Mad Vision

by Nicholas Stillman


Arron crouched, held his breath, and pointed the gizmo gun at the sleeping addict’s head. His crude invention looked more like a steel lunchbox with nozzles, and it still needed more gauges and a proper name. Nonetheless, it induced the same pulses as any transcranial magnetic stimulation machine at the hospitals — he hoped. The soft crackles and buzzing didn’t even wake the woman at the close range needed. The regular vices held her down, mainly heroin and tobacco combined. She had a youngish face melted down by trauma and time. Her limbs flopped and twitched as Arron aimed for her ventral tegmental area. Clearly, her motor cortex took some inverted electric charges as well, but it sure beat feeding clients junk food every workday until they died.

The woman woke up alive with time still playing out like a long song. Her arms started mining the air for something Arron couldn’t see. He warped his face into a smile as impish as hers.

With his new client engrossed in ecstasy, he withdrew the gizmo gun and looked around. He saw a slum so ugly that all the beauty went into hiding every day. The block had become a rut for every addict in town, listless junkies whose tatters kept turning the same hue of brown. They all had too many missing teeth and brain cells. They slowly killed themselves with every vice in nature. Even the litter lay crushed, trampled by people and rain.

“Did you just gas me with somethin’ good?” the woman asked without even trying to wake up.

“No,” Arron replied. “I used a portable TMS device to induce a magnetic field in your head. It stimulates your reward pathways, but don’t worry. It doesn’t add any harmful chemicals.”

“Aww.” She talked mostly to the sky. “You a doctor or somethin’?”

“Lord, no! I want you all off drugs. Anyway, what do you go by?”

He waited for her to lie.

“Meat,” she replied.

“Oh, you can do better than that.”

“Tamara.”

“Hm, not a bad-sounding pseudonym at all.”

“Huh? Whatever. Do it again, mister.”

“You must earn the next dose through a bit of old-fashioned work and discipline. Otherwise, you’ll never recover from… this…” Arron waved at the junkies lying around like jellyfish washed up on land.

“What do you want?” Tamara sprawled cozily on the pavement. “I’ll do literally anything.”

“Would you do… figuratively anything?”

“Sure.”

“What about hyperbolically or oxymoronically anything?”

“Yes! Give me a damn hit!”

Arron gave her a tiny notebook and four pens. Tamara clenched them, her fists like little mallets of mostly bone. The backs of her hands looked like leather off an old shoe.

She sat up. “What do I need four freakin’ pens for?”

Arron smirked. “Just write a poem.”

Tamara wrote something, tore off the page, and handed it to him. He read through the smudged dirt:

Roses are head.

Violets are violet.

Honey is viscous.

And so is saliva.

“Hmm,” he said, “not exactly the English prime I had hoped for. And no need to get all shackled up in rhyme.”

“You didn’t give me a hard enough hit!” Tamara pleaded. “Now pay up!”

“No law against magnetism,” Arron mumbled. He increased the gun’s intensity setting. “And no pussyfooting around with opiate addicts.”

He refrained from turning the dial the other way. He would have to later, though, to ween her off with subliminally smaller magnetic pulses. For the moment, he fired with precision and purpose. Tamara leaned into it, sitting cross-legged. She then flopped over and wriggled like a half-crushed spider.

As her brain got soaking wet for more, Arron felt a stab of bad memories.

“I’ll need the real thing after this,” Tamara said.

“No.” Arron gazed at some imagined horizon. “You’ll end up in the medical establishment with their own mad vision of treatment — after they let the street wear you down to a bundle of bones and nerves. They won’t intervene until you have rocks in every part of your head. Then, they’ll switch you to their own brew, a smorgasbord of other meds. They’ll create new kinds of trauma and pills for it, too. You’ll end up finished by forty and dead before fifty. I’ve watched the same mistakes and cycles for two decades.”

“Mm. Good.”

“Listen. Submission Grinder posts the odds of acceptance at five percent for most of the poetry magazines. So, I’ll need twenty quality poems just to make one sale to cover the electricity cost. I have the retirement money, but don’t forget you have arms and a brain which can do work.”

He counted well over twenty waifish addicts in plain view sawing their lives in half. They lolled on the cracked sidewalk as though the ground itself wanted them to die and go lower. He witnessed enough frowns and droopy eyelids to stir up the same depression in himself. They could probably dish it out well enough on a page.

“I’ll come around tomorrow,” Arron said. “Have something ready.”

“I can do poems like I do men,” Tamara mumbled with a wave to no one. She spoke again through the widening cracks in her soul. “Actually, give me that lunchbox now, or I’ll cut your throat.”

The sting of attitude spread across her whole face. Arron saw deeper into her and knew she meant it. His eyes made a trip around her body, and he spotted the knife tucked into her boot.

She had the swear words lined up for him. Nonetheless, she remained sprawled and clueless as a squashed mosquito. Arron cranked the setting on the gizmo gun. A bit of simpleton neuroscience told him exactly where to aim. He watched her right hand for the telltale tremors as he prepared to cook part of her motor cortex. She would lose the use of three fingers but keep the index — he hoped. That way she could still hold a pen, but not a knife.

“Better than losing three decades,” he muttered.

Eyes closed, Tamara only moved with a flopping of limbs which meant nothing to anyone. Arron gripped his invention, poised to intervene before the establishment could do far worse to her. But the memories of healthcare gripped him harder. He felt the breath of madmen on his back.

He stood, made a few tremors of his own, and vowed to find a better way.

He searched for a suitable bodyguard. Everyone around him stirred in their opiate slumbers. Most had problems only death could fix. The world just kept folding over them. One man, however, slept on clasped hands too big for the rest of him. His old coat looked nearly beaten off of him, and his shirt needed one more stain to make it true art. Yet he seemed like the tallest heap of bones on the street.

Arron skulked over to him with the first dose ready. The addict had strong-looking hands for wielding a taser gun — and maybe one day a gizmo gun from the 24 in storage.


Nicholas Stillman writes science fiction with medical themes. His work has appeared in Sci Phi JournalThird FlatironPage & SpineBards and Sages QuarterlyThe Martian Wave, and Zooscape.


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