The Faith Molecule

📅 Published on August 9, 2021

“The Faith Molecule”

Written by Edward Greenberg
Edited by N.M. Brown
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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“Dr. Annelise Fowler,”

“Annie, no one calls me Annelise.”

“Alright then, Annie.”

“You can call me Dr. Fowler.”

Agent Romero slips a cigarette out of his pack, “You mind if I smoke, Doctor? Would you like one?”

“I would mind, and no, I would not like a cigarette. Let’s just get on with it.”

He sighs, slipping his pack into his jacket pocket, “Sure thing, Doctor.”

Dr. Fowler is tired. Her eyes are red and swollen as she asks, “How much do you know about what happened on Cora Island?”

“We’ve spoken to a few people; we need your help to get a fuller picture of the events.”

“Do you know enough to believe what I’ll tell you?”

“We’re here to listen to whatever you have to say, Dr. Fowler.”

“What’s even the point? Do you really think you can build a case against Lotus? It’s a  joke. How do I know you’re not working for them, just playing with me, seeing if I’ll talk?”

“We work for the United States government, Doctor. If you’d like to see our credentials again, we’re more than happy to comply. We don’t hold the interests of private corporations.”

Annie laughs at that, “All right, boy scout. Do your supervisors even know you’re here?”

“State police called us at the Washington State FBI office and requested assistance. Once we’ve finished our investigation, we’ll report our findings to the Assistant Director.”  Agent  Romero looks sheepish, slightly guilty.

“Sounds like a no. Well, that’s a good thing, Agent. I’ll tell you what happened, just make me a promise? Promise you won’t hand over everything? Just make some copies of our testimonies, of photo evidence, don’t let them bury it.”

“It’s standard procedure to duplicate and backup all records from an investigation.”  Agent Romero says emotionlessly.

“Well, where should I start?”

“From the beginning. You hold a Ph.D. in religious anthropology, correct? What were you  doing at a biological research facility?”

Annie lets out a deep breath, “Dr. Randall and Lotus Incorporated invited me. It was a spectacular opportunity; the chance to work with Dr. Randall was tantalizing. His work in neurology and pioneering efforts in brain mapping technology changed his own field of study and others. Why, it wasn’t until his first few published papers on neurotheology that I found  some small vindication among my peers.”

“And why is that?”

“Well, my field, broadly stated, is a comparative study of world religions through history and how religion has affected developing culture. It’s nothing new. As soon as humans found the means to travel far enough to encounter multiculturalism, we have seen clear through the veil of magical thinking. Xenophanes, the Greek writer and thinker, observed that the gods of Ethiopians were inevitably dark haired with flat noses while those of the Thracians were blond with blue eyes. So as humans, we create our gods, not the other way around. Naturally, the most respected work in my field has always concerned the intersection of religion and other important institutions that affect our lives, such as politics and art. My focus has always been on religious ecstasy; I think most of my peers thought I was chasing rabbits down holes.”

“Religious ecstasy?”

“It concerns trance-like states that people achieve through effort in rituals or inadvertently through exposure to and acceptance of religious or magical thinking. It can range from church congregates speaking in tongues to great thinkers and artists producing their best work while claiming to be guided or influenced by the Gods. Most of my peers considered it no more than a placebo effect until Dr. Randall’s work confirmed that there is something unique happening in the human brain during these experiences. In that way, our interests and work have always been compatible. I had been elated to learn that he wanted my assistance in his work. It would elevate my career. Not only would I get to expand my  hypotheses on the fundamental biological need for religion, but I’d have my name on papers  that would influence the fields of neurology, anatomy, and evolutionary biology, and I’d get the respect of the medical research field or as my father always said, ‘real doctors.’”

Annie smiles painfully at her sentiment, “Lotus would be funding the research. It would be done at a  private research facility on Cora Island. They said it was to protect their interests in the project; they wanted all the research to remain private until they were ready to publish. With Dr.  Randall’s history in developing new tools for brain mapping, it only made sense that they wanted to protect any potential patents to arise from the work. It was all very hush-hush. I wasn’t even exactly sure what we’d be working on at the facility. They only used the vaguest terms to  describe it, ‘research into the evolutionary biology of neurotheology.’ But I did do some research into the island itself before traveling there. Cora Island has a strange history. Do you know about  it?”

“Yes, there was some sort of hippie cult there in the ‘70s, but they abandoned the place.  Wasn’t there some big shot author that used to be part of it?”

“He wasn’t part of the community, he just visited, and he wasn’t just some big shot author. The man won the Nobel prize for literature. He’s not the only great mind to have spent time on Cora Island with the unnamed community, or the ‘hippie cult’ as you called them. The people that lived there didn’t just abandon the place. They disappeared and so often, in fact, that many question if they ever existed at all or are simply just a myth. I didn’t believe it at first. All the quotes from those that visited the island during that time are second-hand; they’ve never spoken on record about it. They all remarked on the music. Apparently, the community on Cora  Island played the most beautiful music. More than one person called it ‘impossible music.’ But no recordings exist, just the rumor that it either attracted great thinkers or inspired them.”

“I’m sorry, Doctor, but that sounds a little outlandish.”

“Certainly, and as I said, there’s no proof it ever happened. It could just be a myth about an Island cult, an old legend with some basis rooted in reality. The Island has been host to many religious communities and grotesqueries throughout its history. The earliest records of  Cora Island relate to a small sect of Christian extremists in the mid-18th century. They were a  group of ‘holy rollers’ who achieved a sort of religious ecstasy through violently rolling on the ground. They were left alone for some years before they started converting a few lost souls from the mainland. When friends and family would visit and observe the fleshy canvas of bruise and blood that their loved ones had developed, they decried the rollers and forced them to evacuate the island. Next came a series of grisly murders reminiscent of the Donner Party, where a group of sailors was lost at sea and sought refuge on Cora Island. What remained of the crew were found in the coastal cave system. No one knows why they all went in, presumably to seek shelter from the weather, but the forensic evidence was clear. There were prominent teeth marks on the bones. They had resorted to cannibalism, real macabre stuff.

“I had written off the strange location for the facility as being relatively cheap land to purchase as a result of its history. However, now that I think about how much money Lotus was willing to spend at every turn of our research, it seems less likely. No, I think that Dr. Randall had wanted that Island specifically. Exactly why that is, I can’t tell you. I can only hypothesize that it has to do with the collective unconscious, that he believed it would affect the research. It was another variable in his experiments. As for the facility itself, well, you’ve seen it; it’s unique. The architecture was so strange. I remember walking from my living quarters to the laboratories like a rat prancing merrily through a maze, salivating for my reward. This, too, I think, was intentional. Dr. Randall often asked me about the history of labyrinths, as they’d been used in meditation, religious practices, and covered mythologies since well before the Greeks.

“When I first met Dr. Randall, I was immediately reminded of my father, he was stern,  unapologetic and fiercely intelligent, yet his charisma was undeniable. His passion for the work was a constant source of inspiration to us, and the way he spoke about it made you feel like you were not just a scientist but an explorer on a grand quest for the truth, and in a way, we were.  The research itself concerned the neurological effects of religious ecstasy. Why does the brain even have the mechanisms to enable such a phenomenon? What is the evolutionary advantage of these behaviors? Of course, we were looking at the problem all wrong, but I wonder if Dr. Randall knew that from the beginning? Perhaps, but I don’t think he would have asked for my assistance if that were the case unless he just wanted one more member for his ‘cult’” She smiles ruefully, “that’s what it ended up as, anyways.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“He was revered. He led us. More than that, though, he performed miracles. We weren’t just breaking new ground. We were breaking the whole goddamn system of thinking! When I first arrived, I couldn’t believe it. I thought they were tricking me. Mice presenting material culture,  singing even? I’ve heard of whale songs, but mouse songs?”

“Slow down, mouse songs? We’ll need you to elaborate.”

“Dr. Randall had invented new brain mapping technology. For the first time, we could track neurotransmitters in parts per million while simultaneously measuring electrical activity throughout the synaptic connections. Agent Dr. Randall had a whole and direct view of neurological functioning. As a result, he had discovered a new neurotransmitter that related directly to areas of the brain stimulated while in states of religious ecstasy. We called it  ‘fidemine.’

“The organic chemistry team had already synthesized fidemine in an ingestible that could pass the blood-brain barrier. A fidemine supplement resulted in the strangest behaviors in mice, including singing. Chanting might be more accurate. It was a cognitive leap that nobody had expected, and it informed the structural basis of my work in the coming months. Fidemine directly tied to evolutionary cognitive development. The brain is an incredibly complex organ. However, after seeing such extraordinary strides in the cognitive development of  mice after administering fidemine, we began to believe that this singular neurotransmitter was responsible for many of the leaps in learning that define cultural development.”

“Ok, so, can you bring that down a level for me?”

“Think of it like this. The first time humans created fire, it was fidemine which flooded their brain, same goes for the wheel or gunpowder.”

“So it’s inspiration, kind of like what you were talking about before, religious ecstasy.”

“Exactly like religious ecstasy, Agent. It’s the physical stimulation that creates it. I proved that my hypotheses were on the right track, and I instantly became enthralled with the project.  There were side effects, but we thought those would be hammered out in time.”

“What kind of side effects?”

“Sleep loss, most notably in the mice. More side effects cropped up later with the pigs, spiders and the chimps.”

“And with people?” Fowler grows quiet at the question.

Agent Romero continues, “Let’s get back on track, Doctor. It sounds like the work was exciting. When and how did it all go downhill?”

“It all went wrong because of my fundamental misunderstanding of what we were  studying.”

“And what do you mean by that, exactly?”

“Well, as fringe as my views on religious anthropology may have been, I was still  intrinsically misguided, still influenced by the core belief of my peers, that is to say, that humans  create our gods.”

“So you believe that gods created humans?”

“No, not exactly. I’ve started to believe that our cognitive evolution is a tight rope walk.  So long as we stay balanced, we stay lofty, but if we were to fall, the writhing mass of the  glimmering and the grotesque would surely swallow us.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“I’m sure you don’t, but maybe you will. We didn’t understand. Side effects, that was all.  We moved forward with the pigs. Again, we observed the most spectacular behaviors, the most interesting of which was basic arithmetic. Not just counting but the manipulation of numbers via  addition, multiplication etc.”

“I remember seeing a video of a horse that could multiply. How’s that special?”

“That horse, Agent, was trained to follow a series of orders. It wasn’t doing arithmetic.”

“How could you tell that the pigs were?”

“It was clear that they were counting their steps while they… danced.”


“I can’t think of a better word than that. To be honest, it was closer to the spastic convulsions seen in church-goers taken over by the holy spirit or the possessions of voodoo practitioners as they communicate with the Loa, spirits and gods and keepers of the veil. The synchronization of the pig’s movements led us to observe that these behaviors were more than just seizures. The counting of their steps led us to believe that it was a routine, and they continued to develop more complex behaviors from there. Dr. Randall was excited. He demanded that we increase their dosage, although we still had a lot of research to do at the current stage. That was the first time that we broke protocol.”

“What happened to the pigs?”

“Well, they began rolling in the dirt in synchronization, creating sort of, mandalas left imprinted there, and then they would trample it all clean again and start over. But throughout the night, they had started to… exhibit cannibalistic behaviors, there was only one pig left by  the morning, and it was summarily disposed of.”

“You said that was the first time that you broke protocol?”

“The first that I knew of. Already the facility was splitting up into factions. Those who still saw themselves purely as scientists and those who saw themselves as more explorers on a new frontier. Willing to sacrifice some of their principals if it meant progress.”

“And which camp were you in, Dr. Fowler?”

“The former. But Dr. Randall didn’t need ideologies to control me. No, looking back on it, all he needed was to show me a little care and affection, like a father figure. I loved him for that,  briefly. He praised my work and offered guidance, bringing new life to ideas I had let fade. He defended me and my work from some of the neurologists who felt my perspective was only speculative and likely to hinder their research progress. When I found out about the rushed pig project, I was ready to ignore what were, in retrospect, obvious signs of Dr. Randall’s escalating obsession.

“After that, he used people’s conviction against them, threatening to inform Lotus Inc.of their breaches in protocol. Actions like that would not only get them kicked off of the project but would mar their name in the scientific community. No one wants to work with someone with a history of unethical research. Although, I now believe that Lotus wouldn’t have cared. It was an empty threat that Dr. Randall used to increase his control. He stepped far over the line, though, when he started dabbling in human experimentation.”

“Was Lotus Inc. aware of this?” Agent Romero inquires.

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. After everything that happened, I’ve concluded that they were surveying us twenty-four hours a day, but they never intervened in the weeks leading up to the incident. Dr. Randall and his “explorers” had begun the self-administration of fidemine in small amounts, and their work began to progress at spectacular rates. Many of them were coming over to my side of thinking that some part of this tied to all cognitive evolution, as opposed to a common heuristic. They also became secretive and difficult to talk to about anything outside of work discussions.”

“How so? I imagine a group of neurologists and biochemists have great conversations  outside of work.”

“Very funny, Agent. It wasn’t like that. They just wouldn’t stop talking about their dreams.  At the cafeteria, in the gym, always talking about dreams. If you brought up a book you were reading, they would tie it back into their dreams. Everything was about them, their work and their dreams, nothing else. If you let them go on about their dreams for too long, they would go  into a kind of trance state and start babbling in nonsensical gibberish for a moment before  snapping out of it and going back into detail about their experiences.”

“What was the nature of these dreams?”

“They were just dreams, like any other. Some of them were incredibly mundane. Others were outlandish. It was just like anyone else telling you about a dream they had, but there was one thing about it that I found interesting. None of them had dreams with loved ones, friends or relatives present. The only people ever-present in their dreams, if anyone, would be other people from the facility. Of course, that could just be a subconscious effect resulting from our isolation from the outside world. Still, I found it odd.”

“Did you know that they were experimenting on themselves?”

“I was made aware by Dr. Randall in the beginning. I advised against it, but he convinced me that he had it under control.”

“How did he manage that?”

“He revealed that he had been self-administering fidemine for some time, that the process was safe and that it had improved the quality of his work. I was worried… extremely so, but Dr. Randall had this way about him. It was so difficult to question his decisions, like a child’s complete faith in a parent. I felt that he must know what’s best. I refused to participate in the study. Though I must confess, I quickly ended up wishing I had. Despite their odd talk of dreams, the rest of the group had shown incredible improvements in their projects. They were smarter than us all of a sudden. I wasn’t alone in my envy, others had taken notice too, and one by one, Dr. Randall incorporated them into his group of explorers. There were holdouts, of  course, those who refused to join until all the proper precautions and studies were executed and  conducted before human testing should happen, maybe even a few that were unaware anything  was happening.”

“And you were one of the holdouts?”

“For a time, but I did eventually join the study. As an anthropologist, I felt that I needed first-hand experience of what was going on. I needed to study the phenomena from all angles. One cannot simply publish a paper about the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms on early shamanistic traditions without having tried hallucinogenic mushrooms themselves.”

“What was it like, the fidemine?”

“The effects weren’t immediately noticeable. I felt the same. My thinking was the same. I quickly found out, though, that I fell into trance states quite easily.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Have you ever been solving a puzzle, like a crossword or a sudoku, and all of a sudden you slip into a kind of flow, and the answers begin to pop out without much thought? Or have you ever been driving somewhere, like to the bank or to work, and when you get there, you find that you have completely forgotten the drive? Not even forgotten, it feels like you just weren’t conscious for it?  It was like a mix of those, a kind of out-of-body, flow state. These trance sequences lasted longer and longer as time went on. After two weeks, it felt as though I spent most of my waking hours in a trance-like state. My sleep had become invaded by the most vivid dreams, and honestly,  it felt great. I never felt lethargic or unmotivated. Everything flowed so smoothly and just made sense, even though a part of me knew it didn’t make much sense at all. Everything felt very easy, and that started to make me nervous. So, in a brief moment of clarity, I decided that I would stop taking the fidemine supplement.”

“Just like that? You were out of the study?”

“Not exactly, because it wasn’t really a study. It wasn’t sanctioned. It didn’t follow its own guidelines. At this point, it really had become a cult, it was really difficult to see any of this through the haze of my experience, so it wasn’t until I stopped taking it that I noticed. I  accepted my daily doses but would secretly throw them out. I went through a very low-level withdrawal phase. The fidemine hadn’t done any damage, my brain reverted to how it operated before without harm, only I hadn’t felt things outside of trance for so long. I wasn’t used to it.

While taking fidemine I never got tired. I knew exactly when to sleep and went to sleep exactly then. I didn’t get hungry, but I knew that I had to eat and exactly when, so I would eat. All these normal sensory feelings like weariness and hunger were coming back to me, and it was a little overwhelming. The strangest lingering effect was that I would wake up at precisely three in the morning every day and would feel an urge to get out of bed and go for a walk. The first few nights, I tried to ignore it and get myself back to sleep, but eventually, the pull was too great. I gave in and followed my feet.

“The corridors of the residential area were dark, I didn’t have any particular destination in mind, but it just felt right to be walking in the direction I was heading. The whole place was a maze. Even during the bustling daylight hours, I sometimes would get anxious finding my way through its halls. I wasn’t nervous now, though. My mind was given over to a sort of reflex. I  knew exactly where I was going, like I’d made this walk before. It wasn’t long before I heard something, a faint choir of whispers echoing down the darkened, sterile walls. My instincts pulled me towards the noise, and then the noise itself pulled me onwards. It was absolutely beautiful. As I drew closer, it defined itself in human voices, all singing in tones I’d never imagined to be possible. The notes penetrated deep into my consciousness. I crept up to a  doorway leading to a large surgical theater and realized the singing was coming from within. I peeked my head inside.

“The theater met full capacity; probably two-thirds of the facility staff were inside. They stood along the observation deck, all of them entranced and singing, their voices rising louder now. It was so divine, but it was getting louder and louder. The sounds they made went from instilling an unexpected peacefulness into something overwhelming and unbearable, like a soft light getting brighter and brighter until the illumination presented itself as blinding and painful. Dr. Randall was lying on the operating table. His voice was the loudest of all, resonating from what looked like his unconscious body. His voice grew so loud it started to break, his body started to convulse and it was doing something else too.”

“What, exactly, Dr. Fowler?

“Well, it looked like his body was bubbling, like something was trying to get out from inside him, bumps rising and falling, getting larger and larger, until some of them split, creating huge lacerations. When the swelling receded in that area, the wound would seal rapidly. It was like his body was boiling from the inside out, bursting into wounds, and then the laceration would seal itself back up, but not heal completely. Before long, his body had become scarred,  bruised, and reddened everywhere. His exposed torso looked like a topographical map. The pain must have been excruciating.

The singing had turned into something else now, horrible though still awe-inspiring. The choir had started convulsing. They weren’t going through the same sort of metamorphosis that Dr. Randall was, but it was terrible all the same. It was a great, writhing mass of seizures and screaming. However, the movements and sounds, as grotesque and horrible as they were, still denoted some sort of organized collaboration, clockwork perfection in chaos.

“I turned and ran as fast as I could. By the time I reached the end of the corridor, I heard splintering wood and looked back to see Dr. Randall’s explorers crashing out of the surgical theater. They acted with the urgency and violence of a trapped crowd trying to escape a burning building, all rushing the door at once, clawing, trampling and attacking at one another to get out, gouging aimlessly. I saw one woman’s eye speared through, as a Doctor I had once shared lunch with dug his finger deep into her skull before forcing his way forward. Once they managed to make it out, they moved ahead at full bore. Their faces were a contorted mess of frenzy and murder. I didn’t look back again. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I quickly became lost. Fear had taken over, and I was running aimlessly. I could still hear the grotesque choir echoing through the halls. Then they must have reached the resident area because new, more-human screams added themselves to the chorus.

“I found a room facing the exterior of the building and climbed out of a window. A fleet of vans was pulling up to the facility. Armed men and women were pouring out of them. They didn’t have any sort of police or swat uniform, though; they were Lotus. They seemed too prepared for this, prepared for a violent outcome and speedy response. That scared me, so I concluded that the safest thing for me to do was to lay low for a while, at least until the sounds of gunfire stopped. I presume that the noise is what led to the police showing up some time later. Once I saw the sheriff, I left my hiding spot along the tree line and begged him to get me off that fucking island.”

“How is it possible? What happened to Randall?”

“I couldn’t tell you, not for certain. I would hypothesize that his prolonged exposure to what was, most likely, increasing doses of fidemine raised him to a higher level of consciousness. This potentially came with an incredible amount of awareness and control of bodily  processes that we can normally only perform unconsciously, like the cellular regenerative healing of an open wound, for instance.”

“So then, what was he trying to do?”

“I don’t have enough information to give you an opinion.”

“Was Randall alive when you last saw him?” Agent Romero asks.

“You haven’t found a body, have you?”

“Answer the question, please, Doctor.”

“Logically, I can’t imagine a body undergoing that type of violent metamorphosis without it being fatal, but I felt that he was alive just the same.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“How would I know that, Agent?”

“Do you have any ideas?”

“Why would I tell you if I did?”

Agent Romero takes a deep breath. “Because Lotus went in there and swept the place. We’ve got no leads. Maybe you don’t trust me, but the fact is, Lotus is almost certainly looking  for Randall if they don’t have him already, so if you have any interest in Randall facing justice,  give me something to use.”

Annie studies Romero’s face for a long while, her eyes preening each nuance of his expression. “He’d go somewhere like Cora Island, with a history. The collective unconscious of a place is important, the terroir de l’esprit, as he once put it. He’ll also need access to followers and certain ingredients for the organic synthesis unless he already has a stockpile of fidemine.  I’m going to need a budget, nothing crazy, but I will need some money for the research. Some  protection, obviously, and access to everything you know.”

“Excuse me?”

“Consultant. Talk to whoever it is you need to talk to and get me on the team. Let’s find Dr. Randall.”

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Edward Greenberg
Edited by N.M. Brown
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Edward Greenberg

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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2 years ago

I loved this story – engrossing and thought-provoking. Can’t wait to read the sequel.

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