“Why can’t I see it?”
Dr. Lancaster glanced at Stan over the rims of her glasses, seemingly annoyed that he would ask. “Mr. Plunkett, we store hundreds of extracted psychoses for processing in this facility, and yours has already been filed away. It is important for treatment that your psychosis is exposed to as little interference or outside stimuli as possible. When you return in two weeks for your re-assimilation, we will allow you to see your cured specimen before we reintroduce it to your mind.”
Stan rubbed his hands along his pant legs. “But…I want to see it now. I mean, my babble must be filed with my name and info, right? Can’t you just have it brought out here for a minute, or maybe someone could let me into storage?”
“The storage unit is restricted to clinic personnel only,” Dr. Lancaster replied. “And bringing it out, even for ‘a minute,’ would be immensely traumatizing to it, as they are not used to being outside a human brain. Don’t worry, Mr. Plunkett. Your extraction was a perfect success. Your babble… psychosis…will be taken care of with the utmost care. Now, you are due back on September 5th at 2:00. Check out at the front desk before you leave today.”
Stan sighed, and stood up. “Dr. Lancaster, you sure everything went fine? No… mishaps or anything?”
“Not during the extraction. Why? Do you feel all right?” The doctor stood up, pressing her fingertips on her desk. “It is common to experience slight headaches or disorientation after the process. I would recommend a mild pain reliever—”
“No, I’m all right. Thanks.” Stan shook the doctor’s hand and scuffled out of the room.
This was unfair. The whole point of his coming here to get his babble out was so that he could see it as it was, unchanged. Now he wasn’t being allowed to see it until after it would be cured. What was the big deal anyway?
If you had asked Stan a month ago, “What do you think about that weird therapy group that’s been all over the news lately? The ‘Piece of Mind Clinic.’ They say they take the craziness right out of your head and fix it, so you don’t have to take actual therapy or drugs or nothing,” Stan would have replied, “Can’t talk right now, gotta finish inking these last few pages.”
That was what Stan was doing on all his free time outside of his college courses, doodling and inking superhero, alien and monster comic books. He was more than an adequate artist, and even though he had been rejected by every graphic-novel publisher he had submitted his work to, constructing these illustrated landscapes of dream-fuel were as crucial to him as the inhabitants of his worlds—if one could believe those inhabitants existed in some parallel universe.
As one could easily surmise from his timid gawkiness and beaten-dog posture, Stan was a classic introvert, so while other students were careening to their dorms after epic keggers or taking weekend trips home so their mothers could wash their laundry, he was in his off-campus apartment inundating his sketchbook with pictorial novelties, and reading online forums about conspiracies, supernatural sightings, and tabloid-worthy “news.”
That was how he had found out about the Piece of Mind Clinic. He was scoping out a forum that he frequented often, and he had ignored that new thread the first couple of times, the one that read, “Brain Spawn Created in a Lab: Is this for real?” Most posts like that were trash, but the thread had gotten 247 replies in only an hour, and over 1000 people had viewed it. Figuring he shouldn’t be left out of the loop, Stan clicked on the post and read it over. These brain-children, or “babbles,” since these things would talk nonstop when first extracted, were literally pulled from your brain by some machine that the clinic had developed, and somehow manifested into a physical form (“Chupacabras or alien goblins or something,” one poster had rumored of the babbles’ appearances), so that the “problem” could be given direct treatment. No one seemed to know how that was done, but theories abounded, from lobotomies to electroshock to implanted microchips. Meanwhile, the patients could keep living their normal lives, without weeks or months of hit-or-miss therapy. Also, it was cheap—one didn’t even need medical insurance.
Stan mulled this over for a long while. His first reaction was that it was all fabricated, but there were testimonies from people who had gone there, claiming that the process really worked. They had not felt so at peace and well-balanced in their entire lives until after their babble had been cured and reinserted. Apparently, it was necessary to reinsert the treated babble rather than just terminate it, because a babble was a part of one’s brain, and for the brain to remain incomplete could cause some undesirable side events. Think of it as a chipped piece of glass from a vase (as one of the clinic specialists would elucidate); if one didn’t return that broken-off piece and weld it back into the whole, the vase would just get bigger and bigger cracks stemming from that original fracture until…well, it wouldn’t be much of a vase long after that.
It was not because Stan had any severe psychological problems, or any paranoia or emotional scarring that usually warranted a babble extraction (although on his paperwork, he had listed ‘extreme masochism” as his reason for attending the clinic, because—let’s face it—he had to have an addiction to pain to keep putting up with the crap that he went through on a daily basis). It had struck him as a rare opportunity to finally attain something that he had wanted his entire life: a friend who truly understood him. After all, a babble would come straight from his brain. If his babble wasn’t on the same wavelength as he was, who would be?
As desperate and silly as it may have sounded to most people, that was why Stan wanted to meet his babble so badly. He didn’t even want it to be “cured.” He wanted it exactly how it already was, as messed up as he was. To be told his babble was already locked away and out of reach had dealt Stan a mocking blow and reminded him that Fate was continuing to enjoy screwing him.
Stan’s raggedy sneakers plodded heavily down the front steps as he exited the building. He glanced back over his shoulder, entertaining a quick thought of breaking into the facility late at night, ninja-style, and stealing his babble out of there before anything could happen to it. A bolder, more rebellious version of Stan might have seriously contemplated the notion, but boldness and rebellion had never been strong suits of Stan’s, and he felt even less of those things now than he had before.
Maybe my babble has those now, he wondered. Maybe he’s a cooler guy than I am. Man, only I would end up sucking more than my own babble.
* * *