wanted to do was help humanity. I have no words to apologize for my misdeeds." Congressman Billy Willis launched a joint committee to investigate the misuse of federal funds at the Institute.
Aloysius Love was hailed as the bulwark of freedom. His autobiography, The Hawkeye of Justice, sat on the shelves of every respectable home in the country. Love toured high schools, telling students that the Fourth Estate was the proper army to defend humanity. On the cover of Listen magazine he appeared, his Everyman profile in a threadbare overcoat, a notebook and pencil in his hands.
Chairman Willis: Mr. Love, how do you respond to the charges brought against you here today?
Love: Mr. Chairman, I respectfully invoke my constitutional right not to incriminate myself.
Called to the stand, Dr. Vulpine had spilled all he knew about the darker side of Aloysius Love's career. The committee found itself looking into the accuser rather than the accused.
Chairman Willis: Mr. Love, you uncovered systemic grave robbing in the south, and three separate instances of desecration of orphanages in the northwest. Yet you deliberately concealed these scandals. Why?
Love: It-it's difficult to explain, Congressman. I love having secrets. It gives you a thrill. Like looking into people's windows.
Love penned an open letter to the nation, to apologize. He should have realized, he said. The worst part was that his lies had damaged an already fragile social fabric. "What is left to believe in?" he concluded.
Indeed, wherever anyone sought to place a firm foot, they felt the ground crack beneath them. Congressmen Willis was in turn indicted for receiving bribes. Employees had their wages swindled away by employers, and employers found their workplaces nests of thieves. Men doubted the paternity of their children, and then mothers their maternity. Preachers plumbed the depths of sin; atheists were discovered on their knees in prayer. Authors were caught in plagiarism, then musicians, then dancers and chess players and taxidermists. Banks proved false fronts. Gems were glass. Behind every new scandal followed the inevitable, bleating apologies.
President Tulson convened a special panel, drafting the five wisest scholars of academe to address the crisis. For a year, they dug into the mysteries of corruption. In that time, the panel lost four members: two for forging ancient occult texts, one for purchasing stolen Old Masters, and one for hashish smuggling.
The sole remaining panel member trembled as she addressed the nation. President Tulson was unavailable for the occasion, as he was being impeached for treason.
"After months of deep investigation, including the review of thousands of pages of documents, travel to five dozen locations worldwide, and more than three hundred interviews, we must admit the truth: what we call reality is in fact a story, perpetrated against us by one David Twiddy. It appears Twiddy's main purpose was some kind of twisted entertainment. Money also played a role. An exchange of funds took place between this Twiddy and an entity called "Daily Science Fiction." Our entire existence is a lie."
I cannot say how much I regret writing this story. I have taken advantage of countless lives, and tortured them for my own ends. There is no excuse for my actions. My only hope is that, by witnessing my error, the world can learn a new way. I apologize.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Author Comments

FIFA. The Duggars. The FBI hair forensics lab. The New England Patriots. Sometimes life in our era seems like a constant stream of scandals, paired with half-assed efforts at atonement. You can almost see the great helix of corruption spiraling up, up to an ultimate apology for the entire laughable mess. That's how this story came about.

- David Twiddy
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