| The Extras
By Gregory Cioffi
Harrisburg State Hospital
Cameron and McClay Streets
ATTN: Doctor Stephen Hallward
Dear Doctor Hallward,
I write to you in confidence at your request, for I myself do not wish to repeat the bizarre dealings of
yesteryear. However, if this correspondence may help another poor soul, then I believe it my duty to
During mid-summer last, my husband took violently ill. The ailment was not un-common but the
event that occurred thereafter most certainly was. For all of June and July, my husband was as healthy
as could be, attending to the farm every single day. He seemed strong and in peak physical condition
and indeed he was.
But when August came, so too did the symptoms. First were the headaches; then the swollen lymph
nodes. His cheeks became reddened while the area around his mouth remained pale. My suspicion
was confirmed with the rash. It descended down his back, its touch reminiscent of sandpaper. It took
over his tongue as well, the bumps characteristically resembling small strawberries. You see, doctor, I
know the Scarlet Fever well; it took our only child. I also know there is no vaccine. His throat soon
became sore and the fever set in.
I would like to preface this by making you aware that I have attended many a men battling maladies
and so I am accustomed to the change that can come to pass from any given infirmity. I am quite aware
of the paranoia and hallucinations that may set in during such circumstances. And so you may find
what I am about to say not so extra-ordinary but I assure you, if you were there with me, you would agree
that what took place was irregular to say the least, and if I may dare say so, unnatural to not say the
least. But of course, you can decide for yourself.
Weeks into his affliction, I went into the bedroom to refill the glass of water that I kept at his bedside.
It was curiously the first and only time I saw a smile upon his face since the ordeal had taken hold. My
heart was lifted in that moment as I assumed this was a sign of betterment. I sat at his side and asked
him what he was thinking about that produced such a grand smile. He turned to me and simply
responded, “The Extras.” Curious, I asked him what he meant. He informed me that he could see these
Extras everywhere. They were all around us, apparently.
I knew then the fever had taken its next step and he was seeing things. My face must have been one
of extreme disappointment as I turned to get him a cold rag for his forehead because he grabbed my
leg and in the most believable and right-minded manner stated, “I am not hallucinating.” I was taken
aback at the soundness of his judgment. His words flowed with both normality and sanity. So much so
that I sat back down and asked him to expand upon them.
He said the Extras had always been here but we can’t see them. Supposedly it took this extreme
abnormal condition of the body, this hyper-state of raised temperature to become aligned with them. Or
perhaps it was their choice to let him see them. I know not the answer. I asked why they are here and he
told me to protect us. There was tranquility and certainty about him that I had never seen before. Logic
seeped into my mind and superseded the fantasia. I thought this was the final step, the precipice before
the fall into eternal blackness. I was comforted in the fact that he was smiling and that he believed he
discovered something no one else has. I believe deep down that was always his life long ambition – to
be a discoverer.
However, the next day I found him up and about in the kitchen. The rash had vanished and he
seemed completely cured. He was ready to go back out and work. I asked him how this was possible
and with that same smile that I saw the night before, he answered, “The Extras.” I felt my heart drop; part
of me assumed he had forgot his delusion. But he did not. He went outside and worked a full day as if
he had never been ill at all. I decided to ignore his allegations of some unimaginable intervention and
simply move forward.
I soon found this to be impossible, however. My husband grew irritated and restless over the fact
that he could no longer see The Extras. He wished to communicate with them and ask them questions
about their origin and function. I did not know how to respond nor did it matter because he became
suddenly disinterested with even the prospect of conversing with me. I had become mundane, another
unawake member of society that knew nothing of the truth. He worked in the field from sunrise to sunset.
I think he waited until he thought I was asleep to enter our room. But I could not sleep. Not with what he
One morning I awoke and walked through the muted house and into the kitchen with the expectation
to see him outside. But he was not there. Nor was he anywhere in the house. There was no note or any
sign that may have pointed to some sort of clue regarding his whereabouts. I stayed alone in my home
for two days and nights and on the morning of the third, I heard a succession of clip-clops approaching.
The horse’s hooves matched the rapid rate of my heartbeat. Part of me prayed it was not my husband
as he had been altered and was no longer the man I met so long ago.
A rattling at the door answered my invocation as my husband would never knock to enter his own
home. I made my way to the front and unlocked the barrier between myself and whoever was on the
other side. I could have called out to ask who was there but after approximately 48 hours of isolation, I
pretty much welcomed anyone at that point. To my shock, I saw a battered version of my husband. But
he was not alone. Holding him fiercely was a plump, bearded man in all black. He removed his hat
when he saw me and his countenance made it clear that he was a bearer of bad news. The man in black
informed me that my husband had traveled to town, walked into the hospital and locked himself in the
wing comprised of patients suffering from fever.
The doctors and nurses could not get in and the guards had to knock down the door and restrain my
husband who attempted to fight them. It just so happened that my spouse was a good childhood friend
with a doctor there and this man of medicine had sent this man in black immediately to send him home.
I thanked the man for his troubles and watched my husband trudge upstairs and into bed.
A few weeks later he disappeared again, this time for four days. When he returned, he returned with
an air of lightness to him and a smile to match. He looked at me and nodded as if to say everything was
going to be okay. In his hand was a large, covered box. I never saw what was in it. And then he went off
into the fields and continued his tireless work for days on end.
I realized something was very wrong when the amount of produce had diminished. He had certainly
not been attending to our crops any longer. Each night he came in a little happier than the last but this
did not ease my mind. You must understand doctor, I was terrified to even bring up the subject.
This trend continued until the one night he didn’t come in at all. The sun had set and the moon had
made its appearance but there was no sign of him. I wondered if he had taken off again. I awoke alone
the next morning. But this time I felt I needed answers, a concrete acknowledgment of what was going
on. And so I went out into the fields and made my way through the thick leafy corn stalks. At first I walked
aimlessly but then I heard it - a conversation; men talking. I traveled in that direction and the closer I
came, the softer the words resonated until the volume was nearly nonexistent.
I fought through the sturdy stalks and came to a clearing. There in the open space was my husband,
lying on his back. His face was perspiring profusely and he did nothing except exude a continuous
chuckle as if someone had told him an irresistibly humorous joke. He looked at me, chuckled one last
time, and then laughed nevermore. He did nothing nevermore for he died there in that mad man-made
clearing amidst the cornfield.
Doctors and scientists alike came and did their inspections. His death was self-induced. I do not
understand but the report they gave me, a copy of stated that he used a substance known as pyrogen.
Apparently he grew, what they call, gram-negative bacteria, killed it, whatever that means, and extracted
something called lipopolysaccharides from its cell walls. He injected that into his body. He produced
his own fever. They appeared as baffled as I was and concluded that none of this should have been
possible. And it shouldn’t have been because my husband knew nothing of science. It was as if
someone was telling him what to do.
That is the only explanation I could come up with. But perplexity persisted, as it often does, and
time left only more questions that I have tried to forget.
My husband is buried out in that clearing. If nothing else, I hope he has found peace. Whenever I
recite this to anyone, even myself, I end here. But the truth is that I feel things still unexplainable. At
night, when the darkness overcomes the last shred of light and there is a state absent of sound, when
there is a lull in the unseen air, I can feel them. Watching me. Protecting me. Somehow keeping me
safe like my husband use to say. I often wonder if he is among them, lurking about, doing his part in this
strange surveillance, an unfathomable vigilance by those who I only know as The Extras.
But perhaps this is just my cope speaking. My denial and guilt of what happened and my inability to
do anything about it nor understand its nature. I suppose the idea of accepting the possibility of them is
peculiarly comforting. I don’t know. As much as I wish it were true, I pray that it is not. Quite the paradox I
have put myself in! But nonetheless I thank you for your time and hope that this information can
somehow provide you with something of use. If not, I hope you at least had a chuckle over a widow’s
1919 Sentry Lane
I am writing to inform you that I have received your telegram and how grateful I am that you have
disclosed your deepest concealments. I wish you to know that I found your letter both insightful and
helpful! It is now I that needs to disclose something to you. Something of utter importance and I need
you not to tell anyone for it is a matter of secrecy.
I have a patient here in the hospital that claims to have heard of these Extras as well. I would very
much like you to meet him. I have already arranged travel for you. In a few days someone will come by
and escort you to our facilities. Feel free to pack any-thing you might miss from the comfort of your own
home. I am so looking forward to meeting you in person and I think we can work together in coming up
with the necessary next steps. I hope you do not mind my forwardness – I only have your best interests
Doctor Stephen Hallward.
|To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.
|About Gregory Cioffi
As a writer, Greg's short
stories The Catacombs of
Truth, Sleeper, A Peep at
London Life, Plot, and
Cuisine Aquatic have all
been published by Feral
Press and subsequently
archived at Yale Univeristy’
s Beinecke Collection
(Rare Books and
Manuscript Library ), while
Faceless and Dark Circles
have been published by
Blood Moon Rising
Literary Magazine. Two of
his poems (Love Verboten,
and The Interlocking) were
published as a part of a
poetry anthology entitled
His original play The Letter
was chosen and produced
as part of the 2010 Long
Island Fringe Festival and
his next play, The Interim
was selected to the 2011
New York City
Festival, the largest theatre
festival in North America.