Short Friction

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Archive for the ‘OCD’ Category

The victim

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Wayne walked out of the interview room feeling dazed. It was the second time the psychiatrist had seen him and he had tried his hardest to explain to him that he wasn’t crazy, just excessively worried about irrational things. Wayne knew it didn’t make sense to worry that failing to shake cans of deodorant and hairspray could somehow cause random strangers to burst into flames. But the psychiatrist had convinced himself, without Wayne really having much opportunity to say anything, that Wayne was suffering from grandiose delusions. The next thing Wayne knew he was hearing phrases like “schizophrenia”, “involuntary treatment” and “depot antipsychotic”. Wayne wasn’t entirely sure what these things meant, but knew enough to suspect it wasn’t good.

He had tried the olanzapine they were giving him twice a day. He found it made him feel strange and zombie-like, so he explained to the nurses that he didn’t think this was the right treatment for him. That was yesterday. Now the psychiatrist had berated him for his “non-compliance” and switched him to “wafers”.

Wayne rubbed his hands through his hair and sat down on a seat in the common area. A few metres away, the tv was blaring. A few patients were lying in front of it, staring blankly into space. One older-looking man had pulled a chair up close to the television and was staring intently at the screen. He periodically talked back to the presenters of the news program that was showing. “Thank you. Thank you. Should I go today?”

Wayne knew that most of the other patients would be in the courtyard chain-smoking. He wished Sandra was here to talk to. He stared at the worn carpet tiles, wondering when, and how, he was going to get out of this place.

A movement outside caught Wayne’s eye. A tall, pimple-faced young man wearing faded track-pants burst through the doorway from the courtyard, tossing a bag of White Ox tobacco in one hand, his other hand in his pocket. He strode through the ward with a confident swagger. Spotting Wayne sitting alone, he made a beeline for him.

“Brother, brother! Welcome to boot camp! Why you lookin’ so glum brother?” He laughed shrilly. “Oh yeah – you’re here with us. That’s okay we can all be friends. Gotta work together, gotta be a team. Can’t let them break us brother.” He thrust out a hand to Wayne, “My name’s Daniel. Or that’s what people call me.” Daniel leaned conspiratorially toward Wayne and tried to whisper, but was still loud enough to be heard across the room: “I’ll tell you my real name if I know I can trust you.”

“I’m Wayne,” repiled Wayne, shaking Daniel’s hand. “I–”

“Waynnnne! Well, I know I can trust you then, brother.” Daniel leaned in again and hissed, “My name is really William Frowley, but still call me Daniel because of them-” he jerked his head towards the nurse’s station. “If they know who I am they’ll let them know I’m here.”

“Let who know you’re here?”

“The vigilantes. I’m not crazy. Not like some of them here.” Daniel nodded towards the catatonic figures in front of the tv. “I’ve been gang stalked for seven years now. Heard of it?”

Wayne admitted he hadn’t, and without hesitation Daniel told his story. Eight years ago he had been working as a research assistant while completing his science degree at university. One night while he was working late in the lab he had discovered something amiss with the data for their project. He went back through the hard-copy files in the project filing cabinet. At the back of the cabinet was a metal box he had seen the project manager take out from time-to-time. He knew it was kept locked, but on this night he discovered it had been left unlatched. Curious, Daniel looked inside.

What Daniel found had shocked him. It contained a bound booklet about the size of a trash novel, “You know, the chunky-thick kind you buy to read on international flights.” The main body of the book contained information Daniel had seen before about the project he was working on, but the opening pages were a letter from a federal member of parliament detailing the reasons for the project and the expected outcomes.

Daniel attempted at this point to whisper again. “The project was to create a self-replicating protein that if administered as an intramuscular injection would eliminate the sixth-sense.” Daniel paused, ever so briefly, giving Wayne a knowing look. Wayne replied with a look of puzzlement that Daniel ignored, continuing, “So of course I realised this was about silencing the masses, and I knew I had to do something. I thought I had a friend who would know what to do, so I told them about it. That was my mistake.”

Daniel explained that he was then placed on “the Register,” and then the gang stalking began.

At first Daniel didn’t notice anything was happening, but he started to feel that something wasn’t right. Then he began noticing when he came back to his unit at night that things were in different places to when he had left for work. It was just little things – a glass he had left on the kitchen table might have been moved to the other side of the table. Books were in a different order on his bookshelves.

Next Daniel started having car problems. One morning his car wouldn’t start – flat battery. When the RACV mechanic came, he told Daniel it was strange for a battery to be flat in a car that new when nothing had been left on. “That’s when I knew someone was up to something.”

Then Daniel started to notice he was being followed. But it wasn’t just one person. As he left his house to walk to the tram stop, a lady would fall in some distance behind him. When he got to the tram stop she would keep walking as though she had just been on her way somewhere. But there would be a little signal, like passing a baton. She would “happen” to make a phone call just before a man at the tram stop answered their phone. “I picked up the eggs,” the man might say – just that – and hang up. Then he would stand within vision of Daniel on the tram until Daniel got off. He would pretend he was looking elsewhere, but Daniel knew he was being watched.

Daniel found this pattern continued until, as far as he could work out, he was being followed and watched 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sometimes surveillance would be by satellite. Daniel knew this because sometimes, at night, a particular star would seem to track him while others stayed still. Also, when he walked past radios or televisions he sometimes noticed a cryptic message being broadcast describing what he was doing. “One day,” Daniel told Wayne, “I was at Harvey Normal looking to buy a new fridge, trying to get one with a good energy rating. Just as I was opening one I thought I liked to look inside the program on the tvs in the next aisle cut to an ad for Today Tonight – an ad saying that they had proof that buyers were being lied to with fridge energy ratings.” Daniel gave Wayne another knowing look, then continued his story.

Finally, Daniel drew the connection between the growing harassment and his disclosure to his “friend” about the research. He had asked his friend to find out who he should tell. The friend had promised to look into it and, after that, Daniel never saw him again. Realising that the government was trying to silence him, Daniel decided he had to fight back.

“I did some research and found out about faraday cages. So I coated my entire bedroom with aluminium foil. That way the satellites couldn’t broadcast my thoughts to the stalkers when I was in my room. Obviously they didn’t like that, so they organised for me to be admitted to hospital. That was the first time I ended up in here – six and-a-half years ago now.”

As strange as this all sounded to Wayne, and as bug-eyed as Daniel was in his telling of it, the story was somehow compelling. Dazed enough about ending up in this ward himself, Wayne was feeling even more dazed by this bizarre tale. He was fascinated to hear more, hoping to be able to piece together some evidence of whether Daniel was mad or harassed. Of course, the satellite stuff sounded completely mad – but somehow Wayne felt like much of what Daniel was telling him could be true. At this point, however, they were both interrupted by the arrival of the psychiatrist who told Daniel it was time for his review.

Wayne made his way to the nurse’s station to ask if he could make a phone call. He was hoping he would be able to contact Sandra – he still didn’t know if she’d been charged.

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Written by shortfriction

06/05/2010 at 21:41

Admission

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12/11/2004 17:30 22 year old male brought in by police after being charged with vandalising public property. Police observed Wayne behaving oddly prior to his arrest and report that his unusual behaviour escalated during interview until they became concerned about his mental health.

MSE

22 year old male appears stated age. Dress inappropriate for today’s 30 degree heat: wearing a thick woolen winter coat and black parachute pants. Behaviour agitated, restless, but no aggression evident. Poor eye contact – patient looking down at hands for most of interview. Reduced speech production with lack of spontaneity. Incoherent at times. Normal rate, low volume. Mood euthymic. Denies suicidal or homicidal ideation. Affect reactive. Cognition normal: MMSE 30/30. Nil FTD. No evidence of hallucinations. Denies same. Some grandiose and paranoid delusions: Believes that he can and must prevent unspecified harm to others by shaking aerosols. Believes he knows this because of messages written on the aerosol cans. Poor insight: states he does not have a mental illness, believes he just has a problem with “addictive habits”. Has refused all oral medication since admission. Judgment impaired – it appears he was acting on delusions and ?command hallucinations when he was picked up by police engaged in an act of vandalism in Brunswick.

Past psychiatric history

Wayne presents with no known psych history. He reports no prior presentations to mental health services. Denies any family history of mental illness. He states his first symptoms began around 18 months ago when he found himself worrying excessively about the potential consequences if he failed to shake his personal aerosols (e.g., deodorant, shaving cream).

Presenting problem

Wayne was picked up by police with a female friend vandalising the wall of a Brunswick business. At the police station Wayne was observed to be behaving in an anxious and suspicious manner. He was described as erratic and dangerous. He lunged at a police officer who removed a can of spraypaint from his backpack to take as evidence. After he was prevented from attacking the officer and placed in a cell for observation Wayne was seen to be pacing and talking to himself. Wayne says he had thought the officer was going to discharge the spray can, with disastrous consequences. When asked why he was talking to himself he states he was trying to find the right thing to say to prevent anything bad happening.

Impression

  • Schizophreniform disorder
  • No medical problems
  • Requires further treatment – has not been compliant with medication so far
  • Absconding risk

Plan

  • Commence olanzapine wafers 10mg BD
  • CT head
  • Half hourly obs for risk of absconding/aggression

Written by shortfriction

06/12/2009 at 20:50

Supermarket

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Each day when Sandra got home she emptied out all the annoying silver coins that made her purse weigh a ton into a small bucket. Her plan was to use the collected money to shout herself to something extra-special when she filled the bucket.

Now, the bucket was close to full and she couldn’t think of a good way to exchange so many coins for cash. Her best idea was to slowly “evolve” the collection into larger currency units. She figured, for example, that each day she could replace each gold coin in her purse with the equivalent in silver coins. Then, she could use these whenever she purchased something at a vending machine or the like.

Today she needed to buy a weekly train ticket on her way to work. At nine dollars ninety, she figured it was the perfect way to get rid of forty-two twenty-cent coins and three fifty-cent coins. She dropped a ten-dollar note in the change bucket, and took out a hefty total of forty-six coins. Too bulky to fit in her purse, she dropped the handful in the side pocket of her handbag.

At the train station, a billboard asked in bold white letters: “Want to know what makes women tick?” Somebody, thoughtful enough to carry a can of spray-paint with them wherever they went, had scrawled the reply, “it’s their pacemakers.”

Sandra considered the implications of this as she continued feeding coins into the ticket machine. She felt she was lucky to be able to use the machine at all. It wasn’t uncommon for her to arrive at the station in need of a new ticket, only to find the machine a scorched and molten mess. She figured the elderly passengers who frequent this line must have a particularly strong objection to the new machines. Sandra grinned at her mental image of a disgruntled old lady and her husband petrol-bombing a ticket machine.

The cumulative counter seemed to be taking forever to get to the target value.

$7.70… $7.90… $8.10… $8.30… clunk.

Something that Sandra felt didn’t make sense was that, suddenly, her coins wouldn’t go through the slot. She grunted her dissatisfaction at this turn of events as she jiggled and shoved a coin in a vain effort to get it to make its passage into the machine. Behind her, someone had arrived and was waiting for an opportunity to use the machine.

The counter disappeared to be replaced by the message, “Please wait: your money is being returned.” The machine jangled its cache of coins menacingly. Behind Sandra, the person sighed significantly.

Suddenly, and with great violence, the machine spat thirty-seven coins from its return slot. Coins danced and spun on the bitumen, and found their way into obscure crevices.

Sandra cursed the machine, and gave it a kick to let it know precisely how she felt. It simply responded with, “Please select a ticket.”

The person waiting for the machine stepped aside to watch as Sandra stooped to retrieve her coins. In the distance, Sandra heard the sound of a train whistle. So did the person waiting for the machine, stepping on Sandra’s hand in the rush to get to it and buy a ticket before it was too late. Already the crossing gates next to the station were sounding their warning bells and coming down to protect the intersecting traffic.

By the time Sandra collected all her coins, the train was long gone. She decided to abandon the train idea for the day, and instead purchase her ticket at the local shop and catch a tram. The shop attendant didn’t appear to appreciate the mountain of coins Sandra dumped on his counter, but obliged with a ticket, nevertheless.

The tram trip was not uneventful. Sandra lived in a town where the once majority white, male oppressor had allowed himself to become overrun by ethnic “minorities”. Sandra, with her blond hair, blue eyes and pale skin liked the feeling of being the odd one out when she rode the tram. Of course, not being male, she couldn’t completely fulfil the category of the oppressor. But you can’t have it all. On this occasion there was, in fact, only one individual on the tram who was truly qualified to fill the role of oppressor. He was not happy with his position, either, it seemed.

When Sandra first got on, she took a seat across from a scruffy looking gentleman who was sitting bent double. She spent a moment feeling sorry for his apparently debilitating condition – until she realised he was just having a very difficult time picking up a cigarette someone had dropped. After several minutes of bending and reaching, the man finally reached the treasure and straightened up. Things proceeded in a relatively normal fashion for a full two minutes before he decided to break the ice with his fellow passengers.

“Speak English!”

Up and down the tram, backs straightened and faces tensed… but overall, the man was ignored. Across from Sandra, an earnest conversation in Turkish was interrupted just briefly enough to allow a sideways glance at Another One of Them.

The man waited only a short time to see if anyone had paid any attention before repeating his demand. “Speak English! You’re in Australia now, so speak English!” This time the pair speaking Turkish stopped completely to glare at the man.

“Surely if there is a language we must speak in this country it would be Australian, hmm?”

The logic was lost on the man. He knew a response was expected of him, so he decided to stick to what he was familiar with. Nodding emphatically he assured them, “Speak English! You are in Australia now!”

Around the man, argument erupted. People were happy to contradict each other in order to prove to this man that he was Silly. He was told (and Sandra thought it was a very good point) that it was interesting that of all the people on the tram he was the least fluent in the language he was so greatly in support of. He was dropping his ‘g’s. He was fond of double-negatives. He was losing an argument. One man versus an entire tram. People began to really enjoy their trip. New friendships formed up and down the tram. People sided with strangers. Years later, perhaps, they would remember this day over a cup of coffee together.

“Conflict is a strong uniting force,” Sandra’s brain told her as her stop approached. She didn’t want to get off. She wanted to make friends with a grinning, debating stranger, too. She disembarked reluctantly. Duty called.

Once off the tram, Sandra ran the short distance from the stop to where she worked. She managed to arrive only two minutes late. The girl whose shift she was relieving gave her a look of immense relief as she came through the doors at a sprint.

Sandra often wondered to herself if getting the supermarket job was really worth it, even if there weren’t any alternatives. It was okay when she was working at the checkout – no one noticed her problem then – but when she was stacking shelves or pricing products, she was in full view of the customers. Some of them even stopped what they were doing to watch her. Admittedly she was a strange sight – doing her peculiar dance across the tiled floor on her tip-toes. But today it looked like Sandra was going to get a break from being stared out. For once it was her turn to stare.

There was a young gentleman looking distraught in aisle four – the one which contained the shampoos, toothpastes, hairsprays and deodorants. This man seemed particularly preoccupied with the hairsprays and deodorants. He wasn’t just taking forever while he calculated relative value for money on each item – Sandra had seen that often enough – rather, he appeared to be handling every single item on the shelves. He systematically took a can, shook it, replaced it, and grabbed the next. Sandra watched, fascinated.

There was a lapse in customers, and Sandra’s checkout ceased to be in demand. Intent on finding out what the gentleman was doing, she put up the “checkout closed” sign and headed for aisle four.

“Can I help you, sir?”

The man jumped at the sound of Sandra’s voice, his hand stopping mid-reach. He pulled his arm slowly back to his side, still holding a can of “Impulse” deodorant, and turned to face the person who had startled him. He found himself looking at a supermarket attendant – an attractive young lady around his own age, possibly a little older. She had short dark hair, tied back simply and economically. She was slender, and had a sweet smile. Her name tag identified her as “William”. Nevertheless, he was fairly confident she was actually a girl. He found himself quite instantly attracted to her, which he figured was typical. He always met the most promising people in the most embarrassing situations. He sought an explanation for his behaviour that might not sound entirely lame. He couldn’t find one, so he went for second-best.

“I was… just… testing products. I am looking to branch out and try new things in the deodorant and hairspray department.” It would have been a fine excuse, he felt, if only she hadn’t happened along while he was in the ladies’ section, holding a can of undeniably feminine deodorant. “Vanilla Kisses,” he read, holding it up for her inspection. “I know it isn’t every man’s choice, but I am finding myself in a deep rut when it comes to hygiene products.” He tried to grin, but only managed a lopsided twitch which, he felt, must have compounded his appearance as Severely Disturbed.

But Sandra responded with an even sweeter smile. “While I think you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by its lovely aroma, I think there may be something here more suitable for you.” She took the can from his hand and returned it to the shelf, then moved along, beckoning him to follow, to the male deodorant section. She picked up an obscure looking can from the far end of the shelf, and took his hand to spray some on his palm. He pulled his hand back in alarm.

“No! No, it’s okay… I’ll just… take your word for it.”

She looked slightly disappointed, but handed him the can, which he held awkwardly: he didn’t have a shopping basket. He hadn’t even come here to shop – he’d just happened to think of all those unshaken cans as he was walking past, and couldn’t help himself. But she couldn’t find that out. Sandra saw his discomfort and offered to go get a basket for him. He smiled thank you.

Wayne began to feel agitated while he waited for her. He moved away from the aerosols, but it didn’t help. He felt a tremendous need to finish shaking them all, but knew that if he shook even another one there would be no talking his way out of it. He decided all that could be done was to buy a few items and leave as quickly as he possibly could.

As she returned with the basket, Wayne noticed for the first time that something wasn’t quite right about the way Sandra walked. She took very deliberate, light steps… mostly on her toes. She looked like she was dancing to some bizarre beat that only she could hear. The thought of this supermarket attendant hearing hallucinatory music in her head cheered Wayne up considerably – maybe he wouldn’t have to worry about seeming like a weirdo after all.

“Thank you, um… William,” he said as she handed him the basket.

“It’s Sandra,” she replied, “Obviously Tommo has decided to play the name tag swap prank again today. I should have remembered to check – he has a repertoire of around three pranks that he systematically cycles through each week.” She laughed infectiously. “It’s actually so old now that I find it hilariously funny every time. You know – a bit like when you repeat a word so many times it starts to sound funny?”

“Yes,” said Wayne, who didn’t know, but felt admitting it would somehow brand him as ignorant. There was an uncomfortable pause, during which Wayne experienced a chaotic stream of conflicting thoughts and urges out of which an impulse unexpectedly manifested in action and he found himself speaking again.

“Well, ah… I’m going to just wander around and buy some things but … when do you? Well, I mean, if you aren’t busy after you … you seem very interesting and I would enjoy talking to you some more if you’d like to catch up some time. Maybe … ?”

Written by shortfriction

19/11/2009 at 17:30

Help from the wall

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In all my years of policing, I had never come across this kind of punk before. The usual punk I come across is a wannabe-somebody graffiti vandal, less than 5’5″, hiding their spotty face behind a dark fleece hoody. Of course there are older punks, but I never come across them: Their greater age doesn’t just give them greater “skilz”, but greater invisibility. My usual punk makes a pretty poor effort at not being seen, but this pair were hopeless. They were trying so hard to be inconspicuous, but doing such an amateur job, that I felt embarrassed for them. To me it seemed like every passer-by must be staring at them. The bloke was wearing a pair of oversized black pants and a black wool coat so big on him that he looked like he’d had his head shrunk by New Guinean cannibals. He’d turned up the collar – I’m supposing because he was thinking he could hide behind it. The girl was wearing black parachute pants and a navy blue puffy jacket, too long in the arms, that was clearly slowing down her work with the paintbrush. Mind you, she was slow enough already – each time her brush neared the mortar between bricks she would slow her stroke right down, stop, breathe, talk to herself, then continue her stroke over the mortar and into the next brick.

This pair of punks was fascinating to watch. I suggested to my partner that we needed to keep an eye on them to collect evidence before charging them, and we moved to where we could watch them unseen.

While the girl worked with a paintbrush, the bloke was squatting down, watching her, glancing around nervously and checking his watch every couple of seconds. He also looked like he was reciting some kind of mantra to himself the whole time. He had a spray paint can on the ground next to him. I’d seen him shake it before she started her work, but then he just sat it there and did nothing with it. Maybe he was mentally working through the ethics of what they were doing. I would have assumed they were both flipped out on drugs except they both obviously lacked the street knowledge to even know how to ingest a drug, let alone source and purchase them.

Eventually the bloke took one last look at his watch, made one more visual survey of their surroundings and then grabbed his can, stood up and started making his mark on the wall. Predictably, his paint had already started to settle in the can and he couldn’t get an even finish out of it. He clearly wasn’t willing to give it another shake, and by the time he’d managed to tilt the can in such a way as to get a reasonable spread of colour, the girl had nearly finished her piece.

It was interesting contrast, his half-completed stick-man to her vignette of a grassy green hill and blue sky. She finished up by painting a “window” around her scene with another can of black spray-paint, and then adding some words.

The whole while they were doing this, the pair of them were quite obviously becoming increasingly agitated. Their glances around them became increasingly frequent and, at one point I got ready to give chase because they took one long look at each other and seemed to silently agree to abandon their little project. But, just as I was ready to leap out after them, they seemed to resolve to continue, and finished their work.

As soon as they started putting their equipment back into the black backpacks they had brought with them, my partner and I strode across the street and made our arrest. Having watched them all that time, it somehow didn’t surprise me that they didn’t even try to run. Instead they both looked dreadfully embarrassed and apologetic. I actually found myself feeling sorry for them. But, the law is the law, and my dedication to upholding it overrode my sense of pity.

We photographed their little piece of “art” to accompany the charges. They had added to a previously existing piece of vandalism, but were insistent that the original work was not their own and they couldn’t be charged for it. Given today’s performance, I had no trouble believing them, because I know they would have been caught the first time.

Help did come (Click image for actual location)

Help did come (Click image for story with original graffiti)

Written by shortfriction

21/06/2009 at 14:55

Wayne’s OCD

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Wayne finds he is developing an obsessive-compulsive disorder from his shaving cream can.

It all began harmlessly enough. Wayne had finished preparing the water to shave one morning, and was reaching for the shaving cream can when he noticed the legend printed around the top in thick, black letters: “Shake well before using”. Wayne thought this rather strange, but gave the can a vigorous shake nevertheless, then left it on the sink while he went off and found something else to do for half an hour.

Wayne went into the bathroom early the next morning to shake the can so it would be ready by the time he wanted to shave. Later, as he washed his hair in the shower, he wondered to himself exactly how long before using the shaving cream he should shake it. Was half an hour enough? Maybe whatever strange chemical processes were triggered by shaking the can would not be finished in just half an hour. Maybe they needed an hour. Maybe a day. When he got out of the shower, he shook the can again so it would be ready for him to shave the next day. That, he thought, should definitely constitute “well before”.

The next morning, putting on his deodorant, Wayne read the instructions. They just said, “shake well,” but Wayne figured it would be better to be safe than sorry. He was beginning to develop a vague sense that if he didn’t shake his shaving cream at least a day before using it something terrible might happen — like the can would explode or something. Maybe it would be the same for his deodorant. Not willing to risk it, he gave it a good shake before putting it back in his cupboard. An image formed in his mind of him running, screaming, to the nearest source of water while flames streamed from his armpits. He tried to shake away the thought, but it stuck with him for the rest of the day.

Now, during his Maths lecture, Wayne finds the image of the flaming armpits returning to him. He tries to concentrate on what the lecturer is saying, but to no avail. He has enough trouble concentrating on what he says at the best of times. Suddenly he finds the word “hairspray” has entered his head for no reason. Added to the image of flaming armpits is a ferocious ball of fire encompassing his head. Wayne wonders if he remembered to shake his shaving cream can this morning. How could he forget? But he feels he will be filled with a terrible dread the next time he shaves.

As soon as he gets home, Wayne runs agitatedly around his house looking for every pressurised, shakeable can he can find. Hairspray, Mortein, oven-cleaner, his housemates’ deodorant, an ancient can of WD-40 and a nearly empty can of spray-paint hiding in the back shed. His housemates are puzzled, but not entirely astonished. He is known to do inexplicable things.

Only when he has convinced himself that there is not a single unshaken can left in the house is he able to relax and do other things. Still, he occasionally stops what he is doing and mentally goes through the house, making sure he has left nothing unshaken. He figures if he shakes everything each day, then if he happens to need to use it say, a week later, he will be sure to have shaken it long enough beforehand.

Wayne never counted on the horrors a supermarket could offer for his rapidly developing problem.

Written by shortfriction

01/06/2009 at 19:55