art by Wi Waffles
For Your Protection
by Steven Mathes
Joseph has an appointment with a brain scanner. On the appointed day, he trims his hair, as well as the nails on his hands and his toes. He wears new underwear. Freshly pressed pants and shirt. Casual but decent shoes. He aims to look ordinary but needs to be clean. He aims to look highly functional, like he would never be bug crazy.
"Gee. Avoid looking dysfunctional!" his little voice says, laughing at him. "Never look like you hear voices."
"We've made it out of there every time so far," says the deep voice. "Just be confident, show some attitude, like you have nothing to hide."
The Healthy Living Center takes up an entire building just across Volunteer Park. Deviants and Partisans become healthy members of society there, but Joseph needs to hear his voices.
Hence, he must blend in on every level. He knows that exercise will settle his factory-creased clothing into a more relaxed and natural appearance, and that the surveillance machines have algorithms to check; the scanners scan much more than just his neurons. He needs to look just rumpled enough, just casual enough in a respectable way, and feels clever that he knows this.
"You're really thinking today!" the little voice laughs. "Wow, are you clever!"
"Pipe down," says the deep voice. "We're playing for big stakes here."
"Like survival," Joseph says.
"Don't move your lips," says the female voice. "There's cameras."
Joseph has heard that all people talk to themselves now and then. Perhaps they do, but only one voice lives inside a normal head, and if more than one is detected, the scan shows an abnormality. When an abnormality crops up, the scanner turns into a neural pulse generator, pops those bubbles of personality until something barely resembling Joseph remains. He cannot sit back and allow himself to be mutilated.
"Admit it," says the female. "You'd enjoy our company even if you didn't need us."
"But we're useful, not like the voices of the true schizophrenic," the deep one says. "We tell you profound secrets. We have an ability."
"Just give us a trip to Vegas, and we'll prove it," says the little one. "We'll bring you big winnings. Plus girls, girls, girls!"
"That's disgusting," says the female voice.
The little voice snickers, while Joseph fears his doom more than ever. With voices as crazy as these, he stands no chance of getting out of the Healthy Living Center in one piece.
"One piece?" hoots the little voice. "Schizophrenia, from the German skhizein, to split. The last thing you want is to get out in one piece. That's the point, right? To keep yourself split?"
Why would the little voice think this is hilarious? Why would the little voice associate this with schizophrenia, instead of a necessary adaptation for survival? Joseph crosses the street, intending to walk through the park.
"No, no!" shouts the female voice. "Don't cut through the park! Call a car."
"What?" Joseph says aloud.
But he does it. He pulls out his handy. He swipes the icon for a cab, and waits. When the female voice speaks, he always listens. That voice has saved him more than once.
"How come you don't name us?" says the little one. "I'd love to have my own being."
"How come you think of us as mere voices, instead of several people sharing a single body?" says the deep one.
"Schizophrenia is a disease, but we're an asset," says the female. "We can't be a disease if we're a benefit."
Joseph admits that he needs his abnormality, but clings to certain standards. Multiple voices, each expressing original insights, are far different from multiple people trying to take over his skull. Giving the voices names would approach insanity.
The car arrives, and he gets in. He barely joins the traffic before the horror starts. He hears the first screams through the closed window of the cab. Even normal people feel the terror now, during a harvest.