Aphelion Issue 260, Volume 25
April 2021
 
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Orange

by Dan Cardoza




There is no great genius without some touch of madness––Aristotle



Dr. Benjamin B. Forsythe was an odd scoop of ice cream, a cold, pasty sheened 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, based out of St. Louis, Missouri. He'd made 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 ones very own beliefs. He often cited acupuncture and the burning monks of the Viet Nam War. His remarkable theories fueled the engine of Dr. Forsythe's mostly homeopathic practice. He was the darling of the Green Peace and Whole Foods crowd. The good Doctor had incorporated his mentor-deities theories into his successful practice, bought into everything, 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.

Dr. Forsythe's lifelong dreams had more DNA in common with Charley Manson than Sister Theresa. If he could've liquefied dollar bills, he would have taken them up intravenously. He'd developed a lifelong obsession with the engraved bills: the pyramid's mystery, the one eye knowing, thirteen stars, the syringed arrows, the eagle totem, and those E. Pluribus Unum's. He'd gotten high, simply smelling the bills dirty ink.

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

None of this was completely true, of course. What one believes is often the razor-thin wire of light that turns us into our very own balancing act.


*****



Being a genius has its ups and downs, but it's typically a blessing as a matter 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 their lifetime. This phenomenon was first published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, one of Dr. Forsythe's favorite rags. By analyzing the data from twin research, scientists found a 95 percent link among intelligence, lifespan, and income.

A high IQ was about the only thing they had in common, Doctor and Cody.

Cody Crandall was born into a family of privilege. He was raised on the upper east side of Manhattan, where birth's simple geography evolves into wealth. This afforded him a superior education. What followed were exceptional employment opportunities and financial success. Connections make you rich. Hard work makes you wealthy beyond belief.

This Cody guy fancied himself an America boy wonder, rightfully so, of course. For any that knew Cody, it wasn't a big surprise that he'd become a full professor at the age of 35. Cody worked at the illustrious University of Missouri, in the highly regarded Laboratory for Infectious Disease Research. Columbia is a short, two-hour drive from St. Louis, Missouri.

Cody Crandall would have worked for free. He loved being one of the nation's top scientists. Sure, the money was there, and he'd already made a ton on patents and other investments, but that wasn't the charcoal that fueled the internal furnace of his very powerful intellectual engine. In a nutshell, not unlike our Dr. Forsythe, he loved the thought of playing God with his most delicate research.

Cody had one blistering problem. Cody would give anything for one single night's uninterrupted sleep. Each night was void of exceptions for Cody. Each night, around 2:00 A.M., he'd wake in a cold, feverish sweat, a panic. He'd sit straight up on his king as if at attention. He'd stare into this suffocating envelope of darkness, a toxic blackness that he'd gotten to know too well. As the nightstand digital pulsed 2:01, he'd curse at the invisible jackhammers, the numbness, and heaviness in his chest and stomach. He'd often wretched, washed sheets to keep from sleeping.

Inside his brilliant head was an earthquake of electricity. The vibrations reminded Cody of a sensation that felt extraordinarily thin as if there was shifting paper Mache in his stomach. Cody imagined his stomach an active nest. There was regurgitated paper, orange saliva, and mud in the nest, mix in with dust, lint, and flaked off skin. The nest had one purpose, it was a breeding den.

In the early morning, he'd always reached the same conclusion, life or death. He'd open the window and jump out of the condo's twentieth floor. It was only a matter of time.

Cody was around seven when he'd first noticed the colony had grown, that his delusional earwigs had evolved, become restless and agitated. He'd concluded that the nest would never go away. Cody's coping demanded a strict belief system. He'd somehow concluded that they would never tear through his stomach lining or the skin over his because, for some reason, they had a symbiotic relationship. Rather, he'd have to put up with their business, their comings, and goings, during his sleep. Waking each night around two A.M. had become an unverified bargain they'd struck.

Cody had recently determined that his stomach had begun to reverberate and rattle more than he'd ever remembered, even as a child. Cody imagined the nest a manic Guiro, all its muffled clicking and clacking of pinchers, those damned hungry, robotic, alien mouths.

It had taken Cody all his emotional might and willpower that night to keep from sailing out his bedroom suite window, his sailing off into the peaceful seas of the swelling Cumuli. Just three long seconds without the pincher bugs would have been heaven before death. He'd even calculated the timing from his twentieth floor, 3.5 seconds.

Cody'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. Cody was fearful that he couldn't restrain his anger and personal sense of madness much longer.


*****



Dr. Forsythe had grown frustrated with his prized patient more than any of the others. Failing a patient was not an option in his twisted world. He'd experienced nothing short of success, and for that, he charged the going gypsy's rate of $550.00 per hour.

Cody Crandall had been his singular, unsolved Rubik's Cube of a patient going on five years. This Cody guy, this big-shot university professor, had evolved into one hell of a psychological cluster-bang. A cluster-bang he'd obsessed to cure, one damned way or another. Benjamin B. Forsythe had reached his wit's end with Cody's God-damned earwig delusion. He so prided himself for curing 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 the Benjamin's, but this Cody case had evolved into a battle of egos.

At the next therapy session, Dr. Forsythe would 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 Cody Crandall. He would cure this stubborn son-of-a-bitch, or die trying.


The Orange Pill Session



"Well, Cody, we are about done for the day. It's an anniversary, of sorts."

"An anniversary, Dr. Forsythe?" Cody pushed himself up from the long couch. It felt slippery, like waxed leather.

"Fifty sessions, Mr. Crandall. This is our fiftieth session." Dr. Forsythe choked back the words as if his mouth was anal-retentive.

"Dr. Forsythe, I am very grateful, but to be honest, 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. Work is tiring. I dream of sailing the darkness of the sky, anything for relief."

"Well?" Said the esteemed psychiatrist, taking a long hit of his Flixotide, 125 puff inhaler. It was the powdery kind, in the vivid, unmistakable orange container. It seemed his asthma had been the one thing the good Doctor had no control over. Dr. Forsythe turned to medication sideways, “

66 puffs left," he'd said.

"Well, what?" Cody inquired.

"Oh, yes. My medication is such a relief. Well, Cody, to celebrate our fiftieth session, I would like to break protocol and ask 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? Long story short, Cody, I have amalgamated an idiosyncratic and complex set of compounds for you. Compounds that, when patented, will change the world. For now, though, I choose to share the medication with my favorite patient."

"What's in the compounds, I mean generally, Dr.?"

"Cody, you're a scientist. My patents are incomplete. All I can say, for now, is that the ingredients in most of my medications are a well-kept secret. Secrets I'm not able to share just yet. In your stubborn situation, it's necessary. I'll give you the medicine, but I can't reveal what it is yet."

Dr. Forsythe removed the bottle from the wide middle drawer of his desk. It was the same coffer that hid his Smith & Wesson .38 Special.

The coziness the good Dr. 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. It's a highly exotic aspect of mind games. Not everyone is allowed to play.

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

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 sizeable orange capsule and reached across the desk toward Cody for inspection. Cody's eyes widened with skepticism, bulged with infinite curiosity. He was a baby, viewing an orange caterpillar for the first time. For what seemed like a full minute, both Cody and the distinguished psychiatrist admired the opulent gem, yummy and glistening under the custom lighting. Dr. Forsythe had installed the new lighting to share the calmness with his nervous patients. He'd built the lights himself as a means of reducing anxiety for him and his patients. In truth, he'd purchased Lowe's LED strips for next to nothing. He'd sell the strips, upon request, at a bargain price of $525.00 each.

"Cody, 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," Cody had tripped over his words.

"Listen-up, Cody! Rid your mind of any suspicious thoughts. Expand your consciousness. Imagine a tomorrow that finds you free of the fucking bugs? Visualize Cody, 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 this unquenchable horror show you have been living. This pill, Cody, will kill all the earwigs, every last one of the little bastards. We will simply have to follow the instructions of the bottle."

Cody caught his breath. He looked deep and long into Dr. Forsythe's motives. Then, with the keen eyes of an insect, he darted his stare back to the orange pill in the good Doctor's palm.

Dr. Forsythe continued, "This tablet, Cody, it's from a selection of organic compounds that have taken me years to design into an agent of remarkable change. I once cured a woman with brain fleas, a man who punished himself with religious crabs, and a man whose hands were his feet. I'm almost certain, sometime before your next session, in two weeks, you will see relief."

Cody had sensed a scam. At first blush, he was skeptical. But, in the dark buzzing swarm that had become his life, he craved even the thought of peace and quiet. His eyes glossed over the medication, the miracle pills bright sugar coating.

"Dr. Forsythe, I don't trust you totally, but as you know, I am desperate."

Cody, rarely socially inappropriate, snatched the orange pill out of the psychiatrist's hand and struck off straight to the office door.

"Cody, wait, don't forget, it's one per day, for at least two weeks. Legally, I have to administer each pill. I've made arrangements with staff in the front office. They'll expect you before noon each day."

Cody rocked back and forth on his toes, looked at his fist, opened it, and swallowed his future. Cody opened, walked through, and slammed the office door behind him.

Shortly after, with his back to the closed door, the brilliant Dr. Forsythe practically levitated over his glory. After all, he had come to believe that he'd designed an illicit pharmaceutical farrago, with the potential to cure resistive delusions. Continued fame and endless wealth seemed inevitable. He smiled widely as money circled his thoughts like green vultures.


One Week Later



It was early morning. Cody awoke in the dark once again. He panicked after his initial progress. He heard a sound so alien it must have been from another planet. The decibels marched in the thousands, armies with fishhook arms and legs, wings, and poisonous plasma for blood. He sat horrified erect, before lying on his back again, a corpse in a morgue.

After experiencing positive results, Cody'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 they'd spawned eggs. His abdomen felt extended and bloated. His acidic stomach was a nest of hatchlings.

From somewhere above the ceiling, he hid and watched. It had been Cody's first out-of-body experience. His eyes followed the corpse that stumbled and shuffled in the direction of his master suite bedroom window. As his body approached the window, even from above, he could feel the fizzle and buzz in the abdomen below, the instinctual beats of a thousand hyaline wings, as they attempted to rise in a maddening whir of anarchy and famine.

In the hum of darkness and all the confusion, Cody recalled he'd left the window ajar. The rising wind had rattled the curtains into Lilliputian demon tongues. The crazed Cody below had slammed the window shut as if to forestall an airborne hoard. His head throbbed and hammered like a fire alarm. He'd spun around, and zombie shuffled back toward his bed. It had been a nightmare and the wind, a nightmare and the wind, "A nightmare, and the wind," he'd whispered using another voice. The wind had conscripted the darkness, outside and inside of Cody's soul.


One and One-Half Weeks



Cody had been enjoying a rather pleasant, recurring dream. He'd been enjoying the company of a special someone in a spring meadow. They were at a picnic. He'd shared a glass of Robert Mondovi, Cabernet Sauvignon with Anna, a beautiful and intelligent colleague, someone he had the hots for, for the longest time. He could feel the warmth of the sun wash over his face. With eyes shut, he'd enjoyed the melody of spring's 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 Cody's iPhone, Alice from the university. In a high pitched voice, practically shouting, she asked, "Mr. Crandall, are you ok? It's 9:10 A.M.? Your research partners have been waiting!"

"Alice, Alice, I am so sorry. I overslept." Cody 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."

Cody, of course, never slept in late. Songbirds, great wine, a love interest, well, all things were possible with the right orange pills.


Cody's Next Therapy Session



"Well, Cody, what's, what's the verdict?" Dr. Forsythe couldn't hide his excitement.

"Things were going great, better than I ever imagined," Cody 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 fantastical fluttering sound. I was hoping it was from some sort of noise outside in the street or an open window curtain. I was desperate to believe it was from something other than flying earwigs."

"Cody?" 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 eggs?"

"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."

"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, Cody?" 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 hold will be to determine the need to commit you indefinitely. I am going to certify you as clinically insane and have you committed."

Cody 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…I need a little more time."

The good Doctor sat back down in his chair. He rubbed the straggly hair on his sharpened chin. He reluctantly agreed. "Oh, ok Cody, you had me fooled, young fellow. All I could envision is losing my license. I mean, all I could see is us both failing."

Dr. Forsythe wiped his brown with the crook of his elbow. "Ok then, keep up the regimen, and let's chat again in a week. Sound good?"

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


*****



Cody 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, Cody 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.

Like Dr. Forsythe, he hadn't shared all of his research with his beloved colleagues. End game cures are meant to be kept to oneself.

It was Wednesday. Wednesday was the day of his next appointment with Dr. Forsythe. Two more weeks had passed. Cody 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. Cody was going to avoid a psychiatric commitment at any cost, for either himself or Dr. Forsythe.


Next to the Final Appointment



"Well, Cody, 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, Cody?"

"Please, Dr. They're working. I'm all out. I need more time."

Dr. Forsythe rose, opened his office door, and walked into his front office and waiting room. There was more than enough time for Cody to rummage through the center drawer of the famous Doctor's desk. Everything important was in there, 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 then leaned forward and handed over the last orange pill.

"Cody, I'm short of compounds. I hope you don't mind if I charge you an extra ten-thousand dollars for the new pills? I'll have one ready for you to pick up in the front office tomorrow."

He'd said. "Then, in two weeks, we can reevaluate everything."

Cody jumped to his feet. He was overly animated. "No, no problem, Dr. Forsythe, charge me what you think if fare. This stuff is working."

In the front office, after Cody 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 commitment, Dr. Forsythe?" Aileen had asked.

"It's looking that way, Aileen. We shall see in two weeks, come Wednesday."


The Final Appointment



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

Cody lay back on the leather sofa. He'd begun to laugh uncontrollably. Oddly, the good Doctor joined in. His neck was swollen. Like Cody, 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. His office thermometer indicated a deadly fever. He'd lost his focus and appetite. His lips were pocked and fever-blistered.

Cody had asked, "Where's your staff?"

"I gave them the week off, I'm off, they're off, and you're off Cody, way off." Nearly hysterical, Dr. Forsythe unhinged his mouth, as wide as any foreboding cave.

"What have you caused me, Cody?"

Cody 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, Cody." He'd said. Dr. Forsythe was unshaven, and instead of trousers, he'd been wearing his pajama bottoms. They were stained and torn. He'd lost sleep the entire week at his office suite, and it showed.

Cody 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, Cody, 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, Cody. 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?"

"Flixotide," Cody laughed loud enough to rattle the office doors. "Flixotide? You mean 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. Forsyth's eyeballs began to balloon away from the sockets. He attempted to scream, but he was met with hoarseness, gunfight dust, dry and parched in his throat. Not one word could escape his pie-hole. Cody watched as the Doctor tore at the corners of his mouth, digging for oxygen and primitive speech. He slurped, grunted, and huffed like a bear. Blood streamed down the front of his white Laundromat shirt.

Faster than Doc Holliday at the ok corral, Dr. Forsythe retrieved the pistol from the middle desk drawer. With each shot, Cody hadn't flinched or batted an eye. Smoke rings washed over him. Dr. Forsythe's final shot was meant for himself, but all he got was a contact burn. Cody's smile revealed the Doctor was shooting blanks.

Slowly, Forsythe scanned the office he'd loved so much, the fantastic view of the river. His office was on the thirteenth floor, the highest. He'd waited the longest time to relocate at the newer Shell Building, only a few blocks from his favorite river.

He'd loved giving directions to all the new patients and explaining why his office suite had been listed in the building directory as being on the fourteenth floor. How high rise hotels and most office buildings don't have a thirteenth floor. How most floors go from twelve straight to fourteen, to avoid reality. He'd explained how most capitalists are superstitious by nature, like him. 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 wriggled and writhed.

After he opened the latch of the widow, he effortlessly leaped into a perfectly blue sky. In an instant, three ticks of manic pinchers, a thirteen-story car alarm had been broken by his fall. It clicked and clacked, vibrated hysterically, a surreal katydid.

Cody hadn't been far behind.

Or at least that was what he'd planned. But somehow, he'd felt empowered and in control, something he'd always wanted. It seemed as though revenge might have been the exact placebo for what ailed him. And maybe, just maybe, he'd live long enough to discover a cure for refractory earwigs.



THE END


2021 Dan Cardoza

Bio: Dan’s most recent fiction has been published in the 45th Parallel, Aphelion, BlazeVOX, Across the Margins, Bull, Cleaver, Close to the Bone, Coffin Bell, Dark City Books/Magazine, Door=Jar, Dream Noir, Entropy, Flash Bang Mystery, Gravel, Literary Heist, Mystery Tribune, O:JA&L/Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, New Flash Fiction Review, Overstock, Spelk, Variant, Visitant, Your Impossible Voice, The 5-2. Dan has also been nominated by Coffin Bell for the Best of the Net Anthology, 2021, and best micro-fiction by Tiny Molecules.

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