📅 Published on December 22, 2021


Written by Dan A. Cardoza
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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Dr. Benjamin B. Forsythe was an odd scoop of orange sherbet, a cold, pasty, dour sort.  His whole life had been a matter of melting into something or nothing.  He’d become a successful psychiatrist over his long career.  Dr. Benjamin’s office was in St. Louis, Missouri.  He made it his mission to make a shit-load of money.  To him, money was an aphrodisiac.

The good Doctor patterned his business model after a famed industry psychiatrist, Dr. Mars. Dr.  Mars had theorized that there was no stronger medicine than one’s very own beliefs.  He often cited acupuncture and the valiant monks who set them on fire in South Vietnam War.

His remarkable theories fueled the engine of Dr. Forsythe’s mostly homeopathic practice.  Dr. Forsythe had grown to be the darling of the Green Peace and Whole Foods crowd.  He incorporated his mentor’s theories into his successful practice.  The psychiatrist accepted mind control as the centerpiece of his entire approach, hook, line, and sinker.  In time, he’d doubled down and injected himself into his mad methodology of scientific healing.  He’d found great success in compounding placebos.  As you well know, placebos are the antithesis of real medication.  They exist, regardless of the tincture, as big nothing-burgers.

Dr.  Forsythe’s lifelong dreams had more DNA in common with Charles Manson than Mother Theresa.  If he could’ve liquefied dollar bills, he would have taken them intravenously.  He’d gotten high many times by simply smelling the dirty ink of paper money.

Unfortunately, the good Doctor was a sociopath, viscous toxicity mixed with the diabolical vinegar of emptiness.  His sugar-coated pills and liquid ciphered celestial concoctions had made him a very rich man.  How many patients had he helped or cured?  How many suicides had he prevented?  How many lost souls had he saved?  Countless: a red, a yellow, a green, and an orange pill.

What one believes is often the razor-thin high wire act between darkness and light.  And how well we balance between the two determines if we have souls.

* * * * * *

Being designated a genius, of course, has a downside, but it’s typically a blessing in matters of science.  For example, there is evidence that supports the premise that intelligence is linked to longevity.  Moreover, research shows that the highly intelligent among us earn more income over a lifetime.  This phenomenon first appeared in the International Journal of Epidemiology, one of Dr.  Forsythe’s favorite magazine rags.  By analyzing the data from twin research, scientists found a 95 percent correlation between intelligence, lifespan, and income.

A high I.Q. was about the only thing they had in common, psychiatrist and Atticus.

Atticus Crandall was born into a family of privilege.  His parents raised Atticus on Manhattan’s upper east side, an exclusive place where one was born wealthy.

The topography of birth afforded Atticus a superior education.  What would follow was as sure as gravity: Full ride scholarships, an outstanding education, excellent employment opportunities, and guaranteed financial success.  Connections got you rich.  Hard work made you wealthy beyond imagination.

This Atticus guy fancied himself an American boy wonder, rightfully so, of course.  It wasn’t a big surprise for anyone who knew him that he’d become a full professor at the age of 35.  Atticus worked at the illustrious University of Missouri in the highly regarded Laboratory for Infectious Disease Research.  Columbia was a short two-hour drive from St. Louis, Missouri; Atticus’s psychiatrist’s office was in Columbia.

To be honest, Atticus Crandall would have worked for less than peanuts.  He loved the status of being thought of as one of the nation’s top research scientists.  Sure, the money was there, and he’d already made a ton on his lucrative patents and investments, but that wasn’t the charcoal-fed furnace that fueled Atticus’s stratospheric I.Q.  In a nutshell, not unlike our Dr. Forsythe, he loved the thought of playing God with his most intricate and delicate research.

Atticus had one blistering problem.  Atticus would give anything for a single night’s uninterrupted sleep.

Each night was void of exceptions for Atticus.  Each night, around 2:00 AM, he’d wake in a cold, feverish sweat.  He’d panic.  He’d sit straight up on his king with his stiff back pressed up against the headboard.  At attention, Atticus would stare into a suffocating envelope of darkness, a toxic blackness that he’d gotten to know too well.  As the nightstand digital pulsed 2:01 AM, he’d curse at the invisible jackhammers, the numbness, all the heaviness in his chest and stomach.  He’d often retched, then washed sheets to keep from going back to sleep.  Deep sleep was their breeding ground.

Inside his brilliant head, he could feel the sensation of electricity.  The ringing, buzzing sound had to do with his intelligence and genetics, that’s for sure.  His “to die for” imagination made Atticus who he was, and dear God did he have an overabundance of that.

Atticus had convinced himself, beyond the confirmation of any null hypothesis that he’d ever met in the lab, that the extraordinary sensation in his stomach was from the shifting paper lodging that they were building.  Atticus imagined his stomach an active nest or hive.  The nest was constructed of regurgitated paper, orange saliva, and dirt mixed with water.  To a lesser degree, it included dust, lint, and flakes of skin, including dandruff.  The nest in his stomach had one purpose.  It was a breeding den.

In the early morning, Atticus would always find himself at the same intersection.  There were two street signs, one name life and one named death.  It wouldn’t take long.  Atticus was going to open his bedroom suite window and jump out of the condo’s twentieth floor.  He’d calculated that he’d considered this at least 1000 nights before.

Atticus was around seven when he’d first noticed that his internal colony had grown, that his delusional earwigs had evolved, become restless and agitated.  He’d concluded that the nest would never go away.  Atticus’s ability to cope demanded a strict belief system.

He’d learned early on that unless he struck some kind of bargain or agreed to some sort of mental contract with the earwigs, that they would take over his life and possibly eat him alive or poison him from the inside out.  And so, Atticus convinced himself that if they let him live a relatively full life, at least until the age of 32, he would jump to his death.  Atticus convinced himself that he would crack or shatter just enough for the earwigs to escape when he hit the ground.

Over time, throughout his childhood and early adulthood, Atticus felt mostly at peace with himself and his internal paper matrix.  He was positive, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that he’d established a symbiotic relationship with his internal captors.

Every since Atticus had turned 31, each night had been nearly the same.  The ritual of waking and worrying had increased.  After all, a very important anniversary date waited just ahead of him.

He’d had second thoughts.  It had become nearly impossible to keep them from the earwigs. They are not just any earwigs.  They arrived on earth from maybe another planet, Atticus believed.  When he thought about breaking their contract, that’s when the sleepless nights had begun in earnest.

Most recently, Atticus had determined that his stomach had begun to reverberate and rattle more than he could ever remember, even as a child.  Atticus conceptualized the nest as a manic guiro, with all its muffled clicking and clacking of pinchers, all those damned hungry, robotic alien mouths.  Somehow he wasn’t secretive enough in his planning.  Mental footnotes and cues had been leaking out of mental steel-belted mental tire.  Slowly, steadily, he’d felt more deflated, night after tormented night.

One recent night, it had taken Atticus all of his emotional might and willpower to prevent him from running and jumping out of his bedroom window and sailing into the heavens.  Atticus craved the nights he’d dreamed of sailing, sailing off into the peaceful dark seas of the swelling cumuli that often mist and rise over the river.  Just three long seconds to the ground without any notion of pincher bugs would be such a relief.  3.5 seconds.  He’d even calculated the timing from his twentieth-floor bedroom suite.

Atticus’s nightmares were his best-kept secret; well, one of his best-kept secrets.  He had a plan, a plan of revenge.  He’d been pushed into a very delicate corner of his mind.  Atticus was fearful that he couldn’t restrain his anger and swelling sensation of madness much longer.

* * * * * *

Dr.  Forsythe had grown frustrated with his prized patient more than he could imagine.  Failing a patient was not an option in his twisted world.  He’d experienced nothing short of success, no, miracles, and for that, he charged a meager hourly rate of $5,500.00 per hour.

Atticus Crandall had been his singular, unsolved Rubik’s Cube of a patient going on five years. This Atticus guy, this big-shot university professor, had evolved into one hell of a psychological cluster-bang.

Atticus had developed into a cluster-bang of diagnostics the well-known therapist intended to cure, one damned way or another.  Benjamin B. Forsythe had reached his wit’s end with Atticus’s goddamned earwig delusion.  The Doctor was pleased that he’d cured a file cabinet full of high-end patients using his highly guarded formula of compounds.  Each shiny pill had been an illegal pharmaceutical, each one, each elixir, its very own candied cult of personality. Dr. Forsythe was all about making money, but this Atticus case had evolved into a battle of egos, colossal egos.

At the next scheduled therapy session, Dr. Forsythe would attempt to walk the high wire between efficacy and malpractice yet again.  Having no fear of heights, he’d prescribe his magic placebo for the highly refractory Atticus Crandall.  He would cure this stubborn son-of-a-bitch, or die trying.

The Orange Pill Session

“Well, Atticus, we are about done for the day.  It’s an anniversary of sorts.”

“An anniversary, Dr. Forsythe?  What are you referring to?”  Atticus pushed himself up from the long couch.  It felt slippery, like waxed leather.

“This is our fiftieth session.”  Dr. Forsythe choked back words as if his mouth was anal-retentive. “It’s an anniversary of sorts.”

“Dr. Forsythe, I am very grateful for all you’ve done.  You have been worth every penny that I’ve spent.  It’s my opinion that you don’t charge enough per hour.”

“Well, tell that to my other patients, Atticus.”  Dr. Forsythe clinched his fists together over the top of the knees that he’d crossed at his handsome desk.

“To be honest, Dr. Forsythe, my symptoms have only gotten worse since we started.  I’m convinced that those damned earwigs are multiplying and taking over most of my stomach.  I can barely eat anymore.  Work is tiring.  I dream of sailing the darkness of the sky, anything for relief.”

“Well, I appreciate the sentiment, Atticus,” said the esteemed psychiatrist, taking a long hit off of the mouth of his Albuterol inhaler.  It was the powdery kind in the vivid, unmistakable orange container.  His spring allergies had been playing havoc with his lungs.  It seemed his asthma had been the one thing the good doctor had no control over.  Dr. Forsythe turned the medication inhaler sideways.

“66 puffs left,” he’d said.

“What?  Puffs?” Atticus inquired.

“Oh, yes.  My medication is such a relief.  I always check on how many puffs I have left.”

“Oh, ok, I get it, Doctor.”

“Well, Atticus, to celebrate our fiftieth session, I would like to break protocol and ask you for a favor.  If you answer yes, this may improve your life situation beyond your wildest imagination. Who knows what you might discover next, whatever you study at the university lab?  Freedom from anything sparks creativity, let’s face it.”

“Jesus, I sure agree with that, Dr. Forsythe.”

“Long story short, Atticus, I have designed a new composite.  I’ve developed a distinctive and complex set of compounds just for your condition.  Compounds that, when patented, will change the world of psychiatry and mental health for good.  For now, though, I choose to share the medication with my favorite patient.  That’s my gift to you, Atticus, this fine day.”

“What’s in the compounds?  I mean, generally speaking, Doctor.”

“Atticus, you’re a scientist.  My patents are incomplete.  All I can say, for now, is that the ingredients in most of my medications are well-kept secrets, secrets I’m not able to share just yet.  In your stubborn, perplexing situation, I believe the new medication is necessary.  I’m happy to provide you with the off-label medicine, but I can’t reveal what it is yet.”  Dr. Forsythe removed the bottle from the wide middle drawer of his desk.  It’s the same coffer where he hides his Smith & Wesson .38 Special.

The coziness the good doctor had felt – between his concocted medications and death – was something he’d considered a unique peccadillo.  Every psychiatrist has a peccadillo and their very own psychoanalyst to deal with it and contain it.  It’s a highly exotic aspect of some very complicated mind games.  Not everyone is allowed to play the games.

He’d shaken the amber-colored plastic bottle.  He looked like a mad shaman.  A rattlesnake’s tail was buzzing.  Atticus stared at the shiny orange pills in the amber-tinted decanter.

Using both hands, Dr.  Forsythe slowly pressed down and turned the childproof cap counter-clockwise.  He loved using recycled containers.  He’d shaken out and palmed the sizable orange capsule and reached across the desk toward Atticus for inspection.

Atticus quickly got up and took the chair next to the desk.

His eyes widened with skepticism, bulged with infinite curiosity.  Atticus had devolved into the stature of a baby boy.  He was viewing an orange caterpillar for the first time.  For what seemed like a full minute, both Atticus and the distinguished psychiatrist admired the opulent gem, yummy and glistening under the custom lighting.

Dr. Forsythe had recently installed the new lighting to create workplace calmness with his nervous patients.  He’d said he built the lights himself as a means of reducing anxiety for him and his flock; in truth, he’d purchased Lowe’s LED strips for next to nothing, $29.95.  Dr. Forsythe already sold several of the strips, of course upon request, to his patients at the bargain price of $525.00 each.

“Atticus, this may work.  You trust me, don’t you?  To obtain a long-term solution, it’s time we think outside the proverbial shoebox.  One size doesn’t fit all.”

“What the hell?”  Atticus tripped over his concerns.

“Listen up, Atticus!  I implore you to rid your mind of suspicious thoughts.  Let’s work on expanding your consciousness.  Imagine a tomorrow that finds you free of those cross-eyed scissor bugs!  Visualize, Atticus, a new and exciting future, a bright future that allows you to accomplish anything you desire!  I promise this expensive little pill will assist you in unburdening yourself from the unquenchable horror show that you have been living.”

“Jesus, Doctor, that’s a lot of information to chew at one sitting!  Trust…we’ll see, Doctor.”

“This pill, Atticus, will kill all the earwigs; every last one of the little bastards.  All you have to do is follow my sheet of instruction.” Atticus caught his breath.  He looked deep and long into Dr.  Forsythe’s motives.  Then, using the keen eyes of an insect, he darted his stare back over to the orange pill in the good Doctor’s palm.

Dr. Forsythe continued. “This tablet, Atticus, it’s from a selection of organic compounds that have taken me years to research and design.  The medications agents are remarkable, if I say so myself.  Just a few weeks ago, the medication cured a woman with brain fleas.  Atticus, the orange pill, cured a man who used to punish himself with religious crabs.  He thought of himself as ungodly.  His impending doom was by his late 60s; his hands would evolve into his feet.  I’m almost certain, sometime before your next session in two weeks, Atticus, that you will begin to find some relief.”

Atticus sensed a scam.  At first blush, he was skeptical.  But, in the dark buzzing swarm that had become his life, he craved even the slightest chance of peace.  His eyes glossed over the medication, the miracle pills bright sugary coating.

“Dr. Forsythe, I don’t trust you totally, but as you know, I am desperate.”  Atticus, rarely socially inappropriate, snatched the orange pill out of the psychiatrist’s hand and struck off straight for the office door.

“Atticus, wait!  Don’t forget, it’s one per day, for at least two weeks.  Here are the instructions, son.  Legally, I have to administer each pill.  I’ve made arrangements with my staff to watch for you in the front office.  They’ll expect you before noon each day.”

Atticus rocked back and forth on his toes and looked at his closed fist.  He opened it and swallowed his future.

Atticus opened the decorative office door, walked through it, and slammed it shut behind him.

Shortly after, with his back to the closed door, the brilliant Dr. Forsythe practically levitated over his impending glory.  After all, he had come to believe that he’d designed an illicit pharmaceutical hodgepodge with the potential to cure the most resistant delusions on the planet.  Continued fame and bottomless wealth appeared inevitable.  He smiled widely as money circled his thoughts like green vultures.

One Week Later

It was early morning.  Atticus woke in the darkness once again.  He panicked after his initial progress.  He heard a sound so alien he was certain it was from another planet.  Decibels marched in the thousands, armies with fishhook arms and legs, wings, and poisonous plasma for blood.  He sat horrified and erect before laying back down again, a corpse in a morgue.

After experiencing positive results, Atticus’s feelings of doom and dread had made their clumsy presence known again.  Oh sure, the orange pills had killed all the adult earwigs, but he was certain they’d spawned thousands of eggs.  His abdomen felt extended and bloated.  His acidic stomach was a nest of hatchlings.

From somewhere above the ceiling, he hid and watched himself below.  It had been his first out-of-body experience.  His eyes followed the corpse that stumbled and shuffled in the direction of the master suite bedroom window.  As his body approached the window, he could feel the fizzle and buzz in his abdomen.  He knew the spawn to be instinctual beats in the thousands, each with hyaline designer wings.  He believed they would soon attempt to rise in a maddening whir of anarchy and famine.

In the hum of darkness and all the confusion, Atticus recalled he’d left the window ajar.  The rising wind had rattled the curtains into Lilliputian demon tongues.  The crazed Atticus below had slammed the window shut as if to forestall an airborne hoard.  His head throbbed and hammered like a fire alarm.

The Atticus on the carpet spun around.  He was a zombie as he shuffled back to his bed.  It had only been “a nightmare and the wind, a nightmare and the wind, a nightmare,”  he’d obsessed and repeated to himself out loud.  The voice was not his own.  The wind had conscripted the darkness, outside and inside of Atticus’s soul.

One and a Half Weeks Later

Atticus had been enjoying a rather pleasant, recurring dream.  He’d been in the company of a special someone.  It was spring.  It was just the two of them at a picnic.  He’d shared a glass of Robert Mondovi, Cabernet Sauvignon with Anna, a beautiful and intelligent colleague he’d always had the hots for but not the guts or time.

Atticus could feel the warmth of the sun as it washed over his face.  His eyes shut.  He’d enjoyed the melody of spring birds as if for the very first time.  He felt himself smile, how the wrinkling of his face felt so unusual.  Then he was bee-stung.

It was Atticus’s iPhone.  It was Alice from the university.  In a high-pitched voice, practically shouting, she asked Atticus, “Mr.  Crandall, are you ok?  It’s 9:10 AM!  Your research partners have been waiting on you to arrive!”

“Alice, Alice, I am so sorry.  I overslept,” Atticus pleaded.  “Please tell them to go ahead without me.  I would appreciate it if you would reschedule all of my morning appointments.  I will be in shortly, sometime in the early afternoon.”

Atticus couldn’t recall when he’d slept in late.  Songbirds, great wine, a love interest, well, all things were possible with the right orange pills.

Atticus’s Next Therapy Session

“Well, Atticus, what’s…what’s the verdict?” Dr. Forsythe couldn’t hide his excitement.

“Things were going great, better than I ever imagined,” Atticus quipped.

Dr. Forsythe shared his Cheshire grin.  “And?” he’d asked.

“And…or I should say things were getting better, until earlier this morning.  I woke once again from a very, very deep sleep.  I felt this incredible fluttering numbing feeling.  I was hoping it was from some noise outside in the street or an open window curtain.  I was desperate to believe it. Anything sound would have been ideal, every sound except for flying earwigs.”

“Atticus.” Dr. Forsythe flashed his unabashed growing sneer.  “Tell me more, please.”

“Well then, this thought raced through my mind.  It only lasted a nanosecond.  What if the earwigs haven’t all died?  Or worse, what if the medication killed all the earwigs, but before they died, they laid their eggs?  I had a nightmare that this happened, but this early morning, it happened.  I caught a few flying out of my mouth on my way to the appointment.”

“What are you saying?” yelled Dr. Forsythe.  “By the way, earwigs don’t have a queen.”

“Well, Dr.  Forsythe, last night, after excellent relief, I had this moment.”

“You had a moment?” Dr.  Forsythe nervously asked.

“Yes, my nest, I mean my stomach, began to vibrate as if something was hatching.  It felt as if a million tiny insects were rippling under the skin of my abdomen in waves and undulations.  My stomach felt like an orgy of nasty pinchers.”

Dr. Forsythe smirked.  This sinister smirk quickly grew into a horizontal, jagged cut.  “Really, Atticus?” he asked skeptically. “Then I think we’ve reached an impasse.  Maybe, just maybe, you are crazier than a shit-house rat, too crazy to cure after all.

“I’m going to request a 72-hour hold and an evaluation on your behalf.  The confinement will be to determine the need to commit you indefinitely to a local psychiatry ward.  I am going to certify you as clinically insane and have you committed, Atticus.  I’m done with this bullshit.”

Atticus turned into a fox, an intelligent fox.  He stood and formed his hands as if in prayer. “Doctor, please, I’m not saying the pills aren’t working!  Maybe we, ah, I need a little more time?”

The good Doctor sat back down in his chair.  He rubbed the unshaven straggly hair on his sharpened chin.  He reluctantly agreed.  “Ah, OK, Atticus.  You had me fooled, young fellow.  All I could think about was losing my license.  I mean, failure is not an option.”

“I’m listening, Dr.  Forsyth.”

Dr.  Forsythe wiped his brow with the crook of his elbow. “OK, then, keep up the regimen, and let’s chat again in a week.  Sound good?”

Atticus kept his hands in prayer and bowed as if he were in Japan, thanking his kind Seishinkai.

* * * * * *

Atticus worked the following week tirelessly, at the lab, alone.  He’d been on a mission: a safety booth, gloves, oxygen tanks, robotic arms, microscopes, not the best of intentions.  After all, Atticus was the consummate scientist.  Maybe he wasn’t good with orange pills or capsules, but he sure in the hell was as clever as the good doctor.  After all, he was the chief ninja of experimental research at his university.

Like Dr. Forsythe, he hadn’t shared all of his research with his beloved colleagues.  End game cures need to be kept in confidence.

It was Wednesday.  Wednesday was the day of his next appointment with Dr. Forsythe.  Two more weeks had passed.  Atticus awoke from a deep sleep at his desk at work.  His face was flat with slobber.  It was still dark outside.  His stomach had settled, not because of the little orange pills, but because of the variants of insecticide he’d been testing and ingesting.  His elixir seemed to be helping.  It would make things easier at his appointment with Dr.  Forsythe. Atticus was going to avoid a psychiatric commitment at any cost, for either himself or Dr. Forsythe.

The Next-to-Final Appointment

“Well, Atticus, how’s it going?” Dr.  Forsythe was biting his bottom lip.  A new bad habit he’d recently picked up.

“Better, better, Dr.  Forsythe, I promise.”

“Pills?  You need more pills, Atticus?”

“Please, Dr.  Forsythe, I’m all out.  I need more time.” Dr. Forsythe rose and opened his office door.  He briskly walked into the front office.  There was more than enough time for Atticus to rummage through the center drawer of the famous doctor’s desk.  Everything important was in there, including life and death.

After a few minutes, Dr. Forsythe returned.  He sat back in his chair.  He looked down at the desk and the center drawer handle.  He calmly leaned forward and handed over the last orange pill.

“Atticus, I’m short of compounds.  I hope you don’t mind if I charge you an extra thousand dollars for the new pills?  I’ll have one ready for you to pick up in the front office tomorrow.”

“Sure, doctor, that’s fine.”

“Then, in two weeks, we can reevaluate everything.”  Atticus jumped to his feet.  He was overly animated.

“No, no problem, Dr.  Forsythe, charge me whatever you think is fair.  This stuff is working.  I’m so excited.”  In the front office, after Atticus had gone, Dr.  Forsythe asked the office admin, “Aileen, did you see that poor boy?  He’s cracking like ice in warm gin!”

“How about that pending psychiatric commitment, Dr. Forsythe?  Shall I begin the paperwork?” Aileen asked.

“It’s looking that way, Aileen.  We shall see in two weeks.”

The Final Appointment

Two weeks passed slowly.  Time stood still.  No, it was like someone had shoved time into reverse.  It took forever for the next appointment to arrive.  And for Atticus, the Wednesday looked exactly like every damned Wednesday that had come before, just another weekday from hell.

Atticus lay back on the leather sofa.  He’d begun to laugh uncontrollably.  Oddly, the good doctor joined in.  His neck had swollen.  Like Atticus, he hadn’t eaten all week.  Plus, he’d been shitting himself.  He’d had a fever.  He’d vomited up kitchens of chicken soup.  Dr. Forsythe’s office thermometer indicated a deadly fever.  He’d lost his focus and appetite.  The psychiatrist’s lips were pocked and fever-blistered.

Atticus had asked, “Where’s your staff?”

“I gave them the week off.  I’m off, they’re off, and you’re off, Atticus, way off.”  Nearly hysterical, Dr. Forsythe unhinged his mouth as wide as any foreboding cave.

“What have you caused me, Atticus?”

Atticus sprung to his feet like a jack-in-the-box. “What have I caused you?  What have I caused you?” He’d shouted.

“You know damned well what I mean, Atticus,” he’d said.  Dr. Forsythe sported the beginning of a beard, and instead of trousers, he’d been wearing only his pajama bottoms.  They were stained and torn.  He’d lost sleep the entire week while sleeping on the sofa at his office.  It showed.

Atticus shouted, “Who in the damned hell do you think you are kidding?  You fed me placebos. You assumed I’d fool myself into getting better.  And then you threatened to have me committed, you quack!  You are going to hell, you son-of-a-bitch.”

“I tried to help you, Atticus.  Nothing more.”

“Sure, at a wicked cost.  Now you know what it’s like to feel helpless.  Your placebo helped kill all the adult earwigs, but they hatched eggs.  And now I’m certain all the eggs have hatched.  Now the pinchers are back worse than ever.”

“You are an idiot, Atticus.  Those damned earwigs are only in your mind.  The joke is on you, asshole.”

“The joke is on both of us, Forsythe.  You seem to have forgotten that I’m a scientist.  You’ve been snorting high-grade Anthrax talc the entire week for your stupid asthma.”

“Wait.  You mean the orange inhaler, my Fixotide – Anthrax?”

“Flixotide,” Atticus laughed loud enough to rattle the office door.  “Flixotide is refined anthrax powder.  It’s much too late for BioThraxTM, the department’s new antidote.  You never cared to ask, but I’m the program manager at the University of Missouri, for the Laboratory of Infectious Disease Research, sir.”

Dr.  Forsythe’s eyeballs began to balloon away from their sockets.  He attempted to scream, but he was hoarse.  His throat was parched raw.  Not one word could escape his pie-hole.  Atticus watched as the doctor tore at the corners of his mouth.  He began digging for oxygen and primitive speech by shoving his hand down his throat.  He slurped, grunted, and huffed like a bear.  Blood streamed down the front of his PJs.

Faster than Doc Holliday at the OK Corral, Dr. Forsythe retrieved the pistol from the middle desk drawer.  With each shot, Atticus hadn’t flinched or batted an eye.  Smoke rings washed over him.  Dr. Forsythe’s meant the final shot for himself.  But all he’d accomplished was a contact burn from the gun powder.  Atticus’s smile revealed the doctor was shooting blanks.

Slowly, Forsythe scanned the office he’d loved so much and then his priceless, fantastic view of the river.  His office had been on the thirteenth floor, the highest.  He’d waited for the longest to relocate at the newer Shell Building, only a few blocks from his favorite river.

He’d loved giving directions to all his new patients.  It was an opportunity to explain why his office suite number was on the fourteenth floor instead of the thirteenth floor.  He enjoyed describing how most high-rise hotels and office buildings don’t have a thirteenth floor.  He’d explained how most capitalists are superstitious by nature.  His beautiful office had faced the Mississippi River in the city of Saint Louis, the city of his birth and death.

Suddenly, Forsythe shuffled to the large office window, stiff as a praying mantis, quick as a spider.  He used his fangs and claws to pick at the latch as if the latch had been a hinge on a premature coffin.  He had turned into a pathetic tomato worm.  He screeched at himself in his evil green garden.  Focus, you idiot, he thought to himself.  He wriggled and writhed.

After he opened the latch of the window, he effortlessly leaped into a perfectly blue sky.  In an instant, a thirteen-story car alarm went off.  The car had broken the good doctor’s fall.  The damaged car alarm clicked and clacked, vibrating hysterically, like some kind of surreal katydid.

Atticus wouldn’t be far behind.

Or at least that is what he’d planned.  But somehow, he’d felt empowered and in control, something he’d always wanted.  It seemed as though revenge had been the best placebo for anything that ailed him.

And maybe, just maybe, he’d live long enough to discover a cure for those damned refractory earwigs.

Rating: 9.43/10. From 7 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Dan A. Cardoza
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Dan A. Cardoza

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

More Stories from Author Dan A. Cardoza:

The Long Ride Not Home
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The Long Ride Not Home

Heaven and Hell
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Heaven and Hell

Stealing Love
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Stealing Love

Frontier Flight 167
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Frontier Flight 167

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