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Mind Blown

Rich Larson (Ymir, Tomorrow Factory) was born in Galmi, Niger, has lived in Spain and Czech Republic, and is currently based in Grande Prairie, Canada. His fiction has been translated into over a dozen languages, among them Polish, French, Romanian, and Japanese, and adapted into an Emmy-winning episode of LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS. Find free reads and support his work at patron.com/richlarson.

"Snappy dresser," Barbier says, taking a pull off his vape.
"Professor," Shadrack says.
Below the neck, the corpse is immaculate: shiny brown loafers, tailored trousers, a cashmere sweater over a crisp white shirt and lilac tie. He appears to have died in his favorite chair, a high-backed hand-tacked antique that would be better matched to a brandy and a crackling fireplace than to the syringe and bio-cannister now being bagged into evidence.
"Professor turned skull-popper," Barbier expounds. "Classic. Wanted to die like God."
"You think God wants to die?" Shadrack asks, distracted by a buzzing insect.
"Of course. Awful job." Barbier glares at the corpse. "So, too, did this fuck, so why are we even here?"
"Politics." Shadrack nods toward a small man in a housecoat, watching the proceedings through glassy and bloodshot eyes. "Husband of the deceased is a friend to the force. Doesn't like the idea of his partner taking the emergency exit."
"We can use the OD script, then," Barbier says. "Pretend he misjudged how mind-expanding his self-induced neuro-elephantitis would be. Make him tragic. A brilliant academic, fallen in the most noble pursuit-- " He chokes on his own smoke. "That of knowing a bunch of shit."
Shadrack watches the trembling husband. "Never really about that, though, with skull-poppers."
"Because no arrogant-ass academic wants a breakthrough if they're not alive to accept the award," Barbier agrees.
"Time of death was nearly seventy-two hours ago," Shadrack says. "His spouse has been staying in a hotel all week."
"Same old story. Yeah." Barbier huffs a laugh, but his eyes aren't in it. "Trying to figure out where things went wrong."
Above the neck, the corpse is a horror show. The professor's skull has split into separate balconies, forced apart by the unstoppable swell of his gray matter. Shadrack can imagine it bubbling through the splintered bone, dough in a proving cupboard, plant growth on time lapse. Now it flops down the back of the professor's beautiful chair, coated in flies.
Maybe he found answers in that billowing cloud of gray matter, in that neural lightning storm. Maybe he knew, right before the end, the exact thing to do or say that would make everything perfect and everyone happy again.
Shadrack doubts it.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 11th, 2022


Author Comments

Like roughly a third of my stories, "Mind Blown" was based on a vivid dream. I woke up and immediately wrote the following: "Neuro-elephantitis, swollen gray matter, disease that lets bourgeois recluses die knowing good and evil, retiring to contemplation in their finest clothes, cavernous skulls split into balconies, decaying brains like narwhal carcasses."

- Rich Larson
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