Praxis et Theorica Mortis

Friday, 17 March, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan

On Friday morning, Kate is surprised to find herself waking up before the alarm. This minor miracle happens only very occasionally, but the rare days on which it does occur are guaranteed to be special. In fact, Kate feels so well-rested that it almost feels as though she overslept! She couldn’t possibly have slept through the alarm, and if she had managed that somehow it would be getting light outside by now, wouldn’t it?

Sitting up to turn off the alarm before it does go off, Kate’s hand freezes as she sees the clock’s red-glowing digits. The time is 3:02. She has slept three and a half hours.

Moving slowly, Kate finishes turning off the alarm anyway, because she knows right away that there’s no chance in the world she’s going back to sleep tonight. She leans forward to hug her knees and rest her forehead on them. What is happening to me? But of course, she knows. It’s hard to be too frightened about it right at the moment, because she feels good. She feels very good! Yes, and so did John Travolta. And so does a meth-head before she starts scratching her skin off.

There’s a reason why she woke up now all raring to go, and Kate knows exactly what it is. She can’t stand this anymore. She is seeing things that aren’t there, seeing things before they’re there. She can’t just go into work today and then go out and party with the guys tonight as though nothing is wrong. If there really is something wrong, she need to know right now, before she does anything else.

After a time, Kate rises to get dressed.

~

The front of the building was originally made of some tan-colored cement-like stuff with banks of glass windows, and was guarded by a row of two-foot-diameter cement pillars. At least the pillars are still all there, although they have been festooned by some pretty interesting graffiti, but more than half of the hard coating on the outer walls has flaked off, leaving the surface looking mottled like the bark of a sycamore tree except bigger and shabbier. The windows, of course, have been replaced by painted plywood. Most of the gang-tag graffiti just paints right over the boundaries between the old tan surface and its white underlayment, but one of the more creative pieces uses one of the largest broken areas as half of the outline of the face of Jesus with eyes upraised to heaven under an elaborate crown of thorns. He has one hand raised with index and middle finger pointing upward together in the gesture you might see in old paintings, while the other is making the “devil’s horns” gesture. Drops of blood from the thorns, beautifully rendered in red and the white underlayment material to look as though each drop is reflecting some light, have dripped so as to spell out “MS-13” across his forehead.

The regular doors on either side of the big entrance are locked, but the extra-large revolving door, big enough for wheelchairs or gurneys, starts revolving at a stately pace when Kate approaches. For several seconds she stands outside, hesitant to take this final step. What if the panes of this revolving door serve the same function as the blades of a garbage disposal?

Don’t be an idiot. You know perfectly well that there’s something wrong with you, and that means you need a doctor.

The problem of course is that, once you walk through those doors—Kate watches the unit slowly spin as though driven by some alternative version of the March night air that she cannot feel, the big unbreakable panels reflecting a functioning light from across the street—you give up control to The System. The Homeland Security doctors who work in these ‘free’ clinics are not exactly world renowned as being the finest medical professionals who ever wrote a prescription.

They are doctors and you are not, genius. You’ve already been getting dizzy, waking up after two hours of sleep, and hallucinating things. You want to wait until it gets worse? And what if that lovely little image of John Travolta with a brain tumor was sent up from your subconscious mind for a reason? Have you thought about that? Get in that door right now and let somebody take a look at you, just to be sure everything’s OK.

With a sigh, Kate succumbs to the Voice of Reason and steps into the slowly rotating garbage disposal.

~

At least inside the clinic most of the fluorescent lights are functioning, but there are so many old boxes stacked along the edges of the waiting room that Kate half expects to see mice scurrying back and forth in the shadows between them. There is one side room that is dark and the entry to it is barred by yellow tape that says Pardon Our Dust. It looks as though that room has been under construction since before the War.

There’s only one other person waiting, so Kate assumes that her wait will be short.

She assumes wrongly.

~

“So—you’re seeing—” the intern, a man who looks like he can’t possibly be more than two years older than Kate, refers to the notes that he wrote just one minute ago. “What kind of—” he yawns cavernously, covering his mouth with a blue-gloved hand. “Sorry. What kinds of things?”

“Like, um, well—like people,” Kate swallows. “Who aren’t actually there. That was just once, though.”

The doctor nods as though this confirms his careful diagnosis. “And you’ve been under a lot of stress lately?”

“Well, yes. I mean I was. Maybe I still am.” Kate begins to get the feeling that this is not going the way she wanted. What she wanted was a frikking CAT scan! What she wanted was the young George Clooney to sit across from her with a clipboard, look deep into her eyes with a mischievous smile and say, “Well, I certainly can’t see anything wrong with you.”

Instead, the young intern yawns again, this time not quite managing to cover his mouth.

“Sorry, sorry. I need to, uh,” but he apparently thinks better of what he was about to say. Take another Amp. He turns to look down at his notes again, and Kate see, as clearly as she has ever seen anything, an inch-thick gray worm protruding from the back of the young man’s head.

For about one-tenth of a second she starts to scream, but immediately stifles the impulse and turns it into just a little squeak, which she then disguises as a cough. The worm in the back of the young doctor’s head is the most horrible thing she has ever seen in her life.

This is not real. It’s not real. It was not there a moment ago, and it’s not there now. I am sick, I am seeing things. This is not real.

Blinking owlishly, the doctor or intern or whatever the hell he is opens a drawer on his side of the table and extracts a little orange plastic bottle. The worm writhes in a slow pattern, unaware of her horrified attention. It is not as visible when the doctor turns and sets the bottle in front of her. Her hands trembling a little, Kate manages to pick it up and read the label: Praxis: Introductory Dosage.

“That’ll help you feel better,” he says. “Get some sleep, don’t be so anxious. Here’s a prescription,” he pushes a scrap of paper at her across the table’s surface. “You should refill that right away. Once you start taking these, try not to skip any doses. Once a day, you can take it with food if you want. Doesn’t matter. But take the capsules whole, don’t break them up or anything like that. OK? It’s good you came in and we caught it in time.”

And then the young doctor gets up and walks out of the room. The worm is still in the back of his head.

Kate sits for a while, shaking. Wondering about what is real, what is not, and why she should see something so terrible. Only after several minutes does she manage to look at the bottle and the hastily-written prescription. After some time she opens the bottle—with some difficulty—to see what the pills actually look like. They’re little things, and there are only a dozen in the small bottle. They are blue, in exactly the same shade as the gloves that the young doctor was wearing.

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