Written by Tim Hildebrandt
Fred was a simple man. For him, the world was a scary place. His wife, Wanda, worried all the time and cried herself to sleep every night. They lived in a rental in a small town and Fred worked maintenance for the park department. During long winters, he had to work through the night, driving the snowplow and keeping the streets free of snow and ice. As bad as it seemed, their life was tolerable until the pandemic came to town. The pandemic was brutal. People fell like leaves in the fall. News of countless deaths followed the days of the months.
Attempting to slow the spread of the disease, the mayor mandated face masks. But it didn’t help because over time the virus reached everyone. Many citizens fell ill from fear alone, and Fred grew frightened as the toll mounted. He worried that the pain in his stomach meant he had the virus. Hospitals were so crowded with the sick and dying that they closed their doors to the public. Moving to another town wasn’t an option, they didn’t have any savings and it was tough to pay the rent. Besides, they learned from the news that the disease had spread worldwide, and no country on earth was safe. Depression became so oppressive he built a bunker in his basement. Reinforcing the door and collecting everything from toilet paper to guns. Every night after work, TV news droned in the background, adding to his trepidation. At first, alcohol dulled the fear, but whiskey was outside of his budget.
One night, he watched a show discussing treatments for schizophrenia. Peace and calm came to those who went through the operation. At the library, he studied the procedure in fine detail. All he needed was a long, sterilized needle. His first experiment would be on the dog, an excitable little thing, constantly underfoot and yapping at every noise. Fred parted the fuzzy hair on its little head and completed the process without a whimper. Immediately, the dog became docile and lay on the floor all day. It was hard to tell if it was dead or alive. Flush with success, Fred proposed the idea to his wife. Wanda was a worrier, so a splash of whiskey helped. Then, after positioning the sterilized tip under her eyebrow, Fred closed his own eyes and eased it upward a good eight inches. The result was positive: like the little dog; she stopped worrying and sat in the chair all day and watched soap operas.
Fred stood looking at himself in the mirror, planning his own procedure. Wincing as the point touched the flesh above his eye, he figured another shot of Wanda’s whiskey will keep him sober enough to control the angle. Fred gritted his teeth and inserted the thin rod of stainless steel. Sharp pain vanished, replaced by mild euphoria, his thoughts blurred, but he felt the operation had been a success. His feet were unsteady as walked into the bathroom to look in the mirror. Blood ran down from the metal rod sticking in his head. But a smile greeted him that he hadn’t seen in years.
Tim Hildebrandt is a writer in metro Indianapolis, Indiana. His short stories have appeared in print and online publications such as Misery Tourism, The Boston Literary Magazine, Bending Genres, and Literally Stories. He also paints in oils and shows in select exhibits. Current projects include assembling an anthology of short stories. You can check out his work at: https://www.instagram.com/ax_beckett.