Subproject Sixty-Eight & other poems
By Stephen Langlois.
I admit to finding the A/C unit rather ominous
lately. Is it perhaps the relentless hum? The way
in which it seems to create air out of thin air?
Ha ha. Such a notion is humorous, is it not? I can
no longer differentiate between absurd and mundane.
The concoction of an entire atmosphere
from nothing–like the devising of another world
within our world–is terrifying in magnitude,
correct? Have I mentioned the machine-elf?
Tiny gears whir. Metallic limbs clack in approach.
“So good to see you,” the machine-elf says like I’m
the inexplicable creature–not he–emerging announced
from the center of a spinning mandala. “Pay attention,”
the machine-elf tells me while crafting improbable
mechanized miniatures, holding each one out
for my inspection. Ha ha. Fear, Dr. Ketchum explains,
is merely an effect of the quinuclidinyl benzilate. BZ
for short. U.S. Army code EA-2277. What it does,
Dr. Ketchum says, is inhibit the concentration of
acetylcholine at post-synaptic receptors thereby
impeding the transfer of certain messages to the brain
and disrupting perceptual patterns. A couple more rounds
of experiments, says Ketchum and it’ll be ready to be
implanted by the Chemical Corps into M43 Cluster Bombs
and dropped on the Vietcong. Ha ha. I volunteered to stay
here at Edgewood so I wouldn’t have to get involved
in all that. Now look at me: I’m like the face of BZ.
I’m like the mascot, no? Truth is, I don’t mind the tests
so much. Did I mention the time I thought I might
die of thirst? There in my hand appeared a can of
Dr. Pepper. From this protruded a straw. From this
straw I found myself sipping soda. No longer was I thirsty:
A conjuring simpler than that of the machine-elf’s, but
a conjuring nonetheless. The only real downside is
when the BZ wears off. There’s the tremors, of course.
Insomnia, too. Terror also. Tried to escape one night
and nearly made it off the ward. How about despair?
Just more chemicals, Ketchum explains. Assuming
he’s right, I have at least an excuse for how it is I feel.
Can anyone outside these walls say that?
Say the year’s 1959. Say you’re suffering
from anxiety. You find yourself
at the Allan Memorial Institute. You’re
in need of treatment. See what I’m doing
here? I’m establishing a premise. You meet
Dr. Donald E. Cameron, recruited by
the CIA to experiment on patients
via paralytics, electroconvulsive therapy,
LSD. You find your memory beginning
to slip. Maybe dissipate is a better
word for it. You begin to forget
the names of ordinary objects. You can’t
remember who your parents are.
You wonder perhaps is Dr. Cameron
your father? His assistant your mother? You’re
put in a drug-induced coma for two months.
No, make it three. You awake to find
you no longer possess an identity. You will do
what it is which is asked of you. You will think
what it is which it seems ought to be thought.
See where I’m going with this? Say you find
yourself all the more willing to please. Say
you’ll reassure me whenever it is I need
to be reassured. Say for instance you feel
empty without my approval. This is all
just for instance. Say for instance this premise
doesn’t appeal to you. You be Dr. Cameron.
You dispense the psychotropics. Induce a coma,
why don’t you? I’ll awake, ready to do what it is
I’m told to do. I’ll be who it is I ought to be.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Langlois is a writer of the fantastic and absurd. His work has appeared in Glimmer Train, The Portland Review, Maudlin House, Monkeybicycle, Matchbook, Split Lip Magazine, and Necessary Fiction, among others. He is a recipient of The Center for Fiction’s NYC Emerging Writers Fellowship as well as a writing residency from the Blue Mountain Center. He also hosts BREW: An Evening of Literary Works, a reading series held in Brooklyn, and serves as fiction editor for FLAPPERHOUSE
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, January 27th, 2017.