Subject 351

Odin observes Subject 243, a thirty-two year old male. After ten weeks 243 isn’t making much progress. He’s a lost cause.

“What is his status?” Odin asks the lab assistant, Lucy. Lucy is driven and ambitious and has lasted three years, when most lab assistants don’t make it six months.

“Subject 243 still gets hysterical when we administer the shot of Euphoria.”

“And his sessions?”

“The psychologist reports that his melancholy, cynicism, and sarcasm persists.”

Odin is not surprised. If it weren’t for The Board, he would order to put down 243, but the Board is fond of cutting program funding when Odin doesn’t obey, and they want 243 tested for two more weeks. Odin sighs. “Two more weeks, no change to treatment. After that we pull the plug.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Who’s next?”

“Subject 292.”

Odin’s favorite. Subject 292 is a forty-five year old female, and after three months in the lab, she has shown amazing results. As Odin and Lucy walk over to her cell, she approaches the six inch plexi-glass barrier. Odin flips on the intercom to speak to her. “How are you today, 292?”

“I’m well, Doctor,” 292 says. She’s as glassy-eyed as ever, but as she speaks, she seems lucid. “I don’t have the unpleasant thoughts anymore. I don’t feel upset or angry like I used to. And I haven’t wept since my first week here.”

“Do you still have thoughts of how your father used to come into your bed at night?”

292’s expression falls and her shoulders slouch as she gives a faint nod.

“But the Euphoria, it’s helping?” Odin asks.

“Oh yes, Doctor.”

Odin smiles. “Well then don’t despair, 292. Lucy will increase your dose by 5 milligrams.”

Odin learned long ago that demonstrating kindness to the responsive test subjects increased the likelihood that their disturbing thoughts would be cured. The attrition rate dropped by thirty-seven percent. The Board voted to increase the program’s funding and Odin’s pay.

292 smiles at the news. “That would be nice, Doctor.”

Lucy reports on nine more test subjects. One passes the program, the psychologist having confirmed that the subject’s dark thoughts were subdued. The drug had a remarkable affect on her. She would be released the following day. Another test subject had not ceased weeping over his child, who had been struck dead in a traffic accident. No dosage of the drug could cure him of his grief. Odin was glad to see him go. He was weary of the subject’s wailing and yelling. He could hear it all the way down the hall from his office. At least now he could finish his reports in peace.

The other seven test subjects had exhibited no changes at all. Odin didn’t know whether to be irritated at the lack of progress or relieved at the lack of decline.

Finally, they came to Subject 351. The bane of Odin’s existence.

Subject 351 was a twenty-seven year old female, brought into the lab with manic depression. The test subject had a history of cutting herself. It almost killed her. Her case was supposed to be easy. Odin predicted an early release. Instead, 351 defied all expectations and broken all the rules. She quoted Dr. Seuss books during her sessions with the psychologist. The Cat in the Hat. Green Eggs and Ham. One Fish, Two Fish. After sixty weeks in the program, the psychologist had learned nothing about why 351 liked to cut herself. 351 refusing to reveal any details. The drugs, while easing her depression, also gave her more clarity and purpose, which 351 utilized to defy Odin’s orders. She demonstrated improvement but not in the way that Odin had wanted. She had a cleanlier impurity than the other subjects, a comfort and acceptance of her dark thoughts that is unparalleled in Odin’s research. He pleaded with The Board to let him put her down, but they were intrigued by her, wanted further tests to be performed.

And every day 351 grows stronger, not into the person they wanted her to be, but into a stronger, more determined version of herself.

“What’s her status?” Odin asks anxiously.

“Subject 351 is cutting herself, again.”

“How?”

“Her fingernails. She won’t let us trim them. Or wash her hair. Or give her a bath. And don’t go anywhere near her breath.”

“But the drug is effective on her.”

Lucy shrugs. “I think she enjoys it.”

351 stands before the glass, waiting for Odin to turn on the intercom. Her greasy blonde hair falls over her face, and her startling blue-green eyes stare back at him. As always, Odin straightens his posture and holds his chin up. It never works. He still feels small in her presence.

Odin switches on the intercom. “Why are you cutting yourself, 351?”

“The Cat in the Hat makes me do it.” 351 smirks.

Odin switches off the intercom before the storm of curse words burst out of his mouth.

351’s fingernails had grown long and sharp. Disgusting. She refused to be groomed. Fine, red cuts grace her wrists. If they don’t trim her nails, she might…

“Sugar pills,” he says.

“Doctor?”

“Administer sugar pills.”

“But her depression will return. She’ll be as hysterical as the day she was admitted, and there’s no telling how she’ll hurt herself.”

Odin is silent.

Lucy stares at him, mouth agape. “We’ve never just let a subject die in here. What will the Board say?”

“Cut our funding. Probably a pink slip for me.”

“Doctor, I know you’re frustrated by this subject, but is it worth the trouble?” Lucy asks him quietly.

Odin watches 351 rub the scratches on her wrist, watches her soothe herself with the feel of them. “Yes.”

Based on the Flash Fiction Challenge 07/17/15 at Terrible Minds Blog. Random phrase was “cleanlier impurity.”

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