by Dan Sanders
I’m cheating a bit. I spent my writing time this week thinking about and working on another project. I started writing this morning but realized I had an older story that fit the image for this week and that I like a lot. I never thought of a good title for it anyway, and Snail Shells might fit better than anything I’d come up with previously. It’s a bit long, so I’m gong to post early.
Ms. McDermott was in her mid thirties and had been seeing Dr. Waxler for five years now. Dr. Waxler was happy for the business- she was a steady patient, always on time, always paid her bills. She arrived at 3:45 on Tuesday. Climbing off her bicycle just under his second floor office window. She was kind to the receptionist when Mrs. Wilson was still around, still affordable; she brought them both presents at the holidays and was always so polite about ending the world. And now that Mrs. Wilson had been let go, she would sometimes arrive early for her appointment and tidy the office while Dr. Waxler was in with another patient. Dr. Waxler insisted “Please don’t clean the office, you’re here for you.”
“There were napkins all over the floor in the kitchenette.”
“Please leave them be.”
“I brought you magazines, they’re new. About the movies and famous people. I got them from the drug store.”
Ms. McDermott wore shin length skirts, scarves even in warm weather, high boots and pulled her hair back. Most of her clothes were from her Mother’s estate. Covered head to toe in old fabric and old jewelery, the clasps were forever breaking and she would spend hours retracing her steps for this lost thing or that. There were little red scratches on her neck from the places where the metal had pulled and worn into finer points.
At the end of every session: “Is that our time already, Dr. Waxler? Oh my, thank you for your time, and again, truly, I am sorry about causing the end of the world.”
Remarking upon the photos in the waiting room, during Mrs. Wilson’s tenure: “Are those your children, Mrs. Wilson? Oh. Oh my I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. But I suppose it did have to happen some day.”
And on and on. To the man at the corner store. To passers by when locking her bicycle outside of Dr. Waxlers office. Letters of apology to friends and family, to the local news, to government officials, to international heads of state, famous celebrities, prominent scientists and so on. Finely written letters in beautifully attentive handwriting, she dutifully looped each letter onto fine stationary, spending her time alerting everyone to, and apologizing for, the impending end of the world that she was sure was coming and certain she was responsible for.
Dr. Waxler’s first question: “How is it that you’re going to end the world, Ms. McDermott?”
“I’m not sure just yet. I think fire is part of it. Wouldn’t it have to be, though? I really can’t say.”
“How do you know that you’re responsible?”
“I have dreams. I was in the middle of it, in white. It’s all bright white. People were shouting.”
“And this is a premonition? This dream, you’re at the middle of the end of the world. People are shouting. And it’s the future?”
“Yes. I suppose so.”
“Do you know when it will be.”
“I’ll bet it’s a Tuesday.”
“Why a Tuesday?”
“Tuesdays are awful.”
“Do you know which Tuesday?”
“That I don’t know. I wish I did, honest. I’m so sorry about all of this Dr. Waxler, you seem like such a nice man.”
“Oh that’s alright, Ms. McDermott.”
Ms. McDermott deflected more personal questions about her past, her family, her personal life. She would bounce things back towards the end of the world, or something nice she’d rather talk about.
“Let’s talk about your family for a moment.”
“Oh my family is just fine, thank you for asking.”
“I’d like to learn more about them, how many brothers and sisters, are your parents still married, that sort of thing.”
“Oh that reminds me, I passed a nice wedding on my way here. I wanted to talk about that, they were all outside throwing rice. Do you know why they do that? I’ve never quite figured that out. I’ve heard it’s bad for the birds though. That the birds eat it and it’s poison to them. That’s a shame don’t you think, for the birds?”
Dr. Waxler was not regarded kindly in town. He was a small man, he walked with a limp from an old car accident. His face was wrinkled where walking made him wince. Drunk driver. It never healed properly, he was too proud for a cane. He would die falling down, he thought. Someday he would just fall down and there’d be no one around to find him and he’d die there. Maybe kicked apart by the kids. Rail thin and white haired around the peak of his bald head, his nose was unfortunately proportioned and the children in his building were afraid of him. Called him Dr. Buzzard.
He was not a kind man. He did not enjoy his profession, it was tedious and dull and it deprived him of time outdoors. Occasionally he would insist on meeting a patient at a coffee shop or a park bench on particularly nice days. Mrs. Wilson’s salary was eventually consumed by his constant vacationing. She was expendable, it was not difficult to fill an appointment book and most days he sat in his office and waited for someone to arrive. It didn’t matter who. This was a small town, the problems were simple. Overeating. Family counselling. Alcoholism. Mostly he was fed by the small, inferior court system. Petty criminals and morons. It was an easy business. He had a boy come in on Mondays to fill his office with snacks and enough fresh coffee to last the week, and then he would sit and wait to hear the door while he poured over crosswords or detective novels and toe tapped to easy jazz.
Dr. Waxler at least enjoyed his time with Amanda. She was interesting and youthful. Her neurosis was interesting, he’d not heard of this condition before. He recorded all their sessions and planned to write a series of articles regarding the condition. It was a fine layering of Megalomania, depression, repression, self-hatred and delusion. Delightfully interesting and all in such a lovely young woman, just a peach of a lady he thought. A shame, really.
Eventually, in Ms. McDermott’s letter writing campaign, she wrote to Judge Harold Feinman. Harold was the Judge Presiding over Bridgewater County.
The letters were brief; uncomplicated but elegant. They were written on very fine stationary with a very fine pen filled with very fine ink. The paper had a watermark, the pen had heft and the ink a pleasant aroma. The World Wide Paper Company’s watermark was a globe, the pen was marble, the ink was red. Her writing desk was meticulously organized from left to right, envelopes, paper and stamps. Above the paper, an address book open to that day’s recipients. Each of them, with luck, would receive a personalized letter of apology.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Leonard,
I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to send my most sincere apologies for my part in the coming unpleasantness that I’m sure you’ve heard about by now. Everyone in town seems to know, which is nice. I thought it was best to let everyone know. Doesn’t hardly seem like the kind of thing you should keep to yourself. I’m sorry I can’t say I know when it will happen, or why, or how. I don’t want you to think I’m the type to keep secrets. I’ve recently done some reading on the subject and boiling seems to be a likely occurrence but I really couldn’t say for certain.
I just wanted to let you know, before it’s all over, that I quite enjoyed your bakery. Mrs. Leonard, your cinnamon buns have been a weekly indulgence for me, they are truly delightful. I’ve enjoyed my time in your store and all of your wonderful goodies. Please convey my apologies to your two young sons, unless you feel it’s best that they do not know.
Judge Feynman received a similar letter. It was a bit more vague. She’d never met the man, but asked that he use his political ties to spread the word about the end of the world. To apologize to as many people as he could. “Tell them I don’t want it to happen either” she said “I don’t know what I did.” Judge Feynman had, of course, heard of this woman. She was a local oddity, but harmless. She even seemed pleasant from all accounts, but crazy as a loon. Mrs. Feynman , however, did not know this woman until she’d received Mrs. McDermott’s letter in the mail and it rattled her constitution. Mrs. Feynman was a religious woman, she enjoyed the supernatural, believed in signs, drank tea for it’s portents and held hands with the spinsters to summon the spirits. Judge Feynman indulged her in her hobbies, but asked her to keep it out of the local paper, the society section and the like. He’d built a seance room in the northernmost section of the house so she had someplace to enjoy her peculiarities, far away from his study where he’d smoke cigars with local luminaries. The luminaries were sparse, it was a small town, but luminaries loomed larger in small towns. It was easier to be known by everyone, easier to promote your importance.
Mrs. Feynman’s startle at the news that the world was ending was an irritant for the Judge. She’d locked herself away in the back room and it turned Miss McDermott from a person of mild irritation to a person of serious interest. He responded to her letter in this way:
Dear Miss McDermott,
I have read, and been disturbed by, your letter. I thank you for calling this to my attention, I would like to request that you visit me in my office on Wednesday 8 AM. I would like very much for you to bring any ideas you have to the meeting so we can set to fixing whatever problems you see.
In Kindest Regard,
Two days later, she rode her bike to Judge Feynman’s office.
“Miss McDermott, have a seat”. And so they talked.
“You’re scaring people, Miss McDermott.”
“I’m sorry about that. I’m sorry about everything.”
“My wife, she’s locked herself in her room, Miss McDermott.”
“Well that certainly won’t do any good.”
“No?” Judge Feinman pinched the bridge of his nose and shut his eyes.
“No, of course not. It’s going to be enormous.”
“Are you ok, Miss McDermott?”
“Just worried, is all.”
“You should speak to a friend of mine, Dr. Waxler. Whenever I’m worried I go an speak with him.”
“Mr Waxler, on Park Street?”
“Yes, that’s him. I’ll call him today and you can go see him tomorrow morning, how does that sound?”
“That sounds nice. I’ll save myself a stamp.”
They talked for an hour. Judge Feynman decided that she was a nuisance, but harmless. A soft spoken kook. Later, on the golf course, he would tell his cronies that she was a psychopath, a real loony, that he took pity on her and sent her over to that pansy quack Waxler. She was lucky she was pretty, he said, why if she were a man, Judge Feynman would have driven her there himself. She was a little bedraggled, clearly a bit disturbed, but she seemed to genuinely feel sorry about it. Pretty, even. Maybe that quack could set her right. Be a shame to lock her up. His friends agreed, and then said lewd things. And then they laughed and told lewd stories and golfed. Life was back to Plane Jane Normal.
Miss McDermott did not get the impression that this was a mandatory meeting, but was charmed to meet Dr. Waxler just the same.
Judge Feynman had called Dr. Waxler and explained the situation to him over the phone in less careful and polite tones as he did Miss McDermott.
Waxler? Feynman. Look, I’m sending a crazy your way. I don’t know, Miss McDermot. Says she’s going to end the world. No no, she seems fine, she’s nice. Just crazy. I’m going to send her your way, you need to make her stop writing the letters. Nevermind, ask HER about the letters. I can’t talk I have to try to get my wife out of the back room. No, no seance this afternoon. What? I don’t think — No — no you can’t see her, you stay out of my business Quackzler and do what I say. Get Miss McDermott to stop with her craziness or I’m sending her upstate. Click.
Upstate was where they kept the loony bin. A big, white, welcoming building surrounded with green grass and treetops. It hardly looked like a prison at all.
Waxler wasn’t sure of the threat. He didn’t know this woman, he didn’t particularly care if she went upstate or not. It was very possible she needed to go upstate, but Feynman had gotten to his position by making threats and it had warped his personality to the extent that he was now threatening people for everything. No matter. Waxler looked forward to the work. Being a therapist in a small, religious town was difficult work. There were stigmas attached to seeing a therapist. People in these parts still thought it was just for crazies. In the first few months, the people seemed to think it was very cosmopolitan, a taste of the big city, a psychiatrist in our own town. But then Mrs. Jenkins saw Mrs. Peach in the waiting room and Mrs. Jenkins told her hairdresser and it spread as these things do. Quickly Mrs. Peach stopped coming by, and then how did Mrs. Jenkins know Mrs. Peach was there? Hm? Interesting. And so Mrs. Jenkins stopped coming by as well. There were more instances and slowly things started crumbling. Waxler hoped this was not a sign of things to come, he didn’t want all the town misfits. The rich ladies paid cash.
Amanda arrived as she would for the next few years, ten minutes early, enough time to lock her bike to the post out front, come inside, exchange pleasantries with the receptionist and come in and get settled on the sedan. The first meeting was always about establishing trust. Or, establishing the intention to establish trust. Sometimes it would be years before trust. Amanda, though, seemed to trust everyone. It’s why she found it so difficult to understand why nobody believed her, but also why she always saw the best in people.
Why don’t you have a seat over here, Miss McDermott.
“Oh, thank you.” She was chatty from the start. “Judge Feynman sent me over here, he said that we should speak. I guess you are friends?”
“Did you go to school together, well no I suppose not, he’s much too old. But did you know him from town or are your wives friends –”
“Just from the town, you know how it goes.”
“Oh sure, everyone seems to know everyone so well here. I think I’ve met just about everyone. Everyone seems to know everyone, and what they’re doing and when somebody new comes to town. It’s nice to live in such a nice place, have people looking out for you.”
“Yes, I suppose so. I like it here” He didn’t, but he was trying to be comforting and easy going. This was years ago. He had more effort then.
She would remain his only regular patient. Feynman would send him more riffraff here and there, She was with him through lean years, when the crime rate dropped and Feynman decided to send the riff raff to the city instead of to his door. “Kill two birds with one stone. Get them fixed but get them out of the neighborhood.”
He thought about writing a book about her. Or trying to get into the journals, at least. Let them buy the idea from him, he could sell his notes, their taped sessions, anything really, and they could write a book and they could make a fortune. The Girl at the End of The World. He always liked that as a title. Sounded like a movie.
There was no discernible progress. But that felt normal to him. he’d never cured anybody and didn’t know anyone who had. Pills help. He gave people lots of pills. That shaved the edges from things, made people more or less this or that, but the second they stopped taking the things, or heaven forbid, became immune to them, they went back to crazy as quick as they’d got to crazy and it all spun out from there.
They didn’t have end of the world pills, so he didn’t quite know how to handle Ms. McDermott. He just kept walking through her life looking for the weak spots in the floorboards. Her mother died young. Her father drank. Basic stuff. She lived with an older woman who fussed and would smack her and was loosely related to the family. She called her Aunt Lucy, but there was no blood between them. Lucy was a friend of her mothers, but probably as much of an Aunt to Amanda as she was a friend to her mother. There was once a “I think they worked in a typing pool…” As near as Dr. Waxler could tell Lucy was churchgoing and hateful.
Amanda continued on with her letters, but after a few sessions, agreed to let Dr. Waxler hold on to them until their sessions were finished. They were almost always on her mind, wondering if they’d be sent out soon. ‘People deserve to know, Dr. Waxler.’ Waxler kept them in a few shoeboxes in his closet.
He’d moved into the office recently. He suddenly realized that paying rent for two spaces was not sensible. There was a full bath at the office and he ate all his meals at the diner. He was not in the habit of entertaining guests. There was also the significant point that his practice was failing, but he chose to focus on the economic benefits of living in one space than the more unfortunate and realistic aspects of his financial situation.
Judge Feinman was up for re – election in the Fall.
Amanda’s spare time was spent touring the neighborhood, and when she could, she would slip a note to someone as she walked by, secretly, like a gangster film, in the palm of her hand. It normally read “End of world soon. Sorry! :(” but had been trying to follow her doctor’s advice whenever she could, and tried to keep her terrible secret safe in her head, where it lived all day, where it spent it’s summers, where it snored loudly at night and ruined her attention for all other enjoyments.
She knew her doctor didn’t understand it. She knew that everyone thought she was crazy. It irked her that it was impossible to express how constant the need was to tell people about the fire she could see behind all the windows in town. She could be awful about it, she could tell them about the streets being clogged with bones, about the brigades of insects, about what happens to the children. But she didn’t. She thought it best to not frighten anyone too horribly. What good what it do, anyway? She thought people had a right to know, and more than that, that she should apologize to them, and she hoped that spreading the word would heal her too. If everyone knew, then she didn’t have to carry the burden alone and she could focus on enjoying the remainder of her days. She could maybe meet someone. She could be normal. Do the things that the normal people do.
She had a job for a while. Her doctor got her a job at the diner he spent most of his meals at. She was let go.
“Mr. Eggs Benedict. Waffle with Mr. Hashbrowns and Mr. “Coffee’s all for me”. If you gentlemen need anything else be sure to let me know, my name is Amanda and I will bring about the end of the world but I’m not sure how! More coffee, dear?”
Waxler spent a lot more time thinking about all those Dr. Buzzard comments than he’d ever admit. He’d recently been thinking about the avian theme running through his life. Quaxler. Buzzard. He was aware of his nose. He could always feel the part of his vision that it obscured. It would distract him sometimes when he was in conversation – when he was supposed to be thinking, he would dream that his nose were a beak and his hands and feet were feathers and claws. He’d see himself high above the tow, with a snail in his beak and see himself release it, let it go tumbling down and when it hit the ground and cracked he came back to reality and realized he was grinding his teeth. He did not often have long conversations, he would slowly become aware of himself and wonder if the other person was thinking about birds too.
He closed the door on the small refrigerator in the kitchenette before going to sleep on the couch in his office. He’d been reading the newspaper there earlier, and when he returned with his cup of noodles he realized he’d left it so spread out and scattered on the floor that it obscured the carpet and suddenly it brought tears to his eyes.
There were fliers to print. Feynman for a New Tomorrow! That always seemed to be the most tedious thing. Something always went wrong at the printers. He’s tried six different printers over the last ten years. Something always went wrong and he never learned from his mistake. He kept forgetting that the fliers would be ruined at the last moment. It was a scam. Most things were scams.
Feynman’s wife had predicted that he would win, but that he wouldn’t win. She knitted him a handkerchief with ‘Pyrrhic Victory in 2010’. She came by this fool proof information via a cup of store bought black tea. She’d ripped the bag open to dump the leaves into a cup he’d bought her in Aruba. He was proud of his quip. “I read the tea bag over there in the garbage. It says that you’re garbage.” Boom.
Waxler had been reducing his expenditures for some time. He’d not been on vacation in months. He recently realized he could no longer afford to eat at the diner for breakfast lunch and dinner. This was probably for the best as they never really forgave him for Amanda’s stint as a waitress. She’d threatened enough customers, then, after warnings, she started renaming the specials The KaBoom Omelet. The Plague O’ Fries. The Waxler. That last one was nice of her but he did not carry a favorable reputation.
His datebook was left with two appointments – Amanda and a local named Jerry who was depressed and uninteresting. Waxler took notes, but would take to drawing ducks in the margins while he rattled on about how awful his childhood was. Waxler did not enjoy the part of being a therapist that was being an empty vessel for liars to pour their awfulness into. Jerry’s childhood, in Waxlers estimation, was normal and hardly upsetting at all. He had a dull upbringing with slightly inattentive parents. It is difficult to admonish someone for being unreasonable when you are in the business of making them more reasonable. He would walk Jerry through logic problems to show him that his parents could not be around because they were working to provide him with the education he was so quick to point out. He went to Sierra. He’d referred to himself several times as ‘A Sierra Man’ and still wore his class ring on his fat finger. He was a childish snot and Waxler’s financial situation prevented him from telling Jerry that he was a childish snot, or suggesting that his problems were anything less than titanic in nature, so Waxler lied and said that Jerry’s parents were monsters and that he was lucky to have come through it alive. Because why not? There wasn’t going to be any convincing him otherwise. Waxler’s scruples were in Tahiti, they only vacationed at his office.
After Jerry’s last session, Waxler was falling asleep watching wrestling on television when he realized he hadn’t paid his gas bill. Shortly after, he realized he was unable to pay his gas bill and that it was November. In the morning he would call his friend about publishing his papers on Amanda and thought about how much better his life would be if he was a wrestler, there was more honesty in it. He could be called The Vulture and be a villain on purpose.
Amanda hadn’t been sleeping well. Nightmares. Nightmares were a regular part of her life. But lately they’d shifted away from the Apocalypse and more towards Dr. Waxler. Her nightmares were normally frenetic and horrifying. For the last five days Dr. Waxler had appeared in her room, lit only by the moonlight, sitting at her desk and watching her sleep. She tried to speak to him but she was unable to move, she was frozen solid, leashed to her desk, he sat unmoving and smoke began to curl up from the desk behind him. He would greet her with his customary “Hello Amanda, wont you please have a seat” when orange flickers began to appear over his shoulders she would wake up in a start and search the room for him, gently touch her writing desk to be sure it was still there.
Upon his third appearance, she’d forced herself to stay awake to write her letters. She wrote fifty from Tuesday to Friday. They were hurried and less elegant than she’d like, but she’d wasted too much time:
Dear Bradley Thompson,
I apologize for not reaching you sooner, I have been indisposed. The end of the world is fast approaching, I don’t have any specifics, but it’s coming and it’s my fault. Again, I’m sorry for not reaching you sooner, there seems also to be a conspiracy. Do not speak with Messrs. Waxler or Feynman. They are working against us. Tell anyone who will listen.
Bradley Thompson’s wife is running for Mayor opposite Judge Feynman. It is a small town.
Amanda was late for her appointment. It was unusual. Amanda was still having nightmares about Dr. Waxler. She summoned her courage while she stuffed envelopes with blank sheets of paper. When she arrived, she handed him the decoy envelopes and did a poor job of hiding her discomfort.
“Is everything alright?”
“Everything is great!” This is not a customary response for someone who is anxiously awaiting the end of the world.
The session went poorly Amanda was visibly nervous, fiddling with her hands and sweating. Waxler hadn’t noticed, he was mostly thinking about this next moment. Waxler told her that he’d submitted his papers for peer reviews, that they were going move forward with a full report, maybe a book if they were lucky, but they needed her approval. She nervously nodded and Waxler moved on before she could think twice.
He told her that it was time to move forward with her treatment. They had not made significant progress since she arrived. This was due in part to her complex problem, but also due to Waxlers lack of interest in solving anyone’s problems. She was one of his two remaining patients, the income from her treatment was the only thing keeping him from the gutter. He was an old man and didn’t have any interest in starting over. He did not intentionally damage her psyche, but he was comfortable with discussing the type of pen she used to write her letters for weeks on end. When she’d asked him why he was so curious in the pen he’d said something about her father, and asked her to describe the stamps she used. He’d been walking her in circles for years. Now, if he was going to sell off her story, he’d decided that it was time to move on with her treatment. She might be cured, he doubted it, but at least he would have an ending for his book.
“I’ve decided we’ve been going in circles for too long, Amanda. I think it’s time to try a different approach. With your permission, I’d like to attempt some hypnotherapy in a few weeks. I think it would help us break down some of your walls.”
Amanda, still petrified, agreed heartily and asked if it was ok if she left now. Waxler said it was, and noticed her shaking finally, and assumed she was frightened of delving deeper into her problems, of his sudden conviction and of hypnotherapy. After she’d left, Waxler felt proud and wished he’d done all this sooner. He treated himself to the last of his remaining bourbon and ordered the hypnosis equipment from a dusty catalog from The HypnoCenter. It had a picture of a serene, wheat field on the cover He made sure it came with instructions before ordering.
Amanda stood chest deep in wheat. The bulbs gently tapped against her sides. It stretched out and on and on. Gently sloping hills full of wheat and breeze. She began to call out for help but it began to rain fire and she burned until she woke up screaming.
Waxler rarely missed his secretary, but he did now, when he could use the help filling out the order forms. They’d rejected his original order, and he had to start over. He was surprised at the cost. It was rejected again and decided that clearing the last of his savings would be worth it in the end. He would probably be asked to go on the Radio Show Circuit. “Radio Show Circuit” was a phrase he’d read in a magazine that Amanda left in the waiting room.
Feynman had mostly forgotten about the other two people in this story. He’d become fixated on ruling over a small town. He was going to buy a new hat. He was going to buy a new hat that let people know that he was in charge. If he were closer to the southwest, it’d be a ten gallon affair, but he’d settled on a bowler – something like a gangster in the prohibition. It carried the right sort of edge he’d need against this new lady challenger. She’d probably not wear a hat at all. Rookie mistake. The question now was whether or not to buy leather gloves to menacingly wring when in the out of doors.
These sorts of specifics were keeping him from hearing around town that Ms. McDermott had not only begun writing letters again, but had been writing them with alarming frequency. Since Dr. Waxlers appearance in her nightmares, she’d hardly been sleeping, and when she wasn’t at his appointments, she was writing ever shorter letters to the people in town. She’s reached the end of her list, and started back at the beginning, sending quick updates to those she’d written long in the past:
Dear Ms. Lowell,
Do you remember that letter I sent? If not, read it again. If yes, remember it well. If you don’t remember the letter I’m speaking of entirely: I am ending the world. Sorry.
Judge Feynman’s political enemies had begun collecting the letters from their neighbors. During a town hall meeting months ago – Feynman had addressed a question about Ms. McDermott’s letters – transcribed here:
That kook? She’s harmless. I assure you she is in the capable hands of our Town’s Mental Health Professionals. She is being looked after and cared for. No. She is not dangerous. She’s a tiny little thing. Also, lets remember, I’m the one that put a stop to those letters in the first place. If it wasn’t for me, you’d still be getting the damned things. So lets try to keep things in perspective. So in answer to your question – You’re welcome.
It was about now when the Judge began seriously thinking about getting that hat. He felt he wasn’t carrying the authority he felt he deserved. He also decided that he would not attend any more town meetings and would try not to speak to anyone. He hired some goons to usher him into and out of his car and made aggressive comments to his advisers about the flyers. “I don’t want to talk to anyone. That’s what the flyers are for.” Would have been his campaign slogan if campaign slogans were based on the thing the candidate said the most.
Ms. McDermott was biking to her appointment with Dr. Waxler. The lack of sleep had become persistent. Her face was grey and weak. Her eyes were rimmed red from lack of sleep and stress. She was afraid all the time and reacted to every sound or unexpected motion around her. She realized she’d forgotten her weekly bunch of decoy letters for Dr. Waxler. She made a weak sigh and began to turn around when everything came out from under her. She didn’t any balance left. She fell and shattered the bones in her right arm. She didn’t know their names and didn’t feel it mattered when the doctor told her their names. She hadn’t slept and she was missing whole parts of her day and could not remember the last time she’d just felt normal for even a moment and she used to be brave she used to be so together and everything just fell out from under her and she broke all the bones in her arm and she didn’t even remember it happening anymore. She just lost all her balance and she didn’t know how to leave the room. They had to get her to leave the hospital but she didn’t know how and she fought it. She fought against them and tried to make them understand what had happened but she couldn’t remember any of it anymore it all fell out from under her and she was young and then she lost everything she lost every thing and they knew the names of her bones but didn’t know anything about her nobody knew anything about her and she couldn’t even remember who she was and she vanished.
They’d called Waxler to let him know where his prized client was. They had to restrain her. She was sedated and restrained. She’d broken her arm. She refused to leave. She’d had a fit. She’d hurt two nurses and a boy who’d come in for stitches. She said she was going to set the building on fire. She was not eligible for visitors, she would not be released to his care, she would be sent to the institution. She would not be hypnotized. She would not be cured. She could not be chronicled as his victory. She would not turn his heat back on. She would be removed to more respectable care. She was another failure in a series of failures.
Feynman nudged his hat forward and did not enjoy this line of questioning. Hadn’t they seen the flyer? He was vaguely aware that he was losing the debate – he was not doing well and would fire his advisers. He did not want to do this anymore. He wanted to have his hand shook and his back clapped. He did not have any interest in being scolded. He did not know she was going to hurt a boy. He was not responsible for the crazy. He menacingly wringed his fingers in the leather gloves he refused to remove despite the debate being indoors. He just confused everybody. He was going to lose. He looked out from under the brim, scowled and wrung his hands.
The HypnoCenter had received an order for 1000 hypnosis packages from the call center they’d hired to handle the orders. This was a clerical error of major significance, but nobody knew that yet and so The HypnoCenter had to scramble to fulfill the order amid all the celebration of finally producing a profit for the wild eyed dreamer/Owner/President of The HypnoCenter who was already getting good at working “I Told You So”s into casual conversation without sounding like a jerk about it. For example, his first call was to his former business partner, Bob:
“Bob? Donny. Do you know where I could buy one thousand boxes?”
Waxler assumed, maybe correctly, that he was going to freeze to death. He tried to cancel his order for the The HypnoCenter kit. But the receptionist, Donny, who sounded remarkably like the shipping manager, assured him that the packages were sent today and that no refund would be given, in accordance with The HypnoCenter’s store policy.
Waxler questioned the use of the plural ‘packages’ and not ‘package’. Donny assured him that the one thousand packages had all been shipped out in a tidy speed. Waxler insisted he’d only purchased one and demanded a refund and Donny got more angry than a good receptionist would. Theycalled each other names until Waxler hung up to call the Judge for legal advice. The Judge was out at a brunch with his advisers. He was holding his fork with his leather gloves, and was just kind of moving his eggs around the plate. He had one last debate today. He was going to lose.
Amanda was going to spend her day being loaded into a truck and then delivered to a hospital like a package. She was comfortable and sad. She listened to some orderlies talk about the weather. The cold. One had a vacation planned. The other had kids. Kids got in the way of vacations, he said. She would never go anywhere. They would never let her go.
The delivery truck, full of 1000 HypnoCenter hypnosis kits was speeding around a curve, tipped over, and ruptured on the guard rail just outside of town. Spinning hypnosis disks were thrown all over the highway. The driver was concussed and was unable to move. The police would be called in. Traffic would be backed up for miles. The local news would need to cover it and scrambled their helicopter.
Feynman had a good-faith meet and greet at the hospital. He would take pictures with the boy Ms. McDermott hurt. He would put those on flyers. He would spread them around. He bought the boy a baseball cap from the big city team nearby. They were close enough to care about the little town, to send helicopters to cover their traffic backups. He should have moved there, he told the boy. He said that this town was no place for dreamers. That the boy should run from this place as soon as he was 18 and never look back. Feynman’s advisers ushered him from the room before he was able to scare the boy anymore.
The helicopter pilot dutifully filmed the wreckage for the local news. The police had arrived, but did not seem to be in a hurry to remove the man from the wreckage. They’d stopped their cars but remained inside. Hundreds of pinwheel red spinning discs scattered across the highway, beautifully swirling on the ground. It was cold, he supposed. There would be snow. It would twist in the wind. Swirl. It would keep swirling. The ground would be covered in swirling snow. It was cold, he supposed. Maybe the cops were too cold to move. It was beautiful, though. It was beautiful. It was beautiful. It was beautiful. It was beautiful. It was swirling and he was so dizzy and swirling and tired and maybe the cops were down there sleeping down there sleeping down and in and around and down and around and down.
Reports reached Feynman that a helicopter had crashed in the center of town. It’d hit the gas station and the tanker refilling the reserves and the fire went up and out in a plume in all directions. The pilot was gone. Maybe the gas station attendant, Bob, too. The explosion was severe. The fire downtown was substantial. It was working its way towards the school.
Feynman tightened his gloves, tipped his hat forward and hurried toward it.
The orderly with the kids had kids that went to the school. The school was going to catch fire. He’d ran out without thinking. Amanda had not been attended to carefully. She decided that it would be best for her to experience the end of the world on her own terms, and not in a hospital or a prison. She walked out the back door when the end of the world started flooding the hospital with victims.
The fire approached Waxlers office from 3rd street. He grabbed his television and then thought better of it. He left through the front door and decided to see if the diner was still open, and wondered if he’d get any insurance money when the building went down. Maybe he could fly off to the islands.
Feynman in bowler hat, leather gloves and rolled up sleeves, marched through town with a cigar in his mouth that he’d picked up along the way and hated the taste of. He directed resources and stood in front of the fire when it approached and yelled for the volunteers to be brave. That there was no surrender under Boss Feynman. They cheered when he arrived and applauded when he spoke. It was nice and he tried not to enjoy it too much.
The fire had taken half the town pretty quickly, it was moving with the wind and it was moving quickly. Amanda watched from her apartment while she gathered her things. She thought she heard another helicopter come down but was unsure. She assumed the trains were still running. She assumed the fire would not end. She would head east on the train. She would try to out run it for as long as she could. She was not sure why she never thought to move to the east coast wait for it there. The winters in this place were bad enough, and now everything was on fire. It was not a nice place to live. Her mother’s apartment was beautiful, comfortable and familiar and it was about to collapse behind her. They would forget about her in the commotion. She decided to let herself be forgotten, she would remain vanished but would have to remember to write Dr. Waxler a thank you letter for all that he did.