By Ed Nobody
The last of the needles were drawn from McEnry’s naked shining head, exposing an array of tiny holes oozing with turgid red pus. Wincing at the pain rushing under the fragile epidermis separating bone from harsh world, his heart did not yet relax, his breath of relief still reserved for a moment when he could be sure it was truly over.
The proud-jawed Dr. Verbatim, tall of stature and thick of girth, waddled over to his tray of miscellaneous tools and began to clink and clank at them. McEnry dared not even harbor the thin hope the doctor was putting them away; he couldn’t bare going through another deception. The doctor would of course never say they were done for the day, even when they were—not his style. Verbatim had the bedside manner of a slaver and the face of a stubborn baby, and McEnry couldn’t even look directly at that round slab of inflexible flesh without shuddering inside.
Done with his tools, Dr. Verbatim charged his 6’4 heavyset German frame out of the procedure room with a thundering pace, leaving behind not so much as one word. McEnry breathed shallow on the chair, weak and shivering, that blinding white overhead lamp sending the right side of his head into nerve-pinched agony. They were into Hour Ten, but as the minutes passed and no word came, McEnry became certain that the Process would doubtless continue into the evening…
End of day, time unknown; dull white walls layered sloppily with paint like the fat drawn from a coconut. McEnry desperately looked inside for an ounce of strength and found nothing. The air hummed at a horrible frequency like a powerline—it was the frequency of pain. He sat on the thin foam mattress of his iron frame bed, scrub-green sheets bloodstained and unchanged. He couldn’t even feel his body; there was just this faintly hollow echo where his body used to be, a shell so empty it couldn’t even hurt anymore…Not to say that he didn’t feel pain, since he did; in fact, pain was the only physical thing he felt at all; but that pain seemed to come from the outside, like a black aura enwrapping him in a nerve-exposed teeth-fork ringing, a shrill frequency, a metallic pitch of stress which whistled a tone-deaf tune through the cavities of his hollowed bones.
From the door came a rapping three times and something akin to a heart winced jerkily inside McEnry’s sunken chest. He tremulously opened the door, where Dr. Verbatim stood holding a dinner tray with a smug, imposing countenance. He conveyed a sense of deep self-satisfaction; he was fairly wallowing in this small show of generosity. McEnry shakily received the tray and tried to say ‘Thank you,” but each time his mouth opened to speak, Verbatim boomed out deafening words over his own: “Th—” “BON APPETIT.” “Ye—” “WELL THEN.” “G—” “HAVE A GOOD EVENING.” The door slammed and McEnry stood paralyzed in the lingering wake of its throbbing, wooden echo. He sat down at the fold-out table on a hard stool and placed the tray down, struck the spoon into a plate whose routine contents he didn’t need to inspect to identify: a pool of white sauce dotted sparsely with small chopped carrots and peas. Within the depths of this pasty soup might also be found several minute chunks of a substance approaching chicken, no more than a few though, and it was pointless trying to fish them out.
The more McEnry forced himself to push the slop into his numb and gaping mouth, the hungrier he became—by the time he had finished the plate off, he was positively starving. He couldn’t shake the feeling this was by design too; in fact everything about his situation seemed designed to inflict the greatest injury on his frail psyche: the cushion-like pillow too narrow to shift or turn on without slipping, the bed frame which jangled upon the slightest movement, the tissue curtains which admitted the city’s polluted light and drowned the night room in a dirty yellow effluvium…
McEnry could not tell how many more days of this his poor constitution could handle before something in him snapped forever, but he could only hope that final leap would come sooner rather than later—for his conscious self could not bare another second of this unceasing, restless nightmare. Slowly dropping his reddened, punctured head to the inflexible pillow, McEnry realized himself absent of tears: they had taken his faculty to weep.
The Procedure was simple but time consuming. The subject—that is, McEnry—would lie on an operating chair facing a large television screen on the wall, which played a 15-minute video in constant loop, with a three second pause at the end of each period. At first McEnry savored these pauses like a suffocating man a breath, but their true insipid kernel soon became apparent: it was the pauses themselves that kept order, that forced McEnry to become aware, over and over again, of where he was and what was happening—they prevented him from drifting off into a continuous blur, demarcating the flow of agony into discrete and palpable pain time.
Dr. Verbatim would use a series of tiny needles, each the same diameter of a skin pore, to continuously depress the subject’s Points of Receptivity (POR: similar in location to the acupoints but classified differently to avoid association with eastern medicine). As each of these points were activated, they released the psychic tension of the subject and temporarily enhanced his neuroplasticity to the level of a small infant; originally developed for increasing the learning potential of adults, this technique was acquired and developed by the U.S. Correctional System as an effective countermeasure for ever overcrowding cells, and routinely offered as part of a plea deal for offenders of public social justice.
McEnry was one such offender. What his original crime was, he could no longer remember after around Day Four, but that didn’t matter; the Procedure would continue until he was deemed functional again. “Remember, we’re all in this together,” Verbatim would say as he stuck the first needles of the day into McEnry’s swelling dome—these the most painful, each one’s silver edge shattering McEnry’s consciousness with its cold, blue sting. Later, the local anesthetic would kick in to prevent the subject from falling into a permanent state of dysfunction—something observed in the earliest uses of the Procedure—but Verbatim had calculated the absolute greatest number of needles he could insert unanesthetized, and would never start numbing the subject one prick too soon; that German efficiency at work again…
On occasion, McEnry thought himself finally becoming accustomed to the experience, as if he had let himself go to the constant bombardment of pinprick sensations and perhaps the even greater torture of the television. The latter constantly fed his ears with repetitive jingles and phrases: “new normal” “unprecedented times” “all in this together” Dahhdada dada “don’t move” “follow my instructions” Dahhdada dada “in these difficult times” “more than ever” Dahhdada dada “uncertain times” “lie still” “uncharted waters” Dahhdada dada “your own good” Dahhdada dada. Dahhdada dada. Dahhdada dada. Dahhdadadada. Budada dada. Budada dada. Budada dada. Daadada buhbuh. Bubada baba…But Verbatim seemed to intuit whenever McEnry fell into this mode of acceptance, and consequently would shift to a different area of tender skull or stop the anesthesia.
Why did the doctor do this? When he was accepting, dammit! Wasn’t the whole point of the Procedure to make McEnry accept? So that he might submit to their ideas, in order to correct any dysfunction his contemptible makeup was imbued with? He did not know, nor had he any ability of knowing: that was why he was in here to begin with!
Don’t move. Stay still. Now more than ever. Bon appetit. No sleep. Can’t weep. Dahhdada dada.
It could have been weeks later, more or less, but he didn’t want to know either way. He had been reduced to quivering flesh now: sore, raw, bled to the outjutting bones and knobbly joints, flaky skin pale as ash. The entity which formerly thought itself McEnry had become sanitized, stripped of all errant function, morphed and molded into a more pliant vessel, a useful moving mass which would soon crave the opportunity to sweat for the good of mankind. Had his ego been destroyed then? Such detestable flashes of thought still popped into his tiredly pulsing mind at night and McEnry met them with instant disgust, for it meant that he was still uncured, that he went on detestably forming these independent notions Dahhdada dada which were of no use to anyone in these trying times, and needed to be eliminated to the last.
On some bolder days, McEnry would find himself peeling back the tissue curtain and looking down at the barren grey trees which stretched up like death’s own claws from the gaseous blanket of yellow mist below. In some of these moments, his present situation would dawn on him all at once like a great wave of terrible panic, whose foamy crest would rush through his aching, studded skull like a silver river, and render him prostrate and shivering on the cold wooden floor; upon finding him in this state, Verbatim would grin with rapacious glee and increase the needle count for that day commensurately.
Yet the thought to try and escape never even entered the hollow dome of McEnry’s mind, in fact the thought of doing anything each morning other than climb one floor to the Procedure Room would never occur to him; he was capable of suffering by his own volition, but nothing more.
Still, the Procedure was not complete. Would it ever be? McEnry could not think in those terms anymore, not as it would break him, although it surely would, but because he simply no longer bore the function. His world began and ended in a day, in a whitish cell with paper-thin curtains, like a tiny ship floating in an infinite sea of dirty yellow gas…not traveling, not moving, just floating.
Dr. Verbatim’s commanding voice gradually took on a tinny quality and faded into that mist as with the room, the meal, the television…eventually, even the needles stopped stinging. Badada dada. In place of conscious thought, McEnry’s mind dully crackled with hazy static, a congested mental reflux of low fidelity and no particular significance. Deep under the level of his consciousness, burgeoning thoughts were surely trapped in TV noise like baby rats in a CO2 chamber—desperate and panicked, running around and gnawing to escape, but fated to never again pierce that cramped and lonely jail…
Sensations from outside filtered in and flowed around and under his psychic core but never entered through it. Even if an ego did still exist somewhere, deep within that boundless mental expanse, it had become defunct and obsolete, disconnected from all other faculties. When, on one day, McEnry had the chance to view “himself” in the mirror of a room he had never seen before, the face was unrecognizable: it was just a cluster of nameless features under a mop of half-shaven hair, which had turned the yellowish white of a rancid Milkybar.
Actually, it wasn’t a mirror at all reflecting that forgotten face; it was the murky surface of a black river, upon whose oily surface blinked red and white the distant city lamps like a faraway Christmas. McEnry’s skull seemed to swim in a thick liquid, even though the swelling had long since subsided—this was a psychic lubricant, a way to make the gears turn without friction. No friction. Don’t move. More than ever. Even in the uncharted times which lay ahead, there didn’t even flicker the briefest gleaming of conflict—everything would run smoothly now.
And Dr. Verbatim almost felt chagrin that McEnry would never appreciate that fact. But indeed that didn’t matter, for in these difficult times they were all in this together, and it was better for everyone to just lie still. Dahhdada dada.
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